What is it with Conservatives and the Police?

Conservatives are supposed to be all about keeping the government out of your business, right? Limited state power? Ambition checking ambition? If this is so, then why is the reflexive conservative response to police brutality generally to defend police officers who have killed innocent people? If we hold to Lord Acton’s dictum, that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” then we should probably be a little bit more wary of the boys in blue. They’re human, just as we are, and they are just as capable of evil as anyone else.

I think the reason for the generally pro-police attitude among conservatives is that their thinking is grounded less in the principles of limited government than in a pre-existing belief that a certain subset of people are good and the rest are bad. The good people should be free from government interference, but the bad people should not. Moreover, the good people should be free from the effects of the bad people. Predisposition to such a belief would be linked to high orderliness and disgust-sensitivity, which are aspects of the big five trait conscientiousness.

We can offer a similar explanation for why radical SJW-types, who are ostensibly concerned that our institutions are tools of the white cishet patriarchy used to subjugate minorities, are often eager to use bureaucracy and courts to crush their opponents. They don’t have a problem with power per se, they just want to make sure that power is being used for their desired ends. As long as power is used against the bad people (white cishet Christian men), there is no problem.

What the radical SJWs and reflexive police-apologists have in common is a highly black-and-white moral worldview. In this worldview, there isn’t much doubt about who is good and who is bad, and therefore, there isn’t need for checks and balances against power, as long as it is exercised only by the good people. This is authoritarianism. It is bad, and it exists happily on both sides of the political spectrum.

If small-government conservatives want to be consistent with the principles they claim to uphold, then they should stop excusing police brutality, which constitutes abuse of governmental power in its purest form. The state is a monster that needs to be restrained if we are to be safe from it. It doesn’t make sense that we’d apply this to healthcare and taxation, but not to life itself.

 

On Charlie Gard

I do not often use profanity, but some situations call for it. This is fucking wrong:

Chris Gard and Connie Yates lost their final legal bid to take their son to the US for treatment.

Specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital believe Charlie has no chance of survival.

The court agreed, concluding that further treatment would “continue to cause Charlie significant harm”.

Charlie is thought to be one of 16 children in the world to have mitochondrial depletion syndrome, a condition which causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage.

His parents had previously seen a Supreme Court challenge to continue Charlie’s life support fail.

It’s one thing to argue that declining to offer treatments with an extremely low probability of success is permissible. It is another thing entirely to forbid such treatments as a matter of law. Charlie’s parents raised a large sum of money to pay for an experimental treatment for his condition in the U.S., but they have been legally forbidden to seek this treatment. Thus, Charlie will die. Perhaps he would have died anyway. But I guess we’ll never know, now.

Perhaps what is most chilling about Charlie’s situation is the rationale of the Court that effectively sentenced him to death. Justice Francis of the High Court writes, “The duty with which I am now charged is to decide, according to well laid down legal principles, what is in Charlie’s best interests.” According to Francis, it is in Charlie’s interest to die with dignity rather than to pursue a moonshot treatment, one that is unlikely to save his life and likely to cause him some measure of suffering. In itself, this claim, while certainly debatable, is at least reasonable. But this was not just a person arguing about medical ethics. Justice Francis’s opinion had legal force.

It is with the heaviest of hearts but with complete conviction for Charlie’s best
interests that I find that it is in Charlie’s best interests that I accede to these
applications and rule that Great Ormond Street Hospital may lawfully
withdraw all treatment, save for palliative care, to permit Charlie to die with
dignity.

At least Justice Francis is sure of himself.

There are two sides to the horror of the reasoning in the opinion. First, Francis’s opinion implies that a form of utilitarianism is the law of the UK. In Charlie’s case, the likelihood of continued suffering is so high, and the likelihood of recovery so low, that the expected utility of attempting further treatment is less than zero. Ergo, it’s better for Charlie to die. Were Charlie a legally competent adult, Francis could make the exact same argument and it would be equally valid. Would he not then defer to Charlie’s own opinion? Perhaps he would, but the reasoning in this opinion would compel him to overrule Charlie and permit the hospital to withdraw life support whenever it pleases. Is this really what we want?

The second disturbing thing about the opinion is its casual (and unequivocally wrong) assumption that the state is competent to decide objectively what is in a person’s interest. And if this assumption applies in this particular situation, there is no reason it shouldn’t apply in all of them. If the state can decide that it is better for you to die than to live, why shouldn’t it decide everything else for you? After all, most decisions we make are far less weighty than the choice between life and death. The stakes cannot possibly get higher than they were for Charlie and his parents.

The fact that this opinion was ever written is an abomination, made even more abominable by the fact that two appeals have resulted in no changes. Even if you agree with the utilitarian reasoning that Francis employs, you should be horrified by the monstrous power assumed to belong to the state by his opinion, the power to decide for you what is good for you even in matters of life and death. This is totalitarianism, pure and simple.

Short Response to “X is a social construct” Arguments

The mere fact that something is a social construct does not mean that the thing has no essential features. Construction of all kinds is constrained by rules. For instance, the construction of a stable building requires taking into account the law of gravity. You can point at any given building and say “it could have been otherwise,” but you cannot say that “all ways of erecting a building in this spot are equally correct,” as many of the ways of building the structure will result in said structure collapsing.

Likewise, you can point to our understanding of gender and say “it could have been otherwise,” but you cannot say that “all ways of understanding gender are equally valid.” A good account of gender cannot ignore human sexual dimorphism or the reproductive function of sex, which is why a binary understanding of gender has been so common across cultures. It has prevailed because it has been useful.

Language is another example of something socially constructed that is bound by rules. Just as an understanding of gender which does not meaningfully account for sexual dimorphism is unlikely to be useful, so is a language without some sort of grammar unlikely to be useful. There are differences between the grammars of different languages, but they all have grammars, because the grammar is necessary for the language to serve its function, i.e., facilitating communication.

The fact that buildings, gender roles, and language are made by humans does not imply that the construction of buildings, gender roles, and language is constrained by nothing except the boundaries of our creativity. There are rules that we can’t just wish away unless we plan on doing away with the things themselves. The constraint of being useful for communication is constitutive for language, for example. Without such a constraint, there would be no language. And insofar as the things themselves are useful, as buildings, gender roles, and language certainly are, we should not discard the constraints from which those things derive their being.

 

Stupid Words You Shouldn’t Use: Homophobia

There are a lot of terms we have for people who harbor prejudice against others. Racist. Misogynist. Antisemite. &c. I think most of these terms are overused, because our culture confuses self-righteous name-calling with “advocacy.” But they can still be useful words. Some of them, however, are just bad. “Homophobia” is a prime example.

“Phobia” is a technical psychological term referring to an irrational and debilitating fear of something. Arachnophobia is the irrational and debilitating fear of spiders, claustrophobia that of enclosed spaces, etc. Homophobia, however, is not the irrational and debilitating fear of homosexuals. We use the term to refer to a prejudice, rather than a psychological condition. This creates the subtle implication that prejudice against homosexuals is a psychological disorder and not an ideological one, which is dumb.

Moreover, the idea that prejudice against homosexuals is necessarily a fear of some sort is preposterous and unhelpful. For whatever reason, we have linked hatred with fear. This is a bad idea, as it suggests that we should try to combat hatred in the same way that we do fear, i.e., through gradual exposure to the hated/feared stimulus. This is how psychologists treat phobias. If you have Arachnophobia, then you will gradually be exposed to images of spiders until you can look at a real one without fainting, for example. But people who are prejudiced against certain groups don’t necessarily become less prejudiced after exposure to those groups. This is because what they feel is disgust, not fear.

Suppose, then, we create a word to replace “homophobia.” This will take care of the problems above, but I still think that most uses of the new term are likely to be misleading if not completely wrong, given the way that “homophobia” is used today. I most often see the term used to refer to people who hold political positions that are culturally conservative, especially with regard to same-sex marriage. This is wrong.

It is possible that opposition to same-sex marriage is sometimes motivated by prejudice against homosexuals, but not necessary. You can believe that it is immoral for men to have sex with men without being prejudiced against homosexuals. You can believe that the institution of marriage is about more than personal fulfillment without being prejudiced against homosexuals. The first belief is one concerning the morality of certain behaviors, and the second is one concerning the nature of marriage itself. Neither beliefs require a corresponding belief in the inferiority of any class of persons.

This is what LGBT advocates (and people on the left in general, it seems) often fail to grasp: One can oppose policies aimed toward advancing certain identity-groups’ agendas without being prejudiced against those identity-groups. Contra Foucault and his minions, not all classification is an attempt to subjugate and oppress. The way we understand sex and marriage has implications for the health of our society, and we want to get things right.

On Dumb Questions

I’ve heard people say that there are no dumb questions. In some circumstances, this is true. In particular, if you’re a child who can’t reasonably be expected to know much of anything, then there are, in fact, no dumb questions. However, most of us are not children. We can reasonably be expected to know some things, or at least we ought to have the capacity to figure those things out, especially in the age of Google.

These thoughts are prompted by a Twitter exchange I had with the person replying to David French in the image below:

dumb questino

David French here is tweeting about Laura Loomer’s obnoxious interruption of the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar, which has been criticized for depicting violence against someone that looks like Trump. The criticism is mostly stupid. But even if it weren’t, charging on stage to interrupt a theatrical production you don’t like is unacceptable for the same reason that interrupting a controversial speaker you don’t like is unacceptable. Free speech, yes. But also, time, place, and manner. Spew your uninformed criticism all you want, but get your own venue to do it instead of stealing the stage from those who own it/have been invited to it/have some other right to it.

Anyhow, my main concern is not the stupidity of the criticism leveled toward the play so much as the stupidity of Mr. Bronxilla’s tweet. Anyone who is remotely familiar with David French’s work should know that he speaks out against left-wing speech restrictions pretty much all the time. He’s also a First Amendment lawyer. This is not difficult to learn. All you have to do is go to French’s page on National Review.

I quoted the stupid question and said that it was stupid, and afterwards had the pleasure of exchanging some words with Mr. Bronxilla:

bronxilla

It’s not like being sincere exempts you from being dumb. I didn’t accuse Bronxilla of insincerity, but of a combination of ignorance and intellectual laziness. Sincerity is enough if you’re in 4th grade, but not if you’re a grown-up trying to discuss grown-up things. That requires a little something extra.

And I really do mean a little something extra. It would have taken literally ten seconds for Bronx to search for David French on Google, click the first search result, and skim his author bio. But he couldn’t be bothered to do so. Instead, he made it everyone else’s job to inform him of the obvious.

There is an absurd amount of information at the tips of your fingers. If you’re not willing to look for it, then how much can you claim to care about being informed? And if you don’t really care about being informed, then why do you ask these questions?

Dialogue is supposed to be an exchange of meaningful ideas. As such, you should come to it prepared to say something meaningful. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions, but it does mean that you should familiarize yourself with the subject you’re discussing to a degree sufficient for you to recognize the difference between good questions and dumb ones. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone else’s time.

Our War Against God

We have always been at war with God, fighting him at every turn, in everything we do. We commit sins, yes, but it’s not as if we’re otherwise innocent. No part of our lives is untouched by this war. Just as the whole of the United States participated in World War II, whether through fighting or growing food, our whole being is tangled up in the war against God, whether through willful acts of sin or through the mundane acts that take up the majority of our time and energy. Were it not for God, every part of us would be wholly against God.

But God has defeated us, is defeating us, and will defeat us. The war we fight is a losing one, and thank God. He will capture us as prisoners and then make us into citizens, and even into his heirs. He has forced us to surrender and submit, and we are better for it. And after he has done so, we wish only that we had surrendered sooner.

Some Book Recommendations

I am back at my computer again. This week I read some really good books, some of which I would like to recommend to everyone who cares to read this blog.

Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier

This is an Odyssean novel about a Confederate soldier journeying home to the woman he loves. The narrative shifts back and forth between the two main characters, Inman and Ada. Their stories are wildly different from each other; Inman is journeying through the South trying to avoid being caught by the Home Guard, while Ada is learning to run a farm. Frazier does a good job at weaving these together. His description of the southern landscape is also beautiful.

A Curse on Dostoevsky, by Atiq Rahimi

When I first started reading this book, I expected it to be mediocre at best, but I was pleasantly surprised. The novel transplants Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment into Kabul, Afghanistan. Whereas Dostoevsky focused on the internal sense of turmoil felt by Raskolnikov after he commits his murder, Rahimi highlights the indifference of war-torn Afghanistan to his main character’s murder. When daily life is characterized by violent tribal warfare, personal morality is of less concern than tribal membership.

A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway was a genius. Every time I read him, I’m amazed. In this particular work, his dry sense of humor comes through. I found myself laughing out loud while reading it. One thing I love about Hemingway is how his novels describe life as an expatriate American. The main character in this story is an American serving in the Italian army. As an American who grew up overseas, I enjoy stories that resemble mine, even if the resemblance is minimal.

Past and Future in Augustine and Heidegger

I recently read through Augustine’s Confessions in its entirety for the first time. While in school, I read excerpts, but there were parts of it that I never got to. The part that most struck me was the part during which Augustine discusses time. In particular, reading Heidegger at the same time led me to question Augustine’s analysis differently than I otherwise would have.

Augustine argues that only the present exists. The past was, and the future is not yet, according to Augustine. When we think of past or future, what we are really thinking about is our memories of the past and expectations of the future, both of which are present to us in our minds. In this way, Augustine equates being with presence, effectively defining the past and future out of existence.

What made this striking to me is how it makes such a good example of what Heidegger criticizes in Being and Time. Because Augustine’s definition of being is too narrow (i.e. he equates being with presence), he has to claim that certain things which clearly are, in at least some sense, are not. Instead, we end up with a purely psychological account of past and future, which is hardly satisfying.

I’m not okay with saying that the past exists only in memory. Likewise, I’m not okay with saying that the future exists only in expectation. Both past and future seem to have some kind of phenomenal reality that does not depend on memory or expectation. While it is true to say that past states of affairs no longer are and future states of affairs are not yet, the past and future are not equivalent to the sum total of all past or future states of affairs. Phenomenologically, they are something entirely different.

To use Heideggerian language, I think past and future are existentiales. This means that the past and the future are essential features of Dasein’s being, which can vary in their character but are always “there” in some form. Other existentiales include the World and Being-in. Every Dasein has a past and a future, otherwise it is not Dasein at all. I’d say that the past is related closely to Dasein’s facticity, while the future is tied to Dasein’s potential for being.

“Facticity” is a somewhat obscure Heideggerian term. As such, it is hard to provide a definition for it. But I will try. Heidegger uses the term specifically to describe Dasein’s being, and not other kinds of being. The merely factual does not demand action, as facts are not always relevant to what one does. But the factical does demand action; its very existence is necessarily of some concern. Dasein’s being is factical. By the very fact that Dasein exists, Dasein is required to act, and he is required to act within the factical World in which he exists.

The past is connected to facticity in that the past has a partial role in producing the World in which Dasein is. The particular factical conditions that demand Dasein to act at any given moment are products of the past, even if that past is unremembered by Dasein. Moreover, Dasein’s own response to the factical situation in which it always is must always be shaped by the past, as well. This, too, does not depend on memory, however. Much of what Dasein does is habituated; we incorporate skills into our being until we exercise those skills unconsciously. I do not remember learning how to speak English, and yet I speak.

The future, on the other hand, is that upon which Dasein projects its possibilities for being. Heidegger is fond of saying that Dasein is its own possibilities. Thus, Dasein has a peculiar relationship with the future such that the future as such exists for Dasein, even if future states of affairs themselves have no being. Whereas the past partially creates the factical conditions of Dasein’s being, the future is what allows Dasein’s possibility to be realized. A possibility which cannot be realized is no true possibility. Thus, without the future, Dasein can have no possibilities for being, and thus cannot be Dasein.

As the future conditions of the World will always be relevant to Dasein’s being, the future has a bearing on the World’s possibilities, as well. However, the World does not project its own possibilities in the way that Dasein does. Rather, when Dasein projects its possibilities, it always projects the possibilities of its World as well. Dasein needs its World in order to be Dasein. While the possibilities for Dasein’s being, along with the possibilities for the being of its World, are not present, they certainly are, in some way. And the future is a necessary condition for the being of possibilities.

I like my Heideggerian account of past and future above better than Augustine’s account, mostly because it avoids Augustine’s psychologism. Because Augustine claims that there is no such thing as the past or the future, he has to offer an account of why it seems that such things exist. And his account relies purely on memory and expectation, which I take to be insufficient to explain our experience. The past conditions our existence even when we are not consciously aware of the past. Likewise, even unexpected future possibilities are possibilities which have implications for our being. A phenomenological-existential account allows us to say that past and future exist without making the clearly false claim that past states of affairs and future states of affairs are present.

“Misgendering” and Harassment

It seems to me that the issue of pronoun usage for transgender people hinges on the definition of “harassment.” Advocates for requiring the use of preferred pronouns assert that to “misgender” people (i.e. use pronouns other than their preferred ones) is to harass them. This line of argument isn’t entirely devoid of merit. I can imagine someone attempting to belittle or annoy a transgender person by loudly and obnoxiously using his non-preferred pronouns as often as possible. But not all instances of “misgendering” are of this deliberate, intentionally provocative sort. In many, if not most, instances, those using the non-preferred pronouns are merely using the words that they think are correct. There is no ill intent.

So, then, what is harassment? Does it require ill intent? Or does it depend solely on the feelings of the person who claims to be harassed?

Harassment certainly requires something more than hurt feelings on the part of the offended party. There’s no reason for us to give more power to the overly sensitive, which is what we would accomplish by making harassment all about the victim’s feelings. If I’m a neurotic crybaby who gets mortally offended whenever someone speaks to me in what I deem to be an unfriendly tone, that’s my problem, not yours. Something more is required. Intent sounds like it might be that something.

But I can think of examples of harassment in which there is no ill intent. Some cases of sexual harassment are like this. If a man makes repeated unwanted advances toward a woman, and she tells him to stop, he might not intend to make her uncomfortable or intimidate her, but he is still ignoring her wishes. The man can reasonably be expected to stop making advances after being told to do so. If he’s too clueless to figure out that’s what he should do, then that’s his problem; he has only himself to blame if he’s fired. We can call this negligence.

Is this example analogous to someone who wants others to use his preferred pronouns? Coworkers might repeatedly use the non-preferred pronouns to describe him, and he might tell them to stop. Can those coworkers reasonably be expected to comply in the same way as the man in the above example?

I don’t think they can.

Whereas it’s pretty straightforward to stop making sexual advances towards someone, pronoun use is not. If you want to avoid using a person’s non-preferred pronouns, then you must either use their preferred pronouns or refrain from using pronouns to describe them at all. Constant use of a person’s name instead of pronouns is somewhat awkward (try it for a little while). And people have reasonable objections to the use of preferred pronouns. Some hold that to refer to a transgender woman as “she” would be to tacitly affirm that that person is a woman, which they do not wish to do.

The fact is that this is a problem without a simple solution. I feel sorry for transgender people who feel bad when people use their non-preferred pronouns. I’d like it if they didn’t have to feel bad. But requiring other people either to violate their consciences or to awkwardly modify their speech is not a good solution to the problem. All it does is create more problems.