Doing Libertarianism Wrong

Rand Paul has gotten libertarianism wrong again. Despite the fact that he has attempted at times to throw off the libertarian label as too limiting and ultimately inaccurate in describing the whole of his political philosophy, Paul has also clearly embraced the label many times. More importantly for our discussion, many movement libertarians have embraced Paul as a movement leader, giving the initial fundraising momentum necessary to Paul’s political success. So why is Paul seemingly so intent on violating whatever limited principles libertarianism might hold?

It’s no surprise that most libertarians are doing libertarianism wrong of course: most of us don’t think through most of our positions, even many times on important issues. There simply are too many important issues for us to be educated or even thoughtful about every single one. I’m sure I do progressive queer feminism wrong many times as well. In fact, that’s part of the reason why I’ve chosen the life path that I have, with its focus on study that permits more time to examine those positions, more exposure to knowledgable, thoughtful takes on important issues I haven’t yet considered, and more support for rethinking issues that one had previously thought settled.

Nonetheless, you don’t exactly expect movement leaders to do that movement wrong. If a person wasn’t competent on issues important to a movement why would that person have been accepted as a leader?

[Read more…]

Returning the Money: My Ethics Say No

For the most part, I prefer to ignore Kelleyanne Conway. She’s a liar of the same magnitude as Baghdad Bob, so even if I wanted to use her words to understand the right wing, I couldn’t. There’s just no way to reliably understand what Trump or (more broadly) his administration or Republicans in general think about an issue based on anything she has to say. She might occasionally tell the truth (I imagine when she’s expressing her personal opinion she’s more likely to be truthful, but her personal opinion of Trump did a 180 once he got the nomination and her income depending on getting work from him), but that only makes it worse.

There’s an old riddle about meeting one trans* person who always tells the truth and another trans* person who always lies. They stand at the fork in the road, and, not wanting to waste time and effort going to the wrong place, you decide to ask these trans* folk how to get where you’re going. However, since these two trans persons are two of three genetically identical triplets, you can’t know which one tells the truth and which one lies. How, then, do you find your way? There is a method for getting the truth no matter which triplet you ask. But here’s the tribadism: getting that truth requires that the liar lie 100% of the time. If you encounter a pair of triplets where one tells the truth 90% of the time and one lies 90% of the time, there is no way to ensure that you get good information out of them.

So Conway tells outrageous lies. She tells them with verve, sincerity, and even enthusiasm. But she’s not some character in a philosophical thought experiment. And so even though you always know that she’s likely to be lying, and in some cases you have prior information that allows you to know she’s definitely lying, just listening to her gives you no reliable information about anything.*1

But others like RawStory and Ed Brayton do pay some attention to her, and I pay some attention to RawStory and Ed Brayton, who runs a good blog over on Patheos. So I ended up reading a RawStory piece on Conway’s latest rant against Hillary Clinton. The substance of her critique is that

  1. Clinton is a woman
  2. Clinton ran for President
  3. Clinton has previously made statements supportive of victims and survivors of sexual harassment and assault, and
  4. Clinton has received money from Weinstein, now publicly reported to be someone who has engaged in sexual harassment and assault.

Now, Conway hasn’t run for POTUS, but it’s unclear what role that plays in the analysis. If this is only used to mean that she has voluntarily taken a role in the public eye, well then

  1. Conway is a woman
  2. Conway has voluntarily taken a role in the public eye
  3. Conway has previously made statements supportive of victims and survivors of sexual harassment and assault, and
  4. Conway has received money from Trump, widely reported to have engaged in sexual harassment and assault even before she took her job at the White House.

So when Conway insists that Clinton has insufficiently responded to the reports of Weinstein’s behavior, any reasonable person might tune out at the obvious hypocrisy of this person accusing Clinton of hypocrisy. But what I found interesting was Conway’s idea of what constituted an inappropriate and insufficient response:

“I felt like a woman who ran to be commander-in-chief, president of the United States, the first one ever, who talks about women’s empowerment, took an awfully long time to give support to those women who were coming forward,” Conway said. “And has still — as far as we know — kept the money, kept the dirty money that dirty Harvey has given her in her campaign.”

Based on the above, any reasonable reporter should be asking Conway if she has kept the money paid to her for working for Trump, though we know that’s not going to happen. So let’s move on.

We can be confident that lots of the money received from Weinstein by the Clintons, and by Hillary Clinton in particular, has been spent, I’m sure. But imagine if you knew exactly how much Weinstein gave and that Hillary had that much cash on hand. You’ve decided that the appropriate response is not to keep the money, but too few people think about what comes next.

It is, in fact, not uncommon for political campaigns to return checks uncashed if the checks somehow indicate that the donor is beyond the political pale. But is this the best policy? Several years ago John Scalzi was having a problem with Vox Day being an asshat, and solved it via donating money to groups opposed to Vox Day’s apparent positions and causes. How much better would the donation be if the money came out of Vox Day’s own pocket, limiting his ability to donate to groups that supported his racist, sexist, homophobic dipshittery?

This is why I sincerely hope that Clinton does not return any of Weinstein’s money to Weinstein. At this point, Weinstein got most of what he wanted – Bill Clinton in the Arkansas governor’s mansion and the White House and Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Imagine if he was able to successfully support all his favorite political causes and candidates AND THEN get a 100% rebate. That seems like a very, very bad plan. The money Clinton might use to pay back Weinstein would have to come from somewhere, after all. To paraphrase John Kerry, how to you ask someone to be the last donor to repay a sexual predator? It would be like the Catholic Church getting to shuffle predatory priests around, pay out a bunch of millions in settlements, and then have all that money returned to them by donors concerned about the money they “lost” to survivors. As if anyone would ever want to contribute money to the Catholic Church to refill the coffers drained by their sexual predation!*3

If Clinton and Conway did want to rid themselves of any possible taint associated with taking money from sexual predators, the reasoning above gives us some clear guidelines:

  1. Don’t give the money back to the unethical jerkwad.
  2. When picking a place for that money to go, you have to be deliberate, otherwise buying a yacht for yourself would be getting rid of the money – you gave it to the yacht company, right?
  3. The primary criterion in picking places to receive your money should be that they have a publicly announced mission that is at very least inclusive of opposing the behavior that made the source of your money an unethical slimeball in the first place.
  4. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a well-funded, useful advocacy group that’s as specific as “Survivors of sexual harassment in the film and television industries opposing Weinstein’s ability to harm people with impunity”. So don’t set up false expectations of perfect tailoring. For both Conway and Clinton a group that makes it their mission to oppose rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment ought to be specific enough.
  5. When you make the donation, make sure that any attention is on the group doing the good work, not on you for giving the donation: after all, you’re doing this because you don’t want to be tainted, not because you’re super-generous.

It’s not generous in the way that Scalzi was generous with his own money, but if you’re ever running a group of campaign that has been given a donation that generates more negatives than the cash can generate positives, I think this is a good basic guideline for where to entrust your tainted money.

Of course, none of this is likely to help Conway, as the list of organizations she would need to support is so long that she’d still have some hard decisions to make. But Conway if you happen to be reading this, I’d be happy to help you prioritize your donations to the different possible organizations deserving of the tainted money you’ve accepted for serving Donald Trump. Though it has only expanded since the recent hurricanes and Mexican earthquakes, I’m sure that I could help you rid yourself of even millions of dollars.

 

 


*1: Did I really just write all that to say I usually don’t bother to pay attention to Conway and I feel I have good reason? Apparently I did. Oy.

*2: yes, tepidly and inadequately and incompetently and while engaging in victim blaming and … well, a whole lot more ands that ensure her “advocacy” is anything but helpful and effective, but in her defenses of Trump she has gone out of her way on TV to say that she supports “real” survivors. Since she didn’t single out Clinton for the effectiveness of her advocacy, merely for the fact that she spoke up about survivors needing and deserving things, the effectiveness and even the offensive malicious falseness of her statements “advocating” for survivors are not the point. If she made statements that she feels

*3: That might just be the most depressing attempt at humorous litotes I’ve ever made.

…And a Suffragist To Be Named Later

Pierce R Butler, a regular reader of this blog and the author of many thoughtful comments around FtB, recently asked an important question about Margaret Sanger, one which I answered in the comments of Killing Black Agency. But it also got me thinking about a project in which I’ve been interested for some time: writing about individual feminists’ philosophies and ethics.

[Read more…]

Hobby Lobby Funds ISIS, But Not Birth Control

You may remember the Hobby Lobby corporation from their assault on women’s rights. Rather, I should say “its” assault on women’s rights because what was at issue in that lawsuit was whether or not a corporation can be said to have a religion.

People, of course, can have religious beliefs. Corporations, however, are set up for the sole purpose of not being the people who own them. This becomes important when a company goes bankrupt: creditors can go after the assets of the corporation, but not the assets of the persons who own or run the corporation. This is true because under the law the corporation is not the people that make it up. It is its own entity.

[Read more…]

Moral Flexibility: TLDR

In my immediately previous post, I set out the basics necessary to understand the concept of metaethical flexibility. In short, this is a term to describe how the same person might appeal to consequences when considering one ethical question but god’s commands when considering another and in still others use a different form of moral reasoning altogether.

[Read more…]

Moral Flexibility: Why Ethicists Are Wrong About Why Things Are Wrong

It is hard to say that I work as a professional ethicist as their are few jobs that are framed in just this way. To the extent “professional ethicist” jobs are known as such, they are largely professorial positions. I’ve never held such a position, even when I was teaching in a university. However, many jobs include making ethical recommendations as an important part of the total role. Though some lobbyists would not want their jobs to be connected with ethics in any way (typically for fear of scrutiny), those who craft public policy proposals are actually in the business of morality and ethics. Implementations of a proposal might depend on a host of practical questions, but the motivation for a public policy proposal is very often moral or ethical in nature. Also moral or ethical in nature are many of the arguments for a legislator to vote on a proposal, or submit a bill, or act to move a bill forward procedurally. The same is no less true when lobbying an administrative official for regulatory or enforcement action (or inaction). Understood in this way, it’s quite clear that I (and many, many others) have experience working as a professional ethicist. The full number of people working professionally on questions of ethics dwarf the subset whose job titles explicitly include ethics. It is this larger set of ethicists to which I indisputably belong that imposes a moral responsibility upon me to question and critique ethics as a profession and ethicists as a group.

But even this larger group does not sum up all people who think seriously about ethical questions. In our non-professional lives, too, we must frequently engage quite explicitly with questions of ethics. Anyone with a child in the “Why?” phase of conversational development certainly spends more than 40 hours a week on ethical questions.*1 Anyone who takes the responsibility of voting seriously must also engage in questions of ethics. It is precisely the ubiquity of ethical reasoning in human life that inspires me to write today about an important shortcoming in the field of ethics.

[Read more…]

Anxiety, Depression and Medically Assisted Suicide

In the past week, a Canadian law regulating the exercise of the right to medical assistance in dying (that right being established by a Supreme Court of Canada decision known as Carter) has come into effect. Although I host far from the most regular blog on FtB, and although that inevitably results in fewer comments here than elsewhere, I’d like to try to host a discussion on an important topic of ethics and law: whether treatment-resistant anxiety disorders and/or treatment resistant depression should have access to medically assisted suicide.

In Canada, the Carter decision has established that the privacy/autonomy right so crucial to the Supreme Court’s decisions establishing a right to abortion access in the Morgentaler cases also encompasses the right of “grievously and irremediably ill persons” to gain access to advice and medications necessary for competent assisted suicide as well as to further medical aid in dying (sometimes called MAID though something about this acronym sounds unpleasantly inappropriate to me). Grievous and irremediable illness is not a phrase that automatically excludes mental illness, and indeed one person has already gained access to medical aid in dying on the basis of severe and treatment-resistant mental illness.

[Read more…]

The Honest Christian

I am almost never asked, “Right Reverend Crip Dyke, if some community leader is going to be a self-professed Christian, would you prefer that person be an honest believer or would you rather that person be a nominal Christian that clearly doesn’t believe in the actual teachings of the bible?”

However, that question is clearly asked or implied on the internet many, many times per day. Some think that the believing Christian is harder to reform because they really do believe on faith many non-sensical things that come straight out of the New Testament, the Tanakh, or the ancillary writings included in the Christian “Old Testament”. Often times this carries a presumption that I (really: the random internet atheist subject to the question) will prefer the person easier to deconvert.

[Read more…]

Christianity Versus Personal Responsibility

No deep insights here. Just a big, bold WTF? at the fact that so many conservative Christians continue to profess to be champions of personal responsibility.

Really?

Christians: your god hates personal responsibility. He loathes it. If you believe he exists and if you believe Christian doctrine, then this god has condemned you to torture because of something someone else did thousands of years before you were born. That’s not personal responsibility. If that god believed in personal responsibility, Eve and Adam would have taken some lumps – presumably the snake also – and, well, that would be it. They were cast out of the garden. Their children didn’t return, so no one else ate the forbidden fruit. Nope. Just those two. But the Christian god is happy to make you responsible for events in which you played no personal part.

And, of course, there’s no responsibility imposed on you for your evil acts. Sure, you have to “believe” in the Big J, but even if you don’t commit any evil acts, you’d still have to have faith in order to escape torture. To escape divine condemnation, Stalin must pay the same price (no more, no less) that any child who dies within minutes of being born must pay. No need to make amends to those you’ve wronged. No need to do something a little extra to make it back into the Christian god’s good graces if you ordered water boarding and other war crimes. No need to suck up just a little bit more if you launch a war that kills hundreds of thousands of people.

Nope. This god condemns regardless of your behavior. This god condemns regardless of the amount of evil you harbor. And this god forgives Hitler and Mother Teresa just as quickly and easily as this god “forgives” Charles Hamilton Houston, Sylvia Rivera, Hildegard von Bingen, and Woody Guthrie.

Personalized responsibility? Responsibility where it actually matters what you personally have done, why you did it, and what outcomes resulted? That’s anathema to the Christian god and antithetical to the tenets of Christianity.

And yet so many people simultaneously profess to be devout Christians and believers in personal responsibility. I sometimes wonder: do they even realize that they must of necessity be lying about at least one of those things?

Talk About a Mediocre Ethicist

In the last post all about me, I mentioned that it might be possible for any mediocre ethicist to outdo anything I have accomplished. Recently I read all too many articles published by the Christian Courier, all of which, strangely, list Wayne Jackson as their author.

And? I stand corrected. I have found a Black Swan: at least one mediocre ethicist has no hope of outdoing me.

[Read more…]