I leave you this fine evening with an essay that explains why President Bush should not care about how popular he is. He was reelected to the presidency—to continue serving as our commander in chief—in November 2004, more than a year and a half after the war in Iraq began. By that act, the American people authorized him to prosecute the war to the best of his ability. He is doing just that. President Bush, and not his critics, bears the burden of failure. Why should he let them dictate his actions?
Wednesday, 31 January 2007
Here is a column about United States Senator Barack Obama, who is running for president. I’m not the least bit troubled by Obama’s propensity to say, “On the one hand; but on the other hand.” What’s wrong with acknowledging the arguments on both (or all) sides of an issue? What’s wrong with acknowledging that principles can and do conflict in particular cases? Has moderation become a vice? To Aristotle, virtues such as courage are a mean between extremes. Those who risk too much for minor goods are rash or foolish; those who risk too little for major goods are cowardly. There are two vices for each virtue: one rooted in excess, the other in deficiency. Good lawyers such as Obama know that to win an argument, you don’t have to destroy the countervailing arguments; all you have to do is show that they’re weaker than your argument. It sounds to me as though Obama has, or at least understands, judgment, which is the capacity to bring all relevant considerations to bear on a problem, assign them their proper weights, and decide accordingly. Judgment is in short supply in our political life, perhaps because it is in short supply in our personal lives.
It’ll be interesting to watch Obama’s campaign develop. Right now, he’s pretty much a blank to me, but the fact that he has nuanced views on various matters is encouraging, not discouraging, especially to a philosopher. After all, there’s not just one social good; there are many, ranging from individual liberty to autonomy to security to prosperity to equality. Politics is the business of working out the comparative values of these and other goods, and seeing that they—as well as the burdens of social life—are distributed fairly. Politics, like morality generally, is complicated, which is why political moralities such as libertarianism and egalitarianism falter. They’re one-dimensional. They give inordinate weight to one value (liberty and equality, respectively). John Rawls (1921-2002), recognizing this, tried to work out a theory that gives liberty and equality their proper places in the social order. Whether he succeeded in this ambitious task remains a matter of controversy. Rawls has been attacked by libertarians for giving too much weight to equality and by egalitarians for giving too much weight to liberty. Maybe that’s a sign that he gives these values their proper weight, or something close to it.
Addendum: I should probably say, for those who don’t know, that I live in Fort Worth, Texas. Maybe I should have stayed in Detroit, where I attended law school, or Tucson, where I attended graduate school.
Addendum 2: The Beach Boys song “California Girls” (audaciously covered by David Lee Roth) takes on new meaning after looking at the map. It doesn’t mean, “There are girls everywhere!” It means, “Where are the girls?”
1-31-87 The plan for the day was for Rob [McLean] to pick me up and drive to Mount Lemmon, where we would spend the day hiking, rockclimbing, and sightseeing. But it was rainy and cold, so I called Rob to suggest an alternative plan. Rather than go to the mountains in the rain or snow, why not wait for a few weeks until it gets hot down here [in Tucson]? Then Mount Lemmon will feel like an escape. Rob didn’t seem disappointed. Instead, we went to a movie this evening. We saw The Mission, an historically accurate portrayal of Jesuit mission life in 1750 Argentina. The main actors, Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, were good in their roles as priests, and the scenery was spectacular. There were many shots of Iguacu Falls, including one in which Irons climbs the side of the falls freestyle. Later, De Niro, who had killed his brother, climbed the same rock face carrying a load of metal. This was his way of doing penance. Even for an agnostic, there was something poignant about this. I enjoyed the movie. Rob told me afterward, however, that he found it boring in parts. Oh well, you can’t please everyone.
. . .
I spent the day outlining, drafting a handout on deontic logic for my students (it’s also intrinsically interesting), and watching the [Arizona] Wildcats defeat the [Arizona State] Sun Devils in a televised basketball game from McKale Center. The teams play each other twice a year. In the four years that I’ve been here, the Wildcats have won seven of eight games. In football, the Wildcats have won all four games (and even the game before that, in 1982). Is that dominance, or what? The high temperature was only fifty-four degrees [Fahrenheit], a drop of twenty-eight degrees since yesterday. Yesterday we tied McAllen, Texas, for the highest temperature in the nation, the second such honor in four days.
Eros in this theological sense, according to Benedict, is not incompatible with agape. Eros inclines us to receive the gifts of God; agape impels us to pass on to others what we ourselves have received. Eros, then, corresponds to the ascending moment in the spiritual life whereby we turn to God, from whom every perfect gift descends. Eros and agape belong together as two phases of the same process. If we did not receive, we would have nothing to give; and if we were not disposed to give, we would be spiritually unprepared to receive.
In their highest expression, the two types of love reinforce each other. Contemplation of the divine gives us the spiritual strength to take upon ourselves the needs of others. Pope Gregory I explained how Moses, by engaging in dialogue with God in the tabernacle, obtained the power he needed to be of service to his people. Similarly, to become sources from which living waters flow, we must drink deeply from the wellsprings of life. The more deiform we become, the more capable we will be of agape. Conversely, the more concerned we are with service to others, the more receptive will we be to the gifts of God. This will become more evident if we examine what revelation has to tell us about the divine love, the next stage of our investigation.
Here is a review of the latest book by Richard A. Posner, who, while serving as a federal appellate judge, finds time to write scholarly books and articles at a faster rate than most professors. I have long since given up hope of reading as fast as Posner writes. It wouldn’t be so bad if his work were slipshod. I could then chalk it up to logorrhea. But it’s the opposite of slipshod: It’s well-researched, carefully reasoned, and beautifully written. I hate you, Judge Posner. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. You make those of us who fancy ourselves scholars look bad.
Addendum: I expect one day to discover that “Richard A. Posner” is not the name of a human being, as everyone thought, but the imprint of a publishing house consisting of experts in every known academic discipline, plus a few that have yet to be invented.
To the Editor:
Vice President Dick Cheney defends a war that he started without Iraqi provocation and that continues without the possibility of American victory not because he is “delusional,” as Maureen Dowd says (“Daffy Does Doom,” column, Jan. 27), but because the war itself serves his interests and the interests of his constituents.
Dick Cheney has spent his life working for military suppliers, American energy corporations and the Republican Party. The war has earned billions of dollars for his former employer, Halliburton, disrupted the supplies of foreign oil and allowed his party to rise to unprecedented power.
During this time the power of the executive branch of government grew, and Mr. Cheney, at the center, exercised more influence over the nation than any vice president in United States history.
This is not “perversity.” It is the work of a mercilessly effective politician.
Brooklyn, Jan. 27, 2007
Note from KBJ: This person has CDS—Cheney Derangement Syndrome.
Are human beings causing climate change? See here. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t even play one on TV, so I have to rely on scientists for information about climate change. The problem—besides the fact that there is no scientific consensus on the matter—is that scientists can no longer be trusted to stick to science. They want to make policy. Don’t they realize that by joining the political fray, they undermine their credibility and authority? Either (1) they think Keith’s Law is false or (2) they’d rather be partisan than authoritative. (Thanks to my Canadian friend Grant Brown for the link.)
Everyone knows, deep in his or her gut, that it’s wrong to take a person’s race or skin color into account in distributing benefits and burdens. It’s wrong if it’s a white person doing the distributing; it’s wrong if it’s a black person doing the distributing. It’s wrong if the motive for the distribution is malevolence; it’s wrong if the motive for the distribution is benevolence. So why do we allow universities to do it? The answer is that universities are run (for the most part) by white elites who feel guilty for being white, or by blacks who have a vested interest in promoting white guilt. To alleviate their guilt, these elites give preferences to blacks. I’m sorry, but I’m not guilty. I’m not a slave owner; I’m not a descendant of a slave owner; I’ve never discriminated against anyone on the basis of race or skin color; I’m not a racist. The purpose of a university is to promote academic excellence. It is not to punish or reward people on the basis of their race or skin color. It is not to rectify wrongs. It is not to redistribute wealth. It is not to engineer society to make it conform to someone’s vision. It’s heartening to see that ordinary citizens are beginning to take back their universities from the arrogant, misguided, guilt-ridden elites who run them. See here.