Friday, 5 January 2007

Conservatives and Progressives

Someone said that conservatives are drawn to history, while progressives are drawn to sociology. That seems right to me. Can anyone explain why? I’ve been a history buff all my life. I was reading biographies of mountain men, generals, and statesmen while my classmates and older brother were reading science fiction. Later, while in law school, I earned a master’s degree in history. My first scholarly publication, when I was 25 years old and still a law student, was about the legal status of suicide in early America. (See here.) Maybe that explains why I ended up a conservative. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that David Hume (1711-1776), who wrote the magisterial (and best-selling) History of England, was a conservative. By the way, Hume was an atheist and an ethical subjectivist, as I am, and he, too, gave up law for philosophy. (Read the first three paragraphs—especially the third paragraph—of Hume’s short autobiography.) We’re soulmates.

Twenty Years Ago

1-5-87 While in Michigan, I learned that my boyhood baseball hero, Matty Alou, is a Detroit Tiger batting coach. What a pleasant surprise! I’ve wondered, off and on, what he did for a living after leaving baseball in the mid-seventies. Now I know, and it’s with my favorite baseball team. I still don’t know at what level he coaches, but I doubt that it’s at the major-league level. Detroit has other coaches. Maybe I’ll write to him in the next few days. It would be nice just to get a letter from Matty. If only he knew how much I idolized him years ago. [Mateo Rojas Alou is now 68 years old. He is still alive, according to]

Keith’s Law

Some of you will know the content of Keith’s Law by heart, since I have stated it many times in this blog. It goes like this: Authoritativeness is inversely proportional to partisanship. Here is the latest confirmatory instance.

Stephen M. Barr on Science and Religion

Still, The Language of God is a book of enormous value. At a time when so many people on both sides are trying to foment a conflict between science and religion, Collins is a sorely needed voice of reason. His book may do more to promote better understanding between the worlds of faith and science than any other so far written.

(Stephen M. Barr, “The Form of Speaking,” review of The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, First Things [December 2006]: 39-43, at 43)


Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column.  Here is Peg Kaplan’s latest post.


I enjoyed this column by Sam Schulman. While I’m an atheist, I’m embarrassed by the likes of Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, none of whom appears to realize that theism—the doctrine that God exists—needs to be refuted, not explained away. Dennett in particular should know this, since he has philosophical training. With friends like these, atheists don’t need enemies.


Who says art and science are incompatible?  Check this out.  You’ll love the final image.

Best of the Web Today



I grew up in Michigan, so I played my share of hockey. We used to spend hours shoveling snow off a pond. By the time we got the snow off, we were too tired to play. I can’t say that I’ve ever loved the game. I attended one Detroit Red Wings game in all my years in Michigan. During that time, I attended many Detroit Tigers games. Guess which sport I love and which I merely tolerate? Anyway, with that as background, let me tell you a story. Yesterday, during a commercial advertisement in whatever I was watching, I surfed to the Fox Sports channel to see whether the basketball game between my beloved Arizona Wildcats and the evil Washington Huskies was on. The game was supposed to be aired after the hockey game between the Dallas Stars and the Edmonton Oilers. As the hockey game wound down, Dallas led, 5-4. With a minute to play, Edmonton pulled its goalie. One of the Stars stole the puck and glided in for an empty-net goal, which would have salted the game away. Just as I was flipping the channel, I saw the player stumble. He missed! He missed a shot into an open net from less than 10 feet away, with nobody near him! As if that’s not bad enough, one of the Oilers grabbed the puck and passed it down the ice. With two seconds left, the Oilers scored. Unbelievable! I roared with laughter at the absurdity of it. The Dallas players were stunned. The Edmonton fans went crazy. Alas, Dallas won the game, 6-5, on a shootout in overtime. It would have been a long flight home for the Stars if they had lost.

Addendum: Here is the story. Watch the video of the stumbling player. It’s hilarious.

From the Mailbag

Partisans of all stripes have a gold standard: to get their followers to reflexively hate selected “others.” This prejudicial hatred is Pavlovian in that it bypasses the part of the brain that reasons. When Gore and his minions teach kids in school that global warming is caused by men, they have one goal: to connect global warming to capitalism (and capitalists). SOMEHOW Republicans are connected to capitalism. Go figure. So their goal is simple. When kids (and adults) LOOK AT A THERMOMETER their hatred of Republicans is reinforced. It is really a beautiful strategy that is self-reinforced each day. Further, as psychologists will tell you, intermittent reinforcement is the best kind. (It is not, after all, warmer than expected EVERY day.) And finally, even conservatives/capitalists begin to warily watch the thermometer because each day that it is warmer than normal they know that half of their fellow-citizens are looking at that same temperature and blaming THEM for global warming. Blaming THEM for mankind’s eventual demise. The scheme is a work of art that I’m not sure even partisans fully appreciate or understand.


P.S.: More subtly, how about the notion that MEN are causing global warming? Capitalism and manliness go hand in hand.


Here is Steve Sailer’s latest column.  (Thanks to Mark Spahn for the link.  Mark serves as my eyes and ears on the Internet.)

The Philosophy of Animal Rights

Longtime readers of this blog know that, while I am a conservative, I am not a typical conservative. For one thing, I’m an atheist. Most conservatives are theists. For another, I’m an ethical subjectivist. Most conservatives are objectivists. For yet another, I’m a proponent of animal rights. Most conservatives—indeed, most people—are speciesists. None of these is incompatible with being a conservative. As for why animal rights is thought to be a progressive cause, I don’t know. Most animals (e.g., cows, pigs, chickens, monkeys, rats, dogs, and cats) are sentient beings, which is to say that they have the capacity to suffer. If you believe that suffering is bad, and I’m sure you do (even if you’re a conservative), then why would only human suffering be bad? Suffering is suffering, whether it’s of a white person, a black person, a male, a female, an American, an Ethiopian, a human, or an animal. Racists disregard or discount the interests of members of other races. Sexists disregard or discount the interests of the other sex. Speciesists disregard or discount the interests of other species. If racism and sexism are wrong, then so is speciesism. The logic is the same.

Obviously, human and animal interests can and do conflict, just as the interests of human beings can and do conflict. (Think about human chattel slavery.) What do we do in the case of human conflicts? Do we disregard or discount the interests of one of the humans who is involved, or of the entire category (say, black person) of which that human is a member? No. We ensure that all interests are taken into account and counted equally. Important interests are protected by rights. We have strict rules against killing human beings, because death is the most serious harm a human being can suffer. This doesn’t mean killing is always wrong, all things considered. It means it’s presumptively wrong and must be justified. We also have rules that require reparation for wrongs committed. This is a way of acknowledging that interests were set back.  Sometimes we weigh interests and allow the weightier interests to prevail over those that are less weighty. For example, I may steal your food if I am starving.  In all cases, we try to minimize the harm done. All of these things can be done in the case of human-animal conflicts. It’s not easy, to be sure, but it’s not easy in the case of humans, either. Whoever said that doing the right thing is easy—or cheap? Morality is hard—and, tragically, costly.

The point of this post is not to make a case for animal rights. Others, such as Tom Regan, have done that far better than I could. It is to induce thinking in those of you who dismiss animal rights as a progressive cause. It has nothing to do with conservatism or progressivism. Those are political moralities. It has to do with treating sentient beings respectfully. To respect a being, literally, is to look (spect) back (re) at it—to acknowledge its existence, interests, point of view, and moral status. If you want to go further into this topic, and I hope you do, here is a good place to start. You might also visit Animal Ethics on a regular basis. If you have questions, I will be happy to answer them, preferably in the comments section, since that will allow others to participate.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Your editorial doesn’t mention the fact that President Bush has not yet watched the cellphone video of Saddam Hussein’s execution, according to White House spokesmen.

Let me get this straight: the delivery of Saddam Hussein to justice was one of the president’s only legitimate reasons left standing for the invasion of Iraq; the United States held him in custody until the Iraqi government requested that he be delivered to pay the ultimate price; the United States may have delivered him “into the hands of a Shiite lynch mob”; there is a worldwide outcry about the circumstances surrounding the execution; and the Bush administration is struggling to distance itself from the execution.

And yet the president has not even bothered to watch the video to assess the situation? With our worldwide credibility once again on the line, how can we ever trust that he knows what he is talking about?

Rick Smith
Los Angeles, Jan. 4, 2007

Note from KBJ: Three words: “Bush Derangement Syndrome.”

A Year Ago


Aw, Shucks

I’d like to thank John Hawkins of Right Wing News for making this blog “Website of the Day.”