Saturday, 20 January 2007


You can kill your children, but you can’t spank them. What a world!

Animal Companions

Here are three paragraphs from a recent essay by Roger Scruton:

As I suggested, science provides authority for this weird morality only when clothed in moral doctrine. The sleight of hand that gave us the “selfish” gene gives us the rights of baboons. By disguising anthropomorphic (in other words, pre-scientific) ways of thinking as science, Wise rediscovers the enchanted world of childhood, in which animals live as Beatrix Potter describes them, in an Eden where “every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.” By abusing evolutionary biology in this way, we are able to read back the sophisticated conduct of people into the animal behavior that prefigures it.

But this means that the apes appeal to animal-rights activists for precisely the wrong reason—namely, that they look like people and behave like people, while making no moral demands. The apes are re-made as versions of ourselves, purged of the guilt that comes from the attempt to lead the life to which we, as moral beings, are condemned: the life of judgment. Nothing impedes our sympathy for the chimpanzee and the bonobo, since their lives are blameless. It is not that they do no wrong, but that “right” and “wrong” here make no sense.

And that explains, in part, the appeal of the animal-rights movement. It shifts the focus away from moral beings toward creatures in every respect less demanding—creatures like dogs, which return our affection regardless of our merits, or cats, which maintain an amiable pretense of affection while caring for no one at all (a fact always vehemently and fruitlessly denied by their keepers). The world of animals is a world without judgment, where embarrassment, remorse, guilt, and penitence are unknown, and where human beings can escape from the burden of moral emotions. In another way, therefore, those who tell us that we have no special place in the scheme of things create a place for us that is just as special. By focusing our human attitudes on animals, we are playing at God, standing always apart from and above our victims, smiling down on their innocent ways, removed from the possibility of judgment ourselves, and, in our exaltation, imagining that we confer the greatest benefit on those whom we patronize.

Scruton appears to be saying that it’s selfish, or self-indulgent, to live with, love, and provide for dogs, cats, birds, and other animals. They, unlike human beings, “return our affection regardless of our merits.” They’re comparatively undemanding. They put less weight on our “moral emotions,” such as embarrassment, remorse, guilt, and penitence. To live with a human being is hard; to live with a mere animal is easy. The implication is that some of us want to take the easy way out. Scruton has said similar things about masturbation. It is, he says, a way of gaining sexual gratification without having to deal with another human being. Choosing to live with animals rather than humans is a kind of masturbation: all pleasure, no responsibility.

With all due respect to Scruton, whose work in political philosophy I admire, he has it exactly backward. Those of us who live with, love, and provide for animals have no expectation of reciprocity, for we know that none is forthcoming. My canine companions, Sophie and Shelbie, will never provide for me in my old age. They will never jump in the car to pick me up when my automobile won’t start, or when I’m in an accident. They can’t lend me money, heal me when I’m injured or sick, console me with words, cook my meals, or defend me from critics. My children can do all these things and more. So who’s selfish: those who produce children or those who care for animals?

Scruton makes it seem as though living with animals is an indulgence—or worse, a symptom of psychopathy. It’s more accurate to say that it’s an imposition—one that we willingly and happily bear for the sake of our companions. We do it out of love, not because we expect or hope to gain anything tangible from it. I’m not saying that people have children (or befriend others) only for instrumental reasons; but in fact both children and friends are in a position to reciprocate, and we know it. Animals are not. Who, then, is being self-indulgent: those of us who love with no expectation of reciprocity, or those who love with an expectation of reciprocity? One wonders whether Scruton has ever lived with—taken responsibility for—an animal. We know that he hunts and kills them for pleasure and entertainment; but has he lived with one? Perhaps if he did, he wouldn’t say such foolish things.

Health Care

According to The New York Times, President Bush is going to propose a health-care plan that, in my view, will be opposed by both progressives and conservatives. Unbelievable. Health care is not a governmental responsibility.


It will come as no surprise to anyone that Hillary Clinton is running for president. It’s official. Practice saying “President Clinton,” because you’re going to be saying it for at least four years. Me? I’ll probably vote for Ralph Nader again.

Addendum: Here is Hillary’s announcement. It reads like a Nanny Manifesto: “Vote for me and I will see that all your needs are provided for.” A chicken in every pot! There’s no mention of the fact that the resources used by government to provide for these needs are taken from individuals against their will.

Addendum 2: The moonbats at Democratic Underground are divided over Hillary’s candidacy. Many of them say they will not vote for her, either because she supported the war in Iraq or because she’s “moderate” or because she can’t be trusted.

Addendum 3: Michelle Malkin has the video. Query: Where’s Bill? Will Hillary keep him out of view? Will he accept such a demotion? Will Americans worry about him being in the White House, near the levers of power (and near the interns)? It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.

Colin Broughton on Peter Singer

Singer‘s moral imbecility, which demonstrates how liberalism can be responsible for results with which the Nazis would be familiar, may be viewed in various perspectives, but all of them in the end are a function of the liberal-left’s ongoing ‘Enlightenment’-inspired project to replace the traditional and the human with ‘reason’. But in ethics, this attempt must fail, because the business of ethics is to humanise. It should go without saying that one cannot humanise and encourage human flourishing by trying to crush human love as a well-spring of moral value, but with liberals like Singer around, it seems it must be said. In any case Singer’s reliance on reason is misplaced and contradictory. He tells us that human beings are not unique, but human reason is unique. It is of a different order from that of animals, and does indeed set us apart. Singer recognises this implicitly, because he thinks human beings, uniquely, can ignore their genetic impulses in favour of their reason.

Traditionalists do not deny reason, but have a healthy distrust of it, recognising that how we use it depends on our pre-existing emotional state, and that this fact is not often recognised by those who assert the supremacy of reason. Reason as the slave of the passions, as the philosopher David Hume put it, has been responsible for some of the most horrendous inhumanity in history. Traditionalists respect the wisdom of the ages, suitably amended to account for different conditions, which has its own ‘reasoning’: the selection of ideas and attitudes in an evolutionary process of adaption [sic] and survival in a process over time infinitely more refined, powerful, and in the end reasonable, than anything the liberal left is ever going to come up with.

(Colin Broughton, “The Moral Imbecility of Liberalism,” The Salisbury Review 25 [winter 2006]: 10-2, at 12 [italics in original])

Academic Indoctrination

There’s a big difference between education and indoctrination. The latter—understood as the practice of teaching the uncritical acceptance of ideas—has no place on a college or university campus. Unfortunately, it occurs, almost always by progressives. See here for a list of campuses on which indoctrination takes place. You might want to think twice about sending your children to one of these schools. By the way, isn’t it ironic that those who rail against religion on the ground that it’s a form of indoctrination have no objection to indoctrinating young people with progressive ideas? If indoctrination is objectionable, then it’s objectionable, whatever the subject matter.


Mark Spahn, who has been sending me e-mail for some time, is coauthor of The Kanji Dictionary.

Commercial Assault

Tired of spam, junk mail, and telephone solicitation? See here for tips on how to reduce or eliminate these annoyances. Me? I don’t get much spam, thanks to my university (UTA) and my Internet service provider (Charter). Junk mail doesn’t bother me, for some reason. I sort through it in seconds, recycling what I don’t want. Truth be told, I’d rather get junk mail than no mail at all, since it tells me that the mail carrier came that day. As for telephone solicitation, I keep my telephone and answering machine off. I never hear a ring. If I see a red numeral other than “0” on the answering machine, I know that someone left a message, which I listen to before deciding whether to call back. (My friends and relatives know that this is how I operate.) I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t own a cellphone, a.k.a. a leash. I made it almost 50 years without one. That’s a good indication that I don’t need one.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Caution: Grown-Ups at Play,” by Stacy Schiff (column, Jan. 16):

I would extend Ms. Schiff’s contention that we boomer parents are using involvement with our children to return to our own childhoods—yes, and more.

I also think that many of us are involved so that our children can do the achieving that we haven’t. Here we are entering our 50s, the well-known period of resignation to disappointment, and here they are entering middle school, and thanks to our pushing opportunity down their throats, they can ace algebra while they’re still in sixth grade!

If you’re not the best and the brightest, you can become so, through your over-tutored, over-protected, over-guided (and soon to be burnt out) son or daughter.

It’s not just that we’re going back to the playground—they’re doing our adult achieving for us.

Judy Karasik
Silver Spring, Md., Jan. 17, 2007

A Year Ago