Sunday, 4 February 2007

Climate Change

Why are progressives freaking out about so-called climate change? They seem to want to punish human beings for being, well, human beings. Maybe that’s it: They’re self-loathing humans. Add a pinch of anti-Americanism (since it’s argued that Americans have done more than any other people to change the climate) and you get fanaticism. Throw in misplaced reverence for science (which is, after all, progressive religion) and you get hysteria. Add a dollop of conservative skepticism about science’s grandiose claims on the matter and you get blinding rage. See here for Mark Steyn’s take on the matter.

Addendum: The progressive imperative is that science must not be challenged. Except, of course, when it proclaims that there are races, or innate sexual differences, or racial disparities in IQ.

Utilitarianism and the War in Iraq

I have yet to see a sustained discussion, by a utilitarian, of the war in Iraq. Whether the war was justified is a serious question—one that should continue to be debated. Equally serious is what the United States should now do. It might be thought that utilitarianism supports the immediate withdrawal of American forces, but that’s not necessarily so. Indeed, two aspects of utilitarian thought suggest that immediate withdrawal would be wrong.

The first aspect is that utilitarianism is forward-looking. Unlike, say, Kantianism, it takes no account of the past. What’s done is done. All you can do is take things as you find them and do the best you can. So even if the war in Iraq was wrong, by utilitarian standards, and even if it’s been badly managed by those same standards, it’s a separate question what ought to be done now, given the situation as we find it.

The second aspect is that utilitarianism endorses negative responsibility.* A person is as responsible for what he or she allows as for what he or she does. If the United States withdraws its troops and Iraqis kill each other en masse, as seems likely, then the United States is responsible for the deaths. Responsibility doesn’t end when we leave, for we might have prevented (some of) the deaths.

Here is the question utilitarians must answer: Which action, of all those available to us (the United States) would maximize overall utility? According to utilitarianism, Americans count for no more than Iraqis. As Jeremy Bentham put it (according to John Stuart Mill), “Everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one.” It may be that every action we undertake will lead to many deaths and much suffering. The question is which action will lead to the fewest deaths and the least suffering. And please note that utilitarianism makes no distinction between the guilty and the innocent. The interests of someone who is hell-bent on killing others are just as important as the interests of someone who is trying to help others.

I’m frankly astounded that Peter Singer, a utilitarian, has not weighed in on this issue. He seems more interested in bashing President Bush and expressing animosity toward the United States than in applying his normative ethical theory to one of the most pressing moral issues of the day. As for why he’s silent, I can only speculate.  Perhaps he knows that it will make utilitarianism look bad. Most Americans think American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives. (This is called patriotism.) Most Americans think that, ceteris paribus, doing harm is worse than allowing harm. (This is called the Acts and Omissions Doctrine.) Most Americans think that what was done in the past is morally relevant to what we ought to do now. Most Americans think that the interests of the innocent are more important than the interests of the guilty.

If anyone knows of a utilitarian discussion of the war in Iraq, please bring it to my attention.

*Here is how Bernard Williams defines “negative responsibility”: [I]f I am ever responsible for anything, then I must be just as much responsible for things that I allow or fail to prevent, as I am for things that I myself, in the more everyday restricted sense, bring about.” Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in Utilitarianism: For and Against, by J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 75-150, at 95.


Run, Ralph, run! (Thanks to Will Nehs for the link.)

Avery Cardinal Dulles on Jesus

The death of Jesus on the cross is love in its most radical form.

(Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Love, the Pope, and C. S. Lewis,” First Things [January 2007]: 20-4, at 22)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “To ’08 Hopefuls, Media Technology Can Be Friend or Foe” (news article, Jan. 31):

In wartime, with American military men and women in harm’s way, with so many challenges at home, with the 2008 presidential election campaign under way so early, the focus should be on the candidates’ substance and views about where they want to take the country.

I don’t care whether Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton can carry a tune when singing. I care a lot more about the tone, substance and conviction of her views.

As for YouTube, it can be entertaining, but I wince when the media, the candidates and their consultants pay it so much attention. Somehow it suggests that the priorities—in the newsroom and in campaigns—may be askew.

This is a time for a responsible, serious and revealing dialogue with voters.

A. J. Linnen
Washington, Jan. 31, 2007

A Year Ago


The Art of War

Here is a review of a new book on warfare.

Van Halen

The following story appeared in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News:

The on-again, off-again rumors have come to this: Van Halen will officially go on tour this summer with original singer David Lee Roth in tow, founding band member Eddie Van Halen announced Friday.

“It feels like a whole new beginning to be back with Dave and to be playing with my brother and my son. We look forward to going on tour,” Mr. Van Halen said. He was referring to his brother Alex Van Halen, the drummer, and to his 15-year-old son by estranged wife Valerie Bertinelli, Wolfgang, who’ll be playing bass.

Mr. Roth, an original member, quit the group in 1985. He rejoined briefly in 1996, only to quit again a few months later. He hasn’t performed live with Van Halen since 1984.

Wolfgang Van Halen replaces longtime bassist Michael Anthony, who departed earlier this year. He’s already joined his dad and uncle for rehearsals in the studio and had played dates during the band’s 2004 tour. The song “316” on 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was named for his birth date that same year.

I have no doubt that young Wolfgang knows his licks on the bass guitar, but he can’t possibly replace Anthony on backup vocals. Van Halen’s harmonies were its trademark.

Safire on Language