Monday, 21 January 2008

All Fred, All the Time

Reverend Mike sent a link to this column by James Joyner.

John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 34

In his views of life he partook of the character of the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Cynic, not in the modern but the ancient sense of the word. In his personal qualities the Stoic predominated. His standard of morals was Epicurean, inasmuch as it was utilitarian, taking as the exclusive test of right and wrong, the tendency of actions to produce pleasure or pain. But he had (and this was the Cynic element) scarcely any belief in pleasure; at least in his later years, of which alone, on this point, I can speak confidently. He was not insensible to pleasures; but he deemed very few of them worth the price which, at least in the present state of society, must be paid for them. The greater number of miscarriages in life, he considered to be attributable to the overvaluing of pleasures. Accordingly, temperance, in the large sense intended by the Greek philosophers—stopping short at the point of moderation in all indulgences—was with him, as with them, almost the central point of educational precept. His inculcations of this virtue fill a large place in my childish remembrances. He thought human life a poor thing at best, after the freshness of youth and of unsatisfied curiosity had gone by. This was a topic on which he did not often speak, especially, it may be supposed, in the presence of young persons: but when he did, it was with an air of settled and profound conviction. He would sometimes say, that if life were made what it might be, by good government and good education, it would be worth having: but he never spoke with anything like enthusiasm even of that possibility. He never varied in rating intellectual enjoyments above all others, even in value as pleasures, independently of their ulterior benefits. The pleasures of the benevolent affections he placed high in the scale; and used to say, that he had never known a happy old man, except those who were able to live over again in the pleasures of the young. For passionate emotions of all sorts, and for everything which has been said or written in exaltation of them, he professed the greatest contempt. He regarded them as a form of madness. “The intense” was with him a bye-word of scornful disapprobation. He regarded as an aberration of the moral standard of modern times, compared with that of the ancients, the great stress laid upon feeling. Feelings, as such, he considered to be no proper subjects of praise or blame. Right and wrong, good and bad, he regarded as qualities solely of conduct—of acts and omissions; there being no feeling which may not lead, and does not frequently lead, either to good or to bad actions: conscience itself, the very desire to act right, often leading people to act wrong. Consistently carrying out the doctrine, that the object of praise and blame should be the discouragement of wrong conduct and the encouragement of right, he refused to let his praise or blame be influenced by the motive of the agent. He blamed as severely what he thought a bad action, when the motive was a feeling of duty, as if the agents had been consciously evil doers. He would not have accepted as a plea in mitigation for inquisitors, that they sincerely believed burning heretics to be an obligation of conscience. But though he did not allow honesty of purpose to soften his disapprobation of actions, it had its full effect on his estimation of characters. No one prized conscientiousness and rectitude of intention more highly, or was more incapable of valuing any person in whom he did not feel assurance of it. But he disliked people quite as much for any other deficiency, provided he thought it equally likely to make them act ill. He disliked, for instance, a fanatic in any bad cause, as much or more than one who adopted the same cause from self-interest, because he thought him even more likely to be practically mischievous. And thus, his aversion to many intellectual errors, or what he regarded as such, partook, in a certain sense, of the character of a moral feeling. All this is merely saying that he, in a degree once common, but now very unusual, threw his feelings into his opinions; which truly it is difficult to understand how any one who possesses much of both, can fail to do. None but those who do not care about opinions, will confound it with intolerance. Those, who having opinions which they hold to be immensely important, and their contraries to be prodigiously hurtful, have any deep regard for the general good, will necessarily dislike, as a class and in the abstract, those who think wrong what they think right, and right what they think wrong: though they need not therefore be, nor was my father, insensible to good qualities in an opponent, nor governed in their estimation of individuals by one general presumption, instead of by the whole of their character. I grant that an earnest person, being no more infallible than other men, is liable to dislike people on account of opinions which do not merit dislike; but if he neither himself does them any ill office, nor connives at its being done by others, he is not intolerant; and the forbearance which flows from a conscientious sense of the importance to mankind of the equal freedom of all opinions, is the only tolerance which is commendable, or, to the highest moral order of minds, possible.

Note from KBJ: Mill reports that his father “had never known a happy old man, except those who were able to live over again in the pleasures of the young.” I’ve known a few unhappy old men, but I’ve also known many happy old men, including relatives. I wonder how much of the unhappiness Mill’s father observed was attributable to poor medical care. If your teeth ache and you have arthritis, you’ll be miserable. Our advanced medical care makes old age tolerable. I also like the part about old men associating with younger men. My friend Don Tennant, who died in 2003 at the age of 69, rode his bicycle with men young enough to be his sons. He was a sport of nature, physically, and I’ve never known a funnier person. He retained his boyish enthusiasm until the end. Now I know why he hung around young guys like me: We kept him young. I miss the old fart. I thought he would never die. I’m only now beginning to appreciate what he accomplished on the bike.

Note 2 from KBJ: Mill’s father, like Mill himself, made a firm distinction between action and motive. Each is to be evaluated independently of the other. This opens logical space for (1) doing the right thing for the wrong reason (i.e., from a bad motive) and (2) doing the wrong thing for the right reason. If you abstain from meat for health reasons, you’re doing the right thing for the wrong reason. (You should abstain from meat for the sake of the animals whose flesh you consume.) If you support affirmative-action programs as a means to helping African Americans, you are doing the wrong thing for the right reason. (This is the signature mistake of progressives, which is why they are known as “do-gooders.”) Ideally, each of us would do the right thing for the right reason.

Note 3 from KBJ: Mill, unlike many people today, understands tolerance. To tolerate another is to forbear to harm him or her. It presupposes that the other is wrong, either in believing something false or in acting improperly. Tolerance differs from acceptance and affirmation, which not only do not presuppose that the other is wrong, but presuppose that the other is not wrong. The best way to remember the meaning of “tolerance” is to replace it with “put up with.” When I put up with you (in spite of your false beliefs or improper conduct), I tolerate you.

Animal Ethics

Here is Mylan Engel’s latest post. It’s in your interest to read it.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

A Terror Threat in the Courts,” by John Farmer (Op-Ed, Jan. 13), advocates for legislation allowing so-called preventive detention, in which terrorism suspects can be taken into custody because they are believed to be harboring certain thoughts or ideas that the government considers dangerous.

Mr. Farmer claims that this is necessary because the civilian criminal court system is not equipped to prosecute terrorists for acts that they may not have committed yet.

Despite Mr. Farmer’s claim that preventive detention is necessary to prohibit the government from criminalizing thoughts and to protect civil liberties, this unprecedented and unconstitutional policy would have the same effect Mr. Farmer warns of in criminal prosecutions of terror suspects—punishing people simply for their thoughts.

While Mr. Farmer rightly argues that since 9/11 our criminal laws have been extended to encompass conduct never before considered criminal, his proposed solution would do more harm to due process than the problems he purports to be addressing.

Our constitutional due process rights—the cornerstone of our criminal justice system—protect us against exactly the type of imprisonment Mr. Farmer is proposing. By doing away with core due process protections, we would risk bringing down the entire foundation on which this country, and our system of justice, was created.

Our courts have proved that they are more than able to handle terrorism-related cases, and that is exactly where these cases should be tried.

Caroline Fredrickson
Washington, Jan. 15, 2008
The writer is director of the A.C.L.U. Washington legislative office.

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

Paul Krugman¹ has Reagan Derangement Syndrome. See here.


¹“Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults” (Daniel Okrent, “13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did,” The New York Times, 22 May 2005).

A Year Ago



Martin Luther King Jr, who is one of my heroes, was born 79 years ago this past Tuesday. Come April, he will have been dead for 40 years. American history would be much different—much better—had he lived. Was King perfect? Of course not. Are you perfect? Is any human being perfect? But he was a great man, one of the best this nation has produced. We honor him on this day. If you haven’t read King’s letter from the Birmingham jail (written when he was 34 years old), you should do so. Here it is. Here (click “King Biography”) is a short biography of King. Here is a live version of U2’s song “MLK” (from The Unforgettable Fire [1984]). Here is a beautiful tribute, set to the music of U2’s “Pride.”

Curro Ergo Sum

There were three footraces in my neck of the woods this weekend. My plan was to do two of them (Sunday and Monday), but when I got up yesterday morning, it was 24º Fahrenheit. Since I hadn’t paid in advance, I decided to stay home and run on my own when the temperature had risen into the 40s. This morning, thankfully, it was warmer: 41º. I drove 7.9 miles to River Legacy Parks in Arlington and prepared to run the MLK Day & Dream 5K. One of my students was working registration, which was interesting. I’m always surprised to see people out of context. Just before the race started at 8:00, it began to sprinkle. I hoped the rain would hold off for 21 minutes, and luckily it did. I had only a couple of droplets on my glasses when I finished. Running in the cold is one thing (did I mention that it was windy?); running in cold rain is another.

My goal was to break the seven-minute barrier. A month ago, on the same 5K course, my mile pace was 6:59.54. Secretly, I hoped for 6:55. The first mile went well. I did it in 6:37 and hadn’t really exerted. The second mile goes into the woods, which means less wind. I did it in 6:57. I now started to think about breaking 6:50, since my mile pace at that point was 6:47. I knew there would be a headwind during the final 1.1 miles, since I had done it during my warm-up. I did the third mile in 6:56. That put me at exactly 6:50, with a tenth of a mile to go. I did the final .107 of a mile at a 5:56.80 pace and finished with 6:48.16 (elapsed time = 21:08.18). That’s my fastest run at any distance in 16 months. I’ll take it.

The rain began to pick up as we waited for awards. I wore a jacket, Gore-Tex pants, and cotton gloves, but still I was cold. I got second place in my age group (50-54) again. I’ve won nine awards in 12 races since Labor Day: two firsts, six seconds, and a third. Call me Second-Place Keith! It’s not like the same guy is beating me, either. The man who beat me today was a stranger. In case you’re wondering, my personal record for five kilometers is 19:05.73. That’s a mile pace of 6:08.75. If I trained properly, I could run a 6:25.

Addendum: How many of you think it’s irrational for me to be influenced by whether I paid in advance?

Addendum 2: Here are the results. As you can see, I finished second of five men in my age group, ninth of 39 males, and 13th of 78 overall.

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