Does it threaten American morality?
I published an article on this topic in the Christian Science Monitor last Tuesday:
The emptiness of Obama’s pragmatism
Policy devoid of clear ethical theory creates a nation without principle, and a nation without principle is a nation on stilts
By Jacob Bronsther
from the May 26, 2009 edition
NEW YORK – In President Obama’s vision for Washington, “pragmatism” will reign, “ideology” will wane, and an era of civility, reason, and bipartisanship will emerge. An analysis of what pragmatism really means explains why Mr. Obama’s plan has not (and cannot) work. It also reveals the emptiness of pragmatism as national principle.
Pragmatism refers to one philosophical movement and two political ideas.
The Monkey Cage asks whether the recession will lead to better political science. Their thinking, in short, is that the recession will lead more people to graduate school which should on balance improve the quality of those matriculating into phd programs for political science. The key criteria for judging the success of recession-era cohorts is publication in political journals and “lifetime achievement awards.”
The question is certainly interesting to academics but betrays some closed thinking on what it means to “do political science”. One might argue that the success of a particular generation of leading thinkers might be judged on a very different set of criteria, such as public engagement or thought leadership in Washington.
There will likely always be incredibly bright people willing to fill the few tenure-track spots in leading universities, but the space available for political scientists to contribute to other fields and to make contributions to the public dialogue remains wide open.
The New York Times has an article today on the substantive qualifications and political contributions of Obama’s recent ambassadorial picks. Traditionally, about one-third of US ambassadors have been political appointees, as opposed to career Foreign Service Officers. And ambassadorial posts have often gone to major political contributors. But just cause its always been that way, doesn’t mean that it should.
So here’s a question to ponder over the weekend… What’s the difference between giving out ambassadorships (particularly to important countries) to the highest bidder and giving out other executive branch positions, like Secretary of State or something more junior like deputy assistant secretary positions, to the highest bidder?
The Public Philosopher is premised on the belief that a more lucid discussion of the philosophical foundations of society and politics would make for better policy. In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof questions just how strong a role reason plays in moral decision making:
The larger point is that liberals and conservatives often form judgments through flash intuitions that aren’t a result of a deliberative process. The crucial part of the brain for these judgments is the medial prefrontal cortex, which has more to do with moralizing than with rationality. If you damage your prefrontal cortex, your I.Q. may be unaffected, but you’ll have trouble harrumphing.
One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.
Some evolutionary psychologists believe that disgust emerged as a protective mechanism against health risks, like feces, spoiled food or corpses. Later, many societies came to apply the same emotion to social “threats.” Humans appear to be the only species that registers disgust, which is why a dog will wag its tail in puzzlement when its horrified owner yanks it back from eating excrement.
Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals. (To see how you weigh factors in moral decisions, take the tests at www.yourmorals.org.)
Are men in danger of being socially and economically marginalized? A new group at my alma mater that calls itself Men in Power has some concerns:
The group’s birth comes at a time when the recessionary ax has fallen especially hard on men. In April, the national unemployment rate for men was 10 percent compared with 7.6 percent for women, said Mark Perry, an economist at the University of Michigan in Flint.
That gap is an “all-time historical high,” said Perry, who attributed it in part to a loss of jobs in male-dominated fields such as manufacturing and construction.
At the same time, he noted, women today hold about three out of the four jobs in education and health care — both stable or expanding job fields.
Future employment is also an issue, some experts say. Since 1981, women have collected 135 for every 100 bachelor’s degrees awarded to men, according to Perry. The gap is even wider at the master’s level, with women trumping men 150 to 100, he said.
Angela Merkel no longer talks about freedom. What does that mean about her outlook for Germany?
An interesting piece in the New York Times today points out that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stopped using the word “freedom,” and now emphasizes “solidarity, justice and security.” As the article goes on to suggest, the change in rhetoric has been accompanied by a free hand given to conservatives in her own party.
In one sense, this seems like a rehash of the classic tension between what some would call individualism versus communitarianism. The former organizes political societies around the individual, the latter, around the community. Read more
While doing background reading on Alexander Draper and Daniel Hauser – two children with serious medical conditions whose parents are/were accused of parental medical negligence – I unexpectedly came across a Newsweek article, a public radio broadcast, and a FoxNews.com article addressing the normative questions surrounding these two cases. There are, of course, many opinion pieces, but its unfortunate that only three news outlets found it worthwhile to explore the normative issues surrounding these cases.
At issue are a number of complex and interesting questions: Read more
John posts Damon Linker’s intelletual topography of contemporary conservatism at The New Republic.
What’s odd is the credit Linker gives to conservative commentators in shifting the American outlook to the right for the last several decades:
Will any of these writers contribute to the emergence of a new right to take the place of the one that left such a profound mark on the nation over the past three decades? It’s much too soon to know, of course, but reading their essays and blog posts, one at least senses them thinking for its own sake, following their ideas wherever they lead, without regard for whether or not their conclusions will contribute to the short-term advantage of a political party. That, at least, is a step in the right direction, as none other than William F. Buckley realized fifty years ago.
What about the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute or the Hoover Institution? There’s a bigger intellectual apparatus out there, and it always thought “for its own sake.”
As intellectual history this is interesting, but strikes me as the tip of the iceberg rather than the whole thing.
Damon Linker teases out the various strains of conservatism existing today in the media/blogosphere. Perhaps most interesting is his run-down of younger conservative writers:
And that leaves a final group of conservative writers–most of them younger and more intellectually interesting and eclectic, and for that reason much less politically consequent…. Meanwhile, the more radical ones (Larison, Deneen) are downright anti-modern in outlook. Delighted by Christopher Lasch’s indictment of the free market, enamored of Wendell Berry’s poetic agrarianism, romantically drawn toward “localism,” titillated by Alasdair MacIntyre’s praise of monasticism as an option for those seeking refuge from the moral impurities of modernity, open to radical environmentalism, hostile toward an idealistic foreign policy, disgusted at the overall tone of life in America since sexual revolution–these writers are interesting in the way all reactionaries are interesting: as a provocation to deep thinking, and as a warning about the (political and intellectual) dangers of indeterminate negation.
Blocking the release of the photos reflects an age old debate in international relations.
President Obama’s decision to try and block the release of torture photos has added a twist to the classic tension between democratic openness and national security.
The argument for withholding release of the photos is fairly straightforward: the images have the potential to incite anger and hostility in the Middle East, and potentially threaten security at home and the safety of troops abroad. The reasons for releasing the photos are more nuanced.
One line of reasoning is that the United States needs to illustrate a commitment to the value of governmental transparency. We must not run from our mistakes and instead hold ourselves fully accountable for our actions. Read more