Han explored what it means to call someone ‘immoral’ before blaming a pandemic of moral relativism for preventing society from doing any good moral philosophy
On Thursday, Han described today’s public discourse as impoverished and conducive to a sort of arms race of extreme views and modes of expression, and Sam defended Jon Stewart as critic and comedian in the wake of his recent interview with President Barack Obama
After Jon Stewart’s interview of Barack Obama on last night’s Daily Show (the comedian’s first of a sitting president), New York Times blogger Alessandra Stanley asks, “whether a political satirist loses credibility when hobnobbing with a sitting president.”
One of Stewart’s hallmarks is ability, even zeal, to skewer journalists who not only amuse in their incompetence, but enrage in what Stewart often intimates is a total violation of their own standards. Or, as our own Jake Bronsther put it yesterday in a special on Jon
This media criticism is built into the structure of Stewart’s show, which was set up as a satirical take on programs like The O’Reilly Factor. As a result, Stewart sits above the rest of the commentators, somehow more pure, the grinning mandarin who points out our individual and collective misdeeds. It also helps that he might be the smartest person sitting behind a television news desk today, of either the real or fake variety.
Given the niche Stewart has so effectively carved out as incisive media critic and arbiter, the question is not merely whether interviewing President Obama erodes Stewart’s self-styled image.
>posted an open letter to Jon Stewart in which she complained about being labeled as one of the “loud people” who are getting in the way of sane discourse. She thinks Stewart’s point of view is in fact engendering political complacency and “slacktivism.”
So let’s get this straight: people who were so horrified when the U.S. invaded Iraq that they joined millions of others to protest are not sane? We shouldn’t speak out against Wall Street bankers whose greed led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes? It’s irrational to be angry when you see the Gulf of Mexico covered in oil because BP cut corners on safety? Don’t get upset when the Supreme Court rules that corporations are people and can pour unlimited funds into our elections? Stewart often roasts the warmakers and corporate fatcats on his show, but he seems to think that his viewers should be content to take out their frustrations with a good belly laugh.
Of course, Benjamin also realizes Stewart’s main criticism is not with the protests themselves, but the method of the protests – such as one where protestors dipped their hands in fake blood. But Benjamin also has a response:
It was because of this insanity that we began to interrupt the war criminals during their public appearances, shouting — yes, shouting — for an end to the madness. It was because of this insanity that we put fake blood on our hands to represent the hundreds of thousands of innocents who died as result of their lies. In our post-9/11
more likely we were to get our anti-war message into the national conversation.
If Benjamin is correct in her diagnosis this points to a sad problem in the impoverished public dialogue. In an atmosphere wanting for “sanity,” it is the insane that get the results. Thus, activists like Benjamin choose what they think is the lesser of two evils – preferring to dress in costume and shout over losing to their political opponents. And in this arms race of extreme discourse, like any arms race, everybody loses in the end.
Photo by Flickr user @mjb used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
, Robert Samuelson claims that dysfunction in American politics has reached a new low. Samuelson diagnoses several reasons for the surging dysfunction in politics, but one strikes a particular chord with me:
Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three.
Anybody who is familiar with the basic premise of this blog can probably guess I disagree with this statement. As I’ve written before, the solution to this problem is not to avoid moral philosophy – but to do better moral philosophy. Read more
the close association between democratic politics and crime policy results in a vicious cycle of fear-mongering, excessive incarceration, and intergenerational poverty. He cites a Boston Globe article that reveals a tendency for undue and irrational pessimism and fear among the population. I explored the problem of irrational fear in a previous post, where I noted that there is often a gap between realistic and imagined levels of danger. In the case of crime, it is extreme. Although crime has been declining since the mid-1990s, 74% of Americans insist that crime is getting worse.
Balko’s solution to the vicious cycle is to divorce crime policy from the political process. Today, many judges and prosecutors in America are elected officials and as a result have been hijacked by public demands for tough sentencing. In most other countries, these jobs, which are technical in nature, are held by more-or-less impartial civil servants.
In any fair legal system, judges are supposed to be impartial, and so there is an argument for taking direct democracy out of the legal system. But we should
l in Virginia has prohibited students in AP World History from consulting any outside sources, including parents, classmates, the internet, or anything other than their textbooks and lecture notes.
It’s not clear if this is a serious policy. A spokesman for the Fairfax County Public Schools described it as “… a little tongue-in-cheek from the teachers,” but the principal of Westfield High claimed that the policy “guaranteed fairness among students and wouldn’t give a student with more resources an advantage.”
There is of course a serious side to the “fairness argument.” Things like a supportive home environment can have a real impact on educational achievement and it is clear that such factors are not consistent across families. It’s possible that the policy was meant to address this imbalance.
of the principle conundrums of the principle of fairness: for things that are not (easily) redistributable, like the quality of parenting, fairness may require bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator.
This seems particularly troubling in the case of education. It severely truncates the scope of learning and inquiry to the viewpoints offered by the texts and teachers, reducing what should be an exploration to mere rote learning. So even if fairness is important, should it ever be an excuse to compromise the general quality of education?
Photo by Flickr user alamosbasement used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
no fun. Or ask Europeans for that matter. Major European economies have begun to make tough choices to rein in public benefits and curtail government programs in order to reduce their debt burden. Much of the attention has been on Greece, partly because their austerity measures were so severe and partly
some of Europe’s flagship economies are also beginning to take a sober look at the long term. Yesterday England recently announced hundreds of billions in cuts over the coming years and France is seeking to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62 (it’s 65 in the United States, and will rise to 67 in the coming decades).
Much of the French population are less than thrilled with the proposed change, and widespread protests and strikes over the last week have grounded planes, caused fuel shortages and even forced Lady Gaga to cancel a concert.
I’m not interested in whether people have a right to strike, although that question certainly remains a live one. But, to many Americans, the vehemence of the European response feels disproportionate. We don’t have close to the public benefits they will still have after the reforms, many of us say. Read more
world/2010/oct/18/malmesbury-philosophy-town?intcmp=239″>hopes to become the world’s first “philosophy town.” There are many proposals, including a festival, a philosophy walk, and a bookstore/coffee house for philosophical discussion. “Town philosopher” Angie Hobbs on the project:
she said. “We’ve got ourselves in such as mess in the world – the environment, the banking crisis, the whole issue of fairness. Philosophy may be able to help a bit. We don’t have all the answers but we can help the debate.” […] But she is excited at the prospect of non-academics getting stuck into philosophy. “You don’t have to want to be a professional philosopher,” she said. “You don’t have to be able to wrestle with the knottier passages of [Immanuel] Kant to be able to get a huge amount out of the subject. “It’s OK to dabble. Don’t be scared. There are a lot of people thinking we really need this because we’ve got into such a mess not using human reason to its full potential.”
I share Hobbs enthusiasm for the project, although I think it should proceed with caution. Learning philosophy – its arguments, its theories – is one thing, but all students of philosophy also want to argue and push back. This is one interesting aspect of teaching philosophy that separates it from teaching, for example, the sciences. When this type of engagement is done carefully and with intellectual honesty, it is a great way to learn and explore the contours of an issue. However, if it is done in haste, without sufficient commitment, it can result in confusion and even dogmatism. The architects of the project should be careful about how they present material in a non-academic setting in order to combat this tendency.
Photo by Flickr user Dogfael used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
At the Washington Post blog, Ezra Klein discusses the parallel between firefighters letting someone’s house burn because he didn’t pay $75 for fire insurance—which happened a few weeks ago in a rural area of Tennessee that doesn’t guarantee fire protection—and letting a person die because they didn’t purchase health care insurance.
When liberals explain why health care needs an individual mandate, the traditional metaphor is firefighting: Everyone needs to buy insurance for the same reason that everyone needs to buy fire protection. But if you leave the market unregulated, some people won’t buy — or won’t be able to afford — fire protection. And we’re not comfortable letting their houses burn down. Similarly, if you leave health coverage to the market, some people won’t buy it, and others won’t be able to afford it, and then, when they get sick and need it, insurers won’t sell it to them. But we’re not comfortable letting them die in the streets. Hence, the health-care law.
Klein argues that fire protection and health care are both “collective goods” which the government must guarantee.
Sam and I discussed a similar question over a year ago, when I attempted to parallel the government’s obligation to protect its citizens against Swine Flu (remember that?) with its obligation to protect citizens against other serious illnesses like cancer.
The parallel between fires and non-epidemic diseases, generally following Sam’s post, does not work perfectly. Fires spread. Non-epidemic diseases, like cancer, do not. If one person isn’t protected against fires, we are all thereby threatened, because those flames can jump from his house to our houses.
When a person is ill with a non-epidemic disease, we are not thereby threatened ourselves, or at least not enough of
us to say that the community is endangered. This is why fire insurance is a real “collective good” and health care is not. Health care may be (and I think to a degree is) an individual right, of course, but that’s a different argument.