Yes, Mr. Rotten. I Get the Feeling I’ve Been Cheated

Thinking about all this health “reform” debate. There are people out there eho are saying that they want their “country back” (from whom, I ask), and that we have to get back to the Constitution, whatever that means. I listen to what some of these people are saying, and sometimes I feel that some of them have no idea what they are talking about. I’ll be the first to admit here. I’m no scholar. I’m not an expert on the Constitution (although I’ve actually read it), nor am I in any position to dictate what and who can or cannot speak against or criticize the government. But, I do on occasion watch television, and I gotta say that there are some of us who really need to read before they speak.
 There’s a sentiment out there (both here and abroad) that Americans (of which I am one) are stupid. All one needs to do to confirm this is to go to YouTube and look for “stupid Americans”. When our global neighbors called former president Bush a “cowboy” they weren’t being friendly. I don’t think that most Americans are stupid. Misinformed, yes. Ignorant, definitely. Undereducated… my God yes! It may upset us to admit it, but there are people out there who are just plain apathetic. It’s not that they’re stupid people, it’s just that they don’t care. I don’t think that I’m stupid. And I take offense to anyone who says that “Americans” (as a blanket term) are. What I know that I am, however, is I am undereducated. I don’t think this was by accident, either. Call it a conspiracy theory, but I think that somewhere in my learning, someone decided that I had learned enough, and then proceded to stop teaching me and my generation. When I look back on my education, it started off well enough. Teachers stopped teaching. I know that it was this because I hadn’t lost the want to learn (that didn’t happen until high school).
Sure, my teachers were nice people, but they didn’t seem very motivated to do the thing that they had been hired to do (i.e. teach). By the time I got to high school, the want to learn anything had been bled out of me. No joke, during my US government class we watched The Price Is Right. This was the class where I was supposed to learn how to be a citizen, but instead I learned that the Navy guy always wins the final showcase. In fact, I don’t remember reading anything beyond the Preamble of the Constitution during my entire stay in public education. Funny, because so far as I’ve been able to tell, the Constitution is the owner’s manual for the country. The writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was an advocate of public education. In his Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, Jefferson wrote what he felt that the objectives of a primary education should be. Jefferson wrote, ” To enable to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing… to improve by reading, his morals and faculties… to understand his duties to his neighbors and country… to know his rights”. Jefferson felt that the purpose of an education was to teach people how to be citizens. “To form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend”. I don’t see how my teachers could have looked themselves in the mirror every morning knowing that they had in no way taught their charges how to operate such a complicated machine as the United States of America. Maybe it’s because vampires don’t have reflections (ha, ha).
I know that, if a child fails to learn, that oftentimes that child is blamed for not learning. But I know for a fact that at least until I hit the tenth grade that I wanted to learn. I loved reading. I still do. I remember that, when I was in elementary school, I used to win all sorts of RIF (reading is fundamental) awards, and I did it because if you read so many books during the school year, you’d get to pick out a book (for free!). But to say that my teachers were the ones that were lazy would be too easy. It was something beyond that. It seems that the unwillingness to teach went beyond one or two lazy teachers — it was systemic. Someone didn’t (or doesn’t) want us to learn. They say that stupid people are easy to control. That when a dictatorship takes over a country, they get rid of the intellectuals first because the intellectuals are the people who are most likely to question what the dictatorship is up to. But in a democracy, there’s the idea that everyone is equal. That everybody has a fair shot at success, no matter from what class a person comes from. If we work hard and we use our noggins, we can succeed. This sounds great, but there’s this little economic program that we adhere to called capitalism. And as we all know, one of the big ideas in capitalism is scarcity. If everyone gets everything, then nothing is scarce.
When you have an economy driven by want, people gotta want what they ain’t got. Which menas some people ain’t gonna get. So we can say that we’re a meritocracy and that all it takes is elbow grease and the right education to get ahead, but the problem is, is that somebody out there has to clean the toilets and wipe gramp’s butt at the nursing home. There has a disincentive to achieve built in the system. There has to be something that lets some get ahead and holds others back. But the real kicker is that nobody can know this. So we tell kids either a) that they can succeed no matter who they are or where they come from, or 2) (and I think this one happens more often than not) nothing. We simply stop educating them. Of course, we keep telling kids the old song and dance. The one I heard goes like this: Our democratic ideal are rooted in the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment stressed a break-away from the beliefs of the dark ages (in superstitions and scholaticism) to beliefs in science and progress and that man is ruled by reason. Through his rational mind, man can progress. This sentiment is most supremely expressed by Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence “All men are created equal”. Blah, blah, blah. We know now that when Jefferson wrote that he was only a fourth telling the truth. We know that as the man wrote one of the greatest documents conceived from a human mind, he was probably looking out of one of his many windows at Montecello, with a full view of the slaves that labored in his fields.
Of course, we know that in addition to Jefferson, that the Founders included the likes of James Madison, the “father” of the Constitution, and Alexander Hamilton, who, the more I read about, the more I’m a fan of Aaron Burr. Madison and Hamilton, who co-wrote the Federalist Papers with John Jay, believed that government was better rested in the hands of those who were fit to rule (think Plato’s philosopher-kings, here), rather than allowing the people to rule. Hamilton wrote,” …our countrymen have all the folly of the ass and all the passiveness of the sheep”. Hamilton continues,”All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people… The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government…” This is what Hamilton, the dude on the $10 bill, thinks of us. Democracy didn’t get rid of the idea of an elite that rules while we, the rabble, sit passive like sheep, it merely hid it from view, and gave it a veneer of “choice”. My favorite founder, Alexander Hamilton wrote,” Can a democratic assembly who annually revolve in the mass of the people be supposed steadily to pursue the public good?”.
Not to be outdone, James Madison believed that “the more capable” should rule government, and that government should be led by a “benevolent philosopher”. If the Enlightenment was at all inspired by the writings of the ancient Greeks, then for every Jefferson who wrote that the people should be educated to rule, there was a Madison or Hamilton who believed that to rule meant that one had to naturally be fit to do so. This idea hasn’t changed. When i use the word “rule”, I’m not talking about anything more than the ability of an individual to rule himself. Self-rule, believe it or not, is rooted in our ability to think for ourselves. And in turn, our ability to think for ourselves is rooted in our education. Of course, no one wants to admit that they believe in social Darwinism or that they believe in neo-platonist ideas of who is and who are not naturally fit to rule — especially if one is a politician. So as politicians worry about campaign contributions, whether or not someone will uncover their secrets (whatever they may be) or the diatribes of Glenn Beck, so-called intellectuals need no be so quiet.
Echoing the sentiments of Plato and Hamilton, Walter Lippman wrote “the public must be put in its place” and “responsible men… [must] live free of the trampling and the roar of the bewildering herd”. People, according to Lippman, are “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders”, who have no business getting in the way of those who run society, namely the elite. But things aren’t so easily kept under control in the age of television and other multimedia. So how do you maintain an elite while people are able to figure out what you’re doing? Simple. it is accomplished by the manufacturing of consent (Edward Bernays said that the engineering of consent is the “very essence of the democratic process”). You don’t rule by the fist and the sword. You simply sway the public’s interest from the important things, like paying attention to exactly who is running their country, to paying attention to the latest feud between Jon and Kate or what “Speidi” is up to lately.
The Romans figured out that what the people really want is bread and circus. And that’s exactly what we get. All the while, we hear that we live in a democracy and that we have the right to choose, and so long as we work hard and play by the rules, we’ll get what we deserve. That’s what we are made to believe. We’re not educated with the idea in mind that we’ll be better choosers in elections, we’re educated so that we’ll be better choosers of the next American Idol (I know, people pick on American Idol alot. So what? Do you think that Simon Cowell cares one damn that I hate his show?). When you live in a country where students at the University of Michigan riot because they stopped serving beer on campus (this actually happened), it’s time to stop criticizing people like the French, who, when they riot, are actually rioting about something.
The point is that it is exactly as President Obama said, when we are content with being uneducated, we not only shortchange ourselves, we undermine our country as well. If we are going to own this democracy, and if we intend to participate in it, it is our obligation to know how she works.To be the informed citizenry that Jefferson wrote about. To understand that, when Jefferson wrote “We the People”, he meant all of us. We are not seperate from the government, but that the government is us. But then, none of what I’m saying hasn’t been said before. But it certainly is worth repeating.

…For They Know Not What They Do

I was watching season three of The Family Guy last weekend. As I am philosopher, I’ve trained my eyes to find the philosophic significance of any and all that I see on television. Now, initially, I enjoyed the episode “Petarded”, because it was politically incorrect, and because. it’s fun to mock the afflicted. But when I watched last weekend, I realized that there was more there than meets the eye. Lurking behind the juvenile “retarded” jokes was the age-old question dealing with moral inclusion — namely, the question dealing with the culpability of mentally challenged people. In this episone, Peter is diagnosed as mentally disabled (he says retarded, because saying that is funnier than saying he’s disabled or challenged). Peter, realizing that he’s now mentally feeble, uses his challenged state to his advantage. He starts a Bible fight in church, he opens the occupied stalls in the ladies’ bathroom — all the while excusing himself by announcing that he’s “retarded”. Normally, we would say that Peter’s behavior is inexcusable. if a “normal” person took a peek at us while we were in a public bathroom, that person would probably have an asskicking headed his way. (This is exactly what Sasha Baron Cohen does with his character Borat. By pretending to be ignorant and a little stupid, he gets away with things that we wouldn’t tolerate from someone who we thought was normal. There is much more at work with the character, but I won’t go it to that here). But, if someone is in a position that he is unable to control himself (or unable to understand what he’s doing) we tend to treat those people differently. They do not share the same level of moral culpability as someone who is considered fully functional and rational. So what do we do with people who are not rational? Are they (can they be) responsible for what they do? The emphasis on rationality is one of the drawbacks when we consider human behavior philosophically, especially when we look at the behavior of people who clearly are not rational. There are those who are mentally handicapped — born with or by way of accident — who are not able to control or understand their actions (morally, consequences, etc). This is why we do not punish children as we punish adults (except in extreme circumstances) in the legal system. Children do not understand the full extent of their actions. Likewise, we treat people who are mentally handicapped in a manner tha is different than we treat “normal” people. But Peter isn’t organically damaged, he merely believes that he’s “retarded”. What if someone isn’t mentally challenged but believes that they are? They say that hanging around crazy people can make a person crazy. And certainly there is alot of anecdotal evidence to prove this to be the case. I don’t remember what the name of the movie was, but there is this movie about this dude who wasn’t mentally disabled, but was raised in an institution his entire life before someone figured out that he was normal. All I remember is that it was made in the 70s and it had Frederic Forrest in it (I should probably IMDB it someday). So, if someone said that you were mentally disabled (but yoy weren’t) are you still responsible for what you do — assuming that you are actually rational? Are rational people who think irrationally still responsible for what they do? We know that in Peter’s case, even though he seems to take his diagnosis seriously, he’s still morally on the hook for what he does (and CPS seems to think this as well, as they threaten to take his children away from him). But what about people who really are mentally disabled? Our attitude tends to be “it depends”. When we see, for instance, a mentally challenged person who is accused of committing a crime, our first inclination is to ask how mentally challenged that individual is. If a person is merely “slow”, we tend to show less sympathy for their condition than if a person were fully incapable of understanding their actions. If a mentally disabled person were accused of murder, we would ask if he demonstrated signs of knowledge of what he had done. We would ask if he ran from the scene of the crime or if he showed remorse for what he did. If he does, we would say that he understands that what he did was wrong, and that he should be punished. But then we ask, to what extent is to be the proper punishment? When Bill Clinton was runnig for president in 1992, he went back to Arkansas to preside over the execution of a mentally challenged man who was condemned for committing a murder. Clinton’s decision to uphold the death sentence was blasted by those who felt that the condemned man lacked the mental capacity to understand what he had done. They felt that the punishment was excessive considerning the fact that the man was mentally handicapped. Questions of dimished capacity also arise when we think of the treament of children in the justice system. When a 6 and an 11 year old perpetrated a massacre of their classmates in Jonesboro, the question of whether a child as young as six can understand the implications of his actions came to national prominance. If a child that young can conceive of shooting and killing his classmates with high-powered firearms, does he have the mental capacity understand his actions and be held responsible for what he’s done? If the child is not mentally disabled (meaning that besides his young age, he’s normal), and we agree that all humans have the capacity for rational thought, then at what point is the child rational enought to be held accountable for what he does? Kant says that we should treat people as if they are rational, free moral agents (this avoids the urge to be paternalistic, which would, according to Kant violate an individual’s autonomy).But if we treat all people as if they are rational, are we not treating people in a manner that they are not? The appeal of Kant’s theory is that it is cut and dry. There is no room for ambiguity. But in real life, there is more ambiguity than we know what to do with. We’re often left to wonder how rational a person is. A person may be able to function in society (even function without anyone else helping them), but they aren’t fully rational people. I think of the character Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Lenny has the capacity to function in society. He’s capable of holding a job, and does it well. But mentally, he like a child. When Lenny kills Curley’s wife, the act is unintentional. He was trying to feel her hair, but he panicked when she began to scream. Nonetheless, Lenny murdered the woman. He knew he had done wrong, but also seemed incapable of controlling himself when he did it. (Much like how a child acts). What would Kant have to say about Lenny? When the men on the ranch learned that Lenny killed Curley’s wife, they gathered a lynch mob to kill him. When we read this, it seems like their punishment for Lenny is unfair –it’s not fitting considering that Lenny lacked the mental capacity to fully understand his actions. But, when Lenny’s BFF George kills him, somehow when George kills Lenny, we aren’t as offended. We understand that George didn not kill Lenny out of revenge, but for the need to protect Lenny from the gang (and maybe to protect Lenny from himself). When George kills Lenny, another ranch hand, Slim, tells George,” Never you mind… A guy got to sometimes”. There are those who say that this is why they see no wrong in executing prisoners with dimished capacity. It’s the “rabid dog” defense. They reason that it is inhumane to allow a rabid dog to go around potentially hurting other people. We don’t kill the dog because it is cruel or because we necessarily want to kill the dog, but because we are saving others from an animal that cannot control itself. To put a mentally challenged man behind bars for the rest of his life, they argue is wrong because he may not understand why he is being held (the reasoning being if he doesn’t understand that what he did was wrong, how could he understand that he needs to spend the rest of his life in prison for it?). We worry about punishing mentally challenged people excessively, but we know that we cannot simply let them go either.

Two and a Half Conspiracy Theories

I’m a sucker for conspiracies.


I’m not one of those types who offhandedly dismiss any and all ‘they did it’ plots as fanciful tales people think up because they can’t deal with reality. I know that conspiracies can and do happen. I don’t know who shot Kennedy, but I know if there’s a good tale to tell about who did, I’m so willing to listen.

Which is why I am completely perplexed by the recent to-do about 9/11.


I know that there are a lot of theories out there about what happened and why. Some I think are worth looking at, others I think are the fanciful tales of people who not only have a difficulty facing reality, but probably have a equally difficult time leaving their homes. I am the first to admit that I don’t know much, but I am willing to admit this one thing that I know for absolutely certain: If you want to discredit any theory you take seriously, trot out Charlie Sheen to champion your cause.





Ok. I enjoyed Platoon. I even liked Hot Shots. But really, if the “truther” movement wants to establish any credibility at all, they had better go with someone who carries a little more… well… I mean, look at the guy. He was a pretty hard-core drug user, and we all know that we have a hard time (collectively) trusting people who use. Any of us who has had first-hand experience living with a user knows that trust (for those who sue) isn’t at the top of our lists. Let’s not forget the gambling and the recreational use of whores. I don’t want to throw stones here (although I am), but I think if Charlie Sheen’s film career included more movies like Platoon and less like Men At Work, people would have an easier time taking him seriously. I mean, if Sir Kenneth Brannagh announced that we should look into 9/11, I think that some people would pay attention.


images ad hominem



Look, I’m not knocking his effort. I think that there are some things about the events of that day (and after) that do need looking into. Why did it take so long to get fighter jets up after the first plane hit the tower?Why was a private Saudi jet allowed to pick up members of the bin Laden family and shuttle them out of the United States (this after all air travel had been prohibited by the US gov’t)? Was Flight 93 shot down? Why did President Bush say that he was no longer interested in finding bin Laden after he had announced that bin Laden was “wanted dead or alive”? What’s with PNAC, and why did we have a “new pearl harbor” nine months after the Bush Administration took office?


There are a whole grip of questions that are worth asking. But not asked by Charlie Sheen!!!



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And really, it’s not as if President Obama hasn’t got his hands full with other issues. Not disincluding the recent resignation of his green jobs czar, Van Jones, because of Jones’ signing a petition demanding that the government look into 9/11. I think that Mr. Obama already has his hands full with another set of conspiracy nuts already — with the “birthers” n’ all.


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I’ve said it before that I’m a fan of a good conspiracy. The problem is, is that although there are good conspiracy stories, there are very few good conspiracy arguments. I hear some of the people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job, or that President Obama isn’t an American citizen, or that H1N1 is a plot to forward the eugenicist agenda and usher in the New World Order, on the radio, trying to convince the mostly non-believer hosts that what they believe isn’t rubbish but warnings to be taken seriously.



ron paul fans



The problem is, is that they never argue their points very well. They’re often shut down very quickly. They come off like hayseeds and yahoos who still 1) live with their parents, 2) lack a significant number of teeth and education, 3) are currently the product of or involved in a romantic relationship with a blood relative, or 4) all of the above.


The problem, unfortunately, comes down to the fact that most people don’t know how to argue well.



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This is a real problem for conspiracy fans.



One tactic that they use is the scare tactic. This one is especially prevalent now (can you say death panels?). When someone uses a scare tactic as a method of argumentation, it’s called argumentum ad bacculum (and it has nothing to do with Scott Bakula).







An argumentum ad bacculum argument states if you don’t accept it, dire consequences will follow.


It goes a little something like this:  the Satanic Illuminati has plans to rid the world of 80% of the world’s population and uses the media to manipulate the population of “sheeple” (this would be something like premises for my argument). After laying out the globalist’s agenda, I conclude by saying “If you don’t believe me, the eugenicists will shoot you up full of mercury-tainted vaccines and kill you“.


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That’s pretty much the gist of the argument.




It’s believe me or die.


It doesn’t leave much room for a rebuttal.


Of course, for anyone who may be off-put by my insulting either Charlie Sheen or truthers or conspiracy theorists in general, I say this with my tongue firmly planted in cheek. Well, except for the Charlie Sheen and the credibility stuff.




images but if not aliens






Requiem for A Tarman

When Thinking of ethics, there’s always a problem that comes up, namely, given all the theories out there, how are we to decide what to do? Do we think of intentions or consequences, or what God wants us to do or duties, ourselves? There’s this book out there called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. The point of the book is that we shouldn’t get so wrapped up in the trivial stuff that ultimately means nothing that we miss the real important things in life. Unfortunately for many of us, our lives don’t get beyond the small stuff. This is why, I think, philosophers think up so many strange thought experiments. We get to think up big stuff and bounce it around. But thinking up thought experiments and setting up all the parameters can be quite time consuming. Besides, when you do, there’s always some joker that wants to dispute the circumstances of your thought experiment. Fortunately for most of us, we don’t have to think up anything. That’s what movies are for. There are plenty of philosophers who poo-poo the idea of using popular entertainment as a philosophical tool. The thought is is that nothing of any use comes out of the popular culture. This is simply not true. Whether we watch Disney movies, a buddy road-trip flick, or a romantic comedy, or we spend an evening with Truffaut, movies give us an ample glimpse of how philosophic theories work. Take, for instance, the movie The Terminator. At first glance, you’ve got an action/sci-fi flick. But if you look a little deeper, there’s questions of artificial intelligence, determinism, time and time travel, existential questions concerning the nature of Sarah Connor’s personality (she goes from wimp to tough chick, or is that who she was all along, since Kyle Reece tells her that she’s a fighter?). There’s really alot there — plus, it’s fun to watch. Which can’t be said about watching most philosophy professors giving their lectures. The late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, wife of Star Trek creator, the late Gene Roddenberry, said that, back in the 1960s, network censorship was so tight that, in order to get his ideas across, her husband had to be subversive. Barrett-Roddenberry said, “censorship was so bad in those days, that if he could take things and switch them around a little bit, and maybe paint somebody green… he could get some of his ideas across”. I’m not saying or even suggesting that philosophers be or are being subversive ( lord knows what that would be like), but by looking at one situation/question/moral dilemma in one context or medium, we can see how it would work in another. That is to say, that watching a movie in which a certain situation takes place, we may be able to apply that fictional situation to real life. Although they are easily dismissed as cinematic schlock, zombie flicks are especially useful in the area of ethics. For instance, we may consider life and death — what does it mean to be “alive”? , what is death?. By seeing how the undead are treated, we might be able to see how we treat those in our own world who are not quite dead or not quite living (people on life-sustaining machines, for instance). We can see how we treat those who are afflicted with certain brain disorders (that may produce mania or violent behavior) by looking at zombies. I was watching this movie called Automaton Transfusion a few days ago. While I was watching, I thought about how people treat the undead and how would we have to treat them if there were a real zombie plague in our world. After spending some time thinking about the question, I came to the answer that how we treat them depends on what kind of zombie we are dealing with. I thought that I would, for the sake of making the whole experiment worth considering in the first place, consider the zombies of George Romero and Dan O’Bannon. First, I agreed (with myself) that I would consider zombies people. This is important, because it may determine whether zombies are morally considerable at all. If a zombie ceases to be a person and is simply nothing more than a rotting trash heap, that ends the experiment pretty much right there. I don’t think that there are too many philosophers that would argue that we have a moral obligation to a pile of garbage. When I startign thinking about it, I almost immediately thought of Peter Singer ( I’m not sure exactly why). Singer takes Jeremy Bentham’s view that the capacity to suffer makes one morally considerable. Bentham writes, ” the question is not Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”Although we know that the dead cannot be reasoned with ( as there are also many living humans that cannot be reasoned with), and that, with a few cinematic exceptions, none talk. But we haven’t made it our habit to determine if they suffer. According to Singer, this capacity is a prerequisite for having interests at all. If, Singer states, an object lacks the capacity for suffering, we need not include it in our consideration. Singer writes, “it would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare”. If we look at George Romero’s quintology of his “dead” films, we see that zombies are no more than moving meat. They do not feel physically or otherwise. They are nothing more than self-propelled rocks. Using Bentham/Singer’s criteria, we need not consider their welfare. This is in line with Singer’s approach to individuals who are brain-dead or in a persistive vegetative state. People with those conditions are no more than individuals who have no conscious quality of life (oops! let’s clarify things before we go slumming towards Hitlerville). Like a person who has no higher brain function (without any hope of recovery), a zombie does not experience life. If we “kill” either, what “life” are we depriving either of? In this case it may be argued that to kill either would be a better good. We would speak of ending their “suffering”, but the suffering we’re referring to is primarily metaphorical or our own. But what if a zombie could suffer? What do we do then? Do our obligations to them change? Perhaps they might. Dan O’Bannon’s zombies in Return of the Living Dead are not the shambling moving meat of Romero’s films, but zombies who exhibit Robert Fletcher’s “indications of humanhood” (which are self-awareness, self-control, sense of the future, a sense of the past, the capacity to relate to others [if only to eat them], concern for others, communication and curiosity). O’Bannon’s zombies speak, plot, and retain their personality enough to remind their girlfriend that if she loved him that she’d let hime eat her brain. O’Bannon’s zombies, unlike Romero’s, experience pain. In one sequence, a female zombie reveals that there is pain in death. She explains that eating the brains of the living is the only way to end the suffering of death. The secen takes place in a funeral home between Ernie, the mortician, and the female zombie who is strapped to an embalmbing table: Ernie: you eat people. zombie: not people, brains. Ernie: brains only? zombie: yes. Ernie: why? zombie: the pain. Ernie: what about the pain? zombie: the pain of being dead. Ernie: it hurts to be dead. zombie: I can feel myself rot. Ernie: eating brains, how does that make you feel? zombie: it makes the pain go away. For starters, that scene is just plain creepy. Second, it really makes me nervous about dying, because what if that zombie is right and it is painful being dead? But more importantly, does the fact that they suffer now demand that we include their needs among our own? If feeling one’s own flesh rotting is painful (as one may well imagine), then we may be obligated to end that suffering. But wait, the only way to do that is to feed brains to zombies (this is the only way to end their suffering). That spells trouble for us. If we were good utilitarians, and we have as a prerequisite for moral inclusion the capacity to suffer, how do we deal with the needs od a brain-eating zombie? Is this a case where our uttilitarian ethics runs amuck? If logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and we may assume that (at least in some locales) the dead outnumber the living, then we might find ourselves, for the sake of consistency, handing our brains over to the undead. But this already doesn’t sound right. I think back to my ethics class. We had an assignment to find a True Moral Theory. We had as a guide, several “desired” features which included: the theory must not have implausible implications, it must place realistic motivational demands on the agent, and it can’r be self-defeating. When we consider the matter utilitarianally, we find prima facie that we may have to indulge the needs of the zombie. But if we apply our desired features, we find that giving our brians to flesheaters is not only inplausible, there is absolutely no reason for giving up our brains that motivates us to do so. Lastly, by giving the brains of the living to the dead, eventually, the dead (because the dead is an ever-increasing number) will outstrip their food supply. Therefore, doing so is eventually self-defeating. Next, feeding our brains to zombies butts up against something called the sadistic pleasures objection. It goes something like this: a group cannnot achieve its excellence at the expense of another group (especially if that group is smaller). So, let’s say that the main purpose of a zombie is to eat flesh. This, according to Aristotle, is its(a zombie’s) excellence (characteristic function). If we give living brains to the dead, so they can flourish, and since the net pain of the dead outweighs the net pain of the living (remember, the dead outnumber the living), we would be achieving one group’s excellence at the expense of the smaller group. A utilitarian does not ignore the needs of the smaller group, they figure into the greater good as well. This is especially relevant in the fact that a zombie does not need to eat brains to survive. Eating brains merely relieves a bothersome condition. A person zombie can “exist” with pain. A living human, however, cannot live without his brain. Of course, it’s easy to see that living people shouldn’t give up their brains so that zombies can feel better. But in the case of organ transplants or biotechnology the lines may not be so clear. If a good friend need a kidney to survive and I am a match, am I obligated to give my kidney? At what point am I obligated to give up a part of myself to help or save others? Am I obligated at all? Food for thought.

The Trouble With Democrats

President Obama is supposed to address the nation tonight about “health care reform”. I cannot say quickly enough that I do not care. I used to be all jazzed up for the prez. I used to be for the Democrats in general, as I was and still am an unapologetic Liberal. I started to not care right around the time that Al Franken was finally seated as the senator from Minnesota. I think if I hadn’t been in a state of I-don’t-care-dom, I would have been more upset when Senator Kennedy passed away (you know what’s kind of odd? Kennedy was in the senate longer than any of his brothers had lived. Food for thought). The Dems have the White House (which has made watching Glenn Beck all the more interesting), and both houses of congress. They say that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans nationwide. So why do I feel like I’m part of a loser party? I’ve noticed that even when the Republicans lose, they win. Even when they’ve been soundly trounced, they absolutely will not admit defeat. It’s kind of like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He’s there, with his arms and legs cut off, but he’s still talkin’ smack to Arthur. He won’t admit that he’s been defeated, even when it’s clear that he can’t fight. He believes that he can win — and in a way, he does. The idea being that so long as you don’t admit that you’ve lost, you haven’t. Kind of like our strategy in Afghanistan. The strategy of non-admission is also a Repbllican strategy — and an effective one at that. The idea to being successful, politically, even when you’re on the losing end of the debate, is to “frame” the argument. You may have the lousiest argumen, but as long as it’s taken up on your terms, you’re halfway to winning the debate. Framing sets the tone. It says what language that we’re going to use and how. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, (and author of Propaganda!, Crystalizing Public Opinion, and The Engineering of Consent), said, “You have to know your public and figure out how to make it respond”. Everything, Bernays and his brethren believed, is a matter of public relations, whether the poor folk out there know it or not. Bernays and his PR buddies invented the miracle of spin. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, used his uncle’s methods of psychoanalysis (that all human action was governed by unconscious desires) to sway the public’s tastes and opinions. Here’s a little on how Bernays thought: He believed that the public was a “herd to be led”, and that “those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country”. Bernays believed that the crowd (that’s you and me) isn’t ruled by reason, but by the spinal cord. People, Bernays believed, are moved by appeals to the emotions, and not by rational arguments. Bernays believed that people were like herds of animals and therefore most responsive to leadership (that leadership, of course, that specializes in manipulation of the people’s emotions). A perfect example of Bernaysian thinking is “The Mindmaker Song” from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. No Kidding. Of course, the most successful spin artist never admits that he is spinning (which is why Bill O’Reilly calls his show a “No spin zone”). A true bullshitter calls himself a straight-talker, who is going to tell it like it is, because he knows that his audience will stand for nothing less than the truth. The Republicans have become especially good at pulling this off. Strangely, the Democrats have not. Democrats, unfortunately, seem to come off as a bunch of Barton Finks when they attempt this strategy. That is, they come off as fakers. Although Obama won the election and the Democrats have both houses, when polled, this country tends to trend to the center, if not towards the Right. We’re a fairly conservative people. They say that Reagan appealed to Democrats during the 1980 presidential campaign by appealing to values instead of issues. That is, Reagan used appeals to the spinal cord rather than to the intellect to win against Jimmy Carter. Reagan appealed to the hard-workin’ everyman, the blue-collar workers and the regular housewives of America. These people were the “silent majority” that Nixon courted when he was president. The majority of Americans who were plain folk who believed in down-home values and the simple life. They weren’t a part of the, as the Conservative Club for Growth said of Howard Dean in 2004, “tax-hiking, government expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show”. Reagan’s Democrats were the people forced to accept Affirmative Action giving their jobs away. They were forced to pay for welfare queens, and to support gay rights, and white, heterosexual, male-hating feminists who wanted to promote abortion and an anti-Christian agenda. They were forced to accept God-hating atheists, tree huggers, bleeding-heart liberals, freedom-hating socialists of all stripes, activist judges, bureaucrats, overpaid government workers, illegal aliens, and unions. See how I framed that? How can you possibly carry on a sensible debate with anyone who says you’re a man-hating anti-American socialist, who wants to open the borders and let anyone from anywhere come in and destroy this great land, what’s left of America? It doesn’t matter if you have a sensible plan for actually solving any problem ( a weak economy, rising crime, illiteracy, etc), if you lack the proper values, your argument is dead in the water. Values matter most. Reagan, and every Republican since, is a warrior in the “culture war”. It’s those who love God and country against all who wish to destroy this great union. They must defend family values (which are never quite defined — I suppose for fear that many Republicans will be descovered as having violated them) against the culture-destroying influences of multiculturalism, diversity, and political correctness. The issues don’t matter because no matter the issue, people who lack American values will always undermine liberty and democracy. Try as they might to stick to the issues, Democrats will always lose out. First, these issues are boring when you discuss them in terms of numbers and formal, logically sound arguments. Second, Republicans are not at all squeemish about wringing the arms of anyone who strays from the party line. They will betray their own. The Democrats, because they do things like thinking, are often subject to things like forgiveness and the ‘let’s give the guy a chance’ way of thinking (which explains why Dems have been so nice about Joe Libermann).To get a good hear of what I mean, listen to Democracy Now!, then listen to Laura Ingraham. It won’t take long to tell the difference. It seems that the Democrats have perfected a losing strategy. And this is the strategy: Democrats try to give reasons for what and why they believe. By reasons, I mean they attempt to give legitimate, rational, perhaps logically valid reasons for taking up or rejecting any position or point of view. This fatal flaw is rooted in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Back in the 18th century or so, some dudes thought it would be really nifty to drop all that medieval thinking and actually use reason to discover things like truth and such. Kant said that the motto of the age should be “dare to know”. This is the beginning of the problem — knowing things, and encouraging other people to “know” things. All that knowing requires (all the epistemologists speak up) Truth. Truth is a necessary condition for knowledge. This is what the Dems do, they appeal to truth. The idea is, that given the right education (information or methodology for finding knowledge), a person would “arrive” at truth. They will decide wisely because they are thinking rationally. This is where they screwed up major. Allow me to demonstrate: the enlightened Liberal comes up with an argument somewhat like this: there are some premises, one of which will say something like, ” people are reasonable”. This will lead to a conclusion which will say something like, “therefore, people will make good judgments”. But there’s something wrong with this argument. Run the reductio! The problem premise is the mone I just named, that is, the assumption that people are reasonable. People aren’t. In fact,people tend to be highly irrational (it’s true, I looked it up). People often rationalize what they are doing, but are often highly irrational in what they do. By running the reductio, we’re supposed to find the bad premise that forces us to doubt, if not throw out whether our argument is true. The bad premise leads us to conclude something that isn’t true. But the Republicans don’t even go that far. They don’t bother with the argument at all. That’s why the Republicans win. They know that relying on something like reason is impossible, so they go straight for the emotions. They know that if they scare the bejezus out of you (like telling you that your African-born president wants to indoctrinate your children to do his bidding) , that you will react in a certain way. You can construct all the pretty arguments you want, they’d say, but as Freud observed, anatomy is destiny. Preying on the public’s psychological disposition will always yield the more sure-fire result. So what are the Democrats to do, ’cause what they’ve been doing isn’t working. I’m sure that Obama will lay out some very good reasons for supporting whatever plan he lays out. But as long as he’s competing with an opposition that merely yell “death panels” to win their side of the argument, he will never win. And winning is the point, isn’t it? So what should they do? Whenever the Dems try to act like Republicans, they come off wrong. It always backfires. When they’re sincere, they’re bullshitting, and when they lie, it just makes things worse. Actually, I do have a solution. But to reveal it would peg me as an operative of the New World Order. No, I’m joking about that. Here’s what I think, the Democrats should be doing. They should use the Republicans’ favorite guy against them. If the Reps love capitalism so much, then we Dems should get into using their favorite dude, Adam Smith. Smith said in Wealth of Nations, ” he will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favor, and show them that it is for his own advantage to do for him what he requires of them… it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages”.