Archives for category: Ethics

A late, lamented neighbor of mine once defined “just war” as “mere war.” That was a quip.

A rather cynical one.

When I read just war theory, as a teenager, the most important point, I determined (in this rarefied and rarely consulted domain of thought), was this:

In contemplating intervention into a conflict with which one’s own country is not directly involved, it is not enough merely to determine which side is more nearly in the right. One must also have good reason to believe that, by intervening, one’s State could win and establish a stable and  just peace.

Even if you know who is in the wrong, if there is no likely way of “winning,” or if one’s intervention is not likely efficacious to establish a peace, entering into the conflict is immoral.

A recent study of just war theory and history by Laurie Calhoun suggests that most uses of the tradition, especially in recent times, have been to cover for gross, murderous immorality. Not to limit warfare.

As near as I can make out, this is largely because the tradition is almost never treated seriously or rigorously in the manner indicated above.

It is telling that I have not once heard, in recent public discussion over the Syrian intervention, one mention of just war theory.


No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him: every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him: and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. [W]hen the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer (June 7, 1816)


I started with quotations, aphorisms, the main points of which I thought obviously egregious. But some of my friends liked them. So I continued. I next put up statements of my own that I found especially idiotic — common pieties of our age. Some liked them; others objected. I reminded the latter, only, what day it was.

So here, in no particular order, with the names of the initial “likers” greened out…. Statements none of which are true, each of which has something disturbingly wrong with them.












If you aim, in my direction, some cockamamie rap about “the myth of the gender binary,” be assured: I’m not interested. Your gender is none of my business. And keeping track of pseudo-science is not my avocation.

Indeed, I have yet to be convinced that there is much of anything in Gender Theory worth considering at length. I know the definition of “gender,” as a stand-in for “sex role.” More importantly, I know the open secret of the notion: even its adherents keep confusing “gender” with sex.

I am interested in sex. That’s biological. And I am interested in the roles that people make from their sex, and the norms they advance regarding sex and sexual behavior. But when I meet you, I can only guess what weight you give to “masculinity” and what weight you give to “femininity” and any other kind of sex-role “inity.” But I have little incentive to spend much time on the subject. I engage in a parsimony of attention. So I have no real interest in whatever cooked-up alt-pronoun you are pushing to honor your conception of “gender.”

There is indeed a sex binary. This is incontestable. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool of such proportions that I would not talk to that person if I could help it. I avoid crazy people. Besides, I am not a “science denier.” The biology is very clear.

As for “there is no gender binary,” my response is, at best: “Yeah, right, Goober.” Tautological truths about uninteresting fantasies are not my bag.

If you are a boy, and want to pretend to be a girl (or vice versa) that’s fine by me. But I am under no obligation to cater to your delusions or your frauds. I will call you what seems reasonable at the time, but not make much of it. If you make much of it, you can go screw yourself.

That is, unless you have gelded yourself.


My cat, Bene: he is a neutered male.

Which brings up an interesting point: though we hear much of “gender reassignment surgery”* and “trans-” this and that, I haven’t heard of a rush to create eunuchs. But such operations were once widely performed on men, and are even now routinely performed on pets of either sex.

But we still call neutered males “he” and “him” and spayed females “she” and “her” out of convenience.

So, your pronoun trouble is yours and not mine.

It’s true, as a wordsmith by trade, I have indeed experimented with constructing a set of non-sex-specific pronouns and possessives, but it’s a Sisyphean task to get a new word shoved into a language. And it would be Orwellian to try to do such a thing through the State’s police power, as the collegiate social justice crowd is indeed trying to do in Canada and on some U.S. campuses.

Yes, when it comes to sexing humans, it remains what it always has been: a matter of cox and kunz. If you lack either the referred-to penis or vagina, or have both, then you are indeed a special case, and I will no doubt pity you. If you once had one, and now have the other, I’ll try to humor you, but I feel no obligation. And if you try to oblige me, I will take that as a threat upon my person and my liberty, and swear you are my enemy. And reach for a weapon or a lawyer.

And if you are merely pretending to have something between your legs that you don’t, or are “treating yourself” with the opposite sex’s hormones, I’ll likely avoid dealing with you, and if I cannot, your respect for me means that you must forgive my smirk.

But be assured, the only respect you are owed is the same as the respect I am owed; respect for our rights. And your rights to dress as you want, call yourself whatever you want, talk with whatever inflection you prefer, and generally behave in any peaceful manner are all the respect I feel I owe you. I may give you more than that, but you may not demand more.

Notice what I have not talked about: your interests in other people via-à-vis sexual desire and gratification. Unless we are friends, I have no interest at all in your sexual orientation(s), unless you are an attractive woman who finds me attractive in return.

All others may . . . Well, let us just say that it is none of my business.

And if you ask me for my gender, I will tell you my sex.


* Of course, “gender-reassignment surgery” is a self-contradiction. Surgeries are biological procedures, manipulations of the body, and gender is supposed to be about socially constructed roles, so surgeons could have nothing to do with “gender.” Their purview is entirely limited to sex. This is just one of those terms that show the whole Gender Hooey to be just that, hooey.

“Privilege,” when I was young, was a word conservatives would direct at youngsters to humble them, to prevent them from becoming spoiled, from acting “entitled.” Speaking of a sports program, for example, a coach was apt to sermonize: “This field, this gym, this discipline — these are not your rights. You are here because some people did extra so you could have this. It is a privilege to be here.”

“Privilege,” now that I am old, is something progressives say to induce guilt.

What is going on here?

One has something by privilege if it is unearned, not by right. So, the progressives’ story runs, you should make way for those who have not been blessed with your advantages. We who have privilege should step aside to help others rise to our levels of wealth and advantage.

White men are the usual targets of the term. They are the ones said to be the most privileged. Indeed, the most commonly marshaled term is “white male privilege.”

Is there any truth to the charge? Well, it depends on how you define the term.

Most of the time, folks who talk about privilege speak as if it were mostly a matter of unearned advantage. And I admit with no qualms that, in a predominantly white society, there are indeed advantages to “being white,” just as there are advantages in China to being Chinese, in Japan to be Japanese, and in Saudi Arabia to be . . . Arab, but especially Saud. But the idea that being white is an insurmountable advantage over darker skinned folks does not play out well in the statistics of success. In America, the groups that do the best generation by generation are Asian people, particularly the Japanese, Chinese and Indian.

As often noted by conservatives, if you follow that fact, there must be “Asian privilege” in America.

That hardly makes sense.

And it is worth noting that natural endowments that cannot be sensibly thought of as “earned” do constitute advantages and disadvantages, depending. Height, intelligence, and good looks really do make a huge difference in life. Indeed, it turns out very interesting to compare statistics of a population’s outcomes according to these three qualities, contrasting them with race.

However, as an average-height, fairly intelligent and not completely homely American, when I think of what privileges I have specifically as a white man, I cannot list many.

But I do have a clue.

It  can be found in the simple fact that the “white privilege” charge so often sticks, even when it does not make much sense.

Why is this? Because (a) most white men care very little about the charge, on the whole, and brush it off, while (b) a small cohort of white men — along with many college-educated white women — do indeed accept the charge as if caught . . . white handed.

It is this latter white guilt that fans the flame of the meme. And it is white indifference that allows it to flourish.

Most of the current barrage of criticism of the concept have focused on the white guilt. So I will look at the bigger issue: white indifference.

There is (or was, until recently) a dominant attitude in American culture: individualism. This is the notion — or memeplex, or ideology — that would have people treated as individuals first and foremost, to deal with people under the assumption that they are responsible for themselves, and that it is through each of our efforts that we make our lives. This attitude discourages excuse-making, accepts that everyone has different talents and talent deficits, and requires that each person make the most of what he or she has.

Individualists regard people “as equal” only insofar as they are equally human. Individualists regard people as often radically unequal in nearly every other way. And they are fine with that.

One key to this attitude is that questions of “cosmic justice” and “poetic justice” and overall Life’s Fairness are put off the table. Envy is not allowed. Whining is to be discouraged. A certain jovial Stoicism is expected.

This attitude is the very opposite of “social justice.” The charge of “white privilege” is a tool in the arsenal of a very different culture. And that culture is not a culture of achievement.

The culture of social justice is obsessed with a revolutionary perspective, one that seeks to use the power of the state — and the hectoring allowed in popular cupturned — to equalize or somehow “make up” for the injustices inherent in nature.

Though of course social justice advocates do not put it like that. They say — against all evidence — that they are fighting against the evils of social control that men, particularly white men, have used against all other groups to gain the upper hand. “Society’s to blame” has been updated in modern social justice theory to “white men are to blame.”

But, from what I can tell, what they all really hate is any form of responsibilitarian individualism.

But we who are individualists may treat the perverse charge of the social justice warriors as a badge of honor, and, indeed, adopt it as a descriptor of our common attitude of indifference to the charge itself.

White privilege, let us admit, if only for a moment, arguendo, is the cultural attitude of individual responsibility and achievement. White men tend not to think of themselves as a group; we have no class solidarity. And this seeming lack of “group identity” stands upon a firm foundation, a very different idea of justice than those who yammer about “social justice.” It is the kind of justice that was once (in Europe, anyway) understood as limited in scope. Limited to the ways in which people treat each other. Justice does not and cannot address all the unfairnesses of the universe, the uneven disadvantages distributed at birth and further increased by family and church and school. Justice merely prevents the worst harms by establishing rules about how people may treat one another. Justice evolved through the adjudication of disputes, and comes to play when an injustice has occurred. It redresses grievances based on action. And then allows people to make do. To adapt.

White privilege is thus something anyone can have, regardless of skin pigment, as soon as those individuals set aside standards that try to balance out all nature’s wrongs. It “just seems white” because this attitude came to its fullest flowering in the West, where white people lived.

For the mavens of social justice, individualism is “white” because it was was whites who were the ones who made the most of it. And this rather racist color coding — racism being the over-weighting of matters of race, in this case attributing an idea to a race, rather than to those individuals who pick it up — is not without historical precedent: the Communists of a hundred years ago were commonly called (and called themselves) Reds, while the traditionalist and individualist opponents of these Reds were called the Whites.* This was not a racial issue then, of course, but merely a conventional identification scheme.

For the social justice crowd, individualism “just seems privileged,” too. Privilege has long been contrasted with strict justice, especially regarding ownership rights. If I can do something by special permission — of the sovereign, of the actual property owner, whatever the property may be — then it is said that I “am privileged.” If, on the other hand, I can do something by right — if I own the resource, if I have the authority — then I am not privileged; I am “in my rights.” Since social justice activists think that people merit goods equally, the meritocratic element of individualism seems especially unjust to them, while it seems more than just (necessary!) to individualists.

The distinct senses of entitlement are striking.

Questions of equality have long been a part of American discourse. Equality under the law was the original notion, and was understood as an equality of basic rights. Our basic rights were all we were entitled to from the State.

But the French nobleman and researcher Alexis de Tocqueville noted a different factor at play: class. There were no strong class boundaries in 1830s America. Europe, on the other hand, was awash with them. Tocqueville considered this a direct effect of “democracy,” and he described the absence of class barriers as “equality of conditions.” He did not mean “equality of wealth” or health or incomes. By equal conditions he meant social freedom, the equal lack of social barriers put up by tradition and government.

Equality of opportunity was the next to surface. Here social equality was to be backed by certain positive reinforcers, like universal public schooling. But once one notices that public schooling did not and cannot produce “economic equality,” the game was up. Equality became a materialistic matter of wealth levels.

The once vaunted equality of opportunity was thought not to be enough, because of . . . advantages.

But a careful look at actually existing advantages and disadvantages yields a more complex reality than the social justice advocates asserted.

The biggest advantage white people in America have, for example, is that they are treated more justly than are some other darker skinned folks. Or at least seem to be. That is the current story, anyway. Certainly, I am not routinely stopped by police for “driving white,” harassed for walking “in the wrong neighborhoods” or suspected of crimes merely by loitering in a posh store. In these common situations, I, a white male wearing respectable (but by no means extravagant) clothing, am treated justly. Usually.

Is that a “privilege”? Of course not. To be treated justly is not a matter of privilege. It is a matter of justice. Those who are not treated justly are not “under-privileged”; they are, instead, victims of injustice.

Nearly every white person I know earnestly desires that no one be treated unjustly. But many white people I know are increasingly skeptical of some of the current complaints along racial lines, in part because of this very charge of “privilege.” The obsession with equality and advantage covers up some sins that government appears incapable of fixing.

Of inner city violence, we “white individualists” (actually, all individualists, regardless of color) look at inner city African-American neighborhoods and what do we see? Few people working; self-defeating attitudes rampant; vice and indolence; and of course poverty. And we all know, from personal experience, that few folks can make a success out of vice and folly and crime.

And then we witness folks with horrific, socially destructive attitudes tied to deep moral deficits publicly complaining about others’ privileges!

It is not merely indecent. It is pretense. Effrontery. We shake our heads, incredulous.

The truth, of course, is that American white society is not just one thing. The number of whites who hold to the traditional forms of American individualism appear to be dwindling. Certainly, there is a rapidly expanding camp of white folks on government assistance, living lives at the margin with scant hope of crawling out from their poverty.

And, just as certainly, there is a wealthy subset of the professional and college-graduate whites who, while still living generally according to the mores of individualism — working hard, saving money, staying married and investing in their children — have nevertheless abandoned the doctrine itself for the cults of collectivism, for “social justice.” And that is the doctrine they export to the poor, the disadvantaged. Indeed, they are the ones who accept white guilt and actively promote notions of “white privilege.” They guiltily feel that they are privileged. They are sad about that, but nevertheless feel a thrill of righteousness when they can heap moral scorn upon individualists.

But let us not discount their feelings completely. It is true that they have soaked up many advantages, no small number of them designed as such by a governmental system that favors college graduates and school-work expertise over market cooperation. Since this is one area where government policy does yield consistent patterns of advantage, it may very well be that the only unjustly privileged in America are those in the cognitive elite. Well, at least those who work on the taxpayer dime.

And it just so happens that these folks are overwhelmingly in the “social justice” camp.

Still, even now, most of America’s individualists brush off all the charges, or just look at the recent social justice uproar in puzzlement. The copybook-heading wisdom of individualism still makes sense to them, and their main worry remains. They fear that government, pushed by folks who bandy about terms like “white privilege” and “white male privilege,” now favors the whiners and collectivists and looters and rioters and . . . the confessed guilty.

I began by noting that when conservatives used to marshal the word “privilege,” it was in service to the discouragement of the entitlement attitude. It is worth noting that the use of “privilege” by social justice progressives is the very expression of entitlement. They think they are fighting others’ senses of entitlement, by shaming, sure. But by characterizing others’ success as unearned, they show how entitled they feel themselves to be — entitled to the product of others’ labor and investments.

Or, in the case of the wealthy cognitive elite, they feel that their earnest work for the cause of the downtrodden absolves them of their crimes, and they secretly pretend to be generous when they urge higher taxes on their own kind . . . while deflecting attention away from their own wealth by talking about the unjust wealth of the “millionaires and billionaires.”

This is not progress.


* In full disclosure, my heritage is White Finn — Church Finn, to be exact. But this traditionalist standpoint I have given up for a secular individualism. I have never fallen for The Red line, and my days of avid interest in socialism, almost prurient, was brief, and in my teens.


“You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.”

Or so said Inigo Montoya in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

He was reacting to a repeated use of the word “Impossible!”

But he might have well been reacting to “Racism!”

I eagerly plunged into Matt Zwolinski’s essay “Why Laissez-Faire is NOT Social Darwinism.” This is one of my favorite subjects, in part because most discussions of it are so hopelessly muddled that it has become my favorite sport to vivisect each argument as it appears before me, wriggling in front of my eyes, tempting my scalpel. Thankfully, this essay starts out well; it looks promising from the first paragraph. Zwolinski has set out to defend William Graham Sumner from Richard Hofstadter’s infamous “social Darwinism” charge. And yet, it quickly gives me pause. Here is the fourth paragraph:

“Fitness,” for Sumner, was not a normative evaluation but a descriptive claim. To be “fit” is not necessarily to be “better” or “more virtuous” than one who is unfit. All that fitness means, in the evolutionary sense, is adaptation to environment. Thus, in Sumner’s “colorful” words, “rattlesnakes may survive where horses perish . . . or highly cultivated white men may die where Hottentots flourish.” The point is easily missed in the face of Sumner’s unfortunate racism, but even racism is not the same as social Darwinism, and the substance of Sumner’s point here is clearly at odds with the popular interpretation of that idea. The fact that a rattlesnake will outlive a horse in a desert doesn’t make the rattlesnake morally better than the horse. It just means that the rattlesnake is better adapted to surviving in the desert. That is all.

My problem here? I almost missed Zwolinski making a good point because of his unfortunate mistake about the nature of racism.

And so, before I move on to evaluating Zwolinski’s deconstruction of Sumner’s putative social Darwinism, I must dissect the racism charge that he makes.

You might be saying to yourself, “What’s going on here? Why is Virkkala distracting himself from the main point?”

Well, “racism” has been associated with social Darwinism for a very long time. So, when Zwolinski identifies something in Sumner that strikes him as racist, he is already finding something that lends support to the Social Darwinism charge — if only in a sloppy, association-of-ideas manner. And, also, if the author makes hash of the racism aspect, it might shed light on any deficiencies we may find in the main argument. (If any there be.)

But the simple truth is that I am deeply distracted by Zwolinski’s comment about Sumner’s “unfortunate racism.” For, from the example he gave, there was no racism involved at all.


Not even a little bit.

Sumner has compared the survival-fitness of the “cultivated Englishmen” of his day with the “Hottentots” of his day. Where is the racism here?

Sure, the Englishmen Sumner was referring to were “white,” a variety of what was then known as the “Caucasoid” race, and the Hottentots were “black,” of what was then known as the “Negroid” race.

To notice racial differences is not racism. Racism isn’t “belief in the utility of distinguishing between genetic groupings of humanity.” It is the “making too much of race,” usually by imputing statistically discernible characteristics of a race to individuals of that race. One does this either because one has fallen prey to an error typical of folk statistics, or because one is engaging in some out-group antagonism, usually in service of some play of in-group solidarity. Racism is inherently anti-individualist, by this understanding.

But it is not anti-individualistic to notice that there are racial differences. So, by identifying Englishmen and Hottentots, recognizing their typical differences, one has made no racist error. None. Not one. Not even a little bit. Racism is not, I repeat, about the recognition of “race” as a useful category of thought and speech. It is about the abuse of the category.

But, but . . . Sumner called Englishmen “cultivated” and implied that Hottentots were not! How cannot that be racism?

Because “cultivated” is not a racial concept.

Anyone can be cultivated, given the right circumstances. “Cultivation,” as here used, is a cultural concept.

The very word derives from agriculture, as in “cultivating the fields.” A culture that engages in elaborate structures of production in agriculture and industry and marketing, not to mention the many arts and sciences, is, by definition, “cultivated.” When Sumner was writing, England was quite cultivated. There is no doubt of that. And the Hottentots of central and south Africa were not. They had a fascinating primitive culture. But it was still primitive. And, as such, much less complex than the English culture. Most Englishmen were “cultivated” compared to Hottentots because they were adapted to their more complex society, and that is a simple and unavoidable truth.

Oh, but “Hottentot” is an offensive term for the Khoikhoi! Well, sure. Now. But this was not known to be any more offensive than calling a German a German or Finn a Finn, back in Sumner’s day. The Germans did not use the old Latin name of “Germany” to refer to their country, not very often; the Finns called themselves “Suomilainan,” inhabitants of “Suomi,” not “Finns” from “Finland.” Similarly, the Khoikhoi did not call themselves “Hottentot” — that was a Dutch name for them, just as Finn is the outsiders’ name for the people of Suomi, and German is the outsiders’ name for inhabitants of (or from) Deutschland. Hottentot is considered offensive, now, but so are many other words that were once the only words that folks had access to.

I do not know precisely why Matt Zwolinski thinks comparing “cultivated Englishmen” to “Hottentots” is “unfortunately racist,” but I guess it is the “cultivated” part. And this is simply an error. If you think it is racist to acknowledge cultural differences between a modal Englishman and a modal Khoikhoi, or “most Englishmen” compared to “most Hottentots,” then I am not sure what to say further. It is just a category error.

What this seems to indicate, though, is something quite common among the young, these days. It was certainly not unheard of among the old when I was a child — I remember a great aunt of mine speaking this sort of offense-taking nonsense back in the 1960s — but it is especially common now. And it has a geneology:

  1. Racism is bad.
  2. I have been trained to react negatively to anything smacking of racism.
  3. Talk of “race” itself reminds me of racism.
  4. Therefore: this mention of race is itself racist!

This can best be described as the thinking of lazy minds. It happens all the time with “sexism,” too. I have heard people say that rape is sexist. That pornography is sexist. That . . . well, you get the idea. But  just because rape has something to with sex, and is bad, does not mean that it is sexist. Sexism does not encompass all the bad things that relate to sex.

To believe that it does mean this? It is to not really understand how language works. It is to lose track of definitions, and think that any association of ideas that pops into one’s precious little head warrants some drastic identity.

My interpretation of this passage runs like this: Matt Zwolinsky read the comparison between Englishmen and Khoikhoi; it made him uncomfortable; therefore: “unfortunate racism”!

I will not try to make a similar mistake by taking my annoyance with this one error and imputing it to the rest of the essay.

All I am going to do is let it stop me from reading the rest of it tonight. Stay tuned for further discussion of this important subject — and what I hope will prove to be an important essay, regardless of Zwolinski’s infelicitous misattribution of racism to this one statement by William Graham Sumner.




The news comedy shows are, for the most part, denunciation shows. This description fits Jon Stewart’s old topical comedy show and Trevor Noah’s lamer version; Bill Maher’s HBO warhorse, and John Oliver’s hipper variant on the same network; and, especially, the best one in the business, RT’s Redacted Tonight

The worst of the lot is surely Samantha Bee’s, but perhaps I err. I have not really been able to watch her after she left The Daily Show. Larry Wilmore’s is a little better, but, last I checked it was relentlessly race-obsessed. I feel icky after watching it — like other people feel after they’ve experienced Milo, who has a touring show, not a TV show.

Red Eye with Tom Shillue on Fox is a little less denunciatory (perhaps by being more defensive?), and Greg Gutfeld’s new weekend show is . . . well, you explain it to me. These latter two are the only non-left-leaning of such shows that I am aware of. That is, the hosts are not leftists.

Many people miss Stephen Colbert’s parody show of Bill O’Reilly. Not me. I tired of it after about the second episode. It is worth noting that YouTube’s The Young Turks works as a self-parody show — an unintentional self-parody show.

Topical comedy is hard, I am sure. Being fresh and always witty? Maddeningly difficult. That is one reason these topical comedy shows resort to relentless denunciation. When you are not being truly funny, you can rely on your audience’s out-group hatred and loathing — and self-righteous sense of in-group superiority — to maintain passion and high-pitch enthusiasm. Thus delighted laughter is replaced with derisive howls

The problem with all this is that they become uncomfortably close to the show depicted in A Face in the Crowd, the great Elia Kazan film starring Andy Griffith as “Lonesome” Rhodes: grand examples of demagoguery. This is especially the case for the shows with live audiences. They want red meat (or the leftist soy-and-quinoa equivalent), and there is usually one guest who serves as the lion pride’s delectable Christian treat.

Most of these shows sport panel “debate” segments. These, of course, are played for comedy, but also for argumentative purposes, too. The better to serve the denunciation game. And yet sometimes one actually witnesses productive, honest debate. Not often. Sometimes.

Last week, mere days before the aforementioned Milo Yiannopoulis was publicly hit with a disgrace campaign based on some pedophilia-related comments he had made, the gay conservative free-speech provocateur appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time. Last week I wrote about his one-on-one interview with Maher at the top of the show. I could not bear to watch the panel segment with Milo . . . until yesterday, at which point I hastily put together a video about what went wrong. The problem was more than mere denunciation, though denunciations there were, all around:

I briefly comment on Vee’s explanatory video, too, so I should put up his link:

The key concepts that I tried to add to the debate are the two main problems we see in modern discourse all the time, especially on television topical comedy shows:

1. Data impasses, and

2. Contractual impasses.

Either kind of stalemate-inducing situation scuttles profitable dialogue. And, frankly, neither serves as humor, either. Sure, the second kind usually takes the form of mutual denunciation, but such cases do not seem funny to me. Not at all. They are usually excruciating.

The denunciation shows might consider growing up.

Or die. That would be good, too.

To be replaced by real interviews and real debates.


I cannot conjure up the effrontery it would take to scribble marginal notes in a borrowed book.

I remember borrowing a copy of George Santayana’s Life of Reason (the one-volume edition) from a local library and reading the inane commentary of a previous reader. It actually turned me off reading the book.

I made up for this by buying the book in its first, multi-volume editions. Alas, I have only read two of its five parts, and own a mere three of them. This is not the origin of my entry into the ranks of the bibliobibuli, or of book collectors, but it may have been a turning point of sorts.

So I may owe something (what, you decide) to one particular Pacific Northwest graphomaniac.




Pro-choicers regularly defend abortion with “life of mother” as well as rape and incest cases. We should allow abortions, the arguments run, because sometimes doctors and families must choose between the life of a pre-nate in peril, on the one hand, and the imperiled mother herself. Or, we must allow abortions because, in some cases, the pregnancy is the result of rape, or December-May incestuous molestation.

Such arguments are often persuasive. Even most folks prone to adamantine opposition to abortion think that if a tough choice must be made, the mother should be saved. Similarly, making a woman carry to term a rapist’s baby, or an older-relative molester’s, does seem awfully unfair, if not necessarily unjust. Perhaps excusable, even if the life of the pre-nate is to be sacrificed. Maybe.

But it is simply the truth that only a minuscule percentage of actual abortions — the abortions regularly performed in this country — fall into one of these categories. Indeed, there is a far higher number of third-term abortions — grisly, ghastly affairs — than abortions done for those above-mentioned extreme cases that most people see as more than arguably allowing of abortion.

And it is not as if I do not hear pro-choicers rush to defend against anti-abortion arguments by resort to percentages, but reversing their logic. I often hear defenders of legal abortion* rush to inform me that third-term abortions are very rare. Indeed, recently, when I was discussing second-term abortions, and the methods involved (often also quite grisly), a pro-choice young woman immediately informed me that late-term abortions are very rare. And we were not even talking about late-term abortions!

On the one hand, a small number of abortion cases are used to justify all abortions, while on the other, a different small (though larger) number of abortion cases are declared irrelevant to the case against abortion.

The old switcheroo; a changeling argument.

You see the utility of the first ploy. Defend a large number of abortions not on the grounds of their exact nature, but because a few abortions within the broad category seem reasonable. It is a form of deflection. Evasion, really. It changes the terms of the debate while seeming to fall squarely inside the context most pro-lifers insist upon.†

This got me thinking. What if we switched subjects? That is, stick to defending large numbers of “unpleasant” events by recourse to a small number of putatively justifiable actions that form a small subset of the events.

Most of my progressive friends, like me, are very concerned about police shootings. We think that it is quite obvious that many police shootings are unjustified. We also frequently lament the fact that police too often successfully band together, along with prosecutors and the whole state system of police power, to defend murderous and careless and cowardly cops who abuse their power and privilege with gunfire.

But it is also undoubtedly true that many, many police shootings of suspects are indeed justified. There are bad people out there, criminals. And many of them resist arrest with violence, or are caught by the police committing violence, and threatening more. These situations do not merely allow police to shoot, but in some cases even morally require the police to shoot.

And it may very well be (I really do suspect it is the case) that most police shootings are justified.

So, in this context, engage in a thought experiment.

What if the current number of self-defense and other justifiable shootings by police were used to excuse the shootings of innocents by the same ratio‡ of life-of-mother/rape/incest abortions to the vast majority of abortions?

The blood would be flowing in the streets.


* In full disclosure, I believe that early abortions, at the very least, ought to be legal. I have a justification of this practice, as abhorrent as I find it. Sometimes one is required to set aside one’s feelings and moral prejudices and acknowledge that our power over others must be limited, in part in recognition of our limitations as moral beings, as what Immanuel Kant called our status as Legislators in the Kingdom of Ends. Though, in actual fact, my argument pertains to Means, not Ends, but we shall leave this for another time.

† The second ploy is of course directly contradictory to the first. The standard of an appeal to a small number of cases is not consistently applied. But let us leave that hanging.

‡ In the course of the above thought experiment I did not give actual numbers for the multi-million killer abortion industry for a reason. I want the reader to think about how important (or not) the numbers and percentages are. Imagine yourself bargaining with The Lord over the status of Sodom and Gomorrah. How important are the numbers of righteous men? What does the percentage of good and evil mean to us, when contemplating great evil? (The percentage of life-of-mother abortions, I read, is less than 1 percent. In 2015, there were about 400 fatal police shootings of suspects in the U.S. Arguendo, if only three-quarters were justified, that would mean 30,000 fatal shootings would be justified given pro-abortion apologetics.)

Aspartame reminds me of homosexuality.


British philosopher Jeremy Bentham spent a great deal of effort trying to figure out a rationale, based on his utilitarianism, to make homosexuality illegal. He could find none. According to his principles, homosexuals must be treated like other adults, as basically free to do as they please so long as they do not harm others.

Sadly, Bentham would not allow his research and reasoning made public in his lifetime, for fear that it would tarnish the utilitarian emprise.

And here is the parallel story: Aspartame has been examined by scientists more than most other food substances.

They are always looking for a way to call it dangerous. And thus worthy of prohibition.

Aspartame’s like homosexuality: condemning it doesn’t pass muster.

Of course, the idea that you should ingest it no more follows than you should “be homosexual.” To each his/her own.