Archives for category: Ethics

McInnes on Hannity with feminist

Gavin McInnes makes some good points in his recent video on a certain type of “journalist” he does not like, a group of censorious, moralistic women he calls the Spinster Police:

But he insists that these women writers are not good at their job. An odd charge. For it is quite obvious that the female journalists he is talking about are doing precisely what they are hired to do: give half-assed and half-assessed arguments mixed with invective, calumny and virtue signaling — all in the cause of “social justice” and “feminism” and a bunch of allied isms.

I would say that they are doing a fine job as demagogues, as harridans, as scolds. They may even win, and reap the whirlwind as ultimate reward. Cultists sometimes do.

Now, McInnes often repeats a claim that women would be happier, on the whole, were they to do what they are evolutionary designed to be best at, something that men cannot do: give birth to and nurture human life. Wasting time on once-predominantly male occupations does not make them happy, he says, it makes them frustrated.

And kind of pathetic.

This is no doubt true for many such women. The Cat Lady phenomenon is a little hard to take. And all the mantras of “independence,” the repeated rationales. Methinks the ladies do protest too much.

But from this it does not follow that women who forswear family life for dubious careers are bad at their careers. Many are fantastic writers, lawyers, doctors, what-have-you. But still unsatisfied. Why? For the simple reason that careers qua careers are not as satisfying as women have been told, have been telling themselves.

Feminism gained much impetus from envy. Or at least plain covetousness. Some women coveted the positions of successful, alpha males. And out of this covetousness feminism grew. In the cause of equal rights and responsibilities, this was fine, so far as it goes, but covetousness, once upgraded from vice to virtue, becomes all-consuming.

And the trouble with desiring what somebody else has is the tendency to forget what one already has, or has the best chance of obtaining. It is not much different than other vices, especially miserliness. The miser so obsesses about money that he forgets what money is for: spending now and saving to spend in the future. It is not about hoarding. Similarly, covetousness over-values what others have and under-values what the covetous have. And in the case of feminist women, what became under-valued is motherhood itself, the biological function and social institution necessary for the continuation of the species.

If you choose against your nature, prepare for the consequences. They can be vast.

In the case of many women, what careers get them is often a stunted or negligible family life: often no marriage, and either no children, one child only, or (the worst) de facto fatherless children.

Now, having only one or two children is part of a major pattern that comes with wealth acquisition: the substitution of quantity of children for quality of children. (See Theodore Schultz’s 1981 opus, Investing in People.) And, because of the small size of families, each child becomes super-important to the mothers, and that is quite a bond, one that I wish not to challenge at all — well, other than to note how big the cultural change is when most children come from small homes: risk averse parenting (because of the increased marginal utility of each child) leads to sheltered, over-protected children which in turn engenders spoiled, whiny, demanding, insufferable adults.

But back to our career women, especially those who are single and childless. They may be very good at what they do. But that does not mean that they have chosen wisely. Even if they are extremely competent, it can still be the case that it makes more sense to invest their lives in motherhood. Motherhood is natural, and one would have to cultivate an Epicurean or an existentialist anti-naturalism to make that pay off. More importantly, however, may be comparative advantage.

Say a woman has found a suitable mate with whom to procreate and establish a family. Even if the woman is better at her market-based job than be her husband, her comparative advantage may still be motherhood. What one should do is not always a maximization of a particular goal, but a situation- and opportunity-dependent satisficing.

No man can bear a child; most women can. Though men can indeed nurture children, women do tend to have a developed-by-evolution skillset to do that much better. Which means that time spent away from making a home and producing future humans, with all the joys and sorrows that entails, is apt to appear (ceteris paribus) much more enticing than doing the career thing.

Besides, as Dr. Jordan Peterson insists, most people do not have careers. They have jobs. Real careers are demanding and all-absorbing. Not univocally good life choices. Not without tremendous costs. If one can be fulfilled outside the market environment, why preclude it?

So, my point against Gavin McInnes is not that he is wrong about the advantages that women can find by embracing motherhood, or his oft-expressed arguments about how very different the fatherhood role is. It is just that the case for more women choosing motherhood and family life over careerism does not rest on the idea that they tend to suck at careers. It is, instead, that they have such a comparative advantage for family work that even in many cases where they are extremely competent — even genius — at their jobs, opting for family life often makes more sense.

The cream of the jest, though, resides in the cases Gavin focuses on: of extremely attractive women in media jobs. He mocks a professional woman who scorned the family option of motherhood but nevertheless got a facelift. Wives rarely get facelifts for husbands, unless very rich. They get facelifts to land a husband, or — and this is key — keep them in the job market longer.

You see, in media, as in the performing arts, it really helps to look great.

It is amazing, to me, to see so many good looking musicians. Does good looks naturally skew with musical talent? Writing talent? News commentary? Lawyering? That has not been my street-level, workplace-level experience. But it is so at the higher levels. Why? Because people like to look at good-looking people, and so, when the public is involved, or many clients are involved, good looks aids and even trumps talent.

Which brings us not to sexism but to lookism.

Looks, for women, has long been the chief lire for sexual attraction. But instead of honing their looks to obtain the coöperation of one man, for mating, career women hone their looks to obtain repeat business from a long string of customers, clients, and fans. This means they are nudged to pay more attention to their looks than they likely would under family life. Farding up for one man, invested primarily early in the relationship, swapped for farding up late in life for a huge audience? A daring exchange.

What a woman who swaps marriage for career finds out is what many men have long known: whoring is at the core of capitalism. The woman who marries and has children does is whore herself but once. In a career, she does what workingmen do: whore herself out every day.

Quite an inglorious end to the coveting of “what men have.”

And it is interesting to see what has really happened here: women have coveted only the top positions in society. They rarely covet the dangerous jobs, the messy jobs. There is, as is now common to notice, no cry for women’s workplace parity with men in logging, fishing, trash removal, etc. And the demands for the more glamorous of dangerous jobs, like policing and firefighting, have led to the erosion of standards in those callings. Women tend not to be as strong and hardy as men, so becoming cops and firefighters is harder for them, unless the bars for entrance are often lowered, to the public’s endangerment.

The problem with high-profile women scorning family life and marriage and even men, and scorning child-bearing, is not that it does not work for some of these women. After all, we want people of both sexes to choose what best suits them. The real problem is that it sets up a class system. The really attractive career women succeed in front of our eyes; they constantly defend their cause, ballyhooing their life choices — and this is not, for reasons unknown to me, usually interpreted as elaborate self-justification. And by doing this they provide a horrible example . . . for less attractive women, less career-oriented women. These less-blessed women go on to adopt values that channel them into unprofitable lifestyles wherein they become stuck in bad jobs while under-producing the one good that might make them happier: children. The reward is minimal, the opportunity cost tremendous.

And the now-common feminist scorn for men, the belief they are unimportant for women, sends too many mothers and their children into the Dependent Caste, perpetually stuck on state aid, trapped.

So, it is time for feminists to find it within themselves to praise motherhood. Further,

  • hating on men as fathers is not doing women in general any good;
  • the substitution of the welfare state for fathers has been a bad deal;
  • the valorization of that most unnatural of activities, market labor, above the more natural economy of family life, was doomed from the start to frustrate women.

And the great irony of this shift? Women forever courting the dreaded “male gaze” — but instead of to please one man, they fard up to please the masses of men.

Some swap.




If you side with the criminals in your community because they identify as the same color as you, how does that not make you a racist?

If you side with cops who commit egregious crimes just because they are “lawmen,” how does that not make you statist?

Now, I admit, statism is worse than racism. A commie is a more dangerous person, ceteris paribus, than either a white or a black nationalist. Problem is, most racists are statists.

But some racists do seem to be anti-law, to be antinomians to the point of opposing order itself, against any peaceful public adjudication of conflict. They promote crime, conflict, revolution. Without a real end point, a peaceful resolution. This seems to me the opposite of statism, at least in one dimension. Criminalism? Nihilism? Anarchism?

What is this? I smell it in some racists, black or white. But surely these will revert to mere kakocracy, to a racist statism amounting to the rule by the wholly untrustworthy.



Dr Seuss WWII cartoon

Racism is and always will be a problem.

But it is not a simple problem. Some people who fight against racism are so fixated on race that they become racist through the back door. Anti-racism sees itself as the Id of the atavistic ism, but, nevertheless, Racism transforms into the Shadow of anti-racism.

Every day, it seems, I can find in my Facebook feed some outrageous bit of racist anti-racism from my friends or my friends’ friends and spouses. I have to bite my tongue, stay my typing hands. But there is more than enough of the racist anti-racism (and anti-racist anti-racism) in the major media that I can focus on the controversies there, rather than confront the absurdities among people I must get along with, but who would, were I to speak my mind, be offended at my analysis of their opinions.

First, courtesy of Townhall, the sad spectacle of “College Professor: Believing in Hard Work is White Ideology.”

Now, I know a lot of folks of darker hue (the “p.o.c.” as some say — a designation I find absurd) who work harder than me, and hold to the doctrine of hard work more resolutely than I do. And I am very white.* Not only does my most recent photo show it (see below), but 23 and Me testifies with DNA analysis. Further, based on the work and leisure habits of the white people in my valley (retirees, unemployed, barely employed, self-employed), I would say that the evidence of the “white ideology” at play in “white lives” is a little weak.

So, on an observational basis, the charge of “white ideology” seems an unjustified stereotype. We whiteys should object! Oh, we white people have so much to complain about, including the imputation of an ethic that we honor, today, mostly in the breach.

But, back to the Townhall column: “Pennsylvania State University-Brandywine professor Angela Putman recently asserted in an academic paper that the notion ‘if I work hard, I can be successful’ is merely a product of white ideology,” Timothy Mead informs us.

Angela Putman conducted a study to critique and examine “ideologies within college students’ discourse that are foundational to whiteness.” Her resulting conclusion published on Thursday was that “meritocracy”, or the belief that people should rise based on the fruits of their own labor, is a “white ideology.” In her mind, this “white ideology” is unfortunately widely accepted in academia.

But, Professor Putman argues that professors can change this “ideology” by teaching students “how racism and whiteness function in various contexts, the powerful influence of systems and institutions, and the pervasiveness of whiteness ideologies within the United States.”

Putman believes that it is somehow a bad thing to teach students personal responsibility. Emphasizing a collectivist mindset, Putman puts forth the idea that Americans are falsely “socialized to believe that we got to where we are . . . because of our own individual efforts.”

This “ideology” she says, perpetuates whiteness and racism throughout society. Once students learn more about “white ideology,” they will hopefully “resist perpetuating and reifying whiteness through their own discourse and interactions,” and challenge systemic “manifestations of racism and whiteness.”

This farrago of ill-thought-out concepts and arguments is a hornet’s nest of contradictions, of course. It might be important to show just how the author engages in a sort of performative contradiction, how she undermines her own thesis.

I will not provide the necessary vivisection, but will readily advance this thesis: the truth is probably more complicated than either the ideology she targets or the ideology she pushes. No one succeeds just by “hard work.” For one thing, it is not the difficulty that makes work valuable, and thus worthy of recompense. The difficulty of making arm-pit hair sculptures is no doubt tedious, but no one (I hope) wants such art any more than they want smegma-based cuisine.

But there is a point to pushing a “hard work” ethic: it encourages people to not give up, and thus makes them more likely to succeed.

And perhaps this ethic was one reason why prosperity emerged so impressively in the West, and not elsewhere.

By attacking the ethic as racist, the professor hobbles her students. And encourages laziness, entitlement, thievery. All bad things.

I wonder if the professor would dismiss my value judgment as itself racist.

Which would lead to further judgment by me. Of a very negative sort.

AngelaPutnamAlso, notice that this woman is white. Her thesis could be interpreted as an expression not merely of white guilt, but of that most dreaded of all things, “white supremacist.”

She does not believe that whites should be successful. But she does believe that whites are successful because of their characteristically “white” ideology and its most obvious consequence: hard work. She obviously believes that p.o.c. are not capable of taking to the ideology, and thus not really very capable. She has a very race-centric view of human potential. She is not a culturalist, though she no doubt pretends to be against biological determinism. But by identifying an ideology that has (obviously) led to success (or at least aided in the process) as attached to a race she accepts the notion (hardly believable, if you ask me) that the value system is not contingent to biological humanity but an efflorescence of one sub-group, she unwittingly demonstrates that she thinks whites are better than p.o.c. and that the only way to make for racial equality is to sabotage a natural advantage of white people.

I have to say, I am astounded at how racist this is.

But racism is something we have come to expect of the intersectionalist left. Did you know that Dr. Seuss was racist? Well, that has been argued, too:

Now, this is a “demented” charge, says Tucker Carlson. But as the Democrat he interviewed asserts, Seuss did draw some pretty strange and crude anti-Japanese stuff during World War II, and they are “stereotypical.” Note how Tucker responds: during wartime one should expect that kind of thing. His foil insists, strongly, no.

Now, I have seen at least one Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel World War II toon. I am not aware of any black people caricatures, but I have seen some Warner Brothers cartoons from the period that are pretty . . . bracing in their use of old-fashioned “black” stereotypes. But I side with Carlson, here, and note a feature of the cartoon at the top of this page: Hitler is also caricatured. For some reason no one complains that Geisel caricatured white people, and that he was racist against whites because he drew Hitler in a funny way.

Now, the way he caricatured the German, we are told, is appreciably different from the way he caricatured the Japanese:

Dr. Seuss drew many cartoons that, to today’s eyes, are breathtakingly racist. Check out the cartoon above. It shows an arrogant-looking Hitler next to a pig-nosed, slanted-eye caricature of a Japanese guy. The picture isn’t really a likeness of either of the men responsible for the Japanese war effort — Emperor Hirohito and General Tojo. Instead, it’s just an ugly representation of a people.

OK. Maybe. Though considering the way Hitler thought about the Japanese, a haughty Hitler is apt. But the racism could be evident. And it is certain that Seuss repented:

In 1953, Geisel visited Japan where he met and talked with its people and witnessed the horrific aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. He soon started to rethink his anti-Japanese vehemence. So he issued an apology in the only way that Dr. Seuss could.

He wrote a children’s book.

Be that as it may, not accepting a Dr. Seuss book from the First Lady (as was the case, recently, of a smug, moralistic librarian) is idiotic, of course. Even if, at one time, the “liberal” Dr. Seuss was a bit racist early on.

Having race on the brain is deranging a lot of people. But maybe it is just a bunch of people seeing how far they can push white guilt. I think what really shocks the left these days is more and more whites are saying: no more.

And that’s considered racism.

Well, if liking Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose or The Lorax or Horton Hears a Who makes us racist, what will happen is this: white Americans will accept the charge and dismiss the accusers of some sort of reverse racism, despise them for their idiotic malignity, and vote in any direction that does not include such nonsense.

So, during wartime, Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel was a bit racist. Get over it, people. Carlson’s final charge is apt: the racism-mongers are moralistic scolds.

And this carries on a theme I have been writing variations on for decades: the left has become conservative. Everything I despised about conservatism as a child is on the left, today, and much worse.

If you are incensed that Dr. Seuss was racist before he became anti-racist, and dismiss him as a hack in part for that reason, there is not merely something wrong with you. There is probably something wrong with the people around you, the people you admire.

And that explains a lot about the current epoch.


* Offered in evidence of my whiteness:

Photo on 9-30-17 at 5.13 PM


There is nothing more boring than the NFL. Not even golf.

But, I confess: these last few weeks have gotten rather entertaining. To witness conscience and folly collide, in real time — pop the popcorn, bring out the beers (or in my case, smoked baby clams and whiskey). And to witness the fall in honor of an inexplicable national pastime? Instructive.

Full disclosure: I may never have watched a professional football game all the way through. I cannot remember, exactly. I have seen a few minutes here or there. I happened to be watching at the famous moment when the runner with the ball got his leg horribly broken, snapped like kindling. That was unpleasant, and I hoped never to see anything like it again.

That moment, by the way, is imprinted in memory as having taken place at about the same time as the Challenger disaster. But I so rarely think about football I could be off by a decade and never know it.

I played football for three seasons in my early teens, for no better reason than that it was expected of me. I was not interested enough to learn the rules. Or have any informed thoughts on the subject — even after being made third-string quarterback.

But it did have an important personal lesson for me: disappointing people is something you can get used to. Indeed, people who expect a lot of you do not necessarily have your interests at heart. They want you to do well for their benefit, according to their terms, even if you secretly despise their values.

As I did.

Yes, football was a metaphor for my position in society. I came to exult in avoiding what others wanted . . . in cases where I had no interest in their goofy beliefs, whims, hankerings, agendas.

One of the next culturally expected things I gave up, after the sports cult, was patriotism, as in respect for the flag. I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance a year after I ceased showing up for football practice. It was the 1970s, and I was not impressed by what these United States had become. And the symbology of flag-pledging patriotism seemed tribal at best, utterly orthogonal to justice — or what I understood of the original intent of my favorites among the Founding Fathers.

I could not, in those long-ago vanished days of my youth, imagine Thomas Jefferson insisting that normal citizens salute the flag, much less pledge fealty to it.

Ridiculous. The very idea struck me as ludicrous. I knew that Jefferson thought of Virginia as his country.

So, today, my youthful heresies collide. National Football League players are kneeling instead of standing during the National Anthem. Or staying out of the arena until after the melodic leaps and inapt vocal stylings of “To Anacreon in Heaven” are over.

On the face of it: more power to them.

As for the President’s reaction, it is a sort of knee-jerk patriotism expressed in the standard mouthings of the vulgar tongue. Trolling of the highest order. He gains a lot of sympathy from a huge hunk of the vast (and quickly shrinking) NFL audience. Trump has nothing to lose.

But you know who does have something to lose? Those multi-millionaire NFL entertainers who do not seem to understand that they are throwing the game . . . all in the name of their alleged “cause.” Which, they tell us, is the cause of cop-on-black violence.

Now, this might be admirable, were it not for three things:

  1. When you compare blacks killed by police to whites killed by police, and figure in instances of police-suspect interactions, the percentage of whites killed by police is higher than blacks so killed — that is, to repeat, measured against criminal investigations/police interventions. Why? That is obvious, even upon a cursory look at crime stats. The number of blacks who commit crimes, as a percentage of the population is alarmingly higher than that of whites, it is all out of whack. The ratios indicate that cops might actually be giving blacks some cautious leeway. Racial justice is not the issue.
  2. Besides, why take it out on the U.S. flag? Police are run — funded, managed, and directed — by city, county, and state governments. Most policing is not a federal matter. Acting as if it were so is stupid, uninformed. Witless.
  3. And, it should not be forgotten, these entertainers are under contract. But the collective bargaining agreement has little to say about ceremonial performance while the rule book has become less specific about patriotic observance. Still — most importantly — they play to entertain an audience.*

I hazard that these violence-whores desperately misjudge their social function.

Not only are they entertainers, but they are the “heroes” of the cultural institutions closely associated with the armed forces. “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” as the saying goes. And this idea, that the sportive is tightly wedded to the military, cannot be utterly lacking in merit.

And this is why professional athletes, more so than most civilians in American society, are tied to the American nation state (as instantiated in the federal union and especially in its military). Seeing that this is the case, they should probably know their place.

But if these athletes continue to flout custom and rite, fine with me. And if they do so to the degradation of their idiotic sport’s somewhat puzzling high standing in American culture, no skin off my nose.

Setting aside my schadenfreude, if I can, I will here earnestly wish them the best with their cause — properly construed.

If they want to help their local “hoods,” fine.

But the way to help inner-city African-American populations is probably not to alienate Americans outside of those urban hellholes. They need the goodwill of the American people at large.

And, from what I can tell, they are fumbling the ball, if not offsides.


* I originally wrote two sentences in this passage about failure to perform according to contracts, but looking over the collective bargaining agreement (available online), it now seems to me, two days later, that much of what I had read about this subject proves less than reliable. 9/27/2017

One of the great political achievements of modernism was the demotion of our protectors from lords to public servants. This was the advance brought by republican and democratic reforms.

Alas, the project did not quite go far enough, did not quite get that “master”/“servant” relationship right. Tyrannies were let in the back door.

And in “post-modernism,” the moral universe was nearly upended. We see our protectors as oppressors (until our tribe takes on the protector role, of course) and the victim as the hero. This is not wholly in error, but close.

Not seeing oppression where it exists is a grave error, I insist. But treating victims as heroes, or even trumps in political debate, is to sow the seeds of worse oppression.

It is not merely an error. It is perverse.


I’ve seen a number of attacks on “empathy” recently, even a book, Against Empathy. I usually get a few sentences into one of these exercises in counter-narrative and shrug.

They seem a bit like the resentments of jilted lovers: the denigration comes from dashed love. Or else it’s just wanton contrarianism.

But what is the error? Let me guess. Perhaps too much is made of empathy, these days. Maybe because we live in an intellectually stilted, post-modern era, empathy has been forced by our cultural narrowness and the general lack of humanistic education to serve beyond its natural capacity.

Empathy isn’t everything in psychology or ethics. But it is something. Perhaps two or three somethings.

My working model, since my earliest philosophical speculations (adaptations from Plato, Aristotle, Smith, Spencer, et al.), has been that empathy is pretty important. A cardinal virtue, even.

In my old schema, it is the other-regarding virtue of our emotional life, a check on unbalanced temper as it applies to others, or even oneself conceived objectively (especially one’s self as conceived at a distant time, past or future).

But it is not justice. It is not truthfulness. (My two other other-regarding cardinal virtues.) They are linked, as are all the virtues, but a person can excel at one and be deficient in others.

And like all the virtues, a person may likely be born with an aptitude for some but not others. That is, a person can take naturally to one virtue, but be clumsy (at best) about others. Why, I’ve even known folks to be reflexively just in their social dealings, but almost congenitally imprudent. (Prudence being the self-regarding virtue of the active life.)

A person possessing empathy but lacking justice can be dangerous, to self and others. Indeed, one might define human moral error as an imbalance of the virtues, a lack of the full set. Maybe the vice at the heart of what we call the “moralistic” is the mania that results from cultivating one virtue to the exclusion of others.

So empathy isn’t everything. It certainly is not love, or faith, or hope (none of which are cardinal virtues to my reckoning, two perhaps not being virtues at all).

Empathy also is not prudence, or temperance, or the savviness with concepts that, for want of a better word, I call wisdom.* Empathy’s earliest serious investigators, Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer, who discussed its importance under the name “sympathy,” never assumed or even implied it was.

But empathy’s lack of status as the be-all and end-all of sociality or personal development or ethics does not mean it is nothing, or even “not much.”


* My old list of cardinal virtues is not traditional. They are all mentioned, above, but here they are in order:




What is the point of morality if there is no god, no afterlife?

Answered on Quora:

The point? Living a better life, mainly by

  • avoiding conflict,
  • learning how best to coöperate with others while
  • mastering how to mind one’s own business as well as
  • how to help others and
  • be helped by others
  • without encouraging conflict or
  • destroying opportunities for voluntary coöperation.

img_5132One could turn this a little less utilitarian by saying the point of morality is

  • Fulfilling human potential, most likely by
  • controlling the passions and
  • seeing possibilities of goodness where too many sufferers do not.

Aristotle took a typically Greek view of the point of the virtues by focusing on eudaimonia as the goal. That is often translated as “happiness,” but many contemporary scholars prefer “flourishing.” In this view, virtues are good habits — skills inculcated to function as means to increase the odds on leading a full life. (Nineteenth century philosopher Herbert Spencer elaborated on this notion of flourishing by saying that what we should want is to increase the length, breadth and depth of life.) Each virtue has its own rather obvious almost-intrinsic merit, so one needs be able to concentrate on virtue emulation (of admirable people) without bogging down in the pursuit of a wider pleasure, which often scuttles happiness. This is the “happiness paradox”: if one pursues only it, one ceases to be able to obtain it. A field of “natural law” developed around these ideas. The Stoics propounded a similar but quite distinct doctrine of acting “in accordance with nature.”

Epicurus, on the other hand, thought that nature often set us traps, and one reason to learn from nature is to avoid those traps. He thought one should investigate nature not merely because it is fascinating, but also to learn which pleasures to avoid — complicated pleasures that engender pain and suffering and anxiety and much else. He also campaigned to debunk much of religion and statecraft and traditional “common sense,” seeing many of the notions in these domains of thought as illusory dogmas that bring most people more grief than satisfaction.

Instead of eudaimonia, Epicurus offered ataraxia as the wisest goal, which is the pleasure remaining after conquering and/or avoiding pain. Ataraxy (the anglicized version of the word) is not so much “flourishing” as achieving peace. But he propounded no “peace which passeth understanding”: he thought understanding was the very key to peace, and reason and evidence the basic guides in that endeavor. Though close to a utilitarian, he thought that maximizing pleasure was self-defeating (that “happiness paradox” again!) and argued, instead, that minimizing pain and anguish was far savvier. His ethics of simplicity placed cheerfulness as a central virtue, with friendship and inquiry practices worth encouraging. His general approach was encapsulated, in ancient times, as “The Tetrapharmikon” (four-fold cure):

  1. Do not fear the gods;
  2. do not fear death;
  3. good things are easy to get; and
  4. suffering is easy to endure.

img_1711Note that the concept of duty is not central to these “pagan” philosophies, which have little to do with theology. This orthogonal-to-theology aspect is clearest regarding Epicurus, who was understandably (if somewhat inaccurately) accused of atheism in his day. With the rise of the monotheistic religions, duty took on a bigger importance than even found in the Stoics; I see it as almost apotheosized in the early modern period with Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. (I will let Kantians give their answer, which I believe is basically incoherent — after all, I could be wrong.)

It is interesting to note what use Jews, Christians and Muslims made of the philosophical tradition. Though Aristotelianism eventually trumped the early Platonic strain in Christianity (Plato’s quasi-mystical notions of The Good fit well with a theological mindset), Epicureanism was from Christendom’s early days a deep and abiding enemy of the Church. Perhaps that is why the Christian apologist Lactantius attributed the famous “Problem of Evil” to Epicurus, even if Epicurus was not likely its author. It is the main moral challenge that philosophy brings to theistic ethics:

  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  • Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  • Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
  • Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

This does more than merely suggest that with God morality has no point!

DSCN0035And it is worth going back beyond Aristotle to his teacher, Plato, to find a knock-down argument why a belief in God is at the very least irrelevant to ethics: namely the “Euthyphro Argument.” It concerns holiness, but its general tenor applies to the moral form of the Good, too. It can be found in the dialogue Euthyphro. It is well worth reading. The upshot? It makes no sense to believe something is good because God says so; instead, God must say so because it is good. Carry that argument further and you find yourself where natural law philosopher (and devout Christian) Hugo Grotius found himself:

“What we have been saying [about right and wrong] would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God.”

Also along these lines, Grotius wrote: “Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil.”

So, the point of morality lies in Nature, or in our natures, or some such construction. It is the very essence of good/bad and goodness/evil that its point be discernible, ready at hand. Investigatable.

Arguably, the tying of morality to theology has caused much harm, by steering us away from living better to striving, instead, to hit some dubious afterlife target.


N.B. The specific question on Quora was worded this way: “If there is no God, no afterlife, no nothing, then what is the point of moral values?” I did not deal with the overkill concept of “no nothing,” taking it as hyperbole, and abandoned the postmodern formulation of “moral values” for the old-fashioned “morality.”

The great liberal insight was that social order need not depend on submission to hierarchy but on reciprocity, instead — a reciprocity of peace and liberality and tolerance.

IMG_2863When the Other refuses to reciprocate on those grounds, however, then we have a state of war, where we must reciprocate belligerence for belligerence.

This is clear in the writings of Herbert Spencer — what with his distinction between the militant and industrial forms of coöperation and social cohesion — but it is even clearer among today’s evolutionary psychologists (EP) and sociologists (sociobiologists).

Liberal theory — and, after it, libertarian theory — sidetracked the reciprocity issue by reifying rights into a metaphysical realm, and positing their inalienability. This had some political advantages in its heyday, but nowadays prevents people from dealing with the actual advantages of liberal solutions. It rigidifies thought, of course, turning libertarians into philosophical dogmatists. But, worse yet, it throws the problem of conflict resolution to the authoritarians.

IMG_2104Hence the modern impasse. Libertarians are still trapped by inalienability theories, and progressives are locked out of access to the basic notions of conflict avoidance, which makes them crazed. And conservatives and “liberals” waffle between reciprocal and authoritarian solutions depending on the issue, or the politics of the moment. This makes their policies incoherent at best.

And the people, in general, have become utterly disenchanted with all sides.


A few notes I wrote down somewhere, years ago, spurred by someone’s suggestion that parenthood should be licensed.

  • Bringing a child into the world that you cannot raise is certainly a moral failure, if not an injustice. I suspect it is an injustice.IMG_4118
  • The current policy of subsidizing the children of the improvident — and thus improvident parents — has huge social burdens: taxes, crime, etc. And it encourages more improvidence by reducing the risks
    of improvidence.
  • If one believes that parents have a duty to take care of their children — a positive duty, not merely a duty of forbearance — then parents who unleash upon the world uncared-for children are abusing those children’s rights, as well as placing a burden upon others.
  • Freedom without responsibility is an evasion. One common evasion of responsibility is to demand and even assume a “right to reproduce,” but to fob onto others the duty to feed, clothe, and educate those children. What moral argument can justify that?
  • People concerned about these issues sometimes suggest parental licensing . . . a peculiarly statist reaction to these problems and challenges. It could be that a parent who is too poor to feed or educate his/her child might better lose rights to protect his child as his/her own, after demonstrated lapse. There might even be remedies in an imagined competitive government society. (But most likely charity would be the norm. And disincentive enough . . . charity being something different from “entitlement.”)
  • There is a difference between bringing children into the world when healthy and in secure finance (while later falling on hard circumstances), and conceiving and bringing a child into the world while already in hard circumstances. I know at least one case where doctors sterilized a mother on government assistance, saying it was for medical reasons but which I suspected was for other reasons entirely. (Even the woman in question had this suspicion.) It may very well be the case that physicians occasionally engage in a little social engineering like the one I am mentioning, in cases where a woman repeatedly unleashes onto the world children that will burden the taxpayer. And certainlythis policy has at least surface merit. Were I a benefactor of unmarried mothers, I can imagine insisting that the “price” of subsidy would be voluntary sterilization, for the “social good.”
  • These concepts were freely discussed in the early Progressive Era. Unfortunately, the standard of responsibility was social eugenics, not eugenics by sexual selection. Those old statists, such as the vile economist Richard T. Ely, had no pieties about the great virtue of a free lumpenproletariat spawning unwanted and underfed and undereducated children, for it is from the ranks of such offspring that the criminal class solidifies.
  • Individualist theories of children’s rights tend to fall into three categories: the Baby Burners, the Baby Starvers, and the Parent Coercers.
    1. The Baby Burner position was taken up by Benjamin R. Tucker, who argued that children were the property of their parents, who (therefore) had the right to dispose of them. Tucker compared the burning of a baby to the burning of a Titian painting: He might prevent someone from doing such a horrendous-but-lawful thing, but he would be, technically, in the legal wrong.
    2. Anarchist-Communist writer Viroqua Daniels (writing in the Firebrand) was a Baby Starver, though she evaded that extremity. In response to Tucker, she demanded that “children shall be free.” Well, thanks. But does that mean that parents may starve their children, maliciously? Or, out of shame, not tell anybody as their children starve along with the rest of the family? If children have only and exactly “the same rights that adults have” (the official position of the Libertarian Party when I followed its platform), then parents almost certainly have the right to starvetheir children. This is an ugly position.
    3. Finally, many individualists hold to a more common sense notion: Parents are obliged to feed, clothe, and educate their children — and should be legally obliged to do so. A parent has no right to starve his or her child. A parent who fails in this obligation faces some sort of criminal or tortious liability. Thus parents may be coerced for the benefit of the rights of the child. From this latter position it does not follow, contra current prejudice, that “society” is obligated to feed or clothe or house or educate children, though this can get murky.

It seems to me that a division of responsibility could better handle “children as a problem” than would a top-down regulatory system. But what amazes me is not that someone would suggest licensing parentage, but that the reasons one might argue for such a policy almost never get discussed. Licensing seems obviously wrong to me. But letting children starve — or pass through their formative years without any instruction that could lead to responsible adult status (by some contractual employment, either wage/salary, or performance contract, or truck-and-barter) — strikes me as nuts, too.

Recent discussions in which free migration — well, immigration — is compared to population growth by sexual reproduction are on point. It is worth noting that in both cases unregulated population change is less a problem when taxpayer subsidy is out of the picture. Contemplation of these issues would, I hazard, lead people to demand less subsidy not only for immigrants, but also natural-born children by natives.

As it is, with subsidy, demands for regulation will likely grow.


The idea of “microaggressions” may have been cooked up, initially, to increase our awareness of inadvertent slights, insults, and faux pas. But increasingly the idea has been used to justify coercive, violent retaliation. Mob action. Doxxing. Extreme censure — even censorship.

This makes no sense, as I “memed” some time back:


That is all.

It is utterly amazing to me that supposedly sophisticated people make the error here, would demonstrate such dunderheadedness to think that calling an inapt remark or rude comment any kind of aggression could possibly justify violence in return.

It is the opposite of liberality, which enjoins us to forgive insults, ignore unintended slights, and not escalate disagreement or prickliness into violence. Keep micro micro, and save the meso- and macro-responses for the truly egregious stuff.

By overreacting, the social justice crowd dons the mantle of conservatism, especially  conservatives’ besetting vice, rage . . . which I like to identify with their implied motto: there is no kill like overkill.

Indeed, this is just one sign that modish “progressives” have merely revived a very old set of truly reactionary modes of thought. While social theorists Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), Yves Guyot (1843-1928) and F. A. Hayek (1899-1992) have all advanced the important understanding of socialism as truly regressive, even atavistic, today’s social justice activists take the next step: by their actions they prove it. Their goofy notions amount to little more than a program to set aside the free speech idea and set upon us an honor code.

Egads. Is duelling next?