Cold, wet weather has pushed its way into Fort Worth, bringing relief from the unseasonable heat. It makes running more pleasant, or at least less onerous. While running a few minutes ago (just 3.1 miles today), I noticed dozens of vehicles going toward and away from Handley Middle School. This occurs twice a day: morning and afternoon. Why are kids not walking to and from school? One mile is nothing. A middle-school child could cover a mile in twenty minutes, easily. Even two miles is not too far for an eight- to twelve-year-old child, backpack or no.
Every week we see another report about the skyrocketing rate of obesity in this country. The rate of obesity among children is supposedly higher than among people generally. Do parents care about the health of their children? What better way to exercise their children than to require them to walk to and from school? There are sidewalks throughout the neighborhoods. I’ve heard of no abductions or accidents in the ten years I’ve lived in Fort Worth. Parents need to stop pampering their children. A little rain, cold, or heat never hurt a child. Walking home alone or in the company of other students teaches a child responsibility and discipline. Even if there were no health benefits to walking, which of course there are, it would be a good idea. Among other benefits, it would reduce vehicular traffic, and therefore smog.
Does anyone know why parents are so indulgent? Is it that they themselves are lazy, and can’t imagine walking more than a few feet? (I think here of people who wait ten minutes or more for a parking spot in a shopping center to avoid having to walk an extra fifty feet.) This will mark me as an old fogey, but in my day, we thought nothing of walking five miles to town (and five back) to play a Little League or Pony League baseball game. There’s also this thing called a bicycle. I have no idea why kids don’t ride bikes to school. Okay, that’s my rant for the day. As you were.
I ran 20.8 miles this morning at White Rock Lake in Dallas. The sunrise was spectacular. Birds were everywhere, doing their bird thing. The temperature was in the mid-thirties at the start but had climbed into the upper fifties or low sixties by the finish. This evening I do the Jingle Bell 5K race in downtown Fort Worth. In between, I get to eat, nap, eat some more, watch a little football, and, most importantly, blog. Blogito ergo sum! I hope all of you are having a safe, enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday, as Sophie, Shelbie, and I are.
Let’s get serious. Have you heard critics of the war in Iraq describe it as a “war of choice” as opposed to a “war of necessity”? And what about the outrageous use of war drones on civilians and local populations? Visit the Facebook du site amateurs de drones for more on multirotors!
What does this mean, and why is it a criticism?
A war of necessity is presumably a war that we have no choice but to wage. This would include, at a minimum, wars of self-defense, but also what lawyers (international and otherwise) call “anticipatory self-defense.” It’s interesting that some of the people who insist that only a war of self-defense is justified defend women who kill their abusive husbands by stealth. You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s sometimes permissible to pre-emptively attack an assailant or it’s not. No reasonable person can doubt that Saddam Hussein had evil intentions toward the United States, or that he would have attacked us had he been able to. The links between Hussein and terrorists are becoming increasingly clear, although one suspects that no amount of evidence to that effect will ever persuade the critics.
Let’s ignore self-defense for the time being.
I want to explore (at least tentatively) the concept of a war of necessity and its contrast, a war of choice. A war of choice is a war that is unnecessary. But unnecessary given what? Judgments of necessity always presuppose an end or goal. If I say that it’s necessary for you to take the Law School Admission Test, I assume (perhaps because you have told me as much) that your goal is to attend law school. Without the goal, the test—a means to the goal—is unnecessary. Whenever someone says that X is necessary (or unnecessary), it makes sense to ask, “Given what end?” A thing can be necessary for me, given my ends, but not for you, given yours.
So we need to ask why the war in Iraq was unnecessary, for saying that it’s unnecessary is saying that it subserves no proper end. It was certainly necessary if the Iraqi people were to be liberated from a brutal dictatorial regime—i.e., if we had liberation as our end. No reasonable person thinks that anything would have changed in this regard if the United States hadn’t invaded Iraq. Even after Saddam Hussein died, his sons (one or both of them) would have taken over, continuing the reign of terror for decades to come. They had been groomed for precisely this role. They were mass-murderers, like their father.
People who say that the war in Iraq was unnecessary are therefore saying that the end of liberating the Iraqi people was not important or worthy. But how can one say this without disregarding or discounting their interests? Those who say this must be counting only the interests of Americans. Given our interests, they seem to be saying, the war was unnecessary. This, with all due respect, is selfishness. But leave that aside. Is it so clear that American interests weren’t implicated? Saddam Hussein had a nuclear program. Nobody disputes that. Perhaps it had been dismantled by the time of the invasion, but he had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to revive it at any time. Do the critics think that a world in which Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon (or other weapons of mass destruction) would not threaten American interests?
It’s all very puzzling. Those who supported the war in Iraq, such as me, should not deny that it was a war of choice. That plays into the critics’ hands. It was a war of choice, and the choice was a good one for all concerned: for Americans (present and future), for Iraqis (present and future), and for other residents of the Middle East. (Okay, it wasn’t such a good choice for Saddam Hussein and his Baathist thugs.) Some of us thank goodness that we have a president with backbone, a moral compass, and a willingness to risk much to achieve great things. Yes, some Americans have paid the ultimate price during the war, and more will surely die before order is restored; but that has always been the case when much was at stake. Americans have never shied away from sacrifice in a noble cause.
As for Europeans—the French, the Germans, the Belgians—they should thank their lucky stars that they have George W. Bush and tens of thousands of brave American soldiers to protect them. A nuclear-armed Iraq would have made all of their lives fearful. Perhaps, now that I think of it, that would be a good thing; it might remind them that evil knows only one language: force. It might make them less squeamish. One would think that this, after all, was the lesson of the twentieth century: that weakness, squeamishness, and vacillation abet and encourage violence. Americans, who have already saved the world once, know better.
Ranting, in the sense of using bombastic language or preaching noisily, is fun. I do it. Brian Leiter does it. Andrew Sullivan does it. Everyone does it. Even intellectuals do it. Blogging, I am afraid, lends itself to ranting. But is there anything more to ranting than fun? Does it have any redeeming intellectual or social value?
I say no. Who cares what Brian Leiter thinks or values? Seriously. I like Brian. He’s intelligent; he’s witty; he’s a good writer; and he has important things to say about legal theory. I learn from him. But when he expresses his opinions about political or moral matters, why should I attend to them? This goes for my opinions as well. Why should he or anyone else give a damn what I think or say?
I hate to break it to you, but I’m not your moral authority.
I’m nobody’s moral authority. I don’t believe in moral authorities. The mere fact that I believe this or value that gives nobody else any reason to believe or value it. I’m no wiser than anyone else, despite my years of study. If anything, I’m less wise because of my years of study. My philosophical training equips me to pay attention to certain things, such as consistency and ambiguity, but it doesn’t inflate or enlarge my values. Brian Leiter and I have similar training—law and philosophy—but we disagree about fundamental evaluative matters. He’s on the political left and I’m on the right. (One difference may be that I used to be on the left. I doubt that Brian was ever on the right, although he probably will be one day, as he matures and gains experience.) Even if training in a field such as philosophy made one wise, how would one choose between people with the same training (such as Brian and me) who have different views and values?
If blogging is to survive as anything more than self-indulgent ranting, it must engage readers. It must seek to persuade them, rationally. But it can do this only if it begins where they are, with the beliefs and values they already have (or are presumed to have). Suppose you think the war in Iraq unjustified, but I think it justified. One thing we might do is fling our opinions at each other. I say the war is justified. You say it’s not. I repeat what I said, only louder. You repeat what you said, louder still. I repeat what I said, this time with an implication that you’re stupid. You repeat what you said, this time with an implication that I’m a shill for the Bush administration.
What does this accomplish?
Precisely nothing. What I must do, if I aim to persuade you, is show you that your belief in the unjustifiedness of the war conflicts with other of your beliefs. I must show you that certain of your other beliefs (or principles) commit you to believing that the war is justified. You, by the same token, must show me that certain of my other beliefs (or principles) commit me to believing that the war is unjustified. This process requires patience, intelligence, understanding, and civility. I must talk with you (or simply listen to you) long enough to understand your belief structure. I must find out which of your beliefs are basic and which derivative. I must elicit your principles, your standards of evidence, and so forth. You, in turn, must elicit these items from me.
There is no guarantee that this process will result in agreement. We may find, after a long discussion (in which, among other things, we resolve factual disputes), that we have divergent basic values. But unless we try to reach agreement, we will never know whether this is so. This is why it is so frustrating, for a philosopher, to observe contemporary political debate (especially contemporary televised political debate, wherein thinking appears to be disallowed). Almost no attempt is made by the person arguing to ascertain the beliefs or values of his or her interlocutors. Each party to the “debate” ends up shouting at the other (or ranting). It is all very sad. Actually, it’s worse than sad; it’s tragic. We can and should do better. Philosophers—progeny of the great Socrates—can and should lead the way.
Why does Fox News Channel persist in characterizing its product as “fair and balanced”? I’ve been reading newspapers and watching television news for more than three decades. I like Fox News, but it’s not fair and balanced in any meaningful sense of those terms. It’s slanted to the right. CNN, which I used to watch, is slanted to the left. I don’t sense much of a slant on MSNBC or CNBC. I haven’t watched network news in years, so I can’t speak to their biases (if any). I keep hearing that Dan Rather and Peter Jennings are biased to the left, but I don’t know; nor do I plan to take the time to find out.
What offends me is not slant (bias), but pretending not to be slanted or not knowing that one is slanted. The former is duplicitous and the latter delusional. Readers of this blog know that some entries are written in my capacity as philosopher and some in my capacity as citizen. I make no bones about my ideological predilections. I’m a proud conservative/libertarian. I used to be a proud liberal/socialist. If you’re wondering how and why I changed, read my forthcoming column on Tech Central Station, “My Journey to Conservatism.” When I speak to you as a philosopher, I speak with authority. If you are not a trained philosopher, you have reason to defer to my judgment. When I speak to you as a fellow citizen, I speak as your equal. You should not defer to me. If you transfer authority from one realm to another, without looking into the substance of the claims being made, you reason fallaciously. Authority in one realm does not necessarily translate to authority in another realm. Would you call a plumber for legal advice (or a lawyer for plumbing advice)?
I didn’t think so.
News operations make fools of themselves when they disclaim bias. Perhaps they think that bias consists in hewing to a party line. If this were the case, they might be on solid ground. But bias can be far more subtle than that. It can consist in using certain terms rather than others. Compare the following three terms:
3. Laid-back (or easygoing, or [my favorite] energy efficient)
These terms, like most terms in English, have both descriptive and emotive meaning. They convey information and express attitudes (or pass judgment). These three terms have the same (or roughly the same) descriptive meaning. But notice how different they are in emotive meaning. The first term is condemnatory, the second neutral, and the third commendatory. Which term would you use to describe yourself? Which term would you use to describe someone you dislike? Which term would you use to describe someone neutrally, without passing judgment?
The language used by Fox News is often emotive rather than neutral. That is the first journalistic sin. It is compounded by the slant. Liberals are described (not always, but usually) with derogatory terms, while conservatives are described (not always, but usually) with laudatory terms. Qua conservative, I like this; but qua philosopher, I find it unsettling, especially since Fox proclaims itself “fair and balanced.” Start paying attention to the terminology used on various news channels. See whether you agree with me that they’re slanted to the right or to the left.