Bush Hatred in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ….

— Now that Bush has come out decisively in favor of an amendment to the US Constitution that constitutes both an assault on states' rights and an assault on the moral rights of same-sex couples, I am finally pissed off enough to agitate actively in favor of the election of John Kerry (or whoever) for President. (Not that I will vote, DC being a foregone conclusion.) I don't believe any such amendment could be passed, but any President who would push it deserves to be ejected forcefully from office. I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hate Kerry. But where can I get a Kerry button?

[Update] … Andrew Sullivan says it best:

WAR IS DECLARED: The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land. Rather than allow the contentious and difficult issue of equal marriage rights to be fought over in the states, rather than let politics and the law take their course, rather than keep the Constitution out of the culture wars, this president wants to drag the very founding document into his re-election campaign. He is proposing to remove civil rights from one group of American citizens – and do so in the Constitution itself. The message could not be plainer: these citizens do not fully belong in America. Their relationships must be stigmatized in the very Constitution itself. The document that should be uniting the country will now be used to divide it, to single out a group of people for discrimination itself, and to do so for narrow electoral purposes. Not since the horrifying legacy of Constitutional racial discrimination in this country has such a goal been even thought of, let alone pursued. Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.

NO MORE PROFOUND AN ATTACK: This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States – or on the promise of freedom that America represents. That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way. This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance. Gay people will now regard it as their enemy for generations – and rightly so. I knew this was coming, but the way in which it has been delivered and the actual fact of its occurrence is so deeply depressing it is still hard to absorb. But the result is clear, at least for those who care about the Constitution and care about civil rights. We must oppose this extremism with everything we can muster. We must appeal to the fair-minded center of the country that balks at the hatred and fear that much of the religious right feeds on. We must prevent this graffiti from being written on a document every person in this country should be able to regard as their own. This struggle is hard but it is also easy. The president has made it easy. He's a simple man and he divides the world into friends and foes. He has now made a whole group of Americans – and their families and their friends – his enemy. We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and our families from this attack. And we will.

Bias, Blah, Blah

— Jim Henley's meditation on the leftist academic bias controversy is by far the most interesting thing I've read on the matter.

By the way, I think that a lot of the leftish academic bloggers are simply in bad faith on this one. They know. But they LOVE things they way they are. They're at home. They don't want it to change. They like it. But if they really admitted how systematically shabbily and disrespectfully non-left students are treated, they know they'd have to change. I don't much blame them. But they know.

I've heard professors discuss techniques of subtle psychological manipulation to shame students out of their bourgie prejudices. They know that the cartoons they plaster on the office door make conservative students uncomfortable, and that's part of why they do it. I mean, it's hard to resist. When I was TAing for Intro to Phil, and we were doing theism vs. atheism, it was all I could do to not make faces of exasperation and disapproval at the nuttily religious students. Now and then I caught myself doing it. It's hard work to treat people with respect and to scrupulously address what they've said, even if its a crock. That is, to actually teach them something, and to be an example of clear thinking, and not just emote at them when they run afoul of your little community's norms. I love philosophers because for the most part they feel bad when they fail to be fully respectful and rational. And lots of non-philosophers are like this too. They know it's their job. But they mess up from time to time. And because most academics believe much the same things politically, their mess ups contribute systematically to an atmosphere that is unfriendly to students (and faculty) who believe quite different things. They know. Of course they do.

And if I knew a job candidate liked the same music that I did, I'd probably feel just that much better about her, even if I knew that to be an irrelevant consideration. If several of us felt just that much better about her, it could swing a toss up her way, because we might not know why we felt a bit better about her. It's just impossible that people with detectable politics of which most faculty disapprove don't in general tend to do worse at the margin. I find it just surreal that anyone would bother to deny it.

Also, just curious, does ANYONE really believe that IQ or academic achievement reliably tracks moral or political truth? Because I sure don't!


— I just ran across the Disinfopedia. It's a wiki apparently published by the Center for Media and Democracy, the sort of left wing organization dead sure that there is indeed a vast right wing conspiracy (and of course there is!). Anyway, Disinfopedia collects info on corporate shills, PR firms, think tanks, and other sundry sources of “disinformation”. Now, this is all fine and good. But I wonder how they think this is going to work well in the long run. Wiki pages can be edited by anyone who looks at them. It's hard to believe that wingers won't soon enough start edit wars. Surely some conservative would love to have a crack at the Ronald Reagan entry. I just edited a paragraph in the think tank page, for the fun of it. See if you can spot the bit I changed (if they haven't already reverted to the previous version). Wikipedia works because of its ethos of neutrality on contentious issues. If somebody writes something biased, somebody comes along and balances it out. It will be interesting to see if an overtly ideological wiki can survive.

Bitter Much?

This is slander!

Want to know Victoria's Secret? I'll tell you.

It might be especially interesting to men shopping for Valentine's Day gifts, like those widely promoted push-up bras. You know them from the ads showing skinny models with spherical breasts that appear to float in skimpy lace cups. With their shoulder straps thin as ribbon and narrow back bands, the cleavage-baring bras resemble two clam-shell halves looped together with string (similar to what the heroine wears in “The Little Mermaid”).

So what's the secret? It's all a sham. The bra is useless for supporting anything of amplitude for more than a few minutes. The breasts are fake — buoyed from within by implants — because women without enough fat for hips or behinds also don't have much in breasts.

Perhaps the embittered author, Jessica Seigel, should consider an alternative explanation: These women are incredibly wealthy professional underwear models because they are genetic anomalies! I for one do not doubt the provenance of Tyra's or Giselle's disproportionate amplitude, although Stephanie Seymour lives under a shadow of suspicion.

Coaching Common Sense

— In Ed Feser's interesting but rather overwrought dissertation on the academic left, we get this defense of common sense:

Now where phenomena remote from everyday human experience are concerned — the large-scale structure of spacetime, the microscopic realm of molecules, atoms, and so forth — it is perhaps not surprising that human beings should for long periods of time have gotten things wrong. But where everyday matters are concerned — where opinions touch on human nature and the facts about ordinary social interaction — it is very likely that they would not, in general, get things wrong. Biological and cultural evolution would ensure that serious mistakes concerning such matters would before too long be weeded out. The details of why this is so need not concern us here — they comprise the conservative justification of tradition and common sense associated most closely with Burke and Hayek, which I have defended elsewhere. Suffice it for present purposes to note that there are powerful reasons to be skeptical of the skepticism about commonsense and traditional attitudes that so permeates modern intellectual life.

I wonder what Feser could possibly be thinking here. Take a random sample of the socially prevalent beliefs about the correct principles of social interaction from the set of human cultures across time and space. We can even limit ourselves to those societies that persisted for some considerable amount of time. My bet is that most of these societies were governed by principles of social interaction that Feser would find… questionable. Exotic patterns of sexual and family relations, bloody competition for social status, approval of the murder of out-group people, etc. Conservative Hayekians, like Feser, badly overestimate the efficacy of cultural evolution in eliminating awful social systems. Because we don't now live in small bands in conditions of irremediable scarcity half-naked on the savanna, it is very likely that we WOULD, in general, get things wrong about ordinary social interaction. The principles of mutually advantageous coordination that I believe must govern a good society are just about as obscure and counterintuitive as the principles that govern the behavior of atoms. Hayek himself recognized the highly counterintuitive nature of spontaneous orders, and recognized our natural but incredibly dangerous disposition to think of the extended order in terms of the family or tribe. Consider the prevalence of atrociously bad thinking about “offshoring.” Most people are intellectually crippled by a zero-sum tribalism, which comes naturally, if anything does, and strikes everyone as “common sense” unless you've been coached out of it by economists.

Even if Feser is talking about more mundane social interaction, there is still plenty of reason to belief that we make systematic errors about out own and others' motivations, intentions, beliefs, and so on. So I disagree with Feser. I think that the major goal of education should be to break down some parts of common sense, and then to rebuild it so that our intuitions about cases better reflect the reality of things. This is why I think everybody should be trained to some degree in logic, statistics, and economics, and beginning at a much earlier age.

Libertarian Ideal Theory

— I liked Tyler Cowen's Volokh post on Dan Klein's theory of “The People's Romance.” Here's most of it:

Klein writes from a libertarian point of view, asking why people are so attached to government, even when the record of government in an area is a poor one. He suggests that the desire to be part of a collective movement motivates much support for government, that the state is uniquely suited to satisfy such collectivist urges, and that we should resist our psychological tendencies in this direction. This essay is part of Klein's broader research program of developing a sociology and psychology of why libertarian ideas have not met with greater success. Indeed for any libertarian this should be a central question. I find Klein and Jeffrey Friedman (of Critical Review) to be the two most important thinkers on this topic.

While I consider myself a “small l” libertarian, my perspective differs from Klein's in a number of ways. For instance I tend to take “The People's Romance” as a constraint to a greater extent than does Klein. I see politics as a question of trading in one “mythology” for another, but a mythology of some kind is always necessary. This will constrain our ability to attain superior solutions, yet it is a constraint that typically receives little attention from economists. On net, I suspect that our American version of The People's Romance does more to support liberty than damage it. I wonder whether bad policies are often not the price of our highly valuable macro-myths. Klein and I discuss these topics frequently, read his whole essay to see his take on what has gone wrong in Western societies.

I think Tyler is right that our mythologizing is more of constraint on political and economic change (and on good theorizing) than many assume. Libertarians tend to be infatuated with what Rawls called “ideal theory,” with conjuring pictures of the best society in abstraction from the “noise” of historical and sociological contingency. (The exchange in the new not-yet-online Reason between Epstein, Barnett, and Friedman brought this home to me. [Addendum: Oh, it's here.]) But, rather like Rawlsian liberals, libertarians often mistake fairly indelible features of social reality for contingencies, thereby overshooting anything that might serve as a feasible ideal. The result is a kind of unwitting utopian theorizing. But no one should be convinced that anything approximating a Nozickian or Randian minimal state, much less, Rothbardian anarchocapitalism, is worth taking seriously unless it can be shown that these theories are compatible with what we know about history and social psychology. Debating whether voluntary mechanisms can or cannot solve all the important collective action problems, or whether there could be a positive net benefit to empowering the state to provide for public goods, given public choice assumptions, is not totally unlike arguing about whether it is possible for the People's Revolution to draw its energy directly from an agricultural rather than an industrial underclass.

Much libertarian ideal theory proceeds on something like the assumption of a entire society of convinced libertarians (or at least the weaker assumption that it is possible to come to the kind of consensus necessary to install a libertarian constitution or basic structure). But this is the same mistake, more or less, that Rawls recognizes he made in Theory of Justice in basing the argument for the stability of “justice as fairness” on the assumption of a fairly universally shared quasi-Kantian conception of personhood. The fact of pluralism is a fact indeed. One of Rawls's most valuable insights is that there is no way of securing homogeneity of fundamental moral world views in a liberal society. Any mechanism likely to produce this kind of thoroughgoing consensus would be coercive and thus illiberal. So we've got to start with the assumption of pluralism. One can dream of an ideal technology of persuasion that would enable voluntary mass conversion. But this is fanciful, too. And there is no reason to believe that any such technology could be sprung on a society and bring about happy consensus on libertarian essentials before others could also begin using the technology to inculcate contrary ideals.

If libertarian ideals are to become more broadly accepted, it may be in part because of more savvy on the part of libertarians in intentionally undermining widespread collectivist impulses. (Don't stop donating to IHS.) But I think it is more likely that success in this direction, insofar as there is any, will have more to do with the amelioration of the social and economic conditions that have fueled collectivist ideals. In this sense, we've got to already be libertarian enough for the dialectic between socio-economic conditions and belief systems to produce more libertarianism. Still, much of the impulse toward collectivism, and toward positing superspecial agentive powers to abstractions like the state, probably runs pretty deep in human psychology, and there is no ameliorating that, short of genetic re-engineering.

So what we need is a theory of just how libertarian a particular society could possibly get, given human psychology, the set of social and economic relations, the available mechanisms of persuasion, and the set of belief systems or “macro mythologies”, at a given time, plus the dynamics that govern changes in these things. My guess is that for US society starting today, it's possible to get significantly more libertarian, but not radically more libertarian. What might that society look like?

Boobs n' Beards

— What are you looking at? Janet's feigned expression of horror? Her bizarre nipple accoutrements? Not me! The most interesting thing about this picture is . . . J. Tim's “beard”! Timberlake is but one data point in my embodied argument that the beard is now the height of fashion. Start yours now or be like the guy who finally decided the goatee is “cool” some time in 2002 and ended up looking like some jackass relief pitcher for the Astros.

Denis Dutton Fans Rejoice

— Good stuff from the our man at Arts and Letters Daily. A thoughtful discussion of the role of skeptical doubt occurs in Dutton's review of Jennifer Michael Hecht's The Great Doubters and Their Legacy From Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. Besides being eminently sensible, Dutton slips in a few good swipes at Freudians and Marxists. This, also: “These days, except for a few aging professors who still teach postmodern literary theory, few skeptics reject the overall validity of science.” Nice.

And then there's this outstanding, appreciative, but critical, review of Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment in the New Criterion.

Designated Reading

— I'm happy to see that my former advisor, Michael Devitt, has made his book, Designation, available on his website. Designation is one of the best works in the philosophy of language published in the 80's (perhaps the only systematic working through of the Kripke/Donnellan casual theories), yet has been out of print for a number of years, and is almost totally impossible to find through used booksellers. Check it out. Devitt is an exceptionally clear, even punchy, writer who is able to make a very dry subject matter come (somewhat) alive.

Also, check out the many papers on his CUNY website. “There is No A Priori” is nice, and “Worldmaking Made Hard,” which begins “In part I of this paper I shall demonstrate the horror of a doctrine I call 'Worldmaking',” gives something of the flavor of a Devitt seminar, wherein he rails against philosophers who would sacrifice the world of stones, cats, and trees for a world of words. (It's always “stones, cats, and trees.” If in a more theoretical and scientific bent, we almost always get “electrons, muons, and curved space-time.” This comforts me.)

Google me This

— I'm jacked about the announcement that Google plans to scan everything in the Stanford library published before 1923. That should make a huge chunk of the important (and unimportant) works in philosophy available for free. Go Google!

This is, by the way, what Microsoft is really good for. It puts the fear of Jesus in the Googles of the world, and makes 'em hustle to make us happy. So what I'm really hoping for is that Microsoft comes close in the search war, and succeeds in creating a superfast integrated search in Windows that allows me to search my own measly 30gb hard drive at something close to the speed that Google manages to search the whole goddam internet, but falls short in the end because of all the glorious innovations the Google geniuses lay at our feet in order to keep us from straying.

Who loves markets? I love markets!