Archive for December 2004

Response to the Population Bomb: The Richie Rich Principle

December 14, 2004

In 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth in England would soon outstrip natural resources. Widespread famine would result, and hundreds of thousands would die until resources exceeded the population again. Malthus was wrong, of course, but according to some scholars, the “population bomb” is still ticking. The people of the Third World, they say, don’t know what they’re doing. They keep on having children when they clearly can’t afford them. In the poorest countries in the world, birthrates are the highest.

Scholars suggest that we solve this problem by promoting abortion and contraception in Third World cultures. Some nations had condom Christmas trees. The UN and EU strongly promote “humanitarian” population control policies, as well. Communist China provides the most extreme example of all. In the 1990s, the government had vans which traveled the countryside, aborting second and third children against the mothers’ wills.

In my opinion, such programs are costly, ineffective, and morally wrong. Never fear, however! There is a much simpler and more elegant way to defuse “the population bomb.” It might take some time, but it cannot fail. So, without further ado, I present to you the Richie Rich Population Principle:

The richer you get, the less children you can afford.

Richie Rich is the wealthiest child in the world. Yet, he does not have any brothers and sisters. There are two possible explanations for this: (1) Richie’s mother was too busy pursuing her career to have any more children; (2) putting Richie in the best schools and fulfilling his every desire has been so costly that Richie’s parents don’t want to do it again.

Solution (1) is feasible. There are many couples who do not have children for this reason. We must remember, however, that mothers with many children also work hard, whether it is in the home or in the marketplace. In agrarian societies, farmers’ wives had many children while also working in the fields. The same was true during the Industrial Revolution.

I think that Solution (2) is much more common, however. People in the West think that raising a child is such a big time commitment that they can’t handle more than two. Often, the wife does not work, but she still has only one or two children. In magazine articles and in my own experience, I’m always hearing middle- and upper-class families proclaim that they can’t afford another child, but they can afford another Lexus.

We live in curious times. The people who “can’t” afford to reproduce do. The ones who “can” don’t. Consequently, when the baby boomer generation retires, there will not be enough new workers to replace them. Less people working means less tax revenue. The welfare states (social security, Medicare, etc.) in the U. S. and Europe may not be able to handle the strain. That is the real “population bomb.” I don’t know how we can solve it.


Arguments About Transcendent Moral Principles, Free Will and the Power of Ideas, and Conceptions of Self

December 9, 2004

Prompt: Preparation for Final Exam, an open-notes essay test about these three questions.

1. (1) What is the good society? (2) How would we know if one society is better than another? (3) Is there a valid standard of “good” that involves a higher, universal moral principle, or is the only valid standard the subjective welfare of the people in that society? Using specific examples from the reading in the course, make two arguments for, and two arguments against, the existence of transcendant moral principles as standards of the good.

2. (1) How important are ideas, and specific individuals, in explaining long term historical change in human societies? (2) Do ideas matter at all, or are large-scale changes over time simply a consequence of combinations of material forces matched with accident and chance? (3) Is there any such thing as free will? Using specific examples of readings from the class, describe at least four perspectives on this question.

3. (1) Is the highest obligation of the person to him/herself? Or is the highest obligation to the society? If the answer is “it depends,” then on what does it depend? (2) What conception of the “self” is the right one? (3) Can someone be true to oneself, and at the same time be dedicated to serving others? Give at least four different conceptions of the self, and describe the origins of these ideas in the readings for this semester.

I. Transcendent Moral Principles
a. Argument #1 in Favor – Theistic
i. God has made a transcendent moral code. Because God is eternal and unchanging, morality is eternal and unchanging, as well. It transcends all times and cultures.
ii. Plato
iii. Paul
iv. St. Augustine
v. The Founding Fathers
vi. Rousseau

b. Argument #2 in Favor – Self-Evident Rights
i. Ayn Rand – Infringing upon someone’s rights is always wrong.
ii. Aristotle
iii. Founding Fathers – Unalienable rights endowed by creator.
iv. A law of Nature can be found using Reason. That which is good for human life is good. That which is bad for human life is bad.

c. Argument #1 Against – Materialist
i. Karl Marx. Religion is the opiate of the masses. Communism turns down all truths and all morality and constructs a new order in its place. What is good for a society varies from one stage to another.
ii. Thomas Hobbes. Truth is a social construction. We must agree on our definitions and our first principles and deduct from there on. We cannot derive first principles from nature or from God because we do not have the capacity. Also, the observation of nature is always affected by the character of the observer. Deliberation about good and evil is purely subjective. The kingdom of God is not on this earth and never will be; the sovereign must be the head of religion so that religion and the state will not disagree. Mold theology to fit natural science. Hobbes claims that we can discern God’s will through natural reason, but this contradicts with his claim earlier in Book I of Leviathan that individual perspectives make objective judgment impossible. He has much more evidence for subjective truth than for objective truth.

d. Argument #2 Against – Utilitarian
i. John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham. SATISFACTILES. The right thing to do is whatever procures the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
ii. What makes us happy now? What will make us happy later? Length, breadth, depth. Some pleasures
iii. Your happiness is as good as anyone else’s.
iv. What if God’s will is happiness for everyone?
v. Mankind has gone two thousand years without establishing a set of standards to determine right from wrong. There has been an implicit standard which men have always followed – and that standard is utility.
vi. People like to think that morality is objective fact, but they actually always act on subjective feeling.
vii. Machiavelli – There are objective standards of right and wrong, but the prince must ignore them for the good of the people, damning his own soul to hell. By separating morality and expediency, Machiavelli cripples morality. Your moral code is what you should do. If the prince should ignore transcendent morality for the subjective welfare of the people, isn’t Machiavelli constructing a new, subjective morality?

II. The Power of Ideas/Free Will
a. Argument #1 – Theological Perspective
i. The best ideas have been revealed to us by God. God has given us free will. He knows what we are going to do. He knows what we should do. We can choose to do his will or not. In doing God’s will, we flourish. These ideas do matter. They are life-changing. They are world-changing. Look at Christianity and the effect it has had on the world.
ii. The Second Foundation
iii. Plato
iv. Paul
v. Augustine – The excellence of the Christian empire.

b. Argument #2 – The Amazing Power of Mankind
i. The Mule and Hari Seldon.
ii. Ayn Rand – Individuals are really cool. An amazing man with amazing talents and amazing ideas can completely alter the course of history.
iii. Niccolo Machiavelli – Humans have robust free will. They can make or break their own destinies. God is not going to come down and save us – we must do the work ourselves.

c. Argument #3 – Materialist
i. Salvor Hardin waited for material forces to win the battle for him.
ii. Man is a billiard ball. It’s cause and effect – everything he does is the result of the things which happened to him before. Therefore, we should pity criminals and put them in hospitals so that they will get better. They say that free will is a total abstraction, and if it were true, chaos would reign. But chaos does not. Free will also causes us shame and guilt because we do wrong. We should not have these feelings. Therefore, ideas have no power. If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else.
iii. Karl Marx – the dialectic. A thesis squares off with its antithesis, after which a new thesis is created. This new thesis then has to contend with its antithesis, on and on. The sum of appetites and aversions determines human behavior.
iv. Thomas Hobbes – Our ideas and thoughts and so forth are merely the result of the atoms bouncing around in our heads. There are no unmoved movers. Appetite for power, aversion for fear, you name it.
v. Thrasymachus – We cannot say whether any idea is better than any other idea. Justice is completely subjective. History is written by the winners. Justice is whatever is in the interest of the strongest.

d. Argument #4 – Ideas are Viral
i. Religion of Science
ii. Neal Stephenson – Ideas are like viruses. They move from one host to the next very quickly and can successfully disable a society. People have free will, but they do not like to use it. They prefer to do what everyone else is doing. There can only be real change, however, when people break free from their codes and show real personality. Oddly enough, some social institutions safeguard the individual and free will.
1. Enki
2. Hiro Protagonist
3. Y. T.
4. The Snow Crash Virus and Glossolalia
5. Interpretation of Christ’s Teachings

III. Conceptions of Self – Everyone agrees that man must fulfill his nature. But what IS his nature? Dualist perspective VS. Monist perspective.
a. Argument #1 – Ayn Rand
i. Rational Self-Interest
ii. Rejection of Dualism. Galt VS Stadler.
iii. What improves life is good. What is opposed to ife is bad.
iv. Man has no responsibility for others.
v. Man cannot give up his rights. Any infringement upon a person’s rights is morally wrong. In trying to take another person’s rights, you give up your own.
vi. Eudemonia – Every person is made for something.
vii. Mind, not labor, is most important.
viii. I would rather destroy something than let someone else steal it from me.

b. Argument #2 – Hobbes. Human nature is the sum total of appetites and aversions. Man will always do what is best for himself. People construct governments so that they will be able to survive – prudential self-interest. Because the citizens forged the chains, they still have absolute freedom. Same as Rousseau. (No death penalty.)

c. Argument #3 – Aristotle. Man is a rational animal. The right thing to do is the just mean between two extremes. Man should attain wisdom and do what is rational. The family is natural to man, and property is necessary for the family. The state must get the individual things he cannot procure for himself, but above all, it must educate. It can be any form.

d. Argument #4 – Rousseau and Lenin. Mankind would not be fully human without the social contract. Civic involvement is awesome, and people only fulfill their true natures in a state. An individual has NO rights that are above the state. But because everyone has the same status of rights, no one is giving up his freedom. The lawgiver. Monarchy/aristocracy/democracy for day-to-day concerns. Monthly meetings of the whole population. There are no property rights. Since you are a part of the sovereign, you are not giving up your rights. Our freedom in nature is the freedom of animals. Our freedom in the state is the freedom to think rationally. General will VS will of all. From each, to each.
i. Plato also says people need each other.
ii. Some people do not have the capacity for goodness
iii. Abolish private property and family for spiritual good – Plato
iv. Abolish private property and family for material good – Marx

e. Argument #5 – Theological. Man is made to serve the Good. No one is worthy of redemption – no, not one – but by the mercy of God, we can be redeemed. There is a selfish part of our nature, but we can overcome it. (Reason VS Appetite and Temperament). You can be true to yourself while serving others. The strong should carry the weak. The good state is the one in which people are morally virtuous.

f. Argument #6 – Happiness is the basis for man’s actions. People always act on subjective feeling, not objective fact. They try to do what will make them and others happiest. Man is a social being, so people will internalize this standard. This is the philosophy of JS Mill. Adam Smith’s moral philosophy is quite like it, also. He says that people have an impartial spectator which they do not want to disappoint. Mankind has gone two thousand years without establishing a set of standards to determine right from wrong. There has been an implicit standard which men have always followed – and that standard is utility. Human pleasure is much higher than animal pleasure. The function of government is to accomplish the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Therefore, social welfare programs are encouraged. Your duty is NOT to yourself – your duty is to society. It’s greatest-good for greatest-number, not greatest-good for you. Utilitarians disagree about the question of individual rights. Rights exist for the sake of utility.

g. Argument #7 – People sometimes follow the herd and sometimes think for themselves. They are much better off thinking for themselves. The function of government is to quarantine its people from viruses so that they can function normally. People can choose whichever society they like. Act for yourself, not for others.

Philosophy 42 Final: Socrates, Plato, Buddha, Aristotle, Dualism

December 4, 2004

Class: Philosophy 42, Professor Flanagan
Prompt: Respond to six of ten questions about this semester’s reading.


Socrates believed that an individual has a valid social contract with the state if three conditions are met: (1) the state protects the individual, particularly through the military and the police; (2) the state nurtures the individual, especially by supporting the institution of marriage, providing an educational system for the individual, and enforcing laws governing property ownership and business, and (3) the individual has a free choice to enter the social contract, which requires (a) a clear ceremony of joining and (b) an option for the individual to leave if he so chooses.  If the state fulfills all of these requirements, then the individual, in return, must conform to the laws and decrees of the state.

Socrates’s view is plausible.  The contract is consensual, and each party absorbs both costs and benefits.  If the citizen breaks the law, the state can punish him.  If the citizen does not like the protection and nurturing the state provides him, he can leave, voiding the contract.  If the state breaks the contract, the individual is not morally compelled to follow the state’s edicts.  The individual gives up some of his freedom in exchange for benefits which he couldn’t procure by himself.

For Socrates’s social contract to function practically, the package of services which the state provides to the individual must be resolved.  Does the state have to protect the individual from non-human threats like disease and poverty as well as human threats like enemy armies and criminals?  Does “nurturing” include public parks and corporate welfare?  Most likely, each state would have a different perspective and would present a different package of benefits.  The individual could choose the one he preferred.


Plato, in his Allegory of the Cave, tells us that the physical world, which we think makes up all of reality, is merely a shadow compared to the spiritual world, the world of ideas.  As long as we live only in the physical world, we think that we are happy, but we are not.  The purpose of education is to turn a man’s mind to spiritual world so that he will experience true joy.  The more a man learns, the easier the world is to understand.

This message is plausible.  Studies show that education is the biggest deterrent to crime and poverty.  Education helps a person to think more efficiently and to better distinguish between right and wrong.  Anyone who has an epiphany – that is, a sudden discovery of a great truth – feels immediately afterwards that the world as a whole is a better place and is easier to understand.  The predisposition of many people to believe in a God which is infinitely better and greater than them also coincides with Plato’s allegory though it does not necessarily make Plato’s argument more credible.

Plato’s theory of education is not the only possible course of action, however.  One reasonable objection is that Plato has no way of proving the existence of the spiritual world, and it may very well not exist.  Therefore, say these critics, teaching our students to love learning is good, but making them mystics may be a waste of time.  Instead of teaching our children to look towards heaven for answers, we should instruct students in technical, scientific, and mathematical knowledge which will better prepare them for the things of this world.  This more Aristotelian approach to education does not refute the message of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, but it does provide a plausible alternative.


According to Buddhism, we experience dukkha, or suffering, because we do not understand the nature of this world.  The world is ever-changing and impermanent.  We have insatiable thirsts for sensory pleasures which we think will make us eternally happy.  These desires cause us suffering, and when the pleasures we covet lose their power, we suffer further.  We also suffer because we have the desire to live forever and to never change, but in truth, there is nothing eternal or unchanging about us.  Furthermore, when we are especially emotionally distraught, we desire to not exist at all; this, too, causes us pain.

We suffer in these ways because we do not know the truth.  When we become enlightened about the impermanence of life and of ourselves, we will realize the silliness of our cravings.  We will no longer search for something we can never get.  We will no longer experience dukkha.  We will have peace.

The Buddha’s remedy for dukkha is plausible.  It is true that if we do not desire something, we will not suffer because we do not have it.  His observation that sensory pleasures will not give us happiness seems especially credible in today’s America, the wealthiest nation in world history, in which anti-depressants are big business (seven percent of the population is clinically depressed), even among children.

This remedy is not the only possible explanation for dukkha, however.  It is also possible that we really do have immortal souls, and this changing, ephemeral world is unsatisfactory to us because our true home is in an eternal, unchanging paradise which we will find after death.  This explanation is not more or less credible than the Buddha’s; it is merely another perspective.


According to Kungzi, li are laws and rituals; xiao is reverence for the family, also known as filial piety, and ren is benevolence towards one’s fellow men.  Ren is a massive and all-encompassing character trait which can be truly difficult to achieve.  Kungzi introduces li and xiao to make the process more manageable.  To follow the li and to express xiao in one’s domestic life, a person much be respectful, considerate, and obedient.  These same traits are needed for a person to have ren.  Therefore, a person who succeeds in the smaller matters of li and xiao will also have ren.

Li and xiao are becoming less important for us now.  Dress codes have relaxed, especially among adolescents.  Laws of etiquette have relaxed, as well.  Young people no longer have to address adults as “Sir” or “Ma’am;” sports arenas can now be frightening and violent places, and the media’s portrayal of sex and violence is becoming more and more graphic.  Respect for family has also declined: children’s television programs regularly portray adults as fools, for example.

I believe that our society currently underestimates li and xiao.  As Kungzi said, consideration for the laws and for one’s parents leads a person to become more respectful and compassionate for all people.  A society in which everyone respects each other is much more efficient and is a better place to raise children.  Many Americans, including my parents, have moved from the coasts to the Midwest because they wanted to raise their children in a place where values and respect are encouraged.  I also think that children who follow li and xiao tend to be more humble and in turn, less likely to think that they know everything.  This makes them more likely to learn.


The Myth of the Lydian Shepherd expresses the philosophy of psychological egoism: man always does what is in his best interest.  Altruists and egoists are equally selfish; the altruist only does good deeds so he will feel good about himself.  Kungzi would summarily reject the theme of this myth on two grounds: (1) its opinion about transcendent good and evil and (2) its view of the nature of man.

Kungzi was agnostic on the subject of religion and spirituality, but he did believe that there were objective standards for morality.  Good deeds fulfill the tianming, or mandate of heaven.  They fit into the harmonious workings of the universe and always bring good to men.  While egoists believe that the goodness of a deed derives from its utility for men, Kungzi believes that a deed’s utility for men derives from its goodness.

Kungzi said that his philosophy, which preached compassion and respect, was the most suitable way of living for men.  Men do not do good deeds for an emotional high; men do good deeds because the nature of man is to be good.  Men are made to serve each other, and man reaches his highest state of being when he becomes most compassionate and considerate of others.

As for the characters in the drama, the philosopher would first observe that the king and queen were must not have been following the li.  Kungzi was a believer in the moral contagion theory, which states that one moral person can turn all his neighbors towards righteousness with his good example.  According to Kungzi, a king who practices li and xiao in his personal life will spread ren throughout his kingdom because all the citizens will follow his example.  Because the shepherd was capable of killing the king and seducing the queen without a second thought, the rulers must not have been living exemplary lives.  Otherwise, their goodness would have convinced the shepherd to cease his misdeeds.

The queen would be especially disreputable in Kungzi’s eyes.  When she ascended the throne with the shepherd, she blatantly betrayed her husband.  This violation of xiao would never be tolerated in a royal house which followed the moral laws.

The most evil man in the story, of course, would be the shepherd.  Kungzi would first express horror that the shepherd in question had taken a ring from the finger of a dead man.  The shepherd compounded his villainy still more by putting the ring on his own finger.  Disturbing the dead in such a way is a gross violation of li and foreshadows the events to come.  Overthrowing the government, the maker and enforcer of laws, is the most extreme violation of li possible.  The shepherd could have used his power of invisibility to serve his country as a spy.  Instead, he used the ring to destroy his country.  Since the shepherd has never governed anything larger than a flock of sheep, he will probably govern his country poorly.  In so doing, he will harm all the people.  This behavior is the opposite of ren.


Dualists believe that the mind is incorporeal and immortal and is separate and distinct from the body.  Man’s body and mind work in tandem.  The mind receives sensory information from the body, processes it, and then makes decisions which the body then puts into action.  Naturalists believe that mind and body are one.  The mind is the brain, and it is an organ which functions exactly like the other organs in the human body.  The differences in these two philosophies have vast implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, particularly in terms of free will, the value of man, the nature of morality, and divine revelation.

Since the mind is independent of the body in the dualist construct, man has absolute free will.  He can decide to do whatever he likes, even if he cannot always carry out his decisions; he cannot fly, but he can choose to attempt it.  This view sets the stage for a constant conflict between body and mind.  Every day, the body makes demands for things like food, sleep, and sex which the mind must regulate and control.  The mind, because it is completely free of the body, is always capable of making the right decision.  When Christ said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” he meant that a person is always responsible for the sins he commits; he cannot blame his body.  Naturalists are divided on the question of free will.  Some reject it entirely while others accept it in varying degrees; all agree that the body at least partially regulates the mind, so the possible conflict between the two features is as not as dramatic as the dualists convey.

The dualist belief in the immortal soul has deep religious implications, as well.  Since the soul is immortal, human beings are infinitely more valuable than plants and animals because humans have immortal souls while plants and animals do not.  If a person is to live forever, he must have a place to reside.  Hence, dualists believe in heaven, hell, and/or ghosts.  Whereas dualists appreciate human life because it has eternal value, naturalists appreciate human life because it is fleeting, and a person, once dead, is gone forever.  It is possible for a naturalist to believe that God can somehow provide him a home in heaven, but this belief in eternal life is something which has no basis in the rest of naturalist philosophy.

Dualists accept a transcendent moral code; it is written in the eternal spiritual world, not the physical world, so it applies to all times and to all cultures.  While dualists base their moral code upon the perfect ways of the other world, naturalists base their moral code on living well in this one.  They act morally because they see that they are happiest when they do so.  Moral laws are not metaphysically transcendent; they are similar throughout history because men and what is good for them have been similar throughout history.

Finally, dualists and naturalists differ on the matter of divine revelation.  Dualists are much more likely to believe in it than naturalists.  Since the mind is a spiritual instrument in dualism, it is a perfect conduit for information from a spiritual deity.  Indeed, the relationship between God and mind in dualism is more easily explained than the relationship between body and mind.  Since naturalists believe in a physical mind, they have a harder time explaining how the mind could passively receive spiritual input.

Neither dualism nor naturalism can be proven right or wrong, so people gravitate towards their personal preference.  People who are highly religious, mystical, or spiritual are much more likely to be dualists, even if they have never heard of Descartes.  Scientific people, agnostics, and atheists favor naturalism.

A Paper of Monumental Importance

December 3, 2004

Prompt: If an English-speaking person from Mars visited the monuments in Washington, D.C., what would he think of our country?

An English-speaking person from Mars who visited Washington, D. C. to see the monuments would get an intriguing view of America. He would hear nothing about capitalism, democracy, great technological advancements, or the frontier. He would not know that America had a western European cultural base. He would not know that America has a long history of impressive military victories. Nevertheless, he would get a positive, if occasionally confused, picture of the country and its values. He would believe that America was founded on the ideas of enduring greatness, unity within diversity, the value of the individual, freedom, altruism, and reluctance to war.

After seeing the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial, the alien would note that America wants to be remembered forever for its power. The Washington Monument, an obelisk which towers several hundred feet in the air and which is visible from anywhere in the Mall, is simple, yet stunning. It is an expression of power which is instantly recognizable and not easily forgotten. It needs no excuse for being; it simply is. The enormous replication of President Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial makes him the largest person in all of Washington. The alien would note that Lincoln is neither well-fed nor beautiful; he is a slim, stern man who must have been the most important president in American history. The World War II memorial is sprawling, round, and symmetrical. It would give the alien a sense of peace. He would note that because this memorial is so large, this war must have been pivotal in world history.

We do not know if the alien is coming from a homogeneous or a heterogeneous society. Regardless, he would note from the Lincoln, World War II, Vietnam Women’s, and Korean memorials that this society values both unity and diversity. The Lincoln, Vietnam Women’s, and Korean memorials all feature people of many different races and of both genders. This would show that American citizenship goes beyond race or sex, and that society values all kinds of people equally. The Lincoln and World War II memorials would also emphasize diversity in a different way: they both have engravings around the memorials celebrating different states. In the World War II memorial, even the territories of the United States are honored for their contributions. The alien would realize that America is a federalized nation, a combination of many different land masses under one flag. He would think of America as a place where many diverse people can work together to make the nation better.

Indeed, the United States does not just honor separate races and groups; it honors individuals. The Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt memorials are all built to honor great individual leaders. The alien would note that dynamic individuals can become greatly honored in America. He would get a much different, yet equally poignant reminder of the value of the individual from the Vietnam Women’s and the Vietnam memorials. In the Women’s memorial, three female aid workers crouch around a dying man, and all four people have looks of horror on their face. The alien infers that in America, the death of even one person is at tragic event. Even more powerful is the Vietnam memorial. This one features the name of every soldier who died or went missing in action during the war. The names start as a trickle; the alien sees the individuals and thinks of each one of them, of the lives they led and the families they had. As he walks down the corridor, the memorial and the list of names widen and widen and widen into a massive burst of emotion swallowing everything else. The alien looks backs back at the beginning of the memorial, seeing ten to twelve names on a tablet, and then turns to where he is now standing and sees hundreds and hundreds of people at a time, each one with intrinsic value, each one’s death as tragic as the one portrayed at the Vietnam Women’s memorial. He realizes the massive destructive power of war and the way it alters the lives of an entire people, one by one. He realizes that in this nation, when one person dies, the bell tolls for us all.

Freedom is an essential part of the American story, as well, and the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials show the alien their value to Americans. The Jefferson memorial honors a man who said that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Lincoln memorial tells the story of freedom in the text of Lincoln’s famous speeches, the Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses. The alien learns from Lincoln’s words that the American people will fight for freedom as long as is necessary, and they would rather die than live as slaves. The alien would see that these people’s religion does not enslave them; it sets them free and exhorts them to fight for others’ freedom.

Those others and their importance is what the alien would discern from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. The moment he steps in this memorial, he realizes it is much different from all the others. In this memorial, the people in the sculptures are smaller, not larger, than the average human being. The alien gets a sense of the poor and downtrodden people of the land as represented by their protector, the tiny, crippled Franklin Roosevelt. As he walks through this memorial, he hears Roosevelt exhorting the people to give and to care about each other. He sees the old, poor farmers who have equal stature with the president. He notes the many governmental programs Roosevelt established to help the poor. He sees Roosevelt’s homely wife, and at the end of the long, long walk through this memorial, he sees Roosevelt again, close to death, a tiny dog at his side. The presence of the dog makes Roosevelt even more frail and human. The alien reads Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” and notes the man’s constant devotion to freeing his people from want and from ignorance. This is a monument to altruism and compassion. He remembers the epitaph of the Korean War: it was a war which Americans fought in a country they’d never seen for people they didn’t know. He remembers Lincoln’s exhortation to Americans to forgive the South but to fight tirelessly for the freedom of the slaves. He notes that altruism is more important and more integral to the American experience than he had previously thought.

What might interest the alien most about American monuments are their many, not necessarily positive messages about war. Clearly, the society thinks that war is important; there are four war monuments: World War II, Korea, and two for Vietnam, and Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt were all wartime leaders. Yet, besides Washington’s enduring power, the monuments provide a neutral or negative perspective of war. There are no images of victorious soldiers, mounted horsemen, or glorious commanders. Instead, there is a leader who says that the people have a solemn duty to fight for freedom and a leader who screams that he hates war. The World War II monument is large and enduring but is a memorial, not a celebration, of battle. The Vietnam memorial emphasizes the enormous human costs of war. The Vietnam Women’s memorial shows that the death of even one soldier is a tragedy. The Korean War Memorial goes beyond even this: it depicts a retreat. The soldiers are hardened, frightened, and frightening. They seem unreal, and if the alien views the memorial at night, he sees that the environment from which they are running is hellish and intimidating. From viewing these monuments, the alien would never know of the military excellence of the U. S. He would predict that this nation hates war and does not want to see another one.

Greatness, unity within diversity, the value of the individual, freedom, altruism, reluctance for war: these are the values which the alien would discern from his visit to Washington. He would see that the country is as colorful and complex as it looked from the telescope in his Martian home. He would see an America whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It values the individuals and groups which live in it, and it continually strives to make life better for them. It seeks to take its freedom around the world so that everyone might have it. The nation hates war, but if there is a battle to fight, America will fight it. By doing what is right, this nation hopes to live forever. This is a holistic, powerful, and sobering vision. The alien hopes that the nation is true to these ideals, and that it always will be. So do I.

The Ideal Duke University Speech Code

December 3, 2004

The motto of Duke University is Eruditio et Religio (“Knowledge and Piety”). Students and administrators alike must work together to make Duke a place in which each of these virtues can flourish. To increase knowledge, we must allow free expression of ideas. To increase piety, we must use positive reinforcement to create a culture of respect and dignity. We will respect the diverse perspectives of our students and faculty, but we will keep in mind that truth transcends our individual perspectives. Regardless of our differences in race, gender, or ideology, members of the Duke community are allies, not enemies. We did not come here to confirm our biases or to stockpile ammunition to use against our foes. We came here to pursue the truth. To make Duke a truly great place, a place of knowledge and piety, we must make it a place of humility. This is the goal of our speech code.

1. The right of a member of Duke University to free speech shall not be abridged because of what he says.

To replace ignorance with knowledge, we must be able to express and to examine incorrect views. Preventing the expression of an opinion, no matter how offensive, false, or bellicose, backfires for two reasons: (1) the person who has been silenced becomes a martyr, and his opinions become more attractive because they seem revolutionary; (2) as John Stuart Mill noted, if the general student body never hears an argument, they will never learn to refute it, and if the truth is never tested, our belief in it will atrophy. Our students are intelligent, rational individuals. They can decide which opinions they will hold and which they will not. If we discuss all opinions rather than a chosen few, we have a much better chance of discovering the truth.

Some people, undoubtedly, will deliberately use hateful words against their peers to cause emotional harm, thus damaging our learning environment. While such actions are contemptible, any law prohibiting them would be impossible to enforce and easy to abuse. Students might take offense to statements which are not intrinsically offensive. Administrators might creatively interpret and enforce the law to suit their own agendas, leading students to disrespect the law despite its good intentions. Confusion and fear about what can be said and what cannot be said would permeate the university and would stifle intellectual growth.

2. A member of Duke University cannot break university, local, state, or federal laws to express symbolic speech.

At Duke, we believe that all crimes are “hate crimes.” Any member of our university who breaks the law, especially through physical violence or vandalism, is acting in a way which is deleterious to an atmosphere of piety and respect, and he will be punished. Simply put, a person may not use his rights to violate the rights of others.

3. A member of Duke University cannot use his right of free speech to disrupt a class, a meeting, or any other official speaking engagement.

To insure intelligent and respectful debate at our university, we must give each individual a chance to speak. The people who are running official meetings and speaking engagements have the right to determine who can speak and who cannot. The speakers at these meetings should be heard. Hecklers do not want knowledge or piety; they want to use their rights to obstruct the rights of others. They will be punished. Anyone who wants to speak at a meeting but is not able to speak may assemble a meeting of his own.

At Duke University, we humbly admit that we cannot solve every problem by legislating. Our speech code will help to make this university a haven for knowledge and piety, but true change must start with the individual. We remind our students and professors that they are fellow travelers on the road to knowledge and encourage them to respect one another regardless of their disagreements. It takes great strength of character to be both knowledgeable and humble, and the members of our university have that strength. We shall respect each other and seek the truth together.

Individual Goals and the Public Good

December 2, 2004

We cannot determine whether individual goals coincide with the public good until we determine what the public good is. Most people agree that some things are good for the public, and some things are bad for them, but they agree on little else. Some think that increasing the population is good because more people can then enjoy life; some think that decreasing the population is good because the people who are here can then enjoy life more. Some think that luxury is good for the public, and others think that it is bad. Some think that religion is good for the public; some say it is bad. There may be a transcendent, objective standard for good and bad, but we cannot prove what it is. Thus, each society decides what is in the public good and then creates mechanisms like law and education which encourage individual goals that are coincident with the public good and to discourage individual goals that are in conflict with the public good.

In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between individual goals and the public good in a libertarian society. In this model, society is nothing more than a group of individuals. Each person knows the most about his particular wants and is most qualified to make judgments for himself. Therefore, the public good is achieved when individuals have more freedom to live as they choose. Information is essential for free choice: if I am choosing between A and B, but unbeknownst to me, A and B are actually C and D, then my “A VS. B” choice is not a choice at all.

In a libertarian society, the achievement of an individual objective is intrinsically coincident with the public good because this achievement is an example of a person using his liberty in the way which he sees fit. Such an event shows that the society is functioning correctly. This does not mean that all individual objectives are consistent with the public good, however. If a person’s goal or his method of achieving the goal takes rights away from others, then he is in conflict with the public good. A person can do whatever he likes with himself and with the things that he owns, but he does not have the same rights over others.

We can predict that an individual is contributing to the public good if he is realizing his dreams while helping others to achieve their own. This generally means that he is non-coercive and honest. An ethical businessman is a great example. He does not physically force people to buy his product, nor does he lobby for subsidies or protectionist laws which coerce the public to pay for a product it does not want. He is honest about the features of his product; he does not lie about the side effects of its use or the conditions of the workers who make it. He does not steal from his company through embezzlement or from the government by breaking tax laws. The businessman who follows these rules allows the public to make a free and informed decision about whether it wants to buy his product or not. If the customers do make the purchase, it means they think the product will help them achieve their individual goals. The money which the businessman receives helps the man to achieve his own goals. Both sides profit.

There is one conundrum which libertarianism cannot solve: when a person finds an unclaimed natural resource, why does he have the right to say it is his and restrict others’ rights to it? Doesn’t this conflict with the public good? Otherwise, libertarianism is logically consistent. Such a society would simply solve the property acquisition mechanism in a different way.

There are many plausible systems of individual-group interaction, each with its own view of the human nature and a corresponding individual-group system to supplement it. The more committed a society is a specific system, the more efficiently the society will work, so long as the system is logical. For a capitalist society devoted to individual rights, libertarianism is the best choice. People in this society do not have to agree about what the good is. As long as they pursue what they think is good in an honest and non-coercive manner, they will help themselves and others. This method is simple, yet effective.

War: Creative Destruction

December 2, 2004

In Western vernacular, “war” is synonymous with “intense conflict.” The United States is involved in the “war in Iraq,” but it is also fighting the “war on drugs” and the “war on terrorism.” Professional sports players call themselves warriors. Businesses fight “price wars,” and countries fight “trade wars.” Before we speak of the nation at war, then, we must define our terms. War is the state of armed physical conflict, either declared or undeclared, between two nations. A nation is a group of people organized under a sovereign government, including rebellious groups like the PLO which follow their own rules of law. Under this definition, the “war of terrorism” is more accurately defined as a war against several different groups of terrorists and supporters of terrorists which are working towards America’s physical destruction. The “war on drugs,” “war on poverty,” “price wars,” “trade wars,” and athletic contests do not qualify.

The nation at war tries to achieve its objectives, whatever they may be, by physically forcing the opponent into submission. Acts of war include battles between armies, efforts to destroy the enemy’s homeland and citizens, enforcement of contraband lists, and blockades of the enemy’s ports. Some belligerents establish rules of war, such as a moratorium on targeting the enemy’s officers, but these need not be followed; man makes these rules, and man can break them.

A leader in wartime has the same responsibility as a leader in peacetime: within morality, he should do what is best for his country. He must appear strong and resolute to inspire confidence in his troops and citizens. He must have a just reason for going to war and ample possibility of victory. If the possibility of victory disappears, the leader should surrender because continued fighting would result in meaningless death. Able advisors and generals are necessary for victory, and once the leader has appointed them, he should follow their advice. If his advisors are incompetent, he should fire them.

War is extremely destructive. It obliterates property, nature, and human lives. Destruction is not intrinsically immoral, however. Sometimes, we must destroy something to put something better in its place, as when we delete words to improve a paper or burn wood to make a fire. A nation fighting a just war is engaging in creative destruction. It is seeking to defend human rights by disabling or destroying a nation which is encroaching on them. After the opponent is defeated, the nation can construct a better arrangement and a more peaceful world.

The just war may be offensive or defensive. The invasion of a nation’s borders and the violation of a treaty are breaches of contract and violations of a nation’s right to rule itself which can be redressed with force. The killing of enemy soldiers or belligerent civilians is justified because these groups are actively participating in the destruction of others’ rights. Because innocent civilians are not active participants, deliberately killing them is wrong. It is permissible, however, to accidentally kill innocent civilians while attacking enemy combatants. In such a situation, the enemy has intentionally put its civilians in danger by putting soldiers and military bases in the midst of civilian locations, so the safety of the civilians is the enemy’s responsibility. Blaming the nation waging a just war for the unintended death of the enemy’s civilians is like blaming a parent who does not have enough ransom money for the death of a child who has been kidnapped. We should not be subject to “hostage logic.”

The legitimacy of a war also depends on the approval of the national government, the representative of the people. The actions of a few radical individuals, such as terrorists, do not indict the Middle East as a whole in the September 11th attacks. In a similar fashion, the unjust actions of individual soldiers during a war do not discredit the war itself. If they did, then every human institution, including religion and government, would be rendered useless because each has been abused.

Because war is so devastating, it should be fought only after diplomatic efforts are exhausted. Diplomacy can achieve the same result as war without the tremendous cost. Unnecessary war could easily erode human rights instead of increasing them.

Dynamite is a powerful tool of destruction. It levels mountains, vaporizes landmasses, and topples buildings. It is also vital for creation; thanks to dynamite, we have railroads, canals, and urban renewal projects. War is ten thousand times more powerful than dynamite. It has razed everything in its path, from societies and human lives to Nazism. War can be good; it can be great. We need only use it correctly.