Lileks had some interesting comments on this ecological footprint quiz. It purports to tell you, based upon a few simple questions, how many planets would be needed if everyone lived like you. (I needed 10.1 planets. I was hoping for a higher score, but 10.1 is pretty good, I suppose.) As Lileks discovered, your score heavily depends upon where you live. (Apparently, people in Bangladesh are just so much more ecologically pure than we are.) In any case, the quiz is just so wrong in all the usual many doom-and-gloom, ecological-nightmare-just-around-the-corner ways. And it’s Kantian moral premise is pretty, um, interesting too.
If you really are almighty and just, please do not grant Carmen Rasmusen another week of protection from the justice of her dismissal from American Idol. Please Lord, I beseech you. Watching two far more talented singers dismissed before her these past two weeks has been most painful. Another week of the same would be intolerable. It would shatter my faith in a rational, benevolent universe.
Your Loving Servant Who Believes in You Not a Whit,
P.S. Can you please send plagues of locusts or something to the houses of all those who voted for her? I’d be much obliged.
Update: Given Josh Gracin’s abysmal performance this evening, I’d be okay with him being booted instead of Carmen this week. But then next week, Carmen must go!
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Last night, I broke my office chair. Really. I must have stressed out the metal around one of the casters repeatedly leaning over to pick up papers that failed to properly insert themselves into the trash can. The chair just couldn’t take the stress anymore. It died a quiet, slightly lopsided, immobile death.
I had actually been meaning to replace the chair for some time. It was an el cheapo kneeling chair that Paul had bought (and later discarded in favor of his Herman Miller chair) before we were married. The chair helped keep my carpal tunnel problems to a minimum, which tend to flare up if I cannot sit close to my desk or if forced to use The Contraption of Terrible Wrist Evil otherwise known the keyboard tray. I was planning on replacing the (now-broken) chair because it was fairly harsh on my shins due to pathetic padding. However, I use the term “planning” here rather loosely. If my chair hadn’t broken, I might not have gotten around to replacing it for another few years. Generally speaking, I’m about as efficient in running such optional errands as a Soviet-era bureaucrat.
So today, I bought my new chair. (Yes, it took all of about 10 minutes.) It’s another kneeling chair, but a fancy one with big Tempur-pedic foam cushions. A big step up for me, office-chair-wise! Unfortunately, it was way, way, way to tall for my desk, even at its shortest.
I considered raising the height of the desk, but gave up after mangling a can of kitty food during the “how high?” test phase. Paul and I examined, poked, and prodded the chair, considering the various methods of lowering the height. Finally, I made an executive decision: I would carefully drill two additional large holes on the bottom-back bar to lower the seat. It took a while, but the holes were drilled and the chair was reassembled.
So I am now basking in the glory of my new chair. Well, at least my shins are happy.
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We’re having a day of Real Colorado Weather here today. It’s rained. It’s hailed. Now it’s snowing. As Homer would say, “Ummmm, precipitation…”
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I’m completely overloaded with work at the moment, so blogging may be light for a few weeks. The following comments on meta-ethics have been waiting in the “ready” folder for just such a dry spell. I wrote them last May as I was struggling to prepare the third lecture of “Objectivism 101″ on Ayn Rand’s metaethics. I never completed them, as there was no need. They’re pretty decent, although only in nascent form in many ways. The ellipses separate out some different approaches and formulations.
I’m currently having difficulties with construction the third lecture of Objectivism 101. The first lecture primarily deals with the nature and importance of philosophy. The second lecture concerns the basics of the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology. So in the third lecture, I turn to the foundations of ethics.
The problem is, as Will Thomas noted, that the material is inherently geeky. It’s very abstract and often technical, dealing with issues like life as the standard, happiness as the purpose, the need for moral principles, the relationship between mind and body, egoism versus altruism, the nature of sacrifice, and so on. So making this material concrete and relevant to everyday life is quite a challenge.
So here’s a stab at how I can structure this lecture.
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that defines code of values to guide actions and choices. Ethics primarily concerns two issues: what we ought to pursue in life and how we ought to pursue those things. What we ought to pursue are values. How we ought to pursue those values are virtues.
Most philosophers start ethics with the questions: What is the highest value? What should we pursue? The answers vary wildly. The Muslim says that the highest value is submission to God’s will. The hedonist claims that pleasure is the highest value. The utilitarian claims the greatest good for the greatest number as the highest value. The Christian says that the highest value is salvation through Jesus Christ. So it seems that there are no facts about ethics, just opinions.
In contrast, Ayn Rand began her ethical inquiry with far more fundamental questions. She asked: Why do we need ethics at all? What is the purpose of ethics? AR’s essay “The Objectivist Ethics” in VOS answers this question. AR notes that all living creatures face a fundamental alternative of life or death. And that only through life do any other alternatives, any other values, exist for us. So the individual’s own life is his/her highest value, what should be pursued above all else. So the purpose of ethics is to guide our choices and actions towards that highest value of our own lives. Ethics ought to be a “how-to manual” for life. It tells us what values we need to pursue and what virtues we need to effectively pursue those values. This is the foundation for a science of ethics.
So in Objectivism, we say that life is the standard of value. That means that we judge something as good or bad based on its impact on our own lives. But we also say that happiness is the purpose of life. In other words, we don’t want to live a long and miserable life. We want to live a long and happy life!
Most ethics make one of two claims about the relationship between happiness and ethics. They either say that happiness is impossible here on this earth or that happiness is irrelevant to ethics. But in the Objectivist ethics, happiness is the reward for living a moral life. (Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?) A moral life is not a life of pain and suffering. A moral life is a happy life. It is a life of accomplishing rational goals and taking pleasure in your success. You might not be successful all the time, but with a rational morality grounded in your life and happiness, success and happiness is the normal state of affairs.
So we know that life is the standard of value and that happiness is the purpose of life. So what sort of values do we need to pursue and what sort of virtues do we need to cultivate within ourselves to achieve that long and happy life? Let’s first look at some rational values.
We start our list with those things that we literally can’t live without, like air, shelter, water, and food. Without these values, we would die in a fairly short time.
But these material values don’t just magically appear on our doorstep. We have to go seek them out. So knowledge of how to obtain these values is itself a value. We need knowledge of how to grow crops, of how to handle and cook meat safely, of how to negotiate a trade with someone else. So knowledge of what will promote our life and what will destroy it is a value.
Such knowledge doesn’t come automatically or even easily to us. We have to use our senses and our reason to gain this knowledge of the world. And we also need other rational people with whom to trade. So reason and other people are also values.
But reason doesn’t function automatically either. So knowledge of how to use reason effectively, otherwise known as epistemology, is also a value. We need to know that using reason requires us to be in mental focus, to attend to the facts of reality, and to use the method of objectivity. We need to know the rules of logical inference and the fallacies of reasoning to avoid.
Now imagine that every day, you asked yourself: So where will I find food today? Where will I find water and shelter? You probably wouldn’t last too long because you wouldn’t be planning in advance. You wouldn’t be planning for that drought or that infestation of beetles that destroyed all the bananas. Living hand to mouth is likely to result in a rather short life.
So in order to achieve our goal of a long and happy life, we need to identify the values that promote our lives in the long run. What do we need to achieve a long and happy life?
We need knowledge of the world, like knowledge of how to obtain and store food. We need to know that standing under a tree during a thunderstorm is unsafe. We need to know when to take antibiotics. We need to know who our friends are. And we also need to know how to gain knowledge. We need to know how to use our faculty of reason effectively.
For example, trade with other people is a value because it allows people to specialize in a particular area, instead of forcing people do meet all their needs all by themselves. And we need to identify the ways in which we can effectively pursue them consistent with out life and happiness. Those are virtues. For example, honesty is a virtue because people will not want to trade with me if I lie about the terms of the exchange. And thus begins the science of ethics.
So let’s pause here to notice what the Objectivist ethics is not. It doesn’t advocate absolute moral duties, like the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t advocate acting on feelings, like that dishonesty is wrong because it will make you feel guilty. In the Objectivist ethics, we are deriving moral principles from the facts of reality in the context of pursuing our own life and happiness.
As a result, Objectivism doesn’t advocate a moral ideal of self-sacrifice and service to others. Objectivism rejects the moral ideal of altruism, where actions are moral if and only if they benefit someone else. Rather, Objectivism advocates a moral ideal of egoism, where actions are moral if they benefit the self.
I’ll be substantially editing “Objectivism 101″ in May, after school winds down and my Camp Indecon curriculum is complete.
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Of course, Mr. Jordan may feel he deserves a pinch of credit for coming clean like this. But this admission shouldn’t get him any ethical journalism trophies. For a long time, CNN denied that its coverage skimped on truth. While I researched a story on CNN’s Iraq coverage for the New Republic last October, Mr. Jordan told me flatly that his network gave “a full picture of the regime.” In our conversation, he challenged me to find instances of CNN neglecting stories about Saddam’s horrors. If only I’d had his Times op-ed!
Wow. Foer also points out that CNN doesn’t seem to have learned anything from this incident. We have every reason they are still sucking up to the regimes in Cuba, Syria, and other totalitarian states.
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Dave Barry’s tax reform proposal would result in a much thinner Congress, I think.
Here’s my proposal, which is based on the TV show Survivor: We put the entire Congress on an island. All the food on this island is locked inside a vault, which can be opened only by an ordinary American taxpayer named Bob. Every day, the congresspersons are given a section of the Tax Code, which they must rewrite so that Bob can understand it. If he can, he lets them eat that day; if he can’t, he doesn’t.
Or, he can give them food either way. It doesn’t matter. The main thing is, we never let them off the island.
Now that’s a reality show worth watching!
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E.G. Ross, the editor of The Objective American, died Thursday as a result of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He had been in the hospital for a number of weeks after emergency surgery to repair a cerebral aneurism, but was making a good recovery. His death was unexpected.
I was introduced to his site a few months ago by Objectivist friends. As I always enjoyed his writings, I was anxiously awaiting his return. I am deeply sorry that he is no longer be among us.
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The brouhaha over CNN’s admission of withholding news unfavorable to Iraq in order to preserve their access to that country has a rather interesting history.
Back in October of 2002, The New Republic published an article entitled Air Wars which argues that news outfits like CNN are under such tight restrictions that staying in Baghdad requires them to become shills for the regime. CNN’s Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jane Arraf, wrote a scathing letter in response (second from the bottom) arguing that CNN’s coverage was not compromised by the restrictions and monitoring of the regime.
Even more interesting was what I heard on Brit Hume last night. After that TNR piece, some CNN executive (Eason Jordan himself, I think) flatly denied any withholding of news in order to preserve access to Iraq in an interview with NPR. He said that CNN would rather pull out of Baghdad than slant coverage. (I wish I could find the exact quote, but web searches haven’t proven fruitful.) Brit also had some interesting quotes from CNN reporters on how much Iraqis love Saddam, meaning that CNN wasn’t just failing to report the news, but also happily spreading Saddam’s propaganda.
CNN needs a new slogan, perhaps something like “All the news that two-bit dictators want us to report.”
Update: A reader (“alee”) was kind enough to post the URL of the earlier interview with Eason Jordan which was quoted by Brit Hume in the comments section. Here’s the relevant quote:
I mean we work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there; but we do think that some light is better than no light whatsoever.
But what if the light is not adequately illuminating what it ought, namely the horrors of the regime? Also, when asked about a presence in Iraq during the expect Gulf War II, Jordan said:
We’d very much like to be there if there’s a second war; but– we are not going to make journalistic compromises in an effort to make that happen, being mindful that in wartime there is censorship on all sides, and we’re prepared to deal with a certain amount of censorship as long as it’s not– extreme, ridiculous censorship where — which we’ve actually seen a number of cases in previous conflicts — not just with Iraq. But– sure! We want to be there, but it’s –we don’t want to be there come hell or high water. We want to be there if we can be there and operate as a responsible news organization.
Of course, “journalistic compromises” by a something other than a “responsible news organization” is a pretty apt description of CNN’s coverage between the two Gulf Wars.
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Check out the updated concealed carry map. The sea of blue is states with shall-issue laws. (Colorado just went from yellow to blue in the past few weeks. Yeah!)
It makes sense that states in liberal New England often have restrictions on concealed carry. But the contingent of restricted states in the upper midwest just makes no sense to me. Anyone know the reasons?