A Philosopher's Blog

The Bipartisan Appeal of Same Sex Marriage

Posted in Humor by Michael LaBossiere on May 26, 2007

I recently received a phone call from a rather conservative friend that went something like this:

Friend: “They’re doing it again!”

Me: “Who? Do you mean the squirrels? Did they piddle on your New York Times again?”

Friend: “No. You know…them.”

Me: ‘The French?”

Friend: “No! The other them!”

Me: “Oh, the homosexuals. What did they do this time?”

Friend: “Same sex marriage…it is legal in some states…”

Me: “Hmm, I thought that would make you happy.”

Friend: “What?! How in the holy name of God could that make me happy?”

Me: “Well, you are opposed to gay sex, right?”

Friend: “As all right-thinking Americans are…but what does that have to do with anything?”

Me: “You’re married right?”

Friend: “Yes, but…”

Me: “When was the last time you had sex?”

Friend: “Umm…”

Me: “See, gay marriage is the best way to put an end to gay sex.”

Friend: “Uh… you make a good point….”

Although I was mainly just trying to torment my friend, this conversation got me thinking about the whole same sex marriage thing. After some thought, I concluded that same sex marriage had bipartisan appeal-provided it was presented in the right way.

While its current supporters endorse it because of views of fairness, justice, and the desire to tweak the right-wingers, there are plenty of reasons for right-wingers to get on the same sex bandwagon.

Reduced Gay Sex

First, gay marriage would cut way down on gay sex. How so? Well consider the following two scenarios involving the hypothetical gay couple of George and Richard.

Scenario #1: Unmarried

George: “You look so hot. How about it…baby?”

Richard: “Oh, you naughty love weasel. Snuggle my brains out like a love rhino!”

Intense snuggling ensues.

Scenario #2: Married

George: “You look so hot. How about it…baby?”

Richard: “Did you take out the trash?”

George: “What?”

Richard: “Did you take the trash out like you said you would?”

George: “No, but…”

Richard: “Exactly. No butt for you, mister, until that trash is on the curb.”

George: “I’m sleeping on the couch.”

Richard: “Fine. You do that.”

George: “Fine. I will.”

Divorce planning ensues.

Economic Benefits

Second, as any married or divorced heterosexual will tell you, marriage is costly. It starts off with a costly wedding and then goes right into all sorts of other expenses. Further, married couples pay more in taxes. It is unfair that homosexuals are not carrying their economic weight in this area-they too should be shucking out $500 or more for flowers that will die in one day, paying more taxes and so on. Fair is fair-time for gay couples to start throwing their money away just like everyone else. This should appeal to the conservatives-the boost to the economy could probably pay for a bunch of new tanks or missiles.

Suffering

Third, as any married or divorced heterosexual will tell you, marriage is a little slice of hell right here on earth. While same sex couples have their problems, those lucky weasels can just slink away-there are no cursed rings on their fingers preventing an easy escape. Now, if same sex marriage were legalized, they would be in the same doomed boat as the rest of us. They would then have no easy escape if things go sour…only a costly and hellish legal battle over the stuff. Now, the right wingers might be worried that things might not go sour. Do not fear, my conservative brethren…as sure as milk goes bad, things will go sour. About 50% of heterosexual marriages fail…and it is pretty obvious that homosexuals have the same personality defects as everyone else. Now, you throw in social pressure, the stigma of same sex marriage, men fighting over the remote, women fighting over whatever it is they fight over and I think we can count on at least a 65% failure rate or better. It is only fair that the homosexuals get to experience the joy that only a prolonged court battle can bring to the soul.

 Conservatives should rejoice at the terrible suffering that the homosexuals will experience in divorce. And, for those tough cases that decide to hang in there and stay married…well, they will be suffering even worse. Thus, both the left and the right can agree on legalizing same sex marriage.

Altruism and Fear

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on May 20, 2007

The National Institute of Health recently published the results of a study about the ability to read fear in facial expressions. According to the study, those better able to recognize fear were more inclined to behave in more altruistic and compassionate ways. For example, such people are apparently more inclined to donate money and time to help others. In another example, they are willing to say that people are more attractive-if saying otherwise would hurt the feelings of those being assessed.

It has been speculated that psychopaths and criminal types might be less capable of recognizing fear. From this, it has been suggested that such people become that way because they were less capable of discerning suffering and hence less likely to develop empathy and the associated feelings of guilt from wrongdoing.

This is an interesting hypothesis and is similar in some ways to Socrates’ explanation of evil. According to Socrates, people do evil out of ignorance. His view is what is known as ethical intellectualism-to know the good is to do the good. The hypothesis discussed above is similar in that people would do evil things because they apparently do not realize that they are causing harm.

This hypothese does have a certain degree of plausibility. Based on anectdotal evidence, it is common to hear stories about people who treat others poorly described as just not understanding the pain they are inflicting. Of course, there are many altenrative explanations. It might be that these people are well aware of the suffering they inflict but are simply not affected by it in a way that deters such behavior. In short, they know the other people are afraid, but it does not bother them.

To use an analogy, think of how dogs behave. Having observed dogs for years I am fairly confident that a vicious dog knows when other dogs (or humans) are afraid and this actually inclines them to attack such dogs (or people). They know to associate fear with weakness and weakness means an easier kill. Dogs that are better natured also know when other dogs (or people)are afraid of them and act in ways to reduce their fear (lying down and being non-threatening, for example).

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Terrorists in America-Recruited by the Feds?

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 20, 2007

The Bush administration has poured billions of dollars into its “war on terror.” As part of this war, there have been extensive efforts to find terrorists in the United States. The results have been less than impressive and, in many cases, it seems that the government actually took a very active role in creating terrorists.

Pages 26-29 of the May 21, 2007 Newsweek provide the details of these activities.

In one recent case an American doctor and a jazz musician named Tarik Shah were arrested on terror related charges. They had pledged to be soldiers of Islam. Interestingly enough, the person administering the pledge was an undercover FBI agent.

In another recent case, six men were arrested for plotting an attack on Fort Dix. These men are not exactly cream of the crop terrorists-they were caught because they brought a DVD of themselves firing guns and shouting, in Arabic, “God is great!” These men eventually ended up speaking with federal informants about acquiring weapons.

In many other cases the FBI has arrested people who have allegedly been plotting (or at least endorsing) acts of terror. However, there is often little evidence that the alleged terrorists truly intended to go through on their alleged plots and even more doubt if they would actually have the means to do so. In many cases, as critics have pointed out, the alleged terrorists have been goaded by FBI informants who pretend to be radicals. This does raise some serious concerns.

On one hand, the use of informants as “bait” is a common and proven tactic in law enforcement. If you want to find terrorists or criminals, posing as one can be very effective.

On the other hand, there is the concern that the Feds are doing more than merely luring in people who are terrorists. In the cases described above, the informants were not simply observing and reporting-they were very active in getting people involved and moving them towards being terrorists.

This seems rather morally questionable as can be shown in the following analogy.  Suppose I am concerned that students are cheating in my classes and I want to stop this. So, what I do is send emails to the students pretending to be a disgruntled student named Bob. In the emails I go on about how hard and unfair the grading is and how bad a teacher Dr. LaBossiere is. In my assumed identity, I then start encouraging the students to cheat and I am as persuasive as I can possibly be. Then, I set the trap. As Bob, I send faked (but plausible) answers to an upcoming test that I claim I was able to steal. After giving the test, I then see to it that all the students who used the fake answers are expelled for academic misconduct.

In this case, the students did do something wrong-they shouldn’t be cheating But, I am partially to blame for their cheating-without my concerted efforts to persuade them into cheating and without my providing the means to cheat, many of these students probably would not have cheated. By contributing to their evil action I have, it would seem, also done something immoral. Further, encouraging people to cheat and then punishing them does not seem to be a very effective means of combating cheating. It would be better to show the students the value of not cheating and taking the proper steps to deter and prevent cheating. After all, if I want to do good, then I should not be encouraging evil.

This applies to the situation regarding the terrorists. As noted above, the Feds seem to be taking a very active role in recruiting and encouraging terrorists. This certainly seems to be immoral. Someone more cynical than I might suspect that the Feds are doing their very best to create terrorists. After all, if they did not find terrorists here in America, then it would seem that billions of dollars have been wasted and civil liberties have been trampled for nothing.

ATVs

Posted in Ethics, Law by Michael LaBossiere on May 12, 2007

Years ago my dad bought a 4 wheel ATV. Naturally, I thought this was pretty cool and had  a great deal of fun driving it around the woods at camp (no, not band camp). I was never hurt while doing this, probably because I’m fairly sensible and have a decent grasp of the physics of moving and crashing bodies.

Apparently I’m fairly unusual. In 2005 there were 136,700 ATV related ER visits (Newsweek May 14, 2007 page 59). Of these 40,000 involved people under 16. Ohio, where I went to college, leads the way: 10,000 ER visits per year. This amounts to a nice income of about $30 million for the hospitals.

Many states have made it illegal for young children to use ATVs and a debate is to take place soon regarding federal restrictions on ATV use by minors. Of course, this raises a variety of questions.

The first question is a practical question: will such laws reduce the number of injuries? Such laws could help-provided that people abide by them. Of course, most ATV injuries seem to be related to poor judgment. For example, the Newsweek article cited above begins with a description of a boy who decided to use his uncle’s ATV after he had been told not to do so. He ended up being seriously injured when he accidentally struck a dog at 60 MPH. Would the law have prevented this? Would the boy have thought “Gosh, I’ll disobey my family, but I must obey the law!” Most likely not. Thus, it seems likely that such laws will not be very helpful. No doubt some people will follow them and it is likely that the police will stop some kids. But I suspect the law will be about as effective as the laws governing underage drinking. That is, not very.

The second question is a moral one. Should the government attempt to use law in place of proper parental supervision? On one hand, it is evident that parents are failing 40,000 children each year by allowing them to be injured on ATVs. Given that the state has a duty to protect the citizens, then it seems reasonable for the state to step in and take action. On the other hand, it would be preferable if steps were taken to improve peoples’ judgment rather than simply imposing another law. After all, the law itself does nothing-it is the actions of people that leads to results. If the law is passed and the poor judgment remains, then the problem will still remain. After all, the law does not make people any wiser or better-it mainly just provides a reason to punish people after they have exercised poor judgment.

Is the Belief in God Irrational?

Posted in Metaphysics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 10, 2007

One popular theme these days is that the belief in God is irrational. As a philosopher, I find that view rather interesting.

Whether a belief is irrational or not depends entirely on what is meant by “irrational” in this context. There is extensive debate in philosophy about this, but here are two intuitive ways a belief can be irrational.

First, the belief is such that it cannot possibly be true. Two clear examples of this sort of thing include contradictions and contrary claims. A contradiction is a claim that is false in virtue of its logical structure-it cannot possibly be true. For example, the claim P & -P (“P and not P”). is a contradiction. Two claims are contrary when they both cannot be true at the same time (yet both could be false). For example, if someone believes that all killing is wrong and also believes that capital punishment is right, then he has beliefs that are contrary to one another. To believe claims that cannot be true would clearly be irrational.

In the case of God, there seems to be no such problem. The claim “God exists” does not express a contradiction. In fact, philosophers such as St. Anselm have argued that the claim is necessarily true.

The second way a belief can be irrational is in the way the belief is justified. In this case, a belief is irrational if it is based on evidence/reasoning that does not adequately justify the belief. In other words, beliefs that are based on fallacious reasoning are irrational. For example, if Jane believes that Hilary Clinton would be a poor president because Jane hates other women, then her belief is irrational. A person’s hatred of women has no relevance to the truth (or falsity ) of the claim that Hilary would be a poor President.

It is important to keep in mind that a belief could be mistaken, yet still not be irrational in this sense. For example, I believe that the computer in my office at FAMU is still there. It was there when I last checked, the door is kept locked, and the office manager goes to to office daily and would presumably call me if it was stolen. Given this evidence my belief that my computer is still on my desk is hardly irrational. But, I could be wrong. As I’m typing, someone could be loading the stolen PC into their car, eager to get the $15 it would no doubt command at a pawn shop.

Turning back to God, many people believe in God for fallacious reasons. They believe because some people tell them to (fallacious appeal to authority). They believe out of fear (appeal to fear) or hope (wishful thinking). They believe because everyone they know does (appeal to popularity). In these cases, the belief in God would be irrational and unjustified.

But, philosophy and theology are rife with cogent arguments for God’s existence. While one might dispute the arguments put forth by Anselm, Augustine, Descartes, Locke, Leibniz and others, they present considered arguments that make a reasonable case. A person who believes in God on the basis of considered evidence and reasoning is not irrational. She might be mistaken, but that is true of almost any belief-even those in the sciences. If a person disagrees with the conclusion of such arguments it is not enough to dismiss them as irrational. They must be properly engaged as arguments. By presenting such arguments, these thinkers have earned the right to be taken seriously.

So, the general charge that belief in God is irrational is mistaken. Some people who believe in God are irrational in their belief and others are rational in their belief.

The same can be said about any belief. People believe scientific claims without adequate justification, yet no one would say that the belief in science is irrational. The belief in God deserves the same treatment. To do otherwise is a senseless and needless insult to those who carefully consider the rather important matter of God and find that reason and evidence point them towards belief.

What do I believe? Stay tuned.

Global Warming Denial

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Science by Michael LaBossiere on May 3, 2007

No, I’m not denying global warming. Ecomaniacs can put away their rage and the oil folks can put away their checkbooks. :)

I happened to see a segment on CNN about scientists who dispute the received view about global warming. In the segment claims were made that people who do this are persecuted in various ways, such as being fired.

While there is strong inductive evidence that human activity is a causal factor in global warming, there are still some grounds for doubt. After all, scientific reasoning of this sort is inductive causal reasoning and a hallmark of inductive reasoning is that the evidence gives the conclusion only a probability of being true. In short, in inductive reasoning you can always be wrong despite the best evidence and most careful reasoning. This occurs because inductive reasoning involves making that inductive leap beyond the evidence.

In the case of caual reasoning, as David Hume pointed out, we make an inference based on past connections and infer that X causes Y because of a proper correlation between X and Y. But, we can always turn out to be wrong because (as Hume argued) we never actually see a necessary connection or causal power.

So, from a logical standpoint, it is not irrational to be suspicious of the claims about global warming. All the claims put forth as evidence could be true, yet the conclusion about humanity’s role could be false.

Of course, the mere possibility of such a result does not provide good grounds for rejecting a claim-after all, if we accepted this approach we would have to doubt everything (such as whether hot stoves burn fingers or whether drinking a glass of Draino would be a bad idea) and that would be, to say the least, a bit crazy. More rationally, we should accept or reject this claim based on the quality of the evidence and the reasoning. So far, both seem quite good.

However, dissenting view points should be given consideration if they are well reasoned and supported by evidence. After all, even a well-established claim or theory can be shown to be flawed (history is full of such examples). Further, scientists who dissent against the majority opinion should not be persecuted. Science and philosophy are well served by those who dissent and doubt. At the very least, they force the majority to defend the accepted views and help keep the majority from becoming intellectually lazy or sloppy. This is not to say that any opinion is as good as any other-this is most definitely not the case. Some opinions are quite wrong.

My own view is that humans have contributed to recent environmental changes. The evidence seems quite clear-we produce large scale environmental effects that intuitively seem capable of impacting the climate. Of course, I’m a philosopher and not a climatologist-so all I can do is assess the quality of the reasoning as an expert and the evidence as an informed amateur.

Plato & The Law of Attraction

Posted in Metaphysics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 2, 2007
Oddly enough, people who push the “law of attraction” claim that Plato accepted this principle.In the Republic, Book IV, Plato writes: “It would seem, Adeimantus, that the direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future life. Does not like always attract like?”It must be noted that Socrates is discussing education with Adeimantus and the others. He is not endorsing anything like the so called “law of attraction.” His view is that if a person is properly educated in his/her youth, s/he will tend to continue on the proper path. This is a far cry from the rather odd view of causality put forth in the “law of attraction” presented in works like The Secret.

If you doubt this, pick up a credible translation of the Republic and read Book IV carefully. You’ll see quite clearly what Plato is and is not claiming here.

It is also claimed by some that Aristotle held a view like that presented in The Secret. As a professional philosopher, I can assure you that is not the case. Again, if you have doubts I’d suggesting reading Aristotle’s writings. You’ll find some interesting stuff in there, but nothing like the “law of attraction” being pushed these days.

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Dog Hero and Pit Bull Bans

Posted in Ethics, Law by Michael LaBossiere on May 2, 2007

A brave Jack Russel Terrier died saving children from marauding pit bulls. The terrier, named George, held off the two pit bulls thus allowing five children to escape. George survived the attack but was so badly mauled that he was put down.

This incident shows that good dogs are truly our best friends-they are willing to die for us. It also shows that people create some very bad dogs and do not take responsibility for their pets. That is both sad and morally wrong.

I’ve had mixed experiences with pitbulls myself. I’ve been attacked by a pit bull while running (no injuries on my part, beyond some scrapes I received from sticking a fallen tree into the dog’s mouth), Isis has been attacked by pit bulls in the dog park and I’ve seen plenty of pit bull fights. But, I’ve also known some very nice pit bulls who are proper dogs.

In all these cases the main factor has been the owner. People who chose dogs from lines that have been “bred mean” and then encourage that tendency (I’ve seen people slapping their pits to make them mad enough to fight other dogs) are making the greatest contribution to the pit bull problem.

Because of these bad owners many places have imposed bans on pit bulls. For example, some dog parks not allow them and even some areas of the US ban them completely.

Because of my own bad pit bull experiences, I am very sympathetic to such bans. When I’m sitting in the dog park watching some genius slapping his pit bull puppy and trying to get it to fight other dogs, I think that such bans might not be a bad idea.

But, from one moral standpoint, pit bull bans could be seen as wrong because they restrict all pit bulls based on the poor choices and actions of some pit bull breeders and owners.

Of course, the ban could be justified on utilitarian grounds-although some good pits and their owners would suffer, the harms prevented by banning pits in general could outweigh this suffering.

At this time, I’m still divided on pit bull bans. My inclination is that it is probably better to deal with matters individually. For example, particular individuals could be banned from dog parks, etc. because their dogs are known to be vicious. Of course, if there are many bad pit bulls, dealing with individuals might be too costly in terms of time and resources. In that case, areas rife with bad pits might require sweeping bans to protect the many from the misdeeds of the few…at the expense of some innocents

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