One general challenge is getting people to act properly. What counts as proper behavior is, of course, a rather contentious matter. However, it seems reasonable to believe that at the most basic level harming others is not proper behavior.
It can be argued that self interest will motivate people to act properly. The stock argument (which is based on Hobbes, Locke, and Smith) is that a rational person will realize that behaving badly is not in his self interest because the consequences to himself will be negative.
Naturally, a person might be tempted to act badly if she thinks she can avoid these consequences, which is why it is rather important to make sure that these consequences are rather difficult to avoid. In addition to this concern, there are also other concerns about self-interest as a regulating factor on bad behavior.
First, for self-interest to be a regulating factor, a person’s self interest must coincide with acting correctly. If a person’s self-interest (or what he believed is his self-interest) goes against acting correctly, then he will be inclined to act incorrectly. Not surprisingly, various philosophers have tried to argue that what is truly in a person’s self interest is to act correctly. While there are some good arguments (such as those presented by Socrates) for this view, there are also good arguments that this is not the case. Naturally, from a purely practical standpoint the trick is to get people to believe that their self-interest coincides with not acting badly.
Second, even if it is assumed that it is in a person’s interest to act correctly this will not motivate a person to act correctly unless a person knows what is in her self-interest. While it is tempting to assume that a person automatically knows what is in her self interest, this need not be the case. After all, a person can think that something is in her best interest, yet be mistaken about this. A person might be misled by his emotions, confused or wrong about the facts (to give but a few examples).
Third, even if it is assumed that a person knows what is in her self-interest and that it is in her self-interest to act correctly, there is still the question of whether the person will chose to act in accord with her self-interest or not. To use a simple example, a person might know that exercising is in her self-interest, but be unable to stick with exercising. Roughly put, a person might have knowledge but lack the will or motivation to act on this knowledge.
Thus, self-interest can play a role in regulating behavior-provided that it in accord with correct behavior, the person has knowledge and the will to act on this knowledge.
One of the great problems in political and moral philosophy is that of the balance of law. Plato, in his ring of Gyges tale, was one of the first to present this problem. It was later developed by thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke and Mill.
The problem can be presented in the following way. If there is not enough law, then people will tend to behave badly. While thinkers varied in just how bad the bad behavior would be, the general consensus is that people will not be very nice. But, if there is too much law, then people will be too restricted and this leads to a wide variety of problems. As with porridge, the ideal is to get the laws just right: enough so that bad behavior is checked, but not so many that people are strangled in rules and limits.
Not surprising, people disagree a great deal about how many laws (and what sort of laws) are just right. For example, liberals in the United States tend to think we need lots of laws to control corporations, to protect minorities, to protect the environment and to provide social goods. As another example, while American conservatives claim they are for “small government”, they tend to want more laws limiting things such as sex, drugs and various personal liberties they disagree with. this nicely matches the view that the guiding “principle” of most people is “people should do what I want and not do what I do not want them to do.” So, people tend to favor many laws against what they dislike and for what they like. They tend to be against laws that are for what they are against and against what they are for.
Also not surprisingly, thinkers also disagree. For example, Mill argues for fairly limited restrictions on liberty, while Aristotle held that individuals must be greatly restricted (for their own good, of course). Interestingly, these thinkers all agree that the laws should be such that they produce the best results. What they disagree about is the extent (and content) needed to produce these results.
While discussing the abstract matter is easy enough, the most significant challenges come about when specific matters are being discussed. For example, consider the oil that is contaminating the ocean off the coast of America. This specific situation raises questions about the extent to which the oil industry should be regulated. Naturally, the big abstract problem arises on this level as well. If there is too much regulation, then companies will not be inclined to drill for the oil that almost all of us use. If there is too little regulation (or it is not enforced or it is not good), then oil companies will do what people tend to do in such situations-what they think is “best” for them, even though it generally is not really the best.
Interestingly enough, the balance of law tends to see saw in a very predictable pattern: first, there are few (or no) laws. Then something bad happens. Then there are more laws. Then people get lax about the laws. Then something bad happens. Then people create more laws. Then people get lax about the laws. Then…Well, you get the picture.
In the case of the example at hand, there will probably be “tough new laws” passed by Congress to regulate the oil industry. These laws will be added to the piles of previous laws that were created following past badness. Then, people will grow lax and there will be another disaster. Then more laws will be created. Repeat until doomsday.
While the news folks are focusing mainly on the oil spill, the situation between North Korea and South Korea has been heating up. The most recent catalyst is the discovery that the South Korean warship that sank was apparently torpedoed by the North Koreans. In response, the United States has been attempting to put pressure on North Korea. The United States is also flexing its muscles by planning joint exercises with the South Korean military. This will include anti-submarine operations.
North Korea is, as usual, not taking things very well and has been making various threats. Meanwhile, the Chinese seem to be considering what to do. On one hand, a war in the region would probably not be advantageous to China. On the other hand, the Chinese certainly do not want American influence in the region to grow. After all, the Chinese have created a few incidents with the United States military in the region.
This is, obviously enough, a rather serious situation. Perhaps the most reasonable approach is to work with China to defuse the situation and work towards a peaceful resolution. Of course, North Korea’s rogue behavior cannot be allowed to go unchecked. After all, a lack of response will merely encourage more rogue behavior which could escalate into war.
If China can be convinced that such behavior is not in its best interest, then China’s influence could be rather useful in this matter. However, if the Chinese would prefer to escalate matters to push against the United States, then things could get much worse. As such, China is a key player in this situation. Given that we have been such a good customer, perhaps they will be willing to work with us.
Interestingly enough, when Obama seems to be doing something wrong the pundits and others say that it is Obama’s X (where X is something bad that happened under the Bush administration). At this time the oil leak is being considered as a candidate for Obama’s Katrina. Katrina, as you will recall, was a paradigm of government inefficiency and poor crisis management. So, the obvious issue here is whether or not it is fair to compare the situations.
On one hand, the comparison seems apt. First, mismanagement played a role in setting up both disasters. In both cases politicians had a hand in this. Second, both cases involved a delayed response on the part of the government. Third, the responses made in both cases tended to be inadequate.
On the other hand, the comparison does break down in some important ways. First, Katrina was clearly within the responsibility of the government. In the case of the oil spill, the initial responsibility was on BP and BP claimed it could handle the situation. Perhaps the administration should have assumed that BP was mistaken (or perhaps even being deceptive), but this is clearly an important difference. In the case of Katrina, there was no corporation that caused the storm-it was a straight forward natural disaster of the sort that the government is supposed to handle. The BP situation is a corporate disaster of the sort that the corporation should have been equipped to handle, which leads to the third point. Third, the government does not have the equipment that is needed to contain and repair such oil spills. This is because the government is not an oil company. BP is, which is why it makes sense that BP should have been able to handle the situation. True, the Coast Guard does have some very limited ability to deal with spills. However, this is what the Coast Guard has been doing.
However, the government has failed in two important ways. The first was in allowing BP to operate the well without having the means to effectively deal with such an accident. The second is the failure of the federal government to step in and do everything that it could do to address the situation. For example, the federal government should have started organizing the onshore cleanup (using BP’s money, of course) so that people would be trained, equipped and in place as soon as the oil hit the shores. As a second example, a comprehensive plan is needed to address the economic and environmental disaster that will arise from this situation. Plans and contingency plans should have been in place weeks ago.
There are some interesting ironies about this situation. One is that just as Obama was giving in to “drill, baby, drill” this disaster occurred. The second is that the pundits who have been slamming Obama for his alleged desire to expand government power and regulation are now slamming him for not getting “big government” involved right away and on a massive scale.
My considered view is that the situation is not yet Obama’s Katrina. As noted above, one important distinction is the cause of the disaster. Another is that while the government could have made a huge difference in New Orleans, the same is not true in this case. After all, the government does not have the equipment to do well repair at the bottom of the ocean. That is, obviously enough, something that BP should have been able to do.
That said, the situation is still developing. It does have the potential to be his Katrina or perhaps even worse.
Interestingly, the various disasters that have been dominating recent news are playing out like bad movie sequels. To be specific, each new disaster takes the dominant theme of the previous one and then seems to try to top it. In the case of Toyota, it was found that they were a bit too cozy with the folks who were supposed to be regulating them. In the case of the financial mess, it was once again found that the regulators and the “regulated” were very cozy. It was also found that some of the foxes guarding the other foxes (to keep them from the hen house) were viewing naked foxes online. In the latest disaster, the BP oil spill, the regulatory agency folks seem to have been cozy with the drilling companies and some were also apparently viewing porn. The new twist was that at least one regulator admits to using Meth. God only knows what will be next.
Since Obama is president now, he will be criticized for these regulatory failures. However, the problems with the regulators of drilling are prior to Obama (2000-2008). While it is tempting to put the blame on the Bush administration, this problem seems to be a systemic one that crosses party lines and administrations. After all, the Obama administration is rather cozy with Wall Street.
The main problem in these cases is that there is a lack of enforced regulation that keeps the people who are supposed to be regulating from getting too cozy with the people they are supposed to regulate. In short, there is a serious problem with corruption and undue influence. While some aspects of the problem can be addressed with revised regulations (and enforcement of existing laws), regulations are only as good as the people who enforce them (or fail to do so). This indicates the classic problem of how to get ethical and competent people into such positions and how to keep them from succumbing to corruption. It is, in short, the general problem of good government.
Some obvious fixes include outlawing gifts, having regular “inspections” of regulators to determine what they are doing (or not doing), and checking for conflicts of interest (such as close relations to the folks in the industry to be regulated). Other fixes including having stronger regulations that are harder to bypass or work around. After all, weak points in the laws make it easier for corruption to grab hold. Of course, these weak points are not the fault of the regulators-they are created by politicians by accident or by design. In the case of designed weak points and loop holes, these serve to undermine good regulatory practices by building in ways for companies to get around regulations. Typically companies have to use their influence to take advantages of weak points, which is how corruption can get started.
So, good laws and good people are the fix. As always. Good luck with that.
As a final point, I want to discuss the drugs and the porn. My rough hypothesis is that the cozy relationships played a causal role. One possibility is that corruption breeds corruption. In other words, when a person has a moral weakness in one area, it makes it easier for other moral weakness to take hold. A second possibility is that one corruption did not contribute to another, but that both are the effects of bad character. A third possibility is that the cozy relation between industry and the regulators left the regulators with little real work to do. As the saying goes, idle hands do the devil’s work (that is, clicking links to porn).
Interestingly enough, porn would probably be a useful indicator. To be specific, if a government employee has the time to view porn at work, then s/he is probably not doing his/her job properly. As such, checking for porn in the workplace would be a good idea (and not just for the usual reasons).
Well, not quite. However, a drug that is supposed to boost a woman’s libido is being considered for approval by the FDA. This drug, flibanserin, is supposed to have three positive effects: 1) increase in sexual desire, 2) greater sexual satisfaction, and 3) a reduction in emotional distress. Roughly put, it promises better sex through chemistry.
Since men who suffer from erectile dysfunction have various erection corrections to chose from, it seems only fair that women have a similar opportunity to rectify their sexual problems. Given the delay in the development of comparable drugs for women, it might be suspected that old attitudes about female sexuality were a factor. After all, the old stereotypes are that while men are always interested in sex, it is natural for women to lack sexual desire and to merely endure sex without experiencing pleasure. As such, one might claim, a lack of sexual desire and pleasure are not conditions that need correction but merely the natural state for women. Of course, research seems to show that this is not the case and thus the drug would seem to be addressing real problems.
Rather than get into a debate about the true nature of female sexuality, I will instead address the matter of medication. If the drug is addressing a medical problem, then it seems reasonable for women who have that problem to use the drug. This would be analogous to the situation of men who medically need Viagra and to the situation of people who need blood pressure medication.
However, the drug might also be used in cases in which the conditions it is supposed to address are caused by factors that the drug itself does not correct. For example, if a woman is not experiencing desire because of stress or a poor relationship, the drug will merely cover up those problems with a chemically created pseudo-desire. As another example, if a woman is not enjoying sex because she and her partner are not doing a very good job, then the drug will merely cover up that problem as well. As a final example, if a woman is feeling distressed because of real problems, then the drug will merely mask the feelings without doing anything to solve the problems.
It might be replied that even in such cases the drug would be a real improvement because it would enhance the woman’s quality of life: she would feel more desire, more pleasure and less distress. Surely, one might argue, that would justify using the medicine?
That is, of course, a reasonable point. After all, when I take aspirin because of a running injury, it does not help heal the injury. It merely reduces the pain. But, of course, taking the aspirin is fine. That is, provided that masking the pain does not interfere with addressing the underlying cause of the pain. If it does, then the aspirin will actually contribute to making things worse. An even better analogy might be alcohol: it is said that alcohol can help with sexual desire-but that is hardly a desirable solution.
Likewise for the drug-if a woman medicates herself and does not address the underlying problems, then these problems will remain unresolved. They would either tend to remain the same or even grow worse, perhaps requiring more or new drugs. As such, it would be more sensible to address the underlying problems rather than masking them.
Another reply might be that this criticism would seem to be yet another example of sexual stereotyping. After all, why single out this drug for criticism?
This is a reasonable concern and would be a serious objection if my view were limited to this drug. However, my view of this drug is based on a general principle about drugs, namely that masking problems using drugs is not a wise approach. This is not to say that I am opposed to drugs. But, I think that we have created an unfortunate approach to medication and health issues that has been partially fueled by the pharmaceutical companies. To be specific, there is a general tendency to over-medicate.
In the case of this specific drug, I have no issue with women who have a legitimate medical need for treatment. However, I think it would be a poor choice to use this drug without first determining the cause of the problems and the possibility of addressing them. While I am no expect on female libido, I suspect that in many cases the cause is not a medical disorder but a life problem (the relationship, work, stress, and so on). While a drug might address the effects of life problems, it would not address the causes.
The news, it seems, is in danger. The most obvious sign is the fact that printed news media is not doing as well as it once did. However, other forms of news media are facing challenges as well.
One obvious factor is the web. Newspapers, which were having a hard enough time competing against TV, have not fared very well against this medium. Part of this is simply the way advances in technology work (when was the last time you heard a town crier or received a telegram?). Part of this is due to the disease of “freeitis” that infects the web. For some odd reason, many of the folks driving the expansion of the web were able to sell business on the idea that they could make money by providing stuff for free. While this has helped Google (they make good money putting ads among all that free content), this has not worked out so well for the news providers. After all, it makes little sense to pay for news that you can get for free on the web. Amazingly enough, few of the geniuses behind this realized that free stuff generally does not generate much in the way of profits without there being stuff that is not free.
Obviously enough, news companies need to find ways to monetize the news on the web. While it will be difficult to cure people of freeitis, it can be done. People will, after all, pay for content. The success of iTunes, Kindle and so on have shown this. However, the news folks will need to step up to the challenge.
Another factor is consolidation. Most of the media is now owned by a very few large corporations and this has helped reduce the number of news sources. While this allows large news companies to exist and gain the advantages of having considerable resources, it does tend to thin out the alternatives. This can, as some have claimed, lead to media bias due to a lack of diversity.
This challenge is a tough one. After all, getting the news can be an expensive operation and this seems to require that news companies be large. For example, a small town newspaper or blogger probably cannot afford to send journalists to Iraq to cover the war or even to Washington to report on politics there. That said, smaller news operations can do well, provided they find a niche. Interestingly enough, local bloggers and news has been doing quite well in some places. After all, CNN is not going to cover a local clam festival in Maine or the local events in Tallahassee, Florida.
Yet another factor is that the news business model is based primarily on advertising. As such, the news has to provide what will attract an audience. One effect of this is the existence of partisan (biased) news services. Fox News and MSNBC rather clearly present a political agenda and even CNN has been accused of a liberal bias.
But, someone might point out, Fox News is doing great. How is this a problem? The problem is not that Fox News and others are not providing content. Rather it is that they are not really providing news. While a degree of bias is unavoidable, there is a clear and meaningful distinction between news reporting and commentary masquerading (often very poorly) as news. We are in an ocean of news, but it is a case of ”water, water all around…but not a drop to drink.”
In terms of fixing this, the fix lies with mostly with us. The media folks give us what we want and if we want pseudo-news, that is what they give us. As such, we need to be more critical of the news and push the media folks towards being fair and balanced. We also need to push for higher quality content.
It might be wondered why this matters. That is, why worry about the news? Why not just let the news media become partisan fluff and let the blogs take over?
One selfish answer is that most bloggers need the news. After all, it is rather hard to write about current events, politics and so on without a source of information. Like most bloggers, I shamelessly make use of the news. I am, however, careful to credit my sources and provide links to the originals. I also make a point of subscribing to news magazines even when I could get the information for free.
That said, much of the information in the news is provided to the news companies by governments, businesses, press agents, and non-professionals (like the iReporters of CNN). In reality, news companies devote few resources to investigative journalism. As such, bloggers and their kin could do a lot of what the news folks do now (that is, get emails from politicians and companies).
However, the professional news agencies do engage in journalism and investigation that the bloggers and their kin lack the resources to do. Additionally, the professional organizations have (or often have) credibility that arises from a review process that bloggers and the kin generally cannot match. Naturally, their are bloggers who are professional grade and news organizations do make serious mistakes (and suffer from bias). Interestingly, bloggers who become professional grade often transform from being just bloggers to true news folks and editorialists. As such, what might occur is not so much an extermination of the news in favor of blogging, but an evolution of both blogging and news towards a somewhat new form of information and commentary. After all, the traditional news folks have moved towards the web and many bloggers have started moving towards the roles played by the traditional news folks.
Another answer is that the news, despite its problems, is a critical part of democracy and having informed citizens. It is no accident that the founding fathers provided protection for the press and also recognized the importance of the news. The folks in the media often serve a vital role in exposing problems and dangers-such as corrupt politicians, dangerous products and so on. As such, the news folks are an important part of our society and social system. Professional news and professional commentary are well worth preserving. While times seem tough now, I have confidence that this is primarily a transition and evolutionary phase for the news-rather than a slide into extinction.
When people learn that I am a philosopher they sometimes ask me if I believe in various odd things, such as ancient astronauts.
While I do admit that I do have an interest in the idea, this is not primarily due to my being a philosopher. Rather, it is based mostly on my love for science fiction. That said, it seems worthwhile to look at the subject with a philosophical eye.
In terms of evidence for ancient astronauts and similar high-tech ancients, people point to various stories about what seem to be amazing technology, strange ancient illustrations that seem to be of high tech stuff, and even what seem to be models of aircraft and ancient runways.
Of course, each of these categories can easily be countered. In the case of the stories, they can be accounted for as being just that-stories. After all, people write science fiction and fantasy stories today. If, a few thousand year hence, people read through our fiction and inferred that all that was described (such as warp drives) existed, then they would be clearly in error.
In regards to the strange illustrations, they can be interpreted as being of high technology (such as spaceships or aircraft). However, they can also be explained in a different way. While some do resemble technology, this can be simply a matter of people today seeing what simply seems to be there, but is not. The main problem is, of course, that none of the illustrations are clearly and unequivocally images of high technology. As such, their value as evidence is rather limited.
In regards to the models of aircraft, these can be explained without reference to there being ancient aircraft. One possibility is that they are models of birds or other flying creatures. Another possibility is that they are not models of aircraft that really existed, but perhaps speculative models. After all, thinkers like Leonardo envisioned machines far ahead of their times and long before they existed for real.
In regards to the alleged runways and other markings that are best seen from the air, these need not be evidence for ancient flying machines. After all, it is easy enough to envision what something would look like from above: simply draw it on paper or the ground, then look down on it. Such a drawing can then be recreated on a large scale-just as architectural plans can be transformed from small paper drawings into giant buildings.
However, it is possible that the ancients did have some impressive technology. One excellent example is the Antikythera mechanism-an ancient computer that seems have been designed to determine various celestial events. Given this sort of technology, it is not inconceivable that ancient humans built flying machines of some type.
Of course, the obvious problem is that despite all the alleged evidence, no one has found an solid evidence of such machines. That is, no engines, no wings, nor any other piece of technology. Without such solid evidence, the belief in such ancient flying (or space) technology is built on a very weak foundation.
Of course, the ancient machines could have rusted away or otherwise have been lost due to the years and the ravages of nature. While this is possible and would explain the absence of such evidence, the better explanation would seem to be that such machines never existed.
While the economic crisis hit the United States hard, it hit Greece and some other European countries harder. Greece seems to be the worst off-there has been rioting in the streets (never a good sign).
While Greece once enjoyed an excellent rating from a financial standpoint, the evidence seems to be that the country was cooking the books with the aid of certain financial companies. The gist seems to be that Greece was hiding its debts in a way that enabled it to maintain a good rating when, in fact, it was high risk. This is, of course, all part of the pattern of how the financial evil magic of Wall Street enabled economic chaos to rip through the world.
Interestingly enough, most (if not all) of this seems to be completely legal. This is hardly shocking, since the folks who write the laws are rather close to the Wall Street folks (identical, in some cases-which is as close as one can get).
What is most interesting is that failed terrorist attacks stir up far greater concern and responses than the financial misdeeds that have done so much damage. Of course, the financial folks are not considered terrorists. After all, they do not aim to create fear and terror. The fear of unemployment, the terror of losing one’s house, the horror of riots and financial collapses are merely the side effects of their misdeeds.
In response to the Greek situation, other countries have stepped in to provide money. This includes money from American taxpayers. In short, the rest of us are being forced to pay for the misdeeds of those who profited from creating this financial nightmare. Worse, little or nothing is being changed to prevent it from happening again.
At this point, I am not claiming that this is the start of the downward spiral of Western civilization. That is a matter for historians to sort out after the collapse. However, financial ruin is a good place for the end to begin. Thank you Wall Street for your contribution to bringing down the world. Enjoy those profits.