Here it is, the day before the arrival of 2010. I have been watching DVDs of Space 1999, recently saw 2001 and have been thinking about watching 2010 again. Interestingly enough, all those shows and movies seem to have been way off in so many ways. No Moonbase and no Hal 9000 (but we do have Droid). That is one problem that science fiction faces when tomorrow becomes yesterday.
But, the world is supposed to end in 2012, so perhaps we will only have a short while to gripe about the lack of a moonbase and intelligent, homicidal PCs (though no doubt Google is working on both of these…so keep your eye on the Droids). Of course, the 2012 prediction is based on the Mayan calender taking 2012 to be the end of a cycle. Thinking this is the end of the world is a bit like thinking that the world will end on December 31, 2009 because that is when this year’s calender ends.
In any case, have a Happy New Year.
One point in going someplace new is experiencing new things and seeing differences. Before I went to Puerto Rico, I thought it would be different from the States, but also similar in many ways. What I found confirmed this.
Being what my Puerto Rican girlfriend calls an Americano colony, it is only natural that Puerto Rico would have many similarities to the States. Of course, American cultural influence via our products and culture is huge all across the world. On the plus side, it can be useful and even re-assuring to have familiar stores and brands on hand. On the downside, such glomogenitzation (global homogenization) means that when you go someplace new it is less new and different than you might hope. Fortunately, the corporate cultures have yet to assimilate and destroy all the differences. When that day comes then there will be little reason left to travel-after all, all McDonalds are basically the same.
One of the main differences I noticed is that Spanish style architecture and color schemes are predominant. Naturally, chain stores and businesses follow the standard plans and colors. So, for example, a Walgreens in Puerto Rico looks just like a Walgreens in Tallahassee. Of course, Florida (which was once Spanish territory) also has similar architecture and color schemes in many places.
Another difference I noticed is that the ACLU and PETA would have two fits and a half here. When we went to see the Christmas (and here they are Christmas lights-not “winter holiday” lights) and New Year lights at a town square I also noticed a manger scene. While I have seen manger scenes in the States, this was right in the town hall. While I am all for the separation of church and state when it comes to keeping religious dominance at bay (and protecting faith from the corrupting touch of politics) I actually enjoyed seeing the manger scene there. Of course, it might have been the fact that was the way things were when I was a kid. It might also be the fact that I’m not a big fan of the way political correctness and “sensitivity” is handled and imposed.
While rooster fighting is generally illegal in the States, it is legal in Puerto Rico and is, in fact, openly advertised. Naturally, I am a bit appalled at the idea of making animals fight for the amusement and profit of people. Then again, I have met a few roosters that seemed to be in need of taking a spur or two to the face. Now, if they had geese fighting each other, then I would be for that. I am not a big fan of those feathered bastards other than having them served alongside some mashed potatoes.
Being an obsessive-compulsive runner, I have to run even when on vacation. While visiting Puerto Rico I ran everyday. For the most part, running in Puerto Rico was just like running in the States. Just like in the states, I had a few drivers honk and flip me off as they drove by. That made me feel right at home-after all, senseless hostility towards runners is all part of the American running experience.
There are two main differences between running in the States and running in Puerto Rico. The first is that it is always hot here. I would get up between 5:30 and 6:30 each day to run and it was typically in the mid 70s already. During the day the temperature would soar up into the high 90s. This is, I should remind you, in December. December is winter here, although winter seems to mean that it is marginally less hot that the summer. By “marginally less” I really mean “not at all.” By way of comparison, December here is like August in Tallahassee, Florida. So, if you plan on running in Puerto Rico, be prepared for the heat.
The second difference is that many community tracks have a shirt rule for men. I found this out when I was stopped by the track guard (tracks there also seem to have official enforcers of the track rules) and told, in Spanish, that I needed to wear a t-shirt while running on the track. At first I thought I was just being messed with, but the track rules had the shirt requirement posted. After I got the t-shirt and returned, I saw that there was a uniformed guard at the track and she watched me the whole time. Two of the tracks I went to did not have the t-shirt rule. Naturally, I did not bring any running shirts with me since 1) I knew Puerto Rico would be incredibly hot and 2) I had never heard of any track or city having a rule that required men to wear shirts while running. I had heard of some isolated communities that did have such ordinances-typically put through by mean old ladies who are apparently driven into righteous frenzies of anger by the sight of a man’s bare chest.
So, if you visit Puerto Rico and plan to run on the tracks, be sure to bring a suitable running shirt. I only had normal t-shirts and they made running around the track in the sweltering heat rather unpleasant.
I’m currently in Puerto Rico, having flown her from Orlando on the 21st This is my first trip here, so it is all new to me. Or, rather, new in some ways and old in others. Naturally, I am inclined to try to wedge my experiences here into familiar categories and ways of seeing things. For example, since I am from Maine and have lived in Ohio and Florida, I tend to see things in comparison with those states. Interestingly enough, Puerto Rico has similarities to all three. Not surprisingly, the temperature is very similar to that of Florida in the summer-that is, way too hot for a Yankee like me. There are also similar plants such as palm trees.
The sidewalks and general feel of the smaller towns reminds me a great deal of many small Maine and Ohio towns. I know that might sound odd, but sidewalks say a great deal about a place-at least to runners. I rather like the fact that sidewalks are common and I had no problem running around safely. In contrast, Tallahassee has fewer sidewalks relative to where I have been.
The architecture shows, obviously enough, strong Spanish influences. Oddly enough, this makes some of the public buildings convey the same sort of old European feel as some buildings in New England. While the Spanish style is different from the old English style they do seem to convey a similar sort of feeling. Or perhaps this is just me. The towns also have a town square, which is very similar to the New England approach of having a town center. Not surprisingly, the coastal areas have a similar feel to Maine coastal cities. My girlfriend, who is from here, noted that Portland looked very similar to some places she had been in Puerto Rico.
It is my position that the life of injustice is preferable to the life of justice. In support of this claim I will show that the material goods are what truly matter in life and that injustice provides the best means of reaching said goods.
In his work Utilitarianism[i] J.S. Mill presents the well-known argument that the way to prove that something is desirable is to show that people desire it. If Mill is correct, then it should follow that a way to prove that something is preferable is to show that people prefer it. It is my contention that people prefer material goods and that they are thus preferable.
In support of my claim I offer the following support. First, if you ask people what they want, the most common answers, at least in my experience, involve material things-money, jobs, power, cars and so on. Of course, this is based on my experience, which might be unusual. Hence, there is a need for a broader base of evidence. This brings me to a second category of evidence-the media.
A quick glance at the leading magazines of today clearly shows what people prefer. Business magazines, such as Business Week, extort the value of wealth and success in business. Celebrity magazines, such as People glory in the fame and wealth of the stars. Turning to television, channels such as VH1 and MTV show the houses, cars, fame and wealth of celebrities and, of course, these things are all held up as being of great value. Many of the music videos, a defining art form of the 21st century, present the glory of wealth, fame and power. Given that art tends to reflect the values of a culture, it seems evident that wealth, fame and power are valued and preferred in this culture. If additional evidence is needed, a survey of the rest of the media will reveal that the general glorification of wealth, success and material goods is common. Thus it may be safely concluded that the media provides ample evidence that material success is preferable.
Third, there is the fact that many people pursue material goods at the expense of non-material goods. For example, people are willing to engage in degrading activities for material gain or fame. Reality television shows such as Fear Factor, Flavor of Love, the various versions of Survivor and similar shows make this quite evident. Magazines such as Maxim, Playboy, Playgirl, Penthouse and Hustler also make it clear that people are willing to engage in degrading behavior for the sake of money and fame. As another example, people are willing to sacrifice their physical and mental health in order to acquire money. In Japan, for example, people have been known to work themselves to death. In the United States, people are willing to work long hours and focus on their careers at the expense of their personal relationships in order to achieve material success. As a final example, people are quite willing to engage in immoral behavior for material success. People lie, cheat, steal and murder in order to gain material goods. Dictators throughout history ranging from Caesar through Hussein have been willing to employ the most terrible methods to secure their material power. These facts indicate that people greatly value material goods and, given the above argument, it would follow that these goods are preferable.
Fourth, people are willing to risk punishment in order to acquire material goods. Prisons are full of people, ranging from former corporate officers to petty thieves, who committed crimes in the attempt to make material gains or in search of material pleasures. Given that people will risk terrible punishments in order to gain material goods, it seems reasonable to believe that these goods are preferable.
Overall, given the arguments presented above, it seems eminently reasonable to accept that material goods are what people prefer and hence are preferable. What remains is showing how being unjust enables one to better acquire such goods.
Consider, if you will, two people who are each starting their own software companies. One, Bad Bill is unjust. The other, Sweet Polly is just. Now, imagine a situation in which both Bill and Polly stumble across a lost CD at a technology expo. This CD, of course, contains key trade secrets of another competing company. Polly will, of course, return the CD to the rightful owners and will not look at any of the details- the information does not belong to her. Bill will, of course, examine the secrets and thus gain an edge on the competition. This will increase his immediate chance of success over the competition.
Now imagine what will happen if Sweet Polly continues along the path of justice. She will never take unfair advantage of her competition, she will never exploit unjust loopholes in the tax laws, and she will never put people out of work just to gain a boost to the value of her company’s stock. She will always offer the best products she can provide at a fair price.
In direct contrast, if Bad Bill follows his path of injustice, he will use every advantage he can gain to defeat his competition and maximize his profits. He will gladly exploit any tax loophole in order to minimize his expenses. He will put people out of work in order to boost the value of the company stock. His main concern will be getting as much as possible for his products and he will make them only good enough that they can be sold.
Given these approaches and the history of business in America, it is most likely that Sweet Polly’s company will fail. The best she can hope for is being a very, very small fish in a vast corporate ocean. In stark contrast, Bad Bill’s company will swell with profits and grow to be a dominant corporation.
In the real world, Bad Bill’s unjust approach could lead him to a bad end. However, even in reality the chance is rather slight and, given Glaucon’s conditions, it must be assumed that Bill is never caught and never punished. In the real world, Polly’s chances of success would be rather low, this showing that her choice is a poor one-even in reality. Adding in Glaucon’s conditions, she would have nothing but her justice and her poor, pathetic life. Given these conditions, it should be clear that Bill’s choice for injustice is preferable to Polly’s choice.
Naturally, more than a story is needed to make the general point that injustice is superior to justice. Fortunately a more formal argument can be provided.
The advantages of injustice are numerous but can be bundled into one general package: flexibility. Being unjust, the unjust person is not limited by the constraints of morality. If she needs to lie to gain an advantage, she can lie freely. If a bribe would serve her purpose, she can bribe. If a bribe would not suffice and someone needs to have a tragic “accident”, then she can see to it that the “accident” occurs. To use an analogy, the unjust person is like a craftsperson that has just the right tool for every occasion. Just as the well equipped craftsperson has a considerable advantage over a less well equipped crafts person, the unjust person has a considerable advantage over those who accept moral limits on their behavior.
It might be objected that the unjust person does face one major limit-she cannot act justly. While she cannot be truly just, she can, when the need arises, act justly-or at least appear to be acting justly. For example, if building an orphanage in Malaysia would serve her purpose better than exploiting those orphans in her sweat shop, then she would be free to build the orphanage. This broader range of options gives her clear edge-she can do everything the just person can do and much more. Best of all, none of her misdeeds can ever lead her into trouble. As per Glaucon’s conditions, she can never be caught or exposed. With her advantage she can easily get the material goods she craves-after all, she can do whatever it takes to get what she wants.
Turning to the real world, an examination of successful business people and other professionals (such as politicians) shows that being unjust is all but essential to being a success. For example, it is no coincidence that Microsoft is not only the top software company but also rightly regarded as being one of the most unjust. Now I turn to the just person.
If a person, such as Polly, is just then she must accept the limits of justice. To be specific, insofar as she is acting justly she must not engage in unjust acts. Taking an intuitive view of injustice, unjust acts would involve making use of unfair tactics such as lying, deception, bribes, threats and other such methods. Naturally, being just involves more than just not being unjust. After all, being just is like being healthy. Just as health is more than the absence of illness, being just is more than simply not being unjust. The just person would engage in positive behavior in accord with her justice-telling the truth, doing just deeds and so forth. So, the just person faces two major impediments. First, she cannot avail herself of the tools of injustice. This cuts down on her options and thus would limit her chances of material success. Second, she will be expending effort and resources in being just. These efforts and resources could be used instead to acquire material goods. To use an analogy, if success is like a race, then the just person is like someone who will stop or slow down during the race and help others. Obviously a runner who did this would be at a competitive disadvantage and so it follows that the just person would be at a disadvantage in the race of life.
The situation becomes extremely dire when Glaucon’s conditions are taken into account. In Glaucon’s scenario, the just person has no chance of material success and cannot even enjoy the reputation of being just. In light of these conditions, the just life would be a foolish choice indeed.
In light of the above arguments it is evident that the life of injustice is the preferable life.
[i] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (London, 1863)
The “Ring of Gyges” begins with a challenge put forth by Glaucon-he wants Socrates to defend the just life and he wants the defense to show that justice is intrinsically preferable to injustice. For the sake of the argument, Glaucon proposes to present a defense of injustice.
Glaucon begins by asserting that people find it desirable or good to inflict wrongdoings on others but these wrongdoers regarded being on the receiving end of misdeeds as undesirable. When people have been on both ends of misdeeds (giving and receiving), they quickly realize that the pains of being a victim far outweigh the benefits of being the victimizer. To avoid being victims, people come together and forge agreements and dub these agreements with the name “justice.”
Glaucon makes it clear that people do not enter into the agreement that gives rise to justice willingly and that this situation is not regarded as the best. He regards justice as a compromise between what is most desirable to the individual (doing misdeeds with impunity) and what is the most undesirable for the individual (being a hapless victim). He further concludes that people accept justice because they are weak and that a person with the power to successfully carry out misdeeds would be a fool not to do so.
In support of his claims that no one is willingly a follower of justice and that anyone who was free to be unjust would be unjust Glaucon tells the tale of the ring of Gyges. In this tale the shepherd Gyges finds a magical ring of invisibility within a strange bronze horse that has been exposed by an earthquake. Using the power of the ring, he seduces the queen and, with her help, murders the king and takes control of the realm.
Given his tale, Glaucon concludes that if identical rings were given to a just man and an unjust man, then both men would act unjustly. This proves, to his satisfaction, that people act justly only under compulsion. By nature, he claims, all living beings desire more than what they are actually due. Despite this, he does consider the possibility that someone might decline to use the ring to perform misdeeds. While such a person would be praised to her face, she would be regarded as a great fool for not using the power in her possession.
Glaucon finishes his case by presenting the details of his challenge. In this challenge the perfectly unjust man is to be squared off against the just man. The unjust man must be the very pinnacle of injustice and must have all that he needs to be unjust and carry out his misdeeds effectively and secretly. To this end he is, for the sake of the argument, given great skill in the use of both persuasion and force and is equipped with various virtues such as bravery and strength. He is further to be blessed with wealth, companions, and an unblemished (though false) reputation for justice. In short, though he is truly a master of injustice he is regarded by all as a just man.
In stark contrast, the just man, while truly just, is stripped of everything but his justice and his life. He is burdened with a reputation for being unjust, despite his true nobility. After all, as Glaucon points out, the just man must be properly tested to see whether he acts justly for the sake of justice or merely for the sake of the reputation and all that goes with it.
Given this setup, it must be determined which man is happier-the just man or the unjust man.
Being a philosophy professor, I find it vaguely annoying when people write or say things like “Referendum begs the question of our future in EU” or “Rolex ad on Newsweek site begs the question how big is too big.”
When people use “begs the question” in this manner, they actually mean “asks the question” or “raises the question.”However, the term “beg the question” already has an established usage as the name of a logical fallacy.
To beg the question is a logical fallacy that involves assuming what is to be proven. For example, if someone says “cheating on a test is wrong because it is wrongfully taking a test”, then he is begging the question. In effect, the person is saying “the reason cheating on a test is wrong is because it is wrong.”
One might wonder why this should be regarded as a problem. After all, it might be argued, people ought to be able to use words anyway they wish. If people use “beg the question” to mean “raises the question” then so be it.
While it is true that the meaning of terms is largely a matter of convention, it seems to make little sense to use “begs the question” to mean “asks the question.” After all, there are already perfectly good phrases to say “asks the question”, “raises the question” and so on. There thus seems to be little need to steal “begs the question.”
Another problem is that the increasingly popular usage of the phrase creates some confusion. For example, when I teach about fallacies I have to explain that to beg the question is a fallacy and that when someone says “begs the question” they might mean “asks the question.” Obviously, this is not a big deal. But, teaching logic is challenging enough without having to sort out such confusions.