A Philosopher's Blog

I’m not moving to Canada even if Trump is elected

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on March 16, 2016

Americans have a habit of threatening to move to Canada if a presidential election does not go their way; however, few actually follow up on this threat. While I am worried that Trump might be elected President, I have not made this threat and have no intention of leaving should the Trumpocracy come to pass. While some of my reasons are purely practical, I also have philosophical reasons. Getting to these will, however, require a short trip through some other issues.

When I was much younger, I was into politics and dreamed of holding political office. This dream gave way to cynicism about American politics and the embracing of anarchism and then apathy. I got better, though.

When I was an anarchist, I decided not to vote. This was based on the anarchist principle that voting is both ineffective and entails acknowledging the legitimacy of the oppressive system. When I became apathetic, I did not vote on the basis of an analogy to picking a movie. As I saw it, picking between candidates was like picking between bad movies. The rational choice, it would seem, would be not to pick any: vote none of the above. I accepted this until I had a revelation while watching a movie I did not like while on a date. Elections, it turns out, are like being on a movie date when only bad movies are playing. Since you are stuck going to a movie, you need to pick among the bad choices. The goal is not to pick what you like—since all choices are bad. The goal is to pick the least bad option. In the case of elections, you are stuck with the results if you vote or do not vote. If all the options are bad, you can still try to avoid the worst option by voting for the least bad. If all options are identical in badness, then you could avoid voting at all or use an alternative method. In my case, I often vote for the one that most resembles an animal I like or vote against the one that most resembles a creature I dislike.

There is, however, a downside to voting when you regard all the options as bad: you have become part of the process and are a party to the crimes of the person you voted for—should that person win. On the plus side, if you helped the lesser evil win, then you deserve kudos for preventing a greater evil.

One problem with becoming part of the voting process is that this would seem to acknowledge the legitimacy of the process (assuming one is not compelled to vote). This would seem to commit the voter to accepting the results of a fair election. Since it looks like it will be Trump vs. Hillary, when I vote for Hillary it would seem that I am accepting the voting process. This would seem to entail that when Trump wins, I have to accept that he is my president. This is required by consistency: if Hillary wins, I would expect those who voted for Trump to accept this result. This, of course, assumes that the election was fair—if it was rigged, then that is another matter.

Locke addressed this matter—he was well aware that the losing side in a vote might be tempted to refuse to go along. Locke’s response to the problem was to point out that doing this would tear apart the system and send us back to the state of nature. As such, he reasoned, we should follow the majority in regards to voting. This, of course, leads to the problem of the tyranny of the majority, something that could be used to argue that one should not accept the election of a person who will engage in such tyrannical behavior. My own view is that the election should be accepted on the basis of majority rule. However, the tyrannical, immoral, or illegal actions of an elected official should not be accepted. So, if Trump wins the 2016 election fair and square, then he would be my president. If he started implementing his various absurd, immoral, illegal and perhaps even unconstitutional harebrained schemes, then I would certainly not accept these schemes. This opposition would be based in part on Locke’s view of tyranny and in part on John Stuart Mill’s discussion of the tyranny of the majority. The gist of both is that a ruler acts wrongly if he uses the power of office in a way that is not for the good of the people or imposes on the liberty of others without the justification that it prevents harm to others.

So, if Trump gets elected, he will be my president. I will stay here—and will certainly do what I can to oppose his likely attempts to do awful, immoral, and illegal things. Oddly, I think that the Republican controlled congress will be on my side in most of these matters.


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The Penny

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 20, 2012
Large amount of pennies

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the saying goes, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” However, a new saying might be in order: “a penny made is 2.4 pennies spent”-this is because it currently costs 2.4 cents to make a penny. Because of this cost and the view that the penny is not very useful, there is some push to be rid of the coin. Canada recently did so, showing that the move is possible.

Of course, the cost of the penny might be a reasonable expense for the taxpayer to pay if the penny were useful or at least desired. The Americans for Common Cents (which is, shockingly enough, run by the chief lobbyist for the zinc industry) recently issued a press release that was run by some media folks as an actual report. This “report” claimed that most Americans are still in favor of the penny. However, the survey data for this claim seems to be rather out of date and the source seems to be somewhat biased. This does not show that the claim is in error. However, these two facts do lower the credibility of the claim in terms of its showing what people currently believe about the penny.

Whether people favor keeping the penny or not is an empirical matter, easily resolved by an appropriate survey that presents the question in a neutral manner. After all, it is easy enough to “game” a survey by slanting or loading questions and various other techniques. For example, if I ask “do you favor keeping the penny despite the fact that each penny costs 2.4 cents to make and some people regard it as useless?” I will get rather different results than if I asked “do you favor keeping the penny when getting rid of it could mean that business would round up their prices, thus costing you more money?”

Since I do not have the resources to conduct a representative random survey of at least 1,500 people, I cannot solve this matter myself. I am, however, inclined to think that many people would be willing to do without the penny because of 1) its cost and 2) the fact that it seems ever less useful with each year.

Naturally, the penny is beloved by the folks who sell the metals needed to make it (such as the folks in the zinc industry),  those folks who own the machines that count up coins and, of course, their well paid lobbyists who see to it that congress keeps the penny going.

Of course, the preservation of the penny is not without some support. First, there is the matter of tradition. The penny has been around a long time and perhaps the nostalgia value is worth the cost of keeping pennies as currency, despite the cost and reduced usefulness.

Second, there is the not unreasonable concern that prices will need to be changed to account for the  demise of pennies. No longer would we see, for example, $9.99, but instead $10-at least in the context of physical money. I suspect that online retailers would still work in cents, since they do not actually deal with physical pennies.  So, for example, Apple and Amazon will still have 99 cent items. As might be imagined, merchants  in the physical world will almost certainly round up rather than down, which means that people would be paying marginally more to avoid the need for pennies. This does raise the empirical question of whether the increase in prices for the average American would or would not exceed the savings in government spending (and, of course, the financial impact on the industries with a vested interest in the penny). I would assume that even if the penny ceased to be, the money “saved” on this would be rapidly squandered on something else, perhaps on a Vegas conference.

In my own case, I would be fine with seeing pennies go away-provided that the savings where not squandered.  For example, if that money were used to support significant programs in education or research into treating some diseases, then that would be fine with me. But, since I suspect that congress would just waste the “savings”, I am also fine with keeping pennies-while they are waste, perhaps they are less of a waste than what the “savings”would be wasted on.

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They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on December 26, 2011
Horse meat in mongolia

Image via Wikipedia

In 2006,  the United States Congress banned the use of federal money for inspecting horses intended to be slaughtered for food. Since the UDSA requires the federal inspection of all food grade meat, this effectively ended the slaughter of horse for food in the United States. This ban was, however, lifted in November, 2011. This opens the doors the the slaughter of horses for food.

While some people might wonder why there might be a need to resume slaughtering horses for food, there are some arguments that have been presented in its favor. I will consider some of these before moving on to some objections against killing horses for food.

One stock argument is the economic argument that while American slaughterhouses are not profiting or creating horse slaughtering related jobs, other countries (such as Mexico and Canada) are doing so. By having moral and sentimental qualms about killing horses for food, the United States missed out on the opportunity to create jobs and make profits in the horse meat market. Rectifying this will allow the job creators to create more jobs and will enable Americans to profit from the slaughter of horses, rather than allowing other countries to dominate the horse meat market.

In these troubled economic times, this argument does have a certain appeal.  However, there is also the stocky reply that just because something could be profitable and created jobs, it does not entail that we should do so. For example, legalizing various drugs would create American jobs and allow legitimate companies to profit, however, some people might regard this as morally unacceptable. As another example, prostitution could be made legal across America, thus creating many legal jobs of various sorts (pun intended) and allowing American companies to make a profit. But this might be regarded as morally unacceptable. Likewise, if using horses for food is morally unacceptable, then it would seem that we should not do this-even if it creates profits and jobs.

A second argument that has been advanced is that the economic downturn has resulted in more people abandoning their horses or being unable to properly care for them. Since horses cannot be slaughtered for food, these horses are left to suffer. Being able to slaughter horses for food would solve the problem of these suffering horses.

One obvious reply to this argument is that there seems to be no need to allow horses to be slaughtered for food to address the alleged problem with abandoned or neglected horses. After all, it would seem more humane to use the federal money to care for them rather than inspect them to see if they are fit for hamburger. To use an analogy, imagine if it was suggested that we should start slaughtering children for food because the economic downturn has made it harder for parents to care for them. This would a rather horrific suggestion. While horse are not children, it seems horrific to say that we can best help them by seeing to it they are made into hamburger.

Even if it were accepted that the best way to address the abandoned or neglected horses was by killing them, it would hardly follow that this should be done by the meat industry in order to create meat to sell. That said, it could be argued that such meat should not go to waste. This principle would, it would seem, also indicate that the abandoned dogs, cats and other pets should also be inspected and made into food as a solution.  This might be taken as a reductio, or perhaps as a business plan.

A second obvious reply is that it seems unlikely that the abandoned or neglected horses could supply enough meat to actually make a significant economic difference.  That is, there are certainly not enough such horses to support an industry. As such, in order for the economic argument to work, another source of horses would be needed-such as horses raised specifically for food or horses that would be harvested from public lands. While this would allow the economic argument to remain, it would certainly reduce the impact of the “mercy killing” argument.

Not surprisingly, I am not in favor of slaughtering horses for food.  In part, as some proponents of horse slaughtering contend, this is due to sentimental reasons. My parents worked at a summer camp which had horses and, as such, I literally grew up with horses learning to ride them and care for them. It is, as might be imagined, difficult for me to see horses as food. After all, friends do not eat friends. Also, like many Americans, I grew up with cowboy movies and I can no more accept the idea of eating Trigger or Silver as I can accept the idea of eating Lassie, Rin Tin Tin or the Little Rascals.

This, of course, merely reports on my psychology and, as such, has no logical weight by itself. After all, there are plenty of folks who would have no qualms sitting down to a main disk of Trigger with a side of Lassie.

There are, of course, various stock arguments against eating any animals and they can be pressed into service here. However, my objective is to present some arguments specific to horses.

For my first argument, I will steal from Kant. While horses are non-rational beings and would thus be mere objects in Kant’s moral theory, Kant does argue that we have indirect duties to animals. Roughly put, he contends that we can treat animals as analogous to humans when assessing how we should treat them (at least in a somewhat limited context). For example, if Ted has a dog Blue that has served him faithfully and well, while Blue is but an object, a human who had served faithfully and well would have earned proper treatment. As such, it would be wrong of Ted to simply dispose of Blue because he is too old to serve any longer. Kant also contends that we should treat animals well because doing so, crudely put, trains us to treat humans well. Likewise, we should not treat animals badly because doing so trains us to treat humans badly. Since humans matter morally to Kant, this is why our treatment of animals would matter.

Horses have clearly served humans very well. They have fought in our wars, carried us around the world, and have been good companions.  As such, we owe them a debt for that service. To simply treat them as meat would be small minded and an act of ingratitude.

One obvious reply is that even if we assume that we might owe individual horses a debt, this does not apply to all horses. To use the obvious analogy, simply because one member of a family helped you out it does not follow that you then owe anything to other members of that family.

This does have an appeal to it. After all, the notion of owing a collective debt seems as mysterious as the notion of collective sin or collective rights. This is especially mysterious when one is speaking of owing a species. I do, as such, admit that this argument would only have bite with those who are willing to consider the notion that a collective can be owed for the action of the individuals who took specific actions.

For my second argument, I will steal from C.S. Lewis. In his classic The Abolition of Man, Lewis writes, “until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it -believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt.”

It is, of course, easy enough to take issue with Lewis. However, there is considerable appeal in his view and it seems appealing enough to extend it from objects to animals, actions and people.

For example, imagine that Ted the Just  falls into raging flood waters and Sally the Brave leaps in to save him. After she pulls him from the water, Larry the Loather  goes up and spits on her, saying “How contemptible and cowardly of you to have done that. I feel nothing but loathing for you, Sally.” Imagine that Ted says “What the hell? She was brave and deserves your respect!” If Larry says, “Fah, I feel no respect for her. I feel naught but contempt and loathing”, then he may very well be speaking honestly. However, it also seems clear that his feelings are not apt-Sally merits approval and respect regardless of what Larry feels or does not feel.

While it is obviously true that horses are regarded as some people as mere meat (and or profits), there is the question of whether or not this is to feel what horses in fact merit. Do they merit being looked at as something to be butchered and sold by the pound, or do they merit better?

As might be imagined, I contend that horses merit better. To regard them with sentiment and respect is not simply a matter of emotional sappiness or being soft-hearted. Rather, it is to have the sort of feelings that horses do, in fact, merit. As such, to mass slaughter them and make them into hamburger is to act in ways that horses do not deserve and in ways that diminish us emotionally and morally.

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Sterilizing the Poor

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 30, 2011
Specially sterilized for you..

Image by ebertek via Flickr

On Wednesday a student in my ethics class asked me whether or not sterilizing the poor would end poverty. Interestingly, I was not asked whether this would be morally acceptable.  I gave a fairly concise answer in class, but thought I would expand on it a bit here.

On the face of it, it does make some sense that preventing the poor from reproducing would reduce poverty. After all, poverty is often an inherited condition and having no (or far fewer) children born to poor people would reduce the number of people inheriting poverty. It could also provide people with yet another incentive to avoid being poor (although it might be wondered whether people need more incentives beyond the existing ones). Also, children are expensive and if the sterilization rules took this into account, people who would become poor because of the cost of raising kids would be prevented from doing so, thus they would not become poor. None of this, obviously, directly addresses the ethics of the matter.

In the course of the discussion, the subject of whether or not poverty has a genetic link was brought up. On the one hand, it was argued that the traits that could incline people to poverty could be linked to various genes and sterilizing the poor would presumably reduced the number of people carrying these genes.  To use an analogy, not allowing blonde haired people to reproduce would certainly reduce the number of blonde haired people in the world. On the other hand, it was also argued that there seems to be little basis for assuming a genetic cause to poverty. If so, sterilization of the poor would not have the effect of a genetic culling of the population that would reduce poverty.

One point that is well worth considering is that poverty is not created by the specific people that happen to be poor (except insofar as they serve in the role of being the poor). Rather, poverty is created by factors (mainly people) in the social system and these factors would be in effect regardless of whether the current poor were sterilized or not. On this view, sterilizing the current poor would merely have the effect of changing, to a degree, the makeup of the next generation of the poor. To use an analogy, sterilizing politicians would not eliminate this social role.  Rather, it would just mean that the people who became politicians would be the children of non-politicians. Given the way the current system works, the children the poor would have had would be replaced in the ranks of the poor by other people-either those citizens who would become poor by the way the economic system works or those who enter the country to do the poverty level work that helps sustain this system.

My considered view is that sterilizing the poor would not eliminate poverty because it fails to address the main causes of poverty, namely the aspects of the economic system that creates and relies on poverty. I do, of course, admit that sterilizing the poor would reduce the number of poor people but this reduction would be at the cost of what certainly appears to be a morally wrong method. It would seem morally preferable to address the other causes of poverty rather than engaging in this sort of economic eugenics (“ecogenics”, perhaps?).

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