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Assessing our Moral Beliefs in Light of Predicted Future Moral "Progress":

At the excellent Overcoming Bias blog, Hal Finney makes an insightful point about our perceptions of past and future moral progress:

I am fascinated by the question of how our morality will change in the future. It's relevant to the issue . . . of whether we are truly making moral progress or not. So long as we view the question from a perspective where we assume that we are at the apex of the moral pyramid, it is easy to judge past societies from our lofty position and perceive their inadequacies. But if we imagine ourselves as being judged harshly by the society of the future, there is less self-satisfaction and ego boosting involved in making a case for true moral progress, hence less chance for bias. (In fact, when people make claims about how future society will judge the world of today, they almost always assume that their own personal moral views will become universal, so this hypothetical judgment merely mirrors their own criticism of contemporary society.).....

If you can make a case for progress even acknowledging that in the future your own practices may be seen as savage and appalling, you are much less likely to be manifesting self-satisfaction bias. On the other hand, if you find yourself resisting ideas about future morality being different from the present, you need to look closely to see if you aren't just protecting your own ego.

To protect against this kind of bias in favor of our own moral ideas, it helps to consider whether there is reason to believe that some of the moral views we hold dear will be widely repudiated in the future. Note that this is different from simply predicting that public policy won't match our preferences, an outcome that might occur for any number of reasons. It is a prediction that one or more of our strongly held moral beliefs will be rejected by a broad societal consensus.

In my own case, I see at least three areas where there is a good chance of this happening:

1. Animal Rights.

I am generally opposed to most if not all arguments for animal rights. But I have to acknowledge a real possibility that future morality will move strongly in the direction of assigning higher status to animals. That has been the trend of the last fifty years or more, and it shows little sign of stopping. I doubt it will go as far as, say Peter Singer would want, but there is a good chance it will go a lot further than I now believe to be justified. I suspect that the chance of major movement in this direction is at least 50%.

2. The Death Penalty.

I support the death penalty, at least in the case of criminals guilty of committing multiple murders, acts of terrorism, and major war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the trend of opinion is definitely against me on this one, and is likely to continue to move in that direction unless there is another major upsurge in crime, such as that which led to a resurgence of support for the death penalty in the late 1960s and 1970s. Over the next 20-30 years, I would set the odds of continued substantial increase in moral stigmatization of the death penalty at 60%, and 70-80% if there is no major crime wave.

3. Forced Labor.

As a libertarian, there is nothing short of murder that I abhor more than forced labor. Modern morality strongly condemns slavery, but many people are amenable to arguments for forced labor under other names, such as mandatory "national service," "giving back to the community," and so on. Even today, many liberal democratic nations (including France, Germany, and Switzerland) continue to use the draft, even though there is no military reason for them to do so (their armies would be more effective if manned by volunteer professional soldiers). Both left and right-wing politicians (including top congressional Democrats and Republican presidential contender John McCain) often float mandatory "national service" proposals, and there is a strong reservoir of support for these ideas, though not yet by a political majority. I fear that, sooner or later, McCain or some other political entrepreneur will find a way to package this idea in such a way that a majority of the public will come to accept it, thereby greatly eroding what in my view is our already flabby moral resistance to forced labor. I think that there is only about a 20-30% chance that public morality will move strongly in this direction over the next two or three decades. But I find it a far more frightening possibility than either of the other two.

If I am right about these predictions, should I revise any of my current moral views? Hard to say, but here are some tentative thoughts:

I am unmoved in my opposition to forced labor. If this practice is legitimated in the future through the process I predict, its increasing acceptance will say little about its rightness. I am less certain about the death penalty. On balance, I am still for it, but the fact that so many others are turning against it despite the lack of a clear self-interested or other biased reason for doing so does give me some pause. Finally, if I had to pick one of these issues where I am least confident in the validity of my present view, I would have to say animal rights. Even more so than with the death penalty, it is hard to provide an explanation for the increase in support for this moral view that is unrelated to its potential validity. Moreover, unlike in the other two cases, I have to acknowledge that my position is at least in part the result of a strong self-interested bias of my own: I like to eat meat, and I can't think of a logically consistent defense of animal rights that doesn't entail the conclusion that meat-eating is immoral. There is an uncomfortable analogy to slaveowners like Thomas Jefferson, who recognized the strong moral case against slavery, but was reluctant to endorse emancipation because of the way in which he benefited from the institution. I'm not ready to endorse animal rights (at least not yet), but I have to acknowledge the possibility that my love of cheeseburgers is undermining my love of truth on this issue.

Whether or not I'm right in my speculations on these three issues, Hal Finney is surely right to suggest that we should give more thought to the possibility that some of our beliefs will be rejected in the future just as resoundingly as we reject many of the moral views of the past.

Friedrich Foresight:
... the way the prophets of the twentieth century went to work was this. They took something or other that was certainly going on in their time, and then said that it would go on more and more until something extraordinary happened. ...

Thus, for instance, there were Mr HG Wells and others, who thought that science would take charge of the future; and just as the motor-car was quicker than the coach, so some lovely thing would be quicker than the motor-car; and so on for ever. ...

Then Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed ("shedding," as he called it finely, "the green blood of the silent animals"), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called "Why Should Salt Suffer?" and there was more trouble...

And Mr Stead, too, was prominent, who thought that England would in the twentieth century be united to America; and his young lieutenant, Graham Podge, who included the states of France, Germany, and Russia in the American Union, the State of Russia being abbreviated to Ra.

All these clever men were prophesying with every variety of ingenuity what would happen soon, and they all did it in the same way, by taking something they saw "going strong," as the saying is, and carrying it as far as ever their imagination could stretch. This, they said, was the true and simple way of anticipating the future. "Just as," said Dr Pellkins, in a fine passage -- "just as when we see a pig in a litter larger than the other pigs, we know that by an unalterable law of the Inscrutable it will some day be larger than an elephant, -- just as we know, when we see weeds and dandelions growing more and more thickly in a garden, that they must, in spite of all our efforts, grow taller than the chimney-pots and swallow the house from sight, - so we know and reverently acknowledge, that when any power in human politics has shown for any period of time any considerable activity, it will go on until it reaches to the sky"...

- GK Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (London, 1904), Chapter I, "Introductory Remarks on the Art of Prophecy".
3.26.2007 11:06pm
Ramza:
McCain a Democrat? Is that a Freudian Slip?

To add a few more moral issues which our nation grapples with Gay Marriage, Abortion, the use of force/lack of force to protect people who are suffering (namely genocide/ethnic murder)
3.26.2007 11:12pm
Jamie (mail):
As a libertarian, how can you rectify your desire for an incredibly limited government that makes scores of mistakes and screws up most things it handles with allowing them to kill someone? Isn't state-sanctioned murder the ultimate form of government control over a person?

I don't see how anyone who distrusts government can support capital punishment, especially after so many innocent people have been sent to prison only to be exonerated later. Both on and off of death row.
3.26.2007 11:13pm
HA:
Abortion is obviously another interesting one. I have friends, for example, who are convinced that in their lifetimes we'll build another memorial on the Mall in Washington paying tribute to the lives of the unborn whose taking this country wrongfully sanctioned. Obviously, this is prediction aimed at self-satisfaction.

I suspect income equality, too, will come to bother us more and more in the years ahead, to a point where we are willing to regard as immoral the decision of some to live the lives of splendor that they live. This isn't to say we'll become more comfortable with taxing the hell out of those people; it's just to say that we'll think they're bad people for not reducing their own well-being by a marginal amount in order to improve that of others.
3.26.2007 11:22pm
Ilya Somin:
As a libertarian, how can you rectify your desire for an incredibly limited government that makes scores of mistakes and screws up most things it handles with allowing them to kill someone? Isn't state-sanctioned murder the ultimate form of government control over a person?

I don't see how anyone who distrusts government can support capital punishment, especially after so many innocent people have been sent to prison only to be exonerated later. Both on and off of death row.



This is a large and complex issue. But to briefly summarize:

1. I don't believe the death penalty is murder, anymore than imprisonment of criminals is kidnapping. Murder is unjustified intentional killing, not all killing.

2. If other functions of government were subjected to the very extensive procedural hoops that are applied before the death penalty can be imposed, I would be far less opposed to them.

3. There is indeed a risk of an innocent person being executed. But the same risk exists with respect to other severe punishments, such as lengthy prison terms. As a practical matter, a mistaken conviction is more likely to be uncovered in a death penalty case than in a life imprisonment case, because there are so many activist groups looking to uncover mistakes of the first type, whereas few care much about the second. It is striking that no one has yet proven that even one innocent person has been executed in the US since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, despite very extensive efforts to find such proof. That doesn't prove it hasn't happened (I can't prove a negative), but it does suggest that the incidence of error is very low. The error rate in cases involving long prison sentences is almost certainly significantly higher, but no one claims that such penalties should be abolished for that reason.

4. I think there are strong retribution and deterrence arguments for the death penalty in the case of certain very serious crimes.
3.26.2007 11:23pm
Ilya Somin:
McCain a Democrat? Is that a Freudian Slip?

Could be:) But it's really just a missing "and", which I will now correct.
3.26.2007 11:25pm
Voorhies (mail):
what could indeed be the wave of the future in moral thinking is the use of evolutionary Psychology. That is to say, the use of the thinking of the" adaptive mind "to view how we arrive at a social moral compass. And, how mass movements relate to this social moral compass. The mind adapted at the group level of 150 now functions (or mal-function) in mass society.
3.26.2007 11:26pm
Pendulum (mail):
Can one simultaneously hold a moral opinion, and surmise that it's probably wrong? Isn't that really acting in self-interest under the guise of having a moral opinion? If one can't think of a good reason to justify meat eating, that means one thinks eating meat is immoral, no?

Personally, I believe eating meat is immoral, but I still eat meat. I view this as indicative an example of a personal moral failure and imperfection.

It doesn't make me feel very good about myself, but I find it much more honest than pretending my carnivorous behavior is morally acceptable.

Mmm. Steak.
3.26.2007 11:34pm
Gary Imhoff (mail) (www):
I've always thought that if universal vegetarianism ever came about, it would only be through physical evolution in which humans ceased to become omnivores, not through "moral growth." The one current practice that I am convinced future generations will condemn as barbaric is imprisoning criminals. If criminal behavior can ever be brought under reasonable control so that criminals are not dangerous to others (probably through some behavioral modification methods that we today would condemn as unconscionable), the idea of our having kept humans in cages will be thought of as being as bad as, if not worse than, slavery.
3.26.2007 11:36pm
Friedrich Foresight:
> "in their lifetimes we'll build another memorial on the Mall in Washington paying tribute to the lives of the unborn whose taking this country wrongfully sanctioned"

Remember the bumper sticker, "I'M PRO-LIFE AND I VOTE. AND SO DO ALL MY KIDS."
3.26.2007 11:36pm
Tek Jansen:
In the past half-millenium, two of the most prominent moral failings dealt with Africa - slavery and colonialism. I don't see any reason to think the 21st century will be any different, except in kind (passive neglect instead of more active moral failings in the past). I have no idea how we should help Africa lift itself up, but I believe that ignorance will be considered a moral failing.

While many people are starving in Zimbabwe and Darfur, I'm happy to eat my Chipotle burrito and not give them a second thought.
3.26.2007 11:42pm
Dave N (mail):
With respect to capital punishment, two phenomena appear to be at play. 1) the death penalty appears arbitrary in the sense that very few of those sentenced to death are actually executed. Coupled with this is the lenghty amount of time people are on death row fighting their executions--which provides no closure to the victims' families.

2) those opposed to capital punishment have started calling themselves "abolitionists"--conjuring images of a much more noble 19th century cause with the same name.

That said, I believe Ilya is right that at the visible movement is against the death penalty, particularly in the MSM, who I believe will continue to search for what Justice Scalia called the "Holy Grail" for abolitionists--the actually innocent person who was executed.

As a death penalty prosecutor, the two phenomena bother me (the first much more than the second) and I can read the tea leaves as well the next guy: "Progressives" will continue to point to the American death penalty as a sign of our domestic barbarism while those who support it will do so with few friends in either the media or the academy.
3.26.2007 11:44pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
The U.S. seems to be getting closer and closer to accepting a Theocracy. Islam is currently winning out as the one ringligion to rule us all, but perhaps Christianity will reassert itself and make a comeback. The point is that something has to cure us of our evil, Western, capitalist, greedy, narcissistic, materialist, homosexual, homophobic ways. Someday we will all look back with horror at how far we wandered as a society from the path of God.
3.26.2007 11:51pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Colonialism should be shown as worse than what it replaced before it's considered a moral negative. Somebody's going to be in charge. Does it matter if the folks come from a hundred miles away or five thousand miles away, or right at home?
Question is whether they do well by the people they rule, or not, and in comparison to colonialism, whether the colonialists did better or worse than those they replaced.
Keep in mind that African slaves were brought to the coast by local powers, and most foreign slaves were purchased from local dealers.

Switzerland's universal service is not like other countries' draft. The military necessity is not to have a first-rate standing force, which they probably do, but to have a universal reserve capable of being mobilized immediately or fighting from wherever they happen to be when the bad guys come. It may be universal service, but the military problem it is said to address is not the same as that of France and Germany. So saying there is no military utility for it in the same sentence as France and Germany is not a good fit.
Of course, you could always say that nobody would ever invade Switzerland. Somebody would stop it. Like who? Us? Maybe. Unless a republican were president and then the dems would figureout a way to sell the Swiss down the river.
If the Swiss were to choose between depending on themselves or the US Congress, I'd suggest they look to their own safety.
3.27.2007 12:01am
BobNSF (mail):

But I have to acknowledge a real possibility that future morality will move strongly in the direction of assigning higher status to animals.


Heck, past morality -- just a couple decades past -- assigned higher status to farm animals than we do today.
3.27.2007 12:05am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I'm reminded of one of my favorite passages from Tacitus, from near the end of (the extant portions of) The Histories, in which he describes these strange people called Jews who live in the eastern extreme of the Empire. These people are so weird that -- get this -- if a man has too many children, he doesn't abandon the youngest on a hillside to die of exposure. Oh those kooky foreigners, what will they think of next.
3.27.2007 12:06am
The Editors, American Federalist Journal (mail) (www):

"That said, I believe Ilya is right that at the visible movement is against the death penalty, particularly in the MSM, who I believe will continue to search for what Justice Scalia called the "Holy Grail" for abolitionists--the actually innocent person who was executed. "



Death penalty opponents have been working very hard for many years to find a case of an innocent being executed, without success. On the other hand, it's easy to find actual examples of innocent people who have been killed because their assailant was not executed for a prior offense.
3.27.2007 12:08am
ReaderY:
What's the basis for believing we're more moral than our ancestors?
3.27.2007 12:10am
Tek Jansen:
Keep in mind that African slaves were brought to the coast by local powers, and most foreign slaves were purchased from local dealers.

I have no idea how that's relevant. Slavery was obviously a substantial moral failing of the Western world, regardless of whether it was also a moral failing of others.
3.27.2007 12:11am
Ak:
"I suspect income equality, too, will come to bother us more and more in the years ahead, to a point where we are willing to regard as immoral the decision of some to live the lives of splendor that they live."

I doubt it. If anything it is going in the opposite direction, just look at the media. At the risk of Grandpa Simpson style "in my day", I think it is safe to say that the youth culture today emphasizes wealth even more than in the past. Hence the massive credit card debt. It doesn't hurt that the strongest interest in the US (i.e. consumer capitalism) has the ultimate incentive to resist a trend of looking down on consumption.
3.27.2007 12:21am
Stash:
While not dispositive, to some degree we have the morals we can afford. (See Mr. Doolittle in Shaw's Pygmalion, or even My Fair Lady). In a society that depends on hunting for its existence, meat cannot possibly be murder. A society that does not have the wealth to house criminals must use capital and corporeal punishment or forced labor in order to "afford" law enforcement.

If technology advances to the point where, for example, steaks do not come from an animal, but are deliciously cloned in vats (presumably only the best genetically prime beef, grown under ideal conditions would be used), the idea of actually killing an animal to eat its flesh would probably come to be viewed as atavistic barbarity of the worst kind. That is, when we can afford to dispense with animal products that can only be obtained by killing or harming them, killing or harming them will become immoral.

We have already reached the point where we can afford, economically, to do without capital punishment. This explains its abolition in many countries. As you point out, however, there remain social/emotional and possibly deterrence costs involved here. I agree, however, that the continued vitality of these considerations are questionable.

Gay marriage is now also something we can afford economically as a society. One need only compare the young arranged marriages that occurred in earlier societies, with the current romance-based marriages. Arranged marriages are now viewed as somewhat immoral, smacking of economic rather than romantic considerations. Having made the transition from practicality to romance as the basis for marriage--because we could afford it--the pracitcality-based argument that procreation and the protection of children, not romance, is the sine qua non of marriage seems destined to lose.

I am sure more learned persons could come up with more examples. I guess my comment is, that the evolution of morals needs also to be viewed in the context of advancing technologies and wealth. I know, for example, that there is an argument that industrialization, not morality, ended slavery. Certainly it created the conditions where a society could afford that morality.
3.27.2007 12:43am
Reg (mail):
Morality will swing against abortion and expirimenting on embryos. Either that, or we'll develop a Gattica like society with an engineered, longlived overclass and a religious underclass, each with very different moralities.

Also, look forward to increased focus and development of the religious-like codes and rituals of environmentalism. Carbon neutrality and no impact living will become increasingly necessary to be acceptable by the liberal, urban, movers and shakers. ("So, did you buy your carbon offsets for the year?" "I'm sorry, I can't eat these appetizers, these chickens aren't free range and they were raised more than 400 miles from here." "You mean you don't compost your feces?")

Animal rights will go nowhere until a tasty barbecuable meat substitute is invented.
3.27.2007 1:00am
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"As a libertarian, there is nothing short of murder that I abhor more than forced labor."

Rape? Child molestation? Alexander Cockburn?
3.27.2007 1:03am
SenatorX (mail):
"What's the basis for believing we're more moral than our ancestors?" Reader Y

Bingo.
3.27.2007 1:12am
Mho (mail):
"I don't believe the death penalty is murder, anymore than imprisonment of criminals is kidnapping."

I personally think that our warehousing of about a million non-violent offenders will be looked upon by our descendants as a massive waste of humanity, if not utright barbarism, much the way we now view stocks and ducking stools.
3.27.2007 1:13am
Ilya Somin:
"As a libertarian, there is nothing short of murder that I abhor more than forced labor."

Rape? Child molestation? Alexander Cockburn?


I would rather be raped (once) than be a forced laborer for any length of time. Ditto for a single incident of child molestation; if the molestation continues for a long period of time, then it is itself a form of forced labor (a kind of sexual slavery). As for Alexander Cockburn, well maybe you got me there:).
3.27.2007 1:13am
Ding Chavez:
If Daniel Dennett, Paul and Patricia Churchland, and the rest of those merry cognitive scientists gain significant social traction, future societies might have an entirely different conception of moral agency. Such a change would have much larger effects on how our present morality is viewed.
3.27.2007 1:15am
Brubaker:
Ilya Somin wrote:

"I can't think of a logically consistent defense of animal rights that doesn't entail the conclusion that meat-eating is immoral."

What about: Animals have some rights, among them the right to not receive gratuitous pain. This entails the conclusion that eating most commercial meat is immoral, but it leaves room for you to eat meat if you are willing to seek out the 'free range' happy varieties.
3.27.2007 1:25am
Ramza:

I would rather be raped (once) than be a forced laborer for any length of time. Ditto for a single incident of child molestation; if the molestation continues for a long period of time, then it is itself a form of forced labor (a kind of sexual slavery). As for Alexander Cockburn, well maybe you got me there:).

I would seriously disagree of which is worse, but you have the right to your own opinion, and what really matters is that you are against both.
3.27.2007 1:27am
David M. Nieporent (www):
"As a libertarian, there is nothing short of murder that I abhor more than forced labor."
The New York Yankees.

Other than that, I agree.
3.27.2007 1:47am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

I like to eat meat, and I can't think of a logically consistent defense of animal rights that doesn't entail the conclusion that meat-eating is immoral.


You could make an argument based on the intelligence of animals. I think it's defensible to argue that cats, dogs, primates, and maybe pigs deserve the same rights as human infants (or infants deserve the same rights as cats and dogs, though that might be a harder sell), but chickens, fish and cows are too dumb to worry about.
3.27.2007 1:50am
Ilya Somin:
What about: Animals have some rights, among them the right to not receive gratuitous pain. This entails the conclusion that eating most commercial meat is immoral, but it leaves room for you to eat meat if you are willing to seek out the 'free range' happy varieties.

I don't see why they would have a right to avoid "gratuitous pain," but not a right to life. If we can kill them for our pleasure and convenience, why can't we subject them to pain for the same reason?
3.27.2007 2:18am
Ilya Somin:
You could make an argument based on the intelligence of animals. I think it's defensible to argue that cats, dogs, primates, and maybe pigs deserve the same rights as human infants (or infants deserve the same rights as cats and dogs, though that might be a harder sell), but chickens, fish and cows are too dumb to worry about.

That may work. But why draw the line in that particular place? What is so important about cat-level intelligence that cats have a right to life comparable to that of human infants, but cows, etc., have no right to life at all? It seems like a very convenient rationale for granting rights to those animals that we don't want to eat anyway (except maybe for pigs), while allowing us to keep doing whatever want to those we find tasty.
3.27.2007 2:21am
K:
I agree about the death penalty. It will probably be ended in America. That is my preference. It achieves little.

(Ilya, in point #3 notes that a sentence of death probably gives an innocent a better chance to gain release than being sentenced to life; the cases are looked at more carefully.)

End the eating of meat? More people will do this in time. Only a rigid state could enforce it soon. Mao might have been able to. Or Stalin at his peak. Or a religous mania instituting a de facto theocracy.

Forced labor? First we have to define it. Are children to be free of any parental wishes? Must public schools pay students the minimum wage? Can jury duty be required? In reality any state impresses the populace.

The (claimed) right to use force is the basis of all government. How might criminal law function w/o arrests which literally create legal slaves?
3.27.2007 2:29am
Nick H.:
"What's the basis for believing we're more moral than our ancestors?"

The rise of moral relativism has made us less moral than before.
3.27.2007 2:30am
FantasiaWHT:
re: animal rights and eating animals.

If we ever get to the point where we grant loads of animal rights to the point where meat-eating is banned, what would the then-current opinion of all carnivore and omnivore animals be? Since they would have greater rights, would they have greater responsibilities? Would we have to isolate the criminal animal element (since we couldn't kill them)?
3.27.2007 2:44am
Guest12345:
It seems like a very convenient rationale for granting rights to those animals that we don't want to eat anyway (except maybe for pigs), while allowing us to keep doing whatever want to those we find tasty.


I think you're misinterpreting the situation. Cows, chickens, etc. have found the ultimate adaption and are the peak of evolution. It would be cruel of us to deny them their just rewards. They get free health care, free food, protection from predators, shelter from the elements, genetic lines that have blossomed into millions of individuals. From the POV of natural selection, these guys are clearly the winners.
3.27.2007 3:05am
Brubaker:
I don't see why they would have a right to avoid "gratuitous pain," but not a right to life. If we can kill them for our pleasure and convenience, why can't we subject them to pain for the same reason?

I don't see the inconsistency. One could ground the right to avoid gratuitous pain in an animal's ability to experience suffering, while their lack of a right to life could stem from their lack of sentience. (Incidentally, our legal system recognizes that people can never lose the right to avoid gratuitous pain/suffering, while they can do a variety of things to abrogate the right to life).
3.27.2007 3:07am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Nick H.-

The rise of moral relativism has made us less moral than before.

I disagree. Moral relativism has always been the problem but different types have been used depending on the various time periods and goals.

Want to take someone's land and make them work for you? Use the mental gymnastics of moral relativism to justify it: they're not of the same religion; infantilize them; they're not of our ethnicity; their culture is inferior; etc, etc, etc.. Don't like a group and want to exterminate them? More of the same: they're lazy; they're dirty; they're "work-shy"; society will be better off without them, thanks to the utopia that eugenics will provide; etc, etc, etc...

And note that while a lot of religious types love to use the term "moral relativism", frequently it is moral relativism used religiously that is the source of many problems. After all - if everyone that believe differently from you is going to hell anyway, why not steal from them? Why not enslave them? Why not automatically take a fellow believer's side when a non-believer has a dispute with them?
3.27.2007 3:49am
advisory opinion:
Cows, chickens, etc. have found the ultimate adaption and are the peak of evolution. It would be cruel of us to deny them their just rewards. They get free health care, free food, protection from predators, shelter from the elements, genetic lines that have blossomed into millions of individuals. From the POV of natural selection, these guys are clearly the winners.


Dogs are the clear winners. They get all the above, plus they get to boss other animals around (sheep) AND they don't get eaten (excepting a few dog-eating cultures . . .).
3.27.2007 3:50am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
As far as the death penalty goes, there have been enough innocent people sprung from death row and released for other serious crimes to convince me that the government shouldn't be in the business of executing people.
3.27.2007 3:55am
Ilya Somin:
I don't see why they would have a right to avoid "gratuitous pain," but not a right to life. If we can kill them for our pleasure and convenience, why can't we subject them to pain for the same reason?

I don't see the inconsistency. One could ground the right to avoid gratuitous pain in an animal's ability to experience suffering, while their lack of a right to life could stem from their lack of sentience.(Incidentally, our legal system recognizes that people can never lose the right to avoid gratuitous pain/suffering, while they can do a variety of things to abrogate the right to life).


Yes, you could say that. But I don't see the logic behind it. If we care about the animals' ability to experience suffering, why should we not also care about its ability to experience pleasure (which will be terminated if we kill it). As for our legal system, it does not justify "gratuitous" suffering, but it does permit a great deal of suffering that is justified on other grounds. By that standard, the pain of animals we use for meat is not gratuitous because it serves the purpose of saving money and freeing up resources for other purposes.
3.27.2007 3:59am
Stash:
The problem I see with "animal rights" is that there are no complimentary "animal duties." Even incompetent humans have duties, such as paying their bills. I have seen the argument that we give "human vegetables" (dare I say Schiavo) have rights, but I think that proves too much. We cannot start according rights to turnips. Animals simply lack the capacity to enter into the social contract that creates rights. That does not mean it is moral to wantonly torture or kill them. The moral thing used be calling being "humane." That is, the urge to kindness comes from people, not animals.
One interesting consequence of panvegetarianism might be, as an economic effect, a vast reduction in the population of animals now raised for meat. Who will keep and feed pigs when there is no market for them? Animals domesticated for meat for centuries will have no one to bring them their food. A few will be kept in preserves, but we will no longer be able to pay for their care feeding as we do on a vast scale now. In short, my friends, the end of meat-eating could be genocide!
3.27.2007 4:01am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Tek Jansen-

I have no idea how we should help Africa lift itself up, but I believe that ignorance will be considered a moral failing.

I haven't made a thorough study of it, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with mostly socialists and collectivists tackling the problem. They don't realize a functioning legal system and the protection of property rights are absolutely fundamental, so as a result the local military junta has nice roads to drive around on to loot other peoples' stuff, hoard food aid, etc.
3.27.2007 4:06am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Fascinating thread.

I do see us moving away from abortion. Originally, it was based (IMHO) on a woman's right to her own body, esp. as compared to the rights of her male relatives (esp. father and husband). Pregnancy was something that was essentially imposed on females by males. And, from that point of view, abortion may have be seen as morally better than forced childbearing. But birth control has progressed to the point now that in most cases, the woman now has significant culpability in getting pregnant. Esp. now that we have morning after pills for those pesky situations such as rape. And, technology here is only going to get better, with more effective birth control with fewer and fewer side effeccts being developed. Added to this is that premie technology has developed to the extent that most 3rd trimester aborted fetuses are viable, as are many 2nd trimester ones. We may end up where the Roe v. Wade Court seemed to think it was going, with a woman having the say the 1st trimester, and the state the 3rd trimester in most cases. Or, we may end up just saying that unless the woman can prove that she wasn't culpable, she shouldn't be able to abort. I still don't see that absolutism returning, given the imposition that an unwanted pregnancy has over a woman's life.

But along with that, I do see that paternity will become more easily established. Yes, in some states, esp. CA, it seems like the state is almost arbitrarily assigning paternity. But that is running counter to the increasing ease of genetic testing. Why should a man be forced by the state to support a child not genetically his own, when the real father can be determined and truly identified?

I think that maybe the answer to the problem of hitting some guy up to support a kid not genetically his, for the presumed benefit of the child, could potentially be ameliorated by having the mother made liable to the legal but non-biological father for the child support he pays/paid. After all, it was her philandering that caused the problem of him paying child support for a kid that wasn't biologically his in the first place.
3.27.2007 4:14am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
HA-

I suspect income equality, too, will come to bother us more and more in the years ahead, to a point where we are willing to regard as immoral the decision of some to live the lives of splendor that they live. This isn't to say we'll become more comfortable with taxing the hell out of those people; it's just to say that we'll think they're bad people for not reducing their own well-being by a marginal amount in order to improve that of others.

But this redistibution doesn't seem to work. In the extreme forms it just leads to starvation and poverty for all except the planners and their cronies. If you tax away capital for investment you are crippling everyone's well-being and making everyone poorer. And the taxing doesn't even need to get to extremes to inhibit entrepeneurship, investment, invention, innovation, etc.
3.27.2007 4:32am
advisory opinion:

If we care about the animals' ability to experience suffering, why should we not also care about its ability to experience pleasure (which will be terminated if we kill it).


Because pain is not always the inverse of pleasure. Why treat them as if they were on the same continuum, or symmetrical? They're not.

The moral response to suffering is to help to alleviate it, whereas there is no moral compulsion to increase one's pleasure. One makes a very direct moral appeal to our sense of charity, the other does not.
3.27.2007 4:38am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The problem with equality of results, or to rephrase it, reducing the disparity of incomes, is that economically, it is counter productive. The only real way of doing that is if everyone is poor together. Because, it is both the possibility and the actuality of such a disparity that makes our capitalistic system work. Potentiality because it gives our inherant greed an incentive to take the chances necessary to make a lot of money. And the actuality, because a disparity in wealth means that some are possessed with excess wealth that they cannot realistically spend, and so invest.

But despite its obvious failure as an economic theory, we see socialism continuing to creep into our economy and society. For example, all of the major Democratic candidates for president right now have their own competing proposals for socialized medicine.

And this gets us into a moral delimma that we haven't thoroughly is payment for medical care. On the one hand, is seems a bit immoral if someone is refused some treatment because they can't afford good health care. On the other hand, in many cases, this is because of choices they made at some point in their lives, whether to get pregnant instead of going to college, or to spend their health insurance money on beer, as is done by many male 20 somethings right now.

Of course, being somewhat libertarian, I cannot accept either the morality of having a person who made the right choices and worked hard pay for medical services for a guy who didn;'t, and also cannot accept forcing someone to pay for health insurance if he doesn't want to - but that means that I can accept denying him medical services as a result.

But this gets me to another moral issue, that of massively subsidizing the older portion of the population, via in our country, Social Security and Medicare. This is a result of good intentions, and maybe even good social policy, gone bad. Currently, we have wage earners trying to raise families on minimal incomes massively subsidizing the richest segment of our population, the elderly. We, along with much of the 1st World, have massive wealth transfer going on between those who need the money the worst to those who already have most of it. While started for legitimate reasons, it has turned into massive rent seeking at the ballot box by this richest segment of our population. And, of course, it is only going to get worse, as my generation, the Baby Boomers, retire and demand their just rewards here.
3.27.2007 4:39am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
advisory opinion-

The moral response to suffering is to help to alleviate it, whereas there is no moral compulsion to increase one's pleasure. One makes a very direct moral appeal to our sense of charity, the other does not.

Well in terms of people we do this all the time. If a wealthy person's home is burglarized the police still come and try to catch the thieves. And if the stolen property is recovered it is returned to the rightful owners. When the slaves were freed they received compensation. The Holocaust survivors were given their property back when it could be found. Are you saying there isn't a direct moral appeal here? If you were running a society I don't know that I'd want to be a part of it - sounds like your person would be somewhat safe and you'd get a bowl of gruel, but everything else would be up for grabs since it wouldn't be morally appealing to protect them.
3.27.2007 4:59am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Bruce Hayden-

Of course, being somewhat libertarian, I cannot accept either the morality of having a person who made the right choices and worked hard pay for medical services for a guy who didn;'t, and also cannot accept forcing someone to pay for health insurance if he doesn't want to - but that means that I can accept denying him medical services as a result.

But this gets me to another moral issue, that of massively subsidizing the older portion of the population, via in our country, Social Security and Medicare. This is a result of good intentions, and maybe even good social policy, gone bad. Currently, we have wage earners trying to raise families on minimal incomes massively subsidizing the richest segment of our population, the elderly. We, along with much of the 1st World, have massive wealth transfer going on between those who need the money the worst to those who already have most of it. While started for legitimate reasons, it has turned into massive rent seeking at the ballot box by this richest segment of our population. And, of course, it is only going to get worse, as my generation, the Baby Boomers, retire and demand their just rewards here.


Funny, you don't see anyone pushing for the AMA to stop its limitation on the number of doctors and medical schools. People would rather loot their children and grandchildren and destroy the economy rather than look for real solutions.
3.27.2007 5:05am
Brubaker:
If we care about the animals' ability to experience suffering, why should we not also care about its ability to experience pleasure (which will be terminated if we kill it).

You argue that inflicting suffering is equivalent to depriving future pleasure (and so the right to life is necessarily tied to the right to the right to be free of gratuitous suffering). This makes an incorrect assumption about the nature of an animal's future pleasure : First, the animal would not exist -- experiencing whatever pleasure it does -- if it were not intended for food (therefore you can think of it less as *depriving it of life* and more as *providing it with life*). Second, an animal's natural tendency is to homeostasis -- a middle-ground between pleasure and pain. A 'happy' cow is not happy as such, just non-tortured.

As for our legal system, it does not justify "gratuitous" suffering, but it does permit a great deal of suffering that is justified on other grounds. By that standard, the pain of animals we use for meat is not gratuitous because it serves the purpose of saving money and freeing up resources for other purposes.


The pain that animals in our food industry experience is unnecessarily excessive because the cost savings are not *that* substantial vis-a-vis the suffering necessary to obtain those savings (you can save, what, 50 cent by purchasing the eggs of tortured hens vs. free-range hens?). The nature of the food industry is such that even the *slightest* savings in cost justifies *any* increase in pain to the animal.
3.27.2007 5:06am
advisory opinion:
American Psikhushka,

Are you saying there isn't a direct moral appeal here? If you were running a society I don't know that I'd want to be a part of it - sounds like your person would be somewhat safe and you'd get a bowl of gruel, but everything else would be up for grabs since it wouldn't be morally appealing to protect them.


What a strange interpretation of what I said.

The loss of property, unjust imprisonment, or forced labour are forms of suffering that can be alleviated by compensation in kind or the return of chattels lost. Restitution isn't really "increasing" anyone's pleasure.

Surely the doctrine of unjust enrichment and our notions of equity reflect this asymmetry? Increasing the pleasure of the unjustly enriched does not take priority over the suffering of the claimant, whose claim for restitution merely restores the status quo.
3.27.2007 5:53am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
advisory opinion-

The loss of property, unjust imprisonment, or forced labour are forms of suffering that can be alleviated by compensation in kind or the return of chattels lost. Restitution isn't really "increasing" anyone's pleasure.

Surely the doctrine of unjust enrichment and our notions of equity reflect this asymmetry? Increasing the pleasure of the unjustly enriched does not take priority over the suffering of the claimant, whose claim for restitution merely restores the status quo.


This seems different from what you stated before. Before it seemed like you were focused on only non-suffering rather than restitution, reparations, just compensation, etc.
3.27.2007 6:40am
advisory opinion:
How is it different? Restitution and compensation are restorations of the status quo ante (an alleviation of losses suffered), not increases in the stock of pleasure.

I don't think I have a moral obligation to increase your pleasure, but I think we rather feel the tug of conscience when someone else's suffering - avoidable suffering - is involved. Are there exceptions to the rule? Sure, when the alleviation of suffering also involves incidental pleasures (a morphine drip for pain relief for example).

It is one thing to minimise suffering, quite another to maximise happiness.
3.27.2007 7:39am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Tek. Ref slavery. Yes, slavery was a moral failing. So? My point was that it had nothing to do with colonialism, which was the thrust of that paragraph.
3.27.2007 9:03am
AppSocRes (mail):
Every post above, and indeed, the start of this thread, fall into exactly the fallacy that Ilya seems to be warning against: Whiggish history.

Respected philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle had perfectly reasonable arguments in favor of slavery, torture, infanticide, limitations on democracy and freedom of individual action, and other practices that currently seem objectionable and seem to be becoming more objectionable with time. There is no reason why such practices should not once again become morally acceptable.

In fact, infanticide and "mercy" killings (practices that were absolutely and utterly moral abhorent in thge USA and Europe when I was a child) seem to be more and more accepted. As to cruelty to animals: The practiuce of eating animals alive (cutting and eating bits of fresh flesh off the living animals until they die) has fallen in and out of favor, being temporarily common as late as Georgian times in England and a little over a century ago in Ethiopia, and this despite the Noahide prohibition.

It's worth remembering that John Stuart Mill found many of the underground sexual practices of his day (prostitution, homosexuality, abortion) morally repugnant and thought that they would disappear with moral progress. Little did he know that a century and a half later their moral acceptability would be regarded by some as veritable markers of the moral progress he hoped for and preached.

The helical view of history - including moral history - is probably more acurate than either the pagan cyclic view or the current linear progression view.
3.27.2007 9:07am
Latinist:
I agree with the people who have pointed out that we shouldn't assume moral development means "progress." As such, I like the list of suggested possible moral changes, but I wonder if the changes might not as likely be in the opposite direction: toward less sympathy with animals, harsher criminal punishments, a stronger right to abortion, etc.

One thing I'd like to add to the list: I wonder how much longer the whole idea of "privacy" will last. It doesn't seem to me particularly easy to defend on first principles, and technology seems to be working against it.

And Stash: your point about the "morality we can afford" is a good one, but maybe not that consistent. You say: "A society that does not have the wealth to house criminals must use capital and corporeal punishment or forced labor in order to 'afford' law enforcement." But poor societies don't always have harsher punishments than rich ones. Ancient Rome was (I think) never as rich as nineteenth-century England; but Rome never (as far as we can tell) had a death penalty for theft (in spite, of course, of being much crueler in other ways).
3.27.2007 9:50am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The problem with equality of results, or to rephrase it, reducing the disparity of incomes, is that economically, it is counter productive.

So, you are saying that you believe in capitalism. That under capitalism, some people are going to be poor through no fault of their own, or at least due to factors beyond their control (because there are winners and losers, those that make it, and those that don't, it's just the nature and actually necessary feature of the system). Yet if these people can't afford medical care (and I went to the emergency room a couple weeks ago for three stitches in my finger, the bill came yesterday for $701, thankfully covered by insurance), well that's just tough.
3.27.2007 10:19am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
In fact, infanticide and "mercy" killings (practices that were absolutely and utterly moral abhorent in thge USA and Europe when I was a child) seem to be more and more accepted.

I don't see any evidence where infanticide is becoming more accepted in this country or Europe. As for mercy killing, unless you are equating that with assisted suicide (which is a conscious and reasoned decision by the patient to end his or her own life) you are exaggerating the acceptance.

Medical technology has made great strides in extending life in the last thirty years or so. If by "mercy killings" you are referring to incidents like the Terry Schiavo case, she simply would not have been alive in the past. Maintaining the lives of patients in a persistent vegetative state was simply impossible until fairly. So the debate about when it is proper to discontinue feeding is a moral issue that simply did not exist thirty or forty years ago. The very same is true at birth. Severely disabled children used to be allowed to die quietly because it was simply impossible to save them. Now all kinds of moral decisions must be made as to what kinds of treatments and efforts will be taken unfortunately, the cost of the treatment often influences the decisions made, but as Bruce Hayden would say, that's capitalism. It is probably better to save the severely disabled child of a rich productive person like Paris Hilton than the moderately disabled child of a plumber, carpenter, or auto mechanic.
3.27.2007 10:37am
Spartacus (www):
Slavery was obviously a substantial moral failing of the Western world, regardless of whether it was also a moral failing of others.

Yes, but the credit for abolition goes almost exclusively to the Western world.
3.27.2007 10:43am
Spartacus (www):
there have been enough innocent people sprung from death row and released for other serious crimes to convince me that the government shouldn't be in the business of executing people.

It seems to me that innocents being sprung from death row is an argument for the death penalty--since there is no evidence of innocents actually being executed, innocents being freed shows that "the system works," and executes only the guilty.
3.27.2007 10:45am
Spartacus (www):
The helical view of history

Wasn't this espoused by the mathemetician and artist Fomenko?
3.27.2007 10:47am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Yes, but the credit for abolition goes almost exclusively to the Western world.

Well, who else was going to abolish it. The Western World was the culture that industrialized slavery.
3.27.2007 10:51am
Spartacus (www):
The Western World was the culture that industrialized slavery.

The Western world industrialized everything. Is industrialization synonomous with morality? It may be that certain moral codes are only supoprtable as a luxury by a more industrialized civilization. Still, industrialization or no, many non-western societies practice slavery to this day.
3.27.2007 10:59am
Jitterbob:
J.F. Thomas,

Re: infanticide

Google "Groningen Protocol" for the growing practice of ending the life of newborns who are disabled.

(There's also the partial-birth abortion debate in our country too - which is arguably the ending of the life of a newborn or about-to-be-born, but that's another issue.)
3.27.2007 11:03am
Voorhies (mail):
I can not believe what I'm reading on this thread . Moral progress? We are sixty something years from the holocaust. Read Paul Johnson" Modern times", history of the 20th century. We have some fundamentals to work out before we move on to animal rights.
3.27.2007 11:04am
Anon. Lib.:
I think it is fascinating that self-styled libertarians cannot conceive of an argument against meat eating. I would think that a libertarian would start from the default position that it is immoral to unnecessarily impose suffering and/or death on any being possessing even a small amount of awareness or ability to feel pleasure or pain. And the morality of meat eating, in all most all cases, would depend for libertarians on whether animals lack awareness or the ability to feel. Now, call me crazy, but shouldn't the individual meat eating libertarian bear the burden of justifying the absence of such awareness or ability to suffer? And if you grant that such ability exists---as Professor Somin appears to do---how can you justify causing that suffering just to increase your own pleasure? I'm befuddled by this.

(I think it could be moral under libertarian principles to eat animals that are somewhat self-aware and/or which can feel pain or pleasure in cases of necessity or when meat eating doesn't cause any increase in suffering such as, I suppose, as eating deer culled to reduce destructively high deer populations)
3.27.2007 11:06am
Jitterbob:
J.F. Thomas,

Sorry, when I posted, I hadn't read through your entire post. It looks like you would quibble about the Groningen Protocol being an instance of a growing acceptance of infanticide.

Also, I'm horrified that you said:

It is probably better to save the severely disabled child of a rich productive person like Paris Hilton than the moderately disabled child of a plumber, carpenter, or auto mechanic.


Is the value of a human life now dependent on whether someone is willing to pay for his/her sustenance?
3.27.2007 11:07am
plunge (mail):
"I like to eat meat, and I can't think of a logically consistent defense of animal rights that doesn't entail the conclusion that meat-eating is immoral."

Wait, so your big objection against a moral argument is that it doesn't fit your sense of personal enjoyment?

I've yet to see a serious argument that actually directly responds to animal rights with anything other than what boils down to "but I enjoy the fruits of causing suffering too much!"
3.27.2007 11:11am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Is the value of a human life now dependent on whether someone is willing to pay for his/her sustenance?

Obviously, you don't recognize sarcasm when you see it.
3.27.2007 11:12am
plunge (mail):
"I can not believe what I'm reading on this thread. Moral progress? We are sixty something years from the holocaust."

Sixty years before that, few people would have ever even thought the Holocaust to be particularly evil in the way we do today. It's not like genocide was invented by Hitler. He just had the technology to carry it out on an industrialized scale. The fact that people are particularly horrified and outraged by it is something of a NEW development in human moral history, and hence, progress. There will always be movements and men who buck a moral consensus. But that's not the same thing as asking what that consensus IS, and noting that it has changed for the better. 300 years ago, a heck of a lot more people thought that slavery was no big deal. After all, it was sanctioned by the Bible, so how could it possibly be wrong?

Good grief. We are all living in possibly the first century in all of human history where most of the world's nations and many of its people (including the vast majority in the industrialized West) agree that racism is unwarranted and illegitimate, that women should have equal legal rights, and so on.
3.27.2007 11:18am
Jitterbob:
J.F. Thomas,

Glad to see you're sarcastic. The problem is, though, that there are plenty of people who would accept the basic premise underlying the sarcastic statement: namely, that human rights are not derived from the fact that the individiual is a human being, but that human rights are derived from an economic or cost/benefit analysis. I was lumping you in with them, and for that, I apologize.
3.27.2007 11:23am
plunge (mail):
I think the future development of attitudes towards meat will go like this:

1) In 50 years, a technology for mass producing "mindless" (i.e. the edible parts grown in some fashion without a higher brain function included) meat in a factory will become both available, and begin to be more cost effective than raising complete animals. It will also allow better control over things like taste, fattiness, and so forth.

2) While some will object on moral grounds, by and large most animal rights proponents will be comfortable with the reality of this technology (and I mean the Singer-type: the PETA type would scream that we are abusing mother nature if we even cultured cow cells devoid of any brain at all) and it will thus satisfy everyone: both ethically and to the mass market palate.

3) Jump ahead another 50 years after this technology has by and large replaced most factory production of meat (except for a few holdouts who claim that farm raised pigs taste better or something). I think by this time, having the option to eat non-suffering meat will have drained away the main underlying reasons for objecting to animal rights (i.e., not enjoying or wanting to put effort into being a vegetarian), and we WILL, in fact, look back on the present day as monstrously selfish and immoral.
3.27.2007 11:25am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Is the value of a human life now dependent on whether someone is willing to pay for his/her sustenance?

My sarcasm aside, in our current system of medical care, it most certainly is.

As for your link. Again I think that the protocol you point to reiterates my initial point. I dated a pediatrician for awhile and she told me that the most heartbreaking cases were those where the doctors knew that the children had absolutely no hope for long term survival but medical technology could give them a few more weeks, months, or even a year of pain-filled, agonizing life which they would spend in the hospital in a round of operations, much of the time hooked up to machines. In such cases, some parents would choose minimal care and let the child slip away. But other parents would insist on every possible step to extend their child's lives, apparently hoping beyond hope that a miracle would occur or some medical breakthrough would be discovered.
3.27.2007 11:29am
Truth Seeker:
I don't know anything about African colonialism, but whenever I read about Darfur, Mugabe or any of the other currect horrors, I wonder if Africa would be in better shape if it was still colonized.
3.27.2007 11:30am
Abe Delnore:
Hey, Ilya, get your facts straight! France passed a law phasing out peacetime conscription in 1996. The last French conscripts completed their service in 2001.

It is completely true that French conscription produced a military product of questionable utility for the post-WWII period and probably longer. French conscripts chiefly garrisoned France while volunteers, colonists, and mercenaries manned the forward-deployed and expeditionary forces.

--Abe Delnore
3.27.2007 11:36am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Truth Seeker. Boy, have you stuck your head in the PC grinder.
The reason we don't hear more about Darfur--although we hear a lot--is that it condemns Africans generally and Muslims specifically and that's racism. It means we're superior.
We heard a whole lot more about apartheid in South Africa, since you could blame white people. Leading some conservatives to say that apartheid must be worse than genocide--the instant case being Cambodia, I believe.
3.27.2007 11:36am
Jitterbob:
JF Thomas,
You bring up some tough questions about when to technologically extend painful life or not. Tough questions I don't have answers to. I'm just worried about the path we start on about questions of "quality of life", and determining what would be a "painful" existence. Using technology to artificially extend the life of a newborn who will inevitably pass away in a few weeks is one thing; ending the life of a newborn who will live with the help of limited technology, though with disabilities with the rest of his/her life, is another (eg, someone with cerebral palsy).
3.27.2007 11:45am
Tek Jansen:
Tek: In the past half-millenium, two of the most prominent moral failings dealt with Africa - slavery and colonialism.

Richard Aubrey: Tek. Ref slavery. Yes, slavery was a moral failing. So? My point was that it had nothing to do with colonialism, which was the thrust of that paragraph.

Please learn to read.
3.27.2007 12:19pm
ctb:
I fail to see how "forced labor" as you put it is that different from taxation. If I have to pay more than a quarter of my income to the government as taxes, is that really so different that forcing me to spend some time doing some work for the government? Really its as if I am spending 25% of my work day doing "forced labor" for the government. So are your equally opposed to taxatsion? Or just to taxation at the rates we currently pay?

Is spending 6 months of mandatory military training or public service really different than paying such a large percentage of our income as taxes? I don't think so.

Not that I support those types of programs.
3.27.2007 12:28pm
A.C.:
Just to open another can of worms, what about family matters? I don't just mean our current obsessions, like the role of fathers. Does anyone see any drastic changes in the preferred ideas about family structure, for example a deemphasis on the nuclear family and a return to the notion of family as clan?

Imagine a world where it would be morally unthinkable for grandparents to retire to Hilton Head instead of paying for their grandchildren's education, and where the grandchildren assumed a reciprocal moral obligation to the grandparents in their final years. Does anyone see anything like that happening, perhaps in response to dissatisfaction with the state of public benefits?
3.27.2007 12:33pm
Frater Plotter:
How about the following moral transformations:

Can you have a moral obligation to a robot? It's reasonable to expect that technology will produce robots or computer programs with some measure of intelligence, will, and self-awareness: the ability to reason about the world, to have goals and intentions, and to understand one's position in the world. How advanced does a robot have to be before it's wrong to hurt it gratuitously or destroy it? How intelligent does it have to be, before it's wrong to treat it as a piece of property?

Moral obligations of creators. Whether by building intelligent robots or by genetically engineering organisms, we will have the ability to create intelligent life to our specification. Not only does this mean being able to choose the hair-color of your child ... but also whatever genetic factors predispose him or her to particular moods, skills, and so forth.

Today we recognize that parents have an obligation to care for their children. We regard as "good parents" those who raise up children who are both successful and morally sound, and as "bad parents" those who raise cruel children, unhappy children, and criminals.

Is it wrong to deliberately set out to create a child with the genetic tendency to be gay, knowing that gays still face so much hatred that they have an increased rate of suicide? Is it wrong to create a child with a genetic tendency to higher intelligence, knowing that smarter people tend to be more discontent with their lives and more prone to depression?

(Or, for a modern example: Is it wrong to choose the sex of your child, knowing that all your neighbors are choosing theirs to be of the same sex, thus unbalancing the next generation? Let's watch China over the next 20 years ...)

As technology advances, even more problems emerge:

Is it wrong to create a living being that will experience intractable pain its whole life? Is it wrong to create an intelligent being (possibly in human form) whose primary motivation or intention in life is not its own survival, but rather to serve you?
3.27.2007 12:42pm
Ken Arromdee:
I think that maybe the answer to the problem of hitting some guy up to support a kid not genetically his, for the presumed benefit of the child, could potentially be ameliorated by having the mother made liable to the legal but non-biological father for the child support he pays/paid. After all, it was her philandering that caused the problem of him paying child support for a kid that wasn't biologically his in the first place.

Doesn't work. The child support payments are officially going to the child, not to the mother, even though the mother completely controls how they're spent. If you try to balance the child support by saying the mother owes damages in the opposite direction, she can refuse to pay the damages and still receive the support. The support can't be garnished to pay for the damages since it isn't officially going to her.
3.27.2007 12:48pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I don't know anything about African colonialism, but whenever I read about Darfur, Mugabe or any of the other currect horrors, I wonder if Africa would be in better shape if it was still colonized.

It's odd that a decidedly libertarian site that supposedly abhors government interference and defines involuntary government service as "forced labor" seems so undisturbed and even approving of colonialism. What could be a more arrogant or unfettered use of government power than claiming a foreign land by divine or sovereign right, subjugating, displacing, or even exterminating the native population, voiding or usurping their preexisting claims to property and substituting their laws and religions for that of the conquering power, all without consent of the native population?

That seems considerably worse than "forced labor".
3.27.2007 12:49pm
SenatorX (mail):
"The rise of moral relativism has made us less moral than before."

Sorry but that is ignorant. Here is my observation from a lot of reading and thinking about morals. To start the word morals has spiritual connotations which immediately sends people on the wrong track. Any decent discussion of what's "moral" would have to start with a definition of the term. Upon examination it becomes quite clear that morals are another word for values. There are some who think values come from god and a study of philosophy would find author after author trying to rationally work his way back to "proving" god exists because man is moral. They ALL fail though as they project themselves into their works and as always find exactly what they are looking for.

Really though values are like knowledge in that there is no authoritarian source. They arise from many sources and are competing all the time for the action of their hosts. If you want to study human morality you need to study physiology, psychology, and sociology though not necessarily in that order. Each individual has his own value hierarchy though we definately share many values. Strong survival values such as metabolic and reproduction will over-ride weaker values. For example the pacifist who finds a psycho woman invading their house and running at their 3 year old with a knife will not hesitate to shoot.

Beyond the physiological values we are imprinted with cultural, religious, national, parental, etc. In my opinion I define someone as "enlightened" who realizes this and sets upon themselves to determining what values they have and why. Then to reorder their values (or try) based on their intellect and perception. I always find it difficult to be around people who defend values they have never questioned. Not the "strength of ones convictions" but rather "the strength to CHALLENGE ones convictions" is what's admirable. I call these people sleepwalkers though I don't harrass them usually because everyone is at a different stage of understand. It is so very hard to see around your own corner and I contantly catch myself defending values that have been put in me by others. The work never ends!

As far as animals go it's just that life values life (over non life). Humans value humans over non humans. And we cast this across all the animal kingdom in a value hierarchy based on a)animals that are "like humans" are valued higher and b) animals that increase human power are valued over animals that do not. So apes, whales, and dolphins are valued more than say spiders because they are social mammals, like us.

One could say though I understand to live is to kill and all life kills as it lives, I believe it is moral to kill as little as possible. And so you go on with the hubris against plant life.

The libertarian vs. socialism bent on this is that libertarians are those that have chosen between the values of individual vs. herd. Having intellectually placed the individual higher in the hierarchy than the herd they have drawn a line in the sand. However these individuals usually also understand the herd advantages and are usually WILLING to forgoe some individual rights for groups rights, as long as it is a CHOICE by the individual. Socialism is at core a forcing of herd values to a higher place in the value hierarchy.

That's my 2 cents at least...
3.27.2007 12:50pm
Ken Arromdee:
Is it wrong to create a child with a genetic tendency to higher intelligence, knowing that smarter people tend to be more discontent with their lives and more prone to depression?

The same can be said of *teaching* a kid. Someone who's smarter in the sense of having been taught more (regardless of whether teaching actually changes someone's IQ score) is subject to many of the same problems suffered by someone who's natively more intelligent. So is it also immoral to teach a kid more than the average person is taught? What if you try to get your kid interested in science, knowing that kids who are interested in science get picked on?
3.27.2007 12:53pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Tek. I referred to slavery to pre-empt the reflexive conflation of slavery with colonialism. Separate issues.

J. F. You are talking about sovereign countries? Those parts of the world the Europeans colonized didn't have sovereign countries. The idea of the nation state is European and could be dated from, say, the Thirty Years War.
What Europeans found was places run by people who hadn't asked the ruled for their permission and who may have come from some distance--see the Zulus, for example. Or the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico. They were so awful that their subjects lined up with Cortez. And they weren't native, having come from some place called Aztlan which may have been Utah, or may not.
Truth teller is merely wondering if the automatic assumption that colonialization is worse for the locals than their local rulers has any empirical support.
The Belgian Congo under Leopold was pretty grim. South Africa and East Africa under the Brits was much better than being depopulated by the Zulu and Matabele conquests/folkwandering. And better than the places run by the Germans.
The Muslims killed tens of millions of Hindus when they invaded India. Hard to find an example of the Europeans doing the same anywhere.
But, anyway, Truth Teller is asking that something be examined, rather than presumed, or so I would take his point.
3.27.2007 1:07pm
La Rana (www):
A libertarian who supports the death penalty is a libertarian in name alone. Your words are without meaning.
3.27.2007 1:07pm
Fran (mail) (www):
Re: Animal Rights

Given: we have the moral right to eat other animals due to our observation of nature and natural selection.

Argument: Once we 'advanced' enough to domesticate these animals and grow them for our convenience and sustenance, do we not shoulder any moral burden to at least grow them and kill them as with as little discomfort for the animal as possible.

ie: Factory farming; does the end (food), justify the means (cruel conditions-lack of movement, foul air, excrement removal, etc)?
3.27.2007 1:32pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
What Europeans found was places run by people who hadn't asked the ruled for their permission and who may have come from some distance--see the Zulus, for example. Or the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico. They were so awful that their subjects lined up with Cortez.

We can certainly debate til the cows come home whether or not the Spanish were "better" than the Aztec, Inca (one of the largest empires the world has ever seen) or the Maya (although the Maya were certainly in decline by the time of Colombus), or the Iroquis Confederacy was better than the English in New York State (where most of the defections were to live with the Indians, not the other way around). Or to what extent the concept of a sovereign nation has to exist before it becomes illegitimate for a European nation to claim an entire continent for the King (who of course rules by divine right because some "watery tart lobbed a sword at him"). Mexico has still not recovered its pre-Columbian population and the complex societies of the Americas were mostly wiped out (up to 95% of the pre-Columbian population) by the waves disease that swept across the continent between 1500 and 1700.

But the contention that some of the areas colonized by Europeans had previously been conquered by others is an interesting ones. You seem to be arguing that it is okay for the British to subjugate the Zulu because they were invaders from a few hundred miles to the north because the British came from 8000 miles to the north. Apparently, the further away the invader comes from, the more legitimate the invasion. That kind of makes the "good guys" in the Boer Wars a tossup, doesn't it. And because Australia and England are about as far apart as you can get on this earth, it excuses the policy of extermination carried out on that continent (the last bounties paid for dead Aborigines were finally abolished in the 1860's).
3.27.2007 1:39pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
J.F. You are arguing that the further away a conqueror comes from, the less legitimate he is. Why is that true?
I make no point regarding distance.
I am talking about the results to the people on scene of colonialization versus remaining under whoever had taken them over last.

The book "1491" is good on disease in the Americas. Problem is, that's not a matter of colonialization, but of people just showing up. Europe was improving its shipping, looking west. Morison in his The European Discovery of America" explains that, prior to Columbus, the city of Bristol occasionally put together a small fleet to go stooging around in the North Atlantic looking for Huy Brasil. My guess is that was to support cod fishing on the Grand Banks, but there may have been some other reason. Eventually, Spanish or not, Columbus or not, somebody would have gotten to the Americas post-Norse.
The Pilgrims had a better time of it than they might otherwise have had because some of the area they settled had been depopulated by smallpox caught from shipwrecked French fishermen.
In "1491", for example, Mann refers to the first European down the Amazon and the first one down the Mississippi. They both saw practically cheek-by-jowl settlements. The next guy down each river, maybe fifty years later, saw almost nobody. It wasn't that Daniel Boone or Pizarro was lining the poor natives up to be shot. It was before the colonists.
And it would have happened eventually because the Europeans were coming at least to fish.
So the population crash of the Americas was the result of European contact, not of colonialization.
3.27.2007 1:59pm
Christopher (mail):
Future generations will condemn us for our attitudes about and inaction on prison rape. Prison per se isn't morally objectionable so much as the fact that we assume responsibility for the prisoners' safety only to show such careless disregard for their basic human rights.

I doubt that attitudes on animal rights will carry much weight, although the baby boomers will likely value their empty nest poochies much more highly than anyone before them. But that seems to me to be a passing sentiment, not a rigorous moral case.

Infanticide, income equality, death penalty? All of these issues have been with us throughout history and I suspect that future generations will share in these hard cases as well, rather than judging us for failing to find a clear solution that doesn't exist.
3.27.2007 2:09pm
marghlar:
I don't know anything about African colonialism, but whenever I read about Darfur, Mugabe or any of the other currect horrors, I wonder if Africa would be in better shape if it was still colonized.

Well, then you need to learn more about the African experience under colonialism. Start with the history of how the Belgians ran the Congo, and see if you still think the same thing.
3.27.2007 2:11pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I am talking about the results to the people on scene of colonialization versus remaining under whoever had taken them over last.

My original point was I don't understand how libertarians can justify colonization. "They did it first" is a second grade argument to justify conquest of native peoples. And to claim that some Indians allied with Cortez in his campaign against the Aztecs hardly proves that the Spanish were a better deal than the Aztecs. They knew nothing about the pain that was about to rain down on them from the Spanish and I am sure that those Indians that survived the various nasty diseases imported by the Spanish lived to regret their decision to back Cortez. And to argue that just because disease did most of the dirty work for the Europeans in the Americas does not mean that they weren't willing, able and capable of mass slaughter when it suited them. The Europeans certainly hunted the Caribbean Indians to extinction when disease didn't wipe them out fast enough. The treatment of the Aborigines in Australia relegated them to a class of vermin that deserved death if they got in the way of European settlement. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, serious and respectable Americans advocated the extermination of the American Indian.
3.27.2007 2:16pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
"It is striking that no one has yet proven that even one innocent person has been executed in the US since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, despite very extensive efforts to find such proof."

Not very striking when you consider that lawyers stop trying to save their clients' lives ONCE THEY'RE DEAD.

What "extensive efforts" are you referring to? Nobody's going back and digging up those cases -- they're trying to keep the Government from taking their clients out of their cells, walking them down the hall, and pumping poison into their veins.

And if you think killing someone is the same as imprisoning them, your moral compass is downright broken.
3.27.2007 2:17pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
It wasn't that Daniel Boone or Pizarro was lining the poor natives up to be shot.

Pizarro is rather a bizarre example to choose if you want to demonstrate the relatively benign conquest of the Americas. He reveled in the mass slaughter of native peoples.
3.27.2007 2:21pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
The Federalists say: "Death penalty opponents have been working very hard for many years to find a case of an innocent being executed, without success."

Who? Name one outfit doing that.

What abolitionists have been doing is showing that people -- yes, people -- headed towards execution are innocent. Are you saying that they found them all, and exonerated them all? Even in Alabama, where prisoners don't even get one half-asleep lawyer to bring their post-conviction suit?
3.27.2007 2:25pm
John Kunze (mail):
I suspect income equality, too, will come to bother us more and more in the years ahead, to a point where we are willing to regard as immoral the decision of some to live the lives of splendor that they live.

On the contrary, it may be viewed as immoral for anyone to live a life of leisure, when they could be productive and paying taxes.

Many artists today live in rent protected lofts at little more than the poverty level, thus causing great income inequality. They will have to get productive jobs that bring them up to the median U.S. income. And then they will be taxed to bring the poor in other countries up to the U.S. poverty level.
3.27.2007 2:32pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Pizarro liked mass slaughter, but the problem is that the lefties need ALL the locals to have been wiped out deliberately.
And the Europeans didn't "import" disease, "import" meaning a deliberate act of will.
There are very few places where the original inhabitants were still in charge when the Europeans showed up. My point is that blaming Europeans for it and not the others is nonsense.
The Spanish were hard rulers in Mexico, but whether they managed the same number of murders the Aztecs did is an open question. The Aztecs' subjects may have picked the wrong side, but the point is they had a reason to. The Aztecs were miserable, vicious theocratic conquerors. How about a bad word for them, while you're on the subject of colonialism?

You will note the Amerinds were not exterminated.

The discussion of Australia and the Congo means that there is a more or less empirical idea--finally--that some colonialism is better than the original structure and some is worse.
Now, you may say that colonialism as a concept is wrong. In which case, practically everyplace in the world with people except for, probably, the Kalahari and the Arctic fringes of Eurasia and North America have been done wrong repeatedly. Now what?
3.27.2007 3:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
My original point was I don't understand how libertarians can justify colonization.
Actually, your "original point" was the usual trite, nonsensical comment about how shocked one is to hear a comment on a "libertarian site," as if the political orientation of some of the bloggers here had a damn thing to do with what some commenter said.

Where did any libertarian "justify" colonialism?

What a libertarian might say is that colonialism isn't per se worse than any other form of non-free country/government. A dictatorship in Asia where the dictator lives in, say, Paris is not inherently worse than a dictatorship in Asia where the dictator lives in, say, Hanoi. Whether the former is better or worse than the latter depends on the behavior of the former and the latter, not the ethnicity of each.
3.27.2007 3:25pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
A libertarian who supports the death penalty is a libertarian in name alone. Your words are without meaning.
An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. It's not just contradiction.
3.27.2007 3:27pm
Ilya Somin:
What "extensive efforts" are you referring to? Nobody's going back and digging up those cases -- they're trying to keep the Government from taking their clients out of their cells, walking them down the hall, and pumping poison into their veins.

Quite a few anti-death penalty organizations have invested considerable resources in this. They have an obvious (and understandable) interest in doing so. The Innocence Project is one example. The people who recently successfully lobbied for the DNA testing of a murderer who had already been executed are another example.
3.27.2007 3:32pm
Ilya Somin:
A libertarian who supports the death penalty is a libertarian in name alone. Your words are without meaning.

I suppose then that Ayn Rand, Hayek, Thomas Jefferson, and numerous other clearly libertarian thinkers who supported the death penalty don't count, or perhaps their words are also without meaning.
3.27.2007 3:33pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The Aztecs were miserable, vicious theocratic conquerors. How about a bad word for them, while you're on the subject of colonialism?

Well, because my ancestors are not responsible for the vicious theocratic rule of the Aztecs. However, as a British subject (I hold dual American/British citizenship), I bear some responsibility for the legacy of British colonial excesses. If I criticize the British for their strategic bombing campaign in World War II, does that mean I am excusing the Nazis for their genocide. I hardly think so.

Furthermore, the relative goodness or justness of the societies that the Europeans colonized was or is not the issue I raised. You seem to want to justify European colonization on the notion that "at least they were better than the people they replaced". That is beside the point. I thought the libertarian ideal was personal liberty. Whether or not native peoples' lives were miserable or the particular current occupants of an area were the original occupants, under what libertarian theory is it conceivable that the British, Spanish, French, and Portuguese have the right to subdivide an entire continent (and remember the original right was simply granted by the Pope to the Spanish and the Portuguese) and subsume any claims to property by the native peoples to some created right of a King in Paris or London.

What would Ilya do if I showed up at his door tomorrow and said Queen Elizabeth said I now owned his house? He probably would call the police on me. I wouldn't dare try that at Kopel's house, he would probably shoot me.
3.27.2007 3:36pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I suppose then that Ayn Rand

I thought Ayn Rand despised being called a libertarian.
3.27.2007 3:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
JF. If you didn't do it, your concern for your legacy is conspicuous display of virtue. Otherwise, you have nothing to apologize for. Indians may line up to thank you, I suppose, if you really have a legacy problem.

You miss the point. There was no individual liberty where the colonists arrived. It was only a change of masters. If you want to say the masters should have stayed home, you may have a point. But it had nothing to do with individual liberty, certain unfortunate situations excepted. Even then--Australia, for ex.--the war was now whites against abos, instead of abos against abos. Difference is the whites were better at it.
3.27.2007 3:41pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Actually, your "original point" was the usual trite, nonsensical comment about how shocked one is to hear a comment on a "libertarian site," as if the political orientation of some of the bloggers here had a damn thing to do with what some commenter said.

Of course I realize that many of the people who comment on this site are not libertarian (after all, I am posting, aren't I). But I have been here a long time, and I know who among the regular posters are libertarian and who is just conservative. And neither the purveyors of this site (who are predominately libertarian, even if most of them do work at public universities), nor the libertarian posters seem to have much problem with European Colonialism. In fact they seem to think it was a very good thing. I don't see how the two go together.
3.27.2007 3:48pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
There was no individual liberty where the colonists arrived.

Again, whether or not this is true is beside the point. And while many native societies may have been oppressive, some were certainly less so than the European societies of the time, and the conquered people themselves often found themselves in much worse conditions, and much less free, than they were pre-colonization.

My point remains is how, from a libertarian standpoint (which, from what I understand the only legitimate use of the military is for self-defense), can the hyper-aggressive colonialism and conquest that resulted in a handful of European countries controlling (with the sole exception of the U.S., which conducted its own internal colonization), either directly or indirectly, the entire world by the beginning of the twentieth century, be justified.
3.27.2007 3:57pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
Ah, yes, I made the mistake of asking for "one" example. You got me. But these efforts aren't widespread - even the Innocence Project focuses on the living, as do most death penalty lawyers.

We'll never find out how many innocent people have been killed by the Government. From the article you cited: "Whatever the potential outcome, making DNA testing readily available to all death row inmates should be of vital concern, said Earl Washington Jr., who came within nine days of being executed before being pardoned in 2000 thanks to DNA testing." (my emphasis)

But of course not every case involves DNA evidence.

Would your argument change even if the innocent Mr. Washington had been executed? Is that acceptable, collateral damage? Are you a "libertarian" who believes having the death penalty is worth killing some innocents, or do you really and truly believe that we've never killed an innocent person? Do you really believe that because Coleman turned out to be guilty?
3.27.2007 4:00pm
Marc :
"As a libertarian, there is nothing short of murder that I abhor more than forced labor."

not even misplaced modifiers?
3.27.2007 4:14pm
Marc :
ps:

it may or may not be instructive to know that the British Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded to lobby for anti cruelty laws more than a fifty years before the Sociey of Prevention of Cruelty to Children was started.
3.27.2007 4:23pm
pcrh (mail):
"As a libertarian, there is nothing short of murder that I abhor more than forced labor."

Aren't income taxes effectively forced labor? It is labor for the benefit of others. And it's forced. The state can lock you up if you evade income taxes.
3.27.2007 4:24pm
JosephSlater (mail):
An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. It's not just contradiction.

Yes it is!

No it isn't!

Man, I loved Monty Python's "Argument Shop" sketch.
3.27.2007 4:25pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
J. F. Thomas. From a philosophical standpoint, you have a point. If you say it's wrong to go colonizing, then by your lights, it's wrong.
Problem is, it isn't only the Europeans. I see you fudging the issue by saying "hyper-aggressive", most likely to separate it from the folk wanderings of other Folk. Like the Germanic tribes into western Europe, the Chinese and Huns and Mongols into southwest Asia and the arabs practically everywhere around the Med, and the Bantu into southern Africa and the Muslims into India. IMO, the colonizing of North America is the most recent folkwandering. You might figure the colonizing of Latin America was real colonizing, with the profits going back home and the retirees planning on returning home, as well. There's a difference.
However, whether the colonizers ended up in control, or the powers that sent them remained in control is beside the point. New folks showed up and took over. What they owed to the Old Country is irrelevant.
You say it's wrong to go wandering and taking over. Fine. It happened. Since it happened, the question is what the results are. Good or bad for the locals. Good or bad, I suppose, for the folks at home.
3.27.2007 4:25pm
Spartacus (www):
A libertarian who supports the death penalty is a libertarian in name alone. Your words are without meaning.

So, does the right to use deadly force either in self defense or as punishment, retribution, or preventioon of further violence reside entirely with the individual in a perfect libertarian world, under your definition? Or are libertarians required to be wimps?
3.27.2007 4:43pm
Nick H.:
"Sorry but that is ignorant."

It was a pithy, throw-away line; one I hoped would be taken lightly. There is not need to expound a nuanced philosophy in every post.

AP -
I was thinking more that the past several hundred years have featured oodles of natsy realtivism (see Eugenics). Whereas more ancient people were much more upfront about the evils they did.

This is an anecdotal observation - I'm very open to changing my mind later - but the ancient greeks were very upfront about saying that they were going to conquer their neighbor because they could. Might was right, whatever. It wasn't until 19th century europe that man needed extravagent justifications for his atrocities.

Regardless, there is lots of evil in the world, and I don't expect it to get much better.
3.27.2007 5:41pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Gary Imhoff-

If criminal behavior can ever be brought under reasonable control so that criminals are not dangerous to others (probably through some behavioral modification methods that we today would condemn as unconscionable), the idea of our having kept humans in cages will be thought of as being as bad as, if not worse than, slavery.

Any idea what these "methods" are? I'd be very interested in hearing about any current research in this area that you are aware of.
3.27.2007 5:47pm
dll111:
Doesn't broccoli have a central nervous system? If we can't morally kill and eat animals, why can we kill and eat fruits and vegetables? Do we know they don't feel pain? Can we eat apples if they've already fallen from a tree, but not if we pluck them? What about swatting an annoying fly, is that immoral?
3.27.2007 6:04pm
wooga:
I think the progress of science will take morality in a direction many progressives will not like.

For example, advances in DNA testing and forensic science will convince the public that any death penalty conviction was properly obtained (in other words, the ability of prosecutors to 'cheat' and defense counsel to 'screw up' will get continually less common).

Advances in natal care will render 'viability' a pointless distinction (I say Casey already made that clear, and Roe was superseded by Casey). Better methods of birth control will also continue. With the advent of the male pill, I see a strong public shift towards viewing pregnancy as beyond an 'excusable accident.'

But before that happens, I think that moral relativism will continue having a tough time handling the anti-western morality of fundamentalist Islam. The general western public views certain things as immoral, and Islam does the same. It is impossible to simply 'live and let live' in this context, and distinctions have to be made that one side is right and the other is wrong. The alternative would have to be a comically absurd implementation of federalism, where each little jurisdiction of the world is allowed to establish its own wildly divergent morality, and the jurisdictions remain horrified at the backwards morality of their neighbors. And this comic absurdity, I predict, is what the future holds. Followed by lots more war and death.
3.27.2007 6:08pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Logically consistent defense of animal rights that doesn't condemn eating meat:

So I'm a utilitarian so what I want to minimize is suffering and maximize happiness. Now there is some ambiguity about whether it is better to minimize total suffering or average suffering but I think it is certainly plausible that my moral duty is to minimize total suffering and maximize total pleasure.

Now I don't know whether now cows raised for meat are on net happy or unhappy. However, certainly we could raise cows for meat in slightly more humane conditions (or give them euphoria inducing drugs) where they would be more happy than not. Thus the existence of these cows increases total utility. Yet if many people did not eat meat resources would not be expended to keep all these cows alive. Hence eating meat is morally good even though cows benefit from similar moral considerations as people (they have experiences even if they aren't as intense as the one's people have).

One might ask why it wouldn't be okay to kill people or raise people for food. The answer to this is that people would be aware that they were going to be killed and eaten and even if not others would be aware of it. The disregard for human life in one place creates fear in others (or the people themselves) that they will be killed creating suffering. Hence it is wrong.

In short killing itself isn't that morally harmful (no worse than never creating the person in the first place) but it is the suffering of the living which makes it so bad to kill people. Family and friends mourn, everyone fears for their own safety. The apparent failure of cows to do these things (or if they mourn kill them in groups) differentiates killing them from people even though it would still be wrong to ignore animal suffering.
3.27.2007 6:09pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
advisory opinion-

How is it different? Restitution and compensation are restorations of the status quo ante (an alleviation of losses suffered), not increases in the stock of pleasure.

From your original wording you seemed to imply that only cessation of the direct suffering was morally appealing. You didn't indicate that making the individual whole through all the various avenues - restitution, compensation, reparations, opportunity costs, damage to reputation, punitive damages to the assailants, etc. - were considered.

I don't think I have a moral obligation to increase your pleasure, but I think we rather feel the tug of conscience when someone else's suffering - avoidable suffering - is involved. Are there exceptions to the rule? Sure, when the alleviation of suffering also involves incidental pleasures (a morphine drip for pain relief for example).

Well the process of making someone whole might entail measures that result in the future increase of pleasure, but this is possibly incidental.

As far as the "morphine drip" is concerned, this assumes that the parties involved are not refraining from making the person whole, i.e. keeping injuries not fully repaired, for their own concerns - security, control, cost, etc.

It is one thing to minimise suffering, quite another to maximise happiness.

As long as the initiative to make the person whole is not clouded by concerns to prevent the maximization of happiness.
3.27.2007 6:16pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Latinist-

One thing I'd like to add to the list: I wonder how much longer the whole idea of "privacy" will last. It doesn't seem to me particularly easy to defend on first principles, and technology seems to be working against it.

What about privacy is so hard to defend? My private spaces and communications are mine - what right does anyone, other than narrowly defined law enforcement personnel in very rare circumstances for very limited periods - have to access those?
3.27.2007 6:24pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
"Any idea what these "methods" are? I'd be very interested in hearing about any current research in this area that you are aware of."

Letting sex offenders choose between chemical castration and imprisonment. GPS monitoring. Registration requirements. Forced medication. Prohibiting probationers from consuming drugs (with higher penalties than others receive) and alcohol. Requiring breathalyzers on car ignition locks.

Not sure about any research, but these are currently implemented by the Government.
3.27.2007 6:29pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
"Any idea what these "methods" are? I'd be very interested in hearing about any current research in this area that you are aware of."

Letting sex offenders choose between chemical castration and imprisonment. GPS monitoring. Registration requirements. Forced medication. Prohibiting probationers from consuming drugs (with higher penalties than others receive) and alcohol. Requiring breathalyzers on car ignition locks.

Not sure about any research, but these are currently implemented by the Government.
3.27.2007 6:29pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Spartacus-

It seems to me that innocents being sprung from death row is an argument for the death penalty--since there is no evidence of innocents actually being executed, innocents being freed shows that "the system works," and executes only the guilty.

That doesn't necessarily follow. It could just as easily be interpreted that the law of large numbers suggests that we have likely already executed some innocent people and if we haven't already, are virtually certain to in the future. (And that's not to mention the fact that governments often fight this - witness the jurisdictions that basically know they have innocent people imprisoned but fight the effort to correct this to prevent embarassment, liability, damage to careers/reputations, etc.) The possibility of error, in my opinion, makes basically any sanction that is irreversible and not meaningfully reviewable extremely undesirable given the extreme fallibility and corruptibility of government.
3.27.2007 6:36pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
JosephSlater: I was hoping my reference was sufficiently non-obscure.

Wooga:
Advances in natal care will render 'viability' a pointless distinction.
If by this comment you're making the common observation that science is moving viability back farther and farther, it's not really true. Science is better at keeping post-viability preemies alive, but it isn't significantly pushing back viability.

rothmatisseko:
Are you a "libertarian" who believes having the death penalty is worth killing some innocents, or do you really and truly believe that we've never killed an innocent person?
Why do you put libertarian in quotes? While a libertarian may have pragmatic objections to the death penalty, there's nothing in libertarianism which is philosophically contradicted by capital punishment. Libertarians aren't pacifists.

Leaving the government out of it for a moment, a libertarian believes that he has the right to defend his home against intruders, with deadly force if necessary. If people utilize that right enough, eventually someone will mistakenly kill someone who was innocent, rather than an intruder. Would that mistake discredit deadly force as a libertarian concept?

Do you think that the existence of mistaken guilty convictions means that a libertarian can't support prisons of any sort? How is that any different than the existence of mistaken convictions negating the death penalty, in your view? (No, the answer isn't "because unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible." First, so are prison sentences -- you can't give people years of their life back. Second, as a practical concern, prison sentences are extremely unlikely to be reversed.)
3.27.2007 6:37pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
"Leaving the government out of it for a moment"

You missed the point -- this is the government killing people, not individuals protecting their homes.

"Do you think that the existence of mistaken guilty convictions means that a libertarian can't support prisons of any sort?"

No, but thanks for introducing the irrelevant extreme. Society has a right to defend itself, but taking people out of their cells and killing them isn't necessary. It's satisfying to a lot of people, but so were the stocks.

You _can_ give people years of their life back, as far as the law allows. Restitution is a common in cases of wrongful conviction, and usually ranges ~$10K - $50K/yr of incarceration.
3.27.2007 7:01pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
I don't mean to demean the experience of those who've suffered wrongful imprisonment. That would a nightmare.

But I am pretty sure those people are glad they weren't killed instead.
3.27.2007 7:09pm
La Rana (www):
Ilya,

I say "libertarian," and I am referred to a series of long-dead "libertarian thinkers," none of whom would so self-identify. Very compelling.

Libertarianism, at its core, is concerned with restraining the power of the state to interfere in the lives of the citizenry. Endorsement, not just acceptance, of the state-directed murder of members of that citizenry is hard to reconcile with such a philosophy. To say the least.

I'm glad you like to call yourself libertarian. I call myself La Rana.
3.27.2007 7:13pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
logicnazi-

In short killing itself isn't that morally harmful (no worse than never creating the person in the first place) but it is the suffering of the living which makes it so bad to kill people.

Don't follow your logic. People in existence have the same rights as everyone else. People who have not been created yet don't. There's a big difference in moral harm there.
3.27.2007 7:39pm
wooga:
Libertarianism, at its core, is concerned with restraining the power of the state to interfere in the lives of the citizenry.

No, that's anti-statism. Lots of overlap, but not the same thing as Libertarianism. Equate the two, and you might as well equate Anarchism as well.
3.27.2007 7:40pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
wooga-

For example, advances in DNA testing and forensic science will convince the public that any death penalty conviction was properly obtained (in other words, the ability of prosecutors to 'cheat' and defense counsel to 'screw up' will get continually less common).

I don't think this necessarily follows. Because DNA is viewed as "perfect" evidence it is also the "perfect" way to frame someone. So the groups that used to plant certain things on people to frame them will just take to planting DNA evidence. And don't think that it can't happen, it has likely happened already. There are several documented cases that already come close:

- There was a case of a Canadian doctor suspected of murder. He withdrew someone else's blood from a vial he had inserted just under the skin of his arm in front of investigators to throw them off his trail.

- There have been cases of women inseminating themselves with sperm taken from used condoms. It's not hard to imagine people doing the same thing to frame people.

- Take the famous "dress" in the Clinton-Lewinsky case. A different story from the woman with the DNA to back it up would result in many average people being falsely convicted.
3.27.2007 7:52pm
luagha:
I'm interested in a sort of combination of the above.
Is it morally acceptable to compel labor from people who are subject to the death penalty? Is it morally acceptable to maintain their lifespan and hold that death sentence in abeyance while they put in some mandated work time, and to kill them if they fail to uphold that contract?

And if you state that those under sentence of death may have their labor compelled, what about other criminals? Is there a benefit to society of having criminals 'work off' their time on the chain gang? I'm not familiar with such things but I'm sure there's a lot of history and legalisms having to do with what kind and how much labor can be compelled in what jurisdiction for what crime.

My personal dog in this fight is the compelled labor of illegal immigrants. I would like to get to a moral and legal point where the punishment for illegal immigration is a period of compelled labor at a denigratory rate of pay while incarcerated, to complete with deportation. (If the denigratory rate of pay is sufficient, that could even be our work program.)
3.27.2007 8:02pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Spartacus-

So, does the right to use deadly force either in self defense or as punishment, retribution, or preventioon of further violence reside entirely with the individual in a perfect libertarian world, under your definition?

Who said libertarians believe in a right to use deadly force for punishment or retribution? Some might, but I think there are many who don't.

Deadly force for "prevention"? That's strange. A lot of eugenics and Nazi rhetoric was based on that.

Or are libertarians required to be wimps?

It's not a requirement, but like any large group it might contain some wimps. But don't worry, we won't tell anyone you eat quiche or cried during "Old Yeller".
3.27.2007 8:06pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
luagha-

Is it morally acceptable to compel labor from people who are subject to the death penalty? Is it morally acceptable to maintain their lifespan and hold that death sentence in abeyance while they put in some mandated work time, and to kill them if they fail to uphold that contract?

If one opposes the death penalty one would have to oppose anything that flows from it, including socialist-inspired "work or die for the collective" arrangements. And of course they have to be guilty - the captors of innocent people owe money to their victims.

My personal dog in this fight is the compelled labor of illegal immigrants. I would like to get to a moral and legal point where the punishment for illegal immigration is a period of compelled labor at a denigratory rate of pay while incarcerated, to complete with deportation. (If the denigratory rate of pay is sufficient, that could even be our work program.)

I disagree with this. While I support sealed borders and more controlled immigration policy, this kind of punishment does not fit the crime. Forced labor, in my opinion, is simply not an appropriate penalty for people that simply wanted to work in another country, which is what the vast majority want to do.
3.27.2007 8:20pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
"Libertarianism, at its core, is concerned with restraining the power of the state to interfere in the lives of the citizenry. No, that's anti-statism. Lots of overlap, but not the same thing as Libertarianism."

Ya know, I've always wondered just what a libertary is anyway...
3.27.2007 8:44pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I am late on this on one and not going to read all the comments, but my 2c. Death penalty and forced labor are clearly areas where libertarian ideology would argue against for moral reasons and I can see a moral society outlawing both. As for animal rights, I can also see a moral society treating animals better but I must answer this: "I like to eat meat, and I can't think of a logically consistent defense of animal rights that doesn't entail the conclusion that meat-eating is immoral."

Meat eating isn't immoral because if all humans stopped eating meat there would not be fewer animal deaths -- and unless all animals became vegetarian no fewer early deaths.

Because humans can't change the behavior of non-human animals, the econological system (or "cycle of life") makes it such that humans are not morally superior for refraining from eating meat.

Traeting animals well when we kill them however does have an effect and a morally superior society might have an impact by treating animals well while they are alive.

It took me 15 years before I recognized the answer to this question and started eating meat again.
3.27.2007 8:45pm
Spartacus (www):
Spartacus-

Who said libertarians believe in a right to use deadly force for punishment or retribution? Some might, but I think there are many who don't.

Deadly force for "prevention"? That's strange. A lot of eugenics and Nazi rhetoric was based on that.

like any large group it might contain some wimps. But don't worry, we won't tell anyone you eat quiche or cried during "Old Yeller".


That some libertarians might oppose the use of deadly force doesn't address my question which was whether they are required to do so. Similarly the existence of wimps. I consider myselfg a libertarian, believe that the death penalty and the use of deadly force are justified in some situations, including prevention and retribution. If someone is a murderer, they have forfeited their natural rights, and there may be various reasons for killing them other than immediately necessary self-defense. that is what the death penalty does. Alternately, such a moral right could be imputed to individuals--in today's society, it is not.

I cry at movies all the time, but I don't think it makes me a wimp.
3.27.2007 10:26pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
We get the morality we can afford? Seems to explain a lot of history.

We also get the "morality" that comes from understanding the world around us. By 1850 it was becoming apparent to a lot of people that slavery was an inefficient economic system even for the slaveholders. Similarly, one reason that "socialism" has a bad moral rep (at least for some) is that the Soviet Union demonstrated that it was a terrible way to put food on the table and required a huge police effort to just keep starvation from the door. Environmental morality is driven by an understanding, or supposed understanding, of the real harms of pollution.

I predict/hope that in the next 100 years we will develop a social/economic theory which explains the huge effort (which we can now afford) going into purely status-oriented activities. Why do I wear a silk tie? Why does a tie with a $2 material cost sell for $100? A person on welfare today eats better than George Washington did, and has better entertainment and better health care. Why do they feel poor? I have the sense that our economy may reflect a society-wide status race similar to an arms race, with huge expense resulting in no net change. If we can figure out more of this dynamic, a revolution in morals would result. It isn't hopeless - Adam Smith demonstrated the futility of mercantilism, so someone whould be able to do the same for consumerism.
3.27.2007 10:38pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
"If someone is a murderer, they have forfeited their natural rights"

It's always amazing how the pro-execution crowd is so high and mighty about human life and yet feels compelled to get down in the dirt and let some blood.

Or maybe the waiver argument is just the last refuge of scoundrels.
3.27.2007 10:56pm
dweeb:
Even more so than with the death penalty, it is hard to provide an explanation for the increase in support for this moral view that is unrelated to its potential validity.

The implied premise of this sentence, that popularity of a moral construct in the absence of an obvious conflict of interest confers validity, is morally bankrupt, and denies any basis for considering one generation morally superior to another. To suggest that popularity is driven by validity is to suggest that popularity can be used as evidence of validity, and thus, estimation of validity becomes driven by popularity. This is the ultimate moral relativism, since whatever enjoys majority support is, by definition, moral. This is a ridiculous notion - if that is what is meant by morality, then the word 'moral' is superfluous - we already have the word 'fashionable.' Just as there is no sound basis for what is fashionable in couture, fashion with respect to morality can be fickle without reason.

To answer the sentence directly, I can easily provide an explanation for the increase in support for animal rights that is unrelated to its potential validity - HUMAN MUSH-HEADED STUPIDITY. A good sales pitch can sell the majority of people on almost anything. The sentence effectively proposes that the P.T. Barnums of the world dictate morality, merely by seducing a sufficient number of those born-every-minute suckers, provided, of course, that they do not leave room for ignoble explanations for their success..

This only guarantees that power-hungry authoritarians will always define morality. With animal rights, PETA has been caught destroying thousands of animals, so clearly, those at the root of the animal rights movement are no more true believers than the tailors who made The Emperor's New Clothes. They are driven by the will to power, the desire to control the actions of others.

I might also add that, if, as implied, the validity of a moral construct is a function of the absence of alternate explanations for it's popularity, then the most legitimate morality in manners sexual is that of the Puritans, since every relaxing of their morals in this realm serves perhaps the strongest self interest known - access to sexual gratification. In all matters, in fact, the only valid moral constructs under this reasoning are ascetic ones.
3.28.2007 12:39am
David M. Nieporent (www):
It's always amazing how the pro-execution crowd is so high and mighty about human life and yet feels compelled to get down in the dirt and let some blood.
Perhaps other people make a distinction between innocent human life, and murderers.
3.28.2007 12:56am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Spartacus-

If someone is a murderer, they have forfeited their natural rights, and there may be various reasons for killing them other than immediately necessary self-defense. that is what the death penalty does.

But the rub lies in the identification. In the thread above someone mentioned a case where an innocent person was 9 days from execution. That should be unconscionable to everyone. Some libertarians, including myself, realize that the incompetence and corruption that always eventually occurs in government will eventually take an innocent person's life. That is absolutely unacceptable, so it should be taken off the table, along with other sanctions that are irreversible and not meaningfully reviewable.

And note that executing an innocent person compounds the original wrongdoing - you have dead victim, an innocent person you executed, and the real perpetrator is likely still at large. (And the state is unlikely to pursue them because it doesn't want the embarassment and liability that come with admitting they were wrong.)

And note that your proposal that this "right to kill murderers" outside of imminent self-defense to private citizens creates even more problems. What if they kill the wrong person? Now they are murderers and its time for the relatives of the innocent person to kill them. Same thing with other "vigilante" initiatives. Say a woman made a false rape claim against your son, and her relatives had him tortured and sodomized. He was innocent. What is the appropriate retribution against the woman, her family, and all other involved?
3.28.2007 1:38am
Not the Only Vegetarian Libertarian:
I'm so sorry to have missed most of this discussion. I realize that it's very likely my post will go unread...

I believe that Ilya himself and most commenters on the animals rights thread of this discussion have done what I consider to be a characteristically lefty* conflation; they have conflated having moral duties to animals with animal rights. (* I believe that the leftist ideology requires the presumption that what one has a moral duty to do must also be reflected in law.)

The idea of "animal rights" would mean that animals would have some legal standing in our society. As other commenters have pointed out, this isn't really consistent with the idea of social contract or any other justification for our legal/political structure. But just because a thing doesn't have legal rights doesn't mean it's not important--"property rights" are actually person's rights, not rights possessed by the property itself. But just because it doesn't make sense for animals to have legal rights doesn't mean that we might not have a moral duty to exercise due care to animals. For example, the classic notion of stewardship could ground a justification for ethical treatment of animals but would tell us nothing about what the law should be regarding the relationship between a man and his dog.

I hate to be another person making the trite observation that "I'm surprised to see on a libertarian blog...", but the fact is that I AM surprised to see on a libertarian blog such a serious conflation of moral duty with the necessity for legal rules such as the establishment of rights. I am a vegetarian libertarian. I make my own choice about consumption of animal products, but I oppose any attempt to enforce my own moral choices on others by demanding that animal rights be recognized.

On another note...
It is interesting to think about the rise of the "ethical treatment of animals" crusade. I like the commenter who drew our attention to being able to afford "animal rights." But there's a funny irony that was missed... technological improvements made "factory farming" possible, which made meat so inexpensive and thereby increasing our net wealth available for other things like demanding a greater reflection of our moral duties in our consumption bundle. But it is the factory farming itself which creates some of the greatest ethical dilemmas vis-a-vis animals (are examples really necessary?).
3.28.2007 7:01pm
luagha:
From the above: While I support sealed borders and more controlled immigration policy, this kind of punishment does not fit the crime. Forced labor, in my opinion, is simply not an appropriate penalty for people that simply wanted to work in another country, which is what the vast majority want to do.
---

Leaving aside the matter that many illegal immigrants enter the US in order to commit further crimes (gang members, MS 13 et al) so I would dispute 'vast majority' into 'majority'...

What is an appropriate penalty for people that just wanted to work in another country, but knew full well it was against the law and chose not to attempt to do so legally?

Deportation? They just come back.
Incarceration? We are paying for their upkeep while they are being punished for their transgression.

I favor forehead-tattooing like in Neal Stephenson's SNOW CRASH. At the very least you'd see the laser-scars on their forehead when they came back in again and it would cost them some money at the tattoo-removal place.
3.28.2007 8:58pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
David M. Nieporent: "innocent human life"

Statistically, there _will_ be murders. Humans often act like beasts - that doesn't mean that our justice system can't choose to be better than the criminals.
3.30.2007 4:01pm