Posts tagged Goya

On Having to Fund Immoral Policies

Having to Fund Immoral Policies

Tibor R. Machan

At the outset I am talking about what someone considers immoral, not what is objectively immoral. Nonetheless, millions are coerced by governments, backed by other millions, to work and pay for what they consider morally wrong. Is that right? Is it avoidable in a democracy?

Back during the Vietnam war a great many opponents of that disastrous policy wanted to withhold their taxes, or the portion of it that went to fund the war. They were mostly from the Left but that doesn’t matter. The point is that such people argued that it is unjust to make them do this. And there is something to this: why would it be OK to require something to contribute resources he or she has produced and owns to a policy deemed to be morally wrong?

Granted requiring someone to make contributions to anything is objectionable but isn’t it more so if the policy is objected to by the victim of such coercion on moral grounds? Suppose the sources of the moral objection is one’s religion. Wouldn’t that contradict the idea of freedom of religion? You are supposed to be free to choose what faith you accept and practice but then you are forced to give up portions of your life for some other faith! Isn’t that inconsistent? You are both free to choose as well as not free to choose!

Doesn’t democracy amount to such this kind of confusion? Well, not if it’s property limited, as limited government champions have insisted it should be. All this stuff about funding or not funding contraceptives would be off the table, not up for the vote.

Today we have President Obama and his minions insisting that forcing Catholics, their churches and such, provide contraceptives and the like to people who want it from them is just fine. But Roman Catholics consider contraceptives an instrument for evil, like pacifists might guns. Would it be OK to demand that pacifists hand out lethal weapons to people who want it from them?

I proposed that this is no different from forcing people to fund a war in which they do not believe, which they regard unjust. I wrote this in a comment at The New York Times on line where one can contribute comments to columnists’ views and where these comments can be further commented on by others. Well, my comment received a bunch of bizarre follow-up comments claiming that there is a world of difference between wanting to withhold support for a war and wanting to do the same for government distributing contraceptives, a policy some consider unjust. But, in fact, the former is simply a different instance of the latter but it’s exactly the same kind of thing.

It reminds me of when people who often embrace democracy whole hog but then when the vote goes against them, cry foul! But if the democratic method is accepted as a valid approach to settling disputed issue, one has no business protesting the outcome. It is rank duplicity, even hypocrisy.

But here is the rub: Mr. Obama and his ideological cohorts are pragmatists and what is so convenient about pragmatism is that you can insist on some policy here, but reject it there, embrace it one hour and then denounce it the next. Because, you see, at least the type of pragmatism that Mr. Obama has often stated is his philosophy rejects principles from the git go. Yes, there are sophisticated pragmatists who defend their unprincipled viewpoint on grounds that principles are really impossible! Principled thinking is mere ideology, not based on reality, so they hold, since reality is too chaotic, too illogical to yield sound principles that can be used in guiding conduct and criticism. But Mr. Obama hasn’t bothered to provide a defense of his unprincipled stand on a great variety of issues, like undeclared wars, deficit spending, abortion, etc.

But then what is there if reason is passe? What would political campaigns be if candidates could not look for inconsistencies in their opponents? Well, then they would be what they have become, shouting matches, throwing dirt at one another, name calling, besmirching and such, that’s what. Because once logic is abandoned, once consistency is ruled out as a criterion of admissible thought and discourse as proposed by pragmatists, we are back just a step away from the jungle where reason has no place and force rules. As that famous painting of Goya says, “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.”

Column on “The Sleep of Reason…”

“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”*

Tibor R. Machan

In basic reasoning courses one learns that certain ways of thinking are fallacious, others are sound. Sadly, most students don’t actually remember much of what they learn here because these courses are taught too early in their college years, just at the time they are still celebrating no longer being in high school. (Yes, for nearly two years many students pay hardly any attention to their studies, having been incarcerated in school for 12 years prior to entering college!)

Had they been educated about reasoning well versus badly, they might catch some of the howlers committed by members of the media (or anyone else). As a case in point, I had the distinct displeasure of watching Bill O’Reilly during the 2000 presidential election, when the mess in Florida with those hanging chads was going down. In his ponderous and pompous manner, which apparently many people welcome for some reason, O’Reilly announced in the middle of his coverage of the events that journalistic objectivity is a total myth, that everyone is biased, including him. And not just when they are voicing their particular viewpoint. Also, when they report on facts.

Now here is a good case of muddled and fallacious reasoning. It is inconsistent for a journalist to both make a report about journalism–e.g., that it is always biased–while also claiming that all such reports are biased, which is to say unreliable, distorted, one-sided, partisan or subjective. If the latter were true, than the former could not be treated as also true since it would also fall victim to distortion or bias. And why would anyone trust a journalist who distorts the facts he is supposed to be reporting to us? We could find something far more productive to do.

More generally, any kind of corruption in a profession, such as journalism, cannot be inherent. If it were, no distinction between distorted and dependable reporting could be identified. At least the possibility of credible reporting must exist. It’s like food–not all of it could be poisonous; nor could we all be sick all the time. These pairs of concepts, like poisonous versus healthy, corrupt versus honest, biased versus objective, etc., and so forth are meaningful only if both were possible. Just one of them on its own makes no sense. Like beginning versus end, or up versus down–they make sense only when paired.

Anyway, quite a few people get tripped up by forgetting these and many other elementary points of human reasoning. They will accept the idea, for example, that all human thought is fallacious; that everyone is always lying; that our minds are innately defective, etc. None of this could be so, in part because then these reports about us would themselves be unreliable since we made them with our human minds (and our human minds, remember, always distort everything, etc., etc.).

Why is there so much of this sort of babbling about when it is so flawed? (Another infamous case in point is “All property is theft” since theft presupposes the existence of untainted property.) One reason is that a great many people are misanthropes. They are very eager to demean humanity, to put it down as something worthless or inherently flawed. So they attack our most vital faculty, the human mind. (Maybe in fact they are projecting!)

The most prominent example of this is a certain version of the idea of original sin, in the form that states that human beings are basically and thoroughly sinful from the git-go. (If all it means is that human beings are capable of being wicked, well that’s no news!) Another source is the famous and famously misunderstood idea the comes to us from Socrates, the main character of all those great Platonic dialogues. Socrates is supposed to have said, if Plato is to be believed, that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing (and that no one who thinks he is wise is really wise, including he).

These are very paradoxical claims to make and, most probably, their point is ironic not literal. They could be one approach to keeping hubris in check, making sure no one takes himself too seriously, no one gets carried away with his or her cleverness. This is also where the idea “sophistry” comes from, of cleverness masquerading as wisdom. Sophists in Plato’s time where those who pretended to be wise but in fact merely exhibited technical skill in argumentation, a bit like attorneys are reputed to do.

It would be nice if all those hours of sitting in basic reasoning classes actually left their mark on all students. But since you can become a famous anchor on TV while committing lacunae galore, I suppose many fail to see the benefit from it.

*Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.