HB V

is older than it's ever been and now it's even older

5/31/2001

…Is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds


It is very curious to me to see that people actually care somewhat when I write political posts. I don’t get any feedback when I write long posts about electric fish, but then one little politics post and I actually get emails. Cool!

Well, since I have gotten some people’s attention, I might as well clarify some of yesterday’s bloggage. My mom asks what I think of torture. In this link, the author makes the case that utility demands that we weigh a hypothetical terrorist’s right to not get tortured versus millions of lives. This is a tough call, because it pits two fundamental pillars of my philosophy against each other. On the one hand, my utilitarian side says, “why not?” The greatest good for the greatest number would be better served by torturing a terrorist into disclosing the location of a hidden bomb. On the other hand, a fundamental right to be secure in your person from state violence is also at play. Despite the unfairness of this particular example, I would probably come down on the torturers’ side in this case, given all of the necessary conditions; those being assuredness of guilt, extremely limited time, and massive numbers of life at risk. However, this is quite literally the only case when torture is justified by utility, mainly because in just about every other case utility has to be limited by some sort of measurement of sanctity of the individual, which is what I refer to as rights.

In a way, this is remarkably similar to the famous strawfigure argument against utilitarian philosophy. A person walks by a hospital. Inside the hospital are ten people that could be saved if this one person was murdered and dismembered for organs. Shouldn’t utility mean that we should kill some people just to harvest their hearts and livers and kidneys? It does, as long as the greatest good is merely a quantitative measure, and not a qualitative one. I argue that the reason we speak of rights to guard a person’s bodily and mental integrity is because there is something qualitatively superior about protection of mind that is the basis for the very existence of society. As my namesake philosopher Thomas Hobbes argues, the worst thing for humans is bodily harm. The reason we band together as societies is the common protection of each citizen. Thus, the murder of the pedestrian by the hospital creates such a negative good that it overwhelms the positive good done by the organ harvesting and is on balance not beneficial.

One of the most famous utilitarian philosophers ever, John Stuart Mill, faced the exact same problem in his legendary treatise On Liberty. In society, sometimes the strict majority rule doesn’t always mean the greatest good for the greatest number. Take the example of the antebellum United States. The body politic, a majority of them white, determined that they would enslave a race of people and maintained that this was justified because of the economic benefits of this slavery. Yet, although the majority maintained that this was a good system, it wasn’t. Mill’s expression of this problem was the Tyranny of the Majority; an interesting proposition, considering that we usually consider tyranny to be an exclusively minority or despotic rule phenomenon. By stating and sticking to our expressions of liberty, we ensure that the determinations of utility within our society don’t tread over the most important units of polity – ourselves.

Cheap entertainment

Holy shite, the Kaycee thing has made the New York Times.

Time to start a new random acronym, like the LAPI thing. I shall dub it AWL, Another Wrestling Link. Today’s is on the subject of Ring Terrorists, the crazed fans who take matters into their own hands and get into the ring to exact justice. I can just imagine some freaky guy with a mullet getting in the face of a wrassler.

Metafilter has moved to its new home, hosted by a blogger out in New York that I’ve linked before, Queso. While I was poking around over there I found this link, a photo essay of a woman who followed a hairy guy wearing only dirty leather chaps around a gay pride parade. I genuinely laughed out loud.

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