Archive for November, 2010

I believe I can fly (but these other people can’t)

November 25, 2010 Leave a comment

What’s worse than airport and airline staff? The passengers.

If you’re traveling over the holiday, be a good utilitarian. Smile at the TSA and gate agents. Have a happy Thanksgiving, and please don’t ruin anyone else’s.

Categories: mutual respect Tags:

I believe I can fly, evidence notwithstanding (global warming redux)

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Those of us with some libertarian sympathies think the big problem with the Tea Party isn’t its concern over the size of government and deficits. It’s the complete disregard of facts. Utilitarians, whatever their politics, don’t see such willful ignorance as a contribution to general happiness. Particularly if it leads to some of our favorite cities being underwater in our lifetimes.

The Economist takes a clever look at this, comparing Tea Party beliefs on global warming with Redskins fans’ belief that the Redskins actually beat the Eagles last time around.

The budget deficit: The truth actually doesn’t hurt

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Many people are having fun playing with the New York Times‘ spiffy budget calculator, giving everyone a chance to take a whack at the budget and see if the deficit can be eliminated.

The answer: Yes, it can. And no, cutting “earmarks” (known in your local district as “things we count on our congresscritter to get us”) won’t really help. Neither will freezes on federal employees or contractors’ pay or hiring.

The budget, according to these figures, can be balanced simply by returning some of our taxes and some of our military spending to Clinton-era levels.

An era in which, coincidentally, we had uninterrupted peace and prosperity. Those tax burdens weren’t holding back the economy.

Surely it couldn’t be so easy, could it? Maybe not, but it goes a long way toward showing how disingenuous the arguments have been.

And that’s because those arguments are generated not from utilitarian ideals but from self-interest. And any serious look at the numbers will show that such self-interest does not spill over into greater happiness for all.

Give me liberty or give me Democrats!

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

No, the headline doesn’t make any sense, but neither does the topic.

On Election Day, I saw a Tea Party bumper sticker that said “Liberty lost is lost forever.” That puzzled me on so many levels. This blog’s namesake philosopher wrote the book on liberty. Literally — Mill wrote the book On Liberty. And it’s hard to picture him hanging out with the Tea Party.

First of all, history is full of instances of liberty being regained (some debatable, some not):

– France 1944-45, Nazis repelled

– England 1646: Cromwell overthrows the King

– England 1660: Monarchy restored, ending Cromwell family experiment

– Germany 1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain, proof that liberty isn’t always restored with bloodshed.

– USA 1933: Prohibition repealed

That’s not a comprehensive list, of course, but it gives some idea of the diverse means and ends in which liberty is restored.

But of course, this begs the larger question: What “liberty” is so imperiled today? Health insurers’ freedom from regulation? Hard to see Patrick Henry taking his inspiration from that.

Yes, government spending has gone up over the past 10 years, thanks to two wars and various stimulus/bailout packages. And yet we’ve had tax cuts as part of the stimulus.

All that spending can make us worry about the deficit. But if you’re worried about “deficit,” say “deficit.” Otherwise, what you’re doing is the equivalent of complaining to your landlord about the heat when you really mean the water. And in most cases, the heat is not lost forever.

Categories: rhetoric Tags: , ,

Proving the existence of the Great Pumpkin

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Rene Descartes attempted to prove the existence of God by arguing, roughly speaking, that the idea of “God” in his brain could not have been created by his own experience. Therefore, God must exist — how else would that idea of “God” be in his brain?

Though I believe in God myself, I never bought this argument as a proof. “God” could easily be a construction of various concepts. Imagine a human as perfect and omnipotent, then think long and hard about how we all got here. Then consider that different civilizations have different concepts of God, and Descartes’ proof runs aground.

But if we apply Descartes’ ontological proof to holiday classics, we can prove that Linus was right.

Linus has the concept of a Great Pumpkin in his head. No one else put it there — as far as we know, Linus is the sole believer in the Great Pumpkin’s existence, so no one set out to convert him to the faith. The concept of a Great Pumpkin is a little too fanciful to have been created in a little boy’s imagination.

Therefore, the Great Pumpkin must have planted the idea of a Great Pumpkin in Linus’ head. Therefore, the Great Pumpkin must exist.