William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Politics (page 2 of 69)

The empirical and philosophical arguments used by politicians and “activists”.

Political Philosophy: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part IX

Politics happens here. The appalling brown thing is Art.

Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.


Read Part VIII.

Question IX is Political Philosophy. Stand back!

Article 1: Whether the state is natural to man?

Yes. “Whenever two or more are gathered, somebody is gonna start making rules.” That’s my quote, not Kreeft’s.

The real question is how the state comes about. Hobbes, Rousseau, etc. think a “social contract” is involved. If so, maybe you’re like me and don’t have a memory of signing one. Anyway, it is indisputable that people begin organizing whenever they can, some taking positions of power, others following orders. And this must be so (the only disagreement would come from those who believe human beings don’t have a nature). All that is in dispute are the forms these organizations take, which is bad, which good.

Article 2: Whether a good state is “one that makes it easy to be good”?

Yes, and the opposite is true, too. From Mere Christianity:

The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

Readers will be able to judge which direction our State is going.

Yes, we all have duties to the State, but “it is not true that the state is its own end. Only individual human beings are intrinsic ends and must never be used merely as means, while there is no moral evil in treating the state in this way.”

Article 3: Whether the state should have a substantive philosophy of the good life?

Yes. Ours seems to be “Re-elect me and all will be well.” Kreeft says modern states of the West don’t profess a substantive philosophy of life. I say we do, which is something like this: “Mine! Me! Not Fair! Gimme! It’s Not My Fault! He Hurt My Feelings!”

Plainly, “if the state has no substantive philosophy of the good life, then the state cannot know what a good state is. For this depends on what a good human life is, which in turn depends on what man is, which in turn depends on what is, and how we know it.” That’s all of philosophy, brothers and sisters. And that is the one area which is deemphasized among all others in our culture.

Article 4: Whether democracy is the best form of government?

No. Plus, pure democracies are impossible—not just unlikely, but impossible (infants, children, the senile and incapacitated cannot vote; there are too many decisions for all people to make, etc. etc. etc.). It is silly to wish for something that cannot be, and the first person to quote Churchill loses twelve points.

What’s best? “Aristotle and Aquinas both teach that the best regime is a blend of aristocracy, monarchy, and democracy. This reflects the same kind of mature, inclusivist wisdom as their judgment that the best life is a blend of contemplation and action, the common good and the private good, and goods of body and goods of soul.” Kreeft also loses points for “inclusivist.”

On the other hand, the sorts of representative bureaucratic democracies (which are not democracies) we in the West have developed for people in the West function reasonably well in our time. This does not imply, and it is not true as experience proves, that this form of government is best for all peoples at all times. Thus it is silly to wander into a strange land to teach people to count votes and then vanish, content that all will be fine.

Another myth is that regimes derive their legitimacy from the “consent of the governed.” This is another impossibility. Most gain legitimacy by custom, apathy, inertia, force. If you think not, tell me: has our federal government done everything to your satisfaction?

A final myth is the government which gives people the most of what they desire is best. This only works in a land of saints. Simple proof: examine your desires closely and honestly and imagine what would happen if these whims were mandatory for all (and the same for the desires of others).

Article 5: Whether freedom is an intrinsic good?

Sorry, no. If you think so, boot your infant child outdoors and say, “You’re free!” Or go out yourself and do whatever your little heart desires. Anything you want, now. No. Complete freedom is neither possible nor desirable.

Absolute power corrupts, intrinsic goods cannot, and since freedom would certainly corrupt, it cannot be an intrinsic good. “The freedom that is intrinsic to human nature and unalienable is free will, not political freedom.” There must be constraints. Our job is in discovering what they are.

Article 6: Whether there is a double standard for good for states and individuals?

Sure. Example: “it is right for the state, and for a soldier who is acting in the name of the state, to attempt to kill an enemy soldier in a just war; but it is wrong for an individual, in the name of private vengeance, to attempt to kill another on his own authority, even if the other is deserving of death.”

And my favorite—pay attention politicians!: “ready wit is a minor virtue for individuals, but not for states.”

Article 7: Whether wars are ever just?

Certainly. If Hordes intent on rape, murder, pillage are massing on the border, it is surely right to take up arms to discourage them. Defending one’s homeland is just, but “Even the Qur’an says that ‘Allah hates the aggressor.'” That’s true even when we are the agressor.

A sometime objection goes like this: “It is impossible to imagine Christ shooting a machine gun at an enemy soldier.” Yes, but it is “also impossible to image Christ pregnant, or gambling, or cheering for the Red Sox, but these are not evils.”

Article 8: Whether human laws should be superior to human wills?

Yes: this is a variation on freedom. The rule of law is so obviously important that even tyrants pretend to it, running mock trials before they murder their enemies and holding pretend elections to claim “mandates” (on the other hand, didn’t we read the New York Times reporting as serious news that Castro won re-election once again with 95%+ of the vote some years back?).

Here’s a strategy that has everything to recommend it:

“The laws of the Medes and the Persians” were irrevocable, even by the King. Therefore they were decided only after two days of deliberations. On one day, everyone was sober, and on the other day, everyone was drunk. If both days did not produce the same result, the law was not enacted.

My statistical recommendation is to require Congress to pass all laws at a minimum of two-thirds consent. A bare majority makes it far too easy to create laws.

Article 9: Whether the principle of subsidiarity is true?

Yep. Subsidiarity? “[W]hat can better be done by smaller and more local levels of government should not be done by larger ones.”

Augustine “describes government as a ‘necessary evil’ due to sin. But necessary evils should be decreased as much as is feasible, not increased. Therefore government should be decreased and localized as much as is feasible.”

I’ll take this as read for today, particularly as I see most or all of you agreeing: we’ll look at subsidiarity more in depth another day.

Article 10: Whether there should be a world organization of states?

He says yes because of a corollary of subsidiarity: not everything can be done at a local level.

We live in a “global village” with a global economy and a global military fragility where war in any one place always threatens to spread to others and spark another world war. Under these conditions, an international organization is morally necessary.

Problem is, Kreeft never really defines what a “world organization of states” is nor describes its limits. Plus groups of people, in states, kingdoms, and even roving bands, have always had diplomatic relations (so to speak) with their known neighbors. It’s just that now because of cheap travel our neighbors are everybody. Relations between countries is an inevitability. The problem is that nobody has figured out what these relations should be, except to agree that the UN isn’t the ideal forum.


Celeste Greig Fired Over Rape Comments

Celeste Greig

A hoard of angry abortion supporters—one wonders if there are other kinds—succeeded in removing Celeste Greig from her post as president of the state’s Republican Assembly. Greig’s thought crime? In March she said:

The percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small because it’s an act of violence, because the body is traumatized.

I wrote about this earlier in A New Row Over Pregnancy Caused by Rape at Crisis Magazine.

The spectacle of folk who ran screaming in horror from Greig resembled residents of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla. No, strike that. Godzilla is scary and should be fled (fleed?). It’s more accurate to say that the politicians who shunned Greig were like kindergartners shrieking over the belief one of their classmates had cooties.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that Aaron Park, a prominent California Republican, called Greig’s comments “embarrassing.” This flak worried that the party—The party is mother, The party is father—would suffer were it known to consort with Grieg: “You cannot put faith in someone who’s talking about the virtue of saving babies but looks like they don’t care about women who are sexually assaulted.”

That this apparatchik thought his non sequitur applicable reveals what everybody already knows: that (most) politicians care more about attaining and maintaining power than in speaking truth.

What comes of examining Greig’s comment dispassionately? Is it true or false that “The percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small because it’s an act of violence, because the body is traumatized”?

The best answer is that nobody knows, not for certain or with anything approaching certainty, whether pregnancy rates are higher, lower, or identical in women who are raped and in those who were not. There are plenty of theories, conjectures, and surmises about the subject, but little concrete knowledge. There has been no systematic or convincing collection of data and therefore no definitive study (see link above for more detail).

And then it doesn’t sound “outrageous” to suggest that a body undergoing trauma will not operate as efficiently as a body swimming in more placid waters. Surely it isn’t beyond the realm of reasonable possibility to suggest that, ceteris paribus, a woman purposely aiming for motherhood has a greater chance to conceive than a woman who was brutalized. Greig’s only real error lay in asserting this most plausible supposition was a certainty.

“Insensitive!” said the activists, a group to whom any trace of any whisper of any glimmer of any hint that abortion is morally wrong is met with squalls, squeals, spit, and specious squabbling. Unless the subject is the emotional state of a person, the charge of insensitivity is always a fallacy. I ask you to draw the obvious inference about the class of people who so eagerly and so often embrace it.

Suppose, arguendo, that the rate of conception for raped woman was higher than for similar women who were purposely trying to conceive (or where not “purposely”, but in those who took no steps to prevent conception; see the link). That is, assume Greig’s comment is false. Now what?

Does it follow that rape is therefore morally acceptable? Surely not, and only a mind deranged by passion would claim anybody would make such an inference (see the commentors at this page for examples).

Maybe it follows that abortion should more accessible if rape-conception rates were higher? Well, no. If a woman conceived other than by rape, it cannot matter to her about her abortion whether some other woman was raped. She would still have to decide whether her abortion was morally acceptable or not.

But what about a woman who was raped contemplating abortion? Again, it does not follow that because other women were raped and conceived that therefore her abortion is morally acceptable. If abortion is allowable in cases of rape-conception, it does not matter how many rape-influenced abortions there are. If abortion is morally wrong in cases rape-conception, then hers is morally wrong too, even if the rape-conception rate is high.

Logically speaking, then, and granting the wholesale slaughter of reason so common on moral questions, why the flap? Because many people find abortion agreeable in cases of rape-conception, but far fewer folk find abortion acceptable for the sake of convenience (which are the vast majority of abortions). Abortion cheerleaders worry that if rape-conception rates were low, the populace might ban abortions altogether. And that is anathema to them.


Government Health Care Simply Explained

It’s for your own good!

There is bigger news today (none larger), but since most of you are disinclined to believe it, we’ll pass on to less important matters. Here, though, is other news tangential to the Good News.

Your neighbor, whom you do not like, is a friend of Government. So he traveled to Washington and asked the Powers there if he could collect from you $200 every month. He put his finger aside his nose and winked to hint that he would be generous with the largess, that a portion of his new income (a kickback) would find its way into the reelection coffers of the Powers.

The Powers naturally went for it.

You now have to give your crony neighbor $300 every month. Yes: well it would have been $200, but your neighbor opened his spreadsheet and discovered that the act of collecting money from you would cause him to incur certain costs, which he must defer by charging you more. But don’t worry, he first asked the Powers and they said OK. That made it legal.

Now it’s not like you don’t get anything for your money. Why, every time you go to a doctor, chosen from a small list prepared by your neighbor, and the doctor (say) cauterizes your mental wounds (caused by pondering your diminishing bank account), you get to hand your doctor another $20 or so.

The doctor will then fill out a piece of paper and give it to your neighbor telling him that it costs $150 to supply the current for your electroshock therapy (part of this includes costs for the time he must spend filling out the ponderous form). Your neighbor will look at his spreadsheet and see that he has agreed with the Powers that he will reimburse the doctor only $100 for this procedure. After deducting a $25 fee for allowing the doctor to be on the list, your neighbor writes the doctor a check.

In this way you are said to have received “free” health “insurance.”

You might not think this state of affairs kosher, but that’s where you’re wrong. See, the neighbor on your other side (your good neighbor) also was made to pay your bad neighbor. Your good neighbor, being made of stronger stuff than you, was incensed and he traveled to Washington to complain. There he was scolded and told by robed Powers that the money he must pay his neighbor was a “tax”, even though all agreed that it was not, and the Powers have no limit on what taxes they might levy.

A “tax”, incidentally, is money paid to a government. Money you’re forced to give to non-governmental third parties used to be called “extortion.” This just shows that language evolves and words mean what the Powers say they do. (See, inter alia, “marriage“.)

Anyway, your good neighbor thought it absurd he should have to give his conniving bad neighbor his own hard-earned wages, so he didn’t. The Powers then came after your good neighbor and said, “If you don’t give your money to our friend, you will be assessed a ‘fine’, which you must give to us. If you do not give us this ‘fine’, you will go to jail.” Your good neighbor, like you, paid.

That’s where we now sit. It is ensconced precedent, the Law Of The Land, that any private citizen can sidle up to the Powers and make clandestine deals (“You have to pass it to see what’s in it”) in which the Powers can make you give your assets to other private citizens. The conclusion (in the form of a bad pun) is that you are powerless to stop it. Leviathan has grown too fat to budge. It will be fun to see what label the next grab is given.

But wait, there’s more! The Powers reasoned that because they forced you to pay your neighbor under the banner of health “care” they (the Powers) could then regulate every aspect of what they perceived to be health. They said, “Unhealthy people will cause increases in the money they must give to our cronies, therefore the people must not be allowed to be unhealthy.” The proscriptions have only just began. It will be amusing to guess what will be banned next. It’s for your own good.

This article is not an analogy, dear readers, but the literal truth. All that is wrong is the bureaucracy is deeper than I indicated and my figures too low.

The Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage, Part IV (Final)

Part III

Question 5

I have heard you say that homosexuals do not choose their “orientation” and that everybody has a right to be happy and thus has the right to marry. That accurate? My dear, nobody has a right to be happy; our government was founded on the idea that our true right (not given by but recognized by government) is the pursuit of happiness. Whether you achieve nirvana is your business, not the government’s. My advice is that before reading further, you fetch a calming drink, for we are about to enter treacherous territory. Experience shows that people are none too pleased to do so, and are apt to strike out to relieve the resultant mental pressure.

It is true that some people might not choose to whom they are attracted, but it is equally true that some people do choose. Nothing could more obvious than this, even to supporters of SSM. How do we tell the two groups apart? Well, there is no known objective error-free way: a “gay gene” has not been discovered, nor a “bisexual gene”, nor a “cross-dressing gene.” Yet even if nobody had any choice in the matter of attraction, everybody always has a choice what to do about it. A person, for example, who claims to be “oriented” as a pedophile can choose not to pursue children, and is wise not to do so. It also does not follow—it is an invalid logical argument—that because a person has no choice in attraction that he therefore can marry the object of his attraction. The point at question is whether same-sexed people can marry each other, not whether they are “oriented” to have this or that attraction. Remind yourself: many men who have claimed to be gay have married women, and vice versa.

I see your blood rising. Are you saying gays are the same as pedophiles!? No, and only a simpleton would (and will) make that claim. What’s this about pedophilia being an “orientation”? Well, isn’t it? Many academics now make that claim (yes). How do we ascertain if desiring sexual intercourse with children is purely a choice? How could we ascertain whether any person’s sexual preferences are purely a choice, or are built-in, biologically speaking? Not too easy, maybe impossible, as the search for “orientation” genes shows. What we do have are people saying they are attracted to children, that they can’t help themselves, that they are just “that way.” Do they therefore have the right to marry infants? Surely not. Yet you must claim they do have this right if you claim the right that homosexuals should marry those to whom they are sexually attracted. If you say homosexuals are somehow different, you must then say why, but you haven’t, by your own admission, anything more to offer why they are different save their self-acknowledged attraction. What of bisexuals? They claim orientation toward both sexes. Therefore, assuming fairness and equality, a bisexual must be allowed marry both a man and a woman simultaneously. Would the spare man and woman married to the bisexual also be married to each other?

Enter the acronym LGBTQA. That’s as it is of this writing. Hardly a year goes by when more letters aren’t added. What a strange society that tracks its citizens by whom (or what) they want to have sex with! I’ve lately seen “P” proposed, for polygamy, by polygamists who claim to be “oriented” that way (yes). How about when in Germany “B” for beastiality (which is currently legal). Wither the necrophiliac lobby? There has been more than one case of persons who claim to be “oriented” towards beasts and wish to marry their dogs or horses (yes). Have these folks therefore the right to marry Sparky? Surely not.

But forget all that. Let’s accept for argument’s sake everybody in the LGBTQAPBN list is just as they say they are: bound by genetics to suffer their attractions. People just are born to want to have sex with goats, or with small children, or with upholstered furniture (yes). That can’t help themselves; there is no “cure” because it is all “natural.” Well, what of it? All that we can say is that, unless these folks are willing to suppress their (non-adult-heterosexual) “orientation”, they cannot find happiness through marriage. That’s just tough luck.

Having an “orientation” different than heterosexual is a deficit when considered evolutionary (non-heterosexuals acting non-heterosexually will not transmit their genes efficiently or at all, a scientific statement). Some people are born or made blind, others are born or made deaf, and still more are born lame or lose limbs later in life. This is all sad stuff, but that does not imply that because some are blind “seeing” can be redefined—by fiat by some government—as something the blind can do too; that because some are deaf “hearing” can be re-classified as a deaf person’s activity; that because some are lame “physically able” can be legislated as applying to everybody. Because, we are assuming, some are born “questioning” or “oriented towards both sexes” or even to others of the same sex, that does not imply that “marriage” can be made into what it isn’t. Do you remember when your mother said life wasn’t fair? If there’s one thing that marks this generation, it is the belief that it can be made fair, that the impossible can happen, that all we need are new laws, more government control.

Not everybody can find happiness. Not everybody can have what they want when they want it because they want it. Not everybody can be married. Sad, yes. But that’s the way the world works.

Update The Mark Regnerus case is apropos here.

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Warning Tolerance is a hallmark of those supporting same-sex marriage. Never will you find proponents employing abuse, vituperation, appeals to emotion, or angry senseless shouting. They do not label their opponents enemies, nor accuse them of being hate-filled. They instead use calm, logical, well-reasoned argument; they understand rational and sincere people may disagree on certain points. I therefore expect supporters of traditional marriage to act similarly. Comments which do not accord with ladylike or gentlemanly behavior will be ruthlessly expurgated.

The Regnerus Controversy: Children In Traditional Families Do Better Than Those Raised In Non-Traditional Settings

Originally published 24 July 2012. No changes have been made, though I’m sorely tempted to comment on the weeds descending from Regnerus’s chin.

Doubtless the nastiest phenomenon in nature is when an impassioned school of shark turn on one of their own and savagely rip their brother animal to pieces, eating him alive. Not a pretty sight and a reminder the world in its natural state is not a paradise.

Similarly, it is a nauseating sight when a school of sociologists, including amateur sociologists we call “the press,” go mad and engage in a frenzied, no-holds-barred attack on one of their own. An ugly, stomach churning business.

Poor Mark Regnerus! A professor (as of this writing) at the Department of Sociology and Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. There he was, innocently swimming along publishing papers, applying for grants, and grading exams, when the sea erupted around him! A blur of teeth, invective, insult, blood in the water—oh, the humanity?

And why? Well because Regnerus had the temerity to say things like this (if you are unused to raw, unmedia-filtered data, then I suggest you avert your eyes until after the summary):

  • 23% of now-grown children of families with a lesbian mother said ‘yes’ to “Ever touched sexually by parent/adult“, versus 6% of those of families with a gay father and only 2% of those now-grown children from traditional mom-dad, Ozzie-Harriet families.
  • 31% of now-grown children of families with a lesbian mother said ‘yes’ to “Ever forced to have sex against will“, versus 25% of those of families with a gay father and only 8% of those now-grown children from traditional mom-dad families.
  • 12% of now-grown children of families with a lesbian mother said ‘yes’ to “Thought recently about suicide“, versus 24% of those of families with a gay father and only 5% of those now-grown children from traditional mom-dad families.
  • And perhaps the worst of all (to Regenrus’s career prospects) only 61% of now-grown children of families with a lesbian mother said ‘yes’ to “Identifies as entirely heterosexual“, versus 71% of those of families with a gay father and with a full 90% of those now-grown children from traditional mom-dad families. So much for theories that acculturation plays no role!

And these are only the highlights from his peer-reviewedHow different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” in the journal Social Science Research.

Now, I don’t buy the logistic regression p-values Regnerus displays, but the tables which summarize the raw data are intriguing. And horrifying to progressives. According to Regnerus, traditional kids vote more, are more liable to be employed, are less likely to have a sexually transmitted disease, are more likely to feel closer to their parents, are happier, are less impulsive, make more money, are in better health, use less marijuana, are less likely to get drunk, watch less TV, have far fewer sexual “partners” (there’s a progressive word for you: it means the exact opposite of what it says), and (my favorite) are less likely to have pled guilty to a non-minor offense.

Journalists and academics on the left reasoned: these results cannot be true because we don’t want them to be; therefore, they are not true. And that’s when the frenzy started. They began by pointing out what Regnerus admits in his article as a weakness: that the “lesbian” moms and “gay” fathers might not be (but also might be) full-time lesbians and gays, but have, at least once, engaged in a “same-sex” relationship, even if married to a heterosexual. This, according to progressives, invalidates the entire study, is not a “fair” comparison, is “deeply flawed” methodology, etc.

But this would only mean the conclusions would have to be re-written; e.g. “31% of now-grown children of families with a lesbian mother or a mother who at least once cheated on her spouse with another woman said ‘yes’ to ‘Ever forced to have sex against will‘, versus 25% of those of families with a gay father or a father who at least once cheated on his spouse with another man and only 8% of those now-grown children from traditional mom-dad families.” I don’t see how this helps progressives.

Neither do the folks at the New Civil Rights Movement who resorted to the standard political trick, when they could not disparage the results, they attacked Regnerus: “His professional integrity was cast into doubt…” etc., etc. The New Republic said “It’s a real relief to see the takedowns pile up in response to” Regnerus. It sure is! The LA Times used the phrase “hopelessly flawed.” And there was more, much more.

So much more that a team of academics who wanted nothing more than a return to peace and quiet were forced to issue an open letter which said “Although Regnerus’s article in Social Science Research is not without its limitations, as social scientists, we think much of the public criticism Regnerus has received is unwarranted for three reasons.”

  1. “The vast majority of studies published before 2012 on this subject have relied upon small, nonrepresentative samples that do not represent children in typical gay and lesbian families in the United States.”
  2. “what his critics fail to appreciate is that Regnerus chose his categories on the basis of young adults’ characterizations of their own families growing up, and the young adults whose parents had same-sex romantic relationships also happened to have high levels of instability in their families of origin.”
  3. Newer research “comes to conclusions that parallel those of Regnerus’s study.”

Then in chimed well-tenured professor Christian Smith (who took pains to say he was not a conservative) in the (lefty) Chronicle of Higher Education. Juicy summary follows:

Whoever said inquisitions and witch hunts were things of the past?…In today’s political climate, and particularly in the discipline of sociology—dominated as it is by a progressive orthodoxy—what Regnerus did is unacceptable…a heretic, a traitor…Advocacy groups and academics who support gay marriage view Regnerus’s findings as threatening…Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives…One cannot be too friendly to religion…such as researching the positive social contributions of missionary work overseas or failing to criticize evangelicals and fundamentalists…the ideological and political proclivities of some sociologists can create real problems…It is also easy for some sociologists to lose perspective on the minority status of their own views, to take for granted much that is still worth arguing about, and to fall into a kind of groupthink…The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology…political attacks like those on Regnerus are contemptible and hurt everyone in the long run, including progressives.

Young scientists, in any field, can learn much from Smith’s advice. Particularly this: don’t buck the consensus. Do what everybody else does, say what everybody else says. Support the findings people want to be true and denigrate that which everybody hates. What matters is how you get along with your colleagues, not the truth.

This works equally well in, say, climatology as it does in sociology.

Update New article on acculturation.

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Thanks to Micah Mattix for altering me to this story.

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