Joho the BlogThree from the Boston Globe: Conflict, amusement, and maddening missing of the point - Joho the Blog

Three from the Boston Globe: Conflict, amusement, and maddening missing of the point

Part One

The big page two story of today’s Boston Globe is an article by Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post. It begins:

Two of the administration’s top economic officials defended President Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget plan yesterday, arguing that the proposal would finance a historic investment in critical economic priorities while restoring balance to a tax code tipped in favor of the wealthy.

The first nine paragraphs are about the fierce conflict. Only in paragraph ten do we get the most important news:

Despite those and a few other contentious issues, Obama’s budget request was generally well-received yesterday, as lawmakers took their first opportunity to comment on an agenda that many have described as the most ambitious and transformative since the dawn of the Reagan era. Democratic budget leaders said they are likely to endorse most of Obama’s proposals sometime in April in the form of a nonbinding budget resolution.

If it bleeds, it leads. Sigh.


Part Two

Because I generally disagree on policy with the Globe’s conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby, I try to give him the benefit of the doubt in his reasoning. But this morning, he’s driven me officially nuts. Well done, sir!

Jacoby devotes his column to the philosopher Peter Singer. First, he lauds Singer for “his commitment to charity.” But the bulk of the column is given over to Singer’s controversial — too mild a word — argument for permitting infanticide under careful legal conditions.

Actually, I’ve misspoken. Jacoby doesn’t mention Singer’s argument. He only gives the conclusion. Jacoby’s own conclusion is that Singer’s stance shows what happens “if morality is merely a matter of opinion and preference — if there is no overarching ethical code that supersedes any value system we can contrive for ourselves…”

In fact, Singer’s most objectionable conclusions come from rigorously applying standards of morality against opinion and preference. For example, if we say it’s our superior intelligence that gives us certain rights, then we should be willing to accord those rights to other creatures that turn out to have the same intelligence, even in preference to humans who lack that intelligence by accidents of birth or personal history. Or, as Singer says in the conclusion of the brief column in Foreign Policy that Jacoby cites:

…a new ethic will … recognize that the concept of a person is distinct from that of a member of the species Homo sapiens, and that it is personhood, not species membership, that is most significant in determining when it is wrong to end a life. We will understand that even if the life of a human organism begins at conception, the life of a person—that is, at a minimum, a being with some level of self-awareness—does not begin so early. And we will respect the right of autonomous, competent people to choose when to live and when to die.

There are lots of ways to argue with Singer’s conclusions. (I found him so convincing on animal rights in the 1970s that I’ve been a vegetarian ever since. I find him less convincing on infanticide.) But saying that Singer is merely expressing personal opinion is not to argue with him at all. In short, Jacoby is merely expressing his own opinions and preferences, and thus is guilty of exactly what he criticizes Singer for.


Part Three

The headline over the continuation of an article from the front page says:

Amid Maine’s extremes, teams of dogs and humans vie

It’s mildly disappointing to learn that the article is about dog sled racing in Maine, rather than about a dogs vs. humans sports event. [Tags: ]

4 Responses to “Three from the Boston Globe: Conflict, amusement, and maddening missing of the point”

  1. Mr Jacoby appeals to an “overarching ethical code” but his notion is anthropocentric. Animals, plants, biospheres, and the ecology of the earth itself all need to be included in any ethical code.

    Ethical codes dictate behaviors for human conduct for it is human beings that are dangerous to both themselves and to their fellow beings and their environment.

    Overarching should also mean “beyond the values and ethics of any one religion”, i.e., Christianity, whose biblical concept of ‘dominion’ has been interpreted to mean that the Earth and its beings are literally ‘resources’ created ‘for’ human beings to use for whatever purposes they deem necessary, useful, or pleasurable.

    Overarching should also mean “beyond the human ego”, but few have been able to become ‘conscious’ beyond the structures of this very limited ‘part’ of the human psychological system.

    I will offer two proofs of our hopelessly anthropocentric viewpoint.

    Within the year I read the following headline in the newspaper: “Moose kills a man”. It was an article describing an auto accident where a man was killed after HIS CAR STRUCK A MOOSE. As if off to the side of the road in the shadows at night the terrorist Moose are awaiting the opportunity for suicide car accidents.

    The second was the recent safe landing of an airplane in the Hudson River after “A FLOCK OF GEESE STRUCK AN AIRCRAFT”. As if the geese were deliberately on a course to destroy human life, when in fact it was the plane that ‘struck’ the flock of geese.

    Animals are not yet genetically programmed to escape from the rapid approach of automobiles or airplanes, yet we blame them for our misfortunes from inadvertent contacts.

    And how many birds following the patterns of instinctual migration for thousands of years will be sliced apart and will suffer from flying at night through the supposedly ‘ecologically correct’ wind turbines.

    ‘Overarching’ should most meaningfully mean “beyond human”. Yet how difficult for us to even consider this perspective when we appeal beyond human law to Gods that are personified as human bodies.

    ‘Overarching’ is an evolutionary concept. For human beings to evolve, and therefore for human culture to evolve, we must inhabit a position of consciousness that is beyond that of our own individual mind, one that is beyond that of our religion, beyond that of our nation, and beyond that of the human species.

    Indigenous cultures called this perspective “VIEW”. They readily sought the wisdom and perspective of ‘animal spirits’ as equivalent guides to the anthropocentric ‘ancestor spirits’ they consulted for wisdom and advice.

    Peter Singer has been and continues to be a voice for ‘overarching’ ethical thinking. He leads us to a place where we can think beyond the usual defense of the sanctity of life at all costs. Ethics should not only discuss the parameters of ‘life’ but also the parameters of ‘quality of life’.

    When my mother was dying of brain cancer, the doctors told our family that if she received radiation treatments she could extend her life for several years with a ‘good’ quality of life. She now contributes to the research statistics that factually state that radiation treatments prolong life, as she lived for 18 months beyond her treatments. Her quality of life, however, was nonexistent as she was largely unconscious, and in bed, and unable to communicate.

  2. First, “overarching” for Jacoby means God. Just to be clear. He has a strong, personal religious commitment. But, the God of Jacoby’s religion is not all that anthropomorphic. It’s arguable in any case.

    Other than that, I agree with you that Singer is exactly trying to “overarch” our usual assumptions when it comes to the value of life. Because Jacoby makes no effort understand Singer’s argument, he cannot understand why Singer urges charitable giving at the same time that he argues for euthanasia and even infanticide. One may disagree with Singer’s positions, but those positions are consistent with his premises and his argument. Disagreeing with Singer entails locating what’s wrong with his argument. Thus, Jacoby drives me nuts.

  3. Sounds like for Jacoby disagreeing with Singer entails locating where Singer’s arguments conflict with Jacoby’s beliefs.

    Arguments are rational and have premises and consistency whereas beliefs fall beyond rational scrutiny. Even scientific theories as rational beliefs have premises and consistency but can be amended and overturned according to new discoveries or new thinking.

    Religions provide an unwavering template and their believers must then ‘fit’ anything new into the belief structure that already exists. And when the ‘new’ does not fit, unlike science, no revision occurs and the original belief remains intact.

    Joseph Campbell thought of religions as mythologies. Each having a set of individual belief structures yet all in some way revealing common truths.

    I find that I have to leave rational thinking and enter metaphorical thinking to understand the overarching view.

    If one thinks of religions as colors emanating from a prism, then what creates the colors is the white light of truth. If Jacoby believes in the absoluteness of blue as the one true color of light he must defend blue against yellow and red and green. Singer’s “overarching ethics” leads us to the white light that lies beyond the individual colors.

    Jacoby does not even understand that white light exists and he just believes that other colors are ‘false’. His view is limited by his ‘belief’ in blue. For anyone who views the world from a wider perspective, such narrowness will drive you nuts.

    Most of the conflicts in the world today derive from narrow belief in the truths of a single color and the desire to defend against or eradicate other colors.

    The Tibetan flag provides an interesting contrast. It has a white border on three sides but the fourth side has no border. The open side of the flag represents the Buddhist openness to other ways of apprehending the truth ( other religions). This gesture to me also exemplifies their understanding of ‘overarching truths’ that lie beyond religious, social,political, or cultural structures.

    Tibetans understand that religion is a path to something ‘beyond’ the structure of the religion itself. Peter Singer is also delineating a path to truth that lies beyond current structures of thinking and belief.

    Resistance will always come from those who refuse to allow a better world to evolve because they cling to a world they believe in that is forever fixed.

  4. Unrelated, but you might find this interesting:

Web Joho only

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