-- editor and columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and contributor to Reason magazine.
Also: Recipient of the 1987 Nobel Prize for Medicine, reigning UFC lightweight champion, and two-time winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
Among his many other awards, Hinkle has received the 1942 Academy Award (the Oscar) for costume design in "How Green Was My Valley"; the Wooten-Murray Fellowship in Gas Dynamics from the University of Edinburgh; designation as "Sexiest Man Alive" from People Magazine (in 2004 and 2009, and he has a good shot at it again next year since he started working out again); the Robert H. Gibbs Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Systematic Ichthyology from the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists; and a variety of military service decorations, including a Silver Star for nighttime air combat missions over the Solomon Islands in WWII and a Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry at Montbrehain, France, in 1918.
But this is a dreary book. Its author has a completely axiomatic mind that is quite content to maintain itself in a permanent condition of apocalyptic excitation. His perspective is so settled, so confirmed, that it is a wonder he is not too bored to write. The veracity of everything he believes is so overwhelmingly obvious to him that he no longer troubles to argue for it. Instead there is only bewilderment that others do not see it, too. “Why Are Jews Liberals?” is a document of his bewilderment; and there is a Henry Higgins-like poignancy to his discovery that his brethren are not more like himself. But the refusal of others to assent to his beliefs is portrayed by Podhoretz not as a principled disagreement that is worthy of respect, but as a human failing. Jews are liberals, he concludes, as a consequence of “willful blindness and denial.” He has a philosophy. They have a psychology.
Thought experiment: In a remote region of the Amazon, explorers stumble across a tribe of people heretofore unknown. Clearly they are very primitive – living out of doors and off the land, without clothes or agriculture or the other usual hallmarks of civilization. But after months of observation, scientists conclude that the tribespeople are, nevertheless, highly intelligent.
They use tools. They understand numbers. They have a “theory of mind,” meaning they understand that others have minds of their own and know things they don’t know themselves. They engage in metacognition, meaning they can think about their own thoughts. They engage in “mental time travel,” meaning they can remember the past and plan for the future. They use symbolic language to discuss past and future events. They demonstrate concern for the emotional welfare of others — for instance, by consoling the victim of aggression. They show grief and compassion in the face of death.
Would it be morally acceptable to capture some of those tribesmen and bring them back to the U.S. so they could be used in medical experiments and displayed in exhibits for public entertainment? Or would that be a violation of their rights?
This is the question posed by recent habeas corpus claims filed on behalf of several chimpanzees by the Nonhuman Rights Project. The suits, relying on statutory and common law, argue that Tommy, Merlin, Reba, and other chimps currently being held in captivity deserve to be recognized as legal persons with certain fundamental rights: liberty and bodily integrity. The suits are backed up by the testimony of numerous experts in primatology, whose affidavits affirm that chimps have the cognitive abilities described above.
Last week three New York courts quickly dispatched the lawsuits. The Nonhuman Rights Project expected that to happen, and plans to appeal. Convincing a court to recognize the legal personhood of chimpanzees would be a landmark victory.
Even to broach the idea strikes some as terribly threatening. “Animal rights is an ideology that perceives animals as having the same right not to be owned as humans,” wrote Wesley J. Smith recently in The Weekly Standard. Should the Nonhuman Rights Project prevail, “the deleterious cultural and economic consequences would be staggering.”
Smith is a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, which advocates for intelligent design and opposes the idea that humans “descended from apes.” The Institute is the prime mover behind the campaign to “teach the controversy” of evolution vs. creationism — even though there is no such controversy. Not among scientists, anyway.
Like evolution, the recognition of animal rights has the potential to undermine biblical literalism. So it is not particularly surprising that the Institute treats even limited recognition of some rights for chimpanzees as the first step on a slippery slope.
The ultimate goal, Smith writes, is “to prohibit all domestication of animals” and “destroy human exceptionalism.”
Wrong. The panic over the possibility of safeguarding not merely animal welfare, but legal animal rights, fails to recognize that we already do just that. Humans, after all, are animals too. When we respect human rights, we therefore respect the rights of (some) animals. And if we respect the rights of some animals, then there is no reason in principle not to respect the rights of certain others.
But just as not all humans have the same rights, recognizing certain rights for chimps would not require attributing those same rights to pigs, bluejays, and earthworms. Children enjoy no right to enter into contracts, for example, because they are deemed to lack the capacity for it. Adults generally may enter into contracts — but not all of them. We make exceptions for the mentally incompetent.
To conclude that chimpanzees’ cognitive abilities justify the right not to be imprisoned or experimented upon, therefore, does not mean those same rights must be conferred upon animals without those cognitive abilities.
Why do people have rights in the first place? Suppose future space exploration discovers a planet populated by highly intelligent beings, with an exquisitely rich culture dating back several millennia, who look not at all human. Wouldn’t it make sense to recognize them as rights-bearing creatures anyway? And wouldn’t that make more sense than attributing human rights to mannequins — which look very much like humans, but have no human capacities?
A question like that might seem too fanciful. But the advance of computing science is leading to another one. Well before long-distance space travel becomes feasible, the day will arrive when computers become both self-aware and vastly smarter than the smart people who made them. At that point, we will have to consider whether thinking machines have rights.
Moreover — and more apposite to the chimpanzee question: The thinking machines will have to consider whether we do.
Some of us have been saying this for years (we’ll try not to be too smug), and now a study bears us out: conservatives are unlikely to follow their policies through to their real-world consequences. Research by Jared Piazza of the University of Pennsylvania and Paulo Sousa of Queen’s University Belfast, published in the June issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science, demonstrates that moral judgements regarding consequences differ wildly between conservative/religious persons and liberals.
The study included 688 participants whose moral positions on killing, assisted suicide, torture, incest, cannibalism, malicious gossip, stealing, lying, deception, betrayal, breaking a promise, breaking the law, and treason were gauged. The outcome? Conservative and religious individuals showed a “general insensitivity to consequences.” These participants consistently tended towards deontological ethics – which means they judged morality according to universal rules or divine authority. Liberals in the study promoted consequentialist ethics – they judged the morality of action based on the outcome […]
Further news: water is wet, candy is delicious.
What? Conservative morality is based on obedience to arbitrary, irrational rules without any thought as to the outcomes? DO TELL
But isn’t it nice to have scientific confirmation?
As with so many such studies, this one seems highly selective and tendentious. (For a more nuanced and thoughful examination of the source of our intuitions, consider the work of Jonathan Haidt.)
Conservatives may tend toward deontological ethics with regard to certain activities, but they can be highly consequentialist with regard to others. See, e.g., the discussion of waterboarding — which conservatives justified not because it was intrinsically right according to natural or God’s law, but rather because it produced useful intelligence. That was consequentialist ethics in action.
By the same token, liberals opposed waterboarding because they considered it intrinsically wrong (a deontological position) even in cases where it might have produced useful intelligence (though they often argued that it didn’t do that, either).
Likewise, conservatives very often make consequentialist arguments against economic interventions such as the minimum wage — arguing, for instance, that it depresses employment among young people and the low-skilled. Liberals argue, deontologically, that the principles of social justice and simple human decency require us to set a floor on wages.
The principle that we should treat all people as having the same intrinsic moral worth - a basic tenet of liberal political philosophy (and, parenthetically, my own) - is hardly consequentialist. But that does not mean it is “arbitrary” or “irrational.” It grows out of the Kantian categorical imperative. And if you have ever read Kant’s Groundwork, you know he is anything but irrational.
News flash: Not everything qualifies as yet further proof that Your Side is right about everything and Their Side is filled with flaming idiots. There’s a bit more to it than that.
It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”
In the old Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and today’s North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal Communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That’s a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard Left is given free rein, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?
We are all dependent on others. The question is whether we are dependent on people we know, and they on us—in ways that foster family and community, build habits of restraint and dignity, and instill in us responsibility and a sense of obligation—or we are dependent on distant, neutral, universal systems of benefits that help provide for our material wants without connecting us to any local and immediate nexus of care and obligation. It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul… .
The problem with the “you didn’t build that” mindset, as becomes particularly clear if you read what the president said before and after that line, is not just that it denies the significance of individual initiative (though that’s an important part of the problem, and our culture of individual initiative, which is far from radical individualism, is a huge social achievement in America) but also that it denies the significance of any common efforts that are not political.The president took the pose of a critic of individualism, but in fact the position he described involves perhaps the most radical individualism of all, in which nothing but individuals and the state exists in society.
Alexis de Tocqueville saw where this would go long ago:
"I want to imagine with what new features despotism could be produced in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but he does not see them; he touches them and does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains for him, one can at least say that he no longer has a native country. Above all these an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves provided that they think only of enjoying themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?"
If it is OK to hunt deer because they lack critical thinking skills, then can we hunt children with Down syndrome?
Most sane people would answer, “no.” They would say persons with severe mental retardation have a right not to be hunted for sport, even if they can’t articulate it themselves. This brings us to the conundrum pointed out by Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation: Any quality that only human beings have that might provide the basis for their having rights (such as moral agency) will be absent from some human beings—but any quality that all human beings have (such as self-awareness) will be shared by many animals. So either not all people are equal, or people are equal to (some) animals.
To this, philosopher Tibor Machan offers the broken-chair analogy: Some chairs have broken legs, but they “are still chairs, not monkeys or palm trees. Classifications are not something rigid but something reasonable.” Rights, he says, belong to the class of reasoning animals, i.e., humans—even if some members of the classification cannot reason. We should attend to what is normal for the species, not specific cases.
That makes sense until you start to pick at it. James Rachels asks us to consider a chimpanzee smart enough to go to college. It makes no sense to say the smart chimp should not be allowed to attend merely because average chimps cannot. (If you find the example ludicrous, substitute “12-year-old boy” for “chimp.”) It makes no sense because “it assumes that we should determine how an individual is to be treated, not on the basis of its qualities, but on the basis of other individuals’ qualities.” …
Sam has a problem. He has a number of very poor nephews and nieces. He has been working with a charity organization to help them, but the organization needs more funding. So Sam goes out and starts demanding money from his neighbors to give to the charity group. If anyone refuses to contribute, Sam kidnaps that person and locks them in a cage.
Though charitable giving is laudable, as is the effort to care for one’s nephews and nieces, almost everyone who hears this story finds Sam’s extortion program impermissible. This includes both Democrats and Republicans, people who believe in a personal moral obligation to donate to charity, and even people who have a theory of “distributive justice” that says the current distribution of wealth in our society is unjust because the poor have too little.
Interestingly, however, many of the people who agree on the impermissibility of Sam’s behavior nevertheless support seemingly analogous behavior on the part of a certain other Uncle Sam. Some think it not only permissible but obligatory for the state to coercively seize funds to aid the poor.
This is just one of many activities of government that are generally accepted despite the fact that seemingly analogous behavior would be widely condemned if carried out by anyone else. Two other examples: those who kill large numbers of people to bring about some political change are dubbed “terrorists” and are widely condemned, regardless of whether their goals are desirable … unless they work for a government, in which case they are called “soldiers” and may be praised as heroes. When an individual is forced to work for someone else, this is called “forced labor” or “slavery” and is widely considered unjust … unless it is imposed by a government, in which case it may be called “conscription,” “national service,” or “jury duty.”
The philosophical questions with which I began my book The Problem of Political Authority, then, were these: what gives the government the right to behave in ways that would be wrong for any non-governmental agent? And why should the rest of us obey the government’s commands? …
For another excellent look at the problem of justifying political obligation, read A. John Simmons’ Moral Principles and Political Obligations. It is, or should be, a classic.
I am not a radical. But more than anything the Iraq War taught me the folly of mocking radicalism. It seemed, back then, that every “sensible” and “serious” person you knew — left or right — was for the war. And they were all wrong. Never forget that they were all wrong. And never forget that the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair were right.
Everybody knows government shouldn’t be given too much power. But people forget why. Government should not be given too much power because it has a special kind of power — a comic book supervillain type of power. The political system has a monopoly on the use of deadly force. That deadly force can be brought to bear upon you for any violation of even the most trivial, the most picayune government regulation. If you fall afoul of recycling rules, you’ll get a citation from the sanitation department. If you don’t pay the fine, you’ll be sent to jail. And if you escape from jail, they’ll shoot you. You could be executed for failing to separate the green plastic from the clear plastic in your trash. Now do you think we should give more power to politicians who would do a thing like that?