-- 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.
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?
Animals having rights is a contentious notion, and there is a strong argument against it: Rights belong to moral agents, and animals lack moral agency. Driven by instinct, they lack the higher-order thinking skills that enable people to choose between courses of action.
But this argument has some weaknesses. First: Some animals, certain primates especially, actually do think rather well. Second: informed consent. Humans can give it, but animals cannot. If one believes, as everyone should, that relationships ought to be delineated by consent as much as possible, then it follows that scientists should experiment only on people.
Third: the marginal-cases argument, which says: What about the senile, the comatose, or the severely mentally retarded? 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.…
[I]t is never possible altogether to outlaw and smother the adjustment process by which an economy pushed off balance by shocks and extra-economic constraints, seeks to right itself. If cowardly politics shuts down one corrective mechanism, another will start up. The result will not always be as smooth or efficient as if the first, most obvious mechanism had been allowed to work, but adjustment will still take place, albeit in roundabout and costlier ways. The Soviet Union had banned profit-and-loss and froze the price system. In their place, much of the work of resource allocation shifted to queues, black and grey markets and the sort of corruption that spreads when direct ownership interest is suppressed or overlaid by principal-agent relations.