Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. This post will remain at the top of the queue to give new and some old readers an idea of what this site is and isn't, what goes on here, and what is not permitted to go on here. Like the site itself, this introductory page is under permanent construction and reconstruction. It will take shape bit by bit over the coming weeks and months.
1. Why 'Maverick Philosopher'? Since I am a philosopher and what is done here is mainly philosophy, it is appropriate that 'philosopher' be in the title. As for 'maverick,' this word derives from the name of the Texas lawyer Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) who for a time was a rancher who ran cattle that bore no brand. These unbranded animals of his came to be known as mavericks. The term was then extended to cover any unbranded stock and later any person who holds himself aloof from the herd, bears no 'brand,' resists classification, strives to be independent in his thinking or mode of living, is religiously or politically unaffiliated, and the like. (Cf. Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 473.)
Some object to the popular 'Obamacare' label given that the official title of the law is 'Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act' or, as commonly truncated, 'Affordable Care Act.' But there is a good reason to favor the popular moniker: it is descriptive where the other two labels are evaluative, expressing as they do a pro attitude toward the bill.
Will the law really protect patients? That is an evaluative judgment based on projections many regard as flimsy. Will the law really make health care affordable? And for whom? Will care mandated for all be readily available and of high quality?
Everybody wants affordable and readily available health care of high quality for the greatest number possible. Note the three qualifiers: affordable, readily available, high quality. The question is how best to attain this end. The 'Affordable Care Act' label begs the question as to whether or not Obama's bill will achieve the desired end. 'Obamacare' does not. It is, if not all that descriptive, at least evaluatively neutral.
If Obama's proposal were referred to as "Socialized Medicine Health Care Act' or 'Another Step Toward the Nanny State Act,' people would protest the negative evaluations embedded in the titles. Titles of bills ought to be neutral.
So, if you are rational, you will not find anything derogatory about 'Obamacare.' But liberals are not known for being particularly rational. But they are known for playing the the race card in spades. (See my Race category for plenty of examples.) And if the liberal in questions hosts for that toxic leftist outlet, MSNBC, then 'morally obnoxious' can be added to the description. So the following comes as no particular surprise:
MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry went off on a tangent in a recent broadcast, ranting about the racist overtones of a word that’s been used for years by both sides of the political aisle — Obamacare.
“I want to talk today about a controversial word,” she said, as FrontPageMag.com reported. “It’s a word that’s been with us for years. And like it or not, it’s indelibly printed in the pages of America history. A word that was originally intended as a derogatory term, meant to shame and divide and demean. The word was conceived by a group of wealthy white men who needed a way to put themselves above and apart from a black man — to render him inferior and unequal and diminish his accomplishments.”
Slanderous and delusional.
So the question arises once again: Can one be both a liberal and a decent and sane human being? Or is scumbaggery as it were inscribed into the very marrow of the contemporary liberal? Or perhaps it is more like this: once liberalism infects a person's mind, the decency that was there is flushed out. Need an example? Try Martin Bashir on for size. Or Keith Olbermann. (At the end of the hyperlink I defend Dennis Prager against Olbermann's vicious and stupid attack.)
I suppose I should say at least one good thing about MSNBC: both of the these leftist scumbags got the axe.
By the way, 'scumbag' is a derogatory word and is intended as such. But you knew that already. It is important to give leftists a taste of their own medicine in the perhaps forlorn hope that someday, just maybe, they will see the error of their ways and learn how to be civil. Civility is for the civil, not for assholes. 'Assholicity' for assholes.
It is simply a fact about human nature that few are able to make good use of free time, 'leisure' time. Provide them with it and they 'go to seed' in no time, following the path of least resistance ever downward. The classical concept of leisure. not to be confused with 'leisure,' as the former is explained by Josef Pieper in his Leisure: The Basis of Culture is not understood and few have the self-discipline nowadays to live a life that is leisurely in the classical sense. What we can expect thanks to Obama and his ever-increasing infantilization of the populace via his promotion of welfare dependency and 'free' health care is more social pathology, more tattoos, more drug use, more mindless texting and sexting and high-tech time-wasting. As the government grows bigger, the citizen grows smaller, weaker, and less self-reliant so that he needs ever more government to feed, clothe, shelter, and wipe his butt for him, the mediating institutions of civil society (see article below) having been weakened if not destroyed by big government and its liberal-fascist initiatives.
It is now a requirement of Obamacare that every Catholic institution larger than a single church — and even including some single churches — must pay for contraceptives, sterilization, and morning-after abortifacients for its employees. Each of these is directly contrary to the Catholic faith. But the Obama administration does not care. They have said, in effect, Do what we tell you — or else.
If that isn't liberal fascism, what would be? Now I can't expect a morally obtuse liberal to appreciate what is wrong wth the killing of innocent human beings who just happen to be prenatal, but you would think that liberals, of all people, would understand what is wrong with forcing people to support what they, in their serious and deeply considered judgment, consider to be a grave moral evil.
“Work” and “purpose” are intimately connected: Researchers at the University of Michigan, for example, found that welfare payments make one unhappier than a modest income honestly earned and used to provide for one’s family. “It drains too much of the life from life,” said Charles Murray in a speech in 2009. “And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors – even more to the lives of janitors – as it does to the lives of CEOs.” Self-reliance – “work” – is intimately connected to human dignity – “purpose.”
So what does every initiative of the Obama era have in common? Obamacare, Obamaphones, Social Security disability expansion, 50 million people on food stamps. The assumption is that mass, multigenerational dependency is now a permanent feature of life. A coastal elite will devise ever-smarter and slicker trinkets, and pretty much everyone else will be either a member of the dependency class or the vast bureaucracy that ministers to them. And, if you’re wondering why every Big Government program assumes you’re a feeble child, that’s because a citizenry without “work and purpose” is ultimately incompatible with liberty. The elites think a smart society will be wealthy enough to relieve the masses from the need to work. In reality, it would be neofeudal, but with fatter, sicker peasants. It wouldn’t just be “economic inequality,” but a far more profound kind, and seething with resentments.
One wouldn’t expect the governing class to be as farsighted as visionaries like Bezos. But it’s hard to be visionary if you’re pointing in the wrong direction. Which is why the signature achievement of Obama’s “hope and change” combines 1940s British public health theories with 1970s Soviet supermarket delivery systems. But don’t worry: Maybe one day soon, your needle-exchange clinic will be able to deliver by drone. Look out below.
William Sloane Coffin has this to say on p. 56 of Credo (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004): "We cannot legislate morality, only the conditions conducive to morality." To combine three serious mistakes in one short sentence is quite a trick.
First, since we do legislate morality, it follows that we can.
Second, if Coffin is saying that we ought not legislate morality, then he is saying that we ought not have laws, since all laws legislate morality.
Third, it is false that we can legislate the conditions conducive to morality. Among the conditions of morality (moral behavior) are freedom of the will and knowledge of right and wrong and of their difference. Obviously these things fall outside of the scope of legislation. What Coffin wants to say is that we can only legislate certain conditions external to the agent, which, if they were to obtain, would lead to morally correct behavior. Well, nothing can lead to, in the sense of determine, morally correct behavior since free will is involved; but I grant that if everyone had a well-paying job that would reduce the incidence of crime. Unfortunately, the government cannot legislate jobs into existence.
In the same paragraph, we read this amazing sentence: "Economics are [sic] not a science; they [sic] are only politics in disguise." Is this to say that economic phenomena (buying, selling, bartering, etc.) are really political phenomena? That is obviously false: there could be economic phenomena even if there were no state (polis). Is it to say that economics as the study of economic phenomena is reallyjust political science? That too is plainly false. Perhaps Coffin is merely making the trivial point that economic pronouncements are liable to be influenced by political considerations. If that is what he means, he should say it instead of saying something idiotic.
I am sorry to have to report that his book is filled with similar nonsense.
Obama's electoral success is truly a remarkable commentary on the goodness of the American people. A 2008 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported "that 17 percent were enthusiastic about Obama being the first African American President, 70 percent were comfortable or indifferent, and 13 percent had reservations or were uncomfortable." I'm 77 years old. For almost all of my life, a black's becoming the president of the United States was at best a pipe dream. Obama's electoral success further confirms what I've often held: The civil rights struggle in America is over, and it's won. At one time, black Americans did not have the constitutional guarantees enjoyed by white Americans; now we do. The fact that the civil rights struggle is over and won does not mean that there are not major problems confronting many members of the black community, but they are not civil rights problems and have little or nothing to do with racial discrimination.
There is every indication to suggest that Obama's presidency will be seen as a failure similar to that of Jimmy Carter's. That's bad news for the nation but especially bad news for black Americans. No white presidential candidate had to live down the disgraced presidency of Carter, but I'm all too fearful that a future black presidential candidate will find himself carrying the heavy baggage of a failed black president. That's not a problem for white liberals who voted for Obama -- they received their one-time guilt-relieving dose from voting for a black man to be president -- but it is a problem for future generations of black Americans. But there's one excuse black people can make; we can claim that Obama is not an authentic black person but, as The New York Times might call him, a white black person.
We humans naturally philosophize. But we don't naturally philosophize well. So when science journalists and scientists try their hands at it they often make a mess of it. (See my Scientism category for plenty of examples.) This is why there is need of the institutionalized discipline of philosophy one of whose chief offices is the exposure and debunking of bad philosophy and pseudo-philosophy of the sort exhibited in so many 'scientific' articles. Although it would be a grave mistake to think that the value of philosophy resides in its social utility, philosophy does earn its social keep in its critical and debunking function. But now on to the topic.
Is there extraterrestrial life?
To answer this question, one would have to have at least a rough idea of what counts as living and what counts as nonliving. For example, "A working definition lately used by NASA is that 'life is a self-sustaining system capable of Darwinian evolution.'"
In a recent Scientific American article, Why Life Does not Really Exist, problems with the NASA definition are pointed out. I won't try to evaluate the putative counterexamples the author adduces, but simply assume that the NASA definition is not adequate. Indeed, I will assume something even stronger, namely, that no adequate definition is available, no razor-sharp definition, no set of properties that all and only living things possess, no set of properties that cleanly demarcates the animate from the inanimate, and is impervious to counterexample.
Supposing that is so, what could explain it? According to the Scientific American article (emphasis added) what explains the difficulty of defining life is that life does not really exist! It can't be defined because it is not there to be defined. You heard right, boys and girls:
Why is defining life so frustratingly difficult? Why have scientists and philosophers failed for centuries to find a specific physical property or set of properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate? Because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented. On the most fundamental level, all matter that exists is an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles. These arrangements fall onto an immense spectrum of complexity, from a single hydrogen atom to something as intricate as a brain. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not. In truth, this division does not exist outside the mind. There is no threshold at which a collection of atoms suddenly becomes alive, no categorical distinction between the living and inanimate, no Frankensteinian spark. We have failed to define life because there was never anything to define in the first place.
This startling passage provokes a couple of questions.
The first is whether the author's conclusion, which we may take to be the conjunction of the bolded sentences, follows from the difficulty or even the impossibility of finding an adequate definition of life. The answer is: obviously not! One cannot conclude that nothing is living from the fact, if it is a fact, that it is difficult or even impossible to say what exactly all and only living things have in common that makes them living as opposed to nonliving. That would be like arguing that nothing is a game (to invoke Wittgenstein's overworked example) because there is nothing that all and only games have in common that distinguishes them from non-games. There are games and there are non-games and this is so whether or not one can say exactly what distinguishes them.
Not all concepts are such that necessary and sufficient conditions for their correct application can be specified. There are vague concepts, family-resemblance concepts, open-textured concepts. The concept bald, the concept game, the concept art. Their being vague, etc., does not prevent them from having clear instances and clear non-instances. A man with no hair on his head is bald. Your humble and hirsute correspondent is most definitely not bald. The fact that we don't know what to say about Donald 'Comb-Over' Trump does not change the fact that some of us assuredly are and some of assuredly not.
The second question is whether the author's conclusion, namely, that life is a concept that we have invented is even coherent. It isn't. I'll give two arguments. I beg the indulgence of those readers who will feel that I am wasting my time and yours with the dialectical equivalent of rolling a drunk or beating up a cripple. I agree that in general there is something faintly absurd about responding to a position whose preposterousness renders it beneath refutation.
A. If life does not exist, but is a mere concept we have invented, then a fortiori consciousness does not exist and is a mere concept we have invented. For if the difficulties in defining life are a reason for thinking there is no life, then the difficulties in defining consciousness are a reason to deny that there is consciousness. For example, there appears to be something very much like intentionality below the level of conscious mentality in the phenomena of potentiality and dispositionality. (See Intentionality, Potentiality, and Dispositionality: Some Points of Analogy.) This causes trouble for Brentano's claim that intentionality is the mark of the consciously mental. But it would surely be absurd to deny the existence of consciousness on the ground that defining it is not easy. There is a second point. Those of a naturalist bent are highly likely to maintain, with John Searle, that either conscousness is a biological phenomenon or at least cannot exist except in living organisms. So if there is no life, then there is no consciousness either.
But only conscious beings wield concepts. Only conscious beings classify and subsume and judge. So if there is no life, there are no concepts either, and thus no concept of life. Therefore, life cannot be a concept. It is incoherent to suppose that a lifeless material object could classify some other objects in its environment as living and others as nonliving.
Moreover, if consciousness does not exist, but is a mere concept we conscious beings have invented, then obviously consciousness is not a mere concept we have invented but rather the presupposition of there being any concepts at all. The notion that consciousness is a mere concept is self-refuting.
B. The author tell us that "What differentiates molecules of water, rocks, and silverware from cats, people and other living things is not 'life,' but complexity.
Note how the author takes back with his left hand what he has proferred with his right. He appeals to the difference between the nonliving and the living only to imply that there is no difference, the only difference being one of material complexity. But a difference between what and what? Now if he were maintaining that life emerges at a certain level of material complexity he would be maintaining something that, though not unproblematic, would at least not be incoherent. For then he would not be denying that life exists but affirming that it is an emergent phenomenon. But he is plainly not an emergentist, but an eliminativist. He is saying that life simply does not exist.
If the difference between the nonliving and the living is the difference between the less complex and the more complex, then actually infinite sets in mathematics are alive. For they are 'infinitely' complex. If you say that only material systems can be alive,, but no abstracta, what grounds your assertion? If life is a concept we impose, why can't we impose it on anything we like, including actually infinite sets of abstracta? Presumably we cannot do this because of the nature of sets and the nature of life where these natures are logically antecedent to us and our conceptual impositions. Sets by their very nature are nonliving. But then appeal is being made to what lies beyond the reach of conceptual decision, which is to say: life exists and is what it is independently of us, our language, and our conceptualizations. One cannot argue from our poor understanding of what life is to its nonexistence.
The fallacy underlying this very bad Scientific American piece could be called the eliminativist fallacy. An eliminativist is one who, faced with a problem he cannot solve -- in this case the problem of crafting an adequate definition of life -- simply denies one or more of the data that give rise to the problem. Thus, in this case, the author simply denies that life exists. But then he denies the very datum that got him thinking about this topic in the first place.
John Hawkins argues that it is in a recent Townhall piece. I agree with everything he says, except the title. It suffices to argue that liberalism is wrong. It is irrelevant whether it is on the right or wrong side of history. Allow me to explain.
The phrase "on the wrong side of history" is one that no self-aware and self-consistent conservative should use. The phrase suggests that history is moving in a certain direction, toward various outcomes, and that this direction and these outcomes are somehow justified by the actual tendency of events. But how can the mere fact of a certain drift justify that drift? For example, we are moving in the United States, and not just here, towards more and more intrusive government, more and more socialism, less and less individual liberty and personal choice, Obamacare being the latest and worst example. This has certainly been the trend from FDR on regardless of which party has been in power. Would a self-aware conservative want to say that the fact of this drift justifies it? I think not.
But if not, then one cannot argue against liberalism by trying to show that it is on the wrong side of history. For which way history goes is irrelevant to which way it ought to go.
'Everyone today believes that such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is true. 'Everyone now does such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such ought to be done. 'The direction of events is towards such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is a good or valuable outcome. In each of these cases there is a logical mistake. One cannot validly infer truth from belief, ought from is, or values from facts.
One who opposes the drift toward socialism, a drift that is accelerating under President Obama, is arguably, pace Hawkins, on the wrong side of history. But that is no objection unless one assumes that history's direction is the right direction. Now an Hegelian might believe that, one for whom all the real is rational and all the rational real. Marxists and 'progressives' might believe it. But no conservative who understands conservatism can believe it.
One night a conservative talk show host told a guest that she was on the wrong side of history in her support for same-sex marriage. My guess is that in a generation the same-sex marriage issue will be moot, the liberals having won. The liberals will have been on the right side of history. The right side of history, but wrong nonetheless.
It's why Congress has an approval rating of 6%. It's why Obamacare is wildly unpopular. It's why D.C. and our court system have devolved into partisan warfare. It's because liberalism is a non-functional, imperious philosophy that is out of step with the modern world and on the wrong side of history.
Hawkins thinks it is a point against liberalism that it is on the wrong side of history. But whether it is or not is irrelevant -- unless one assumes what no conservative ought to assume, namely, that success justifies, or that might makes right, or that consensus proves truth, or that the way things are going is the way things ought to be going.
As I have said more than once, if you are a conservative don't talk like a [insert favorite expletive] liberal. Don't validate, by adopting, their question-begging epithets and phrases.
For example, if you are a conservative and speak of 'homophobia' or 'Islamophobia' or 'social justice,' then you are an idiot who doesn't realize that the whole purpose of those polemical leftist neologisms is to beg questions, shut down rational discussion, and obfuscate.
Language matters in general, but especially in the culture wars.
I just wasted 30 minutes on the phone with a customer service representative straightening out a screw-up emanating from their end. The automated intro said that a "helpful customer care" rep would be available in one minutes (sic)." Don't tell me how helpful and caring you are. Just do your job and do it right.
This change from 'service' to 'care' is squishy, bien-pensant liberal feel-good bullshit and quite in keeping wth the Age of Feeling, the Age of Obama Yomama. It's humbug I tell you, humbug!
Liberals are for the rule of law when it suits their collectivist, big government agenda, but only then. Peter Berkowitz:
The left-liberal mindset endemic on the college faculties and law schools where Barack Obama’s political sensibilities were forged holds that morals and politics are subject to a universal reason to which the left-liberal sensibility is uniquely attuned. This conceit receives expression in a faith that the left-liberal brain trust can embody complex public policy in general rules and regulations, which can then be administered smoothly by well-educated bureaucrats and adjudicated impartially by empathetic judges.
At the same time, the left-liberal mind rebels against established authorities, hierarchies, and formalities that constrain its ability to pursue the people’s good and social justice -- at least as it understands them.
Often enough, this rebellion turns against laws duly enacted by left-liberals themselves. Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal are now demonstrating the destabilizing consequences of governing in accordance with a love-hate relationship toward the law.
I've been asking myself a question these last years. Why did we expend so much treasure to defeat the Evil Empire, the USSR? To become another, albeit lesser, evil empire, the United Socialist States of America?
But if one needs institutionalized religion, one could do far worse, assuming one can stomach the secular-humanist liberal namby-pambification and wussification that the post-Vatican II church can't seem to resist, the dilution of doctrine and tradition that empties into the nauseating Church of Nice.
There was something profoundly stupid about the Vatican II 'reforms' even if we view matters from a purely immanent 'sociological' point of view. Suppose Roman Catholicism is, metaphysically, buncombe to its core, nothing but an elaborate human construction in the face of a meaningless universe, a construction kept going by human needs and desires noble and base. Suppose there is no God, no soul, no post-mortem reward or punishment, no moral world order. Suppose we are nothing but a species of clever land mammal thrown up on the shores of life by blind evolutionary processes, and that everything that makes us normatively human and thus persons (consciousness, self-consciousness, conscience, reason, and the rest) are nothing but cosmic accidents. Suppose all that.
Still, religion would have its immanent life-enhancing role to play, and one would have to be as superficial and ignorant of the human heart as a New Atheist to think it would ever wither away: it inspires and guides, comforts and consoles; it provides our noble impulses with an outlet while giving suffering a meaning. Suffering can be borne, Nietzsche says somewhere, if it has a meaning; what is unbearable is meaningless suffering. Now the deep meaning that the Roman church provides is tied to its profundity, mystery, and reference to the Transcendent. Anything that degrades it into a namby-pamby secular humanism, just another brand of liberal feel-goodism and do-goodism, destroys it, making of it just another piece of dubious cultural junk. Degrading factors: switching from Latin to the vernacular; the introduction of sappy pseudo-folk music sung by pimply-faced adolescents strumming gut-stringed guitars; leftist politics and political correctness; the priest facing the congregation; the '60s obsession with 'relevance.'
People who take religion seriously tend to be conservatives and traditionalists; they are not change-for-the-sake-of-change leftist utopians. The stupidity of the Vatican II 'reforms,' therefore, consists in estranging its very clienetele, the conservatives and traditionalists. The church should be a liberal-free zone.
For Obamacare to work, the young must sign up. But will they? Why should they? Jeffrey H. Anderson:
In its government-run exchanges, Obamacare raises premiums for the young by suspending actuarial science. It forbids insurers from considering some variables that are actuarially relevant to health care, such as sex and health, while also limiting their ability to take age into account in an actuarially based way. Under ordinary principles of insurance, a healthy young person pays a lot less than a person nearing retirement. Under Obamacare, that’s not so. Yet President Obama’s centerpiece legislation depends upon young people’s willingness to pay these artificially inflated premiums.
Another reason the young are unlikely to show up in sufficient numbers is that Obamacare gives many of them an easy out: They can stay on their parents’ insurance free of charge until they’re 26. As for the rest, with the elimination of preexisting conditions as a barrier to buying health insurance, many will choose to go without coverage until they’re sick or injured.
In other words, Obama-care makes insurance more costly while simultaneously making it less necessary—especially for the young.
You ought to read the entire piece, especially if you are young and healthy.
The more I know about Obamacare, the more crack-brained (you can take that word in two senses) it appears. The burden of redistribution is to be borne by the young, precisely those least capable of carrying it.