Dishonest politics

I really despise when politicians refuse to understand the point of the opponent. It isn’t merely an inability to respect a different perspective because it may be so foreign or opposed to some long-held point of view that gets me. No, it’s when someone expresses a point in clumsy language and the other side pounces, being an absolute bitch about actually listening to the real point. Take, for example, when Mitt Romney said he wasn’t concerned about poor people. Of course he cares about them. He just happens to believe that they currently have a relatively adequate safety net, a net which can be improved (and made unnecessary in many lives) via certain economic policies. (That isn’t to say he really understands them, nor that his policies would actually work, but I do not think he is quite as callous as his original comment might suggest.) Or, even worse, look at John Kerry’s treatment a few years ago. He tried to say that we’re stuck in Iraq because Bush is dumb. The way it came out, though, made it sound like he thinks soldiers are stupid. It was an absurd distraction that was dishonest to its core. I hated every second of it and I think it’s terrible that he had to apologize at all.

Fast forward to the present campaign season and we have the President saying this:

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.

Whoa! Holy smokes, Batman! The President of the United States just said that small business owners – especially mom and pop shops that have been in the neighborhood for 43 years, giving out free meals to needy orphans and puppies every Thanksgiving – deserve zero credit. Zero. Rumor has it that once off camera, he even went so far as to grab the head of a struggling business owner, pull the guy’s face right up to his ass, and fart. I bet he laughed and laughed. Communist.

Oh…wait. I guess there’s more to the quote:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Oh, snap. Shitty, amirite conservatives? I guess what the President meant was that everyone has had help from others at one point or another. He then gave teachers as one example. Then he says that somebody helped to create the system in which businesses thrive. Then he uses roads and bridges as an example of what has helped businesses thrive. Next we have the big doozie of the whole thing: He says that businesses – gasp! – didn’t build our roads and bridges. For the reading impaired, let me reword the President’s sentences in a way which conveys the exact same meaning with a little more clarity:

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build that.

Or how about this?

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build that stuff.

Or maybe this?

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build those.

Okay, here we go:

Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build those roads and bridges I just mentioned. In fact, the transcript of my speech should be written with a semi-colon so as to show what I am saying about businesses not building roads and bridges. For example, “Somebody invested in roads and bridges; if you have a business, you didn’t build that.”

And despite all this context, there’s even more to the speech:

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Nothing the President has said is remotely remarkable here. He was simply making the point that everyone needs help in life, and a lot of that help comes from government-funded programs, works, etc. Most teachers are paid by the government. Most bridges are built by acts of Congress and state legislatures. That isn’t to say that businesses deserve zero credit. He outright says that one of the reasons businesses see success is individual initiative. That just isn’t the only reason they see success, is all. But hey, I know how to end this argument with one simple question:

Did Wal-Mart build the Interstate it uses to truck its goods around the country? No? Argument over.

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Michael Hartwell of Sentinel & Enterprise is a liar

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar.

I’ve written about Michael Hartwell in the past. My initial criticism of him was largely confined to the fact that he uses a poor writing style to avoid answering tough questions. That might be fine for a regular journalist, but Hartwell acts as little more than a common pundit who feigns a neutral position. As such, he has put himself in a place where the onus is on him to defend his writings. (Armchair Psychology Alert: I think he enjoys the respect that comes from making people think he’s fair-minded. He isn’t particularly interested in uncovering respect for actual ideas, in part, because doing so would expose the fact that he’s just another ideologue.) In short, he is not a reputable source for objective information, but I can see how he could appeal to a Republican audience – people like to have their biases confirmed.

Unfortunately, Michael Hartwell of Sentinel & Enterprise isn’t merely a bad journalist. He is also a liar. In a post about the Nazi-run economy of 1930’s and ’40’s Germany, Hartwell says this:

Over and over again I find myself clarifying that fascism and Nazism were sister movements to socialism and communism. This runs counter to the cheap political trick where modern capitalist-loving right wing movements are likened to Hitler and his followers.

Hartwell then spends more than the next 10 paragraphs describing how socialism was the mindset behind Nazism and the Nazi economy. Once done, he says this:

If younger generations fundamentally misunderstand the driving force behind evil mindsets like Nazism, then they will be completely vulnerable if it comes back again, striking not with mere hate but with false promises of prosperity.

In other words, he just hates those “cheap political tricks” where people try to tarnish something by associating it with Hitler and Nazis. But, oh yeah. Socialism is nothing but associated with Hitler and Nazis. Hell, it drove Nazism. (Sorry, racism and nationalism! Maybe next time!)

Of course, none of this is particularly notable as far as lies go. After all, in the words of Hartwell, it’s not much more than a cheap political trick. Perhaps we can just file this one under “Ironic rhetoric”? Except it gets better:

Fascism was indeed a form of socialism on a national scale instead of as an international movement…

Fascism economic policies that were put into place include the strict control of all businesses, such as telling them what to produce, and setting of prices. Those that violated these rules were nationalized. The execution of German invalids was defended as saving resources for the fit Germans. The amount of control over individuals daily lives was staggering.

Emphasis mine.

Either no one ever taught Hartwell about the importance of topic sentences or he was just overtly implying that socialism led to the murder of retarded individuals. Let’s just link his words together in way which perfectly and honestly reflects what he said: Fascism is a form of socialism that led to Germans executing “invalids”. (He even gets cute and uses the politically correct language for the 1930’s.)

But now here’s the question: Will Hartwell own up to his claim? Take a wild guess:

No. I was demonstrating fascisms belief in central planning.

And of course the best way to do that is to point to the fact that 1) fascism is a form of socialism and 2) fascism led to the murder of “invalids”. What!? How is that dishonest!?

Give me a break.

If Michael Hartwell wants to blog up a storm of right-leaning tripe, that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me that he thinks a series a declarations and a handful of links makes an argument. However, it all becomes an issue when he runs away from points and even resorts to (overt) lying. Moreover, I think it’s an issue when his goal is to present his blog as a good source of journalism, something to which potential employers can look as a piece of his resume. That is why his (publicly listed) place of employment has been included in the title of this post. I think journalism in the United States is already quite awful. I’d rather not see it get any worse.

Responding to Michael Hartwell: bad journalist, bad writer

I recently took Michael Hartwell’s blog Young, Hip and Conservative off my blogroll. The reason was very simple: I no longer trust his content. Now he has responded via Nate:

I wasn’t sure if I should respond to a critical post (1) Michael Hawkins wrote at Forthesakeofscience about me. I loathe having online discussions with him because of his tone, long-windedness and unwillingness to consider counter evidence. I didn’t want to leave a reply in his realm of control (I doubt he’d edit a reply in the comments, but I didn’t want to take a chance) and I avoid writing about personal issues on my blog. That’s what this is. Nate is a mutual friend of both of us and was kind enough to host a reply here. This post is mostly written for my friends, and I hope to hear from them.

I’m going to be doing a lot of interpreting through this whole thing – and he’s right, I am long-winded – so let’s get started.

What Hartwell means is that he’s upset that I don’t find most of his arguments convincing one way or the other. I imagine this is especially upsetting for him since he has set up a blog of faux objectivity and professionalism. Having people slap down terrible posts can be distressing enough, but when the goal is to advertise one’s self as a fair-minded journalist, it can dampen job prospects.

Hawkins made three major accusations: I make an unacceptable number of typos, I am a poor writer and I don’t research the subjects I blog about thoroughly.

Here is an excellent example of why I no longer trust his content: his poor reading leads to wildly erroneous conclusions. My accusation that he made an unacceptable number of typos was nothing more than a simple clause in part of a wider sentence:

You’re a bad-to-average writer, Michael [Hartwell]. Aside from never proofreading for typos (what are “rick people”?), you write in a journalistic style even though your blog is not a newspaper. In case you haven’t noticed, newspaper articles are written at a junior high reading level.

My point is clear: his writing is of a low quality, in part, because it is written in a way which is meant to appeal to the laziness of the masses. Of course, that point had absolutely nothing to do with why I erased him from my blogroll. Hell, I recently told Nate that his writing isn’t particularly good, much like his mother. That doesn’t mean he’s off the blogroll, though. Hartwell, as usual, has lost track of the discussion. This is a serious, repeating issue for him.

I have been mentioning Hartwell’s journalistic writing style lately, though. I’ve told him the reason, but I don’t think he gets it. Let me try to spell it out: By writing in short paragraphs that are 2 to 4 sentences each, he is able to hide from giving in-depth responses when challenged. It isn’t that people who write in his style are hiding. It’s that the style allows for such hiding – and he takes full advantage.

A lot of this spilled out on Facebook, where he proceeded to troll me by asking if I have a reading disability over and over. I do not, of course, and he asked it in a manner that would make it degrading to answer him directly.

This is simply more confirmation why Hartwell’s blog doesn’t deserve my reference. I did ask him if he had a reading disability, but he has blatantly attempted to portray the issue as if that’s all I did. What actually happened was he accused me of giving a grave insult to the President over the gay marriage issue. I then responded with a number of points. I will summarize them, but don’t just take my word. I put my Facebook posts on his blog:

  • He made an inept analogy to between the President and George Wallace – whereas Wallace actively sought to deny rights to people, the President took a meaningless position on something.
  • I think it is naive of Hartwell to assume that there is any politician out there who hasn’t been dishonest in an effort to get votes.
  • I criticized his laziness to fact-check.
  • I criticized his FOX Noise-like analysis that said the President would gain votes in important electoral states this November as a result of his position.
  • I criticized Hartwell for insulting the President just as harshly as he claimed I did.
  • I summarized that the President’s position changed as he considered running for higher office, thereby telling me that he changed so dramatically on such a big issue for the sake of appealing to the center.
  • I compared the President to the Christians out there who think homosexuality is wrong yet still vote for gay rights; the President’s former position did not result in any actual bigotry.
  • I then made a case for why President Obama’s positions have been good for gays anyway.

Here is the response Hartwell gave:

Cut your summary down to two chapters and I’ll read it, Obama basher

Right. I’m the troll.

Let’s continue:

As for his first point about typos, I absolutely agree with him…

That’s great, but it wasn’t my first point.

His second point about my writing style I flat out deny. Writing style can not be quantified, but I think this comes from different preferences. Of course, I find my stance to be superior and consider myself a good writer.

I take my writing philosophy from Orwell, Strunk and White (3) and believe in using sharp, simple sentences that are easy to comprehend. This gives my writing more power, in my opinion, and I reject cumbersome academic writing that makes the reader slow down to interpret obscure words. Curbing ones vocabulary takes a lot of effort, but that is my preference.

I emphasized one part of this to simply point out the bad-faith argumentation that is common of Hartwell. When did anyone ever endorse academic writing?

I am also a journalist (outside of my blog) and have to write in that style a lot, which makes it habitual. Hawkins repeats the cliche that journalism is written for a junior high reading level. This is nonsense.

The average American reads at about an 8th or 9th grade level, so says Google. This source says USA Today is written at a 5th grade level. A number of websites reference a source (Research for Practice by Elizabeth H. Winslow and Ann F. Jacobson, The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 98, No. 7 (Jul., 1998), pp. 55+57) which says the New York Times, New Yorker, and USA Today are each written at a 10th grade level. I presumed this was common knowledge, if not from simply hearing it from a variety of sources, then at least from actually reading newspapers.

What seems to be the crux of his post was an accusation that I use false facts. This is a big accusation which I completely deny. I use the scientific worldview as a mindset for writing about issues, including political issues. That is what makes my blog stand out.

Here is a post from Hartwell where he outright makes up a position for Stephen King.

Continuing on:

One column I wrote in college, however, was factually wrong and I still regret it. I was sympathetic to intelligent design and said it should be dismissed with studies, not written off. I had spent hours and hours reading about it, but I missed some key facts. I even wrote about it on my blog years later to show that people can learn, and we should be willing to say we were wrong.

This is what people who love science do, but for some reason, Hawkins used that to criticize me. What a bunch of hogwash. He wrote:

“He’s almost proud of the learning experience, in fact. It was certainly needed, but I’m not so sure touting one’s former ignorance is the way to go – at least not for a journalist.”

I am certainly proud of myself for letting evidence switch a position, even one I had stated publicly. I do not think we should blindly grip the positions we have, but constantly question and evaluate them, and if needed, change them. That’s the kind of reputation I want to have; not one of pretending to be born wise and unmoved by experience.

Again, this is continued confirmation of my distrust of Hartwell as a news source. He has overtly performed a quote-mine job here. He takes a small selection of what I said and then spins it as if I criticized him for changing his mind. Let’s just go to the tape. Here is what I actually said:

He’s almost proud of the learning experience, in fact. It was certainly needed, but I’m not so sure touting one’s former ignorance is the way to go – at least not for a journalist. He may not have been stupid in 2006 by virtue of his awful editorial, but he was a bad journalist for not doing his homework.

In other words, my criticism is most certainly not premised in Hartwell’s change of heart. I’m glad he figured things out. My issue is with him touting his lack of research as a point of pride. Yes, it’s nice that he corrected for an error, but correction does not excuse all mistakes. He failed to properly research a hot button topic before taking it on. He even had an entire biology department available to him. It all reminds me of a debate Christopher Hitchens had when he was in better shape (ya know…alive). Rabbi Boteach, after uttering a number of falsehoods out of ignorance, went on to declare that Stephen Jay Gould did not believe in evolution. It was embarrassing to watch.

Hawkins often comes off as an angry Internet forum poster who intends to derail discussions, even when he has a point to make. He also sees everything in black and white.

More interpretation: When Hartwell says I see things in black and white, what he means is that I don’t agree with him enough. And, really, I would be willing to find myself on his side of issues much more often, but I just think it would be a shame for us to both be wrong.

“Bigot” is a word he throws around casually. There is no distinction between a young person who violently attacks gays, or an old woman who votes against gay marriage out of ignorance simply because she was born in unenlightened times.(9) Everything must be one extreme or the other.

None of this is true. First, I’ve defined “bigot” a number of times here. I always use the word in accordance with that definition. Hartwell once even gave my definition a positive reference. Second, of course there is a distinction between the violent offender and the old woman: 1) The violent offender is, um, violent. He also discriminates against gays out of ignorance. 2) The old lady is presumably kindly and always has a hard candy to offer. Oh, and she discriminates against gays out of ignorance.

He also had a habit of writing sprawling replies in the comment section. I will admit that I spend more time on posts then I do writing a comment, but I honestly don’t enjoy any exchanges I’ve had with him. He makes it a point to be vulgar and rude.

It’s not so much a point of being vulgar but rather the fact that I’m not a sheltered child who can’t get over the word “fuck”. Furthermore, Hartwell knows the story here. I’m thorough and sometimes I swear. If he doesn’t like that then he shouldn’t reference my posts on his blog or tag me on Facebook when he posts his writings there. It isn’t my fault if he doesn’t know that by now.

(And here I thought libertarians weren’t in the game of blaming others for their own mistakes. But maybe that’s my mistake. I’ll take responsibility.)

He also gets upset if you don’t respond to each and every point sprinkled among his replies. I don’t believe he’s willing to reverse any of his positions in a comment section. With the combination of these elements, I don’t respond to a lot of his comments. They are a chore to deal with.

Interpretation: I won’t agree with him enough. Again, if I do that then nobody would get to be right. And it isn’t that I want a response to every single point I make. It’s that I would like a response to any point I make. Hartwell has a tendency to lose track of the discussion and make up positions for his opponents. For awhile not too long ago I would make it a point to ask him to quote where I said whatever it was he was claiming I said. Sometimes he would take up the challenge, but he would usually run away. When he did give a response, he would quote something which either had no relevance or was clearly read incorrectly by him. But hey, what do I know? They’re just my positions.

(Don’t worry, I’m getting near the end.)

Hartwell next quotes a recent instance where I swore and admonished him for not reading carefully. He then says:

In this case, the facts are that candidate Obama was distancing himself from what his office wrote in a GLBT-focused local newspaper two years later when he ran for the same office. During the exchange with Hawkins, I interpreted a news story as saying his aides denied his support for gay marriage in 1996, and I quoted it as such. In fact, the quote was unclear and Hawkins (correctly) interpreted it as saying his aides in later years denied the position.

A couple of things. First, I was swearing at him because he repeated a few facts I had already put forth as a premise for an argument. He didn’t add anything to the discussion. Had he read what I wrote, he would have seen that I already established what he randomly decided to re-write. That is, the reason I swore at him was because he didn’t bother to read what had already been said. This is in contrast to his claim that I swore at him because we had a disagreement over what the President’s aides had said and when they said it. I realize this may not seem like a big deal, but it goes to the broader picture I’ve been trying to paint: Hartwell loses track of discussions constantly.

Second, I think the disagreement above speaks for itself. Hartwell wishes to paint me as a black and white thinker, but the fact is I was correct when I did his homework for him. That is, he had made the claim that the President’s aides had disavowed a 1996 statement. I pointed out that that disavowing was subsequently disavowed itself by the White House. There’s more to the overall issue, but this was about a specific point. Hartwell has confused my steadfastness about one detail for a refusal to listen to his broader points. It’s his own conflation.

When you factor in that he believes the president is also a secret atheist, its easy to see that emotionally, Hawkins HAS to believe the president agrees with him. He’s emotionally invested and sees this as a sacred fact that can never be questioned. Otherwise, with his black and white worldview, he would have to believe the president has been a bigot.

I’m not sure Hartwell has read much of my blog. It does not matter to me what any specific atheist thinks insofar as that person’s lack of belief is concerned. Atheism is 100% descriptive. It does not lead one to bigotry. It does not lead one away from bigotry. In fact, it has nothing at all to say about bigotry. It isn’t normative, so even if the President was an honest-to-goodness bigot, I couldn’t possibly be disappointed in him from the perspective of an atheist. It’s a lot like when Christians claim atheists hate God. That isn’t a part of an atheist’s perspective since, by definition, an atheist does not accept the existence of any god. Thus, it is nonsensical to say an atheist hates God. Just the same, it is not a part of my view that any two atheists should inherently agree with each other by virtue of their atheism. Thus, it is nonsensical to say I have an investment in the President’s views because he may be an atheist.

And there you have it.

YH&C is off the blogroll

I’ve allowed a few conservative blogs to be featured on my blogroll. They get put under a special section, however, so as to distance myself from them. For instance, there are things The Right Atheist will say that don’t jibe with my views, so he gets put under that section, even if I do thoroughly enjoy his posts about language. Nate’s blog is under the same constrictions here. I’m not much for anecdotal sexism, but he does say a few things that make sense. The same has long been my view on Michael Hartwell’s blog, Young, Hip & Conservative. He has very anti-labor views that serve to help the rich at the expense of the poor, but he manages to put forth an intelligent argument from time to time. Unfortunately, YH&C no longer represents anything with which I wish to be associated.

I’ve been able to excuse Hartwell’s tendency to construct his sentences poorly. He’s a journalist, after all (even if he lies and says he’s somehow in the industry of science). There isn’t anything wrong with that profession, and I actually really hate it when people disparage those in the related major of English – to understand literature well is to understand the world well – but let’s be honest: 21st century journalism is written at a junior high level. It isn’t supposed to be quality prose. So while Hartwell’s writing ability is a little less than what I expect, I still don’t really expect much. However, I do think it is reasonable for me to expect a certain level of professionalism. Specifically, any good journalist ought to do his homework. You know, delve into the details of an issue, get his facts straight, etc. Hartwell has a history of not doing this. Just take a look at this:

I sometimes stop myself from accidentally calling people stupid when they express stupid ideas. This isn’t just out of respect – it’s entirely self-serving. In 2006 I wrote an editorial in my college newspaper defending Intelligent Design as an alternative explanation to evolution, and calling on biologists to give it a fair shot instead of dismissing it out of hand.

I got a few replies from the biology department which said that yes, these claims have indeed been addressed – back in the 19th century. By 2007 I was no longer an Intelligent Design proponent and rejoined the evolution camp.

Did my complete reversal on that subject mean I went from being stupid to smart within a year? I certainly hope not. Most of my other positions went unchanged, and I retained a lot of knowledge in other subjects.

Hartwell uses a personal example of a mistake he made which, of course, does not in and of itself make him stupid. He’s almost proud of the learning experience, in fact. It was certainly needed, but I’m not so sure touting one’s former ignorance is the way to go – at least not for a journalist. He may not have been stupid in 2006 by virtue of his awful editorial, but he was a bad journalist for not doing his homework.

Fast forward 6 years and it seems little has changed. I’m not going to go about quoting excerpts from that link for the simple reason that there is too much to quote, but the gist is this: Michael Hartwell continuously makes claims which are erroneous and/or not fact-checked; he consistently loses track of discussions; he refuses to address the primary points being made by others in response to the issues he raises; he is a tone troll; he refuses to make any novel arguments, instead relying on red herrings and irrelevant quotes. In short, he fails at everything that is necessary to being a good journalist with an opinion-based blog. Had I known he was this wildly irresponsible with how he approaches his career, I never would have asked him to write for my publication. It is here that I am disavowing anything and everything I have ever cited by Michael Hartwell which has relied on outside sources for factual information. (Things which are quintessentially opinion remain acknowledged if and where cited.)

Young, Hip, & Conservative is off the blogroll at For the Sake of Science.

And if it was all true…

Cee-Lo Green, an artist who I think has a pretty good voice, took a big poop all over John Lennon’s “Imagine” during one of those awful New Year’s Eve shows. Instead of saying, “Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too”, he opted to say, “Nothing to kill or die for, and all religion’s true”. So let’s imagine what that means:

You’ve got Muhammad and Quetzalcoatl fighting the Titans in Valhalla while Vishnu commands the Taurus bull. The Galatic Overlord Xenu is dodging djinns and Anubis to tempt Jesus in the desert before he breeds with giant Aryan women to bring them down to size. Who’s in charge here, Ra, Jehovah, Zeus or Taiyang Shen? Can the light side of the force prevent Cthulhu from bringing Ragnarök to the world, which is made from the dead dragon Tiamat, or will the ancestral spirits and great mother turtle have to create a new one. Do faeries have chakras?

It’s going to take an eternity to sort all of this out.

Philosophical trolling

I was poking around at YH&C when I read a post about bin Laden’s death. I liked that post, but within it was a Bryan Caplan article that asked what’s wrong with revenge? Expecting an interesting read, I found myself looking at a little philosophical troll:

My point: Bring up revenge, and most people get upset and speak in platitudes. I’d like to know: What’s wrong with revenge?

They do that because it would be tedious to justify every last point down to the tiniest detail. Imagine making an argument about the proper punishment for rapists when some troll swings on by and starts asking “but what’s wrong with rape?!”

To be more specific: Suppose X is the most severe morally acceptable punishment for act Y committed by person Z. Suppose that the government fails to do anything about Y. What’s wrong if a person personally affected by act Y does X to Z?

This fails to get at the heart of Caplan’s concern. He wants to know what’s wrong with revenge, but the scenario he’s proposing does not necessarily entail revenge. If imprisonment for 5 years is the most severe and morally acceptable punishment for an act someone committed and the government fails to act, it is not inherently revenge for me to put that person in my own prison (even if the act personally affected me).

I won’t accept “No one has the right to take the law into his own hands” as an answer. I want to hear some reasons why no one has this right.

Too bad. That’s the heart of the proposition. Of course, we know from the title of the article and the preceding paragraphs that Caplan didn’t mean to say what he did, but here we are.

A few possibilities:

1. “Maybe Z didn’t really do Y.” This is an argument against misguided revenge, not revenge per se.

As pointed out earlier, this assumes that taking the laws into one’s own hand is inherently revenge. It isn’t.

2. “The person might inflict more than X on Z for doing Y.” Again, this is an argument against excessive revenge, not revenge per se.

Again, assumes revenge that has not been shown. Just as with number 1, this objection gets to the heart of what Caplan actually proposed, not what he meant to propose.

3. “Revenge leads to chaos and/or multiple rounds of reprisal.” This seems unduly alarmist. Most people are cowards, and punishing heinous acts is a public good. Even if “justified revenge” were an affirmative legal defense, few people would take advantange (sic) of it. Indeed, if anything, the market under-supplies revenge.

This is a non-sequitur in reference to the original scenario given by Caplan, but it does get back to what he meant to address. Yet he still misses the mark. Let’s grant that this objection is too alarmist. Is it entirely false, though? Does revenge lead to unnecessary secondary effects, even if they are not wide-spread? And are we willing to accept those consequences? Caplan assumes we are so long as they are for a greater public good. This, however, does not necessarily address the morality of incurring those effects. That is, take the issue of spanking. One argument in favor of spanking one’s own children is that it keeps them in line and teaches them discipline. Yet as frequent readers of FTSOS I know, I detest that argument. The issue is not over effectiveness, but right and wrong. As I said in a previous post, shooting a baby in the face will be effective to get it to stop crying, but that is wholly irrelevant to whether or not that is an okay act.

4. “X, the most severe morally acceptable punishment, is zero.” Besides being crazy, this is an argument against any system of criminal justice, not just revenge. Ever seen the bumper sticker “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing is wrong?” You could just as easily have a bumper sticker saying “Why do we imprison people who imprison people to show that imprisoning is wrong?”

The first part of this is a pure strawman. The second part – which is apparently an effort to keep up the non-sequiturs – is two arguments which are not parallel. Both are actually good questions and require individual justifications. The first question has two main justifications. First, if one does not value life at all times, murder away. Second, it is better to destroy one life for the good of the whole. I don’t think many people really want to glom onto the first option, and the second option loses its gusto once one sees the complete lack of need to murder a shackled guy who is behind bars. The second question can use the same two justifications, substituting “liberty” for “life”. If one does not value liberty at all times, imprison away. Or, if it is better to limit the liberty of one for good of the whole, then there is a justification. We tend to use that last one (and it doesn’t lose its gusto).

There are other anti-revenge arguments, but I doubt they’ll fare much better. (Feel free to disagree in the comments…) What’s interesting to me is that while most people officially condemn all acts of revenge, 80% of all action movies depict revenge as not only morally acceptable, but morally required. Sin City is an extreme case, but its stance is mainstream. In the latest Die Hard sequel (thumbs down, BTW), for example, Bruce Willis keeps saying that he’s going to find the bad guys and “Kill them” – not “Kill them if I must do so in self-defense.”

It’s poetic justice. That is not synonymous with unqualified justice.

The reason why there is something wrong with revenge is that it is a purely emotional response. In a system of law, or for those who simply value rationality, reasoning is necessary to form our responses. Indeed, the very idea of “justice” necessarily relies upon the notion that what is right and wrong has a rational basis. That rational basis extends to how we respond to wrongs; if we do away with our reasoning, we are inherently operating outside the bounds of justice – even if our actions happen to agree with it anyway.

A homeopathic solution I can support

From YH&C:

As a skeptic, I see the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine as a pure waste of about $121 million in taxes annually and would jump on any chance to eliminate the department.

Now, realistically I know this department is the baby of Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and as a part of his reputation is tied up in it’s success he will fight for it’s survival. His interest is concentrated, while the interest of the public to save a little more money is spread out. So elimination is a tough fight that our side can’t expect to win.

But I think I have a compromise. Following the principles of homeopathy, where a substance gets more powerful if you dilute it in water and shake it up a little between steps, we should dilute the NCCAM funding down to $12.1 million. How’s that for shaking things up?

This may be the first homeopathic plan I can really support. It certainly would help decrease the number of people who are needlessly sick.