There is a facile enthusiasm about “believing” that is manifest every Christmas season and often enough in-between. Sentimental movies like “The Polar Express” and “The Miracle on 34th Street” chime in with their paeans to believing, and even works like “The Life of Pi” suggest that it is proper and even admirable to accept as true “the better story” even when it is the unlikeliest story imaginable.
At the front end, let me admit that there is a kernel of truth in these expressions. But there is also great danger is assuming that optimism can or should trump reason, and that belief in the truth of whatever appears good or lovely is itself necessarily good.
At least in questions where the relevant evidence is capable of being comprehensively considered, the proper formula is very simple: belief should be according to the evidence. Continue reading →
I’m watching Star Trek Beyond and Krall just threatened to kill Sulu in order to coerce the crew into giving him the Abronath (a bioweapon capable of huge destruction). But rather than letting a crew member die, an Ensign named Syl turns over the weapon from its hiding place in the back of her head. It’s a very familiar scene. You find similar scenes in Star Wars, most of the superhero films, and even children movies like Disney’s Hercules. Remember when Hercules gives up his power to save Meg and thus allows Hades to terrorize the city and even assault Mount Olympus?
My complaint is not that this trope has become repetitive (here’s a long list of similar scenes), but that we simply accept it as a legitimate ethical decision. Do we agree that it is appropriate to surrender thousands, millions, possibly billions of lives (the stakes keep getting higher) in order to save Sulu? Why does this ever make sense? Spaceballs even parodies this trope when The King sacrifices himself and the entire population of his home planet just so the princess doesn’t get her old nose back. When it’s a nose, we understand the absurdity, but that absurdity is harder to recognize when someone’s life is at stake.Continue reading →
In my last “Against Chronological Snobbery” essay I introduced the debate between the “progressive” view of American history (that America’s history has been one of clear moral progress) and the “non-progressive” view (that it hasn’t—i.e., that the question is at least subject to debate). I endorsed the latter position. Representing the “progressive view” was Justice Kennedy’s Obergefell opinion, together with Justice Marshall’s assertion that the founders lacked any remarkable degree of wisdom, and that the greatness of the Constitution is its more recent embrace of equality and individual rights. Representing the “non-progressive” view was Justice Robert’s dissent in Obergefell and Justice Scalia’s dissent in U.S. v. Virginia, both of which included a scathing rebuke of the majorities’ chronological snobbery.
In this essay, I hope to continue my attack on the “progressive” view by assaulting one of its citadels—the self-satisfaction of contemporary mainstream culture with regard to its own value system.
We live in an age obsessed with self-actualization, self-fulfillment, self-realization, self-discovery, self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-expression, self-help, self-image, self-identity, etc. Selfies, iPhones, YouTube, me time. We’re self-obsessed.
The idea of “being true to yourself” implies that there is a core-self at our centers to which we could, theoretically, be false. But I doubt that. Continue reading →
I concluded Part Three by asserting that “society does and should take a hand in directing sexuality towards good results and away from bad ones”—but what counts as a “good” result, and how are good results to be encouraged? These are very important questions, but they are not the questions I am dealing with here. I will say only, in passing, that the authority to answer these questions is entrusted primarily to We the People (and not to the Supreme Court).
What I am dealing with here is not sexual morality, but sexuality simply as such: what is it? I have given no complete answer, but I have suggested that sexuality is NOT something that just happens to us. In particular, I have argued that (1) sexual orientation is not an immutable (i.e., unchangeable, inherent) characteristic of our natures, and (2) our culture should not impose on individuals a sexual identity based upon that orientation. Currently, our culture does impose such an identity by attempting to place everyone in one of four “immutable nature” boxes—homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual. Continue reading →
I claimed, at the end of Part One, that “the potentiality for sexual interest in either gender is natural in nearly all people in some degree.” In Part Two I explained my own experience, which bears this out. Here I mean to appeal to more general experiences that I’m sure I share with almost all readers to prove this point. Continue reading →