Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Re: The Most Insidious Drug

Kyle suggests (Re: The Most Insidious Drug) that we treat pornography like we treat tobacco and alcohol - tax it. We might also mount the same sort of campaign against pornography that's been mounted against smoking:

[T]he issue of pornography reminds me of the issue of tobacco smoking. Through anti-smoking ads and taxation, smoking has significantly decreased in America. So my plan is to begin by taxing pornography. With a 97 billion dollar a year industry, a tax is going to provide some significant income. With that money, let's start doing some meaningful and powerful research on the subject. Conclusively get the pros and cons of pornography and show the world our results. I think we're all pretty confident that it is harmful. After that, begin to use the money to target sex offenders, provide recover programs for those addicted to pornography and sexual addiction...

Interesting idea.


Harris on Morality

Neo-atheist Sam Harris delivers a lecture on morality in which he argues, sometimes sensibly, against moral relativism. Unfortunately, he seeks to ground his argument in the belief that somehow science can tell us what is objectively right and what is objectively wrong. He sets human flourishing as his summum bonum and then argues that whatever promotes that flourishing is right and whatever impedes it is wrong.

But why should we think that human flourishing is the summum bonum? His answer seems to be because we just feel that it is, and anyone who doesn't feel this way is wrong. Not only is this unpersuasive, it also leaves unanswered the question of why, if flourishing is indeed the greatest good we can pursue, I shouldn't pursue it just for myself or why our nation shouldn't pursue it at the expense of other nations. Why should anyone care about the flourishing of others? Why is it wrong to subordinate other people's flourishing to my own? And if death is the end what does it matter how we live anyway? Why not maximize whatever pleasures are to be found in life and let other people take care of themselves?

Harris, unfortunately, doesn't address those questions, but they really are at the heart of the metaethical debate between theists and atheists. Atheism has no answer to questions like why I should care for the poor, or why we should conserve the earth's resources, or why I should contribute to Haitian earthquake relief. The fact is that there's simply no reason why one should sacrifice anything for others unless it's in his own self-interest somehow to do so.

Here's Harris' lecture:

It's a peculiarity among science-oriented atheists like Harris that they so often argue that we should all behave in certain ways because, well, it feels to them like we should. The oddest thing about the lecture, though, is that he was given a standing ovation at its conclusion. Having listened to nothing significant for twenty five minutes or so the audience jumped to their feet to express their approval. Pretty funny.


The Looming Tsunami

A crowd of people lolling about on a beach in mid-morning takes no notice of the modest swell far off on the horizon. The weather's a little cloudy, but the forecasts in the newspapers and talking heads on tv are chattering on about how everything is soon going to be beautiful on this bright summer day, how the weather is improving, and how beach-goers will soon be basking in the glorious light of the summer sun.

A note of concern ripples through the crowd, however, when some notice that the surf appears to be draining out to sea, as if someone pulled the plug. Even so, the vacationers go on about their business applying tanning lotion, building sand castles, reading a pulp novel, listening to music, eating and drinking. But soon the surf line is a hundred yards or more further out than it was just a few minutes ago, and the crowd grows puzzled. Something is happening. They look around and see a few people hurriedly leaving the beach. Suddenly, someone yells to look out toward the ocean and to their horror a huge mountain of water, a 100 foot tsunami, is rising up and rushing headlong toward the beach. The people panic and try to scramble inland to safety, but it's too late. The tsunami crashes down upon them with unimaginable force crushing and sweeping away everything.

This is a parable of what is in store for us as a result of the incomprehensible fiscal recklessness of the last year and a half. But don't take my word for it, instead take about ten minutes to read this speech given by Rep. Paul Ryan on March 31st. Ryan is like one of those tsunami detectors that have been placed out in the ocean to alert coastal populations to the threat of an imminent tsunami. His speech is the equivalent of a three-credit college course and his warning is more valuable than any course any college offers.

If you care about your future and that of your children you should read it. You can find it here.