Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The False Choice Between Altruism and Social Conformity

Some think that altruism is not real if it has any mixture of self-interest, social pressure, or social conformity.

But we learn how to serve others, much the way we learn anything else.  Virtue is a practice which we try to get better at and make habitual.  When it becomes second nature, it can appear to be "pure".

Yet we learn how, exactly, to be altruistic from social models.  And we keep on trying to learn how to make virtue habitual because we have the support of social norms and of other people promoting those norms.

Moreover, when we do serve others, we also can reap the approbation of others - that is, enhance our status.

These are not impurities of altruistic service.  This is the very human and social way that we learn how to be altruistic servants.

Monday, September 18, 2017

America Acts as One Commonwealth Whenever It Can Check The Southern Grandees

The vision of America as one commonwealth comes from Reformed, Catholic, and Jewish worldviews.  The Yankee vision of the city on a hill translated into the progressive policies of the early Republican Party.  Catholic social teaching and Jewish repair of creation views were joined to this progressive Protestant view (which had changed parties by then) to underscore the New Deal.

Opposition to the view of America as one commonwealth comes from what Michael Barone calls the Southern Grandees.  Marrying racism and exploitation of cheap labor, they have consistently opposed universal social welfare policies.  This has been true in every era of America, from Jamestown to today.

The United States has been able to adopt universal social welfare policies when the Southern Grandees have been checked.  This was especially true during and just after the Civil War, and partly true in the Depression and the Civil Rights movement.

The Southern Grandees, and their fellow travelers, are dominant at the national level right now.  But history gives us plenty of reason to hope they will be checked once again.  America is one commonwealth, and will be able to act like it once again.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

When Faced With Moral Hazard, Err On the Side of the Innocent

Moral hazard is the idea that, if you insure against some hazard, the insured will act in an even riskier way, knowing they are insured.  Economists usually just focus on the economic costs of changing the balance of risk.

The moral part of moral hazard, though, is that people will behave worse than they otherwise would if we, collectively, try to protect people against bad actions.

This has led some people to harden there hearts - if we have no social insurance, then everyone will behave better because they are on their own.

Yet this runs the risk of hurting people who are hurt through no fault of their own.  It is to take care of the vulnerable that we create social insurance in the first place.

So which side should we err on -- taking care of the injured innocent, or promoting the risky guilty?

Personalism - treating everyone as a worthy person - says we err on the side of protecting the innocent, even at the cost of producing some more bad behavior than we otherwise would have.

Monday, September 11, 2017

We Don't Like to Contemplate Our Vices, But Could Reap the Easiest Benefit from Doing So

It is easier to contemplate our virtuous habits than our vicious ones, because we don't want to think about the ways we are vicious.

Yet Aristotle is right that contemplation leads to the highest happiness.  I take this to mean that happiness requires the continuous feedback of contemplation of our habits, both the good habits and the bad ones.  Gretchen Rubin, in The Happiness Project, found that she was made happier by reducing her bad habits than by increasing her good ones.

Contemplating our vices, and reducing the habitual ways in which we engage in them, are the low-hanging fruit for increasing our own happiness.  But, for the reason given above, we resist contemplating our vices.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi is Squandering Her Moral Capital by Persecuting Muslims

I have admired Aung San Suu Kyi above all current world leaders.  She earned her Nobel Peace Prize in the long democratic resistance to the military dictatorship in Burma/Myanmar.

Now, though, the government and local mobs are killing and burning out the Royhingya, a Muslim minority whom the Buddhist majority regard as foreigners and an impurity in the body politic.

In any other country, "The Lady" would be part of the opposition to this ethnic cleansing.

It is therefore very sad that she is squandering it by not stopping this evil act.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Karma is ... a Nice Young Woman

We had a wonderful family moment at our recent reunion.  One daughter asked another go get her something.  It is probably relevant that it was a younger sister asking an older one; also, that they are now grown women.

The asker reminded the askee of the many times in their youth when the roles were reversed.

This was a happy exchange, and the returned service was readily offered.

Which prompted me to say "Karma is a nice young woman."

Which then led the whole family to reflect on how we usually take justice to be harsh.  Yet, just as often, what we deserve for the many good things we do in life is good things in return.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Straight Swap: Lynching Memorial for Confederate Memorial in Danville

In Danville, Kentucky, where I live, there is a Confederate monument in the park between my church and my college.  It is supposedly of a local resident, but is looks like a generic Robert E. Lee-type officer.  It was erected in 1910 -- not in the aftermath of the Civil War, but at the height of Jim Crow.  My favorite part is the caption on the back - What They Were, The Whole World Knows.

Heh, heh.  I'll buy that.

Which is why the monument should come down.

I learned this week that a black man was lynched in Danville in 1866.  He was killed by a mob of Danvillians right in this same park.

The Equal Justice Initiative is making a memorial pillar for each lynching victim, to be erected near Montgomery Alabama.  One excellent feature of their plan is that an identical pillar be erected in the place where the lynching took place.

I propose a straight swap.  Take down the Confederate memorial in Danville, and erect a lynching memorial in the same spot.