The modern successor to the Hippocratic oath, called the Declaration of Geneva, was updated and approved by the World Medical Association in 2017. The pledge states that “The health and well-being of my patient will be my first consideration” and “I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat.”1 Can a physician work in US immigration detention facilities while upholding this pledge?
At a recent conference on belief and unbelief hosted by the journal Salmagundi, the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson confessed to knowing some good people who are atheists, but lamented that she has yet to hear “the good Atheist position articulated.” She explained, “I cannot engage with an atheism that does not express itself.”
She who hath ears to hear, let her hear. One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down “a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death!” Pliny argued that belief in an afterlife removes “Nature’s particular boon,” the great blessing of death, and merely makes dying more anguished by adding anxiety about the future to the familiar grief of departure. How much easier, he continues, “for each person to trust in himself,” and for us to assume that death will offer exactly the same “freedom from care” that we experienced before we were born: oblivion.
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review three lower court decisions posing the important question whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which makes it unlawful for an employer or prospective employer “to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s . . . sex”—thereby forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. There is little doubt that few if any of the members of the Congress that originally enacted the statutory language would have thought it had that effect.
However, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court in a 1998 Title VII case that applied the statute’s sex discrimination prohibition to other circumstances that its drafters likely did not envision, “it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.” And there are straightforward reasons to think that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is sex discrimination.
The pending Title VII cases thus pose a test for the Court’s conservative majority. At one point or another and to varying degrees, all of the Court’s conservatives have embraced some version of the so-called textualist approach to statutory interpretation epitomized by Justice Scalia’s observation in the 1998 case, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. If they keep faith with their textualist commitment, they will rule in favor of the plaintiffs.
Interesting read by Jason Brennan.
In August 2017, Richard Hubbard III stopped at a red light in Euclid, Ohio, but his front bumper went a few feet past the white line. The cops pulled him over. That's no surprise: Police in Euclid, Cleveland Heights, and the surrounding cash-strapped towns strictly enforce traffic rules. But officers didn't just give the driver a ticket.
The police demanded Hubbard—a black man—step out of his vehicle. Dashcam footage shows that he calmly complied. Yet one officer immediately spun Hubbard around, bent his arm, and slammed him against his Hyundai. He flipped Hubbard again, punched him in the face, and kicked his groin. Hubbard screamed and put his arms up to protect himself. The other officer joined in.
They threw Hubbard to the ground but continued to punch, hammer, and kick him. When he tried to protect his face, they chanted the informal motto of American police, "Stop resisting!" Even when Hubbard was subdued, prostrate with his hands behind his back and two large officers pinning him down, one officer continued to pummel his skull.
Imagine you witness the whole thing. A thought occurs to you: You're armed. You could shoot the officers, perhaps saving Hubbard's life or preventing him from being maimed and disabled. May you do so?
Below, I defend a controversial answer: Yes, you may. Shooting the cops in this case is dangerous—they may send a SWAT team to kill you—and in many places it's illegal. But it is nevertheless morally permissible, indeed heroic and admirable. You have the right to defend yourself and others from state injustice, even when government agents act ex officio and follow the law.
Another by Brennan on this topic: When the state is unjust, citizens may use justifiable violence
In what feels like an increasingly polarised world, trying to convince the “other side” to see things differently often feels futile. Psychology has done a great job outlining some of the reasons why, including showing that, regardless of political leanings, most people are highly motivated to protect their existing views.
However a problem with some of this research is that it is very difficult to concoct opposing real-life arguments of equal validity, so as to make a fair comparison of people’s treatment of arguments they agree and disagree with.
To get around this problem, an elegant new paper in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology has tested people’s ability to assess the logic of formal arguments (syllogisms) structured in the exact same way, but that featured wording that either confirmed or contradicted their existing views on abortion. The results provide a striking demonstration of how our powers of reasoning are corrupted by our prior attitudes.
When complex and controversial draft legislation is processed rapidly, significant potential implications of the bill – and any amendments made to it – can be missed. Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened with the federal government’s Bill C-14 to establish the federal rules regarding medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada. The legislation was introduced on April 14, 2016 and came into force on June 17, 2016.
Many, many amendments were considered and, unsurprisingly, most of the attention was focused on the most obviously controversial amendments — particularly on the unsuccessful attempts to allow access to MAID beyond only those individuals whose “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.”
By contrast, another amendment received very little attention before being passed — a mere 10 minutes out of many hours of debate. Yet this amendment created the potential for extended intolerable suffering.
From 2012, but very relevant these days:
Ninety-three years ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote what is perhaps the most well-known -- yet misquoted and misused -- phrase in Supreme Court history: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."
Without fail, whenever a free speech controversy hits, someone will cite this phrase as proof of limits on the First Amendment. And whatever that controversy may be, "the law"--as some have curiously called it--can be interpreted to suggest that we should err on the side of censorship. Holmes' quote has become a crutch for every censor in America, yet the quote is wildly misunderstood.
Since I’ve been active on Twitter, I’ve had front row seats to the best intellectual slapfights no money can buy. It’s been uniquely interesting and yet frustrating. What’s hot right now in my bubble and its warzone-laden borderlands is “postmodernism.” The arguments usually start with tweets complaining about the latest social justice-related spat and using the word “postmodernism” or the phrases “postmodernist neo-Marxism” or even “cultural Marxism.” (These all mean the same thing, with slight differences in emphasis: “postmodernism” often focuses on a hostility to objectivity; “cultural Marxism” describes collectivist, conflict-based politics; “postmodern neo-Marxism” is the whole package.) Then other people criticize or mock the tweeters for not understanding what postmodernism is. Unproductive discussion results.
This bothers me for two reasons. One is erisological—this is a typical case of dysfunctional disagreement, i.e. a disagreement is fuelled by at least one party’s intentional or unintentional misunderstanding of either the other party’s position or the nature of their differences. The other is that I hate seeing arguments I’m fundamentally sympathetic to presented in a weak form.
I truly am sympathetic to those who complain about “postmodernism.” But I’ve spent too much time and effort learning to recognize disagreement patterns not to notice when “my side” is engaging in dodgy argumentation. Part of this is integrity (I hope), but another part is recognition of a tactical mistake: the sloppy use of terms like “postmodernism” or academically strange hybrids like “postmodern neo-Marxism” gives people an excuse to reject what you say. It’s good argumentation tactics to avoid making points which leave you vulnerable to criticism for trivial reasons, e.g. using a term in a way that suggests you don’t know what you’re talking about. Using technical terms in non-technical senses makes those in the know think exactly that and reject otherwise reasonable points.
The race-and-IQ debate is back. The latest round started a few weeks ago when Harvard geneticist David Reich wrote a New York Times op-ed in defense of race as a biological fact. The piece resurfaced Sam Harris’ year-old Waking Up podcast interview with Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, and launched a Twitter debate between Harris and Vox’s Ezra Klein. Klein then responded to Harris and Reich in Vox, Harris fired back, and Andrew Sullivan went after Klein. Two weeks ago, Klein and Harris released a two-hour podcast in which they fruitlessly continued their dispute.
I’ve watched this debate for more than a decade. It’s the same wreck, over and over. A person with a taste for puncturing taboos learns about racial gaps in IQ scores and the idea that they might be genetic. He writes or speaks about it, credulously or unreflectively. Every part of his argument is attacked: the validity of IQ, the claim that it’s substantially heritable, and the idea that races can be biologically distinguished. The offender is denounced as racist when he thinks he’s just defending science against political correctness.
I know what it’s like to be this person because, 11 years ago, I was that person. I saw a comment from Nobel laureate James Watson about the black-white IQ gap, read some journal articles about it, and bought in. That was a mistake. Having made that mistake, I’m in no position to throw stones at Sullivan, Harris, or anyone else. But I am in a position to speak to these people as someone who understands where they’re coming from. I believe I can change their thinking, because I’ve changed mine, and I’m here to make that case to them. And I hope those of you who find this whole subject vile will bear with me as I do.
Three days after Tom and Kate Evans abandoned their legal fight, their son Alfie has died. Both parents have shown immense courage over the past months and in the final few days they have demonstrated a quiet dignity as Alfie’s death approached.
Inevitably, as he lay dying many have been moved by his plight. In some quarters, this has unfortunately led to denunciations of the doctors, the judges, and the legal system. Ill-informed and prominent voices—from America, in particular—have variously blamed his death on secularism, or the NHS, or ‘government death panels.’ Others in the UK have called for an ‘Alfie’s law’ designed to give parents greater rights over the treatment of their children.
It is at times of the greatest emotion that calls for changes in the law can be at their most seductive and ill-advised, and so it is now. Who, after all, would wish for another case like Alfie Evans or Charlie Gard? The law, and particularly the legal system, is certainly not faultless, but well-intentioned calls to give parents more legal rights over these terrible end of life decisions are fundamentally mistaken.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — My son’s school, David Starr Jordan Middle School, is being renamed. A seventh grader exposed the honoree, Stanford University’s first president, as a prominent eugenicist of the early 20th century who championed sterilization of the “unfit.”
This sort of debate is happening all over the country, as communities fight over whether to tear down Confederate monuments and whether Andrew Jackson deserves to remain on the $20 bill. How do we decide whom to honor and whom to disavow?
n June 14, 2014, the State Council of China published an ominous-sounding document called "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System". In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?
Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It's not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school - or even just your chances of getting a date.
I didn’t come around to disliking identity politics recently. Long before the 2016 election, 15 years ago in fact, I predicted the kind of white identitarian politics that eventually came to fruition in the last election. It had seemed to me inevitable, from the beginning, that white nationalism would arise as a necessary outgrowth if liberals kept up with their identity politics obsession, and that is precisely where we find ourselves.
In one debate after another on any issue with regards to religion, race, gender, or fairness, there is one maxim of faith you’ll hear repeated over and over again with an evangelist’s zeal: objective truth doesn’t really exist. And what we hear to be the truth is merely based on power – power invested in the state, the media, the church, or the academy, just to name a few of the many nodes from which it emanates.
On july 21, the far-right provocateur and former Rebel Media personality Lauren Southern announced that Patreon, the crowdfunding platform, had deleted her account. Over the past couple of years, Southern—a self-styled millennial version of Ann Coulter—has built a social media following with a toolkit favoured by the alt-right: titillating trolls, mocking feminists and trans-rights activists, stoking fears about immigrants (especially Muslims), and lionizing Donald Trump as a political saviour. Yet Southern’s support for Defend Europe, the anti-immigrant campaign devoted to disrupting migrant rescue operations, was, for Patreon, a bridge too far. In an email to Southern, the company noted her activities were “likely to cause loss of life.”
In her response, a seven-and-a-half minute YouTube video that has now been viewed nearly a half-million times, Southern painted herself as an heroic advocate of free speech. “I’m being banned, censored, and attacked everywhere I go,” she protested. “The entire establishment—corporations, government, media—is against me.” Within hours of Patreon’s decision, Southern’s new crowdfunding page was up and running. Within days, she had added several thousand followers on Twitter and Youtube. It became clear that Patreon had burnished, not tarnished, Southern’s brand.
When did america become untethered from reality?
I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”
One Thursday morning in May, Tommy J Curry walked through the offices of the philosophy department at Texas A&M University with a police officer at his side and violence on his mind. The threats had started a few days earlier. “Since you said white people need to be killed I’m in fear of my life,” one person had written via email. “The next time I see you on campus I might just have to pre-emptively defend myself you dumb fat nigger. You are done.” Curry didn’t know if that person was lurking on the university grounds. But Texas is a gun-friendly state, and Texas A&M is a gun-friendly campus, and he took the threat seriously.
Curry supports the right to bear arms. It was part of how he ended up in this situation. In 2012 he had appeared on a satellite radio show and delivered a five-minute talk on how uneasy white people are with the idea of black people talking about owning guns and using them to combat racist forces. When a recording of the talk resurfaced in May, people thought the tenured professor was telling black people to kill white people. This idea swept through conservative media and into the fever swamps of Reddit forums and racist message boards. The threats followed.
Anonymous bigots weren’t the only ones making Curry feel unwanted. Michael K Young, the president of Texas A&M, had called the professor’s comments “disturbing” and contrary to the values of the university. Curry was taken aback. His remarks on the radio were not a regrettable slip of the tongue. They were part of why the university had hired him.
Simon Adler takes us down a technological rabbit hole of strangely contorted faces and words made out of thin air. And a wonderland full of computer scientists, journalists, and digital detectives forces us to rethink even the things we see with our very own eyes.
[...] The absolutising of things such as freedom of choice – the view that free markets and contested elections suffice for a good society – is a view that came into prominence with the early Cold War, when the proliferation of choices was our main contrast with Soviet Marxism. In reality, there is much more to a good society than the affordance of maximum choice to its citizens. With market fundamentalism dominating the US government, and with phantasms being paraded in the media under the sobriquet of ‘alternative facts’ that you can choose or reject, forgetfulness of the McCarthy era and the Cold War philosophy it spawned is no longer a rational option.