More Tubes for the Rubes

I have three more videos posted on my YouTube channel. The first one focuses on the connection between philosophical thought experiments (from Plato’s Ring of Gyges to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s defense of abortion) and science-fiction (and fantasy) literature.

In the next one, I discuss the distinction between markets and capitalism as drawn in the 1919 textbook THE ABC OF COMMUNISM (written by two Soviet apparatchiks, Nikolai Bukharin and Yevgeny Preobrazhensky), as well as in the Marxist tradition generally, with attention to how Marxism twists itself into a pretzel to avoid endorsing free-market anti-capitalism.

Finally, in my first video interview for my YouTube channel, I chat with philosopher Neera K. Badhwar about backyard buffaloes, wild attack monkeys, Ayn Rand, airline deregulation, eudaimonia and virtue, paternalism and suicide, sociopathic grandmothers, child abuse, Aristotelean business ethics, 19th-century robber barons, charitable Objectivists, friendly Manhattanites, charismatic nationalist leaders, and national health care. In more or less that order.

3 thoughts on “More Tubes for the Rubes

  1. I have not yet had a chance to watch any of these three videos, but I wanted at the outset to record my deep disquiet at the color of the shirt you (Roderick) are wearing in the second one. Despite your superficial attempts to disavow sympathy for Marxism, I think your actual sympathies are made loudly apparent here.

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  2. I found your discussion with Neera on coercion and suicide very interesting. By coincidence, it’s what I happen to be reading and thinking about lately. I incline toward Neera’s view on the matter, possibly a stronger version of that view. Neera says that she thinks that the rights of suicidal people sometimes have to be violated. I would say that in the specific cases she has in mind (hasty, willful, wanton, ill-considered suicides), there is no such right to commit suicide in the first place. One needn’t argue that the person’s rights are being violated at all.

    I’m curious what you think about this case. To simplify (or focus attention on the right issues), imagine that instead of jumping into traffic, the suicidal person was about to jump into a river, so that there were no potential third-party victims of his action. Should the police have prevented him from jumping?

    Roderick says that it may be permissible to prevent an attempted suicide if the suicidal person has no settled judgment about whether or not he wants to commit suicide (in other words, if he wants to commit suicide on a whim). But the police face an epistemic problem here: they have no idea whether the person’s judgment is settled or not. They just have a standing order to prevent the suicide. In effect, they err on the side of presuming that every suicide is ill-considered. Therapists operate on the same presumption: the presumption was drilled into my head during the six years I spent as a grad student in counseling psychology. In effect, both professions have adopted a secularized version of Locke’s view: there is no right to “willful” suicide (ST, II.6), and prima facie, every suicide is to be considered willful when one first encounters it (as a third party). A willful suicide places himself or herself in a state of war with respect to himself, and can be stopped from doing so. But Locke’s view on the legitimacy of non-willful suicides has always struck me as obscure (ST, II.23), maybe deliberately so.

    Incidentally, I haven’t read Hospers on suicide, but here’s a speculation: Hospers was a Freudian, and Freudians have long held that adults are capable of regressing to childhood despite being biological adults. If coercive paternalism is justified in the case of minors, but some suicidal behavior involves a regression to childhood, then coercive paternalism may be justified in suicides-that-express-regression-to-childhood. A similar issue arises in litigation where the mental competence of one litigant is at issue, and a guardian ad litem has to be assigned.

    I’m also interested whether you think government policy should be sensitive to the issue of suicide. (I know Roderick is an anarchist; my point is, assuming that we have a government, should it be.) This is what I was getting at in my criticism of Brennan in the post just before yours.

    Libertarians often regard the suicides that arise from the exercise of gun rights as irrelevant to whether there should be gun control. If people want to kill themselves with firearms (the argument goes), that’s their business, even if they do so hastily and on ill-considered (or mentally incompetent) basis. Meanwhile, in the debate about COVID-19 lockdowns, libertarians have adduced the supposed increase in suicides of despair (attributable to the lockdowns) as a strike against lockdowns. Lockdowns are bad, the argument goes, because they increase the frequency of needless suicides.

    This doesn’t seem consistent. Beyond that, the claim strikes me as offered in bad faith. Suppose that Anne Case and Angus Deaton are right to argue that deaths of despair have increased as a result of the specifically libertarian aspects of American capitalism (in Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism). Would pro-capitalist libertarians then abandon capitalism? It seems to me that they’d be more apt to argue that government policy should be insensitive to the rise in suicides of despair.

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