Coronavirus Diary (27): COVID-19 and the Banality of Evil

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Coronavirus Diary (23): “A Disdain for Science”

A plea from my sister-in-law, Jessica Franklin, MD, of Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She posted this on Facebook, and was reluctant to have it posted publicly, describing it as more a “frustrated, heart-broken rant than a reasoned opinion.” But there’s been no paucity of reasoned opinions at this point. Every other commenter on her Facebook post has a story to tell about someone’s backsliding or refusing to comply with social distancing, the ban on gatherings, etc. If we’re going to break our health care workers and our health care facilities in this excruciating way, we should have the courage to watch it happen in real time.  Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (14): “The Eyes of a Masked Stranger”

A message from my sister-in-law Jessica Franklin, MD, after her first full day treating COVID-19 patients at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, a region (meaning New York City and its immediate suburbs) that’s been described as “the epicenter of the global pandemic.” Her message begins in the block quote below the fold.

As a one-time hospital “environmental services worker” (aka “janitor”), I particularly appreciate Jess’s inclusion of that profession in what she says below. If physicians and nurses will have to go without personal protective equipment, what do you think will happen to janitors? I can tell you what happened to us when I was working as a hospital janitor at Overlook Hospital in my 20s. We were told to clean up hazardous waste without any personal protective equipment at all. Because if we didn’t do it, who would? At that wage, what choice would anyone have? Say “no”? Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (3): Creeping Death

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
–Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

I count it as a great blessing that I have so far, at age fifty, managed to avoid becoming a father. Amusingly enough, my ex-wife once told me, flat out, “Before I met you, I was on the fence about having children. I no longer am. You would make a terrible father. So I’ve abandoned the idea.” Music to my ears.

And yet, I’ve just had a phone conversation with one of my best friends, in which he asked me whether I would temporarily take custody of his child in the event that both he and his wife die of COVID-19. “Yes,” I say, without hesitation. I actually like his kid, as kids go. Granted, the custody he imagines is temporary, until family members could come and do a formal adoption. My friend knows me well enough to know that coronavirus or no, it makes little sense to turn me into a bona fide step-father. One catastrophe is enough. Continue reading

Injustice and Its Victims (Or Not)

Michael Young and I are hanging out at an undisclosed location in New Jersey, riding out the coronavirus by trading barbed moral intuitions with (or at?) each other. We need help. I mean, we need your help adjudicating a clash of intuitions about injustice. I doubt that anything of great significance turns on which set of intuitions is right. But I called bullshit on some of the crap Michael was slinging at me, telling him that I would appeal for a verdict to the Final Authority of All Philosophical Authorities, vox populi. Or at least the voice of a handful of self-selected readers of Policy of Truth, the moral and epistemic paragons of the Internet.

I won’t tell you which of us holds which view until I get some responses. This is my idea of an incentive to get you to respond. Like you care. Continue reading

Bernie, Cuba, Literacy, and Ill-Gotten Gains

I’m finding the dialogue of the deaf over Bernie and Cuba exasperating. I’m not going to comment on the details–on the “first-order issues,” we might say. What I want to say is that it helps to clarify the underlying issue and make some relevant distinctions.

The basic issue is that Cuba is supposed to be a dictatorship, which is evil, but Bernie is praising it for increasing literacy, which is good. Assume (for the sake of argument) that Cuba is a dictatorship, and dictatorships are evil. The puzzle is whether you should ever praise an evil thing for doing a good thing; it’s a puzzle whether (or how) good things can ever arise from evil things. Put slightly differently, it’s a puzzle whether evil agents should ever get credit for any of the good they do (or seem to do), given the discredit they deserve for the very great evil they do.

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“The Reason That Makes You Afraid of It”

The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

To those who ask it, my answer is: “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

–Ayn Rand, “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Apropos of selfishness, a snippet from my Phil 100 class today, devoted to discussing J.W. Davis et al, “Aggressive Traffic Enforcement: A Simple and Effective Injury Prevention Program,” Journal of Trauma 60:5 (May 2006). Continue reading

Cancel Culture Blues: The Strange Case of Steven Wilson

I need to stop reading stories like this, because if I do, I’m in danger of lapsing into Michael Young’s running dog reactionary views on cancel culture.* I’m still a big fan of cancellation as an idea, but if this is what “cancel culture” is going to be, then my thought is: leave me the hell out of it. But this isn’t what cancel culture has to be. We have a choice about what form it will take.

[Steven] Wilson was the chief executive of Ascend, the consortium of central Brooklyn charter schools he built, beginning with plans devised on his dining room table in 2007.

But Mr. Wilson was effectively barred from celebrating with his students.

Several weeks earlier, he had written a blog post embracing the values of a classical education; some younger members of his staff perceived it as racially traumatizing. Others found it simply tone-deaf. He was in a kind of purgatory, still employed by Ascend but taken out of its day-to-day operation.

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Vile, Stupid, and Tenured

I rarely praise university administrators, but then, I rarely have the opportunity to do so. For once, an opportunity presents itself:

The provost did not mince her words about the opinions of a professor on her campus. His views were racist, sexist and homophobic, she wrote in a statement this week. They were “vile and stupid,” she said, and “more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st.”

But the provost, Lauren Robel of Indiana University Bloomington, was equally clear on another point: The First Amendment prohibited the university from firing the professor, Eric Rasmusen, for expressing those views. “That is not a close call,” wrote Professor Robel, who also teaches at the law school.

The unusually candid statement quickly drew attention from students, academics and lawyers, many of whom praised the provost for publicly excoriating the professor’s opinions while respecting one of the nation’s basic freedoms.

For once, a provost who’s struck the right balance between bureaucratic amoralism and opportunistic, pseudo-moralistic pandering. She’s absolutely right: firing Rasmusen is not a close call; neither is condemning him. The only close call is whether he should have been hired in the first place, but that ship has sailed. Continue reading