Coronavirus Diary (32): Who Does Not Treat Shall Not Eat

All those thought-experiments you might have encountered while studying consequentialism versus deontology in grad school or some intro ethics course are about to become terrible realities in New York City and northern New Jersey within the next few hours. I’m writing this on Sunday night, April 5th. By tomorrow morning, there’ll be no escape in this area from the misery I’m about to describe. The surge is imminent. The minimizers, deniers, and skeptics were wrong. What you’re about to see is the twenty-first century equivalent of a painting by Hieronymous Bosch. Figure out now whether you want to look or avert your eyes. Continue reading

War with Iran (4): The Target Package

Donald Trump has famously and idiotically tried to assuage fears of a war with Iran with the assertion that he had Qasem Suleimani killed not to start a war but to prevent one. Putting aside the ad hoc quality of his reliance on the distinction between the intended and the foreseen, this happens to be a classic case of its total irrelevance: it doesn’t much matter in this context whether Trump intended to start a war, or merely foresaw that he might start one, or just recklessly took his action without thinking too hard about what he was doing. Yes, there’s a distinction to be drawn between a war brought about by intention and a war brought about through extreme recklessness. But it’s a distinction without a difference in a case where the action leading to war initiates force and violates any plausible conception of prudential rationality to boot. It doesn’t help that the rationalization for it comes from a pathological liar. Continue reading

Are Equal Rights Anti-Semitic?

Considering how frequently the “anti-Semitism” card is used against the campaign for equal rights for Palestinians, I thought it’d be useful to reproduce an ordinary donation letter I got the other day from the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), an organization blacklisted by the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry. If these demands are your idea of “anti-Semitism” (not that I necessarily agree with them all), maybe it’s your conception of that concept that needs revision, not the demands of USCPR or its allies.  The idea of a “racist campaign for equal rights” is a contradiction in terms. The only question worth asking in this context is which party is guilty of the contradiction involved.

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Reparations Revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post arguing that Nozickian libertarianism entails reparations.* The reparations in question follow from Nozick’s “principle of compensation,” which offers compensation for what Nozick calls “preventive restraints,” that is, coercive restrictions on individuals imposed in order to lessen the risk that they will violate others’ rights. So-called Terry stops are a paradigmatic example of a preventive restraint in Nozick’s sense (I argued), so that those on the receiving end of them would on Nozick’s view be owed compensation. If we assume (ex hypothesi, but still plausibly) that young black men (or black people generally) are disproportionately on the receiving end of preventive restraints, then young black men (or blacks generally) would disproportionately receive Nozickian compensation. That compensation, I suggested, is a form of what’s commonly called “reparations.” Continue reading

Obey Your Master: A Visit with Narcotics Anonymous

About a year ago, I attended a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) as part of an assignment for a class on addictions counseling I’d been taking in the Master’s in Counseling Program at Felician University.[1] Struck by the philosophical richness of what I’d encountered at the meeting, I thought I’d reproduce a version of my report on it here in case readers found it of any interest. In the interests of preserving the confidentiality of the group’s members, I’ve omitted any identifying features of the meeting with respect to time, place, and the identity of those present, describing the event only in the most general way. My aim here is to reflect on matters of general principle, not to dwell on the particulars of anyone’s life. Continue reading

The More You Suppress Him, the Larger He Get

I have in the past criticized the U.S. government’s decision to bar Tariq Ramadan’s entry into this country on ideological grounds (26 page PDF). This isn’t because I have any admiration for Ramadan, to put it mildly, but because I don’t think that decisions to allow entry into a country should be made on ideological grounds. Genuine security concerns are one thing; ideological objections are another. The distinction isn’t that hard to draw, and shouldn’t be that hard to respect. In Ramadan’s case, we neither drew nor respected it. We managed in the process to make a martyr of him and take a crap on our own principles. Continue reading

Nozick, State, and Reparations

Talk of reparations has come back into common currency in American political discourse–meaning reparations to African Americans for the wrongs done to them since the beginnings of slavery. I don’t have a fully considered view on reparations (many of the arguments both for and against strike me as one-eyed), but I’ve both been surprised (and in another sense, not surprised) to hear libertarians insist so adamantly that libertarianism rules out reparations. Anyone who thinks this owes it to himself to read or re-read Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, if not cover to cover, then through the end of Part I, as I did on a recent plane ride. Continue reading

Cashing the Check of Justice (1)

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this Nation.

So we have come to cash this check. 

–Martin Luther King, Jr. , “I Have a Dream” (1963)

I just got home from nearly three weeks abroad. Waiting for me in the mail: final judgment in my favor on my Superior Court appeal against Bedminister Municipal Court. But the case is not over. Continue reading