Unless you’re British, it’s “math,” not “maths.” Thank you.
(And even if you are British, “maths” sounds ridiculous.)
When the Greeks spoke of akrasia, they had in mind the difference between that which is in my Netflix queue and in my viewing history.
Why not, then, suppose that from experience in life there can be developed something like an art of living, just as from human experience of various kinds there have developed the various arts of medicine, of managing property, of building bridges, of walking tightropes, and of driving cars? Carrying the analogy still further, just as no one is born a good doctor or bricklayer or orator or radio technician, but must first learn the requisite art or technique, so why not say that no one is born a good man, that one must first learn the art of living? Living well, in other words, is like driving well or trying a case well or performing an appendectomy well: it’s an art or technique that one must master, a skill that one must acquire before one can do it well, or perhaps even do it at all.
Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn’t know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements.
(My son’s named after Hammett and one of my daughters is named after one of his characters. Dude’s the master.)
A few days ago, I posted the following to Facebook:
We should look with scorn upon the immoral cops, prosecutors, and judges who willingly perpetuate the unfathomable evil of the war on drugs.
I want to expand upon that a bit, because it’s a sentiment quite a lot of people are either skeptical of or outright offended by. And I’m not just talking about the cops, persecutors, and judges who get labeled immoral.
Assume the following claim is correct: “It is immoral and even evil to lock non-violent people in cages for years just because they’ve bought, sold, or consumed a substance many find distasteful.” You may have arguments against that, but they don’t concern me here. (To be honest, your arguments against that are unlikely to be any good, in the same way that arguments in favor of rape or pedophilia or slavery are unlikely to be any good. Certain moral truths are obvious, and thus those who argue against them obviously wrong.)
Given, then, that the drug war as practiced against the non-violent is evil, what are we to make of those who participate in it? And by “participate,” I mean participate willingly. They aren’t being threatened into doing it. Perhaps not doing it would mean giving up their existing jobs, and so their source of income, but that’s never been an argument against egregious immorality. The hit man would have to forgo his large fees if he stopped murdering people, but that doesn’t excuse his continued assassinations.
People who participate in the drug war—cops, prosecutors, judges, etc.—do so for one of two reasons. Either they know it’s evil, but lack the will to stop, or they don’t know it’s evil. Neither seems a good excuse for immorality.
But what about the “It’s the law” argument? The prosecutor says, “My job is to enforce the law. The drug war is written into our criminal code. Therefore, my job—and so my duty—is to enforce the war on drugs.” Including caging the non-violent.
This, too, seems not quite right. We can easily imagine counter examples. What if the law said cops had to kill babies? Presumably most cops would refuse to do it. They’d say that law is unjust (at the very least). Or, to take an historical example, how do we judge the morality of those law-enforcement agents who worked to return runaway slaves to their enslavers?
People who make the “It’s the law” argument get things backward. Our duty doesn’t command us to obey or enforce the law even when it’s horrifically immoral. Rather, duty commands us to disobey horrifically immoral laws.
Thus the cop, faced with arresting a non-violent drug offender, has a moral duty to refrain. A prosecutor, faced with convicting a non-violent drug offender, has a moral duty to drop the case. And a judge faced with sentencing an offender has a moral duty to let him off.
To do otherwise is to perpetuate a far greater immorality—and a far greater evil—than refusing to do one’s job.
If political philosophy is a branch of moral philosophy (and it is), then to have a political philosophy assumes having–even if only in an inchoate form–a moral philosophy.
If that’s true, then the claim (and it’s a rather common one) that libertarians should only concern themselves with permissible state action and take no stand on relationships and power structures outside of the state’s control is, I fear, rather incoherent. Because being a “thin libertarian”–as this view is called, in opposition to “thick libertarianism”–means (1) having a moral theory justifying your libertarianism but (2) believing that moral theory doesn’t also have something to say about relationships and behaviors outside of (the proper sphere of) politics.
Put another way, anyone who claims to be a libertarian (or claims any other political philosophy, for that matter) is a libertarian because she holds certain moral views about how people should–or are permitted to–interact with each other. Views such as, “Initiating aggression is always wrong” or “People have equal moral worth, and so should be treated equally or given equal say.”
Those moral beliefs then lead the libertarian to hold certain political beliefs about the legitimate role of the state–or, for some, beliefs about the state’s inherent illigitimacy. But if those moral beliefs are strong enough to motivate a political philosophy, they also must be strong enough to lead to conclusions about human interaction outside of the political sphere.
This means that anyone who is libertarian because of foundational moral beliefs (which is most of us who have thought deeply about our political views), must be a thick libertarian–even though they (likely) believe that the state should not enforce many (or most) of the conclusions their moral philosophy leads to. Because the very nature of a moral belief is that, if we believe something to be a moral truth, then we believe people ought to follow it. And if we believe people ought to do something, then we ought to want them to follow it. Or, at least, think the world would be better if they did follow it.
Of course, just because two different moral philosophies @ may both lead to libertarianism, it doesn’t follow that their non-political views (the “thick” part of their “thick libertarianism”) will be identical, or even compatible. That’s okay! But that pluralism should not lead us to think that libertarians should remain silent about moral questions outside of the (proper) realm of politics.
The instinct of worship is still so strong upon us that, having nearly worn out our capacity for treating kings and such kind of persons as sacred, we are ready to invest a majority of our own selves with the same kind of reverence. Without perceiving how absurd is the contradiction in which we are involved, we are ready to assign to a mass of human being unlimited rights, while we acknowledge none for the individuals of whom the mass is made up.