March 22, 2004

A Reply to the Analphilosopher

I’m sorry for the belated response; I figured I should actually take the time to write a clearer message than with my first Analphilosopher driveby. In my rambling post on the 16th of this month, I criticized the nature of the professor’s political commentary. He responded on his blog, and while he misidentified me as our esteemed leader, he did make the esteemed leader happy with the cross-blog debate. Well, here’s Smallholder’s contribution, take two:

Analphilosopher writes:

Ouch! Where to begin? First, I did not admit to propagandizing in the derogatory sense. Like everyone else, I have views and values that I try to propagate; but I do so openly and, I like to think, fairly. Others will have to be the judge of whether I pull it off.

Well, as an other, I did judge the fairness of the political commentary. Unlike the other, thought-provoking entries on philosophy and animal rights, this other thinks that the treatment of Bush is more apologetically knee-jerk defense than reasoned argument. I used the Tech Central Column that defended Bush’s honesty as an example, and asked the professor to apply his standard to the concealment of the true costs of the Medicare bill. The professor replied:

Second, I don't know enough (yet) about the Medicare bill. If and when I come to the conclusion that President Bush lied about it, I'll say so. Why would I try to shield him from criticism? I'm a philosopher, not a political hack. I care about process, not (just) result. And let's not lose sight of the fact that, even if President Bush lied, it would not affect the merits of the bill. This is the point I've been making for many months with respect to the war in Iraq. Whether the war was justified is independent of the motivation (as well as the stated reasons) of President Bush or others in his administration. Someone might say, for example, that the war is justified on humanitarian grounds even though that was not its motivation.

I agree with almost everything that the professor says in that paragraph. The Medicare bill, IMHO, is horse. When it cynically inflicts a huge cost on the younger generation for the benefit of an older (and richer) generation, it matters little whether the bill is $300 billion or $600 billion. However, my post was actually about the honesty of the Bush administration. I support evaluating government actions on the basis of their efficacy – whether it is Medicare or Iraq. But the motivations and honesty of the president is important as well. I believe that Analphilosopher has been giving the president a pass and not holding him accountable.

<< Side note – should a supporter of gay marriage as an issue of basic justice praise or revile Bush? On one hand, Bush has cynically supported an Amendment that has zero chance of passing (and he and Karl Rove, astute political scholars know this) as a way of energizing his right wing base and shifting the campaign away from fiscal responsibility, honesty, and the troubled reconstruction of Iraq. On the other hand, Bush has essentially conceded that the discrimination against gays is currently unconstitutional (and thus the need for the amendment). Since the amendment is DOA, Bush has essentially conceded the battle. Falwell, his boys, and the Maximum Leader will continue to weep and gnash their teeth, but the herald has already arrived at Harry’s camp to name the castle in the distance. Note the gratuitous Shakespeare reference. >>

Since Analphilosopher was being unusually uncritical and unreflective about the Bush administration, I speculated that perhaps he was muting and criticism for fear of harming Bush’s campaign efforts. This seems to have gotten Analphilosopher’s dander up:

Third, I am not and have never been a consequentialist, much less an act-consequentialist. I'm a deontologist. I believe that there are certain acts that must not be performed even if they produce the best overall consequences. Also, there is no obligation to produce the best overall consequences. I endorse, in other words, both agent-centered restrictions (i.e., constraints) and an agent-centered prerogative (i.e., an option). Act-consequentialists reject both of these features. I'm as far from act-consequentialism (theoretically speaking) as a person can get! My version of deontology is deontological egoism. (See my essay of that title, a link to which appears on the left of this blog.)

I was entirely aware of Analphilosopher’s stated position. I was merely trying to call attention to the fact that it didn’t seem to be applied in the political realm. Where is the critique of Bush’s “agent-centered” restrictions?

Analphilosopher concludes:

Fourth, I hold no brief for President Bush, even though I like him. I've said that I will vote for Ralph Nader for a third time, despite disagreeing with him about many matters. Do I prefer President Bush to John Kerry? Yes. Does that mean I uncritically accept every policy prescription of the Bush administration? No. Does anybody agree with any candidate on every issue? On election day, each of us must make an all-things-considered judgment about which candidate is best for the country. For many of us, questions of national security take pride of place. On that question, there is no comparison between President Bush and John Kerry. I don't trust John Kerry to protect Americans or American interests. I think he's the wrong person to be president at this time and place. We're at war. This is an important juncture in human history (even though many Europeans and Americans don't realize it or refuse to face up to it). We don't need nuance. We need clarity and vision. We don't need vacillation. We need strength and resolve. We don't need a ditherer. We need a doer. The person we need is already in the White House.

I am on the fence in the Kerry-Bush election; I can see pros and cons to both potential presidencies. Analphilosopher accepts this as reality: “On election day, each of us must make an all-things-considered judgment.” Re-read the remainder of his paragraph above. Does it seem to be “all things considered? Bush, in each of the criteria proposed by the good professor, is pictured as the pure positive.

Analphilosopher’s signature line:

The Maximum Leader may say that this is mere rhetoric, an attempt to snow my readers. I beg to disagree. I'm pointing out real differences in character, belief, value, and judgment between the two major-party candidates. What more could one want in the way of argument?

I, for one, would like less blind partisanship and a more reasoned “all-things-considered” approach. Analphilosopher says he can see both pros and cons to either presidency, but only gives his readers the Kerry “cons” and the Bush “pros.” If we are to buy Analphilosopher’s rejection of act-consequentialism, shouldn’t we see the Kerry “pros” and the Bush “cons?”

One doesn’t have to look very far at to see a fair number of anti-Kerry attacks. Perhaps Analphilosopher really is a deontologist, one would think that a more balanced appraisal of Bush would be evident.

Perhaps I have missed a blog entry where Analphilosopher has taken exception to a Bush position. Perhaps the good professor could direct my attention to previous entries where he has been even-handed in his analysis? I would be happy with one acknowledgement that Kerry might have a better idea on one issue and one single criticism of Bush. The gauntlet has been thrown.

Alternatively, Analphilosopher could just admit his membership in the vast right-wing conspiracy and openly join the elephant echo chamber. I would respect that. But I would start entirely skipping the political propaganda and focus on the elements of his blog that focus on animals, philosophy, and teaching.


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