Terri Schiavo- From the Perspective of Lockean Property Rights

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Here is a hypothetical situation that presents us with a challenging conundrum that would drive most legal scholars and moral philosophers mad. There is as a person in a vegetive state who is hooked up to a variety of life-sustaining medical equipment (feeding-tube, ventilator etc.). Let’s say that the individual is married, and their spouse has been their legal guardian since they have become clinically brain dead. Does the parents of the incapacitated person have a say over the end-of-life decision making for their child? Should this heavy burden be left to the spouse and rightful guardian? It should be noted that the moral analysis must be separated from the determination of legality. All because something is legal does not necessarily make it moral. For instance, abortion in the United States is sanctioned around quasi-arbitrary timeframes with little consideration for situational context or biological development of the fetus. The decree of legislative fiat does not automatically make a policy moral. There are many legal protections within American statutory law that prevent individuals from facing criminal penalty or ligation. If crimes against persons and property cannot be subjected to restorative justice then there is no point in calling a legal system just.  In other words, we will be reviewing this situation from a philosophical standpoint, specifically from the perspective of individual property rights.

The above scenario is not quite so hypothetical but is a concise description of the Terri Schiavo case. However, one striking difference between the scenario presented above and the Schiavo case is that :

Terri Schiavo breathes on her own. She is not on a ventilator or respirator. Although she swallows, she is sustained through a gastric feeding tube. She is not in distress or imminent danger of death.(P.5).

Despite Schiavo’s lack of cognitive functionality for the most part she was able to “live” in the most basic sense of the term.  It should also be note that prior to her cognitive impairment she made no will directing her “wishes” for medical treatment. Also including end-of-life decisions. Therefore, leaving the variable of individual consent obscured by Schiavo’s incapacitated state. There was a rift between Schiavo’s husband/ guardian wanted to remove her feeding tube while her parents staunchly disagreed with this decision. Ultimately, the courts sided with the husband and Terri ended up dying after having her feeding tube removed. This may have been the legally permitted course of events, but was it moral from the paradigm of individual property rights?

The economist and Libertarian Philosopher Walter Block provides a remedy to this quandary squarely from the standpoint of Lockean property rights. A grown adult who has lost their cognitive faculties is analogous to a child and exist in purgatorial grey area when it comes to the prospect of Lockean ownership (p.5).Block takes the Rothbardian approach to addressing a parents required commitment to child rearing, which in fact allows parents to relinquish this right (p. 6). Much like how Lockean homesteading does not preclude an economic agent from taking ownership of an abandoned patch of land, this analogy can be applied to raising children. If an adult within the community is willing to devout the resources to raising a child discarded in dumpster, this should count as a transfer of guardianship (p.7). Based upon the premise of Lockean homesteading the Supreme Court of Florida was morally wrong in assigning the right to end Terri Schiavo’s life to her husband. Through wanting to end her life with no prior record or request of her wanting such measures taken, he effectively relinquished his guardianship. Clearly he did not do so in the modern legal sense, but he did so within the context of Lockean property rights. If her parents were willing to assume guardianship of their daughter then the court’s decision is nothing more than perverse.

And if they are, then whoever is at first control of her must maintain her; if he refuses, her guardianship reverts to the second closest party, her parents. If they will not homestead her, then perhaps her siblings. If not them, then anyone who wishes to take up this burden. Based on the number of protests at the callous way she is being treated ( Block, 2011, p.7)

Calibrating Our Impartial Spectator is An Ongoing Process

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In my previous blog post, I address the role of social distance in moral development. Per Paganelli’s interpretation of Smith’s TMS (1759), we reduced our self-command when we are around people we are emotionally attached to (p.12-13). Much of our moral development arise from socialization. Making our self-restraint a combination of learned behavior and social conformity. The schoolyard may be the proper environment for individuals to fine-tune their social awareness. Does our moral development stop once are no longer school age? I would suggest not. If anything it a continual and lifelong process that is always in progress. If anything as we grow older, the expectation of others and social norms become much more intricate. Some of the basic principles learned on the playground are social conventions that are applicable in any social dynamic. The etiquette learned in the schoolyard is too rudimentary to comprehensively cover all the social nuisances of professional situations.

For instance, what is the proper attire for a job interview? How do I politely reject my boss’s dinner invitation? These are just a few examples of social scenarios of greater complexity that cannot be learned even in High School (arguably even in college). The reserved awkwardness of new hires fresh out of college exemplifies this deficit in workplace social skills. Outside of there being a likely age gap between the new employee and the rest of their co-workers, they are afraid of making a faux-pas. They are deathly afraid of being the person who takes the last of the breakroom coffee without making more (this individual is universally hated). They do not want to be disliked by their new pool of peers. To not look like a self-absorbed young person, it going to take time. The new employee will go through an acclimation process. The primary drive of this adjustment is going to be the feedback of their co-workers.

I would go so far as to even suggest that each new social environment requires some duration of social learning. The phrase “.. reading the room..” comes to mind. For example, even if an individual has worked as a salesperson for twenty years, as soon as they take a job at another company they now become the “new guy”. A new job entails new co-workers, a new boss, new corporate policies, new corporate culture. Despite this individual’s extensive experience they still need to go through an adjustment period. This seasoned salesperson now has to learn to adapt to the personalities, culture, and rules in their new work environment. Even in social situations where we are familiar with the location and the people, various factors lead us to constantly adjust to the feedback from others. If you were attending a dinner party at your brother’s house (only family members were in attendance) you would still have to mold yourself to the social conditions of the moment. You will taper your behavior to the dispositions of the other dinner guests. Social settings are dynamic and even the slightest change to one variable can profoundly alter the course of events. To a certain extent, we are always fine-tuning our Impartial Spectator to maintain social harmony. Social situations much like all complex systems have a loose structure with a set of informal rules. Although there is a resolute structure the one altered variable can drastically change the trajectory of the interaction. As the expression goes “high school never ends”, actually we never leave the playground.

Social Distance: The Foundation of Our Morality

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Adam Smith is arguably one of the most misunderstood thinkers in all of philosophy. The public reduces the corpus of his work to a one-dimensional caricature of The Wealth of Nations (1776). Such characterizations of Smith’s work are carelessly painting with a broad brush. It can be suggested that when to draw new insights from Smith’s work we should be even more cautious. So much has been written on the body of his work, as Donald Boudreaux keenly points out, it is difficult to formulate any new meaningful insights (p.487). This issue is only compounded by the fact that new interpretations of Smith’s work run the risk of misrepresenting his brand of moral philosophy. Which is equally as shameful as representing a shallow representation of his insights.

One development springing from modern interpretations of Smith’s philosophical ideas comes from professor Maria Pia Paganelli. Back in 2010, she wrote a paper entitled The Moralizing Distance in Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments as Possible Praise of Commerce. In her paper, professor Paganelli analyzes smith’s emphasis on the impact of relational distance and moral development. As Smith points out in The Theory of Moral Sentiments because we are subject to “self-deception” due to our immense self-love (Paganelli [TMS III.4.2–6], 2010, p.6). Due to human nature, who wants to view their conduct in a negative light? In many regards, the moral tuning of our impartial spectator occurs due to social influences (Coase, 1976, p.5-7) It exceedingly difficult to admit when we are wrong. Never mind disclosing an outrageous oversight or a profound moment of weakness. Both are humiliating and are the kind gaffs we attempt to bury. The true interest insight from Paganelli is the fact that Smith contended that if our relationship is too close to a person, we do a poor job of shaping their moral development.

Surely, this does not apply to parents? After all, aren’t parents one of the greatest impetuses of moral development of children? Per Paganel’s research Smith’s TMS does emphasize that socialization is a byproduct of the impressions of others (p.7). It is unquestionably true that our emotional attachment to an individual has the potential of skewing our impartiality. The more emotionally attached we are to a person there is greater the aptitude we will perceive the course of events from a similar perspective (p.8). Paganel points out that Smith believed that parents were too “partial and indulgent” of their children to be the prime mover in facilitating their moral maturity (p.9). There is some qualitative validity to this observation. Anecdotally we have all heard a parent proclaim “… not my child..” in regards to the potential of their son or daughter engaging in unruly behavior. Most parents want to hold their children in high regard and implicitly view them as a genetic extension of themselves. To acknowledge the unpleasant truth little Johnnie is capable of stealing Mr. Johnson’s car is excruciatingly painful on two accounts. First, there is the discomfort of acquiescing your child’s capacity to engaging in morally abject behavior (despite years of the parents’ efforts to socialize their child). The second and more damaging pressure point is a sense of having failed as a parent. This extension of yourself is presenting you with challenges that could easily be interpreted as a sign of personal failure.

The emotional distance to aid children in developing moral precepts also cannot be too far. Helicopter parents fail to help their children erect a strong moral foundation. Smith also observed the same being true of children that are sent away to boarding schools. A parent being too aloof can have the same effect as being too indulgent, a child with a lack of respect (p.9). This phenomenon parallels what happens in foreign countries with opposing interests. If there is too much social distance between the two nations, factions will form (p.10). Creating a self-congratulatory echo chamber where there is not any room for negotiations or compromise. Rather the ire is driven by unconstrainted passions shouting the valiant chants and battle cries of nationalism. Too often nationalist fervor results in actual battle cries. Firmly illustrating how social distance has an impact on both the micro and macro scale of social interaction. Achieving the precarious balance of the correct social distance between various groups and individuals is key in achieving stable relations.

According to Smith what is precisely the correct amount of social distance? It is too herculean of a task to determine this balance at the level of nations. If this could have been achieved in a philosophic treatise back in 1759, wars would become a relic of the eighteenth century. Smith does suggest that the best platform for moral development is a child’s peers. Through a child adjusting themselves to the expectation of their fellow playmates, they gain a sense of self-command (p.11). Above all, we tend to have better deportment around strangers than we do our own family (p.12). This goes right back to the concept of social distance. When we are closer to someone on an emotional level we exhibit less self-command. One example would be a small business that attempts to foster a family-like dynamic. Most observers’ prima facie impression would be that such an ethos would create a “hospitable work environment”. Even though the idea of a workplace that creates a culture of close-knit comfort may sound endearing, it possesses a lot of pitfalls. For example, if an employee makes an error the business owner may take it personally. Since the business proprietor is not constrained by the formality of a corporate environment, they are free to curse and scold the offending employee. Like how a parent censures a misbehaving child. Demonstrating how the voice of the impartial spectator becomes more salient when others are in the room. A CEO of a company has their conduct limited to the expected deportment that the employees and board of directors find to be acceptable. Behavior outside of these norms will result in disapproval.

Suicide As A Property Rights Issue- Part I

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The act of suicide is an action unconscionable to most people. Committing suicide violates one of the most basic tenants of human biology, the innate drive for self-preservation. Human beings are wired to avoid death at all costs. This proclivity towards instinctively evading peril is physiologically manifested in our internal fight-or-flight response. If our biologically ingrained will-to-live isn’t compelling enough to make the prospect of suicide perplexing, there are also normative reasons for finding the practice baffling. Some of these cultural norms have developed out of divine prescriptions. In the Abrahamic religions, for example, there are textual prohibitions against suicide. This divine restriction is even extended to instances of medically assisted suicide for the terminally ill. However, the philosophic obligation to live is not limited to a purely religious context. There are philosophical; traditions that shun suicide as an abdication of duty. One of the most salient examples of this is presented in the corpus of Immanuel Kant’s work. It can be argued that we have a duty to our family, friends, co-workers, and community to not kill ourselves. Some people love us deeply and count on us. How could we be so egotistical to not consider the radius of the fallout from such an act? The externalities of one person committing suicide stretch well beyond the victim.

Then again, this reason could be easily inverted. Who has the authority to mandate that suicide is a selfish act? God? Perhaps. Does divine prescription or other moral conventions give us a moral duty to intervene in suicide attempts? A resounding majority of people would unequivocally say, “yes”. Many would go so far as to advocate for codifying measures in formal statutes and ordinances to safeguard those with suicidal inclinations from harming themselves. This is substantiated by the fact that most states have laws that require mandatory involuntary hospitalization for suicide attempts. However, much of the conventional wisdom that surrounds the subject of suicide is quite perverse. Beyond the stigma that is attached to it, societally we have the wrong perspective on it. If people can subjectively determine the value of goods that they choose to buy daily, why can’t they do the same with their quality of life? Couldn’t we also extrapolate the same concept of marginalism to an assessment of individual wellbeing? Even the parameters set in place in jurisdictions where medically assisted euthanasia is permitted are too restrictive. The doctor tasked with ascertaining whether a terminal cancer patient should be able to end their own life is draconian. Involuntarily transferring this right to an authority figure by a matter of jurisdictional law. Who would be a better judge of the patient’s quality of life, than the patient? The judgment of the physician at best a partial informed inference. Lacking the all if qualitative sensations of anguish characterizing most terminal illnesses. 

While medical-assisted suicide may be legalized in some regions for those at the end stages of palliative care, it remains taboo to permit suicide for those suffering from psychological distress. This discrepancy in logic is quite puzzling. In recent years there has been a plethora of campaigns to have mental illness be publicly recognized as an illness. Generally done so in a top-down and highly pedological manner (naturally the experts curing the ignorance of the commoners). Generating a myriad of various pithy slogans so succinct they could fit on a bumper sticker. There is some glaring hypocrisy in these initiatives. While yes, I agree that mental illness is an illness. In most cases, there is even a biochemical basis for the mental illness. For example, serotonin deficiencies resulting in depression. If there can be a terminal stage of physical illness, why wouldn’t there be a terminal stage of mental illness? Who would determine this arbitrary line in the sand? This unpleasant and inconvenient fact is conspicuously absent from the mental illness is an illness movement. That is unfortunate because the tendency of sugarcoating serious issues does little to solve significant problems. Trivializing this mental health movement to caricature of what it could be. Reducing it to a mere humanistic feel-good movement. Nevertheless, if as a society we aim to treat mental illness on an even field with physical illness, it is only reasonable we allow those with mental illness to commit suicide if they see it fit. This may sound callous or even cruel. The same could be said for forcing someone to live who does not want to. 

Bootleggers & Baptists VIII: Can The Bootlegger and The Baptist Be The Same Person: A Drive-Thru Revelation

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This morning I felt particularly stir crazy from being cooped up in the house, so I decided to go to pick up some coffee. When I finally reached the drive-thru window, I was met by one of the employees. He began to detail to me how several local restaurants had employees who had contracted COVID-19. Even blatantly pointing out the window to the adjacent establishment. Claiming that the franchisee owner was going so far to cover it up to prevent a loss in business.  Naturally, I was initially shocked by this individual’s candor. However, he made one fatal error which led me to start questioning the integrity of his accusations. He revealed the fact that he was a former employee of the adjacent building.  Informing me that he knew both the owner and the manager well. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why this individual would have the incentives to levy such claims against the other business. For anyone out there that has been fired or layoff, you aren’t going to have too many kind words for the former employer that released you.

 

The employee I was conversing with stated he obtained this information from speaking with the present manager of the neighboring eatery. As implausible it may seem for the manager to disclose such information to an employee of a competitor will have to be dispensed with. It degenerates into nothing more than he said/ she said scenario. There isn’t enough evidence on either side to make a definite claim. So I will be charitable and give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that his statement about the other establishment was true. There may have been multiple motives for him informing me of this development in the local culinary scene. He may have felt some unbridled compulsion to inform of the potential hazard of dining at the other restaurant.  He may have had personal moral code that would not allow him to withhold such information from innocent parties. Such as adhering to Kantian morality or having strong religious beliefs. Perhaps he is an admirer of George Washington. The conviction to want to shield innocent parties from exposure to COVID-19 is certainly a laudable objective. I would perceive this as the behavior of a Baptist.

 

Assuming the information was true and he possesses pure intentions for proliferating this news, he can be considered a Baptist. However, it is also possible for him to simultaneously be the Bootlegger as well? I would argue yes. As individuals, we can have multiple motives for engaging in an action. It isn’t outlandish to assume that he had subordinate motives for detailing to me that the neighboring establishment’s staff had tested positive for COVID-19. How does he benefit from disclosing knowledge to me? What are his incentives for doing so?

 

There are two potential self-seeking motives for his actions. The first reason would be attempting to enact vengeance on a former employer. Doing so by creating a rumor that damages their credibility in the community.  If the purported facts are completely fictitious the Bootleggers and Baptists dynamic dissolves. Any pure intention is no longer present. The second reason for his shocking candor that sways into the territory of defamation would be increased job security. The pandemic has likely chewed into the profits of his current employer. To avoid getting laid off for budgetary reasons, he is attempting to divert business to his restaurant. Done out of self-interest and exhibiting behavior that is in line with that of a bootlegger.

 

Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootleggers and Baptists was intended to demonstrate how unlikely coalitions are formed in the political arena. Considering we as humans can have multiple reasons for advocating for a policy or engaging in various forms of rent-seeking, it is possible for an act to severe in both roles. Providing they are being honest about their moralistic motives, but also stand to benefit from their attempt to influence public opinion.  For instance, I could advocate for a ban on smoking in public parks. Truly feel that I am attempting to save others from the health effects of secondhand smoke. At the same time also be advocating for a smoking ban because I dislike cigarette smoke.  The roles of Bootleggers and Baptists are not always mutually exclusive.

 

It is analogous to the ID and Superego allying. Both are satisfied with the cause and both are the deep-rooted psychoanalytical manifestations of the Baptists and the Bootlegger. When an individual strikes a balance between their hyper-moralistic inclinations and darker impulses they can assume both roles. When avarice and morality align themselves in the intentions of one person this phenomenon becomes possible. Yes, this application of Yandle’s trope does exercise a bit of artistic license. However, Yandle never said that individuals couldn’t form coalitions within themselves.  Doing so by combining various rationals for advocacy and then vocalizing them. Typically under the guise of concern for the moral imperative of the situation.

How Not to Live Your Life- A Lesson from Kierkegaard and Seinfeld

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The 1990s sitcom Seinfeld  was loudly proclaimed to be the show about “nothing”.  The very term “nothing” is somewhat paradoxical. Nothing denotes the complete absence of an essence or form. Technically it is herculean  task to fixate any concept around the word. Logically some attribute is bound to invalidate the notion of complete absence of  any form or detail. Hence, why the show really wasn’t about nothing. It was really an unapologetic slice-of-life comedy. Focused on four 30-something NYC residents and their day to day lives. Lives typically punctuated by social faux pas and outlandish situations. Generally spurred by their own errors or impulses. It the television program doesn’t fixate on nothing. It merely lacks an overt, cohesive and reoccurring theme. In contrast to the modern fables portrayed in a sappy coming-of-age drama.

 

At first glance, it would appear the odds of obtaining any profound philosophical insights from Seinfeld would be unlikely. However, some philosophers would disagree.  Back in 2000, William Irwin edited  a collection of essays drawing philosophical themes from the sitcom. To think philosophical insights from a show where the characters quibble over breakfast cereals and superheroes. Seinfeld and Philosophy  is a brilliant attempt to infer the unthinkable from the show about “nothing”. The unthinkable being is logical and moral parables.

 

Out of the four main characters of Seinfeld  Cosmo Kramer is certainly noteworthy. A slender and cloddish man with a mop of wild hair upon his. His rangy frame often silhouetted by a thick hazy of smoke from a burning Cuban cigar. Frequently barging into Jerry’s apartment and rifling through his refrigerator for food. He never holds a steady job. Often is hopping from one fleeting interest to the next.  Whether it be some harebrained business scheme or new absurd fixation. For example, in season nine when Kramer discovers the furniture from the old  Merv Griffin Show in a dumpsters.  He then decides to assemble the set in his own apartment and pose as if he was a late-night talk show host. Kramer mirrors Peter Pan. Stuck in a perpetual state of adolescences. He is fickle with is commitments and interests. Making his life a revolving-door of collective fads.  Giving some credence to Elaine one time insulting Kramer by calling him a “hipster doofus“.Yes kids, this episode did predate the American Spirits smoking, fake glasses wearing, Pabst Blue Ribbon drinking hipsters of the 2000’s.

 

How could any sizable moral lesson ever be derived from a character that lives such a shallow life? Philosopher William Irvin found some insights in Kramer’s disregard for commitment.  Detailed in his essay Kramer and Kierkegaard: Stages on Life’s Way.  Where Irvin parallels Kramer’s life to that of the Aesthetic Stage of Life. In terms of stages of moral development that would appear to be Kierkegaard’s most rudimentary stage.  It is important to note that this starts with and ends with despair. Is distinguished by a flight from boredom. Fully illustrated by Kramer’s ever-changing agenda. Spirited, but short-lived enthusiasm. Such as the time Kramer pitched his idea of a cologne that smells like the beach or a pizzeria where you can “bake your own pie” (Irvin, 2000). This only dovetails to possessing a lack of commitment another defining feature of this stage. Exemplified by Kramer referring marriage has a man-made “prison” (Irvin, 2000) Clearly  illustrating his distaste for committed romantic relationships.

 

Cosmo Kramer operates as a moral  allegory of what not to be. Unprincipled and pleasure seeking. To characteristics of hedonism that run contrary personal responsibility. One of the conceptual cornerstones of Existential philosophy. The philosophical movement Kierkegaard was a pioneer of. Can an individual float through life as a middle-aged or even elderly “hipster doofus”? Constantly raiding your neighbor’s refrigerator. Hatching various get-rich-quick schemes that invariably fail with in a short duration of time. Finding novel oddball hobbies to occupy your decades of scant employment. It is no wonder many of these interests fade fast. There isn’t any substance to them. They are merely temporary distractions for a man lacking conviction. If Kramer was truly committed to any of his business ventures he would abort them within a matter of days. He would fight for his business to success.  He isn’t the type to want to exert such effort on what is difficult.   Kramer would rather feed the perpetual cycle of fleeting interests and wavering commitment. Making him a prime example of what we should avoid being in real life.

 

 

Hume v.s. Kant- Thoughts on the Act of Suicide

 

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The act of suicide most likely has been around since the dawn of human history. The reasons that an individual chooses to take their own life run the gamut. Suicide much like other decisions has a litany of moral considerations. It should be noted that many religions actually have prescriptions explicitly against the act. Any steadfast contrarian would question whether suicide can be ethically justified. Some thinkers would even be so bold to address whether or not we have the right to commit suicide.

 

Two marquee names of the 18th century European Enlightenment were bold enough to expound this morbid topic. Although, both came to very different conclusions about ethical considerations of suicide. German philosopher Immanuel Kant viewed suicide to be unquestionably immoral. In contrast, Scottish thinker David Hume struggled to find the immortality within the act. Both taking on diametrically opposing views.

 

Kant not only found it impossible to rationalize the act of suicide. He expresses the utmost censure for those who dared to commit such an atrocity. Kant believes since we were created by God we belong to him. Operating on the understanding that our life is not ours to dispose of on our whim. However, Kant took it one step further by equating the victim of suicide to the level of a lowly beast.

Man can only dispose of things; beasts are things in this sense; but man is not a thing, not a beast. If he disposes of himself, he treats his value as that of a beast. He who so behaves, who has no respect for human behavior, makes a thing of himself.”[1].

Unrelentingly harsh.  Certainly, a severe assessment to make. Especially considering most people plagued by suicidal thoughts are generally psychologically tormented. Kant’s thinking is notorious for being complex and nuanced, but he was quite rigid in the realm of morality. The topic of suicide is no exception.  From Kant’s perspective, if you killed yourself you would no longer be able to engage in moral acts. This highest duty to our self, due to all other duties being contingent upon being able to be moral [2]. If an individual dies of natural causes he did not choose this path. If an individual dies in combat defending his country this is a valiant act of bravery. From Kant’s perspective, the soldier sacrificed his life to spare his fellow countrymen from such a fate. In contrast to selfishly taking one’s life. May alleviate the victim of suicide, but does not help society in any way. It could be argued that suicide inflicts more harm on society making it immoral.

Kant’s perception of those who have committed society is quite brutal. The opposing views of David Hume provide more clemency towards suicide victims. Rather than morally browbeating them. David Hume expressed his views on suicide in the 1755 essay Of Suicide expressing some of the logical fallacies implied in arguments against suicide.  Hume suggests that God allows us to control other aspects of nature, for example harnessing and collecting natural resources. So why would suicide be the one exception (Hume, 1775, p. 3) [3][4]. Beyond that point :

…. divine order’ is meant simply that which occurs according to God’s consent, then God appears to consent to all our actions (since an omnipotent God can presumably intervene in our acts at any point) and no distinction exists between those of our actions to which God consents and those to which He does not. If God has placed us upon the Earth like a “sentinel,” then our choice to leave this post and take our lives occurs as much with his cooperation as with any other actions we perform [5].

 

Hume has addressed the theological concerns of suicide.  But what about the duty to ourselves and others?  The way Hume saw it, you do not harm society by taking your life. You only “.. cease to do good..” (Hume, 1755, p.8) [6]. Almost perceiving the act without any further context is morally neutral. Considering how drastic the act of suicide is this is kind of a far-fetched notion.  Odds are whatever moral contributions we have to offer society are minuscule. It is absurd to stay alive to provide a mere “frivolous advantage” to the public (Hume, 1755, p.8) [7]. Hume also argues that suicide isn’t necessarily an abdication of duty to ourselves.  If affiliated with sickness and other ailments synonymous with advanced age, what is the point of living? To a certain extent, you are existing to endure more misery (Hume 1755, P.8-9) [8]. With such health conditions, you could only prove to be a detriment to others. This could result in more mental anguish.  Making staying alive merely for its own sake fruitless.

 

To conclude, I see some profound problems with both perspectives.  Kant is far too judgmental and rigid concerning suicide. The last thing you should ever do is deride someone for having suicidal proclivities. Chances are it will only exacerbate the problem rather than persuade them to not commit suicide. Also, suppose the scenario where you and your child are held at gunpoint. You are told by the assailant “either take this gun and shot yourself or I am killing your kid”. It may be debatable if this scenario would constitute suicide. If we argue it does, clearly killing yourself would be more moral than continuing to live. While there is a clear distinction between right and wrong, Kant’s moral absolutism can prove to be problematic.

On the other hand, David Hume is far too flippant about the subject as a whole. There are profound consequences that result from committing suicide. I am a fierce defender of individuality. But suicide impacts people other than yourself. The impact is not isolated to you and you only. Friends and family of the victim will be devasted by the unexpected turn of events. People at work depended on the victim. Believing that suicide is morally neutral is a fallacy. I would advise against codifying the moral considerations of suicide in law. End of life decisions should be left to the individual. Especially if they are suffering from a terminal illness. Making something legally accessible doesn’t make it right. Many states have annulled anachronistic laws prohibiting adultery. That does not excuse the moral failings of adultery. However, to humiliate and denigrate those with suicidal thoughts is also wrong. Downright cruel!

COVID-19 and The Rejection of Civility

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Amid all the chaos spurred by the COIV-19 outbreak, the deterioration of civility seems inevitable. People are being reduced to quarreling and fight over toilet paper. Conflicts over cases of bottled waters and other forms of provisions are becoming more prevalent. Such emergencies have the proclivity to bring out the worst in people. Similar occurrences aren’t relegated to this one instance. Look no further than the looting that transpired during Hurricane Katrina. The line between civilization and lawless chaos is razor-thin. All it takes is one natural disaster or national emergency to shift incentives away from cooperation to antisocial behavior.

 

Social Psychology has a litany of various theories to help explain the descent into pillaging and violence. Describing the psychological mechanisms driving mob behavior does explain the behavioral element of such actions. However, it fails to address the deeper moral questions of the “temporary” erosion of civility. It is reasonable to question whether this loosening of societal standards would be temporary if the precipitating circumstances remained. This question can only be indulged with pure conjecture. I would be so bold to suggest that the circumstantial decay of social standards serves as an indictment on the Enlightenment.

 

I am not addressing concepts of the Enlightenment but the intellectual movement of the whole. It was the thinkers of this era that lead us from the barbarism of the dark ages to the relative calm of modernity. To avoid falling into the trap of the Whig interpretation of history, the Enlightenment did not nullify classical philosophy. Rather expanded upon it. The Enlightenment is what orientated the Western world towards poverty rights and the rights of the individual. Neither can be validated in a climate of wanton destruction and disregard for your neighbor. In times of panic, we revert to our fight-or-flight reflect negating reason, principles, and decorum. Reducing our behavior to that of Neanderthals. Fear is antithetical to reason. Making it caustic to the clear thinking required to respond in a civilized manner. Causing us to plummet to the mentality of primitive man.

 

Many may see this phenomenon of “disaster panic” as a temporary rejection of Enlightenment ideals. I would argue otherwise. I would contend that many people never acquainted with the moral considerations or etiquette required for civility. There are a lot of people that behave rudely even under regular circumstances. Compound their incentives for boorish deportment with fear, society unravels rapidly. Which makes it reasonable to question whether the Hobbesian conception of human nature is true. It appears as if the rule of law is what typically constrains transgressions such as assault and looting. It should be noted that in the instance of the present crisis that this isn’t necessarily true. In most municipalities throughout the United States, law enforcement agencies are still operating. The fear of punishment can be ruled out as a constraint on antisocial behavior. But such behavior demonstrates a deep-seated lack of respect for property and fellow person.  Vandalism and theft demonstrate a lack of respect for property rights. Violence and confrontation displaying a lack of respect for our fellow person. Behavior falling short of the movement inspiring liberal values. The precepts that helped levitate Europe out of the squalor and pestilence of intellectual and physical serfdom.

 

What enforces mutual respect of person and property are informal social norms. Once panic sets in the strength of these norms are greatly reduced. It isn’t true respect, but rather an overt avoidance of opprobrium from our peers. Which does not demonstrate a true comprehension of person-hood or natural rights. Rather punishment avoidance. Merely an informal form of punishment evasion. An individual possessing a true understanding of natural rights would be able to reason why it is wrong to punch someone over a pallet of toilet paper. Not abstaining from such an action due to the consequences of legal or social punishment. Classical thinkers tended to believe that action in of itself wasn’t righteous unless the intention of the action was also righteous.  While we are veering slightly from the thought of the Enlightenment there is still quite a bit of truth here. If respect for person and property is not instilled in us on an intellectual and moral level it will not remain resolute. When the comfort and security of modernity frays so will our courtesy and civility. Then comes the downfall into a primitive mindset.  Hence, why I question if humans ever really adopted or even understood the ideals of the Enlightenment. Because if we did we would be able to better manage our savage urge to pursue self-preservation. If so, we would be reduced bludgeoning one another over toilet paper.  Then again, such conduct has been evident over so much less. Such as a $5.00 toaster on Black Friday. This leads me to postulate that we do not even a time of crisis to witness such regressions.

 

The Road to Abilene is Paved with Good Intentions (Abilene Paradox)

woman standing on the center table with four people on the side
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Let’s Take a Ride Down  to Abilene:

As the old saying goes often we”… go along to get along…” in order to avoid conflict. However, is harmony coerced by social pressure really the best approach to decision making? Especially when the stakes are high? All too frequently we end up making decisions that conform to our peers and superiors reflecting the phenomena known as groupthink. What happens when a group of individuals makes decisions predicated upon the assumed preferences of the group? For good measure let us add the hypothetical dimension that all the other members of the group do the same; however, no one truly believes that they are making a good decision. Yet collectively as a group, they proceed despite their misgivings.

 

The recently detailed scenario sounds completely absurd. Such a situation is antithetical to reason and too farfetched to be a common occurrence. In reality, it is exceedingly common. The prevalence of this phenomenon spans the pressure cookers of boardrooms and battlefields to the bedroom. Exampflying the fact while humans have the capacity for reason, we are not inherently reasonable. This fallacy afflicting internal group dynamics goes by the moniker of The Abilene Paradox. The phrase was first coined by a social psychologist and professor of management science by Jerry Harvey in 1974 [1].

 

Professor Harvey named the paradox after an ill-fated drive to a cafeteria in  Abilene, Texas. Harvey, his wife, and his in-laws had spent the hot July afternoon playing dominoes and drinking lemonade. Then Harvey’s father-in-law makes the suggestion to make the 106 miles/ round trip to the cafeteria in Abilene. Did I mention it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit on that very afternoon?  Plus,  per Professor Harvey:

 

I thought, “What, go to Abilene? Fifty-three miles? In this dust storm and heat? And in an unairconditioned 1958 Buick?” [2]

 

Certainly has all the ingredients for a joyful road trip, doesn’t it? Oppressive heat and dangerously inclement weather, unfortunately, circumstances don’t improve. The food was abhorrently bad so much so that Harvey stated:

The food at the cafeteria provided first-rate testimonial material for antacid commercials.  [3]

After the long and daunting trip back to Coleman, Texas there was a long bout of Silence among  Harvey and his reluctant journey companions. Harvey then sparks a contentious conversation by blurting out ““It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” [4].  Unwittingly, spurring an argument that raged until the wee hours of the morning. The truth reared its ugly head, no one really wanted to undertake the pilgrimage to Abilene for subpar food. Rather,  everyone agreed to well based upon the assumption that everyone else really wanted to go. Once the truth came to light tempers flared and finger-pointing ensued.

 

 

Why Are We Susceptible to Such a Fallacy?

 

While many may see the Abilene Paradox as a predominately psychological phenomenon,  I would personally classify it as a logical fallacy with a strong basis in psychology. Acting upon a set of information you know is faulty or that will lead to ruin is the abdication of reason. Even if agreeing with the group is intended to appease everyone, it will invariably yield detrimental results. We attempt to rationalize such an erroneous abandonment of consequential commonsense by reassuring ourselves that we are conforming to the will of our peers and superiors.  Not only are we making an error in judgment by agreeing to actions that we already know will yield poor results,  but it is also incorrect to assume that all parties are on board. Each of the individuals in the car ride to Abilene did not have sufficient evidence to conclude that they were the odd-man-out.  The only one with apprehensions about taking the long and arduous trip to a third-rate cafeteria. It was patently obvious that the conditions were a recipe for a miserable trip, but no one spoke up.  Odds are if something is saliently problematic you aren’t the only individual who thinks so.

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”  [5]

This Japanese proverb does not lend itself to sound and pragmatic decisions in the boardroom. However, it does provide some insight into why we surrender our facilities to such absurdity. Professor Harvey makes the counterintuitive claim that this paradox arises from mismanagement of agreement rather than from conflict [6]. Harvey views this being at the core of this perplexing quirk of human interaction with 6 sub- symptoms.

1. Organization members agree privately, as individuals, as to the nature of the situation or problem facing the organization. For example, members of the Abilene group agreed that they were enjoying themselves sitting in front of the fan, sipping lemonade, and playing dominoes.

2. Organization members agree privately, as individuals, as to the steps that would be required to cope with the situation or problem they face. For members of the Abilene group “more of the same” was a solution that would have adequately satisfied their individual and collective desires.

3. Organization members fail to accurately communicate their desires and/or beliefs to one another. In fact, they do just the opposite and thereby lead one another into misperceiving the collective reality. Each member of the Abilene group, for example, communicated inaccurate data to other members of the organization. The data, in effect, said, “Yeah, it’s a great idea. Let’s go to Abilene, ” when in reality members of the organization individually and collectively preferred to stay in Coleman.

4. With such invalid and inaccurate information, organization members make collective decisions that lead them to take actions contrary to what they want to do, and thereby arrive at results that are counterproductive to the organization’s intent and purposes. Thus, the Abilene group went to Abilene when it preferred to do something else.

5. As a result of taking actions that are counterproductive, organization members experience frustration, anger, irritation, and dissatisfaction with their organization. Consequently, they form subgroups with trusted acquaintances and blame other subgroups for the organization’s dilemma. Frequently, they also blame authority figures and one another. Such phenomena were illustrated in the Abilene group by the “culprit” argument that occurred when we had returned to the comfort of the fan.

6. Finally, if organization members do not deal with the generic issue — the inability to manage agreement —the cycle repeats itself with greater intensity. The Abilene group, for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was that it became conscious of the process, did not reach that point. (Page 4) [7]

 

It is important to remember that while the Abilene Paradox is applicable to a variety of different situations Harvey oriented towards business management.  Due to the fact that at the time he was a professor of management science. The underlying pattern of sub-symptoms stems from faulty assumptions and a  lack of clear and honest communication. These deficits enable the paradox to occur often leading to pathologic group dynamics until resolution has been reached. The irony is an attempt to circumvent conflict resulting in fracturing and finger-pointing. At the heart of all of the internal frustration is the unfulfilled wish that someone articulated their concerns sooner.

 

On a  deeper level, the paradox examples our deep longing to fostering and maintain relationships. Connections ranging from friendships to professional relationships.  Even the bitter hermit hopes for sincere companionship. Aristotle,  the renown classical philosopher, pontificated upon the virtues of friendship. Connecting with other people has proven itself to be an enduring human yearning. Even the sterile confines of a corporate boardroom can relinquish the pursuit of peer approval. Circling back to the previously quoted Japanese proverb, it may yield shoddy advice in the realm of decision making, but provides great insight into the human condition. Being  “nailed down” is being ridiculed by our peers. Being “nailed down” is being ostracized for expressing an unpopular opinion. No one wants to be the thrid-wheel or the weirdo. Despite any defense mechanism utilized to combat being maligned by your peers, it is merely a means to cope. Not a reflection of reality. Smoke and mirrors.

Professor Harvey reflects upon this fact of humanity and how it is connected to the Abilene Paradox. Professor Harvey:

One is tempted to say that the core of the paradox lies in the individual’s fear of the unknown. Actually, we do not fear what is unknown, but we are afraid of things we do know about. What do we know about that frightens us into such apparently inexplicable organizational behavior? Separation, alienation, and loneliness are things we do know about —and fear. Both research and experience indicate that ostracism is one of the most powerful punishments that can be devised. Solitary confinement does not draw its coercive strength from physical deprivation. The evidence is overwhelming that we have a fundamental need to be connected, engaged, and related and a reciprocal need not to be separated or alone. Everyone of us, though, has experienced aloneness. From the time the umbilical cord was cut, we have experienced the real anguish of separation —broken friendships, divorces, deaths, and exclusions. C. P. Snow vividly described the tragic interplay between loneliness and connection (Pages 9-10) [8].

 

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions:

 

Our intentions and outcomes are independent of one another and it is a cumbersome reality to come to terms with. Even actions with the most beneficent of intentions can yield heinously awful results. For instance, U.S. military officials thought it would be a really keen idea to oust Saddam Hussein out of power in Bagdad. The idea of freeing a constituency from decades of tyranny seems superficially Nobel. However, the region never became stable to sustain a democracy resulting in a power vacuum. Creating an opportunity for any gang, terrorist cell, or tribe bloodthirst enough to go the extra mile to seize power. Despite anyone’s intentions or motives, it was a complete disaster. Tax dollars squandered and lives expended for a failed socio-politico experiment. While  I am not a full-on consequentialist,  I still believe that outcomes are morally imperative in the decision-making process. Ignorance does not excuse any externalities incurred especially when it comes to the loss of life.

While a road trip to an abominable cafeteria may seem like a frivolous example of bad decision-making it merely the allegory for a grander concept. It is the applicability of the story that makes it important. Professor Harvey even demonstrates how the paradox was applicable to the Watergate Scandal [9].  The scandal in the eyes of many Americans compromised the presidency in an irreversible fashion. Meaning that it eroded the trust in arguably the most powerful decision-maker in the free world. While institutional transparency is important it is eclipsed by the decision of going to war. The stakes are much higher!  The lives of your constituents are on the line. The circumstances precipitating such a decision need be beyond justified,  due to the levity of the consequences. The true tragedy becomes when someone in Congress votes for a war that none of his constituents wanted (a conflict he even had reservations about entering) and then his constituents vocally support the war to appear patriotic. The Abilene Paradox can apply to decisions ranging from going to war or something as mundane as where to grab some dinner.

 

 

AN OVERVIEW OF FREEWILL

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INTRODUCTION
:

One of the most common questions within the discipline of philosophy happens to be free will.  For thousands of years thinkers ranging from academics, theologians, to even scientists have analyzed whether or not humans actually possess free will.  Renown philosopher  David Hume even referred to the free will question as:

” … the most contentious question of metaphysics…” [1].

In the modern era the general consensus among academics and scientists tends to be that it nothing more than an illusion. Humans tend to perceive themselves as autonomous agents over their actions, while much of it can be reduced to biology, physiology, environment, historical pretext, and sociological variables. This paradigm demonstrates how science strives to deduce everything down to the rational and salient component. If it cannot be quantified and measured, then it automatically fails the stringent veracity test. However, can even decision we make really be broken down to mere neurological activity and socioeconomic components? While being skeptical and even doubtful that free will exists might be en vogue in academia, others believe differently.

 

Traditionally science and religion have always clashed and even at times appeared to be incapable to the extent that they were diametrically opposed. While historically and in contemporary rhetoric, there may be some evidence to bolster this claim I would prefer to not go down that avenue. However, religion does tend to take the opposite stance on the whole free will issue. At least from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic perspective. All three religions do have common roots. While all three may seem like they would have a deterministic or even fatalistic undertone, due to the premise of “God’s plan”, they veer away from this with the utmost precision. These three theological philosophies circumvent it through the concept of god granting humans free will. Providing humans with the ability to chose between right and wrong from a moral standpoint.  All three have well-defined punishments and disciplinary ramifications for chose the side of evil. As well as the rewards of choosing the righteous path. Religion does not want to isolate everything into the logical and tangible box. Rather it seeks to provide truth in regards to the unknown aspects of life. That what cannot be quantified and measured.

Now, I did not mean to do a science versus religion comparison for the purpose of devoting the entire blog post to cross-comparing their views on free will. Rather I utilized these two different points of view to introduce the topic of free will.  To understand a specific perspective on free will you must dive into the core concepts of that particular philosophical paradigm. Essentially, I would like to do more blog posts in relation to the topic of free will, so this will only be a cursory examination of the topic.  An overview if you will. I will certainly weigh in with my preliminary opinion on the topic as well.

 

COMPATIBILISM PERSPECTIVE:

 

In regards to the analysis of free will, the parameters under which it is assessed is by its compatibility with determinism. Specifically causal determinism, defined as the outcomes of the future being preset by the “laws of nature” and past context. The criterion for the judgment of the existence of free will from this means of assessment is if determinism is true, then free will does or does not exist. Compatibilists assert that if determinism is true, then there is the possibility that free will does exist. Compatibilists postulate that even if the outcome is predetermined, due to independent cognitive processes, the individual is still able to make their own decisions. In a sense, compatibilists perceive free will as an entity separate from the results. Which is certainly rational on the surface because in human perception the common consensus is that we have autonomy over our thoughts and minds. Therefore, we can still choose regardless of the variable of the outcome. Please note that this is the most charitable position in regards to free will [2].
THE INCOMPATIBILIST VIEW:

The general view of the incompatibilists supports the notion that if determinism is true there is no way an individual could have free will. This point of view also assumes that free will also is incongruent with moral responsibility as well. There are two subcategories of incompatibilist views, the Hard incompatibilists and Libertarian incompatibilists. The Hard incompatibilists believe that determinism is true and no one possesses free will. The libertarians hold the view that determinism is false and that some have free will [2].

 

PESSIMISM AND FREE WILL:

Pessimists do not vary too much from incompatibilists in regards to their perspective on free will. Similarly, they espouse the view that if determinism is true then free will does not exist. However, pessimists take it one step further by operating under the assumption that free will is impossible.  To the extent that it doesn’t exist, yet even if it did people would not possess it. It is a slightly more radical strain of philosophical paradigm than the incompatibility view [2].

EVEN IF FREE WILL IS AN ILLUSION IS IT STILL IMPORTANT?

 

So let’s assume that the deterministic or the pessimist/ fatalist perspective on free will is in fact true. Let’s say that free will is an illusion, is the belief among the general public that free will exists significant?  The issue becomes that if the choices of the individual are immaterial to the result can we genuinely hold them accountable? Being plagued by such questions we enter an arena of moral ambiguity that can lead down a twisted and treacherous path. If we remove the variable of choice or free will from the equation,  the very fabric of our societal perception of personal conduct would be unraveled.  If you cannot attribute responsibility for a transgression it would radically undermine our whole system of criminal justice and even basic decorum. It is paradigm shattering to grapple with the concept that we cannot hold an individual accountable for a transgression as it wasn’t there choice.

 

The potential pitfalls of perpetuating the idea that free will is an illusion at a general level have been addressed by professor Saul Smilansky. Smilansky is a professor of philosophy at the University of Haifa, in Israel. Professor Smilansky asserts that even if free will is an illusion it is too hazardous to represent it as such. He believes that espousing the determinist view of free will be “very dangerous”. However, Smilanksy also goes beyond the mere carnage of displacing the blame from the individual, but how it would also “undermine praise”. The courageous feats of even our most valiant heroes would be less vibrant. Accolades alone would be devalued due to being awarded on circumstance versus effort and personal investment. Smilansky is resolute in preserving the illusion of free will to stave off chaos and loss of initiative for humanity as a whole [3].

WHAT IF IT DIDN’T MATTER IF THE ILLUSION IS NOT  PERPETUATED?

From the standpoint of superficial logic, it would appear if you relinquish blame it may adversely impact the behavior and conduct of people as a whole. While this explanation is certainly satisfying, the reciprocal possibility needs to be examined. The philosopher and neuroscientistSam Harris believe that we are better off not presenting free will as anything other than an illusion. Harris purports that even if well intended, perpetuating an illusion engenders harm.  Harris expounds upon how we utilize harsh punitive sanctions for violation of laws with little consideration for physiological and psychological factors for the behavior. Such as a brain tumor impeding proper cognitive function.  How such occurrences have to lead to anti-social and even violent behavior. Harris supports the notion that individuals who commit criminal acts are to a certain extent unlucky in regards to the genetic lottery. The individual was unable to select their genes and their parents. I have to say, he certainly has a really solid point.  An individual can inherit a higher propensity for aggressive behavior and that coupled with living in an impoverished neighborhood is enough to passively cultivate a future gang member.  He states that if we surrender the notion of free will reprehensible behavior would be seen as another “natural phenomenon “. What this would do for us as a society is we would be more rational in regards to our consequences for violating the law. Removing the vindictive nature of punishment would lead us in a more human direction [3].

 

DISCUSSION:

The whole concept of free will is an extremely cumbersome one to judge the veracity of in any meaningful capacity.  There are extremely compelling arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Considering the number of superlative arguments on both sides of the fence I cannot pick a side.  I suppose you could say I am a free will agnostic. Not to be confused with a religious agnostic. I cannot say for sure that whether or not we truly possess that we do or do not possess free will. Obviously, I would really like to think that we possess free will, however,  I cannot purport this stance with complete and steadfast confidence.  This is one of those issues where I will need to do some soul searching before I ascertain the correct perspective in my eyes.

 

However, while I may not be able to jump on to either conceptual bandwagon. I still hold some skepticism towards the deterministic and fatalistic perspectives. I personally believe that it is due to the bias that I want to believe that free will does exist. What individual wants to believe that they have little to no control over our destiny? At a natural level, humans want to believe that they have autonomy, even if it is fabricated to some extent. Can everything be reduced to a mere cause and effect chain of events.  Similar to B.F.  Skinner’s perception of behavior.  Reinforcement leads us towards the desired behavior and punishment makes us very away from unwanted behavior.  This linear train of logic has long since lost its validation. We now know that an individual’s cognitive processes also play a role in our choices.  While I may question the validity of free will being an illusion, I do agree with the perspective that we should not accept free will as an illusion. The potential for adverse ramifications if we openly refer to free will as an illusion would be too dire.  Without accountability, people will no longer be as cautious about their actions. That is a can.  Of worms that should never be opened. Even with the concept of free will existing is widely accepted as conventional wisdom and we still see a large range of adverse behavior. How can we risk purporting free will as being a misconception.