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Friday, April 18, 2003

On Intellectual/Moral Honesty

I keep hearing things that make me stop, think, and either shift my thinking and arguing style or just look at the world and its issues in a different way. One was Rena Fonseca, Kanan Makiya's wife, who taught me to look at the people who don't fit the stereotype in any group, and then modify my opinion of the group -- women leaders in "anti-woman" political parties in India, pro-homosexual groups protesting India's first big movie featuring lesbian activity and domestic abuse, and so forth.

Then Matthew Yglesias, pointing out that it's not sensible to rejoice when you've predicted bad things will happen, and they do, or to mourn when the bad things you've predicted end up not happening. Other people have pointed it out before, too, but I hadn't really heard the argument before or thought about it. I don't think I had too much schadenfreude (because of trying to avoid it -- not in name but in practice -- for years), but now I see it in other people when I hadn't before.

Now Lileks asks something I need to remember: Is the worst thing about modern-day slavery its illegality? Or the fact that it’s slavery? Many people argue that things are wrong based on their illegality (there's a mild place for that -- preservation of public order and all that), I probably among them although I do recognize the logical problems with it and try to avoid such lines of argument. Even when we believe things are morally wrong, we argue them along the lines of illegality because our argument partners are hopped up on moral equivalency, when that just leaves them open the obvious line that laws are based ultimately on either morals (don't murder) or public order (don't slap a policeman). What we have to do, I suppose, is attack the moral equivalency behind their position instead.


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