Word Count: 2,474
Title: Iraqi Resolution
Impetus: Annoying pro-Arab reporting from Reuters and the AP. And, of course, always, the French.
Thesis: We’re going to war with Iraq, and soon, no matter what France and our other opponents in the Security Council do, and whether the Saudis let us use their airbases or not. Any silly Saudis who decide to wage freelance jihad on Iraq’s behalf will die.
Best Quote: “The next and last US resolution will still effectively grant the US the right to attack on Iraqi failure to comply. And then the US will force a vote. There will be no further important negotiation, and no further revisions. Russia and France and China will have to actually stand up and decide whether to exercise their vetos, on the record and in public. I put the chance of this happening at 3 in 4. I don’t have the slightest idea whether any or all of them will veto it, and ultimately it doesn’t matter…. There’s a 100% chance that this has destroyed any important remaining significance for the United Nations, rendering the veto power of France and Russia meaningless. I’m afraid that the Cowboy hasn’t reformed and does not intend to let France tell him what to do.”
Back early from his holiday with lots of new stuff. A mid-week post when I wasn’t looking, a lengthy discussion of ethics, and that’s not even counting a mere 843 words about the Microsoft trial. So let’s get to it, boppers:
Word Count: 1,932
Title: Casino Notes
Impetus: Vegas vacation.
Thesis: No thesis today. He’s on vacation, OK? Give the guy a break.
Then What? Den Beste played a weird sort of strip tease slot machine, and some blackjack, and something called Pai-Gow Poker, and lost $500 all told. Chinese uses the English words for “flush,” “straight” and “joker” instead of trying to invent local equivalents so as not to pollute its language, like, of course, the French. (Actually Icelanders are even worse this way.) He hates cigar smoke.
Technical Digression: A discussion of slot machine technology.
Evaluation: A lot more interesting than I make it sound.
And now we get serious.
Word Count: 2,370
Title: Ethical Selfishness
Impetus: Nothing immediate.
Thesis: No ethical system supplies all the right answers. Even his favorite, Rule Utilitarianism, is “much too susceptible to rationalization.” (Den Beste means utilitarians decide on their answer first and then invent its justification. Since there’s no such thing as “utile” — a commensurable unit to measure outcomes — this is tempting to do.) But altruism is clearly wrong, which means selfishness is at least sometimes right.
Engineering Analogy: Robustness, the ability of a system to handle a new challenge or a high load and keep running. Ethical systems are wanting in this regard.
Best Quote: “I categorically state that Joe is permitted to prefer his own daughter to any other child, and that it is not wrong for him to care more about Jill’s happiness than he does about starving children in Somalia.”
Evaluation: Den Beste tries to get beyond moral intuition and fails, because he asks too much. He expects an ethical system to work like a computer program: the input is the problem, the algorithm is “the greatest good for the greatest number,” or whatever, the output is the solution. But the problem, the input, can never be given with enough precision to permit this. An ethics is a heuristic and a good one helps us avoid the grosser errors. “Act to maximize your rational self-interest” is excellent moral advice; I think it is right and thus am not an “ethical cynic” in Den Beste’s sense. In the same way I think Den Beste’s “Principle of Selflessness” is wrong, and everything in his article indicates that he does too. “Rational self-interest” will save you from many serious errors; but it will not decide how relatively important your family, your colleagues, your countrymen, and your fellow humans are, and no other ethical tenets will either.