Critical Thinking and Gun Control

One of the most divisive issues in modern American politics is that of the right to bear arms. It should be made plain at the outset that the contentiousness of the issue surrounds firearms specifically, since there are even disagreements about words and language when this issue is debated. Indeed, it is widely recognized that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution is the least concise of the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights. Generally, conservative and rural viewpoints support very few restrictions on individual gun ownership, while liberal and urban sentiments lean towards more aggressive regulation of guns. This is an oversimplification, of course, and does not hold true in every case. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is considered to espouse extremely liberal views, is portrayed as weak on the issue of gun control because of his past unwillingness to support some gun control legislation. Even though his home state of Vermont is very liberal, it is also predominantly rural, and the latter characteristic apparently holds sway over voters. The subject of gun rights inflames strong passions, and it is unlikely that there will be a satisfactory resolution between advocates and opponents anytime soon. Still, it is useful to consider the arguments made by all sides of the debate, and consider whether these arguments have merit when interpreted through the lens of critical thinking.

The most prevalent reference when debating the issue of the right to bear arms is the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which reads:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

This particular version, punctuated with only one comma and without capitalization, is the version as adopted by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (Richard Peters 97). Whatever the viewpoint being promoted, simply relying on the wording in the Constitution is an appeal to tradition, and arguing about the intent of the Framers is an appeal to authority (Vaughn 125, 175). The same Constitution that describes the right to bear arms also defined African-American slaves as three-fifths of a human being, a concept that has since been rejected. This injustice was also supported by many of the Framers. Militias were also called “slave patrols” in the South, and African-American slaves as a class were prohibited from owning firearms (Hartmann). It is possible that the Second Amendment can be interpreted as being an artifact of a bygone era, worthy of reconsideration. Even so, this argument itself presents a potential composition fallacy (Vaughn 170). Just because some parts of the Constitution are no longer considered appropriate, it does not necessarily follow that other parts are no longer appropriate. The Second Amendment affirms the rights of people, whereas slavery deprived people of rights, and so it can be argued that one segment of law has more merit than the other. To equate the two provisions could be seen as asserting a faulty analogy (Vaughn 193). Taken to the extreme, the entire Constitution could be considered to be invalid, but it cannot be ignored that there is value in the Constitution as the bedrock of law and defining document of our society. It is worthwhile to point out that the Constitution was designed to be altered over time to adapt to changing attitudes, and the Bill of Rights itself is a series of amendments, and so criticizing one part of the Constitution is valid. The rights of people are themselves understood to be a pre-existing condition, and the Constitution is understood to limit the power of government over the people as a way to prevent tyranny. So, in fact, the nature of the debate is more correctly described as being about what powers are granted to the government to limit the natural, pre-existing rights of people to bear arms for their defense.

Gun control opponents tend to concentrate on the strong language in the second part of the Second Amendment that prohibits the government from infringing on the rights of the people to keep and bear arms, while gun control advocates stress the qualifying language proclaiming the necessity of a free state to have a well-regulated militia. It would seem that gun control advocates have a stronger argument than opponents in this regard, since advocates are not necessarily seeking general disarmament of citizens, but instead want to regulate those who choose to possess guns. If the authority of the Constitution is accepted at the outset, then the limitations described in the first part of the amendment cannot be ignored, and to do so is to cherry-pick evidence and give in to a confirmation bias (Vaughn 144). Discussions about the Second Amendment often cite historical context to provide background information, as well as some consideration of the Framers’ intent (Vaughn 122). At the time when the Constitution was written, it was mandatory for citizens to be organized in a state-controlled militia with certain exemptions (Dougherty). Concurrently, the sentiment of the time was that people should be able to possess arms for their own personal self-defense. Proposed language ratified by the State of Pennsylvania and supported by a minority of others stated the following: “That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own State or the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed disarming the people or any of them unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals” (Vandercoy 20). This example demonstrates that particular exemptions to the personal right to bear arms were considered by contemporaries. Few people today consider the prohibition of guns from convicted felons to be particularly controversial, and so it seems that some restrictions to gun ownership by a class of individuals are widely accepted by both sides. It is worth noting that this class of individuals is disproportionately African-American, since the disenfranchisement of classes of people was considered as something to be avoided by the Framers. The two distinct clauses of the Second Amendment support the idea that society requires a mix of individual responsibility and collective responsibility.

Aside from questions of law, many arguments about gun control center on questions of personal responsibility. A common sentiment from gun control opponents is that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” This argument is best described as a red herring (Vaughn 181). It is irrelevant to a discussion about whether there should be certain gun regulations to point out that a weapon requires a human operator. The insinuation in this argument is that a person desiring to use violence will choose from all available means to commit violent acts, and so it is meaningless to limit access to any particular weapon. This insinuated argument presents a faulty analogy, since a gun and a hammer, by means of example, have significantly different violent potential. Just as we treat people with proven violent potential differently from others, it is reasonable to treat more dangerous tools differently from others. Another version of this argument is, “If guns kill people, then spoons make you fat.” Other similar assertions include “pencils misspell words” and “cars drive drunk.” These arguments use ridicule to disparage the idea of gun control (Vaughn 196). In the case of the last analogy, the humor and the logic both fall flat. Unlike with firearms, every person is required to obtain a license in order to operate a motor vehicle, he or she is required to maintain an insurance policy in case of damage or injury, and vehicles themselves are subject to numerous safety regulations. Vehicles deemed to be more dangerous such as tractor trailers or motorcycles require an extra barrage of testing and regulation to operate and require the use of special safety equipment. People who put others at risk through negligent actions while irresponsibly operating a vehicle are subject to strict punishments and are no longer allowed to operate vehicles. Whether the tool is a gun or a car, causing the death of a person with either is grounds for charges of homicide. It seems that this particular analogy, when drawn out, more strongly favors the position of gun control advocates.

Another popular argument of gun control opponents is that since prohibition did not work for alcohol, it will not work for guns. Again, this is a faulty analogy (Vaughn 193). Alcohol and firearms are two different things, and although both can be dangerous, they each serve different social needs. Also, there still are prohibitions against minors possessing and consuming alcohol, just as there are prohibitions against drinking and driving. It is not legal to consume alcohol in many public places, and to be simply under the influence of alcohol in a public place can lead to an arrest. When people talk about Prohibition and the 18th Amendment, they are talking about a period where alcohol was almost completely banned, but still allowed for certain religious and medical uses. This argument may have some validity in opposing an outright ban of firearms, but most gun control advocates fall far short of that suggestion. This leads to another argument, where it is asserted that once the prohibition of one type of firearm is allowed, the ultimate result would be the prohibition of all firearms. This is an example of the “slippery slope” argument (Vaughn 190). Banning one type of firearm does not necessarily lead to the banning of all firearms. It is possible that there is an appropriate level of public armament that is ideal, between full armament of all citizens and complete disarmament. It is also possible to view this argument as a decision-point fallacy (Vaughn 189). Perhaps there is a dynamic range of gun control regulation, and perhaps this range could vary from state to state or person to person.

The main argument of gun control advocates is that if there are fewer guns, there will be fewer gun deaths. This argument suggests a cause and effect, basically that easier access to guns leads directly to using them more frequently (Vaughn 303). This is a strong inductive argument, in that it has few components. If someone does not have a gun, it cannot be used. One frequent rebuttal to this argument is that criminals will not obey laws requiring them to not have guns. This is a red herring, since it is irrelevant to the premise of there being fewer guns overall. If there are fewer guns available, it follows that there are fewer available for criminals as well. The strongest rebuttal to this gun control argument is that since people have a right to possess guns for their own protection, to demand that people give up this right is untenable. The proliferation of guns is directly proportional to the perceived value people hold in exercising their right to keep and bear arms. Most gun control advocates are not seeking to eliminate all forms of private gun ownership, but seek to restrict the types of weapons available and the persons allowed to possess them. One argument that gun control opponents offer to rebut this is that since individual gun ownership is meant to protect people from the potential tyranny of the federal government, all of the weapons available to the federal government should be available to individuals. It is difficult to accept this argument as reasonable, since the arsenal of weapons under control of the federal government is several orders of magnitude larger than any conceivable cache of weapons that could be kept by any individual.

Ultimately, public policy in the form of gun control legislation can only do so much to alter the attitudes and culture of people. In fact, policy itself follows public attitudes more than it leads them. If people demand access to weapons, even if a strong association can be shown between the proliferation of guns and higher homicide rates, they will accept that as a reasonable cost of liberty. That link, however, is by no means clear. There are other factors in American society that could be contributing to the willingness of people to shoot one another more than in other societies. Perhaps one such contributor is the alarming fact that the individual right to self-defense spelled out in the Second Amendment has been affirmed while the communal responsibility to be organized and trained in service of the state has waned. When it comes to solving the problems of gun violence in America, there is no silver bullet.



Works Cited

Dougherty, Chuck. The History of the Militia in the United States. 2002. Web. 7 November 2015. <>.

Hartmann, Thom. The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery. 15 January 2013. Web. 7 November 2015. <>.

Richard Peters, Esq., ed. Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America. Boston: Charles C. Little & James Brown, 1845. Print.

Vandercoy, David E. “The History of the Second Amendment.” Valaparaiso University Law review (1994). Web. 7 November 2015. <>.

Vaughn, Lewis. The Power of Critical Thinking. Vol. Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.

With Only Two Wheels, You Barely Touch The Ground

I saw the bike sitting in some guy’s yard by the river with a cardboard “For Sale” sign on the handlebars. He was motivated to sell, and I was motivated to buy—a match made in Binghamton. It was a 1984 Honda V45 Sabre 750cc motorcycle with a shaft drive and a water cooled engine. I had some concerns; for one, it was heavy. A 750 was about as much bike as I could handle, but still big enough to handle highway riding more comfortably than a smaller bike at higher RPMs. It looked like it needed new tires, but it started right up without any clicking or rattling and had a throaty sound from an exhaust leak, and not too much rust. When I first rode it around the block with the guy on back, I was unable to steer it into a left turn. Fortunately there was a little gravel lot straight across the road, and I went into it and came to a stop.

“It’s counterintuitive,” he told me. “When you’re turning left, you actually push the handlebars slightly to the right and lean into it. Don’t worry, it won’t take long ‘til you get the hang of it.”

With that reassurance from him, and 800 bucks from me, I hopped on and rode away. I had read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and was confident I could overcome all obstacles.

*   *   *   *

“You’re never gonna make it,” Jeff told me. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

I stretched my arms behind my head and smirked back at him from my seat on the beer-stained, puke-green sofa. This was not the first time Jeff had offered an opinion that I didn’t like, so I didn’t let it get under my skin. A dank odor of beer bottles and overflowing ashtrays hung in the air. Our place was usually party central for Jeff and his buddies, and not living with one’s parents anymore meant you could push the bounds of hygiene and courtesy.

“Oh, really?” I prompted.

“That’s right. You’re gonna get a couple hundred miles out of town, and then that piece of junk motorcycle is gonna break down, and you’ll be calling your Daddy to come and get you.”

I snorted a short burst of air out of my nose. “Well, that is NOT going to happen.”

“You think you’re so smart, you think you can do whatever you want, but you’ll see, when you get out there in the real world, people just wanna fuck you over, you’ll run out of money, that motorcycle will fuck up somehow, and you’ll come crawling back. You’ll be lucky if you get your job back at the Kwik-E Mart.”

Jeff had grown up in this town, but I had only moved to upstate New York from D.C. to live with my Dad after I turned 18. I met Jeff at the Chi-Chi’s restaurant, where he had worked his way to 1st Assistant Chef, and I had been a waiter. I’d lived in this trash-heap-of-a-place for a year now, a stone’s throw from the Kwik-E Mart, and occupied a space in the basement by clearing out room for a bed amidst the landlord’s extensive African insect collection. There were bugs in boxes, mounted in frames, and stacked in labeled jars. Big bugs with the scientific names printed on plastic tape to identify them. I had moved out of Dad and Cheryl’s house into the first place of my own with Jeff, Squid, and Dave. I had gotten a job and gone to school—I had made all the motions to live up to the expectations the world has for a young man. I had tried to develop a vision of my future, but nothing clicked. It was time to try something different.

“Give it a break, dickwad,” Dave’s girlfriend shot back from the chair next to the cracked mirror coffee table. “I think it’s romantic, driving across the country on a motorcycle following the Grateful Dead.” Jeff just stared his blank zombie look and shook his head, mouth agape.

While I appreciated her sentiment, my brain whispered to me, she WOULD think that. Dave’s girlfriend was someone else’s wife, and something of a nymphomaniac. I first met her when I went to go pick her up and bring her over to the apartment for one of our epic parties, and she could not stop feeling me up while she clung to me on the back of the bike. I had only been laid once, but I knew better than to get messed up in that drama. Besides, I wasn’t sure if it was me or the motorcycle that did it for her. I suppose for a horny 19-year-old it shouldn’t make a difference, but I had listened to the blaring warning sirens in my head instead of the throbbing urges in my groin.

My plan was pretty straightforward. I would follow the Dead summer tour from Boston to Rochester to Philadelphia to D.C. in the first leg, then on to Wisconsin and CalExpo in Sacramento. Then, I would establish residency in California and go back to school. I had been going to Dead shows since I was 16, and I knew there was a family of transients who followed them around from place to place, selling grilled cheese sandwiches, burritos, drugs, and tie dyed T-shirts. Squid had been going for even longer, and he was introducing me to plenty of his well-connected buddies. I had raised the money to buy the motorcycle and support the whole venture after Squid and I had hitchhiked to the Dead show in Pittsburgh in the spring. In a stroke of luck I had done rather well for myself there. First, the crowds overwhelmed security and let me in a side door, unfrisked and well-stocked in merchandise for sale. Then afterwards, the guy selling me a quarter pound in the parking lot was so nervous about all the cops running around that he ended up giving me too much – nearly 6 ounces of the stinkiest Humboldt bud I had ever smelled. Between that and losing my virginity to the girl who picked us up hitchhiking, I figured Squid and the Dead were my good luck charms, and my way to get to California.

“Why don’t you get a VW bus, man?” Squid asked me, stroking his wispy goatee. “You can carry more stuff, lock it all up, and stay out of the rain.”

“I would,” I replied, “but I haven’t been able to find one anywhere. Besides, the bike is good on gas, and if I run out of money, I can panhandle enough to get to the next town. I don’t want to weigh myself down with too much crap, and I like the idea of feeling each mile slip away beneath me as I leave this place behind.”

“Seems reasonable,” he said. “I might even come with you. But you haven’t even had a motorcycle before. You sure you can handle that thing?”

I considered this for a moment. “Well, I’ve had mini-bikes and ridden mopeds, this is just bigger and heavier. By the time I get to California, I’ll be an expert. I got the book on the thing, so if I need to work on it, I should be OK. And it runs fine. All it needs are new tires, and some way to carry my gear.” Unlike Jeff, Squid admired my glass-half-full approach, and he wanted to go to the shows, too. The plan was coming together.

This last point about carrying gear was one I had thought about for a while, and ultimately I arrived at a solution. I noticed there were bolt holes in the frame just over the rear wheel, and came up with an idea. There was an old guy who did small welding jobs in the neighborhood, and I had him put together these steel plates with steel tubes sticking off of them at an angle that mounted onto the frame. Then I drove galvanized pipe up through the aluminum uprights of a hiking backpack. The backpack would slip into the pipes sticking up like rocket launchers. The result was a spine that served as a backrest for the passenger and a way to lash other gear to the cycle. It looked ghetto as hell, but it worked.

And so before long, we were on our way to Foxboro, Massachusetts to see the first of the shows, with Squid riding behind me in style. As it turned out, with the backpack and the other gear attached, sitting back there was like being in a comfy living room chair, and shielded from the wind by the pilot, you could even smoke a cigarette. Squid was a good traveling companion in that he did not complain and didn’t have much stuff. It was just as well, since he had not secured his bag very well to the pack, and it had come loose within the first few miles of travel. We noticed it pretty quickly, but still had to go to the next exit and circle around to pick up his clothes strewn about in the traffic of the interstate. That was the first important lesson of the journey—make sure everything is tied well to the bike.

By the time we were headed from Rochester to Philadelphia, we had our first real scary episode. We were near Corning, New York, and it had just finished pouring rain as we were getting back onto the highway. The road was slick with oil from where the trucks had to slow down to make the turn onto the ramp, and so I took it very easy as I took the left turn. It didn’t matter that I had mastered the left turning technique in this instance—there was no change in direction. We were hydroplaning directly towards a guardrail with a sharp drop off behind. Thinking quickly, I decided it was better to slide into this guardrail than hurdle over it, and so I put the bike down and smashed into the post with the front fender. Squid had basically just stepped off of the bike, since we were only going 1 mph, and the pack was so well tied together that it slid off in one big chunk and was lying on the road. I peered over the edge of the guardrail at a rushing creek with large rocks jutting out all over the place, and let out a sigh of relief. Someone who had witnessed this came over to see if we were OK, then offered to help make the bike suitable for travel again. They lived not far from there, and fed us lunch while the fender was banged back into shape. None the worse for wear, we set off again with the sun shining.

The Dead show parking lot was an experiment in capitalism unfettered, unless you counted the cops, which became less and less of a concern with experience. In Philadelphia, we were in our tent right next to the entrance to a parking lot, with a cop directing traffic off of the street. Some irate driver started an argument with the cop, and they were yelling back and forth in their thick East Coast city accents, until ultimately the guy was pulled out of his car and arrested. More cops came, and the whole thing was quite the scene. Traffic was rushing past barely a foot from the wall of the tent, red and blue lights were spinning, angry voices and radio squelches fell in spurts from the cops’ utility belts. At first I was worried, but then I realized that they were so enthralled with each other, they were paying no attention to anything else. Their whole show did nothing to stem the tide of steady sales from my tent, right next to them—mostly sticky pot and “white fluff,” which is what they called the particularly clean variety of Owsley-grade LSD I generally had. It was as if the tour heads were in our own little world, untouchable and unbothered by the machinations of the straight world all around us. Another lesson was learned—leave the townies to their own affairs, keep your cool, and act as if everything is normal, and the cops will leave you alone.

It seemed like it was no time before the first leg of the trip was through and we were ready for the D.C. show at RFK Stadium. This is where I had seen my first Dead show with my whole posse of high school friends, and now they were excited that I was back in town, even if only for a while. By this time, Squid had got himself another ride, and so my old crew had me all to themselves. Will and I had been friends since the 8th grade, and even though we ended up going to different high schools, we had remained best friends. I had met him and his brother, Coleman, just after they had moved to the U.S. from England, and we had been thick as thieves. We all took tae kwon do together and, dressed all in black with various exotic weapons, prowled around the woods at Jones Point at night terrifying older teenagers. Coleman had shot an arrow into one guy’s door as they fled, leaving their beer behind. The brothers had always taken to fighting more seriously than I had, and served as my protectors in our various shenanigans. I had left suddenly right after my 18th birthday to move with my Dad, so there was a sense that we hadn’t had a chance to settle our affairs adequately.

“Are you sure you can handle that thing alright?” Will inquired cautiously.
“I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?”

“Yes, I suppose you have, by some miracle of luck. I’m thinking I’d like to come with you for the rest of the way—whaddaya think?”

“You got any money?”

“Yeah, I got a few hundred bucks. You need someone to help split the riding anyway. It’s a long haul across the country from Wisconsin, you know.”

“Alright then, you’re on.”

* * * *

Will and I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, after the Alpine Meadows shows somewhat bedraggled and in need of a recharge. This venue had been different from the others we were used to; more rural, more woodsy. It had rained the last two days, and the final morning I had wakened to my head in a puddle, and everything we owned soaking wet. Our friends had creatively redeployed the tent into a canopy to make more room, and the result was pools of water dripping through the canvas onto the ground, with little rivulets running through here and there. Sales had been slow, but we had figured out a new angle. Will had his military I.D., and we had bought Camels and Marlboros from a nearby Base Exchange for $8 per carton, selling packs for $2.00 apiece. Reselling cigarettes was illegal, but in contrast to our normal routine, we felt pretty confident. That, and the cheaper food, had kept us in the black. We were staying with our friend Andrew’s mom for a day or two before taking off on the cross country trip, and figured we’d go see what was swinging at the University that night. The air had that clean, green smell from after the rain, and the place was abuzz with young people, many like us, tasting freedom for the first time, though maybe not as free as we were. Our only responsibility was to be in Sacramento in a week to hang out with the Grateful Dead and sell drugs.

A duet with two women on acoustic guitars were just starting their performance in a gazebo-like open air stage, with people gathered casually in anticipation. From the edge of my awareness, I heard a voice.


I turned towards the voice and saw Meaghan walking up to me, just as beautiful as I remembered. As improbable as it was, she had spotted me in the crowd. Improbable not only because we never would have guessed to meet each other in this setting, but also because I’m sure I looked very different. I had long hair now, pulled back in a ponytail with little errant curls dancing around my face, and had taken to wearing my brother’s army jacket instead of the preppie stuff I used to wear. I had the biggest crush on her in high school, but never had an opportunity to pursue anything more with her than sneaking out of guitar class to smoke cigarettes. And now, here she was, glowing with excitement and rushing up to me to grasp me in her soft embrace. Her eyes were dancing with questions, and I was very pleased to share my story.

“What happened to you? What are you doing? Where are you going? What are you doing here? Where are you staying?” She riddled me with questions so fast, I had to calm her down to start at the beginning.

As the music played, we chatted about our exploits. I basked in her magnificence and imagined myself exuding manly poise and confidence. “Will and I are leaving tomorrow to ride across the country on my motorcycle to see the Grateful Dead in California,” I told her. I was the coolest guy in the world, and whatever sogginess had permeated my being the day before was replaced with a light ease and sense of being in control. As the duet finished up, they thanked the crowd.

“We’re the Indigo Girls, goodnight!”

I remember thinking they were pretty good, and I hoped that they would go places.

The following morning, Will and I packed everything up on the bike. We had dried everything out now, and our chance meeting with Meaghan and a night’s sleep in a real bed had gone a long way towards renewing our optimism. California was only four days away. We didn’t know where we were going to stay, how far we could go each day, or what awaited us on the road ahead. But we had our wits about us, a little cash in our pockets, and a destination firmly in place. As we were getting ready to hop on the bike, Andrew’s mom had us pose for a picture. I think I’d give just about anything to look at those two young men standing next to that bike, the world barely aware of what we were prepared to unleash upon it.

The Invisible Hand

Note: This is probably not my best work, but I figured it was worthwhile to populate this place with the things I have written anyway. –M

Ever since the Occupy Wall Street protests grabbed international headlines in 2011, the issue of income inequality has moved to the forefront of public discourse. Regardless of where someone finds themselves on the political spectrum between liberal and conservative, the fact that income gains in the United States have increasingly gone to the wealthiest citizens after the 1970s is not in dispute. In a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in October 2014, Federal Reserve Bank Chair Janet Yellen mentioned various highly credible studies which demonstrate “significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority,” and said that “the extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me” (Parker). Where people disagree is in identifying the cause of this inequality, and what steps should be taken to address it. Generally speaking, people with conservative viewpoints believe in an extreme form of free market economics, where the “invisible hand of the market” in laissez faire capitalism works to distribute the fruits of effort based on merit, and where government intrusion through public policy is seen as a form of tyranny that robs the gains created by the producer class in an ideal meritocracy and distributes them to the undeserving, underperforming classes. The flaw with these viewpoints is in the assertion that such an “invisible hand” exists, that it acts to create an egalitarian outcome, and that public policies tend to benefit the poor. The simple truth is that there are inefficiencies inherent in capitalist economics and public policy that disproportionately benefit the wealthy over the poor and work to maintain the status of the wealthy and powerful elite.

First, it is important to understand the term “invisible hand” and how it has come to be used to describe economics. The term originated from Adam Smith’s seminal work, The Wealth of Nations, widely considered the foundation of modern economics. In this initial work, however, the term had a more nuanced meaning than it has today. Smith wrote:

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention (Smith).

Smith specifically references the support of domestic over foreign industry as a self-interested action that supports society through the unwitting decisions of an individual actor. Even in this more nuanced instance, it is questionable whether an individual actor in a modern global economy can exert noticeable pressure on larger trends. A business owner may find it preferable to buy cheap supplies manufactured overseas in order to maximize profits, and although this may erode the buying power of domestic consumers in the long run, it could seem like the obvious, self-interested choice in the short run. The owner may even rely on foreign goods if they are no longer produced domestically, to the benefit of large multinational corporations and detriment of smaller local businesses. This in turn puts downward pressure on wages and impacts the economy negatively. In modern parlance, however, “invisible hand” has a broader connotation that self-interested actions in the aggregate produce the best possible outcome for society as a whole. An example which shows this to be blatantly false can be found in the 2008 financial crisis. After the economy crashed, it was determined that Morgan Stanley had lied to investors about the value of various mortgage-based financial instruments in order to reap enormous profits for their shareholders—people who tend to be among the wealthy elite. Similarly, lies about the potential future value of homes were told to homebuyers to encourage them to invest in homes they could not afford. Morgan Stanley was fined $2.6 billion for their malfeasance, or about one third of its 2014 income (Baer). Their activities in part resulted in a huge devaluation of houses for regular investors, and in many cases forced people out of their homes. When an individual defaults on a mortgage, they lose one hundred percent of their investment. The self-interested actions of Morgan Stanley created a benefit for an elite few in the investor class while funneling money away from a larger segment of the population of more moderate means. The degree of punishment meted out to them falls far short of providing justice to the millions of people affected by their actions. All actors were promoting their own self-interest, but only the powerful came out ahead. This trend is often referred to as “privatizing profits and socializing risks.”

A curious insinuation in the logic of the modern interpretation of the “invisible hand” is that if someone is not financially successful, the individual actor bears responsibility for that. This is an amplified version of “caveat emptor” or “buyer beware,” where an actor in a market secures a good deal for him- or herself or is cheated in a transaction dependent on their own savvy. An obvious problem with this view is that it suggests that the other actor in a transaction is held blameless for cheating. Volkswagen has recently been held accountable for cheating on emissions tests to circumvent Environmental Protection Agency standards, and there is some evidence that other diesel manufacturers have cheated, too. Not only did VW customers receive a product that was markedly different than the one advertised, but the public was subjected to increased pollution, and that so-called “externality” and the costs related to health problems and climate change are shifted from the company to the public. In the instance of Volkswagen, they are being held accountable by the EPA, an agency that many conservatives work hard to weaken because of the demands (and costs) that they put on business. Those demands represent the collective bargaining power of individual actors through the power of representative government, and are a crucial component of providing justice and opportunity to people.

This example of regulatory power at work undermines another assumption of the efficiency of the “invisible hand”—that all actors in an economy are on a level playing field. If a worker decides that his or her labor is not being compensated properly, the thinking goes, he or she can refuse to provide services to an employer and choose to work for someone else. This oversimplifies matters greatly. For one, a worker often does not enjoy a surfeit of employment opportunities. Workers are constrained by geographical, educational, and economic boundaries that put them at a disadvantage when negotiating with an employer. Also, a worker requires employment in order to meet significant financial obligations, whereas an employer can shift work to other employees or even employ workers in a different country. Throughout American history, labor unions helped to address the weak negotiating position of the worker by organizing to demand reasonable accommodations from employers, with the powerful threat of depriving them of all labor. Unions are responsible for many workers’ rights that we take for granted today, such as weekends, safety standards, and pensions. Unfortunately, unions have become drastically weakened through the efforts of conservatives, especially since the 1980s and Ronald Reagan. Conservatives have successfully enacted “right to work” laws in many which states have eroded the power of unions to collect dues from employees. While bonuses and golden parachutes for Wall Street executives are defended as necessary to retain quality, the pensions of public union members are increasingly derided as a give-away to greedy, overpaid, undeserving workers. It would seem that there are two different systems of measurement for economic justice—one for the wealthy, and one for everyone else.

Another blatant example of public policy disproportionately benefiting the wealthy is in taxation. Conservatives have consistently supported policies that lower taxes on the wealthy, while shifting the tax burden to the working classes. Wealthy shareholders who earn dividends on their investments passively and without effort pay a much lower capital gains tax than workers who have to expend the effort of their bodies and sentience in order to earn a living. In fact, it is the physical and psychological effort of millions of workers that provides the capital input from which the wealthy elites withdraw their profits. In many instances, very wealthy people and large multinational corporations pay no taxes in the United States because they are able to hide their wealth in overseas accounts, and can afford to pay crafty accountants and attorneys to help them do this. They also use their wealth to support political representatives and enact policies which safeguard their wealth. The amassed wealth of these individuals is then passed on to their progeny as inheritance after their death. To turn public perception against what was once known as the “estate tax,” conservatives redubbed it the “death tax.” The combination of these tax policies has diminished the earnings of the majority of people while protecting the earnings of the very wealthy.

In his book Capital in the 21st Century, economist Thomas Picketty succinctly expresses the result of this inequality as r>g, that is, the rate of return on capital investments is greater than the rate of growth of the economy as a whole (Picketty). While worker productivity has steadily increased, wages stopped increasing along with them in the 1970s (White). If there is an “invisible hand,” it would seem that it is the hand of the wealthy picking the pocket of everyone else. It is clear from the evidence that the system is rigged to benefit those at the top. The solution to this is to make changes to the system so that the aggregate benefits of society are more evenly distributed. Raising the capital gains tax, increasing the estate tax, and raising the top marginal tax rate would go a long way to addressing these inequalities. Stronger unions would help to push back against the downward pressure on wages as corporations use every advantage to disenfranchise and disempower workers. Better enforcement of regulations designed to protect against abuses in the financial sector would help to put an end to predatory lending practices and pushing costs onto the general public through externalities. The only institution powerful enough to protect the people from the combined forces of capital is the government, and it has been hijacked by those same powerful interests and put to work for them. We should use our very visible hands to pull the levers in the voting booth that will elect representatives who will support the common good and fight against the destructive and selfish powers of corporations and the wealthy.

Matthew Ebert

PHIL 102-1001

Joseph Gebhardt

26 September 2015

Works Cited

Baer, Justin. Wall Street Journal. 15 February 2015. Web. 26 September 2015. <>.

Parker, Nicholas. “Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.” September – December 2014. EconSouth. Web. 26 September 2015.

Picketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014. Print.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. London: W. Straman, 1776. Print.

White, Gillian B. Why the Gap Between Worker Pay and Productivity Is So Problematic. 25 February 2015. Web. 28 September 2015. <>.

A conservative supposes that human tissue bestow human rights

“Is an unborn baby with a human heart, a human liver, a human being?” asked Sam Dorman, a reporter from the conservative outlet CNSNews, during Nancy Pelosi’s weekly press briefing. “If it’s not a human being, what species is it?” he added.

Pelosi said Dorman was welcome to be at the press conference, but that she wasn’t going to respond to his “ideological question.” She said, “I am a devout practicing Catholic, a mother of five children. When my baby was born — my fifth child — my oldest child was 6 years old. I think I know more about this subject than you, with all due respect. And I do not intend to respond to your questions, which have no basis in what public policy is that we do here.”

Nancy Pelosi had the correct answer to that… oh let’s call him an organism. She is responsible for guiding public policy, not to settle questions of biology and ethics.

But I’ll give it a try.

The male organism that asked the question, also known as a human being, was conflating terms. A human liver does not have human rights. Those are reserved for human beings. Just because it was previously part of a biological system we call a human being has no bearing on its rights. A cancer cell is human, too, but we don’t have any regard for its rights. (A cell or a tissue doesn’t belong to a species, per se; a species is a reproductive group of individuals, which is itself part of an ecosystem. We could not live without the biota in our guts, but we don’t think of them as part of our species.) The reason we protect rights among human beings (and, increasingly, other actors in the ecosystem) is in order to maintain social balance and protect the minority from the majority. It is a strategy of survival that has served us well.

The question that is harder to answer is, when does a collection of human tissues and organs become a human being deserving of human rights. I suppose his view is that since embryos and fetuses have the potential to become human beings, they should have the same human rights as fully-developed adults of reproductive age or at least the same rights as children. Taken to the inevitable conclusion, then, that would mean fertilized eggs that don’t implant in the uterus have rights, and that should be clearly judged absurd since it happens frequently. That it does shows us that the starting point of the life of a human being is not a distinct event. Also, we don’t give children the same rights as adults just because they will some day become an adult, because we recognize that they are different. Of course, a human being can not become a human being without their mother, who is undeniably a human being with rights. Should a woman who miscarries be charged with involuntary manslaughter? Of course not, because most often the causes are beyond her control. Even if her behavior contributes to the miscarriage, many would hold her blameless (others would not). The issue with abortion is that a human being exerts her control over the biological process within her own body that gives rise to other human beings. Control. That is the issue.

Also, I will concede, there is a desire within us to defend the defenseless. We do not always carry that impulse over to other species, especially the ones we want to eat. We do try to protect our own children, and that strong urge is built into us. As a class, though, newborns are not endangered. If our species was in a struggle for survival where we had a very low population, one could argue that preventing births would be not just unethical, but genocidal. We live in a world, however, where our ingenuity has turned scarcity into plenty, and many of our survival mechanisms have yet to catch up with reality. One could even see births regulated by the state if population grew too high or too low. For now, these are decisions that are reserved for individual human beings. A woman with an innate desire to bear healthy children and raise a healthy family is the best possible authority, with the support of her family and community, to make decisions about whether to nurture a future human being in her body and nurture it to adulthood.

Nancy Pelosi might have said something like that, if she had had the time, but she’s in public policy, and I’m not.

Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship

I found this odd scholarship opportunity recently, and so I dashed off 350 words to see whether I can get $2,000.00 Here’s the instructions: “Imagine that your high school/college has been overrun with Zombies. Your math professor, the cafeteria ladies and even your best friend have all joined the walking dead. Use your brain to flesh out a plan to avoid the Zombies, including where you would hide and the top 5 things you would bring with you to stay alive.”

Here’s my submission:

Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship Submission

It has dawned on me that the nation is gripped with a horrible plague. Tormented by this knowledge, this may be my chance to find help in withstanding this plight. My campus is already crawling with Zombies, and it is likely that yours is, too. In class, when the professor asks a question, the Zombies huddle in the back, passively in their seats, mouths agape, silent. Sometimes I try to remain quiet, not wanting to expose myself, but then I realize the only way to not succumb is to exercise my brain. Occasionally, a fellow student speaks up and reveals their intellect and humanity, and those are the ones I gravitate towards. We refuse to hide.

It is easy to spot the Zombies as they stagger across campus, noses pointed at flat, glowing rectangular devices. I’m comforted whenever I see someone reading a book, and realize that the infection has yet to spread to us all. The Zombies seem to be hypnotized, trapped in a paradigm of consumption, groupthink, and stale ideas. There are even some professors who seem to have capitulated. They promote linear thinking and fail to stoke originality in the hordes slouched before them. Fortunately, I have found sanctuary in the Philosophy department. We are developing the tools necessary to save humanity from the brain-melting disease around us. By always carrying with me my reason, skepticism, humor, compassion, and love of learning, I will resist the siren song of mediocrity. I am determined to survive this apocalypse.

**   **   **   **

Then, they allow you to write an additional 100 words:

It is said that many people live their lives fearing death, and by proxy fear everything. By doing so, people go through their lives never having really lived. They are the walking dead. In order to defeat death, all one needs to do is to be alive, living each moment with mindfulness and compassion. As normally portrayed, Zombies are something other than us. They cease being our loved ones and become a nonhuman enemy. In reality, we are the Zombies. We carry that suffering within each of us. I try to live fully, and to help others to be alive.

The Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship winner will be notified by email or phone on or around January 31, 2016. Let’s hope mine wins!

Hang Up

The advent of the portable phone has brought changes to society both subtle and overt. When they first came out, it was awkward to use cell phones in a public place. People who walked around talking to themselves were generally thought to be insane, and men would come in white coats and lock them away. Now, not only do people talk on their phones with a full voice and no visible handset, it is common for people to break off a conversation with a live person to speak to someone at a distance. How rude. The widespread use of mobile phones has undermined age-old mores of decorum and respect, and while there is certainly more communication going on, it is shallower and less private. I’m not sure the benefits make up for what is lost.

When I was a kid, the phone was considered to be something that was only used sparingly. Once my father had a party line, which meant that more than one household used one phone line, and occasionally we had to wait our turn. Sometimes, we would take the phone off the hook during dinner so we would not be interrupted. It was unthinkable that a child would have his or her own phone, and kids’ conversations were limited to 15 minutes for socializing. My parents’ felt strongly that there is a time for socializing and it is best done in person rather than over a telephone. Talking to relatives during holidays was probably one of the main uses of the phone, but this did not completely replace the practice of writing them a letter, on paper, that you would send to them through the regular old-fashioned postal mail. When we were at home, we were expected to take up our time working on hobbies, doing homework, reading, or engaged in some other constructive activity.

Since I was an avid reader, there was an anthology of stories that I read cover to cover as a kid, and one of the stories I read was called “The Murderer” [Bradbury]. It tells the story of a man in the not-too-distant future (it was written in 1957) who destroys his portable phone because he is sick of constantly being at the beck and call of his wife, his boss, or whomever. He is being visited by a psychologist in his padded room as he recounts his tale of continuing to destroy technology so he can be at peace, until it led him to be committed. Bradbury took note of the relentless march of technology, and the future he imagined was abuzz with a relentless din of chatter, propaganda, news, entertainment, and so forth, with people using their handheld portable devices for no other reason than they had them to use. Bradbury was very prescient about what the future would hold. Now the imaginary world he described is upon us and instead of opening doors for each other, making light conversation with strangers, or looking each other in the eye, we are a nation of media-addicted zombies, staring into glowing rectangles and poking at illusory images, taking pictures of our lunch, our cats, and occasionally subjects more salacious. What is so loathsome about sitting quietly every now and then, without having to reach into our pockets to fondle the electronic leash that binds us to the world at large?

When portable phones first emerged, they were monsters. They were so big they required a motor and four wheels to carry them. Rich people had them in their Mercedeses, and you knew because of the little squiggly antenna and the fact that they seemed to be incessantly chatting with someone just so you could see them with it in their hand. When I first saw this, I thought two things. One, that person is going to get into an accident, and two, what the heck is so important that you need to have a phone in your car? Portable phones signified wealth and privilege, and I suppose they still do. They are that extra little bit of convenience that makes us feel like we have an edge, or a super power. But they were hardly necessary. There were coin operated phones liberally placed in most public areas, and they had their own little glass room around them so that you could speak privately and escape the noise of the street. Eventually, the booth went away and if you had to make a call, people could hear what you were saying pretty easily. Superman lost his changing room, and another modicum of privacy was lost for the rest of us.

Then along came the handheld portable phone. At first it was just a phone, then it evolved into a text capable device, and you could even read your email on it. Of course, the iPhone was the big game changer, with its larger touch screen and many programs, and now there are many similar devices in all shapes and sizes. These things are so clever and handy and useful, that truly they are not portable phones anymore. They are portable computers, with maps, movies, calculators, language interpreters, and Angry Birds. No need to read a map or get out of the car to ask directions, just follow your phone, sometimes off the end of a pier or a cliff. People hardly even talk on their phones anymore; they tend to use instant messaging or social media instead. It is more convenient and not as much of a social faux pas to break your attention away from class to text “kthx” than it would be to answer your ringing phone. The point is, why bother? Why isn’t it enough to be fully present in what is going on in the here and now right in front of you? Ironically, possessing our own private devices has given way to the dissolution of any real expectation of privacy. We willingly give up our most private information to powerful interests who aggregate data to exert influence on everything from our buying habits to our political activism. Some people can’t help themselves from literally broadcasting their privates.

The comic Louis C.K. was talking to Conan O’Brien and he makes a good point [Team Coco]. In the course of anyone’s day, there will come a time when he or she feels a pang of loneliness, or dissatisfaction, or unquiet. In that moment, the reaction is to salve that tiny chunk of suffering by grabbing your phone and looking at Facebook. Louis says, just be sad. You’re lucky to be alive and feel sadness, and that sadness makes you human. We are, after all, human, and it’s understandable that we want to feel like we belong. We want to know that our loved one is there at the end of a phone line when we need them to support us. Constantly giving in to that impulse to communicate with someone eats away at our ability to deal with our own emotions and turns us into co-dependent morons who can’t concentrate on anything more than our own little world. We live in a culture of instant gratification and low attention span. The practice of writing a letter, once widespread, seems to have all but disappeared. We’re expected to smelt every sentiment down to fewer than 140 characters and we watch programming that is cut up into 3 minute sound bites. Some ideas are worth the patience to expound and elucidate, and the more we try to do at once, the worse we are at any of it.

There is so much to human verbal communication that is nonverbal. Body language, facial expressions, and looking someone in the eye are all irreplaceable components of communication that are lost over the phone or in a text. Anyone who has ever suffered through a conference call meeting can attest to this. The people on the other end of the phone are unreal, alienated participants in the discussion. This is why I practice “telephone meditation” as described by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “Usually when you hear the telephone, you cannot resist running to it. You are sucked towards the telephone and you are not clearly yourself; you are a victim. So, if you are capable of sitting right where you are and practicing breathing in — calming, breathing out — smiling, you prove yourself to be one who can be master of her or his own self. … When you hear the telephone ring for the third time, you continue to breathe in and out. Then you move to it, but you do so with dignity. When you pick up the telephone you are in a very good state of mind. You are calm. You are yourself” [Hanh].

Now, I admit. I love my iPhone, and I carry it around with me everywhere I go. It’s just that sometimes, I imagine chucking it out of the window of my moving car, and think of all the money I’d save. It might even save my soul.

Works Cited

Bradbury, Ray. “The Murderer.” The Stories of Ray Bradbury. 1st Edition. New York. Alfred A. Knopf. 1980. Pgs. 241-246. Print.

Hanh, Thich Nhat. “Telephone Meditation.” Buddhism Now. Buddhist Publishing. 3 May 2014. Web. 30 October 2014.

Team Coco. “Louis CK Hates Cell Phones.” Video Clip. YouTube. Conan O’Brien show, Turner Broadcasting System, 20 September 2013. Web. 30 October 2014.

A Facebook post, in which a comment from my ethics professor is discussed.

My ethics professor told me yesterday that he does not believe that the social contract requires us to feed hungry children. Sometimes, he said, maybe they just need to starve.

Like ·
  • Charlie Lenk “Those who can’t do, teach.”
  • Vaughn Solo Wow, because that’s ethical. I think you may have picked a bad instructor.
  • Christine Pappas sounds like he needs to starve.
  • Hal V J Muskat Tell him most adults got over Ayn Rand by the time they were 22.
  • Jessica TheHun Reeder Ethics is funny that way. I’d guess he has a rational answer for this. For example try changing “children” to “fly larvae” and see how it sounds.
  • In response to your ethics teachers comment, that is true, but your moral judgment determines that it is deplorable not to, so you do it anyway.
  • Susan Barron Will he just starve himself willingly should such an occasion arise in his own life, just lie there and moan on about cruel fate, or is he also the type of person who thinks he has the right to take whatever he wants when he wants it, and damn the consequences?
  • Tim D’Ambrosio You are implying those are the only two options one has in those situations…
  • Matthew Ebert We generally accept the premise that human life is more valuable than other life forms, or at least our own lives specifically. There’s a growing consciousness of Inter-being,but even so, few people would consent to be changed into a fly larvae. As for feeding the hungry, I imagine he thinks it should be the responsibility of the parent, or some other segment of society aside from the government. I think if society, with government as the third party arbiter of justice, protects property from the fiddling of people who would use it to grow food for themselves, then society finds itself responsible to address hunger that results, especially because there is no lack of food.
  • Susan Barron Those are just my first two questions…
  • Chas Dawes Sounds like an undiagnosed sociopath to me.

    My advice, never ingest anything he is serving.
  • Susan Barron Perhaps he has a lot of family and friends he can lean on, or a charitable organization? To every problem, there are options.
  • Matthew Ebert When we chatted a bit about it, that was the gist of his position, that people should have the liberty to pursue their own sustenance from work or social condition rather than by benefit of the social contract, without having to cultivate those things. I just don’t think that the root cause of children going hungry is laziness or poor motivation. Hunger IS the ultimate motivation, especially in one’s own child. I think the root problem is a “social contract” that has been reinterpreted to let the little guy duke it out for himself while the powerful consolidate and strengthen their advantage. It actually behooves the elites to feed the hungry so they don’t rise up against them.
  • Simon Petruc government is just an organization of society, and society is just a generalized for of human interaction. in the simplest case consider 2 people, your professor and a starving person. What is the ethical thing to do? (Assuming your professor has enough food to feed both the other person and himself). I’d like to hear the ethical justification for not feeding the other person. (Mills?)
  • Matthew Ebert Right. He also felt that single payer health care was not the responsibility of government, because it limited liberty. And I’m like, uh, isn’t that what a contract does, creates a situation where everyone benefits and makes necessary concessions to their own liberties? Not to mention, arguing to defend your liberty to keep food from a starving child is pretty pathetic. And he identifies as a Christian… former Marine, too.
  • Matthew Ebert Now, I’ll be the first one to argue against government power when it is used to defend the powerful (Citizens United, capital gains, private property, etc.), and I also understand the concerns of people who warn about government being an obsessive parent. People ultimately are better off managing their own risks for the most part. But there are times when collectively managed risk is just smart. Having a military, for example.
  • Simon Petruc I can’t remember the ethical theory, but there is one that argues that since we have no way of knowing what sort of life we’ll lead before we’re born, logically, the most ethical society would be the one that treats the most poorly treated member of a society the best. (Where the worst off have it least bad). That way, with no a priori knowledge, you could reasonably expect to be treated fairly well. It’s a sort of social level version of “treat others as you would be treated”.
  • Matthew Ebert John Rawls, in A Theory on Justice, talks about a “veil of ignorance” whereby people would choose what is best rather than just what is in their own interest. It is an extension of Hobbes and the whole idea of a social contract. My professor says Rawls is flawed because it anoints an arbiter to decide from whom to confiscate the amassed fortunes of the “successful” people in society. Of course, right now society is constructed so as to take the wealth from the masses of people and resources of the planet and concentrate it into the hands of the few. But to my professor, the injustice of a child starving is sufferable, the limitation of freedoms in the wealthy is unconscionable.
  • Matthew Ebert And, “Treat others as you would be treated” is mentioned in Hobbes. In Confucianism, it’s “Don’t treat people like you don’t want to be treated.”
  • Matthew Ebert The whole idea that you set people against each other to get the best possible outcome is bullshit. If all those corporations really believed it, they would stop trying to eliminate their own competition.
  • Andrew Birkhoff I’d to look up social contract as I found your professor’s statement disturbing.…

    Social Contract Theory Social contract theory, nearly…
  • Matthew Ebert This is the part of the ethics course we’re in right now
  • Andrew Birkhoff Another article suggest it’s the bases of American government or capitalism.
  • Matthew Ebert It just goes to show the astounding ability of human beings to hold two contrary ideas in their head at the same time.
  • Matthew Ebert Yes, it is the basis of government, that the Constitution is a contract between the owners of the nation, We the People, and the government that we delegate to administer to it. Of course, they didn’t REALLY mean we the people when they wrote it, they meant property owners. It’ll be interesting when we get into the difference between personal and private property.
  • Matthew Ebert Even the word “property” changed in meaning in the 18th Century. It used to mean a characteristic of something, as in “the beneficial properties of a healthy diet.”
  • Simon Petruc I was just looking at “Contemporary deontology” on wikipedia. According to the “principal of least harm”: The Principle states that one may harm in order to save more if and only if the harm is an effect or an aspect of the greater good itself. So he must consider a free society to be a greater good than a healthy society. In this case a free society is one where he gets to keep his extra food and an aspect of that is that someone else, won’t get to have his food and will starve. I get that argument, but here’s the problem: freedom isn’t just a positive assertion, there are also negative rights. Like freedom from oppression, or freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures. My freedom to shit where I feel like it stops at your right to have a living room free of shit. By the same token, doesn’t it follow that my freedom to accumulate stuff should end where that very accumulation causes harm to those around me (think of hoarders). What if the richest man in the world decided to buy all the food and not share with anyone? Is that ethically acceptable? At that point, why wait for the child to starve? Shouldn’t I be free to take the food from their mouth?
  • Mary Myers Some people just think too damn much… it’s easy. See hungry child. Give food. See? Easy/
  • Jason DeCook Smart comment, Simon. It gets my wheels turnin.
  • Matthew Ebert Oh, Mary. It should be that easy, shouldn’t it? I think the basic precepts of these Western philosophies, the idea that enmity and competition is “natural” and “ideal,” doesn’t hold up against the true “natural” world being interconnected and struggling toward balance. As man wakes up to existing as part of a family of living beings that requires cooperation and empathy, he will surrender the vanity of his smug, superior position. Or, he will die out.
  • Ben Thompson My ethics professor knocked a guy over the head and stole his shoes. I said, ‘What’s up with that?’ and he shrugged and said “Ethics.”
  • Matthew Ebert I just found it frustrating that he championed the idea that people should sacrifice some momentary pleasure for a greater duty to society when it comes to marriage (he was distressed that one party can choose to break a contract and dissolve a marriage), but in the instance of a hungry child, who is considered to be as yet unable to enter into a contract, there was no duty of society to provide food, that which GOD provides readily and man took away and packaged, froze, and stockpiled to assuage his own fear of want.
  • Matthew Ebert Fortunately, the Universe agrees with me: “The right to an adequate standard of living is recognized as a human right in international human rights instruments and is understood to establish a minimum entitlement to food, clothing and housing at an adequate level. The right to food and the right to housing have been further defined in human rights instruments.”…/Universal_Declaration_of…

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)…
  • Matthew Ebert Taylor, we meet for Ethics class in the same room where we met for your class last semester.
  • Rachel Clein-Cunningham I’d be curious as to whether he’d apply for food assistance if he were starving.
  • Samuel Begler SOCIAL DARWINISM diminishes all of mankind and could easily be considered DE-EVOLUTION.
  • Matthew Ebert It is classic Republican ethics to assert that a fetus has rights because it is innocent, but a child can get off his or her ass and get a job. The rights to my property are sacred, but that lousy whorebag single mother has a lot of nerve asserting rights over her own body.
  • Samuel Begler fucking whore bags…!!!
  • Matthew Ebert Y’know, take one for the team.
  • Taylor Tiraterra I will not argue against a teacher whom I have not met. However, I can tell you that position clashes with all of my own ideas of the social contract
  • Otto Danger and how is this guys an “Ethics” professor. He needs to be fired.
  • Matthew Ebert He may well be arguing for the sake of a deeper understanding, but I suspect that he actually holds some of these beliefs. I was a little shocked when he asked me point-blank, “Do you believe it is unethical to allow children to starve?” And, that he disagreed when i answered yes, especially as he went to Freed–Hardeman University in Tennessee, I expected him to be a little more Christian. Feeding hungry people was kind of Jesus’ thing.
  • Otto Danger You should ask him if Satan is his lord and liege
  • Natasha Stanton There are many unChristian like Christians, the new Pope is trying to straighten that shit out.
  • Matthew Ebert We can agree to disagree if I want to get an A. Society is better served by me having a higher GPA then bickering with a philosopher. Plus, as we have learned, ethics are only imparted to others through strength (as in, convert to my faith or I’ll kill you), or through persuasion (convert to my faith, and you’ll get laid).
  • Matthew Ebert Well, Natasha, this fellow wouldn’t answer to the Pope in Rome, he’s part of the Churches of Christ sect.
  • Pete Cannon Don’t give in cousin! Maybe it’s a trap to see who the lemmings are!
  • Natasha Stanton Yeah I am 5th generation Nashvillian so I know very well the sect. I wasn’t raised in the fundi churches but had family who were part of it. I don’t want to judge them but ….. they have judged my kind all my life. Its a sort of oxymoron Church of Christ Ethics Teacher, oh that was a judgement wasn’t it. Would Jesus let a child starve? Wonder what answer he would have for that one?
  • Matthew Ebert His argument is not all that off-the-wall, and actually very mainstream. Give a man a fish, he’s fed for a day, teach a man to fish, he’s fed forever. And fishing is hard to do, and it takes getting up early in the morning and all kinds of discomforts. Even Jesus said “the poor will always be with you.” The concern is that if you just give people food and housing, they will never aspire to anything. The only reason people choose to work is because it is better than being homeless. Otherwise, everyone would just lie around eating that top-quality government peanut butter, eating MREs, living in barracks. Some problems, the argument goes, should be endured in order to foster creative growth, and if you just keep doing it for them, they never do it for themselves. It’s the “strict father” view of government.

    Of course, we don’t “just” give children food in this country. ALL welfare programs started as “Aid to Dependent Children” and then became “Aid to Families with Dependent Children.” In order to receive benefits, the custodian adult had to demonstrate they were undergoing hardship– originally, they were widows with no wage earning potential. Unemployment insurance also came out of this Great Society FDR era. But none of this is a gift. You have to be a citizen. With unemployment, you have to have recently worked and paid into the fund. With welfare, you have to be the legal custodian of the child. You have to demonstrate that you have looked for work, or if you haven’t, that you went to training. And after all of that, you are limited to 60 months of benefits, after which if you don’t have a job, you’re kind of screwed. With food stamps, it’s a little less restrictive, but they still check you out to make sure you aren’t just lying on your Mom’s couch. And, I like to remind people food actually DOES grow on trees. Generally speaking, the requirements around receiving these public benefits seem like more of a “teaching to fish” approach to me.

    You know, when Fletcher Christian et al. mutinied from the Bounty, it was because they realized they could literally lay around eating coconuts and fucking all day in Tahiti instead of the dangerous work on a British sailing vessel. Buckminster Fuller pointed out that with the advent of petroleum, society produces enough food and goods that quite a bunch of us could be laying around inventing things, writing songs, reading books, or whatever, rather than laboring at some banal Sisyphean task for a paycheck to prove our worthiness to exist. The cold climate white-skinned ethic of work work work has produced an excess of consumables as we have become “enlightened” and bent the planet to our designs, but all that cleverness has not eliminated poverty and hunger. And we call it a success, because at least you have a refrigerator and an automobile and student debt. The ability of society to produce relative leisure in the population though agriculture is precisely why mankind was able to stare at the stars, experiment with things, and learn about the world we live in. I would prefer to design a society that nurtures the talents and proclivities in people rather than one that questions whether a person deserves to eat.

    When Hobbes proposed that man’s natural state is in conflict with his fellow man, he cited competition, diffidence (which I’d say is a concern for safety), and glory. That immediately seemed odd to me that glory, so closely aligned with vanity, should be deigned a virtue in one instance and a sin in another. Also, if there is plenty, what need for competition? Perhaps social competition replaces economic competition in that instance, but it is only recently with the growth of technology and exploitation of petroleum that mankind could first boast that he could put an end to want. That leaves insecurity, and that’s the most powerful driver, because it is built from irrational fear. I would rather throw in with the cerebellum than the amygdala.
  • Jim Graham I don’t believe the social contract prevents me from putting Oil-Dri in his car engine.
  • Jill Marlene How in the HELL? where did he get his PHD? Online? at the Rush Limbaugh university for dropouts?
  • Mark Van Proyen There is no THE social contract, only a social contract. It lost me with implied consent.
  • John Jensen give a man a fish and he will eat – teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink himself stupid
  • Matthew Ebert He got his BA at Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee, then went to Harding University in Arkansas (also Churches of Christ), then his Ph.D in Philosophy in 1978 from the University of Tennessee.
  • Natasha Stanton “Bless his little heart” What ethical human would stand by and let a child starve, or an adult, even a dog, ???? I commend you for hanging in there for this class. I was taking a drug and alcohol class years ago and they teacher announced that once an addict their always an addict. I informed him I was a ex-heroin addict and had been clean for a long while from it and he ignored me. I got up and left the class and dropped out of the program. continued in the arts department and never looked back. Some teachers are just bad teachers.
  • Matthew Ebert Mark, I wouldn’t mind being immortal and omnipotent if I could swing it, but finding myself one flawed being in a world full of crazy people, I can adopt the contract already in situ, move somewhere else, work to amend or replace the contract to one that I prefer, or, take the route of Socrates. Most sage people in history chose to wander off into the wilderness.
  • Jill Marlene natasha… a sociopath
  • Natasha Stanton yep lacking empathy and only someone who is watching the bottom line would be able to starve a child.
  • Matthew Ebert His Harding University yearbook photo from 1971, when I was one year old.

    Matthew Ebert's photo.
  • David Lefevre Going to the wilderness always helps me.
  • Matthew Ebert Natasha, when debating ethics in the classroom, a little leeway to allow for the exchange of ideas is necessary. I admit, I was a bit taken aback, but it gave me the opportunity to think about what I believe and defend it. I think Dr. Cage is in excellent teacher.
  • John Jensen ‘the skeptics annotated bible’ all of the juicy bits are highlighted for you so that you can quickly use his own arguments against him – and a great big contradictions section in the back that lists verses.
  • Natasha Stanton I’m sure he is, but the fact that anyone is discussing the ,to feed or not feed a starving human is ….. barbaric…. and I fear we are headed for this in our society. I ran away from Tennessee when I was barely 20 to LA for a reason. I never fit in.
  • Dana Harrison Matthew – I have always thought you were pretty wonderful, but this thread is making me respect you even more.
  • Greg Allen How can I put this, you “ethics professor” is a morally, ethically bankrupt reprobate. He represents the very worst element of an ostensibly free society, and if there was justice in the world he would immediately take the place of a starving child being ignored by niggardly cretins such as himself. Failing that he ought to be locked in an unlit box three feet on a side, furnished with only a small air hole for company, and there he should remain until his bones crumble.
  • Renee Ebert Sad commentary on a human lacking in compassion
    20 hrs · Like · 1
  • SSgt John Kamikaze Kelly Great discussion! *salutes*


  • Jason DeCook Hack apologists for greed. Like milton freidman and his a hole acolytes.
  • Write a comment…

Sunday morning reboot


I was thinking about going to church this morning. Today is a day I have set aside to get prepared for the week, in true Sabbath style, and so I thought maybe I would find a Catholic church here in Sparks and go to Mass.

As it is, when I get up in the morning, I often find myself wallowing in the dream space, and so I try to take charge of my consciousness and get out of bed as soon as I realize that I am waking up. When I get out of bed, I drink a glass of water, and usually have to pee, since I try to drink a glass of water when I go to bed also.

Now, after this, I usually will check either the phone or the computer to see what time it is and start my virtual tether for the day. This, I think, is probably an unhealthy practice.  It would be better to do yoga for 10 minutes, to get stretched out, and to breathe in and out while centering consciousness around the basics of human existence. Maybe that will be something I adopt, but I did not do that today.

Instead, I thought about going to church. I looked up the name of a nearby Catholic church here in Sparks, and looked over their website. There is a virtual tour option that displays the worship and gathering spaces, which I thought was nice. Then I found the “Preparation for Receiving Holy Communion at Mass.” Let us review.

1. Catholics must go to the sacrament of reconciliation prior to receiving Holy Communion if they are conscious of serious or mortal sin on their souls. Refer to The catechism of the Catholic church if you are not clear about mortal sin: see #1855 and following in the catechism.

I was not clear about mortal sin, and so I readily found the Catechism online. When I reviewed it, it reminded me that I did already know what mortal and grave sins where, I just hadn’t thought about it in a while. Aside from a bit over overindulgence in food and drink, my conscience is clear. I am not a thief, liar, or murderer.

2. Daily prayer and reading Scripture the week leading up to Sunday’s Mass can nurture your imagination for an eager anticipation of receiving our Lord. It is really indispensible [sic] for a fruitful reception of the Eucharist.

I know there are old ladies who go to church every day. I have also wondered why there is a horoscope in the paper everyday, but not a passage from scripture. It’s not anti-Catholicism, since Protestants use the same Bible; I imagine in the South they might print a passage daily. I appreciate that the congregation is encouraged to set aside some space in their regular perception of existence to consider their faith. I tend to do this more in a Buddhist way than a Catholic one, remembering the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Muslims are expected to constantly be aware of the existence of God; thus, prayer 5 times per day helps to remind them. In the Buddhist way, you cultivate a respect and awareness for the divine in meditation, and then try to carry that around with you. With practice, you aren’t thinking specifically about enlightenment, you are simply acting in a more enlightened way.

One of the things that is difficult for me to accept in Catholicism is the idea that only by accepting Christ into you from the outside can you be made whole, and you must do this with regularity to remain whole. In the Book of Thomas, Jesus said: “That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves.” Ah, then he continues: ” When you partake of the Holy Eucharist, have you received something from outside yourself? Not really. The Holy Eucharist is an invocation and remembrance of who and what you are in your inmost being and a drawing out of the Divine presence and power of the Holy One. It is a matter of education of the soul, a drawing out of what is already within you.” That’s the Jesus I like, but they cut that book out. Pity that the Dark Age manipulators decided to make everyone accept this literally. It works to suppress the imagination rather than encourage it. It actually diminishes holiness.

3. We are bound to fast for one hour prior to receiving the Eucharist. Only water and necessary medications are permitted during this hour. For example, if Mass is at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, one should cease eating and drinking anything but water at around 9:00 a.m., for communion time could fall around10:00 a.m.

This I also knew, having been well practiced in childhood. Also, I had not considered the fast as lasting an hour; I thought the idea was to not eat anything upon waking up on Sunday morning until after Mass. It seems funny to me that someone might sneak a snack leaving enough time to pass before the point in Mass where the Eucharist is offered.

4. In preparation for coming to Mass, we should dress neatly, preferably ”in our Sunday best,” for we are coming to the Banquet of the Lord! Care should be taken that we are modestly dressed. We should not come as if we are going to a beach or a barbeque.

5. Prudence dictates that we should plan ahead so that we arrive perhaps 10 minutes prior to Mass time, sufficiently so that we might not be rushed and have time to find a pew, make a profound genuflection or bow in recognition of Christ’s real presence in the tabernacle, and say a few prayers or preview the Sunday’s readings in the missalette while waiting for Mass to begin.

It’s sad that people would need to be reminded of this, but I guess somewhere is a church that people treat as a single’s hookup. Personally, I always thought it would be nice if everyone were required to be naked, in their “birthday suit.” What better homage to God? A bit distracting, unfortunately, for those who have trouble concentrating on anything anyway. And, sex apparently belongs to Satan, as if nudity and sexuality were one and the same. Well, men are visually stimulated, there’s no doubt. Modesty, then.

And, arrive on time! Ah, the necessities of theater, to get people in their seats before the show. Why no mention of leaving cell phones and personal computing devices at home or turned off in your pocket? Some day, I imagine there will be tablets to replace the missalettes and Bibles in the pew. I’d wager it has happened already somewhere.

6. Listen attentively to the readings once the liturgy of the
Word begins. Respond to greetings and participate in the
singing at Mass for full, active, conscious particpation [sic].

My father does not sing, but in church, he will at least try. I, too, never had difficulty being interested in church. Strike that, it’s not necessarily true. I did have episodes where I became sleepy or nauseous in church. There is very little variation after all.

7. At communion time, try to be recollected and eager in your
reception of the real presence of our Lord, body and blood,
soul and divinity. Be prepared to welcome Him into your heart. When in line to receive, when you are second, with only one person before you, make a profound bow, acknowledging His real presence. You have the option of either receiving the host in your outstretched hand or by your tongue. When the Eucharistic minister says “The Body of Christ,” you must respond, “Amen!” Similarly, going to the minister of the Precious Blood, you should respond to his/her greeting: ”The Blood of Christ,” with an “Amen~”

8. Catholics have the option of receiving communion under both
species: the Host and the Precious Blood or just one of the
species. If you elect to receive only the Body of Christ and
not the Precious Blood, you should make a profound bow while
passing by the minister of the cup. The entire Christ is
present under either of the species. Many Catholics make the
sign of the cross, having received. Take care to consume the
Host immediately, if you have received in your hand.

I like having this primer of what to say and do while accepting the Eucharist. Just having been Confirmed is not enough, and even years of repetition count for less than one might think when considering variation between churches and other factors. I also like the use of the word “species” to describe the Body and Blood of Christ. It made me think of Natasha Henstridge.

9. Returning to your pew, try to avoid any distractions and do
give our Lord a warm welcome. This is a very special time for
greeting Him and thanking Him for this most precious gift of
Himself. There is never a time when we who are attending Mass
are so united, true ”communion of souls” as one body in Christ.

I like that there is a reminder here that attending church is a way to become a connected, collective body. This is why I consider attending church, but I get hung up on some of the specific assertions of belief.

10. When Mass concludes, we have two options: remaining in your pew with a continuing visit with our Lord or leaving, following the priest and altar servers out to the gathering space and lingering, meeting and visiting with other members of Christ’s body, the Church. We should never ever dash out of the church and home without doing either of the above.

We seldom went directly home after church, even though we hadn’t eaten anything yet.

11. Spending time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during week days at our church is a great means of deepening your relationship with Jesus, ”spending quiet time with a friend.” This can promote your longing to receive Him in His real presence in the Eucharist all the more!

This is an understandable sentiment for a priest to invite everyone to his place, but there should also be an emphasis on being Christlike when you are not in church.

12. Catholics may receive the Eucharist twice in one day, providing that we have attended two full Masses.

13. Guidelines for receiving the Eucharist are given in the back of the cover of missalettes. We as Catholics should not receive
communion in protestant churches and they, not in our church as is more detailed in the Guidelines.

Ah, yes. Sad that we have our Christ and they have theirs. Doesn’t make sense, and makes me further want to reject the practice, even though there are many aspects I do like.

14. Catholics have a serious obligation to attend Mass on Sundays (or saturday eveinings [sic] after 4:00 p.m., and on Holy Days of obligation). See #2181 in The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
15. And, please, never, never come to church or Mass with chewing gum in your mouth. especially, for the sugars in the gum could be breaking your fast. Gum is very distructive [sic] to our floors and furnishings. Thank you!

It is a SERIOUS OBLIGATION for Catholics to attend church… and keep your stinking gum off God’s furniture. I couldn’t have summed it up better if I tried. I have now missed the 9:30 am Mass, but I have successfully filled my heart with the Holy Spirit, so there’s that.