Monday, January 29, 2007

Refusing to Obey

I'm a bit late to the party with this story, particularly considering its relevance to some of my previous writings, but the court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused an order to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that the war is immoral, provides an instance of an officer (one lonely officer) who takes exactly the stance I argue for here (subscription required). That argument, in brief, is that soldiers have a moral obligation to refuse unlawful orders. Typically "unlawful orders" is taken to apply only to jus in bello questions, and not to jus ad bellum. I argue that the distinction, particularly in a democratic society, is unfounded, and that the obligation to refuse unlawful orders ought to apply to unlawful wars in addition to unlawful acts. Since the Iraq war is, arguably, illegal, a soldier ought therefore to refuse to wage it.

LT Watada refused on exactly those grounds. Two weeks ago (toldya I was late), a military judge, LTC John Head, ruled that Watada cannot base his defense on the war's legality, claiming that "the issue of whether the Iraq war is lawful is a nonjusticiable political question." Now at first brush, this claim looks absurd. How could the lawfulness of a war be a political question? I'm certainly no lawyer, but I'm still pretty sure that 'lawful' is a legal term.

LTC Head's argument, however, is not all that uncommon in the just war literature, and it's particularly common in Army doctrine. The argument typically offered is that wars are justified via a formal process, and that formal process is a political one. In the U.S., that process involves a Presidential decision to send troops somewhere followed by Congressional approval. Once that process is complete, soldiers are obligated to abide by the decisions of that process. Paul Christopher, for example, writes that
it is profoundly arrogant for officers to take the view, as some military officers do, that after the national debate takes places, and the president and Congress decide to act, then the officers should have the latitude to follow their own conscience, either assenting or declining to follow the order of the president (Christopher, The Ethics of War and Peace, p. 241).
Following the formalist line of Christopher and Head, we have
FJ: A war is morally justified iff it is formally approved.
There is, however, a fairly glaring problem with this line of reasoning. After all, the president and Congress ought, one would think, to maybe consider whether or not the war in question is morally justified before they make a determination about waging it. Yet on the Christopher/Head line, any war that Congress and the president jointly undertake will be justified. Because the very process of undertaking the war is the moral justification for that war. Surely that can't be right.

Consider an analogy with the legal system. Suppose that we were to say something like the following:
A criminal is guilty iff he is found to be guilty through a formal legal proceeding.
Sounds good so far. Now suppose that you are a juror asked to decide on a defendant's guilt. You then say, "Hey, by definition, the dude is guilty if I say that he is. So why bother with the whole trial thing. Let's just skip straight to the verdict." Sound good to anyone? See, the point of a formal system of justice is that it is the best method we know of for getting us to the question of objective justice. But when we deliberate, within our formal system of justice, our goal is to determine whether or not the person in question really is guilty.

Similarly for war. When we deliberate about which wars we ought to fight, we have to ask whether the war really is just. Our conclusions should then inform the formal system, such that Congress ought to approve wars only if they are objectively just. The point, though, is that, whatever theory of just war we come up with, that theory must be something different from the formal process of declaring war. It has to. Otherwise the question, "Is this war just" is pretty much meaningless, since, unless it's declared as part of a coup, it's going to be just by definition.

What that means, then, is that the legality of a war is not purely a political consideration. Or at least, it's not necessary that it be one. There may well be constraints placed on the president and/or Congress -- laws that restrict when and where wars may be conducted. Congress could just decide wrongly, in violation of its own laws. Or in violation of the Constitution itself. In such a case, the formal political process would produce an objectively unjust war. Why, then, is it so absurd -- or arrogant -- for a highly-educated, intelligent officer (qualities that most officers, in my experience, do in fact possess, however determined they may seem at times to try and hide both) to second-guess Congress and the president?

Personally, I think that LT Watada was exactly right to refuse to deploy. It's appalling to me that he is pretty much the only soldier to have done so. (Random question: Why is it that only junior officers have managed to exhibit any moral courage during this whole debacle? See also CPT Ian Fishback). Still, even leaving the larger question aside, it seems pretty obvious to me that LTC Head's grounds for excluding LT Watada's defense are, well, morally pretty shaky. Not to mention legally fairly absurd.

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Just finished reading Brandon Berg's quick hit on leftists and their inconsistencies on IQ. I'm not so terribly sure that Brandon's point is particularly fair, but I'm willing to look the other way on that one. After all, I do know plenty of people on the left who made much of President Bush's IQ but who would be horrified at the thought of, say, writing off some of their students as just being not all that bright. That's pretty anecdotal, but hey, it's a blog hit.

More interesting, though, is the extent to which both sides in the IQ debate interpret the results in accord with their ideology. Now I'm not usually one to make a post-modernist sort of point, but it does strike me as pretty glaringly obvious in this case that people's preconceived notions very heavily influence their interpretation of supposedly "objective" facts.

Here's the skinny. IQ correlates strongly with poverty, with social mobility, and with race. These just are facts. Like them or not, they just are true. But that's as far as the facts really take us. They get us a correlation. A strong one. What, then, are we to do with that correlation?

Well, good scientists tend to look at correlations, especially strong ones, and make some preliminary sorts of assumptions. When A and B correlate strongly, it's a good bet that there is some sort of causal relationship, some sort of reason for the correlation. It could be pure chance, but that seems less likely. So the starting assumption is that there is some sort of reason why A and B correlate strongly. Of course, there are actually three options for a causal link. A could cause B. B could cause A. Or A and B could both be effects of another cause C.

So how does ideology enter the picture when we discuss IQ? Well, leftists are, generally speaking, committed to egalitarianism. That is, leftists believe that people are, at bottom, all created more or less equal and that differences between people are typically a product of socialization. A leftist, confronted with the bald fact that poor people and dumb people are frequently the same people, will naturally assume that being poor leads to being dumb (or, more politely, that standard intelligence tests exhibit some bias toward middle and upper-class test takers). A leftist will, in other words, assume that B causes A.

Those of a more libertarian (or more generally marketist) bent see the world differently. Libertarians are fundamentally committed to the inherent goodness of free markets. So, confronted with the bald fact that people who fare badly in the market end up having lower IQs, libertarians naturally take this fact as confirmation of their views: poor people have only themselves to blame for being poor. For a libertarian, it's obvious that A causes B.

This division results in, well, it results in the debates that take place all around the blogosphere. Leftists accuse libertarians of distorting data. Libertarians accuse leftists of ignoring evidence. In reality, both criticisms are correct. And both are wrong. The data itself doesn't show anything. It shows only correlation. We have no evidence that A causes B. We also have no evidence that B causes A. And as far as you'd know from the blogosphere, there's no one even considering the possibility that C causes both A and B.

What's needed right now is more study on the issue. And less "I told you I was right all along" smirking. As well as less I-can't-hear-you-fingers-in-the-ear denialism.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Skepticism, Agnosticism, and Vindication

This being Sunday, I had my usual 5-hour-round-trip driving Matthew back to meet his mom. That gives me all sorts of time to think about, well, all sorts of oddness. Last week, I imagined scenes from an absurdist noir story involving Witt Genstein, PI. Don't ask. Just be glad that you don't have to live inside my mind. Be very glad.

Anyway, as I drove along today, I was thinking about the distinction between atheism and agnosticism. I'd heard someone claim, not too long ago, that anyone who claims that there is no evidence for God's existence is intellectually obligated to be an agnostic rather than an atheist. I wasn't so sure that this was true. I'm still not so sure. But I'm not going to talk about that, because I got sidetracked thinking about, well, belief attitudes. I found myself trying to work through some non-rigorous, back of the envelope, rule of thumb type attitudes one could adopt. I came up with 4 categories, though I'm sure that it would be possible to subdivide and come up with lots more.
For any person Z and any proposition P with evidence for F and evidence against A
  1. One should believe that not-P if and only if F is zero (or F is trivial) and A is greater than zero.
  2. One should abstain from believing that-P or that not-P if and only if F and A are nearly identical.
  3. One should be skeptical of believing that-P if F and A are non-trivial but A is at least somewhat greater than F.
  4. One should believe that-P if F is non-trivial and F is significantly greater than A.
Obviously there is more that one would need to say here. For starters, we'd need some good description of 'non-trivial'. My attempt is to rule out really lame sorts of justifications. One could also do more with (4) to distinguish between propositions that one ought to believe weakly and propositions that one should believe strongly and so forth. But I'm more interested in (1)-(3) and how they differ from (4), so I'm going to leave that latter question aside.

Consider an example. Let's take, say, the proposition [Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in March of 2003]. We know now that Iraq had no such program. So does that mean that people who adopted attitude (1) back in 2003 have now been vindicated? I think that the answer here has to be no. Holding, in 2003, the belief not-P was actually not justified, at least not according to the rough-and-ready account I've sketched above. After all, there were plenty of non-trivial arguments for the proposition that Iraq had WMDs in March 2003.1 Like, say, the fact that the CIA, MI-6, the BND, the Mossad...Icould go on here, but the point is that lots and lots of people whose business it is to know such things said that Iraq might have WMDs floating around. That, I think, counts as a non-trivial reason for believing that P, so adopting the belief that not-P was not actually justified back in 2003.

That's not to say that agnosticism was really all that much better. The evidence for the two beliefs was hardly even. All the above intelligence agencies couched their claims in very careful language, offering plenty of reasons for thinking that Iraq might not have WMDs and detailing the extent to which the evidence that Iraq did possess WMDs was, to put it kindly, a tad shaky. And there was also the testimony of the people who had been, you know, actually in Iraq looking for WMDs. They pretty much all said that there weren't any left. We were hardly faced with a 50/50 sort of flip-a-coin-who-the-hell-can-tell kind of situation. Instead, what we faced was a situation in which, yes there was in fact some reason for thinking that Iraq had WMDs but also a lot more evidence that there weren't any there. The appropriate position to take, then, would have been skepticism of the claim that Iraq had WMDs back in 2003.

Keep in mind here that none of this really means much in terms of what we ought in fact to do. It might sometimes be appropriate to act on beliefs that we're not all that justified in having. A cop who has a hunch that the convenience store is being robbed probably should check on it. A parent whose kids have suddenly gotten very, very quiet should maybe go take a peek. And a platoon leader who thinks that the enemy might be trying to flank him should probably send out some scouts. In each case, the agent in question acts from incomplete knowledge. And often cops, parents and LTs get these things wrong: the convenience store is perfectly safe, the kids are playing quietly, and the enemy is nowhere in sight.

Now I'm not saying that going to war with Iraq was particularly responsible. Going to war is a much bigger deal than checking on the kids and thus carries a correspondingly greater obligation to be pretty sure of what the hell you're doing. But my point is not to say whether or not the war was justified. (It seems stunningly clear that it was not, but that's still not my point.) Rather, my point is only to shed some light on what sorts of attitudes were justified pre-war.

Oh, and for the record, holding the belief now that Iraq had WMDs in March of 2003 is pretty nutty. There is no longer any non-trivial evidence in favor of that view. I'm talking to you, Mr. Vice President.

1A trivial sort of argument might be something like: 6 of 9 countries that developed nuclear weapons have names that begin with a vowel (USA, USSR, UK, India, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and Israel). Iraq starts with a vowel, so Iraq is probably developing a nuclear weapons program. That's a reason. It's just pretty trivial.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Inequality, Wealth and Happiness

In today's NY Times Op-Ed pages, Tyler Cowen dismisses much of the hand-wringing over wealth inequality by noting that

Happiness, possibly the most relevant variable for a study of inequality, is also the hardest to measure. Nonetheless, inequality of happiness is usually less marked than inequality of income, at least in wealthy societies. A man earning $500,000 a year is not usually 10 times as happy as a man earning $50,000 a year. The $50,000 earner still enjoys most of the conveniences of the modern world. Even if more money makes people happier, it appears to do so at a declining rate, which places a natural check on the inequality of happiness.

Studies of personal happiness, based on questionnaires and self-reporting, indicate that the inequality of happiness is not growing over time in the United States. Furthermore, the United States has an inequality of happiness roughly comparable to that of Sweden or Denmark, two nations with strongly egalitarian reputations. (See the symposium in Journal of Happiness Studies, December 2005.) American society offers good opportunities for people to be happy, even if not everyone becomes rich.

Cowen's argument prompts Scott Scheule to wonder why we bother worrying about wealth anyway:

This raises an interesting implication of the happiness research that finds, beyond the subsistence level, wealth doesn’t correlate with happiness. At once, that’s an attack on policies that support economic growth, since—if more wealth doesn’t increase happiness—what good is it? At the same time, it’s an argument against redistribution—if it won’t make people happier, why bother? The only transfer that remains justified is redistribution from those with more wealth to those below the subsistence level.

Perhaps after such a transfer, the utilitarian political goal is for all intents and purposes satisfied. Then we can concentrate on negative liberty and moral desert.

I worry that perhaps there's more going on here than meets the eye. For starters, I'd probably want to know a lot more about the self-reporting and the questionnaires that lead to such startling evidence. I wonder whether the people in question really do understand what it is that "wealth" actually means. I'd be somewhat surprised if most of them do; I spent a whole lot of years conflating "wealth" and "income." It's entirely possible (even probable?) that such questionnaires elicit responses that show that differences in income don't make a really significant difference in terms of happiness. I wonder, though, whether that's really the same thing. Wealth, after all, comes in some terms that resist easy measurement: how, for instance, do I quantify the fact that I live in a society wealthy enough to produce the tens of thousands of films that I can pick through on Netflix? I betcha that while lots of people would consider their computer as part of their wealth, very few of them would include all the websites out there, too. And I'm almost certain that no one thinks about things like public libraries and interstates and free art galleries and basketball courts in city parks when they think about wealth.

I'm going to pretty much leave that to the side, though. I'm not a social scientist, and I haven't read the questionnaires, nor would I know what a good one looked like if it bit me in the ass. So I'll just have to trust that folks like Cowen know what they're talking about. What I do have, though, is a philosophical question. I'm pretty sure that I know what Scott's answer to this would be, but still, it's worth asking: if increasing wealth doesn't really affect happiness all that much, then it would pretty much have to follow that decreasing it won't either. So if that's the case, why do libertarians get their panties in such a knot over wealth redistribution?

Yes, I know, there's that whole "it violates my liberty" thing. But so what? Unless, of course, you want to tell me that violating your liberty makes you unhappy. That I can understand. And it seems relevant. As long as you then admit the relevance of my claim that it makes me feel unhappy to see some people doing better than others. (It doesn't, but bear with me here. I'm making a point.) I mean, really, if wealth is entirely unconnected (beyond a subsistence level) to happiness, then all you've got when you appeal to moral desert and negative liberty and the like is that they give you a warm and fuzzy feeling. And that's the same sort of warmth and fuzziness that I get when I contemplate justice and equality. How are we to weigh those warm and fuzzy feelings against one another?

I have, over the past couple of years, been drawn toward libertarianism because of the solid consequentialist arguments in favor of increasing wealth. But I like those consequentialist arguments because I took for granted that there is a significant link between happiness and increased wealth. If that turn out to be false, then screw libertarianism. It makes me much happier to think of myself as a kind-hearted, Santa Claus type who spends other people's money to make the world a better place than it does to think of myself as the pre-Christmas Eve Scrooge, sending the poor off to die in private. And if it happens to be your money I'm spending, well, that's too bad. It's not like it's really going to make you any less happy.

At least not according to Tyler.

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No, I'm not just trying to be clever. Okay, I am trying to be clever, but there's a real point to the title. It's the insider nickname for the Army War College. What's it mean? Well, I'm sure that you'll all be surprised to discover that VUCA is an acronym (what is it with the Army and its fondness for acronyms, anyway?). VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. The AWC (damn, now I'm doing it, too) uses this as a model, developed by some very smart social scientists, for viewing the world. As you might expect, the Army sees VUCA as something of a bad thing; the central mission of the War College, then, is to teach senior officers how to reduce VUCA, how to strive for stability, certainty, simplicity, and clarity.

Now I know that I'm sometimes critical of the Army's attempts to shoehorn hugely complex issues into a nice, easy-to-remember acronym and then pretend as if everything is all solved. But in this case, VUCA strikes me as a pretty decent rule-of-thumb. Indeed, it seems to me that pretty much any sufficiently large entity (a state, a military, the market, a large business, a big university) will be fundamentally characterized by VUCA. And most of us do, in fact, spend our lives trying to find some way to reduce VUCA. What, after all, does a mutual fund manager do if not try to find some way to see through the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the market so as to find the best investments?

There is, however, a drawback to this sort of quest. It's possible to be blinded by one's certainty, to be lulled by a false, over-simplified sort of clarity, to long for a stability that is ultimately crippling. Religious fundamentalism is one such example. Communist totalitarianism is another. Ethnic cleansing is a third. And no, in offering these examples together, I'm not trying to say that all are equivalent wrongs. My point is merely that each is driven by the same sort of over-reaction to VUCA.

There is, however, another option, and it is, at first blush, pretty counter-intuitive. That option requires accepting that, in civil society, there is much that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, and designing institutions that reflect that sort of uncertainty and complexity and ambiguity. It's very difficult to know, for instance, whether too much violence on TV really does harm children, whether abortion really is murder, whether homosexuality is a good thing or a bad thing on balance, or whether smoking pot is better or worse for you than eating a bacon double cheeseburger. People genuinely disagree about such things. Worse still, in some cases, there isn't any way to empirically demonstrate a conclusive answer. (How, for instance, could one ever answer that last question comparing pot to the bacon double cheeseburger? The answer will entirely depend upon what kinds of things we think actually count as making something worse. And that isn't the sort of question about which we can get an empirical answer.)

So what do we do in the face of genuine, possibly irreducible VUCA? We could retreat to an artificial certainty (Marx says this is true and those who don't agree are just blinded by their bourgeois capitalist worldview). Or, and this is a harder option, we could simply agree to disagree. We could have states that remain neutral on questions about which there is genuine VUCA.

That's an option that doesn't appeal much to some people. At least one (in)famous study shows a correlation between liberalism and a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. (Idle speculation warning: Could this be why Army officers tend to be far more conservative than a the civilian population? If the Army stresses overcoming VUCA, then people who are inclined toward political conservatism will likely find the Army far more hospitable.)

There's obviously far more to be said here. Liberals can (and often do) complain that conservatives are insensitive to the extent to which some ambiguity and uncertainty can't (and perhaps shouldn't) be reduced. Conservatives can (and often do) complain that liberals fail to understand that some ambiguity and uncertainty can (and perhaps should) be reduced. Conservatives who rail against equal rights for homosexuals are guilty of oversimplifying the world. Liberals who excuse terrorism are guilty of undersimplifying it.

I'm not really sure what to make of this. Just some random observations here. Maybe I'll think more about what they mean in a later post. Unless I get distracted by something shiny.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Piling On

It's hard being a Republican these days. As if the President's 28% approval rating and the huge disapproval of the Iraq war weren't enough, one now needs a cheat sheet to keep track of who, exactly, the enemy is supposed to be. I mean, it's not that long ago that liberals were (somehow) all on their way to becoming radical Muslims. Remember this gem, courtesy of Ann Coulter?
When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that [American Taliban supporter] John Walker [Lindh] is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors.
Good ole Ann. She knew how to operate. Take all the things that Republicans hate and then blame them all on liberals. And take everything that Republicans love and claim that liberals are ruining it. Love God? Liberals hate Him. Hate Muslims? Liberals want to institute Islam as the state religion. Like babies? Liberals want to murder all of them in the womb. Hate...well, you get the idea.

But now Dinesh D'Souza comes along and fucks everything up. Yes, it's true that he manages, like a good Republican, to blame 9/11 on some combination of terrorists and liberals. But then he does the unthinkable: he offers apologies for radical Islamic terrorists! But, but, but...that's what liberals do. What are you doing to me, Dinesh?

To be fair, Dinesh does manage to make liberals the excuse for blowing up buildings. It seems that radical fundamentalist Muslims want to kill Americans because we Americans abuse our freedom. How? By "the sexual liberty we grant to women and the corruption of childhood innocence by our vulgar and licentious popular culture." That's right. We tell women that they are free to fuck (or not) whomever they like. How dare we! And we created things like condoms and birth control pills to give them some control over their own bodies. The horror! I think it's pretty clear that we liberals were just asking for it.

Of course, the downside to this position is that it means that Christian conservatives have to align themselves with Islamic fundamentalists. Not the blow-shit-up Islamic fundamentalists, D'Souza is quick to point out. Just the Burqa-imposing, gay-stoning, sex-is-evil-unless-it's-with-one-of-my-three-wives Islamic fundamentalists.

That's leaves me trying to figure out whose side I'm really on. I was a college liberal, after all. I put Clinton/Gore signs up on my door back in college (an act that made me hugely popular with the nostalgic-for-Reagan student body at Hampden-Sydney). Hell, as recently as last July, I was a college professor liberal. That's the worst sort, too! So does that make me a budding member of the Taliban? Or does it mean that I'm the depraved American that the brave conservatives of the Taliban are fighting against? I'm confused.

I can only imagine what the Republican faithful are going through.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury

Last September, during my guest stint at Catallarchy, I noted in passing that Randolph-Macon Woman's College (shouldn't that be Women's College, btw? It's just always bugged me) has decided to end its 114 years as a single-sex institution. Beginning in the fall of 2007, the college, to be known as Randolph College (since there's already a Randolph-Macon College), will begin admitting men. The decision was not all that widely hailed by alumnae, who, as I also noted, threatened to sue the college.

So why do I care about any of this? Well, you see, I'm a Hampden-Sydney graduate. And for those of you who aren't aware of my outstanding alma mater, H-SC is one of the last remaining all-male liberal arts colleges in the U.S. As it happens, H-SC is also located about 45 minutes from R-MWC. I spent many a night there (most of them illegally, thanks to their irritatingly-strict visitation policy), most of them with my then-girlfriend, now-ex-wife.

Anyway, courtesy of that same ex-wife alumna, I received a notice that said lawsuit against R-MWC will get underway quite soon. A group of alumnae has founded a non-profit corporation, (Preserve Educational Choice, or PEC -- as if R-MWC is threatening all single-sex education everywhere for all time...sheesh) collected $200,000 from pissed off women, and hired a big law firm. They've also put together a study purporting to show that the decision to go co-ed was unnecessary. I've skimmed the 47-page report (their cover letter notes that they put the thing together in a month, so I'd say that skimming is about what it merits).

The report itself is, about an analogy? As a political consultant, I got to read all sorts of research reports. These were books put together to tell us all about either our candidate or our candidate's opponent. To say that the information contained therein was cherry-picked is probably an insult to all the honest cherry-pickers out there. My boss repeatedly emphasized that we weren't hired to get at the truth; our job was to present our version of the truth. Ours was not to educate; it was to persuade. I guess my point is that reading the PEC report was just like being back in D.C.

To cite just one (of many) examples: R-MWC, citing the fact that just 3% of women SAT takers signal willingness and/or interest in single-sex colleges, has asserted that there aren't really enough highly-qualified women who want to attend, thus resulting in an overall decline in the quality of the applicant pool and hence in the quality of the student body (not the best of news if you're a current student, eh?). PEC counters by pointing out that 3% of women SAT takers translates to some 31K women whereas women's colleges have total enrollments of only about 13K women. So obviously the college is wrong -- there are plenty of potential applicants. Right?

Except that PEC doesn't actually mention that those 31K students are nationwide, whereas most of R-MWC's actual students come from just a handful of states (mainly VA, NC, and GA). Now I'm not sure of this, having not just spent a whole month studying the issue, but quick check of the U.S. Census Bureau, combined with some back-of-the-envelope math reveals that the populations of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia comprise around 8.6% of the U.S. population. Assuming that college-age populations are roughly in line with overall population and that women who are open to single-sex colleges are roughly even distributed, that would leave all of about 2500 students in the relevant areas. Another quick check reveals that the four women's colleges in VA (all located within about 2 hours of one another) currently enroll about 3000 students. Suddenly it's not quite the seller's market any longer.

Other assertions are equally silly. The claim that the College's Honor Code will go down the drain when men come along? That's based on nationwide statistics. It also ignores that R-MWC's Honor Code was more-or-less copied from hugely-successful honor codes at nearby men's colleges such as Hampden-Sydney, Washington & Lee, UVA, and VT. The latter three are, of course, coed now, but weren't back when their honor codes were first put into place. Certainly the men haven't ruined the honor system at any of these schools. Getting honor codes to work is a matter of finding students who will buy into the system; men won't automatically wreck them. Besides (and yes, this is purely anecdotal), I've found that among my students, the women cheat at about the same rate as the men.

Look, don't get me wrong here. I'm a big fan of single-sex education. In fact, I'm far more of a fan of single-sex women's education than I am of single-sex men's education. Women's colleges produce a far higher percentage of science and math majors than do coed schools. They produce women who are more assertive, more likely to assume leadership roles after college, and higher rates of postgraduate studies. These are all good things. It's not entirely clear to what extent women's colleges are the cause of such things (it could be a case of self-selecting). But as long as they are doing what they are doing, then I'm all for continuing it. And yes, I'll be sad to see R-MWC change its character. But the fact is that private schools have to compete on the open market. And R-MWC isn't competing all that well. Other Virginia women's colleges are improving while R-MWC is moving backward. That's sad, but it's a fact. It's losing money and losing prestige. The market has spoken, and the verdict is not so good.

Is it possible that R-MWC could re-market itself and thrive. Sure. That would require dipping way into its endowment (the College is currently operating in the red, so it would have to use its endowment as operating capital; I'm no business expert, but that strikes me as being a bad sign). And the strategy is pretty risky. The numbers aren't nearly as hopeful as PEC makes out, and it's not like lots of really good, budding intellectual young women are all that excited about moving to a town that is pretty seriously dominated by Jerry Falwell and his fundies. It just strikes me that suing a school that is making a dramatic change because it is losing money is, well, somewhat counterproductive. Perhaps the alumnae in question might have used its $200K to fund a new marketing campaign. Or to offer some scholarships in order to land a few women who otherwise would have headed off to UVA or Chapel Hill. Or to hire a few splashy, big-name faculty members.

OTOH, the other day, my four-year-old has decided to attend "Mommy's college, not Daddy's." I'm certain that Matthew will make Randolph College proud.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jus Post Bellum

It's the oft-forgotten third leg of just war theory. But it's a pretty essential part, nonetheless. The essential jus post bellum claim is that a necessary condition for waging a just war is that there be a just resolution to the war. That is, for a war to count as just it must be the case that
  1. The war be fought for a just cause (i.e., in defense of aggression or in defense of genuine humanitarian concerns)
  2. Winning the war must not require resorting to unjust means (i.e., the war must be fought justly)
  3. It must be possible to create a just peace after the war's conclusion (i.e., no reparations that bankrupt a nation, no forced regime changes except in truly drastic situations)
This is a point that one-time supporters of the war in Iraq seem to forget pretty frequently. Actually, it's an argument that I've made myself a number of times. During my time working in D.C., I had this discussion with a lot of folks around the office. (Hardly surprising; we were trying to get Democrats elected to office, so figuring out a good position on the Iraq war had some value.) I ended up changing my mind on this point, largely due to the arguments with our creative director. Since I'm still not sure how much of this shit is covered by the NDA I signed, I'm going to leave him nameless. Sorry, dude. Not that you read this or anything, but still.

Anyway, I typically presented the whole, "We broke it, so we've an obligation to fix it" line. It's the same sort of argument that one of Andrew Sullivan's commenters made today:
I'm strongly anti-war, but I still wish Petraeus true success, sincerely - because I presume that the key existential goal now is to "pacify" a spot of active, pure hell on earth that we are partially responsible for. That pacification may include using deadly force and would be morally justified on just war grounds. The situation now is one in which not to act at all is immoral
My boss conceded the point. But, he said, if it isn't actually possible to make things any better, then wouldn't it be immoral to stay? So simple. Yet he's exactly right; that's one of the demands of jus post bellum. It's a point that I had totally missed. It's the same point that Andrew's commenter misses, and that Andrew himself misses. Yes, Iraq is a mess. Yes, we created much of that mess. Yes, it would be a prima facie good thing to fix the mess that we've created, both because we created it and because it really is "a spot of active, pure hell on earth."

The problem, though, is that it seems increasingly likely that our presence, far from making Iraq less hellish, is actually making things worse. If that really is the case, then our waging a war to "pacify" Iraq fails the just war test. Contra Andrew's commenter, the use of deadly force is not at all morally justified, and the decision not to act might very well be exactly the right one. Indeed, the commenter seems to realize this position, insofar as he suggests that perhaps letting the Iraqis have their civil war may be just as moral as trying to put the place back together. But this, I submit, may not go far enough. If civil war is inevitable either way, then our staying merely prolongs the misery.

We seem to have run out of good options in Iraq. Now the issue is choosing from among the least bad ones.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Taking Sovereignty by the Horn

So after a couple of lame warm-up posts where I take on really important tasks like calling John McCain names and writing about the best show on Television, I suppose that it's time to return to Serious Blogging.

Via Matt Yglesias, I came across John Judis' article at TNR Online (free registration required) about American involvement in the Horn of Africa. For those of you who were too busy scarfing down turkey to notice, on Christmas day, the supposedly-Christian Ethiopia (though how abstract entities like states are supposed to be Christian...or Muslim...or anything else really...I'm not quite sure) invaded the tropical paradise that is the Islamic (help, I'm doing it again) nation of Somalia. In and of itself, that wouldn't really be all that newsworthy, I suppose (unless, of course, you happen to live somewhere around the Horn of Africa, in which case it's probably pretty damn noteworthy). What makes the news hit somewhat closer to home is that the Ethiopians were -- allegedly -- aided in their attack by American Special Forces.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of that allegation, other than to say that it's not being made by a bunch of lefty anti-war types, but by the right-wing blogger/reporter Daveed Garstenstein-Ross. What seems beyond dispute is that an American gunship attacked a target that may or may not have housed some al-Qaeda terrorists, but which did, whether by coincidence or design, happen to be the location of a high-level Somali military official. A cynic might well conclude that Americans were actually supporting an Ethiopian invasion of a sovereign state. I'm not actually making such a claim myself. Personally, I would need some evidence before I would believe that the United States would ever participate in an unprovoked and ill-advised invasion of a sovereign state whose military was staying within its own borders.

Yglesias and Judis both denounce American involvement as unjust, even possibly criminal. Without knowing more, I prefer to withhold judgment, but if pressed, I would likely be inclined to agree with their assessment. What I don't much buy are their arguments; Judis' claims, in particular, read like a good conclusion desperately in search of an argument. This particular passage very much gets at my worry:
Meanwhile, in Somalia, the Islamic Courts replaced a weak transitional regime that was unable to control the warlords, who, since 1991, have turned the countryside into a Hobbesian jungle. The new government had brought a harsh Islamic justice and order to Somalia, which, for all its own injustice, was preferable to the chaos that had prevailed.
Judis' argument here is surprisingly conservative -- indeed, it's actually very similar to the one that Hobbes himself offers for accepting the supremacy of the Leviathan. Hobbes reasons that, since life in the state of nature really, really sucks, then pretty much anything that the Leviathan could demand of us would be better than that. Thus, for Hobbes, rebellion against the Leviathan is never going to be justified. Hume takes a fairly similar line in the Treatise. The problem here is that this sort of reasoning would seem to prohibit internal revolution, too. After all, if the orderliness of "harsh Islamic justice" is good enough reason to prevent Ethiopia from invading, why isn't it a good enough reason to prevent Somalis from rebelling, too?

One might attempt to argue here, as Michael Walzer does, that a set of reasons might sufficiently provide a justification for a nation's citizens to rebel while not counting as sufficient justification for external interference. Perhaps, then, Judis' argument really is something more like:
1. The Islamic Courts Movement (i.e., the group that had wrested control of Somalia from the warlords) has instituted order across the majority of Somalia.
2. Any entity that institutes order across most of the area within a particular state counts as the government of that state.
3. States with a functioning government are entitled to sovereignty.
4. Thus the ICU is entitled to sovereignty.
That is perhaps a better (or at least a more charitable) reading of Judis' argument. It has the advantage of not coming across as quite so anti-revolutionary. Unfortunately, it has the disadvantage of being false.

I would argue that premise (3) is just flatly false. Plenty of states have functioning governments that very much ought to be interfered with. Cambodia under Pol Pot. East Pakistan back in the early 1970s. Bosnia and Kosovo in the early 1990s. Or Afghanistan back in 2000. You know, the sorts of places that have governments that very efficiently and very thoroughly abuse and often kill their own citizens. Places whose governments systematically violate their citizens' most fundamental rights.

Does the ICU fall into that category? To be honest, I don't know enough about Somalia to say. I can tell you that phrases like "harsh Islamic justice" give me some pause. The last time we saw a group of religious extremists take over a nation ravaged by better than 15 years of Hobbesian anarchy, the results weren't all that great. Is the ICU another al-Qaeda proxy state? I dunno. Is there some evidence that it might be? Again, I dunno. An unfortunate byproduct of the whole Iraq WMD fiasco is that it's a bit difficulty to know whether or not the Executive Branch is, well, making shit up.

What is clear right now is that (a) Somalia hadn't invaded anyone, and (b) that Ethiopia did. If the U.S. did in fact support Ethiopia's invasion, then that's probably a bad thing. The badness of the act, though, turns on just how bad the ICU really is and on how bad it would have to be to justify humanitarian intervention. Drawing that line is way beyond the scope of a blog post, though. Good thing I'm currently writing a book on it, eh?

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I'm shocked. Shocked!

Thank you John McCain for bringing me one step closer to the view that government would be better off privatized.

It seems the good Senator -- he of the Straight Talking, tell it like it is, don't take no shit from anyone, Maverick reputation -- has once again demonstrated that said reputation is pretty much a bunch of horseshit. In this charming display of cravenness, McCain demonstrates once again that his lust for the Presidency is exceeded only by his willingness to sell out everything he believes in to get there.

Remember how, way back in 2000, McCain stood up in the Republican primary and denounced the religious whack-jobs at Bob Jones University for banning interracial dating? Yes, it was a bold move on the part of the Senator, standing proudly against anti-Miscegenation laws. In 2000. Still, it was a step in a nice direction, disavowing both the always-popular play-on-lingering-racism-in-the-South strategy and taking a swipe at the Christianist base. That's back when McCain still believed that it was possible to win the Republican nomination by appealing to, you know, reason. Oops. Seems that the GOP faithful don't go in for that sort of thing so much. How else to explain the fact that 30-some percent of Americans still approve of the job President Bush is doing?

At any rate, McCain seems determined not to repeat his mistakes. Thus we have The Maverick today begging Christianist-in-Chief Jimmy Dobson to please, pretty please vote for me. You see, Jimmy doesn't like The Maverick because Jimmy believes that God hates fags. Now McCain believes this too; like Jimmy, The Maverick thinks that there should be laws preventing people who love each other from getting married if those people happen to share the same set of plumbing. It's just that McCain, struggling mightily to hold on to his last remaining shreds of dignity, thinks that states ought to be permitted to decide for themselves whether or not to let gays get married. Apparently The Maverick has read some crap from a bunch of dead white dudes who clearly cared way too much about the Enlightenment and not nearly enough about Leviticus.

Anyone who reads my blog even sort-of regularly knows that I haven't much patience for those who oppose gay marriage. I think that (a) marriage isn't the sort of thing that governments in a free society should be regulating in the first place, and (b) even if the state does get into the regulation business, refusing to let some people marry because you don't happen to agree with their choices is paternalism of the worst sort. Plus, (c) homosexuality is a perfectly natural, normal, biological sort of thing. I prefer large breasts; you prefer ripped pecs. Some like both. It's all brain chemistry anyway. Why are we getting so worked up about it? Besides, in another generation (read: once we get the Baby Boomers out of the way), our kids will look back at the whole gay marriage debate as incredulously as we Gen-Xers look at miscegenation laws. Well, we non-Bob Jones Alumni Gen-Xers, anyway.

Back to the initial point...well, actually, I'm not really sure what the initial point was supposed to be. McCain is a hypocrite? Well, yeah, but we already knew that. A big chunk of the GOP consists of racists and homophobes? Check and check. Said racist homophobes hide behind Christianist rhetoric? Yep. Christianists dance to Jimmy's tune? Okay. Oh, well. Take your pick. If I'm not being all that original, then too damn bad. I'm feeling lazy, but told myself that I have to write something even if I don't much feel like it. So there. Demanding bastards.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Everybody Lies

I've acquired a new vice over the holiday period. It's been both wonderful and (at least in some abstract purely intellectual way) a tad distressing. You see, I've managed to become completely addicted. When I get my fix, it's all good. Unfortunately, I find my thoughts drifting throughout the day, looking forward to my next chance, worrying about what will happen when I run out. It's awful. And it's a great rush. Like Vicodin. Only a lot funnier.

I'm talking, of course, about "House," another in a line of very good shows from a network with a (somewhat deserved) reputation for trashy TV. Personally, I'm not usually much of a TV junkie. In fact, I haven't actually had TV service since last spring. And my only TV was the one I got back in grad school. The one with the picture that was always sort of red thanks to the failing picture tube. Divorces are fun that way. Missy, however, has been raving about what a good show "House" really is. And Peter King has been talking about it for three years now. I figured that if a show appeals both to my very intellectual, philosophy major gf and to a SI football columnist, then it's gotta be doing something right. So I watched a couple of episodes at my brother's house this fall. And I was hooked. So much so that I bought the first two seasons on DVD. Presents for Missy. Really. It's for my friend.

Now you all have to understand that I'm a philosopher by long training. Moreover, I'm a philosopher who has a thing for linking philosophy with pop culture. So naturally I've begun to turn my philosopher's eye (it's the left one, in case you're wondering) to "House." There's rather a lot of interesting material, much of which is (or can be, anyway) philosophically interesting, especially if your philosophical interests incline toward ethics. Perhaps most obvious of these is House's rather casual relationship with truth.

For those of you who don't regularly watch the show (come on, try it. just this once. everybody else is.), the central premise is that Dr. House is the kind of doc who actually tells patients all the snarky things that doctors usually just think about their patients. Except that House is brilliant enough that he gets away with it. And he mostly gets away with it by pretty much refusing to have anything at all to do with his patients, preferring instead to send his team of impossibly attractive, brilliant (if not nearly as brilliant as House himself), 20-something doctors to interact with the patients. Meanwhile House sits back in his office waiting for reports from his team, at which point, to paraphrase, House gets their theories, mocks them, then embraces his own. The treatment for which pretty frequently is hugely dangerous, a problem that House avoids by lying to the patients. Or by sending a member of his team to lie to the patient. And, this being television (and House being brilliant), the hugely dangerous treatment based on the hugely unlikely diagnosis (eventually) turns out to be exactly right.

So why the disdain for patients? Because House's guiding principle is that everybody lies. Patients lie about symptoms (I swear I didn't induce my seizures). They lie about their past (Of course this is my biological child). They lie about their actions (Of course I didn't sleep with my daughter the supermodel). You just can't trust patients to tell you the truth. If patients are going to lie, House reasons, then they don't necessarily deserve the truth in return.

In this respect, House's reasoning is very strangely Kantian. Yes, Kant, the guy who famously claims that we have to tell the truth even to the murderer at the door. Kant himself would claim that House can't lie to his patients whatever they might do to him first. Yet there is a Kantian argument for lying back to lying patients. Consider Kant's arguments for capital punishment. Here Kant claims that, in murdering someone, I have said, in effect, that I am okay with the maxim, "I can kill someone who doesn't consent to being killed." In acting on that maxim, I have said that I am okay with treating that maxim as a universal law of nature. And since I've consented to the maxim (that is, since I've accepted that it is okay to treat people in this way), you are merely showing me the respect my autonomy deserves when you treat me in the way that I have said it's okay to be treated. It's strange reasoning, I'll admit. But it's Kant's reasoning.

So let's apply Kant's reasoning to House's lying to patients. If the patient lies to the doctor, then the patient is saying, in effect, that it's okay to lie. So when House lies about the treatment, he respects the patient's autonomy by treating the patient exactly as the patient has consented to be treated.

Obviously there is much more to be said here. House's relationship with the truth is actually far more complicated -- after all, much of what makes the show so amusing is House's tendency to alternate lies with brutal, unvarnished truth. But that's a topic for another post. Right after I watch just one more episode. Stop looking at me like that. I don't have a problem. I can quit anytime. I just don't want to.

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