caro thinks

Wild things
I think I love you.
date 2000-11-06:02:43
fallacies There's something about Objectivism that makes it seem OK to psychologize. What is it? Rand was fond of ascribing motives to people. She thought she had it all figured out; she knew why people were altruists, why they w ere Marxists, what psychological features were necessary for liking certain colors rather than others.

It sounds so plausible. And it's so Freudian.

If there is even one case that runs contrary to a theory, then you have to back off the universality of the theory, even if the theory is about human psychology. If there are several, then your theory starts to look pretty inaccurate. I know my own case. In my case, I used to believe that socialism was a good idea, not because I felt I was too weak to handle reality, but because I thought other people were--and not all of them, but some of them. What was wrong with my thinking, was that I was only focusing on a very narrow class of people (children, mostly, but pe ople who were variously incapacitated, or very elderly, too), and I simultaneously failing to take into account the broader context (which I won't go into here). I know from my own case that it was not that I wanted someone to take care of me. I di dn't feel I needed to be cared for. It never even occurred to me (until I started hearing accusations regarding my motives) that I might be the recipient of the benefits. And this wasn't selflessness on my part, either: I just figured I'd do my thi ng, other people would do theirs, and we'd all contribute to the pot so that people who needed it would benefit. Nor was it that I just generally had a bad opinion of people: children really can't take care of themselves, and certain incapacities prevent adults from doing so.

This all made perfect sense to me, and there were people before me who had thought about these things to (whatever their motives were--I assume they were similar to mine). And they had a fairly neat little plan which was no t quite implemented in my country. I thought a great deal about variations on the plan and justifications therefor. I read Rawls and Waltzer and Marx and a great deal of literature from all ages, and the facts and the opinions and the arguments all seemed to point in one direction:

Socialism was good.

I can remember making certain kinds of arguments, when I was first confronted with this strange beast, the Objectivist. I remember arguing that this wasn't too dissimilar from requiring tha t people get innoculations in order to live in a certain area, and paying for the vaccine and the service for people who couldn't pay themselves. Why? Because people who aren't innoculated get sick, and since the technology is not perfect I could still ge t sick even if I'd had the vaccine, or children could get sick, and it was worth it to me to pay taxes in order to prevent this. Socialism in general was like this. You just don't want desperate people lying around, because desperate people turn to crime, and I become a potential victim. In fact, it was difficult for me to wrap my mind around the idea that socialism was related to altruism. That might have been the way other people with higher ideals thought of it, but not me!

The first time I m ade the above argument from analogy, I was straightforwardly accused of believing in slavery. I hardly knew what to say, it was such an absurd notion. Denials were of no avail: I simply believed in slavery, or I couldn't possibly have an argument for taxa tion enter my head at all. Well, I can be a stubborn little analytic philosopher, and I don't usually succumb to name-calling tactics, so I just bit the bullet and said, "OK, OK! So I guess I believe in slavery, if that's the way you define it." I expecte d my "opponent" to relax then, my having granted him his premise for the sake of argument. But devil's advocacy, I was to learn the hard way, had no place in orthodox Objectivism. He stalked away from me, muttering "Jesus!" as though I'd just revealed how very corroded my soul was. Since I didn't believe in slavery any more than I lusted after power, I was stunned by this display of moral indignation in the middle of what I thought was a philosophical discussion.

Certainly, I could lie. You would never know. But all I can say is, look into your own heart. Did socialism ever strike you as even moderately plausible, or did you know any good person who did? If so, was the motivation really an evil one? Was the motivation to control people? Was it an expression of hatred of humanity? Was it power lust? I suppose it is a kind of power, to be able to prevent children from dying of starvation or suffering from abuse and neglect, but I fail to see the evil desiring it.

I don't say that this is impossible. People have bad motives for ever so many things that are good in consequence or in appearance. But, you know, it just would never have occurred to me, before that discussion, that anyone might believe that taxation was a good thing, because sh e wanted to wield power over someone else or wanted to own slaves.

Metaphors are a neat rhetorical device. "Taxation is slavery" is an elegant slogan. But slogans can only be taken seriously if, when the metaphor is dismantled and analyzed, the t wo concepts really do have the same referents, or at least have something to do with each other. Metaphors can't go proxy for careful thought, though they so often do.
wildlife Children count as wildlife, don't they? A few weeks ago when I was wandering down the beach looking for interesting creatures, two large ones walked up to me and requested my assistance. The 8-year-old asked me to strap her boogie board cord to her wrist. The 6-year-old thought that looked like a good idea, so she had me tie hers to the opposite wrist. They thanked me, and then they dashed into the sea. Funny thing is, it obviously hadn't occurred to them that they migh t make use of each other this way. Well, I was born to serve...

The patio rats have not been around for a while. Either they have already grown up and aren't making as much of a commotion as they did while they were teenagers, or they've been poi soned. I miss them digging up my soil in my pots.
Tom Looks like I accidentally beat you to talking about evil. I'm not even sure how I got onto it, but it seems to have been a productive detour. Your turn. And even though I have been relieved of the responsibility of writ ing the paper on pornography, I appear to be writing one anyway.
pornography Public nudity: I've never really understood the fuss about public nudity. I was explaining to some friends recently that I thought it was a bit strange that I could go to the beach practically naked and no one w ould make any comment, while if I walked off the beach and onto the street, my almost-nudity became cause for loud and obnoxious comment from men in cars driving by.

I continued by saying that I thought it was silly that on Black's Beach, one cou ld be completely naked, while on the adjacent La Jolla Shores beach, this was unacceptable.

The idea was then put forth that there were certain contexts in which nudity is ok, because the sexual organs are sacred (in some secular sense) an d should be hidden from view except in limited contexts. Not much of an argument was forthcoming at the time, but in view of the definitions I looked up and reported here last night, pornography and public nudity would seem to be related in the sense tha t, if one is morally wrong, maybe the other is too.

The intent may be different, but I'm usually suspicious of judgments that must be based on intent. In particular, I can say that the intent of an action was immoral, without committing m yself to the judgment thatthe act itself was immoral. For example, I could praise someone's unusual attributes with the intent of exposing them, hoping to embarrass the person whose attributes they are, while seeming to admire. The intent is evil; but pra ising someone's attributes is not. I can also do terrible things without intending to: if I kill someone in my car because I wasn't able to break fast enough, the killing of the person was evil, but the intent was not. I have done evil, by accident.

So, back to pornography. Last night's definition said that pornography's intent was to create sexual excitement. Leaving aside the question of whether that is evil, or evil in certain contexts, that may or may not be the intent of walking naked on Bla ck's Beach. One may only intend to experience freedom from clothing in the outdoors, or to get an even tan, or any of a number of other things. Whereas pornography doesn't seem to have any other intent.

Reason Number Six to Live in La Jolla


It's early November, and the poinsettia I bought for Christmas last year started to turn red again in the last couple of days. It will be in full bloom by Christmas. You thought Santa brought them, didn't you.

They are native to this area, and they grow here all by themselves. Well, they come from Mexico and southward, but La Jolla being plant heaven, they're h appy here. There are some properties around the neighborhood that have pointsettias that have grown to a height and spread of 10 feet,small tender trees with crooked stems. All year, except for about two late summer months, those bright red bracts flutter in the breeze. (Bio note: Petals are distinctly different from leaves and serve a different function. The little yellow centers of pointsettias are the flowers, while the red parts are red leaves.)

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