Saturday, January 22, 2005

Column on L. Summers' Heresy

Confusions from Feminists

Tibor R. Machan

Not very long ago an essay appeared in Professor James P. Sterba?s book,
Morality and Social Justice: Point/Counterpoint (Lanham, MD: Rowman and
Littlefield, 1995), pp. 115-46, by feminist philosopher Alison M. Jaggar,
titled "Toward a Feminist Conception of Moral Reasoning." This piece
argued with great zeal that there are serious differences between the way
women and men think?have to think??about morality. Women stress
cooperation, nurturing, and conciliatory measures in human relations,
whereas men promote competition, aggressiveness, scoring points and so

This piece was just one of numerous writings in which the differences
between men and women were laid out with firm conviction by certain
feminists scholars. Deborah Tanner, for example, had written numerous
popular and scholarly books?for example, Gender and Discourse, Framing
Discourse, Talking Voices, The Power of Talk?in which she had argued that
there are clear differences between how men and women think and talk.

When a few days ago Harvard President Lawrence Summers made reference to
?innate differences? between men and women that could account for why
women aren?t as well represented in some of the sciences as are men, all
hell broke loose. The National Association of Women called for him to
resign his presidency, while others slammed him and denounced the fact
that a man with such prejudices could be leading a top educational
institution in America.

All of this brings to mind for me how when Bill Clinton cavorted with
Monica Lewinsky, hardly a peep was heard from feminists, including NOW,
about the matter, despite the fact that his conduct represented the
starkest example of some men using their power over not just women but
young, inexperienced women in positions of subservience. The Commander in
Chief of the United States of America hitting on an office intern! It
couldn?t get worse. Yet feminists were mostly silent during the entire

They were also silent about the anti-egalitarian theories of Jaggar,
Tanner, and many others who insisted that women are, in fact, different
from men in how they think and talk and conduct themselves. But now that
Lawrence Summers repeats this kind of view, he is being singled out for
condemnation. Why so?

This appears to be an token of the type of thinking that would have it
that only Jews are allowed to make jokes about Jews, only blacks may talk
kid about blacks, and so forth and so on. If a man states that women
differ from women in this or that respect, that?s heresy. If a bunch of
women says so, it must be the result of science and analysis.

Bunk. Common sense, in its admittedly rough and ready form, has always
revealed that men and women are different in certain crucial enough
respects. The question is, ?In just what respects and why so?? It is no
good saying, ?Society made them different,? because then that needs to be
explained. And answering that ?Men have managed to conspire to keep women
different?say, in steering them away from the sciences, politics, business
and so forth??doesn?t work either because that, too, begs the question:
?How did men manage such a feat unless there is something inherently
different between the sexes, even if that is that men are meaner, women
are kinder??

When questions surrounding male and female attributes are politicized, of
course, nothing much good comes of it all. Not only do some of the most
vociferous civil libertarians forget their principles?as the feminists
forgot their because Bill Clinton was a politicians they liked?but
rational investigation of interesting issues suffers.

Summers?whose exact words on this topic are nearly impossible to find via
Google, by the way, because, presumably, he had spoken out of the
limelight?made a suggestions, not much different from what Jaggar and
Tanner and many other women and even some feminist men had made. For some
Summers? suggestion merely served as an opportunity to beat up on a
prominent male in our culture. Too bad. It will probably retard research
for some time to come.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Column on Creationism v. Darwinism

Schools, Government, and Creationism

Tibor R. Machan

No matter how often you point this out, those in the mainstream simply
ignore the issue even though it is central to the controversy. Ever since
the Scopes ?monkey? trial back in 1926, there has been this on-going,
unending battle between secularists and fundamentalist Christians about
whether Darwin?s evolutionary theory should be taught as established fact
in government schools. (Oddly, few talk about whether Einstein, Bohr or
Heisenberg ought to be part of the curriculum. Nor whether the Big Bang
should be included in astrophysics. Nor seems there to be much fuss about
genetics and other sciences. But with evolutionary biology I suppose
things are most directly testy, so people get more excited.)

But the real problem is that government schools exist. The delusion that
you can get religion and values out of education is part of what lulls so
many people into the misguided belief that government education is just
fine. No one would admit this about a government ministry which the US
Constitution explicitly prohibits. Yet schools are rife with lessons about
controversial matters that touch on religion and other matter about which
members of the citizenry are deeply divided. And in a free country there
ought to be no official pressure on them to conform. Yet demanding that
they agree either with the Creationists or with the Darwinists is imposing
pressure on them they cannot escape without considerable cost they ought
not to have to bear.

Suppose government/public schools teach Darwin but one objects and does
not elect to subject one?s children to such teaching. In order to escape,
one must do double jeopardy now?pay the property taxes for the government
school and then pay tuition to the private/religious school of one?s
choice. Or suppose it?s the other way?or, indeed, some way not today in
the limelight. All are surely rank injustice.

It is interesting that the major supporters of government education,
modern liberals, often complain when their taxes go to projects with which
they disagree. During the Vietnam War era they often advocated tax
resistance because their funds were being sent to support a war they found
morally objectionable. And more recently some have proposed similar
measures vis-à-vis Bush?s war in Iraq.

Yet, they see nothing wrong with forcing fundamentalists to pay for
government schools that teach what fundamentalists consider an
abomination. And this includes not only Darwinism but, often, sex
education and other value-laden topics to which children of parents who
object should not be subjected.

In this respect the ACLU, too, is two-faced, as are the pro-choice
people, who endorse choice when it comes to killing a fetus but will not
defend it when it comes to spending one?s wealth as one wishes or not
paying women the same as men in the same job. How come choice is such a
fine thing when the lives of fetuses are at stake but not in most other
areas in which they insist political correctness must rule?

This also points up just how inconsistent many modern liberals are when
it comes to the right to private property. For many of them?certainly some
of their most prolific proselytizers?government really owns all the wealth
in society, not individuals. (This is argued by New York University
Professors Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel in their book, The Myth of
Ownership, Oxford UP 2002.) Taxation, therefore, is not any kind of
confiscation but resource-management by government that properly owns all
the wealth in society.

Yet, folks of the same ilk take part in tax protests when they don?t like
how the government uses the taxes it takes from us. Well, why
protest?government is merely managing things as it sees fit and no one has
any say in the matter once a decision has been reached.

Well, the same can be said about protesting the teaching of either Darwin
or Creationism in government schools. The very institution implies that
there is nothing to protest?they got the power! To remedy it all, let?s
then take it from them and support teaching as we choose, in the varieties
of schools we could have if government didn?t usurp this area of social

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Column on Revisiting the Death Penalty

Revisiting the Death Penalty

Tibor R. Machan

California?s governor wouldn?t give in, nor would the US Supreme Court,
so Donald Beardslee, who killed two women in 1981 over a drug deal?while
supposedly suffering from brain damage?was put to death by lethal
injection on January 19th. As reported in the media, Beardslee's defense
attorney claims that he had brain injury stemming from ?several accidents
during his life,? and, furthermore, in prison ?he was diagnosed as having
schizophrenia.? A former warden reportedly has said that ?Beardslee should
have been granted clemency because he was a model inmate.? But none of
this saved the man from California?s death penalty.

For several decades I have opposed this public policy measure, mainly
because it is grossly imprudent. Of course, some people may well deserve
to die for their evil deeds, murder, rape, treason, or something else
that?s totally intolerable in a civilized society. Nor do I think it is
barbaric to kill criminals, since I do not think it is barbaric to kill in
self-defense and the death penalty may at times defend us from a vicious
murderer who may well kill again.

But there are ways to guard against this. What there is no way to guard
against is the occasional application of the death penalty to someone who
doesn?t in fact deserve it. In short, the probability of a mistake is
significant. So no one ought to risk it because it will at times
perpetrate a great wrong.

This is all about us, yes, not about the criminal. We need to be careful
not to kill people who should not be killed and since there is a chance of
doing this when the penalty is death, we should desist.

There is also the factor of cost. With all the appeals and other
administrative maneuvers associated with every death penalty
sentence?Beardslee lingered in prison for over two decades?the expense is
out of this world, far greater than what life without parole costs. Yet
this is secondary. What should matter most is that a mistake is

Does the death penalty deter people? The late Professor Ernest van den
Haag of the Fordham University School of Law, with whom I used to argue
about this matter, held that view for several decades until near the end
of his life he changed his mind. He still wanted those who deserve it to
be put to death but not because this would work to discourage most
prospective murderers. In the main, murderers, other than professional or
contract killers, do not kill as a result of rationally calculating the
pros and cons. They have usually given up control by the time they kill,
although this isn?t inevitable and in most cases they could have walked
away, done something else. It?s not all that different from when ordinary
folks resort to yelling or violence?they had it in them to abstain but let
go of themselves and resorted to improper ways.

So, a murderer is most likely to be beyond weighing odds, which means
that the threat of the death penalty isn?t likely to do much to dissuade
him or her from going ahead with the deed. And the studies pertaining to
this matter seem to show just that?deterrence is a mere hope and works in
but the rarest cases. So what is left? Death for the sake of retribution,
so van den Haag concluded.

OK, that?s not a bad reason but, given the risks, it cannot carry the
day. There are better options, period.

Some have argued that the death penalty is justified revenge, the
perfectly understandable collective venting of the raw emotion in the face
of a grave wronging of someone. It is a civilized revenge because it is
moderated by due process of law. It isn?t done hastily but deliberately.

Again, there is something to this but it doesn?t offset the major
objection?one can go very wrong with this and there is no remedy. Someone
mistakenly placed in prison for even most of his or her life could at
least be compensated for a mistake. Such a person could then lead a very
rewarding if short life, once the mistake has been established (for
example, via DNA testing). But if there is an execution, this option is
closed. And there need not have been such an irreversible policy?no reason
for it exists given the other options that are available.

There is a lot that?s wrong with the world and this part is really very
simple to repair, with no loss to anyone?life behind bars, with no chance
of parole, surely is almost worst for most than dying.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Column on an American Tragedy

An American Tragedy

Tibor R. Machan

Tragedies are morality plays wherein trying to do the right thing ends
people in terrible troubleÂ?just think of Antigone by Sophocles or Romeo
and Juliet by Shakespeare.

We have an ongoing tragedy afoot in our country. It has to do with the
relationship between our political tradition and the dominant moral
viewpoint. In the political realm everyone is supposed to have the
unalienable right to, among other things, the pursuit of happiness. No,
not to happiness but to pursuing it. None can have a right to happiness
since happiness is something one needs to achieve in lifeÂ?it cannot be
given or secured by government.

Still, having the basic human individual right to the pursuit of
happiness very firmly suggests that there is something proper about such a
pursuit. It is perfectly fine for people to focus on becoming happy.
Usually, this is done by means of pursuing various worthy and fulfilling
objectives, such as finding a rewarding career, seeking a joyful family
life, engaging in pleasant hobbies, and seeking to make sure, as a
citizen, that the country remains free.

Unfortunately, there is in the moral climate of the countryÂ?in what most
priests, ministers, writers, politicians, professors, pundits and such
teach and preachÂ?a contrary message. This message says, in effect, that it
is quite wrong to seek to be happy. The morality that plays well among
those who talk about such things most often is altruism.

As the philosopher W. G. Maclagan made clear, Â?Â?AltruismÂ? [is] assuming a
duty to relieve the distress and promote the happiness of our
fellows....Altruism is to ... maintain quite simply that a man may and
should discount altogether his own pleasure or happiness as such when he
is deciding what course of action to pursue.Â? (pp. 109-110). (Â?Self and
Others: A Defense of Altruism,Â? Philosophical Quarterly 4 [1954]:
109-127.) As usually presented, by ministers or priests or in fiction,
altruism means ranking looking out for others in first place in oneÂ?s list
of moral duties and casting aside oneÂ?s own happiness as negligible. As
the novelist Graham Greene put it, Â?None of us has a right to forget
anyone. Except ourselves.Â? (Looser Takes All [Penguin, 1993, p. 51].)

Now what does this come to? A flat out denunciation of the pursuit of
happiness. To engage in such a pursuit is widely deemed to be morally
wrong. So, the American FounderÂ?s put in place an ideal of politics that
too many of AmericaÂ?s moralists consider wrong. And since they are
entrusted with working out the moral issues of how people ought to live,
what principles they ought to follow in their lives, they are clearly
perpetrating a tragic conflict between the politics and the morality of
the country.

And it shows. Just the other day a letter writer in one of the newspapers
I read every morning made a big deal of how terrible it is that people
enjoy the movie Sideways. This lighthearted fluff is about two rather
unruly young men, neither exactly admirable, touring a region of
CaliforniaÂ?s wine countryÂ?not the usual Napa Valley but the Central
CoastÂ?while one of the sows his wild oats one last time, in, as I say, a
somewhat roguish fashion. The letter writer condemned the movie for
seemingly promoting such an endeavor and mentioned that in contrast to
such a terrible movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding should be embraced as far
more admirable, morally worthy.

This struck me as odd because My Big Fat Greek Wedding embodied one of
the most despicable human tendencies and made it all look so innocent and
quaint, namely, ethnic prejudice. If you recall, in that movie the father
of the young woman is fiercely insistent that she find a Greek mate. No
one else will do. And this is treated as merely amusing.

Now that attitude is truly disgusting. As if virtue resided only within
Greeks (or whatever group one prefers). As if those who donÂ?t belong could
not be worthy, decent, lovable. Such ethnic prejudice is, in fact, morally

But this letter writer found the mild pursuit of pleasure in Sideways
morally awful, while regarding the blind and pointless ethnic loyalties in
the other film admirable.

It is very, very sad, indeed, that too many Americans consider the desire
for a pleasant and happy life something lowly while admiring it when
people embrace loyalties that are irrational and arbitrary and, as in the
case of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, spawning unhappiness for young people.