Freepac Phoenix is this weekend.

As I’ve recently found my admiration and respect for Glenn Beck to be rekindled (so much so that I’ve been getting up at 6 in the morning to catch his entire radio show before class) and Dana Loesch will be there, you can bet your ass I’m going to be in attendance.

It’s rare to have a local political conference of the conservative type (even in this red state). The last one I attended was Right Online in Las Vegas this summer and that was quite an adventure.

It looks like a great line up of speakers at the event, which will include a 2 hour grassroots training seminar and a 3 hour rally from 4pm to 7pm. If you are a local reader, you should shell out the $15 ticket fee and join me there. Tweet me (@MeredithAncret) if you come.

If you don’t come, never fear. I’ll likely be live tweeting at least portions of the event at that same twitter account and I’ll do a write up of the even afterwards.

For a write up on a previous Freepac event, look no further than Dirty Sex & Politics whose author, Donlyn Turnbull, covered their event in Dallas this summer.

PS: Who else is excited to watch Paul Ryan completely humiliate Joe ‘Gaffe’ Biden Thursday night?

Also Atlas Shrugged Part II comes out this Friday. Buy a ticket, support the movie, and drag your friends to see it. I have it on good authority (from CommunismKills on tumblr who went to an early release) that’s much better than the first one and definitely worth your time and money. I’ll post about that after I go to see it as well.


For all those who claimed it would never happen: Atlas Shrugged Part II

This is not the best ad I’ve ever seen for a movie, but the true importance of it is the confirmation that the movie will be made.

Response to Peter Singer’s Solution for World Poverty: The Third Degree

Did you know that the term “The third degree” is thought to have originated from a practice that The Masonic Lodges use?

(Yes, those Masonic Lodges. The movie “National Treasure” didn’t invent the Masons you know. They are a real, slightly creepy, group. I lived across the street from a Masonic Temple for a year…)

In Masonic lodges there are three degrees of membership; the first is called Entered Apprentice, the second Fellowcraft, and the third is master mason. When a candidate receives the third degree in a Masonic lodge, he is subjected to some activities that involve an interrogation and it is more physically challenging than the first two degrees. It is this interrogation that was the source of the name of the US police force’s interrogation technique.

Anyway, interesting bit of trivia from The Phrase Finder.

On to the essay. (Parts I and II here)

One genuine difference between Bob and those who can afford to donate to overseas aid organizations but don’t is that only Bob can save the child on the tracks, whereas there are hundreds of millions of people who can give $200 to overseas aid organizations. The problem is that most of them aren’t doing it. Does this mean that it is all right for you not to do it?

Suppose that there were more owners of priceless vintage cars —Carol, Dave, Emma, Fred and so on, down to Ziggy— all in exactly the same situation as Bob, with their own siding and their own switch, all sacrificing the child in order to preserve their own cherished car. Would that make it all right for Bob to do the same? To answer this question affirmatively is to endorse follow-the-crowd ethics —the kind of ethics that led many Germans to look away when the Nazi atrocities were being committed. We do not excuse them because others were behaving no better.

Singer once again reverts to Poisoning the Well as his attack…and this time he compares it to Nazi Germany. I’m pretty sure that invokes Godwin’s law. Depending on what message board you are talking to, that may or may not mean he automatically loses the argument. While I see no problem with, on occasion, comparing certain people to Hitler and his cronies…I only do it when what they are actually doing is comparable. Once again Singer is blowing his comparisons way out of proportion.

Now you might say that the comparison of the Nazis was just a good example of “follow-the-crowd ethics”. Well I can think of a lot better comparisons that don’t invoke Hitler and the Gestapo. The choice to use the National Socialist party as his comparison (Really hilarious when you consider that this guy appears to love socialism) was intentional, because, as I said in a conversation with The Conservative New Ager last night before we went to see The Debt, the mention of Hitler has a very visceral reaction of disgust from people. It’s why Godwin’s law was created after all, people like comparing others to Hitler in debates, because that tends to scare off their opponent.

We seem to lack a sound basis for drawing a clear moral line between Bob’s situation and that of any reader of this article with $200 to spare who does not donate it to an overseas aid agency. These readers seem to be acting at least as badly as Bob was acting when he chose to let the runaway train hurtle toward the unsuspecting child. In the light of this conclusion, I trust that many readers will reach for the phone and donate that $200. Perhaps you should do it before reading further.

If you have read parts I and II of my reaction to this essay you will realize that what Singer said in that first sentence is completely untrue. I won’t go over that again.

Then he makes this appeal to an irrational emotional reaction. “Go, donate now. Don’t think logically about it. Don’t research the organization. Just donate. Do it because it will make you feel better, after all I’ve done such a good job of making you feel guilty so far right?”

I’m trying desperately to think of the last person I heard on TV to push that idea of “do this now, it’s the right thing. Don’t think about it, just do it. You have a moral obligation. Don’t bother to think critically about what you are doing with the money, just do it. You’ll feel better afterward, I promise.”

Oh right…that was Obama’s “Jobs speech”. Let’s not talk about that right now.

That’s all for now. Except that I want to tack on a bit of an addendum to what I wrote in the last post. Something that The Conservative New Ager said in a comment, but you may not have read the comments. I apparently missed this line in the essay when I discussing the implausibility of Unger/Singer’s “Bob” scenario.

He has invested most of his savings in a very rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti, which he has not been able to insure.

TCNA said that “if something is worth money, there’s an insurance company out there that will insure it–again Singer doesn’t seem to understand how capitalism works–so in reality there would be no economic loss.”

And that’s the truth. If it exacts and it’s worth money, there is a an insurance company that will insure it.

On another side note. I just started reading Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, I might post about it when I finish the book. My parents have also promised to buy me a subscription to Glenn Beck TV for my birthday, which was this past Tuesday. Happy Birthday to me ^_^

My Response to Peter Singer’s Solution for World Poverty: Part II

I’m back!

Let’s jump right back into Singer’s essay shall we. (Part I here)

In his 1996 book, Living High and Letting Die, the New York University philosopher Peter Unger presented an ingenious series of imaginary examples designed to probe our intuitions about whether it is wrong to live well without giving substantial amounts of money to help people who are hungry, malnourished or dying from easily treatable illnesses like diarrhea. Here’s my paraphrase of one of these examples:

Bob is close to retirement. He has invested most of his savings in a very rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti, which he has not been able to insure. The Bugatti is his pride and joy. In addition to the pleasure he gets from driving and caring for his car, Bob knows that its rising market value means that he will always be able to sell it and live comfortably after retirement. One day when Bob is out for a drive, he parks the Bugatti near the end of a railway siding and goes for a walk up the track. As he does so, he sees that a runaway train, with no one aboard, is running down the railway track. Looking farther down the track, he sees the small figure of a child very likely to be killed by the runaway train. He can’t stop the train and the child is too far away to warn of the danger, but he can throw a switch that will divert the train down the siding where his Bugatti is parked. Then nobody will be killed —but the train will destroy his Bugatti. Thinking of his joy in owning the car and the financial security it represents, Bob decides not to throw the switch. The child is killed. For many years to come, Bob enjoys owning his Bugatti and the financial security it represents.

Bob’s conduct, most of us will immediately respond, was gravely wrong. Unger agrees. But then he reminds us that we, too, have opportunities to save the lives of children. We can give to organizations like UNICEF or Oxfam America. How much would we have to give one of these organizations to have a high probability of saving the life of a child threatened by easily preventable diseases? (I do not believe that children are more worth saving than adults, but since no one can argue that children have brought their poverty on themselves, focusing on them simplifies the issues.) Unger called up some experts and used the information they provided to offer some plausible estimates that include the cost of raising money, administrative expenses and the cost of delivering aid where it is most needed. By his calculation, $200 in donations would help a sickly 2-year-old transform into a healthy 6-year-old —offering safe passage through childhood’s most dangerous years. To show how practical philosophical argument can be, Unger even tells his readers that they can easily donate funds by using their credit card and calling one of these toll-free numbers: (800) 367-5437 for Unicef; (800) 693-2687 for Oxfam America.

Now you, too, have the information you need to save a child’s life. How should you judge yourself if you don’t do it? Think again about Bob and his Bugatti. Unlike Dora, Bob did not have to look into the eyes of the child he was sacrificing for his own material comfort. The child was a complete stranger to him and too far away to relate to in an intimate, personal way. Unlike Dora, too, he did not mislead the child or initiate the chain of events imperiling him. In all these respects, Bob’s situation resembles that of people able but unwilling to donate to overseas aid and differs from Dora’s situation.

If you still think that it was very wrong of Bob not to throw the switch that would have diverted the train and saved the child’s life, then it is hard to see how you could deny that it is also very wrong not to send money to one of the organizations listed above. Unless, that is, there is some morally important difference between the two situations that I have overlooked.

I don’t think that anyone would claim that Bob’s action were right, but that has a lot more to with why he chose to let the child die. He did it to save his car.

Now I have not read Unger’s book and Singer admits that he paraphrased the argument, so I am going to put the blame for this strange little combination of a Strawman fallacy and the fallacy of Poisoning the Well directly on Singer. Why these two? Because Singer is both corrupting the actual arguments of the people that oppose him, by assuming that their arguments are all about keeping their money for themselves and not helping others, and making them look like monsters who would rather let a child die than sacrifice their material possessions.

First lets address the fact that the hypothetical situation that Unger/Singer puts to us is extraordinarily unlikely to ever happen. Any man who loved his car that much would never park it on an active railroad siding, in fact, as the car was an investment, he likely wouldn’t have driven it much at all. Never mind the fact that if the child was too far away to hear a runaway train coming at him down the track and too far away to hear Bob shouting at him, he is likely to far away for Bob to see him the first place.

Now let’s address, without considering Bob’s action of saving his car instead of the child, whether switching a runaway train to another railway track would have been a smart thing to do.

I am not a railroad engineer, I doubt many of you reading this are. I don’t know what sort of damage I could do to a train by switching a runaway train onto a separate track could do. By saying it’s a runaway train I’m going to assume they mean the brakes are out, so it’s going very fast. So will it tip over if I switch the tracks and cause it to jerk to side suddenly? Is it a passenger train? If it is, then tipping it over could kill or injure hundreds of passengers. What if it’s a train that is carrying hazardous chemicals or waste? If it tips over in that case, the waste or chemicals could explode or seep into the surrounding environment. Depending on how close we are to a city, that could also kill or injure hundreds or thousands of people.

So Singer has simplified things down, but ended up not giving us enough information to actually make an ethical decision. In either of the situations I just laid out, the death of that child, though regrettable and awful, would be the better option. Especially if there is a possibility that the train can be stopped safely further down the track.

Now you might say “Well how does that apply to solving world hunger? Maybe you tore up that comparison, but giving to UNICEF or some other charity to help feed children would still be a good thing right? There couldn’t possibly be a bad outcome from that.”

Well that depends on what you see as a bad outcome I suppose. What do these charities actually do? As far as I know, they feed people, bring them aid. There is nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, except that it’s merely a stopgap measure. The people are still poor and uneducated, the countries are still overpopulated and, in all likelihood, the next generation will be just as large and just as poor and just as hungry. And guess who gets to take care of that generation? That’s right, you’re kids. They get to be shamed and bullied by people like Singer and told they are as bad as murderers if they don’t give up all their money to charity…until all the world’s troubles have been solved.

Ayn Rand saw that too.

Do you care to imagine what it would be like, if you had to live and to work, when you’re tied to all the disasters and all the malingering of the globe? to work – and whenever any men failed anywhere, it’s you who would have to make up for it. To work – with no chance to rise, with your meals and your clothes and your home and your pleasure depending on any swindle, any famine, any pestilence anywhere on earth. To work – with no chance for an extra ration, till the Cambodians have been fed and the Patagonians have been sent through college. To work – on a blank check held by every creature born, by men whom you’ll never see, whose needs you’ll never know, whose ability or laziness or sloppiness or fraud you have no way to learn and no right to question – just to work and work and work – and leave it up to the Ivys and the Geralds of the world to decide whose stomach will consume the effort, the dreams and the days of your life. And this is the moral law to accept? This – a moral ideal?

One of the other issues I see with these charities is that you often have no idea where your money is going or how it is being spent. To be fair, Singer addresses that…though not very well.

Is it the practical uncertainties about whether aid will really reach the people who need it? Nobody who knows the world of overseas aid can doubt that such uncertainties exist. But Unger’s figure of $200 to save a child’s life was reached after he had made conservative assumptions about the proportion of the money donated that will actually reach its target.

So, let me get this straight. It shouldn’t matter where the rest of that $200 goes, just that someone has done the figures and knows that if I donate $200 enough of it will eventually get to a child to save his or her life?

Let me tell you a story about where money has a tendency to go when you give it to charities. This story is true, but, of course not indicative if ALL charities. Only a warning to look closely how your money is being spent when you donate it.

Several years ago my mother and father ran a small business in Arkansas. The police in that state had a program that ran on charity, where they gave Teddy bears to children who were in car accidents. A good program and one that is copied in states all throughout this country in some fashion.

The police hired out to an organization that collected money for the charity and they called up my parent’s business asking for a donation. My father said ‘sure, sounds great. If I donate $100, how much will go towards buying Teddy bears?’ my dad is paranoid about these things, and rightly so. Yes, he passed that paranoia on to me.

He requested a breakdown of how donations were spent. Which, in case you didn’t know, is your right to do per federal law. You can request this report from any charitable organization asking for donations. If they refuse, something fishy is going on and you should not donate and should, in fact, report them to your local Better Business Bureau.

My father found out that about 18% of each donation was spent on Teddy bears and 65% was spent on ‘administrative costs’. In other words, the organization kept $.65 of every dollar you donated as payment for collecting donations.
Of course 65% and 18% only add up to 83% and he called back to find out where the other 17% was going.

He was told it went to the police officer’s pension fund. He was then asked if he wanted to donate. He, of course, said no.

My response would have been: ‘sure, where do you buy the Teddy bears? I’ll buy $100 worth and have them shipped to the police station.’

Why? Because if I want to give money to give Teddy bears to traumatized children that is what I want to do, I don’t want to pay into a pension fund, which my taxes are supposed to be paying for in the first place, and I CERTAINLY don’t want to pay for the administrative costs of a glorified call center.

This is what Singer forgets to mention. That you really don’t know where your money is going when it goes to many charities and that, frankly, worries me a lot.

When we are talking about pension plans and administrative costs it pisses me off, but when the money is vanishing into third world nations that are controlled by warlords and drug lords and terrorists as much as, or more than, by their own governments… Do we really know where most of that money is going? Do you know who has to be paid off to get food and aid to the poor? Do you know what you may be, unintentionally, funding?

Of course, another thing Singer forgets to mention is that most of the “choir” he is preaching to aren’t really donating to help others. They are donating because it makes them feel better, because money is evil and they feel Oh So Guilty about being Born Into Privilege because they live in the United States.

I don’t know about you, but being born in a certain country doesn’t equate to privilege to me. I mean, this is a great country and all, but I work hard to get what I want and I intend to keep it…and when I give it away it’s on my terms…not Singer’s.

Peter Singer’s Solution for World Poverty has more philosophical and logical holes than a seive.

And I had to read this piece of garbage for my English 105 class. For a philosophy or even an economics class I can understand, but for an English class? There was no reason to make us read this.

I was asked multiple times while I was reading this essay if I was okay, because the further I read the further my jaw dropped and the wider my mouth opened. I probably looked rather scary to be honest. All I could say when I finished was that I was actually going to douse the book in gasoline and light it on fire when the semester ended. Considering I actually think that book burning is a worse thing than burning a country’s flag, you can see how serious I am. I told the other person in the hotel room with me that I had possibly just read one of the singularly most morally reprehensible things ever…for multiple reasons.

The first being that it actually read like a real life application of the “moral” code that destroyed the Twentieth Century Motor Company in Atlas Shrugged. You can sort of distance yourself from that story when you read it in Ayn Rand’s book, because it’s fictional. When you find someone talking about doing something similar in real life; advocating those same principles and actually believing they will work, it is much harder to distance yourself.

The second issue is that Singer writes this essay as if he is so completely right. That there is no way you could ever argue with his philosophy or logic. He is so self-assured and, I suppose, that a man who has written so many books that are widely recognized and read and a man who has taught in huge colleges and universities, might have cause to feel self-assured about his logic and philosophies.

The problem is…I think that the only people who would believe his writing are those that already support his ideas. He is ‘preaching to the choir’ as they say. The point of any good philosophical book or essay should be to make those of the opposing view actually question their views…not laugh at you…or feel the need to throw up or take a shower after reading it.

I’m 21 years old and on my first reading of this essay I was already picking his logic and philosophy apart. If a 21 year old, Journalism student can do that, clearly you have some issues with either your writing or premises. In Singer’s case…I would say it’s a bit of both, a lot of the latter though.

By all means, before I rip this essay apart with my bare hands and liberal use of my teeth, read it for yourself.  Form your own opinion on it first. Then read what I have to say and see if you agree. If you don’t, then let me know. I would love to know what other points of view this essay could be read from.

Read it?

Okay, this is going to be a long one. Maybe I’ll break it into pieces.

In the Brazilian film “Central Station,” Dora is a retired schoolteacher who makes ends meet by sitting at the station writing letters for illiterate people. Suddenly she has an opportunity to pocket $1,000. All she has to do is persuade a homeless 9-year-old boy to follow her to an address she has been given. (She is told he will be adopted by wealthy foreigners.) She delivers the boy, gets the money, spends some of it on a television set and settles down to enjoy her new acquisition. Her neighbor spoils the fun, however, by telling her that the boy was too old to be adopted —he will be killed and his organs sold for transplantation. Perhaps Dora knew this all along, but after her neighbor’s plain speaking, she spends a troubled night. In the morning Dora resolves to take the boy back.

Suppose Dora had told her neighbor that it is a tough world, other people have nice new TV’s too, and if selling the kid is the only way she can get one, well, he was only a street kid. She would then have become, in the eyes of the audience, a monster. She redeems herself only by being prepared to bear considerable risks to save the boy.

At the end of the movie, in cinemas in the affluent nations of the world, people who would have been quick to condemn Dora if she had not rescued the boy go home to places far more comfortable than her apartment. In fact, the average family in the United States spends almost one-third of its income on things that are no more necessary to them than Dora’s new TV was to her. Going out to nice restaurants, buying new clothes because the old ones are no longer stylish, vacationing at beach resorts —so much of our income is spent on things not essential to the preservation of our lives and health. Donated to one of a number of charitable agencies, that money could mean the difference between life and death for children in need.

All of which raises a question: In the end, what is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one —knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?

Singer asks his first question. One with I will answer, with ease I might add.

There is an obvious distinction here. That distinction is how the money that being spent is made. I know for a liberal like Singer, who clearly sees money as evil (A true “Bertram Scudder”) (note I say “a liberal like Singer” so don’t come shouting at me, “I’m a liberal and I DON’T think money is evil!” Clearly you aren’t like Singer then.), would find it difficult to understand the difference between money that is made ethically and money that is obtained by selling a child to have his organ’s harvested on the black market.

Instead of comparing Dora (a woman who took money for doing something she believed was right, only to later discover that she was wrong and then does her best to fix her mistake) to a family using their ethically earned income to buy themselves luxury items. A better comparison could be made between Dora and the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company.This CEO makes hundreds of thousands of dollars off of a drug that his company been developing for years. This drug is supposed to do great things. Only after it starts to be prescribed, people start getting sick or dying because of an unforeseen side affect or a side affect that one of the scientists covered up in tests. The CEO didn’t know he was doing anything unethical by putting the drug on the market, but when he finds out something is wrong he does a total recall of the drug and begins doing his best to make amends for what he, unwittingly, did.

In Singer’s defense, he admits there are differences between the two scenarios…however the difference he sees are definitely not the ones I’m see.

Of course, there are several differences between the two situations that could support different moral judgments about them. For one thing, to be able to consign a child to death when he is standing right in front of you takes a chilling kind of heartlessness; it is much easier to ignore an appeal for money to help children you will never meet. Yet for a utilitarian philosopher like myself —that is, one who judges whether acts are right or wrong by their consequences— if the upshot of the American’s failure to donate the money is that one more kid dies on the streets of a Brazilian city, then it is, in some sense, just as bad as selling the kid to the organ peddlers. But one doesn’t need to embrace my utilitarian ethic to see that, at the very least, there is a troubling incongruity in being so quick to condemn Dora for taking the child to the organ peddlers while, at the same time, not regarding the American consumer’s behavior as raising a serious moral issue.

The American economy, in fact the economy of most of the world, is built on production and consumption. Of course, the more I read about Singer’s background and his philosophies, the more I realize that we will always disagree because he would much more prefer a socialist society where no one really owns anything, no one is actually paid for anything, they only get enough to take care of their basic needs (his argument exactly, later in the essay). Yes, because that has always worked so well. *rolls eyes*

Singer’s essay is not horribly long, but I don’t want to post my response to it in one large post…that would be a little overwhelming. For me and for you.

So I’ll post this tonight and continue my response tomorrow. See you then!