Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Ezra’

Combatants and human shields: some inchoate thoughts on the ethics of war

In Just War, Philosophy on July 14, 2014 at 5:17 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s  Place on July 10th 2014, 2:25 pm

The ethics of war, as we tend to understand it in the West, is handed down to us through the Catholic tradition. Just War Theory is broken down into two important areas (using pretentious Latin names) – jus ad bellum(legitimate reasons to go to war) and jus in bello (legitimate actions in war). For this post I am considering the actions in war: jus in bello.

There is a rule that is widely accepted and built into the Geneva Convention: non-combatants have immunity from attack. The term “non-combatants” tends to be used as opposed to “civilians” as it encompasses, as examples away from civilians, prisoners of war, army chaplains and army doctors who also cannot be deliberately targeted.

The Catholic tradition has built into it something known as the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE). This doctrine differentiates between what is intended and what is foreseen but unintended. Consider the following: a combatant from Ruritania fires a missile into a city of Boldavia with the deliberate intent of killing Boldavian non-combatants (civilians). This is clearly prohibited by the Just War Doctrine. It breaches the idea that non-combatants are not to be deliberately targeted. Now consider the Boldavians. Fed up with missiles being fired into their cities targeting civilians they fire a bigger missile back specifically at the Ruritanians’ missile factory. When doing so the Boldavians foresee that not only will they destroy the missile factory as intended, but they will also realistically kill some civilians who happen to be in the area. These civilian deaths are foreseen but unintended. Using a standard military euphemism, they are “collateral damage.”

A way to think of the differences between the two cases is that the Ruritanians will feel they have wasted a missile if they have not killed Boldavian civilians whereas the Boldavians would be delighted if there were no civilians killed when they destroyed the Ruritanians missile factory. The deaths of the civilians is a bad consequence of the Boldavian action not an intended one. The Doctrine of Double Effect sets out the conditions that allow these foreseen but unintended bad consequences. The key points being that the bad effects are not intended, the act itself was a good one (eg destroying the missile factory) and that the foreseen bad effect is proportional. What is and what is not proportional can be in practice a hotly disputed matter.

Now consider human shields. I will break them down into two types: non-voluntary human shields and voluntary human shields. A non-voluntary human shield is simple to comprehend. It could be, for example, a child who is kidnapped and tied to the front of a tank, or patients in a hospital from which missiles are being fired. It is in breach of the ethics of war to use such human shields. Doing so should be seen as a war crime. But does this mean that the use of such human shields prohibits the targeting of a building used in such a way? The answer, in standard war ethics, can be found by applying the Doctrine of Double Effect.

Imagine the Ruritanians are firing not very accurate or powerful missiles into Boldavia from the roof of a hospital that contains one hundred patients. The Boldavians could destroy that missile capability but to do so they would also destroy the hospital foreseeing the deaths of the patients. If, as said, the Ruritanians’ missiles are not very accurate or powerful and, in practice, strike terror into Boldavians as opposed to killing them, it seems disproportionate for the Boldavians to target the Ruritanians’ hospital missile base. However, if the Ruritanians’ missiles get more and more powerful and more and more accurate, then targeting the hospital missile base might well be justified as it could be proportional. Consider, in the extreme, that the hospital missile base contained a nuclear missile that could wipe out a city of millions. The hospital patients’ immunity from being killed by a legitimate military action by the Boldavians is greater the more ineffective the Ruritanians’ missiles are.

Voluntary human shields are a different case entirely. Imagine Ruritanian civilians who answer a plea from a Ruritanian military general to sit on the roof of a building that contains military weapons. The purpose of them sitting on the roof – they understand. They are to be human shields whose mere presence is to deter the Boldavians destroying the building. I wish to argue that because they voluntarily respond to a military call they cease being non-combatants and become combatants. To explain further. Imagine Ruritania has a population of one million with 50,000 combatant members of its army. They have 1,000 missile bases. In advance of any military actions the head of the army puts out a call and asks for volunteers to sit in or near these military installations. Imagine 20,000 volunteer to do so. These 20,000 people, I would argue, become crucial to the military strategy of the Ruritanians. Because of the nature of their role I take the view that it should ethically fail: the human shields become combatants and not non-combatants and are thus they lose their immunity from attack. The proportionality requirement is relaxed. Boldavians do not need to be as concerned if voluntary human shields seated on the roof of the missile store lose their lives in an attack on the missile store if the missile store is a legitimate target.


It has been brought to my attention on Twitter by Mugwump that my views on the differing treatment of voluntary versus non voluntary human shields are not original. They are in line with Yoram Dinstein’s interpretation of international law. These views were published in his book, The Conduct of Hostilities Under the Law of International Armed Conflict, (Cambridge University Press, 2004) pp.130-131. The relevant pages can be accessed freely via Google Books, here.

The Socialist Idea Refuted

In Libertarianism, Marxism, Nozick, Philosophy on June 30, 2014 at 5:23 PM

Book Review

Jason Brennan, Why Not Capitalism? (Routledge, 2014) 120pp.

In 2009 G.A (Jerry) Cohen’s short book, Why Not Socialism? defending socialism was posthumously published by Princeton University Press. Jason Brennan’s book, just published by Routledge, is a response to Cohen. A more accurate title for the book might have been Why G.A. Cohen is Wrong. However, as Brennan is defending capitalism, and no doubt with an eye on sales, his own choice of title more suits his purpose.

While Brennan’s book can be read and understood by those without the background, it is a work of political philosophy and will be more appreciated by those with at least an elementary background in the work of twentieth century political philosophers, Robert Nozick, John Rawls, and G.A. Cohen.

A similarity between Cohen’s book and Brennan’s book is the cover design. If a book defending socialism can have a single red rose on its cover, then a book defending capitalism can have a bunch of roses.  Perhaps Brennan’s cover design has a further resonance when one considers his final sentence prior to his concluding chapter. Turning Mao Zedong’s notorious statement on its head, Brennan asserts, “The slogan of a capitalist utopia might be something like, ‘Let a hundred flowers blossom.’”

In defending socialism Cohen came out with a thought experiment. He compares two different types of societies to two versions of a camping trip. In the socialist camping trip everyone mucks in. One person brings a tent, one person catches fish, one person does the cooking etc. Everyone assists each other and it is a wonderful way to live. In a capitalist camping trip, the owner of the tent would charge rent to other campers, the cook would want to charge people for cooking and so it goes on. Capitalism, in Cohen’s world, is awful. Greed and selfishness are features of capitalist society. And these features are morally repugnant.  The camping trip thought experiment is a powerful argument for socialism, or so it might seem prima facie. Brennan’s short book exposes a dramatic flaw that he has found in it.

Cohen’s fallacious reasoning is that he is comparing idealised Marxism with a realistic but flawed capitalist system. Brennan is justified in arguing that one should either compare realistic Marxism with realistic capitalism or idealised Marxism with idealised capitalism. If one were to compare realistic Marxism with realistic capitalism then a simple comparison would be Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China to Truman or Nixon’s America. Capitalism wins. Just as we have not experienced idealised Marxism so we have not experienced idealised capitalism. If Cohen can construct an idealised version of Marxism by using his camping trip example, then Brennan can construct an idealised version of capitalism. He does this by noting that life portrayed in the village of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is akin to idealised capitalism. Brennan parodies Cohen by setting up the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Village whereby the villagers “cooperate with a common desire that everyone have the freedom and resources to flourish under their own conceptions of the good life. Everyone operates on principles of mutual concern, tolerance, and respect. They live together happily, without envy, glad to trade value for value, glad to give and share, glad to help those in need, and never disposed to free ride, take advantage of, coerce, or subjugate one another.”

Brennan notes that there is “an essential asymmetry in the capitalist and the socialist versions of utopia.” An idealised capitalist utopia would allow a group of people to set up a socialist commune. The socialists would be permitted to own property communally just as the capitalists would be able to own property individually. However, in the socialist utopia, all property would be owned communally and capitalist acts such as owning property individually would be forbidden. In part, this is a reason why idealised capitalism is better than idealised Marxism.

Brennan aims to show that idealised capitalism is better than idealised Marxism and that realistic capitalism is better than realistic Marxism. It is a tall order to suggest that he has managed to do this well enough to convince sufficient amounts of doubters in his short book, but what I think he has done well is demonstrate that Cohen’s argument based on the camping trip thought experiment is flawed.

UCL Student Union ban Nietzsche Club

In Freedom of Expression, Libertarianism, Marxism on June 9, 2014 at 12:15 PM

This is  cross-post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on June 6th 2014, 5:40 pm.

The policy of “No Platform for Racists and Fascists,” historically adopted by many student unions, is ideologically appalling. Not only is it an affront to the doctrine of free speech, it has been thoroughly abused by its supporters. Anybody that they do not like can be targeted for banning. The latest successful attack is on the Nietzsche Club at University College London.

UCL Student Union have passed a policy to “ban and otherwise prevent the installation of any further publicity of [the Nietzsche Club] around UCLU buildings, and to urge UCL to adopt the same policy in the university buildings.” They have also resolved to “reject any attempts by this group to seek affiliation and official recognition from UCLU as an official club or society.” A further resolution passed is to “prevent any attempts by this group to hold meetings and organise events on campus.” However, this latter resolution is pending implementation subject to a professional opinion on its legality. Irrespective of the legal opinion, following the other resolutions passed, the Nietzsche Club will not be able to advertise their meetings in the Student Union or book a room to hold a meeting in the Student Union. In the language of student union politics, this is an effective ban.

The Student Union believe that “this group is aimed at promoting a far-right, fascist ideology at UCL” and that “there is no meaningful distinction to be made between a far-right and a fascist ideology.” There is no question that it is Marxist inspired political views behind this policy. The motion tells us that “the root cause of fascism [is] capitalism” and hence the fight against fascism is really one for a “socialist transformation of society.”  Moreover, among the crimes, according to UCLU, of Nietzsche, Heidegger and other philosophers that the Nietzsche Club wish to read, are that they are “anti-Marxist [and] anti-worker.”

There is no need to comment on the political views of the philosophers that the Nietzsche Club wish to read. Even if they are fascistic, that is no reason to ban groups who wish to read their works. It seems to me a small political step from UCLU wishing to ban the Nietzsche Club to wishing to march into UCL’s libraries, pulling books written by Nietzsche from the shelves, and burning them. At any rate, one wonders what UCLU wish to do with UCL’s own academic departments that teach Nietzsche on accredited courses for students. Does the Student Union wish to close down the courses and hound the lecturers from the College?

Nobody should be the slightest bit surprised that Marxists are behind the  hideous motion. Sam Bayliss, who proposed the motion, is a self-declared active member of UCLU Marxist Society and Timur Dautov, who seconded the motion, is the president of the very same Marxist Society. In hisTwitter biography Dautov admits to being a supporter of Socialist Appeal UK and the International Marxist Tendency, follow on organisations from the Militant Tendency, the Marxist organisation that caused mayhem in the Labour Party in the early 1980s. Marxist organisations are notorious for using and abusing the “No Platform” policy. In the past, the Socialist Workers Party used such a policy to ban Jewish Societies on the grounds that they were Zionist and hence racist.

The irony is that if any societies should be banned for promoting dangerous ideologies, after genocides in Communist countries in the twentieth century causing tens of millions of deaths, those that champion the ideology of Marx and Lenin should be high on the list. But surely, rather than banning either the Nietzsche Club or the Marxist Society, it is far better to champion free thought and free speech in our academic institutions.

Publish the Blair/Bush Letters

In Iraq, Just War on June 5, 2014 at 11:06 AM

This is a cross-post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place, June 5th 2014, 10:22 am

It appears the Cabinet Office has blocked publication of the George Bush/Tony Blair  correspondence that was written in the run up to the Iraq War.  All that can be published is the “gist” of what Blair said and nothing to indicate Bush’s views. The reason for blocking the publication is either for the Cabinet Office’s independent reasons or because they do not wish to antagonise the Americans.

Writing in The Times (subscription required), Melanie Phillips has said:

Publishing this correspondence would breach the understanding that dialogue between world leaders is necessarily private. It would undermine trust that any such future conversations would remain undisclosed, causing lasting damage to Britain’s relations with the US and thus to British interests.

I wish to dispute this premise. The world leaders in question are the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the then President of the United States of America. Both were elected as leaders in democracies. As such they serve the population that they represent. They made decisions that ultimately led to British and American citizens, who had signed up to the army in their respective countries, going to war and risking their lives. Some died.

Any correspondence between Bush and Blair surrounding a decision to go to war should not remain private for ever. Such conversations are not like those asking each other what they had for breakfast. I do not believe that it is in the interests of the British and American populations that such conversations remain private. They should be official public records. In recent memory we have had a “thirty year rule” before public records come into the public domain. This is gradually being reduced to twenty years. There was a considered proposal to reduce it to fifteen years. In my personal opinion, for a lot of material, I do not see why it cannot be released within ten years or even earlier. It has been over eleven years since the commencement of the Iraq War and I can see no reason why it should be necessary to keep such correspondence away from the eyes of the public.

Melanie Phillips’ concern that publication of the correspondence “would undermine trust that any such future conversations would remain undisclosed,” is misplaced. We should not want our leaders to be able to act with impunity. It would be damaging to a liberal democracy if it were so.  Leaders should be held responsible and accountable for their actions. That would not be possible if those actions were kept secret. It is true that it would be bad mannered for the British government to publish private correspondence from an American President without permission if that correspondence has not yet been made public in America, but I think it is reasonable to suggest that if the British and American governments can cooperate on going to war, they should be able to cooperate on publishing correspondence about that decision.

Hat Tip: The Steeple Times.

Racism at the Libertarian Alliance

In Ayn Rand, Libertarianism, Racism on May 26, 2014 at 4:20 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally posted at Harry’s Place on May 23rd 2014, 1:45 pm

On Tuesday evening I attended a talk by Dr. Jan Lester entitled “A Critical Commentary on the Zwolinski 2013 ‘Libertarianism and Liberty’ Essays on libertarianism.org.” It was hosted by the Libertarian Alliance at the Institute of Education in London. In itself it was an interesting talk, although it was largely an argument by one self-declared libertarian that another self-declared libertarian does not have a theory of freedom or liberty. (This could be compared to a lecture by a member of Workers’ Power claiming that the Socialist Workers Party does not understand Marxism.)  A video of the talk can be seen here.

Like many political meetings across the political spectrum – and I have attended many such gatherings – the evening ended with a visit to the bar.  In the last year I have attended a few meetings by the Libertarian Alliance and the same faces turn up.

I was quite shocked by the brazenly racist comments made by some of the people in the bar.

As examples, I heard black people referred to as “macaroons” – where the term macaroons was explained as a derivative of “coons.” One of the attendees (who is white) mentioned that he was once, physically assaulted for no reason by a black man. He concluded from this that this was evidence of “a race war.”

Libertarians would view it as a violation of the liberty of a racist to prevent him from expressing racist views. People have the right, in libertarian theory, to be racist.  Libertarians are in favour of free speech and would be against any laws that would make the expression of a racist view illegal. A libertarian would also permit a company to have a sign on its door saying “No black people admitted.” Likewise a company would be permitted to advertise for jobs saying “It is our company policy not to employ black people.”

This might be shocking to some but it is important to understand what libertarianism is about. And what it is about is liberty. According to the libertarian conception of justice, there is justice if everyone acts within his rights. As a black person has no right to be employed by a company, he has not been wronged if a company will not offer him a job. A black person might be offended if a company does not offer him a job – but he has no right not to be offended. This is what libertarians think.

But just because libertarians would permit racist views  and racist employment practices in the private sector, it does not necessarily follow that they either approve of or encourage racism. As a comparison, libertarians are also in favour of repealing any laws that make drugs or guns illegal – but that does not mean to say that they wish to start injecting heroin or shooting people. In fact, racism as a concept would be an anathema to many libertarians qua libertarians for the following reason: libertarians champion the individual, not the collective. Ayn Rand (The Virtue of Selfishness, [Signet, 1964], pp.147-48) expressed it as follows:

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to man’s genetic lineage – the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors…..

Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, so there is no such thing as a collective or racial achievement. There are only individual minds and individual achievements – and aculture is not the anonymous product of undifferentiated masses, but the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men.

Tuesday night’s meeting was not the first Libertarian Alliance meeting I have attended where I joined people in the bar after the talk and heard racist views expressed. And quite frankly I find it disgusting.

The Time Travelling Philosopher

In Philosophy, Thought Experiments on May 15, 2014 at 3:52 PM

Regular readers of this blog will know that I find certain bizarre thought experiments dreamt up by philosophers in the ivory tower to be amusing. On a niche blog, avidly read by mathematical philosophers, Dr. Jeff Ketland has reported on a bizarre claim made, he states, by Benjamin Fardell, a postgraduate philosophy student at University College London (UCL).  If Mr. Fardell’s claim is accurate, then, as Dr. Ketland reports, Dr. Ketland would have had to be a time traveller. This is exactly the sort of bizarre thought experiment that I would normally find amusing. Except in this case, I do not find it amusing. The reason is because it is no laughing matter. In real life a 25 year old student committed suicide and an Oxford academic’s professional career and reputation is at stake.

The brief background is that Charlotte Coursier, described as a “talented and gifted” post graduate philosophy student at Oxford University, was Benjamin Fardell’s girlfriend. She became pregnant. Mr. Fardell told Ms. Couriser that he was not ready to become a father. Ultimately Ms. Coursier had an abortion. This is despite the fact that she believed abortion was murdering a child.  Last summer Mr. Fardell broke up with Ms. Couriser. According to Mr. Fardell’s own account,  “Charlotte pleaded with me not to break up with her.”  He went on to explain “She was crying and told me ‘I don’t want to live without you’.” Later that day Ms. Couriser hanged herself.

This is somewhat of a depressing story. However, it gets more intriguing.  The Daily Telegraph reports that Dr. Ketland “stalked” Ms. Coursier.  This is a very serious allegation. The alleged campaign of stalking seems to amount to what is described as some “crazed and rambling emails”  and an allegation that Dr. Ketland “followed” Ms. Coursier to Oxford.  It is this second claim that is the focus of this blog post. According to Dr. Ketland’s account, the person who made the allegation that he had followed Ms. Couriser to Oxford was none other than Mr. Fardell. It is here that the time travelling comes in.

Dr. Ketland explains:

The facts are these. I applied to Oxford on 20 November 2011, and informed her of this. I first informed her of my acceptance on 21 Feb 2012. She first informed me of her acceptance (and indeed that she had applied, and to nowhere else) on 7 March 2012. She applied, it turns out, on 6 January 2012.

For Mr Fardell’s account to be correct, my path through spacetime would have to have been as depicted in this diagram:

Similarly, Ms Coursier arrived in Oxford two months after I arrived there with my wife and son.

This sort of casual pathway involves time-travel and is physically impossible, so far as we know (unless our own physical spacetime violates Professor Stephen Hawking’s Chronology Protection Conjecture).

As I mentioned earlier, this would be very  amusing if it were not so serious. If Dr. Ketland’s account is correct then far from him following Ms. Coursier to Oxford it was Ms. Coursier who followed him to the city. This brings into question as to who, if anyone, was actually doing the stalking.

I do not know why Mr. Fardell made this allegation about Dr. Ketland, if indeed he did make it. As I write it has been 2.5 weeks since Dr. Ketland’s blog post and I cannot seem to locate any public response on the Internet from Mr. Fardell. Perhaps he is embarrassed about the situation. But this is not good enough. Dr. Ketland’s reputation is at stake. If Dr. Ketland is accurate about the time scale and that it was indeed Mr. Fardell who made the claim that Dr. Ketland followed Ms. Couriser to Oxford, then the least that Mr. Fardell can do is to publish a public apology to Dr. Ketland. I wonder if he will…..

Update, May 20, 2014:

Both Mr. Fardell and Dr. Ketland have commented in the comments section below this post. Readers of this post might be interested in their contributions.



The Paedophile School Teacher and the Sentence: A Comment

In Punishment on May 6, 2014 at 6:12 PM

The background case is that in the 1980s a teacher at Carmel College in Oxfordshire had groomed a 13 year old girl with whom he engaged in sex acts when she was 14. The case has recently come to court and the teacher has been sentenced to two years in prison. I make no comment on the length of the sentence and whether it was correct, too harsh, or too lenient, but I do comment on a reason the judge gave for the sentence.

According to the Oxford Mail, “Judge Mary Jane Mowat told the defendant the case was a difficult one to sentence, but that she had to jail him partly to reflect ‘reasonable public opinion.’” My concern is the “reasonable public opinion” reason for the sentence, not the sentence. We can break down “reasonable public opinion” into two components “public opinion” and whether that opinion is “reasonable” and consider each part separately.

Consider the following thought experiment that I have taken from Roger Crisp, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism, (Routledge, 1997), p.118:

The sheriff A town in the Wild West has been plagued by a series of violent crimes. The sheriff is confronted by a deputation led by the mayor. The deputation tells him that, unless he hangs the vagrant he has in his jail, whom the whole town believes to be the criminal,there will without doubt be a terrible riot, in which many people will almost certainly be killed or maimed. This vagrant has no friends or family. The sheriff knows he is innocent.

It seems to me clear that irrespective of “public opinion” the innocent man should not be hanged. Public opinion can be in favour of all sorts of things that might be rejected in law. For example, the public opinion could be to “hang all paedophiles” or “lock up rapists and throw away the key.” In my opinion “public opinion” should not form a  component for sentencing policy.

A get out clause for hanging the innocent vagrant in Roger Crisp’s example above would be that it is not “reasonable” to do so. Hence, it could be argued, that it is not “public opinion” that can form a component for sentencing, but “reasonable public opinion.” The problem here is who decides what is reasonable?

In the case in question, it is the judge who decides. I will ignore the separate problem of how the judge knows what the public opinion is and simply accept that she knows that public opinion is that a jail sentence is required. In order for the judge to have an opinion on whether the public opinion of a jail sentence is reasonable, it seems to me that she has to have an opinion as to whether a jail sentence is reasonable for the committed crime irrespective of public opinion. If she does not think a jail sentence is a reasonable punishment for the crime, then the criminal should not be jailed and if she thinks it is reasonable punishment then she may jail the criminal. I am not sure why public opinion need come into it. What is relevant is her own opinion.

I suppose that there is a possibility that the judge thinks that there is more than one option that is reasonable for punishment of which a jail sentence is one. In this situation, the judge can give weight to public opinion (or the judge’s view of public opinion) in sentencing. Even if this is the situation with the sentencing of the school teacher in question,  I feel that it is disastrous route to take and, in some ways, an attempt at abdicating responsibility for a sentence.

The judge is present throughout the whole trial and should consider all facts and mitigating factors when sentencing. The public have not necessarily done so. They might have just seen a headline in a newspaper or heard a biased report. Public opinion of a sentence might be of interest to sociologists but when it comes to the sentence itself a judge should not allow themselves to biased by it.

Champagne Socialist

In Intellectuals on April 30, 2014 at 10:29 AM

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in the world were absolutely equal,” late novelist Mary McCarthy said to me in her last years, with as close to a dreamy look as that literary lady ever displayed. “What do you mean ‘equal,’ I said, always picky. “I mean equal,” she replied with some impatience. “Everyone living in exactly the same material circumstances.”

A Vassar graduate from a very social family, Mary McCarthy had been living in Paris for years in very genteel circumstances indeed. Quails’ eggs and that sort of thing. “Well, you’d have to give up a lot, Mary,” I said, thinking of the descent from quails’ eggs served on silver platters to the life of a Chinese peasant. “But it would be worth it for the intellectual excitement!” Miss McCarthy exclaimed enthusiastically.

How long would that intellectual excitement last? Two days? Two minutes? Perhaps until she used the giant communal ladies’s room in Tiananmen Square, an interesting Socialist institution, whose odor, if you were downwind, could be discerned from half a mile. Also, naturally, no one would call Mary McCarthy on her wish. No one would ever say, “Okay, that’s it! No more quails’ eggs! Off to a peasant commune with you!” Miss McCarthy (Mrs. West), a dear person in many ways, could babble this nonsense of hers all day and all night without changing her life by an iota – while gaining in her own eyes, it was evident, a distinct moral superiority to those selfishly unwilling to live like Chinese peasants.



Richard Grenier, “Equality of Intelligence,” The Washington Times, May 29, 1995, p.A21.

The Utilitarian Doctors: A True Story

In Animal Rights, History, Human Rights, Utilitarianism on March 10, 2014 at 2:57 PM


The time: 1932. The place: Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), in Tuskegee, Alabama, among the nation’s oldest, most respected African American institutions of higher learning. The study’s sponsor: the U.S. Public Health Service. The participants: 399 impoverished African American men who volunteered to receive, without charge, what they were told was “special treatment’’ for their “bad blood,” not knowing that in fact they suffered from syphilis and that the “medicine” they were given was not medicine at all and would have no therapeutic effect. Also unknown to the participants was the reason for the study. It was not to help them recover from their illness; it was not even to find a cure for syphilis; instead, the study was conducted to determine what would happen to the men if their condition went untreated. To learn this, the researchers thought, would help physicians understand the long-term effects of syphilis. Armed with this knowledge, syphilis sufferers in the future could receive better treatment.

Remarkably, in a country founded on respect for human dignity, the study was carried out on these uninformed, trusting men, from 1932 to 1972-for forty years with funds from, and with the knowing support of, the United States government.

All this is bad enough. What makes matters worse is that even after it became known, in 1957, that syphilis could be treated successfully using penicillin, the researchers withheld the cure. The results? By the time the true purpose of the study was exposed, twenty-eight men had died from the disease, another one hundred had died from related complications, forty wives had been infected, and nineteen children had been born with syphilis.


Tom Regan, Animal Rights, Human Wrongs: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003), pp.68-69.

The Daily Fail

In History, World War Two on February 24, 2014 at 7:41 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally posted on Harry’s Place on  February 23rd 2014, 8:50 am

The Mail Online has an article up about an anti-fascist, topless, feminist activist in Dresden praising Bomber Harris for the bombing of that city in 1945.  Anna Edwards, who wrote the article, comments:

Between February 13th and February 14th 1945, between 35,000 and 135,000 people were killed by Allied bombing in Dresden.

In his findings in the Irving-Lipstadt trial (Section 13.126), The Hon. Mr. Justice Gray said:

In my judgment the estimates of 100,000 and more deaths which Irving continued to put about in the 1990s lacked any evidential basis and were such as no responsible historian would have made.


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