Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Hitchens on the quality of history teaching: a recollection

In From the Vaults, Hitchens on April 30, 2012 at 10:03 PM

The late Christopher Hitchens was never short of amusing anecdotes. Below is a brief one from 1998.

About four years ago I began to ask the teachers of my own children how it came to be that they could not tell Thomas Jefferson from Thomas the Tank Engine. In the preceding sentence, it is unclear whether I mean that the children didn’t know unless I told them, or that the teachers didn’t know unless I told them. The confusion is intentional.

Source: Christopher Hitchens, “Goodbye To All That: Why Americans Are Not Taught History,” Harper’s Magazine, November 1998, p39.


The Utilitarian Problem

In Utilitarianism on April 28, 2012 at 11:04 AM

The video below, just under five minutes in length, is worthwhile watching to the end.

Just as Dan Barker in the video believes it is acceptable to rape two million women to save humanity, other utilitarians think likewise. The case reminds me of an example provided by Geoffrey Scarre in his book,  Utilitarianism. (Routledge, 1996, p.164):

A tribe believes that the end of the world is nigh unless their god is fed with constant blood sacrifices. This deity happens to be of a sporting turn, and particularly enjoys seeing human beings hunted down by lions. Grimly and regretfully the tribespeople organise a weekly spectacle in a special arena. They know it is a cruel thing that they do, but it is better that some people should die to please the god than that all life should become extinct.

Scarre comments:

The sacrifice… [is] clearly justifiable…. It is a laudable aim to save the world—more laudable even than saving a few individuals, and infinitely more so than enjoying others’ death-agonies. It is not the moral judgement of the tribe that is at fault here, but their empirical beliefs.

One wonders about the mentality of those who would rape two million women, kill six million Jews, or make blood sacrifices to a god, and go to sleep at night believing that they acted morally.

From the Vaults: Iraq: September 30, 1980

In From the Vaults, Iraq on April 22, 2012 at 10:30 AM

At the outset of the Iran/Iraq War, Saddam Hussein addressed the Iraqi population. He justified his attack on Iran with the following words:

This glorious hour for the Iraqi Army is preparing it to liberate Palestine: victories against Iran are paving the road to Jerusalem.*

It should not be necessary to say that Saddam would have done well to consult a map before he made this claim.

*Shahram Chubin and Charles Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War, (Westview Press, 1988),p144.