Some thoughts on “crazy”

It is not okay to use the term “crazy” as a slur or insult.  Often I am told that when using the term “crazy” people know what the person means.  They are not attacking those with mental health issues, they are using the term in a colloquial sense.

This rationalization does not justify the use of this word.  Those with mental health issues are among the most marginalized members of our society.  There is still a stigma.  A person shot in war can be elected president.  A person who has received therapy, probably still cannot be.  We see psychological disorders as largely made up, exaggerated, or as a signs of weakness.

We often abandon those with mental health issues, and their caregivers.

In large part, the success of a person who has struggled with mental health will be determined by the resources they happened to be born into, and their ability to hide the fact that they have mental health issues.

This is because a very real taboo against mental health exists.  We need to challenge and dismantle this taboo.

So I applaud all of those who stand up against the use of the word “crazy” as a term which can be thrown around to insult others.  If you call Trump “crazy” you are not just hurting the president we might be right to consider a monster, you are hurting teens who are bullied into taking their own lives because they are different, you are making a person suffering from depression that much more scared to seek treatment.  You are making it that much easier for people to criminalize someone with schizophrenia.

That being said, I used to use “crazy” as an insult all the time.  I still do.

I know I may seem suddenly cavalier.  However, this is a confession more than anything else.  “Crazy” was one of my regulars.  Every now and then, in the heat of frustration, I still use it.  What is different now, is that I use it much more infrequently, and I immediately feel horrible.

My journey with the term “crazy” is parallel to my journey with certain sexist insults I grew up using.  It is well on its way to extinction in my vernacular, though I still need some work.

So who am I to judge those who use “crazy” as an insult?  I am no one to judge.

I — and thankfully, many others — have realized that terms like “crazy” are wrong.  This does not mean that the people who uncritically use them are bad.

It cannot mean that.  For two primary reasons, if using such terms makes you bad, then how am I supposed to convince you to stop using them?  If you just enjoy being cruel, I am not going to be able to talk you out of it.  If I have power, I might be able to scare you from using such terms through intimidation.  I will not actually effect a change in your soul, however.  That being said, this first reason might not be so strong.  Perhaps humanity is just hopeless?  I am confident that we can — and are — making progress on these issues though.  So, if we are convincing those who have used such insults that they should stop, I think we should go in with the assumption that using the term does not make one a bad person.  Perhaps it makes that person ignorant?

Second, many of the people I have known who use the term “crazy” are people with mental health issues.  They are people who are schizophrenic, bipolar, depressed, et cetera.  They have come to me crying that they “do not want to be crazy.”

While I am focusing on this insult, which hurts people with mental health issues, I will also point out that many people I have known who have been the most vicious in their misogynistic insults have been women.

In my own case, my grandfather was paranoid schizophrenic.  This destroyed my family for generations.  I have aunts — my grandfather’s children — who steal, who have beaten their children, and who have no relationship with their children.  I have cousins who are addicted to drugs, and diagnosed with bipolar.  I have younger cousins who are in foster care.  I myself am dyslexic, and have been depressed most of my life.  When I used the term “crazy” I was unwittingly not only hurting a community of people I would never know as a whole, I was hurting my own family, and myself.

Given all of this, I am very reluctant to attack someone for using terms like “crazy”.  I do not think it actually helps make that individual into a better person.

Perhaps it shames or hurts them?  If done in a group, perhaps it serves to humiliate them?  I am not certain that it imparts to them any knowledge as to why they should use a different term in the future — or why perhaps they should just not insult at all.

Calling out micro-aggressions is often a sport.  A way to show how aware and progressive a person is.

I think this mentality is very harmful.

Recently in an email chain, a person used the term “crazy”.  He was then censured and other people endorsed this censure.

He stopped responding in the email chain.  I am sure he was embarrassed.  I am not certain that he learned anything, or that those who did the censuring really helped those with mental health issues all that much.  What if the person who used the term “crazy” himself has mental health issues?

Instead, I think it would have made sense to in a kind manner — kindness really is awesome — explain to him why, though he was not intending to hurt those who suffer with mental health issues — that it really does have that effect.  Hence, in the future, he should use another term to make the same point.  Preferably, this would have been done in private.

If the goal was educating not just the individual, but others in the chain, then a general point about not using insults to that serve to stigmatize groups — even if this was not the intent — should be avoided.

If someone is using such a term on purpose, simply to prove what a rebel he is, or to showcase his lack of regard for others, then of course, a different response may be appropriate.

For me, the primary value of identifying micro-aggressions should be making ourselves more introspective.  No one ever ridiculed me for using the term “crazy”.  The general discourse made me aware that what I was doing was harmful.  Sans shaming, I was able to to change myself in a constructive fashion.  Of course, we should help others understand when the words they are using are causing harm.  However, this is not an arcade game where we are trying to rack up a score.  We are trying to build a society with more whole individuals, and that means we should all be compassionate, even when we are dealing with people less aware of their micro-aggressions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reaching out… to Clinton supporters

I do not know of a candidate who has been more demonized than Hillary Clinton.  Of course she has been demonized by Republicans in Congress, and the current President of the United States.

More importantly, she has been demonized by people.  Millions of people across the United States.  These people might be Bernie Sanders supporters, or Trump supporters.

Any notion that Trump supporters and Republicans went further in demonizing Hillary Clinton — and her supporters — than did Sanders supporters, and others on the left opposed to Hillary Clinton is incredibly suspect in my mind.

Hopefully, it is understood that demonizing is the exact oppose of reaching out.

This is an important point, because throughout all phases of the 2016 campaign, it has been explained to me that it is my job to reach out to those who disagree with me.  Hillary Clinton and her supporters must reach out to Sanders and his supporters.  Hillary Clinton and her supporters must reach out to Trump and his supporters.

In fact, I have been led to believe that Hillary Clinton lost because she and those who support her, just did not reach out enough.

Of course, in explaining Hillary Clinton’s loss as a consequence of her being alienating and not reaching out to enough people, a few things are often conveniently overlooked:

Russian intervention, Comey’s mishandling of the FBI investigation, transparently partisan Congressional investigations, misogyny, the fact that it is difficult — and rare — for any party to win the White House three times in a row, Republican efforts in several states to make voting more difficult, and finally:  Hillary Clinton became the first woman in American history to win the popular vote in a Presidential election… and she did it by 2.5 million people

Despite the demonizing of her — and you can claim she deserves such demonizing, but please be aware, that this is the opposite of reaching out — she won the popular vote by a lot.  Reaching out, might include some of her adversaries noting the the historical nature of this achievement.

Hillary Clinton did not win the Democratic nomination, or the popular vote, because we live in a society which has overcome sexism and misogyny.  She achieved both despite the very ugly reality of misogyny.

Despite all of the demonizing, millions of people came out to give Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination, and the popular vote in November.

Hillary Clinton supporters are committed.  I cannot speak for all of them, but I think for many of us, it has to do with her strength and ability to endure in the face of demonizing.  It has to do with the fact that she knows she will face personal insults on a scale other politicians do not, and yet, more civility will still be expected from her than from anyone else, that we stand by her side.  We are struck by the unfairness.  We are inspired by her willingness to challenge it.

So let me assure you, demonizing Hillary Clinton is not a good way to reach out to Clinton supporters, or to get them to support your candidate.

If it makes sense for Clinton supporters to reach out to Sanders supporters — and I agree that it does — it also makes sense for those more inclined to support someone like Sanders, to reach out to those who do not agree with them.

I was often made to feel invisible.  Apparently, in the minds of some, Sanders had a base of supporters, and Hillary Clinton did not.  She just had donors.  Yet, I do not know of people more energized by their candidate than Hillary Clinton supporters have been, and that is despite a campaign to demonize which neither Sanders, Obama, Trump, or any other *male* politician I know of has endured.

So, when a person gets more votes in the 2016 Democratic primary than anyone else, and she gets more votes in the general election than anyone else, does it not behoove those with different views to reach out, and not demonize?

Well, no, this strategy makes no sense to some.  The idea that is put forth to me is that Clinton supporters will vote Democratic no matter what, Sanders supporters will vote Democratic if they happen to like the Democratic nominee.  Hence, it is the job of Clinton to reach out to Sanders supporters.  It is not the job of Sanders supporters to reach out to Clinton supporters.  In the event that Sanders or someone like him wins the nomination, he does not have to work for the Clinton supporters.

Hence, even if there are more Clinton supporters, strategically speaking, they merit the least consideration when it comes to determining our nominee.  In other words, not much outreach is warranted.

Those who are likely to support someone like Clinton, will thus be smart to make certain that whoever they support is someone that Sanders supporters can get behind.

Hillary Clinton was overwhelmingly supported many different constituencies, including people of color.

According to a recent poll, over 60% of African Americans feel that the Democratic party takes them and their vote for granted.

Sanders enjoyed support from young people, college educated people, and white people.

Once we put a face on the Clinton voter, I hope it will become absurd to think we do not need to reach out to them.

Clinton supporters by and large, will support the Democratic nominee.  They are safe voters, insofar as they feel they have struck a fair bargain.  Every four years, many Democrats — or independents in the case of Sanders — will vie for the Democratic nomination.  The contest might get heated, feelings might be hurt, but in the end, we will support the nominee.  So, if that is Clinton, then we should all support her.  If it is Sanders, we should all support him.

However, this notion that it should not be the winner of the nomination, but those who are most likely to not care about who wins the nomination who should be the primary recipients of outreach is insulting.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, I went out of my way to reach out to Sanders supporters.  I always made clear my preference for Clinton.  Yet, I defended those who attacked Sanders’ age — ageism is disgusting — and made it clear I think he has a better position on Israel.  I complimented him, and said I think he is a good person — which I do believe.  Did I also criticize him?  Of course.  Criticism is fair.  We should criticize politicians, we should criticize Hillary Clinton.

We should not expect one candidate and her supporters to bear the responsibility of outreach though, while simultaneously being demonized.

And, alarm bells should be ringing when it just so happens that the one candidate being given this disproportionate burden happens to have been the first woman candidate with a realistic chance of being elected president.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This is why I do not belong

“I have to go now, or I will be late to class.”

Then the phone rang, and my aunt said she needed to answer it to see if it is important.  It was my other aunt, Lori.  “No, I am not busy, so what are you up to?”  My aunt began chit chatting.  I pointed to the clock ten minutes later, frantic, not wanting to be late.

My aunt Sue put her hand over the receiver and said “Don’t you dare rush me.”

About one hour later she was done, and let me know she was ready to drive me to class.  By the time I got to school, about 45 minutes after the class started, I was too humiliated to into the class.  So instead I found somewhere to read.

Two days later when I that class met again, I planned to walk, so that I would not be late.  My community college is about a fifty minute walk from where I grew up.  Quite doable.

As I was walking out the front yard, my uncle saw me and offered me a ride.  “No thanks, I do not mind walking, it is relaxing.”

“You know Pat, your aunt and I do everything for you, this ungrateful attitude is really disheartening.”

“Sorry, I just thought I would walk.”

When I ended up getting an A in that class, I let it slip at a family dinner, hoping for some praise.  “You must be a kiss ass.”  My aunt did a lot to me, in addition to everything she did for me.

I should have been a high school senior at seventeen, but instead I was taking classes at my community college, hopeful that I could graduate early.  My aunt seemed to think I was living a life of privilege, and so she demanded I get a job.  I did, at Subway.

Still, I was not fully financially independent.  I was not paying enough rent.  My aunt did not need the money, but as man, I should be focused on that and not school.

So I went to work with my uncle.  I would try reading in the car ride en route to the different job sites around Southern California.  Of course he would talk to me incessantly, not realizing I was trying to concentrate.

At one home we were working at, a kindly woman took interest in me. I talked to her about my classes.  She turned to my uncle and said “you must be very proud of your son.”

“Nephew.”

“Oh, well it is great that he comes out to help you.”

“He has nothing else to do.”

I eventually stopped going to classes.  Each new semester I would decide I want to go back, and eventually depression would grip me, a sense that these classes were for fun and pointless would overwhelm me.  I would find somewhere to hide, and think about getting good grades.  I would think about being happy, and then I was put on academic probation.

Luther was the first person to ever actually care about my success.  After meeting him I went back to school and began turning my GPA around.  This meant having to retake many classes I had failed — usually because I would sign up for them, and then stop attending without dropping out — plus classes I had not taken originally.  So even once I was back at the community college, I was slow to finish.

Now, because I turned my grades around, I am at the Claremont Colleges.  A lot of time has passed from when I was seventeen, trying to do good after cutting all contact with my mother, and thinking my aunt was my mom.  I have struggled with depression, social awkwardness, financial strain, a major breakup, and an uncertain housing situation.

Yet, the worst grade in a class I have had so far is an A-.  I have tried to build social connections by running the Claremont Philosophers, working at the Writing Center, and being open to talk to anyone who needs someone to listen to them.

In that time, I have gone well beyond what is considered traditional college age.  I was admitted to Pitzer as a New Resource student.  I have a chip on my shoulder about it, because I fear that when people realize my age, they will think I am just a loser, or a poser.  Someone who does not belong.  Any intelligence I have will just be by virtue of my age.  I know what it is to live with imposter’s syndrome.

 

So today, I went into the dining hall to get some food before working on a paper.  I was starving — and I still am while I am writing this.  I learned that you can pay for a reusable tray.  This way you can pay for breakfast, eat as much as you want, and then fill up your reusable tray for a second meal later in the day.  This makes the dining hall cost effective for me.

I thought you could pay with a credit card, apparently not.  So I asked the person how I can pay, and instead she began interrogating me:

“Are you a college student?”

“Yes.”

“At Pitzer?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a New Resource Student or something?”

“Yes.”

“Let me see your ID.”

I showed her my ID, “uhm, well you can pay with cash.”

I have been to the dining hall before, I have never been asked to present an ID.  No one has ever asked me what college I go to, or if I am a New Resource student.  Especially as since I did not even have cash, I was trying to get into the dining hall.

Whereas I often feel like I do not belong, I know most of it is in my head.  When I do tell people I am a New Resource student they tend to be supportive and encouraging.

This was not in my head.  Now I am somewhere by myself, isolating, trying not to cry, and not sure if I should go back to the dining hall, not sure if I am going to finish my paper before it is due.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I don’t believe in morality, really

The problem is not that people think I am immoral.  They think I am wrong to claim that I am amoral.  See, I have to believe in morality.

Why?  Well apparently because the welfare of the planet, and sentient creatures — including human beings — is important to me.  I do not like unnecessary suffering — though you can convince me to support necessary suffering.

I have fellow feelings.  If I see a baby or kitten in distress, I will try to help.  I have adopted a vegan diet.

When interacting with people, I try to be polite and considerate.

I have even sacrifice my seeming immediate interests in order to help someone in need.

So it seems that I am denying morality in word, while expressing morality in deed.

***

The real issue is not that I seem to contradict myself.  It is that, even after the great Nietzsche, people are still uncomfortable with the notion of amorality.

There seems to be two primary reasons for this: creating moral theories — which never actually hold up in the long run — seems to be a cottage industry in philosophy, and second, the fact of morality seems to be an ingrained cultural reality.  So sure, we might not know what is moral, all of our moral theories might have holes, we might even think there is no god to uphold morality… but certainly, this spectre must exist!

If Kant cannot give us morality, then maybe Gauthier can.  If Gauthier cannot, perhaps one of my classmates will solve the riddle in a few years.

I get blank stares when I propose, “maybe morality does not exist?”

In fact, it is easier for me to say that god and free will do not exist.

Just like the earth will not stop revolving around the sun if we decide god does not exist to make it so, barbarism and evil will not erupt if we decide there is no moral truth to guide our actions.

To put it more aptly, just as the devil will not somehow reign if we become atheist — because the devil will be discarded along with God — evil will not somehow reign when we discard morality.

Yet, many do sincerely believe the real issue is my own inconsistency.

Let me address that now.  I believe in love, compassion, consideration, et cetera.  As Nietzsche said, there is no such thing as moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.  The fact that so many see things like love as fundamentally moral, does not make them so.  It does not mean my acknowledging things like compassion means I am buying into morality.

More importantly, if I denied that things like love and compassion are moral, I would not get so much blowback if instead of denying morality, I just decided to call something else moral.

Kant denies that fellow feelings and acting out of sentiment is moral.  If I save a cat because her crying breaks my heart, this is not a truly moral action for Kant — though it is not immoral either, simply morally neutral, or amoral.

Yet, Kant’s moral theory is taken very seriously, because he gives us something else to call moral.  Namely, the categorical imperative.

For many reasons, the categorical imperative does not convince me.

So if I deny the categorical imperative, and agree with Kant that sentiments are not moral, then it seems that I am left with amorality — unless of course, I want to take up the cause with my peers, and hold out hope that there is a moral truth somewhere out there which simply has not been hunted down yet.

Instead, rejection of Kant’s solution, along with a broad agreement of his views regarding what is wrong with other moral theories, quite naturally brings one closer to Nietzsche.  Schopenhauer of course tried saving morality with compassion.

Why does my compassion have to be moral though?  Kant made some pretty good arguments as to why it would not be considered moral… also Schopenhauer kind of goes out on a limb linking compassion with the noumena or will… yet, since he does not deny morality, people seem to be less critical of his attempt.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Schopenhauer’s Argument Against the Categorical Imperative

“Finally, the third demand to be made on the reader might be taken for granted, for it is none other than an acquaintance with the most important phenomenon which has appeared in philosophy for two thousand years, and which lies so close to us, I mean the principal works of [Immanuel] Kant” (Schopenhauer XV).  Schopenhauer’s praise of the “great Kant” does not end in the preface to his work, rather it is integral throughout.  In Schopenhauer’s mind, Kant’s greatest achievement is the Critique of Pure Reason, in which “we have learnt from the great Kant that time, space, and causality are present in our consciousness according to their whole conformity to rule and the possibility of all their forms, quite independently of the objects that appear in them and form their content; or,  in other words, they can be found just as well when we start from the subject as when we start from the object (Schopenhauer 118).  It is in the Critique of Pure Reason that Kant formulates the thing-in-itself, which “is the central concept in the philosophical systems of Kant and Schopenhauer and it is this concept that has pushed these systems into directly opposite directions” (Mudragei 65).  The eventual divergence of Schopenhauer away from his philosophical daemon is most marked in the ethical sphere.  Specifically, Schopenhauer takes aim at Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and attempts to fashion what he considers to be a better ethical system based on compassion which also finds its root in transcendental idealism.  Schopenhauer successfully criticizes the Categorical Imperative for not being pure as Kant claims it is, doing a poor job of motivating actual human behavior, and for being fundamentally egoistic.

Kant argues that a perfectly good will requires no guide for ethical behavior (Kant 66).  This is not because the perfectly good will is free to commit sins, but because it is inherently unable to do anything but what is good (Kant 66).  So moral philosophy is required for rational beings who are imperfect, such as ourselves.  Focusing on human beings, he says that we can act based on one of two sorts of imperatives, either hypothetical or categorical (Kant 66). Hypothetical imperatives are perfectly permissible for Kant — so long as they do not go against a Categorical Imperative — but are not morally substantive.  Instead hypothetical imperatives are employed to achieve particular ends (Kant 66).  As an example, if I want to travel to Italy, I might formulate the hypothetical imperative that I will save money.  This is perfectly rational, but as it is the means to a subjective end — wanting to travel to Italy — it is morally neutral.  The Categorical Imperative is different because “it is objectively necessary of itself, without reference to another end” (Kant 67).

The Categorical Imperative is morally substantive because it prescribes duty to us (“Possibility of CI” 357).  A hypothetical imperative can never prescribe a moral duty to us since its ends are always subjective.  Yet, Kant does not claim to have proven the existence of morality which undergirds the notion of the Categorical Imperative (“Possibility of CI” 362).

Kant states at least three formulations of his Categorical Imperative — some scholars argue that there are more — the Principle of Universal Law (PUL), Principle of Humanity as an End in itself (PHE) and the Principle of Autonomy (PA) (“Possibility of CI” 354, 355).  PUL states that we should only be motivated to act on maxims which we could will as universal law in our capacity as rational beings (“Possibility of CI” 354).  PHE requires that we look at all human beings — or rational beings — as ends in themselves, not simply as means (“Possibility of CI” 354).  PA views all rational beings as having a “universally legislating will” which leads to what he calls the kingdom of ends (“Possibility of CI” 354).

Kant initially implies that the different formulations of the Categorical Imperative are just alternative phrasings of the same law (“Possibility of CI” 355).  Yet, Paul Guyer convincingly argues that “while PL alone may suffice to define the form of CI, only PUL, PHE, PA, and PKE [Principle of the Kingdom of Ends] taken together suffice to conceive of the possibility of a realm of rational agents acting in compliance with CI, or to conceive of a possible object for the concept of CI” (“Possibility of CI” 364).

In doing justice to Kant’s moral system then, we must be mindful of all of the aspects of the Categorical Imperative, especially PA.  Whereas PUL might give us the basic outline of the Categorical Imperative, Kant does not expect it to yield meaningful moral legislation without the other aspects of the Categorical Imperative in mind. PA is necessary for the system because it “introduces a self-conception that is a condition of the possibility of being motivated to act on a categorical rather than merely hypothetical imperative” (“Possibility of CI” 382).  This is Kant acknowledging that without freedom we cannot have moral accountability, or obey Categorical Imperatives.   The first aspect of this position is simple enough, if we do not have freedom, we cannot have duties to act in any manner otherwise than we indeed act (Welsen 770).  In Henry Allison’s interpretation of Kant which focuses on “the claim that morality and freedom are reciprocal concepts, henceforth termed the ‘Reciprocity Thesis.’  Its significance stems from the fact that it entails that freedom of the will (transcendental freedom) is not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition of the moral law” (Allison 201).  This is not just because with freedom of the will we can choose what to do or not do.  Another important aspect for freedom is understood when we keep in mind that for Kant, free will does not mean a lawless will (Allison 202).  A free will is free because it is able to legislate for itself internally, which is just another way of saying, a free will is able to obey the PUL.

With this backdrop, we may now transition to Arthur Schopenhauer’s criticism of Kant’s Categorical Imperative.  It is first important to acknowledge that Schopenhauer borrows much from Kant, and is always conscious of his debt to him.  Above all else, Schopenhauer is grateful that Kant took ethics outside the empirical realm, and particularly that he shut out eudaemonism and “quite properly [showed] that the kingdom of virtue is not of this world (Schopenhauer 523-524).  In Schopenhauer’s view, all other philosophers aside from Plato and Kant have been guilty of trying to locate the source of moral virtue within this world, and identify morality with that which brings happiness (Schopenhauer 524).

However, in order for Kant’s Categorical Imperative to be removed from empirical contamination altogether, it must be shown that the Categorical Imperative and Practical Reason are entirely pure.  This is a standard that Kant ends up failing in Schopenhauer’s view (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 406).  This is in large part because Schopenhauer identifies the PUL with something very close to the golden rule (Welsen 765).  This is because in both the PUL and the golden rule, the agent behaves with certain standards towards others because they are convinced it is in their own interest to do so, and thus “the corresponding maxims are reasonable on the condition that the agent wants to avoid negative consequences, the categorical imperative turns out to be hypothetical” (Welsen 765).  Kant would respond that his ethics are indeed pure, because though the agent must be incentivized under the PUL just as they are under the golden rule, the incentives under PUL are not empirical (Welsen 768).  This incentive is the moral feeling.  Kant would posit that it originates in the noumenal realm, but Schopenhauer is clear that it is empirical.  Kant believes we have a priori knowledge of the moral feeling, and this is used against Kant to prove it must be empirical (Welsen 768).  Whatever we may have empirical knowledge of, cannot be noumenal.  Just like the forms of our intuition, time and space are not noumenal.  Another example might be mathematics.  Our knowledge of mathematics is a priori, but we have knowledge of it specifically because mathematics rests in the empirical world, and the seat of our understanding.

Ultimately, because in Schopenhauer’s view the Categorical Imperative is not pure, it can only be explained as something which relies on empirical ends.  If this is the case, then Kant’s project has failed.  Another important aspect of this is that Schopenhauer believes these empirical ends reduces the Categorical Imperative to a species of egoism.  Peter Welsen states it nicely:

…a maxim is morally good on the condition that it is possible to transform it into a general law.  In Schopenhauer’s view, this formulation is too vague.  As a matter of fact, it is possible to want almost anything, and it is also possible to want almost anything to be commanded by a general law.  Thus, the categorical imperative turns out to be a criterion that, for its part, requires an additional criterion and, according to Schopenhauer, the latter is no longer formal, but material: “Who then is the man to realize the draft?  The plain truth is that he is a paymaster who is here quite unexpected, being none other than egoism.”  (Welsen 764-765)

While Schopenhauer’s charge strikes me as essentially correct, Kant could easily lodge a counter argument.  This is that Schopenhauer is wrongfully only focusing on PUL at the neglect of the other aspects of the Categorical Imperative: PHE and PA.  If we see ourselves as autonomous, self-legislating beings who are commanded to respect other rational beings as ends in themselves, we have placed significant constraints on ourselves when formulating laws according to PUL.  It might be possible to want anything as an universal law, but whatever we want cannot be at the price of treating rational beings as mere means.  Yet, PHE and PA, along with respect for moral feeling do not save Kant from the charge of empirical ethics.

While proving Kant’s ethics are empirical is damaging enough, Schopenhauer can also question the egoistic nature of PHE and PA.  Kant says, “For a will which resolved this would conflict with itself, since instances can often arise in which he would need the love and sympathy of others, and in which he would have robbed himself, by such a law of nature springing from his own will, of all hope of the aid he desires” (Kant qtd. in Welsen 766).  Hence it seems that one is not necessarily being egoistic if one uses the PUL at the expense of PHE, but that PHE can have egoistic motivations as well, and a fortiori empirical motivations.  Schopenhauer continues this line of attack against Kant, using Kant’s injunction against lying as a purported example of the Categorical Imperative giving us moral guidance absent any empirical concomitance:

Moral laws, apart from human institution, state ordinance, or religious doctrine, cannot rightly be assumed as existing without proof.”  ‘Thou shalt not lie’ is no a priori moral law, operating over and above experience; whatever its philosophical justification may be, its authority it derives from long centuries of actual human experience.  And, as a matter of fact, a principle of law, of obligation, a ‘thou shalt,’ owes all its meaning and force to threatened punishment or promised reward.  A ‘thou shalt,’ severed from its concomitant ‘lest’ or ‘in order that.’ is devoid of all significance.  To Schopenhauer himself the inference is quite plain: “What ought to be done is therefore necessarily conditioned by punishment or reward; consequently, to use Kant’s language, it is essentially and inevitably hypothetical, and never, as he maintains, categorical.  (Tsanoff 515)

Guyer attempts to defend Kant against the Schopenhauerian onslaught.  Guyer points out that Kant’s moral philosophy never denies that our moral action is directed towards ends (“Possibility of CI” 368).  As Guyer says in a footnote “…the argument for PUL is an attack upon empiricism in practical philosophy, parallel to Kant’s attack on empiricism in theoretical philosophy, not an argument for the rationality of action without any end” (“Possibility of CI” 368).  Kant is quoted by Guyer as saying “‘whatsoever is an act of freedom on the part of the acting subject, not an effect of nature,’ requires that the agent himself make ‘the object of his choice into an end’” (“Possibility of CI” 375-376).

I do not find Guyer convincing in his defense of Kant, because he never explains why we should assume that these ends are not empirical.  Kant admits that we cannot prove that one is ever actually motivated by the Categorical Imperative, but for it to have viability as a live moral theory, I would expect it to at least be able to point to examples where recourse to a noumenal basis is not made redundant by a more plausible empirical explanation.  Even if someone is consciously acting in accord with the Categorical Imperatives that they are formulating, they will, it seems, inevitably smuggle egoist assumptions.  For instance, Kant says “Act only in accordance with that precept which you can also wish should be a general law for all rational beings” (Kant qtd. in Tsanoff 517).  According to Schopenhauer this relies on egoism, because the force responsible for deciding what you can will as a law for all rational beings is your own situatedness in the world (Tsanoff 517).  Going beyond specific examples, Schopenhauer sums up his general point eloquently by saying “Egoism, which is the nearest, ever ready, original, and living standard of all volition and which has at any rate the jus primi occupantis before every moral principle” is the only real motivating factor in human behavior (Schopenhauer qtd. in Tsanoff 517).

This involves Kant in a vicious circle.  The motivations which actually impel human behavior will always have a root in empirical egoism, otherwise Kant’s system cannot actually be anything more than abstract theory (Tsanoff 524).  Yet, any connection with “human consciousness” that is, our subjective needs and interests “[contradicts] Kant’s own standpoint and method” (Tsanoff 524).

In place of this vicious circle that Kant has involved himself in, Schopenhauer premises his own moral system on the notion of compassion (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 403).  In response to the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Schopenhauer says “An action … has genuine moral worth only when it happens exclusively from duty [according to Kant] and merely for the sake of duty, without any inclination toward it” (Schopenhauer qtd. in “Schopenhauer, Kant” 403).  Schopenhauer refers to this as a “slave-morality” (Schopenhauer qtd. in “Schopenhauer, Kant” 404).  This slave morality of Kant’s is a chimera, because in reality, there is no practical reason which can command in the form of the Categorical Imperative.  In reality there is only prudential reason (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 406).

Schopenhauer defines reason as:

…the faculty of forming and using concepts, which are the basis of abstract knowledge, and it enables us to detach from the present and to turn to both the past and to the future.  This means that, due to reason, the scope of human orientation reaches far beyond the limits of a given situation.  (Welsen 759)

So whereas reason is incredibly important, Schopenhauer is adamant that it can never actually impel us to change our moral character.  Reason may change our behavior insofar as we learn more effective methods of achieving our ends, but it is not going to change our ends themselves.  This makes reliance on reason in the guise of the Categorical Imperative ineffective.  Guyer strikes back against Schopenhauer for these claims:

In the most general terms, Kant’s conception of rational being as an end in itself requires that we preserve rational being (whether ourselves or others) and by preserving the possibility of the exercise of rational agency in the form of consent to our actions (Groundwork, 429-30), but also that we go beyond these essentially negative duties by promoting the development of rational nature in rational beings, that is, doing what we can to advance the development of both our own and others’ capacity to act rationally (see Metaphysics of Morals 6:427)–in our own case, for example, by developing talents that will allow us to satisfy rationality’s demand that we develop the means that will allow us to attain our morally permissible ends, whatever they may turn out to be.  (“Possibility of CI” 372)

Guyer’s defense is powerful, but it does not ultimately succeed.  Our purported respect for rational beings under PHE is problematic as discussed above.  It is no less empirical in nature than the golden rule.  Guyer attempts to strengthen the case by pointing out that Kant’s system works with human nature, versus seeking to motivate human beings to act independently of our own interests.  This is why Guyer says that as rational beings we not only want to allow other rational beings, as ends-in-themselves to fully develop their capacities, but we want to do the same for ourselves, so long as those ends do not violate any moral obligations.  Yet, with or without Kant’s system, we are going to pursue our own ends, and Guyer is not able to explain why we need recourse to the noumenal realm to explain why we are willing to subscribe to a version of enlightened self-interest by respecting the rights of others.  Trying to ground morality in abstract principles is like claiming “only that work of art [is] beautiful which had been turned out in accordance with the abstract principles and rules of a system of aesthetics” (Welsen 760-761).

A great example of the trouble we may be led into when such abstract principles are thought to form moral content, or at least a substantive motive for moral conduct is the notion that we as rational agents choose to have a “good or evil disposition” (“Possibility of CI” 376).  It is one thing for Kant to claim that in any given situation we are aware of right and wrong, but quite another to assert we choose to be evil.  What rational agent would choose to be evil?  Either someone who is to use Schopenhauer’s terminology, driven by malice, and hence entirely untouched by any “moral feeling” or someone who is not indeed in control of their faculties, because most people at the very least, want to see themselves as good.  If the “evil person” chooses to be such according to Kant because they are entirely unmotivated by the moral law, then how can they be held accountable for this?  It would seem to be a defect in which they have no control over.  If the latter is the issue, then how can they be held accountable for not being able to be otherwise than evil, which would be the case if it was a result of their not being in their right senses?  Kant’s system would have more plausibility in my mind — though it would still be quite tenuous — if he insisted we are all inherently will to be good as rational beings, but sometimes fall short of following the moral law because we fail to educate ourselves in what the Categorical Imperative commands, or because we let subjective interests temporarily override our obedience to the moral law.  Given that Kant does not think any of us obey the Categorical Imperative all the time, and in fact admits there is no conclusive proof than anyone has ever actually followed the Categorical Imperative — because in any actual situation, there is always the possibility that the agent is motivated by other factors in part or whole — this would seem to be a more prudent position.

Guyer next turns to PA as a means of defending the “content” of Kant’s ethical system.  He states that “rational nature can be seen as end in itself when it is interpreted as not merely subjection to but the willing of universal law because it can be seen as the means by which agents capable of being rational free themselves from natural law and attain the dignity of self-mastery” (“Possibility of CI” 382).  Another way of summing this up is that we may only achieve autonomy if we adopt the Categorical Imperative (“Possibility of CI” 382).  This is an important defense if we follow the reasoning that “the thought that there is an incomparable value or dignity in self-mastery over nature, which can be attained only through the willing of universal law, is what is ultimately necessary in order to explain why rational being is an end both in one’s own person and in that of everyone else (“Possibility of CI” 382).  Yet, this strikes me a Christian-inspired renunciation of nature, or this world on the part of Kant.  It is not clear to me that there is any inherent desire for mastery for nature, certainly not on the noumenal level.  Of course with the use of technology human beings — and presumably other rational beings if they exist — do indeed try to gain mastery over nature, but this is towards the aim of subjective ends.  For instance, we might want to discover new medicines to cure diseases, or better learn to harness energy to bring heat to those who live in the extreme cold, and perhaps improve the environment by phasing out fossil fuels.  At the same time, humans often romanticize the notion of a “return to nature”.  This is why the British so idealized the notion of the English countryside, and why today many people talk about the supposed promise of organic foods, and the value in living a lifestyle in sync with nature.  So while I do agree that we seek mastery over nature, I think it is wrongheaded to imply such mastery is an end in and of itself.  In any case, when we do seek mastery over nature, it is not explained why this should include our working cooperatively with other rational beings to help them attain their own mastery over nature.  Of course helping others master nature might be to our own advantage because we will be more successful as a team versus individuals.  This would be using others as means, not honoring them as ends though.

I agree strongly with Schopenhauer that the Categorical Imperative is “devoid of any content so that it is incapable of prescribing concrete actions” (Welsen 764).  “Morality is concerned with the actual conduct of man and not with the a priori building of houses of cards to whose results no man would turn in the storm and stress of life.  In face of the violence and fury of passions, such results would be as effective as a syringe in a great fire” (Schopenhauer qtd. in Welsen 767).

It seems to me that Schopenhauer’s ethical alternative is stronger than Kant’s.  It does not talk about moral duties, but is instead a “voluntaristic metaphysics” (Tsanoff 513).  The goal of Schopenhauer’s is much more descriptive, seeking to explain what we mean by moral conduct, versus trying to create laws that might somehow compel us to be moral.  This does not mean Schopenhauer’s own ethics is beyond reproach.  Guyer points out that Kant’s philosophy is full of warnings against those who act solely from inclination and not duty.  A paraphrase of his example is that we imagine someone who is naturally inclined towards benevolence.  This person commits acts of loving kindness out of the generosity of his heart.  He never stops to think if he has a duty to treat others so well, instead, it is a simple outpouring of his nature or state (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 419).  This person is not immoral, because he is not violating any duties, but he is not truly moral either, because he is not acting with regard for his moral duties (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 419).  Schopenhauer attacks this because he takes Kant to be saying that truly moral activity only begins once compassion and a deep-seated love for others is abandoned (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 419).  Guyer thinks that Schopenhauer is missing a crucial point here.  Kant is speaking in hypotheticals, he is isolating in his examples behavior motivated simply by loving kindness, and behavior motivated wholly by duty for the sake of philosophical clarity (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 419).  Kant is not claiming that you can find examples in real life of people who are consistently kind out of loving kindness, with no regard for duty on the one hand, or people entirely unconcerned personally with the welfare of others, who meet all of their obligations to others regardless because of their respect for their moral duty (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 419).  Kant’s moral hero who acts out of duty in real life is not necessarily devoid of compassion as Schopenhauer seems to assume.  In fact, according to Guyer, the person who consistently acts out of regard for the Categorical Imperative “might have, or have cultivated, sympathy because of his conception of duty or his moral principle, let alone denying the possibility or its desirability as a complete model of human virtue” (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 419).

I believe that in the abstract Guyer is making a very good point.  This logically could be the case.  Psychologically, it does not seem convincing to me at all though.  Guyer seems to be employing the logic of “fake it ‘till you make it,” but I am not sure this has any currency in terms of moral motivation.  If someone behaved morally towards others consistently because of their respect for the moral law, then it might make sense that they may learn to feel compassion and love towards those they have been acting so morally towards.  Yet, without compassion or concern for others to begin with, what would have motivated respect for the moral law?  Of course, I anticipate that Kant or Guyer could point out that this just might be an example of someone not being motivated by empirical or psychological ends, but rather being directly motivated on the noumenal level by their intelligible character.  Yet, I do not think either would be able to actually produce an example of someone who was entirely disinterested in the welfare of others on a personal level, who later developed compassion towards others after having spontaneously — spontaneously in a relative sense: I mean to say that since it would be caused by their intelligible character, they would not be aware of exactly how it came about as creatures only directly aware of their empirical character — developed a regard for the Categorical Imperative.  In the absence of such real examples. I am not sure why it would make sense for anyone to assume that this system helps to explain the behavior of real human beings, versus Kant’s abstract conceptions of rational beings and their behavior.  Tsanoff makes largely the same point quite beautifully, “the moral theorist must first become intimate with what man is, before presuming to intimate what man ought to be.  The hierarchy of ethical values can rise above the brute in man and reach the plane of the divine only by resting upon the solid rock of actual human nature” (525).

Between Kant and Schopenhauer, we are left to decide the relative merits of an ethics of reason, or an ethics of compassion (Welsen 758).  While Kant does a great job of creating a complex system with a lot of internal consistency, so long as you accept his assumptions, he never provides compelling reasoning to accept those assumptions.  There is an admirable logic to the form of PUL, yet having proclaimed something which is internally valid does not automatically translate into that proclamation having any sort of necessity (Welsen 763).  Hence, the Categorical Imperative, to the extent that it can be universalized as something valid, does not for that reason have real influence over the behavior and proclivities as rational beings, in the way that the laws of physics has direct influence over bodies in space.

Guyer is not content to simply attempt a defense of Kant against Schopenhauer’s criticisms.  Guyer also attempts to refashion some of Schopenhauer’s lines of attack and use them against Schopenhauer himself.  While Schopenhauer attacks Kant for having a system which places reason in charge of determining our moral conduct Guyer says:

However, while this might suggest that Kant’s ethics is to some considerable extent rationalistic, and Schopenhauer’s ethics could not possibly be so, matters are not as simple as this: in fact, Schopenhauer offers a singularly cognitivist account of the aetiology of compassion that sees it as flowing automatically from a metaphysical insight into the superficiality of the numerical distance between persons that simply abolishes any emotional preference for oneself over others, while Kant regards sympathetic feelings for others as an independent yet natural endowment of human beings that needs to be cultivated and conditioned or constrained under the guidance of reason, but that does not simply flow from reason.  (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 405).

Guyer points out what I believe ends up being a weakness of Schopenhauer’s ethical philosophy, which is that he believes our intelligible character and an inner-awareness is somehow responsible for our feelings of compassion, versus giving a psychological explanation which I feel would be much more appropriate.  Doing so would make Schopenhauer’s approach to ethics much more similar to that of David Hume, and in my view, that would be an improvement (“Schopenhauer, Kant” 406).  Yet, I believe that Guyer is betraying a superficial understanding of Schopenhauer with the specific charge he makes.

To better assess Guyer’s criticism, we must clarify what reason and understanding are for Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer says:

The main difference among all our representations is that between the intuitive and the abstract.  The latter constitutes only one class of representations, namely concepts; and on earth these are the property of man alone.  The capacity for these which distinguishes him from all animals has at all times been called reason (Vernunft).  We shall consider further these abstract representations by themselves, but first of all we shall speak exclusively of the intuitive representation [understanding].  This embraces the entire world, or the whole of experience, together with the conditions of its possibility.  (Schopenhauer 5)

As Schopenhauer is quoted saying, he believes only human beings have the capacity for reason.  However, he believes that intuitive understanding is shared by humans with all other animals.  Intuitive understanding is actually what is primarily responsible for our experience of the world, as he says, “…the understanding unites space and time in the representation of matter, that is to say, of effectiveness.  This world as representation exists only through the understanding, and also only for the understanding” (Schopenhauer 11).  Reason which is unique to humans is simply a tool, albeit an incredibly powerful and useful tool.  Schopenhauer’s criticism against Kant is that his ethical theory is situated in abstract reason, which as a tool useful in helping us to achieve our ends, cannot actually inform our ends or values.  Insofar as value creation is concerned, it is powerless.  Compassion for Schopenhauer is something situated in our understanding, not our reason.  If this were not the case, it would be impossible for Schopenhauer to talk about the emotional richness of many non-human animals.  A dog defending its human or pup, is acting out of the very same metaphysically determined compassion as a human being is when she seeks to stop the suffering of a stranger.  Yet, it would be absurd to charge Schopenhauer with thinking that the dog has some sort of intellectual or abstract concept of what compassion’s metaphysical root is.  Given Schopenhauer’s very explicit statements on this matter, it is just as absurd to imply that Schopenhauer believes we feel compassion for others because we are aware of the metaphysical unity of all beings on a conceptual level.  If this was the case, I grant that compassion as a concept would be just as unable to motivate action as the Categorical Imperative.  In fact, for this very reason, Schopenhauer is explicit in stating that you cannot teach a person to be moral.  You can of course educate them on moral rules so that they understand the concepts, but they are not as a result going to become moral.  It would be similar to explaining to a person how birds fly with their forelimbs, and then expecting that that person, now thoroughly educated in avian flight, will be able to jump out the window and engage in sustained flight.  If you do not have the wings and such of a bird, you will not be able to fly like a bird, even if you conceptually understand what they are doing.  Likewise, if you are not moved by compassion, but instead by egoism or malice, you can quite readily learn about compassion and what Schopenhauer believes to be the metaphysical foundation underwriting it, but it is not going to make you a more compassionate person.  The only time moral instruction can help is when a person has a fundamentally compassionate worldview, but needs the help of reason and concepts to direct their actions towards the most effective means of achieving their compassionate ends.

For instance, Schopenhauer believed strongly in compassion for animals.  Yet, he also reluctantly asserted that it is okay to eat animals.  His reasoning is that especially in some very cold climates, a vegetarian diet would be impossible for people to live on, and though the animals suffer in being slaughtered, they ultimately suffer less than human beings would if they willfully starved to death.  I am not in a good position to know if or if not this was true for people in certain climates during Schopenhauer’s lifetime.  In any case, assuming Schopenhauer were alive now, I could teach him that given contemporary technology and nutritional understanding, it is possible for people to live on a vegan diet.  I believe this would motivate him to then advocate just such a diet.  This is not an example of me influencing his fundamental values, but of showing him a way to more coherently live out the values he already has.  As Welsen puts it “[Schopenhauer] thinks that a morally good action does not originate from an abstract knowledge but rather an intuitive one” (760).

In conclusion, Schopenhauer offers a better ethical alternative than Kant does with his Categorical Imperative.  While Kant’s system is thorough and impressive, it is ultimately disconnected with the reality of our experiences.  The Kantian abstract rational being does not cohere with real human beings.  Schopenhauer’s ethical philosophy, which is also rooted in transcendental idealism provides a more plausible foundation for moral action and beliefs, which is compassion.  Compassion is superior because it is much easier to explain how compassion towards others — including non-human animals — can motivate moral behavior, and how it can serve as the source for our moral appraisement of others.  Kant is right to caution us that compassionate behavior not guided by reason may itself become problematic.  This is where there is a place for reason.  However, reason should act as a guide for our moral inclinations, not as the source or seat of our moral behavior.  For instance, if I have a family member who is addicted cocaine, I may be tempted to continue to give her money when she shows up at my house crying.  In time, I will probably realize that this is only enabling her behavior, and the more effective method of showing her compassion is to resist enabling her.  I may then attempt to comfort her, and explain my willingness to be there for her and to help her with money if she checks herself into a rehabilitation center.  Without reason, I would be in the same situation as a non-human animal, and only able to consider the present moment, which would mean, I would be overcome with compassion each time my cousin showed up, and I would hence respond the same way each time, by giving her money, and inadvertently would be supporting her drug habit which is destroying her life.

Yet Schopenhauer’s ethical philosophy has its own weakness.  Namely that Schopenhauer insists there is a metaphysical root to compassion.  I am convinced by his argument that we are all one on a metaphysical level, yet the validity of this claim, does not in my mind compel us on an empirical level to feel compassion for others.  Also, since compassion need not be limited to rational beings such as ourselves, and is found in dolphins, dogs, and many other species of animals, I believe Schopenhauer would be hard pressed to explain the lack of compassion in solitary animals, such as the black widow who eats her mate and her young, many snakes which are solitary, species of amphibians which cannibalize each other, et cetera.  These animals are just as metaphysically united with the rest of existence as we are, and they possess an understanding just as we do.  Schopenhauer’s philosophy fails to account for this.

In this sense, I certainly agree with Tsanoff, that both Kant and Schopenhauer’s philosophy suffers from confusion associated with their view of the interaction between our metaphysical and phenomenal selves, the anecdote being a philosophy more deeply rooted in “concrete human experience” (514).

 

Works Cited

Allison, Henry E. Kant’s Theory of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print.

Guyer, Paul. “Schopenhauer, Kant and Compassion.” Kantian Review 17.03 (2012):

403-29. Web.

Guyer, Paul. “The Possibility of the Categorical Imperative.” The Philosophical Review (n.d.):

353-84. Web.

Kant, Immanuel. Practical Philosophy. Trans. Mary J. Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Print.

Mudragei, N. S. “The Thing in Itself: From Unknowability to Acquaintance

(Kant-Schopenhauer).” Russian Studies in Philosophy 38.3 (1999): 64-89. Web.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation, Volume I. Trans. E. F. J. Payne.

New York: Dover Publications, 1966. Print.

Tsanoff, Radoslav A. “Schopenhauer’s Criticism of Kant’s Theory of Ethics.” The Philosophical

Review 19.5 (1910): 512-34. JSTOR. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.

Welsen, Peter. “Schopenhauer’s Interpretation of the Categorical Imperative.” Revista Portuguesa

De Filosofia T. 61.Fasc. 3/4, Heran̤a De Kant: II РEfeitos & Transforma̵̤es

(2005): 757-72. JSTOR. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The National Popular Vote: A Vote For Us All

The United States of America has done more than any other single nation to make democracy the standard of legitimacy for governments. Even in nations that have no democratic tradition, the pretense of democracy is almost always there. In Iraq, then President Saddam Hussein (note the democratic title) made an effort to appear democratic and submit to elections – however fraudulent. In 2002 his government claimed he won 100% of the vote in a referendum calling on him to serve for another seven years (Saddam ‘wins 100% of vote’). As America contends with a rising China and a tumultuous Middle East our soft power remains a necessary component along with hard power in any vision that can realistically achieve our international aims. Quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the impasse we are experiencing with Iran makes the limits of hard power all too obvious. When it comes to soft power, there is nothing more powerful than the strength of the American democratic tradition and the stability of our government. This was of course called into question in the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. President Bush was elected despite having lost the popular vote. Americans were not the only ones disillusioned with the long and divisive process. International competitors such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia have exploited this. President Putin implicitly brought up the 2000 election when he criticized the Electoral College as a flawed system (Barry). Aside from needlessly making ourselves vulnerable to such foreign criticism which does real damage to our ability to influence other nations, the Electoral College hurts American citizens’ faith that they are in direct control of their own democracy. The Electoral College denies Americans, as a national electorate equal participation in Presidential Elections and risks making president someone who was not democratically endorsed by the American people, while its greatest advertised benefit, supporting federalism (Gregg 35) and the voice of the states (Gregg 35) is already addressed by the institution of the American senate (Chang 222). The best solution to this issue is adoption of the National Popular Vote (NPV) plan, which will tie the Electoral College results to the winner of the popular vote every single time while remaining more amenable to revision as necessary than a constitutional amendment would be.

The Electoral College was originally a compromise between small states and large states (in terms of population). The primary reason for the states forming a union were practical, not patriotic (Ward 866). The states would be vulnerable to foreign manipulation and intervention so long as they were autonomous political entities unable to guarantee a united front towards aggression.
The smaller states wanted each state to have equal say in the federal government; in line with how each member state has one vote in the United Nations General Assembly regardless of population (of course, I am ignoring the issue of the Security Council and the five permanent members). Today, the United States would not like it if India or China had more power in the UN than we did, just because each nation has several times our population.
More populous states were not happy with the notion of states which were much less populous and powerful than them from having equal influence on the federal government. Their feeling was that the more residents each individual state had (and hence, the larger the share of the entire nation) the more influence that state should have.
Reconciliation between these two divergent perspectives was reached in the Electoral College. The Electoral College awards each state a certain amount of electors. This is based on the number of seats the state has in the House of Representatives (which is based on population for the most part, though each state is guaranteed at least one representative), plus the state’s two Senate seats (Ward 866) which are not based on population. The fewest electors any one state can have is three.
Though the question of how much influence each state should have nationally is inherently a federal issue, states were given discretion as to how they would express that influence. Thus it was up to the states to decide how to allocate the electors (Chang 206). It does not necessarily have to be based on the popular vote of the state – rather, they could be chosen by the state legislature, for instance (Chang 206; Gringer 185).
The electors would meet to cast two votes for President each (Chang 209). Assuming a candidate got the majority of the electoral votes – today that would mean at least 270 Electoral Votes (Gringer 187) – as opposed to a tie or a plurality, that individual would become President and the runner up would become Vice President.
It was believed that a candidate would only rarely be able to get a majority in the Electoral College (Ward 866). When the Electoral College failed to give the majority of votes to any one state, the House of Representatives would elect the President among the three top candidates (Chang 207). Each state delegation would get one vote (Chang 207). This would be the ultimate concession to the small states since each state would be equal in this round of voting. However this only actually happened in 1824 when the House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson (Ward 866) despite the fact that Adams was second in both the popular vote and electoral vote (Ward 866).
Though most states award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote – except for Maine and Nebraska (Gregg 34) both of whom employ a proportional allocation of votes based on congressional districts – this is at the discretion of the states ( Chang 206). The Electoral College was never meant to be the voice of the American people. In fact, Americans do not have a constitutional right to vote for President (Chang 206). It is widely known that we vote for electors as opposed to the President herself, but not even this indirect method is guaranteed us by the Electoral College (Chang 206).
The Electoral College today is an impediment because it risks putting in power someone who did not win the national popular vote. An example of this was the 2000 Presidential Election between Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore (Gringer 182). After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Bush Campaign, and Florida’s Electoral Votes were awarded to it, George W. Bush became our 43rd President, even though Al Gore received hundreds of thousands more votes nationally than George W. Bush did (Chang 218). This casts real doubts on our democratic system and hurts our aspiration to be an international model. We are the only nation in the world who implements such a scheme.
Another issue with the Electoral College is that it focuses the attention of Presidential Elections on swing states (Chang 222). Since candidates are looking for electoral votes and not popular votes, they largely ignore states they know they are either going to win or lose for sure (Chang 222-223). They only campaign in states that are close enough that they could go to either candidate – that is, the swing states. This can be interpreted as effective disenfranchisement of most American voters, and even most small states (Gringer 222-223), which are supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of the Electoral College!
The Electoral College is enshrined in our constitution (Chang 206) and would be very hard to remove (Chang 210). Especially since many small states would not be inclined to abolish an institution which is perceived as benefiting them and their support would be necessary in the senate. There have already been over 1,000 attempts at altering or removing the Electoral College (Gringer 184). The National Popular Vote (NPV) plan avoids this peril of the amendment process by working within the constitutional framework to ensure the winner of the national popular vote becomes our president in every single election (Chang 205).
As mentioned above, states decide how to allocate their electors and most states allocate them based on the popular vote of their state. This is not required though. There are absolutely no guidelines or restrictions on the federal level as to how they are allocated (Chang 206) (there are restrictions on who can be an elector, but not on how they are allocated to a particular candidate or candidates).

The NPV calls on individual states to allocate their electors based on the national popular vote. For instance, in 2000 if George W. Bush had won the popular vote in Texas, but lost the national popular vote to Al Gore, the Texan electors would have all gone to Al Gore if the NPV was in effect and Texas was a part of it.
The NPV will only go into effect once the total of electoral votes from the states in the compact meets or exceeds 270 (Gringer 187) out of a total of 538 electoral votes nationwide, constituting a majority. This way the states are only bound to the national popular vote if and when the popular vote winner can be guaranteed victory in the Electoral College itself (Gringer 187).
Some proponents of the Electoral College claim that small states would lose much of their influence under the NPV. There are two primary reasons for this. First, the fewest electoral votes any state can currently have is three regardless of population which gives small states a relatively larger influence. This and the fact that regardless of how much you win or lose in any state (excepting Maine and Nebraska) you still get the same amount of Electoral Votes, candidates are encouraged to campaign across the entire nation, as opposed to just focusing on certain regions (Gregg 35). This makes the President care about the entire country when she is elected, not just the narrow base which elected her.
In the beginning of our Union this would have been a convincing argument, since citizens primarily saw themselves as citizens of their individual state, as opposed to citizens of the United States of America. So people cared much more about their state interests being recognized in the federal government. Today, we see ourselves as Americans first. The election of the President should not be a decision that fifty states make, but one that all Americans as a unified people make. Each vote should count equally, regardless of what state any individual voter comes from.
To the extent that states or groups of states do have particular interests or needs (say the Gulf region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) there is the United States senate which awards each state two senators regardless of population, and thus protects smaller states – it is this institution specifically which would make getting rid of the Electoral College by constitutional amendment so difficult. We also have a presidential primary system which focuses heavily on individual states and their concerns, including those of small states (Iowa and New Hampshire).
Beyond this, the Electoral College in practice primarily serves to give swing states disproportionate influence (Gringer 222). Small states that are not swing states are ignored even more than large states that are not swing states (Gringer 222-223). So the electoral college does not broaden the presidential campaigns to more of the country, it focuses them on certain states that are not necessarily representative of the nation as a whole (Chang 218).
There are other people who support getting rid of the Electoral College, but believe we should only do so by Constitutional Amendment (Gringer 182). This is because they feel there may be legal issues with the NPV (Gringer 197-223). Primarily that it disenfranchises minority voters who can be influential at the state level (Gringer 201), but not necessarily on the national level, and because this could amount to an interstate compact which the Constitution says requires congressional approval (Gringer 226). Lastly, the NPV may be a problem because it is not being well thought out on the national level (Gringer 227). Rather, it is going quietly from state to state without a real discussion (Gringer 227).
If the NPV hurts the ability of minority voters to select the candidate of their choice, so would a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College. In any case, the popular vote and Electoral College have selected the same winner in all but four elections (Chang 216). The last election that this happened, in 2000 (Chang 218), the choice of racial minorities – Al Gore – won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College. So it seems that the minority vote could actually be more influential in the NPV, not the Electoral College. In any case, many states with large minority votes (such as California) have passed the NPV with the support of minority politicians. The courts have ruled in the past that election changes supported by minority legislators and not intended to disenfranchise minorities are okay (Gringer 202).
The Constitution does state that interstate compacts must be approved by congress, yet the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that interstate compacts do not require congressional approval so long as they do not infringe on the power of the federal government (Chang 214). Since the Constitution gives absolute authority to the states as to how to allocate electors (Chang 296), it is not an interference with a federal prerogative and thus should not pose any constitutional issues. Even if it did, passing the NPV and then seeing it struck down by the Supreme Court could create a major impetus for constitutional reform so no one who wants to see the Electoral College abolished is taking a risk by supporting the NPV.
The NPV and the ultimate aim of formally abolishing the Electoral College through constitutional amendment are not mutually exclusive. The NPV could actually provide a good testing ground and serve to show small states and other skeptics that there is nothing to fear from a popular vote, which could then make getting an amendment through the senate more realistic. If there are unforeseen consequences with the NPV, it could be altered much more easily than a constitutional amendment could be (which would require another constitutional amendment).

This flexibility on the part of the NPV is not unimportant, especially if we are to allay the concerns of people who see the stability of the American political system as having its taproot in the Electoral College. While the states can independently join the NPV compact, they can also independently leave it in the case that there are unforeseen circumstances. Though we have every reason to be confidant that a popular vote is the best alternative for the United States, we cannot rule out the potential need to make slight revisions. For instance, the Twelfth Amendment was ratified in the wake of the election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson tied in the Electoral College with his own running mate, Aaron Burr (Ward 866). This was a possibility that our Founders failed to account for. We should be humble and allow ourselves more flexibility.

Without doubt, the NPV is our best hope of redressing the inequities of the Electoral College while maintaining a reasonable means of revision that the states could undertake themselves. Until this plan is put into place, our political system continues to suffer. Though I doubt President Putin has very praiseworthy motives for attacking the Electoral College, we cannot commit ad hominem and allow the messenger to blind us to the seriousness of the claim. The electoral crisis of 2000 was not an anomaly, rather it may be a portent of things to come if we fail to act. If Senator John Kerry had won Ohio in 2004 he could have won the Electoral College and become President despite George W. Bush’s popular vote victory (Wisckol). In our most recent election between President Barack Obama and Governor Romney many commentators were speaking of the possibility that one candidate would win the popular vote while another president would electoral vote. Another possibility was that they might tie in the Electoral College and each receive 269 votes which would send the election to the House of Representatives where Romney would almost certainly be elected (Silver). If Obama won the popular vote in this scenario you could have a situation very reminiscent of 2000. The United States is a nation of laws, but that does not mean those laws should not evolve. Our greatness is premised on our ability resolve our weaknesses and faults within the system itself, without having to resort to measures outside of it. Our Founders did not give us commandments written in stone, rather they gave us a document and system which with the NPV in place can continue better give us in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, “government for the people, of the people and by the people.”

Works Cited

Barry, Ellen. Blunt and Blustery, Putin Responds to State Department Cables on Russia. New York Times. 1 Dec. 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Chang, Stanley. Updating The Electoral College: The National Popular Vote Legislation. Harvard Journal On Legislation 44.1 (2007): 205-229. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Ward, Elliot. Electoral College. Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. Ed. Leonard W. Levy and Kenneth L. Karst. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2000. 866-867. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Gregg, Gary L. Unpopular Vote. American Conservative 10.12 (2011): 33-35. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Gringer, David. Why The National Popular Vote Plan Is The Wrong Way To Abolish The Electoral College. Columbia Law Review 108.1 (2008): 182-230. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Saddam ‘wins 100% of vote’. BBC News. 16 Oct. 2002. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Silver, Nate. New Polls Raise Chance of Electoral College Tie. The New York Times. 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Wisckol, Martin. Momentum Grows to Override Electoral College. The Orange County Register. 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Care for all Children

Morality does not usually seem to be a complicated issue.  Certain actions are right, or wrong in the abstract.  We then use these standards to judge our actions and the actions of others.  Insofar as someone follows these rules, they are ethical.  In such an abstract system, human beings themselves are treated as “equally situated” abstract entities.  The simplicity in the system is that there is no need to become intimately interested in the particulars of an individual’s context.  This is why people are often able to ignore the suffering of others, even children, when assessing their actions, as a District Attorney says to a young woman, Gabrielle, “There is no reason why you could be this way… There can be no ‘why’ for the things you have done” (Bernstein 265).  This sort of coldness in the face of a young person who commits an act against our “objective” standards is possible because justice ethics makes no room for understanding the individual as such.  When we focus on abstract rules at the expense of care for the individual we create needless suffering in the name of a hollow ethical approach.  Any substantive ethic of justice must be supplemented  by an ethic of caring.  Our challenge as a society is to find the right balance, otherwise, we can approximate justice of any sort, in name only.  The treatment of Nathan Ybanez before and after he killed his mother, Julie Ybanez, has lacked justice, because he was not given the care we as a society assert all children are entitled to.  Thus those who looking at his case base their support of his harsh punishment on rules, duties, and fairness, are overlooking the fact we as a society failed to follow our own standards, and duties to provide him care.  The only way to right the injustice society has committed against Nathan Ybanez is to compensate him now for the care he lacked, despite the effort of some to get him help.

Nathan Ybanez was a child of only fourteen when he moved with his family to Colorado and took the life of his mother, Julie, in the same year, 1996 (Frontline 1, 2).  Nathan claims that he was physically abused by his stepfather, Roger, and sexually abused by his mother (Frontline 1).  Nathan never went directly to the authorities to seek help because he was embarrassed and wanted his friends to thinks he is a “normal person” (Frontline 2).  This does not mean it did not bother him, of the sexual assault he endured he says

I knew it wasn’t right, but I wasn’t sure about my place in the whole area of what was going on with my family and the world in general.  I’d been kept apart from a lot of outside things, these kind of things [sexual abuse] make me feel like I wish I could cut off my own skin.  That’s how I feel.  Even today.  So I don’t like talking about them. (Frontline 1)

While we do not know exactly when the physical and sexual abuse of Nathan began at the hands of his parents, we know that he was fourteen at the very oldest.  Presumably it may have been going on for several years.  While it seems that the best strategy for Nathan would have been to go to the authorities, children and adolescents are not always able to properly assess the consequences.  Yet, while Nathan was not open about the abuse he was enduring, he was not able to entirely hide it from those who took an interest in his life.  His friend, Erik Jensen went to his parents about his concern for Nathan, and in turn, Erik’s parents went to social services (Frontline 2).  Yet social services explained that at Nathan’s age he was expected to essentially fend for himself, because there were not enough resources for older children (Frontline 2).  In fairness, social services denies that this was ever their response (Frontline 2).  In my own experience with child protective services, and other mental health programs meant to help the most vulnerable, this sort of response is however, incredibly common.  I do not understand the motive of the Jensen parents to make this up either, since if this helps anyone, it would presumably be Nathan Ybanez, not their own son, Erik.

With the failure of the system to help him, perhaps Nathan was acting more rationally than we might initially have thought.  Nathan’s fear that no one with authority would help him, as sad as this is, seems to be correct.  When deciding if Nathan acted appropriately or not, when he eventually killed his mother, we have to ask ourselves what alternatives were present to him as an abused child. Perhaps social services would have acted differently if the severity of Nathan’s problems were made clear — the Jensen parents did not realize the extent of his abuse — yet ultimately there would have been very little physical evidence.  It would have been Erik’s word against his parents’, and in the meantime, he would still be at their mercy.   So why would anyone — adult or not — want to incur the wrath of those who have the most power over us?

Nathan eventually took matters into his own hands, “on June 5th, 1996 Julie told Nate that she was sending him to a Christian boot camp in Missouri.  Nate was terrified by this prospect.  ‘It seemed to me that something had to happen — had to happen that day” (Frontline 2).  What happened was Nate killing his mom very violently while his friend, Erik was there (Frontline 2).  Of course the notion of a child killing his mother because she wants to send him away to a boot camp seems entirely disproportionate.  A child who commits such an action seems to be the very definition of evil.  That is if we assume that these children are abstract beings with no context that may explain their actions.  To ignore what seems obvious, that this news was the spark, versus the root cause of the killing is denying real justice to Nate.  We are being willfully ignorant, as the DA earlier mentioned was with Gabrielle (Bernstein 265).  We come to the conclusion that there can be no explanation, because we refuse to look for one.  Looking for one would weaken the notion that certain actions, divorced of all context, are inherently right or wrong.

This very perspective lacks any sort of rational foundation, because it requires the erroneous assumption that we are all equally situated.  Feminist ethics is vocal against this error, “[it] can never begin by assuming that women and men are similarly situated — although it may discover that some women are situated similarly with some men in specific respects or contexts” (Becker 532).  Whereas men generally enjoy privilege over women, care ethics cannot stop there, but must look at the individual and their context.  In the case of Nathan Ybanez, an abused child, he was not in an intellectual, emotional, or material position to properly defend himself against his own caregivers.  We might criticize his actions, but the focus of such criticism is mistaken.  We must instead focus on how society let him down, and hence, our own responsibility for his abuse, and the death of his mother.  My assertion is premised on the fact that we acknowledge that it is just for parents to care for their children. This means that parents must employ an ethic of care with their children to help them become happy, healthy adults.  In cases in which parents are unable or unwilling to meet this standard of care, we see ourselves as having an obligation — founded upon justice — to supplement the care the child is entitled to.  This implicit assumption is illustrated by the numerous programs we have for children — Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), welfare, public schools, child protective services, foster care, and so on — and laws we have that are specific to children — in many states you cannot smoke in front of children, there are laws against children drinking and smoking, and so on.  Yet, we do not often take this obligation seriously enough.  I am sympathetic to the social services officials who told Erik Jensen’s parents that not much could be done to help Nathan at his age, given their limited resources.  It is we as a society who have not made sure these important programs are properly funded and maintained.

Given Nate’s lack of care, there is no good argument from a justice perspective that a child like Nate is the primary aggressor in this situation.  Justice demands we review our obligations to children and address the gross shortcomings.  Justice further demands that the victims of our failure to properly meet our obligations, such as Nate, are not punished for it.  Yet this is exactly what happened to Nate.  Nate was convicted of first-degree murder and given a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole (Frontline 4).

Since Nathan’s trial the Supreme Court has ruled mandatory life-sentences against persons who were juveniles during the time of the crime to be unconstitutional (Life Without Parole 1).  Unfortunately this only applies retroactively to the year 2012 (Life Without Parole 1).  Nate committed his crime in 1996 and was convicted in 1999 (Frontline 2, 3).  This legal distinction will make it that much more difficult for Nate to ever get to see freedom.  Yet this legal distinction is entirely unimportant to ethics.  If it is unjust for children to be given mandatory life-sentences in the year 2012, it is unjust for Nate to be given that same sentence in 1999.  There is no utilitarian justification for this either.  Nate is not somehow suffering for the greater good.  His imprisonment helps no one.  In fact a life sentence for a sixteen year old will cost approximately $2.25 million dollars (Life Without Parole 4).

Not only is our treatment of Nate and others like him unjust, we have real alternatives. In Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison, Nell Bernstein offers what is in my mind the best possible set of alternatives.  She points out that that

Eighty to [ninety] percent of American teenagers… will go through a period of delinquency…  The vast majority will grow out of it as they grow up… seen through the lens of its near universality, juvenile delinquency begins to look less like an aberration than a developmental stage [thus] “what rehabilitates” may not be the right question [instead we should ask] “what do children need?” (Bernstein 259-260)

Reenvisioning juvenile justice to take into account that question “what do children need” means emphasizing care for the child.  Models which are oriented in this perspective include Multisystemic Therapy (MST) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT) (Bernstein 275).  Both of these approaches do not make the erroneous assumption that all children are equally situated.  Instead they seek to understand the wider context of the child’s life.  Instead of seeing the child as a problem, the focus is on how to change positively the child’s living situation by making the family unit as functional as possible (Bernstein 278).  These methods cost between three thousand and nine thousand dollars per month for each child (Bernstein 277).  This pales in comparison to 2.25 million dollars per year to house the average prisoner (Life Without Parole 4).

While these approaches might be helpful to Nate, their use would be limited in his context.  This is because there is no real family unit for Nate.  Given the physical and sexual abuse he suffered, he should have been taken away from his parents.  Of course after he killed his mother, this intervention became impossible altogether.  Yet, if Nate was put in the care of another family — say Erik Jensen’s — after a better funded social services investigated allegations of abuse and found that Erik was in danger, he could have perhaps been well-served with this kind of approach to help him and his foster parents best understand what kind of care he needs.

I understand the concern with not incarcerating Nate at all in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death.  For all we know he might have been planning to kill other people.   It would make sense that we want to incarcerate him until we could be reasonably assured he was not going to commit such a crime again, and then focus on approaches like MST or FFT.  In this context something like the Missouri Model would be more appropriate for Nate.  The Missouri Model for youth focuses on rehabilitation, the staff has a “culture of caring”, they work to make young people happy and healthy (Bernstein 284).  Only a quarter of the former Missouri Model youth reoffended in their first year of release, which is significantly less than the rate of recidivism we see with traditional programs (Bernstein 284).  Youth are challenged to discuss their  feelings and form relationships with each other (Bernstein 285).  This could have helped Nate a lot.  Since he wanted to be a “normal person” and presumably did not think others would understand (Frontline 2) he kept quiet about his abuse.  The Missouri Model could have paired him with other young people who had endured similar trauma.  He could be made to feel “normal” while also sharing his experiences with other people.  Undoubtedly this would lead to the communication and coping skills that he lacked as an isolated and abused child.

Gail Palone would disagree entirely with this approach.  She says, “They took lives.  They took sons, they took mothers, they took fathers, they took aunts, they took uncles.  They took so much away from people and we can never get it back” (PBS Documentary).  Palone is coming from the perspective of a mother whose son, Matthew Foley was killed by another juvenile (PBS Documentary).  I am absolutely sympathetic to her pain and anger, and do not wish to cast her as a villain.  Her own perspective limits her ability to look at these children as individuals however, and I am speaking of her now, because I believe her perspective is privileged in our society.   When we think of young people killing others, we think of young people going after loving parents, siblings, community members.  Instead of looking at the context of individual cases, she assumes someone like Nate deserves life in prison because he took someone’s mother.   In reality, Nate defended himself against the person charged with being his mother.  The sexual abuse means that Nate was denied the mother he deserved.  In killing Julie, Nate tragically defended himself the best he could.  Nate is Erik’s friend, he could have learned to cope with the traumas inflicted upon him, and become a productive member of the community.  Instead, we turned an ethic of justice into an ethic of vengeance because we refuse to acknowledge that not everyone is equally situated, especially when they are children, and have thus denied care to those we have an obligation to provide it to.  An ethic of justice, which is worthy of being described as “just” must not ignore the essential role care plays.  Our lack of care which has turned our justice system into vengeance exacted against youthful offenders like Nate has indeed taken away what could have been a father, uncle, and friend.  It has served to compound the evil already inflicted on this young victim.

Works Cited

Becker, Charlotte.  Becker, Lawrence.  “Feminist Ethics.”  Encyclopedia of Ethics.  2nd Edition.

New York City: Routledge, 2001.  528-39.  Print.

Bernstein, Nell.  Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison.  New York City: The

New Press.  2014.  Print.

“Life Without Parole: An Overview.” The Sentencing Project (n.d.): n. pag. The Sentencing

Project. Web. Oct. 2016. http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Juvenile-Life-Without-Parole.pdf

“Profile: Nathan Ybanez & Erik Jensen.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. Oct. 2016.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/whenkidsgetlife/five/nateerik.html

When Kids Get Life. Frontline, 2007. PBS. Web. Oct. 2016.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/whenkidsgetlife/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment