Notes From Babel

Archive for July 2009

More on Meaning

leave a comment »

D.A. Ridgely had this response to my comment left to Kuznicki’s post about the futility of talking about meaning in objective terms, the subject of the previous post. Here was my response:

The quote from Schumpeter captures very well my concern over value, and to some extent, meaning. I do not quite know what to make of the idea of standing on one’s convictions while doubting their validity or, worse, committing them to relativity. This is an aspect of lawyering I find particularly repulsive. And it suggests how philosophy is at once the most human and the least human endeavor: the intense scrutiny demanded by philosophy results in precious few undeniable truths; and yet the existential demands of life require impulsive commitments to innumerable simple, ready-at-hand truths.

The fascinating thing about meaning is not the answer we happen to furnish to the ultimate question, but the fact that we ask it, that we acknowledge it as “the ultimate question” of philosophy and of humanity. That very phenomenon suggests, at the least, some commonality, some universality about our nature, even when we provide vastly different personal responses to the question.

I am a theist—a non-denominational Christian. (I haven’t attended church in years, though, one of the perks of generic Christianity.) To preempt the question, yes, I do find meaning in the view of the afterlife that Christianity provides. Some, anyway. Religious doctrine about afterlife is not meant to satisfy one’s longing for meaning. I am somewhat of an existentialist: life is for the living. Meaning comes from all aspects of our experience. I think this was along the lines of Jason Kuznicki’s original point.

But where I became troubled was Jason’s rejection of the human tendency—universal, in my view—to also seek meaning by looking beyond the end of one’s own life. The suggestion that no one should need to contemplate humanity as a whole, or notions of eternity, or other implications outside the scope and control of one’s own life, strikes me as somewhat aloof. Disciplined existentialists or nihilists might be able to train themselves to ignore this part of their mind. This might be the case, at least definitionally (in practice, I tend to believe that we all have bouts, at some frequency, in which we ponder the immortality of our works and acts). Or maybe some folks truly never ever think with any intrigue about what lies outside themselves. (I would find this very hard to believe.)

But the rest of humanity needs that focal point. It is one part—granted, not the whole—of the mental activity that lends overall meaning to an individual’s life.

Advertisements

Written by Tim Kowal

July 31, 2009 at 5:24 am

Posted in Philosophy

Meaning, History, and Purpose

leave a comment »

Jason Kuznicki rails against “conservatives” who quest for meaningful societal accomplishment, and suggests we instead just try to forget about genetic posterity or historically relevant accomplishments, and try to just end our lives with an “exclamation point.”

It’s never been quite clear to me how one can engage in such impassioned bouts that sound so, well, nihilistic. People who believe that life ends with a period (or exclamation point or whatever) don’t understand those who believe it ends with an ellipsis, and vice versa. But these kinds of speeches always leave me leaning in expecting to find out how the nihilist plans to get along without that sense of “eternal purpose” that most of the rest of us find so important. (I’m sure “nihilist” is probably inaccurate, but that’s just the point–the impulse to define oneself as “other” seems make one forget to explain exactly what kind of other.)

One of course has the right to take his ball and go home. But do go home, is my point. Don’t say there’s no meaning to anything and then carry on as if there is. At the least, propose some alternative rules for what kind of “meaning” we can possibly achieve. For my part, I often find myself in a mood where philosophy seems to have about as much meaning as a crossword puzzle. But no inspiration to do any meaningful philosophy is going to strike me with that attitude.

Written by Tim Kowal

July 30, 2009 at 5:08 am

Posted in Philosophy

Good, Now I Don’t Have to Say It

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum noted today that Medicare must be a great system since seniors seems to like it so much. The Liberty Papers got the response just right:

All that, for a Medicare Part B premium of a mere $96.40 per month. That’s roughly 1/10th of the premium my [large multinational] employer pays for my healthcare, and smaller than the additional portion I pay out-of-pocket for coverage of my wife and kids.

Does anyone think that the $96.40 premium covers the cost of insuring the average senior? I don’t think so. If it did, we wouldn’t be calling it an “entitlement” or worrying about the unfunded liabilities of Medicare going out over the next few decades. We wouldn’t be getting hit as workers with 2.9% of our incomes taken in taxes to pay for the Medicare system.

So are seniors pleased with the system they have? They get cheap premiums and adequate care, all on the backs of the taxpayers. Who wouldn’t be pleased?

Written by Tim Kowal

July 30, 2009 at 4:32 am

Posted in Health Care

Health Care and Hyper-Active Imaginations

leave a comment »

After reading Megan McArdle’s thoughtful (as in, founded in thought) post on why a public option is wrong-headed, Ezra Klein’s empassioned (as in, founded in the part of the brain outside the jurisdiction of thought) post made clear an important point about the ancillary quality of factual and intellectual rigor on the part of public option advocates:

Rather, what has kept health-care reform at the forefront of liberal politics for decades is moral outrage that 47 million of our friends and neighbors are uninsured. That medical costs are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the United States. That an unemployed machinist gets screwed by fly-by-night insurance schemes while a comfortably employed banker need never worry. That the working class ends up in emergency rooms with crushing chest pains because they didn’t have health insurance and didn’t get prescribed cheap blood pressure medications five years before.

Could all that really be true? Surely, medical costs result in some bankruptcies. But a “leading cause”? And where are all these unemployed machinists? My grandfather and uncles were machinists. Owned a machining shop. Until it went out of business because, well, machining’s not much of a viable vocation anymore. In other words, there are probably not many “unemployed machinists,” rather, former machinists looking for a new line of work.

But that’s not the point. If you’re flailing about for a universal public option, facts and ideas aren’t going to take that excess blood out of your face. The problem is an over-active imagination. The problem is the unfounded notion that private health care not only results in some flaws in our health care system, but in every flaw now or ever observed in the Western world.

Written by Tim Kowal

July 29, 2009 at 5:42 am

Posted in Health Care

Don’t Feed the Bears

leave a comment »

Nadya Suleman and her army of 14 zombies are set to come munch on our reality-tv-addicted brains. Would if we could simply wield The Simpsons’ and Paul Anka’s cure for such afflictions as octo-mom and Jon & Kate…

To stop those monsters 1-2-3
Here’s a fresh new way that’s trouble free
It’s got Paul Anka’s guarantee…
(Guarantee void in Tennessee.)

Just don’t look!
Just don’t look!
Just don’t look!
Just don’t look!
Just don’t look!

Written by Tim Kowal

July 25, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Rants

Kuznicki on Health Care

leave a comment »

Jason Kuznicki has two very interesting and informative posts on health care over at Positive Liberty. The first takes a slightly different approach than I did here on our underlying motive in pushing for a public option–paying others to make tough moral decisions for us. The second exposes a lot of the misinformation and outright lies in the comparative talk about health care around the world. Highly recommended you read them both.

Written by Tim Kowal

July 24, 2009 at 3:47 am

Posted in Health Care

Universal Health Care: Right Idea, Wrong Species

leave a comment »

After reading E.D. Kain’s eminently reasonable post today, it occurred to me there is one, and perhaps only one, reason why we all don’t just drop whatever political orientation we happen to have and subscribe to the centrists’ newsletter. That reason is misanthropy; the abiding belief that, being human, we’re bound to screw it all up one way or another. Rightist wingnuts, on the one hand, would likely blow up the whole system sooner than let the other guys get their way. But on the other hand, they’ll likely blow the whole system up sooner than let the other guys get their way. It’s irrational, it’s childish, but dammit, it’s honest, and holds no aspirations of erecting a system that’s not as clumsy and doltish as we are. And while the leftist nutters would really like to build a better mousetrap, they’re too excited and impatient to work with the buzzkill rightists to ever make it happen.

Centrists, on the other hand, threaten to ruin this balanced regime and actually provide a way for these crazy people to accomplish things—and this is not a good thing. Centrists come in and pat everyone on the head and tell us all our feelings are justified, but how swell would it be if we could compromise, and maybe you both have a point, and you can appreciate that if you don’t at least agree on x the debate is going to leave you behind, and on the other hand of course the free market and personal responsibility are good things, and look, here are some charts and graphs and a neat PowerPoint. It’s all very enlightened, and I sometimes find myself wondering why I don’t just warm up to it.

But what ever happened to that idea that man is basically evil, or at least silly and stubborn out of proportion with his meager rational faculty, and that left to his devices he will destroy himself? Or, the secular variation of same—that government is basically evil, or too silly and stubborn, and that left to its own devices, it will destroy us all? We can all appreciate pie charts and calculators, but for heaven’s sake, the housing bubble carcass is still warm—have we already forgotten that that beast was cobbled together with equations so fancy it took a pocket protector and half a dozen letters after your name to understand them? And even those guys were kind of amazed that it worked as long as it did. Numbers are not our salvation. They just give us new and horrifying ways to make us say “I wish I’d not have done that.”

And so it will inevitably go with universal health care. Again, you won’t get any wonkish predictions from me as to how precisely the thing will blow up in our faces—perhaps a smoking disaster like California’s energy “deregulation”; or perhaps a long, slow suffocation like our entitlement programs. One way or another, it’s going to go south on us.

So, although I won’t throw my hat in with the blathering, insipid wingnuts who do little other than heap unhelpful insults on the issues, they’re doing God’s work. Who else is going to take those determined little imagineers with a bloated sense of duty to “humanity” down a notch?

Written by Tim Kowal

July 23, 2009 at 4:38 am

Posted in Health Care, Politics