From the News

When I drive out to Pennsylvania, I spend part of my ride listening to news radio. (Today I alternated that with listening to lectures on the reign of Henry VIII, and to an Italian language CD.) I like hearing the news, because it always feeds me curiosities I can share with you. For instance, today I learned that:

* 60% of New Yorkers think the NYPD has just the right policy towards Muslims, in, you know, treating them all as potential terrorists merely on the basis of their religion. This must be the "socially constructed morality" I've been hearing about: if a majority of ill-informed and biased people think a policy is moral, then it is!

* In a "public service" announcement, I learned that if someone is riding the subway while wearing a backpack and "looking around," that is an excellent reason for reporting him to the police. I mean, really, what kind of sicko takes their eyes off of the floor or the book in their hand while riding the subway?!


  1. Careful Gene, now you sound like a cranky libertarian again. So you're fine with the majority wanting to keep out immigrants, but you're not fine with the majority wanting to keep out terrorists. What is the dividing line between irrational, mob-driven violation of civil liberty, versus quite understandable statecraft in defense of the social body? The things that you personally like?

    (This sounds way more smug than I intend it.)

  2. Bob, where, in my discussions of immigration, have I ever tried to justify any position by claiming "It's what the majority wants"?

  3. @Gene_Callahan: what do you have in mind when you mention NYPD viewing all Muslims as terrorists on the basis of their religion? I'm no NYPD booster, but I think there's a reference here I'm missing.

    1. The recent scandal involving spying on the Muslim population of Newark.

  4. I work in security industry in Israel for a decade now (and before that I've done some urban security duty as a conscript).
    The "backpack" idea is the way absolutely beurocratic system copes with such an uncertainty as suicide bomber. What it does is to create lists that can be checked in. Back in the end of 90'ies, in Israel, they were making profiles, and then briefing security forces on profiles. So, you could be instructed to pay attention for "recently shaved" people and such. Now if the wrongdoers know the criteria...
    After few casualties among the security, today the main thing they say in Israel - "Intuitive feeling of something wrong". Works wonders for all stationary security, like central bus station, railway sations and such.

  5. Gene -
    Dehumanizing outsiders is not standard fare for those who claim there's an objective morality?


    Bob -
    I don't think you've quite got it right on what Gene is saying. I might be going out on a limb here, but I don't think it's the "wanting to keep out terrorists" that he has a problem with. "Violating the civil rights of Muslims and calling that keeping out terrorists" that he has a problem with. Along with Silas, I'm not exactly sure of the abuses that inspired this (and thus I'm not exactly sure of whether this 60% is being reasonable or not).

    1. "Dehumanizing outsiders is not standard fare for those who claim there's an objective morality?"

      It almost sounds like you think there is something objectively wrong with dehumanizing outsiders!

      Hey, if that's the morality they've socially constructed, who are we to criticize?

  6. Another way of putting this is that when a majority of a society thinks a certain thing about morality that's distasteful, more often than not they are working off of what they understand to be objective morality and trying to conform to that.

    You see strong moral foundations when people start thinking for themselves what the best answer to the question "how ought we to best live with our fellow man".

    1. It almost sounds as if you think a morality that concerns itself with "how ought we to best live with our fellow man" is objectively better than one that doesn't give a s&^t about our fellow man.


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