Archive for June, 2010

Victory for Individual Rights!

by Jason Stotts

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) today handed down their judgment in the Macdonald v. Chicago case (08-1521).  The Justices ruled 5-4 that the second amendment is incorporated against the states through the fourteenth amendment.  I haven’t read the complete decision yet, since it is quite long and was only issued today, but let me quote form the introduction:

Two years ago, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. ___ (2008), we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense, and we struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in the home. The city of Chicago (City) and the village of Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, have laws that are similar to the District of Columbia’s, but Chicago and Oak Park argue that their laws are constitutional because the Second Amendment has no application to the States. We have previously held that most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights apply with full force to both the Federal Government and the States. Applying the standard that is well established in our case law, we hold that the Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States. (link)

This is a great victory for individual rights and movement in the right direction in terms of the government.  I encourage everyone to take a look at the full text of the judgment.  I will likely revisit this issue soon with a fuller discussion of the issues.

Harrison Bergeron

by Jason Stotts

I was recently sent a link to the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, about the ideal of “equality” and the practical implications of that.  I strongly recommend taking a look at the story, which you can find here.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

(H/T Diana Hsieh)

Iceland Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

by Jason Stotts

Reuters is reporting that Iceland has passed Same-Sex Marriage in a unanimous vote.

Iceland, the only country in the world to have an openly gay head of state, passed a law on Friday allowing same-sex partners to get married in a vote which met with no political resistance.

The Althingi parliament voted 49 to zero to change the wording of marriage legislation to include matrimony between “man and man, woman and woman,” in addition to unions between men and women.

I can only wistfully imagine how nice it would be to not have religion interfering in politics.

Is Love a Zero-Sum Game?

by Jason Stotts

Many people tend to assume that love is a zero-sum game and I think that that’s an interesting assumption.  In order to figure out if it’s true, let’s take a look at what it would mean and see if we can come to understand whether love is, in fact, a zero-sum game.

Let’s start by noting that a “zero-sum game” is one in which there is a finite and fixed amount of some resource for which two or more people must compete.  It’s called zero-sum because what one person gains, another must lose; therefore, if you were to sum all of the changes in the positions of the participants, the sum would be zero.  The key idea in a zero-sum game is that since there is a finite and fixed quantity of X: for one person to gain X, another must lose X.  The question is: does love operate this way?

In order to answer this question, we need to ascertain whether love exists, for any particular person, in finite and fixed quantities.  So, let us consider some examples.

1. If a couple is completely in love with each other and they have a child, will that child be without love, since its parents have already allocated all of their love to each other?  If they decide to love the child, will they have to withdraw some of their love from their partner?  What if the couple only planned on having one child and so held back loving each other somewhat, so that they would have love to allocate to the child once it was born, but accidently had twins?  Would each baby only receive half of the allocated love?  What if this ends up completely using up the love of the parents and then they accidently have a third child?  Will this child be loveless?

2.  What if a person is happily married and his father, whom he loved, dies?  Does this mean he will be able to love his wife more now?  Should one in a relationship that needs more love consider killing other people that one loves so that the love can be reallocated?  Can love be withdrawn from a person without having to kill them?

3.  What if a child grows up loving her parents completely and then decides that she wants to be in a relationship?  Will she be unable to love her partner?  Will she have to love her parents less in order to love her partner?  What if she then gets a kitten?  Will the poor animal be without love?

As you should be able to discern from the above examples, the idea of love as a fixed and finite amount, a zero-sum game, is absurd.

Should we therefore assume that love is infinite and that one can love however people, children, and animals that a person chooses?  No, clearly there are practical issues that limit the amount of people that one can love: the number of good and compatible people in the world that one will meet, the amount of time and energy a person has to expend on relationships, the depth at which one is able to maintain one’s love, etc. There are very real limits to love: it is not infinite.  I think that Aristotle makes the point well:

One cannot be a friend to many people in the sense of having friendship of the complete type with them, just as one cannot be in love with many people at once (for love is a sort of excess, and it is the nature of such only to be felt towards one person); and it is not easy for many people at the same time to please the same person very greatly, or perhaps even to be good for him.  One must, too, acquire some experience of the other person and become familiar with him, and that is very hard.  But with a view to utility of pleasure it is possible that many people should please one; for many people are useful or pleasant, and these services take little time. (NE VIII.6.1158a10)

The deeper and more intense the love that one has for a person, the less time and energy one will have to develop love or maintain love for others.  It is important to point out that Aristotle is using love in the way that we would call romantic love now and does not mean love in other senses, like love of family or country.  It is sexual love that drives us to excess and consumes us: while philia may create bonds, it is only eros that consumes us in her passion.

I think this point is easier to understand if we take a look at the end of sexual love: intimacy.  First, there is the obvious direct sense, which is physical intimacy: we desire to be around our lover, to gaze upon her, to know she is present, to spend our time with her, to have her be a part of our life.  However, this is not enough and is ultimately unsatisfying.  Sexual love seeks a deeper kind of intimacy: not just temporary physical connection through sex or being around our lover, but to become one with a person through union.  This should not be taken to mean the Platonic ideal where two lovers want to literally become one by finding their other half.  The union that sexual love seeks is that of a shared identity.

While union sounds like a fuzzy mystical concept, it is not.  Union is just the coming together of two individuals who commit themselves to each other and henceforth act together in their lives.  The embodiment of this in our culture is marriage, which is an institution where two lovers bind themselves together before their friends and the law.  In the best kind of marriage, union will arise.  In order for it to do so, the lovers must spend lots of time together and develop a shared past.  Further, they must care very deeply about each other and value their partner for their own sake, and not simply for the pleasure or utility that they bring.  Once this happens, the lovers will come to internalize each other’s ends as part of their own: the happiness of one lover will become partly constitutive of the happiness of the other, and vice versa.  By having shared their past, sharing their present, and committing to share their future, in addition to their values and ends, the lovers achieve a shared identity and the intimacy that sexual love desires.  Far from being mystical, this shared identity is real: were one of the lovers to die, the other would lose part of herself in a very real sense.

The danger of this sense of shared identity is that the lovers can lose their own identities.  If this happens, then the relationship will dissolve, as the partners will lose interest in each other as time goes by.  In order to avoid this, the lovers must guard their individuality and keep from being dependent on their partners.  After all, it is your unique personality that originally attracted your lover.  Thus, there must be a balance between each person’s individuality and their shared identity that is their relationship.

This intense kind of loving does not have to be exclusive.  It certainly has room in it for children, friends, and family.  However, it does seem as though there is not much room in it for other lovers, or at least that most people cannot concurrently maintain deep levels of love for multiple people.  It’s hard to imagine a person being able to have a shared identity in the sense we’ve been discussing with more than one person, or at least one would spend all of one’s time trying to maintain those relationships and would have little time for anything else.  It’s not hard to see that a person could maintain a deep love for one person and a shallower love for another, perhaps enough that the couple could want to jointly decide to pursue a limited sexual engagement with this third person.  However, I think that the viability of having multiple deep loves over the long term is poor.

So, we have seen that love is not some small limited quantity, but neither is it infinite.  Indeed, it seems that the more intense the love one has for one’s partner, the less one is able, or willing, to love another.  It also seems to be the case that one’s love in one realm (friendly love, familial love, sexual love) is largely independent of the other realms: those who have big families and love them need not worry that they will be unable to love a sexual partner or that they will be unable to have friends.

Formspring: Donations

by Jason Stotts

Question: If a person is a laissez faire capitalist is it morally acceptable for that person to request or accept altruistic donations to maintain a business venture / lifestyle choice such as this website?

Well, yes and no.  The problem is that your question is loaded.  Donations that were actually altruistic, where the person had to sacrifice to give it, would not be moral (for the person making the donation).  On the other hand, capitalists operate by the trader principle, or the principle of Justice.  This principle says that one should give value for a value.  So, if I want your skills and labor, I need to give you something to make it worthwhile to you, like my skills, merchandise, or money.  The trader principle is the application of Justice into Economics. How does this relate to your question?  If a person finds value in my skills, like my writing, then they should want to trade value with me by doing something in return.  Since most of you don’t personally know me to buy me lunch, or something tangible, donations are the most convenient way to do this.

On the other hand, I put this blog and my essays into the public sphere with no expectation that someone will actually pay me for them.  I do it selfishly to practice my writing, test out ideas, and generally make a web presence for myself, for when my book comes out.  So, it’s not like I was expecting to be making lots of money through blogging (and I haven’t!).  In fact, I’ve only ever had one person donate (thanks Chris!).

So, is it moral to request and accept donations?  Yes, especially where one is offering a value in exchange.

Is it moral to make altruistic donations?  No, a person should never trade a higher value for a lower one.

As one final thought, I’ve never thought of blogging as a “lifestyle choice” before. Personally, I think that’s kind of a weird way to think about it.  It was certainly a “choice,” but I’m not sure I’d consider it a “lifestyle.”


by Jason Stotts

After much deliberation, I am officially changing the title of my book-in-progress on sexual ethics from Sexual Perfection: Foundations of a New Sexual Ethic to Eros and Ethos: The Ethics of Modern Sex.


by Jason Stotts

I voted in California today for the second time, the first being in the last election in the fall.  Both times have been at a local church, which is gracious enough (I’m being ironic) to host the voting.  The problem with having voting in a church is that you end up with craziness like this:

My wife M.  noted that the colors used in the sign are also used to represent the two political parties…

Anyway, while this church seems to be of the not-so-crazy-as-some-of-the-others, as it even has a PFLAG poster up, it still seems like a very bad idea to host voting in a church when we’re fighting for separation of religion and state (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.).

Interracial Marriage at All Time High

by Jason Stotts

CNN is reporting that interracial marriage has hit an all time high and that today roughly 1 out of 7 marriages are interracial.

Apparently, race is mattering less these days, say researchers at the Pew Research Center, who report that nearly one out of seven new marriages in the U.S. is interracial or interethnic. The report released Friday, which interviewed couples married for less than a year, found racial lines are blurring as more people choose to marry outside their race.

[…] interracial marriages have soared since the 1980s. About 6.8 percent of newly married couples reported marrying outside their race or ethnicity in 1980. That figure jumped to about 14.6 percent in the Pew report released this week, which surveyed newlyweds in 2008.

Today’s growing acceptance of interracial marriages is a contrast to the overwhelming attitudes 50 years ago that such marriage was wrong — and even illegal. During most of U.S. history, interracial marriages have been banned or considered taboo, sociologists say.

The fact that ideas about interracial marriage, which was once considered highly taboo and was illegal in most places in the US, have changed so much in less than fifty years since Loving v. Virginia (1967), should be encouraging for same-sex marriage supporters.  It goes to show that in the long term, irrationality always loses if we stand up for what is right.