August 14, 2011

Horror scenarios not so bad

From "Migration and refugee law" co-authored by Mirko Bagaric:
"The main general argument against utilitarianism is that because it prioritises net happiness over individual pursuits, it fails to safeguard fundamental individual interests. As a result of this, it has been argued that in some circumstances utilitarianism leads to horrendous outcomes, such as punishing the innocent or forcing organ donations where the donations would maximise happiness by saving the lives of many or assisting those most in need."

Then under a heading called: "Horror scenarios not so bad" they conclude:

"Once we come to grips with the fact that our decisions in extreme situations will be compartmentalised to desperate predicaments and will not have a snowball effect and serve to henceforth diminish the high regard we normally have for important individual concerns and interests, we find that when placed between a rock and a hard place we do and should [italics!], though perhaps somewhat grudgingly, take the utilitarian option. In the face of extreme situations we are quite ready to accept that one should, or even must, sacrifice oneself or others for the good of the whole."

Since most authoritarian countries live under a perpetual state of emergency the qualification about "extreme situations" doesn't give me much comfort.

I also can't see how Mindy Sublime could endorse the whole-sale dumping of individualism in favour of collectivism. The Greens book doesn't mention any of this (nor do I see why this book needed to) but I feel I'm on pretty firm ground stating that it has the same philosophical underpinning given its co-author and since its analysis of the convention is precisely the same.

Organ donation is a trigger for me after learning of claims by Falun Gong practitioners that the CCP was organ harvesting. For a time the whole idea of donation was repulsive to me, for the same reason that cannibalism is.

More recently a number of clients of AI have come to us wanting assistance in registering as organ donors, under the belief that they will die in detention and so want to contribute something to Australia. It's fascinating and disturbing. 
Sol - comment from previous thread Greens Reality 


  1. Collectivism has such an ugly, brutal and deadly history that it's almost disingenuous for anyone to toss the notion around, as if a little bit of collectivism here and there might be harmless.

    Of course, all societies, neighborhoods and organisations, no matter their political or economic underpinnings act, more or less, as collectives, both by nature and by imposition. So there is always, and always will be, a great deal of the individualistic urge being subsumed by the group. In Western styled democratic capitalist countries, we're permitted to believe that we have almost unlimited personal freedom and control to pursue our individual wants and needs - total crap, of course.

    Utilitarianism, on the other hand - prioritising net happiness over individual pursuits - is the central balancing work of government, it's what they do. Pretending it's the exception is bunkum, deluded.

    In democracies, we less and less accept "net happiness" impinging on individual happiness. It's ongoing, but not always transparent. It's most obvious in areas such as health, eg, the continual demand for outrageously expensive drugs to prolong a handful of lives for a few weeks, at the cost of the many. The public at large laps it up, urging the government to sacrifice the collective good, to splurge on the few at the cost of the many.

    In relation to the notion of forced organ donations, "where the donations would maximise happiness by saving the lives of many or assisting those most in need" - I say: more bunkum! There are not "many" who would be saved, it's actually marginal. Nor can I bring myself to categorise a person in need of an organ as being in some manner "most in need" - compared to whom, to what? The numbers don't add up (more are still killed in car accidents every year, than die waiting for a spare body part), nor does the supposed merit of the neediness.

    I gather this isn't even necessarily Greens policy (I got a bit confused), but it's likely to be a view held by an increasing number of people - and is (the opt out crowd, as opposed to opt in, for organ donation). I also don't understand how it fits into the overall critique presented.

    As I said on the previous thread, this all sounds more like a debate to be lead by someone like Peter Singer, particularly as the Greens lack the necessary intellectual rigor.

    The points you quoted from the book seem to be written by someone who hasn't thought deeply about the matter, nor, perhaps, even understood it.

  2. Solomon7:52 PM

    Ok, I need to be clearer here about what I'm driving at.

    I'm not attributing these ideas to the Greens; quite the opposite. They belong to critics of the Greens. The greens policies are rights-based. The critique is (explicitly) anti-rights except in so far as rights aids utilitarianism.

    The chapter in "The Greens: policies, realities and consequences" co-authored by Peter Faris QC and Mirko Bagaric attacks the Greens policies on the refugee convention on essentially utilitarian grounds.

    This is the same critique found in the above quotes from "Migration and refugee law", also co-authored by Mirko Bagaric, but going more in depth into the philisophical justifications for it.

    The language in both texts is almost identical. There's the same unusual sentence about not wanting to discriminate against famine victims who manage to "hobble across a border".

    You're correct. It is derived from Peter Singer; in fact they reference him in regards to "Speciesism". You're also correct that they haven't seemed to have thought about this. Although they quite vehemently believe that they have thought about it.

    The reference to Singer is ironic because in Kevin Andrews critique of the Greens policies, most of his arguments centre around their close association with Peter Singer. Apparently Singer and Bob Brown wrote some manifesto or other together.

    It seems evident to me that they wanted to find someone or other to attack the Greens refugee policies and this is who they dug up. But the critique that is ultimately offered is far more left field than anything the Greens have offered us. It is more radical and more collectivist than the Greens policies themselves. It's a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

    So, honestly, what the fuck is going on here? I'd like to unpick the arguments presented against the refugee convention itself in detail but that is going to take me some time and they don't pay me enough for this.

  3. I did think they'd got themselves into a bit of a knot, conflating the refugee policy with ... gawd knows what.

    Singer thinks and writes with elegance and precision, and so he should - it's his job. It appears that the contributing commentators have bastardised a few superficial concepts, believing they could pass the efforts off as having coherence and intellectual depth.

    Pity. The book has been touted as having some genuine value. A sharper editor's hand seems to have been warranted, rather than let bilge through.

    It doesn't especially surprise me that Singer and Brown may have collaborated on something or other, but Brown doesn't come close to the caliber of Singer.

  4. Solomon9:14 PM

    Yes, exactly, they've taken some ideas from Singer and misapplied them to the point where it does indeed become horrifying.

    Kevin Andrews on the Greens/Singer connection:

  5. Solomon9:19 PM

    "What is at stake in the Greens’ “revolution” is the heart and soul of Western civilisation, built on the Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment synthesis that upholds the individual—with obligations and responsibilities to others, but ultimately judged on his or her own conscience and actions—as the possessor of an inherent dignity and inalienable rights."

  6. They're up against it then, Sol.

    The Greens are singularly stupid about the social, economic and cultural context in which they operate. They use the 'bludgeon them into submission with emotive claptrap' method, which fails to steal the hearts and minds of the majority.

  7. Solomon7:04 PM

    Andrews analysis seemed to me to be a touch hyperbolic. But maybe in the circles he swims in it would seem mild; he could've just called them a bunch of promiscuous, earth-worshipping Satanist hell-skanks.