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James Comey Sent Packing

Ex-FBI Director James Comey received notice from the White House today that he was no longer fit to serve as the director of the FBI and would be terminated from his position immediately. There are many angles to this story, and I hope to analyze a few from both sides of the political spectrum. To start, a brief timeline of Comey’s actions should be given:

To begin, Comey was criticized heavily by members of the right for the way he handled not only the investigation in the Clinton Email Scandal, but also his announcement that he did not recommend an indictment; the announcement was ill-timed which led to scrutiny by many conservative pundits. This seemed to be strike one for Comey in the eyes of republicans, yet he remained in good status with the democrats through this period. This, however, shifted quite quickly when Comey abruptly announced, only a couple weeks before the election, that the FBI would be potentially re-opening its case into the Clinton email debacle. To this day, Hillary still blames her loss in part on this announcement by Comey, and he received a relative amount of heat from the democrats. This was strike 2. Fast forward to the now Trump Presidency and Comey testifies in a public hearing again, this time announcing that the FBI would be investigating claims of a Russian connection to the Trump Campaign; this sparked outraged among conservatives, because Comey had now lent some credibility to the Trump-Russia Collusion claims. This was strike 3 for Comey. Normally, this would mean Comey stroke out; however, it took one more partisan fluff up on the part of Comey to put the final nail in his coffin. When giving more public testimony, Comey mentioned that the FBI had evidence the Huma Abedin had classified emails tied to Hillary Clinton on Anthony Weiner’s computer. Both democrats and republicans were outraged by this; the former because it once again shed light on the Clinton Scandal, and the latter because Comey took absolutely no action against Huma. This was presumably Comey’s piece of hay that broke his camel’s back, and his immediate termination should not come to a surprise. One concern, however, is the odd timing of this event. Comey is set to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a few days, so to fire him this close to the hearing is bound to raise suspicion. That being said, it is important to note that we do not know the exact reasons the White House decided to handle this in the way it did; it is always possible that Comey put himself into this position through some questionable, partisan-charged actions.

The Trump Administration needs to find an extremely qualified candidate to replace Comey relatively hastily so to assist in quelling suspicions about their motivations. I personally believe that the timing is due to Trump’s lack of planning and often seemingly sporadic-type behavior, or maybe he simply was unaware Comey was testifying so soon. There are hundreds if not thousands of explanations for why this was handled the way it was, and jumping to claims of a Trump Tyranny will do no good until all the facts are presented. I believe it is defensible and rational to not support Trump; however, we should not enter with a mind set that just because Trump did it, it has to be a bad thing. Let’s give Trump a few days on this one, realistically it will turn out much like the other attempts by the Mass Media to connect Trump to some nefarious actions: that is, smoke but not fire. The up-shot is that Comey had caused problems for both political sides by playing politcs, and his termination seemed long overdue because of this.

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Aristotle for Beginners

I would like to cover two important parts of Aristotle’s philosophy in this segment, and hope to extend upon this segment in further posts. The first is Aristotle’s conception of the four causes in nature, and the second is his categorization of living things into 3 different groups.

Aristotle outlines his conception of the four causes in the Physics and expands on them further and further throughout his ethical, metaphysical, and epistemological philosophy. He outlines them in order to understand how and why certain things come into existence, and the particular causes that leads an object to be the way it is. Take, for instance, a marble statue of a man crafted by a sculpture. The four causes of the statue can be given as follows:

  1. The Material Cause: The material cause inquires into which material a particular objected is created with. The statue’s material cause would be marble, as this was the material the sculpture used to craft the statue.
  2. The Formal Cause: The formal cause identifies the essence, or form, of a particular object. The statue’s form is just that, a statue shaped like a man.
  3. The Efficient Cause: This identifies the cause the brought the particular object actually into existence. The statue’s efficient cause is the sculpture, because he or she actually crafted the marble into the form of the statue.
  4. The Final Cause: This cause identifies the purpose or end of the particular object. The statue’s final cause would be to be a complete statue that is appreciated as art by others. Aristotle had a strong commitment to teleology, and so emphasized the search for a final cause in all things.

These four causes are attributed to all objects in the universe, even living organisms. For example, a humans four causes to Aristotle could be given as follows:

  1. Material: Flesh and tissue; organic material.
  2. Formal: The form of a human.
  3. Efficient: The parents of a particular human.
  4. Final: To be a mature human, participating in society through rational activity.

For Aristotle, the causes 2-4 were often collapsed into one for living organisms. That is, the formal, efficient, and final causes of a man, to Aristotle, was Man. Man brings man into existence in the form of Man to be a mature man. Aristotle had a slight problem with including women in his work, though it would be whiggish to assume he would be ahead of his time on the issue of sexism.

Living organisms are then grouped into three different categories according to Aristotle. They can be given and described as follows:

  1. The Nutritive Soul: This is the soul that’s abilities are limited to three activities, growth, decay, and self-nourishment, and Aristotle placed plants into this category.
  2. The Perceptive Soul: This soul has all the traits of the nutritive soul with the addition of locomotion, or the ability to move oneself, and perception, or the ability to sense in at least one way (hear, smell, taste, etc.). Aristotle provides an argument that the perceptive soul also always desires, and categorizes animals within this set.
  3. The Rational Soul: This category is usually the most controversial and is home to humans alone. These souls have all the abilities of the others, but also the ability to participate in rational activity that many animals do not.

More discussion of whether Aristotle’s second and third category are actually viable can be seen in my older post “An Analysis of Aristotle’s De Anima”. I go rather deep into a variety of studies that show interesting results about the potential for plants to perceive and animals to be rational.

 

Sources:

Aristotle’s Physics, De Anima, and Nicomachean Ethics 

Solar Energy

I have recently been curious about the logistics of relying on solar energy more, and will investigate this claim at a basic level in this post. Recent studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (3) showed that Solar panels pay off their investment with energy in just over 2 years, and will gather large returns if stationed for around ten years. Now the first problem with this number is that it requires individuals to have a stationary home that they must stay in for at least 2 years, usually up to 10, for solar panels to be worth the investment. Home ownership, however, has been dropping in recent years, presumably due to factors such as cheaper condominiums and city living arrangements (US Census Bureau: Homeownership Rates by Race and Ethnicity). Solar panels simply do not seem like a practical investment for the majority of Americans because of their style of living and the frequency of relocation; however, this does not eliminate solar panels as a viable option due to the potential for businesses to place panels or large cities to participate in projects to include panels on skyscrapers and other public buildings. It may in fact be worth it for a business to invest in solar panels if they know their business will stay put for an extended period of time. The dilemma presented here, though, is the large cost of resources and energy that producing solar panels actually creates.

Solar panels are constructed most often from a crystalline-silicon material, as this material serves as an effective semiconductor (1). This material is created using two techniques, the Czochralski process and the Bridgman-Stockbarger Technique (1). Both techniques involve heating and cooling a silicon material placed within a metal crucible. The key component of this process is that the material must be heated to around 1425 degrees Celsius in order for the process to produce a crystalline silicon material (2). Now, the question should be asked: how does the scientist heat the apparatus to such a heat? The answer is obvious: electrical energy. So where is this electrical energy produced? Well, in coal factories most likely, with non-renewable energy. The point is that solar panels are created from a non-natural material that requires intense preparation just to create one piece of the solar panel; if one also factors in the time spent undergoing production within factories, the overall carbon footprint of one solar panel is probably far more than the National Renewable Energy Laboratory lets on. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the vast amounts of energy required to produce solar panels could be satisfied without the use of non-renewable resources. The fact is we simply do not know whether we could continue our current means of production without the use of the most important discovery in human history: fossil fuels.

(1)https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/ise/de/documents/publications/studies/Photovoltaics-Report.pdf

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czochralski_process

(3) http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy99osti/24619.pdf

An Analysis of the Conceptions of Justice in Plato’s Gorgias

            The character of Callicles in Plato’s dialogue Gorgias gives interesting insights into his own conception of justice. I will argue that Callicles’ conceptions of justice are inconsistent when coupled with a variety of his other beliefs. In Section I, I will explicate my interpretation of Callicles’ claims that there are two conceptions of justice – what is just by law and what is just by nature – analyzing his arguments for each. Section II will begin with my interpretation of the various stances that Callicles takes on what is just by nature. I will end the section with the argument that what is just by law is generally more rational than what is just by nature. Section III will be devoted to the argument that Callicles’ views are inconsistent – focusing on three arguments: (1) Callicles’ support of what is just by nature conflicts with the value he places on human intelligence; (2) Callicles’ argument against philosophy conflicts both with his conception of the superior one and his own personal endeavours into justice; and (3) the type of reason Callicles values conflicts with his conception of what is just by nature. The final section will evaluate the particular alterations Callicles could make to his views in an aim to rectify the refutations and inconsistencies raised in III.

Section I

              Callicles interjects into the dialogue with a lengthy speech in which he outlines his arguments against the Socratic notion of justice. He divides justice into two categories – justice in law and justice in nature – accusing Socrates of meddling in the first. What is just by law, Callicles argues, are the values implemented upon society by a group he calls the “weak and many”. These values include that everyone should have an equal share, and that it is shameful to take from others if one is superior. The many do this precisely because they are weak, as they are frightened by “the ones who are capable of having a greater share…”. Nature, however, points towards a different conception of justice in which it is just for the better to take more. Callicles bolsters this claim with two pieces of evidence: the interactions of animals and the interactions of sovereign nations. Though Callicles offers little explanation for the first, it seems his argument relies on the fact that animals do not cooperate on mass scales. That is, the majority of wild animals are worried just about feeding themselves, and not worried about giving an equal share to the whole species. The superior lion feeds on the inferior gazelle, and does not worry about whether the gazelle should have an equal share. Some may point to instances of small-scale cooperation amongst species, such as packs of hyenas hunting; however, the cooperation is limited when compared to that of humans. Furthermore, if a pack of four hyenas were given enough food for eight hyenas, the original pack would still presumably fight off a different pack if the different pack approached. Hyenas are not presumed to understand laws of equal share. If their pack is in possession of a generous amount of food, they will not relinquish this food for those in less fortunate positions, like humans might.

                Callicles seems correct in stating that superior animals take more than the inferior, but what of his claim about superior sovereign nations? He cites the example of Xerxes’ assault of Greece, implying that Xerxes’ motivation was due to his belief that Persia was superior to Greece. Callicles appears to be arguing that Xerxes was not held to the same conception of justice that society was held too, and so Xerxes – believing he was superior – tried to take more for his nation and himself. Callicles seems to believe that when there are few agreements between nations, the superior nations will often invade areas that grant them resources. Support for Callicles could be found in the recent incident involving Crimea and Russia. Russia believed themselves to be the superior nation and found that the repercussions for taking action would be limited, and so Russia seized an entire region from the seemingly inferior nation of Ukraine. This case is not entirely precise, however, as the citizens of Crimea backed the Russian occupation and the territory once belonged to Russia – implying the takeover was not entirely a consequence of superiority. Needless to say, the motivations of nations have always been extremely complex in regards to the invasion of other nations. For the most part, Callicles’ claim that superior sovereign nations invade inferior nations looks consistent in some cases – though the motivations of superior nations seem more complex than those of superior animals such as the lion mentioned above. The lion clearly attacks the gazelle due to the lion’s superior status, however nations often invade for a variety of reasons: be it past agreements, natural resources, religion, or race. Since the motivations of the superior lion are more clear than those of nation states, I will focus more on the justification that relies on observations of animals when I outline the inconsistencies in Section III.

Section II

          When Socrates is given the chance to respond, he makes an effort to restate Callicles’ position of what is just by nature. Socrates, however, first clarifies whether Callicles believes that the better, stronger, and superior are the same, to which Callicles agrees. From here, Callicles clarifies what he believes to be just by nature: the superior, stronger, and better taking everything they can. Socrates then rejects this conception, aiming to rectify his original view that only one conception of justice exists. The argument can be laid out as follows (found from 488d-489c):

  1. The many (or the weak majority) are superior by nature to the one as they impose the laws upon the one (or the supposedly superior individual).
  2. Parallel to (1), the laws created by the many are the laws of the one.
  3. The laws of the superior are admirable by nature based on the people’s superiority.
  4. One of the laws of the many is that all have an equal share.
  5. By (3) and (4), having an equal share is admirable by nature.
  6. Therefore, it is not exclusively just by law to have an equal share, but also just by nature.

This is a rather compelling argument against Callicles considering he explicitly agrees to each premise; and he’s ultimately forced to shift his conception of what is just by nature. It seems strange, however, that Callicles would actually agree to premise 1, in light of his heightened view of the superior member in society. That is, Callicles should have argued that the many may just appear superior to the one, as the many have already implemented the laws. The one, then, could still be superior by nature, as the laws of equal share imposed by the many would prohibit the superior one from gaining all he or she can. Callicles could have argued that a specific individual could maintain his or her superiority, even under the rule of the many. After all, if they are truly superior, the number of inferior people should not affect this. If this were true, the many’s laws would no longer be superior – rejecting their admirability in nature and the conclusion reached in (6).

               Callicles’ rebuttal is similar in that he alters his stance to exclude the many’s superiority, claiming that the superior one should actually be the more intelligent one. This sparks Socrates to give an analogy to refute Callicles by highlighting that being intelligent should not automatically grant someone a greater share. Socrates imagines a group of individuals with an intelligent doctor among them who all share a source of food. Socrates claims it would be wrong to assume that the doctor have more food strictly because he knows more about food than others.A doctor is better educated in nutrition, but this does not mean he should be in charge of all nutritious items. This prompts Callicles to give one of his final properties of the superior one: that he or she is intelligent about affairs of the city.

                  Callicles’ high value of intelligence is finally fleshed out with this claim. He finds the superior members of a society to be those intelligent about what is happening within their city. These are the superior, stronger, better individuals who are deemed just by nature to satisfy their ever-growing desires. Presumably, these people should understand quite a few concepts: one, they should know that the laws of equal share are incorrect, and only there as a result of the weaker many. Next, they should understand how a society functions: including political affairs, economic systems, and laws. Finally, and most importantly, they must be well-versed in reasoning – as manipulating the system of laws would be no small feat. The superior would need to exercise rational activity in order to engage in the affairs of the city while satisfying their appetites.

                The fact that creating laws of equality requires what most presume to be rational thinking poses interesting consequences for what is just by law. Namely, that the conception of justice in law could be more rational than what is just by nature – barring extreme examples. The laws in societies such as America or Athens were implemented based on fiery discussions between individuals over extended periods of time. It would have been no small feat to create the court systems of Athens, and their creation seems to epitomize the human ability to engage in rational activity. To organize a consistent set of complex laws that the majority of a large society uphold and agree to – be it grudgingly or not – could be viewed as the pinnacle of human cooperation and reason. Of course, there are some hypothetical cases where laws may not be deemed rational – for instance a group of malicious individuals creating laws that allow for clearly irrational acts like murder. These irrational laws, however, would not work on a wide scale basis, as large societies cannot function without rules that prohibit egregious violations of individual’s rights.

                A more poignant response would be the argument that I am defining rationality too dogmatically, establishing it exclusively as a human concept. That is, my claim that creating laws is a rational activity may imply that animals always act irrationally. To clarify, when we observe the lion we may judge his actions irrational, but the lion still acts correctly. When a dominant lion fights off an inferior opponent for an entire water buffalo, a human may judge it irrational on the basis that there was enough for both lions; however, the lion is not held accountable for his actions, as we know he could not of done otherwise. The lion does not act in accordance with human reason, but Callicles could claim the lion acts according to his own, more superior, reason.

           This, however, is precisely the problem, as humans are not lions. When lions get together it is logical for them to fight and promote inequality. After all, the lions always seem to have certain reasons to fight off the inferior lion, as lions usually do not know when or what their next meal will be. Furthermore, we do not expect the superior lion to understand that both the lions would be sufficiently fed on the buffalo, giving more justification to its actions. Humans, however, have the capability to utilize their rationality to implement laws that promote a different set of values than animals – the values of equality. Humans are able to make the judgment that both lions could feed on the water buffalo, and this judgment is what separates the conduct of animals and humans. Reason appears to be what allows humans to separate themselves from the brutish nature of wildlife, raising ourselves above the more savage values of animals. The rationality that humans hold dear – that of morality, reflection, theoretical discovery, existential thinking – is completely lost in the justice of nature. Therefore, what is just by law is at least more rational to humans than what is just by nature.

A final objection Callicles could make to this point is that we only value the rationality of the laws because the laws imposed this rationality upon us. This, however, cannot be true, as the irrationality of the lion to a human stems from the judgment that a particular resource will be wasted when only given to one consumer. In other words, humans do not judge the lions to be irrational by reflecting upon some set of laws imposed upon them, but by evaluating that both lions could have sufficiently fed themselves on one water buffalo. This evaluation is separated from the values instilled by laws, as it could be made consistently across cultures with different sets of laws. The seeming loss of human rationality within Callicles’ ideal justice points to inconsistencies when coupled with his praise of the intelligent, as will be shown in Section III.

Section III

If what is just by law is more rational to humans, Callicles faces a few inconsistencies – the first involving a conflict in values. That is, if Callicles values intelligence so highly, then why does he subscribe himself to the justice and morality of beasts? Callicles endorses what is just by nature as the ultimate conception of justice, and claims that this involves the most intelligent in a society satisfying ever-growing appetites; however, it seems inconsistent for the intelligent members of a society to follow a theory of justice that seems less rational than that of the law. Furthermore, the weaker, or less intelligent, seem to align themselves with a conception of justice that is more rationally charged, as shown above. Why would the simple-minded hold the knowledge required to implement laws of equal share upon the more intelligent members of society? Callicles is inconsistent in that he claims the weak many to be unintelligent, and yet also claims that they implement laws that require rational thinking. He also claims the superior should value being intelligent in the laws of the city, yet claims they should value what is just by nature, not law. Callicles may claim by inquiring into what is just by nature, the superior learn to value the law – as it is a necessity for them to understand city affairs and transgress the laws. If, however, the superior must inquire into the truth of what is just by nature to understand how to conduct themselves, it seems they will not be involved sufficiently in the city to be intelligent about affairs of the city: a claim that will be illuminated further in the next set of inconsistencies.

The next inconsistencies involve conflicts between the kind of reasoning Callicles ultimately values and his own arguments and personal endeavours. Before explicating the inconsistencies, a distinction should be drawn between practical reasoning and theoretical reasoning. Practical rationality, for the purpose of this paper, includes the knowledge that allows an individual to perform actions that seem rational for themselves: for example it is practically rational for me to obey the laws of equality that bar stealing, as I will be arrested otherwise. Theoretical rationality, on the other hand, involves inquiring into some universally accessible, objective truth of what is and what is not: it may not be theoretically rational for me to obey laws of equality, as shown by scientific observation of animals that seem to promote inequality among species. In an attempt to sum up this distinction, practical wisdom involves how I should conduct myself in life while theoretical wisdom inquires into what I should conduct myself based on. Callicles rejects the type of reason that philosophy pursues, implying he does not value theoretical rationality. Philosophers, Callicles argues, lose themselves in contemplation about the truth of the objective world, and so lack practical knowledge if they continue philosophy past childhood. This is supported in his claims that philosophers will be “inexperienced in the laws of their city…” and “inexperienced in the ways of human beings altogether.” Callicles seems to be claiming that the philosopher inquires too far into the actual truth of justice, losing sight of basic human pleasures and how to conduct him or herself in society. Now that the distinction of practical and theoretical reason is clear and the argument given that Callicles devalues theoretical reason, more inconsistencies can be given.

First, since Callicles utilizes theoretical reasoning to draw his conclusions about what is just by nature, rejecting its importance undermines his own conception of justice; second, by attacking the philosopher, Callicles attacks both the superior members and himself; and third, it could be argued that Callicles places value on practical reasoning, which poses a question of why he supports a conception of justice that seems to run contra to this reasoning.  

Expanding on the first proposed problem, Callicles originally seemed to endorse the view that an objective (theoretical) fact about the universe informed humanity of the kind of justice they should pursue: namely that nature has no inherent law of equality and so true justice should not entail equality. However, by attacking philosophers on the basis that they explore theoretical knowledge too often, Callicles weakens his own claim that certain theoretical truths of nature –  such as animals interacting together – promote inequality. That is, his argument against philosophy also presents an attack upon the method of reasoning that he used himself to draw conclusions of justice. Callicles made scientific observations of animals and drew conclusions about how they act universally, something an individual could never do for humans – as human action varies widely across culture. If, however, Callicles is drawing conclusions based on theoretical reasoning, then he undermines these conclusions by rejecting its importance.

Callicles may argue that the superior only needs to make these observations as a child; however, for a child to make these observations of nature while the values of the many are being imposed upon him seems implausible. How would a kid inquire into the truths of justice and find that inequality was being foisted on them by the inferior members of society while his parents are presumably teaching him those same values? The superior one would need to inquire into justice way past childhood to understand Callicles’ conception of justice, leaving them similar to the philosopher. It seems as though, then, that Callicles and the superior ones would be guilty of the very thing Callicles himself condemns philosophers of: inquiring too far into the truths of justice and losing sight of desire-satisfaction and how to conduct oneself in society. Callicles is concerned with the nature of justice, as he supports a conception based on what is true in nature; however, if he condemns the philosopher for inquiring too far into the truth of nature, then it seems he is condemning himself.

It was shown that Callicles seems to devalue theoretical reasoning, but to say he values practical reasoning requires argument. Support can be found in the alteration that Callicles’ makes to his claim after Socrates’ refutation presented in Section I; that alteration being that the stronger and better are also those more intelligent about affairs of the city. To be intelligent about affairs of the city would require a knowledge of how to conduct oneself during actual interactions with people. This kind of knowledge would require an individual to value practical reasoning highly, as knowledge of the city requires that one know how to actually conduct oneself in a specific society. This lends more support to the idea that Callicles values practical wisdom: since the superior are intelligent about what happens in the city, they will know what actions to take in specific scenarios involving the city.

Another inconsistency now arises: if Callicles places significant value on practical reasoning, why does he support a conception of justice that separates itself entirely from practical knowledge? To clarify, it may be a theoretical fact of nature that superior animals steal from inferior animals; however, as a human I am able to understand that in a society stealing is not practically sound, as it would get me placed in jail. Callicles may respond by stating that I view stealing as unpractical contingent on the punishment and shame imposed on me by the laws of the many. This claim, however, relies on an assumption that there is some important theoretical truth against equality in nature. If there is a theoretical truth in nature that promotes inequality, the superior would need to inquire into the truth of justice to understand this truth: leading back to the second inconsistency in which Callicles condemns the philosopher for losing sight of society by inquiring too far into the truth of justice.

Conclusion

Callicles may have been able to rectify some of these inconsistencies in two ways: the first would be to reject his notion that the superior are the more intelligent, the second to reject his condemnation of philosophy. If Callicles were to have maintained his claim that the weak are simply the physically weaker, and the strong the physically dominant, he may have been able to save his claim that what is just by nature is superior to what is just by law. That is, Callicles could have claimed that the many were simply those who were physically weaker than others, but intelligent enough to understand that cooperation would give them power. The superior, in this case, would be those who, when placed in a state of nature, have clear advantage over other humans based solely on their physical prowess. In this brutish environment, the superior would have the ability to take anything they wished, as no system of law would be in place to stop them. From here, it seems reasonable to assume that the more intelligent, yet weaker, humans within the state of nature may realize that cooperation would enable them to instill values upon the stronger: such as those akin to equality. This would save Callicles from the refutation that creating a system of laws requires a level of rationality that he claims the many not to have and seems to value himself. This approach also, however, eliminates an aspect of Callicles’ argument that he would probably hold dear: namely that the superior should be the more intelligent. This loss can be avoided in the second approach to rectifying Callicles’ inconsistencies: giving up his argument against the philosopher. In doing so, Callicles would be able to claim that a study of theoretical truths about nature actually is beneficial; and, if done correctly, it may show that what is just by law is actually existent. That is, if Callicles did not reject the study of theoretical reasoning, his arguments for what is just by nature would be augmented – as they are based on observations about the truth of nature. In this way, the superior could understand the affairs of the city while still inquiring into the theoretical truths of nature that inform them of the two conceptions.

It could be argued that the superior would never have the time to both meddle into the truths of nature like a philosopher and be involved enough within the city to understand city affairs; and this illuminates Callicles’ ideological view of this superior human. Callicles endorses a superior individual who does not seem to actually exist, but just serve as a hypothetical to challenge Socrates. Although many believe it fails in doing so, Callicles’ two conceptions of justice prompt interesting discussion and responses from Socrates; ultimately leading to a more concise and complete conception of justice.

 

All quotes and information that is not from myself is found in Plato’s Gorgias. Essay is intellectual property of this blog.

The Tax Code

A recent article written by the Tax Foundation (and found here: https://taxfoundation.org/2017-tax-brackets/) gave a table of the estimated tax brackets in 2017. The 7 category bracket system is rather shocking once analyzed more deeply. Of particular concern is the bracket ranging from $191,650 to $416,700, in which household must pay 33%, or 1/3, of their income to the government. The first appalling fact of this obscure bracket is the fact that it ranges nearly $200,000; this is 100,000 dollars more than the next largest, and also problematic, bracket of $91,900 to $191,650. The reason such a wide ranging bracket is problematic is that it undermines the essence of a progressive tax. If one wants to support a progressive tax (which I hope to argue against later), then one should not support a flat tax that covers such a wide range of upper-middle class families. Furthermore, it should not matter whether or not the majority of Americans do not fall into this bracket, but rather that those who do are usually hard working individuals who create jobs and produce goods and services that the public needs and wants; it is not productive or moral to take 1/3 of someone’s hard earned income. What is even further mystifying is that these individuals are not the millionaires that Sanders and other progressives tend to make them out to be. This is simply households that make over 191k a year, which includes combined incomes of married couples. I do not mean to claim that these families are not well off, but instead bring attention to the fact that they begin every year losing 1/3 of their income to a government that they usually perceive as inept. I think it would also be faulty to presume a higher percentage tax for a higher income is fair; though it intuitively appears more fair than a flat tax, there does not appear to be any rational argument for such a taxes fairness. That is, fairness presumes that each would pay the same price for a particular good. For instance, if you and your friend order a pizza to split, you both pay for 50 percent of the pizza. This 50 percent should never change unless your friend eats more pizza than you. The same should stand for taxes. We all band together and pay a price for a particular good that we all partake in; be it roads, law enforcement, or firefighters. Just because one individuals earns (and yes, they do earn it) more than another does not mean the more wealthy individual should have to pay a higher percent for the same goods. My friend does not inquire into how much I make when we pay for the pizza, because we both receive the same amount of pizza. If the government is really giving out goods and services fairly, then each taxed individual should pay the same percentage for these goods. Richer people will still pay more in taxes because that is how percentages work. If you make $10,000 and are taxed at 10 percent, you pay 1,000 dollars; if you make $100,000 and are taxed at 10 percent, you pay 10,000 dollars. Instead, the more ambitious members of society are rewarded with a government that is 20 trillion dollars in debt and still takes away 1/3 of their income each year. I see no consolation in the refutation that the government is justified in doing this because they are assisting those who are less well off in society; it should never be okay to take away someone else’s property and give it to another just because that other person was less well off. This type of Robin Hood thievery is no moral argument for a progressive tax, but instead a condemnation of the policies that must be implemented to achieve such a tax’s goals: namely, stealing.

A flat tax may never be realized, however it seems paramount to target those that are actually causing the issues. For example, the progressive tax halts after $418k at 39.6 percent. This does not even come close to targeting those who are actually living in a gross amount of wealth, such as millionaires and billionaires. I do not mean to say that these are the people who deserve to be taxed more, bur rather point to the hypocrisy of someone like Bernie Sanders yelling about millionaires when the tax code is primarily aimed to hinder middle class, upper-middle class, and lower-upper class members of society. These people may technically be the one percent, but they usually earn their money by working large amounts each year with little breaks. These are not the wall street hot shots who shoot a million dollars into a stock and watch their money grow as they vacation on their yachts, but instead hard working Americans who produce valuable jobs and services. To tax 1/3 of the income they earn from this work is simply immoral, and it should be lowered to a more reasonable percentage. Let’s start incentivizing hard work again and stop pampering to cultures that will not assimilate and generations that want to be coddled.

Personal Liberty

My recent essay on free speech stressed the importance I place on the rights granted by the first amendment. Beyond this, however, individuals must begin to realize others’ personal values as equal to their own. That is, one must understand that many hold particular beliefs for particular reasons, and allowing them to articulate these reasons is essential to the progression of ideas. This short segment will focus particularly on abortion rights, and what the governments role should be in regulating this. I have switched consistently back and forth in my own personal moral stance on abortion. An individuals has every right to do what he or she may wish to their own body, as enumerated by the natural rights of humans; however, there is a fundamental problem in forcing those who do not agree with this stance to pay for something they view as immoral. If an evangelical christian views abortion as a sin, why should the government have a right to fund abortion programs with the evangelical’s tax dollars. This seems a tricky situation, and it battles a line between infringing on some individual rights — namely, women’s right to an abortion — and other individual rights — namely, a pro-lifers choice not to support it. Furthermore, there should be nobody who vehemently and passionately supports the death of an unborn child; that is, regardless of one’s stance on whether it should be allowed, it should persist to be considered morally questionable. Even if there is a certain point where the fetus is not conscious, the fact that it has some potential to be a human makes the moral dilemma extremely vivid for some. The solution is not to shut these views down with passionate, pro-choice protests, but rather to communicate with the other side and understand their problems with your own views. The exchange of arguments and ideas is essential for human progression away from fascism. To shut down ideas with violence sows the seeds for authoritarian radical groups with vengeful motivations.

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The rights granted by the first amendment are quite explicit: freedom of religion, speech, press, and the rights to peacefully protest and petition. It is often pointed out, usually by classical liberals, that a more fundamental right underlies these: namely, freedom of thought. Without the ability to think freely, one can never exercise any other freedom granted to them by the first amendment. Dave Rubin, host of the Rubin Report, often makes it clear that we have to be able to have bad ideas and have those ideas critiqued in order to progress in our personal ideology. If we cannot even venture into realms of thought foreign to certain political parties, how are we to critically analyze any idea as good or bad? I bring this to attention specifically because I feel that not only is our right to freedom of speech being threatened by groups such as Anti-Fa, but so to is our right to free thought through methods of self-censorship and social annexing. In other words, many still feel the need to completely shut out thoughts they perceive as politically incorrect, including thoughts about Islam, social justice, immigration, and, more recently, even political ideology. Self-censorship can be seen from the outrage following the Muhammad cartoon publications in Sweden, to the current Trump-shaming that took place before the election; that is, if one admitted support for Trump they were often berated, which is a speculative explanation, among many, for the egregious polling errors before the election. Without an ability to explore thoughts apart from our own ideology, we never have an opportunity to challenge, and thus improve, our own ideas.

This leads to a second point: once our ideas are formulated and self-critiqued through an extensive revision process, we must have the freedom to express these ideas in an open forum; this includes all ideas, even bad ones. In fact, most ideas usually are not crafted that well the first time they are spoken, which is why the freedom to express ideas and revise them once they are challenged is so crucial. This is why we often complete rough drafts of important essays and have them revised countless times; our own ideas are often too trapped within a personal, biased microcosm without other readers peer-reviewing them. If we all ignore opposing viewpoints, we not only build our ideological house out of cards, but we also place this house in a vacuum where it will never be challenged. To argue that an individual’s ideology is too righteous to be debated by language is a classic authoritarian move: no individual ideology holds more weight than any other person’s ideology. This is not to claim that racist ideology is equal to multicultural ideology, but instead that we must allow those who are racist to voice their ideas in order to point out how idiotic they really are. The same goes for the Anti-Fa activists who place their ideology in a metal box, safe from free speech; it is necessary for all ideas to be critiqued and not blindly accepted.

Now this is not limited to left ideology, it seems even more crucial to critique the ideology of individuals such as Ann Coulter. Coulter sparks riots at college campuses when she gives talks, and is often silenced for holding a particularly conservative, anti-immigration platform. To silence her, however, just adds more fuel to the flame: how are we even to critique her seemingly ill-thought immigration policy if we do not allow her to articulate it? It is time for the left to admit that there are citizens of America, even younger citizens in college, who do not support immigration. Regardless of what all our individual ideologies line up to be, we have to recognize the rights and rationality of every American voter. To claim most voters ‘rational’ is not meant to mean every American voter is an educated voter, but just a recognition of the fact that these are real humans with a real ability to think and express this thought. This right is inalienable to these people, and, being in a democratic nation, we must recognize their sovereign right to cast a vote and express their ideology — even if we think it is not correct.

To clarify, I do not support Coulter’s viewpoints, just her right to express these in an open forum. There is no other way to debate ideas unless someone is allowed to express them. To shutdown the speaker is not only a violation of their right, but it takes away an opportunity for others to hear those ideas and critically analyze them with his or her own method of thought and expression. This process is what helps humans demarcate good ideas from bad ideas; the Ben Shapiro’s from the Milo Yiannopoulos’s.

In closing, the first amendment guarantees our right to think freely and express these thoughts freely, among many other extremely important freedoms; however, recently this rights seems to be under-fire from radical left groups and self-censorship due to social annexation and other factors. Ending this trend is crucial in order to keep America the leader of the free world and the only remaining country which supports the true principles of individual freedoms: life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.