Why The Elevated Status of Sport Hunting?

I’ve mostly stayed silent on the gun debate that reignited because I didn’t feel I had that much to say that others weren’t already saying. And the sheer amount of misleading, obviously cherry-picked statistics from both sides just gave me too much of a headache. I had to tune it out.

But there is something disturbing and it illustrates a dark manifestation of the golden mean fallacy – giving some gun owners a preference over others. Many people in the camp who don’t see self-defense as a valid reason to own a gun say they are okay with sport hunting. Why? So the right to kill innocent wildlife for fun is more important than the right to your life? And make no mistake about it – if people are using guns for self-defense, hunters will continue to do so (prison is better than death, especially death of your family) and enjoy the exclusive privilege. If guns are dangerous to have in the house, it having been purchased for the purpose of hunting doesn’t change that.

More disturbing is that it is almost always sport hunting and not subsistence hunting that is mentioned. Subsistence hunting is protecting one’s existence with a gun every bit as much as self-defense is. A hobby is sacrosanct, but survival isn’t. Something done with leisure time (which those on the top have more of) is favored over what is often a necessity for those on the bottom, who often live where 911 is a running joke. This is why, while I don’t agree with people who don’t want anyone, not even cops, to have guns, I have much more respect for their position than the haphazard positions that assume certain segments of society are inherently more trustworthy than others.

I don’t want to suggest that there aren’t positions intermediate between “no guns for anyone” and “more guns” that make more sense than either. It’s just that most of the ones advanced are more ridiculous than either alone, because they are “guns for me, not for thee” positions. They place some people on a pedestal, like cops, hunters and people who can afford security guards.

Obama Says Things That Are True

It seems many political disagreements on the internet are about style, rather than substance and who am I to buck the trend? Elizabeth Warren caused a lot of knee jerk reaction with her offhand remark on why no one got where they are on their own. But for a fresh round of teeth-grinding, here Obama goes saying things that are true:

…look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)

Nothing he’s saying here is controversial. I, too, am struck by those hypothetical idiots who think that we live in some sort of perfect meritocracy where humans don’t interact with other humans. If I could just find one of those people, I’d pound so much sense into them…

Look (there I go talking like Obama), we don’t have a meritocracy and it’s just as well. It’s not like it’s morally any different for someone to succeed because of the parents and location they were born with or for someone to succeed because of the intelligence they were born with. None of us deserve what we have. I benefited from things invented ages ago. My industry benefits from the hollowed out corpses of failed startups that left behind good technology. And that’s why… why what? Here Obama goes conflating society and the state:

     If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Here is how these arguments go: you have what you have because [some thing that people in your life did] and/or [some thing that people you've never met did] and/or [some thing the government did], therefore… [insert pet conclusion]. All these different things are lumped together so your patriotic duty to pay taxes and your duty to give back to society are one in the same.

But it’s not like we couldn’t have roads or bridges without government. More importantly, it’s not like when your parents or your friends help you with your business that’s really government doing it. It’s like the state is Jesus. It forgave your sins… even though your sins weren’t against it in the first place.

Obama is arguing for slightly higher taxes on some against those who want slightly lower taxes overall. Both sides in question agree on some taxes and neither side has a magic formula to determine how much. And neither do I. And that’s the thing. What he’s presenting isn’t purely substance, it’s largely style. And here I am responding in kind.

A Nitpick About Costly Contraception

Okay, so everyone knows Rush Limbaugh is stupid for suggesting that someone who goes broke buying birth control is a “slut”. Birth control pills end up being a sunk cost. You don’t go on and off them but stay on them however sexually active you are. But of course it’s not true that there’s no relationship between amount of sex one has and contraceptive costs. Say condoms are about $3 each and it costs $10 a month (at the low end!) for birth control pills. That means if you have sex less than three times a month, it’s cheaper to buy condoms. If it’s $50 a month, then make that 16. $100, 33 and so on. So I suppose if one has a low threshold for “slut” then the mere fact of needing the pill would make someone so.

Naturally, slut isn’t defined by amount of sex but amount of partners. If you have sex twice a day every day with the same person, you’re not a slut and are in need of contraception. It’s also unclear why someone should be shamed (only implored to be careful of STDs) for having multiple partners if that’s really the lifestyle they want. The problem is that many religious conservatives don’t really like premarital sex of any sort and the notion that contraceptives are associated with promiscuity is just a red herring.

The Yeller Menace

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this ad that Pete Hoekstra ran during the Super Bowl. If not in between watching brain trauma ball, then likely on the intertubes. The ad was immediately recognized as racially insensitive (sure, but political incorrectness doesn’t really bother me) and just plain stupid (there we go, that bothers me!) But is it really exceptional or unprecedented? Or is it just a more clumsy delivery of the rhetoric that politicians spew anyway?

China is a recurring subject in the Republican debates. National debt is given a sinister character by the suggestion that the Chinese own much of it (they own some of it, but by far not most). Here’s Romney from one of the debates:

China is playing by different rules. One, they are stealing intellectual property. Number two, they’re hacking into our computer systems, both government and corporate they are manipulating their currency, and by doing so, holding down the price of Chinese goods, and making sure their products are artificially low-priced. It’s predatory pricing, it’s killing jobs in America I would do something this president should have done a long time ago, which is to label China a currency manipulator. And then I would bring in action at the WTO level, charging them with being a currency manipulator.

Romney’s China rhetoric is relatively more sophisticated and fact-based than many other Republicans’ and yet here we have bad economics. They’re stealing our intellectual property? You mean they refuse to strangle their progress with our monopolies and artificial scarcity? What predators. And here we have the false notion of zero-sum trade, coming from the party that is ostensibly for free trade.

Obama isn’t much better. In his last SOTU, Obama mentioned China 5 times and counted blocking Chinese tires from entering our market as a victory for American workers. Sure, it’s a victory for some workers but on the whole, it’s not a benefit for the American people. Obama knows better and his economic advisers certainly do. But appealing to peoples’ [false] intuitions and paleolithic fear of outsiders is always a politically winning strategy.

The growing consensus, as far as I can tell, among those on the mainstream Left who understand economics is that we shouldn’t stop free trade but rather ensure an ample safety net for the minority who does suffer from the workings of the global market.

China sacrifices her citizens’ subjects’ wealth to make products cheaper for us. This isn’t to the benefit of the Chinese people over the American people. It’s to the benefit of certain Chinese manufacturers over the Chinese people. Countering that with tighter trade restrictions won’t restore the balance in favor of the American people, but rather benefit domestic producers at the expense of everyone else. Tariffs should be seen for what they are – a regressive tax.

Pete Hoekstra may be stupid and he may be blatantly playing off of xenophobia and discredited folk economic beliefs, but he is far from alone.

Matt Yglesias’ Run-of-The Mill Specieism

Matt Yglesias scoffed at a commenter who pointed out that requiring companies to provide maternity leave constitutes a subsidy for having children, excess children is bad for the planet and therefore we should remove such subsidies:

The beginning of wisdom here is to note that pollution isn’t “bad for the planet.” The planet is a gigantic roughly spherical chunk of rocks that can easily survive whatever level of greenhouse gas emissions or whatever else we care to pump into the atmosphere. The big picture ecological threat is a threat to human beings [...] Radical population reduction would sharply reduce the quantity of anthropogenic ecological impacts, but to what end? The goal needs to be to reconfigure human activity in order to make it sustainable over a longer time horizon.

I won’t get into how I feel about the conservative notion that it’s the government’s job to encourage people to live the standard American lifestyle – suburbs, cars and kids – or, indeed, any lifestyle* beyond to say that I’m not exactly a fan and that he neglects that lower population is a saner alternative to lifestyle adjustments alone for ecological issues. I’ll just address the specieism his post espouses and the oversimplification of what exactly our planet is and does.

If you take a raccoon from the woods, take it into your home and then drown it, you will rightly face animal cruelty charges (among others)**. If you purchase property that is habitat to a hundred raccoons and flood it to provide a reservoir, somehow the mass cruelty flies under the radar. This of course makes no sense. If cruelty to one animal is indefensible, then cruelty to many is more so.

Biodiversity itself may only be of instrumental value. Just like there isn’t much of a difference morally between a mass murder of 1000 individuals and genocide consisting of 1000 individuals, there isn’t that much of a reason to get worked up about minor biodiversity loss itself so long as it is eventually recovered and there remains enough in the present time. However, habitat destruction and the reduction of numbers means that individual sentient organisms are starving to death or otherwise dying in a bad way or living a more impoverished existence. For this reason, any environmentalism that doesn’t make the welfare/rights of all beings, not just humans, central isn’t worth discussing. Matt Yglesias seems to be suggesting we all need to do our part to use less resources to make room for more people. This fails because as we can see it disregards the welfare of wildlife and it also fails because it takes a total view of happiness. Two people living okay existences aren’t really better than one person living a fabulous existence. In a true eco-utopia, everyone will have plenty of unharmed wilderness to explore and achieve oneness.

Another minor point is his assertion that the planet is just “a spherical chunk of rocks.” Clearly, when people say planet, they are not referring to its geology, though the bulk of the mass is, indeed, lifeless silica and minerals. They are referring, of course, to the ecosphere, which supports us and all the other life on the planet. It is perhaps of only instrumental value but very great value indeed. If we fix up Señor Yglesias’ comments accordingly, we still don’t see a powerful argument to reduce humanity to the stone age nor to view children as little packets of evil (however annoying they may be), but you also certainly don’t come to the conclusion that child rearing, something people gladly voluntarily do anyway, needs to be subsidized so as to encourage it anymore than our biology and existing social pressures already do.

* I don’t want zen fascists telling me to live in an apartment, ride the bus and not have kids either.
** Actually, this depends on the jurisdiction. If you at least feed the raccoon first, it will then be your [illegal] pet that you are being cruel to. If you at least agree that someone 
ought to get in trouble for kidnapping, then drowning a raccoon, then you should agree with my logic, even if the law isn’t quite like I make it sound.