Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/20/21: Happy Birthday, John Stuart Mill!


John Stuart Mill (1806–73), was born on May 20, not merely the most important figure in ethics to have a connection to this day, but also the most important human being born on this day in the history of civilization—yes, even more than Cher, who turns 75 today. Mill’s refined the concept of liberty that required the freedom of the individual in opposition to state control. He was the most influential proponent of utilitarianism, the crucial ethical theory developed by Jeremy Bentham. He helped reform scientific inquiry and research, recognizing the pervasive risks of confirmation bias, by clearly explaining the premises of falsifiability as the key component in the scientific method.

Mill was also a Member of Parliament and a towering figure in liberal political philosophy. You have certainly heard or read his most famous quote: “A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”

A thorough biography and analysis of his work is here.

1. Justice Breyer doesn’t care about making sure the Supreme Court doesn’t get more conservative. Good. That’s not his job. Democrats realize that their control of the Senate is hanging by a thread, “thread” defined as a few superannuated Senators who could drop dead any second, giving the GOP a majority. Thus they are increasingly pushing Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 82, to retire now so Joe Biden can name an appropriately liberal replacement (who will also have to be female and black, vastly limiting the pool of possible choices without concern for actual legal competence.) “Breyer’s best chance at protecting his legacy and impact on the law is to resign now, clearing the way for a younger justice who shares his judicial outlook,” wrote Erwin Chemerinsky, the hyper-partisan dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley in The Washington Post this month. Got that? The 80+year-old Democratic Senators have to hold on to their jobs like grim death, but Breyer is being lobbied to retire. Hypocrisy, they name is Democrat! But it isn’t Breyer:

The Justice has been particularly vocal about the importance of not allowing politics to influence judges’ work, including their decisions about when to retire. “My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” he said last month in a lecture at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment….If the public sees judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts, and in the rule of law itself, can only diminish, diminishing the court’s power.”

I wonder if he’s read (or seen) “The Pelican Brief”…Meanwhile, research suggest that retirement tends to kill Supreme Court Justices. A paper in The Journal of Demography studied the effects of retirement by Supreme Court justices on their future longevity, and found that the effect of retirement was about the same as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. The Democrats don’t care if Breyer dies sooner than later, though, as long as he does it when they can pick his successor, or after he’s quit.

2. It’s a official! Governor Cuomo is an Ethics Train Wreck. He killed thousands of seniors by forcing Wuhan-infected people into old age homes; he covered up the deaths; he forced his staff to participate in the cover-up, and all while being a serial sexual harasser. His ethics rot crept over to CNN, where his brother broke ethics rules to promote him as the network, as usual, did nothing to maintain integrity. Now we learn that his book,“American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic,” brought him more than $5 million in a book advance from Crown publishing, far more than any politicians other than the Obamas and the Clintons. In addition to creating the appearance of impropriety, investigators are examining his use of state resources to write and promote the book. It has, in light of the news that came out after its publication, tanked, with about 50,000 copies sold. Crown has announced that there will be no paperback version, and it will no longer publicize the hardcover.

Incidentally, my book with Ed Larson needs to sell just a few more copies (17 bucks new on Amazon!) and I will have earned my portion of the book advance, which was about a thousand bucks. Hey, it’s only taken about 15 years!

3. Wait…won’t this just fuel more “anti-Asian hate crimes”? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for a diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics, not because it almost certainly infected the world with a pandemic virus, killed millions, and wrecked the economies of nations across the globe, but because of China’s forced labor practices. “How sad it is to see the Olympic corporate sponsors look the other way on China’s abuses out of concern for their bottom line,” Nancy said.

I thought the rule was that you should never say “China” in connection with China’s horrible conduct, to prevent morons from beating up Japanese-Americans. I think I have that right. No, no, I’m wrong—that only applies when Donald Trump fingers China. I stand corrected.

4. Nice. College Fix has some sample tweets from student government leaders in our colleges:

  • Stanford University’s Gabrielle Crooks tweeted in 2020 “Yes I think white people need to be eradicated yes I will go feral over mediocre white men we exist.” (No, they no longer teach English at Stanford apparently.)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University  student body president Taylor Maloney, posted , “i hate white people so much its not even funny.”
  • University of California Berkeley  Associated Student Government president Victoria Vera has several similarly ugly tweets. including “I AM TIRED OF THESE WHITE MEN!!!”, “White women are so entitled,” and “White culture is just violence.”

5. Finally, some Authentic Frontier Gibberish from Alexandria, VA’s Little League! Little League baseball coaches in Alexandria, Virginia, are now required to take a diversity, equity, and inclusion course this month. Casey Miller, a spokeswoman for the Positive Coaching Alliance, said that costs for training sessions vary from $1,000 to $10,000, which would all be money the Alexandria Little League doesn’t spend on baseball.  She “explained”,

We want kids to have a positive youth character building experience, and resources and training that empower youth coaches and parents. How we define culture is based on how we dive into the ‘we’ piece about that statement. What does it mean to be a part of the we? Each person, no matter what background or what they look like, should feel a part of the we.”




21 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/20/21: Happy Birthday, John Stuart Mill!

  1. 1. It should be obvious that some justices take the wording of the Constitution literally (Jackson, Rehnquist, Scalia, Bader-Ginsberg) to name those most recent. The Constitution clearly states justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” Nowhere does it say anything about resigning or retiring, and given their Supreme status, they are the best judges of their own behavior. It remains to be seen if Breyer is a fundamentalist when it comes to the Constitution.

    • I don’t think it would be good policy to prohibit justices from retiring, so long as they remained in good behavior. That loophole is a bit too obvious to miss, although the consequences might be fun to watch.

      So we’re going to have to live with retirement being an option for Supreme Court justices, and that being so, it makes sense to discuss what factors should play a role in that decision. Declining health and ability should certainly be considered, but to make retirement an explicitly political calculation is to make the Supreme Court an explicitly political institution, which it was never meant to be, and for good reason.

  2. 5. They must be taking their lead from the past few infrastructure bills that have little or nothing to do with infrastructure.

  3. Stanford University’s Gabrielle Crooks tweeted in 2020 “Yes I think white people need to be eradicated yes I will go feral over mediocre white men we exist.” (No, they no longer teach English at Stanford apparently.)

    Did a white boy she liked refuse to take her to the prom?

    Or was it a white girl?

    Here is something worth discussing.

    • It’s Amazing to me that a writer for the LA times would try to make that point, without comparing American states. The Nordic countries might have been better for his point, but the fact of the matter is that those nations are so fundamentally different from America that the comparisons break down. Even comparing America to Canada is an error: We don’t have anything even approximating the population density you do; New York, where you’ve basically played human Tetris does not compare even to Toronto, which is a city about the same rough area, but with a third the population.

      So compare apples to apples, or as close to them as possible…. Compare California, New York, and Michigan to Florida, Texas, and Alabama; Covid statistics: Basically the same. Lockdown measures: drastically different. Economic effects: Vastly disproportionate.

      And why is that? Because in America, more than anywhere else in the world, the pandemic was political. Blue states went out of their way to make the pandemic hurt in a bid to hurt Trump, and they succeeded… Both in hurting Trump and making it hurt. And then like a light switch, the most draconian of those measures suddenly evaporated in early January. What chanced around then?

  4. 1. At least that’s what he says. He’s also a reliable vote on the left and the death penalty’s biggest opponent on the court right now. Control of the Senate does stand on the edge of a knife, but there are quite a few GOP Senators who are getting up there too. The key, though, is that some of the elderly Democrats, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of VT, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of MA, Ben Cardin of MD, are from states with GOP governors. If any of them were to suddenly die, their replacements, at least in the short term, would be Republicans, and that would upend control of the Senate (and make the president’s agenda DOA), at least until a special election could be held, maybe until next year’s election, depending on whether the courts would be responsive to a suit demanding a special election ASAP. Breyer is within his rights to stay as long as he can do the job, although he’s now 82 and the Democrats don’t want to risk another Ginsburg situation. If Breyer leaves now, they are all but guaranteed to get that super-liberal black woman justice. Every day he stays is another risk that the Senate will flip and a further nomination will be stymied, or at least will not give the president his first choice. If that situation arises, expect cries from the left to again limit the Senate’s advise and consent power as there were during the Garland nomination. To the Democrats, the Constitution is made of putty, to be molded to fit whatever they want.

    2. He’s been a train wreck for months. Now Giuliani’s son, who has the name but not the chops, will suck all the air out of the primaries, all but guaranteeing him a 4th term.

    3. You have it right. Being the world’s biggest market goes a long way.

    4. White people and especially white men are fast becoming a hated and potentially endangered species. A lot of this talk sounds a lot like Julius’ Streicher’s talk of how Jews were the lowest form of man just as rats were the lowest animal, or Talat Pasha’s writing that the Ottoman Empire needed to be “cleaned up” of the Armenians and the Lebanese. Just sub “white man” in, and these quotes would be indistinguishable from this current hatred and venom. The thing is that the Jews didn’t grasp what was happening before it was too late, and the Armenians, et al. let themselves be cowed and bullied too long, so that they were not in a good position to stand up and resist when the Turks decided to liquidate them. The question is will white men deceive themselves or allow themselves to be bullied until they are in the same place? Are you going to let it pass when a city says only contractors of color can bid for this or that job, or only businesses owned by minorities are eligible to be part of the economic enterprise zone? Are you going to let yourself be told to keep quiet when someone of color is talking, like a kid being told by a parent to run along while the grownups talk? It’s the first step to being shut out of the national discussion, and once you’re shut out, you’ll be unable to say or do anything when the woke come for you in earnest. Can’t happen here? Don’t kid yourself.

    5. Say what?

  5. 5. I’m going through something similar. Once of the organizations I belong to was being pressured by a partner organization to conduct a “social audit”. And I know that the people conducting these things are well meaning…. but my God that’s a horrible name.

    Anyway, the audit came at no cost to us, and the results were non-binding. We told them to have fun, and then we had fun reading it. The audit came back, and it was a result in search of a datapoint. We needed to be more diverse. How much more diverse? More. We asked for clarity, the auditors had none to give. Our organization happened to be 50/50 men and women, which we were kind of surprised at… No one ever actually took the time to do the ratio. And we fully encapsulated the diversity of our community: We are 100% white in a town that has a single Asian family operating a restaurant and maybe a half dozen other ethnicities represented by a single family each. While we obviously wouldn’t stop any of them from applying or participating… An audit specifically asking that we hire one of 18 people in a town of about 5000 hits me as fundamentally unserious. We also got dinged because our group didn’t have any LGBT representation, and there was this funny moment when a couple people that knew me looked at me, and I said: “What? Don’t look at me, nobody asked, what am I supposed to do? Dye my hair and lisp?”.

    The people running these things don’t care. They don’t care about the people. They don’t care about proportionality. They don’t care about the truth. They are whiney toddlers screaming at the adults around them for more sweets. They don’t care what kind of sugar, they have no end goal in mind, they just know they taste good, and they want more.

  6. “…what am I supposed to do? Dye my hair and lisp?”

    Nice comeback.

    “The people running these things don’t care. They don’t care about the people. They don’t care about proportionality. They don’t care about the truth. They are whiney toddlers screaming at the adults around them for more sweets. They don’t care what kind of sugar, they have no end goal in mind, they just know they taste good, and they want more.”

    And they want them NOW!

        • Oh come on. Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a significant historical figure. And who our age didn’t grow up with the current (or marginally current) edition of Reader’s Digest next to the toilet? Humor in Uniform, anyone?

          • I read decades of RDs during the long nights when my grandmother and invalid aunt would babysit for me and my sister. There wasn’t much else to do if nothing godo was on TV—I read hundreds of the old issues. The frightening part is how mach of them I remember. Even “I am Joe’s Bladder”…

  7. 1. I still think age 80 ought to be the statutory upper limit for a Supreme Court Justice. Serve till age 80 as long as you’re healthy, then, bye-bye. Not a day longer on that bench. Time for a replacement. Come to think of it, that also would be a good rule to make for Senators, HOR members, Cabinet members, the VP and the POTUS.

  8. 5: So instead of getting out on the field, the youngsters of Alexandria will now exclusively play Wii Baseball.


    • You know, Dwayne, you raise an interesting point. Aren’t competitive sports white supremacist? They are the antithesis of equitable. You have winners and losers. It might as well be capitalism. Scores! They’re based on arithmetic, not lived experiences. White supremacist!

  9. Any comment on this?

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