Thursday, August 21, 2014

How should we solve the problem of refugee children? (Answer: Sell them to the highest bidder.)

The photo and background on the refugee crisis can be found here.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that as many as ten of the children the United States deported back to Honduras have been killed by the very people they were escaping from. They were sent back because American activists pressured them to do so, and given my horror and grief at the news, I wanted to find a way to persuade opponents to change their minds and welcome refugee children. I think the answer can be found in the Evangelical Christian community.

It has become very popular amongst some Evangelicals to adopt children from Eastern European countries. Special needs children appear to be the preference, in part because the orphanages are terrible and any child who needs extra care faces a horrendous and lonely life. But the children can only be adopted if the prospective parents pay huge amounts of money to foreign agencies, sometimes more than $30,000. Often, the adoptive parents are folks who have committed to living debt free, so they raise money at their churches and from friends, have bake sales, and work tirelessly to gather their pennies. Even so, despite their promise to avoid debt, many will take mortgages to get the fee. When the children do arrive in America, they become a kind of status symbol in the community, a way of publicizing the parents’ commitment to love and care for those in need.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Are we morally obligated to accept the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?

(Video has NSFW language.)

As anyone on social networks knows, the Internet is full of videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to support the ALS Association, an organization that advocate for issues related to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). As part of the Challenge, the participants nominate the next water dumpers who then get to nominate the ones after that. The question I want to ask is whether or not someone is morally obligated to accept the Challenge, or whether they can reject it and still be considered a good person.

The Ice Bucket campaign has been curious to watch because it started as a choice: people were challenged to either donate money or dump water on their heads. Getting doused was supposed to be a punishment for being selfish. But now, presumably, people are doing both and drenching themselves to show that they donated. Being frozen has become a reward for doing something charitable.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is civil disobedience not a "nice" thing to do?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “Saying 'No' Through Civil Disobedience” You can hear the whole episode online here.

Today’s episode is about not getting along with people who are committing what our guest will call moral crimes. We’re going to talk about a variety of topics, all of which are familiar to us in political debate. It will be easy to see them as purely hypothetical, so for the sake of our discussion, I wanted to provide a concrete example that can’t be theorized away: a neighborhood father is a registered sex offender.

The man in question abused a young girl for many years. He served time in prison and is now married with two kids of his own. His children are great. They are well-behaved, friendly, easy going, and the girl is friends with my daughter, so she spends a fair amount of time at our house. My daughter, however, is not allowed to reciprocate. She’s forbidden from going to their house or playing in their backyard. We have never had the parents over for coffee and we won’t, but we are cordial to the mom, and cool but polite on the rare occasions we see the dad. The other neighbors seem to treat them similarly, especially those with kids.

Listen to the Jack Russell Weinstein/Alan Colmes Interview on open-carry gun activists and on whether gun owners are a protected class.


Last night, I was interviewed by Alan Colmes on Fox News Radio. The subject, not surprisingly, was open-carry laws, but he was particularly interested in my comments that gun owners are not a protected class. That last issue has been picked up by the NRA, Opposing Views, Campus Reform and others.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised by the attention this innocuous comment got, since protected classes are clearly defined by the courts. But, if things remained simple, I wouldn't have a job, and I'm happy my remarks were layered enough to bring out the philosophical issues underpinning my earlier blog post.

Anyhow, here is the link to the interview on Fox News Radio's website.

Please submit your comments below. Since all of this started on PQED, it would be nice for my readers to have a say, as well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why? Radio and Fox News, together?!?! Why?'s Host Jack Russell Weinstein to appear on Alan Colmes show, tonight at 6 p.m. central

A special event:

Tonight, Wednesday, August 13, at 6 p.m. central (7:00 Eastern)

Jack Russell Weinstein, host of Why? Radio,
interviewed by
Alan Colmes on Fox News Radio.

Inspired by the recent viral PQED blog post and video, Jack and Allan will be discussing gun ownership and why Jack believes that gun owners are not a protected class under the U.S. Constitution.

Alan Colme’s show is syndicated nationally and can be heard on your local Fox News Radio station, as well as online at:


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Is it moral for me to have children even though I don’t have a job? [Ask a philosopher]

James from The Why? Movement (nice name!) asked:
“Is it ethical for me to start a family with the knowledge that I do not have a full-time job (i.e. one that has health benefits) at the moment, but the hope that I will by the time my child is born?”

In the United States, having children has moved from an expectation, to a question of rights, to a matter of privilege. For much of human history, married couples were expected to have babies and to have them quickly. If they didn’t, it was usually because one of the two were physically unable. But these days, we have shifted from asking when people will have kids to asking whether they should be allowed to. James is asking the latter.

There were lots of reasons for these changes: developments in birth control, changes in the status of women, lower mortality rates of children, a more sophisticated understanding of what marriage is, and the advent of child protection organizations that can take children away from unfit parents, are but a few. But three philosophical shifts are particularly important.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Two brief videos about the open-carry debate.

For those of you who are interested, the University of North Dakota asked me a few questions about the viral PQED entry:  

How should people respond to open-carry gun-rights activists? 

and my follow-up: 

Should people run away from open-carry activists? A response to a thousand comments. 

I think they turned out well; thanks Craig for asking!

(Post your comments below and please consider visiting out YouTube channel: TheIPPL.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

How should we talk (and post) about Israel and Gaza? A guide to remaining human.

Israel and Gaza are at war; there really is no other word for it. And as the fighting escalates, so does the propaganda. The fact of the matter is though, that no matter how much blame the media gets for presenting one-sided points of view, it is everyday people who are doing most of the arguing. Inflammatory blog posts, poorly-researched news stories, and misidentified pictures are being shared at breakneck speed. All of it is being presented as equally true and each new post is touted as the smoking gun. It’s got to stop. It does no good and prevents any possibility for reconciliation.

With that in mind, I would like to propose the following guidelines for real discussion and true understanding:

1. Consider the experience of the other side.

Arguments are weapons and tend to eclipse the reality that people live under. History is important, but what motivates people is what they encounter outside their door or in their bomb shelter. So, in order to have a real discussion, we need to empathize and enter into the perspective of each side.

For example, it is terrible to live in Israel when Hamas is lobbing missiles randomly into neighborhoods. People are petrified and the randomness of it all makes matters worse.

Now, there are many who will read this last sentence and will protest “but Israel bombs…,” but STOP! We’ll get there. Just be quiet, calm yourself, and reflect. If you are reading this blog post right now you are not in danger. Take a moment and consider the experience of living under the threat of hundreds, if not thousands, of randomly fired missiles, and remember, everyone in Israel loves their families and wants a good life. Being under the constant threat of arbitrary missile fire is an awful way to live.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Was America always laissez-faire?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “Do we live in a commercial republic? A discussion about American Government and its Economy” You can hear the whole episode online here.

Something has happened in the last two decades that has become so normal, we rarely think about it: we all know how much money movies make. Box office grosses of opening weekends are reported as major news stories. There are no more epics, only blockbusters.

Sure, film companies have done this forever, but they are businesses out for a profit and we are audiences out for a good time. Is the movie experience going to be any better if the ticket sales are high? I doubt it. But this is the time we live in, and there’s a word for money being the ultimate standard of success: capitalism.

I’m an Adam Smith scholar—longtime listeners know that—and I have more than a soft spot for the free market, but there’s also a case to be made that capitalism is a virus, that it overtakes everything it encounters, from arts and entertainment, to politics itself. America thinks of itself as a Democracy, but every other country in the world thinks of us in terms of our economy and power, and truth be told, our most vocal politicians and pundits seem to agree. Capitalism and democracy, they think, are the same thing. Just as movie quality is discovered through ticket sales, the will of the people, they tell us, is declared with our wallets.

Monday, July 7, 2014

[Repost] Leaving the Classroom Behind: “Teaching” the Public Humanities

A few years ago, I was asked to write a piece on my public-philosophy pedagogy for the blog Teaching Thursday. It appears that the blog is no longer online and I wanted to repost it because I refer to the essay surprisingly frequently. It is very "inside baseball," and probably mostly of interest to other teachers, but it does provide a good glimpse into the choices that college professors have to make when they decide to do something like PQED, WHY? Radio, or The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life.  

"Leaving the Classroom Behind: "Teaching" the Public Humanities"
First posted online on August 12, 2010. 

In the last two years, I have become immersed in the public humanities movement: the attempt to bring philosophy, history, literature and other related arts out of the classroom and into the general public. For me, it took the form of founding and directing the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life (IPPL), a partnership between UND and the North Dakota Humanities Council. We have a radio show, a film series, a blog, a  lecture series, an annual magazine, and a fellows program. With all of this in mind, Bill asked me to reflect on the difference between teaching in the classroom and teaching towards the general public, a task that is made more difficult by the fact that I am reluctant to consider any of my IPPL work as “teaching” at all.

While many in the general public like to learn, very few of them feel comfortable being taught. Once out of school, people like to consider themselves autodidacts, and nothing alienates them more than a person who imposes classroom structures upon a conversation, speaking to them as if they’re students and implying some sort of intellectual superiority. Most people associate school with homework, hierarchies, and lack of voice, and while for many, college was a better experience than high school, university life is still associated with grading, tests, and stress.