1 2 3.
You might think that people who support marginal politicians like Ralph Nader or Ron Paul have different values than people who support mainstream politicians like John McCain or Barack Obama, but that doesn't have to be the case. Suppose I support Ralph Nader because I think he would make the best president. And suppose you agree that Ralph Nader would make the best president -- but you support Barack Obama, your second choice, because you think Nader has no chance to win. In that case, it could well be that you and I have the same values, and rank the available candidates in the same order. What we disagree about is how a candidate's viability ought to be taken into account.
I think it is actually very common for people to differ in this way. How can we explain this phenomenon? Maybe the root of it is that you and I follow different procedures for allocating limited energy and motivation for politics. When I go out and (say) make phone calls for Nader rather than Obama, I'm raising the already-low odds of an outcome which we both agree is highly desirable; when you make phone calls for Obama rather than Nader, you're raising the already-high odds of an outcome which we both agree is middlingly desirable. So maybe it's just that I'm more of a high-risk, high-reward kind of political activist than you are.
But I don't think this kind of explanation will work, at least not in all cases. For one thing, almost no one is capable of appreciably affecting the odds of any given electoral outcome, and most people know this. When you volunteer for a candidate, you might think, in a vague way, that you are helping him or her to be elected; but you probably do not deceive yourself into thinking your candidate's odds are really any different than they would have been if you'd just stayed home and watched TV. For another thing, this phenomenon occurs even in cases where no one is under any illusions about affecting the outcome. It occurs in sports, for instance: When the odds that the Cardinals will win the World Series diminishes, some fans switch to rooting for a more successful team, while others remain loyal. Given this, we need to be able to explain why some people support an unlikely best outcome, whereas others support a more likely second- (or third-, or 200,000th-) best outcome, even when supporting that outcome does not involve affecting its odds.
Maybe you support Obama because you tend to become very emotionally invested in the person you're supporting, and you want to cut the chances that you'll be disappointed. And maybe I support Nader because I don't mind much if my candidate loses. Maybe I even like it when my candidate loses, because it gives me something to complain about. In fact, I think this might be a satisfactory explanation in many cases. But how upset do you really get when your candidate loses? There are a lot of people who support Obama even though they would prefer other, more marginal candidates. It is hard to believe that all those people have chosen to support Obama just because they're afraid, consciously or unconsciously, of having to endure the pain of supporting the loser. So I think that, for those who are exceptions, we need a different story.
The herd mentality may be a further factor, but such explanations don't really get to the point that interests me here. What I'm most interested in is this question: Is there any good reason to shift allegiance from your top choice to a lower-tier, more likely choice, in cases where (a) you are not in a position to affect the odds in any way, and (b) shifting allegiances won't make the loss of your top choice any more endurable?
Here's one possibility. Perhaps when you support a given candidate, you are saying the candidate ought to win. But if the candidate is very unlikely to win, perhaps that means that she cannot win. In that case (if you believe that "ought" implies "can"), you should not support candidates whose chances fall below a certain cut-off. Then we just need to decide how poor the chances can be before they fall below that cut-off. Maybe this is the judgment-call about which the Nader supporter and the Obama supporter disagree.
But what is really the connection between improbable and cannot? Whether I can clean up the dishes has little to do with whether it is probable that I will clean up the dishes. Certainly, if it is improbable that I will clean up the dishes because (say) I'm handcuffed to the couch, then that is a reason to think I cannot clean up the dishes. But if it is improbable that I will clean up the dishes just because I'm very lazy and have never bothered to clean up the dishes before, then there has not yet been given any reason to think I cannot clean up the dishes.
However, with regard to entities like societies, cities, countries, and so on, the situation might be a little different. Societies can be lazy, I think. And I suppose that if a society is too lazy to do something, e.g. curb global warming, then that it is a reason to think that global warming cannot be curbed. For example, if 99% of the electorate opposes reform just because reform will make people uncomfortable in the near-term, I think that shows laziness. It also shows that it is very improbable for a reform-minded candidate to win an election. And if the probability of a reform-minded candidate winning is low enough, that seems like sufficient reason to say that a reform-minded candidate cannot win.
So maybe what's going on here is something like this. All agree that marginal candidates are unlikely to win. Some people think that marginal candidates are so unlikely to win that they cannot win, so they decide not to support such candidates (on the implicit or explicit assumption that "ought" implies "can," and "support" implies "ought"). Others set the bar lower: they think the same marginal candidates are not so unlikely to win that they cannot win, which frees them to support such candidates without falling afoul of the ought-implies-can principle. If that is right, then the open questions are: (1) How unlikely does an electoral (or more generally, societal) outcome really have to be before it is fair to say that it cannot happen? and (2) Does "ought," in the sense in which that word is used when we say things like "Nader ought to win," really imply "can"?
It's not easy to give an exact, non-controverisal description of the rights that libertarians say we have. The phrase "individual rights" evokes a picture that is very rough, but is adequate for the present purpose. But there's a further issue: although it is clear that libertarians like individual rights, it's less clear what that means. Consider a familiar type of case: Suppose you could raise a bunch of taxes, fund a large army, invade Burma, and replace its current government with one that is more friendly to individual rights. If you're a typical libertarian, you think raising those taxes would violate some individual rights. But (assume that) overthrowing the government of Burma would prevent many more (and more egregious) violations of individual rights. Does that positive trade-off make it OK to invade Burma on your citizens' dime?
No, according to (what we can call) dirty-hands libertarianism. Dirty-hands libertarianism says that one must never violate individual rights, even if doing so will prevent a very large number of rights-violations from occurring. As many have noticed, it's not obvious that we can make such a view respectable. It seems as though the dirty-hands libertarian doesn't really care about whether individual rights are violated; what she really cares about is whether she herself violates any individual rights. This kind of self-centeredness seems objectionable -- it seems to involve an undue emphasis on keeping one's own hands clean of rights-violations.
There's more to say about this objection and I think there are interesting replies to it. But if the libertarian is moved by it, she might switch to another view, which we can call rights-promotion libertarianism. On this view, one should simply try to make the overall number of individual rights-violations as small as possible. Sometimes that means refraining from violating individual rights oneself; but sometimes, e.g. in the Burma case, rights-promotion libertarianism calls for violating rights in order to prevent a larger number of rights-violations.
At minimum, rights-promotion libertarianism needs some tweaking. For example, it seems as though a good rights-promotion libertarian shouldn't reproduce, since your kids' rights are bound to be violated now and then, and you can prevent all that simply by not having them in the first place. This is probably an unwelcome implication; and there are other similar issues that come up. But maybe these sorts of problems aren't huge -- maybe they can be avoided by fiddling with the view, e.g. by saying that the rights of merely potential persons don't count (or count in a different way than the rights of actual persons), or whatever.
But I think the view has some deeper problems. Rights-promotion libertarianism looks like a version of maximizing consequentialism. But to produce a version of maximizing consequentialism equivalent to rights-promotion libertarianism, you'd have to think that (a) violation of individual rights is the only thing that is non-instrumentally bad, and (b) nothing whatsoever is non-instrumentally good. This is a weird and improbable view. You could get around this by abandoning the maximizing-consequentialist framework, and say that there is an obligation to minimize rights-violations even when doing so fails to maximize overall value. But then I think you'll have a hard time making sense of the view. On this view, you may violate others' rights in order to do one type of good (i.e. prevent rights-violations) but not in order to do any other type of good (e.g. feed the poor). This seems arbitrary.
So I suspect that if you think it's permissible to violate rights in order to ensure that fewer rights are violated, you're going to have trouble explaining why it's not permissible to violate rights in order to, say, bring about lots of pleasure, or satisfy intense desires, etc. But I think all genuine libertarians must be able to say (and explain why) it's not permissible to violate rights just to secure those sorts of values. So it seems to me that if you want to be a genuine libertarian, you probably have to be a dirty-hands libertarian, and just do your best to handle the problems facing that view.
I've decided to start blogging here again (though we'll see how long this resolution lasts). And as I see it, there is no better way to start again than by providing the internets with something they seem to lack (based on 5 minutes' worth of googling): An irrefutable defense of Alanis Morissette's widely criticized usage of the word "ironic" in the (aptly-named, as I will show) 90's hit song, "Ironic." This will also provide me with motivation to continue blogging, since I will not want this ridiculous post to be associated with my name in google searches forever.
The Wikipedia page on this issue says that in response to her critics, Alanis has granted that her song contains no genuine irony, but claims that this is precisely what makes the song ironic. This strategy is cheating and I will not use it. Instead, I want to show that Alanis should have stuck to her guns. I think the scenarios in her song are ironic in several widely accepted senses of the word.
In the song, Alanis suggests that
(1) You have 10,000 spoons and all you need is a knife.
is ironic. This guy suggests that (1) is not ironic, but
(2) You have 10,000 spoons and all you need is a knife, and you're in the break room of a cutlery factory.
is ironic. How's that? Presumably, (2) is ironic because it's the opposite of what you'd expect: you'd expect the break room of a cutlery factory to contain at least one knife. But (1) is also the opposite of what you'd expect: you'd expect anyone who has 10,000 spoons to have at least one knife. So it seems to me that if (2) succeeds in being ironic, (1) does, too.
A complaint about a different line is suggested by a parody, here. On Alanis's view,
(3) An 88-year-old man wins the lottery, then dies the next day.
is ironic. The author of the parody seems to think that (3) isn't ironic, but
(4) An 88-year-old man wins the lottery, then dies the next day "of chronic emphysema from inhalation of the latex particles scratched off decades' worth of lottery tickets."
is ironic. Well, if we suppose unexpectedness is the criterion, then (4) might actually be less ironic than (3) (since, ceteris paribus, people who have chronic emphysema are more likely to die than those who don't). Of course, there is something odd, and perhaps unexpected, about being killed by the very activity that provides you with vast riches, and that's not what happens in (3). But there is also something odd and unexpected about dying the day after acquiring vast riches.
In light of these considerations, I suppose charity requires us to assume that the above critics of Alanis don't take unexpectedness to be the criterion of irony. What else might they mean? Dictionary.com defines irony:
1. containing or exemplifying irony: an ironic novel; an ironic remark.
3. coincidental; unexpected: It was ironic that I was seated next to my ex-husband at the dinner.
3 is the only immediately helpful part, and I'm not going to bother with anything that isn't immediately helpful. 3, we have seen, is a count in Alanis's favor. But the usage note on the same page seems to be at odds with Dictionary.com's own definition:
The words ironic, irony, and ironically are sometimes used of events and circumstances that might better be described as simply "coincidental" or "improbable," in that they suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly.
OK; so maybe Alanis's critics are taking it as required that a genuinely ironic scenario must contain a "lesson about human vanity or folly." The critics might rightly point out, for example, that there is no obvious vanity-folly lesson in (1). And I'm inclined to agree to this. But there's no obvious such lesson in (2), either. Further, the situation with (3) and (4) is reversed: Perhaps there's a vanity-folly lesson in (4), but it seems to me there might also be such a lesson in (3).
Anyway, I think that if critics are faulting Alanis for calling her scenarios ironic even though they contain no vanity-folly lessons, then their case against her is likely to be very weak. Arguably, there are lessons about human vanity and folly in just about everything that happens. In any case, it's certainly never obvious that any given event contains no such lesson. (Exception: events that involve inanimate matter. But no such events are described in "Ironic.") Of course, I'll grant that any lessons contained in Alanis's song aren't obvious, and probably aren't interesting if they are there; but there is no requirement that one needs obvious or interesting vanity-folly lessons in order to be ironic.
So, by two different accepted criteria for irony -- unexpectedness and vanity-folly lessons -- I think Alanis's attribution of irony to scenarios (1) and (3) are defensible. What about the other scenarios in the song? A few of them seem especially suspect. For example, Alanis thinks this is ironic:
(5) Alanis meets the man of her dreams, and then she meets his beautiful wife.
But for all we know, this happens to Alanis all the time. Anyway, there's nothing in general unusual about someone being attracted to a married person. Similarly,
(6) You're in a traffic jam, and you're already late.
is the sort of thing that happens all the time.
Is there any hope for Alanis's view that these scenarios are ironic? I think that these scenarios may be considered unexpected if one assumes a very optimistic view of life in which we normally get what we want. I think a lot of people hold this sort of view; a lucky few are even justified in holding it. For them, when any of their desires are frustrated, as in (5) and (6), it comes as unexpected. So I think (5) and (6) are, after all, unexpected: they are unexpected by extremely optimistic people.
Further note that (5) and (6) arguably contain vanity-folly lessons. (Again, I'm not claiming that the lessons are good lessons, and my case doesn't require them to be.)
So, I think Alanis succeeds in providing irony of at least two types. But perhaps the critics have in mind some other sense(s) of irony. And there are plenty of alternatives out there. Many are listed in Wikipedia, which says that
There is some argument about what is or is not ironic, but all the different senses of irony revolve around the perceived notion of an incongruity between (i) what is said and what is meant; or (ii) between an understanding of reality, or an expectation of a reality, and what actually happens. [my numbering]
I think my argument above strongly supports thinking Alanis's scenarios are ironic in the (ii) senses. But perhaps Alanis's critics are assuming that all genuine forms irony are along the lines of (i). And it does seem fair to say Alanis has failed to be (i)-style ironic. So it seems everything hinges on whether (ii)-style irony is a genuine form of irony. But it seems to me to be generally accepted that it is. QED.
There are features of things which make moral judgments about them true. For instance, in a certain case it may be that the fact that a given act is an act of killing-for-fun is the feature of it which makes it wrong. It might be thought that there are some types of things which never have these sorts of features. For instance, it might be thought that the motions of inanimate objects never have these features. If so, then whereas any given human action might be wrong, or right, or permissible, or obligatory, or supererogatory, or whatever, the motion of any given inanimate object is never any of these things; such motions are "outside the moral domain," as it were, and no moral judgment is ever true of them. So for instance, on this view, while there are true moral judgments about Bush's decision to invade Iraq, there are no true moral judgments about the motions of Mars, since there are no features of that motion which would make any such judgment true.
A short argument against this view can be written as follows:
1. Either (a) the motion of Mars is morally permissible, or (b) the motion of Mars is not morally permissible.
2. (a) is a moral judgment.
3. (b) is a moral judgment.
4. Thus, there is at least one true moral judgment about the motion of Mars.
We can obviously extend this argument into any "domain" we please, and therefore we can show that there is no kind of thing about which there are no true moral judgments.
If we want to avoid the conclusion, what should we do? 1 has got to be true. 2 seems true enough; if I say something is morally permissible, I have certainly made a moral judgment (even though in the present case I've clearly made a false one). So 3 seems to me to be the premise we'll need to attack if we want to avoid 4. To deny 3 is to say that (b) (i.e. the claim "the motion of Mars is not morally permissible") is not a moral judgment. But there seem to be genuine moral judgments which take this form; for instance, it seems clear that (c) "Killing innocent children is not morally permissible" is a moral judgment. So we should want to say that (c) is a moral judgment, even if (b) isn't one. But there seems to be no principled way to get away with this. That is, there seems to be nothing about (b) which would keep it from being a moral judgment without keeping (c) from being one, too. It seems to me that if any sentence of the form "______ is not morally permissible" is not a moral judgment, then none of them are. If so, then a principled 4-denier should say that sentences of the form "_______ is not morally permissible" are never moral judgments. But that is an unpleasant thing to have to say.
A similar set of problems may obtain in other areas. We may be tempted to say, for instance, that while there are some sorts of things about which there are true "color judgments" (e.g. there are true color judgments about ketchup, such as the judgment "Ketchup is red"), there are other sorts of things about which there are no true color judgments. For instance, molecules are colorless, "outside the domain of color," so we might be tempted to say that any "color judgment" about a molecule has to be false. Similarly, no number has a color, so we may want to say that all judgments about the color of, say, 7, are false. But any molecule, and any number, is either green or not, and in either case it seems to follow that there is at least one true color judgment. So we'll be faced with the same pair of options: either (1) "X is not green" is not a color judgment, or (2) there are true color judgments about molecules and numbers.
I expect that, with regard to color judgments, it will not matter very much which of the two options we choose. Nothing much hangs on whether "X is not green" is classified as a color judgment or not. I am not sure, however, whether anything important hangs on the corresponding question about moral judgments. If we say that there are true moral judgments about dogs and planets and so on, it will follow that the sorts of features which make moral judgments true are features had by every type of thing. This might be an interesting result. Or, if we say that there aren't any true moral judgments about dogs, planets, etc., then we may be committed to say that "negative" judgments of the form "____ is not [permissible, obligatory, right, wrong, etc.]" are not genuine moral judgments. This again may be an interesting result.
1. Pete is starving to death on a distant continent, and I can keep him alive by giving $10/month to charity. There are other people on Pete's continent who are starving to death, too, and $10/month could save them just as well. Suppose that anything less than $10 will be useless to these people, so that if I give $5.00, then I help no one; if I give $10.00, I help only Pete; if I give $15.00, I still help only Pete; if I give $20.00, I help Pete and one other person; etc.
A claim: "If Pete were the only one in need, I might have an obligation to help him; but when the number of people starving on Pete's continent becomes sufficiently large, I have no obligation to help anyone at all." This is a weird-sounding claim, but I think that many people believe it; anyway, I think many people behave as though they believe this claim and others similar to it. Here I will present an argument which might get at some of the reasons people may have for believing such claims.
Say that the "needy group" is the group of people who, like Pete, are starving and can be saved by a donation of $10/month. Let's begin with the assumption that if Pete is the only member of the needy group, then I have an obligation to help him, i.e. to give $10/month to charity. We want to know: What happens to my obligation when the number of people in the needy group increases? To see what happens to it, suppose now that there are two people in the needy group -- call them Pete and Sue -- and suppose that we know nothing about Pete and Sue except that they are members of the needy group. In that case, Pete and Sue are similar to one another in all (known) morally relevant respects, which means that I must have the same obligation (if any) to Pete as I have to Sue. Thus, I may have an obligation to help Pete and Sue (i.e. to give $20/month to charity); or I may have an obligation to help neither Pete nor Sue (i.e. to give 0/month); but I cannot possibly have an obligation to Pete without having the same obligation to Sue. Something similar will be true when we suppose that there are three members of the needy group: I will be obligated to give either $30/month to help all three, or will have no obligation to help anyone. And in general, the following disjunction will be true: Either I am obligated to give X*$10 or I am obligated to give 0, with "X" representing the number of members of the needy group.
For X=1, we have supposed, the left disjunct is true: I am obligated to give $10/month. As X grows, two things happen: The number of people in the needy group grows, and the number in the left disjunct grows. It might be thought that, as the number of people in the needy group grows, my obligation to lend a hand becomes stronger and more pressing. But as the number in the left disjunct grows, any potential obligation I might have becomes increasingly unreasonable. When X=1,000,000, for instance, I am (given the above disjunction) either required to give $10,000,000 per month or I am required to give nothing. But I do not have $10,000,000 per month to give; thus, I must not be obligated to give anything at all. So: When the needy group is sufficiently large, I have no obligation to help Pete, nor do I have any obligation to help anyone else in the needy group.
Where has this argument gone wrong?
2. Suppose you are designing an advertisement for a charity. You know the ad will feature a photo of a starving boy, and you know that the photo will be displayed alongside text like this:
By donating only $____ per month, you can save the life of a boy just like this one.
Your assignment is to fill in the blank. Your only goal is to maximize the amount of donations which will be given in response to the ad; you don't care whether the way in which the blank is filled yields a true or false sentence. How should you fill in the blank?
It seems to me that if you fill the blank with a very large number, the ad will be discouraging to people. If people think, for instance, that in order to save the boy's life, they need to donate $500 per month, they will feel that they must choose between the boy's life and (say) being able to make rent. Given such a choice, most people will choose rent. On the other hand, if you fill the blank with a very small number, then people are unlikely to donate very much money. If people think, for instance, that they can save the boy's life by donating only 50 cents per month, then their consciences will be satisfied even if they donate only that much. This game will have some things in common with Blackjack.
Here is the full text of the newly proposed section of Article I of the Texas Constitution, proposed by HJR 6, which has been passed by both chambers:
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
As Jonathan points out, this bit would have the effect of banning marriage itself, since marriage is a legal status which is identical to marriage. This is clearly not what the authors of the amendment intend to do. So it seems clear that the authors of the amendment have made a mistake, and that what they meant to write is something other than what they did write. But I think it's actually sort of difficult to figure out what, exactly, they should have written instead. It looks like the word "identical" is causing the problem, so we might try simply dropping that word. For instance, we might try:
(b2) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status similar to marriage.
But (b2) still has problems. Marriage is identical to marriage, but marriage is at least aruably similar to marriage as well. If so, then (b2) bans all marriage, just like the original (b) does. You might try to avoid this consequence by saying that marriage is not similar to marriage; you might want to say, for instance, that two things can be similar to one another, or identical to one another, but not both. Even if we say this, however, it is not clear how close a status must be to marriage in order to be considered "similar" to it. For instance: Being a person's business partner certainly has some things in common with being married to that person. If this means that being a business partner is "similar to" being married, then (b2) would prevent the state from recognizing business partnerships. That's bad.
So maybe we will want to leave aside talk of "similarity," as well as talk of identity. Here's a stab in that direction:
(b3) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status other than marriage.
But (b3) is even worse than (b2). The state will want to recognize the status of being divorced, or the status of being an immigrant, or the status of being a convicted criminal, but these are all statuses other than marriage. So we clearly need some talk of similarity in our formulation.
Perhaps the problem with (b2) wasn't that it mentioned similarity, but that it did not say what kind of similarity was at issue. Perhaps what is needed is to talk about relevant similarities. For instance:
(b4) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status relevantly similar to marriage.
Since marriage is arguably "relevantly similar" to itself, we again have the problem of prohibiting marriage. But we can avoid this by adding a few words to (b4) to yield:
(b5) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status relevantly similar to marriage, other than marriage itself.
(b5) has a few clear advantages. First, (b5) wouldn't result in a ban on all marriage. Second, (b5) would allow the state to recognize the statuses of being divorced, of being an immigrant, and of being a convicted criminal, since these statuses are not relevantly similar to the status of being married. Third, it is at least probable that (b5) would not result in a ban on, say, state recognition of business partnerships, since (probably) business partnerships are not similar to marriage in whatever respects are supposed to be relevant. However, (b5) has the problem that it leaves open what "relevance" is supposed to be. Since it is unclear how to tell whether a particular status is "relevantly similar" to marriage, it is unclear how to tell whether a particular status is permitted or prohibited by (b5). It might turn out that certain statuses which the state needs to recognize are relevantly similar to the status of marriage; if so, then (b5) is fatally flawed. More importantly (from the perspective of the amendment's authors), it might turn out that "civil union," or some other legal status which is supposed to be a substitute for marriage for gay couples, is not relevantly similar to the status of marriage. If so, then (b5) would allow civil unions, in which case (b5) clearly does not do the thing which its authors intend it to do. In any case, we won't be able to tell what, exactly, (b5) says until we know what relevant similarity to marriage is, and how to determine whether it obtains in a given case.
I suspect that (b5) is probably very close to what the authors of the amendment wanted to get across. However, I think the ambiguity of the notion of "relevance" as it is employed in (b5) is probably too obvious for (b5) to be considered acceptable to lawyers. Perhaps this is why the authors chose not to use a formulation along the lines of (b5), and instead chose to use the original (b) as it appears above. The original (b) has the advantage of being less obviously ambiguous, and perhaps this advantage was thought to outweigh the disadvantage of having the obviously unintended consequence of banning all marriage.
A lot of people are criticizing the new Pope for having been a member of the Hitler Youth. I think there is very good evidence that his membership in that organization was non-blameworthy. First of all, he was very young when he was a member; younger people are not to be held responsible for their actions in the same way that older people are. Second, the evidence seems to show that he was not an especially enthusiastic member. Third, he was probably, in some sense, "forced to" join; if he had refused to join, he or his family would probably have faced quite severe negative consequences. And finally, my impression is that the routine activities of the Hitler Youth were not, on the whole, all that morally troubling. Hitler Youths were, I think, indoctrinated into the Nazi worldview, which is bad; but I do not think they were ordinarily involved in doing wrong actions. My understanding is that they were more likely to be found exercising or chanting slogans than (say) persecuting Jews or what-have-you. None of this means, however, that having been a Hitler Youth cannot hurt one's ability to soundly arrive at correct moral judgments.
Suppose a child is strapped to a chair and forced to listen to Jeffrey Dahmer argue that serial killing is permissible. The child is not permitted to argue back. In fact, the child is forced to pretend to agree with everything that is being said. After a very long time -- say, 1000 hours -- the child is set free to go about his business. We would not blame the child for what has just happened to him. Indeed, we would feel overwhelming pity for the child. Nevertheless, it's probable that by undergoing such an experience, the child's moral sensibilities will have been damaged. If you wanted to get advice on how to resolve a tricky moral problem, for instance, you would prefer to get advice from someone who has not been subjected to this experience, than to get advice from someone who has been subjected to it, all else equal.
I'm guessing that a typical member of the Hitler Youth spent many hours listening to people argue that domination is a virtue, that the weak should be crushed by the strong, that anyone who was born Jewish is one of the "weak", etc. And, like the child in the above example, a typical member of the Hitler Youth was probably expected to pretend to agree. Probably, most of the people who were subjected to this experience are not to blame for having been subjected to it. Nevertheless, this sort of experience is not the best way to prepare to give advice to people who are dealing with tricky moral problems. But this is precisely what the new Pope will be doing.
I'm not saying that having been a member of the Hitler Youth should automatically disqualify you from dispensing moral advice. I am quite sure that someone could be subjected to the experience of being a Hitler Youth and, in the end, become a morally exemplary person. For all I know, the new Pope has done exactly that.
Backword Dave notes, cogently:
I hate those in power. I look up, and others see the stars; I see the shit up our leader’s arses.
I actually think the star-metaphor is more apt. A star is remote and gigantic. It can affect you (as when, for instance, the sun gives you a sunburn), but you cannot affect it. On the other hand, very few "arses" are remote or gigantic; you can easily affect someone's arse, e.g. by kicking it. Looked at this way, Backword Dave's statement is actually kind of hopeful. It expresses the sentiment that government is something bad, and corrupt; but it also expresses the sentiment that its corruption is something personal, local, and changeable by ordinary people. Changing the government, the metaphor seems to suggest, is nothing more profound or impossible than wiping after a bowel movement. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. The government is remote and gigantic; no one of us can affect its course. One may as well try to stop the stars from twinkling.