Baptist leader tells us that God doesn’t want us to sacrifice the old

Here we have the New York Times once again pandering to religion, publishing an article that says we should help save lives, including the lives of the elderly, not because of humanistic values, but because God says so.  The author, Russell Moore, is described as “the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Read and scowl:

 

Moore’s point, which many people have discussed without invoking religion or God, is whether we’re going to let people go back to work prematurely because the preservation of the economy (and other social values) is more important than the lives that would be lost by an early ending of the quarantine. Well, that’s basically true, but surely we’ll have to resume normal life before the world is entirely cleansed of Covid-19, so that itself is a form of tradeoff. A more important issue at the moment is how do we give care to young versus old people, or people who are immunologically compromised, when care is limited?

We have only a certain number of ventilators, and if there are two people competing for one, one 25 and the other 80, who do you choose? Reason would suggest that you’ll create the most well being, on average, by saving the greatest number of years to come. And that would favor the younger over the older, those likely to survive over those likely to die. That is the only humane decision, and you don’t need religion to make it (simple utilitarianism will do). Already, Italy is prioritizing Covid-19 care for those under 60, giving older people palliative care. When there are limited resources, priority must be given.

Of course Moore is correct that we shouldn’t—as Trump appears to want—blithely allow older people to die in the service of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but such advice doesn’t require invoking God. So why does Moore stick the divine in?

For example:

A pandemic is no time to turn our eyes away from the sanctity of human life.

As opposed to other kinds of life?

We already are hearing talk about weighing the value of human life against the health of the nation’s economy and the strength of the stock market. It’s true that a depression would cause untold suffering for people around the world, hitting the poor the hardest. Still, each human life is more significant than a trillion-dollar gross national product. Stocks and bonds are important, yes, but human beings are created in the image of God.

There Moore is using the Bible as his source of ethics. Because humans (but not gorillas or ducks) are created in the eyes of God, we cannot automatically prioritize the economy and the fabric of society over people’s lives. But you don’t need the Bible for that. Try John Rawls, or Peter Singer (both atheists). And don’t forget that giving human life the highest priority over everything, including suffering, leads to spending millions of dollars to keep those in vegetative states alive, or to disallowing assisted suicide.

It goes on:

We must also reject suggestions that it makes sense to prioritize the care of those who are young and healthy over those who are elderly or have disabilities. Such considerations turn human lives into checkmarks on a page rather than the sacred mystery they are. When we entertain these ideas, something of our very humanity is lost.

Nope. Who gets the ventilator? The 25 year old or the 80 year old? Do we lose our humanity when we have to make such a choice? I don’t think so: we exercise our humanity.

But wait! There’s more!

. . .Vulnerability is not a diminishment of the human experience, but is part of that experience. Those of us in the Christian tradition believe that God molded us from dust and breathed into us the breath of life. Moreover, we bear witness that every human life is fragile. We are, all of us, creatures and not gods. We are in need of air and water and one another.

A generation ago, the essayist and novelist Wendell Berry told us that the great challenge of our time would be whether we would see life as a machine or as a miracle. The same is true now. The value of a human life is not determined on a balance sheet. We cannot coldly make decisions as to how many people we are willing to lose since “we are all going to die of something.”

You don’t need to see life as a miracle to come to ethical decisions about triage or ending pandemics.  You need consider only well being versus other things we value. After all, there are thousands of deaths every year due to car accidents, falls in the bathtub, accidental discharge of firearms, and so on. In 2000, 17,000 people committed suicide with a firearm.  Many people (though not I!) would say that the value of firearms outweighs those of the lives lost using them, and that the value of cars outweighs the 15,000 or so people killed in vehicular accidents every year. We make these decisions all the time, weighing known loss of life versus social goods. I don’t happen to think that we need guns, but I do think we need vehicles, despite Moore’s claim that every life is a sacred miracle.  And during this pandemic, as we’ve seen from Italy, you simply can’t treat everyone the same way. Does Moore think so? (He doesn’t say, but that’s the implication).

It angers me that Moore claims God and the Bible as his arbiter of moral behavior when humanistic values lead to exactly the same conclusions he reaches:

That means we must listen to medical experts, and do everything possible to avoid the catastrophe we see right now in Italy and elsewhere. We must get back to work, get the economy back on its feet, but we can only do that when doing so will not kill the vulnerable and overwhelm our hospitals, our doctors, our nurses, and our communities.

Duhhh! (But I note that the Italian form of triage is in effect “killing the vulnerable”, but through inaction rather than direct action. The result is the same).

Truly, I can see nothing in his article that a humanistic atheist like Peter Singer couldn’t write, and without invoking the false idea that we’re made in the image of God. (How does that matter, anyway? God, who made us in His image, saw fit to commit repeated genocides in the Old Testament, and that selfsame God allowed coronavirus to spread over the globe and kill tens of thousands.) The “image of god” idea grates on anyone who thinks we evolved, and on those who believe we can derive our ethics (better, ethics, actually) without consulting a nonexistent being in the sky.  So I could have written this last paragraph—except for the final seven words:

And along the way we must guard our consciences. We cannot pass by on the side of the road when the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the vulnerable are in peril before our eyes. We want to hear the sound of cash registers again, but we cannot afford to hear them over the cries of those made in the image of God.

Why was this published?

60 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    What part did g*d play in providing this poorest excuse for a leader at this time? They would not have to decide who gets the equipment if we had any kind of leader who was capable of doing the job. As it is, nobody had enough of anything. I guess NY has no shortage of reefer vans to store the dead.

    • Posted March 26, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Answer from a cousin: “I will never cease to be amazed at what a wondrous God we serve, especially the leaders he chooses, like Donald Trump, to foil Satan’s efforts to drive this nation over the cliff into the liberal abyss”.

      So I asked him about God choosing Obama: “Obama was chosen to reveal the danger of the deep state, and just how dangerous and full of hate the liberal enemy is. The enemy will not accept the results of Trump’s election and is pulling out all the stops to destroy Trump and his presidency. I think it was a much needed wake-up call to those who believe in the rule of law and the God of the Bible of just how vile and wicked and insane the left truly is.”

      The wing-nuts vote, and there are a lot of them.

      • Posted March 26, 2020 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        Wow! That is really something. I almost wish I had a cousin like that so I could study closely how these people think and what can be done about it. If I may ask, how old is this cousin? Male? Profession? I apologize if that is getting too personal.

        • Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

          Well Paul, I’ve tried to analyze this cousin [and several more who are less extreme but still dyed in the wool Trumpites] without much success. Primo uno – mid-seventies; Hoosier; government worker most of his career; “bible-believing” Southern Baptist [not sure when that happened because he had a pretty wild earlier life]; votes primarily on two issues – abortion and gay rights; subtle racist. He chooses his ‘abominations’ carefully since he has been married three times and is severely overweight. I suppose I should write an essay on “Why My Relatives Support Trump.”

          • Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

            I have numerous relatives who are similar. It’s tough to converse with them at all. They tend to slip into ad hominem attacks frequently, outright name calling and a slough of other fallacies. The name calling and personal attacks is where I personally draw the line. What can we say? Aside from maybe covfefe? 😀

            • Posted March 26, 2020 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

              Tough to converse with is spot on. In addition to the ad hominem attacks and other crocks of shit, tu quoqe is a favorite – Pelosi, Shumer, Obama, Hilary, Bill, etc.

        • Posted March 26, 2020 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          Should have added some tidbits that you may have inferred: believes in a young earth; claims that evolution is a faith and belief system, and is thus false because it is incompatible with scripture, and indeed all of mans’ wisdom [science] is foolishness compared to God’s word – and naturally he has a scripture reference that directs his beliefs [and conveniently avoids anything that is contrary to his beliefs]; like Ken Ham, he is a true Christian and if you don’t accept his line, it’s the lake of fire for you!

          • Posted March 27, 2020 at 9:22 am | Permalink

            He seems to have gone for the full monty in terms of red state beliefs. It really is an identity thing.

            Since liberals like me aren’t immune to such things, I occasionally reflect on my own beliefs to see if I’m accepting some part of the liberal canon without evidence or reason. I don’t think so but one can be blind to such things so who knows? I don’t believe in the whole liberal set of beliefs so that’s some kind of proof I suppose.

  2. eric
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Moore is a pro-lifer, so pretty much the worst sort of hypocrite on this matter. Though AIUI either he or his compatriots tried to defend his ‘anti-abortion but okay with killing old people’ position by saying he’s opposed to murder, not people dying (…from intentional decision to prioritize the economy). Uh huh.

    Now on to more palatable subjects:

    …surely we’ll have to resume normal life before the world is entirely cleansed of Covid-19, so that itself is a form of tradeoff.

    My understanding – and I could be wrong – is that the purpose of all our measures is to change the rate of new cases from an exponential growth to a small constant. Once that is done, our health system can handle the flow of new cases.

    I don’t know how long that will take. South Korea did an excellent job of stifling it. I believe it’s starting to look like China and Iran may have already reached that point too, with Italy not too far behind. But we are a much bigger country than Iran or Italy, and we didn’t take the draconian measures China or South Korea did, so it’ll probably take us longer. Still, I’m hopeful we’ll be back to normal by mid-May or June.

    ***

    Here’s some good news though. Google “covid-19 mutation rate” and you get a bunch of articles across the political spectrum (Fox to WashPo) that agree it has a low mutation rate based on some primary scientific articles I wasn’t able to access. This is good news, as it means we may be able to wipe it down to minor nuisance status with a single vaccine, rather than having to produce a new vaccine every year as we do with the flu.

    • eric
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Ah, my apologies to both Moore and the readers here. I was thinking of R.R. Reno’s article and let my angry fingers type before I even read the substance. Time to step away from the news coverage, I guess, when all the religious op-eds start mashing together in my brain…

  3. JezGrove
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Moore’s piece is ridiculous and completely ignores the difficult choices faced by medics in the real world, in which resources are limited. Age certainly won’t be the only factor they will have to give consideration to, but it will be a significant one.

  4. Roger
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    “Because made in the image of God” explains nothing, but dude talks like it explains everything. Further splainin’ needed dude. Religion + brain = scrambled eggs.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Besides, if we really were made in the image of god, doesn’t that mean that we’d all be invisible (or look like burning bushes, or pillars of smoke/fire)?

      • Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        That’s an excellent point.

        John the Revelator, who actually saw God, reports that He is the ‘colour of jasper’ (Rev., 4:3), which in those days was considered to be green.

        • W.Benson
          Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

          “jasper and ruby”!

  5. Curtis
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Moore says “That means we must listen to medical experts, and do everything possible to avoid the catastrophe we see right now in Italy and elsewhere. We must get back to work, get the economy back on its feet, but we can only do that when doing so will not kill the vulnerable and overwhelm our hospitals, our doctors, our nurses, and our communities.”
    Exactly. Moore has come to the right conclusion and I don’t really care why. If his belief in god led him to this conclusion, then I say “hallelujah!”

    Criticize those who seem indifferent to the old dying e.g. Dan Patrick the Lt Governor of Texas.

    • W.Benson
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Our prayers have been answered, so it seems, by science.

  6. Roger Lambert
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    “Christianity teaches that every single human life is valuable…”

    Only if you ignore the Bible. And not just the Old Testament.

    We have an obligation to point out this Christian pseudo-midrash, especially since it is the basis for the Pro-Life movement.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    … Trump appears to want … blithely allow older people to die in the service of the Dow Jones Industrial Average …

    Okay, Donnie, I’ll bite. But you’re pushin’ 74. You first.

  8. Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    The question that troubles me here is this: If human beings just evolved (as we surely did), how is it that people are in any way morally special compared with anything else that just evolved? Specifically, what evidence is there that human beings deserve any special moral concern at all? Why (apart from obvious selfish concerns) should anybody care who gets to live and who doesn’t? This question needs an answer.

    Rawls did not answer this question. He seemed to just take it on faith (and without discussion) that human beings are more special than, say, rocks or mosquitoes, and his reasoning proceeded from theme. Singer, from what I understand, does not regard human beings as morally special at all.

    FWIW, I believe that there is more to a human being than just an evolved physical life-form. But I have no evidence that this is true. I take it for granted.

    • Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      You ask two questions: one about animals and one about priorities in humans. Peter Singer has dealt with them both, and I refer you to his works.

      As for believing in something without evidence, and, in fact, believing it strongly–taking it “for granted”, well, that’s one of the definitions of “faith”. And you should reassess your priors.

      • Posted March 26, 2020 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I was not aware that Singer made any sharp moral distinction between humans and other sentient animals–and I’d thought that he decried such distinctions as “speciesism.”

        My question is whether there is any evidence that a human being is anything more than an evolved physical life-form with no more moral specialness than any other natural product. I don’t know of any such evidence, but that does not deter me from thinking we are something more.

        • Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          The answer to your question is “no”: we’re evolved. But we also have cultural morality and can make rules. That doesn’t make us special, it just makes us able to ponder what rules are good.

          I am surprised that you keep flaunting your certainty in the face of ignorance. I’m not going to put up with that for very long; after all, I’m a scientist.

          • Posted March 26, 2020 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

            The point is that I do not accept any assertion as true unless is it supported by evidence. “Cultural morality” is not evidence of truth.

            • Posted March 27, 2020 at 4:25 am | Permalink

              You said this in an earlier comment:

              FWIW, I believe that there is more to a human being than just an evolved physical life-form. But I have no evidence that this is true. I take it for granted.

              So clearly you accept things as true without evidence. Care to weasel your way out of this one?
              Seriously, you are annoying me; one more blockheaded statement from you and you’ll be gone.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      The criterion most reasoning moral philosophers use is not ‘specialness’, whatever that means; it’s ‘capacity to suffer’. It’s reasonable to assume that a human has a great deal more capacity to suffer, to feel pain, than a mosquito.

      • Posted March 26, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        I agree that capacity to suffer counts for a lot. But, as Hume would say, that capacity is an “is” from which one cannot logically derive an “ought.”

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted March 26, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          I agree with Hume. There’s nothing objective about any values. The best we can do is reason them out and try and come to an agreement, which is exactly what we do in practice.

          You seem to believe that there are moral ‘answers’ out there, waiting to be discovered. Which contradicts the Hume maxim you quoted.

          • KD
            Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

            Hume is wrong.

            Morals promote group cooperation and group survival.

            If a group facing an existential threat suffers from leadership which ignores that threat, either the leadership is removed, or the group is wiped out.

            As groups get erased over the course of history, morals converge toward group survival and the promotion of social cohesion, especially when the group faces a collective threat.

            Look at COVID-19 and the ways novel social norms are being imposed on populations, with no serious dissent. Go walk up to people in NYC and start coughing on them right now and see what happens to you. It will be objective as it gets.

            What is objective about values is that some values get you and yours killed, and other values preserve the lives of you and yours.

            Further, the fundamental human desire to survive, and to see one’s family, one’s community, and one’s culture survive is probably ultimately rooted in the evolutionary logic of social animals.

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted March 27, 2020 at 7:24 am | Permalink

              “What is objective about values is that some values get you and yours killed, and other values preserve the lives of you and yours.”

              It’s objectively true that some courses of action get you killed and some don’t. That has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with objective values. Why is getting yourself killed objectively a bad thing? Subjectively, sure. I’d personally like to avoid it. But objectively?
              You’ve explained nothing there, and you certainly haven’t touched upon how values can be grounded objectively.

              Again, the “fundamental desire to survive” is undoubtedly rooted in evolution – but so what? How does that make survival objectively valuable? I care whether I survive, sure, but that doesn’t make my survival objectively ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

              Those two words have no meaning outside of human society. Wipe out the human race and ‘goodness’/’badness’ would die with it.

              • KD
                Posted March 27, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                Saul:

                You have to define “objective”. Is money objective? Can I objectively steal money from you? I would say yes and yes.

                But do morals or financial instruments exist in some non-anthropocentric manner? No, but neither do screw drivers.

                Is a screw driver objective? Well, there are certain objective engineering requirements for it to function as a screw driver. In the same sense, there a certain social requirements for morals.

                Given a human desire to exist, and a human desire for the existence of both kin as well as larger collectives, you will get morals. Frankly, you see these kinds of ways to deal with free riders/prisoner’s dilemma/ and other dimensions of collective action problems even at the level of bacteria such as baker’s yeast:

                https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26731055_REVIEW_Use_of_Game-Theoretical_Methods_in_Biochemistry_and_Biophysics

                Given the way humans depend on collective identity like ants, combined with our capacity for language and symbolic representation, you obviously get morals and laws (and probably religion) to attempt to address collective action problems.

            • Vaal
              Posted March 27, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

              Hi KD,

              “Hume is wrong.”

              Hume wasn’t wrong in flagging illegitimate moves from “is” to “ought.” It was a major contribution particularly to moral theory.

              In everyday empirical reasoning it’s pretty easy to see that “is” does not entail “ought.”

              To state a fact:

              “Children are starving in parts of Africa”

              Does not entail:

              “Children OUGHT to be starving in parts of Africa.”

              Those are two different types of claims – fact then a value statement, and the first does not *directly* entail the other.

              You can pile up fact statements a mile high and they will not magically entail “ought” statements.

              Hume didn’t claim that there was no possible way to move from is to ought (though he was skeptical), but he DID rightly council us that whenever anyone DOES present an is/fact statement as if it entailed an ought, then they OWE AN EXPLANATION FOR HOW THEY ARE MOVING FROM IS TO OUGHT.

              He also pointed out that it is the realm of moral reasoning that he noticed people constantly making this move – one they’d recognize as illegitimate in any other instance, but which they slide in to easily when making moral claims. This insight by Hume is extremely useful in identifying bogus moral claim/theories right out of the gate.

              We atheists immediately notice it when religious people do it. “God commanded X” we notice does not entail “we OUGHT to do whatever God commands.”

              But it’s such a seductive move that many people, secular or otherwise, slip in to presenting “is” statements on the assumption they are talking about “ought” as well.

              So, for instance, from your own post:

              “Morals promote group cooperation and group survival.”

              ^^^ That’s an “is” or (purported) “fact” statement. You haven’t justified any move to “ought.”

              “If a group facing an existential threat suffers from leadership which ignores that threat, either the leadership is removed, or the group is wiped out.

              As groups get erased over the course of history, morals converge toward group survival and the promotion of social cohesion, especially when the group faces a collective threat.”

              Just more “is” statements. What if what you are calling “morals” (can’t beg the question here!) converged over time to xenophobia and perpetual conflict? You could reply “well then fewer people would survive” but that, again, is just an “is” statement and you need to show how you move from what “is” to “what we OUGHT to do.”

              “What is objective about values is that some values get you and yours killed, and other values preserve the lives of you and yours.”

              Again…fact statements, not value statements, and you’ve shown no bridge between the two.

              You may feel intuitively there is some *obvious* bridge between “something will prevent you from getting killed” to “therefore we OUGHT to do this.”

              But people present what they think to be intuitively obvious moves from fact to value all the time that are different.

              I encounter Christians constantly who think the mere statement “God commanded us to do X” is automatically a value statement that we “ought to do X.” It’s absolutely obvious to them so they don’t even recognize the move they’ve made and don’t justify it.

              We can’t special plead, notice everywhere else the illegitimate move from “is to ought” in others while allowing ourselves to make that move without a deeper explanation…as you have done here.

              (Yeah, it would be nice if morality were THAT easy…but thousands of years of dispute have shown that it isn’t).

              • KD
                Posted March 27, 2020 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

                Two points:

                1.) My statement is obviously unfair to Hume.

                2.) Organisms have an inborn desire to continue in existence. Humans have the same, as well as being social animals akin to insects that form collective identities (akin to an ant colony). Given this fact, human collectives will develop morals intended to preserve the existence of the collective, and deal with free riders and defectors. Its game theory.

                3.) Having set forth a thumb nail sketch of the descriptive tasks of why morals exist (obviously, you could write an interdisciplinary tome on the subject), we come to the seemingly almighty “ought”.

                Well, morals for the middle class, and jails for the lower class as Napoleon observed. You ought to be moral because if you are not, you will lose your middle class status. You ought to obey the law too, because if you do not, you will be locked up and possibly executed. That works to keep most people in line.

                As far as why you personally can’t be some kind of anarchist outlaw, well if your conscience doesn’t bother you, you don’t mind being a social pariah, and you don’t mind incarceration, then bloody well go ahead!

              • Vaal
                Posted March 27, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                Thanks KD,

                I didn’t really take your statement about Hume to be meant as some absolute refutation, so I’m not surprised you allow that it could be taken as unfair. Cool.

                “Organisms have an inborn desire to continue in existence.”

                Sure. All organisms seek (consciously or instinctually) to survive. One can say that of everything from us down to the Covid virus. That doesn’t get us to “ought.”

                “Given this fact, human collectives will develop morals intended to preserve the existence of the collective, and deal with free riders and defectors. Its game theory.”

                Again, “is” statements waiting for the bridge to “ought.”

                We can also point to inborn instincts to “othering” people not like us, to xenophobia, racism. Or to those that compel men towards war, rape, etc.

                The is/ought distinction points toward the naturalistic fallacy – that if one can point to some natural fact, predisposition, one is somehow producing an “ought.” It just doesn’t work because selecting one “fact” about certain predispositions as if it entailed “ought” is special pleading.

                We need to move beyond the descriptive case (that you are building) which is an “is” based case, to a normative case, what we “ought” to do. And do it without a naturalistic fallacy or other invalid forms of reasoning.

                You ought to be moral because if you are not, you will lose your middle class status. You ought to obey the law too, because if you do not, you will be locked up and possibly executed. That works to keep most people in line.

                So what?

                Again…you are *presuming* value statements somewhere in your mind bridging from the facts you keep stating to an “ought,” but you are not making these bridges explicit.

                It seems obvious that the value you are presuming to make sense of the above is that I would WANT or have a DESIRE for or VALUE being “middle class,” not being executed etc.
                Right?

                So is the principle that “is” bridges to “ought” due to someone’s desire?

                What about someone who wants to harm someone else? Steal their stuff? What if they can indeed get away with fulfilling their desire?

                Now you have to build a case as to why only *some* desires entail “ought” (morally) where others do not. And this is the sticky stuff of moral theorizing.

                “As far as why you personally can’t be some kind of anarchist outlaw, well if your conscience doesn’t bother you, you don’t mind being a social pariah, and you don’t mind incarceration, then bloody well go ahead!”

                So it appears in the end that you were first making normative statements about how people ought to behave…ones that tend to make for a civil society…but in the end your basis doesn’t provide such a foundation and can no more say you “ought” to be a ‘good citizen’ with any stronger foundation than someone “ought” to do as he damned well pleases if it doesn’t bother him.

                That doesn’t really sound like you’ve established “ought” in any way anyone would care about, nor has it provided a distinctive basis for the type of society you want to argue for.

      • peepuk
        Posted March 26, 2020 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        A mosquito would not accept this “capacity to suffer”-criterion without any objective (mind independent) evidence.

        F.I. Humans may be the nicest animals on this planet but that doesn’t hinder them to score very bad in the “inflict the least damage to the world”-competition.

        Basing the value of a living thing on a “capacity to suffer” seems to be build on subjective human opinions, and nothing else.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted March 26, 2020 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          “Basing the value of a living thing on a “capacity to suffer” seems to be build on subjective human opinions, and nothing else.”

          Values are subjective human opinions. They’re not real things floating out there to be discovered like the laws of physics. If we weren’t here they wouldn’t exist.

          The best we can do is try and make them as reasonable as possible while bearing in mind that they can never be objectively justified.

          It’s a form of epistemic humility in the face of the meaninglessness of the universe.

    • KD
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      A precondition to political rights is the capacity to shoot back, or to have a protector endowed with the capacity to shoot back.

      The capacity to shoot back is what makes human’s special, not simply violence but the capacity for organized violence on a human scale. Ants would have rights if they lived on a human scale and didn’t wipe us out.

      You can see this play out with the Muslims in Europe. Shoot enough people for making fun of the Prophet, and viola, suddenly making fun of the Prophet becomes a hate crime.

      The same principle applies to subjects like fetuses and animals, but they lack the numbers and the commitment that preserving Muhammad’s good name inspires at the present time.

  9. Roo
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    The coronavirus really is something like a philosophy thought experiment come to life. We have little idea what the fatality rate is and yet have to make decisions quickly. It seems to target mostly the vulnerable, but has crippling health effects for some percentage of young, healthy people as well, for reasons that are not understood and look random to us. There is an unknown, possibly zero sum conflict between the suffering caused by the virus and the suffering of shutting down the economy. More supplies could be made available by loosening FDA restrictions but loosening FDA restrictions could result in shoddy materials flooding hospitals. Etc. You could fill books (and when all is said and done, I’m sure people will) discussing these kinds of issues.

    • A C Harper
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Arguably it is a form of the trolley problem…

      I never liked the trolley problems; too much room for debate and too little chance of empirical confirmation.

  10. Posted March 26, 2020 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t see this article in the New York Times, but, though I agree with you in opposing Moore’s point, I don’t object to the Times publishing it, as long as it’s clearly identified as Moore’s opinion, and not the Times’ . A more serious Coronavirus-related piece of news, to me, is that several, mostly “Red”, states have legally banned any abortions during the Coronavirus emergency, as “elective procedures”–another example of the “pro-life” movement’s taking advantage of any circumstance it can to undo what’s still legal in the USA under the Roe v. Wade ruling.

  11. Posted March 26, 2020 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an article from the great Cass Sunstein (“Nudge”) on the cost-benefit tradeoffs of Trump’s “back to normal on Easter” vs continuing to hide from COVID-19:

    This Time the Numbers Show We Can’t Be Too Careful
    Hard-headed cost-benefit analysis usually confirms that it’s dangerous to be overcautious. The coronavirus is different.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/amp/opinion/articles/2020-03-26/coronavirus-lockdowns-look-smart-under-cost-benefit-scrutiny

    • Posted March 26, 2020 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      I agree with any comments on WEIT written by someone whose name + initial are Paul T.

      More seriously though – if you look at reasonable models and do some math, you can skip working through a lot of conundrums (here, philosophical ones). Ah, the sweet smell of unnecessary work! (As Dilbert would say.) We’ve got serious problems, including Trump himself, but Trump’s imaginary trade-off isn’t one of them.

  12. Daniel Quinlan
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Curtis. Moore comes to the right conclusion, although by reasoning I can’t accept. You can’t have everything, but I’m happy to have an ally. It’s the christians like Jerry Falwell who come to the opposite conclusion that I really oppose.

  13. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t you know? Abortion is only urgent when the anti-abortionist’s daughter is inappropriately pregnant or he inconveniently impregnated the house help. Completely different from ordinary criminal abortion.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      That was meant to be an answer to Straight,NoChaser under 10. Sorry.

  14. davelenny
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Still, each human life is more significant than a trillion-dollar gross national product.

    Ok then. Knock a trillion dollars off the US GNP and calculate the extra deaths from increased suicide, retirees depending on the stock market, and the families of the unemployed no longer able to afford adequate winter heating, summer cooling or medical treatment for their children.

  15. E.A. Blair
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    For example:

    A pandemic is no time to turn our eyes away from the sanctity of human life.

    As opposed to other kinds of life?

    Also, as opposed to any other time? Granted, there are times when triage is necessary, but itn’t it best to prepare for such circumstances so that the number of life-and-death decisions is the lowest possible?

  16. Posted March 26, 2020 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Worse yet, you can take this religious argument (and I’ve seen it being done in various places including places like FOX News) and then turn it on its head by saying that we needn’t fear death, for God gives us eternal life. Further, he will protect us and we shouldn’t worry. Trump has summed this up in his favorite sound byte of the past few days, “Don’t let the cure be worse than the disease!”

    Needless to say, you can’t arrive at this ridiculous position via an atheistic argument.

    • Posted March 26, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      “Don’t let the cure be worse than the disease!”

      This is a classic phrase that has nothing to do with religion, IMHO. It is often raised to encourage a proper cost-benefit analysis to be performed instead of relying on our, often misguided, default assumptions.

      That said, I am not siding with Trump. Although he said this, I doubt he’s thinking about doing any kind of analysis. He just wants the economy to recover because he thinks it will help him get re-elected. In fact, it seems pretty clear that getting everyone back to work by Easter will simply cause the disease to spread faster, hospitals to be overloaded, and more people to die.

      • Posted March 26, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        True, taken alone that phrase is practical and I think what experts are actually trying to apply in assessing solutions. Trunp, as is his practice, has managed to wrap it up with his own self-promoting propaganda and tie it to “all the beautiful crowds of people back in the pews for Easter” or whatever other ridiculous imagery he is trying to paint at these daily press events.

        One of the sad things I see here is we have a great deal of control to pull economic levers to alleviate short term catastrophic fallout. The worst case scenario is a middling approach resulting in both an out of control pandemic and a long term economic slump. These ideas of flouting all the expert recommendations and “opening things up” too soon may put us squarely on that bad middle path.

        • Posted March 26, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

          The thing that might save us is the fact that many of the decisions will be made at the state and local level. This will help us in the cities and the blue states but perhaps not in red states and rural areas. The governor of Florida is refusing to give an order to shut things down and in Mississippi the governor passed an executive order that counters shut-down orders at the local level.

  17. Jake Jaramillo
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I have only skimmed the top of the comments but am I alone in finding Moore’s piece, misguided and spurious as it is, to nonetheless be perfectly suitable for the opinion page of one of our national newspapers? One reason I read the opinion section is to stay in touch with opinions I may not otherwise see and don’t agree with. Some readers will enjoy Moore’s sentiments and be gratified; I will quickly move on. I insist on the accuracy and integrity of the NY Times’ reporting, not their guest opinions. And I’ll continue to subscribe.

  18. KD
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    The Baptists have it right.

    God wants you to sacrifice the youth.

    Abraham needs to sacrifice Issac, Jephthah has to sacrifice his daughter.

    The Father even sacrifices his only Begotten Son in Christian theology.

    Blood sacrifice of youth is even more essential than polygamy for the old guys.

    {The Right Reverend is beating around the bush, he understands if you have 10 ventilators and 100 people who need them, there is a choice. Its obvious you need to save the pious old bastards and enough nubile females to repopulate.]

  19. jedijan
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Donnie should be the first to go. Maybe that will be his only saving grace in making America great again!”

  20. BJ
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    “…Trump appears to want [to] blithely allow older people to die in the service of the Dow Jones Industrial Average…”

    The difficult question we have to ask ourselves is this: how much damage can the world economy take before the externalities of that damage cause more deaths and suffering than the virus would if we had people return to work? I don’t know the answer to this, but it’s a serious question that deserves serious consideration.

  21. BillyJoe
    Posted March 27, 2020 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    “if there are two people competing for one, one 25 and the other 80”

    An 80 year old can take up that bed for 3 times as long as a 25 year old, so it’s actually more like three 25 year olds versus one 80 year old. And the 80 year old has a far greater chance of dying, so it’s more like three 25 year olds who are much more likely to survive as opposed to one 80 year old who is much more likely to not survive. And then there’s life already lived (25 years versus 80 years) as opposed to life left to live (60 years versus 5 years).

    As morbid as it may sound, they do actually take all these factors into account.

    • Zytigon
      Posted March 28, 2020 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      On 27th March 2020 BBC radio 4 show, “Any Questions” had the question posed if the effect on young generations of the economic fall out from lockdown was worth it to save the elderly. Baroness Professor Ilora Finlay gave an answer worth listening to. It starts at 15 minutes & 10 seconds into the show. I will attempt to give a summary but best to listen to how she says it.

      Baroness Professor Ilora Finlay said ~ that guidelines for GPs were that the allocation of limited intensive care provision and ventilators would be decided on the basis of need & capacity to benefit. Also she said it would help if the UK population could discuss in each family unit about whether each person would wish to be treated in intensive care if they got severely ill or whether they would rather have palliative care at home. She also said there were plans being drawn up to teach relatives over the phone how to help provide palliative care.://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000gn75

  22. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 28, 2020 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    I’m old. Fuck God, *I* don’t want anybody to sacrifice me.

    OTOH, if I’m dying from something nasty and I want someone to end it painlessly at a time of my choosing, I don’t want some religious berk pratting about my life is ‘sacred’ and condemning me to further suffering.

    Either way, screw his ‘God’.

    cr

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 28, 2020 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      OTOH, if it’s a straight-up competition for a hospital bed between me and a 25-year-old, the 25-year-old’s gotta win.

      They should still have enough spare time to knock me off quickly and painlessly if I demand it, though. At my option.

      cr


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