Peter Singer: The Milo of Philosophers

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Thanks to Louise for alerting me to the Journal of Practical Ethics doing a glossy Q&A with Peter Singer. Singer is a bigot. Philosophy embraces him as a titan of the field, letting his ableism slide merrily by under the glamor of robust debate. Yes, yes, #NotAllPhilosophers

At any rate, this is a long "20-questions" feature with Singer, and I, too, have some questions.

Singer says, among other things, this incredibly damaging response (there's more in the whole article, but I want to zoom in here):
I was assuming that there are other couples who are unable to have their own child, and who would be happy to adopt a child with Down syndrome. If that is the situation, I don’t see why it is selfish to enable a couple to have a child they want to have, and for my wife and myself to conceive another child, who would be very unlikely to have Down syndrome, and so would give us the child we want to have. For me, the knowledge that my child would not be likely to develop into a person whom I could treat as an equal, in every sense of the word, who would never be able to have children of his or her own, who I could not expect to grow up to be a fully independent adult, and with whom I could expect to have conversations about only a limited range of topics would greatly reduce my joy in raising my child and watching him or her develop. 
“Disability” is a very broad term, and I would not say that, in general, “a life with disability” is of less value than one without disability. Much will depend on the nature of the disability. But let’s turn the question around, and ask why someone would deny that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being is of less value than the life of a normal human being. Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being. On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being? This sounds like speciesism to me, and as I said earlier, I have yet to see a plausible defence of speciesism. After looking for more than forty years, I doubt that there is one.
Unpack: 1) He wouldn't love a child less intelligent than he is. 2) He wouldn't be able to have good conversations (Berube took this apart a decade ago). 3) Disabled people are like dogs and pigs (using ableism to attack specieism).

I may do some longer writing around this essay and its problems, but my real concern isn't with Singer, but with Philosophy. I think of Singer like Milo, saying inflammatory things for attention, protesting "free speech" when called out on his hate or when people advocate to no-platform him.

Imagine if Singer - which he surely would have in another era - was using his academic status to push for race science. Can't you imagine him using this argument, based on assumptions of black inferiority, to work for animal rights using racism? I mean, the suffragists famously demanded white women get the vote because black men did. Would race science exile Singer from the halls of respectability?

My son's full humanity is not a position that is worthy debate, any more than my full humanity as a Jew is. Some positions do not deserve platforms.

Perhaps this is not a person who merits your keynotes, features in the press, adulation in the profession. No matter how edgy he is.

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ProbablyWrong
56 days ago
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Cosign

For moral philosophy to be of value, it must replace moral description (societies don't think disabled/black/female/trans*/... lives matter) with moral imagination (society is better when we we agree that these lives matter, and behave accordingly). My discomfort around people who are different from me is evidence of my moral immaturity, not evidence of my social superiority.
duerig
56 days ago
I agree. Also, his whole stance strikes me as profoundly silly. Ethics does not consist of trolley problems where you sum up the intrinsic value of each set of lives before pulling the lever. A disabled person's life is profoundly valuable to themselves. Whether they happen to be a useful cog in the machine of society is irrelevant.
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Employer-Based Coverage Does Not Equalize Workers’ Access to Health Care

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InsFormSmallOne reason public policy favors employer-based health benefits instead of individually owned health insurance is the former is supposed to equalize access to health care among workers of all income levels. Insurers usually demand 75 percent of workers be covered, which leads to benefit design that attracts almost all workers to be covered.

Employers do this by charging the same premium for all workers but only having workers pay a small share of the premium through payroll deduction. Most is paid by the firm. Last year, the average total premium for a single worker in an employer-based plan was $6,435, but the worker only paid $1,129 directly while the employer paid $5,306.

Although this suppresses workers’ wages, workers cannot go to their employers and demand money instead of the employers’ share of premium. The tax code also encourages this, by exempting employer-based benefits from taxable income.

Does this equal access to care? Not at all, according to new research:

When demographics and other characteristics were controlled for, employees in the lowest-wage group had half the usage of preventive care (19 percent versus 38 percent), nearly twice the hospital admission rate (31 individuals per 1,000 versus 17 per 1,000), more than four times the rate of avoidable admissions (4.3 individuals per 1,000 versus 0.9 per 1,000), and more than three times the rate of emergency department visits (370 individuals per 1,000 versus 120 per 1,000) relative to top-wage-group earners.

(Bruce W. Sherman, et al., “Health Care Use and Spending Patterns Vary by Wage Level in Employer-Sponsored Plans,” Health Affairs, vol. 26, no. 2 (February 2017): 250-257.)

The reasons are not fully explained. Nevertheless, this research suggests employer-based benefits are not a good equalizer of access to health care, and the tax code’s prejudice in favor of those benefits and against individual health insurance should be revisited.

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ProbablyWrong
56 days ago
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From the department of non sequitur conclusions. Is this guy delusional or mendacious? Low income workers have crappy health insurance, on average, yes. Because they have less bargaining power.

Improving tax deductions for individual health insurance won't help low income workers. 1) They cannot afford it. 2) They have low marginal tax rates, so tax deductions don't offer adequate cost relief.

I keep reading this shite to remind myself just how utterly worthless conservative alternatives to Obamacare really are.
freeAgent
56 days ago
Recently, workers of all incomes have been getting "crappier" health insurance. Coverage is highly regulated under Obamacare, so what's covered is pretty much the same from top to bottom. The big differentiators are (1)premiums/deductibles and, to a lesser degree, (2)networks. Even high-income workers have been getting moved into HDHPs in increasing numbers. They simply have the means to pay deductibles that reach into the thousands. I think this article was fairly narrowly focused on the tax-deductibility of employer-provided insurance vs. the non-tax deductibility of insurance you purchase for yourself. No matter your income, that particular element of our tax code is stupid and unfair.
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Merrill: "The undocumented economy"

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A few excerpts from a Merrill Lynch research note: The undocumented economy
Let’s consider three scenarios:

1.Improved border security and more aggressive deportations that lower the number of undocumented workers by 200,000 per year. This could be achieved by increasing annual deportations from about 400,000 to 500,000 and stopping 100,000 more people per year at the border.

2. Cut the number of undocumented workers in half over a four year period through tougher enforcement.

3. Effectively eliminate all undocumented workers over a four year period.
...
In the first scenario the economic impacts are likely to be very small. ...  The story is very different under the second and third scenarios. Undocumented immigrants tend to specialize in certain kinds of jobs. Hence cutting the labor force in these areas could hurt the productivity of complementary workers causing indirect loses beyond the direct labor force reduction. ... With full deportation an outright recession seems plausible, as output would be disrupted and as the Fed may be unwilling to act because a labor shortage would mean a surge in wage and price inflation.
...
Undocumented immigrants are a relatively small part of the overall labor force [and] our baseline is relatively benign, but we see significant downside risks to that baseline.
emphasis added
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duerig
56 days ago
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This seems very plausible to me. Even setting aside humanitarian concerns, you can't reduce the population of a country by several percent without causing a big economic dislocation. Maybe we will see the return of stagflation if Comrade Trump's policies are effective.
ProbablyWrong
56 days ago
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Homeland Security Memo on Actual Sources of Terrorism

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The memo is here. Based on analysis of actual identified threats and incidents relevant to the U.S., the top seven nations are Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Uzbekistan. Although all but two (Cuba and Ethiopia) are predominantly-Muslim countries, there is not much overlap with the countries named in the Muslim travel ban. For instance, Iran and Syria are not on this list.

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swcope
58 days ago
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North Carolina
ProbablyWrong
58 days ago
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The FBI and Religion Is Studied

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Salon today has posted an interesting article titled How the FBI Is Hobbled by Religious Illiteracy.  Much of it is an interview with University of Pennsylvania Prof. Steven Weitzman.  Introducing the interview, interviewer Emma Green says in part:
The story of the FBI and religion is not a series of isolated mishaps, argues a new book of essays edited by Steven Weitzman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Sylvester A. Johnson, a professor at Northwestern University. Over its 109 years of existence, these historians and their colleagues argue, the Bureau has shaped American religious history through targeted investigations and religiously tinged rhetoric about national security.
At times, the Bureau has operated according to an explicit vision of protecting Christianity, as it did during the tenure of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI. But in other cases, it has operated with religious ignorance.
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ProbablyWrong
58 days ago
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Diversity in SI Swimsuit Issue is Great But Does it Cross the Line?

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Sports Illustrated’s new swimsuit issue is touted as a “diversity issue” intended to celebrate female models of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and figures.  But in featuring plus-size models, does diversity threaten to go too far?

On its face, any movement toward diversity in modelling is admirable – contemporary models of all stripes generally still skew too young, too white and too thin.  And where these models are insufficiently perfect, Photoshop exists to make them even more wrinkle-free, fairer and skinnier.

Luckily, there has been a movement in Europe to rectify at least one of these issues.  Via “skinny model” legislation, France, Italy, Israel and Spain have banned models from working if they are underweight.  In France, penalties for agencies and brands breaking this law range from jail time to hefty fines.  French law also mandates a fine for firms if they fail to clearly note within ads if models have been digitally altered.

From a health perspective, European countries appear to be serious in their attempts to rein in advertisers, designers and photographers.  This is great news –this year’s rookie Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Myla Dalbesio  echoes a concern voiced by many models – that industry-imposed parameters can be arbitrary and demeaning with years of being told that one is “too fat, then too thin”.  Movement toward regulating an industry which, for far too long, has promoted eating disorder-derived emaciated looks such as “heroin chic” deserves oversight and regulation.

However, we must now ensure that the pendulum does not swing too far the other way.  In promoting a wide range of models, Sports Illustrated should emphasize the promotion of health rather than physique.  While it is true that body types differ and that plus-size models can be beautiful, normalization of unhealthily obese models comes with very real risks.

In terms of individual risks, obese women deal with higher rates of heart disease, premature death, poorer quality of life, greater back pain, swings in body chemistry leading to depression, virtually certain onset of type-2 diabetes and knee and hip degeneration, just to name a few downsides.  With regard to societal and economic risks, in 2008 the CDC estimated that direct medical care costs of obesity in the United States were $147 billion with related obesity-related productivity costs ranging from $3.38 billion to $6.38 billion.

These totals are significant and will only grow in the coming years.  The public health epidemic of obesity threatens to devastate American families, and their wallets, for generations to come.  Luckily, being overweight is generally not an immutable characteristic.  With effort and support, it can change for the better and hopefully Americans will strive for a healthy middle ground before it’s too late.

Until then, just as we did (belatedly) for underweight models, it is up to us to remain vigilant against the normalization of obesity in popular media so that it does not proliferate and lead to unhealthy body standards for generations of women. This is not to say that diversity in physiques and imperfections should not to be celebrated in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.  Seeing a wide range and cross-section of women who are fit and confident should alleviate pressure on young girls and women to live up to an unrealistic, airbrushed ideal.

But that obesity kills is not an alternative fact, it is simply reality.

Jason Chung is a researcher and attorney at NYU School of Professional Studies Sports and Society, an interdisciplinary think tank dedicated to the study of social issues through sports.

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ProbablyWrong
58 days ago
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Written by a man, about a pictorial that has nothing to do with health, about models who are not at an unhealthy weight anyways. SMH
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