ASIFA Animation Archive has a complete scan of a WWII era cartooning guide ‘for use of U.S. Armed Forces personnel only’. It’s a pretty solid little how-to. (Confidentionally, I’m kinda nostalgic about this stuff, as you may have noticed.) Bonus points for the advice about rendering racial stereotypes and for advising budding cartoonists to sketch their fellow soldiers in the shower. (Don’t ask, don’t tell – just sketch.) Also, ‘cartooning the female’ sounds like an MLA paper title.
In other news: Will Wilkinson linked, a few weeks ago, to a TED lecture by the psychologist, Jonathan Haidt on ‘the moral mind: the real difference between liberals and conservatives’. Will didn’t agree with it much. But I quite liked it. It pretends to be doing way more paradigm-busting than a basically pat, introductory lecture could possibly manage, but that’s a pardonable rhetorical sin. It fit well with intro philosophy material I teach (not about liberalism/conservatism but about pretty much all the other stuff Haidt talks about). So I suggested to my students to watch and they liked it very much. Here’s my favorite bit (round about minute 10). He apparently did a survey in which he asked respondents whether, if they were buying a dog, they would want the one that was a member of a breed known for being ‘independent minded and relating to its owner as a friend and equal’; or would you prefer the one that is ‘extremely loyal to its home and family and doesn’t warm up quickly to strangers’? Turns out, liberals pick the first option more, conservatives the second.
[you can’t really read the scale on my little screencap. It runs along the bottom from liberal, through neutral, to conservative.]
This was funny to me because I had made a rather similar point to my students by talking about the ethics of promise-keeping, quoting Nietzsche from Genealogy of Morals: “To breed an animal with the right to make promises—is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? is it not the real problem regarding man?” I have this great schtick I do about that one – the Kantian dogshow. (Way funnier than Haidt with his ‘fetch, please!’ joke.) Here’s my cartoon to go with. (I really want to do a better one. A nervous group of humans hovering around an intense little dog that looks like it might be about to make a promise. I think Jules Pfeifer could draw a good one.)
Changing the subject one last time: I think this post by Ramesh Ponnuru is very strange. His post title is ‘category errors’ and he is critiquing a post by a pro-choice blogger that certainly seems confused. You aren’t going to get anywhere insisting that human fetuses are non-human. The issue is whether fetuses are people – or persons, as we philosophers like to call them. Likewise, the problem isn’t whether they are alive. They obviously are. But equally obviously no one thinks the issue is life, per se. Sperm are, in a sense, alive. An egg is alive. Anyway, carrots are alive. But it’s ok not just to kill but eat them because they aren’t persons. I don’t want to suggest that you solve anything by noting that the problem is what counts as a person not what counts as alive or as human. But you sure won’t solve anything by failing to note that, to the extent that one can argue this issue philosophically, this is the issue. What counts as a person? Oddly, Ponnuru – who, I take it, has written a book on the subject – seems to agree with the pro-choice blogger that the question is about ‘when life starts’, combined with the question about what gets to have the adjective ‘human’. Googling, Ponnuru summarizes his position thusly: “The fundamental question The Party of Death engages is this: Do human rights exist? Do we have certain rights, that is, simply because we are human? Or is it the case that some human beings happen to have rights and others do not? What I call the party of death believes the latter.” But this is, to put it mildly, not a good argument. The issue obviously isn’t going to be whether all human beings have rights but whether, say, a tiny little knot of cells is a human being (person), hence a bearer of human rights. (It can obviously be human, biologically, without counting as a person. A hair can be human, biologically. That doesn’t make it a person.) If you don’t get that distinction you aren’t at step one of any serious argument. Ahem. I knew Ponnuru’s book had an annoying title but I figured he was a bit more serious about the basic philosophical arguments. Seems not.
UPDATE: Ponnuru has two updates. Somehow I missed the second before I posted. He links to a response he made to Neil Sinhababu (my colleague, just down the hall). I would have more or less made the argument Neil made, and Ponnuru’s response doesn’t seem strong, to me, but it is at least more cogent and appreciative of the contours of the issue than the other stuff I was reading seemed to be. Here is what he takes to be the essential point:
The capacity we should value is the radical capacity (that is, the basic natural capacity in root form) to perform mental functions, etc. As I write in the book, “Even human beings in the embryonic, fetal, and infant stages of development” have this capacity “because of the kind of beings they are; because they have a human, and therefore rational, nature. They have the capacity to develop themselves by a process of internal self-direction to the point at which the basic natural capacity is immediately exercisable.” (I add in a footnote: “Disease, genetic defect, accident, and violence can of course block the development of this capacity in particular human beings, but these possibilities do not call its existence in those beings into question.”) I continue, “And they have this radical capacity equally, because they are equally human beings.”
My basic problem with this is that I doubt people really care so much about this ‘radical capacity’ – that is, this potentiality, as opposed to actual person-hood. Also, Ponnuru misconstrues the nature of the capacity. The proof of both criticisms is: if people really did care about all things exhibiting this ‘radical capacity’ they would care about all (or at least some) dead matter that has this capacity; stuff that could be taken up as part of an system in which intelligent life might arise, etc. We are all made of stars and all that. But obviously this is too generous a scope for our care. And, even more obviously, we don’t think that it is obvious that anything that might, by some process, evolve into intelligent life is, therefore, already intelligent life. Why think that everything that might grow into a human being is already a human being? Ponnuru would argue back against this in various ways, I expect. I’ll leave it at that.
UPDATE the 2nd: and Ponnuru responds.