Star Trek and Moral Judgment

by John Holbo on December 23, 2009

Kevin Drum is amused, and rightly so, by this bit from the Corner’s Mike Potemra:

I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility).

Kevin notes it is not every day you get conservatives to admit they oppose (or at least dislike) peace, tolerance, due process and progress. But the hole Potemra digs is deeper, and I think there’s actually a (semi) serious point to make here. Poterma forges on: “I asked an NR colleague about it, and he speculated that the show’s appeal for conservatives lay largely in the toughness of the main character: Jean-Luc Picard was a moral hardass where the Captain Kirk of the earlier show was more of an easygoing, cheerful swashbuckler. I think there’s something to that: Patrick Stewart did indeed create, in that character, a believable and compelling portrait of ethical uprightness.”

But surely the proper conclusion to be drawn, then, is that being an ethically upright and generally virtuous person is, however surprising this result may be, consistent with being tolerant, peace-loving, even with upholding due process. And there is no particular difficulty to the trick of being in favor of progress while being skeptical about human perfectibility. I say this is a semi-serious point because I think, for some conservatives, the main objection to a somewhat vaguely conceived set of liberal values really is a strong sense that they are inconsistent with a certain sort of hardassery in the virtue ethics department. End of story. But then Star Trek TNG ought, by rights, to be the ultimate anti-conservative series. At least for the likes of Potemra.

Potemra then pens a sort of Hail Mary follow-up post in which he asserts, if I have understood him aright, that basically Burkeanism is equal to a kind of (Spinozist?) view sub specie aeternitatis, all of which again redounds to the credit of conservatism and the good captain. And they all lived happily ever after in an old village in France. (I remember that episode.)

Presumed Consent Again

by Kieran Healy on December 23, 2009

Some work of mine on presumed and informed consent for organ donation has been picked up by Catherine Rampell at the New York Times’ Economix blog. It’s a good summary of the paper. We’ve had some discussion before about this stuff on CT, in the context of the possible introduction of a presumed consent rule in Britain.