The discussion I sought to initiate, using as my starting point a column by Paul Kruger, seems to have gone in two directions, neither of which I anticipated. The first is a free-form expression of disapproval of the Obama administration and of Obama himself; the second is an open-ended discussion at a very high level of abstraction of a variety of competing theories in the field of ethics, most notably utilitarianism, capabilities ethics [which I assume refers to the writings of Amartya Sen], and virtue ethics. With regard to the first, it would seem that some readers of this blog are so angry at Obama that they cannot consider, even as a hypothetical, the nature of the deliberations that might have taken place within the Obama White House. [Parenthetical aside: I would strongly suggest that those folks not consider trial law as a career. “Your Honor, I cannot bring myself to ask whether the law is being properly applied to my client because I find him so morally reprehensible” is not a line of argument likely to have much success in a trial court.] The mere mention of Obama’s name triggers a flood of condemnation.
With regard to the second, it would appear that participants in the exchanges cannot easily think their way, even hypothetically, into the mind of someone engaged in actually making a decision as opposed to judging it from the outside.
Since the contributors to the discussion are all quite obviously both highly intelligent and philosophically well-informed, I am forced to ask myself why I have failed to provoke the discussion I was hoping for. After brooding on this for a bit, I have a tentative answer. Theoretical justifications of Democracy as a form of polity typically argue that those governed have the right and the responsibility to participate, through their representatives, in the enactment of the laws by which they are bound and in the making of the executive decisions in accordance with which state agencies act. But in an enormous nation like the United States, neither of these claims has more than the most distant relation to reality. There are no doubt some circles in which the experience of actually enacting laws or making high level executive decisions is sufficiently common to make meaningful the sort of discussion I was seeking to stimulate. But those of us who meet on this blog almost certainly have never travelled in those circles [save for William Polk, whose writings have on several occasions appeared as guest posts here.]
Interestingly, at least to me, my son Tobias, who has over the past six years played an important role in the evolution of the Obama administration’s position on LGBT-related matters, has repeatedly been compelled to make exactly these sorts of choices, taking into consideration the complex political forces at play in an area about which he has the very strongest possible moral convictions. In my eighty years, I think I have never once been faced with such a set of factors. This has liberated me always to speak my mind and act on my conscience, but of course to little or no effect.