Monday, January 28, 2008

Philosophy and Rock Music [SK]

I had a philosophy prof in the early 80s who taught the class to analyze arguments by playing rock music. "Listen for the arguments and presuppositions," he would say. Admittedly, that was difficult when it was Alice Cooper or AC/DC, but Bowie and Boston weren't bad.

Without question, my favorite lefty anti-war song from that period is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. Take a listen. If you don't conclude it's some of the most hauntingly beautiful guitar work you've ever heard, you are just plain nuts. (And this performance is live!)

The song laments how humans make war on each other and create a living hell in the process. I like it because even though I reject the premises of the "peace at all cost" crowd, this particular tune affirms human exceptionalism. In other words, the song presupposes that we humans are supposed to do better than make war, that somehow we're not acting according to our higher natures when we blow each other to bits.

Of course, the secular left denies there can be such a thing as human natures, only socially constructed selves. Humans aren't exceptional and anyone who says they are is guilty of Speciesism. But seriously, we don't lament tigers making war on zebra's and eating them for lunch, do we? We might find the whole ordeal a bloody mess, but no one is surprised when a tiger acts according to its inner nature.

But when a raging Michael Vick clubs his Pit Bull for losing a fight, we're justifiably outraged at his inhumane, beastly behavior. We demand better of him as a man.

But on what grounds?

Wesley Smith is right: If you keep telling humans they are no different than animals, don't be surprised when they act that way.

Enjoy the song as you revel in its irony.


  1. Of course, the secular left denies there can be such a thing as human natures, only socially constructed selves.

    Funny, nobody told me that when I got my Secular Left membership card.

  2. They issue you guys cards? Is that your access key to the ivory towers and the high horse stables? ;-)

    I will be here all week folks!!


  3. Jen,
    Your card is a fake. Stepped onto a college campus lately?

    I love this sublime quote from Hadley Arkes ("Natural Rights and the Right to Choose"):

    "When we sum up these things, we arrive, as I say, at the most curious result: In the world of the Left on the campuses, there are ‘human rights’ to be vindicated all over the globe, but strictly speaking, there are no ‘humans,’ for there is no such thing as human nature. And because there are no moral truths, there are no ‘rights’ that are truly meaningful."

  4. I'm on a college campus every day.

    I don't let pro-choicers tell me what I think as a pro-lifer, and I don't let Hadley Arkes tell me what I believe as a leftish secular humanist.

  5. Jen,
    I don't deny that you accept human nature as fixed, but it's a stretch to think the majority of libs on campus agree with you.

    That was my point in citing Arkes.

  6. I having a feeling this is going to be one of those things that hinges on what you mean by the "majority of liberals on campus". If you mean philosophy professors, you may be right. If you mean gadflies who get themselves quoted a lot, you probably are right. If you mean rank-and-file liberals -- well, that hasn't been my experience, and I have my doubts that Hadley Arkes has talked to a lot of rank and file liberals about this.

    (Also, your original quote was "the secular left", which encompasses a great deal more than liberals on college campuses. I think the goalposts are moving.)

    If anything, I see a prizing of "human nature" among people who are pro-choice, many of whom are secular liberals -- they just don't mean "member of the species Homo sapiens" when they say "human". When a pro-choicer says that an embryo isn't human yet, they're saying that it doesn't have a human nature, which they definitely believe exists and sets us apart from the other animals. Different people disagree on what that human nature is, but generally it is considered to encompass the ability to reason and to make choices based on something more than mere instinct.

  7. That last comment isn't out of moderation yet, so I can't look at it to correct it, but I want to clarify that "encompasses the ability to reason and make choices" doesn't mean that there couldn't be other traits as well. Different people have different ideas about what constitutes "human nature" -- and not all religious conservatives agree amongst themselves on exactly what that is either. (Nor, if they did, would unanimity necessarily indicate correctness.)


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