More Thoughts on Prof. McMahan’s Essay

Reading yesterday’s NYT (online) essay, The Meat Eaters, by Rutgers University professor of philosophy Jeff McMahan (forwarded by reader Daniela and shared below by Steve), I’m almost more puzzled by my own need to comment on the piece than I am amazed by it.

It’s tempting to lump this man’s essay in with the tiresome mass of animal rights propaganda, but I think it’s only superficially similar. This goes deeper, is arguably crazier, and may belong to another tradition entirely.

Professor McMahan’s work is principally atheist, by my reading, secondarily misanthropic, and only for the sake of example concerned with the welfare of animals.

His ignorance of animals and “nature” is obvious (Does he know some deer eat baby birds? Does he know ducks rape and kill each other?) and his ignorance of the human animal (his own animal self!) can be inferred. But I think the misanthropic bent of his argument hints that maybe he knows just enough about himself to be scared and disgusted by what he sees.

This is a very old theme, indeed. Man’s fear and loathing of himself long predates any “animal rights” movement (though it certainly seems to inform it.)

I can’t help but, as a parent of two children, recognize in this line of thinking a child’s deep-seated (and profoundly self-centered) sense of injustice.

Faced with the world’s certain measures of pain, bewilderment and abandonment, reasonable children seek comfort—and if denied that comfort, predictably lash out in self defense. They give hell to their parents, to their siblings, teachers, and tragically often to themselves.

To such a child, it is better to be alone than in the company of fellow sufferers. It is better, some will conclude, even to be dead.

For all the professor’s elaborate argument and educated language, he writes essentially from the perspective of a hurt child, ironically selfish in his lashing out against the “cruelty” of others.

This argument has been taken farther than the professor has yet come. Every religion and entire civilizations (spawning literatures and philosophies he must certainly know) have been created in the attempt to see past the problem of pain.

Although we still argue (obviously) and wonder about this problem, there is at least a shared understanding that the problem is sewn into the system and somehow essential to it.

Whether you chose to see this as life in a Fallen world or simply acknowledge, in the secular sense, that we’re all fucked, every adult must advance from that basic understanding to whatever conclusions can be drawn.

Only a child will chose to sit in a corner, hungry and hurt, while everyone sits at the table and eats what’s given.

Update: Chas’s thoughts here.

Vaguely or Not- So- Vaguely Gun Related links

Do you believe in “Gun- Free Zones”? You might want to check out this video. HT Jonathan Hanson.

The shortage of ammunition, especially in popular small handgun loads, seems to make a statement that a LOT of people are interested in self- defense.

Engrish Funny is always fun, but usually through a rather touching innocence. Here, the concept is intentional but insane.

Dave Petzal at Gun Nut posts a version of the old Rules for a Gunfight. The first law is: “Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns. ” It is good advice– hilarious but darkly true, and reminds me of this book.
Also at Gun Nut, Philip Bourjaily tells us why to admire Eliza Dushku. I was not aware of her, and agree with Phil that she has all the qualities to attract, as he says, the “superficial male”. But what other young actress also has these attributes?

“4. She killed a deer on Christmas day.

“5. PETA hates her. Their January newsletter read: “Dushku attempted to defend herself by saying that it’s OK for her to hunt because she eats those she kills. Eliza, please meet [serial killer and cannibal] Jeffrey Dahmer. He ate those he killed, too.” “

I might have to find old episodes of Buffy, a show once admired by Odious and Peculiar.


I hate to dwell on this kind of thing but…

From the LAT:

“One, of course, is the change in the potency of weaponry. Before 1966, the best weapons available to most would-be killers were pistols, rifles, maybe a shotgun. That is no longer the case; today, semiautomatics are all too easily accessible.”

The (semiautomatic) gun below is made by Kimber, but it is of a design commonly known as a “1911”.

Because that is the year when John Moses Browning invented it.

From then to the recent adaptation of the (less powerful) Beretta, it was the US service pistol, available everywhere.

(Also, “potency” has NOTHING to do with whether a weapon is “semiautomatic”. A semiauto pistol can be a .22; a Smith and Wesson .500 is considerably more potent!)

If you want to argue against firearms you’d best at least do your research. I have never seen so much misinformation than in recent anti- gun pieces, from TV to the New Yorker. Apparently if one believes something fervently facts don’t matter.

And while we are kicking this around, read Tam on the alleged “availability” of firearms, a constant irritant to those of us old enough to remember a world before 1968:

“I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again: Never in the history of our republic have guns been more difficult to purchase. Prior to 1968 they could be purchased through the mail. Between 1968 and 1993, all you needed to do was sign a form, in pink crayon if you felt like it, saying you weren’t a junkie, commie spy, or crazy, and you took your gun home with no questions asked. The background check didn’t appear until the passage of the Brady Law in 1993.

“Name a mass shooting that occurred before 1968. How many between 1969 and 1993? How about 1994 and beyond? Folks, whatever the causative variable is here, it is not the ease of purchasing a firearm.”

As she says, liars or just ignorant? I think mostly the second. But if these writers refuse to acknowledge their mistakes–??

Update: more lazy misinformation.

Update #2: Dave Kopel replies to criticism with some interesting statistics.

Virginia: A Few Links

California (of course?) once again considers disarming its citizens. As Reid says, “you can have all the guns you want but no ammo”.

Yale goes further. Shakespeare with nerf bats and boffers? Maybe they can do an adaptation of the Maltese Falcon with squirt guns…

The always thoughtful Steve Browne provides sensible and serious advice, including this interesting comment on guns and women:

“…And I don’t mean anything as simplistic as “buy a gun”. Unless your life is such that the risk factors are considerably higher than that of the average college student, it could be more trouble than it’s worth. (If you’re male that is – like a lot of things we aren’t supposed to talk about, it’s different for women.)”

(Anybody who quotes Kipling as much as Browne does has my attention; but he is also a college teacher (anthropology) and a gun guy who has lived in eastern Europe, giving him some unusual combinations of perspective).

So far Fred the actor is the only politician who has had anything sensible to say.