Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Dennis Prager


I'll share my thoughts on Dennis Prager's second divorce very soon. Suffice it to say, he has influenced my thinking more than any other public figure thanks to morally clear pieces like this:


• For too many people, what's legal is defined as moral, what's illegal as immoral. But it's often legal — but not moral — to steal. For instance, taking half an hour of a camera salesman's time so he can show and explain the pros and cons of various cameras to you, then asking him where on the Internet you can get your favorite camera cheaper, is no different from pickpocketing his wallet — you're stealing his time and money. It's legal, but it's thievery. As is "buying" a dress to wear for a weekend knowing that you intend to return it Monday for a refund."

Do not steal" is the mother of the other commandments. Murder is stealing a life. Adultery easily leads to stealing a spouse. Coveting is planning to steal what belongs to another. False testimony steals justice. Not honoring parents steals the status of fatherhood and motherhood.

Charlie, as usual, has an interesting rebuttal:

You know, Aaron, I honestly can't see why you like Prager so much. He sort of reminds me of a boxer throwing wild, haymaker punches without any concern for defense or if his punches are landing. If this article were Prager's closing argument in a trial, not to be immodest, but I would destroy him. He leaves himself too open.

1. He says that kids steal more today than they used to. How does he know this? He cites not one statistic in support of his claim. He just assumes everyone believes this, so there is no need to support it with anything other than anecdotal evidence. Maybe kids today do steal more, but we certainly would not learn that from this article.

2. He thinks schools should teach more moral values, but then immediately criticizes the values he perceives them as teaching (don't smoke, war is bad, etc.) This is probably the strongest argument for why schools DON'T teach moral values--nobody can agree what those values are. Maybe schools should stick to the three Rs since apparently nobody in our state can read or do math.

Those are my main two objections to his argument. Yes, I think stealing is bad. Yes, I think we should work to eliminate it. But why is stealing bad? Well, it is inefficient, destroys wealth rather than creates it and discourages collaboration and trust. Fine. I don't need the ten commandments to show me stealing is a bad idea. It is impractical.

Which leads me to one more point I will make: he says that people are taught something is not bad if it does not hurt somebody. While he concedes this is usually sound reasoning, he thinks this encourages shoplifting because people think the big corporation will not feel the loss. But he does not even address the fact that this kind of stealing DOES in fact hurt people. It hurts the person doing the stealing, because they are not doing anything productive with their time. It hurts other consumers, who may have to pay higher prices to cover the losses from shoplifting. It hurts the company, because it now has to spend more money on security, which drives up the cost of production needlessly. So if what he is saying is that people are wrong for believing shoplifting is a victimless crime, he should say that. But he instead appears to be attacking what in my mind is a sound rule--don't do things that hurt other people.

5 Comments:

Blogger blamin said...

Charlie

I believe you’ve missed the point of Prager’s article. It’s not so much “…he instead appears to be attacking what in my mind is a sound rule--don't do things that hurt other people” as it’s “People …engage in such thievery because they convince themselves that no one is hurt.”

The key word being “convince”.

What is different between the present and say 40, 50, or 60 years ago that may be contributing to so many people convincing themselves that “wrong” behavior is not really hurting anyone?

We can all become pseudo-intellectuals and spout our platitudes about the problems of society, while being PC and avoiding any reference to religion, but deep down most know the problems are basic and the causes are obvious.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Charlie Anderson said...

Blamin,

Thanks for your response. I sort of threw that last part in about attacking the sound rule. It wasn't the most persuasive part of my argument. I guess one thing I am wondering: what are the "obvious" causes of our problems? I am not sure I see many obvious causes in the world other than people do stupid things because they are stupid. Getting more specific than that can be tough.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Charlie Anderson said...

Aaron, I am awaiting your response to my Prager piece...

5:35 PM  
Blogger Aaron Hanscom said...

Charlie,

For someone who claims that we are all selfish and only act with our best interests at heart, I must say that is surprised me to read your arguments. You endorse the "golden rule", but why would you if we should only think about ourselves before acting?

Have you ever cheated or stolen? I have. I can tell you that most of time these actions went largely unnoticed; to put it another way: I hurt nobody. I gained quite a bit, however. Why do I feel guilty about it now? Well, I think its a belief in a universal morality that causes the regret. Religion can do great harm yes, but nothing compares to its power of channeling the good in people.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Aaron Hanscom said...

Charlie,

For someone who claims that we are all selfish and only act with our best interests at heart, I must say that is surprised me to read your arguments. You endorse the "golden rule", but why would you if we should only think about ourselves before acting?

Have you ever cheated or stolen? I have. I can tell you that most of time these actions went largely unnoticed; to put it another way: I hurt nobody. I gained quite a bit, however. Why do I feel guilty about it now? Well, I think its a belief in a universal morality that causes the regret. Religion can do great harm yes, but nothing compares to its power of channeling the good in people.

8:59 AM  

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