The rapper Eminem released a new album (The Marshall Mathers LP 2). As is his tendency, Eminem dropped some rhymes with morally dubious meanings. And, as has also become the norm, my fellow writers decided to take positions on the matter. Kicking off the discussion was Scott Meslow at The Week, who first drew attention to homophobic lyrics in Eminem’s song, “Rap God”. Meslow has now followed that piece up with a second one, detailing the reaction to his first piece and what he has gleaned from it. Today I’d like not so much to wade into this discussion as to call its utility into question–what purpose does it serve to write pieces criticizing artists for moral or political messages, either explicit or implicit?
Today I’d like to raise an objection to a broad spectrum of moral theories of whom we ought to deem morally significant. I call this objection “good guys shouldn’t finish last”. There is a tendency in our moral theory to argue that doing the right thing often entails indiscriminate niceness. Moral theories frequently demand that we be universally benevolent to all beings with certain biological characteristics such as being human, feeling pain, having complex thought, or some such thing. The trouble with all moral theories of this kind is that they result in the moral practitioner, the being trying to do good, being harmed. I argue not only that this harm occurs, but that it is a knockdown objection to any moral theory if the beings it deems morally good have worse lives than the beings it deems morally bad–i.e., if the good guys finish last. I will illustrate each point in sequence.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has decided to oppose pornography. Among his new anti-porn measures are a default “off” setting whereby internet service providers block access to erotic material barring user override and an outright ban on what Cameron calls “extreme pornography”, erotic material that depicts fictional violent sex. Are these policies (and others like them) good ideas?
We often hear it said by those of us who are inclined to take a keen interest in politics and the various affairs of the state that people who do not pay attention are doing something bad, something immoral or unethical, that they have a duty to pay more attention, to participate in politics more. But is that truly what we want, or merely what we think we want?
This morning an entirely new line of attack on democracy occurred to me, and I feel an intense pressure to share it with all my readers. In the past, I have argued that democracy has a tendency to result in the political preferences of the median voter being realised. There is, however, a related implication that did not occur to me at the time of writing and which has such spectacular implications so as to deserve a post unto itself for explication.