A pox on both your houses!
Posted: 30 July 2007 08:02 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I was listening to the Point of Inquiry podcast in which D.J. Groethe interviews Christopher Hitchens, and it occurs to me that while I think D.J. Groethe often does a good job of playing Devil’s Advocate, though we know where his heart and mind lie, he frequently gives the honored guest too much of a layup interview, and it neither serves the program nor the audience.

In this particular interview, Hitchens predictably states that he is fine with people’s religiosity as long as they leave him alone about it. He and D.J. congratulate one another about the truth of this. What neither mentions is the fact the many religious people would be just as happy if they were not forced to deal with issues they found offensive, as well. I was disappointed that D.J. did not follow up by asking, “Do you think the religious folks feel the same way about secular values being forced on them?”

I am opposed to abortion, not for religious reasons but for humanistic reasons - and that is not the point of this post. When I have suggested to my friends who support it is that if it were simply removed from the public agenda - and made a private issue - both sides would be better off - I am stunned at the reaction I get. While at one time, the “religious” point of view held that abortion was a criminal offense, that has been overturned, but it seems that decriminalizing it was not sufficient. Now we needed to have state-sponsored abortion. The government - and by extension, I - have to pay for abortion. Now I am being told I am acting as an impediment to science if I don’t want to to pay for embryonic stem cell research.

What if we simply removed these things from the public arena? Individuals who are so inclined are free support and pay for these things, and others are free to engage in them - there are no criminal penalties. I’m pretty sure that if the benefit is there, a free market society will come up with a way to pay for these, and other activities that many of the public can’t find it in their consciences to want to pay for. So take it out of debate!!

Similarly, if private institutions (churches, stores, clubs, etc.) want to celebrate a particular holiday, in public, this is their right. As long as government money is not spent on the activities, what difference does it make?

School vouchers would eliminate the quibble over what values children should or should not learn in school - parents would be free to select a school that represented the values they wished to pass along to their children, and all children would receive the same support from the collective purse.

The more we remove private decisions from the public sphere, the less either side has to fuss about being “forced” to endure the idiocy of the other. Then we can all just leave one another in peace to go on our ways to heaven, hell, or sweet nothingness, as we see fit.

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Posted: 30 July 2007 09:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well, I think most of the issues you raise are really political issues, and they touch on the age-old controversy about the role of government. That is frequently debated here, with as little agreement and resolution as is seen anywhere. You suggest that by making hot-button culture war issues “private” (that is not having the government deal with them in any way), that somehow the controversy goes away. I doubt this. You don’t want to pay for abortion or stem cell research, but other taxpayers (myself included) want abortion available to those who can’t afford to pay for it themselves and want the benefit of public-sponsored research on stem cells freely available to all. So various groups of taxpayers clash over what the government should be involved in. Similarly, vouchers seem to you a reasonable way to give people choice of schools, to me they seem a way to diminish the resources for public schools and a step towards an even more inequitable distribution of educational resources, with poorly funded public schools for the poor and partially publicaly supported (but also privately supported, and often religious) schools for those who can afford them. All of these are, as you say, subjects for debate in their own right. But I respond to the examples as a way of illustrating why I don’t think simply removing government money or legal sanction from an issue takes away the controversy over it. If you think stem cell research has no moral implications, then you want the government to support it with your money. If you think abortion is murder, you want the government to outlaw it. Neither side would be satisfied with the libertarian notion of government taking no stand on such issues and everybody doing what they want or can within the limits of the “free” market.

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Posted: 30 July 2007 09:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Hmmm… Interesting response. But there are nations - notably The Netherlands - where each child has a dollar amount attached to him which he take with him to whatever school he chooses to attend. Schools do remarkably well there - for all students.

If you want abortion or stem cell research funded, there is nothing to stop you and like minded others from funding this (and with reduced taxation, you would have more discretionary income to to that). And if I wanted to fund a center for adoption, I could do that, as well.

I don’t think that by allowing individuals to choose what they wish to fund, and what they wish to avoid funding, we are endangering our society, rather, we’re giving it real freedom to be what it chooses to be, rather than what is forced upon it - by either side.

I doubt you would feel happy about the public money being spent on a religious celebration, or a center that worked against abortion. You would feel these things should be privately funded. Grant the same desire to the other side of the argument - and let the most passionate and serious side (the side that will vote with its private money and time and energy) win!

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Posted: 31 July 2007 06:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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nrobert2 - 30 July 2007 09:29 PM

If you want abortion or stem cell research funded, there is nothing to stop you and like minded others from funding this…

And that is fine.

But when stem cell research develops a “cure” for diabetes* and you develop diabetes* later in life, will you want to enjoy the benefits of that “cure”?

Think about how much research is centrally funded. Think about the benefits you derive daily from centrally funded scientific research.

Now think about whether you’d have volunteered to contribute to the cost of that research or whether you’d rather have had an extra dollar in your pocket each week.

I believe that centrally funded research is of benefit to the whole population. Many people don’t see the benefit of long term investment. Government has a duty to look after us in the long (ish)-term.

Of course if you disagree you could always vote for the sort of political party that would outlaw research…


*insert name of any other chronic, debilitating, life shortening disease or syndrome here to suit your purpose

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Posted: 31 July 2007 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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That is exactly the kind of dichotomy I don’t want… “vote for party that will outlaw research.” I don’t want to outlaw it - I want to fund it privately. I agree that funding certain things from the common dollar can sometimes be a practical alternative. But the problem is when you bump up against differing values.

For example, I don’t think the government should be in the business of funding art for that same reason.

I guess I have more faith in the free market than you do. I think that diabetes, for example, is enough of a problem that people would get motivated to contribute. I contribute to many disease research centers, not because I have the disease myself, but, exactly as you say, because they are common enough that I, or someone I love, could easily develop them. People in flood zones buy flood riders on their homeowners policies. Jonas Salk worked without government subsidies. Things CAN happen without the government forcing all of us to participate.

Think of the money and energy that has gone into the stem cell research debate alone - and now think of what might have been done with all that energy and money.

I just don’t think the forcing anyone to adopt policies, and pay for things,  that are morally reprehensible to them, is freedom.

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Posted: 31 July 2007 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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nrobert2 - 31 July 2007 07:20 AM

I think that diabetes, for example, is enough of a problem that people would get motivated to contribute.

Perhaps using a well known condition that people feel warmly towards was a bad example?

How about something rarer? Relatively unheard of? And perhaps ‘self-inlicted’?

Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s syndrome for example?

These conditions are devastating to the sufferer. They are life-shortening. They destroy families. The treatment costs are immense.

How about we research these conditions using private money? Who’s going to contribute? Should we accept that the sufferers of rare diseases are never going to get a cure because people don’t want to fund research? What kind of morality is that?

Central funding into these and other neurological conditions might one day help us or our families. But we’ll probably never be touched by these conditions. Where is our motivation to help?

Imagine the donation form…

“Thank you for agreeing to donate $5/week to medical research.

Which conditions would you like to fund research into…

a. Cancer.
b. Heart disease.
c. HIV/AIDS.
d. Childhood leukaemia.
e. f. g. etc.
z. Wernicke’s encephalopathy.”

How many people are going to get to “z”?

Should we rely on the general population to do the right thing?

.................................
More questions than answers I realise, but some food for thought!

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Posted: 31 July 2007 08:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The problem is that the vast majority of funding for basic, investigative science comes from the federal government. Industry doesn’t, in general, fund such work, because there is no obvious route to profit from it. The NIH and NSF (among others) exist to provide seed money to industry and academia for this purpose. If they are not allowed to support certain sorts of basic research, this research will not be done, at least not in the US.

The question is not whether there will be some money either way—there will. There are private foundations that will provide some funding so long as it remains legal to do so. However there is no question that this funding will be at a significantly lower level than if the federal government were allowed to do the same. And of course lower funding means less opportunity for finding the cures for disease.

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Posted: 31 July 2007 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Ultimately, I think this debate always comes down whether one feels private funding is fair or not. I agree with what has been said about the lack, or at least paucity, olf private funds for research with no obvious, short-term profit potential, and I believe such research is important and can best be conducted by government. And since you would probably have trouble finding more than 5 people in any given country who could agree 100% on funding priorities for government, you either accept that these priorities will always be, by the standars of any individual, imperfect but that this is better than relying on the market, or you don’t. I think the market has a role to play, but I think it’s priorities leave out many things and many peopel (as the examples of basic research, low-frequency diseases, etc above illustrate). I prefer to see these things attended to by government even if I end up also paying for things I don’t agree with (the effing war in Iraq, as an especially horrible example). Allowing private individuals to fund what they care about works best for private individuals with funds (similarly to what Mark Twain once said: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed to those who own one”). I think the rest matter, and though government will always be imperfect, I think it’s better than the market in many ways. But, as I said initially,  this argument is well-worn, and I doubt we’ll solve it here (though wouldn’t it be great if we did? We’d be famous, win a Nobel Prize in economics, get our statues in all sorts of public parks….);-)

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Posted: 31 July 2007 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well, if it’s preferable to have the government fund everything, however hotly debated, then poor Christopher is just going to have to put up with people voting (and parading) their consciences and religious convictions. Whether I agree with the particular convictions or not, I do believe there must be room for a person to act according to what is morally acceptable to him or her. I guess I’m saying, you can’t have it both ways: if we’re going to draw on the public purse, then the public - whatever their moral standards - are going to have something to say about whether it’s ok to abort babies for research. You can’t demand that people take part in what they, for whatever reasons, believe to be sin/immoral/evil/wrong. (I feel the same way about wars, by the way, though I grant the government a bit more flexibility in that case because at least it was one of the reasons the government was formed - to provide for a “common defense.”)

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Posted: 31 July 2007 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Good points, nrobert2. We will indeed have to put up with voters and their consciences and convictions. Certainly, so long as we live in a democracy we must live together, and that will, of necessity, involve making compromises.

But that’s true whether or not the government funds such things. After all, the public also (indirectly) involves itself in the writing of laws that might well effect private actors as well.

What we should look to do is to influence public debate and help to change minds of people on the fence and in the middle, by providing clarity of argument and good scientific data.

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Posted: 01 August 2007 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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downer I think the government is way too much into our lives and I think anything to do with our personal lives and our bodies should be left up to the individual and not the government. I believe the government should stay totally out of our lives altogether and that includes religion, abortion, suicide, marriage, divorce, health and sex. If we harm some one else or they harm us we got to the police otherwise they should stay out of our lives unless we are harming others or others are harming us.

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Posted: 01 August 2007 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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They’ve got to decide how taxes are spent. Democracy works by people deciding who they think will do the best job of spending/rationing the public purse and legislating on crime and trade, voting for them and legislative matters being either passed or failed by a majority voting system voted on by the people we elected to either government or opposition in the parliamentary chambers.

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Posted: 01 August 2007 06:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Pity we don’t really pay attention to the Constitution, or really understand the intent. The notion of what the government was here for, and how great the extents the founders went to protect citizens FROM the government, is completely lost on modern Americans.

About government spending, here is something to make you think: (I tried to find a copy that was in as non-partisan a setting as possible): http://bsa.net/nytg.html

I still suspect we’d spend less time and money on bickering, and more on the actual work to be done, if each individual made his or her own choices. And I have a feeling that if there was a constant threat of a loss of that income, the work that was done with the funding would be more productive. Call me crazy.

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