Saturday, June 24, 2006

Jon Stewart hates America.

I'm sure this has been picked over elsewhere before, but it deserves further mockery.

The money quote is this:
"Ultimately, negative perceptions of candidates could have participation implications by keeping more youth from the polls," they wrote.

What amuses me is that this is supposed to be Stewart's fault. It seems American politics is the only place where the maxim, "If people judge you as x, it's their fault" is considered a universal law. (Kant is spinning in his grave.

(Counter-example to this putative "universal law": if I steal your wallet and you judge me as a bad person for doing so, it's really your fault -- after all, you left your wallet where it could be stolen. While it may be true that you bear some responsibility, it's grievous moral error to think that my fault is thereby eliminated.)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello,



Just wanted to let you know I linked to your blog in my column on CBSNews.com today. Thanks!



If you want to take a look, here's the link: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/06/27/blogophile/main1754241.shtml

Thanks,

Melissa

Jill said...

And a friend of mine sent me the CBS news article, proving that the world is bizarrely small. Hope you and Sarah are doing well. I don't have much to say about Kant, but I can say that Jon Stewart's effect as I see it is that he helps get "the youth" to care about politics at all.

undergroundman said...

I'm working on a Bachelor's in philosophy and your point makes little sense to me. Perhaps you could link it better.

First of all, I think the premise is ridiculous: watching Jon doesn't make you less likely to be involved in politics. Quite the opposite. The causal link between being cynical about politics and watching Jon's show is also weak. But let's forget about that for a moment.

Watching Jon's show makes one cynical about politics. Jon creates his show to make them cynical about politics. How is that not his fault, then?

Similarly, people who watch Fox News are misinformed because Fox News broadcasts shows which distort the truth. Fox News is, to a meaningful extent, to blame for its viewers ignorance. Right? Wrong?

ADHR said...

Your argument is enthymic. Fleshing it out, we get:

(1) Watching Jon's show makes one cynical about politics.
(2) Jon creates his show in order to make one cynical about politics.
(3) If Jon achieves his purpose, Jon is responsible for achieving his purpose.
(4) Therefore, if Jon makes one cynical about politics, Jon is responsible for making one cynical about politics.

(3) is not true without modification; Jon is only responsible for achieving his purpose if it is his actions that directly lead to the achievement of his purpose. Take an analogy: suppose I want to make a reply to your comment. Suppose I type up the reply, then walk away from the computer. My cat jumps onto the desk and hits the "submit" button. Who's responsible for posting the reply? It's surely not me, because it's not my actions that led to it, even though my purpose (posting a reply) was achieved.

Similarly, if someone chooses to watch Jon's show, even if it actually does make one cynical about politics, and even if that is his purpose (both of which are, of course, deeply implausible), then it is the choosing to watch the show that is to blame for the resulting cynicism. I would cheerfully extend this into the Fox News case, as it is clearly the responsibility of the viewers who refuse to better educate themselves, and instead fill their heads with Fox's garbage.

The issue, really, is that television is a collaborative medium and it's childish to blame the person who creates the content. That only works when one has no option regarding whether to consume it; since one does have an option, one has to take the blame for the choice one makes.

That said, we could say that Jon's (and Fox News') purposes are bad, but that's an evaluative rather than deontic claim. So, judgements of fault don't make a lot of sense. To put it another way, we could say Jon's a dick for trying to make people cynical about politics, the same way we probably should say Rupert Murdoch's a dick for trying to make people more ignorant. But it's decidedly odd to say that they're blameworthy when, as said, viewers have to choose to turn on and absorb the show's messages in order for the purposes to be achieved.

undergroundman said...

(Could you point me to a definition of enthymic?)

I see. Similarly, drug dealers aren't responsible for drug addictions - the drug users are responsible for it because they chose to use drugs. But the drug-dealers chose to deal an addictive substance...perhaps even pushed it on impressionable children...does that hold any similarities to this situation?

I'm always a little leery of saying that people are completely morally responsible for things when their abilities have been so influenced by genetic and environmental factors. I'm lucky. I grew up in a fine home and got decent genes. Not everyone is so lucky. (Neither Jon nor the person watching is entirely to blame.)

Continuing in that vein, aren't you assuming that people know that Jon's show will make them cynical? What if they just watch the show to laugh, and, in the process of doing so, unwittingly become cynical?

Also - Jon and Rupert's purposes are bad, but wouldn't we say their actions are bad as well (assuming their actions align with their hypothetical purposes). Jon's action is to make a show which encourages people to be cynical about politics. Rupert's action is to make a show which makes people ignorant. Obviously I'm making an evaluative judgment when I say that those are deontologically wrong (aren't we making an evaluative judgment when we say lying is wrong?), but they are to blame for making harmful content.

The combination of these two factors leads me to believe that both Rupert and his viewers are partially to blame for making people ignorant.

ADHR said...

Enthymeme.

Drug dealers aren't responsible for drug addictions. No one forces people to take drugs. What they are responsible for, though, are the actions you cite: dealing an addictive substance, influencing children, etc.

There's a distinction to be had between normal and abnormal upbringings (and genetic heritages) that makes a difference in how we treat responsibility, because it leads to a difference between different sorts of reasons. The parallel here is to the case of vision. We say that people are (non-morally, of course) responsible for their visual judgements insofar as conditions in which the judgement was made are normal. That is, if it was twilight, we can excuse an error in visual judgement; similarly if it was foggy, etc. So, in moral cases, we can say that people who exist in abnormal situations can be excused from responsibility if the situations were sufficiently abnormal that they generated countervailing reasons which swamped the normal reasons. In other words, ceteris paribus, the viewer of Fox News is responsible for their own ignorance, unless their upbringing, natural condition, etc. is so poor that we can see sufficient reason to say they could not be responsible. It strikes me, though, that this is a pretty high bar to clear. Most people have sufficient natural, social, etc. advantages that we can hold them responsible for their actions in most circumstances.

So, to deal with the next point, whether or not people do know Jon's show will make them cynical or Fox News will make them ignorant, the issue is really whether they should know. If they don't, but should, then they are at fault for their ignorance in this regard; if they don't, but shouldn't (such as if they couldn't; after all, since ought implies can, not-can implies not-ought), then they are not fault.

Evaluative judgement = judgement of good/bad. Deontic judgement = judgement of right/wrong. These are different orders of judgement, IMHO, which work with different orders of reasons. So, I can say Jon's a bad guy who is doing something wrong, or Jon's a good guy doing something wrong, or Jon's a bad guy doing something right, or Jon's a bad guy doing something wrong. (And, for that matter, the categories probably admit of multiple values -- so, there should be "Jon's an okay guy, Jon's not so bad, etc." as well as "he's doing something sort of wrong, he's doing something sort of right, he's doing something that's really neutral, etc.".)

It's also important to correctly identify the action being judged. So, we can judge Jon or Rupert for making a show that will unduly influence people, and we can formulate this judgement in a way that differs from the judgements regarding the people who allow themselves to be influenced. That is, if Jon makes a show in order to influence people in a negative way, we can say that's wrong, and we can also say he's a bad guy for doing it. However, that in no way changes the judgement that the people who put themselves in the situation to be influenced are themselves also doing something wrong. This is because the actions, although causally related, are ontically distinct: the event of Jon's creating the show is not the same as the event of the viewer being influenced.

If the action, however, is "making people ignorant", then it seems clear to me that this is a complex of multiple smaller actions. (It is, if you like, a project rather than an action, a sequence of events rather than a single event.) So, we can hold Rupert or Jon responsible to the extent that their actions form part of this complex. If Rupert's actions are 75% (to pick a number at random) of the complex, and those actions are all wrong, then he's 75% in the wrong for making people ignorant.

undergroundman said...

Well, I'm happy that you'll admit that the judgment is more complex than you previously judged. :)

"However, that in no way changes the judgement that the people who put themselves in the situation to be influenced are themselves also doing something wrong."

Don't we always put ourselves in a position to be influenced when we talk to other people or interact with media? Are we to blame for that? Is it our duty to always be aware of which companies spread false information or have ulterior motives, or is it their duty to tell us when they're doing something shady and unethical?

"If Rupert's actions are 75% (to pick a number at random) of the complex, and those actions are all wrong, then he's 75% in the wrong for making people ignorant."

As opposed to the actions of his employees? But overall, if the Fox News channel is 100% misinformative, then all his employees share 100% of the blame? And they are actually doing something deontologically wrong? (Even, perhaps, something evaluatively bad.)

The judgments on what is deontologically wrong and evaluatively bad are both subjective, right? (And therefore relative.)

ADHR said...

Don't we always put ourselves in a position to be influenced when we talk to other people or interact with media? Are we to blame for that? Is it our duty to always be aware of which companies spread false information or have ulterior motives, or is it their duty to tell us when they're doing something shady and unethical?

Both, sort of, but I'm leery of making the latter a claim of obligation. It sounds too much like a conflation of issues regarding moral action and issues regarding moral character. But, in the real world, both hold. If we're in an idyllic state of perfect honesty, then no one can be blamed for trusting those who really don't deserve to be trusted. However, we all know that people lie to us and try to manipulate us in various ways. Hence, there is a sense in which one is blameworthy for falling under a malign influence. Which is not to say, of course, that the influencer is blameless.

Basically, there's lots of blame to go around for all sides. It's like if you walk through a crime-ridden neighbourhood while flashing a lot of money. Certainly you shouldn't be robbed -- and if you are robbed, those who rob you are to be blamed for doing so. However, you would be blameworthy for putting yourself at risk.

As opposed to the actions of his employees? But overall, if the Fox News channel is 100% misinformative, then all his employees share 100% of the blame? And they are actually doing something deontologically wrong? (Even, perhaps, something evaluatively bad.)

It depends on the level of contribution to the action, which gets into some very complicated metaphysics. Since Murdoch is the head of the company, all the blame has to funnel up to him. That's part of what it is to be the boss: you get all the praise, and all the blame. However, the particular staffers who contribute in various ways to the misinformation Fox spreads (researchers, on-air personalities, technical staff, etc.) will share the blame in proportion to their contribution to the overall action. Or, to put it a different way, they are blameworthy for the particular actions they engage in which contribute to the overall wrong.

Whether or not it's an evaluative bad or deontic wrong depends on where we locate the blame. If we blame an action, we should be talking deontically; if we blame a person, we should be talking evaluatively.

None of this seems subjective to me. Which is, incidentally, not the same as relative. "Relative" implies that there are truth-conditions, but they vary; "subjective" implies that there are no truth conditions.