Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Ghost-Writing" Letters To The Editor For McCain

Lying, actually.

Are these people honest about anything?

The actions described in this story are clearly impermissible. But is there any version of such "ghost-writing" that is permissible? E.g. writing generic letter templates, or lists of facts that could be included in letters? I used to think so, but now I'm thinking that perhaps there should be some standard whereby letters to the editor are pure expressions of the actual opinions of the writers. Y' know...authentic.

On the other hand, apparently even op-eds by prominent figures are "ghost-written" (which, in my book, is roughly equivalent to plagiarized).

Any thoughts?


Blogger lovable liberal said...

There are large components of morality that are socially constructed (at least as the word is understood by non-philosophers). A man can put his penis in one orifice but not another (though this is not my particular moral stricture).

Just descriptively, the principles that guide who can claim what work are so ad hoc that they don't really seem to be principles at all. We've seen this over and over again in academe, so much so that power often seems self-justifying. If you can pay someone to do research for you, you get credit, at least once you have your Ph.D.

In business, it's much more muddled. Executives get credit, often all of it, for work their subordinates actually did. Programmers openly crib code fragments from the web. Coworkers freely and openly borrow from each other.

Politicians almost never write their own speeches. Barack Obama probably writes his own, but everyone who writes needs help. Where's the line? I'm sure Ronald Reagan crossed it. Duhbya is waaay over. But how about JFK? Those wonderful turns of phrase we remember him for were surely not mostly his to start with.

So, by now you know, I don't have an answer for this! But at least it's all my own work.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

There are large components of morality that are socially constructed...

No way, dude.

What you really mean is: there are many entrenched moral beliefs or moral traditions that are not based on good reasons.

That "socially constructed" lingo is worse than useless.

6:52 AM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

Could be what I meant was that large portions of "morality" (i.e. what people call morality) is socially constructed. How else can you understand fundamentalist Christianity? Even if you accepted the KJV as the inerrant word of god (which is of course epistemologically ridiculous), there's an ad hoc picking and choosing among its contents that can hardly be characterized as rational. Leviticus tells us how to be moral with our slaves, not that slavery is immoral.

Yes, of course, I think that particular social construction was a rationalization of the status quo rather than moral reasoning. Is exploitation of animals the aspect of our moral culture that future humans will regard as due to our social constructions? Or is it abortion?

I agree that there's a core of morality that's undeniable, but then we start to get into what a morally significant actor or object is, and the clarity of the golden rule starts to muddy. We're beyond the point (most of us) when those held in bondage were subhuman, but slavery does keep cropping up even in the U.S. More current: Does a fetus have moral standing? It's not an easy question (though the ends - conception and birth - are both absurd), which is why Roe chooses viability as its criterion. It's clear though that law is a social construction, and it's clearly a vital path to morality. ("Can't legislate morality" is about mores and purity of heart, really, the fundie stuff.)

What I don't mean - and why, I think, that "socially constructed" is your b├Ęte noire - is that all you have to do to find out what's true or moral is to take a survey. That's a muddle-headed conflation of opinion with reason, and I won't go there even if I do play poker with a sociologist.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

O.k., so here's the thing: why even use the deplorable "socially constructed" idiom?

Anything we might want to discuss using that terminology we can discuss more clearly without it.

There are various beliefs about various things, including morality, and at least some of them are false. Often, false or unjustified beliefs attain the status of orthodoxy, and are thought by many people to be true. Sometimes, for many purposes and to many people, false beliefs might as well be true, so deeply entrenched are they.

None of those things require us to say that anything is "socially constructed."

So we don't need the term, and there are very good reasons no to use it. For one thing, to say that 'x is socially constructed' is ambiguous in exactly the way we need terms in this vicinity to NOT be ambiguous. It can mean 'x is unreal, but people generally think it's real'; it can mean 'people believe in x because of the action of social forces'; it can mean 'x is real, and real *because* we create it or make it up by agreement.' Now, things like languages and economies might be that latter thing, but nothing else is. The people who like to use the locution like to use it because they like--overtly or covertly--to push the view that the think they are talking about exists, magically, because we agree about it. Thing is, except for overtly social things like languages and economies--and perhaps not even for them--nothing exists just because we believe in it.

Moral obligations--if genuine--are not made up or sustained by our belief, either, though some putative moral obligations are not real moral obligations...and they are only believed to be real because of a kind of social illusion. But to even dignify those things as "socially constructed" is to obfuscate the most important fact--that they are false, bogus, not genuinely binding.

Ergo I beseech thee, LL, in the strongest possible terms: ditch the locution!

3:32 PM  

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