The Tea Party–Are they Finally Supporting Cutting Defense Spending?

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U.S. Defense Spending Trends from 2000-2011

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The Tea Party Movement has energized the Republican party and poured new blood into a party that had become corrupt and bloated with country club Republicans and RINOs. However, like many self-styled “conservatives,” they did not seem interested in cutting defense spending. Yet now there are Tea Party leaders who are saying that defense spending should not be off limits in attempts to bring government spending under control. This is a positive development.

The military became bloated during the 1950s as a result of the Cold War. Instead of combating Communism, which would have eventually collapsed under its own inefficiency in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, the Cold War created a vast “military-industrial complex,” to use President Eisenhower‘s words from his 1961 Farewell Address. Not only does a bloated military suck up government spending, it encourages the United States to be involved in unnecessary wars that feed the defense industries with fat profits. Vietnam, the U. S.’s involvement in Bosnia, and Iraq are good examples; some response to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was necessary, but an approach using smaller special forces units and CIA agents, which was the original CIA plan, probably would have worked better than sending over 100,000 American troops. The more the military-industrial complex is fed by war, the more money it demands, and the more money defense-related companies with government contract make.

In addition, a large standing army is a threat to freedom–deep cuts in defense spending could reduce the military’s size and limit the potential threat to both the sovereignty of the states and to individual Americans. Concentrations of power in large organizations, whether those organizations be big government or big business, is dangerous to freedom–and the combination of big defense industries, big government, and a large standing army, is particularly dangerous. More than just “cutting the fat” out of the defense budget is required to bring defense spending under control–and I wonder if any Tea Party leaders want the deep cuts necessary. Hopefully the fact that some Tea Party leaders are at least open to cutting defense spending will lead to a broader discussion of the need for deeper cuts to control the power of the military-industrial complex.

The Boundary Between Mental Illness and Evil

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"Satan Sowing Seeds" by Felicien Rop...

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Was Jared Lee Loughner, who allegedly murdered six people in Tuscon and wounded 13 others, including Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, insane or evil or both? Leonard Pitts and other columnists and bloggers have openly wondered whether “evil” is a more appropriate description of Mr. Loughner than “insane.” Psychiatry and psychology tend to medicalize deviances in human behavior, sometimes to the point that they tone down the role of human responsibility. For example, classifying alcoholism as a disease alleviates the moral responsibility a person may have for engaging in the heavy drinking that made him dependent on alcohol.  Classifying mass murderers as “psychopaths” may be accurate as a descriptive label for their condition (no empathy, no conscience), but such classification does not address the issue of whether psychopaths are evil. There are several bad arguments that someone who medicalizes terrible human actions may use. For example:

1. If person x has a mental illness, and that mental illness contributes to x’s destructive behavior, then x is not morally responsible for x’s actions.

2. Person x has a mental illness.

3. That mental illness contributes to x’s destructive behavior.

4. Therefore, x is not morally responsible for x’s actions.

The weakness of this argument is premise 1. Just because a person is mentally ill, and that mental illness causally contributes to his behavior, does not imply that the person is not morally responsible for his actions. The reason is that the mental illness may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for x’s destructive behavior. X’s evil moral character may still play a causal role as well. Or x’s evil moral character may have causally contributed to his mental illness.

Another bad argument goes as follows:

1. Deviations from normal brain structure are correlated with psychopathy and other personality disorders.

2. If deviations from normal brain structure are correlated with psychopathy and other personality disorders, then the individual with such deviations is not morally responsible for his actions.

3. Psychopathic [mass murderer, swindler–take you pick of crime) individual x has deviations from normal brain structure.

4. Therefore psychopathic individual x is not responsible for actions that are due to his psychopathy.

One problem with this argument is that correlation is not causation. Even if a causal relation could be established, this does not answer the question of which direction the causation goes (the “chicken-egg problem”). Do the deviations from normal brain structure cause psychopathy or does psychopathic behavior cause deviations from normal brain structure? Unless one accepts reductive or eliminative materialism, then one cannot automatically claim that a twisted mind and behavior are caused by an abnormal brain. To make such a claim would be to beg the question on the complex metaphysical issues surrounding the mind-body problem.

I do not know where the exact boundary between evil and mental illness. A rough answer that seems reasonable to me is that if a person’s mind is utterly divorced from reality, then he is not as responsible for his actions as someone who has a firm or even partial grip on reality. Where should that line be drawn? This is the difficulty. It seems to me that psychopaths are evil people. Borderline personality disorder is (and I’m not trying to be “facile”) is a borderline case–but if a person suffering from borderline personality disorder destroys another person’s life, emotional health, and/or reputation due to manipulation and lies, then the person seems as much evil as having a medical disorder. The refusal of many borderlines to get help or take responsibility for their actions are basic elements of an evil character. Munchausen’s Syndrome and Munchausen’s by Proxy fall in the same category–the drive for attention is twisted to the point of doing evil and manipulative actions. I know that many professional psychologists and psychiatrists would disagree. But they do not know everything any more than I as a philosopher know everything. I know there is a level of mental illness that totally removes a person’s moral responsibility for heinous actions.  But since evil is by nature a distortion of the personality, there may be some individuals who are considered to be mentally ill but who are actually evil, or some individuals who suffer from mental illness and have an evil character.  Human beings are a mixture of good and evil, and that battle, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, is fought in every human heart.