Ancient and Modern Morality, Examples

  • David French and Stephen Breyer on originalism;
  • Short items about how Trump is out of his mind (from Robert Reich), his “blood bath” comments, and his threat to shut down the media;
  • Jamelle Bouie on how the election isn’t about Biden and Trump, so much as two differing visions of American government — whether it exists to help people, or to rule over others;
  • An article about GOP hypocrisy, on moral matters, specifically about LGBTQ+ people threaten “vicarious immortality,” as I’ve been saying for years.

Here’s a brief opinion piece (on the paper’s website’s “The Point” blog) that relates to yesterday’s post about the Supreme Court’s motivated reasoning.

NY Times, David French, 18 Mar 2024: Justice Breyer Is Only Partly Right About Originalism

This responds to an interview, conducted by Adam Liptak, with Justice Stephen Breyer

Breyer told Liptak that originalist judges aren’t necessarily qualified to be historians. Judges need to consider the practical consequences of their rulings, he said, and the way that society’s values evolve.

And this relates to a key point in the E.O. Wilson chapter summary I posted earlier this afternoon: ethics and morality can change, as circumstances and knowledge change, but conservatives almost by definition resist doing so, as if circumstances are not allowed to change and nothing can ever be learned.

French agrees…

In my view, this summary gets one big thing right and one big thing wrong. He’s absolutely correct that some approaches to originalism inject judges far too deeply into historical analysis. …

…and disagrees.

I also agree with Breyer that American law can and should evolve as our values evolve. But it is the democratically elected branches of government that are responsible for that evolution, not the judiciary. The judiciary’s role is to interpret the law, not to change the law. Yes, it can and should overrule precedents when it believes they were wrongly decided, but not because society has evolved out of one legal standard into another.

Um, why not? Isn’t that what overturning precedents that were “wrongly decided” is all about? He counts on elected officials to do that?

How would this work in the sciences (the other half of Rauch’s Constitution of Knowledge)? Do the “experts” (scientists) judge when the consensus needs updating, or does the populace? You can always count on the “democratically elected branches of government” to be conservative, even reactionary. That’s why we have a judicial system. Right?


Robert Reich, 17 Mar 2024: Trump is out of his mind and desperate, subtitled “His speech today in Ohio shows it”

At a rally today outside the Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio, Trump warned that “if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a blood bath … for the country.”

He also warned that if he didn’t win, “I don’t think you’re going to have another election, or certainly not an election that’s meaningful.”

In the rest of the speech he repeated his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, which have been utterly discredited.

Many items today in which conservatives blame the media for taking “blood bath” literally. Also here:

Salon, 17 Mar 2024: Donald Trump warns of a “bloodbath” if he loses to Joe Biden, subtitled “‘If this election isn’t won, I’m not sure that you’ll ever have another election in this country,’ he said in Ohio”

I would say it’s more likely that if Trump wins, we’ll never have another election in the country, just as is happening with Putin in Russia. (Actually, we will. Trump will eventually disappear, and the American system will survive.)


This is what tyrants do: shut down the media.

Joe.My.God, 17 Mar 2024: Trump: You Can’t Use Public Airwaves To Criticize Me

“Public airwaves”?


NY Times, Jamelle Bouie, 15 Mar 2024: Don’t Think of It as a Contest Between Biden and Trump

Then as what? The piece concludes,

Personality certainly matters. But it might be more useful, in terms of the actual stakes of a contest, to think about the presidential election as a race between competing coalitions of Americans. Different groups, and different communities, who want very different — sometimes mutually incompatible — things for the country.

The coalition behind Joe Biden wants what Democratic coalitions have wanted since at least the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt: government assistance for working people, federal support for the inclusion of more marginal Americans.

As for the coalition behind Trump? Beyond the insatiable desire for lower taxes on the nation’s monied interests, there appears to be an even deeper desire for a politics of domination. Trump speaks less about policy, in any sense, than he does about getting revenge on his critics. He’s only concerned with the mechanisms of government to the extent that they are tools for punishing his enemies.

And if what Trump wants tells us anything, it’s that the actual goal of the Trump coalition is not to govern the country, but to rule over others.

I don’t disagree with this, but just as important to me is that conservatives routinely deny reality, and progressives take it into account.


LBGTQNation, Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, 14 Mar 2024: The GOP is the party of hypocrisy. How did it get this way?, subtitled “So-called “family values” leaders have literally been caught with their pants down again and again. The problem could be deeply psychological.”

Yes, this is partly about projection… And partly about the transition from ancient to modern morality, as Wilson discusses in the chapter summary I posted earlier today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote these stirring words in the Declaration of Independence, but Jefferson and many of the other men who signed onto the final draft somehow rationalized (or denied to themselves) the unfathomable contradiction that they enslaved, owned, raised, and sold human beings.

Like many of these “founders,” a great number of world leaders have betrayed their words through their actions throughout history.

More recently, so-called “family values” politicians and religious leaders who vocally and vigorously championed conservative social issues – such as opposition to sex outside marriage, reproductive freedoms, and LGBTQ+ equality – were literally found with their pants down publicly exposing their engorged… hypocrisy.

With a long list of examples. Donald Trump, on several points; Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich, Mark Souder, Christian Ziegler, Giancarlo Granda, Jim Baker, Jimmuy Swaggart, Larry Craig, George Rekers, and others.


A few years back, primarily heterosexual men vehemently opposed openly gay and bisexual men from entry into the military. We heard as the primary argument that allowing these men access to bunks and showers would place heterosexual men at risk for assault and undermine troop cohesion. I contend, rather, that in many instances, the mechanism of projection was in operation within the heterosexual men in order to protect themselves from their own desires to bunk and shower in the women’s quarters. Again, gay and bisexual men are those who stand at greater risk for assault.

Fear of “vicarious immortality”:

Simply stated, in the public imagination, LGBTQ+ people are generally seen as people who either do not or cannot bear children. Though this is often not the case, the very idea of persons without children awakens in some people a fear of death, often unconscious, since offspring provide a continuation of the family line and gene pool of individual members. Therefore, for some people, any reminder of their own mortality can emerge as threatening to the ego, and this fear can transform into prejudice.

I’ve said this for years. (E.g. here, quoting earlier comments about the existential panic about not having grandchildren.)

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