A thought on exploitation

I was at a friend’s talk recently, where she defended the claim that surrogacy tourism is morally permissible. She pointed to the extent to which the women involved benefit financially, to the long-term gains to their families, to the relationships they form, and so forth. Some people just felt that even if an individual woman benefits, she is still being exploited.

This struck me as implausible. I’m inclined to think that if both parties on-balance benefit, the relationship is not exploitative. I considered a counterexample: what if the surrogate mother is only paid a dollar? Does that still make it non-exploitative? And I was inclined to say that such a relationship seems exploitative, but I realized that I was smuggling in some intuitions about the statistical risks of pregnancy. Well, not every surrogate mother is the statistical average. This made me think that perhaps certain classes of relationships could be considered exploitative, but not the individual relationships themselves. Thus, perhaps relationships of surrogacy wherein the mothers are paid almost nothing, such that on average they would not on-balance benefit, would be exploitative. Individual relationships would not be exploitative, but the class of relationships would. And then, perhaps, within the total class there would be sub-classes of relationships that were not on-balance exploitative: say, very healthy (i.e. low-risk) mothers with little by way of economic resources who benefit very profoundly from the extra income.

Police weaponry

First, it seems that police are too quick to pull a gun and shoot people. Second, it seems that there are still plenty of examples where police having guns saves lives (mass shootings and the like). I have noticed that police seem to do most of their killing with a pistol, a weapon they have available at all times, no matter what. Perhaps, instead of giving cops pistols, we should only give them AR-15s. This gives them a viable (superior) option during actual gunfights, mass shootings, and so forth, but also takes away the option of impulsively shooting people or simply wandering foolishly into a situation and escalating it till they kill someone. The AR-15 is too unwieldy to carry around, but can be locked in a car until it is needed.

Proposing a new rule of inference for the internet

My suggestion is simple:

  1. Asserts p smugly.
  2. Therefore, not-p.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from studying philosophy (and biology, for that matter) is how very little I know. In high school, I tended to think that people who disagreed with me must simply be foolish. (Not surprising — I was in high school.) Didn’t they see? The answer was so obvious. Of course p.  Now that I am older and (marginally) wiser, I have come to realize that many questions of philosophy, of science, of history — they all have reasonable people on both sides of the question. The evidence just looks different to people.

Something I have noticed, though, is that people who are very smug in their knowledge are almost always wrong: people who sneer about the US funding the Taliban in the 1980s (when it didn’t exist), people who sarcastically sneer that torture obviously does not work because you cannot trust the answers you’re given, people who take the position that racism only exists in the US because people keep talking about it but that it is otherwise imaginary…it’s not just that they’re factually wrong, it’s that they’re wrong and cocky. In my experience, smugness is a pretty good heuristic for being uninformed. Being uninformed is, in turn, a pretty good heuristic for being wrong.

Therefore: I have decided that henceforth, should someone smugly assert p, I will assume not-p.