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Law and Prethought

I keep discovering that existing legal systems already have significant content that I independently thought out, and they generally state it better and take it further. My fairly-random studies of law have also introduced me to new ideas for jurisprudentially-compatible moral philosophy. A few weeks ago, I bumped into the idea of proximate cause (yessssss). This morning, I came across the distinction between direct and oblique intent in mens rea:

  • Direct intent (to a consequence) is when a consequence of an act is directly intended when the act is committed
  • Oblique intent (to a consequence) is when a consequence of an act is foreseen-and-accepted (but not necessarily desired) as part of an act that is committed
I think this is a very important distinction, particularly because I think it is very reasonable, given the numerous effects of any philosophical position, to take stances that happen to not-be-maximally-empowering to certain groups or individuals that nontheless are not anti-those-groups.

I would prefer different terms though! I don't like phrasings that imply intent-to-a-consequence for all the consequences of something when only the thing is intended.

A few scattered thoughts that will let me close some open browser tabs for things to write about:

  • If libertarian sea colonies (or space colonies, for that matter) ever are shown to actually be effectively sovereign nations, I hold that it should be considered a duty to overthrow-or-embargo-or-destroy those places. Centuries of progress in labour rights should not be so easily undone, and these rights were and are worth fighting for. We should not permit the return of slavery nor the rebirth of rawer forms of capitalism.
  • I don't believe that confession should be legally protected. Particularly when it amounts to sheltering and indulging sexual predators within the church. The primate of Ireland claimed: 「Freedom to participate in worship and to enjoy the long-established rites of the church is so fundamental that any intrusion upon it is a challenge to the very basis of a free society」. I could hardly disagree more. Problematic practices do not become immune to criticism or change simply because they've been around for a long time.
  • The Justice Department is working to block ATT's purchase of T-Mobile. As a T-Mobile customer I'm both pleased and bothered. Pleased because the purchase would've been anti-competitive and bothered because it would've been nice to see the better GSM coverage from a merged network (T-Mobile really doesn't have great coverage). I would like to see better service at much lower costs, but these goals seem to be in conflict.
  • A 「recent entry in Law and the Multiverse」 raised an issue that's long bothered me; "as long as it can be scientifically justified, and the funding can be arranged, animal experimentation is not legally problematic". I don't think that's the right standard. I think it's important to have some basic ideas of moral acceptability beyond scientific justification.
  • As Qaddafi's offices have come under TNC control, evidence of his dealings with US and other western governments have become public, often to great embarassment. I am disappointed-but-not-surprised at Dennis Kucinich, whose foreign policy ideas have always struck me as deeply facile and shortsighted. Ethical foreign policy requires we be willing to wade into morally murky ground because the easy perspective of deep pacifism preserves ongoing and systemic atrocities.
  • Interesting criticism of Žižek's take on the Arab Spring.
  • I'm worried by Rick Perry, who as far as I have heard is either not particularly bright or has pragmatically taken a rather populist anti-science stance. That so many people might respect and even consider electing someone like that is deeply irksome. I'm inclined to think that someone should have to have a proper PhD (maybe be the dean of some college in an accredited and respected university) to be eligible to be the US President, and that a Bachelors college degree (from a programme that does not skimp on general curricula) should be required to be qualified to vote, ... but there's no way I could support the latter unless education were entirely subsidised through college. Sigh. I like the idea in principle, anyhow.
  • I think this is a fair criticism of Apple's two-facedness on patents wrt things relating to the iPhone and iPad. I'm fairly hostile to how closed a platform Apple's products are, but much more ragetastic about their patent claims/lawsuits (not that Google doesn't have some stupid patents of its own).
  • Wikileaks had a screw-up large enough that, IMO, it would've been better had Cablegate never been released (and even, with all things considered, that Wikileaks never existed). Due to some fairly serious error showing organisational weakness on many levels (from inadequate care taken about passwords to Julian Assange being insufferably arrogant to Assange hiring and dealing with untrustworthy people), the US Diplomatic cables were accidentally released in unredacted form, placing many government informants in full public view (and grave danger). Cablegate was only a good idea in redacted form, and it was a great thing in that form. In this form, it is a terrible idea, and the fact that Wikileaks accidentally did this means that nobody can or should trust Wikileaks in the future. Once it was clear that it had been accidentally released, Wikileaks decided the cat was out of the bag and openly published what others already had. Epic fail.
  • I find this criticism of Dan Savage to be really interesting. It's written by a political (conservative homosexual canadian) webcomicist (JJ McCullough) I've watched for years, and it focuses on Savage's coverage of Santorum and (Mr) Bachmann. Two questions: Is it appropriate to treat reprehensible-but-politely-argued ideas with dignified responses, and is it productive? The first is a matter of discourse-ethics (what do we owe people in discussion) and the second a matter of pragmatism. The one area where I know I disagree with McCullough (as I understand him; I'm reading this into his phrasing of "genuine religious passion") is that I give zero extra leeway to people whose morality happens to be that largely defined by a religion. I believe everyone is responsible for their moral ideas, equally if they created them themself (as I did) or accept them from outside (as many religious people do). If your faith would place women in a certain social role, and you agree with that because it's your faith, I believe you should be treated exactly the same as if you individually decided to place women in that certain social role. Otherwise, I'm initially inclined to agree with McCullough. I am inclined to debate almost anything, and am not that comfortable with mockery/dismissal to deal with views, particularly those that are still reasonably mainstream (even if those of us who believe in gay marriage are over 50% in America now, we're not so large a majority that our position can be described as being effectively universal). This is indeed a civil rights issue, and one where we should be willing to push very very hard for our way, but we can probably better do so politely.
  • An initial guide to post-Qaddafi Libya's politics
  • For what it's worth, I believe R vs Dudley and Stephens set a bad legal precedent, and note this as being possibly applicable and definitely a better standard for such situations.

I recently came across this webcomic called 「Things Could Be Worse」. It's quite good.


your direct vs oblique intent duality reminds me a bit of my idea of explicit vs implicit offence. (those are: when something bothers you, to take offence explicitly is to speak up to try to change it, and implicitly is to leave the system and try to find/build something better.) i think i like the sound of "explicit intent" and "implicit intent" for these.
I actually really like the terms "oblique" and "direct" -- they make it pretty clear that the law takes into account your understanding of indirect consequences even if they are not desired. I don't like the circular definition of direct intent, though. I guess the definition of "direct intent" is using "intend" in its previously-intuitive sense of "wish to bring about" rather than the technical sense being established.

"Implicit intent" still sounds (to me) like it's talking about a desired consequence in a way that somehow "oblique intent" doesn't (to me).
but there's no way I could support the latter unless education were entirely subsidised through college

Even if it were subsidised, there would be a significant percentage of the population disenfranchised by this. For one, the opportunity cost of spending another four years in school (and therefore, not spending [all of] that time earning money) is still too much of a barrier for some people, even if they were not losing the tuition money as well. For another, it's hard enough convincing many people that their children -- especially their daughters -- need to be educated at all; those people are not going to send those daughters to college even if it were free of cost. This is especially true if those daughters are married and/or pregnant at 18. And "but then they won't be allowed to vote!" is not a particularly compelling argument to that mindset.

I agree that it would be a better country if more of our populace were better educated, but I disagree that the way to do that would be by punishing those who cannot attend college. It seems to me that a better way about it would be to put a lot of that hypothetical college subsidy money into improving K-12 and the high school exit requirements.
Yeah, you're right. It's more of a raw intuition/urge than something I really could see myself actually supporting in the real world.

That said, I also have a raw intuition/urge that parents/subcultures should not be permitted to have the degree of influence over their children to the level of barring them education. I don't want the idea of family units to completely disappear (by any means; it's a really important part of society), but I think the ability of parents to decide things is a little bit too strong as-is. I don't think children should be considered property, nor do I think parents should be able to exercise as much decisionmaking power on behalf of children as they can now. It'd be ok for society to make it well known that children are guaranteed housing, to guarantee that children will receive public schooling, and to guarantee that children will have their necessities met should they go to college without parental aid.
From what I understand, the latter cases I was talking about are subtler than "you can't go to college" and more like "good girls don't want to go to college," or, even more insidiously, "college is full of people who will hate you for your piety (or, mean elitists who will make fun of you); why don't you stay here where we love you and you can live a simple and wholesome life with your husband and children?" After all, their mothers grew up with the same story, and it is to some extent actually true that a lot of intellectuals make fun of people with religious upbringings.
Ugh. I'm not sure how change is possible in communities like that, although mandatory public schooling would hopefully be a start.
Right, except that there are a lot of cases where homeschooling actually is a legitimate and good alternative for the kid: public schools can be pretty bad, kids who are learning at a different pace from their appointed peers can be frustrated and/or bullied, and kids might be interested in different subject matters than their school can provide (many schools have trade training options, but this is not universal). I agree that parents should not be the only figures of guidance in kids' lives, and I would certainly hope that homeschooled kids would have, at minimum, extracurricular activities with kids their own age, but I think that public schools have a lot of their own problems. The overarching difficulty here is in establishing a legislative difference between the "good kind of homeschooling" and the "bad kind" -- we already have mandatory standardized testing for homeschoolers, of course, but, well, that only makes sure they're taught "as well as" the standards for public schools (in other words: not very).
I think of alternative-schools in the same way I think of car ownership in cities; I'd like to ban it, but we'd need to beef up the alternative pretty well at the same time. I believe in innovation and experimentation within the public school umbrella, but this cannot be a codeword for breaking teachers' unions nor for permitting a religious basis for mandated education. We need to put a much larger percentage of GDP into our educational system, and recognise it as a vital national interest that should not be affected by regional differences in wealth. I don't think there are any important things that are done in homeschooling that could not be done in principle in proper public schooling. There is a strong societal interest in preventing subcultures from excessively shaping their children (which may or may not choose to be part of the subculture of their kin, but this must be a real and largely-free choice).
Though it's an interesting fantasy scenario: FSM comes down and says, "If you vote in favor of this proposition, only people with a Bachelors degree from a four-year institution will be allowed to vote, but we'll have government subsidies so that anyone can financially afford to attend those institutions." Would the proposition pass? In other words, would non-college-educated people forfeit their own future votes to grant college educations to their community? I don't see it going over well among the anti-intellectuals, and, as I said, I'd want to see the implementation details and would be very cautious that the result wouldn't just be to further disenfranchise the segment of society that can't go to college for reasons beyond funding.

If it did pass, presumably there'd be a flurry of older people attending college, and probably the need to build more colleges very quickly, or, more likely some arcane admissions lottery. (And of course, the lottery would be bribeable, so we'd end up back where we started...)
I think I'd love that; colleges should not be a rite of passage so much as a lifelong cultural centre and place of self-enrichment.