The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that state officials can accept gratuities as rewards for their official actions. To be fair, there are disparities in punishments that should be addressed. A federal official can receive up to fifteen years for accepting a bribe, but the punishments cap at two years for accepting gratuities. The statute the ruling is about applies only to state officials and imposes a 10-year sentence. While inconsistency in punishment is a hallmark of the American legal system, from a moral standpoint sentences should be consistent (and fair). As such, it would be reasonable to make the punishments for accepting gratuities for federal and state officials the same. Unless, of course, there is a relevant difference that would warrant such a disparity. However, the court ruling was not about addressing this inconsistency. Instead, critics claim that the ruling has legalized corruption. To be fair, the ruling seems to have the intent of allowing state and local governments to define what is acceptable as a gratuity. That is, the intent seems to be to allow the people who will receive gratuities to decide what they are allowed to receive.

The ruling rests on a philosophical discussion of the difference between bribery (always corrupt) and gratuities (sometimes corrupt). Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that “bribes are payments made or agreed to before an official act in order to influence the official with respect to that future official act.” Gratuities “are typically payments made to an official after an official act as a token of appreciation.” Taking the terms strictly, Kavanaugh seems to be right: a bribe is offered to influence an action, a gratuity is given to reward an action. For example, one might bribe the maître de to get a table and then give the server a gratuity to reward them for good service. Naturally, the payment of the bribe can take place after the action is completed, since the agreement can be made with the payment promised in the future. This would seem to allow for cases claimed to be gratuities to be bribes and this would require showing that an agreement was made that influenced the future action.

One interesting consideration is the likely possibility of iterated gratuity in which an official accepts gratuities for their actions and thus sends a clear signal that they will, in the future, act in ways that will be rewarded by gratuities. Imagine that an official who sees to it that a business gets a lucrative contract to provide school lunches gets a $12,000 gratuity from the business to express their appreciation after the fact. The official now knows they will be rewarded for helping the business. Imagine they then see to it that the business gets a contract providing prison food and is rewarded with a gratuity. Now the business knows the official is amenable to being influenced by gratuities. Strictly speaking, there would be no bribery—it would be analogous to how we train dogs by rewarding them for doing what we want. But it would create a situation indistinguishable from bribery because it would be silent bribery. Everyone would know how the system worked, and no one would need to say anything.  But it might be objected that gratuities can just be rewards and not corruption.

Kavanaugh makes this argument by using what he takes to be innocuous examples. He asks, “could students take their college professor out to Chipotle for an end-of-term celebration? And if so, would it somehow become criminal to take the professor for a steak dinner? Or to treat her to a Hoosiers game?” While he did consider that some gratuities could be “problematic” he provides obviously innocuous examples, such as tipping a mail carrier, a thank you gift basket given to a teacher at the end of the school year, a college dean giving a sweatshirt to a city council member who speaks at a school event. He argues that these examples suggest that “gratuities after the official act are not the same as bribes before the official act,” adding that unlike gratuities, “bribes can corrupt the official act — meaning that the official takes the act for private gain, not for the public good.” Let us consider both these examples and the general argument.

It is interesting that the justice picked the example of a mail carrier, since the USPS has a strict policy about gifts to postal employees. They can receive a gift, but it must be $20 or less per occasion and no more than $50 in a single year. This is obviously much stricter than the rules governing the Supreme Court, which are effectively none. That there is such a limit on postal employees does suggest that there are concerns about allowing large gratuities. And, of course, there is the practical fact that a postal carrier is rather limited in what sort of corruption they can engage in in their official role.

Assuming the local laws allow it, the sweatshirt gift seems morally fine—it is unlikely that an official would engage in corrupt deeds for the sake of a sweatshirt. Also, giving out cheap college merchandise to speakers or people at events is a normal, non-corrupt practice.

The gift basket is somewhat more problematic, depending on how strict the school policies and local laws are. On the one hand, there is almost certainly no intention of corruption. On the other hand, accepting such gifts from the public does signal that one is willing to accept gifts and could open the door to corruption. But I teach at the college level, so I am not that familiar with the rules and ethics at the K-12 level. Which takes us to his professor examples.

So, would it be criminal for students to take their professor out to dinner for an end of term celebration or give them tickets to an event? I infer that the professor in question is a government employee, so the answer would partially depend on the local laws. Distinct from the laws, there are also the matters of university policies (violating these could get the professor fired for cause) and ethical concerns.

Ethically, a professor should not accept dinner or tickets from students, even at the end of the semester. This can create the impression of impropriety and other students might hear of this and think that the professor either expects or will reward students if they think they will receive such gifts. It is especially problematic if the students will take future classes with the professor, since such gifts could influence the professor’s behavior in those classes. Of course, my moral view is that a professor should not profit from their position (beyond their salary and appropriate compensation), even in small ways. The Supreme Court and public officials, who have far more power than us professors, should also follow this moral practice lest they fall into corruption. Well, more corruption.

In terms of policy, schools vary in their guidance. Based on what colleagues around the nation have said, some schools have no clear guidance about small gifts and other schools have strict and precise guidelines. Anecdotally, most schools would frown on students taking professors out to dinner or gifting them tickets. Smaller gifts, like a $16 reusable bag, might be allowed—to use a random example.

 My university has a clear policy about gifts, and we are all required to complete ethics training about gifts every year. The short version is that as a faculty member I must not solicit or accept gifts with the understanding that the gift was given to influence or gain a favorable action or decision from me in my official capacity. Given that I understand that a gratuity given today for past behavior can be aimed at influencing future behavior, I take this as forbidding me from accepting any gifts that might have this nature. For example, I cannot accept any gifts from students since they might be in a future class and the gift might be intended to influence my future behavior.

We are also subject to disclosing outside employment, foreign influence and so on. It is interesting to compare the strict limits I operate under as a professor at a state school to the lack of limits enjoyed by the Supreme Court. But I suppose they are just trying to share the wealth by expanding opportunities for officials to profit from their positions through gratuities. Now to the general argument.

Kavanaugh claims that “gratuities after the official act are not the same as bribes before the official act” and that unlike gratuities, “bribes can corrupt the official act — meaning that the official takes the act for private gain, not for the public good.” So, his argument is that bribes can corrupt since they occur before the act, but gratuities cannot since they take place after the act. Hence, a gratuity cannot corrupt.

In an idealized situation, Kavanaugh’s reasoning would hold. If an official acted with no knowledge or beliefs about how those they benefited would respond and were thus surprised and amazed when those they benefited gave them a gift for acting to their advantage, then there would be no corruption. The official could not have been influenced by a gift they had no idea they might receive.

In reality, officials would be aware that a reward would be forthcoming if they act in certain ways, especially if they (as Clarence Thomas is alleged to have done) regularly receive gratuities as they act in ways that benefit those giving them the gifts. To think otherwise would be to ignore the plain facts or to infer that officials have no conception of the actual world. While it might be hard to prove that a one-time gratuity is a payoff of desired behavior, reiterated gratuities would clearly be bribes. I do not need to tell a dog that he will get a treat if he does what I want, giving him treats when he does what I want takes care of bribing him.  And the Supreme Court has legalized giving treats.

In terms of why this is bad, one obvious reason is that it makes America even more of an oligarchy: people with money seem even more free to simply buy the results they want. Unless you are one of these people, the officials will most likely not be acting in your interest. The second problem is that this could lead to another standard outcome of corruption: it will be more likely that you will have to give gifts to officials to get things done; that is what happens when gifts to officials are legal. Going back to the professor example, if I could and did accept dinners and tickets from students and they saw that students did well in my classes, students would keep giving me dinners and tickets. After all, even though I said nothing, they would know that I expected such gifts and thus my classes would become corrupted. Which is why I, unlike certain Justices, do not accept gifts.

Since the colonial days, America has been a land of stark economic inequality with a relatively stable class structure. The institution of slavery and its enduring effects are the most striking examples. While the economic benefits of slavery were concentrated (as some like to point out, not all whites owned slaves), these benefits generated wealth that has been inherited and built upon. In contrast, the poverty of the victims of slavery was also inherited, providing little or nothing for people to build upon. As such, to grasp one aspect of white privilege (or white advantage) all a person needs are the most basic knowledge of American history and a minimal grasp of how inheritance works. While exceptions should be considered when thinking about generalizations, one needs to be on guard against the fallacies of hasty generalization (drawing a general conclusion based on a sample that is too small) and anecdotal evidence (rejecting statistical data based on an anecdote that is an exception). So, while examples like Obama and Oprah are relevant to discussing race in America, they are but two examples among millions. White poverty has been and is real, but this does not disprove the generality of white advantage. After all, the claim that white privilege or advantage exists is not the claim that every white person is doing well and that everyone else is doing terribly. Rather, it is a claim based on statistical analysis of the entire population.

While part of the American myth is that hard working Americans made themselves into successes by their own hard work, the reality is that there are many notable cases of public resources being used to benefit certain broad segments of the population. These segments have consistently consisted of white Americans while largely excluding others. These have also served to build white advantage. Some examples are as follows.

In 1830 the Indian Removal Act resulted in native people being forced from their lands, which opened the ground for the 1862 Homestead Act which overwhelmingly benefited white settlers.

In 1934 the Federal Housing Administration was created to address the housing shortage in America. It was also intended to segregate housing. It succeeded in both goals, providing many white Americans with the opportunity to own houses while pushing blacks and other minorities into urban housing projects. Home ownership was also subsidized with public money through the mortgage interest deduction. And so home ownership became the engine of American inequality.

 While Social Security is considered a general benefit today, when the Social Security Act of 1935 was passed, it intentionally excluded agricultural and domestic workers, who were mostly Black, Hispanic and Asian. The Wagner Act was also passed in 1935 and it gave unions the ability to engage in collective bargaining and set out consequences for unfair work practices. While unionization helped improve the situations of white workers, non-whites were largely excluded from these benefits. Fortunately, unions have become more diverse and “white union members have lower racial resentment and greater support for policies that benefit African Americans.” These are no doubt additional reasons for the right to try to destroy unions.

After WWII, the G.I. Education Bill, Veteran Administration Housing Authority, and Health Care System provided members of the military and veterans with public support for higher education, housing, and health care. While not the only factor, this public support is seen as the foundation upon which the prosperous American middle class was built. Wealth was redistributed to good effect for those who received it. While not all veterans were white (the United States operated segregated Asian and Black units during the war), most benefits were limited to white veterans and a million black WWII veterans were largely denied these benefits. The federal government and states also invested heavily in public higher education and for a while college was relatively affordable.

When the above examples are brought up in discussions of white privilege, some people counter with three true claims. The first is these lie in the past, the second is that things have changed, and the third is that many white people are not doing well.

While these do lie in the past and things have changed, there is still that fact that the effects of the harms and benefits linger. As noted above in talking about slavery, to understand that white advantage is real one just needs a basic knowledge of American history and a minimal grasp of how inheritance works. For example, grandparents who went to college and got a house from the GI Bill were generally able to pass on that wealth to their children, who then passed on benefits to their children. In contrast, the black veterans who got nothing from the bill had exactly that extra to pass on to their families. There will, of course, be stories of white veterans who ended up with nothing to pass on and examples of black veterans who did very well and were able to pass on wealth; but these are the exceptions. But is true that many white people are not doing well. White Americans are obviously not exempt from the economic woes of today, including low wages, grotesque income inequality, lack of affordable health care, food insecurity, high housing costs and so on.

The average white American can look at these past benefits and point out, correctly, that they are not getting the same benefits. As examples, college and housing are extremely expensive and the state is doing little, if anything, to help the average white person. That is, the entitlements of the past are gone or shifted to benefiting the wealthiest, including politicians. While there are many reasons for this, one is racism, and this can be illustrated by the parable of the pools.

Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together includes the history of the closing of public pools in America because of a racist response to integration. The paradigm pool is the 1919 Fairground Park pool in St. Louis, Missouri, which was believed to be large enough for 10,000 swimmers. In 1949 the city integrated the pool, resulting in the Fairground Park Riot in which whites attacked every black person they saw in the area. The pool was segregated again, then desegregated by a NAACP lawsuit. Visits to the pool declined dramatically and the city closed and drained the pool. While this was one example, the closing of public pools to avoid integration led to a case that reached the Supreme Court. The court ruled, in the 1971 Palmer v. Thompson, that closing a pool rather than integrating it was constitutional. Roughly put, closing a pool hurt everyone and hence was not based on racism. While swimming remained (and remains) popular, public pools largely declined in favor of backyard pools and segregated swim clubs. This ended up hurting everyone and set the stage for the harm that followed.

That many white people would accept losing a benefit rather than allowing it to be shared and that denying a benefit to everyone was constitutional did not go unnoticed. In the years to follow, public benefits were subject to cuts for everyone and the propaganda campaigns against them typically included racist elements. Under Ronald Reagan, the United States saw racism employed to get white Americans to accept cuts in entitlements, social programs, and other public expenditures that once  benefited Americans broadly. Bill Clinton kept Reaganomics going and with few exceptions American economic and political policy (and law) has been focused on ensuring that wealth is consistently distributed from the lower classes to the wealthiest classes. When there are attempts to change this siphoning of wealth, these are countered with the usual arguments and rhetoric, including appeals to racism.

Ironically, racism was and is used to get white Americans to agree to policies and laws that hurt everyone (but the rich) including themselves. This is still consistent with white privilege, since whites still enjoy other privileges and the benefits accrued by past generations have not been completely eroded. But the young white people who are trying to pay rent, go to college, or even meet basic expenses are realizing that the system is harming them, and this can lead to the bizarre situation where some people argue that there is no racism or white privilege because white people are suffering. But part of their suffering is due to racism and its role in destroying so many public goods. The money is, of course, still there—it just gets funneled upwards and helps explain why we have so many millionaires and billionaires today.

As the wealth acquired by whites in the past is eroded by the need to use those resources, I wonder what impact this will have. While the right has been exploiting white economic worries, they are also committed to racism. As such, even if they wanted to restore public benefits (which they do not) they would have to give up their racism. The establishment Democrats are also largely committed to the status quo, although they are more willing to allow public funds to benefit the public.  It will be interesting, and probably terrifying, to see the outcome of this—although history does over some suggestions.

In what seems to be a victory for Christian Nationalists, the Ten Commandments must now be displayed in Louisiana public classrooms. This law will be challenged, but its proponents are hoping that the Supreme Court will rule in its favor. Given the ideology and religious views of the majority of the court, this victory is all but assured.  

The 2022 Kennedy v. Bremerton School District ruling provides guidance here as the court ruled in favor of a high school football coach who was fired for praying on the field. The court decided that the prayer was private speech and hence protected. Meanwhile, Republicans in Florida are arguing that “in the classroom, the professor’s speech is the government’s speech…” when it is speech they do not like.  It would be interesting to see what they would say about professors praying in classrooms; I suspect that if it was a suitable Christian prayer, it would be considered private speech.

While I am not a legal scholar, there does seem to be an obvious difference between a coach engaging in a private prayer on the field and a state mandating that the Ten Commandments be displayed in all classrooms. If, for example, a teacher or professor wanted to carry a copy of the Ten Commandments to draw inspiration from before teaching or during committee meetings, that would obviously not present any issues. I, in fact, have a copy of the Ten Commandments in my Ethics class notes since I do a section on religion and ethics. In this context I am using the Ten Commandments as an example of religious ethics rather than proselytizing a specific faith in the classroom, since we are not in the indoctrination business. Coincidentally, this is a work around that proponents of the law have also attempted to use.

As the separation of church and state is well-established, proponents of the law need a narrative that will allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed while they can insist this is not the state promoting a religion. One approach is built on the same justification I use to cover the Ten Commandments in my class: the Ten Commandments are an important part of legal (and moral) history and hence should be included in the relevant lessons. I certainly would not think of teaching a basic ethics class without including them in a section on religious rules-based ethics. Likewise, my colleagues in religion and history would not think to exclude them from the relevant classes. But there are two obvious differences.

One is that academic coverage of the Ten Commandments does not require a state mandate that they be displayed in all classrooms. Providing them to the students in the text, PowerPoints or notes suffices. The second is that my colleagues and I are not, as I noted earlier, in the business of indoctrinating students. In fact, students routinely ask us what we think, since we are careful not to preach our own views. When discussing paper topics, I stress that they should argue for their position and not try to argue for what they think I might think. When grading, I take care to separate my view of their position from a fair assessment of the quality of their work. As I tell my students, people have gotten an A on papers arguing for positions I strongly disagree with, and others have done badly by arguing badly for positions I agree with. I never tell them these positions and stick to generalities.

The clever counter to this is that the law has an amendment that permits display of historical documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence and the Northwest Ordinance. Presumably the intent is to try to persuade people that the Ten Commandments is just being displayed as an historically important document and hence all the concerns about the separation of church and state are unfounded. But the obvious problem is that only the display of the Ten Commandments is mandated by law (and a specific version, at that). But even if the law required other documents to be displayed, it would still be reasonable to consider why the Ten Commandments and these other documents were being mandated for display. They did not, for example, mandate that specific content from mathematics, science, or English literature be displayed in classrooms, even those that are foundational. If they were really concerned that classrooms display important documents, they would have presumably included such content in the law.  But maybe that will be the next move to conceal their intentions.

Interestingly, this move does send an unintended message about the Ten Commandments. If we take seriously the argument that they are being displayed just because they are historically important and not for religious reasons, then the message to students is that that they are just historically important, on par with the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence and the Northwest Ordinance. They are perhaps not the word of God given to Moses by God.  As such, they should be subject to the same academic assessment as any other historical document and subject to the same criticism as any other legal works created by flawed humans for human purposes. The schools should also display other historically important documents, such as select quotes from Marxists, Muslims, Buddhists, socialists, atheists, anarchists, Satanists and others. After all, if it really is about displaying important documents, there are many that deserve a place alongside the Ten Commandments. But it is evident and obvious what the intent of the law is, and it has nothing to do with presenting students with historically important documents.


While philosophers and religious thinkers have taken past lives seriously, it is usually assumed that serious scientists are happy to leave them to it. But the University of Virginia School of Medicine has applied the scientific method to this matter and has found interesting evidence that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Recently, the Washington Post did a thoughtful piece on this subject, looking at the evidence in a critical but balanced manner.

The method of testing the possibility of a past life, or at least the possession of memories from before a person was born goes back at least to Socrates. In the Meno, Socrates endeavors to argue for his doctrine of recollection. He claims that knowledge of such things as geometry and the Forms are acquired by the soul before it is embodied. People forget that they have this knowledge, but it can be restored by philosophical discussion. This, as I tell my students, can be seen as like losing files on your PC due to some corruption and then restoring them with a utility.

In the dialogue, Socrates walks Meno’s slave through a geometric exercise Because, according to Socrates, the slave did not learn geometry in this life, he must have learned it before he was born—while his soul was communing with the forms.

This, then, is the test for past lives: if a person has knowledge of a past life that they could not have acquired in this life, then that counts as evidence for a past life. Other factors, such as behavioral changes, can also serve as evidence. The Washington Post article does provide examples of cases that seem to provide evidence of such knowledge and behavior. Perhaps the best-known case is that of James Leininger. Dr. Jim Tucker provides a detailed analysis of the evidence and considers alternative explanations.

Going back to Socrates, critics respond to his argument by claiming he guided the slave through the exercise and is thus supplying the knowledge in a way that does not require any prior existence. The same concern applies to evidence of past lives: a person could be asked leading or guiding questions that make it appear that they have such knowledge. This is not to accuse people of deceit; this could happen without any such intention. But, of course, fraud is also a matter of concern. The credible investigations consider both these possibilities, and they should be given due consideration. As Hume said about miracles, we know that people lie and that can often be the most plausible explanation. Less harshly, we also know that people can unintentionally ask leading and guiding questions while we don’t know if people have past lives. So that explanation is, by default, the favored explanation until it is overturned.

Another obvious concern is that with the internet, a child could learn information that they present in a way that might seem like they are recalling a past life. Children also often pretend they are other people, be it a type of person or a specific person. The challenge is determining whether the child could have plausibly found the information and whether the behavior that seems to indicate a different personality is a matter of play or something else. By Occam’s Razor, the explanations that do not require metaphysical commitments have an initial advantage. But there are certainly metaphysical matters to consider.

Socrates presents what could be considered the standard version of reincarnation: a person is a soul, and the soul has a means of storing memories across lives. When a soul is reborn, it (might) recall some of these memories. While Socrates focused on things like the Forms, these could be mundane memories from a past life. As there are many competing accounts of the metaphysics of personhood, memory, and identity, these would all need to be considered and assessed. For example, Hume dispenses with the soul in favor of the idea that the self is a bundle of perceptions (before he concludes this matter is just a dispute over grammar). Memories are just stored perceptions, and these presumably could end up being part of a new person (or a continuation of the old).

John Locke explicitly talks about consciousness persisting or not doing so, so his theory would allow for the possibility of reincarnation. Buddhism also has a metaphysics that allows for reincarnation, albeit in a way that involves no self.

Interestingly, Dr. Tucker’s paper presents “thought bundles” or “thought pools” as possible explanations of these past life memories. The idea is that a living person connects to these bundles or pools and somehow taps the information in them. In terms of a metaphysical foundation, these could be Hume’s bundles or perhaps the remnants of a Lockean consciousness. These bundles or pools do raise many questions, such as what they are, how they would persist and how a person would access them. That said, the human brain is a known storage system for such information, and we routinely transfer information—you are experiencing this right now as you read this. But due skepticism is wise here and the idea of thought bundles existing like lost smartphones and being accessed by a mental 5G is one that should only be accepted based on adequate evidence. After all, this would seem to require that people have a form of psionics that allows them to access such information. While not impossible, since we know information can be transmitted, there does not seem to be much credible evidence for this.

In closing, as there is some credible evidence of this sort of special knowledge and metaphysical theories advanced by philosophers that would allow past lives, then this matter is worthy of due consideration.


Almost as if to prove that anything can become a front in the culture war, milk is part of the endless battle. Back in 2017, white supremacists were chugging milk as a demonstration of their whiteness and some said that “if you can’t drink milk, you have to go back.” In terms of making some sense of this, they were basing this claim on the ability to digest lactose as an adult being a genetic trait known to be more common in white people than others. Unfortunately for the white supremacists, this trait is also found among cattle breeders in East Africa. While this milk chugging seems to have calmed down, the milk war continues. In fact, this war has been fought for a long time and the focus of the fight is on raw milk.

Raw milk is exactly what it sounds like: it is milk that has not been “cooked.” In the case of milk, “cooking” is pasteurization, which is intended to sterilize the milk. In the beginning, all milk was raw milk. Obviously enough, the main reason to pasteurize milk is to make the milk safer to drink. Before pasteurization, people (usually infants) could die from drinking the milk. It is estimated that in 1858 at least 8,000 infants died in New York City alone from consuming unpasteurized “swill milk.” As pasteurization became widespread and required by law, the consumption of raw milk declined dramatically. But consumption never ceased.

As the organic food movement grew in the United States, raw milk enjoyed some popularity with liberals and was sold at Whole Foods. While Whole Foods has endured, liberals have largely moved on from raw milk. It has now been embraced by some conservatives, which makes sense.

Like pre-Trump conservatives, current conservatives favor deregulation of industry. Removing pasteurization requirements is deregulation, although the dairy industry has generally favored this requirement. Most current conservatives have embraced a distrust of expertise and dislike government telling them what to do. Health experts, as would be expected, say that consuming raw milk is risky and back up this claim with evidence. As would be expected, this simply motivates some people on the right to want raw milk even more, since they distrust these experts and see consuming it as an act of defiance.

In something of a flashback to our last pandemic, a virus has jumped species and presents a threat to human health. This latest virus is avian influenza (bird flu) and it has infected cows and even a very few humans. While this will probably not lead to another pandemic, it is rational to be on guard against allowing yet another strain of flu to spread.

Fortunately, pasteurization kills the flu virus, making milk from infected cows safe to drink. Raw milk, however, can contain the live virus and infect people which is why experts have warned people not to drink it. This is basic grade school science; I remember learning about pasteurization and pathogens and doing an experiment in which we boiled water to kill bacteria. It is also basic food safety: washing foods and heating up certain foods you cannot wash are basic kitchen safety. People do get sick from drinking raw milk. Despite this, Alex Clark of Turning Point saw this as an opportunity to “trigger the left” and sell “got raw milk?” shirts. The original shirts featured a bull, leading to some mockery. But people do advance arguments in support of raw milk consumption.

One argument is based on the claim that raw milk has health benefits that pasteurized milk lacks. While pasteurization does affect milk, milk is also fortified with vitamins and there is no evidence that raw milk has any special health benefits. It is also sometimes claimed that pasteurization involves putting chemicals in milk, and hence raw milk is better because of the lack of chemicals. While chemicals in foods is a real problem, pasteurization is just a process of heating the milk and does not involve chemicals.

Proponents of raw milk also point out that people get sick from contaminated vegetables and yet the government allows the sale and consumption of raw vegetables. The point seems to be that this shows that raw milk should be legal to sell. Ironically, this provides a reason for stronger regulation of foods and more inspections to check for contamination. After all, pointing out that people are getting ill from food is not a reason to reduce food safety, but a reason to increase it. Less regulation, as history shows, means that food is less safe.

I think that the best argument for allowing the sale of raw milk is the freedom of self-harm argument. J.S. Mill makes a reasonable case that a person’s liberty should not be limited except to protect others from harm. While we should try to persuade people to make good choices, if they are only hurting themselves, we do not have the right to restrict them. As long as the raw milk comes with the appropriate warning labels and people are able to make an informed choice to consume it, then they should be allowed to do so. That said, there are some concerns about this freedom.

One concern is that some people will not be making an informed choice because of the false claims being spread about raw milk and pasteurized milk. These false claims can harm people, which means that by Mill’s view of liberty it would be morally acceptable to restrict the spreading of these untruths. This can, obviously, be countered by the claim that they have a right to express their opinions even when they are wrong and potentially dangerous.  But if the consumer understands that raw milk comes with risks and does not have all the claimed benefits, then they have the right to consume it. While folks on the right would agree with me that they should be able to drink raw milk, they would probably oppose my view that people should not lie about raw milk (or lie in general).

A second concern is a general problem with drawing the boundaries of harm.  If Alex chugs some raw milk and gets sick but can recover on his own or pay his hospital bill, they have only harmed themselves. But if Alex chugs raw milk, gets infected with bird flu, and spreads it to their grandparents who die of it, then they have harmed others and they do not have a moral right to spread disease. Given the views expressed by many on the right during the last pandemic, they would disagree with me on this limit—they would either claim that the risk is made up or that they have the right to put other people at risk in this way.

In closing, the battle over milk might seem weird, but it makes perfect sense when you understand the modern right. It will be interesting to see what battleground they choose next


Last Week Tonight With John Oliver recently did an episode on deep sea mining that is worth watching to get an overview of the subject. Reuters also has a good graphical summary of the process. While there are numerous legal and political issues associated with deep sea mining, my concern is with the ethics of the matter.

One appealing moral argument in favor of deep-sea mining is that it, as the name states, takes place in the deep sea. This means that mining is done far from human settlements. As the deep ocean is often seen as an underwater desert, it might be believed that mining would not do any meaningful damage to living creatures or an important ecosystem. Proponents of such mining often describe it as analogous to scooping up golf balls as it gathers up nodules of metal from the sea floor.

While humans do not live in the deep sea, these nodules are in a thriving ecosystem that contains a range of life. There are even things that live on the surface of the nodules. The mining of this ecosystem would obviously harm these creatures as the mining robot scooped up the nodules. As such, this harm needs to be considered when assessing the ethics of deep-sea mining.

In addition to the direct damage to the ecosystem, a major environmental concern is the plumes of sediment generated by the mining process. Somewhat like running a lawnmower over dirt, the mining robot will stir up the sediment on the ocean bottom. The sediment scooped up by the robot will be discharged back into the sea, spreading a large plume of sediment (and metal fragments) across a wide area. While the impact of such large-scale plumes is not yet known, the potential harms must be considered when making an evaluation of the ethics of deep-sea mining.

Proponents of deep-sea mining also advance the stock arguments made for any potentially profitable economic venture: deep-sea mining will make money and create jobs. Some point to the fact that even countries that lack the resources to engage in deep-sea mining can sell their rights.

The usual and obvious moral concern is that the exploitation of such natural resources tends to be profitable only for those who are already wealthy rather than yielding shared benefits. There is also the concern that the countries that sell their rights will be exploited. This is not a special concern for deep-sea mining, as this occurs with every exploitation of natural resources. For those who favor an economic system that hyper concentrates wealth, this would be a moral benefit of deep-sea mining. For those who favor a more equitable distribution, this would be a major moral negative. But this could, in theory, be addressed. In practice, this is unlikely.

On the surface, perhaps the most appealing moral argument for deep-sea mining is that it is essential to “saving the planet.” The argument is that the metals in the nodules are needed to make the batteries required for the transition away from fossil fuels. For example, the batteries used in electric vehicles.

Looked at from a utilitarian moral perspective, a moral case can be made fin favor of mining by arguing that this benefit (saving the planet) outweighs the alleged harms, such as environmental damage. While it might seem ironic or paradoxical to argue that something that will damage the environment should be done to “save the planet”, this is a calculation worth considering.

Consider, for example, the general arguments that we should shift from fossil fuels to clean energy sources such as solar and wind power. While it is true that solar panels do not, for example, spew smoke while operating, they must still be manufactured. At the end of their life, they also often end up in landfills. Also, you obviously cannot just stick a solar panel on a house and get power you can use. You’ll also need wiring, charge controllers, inverters and probably batteries. All of these must be manufactured and often end up in land fills at the end of their life. There is an environmental cost for their manufacture and disposal. Even if they are recycled, that still comes with a cost. Those who favor clean energy and recognize these costs argue that the environmental harm done by these energy sources in total is still significantly less than that caused by fossil fuels. The same sort of calculation could be applied to deep-sea mining: while there is an environmental cost for mining the nodules, their use “to save the planet” will provide environmental benefits that outweigh the damage done. While this reasoning should be given due consideration, there are some concerns that must also be addressed.

The first concern is that there might be better alternatives to deep-sea mining. For example, it could be argued that better recycling of metals could eliminate the need for such environmentally damaging mining. This could be countered by arguing that recycling would be either impractical or more costly than mining.

The second concern is that there are already alternative energy storage technologies, such as sodium batteries, that do not require the metals acquired by deep-sea mining. While the environmental impact of these technologies would also need to be considered, they do show considerable promise. Obviously, if deep-sea mining does more environmental damage than a viable alternative, then the “save the planet” moral argument would fail. Interestingly, the fossil fuel industry has an interest in opposing deep sea mining because of their interest in opposing electric vehicles and alternative energy sources in general. This is not a matter of ethics, but a matter of profits.

My view is that the best ethical choice would be to forgo deep-sea mining in favor of pursuing alternative storage technologies. That said, if it can be shown that deep-sea mining would create significantly more environmental benefits than harm, then it would be the right thing to do.



Back in 2012 I wrote For Better or Worse Reasoning: A Philosophical Look at Same-Sex Marriage in response to the debate over this issue and this is a good time to look back on this debate. Especially since members of the  Supreme Court have signaled their interest in undoing it.

One set of arguments against allowing same-sex marriage involved the alleged harms that would arise. Some of these arguments fully embraced the slippery slope fallacy, often to an absurd degree. This fallacy is when it is claimed that something, usually a bad thing, must inevitably follow from something else and this claim of inevitability is not adequately supported. For example, some people claimed that if same-sex marriage was allowed, then this would lead to bestiality and people marrying animals. They did not offer a casual account of how this would come about.

While these claims might strike people as silly, they are testable. As same-sex marriage has been legal for about twenty years, we would expect to see evidence of these outcomes if the claims were true. None of these claims seem to have come true. For example, people still  cannot legally marry animals. It could be objected that twenty years has not been long enough for these harms to come about, but they will still occur in the future. But if this were true, there should be at least some evidence of changes heading in that direction (other than the legalization of same-sex marriage) and these are lacking. This is as expected by anyone who thought seriously about these slippery slope arguments.

Another set of arguments against same-sex marriage were built on more reasonable claims of harms that would arise from allowing same sex-marriage. This sort of argument does have appeal, as one purpose of law is to protect people from harm. The reasoning was that if same-sex marriage was allowed, then it would reduce the value of marriage for same-sex couples, leading to less marriage, more cohabitation and more divorce. These claims can now be tested empirically: if they are true, we would expect a statistically significant change in marriage, cohabitation and divorce that could not be explained by other factors.

As would be expected, this data has been collected and analyzed. Instead of a decrease in marriage among different-sex couples, there has been about a 2% increase, with a 10% increase in all marriages. Cohabitation has increased from 0-10%, although it is also worth considering economic factors such as the high cost of rent. It is also worth noting that whether unmarried cohabitation is a negative thing is debatable. Lastly, there has been no consistent change in the divorce rate of different-sex couples. So, by the standards of harms presented in the arguments against same-sex marriage, allowing it seems to have had a slight positive impact in that there has been a 2% increase in marriage among different-sex couples. Back in 2012, this is what I expected as it did not make sense that a significant number of people would give up on marriage or get divorced simply because same-sex couples could legally marry. But expectation is not confirmation, so it is good to see the evidence.

It could be countered that 20 years has not been enough time for the harm to come into effect and that the destruction of marriage will arrive at some point. The obvious reply is that we should see some signs of this trend and we do not.  As such, these harm arguments have been shown to be in error. Because of this, attempts to eliminate same-sex marriage based on these claims about harms would be unjustified. But this probably does not matter; I infer that if the fight over same-sex marriage becomes a thing again, these same claims will be made, and the facts will be ignored by those making the argument. This is because that is the same tactic now used by those who argue against transgender rights—they make false claims about harms. But, of course, there were other arguments made against same-sex marriage.

Another set of arguments are those built around religion. One argument is based on the idea that since God married Adam to Eve, this defines marriage in the biblical sense. Clever folks like to say that it was “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Since marriage is supposed to be defined by the Christian faith as between one man and one woman, that is what the law should be.

Another common approach is to refer to Leviticus: “thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” From this it is inferred that same-sex marriage is wrong and should be illegal. Naturally, witty folks like to point out that Leviticus claims lobster is also an abomination “Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” And sex with lobsters is also right out: “Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.” As far as what Jesus said about same sex relations, he said nothing. This can be confirmed by reading through the New Testament.

Today, the religious arguments are mostly used by people who do not want to have same-sex couples as customers, and these have been used with some success. This does keep the door cracked for using religious arguments against same-sex marriage, especially with the growing success of Christian Nationalism. There are also normative arguments that are not based explicitly on religion.

These arguments include the general argument style in which it is contended that homosexuality is morally wrong and hence they should not be allowed to marry. An obvious concern about this sort of argument is that if people must pass a moral test to be eligible for marriage, then consistency would require applying the same sort of standard to same-sex couples. But as people tend to ignore concerns about consistency, we can expect to see a return of the immoral argument. There is, however, the fact that most Americans do not see homosexuality as immoral, so the moral argument against same-sex marriage would be harder to make in the future.

A variation of the moral argument is the unnatural argument, although this seems to be rarely used for same-sex marriage debates these days. It does, however, get deployed in the culture war over gender and sexual identity so it could get redeployed when the right decides to take on same-sex marriage again. The unnatural argument usually takes the form of claiming that because homosexuality is alleged to not occur in nature, it is unnatural and hence wrong. That homosexuality is widespread in the natural world undercuts this sort of argument, but this does not mean that people will not use it again. As noted earlier, the culture war fight over gender issues involves appeals to what people think is natural, even when they are wrong. As such, this argument type might be used once again.

While there are many other stock arguments used against same-sex marriage, I’ll close with the procreation argument.

 Obviously enough, same-sex couples cannot have children through heterosexual intercourse with each other and this inability to procreate was used to argue against same-sex marriage. One example is that during the hearing regarding Proposition 8 in California the claim that “responsible procreation is really at the heart of society’s interest in regulating marriage” was brought out to defend that proposition.

Same-sex marriage was typically criticized on two grounds relating to procreation The first is that same-sex couples cannot, as noted above, procreate with each other by intercourse. The second is that same-sex couples will be bad parents (for example during the battle over Proposition 8, it was claimed without evidence, that homosexuals are twelve times more likely to molest children).

What if we suppose that these two principles are correct: 1) marriage is to be denied to those who do not procreate and 2) people who are not “responsible in procreation” are to be denied marriage.

The first principle would entail that straight couples who do not want children or cannot have them must be denied marriage. It would also seem to imply that couples who use artificial means to reproduce (such as in vitro fertilization or a surrogate) must also be denied marriage.

The second principle entails that straight couples who are not responsible parents must also be denied marriage.  This would seem to require that the state monitor marriages to determine that married couples are both reproducing and being responsible parents. The state would presumably need to revoke marriage licenses for those who fail to meet the standards (much like the state can revoke a driver’s license for driving violations). While I obviously think the state has a role in child welfare, being a bad parent (or even a bad spouse) would not seem to warrant taking away the right to marriage.

Of course, these arguments seem to have been made in bad faith since those who opposed same-sex marriage did not put forth comparable legislation addressing same-sex couples who did not reproduce or who were bad parents. This suggests that they did not really care about procreation and good parenting as requirements for marriage, these were simply rhetorical tools to attack same-sex marriage.

Those familiar with the current culture war battles over gender issues will have noticed that people still advance a procreation argument against transgender people, usually in the form of memes and social media posts. Aside from the change of target, it is the same argument used against same-sex couples. The argument is that if everyone was trans, then humanity would die off. So being trans is bad and presumably should not be allowed. A little reflection shows how easily this argument is reduced to absurdity. After all, if it was good logic, it would also apply to anyone who has chosen celibacy (like certain monks, priests and nuns) or people who just do not want to have children. In general, the “it would be bad if everyone did X so we must not allow X” arguments are terrible. After all, it would be bad if everyone became a construction worker, since then we would have no one doing any other jobs. But that obviously does not show that we should ban people from being construction workers.

While this sort of argument is bad, the fact that it still gets employed in the culture war over gender identity shows that it is ready to be redeployed in a refight of the culture war over same sex marriage. People who accept it in one context of the current culture war are presumably primed to consider it in another context of the culture ware.

In closing, while the dire predictions made by those opposing same-sex marriage did not come true, this might not matter much if the fight over same-sex marriage is restarted by the right. While same-sex marriage is broadly accepted and most Americans are at least tolerant of homosexuality, it would be foolish for people who agree with same-sex marriage remaining legal to assume that the fight has been settled. It is reasonable to expect that this front of the culture war to be re-opened and that the same old tired and discredited arguments will be once again deployed in the fight. Culture war never changes


Trump and his allies have claimed that the Democrats are engaged in lawfare against him and are even proposing defunding those prosecuting Trump. Republicans have also promised to investigate what they claim is the weaponization of the legal system against Trump. Trump has even claimed that Biden planned to assassinate him. For his part, Trump has publicly stated that he plans to capture the justice department and turn it against Biden and other Democrats, showing that he has no objection to the weaponization of the legal system as such. This situation presents an interesting problem in critical thinking and epistemology.

The basic question is whether the claims about lawfare, assassination and weaponization are true. While I need to rely on publicly available information, I must infer that if Trump’s supporters had access to a smoking gun, then it would be all over Fox News and similar sources.

Let us, for the sake of the discussion, imagine a world in which Trump’s claims about lawfare, the weaponization of the legal system and even the assassination attempt are true. In this alternative reality, what would we expect to see? If Biden and the Democrats were engaged in the sort of lawfare and weaponization claimed, then you would expect that Trump would not be afforded the full due process of the legal system. After all, if they are engaged in the sort of behavior being claimed by Fox News and others, they would have no reason allow Trump to hold press conferences during his trial, the trial would not have been held publicly, he would not have been able to hire his own lawyer and so on. However, Trump was afforded due process and, in fact, was probably given some of the best treatment of any defendant in the history of the legal system.

If Biden planned on assassinating Trump and the FBI was deployed to take the shot, then Trump would be dead. After all, if they were sent to Florida to kill him and he was not there (as they already knew in our reality), they would presumably be willing to travel to him to complete the mission. Unless, of course, we assume the FBI in that reality are bad at knowing where Trump is and are too lazy to try again after failing to find him.

Somewhat ironically, if you reflect even briefly on the claims being advanced by Trump and his allies, then you would need to infer that Biden and the Democrats have no compunctions against using the legal system against Trump. As such, they should be behaving like those Trump and his allies compare them to, such as the Soviet Union and various dictatorships. But they are not. To bring up the most obvious fact, Trump is still free to raise money, conduct rallies, give interviews and so on as he runs for president. That is, he and his allies disprove their claims every day.  

Given that Trump’s allies and supporters are not stupid, I can only infer that they know these claims are false while they pretend they are true. In sum, if the claims about Biden and the Democrats weaponizing the legal system were true, Trump would be in prison and not running for President. If the assassination attempt claim were true, Trump would have not been able to make it because he would have been dead. And he and his allies know this.

Continuing with our alternative reality, in a world in which Democrats were weaponizing the legal system as Trump and his allies claim, they would obviously not allow the legal system to prosecute important Democrats and would certainly not allow Hunter Biden, the president’s son, to face trial. They would also not allow Bob Menendez to be tried. However, the department of justice seems to be relatively bi-partisan in that Democrats and Republicans are both occasionally tried and convicted. But all this is true in our world, indicating that the Democrats are not doing what Trump and his allies claim. One could respond that Biden and the Democrats are so cunning and evil that they are allowing Trump to run for president and sacrificing Hunter Biden, Bob Menendez and other Democrats as part of a clever plan. But that is obviously absurd. Again, if the Democrats are as bad a Trump and his allies claim, Trump would be in prison (or dead), Hunter Biden would not have faced trial, and important Democrats would be safe from the legal system (well, safer). There is also the obvious fact that if the Democrats were willing and able to do this to Trump, they would also use the legal system against Republicans across the country. For example, Marjorie Taylor Green would presumably also be on trial for something. As such, ever day shows that these claims by Trump and his allies are lies.

As noted earlier, if we infer that Trump’s allies and supporters believe these claims, we will need to conclude that they are incapable of even the most basic inferences from the readily available evidence. As such, the best explanation is that this is political theater—they all know it is make believe, but are playing along and using it to spin narratives and raise money. Given that Trump plans to turn the Department of Justice against his opponents and enemies, this all could be a rationalization for his planned weaponization, and this is a rationalization his followers and allies could embrace to “justify” when this happens. What is probably the most ironic is that Trump being elected president in 2024 would be the most conclusive proof that he has been lying all along and this seems to be ever more likely.

In politics, it is said that perception is reality. But many philosophers will tell you that what we think is reality is just perception. Very concisely, the notion is that we never directly experience reality, only the ideas in our mind. As such, we do not really perceive people, including Trump and Biden. We just have ideas of them that probably do not match reality. But, laying aside skepticism, we can have ideas that are more or less accurate. Before continuing, I will note that I am a registered Democrat (Florida has closed primaries) and I voted for Joe Biden last election. I’ll be voting for him again. As a philosopher, I’m obligated to present these biases so you can use them to rationally assess my credibility.

Having followed Trump and Biden over the years, I have noticed that Biden supporters tend to have a mostly accurate view of him while Trump supporters tend to be wrong in their beliefs about Trump and Biden, or at least profess to believe false things.

While there are no doubt exceptions, people who voted for Biden seem to have a reasonably realistic view of him. He is an old man, has been in politics a long time, takes moderate positions on almost everything, and is willing to do a few things to make life marginally better for many Americans. He is also consistent in maintaining the foundations of the status quo, such as allowing the fossil fuel industry to do most of what it wants to do. I think that this realism is an important factor in explaining why support for Biden tends to be lukewarm and the most compelling reason to vote for him is that he is not Trump. People are supporting the real Biden, and there isn’t much there to really inspire voters.

While there are exceptions, people who voted for Biden seem to have a mostly accurate view of Trump. He is an old man, there are many issues involving taxes, finances, and mistreatment of women in his past, he tried to stay in power after losing the election, he lies, he is willing to exploit racism and xenophobia, he is primarily interested in enriching himself and his family, and he is now a convicted felon.  These are all compelling reasons to not vote for him. Thus, it is no surprise that most votes for Biden were votes against Trump; people picked the lesser evil.

In contrast, Trump supporters seem to be wrong in their beliefs about Trump and Biden. Their professed conception of Biden seems to match that made up by Fox News and more extreme right-wing outlets. Biden is seen as senile, a socialist or even a communist. He wants to take away our hamburgers, stoves, and cars. He is also seen, by some, as wanting to make children gay or trans. And so on. I am, of course, unsure how many people really believe this and to what extent, if any, they have critically assessed these claims. But this conception of a senile, incompetent mastermind who is making America into a socialist state does give people a good “reason” to vote against this imaginary Joe Biden. This also helps explain the enthusiasm of the opposition: Biden’s supporters see him as a tired old moderate politician, his foes see him as a tired old devil energized to destroy America. This helps to explain the enthusiasm gap.

Some Trump supporters do know what Trump is and before they chose to become his henchmen many of them savagely attacked him. Just look at what his fellow Republicans said about him before he became President. They had an accurate view of Trump and are presumably lying now. The Christian nationalists and racists who hope to benefit from his second term probably grasp what he is (a useful tool), although they usually do not say so openly. For example, Mike Johnson has professed to be so anti-porn that he and his son monitor each other via an app to ensure they are not sneaking a peak at Pornhub. Yet Johnson was at Trump’s trial, supporting a man who committed adultery with a porn star and has lied about it. I don’t think that Johnson is stupid; he knows that Trump is a tool to get what he wants, and so he must bear false witness in praising him.

But I think that many of Trump’s followers are sincere when they claim he is a good Christian, that he is smart, that he is strong, that he cares about them, that the negative claims about Trump are untrue or exaggerated, that he is honest and so on. For the most part, their beliefs are the opposite of reality. Which is fascinating.

The comedian Jordan Klepper has done an excellent job, in a kind way, of getting some Trump supporters into a state of cognitive dissonance involving the facts and their professed beliefs. I don’t think that these people are stupid or foolish. After all, Trump is much better at putting on a show than Biden and Trump has a vast army of people, ranging from Fox News to YouTube grifters, presenting him as a great hero (and Biden as a senile, yet incredibly dangerous, devil). While Biden does have supporters, they are both less enthusiastic and less willing to lie. This helps explain why Trump is doing shockingly well in the polls—his supporters are supporting a Trump that does not exist and opposing a Biden that also does not exist. Biden supporters are, for the most part, reluctantly supporting a mostly accurate conception of Biden and more enthusiastically opposing a mostly realistic view of Trump. In short, Trump is winning the perception war while losing repeatedly in reality. But there is a good chance he will get a second term.

Trump’s defenders might claim that my critical view of Trump is a manifestation of Trump Derangement Syndrome. There is, of course, no way to effectively counter this rhetorical move with logic. If I offer supporting evidence for my claims, such as that presented in court during Trump’s trial, it will be dismissed as lies and as all part of a witch hunt against Trump. If I argue that my view is based on a calm and rational assessment of Trump and Biden, this will presumably be dismissed, perhaps based on the claim that my derangement is so deep that I am unaware of it. That is, they will need to reject evidence, advance conspiracy theories, and question my sanity to address my claims. To be fair to them, this could be their honest conception of me. And from my perspective, they would have broken free of reality. That is a basic problem with the intentional destruction of the idea of an objective reality; there is little common grounded reality to stand on and talk.


When accused of racism, Republicans often claim that the Democrats are the real racists. To back this up, it is sometimes claimed that the Democrats are “the party of the Ku Klux Klan.” While I don’t think that Ted Cruz invented this tactic, he did push it into the spotlight back when he defended Jeff Sessions against accusations of racism.  Cruz went beyond merely claiming that Democrats formed the Klan; he also claimed the Democrats were responsible for segregation and Jim Crow laws. As Cruz saw it, the Democrats’ tactic is to “…just accuse anyone they disagree with of being racist.”

Ted Cruz is right about the history of the Democratic party. After the Civil War, the southern Democratic Party explicitly identified itself as the “white man’s party” and accused the Republican party of being “negro dominated.” Some Southern Democrats did support Jim Crow and joined the KKK. So, these accusations are true. But do they prove that the modern Democrats are the real party of Racists? The easy and obvious answer is that they do not.

Despite the racism in its past, the Democrats became the party associated with civil rights while the Republicans engaged in what has become known as the “southern strategy.” In this strategic political move,  Republicans appealed to racism against blacks to gain political power in the south. Though ironic given the history of the two parties, this strategy was effective and many southern Democrats switched parties to become southern Republicans. This was like exchanging the wine in two bottles while leaving the labels the same. As such, while Ted and others are right about the history, they are criticizing the label rather than the wine.

Using this history of the Democratic party to attack the party of today also involves the genetic fallacy. The fact that the Democrats of the past backed Jim Crow and segregation is irrelevant to the merit of claims made by current Democrats or whether they are racist now. What is needed is evidence of current racism. When the logic is laid bare, the fallacy is quite evident:


Premise 1: Over a century ago, some Southern Democrats once joined the KKK.

Premise 2: Over a century ago, some Southern Democrats backed segregation and Jim Crow Laws.

Conclusion: The current Democrats are racists (or their claims about racism are false).


As should be evident, the premises have no logical connection to the conclusion. However, this fallacy can have considerable rhetorical force.

As noted above, it is also common for Republicans to accuse Democrats if relying on accusations of racism as a political tactic. It is true that a mere accusation of racism does not prove a person is racist. If it is an unsupported attack, then it proves nothing. Both ethics and critical thought require that one properly review the evidence for such accusations and not simply accept them. As such, if the Democrats are merely launching empty ad hominem attacks, then these attacks should be dismissed.  But if the accusations have merit, then this merit should be given the consideration they deserve.

When people make this attack on Democrats, they seem to accept that racism is a bad thing. After all, such as condemnation of current Democrats requires condemning past Democrats for their support of racism, segregation and Jim Crow laws. As such, the critic purports to agree with the current Democrats’ professed view that racism is bad. But the critic condemns the Democrats for making what are alleged to be false charges of racism. This, then, is the relevant concern: which claims, if any, made by the Democrats about racism true? The history of the Democratic party is not relevant to the answer, nor is the empty accusation that the Democrats are the real racists for being concerned about racism.