For the Expressive Individualist, Other People Are Just a Means to Self-Fulfilment

Surveying 25 years of Carolyn Hax’s tenure as the Washington Post’s advice columnist, Devorah Goldman considers the ethical underpinnings of her supposed wisdom. She takes as an “archetypal example” the case of a woman who finds bringing her children to visit their estranged father’s mother a tiresome chore:

Hax consistently communicates a worldview in which no one owes much of anything to anyone, except in the most transactional way. (The sole exception seems to be the duty of parents toward minor children). . . . There is no suggestion that visiting an ailing grandparent is a self-evident good: a chance to exercise compassion or to gain insight into family history, or simply to show respect and gratitude. If visiting grandma does not provide an obvious and immediate “benefit,” well then, there is no need to see her anymore.

Goldman sees in such responses a manifestation of what Robert Bellah and other sociologists dubbed “expressive individualism,” which in Hax’s hands results in all human relationships being subject to cost-benefit analysis:

Even familial bonds take on a conditional quality, resulting in adults who believe that visiting elderly relatives is worthwhile only if it “feels good” and is not “boring;” or at the very least that such visits should provide some kind of concrete insurance. Kindness and loyalty are fine choices, but they are not necessary. Self-sacrifice becomes less a moral imperative than an option; it loses its heroic sheen. This leaves us with a sensible but desiccated view. Ironically, the expressivists promised a world in which moral conventions could be cast off in favor of something more beautiful, purposeful, passionate, and true.

There are alternatives, to which Bellah nods when he sketches the influence of biblical religion in American life or points to Tocqueville’s public-spirited New England townships. It’s hard to enunciate a moral system in the West without reference to the Bible’s straightforward directive in Deuteronomy: “do that which is right and good.” The idea of doing good or being good, rather than being kind or cooperative or communicative, sounds almost anachronistic. There’s something unseemly about suggesting that people simply strive for goodness; it falls outside the therapeutic vocabulary. And goodness entails a host of innate obligations to others, including one’s elders.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Jewish ethics, Morality, Secularism

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law