Wednesday, February 09, 2005

On the Morality of Goldberg's Iraq Bet

Captain Salty writes that he thinks Goldberg's offer to make a charity bet on the outcome of Iraq is immoral, much like Don Ameche offering to bet a dollar in Trading Places over whether he can make Eddie Murphy into a securities trader. I think Salty is missing two important distinctions.

First, Goldberg isn't just making the offer to increase his prestige, at least as far as I can tell. Goldberg and Cole are having a debate about, among other things (1) whether the war in Iraq was justified and (2) whether Goldberg is qualified to opine about Iraq.

Goldberg's offer of a bet serves to clarify Cole's position, which would be welcome, since I still have no idea whether Cole thinks the people of Iraq will be better off as a result of the war or not. It also serves to test Goldberg and Cole's relative qualifications to opine on the outcome of Iraq. Cole's position is that Goldberg should go read some more books, and should shut up until he does so. Goldberg's is that even though Cole knows more facts about the Middle East than Goldberg, Goldberg's conclusions about the issues relevant to US foriegn policy decisions in the region are more sound. The bet provides a clean objective test. (A series of bets would be better - maybe 10 bets at $100 per).

Second, the bet in Trading Places is offensive because it's a bet for entertainment, because it dehumanizes Eddie Murphy (the brothers' position is that anyone, even Eddie Murphy can be a successful trader), and because it is secret. Imagine for a moment that immediately before Eddie Murphy started work, Don Ameche had called him into his office and said:

Billy Ray, I want to tell you something. I believe you've got a great future here, and I want you to succeed. My brother Juan Cole doesn't believe you've got it in you, but I do. In fact, I believe in you so much that I've bet him a that you'll be a star, with the loser to donate $1000 dollars to charity. Now get out there and prove me right.
Eddie might well think that Don was a freak (or he might not), but I have a hard time believing that Don would have ended up the villian.