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Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: meerkats

by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2014

Killing people is wrong.

People ought to do their fair share.

Both of these seem like plausible but not exceptionless moral principles. Sometime it is ok to kill people. For example, if you need to kill someone who is attacking you to protect yourself from death or serious injury, then you are permitted to do so. But if you can achieve the goal of protecting yourself without killing your attacker, then you should. The things you do to protect yourself should be necessary and should be proportional to the actual threat. In ordinary life, it is only people like Tony Martin or George Zimmerman (or their apologists) who think that a threat or the mere perception of one gives you licence to simply blow someone away.

Likewise people should do their share to contribute towards the common infrastructure from which we all benefit. Public services, maintaining a legal system, filling in holes in the road, stuff like that. Sometimes there are excuses and justifications for not contributing. Some people have no money, some people are even too young, or old, or sick to do so. But most people should do their bit, though there may be disagreement on exactly what that bit is.

These two things—killing and paying taxes—don’t seem to have much to do with one another. But I think there are some interesting similarities. In both cases there are plausible moral principles but alongside them there are detailed public and legal codes that purport to implement those principles. And in each case there are people or bodies who think (and claim) they have discharged their moral obligations when they have complied with the letter of the codes – that the codes encapsulate all the things that they are morally required to do. What is more, in each case, many of the people who take this attitude to the rules expend a lot of effort trying to affect the content of the rules and attempting to find interpretations of the rules (“loopholes” and similar) that work to their advantage.
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To apply or not to apply?

by Chris Bertram on July 14, 2014

A friend shared the following with me, and with his permission, I’m re-sharing it here at Crooked Timber. It concerns the rationality (and indeed the ethics) of applying for academic jobs. Some of the detail is UK-specific, but I’m sure it will also resonate with people who live elsewhere.


Here’s my problem. I’m not very happy in my job. Five employers, within 50 miles of where I live, are currently recruiting in my field.

So what’s the problem? Well, let me tell you about those five employers… But first, a bit of background. The days when the main qualification for an academic job was being considered the right sort of person, and fellowships were awarded by means of a chat after dinner, are long gone. (At least, I assume they are. Maybe I’m just not going to the right dinners.) These days, if you’re going for a post in Medieval European History, you had better make sure your c.v. positively reeks of the history of Europe in the Middle Ages – and even then, if you aren’t already lecturing in Medieval European History you’re liable to be at a serious disadvantage relative to other candidates.

The higher education sector is much bigger, much more professionalised and much more closely managed than it was even twenty years ago. What this means, though – particularly with the added competitive pressure created by the shakiness of the current job market – is that job-hunting in HE is a weirdly straightforward process, with minimal search problems. If you’re a Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, you know you’ll have a chance of an interview if the job title advertised includes the words “Lecturer”, “Forensic” and “Psychology”. And if not, probably not.
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Bullshitting about Gaza

by Chris Bertram on July 13, 2014

I wonder if Israel’s cheerleaders realize the damage they do their own cause when they write things like “Israel, unlike Hamas, isn’t trying to kill civilians. It’s taking pains to spare them” and “But in the Gaza war, it’s clear that Israel has gone to great lengths to minimize civilian deaths. The same can’t be said of Hamas.” Both sentences are taken from William Saletan’s extraordinary “The Gaza Rules”. At the time of writing this blogpost, the current death score is 159-0. If I may mix vernaculars, Saletan is plainly an asshole, but here he is just taking the piss. Anybody who is not parti pris can see that the Netanyahu government has partially contrived and partially been trapped by a domestic political climate that requires them to kill numbers of Palestinians in order to satisfy the Israeli electorate. Of course there’s the usual blather about “operatives” and “terrorist infrastructure”, but it is hard to take seriously the idea that anyone believes this as a description of Israeli aims. In fact nobody does, but lots of people in political power in the West think they have to go along with the story and pay lip service to Israel’s “right to defend itself”, even though concretely this takes the form of airstrikes against densely populated urban areas with predictable civilian deaths. Meanwhile, those who speak for the Israeli government go around claiming that no state could tolerate missiles being fired into its territory and that any state would have to retaliate. This is false, indeed absurd: much of British policy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s was deplorable, but though the IRA fired plenty of mortar rounds across the border, nobody seriously contemplated taking out “terror operatives” by aerial bombardment of civilian housing in the Irish Republic.

There’s an excellent piece on the background to the latest events in the Jewish Daily Forward , by J.J. Goldberg. Goldberg demonstrates that the Israeli government knew that the three murdered teenagers were dead from the start, and so that the search for them (which resulted in further deaths) was just politics and public relations. Goldberg argues that the claim that Hamas was responsible for the kidnap and murders was weak. The pretext for the current attack on Gaza — rocket attacks — is likewise bogus. Hamas hadn’t fired any rockets since November 2012 and had been actively trying to stop other jihadi groups from doing so, but the Israeli demand for vengeance forced them underground and meant they could no longer do this. In other words, Israeli demands for action against Hamas were the proximate cause of the very rocket attacks that now serve as a pretext for action.

I can’t help thinking that Israelis have a better friend in Goldberg who exposes the bullshit than in Saletan who manufactures it.

Sunday photoblogging: Steps in Siracusa, Sicily

by Chris Bertram on July 6, 2014

Sunday photoblogging: Refugee Week

by Chris Bertram on June 22, 2014

It is the end of Refugee Week, a week of campaigning for and celebrating the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. In Bristol there’s an event in Queen Square every year, with music, food, stalls for the campaigning groups and so on. These are the Tan Teddy Singers, a Jamaican women’s singing group. Very fine they were too.

World Cup 2014: open thread

by Chris Bertram on June 14, 2014

Despite there being a post on this very page entitled “What’s the score?”, we haven’t yet had a World Cup thread. So let’s rectify that anomaly now, before the England-Italy game. What to say so far? Bad refereeing. If Croatia’s goal was disallowed then so should have been the third Dutch one against Spain. Brazil were lucky. And Mexico had two perfectly good goals disallowed, so if they go out on goal difference at the end of the group stages, they’ll have a justifiable grievance. The goal of the tournament so far: Van Persie’s header against Spain. But there’s a long way to go. England: my prediction, they won’t make it past the group.

Sunday photoblogging: Horse in a field

by Chris Bertram on June 8, 2014

The Ethics of Immigration symposium: index

by Chris Bertram on June 4, 2014

The first part of our symposium on Joseph Carens’s The Ethics of Immigration is now concluded. While we wait for Joe to compose his reply, here’s an index of the contributions:

This is the first contribution in a Crooked Timber symposium on Joseph Carens’s The Ethics of Immigration (Oxford, 2013). Over the next week there will be a number of further contributions by guests and Crooked Timber bloggers, followed at some near but later time by a response to critics from Joseph Carens himself.

Some worries about Carens’s democratic consensus

Joseph Carens started the contemporary discussion of immigration and justice back in 1987 with his essay “Aliens and Citizens: the Case for Open Borders” (Review of Politics 49:2) and has pursued the topic doggedly since then in a series of books and papers. But we’ve had to wait until now for the definitive statement of his views. The Ethics of Immigration is a terrific book in various different ways. First, in assembling a challenging series of arguments around its core topic; second, in breaking new ground in how to do political philosophy; and third, in demonstrating that a work in political philosophy can be written with such clarity and can communicate with the lay reader without sacrificing rigour or philosophical depth. In this last respect it is astonishing: it is beautifully written, never hides behind jargon and engages with its readers without patronising them. In short, it is a great achievement.
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Sunday photoblogging #6: Reims Cathedral

by Chris Bertram on May 25, 2014

From Monday we’ll be running an online symposium on Joseph Carens’s brilliant The Ethics of Immigration. (It is the book that sets a new standard for what “long-awaited” means.) So stay tuned. Meanwhile, I was speaking yesterday at a seminar organized by Democracy Forum at the House of Commons on “Immigration: Liability or Asset”. My talk, which shows the influence of Carens’s work in many respects, is below the fold.

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Sunday photoblogging #5: cranes

by Chris Bertram on May 18, 2014