Ever since my oldest son has developed a deep interest in flower arrangements, I’ve seen more flower art in my house than in my entire previous adult life. But the sunflower doesn’t need arranging: it’s most beautiful standing by itself, or with a few other sunflowers – each of them being a little piece of art in themselves.
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Yesterday, Austria’s constitutional court annulled the presidential elections that were held on May 22nd. These elections led – with a mere 0,6% difference – to a victory for the Green Party-backed independent candidate Alexander van der Bellen over the populist right-wing candidate Norbert Hofer. If Hofer had won, it would have been the first time that a populist right-wing politician would become the President of Austria, which many (including me) see as a worrying sign of the way European politics has been developing (and this was all pre-Brexit!).
I’ve been dealing with an inner-ear infection and haven’t had the energy to read very widely on the web, but am struggling with a question to which I couldn’t find the answer. So let me ask that question here, since our readers who are knowledgable about Austrian politics may be able to enlighten me. [click to continue…]
In some circles, there have been rumours going around for a while that Thomas Pogge, the hugely influential global justice philosopher, has been having sexual affairs with several students, and has been engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour towards other female students. Earlier this week, the academic community seems to have lost its faith in the formal institutions being able to adequately deal with the complaints by the accusers, and more than 160 (mainly philosophy) professors have signed an Open Letter “to express [their] opposition to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education” and condemning Pogge’s “harmful actions against women”. (Anyone not knowing enough about the Pogge case can find the relevant background information via the links in the Open Letter). In the meantime several hundreds have added their signature to the Open Letter, and many others have been invited to do so.
There are many academic philosophers who hold the view that as a scholar Pogge has made important contributions to the literatures on theories of justice, and global justice in particular. And for decades Pogge has generously supported scholars, without regard of institutional affiliation or their fame or seniority – often opening opportunities that helped these people pursue their careers. Many of these collaborators or mentees of Pogge (including young women) never had unpleasant encounters with him, and in fact have regarded him as a highly valued colleague. So naturally they feel this is all very painful and tragic – an unfolding of events that is harming not just the victims, but everyone. Pogge’s reputation is deeply damaged, but also the reputation of the fields to which he has been a major contributor has been damaged, and perhaps even the activist causes he has been trying to advance.
The letter has been circulating widely, and many individuals have been invited to sign. It will increasingly be difficult for people to not have heard about the Open Letter at all. This has led many to ask themselves: should we sign this letter?
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The Austrians just elected Alexander Van der Bellen, a Green politician, as their new President – with 50,3% of the votes. The other half of those holding the right to vote preferred Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the populist right-wing (or, as some have it, neo-fascist) party FPÖ. I haven’t followed Austrian politics close enough to know whether that qualification is justified. It’s a difficult debate about which qualifications are justified for the various European radical right-wing parties, but either way it seems that their becoming more mainstream has not made them less radical (Dutch political scientists who have studied various radical right-wing European political parties claim that they do not moderate their principles and ambitions when they gain power – they only moderate their tone).
Either way, those of us who see the European radical right-wing parties as dangerous for values such as toleration, solidarity and international cooperation, have an uphill battle to fight. Van der Bellen may have won last night – but we should not forget that half of the Austrians prefer a radical right-wing president. Too much of this reminds us of the toxic political climate we had in Europe in the past. And I find it increasingly hard not too worry that there are too many signs of some of that returning.
Happy International Women’s Day, everybody!
This year my small contribution will be to try to be a broker in (semi-) Open Access feminist philosophy. I’ll post a few links to a few good sources in feminist philosophy, and you add yours in the comments section (including your own, don’t be shy!) – deal?
First, before anything else, let’s be grateful for the philosophers at Feminist Philosophers who have, over the years, created a superb source of information on gender (and other diversity) issues in academic philosophy, but also on topics in feminist philosophy.
Then, under ‘my favorite readings’, I want to list Harry’s brilliant experiment that can be used whenever young people believe that gender justice within the family is an issue of the past, no longer of the present. Harry, did you do any recent replications, or do all students of yours already know what you’re after and hence you can no longer conduct the experiment?
And I want to list Anca Gheaus’s article giving a theoretical account of gender justice in the Open Access Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. Also excellent is the work on the gendered division of labour by Gina Schouten, but it seems you need to be signed up to Academia.edu if you want to read her papers on Gina’s Academia website.
The indispensable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a wide range of entries on feminist philosophy. And, there’s now also a fully Open Access journal, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, run by some great feminist philosophers.
What would you like to add to this list of (semi-) open access feminist philosophy resources?
After the horrible attacks in Paris, a day of mourning is only appropriate. But we’d better mourn for all victims of extreme and systematic violence – not just in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and other places.
The day before the Paris attacks, 41 people where killed in an attack by IS/ISIS in Southern Beirut.
In Baghdad, an IS/ISIS attack on a mosque killed 18 people, and 2 earlier this week when a Shiite place of worship was hit by two road bombs.
In the meantime, thousands of refugees that are fleeing for the violence of IS/ISIS are trying to get into Europe in horrific circumstances, many losing their lives along the way.
Let us not compare these tragedies. Yet let us also not just mourn for the tragedy that happens in places that we know best, or people we most identify with. Instead, let us mourn for all those lost lives, for all the suffering that could be avoided, if only we, as the human species, hadn’t gotten ourself into this horrific mess.
Over the last three days, the first meeting of authors of the International Panel of Social Progress (IPSP) was held in Istanbul. The IPSP is to some extent modeled after the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but one important difference is that it is not commissioned by governments, but rather fully peer-led and hence ‘autonomous’ (in at least one important sense of that word). There are some partners/funders, but they have no influence on the content of the report. The entire event is quite experimental: a highly interdisciplinary group of scholars, drawn from around the world, will try to write a report capturing the state of the art on social change, and look at paths for a better future.
A bunch of visionary social scientists and humanities scholars (under the leadership of Marc Fleurbaey) felt that scholars from the social sciences and humanities (SSH) should team up to tackle the question of social change and social progress – summarize what the SSH have to say on this, and how we can in a systematic way think about which institutions and practices have brought us social progress and which ones have not, and which options are open for the future. Apart from it being not commissioned by a government, there is another major difference with the IPCC. The nature of the substance is quite different; we are not dealing with the ecosystems of the Earth, but rather with social change – a topic where empirical research is quite strongly influenced by theoretical frameworks and conceptual choices, and which is also inevitably normatively laden when it comes to evaluations and suggestions for paths for the future. As a consequence, it will be impossible, given the nature of the beast, to aim to report on consensus. In the SSH, there is only often to a limited extent a consensus on ‘facts’, and most of the time no consensus at all about normative issues. How, then, can there be a report that aims to summarize what scholars in the SSH know about social change and social progress? [click to continue…]
In 2014, the Dutch NGO Urgenda, together with 886 citizens, filed a law suit against the Dutch state for not taking sufficient action to limit climate change. Today, the court gave its verdict, which could live be followed on internet (in Dutch, without subtitles). The court has also immediately put an English translation of the ruling online. And the court has ruled:
The Hague District Court has ruled today that the State must take more action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands. The State also has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25% lower than those in 1990.
Many parties have called this a historical ruling, and no doubt this may inspire citizens and activist NGOs in other countries to take their States to court. Few commentators expected that the court would come to this ruling. Many believed that the court would not want to burn its fingers on what is essentially a political process; indeed, some have even gone so far to question whether the division of powers of the Trias Politica would be violated. Yet the court provided an answer to that worry:
With this order, the court has not entered the domain of politics. The court must provide legal protection, also in cases against the government, while respecting the government’s scope for policymaking. For these reasons, the court should exercise restraint and has limited therefore the reduction order to 25%, the lower limit of the 25%-40% norm.
The fact that the ruling only concerns 25% of CO2 reductions highlights that this is not the end of our struggles. A 25% reduction may be fanastic since it’s a court ruling (and that gives it a special kind of political status), but it is not enough. We should also not forgot the sadness of the situation – that we had to go to court to force the government to take action, in a country where legal action is generally not considered a way to do politics or bring activist concerns into the political arena.
Students and staff who are occupying and protesting: share information!
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There has been a lot of discussion about the deteriorating prospects of Humanities PhDs. Many insiders have argued that it is increasingly hard for those gaining a PhD in the humanities to find a decent job in academia – and that seems to be the place most humanities PhDs would like to end up.
In the Netherlands, we have also had discussions recently on whether there are not too many Philosophy PhD students (and more broadly humanities PhDstudents), and whether those pursuing a Philosophy PhD have realistic expectations of their chances of getting a job in academia. In those debates, one often hears the rough number that about 9 out of 10 PhD students aspires to have an academic job, yet only between 1 and 2 end up in academia. If that is true, there is a serious mismatch between expectations and objective outcomes. Moreover, there is also the impression that the situation has become worse due to the budget cuts for higher education.
I am setting up a small project in order to gain a better understanding of the expectations of Philosophy PhD students in the Netherlands. To the best of my knowledge, we totally lack any information on the career expectations of Philosophy PhD students in the Netherlands, and the career outcomes of those who acquired a Philosophy PhD in the past. At present, there is no systematic information about what Philosophy PhD students expect or hope for after graduating. Neither do we know the extent to which this fits with the opportunities they will encounter.
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It’s World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). The Independent has a very accessible piece debunking 5 myths regarding autistic people; it takes only two minutes to read. The piece also reports that in the UK 87% of people living with autism think the public has a bad understanding of the condition.
While my family has also come across a lot of ignorance over the years – some of which hurt badly – there are also wonderful strangers who have restored faith in what is possible. So, I want to dedicate a post to those people who are reaching out to people with autism, and tell them how important it is what they do.
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At this very moment, you can watch a live stream of the occupation of the Central Building of the University of Amsterdam. This is in fact the second building that students have been occupying: in the last ten days, they occupied another historical university building, the Bungehuis, which will be turned into a posh hotel. That building was occupied for 10 days, but was forcefully evacuated yesterday; 46 people have been arrested.
The demands of the students can be found (if and when their website is not down) at this website. Basically they want to have a more democratically run university – with a university board that is elected by both staff and students (right now, Dutch Faculty and students have only very weak and indirect democratic power.) In addition, they are protesting what you could call the increasingly utilitarian or economistic approach to higher education and science policy. I can’t give you all the details in this post, but the story is familiar, and sounds quite similar to what has been happening in the UK (my hunch is that the Netherlands is following the UK’s path, with a few years time lag).
The members of the University of Amsterdam’s Board spoke to the occupiers about an hour ago – and it was quite surreal to be able to watch this form of direct action/civil disobedience at the same time from that close yet from far away (I am simply at home in another town). Yet the board of the university has filed a legal complaint, and the latest news would be that the Maagdenhuis-building could be evacuated in the next hour. In which case, you may be able to see it on the live stream. Who knows.
Amsterdam being Amsterdam, most of the discussions are held in English, so you can simply follow this real-life political drama right now. For your information, it’s 11.30 pm when I’m posting this and the occupation started at about 8 pm.
In Paris, France, about 20 people were killed in hyper-violent attacks, by gunmen claiming to fight for what they see as the values embedded in Islam.
In Baga, Nigeria, about 2.000 people were killed in hyper-violent attacks, by gunmen claiming to fight for what they see as the values embedded in Islam.
In Paris, world political leaders gathered to demonstrate in defense of freedom and against terrorism. They mourned the loss of 20 white Europeans. The events led to intense media exposure and public debates worldwide.
In Baga, world political leaders will soon gather to demonstrate in defense of freedom and against terrorism. They will mourn the loss of 20,000 Black Africans. It is expected that these events will lead to intense media exposure and public debates worldwide.
Important developments in Hong Kong, where students and citizens are protesting to get more democratic reforms. According to various internet reports (various posts at the BBC-website, Hufftington, Bloomberg), college and university students went on strike last Monday to protest Beijing’s decision to not allow open nominations for candidates for the 2017 elections in which the leader of Hong Kong would get elected. Protesters are worried that the closed nominations will mainly draw candidates who follow the Beijing line. From the perspective of an outsider, this seems like a textbook case of elections which will not be democratic if nominations themselves are not democratic.
The civil disobedience movement demanding more democracy is known as Occupy Central: the BBC has a short piece on the movement that helpfully explains their demands and gives some background information. Occupy Central is planning a multiple-day sit-in at Hong-Kong’s financial district starting October 1st.
According to the BBC, “most of China’s state-run media outlets have not commented directly on the student-led protests.” Which makes it all the more urgent and important that people-controled media, such as independent blogs like ours, share the news and talk about it. Consider this an open thread, for sharing views, information, insights and updates.
On Monday, 13 October 2014, at 11.45 am, the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics will be announced (yes, we know it is officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel but that’s not the focus of this post). Some have said that the prize should go to Thomas Piketty, for his best-selling, important and highly influential book Capital in the twenty-first century. I, too, think this is a great book, for a variety of reasons.
But there is another inequality economist who is at least equally, and arguably much more deserving of the Nobel prize, and that is Anthony B. (Tony) Atkinson. For close readers of Piketty’s work, this claim shouldn’t be surprising, since Piketty credits Atkinson with “being a model for me during my graduate school days, [and Atkinson] was the first reader of my historical work on inequality in France and immediately took up the British case as well as a number of other countries” (Capital, vii). In a recent interview with Nick Pearce and Martin O’Neill which was published in Juncture, Thomas Piketty calls Tony Atkinson “the Godfather of historical studies on income and wealth” (p. 8). So my hunch is that Piketty would endorse the claim that if the Nobel Prize were awarded to welfare economics/inequality measurement, that Atkinson should get the Nobel Prize.
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