On Tuesday night, Alexandra Schwartz, a critic at The New Yorkerposted a piece criticizing the young supporters of Bernie Sanders. Ordinarily, I’d be mildly irritated by an article titled “Should Millennials Get Over Bernie Sanders?” In this instance, I’m grateful. It clarifies the dividing line between Sanders’s supporters in the electorate and the liberal journalists who can’t abide them.

First, some context. Exit polls from Iowa, according to Vox, show that “Sanders absolutely dominated young adult voters, in a way that even Barack Obama couldn’t in 2008.” Eighty-four percent of voters under 30, and 58% of voters between 30 and 44, cast their ballots for Sanders. More generally, as countless articles have noted, younger voters are shifting left, embracing ancient taboos like socialism and other heresies.

Schwartz finds this all puzzling:

Bernie would not be pressing Hillary without the support of the youth of America, a fact that I—a voter north of twenty-five, south of thirty—have pondered over the past few weeks with increasing perplexity.

Why are young people, she asks, ”rallying behind the candidate who has far and away the most shambolic presentation of anyone on either side of this crazy race?”

A second’s Google search turns up an answer: [click to continue…]

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Original Sin

by Maria on February 3, 2016

The Just City story is triggered by an attempted rape. The god Apollo chases and tries to ‘mate with’, as he puts it, a nymph called Daphne. Nymph-chasing is one of his favourite hobbies. Daphne flees and prays to Artemis who turns her into a tree. Apollo cannot understand why Daphne would do this rather than be mated with by a god. As Apollo later points out, “Father’s big on rape”, swooping down on girls and carrying them off. Apollo likes the seduction and the chase; they’re on a continuum for him, and not binary states with consent as the switch that turns the light of passion on or off.

He goes to his sister, Athene, who explains the idea of consent. What Apollo terms ‘equal significance’ – of the volition of gods and mortals, and implicitly of men and women – is so novel and strange to him, that he decides to become mortal to try to understand. He joins Athene’s Just City as one of its founding children.

Plato’s thought experiment in the Republic becomes a real-life experiment on the conditions needed to live an excellent life. Hundreds of children are dropped on an island out of time and raised as the philosophers who will perfect the Just City when they grow up. Meanwhile, they are educated and subtly manipulated by a group of committed Platonists plucked from throughout human history. [click to continue…]

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EU to criminalize those who rescue drowning refugees?

by Chris Bertram on February 3, 2016

There is disturbing news via Statewatch that the EU is drawing up plans to criminalize the many independent volunteers who have been working in Greece to assist refugees making their way from Turkish to Greek territory. The plans involve a deliberate conflation of “people smuggling” and “trafficking” and a requirement that all volunteers be registered and placed under the control and direction of state organizations at designated hotspots. Those who stay outside of these structures and go to the beaches where people are actually arriving and assist them by, for example, towing their boats, will be prosecuted. In fact, this is already happening in the case of some Spanish lifeguards on the Greek island of Lesvos. There is a petition, which I’ve signed, though internet petitions are not a particularly effective means of resistance.

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Gods Behaving Badly

by Henry on February 2, 2016

WARNING – COPIOUS SPOILERS ABOUT BOTH BOOKS

It’s a terrible idea to reduce a novel into an argument. As Francis Spufford said in another Crooked Timber seminar, the great thing about a novel of ideas is that you can have your cake and eat it too; using negative capability to present multiple arguments in serious tension with each other, with many possible interpretations, and never resolve any of it. The tensions between these arguments and interpretations are part of what make it a novel rather than a tract (an interesting question, which I’m hopelessly underqualified to answer, is whether Plato’s dialogues can be interpreted as novels …). So treat the below as not being an attempted answer to the question of What The Thessaly Books Are Really All About, but instead some guesswork about where one particular thread of argument in the two books that have been published to date might be leading. [click to continue…]

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On this day, the first of February, in 1934, the New York Times carried Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of a new gold value for the US dollar. Previously it had been worth 25 8/10 ounces of gold 9/10 fine; now it would be worth 15 5/21 ounces of gold 9/10 fine—or, as it is more commonly said, the dollar had been valued at $20.67 to an ounce of pure gold and now it would be $35 to an ounce of pure gold. But the US was not in 1934, nor would it ever again be, on a gold standard.

[click to continue…]

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Intertextuality, Feminism, and Reinforced Arguments in Thessaly

by Sumana Harihareswara on February 1, 2016

In this post I’ll discuss some ways in which Walton’s Thessaly series is transformative and some ways in which it’s feminist, and some thoughts on how those choices reinforce each other.

To start with, clearly, Thessaly is transformative in that it concentrates on reusing and commenting on a text someone else made. As Walton says:

Writing about Plato’s Republic being tried seems to me an idea that is so obvious everyone should have had it, that it should be a subgenre, there should be versions written by Diderot and George Eliot and Orwell and H. Beam Piper and Octavia Butler.

I’m currently obsessed with Hamilton: An American Musical which, like Thessaly, takes old text — often taught in history or philosophy or political science classes — and infuses it with emotion and suspense. But, where Hamilton only has a few songs focusing on the process of group decision-making and problems that crop up in the implementation, Walton pays consistent attention to those details. This approach also shows up in Walton’s “Relentlessly Mundane”, which you can read as a Narnia fanfic with the serial numbers very rubbed off, or as a general commentary on YA portal fantasies. Paying attention to the concrete details within utopias and after quests, Walton un-deletes the deleted scenes from other stories. [click to continue…]

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Liberal, Conservative, Pangloss, Plotinus, Galton

by John Holbo on February 1, 2016

(This isn’t part of our Walton seminar, though it’s got Plotinus in it.)

What is liberalism? What is conservatism? If you are interested in getting answers to these questions, you (probably) want the answers to do two things for you: [click to continue…]

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Sunday Photoblogging: Stop! (San Francisco 2009)

by Chris Bertram on January 31, 2016

Stop! (San Francisco 2009)

Finally upgrading computer and software means that I have the memory and speed (at last) to go through my photo archives and rework things. Here’s a shot from San Francisco in 2009.

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Terry Wogan is dead.

by Harry on January 31, 2016

Gruaniad here.

Here’s what I said when he retired in 2009:


His was the first music show I was aware of on the radio, because once in a while our neighbour, Charles Lossock, would drive me to school listening to Radio 2. (Lossock was a “carpet salesman” who seemed to make regular trips behind the Iron Curtain, and was, I think, the first passionate anti-anti-semite I was aware of. A spy, I always figured when I was older). Later, I would pass Wogan’s house on the way to and from school, and every couple of weeks we’d meet, me on my bike, he in his Rolls that didn’t really fit the one-lane road, and I would be pushed into the hedge. It never bothered me. I never thought he suited TV, myself – Blankety Blank was, of course, great, but I always thought Wogan was not very good (though reading the wiki entry makes me wonder if I watched it enough)—talented as he is, it was impossible to find the dull-witted celebrities he interviewed half as interesting or amusing as he was (one of the most uncomfortable bits of TV I’ve ever seen was watching Wogan try to interview a monosyllabic (though wonderful!) James Bolam, who just had nothing at all to say, and nothing Wogan could do would get him to open up). During our stay in the UK early this decade I wrote most of a whole book while listening to Wogan on the X90 to London. And since he’s been available on listen again (I’m not about to wake up at 1 am to listen to him being streamed), I’ve listened twice a week or so, delighting in his flights of fancy. I suspect him of voting Tory his whole life; and surely the TOGs who correspond with him must be almost entirely Tories and UKIPers. Still, he’s brought me a lot of fun. My daughter, last night, became the only person in the history of the world to utter the following: “I hope that Terry Wogan’s retirement isn’t like Brett Favre’s retirement. Dad, we were made to watch Brett Favre’s retirement on TV at school. And it wasn’t even real. Oh, well, I suppose that means it would be good if Terry Wogan’s retirement is like Brett Favre’s”

Well, we’ll all miss him. But I, myself, wouldn’t have missed him for the world.

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We Philhellenists

by Neville Morley on January 29, 2016

Like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jo Walton’s Thessaly novels offer both a celebration and a critique of philhellenism, the love of ancient Greek culture, by staging it and letting the consequences play out. From the beginning, we are presented with the attractions and seductions of the classical tradition. The classical is idealised self-consciously by the generation of Masters, who are plucked out of their lives in later centuries because of their declared allegiance to the wisdom of the Greeks – contrasted with the values of their own times, whether the extremes of religious intolerance or the oppression of women. The return to the classical represents for them liberation, the rule of wisdom and reason, and the exciting possibility of realising an ideal world that had seemed beyond reach in the face of the unyielding structures of medieval belief, the chaotic violence of Renaissance Italy, or strait-laced Victorian values. They are all highly educated people who have found in ancient Greece everything lacking from their own times, and so have yearned for it all their lives. [click to continue…]

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A question about group selection

by John Quiggin on January 29, 2016

I’m doing some work on evolutionary models of game theory and need to understand the debate about group selection. It seems pretty clear that the great majority of evolutionary biologists reject the idea of group selection, but I haven’t found an adequate (to me) explanation of why they do so. A crucial problem for me is that the literature seems, without exception as far as I can see, to conflate group selection with co-operation and altruism. But the problem of group selection arises in non-cooperative settings, provided they are not zero-sum.

To illustrate the problem I’m struggling with, suppose that two previously isolated species meet as a result of some change. In one species (peacocks), competition between males for mates takes the form of elaborate, and energetically costly, displays. In the other species (penguins) males compete by providing food to their mates. In all other respects (diet, predators and so on) the two are similar. In particular, they are competing for the same food resources. It seems obvious to me that the penguins, with their more efficient social arrangements, are going to outbreed the peacocks and eventually drive them to extinction.

It seems to me there are only two possibilities here
(a) My reasoning is wrong, and we can’t judge which species, if either, will dominate; or
(b) Even though it involves one group being selected over another, this isn’t what is meant by group selection

I’d really appreciate some help on this. I’m happy to have thoughts from anyone, but I’d most like to hear from actual experts with contact details (mine are on the sidebar, or obtainable through Google).

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Millian Liberalism and the Irish Famine

by Henry on January 28, 2016

Tyler Cowen has a piece today responding to Kevin Drum, and arguing that one can’t easily disassociate progressivism from eugenics:

Most of all Drum is saying that the earlier history is not very illustrative of anything for today. I view it this way. Go back to Millian liberalism of the mid-19th century. Had American or for that matter British Progressivism been infused with more of this philosophy, the eugenics debacle never would have happened. … The claim is not that current Progressives are evil or racist, but rather they still don’t have nearly enough Mill in their thought, and not nearly enough emphasis on individual liberty. Their continuing choice of label seems to indicate they are not much bothered by that, or maybe not even fully aware of that. … they don’t seem to relate to the broader philosophy of individual liberty as it surfaced in the philosophy of Mill and others. That’s a big, big drawback and the longer history of Progressivism and eugenics is perhaps the simplest and most vivid way to illuminate the point. This is one reason why the commitment of the current Left to free speech just isn’t very strong. … Do we really want to identify with a general philosophy which embraced eugenics for so many decades, when so many pro-liberty and also social democratic thinkers were in opposition? I think Mill himself would say no.

It’s hard for me to read a defense of “Millian liberalism in the mid-nineteenth century” and not think about the response of Millian liberalism and associated forms of thought in political economy to the Irish famine in which a million or so people died, and a million emigrated. [click to continue…]

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Six Essential Readings on Donald Trump

by Corey Robin on January 28, 2016

As we move into the last days before Iowa, it’s useful to review some of the very best things that have been written on Donald Trump. Much of it is recent.

1. Hands down, I’d say Jodi Dean has penned the central text for understanding Trump.

Donald Trump cuts through the ideological haze of American politics and exposes its underlying truth, the truth of enjoyment. Where other candidates appeal to a fictitious unity or pretense of moral integrity, he displays the power of inequality. Money buys access—why deny it? Money creates opportunity—for those who have it. Money lets those with a lot of it express their basest impulses and desires—there is no need to hide the dark drives when there is none before whom one might feel shame (we might call this the Berlusconi principle). It’s the rest of us who bow down.

As Trump makes explicit the power of money in the contemporary US, he facilitates, stimulates, and circulates enjoyment (jouissance). Trump openly expresses the racism, sexism, contempt, and superiority that codes of civility and political correctness insist be repressed. This expression demonstrates the truth of economic inequality: civility is for the middle class, a normative container for the rage of the dispossessed and the contempt of the dispossessors. The .1 % need not pretend to care.

The freedom from civility, the privilege of enjoying superiority, incites different responses, all of which enable people to enjoy—get off on—this political round.

Some of the underpaid and exploited enjoy through Trump. Not only does he give them permission to…


2. Earlier this week in Salon, Steve Fraser offered a bracing comparison between Trump and his most important predecessor: [click to continue…]

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Walton’s Republic

by John Holbo on January 28, 2016

“It was the most real thing that had ever happened.” – Jo Walton, The Just City

Thanks to Jo Walton for writing an SF novel in which people, including a pair of gods, try to realize Plato’s Republic. (I’ve only read the first Thessaly novel, The Just City. So if what follows is premature? That sort of thing happens.)

This is an experimental novel. Succeed or fail, you learn from an experiment. But even well-constructed experiments can be failures. That’s the risk.

Logically such a thing should exist. A novelization of Plato’s Republic, I mean. How can no one have written this already? But can such a damn thing be written ? Surely it will fail as a novel, somewhat, at some point. But how? Only one way to find out. [click to continue…]

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Under the Lemon Tree, Distracted by Chores

by Ruthanna Emrys on January 27, 2016

One of the great appeals of the Thessaly series is the implicit invitation: join us in Socratic dialogue beneath the lemon tree, arguing practical philosophy with the best company from all of history.  But I am not a philosopher king, and definitely not a Gold of the Just City. As evidence, between the first and second sentences of this paragraph, I took ten minutes to reassure a baby who’d pinched her finger in a dresser drawer. Over the past couple of days I’ve engaged in crafts and cleaning, cooking and political argument and snarky write-ups of old horror stories. [click to continue…]

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