I have a piece in The Chronicle Review about a genre that has annoyed me for some time:

Every few years an essay appears that treats the question of sexual harassment in the academy as an occasion to muse on the murky boundaries of teaching and sex. While a staple of the genre is the self-serving apologia for an older male harasser, the authors are not always old or male. And though some defend sex between students and professors, many do not. These latter writers have something finer, more Greek, in mind. They seek not a congress of bodies but a union of souls. Eros is their muse, knowledge their desire. What the rest of us don’t see — with our roving harassment patrols and simpleminded faith in rules and regulators — is the erotic charge of education, how two particles of mind can be accelerated to something hotter. In our quest to stop the sex, we risk losing the sexiness. Against the discourse of black and white, these writers plea for complexity: not so that professors can sleep with their students but so that we can speak openly and honestly about the ambiguities of teaching, about how the most chaste pedagogy can generate a spark that looks and feels like — maybe is — sexual attraction.

I call this genre The Erotic Professor.

The latest addition is Marta Figlerowicz and Ayesha Ramachandran’s “The Erotics of Mentorship,” which recently appeared in the Boston Review. Like many practitioners of the genre, Figlerowicz and Ramachandran are professors of literature. (You’ll never find a professor of chemistry or demography among the authors of such pieces.) Also like many practitioners, they have a high estimation of the academy’s sexiness. “There are perhaps no places more vulnerable to the intertwining of work and romance,” they tell us, “than colleges and universities.” That belief, of course, reflects the happenstance of their being in the academy rather than any empirical comparison of the academy to other workplaces. The office romance is a ubiquitous feature of the culture, after all, its settings as various as a bar (Cheers), a detective agency (Moonlighting), a paper company (The Office), and an insurance firm (The Apartment).

One of the conventions of the genre, in fact, is for the erotic professor to imagine what her students must be feeling by reference to what she once felt, and then to state that feeling as if it were a universal law (“intellectual magnetism, a notoriously protean force, often shades into erotic attraction”), scarcely noticing that when she had that feeling, she was a student on her way to becoming a professor. What about the student on her way to becoming an HR rep? Or an accountant?

The question never arises because the real shadow talk of the erotic professor is not sex but class.

You can read more here.



Peter Beinart Makes Good Points

by John Holbo on May 13, 2018

This is good, from Peter Beinart.

This is malpractice. It’s malpractice because whether the Trump administration has given “serious thought” to “what comes next,” and whether its post–Iran deal strategy “can be successfully implemented” are questions Stephens, Dubowitz, and Gerecht have an obligation to factor into their analysis of whether Trump should withdraw at all. You can’t cordon off the practical consequences of leaving the deal from the theoretical virtue of doing so. In theory, I’d like my 10-year-old to cook our family a four-course meal. But unless I have good reason to believe she’s “capable of pulling this off,” it’s irresponsible for me to scrap our current dinner plans.

The point he made the other day – namely, if it’s the same damn people who lied last time, and they seem to be telling you the same damn thing, maybe it’s a lie – is also inductively reasonable. And draws down some doubt on the alleged theoretical virtue.

But the first point seems to me important, going forward. There are a lot of Joker-by-proxy Hawks out there. Some men wouldn’t dream of burning the world down. But they seem happy to watch someone else do it, so long as they don’t get the blame. That sort of thing should be called out.



by John Holbo on May 13, 2018

Lots of folks shaking heads at this Dark Web Intellectuals business. Henry makes the obvious red pill connection. Think about it. You get to wake up and believe whatever you want. So everyone is going to want to believe they took the red pill. The blue pill, man. It’s the One.

Damn kids, get off my how far down the rabbit hole goes. (I’m looking at you, Jordan Peterson.)


Sunday photoblogging: Bristol, The Spotted Cow

by Chris Bertram on May 13, 2018

The Spotted Cow


Many scholars, journalists and commentators have written how in many (all?) European welfare states government-based systems of support and solidarity are being restructured, scaled down, or eliminated. One common ideological basis in all those reforms is the view that people should be made maximally self-reliant and, if need be, families should support other family members in need – hence this would justify a cut-back of state involvement. The European welfare states have always been something most Europeans have been proud of – the idea that civilisation implies that we collectively care for the most vulnerable people in our political community, and that we collectively pool risks that, if left to the market, would lead to some people paying much more to secure those risks than others.

In several countries, the reforms are targeting the income- and labour market support systems for the disabled. In the Netherlands, this has now taken a really ugly turn, as was very well described in an article (in Dutch) by Gijs Herderscheê and Sheila Sitalsing, which was published today in De Volkskrant. [click to continue…]


Dark Web Centrism

by Henry on May 9, 2018

My new piece in Vox:

Bari Weiss, an opinion writer and editor at the New York Times, created a stir this week with a long article on a group that calls itself the “Intellectual Dark Web.” The coinage referred to a loose collective of intellectuals and media personalities who believe they are “locked out” of mainstream media, in Weiss’s words, and who are building their own ways to communicate with readers.

The thinkers profiled included the neuroscientist and prominent atheist writer Sam Harris, the podcaster Dave Rubin, and University of Toronto psychologist and Chaos Dragon maven Jordan Peterson.

The article provoked disbelieving guffaws from critics, who pointed out that cable news talking heads like Ben Shapiro have hardly been purged. Many words could be used to describe Sam Harris, but ”silenced” is not plausibly one of them.

Some assertions in the piece deserved the ridicule. But Weiss accurately captured a genuine perception among the people she is writing about (and, perhaps, for). They do feel isolated and marginalized, and with some justification. However, the reasons are quite different from those suggested by Weiss. She asserts that they have been marginalized because of their willingness to take on all topics, and determination not to “[parrot] what’s politically convenient.”


Marxism without revolution: repost

by John Quiggin on May 8, 2018

It was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx a couple of days ago. I planned to repost my series from 2011 on “Marxism without Revolution”, but didn’t get to it. I was reminded when Matt Yglesias mentioned it on Twitter, so here it is, in three parts.



Mount Pleasant Terrace, BS3


Quinn Slobodian – Globalists

by Henry on May 3, 2018

I’ve been promising a piece on Quinn Slobodian’s fantastic intellectual history of neo-liberalism in the international arena, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Here it is. The short version: if you have any interest in these topics, you should buy it. The long version is below the fold. [click to continue…]


The public choice of public choice

by Henry on May 1, 2018

Years ago, I joked about coming up with “a simple public choice explanation for the emergence of public choice”. Now this: [click to continue…]



by Chris Bertram on May 1, 2018

In discussion of my recent post about the Windrush scandal, a couple of commenters used the phrase “illegal immigrants”. Tory ministers have since been on the airwaves using it a lot, and telling us that the public expects action on “illegal immigration”. Labour’s Diane Abbot has also been talking about the need to “bear down on illegal immigration” and the journalist Amelia Gentleman, who did so much to break the Windrush story, has protested that scandal of citizens denied their rights is nothing to do with “illegal immigration”.

But here’s why what they all say is wrong. There’s no such legal category as “illegal immigration”, rather there are people who have the legal right to be in the country and, perhaps, to do certain things like work or study. And then there are people who may lack the legal right to be present and to do those things. Some of the people with legal rights to be present have those rights because they are citizens; some other people have those rights for other reasons such as having a valid visa, being a refugee, or having some other human rights-based legal basis to stay.

Obviously, to “bear down” on people without the legal right to stay a government needs to (a) determine who they are and (b) take some action against them. Equally obviously, a government official may make a mistake about whether a person has the right to stay or they may use impermissible means against them. So you need a system by which people who have the right to stay but who the government wants gone can contest the bureaucratic decision against them as mistaken. [click to continue…]


Own Troll

by John Holbo on April 29, 2018

Robin Hanson is catching it for this post. There is something so … elegant about such developments.

It was supposed to be a simple troll. If you think goods redistribution is a good idea (inequality = bad), you must be in favor of a bit of the old forced sexual redistribution. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) Also: it’s gotta be just envy. “Their purpose seems to be to induce envy, to induce political action to increase redistribution.” “Two Kinds of Envy”. That’s the title. (This envy bit is going to be key. See below.)

Forced redistribution of sex out of envy sounds pretty rape-y, as you may notice. Of course it’s a bad argument. It’s easy to explain how and why one might favor redistribution but not rape. But in politics, if you’re explaining you’re losing. Having to argue for a ‘no rape included’ on your social welfare proposal kind of puts you on the rhetorical back-foot. I’m sure that was Hanson’s plan.

But then it backfired.

Even though Hanson is not himself proposing forced sexual redistribution – he’s merely making a bad argument that leftists should – folks on Twitter are reading him, straight up, as advocating ‘sexual redistribution’, which they take to be something rape-y. (Since he kind of went out of his way to make it sound rape-y.)

Hanson tries a leftier-than-thou head-fake. “A tweet on this post induced a lot of discussion on twitter, much of which accuses me of advocating enslaving and raping women. Apparently many people can’t imagine any other way to reduce or moderate sex inequality.”

Oh, why aren’t people more imaginative about creative social welfare solutions to inequality problems!

This seems like a great point for Hanson to double-down! Take critics to task! He could school ‘em by introducing these fools to the ideas of, oh say, Charles Fourier, who proposed a ‘sexual minimum’. (Oh, the shame. To be lectured by a George Mason economist about the woke wisdom of Charles Fourier!) Hell, Hanson could read ‘em Dan Savage’s excellent column. Proposing ‘redistribution of sex’ doesn’t have to mean rape! It doesn’t have to mean trying to pay some sex workers enough to be heroic first responders to potentially deadly levels of masculine resentment and anger. Suppose – just suppose! – we tackled the very real (!) problem of sexual inequality and suffering by 1) trying to detoxify the culture in various ways; 2) valuing and respecting sex work, and sex workers. (What Savage said, but maybe the government kicks in with support.)

Tragically, it’s at this point – when by rights the troll ought to roll! – that Hanson is hobbled, unfairly, by his own ‘envy’ premise (which he pretty clearly only intended to trip other people, unfairly, not himself.)

He’s assuming this social justice thing is basically envy on the verge of eruption into outright violence. He says any push for this sort of thing “strengthens an implicit threat of violence.” If, by hypothesis, the sexually deprived won’t be motivated by a desire for equality and respect, they just want to tear down those they resent for being above them, then, yes, ‘sexual redistribution’ can only mean asking a bunch of women to volunteer for a beat-down (so others won’t be outright killed by violent men.)

Hanson assumes it in his first paragraph. Why shouldn’t others assume he assumes it?

I think the larger moral of the story is that Hanson needs to face up to the elephant in the room. The tricky problem of non-hidden motivations in everyday life. Maybe he should give them a look.

At this point Belle says to me: hey, you know what this Hanson guy wrote way back? This!

And I’m like: ah, crap. I’m making this too complicated. (There I was, just trying to troll a guy about how it’s his own damn fault that he’s getting trolled for being in favor of rape, because he was just trying to troll leftists for how they should be in favor of rape. And it turns out? This? This? People are messed up, man.)


Gelman’s Law

by Henry on April 26, 2018


A quick rule of thumb is that when someone seems to be acting like a jerk, an economist will defend the behavior as being the essence of morality, but when someone seems to be doing something nice, an economist will raise the bar and argue that he’s not being nice at all.

I’ve spotted two instances already on Twitter since seeing this post this morning. See how many you can find!


In the UK we are living through one of those moments when the public briefly realises that immigration control has significant human consequences and can be bad not just for the stock “illegal immigrants” of tabloid caricature, but for citizens too. The background is that Theresa May, now Prime Minister but then Home Secretary progressively introduced what she called “a really hostile environment” for “illegal immigrants”, a regime continued by her successor, Amber Rudd. This has involved turning ordinary citizens and civil society institutions into border guards so as to deprive people without the proper documentation of the means to live a tolerable existence. So those who cannot prove their right to be in the country, by producing, say, a passport, can lose their job, their home, their bank account and be denied medical services. Well, guess what? Thousands of people, particularly people born overseas as British citizens but legally resident in the UK for decades, lack the documentary proof required. So they have indeed lost jobs, homes and been denied cancer treatment. Others have been subjected to detention in immigration removal centres, some may have been removed or deported from the country, and others have gone abroad and visited relatives only to be refused readmission.

This has not had an even impact on all sectors of the population. It turns out that having a black or a brown skin makes it far more likely that you will be left destitute and without healthcare or that a prospective landlord with be inclined to check your identity and leave you homeless. So much for all citizens being equal before the law. Indeed, so much for the “rule of law”, much promoted by the Conservatives as a “British value” under the Prevent Strategy. The rule of law requires not just that people obey the law (as Tories seem to think) but that it be possible for people to regulate their conduct on the basis of laws that are reasonably knowable and that they are able to assert their rights effectively in the face of state power. This is totally undermined by the fact that those people caught up in the hostile environment are often poor and vulnerable and lack the means effectively to challenge the bureaucrats who have wrecked their lives. The rules people are expected to follow are complex and ever changing and the evidence they are expected to provide is often refused as inadequate by civil servants who hold onto essential documents for years on end and often lose them. To further undermine the ability of citizens and migrants to defend themselves, the UK government removed legal aid for immigration cases. Unable to establish their status to the satisfaction of the Home Office, people have been left in limbo for years. [click to continue…]


The Impossible World Called America!

by John Holbo on April 25, 2018

Sorry for lack of posts. More uncanny researches to follow. Here are some old comics covers. I think you are rather easy to please, apparently. I’ve gotten rather fascinated by an old DC series with the excellent title, “From Beyond The Unknown”, which is enough to strike even as undisciplined a mind as – oh, say Zizek’s – as a bit undisciplined, as para-Rumsfeldianisms go. (You’ve got your unknown beyond the unknowns, your known beyond the unknowns, but also presumably you want to introduce a beyond-the-beyond-ness axis. I leave construction of a box, exhausting the range of impossibility spaces, as an exercise for the interested reader.)

As I was saying, just some of the best. covers. ever. But the stories were all retreads of 1950’s comics, hence the need to update the material in one case. [click to continue…]