Mars, Ares, Tiw/Tyr, God, Allah

by Harry on June 15, 2021

I’m alarmed by how interesting I find this comment by J-D in the Christian thread.

Attempts to answer the question of whether the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are the same God confront some of the same difficulties that confront attempts to answer the question of whether Ares and Mars are the same god, or whether Mars and Tiw are the same god; or, for that matter, whether the creatures that Chinese people call dragons and unicorns are the same creatures as the ones that European people call dragons and unicorns.

There must be a vast literature about this in philosophy of language and philosophy of fiction, and those of you who know it will doubtless find what I have to say extremely naïve. If someone can point us to some interesting work and/or, even better, explain it to us, that would be great. But here goes with a naive blog post.

I’ve no idea whether the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are the same God, and some of the difficulties in assessing whether or not they are are indeed the same as those involved in assessing whether Mars, Ares and Tiw/Tyr are the same god. So I tried to think about which difficulties might be different.

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Why I am not exactly a Christian

by Harry on June 14, 2021

The last talk I gave before lockdown (sometime in March 2020) was for the annual Freethought conference held by the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics of Madison (No, I don’t think they know Alan Partridge). It’s much looser, and more fun, than my usual talks: they asked me because the President of AHA had heard from a small group of my students the way I think about these issues, and, to be honest, I think they bugged him to invite me to force me to write something down. Here it is:

This talk doesn’t really contain an argument, unlike most that I give. It’s more an autobiographical sketch on the topic of its title – which is a sort of tribute to Bertrand Russell’s famous essay, but has a twist to it. I’m not a Christian. Not exactly. I’ll explain why I’m not, but also why it’s a little misleading to say I am not.

I’ll start with two stories about students.

First. About 13 years ago an evangelical Christian student was in my office discussing career options with me (this is one of the many great parts of my job). At one point I asked if she’d considered becoming a pastor. She shot back “No, I couldn’t be a pastor”. After a pause she added: “You should become a pastor”. My reaction was immediate: “Um.… I lack one key qualification”. “Oh, that’s ok”, she retorted, “I’m sure lots of pastors don’t believe in God. And, anyway, if you were a pastor, perhaps you’d come to believe in God”. [1]

Second. A student who just graduated [Dec 2019] is getting married and invited me, and many of her classmates from a class that she took (though didn’t much enjoy) as a freshman. Her spouse-to-be, impressed presumably, that she was inviting a professor not in her major, asked her if Brighouse would be willing to do a reading. She told us all that she replied, “Oh no, I don’t think he’d do that because he is an atheist”.

I’m glad she told us this. Because I said “Oh, I’d be happy to do a reading. I’m not that kind of atheist” and, to be honest, I was a bit surprised that she didn’t already know that. [Sadly, COVID prevented me and her classmates from attending the wedding, but I am glad to say it did go ahead without us]

Maybe you can tell something about the kind of atheist I am through this story, from the 1980s shortly after I moved to the US, and was still quite bemused by the culture. I heard a news story about a lawsuit. Football players at a public high school had been praying in the end zone during a game. And someone was suing the school district to try and get it to prohibit them from doing so. My immediate reaction went something like this:

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Labor and its imaginary friends

by John Quiggin on June 13, 2021

As with the centre-left in other countries, there’s lots of concern in the Australian Labor part about the perceived loss of its traditional working class base. I’ve written a piece in Crikey,reproduced over the fold, arguing that this is mostly misconceived. Lots of Oz-specific stuff, but I think most readers should be able to follow the thread. Interested in comparisons with similar debates in other countries.

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Sunday photoblogging: Albert Dock/Tate, Liverpool

by Chris Bertram on June 6, 2021

Liverpool: Albert Dock/Tate


The end of the population pyramid (scheme)

by John Quiggin on June 1, 2021

In a case of l’esprit de l’escalier, I just worked out the perfect parenthetical addition to this piece that was published in Inside Story, responding to a string of pro-natalist pieces in the New York Times and elsewhere. The central point is that the economic model in which strong young workers support elderly retirees is outdated and will only become more so.

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Sunday photoblogging: Brazil, shop at night

by Chris Bertram on May 30, 2021

Pirenópolis: shop at night


The tribute vice pays to virtue

by John Quiggin on May 29, 2021

Unsurprisingly, the forced grounding of an airliner flying over Belarus, and the arrest of a critical journalist on board has provoked a burst of whataboutery from Russia and a reciprocal round of ‘false equivalence’ from the West.

The parallel case is that of the forced landing of the Bolivian presidential plane, with President Evo Morales on board, on the basis of the false suspicion that it was also carrying Edward Snowden. The grounding, at the behest of the Obama Administration, was carried out by European governments (France, Spain, Portugal and Italy) which refused to allow the plane transit through their air space. Faced with the risk of running out of fuel, the plane landed in Austria, and was eventually allowed to proceed. This conduct was of a piece with Obama’s general willingness to take extreme measures against whistleeblowers.

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by Eszter Hargittai on May 27, 2021

I’m rather unlikely to post about sports, but you have to watch this. I’m not even a baseball fan, which I feel a bit sacrilegious saying as I sit just a few miles from Wrigley Field, but unless you know absolutely nothing about baseball, you should watch this.


One of the lessons of Branko Milanovic’s work on global inequality has been the realization that location, and perhaps more pertinently, nationality, is a more important explanation of how well and badly off people are than class is. Citizens of wealthy countries enjoy a “citizenship premium” over the inhabitants of poor ones that exists because they have access to labour markets and welfare systems that their fellow humans largely do not. Of course, there’s a sense in which this global difference also represents a class difference, with many of the workers simply located elsewhere while the residual “proletarians” of the wealthy world enjoy a contradictory class location (to repurpose a term from Erik Olin Wright). While it might be that world GDP would increase dramatically if barriers to movement were removed, as some economists have claimed, the relative position of the rich world poor depends upon those barriers being in place. Or to put it another way, free movement could make many poor people much better off and might not make the rich world poor any worse off in absolute terms, but it would erode their relative advantage. And people, however misguidedly care about their relative advantage.

What kind of politics would we expect to have in rich countries in a world like ours, if people were fully cognizant of this citizenship premium? I suspect the answer is that we would expect to see stronger nationalist movements seeking to preserve the advantage of members of the national collective over outsiders and correspondingly weaker parties based on class disadvantage within those countries. Which is, in fact, the tendency we do see in many European countries where traditional social democracy is struggling badly at the moment. In those same countries we might also expect to see some voters who are unthreatened by freer movement, or by the rise of new powers in the world, being more open to a more cosmopolitan politics and more preoccupied by other issues such as climate change and the environment. And this is, in fact, what we do see.

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Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on May 24, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!


Restaurant, Pirenopolis, Brazil


The “simple logic” of immigration control

by Chris Bertram on May 19, 2021

In a recent column in the Times (paywall), James Kirkup, Director of the Social Market Foundation and writer for various right-wing outlets, argues that “liberals” should be more accommodating of the state’s desire to enforce exclusionary immigration policies and that, if only they were, a more open policy would be feasible. But, given, public anxieties about immigration and the stubborn refusal of the likes of us to co-operate, the public were going to put people like the UK’s authoritarian Home Secretary, Priti Patel, in charge. Our non-co-peration, or even resistance, is, supposedly self-defeating.

One thing he says is this:

There’s a simple logic about immigration: unless you believe your country should have no borders and be entirely open to anyone in the world, you must accept that the state needs to be able to remove uninvited people. I accept this as someone who has long argued for a liberal, open migration policy.

This rhetorical move gets made a lot by advocates and apologists for immigration control. I remember a similar point being made to a representative of the Stansted 15 on BBC Newsnight. Either the state gets what it wants, or … open borders.

But it is a rhetorical move that needs to be resisted, because you don’t have to be an advocate of open borders to believe that the actual policies being enforced by the state are cruel, unjust and unjustifiable to the point where reasonable people have the right, and possibly sometimes the duty, to disobey, even to resist and sabotage them.[^1] Moreover, when they are sufficiently unjust as a general rule, it is reasonable of people to believe that any particular act of enforcement will be unjustifiable and that the burden of proof is on the other side.

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Sunday photoblogging: Capri – church roof

by Chris Bertram on May 16, 2021

Capri: church roof



by Kim Stanley Robinson on May 14, 2021

When I attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop in 1975, our first teacher Samuel R. Delany gave us some advice: don’t respond to critics. It never does any good. Don’t even write reviews.

It was good advice, and I’ve followed it ever since. But here I am. Did I make a mistake? Maybe so.

On the other hand, I’ve published a lot of non-fiction in recent years. What was I saying in those pieces? Couldn’t I respond like that?

Maybe so. Quite a bit of my non-fiction consists of appreciations of other writers, like this one of Gene Wolfe. These were expressions of love.

And I’ve answered lots of interview questions. These were like conversations. There’s no harm in love or conversation.

So I’m going to try this: I’ll happily express my appreciation for all the generous giving of time and thought that I see in the responses below; and I’ll do my best to answer any questions they ask. If there are complaints about my book (and there are), I’ll stick to my long-time practice, and hold my tongue.

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This Is How It Gets Better

by Suresh Naidu on May 13, 2021

It’s a real privilege to comment on this book.From the Mars trilogy to my personal recent favorite, Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson has been one of my favorite science fiction authors, staying with me as I went from teenage escapism to middle-aged escapism. There are so many great ideas in The Ministry of the Future (TMFTF), where Stan has clearly combed the academic and activist literature for the boldest ideas to grapple with the climate crisis and used the medium of fiction to communicate them. There are engineering feats, like the propping up of glaciers to slow melting, direct air capture of CO2 at economically feasible scale, alongside political transformations like the mutually-assured-destruction made possible by targeted kinetic pebble smartbombs, a rebirth of Indian democracy, and carbon quantitative easing? Everyone who cares about climate change (and really at this point it should be everyone with some stake beyond the next 10 years) should read it. But beyond being a hardware store full of tools for decarbonization, it also charts a politically possible trajectory to a transformed economy. TMFTF is not just outlining a future sustainable economy, but showing a properly historically contingent path to it. [click to continue…]