Conspicuous by his Absence

by Kieran Healy on May 3, 2004

Still working my way through Robert Skidelsky’s _John Maynard Keynes_. “Frank Ramsey”: appears only in passing, but the book manages to suggest what a terrible loss it was when Ramsey died, just short of his 27th birthday. His contributions to “mathematics”:, “philosophy”: and “economics”: bring to mind Tom Lehrer’s line, “It’s sobering to reflect that by the time Mozart was my age, he’d already been dead for two years.”

There’s no telling what he’d have done, had he lived. But it seems to me that, sociologically, he would have had a decisive and positive effect on the philosophical community. Although right at the center of Cambridge intellectual life, a member of the “apostles”:, and the translator of the _Tractatus_, Ramsey never showed any sign of falling under the spell of Wittgenstein. He thought the _Tractatus_ was terribly important, of course, and that Wittgenstein was worth taking a lot of trouble to understand. But he seems to have been immune to the hold Wittgenstein tended to have over other philosophers. Ramsey seems to have been, along with “Sraffa”:, one of the very few people at Cambridge who felt able to tackle Wittgenstein head on and whom Wittgenstein respected. But where Sraffa was withdrawn and a bit solitary, Ramsey was outgoing, likeable and in the thick of things. His character was in sharp contrast also to Wittgenstein, who — when he wasn’t directing monologues at people — was rude and insensitive to an amazing degree. I think it would have done twentieth century philosophy a power of good to have someone like Ramsey around the Cambridge colleges as a counterweight to Wittgenstein, both because he had a mind of the same magnitude but quite different cast, and because he provided an appealing alternative model of what genius can be. It might have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble.

The Decline of Marriage

by Harry on May 3, 2004

I was in the middle of preparing my lecture on the gendered division of the labour when I saw Laura’s post on the decline of marriage. Laura says

bq. I’m convinced that one of the reasons behind the dual income family is the fear of divorce and not greed. You never know for sure that your partner will be around to support you in the future.
It is also one of the reasons that mothers are starting to demand pay and benefits for the unpaid work of raising kids. There is just no guarantee that your spouse will take care of you. Taking time out to raise kids is very risky

And the facts bear her out. Divorce courts typically recognise material assets accumulated during a marriage as jointly belonging to the couple. But the earning capacity accumulated is regarded as belonging individually to the person who has it. I just worked out that a teacher working in our school district who took a 1-year leave to look after a first kid at age 28 would lose $57,000 in future earnings (assuming a retirement age of 64, and not counting the year of earnings she loses by taking the year off, and also not counting the foregone pension contributions and SS contributions on that $57,000).

Warning: this is a long post which takes a long while to get to the point…

[click to continue…]

The Shadow of the Torturer

by Henry on May 3, 2004

Those who still maintain that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were an isolated and atypical incident should consider this paragraph from a “Washington Post”: article of December 26, 2002.

bq. According to Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment, captives are often “softened up” by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms. The alleged terrorists are commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep. The tone of intimidation and fear is the beginning, they said, of a process of piercing a prisoner’s resistance. … Bush administration appointees and career national security officials acknowledged that, as one of them put it, “our guys may kick them around a little bit in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath.” Another said U.S. personnel are scrupulous in providing medical care to captives, adding in a deadpan voice, that “pain control [in wounded patients] is a very subjective thing.”

It sounds as though the kinds of ‘cooperation’ between soldiers and interrogators that were discovered at Abu Ghraib have been going on for a long time, and have received some sanction from either administration appointees or senior security officials, or both. It may – or may not – be that the soldiers in Abu Ghraib went further than they were supposed to in using specifically sexual forms of humiliation. But the pattern of using non-specialized army personnel to ‘soften up’ people for interrogation through physical abuse and terror seems to have been established a long, long time before Abu Ghraib.