Sixty Seconds of Thanksgiving

by Kieran Healy on November 24, 2009

From the uniformly excellent David Friedman, a short film.

I’m With Stupid

by Henry Farrell on November 24, 2009

“Ilya Somin at the Volokhs”:

I am no fan of populism of either the left or right-wing variety. In my view, most populist movements exploit voter ignorance and irrationality to promote policies that tend to do far more harm than good. That said, I have been pleasantly surprised by the right-wing populist reaction to the economic crisis and Obama’s policies. With rare exceptions, right-wing populists such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and the Tea Party protesters, have advocated free market approaches to dealing with the crisis, and have attacked Obama and the Democratic Congress for seeking massive increases in government spending and regulation. They have not responded in any of several much worse ways that seemed like plausible alternatives a year ago, and may still be today. … True, much of their rhetoric is oversimplified, doesn’t take account of counterarguments, and is unfair to opponents. But the same can be said for nearly all political rhetoric directed at a popular audience made up of rationally ignorant voters who pay only very limited attention to politics and don’t understand the details of policy debates. On balance, however, the positions taken by the right-wing populists on these issues are basically simplified versions of those taken by the most sophisticated libertarian and limited-government conservative economists and policy scholars. There has been relatively little advocacy of strange, crackpot ideas or weird conspiracy theories.

I don’t agree with Somin on much of anything at all, but usually find him an interesting writer. This post, however, seems at best badly out of touch with reality. Somin is immediately challenged by one of his readers on the death panels slur and responds:

It is a badly flawed and unfair argument. But I think it’s actually just an extreme version of a genuine point against government control of health care: that government would have to ration care and make decisions denying life-saving treatment to many people — as actually happens in socialized medicine systems.

And as happens in free market medicine systems too – the rationing merely takes a different form as has been frequently pointed out on this blog. But more to the point – would Somin be similarly generous in allowing, say, that 9/11 Truthers were arguing “an extreme version of” the “genuine point” that the Bush administration could have and should have done more to prevent it? I doubt it – perhaps I’m wrong.

I’m not averse to a little populism, and I can sort-of understand how American libertarian intellectuals – who have never had a mass movement to call their own – might get a bit wobbly-kneed at the sight of marching teabaggers. But to suggest that Tea Party rhetoric is somewhat overheated and unfair, but based on a fundamentally sound view of government – wtf? And that’s not even to get into Glenn Beck’s defence of the “white culture” that Obama apparently hates so much …

Update: Somin responds in an update to his original post, to suggest that Beck’s claim that Obama hated ‘white culture’ was “stupid” but was an aberration. Personally, I would choose rather stronger terms than “stupid” to describe this statement, such as e.g. ‘viciously attempting to stir up race hatred’ – perhaps we have different levels of sensitivity to this kind of language. More generally, Somin seems to be sticking to his claim that there is “relatively little advocacy of strange, crackpot ideas or weird conspiracy theories” among rightwing populists, and that the examples that people are coming up with (e.g. Beck’s continued ‘investigations’ into purported concentration camps that the Obama administration is building to house dissidents) are old tropes and are not a ‘major part’ of the right wing reaction to the Obama presidency. This claim is, frankly, completely baffling. When Glenn Beck (whom Somin himself specifically namechecks in his original post as an exemplar of what he is talking about) repeatedly suggests that America is moving towards a totalitarian state, subordinated to a world government run by Maoists and Marxists, where dissidents are likely to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps, it is quite safe to say that “strange crackpot ideas” and “weird conspiracy theories” are close to the heart of the right wing populism that Somin likes. To believe otherwise seems to me either to reflect an absence of actual knowledge of what Glenn Beck regularly says, or to be labouring under the influence of a particularly dangerous form of delusion and denial. Somin also “responds”: in comments here to suggest that the cases of 9/11 Truthers and death panels are not comparable – Harry “responds”: better than I can. Finally, I note in passing that I at least think it good practice for a blogger responding to a criticism on another blog to link back to that blog in his or her response so that his or her readers can evaluate for themselves whether or not that criticism sticks.

Expendable humanitarians

by Chris Bertram on November 24, 2009

Via Kevin Jon Heller and Una Vera, I just came across Jeremy Scahill’s Nation piece about Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan. Nasty stuff, not the least of which is the allegation that Blackwater operatives are masquerading as aid workers. The predictable consequence will be that aid workers (and not just in Pakistan) will be targeted for assassination, kidnap and torture to a greater degree than at present. Hard to exaggerate just how bad this is.

I hereby declare – for the benefit of anyone at Oxford UP who might be reading – that I was going to require my (probably 50-or-so) students next semester to buy your serviceable little paperback volumes: Woolhouse’s The Empiricists and Cottingham’s The Rationalists. I assigned them when I last taught History of Modern Philosophy, a few years back; and it worked out fine. But now that I see they cost $45 each, for a lousy sub-200 page, 7″ x 5″ paperback and pretty cheap paper. What’s that about? Do I really want my students to hate me? (Do I want to hate myself?) I am quite sure they were not this pricey a few years back. There is such a thing as charging too much, given that these books are not actually so good that they cause one’s head to explode with insight into the history of modern philosophy. So I am going to put these particular books on reserve in the library, and recommend them to my students as resources, but I am re-doing my syllabus in protest at absurd pricing. So there. Oxford UP has lost a course adoption – the holy grail of textbook publishing. Let that be a lesson to you.

So: what are some other good secondary texts on the History of Modern Philosophy, suitable for lower level undergraduate teaching? In the past I have not exactly enjoyed teaching History of Modern, because (in my purity and love of the Truth) I chafe at the potted, Clash of the Titans, rationalists-versus-empiricists, with Descartes and Kant standing at the ends, storyline. It’s Hegel’s fault we have this story, and it’s not as though we believe anything else Hegel taught us, so I don’t see why I should have to start now. But seriously … [click to continue…]