Craig Calhoun is the new Director of the LSE

by Kieran Healy on November 24, 2011

Here’s the announcement. A tough job. He certainly did a good job with NYU and at the SSRC, and I imagine the fact that he didn’t make his career in the UK was a relevant consideration given the state of the institution—though it’s not as if he’s a stranger to the British system, as he was trained at Manchester and Oxford. He starts next September.

Apropos of nothing, I think that the very first academic conference I attended in the U.S. as a graduate student featured Craig as a speaker. It was a small thing on culture and politics at the New School. Marshall Berman was on the panel as well. I recall asking a question that was in equal parts tendentious and underinformed, and Craig’s response was really quite polite, all things considered.

Fatalism, Polling Data and Experimental Philosophy

by John Holbo on November 24, 2011

Katherine Rampell takes note of a Pew poll result. Respondents were asked whether they agreed that ‘success in life is determined by forces outside our control’. Only 32% of Americans agreed, whereas, for example, 72% of Germans did. I suppose this question is as bad as it is by design. (Pew pollsters aren’t stupid, I think.) It’s a kind of dog whistle values question, since it’s too imprecise to be anything else. It basically says: if you had to pick one of two statements that you don’t actually believe, to say you believe, by way of signaling your attitudes about social justice and the value of hard work, which would it be – that everyone determines their own destiny %100 or 0%? (True, there might be a few considered fatalists out there, who sincerely believe the latter. But few enough that they should hardly register. And obviously no one would sincerely go for the former option, despite the fact that most Americans did.)

That’s why it’s a values question. Even so, wouldn’t it be better to conjoin this values dog whistle with some non-dog whistle questions in the topical vicinity? I mean: obviously yes. More is better. But more specifically: it would be interesting to try to determine to what extent people actually think, practically, about their own lives and those of others, in such extreme, total voluntarist-or-fatalist terms, when not dog whistled into picking one or the other extreme. To what degree, and in what cases, do people believe themselves, and others, to be in control of the course of their lives? My empirically unsupported suspicion is that people would turn out to be pretty similar in their beliefs, across partisan lines and cross-culturally, if you took care not to blow the dog whistle.

What do you think?