From the monthly archives:

October 2016

The latest issue of Law Ethics and Philosophy has an open access symposium on Family Values, with contributions by Sarah Stroud, Anca Gheaus and Luara Ferracioli, and a fairly comprehensive response by me and Adam Swift. To simplify, Stroud criticizes us for being too unforgiving of parental partiality; Gheaus criticizes us for being too permissive with respect to parental authority over children, and Ferracioli introduces two adequacy criteria that, she argues, our theory does not meet. Of course, you’ll want to be sure to read the book first so you’ll know what it’s all about! It’s a good symposium in that there is enough, and sharp enough, disagreement to be interesting, but enough common ground that several issues get clarified, and progress is made.

While you’re at it, you might also want to check out the other symposium in the same issue, prompted by Philippe Van Parjis’s provocative (to put it mildly) and brief piece “Four Puzzles on Gender Equality”. Here’s the abstract:

There are dimensions along which men seem to be disadvantaged, on average, relative to women. For example, they can expect to live less years; in a growing number of countries they are, on average, less educated than women; they form an electoral minority; and their greater propensity to misbehave means that the overwhelming majority of the prison population is drawn from their ranks. These disadvantages, if they are real, all derive from an unchosen feature shared by one category of human beings: being a male. Does it follow that these advantages are unjust?

The interesting responses are by Paula Casal, Pierre-Étienne Vandamme, Jesus Mora, Valeria Ottonelli and Gina Schouten. It’s entirely accessible to non-academics, not just because it is free on the internet, but also because most of the papers (including Van Parijs’s) are short, and largely free of technical language. I mainly don’t teach my own work, so despite its pedagogical value I probably won’t use the Family Values symposium, but I can’t wait to teach the Van Parjis symposium in my undergraduate political philosophy class in the spring!

The Stone Tape

by Harry on October 30, 2016

On the iplayer, a repeat of the brilliant radio adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape. I saw The Stone Tape much too young (when it was first broadcast — I think my mum bought our first colour television specifically for it) and still remember the sense of complete terror it caused. Listening to the adaptation last year brought it all back. Listen with headphones, in a dark room, and don’t get interrupted, if you can manage it!

Sunday photoblogging: railway line, Orio

by Chris Bertram on October 30, 2016

Orio is a small town in the Basque country, northern Spain

Orio, early morning

I’m still reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. The more I read, the more I think I really need to read more Fichte. Also, there are moments like this: [click to continue…]

Arguing against racism

by John Quiggin on October 30, 2016

A while back, I made the case that the political crisis evident in most developed countries could be explained in terms of a “three-party system” in which the political forces were divided between tribalism, neoliberalism and a somewhat inchoate left. This replaced a neoliberal consensus in which power alternated between hard/right neoliberals (in the US context, the Republican party), relying on the political support of tribalists, and soft neoliberals (in the US context, centrist Democrats) relying on the left to support them as a lesser evil. The first stage of this breakdown has been the capitulation of hard neoliberals to the tribalist right. The most obvious instance is Donald Trump, but the same thing is happening in Australia with Pauline Hanson, in England with UKIP/Brexit and in many European countries as well.

That this is happening is now obvious. What should the left do about it? It’s obviously insufficient to make the point that Trump, or Hanson, or Farage is a racist (or uses racism for political benefit) and expect that to settle the question. That doesn’t mean that we should maintain the long-standing taboo on using the word “racist” to describe such people. Rather, we should start developing a proper analysis of political racism and strategies to oppose racism and tribalism.

The problem we face today is new in important respects. The civil rights and anti-apartheid movements were was a struggle against overtly racist racist state structures. The success of those movements did not end racism, but drove it underground, allowing neoliberals to exploit racist and tribalist political support while pursuing the interests of wealth and capital, at the expense of the (disproportionately non-white) poor.

That coalition has now been replaced by one in which the tribalists and racists are dominant. For the moment at least, ahrdneoliberals continue to support the parties they formerly controlled, with the result that the balance of political forces between the right and the opposing coalition of soft neoliberals and the left has not changed significantly. However, unlike the Civil Rights era, where racists had a clear agenda of defending the status quo, the new politics of the right is driven more by a general expression of resentment (or, if you want to be fancy, ressentiment) than by coherent policy objectives.

I have some ideas about what kinds of strategies and arguments are needed here, but I thought I’d post this first, and wait to see what others have to say.

Who’s Up For Tabletop Games?

by John Holbo on October 26, 2016

You know what kids like? They like playing the Munchkin Adventure Time card game. I have verified this with girls and boys, ages 10-50. When the younger daughter’s friends come over, they want to play Munchkin Adventure Time. So you might as well buy the expansion set – and order pizza. It adds to the humor if you are an Adventure Time fan, which you should be. But everyone else can get the jokes easily. [click to continue…]

Tom Hayden is Dead

by Harry on October 25, 2016

Tom Hayden, a leading member of SDS, and the person with most responsibility for drafting the Port Huron Statement, is dead. The Times obit, with its spectacularly wrong first sentence, is here. Despite the inaccuracies it is well worth reading. More interesting, more accurate, and passionate is Christopher Phelps’s piece in Jacobin, announcing the death and responding to the Times. For a start, the Times says that Hayden “burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements” which, Phelps rightly responds, ‘gets it exactly backwards’ (and includes, amusing photographic evidence that I won’t reproduce because I want to induce you to go there and read Phelps).

Hayden’s youthful trajectory points, rather, to the early New Left that began awakening in the stiflingly conformist atmosphere of the late 1950s, one whose radicalism was focused in thought and action aiming to surmount race, bureaucracy, and war — and not on the experimentation with hair, dress, music, and psychedelic mind expansion that captivated the hippie counterculture.

The hippies were by and large apolitical; Hayden and his kind were political from start to finish.

The Times obit does, however, end well, with a quote from J. Edgar Hoover that anybody from that era would be pleased to have as their epitaph:

“One of your prime objectives,” J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, said in one memo, “should be to neutralize him in the New Left movement.”

Below are six causes for optimism. But I should stress, as I have since The Reactionary Mind, that the reason I think the right has not much of a future is that it has won. If you consider its great animating energies since the New Deal—anti-labor, anti-civil rights, and anti-feminism—the right has achieved a considerable amount of success. Either in destroying or beating back these movements. So the hopefulness you read below, it needs to be remembered, is built on the ruins of the left. It reflects a considerable pessimism and arises from a sober realism about where we are right now. [click to continue…]

Michael Lind of _New America_ has a Theory about why politics is so screwed up. It’s worth quoting in extenso:

Science fiction traditionally has had the task of providing us with alternative visions of the future. For the most part, it has done a terrible job. The main reason for its failure is that it assumes global uniformity. …

In optimistic visions of the future, there is a liberal and democratic world government, or perhaps an interplanetary federation. In dystopias, there is a single global tyranny. … The assumption of uniform conditions in the world of tomorrow saves science-fiction authors and screenwriters the trouble of explaining the Sino-Indian dispute of 2345 AD, allowing them to concentrate on the plot and the main characters. But it is completely unrealistic.

…even in an industrialized world of wage workers and cities, the gaps between rich and poor regions are likely to remain enormous. Even as some backward areas catch up, innovative regions will shoot ahead. …

Great-power rivalry, demographic collapse, mass migration — three of the major forces reshaping the world — have been all but completely absent, both from classic science fiction and newer novels and movies that have shaped public consciousness. … Unfortunately, literary and cinematic visions of the future influence the way the public and the policymaking elite think about the future. This is particularly a problem for the left … Meanwhile, from the early 20th century to the early 21st, many centrist liberals have put their hopes in international institutions — the League of Nations, the United Nations, or, more recently, projects of trans-national regionalism like the European Union.

Today’s national populists are told that they are on the wrong side of history, by elites whose members claim to speak on behalf of an emerging world community. But maybe the populists and nationalists are on the right side of history and the elites have been duped by bad science fiction.

Well, in fairness, it isn’t nearly as creepy as blaming it all on international bankers or the Rothschilds

[click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: more Bogota pigeons

by Chris Bertram on October 23, 2016

Pigeons, Bogota, Colombia

The mystery behind a group of electoral maps

by Eszter Hargittai on October 23, 2016

Yesterday, when I was going through my Facebook feed, I saw several people in my network post a copy of the map below. (As far as I could tell, 9-10 people in my network had shared it, I figure this from the fact that I saw two and then saw a link “8 shares” or “8 more shares” below them.) To clarify, the images I saw were posting the map without the question that I overlaid on it. I am not posting the original so as not to perpetuate what I think is likely misinformation circulating. As a point of comparison, it is very rare that that many people in my FB network post the same thing, or at least FB doesn’t seem to suggest it often. Three of the people who posted it were academics, one works in the policy realm, all work on Internet-related topics. I mention that simply to note that people of all sorts may be prone to spreading online what seems like factual information without necessarily knowing its source. (See below for more on why I don’t know who the other people were, a bit of a mystery in and of itself.)

Seeking source for group of electoral maps

As far as I can tell, there is no source listed on the image. My searching led to all mentions of it linking to the same image-sharing site, one that as far as I know is associated with people sharing images on Twitter. There are lots of mentions of it on Twitter. But scrolling all the way to the end doesn’t clarify (not on my list of results anyway) who may have been the person to share it on Twitter first since the first link I see actually uses a Facebook short URL. (I guess that could have been the person, but there is nothing to confirm it. There seem to be all sorts of FB links on that person’s Twitter feed that no longer exist.)

[click to continue…]

Snappy!

by John Holbo on October 23, 2016

In case my Kant-to-Hegel post is a bit heavy, for a Sunday, here’s a snappy, snazzy guy I spotted in the Library of Congress Flickr feed.

B. Zirato (LOC)

Note how this guy seems to be leading with his … thighs? Can he walk like that? Looks like a Zim cartoon/caricature. It’s a good look.

Chris Bertram is, of course, free to post his own Sunday photo later. I don’t mean to horn in on his territory!

Between Kant and Hegel: Hen Kai Pan

by John Holbo on October 23, 2016

I’m still teaching Kierkegaard this semester, now excavating the historical subterrain somewhat. I’m reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. It’s relatively light, given the heavy subject matter. Which I find agreeable. The original lectures were delivered in 1973 at Harvard, so it’s all perhaps out of date, although I understand that Henrich – who is still alive – made appropriate updates and edits before the book was published in 2008. Also, it is not my impression that a wave of subsequent historicist work has, indeed, swept this work away. I am open to correction on that point.

I find the book extremely interesting. I am thinking fresh thoughts about this period, but I can’t say I’m sure they are true. But that is mostly my fault. The lectures, true to their original form, have a sweeping, generalizing quality. If I want to verify, I should go back and read a lot of Jacobi and Fichte and Schelling. Which is, admittedly, unlikely. Let me just quote, and comment on, some passages I’m contemplating paraphrasing for class purposes. [click to continue…]

Unnecessary wars

by John Quiggin on October 22, 2016

I’ve written a lot here about the disaster of the Great War, and the moral culpability of all those who brought it about and continued it. It’s fair to say, I think, that the majority of commenters have disagreed with me and that many of those commenters have invoked some form of historical relativism, based on the idea that we shouldn’t judge the rulers (or for that matter the public) of 1914 on the same criteria we would apply to Bush, Blair and their supporters.

It’s fascinating therefore to read Henry Reynolds’ latest book, Unnecessary Wars about Australia’s participation in the Boer War, and realise that the arguments for and against going to war then were virtually the same as they are now. The same point is made by Douglas Newton in Hell-Bent: Australia’s leap into the Great War . He shows how, far from loyally following Britain into a regrettably necessary war, leading members of the Australian political and military class pushed hard for war. In Newtown’s telling, the eagerness of pro-war Dominion governments helped to tip the scales in the British public debate and in the divided Liberal candidate. I don’t have the expertise to assess this, but there’s no escaping the echoes of the push towards the Iraq war in 2002 and early 2003, when this blog was just starting out.

The case against war was fully developed and strongly argued in the years before 1914, just as the case against slavery was developed and argued in the US before 1861. Those who were on the wrong side can’t be excused on the grounds that they were people of their time.

The only defence that can be made is that those who were eager for war in 1914 had not experienced the disaster of the Great War and its consequences. The failure of today’s war advocates to learn from this disaster makes their position that much worse. But the same is true of anyone defending the warmakers of 1914 on any grounds other than that of their ignorance.

Paddy’s paying out on the presidency

by Eric on October 21, 2016

“Paddy Power is paying out to customers who backed Hillary Clinton,” I read. Reminds me of another story about election day bets that make punters sweat.

Early in the evening of November 8, 1932—election day, that year—Sam Lamport was running around Democratic National Committee headquarters in mid-Manhattan (just by Grand Central Terminal) trying to find Bob Jackson—not the judge, the other one; the judge, who would later be Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attorney general, chief Nuremberg prosecutor, and Supreme Court Justice, was known to Democrats of the day as “the good Bob Jackson,” while this one—the shrewd political operator, DNC Secretary, cultivator of attractive actresses and general Prohibition scofflaw—was known simply as “Bob Jackson.”

Lamport had a lot of money, did well in the textile business, and backed Roosevelt through the campaign. He was also a serious Ivy League jock, decent-sized man—had played quarterback for Brown—unusual for a Jewish fellow. And in an expansive moment late in the campaign, he had bet $1000 to Jackson’s $100 that Hoover’s beating wouldn’t be so awful that the president couldn’t win more than six states.

But with early returns coming in, it looked bad for Lamport’s 10:1 bet. So he finally found Jackson, pulled out a roll of bills, and said, “I’ll give you $200 to be let our of our bet.”

Jackson didn’t get to be not-good “Bob Jackson” for nothing. Although he thought it would be “a minor crime” and perhaps preying on Lamport’s generosity, you see, to take him for $1000, he also thought it was a poor businessman who took a first offer. “Make it $300,” he said.

Lamport didn’t stop a moment, but peeled off another $100, and was glad to be shut of the bet. Good thing for him, too.