From the monthly archives:

October 2018

A superb new book on the duty of resistance

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2018

Candice Delmas, *A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil* (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Political obligation has always been a somewhat unsatisfactory topic in political philosophy, as has, relatedly, civil disobedience. The “standard view” of civil disobedience, to be found in Rawls, presupposes that we live in a nearly just society in which some serious violations of the basic liberties yet occur and conceives of civil disobedience as a deliberate act of public lawbreaking, nonviolent in character, which aims to communicate a sense of grave wrong to our fellow citizens. To demonstrate their fidelity to law, civil disobedients are willing to accept the consequences of their actions and to take their punishment. When Rawls first wrote about civil disobedience, in 1964, parts of the US were openly and flagrantly engaged in the violent subordination of their black population, so it was quite a stretch for him to think of that society as “nearly just”. But perhaps its injustice impinged less obviously on a white professor at an elite university in Massachusetts than it did on poor blacks in the deep South.

The problems with the standard account hardly stop there. Civil disobedience thus conceived is awfully narrow. In truth, the range of actions which amount to resistance to the state and to unjust societies is extremely broad, running from ordinary political opposition, through civil disobedience to disobedience that is rather uncivil, through sabotage, hacktivism, leaking, whistle-blowing, carrying out Samaritan assistance in defiance of laws that prohibit it, striking, occupation, violent resistance, violent revolution, and, ultimately, terrorism. For the non-ideal world in which we actually live and where we are nowhere close to a “nearly just” society, we need a better theory, one which tells us whether Black Lives Matter activists are justified or whether antifa can punch Richard Spencer. Moreover, we need a theory that tells us not only what we may do but also what we are obliged to do: when is standing by in the face of injustice simply not morally permissible.

Step forward Candice Delmas with her superb and challenging book *The Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil* (Oxford University Press). Delmas points out the manifold shortcomings of the standard account and how it is often derived from taking the particular tactics of the civil rights movement and turning pragmatic choices into moral principles. Lots of acts of resistance against unjust societies, in order to be effective, far from being communicative, need to be covert. Non-violence may be an effective strategy, but sometimes those resisting state injustice have a right to defend themselves.
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Mary Midgley

by Gina Schouten on October 29, 2018

I’ve been learning just a little bit about Mary Midgley, who wasn’t really on my radar before her death earlier this month. I enjoyed this in particular, from here:

““I started with Plato before I ever went to college… One day, I picked a little book off the bookshelf and said, ‘this might be quite fun.’ I decided it was quite fun.” There was a pause. “I could have picked up Spinoza.” She looked slightly alarmed at the possibility.”

I certainly didn’t pick up any philosophy from off the bookshelf before I went to college, but I’ve been trying to remember which philosopher I read first once I got there (and trying to imagine the consequences of lots of possibilities that I’m pretty sure are counter-factual). I think the first philosopher I read as a philosopher was King.


Sunday photoblogging: Death Valley

by Eszter Hargittai on October 28, 2018

I have no doubt that you have seen better pictures of rainbows and probably even double rainbows. What’s noteworthy about this photo is that Death Valley gets about 60mm (less than two inches) of precipitation a year. Compare that to the annual average of Los Angeles at 380mm (15 inches) or Phoenix at 200mm (8 inches). Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. The chances of a double rainbow in this part of the world are extremely small so while my first reaction was: “Why does it have to rain precisely when I’m here?” this approach soon shifted to “Wow, what a beautifully rare occasion.” Most of my other photos convey what you’re more likely to expect from the area, you can see some of them here.

Saturday art blogging: South End Open Studios in Boston

by Eszter Hargittai on October 27, 2018

I went there for the open market, I stayed for the open art studios. It was a warm Fall Sunday and I was excited to check out the street fair at SoWa Open Market to look at local artists’ creative goods. That experience was fine, but, perhaps due to my rather high standards thanks to the numerous excellent street fairs in summer Chicagoland, it did not inspire me too much. This may have been partly due to the fact that such art fairs tend to showcase designs of the geographical locality so my having no emotional connection to Boston left me rather detached. Or I am reading too much into it and the works were just not that exciting.

What really got me engaged instead were the dozens of art studios open to visitors to browse. I looked at all sorts of paintings and photography, but my favorite was Brian Murphy‘s wire art, an example of which illustrates this post. Not only did I like the shapes of the wire sculptures that in many cases were quite expressive, but the artist infuses humor into many of his works through their captions. I spent quite some time browsing his various pieces, some surprising in their simplicity, others impressive in their complexity. Next time you are in the Boston area, I recommend checking out these studios if they happen to be open when you are there. It’s conveniently accessible with public transportation.

The sign of the piece pictured here reads:
Brian Murphy, While Alice Was Ready To Admit He Was A Rather Amazing Egg She Feared The Mess He Would Make When He Inevitably Fell, Wire Sculpture, $200

Research that is most relevant to my scholarship tends to get published in journals and I have ways of keeping up with such work. I have a much harder time fitting in reading academic books. They don’t tend to be directly related to my research so there is rarely any urgency in reading them as they are unlikely to inform my work directly (although, of course, could easily inform my work in more indirect ways). Lots of books get published on the social aspects of digital media that may not need to be cited in my own writing, but I am nonetheless curious to read simply because they are of interest to me more generally. I’d like to know how others fit in such book-reading. Are there specific regular time slots you set aside for this? If yes, how often? Has your approach worked?

I started a book club as part of the Digital Society Initiative at my university as a way to get myself to read at least a few books a year. This way I set aside several hours leading up to the book club meeting, but I don’t think it’s realistic to do that every week. Or is that what I should be doing? We read 4-5 books a year so 4-5 such slots on my annual calendar is not a problem. But this is way less than the structured time I’d like to spend on book reading. Please share your experiences even if they concern failed attempts, I’m curious to hear.

Commutes are one possibility, but my train ride to work is just 20 minutes, which is not enough to make that much of a dent. (I’m not complaining about my commute time, just recognizing that it’s not a ton of time for meaningful reading.) Evening hours I reserve for other types of reading or other activities (like making art).

As for the physical environment needed to read comfortably, I am all set there. I bought a very comfy chaise longue (IKEA’s Grönlid) for my office and it’s done wonders for making my way through readings of all sorts such as grant applications I am reviewing. But so yeah, with so many demands on our reading time (articles closely tied to research, student papers, colleagues’ work I’m commenting on, refereeing), how do I fit in more structured time for book reading?

Please support Equal Citizens

by Eszter Hargittai on October 22, 2018

Last year, I asked you to help support science. This year, I am asking you to pitch in to help end the corruption of U.S. democracy through a donation to Equal Citizens. Equal Citizens is pursuing several important projects such as fixing the Electoral College, ending SuperPACs, and ending voter suppression. There is tons of information concerning the specifics of how they are doing this on

Equal Citizens does not bombard one’s mailbox with constant requests for donations like some other organizations. Indeed, they haven’t done this kind of a campaign in a year. To help support them, I am hosting a fundraiser through Facebook where I have committed to matching up to $500 of donations. Won’t you add your support as well? You can do so through my Facebook fundraising page or directly through the Equal Citizens site. Thank you!

Today’s art post inspiration comes from an unlikely source: JAMA Opthamalogy. The article “Evidence That Leonardo da Vinci Had Strabismus” makes the case that the artist’s exceptional rendering of 3-D in 2-D was in part thanks to his eye condition sometimes referred to as wandering eye. The author, opthomologist Christopher Tyler of City, University of London, examined six pieces thought to be depicting Leonardo da Vinci: “David (Andrea del Verrocchio); Young Warrior (Andrea del Verrocchio); Salvator Mundi (da Vinci); Young John the Baptist (da Vinci); Vitruvian Man (da Vinci) and another possible da Vinci self-portrait.” (quoted from the university’s press release). Ars Technica’s coverage of the piece has helpful visuals. There seems to be disagreement in the art community about whether all of those art pieces depict Leonardo da Vinci, but this is a topic Tyler had already researched earlier. His argument seems convincing to me and is an interesting revelation about the condition under which some artists did that work. Apparently other famous artists also had strabismus (e.g., Rembrandt) or other vision impairments (e.g., Monet, O’Keeffe). I appreciate the angle the Washington Post’s coverage takes on this at the end noting that this should give people with eye-alignment disorders some boost in confidence to counter the discrimination they sometimes face both on the job market and in social situations.

Air Is Real

by John Holbo on October 20, 2018

This image (I snagged it from an FB group) is evidently from this book [Amazon]. Science For Work And Play (1954).

I think someone should write Philosophy For Work and Play. “Error is real.” We could keep the picture the same.

Gene Wolfe on Gmail predictive text

by Henry Farrell on October 19, 2018

From this story, though it was the shortest and the most simple too of all those I have recorded in this book, I feel that I learned several things of some importance. First of all, how much of our speech, which we think freshly minted in our own mouths, consists of set locutions. The Ascian seemed to speak only in sentences he had learned by rote, though until he used each for the first time we had never heard them. Foila seemed to speak as women commonly do, and if I had been asked whether she employed such tags, I would have said that she did not – but how often one might have predicted the ends of her sentences from their beginnings.

Law and Economics

by Henry Farrell on October 18, 2018

I’ve been waiting for this paper to drop, ever since Suresh told me about it last year. It’s groundbreaking. What it does is to take Steve Teles’ qualitative work on the conservative legal movement, and then ask a simple question: if we start with the qualitative evidence about the program’s intentions, then FOIA the hell out of George Mason University to find out which judges attended the Manne seminars, and then apply cutting edge econometrics and natural language processing to their decisions, what are we going to find out?

Some selected quotes (as well as one quote that isn’t in the current version, but will likely be in the next) under the fold, for those who are interested in the headline findings. [click to continue…]

Why No One Wins a War over the South China Sea

by John Q on October 18, 2018

That’s the headline for my latest piece in The National Interest. (over the fold)The central point is brilliantly summed up in this clip from Utopia.

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Sunday photoblogging: cormorants

by Chris Bertram on October 14, 2018

Cormorant (or shag?)-2

Saturday art blogging: Kitchen Trees in Manhattan

by Eszter Hargittai on October 13, 2018

One fun aspect of public art is that you can stumble into it without any planning on your part to have an artistic experience. Such was the case when I found myself staring at columns of colanders and looking up at fruits and vegetables hanging from pots and pans in City Hall Park in New York. The exhibition is by B. Wurtz who likes to draw on everyday objects in his work. Since I am a huge fan of reusing objects, this appeals to me a great deal.

Another neat aspect of public art in such a location is that by taking a step, you can get an entirely different visual experience. With both trees and scyscrapers in the background, this is not an exaggeration. The pictures on the exhibition site were taken in daylight while mine (see album on Flickr) were taking during dusk so they offer different views from that perspective as well. The trees will be on display in this park through December 7, 2018.

This is Monstrous

by John Holbo on October 11, 2018

New Yorker link.

According to a long-standing legal precedent known as the Flores settlement, which established guidelines for keeping children in immigration detention, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge; that hearing would have likely hastened her release from government custody and her return to her family. At the time of her apprehension, in fact, Helen checked a box on a line that read, “I do request an immigration judge,” asserting her legal right to have her custody reviewed. But, in early August, an unknown official handed Helen a legal document, a “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” which described a set of legal proceedings and rights that would have been difficult for Helen to comprehend. (“In a Flores bond hearing, an immigration judge reviews your case to determine whether you pose a danger to the community,” the document began.) On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.

Normativity Erosion – #Make Norms Normative Again

by John Holbo on October 11, 2018

That time a ‘Constitution in Exile‘ borderline anarchist libertarian and a Catholic integralist wandered into a Twitter thread to discuss political legitimacy, and it crossed neither of their minds it might be a normative notion (rather than a descriptive synonym for power, give or take.) [click to continue…]