From the monthly archives:

May 2022

Why We’re Polarized Part 2

by Gina Schouten on May 31, 2022

[Two preliminary notes, in response to last week’s comments: First, on Klein’s definition of “polarization”: For Klein, polarization is the process whereby people’s opinions either change, or the distribution of opinions sorts, to cluster around two poles, with fewer people left in the middle. Importantly, this does not entail that either side is more extreme. So: sorting is a subcategory of polarization—both have the consequence of increasing tension between the two ends of the spectrum, “which is what polarization is meant to describe” (32); but polarization is importantly distinct from extremism. Second, on the structure of the book, which I should have emphasized. Institutions like the media are a crucial part of Klein’s explanation for polarization. This discussion plays out in the second part of the book. The first part of the book is about our polarizing political identities, which polarizing institutions interact with. On the whole, Klein wants to show that polarization is a feedback loop: “Institutions polarize to appeal to a more polarized public, which further polarizes the public, which forces the institutions to polarize further, and so on” (136-7). Today’s post finishes up a point I wanted to make about polarizing identities. Next week and the week after, Parts 3 and 4 will move on to the stuff on institutions.]

In last week’s post about Why We’re Polarized, I wrote about Ezra Klein’s case for sorting as a kind of identity convergence. Here’s a summary in his words: “Today, the parties are sharply split across racial, religious, geographic, cultural, and psychological lines. There are many, many powerful identities lurking in that list, and they are fusing together, stacking atop one another, so a conflict or threat that activates one activates all” (136). I concluded by noting that I’m particularly interested in the practical upshots of the geographic aspect of identity convergence. I live in a liberal enclave, and I’ve often wondered what kinds of moral reasons I might have to leave it. I’ve wondered how strong those reasons are relative to the self-interested reasons I have to live wherever I most prefer to live. Remember that Klein compared identity convergence to stacking magnets on top of one another, “so the pull-push force of that stack is multiplied” (47-8). I’m struck by the fact that, in his discussion of practical upshots, he doesn’t raise the possibility that we have some personal obligations to shuffle up our own magnets.
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Sunday photoblogging: Llandudno

by Chris Bertram on May 29, 2022


Why We’re Polarized, Part 1

by Gina Schouten on May 24, 2022

I started reading Why We’re Polarized, by Ezra Klein, back in November. I’d also given a copy to my dad, proposing that we both read it and then talk about it over a beer. I have the good fortune to have a father who disagrees with me about many things, who is kind and curious, and who presumes good will, not only when he’s talking to his daughter but when he’s talking to most people who haven’t given him a pretty good reason to abandon that presumption. He is also so exceedingly gracious that he can be relied upon to read any book given to him as a gift. I really wanted to read this book with my dad, and I knew he’d follow through because he never doesn’t. What could go wrong? Me, of course.

A few chapters in, life got busy and other things more urgently needed reading. So, by the time I picked the book back up a few weeks ago, it had lain open and face down for long enough to have collected an impressive cover of dust. But, flipping back through the pages and revisiting my scribbles in the margins, I quickly remembered how much I’d been enjoying it. Quite apart from the interesting content, the skillfulness of it is thrilling. Klein reviews so much social science research in these chapters and weaves such a compelling argument from the threads of that research that he has no business also having written a book that’s engaging and painless to read. Yet he’s done just that.

The book makes the case that the U.S. political system is now characterized by a vicious feedback loop between polarizing political identities and polarizing political institutions. Over the coming weeks, I’ll write a few posts about things that struck me as I worked my way (back) through the book, and I’ll frame some questions it raised for me. First up is Klein’s origin story about the feedback loop, which involves the sorting of our various identities into camps aligned with newly differentiating political parties.

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Monday photoblogging: Ortygia

by Chris Bertram on May 23, 2022

I’ve been travelling, so wasn’t able to post the customary Sunday photo yesterday. But here’s one that I found I’d discarded a few years back.

Courtyard in Ortygia

Russia and the end of nuclear power

by John Q on May 21, 2022

Of the 50-odd nuclear plants currently under construction, around 1 in 3 are Russian VVER designs, being built by Rosatom. Sanctions on the supply of all kinds of electronics mean that few of these will be completed on time, if ever. in promoting sales, Russia has relied heavily on concessional financing through Sberbank, which is also sanctioned. That’s going to make future sales just about impossible, and create big difficulties in fulfilling existing commitments.

With the exception of the EPR money-pit, the only remaining large reactor design still in the market is China’s Hualong One. Given the experience with Russia, buyers outside China may well be cautious about this option.

So, if there is any chance for new nuclear, it rests with Small Modular Reactors, none of which actually exist (there are small reactors, but they aren’t modular, that is, mass-produced).


Guest Post: Survey on Exploitation

by Miriam Ronzoni on May 17, 2022

We are conducting a survey about academic philosophers’ (academic faculty, emerita, lecturers, post-docs and graduate students) views of what exploitation is, by judging how exploitative you feel various abstract scenarios are.

It takes roughly ten minutes to complete the questions, with the option to answer more if you like. If you complete the survey, we will send you a copy of the eventual working paper summarizing the results and we will enter you in our prize draw to receive one of ten $200 (or local currency equivalent) Amazon vouchers (unless you opt out).

Click here to take our survey:

Thank you for contributing your expertise!

We have been granted ethical approval by review committees at our institutions. We are Benjamin Ferguson (Warwick)Peter Matthews (Middlebury)David Ronayne (ESMT Berlin), and Roberto Veneziani (Queen Mary University London).

Sunday photoblogging: Rose

by Chris Bertram on May 15, 2022

The garden at Cropston- rose

The Thirty-Nine Steps

by John Q on May 13, 2022

At the end of The Thirty-Nine Steps (the John Buchan novel that largely created the spy thriller genre), the hero is about to give the signal for arrest of a ring of German spies. But their pose as ordinary middle class Englishmen is so convincing that they persuade him to join them as a fourth for bridge. Fortunately, a sudden movement alerts him to their true identity and he comes to his senses, blowing his whistle to call in the waiting police.

I’m reminded of this whenever I look at the political scene in the United States. The Republicans have made it obvious that if the votes in the 2024 election go the wrong way for them, the result will be overturned and their candidate (most likely Trump) will be installed. If they win under the existing rules, they will change them to ensure that no Democrat is ever elected again. Yet everyone is pretending that the situation is normal, trying to work out whether (for example) Roe v Wade is a trump card, and if so, who holds it.

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I was reading a book on migration ethics recently – I may write a review later 1 — and it reminded me how a certain picture of the normal liberal state and its place in the world figures in a lot of political philosophy. Although the normative arguments are supposedly independent of historical facts, history is to be found everywhere, but only in a highly selective version that reflects the dominance of the United States within the discipline and the prominence of prosperous white liberals as both the writers of the important texts and as the readers and gatekeepers. 2 Their assumptions about the world and the US place in it shine through and form a "common ground" that is presupposed in much of this writing.3

In this vision, all the world is America 4 — though not one that corresponds to the actual history of the US — and the rest of the world mostly consists of little proto-Americas that will or should get there in the end (thereby echoing Marx’s dictum that the more developed country shows the less developed one a picture of its own future). This imaginary, but also not-imaginary, state is a sort-of cleaned-up and aspirational version of the actual one, cleansed of embarrassing details that are mere contingencies that detract or distract from what US liberals suppose to be its real essence or telos. Crucially, it is also considered as a basically self-contained entity, where all the important relationships are ones among people on the territory.5 It is an association of free and equal persons that has simply arisen on virgin soil. Both the actual United States and other countries fall short of this model, of course, but with time and good will wrinkles and carbuncles will be removed. 6

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Sunday photoblogging: Horse in a flooded field

by Chris Bertram on May 8, 2022

Pézenas - horse in flooded field

Joseph Raz

by Harry on May 4, 2022

I got a text from one of my graduate students yesterday:

You must have heard that Joseph Raz has died. Very sad. I don’t remember if I told you but I corresponded with him in December. I couldn’t believe he responded to me (a nobody) and he was very kind.

Here’s another story. There used to be two bus routes between Oxford and London, the X90, and the Oxford Tube (run by Stagecoach, in turn owned by Brian Souter, a prominent funder of the campaign for Section 28). During the period 2000-2002 I lived in Oxford but taught in London; one of my PhD students was a politically conservative, and gay, man, who also lived in Oxford and with whom, I think he’d agree, I had a rather prickly relationship at first. Like me, he used whichever bus was more convenient until, one day, he told me that he wasn’t using the Tube any more. I asked why and he said that he was standing at a bustop with Joseph Raz the previous day, and he noticed that Raz (who he recognized from having seen him give a lecture once) let the Oxford Tube go past. My student asked him why, and Raz, who didn’t know my student at all, said, simply, that he always used the X90, however inconvenient, because he wouldn’t let Souter get hold of his money. It made a deep impression on my student, and Raz’s comment inadvertently underpinned a welcome rapprochement between us. Neither of us used the Oxford Tube after that.

I didn’t know Raz at all well though I am sure some of our readers here did. But I did have the gift of taking a class from him shortly after I became interested in political philosophy. He was visiting USC’s Law school, and held the class, which was attended by exactly 4 people, in his office. We read The Morality of Freedom, which was maybe 2 years old at the time. It is not written in a reader-friendly way (to understated the facts), and its a real struggle to read, but working through it with the author, chapter by chapter, repaid the effort many times over. His unfriendly prose was at odds with his clear, and insightful, communication in the our discussions, in which he would patiently correct our misunderstandings, and respectfully, and kindly, listen to and think through our own ideas. I, in particular, must have seemed very naive, having only just encountered the field, but he never gave any sign of being irritated by that. That experience influenced my intellectual development greatly, and whenever I am irritated by naive questions or comments, I remind myself how kindly, and encouragingly, Raz treated me (a nobody).

The Four-Day Week

by John Q on May 4, 2022

I just got invited to put a short entry on the 4-day week in the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of HRM . It’s over the fold

Four Day Week

The five-day working week and the two-day weekend, have been standard for so long, it is hard for many to imagine anything different. But, as a normal way of working, it dates back only to the middle of the 20th century. Before that, Saturday was a normal working day in Western countries and only Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, was normally taken as a day of rest.

The advent of the weekend, and the associated standard workweek of 35 to 40 hours was the culmination of a long series of reductions in working hours from the peak, of 70 hours or more reached in the early 19th century. At the time, it was expected that these reductions would continue, as technological progress reduced the labour input needed to produce any given volume of output.

Reductions in annual hours, through increases in vacation time and other forms of leave continued during the middle decades of the 20th century,. However, with the increase in the bargaining power of employers which began with the neoliberal ‘counter-revolution’ in the 1970s, progress towards reduced working hours halted and was, in many cases, reversed.

The shock of the pandemic has created conditions for a resurgence of interest in reduced working hours and, particularly, the idea of a four-day week. The pandemic exacerbated existing disillusionment with working arrangements, and showed that alternatives are possible. As a result, a phase of experimentation has begun.

Proposals for a four-day week differ regarding the associated change in working hours. At one extreme, some proposals leave weekly hours unchanged, compressing five days’ work into four. At the other, daily working hours are unchanged, and the number of hours in the standard working week is reduced by 20 per cent.

It’s also necessary to consider whether a four-day week should take the form of a three-day weekend, extended to include Mondays (or perhaps Fridays). One alternative is an extension the rostered day off prevailing in some parts of the building industry, where all workers have one day off each fortnight, but the number rostered on any given day is constant. Another option, drawing on the experience of the pandemic would be a core 3-day week (Tuesday to Thursday) with workers having either Friday or Monday off.

One way or another it seems that the four-day week is now firmly on the policy agenda.

John Quiggin

References and selected further readings

Quiggin, J. (2022), ‘There’s never been a better time for Australia to embrace the 4-day week’, The Conversation, 14 February,

Schor, J. (1993) The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Basic Books,

Boby Lapointe centenary rehearsals in Pézenas

Elena Ferrante La vita bugiarda degli adulti | Letizia Jaccheri

I read Ferrante’s latest novel (the title of the English translation is The Lying Life of Adults) over the Easter break and it felt like coming home. I don’t know whether I am prepared to say that it is “objectively” better than her other stand-alone novels (other than the Brilliant Friend saga, I mean), but it spoke to me in a way that they didn’t. [click to continue…]

Alternative social media open thread

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 1, 2022

Following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, some progressive/left-leaning people have left, or are considering to leave. I haven’t left. So far Twitter has been very useful for me for (1) political activism, especially regarding Higher Education policies in my own country; (2) as a source of information – it’s partly a supplement to newspapers and other traditional media; (3) exchanging information with others, worldwide; (4) some debate and exchange of arguments, which sadly is probably part of the reason the blogosphere has been in decline over the last decade. Hence, there are still reasons not to leave, but obviously I am waiting to see how Twitter under Musk-rule will change.

Nevertheless, it’s high time to start looking seriously into the alternatives; this might make it easier/less costly to leave if we ever judge we have to. I’m at square zero concerning Twitter-alternatives, and surely I’m not the only one. Hence my question: what are your experiences on other social media platforms, and do you have any advice to offer to those considering to move to another place?