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Ingrid

Film Review: The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 11, 2023

One of the challenges critics of our contemporary form of capitalism face, is how to make the analysis of that beast clear to a broad audience. Let’s face it, most academic books on the topic are hard to understand. Moreover, many people hardly ever read a non-fiction book about politics, let alone the economy. Film is in this respect a great medium, since it is easier to digest than reading a book. And often a picture says more than a thousand words.

Some years ago, I was teaching ‘ethics of capitalism’ to an interdisciplinary group of undergraduate students. Many of them had never had any economics, and since any third-year student could take this course, I had students in that class from all over the university – history, philosophy, economics, geography, anthropology, sociology – even a student from theoretical physics. In the last week of the course, we zoomed in on the financial crisis, and I was worried how to teach such complex material. So, in addition to giving a lecture, I also organised a screening and discussion of Inside Job, and that worked very well. The film was pretty effective to further process the dry material from the lecture, and put all of it into a broader perspective. [click to continue…]

Book note – The Persuaders, by Anand Giridharadas

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 28, 2022

I recently listened to the new book by Anand Giridharadas, who is well-known for his previous book Winner Takes All. That book was about how (some of) the superrich are happy trying to contribute to some of the world’s problems, but never ask any questions related to why the world is so unequal as it is, what power and the workings of capitalism have to do with all of this, and whether their capitalist strategies are at all suited to address these problems. I thought that was a great book.

So I was looking forward to his new book. It is called The Persuaders. Winning Hearts and Minds in a Divided Age. It is a book about why we shouldn’t just give up on people who have political or social views that we find wrong, perhaps even horrible. The book presents a series of cases, the activists involved, and the techniques or strategies they use – interspersed with some insights from social psychology and other sciences on what works (and what doesn’t) to make people change their mind in a non-manipulative way.

My take-away from the book is that there is no point in believing you are right (or have the right policy, or the right analysis on what needs to happen on matter X), and believing the only thing that is needed for change is airing those views and that analysis. It’s just not enough. We need to actually spend time and effort to persuade others that this is the right analysis/policy/direction, and this persuasion cannot be merely cognitive; it requires understanding “where people are”, what makes them believe what they believe, and showing respect for them as a person at the outset. All of that requires listening, and being willing to engage in a genuine conversation, and finding out why people believe what they believe. Just believing I am right (and having all the arguments sorted out in my head) and airing my views, is not enough to also make a difference in the world, especially not in deeply divided societies. And, very importantly, trying to persuade others, and being willing to be persuaded, should be an essential part of any democracy. Thus, this book is also, at a deeper level, about what contemporary democracies need. [click to continue…]

Updates from Russia

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 27, 2022

And so it begins… Yulia Galyamina, the first Russian professor who got fired because “she is a foreign agent”.

And here’s Dmitry Vasilets, a Real Russian Hero.

Also, while we’re talking about Russia: Please consider supporting Meduza. Russians must have access to free press, just like all of us – and after it got banned, Meduza can only continue thanks to subscriptions and financial support from outside Russia.

Audio-books

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 16, 2022

Once in a while, I listen to a book as an audiobook, rather than reading it on paper or on my electronic device. Especially during the pandemic, when I was walking a lot, I loved listening to stories while walking. And clearly, for people who are dyslectic, or who for another reason can’t read easily, they are a real blessing.

But I’ve noted something weird with audio-books that I can’t quite grasp – so perhaps someone here can help me understand what is going on. [click to continue…]

Yesterday I attended/watched four talks on climate action. The first three were at a festival in Amsterdam where Chris Armstrong, a new branch on our crooked tree, was also speaking, on his book on oceans politics. First I attended two talks by some Dutch-speaking people (including David Van Reybrouck, famous author of the colonial histories Congo and Revolusi, who is now fully dedicated to working on ecological causes). Then I attended Andreas Malm’s talk on how to fight in a world on fire. Nothing special to report for those who have read the book – but given the pretty critical discussion of my bookreview of his work here recently I’d thought I should mention that he came across as more nuanced than [how I read] his book. For example, he stressed that the vast majority of the climate movement will remain peaceful, and that those who want to move to sabotage must carefully choose their targets – focussing on targets that are part of the problem, and as part of an action that doesn’t alienate people but instead lets the climate movement grow.

But the most interesting talk of the day was by Greta Thunberg, who launched The Climate Book at the London Literature Festival. Thunberg has put together a one-stop-volume on climate change and climate action. You can watch her speech and subsequent interview here (it effectively starts at 14’35”). In essence, Thunberg believes that governments are not going to do what is needed without millions more climate activists putting pressure on those governments, so that they speed up action and put the interests of ordinary people central. At some point, she mentions that so many individuals have the opportunity to be an activist, but don’t. She clearly sees this as a [moral, political] duty (she also uses the word “burden” at some point), and calls upon everyone to join a local activist group. [click to continue…]

For Women Life Freedom

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 10, 2022

Baraye, or “For”, is the song the Iranian regime took off Instragram as fast as they could, and if you listen to it (and read the translated lyrics) you will understand why. Since the current Iranian regime wants as few people as possible to see this, let’s make our tiny contribution in gettting this viral.

It is such an amazing song. So pure and so intens – both the love and the pain.

The artist who made this, Shervin Hajipour, was first arrested and later released – but god knows what he had to sign before being able to leave prison. He’s been quiet on Twitter since, but it’s nice to see that spotify still has his account and the song.

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, professor of Persian studies at my department, wrote a blogpost explaining the lyrics.

Iran uprising open thread

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 9, 2022

I was hesitating whether I should use “Iran revolution” in the title of this post, but I guess it is too early to tell. I do very much hope for the incredibly courageous people of Iran, that their protests will lead to a revolution which will bring basic freedoms and a respect of their basic human rights.

I have no expertise on Iran, so will not write a post with anything substative, but wanted to open up a space for those of you who do, or for those of you who have come across interesting pieces on the web, to share them.

The heroic women of Iran have asked us, those who live in societies where access to internet is guaranteed and who can express our thoughts freely without having to fear for anything significant, to amplify their voices. My simple strategy to do this has been to try to seek out and follow on Twitter Iranian refugees abroad and journalists who report on Iran, and retweet their reportings and the videos that they share of the women and men who are on the streets, risking their lives, while demanding a regime change.

Also – if I may allow myself a small digression – on moments such as this one, I cannot express how grateful I am to be able to write on a public platform (this blog) where we can have a discussion among people from all continents and all persuasions, and no-one is telling us what to publish and what not. Let’s remember the Lessons from Timothy Snyder, and never take the importance of that freedom for granted.

In his book How to Blog Up A Pipeline, Andreas Malm writes about the need for the climate movement to have a more radical wing (which would do things like blowing up pipelines, or other forms of property destruction). His view is that the climate movement is making a mistake by subscribing to radical forms of non-violence, since the climate crisis is getting worse year by year, while the tactics of the climate movement remain the same – and, in his view, have proven to be ineffective (or at least, insufficiently effective).

One of Malm’s targets is Extinction Rebellion (XR), one of the most visible groups within the climate movement. Local groups of XR are staging various forms of protest, but always non-violent; they do not destroy property. Malm argues that XR has a flawed understanding of how in the past movements operated who were fighting to abolish slavery or abolish apartheid in South Africa, or fighting for women’s political rights or equal civil rights in the US. They all first tried to reach their goals in a peaceful way, but at some point resorted to violence (against property, thereby doing their best to avoid hurting people). And that paid off, since it had the effect of making the claims of the non-violent part of the movement more acceptable to mainstream politics. Malm believes that what XR and other groups in the climate activist movement should learn from the history of the social justice movements, is to have a fraction or a wing in the movement that doesn’t shy away from destroying property. Hence the metaphor of blowing up a pipeline (in case anyone was wondering, Malm doesn’t tell his readers how to actually go about blowing up a pipeline).

This is a thought-provoking book, and I would recommend anyone interested in the future of life on our planet to read it. It is a much-needed book to stir up debate and get us into action, given the desperateness of the current climate situation and the lack of sufficiently effective action (which has been increasingly affecting my mood – as some of my posts here over the last months (one, two) probably revealed). But I don’t think Malm’s book will serve as a one-stop-answer to the question how to make the climate movement deliver results. Why not? [click to continue…]

A typology of research questions about society

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 22, 2022

One of the things I really like about my job, is that I have been appointed on a chair with the explicit expectation to advance interdisciplinary collaborations between ethics and political philosophy on the one hand, and the social sciences (broadly defined) on the other. I’ve been co-teaching with historians, taught some courses that were open to students from the entire university, have been giving guest lectures to students in many other programs including economics, pharmacology, education, and geosciences; and I co-supervised a PhD-student in social work. I’ve written an interdisciplinary book on the capability approach, and have co-authored papers with scholars from various disciplines. So interdisciplinarity is deeply engrained in much of what I do professionally.

But while I love it enormously, interdisciplinary teaching and research is also often quite hard. One of the challanges I’ve encountered in practice, is that students as well as professors/researchers are not always able to recognise the many different kind of questions that we can ask about society, its rules, policies, social norms and structures, and other forms of institutions (broadly defined). This then leads to misunderstandings, frustrations, and much time that is lost trying to solve these. I think it would help us if we would better understand the many different types of research that scholars working on all those aspects of society are engaged in. [click to continue…]

When we ask the question what we should do about climate change, the answer to that question depends a lot on who the “we” in that sentence is. There have been many answers to the questions what governments should do, or more in general “what should be done” without specifying who the agent of change is, as in, for example, the list of action points provided by Project Drawdown. We might have responsibilities related to climate change that we have specifically in our roles as elected politicians and office holders, as professionals, as entrepreneurs, as investors, and so forth.

But what can citizens, in their capacity of citizens rather than any professional role, do? What can human beings, simply by the fact that they are human beings and thus sharing this planet with other living creatures, do about climate change and ecological degradation?

When searching for an answer to that question, I’ve been wondering whether we could help ourselves by making a compact version of what our action plan to deal with climate change could be. Something that is easy to remember; something that is put in langauge that is not just for insiders or specialists; something that could contribute to a wide range of efforts to get things in motion; something that could serve as a structure, starting point or aide in conversations; and something that can help us very concretely in deciding where to start or what to do next.

Because no matter what the already inevitable consequences of climate change are (such as more frequent extreme weather events, droughts, floodings, wildfires etc.), we can always aim to limit the even more harmful consequences that will come with additional increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, we have to prepare for what will come (even under the best-case scenarios). And in unfolding those strategies, it would help to be united as people in our capacity as citizens and inhabitants of this world, and also to feel united and empowered.

Here’s my proposal for a citizens’ climate action plan in 10 bullet points (so easy to remember!). I will only say a few words about each of these bullet points, not aiming at being comprehensive. [click to continue…]

Paying lipservice, ticking boxes, and doing what it takes

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 1, 2022

Over the last years, I’ve observed in a number of cases of policy making something that looked like “paying lipservice”, but upon closer analysis turns out to be something else. In order to effectively understand, evaluate and criticise the actions of those responsible for policies and leadership actions, it might be helpful to make a distinction between three modes in which policy-makers and leaders in groups might operate: paying lipservice, ticking boxes, and doing what it takes.

The policies/leadership actions I will describe could be in an organisation, in a local or national government, or any other instance in which someone is engaged in making decisions that affect a group. It might even be something that we can observe in some smaller or less formalised groups in which some people have authority/leadership responsibilities, such as parents in families.

How do “paying lipservice”, “ticking boxes”, and “doing what it takes” differ, and why could distinguishing between them matter? [click to continue…]

What to do about climate change (1): Not too late

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 17, 2022

“The fact of the matter is: we are in the decade of decision. What we do in the Twenties will determine the fate of the Earth for centuries and millenia to come. And there’s a lot we can do – we can speed the transition away from fossil fuels, losen the death grip of the fossil fuel industry on our government and the world’s energy supplies, build the renewables, protect the soil and the forests, and support all the incredible movements that have already done so much so far, and have ambitions to do exactly what we need to do.” (Rebecca Solnit, Start Making Sense Clips, July 14th)

Yesterday, I discussed with some international colleagues chapter 4 of my book-in-progress on the problems with extreme wealth. That chapter looks at the links between wealth concentration and the ecological and environmental crisis, and ends up offering multiple ecological arguments for economic limitarianism. I open the chapter with a few pages that make it clear that climate change is not a future worry but that it has arrived, and that time is of the essence. Given that global emissions are not coming down yet and that the remaining carbon budget (to stay below 1,5 degrees or even 2 degrees) is very limited, we need to act fast and in a drastic manner. There is no time to go slow, and no time to merely fiddle in the margins.

It doesn’t make for joyful reading, yet most of what I describe that made my colleagues gloomy was merely factual. The facts simply show that matters are very bad and the situation urgent. But that is no reason to despair, since there are various feasible plans for curbing the emissions and speeding up the green transition, and various groups and movements that one can join in order to contribute. The main problems are political, and problems of power. Perhaps we should simply talk much more about what can be done, and what we can concretely do, rather than either deny that climate change is happening (thought that group seems to be shrinking), ignore that it is happening, or believe it is beyond our powers to do anything.

Two years ago I was invited to write a short piece for WWF’s Living Planet Report and argued precisely this – when it comes to the climate crisis, we need to see ourselves first of all as citizens and unite and act as such.

In that spirit, I was delighted to come across a new initiative from Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua, called Not Too Late. They want to encourage everyone to join the climate movement, to act as citizens to force politics to establish structural solutions, and to share stories about what climate movements are achieving. [click to continue…]

How to write a good public philosophy book

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 4, 2022

As I might have mentioned here before, I am currently working on a book (provisionally) entitled Limitarianism. The Case Against Extreme Wealth. It will be what publishers call a trade book – that is, written for any reader of nonfiction. I’ve been doing this kind of writing (and talks) in Dutch for much longer; this book I write in English. It will be published by Astra House for North-America, and by Allen Lane/Penguin for the UK and the rest of the world (with translations also in Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Russian).

As I am also engaged in academic-philosophical debates on limitarianism, it is striking to see what is considered relevant and important in each of those strands of writing. Some pre-occupations by academic philosophers are of little or no importance to the public, such as whether argument A for limitarianism is truly distinct from argument B, or whether limitarianism can be reduced to (a combination of) other distributive principles. For the public the most important question is whether this is an idea that makes sense, and some philosophical preoccupations are about other (more technical) issues. On the other hand, in my experience the public cares a lot about some things that many philosophers find irrelevant, such as what we can learn from the empirical facts (e.g. about the urgency of a problem, or whether a proposed intervention has ever worked in the past), and what a general (or abstract) discussion implies in a concrete context. Academic discussions can be at a level of abstractness that will make you lose most of your readers of nonfiction, even of serious nonfiction.

What else would make a public [political] philosophy book good? Here are my thoughts on this. [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?

EV charging challenges

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 30, 2022

About a year ago, the old second-hand car that my husband and I bought in 2007 was nearing its end. It had served us very well, but our car mechanic had been warning us for some years that it wouldn’t last for much longer. So we were contemplating what to do; we thought seriously about car-sharing combined with public transport, but for various reasons (the pandemic being one, having a child with special needs another), we decided to buy another car. We gathered information and decided to buy an electric car. The new car has been wonderful – I’ve never really liked driving a car but driving an EV is much more pleasant. And in Utrecht, the city where we live, the local authorities put new electric chargers in the streets at the same pace that new EVs are registered. So, at home we’ve never encountered any noteworthy difficulties with charging.

Until last week, I think we only had positive things to say about our experiences with driving an EV. But then we decided to go to France for a week. [click to continue…]