From the category archives:


Covid Concept Home

by Gina Schouten on October 19, 2021

An opinion piece by Tressie McMillan Cottom describes a new “Covid concept home” that was unveiled this summer. The home—with its four bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms—is clearly intended for upper middle-class buyers, though it has not yet been priced. The “concept” emerged from a collaboration among three businesswomen in light of an online survey of nearly 7,000 U.S. adults (with household incomes of $50,000+/year). The survey’s purpose was to test “consumer sentiment in light of COVID-19 to understand the design changes consumers want in new homes and communities.”

Those survey results reveal an interesting trend in the expectations of a certain social group about work, school, and home life: “many consumers view the pandemic not as a one-off, but as a harbinger: They will need to work from home in the future.” The Covid concept home is built with this in mind.

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Sunday photoblogging: Saint Guilhem-le-Désert

by Chris Bertram on October 17, 2021


Hierarchy of the Grift

by Maria on October 6, 2021

Recently I was trapped in a room with a beautician trying to upsell me ‘treatments’. She handed me a glossy brochure for a process that involved lying down on a bed with a large inflatable bag secured around the waist, and having carbon dioxide pumped into the bag. This would, I was assured, cause my lower half to become thinner and less lumpy. It would cost several hundred pounds. I nodded, smiled, refused all offers, and left at the earliest appropriate moment, feeling quite grumpy about the utter crap marketed to women to stoke and then assuage our insecurities. There’s no point saying ‘No thanks, that’s bullshit pseudoscience and frankly insulting,’ because that would be rude. The only market signal permitted is ‘No thanks’.

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Monday photoblogging: Béziers cathedral

by Chris Bertram on October 4, 2021

You have to look very hard to discover that this building replaced the structure destroyed when anti-Cathar crusaders massacred up to 20,000 people in 1209, an episode during which the crusader commander Simon de Monfort, faced with the difficulty of distinguishing heretics from Christians, infamously uttered the words “kill them all! God will know his own.”


Group size and tolerating those with whom we disagree

by Chris Bertram on October 3, 2021

The other day I tweeted what I took to be a fairly banal sociological observation and one that took no normative position, as such. I observed that people in families or smaller communities are, as a condition of participating in many everyday social activities, under some pressure to be more tolerant of people with divergent moral, religious or political views to their own than are people in large communities or networks such as cities or the internet. People in larger networks typically have more choice about who they interact with and so can restrict themselves more easily to others who think like they do. Notice that there aren’t necessarily two distinct groups of people here. People interact both in small family groups for some of their time but also in wider networks. In the first, there’s pressure to put up with the disagreeing other, to some extent, in the latter there’s much less pressure since you don’t have to engage.

Some people reacted a little negatively, or so I took it, to my observation. It was suggested that I was “lauding small towns” over cities, though I was not. Others, more supportive, chimed in to say that growing up in small places they’d been under more pressure to justify themselves and their views to others with whom they disagreed, whereas in cities they’d not had to bother. And some people notices that the working-age population did indeed have to tolerate people with different opinions to their own since they had no choice but to be in the workplace, while perhaps retirees could select co-thinkers and screen out unwelcome opinions.

My banal observation didn’t just come out of nowhere. On the contrary it arose from the comparatively privileged experience of living in two quite different places. In the one, I can have a social life where I end up hanging out with people who are pretty similar to myself; in the other, if I am to have any social life at all, it has to be with relatively small numbers of people who just happen to be in the town and know one another. That can be enriching, since I end up having conversations with people different to myself and learning about points of view quite other to my own. But there’s also a pressure to self-censorship, to avoiding certain topics in case they cause ill-feeling and to letting remarks go when they are possibly but not obviously freighted with racism and sexism. Generally, I think exhortations to people to get out of their bubble and to speak across divides are a waste of breath. But put people in different circumstances with others with whom they disagree and they will find ways to rub along and communicate, with a mix of challenge and restraint.

One of my favorite, and most intense, writing projects this year has been preparing a contribution to an in-progress volume celebrating the work and life of my late friend Erik Olin Wright. The essay, provisionally called “If you’re a socialist you need the Real Utopias Project whether you like it or not”, was prompted by reading and hearing numerous criticisms of either Erik’s book Envisioning Real Utopias, or the Real Utopias Project more generally. So what the essay does is argue for the importance of the RUP against those criticisms in a way that is much more defensive, combative, confident, and irritable than I would ever be discussing my own work. It’s been fun, though also quite strange to so inhabit the thought of someone to whom I was so close for so many years: I have had ‘new’ conversations with him in my head as the paper has unfolded.

I’ll share the final section below the fold, which will give you a sense of what I think. But, taking a leaf out of JQ’s book, I also thought some of you might like to read the whole draft and, even better, might be able to give me some feedback on it.

For those of you with more sense than to read an entire paper, here’s how the essay (currently) concludes:

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Monday photoblogging: Cirque de Navacelles

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2021

The always-spectacular Cirque de Navacelles on the border between Gard and Hérault drawn by the River Vis, of which this was a meander from which the river diverted about 6000 years ago.

Cirque de Navacelles

Sunday photoblogging: Marseillan

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2021

Marseillan, this afternoon.


Do taxes fund spending?

by Daniel on September 17, 2021

You wouldn’t have thought that this was a difficult or controversial question. But actually it’s both. It’s controversial because it’s more or less the central battleground for Modern Monetary Theory, and therefore an absolute magnet for bad tempered online debate. And it’s difficult for the same reason that a lot of things are difficult – the question looks like a reasonable one that should admit of a short answer, but that’s because all of the complexity and ambiguity is packed up into the fact that words are used in an ordinary language sense but the statements made with them need to be precise.

There are two possible courses of action in a situation like this. The first is to say either “very few people in this debate are confused about the actual facts, so this is really a dispute about semantics and since I am not in an iron lung, I have better things to do” or, depending on your circumstances, “despite being in this iron lung, I just got a new adult colouring book”, and then get on with your day. This is quite attractive, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking it.

But it’s not wholly satisfactory, because although few people actively involved in this controversy are confused, there are a lot of people in general who are confused about the relationship between taxes and spending and who think “taxes fund spending” is an uncontroversial and obviously true statement. And the process of un-confusing them is made a lot more difficult by the unclear semantics. That’s the point (when there is one) of semantic debates – if you have the semantics squared away then when people say dumb or contradictory things then they sound dumb and contradictory, but while the language is confused, they might sound profound or practical.

And so we come to the second course of action, which is “ENDLESS SQUABBLING”. Hurray!
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by Maria on September 14, 2021


I used to think novels were these telos-fuelled trams you hop onto, not like the trams of a normal European city with lines forming meshes that tent-pole at exchange points to condense traffic and the importance of certain neighbourhoods, imposing a new behavioural topology on top of whatever geography was already there, but more like the Luas in Dublin which has just two lines that are only thematically north-south and east-west, were built at the same time but did not interconnect either physically or fare-wise, despite multiple people and agencies pointing out the rank stupidity of this, and so force you to travel in a single dimension, along one obtusely pre-determined line. You get on and off the tram, or put the book down and pick it up again, but you can only ever travel forward to the end or back to the beginning, the way novels retroactively unravel their meaning as the conclusions reframes all that went before. Though, the way numbers are going, long-form fiction seems less city trams than heritage railways tended by hobbyists and devotees, going nowhere much at all.

This was my way of thinking, anyway, before I got really into audiobooks and learnt that some special few stories are not journeys but places. Those places are both a subset of reality and bigger than it, and evert into us as we immerse into them.
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Parents, children, and evolving terms of moral condemnation

by Gina Schouten on September 14, 2021

When and how should someone be held responsible for having transgressed a moral standard that wasn’t widely recognized—and that they themselves didn’t recognize—at the time of the transgression? We’ve had lots of occasions to think about this question over the past few years.

Judgments in particular cases clearly depend on several variables. First, of course: Is the transgression ongoing or likely to recur absent holding responsible? And, even if it isn’t ongoing or recurrent: Was the transgressor to blame for not knowing the moral standard? What harms from the past transgression persist? Can they now be eased by holding the transgressor responsible? If so, by how much? How do we balance the harm of being held responsible under these circumstances against the harm we stand to ease? Those last questions in turn depend on what kind of holding responsible we have in mind.

Until a friend sent me this column, I hadn’t thought to apply these questions to the matter of grown children “cutting off” their parents in response to transgressions that weren’t—and in several cases seemingly still aren’t—recognized by the parents as such. From the column:

“The parents in these cases are often completely bewildered by the accusations. They often remember a totally different childhood home and accuse their children of rewriting what happened. As one cutoff couple told the psychologist Joshua Coleman: ‘Emotional abuse? We gave our child everything. We read every parenting book under the sun, took her on wonderful vacations, went to all of her sporting events.’”

The parents’ indignation suggests they believe that parenting books, sports events, and wonderful vacations somehow preclude abuse. But of course, the relationship may have been emotionally abusive even if what they say is true. Still, their indignation got me thinking that two forms of holding responsible are worth keeping distinct: First is the non-consensual severing of relations. Second is the naming of the offense: the designation of the parents’ treatment as “abusive.” I’m interested in thinking more about the latter.

Quoting again from the column:

“[P]art of the problem, as Nick Haslam of the University of Melbourne has suggested, is there seems to be a generational shift in what constitutes abuse. Practices that seemed like normal parenting to one generation are conceptualized as abusive, overbearing and traumatizing to another.”

Obviously, there are important questions to ask about what merits the term “abusive.” The column doesn’t give any detailed examples to think through. But imagine some instance in which you think that both the designation “emotionally abusive” and the cutting off are perfectly legitimate forms of holding responsible. I want to know: Even in your case, if the designation meets with the parents’ sincere befuddlement, has something wrong happened to them? Some failure to preserve legibility across generations in our terms of moral condemnation? I’m not suggesting that sincere befuddlement obligates anyone not to sever ties or not to condemn. And I’m not suggesting that a grown child now cutting off her parents has an obligation to ensure that her parents fully understand the charges. But the parents’ befuddlement does make me wonder if the younger generation somehow failed collectively: Do those in the vanguard with respect to changing the meaning of morally condemnatory terms need to do more to bring others along? There may be good reason to expand the meaning of words like “abusive” or “violent.” But shouldn’t those accused of abuse and violence at least understand the meanings by which they stand accused?

Speeding up the academic refereeing process?

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 13, 2021

A while back, I was invited to referee a paper for an academic philosophy journal that requested the report back within 60 days. Really, 60 days? This provoked two thoughts in me. First, I’ll never submit to this journal. If you already give referees 60 days, how long will the entire process take? Second, why does it often take so long in (political) philosophy, ethics and related fields to get papers reviewed by journals?

What could be the reasons why it takes so long, how does this compare to other fields, and what (if anything) can be done about it? [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool panorama

by Chris Bertram on September 12, 2021

Liverpool panorama


by Chris Bertram on September 11, 2021

As everyone knows, today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as well as being the 48th of the coup that toppled Allende in Chile. But decades being what they are, as well as locations and long-term consequences, 9/11 is the one that will rightly be getting the most attention. Its most important consequences include millions of dead across Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as other parts of the Middle East, a catastrophic loss of freedom across the world because of ever deepening securitization and hardening of borders, Guantanamo and torture at the hands of “liberal demogracies”, an enraged Islamophobia that has infected the “West” and divided countries between racist right-wing populists and the rest, bringing us Trump and Breivik among others, and, ultimately, a relative loss in power of the American hegemon with the humbling withdrawal from Afghanistan. Israel’s leaders were encouraged to dig in, knowing then that they could get away without any concessions to the Palesitinians. Some of developments no doubt have other causes too, but without 9/11 we’d be a lot less far down the path. Osama bin Laden failed in most of his aims and the slaughter of nearly 3000 people was for nothing: the Caliphate is no closer than it was, though the world is a lot worse, perhaps especially for Muslims.

Everyone who was then alive and still is will know where they were that day. I was on the top floor of the Bristol philosophy department when I started picking up the confusing news and turned the radio on. Nobody really knew what was happening and there were odd reports of things that don’t seem to have happened, such as, if I remember right, a car bomb outside the Pentagon. I went down and told a couple of other people the news and we listened and watched, obsessively refreshing our browsers. In the following days, we had little meetings and seminars in which some of us had to push back against the idea that the death of three thousand American civilians was somehow “deserved”. Having travelled to the US at Easter of the previous year, gone to the top of the World Trade Center with my young sons (our very first visit to the US), I was sentimentally inoculated against that particular brand of anti-imperialist triumphalism, for which I consider myself morally lucky.

And out of it all came blogging and ultimately Crooked Timber as we all argued online about processes and forces beyond our comprehension with people like Instapundit, “Armed Liberal”, and Norman Geras. Michael Walzer asked whether there could be a “decent left” and the answer seems to have been that “decent leftism” was a gateway to right-wing alignment for many (where are the signatories of the Euston Manifesto now?). I too wrote things then of which I am now ashamed.

So let’s remember the three thousand, but also the more numerous dead of Mosul and Fallujah, of Helmand, of Aleppo, of nameless places where drones struck, of Utøya too. All those people who would be living now but for 9/11 and the reaction to it, as well as those who did not die but are maimed in mind or body.

A song about the day itself from one of the greatest songwriters of the past 20 years:

Sunday photoblogging: Venice arch

by Chris Bertram on September 5, 2021

Following some advice on Jamie Windsor’s excellent YouTube photography channel I decided to look through the last two years of my photos to see if there were some I’d neglected at the time but which would benefit from a second look. This is one that did, from Venice in summer 2019 before the world changed.

Venice arch