Space

by Maria on September 14, 2021

ONE

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?

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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…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool panorama

by Chris Bertram on September 12, 2021

Liverpool panorama

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Anniversaries

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:

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Kukathas on Immigration and Freedom

by Chris Bertram on September 8, 2021

I just finished reading Chandran Kukathas’s book on immigration, Immigration and Freedom, (Princeton: 2021) and I recommend it strongly. In some respects it is a quirky book and Kukathas is coming from an intellectual home that most of the left-leaning readers of Crooked Timber are not friendly to. Hayek gets a lot of mentions, and I’m guessing that many with social democratic or Rawlsian sympathies won’t share Kukathas’s scepticism about the bounded state being a locus of political community and justice (though cf James C. Scott). Kukathas’s basic argument, though developed in detail over many pages, is that to control immigration, states need to monitor and control migrants. But in order to do this, states also need to monitor and control their own citizens. Because one thing human beings are prone to do is to associate with other human beings, independently of their immigration status. People love, befriend, work with, create with, employ others and some of those people are immigrants. So to stop immigrants from doing the things the state doesn’t want them to do, the state also has to monitor its citizens who want to do those things with them and if necessary to pass laws preventing them from doing those things.
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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

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Last night’s sunset from Liverpool

Wirral sunset

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Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on August 26, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

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Climate and Covid

by John Quiggin on August 26, 2021

Over the fold, an excerpt from my book-in-progress, The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic, adapted from an article coming out soon in Australian magazine Inside Story

Comments, criticism and (of course) praise welcome

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The Malayan Emergency

by John Quiggin on August 24, 2021

In the wake of the US defeat in Afghanistan, I’ve reinforced my previous belief that outside powers (particularly Western democracies) are almost always going to lose in counter-insurgency wars of this kind. One of my earliest contributions to Crooked Timber covered this theme.

But what was the source of the confidence that wars of this kind could be won? One of the most important was the Malayan Emergency, in which Britain defeated a communist insurgency, supported mainly by impoverished Chinese workers on British-owned rubber estates. The tactics included a reprise of the concentration camps used in the Boer War (though of course they had to be renamed “protected villages”), which were copied by the French and then the Americans in Vietnam. Even after the Vietnam debacle, Malaya was presented as an example of how to get things right.

It’s true that the insurgents were defeated (though a smaller group resurfaced later). But their support base was a minority of a minority (neither the majority Malays nor the urban Chinese business class supported them), they were heavily outnumbered by British forces, and they had no neighbouring power to provide them with refuge and military support.

Morever, most of the demands that had mobilised nationalist support were realised anyway: Malaysia became independent, the British planters left and their estates were ultimately taken over by Malaysian firms. And, a few years later, Britain abandoned its commitments “East of Suez” and the SEATO alliance, modelled on NATO was dissolved. Malaysia didn’t go communist, but even the countries in Indochina where communist insurgents were victorious have ended up fully capitalist.

Despite all this, the British continued to treat the Malayan Emergency as evidence of their superior skill in counter-insurgency, up to and including the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters.

All of this has been derived from a limited look around the Internet. If anyone has better sources to point to, I’d be interested to find them. (Just as I finished, I found this which covers much of the same ground. It’s from a journal of the Socialist Workers Party – I don’t know exactly where they fit into the scheme of things these days)

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Sunday photoblogging: ruined outbuilding

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2021

Pézenas

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A Great Day For Down! Done!

by John Holbo on August 19, 2021

I’ve been a neglectful Crooked Timberite – not keeping up old school blogging duties – but today I have something to share!

I’ve completed the initial story arc of “On Beyond Zarathustra”, consisting of “A Great Day For Down!” Parts 1 and 2. A mighty graphic novel, 120 pages! (More, when you add in fake “Peanuts”.) Please, feel free to check it out & share with anyone who might find it edifying or amusing.

I’ve been chipping away at the thing for years now. Goodness how time passes! (Comics is hard!)

I always wondered how Z could fly around, with his Eagle and Snake! I finally worked out the aerodynamics!

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Easy birds – in this slow Summer

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 18, 2021

I promised those of you interested in Hilary Cottam’s Radical Help a booknote – but oh my goodness, I’ve been so slow this Summer. I guess I am not alone – if I can go by the stories of many (international) colleagues who are all very tired after trying to keep all balls in the air during the pandemic (in fact, with homelearning more balls than before). So I’ve tried to be foregiving to myself for missing various deadlines, including the self-imposed ones of the books I’d wanted to talk about here. I will get to chatting about that book before too long, but not this week.

In the meantime, I had to think of Crooked Timber while walking in the Belgian countryside two weeks ago – in particular to this photoblog by Chris in which he captured a swift in full action. I smiled when I saw these birds sitting, and though: I will make a picture of some swifts the easy way.

This Summer, with all the nasty events unfolding in the world (which leads to worries, sadness and anxieties, because it’s not easy to see how we can make a significant change), and with all the long-term fatigue from the pandemic, it seems so much better to try to take it the easy way. Ten more days, and then the third academic year in the pandemic will start.

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Forever wars and frozen conflicts

by John Quiggin on August 16, 2021

The chaotic scenes now playing out as the Taliban take over Afghanistan have unsurprisingly drawn comparisons to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government in 1975. But there have been many similar instances, though most were a little slower: the end of Indonesian rule in East Timor (now Timor L’Este), the French withdrawal from Algeria, and the earlier Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The common feature in all these cases is the attempt by an external (sometimes neighbouring) power to impose and then sustain a government of its choosing, usually in the hope that it will ultimately secure the support of the majority of the population along with international acceptance. The usual outcome is a long period of relatively low-level conflict, during which it can be made to appear that a successful outcome is just around the corner. In some cases, actual fighting ceases and is replaced by a ‘frozen conflict’, in which life proceeds more or less normally most of the time, but without any final resolution.

Very occasionally, these attempts succeed (the US invasion of Grenada is one example, and I expect commenters can come up with more). But far more commonly, the external power eventually tires of the struggle and goes away. Alternatively, frozen conflicts can continue more or less indefinitely, as with Israel-Palestine.
If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular? Certainly, the military-industrial complex benefits from war and lobbies for it, but the same is true of any activity that involves spending a lot of public money. Then there are psychological biases which seem to favor both starting wars in the expectation of an easy win and persisting when the conflict drags on.

But learning takes place eventually. After taking part in centuries of bloody conflict, all around the world, Europeans seem mostly to have tired of war. And in the US, weariness with ‘forever wars’ seems finally to be eroding the belief that armies can solve complex problems in other countries

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