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.”

Béziers

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How big a bubble ?

by John Quiggin on October 4, 2021

We[1] are often urged to “get out of our bubbles” and engage with a wider range of viewpoints. As Chris said here, this mostly turns out to be a waste of time. As I experienced from my side, engagement with the political right consists mainly of responding to a string of talking points and whataboutery, with little if any content. On the rare occasions these discussions have been useful, it’s typically because the other party in the discussion is on the verge of breaking with the right[2]

To restate the case in favour of getting out of the bubble, it’s easy to see examples of people on the left putting forward arguments that don’t stand up under criticism, but haven’t faced such criticism within the limited circles in which they’ve been discussed. But the most effective criticisms of such arguments is likely to come from people with broadly similar political aims and understandings.

As Daniel once observed, opinion at CT runs the gamut from social democrat to democratic socialist, and I have traversed that range in both directions. I get plenty of benefit from arguing with other people in that range and with some a little outside it, such as liberaltarians and (not too dogmatic) Marxists.

Opening up the discussion bubble now.

fn1. At least we on the left, I rarely run across this suggestion in the rightwing media I read.
fn2. TBC, I don’t think the powerful force of my arguments has converted them; rather it’s that people making this kind of shift often have interesting things to say,

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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.

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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

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The Scrooge McDuck theory of the rich

by John Quiggin on September 25, 2021

Readers of a certain age will remember Scrooge McDuck, the mega-rich uncle of Donald, who enjoys diving into his gigantic money bin filled with gold coins. Replace gold with paper currency[1] and you have the archetypal version of a theory of the rich [2] popular in some versions of Modern Monetary Theory.

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The Afghanistan Cricket Boycott

by Harry on September 21, 2021

I’m only slightly embarrassed that my first thought on seeing the chaotic, if predicted, consequences of the US handover of Afghanistan back to the Taliban was, “what about the cricket?”. Bear with me.

Cricket was at the forefront of the sporting boycott of apartheid, albeit accidentally so. The MCC initially did not select the South African born “cape coloured” player Basil d’Oliviera for the 1969 tour of South Africa, probably for political reasons. The consequent pressure on them, and the ‘injury’ to selected player Tom Cartwright (who, it is rumoured, withdrew in order to increase the pressure to select d’Oliviera), resulted, eventually, in the cancellation of the tour which, in turn, resulted in the widespread boycott. I supported the boycott almost without reservations and certainly without regret.

As things stand it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Afghanistan will face a cricketing boycott which, I suspect, is the only sporting boycott that matters in this case. In the past decade or so cricket as conquered Afghanistan, and Afghanistan, frankly, has conquered cricket, rising from an unknown participant in the third or fourth rank of cricketing nations, to becoming one of only 11 Test playing countries, with some of the best and most sought-after short from players in the world; no other sport comes close to it.

I am far more regretful about this one than about the South African boycott. Here are some thoughts.

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Sunday photoblogging: Marseillan

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2021

Marseillan, this afternoon.

Marseillan

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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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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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