At some point, on one of our regular treks through the forest-bog of the slightly left-leaning internet, we read about Effective Altruism. The idea, posed and propounded by Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, is not complicated. A quick distillation might be “pics or it didn’t happen,” the same mantra that unites hundreds of tech startups and nonprofits under the sign of the datum. Singer’s is a popular utilitarianism, packaged for the Facebook age: Doing Good made easy, quantified, the returns maximized in visible and trackable ways. You should always push the fat guy in front of the train. That is, you should take that job at the branding firm and give between 10 and 70 percent of your $90,474 annual income to one of a handful of charities deemed most “efficient.”
Like lots of things on the internet, EA feels marketed right to our social group: young, educated, confused little guys, swimming the God’s-dead world in search of some half-decent values, able to imagine them actualized only in terms of a handful of career options and art hobbies. EA’s charm partly comes, I think, from its neatness in distilling our built-in morals, our technocratic wiring. Singer and his allies present a clean, simple, and familiar calculus, one that perfectly aligns with this default market pietism. In their painfully limpid prose, we see ourselves reflected: and these selves, to us, make sense.
“My mind was racing but physically, I was frozen,” she wrote. “How do I react to this? In high school, I would have walked out of the room straight to my car. I would have called my mother on the way home, and she would have arrived at the front office in under an hour to rip the principal and his employees a new one. All is well when you are young and do not have to deal with these issues head-on. But in college my mother is over 1,800 miles away. This time around I was on my own.”
UPDATE: Here's the full statement by the complaining student--the one whose Mom wasn't available this time. Its contempt for tenure and for academic freedom is appalling. Its inability to distinguish between racism and failed pedagogy is also alarming.
Republicans support big tax cuts for the wealthy because that’s what wealthy donors want. No doubt most of those donors have managed to convince themselves that what’s good for them is good for America. But at root it’s about rich people supporting politicians who will make them richer. Everything else is just rationalization.
The Trump candidacy continues to collapse--his unfavorable ratings, even among Republicans, are very high, and he hasn't been able to break into the 30% range in polls (even the braindead Rick Perry did that four years ago). This is a tragedy on many levels: Trump single-handedly guarantees a Democratic victory, so the longer he lasts, the more confident the Democrats can be that even if they nominate an empty vessel like Clinton, they will still get the votes of almost all Hispanics, women, Asian-Americans and young people. It bears emphasizing that the other Republican candidates are on the spectrum between appalling and disgusting, with only one or two rising to the level of "fit to be part of civilization." Meanwhile, Sanders--who in most of Europe would just be a banal social democrat running for office--continues to close in on Clinton, the candidate of the prudent wing of the plutocracy. (Obviously the Sanders surge is due to the influence of the philosophical vote.) Interesting times in America.
I think it would be interesting and appropriate to see discussion of academic boycotts as a tool of political protest and persuasion, specifically in relation to the BDS movement and Israeli policies in the occupied territories. A recent article in the Electronic Intifada raises issues that some American philosophers might be interested in.
Comments are open. Please try to keep it substantive and calm.
I will state my own view (which everyone is welcome to reject or dispute): while there might be situations in which academic boycotts would be effective tools of political persuasion, Israel is not one of them. An academic boycott would punish innocent parties, without any prospect at all that the government would change its policy because of the inconvenience to academics. Economic boycotts or sanctions would surely make a much greater difference to Israeli policy towards the occupied territories.
...that exactly four years ago Rick "I'm actually dumber than I appear to be" Perry was leading the polls at nearly 30% for the Repug nomination. In other words, there's a lot more mischief ahead of us, long after the Republican Establishment destroys Trump. It's true that Trump is the most overtly racist of the current contenders, but he's far more sane on almost every other issue than the rest of them. So watch what you wish for!
Let’s do away with this shit. Many millions of Americans want their next president to be Carly Fiorina—an inept, failed CEO with no experience of public service who spent last night threatening to make war on half the fucking planet. She was like the eighth most irresponsible psychopath on the stage, and the rest of them, down to the least of them, all represent vast constituencies. This isn’t a failure of the political system—this is the political system working, expressing the will of the governed.
Any polity that can produce such an outcome should be abolished. Dissolve the United States, replacing it with a set of city-states, villages, and thinly-peopled hinterlands; let every public that wants one have their own Carly Fiorina or Bobby Jindal, and let everyone else go about their business. The candidate who proposes that will be the one to get behind.
There is a small paradox in the growth of effective altruism as a movement when it is so profoundly individualistic. Its utilitarian calculations presuppose that everyone else will continue to conduct business as usual; the world is a given, in which one can make careful, piecemeal interventions. The tacit assumption is that the individual, not the community, class or state, is the proper object of moral theorising. There are benefits to thinking this way. If everything comes down to the marginal individual, then our ethical ambitions can be safely circumscribed; the philosopher is freed from the burden of trying to understand the mess we’re in, or of proposing an alternative vision of how things could be. The philosopher is left to theorise only the autonomous man, the world a mere background for his righteous choices. You wouldn’t be blamed for hoping that philosophy has more to give.
A nice way of saying that the EA schtick is a pernicious reactionary distraction.
Of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for President, one is a white woman, one is African-American, and two are Cuban-American; only two are white men (three if one's feeling generous about the poll numbers). Of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for President, one is a white woman and two are white men (one of whom isn't even officially running!).
ADDENDUM: This video isn't quite Triumph of the Will, but I guess it can do as the 21st-century version. (For my non-American readers: the video portrays the enemy not only as the Democrats, but also the Koch brothers and the Republican establishment in Congress, and features the "don't tread on me" flag popular with the so-called "Tea Party" reactionaries in the U.S.)
So Labor in Britain has chosen a socialist to lead the party, while the Democratic primaries in the U.S. are now up for grabs with the rise of a socialist Senator from Vermont. America and Britain made the rightward neoliberal turn around the same time more than a generation ago with, respectively, Reagan and Thatcher. Is the neoliberal era waning? I guess a lot will depend on whether Corbyn and Sanders acquire real political power.
A number of salient features distinguish the age of finance capital from earlier stages of capitalism, that is, stages when finance capital grew and/or circulated in tandem with industrial capital.
One such distinctive feature of the age of finance capital is that, freed from regulatory constraints, finance capital at this stage can and often does grow independent of industrial or productive capital. Prior to the rise of big finance and the dismantlement of regulatory constraints, the role of finance was considered to be largely greasing the wheels of the economy. Commercial banks consolidated people’s savings as bank deposits and funneled them as credit to manufacturing and commercial enterprises. Under these circumstances, where regulatory standards stipulated the types and quantities of investments that commercial banks and other financial intermediaries could undertake, finance capital largely shadowed industrial capital; they grew or expanded more or less apace.
Not so in the age of finance capital where buying and selling of ownership titles, instead of producing real values, has become the primary field of investment, and asset price inflation constitutes the main source of profit making and (parasitic) expansion. Not only has this slowed down the traditional flow of national savings (through the banking system) into productive investment in the real sector of the economy, it has, indeed, reversed that flow of funds into productive investment. Today, there is a net outflow of funds from the real into the financial sector.
“The financial sector, properly functioning, primarily recycles idle balances into additional capital formation. Years of financial deregulation fostered the creation of new instruments, ever more reliant on Ponzi-like methods of profit acquisition, by reversing this dynamic and sucking profits out of production to expand the financial sector at the expense of productive investment. . . . The relationship between the financial sector and the nonfinancial sector had effectively morphed from symbiotic to parasitic” ....
[F]inancial capitalism is more conducive to inequality than the earlier stages of capitalism, or even the pre-capitalist socioeconomic formations. Under pre-capitalist modes of production as well as in the earlier stages capitalism, that is, under manufacturing or industrial capitalism, profit making required commodity/industrial production and, thus, employment of labor force. This meant that although labor was still exploited, it nonetheless benefitted from production—poverty or subsistence levels of wages notwithstanding.
In the age of finance capital, however, profit making is largely divorced from real production and employment, as it comes mostly from speculative investment, or through parasitic extraction from the rest of the economy. As such, it employs no or a very small percentage of labor force, which means that the financial sector generates income/profits without sharing it with the overwhelming majority of labor force.
...this time in what remains of The New Republic. Philosophy makes a few appearances, alas. As with most arguments by anecdote, it ignores the utilitarian question, namely, whether overall most students aren't better off with strict rules prohibiting such relationships.
Anna Stubblefield, a philosophy professor now on unpaid leave from Rutgers University at Newark, is set to go on trial for the sexual assault of a severely disabled man, whom she claims consented to sexual relations via the use of "facilitated communication." The trial judge has ruled that,
At her upcoming sexual assault trial, Rutgers-Newark professor Anna Stubblefield may testify about her use of a controversial technique she claims to have used to communicate with the severely mentally disabled victim.
But if her testimony references studies and takes on more of an expert's perspective, Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare said on Thursday she will inform jurors that the technique, known as "facilitated communication," is not generally accepted in the scientific communities.
In other words, facilitated communication is "junk science," but since Stubblefield believed in it, it is highly relevant to her state of mind regarding her interactions with the alleged victim. This is a common problem in trials: evidence that is admissible for one purpose--e.g., to show someone's state of mind, as in this case--is not admissible for another (e.g., to prove that the severely disabled can really communicate with others through "facilitated communication"). If the defense is not careful in how they question Stubblefield about this issue, they run the risk of the trial judge issuing very damaging instructions to the jury (if the judge tells the jury this is "junk science" this is bound to affect the willingness of the jury to believe Stubblefield that she really thought she had received consent from the alleged victim).
Many people have commented to me over the last year or so that they feel this incident would have generated much more cyber-attention and outrage if Stubblefield had been a man and the alleged victim a woman. That is probably true, though for reasons that are understandable. Most obviously, male sexual assault is more common than female sexual assault, and so has produced more victims, and more concern.
IHE has a good account (thanks to several readers who sent this along). Having looked at one of the syllabi in question, I should note that it prohibited use of words like "The Man" and "colored people." I imagine the instructor was motivated to include those based on past experience. And an instructor is well within her legal rights to discourage use of pejorative terms like these. Students in a classroom at a public university do not enjoy unbridled First Amendment rights, just as instructors don't either: both are subject to reasonable regulation to insure a constructive educational environment. (Recall our earlier discussion of Pickeringin connection with the Salaita case.) Some of the syllabi arguably overreached, both in what language they sought to regulate and in specifying excessive punitive measures. Anyway, what's really noticeable here is that despite the right-wing crazy storm in cyberspace by the usual smear merchants, Washington State came up with a balanced response that corrected the excesses without caving in to the witch hunt.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)