6 post-Corona Institutional questions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/03/2020 - 11:34pm in

The mass hysteria of the corona crisis is raging, with the resulting self-isolation of whole economies and populations. The loss seems greater with every new forecast on the economic collapse than I initially thought, and the benefit of imprisoning and terrorizing the population smaller than I initially thought, leading courageous little Sweden to forego these options. High-level media and calm commentators are waking up to the longer-term implications, though the population is still too overcome by fear.

I want to share 6 areas where we should think of international institutional reform to prevent another hysteria like the one we are going through now. I don’t want to presume any answers but simply want to hear your thoughts and suggestions, so am merely laying out the challenges.

They are: i) How to diminish the normality of apocalyptic thinking, ii) How to read China better, iii) How to prevent international contagion of panic through social and regular media better, iv) How to reduce the fragility of international supply chains, v) How to foster better cooperation between countries in the EU, and vi) How to regain our lost freedom and reason.

Over the fold I explain them in more detail.


  1. The cult of the apocalypse. This crisis laid bare that large parts of the population and the scientific community, not just epidemiologists, have really bought into some notion of extreme emergencies for which a totalitarian response is needed. Via petitions and the media have these people loudly called for draconian measures, based on little evidence that this would work or no evidence that it would do more good than bad. The world has up till now shrugged its shoulders over the various doom scenarios dreamed up by scientists, including “extinction due to climate change”, “killer asteroids”, “nuclear devastation”, “run-away robots”, and a whole host of other scenarios you might recognise from disaster movies. This time the population went along with one such story, leading to devastating losses as the ‘cure’ turned out to be far more deadly and destructive than ‘the problem’. How do we reduce the prevalence and growth of these doomsday cults?
  2. Understanding China. The Chinese government showed the world the example of how to be totalitarian about a disease, and their example proved infectious. Understanding in the West as to why the Chinese did this was extremely limited, but we looked up to them anyway and several governments simply followed their example. We need to learn how China truly operates and stop imagining they are like us. The Chinese have a long history of disastrous totalitarian projects, like the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, and we should learn why they do this, in order to avoid following their example, not copy them.
  3. Contagion of panics via social media and the regular media. This was first and foremost the biggest mass hysteria event in history, fed by a connected media. Even in India, which is far too warm for this virus to do much damage and where there are hence almost no recorded cases, the population has become scared enough to loudly call for draconian measures, leading to the madness of locking down hundreds of millions of extremely poor people who have no savings and no income to buy food. We need to think hard about how to make contagion of these panics harder and slower, not just for pandemics but also the many other global fears (financial, military, ethnic, religious). This will require thinking about the architecture of media, the internet, mobile telephony, etc. It is not easy to see what can be done.
  4. The fragility of international supply chains. The huge recessions of 1929 in the West, and 1990 in Eastern Europe taught us that broken supply chains are very hard to rebuild in a hurry. Companies and industries make very particular investments that form a link, and if some of the pieces in the chain break, the whole chain cannot function, disbands, and very quickly loses the knowledge to re-form as parts go their separate ways[1]. We should think of what we could do to make the supply chains less fragile to disruption: how do we build more slack into the system?
  5. International cooperation. As Harari pointed out in the Financial Times, international cooperation has broken down during this crisis. Even in the EU, countries went their own way, not caring about the disruption to partners of their own actions. This is also what happened in 1929 and in Eastern Europe in 1990, to the loss of all. We have learned again that only nation states remain cohesive and take collective decisions. What to do about it?
  6. How to regain respect for freedom, privacy, own reason, the fallability of expert advice, etc.? This hysteria has cost the West, which is the audience we on this blog overwhelmingly belong to, much of the best we had to offer the world. For the sake of fear have we loudly demanded totalitarianism, invasive top-down monitoring, top-down rules on who is important and who should do what, and adopted the fantasies of experts who had no more idea about the balance of the effects of what they proposed than anyone else. How to regain and more stringently hold on to our ideals and our reason?

I have preliminary suggestions on these but want to hear your thoughts. Also importantly, what other international institutional challenges do you see needing to be addressed once this hysteria passes and the West wakes up to the loss it has inflicted on itself?

[1Because this stuff is too hard to put in an easy macro-model (though you can do it in micro models, see here), mainstream economics hasnt managed to incorporate these lessons into its canon and has thus once again missed the importance of this when the crisis hit.]

On Scorekeeping in Professional Philosophy, and Other Credit Economies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/03/2020 - 4:09am in

Last week, two events occurred that are emblematic of the repeated structural gaslighting of disabled philosophers in which nondisabled philosophers engage and the continued exclusion of disabled philosophers of disability from the profession that almost all philosophers tacitly enforce and reward. One of these events took place in comments on the Daily Nous blog, involving philosophers who seem largely uninformed about ableism in philosophy and indeed uneducated about how power operates in the profession and society more broadly. The other event was the consequence of an event that I have written about before, namely, the recruitment for a position in Bioethics and Disability Studies in the philosophy department at Georgetown.

In the first case, the philosophers in question depoliticized and individualized a politically saturated situation, namely, the unacknowledged use of the insights of disabled philosophers of disability by nondisabled philosophers, appealing to dismissive remarks about political correctness and unexamined views about personal intentions in order to do so. In the second case, the position was awarded to a nondisabled philosopher even though numerous disabled philosophers of disability applied for the job, many of whom have much more knowledge about and experience of ableism and disability than the nondisabled philosopher who got hired.

Both events became part of the public discourse that circulated in philosophy on social media last week. Yet no nondisabled philosopher came forward to challenge the events and draw attention to the ways in which they reinforced the asymmetries of power that currently condition relations between disabled and nondisabled philosophers. ...

Indeed, my disabled philosopher colleagues and I feel betrayed once again.... betrayed by the philosophical community that continues to exploit and distort disabled people’s experiences and wisdom while denying us the authority and professional acknowledgement of that knowledge..--Shelley Tremain @Biopolitical Philosophy [HT Dailynous]

A tacit assumption, even existential commitment, I have long had is that professional philosophy  is characterized by reasonably accurate scorekeeping. We are a relatively small discipline, with even smaller sub-fields, that generally have overlapping workshops/conferences and referee poules. If anything, I tend to worry that professional philosophy is too clubby. So, a few years ago I was stunned to discover material in a handbook chapter that went over the very same correspondence (between A & B) that I had covered in a high profile journal in the field a few years before without mentioning. What made the case neat was that the other scholar worked with the archived papers of B, whereas I had worked with A. (Turns out A & B both kept copies of their own letters. Oh the vanity of academics!)

Because I was on friendly terms with the other scholar (cf. clubbiness), I wrote the other scholar that I was disappointed my piece was not cited. That passive aggressive remark was left unanswered. As the weeks past, I did wonder whether I should write the editor of the handbook and kvetch. But because I had missed deadline after deadline for that very same handbook -- recall I said things are a bit clubby in philosophy -- and then my hasty draft  (on a different topic than the correspondence between A&B) was rejected as inadequate (not entirely unfairly), I decided that I would probably regret pursuing this further. I console myself with the thought that the handbook paper is cited only by its author so far. Undoubtedly, I would be greatly pleased if a book-reviewer pointed out the author's oversight some day.

I was surprised the episode, and in particular the lack of acknowledgment after I noted the omission, stung me so badly; and not for the first time I reflected on the fragility of my professional ego. When Tremain's piece (quoted above) reminded me of my own episode, I tried reading Callard's famous essay ("Is Plagiarism all wrong?") as therapy; but that failed because her first key move, "many of us are prepared to debate the fine points of questions such as “Under what circumstances it is okay to torture someone?”, but only against a background of unquestioned agreement that representing other peoples’ ideas or phrasings as your own is, always and forever, evil" reminded me a bit of one my own thoughts,: "academics tend to treat sins against the profession/discipline far worse than society treats a whole range of awful crimes." When I went back to my essay to make this very point, I was confronted with the fact that the thought I happily attributed to myself wasn't even original with me (I cite a "journalist" as a source).

It is by no means original to recognize that the credit economy of philosophy, and any of the intellectual disciplines, functions, in addition to multiple epistemic roles, as a mechanism to facilitate career advancement and the distribution of jobs, prestige, and even research programs. (Go read Liam Kofi Bright and his co-authors.) And given the immense (and narrow) prestige hierarchy of philosophy, it is predictable that patterns of citation exclusion will impact the most vulnerable colleagues most along many dimensions.

So, there is really no ground for optimism in thinking that the profession, or those like ours, is especially good at scorekeeping for those who may need such accuracy most. (That's in fact compatible with the idea that the scorekeeping is reasonably decent for epistemic purposes.) If the victims of such patterns of exclusion are denied standing to claim their due, there is really no reason to expect change for the better. It is not my task to judge all the particular accusations in Tremain's piece (if only because she is critical of some of my friends as she has been critical of me in the past); but I hope this post helps amplify the structural inequities she diagnoses. 

I have long been pleased by the following thought from The Quran: "Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves." (13:11) I don't think this passage is an instance of victim-blaming (even if it can be abused in that fashion). Rather, it diagnoses that in  bad circumstances collective action (by a people) is needed. As many reformers have noted, we can't eliminate structural injustice merely by doing better individually. If it is too much to expect individuals to do better at scorekeeping given the incentive structure of the status quo, then it is long overdue we collectively change how we organize such scorekeeping or the rules of the game. I am open to suggestions.



Telegraph Journo Embarrassed by Sargon and Robinson’s Free Speech Organisation

As we know, embarrassing the Tories is good and righteous work. So Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, deserves especial congratulations for making the Tories uncomfortable over the whole question of free speech. He didn’t do it intentionally. It’s just that they found the similarities between Toby Young’s Free Speech Union and a rival right-wing organisation founded by Sargon and the islamophobic thug Tommy Robinson far too close for comfort.

Last month the Spectator’s vile Toby Young announced that he was founding the Free Speech Union along with a load of other rightists. This was going to defend those expressing controversial opinions from being silenced and kicked out of their jobs. The Heil on Sunday quoted Tobes as saying

“People who become the target of ‘Twitter storms’ after making controversial remarks will be defended by a new body called the Free Speech Union. The organisation will ‘stand up for the rights of its members to tell the truth in all circumstances’. The union has been set up by the journalist Toby Young in response to police investigations into a string of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ triggered by outspoken comments”.

“If someone at work writes to your boss to complain about something you’ve said, we’ll write to them, too, and explain the importance of intellectual tolerance and viewpoint diversity. If self-righteous social-media bullies pick on you, we’ll return the fire. If someone launches an online petition calling for you to be sacked, we’ll launch a counter-petition. The enemies of free speech hunt in packs; its defenders must band together too.”

The organisation has a Latin motto, which runs something like ‘Audi altri partem’, which I think means ‘Hear the other side.’

However, it’s not a union, but an incorporated, whose five directors are all spokesmen for the right. They include Young himself, Prof Nigel Biggar, who defends colonialism, Douglas Murray, who has islamophobic opinions, and Radomir Tylecote, who was suspended from the Treasury for writing a book against the EU. And their record of defending their opponents’ right to express their opinions is actually very poor. Zelo Street in their article about the wretched union quoted Paul Bernal, who tweeted

“As Toby Young should know, your commitment to free speech isn’t shown by how well you defend those whose speech you agree with, but how you defend those whose speech you don’t. When his ‘free speech union’ talks about the excesses of the Prevent programme, then see”.

The Street himself commented that it was just free speech for the right, and a way for Tobes and co. to complain about how unfair the world is.

Unfortunately for Tobes’ outfit, Sargon and Tommy Robinson, the founder and former leader of the EDL, have launched their own right-wing free speech organisation, the Hearts of Oak Alliance. And the similarities between the two concerned Tory feminist academic Zoe Strimpel to write a piece for the Torygraph on the first of this month, March 2020, complaining about this fact. Strimpel’s a Cambridge graduate with an M. Phil in gender studies. She’s the author of a series of book on men’s psychology, feminism, dating and romance. She began her article with the statement that her circle of friends has taken on a left-wing hue. It includes many Labour supporters, against whom she has to defend capitalism and Zionism. Well, at least she said ‘Zionism’, rather than accuse them once again of anti-Semitism. She’s upset by them chuckling off her fears about the erosion of free speech and thought, which, she claims, is under attack by a visible machinery of censorship in offices, the cops, universities, arts and online. She cites approvingly a report by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, which advised universities to guard against being the voice of critics of those, who despise the supporter of the traditional values of patriotism, family, faith and local traditions. They have to be willing to represent and not sneer at those, who feel justifiable pride in British history, culture and traditions.

However, she was worried whether it was possible to defend free speech, without sullying the cause with too many real thugs, who wanted to get as close as possible to inciting actual violence under the guise of expressing their democratic rights. Was it possible to challenge the climate of intimidation, snide snitching, and mendacious and manipulative accusations of hate-mongering, racism and making people feel ‘unsafe’, without being a magnet for the alt-right? She agreed to become a member of the advisory board, but has her reservations. She’s uncomfortable about Sargon’s and Robinson’s organisations, because of Sargon’s own anti-feminist, misogynistic views. Sargon was, she declared, far right, a thug, who called feminism ‘a first world female supremacy movement’, and ‘all kinds of blokeish’. He’s also the man responsible for sending that Tweet to Labour MP Jess Philips, telling her that he ‘wouldn’t even rape her’.

She concluded her article by stating that the aims of Tobes’ outfit were perfectly legitimate and free speech is under threat. But it was ‘just a shame that in defending those who ought to speak freely, one has to defend those, who – in an ideal world – wouldn’t have anything to say.’

Sargon was naturally upset at this assault on his character. He therefore posted a piece up on his YouTube channel, Akkad Daily, on the 2nd of March defending himself from her attack. He didn’t deny he was anti-feminist, and defended his own comments on this. But he roundly denied being a thug and far right. He was, he repeated, a Lockean classical liberal, and believed in precisely the same values as those Policy Exchange’s report claimed were under attack.

Sargon is indeed far right. He’s a libertarian, who would like everything privatised and the end of the welfare state. He’s against the European Union and immigration, and is bitterly critical of feminism and affirmative action for women and ethnic minorities. And yes, he is an islamophobe like Robinson. But in very many ways he and Robinson are absolutely no different from Young and his crew. Young is also far right. He’s a right-wing Tory, who attended eugenics conferences whose members and speakers were real Nazis and anti-Semites. And Young also is all kinds of blokeish as well. He’s posted a number of tweets expressing his obsession with women’s breasts. Way back in the ’90s, he also wrote a piece for the men’s magazine, GQ, about how he once dressed up in drag in order to pose as a woman, because he wanted to snog lesbians in gay clubs.

And it’s not just the people in the Free Speech Union, who have no real interest in free speech. Neither does Conservatism or Zionism. Thatcher tried to pass legislation making it illegal for universities to employ Marxists. A week or so ago, Turning Point UK announced that it was launching a British version of its parent organisation’s Professor Watch, a blacklist of university lecturers, who dared to express or teach left-wing views. And anti-Zionist and Israel-critical bloggers, like Tony Greenstein and Martin Odoni have described how Israel’s super-patriotic supporters, like Jonathan Hoffman, don’t want to permit free debate about Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. Rather, they turn up at pro-Palestinian meetings with the intention of heckling, shouting down and otherwise disrupting the proceedings. They also seek to use the law to suppress criticism and factual reporting of Israeli atrocities as anti-Semitism.

Now there are opponents of free speech on the left. But Stimpel, as a good Tory, doesn’t want to recognise that it exists on the right. She’s embarrassed that supporting right-wing speech also means supporting extreme right-wing figures like Sargon and Robinson. But she doesn’t recognise, because she can’t afford to, that Sargon and Robinson aren’t actually much different from Toby Young, Douglas Murray, Radomir Tylecote, Nigel Biggar and the rest. In fact, there’s little difference between the two groups in fundamental attitudes.

It’s just that Sargon’s a little more extreme and doesn’t have a column in a major right-wing newspaper or magazine.

On Wars of Choice, Las Casas, Transatlantic federations, and Reparations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 09/03/2020 - 11:19pm in

Now the fact that one must refrain from war, and even tolerate the death of a few innocent persons, is proved by arguments and many authorities.
The first argument is this: According to the rule of right reason when we are confronted by two choices that are evil both as to moral guilt and punishment and we cannot avoid both of them, we ought t0 choose the lesser evil. For in comparison with the greater evil, the choice of the lesser evil has the quality of a good. This is what the Philosopher  teaches. Now the death of a small number of innocent persons is a lesser evil than the eternal damnation of countless numbers of persons killed in the fury of war.

Again, the death of the innocent is better or less evil than the complete destruction of entire kingdoms, cities. and strongholds. For not all of them eat the flesh of the innocent but only the rulers or priests, who do the sacrificing, whereas war brings the destruction of countless innocent persons who do not deserve any such thing. Therefore if those evils cannot be removed in any other way than by waging war, one must refrain from it and evils of this kind must be tolerated.
Furthermore, it is incomparably less disastrous that a few innocent persons die than that Christ's holy name be blasphemed by unbelievers and that the Christian religion be brought into ill repute and be hated by those peoples and by others to whom word of this flies, when they hear how many women, children, and aged people of their nation have been killed by the Christians without cause, as will unavoidably happen, and indeed has happened, in the fury of war. What, I ask, will be the result, if not a perpetual barrier to their salvation, so that there will be no further hope for their conversion? Therefore when there is a question of war over a cause of this kind it is better to let a few innocent persons be oppressed or suffer an unjust death. In fact it would be a very great sin, and against the natural, to wage war on these unbelievers for this reason. This is proved in the following way.
According to right reason, and therefore the natural law, it is evident that in every case and in every matter that concerns two evils, especially those involving moral guilt, one must choose that which is less harmful or is thought to be less harmful. Therefore to seek to free innocent persons in the case proposed, within their territories, as has been proposed, would be against the natural la,v and a sin, which, although not mortal, is very serious indeed. This is evident because the greater the damage sin inflicts the more serious it is, according to St. Thomas. And this is true even if that damage is not intended or foreseen, since everything that necessarily follows upon a sin belongs in some way to the very species of the sin. From such a war a countless number of innocent persons of both sexes and all ages will unavoidably perish, and the other evils that have been mentioned will necessarily follow upon that war. Therefore anyone who would try to free those who suffer evils of this type by means of war would commit a very serious mortal sin. ---Las Casas (1550-1552) In Defense of the Indians, chapter 28, translated by Stafford Poole, pp. 191-2. 

During the The Valladolid debate (1550–1551), Sepúlveda, the spokesperson for Spanish landlords in the Americas, articulated (recall) the case for humanitarian intervention on behalf of natives exploited by 'savage' indigenous practices. In particular, Sepúlveda called attention to the way vulnerable natives may be subject to human sacrifice and cannibalism. He, thereby, sketched their existence in terms of a proto-Hobbesian state of nature. At bottom his argument rests on two thoughts: (i) that the violent extension of civilization, conquest, is to be pursued because it ultimately benefits the backward and savage. The benefits include not just protection from local oppression, but also access to Christian conversion. And (ii) that immoral and wicked practices may justifiably invite humanitarian intervention.

There is little doubt that Sepúlveda's argument is offered in bad faith. But, as Las Casas recognizes, that is not sufficient to undermine it. On the question of sacrifice and cannibalism, Las Casas' strategy is not to deny its existence. But, first, he minimizes it frequency. Second, he claims that in many cases what looks like sacrifice is merely a legally sanctioned death sentence (and so unobjectionable). Third, that leaves a small number of victims from practices that serve a religious or (non-juridical) political function in indigenous societies. The question is, then, do these victims justify humanitarian intervention? And this question is pursued both as a contribution to just war theory (in particular, jus ad bellum) as well as a contribution to the borders of the Church and the role of the emperor in imposing these.

Because the natives never posed any threat to the Spanish, and no Christians were present in the Americas, the issue becomes  really a question about to what degree one can choose war under the pretext or in the service of humanitarian intervention. As is clear from the first paragraphs of the quoted passage above, Las Casas' answer is an unambiguous rejection of war under such circumstances. For, in war many  innocents will die necessarily. Las Casas adds many gruesome descriptions of how likely it is that in the fog of war enemy combatants and innocent bystanders are confused (and the latter harmed or killed) and that war always provides cover for other harms (including looting, plunder, rape, etc.). 

In these cases the dead innocent bystanders are harmed twice over: they get killed and they have no chance to be converted (and so receive eternal salvation, etc.). Moreover, while he does not emphasize this as much, the soldiers are put in great temptation to sin and fall into eternal damnation. So, the cost of war of choice in the service of humanitarian intervention is material and spiritual. Even if one does not share Las Casas' theological commitments, it is not difficult to articulate the spiritual costs in more psychological/social terms (PTSDs, broken social ties, etc.) that due justice to a more secular metaphysics.

In addition, and Las Casas is not shy about this point, if the ultimate point is voluntary conversion then exposing would be converted to great risks, even enormous harms, is self-undermining: "war is not a suitable means for spreading Christ's glory and the truth of the gospel, but rather for making the Christian name hateful and detestable for those who suffer the disasters of war." (355) As Las Casas repeatedly notes, the natural response to Spanish conquest and plunder is loathing of Spanish religion. So, while the particular details of the consequences of wars of choice may not be explicitly intended, they are foreseeable in a certain generic (one may be tempted to say statistical) way as belonging to a class of foreseeable "unavoidable" harms (even if the particular detail is not foreseen). Among the harms are epidemic illnesses, as Las Casas recognized.*  

Las Casas' argument presupposes here (and he argues it throughout the book) that because the indigenous are unbelievers  the Church has no prior dominion over them. In fact, because he treats the indigenous as self-governing polities with natural right to self-defense (“Every nation, no matter how barbaric, has the right to defend itself against a more civilized one that wants to conquer it and take away its freedom,” (355)), they also have a natural right to their own religious practices (which he assures his reader are theistic in practice).  In virtue of some such comments, Las Casas comes very close to finding the whole Spanish presence in the Americas illegal. 

He draws back from this conclusion for two reasons, one theological and one political (intimately connected). The political reason is that he needs the power of the emperor to subdue the Spanish landlords (and reform their abuses) and control the conquistadors. But the emperor and his court rely on income from the Americas; the emperor is in a zero-sum competition with other European powers, and the emperor has opportunity to extend his dominion and power by incorporating the American colonies in a pacific, imperial project in which the emperor becomes a protector of self-governing natives against their oppressors in the same way he is a protector of burghers against feudal landlords (see, e.g., the New Laws of Charles V). In addition, and this is connected to the theological reason, the emperor can create conditions for possibility of peaceful missions to convert of the indigenous. This is also the interest of the Church to hold on to colonial enterprise (and is explicitly present in the various papal degrees.)

Before I conclude, and as an aside, it is worth emphasizing that Las Casas develops here the foundations for the pacific federations based on shared and ever closer, converging values and shared interests familiar from the history of liberalism (recall here; and neo-Liberalism  (recall hereherehere)). And this also suggests that we can tell an alternative to Foucault's story. Recall that for Foucault 'Europe' was discovered when the Westphalian, non-zero sum system presupposed a zero-sum extra-European relationship that extracts wealth from would be enemies (in what we may call the Global South). On this view a zone of open-ended progress requires the domination of the backward global. Prior to the development of this system, there were opportunities for a more mutualistic relationships with the Global South.+  

The very possibility of a more mutualist, equitable approach founders on the limitations of imperial state capacity and the power inequality between the natives and Spanish. The Imperial state is, even when willing,** incapable of genuinely controlling the Spanish landlords from afar when their interests align against it. This means that Las Casas' own proposal --  "what has been taken unjustly" must be "restored" (362) -- is doomed to failure. This despite the fact that Las Casas' proposal is itself a compromise with political reality. I put it like that because his arguments entail a more radical conclusion, not just restoration but also, "reparation for injuries." (4)++


*The point is more explicit in Memorial de Remedios para las Indias (1516), where he advocates building hospitals for the locals.

+I do not want to overstate this. Clearly, even the most humane-minded Europeans assumed the superiority of their religion (even if they were critical of their civilization). 

**It clearly seems willing when the influence of non-Spanish (low-countries) courtiers is at its peak at the Court of Emperor V. These clearly recognize that the Spanish nobility is developing a new source of power and income in the Americas.

++This is not anachronism because the point is made explicit  by a fifteenth century editor of Las Casas, Bartolome de la Vega in the preface he attached to the Defense.

Losing Reality: Can We Get the Truth Back?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/03/2020 - 3:11pm in

In the Trump era we find ourselves engulfed in two realities. Bill Moyers and Robert Jay Lifton in conversation. Continue reading

The post Losing Reality: Can We Get the Truth Back? appeared first on

Anti-Trans Discrimination in Philosophy of Religion: An Accusation & Possible Progress (Updated)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/03/2020 - 11:26pm in

A professor of philosophy says she was told by the organizer of a conference on theology and philosophy of religion that he would not consider papers from her for conferences like that because she is transgender.

[Sadie Benning, “Mask”]

Sophie Grace Chappell of Open University says of Andrew Pinsent, a member of the theology faculty at Oxford University:

Dr Pinsent confirmed to me in person a while back that he would not consider papers from me for conference[s] like this because I am transgender.

Chappell made her remarks on PHILOS-L, a large philosophy listserv, in response to a call for papers posted by Pinsent last Wednesday for an upcoming conference on natural theology at Oxford he is organizing.

You can view her post here.

In an email, Dr. Chappell said the aforementioned exchange with Dr. Pinsent took place in 2017.

Dr. Pinsent denies the accusation. In an email, he wrote that “is not only false but literally and demonstrably false.” As evidence against him saying such a thing, he cites a 2015 email to Dr. Chappell in which he tells her she may “be interested in our summer conference in Oxford, which we shall be advertising shortly.”

On the webpage for the conference he is organizing, Dr. Pinsent added this note about Dr. Chappell’s accusation:

I state here that this claim is completely false and that the conference is open to anyone. To extend an olive branch, I have written to Prof. Chappell offering to reserve a place at the conference for her. Given the seriousness of this public defamation, against me and the University of Oxford, we are, however, also following up this matter with PHILOS-L and taking legal advice.

Via email, Dr. Chappell said that though she called out Dr. Pinsent publicly, they used to be friends and “there is much about him that I like and respect.” She also expressed hope for “a positive outcome from all this… not a destructive one.” Dr. Pinsent’s statement that the conference is “open to anyone” and his inviting Dr. Chappell to it seem like positive developments—the implicit threat of a lawsuit not so much. Dr. Chappell hasn’t said whether she is accepting the invitation.

The publicity of the case is perhaps both a sign of progress and a potential cause of it. That Dr. Chappell felt that it was worth making this accusation in public is an indication of confidence that enough others in the profession would find anti-trans discrimination problematic enough to do something about it. It wasn’t always so. Looking forward, others who are organizing events in philosophy of religion and theology may be motivated to take steps to not be subject to similar accusations.

(Readers may be interested in Dr. Chappell’s “frankly autobiographical” reflections on “transgender in theory and practice.”)

I asked one of the conference’s scheduled keynote speakers, Helen De Cruz (Saint Louis University), if Dr. Chappell’s accusation and Dr. Pinsent’s reaction to it were going to have any affect on her plans to attend the conference. I reproduce her response, in full, below.

I have been asked to provide a comment in light of a recent situation that arose about the conference Natural Theology in the 21th Century, where I am one of the keynote speakers.

The space of philosophy of religion is a difficult one to navigate. Whereas philosophy is quite liberal, philosophy of religion reflects a greater diversity of political views, including on gender issues. I find it fascinating to work in this space, and I greatly value conversations with people across the political spectrum.

This greater political diversity also means though that philosophy of religion is less welcoming to transgender and other LGBTQ+ people than many other philosophy fields are. This is regrettable and unfortunate.  As I’ve argued (in a forthcoming paper), we need to seek epistemic friction, and this includes challenging prevailing religious orthodoxies on gender and sexuality (I think that there is also a place for these views to be discussed, but I know other people disagree with me on this).

In situations like the one I am commenting on, it is often difficult to separate the personal and the professional. Let me clarify, in case it escaped people’s notice, Sophie Grace Chappell did not say in her original message that discrimination against trans people would be conference policy. Still, individual trans philosophers experience rejection on an individual basis. This is independently the case from any conference policy.  

In the interest of full disclosure: Andrew Pinsent has been a mentor and invaluable help for me when I was a postdoc at Oxford, and also later. I greatly value Andrew’s philosophical work, I also value Andrew as a person, and I owe a debt of gratitude to him. So, given this situation, it was a torn and difficult decision to know what to do. I do not wish to appear ungrateful, I don’t wish to pretend this issue hasn’t happened.

Not presenting at the conference was an option, but I felt that there are several disadvantages. First, my non-appearance would not make clear what, if any, my reasons would be and might give rise to the impression that I was just succumbing under pressure. I could easily see how my conservative philosophers of religion friends would cry out “cancel culture”, or say that I am just another liberal not worth engaging with. However, I hope (and Sophie Grace Chappell told me she shares this hope) that her willingness to step forward affords us with an opportunity for us to change the field for the better.

Individual cases like these are helpful for us as a wakeup call, but the danger of focusing on them for the sake of “drama” in the profession is that we sometimes lose sight of the larger picture, namely that philosophy of religion is still by and large unwelcoming to transgender people (and other people who are LGBTQ+). One could put this down to deficiencies in character, but I here wish to focus on the structural issues.

Philosophy of religion also still has a long way to go to be more open to traditions outside of Christianity (and to a lesser extent naturalistic atheism), and to be open to people of color and people with disabilities (the issues here is that lots of traditional theological interpretations of scripture are ableist). There are still very few people of color like me who are members of the Society for Christian Philosophers and other Christian philosophical spaces. The situation for women is getting better, but judging by low numbers in the field, can still be improved substantially.

There are still very big obstacles for trans philosophers. I am hoping we could take this opportunity to draw attention to this issue. As I said, not presenting is an ambiguous statement of some sort, and so is presenting without any explanation. When I will present my paper, I intend to spend the first five minutes on expressing my solidarity with trans philosophers of religion, outlining the problems they face (I will ask feedback from several such philosophers to make sure this sounds on track but I will refrain from mentioning any specific cases), and conclude in expressing the hope we will be more inclusive. I hope this will change the hearts of at least some philosophers of religion.

I know that several philosophers of religion disagree strongly with me on the metaphysics of sexuality and gender. But I don’t think we need absolute agreement on this score. What we need is to be mindful of each other, respect each other’s pronouns (this is a courtesy you can extend even if you are gender critical), and try to make the space more welcoming. I will spend the remaining time of my talk talking about Schleiermacher and our taste for the infinite. I hope I am still welcome to come and present at the conference under those terms.

Some people might object to my idea that we can separate philosophical discourse from being welcoming to transgender people. I think this is right, it’s impossible to separate them. Trans philosophers go into spaces knowing that many people within it will not take their gender identity seriously. That must be hard, and I commend the courage of Sophie Grace Chappell and other trans philosophers (some of whom are out, not all) to navigate spaces under those conditions.

But we live in a non-ideal world, so I think what we can do is at least welcome those courageous trans philosophers balancing that with the need for openness to differences of opinion. I particularly hope we can shift the culture in conferences with a focus on Christianity where it seems to me the issue is more pressing than in conferences that have a broader focus (I cannot speak from experience of any conferences focused on any non-Christian religion).  I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I have always taken this to mean not literally that we don’t have gender or religion or that the realities of oppression would simply vanish under a Christian identity. Rather, I take it to mean that under a Christian identity, those things ultimately don’t matter. It does not matter who you are, you are loved and valued for who you are. That’s a powerful message I hope we can take more to heart in philosophy of religion conferences.

UPDATE (3/4/20): Dr. Pinsent sent the following to me (and has now also posted it to PHILOS-L):

A statement by Andrew Pinsent, approved by Sophie Grace Chappell on 3 March 2020:
To close some issues that have arisen recently between myself and Professor Sophie Grace Chappell, I state definitively and finally that there is no policy against transgender persons at the Ian Ramsey Centre. And I personally invited Sophie Grace Chappell to our 2015 conference and have now also invited her to our 2020 conference. So she might, in fact, be our most invited single speaker of recent years. Finally, I have also been in direct contact about this matter with Sophie, who has been a personal friend and respected colleague for most of the last thirty years. Although we have our disagreements, we have also discovered some significant misunderstandings that we are able to address together.

■   ■   ■   ■   ■

The post Anti-Trans Discrimination in Philosophy of Religion: An Accusation & Possible Progress (Updated) appeared first on Daily Nous.

On the Origins of Humanitarian Intervention

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/03/2020 - 10:39pm in


Racism, Religion, War

[T]hose people are barbaric, uninstructed in letters and the art of government, and completely ignorant, unreasoning, and totally incapable of learning anything but the mechanical arts; that they are sunk in vice, are cruel, and of such character that, as nature teaches, they are to be governed by the will of others....But, for their own welfare, people of this kind are held by natural law to submit to the control of those who are wiser and superior in virtue and learning, as are the Spaniards (especially the nobility), the learned, the clergy, the religious, and, finally, all those who have been properly educated and trained. Such persons must be considered when a judgment is to be made about the morals and character of any people, for in them especially shine forth natural ability, uprightness, training, and the best morals of any nation. Both in Spain and among the Indians, spiritual and temporal government is entrusted to these people rather than to soldiers, who, for the most part, are unprincipled and, under cover of military license, inflict many injuries.

The conclusion drawn from this is that the Indians are obliged by natural law to obey those who are outstanding in virtue and character in the same way that matter yields to form, body to soul, sense to reason, animals to human being, women to men, children to adults, and finally, the imperfect to the more perfect, the worse to the better, the cheaper to the more precious and excellent, to the advantage of the both. This is the natural order, which the the eternal and divine law commands be observed, according to Augustine.

Therefore, if the Indians, once warned, refuse to obey this legitimate sovereignty, they can be forced to do so for their own welfare by recourse to the terrors of war. And this war will be just both by civil and natural law, according to the second, third, and fifth chapters of the Politics of Aristotle....Finally, all political philosophers, basing themselves on this reason alone, teach that in cities, kingdoms, and states those who excel in prudence and virtue should preside with sovereignty over the government so that government may be just according to natural law....

Even if these barbarians (that is, the Indians) do not lack capacity, with still more reason they must obey and heed the commands of those who can teach them to live like human beings and do the things that are beneficial for both their present and future life.--"Summary of Sepúlveda's Position" from In Defense of the Indians by Bartolomé de Las Casas, translated by Stafford Poole, pp. 11-13 [ca 1550]

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda was at the time the royal historian of Emperor Charles V. Las Casas treats him as a trained theologian, but I have also seen him described as a lawyer (see here; perhaps he was both). The Summary of Sepúlveda provided by his opponent, Las Casas, understates Sepúlveda's assertion of natural hierarchies between and within peoples. A line often quoted elsewhere from Sepúlveda's (ca 1550) Democrates Alter, Or, on the Just Causes for War Against the Indians states that "The man rules over the woman, the adult over the child, the father over his children. That is to say, the most powerful and most perfect rule over the weakest and most imperfect. This same relationship exists among men, there being some who by nature are masters and others who by nature are slaves."  This does echo Aristotle. Sepúlveda also goes beyond Aristotle. In the same document Sepúlveda pretty much compares the Indians to apes,* in a way that anticipates Rousseau's idea in a note to the Second Discourse that certain kinds of humans are apelike in the state of nature.

Of course, while Sepúlveda wholeheartedly and repeatedly embraces natural hierarchies, his argument actually does not rest on it. For he allows that, perhaps, the Indians are in no way inferior in capacity. In fact the real work is done by the purported existence of social misery, especially certain form of immorality, in their affairs ("that they are sunk in vice, are cruel,"). In fact, according to Sepúlveda intervention is required because they must be raised from their present immorality, which is bestial and savage.

Sepúlveda is relying on reports of human sacrifice and ritualized cannibalism among the Indians (see here). This matters not just because it shows they are pagans and abhorrent, but also because innocents are harmed if the Spaniards stand by and do nothing. (In context, Sepúlveda offers testimony for this assertion.)

That is the say, the thrust of Sepúlveda's argument does not rest on the reality of natural hierarchy, but rather on the claim that without Spanish, humanitarian intervention, all the Indians will be harmed to some degree, and especially the weak  innocent among them. Indian existence is a proto-Hobbesian state of nature, and so an educated Spanish sovereign is better than no sovereign. 

As an aside, even Sepúlveda indirectly admits that the Spanish conquest need not be beneficial to the Indians in all respects. For, where the Indians fall under de facto Spanish military occupation, they are simply miserably oppressed. 

Sepúlveda, thus, brings together (perhaps partially reinvents) two tropes that become extremely influential and pernicious: (i) that the violent extension of civilization, conquest, is to be pursued because it ultimately benefits the backward and savage. And (ii) that immoral and wicked practices may invite humanitarian intervention. This intervention is humanitarian in character because it is in the interest of the Indians to become humane ("to live like human beings") and acquire the skill and practice of civilization and thereby benefit from it politically and personally, that is, in the afterlife ("that are beneficial for both their present and future life.")). 

According to Sepúlveda, Spanish empire is providential ("God wanted the greater part of the world to come under their dominion so that it might be ruled more justly..." (p. 13)). It's notable that it's not just in Sepúlveda and adherents of providence that (recall) (i) and (ii) can amount to the same thing.




*"[If you know the customs and manners of different peoples, that the Spanish have a perfect right to rule these barbarians of the New World and the adjacent islands, who in prudence, skill, virtues, and humanity are as inferior to the Spanish as children to adults, or women to men, for there exists between the two as great a difference as between savage and cruel races and the most merciful, between the most intemperate and the moderate and temperate and, I might even say, between apes and men."


On Reichenbach's Wager, Prior, and Pascal's Wager, and Al-Ghazali

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/03/2020 - 2:05am in



The way toward an understanding of the step from experience to prediction lies in the logical sphere; to find it we have to free ourselves from one deep-rooted prejudice: from the presupposition that the system of knowledge is to be a system of true propositions. If we cross out this assumption within the theory of knowledge, the difficulties dissolve, and with them dissolves the mystical mist lying above the research methods of science. We shall then interpret knowledge as a system of posits, or wagers; with this the question of justification assumes as its form the question whether scientific knowledge is our best wager. Logical analysis shows that this demonstration can be given, that the inductive procedure of science is distinguished from other methods of prediction as leading to the most favorable posits. Thus we wager on the predictions of science and wager on the predictions of practical wisdom: we wager on the sun's rising tomorrow, we wager that food will nourish us tomorrow, we wager that our feet will carry us tomorrow. Our stake is not low; all our personal existence, our life itself, is at stake. To confess ignorance in the face of the future is the tragic duty of all scientific philosophy; but, if we are excluded from knowing true predictions we shall be glad that at least we know the road toward our best wagers. Hans Reichenbach (1938) Experience and prediction;: an analysis of the foundations and the structure of knowledge. p 404

In a footnote to a profound and witty dialogue(called a "play") from 1942, "Can religion be discussed?" (The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy), Arthur N. Prior seems to refer to the quoted passage when he describes "an astonishing resemblance" between Reichenbach's wager "argument for induction to Pascal's "wager" argument for religion." (See p. 148, note 8.) In the preamble to the dialogue, Prior writes that "my characters are Barthian Protestant,* Modernist Protestant, Catholic, Logician and Psychoanalyst. The footnotes are by myself." So, I think Prior wants us to reflect on the similarity between Pascal's wager for God's existence and Reichenbach's claim that fallible inductive science provides us the road toward best wagers.

As an aside, I find two features of Reichenbach's position notable: first, these days epistemologists accept that knowledge is compatible with fallibilism. It is notable that Reichenbach still felt the need to argue the (Humean) case. Second, Reichenbach treats decisions within science as formally alike to wagers of practical wisdom. That is to say, lurking here is a (Kantian) effacement of any significant difference in kind between theoretical and practical knowledge. For, the very system of theoretical knowledge (science) rests on a practical, even existential decision -- this is very akin to Carnap's voluntarism --, namely on the wager that induction and a system of inductions is the best route to practical prudence. I call this Reichenbach's wager

Anyway, since Pascal is mentioned by Reichenbach as one of the original investigators of the "mathematical concept of probability" (298-299), the resemblance may well be deliberate and Pascal the original inspiration for Reichenbach's (presentation of his) version of the idea. I don't think the similarity between Pascal's wager and Reichenbach's wager is entirely a contingent matter depending on historical circumstances. Because  in Al-Ghazali we find versions of both Pascal's Wager (recall here) and Reichenbach's wager (recall here). Strikingly, in Al-Ghazali the inductive leap required for scientific discovery is itself likened to prophecy. (I don't think there is evidence that Reichenbach or Pascal were familiar with Al-Ghazali's writings.) 

For, Al-Ghazali the development of successful scientific theory requires guided intuition of structure (or special properties), and this guided intuition is of the same kind in prophecy. One way to think about Reichenbach's wager in light of Al-Ghazali, then, is that wagers based on past science (and new information, etc.) play a role in the role of guiding of the scientist's intuition when discovering or developing new science.

Prior's footnote is attached to a passage by the "logician" character in the dialogue in "Can religion be discussed?": "The validity of inductive inference, on which Psychoanalyst's "explanation " of religion ultimately depends, can only be affirmed as a leap in the dark." The claim by the logician about inductive inference is more Kierkegaardian than, I think, the Al-Ghazali inspired interpretation of Reichenbach's wager I just offered. On the latter, there is no less an existential leap, but it's less in the dark than the Kierkegaardian leap of the logician (who anticipates the kind of thing Thomas Kuhn seemed to be groping toward sometimes). 

It would have been natural to assume that the "logician" speaks for Prior. And that my distinction between the Kierkegaardian and Al-Ghazalian interpretations is mere artifice. But Prior had already alerted the reader that only in his footnotes is Prior (ahh) himself. So, we can, even must, read Prior's footnote as a correction to the logician.

I could stop here. But I want to add a kind of appendix.

Prior's engagement with religion was non-trivial. Even so, his comments about Islam reported in the Stanford Encyclopedia  are rather derogatory. In the body of "Can religion be discussed?," the psychoanalyst is quoted as treating Islam as a "sort of sideshow;" ("The kind of clear and sharp and anti-idolatrous belief that we have been considering is hardly to be found outside ancient and modern Israel and the Christian Church (with Mohammedanism as a sort of sideshow)." So I was a bit surprised that in footnote 9 (the one after not 8 containing the comment about Reichenbach), Prior, speaking for himself, writes: 

In a work of early Scottish Protestantism, with which Barth has strong affinities, occurs this sentence: "The poets say, (Oedipus knew that he had a father, but knew not that Laius was his father  so the heathen know that there is a god, but know not the true God." It is from this point of view that Mohammedanism is a "sideshow"; for while it may be a purer form of abstract " monotheism "' than Judaism or Christianity, it is not so definite and unambiguous (and so '"monotheistic") in its identification of God's Person by His concrete presence and action in history.

I cannot here do justice to Prior's relationship to, and reflection on Barth. So, I just want to focus on the second sentence of this footnote. Prior is clear that Islam is (relative to Judaism and Christianity) the purest form of monotheism. But he thinks Islam is problematic, rather, in how according to Islam God's presence is manifested in history. I suspect, but would love for a theologian to help me out, that what Prior objects to is that for Islam Jesus is just one of many prophets, and that the Church is just one of many religious institutions.** 

This note 9 turns out, thus, to be a partial correction to the psychoanalyst who misunderstands the manner in which Islam is a sideshow. But it is also a partial elaboration of an earlier footnote (5) in which Prior writes as himself:  "Freud's "Moses and Monotheism"' is, as far as I know, the only anti-religious work which treats the uniqueness of the Hebrew-Christian tradition as a serious problem for unbelief to solve, and does not evade it with chatter about all religions being the same, or evolving along a single line." That is to say, for Prior a certain tradition of monotheism generates a special challenge to the anti-religious or really atheist ("unbelief") argument. (On Prior's atheism recall here.) But Islam is not part of that tradition. And the reason it is not part of that tradition, for this purpose, is how Islam handles the identification of God's Person by His concrete presence and action in history. (That is to say, for Prior the status of Islam merits a central role in the commentary in his own voice on the argument of "the play.")

If I am right about why Prior admires Barth* then for Prior the real problem with Islam is that it does not really allow Church autonomy in the face of worldly ambition or evil (because, on this view, Islam does not really accept the church/state distinction). One may still wonder why this removes Islam from the tradition that is a genuine obstacle for the atheist's argument. I think the answer is that for Prior monotheism generates for the atheist not an epistemic but a moral-political obstacle.



*Prior writes: "Karl Barth is a Swiss theologian with a considerable following in Europe, most notably in the German Confessional Church, which, under the leadership of Martin Niemoller, has offered persistent resistance to Nazi interference in ecclesiastical affairs." That is to say, part of Prior's admiration for Barth is consequentialist: his words have helped fortify a form of church autonomy in the face of genuine evil.


Population and the Outbreak of Peace

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/02/2020 - 3:02am in

By Max Kummerow

Adelyne More’s 1917 feminist pamphlet Fecundity and Civilization stated flatly that population stabilization “is the most effective way of ensuring the cessation of war.”[1] All species’ potential rates of reproduction enable exponential population growth. Population numbers are kept within environmental capacity by rising mortality as populations increase. Ecologists call this process “density-dependent mortality.” Many “group-selected” social species fight territorial wars as populations grow, such as chimpanzees, lions, wolves, hyenas, baboons, ants and humans.

Chimpanzee fight

Population density is a huge factor for fights among chimpanzees. The threat of losing territory and resources creates tension and physical confrontation until there is a standing winner. Sound familiar? (Image CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Chris Allen)

Writer Michael Balter concluded from a study of 100 incidents (in which chimpanzees inflicted deaths on rival bands) that population growth leads to violent conflict. Studies of hunter-gatherer cultures, as well as historical records of modern societies, show that wars, famine, and disease reduce life expectancy as populations push environmental limits.

Humans and many other species also “regulate” population, not necessarily intentionally, within environmental capacity through behaviors that reduce birth rates (“density-dependent natality”).

Scholars present multifaceted causes of violence and war. In Causes of War, Levy and Thompson describe how “Scholars disagree not only on the specific causes of war, but also on how to approach the study of war…psychologists generally emphasize psychological factors, economists emphasize economic factors, anthropologists emphasize cultural factors, and so on.”[2] Philosopher A.C. Grayling quotes I.A. Novikov on the purpose of war: “men fought…in order to obtain food, women, wealth, the profits derived from possession of the government, or in order to impose a religion or a type of culture…war is a means to an end.”[3]

In Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker cites The Civilizing Process (1939) in which Norbert Elias argued that progress in norms and institutions encourages settlement of disputes by law and negotiation.[4] The “do unto others” ethic and the development of altruism and empathy was slowly leading to the rejection of war, slavery, and subjugation of races, cultures, and social classes. In the place of dictatorial and genocidal behavior, more inclusive and pacifist patterns were starting to prevail.

Syrian War

Noted for being one of the deadliest wars of the 21st century, the Syrian civil war has killed thousands of people and spawned military conflicts outside of its borders. (Image source, Credit: Voice of America News)

Tragically, shortly after Elias’s civilizing book was published, barbarism re-emerged with the horrors of the Holocaust. Elias fled to the USA, but his parents fell victim to the genocide in Eastern Europe. Regarding this tragedy as well as the increase in threats of nuclear war and the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere, it is clear, as Pinker admits, that reduction in violence may not be enduring.







Population Regulation and Peace

Nothing in sociobiology, genetics, or cultural studies provides compelling evidence that war is absolutely inevitable or, on the other hand, can be thoroughly eliminated. That said, there is strong evidence that ending population growth facilitates enduring peace. I classified 150 countries into three violence categories.[5] The table compares fertility rates and population change. Total fertility rate (TFR) is a statistic summarizing numbers of births per woman.

Table 1: Violence and Fertility Rates

Violence Category

Number of Countries
Average 2013 TFR
2013 Population (billions)
% Population Change 1960-2013






Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators. Countries missing fertility data and countries with <1,000,000 population in 2013 and four oil sheikdoms with major in-migration were omitted.

TFRs averaged 1.6 in recently peaceful, formerly violent countries and 4.2 in recently violent countries. Using ANOVA or CHI2 statistics to test the null hypothesis of “no difference between group fertility rates” gave a p-value of 10-12, confirming what is obvious from casual inspection of the data: High fertility rates are strongly correlated with mass violence and low fertility rates with peace.

Life expectancy at birth was 23.4 years longer in the peaceful countries. Average 2008 infant mortality rates were 8.5 per 1000 people in peaceful, low-fertility countries versus 83/1000 in violent, high-fertility countries. Per capita incomes in high-fertility violent countries averaged 13.8% of the average per capita income in the low-fertility/peaceful countries—$4,155 versus $30,020.[7]

Low fertility rates are strongly associated with peaceful outcomes, even in formerly violent cultures whose neighbors are so-called “hereditary enemies.”[8] Declines in fertility rates nurture and enable peace.

Solutions to the Many Influences of Violence

United Nations generally assembly

United Nations representatives meet in yearly general assembly meetings hoping to find solutions for lasting peace. (Image CC BY 2.0, Credit: Basil D Soufi.)

Many other factors aside from population growth influence outbreaks of mass violence. Propaganda can increase hatred and foment violence. Incompetent or power-hungry leaders blunder into wars. But there are solutions our society can pursue: Institutions such as the United Nations can help maintain peace; peace treaties can resolve disputes; and cultural and institutional changes can reduce tendencies to violence.

The rejection (or adoption) of violence entails in-depth analysis and, often, the climbing of learning curves. Yet underlying all other factors is the fact that population growth creates rising competition for scarce territory and resources. Conversely, population decline reduces motivation and necessity for violent conflicts and fosters higher education levels, rule of law, and trust.

Peace and justice advocates should devote more attention to supporting family planning and the demographic transitions that have helped women and children enjoy longer lives. These demographic transitions also enable countries to remain above poverty levels and peacefully coexist with former enemies.

Why are so few peace and justice advocates talking about population stabilization?

[1] More, A. 1917. Fecundity and Civilization: a contribution to the study of over-population as the cause of war and the chief obstacle to the emancipation of women; with special reference to Germany. Allen and Unwin, London.

[2] Levy, J. and William R. Thompson. 2010. Causes of War. Blackwell Publishing, Chichester, UK.

[3] Grayline, A.C. 2017. War: An Enquiry. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA. This echoes Thucydides who summed up causes of war as fear, glory, and interest (desires for gold, territory, slaves, etc.).

[4] Pinker, S. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature. Penguin, New York.

[5]“Violent” were roughly defined as “thousands killed in the past 40 years in war, civil strife, or genocide.” “Peaceful” were “peaceful since WWII.” Admittedly, this was a “quick and dirty” classification effort based on news accounts, historical reading, and general knowledge. I looked at deaths in war statistics and found them to be surprisingly hard to pin down. Estimates of deaths vary greatly depending on source. The “medium” category is really “not sure” in some cases.  Results are so clear that no change in the overall conclusion could result from a few misclassifications.

[6] Figures in Table 4 are averages of country statistics, not weighted by country population. Global average fertility weighed by population was around 2.5 in 2013.

[7] Statistics all from World Bank, World Development Indicators data.

[8] My relatives fought and died in the World Wars between France and Germany that killed millions. Now those countries share a common currency, lasting peace and low fertility rates.

Max Kummerow, Ph.D., is a retired business school professor and population activist who researches demography, ecology, and economic development. He has presented papers at ESA, PJSA, NCSE, PAA, and EAERE meetings showing the benefits of accelerating the world’s stalled demographic transition toward lower fertility rates.


The post Population and the Outbreak of Peace appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 24/02/2020 - 11:17pm in

Sometimes you are reading a novel and it is so extraordinary that you think, is this the best thing I have ever read? For me, that feeling probably comes on about once a year, so there are quite a lot of books that have evoked it. Still, that they do says something, and the latest to have sparked it is Anna Burns’s Milkman, the Booker Prize winner from 2018.

Milkman is, all at once, a tremendous linguistic performance, a triumph of phenomenology, am insightful account of sexual harrassment, a meditation on gossip and what it can do, a picture of the absurdities of enforced communitarian conformity, and a clear-eyed portrayal of what it is to live under the occupation of a foreign army and the domination of the necessary resisters to that army who are, at the same time, friends and family, sometime idealists but sometimes gangsters, bullies and killers.

Anna Burns’s sentences, the stream of consciousness of her 18-year-old narrator, loop back on themselves with further thoughts and reconsiderations. The voice is a combination of personal idiosyncracy and northern Irish English, i.e. comprehensible to speakers of other versions of English but sometimes odd or disconcerting. You can’t skim and get the plot. You have to hold on, read each sentence, and sometime start it again.

Very few of the characters or persons mentioned have real names (I count two). Instead we are treated to maybe-boyfriend, chef (who isn’t a chef), ma, da, wee sisters, eldest sister, third brother-in-law, longest friend, Somebody McSomebody, wrong husband (a few of those) and so on. The town or city is not named, though it would be surprising if it were not Belfast. There is a statelet, a state “over the water”, another “over the border”, the state forces and police, and the renouncers (locals who renounce the state in question) and the defenders (locals who defenders). The people in the enclave where the narrator lives are of one religion and the renouncers hold off both the state forces and those of the defenders, who are of the “opposite religion”. Many people have died, including nearly whole families, because of the political problems. Some are killed by state forcers or defenders, but others, suspected or accused of being informers, by the renouncers. The renouncers depend on the good opinion of the community who thereby exercise some constraint on their power. While the location is what it is, one imagines similar dynamic being played out on West Bank and Gaza, in parts of Syria, in Colombia, in Baghdad, in Kabul, in Kashmir.

I’ll not spoil the plot for those who haven’t read the book, beyond saying what we know from the first page, that the central theme is the unwanted and menacing sexual attention of Milkman to the narrator, who is not a milkman but a fairly senior figure in the paramilitary renouncers. Milkman does and says very little, but communicates, without saying much, what may happen if she doesn’t comply with his plans for her. The very depiction of that dynamic between them and how he gets in her head is chilling. You should read it for yourself but.