An undifferentiated gob of interesting and/or alarming stuff from around the web.

1.  More ink about the physicists who think that the LHC is doomed — this seems broadly akin to the reverse anthropic principle claim Eliezer was making a while ago.  And while it certainly sounds nutso, the problem is that all advanced physics at this point sounds nutso.  Theoretical physics outstripped our ability to describe it in words or understand it with the ordinary kinds of cognition and logic that humans use some time in the middle of the last century, when philosophers started suggesting chucking out the law of excluded middle in response to quantum mechanics.

2.  A very interesting new blog by Chris Betram and team, in association with the Territory and Justice research network — the Territory and Justice blog.  It’s very much worth reading — issues of territorial control, immigration, citizenship, etc. haven’t had enough attention in normative theory, and what attention they have had has often been bad (e.g., the really horrible footnote in Law of Peoples where Rawls suggests that a right to leave a territory is fine and dandy even though it isn’t paired with a correlative right to enter some other territory).

3.  I’m shocked, shocked, to learn that cities are better places to find romance.

4.  David Schleicher has a very provocative series of posts on Prawfs about why those “best cities” stories in the media always name horrible places like Houston and Oklahoma CityPart 1Part 2And my favorite: part 3, which has a Paul Gowder mention, and is all about agglomeration effects, about which, see previous item.

5.  A paradox on punishment and deterrence: if an insanely cruel punishment is such a good deterrent that nobody ever commits the crime, and thus nobody is ever subject to the punishment, is the punishment’s being written into law still objectionable on grounds of cruelty?

6.  Lindsay Beyerstein makes possibly the best case that can be made in defense of Obama’s getting the Nobel.  It’s still not good enough IMO, but still worth your consideration.

7.  In an otherwise interesting post, Publius reveals some odd thinking about libertarianism and utilitarianism.  He sez:

I’m not exactly an expert on the tenets of modern libertarianism.  I assume, though, that reduced government intrusion is a means to an end rather than an end unto itself.  That is, maximizing liberty is the ultimate goal, and limiting government is—generally speaking—the way to achieve that end.  (I’m assuming most libertarians are utilitarians—my argument doesn’t work if you think government action is inherently unfair).

Eh?  First of all, that isn’t really utilitarianism — at most, it’s consequentialism with liberty rather than welfare being the end.  Second, libertarians in philosophy (i.e., Nozick) tend to be rather aggressively non-consequentialist, and all about dem side constraints.  Third, libertarianism and utilitarianism are rather uncomfortable together, as you’ll see if you give a bit of thought to the diminishing marginal utility of wealth.  It’s no coincidence that the classical utilitarians were all rather non-libertarian, with Bentham’s fulminating denial of even the coherence of a “right,” with Mill’s outright endorsement of socialism, and with Sidgwick’s contemplations of something that looks a lot like 20th century liberal distributive justice, and his balanced discussion of the merits of capitalistic and socialistic organization of various parts of the economy.  Anyway.  X.Trapnel, care to chime in on this one, O’ Libertarian-Utilitarian?

8.  Larry Lessig throws down on the transparency principle.  Lots of buzz about this piece, and, as usually, well-warranted.

9.  Tony Blair equates atheists to terrorists.  I equate Tony Blair to a blithering demagogic moron who singlehandedly destroyed the Labour party and spent basically his entire time in office slobbing W’s warmongering knob.

10.  More amusing piling on about the stupidity of Ayn Rand.

11.  Canada apparently has a political science association (who knew?  next you’ll tell me they have an army), with a call for papers that includes an interesting political theory bit run by the blogosphere’s very own Jacob Levy:

Come to Montreal: Canadian Political Science Association Annual Meeting, June 1-3 2010

Call for papers: open call in political theory as well as call for papers on “non-ideal and institutional theory

The CFP for the 2010 CPSA in Montreal is now open: Call for papers, Instructions for submitting, Proposal submission form.

Proposals are due by November 3, 2009.

For political theorists:

We welcome paper, panel, and roundtable proposals in all areas of political theory. In addition, we will be holding a conference within the conference on “Non-ideal and institutional theory.” That CFP is below.

Workshop 8 – Political Theory: Non-ideal and Institutional Theory
Organizers: Jacob T. Levy (McGill) and Jennifer Rubenstein (Viriginia)

From the ethics of conduct during wartime to justice in transitional societies to restitution for collective harms, political theorists have long been concerned with understanding political morality in morally compromised or materially constrained settings—in what Arendt termed “dark times.” Since Rawls, we have come to call this “non-ideal” theory: theory about moral choices and political circumstances that wouldn’t arise at all under ideal conditions. In recent years, political philosophers have done a great deal of methodological and metatheoretical work on the ideal/non-ideal distinction, while political theorists have undertaken non-ideal normative analysis of a wide range of problems. We seek both papers that are explicitly about non-ideal political theory and papers that do non-ideal theory, in order to encourage engagement between methodological reflections and normative arguments.

We especially welcome papers that do these things with attention to political institutions, by—for example— proposing institutional designs for non-ideal settings, analyzing ideal versus non-ideal ways of thinking about the justice of institutional structures, or showing how particular institutions are themselves the sources of the morally compromised settings in which decision-making must take place. In other words, we invite papers that construe institutions as either sources of injustice or as mechanisms for mitigating injustice, as obstacles to reform or as frameworks for pursuing it.

We propose four panels of three papers and one commentator each, as well as a thematic roundtable discussion. While the workshop focuses on issues that have thus far been taken up primarily in the context of analytic normative theory, we actively encourage papers with historical or critical perspectives on these issues. Finally, while the workshop itself addresses substantive problems in non-ideal and institutional theory, papers need not be explicitly framed in those terms.


15 Responses to “An undifferentiated gob of interesting and/or alarming stuff from around the web.”

  1. Hux Says:

    On the campaign trail, Obama promised to restore the U.S.’s place in the world community and the Nobel Peace Prize is proof that he’s fulfilling that promise.

    Did Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Yes he did! He did because, well, he deserved it.


    (I’m contaminating your comments section ’cause there are too many comments over there for mine to be noticed.)

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    There’s always this alternate account of Obama’s prize

  3. Steve M. Says:

    But can you prove that Obama isn’t a soldier from the AI wars of the future, sent back to save us from ourselves?

    What’s that? No, you can’t? I didn’t think so.

  4. mtravers Says:

    Obama winning the nobel Prize is an Obamanation…!

  5. Richard Says:

    The argument from DMU is a bit quick. Consider: since surplus wealth has less consumption value for rich folks, they are more likely to instead invest it, which could lead to a better future (depending on the details, of course) than consumption by current poor folks. See David Schmitz’s (2000) ‘Diminishing Marginal Utility and Egalitarian Redistribution’.

  6. Paul Gowder Says:

    True, but I don’t think a libertarian could endorse that sort of reasoning. Presumably the goodness of the future depends on some of that increased wealth ending up in the hands of the poor, and such an argument would have to license redistribution to bring about that result if it didn’t happen on its own…?

  7. Richard Says:

    Yes, but a libertarian (in the ordinary, political sense) needn’t think that there are no possible circumstances in which redistribution would be justified. One might support libertarian policies so long as one believes that they are justified here and now, which it would be possible to do on utilitarian grounds, even in light of DMU.

    (Though I share your skepticism about the claim that most libertarians are actually utilitarians.)

  8. Paul Gowder Says:

    It seems like a stretch to call such a person a libertarian. Even a full-on Rawlsian egalitarian could support libertarian policies if she believed the claim that it would maximize the well-being of the worst off per the difference principle, thanks to the investment of surplus wealth. But surely we wouldn’t call such a person a libertarian, because her support of libertarian policies is contingent on very specific economic circumstances. Mutatis mutandis with the utilitarian.

  9. Steve M. Says:

    But surely we wouldn’t call such a person a libertarian, because her support of libertarian policies is contingent on very specific economic circumstances.

    I’m not at all sure that’s the right way to look at it. At any rate, why have a debate about the definition of the word “libertarian”? If you’re primarily concerned with libertarianism as a political phenomenon, then accidental libertarians are just as libertarian as Robert Nozick or half-cocked Randroids. In fact, there seem to be Rawlsians, or near-Rawlsians, who subscribe take libertarian views on political questions and think of themselves as libertarians. If you want to stipulate that libertarianism just is the 180 proof stuff (which is also something commenters at the Reason magazine website seem to like to do), then fine, I’ll stipulate. But I don’t think it’s a particularly useful move.

    Unrelatedly, this may be the most awesome piece of legal scholarship I’ve seen in months.

  10. x. trapnel Says:

    I’m going to post at more length (I mean it this time!), but some brief reactions:

    1. Steve M. gets it exactly right. I would actually go further, and claim that that not only Nozickian libertarianism, but most flavors of non-consequentialist academic political philosophy, don’t really work *as such*–they’re just not the *sorts of theories* that could guide political action in the face of disagreement, starting from the here-and-now. (I think Rawlsian political liberalism is less problematic than most here. But darnit, everyone should go back to Sidgwick.)

    2. “It’s no coincidence that the classical utilitarians were all rather non-libertarian” — I think it’s clear we’re just talking about different things here. I don’t think I’ve *ever* met a libertarian, in the ‘political tendency’ sense, who *didn’t* consider himself an heir to J.S. Mill.

    3. I found the Lessig piece very disappointing. We get one important point–transparency is only as good as the epistemic-ecology of the political system–and that’s basically it. Transparency has been a *huge* deal in Europe for 15+ years now, but one could come away from the piece thinking that the world only started thinking about *and experimenting with* this stuff, well, when LL got into the subject a few years ago. Bleh.

    Sorry, a bit grumpy.

  11. x. trapnel Says:

    I mean, for christ’s sake, Soros has spent *billions* over *decades* on his Open Society Institute, with the express goal of improving political institutions / outcomes through the development of the social system’s capacity to reflexively adapt the decisions being taken … and Lessig *has* to be aware of this stuff, since he was at Chicago and part of the East Eur. Const. Review back in the day.

  12. Paul Gowder Says:


    Does the point you, Steve, and Richard are all making entail that if non-libertarians could show that more redistribution were actually consistent with at-least-as-good welfare (under whatever aggregation method one happens to endorse) as libertarian policies, you’d be OK with them?

    (Of course, most libertarians, as most liberals, are going to claim Mill as a heir because of the antipaternalistic stuff in On Liberty. But the stuff in Political Economy…)

    As for Larry, he knows the history of work on transparency, but I think he also knows that he has a useful comparative advantage as a popularizer — when he writes something, a lot of people who don’t follow what Soros or the EU are doing start thinking about it.

  13. x. trapnel Says:

    1. Basically. It’s not just a coincidence that most libertarians also hold very strong beliefs about the causal structure of the social world (e.g., new classical economics, etc.). My drift leftward has, I think, been at least partly driven by my changing empirical beliefs in this area. I care a lot more about executive discretion than I do about marginal tax rates.

    2. My point is that I don’t see his article as doing a very good job of explaining the One Big Point, viz. “transparency is only as good as social epistemology”. The parallel w/ p2p stuff & craigslist wasn’t helpful. His claim that “In the context of public officials, however, the solutions are obvious, and old, and eminently tractable” is hilariously false. Ok, so countries that have public financing of elections have eliminated corruption? It’s that simple?

    The bottom line is that American politics *is*, in fact, dominated by the interests of the wealthy. We don’t know the precise weight of each of the mechanisms that contribute to this, but we are familiar with many of the mechanisms, and the overall effect is clear. (I’m thinking of Bartels work here, about responsiveness to constituents, etc.)

  14. x. trapnel Says:

    Or rather: sure, given rational ignorance, naked transparency won’t help elections much. But it *will* help institutional thinkers (like us) understand what’s actually going on, so as to better design institutions that don’t depend so much on idealistic assumptions about knowledge and motivation.

  15. Uncommon Priors » Yr. blogger waxes lyrical on quantum decoherence Says:

    [...] know, there’s something thoroughly appealing about the (slightly mad) reverse anthropic interpretation of this whole LHC failure shebang — the notion that [...]

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