The living proof that our societies are obviously in-human is today the foreign undocumented worker: he is the sign, immanent to our situation, that there is only one world. To treat the foreign proletarian as though he came from another world, that is indeed the specific task of the ‘home office’ (ministère de l’identité nationale), which has its own police force (the ‘border police’). To affirm, against this apparatus of the state, that any undocumented worker belongs to the same world as us, and to draw the practical, egalitarian and militant consequences of this – that is an example of a type of provisional morality, a local orientation in keeping with the communist hypothesis, amid the global disorientation which only its reestablishment will be able to counter.
Generally, I respect Harvey C. Mansfield’s work on classical political theory, and think his attempts at contemporary cultural and political criticism are absurdly small-minded. His piece in The Weekly Standard on Obama’s non-partisanship is a mixture of the good Mansfield and the bad Mansfield, so I recommend it to fans of ambivalence. Here are some of the good parts:
One might call this sort of governing rational administration or rational control. It is government directed by reason that does not appeal to reason but rather to subrational motives that will lead people to do what is rational without their quite understanding what they are doing.
Here, Mansfield demonstrates his major concern, that we have not allowed this debate over health care to become a debate over the kind of regime we have and ought to have. He accuses Obama of ignoring principles in the name of principle, of resisting appeals to reason while attempting to govern rationally. I suspect that Mansfield is right, and even if I don’t seem to share his politics, I wonder what this form of rational irrationality portends for the future of American politics. Continue reading Mansfield on Obama
I’ve just returned from the Understanding Humans through Neuroscience conference at the American Enterprise Institute, where I heard papers by Roger Scruton, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and Stephen Morse. What struck me was how mired the three papers were in defending against a certain kind of agency-undermining determinism that few people take seriously any more. All of them were worried about the implications of this kind of case:
a 40-year-old man who inexplicably became a sexual impulsive with paedophilia. The patient had no prior history of sexual misconduct, but it was soon noted that he was frequenting prostitutes and that he attempted to molest his 12-year-old step-daughter. He was quickly reported to the local authorities, was found guilty of child molestation, and was sentenced to either attend a 12-step sexual addiction program or face jail. Despite a strong yearning not to go to prison, the patient could not inhibit his sexual impulses. It was soon discovered that the defendant had a large tumour pressing on his right orbitofrontal cortex (Figure 2). Upon the resection of the tumour, the patient’s sexual impulsiveness diminished. When the sexual impulsiveness later reappeared, a brain scan revealed that the tumour had grown back. A second resection of tumour again diminished the patient’s sexual impulsiveness .
This is basically an unrepeatable experiment in neuroanatomy, but for some reason folks in law really worry about it. Continue reading How NOT To Do Law, Philosophy, and Neuroscience
My old boss Ted Kinnaman has a piece in the Huffington Post on Pat Robertson’s claim that Haitians deserved the recent earthquake because they made a pact with the devil in order free themselves from colonial slavery. Others have developed the historical case for such a pact. Where many have taken Robertson to task for misrepresenting Christianity, Ted notes that while none of us would like to admit it, this kind of ascription of responsibility for one’s own suffering is actually a traditional problem throughout Christian theology, and in theism in general:
[Robertson’s] most fundamental intellectual commitment is to the existence of a good and all-powerful God. A good God cannot want people to suffer undeservedly, and an all-powerful God would not allow people to suffer undeservedly. Therefore any undeserved suffering is evidence that there is no such God. But since (he presumes) there is such a God, all human suffering must be deserved.
The newest issue of The Good Society has been released, with a symposium my friend Steven Maloney and I put together on epistemic proceduralism. It features contributions by James Bohman, Corey Brettschneider, Noëlle McAfee, and Robert Talisse and Michael Harbour. The ‘utopophobia’ in the title comes from David Estlund’s book Democratic Authority, which invokes epistemic grounds in defense of democratic legitimacy: because democratic procedures get things right more often then competing regimes, the decisions they make are legitimate. This puts Estlund in the company of contemporary epistemic liberals like Cheryl Misak and Robert Talisse. Contrary to Rawlsian liberalism’s distaste for substantive epistemic and normative questions, the epistemic liberals suggest that we ought not to fear public deliberation and contestation about first principles, end-states, and matters of fundamental concern.
Steve and I also contributed a paper, “Foresight, Epistemic Reliability, and the Systematic Underestimation of Risk,” in which we struggle with democracy’s capacity to foresee ‘regime-busting’ cataclysms like war, famine, natural disasters, or economic shocks and either prevent them or prepare for them adequately. As the title suggests, we believe that democratic polities systematically underestimate such risks, at their own peril.
Check it out!