Why Yoweri Museveni’s Retirement is Key to Uganda’s Democratization

By: David O. Monda

Uganda is romantically idealized as the Pearl of Africa. The reality is that in the field of democratization, the Pearl of Africa metamorphoses into the Peril of Africa. This is because the example of Museveni’s mockery of Uganda’s constitution is being replicated in many African countries. African presidents have discovered ways to amend their national constitutions to perpetuate themselves in power at the expense of democratization in their countries. These constitutional amendments have the effect of institutionalizing the individual in power rather than building the institutions that will safeguard the nation long after the individual president is gone. Yoweri Museveni’s retirement is key to Uganda’s democratization.

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Battle of Ideas

This is your invitation to enter the fray. To attack or defend ideas that matter.

Political Animal Magazine is running a contest for short op-ed style articles that look at politics in terms of the ideas that underlie them.

We are looking for articles that take a philosophic argument or claim, explain why it matters to politics today, and make a case why it is right or wrong. Winning submissions will clearly and compellingly articulate the meaning and merit of the ideas in question. Pieces should be no more than 2000 words, written in an op-ed or blog style that is accessible to intelligent general readers, and highlight the role of ideas in politics.


Theme: Net Neutrality

The theme of the contest is Net Neutrality. On December 14 2017, the FCC is scheduled to vote on repeal of the net neutrality rules put into place by the Obama administration.

We want articles that explore the deeper theoretical implications of the issue. Examples of questions might be: Is net neutrality a challenge to the free market? Is the internet a public good, on the terms articulated by economists such as Paul Samuelson and James M. Buchanan? Does the internet protect our liberties with the access it provides, or compromise them, by restricting the sorts of exchanges we can engage in, and what role should government have in shaping its future?

Award

The two submissions judged best will each receive an award of $50. We will publish all submissions of note, including crosslinks to any other sites on which the pieces appear, should you request this.

Deadline

The deadline for submissions is Jan 30, 2017. Submissions should be sent to submissions@politicalanimalmagazine.com, with the email subject “Contest”.

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Why Doug Jones Matters

It was September in Birmingham, crisp northern winds rolling down from Appalachia to meet the heat of the American South. It was clear fall was coming. And with fall came hopes of a new year, and perhaps a more peaceful time for the African-American community living in one of America’s most violent cities.

Whatever doubts many had about the direction of the nation – one that seemingly had no place for a black man seeking equality – children still played, schools still taught, and church bells could still be heard.

One of those children was Cynthia Wesley. Cynthia was a pretty girl, her dimpled face in pictures are caressed with dark lavish curls and a toothy grin that, sadly, seems out of place on someone who grew up in those times. Her eyes were large and dark, almost always dancing off the smile on her face every time the camera went snap.

Wesley grew up in a town charged with animosity based on color and sex, so for the little 9th grader in that historic year of 1963, the innocence of childhood probably did not completely shield her from the struggles her community faced. Certainly with friends like Denise McNair, her 11-year-old Sunday school buddy who dreamed at a very young age of fighting for Social Justice, she must have heard the stories of those killed and persecuted for the color of their skin; the color of her skin.

However, Cynthia wasn’t into all that. She wanted to help in different ways. Watching her parents example growing up, Cynthia longed to teach like her father and mother. She wanted more than to be defined by centuries of racial prejudice. She wanted to be more than a little black girl.

Birmingham couldn’t stop her from dreaming; but it could do something far, far worse.

The 15th was a Sunday, and just like every Sunday in Birmingham, bells were ringing across the city, calling finely-clad church-goers, black and white, were on their way to attend worship services. In the 16th Street Baptist Church, Cynthia and three other girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson, were in the basement changing into their choir robes, tying each other’s dress sashes, maybe giggling at gossip, maybe chatting about schoolwork.

Whatever they were doing, they never finished.

The room erupted into a hellish landscape of screams, fear and terror as 15 pieces of TNT blew a hole in the church’s basement. Fire enveloped the room, and the dreams 4 little girls were crushed forever. Science class had lost their best student. The world was deprived of a future teacher. And 8 parents lost one of the few things that provided them with a glimmer of light in those dark times.

There was nothing special about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. It was the latest in a heinous string of bombings that had earned the city the nickname Bombingham. And although it shocked the nation, very little changed. This was just another day in Birmingham, Alabama.


As Alabamians prepare to go to polls on December 12th to elect a new senator, it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that nothing ever changes: Alabama is a place filled with racial tension, poverty, and a sad history representing America’s ultimate sin. And in terms of day-to-day politics, the Republican has it in the bag. After all, it is Alabama.

However, the race between civil rights lawyer Doug Jones and former State Supreme Court judge Roy Moore is tighter than expected according to recent polls and analysis. This is historic in several ways. It’s the first time in decades a Democrat has a chance of winning. And the race’s tone harkens back to days long past, with Moore clearly appealing to a mindset molded by Nixonian southern politics.

To see why Doug Jones really matters, you have to understand what he’s running against. And that means revisiting the 1960s, when southern politics realigned, creating the worldview in which Roy Moore operates.

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Why Computers are not Intelligent: An Argument

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Two Positions

The strong AI advocate who wants to defend the position that the human mind is like a computer often waffles between two points of view that are never clearly distinguished, though actually quite distinct. Let us call them ‘position A’ and ‘position B.’ Position A argues that human minds are like computers because they are both ‘intelligent.’ Position B argues that human minds are like computers because they both lack intelligence. The reason these positions are often confused is because of an ambiguity or vagueness in the understanding of what intelligence itself is. But, if we are to consider this question in such a way as to make it relevant for an investigation into the nature of the human mind then we must define intelligence in a way that captures what we mean when we say that a human being is intelligent. I propose the following definition: a being is intelligent to the extent that it is able to knowingly make decisions for the fulfillment of a purpose. Again, this definition of intelligence is based on the effort to capture what we mean when we say that a human being has ‘intelligence.’

Let us, then, consider the two AI positions with this in mind.

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Deconstructing Karl Popper’s Paradox of Intolerance

By: Mohamed Farija
One of the winning submissions from the Battle of Ideas op-ed contest on the theme of Free Speech.

Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. These problems have plagued humanity since time immemorial and there’s no sign that they’re going away anytime soon. Despite these problems, I choose to believe that the majority of people are decent human beings who inherently desire to live in a tolerant society.

An integral aspect of a tolerant society is people’s ability to have and promote differing viewpoints i.e. freedom of speech. However to declare such freedoms as unlimited is to give unsavory voices a place at the table.

Thus we are brought to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Intolerance. “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

However Popper did not suggest intolerant ideas have to be silenced, i.e. that his paradox be used to limit freedom of speech. Rather, actions of intolerance such as violence or oppression should be eradicated from a liberal society, even through force. “In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.”

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On Forcing Your Religion via Canada’s Transgender Rights Bill

By: Hendrik van der Breggen
One of the winning submissions from the Battle of Ideas op-ed contest on the theme of Free Speech.

Remember rock band R.E.M.’s song “Losing my religion”? In view of Canada’s recent passing of Bill C16—a.k.a. Transgender Rights Bill—I think a new song should be sung. I title it “Forcing your religion.”

Consider this.

If we take University of Toronto psychologist Jordan B. Peterson’s criticisms of C16 seriously (which I do, because I think they’re strong logically and evidentially), then C16 will likely require Canadians to use a person’s preferred pronouns.

We may have to say “she” instead of “he”; or “he” instead of “she”; or maybe “e” or “ey” or “hu” or “peh” or “per” or “sie” or “ve” or “xe” or “ze” or “zhe”—whatever is preferred as a label for however one self-identifies one’s sex/ gender.

Interestingly, in discussions leading up to the passing of C16, Canadian Senator Grant Mitchell said the following in defence of C16:

“There is also the argument that transgender identity is too subjective a concept to be enshrined in law because it is defined as an individual’s deeply felt internal experience of gender. Yet we, of course, accept outright that no one can discriminate on the basis of religion, and that too is clearly a very deeply subjective and personal feeling.”

Here is Senator Mitchell’s argument (in favour of C16) restated: Freedom to identify as transgender is like freedom of religion, so just as I am free to determine and live according to my religious identity, so too transgender persons are free to identify and portray themselves as such to the world.

Let’s think.

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John Dewey and Art

By: Alaina Hammond

John Dewey (1859-1952) was perhaps the leading educational philosopher of the early twentieth century, and viewed humanity as a creative force when interacting with its environment. His 1934 book, Art As Experience, expounds upon this belief system.

A large part of Dewey’s purpose in writing this book seems to be saving art from the pedestal of the museum. “The factors that have glorified fine art by setting it upon a far-off pedestal did not arise within the realm of art nor is their influence confined to the arts” (p. 4). The word “glorified” used here in a derogatory sense is parallel to his dismissal of the Platonic ideals of beauty. To glorify something is not to improve it, or even to elevate it in anything but an artificial sense. Rather, it is to imbue it with a false identity of the ethereal, or the other.

Moreover, there is no formal art that is inherently superior to the other. To use a contemporary reference, a graphic novel is not less noble, or automatically worse, than a literary one. If both are well-written (and in the former case, drawn) they should be judged on their own merits rather than compared to each other. On the other hand, as television is not inherently worse than literature, a good show surpasses a badly written book.

Dewey examines the specifics of art’s place in the world. He wonders: If artists are a kind of interpreter, are they interpreting the world to themselves? Or interpreting something to something else? What are they doing, besides participating in the physical process of making art with physical materials found in space-time?

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Harvey Weinstein and the Aims and Structure of Hollywood

Howl of the Day: Oct 13, 2017

Political scientist Corey Robin has an interesting take on the current Harvey Weinstein debacle. Robin observes that power relationships leave little room for morality:

In virtually every oppressive workplace regime—and other types of oppressive regimes—you see the same phenomenon. ….

Those at the bottom of the regime, these less established actresses who need the most, look up and wonder why those above them, those more established actresses who need less, don’t speak out against an injustice: The more established have power, why don’t they use it, what are they afraid of?

Those higher up the ladder, those more established actresses, look down on those at the very bottom and wonder why they don’t speak out against that injustice: They’ve got nothing to lose, what are they afraid of?

Neither is wrong; they’re both accurately reflecting and acting upon their objective situations and interests. This is one of the reasons why collective action against injustice and oppression is so difficult. It’s Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand at work (in both senses), without the happy ending: everyone pursues their individual interests as individuals; the result is a social catastrophe.

This seems true, but at the same time, focusing on the power dynamic at play as opposed to the ends for which the power is used obscures something essential about the problem.

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The Libertarian Error

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Introduction

As Congress gears up for another round of massive tax cuts whose benefits will primarily go to the wealthiest, it might be worthwhile to consider the underlying rationale for these cuts.

In general, there are two arguments presented in justification for such cuts. The first is a utilitarian argument. The claim is that tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate the economy and make things generally better for everyone. There are many good reasons to think that this is not true, but I am going to leave this claim aside for now as it is largely a practical question concerning how a capitalist system operates.

The more fundamental, and more philosophical, justification comes from the libertarians. The libertarian claim is that taxation for any other purpose than the defense of liberty is illegitimate, indeed, a kind of theft. According to the libertarians, the government simply has no right to impose taxes for such services as public education, aid to the poor, health care, social security, or any other service that does not involve a direct protection from those who might deprive us of liberty (e.g., criminals or foreign invaders).

This libertarian idea has gained a lot of traction in recent decades, even among many who would not identify as libertarian. It provides the ideological foundation for the hostility toward government, indeed toward democracy as a form of government, fostered by the radical right. I believe it is deeply flawed. The following is my attempt to say why.

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Penelope’s Choice

By: Michael Grenke

The Odyssey’s Penelope is a Thinker, a person who is effective in facing her world and its problems by thinking her way out of them. She is, perhaps, even more of a thinker than her much-devising husband, as he is still, occasionally, given to “solving” his problems with brute force. It is in Penelope that Homer more purely explores the possibilities and limitations of Odyssean cleverness. The emblem of Penelope’s cleverness is the device by which she tricks her suitors for three years, her weaving. She uses the weaving to buy herself time, but the weaving is itself an image of time. Time is a weaving and unweaving; it makes and unmakes beings and relations. In her deception, Penelope gives the impression time has no consequence for human beings. And understood thus, time poses a great difficulty that attends and deforms the kind of thinking in which Penelope engages.

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