Category: Theory (Page 1 of 5)

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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Trump’s Banality of Evil

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

What does fascism smell like? It’s a question the late Christopher Hitchens used to ask, and one that’s worth revisiting. In 1945 it might have smelled like Zyklon B, whose reportedly almondy aroma rose with the ashes from the brick chimneys of Nazi death camps into the skies of Europe. In 1988 it might have smelled like the sick yellow waves of chlorine gas that swept over the northern provinces of Mesopotamia during the Halabja massacre, when the Baathist regime tried, not for the last time, to eliminate the Kurdish people of Iraq. Americans in New York and Washington DC certainly knew what it smelled like in September 2001. Last Friday though, it took on a seemingly more innocuous smell, one that could have been synonymous with any other summer night in America: the bitter odor of a thousand citronella torches in the streets of Charlottesville. 48 hours later, the President proved himself incapable of performing the most basic of moral duties: to stand behind a podium for a scripted ten-minutes and call this stench by its name.

I’ve scanned enough Facebook fights to have seen the word “Nazi” appear somewhere in my feed at least once a month, and I’ve been to enough rallies to have seen a black toothbrush mustache smeared on the face of at least every major world leader, regardless of context. The problem with throwing around hyperbolic clichés so lightly is that they lose what little currency they already have in discourse. Indeed, what makes clichés so tyrannous is that they’re true but useless. As a writer, I have a visceral aversion to platitudes perhaps more than the average person, and the reductio ad Hiterlum approaches the very top of my list. But the cliché of calling someone a fascist is somewhat supported by the fact that fascism is itself a cliché. The irony of the events in Virginia last week and the President’s colossally mishandled response to it, was that this banality was conspicuously absent precisely when it was called for.

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All Generalizations are False. Including this One

By: Anurup Doshi

Racial profiling techniques have been at the heart of debates about crime-fighting for a very long time. The application of such techniques has generally been followed by accounts of abuse and horror stories about harassment. Profiling was the focus of renewed attention in 2016 when Donald Trump called for adopting an Israeli-style practice. Particulars of the Israeli-system aside, profiling techniques are often accused of being outright discriminatory, and of turning generalizations into policy. Even beyond the realm of policy making, the use of a generalization in a social context tends to draw pronounced indignation. Frequently, the statement ‘you must not generalize’ becomes a blanket assertion that is thrown around while talking about different categories of people.

When certain actions based on generalizations proliferate and have wide reaching consequences on society, these actions, and the underlying generalizations, become the target of a great deal of public ire. It can be argued that such outrage is not misplaced. It might also be that a person’s loathing for a generalization is most conspicuous when his or her individual identity is directly challenged by it. That is, however, just a superficial look at the entire picture. A generalization is actually a tool that is used by default, or by design, on a regular basis.

This article aims to separate the formation and usage of a generalization from the effects of acting on it. It explores the manner in which generalizations take root, the pivotal role they play in different contexts, and it attempts to dissect the rationale behind using them in policy making and the nuances associated with the implementation of such policies. Given the pitfalls accompanying such an approach, it also hopes to define some boundaries for subscribing to generalizations.

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Two Proposals to Foster Autonomy, Renew Democracy and Exit Post-Truth Politics

By: Marco Senatore

In a world where money is the only universal means of exchange, how different would society be if racists had economic incentives to embrace human rights, and the average citizen found it profitable to foster democracy? In this article I will attempt to answer this question.

Last year the neoliberal narrative suffered a major blow in the United Kingdom, with the vote for Brexit, and in the United States, with the election of Donald Trump as President. By neoliberalism here I mean that political and cultural model that subordinates every public decision to economic rationality, and adapts the state and the whole society to the needs of the market. More specifically, I include in neoliberalism the Ordo-liberal School that influenced the architecture of the Economic and Monetary Union, the Chicago School, the so-called Washington Consensus and, somewhat, the Third Way developed during the 1990s. Beyond its economic principles, neoliberalism has also been important in supporting human rights and rule of law, as they facilitate the functioning of the markets.

In the current juncture, highlighting the risks of populism and of post-truth is an important and useful exercise. It is obvious that the manipulation of facts, racism and other forms of discrimination make populists much more dangerous for democracy than most politicians who have ruled the world in the recent decades.

However, in order to change some of the paradigms that are shaping the political debate in America and – to a less extent, after Macron’s election – Europe, it would be essential to deal also with the flaws of that neoliberal order, whose contradictions have helped the rise of populists. After recalling some elements that are shared by populism and neoliberalism, I would like to propose two forms of social interaction, aimed at overcoming these elements.

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Isolationism – Playing the Devil’s Advocate

By: Siddharth Jayaprakash

Ever since President Roosevelt began using the term to disparage the anti-war lobbyists in the 1940s – lobbyists who lost their last vestige of credibility after the bombing of Pearl Harbour – ‘isolationism’ has had a distinctly negative tone, bringing to mind narrowmindedness and an oafish refusal to accept the inevitability of globalisation. Astute political commentators have learnt to watch out for the rise of this attitude in the populus after every unfortunate mishap in the global sphere – whether economic or military – reminiscent of a tortoise retreating into its shell after a run-in with a coyote. Or perhaps these commentators would prefer to use the image of the ostrich digging its head into the sand – the futility of the ostrich’s evasive manoeuvre, they would say, is a more fitting metaphor of the naïve government policies that ‘isolationism’ has come to signify.

And there is a lot of truth in this attitude. In a world that prioritises the generation of individual wealth it is a matter of fact and not opinion that free market capitalism is at logger heads with economic isolationism. And the success of the development wings of the United Nations – especially UNICEF and the various departments of the ECOSOC – is a testament to the global urge to standardise certain social norms. The empowerment of women, for instance, is non-negotiable – regardless of what one’s culture dictates, the equal status of women is guaranteed by the Human Rights Charter. But this is not the entire picture, and in a world where isolationist tendencies seem to be cropping up not just in the West but also in the East – where nationalist parties are in power both in India and in the Philippines – an exploration of just what ‘isolationism’ could entail has never been more crucial.

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Memory and History

Memorialization and politics in Germany seventy-two years after the Second World War

By: Aditya Adhikari

Today the Holocaust stands as the epitome of political evil. The German people’s effort to renounce and atone for their past is often held up as exemplary. “Never again” – these words first appeared on handmade placards put up by inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after the Nazi defeat in 1945. In the following decades, the slogan radiated out into the world and was repeated in Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Bosnia. The trials of war criminals in post-war Germany, the reparations provided to victims and the memorials erected in their name have become lodestars for what is now called ‘transitional justice’.

I participated in a seminar organized by the Robert Bosch Stiftung on Truth, Justice and Remembrance in late 2016. During our excursions in Berlin and Nuremberg, I had the sense that Germany’s sites of commemoration did not just evoke the horrors of the Holocaust but also showed how German attitudes had evolved in the post-war period.

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