Friday 19 January 2024

Israel's Crimes Do Not Deserve This Much Attention

Israel is a state founded on a principle of ethnic supremacy and a practise of ethnic cleansing at exactly the point in history where these became universally condemned as morally unacceptable. So it is not surprising that Israel gets a lot of criticism, at the United Nations and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the sheer amount of global diplomatic, NGO, and news media criticism directed at Israel is astonishing. (In many years the UN passes more resolutions critical of Israel than of every other country in the world put together - link.) Such disproportionate attention to Israel's crimes is excessive. It allows morally worse crimes to escape global notice and also directs global attention away from where it could achieve more good.

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Americans Are Not As Poor As They Think They Are

One of the peculiar side-effects of America's hegemonic dominance of global news, social media, and entertainment media is that the rest of the world is over-exposed to what Americans think of themselves. That includes their strange - and actually disturbingly narcissistic - belief that they invented slavery and racism. But also other silly ideas, such as that most Americans these days are poor, and literally cannot survive on what they earn

Thursday 15 June 2023

The Problem With Stories

Human minds run on stories, in which things happen for human meaningful reasons. But the actual world is not human centred. It runs on causal processes that are largely indifferent to humans’ feelings about them. 

The great breakthrough in human enlightenment was to develop techniques – empirical science – to allow us to grasp the real complexity of the world and to understand it in terms of the interaction of mindless (or at least unintentional) processes rather than humanly meaningful stories of, say, good vs evil. Hence, for example, the objectively superior neo-Darwinian account of adaptation by natural selection that has officially displaced premodern stories about human-like but bigger (‘God’) agents creating the world for reasons we can make sense of. 

Science flourishes still, demonstrating the possibility for human minds to escape the fairy tale epistemology that we have inhabited for tens of thousands of years and to inquire systematically into the world, or at least to benefit from the work of those who do. Yet - as the evolution example illustrates - stories continue to exert a powerful psychological hold over human minds. The US is one of the most educated societies in the world, but only around a third of adults accept the scientific account of evolution. Despite their deficiencies stories continue to dominate our minds, and hence the world that we build together with our minds via politics. From our thinking on the economy to identity politics to Covid to Climate Change to Climate Change activism, stories continue to blind us to reality and to generate mass conflict and stupidity.

Monday 3 April 2023

Governments Don't Actually Prioritise Economic Growth - But They Should

Environmentalists are always complaining that governments are obsessed with GDP and economic growth, and that this is a bad thing because economic growth is bad for the environment. They are partly right but mostly wrong. First, while governments talk about GDP a lot, that does not mean that they actually prioritise economic growth. Second - properly understood - economic growth is a great and wonderful thing that we should want more of.

Monday 13 February 2023

Strongman Leaders And The Infallibility Trap

It is easy to become exasperated with liberal democracy. Various factions bicker and manoeuvre against each other in an endless grubby contest for power, hypocritically appealing to a shared public interest while continuously generating and sustaining social divisions. Things that are necessary – like addressing climate change – do not get done, lost amidst the endless dithering, quibbling, and bargaining for advantage. Things that should not be done – like deporting UK asylum applicants to Rwanda – become official policy against all common sense and multiple laws, seemingly mainly as a way of trolling the opposition and civil society.

So it is disappointing but perhaps not surprising that people around the world are increasingly likely to endorse the strongman theory of government, that “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and election is a good way to run the country”.

Strongman government has two major attractions compared to liberal democracy. First, it promises wise and benevolent rule: undistracted by factions motivated by political interests the strong leader will be freed to make wiser, better decisions in the national interest. Second, it promises decisiveness: without the endless bickering and second guessing, strong leaders can get on and do what needs to be done.

In what follows I want to challenge these apparent advantages and show that the very failings of liberal democracy are actually the solution to the problems that strongman governments run into.

Monday 12 December 2022

Public Protest Is Not A Democratic Thing To Do

When people take to the street to protest this is often supposed to be a sign of democracy in action. People who believe that their concerns about the climate change, Covid lockdowns, racism and so on are not being adequately addressed by the political system make a public display of how many of them care a lot about it so that we are all forced to hear about their complaint and the government is put under pressure to address it.

Sunday 23 October 2022

How Many Children's Lives Is That Worth?

According to the meta-charity GiveWell, the most effective charities can save a child’s life for between 3 and 5,000 US dollars. One way of understanding this figure is that whenever you consider spending that amount of money, one of the things you would be choosing not to spend it on is saving a child’s life.

Take the median of the GiveWell figures: $4,000. I propose that prices for all goods and services should be listed in the universal alternative currency of percentage of a Child’s Life Not Saved (%CLNS), as well as their regular prices in Euros, dollars, or whatever. For example, a Starbucks Frappucino might be priced at 5$ /0.13%CLNS. A Caribbean holiday cruise might be priced at $8,000/ 200%CLNS (perhaps written as emojis🪦🪦)