Monday, 20 July 2020

Diversity Has No Intrinsic Value: A World With Fewer Species or Languages Would Not Necessarily Be A Worse One

It is easy to agree that 'diversity' is valuable, but what kind of value is it exactly? 

Take linguistic diversity,  passionately defended by anthropologists and linguists who want to preserve all 6,500 thousand spoken languages from extinction. If you look carefully at their arguments, they are all about the usefulness of languages and not about the value of diversity per se. For example, it is claimed that minority languages contain useful local knowledge about plants, animals, ecosystems and so on which would be lost if those languages died out. Or that minority languages are important for individual self-esteem and community functioning among ethnic minorities, which in turn supports their flourishing and well-being. 

However, if the value of diversity lies in what it does for us rather than what it is in itself, then whether and how far diversity is valuable (or even disvaluable) turns out to depend on the context. Diversity has no value in its own right; it is merely one tool among others that we may use to achieve things that do matter. For example, if we are worried that important botanical knowledge achieved over many generations may be lost as the last people to speak the language that encodes it die off, then it makes sense to send academic botanists to collect that knowledge and publish it in a universally accessible scientific database.  But it makes little sense to try to preserve that knowledge by somehow getting more children to learn the language and then continue living in the same precarious relationship to the natural ecosystem in which that specific knowledge would be needed and communicated. That confuses the substrate with the information it contains. It would be like trying to preserve knowledge of Euclidean geometry by teaching everyone ancient Greek.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

All Deaths Matter: The Case for Extending Some Covid-19 Restrictions Indefinitely

In the Netherlands and several other countries where shutdowns and social distancing restrictions have succeeded in bringing Covid-19 cases under control, excess mortality has turned negative: Significantly fewer people are dying each month than they would in an average year. Ultimately such countries may even achieve a net gain of lives saved despite a deadly global pandemic. This is due to reductions in more usual causes of death, such as other infectious diseases or air pollution. Ending the restrictions that are currently suppressing those causes of death would kill a lot of people.

Thursday, 16 July 2020

If The Louvre Was On Fire, Should We Rescue The Art First Or The People?

Firstly, of course we should rescue the art first. Secondly, of course we should not.

This is a thought experiment. Presumably the Louvre already has extensive fire suppression systems and separate evacuation plans for its visitors (including the less-abled) and for its most valuable art works. The point of this scenario is not to recreate the boring details of such plans, but to stimulate thinking about the fundamentals of value and hopefully break through some cliches.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Feminist Case For Men’s Rights

The case for men’s rights follows straightforwardly from the feminist critique of the structural injustice of gender rules and roles. Yes, those rules are wrong because they oppress women. But they are also wrong because they oppress men, whether by causing physical, emotional and moral suffering or callously neglecting their needs and interests. While it is bad luck to be born a woman in our society, it is also bad luck to be born a man, in ways that relate directly and indirectly to gender roles and norms. Unfortunately the feminist movement has tended to neglect this, assuming that if women are the losers from a patriarchal social order, then men must be the winners.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Statues Were Always A Grab For Power: It Is Good That They Are Coming Down

Some people claim that the prominent display of statues to controversial events or people, such as confederate generals in the southern United States, merely memorialises historical facts that unfortunately make some people uncomfortable. This is false. Firstly, such statues have nothing to do with history or facts and everything to do with projecting an illiberal political domination into the future. Secondly, upsetting a certain group of people is not an accident but exactly what they are supposed to do.