Sunday, April 22, 2012

Serendipity [with repeats]
The Economist
Iran’s theocracy produced this year’s Oscar-winner for best foreign-language film (“A Separation”). Some find it ironic that, at the same time, Iranian-American actors and actresses whose parents slipped the clutches of the mullahs and fled to democracy have delivered such gems as “Shahs of Sunset, Episode 2: It’s my Birthday Bitches.”
Repeats, recent and not
-Holzer's most famous aphorism reads, "Protect me from what I want." My father, in a pique, once defended the Berlin Wall as protecting East Germans from the banality of capitalism. Holzer's words are the best rejoinder, a rueful and mocking condemnation of Modernist political puritanism.

-Holbo/Zizek. At large and at home
Holbo lives in Singapore and can't write about the situation there without endangering his career. Calling him out drew a response from Henry Farrell, who wrote that political philosophers are under no obligation to involve themselves in politics. Nor apparently can they allow themselves the one thing shared by Slavoj Zizek and the editors of The Economist: a sense of irony.
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Another one:
John Quiggin offers us the pedant's justification for human concern.
Much of the debate on the question of whether a pure rate of time preference can be justified is concerned with determining the appropriate way to balance the interests of “current” and “future” generations. The central question, in this framing of the problem, is whether, and to what extent, members of the current generation have the right to allocate resources in their own favour, at the expense of unborn future generations.

The central point of this note is to observe that this way of posing the problem is invalid, because members of different generations are alive at the same time. Any policy that discounts future utility must discriminate not merely against generations yet unborn but against the current younger generation.

...Furthermore, by the nature of overlapping generations, there is no point at which a coherent distinction between current and future generations can be drawn. In the absence of some general catastrophe, many children alive today will still be alive in 2100, at which time people already alive will reasonably be able to anticipate the possibility of survival well into the 22nd century.
The categories "Us" and "Them" relate to proximity. Quiggin will worry about his own children before he worries about others', and worry about acquaintances before strangers. But there's not much need logically to separate spacial and temporal proximity. The odds of an extinction-level event occurring in the next few centuries are greater than the odds that one occurred in 1820, but the main difference between our relation to the past and future is the volume of objects and records. We see the remnants of the past in the present; we see the foreign, as foreign, but we can only imagine the future. People with an emotional attachment to the future have an emotional attachment to ideas (and those who like ideas like to think about the future) but both prefer ideas to objects and to people, which is is why most arguments over terms within utilitarianism are between readers of pulp or children's fiction: Isaac Asimov, Ayn Rand, or Tolkien. The literature of ideas begins in the literature of preadolescence.

Quiggin has found a way to associate the idea of the future with the people of the present, but his role is similar, as an inversion, to that of a man arguing with the devout communist locked in the Czar's dungeon who worries that he's getting more than his fair share of sunlight. [see: Brighouse]
Our great, great, great, great grandchildren are an abstraction. Our ancestors are an abstraction. Iranians and Palestinians are abstractions, as blacks and Jews once were. Proximity or distance is a matter of experience and language not simple logic, something else understood by the editors of the Economist. Quiggin et al. justify people in their relation to ideas as priests justify people in relation to their gods. Better maybe to justify ideas in relation to people.

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