Atlas Tugged

Eight years ago, every sophisticated critic had the same sophisticated criticism to make of (the admittedly terrible) Atlas Shrugged movie: how absurdly anachronistic it was to think that a modern economy could depend on something as coarsely physical as railroads. OMG. SMH. According to the wisdom du jour, then as now, the future is digital–a condition that renders the world of crudely physical things dispensable.

Here we are, eight years later:

Union Pacific, a major rail carrier, also expressed relief at the deal. “We look forward to the unions ratifying these agreements and working with employees as we focus on restoring supply chain fluidity,” the company said in a statement.

Mr. Walsh wrote on Twitter that the agreement “balances the needs of workers, businesses, and our nation’s economy.”

“Our rail system is integral to our supply chain,” he said in a follow-up tweet, “and a disruption would have had catastrophic impacts on industries, travelers and families across the country.”

Curious Soul Workshop on Alienation

My friend Monica Vilhauer, founder and owner of Curious Soul Philosophy, an independent philosophy organization, is running a series of workshops this fall on alienation. I’d attend myself, but I’m on a bit of a hiatus from things nowadays, so I can’t. That said, I would if I could, so I highly recommend giving it a shot: I can vouch, personally, for Monica’s acumen and skills as a philosophical interlocutor. Whether you want to re-live your long-lost glory days in grad school, or just figure out why alienation seems to be a ubiquitous fixture of our lives–or both–I think you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Information below, and via this link to Monica’s website.Picture

Even if you happen to miss this particular workshop, take a look around at CSP’s other offerings–there’s a bit of something for everyone. Incidentally, I asked Monica if she’d consider doing a workshop on Gadamer (her AOS, and the subject of her book, Gadamer’s Ethics of Play), and she said she would if I could get a handful of people to sign on with me. In other words, For a fee/She’s happy to be/Our Gadamer Girl. That’s where you guys come in, PoT heads. So get your truth and method on, and let’s take a ride down Continental Lane one of these days (but yeah, you’re going to have to wait until I’m back from my Exile in Hiatusville). Continue reading

An Exponential Corporate Tax Based on Market Share

Apologies that my posts are much shorter than Irfan’s. But sometimes I have only the nugget of an idea that still seems worth developing enough to warrant sharing at a preliminary stage. I’ve done a lot of reflecting in recent years on the growing problems of oligopoly and monopoly in American commerce — having taught about this in an interdisciplinary course on Market Failures and Public Goods. It is not a ‘sexy’ issue that draws a lot of attention like culture wars material. And that’s a shame, because it is a far bigger part of “structural injustice” than many of the things discussed in the culture wars (imho). And, because most people finish high school without even 10 minutes on what public goods are and what kinds of problems prevent markets from working optimally, less than maybe 2% of Americans understand why big tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook etc. now have so much power and are driving up economic inequality by buying up every competitor or driving them out of business via unfair advantages. The root cause is what’s known as a network externality in which the goods being sold are not merely non-rival, but even anti-rival: because they become a “standard,” the more people use them, the more valuable they become. They are also get a critical edge in visibility, and no competitors can get over the threshold to compete well enough with them. The result is a so-called “long tail” distribution in which one company in a sector may get 50% of the profits, the next-strongest getting 10%, the third strongest getting 3%, and so on down through thousands each getting much less than 1%.

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Poet of the Sociopath

Rand “is the cold, stony advocate of self-interest, the poet of the sociopath.” That quotation is from the book AYN RAND AND THE RUSSIAN INTELLIGENTSIA (2022) by Derek Offord. He goes straight to Rand’s various representations and condemnations of altruism and collectivism and to her holding high ethical egoism and attendant inversions of traditional virtues, such as the displacement of humility with pride. He sees the audacity of Rand’s vision of a guilt-free human life.

The author sticks to the clashes between Rand’s ethics and the traditional, altruistic ones, secular or religious. He takes no notice of continuities of the old and the new and ways in which the latter took up the old with redefinition and placement in an orderly account of value per se. By sticking to only the stark clashes and by ignoring facets of the psychology of Rand’s protagonists—indeed conjecturing that such things as empathy and concern for others are entirely absent in those characters (and in their creator)— Offord makes it easy on himself to slide from Rand being the poet for personalities asocial, to antisocial, to sociopathical. Even the asocial is in full truth not fitting of Rand’s protagonists.

This book is another distortion and smear of Rand’s philosophy. It is a smart one, by someone who actually has read Rand’s novels and The Virtue of Selfishness. He is of independent mind, not one repeating old critical reviews by others.

https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/ayn-rand-and-the-russian-intelligentsia-9781350283947/

a thought or two prompted by reading chapter one of Gaus’ “The Tyranny of the Ideal”

Suppose that, for a certain type of cooperative endeavor in a certain type of circumstance, the only appropriate fairness-pattern (in the distribution of benefits and burdens) is equal shares of what is produced (as long as a certain minimum effort, of a certain minimal quality, is put forth). So, we do the thing, everyone crosses the effort/quality threshold, and we distribute the fruits of our labor equally. Is the distribution perfectly or completely fair or just?

Not necessarily. Maybe my contribution involved my unfairly acquiring something (say, wood for a fire that needed to be fed) from someone. Or maybe, though I traded fairly to get my wood, the person I got it from obtained it from some other person unfairly. The general pattern here (that need not involve anything like a chain of transactions a la Nozickian procedural justice) is: (social state of affairs) that-P is just only relative to the justice of (relevant social circumstance) that-Q; but it might be that, if that-Q is just, it is just only relative to the justice of (further relevant social circumstance) that-R; etc. Though there is no reason why this explanatory chain has to be super-long or super-complicated in all scenarios, at the level of evaluating whole societies and the complex interactions, norms and institutions that compose them, some considerable number of salient justice-evaluable circumstances and some considerable complexity should be expected. But that pushes us toward the idea that ideals of perfect or complete justice are unmanageable and quixotic. 

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Hiatus

I’m going to be taking an indefinitely long break from blogging. The blog, of course, will be active insofar as other members of PoT post or comment, but I personally will be sitting things out for a bit. Apologies to the many people to whom I owe comments; I simply haven’t been able to keep up. But at least you get the last word! For now.

Life Imitates Art

The 2002 film “John Q” begins with a scene in which a reckless driver dies, clearly at fault, in a horrific car wreck. Her organs, including her heart, are “harvested” or “recovered,” depending on your preferred choice of medical terminology, for purposes of organ donation. That organ recovery drives the plot of the rest of the film, which involves–somewhat heavy-handedly–the transplant of that very heart into a totally unrelated person dying of heart disease. In short, one person’s recklessness becomes her tragic demise; that tragedy becomes another person’s salvation.

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Virtue, Happiness, and the Greeks: Burdened Interpretations

tessman-burdenedI’m currently involved (along with some other members of the POT blog) in an online reading group on Lisa Tessman’s book Burdened Virtues, and while there’s a lot in the book that I admire, I want to grump here a bit about some of the things that Tessman says in ch. 3, which is where we currently are in the book. (The main focus of the book is on how to understand what Aristotelean-style virtue ethicists see, and what Tessman rather forlornly longs to see, as a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship between virtue and well-being, in the context of oppressive social structures that impose often devastating costs on those who attempt the sorts of resistance to oppression that virtue seems to require. That’s an interesting and important topic, but – be warned – I say virtually nothing about it in the present post.)

Despite the occasional perfunctory acknowledgment (e.g. at p. 62, n. 15) that views on which morality and flourishing can come apart were “quite thinkable within the ancient Greek context,” Tessman nevertheless persists in treating ancient and modern views as divided by some deep conceptual gap; hence she contrasts the “contemporary meaning of the word happiness” with the “ancient Greek understanding of … eudaimonia or flourishing” (p. 57), as though conceptions of eudaimonia centered on wealth or subjective pleasure or the amoral pursuit of power were alien to the ancient Greek context. But in fact the virtue-centered conception of eudaimonia common among philosophers in the broadly Socratic lineage (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics) seems by no means to have been automatically congenial to Greeks generally; indeed in Plato’s dialogues Socrates’ interlocutors often react with puzzlement or disbelief or even mockery to his insistence that morality and self-interest cannot come apart.

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Stephen Bannon’s Day in Court

I have zero sympathy or respect for Stephen Bannon, and am gratified that he was found guilty the other day of contempt of Congress in the Capitol Riot inquiry. But if the mainstream media is ever going to dispel the notion that it’s biased against the Right, it’s going to have to do a better job than it has of getting the facts straight in legal cases like this. Consider this brief, passing claim from a New York Times article on the Bannon verdict:

Like many defendants, Mr. Bannon did not mount a defense case for the jury, deciding instead to rely on cross-examining the prosecution’s two witnesses: a lawyer for the committee and an F.B.I. agent who had worked on the case.

This passage conflates testifying in one’s defense in court with mounting a defense in court. It then infers that because Bannon didn’t testify in his own defense, he didn’t mount a defense. Continue reading