What does it mean to say that a certain institutional arrangement P in some society S ought (or is morally required) to be? Maybe that comes to this: S is required to come up with and implement a plan to achieve S. And perhaps that, in turn, comes to something like this: each individual and collective agent in society is required to make reasonable efforts, relative to role or position, to promote S (all of us collectively) coming up with and implementing a plan to achieve P. Different agents in different roles would have different more-specific requirements.

Is this kind of analysis standard? What are the alternatives?

If this analysis, or something very much like it, is right, there would seem to be some important results that I don’t think are always acknowledged in discussions of justice with regard to the basic structure of a society.

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Suppose that general normative requirement works like this: if X is generally required to A, this is partially constituted by X’s not-A-ing options in her choice situations starting out with a very high negative valence (that generally swamps any negative valence of the not-A-ing options). Now suppose that, in particular choice situation S, it is super-unlikely that X will pull off A-ing. In such a case, the relevant option is really her attempting to A. But also any attempt to A is almost certain to come to her not-A-ing. It seems plausible, then, that all of X’s options in S have nearly the same magnitude of highly negative valence. So there is not, as there would normally be, some huge “valence gap” between (token) A-ing and (token) not-A-ing. There is no normative “swamping” to leave A-ing as the far-and-away best option. And so, despite being under a general requirement to A, X is not, in S, required to A (realize this token of A-ing). 

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“If You Could Read My Mind, Babe”

~AI Facilitating Mind-Reading

This could become a way for paralyzed people to communicate. It might become a way for the government to get information from people (and obviate attempts to get information by torture). At present the system requires not only our general knowledge of where things are typically thought in the brain, but knowledge of the brain operations of the specific individual, and this latter requires about 16 hours of investigation of the subject individual before successful mind reading.

If this system could overcome that arduous preliminary learning and if the system could be shrunken down to the size of a skull cap, perhaps hats would come back into fashion. A dating service might offer the hats to be worn for users of the dating service. It might be a sport to go on dates with these hats in which you get the low-down of what your date is really thinking about.

When x-rays were first discovered, the newspapers entertained the possible future in which people could walk down the street wearing glasses through which you could see the bodies underneath the clothes. But that was a very long time ago, and nothing like peeping glasses has eventuated so far as I know.

Don’t Come Around Here No More

I can only muster one thought in response to the Ralph Yarl shooting: legalities aside, and taking press reports at face value, it seems to me that having a doorbell constitutes implicit consent to peoples’ ringing it. If you consent to having people ring your doorbell, you’re not entitled to regard someone’s ringing it as indicating a threat that justifies the use of lethal force. If you do, then absent some very clear evidence of a threat, you’ve committed an unforgivable injustice.

And old age will only go so far as an excuse here. A person who invokes old age as an excuse in this context is invoking a kind of admitted debility for accidentally having shot someone who shouldn’t have been shot. But to invoke such an excuse is to know that you have the debility. And knowing it is a reason to refrain from shooting in the first place. So the old age excuse is self-cancelling: to the extent that it functions as an excuse, it also functions as self-incrimination.

Something similar applies, mutatis mutandis, to shootings on long driveways.

I’ve always been skeptical of the idea that a more heavily-armed society is a safer one. Am getting more so.

Runaway Train

This post contains spoilers about the 1985 Andrei Konchalovsky film, “Runaway Train.”

My late wife Alison had a weirdly idiosyncratic conception of politics that fit no clear, known template. She called herself “a Democrat abandoned by the Party,” but that didn’t necessarily tell you what you wanted to know about her politics, assuming that you did. “What, in general, did she believe?” you might ask. Well, phrased that way, nothing. “So she literally had no beliefs?” you might rejoin. No, she believed a lot of things. Continue reading

Invisible Land (1)

James Longman is a well-known British journalist currently traveling the world, including Israel, on an extended reporting assignment. This photo below is from his Twitter feed: here he is in Jerusalem about two weeks ago, looking eastward from a well known spot in the city. On a “clear Jerusalem evening,” what he sees when he looks to the east are the Jordanian mountains in the distance, dozens of miles away.


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The Business of Business and the Sound of Silence

In all the years that I taught moral philosophy, I never once taught business ethics. Truth to be told, I went out of my way to avoid it. Given an opportunity to teach classes in the MBA program at my university, which reimbursed at a higher rate than the School of Arts & Sciences, I turned it down. The very idea of business bored me to tears. The idea of teaching it seemed tedious beyond tears. A couple hundred dollars here or there weren’t going to compensate for the waste of time and brain power involved in teaching such a dumb-ass class. So I bagged it. Continue reading

American Witch

This is a journey meant for your anxiety.
–Rob Zombie, “American Witch

I don’t know whether to say this is a story “straight out of the Jersey suburbs,” or “straight out of a Rob Zombie song,” but I guess those aren’t mutually exclusive: the Jersey suburbs are something out of a Rob Zombie song.

When Bobbi Wilson, 9, took it upon herself to spend hours of her summer aiming to obliterate the invasive spotted lanternflies that were ravaging her northern New Jersey community, she did not expect much attention. She just wanted to help.

She went out to the streets of her neighborhood in Caldwell, N.J., armed with a container with a mix of dish soap and water — a recipe to disarm the bugs that she found on TikTok, and enhanced by adding apple cider vinegar. She was determined to get as many of the insects as she could.

But her one-girl extermination campaign got her reported to the police about three months after it started, when a neighbor complained about a “little Black woman, walking and spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees” a few houses from the girl’s home on Oct. 22, according to a recording of the call obtained by CNN.

Make sure you click on the CNN link for that video: priceless. “There’s a little black woman, walkin’ and sprayin’ stuff on the sidewalks and trees, on Elizabeth and Florence. I don’t know what the hell she’s doin’. Scares me, though. Real tiny. She’s got a hood on.” Continue reading