Cory Massimino and I are organising a virtual reading group in January-February 2021 on the individualist anarchists of 19th-century America; details in the video. Join us, if you voluntarily choose to do so; the free-for-all is free for all:
Despite being out of academia for several months now, I occasionally get invitations from academic book publishers to review book proposals and book manuscripts in ethics and political philosophy. Here’s a book proposal that somehow found its way to me:
Call “disease moralism” the thesis that disease outbreaks result from people’s moral failures. Disease moralism so defined need not mean that bad behavior magically causes disease, but rather than that morally bad behavior creates the conditions which spread disease. Moralism also usually includes moral prescriptions as solutions for the disease. …
Now we know many diseases are caused by viruses, bacteria, or other microscopic infectious agents. But that does not mean moralism is behind us. Consider the moralism that accompanied the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. And, of course, we see rampant moralism today regarding COVID-19. Many people say they would be ashamed to admit they were infected, as they expect to be judged and condemned. “Oh, you’re sick? Well, I guess you weren’t being careful. You probably spread it to others, too.”
Now we know. Continue reading
Here’s an idea: let’s take two of the most crucial, stressful jobs out there, teaching and nursing, push their practitioners past their limits, then complain when they fail to deliver the impossible. By all means, let’s clap for them, call them “heroes,” give them gold stars for their performance, and then push the burden of their difficulties onto another overtaxed profession, mental health counseling. But let’s not question our sense of entitlement to make idle, arbitrary demands of them in the name of our “freedoms,” our “needs,” and our “rights” to their satisfaction. Continue reading
When I first read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics maybe thirty years ago, I was both puzzled and disappointed by his discussion of the moral virtues in Book IV–generosity, magnificence, friendliness, wit, and so on. It seemed a waste of space. A whole book on this? What were such banalities doing in a classic work of moral philosophy?
Aristotle’s (very brief) discussion of the place of humor in social life seemed a case in point. On Aristotle’s account, wit turned out to be a moral virtue, buffoonery and humorlessness, vices.
Those who go to excess in raising laughs seem to be vulgar buffoons. They stop at nothing to raise a laugh, and care more about that than about saying what is seemly and avoiding pain to the victims of the joke. …
Those who joke in appropriate ways are called witty, or in other words, agile-witted. For these sorts of jokes seem to be movements of someone’s character, and characters are judged, as bodies are, by their movements (NE IV.8, 1128a5-12).
Really? That’s what morality requires? Telling the right jokes at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, etc. etc.? Continue reading
Today is Thanksgiving, a day on which it’s appropriate to give public thanks for the gifts we’ve received from life itself. Until recently, I had great disdain for Thanksgiving–just last year, I wrote a bitchy attack on it–mostly because until recently, bitterness and resentment were my favorite go-to emotions.
Paradoxically, I had to lose a lot in the past few months to appreciate what I have, and to grasp the true meaning of gratitude: a job, a marriage, a house, a car, tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours of labor, and a large handful of illusions, for starters. I sold the house, but stand to make very little from it, so I count it as a loss. I sold the car for a ridiculously lowball figure, so I regard that as a loss. I’m in litigation, make a nominal wage at a dirty job doing hard physical labor, and lack permanent housing or the means to pay for it. I have temporary housing, but it lacks running water. So there are challenges. And yet, life has never been better. Last year, I had everything I now lack, and made sure to get up bright and early “to take a crap on Thanksgiving.” Now I’m writing a paean to gratitude. What a difference a year makes. Continue reading
People sometimes wonder why I pick on–“stalk”–Jason Brennan so much. The answer is that I like wringing concessions out of his arrogant ass, and often get exactly what I’m looking for.
UPDATE: I modified this slightly, because I realized that I don’t know what Krugman thinks about trade all-things-considered.
No, I don’t mean the claim about Krugman. I mean the hyper-conscientiousness Brennan now shows about alerting his readers to the substantive changes he makes in his posts for 200-Proof Liberals. Remember when, at BHL, he self-righteously asserted the prerogative to write and re-write and re-write and re-write his posts without notice so as to evade criticisms? I do, and so does everyone who read the site. Now, without further ado, he’s forgotten all his “arguments” on that issue, and changed course by 180 degrees. Conscientious Brennan now makes sure to tell us when he’s made substantive changes. Continue reading
I got word the other day of the passing of a high school history teacher of mine, Frederick G. H. Fayen II. I can’t improve on the first paragraph of the memorial notice from Matt Levinson,* the current head of my old high school:
I am sorry to share the news that former Magistri faculty member Fred Fayen passed away on November 11. For 45 years, from 1963-2008, Mr. Fayen served as a history teacher, college counselor, and coach, known for his standards of excellence, quiet dignity, calm demeanor, and unceasing eagerness to learn from those around him. I have reached out to his family to express our deepest sympathies and support.
This is one of those cases where I regret not having said to Mr Fayen in life what I’m about to say on his passing. And despite my own relatively advanced age, I’m afraid I’ll have to refer to him here as “Mr. Fayen.” Calling him “Fred” somehow seems out of the question. Continue reading
Whatever my disagreements with him, on Israel and Zionism for instance, I’ve always admired both the style and substance of Roger Cohen’s writing. This farewell column of his for The New York Times is moving testimony to the value of the literate, civilized brand of journalism he wrote.
He was, to my mind, one of the Times’s best columnists, a consistent and eloquent defender of commonsense realism married to liberal values. He drew intelligently and without grandstanding on an enormous reservoir of hard experiences, and there was something fresh and authentic about his prose, a relief from the tedious nostrums, whether left or right, that one so often encounters on the Op-Ed page.
The highest compliment I can pay him is the sense of writerly jealousy I often felt on reading him. He’ll be hard to replace. He’s a hard act to follow.