Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

‘We Middle-Class Liberals’

This post is the third in a series on:

Ethics in Academic Events

As theorists of justice and professional ethicists we are used to scrutinizing the practices of others. Is it not about time that we turned our analytical skills and discerning moral sensitivities on ourselves? Inspired by discussions at the closing of the workshop ‘Global Justice and Global Health Ethics Exploring the Influence of Iris Marion Young’, this series of posts seeks to examine our own actions and practices and explore the moral dilemmas of the academy.

 

Exclusivity in Academia

Verina Wild’s post highlighted that much of the polemical critique of liberal elites is unfair and dangerous. However, academia has played a role in sustaining the cultural divide that is now being effectively exploited by the right to turn people against each other. In this post I explore this issue and discuss how academic philosophers should respond to it.

‘We Middle-class Liberals’

Countless times I have heard ‘we liberals’ or read ‘as middle class people’ in academic discussions concerning questions of justice and ethics. At first it made me think I didn’t belong, later it just made me uncomfortable to be part of an in-group. The idea of a liberal middle-class ‘we’ is troubling and yet class awareness is vital to understanding injustice.  The tension for radical and progressive political theorists between the need to recognize in-group privilege and the need to challenge and oppose rather than reproduce it is a complex one.

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On Sneering Metropolitan Elites – Has liberal diversity become an ideology?

Verina Wild is a post-doctoral researcher at the Philosophy Department at Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, and Senior Teaching and Research Associate at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine at University of Zurich. Her research concerns questions of public health ethics, social and global justice in health and health of migrants. Hers is the second post in a series on:

Ethics in Academic Events

As theorists of justice and professional ethicists we are used to scrutinizing the practices of others. Is it not about time that we turned our analytical skills and discerning moral sensitivities on ourselves? Inspired by discussions at the closing of the workshop ‘Global Justice and Global Health Ethics Exploring the Influence of Iris Marion Young’, this series of posts seeks to examine our own actions and practices and explore the moral dilemmas of the academy.

 

‘Us’ versus ‘Them’

Since the US election the internet has been awash with accusations. Apparently, ‘we liberal intellectuals’ should be ashamed of how blind we have become to real-life experiences or to any other school of thought. ‘We’ have been in “elegantly scented bubbles of privilege and prejudice” [1] in the metropolitan capitals of the world. ‘We’ looked down on ‘them’ (Trump supporters but also conservative academics) without respect, uttering endless calls for openness and diversity, but in reality not being open at all. ‘If ‘they’ are against progressive ideals ‘we’ immediately call them misogynists and racists, instead of listening to ‘their’ thoughts in an open way. ‘We’ are the true haters of democracy, because what ‘we’ really want is the imposed (not democratically elected) rule of progressive, liberal thought. ‘We’ adopt the self-image as the only group who thinks rationally and reasonably. However, in doing so, ‘we’ have been intolerant and dogmatic: ‘we’ are the totalitarians.

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Blind Reviewing for Workshops

Mollie Gerver recently completed her PhD at LSE, and now teaches at Leeds University. Her research is in the ethics of refugee repatriation. Hers is the first post in a series on:

Ethics in Academic Events

As theorists of justice and professional ethicists we are used to scrutinizing the practices of others. Is it not about time that we turned our analytical skills and discerning moral sensitivities on ourselves? Inspired by discussions at the closing of the workshop ‘Global Justice and Global Health Ethics Exploring the Influence of Iris Marion Young’, this series of posts seeks to examine our own actions and practices and explore the moral dilemmas of the academy.

 

At the age of sixteen Art Davis started to learn the double-bass. By the 1960s he was playing alongside Judy Garland and Louis Armstrong, but was consistently turned down by symphony orchestras. He suspected this was because he was black, so in 1969 he asked the New York Philharmonic to use a screen during auditions, hiding his identity from the selection panel. His request was denied, he sued the orchestra for discrimination, and lost the case, but had nonetheless set off a revolution: other orchestras began putting up screens for blind auditions, and within two decades began recruiting significantly more women and minorities.

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How to recognise bullshit on the Internet

Following Trump’s shocking election win last Tuesday, this picture was shared by thousands of people across both the world and my Facebook feed:

trumppeople

I, like I suspect most people I know, wanted to believe it. It just sounds so true. He totally would say that! They would buy it! It speaks to all my prejudices, and when trying to make sense of what just happened, it provides a bit of solace.

It’s too good to be true though, innit? It just fits a little too perfectly, the quote’s too prescient, its message too convenient. Indeed, as it turns out, the quote is completely fabricated. It first surfaced around October 2015, and has periodically made its return in sync with Trump’s successes over the past year.

This is fairly emblematic of how our news are generated these days, and the tendency was clear in the US elections. Facebook was flooded with highly partisan posts and articles on either side of the fence. Some, like Breitbart, are designed to be highly partisan. But a lot of it has to do with incentive structures: Online, most companies make their money from clicks rather than subscriptions. This creates an incentive to generate articles that conform to people’s preconceived notions, as they’ll be more likely to read and share them. And clicks mean advertising revenue. A BuzzFeed article recently exposed how a city in Macedonia had become a hub for far-right conspiracy nonsense on Facebook. They simply repackaged articles elsewhere and shared them with their followers with zero regard for factual accuracy. This is not only a right-wing phenomenon, however. On the left, The Canary is a particularly glaring example. It’s the worst of both worlds: A heavily partisan editorial stance, and an payment structure that pays authors per click, incentivising sensationalism.

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The Future of Disabilities: Will prenatal testing transform bad brute luck into a case of expensive tastes?

A few days ago, the UK’s Department of Health approved the roll-out of new non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT). The case in favour of NIPT is clear: it will provide diagnoses of Down’s syndrome with 99% accuracy and, as opposed to current tests like amniocentesis, will have no secondary effects on the mother or foetus.

But Sally Phillips’ BBC documentary ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’, which aired earlier in the month, brought the issue to the attention of the general public in the hope of launching – or, more precisely, rekindling – the public debate concerning the ethics around technological developments in genetic screening. It asks us to think about the possible implications of NIPT for our society and, in particular, for people with Down’s syndrome – like her 11-year-old son, Olly.

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6 Tips for Graduate Political Theory Students

Academic political theorists are not always very good at telling students how to become political theorists. As a wise political theorist once said ‘nobody ever told me how to do [political theory], and, so far as I would guess, nobody will have told you how to do it, or is likely to tell you how to do it in the future.’

This is certainly true of the big questions around how to do political theory. But it also applies to the more mundane aspects of being a graduate political theory student. There is a lingering assumption that students will just muddle their way through three or four years of lonely research, and then *puff*, a fully-formed political theorist will appear, a copy of Hobbes in one hand and a CV in the other, ready to do battle with the modern academic job market.

This is obviously a silly way to organise the professional development of a discipline’s next generation. But a more nefarious aspect of this, is that the informal networks through which students eventually do learn about these things, are much easier to access for privileged students from big-name universities. One motivation for making this kind of knowledge accessible online, is that it can help democratise that knowledge.

The following tips are only suggestions. They should not be taken as necessary, and certainly not sufficient, steps for getting a job after the PhD! They are instead supposed to highlight some of the more everyday aspects that students don’t always know about.

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Unsettling Times – Between Tormenting Questions and Business as Usual

This summer my 2-year-old daughter and I were looking at a world map together. I would have liked to tell her something about the different continents and countries (about all the different languages, the food, music, local customs), but wasn’t able to because the sight of the map prompted only thoughts such as “There is war here, there are people starving there, refugees drowning here…” So I remained silent. We are currently overwhelmed by negative news. Almost everywhere things seem to go awfully wrong: more than 65 million refugees worldwide, 470000 deaths in Syria, the terror of ISIS, right-wing populists gaining more votes everywhere, Donald Trump for president, the Brexit, growing child poverty in Europe’s strongest economy (Germany), burning asylum seeker centres… (I could go on and on). Of course, the news we get through the media has always been mainly negative, but now it seems to have reached a new dimension. Whether this impression is accurate or not, it is certainly unsettling, raising perturbing questions: How long will we still be able to live in peace and with our basic human rights protected? Will the fear of terrorist attacks soon be part of our daily lives? Have all attempts after 1945 to create a more peaceful world been in vain? What kind of world will my children find themselves in? To what extent do our governments and we carry responsibility for what is going on? What does justice require from us as individuals? Is there a moral justification for focusing on one’s own comparatively small problems and not trying to help solving the big, global ones? How many resources are we allowed to spend on our own children? These kinds of questions are far from new, but they currently pose themselves with particular urgency.

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Evidence for a non-ideal theory of freedom of expression (Remembering Anna Politkovskaya)

About ten years ago Anna Politkovskaya, a well-known Russian journalist, writer and human rights’ activist, died in her apartment building in Moscow, shot four times in a lift. After a long and highly charged trial-and-retrial, we still do not know who the instigators of Politkovskaya’s assassination are, though six people have been convicted of the murder. In her books and articles (she was one of the best reporters of Novaya Gazeta), Politkovskaya reported on the situation in Chechnya during the Second Chechen War and on the deterioration of the quality of Russian democracy, especially as far as human rights protection, transparency and good governance were concerned. She defined contemporary Russia ‘a failing democracy’ and she admonished her fellow citizens about the concrete risks of ‘hurtling back into a Soviet abyss’, thanks to the ‘information vacuum’ that the Russian power system was able to produce. Her investigative works as well as her popularity in the West – she won several important awards from human rights and international journalism and her books were translated in several languages – were certainly worrisome for the Russian government as well as for several crucial state agencies. In Russia, however, her influence was quite limited beyond human rights activists’ circles, as Vladimir Putin noticed after her brutal assassination.

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Resisting TTIP and Corporatocracy

TTIP protesters in Brussels, February 2015.

TTIP protesters in Brussels, February 2015. Greens EFA, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Valentin Beck teaches moral and political philosophy at the Freie Universität Berlin. He recently published Eine Theorie der globalen Verantwortung (Suhrkamp 2016). This post is the fourth and final part of our series on TTIP.

Traditionally, trade agreements have been a topic of debate chiefly for economists and other experts. Recently, however, TTIP, TPP and CETA have loomed large in public discourse. What is behind the intense public interest and vehement opposition by civil society groups? The debate does not centre solely on matters of distribution, as some would suggest. Instead, the most important critique of these agreements regards their power to undermine democratic procedures.

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Announcement – Book symposium: Sufficiency

Book symposium

Liam Shields – Just Enough: Sufficiency as a Demand of Justice

University of Louvain
Louvain-la-Neuve
2 December 2016
http://www.uclouvain.be/775029.html

Twice a year, the Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics organizes a workshop in Louvain-la-Neuve on a forthcoming book in the field of ethics or political theory. Several scholars are gathered to meet the author and discuss the various chapters of the book in progress.

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