a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: General Page 1 of 17

3 Points for a Win and Constitutional Design

Critics of the “first past the post” electoral rule often complain that it is unfair. It seems unfair that (for example) in the 2019 UK general election the Scottish National Party won 7% of parliamentary seats with only 4% of votes cast across the country, while the Liberal Democrats won 2% of seats with 4% of votes.

So, which electoral system is the fairest of them all?

I submit that there is really no answer to this question, and we would do better to discard it.

Why Not Remote Voting?

Source: https://www.ledgerinsights.com/japans-tsukuba-city-to-use-blockchain-based-electronic-voting/

With about half of the world’s population living in countries that have held or will hold nationwide elections this year, 2024 has been called a “super election year”, and the “biggest election year in history”. In the past two weeks alone, elections were held in all 27 EU countries (with some also holding local or parliamentary elections aside from those for the European Parliament), as well as in India, Mexico, South Africa, Madagascar, Iceland, or Serbia, with others scheduled in the second half of this year, most notably in the United States and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, extensive empirical analyses show that in the last five decades electoral participation rates have gradually but consistently declined, with averages of about 10% lower turnout in the 2010s than in the 1960s. One possible solution to this problem, especially advocated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and currently implemented in about a quarter of EU countries as well as most US states, the UK, Iceland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, and others, is to allow all citizens the option of not voting in-person at the polling station on the day of the election, but to cast a ballot beforehand via postal voting or, less widespread, through e-voting systems. While such mechanisms – often labelled remote or convenience voting – are often praised, I will attempt to sketch some countervailing reasons that we should, I believe, consider when assessing their overall desirability.

Why Conscious AI Would Be Bad for the Environment

Image credit to Griffin Kiegiel and Sami Aksu

This is a guest post by Griffin Kiegiel.

Since the meteoric rise of ChatGPT in 2021, artificial intelligence systems (AI) have been implemented into everything from smartphones and electric vehicles, to toasters and toothbrushes. The long-term effects of this rapid adoption remain to be seen, but we can be certain of one thing: AI uses a lot of energy that we can’t spare. ChatGPT reportedly uses more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily, which is massive compared to the 29 kilowatt-hours consumed by the average American household.

As the global temperature and ocean levels rise, it is our responsibility to limit our collective environmental impact as much as possible. If the benefits of AI don’t outweigh the risks associated with increasing our rate of energy consumption, then we may be obligated to shut down AI for the sake of environmental conservation. However, if AI becomes conscious, shutting them down may be akin to murder, morally trapping us in an unsustainable system.

What is the real problem with food deserts?

Hispanic Sodas Sabor Tropical Supermarket Miami” by Phillip Pessar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This is a guest post by Emma Holmes (University of St Andrews/University of Stirling)

Why do some people choose to eat unhealthy food? Earlier this year, Kate Manne – Cornell philosopher and author of several books about misogyny – published Unshrinking, a fascinating and compelling critique of fatphobia. Throughout, she argues against moralising our food choices. There is nothing immoral about wanting to eat greasy, salty, delicious, processed food, says Manne. I agree – but I think she misses something. People’s food preferences are not just random – some people prefer to eat unhealthy foods because their desires have been shaped by an unjust system.

I’ll focus on Manne’s discussion of food deserts to make this point. A so-called ‘food desert’ is a place where there is nowhere nearby or affordable to access healthy food. The term ‘desert’ makes it sound as if this problem is naturally occurring, which it is not – food deserts are the result of urban planning decisions and they disproportionately affect poor people and people of colour. I argue that people who live in food deserts are done an injustice because they are influenced to prefer foods which are bad for their health.  

If animals have rights, why not bomb slaughterhouses?

In this post, Nico Müller (U. of Basel) and Friderike Spang (U. of Lausanne) discuss their new article published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, in which they look at the relation between animal rights and violent forms of activism. They argue that violent activism frequently backfires, doing more harm than good to the animal rights cause.

Created with DALL.E (2024)

In 2022 alone, some ten billion land animals were killed in US slaughterhouses. That’s ten billion violations of moral rights, at least if many philosophers since the 1960s (and some before that) have got it right. If the victims were human, most of us would condone the use of violence, even lethal violence, in their defense. So regardless of whether you agree with the values of the animal rights movement, you may wonder: Why isn’t this movement much more violent? It seems like it should be, on its own terms.

Why is the New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness morally important?

Last week was a milestone for animals. Prominent scientists, philosophers and policy experts came together to sign the New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness, a statement detailing a consensus that mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, cephalopods (like octopuses), crustaceans (like crabs) and even insects most probably have subjective experiences, known as “sentience”.

This may not come as a surprise to many of us, but academic research is often characterised by disagreement. A public announcement of consensus is not only profoundly unusual, it also brings into view just how substantial the evidence is that many more animals have conscious experiences than we often assume.

Critical fandom and problematic fans: what responsibilities do we have?

A photograph showing the glass doors at one of the entrances of the Amsterdam Johan Cruijff Arena, with the glass shattered. In the foreground, a man can be seen sweeping up the glass.
Source: https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/gallery/ajax-feyenoord-riots-police-eredivisie-31017200

In September 2023, a match between the Dutch football teams Ajax and Feyenoord was abandoned after Ajax supporters threw flares and fireworks on the field. Following the cancellation, fans clashed with riot police and vandalized the stadium. The police had to resort to using tear gas to disperse the crowds.

If certain corners of the internet are to be believed, Games Workshop – the multiple-multi-million company behind the Warhammer miniature wargames – is about to go bankrupt. This is because the recently published rulebook for the Adeptus Custodes, one of the factions in its primary product, Warhammer 40,000, mentioned a female member of the elite Custodes army. A bunch of people have taken this as a sign that Games Workshop has gone “woke” (the Custodes were previously suggested to be all men) and is therefore sure to go broke any time soon.

I’d consider myself a fan of Warhammer 40,000, and a casual supporter of Ajax. These episodes – and they’re by no means the most serious incidents in recent years [CN: graphic images of facial injuries] – raise interesting questions for people like me. Specifically, what are the moral implications of sharing a fandom with people who are sexist, violent, or just generally extremely problematic?

The climate justice debate has a baseline problem

Humanity faces a number of daunting challenges in the 21st century. Climate change and socioeconomic injustice figure prominently on this list. When it comes to tackling these challenges, two possible strategies divide policy makers.

On the one hand, there are those who point out that addressing either of these problems on their own is a mammoth task, and that taking them on simultaneously is simply utopian. This view sometimes comes with a dose of optimism about technological solutions to climate change. On the other hand, an increasing number of voices argue that climate action can’t be separated from social justice. In particular, advocates of the latter position highlight the “triple inequality of climate change”: The global rich tend to pollute disproportionately and thus bear a heightened responsibility for climate change, the global poor are more vulnerable to its effects, and poor countries have fewer resources available for mitigation and adaptation. In political philosophy, we find a parallel divide between “isolationists” and “integrationists” respectively.

My point here will be to suggest that the case for integrationism is even stronger that even most of its ardent supporters acknowledge. To see why, consider the first of the inequalities mentioned in the previous paragraph. Studies suggest that, across countries, the top decile of polluters are responsible for about 50% of emissions, while the bottom 50% of polluters are only responsible for about 10% of emissions. Wealth strongly correlates with carbon-intensive activities – think everything from private jets and yachts, via mansion-size homes, to multiple trips by airplane per year or multiple cars in a single household.

2024 Grand National: Horses, Harm, and Shared Responsibility

Horses have a purpose in life, just like us all. Unfortunately, when people go to work, sometimes bad things happen.

(AP McCoy, former jockey, quoted in The Telegraph)

On Saturday the 13th of April 2024, one of the world’s most famous horse races, the Grand National, is scheduled to take place. The race first took place at Aintree Racecourse in 1839, where it continues to be hosted, and this will be its 176th annual running. The race is very popular in the UK with 70,000 people in attendance last year, and ten million watching on TV. Beyond the UK, its appeal is wide-reaching with an estimated 600 million people watching across the globe. And it’s not just horseracing enthusiasts who get involved. People who usually have no interest in horseracing will watch the event, and workplace or family sweepstakes are common. In sum, the Grand National is an institution that is loved by many and enjoys significant national and global support.

Community Wealth Building

Beyond the Ivory Tower interview with Martin O’Neill

Not only are there more democratic and egalitarian alternatives theoretically, but also policies being pursued successfully at the city and the regional level, in many places, that do give people a sense of control in the economic sphere. It’s not just wishful and abstract thinking; there is abundant proof of concept. We have to remain hopeful; we have to shine a light on those examples and talk about why they represent elements of a different kind of settlement, a more justifiable and more human political and economic system, that we ought to strive to see realized more widely and more deeply.  

(This interview took place at Alma Café, a beautiful family-owned café in York, England) 

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