Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: General (Page 1 of 11)

Can a ‘war on poaching’ be just?

A photograph of 5 men in combat uniform with automatic rifles crouching in tall grass. A sixth man is dressed more informally and explaining something to one of the men.

Rangers in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park on a training exercise.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth billions, and is one of the most lucrative crime networks globally. Illegal hunting can have a devastating effect on the environment and biodiversity, with animals being hunted to (near-)extinction in some areas. In response, several countries have adopted policies which allow the shooting of suspected poachers ‘on sight’.

Unsurprisingly, this is a controversial development. Because of the complex nature of the problem, it’s unclear whether these kind of policies are actually effective, and the scope for mistakes (or even abuse) is wide. On the other hand, defenders argue that so-called ‘militarized conservation’ is necessary to protect severely endangered species, or no different from policing in a dangerous environment [cw: linked article contains a graphic photograph of a murdered rhino].

The more fundamental issue at stake here is whether it can be justified to use lethal force against humans, for the sake of protecting (wild) animals. This is a famously thorny issue. One notable critic explicitly takes aim at the idea that it can be acceptable to trade human lives for animal lives. And many in animal rights circles reject the use of violence – for example, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics will not ‘appoint Fellows who advocate violence’. The idea that killing humans to protect animals can be permissible may also seem quite ludicrous to many in our anthropocentric society. Of course, you might say, aren’t the lives of humans just more important than the lives of animals?

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Fiduciary duties of pension fund managers in the anthropocene

The latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that hundreds of billions of dollars will be required for climate mitigation and adaptation investments per year to avoid catastrophic global warming. Yet, some of our financial practices are not only slow to adapt to this requirement, but actually represent an obstacle in achieving the goal.

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‘Whataboutism’ about justice

There is a growing tendency to label some argumentative moves commonly performed in public discourse as “whataboutism”. A quick search on Google Trends shows that the term has begun to gain more serious traction in 2017, reaching its peak popularity in June 2020 and March 2022 – likely in the context of debates on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, as Ben Zimmer points out, its roots can be identified much earlier on, first as a charge against defenders of the Provisional IRA’s actions during the Troubles and later as a charge against a particular brand of Soviet-style rhetorical strategy. When whataboutism is pointed at in public speech, it is usually done so as to discredit an objection to an argument not by showing that it fails on its own terms, but rather because it constitutes an illegitimate move aimed at deflecting attention from the topic on which the argument is focused. But is whataboutism, especially when it concerns questions of justice, problematic, or – to the contrary – is the charge of whataboutism largely vacuous?

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Small in the City: The Exclusion of Children from Public Spaces

by Nico Brando and Katarina Pitasse-Fragoso

I know what it’s like to be small in the city…The streets are always busy. It can make your brain feel like there’s too much stuff in it.

Sydney Smith – Small in the City

Don’t look by Cristian Blanxer & Victor Garcia Delgado

More than a billion children grow up in cities. This means growing up in densely populated areas with political, and cultural prosperity, but with radical inequalities. While some have access to parks, playgrounds, and child-friendly streets, others are forced to navigate crowded roads, deal with violence, and difficult (sexist, racist, ageist) environments. Children are among the various groups (think, as well, of individuals with disabilities, the elderly, or animals) who suffer from discrimination in their right to make use of public spaces safely. Especially in large urban areas, public spaces can be highly threatening to children of all ages. Smaller children suffer from lack of accessibility, and high risk of busy roads. Older children and youths, even if able of navigating urban areas alone, can have their free movement limited due to status offences, insecurity and violence.

In this short reflection, we wish to introduce some preliminary thoughts on the issues that affect children living in urban spaces. Why are children excluded from equal use of public spaces? Do children have a right to responsive and inclusive urban design?

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What is cultural decolonization?

In recent years, calls for cultural decolonisation have attracted renewed public attention. While there are many understandings of cultural decolonisation, I want to discuss one particular view (call it the agency approach) that draws on some ideas from the Martinican poet and anticolonial activist-thinker Aimé Césaire, and contrast it with a view (call it the authenticity approach) that many have found problematic.

On one understanding of cultural decolonisation, decolonisation is about recovering what is authentically non-Western, whether that consists of art, cultural practices, philosophical traditions, and/or knowledge. This authenticity approach to cultural decolonisation is often fraught with tension as efforts are spent on showing that something is indeed authentically non-Western—for example, showing that a musical tradition has somehow maintained its integrity as traditionally African, Chinese, etc.

Remembering Sunny Ade's feats as he clocks 74 | Premium Times Nigeria
Image: King Sunny Ade (Premium Times Nigeria)

This is often hard to prove given the pervasive influence of the colonial encounter on postcolonial societies (and, as Edward Said has argued, on former metropoles whose national identities were built against images of the Orient).[1] Moreover, as Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò has recently argued, this approach to cultural decolonization may do more harm than good, as it encourages a comprehensive repudiation of ideas and practices that are seen as “tainted” by their European origins while ignoring the fact that anticolonial and postcolonial actors have often appropriated these for subversive or constructive purposes.[2] Decolonization of this kind, Táíwò argues, “denies or at least discounts the agency of the colonised. That is, it must and does foreclose the possibility that the colonised could find anything of worth in the life and thought of the coloniser which they could repurpose for their own societies, both during and after colonialism.”[3] Considering Jùjú, a genre of Yoruba music, for example, Taiwo asks rhetorically, “Does the genesis of Jùjú music under colonialism make it ‘colonial music’, or music that was framed, or even created, by the coloniser?”[4]

Finally, another danger of the authenticity approach is that it lends itself to authoritarian appropriation, as postcolonial authoritarian regimes can set out to define what counts as the authentic national culture while censoring others. The Chinese Communist Party, for example, has recently criticized Christmas as an example of “Western spiritual opium” that endangers “traditional Chinese culture”. [5]

Image: People celebrating Christmas in China (NPR)

Aimé Césaire’s diagnosis of cultural imperialism provides us with a different approach to cultural decolonisation. Although he was deeply concerned about the destruction of indigenous practices and ways of life under colonialism, he also argued that resisting colonialism would not be a simple matter of trying to recover an authentically non-European culture.[6] Instead, speaking to a congregation of anticolonial writers and artists that he helped organise in 1959, Césaire points out that colonialism had created a “hierarchy of creator and consumer”, whereby non-Western practices and knowledge such as African science were regarded as primitive and mere folklore.[7] On this critique, the problem with cultural imperialism is that it erases the agency of colonial subjects in producing valuable practices and contributing to the betterment of humanity. Instead, colonised peoples are seen as passive recipients of European genius.

Tribute to Aimé Césaire | Institut français du Royaume-UniImage: Aimé Césaire (Institut Francais)

On this understanding of cultural decolonisation, then, what matters is the re-centering of non-European agency in cultural and knowledge production—a reversal of the hierarchy of creator and consumer so that, as Césaire argues, “the historic initiative” is restored to colonial subjects.[8] Instead of being concerned with whether certain ideas or practices are authentically non-Western and policing the boundaries of indigenous culture, the agency approach focuses on recovering the role of non-European actors in creating both “Western” and “non-Western” cultures, as well as empowering postcolonial citizens to exercise their creative agency.

To this end, this understanding of cultural decolonization emphasizes efforts to rewrite narratives of how modern cultures and practices were shaped by the work of non-Western knowledge and cultural producers as much as Western ones. For example, we might think of projects that uncover the extent to which modern science is built on appropriation of traditional African or Chinese medicine, or the influence of African and Caribbean music—such as calypso—on European music. By showing how former colonial subjects have always been part of the story of cultural production and scientific discovery, these efforts address a central wrong of cultural imperialism under European colonialization: the erasure of subaltern agency. Along the same principle, the agency approach also supports efforts to empower postcolonial citizens to continue to exercise their creative capacities, through initiatives such as technology transfers, research and arts funds that target marginalized groups, exhibitions that center historically marginalized artists’ work, and so on. Finally, the agency approach cuts against authoritarian appropriation of decolonization. If cultural decolonization is centrally about enabling historically oppressed groups to exercise their creative agency, then this exposes authoritarian censorship of that very agency for what it is—as a betrayal of the emancipatory goals of decolonization.

To be sure, much more needs to be said on the topic, and there are other views of decolonization that I haven’t covered here. But I hope this short essay helps broaden our understanding of competing views of cultural decolonization and shows how, on some interpretations of what it amounts to, cultural decolonization need not entail, as Taiwo worries it does, the reproduction of a Manichaean worldview that ultimately acts as a “limit on [our] horizons”.[9]

[1] Edward Said, Orientalism (Pantheon Books: 1978).

[2] Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, Against Decolonization: Taking African Agency Seriously (London: Hurst Publishing, 2022).

[3] Táíwò, ibid, 7.

[4] Ibid, 15.

[5] “ ‘Festival of shame’: Why China has cracked down on Christmas,” Independent, Dec. 2021 <https://www.independent.co.uk/asia/china/china-nationalism-christmas-xi-jinping-b1978101.html >

[6] Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001), 45.

[7] Aimé Césaire, “Man of Culture and His Responsibilities”, Presence Africaine (1959): 125-132.

[8] Césaire, ibid, 127.

[9] Táíwò, Against Decolonization, 19.

Factory farm abolition the moderate way

This guest post is written by Ben Sachs-Cobbe. Ben has recently published a book entitled Contractarianism, Role Obligations, and Political Morality exploring the connection between foundational questions in political philosophy and important issues in public policy, including the political and legal status of sentient animals.

Factory farms inflict suffering on the animals they produce. At a young age animals are torn away from their mothers and mutilated to prevent them hurting themselves and others; they’re then kept in squalid conditions with their movement and access to the outdoors restricted while they grow at a dangerously fast rate; before they’re finally killed by a machine after a mercifully brief life. Estimates of the number of farmed animals produced for food worldwide each year range from 50-70 billion (not including fish), with anything from two-thirds to 90% of those being factory farmed. This is misery on an almost incomprehensible scale.

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A puzzle of liberal childrearing: may neutral states allow parents to dominate children’s value-formation?

This is another post about childrearing and, like my previous ones, it is complaining about the status quo. This time I’m thinking about what we actively do to expose children to various ways of living and views about what makes for a good life (too little) and about how much we let parents screen such sources of influence out of children’s lives (too much.)

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Welcome back: Launching our 2022/23 season!

Justice Everywhere returns this week for a new season. We continue in our aim to provide a public forum for the exchange of ideas about philosophy and public affairs.

We have lots of exciting content coming your way! This includes:

  • Weekly posts from our a wonderful team of house authors, offering analysis of a vast array of issues in moral and political philosophy, as well social policy and political economy every Monday.
  • Lots more from our special series on Teaching Philosophy and Beyond the Ivory Tower where we discuss pedagogy and working at/across the boundary between theory and practice.
  • The continuation of our collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy, introducing readers to cutting-edge research being published on justice-related topics in applied and engaged philosophy.

So please follow us, read and share posts on social media (we’re on both Facebook and Twitter), and feel free to comment on posts using the comment box at the bottom of each post. If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at justice.everywhere.blog@gmail.com.

Living under manipulative governments

It’s been over a decade since behavioral insights have been incorporated into policy making through so-called nudge units. Nudge proponents have suggested that by altering choice environments in order to steer the decision-making of individuals, by triggering their automatic psychological processes, we can do much to improve their wellbeing, or promote important pro-social goals. For instance, we can use subtle visual cues to make consumers eat healthier, we can use careful wording to minimize bad financial choices, or we can make sure through default effects that donated organs are never in short supply.

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Towards a feminist city

Historically, men and women have experienced the city in a drastically different way. Cities were built not for women, but for and by men. This male dominance in urban planning brought about hetero-patriarchal norms, which are based either on women remaining quiet in the private spaces or – if they access urban spaces – relying on the urban structure created by men. The persistence of those urban spaces creates barriers for women accessing transport, land and constrains their social activity and agency needed to exercise their political voice. This is the characterisation of an oppressive and non-egalitarian city in terms of the division of power and resources.

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