Re: Under the Bus

1

The new official term here is "pushing the fat man."


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:42 AM
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Oh, that's perfect. So elsewhere people are willing to push him, and here we argue that the trade-off is dumb, and there must be something else to stop the trolley.


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:46 AM
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1 - While "pulling the fat man" is a subject for a different thread.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:47 AM
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Maximin.


Posted by: Man Suit | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:50 AM
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(That's what's behind the preference. Or rather, that's what the preference, applied generally, is. 'Not being a total jackass' is another fine term.)


Posted by: Man Suit | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:52 AM
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Is it ultimately just a preference? I prefer to live in a world where no one gets left behind? What underlies that preference?

The Beveridge Report.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:53 AM
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Not familiar with the word "Maximin". Perhaps you're thinking of Maximon.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:57 AM
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The argument usually goes that those people are so screwed for such a broad multitude of reasons that it's not worth throwing them this one bone

I thought the usual argument was that they are worthless and don't deserve any better.

The Clinton/Obama liberal message always says that to be worthy of consideration you have to "work hard and play by the rules."


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:59 AM
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I would like to hear concrete examples of policy questions where benefiting the middle 85% necessarily implies throwing in the bottom 5% under the bus. I would expect there aren't many.


Posted by: John Stapleton | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 8:59 AM
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7: Let them eat felt hats and giant cigars. Which they will, after countless swigs of liquor.


Posted by: Man Suit | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:01 AM
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One big difference between discussing policy on Unfogged and discussing policy elsewhere is that on Unfogged it is a nonstarter to consider an argument which screws over the bottom 2-3%*.

I think this is something James might say to dismiss the prevalent liberal sensibility on Unfogged. And therefore, I think it's incorrect.

So you must be saying something different than Hypothetical James, but I can't quite work out what.

In fact, you and me and all grownups understand that public policy involves tradeoffs. In the school conversation, I was quite willing to throw under the bus teens who would correctly and appropriately prefer to be doing something other than school.

I bet there's no Unfogged majority for, say, open borders, despite the human costs of any other policy. (Maybe you could get a majority to say they feel guilty about that, though.)

To invoke our other resident troll, surely bob would be correct in pointing out that few, if any, of us are actually willing to walk away from Omelas.

Am I being dense here? I feel like I'm missing something.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:02 AM
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Well, I always presumed that the great moralists, here Rawls, were simply articulating and justifying a pre-existing disposition of sentiments of a particular neither universal nor uncommon character. But it is part and parcel of the obfuscatory reason and rhetoric of ethics that the origins, etiology, and genealogy of structures of sentiments be deliberately obscured.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:02 AM
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I'm personally willing to throw the bottom 3%, maybe up to 4.5%, under the bus but I'm also highly susceptible to peer pressure so I'm going along with the group.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:03 AM
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Maybe it's because here the prevaliing sentiment is for throwing the top 1% or 2% under the bus, except that someone will then jump in and say that is too quick and painless a death for them.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:08 AM
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The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. "The strong" -- "The strong," they tell us, "will inherit the land."
We Democrats believe in something else. We democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once.

-- Mario Cuomo, 1984 Democratic Convention Keynote Speech

(Yeah, yeah, bob. I'm not arguing that it's entirely accurate -- and it's become less accurate as Wall Street has bought more Democrats (see Booker, Cory) -- but it's the vision that heebie describes.)


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:08 AM
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Corollary to heebie-geebieism?

Granted that no policy be adopted that makes the least-advantaged worse off, not any that does not make the least advantaged better off, is it also morally necessary that any policy requiring a non-Pareto solution draw resources first from the most advantaged?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:09 AM
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To make 3 and 12 more explicit: the short answer is that liberal intellectuals have all completely internalized Rawls's difference principle, the claim that inequality is only justified to the extent that it benefits the worst off. Rawls justified this using the maximin principle, but I think that is too abstract to really effect most people's thinking.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:11 AM
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I can't imagine what a policy that benefited the middle 85% but threw the bottom 3% under the bus would look like. By definition this policy has to benefit the next 3% up, so anybody in the bottom 3% who wasn't a special case in some sense would be caught in the (safety) net.

As a matter of observation, mainstream liberal policy options usually seem designed to benefit the 2nd-5th decile and throw the bottom 50% under the bus. This is rather different.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:14 AM
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Lou or John?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:14 AM
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From the same speech: "Today our great Democratic Party, which has saved this nation from depression, from fascism, from racism, from corruption, is called upon to do it again -- this time to save the nation from confusion and division, from the threat of eventual fiscal disaster, and most of all from the fear of a nuclear holocaust."

Remember those quaint old days when nuclear annihilation was the worst of our fears?


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:15 AM
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Rawls, that is.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:15 AM
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One big difference between discussing policy on Unfogged and discussing policy elsewhere is that on Unfogged it is a nonstarter to consider an argument which screws over the bottom 2-3%

Not for me. I favor a whole slew of policies that disproportionately penalize the bottom 2-3% and possibly even reduce their welfare in the aggregate: mandatory vehicle safety inspections, cigarette taxes, etc.

A favorite strand of libertarian argument (some more sincere than others) is that government intervention is bad because it usually makes things more expensive for the poorest among us, who can least afford to pay. Most of the time it's just shedding crocodile tears, because they are perfectly happy to assent to other policies that make the bottom 2-3% worse off. But it's a real objection that liberals can't dismiss out of hand, but must sometimes dismiss after careful consideration of pros (broad utility) and cons (unwanted distributive consequences).


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:16 AM
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As a matter of observation, mainstream liberal policy options usually seem designed to benefit the 2nd-5th decile and throw the bottom 50% under the bus. This is rather different.

Yes. That's always my impression, too.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:17 AM
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What underlies the preference for me is the knowledge that the bottom 2-3% are people. It requires a certain degree of dehumanization to just write them off.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:17 AM
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Also the difference people in public conversations gets turned into: "Don't push the fat man if the fat man is really poor."

Removing the difference principle from its original context winds up distorting it a lot.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:19 AM
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15:Wall Street has bought more Democrats (see Booker, Cory)

Hell, see Nancy Pelosi

But it's not the figure Nancy Pelosi used in her letter this week to John Boehner. She defined "middle-class tax cuts" as everything under $1 million [a year] in income.
That's a lousy sentence from dday, isn't it?

Here's Pelosi's original:

"We must ask the very wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. Democrats believe that tax cuts for those earning over a million dollars a year should expire and that we should use the resulting revenues to pay down the deficit."

Reform or "changing from within" is no longer credible in an organization that far gone. I am no longer a Democrat.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:19 AM
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I am no longer a Democrat.

But pause for a half-second in the doorway on the way out, won't you? Right after you let go of the screen door.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:24 AM
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I think we (whoever the "we" is for the purposes of this discussion) take the idea of the veil of ignorance seriously. We -- O.K., I don't believe that luck is something you make; it's something that, by definition, happens to you and to discount the importance of luck in where each of us starts out and ends up is to deny reality.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:25 AM
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18, 23: I was just going to say something along those lines (although I think I'd split it bottom 40%/top 60% in my head). The poorest 2 or 3% are going to have really specific, individualized situations, not just poverty -- they need help, but you're not going to know what unless you're addressing them individually. What I worry about it is policies that ignore the mass of people making around the median or below.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:26 AM
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"We hear a lot about the top 1%. We don't hear a lot about the bottom 1%. There are about 313 million people in America today. 1% of 313 million is 3,130,000. In our prisons today are 2,200,000 people. So the people in prison are 2/3 of one percent. And their wages are typically about 23 cents an hour. They are, essentially, the bottom 1%."


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:33 AM
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Remember those quaint old days when nuclear annihilation was the worst of our fears?

What's the worst of our fears these days? I mean I guess I know what mine is.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:37 AM
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It requires a certain degree of dehumanization to just write them off.

But most of us, in fact, do this - both the writing off and the dehumanization.

Immigration is one easy example. Even the liberal Unfogged is willing to declare some humans to be non-citizens and therefore ineligible for our concern past a certain point.

Indeed, many of us have dehumanized certain creatures to the point that we are willing to have them brutally killed so that we can eat them.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:37 AM
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Phht. One can hardly call Irish babies humans, pf.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:38 AM
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34

I mean I guess I know what mine is.

You worry that you're going to grow a dick where your nose was before, too?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:44 AM
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Count another vote for wondering what sort of policy the discussion is actually about. And somewhat doubting the premise of the OP.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:44 AM
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36: I was going to confess it was "movies with Jack Black in them" but what you said, too.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:45 AM
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What's the worst of our fears these days?

1. Bedbugs.
2. Putting your iPhone through the laundry.
3. (tie) Runaway global warming / zombie apocalypse.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:48 AM
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I can't imagine what a policy that benefited the middle 85% but threw the bottom 3% under the bus would look like.

In addition to the two examples in 22, I submit:

- State funding for higher education -- comes disproportionately from sales taxes, which regressively burden the bottom 3%, and disproportionately benefit the comparatively well-off.

- Most building codes -- increase the cost of housing in ways that satisfy the utility function of people with higher standards and lower risk tolerance than the bottom 3%.

- Many environmental and consumer safety regulations -- especially those that broadly enhance quality of life instead of reducing acute risk of harm for limited numbers of people

- Certain mandated health benefits -- they increase the price of insurance policies, and some of them (e.g. accupuncture, infertility treatment) disproportionately benefit more affluent people.

- Sin taxes.

- State and municipal funding for arts and culture, especially the highbrown kind.

- Renewables quotas and feed-in tariffs for renewables.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:49 AM
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Certain mandated health benefits -- they increase the price of insurance policies, and some of them (e.g. accupuncture, infertility treatment) disproportionately benefit more affluent people.

Well, acupuncture doesn't really benefit anybody. Except acupuncturists, and they tend to be quite well off. But infertility treatment? Surely the very poor are just as likely to be infertile?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:53 AM
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40

You worry that you're going to grow a dick where your nose was before, too?

Oh, your nose has been in so many places by now, I'm sure some of them would be good places for a dick to grow.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:53 AM
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38. But all those actually regressively burden far more than the bottom 3%; the OP suggests by implication that the bottom-but-3rd percentile has to do OK by these hypothetical measures that screw over the bottom 3. If Heebie had specified the bottom 20%, or even 15%, I'd agree with you.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:58 AM
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re: 39

IIRC, the outcome of clinical trials on acupuncture show that it does benefit people, but that it [sticking needles in precise meridian points based on a Qi-based model] doesn't benefit people any more than [randomly sticking needles in people without any particular care for placement].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:06 AM
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Surely the very poor are just as likely to be infertile?

But presumably less likely to go to the expense (it's not free, even with insurance) of getting IVF.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:06 AM
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37.3(b) -- Don't despair. Join in the preparations.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:06 AM
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42. Sorry? Randomly sticking needles in people benefits them how?

I was once referred to an acupuncturist for pain control by a GP who's a bit of a hippy. My impression was that there was a small effect which lasted about as long again as the treatment session. I put it down to placebo.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:09 AM
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38, 41 -- The list in 38 is why I doubt the premise of the OP. Obviously, these things aren't uniquely bad for the 3%, but what is? Other than cutting specific programs for prisons, the long term, mentally ill homeless, and whoever else is in that bottom.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:10 AM
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42: Assuming that "without any particular care" still precludes needles in the eye or genitals.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:10 AM
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48

And the word for someone who wants to cut programs aimed at the bottom 3% so that taxes on the remaining 97% can be (infinitesimally) reduced is not "liberal." It's "asshole."


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:11 AM
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Randomly sticking needles in people benefits them how?

Toughens 'em right up, wot wot.

What I know about acupuncture wouldn't fill a thimble, but I suspect its partisans would argue the "randomly" part of your question.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:13 AM
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50

Oh, I hadn't seen 42 when I wrote 49.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:14 AM
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What I know about acupuncture wouldn't fill a thimble

That sounds like way too big for a needle point.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:15 AM
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51 was me.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:15 AM
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53

Wasn't someone (LB?) saying that white shoe law firms were touting that their health insurance plans covered IVF to potential laydee associates? As in, "Sure, you'll spend your 30s locked in your office, but after that we can hook you right up!"


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:18 AM
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My BFF's mother gets accupuncture (from an MD!) for her sinuses. She claims they clear instantly at her sessions. She also strikes me as the most suggestible person on the planet, but.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:20 AM
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I heard a guy on NPR who was researching the roll that the experience of being cared for and fussed over played the placebo effect. He was giving people massage and acupuncture and having conversations with them about their illness. He told people up front that these things had no medical value, but was looking to see if there was a quantifiable change in their symptoms anyway. He didn't have any results yet, but the idea seemed promising.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:24 AM
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What's the worst of our fears these days?

To the extent I was being serious, I am vaguely and stupidly nostalgic for the time when a nuclear freeze was a major activist focus because it seemed like the problem and solution were so clearly defined. A nuclear arms race is dangerous and self-defeating, so we need a freeze, then drawdown.

I know that neither was/is that simple and there are still way too many nuclear weapons in the world and they're probably more dangerous in various ways, and, and, and. But it seems so much less intractable than climate change or class warfare (not that those weren't going on then as well).

I'm not making an argument that any of this is true, mind you.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:25 AM
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She also strikes me as the most suggestible person on the planet, but.

Tell her to dive under the bus and it will cure her sinuses.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:27 AM
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The list in 38 is why I doubt the premise of the OP. Obviously, these things aren't uniquely bad for the 3%, but what is?

Hmmm. I didn't take "2-3%" in the OP to be intended as a literal percentage. That sentence even footnotes to a sentence discussing "the bottom quintile" in the same vein. I'm pretty sure heebie's knows enough about math to not equate those two.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:30 AM
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I bet there's no Unfogged majority for, say, open borders, despite the human costs of any other policy. (Maybe you could get a majority to say they feel guilty about that, though.)

I don't know about a majority, but I'm in favour of open borders, in principle (how we get there is a tricky question). I'm not sure what the thrust of your comment is, though. Open borders are good for the bottom 2-3%. Hell, they're good for the bottom 85%. It's just that it's the bottom 85% of the world, not of the US/UK.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:38 AM
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Just to be clear, when the shot goes down, I am perfectly willing to throw all of you under a bus. If there's a bus.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:38 AM
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There's usually a bus somewhere, you just might not have used them before. A bus is like a van but longer and holding poor people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:49 AM
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Oh, you mean the "loser cruisers"?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 10:55 AM
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Yeah, heebie's shift from 2-3% to the bottom quintile is kind of getting in my way. Here's Wikipedia's piece on household incomes as of ... 2003, it seems (scroll down for the chart). The opening paragraphs tell us that "the bottom 20% earned less than $19,178" as of 2006. That is, obviously, very little money for a household. I can't tell if heebie thinks more people make more money than they actually do. In any case, a lot more people's welfare is at stake than just 2-3%.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:04 AM
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I didn't mean that to sound harsh (at heebie). I'm just not sure where the 2-3% is coming from.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:05 AM
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OK, it's not quite what heebie postulated, but here's a policy I support that would benefit percentiles 4-50 (approximately) while burdening percentiles 51-98, leaving most of 98+ unscathed, and throwing the bottom 3% under the bus: unrestricted public school choice.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:12 AM
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Yeah, heebie's shift from 2-3% to the bottom quintile is kind of getting in my way.

No! Heebie didn't shift. She was talking about the same thing both times! And I believe I'm talking about the same thing, even though - as GY points out correctly in 59 - I'm talking about a very different percentage.

I'm finding the confusion in this thread very confusing.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:15 AM
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I don't understand what the fuck any of you are talking about. You know what's a weird 70s movie? The Big Bus.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:17 AM
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68

Is The Van a weird 70s movie? Or an awesome 70s movie?


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:21 AM
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69

Why choose?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:28 AM
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Some categorization schemes require mapping each item to only one tag.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:30 AM
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Someone bought it for me (on VHS!). Bobby couldn't make it . . . til he went Fun-Truckin'!


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:33 AM
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67.last: Indeed. Saw it toked to the gills. when it first came out. Afterwards we had a "Was it us, or the movie?" conversation. Would be curious as to my take today, but maybe not so curious as to actually watch it.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:38 AM
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68: The '90s movie The Van (Roddy Doyle) was excellent.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:41 AM
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60: Aw, thanks!

When the shot goes down, Under the bus will be a good place to take cover.


Posted by: Jimmy Pongo | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:43 AM
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The lyrics to that Chevy Van song are better if you hear them as "Vagrant took me by the hand/ fucked me up in his Chevy Van/and that's all right with me."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:48 AM
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I mean, the lyrics are also pretty creepy on their own. I think the "took me by the hand" line is thrown in there to deflect from the obvious conclusion that the song is the ballad of a dude who rapes passed-out women in his Chevy Van.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 11:51 AM
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66: I'm finding the confusion in this thread very confusing.

Well, I'm pretty sure that the people talking about Rawls upthread get it right, so there wasn't much more to be said.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 12:19 PM
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You know a song that everybody thinks is creepy, but is really intended innocently? Art Lover.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 12:42 PM
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79

I support open borders too.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 12:56 PM
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80

I think there are any number of policies on the local level which tend to benefit a large number of people, have minimal effect either way on some tranche, and really screw over the poorest people. Certainly the way police & other municipal services are apportioned geographically tends to fall under that rubric. Someone just posted on FB the other day about the ordinance in LA banning disposable plastic bags. That's generally something I would be in favor of (especially given that my house is on a stretch between two convenience stores which get a lot of foot traffic), but I'm concerned that it would have some pretty negative consequences for the poor. If you're coming home dead tired after a long shift with mandatory overtime, and you left at 5:30 in the morning and unsurprisingly forgot your multi-use shopping bag, what are you supposed to do? Carry a bunch of unwieldy objects precariously all the way home? Apparently the LA measure would allow paper bags, but those can be problematic for cold stuff on a humid day, for instance. Just seems like one of those things that sounds like really great public policy until you see a little old lady in a motorized wheelchair trying to deal with it.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 12:59 PM
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I exclusively support policies benefit people in every other income percentile. I do not mind if 1,,3 and 5 are harmed, but 2, 4, and 6 must benefit. Please get started on some of these. Thank you, and God Bless America.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 1:10 PM
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80: Plus, you'll get e. coli if you have reusable bags and no access to a washing machine.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 1:12 PM
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Or maybe not. The wikipedia page on reusable shopping bags says the e. coli finding was over-hyped by the makers of plastic bags.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 1:17 PM
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84

I like Moby's practice of shooting from the hip, but then actually following up.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 1:38 PM
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85

Banning sleeping in public parks or body-washing in library bathrooms probably passes (or fails?) the Heebie Test.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 1:40 PM
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86

85: The Oakland branch has a sign.

On the topic of tobacco taxes, a guy shifting through the ashtray outside the grocery store really drives home the negative impact at the bottom end. That is basically double-cancer points right there. A study of Germans during the tobacco deprived post war years showed it was worse than regular smoking.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 2:04 PM
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87

84: It really annoys my coworkers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 2:06 PM
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86.2 surprises me. I don't understand the mechanism.

87: It probably works better in this context. Have you considered limiting all coworker interaction to comment threads?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 3:07 PM
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I believe 86.2 on a puff-by-puff basis (the tobacco in each butt marinated in the smoke of the rest of the cigarette, so it's covered in extra tar) but not that high tobacco taxes mean more cancer for people poor enough to smoke butts. It seems really implausible they'd be able to scavenge enough butts to get their total dose up high enough to be worse than smoking cheaper cigarettes.

Policies like the ones in 85, you've got to consider on a broader basis. Banning body-washing in public libraries only hurts the poorest of the poor if the rest of society is set up so that's the best option for the poorest to get clean. If the rest of your social service network is humane, it's not inhumane to separate the provision of libraries from the provision of public hygiene stations.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 4:00 PM
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89.1: I can't find the citation, but I think it was not just the extra tar but also that somebody willing to smoke used cigarettes* is going to really suck the smoke deep and hold it long. As for scavenging butts, you know those big outdoor ashtrays. He had just unscrewed the top and had access to a whole bunch of butts. It wasn't like he was cruising the ground. I've seen someone do this on a few occasions. I don't know if it was always the same guy.

*This was back when most were filterless so smoking a butt was really getting used tobacco.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 4:41 PM
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Of course, I definitely remember that the paper compared German and American cancer rates. I forget how (or if) they controlled for all the other extra risks that a German might have faced (malnutrition, probably a greater risk from various other chemical inhalants).


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 4:48 PM
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This is making me want a smoke more than I've wanted one in a long, long time. I'm sure I'd pass out though.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 5:24 PM
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OT: Folks, I swear I love pictures of food, babies and kitties as much as the next man, but I'm actually flying in that video on FB. You could at least pretend to be impressed.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 5:39 PM
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Sure you posted it? I don't see a video from you today.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 5:43 PM
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95

I was told Facebook wouldn't be required reading on this blog.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 5:50 PM
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92: The homeless guys with untreated psychosis make it look glamorous but don't fall for the hype.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 5:53 PM
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84: It really annoys my coworkers.

My coworkers are also really annoyed when I follow up.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 6:12 PM
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93, 94: I see nothing! Unless you are tiny chocolate gateau flying in a light dusting of cocoa powder.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 6:19 PM
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98 -- My response exactly.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 6:21 PM
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This is me posting from a state park campsite!

So camping is just like regular life except I can't see much and I'm about to sleep in a tent with my dog (maybe?).

On-topic? A posting at sign-in: No stays longer than two weeks. No exceptions.


Posted by: ursyne | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 6:25 PM
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I'm actually flying in that video on FB.

Well, technically, it was falling with style.


Posted by: OPINIONATED WOODY | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 6:28 PM
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100: Definitely put the dog in the tent. Otherwise, the dog will run around until it finds a bear and head straight back.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 6:29 PM
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||
Slightly btocked. Having abstained mostly for about a month I have had a few beers and feel them keenly.

In that spirit I ask you: does swimming regularly for exercise make your libido crank up, or is that totally idiosyncratic?
|>


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 6:47 PM
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I do think swimming -> horniness! All that soft water ... on yer parts.

The dog is in the tent. The Nalgene of wine is in the tent.


Posted by: ursyne | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:07 PM
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If that's a come-on, TJ, you might want to work on a better one.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:08 PM
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24 gets it exactly right.


Posted by: Merganser | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:09 PM
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A tent, a dog, a flask of wine. All you need to do is murder a drifter and you've got yourself a party!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:18 PM
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Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:38 PM
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In looking up the precise words for that quote learned that Vegas was originally Dallas but it was changed after the Kennedy assassination (critics' screening was to have been the day of the assassination).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:43 PM
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The correct formulation is:

A flask of wine, a lump of dog, and thou
lay beside me, commenting in the dark


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:43 PM
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The moving bowel shites, and having shit,
Moves on, nor all thy piety nor wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a turd,
Nor all thy TP wipe out a turd of it.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 7:50 PM
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93: You mean the one video from 2010? Yes, that's impressive.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 05-25-12 9:39 PM
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||

Last night I had a dream that I was watching some news about an FBI breakup of a terrorist ring, and they showed a list of still-at-large suspected members, and one of them was labeled "essear: known only by an internet alias," and somehow I realized that I had been writing a long series of ambiguous comments here that were perfectly innocent to all of us but would obviously mislead an FBI agent.

|>


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:27 AM
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93: The only video I can find on your Facebook page is from 2010, and that takes some clicking around. Maybe you're only showing it to your real friends?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:31 AM
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113 reminded me of a dream from last night I would have forgotten. I was somewhere on the west coast and went to a an apartment/loft (it was a nice multi-story space) for some kind of meetup that was to involve British Unfoggedtarians but other non-blog people as well. After I let myself into the place and encountered people I realized I did not know how to introduce myself and awkwardness ensued. Then I woke up; it had all been a dream! And there was a wet spot five dollars under the pillow.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:56 AM
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114: Maybe a bunch of us have friended some other guy, who is totally baffled but diffident about mentioning it.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:12 AM
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Speaking of flying videos...


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:59 AM
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117: I love the first gif in the comments.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 9:16 AM
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Is pushing the unwilling novice skydiver forcibly out of the plane best practice?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 9:23 AM
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Maybe for some definition of "best". "Too late to puss out now granny! Wheeee!"


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 9:32 AM
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119: It appears to have at least one potential drawback.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 9:41 AM
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Arguably, safety standards should be lowered when dealing with the elderly.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 9:51 AM
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It's the best we've got until the Obamacare death panels crank up in 2014.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 10:31 AM
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9 ( and other similar comments)

I would like to hear concrete examples of policy questions where benefiting the middle 85% necessarily implies throwing in the bottom 5% under the bus. I would expect there aren't many.
...

There is a certain fraction of sufficiently antisocial people for which it basically benefits everyone else if they are thrown in prison (or kicked out of public housing etc.).


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 1:12 PM
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17

To make 3 and 12 more explicit: the short answer is that liberal intellectuals have all completely internalized Rawls's difference principle, the claim that inequality is only justified to the extent that it benefits the worst off. Rawls justified this using the maximin principle, but I think that is too abstract to really effect most people's thinking.

Is this really true? Rawls never made any sense at all to me, is he in fact widely followed?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 1:19 PM
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Democrats have memorized Rawls. Nah, I was going to posit more likely Gospel or Dickens ? for "least of these" attitudes but nobody seemed interested in h-g's actual topic.

||

Polanyi for 21st Century

"Explaining Social Support for Economic
Liberalization through the Case Study of Small Business Associations in the European Union"

In many contexts, the SME sector acts as a sink for the excess unemployment that capital concentration inevitably unleashes: state policies in many countries which promote SME development can thus be seen as projects to transfer structural unemployment back into the formal economy via the SME sector. Within the EU, there are continual efforts, at both the national and EU levels, to manage perceived problems of social exclusion through turning economically marginalized groups into small entrepreneurs.

One reason I study Japan, these SME's tend right, even when minority-owned or brutalized by big-everything. And why I can't get aboard anarchisms, localisms, micro-whatsis, etc. Risk downshifting to family and small enterprise is exactly what the pigs most desire. This "independence" reproduces the Monster more than anything else.

|>


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 2:50 PM
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It is actually fascinating the way the dual economies reinforce each other.

The SME's don't have the job security or benefits so have high turnover and lax work discipline. Mostly employ marginal youth and women, of course, who nevertheless are more free and less subject to the hegemony. But also not politically active on a macroscale, partly because they have little hope and little to lose. However, the owners and managers of small business are most dependent on the stability of the dual system.

But that low wage and precarious work environment in the secondary and tertiary sector is what motivates the loyal overworked salarymen in the large corp, who are politically active.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 2:58 PM
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113, 115: A few weeks ago I had a dream that at some point started to involve someone looking over spreadsheets. At that point I actually thought, in the dream, "no fucking way am I going to look at spreadsheets. I'm going to wake up and then go to sleep and dream about something else." And then I did.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 3:11 PM
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125: Is this really true? Rawls never made any sense at all to me, is he in fact widely followed?

I'm not sure "followed" is the right term. Rawls purports to be making explicit -- through the thought experiment of the original position, the veil of ignorance, and so on -- our moral intuitions; I imagine if you share those intuitions, you'll think he's right that in a world in which you don't know whether you're going to be a poor black man or disabled Native American child or an UMC white woman (or whatever, multiply the possibilities), you'll prefer political arrangements and policies that don't throw the least advantaged under the bus. Justice as fairness.

That said, Rawls is a difficult read (his writing style is, erm, not inviting), and if you try to read him without guidance, in a college class environment, it's probably not going to go anywhere for you.

I never figured many non-political science/theory or philosophy people had actually waded through the primary text -- A Theory of Justice -- so I tend to doubt that people are "followers" of Rawls per se. He's presenting a Kantian theory of justice, which already resonates with lots of people.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 4:51 PM
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The law, in its majesty:

http://houston.cbslocal.com/2012/05/25/honor-student-supporting-siblings-arrested-for-being-too-exhausted-for-school/


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 4:57 PM
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Rawls is a good name for a cat, because then it can say its own name.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 4:59 PM
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130: Good lord. Texas does not distinguish itself.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 5:21 PM
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Loosely related, but I thought it was interesting: social safety nets are vastly more useful in a stochastic than a deterministic model of poverty.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 5:31 PM
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(I read ToJ way too early, but it made enough sense to me to preclude further interest in philosophy, political theory, or Ayn Rand. Tried _Laws of Peoples_ a few years back but knew enough to know I didn't understand it.

_Philosophy Bites_ did a Rawls summary.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 5:33 PM
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Yeah, I read ToJ initially way too early as well, as an undergraduate, managed to spit out enough of the structure to pass the exams (thank god there were no papers), but I didn't actually get it until graduate school.

I don't know what Ayn Rand has to do with it, clew!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 5:49 PM
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131: Same with "Habermas" if you are good with cats and extremely patient.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:04 PM
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My son is asking for a dog, but I can't say yes until I think of a philosopher whose name a dog can pronounce and a way to train a dog to void in the toilet. I'm willing to meet the dog half way by getting a floor toilet.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:25 PM
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You could go for Whorf (Benjamin Lee) -- not exactly a philosopher, but you could teach your son about the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. Everyone should know about that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:32 PM
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129

I'm not sure "followed" is the right term. Rawls purports to be making explicit -- through the thought experiment of the original position, the veil of ignorance, and so on -- our moral intuitions; I imagine if you share those intuitions, you'll think he's right that in a world in which you don't know whether you're going to be a poor black man or disabled Native American child or an UMC white woman (or whatever, multiply the possibilities), you'll prefer political arrangements and policies that don't throw the least advantaged under the bus. Justice as fairness.

So basically Rawls is preaching to the choir and is just rationalizing pre-existing moral intuitions? So if you don't share his moral intuitions there isn't much reason to study him?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:36 PM
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I was hoping there was a Dave Bark or Nancy Bowwow or something.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:36 PM
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139: Some people view it that way, yes. Other people think that one should actually take that thought experiment seriously, and ask oneself what decision one would make. If you take the latter route, he might change your mind.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:41 PM
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Behind the veil of ignorance, everybody is naked. That's another plus.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:49 PM
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It is possible that in James Shearer's mind, he is never naked.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:53 PM
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Even so, everybody else is. Behind the veil, that is.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 6:59 PM
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All of you have always been naked in my mind.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:00 PM
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Apo is a hippie.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:06 PM
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Or just a pervert. Very poor specificity for some metrics.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:16 PM
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Don't we at least deserve the full lyric, apo?

Maybe I didn't treat you
Quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn't love you
Quite as well as I could have
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time

But you were naked in my mind
You were naked in my mind


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:23 PM
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Where is the guacamole mix in a store? Not with the soup, apparently.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:26 PM
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It isn't with Mexican food either.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:27 PM
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Not with the chips.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:29 PM
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If you tell one of the staff you're liveblogging your shopping experience, they'll probably comp you the guacamole mix.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:33 PM
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141

Some people view it that way, yes. Other people think that one should actually take that thought experiment seriously, and ask oneself what decision one would make. If you take the latter route, he might change your mind.

His thought experiment and conclusions have never made sense to me.

First I am risk averse but not nearly to the extent he postulates. I don't go through life solely concerned with the worse case. Doing so seems completely irrational to me. So for example if I am given a choice between a 99% of $1000000 and a 1% chance of nothing or a sure $1 I will take the chance for $1000000.

Second I have problems with the thought experiment. I am supposed to be considering what world I would want to be born into not knowing for example whether I will be smart or stupid. But whether I am smart or stupid affects how I will evaluate the possibilities.

And I am unclear on how the possibility of not being born at all is factored in. Is a world of 1 billion rich people better than a world of 5 billion middle class people? Is a world without black (or whatever) people better than a world in which black (or whatever) people are discriminated against?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:50 PM
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There was guacamole (already made) in three different places, but no mix. All three different places with guacamole had hummus there, one place having Sabra hummus and guac. Capitalism isn't very efficient if you really need to get home and piss.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:52 PM
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So for example if I am given a choice between a 99% of $1000000 and a 1% chance of nothing or a sure $1 I will take the chance for $1000000.

Have you looked at the world? Because that scenario is more divorced from the real world than Twilight.

I am supposed to be considering what world I would want to be born into not knowing for example whether I will be smart or stupid.

I'll give yunz a hint if you ask.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 7:55 PM
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In a just world, the guacamole mix would be right by the avocados and all the hummus would be in the same place.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:04 PM
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157

So it looks like one of my friends is moving to Pittsburgh soon. I will warn her about the guacamole mix enigma.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:19 PM
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158

What is guacamole mix? You still need avocados, right?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:26 PM
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159

Skip the mix, and add in some green salsa, and chopped tomatoes and onions. You'll thank me later.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:27 PM
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I'm already home and I had hummus instead. I imagine that the quest to find the green salsa might have been a problem in itself. Also, I like shallots for guacamole.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:32 PM
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157: I can't think of a single more important thing to remind somebody about before they move here.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:33 PM
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162

Somebody explain the Utility Monster and really blow James' mind!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:38 PM
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163

You can describe your own penis.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:41 PM
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164

163 to the entire contents of this blog.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:42 PM
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159: This comment obviously originated in an evil parallel universe where they don't have cilantro.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:44 PM
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In a just world, the guacamole mix would be right by the avocados and all the hummus would be in the same place.

And the taco bars would be right next to the hot tubs.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 8:48 PM
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153: There's a literature about Rawls and the risk-aversion thing, which I haven't followed. I think the usual Rawlsian line is to say that we're not assuming any particular level of risk-aversion. There are supposed to be special features of the set-up that make something like maximin the rational decision procedure even if you aren't particularly risk averse. For one thing, the position of the worst-off is tolerable in a society structured by Rawls's principles, and but needn't be in a society structured so as to the maximise expected utility of the members, so you would insist on the former structure. (Also, the original position is one of uncertainty rather than risk. You can't from the original position estimate to any significant degree what the probabilities are of ending up among the worst off.)

On the second thing, I think you're meant to be asking yourself what a rational person would choose if they were ignorant as to how smart they were going to be, not what a person who somehow has no defined level of intelligence would choose.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 10:51 PM
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148:

I once wrote a song lyric I liked that went

You're all naked in my mind
And you're not so well designed

but the rest of the song was for shite.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 05-26-12 11:30 PM
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169

Guacamole Mix is in the Culinary Blasphemy aisle, under the big shaming neon sign that says "Oh, for fuck's sake! It has like four ingredients!" and has a picture of an Aztec with a single, glowing tear rolling down his cheek.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 5:35 AM
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170

I imagine that the quest to find the green salsa might have been a problem in itself.

There's a Goya tomatillo salsa in a bottle that seems to be pretty widely available.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 5:51 AM
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171

Regular guacamole has like four ingredients. The mix has dozens.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 5:53 AM
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170: There was a Goya aisle. I looked there for guacamole mix.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:05 AM
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In the land of four-ingredient guacamole, the dozens of ingredients guacamole mix shall be emperor.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:11 AM
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174

Other people's computers suck.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:12 AM
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175

171: If you really wanted, you could add your own xanthan gum to your 4 ingredient guacamole.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:21 AM
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176

Many public schools operate from the ideal of trying to help the bottom few percent. Of course, such a school is usually a miserable place for the middle-of-the-road students. The massive commitment of resource to try to the help the bottom is taken from the middle. The environment created in school that cater to the bottom makes life miserable for the middle of the road student.

If you want to see what happens when government trys to not leave anyone behind, just look at the worst public schools.


Posted by: superdestroyer | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:24 AM
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177

176 assumes facts and causal relationships not in evidence.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:28 AM
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178

177 assumes I can remember to fill in the fucking name field.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:32 AM
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179

177 is right even if 178 is wrong.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:38 AM
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180

If 179 is wrong, I don't want to be right.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:41 AM
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181

WTF is guacamole mix?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:48 AM
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175: So you can, and only $8.60/lb if you buy 50 pound.x


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:49 AM
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183

A bag of salt, dried onions, and artificial flavorings to which you add avocados.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:50 AM
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I missed most of this thread.

Other examples: Any time you have finite resources and a very small high-needs group. Rural residents and their threatened post offices. Mainstreaming kids with emotional issues, which I'm told is very good for them as long as there is sufficient supervision and support, whereas ghettoizing them in a separate classroom would allow the mainstream classroom to go faster on fewer resources. Maybe certain kinds of profiling. Civil liberty infringements - "it's only a problem if you've got something to hide".


Posted by: heebie-heebie | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:54 AM
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185

183 Can't the FDA find an excuse to prosecute the perpetrators of such an atrocity?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:54 AM
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186

It would only hurt the poorest guacamole users.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 7:18 AM
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167: In other words, designing and redesigning the thought experiment until its results accord with the results desired from the start.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 7:48 AM
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187: I dunno. The stuff in 167 is in TOJ itself, so probably not ex post facto. There is a sense in which he's trying to articulate an intuition as much as argue for it, though, as parsimon pointed out.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 8:01 AM
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189

Rawls's examples suck ass, not James. Sorry James.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 8:33 AM
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190

You know what sucks ass? Guacamole mix, that's what.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 8:42 AM
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191

If you really wanted, you could add your own xanthan gum to your 4 ingredient guacamole.

They sell it in the bulk aisle at my co-op. You can apparently use it to reduce the amount of tapioca required to make gluten-free baked goods work.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 10:32 AM
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192

Is there a reasons people need to conserve tapioca?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 10:44 AM
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193

Or 's'-es.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 10:44 AM
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194

192: it tastes gross in baked goods?


Posted by: Beefo Meaty | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 12:07 PM
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195

178,

Look at the creation of alternative high schools and special education classes that are meant to keep the worst students in school. Those schools get their funding from somewhere.

Look at the mainstreaming of problem students. Those students are not in the college prep classes but are put into the classes with the middle students.

Look at Berkeley High School cutting lab sciences to fund ESL classes. http://www.joannejacobs.com/2009/12/berkeley-high-to-close-racial-gap-cut-science/

If you want a reference, then please state what is acceptable.


Posted by: superdestroyer | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 12:29 PM
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194: Is that a general consensus? You have a question mark there.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 12:38 PM
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167

On the second thing, I think you're meant to be asking yourself what a rational person would choose if they were ignorant as to how smart they were going to be, not what a person who somehow has no defined level of intelligence would choose.

I find it hard to make sense of this. Am I suppose to worry how cows (or worms) are treated because I might be fated to be a cow (or worm)? And how about abortion? I certainly wouldn't choose to be an aborted fetus but I think it is silly for society to worry about the hypothetical feelings of an aborted fetus when determining social policy regarding abortion.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 12:42 PM
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James, can we stipulate for these purposes that the rational persons under discussion are humans (not cows or worms) and that they have been born?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 1:00 PM
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196: well, I've never had it, but that's what I hear.


Posted by: Beefo Meaty | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 2:00 PM
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198

James, can we stipulate for these purposes that the rational persons under discussion are humans (not cows or worms) and that they have been born?

This starts to sound like assuming your conclusion. A new born baby is not very rational yet. And with certain defects may never become rational. I don't think it is obvious that it is morally ok to abort severely deformed fetuses shortly before they would be born but morally wrong to kill severely deformed babies shortly after they are born.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 5:13 PM
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At least, don't give the baby to some guy to take care of it for you and then fail to follow-up.


Posted by: Opinionated King Laius and Queen Jocasta | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 5:18 PM
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This starts to sound like assuming your conclusion.

I think you feel that you're being clever, but you're not.

Someone else is going to have to step in, unless we drop it entirely, because I'm not inclined to keep playing at this time.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 5:30 PM
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We could discuss classic Greek drama or why some guy has to order a drink with fifteen ingredients before I can order fries.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-27-12 6:25 PM
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So for example if I am given a choice between a 99% of $1000000 and a 1% chance of nothing or a sure $1 I will take the chance for $1000000.

This does not illustrate a lack of risk aversion. For a start, the bet has a massively positive expected value. Secondly, the marginal utility to you of a dollar is negligible. If you were given a choice involving a 99% chance of $1m and a 1% chance of, say, all the puppies in the world being tortured, then you'd have a test of risk aversion. And caniphilia.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 7:23 AM
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Just a drive-by comment - I don't want to defend Rawls to the death or anything, but what James was saying misses what the theory's meant to be about. It's a theory about whether the basic social/institutional/political arrangements in a society count as just, not about justice in general. You wouldn't lose anything by restricting its application to fully rational adults who are actual members of your society - that's what I read parsimon as meaning by 'not worms or cows, and have been born'. That doesn't mean that there are no issues of justice about how to treat newborns or whatever, but that's not what the theory's about.

What it's about is presenting a model that is supposed to be behind the intuition most people have that social arrangements should respect the equal dignity of actually existing adult individuals, even if violating it (by, say, enslaving the dumb) would advantage others (the smart) enough to maximise utility overall. Worms don't come into it; there's no intuition of equal dignity to be explained.

(The stuff about economic inequality being tolerated only so long as it improves the lot of the worst-off is then a further consequence of the model.)


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 8:56 AM
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Drive-by clarification - "count as just" s/b "count as just with respect to participants". Newborns and worms are of course affected by social/institutional/political arrangements (in ways that might be just or unjust), but they don't exactly participate in them, do they.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 9:08 AM
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Thanks, One of Many.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 9:29 AM
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204: But it does demonstrate, as advertised, a plausible set of preferences inconsistent wit maximizing the welfare of the worst case scenario.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 12:55 PM
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It sounds like parsimon and One of Many are defending the consistency of Rawls's account, but what James B. Shearer is questioning is whether the moral intuitions it represents are in fact universal or nearly universal or even all that common.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 12:59 PM
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I know that lots of smart people have dedicated a lot of time to it, but abstract and ahistorical political theory has always felt to me, as an outsider, like the most wanktastic of all possible endeavors. I mean, why should we conceivably care at all that some theorist named Rawls came up with a clever story that justifies an "intuition" that some (but by no means all) people have about politics -- it's just castles in the air.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 1:13 PM
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I realize that comment 210 is aggressively pro-ignorance, but so be it.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 1:14 PM
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The problem with non-abstract and historical political theory is that it is impossible to get past affective judgements. Being abstract at times is necessary.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 1:20 PM
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I don understand. Maybe if you gave an example, Moby.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 1:26 PM
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210: Since you're repeating your oft-stated feeling that philosophy is silly, I don't know whether to take the comment seriously, but "it's just castles in the air" isn't quite right if you consider that we all say, from time to time, "That's not fair." What do we mean by that? We aren't usually just throwing a temper tantrum when we say it, but mean it pretty seriously; sometimes people go to war over it.

Sure, you could do an etymological or literary or anthropological assessment of what the word "fair" means and has meant, and that will have its own kind of value; and you can do an intellectual history of conceptions of justice, which is incredibly valuable. Political and ethical theorists who deal with the topic are, flatly, interested in this sense of the just many of us have (it is, of course, historically conditioned, but Rawls is never claiming that his conception of justice as fairness can or does apply to every conceivable human or set of human arrangements, and he's explicit about that).

We just do talk about injustice, and justice, and fairness, and we do have pretty strong views about it. We also have views, however muddled, about what counts as a well-ordered society and what kind of society we want to have and to build (one we'll want to sign on to).

I get that lots of people find philosophy and political theory abstract and simply not of personal interest, but it's not wankery.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 5:07 PM
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it's just castles in the air.

Unlike the intricacies of intellectual property law, for example, because "intellectual" and "property" and "the law" are of course just simply and self-evidently real.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 8:14 PM
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MC for the win!

(I will say that the part of Halford's grumpiness that I agree with is the resolute indifference too often encountered, in which some academics are actively contemptuous of the idea the their work should have practical relevance for the city or society that subsidizes their institution. Obviously I'm highly biased on this, since I'm an advocate, but there are definitely folks out there who are not doing themselves any favors with their attitude toward those of us who want to understand the connection between theory and practice.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-28-12 8:36 PM
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206

Drive-by clarification - "count as just" s/b "count as just with respect to participants". Newborns and worms are of course affected by social/institutional/political arrangements (in ways that might be just or unjust), but they don't exactly participate in them, do they.

Could not the same be said of slaves?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 3:49 AM
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205

You wouldn't lose anything by restricting its application to fully rational adults ...

and

... equal dignity of actually existing adult individuals, even if violating it (by, say, enslaving the dumb) ...

The distinction between not fully rational and dumb but fully rational seems inherently a bit arbitrary.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 3:56 AM
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210: I mean, why should we conceivably care at all that some theorist named Rawls came up with a clever story that justifies an "intuition" that some (but by no means all) people have about politics -- it's just castles in the air.

Well, part of it is that there are other stories out there. There's utilitarianism, which says that any policy is ok if it's for the greater good, and libertarianism, which says that people have rights that you can't violate for the greater good, but then sees any redistribution of wealth as exactly such a violation of rights. So if you don't like utilitarianism, but also think that the government is justified in at least some spending on the poor funded by taxing the rich, it's natural to try to give an account explaining why that conjunction of intuitions isn't hopelessly ad hoc. That project is interesting for its own sake, but also, practically, it might conceivably help combat the situation where in the popular mind the only intellectually principled position that invokes rights is batshit-crazy libertarianism. If the other guy has a narrative and you don't, who'll win?

(The fact that Rawls's story not only allows some redistribution but more or less requires a certain level may make it less plausible to some, but if it's a matter of competing narratives it has nothing on libertarianism for implausible consequences - and it in any case allows a lot of economic inequality, as long as that inequality helps the poorest.)

217, 218: Maybe I can put it this way - the theory is not about precisely demarcating the class of persons. Rather, it takes as roughly given the class of those who would normally be considered the members of the society in question, and tries to model the idea that it would be unjust for the basic socio-political set-up to throw some of those under the bus, even if it would advantage others enough to maximise overall utility.

Putting it in terms of participation was probably a bad idea on my part*. Worms are not normally considered members of society, so you don't in the original position ask yourself "what if I end up a worm?". Newborns are members of society, even if they aren't currently participating very actively, so they are covered by the theory. But why I suggested ignoring them in my previous comments was that you don't in the original position ask yourself "what if I end up a newborn" - that's because the things you are supposed to consider ending up as are members of society across their whole lifetime, not just one phase. (I suppose you could consider those members of society whose whole lifetime consists of being a newborn, but that's clearly a corner case.)

*though, for what it's worth, I'd say that slaves participate in the social arrangement of slavery, just at a great disadvantage.


Posted by: One of Many | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 11:38 AM
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Intellectual property law may seem abstract, but it has immediate practical applications and real consequences, which is something very different
than political theory. Zillions of dollars and matters of great immediate significance for culture and science depend on getting its details right. The same is not really true for academic political theory.

With that said, 219 makes sense and I understand why a lot of smart people work on these issues -- as with anything else, I'm not in favor of eliminating university political theory departments or anything. My own preference is that we'd be a lot better off in political debate generally if we could get the high level political theory talk about rights, utilitarianism, justice, and whatever out of the debate to the greatest extent possible -- libertarians refusal to do this is one of the most annoying things about them -- but I recognize that this is itself a kind of political theory.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 11:59 AM
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Also, I don't think all philosophy is useless, at all. Political theory in particular seems more problematic, perhaps because of the discrepancy between the kinds of claims it makes (and the importance often ascribed to it) and political reality. For example, I know enough to know that Rawls is probably the most famous American political philosopher of the past century, but it's hard to see that he's had much of an effect on anything in practical terms.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 12:14 PM
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...it's just castles in the air.

Hey, Halford, you got something against art?

Pretty pictures is all we got, I believe they are what gives our actions value, meaning, and emotional satisfaction. Everybody has a frame that says the act of kindness or cruelty matters, and that frame is philosophy.

Not that utility matters to art. It's all art, all entirely useless, cause the sun's going out one day and nothing really matters, unless you generate a pretty picture that tells you it does.

But that is not function or purpose of art of philosophy.
The sun doesn't set for you.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 9:54 PM
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219

... that's because the things you are supposed to consider ending up as are members of society across their whole lifetime, not just one phase. (I suppose you could consider those members of society whose whole lifetime consists of being a newborn, but that's clearly a corner case.)

The issue here is suppose you decide that being say handicapped would suck. But if society kills all handicapped children at birth then you don't have to worry about it. Is this correct?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 10:14 PM
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The predominant 'ism' in American political life is hucksterism.

Saw the movie Agora last night. You seen it, bob?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 10:24 PM
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224:Nope.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-29-12 11:41 PM
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Oh, watched and enjoyed lately.

Departures:Very well done and classy, but typical oscar-bait and overly sentimental. Great cinematography, especially interiors, and a terrific lead performance. Beat The White Ribbon. I am not one of those pseudo-intellectuals who flatter themselves with darkish puzzle-pictures like Certified Copy or Tree of Life. They can be fun, but so can shaggy dog stories. So I don't know which I would have voted for. I really liked the Haneke, but rural incest and anti-semitism are easy buttons to push for the urban sophisticates. Not more respectable than a shaggy dog.

Jun Ichikawa is making some of the most subtle movies in Japan. You may know Tony Takitani. Tokyo Marigolds is a fifty days of summer thing, from the woman's perspective of course, Japan being a decent country, with a deceptive simplicity.

And Chris Marker's Le mystere Koumiko was very much of its time (1964), yet felt 20-30 years ahead of it's time in dealing with feminist and globalist issues. Remarkable work.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 05-30-12 3:24 AM
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223: Either that, or then you have to worry about being a handicapped child who is then killed at birth. But perhaps if you intervene early enough then it doesn't count as a member of the relevant population.

One flaw in all these schemes to maximize some simple utility function aside from total utility, is that they don't consider the probability of being born. (Which is quite low, though because of anthropic bias we tend to assume that everyone is born with p=1, or slightly lower if you think about pre-birth life.)

I think they're also quite weak about the difference between continuing to live and dying. Obviously people experience disutility when anticipating death, but we seem to think that unexpected sudden death is bad to. If it's not horrible for someone never to have been born, why is it horrible for someone to cease to be "before their time"? If their lifetime utility was positive, then they're strictly speaking already better off than the never-lived.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 05-30-12 6:16 AM
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You can't really be better off than the never-lived, because the never-lived don't exist and never did. I suspect this is a category error on the lines of "nothing is better than eternal bliss, and a cheese sandwich is better than nothing".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 05-30-12 6:36 AM
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228: Does that apply to sudden, unexpected death as well? That someone is no better off not having died, than having died?


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 05-30-12 6:50 AM
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Also, wouldn't that imply that under Rawlsian political ethics, we should just focus on creating one very fortunate person, rather than many OK people?


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 05-30-12 6:51 AM
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