The End of Privacy, Part 2: Scoring Pro-Social Behaviour

Despite what some philosophers will tell you, morality is clearly a work in progress. It changes over time. My father was born into a world in which “fornication” was considered immoral. Now, not only do most people not regard it as immoral, many have trouble even understanding how anyone could ever have regarded it as immoral. Such is the way things change.

There is a complex relationship between our moral code and the present state of technology. It is surely no accident that the seismic shifts in sexual mores occurred in the wake of the discovery of safe, effective birth control technology.

There is another technological change looming on the horizon, which it seems to me stands a good chance of changing everyday morality in fundamental ways. We can already see the technology at work in apps like Airbnb and Uber, which seek to eliminate the “trust” problem between contracting parties by allowing them to rate one another.… Continue reading

A question for PR supporters

If the next federal election were being held under a proportional representation system, would the Conservative Party care if their leader spoke French?

That’s the question. My answer is “no.” That is, of course, speculative, but here is my thinking.

Right now what the Conservative Party is aiming for is a majority government. If that is the objective, then you can’t afford not to compete for the 70-odd Quebec seats that have a francophone majority electorate. If there’s one thing everyone can agree upon, it’s that first-past-the-post electoral systems create enormous pressure to create very broad-based political parties, that appeal to the maximum number of voters. That is the precisely the pressure that the Conservative party is experiencing now.

Proportional representation (PR) takes majority government off the table, even with the current party configuration. PR would also generate new parties over time, further increasing the difficulty of obtaining a majority. So all political parties, including the Conservative, will be looking at forming coalition governments.… Continue reading

Three thoughts on Kevin O’Leary

The newspapers today are loaded with stories suggesting that Kevin O’Leary is now the front-runner for the Conservative party leadership. For all the reasons outlined by Andrew Coyne, I don’t think it will happen. Not because Canada is necessarily morally exceptional (something we’ll be debating here at MISC next month) but because the systemic barriers are bigger here. It’s just harder to take over the Conservatives than it was for Trump to take over the GOP.

But since you never know what might happen, I think it’s worth making a few points about his candidacy.

1. Bilingualism

Whether it was craftiness or cowardice , O’Leary’s decision to enter the race the morning after the french-language debate was clearly deliberately timed. And didn’t we all spend yesterday talking about him? Combined with Justin Trudeau’s brain cramp in Sherbrooke, it raised once again the question of official bilingualism and whether one “has” to be bilingual to lead a major political party in this country.… Continue reading

The Dion in Winter

Stephane Dion has left the federal cabinet and quit politics. It obviously wasn’t a voluntary departure, but he managed to give a gracious enough statement. He obviously still wants to be a public servant, and in public life. Where that will be remains to be seen — word is that he was offered some sort of ambassadorship, but is taking time to stew think it over.

His departure was inevitable. As Paul Wells reminds us, the antagonism between Dion and Trudeau goes back aways. He wasn’t a very good foreign affairs minister, and his attempt to formulate some sort of Weberian doctrine to justify the shit-eating that goes along with the job was pathetic.

And before that, Dion was the Liberal leader who led the party to its worst showing since 1867, until whatshisname who replaced him did even worse.

But before that, he was Stephane Dion, the scourge of Quebec sovereigntists, the architect of the Clarity Act, the federalist Sun Tzu who showed Ottawa how to take the fight to the separatists.… Continue reading

Deinstitutionalisation: The new crisis for journalism Part I

1.

As far as the mainstream media is concerned, 2016 will be remembered as the year that the the print media ran out of runway, as the transition-to-digital bluff was called. There is no serious digital business model to speak of for online publishing – the recent round of mass layoffs at Medium only underscoring that even the digital-only ad-supported initiatives are a fool’s errand.

What should be done? For a while now, my view has been the same as Ken Whyte’s — we should do nothing. And that is pretty much the view I expressed at two of the seminars run by the Public Policy Forum as part of their initiative to determine if the decline of the news media is a problem, and if so, what should be done about it. My answers have been: Yes it’s a problem, and there’s not much to be done until the convulsions have ended.… Continue reading

The End of Privacy, Part 1: Mind Reading

Welcome to 2017. I’ve been feeling old lately. Part of the sensation comes from the fact that the world I am presently inhabiting, and the world that I can see emerging, is fundamentally different from the one that I was born into, and in which my basic social sensibilities developed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the domain of privacy. I have no doubt that my childhood – the 1970s – will be looked back upon as the golden age of anonymity, and thus in a sense, of individual freedom. I was watching a ’70s movie the other day, in which a couple of detectives were chasing a criminal by car, heading for the state line. The criminal eludes them, and so they head back to town. On the way back, they stop at a pay phone, where the detective calls headquarters to give them an update. I had to explain to my kids that, in the old days, once the police were out of range for radio contact, the only way they could communicate with the station was by finding a telephone.… Continue reading

The Politics of Ethnic Fraud

Guest post by Avigail Eisenberg

When I was growing up, my best friend and I would play what I now recognize to be a kind of ‘Jewish identity game’. We would identify different celebrities and historical figures who were Jewish or partly Jewish. My friend was much better than I at this game. She told me that Goldie Hawn was Jewish as was Sigmund Freud, and Bob Dylan. It wasn’t all good news – she claimed Hitler was partly Jewish as was Stalin (no idea where she got this). But there was lots of compensation for these stains in people like Karl Marx and Sammy Davis Jr! She had a book about Jewish communities all over the world, with pictures of the Chinese Jewish community, Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and many more that I’m forgetting. There was no winning or losing this game (no fact checking or challenging). It was about impressing ourselves about our shared identity by creating a sense that so many people (and especially celebrities like Goldie Hawn!) were part of our tribe.… Continue reading

Adversarialism in Philosophy: A Defence

I’m starting to come around to the view that there is something weird going on with students these days, where they are coming into the world with rather unrealistic expectations about how they can expect to be treated. For the first time the other day, I came across the suggestion – made by a grad student – that a philosophical research talk should be a “safe space,” in which audience members are expected to be “tough yet supportive.” (I actually don’t quite know what this means – if someone is saying something totally wrong, it’s a bit hard to point that out while at the same time remaining supportive. What are you supposed to say, “you seem like a really nice person, but you’re totally wrong.” Or maybe, “well this argument doesn’t work, but keep trying, I’m sure you’ll come up with a better one next time!”)

Anyhow, as most people who are familiar with how philosophy works will know, this is not the way the discipline currently operates.… Continue reading

What makes someone a conspiracy theorist?

One thing that many people have noted about Donald Trump is that he seems particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories. It is seldom made clear in these discussions, however, exactly what a “conspiracy theory” is, or what particular mental habits make people vulnerable to them. I thought, therefore, that it might be an opportune time to republish a small excerpt from my Enlightenment 2.0 that attempts to explain this. Basically, a conspiracy theorist is someone who falls victim to confirmation bias. He or she sees a pattern in the world, develops an account of the pattern, but then fails systematically to consider, much less investigate, any evidence that would contradict this account. Instead, he or she simply observes more and more instances of the pattern, treating each one (fallaciously) as more “evidence” of the account.

Conspiracy theorists serve as an excellent example of the phenomenon that Keith Stanovich refers to as dysrationalia.… Continue reading

Charles Taylor: A Strong Evaluator

(published in German in the magazine Transit for Charles Taylor’s 85th birthday alongside papers by Habermas, Fraser, Joas, MacIntyre, Gutmann, Honneth, etc.)

 

In seminal essays such as “What is Human Agency?” and Part 1 of Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor tried to articulate a fuller notion of selfhood and personal identity than those available in the analytic tradition. He starts off by suggesting that stripped-down, Lockean conceptions of personal identity as self-awareness through time could not be the end of the story. The idea, for instance, that “identity over time just involves […] psychological connectedness and/or psychological continuity”[1] is omitting, according to Charles, a crucial feature of what it is to be a person[2].

 

Even Harry Frankfurt’s richer theory of personhood lacks, according to Charles, a layer. For Frankfurt, what makes us distinctively human is our capacity to have “second-order volitions”, which involves being capable of rationally evaluating our first-order desires.… Continue reading