“Philosophy is Dead” (Progressive Politics Edition)
September 17, 2010

Lost in the continuing scuffle between Dylan Matthews and various other parties over Mark Greif’s “gut-level legislation“ is that you can believe that unalloyed political theory holds some value and also that Greif’s proposal fails on that level as well. Here’s the passage that justifiably rankled Dylan:

§ Legislative Initiative No.1: Add a tax bracket of 100 percent to cut off individual income at a fixed ceiling, allowing any individual to bring home a maximum of $100,000 a year from all sources and no more.

Dylan responds here that this would “effectively set that as a maximum wage,” which I think—as Matt Yglesias argues—was sort of the point and that Greif was finding an indirect way to suggest that not having a maximum wage—thereby allowing people to compete for sums far beyond what they could ever possibly require for their own comfort, creating a yet greater chasm between the richest and poorest members of our society—is morally depraved.

But if that was his aim, then why argue for an effective maximum wage? Why not just say we should have a legal maximum wage? Unless Greif wants to argue that this proposal fulfills some moral need which a straightforward maximum wage would not. That’s a pretty strong claim, and I wish him the best of luck with it.

The problem with Greif’s proposal is not that it takes a philosophical, rather than empirical, approach to politics—it pretty much fails on both levels. With that in mind, it’s a shame that Dylan had to make his rebuttal all about his remarkably restrictive view of which disciplines have something valuable to contribute to contemporary political discourse and which do not.

The Shallows? No, Not Really.
July 13, 2010

Nicholas Carr speaking at the VINT Symposium h...
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Both Sam Rubenfeld and Dylan Matthews seem to think that my argument connection the overshare phenomenon and idle chatter is roughly equivalent to the argument Nicholas Carr (pictured) presents in The Shallows. This calls for a little clarification.

I haven’t read The Shallows, so I can’t judge the argument in its entirety, but I will say that I find the central thesis kind of implausible. Carr seems to be arguing that the way in which one typically interacts with the web—by multitasking and skimming along the serve of vast quantities of material, as opposed to concentrating intently on one thing at a time—is fundamentally altering our consciousness and making deep concentration and reflection more difficult. I’m actually a lot more sympathetic to Steven Pinker’s rebuttal.

But this confusion makes me think I should have been clearer what I was talking about when I referred to “distraction.” When it comes to serious reflection, it would seem that deep concentration is of secondary importance to what that deep concentration is projected towards. When I talked about a lot of personal blogging as a form of idle chatter, my true concern was that simple emoting and identification was not so much distracting people with short attention spans, but rather being consumed (and produced) as a paltry substitute for serious reflection. Attention span has very little to do with my argument.

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