The Matter With the Ownership Society
November 14, 2010

Newly industrialized countries Other emerging ...
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Apropos of yesterday’s post about how Westernization can sometimes be conflated with modernization, there was a piece up at Good a couple of days ago arguing that developing countries would be ill-advised to adopt America’s culture of ownership.

 As the East develops, and the size of the middle class grows, there is a push toward individual ownership. With increased incomes, the incidence of joint families reduces, and sharing resources is less of a financial necessity. However, if the East starts to choose individual ownership more readily over communal access, emerging economies will likely struggle to manage these patterns of consumption, particularly with regard to pollution and waste.

From an economic development perspective, Western practitioners are guilty of seeking solutions for the poor that are based on these American values. It’s only natural; this ideal is integral to the West’s notion of progress. Solutions to a lack of access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare, and education often cater to the provision of individual ownership: a faucet in every kitchen, a toilet in every home. However, this paradigm is wasteful, and thus, may not be ideal or sustainable for developing world countries.

Of course, as the article points out, this cuts both ways: the United States has been practicing an unsustainable level of consumption for awhile now. Luckily, the collaborative nature of the Internet has engendered some positive trends on that front.

To me, this isn’t just a matter of allocating resources responsibly: there’s a political and (self-parody alert) philosophical dimension. Pooled resources and communal interdependence are naturally going to foster more of a community-minded spirit. On the other hand, our culture’s over-emphasis on individual ownership has created* an illusory sense of independence. Instead of depending on our neighbors, we’ve just wound up depending on bigger, more abstract forces. And sure, we’re never going to be wholly not dependent on those things. But these aren’t forces that one can necessarily feel a sense of collective responsibility towards, and that sense of collective responsibility is an important and (in the here and now) hugely undervalued ingredient in the glue we use to build nations.

*And/or been caused by, but let’s stay away from the chicken/egg implications for now.

One Thing the Election Won’t Change
November 2, 2010

is the course towards a potential “undeclared war” in Yemen. The sad fact of the matter is that a Republican Congress will be far too busy investigating the Obama administration’s illusory ties to the New Black Panthers and whether or not the EPA is engaged in a conspiracy to blunt the impact of climate change for them to bother with trivial matters like the expansion of our national security apparatus and its heavily classified, intermittently monstrous activities.

Besides which, the GOP has no credibility on these things anyway. They got the ball rolling on both the unitary executive and the one percent doctrine, so it’s a little late for them to feel outrage at these things. Not like they would, anyway; for all of the Tea Party’s talk about liberty and small government, there’s no squaring that with the fact that Sarah Palin — Mama Grizzly herself — has taken most of the surviving neocons on as her own little bear cubs.

Happy election day, everybody!

(By the way: I’m going to continue linking to most of my posts over at the League, because I am shameless, but you would do well to follow them anyway. It’s a great stable of writers. Additionally, there’s my author-specific page and accompanying RSS feed.)

Peter Singer Asks If It’s Ethical to Reproduce
June 6, 2010

Cover of "The Life You Can Save: Acting N...
Cover via Amazon

Here’s a happy surprise: The New York Times’ series of philosophy columns, dubbed the Stone, finally includes one work of actual philosophy, courtesy of ethical philosopher and author of The Life You Can Save Peter Singer.

In the column, Singer asks whether, given the problems future generations would be sure to face—the fallout from climate change being chief among them—it is ethical to bring those future generations into the world. Would it just be better if we all universally agreed to stop having kids?

Unsurprisingly, he concludes that the answer is “no.” But he takes some interesting detours along the way, including a passage on Schopenhauer that serves as an intriguing contrast to some of the existentialist stuff about projecting towards ends we’ve been discussing:

The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer held that even the best life possible for humans is one in which we strive for ends that, once achieved, bring only fleeting satisfaction. New desires then lead us on to further futile struggle and the cycle repeats itself.

I think you can see the seeds of some existentialist thought in there, although the existentialist would argue that it’s not about achieving those goals—it’s about defining yourself and seeking fulfillment through the act of projecting towards them.

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McCain’s extremely low high point
July 18, 2008

I feel a little guilty doing the whole “look at what shitty thing a prominent columnist wrote” thing at Netroots Nation when I could be going around doing cool stuff, but then again I also feel the compulsion to have new stuff up here if I bump into, like, Kos or someone and give him a link to the blog. And besides, David Brooks wraps up his usual shtick in today’s column by saying something that’s just plain bizarre.

John McCain’s challenge is to recreate this model. He will never get as many cheers in Germany as Barack Obama, but for a century his family has embodied American heroism. He will never seem as young and forward-leaning as his opponent, but he did have his values formed in an age that people now look back to with respect.

The high point of his campaign, so far, has been his energy policy, which is comprehensive and bold, but does not try to turn us into a nation of bicyclists. It does not view America’s energy-intense economy as a sign of sinfulness.

This is half-correct, I guess. As far as I know John McCain does not want to turn America into a nation of bicyclists, which is good, because any good conservative will tell you that bicyclists are total nerds with the little helmets and everything.

But as for McCain’s comprehensive and bold energy policy … what? As far as I can tell, here are the two major planks of that bold policy of comprehension:

Plank the first: “I support mandatory cap and trade because it sounds like a thing smart people would support except when I don’t support it because the word ‘mandatory’ sounds kind of Socialist-y, but then I do support again because let’s face it, I have no idea what the hell it means and I’m just making this shit up as I go.”

Plank the second: “I know that a gas tax holiday is terrible policy and wouldn’t actually do anything beneficial, but I’m hoping it will have the positive psychological effect of making everyone shut the fuck up about gas prices for a little while and go back to talking about how I’m going to personally hunt down all the terrorists armed only with a bottle of Jack and a Bowie knife.”

Maybe there’s a third plank where he’s hiding the actual, uh, policy?

In which Andrew Sullivan is less enraging than he is baffling
July 2, 2008


It’s odd that a movie that predicts ecological doom can in fact make one more certain that the human race will survive our current predicament. Any civilization that can produce something as technically and artistically sublime as Wall-E cannot be doomed.

Um …

I. Uh. What?

Somebody tell Ross Douthat and Matthew Yglesias to make sure their colleague doesn’t find out about the movie Wanted, lest he realize that we as a species almost certainly deserve extinction.

(Via Cynic’s Party)

Chicken Soup and ANWR Drilling for the Soul
June 24, 2008

So apparently John McCain’s energy policy is now based around the “pyschological impact” of those studies instead of, you know, tangible results. Which I guess explains his support of the gas tax holiday.

Here are a few other planks in his energy strategy:

-Free Prozac for everyone.
-Once a week, he will give a special address to the nation in which he will remind us how very important and special we are.
-Federal law mandating that all small businesses provide stress balls for their employees.
-Secretary of Energy: Tony Robbins
-Widespread distribution of boogie boards to increase the fun and reduce the negative psychological impact of all the polar icecaps melting.
-Will promise to practice fake smile more, plans to have it upgraded from “horrifying ghoul-thing” to “electrocution victim” by 2012.

More carrot, less stick
May 15, 2008

Via Ze Frank comes the coolest thing I’ve heard all day. It’s called Carrotmob.

Carrotmob Makes It Rain from carrotmob on Vimeo.

Here’s the site. Go check it out.

A Sound of Thunder
April 15, 2008

Via Matthew Yglesias, an argument of such astonishing stupidity that merely reading it might make you forget how to control your bowels. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

According to James Hansen, the Paul Revere of global warming, the safe level for CO2 may be 350 ppm. Hansen is concerned that “ice sheet disintegration, vegetation migration, and GHG release from soils, tundra or ocean sediments, may begin to come into play on time scales as short as centuries or less.” But currently the atmospheric concentration is 385 ppm. The 350 ppm level was reached twenty years ago in 1988, the same year that James Hansen sounded the alarm over global warming at a Congressional hearing.

Is the world better off today compared to 1988?

Whoa! I never thought of it like that!

The writer then goes on to list a bunch of improvements to quality of life in the past twenty years that really have nothing to do with anything, except to point out that if we just magically reversed the clock and moved back two decades, then we would be worse off. Which is pretty much, you know, exactly what environmentalists are suggesting.

Never once does it seem to enter this guy’s head that maybe technological advances (such as, say, hybrid cars) might actually help us reduce carbon emission. Nope, the only thing that can save us now is Superman going around the planet really, really fast to turn back time, like in that movie, whatsitcalled, Superman.

By the way, back in 1988, Ronald Reagan was president and Poison, Rick Astley, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi were all topping charts. So if the only choice we have is between time travel and destroying the environment forever, I’m gonna have to think about it.

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