Are We Asking the Right Questions About Artificial Moral Agency?

by Fabio Tollon

Human beings are agents. I take it that this claim is uncontroversial. Agents are that class of entities capable of performing actions. A rock is not an agent, a dog might be. We are agents in the sense that we can perform actions, not out of necessity, but for reasons. These actions are to be distinguished from mere doings: animals, or perhaps even plants, may behave in this or that way by doing things, but strictly speaking, we do not say that they act.

It is often argued that action should be cashed out in intentional terms. Our beliefs, what we desire, and our ability to reason about these are all seemingly essential properties that we might cite when attempting to figure out what makes our kind of agency (and the actions that follow from it) distinct from the rest of the natural world. For a state to be intentional in this sense it should be about or directed towards something other than itself. For an agent to be a moral agent it must be able to do wrong, and perhaps be morally responsible for its actions (I will not elaborate on the exact relationship between being a moral agent and moral responsibility, but there is considerable nuance in how exactly these concepts relate to each other).

In the debate surrounding the potential of Artificial Moral Agency (AMA) this “Standard View” presented above is often a point of contention. The ubiquity of artificial systems in our lives can often lead to us believing that these systems are merely passive instruments. However, this is not always necessarily the case. It is becoming increasingly clear that intuitively “passive” systems, such as recommender algorithms (or even email filter bots), are very receptive to inputs (often by design). Specifically, such systems respond to certain inputs (user search history, etc.) in order to produce an output (a recommendation, etc.). The question that emerges is whether such kinds of “outputs” might be conceived of as “actions”. Moreover, what if such outputs have moral consequences? Might these artificial systems be considered moral agents? This is not to necessarily claim that recommender systems such as YouTube’s are in fact (moral) agents, but rather to think through whether this might be possible (now or in the future). Read more »

Henry Rawlinson and the Transformation of History

by Ali Minai

I came to Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon by Lesley Adkins (Thomas Dunne Books, 2003) because I was looking to read about Henry Rawlinson – someone I had wondered about and admired for a long time. Copying the immense and inaccessible trilingual cuneiform inscription of Bisitun, and then working to decipher not one but three ancient languages from virtually nothing were feats fit more for legend and story than reality. But Rawlinson was real and, if anything, even more remarkable than my limited knowledge of his accomplishments had suggested. Nominally, the book is a biography of Rawlinson, with a strong focus on the period he spent in Iran (or Persia, as it was called then) and Iraq (then under Ottoman rule). But, in fact, it is the story of a Great Adventure that completely revolutionized our knowledge of human history in ways that is almost beyond imagination for us in the 21st century. And it is told by the author with great skill and verve in this gripping book. This article too is not intended as a book review, but rather as a general reflection on archaeology and how it has changed the world, albeit seen through the work of Rawlinson and his peers.

There is certainly something to the trope that our vast knowledge of the world has taken away some of its magic. No longer being able to say “Here be dragons” has, in effect, killed off the last dragons, and left us to look for them in pages of fantasy or Game of Thrones. And what is true of geography is also true of history, though in a far less complete way. There are still plenty of unvisited places in time past, and teasing out information about those places remains one of the most exciting adventures for the human intellect. In the list of such quests, the one by Henry Rawlinson and his peers was surely one of the greatest.

Imagine the state of historical knowledge in the early 16th century. Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus – and others who shared their lands – derived most of their knowledge of ancient history from scripture and tradition. Time itself was uncertain. Some – using Biblical calculations – believed that the world was 6,000 years old. Others clung to stories of vanished civilizations of indeterminate antiquity, or put their faith in cosmic philosophies of ages past, present, and future. The Chinese, as one of the most culturally continuous civilizations in the world, had perhaps the longest tradition of true historiography, but even that only went back no more than 4,000 years or so, and dealt only with Eastern Asia. For the West – and for much of the Muslim world, which ultimately derived its intellectual capital from Greek sources – concrete history went back to Thucydides and Xenophon and then to Herodotus. Read more »

Life. Distributed.

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

The dense mycorrhizal network inside a small tip of a tree root

One of my favorite science fiction novels is “The Black Cloud” by Fred Hoyle. It describes an alien intelligence in the form of a cloud that approaches the earth and settles by the sun. Because of its proximity to the sun the cloud causes havoc with the climate and thwarts the attempts of scientists to both study it and attack it. Gradually the scientists come to realize that the cloud is an intelligence unlike any they have encountered. They are finally successful in communicating with the cloud and realize that its intelligence is conveyed by electrical impulses moving inside it. The cloud and the humans finally part on peaceful terms.

There are two particularly interesting aspects of the cloud that warrant further attention. One is that it’s surprised to find intelligence on a solid planet; it is used to intelligence being gaseous. The second is that it’s surprised to find intelligence concentrated in individual human minds; it is used to intelligence constantly moving around. The reason these aspects of the story are interesting is because they show that Hoyle was ahead of his time and was already thinking about forms of intelligence and life that we have barely scratched the surface of. Read more »

Luca in Utah

by Joan Harvey

The Passive Vampire by Ghérasim Luca, 1945. Translated into English by Krzysztof Fijalkowski (Prague, Twisted Spoon Press, 2008)

If it is true, as is claimed
that after death man continues
a phantom existence
I’ll let you know.

Ghérasim Luca, La Mort morte, 1941

Vive le vampire!

James Joyce, Ulysses

A book travels through time, disappears, reappears, and bites. Bites a reader who exists in a completely different time and space. Does this bite draw blood? As I read I get goosebumps, even in 100-degree heat.

The Passive Vampire turns up here in Utah, a Utah of rocks and Mormons, Navajos and uranium, coyotes and bats, “a net of bats cleaving our destinies together to a slender, delirious wire.” (P.V. 103) Bats, vampires, things that bite in the night. We live here in a visual delirium of stone and color, vast blue space, green valleys, red rocks, orange rocks, purple rocks in all manner of outrageous formations, and heat, dry heat. Reality itself is surreal. Though the water of the Colorado River seems far from the water of the Seine where Luca drowned himself.

Here, in this house, in this desert landscape, I’m bored with the whole idea of vampires, although they keep multiplying, turning up everywhere. I once bought a house from America’s foremost vampire theoretician. (Was it haunted? Of course.) I have even been a vampire in a movie called Who Killed JonBenét?, a film that from production descended directly into a crypt. I thought I made a surprisingly good vampire, but all images have been lost.

But a passive vampire is something else. A passive vampire gives blood as well as takes it. Is this passive vampire “sadomasochistically confused,” as Luca says, or perhaps, as well, a generous vampire? Read more »

Star Stuff

by Mary Hrovat

Ball-and-stick drawing ot the molecule adenosine triphosphate.
Adenosine triphosphate. Three phosphate groups on left, ribose (a sugar) in the center, and adenine on right.

Most of the atoms in your body are hydrogen atoms. Because hydrogen atoms are so light, however, by mass you are mostly oxygen (60% to 65%). The amount of oxygen in your body varies because most of it is in the form of water (98.3% of your molecules are water molecules), and in the human body, water is always coming or going. You are wet star stuff.

Carbon is the second most abundant element in your body by mass (about 18%). We refer to all life on Earth as carbon-based because all of our biologically important molecules (carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleotides) contain carbon.

Carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen are three of the four most abundant elements in the visible universe. In fact, six of the elements essential for human life are among the ten most cosmologically abundant elements. It’s important to remember, though, that hydrogen and helium, the most common elements cosmologically, account for more than 99% of the universe we see. All the rest is almost not there. The third most abundant element cosmologically, oxygen, accounts for 0.1%. Our bodies reflect the relative abundances of elements in the universe, to some extent, and on Earth. At the same time, planets and all the life on them are astonishingly rare in the context of all there is. Read more »

The UK’s failed education algorithm reflects a broader educational failure

by Callum Watts

Picture this: a society that uses government controlled predictive mechanisms to determine the future of children before they get the chance to try and make something of themselves. In such a society exams and education play a secondary role, as predictive technologies are able to allocate the right people to the right tracks from the get-go. This might sound like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which powerful social and biological engineering create and enforce social hierarchies. Every person has their place and role determined for them from early on.

Well this month, the UK almost followed suit, as hundreds of thousands of teenagers had their futures predicted, and grades assigned to them, not based on their performance in actual exams, but based on where they live and come from. In the context of the UK is highly correlated with seemingly irrelevant factors like wealth and race. These results were to be used to determine students’ futures. But rather than being rooted in a terrifying and highly sophisticated system for social control, the British version was driven by an obsession with efficiency and the limited understanding that an elite clique has of the value and purpose of education. Whilst the algorithm approach has now been abandoned, it’s interesting to examine what got us here.

On the face of it, the way we got into this mess looks like bad luck. The global pandemic made it difficult to sit exams safely, so a solution needed to be devised. By looking at a combination of teacher’s predictions, past individual performance, and past school performance, grades were generated for every high school student in the UK. But as soon as the grades started to come in, thousands of students and teachers were shocked to see bright students getting poor grades. How could it be that otherwise diligent and intelligent students from poor backgrounds were getting results which were demolishing their hopes and ambitions? Straightforwardly, it was because of the final variable in the prediction algorithm. By factoring in school performance, students were being downgraded not because of anything they had done, but quite literally because of where they come from. And roughly speaking, in the context of the UK, this means being judged based on wealth. The algorithm boosted the grades of the children of wealthy parents (on average) and reduced the grades of children from poorer backgrounds (on average).

The algorithm development was done by Ofqual, details here, and a PR firm was hired to defend and explain it to the public. The algorithm was roundly criticised as being inadequate and unfair even before it was used, and given its consequences, it seems pretty hard to defend now. But even if the algorithm had been perfect, the episode reveals a deeper unfairness within the education system as a whole. When I expressed my surprise at how brazenly this approach rewarded the wealthy to a friend who teaches in an inner-city school, she responded with frustration, pointing out that the algorithm mostly reflects what is already going on. Yes, this year would have been even crueller, because many talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds would have missed out on University places, but by and large access to the best universities is already unfairly distributed. The offending algorithm mostly replicated already existing inequalities. If it was shocking to see kids being allocated to universities by an algorithm that looks at their socio-economic background, then the whole educational system to date should shock us too. The algorithm merely made explicit the pre-existing injustice.

It’s worth pointing out that the objection is not to algorithms in public policy per se, an algorithm is just a formalisation of some decision or prioritisation procedure. It’s just that this particular decision procedure is patently unfair. This got me thinking about what a fair algorithm might look like. It seems that the measurable difference that a particular school or post code makes should not, in a fair system, be relevant to a child’s future. One can imagine an algorithm which was designed to remove this unfairness, basically the opposite of the government algorithm. The better the school, the less a high grade is worth, the worse the school, the more a low grade is worth. One challenge with this approach is that it would have the consequence of sending students who are less academically prepared onto courses which are no less demanding. This would create degree programmes where individuals would have different skill and knowledge levels in the subjects they were being admitted to study. You might wonder how someone would teach such a class. Would instructors be forced to lower either the quality or the difficulty of the material to avoid ‘leaving students behind’? This does not seem like a desirable outcome.

A university is supposed to produce graduates with a certain proficiency in their field of study. If the inputs are unsuitable, then the outputs will disappoint too. In some professional contexts this could lead to serious problems; we want properly qualified doctors, lawyers, nurses and so on. This model of education is connected to the idea that universities are a rigorous training ground, delivering people into adulthood so that they can go away and fulfil social roles to a certain standard. But when we look outside of the context of the professions which require specific technical skills, this way we measure whether this standard has been met is by looking at future earning power. And this is a model that UK society is to a greater or lesser extent bought into. Whether we’re employers, university administrators, or students, it’s that earning potential, that price tag which acts as the ultimate justification of an undergraduate education. We see this in how universities compete for students and in how the value of different courses are assessed. To give just one example, the University of the West of England announced plans to review whether it should have a philosophy programme. The key reason being that it does not perform well enough at creating highly employable graduates. This claim, aside from being demonstrably wrong based off of the Universities own statistics, clearly betrays an entirely jobs and market driven motivation for education.

There is a tendency to believe that this view of education is pragmatic, economically sound and the correct one to judge educational institutions by. But it misses many of the most important reasons we have an education. At an individual level personal edification and development, the pursuit of truth, beauty, and knowledge are all reasons someone might pursue higher education. And even at the level of society, we want more than individuals capable of becoming employees and employers. We want responsible members of communities, we want well informed citizens, we want people who behave ethically towards others, and we want to reproduce our traditions, knowledge and history into the future. We want to increase our stock of knowledge, scientific and otherwise, to become wiser and better at living together. This view, rather than seeing education as a conveyor belt to sort people into social roles, views education as key to human flourishing.

At first sight the flourishing view can appear indulgent, something that sounds nice but that we have neither the time nor resources for. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more convinced I am that it is the conveyor belt approach to education which is indulgent, and likely damaging to the long-term posterity of a society wedded to it. From a long-term perspective, both individually and collectively, the flourishing view is essential to the continued existence of communities in all times and places. It’s only in the context of a hyper competitive and highly unequal market society that the conveyor belt view becomes our chief frame of reference. And even then, its limitations are becoming clear. The social dysfunction created in winner take all economies seem to be exacerbated by this approach to education. The hyper specialisation and focus on grades seem to be having a devastating effect on mental health. This is mirrored in the way graduates are then tossed into a mode of living characterised by precarity and scraping together next month’s rent. And if we step back from the individual plight, we are confronted with a social situation in which individuals are finding it hard to organise themselves to solve anything but their own narrow sets of problems, and collective challenges go unaddressed.

The higher education system is not designed to produce individuals focussed on solving our collective challenges. And when it does produce such people, it is largely because individuals are taking it open themselves to try to swim against the current, in the face of overwhelming pressure to focus exclusively on employability. The powers that be are largely made up of privileged individuals for whom education really is a conveyor belt designed to deliver them straight to the levers of power. For them, these problems are not inherently connected to education because they don’t actually understand what the value of an education could be, because they understand it in the luxury context in which they received theirs. They see education as a finishing school for people whose destinies are essentially already fixed.

This is why when they looked at the fiasco unfolding with the exam’s algorithm, they were largely unable to see that anything very wrong with what was happening. Yes, some talented state school pupils might miss out on university places, but ultimately that would only affect a small number of individuals, and by and large the education system was still performing perfectly well in directing the right individuals to their allotted roles in the social and economic hierarchy. They don’t have the breadth of mind to understand that an education can and should do far more than this. Unfortunately, so trapped are we in the unpredictable currents of a competitive market economy, it feels impossible to look at education in this broader sense. But higher education does not exist to give people careers, flatter the egos of intellectuals, or to create employees. It exists to further knowledge, promote a society and culture worth living in, and to create citizens capable of being happy within it. This isn’t indulgent or fluffy or bourgeois. Along with family, it is the foundation of the ethical life which makes possible the long-term survival of a society.

Kitsch In The Eye Of The Beholder

by Thomas O’Dwyer

You Are Not Forgotten, painting by John McNaughton.
You Are Not Forgotten, 2017, painting by John McNaughton.

A statue of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John MacDonald, has become the latest lump of kitsch concrete to hit the ground after protesters pulled it from a plinth in Montreal and cheered as the head broke off and bounced across the pavement. (MacDonald was linked to vicious policies that killed and displaced thousands of indigenous people in the late 19th century. His system forcibly removed at least 150,000 children from their homes and sent them to often abusive state boarding schools). That’s as good a reason as any to add this to the list of monuments being dethroned around the world.

Another good reason is that phrase “lump of kitsch.” Jonathan Jones recently lamented in The Guardian that the falling statues were being followed by a sterile conversation about who does and doesn’t “deserve” a statue. “This is because all statues are dumb. They cannot represent big or complex themes. All they can do is function as crude symbols. They reduce history to celebrity culture. So many Victorian statues survive in our cities because 19th-century historians believed ‘great men’ and their leadership created history,” Johnson wrote, adding that every dumbass general who ever won an obscure skirmish had a statue somewhere across the British empire. No heroic soldier ever did.

So, what a lineup of dumb statues one could craft from that display of Trump royalty at the recent Republican National Convention. The “great man” being honoured this time was “the bodyguard of Western civilization,” as Charlie Kirk, founder of the anti-liberal Turning Point USA, described the president. This, wrote The Washington Post, was “an image in keeping with painter John McNaughton’s kitsch paintings of Trump.” Read more »

The Black gaze under the White gaze (or, “Youtube solves racism”)

by Mike O’Brien

(Disclaimer: I have spent the last month in a cabin in the woods, and during that time the media has caught wind of TwinsTheNewTrend and spilled ink about their appeal and significance. What I have written below may therefore be redundant. But it’s still got a hep beat you can bug out to, so follow along anyway.)

A few months ago, Abbas Raza posted a Youtube video to this site from the channel “TwinsTheNewTrend”. It consisted of the titular twins watching a video of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, visible to the viewer in a picture-in-picture frame. This kind of “reaction video” is endemic on Youtube and other user-created-content platforms, and is usually the kind of thing I avoid. But a few things drew me in. First, I think (nay, know) that Dolly Parton is awesome and that this fact should be universally acknowledged. Second, the hosts are young Black men exhibiting cues of a hip-hop cultural world, not the typical audience for such music. The promise inherent in this set-up is that you, the viewer, are going to share an experience of discovery and novelty. That promise is fulfilled.

I said that I normally avoid “reaction videos” as a genre. It’s not that I’m particularly miserly with my screen time, or that I consider such fluff below my standards of consumption. I watch a lot of fluff, and much of it participates in the kind of audience-chasing hustle of which “reactions” are a shop-worn tool. What I find irksome is that “reactions” plug into a primal psychological system of sympathy and emotional mirroring, and that has the sickly-sweet stink of manipulation. Of course, many great works of art have traded on the compelling emotional displays of their characters to elicit an emotional response from their audience. It’s not some devious 21st-century marketing trick. But in the context of algorithm-driven, big-data-leveraging behemoths like Google et al., the vulnerability to such affective infiltration feels dangerous and debasing. Read more »

“Nazis! I Hate These Guys!”: Fascism in American Popular Culture

by Mindy Clegg

In the third Indiana Jones film, The Last Crusade (the one with Sean Connery), the adventurous archaeologist must race to find the Holy Grail, the cup Christ drank from at the last supper which was used to catch his blood during the crucifixion. According to Authurian legend, who ever shall drink from the cup will have eternal life. He’s not the only one seeking this mystical artifact. His competitors, the Nazis, hope to use the Grail to ensure a thousand year rule by their leader. In one memorable scene, now often deployed in animated gif form on social media, Dr. Jones infiltrates a Nuremberg style rally, noting to his companion, “Nazis! I hate these guys!” The film ends with a race to the Holy Grail, the Nazi heavy dying, but Jones failing to turn his Nazi love interest to the right side of history.

The franchise was created by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, both of whom made a name for themselves taking film genres primarily from B-roll films (lower budget genre films) and making them into high budget summer blockbusters. The Indiana Jones trilogy is no exception. In these films, Spielberg married a tale of adventure and discovery with a fight against an obvious bad guy with little nuance—you know who is good and evil in these films. Nazis fit that role perfectly, providing two of the baddies for the four films (with a planned fifth in production). Nazis in fact often act as a stand-in for unmitigated evil in many films (in many cases cartoonishly, mustache twirling type evil) with little grounding in reality. The question becomes: is that a problem in shaping our understanding of Nazis (or fascism in general) as a historical phenomenon? I’d argue that indeed, our understanding of fascism has been somewhat obscured by our popular cultural views that use Nazis or fascists as stand-ins for pure evil, rather than emanating from some of the same underlying ideologies that animated racism, segregation, and colonialism among Western powers. As such, we’ve ignored its growth in recent years. This is a problem, as these ideologies pose a real threat to our political system, especially in our postmodern media landscape. Read more »

Monday Photo & Video

The Eisack river is like this in Franzensfeste today. It is roaring down with a stupendous amount of water at incredible speed and with a kind of violent force which is frightening to behold. And to top it off, it is rolling large stones along which crash into each other under water and sound like thunder (at least that is what I am told those deep booms come from). It is an awesome sight and sound. This massive flow of water is headed toward Brixen as it cannot be held by the dam in Franzensfeste (the dam reservoir is already almost overflowing) and it may break over its banks in Brixen and further downriver in Klausen (where people in low-lying areas are already being told to move to higher ground, sandbags are being placed, etc.). If one were to fall into the river anywhere today, one would not survive more than a few seconds and would be smashed against the rocks on the riverbed with bone-breaking force almost instantly. I can hear it loudly even as I sit across the street at my desk.

Here is a video I made of the Eisack by the time it is in Brixen. Watch full screen and with sound on. You will see just how wild the river is by the end and how it is flowing very hard and fast and muddy and sometimes spontaneously bursts skyward in plumes as it goes forth frothing and foaming through Brixen. Keep in mind, the video has been slowed down by a factor of 10 (shot at 250 frames/sec) so it is a bit hard to tell just how fast the water is moving.

Too many books

by Charlie Huenemann

It is commonplace to observe just how marvelous books are. Some person, perhaps from long ago, makes inky marks onto processed pulp from old trees. The ensuing artifact is tossed from hand to hand, carrying its cargo of characters, plots, ideas, and poems across the rough seas of time, until it comes to you. And now you have the chance to share in a tradition of readers stretching back to the author, a transtemporal book club who communicate with one another only by terse comments scratched into the margins of this leather-bound vessel.

But, boy, do they pile up over time! Shelves groan under the weight of old textbooks, exclamatory treatments of hot topics long past their sell-by date, endless reissues of classics, sci-fi paperbacks that disintegrate when opened, and that one book on economics you were supposed to return to somebody five, no, maybe ten years ago. Some, perhaps, have resale value. The rest could be dropped into a charity box to join the massive graveyard of books to be boxed up and never seen again.

The remaining option is to dump them unceremoniously into the recycling bin – but most of us recoil from the suggestion in horror. Why? We venerate books as objects. Some books preserve important ideas that threaten bigots and tyrants, and these are the ones often burned by said barbarians. Holding onto these books is one way to affirm their importance in preserving our fragile civilization. Some of these books are old friends to us, our teachers and soulmates, and so dumping them is unthinkable. “Books” as a common noun typically picks out the ones that mean so much to us, and if we were to announce to our friends that we were dumping out our old books, we might as well have said we were doing so on our way to burn down the Parthenon and slap a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Read more »

“Dapaan” — Folkloric Kashmiri term that starts a tale

by Rafiq Kathwari

Dapaan, Rama saw Sita bathing nude in Sitaharan, a spring near the Line of Control in Kashmir. It was lust at first sight. Dapaan, the demon king Ravana abducted Sita to Sri Lanka to avenge a previous wrong. Rama flew in anger south to Sri Lanka in his glitzy winged chariot. Dapaan, the chariot was Made in Prehistoric India, using indigenous materials. Dapaan, Hanuman, the son of Vayu, god of the wind, steered the chariot. Dapaan, clouds cloaked the chariot to foil discovery by enemy radar. Dapaan, Rama shot a divine arrow which pierced Ravana in the heart and killed him. Dapaan, Rama flew Sita back to Sitaharan where they lived happily until India partitioned herself, tearing apart 15 million souls, the largest migration of people in modern history.

Dapaan, Hindutva has been weaponized to impose mythology upon history to create Greater India — Akhund Baharat, united and undivided Hindu Rashtra from Afghanistan to Myanmar. Dapaan, Kashmir strikes at the heart of this nirvana because of its Muslim majority.

Dapaan, every Summer the army shields thousands of Hindu pilgrims who spread the legs of a virgin glacier in Kashmir to worship Shiva’s icy lingam thawing in a cave — daring an ecological disaster. Dapaan, Hindutva is a pandemic.

Dapaan, Neanderthals of Nagpur are marching in Kashmir to the drumbeat of Hindutva supremythology: gharwapsi, zaminjihad, lovejihad to herald acche din. Dapaan, fascists clasp opposite concepts to serve their own puffery. Dapaan, Kashmiris will be told to hold the scalpel for their own execution to chill the blood of Neanderthals.

Dapaan, prepare for the moment when history throws up a rainbow over the Zabarvan. Rainbows are ephemeral. Preparedness is everything. When they ask, Azadi ka matlab kya? Shout out loud — Jamhooriya, Jamhooriya. Dapaan, poets will be caged because poetry is the fuel of Azadi.


  • gharwapsi: return home — (to Kashmir of Hindu myths)
  • zaminjihad: The East India Company sold Kashmir to the Rajput Dogras who enslaved Kashmiris for over 100 years. Sheikh Abdullah, with a swirl of his fountain pen, deemed tillers owners of land they till, freed Kashmiris from serfdom, made peasants landowners, zamindars, earned the honorific, ‘Lion of Kashmir.’ This scared India’s suave socialist prime minister, Pandit Nehru, and his inner circle of prominent and privileged Kashmiri pandits. They exiled the Sheikh for nearly 20 years.
  • Zabarvan: Foothills of the Himalayas that ring the Vale of Kashmir
  • lovejihad: Hindutva drive to wage war at love between young Muslims and Hindus
  • acche din: Good days
  • Azadi: Liberty
  • Azadi ka matlab kya: What does liberty mean?
  • Jamhooriya, Jamhooriya: Democracy, Democracy.

The Game Theory

by Peter Wells

My mother believed that games were good for you. Her faith was unshaken by the occasions when my brothers and I returned from our outdoor games with a grievance between us, or by the times the Monopoly board was overturned in anger during the winter months. She considered that games were a preparation for life. I think she underestimated them.

Games require two complementary faculties that are extremely difficult to maintain in tandem at full strength. The first is the ability to take a game absolutely seriously. While it is in progress, it matters. The rules must be obeyed, but participants are encouraged to use their ingenuity to exploit the rules, as well as every facet of their mental and/or physical ability, in order to win. The aim is not primarily skill development, or increased fitness, or social interaction, it is victory, and victory over an enemy doing their best. As soon as we know our opponents are not trying, the game disintegrates. Children quickly learn to spot when their parents are letting them win, and they don’t like it. They would rather suffer repeated defeats than such condescension.

The second faculty is the ability to keep the game self-contained, and not allow it to spill over into the players’ non-game lives, or be vulnerable to their personal character flaws or relationship issues. If the desire to win causes the participants to cheat, become angry, or bear a grudge after defeat, or even to be triumphalist and scornful in victory, the game is ruined. Because it is, after all, ‘a game.’ Note, I did not say ‘only.’ Read more »

Epistemology, Probable Belief and Carnap

Darren Bradley interviewed by Richard Marshall in 3:16:

3:16:  What made you become a philosopher?

Darren Bradley: It was so much fun. It was more a question of would anything stop me from being a philosopher. I picked up Smullyan’s ‘What is the name of this book?’ at about 13, my Dad bought me ‘Sophie’s World’ a year or two later, and I think I found ‘Labyrinths of Reason’ in the school library. I definitely wanted to do philosophy at university and thought it would be useful to combine it with economics at LSE. Taking philosophy classes was even better than I expected. Craig Callender taught the introductory philosophy course – focused on paradoxes like time travel and personal identity – and I remember watching him giggle his way through the lectures, unable to understand how thinking about these things was considered work. It was clear I was going to carry on doing philosophy for as long as possible, and I find it amazing that I’m still doing it more than 20 years later.

More here.

Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood

Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American:

Quick: Rate how much you agree with each of these items on a scale of 1 (“not me at all”) to 5 (“this is so me”):

  • It is important to me that people who hurt me acknowledge that an injustice has been done to me.
  • I think I am much more conscientious and moral in my relations with other people compared to their treatment of me.
  • When people who are close to me feel hurt by my actions, it is very important for me to clarify that justice is on my side.
  • It is very hard for me to stop thinking about the injustice others have done to me.

If you scored high (4 or 5) on all of these items, you may have what psychologists have identified as a “tendency for interpersonal victimhood.”

Social life is full of ambiguity. Dates don’t always respond to your text messages, friends don’t always smile back at you when you smile at them, and strangers sometimes have upset looks on their faces. The question is: How do you interpret these situations?

More here.

Never Biden? How to resolve the vexing dilemma for many left voters

Collective 20 in AlterNet:

The U.S. presidential election has so far involved and will undoubtedly continue to involve a clash over voting strategy for the left. A significant array of left commentators, for example, Cornel West, AOC, Angela Davis, and Noam Chomsky have been and will likely continue urging all progressives to vote for Biden at least in swing states, even if they can’t stand his personal history and his stated and implied policies. Another array of left commentators, for example Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald, Krystal Ball, and Howie Hawkins, has been and will likely continue asserting that instead all progressives should vote their true preferences, for example for the Green candidate, or not vote, but in any event not vote for someone they despise, like Joe Biden.

While the two groups often seem too contrary to take each other seriously, they in fact each have a variety of claims they make in support of their favored approach. What are the claims made by each side? How well do they hold up when taken seriously on their own terms? Is the dispute about clashing principles or only about clashing perceptions? Since all involved desire a better future, is there some common ground that can be built upon?

More here.

The FBI warned for years that police are cozy with the far right. Is no one listening?

Mike German in The Guardian:

For decades, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has routinely warned its agents that the white supremacist and far-right militant groups it investigates often have links to law enforcement. Yet the justice department has no national strategy designed to protect the communities policed by these dangerously compromised law enforcers. As our nation grapples with how to reimagine public safety in the wake of the protests following the police killing of George Floyd, it is time to confront and resolve the persistent problem of explicit racism in law enforcement.

I know about these routine warnings because I received them as a young FBI agent preparing to accept an undercover assignment against neo-Nazi groups in Los Angeles, California, in 1992. But you don’t have to take my word for it. A redacted version of a 2006 FBI intelligence assessment, White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement, alerted agents to “both strategic infiltration by organized groups and self-initiated infiltration by law enforcement personnel sympathetic to white supremacist causes”.

More here.