Freedom, private property, and public access

by Emrys Westacott The concept of individual freedom has been central to political philosophy since the time of John Locke, who published his groundbreaking Two Treatises on Civil Government in 1689. Before then, other values were paramount—for example: conformity to God's will, the cultivation of moral virtue in the population, social stability, national power, material…

What if technology keeps killing more jobs than it creates?

by Emrys Westacott The industrial revolution transformed the world entirely. Its most profound legacy, though, is not anything specific like electricity, motorized transport, or the computer, but the state of permanent technological revolution in which we now live, move, and have our being. There are some, it is true, like economist Robert Gordon, author of…

Black Victims and White Privilege

Excessive violence by police officers dealing with African Americans is best understood as a product of systemic racism. An important aspect of systemic racism is white privilege, one example of which is the relative lack of fear with which most white people can interact with the police.

How Republicans could quell fears over their health care bill

The Democrats in the Senate should push for a basic public option guaranteeing that no-one will be totally screwed by the Republican proposal. If the free marketeers like Ryan and Reed really believe their own predictions, it is a safety net that will quickly fall into disuse since competition will produce superior options that health insurance consumers will prefer.

America’s complicated execution methods bespeak a bad conscience

The most humane option, though, is surely the one chosen by virtually all other modern democracies, and that is to stop executing people. An awareness of this is, arguably, the deepest reason underlying the bizarre complexity of executions in America. The elaborate technology and procedures bespeak a bad conscience. On the one hand there is the deeply ingrained desire for revenge and for primitive justice to be done: an eye for an eye; a life for a life. On the other hand, there is the undeniable fact that, whatever the means, a killing is a killing–to execute people is to deprive them of life by force and against their will. As Judge Alex Kozinski wrote regarding lethal injections, “Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful.”

Critique of the Smiley Face

It is fitting that the original and still standard smiley face presents itself as a two-dimensional object, for this captures the relatively shallowness of the subjectivist conception of happiness. The Greek notion of well-being, by comparison, is richer both morally and psychologically; and it can usefully prompt us to reflect critically on our own culture’s default values. For there is more to happiness than mere pleasure. And there are more things to value in life than mere happiness.

Why aren’t we working less?

by Emrys Westacott Back in 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the continuous increase in productivity characteristic of industrial capitalism would lead within a century to much more leisure for everyone, with the typical working week being reduced to about fifteen hours. This has obviously not come about. To be sure, in virtually…

Post-truth, post-shame politics

A pressing question in American politics today is whether there are enough Republicans in Congress who are still capable of being shamed into opposing Trump for the good of the country. At present, they serve as his enablers. Some of them may cringe inwardly, but they choose to ride the tiger, figuring that the death of truth is a price worth paying if it helps them to hold onto their seats or push through their agenda of cutting taxes for the wealthy, shrinking government, deregulating business, and so on.

Just how green is the frugal, simple-living locavore?

by Emrys Westacott Sages through the ages have advanced many arguments in favour of living simply and frugally. For instance: it keeps you away from morally corrupting temptations; it cultivates virtues like self-sufficiency and hardihood; it makes one better able to cope with adversity; it is the surest path to happiness since it curtails misguided…

Reflections on congestion and technology

by Emrys Westacott Last week I drove from the small college town in upstate New York where I live to New York City. We covered the 306 miles from home to the George Washington Bridge, which takes one into Manhattan, in just under five hours. The next 15 miles, through Manhattan to our destination in…

Liberal politics and the contingency of history

But now is not the time to lose faith in the role that reason can (and should) play in politics. With the election of Trump, it is more important than ever that liberals consistently make the argument for coherent, practicable policies based on good evidence. One reason for doing this is certainly to raise the tone of political debates. But rationalists must also have some faith that, in the end, the arc of history bends towards truth–or perhaps, more modestly, at least away from error and folly

Our Complicated Response to Extravagance

by Emrys Westacott Donald Trump epitomizes extravagance. Not the imprudently living beyond one's means sort of extravagance criticized by Ben Franklin, but the kind that spares no expense in the quest to gratify one's desires and impress people. Gold-gilded towers, marbled mansions, emblazoned private jets: all of them scream out, “Look how f____ing rich I…

Frugality, simplicity, and environmentalism

The environmentalist argument for embracing a more frugal, simple lifestyle is strong. Some argue that small actions by individuals make little difference, but this view is mistaken. It fails to recognize how the small actions of individuals can gradually alter the default attitudes in a culture.

Personality or Ideology: Which matters most in a political leader?

by Emrys Westacott In evaluating candidates for political office there are two main things to consider: a) their ideology–that is, their political views and general philosophy b) their personal qualities With respect to ideology, the most important questions one should ask are these: · Are their beliefs true? (Do they hold correct beliefs on, say,…