Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animals
Colin Dayan in the Boston Review:
The most striking thing happened as I began reading Lori Gruen’s book, Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animals. I was sitting on the porch when a baby white-throated sparrow flew inside. Attempting to escape, the sparrow repeatedly dashed itself against the screens, head down in exhaustion. I tried to lead it to the open door. No luck. But then a male cardinal appeared outside. It hovered, went first to one side of the screen, then the other; held tight one moment, moved softly the next. Flying against the screen, it guided the captive bird, gradually, from side to side, up and down—all the while outside the porch—and led it to the open air. For twenty minutes I watched a bird save another not of its brood, and I thought: now that is empathy.
Yet empathy is a word I have always distrusted. Deep and enigmatic, at best it means being present to or with another being; at worst it calls forth a moral surround as exclusive as it is well intentioned. Along with sympathy, and often confused with it, empathy summons an intensely humanized world, where our emotional life—how much we feel for or with—matters more than the conditions that cause suffering and sustain predation. Examples are all around us. To consider but one, we all know the sad excesses of sentiment that followed the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Money flowed to the coffers of international aid organizations and NGOs, but it never reached the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who continued to live as displaced persons in camps. Inhumanity can easily be moderated, legitimized, and even reproduced by the humanitarian concern that is analogous to it.
As an Americanist, I learned from Edgar Allan Poe how the language of sentiment animates subordination. A slave, a piece of property, a black cat—once loved in the proper domestic setting, they arouse a surfeit of devotion, bonds of dependence that slavery apologists claimed could never be felt by equals.
Sweden is shifting to a 6-hour work day
From Science Alert:
Despite research telling us it’s a really bad idea, many of us end up working 50-hour weeks or more because we think we’ll get more done and reap the benefits later. And according to a study published last month involving 600,000 people, those of us who clock up a 55-hour week will have a 33 percent greater risk of having a stroke than those who maintain a 35- to 40-hour week.
With this in mind, Sweden is moving towards a standard 6-hour work day, with businesses across the country having already implemented the change, and a retirement home embarking on a year-long experiment to compare the costs and benefits of a shorter working day.
"I think the 8-hour work day is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work," Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus, told Adele Peters at Fast Company.
Filimundus switched to a 6-hour day last year, and Feldt says their staff haven't looked back. "We want to spend more time with our families, we want to learn new things or exercise more. I wanted to see if there could be a way to mix these things,"he said.
To cope with the significant cut in working hours, Feldt says staff are asked to stay off social media and other distractions while at work and meetings are kept to a minimum.
the voice and legacy of 'the great gatsby'
For doubters, the enduring renown of The Great Gatsby is mystifying. It seems a wonder to them that Gatsby should cling to its lofty place on lists of Great American Novels, despite being so slender and so dated, and not withstanding its ham-handed symbolism (the Valley of the Ashes, the Eyes of Doctor Eckleburg), simplistic structure (a series of set-pieces), clunky plot machinery (fancy cars roaring back and forth to Manhattan, merely to move pieces around the board), and flat characters (Tom Buchanan tilts toward caricature and Meyer Wolfsheim tips all the way over).
There is a solution to the mystery of Gatsby’s lasting fame, as believers know, and to my mind that solution is voice. The elixir that transforms the novel’s inert matter into music—that turns its static iconography into poetry—is its first-person narration: the subtle, compounded, compromised voice of Nick Carraway. A voice of hope infused with despair, of belief corroded by doubt. A voice suave and dapper on its surface but roiled and dark in its depths. It is the inviting but evasive voice of a new best friend who draws you into his confidence and promises alluring secrets, only to turn away from you, agitated, distracted, and weary.
The Trotsky Paradox
Paradox: If Trotsky was correct at Kronstadt, then his own murder could also be construed as right. If his murder stinks (as I most certainly believe), then he was wrong at Kronstadt, in which case his murder again becomes justified so long as he supports Kronstadt-like actions. Like most paradoxes, this one ultimately fails to hold together—but only in the “real world.” Rostov is a reduction of a far more interesting and ambiguous man. But the protagonists of parables must be types, emblems, tropes. Rostov represents not who Trotsky was, but a certain principle that Trotsky stood for. If we feel willing to generalize and simplify, then this parable with its paradox does have something to tell us—for the events that haunted Bernard Wolfe reincarnate themselves endlessly.
“Then it amounts to this,” says a Mexican official to the dying Rostov’s wife. “Those who use all means will win, those who reject some means will lose. There is no remedy …” Can it be so? Trotsky believed it. Sometimes, so do I. (That is why I prefer to lose.) Exactly here we come face to face with Wolfe’s defective, unlikely greatness. His formulation must never be forgotten.
Guy Burgess, the Cambridge spy who bet on a Soviet future
Among the many questions that surround the Cambridge spies, one has occupied historians ever since the scale of their treachery became fully known. Why did they choose to betray their country? Several reason are given why Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross – commonly known as the Cambridge Five, though there may have been others – decided to serve the Soviet state. In the 1930s they saw the USSR as the chief bulwark against the advance of Nazism and fascism; in the Second World War, they acted in response to Britain and the USSR being allies; during the cold war, they viewed the United States as the chief threat to world peace. Above all, the spies had an overriding ideological commitment to communism. Acting on this was more important for them than clinging to old loyalties of king and country.
No doubt all of these factors played a part, but they are less than thoroughly convincing. The spies were recruited in the 1930s, when the danger of Nazism was becoming clear; but they continued to serve the Soviet Union after it entered into a pact with Nazi Germany, when many other communist sympathisers fell away, and went on serving the Soviet state after it ceased to be Britain’s ally.
The evil empire of Saudi Arabia is the West’s real enemy
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent:
Iran is seriously mistrusted by Israel and America. North Korea protects its nuclear secrets and is ruled by an erratic, vicious man. Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions alarm democratic nations. The newest peril, Isis, the wild child of Islamists, has shocked the whole world. But top of this list should be Saudi Arabia – degenerate, malignant, pitiless, powerful and as dangerous as any of those listed above.
The state systematically transmits its sick form of Islam across the globe, instigates and funds hatreds, while crushing human freedoms and aspiration. But the West genuflects to its rulers. Last week Saudi Arabia was appointed chair of the UN Human Rights Council, a choice welcomed by Washington. Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the State Department, said: “We talk about human rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it is an occasion for them to look into human rights around the world and also within their own borders.”
The jaw simply drops. Saudi Arabia executes one person every two days. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr is soon to be beheaded then crucified for taking part in pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring. He was a teenager then. Raif Badawi, a blogger who dared to call for democracy, was sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes. Last week, 769 faithful Muslim believers were killed in Mecca where they had gone on the Hajj. Initially, the rulers said it was “God’s will” and then they blamed the dead. Mecca was once a place of simplicity and spirituality. Today the avaricious Saudis have bulldozed historical sites and turned it into the Las Vegas of Islam – with hotels, skyscrapers and malls to spend, spend, spend. The poor can no longer afford to go there. Numbers should be controlled to ensure safety – but that would be ruinous for profits. Ziauddin Sardar’s poignant book Mecca: The Sacred City, describes the desecration of Islam’s holiest site.
Rare interview of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Edward R. Murrow in 1955
For Your Consideration: “Pink Grapefruit”
From The New Yorker:
The first installment in our For Your Consideration series is “Pink Grapefruit,” a ten-minute short by the writer-director Michael Mohan. The film—which premièred at Sundance, in January, and went on to win a jury award at South by Southwest—takes place in a serene vacation home in the Palm Springs desert. A young woman (Wendy McColm) arrives there with her friends, a slightly older married couple (Nora Kirkpatrick and Matt Peters), and we quickly learn that they are subjecting her to a rather intense version of a blind date: a single man she’s never met (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) will soon be joining them for the weekend. Like any jaded millennial, the woman greets the impending setup with a sense of dread: “These things never work out!” she says on the car ride out. But, when her suitor arrives, things don’t go quite as expected. (And without spoiling anything, we hope, we should note that this film contains sexual situations.)
...But the story in “Pink Grapefruit,” of a young couple’s first encounter, turns out to be, as Mohan has put it, a cinematic Trojan horse. Shot in lush colors, with lingering images of the arid California hills, the film also makes use of an eerie desert silence, and the voyeurism of the glass-walled vacation home suggests that something pernicious is afoot between the two couples. What Mohan was really interested in exploring, he said, is how young adults “measure our happiness and success by comparing it to those around us.” Mohan, who also directs music videos and commercials (like a pair of very fun short films for Kate Spade, starring Anna Kendrick and Lily Tomlin), is currently beginning work on a new film project called “The Ends.” Co-written with Chris Levitus, who also co-wrote “Pink Grapefruit,” the film portrays the life of a young woman by examining her past breakups. Mohan said, “We want to show how our past relationships shape the person we ultimately become.”
No, you’re not what your mother ate
Ellie Lee in Spiked:
The first episode of the new BBC TV series Countdown to Life: the Extraordinary Making of You, broadcast on Monday, showed us how this process works. The programme as a whole placed great emphasis on how ‘what you are’ is determined in the womb. Part of this argument for womb determinism drew on the alleged ‘amazing significance of what a mother-to-be eats’. The programme’s amazement at the profound import of maternal diet began with a section exploring the (sound) findings of the Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study. This study showed how babies born to Dutch women who were literally starved during the Second World War were more likely to suffer from a range of serious diseases later in life; the environment in which fetal development occurred had serious detrimental effects for the health not only of the women, but also their children. This, combined with a Medical Research Council study about diet and health in Gambia, led programme presenter Michael Mosely to conclude: ‘You really are what your mother eats. Or more precisely, you really are what your mother ate when you were just a tiny little embryo, just a few cells big.’ Thus ends the article he wrote for BBC News to promote the programme: ‘If you are thinking of having a baby, then eating lots of leafy green vegetables, which are rich in B vitamins and folates, is certainly a good thing to do.’
Despite its gripping footage of life before birth – who could not be blown away by a film of the transformation of a ball of cells into a living, waking human being? – Countdown to Life is entirely in line with today’s propensity for parental determinism and scientism. The programme’s scientific content is neither new nor that interesting. Epigenetics has been around for a long time and the effects of the Dutch famine are well known. What is most telling is the ease with which the programme segues from discussing the extraordinary (the Dutch famine) through to the everyday (all women, the world over). You end up with what is really quite a bizarre message: that if pregnant women don’t eat what is today considered to be ‘good food’, then their babies will be damaged. But we are not ‘what our mothers ate’, and the suggestion that women should eat a lot of spinach if they are even thinking about having a baby burdens women with yet more health hectoring.
The Elusive Jellyfish Nebula
At the aquarium, the jellyfish are lit
from below—blue and pink hues
flash in time with the ebb
and flow of visitors come to see
The true sea is not so bright, though,
nor so clear—
Infinity reaches down from space
to the center of our waters
where jellyfish live in truth,
countless billions upon billions
of dead stars and living organisms
recycled into dust upon dust.
Near bright star Eta Geminorum,
the Jellyfish Nebula emits faint strands
of light, the remnants of a supernova gone
rogue, leaving only a neutron star to see
how the universe changes over time.
It is too far away, too large
to imagine what it would feel
like to touch those strands,
though the ones in the water sting
We imagine we know why jellyfish
are so fragile, dying easily or not at all,
but they say even stars die. We have faith
that’s true. When the aquarium closes,
the lights go out.
A new book, available at Amazon
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals
Tim Flannery reviews Carl Safina's Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell's The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins in the New York Review of Books:
The free-living dolphins of the Bahamas had come to know researcher Denise Herzing and her team very well. For decades, at the start of each four-month-long field season, the dolphins would give the returning humans a joyous reception: “a reunion of friends,” as Herzing described it. But one year the creatures behaved differently. They would not approach the research vessel, refusing even invitations to bow-ride. When the boat’s captain slipped into the water to size up the situation, the dolphins remained aloof. Meanwhile on board it was discovered that an expeditioner had died while napping in his bunk. As the vessel headed to port, Herzing said, “the dolphins came to the side of our boat, not riding the bow as usual but instead flanking us fifty feet away in an aquatic escort” that paralleled the boat in an organized manner.
The remarkable incident raises questions that lie at the heart of Carl Safina’s astonishing new book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. Can dolphin sonar penetrate the steel hull of a boat—and pinpoint a stilled heart? Can dolphins empathize with human bereavement? Is dolphin society organized enough to permit the formation of a funeral cavalcade? If the answer to these questions is yes, then Beyond Words has profound implications for humans and our worldview.
Beyond Words is gloriously written. Consider this description of elephants:
Their great breaths, rushing in and out, resonant in the halls of their lungs. The skin as they moved, wrinkled with time and wear, batiked with the walk of ages, as if they lived within the creased maps of the lives they’d traveled.
Not since Barry Lopez or Peter Matthiessen were at the height of their powers has the world been treated to such sumptuous descriptions of nature.
Safina would be the first to agree that anecdotes such as Herzing’s lack the rigor of scientific experiments. He tells us that he is “most skeptical of those things I’d most like to believe, precisely because I’d like to believe them. Wanting to believe something can bias one’s view.” Beyond Words is a rigorously scientific work. Yet impeccably documented anecdotes such as Herzing’s have a place in it, because they are the only means we have of comprehending the reactions of intelligent creatures like dolphins to rare and unusual circumstances. The alternative—to capture dolphins or chimpanzees and subject them to an array of human-devised tests in artificial circumstances—often results in nonsense. Take, for example, the oft-cited research demonstrating that wolves cannot follow a human pointing at something, while dogs can. It turns out that the wolves tested were caged: when outside a cage, wolves readily follow human pointing, without any training.
Claude S. Fischer in Boston Review (image: "A U.S. Department of Agriculture photo showing a family grocery shopping using the SNAP (food stamp) program. Photo: USDA."):
Now that growing economic inequality is widely accepted as fact—it took a couple of decades for the stubborn to acknowledge this—some wonder why Americans are not more upset about it. Americans do not like inequality, but their dislike has not increased. This spring, 63 percent of Gallup Poll respondents agreed that “money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed,” but that percentage has hardly changed in thirty years. Neither widening inequality nor the Great Recession has turned Americans to the left, much less radicalized them.
This puzzle recalls the hoary question of why there is no socialism in America. Why is the United States distinctive among Western nations in the weakness of its labor movement, absence of universal health care and other public goods, and reluctance to redistribute income where the elderly are not concerned? Generations of answers have ranged from the American mindset (say, individualism) to exercises of brute political power (e.g., strike-breakers, campaign money) to the formal structure of government (such as single-member districts). Some recent research presents a cultural explanation—specifically, Americans’ tendency to see issues of inequality in terms of deservingness. Even economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, insists on the “key role” of “belief systems.”
Notions of who deserves what shape the American welfare state. The economic demographer Robert Moffitt has shown that, despite common misperceptions, total U.S. welfare support—social security, food stamps, disability insurance, and so on—has notdeclined since the days of the Great Society. Even bracketing health expenditures, per capita government spending on means-tested programs rose pretty steadily over the last forty-plus years. What has changed, Moffitt argues, is who gets help. Spending has shifted away from the jobless, single, childless, and very poor toward the elderly, disabled, working, married, parents, and those who are not poor.
Moynihan, Mass Incarceration, and Responsibility
Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic:
I want to respond to Greg Weiner’s contention that I’ve offered a distorted picture of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. There’s a lot wrong with Weiner’s note. I specifically object to the idea that the Moynihan Report left its authors reputation “in tatters.”
It is certainly true that Moynihan suffered through more than his share of unfair criticism after the release of The Case for National Action. It is also true that within two years of the Moynihan Report’s release, the author was being hailed on the cover of TIME magazine as America’s “urbanologist.” That same year Lifemagazine lauded Moynihan as the “idea broker in the race crisis.” After leaving the Johnson administration, Moynihan went on to a lucrative post at Harvard, became the urban affairs guru for one president and the UN ambassador for another, and then served for an unbroken four terms in the Senate. Furthermore, Moynihan’s central idea—that the problems of families are key to ending the problems of poverty—dominates the national discourse today. I suspect the president would take no insult in being described as a disciple of Moynihan. If this is all part and parcel of having your reputation destroyed, it is an enviable specimen of the genre.
Weiner’s claim is, of course, much larger. He accuses me of merely hinting at Moynihan bearing some responsibility for mass incarceration, and cleverly leaving the nasty work to the editor’s note written by James Bennet:
Coates demonstrates that white Americans’ fear of black Americans, and their impulse to control blacks, are integral to the rise of the carceral state. A result is that one of every four black men born since the late 1970s has spent time in prison, at profound cost to his family. For this, Coates holds Moynihan, in part, responsible.
Since Weiner believes I was being coy, let me directly state that I wholly concur with this interpretation. My argument is that mass incarceration is built on a long history of viewing black people as unequal in general, and criminal in the specific. Both of these trends can be found in Moynihan’s arguments.
Is a full stop really worth four commas? And should everybody avoid the semi-colon?
Sam Leith in The Guardian:
A couple of weeks ago I saw David Crystal give an after-dinner speech at the august annual conference of the Society of Indexers and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. In it, he recalled having been an adviser on Lynne Truss’s radio programme about punctuation. She told him she was thinking of writing a book on the subject. He advised her not to: “Nobody buys books on punctuation.” “Three million books later,” he said, “I hate her.”
Making a Point is this prolific popular linguist’s entry into the same, or a similar, market. Truss’s book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, was energised by her furious certainties about the incorrect use of all these little marks. Crystal’s is a soberer and, actually, more useful affair: he puts Truss’s apostrophe-rage in its sociolinguistic context, considers the evolution of modern usages, and gently encourages the reader to think in a nuanced way about how marks work rather than imagining that some Platonic style guide, if only it could be accessed, would sort all punctuation decisions into boxes marked “literate” and “illiterate”. (Or literate and illiterate, if you prefer.)
As Crystal writes, scribes started to punctuate in order to make manuscripts easier to read aloud: they were signalling pauses and intonational effects. Grammarians and, later, printers adopted the marks, and tried to systematise them, as aids to semantic understanding on the page. The marks continue to serve both purposes. “This,” Crystal writes, “is where we see the origins of virtually all the arguments over punctuation that have continued down the centuries and which are still with us today.”
His central argument, buttressed by countless well-chosen examples and enlivened by the odd whimsical digression, is that neither a phonetic, nor a semantic, nor a grammatical account of our punctuation system is singly sufficient.
Before we negotiate with Assad, he has to stop the atrocities against Syrian civilians
Ken Roth in The Guardian:
The need to negotiate with leaders as unsavoury as Syria’s Bashar al-Assadis an unfortunate reality of diplomacy. But western leaders should be careful not to confuse that necessity with the idea promoted by Russiathat the Syrian crisis can be resolved only if Assad stays in power. Nor should they believe that Assad’s ongoing rule is the only way to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state and protect Syria’s diverse communities.
Vladimir Putin has long sought to portray Assad as a bulwark against the self-declared Islamic State. But far from a stabilising factor or a solution to the Isis threat to basic rights, Assad is a major reason for the rise of extremist groups in Syria. In the early days of Syria’s uprising, between July and October 2011, Assad released from prison a number of jihadists who had fought in Iraq, many of whom went on to play leading roles in militant Islamist groups. These releases were part of broader amnesties, but Assad kept in prison those who backed the peaceful uprising.
These releases helped to change the complexion of the Syrian rebellion from one with largely democratic aims, to one dominated by jihadists. That transformation has enabled Assad to refocus the narrative from his vicious rule to his claimed indispensability in the fight against Isis.
Computer algorithm created to encode human memories
Clive Cookson in the Financial Times:
The prosthetic, developed at the University of Southern California and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in a decade-long collaboration, includes a small array of electrodes implanted into the brain.
The key to the research is a computer algorithm that mimics the electrical signalling used by the brain to translate short-term into permanent memories.
This makes it possible to bypass a damaged or diseased region, even though there is no way of “reading” a memory — decoding its content or meaning from its electrical signal.
“It’s like being able to translate from Spanish to French without being able to understand either language,” said Ted Berger of USC, the project leader.
The prosthesis has performed well in tests on rats and monkeys. Now it is being evaluated in human brains, the team told the international conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in Milan.
More here. [Thanks to Ali Minai.]
Are eternal laws an illusion?
A Study in Total Depravity: on higher learning
Elite higher education in America has long been a Veblen good—a commodity that obeys few, if any, conventional laws of economic activity. In some cases (chiefly among the children of the serene professional elders perusing the Sunday New York Times), the higher the sticker price of a particular college or university, the more attractive it is. Raise the price and then offer a “discount,” and applications will fly in and better students will enroll. Private colleges and universities figured out this marketing strategy about twenty years ago. That’s a major reason that private college tuition has skyrocketed over the same time span, often at more than double the rate of inflation. Because university administrators know they have an essentially captive client base, they can mark up their sticker prices with impunity.
Economists call things “Veblen goods” when they violate standard models of supply and demand—mainly in cases when an ongoing spike in price works, perversely, to increase demand. Veblen goods are usually luxuries, or at least luxury versions of goods that might be considered necessities in general. Higher education seems to comport with the trend: as the prospects dim for earning a decent wage and forging a comfortable life without a bachelor’s degree, we are told we must increase the number of bachelor’s degrees floating around the economy. And as that number increases, some versions of the degree have become even more valuable in the eyes of tastemakers and nervous wealthy people.
German hegemony: Unintended and unwanted
Germany's new European hegemony is a product of the European Monetary Union in combination with the crisis of 2008. It was not Germany, however, that had wanted the euro. Since the 1970s, its export industries had lived comfortably with repeated devaluations of the currencies of Germany's European trading partners, in response to which much German manufacturing moved out of price-sensitive and into quality-competitive markets. It was above all France that sought a common European currency, to end the humiliation it felt at having to devalue the franc against the deutschmark and, after 1989, to bind united Germany firmly into a, hopefully French-led, united Europe. From its conception, the euro was a highly contradictory construction. France and other European countries, such as Italy, were tired of having to follow the hard-currency interest rate policy of the Bundesbank, which had de facto become the central bank of Europe. By replacing the Bundesbank with a European central bank, they expected to recapture some of the monetary sovereignty they felt they had lost to Germany. Clearly the idea was also to make monetary policy in Europe less obsessed with stability and more accommodating of political objectives like full employment. At the same time, Mitterand and his finance minister Jacques Delors, but also the Bank of Italy, hoped to gain political clout against national Communist parties and trade unions by foreclosing external devaluation and thereby forcing the Left to renounce its political-economic ambitions under the constraints of a harder, if not hard, currency.
the neuroscience of despair
In the two decades following the Second World War, depression was considered a relatively rare disorder, more likely to be experienced by hospitalized patients than otherwise healthy people. Today, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 9.1 percent of adults in the United States are currently experiencing depression. A recent editorial in Nature claimed that “measured by the years that people spend disabled, depression is the biggest blight on human society — bar none.” What accounts for this change?
It will help to identify two broad periods in psychiatry’s standard conception of depression: before 1980, when psychoanalysis still held sway, and after 1980, when depression became defined according to symptom-based classification. These two periods are marked by contrasting criteria for diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the “bible” of clinical psychiatry published by the American Psychiatric Association. While the use of the DSM in the everyday practice of clinical psychiatry varies greatly and some psychiatrists hardly use it at all, it standardizes definitions of mental disorders and supplies a lingua franca for research, thereby providing a basis for measuring the prevalence of mental disorders and agreeing on their diagnoses.
The change that occurred in 1980 was pivotal for two reasons: first, it introduced a qualitatively different notion of depression, one that focused on overt symptoms rather than internal psychological stresses; second, in ignoring patient history and social context as criteria for diagnosis, it unintentionally led to an increase in the number of diagnoses.
Why hunting for life in Martian water will be a tricky task
Lee Billings in Nature:
NASA scientists announced today the best evidence yet that Mars, once thought dry, sterile and dead, may yet have life in it: Liquid water still flows on at least some parts of the red planet, seeping from slopes to accumulate in what might be life-nurturing pools at the bases of equatorial hills and craters. These remarkable sites on Mars may be the best locations in the Solar System to search for extant extraterrestrial life — but doing so will be far from easy. Examining potentially habitable regions of Mars for signs of life is arguably the primary scientific justification for sending humans there — but according to a new joint review from the US National Academy of Sciences and the European Science Foundation, we are not presently prepared to do so.
The problem is not exploding rockets, shrinking budgets, political gamesmanship or fickle public support — all the usual explanations spaceflight advocates offer for the generations-spanning lapse in human voyages anywhere beyond low Earth orbit. Rather, the problem is life itself — specifically, the tenacity of Earthly microbes, and the potential fragility of Martian ones. The easiest way to find life on Mars, it turns out, may be to import bacteria from Cape Canaveral, Florida — contamination that could sabotage the search for native Martians. The need to protect any possible Martian biosphere from Earthly contamination, the review’s authors wrote, could “prevent humans from landing in or entering areas” where Martian life might thrive. Although this sentiment is not new, its frank, formal acknowledgement in such an authoritative study is rare indeed. NASA is planning to send humans to Mars as soon as the 2030s; that such missions may unavoidably pose extreme contamination risks is understandably not something the agency is eager to highlight, even as it actively researches possible solutions to the problem.
Monday, September 28, 2015
The Winners of the 3QD Science Prize 2015
Nick Lane has picked the three winners from the nine finalists:
- Top Quark, $500: Ashutosh Jogalekar, The fundamental philosophical dilemma of chemistry
- Strange Quark, $200: Aatish Bhatia, The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times
- Charm Quark, $100: Nadia Drake, When Hubble Stared at Nothing for 100 Hours
Here is what Nick has to say about the winners:
I hardly need to say that the standard of the nine finalists is extremely high, and any one of them would have been a worthy winner. So I'm sorry to disappoint most of you. In judging, I've had to apply a few criteria (or biases) of my own. The 3QD prize is for a single post, not a blog, and that doesn't reflect how I normally read blogs. I often search for a particular question, come across a fascinating post, and then spend more time than I ever had available reading other posts on the blog. A good blog, to me, is one that has a long run of thought-provoking views.
Those views are expressed not only by the blogger, but also in the comments. As an evolutionary biologist, I'm wary of comments; in my field they often bring out the worst in people. But when it works the other way around, blogs transcend any other medium. Few things are more enjoyable than a well-informed discussion below a post, in which the blogger is actively involved.
When I read a blog, I'm not really looking for a beautiful piece of writing, or stunning visuals, or links to amazing videos, even though these things make a great post. I'm looking for a personal point of view, usually from someone with a particular vantage point, whether scientific or journalistic. I'm looking for something that I couldn't find so easily in the mainstream media, grounded in personal experience, and more idiosyncratic than most magazines would allow you to get away with. (That's one of the things I like about writing books too.)
I don't really know where to draw the line between a blog and a news story, or a feature article, or even a short story. Some of the finalists here did not really write blog posts at all, in my view, but achieved a higher calling, works of art in their own right. So with all that in mind, here goes:
The winner is Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar. I loved this post. It is personal and authoritative, and grows from what starts out as a quirky irritation in the day job into a profound commentary on the limits of the controlled experiment in chemistry, stemming from fundamental physics. Ash begins with the different interactions between atoms in molecules – electrical charges, hydrophobic interactions and the rest – and shows them to be different aspects of the same fundamental electrochemical force, making it impossible to achieve any independent changes in a molecule. He finishes with a lovely twist, justifying the thrill of experiment as the only way to explore design in chemistry, making the subject endlessly fascinating.
Ash's writing style is crisp and clean, admirably precise without being patronising, even in the use of italics, which can easily feel preachy. Not here. I followed the links for genuine interest, and there was a great discussion in the comments pointing out an equivalent problem in biology, in the use of knockout models. In an age when science is being pushed towards supposedly managed outcomes, this is a refreshing reminder of why it can't be planned.
Second prize goes to Aatish Bhatia, a previous winner of this prize, for his piece on Krakatoa. This is another beautifully written and presented post that makes full use of the medium, with spectacular links to videos of an exploding sperm whale and the shockwave of a recent volcanic eruption, and even 19th century barometric data of air pressure spikes. For me, this was not quite a blog – more of a feature article on a subject I knew little about (although I'm aware of books on the subject). This was not quite so personal and ruminative, although I liked especially the idea of ‘inching up against the limits of what we mean by sound.' Where this post really came alive for me was in the comments, with a fascinating exchange on the physics of pressure waves, in which Aatish is exemplary in both responsiveness and a deep underlying knowledge, worn lightly. A masterclass.
Third prize goes to Nadia Drake for her post on the Hubble telescope. This combined a fine piece of storytelling with a tremendously important point – that often the most iconic discoveries in science stem from one person's courage and vision to defy conventional wisdom, risking their own position or reputation to do so. In this case the astronomer Bob Williams focused Hubble on an ‘empty' patch of sky for 100 hours. The ‘emptiness' was filled with thousands of galaxies, expanding the estimated number of galaxies in the universe about five-fold. I was reminded of Leeuwenhoek, who more than 300 years ago turned his simple microscope on an ‘empty' drop of water, and discovered an invisible microcosmos of protozoa and bacteria. The spirit of discovery is what draws most of us into science, and I hope that blogs like this might remind policy makers that naïve questions are often the best.
Congratulations also from 3QD to the winners (remember, you must claim the money within one month from today—just send me an email). And feel free, in fact we encourage you, to leave your acceptance speech as a comment here! And thanks to everyone who participated. Many thanks also, of course, to Nick Lane for doing the final judging.
The three prize logos at the top of this post were designed by me, Sughra Raza, and Carla Goller. I hope the winners will display them with pride on their own blogs!
Details about the prize here.
Gong and Pennywhistle
you can play a cheap pennywhistle
or beat on a big gold gong
down here on earth in the soft grass or stinging thistles
nobody stays here for long
those up on high
and those way down low
breath the same bitter air
we’ll just have to see how it goes
you can bring down the house with your gong if you’re not careful
the house can be had for a song
but many a song has been more than tearful
for both the weak and the strong
sing for the loss of the high
sing for the loss of the low
who breathe the same bitter air
we’ll just have to see how it goes
the future’s been sold, the contract’s more than settled
it’s clauses clear as a bell
no profit’s too high —the market in precious metal,
buy everything you can sell
those up on high
and those way down low
breath the same bitter air
we’ll just have to see how it goes
you can play a cheap tin pennywhistle
or beat on a big gold gong
down here on earth in the soft grass or stinging thistle
nobody stays here for long
by Jim Culleny
“We talked about passion, tenderness and love”
by Carl Pierer
A young man with a strong urge and deep conviction that he is destined to be of importance keeps a diary, which he calls "Diary of a Philosopher". In fact, it is less of a diary than a notebook. He mentions and discusses ideas, arguments and impressions he had, articles he came across, and books he studied. An unbelievable self-assuredness, even pretentiousness permeates these pages of what one critic derides as thoughts ubiquitous with the youth of his time and social standing interspersed with bad poetry.[i] This man is so sure of his genius that it is hard to tell whether he is serious or ironic. Even more so, as his later life justifies this youthful impetus. In the diary, Kojève seems to explore precisely this ambiguity between genius and ridiculousness, the constant tension between aspiration and self-awareness.
Born in 1902 in Moscow, Alexander Koshevnikov (better known as Alexandre Kojève) is a truly iridescent character of French intellectual life in the first half of the 20th century. Aged 15, he determines himself to be a philosopher and starts keeping a diary. Coming from a well-to-do bourgeois family - his uncle is none less than Wasilly Kandinsky - the young man leaves revolutionary Russia for Germany in 1920. There, he studies philosophy in Heidelberg and Berlin, whilst acquiring Sanskrit and Mandarin, and publishes his dissertation about Russian religious mystic Vladimir Solovyov under Karl Jaspers.
In the mid-1920ies, he moves to France, where his family wealth allows him to live a comfortable life. When he loses most of it during the crash of 1929, he has to turn to work again. In the 30ies, he achieves what has been described as a "philosophical miracle": the resurrection of Hegel in French intellectual life. Taking over from his friend Alexandre Koyré, he holds a series of lectures from 1933-1939 on Hegel. His contentious, eclectic Marxist interpretation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit will have a strong influence on many of the post-war French intellectuals. These lectures are attended by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Lacan, and Georges Bataille, among others.
With the outbreak of the 2nd World War, he disappears from the philosophical scene, turning his back on academic philosophy. He is naturalised as a French citizen and enlisted in the army in 1939. Yet, France loses the war too quickly for him to see any action. After the war, thanks to the help of one of his former students, he gets a position in the French ministry of economy, where he will work until the end of his life in 1968. He is chief adviser to the head of the French delegation to GATT and substantially shapes the EEA. At the same time, the rumour persists that he is spying for the KGB. When he is invited by the Socialist German Student Union in 1967 to hold a lecture in Berlin, he advises them to study Ancient Greek. He calls himself a "Sunday philosopher", for he is still following his philosophical pursuits in his spare time.
More recently, some of his thought received renewed attention. Amongst current European developments, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben pointed towards an idea developed by Kojève just after the 2nd World War: a "Latin empire" to counterbalance the political and economic weight of Germany within the European Union.[ii]
The diary is a curious collection of thoughts, poems and impressions. Since he does not write about his experiences or the tumultuous political times through which he lives, one must not expect a historic document. Instead, it serves him as a notebook for ideas he wishes to use in his later work. In brief essays, he develops some ideas or criticises something he has read. Most of it is rather premature and underdeveloped, yet the reader gets an impression of what is on this young man's mind.
It consist of three parts, spanning the time from 1 January 1917 – 3 October 1924. The earliest notes (1 January 1917 – 10 September 1920) have been lost, when young Kojève's suitcase was stolen while he was travelling westwards. Their loss, he is convinced, is irreparable. Nonetheless, he attempts a reconstruction of 3 years' worth of thought.
Looking through these ideas wrests a smiling admiration from the reader, for it truly requires determination and conviction on Kojève's part not to be discouraged by the utter preposterousness of this undertaking. And yet, it is impossible for the reader to imagine that a person of such sensitivity as Kojève would not be aware of how ridiculous he sounds when writing: "I don't know if I manage or if it is worth my while to translate my thoughts into mathematical formula. If not, inevitably, a different thinker will do it after me."[iii]
But it is not merely his astounding self-confidence that makes for an entertaining read. Albeit that many of his thoughts do not strike the reader nearly as original and precious as they seem to have been to him, others, for instance his reflections on art and sexuality, are more fascinating.
Concerning art, it is one essay that deserves particular attention. In it, he compares Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Madonna, and he demonstrate a subtlety of thinking and a clarity in writing that is missing in his more metaphysical reflections. Although the ideas he puts forward are unfinished and skeletal, they point towards an interesting thought.
One dominating feature of Mona Lisa's portrait are her eyes. He sees her dull, unintelligent eyes as empty, lacking the depth of human eyes. While they express everything, they are beyond the expressible. Because of this pure barrier, they are for him the eyes of God, the eyes of eternity.[iv] The other feature are her lips. Her smile is the smile of remembrance, of past lust and happiness. The human contrast of mortality to the divine, eternal gaze of her eyes. Together, they underwrite her distanced, knowing look. Kojève writes: "The face of the Gioconda is the face that symbolises the cold lust of a human who has lived and experienced everything, for whom nothing matters; the face of a half-woman, half-goddess, the face of a former medieval devil."[v]
In contrast, Da Vinci's Madonna cannot be reached by the viewer. She is beyond human pain and pleasure. Her eyes are averted as she is looking at the child in her arms. Her whole complexion is devotion, which consumes her personality. She disappears in motherhood, out of love for he son. Her faint smiles gives to understand that she too has suffered and has loved; it is this knowing, dying smile that gives us to understand that she has lived and forgiven everything. "The eyes of the Gioconda are the eyes of non-being, but the smile of the living; for Madonna, the smile is only a mirror of a long forgotten life."[vi]
His great, unashamed honesty allows him to write masterfully even about very intimate episodes and thoughts. The way in which he approaches these topics shall prove truly influential in later French philosophy, notably in the work of Georges Bataille. The translator writes in the introduction: "Both the clearly discernible erotization of the philosophical discourse and a certain reflexive neutralisation of the primary, natural desire will become, through the coming decades, the central topics of the entire French post-war philosophy."[vii] One entry, called "Dialogue about Love" from 3 June 1917 (hence reconstructed) illustrates these two tendencies particularly well. There he describes a philosophical exchange with an unnamed woman. On the one hand, the erotic aesthetic of philosophy is made apparent by the situation itself: the two are in a room that is getting darker as the sun is setting but still warm from the summer day. The woman is reclining naked on the bed, while he is sitting in a chair. On the other hand, they talk with a distance and sobriety about "passion, tenderness and love", which stands in stark contrast to the sensual situation. In Kojève's telling, there is a constant interplay between the two levels, which makes this episode the perhaps strongest entry in the whole diary. Indeed, it is again the form and frame he gives his thoughts that make them worth reading, more so than the content.
The main theme of the diary, the border between artist and charlatan, the golden mean between over- and understatement, is not resolved. But Kojève's Diary of a Philosopher, by approaching this thin line from both sides and crossing it multiple times, helps to locate it. Tracing the boundary across philosophy, religion, poetry and art, the diary gives not only an impression of how intriguing a philosopher Kojève was, but also of how delicate a thinker.
Kojève, A.: Tagebuch eines Philosophen. Aus dem Russischen und Italienischen von Simon Missal. Nachwort von Marco Filoni. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-88221-395-9.
[iii] „Ich weiß nicht, ob es mir gelingen wird und ob es sich für mich lohnen würde, meine Gedanken in mathematische Formeln zu übertragen. Wenn nicht, dann wird es unvermeidlich ein anderer Denker nach mir tun." (p. 99)
[iv] „Mit ihrer kristallinen Reinheit, ihrer nicht vorhandenen Tiefe, mehr noch mit der Abwesenheit eines dahinter verborgenen Grunds menschlicher Psyche, mit ihrem alles Ausdrückenden, alles Einschließenden, der alles Sprechenden oder – was dasselbe ist- mit ihrer Außer-Ausdrücklichkeit, mit der Widerspieglung des Außerformellen und mit ihrem absoluten Schweigen sind diese Augen nicht die Augen eines Menschen, sondern Gottes, die Augen der Ewigkeit, der Blick des Nichtexistierenden, kalt wie die Idee des Seins selbst." (p. 102)
[v] „Das Gesicht der Gioconda is das Gesicht, das die kalte Lust eines Menschen symbolisiert, der durch alles hindurchgegangen ist und alles erfahren hat und dem schon alles gleichgültig ist, das Gesicht einer Halb-Frau, einer Halb-Göttin, das Gesicht einer einstigen mittelalterlichen Teuflin." (ibid.)
[vi] „Die Gioconda hat die Augen des Nichtseins, aber das Lächeln der Lebenden, bei Madonna ist das Lächeln nur der Spiegel eines vergangenen, längst vergessenen Lebens." (p. 103)
[vii] "Sowohl die deutlich erkennbare Erotisierung des philosophischen Diskurses als auch eine gewisse reflexive Neutralisierung des primären, natürlichen Begehrens werden im Verlauf der nächsten Jahrzehnte zu den zentralen Themen der gesamten französischen Philosophie der Nachkriegszeit." (p. 8)
The right to migrate trumps politics as usual
by Thomas R. Wells
The current immigration crisis in Europe has, finally, generated much soul searching among European citizens, as well as a great deal of unfortunate political squabbling among European governments. Yet a great deal of the debate still assumes the centrality of national political concerns when this is, morally speaking, irrelevant.
The right to migrate is a meta-right. As a practical matter, access to human rights, including social and economic rights, depends on governments. Since some governments are uninterested or unable to protect or support human rights, people must be free to move to other states where their access to human rights is acceptable, including such socio-economic rights as a fair market wage for their labour. The very point of the idea of human rights is that human beings do not belong to their states, and what they deserve is not to be determined solely by the benevolence or otherwise of the state they happen to be born into.
My case goes beyond refugees - those fleeing armed conflict or persecution. But refugees are a good place to start because most sovereign governments have formally acknowledged, with legally binding treaties, that the right to migrate trumps ordinary political concerns. They did so in the aftermath of the ethnic cleansing unleashed by the conclusion of the second world war, and for the kinds of reasons identified by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, the awful failure of European states to accept stateless Jewish and other ethnic minority refugees in the 1930s.
When refugees request asylum it must be granted, subject only to checking the basis of their claim. States acknowledge that they cannot refuse asylum merely on the basis of the economic costs or political unpopularity it would impose. The granting of asylum does not fall within the usual logic of statecraft in which a policy is considered from the perspective of the political interests of a governing party, taking into account how it will play to popular prejudices, how it fits with internal party disputes, its consistency with budgetary and other manifesto promises, its influence on the viability of other policies the government wants to pursue, and so on. None of these have standing in the face of the moral emergency of aiding refugees to regain their lives.
As Ban Ki-moon put it, "Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures."
As is clear from the present crisis in and around Europe, and in other parts of the world such as the Andaman Sea, many states are currently failing in their moral - and legal – obligations to refugees. This is often portrayed as an exercise of sovereignty. Actually it is a failure - an inability to govern oneself according to the principles one has laid down.
One should not confuse sovereignty with degrees of freedom. Sovereignty is about autonomy, a demand that others recognise and respect that you are your own master. But that is not quite the same thing as doing whatever one likes, whenever one likes. That is not self-mastery but a child's idea of what being a grown up must be like. There is nothing in the idea of sovereignty that is incompatible with making and keeping self-binding promises, for example to the UN Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees. Quite the opposite. Being recognised by other states as capable of promising, of holding oneself answerable for what one says, is the essence of sovereignty, a requirement for recognition as an equal by other states.
What a number of European states have recently been asserting is not sovereignty but nationalism. Nationalism is the idea that your country is morally exceptional, and therefore need not hold itself to its promises, or to the rules and moral standards of international cooperation, or to the universal moral principles its government voluntarily espouses, such as human rights. Think for a moment. You probably know someone who behaves like that. The technical term for them is asshole (a point I have elaborated on elsewhere).
When I say that states confronted by refugees must assist without counting the costs, I mean that the mere political and economic inconvenience refugees pose is irrelevant to states' moral obligation. That doesn't mean that costs are irrelevant, only that they must be considered by different standards.
1. Is accepting more than a certain number of refugees likely to do more harm than good?
Refugees trump ordinary political and economic concerns because their need for a state that will recognise them as rights holders is more significant and urgent than meeting the morally and legally established bu mundane expectations of existing citizens, for example not to lose their place at the front of the queue for social housing. Refugees thus present the same kind of moral priority as the victims of a great natural disaster, like Japan's tsunami, which may likewise require suspending or curtailing the ordinary rules and ordinary government service to unaffected citizens while the emergency is addressed.
One exception to this would be if accepting refugees brought a significant risk of catastrophic state failure. For example, causing a civil war that would newly endanger one's own citizens as well as the refugees. This kind of existential risk arguably applies to Lebanon (and to a lesser degree, Jordan), where 25% of the population are now Syrian refugees. The scale of this movement of people combines with the underlying fragility of the Lebanese state as a stalemate between civil war factions who are also involved in the Syrian civil war. Not only do Lebanon and Jordan lack the resources to provide adequately for the refugees who have arrived there – there is no way their economies could absorb them - there is a real risk that they might implode and generate even more refugees.
But refugee flows do not pose such an existential risk to any European state. The EU has 500 million people and a GDP of $19 trillion. It is pretty obvious that we could economically politically afford to welcome all 5 million or so Syrian refugees who have fled the country so far (and the rest of the world's refugees too, for that matter) without giving up anything of comparable moral significance. (No, Viktor Orban, Muslims do not count as an existential threat to Hungary.) In addition, the real existential threat to Lebanon and Jordan provides even greater reason for European states to step up and send ferries and 747s to bring the refugees to a place where they can get on with rebuilding their lives.
2. What is the shape of my supply curve for migrant infrastructure and how does it relate to those of other states?
Ordinary cost-benefit analysis is suspended in the case of refugees: refugees do not have to justify their expense in the same way as a new road. But providing space for refugees to build a new life for themselves requires not just moral commitment and general purpose economic resources, but time. Housing and public services like schools and hospitals are finely attuned to the size of the current population. Increasing their capacity takes time, as is demonstrated by how long it takes even very wealthy well-governed countries to rebuild such infrastructure for their own citizens after a large-scale disaster such as hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown.
This provides a justification for states that recognise the moral priority of refugees to seek to coordinate their obligation with other states in proportion to their immediate absorptive capacity, as was done for the 200,000 Hungarian refugees of the 1956 failed revolution (which Orban has managed to forget) and, more grudgingly, for the 2.5 million refugees of Indochina's civil wars. Germany's recent opening and then abrupt closure of its borders to refugees can be seen in this light. Refugees need more than a tent in a muddy field. Other states, in and out of Europe, have a responsibility to step up. They also have a general obligation to incorporate a capacity to quickly accommodate largish numbers of refugees into their future urban planning.
The moral case for admitting refugees concerns an obligation to assist those in severe need by any state in a position to do so effectively, to the extent of sending commercial airliners to collect them from their holding camps on the borders of conflict zones. In contrast, the moral case for migration is negative, it concerns the obligation of states not to do harm.
Although people migrate for various reasons (as rich world citizens like myself do all the time) - to pursue studies, to follow love, to explore another culture, to further one's career – I will focus on the pure economic case: seeking higher wages than are available in one's home country.
An individual's earnings depend not only on their talents and effort but on circumstances outside their control that determine which talents they are able to develop (to learn computer programming for instance) and the market value of their talents (what jobs are available and how well they pay). Those born into citizenship of a poor country will be subject to lower educational and labour market opportunities than those born into rich countries. Some people say this is unfair. It's much more than that.
First, it is inefficient. On the reasonable assumption that raw talent is equally distributed around the world, a great many brilliant entrepreneurs, movie stars, concert pianists, philosophers, and Olympic athletes who would enrich our world are missing, along with practitioners of many thousands of less flashy professions. If the talents of the poor could be connected with the kind of opportunities for human development that rich world countries provide for their citizens the whole world would be tremendously richer. Rich enough to to easily pay for the costs of providing those opportunities.
Second, it is an arbitrary constraint on liberty. Poor economies offer fewer highly skilled jobs and lower wages for the same jobs as in the rich world. Consider the sweatshop worker in Cambodia. Why does she earn a mere couple of dollars a day to sew shirts when someone doing the same job in France would earn a hundred dollars? The long answer is about economics. Labour productivity is higher in France than Cambodia, meaning that people have more capital to work with. That means that the wages for sewing shirts in France must compete with the wages for other jobs requiring similar skills, or people will go do them instead.
But the short answer is about politics. The Cambodian woman earns $2 per day because the French government will not allow her to move to France. Free trade has traditionally meant the free movement of goods between countries. The neoliberal version of globalisation extended this to the free movement of capital, so that rich world companies could build factories in poor countries. But the free movement of people never happened. Cambodians have less rights than the shirts they sew to a global market price for their labour. They are prohibited from bringing their talents into competition with ours, and this protectionism is the cause of much of their poverty.
Consider, by way of a parallel, the injustice imposed by segregated labour markets, such as the colour line in American baseball or the exclusion of women from more than a handful of jobs. Such measures were exercises of political power by a dominant group to protect the perceived interests of one set of workers by limiting others' access to the better paying labour market. When the pundits and politicians complain that allowing migrants to come in would lead to fewer or worse paying jobs, one should remember that they also said that about allowing women to do 'men's work', and they were as wrong about that as they are now.
Governments have a clear duty not to obstruct the citizens of poor countries from gaining a fair market price for their skills and labour, equal pay for equal work. So says moral theory. The socialists, a nicer more motherly version of the nationalists we met above but no less opposed to universal moral principles, are aghast at this because they do not see how a right to migrate can be reconciled with the welfare state they built up with such struggle and have spent the last 35 years trying to cling on to. But this does not seem an insuperable problem. One can treat economic migrants like guest workers without denying them their right to work, for example by restricting access to social insurance systems for several years until they have paid a certain amount into the system (as David Cameron is proposing that Britain do for EU migrants). One can also reduce the limits gradually so that any disruptions are moderated and there is time to ramp up the urban infrastructure like schools and housing that migrants own taxes will pay for.
Migration should be recognised as a special kind of human right. It permits individuals who lack central human rights, whether those be socio-economic or outright persecution and fear for their lives, to act for themselves to escape the states which impose or allow such problems. As a citizen of a rich country I have been able with minimal bureaucratic hassle to live in 5 different countries on 3 continents. It is unconscionable that the governments of rich countries, including my own, refuse to extend that basic right to the very people for whom it is most vital.