by Joan Harvey

If you can get the old voting against state-subsidized healthcare, and the poor voting in favor of cuts to inheritance tax, then democratic capitalism really is workable after all. —Malcolm Bull

As the objective view of the world recedes, it is replaced by intuition as to which way things are heading now. —William Davies

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine /in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,/a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways  —Maggie Smith “Good Bones”

Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

Mark Twain, in his wonderful Letters from the Earth, nails the essence of human unreason. It’s not just the creation story with a talking snake, but how man has conceived of heaven, at least in Christianity.

[H]e has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race—and of ours—sexual intercourse!

It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!

A singing, harp-playing heaven is, as Twain points out, like the most boring church service ever, and for eternity. Yet this was the creative fantasy the main religion of the West landed on, and people for years somehow bought it. (The Islamic version is perhaps closer to what Twain had in mind, but still an extraordinarily shabby version of the imagined possible). If people are going to imagine an afterlife, not only could they be having sexual intercourse as much as they want with whoever they want with no negative consequences, but they could easily take it farther, giving themselves many more sex organs and erogenous zones and pleasures that put orgasms to shame. (I’m sure science fiction writers have gone there with no problem). Throw in some great powder skiing for me between bouts in the sack, and no knee pain. And for those who don’t like sex or don’t want it all the time, let heaven be whatever they like, endless gourmet meals with no weight gain, fantastic chess matches in Turkish baths, conversation with their philosopher heroes, horseback riding on perfect steeds. Read more »

Liberal politics and the contingency of history

by Emrys Westacott

UnknownIt is hard at present to think about anything other than the recent election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. This is a cataclysmic and potentially catastrophic event for both America and the world. Severe narcissism and immense power are a volatile combination that usually ends badly. And with the Republicans controlling all branches of government, the hard right are in an unprecedentedly strong position to implement much of their agenda, from scrapping efforts to combat climate change to passing massive tax cuts for the wealthy

Already, much ink has been spilled on what Hilary Clinton, the Democrats, the liberal elite, the media, the intelligentsia, and anyone else who opposed Trump, got wrong. But the first lesson to be drawn from the election is that history is radically contingent.

Reading post mortems on the election reminded me of listening to soccer pundits explaining the result of a close game. In the game itself, the losing team may have hit the post twice, had a goal disallowed for an incorrect offside call, and been denied a clear penalty; the winning team perhaps scored once following an untypical defensive slip. Yet the pundits will explain the result as due to the losing team's inability to cope with their opponent's midfield diamond, along with their failure to spread the play wide. Their explanations are invariably blamings. In truth, though, the result could easily have been, and four times out of five would have been, different; in which case the talk would have been all about the ineffectiveness of the midfield diamond….etc.

Exactly the same sort of thing can be seen in political punditry. The contest between Clinton and Trump was extremely close. Clinton won the popular vote–with counting still going on she has a lead of close to 1.5 million votes–but Trump won the electoral college: which means, given the peculiar and outmoded system, that Trump won. Explanations are legion. Clinton was a hopelessly flawed candidate. The Democrats took their base for granted. The Democrats ignored the plight of the working class. The coastal elites are out of touch with the heartland….etc.

But as Nate Silver and many others have pointed out, a small shift—one vote in a hundred or less—in three of the swing states and Clinton would have won. In that case, the hot political topic today would be the crisis in the Republican party, the gulf between its established leadership and the Trumpistas, the impossibility of a Republican winning the white house so long as the party continues to alienate minorities and millennials…. etc.

Given the dire outcome of the election for the Democrats and for liberal causes generally, it is natural and sensible for liberals to ask what went wrong. But it is important in doing so, to not exaggerate problematic factors, and to keep hold of what was right.

Three areas are especially subject to scrutiny: the candidate; the platform; and the strategy.

Read more »

Removing the Blades from Hume’s Guillotine

by Tauriq Moosa

David-Hume-Scotland-17111776-289536 Hume’s Guillotine: “One cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”. This thesis, which comes from a famous passage in Hume's Treatise [says]: there is a class of statements of fact which is logically distinct from a class of statements of value. No set of statements of fact by themselves entails any statement of value. Put in more contemporary terminology, no set of descriptive statements can entail an evaluative statement without the addition of at least one evaluative premise. To believe otherwise is to commit what has been called the naturalistic fallacy.”

– John Searle, ‘How to Derive an “Ought” from an “Is”’, The Philosophical Review, 1964

Beware, people. This is a long piece. Even I’m uncertain about it. Here we go then.


Major ethicists like Immanuel Kant and indeed – to an extent – Thomas Aquinas sought to establish a rational basis for deriving moral considerations. Why rationality above other justifications? Consider: one and one is two. This is a statement that appears to hold true regardless of the state of the world, whether we’re dreaming or awake (as Descartes famously pointed out in his Meditations), whether we’re in pain, and so on. However there is an implicit assumption being made here, too: that if we do agree that one and one is two, we who agree to this statement are rational agents; that is, beings who accept the constraints and rules of logic and rationality.

This appears to only beg the question: Why should anyone accept that one and one is two? (This problem so vexed the young Bertrand Russell, that he nearly mentally destroyed himself as an adult trying to establish conclusively that one and one is two.) As Sam Harris has said, how do you convince a person not interested in rationality to use rationality? As soon as you start making rational arguments, you’ve already lost.

Read more »