Philosopher Peter Singer on global capitalism and revolution

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The French Revolution was both bloody and world-altering enough that it is still inspiring new books today. More recently, the Cuban revolution showed how socialist idealism can devolve into dictatorship. In both cases, many innocent civilians lost their lives in pursuit of a greater cause. Yet a utilitarian like Singer—judging actions by their collective impact on all living things over time—says that even those messy revolutions may be justifiable. “The question is, do they have to go wrong? Is it inevitable? Is it part of human nature that they go wrong?” he asks. “Maybe in spite of all the bloodshed and things that went wrong, the revolution did lead to the spread of greater equality, of civil rights, of the rule of law throughout Europe. And that was undoubtedly a good thing. Chou En Lai was famously asked whether he thought the French revolution was a good thing and he said ‘It’s too early to tell.’ I’d be prepared to hazard a guess and say it was a good thing.”

pub. 10/2016

 

The jobs are out there, but culture is in the way

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About 20 million men between the prime working ages of 20 and 65 had no paid work in 2015, and seven million men have stopped looking altogether.

The rage and despair of some of them helped propel Donald Trump to the White House. They may be waiting for him to deliver on his promise to bring back well-paid manufacturing jobs. Economists fear a long, fruitless wait.

In the meantime, the jobs most in demand — like nursing and nurse assistants, home health care aides, occupational therapists or physical therapists — sit open.

pub. 06/2017

Feeling powerful prevents us from understanding others

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Subjects under the influence of power, [Keltner] found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view…

…And when [Obhi] put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy. Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the “power paradox”: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.

pub. online 06/2017 (in print 07/2017)

A short meditation on US propaganda and politics in the 20th century

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“Democracy is never a thing done,” MacLeish said. “Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing.”…

…Critics called MacLeish naïve: winning a war requires deception. F.D.R., to some degree, agreed. In June, 1942, he replaced the Office of Facts and Figures with the Office of War Information.

pub. 06/2017

Published in the paper edition as “The Strategy of Truth”; audio version here.

What is the special counsel doing, anyway?

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Possible financial crimes

We know less about this prong than the other two. The Post reported last month that “in addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.”

pub. 06/2017

You’ll read this as either solidarity or as a five-minute challenge in empathy building

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I started begging people to say something, anything. When people responded at all it was to say something like, “I don’t think it’s my place,” or “I’m not really comfortable.” I was falling apart and my community was afraid of being uncomfortable….time and time again I ran into the wall of apathy that said, “this is where we stop. This is the limit of how much we can invest in your humanity.”

pub. 06/2017