All posts filed under: Top Stories

The Case Against Factory Farming

Imagine a world in which every time you tied your shoes, you contributed to a process that resulted in the unintended death of thousands of people around the world. In this world, like ours, shoelaces are useful: they save time, are a little cheaper than using Velcro ties, and more convenient than wearing slip-on shoes. But when everyone ties their shoes, lots of people die, and many more suffer. This is a strange world to imagine, but it is a lot like the world we live in. The culprit isn’t tying shoelaces, of course, but consuming factory farmed meat. Factory farms are wicked places – one of the last bastions of legally sanctioned cruelty toward animals. But more than this, they are bad for human health. Like many practices, there are benefits as well as costs: meat from factory farms is cheaper than meat from free-range animals, often about half the price. This is partly because factory farms allow animals to occupy less space, which makes their production cheaper, and this savings is passed on …

What to do with Confederate Statues?

Could Russia teach us something about how to deal with difficult aspects of our national history? Many places in the South – from New Orleans to Louisville – are in the process of bringing down statues that glorify the Confederacy. That process raises questions about what to do with these remnants of the past. Do we just toss them into the ash bin of history, purging them as if they never existed? As a student of southern politics who recently traveled to Moscow, I wondered if we can look to the Russians and how they have treated their Soviet past. The situations are not perfectly analogous. Many Russian people lived through the Soviet experience. Not so for the Confederacy. That said, in both cases, there is the question of whether – and how – to purge the past. From propaganda to kitsch In Moscow, and in the former Soviet Union in general, there is Soviet detritus all over the place. Hammers and sickles are chiseled into buildings, bridges and other infrastructure. Sculptures of happy, heroic …

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out. A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.” To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime. *      *      * The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures. One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the …

Science, Sin, and Paternalism

A new study, published in July by University College London, has apparently revealed that men (but not women) who consume a large amount of sugar are at higher risk of long term mental illness. The scientists who carried out the study used their press release to support the British government’s so-called “sugar tax” — a special levy due to be imposed on certain soft drinks in 2018. One author expressed dismay that a similar policy was not enacted in other European countries, while another added a jab at the “commercial forces” that “exploit” the gullible, weak-willed populace by selling us sugary drinks. The message is loud and clear: sugar is bad, government regulation is good, and now we have the science to prove it. Although the study itself is available online, I am not qualified to provide a detailed critique of its methodology or conclusions. A cursory inspection suggests that it does at least look like science, and does not contain poetry, “performative autoethnography”, or any of the other gibberish that characterises the worthless vanity …

Liberalism in Peril

One of the more perplexing idiosyncrasies of American political discussion is the tendency to conflate liberal and radical leftists. This confusion has – bizarrely – succeeded in turning ‘liberal’ into a term of partisan abuse, even though a commitment to personal liberty was one of the unalienable rights enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. Besides which, in terms of what they think and – more importantly – how they think­­, the difference between liberals and radicals is large. A reminder of just how large was provided last week by the reaction to an OpEd column, in which liberal journalist Bari Weiss offered stern criticism of the four leaders of the Women’s March, an ad hoc movement created to foment feminist defiance under the Trump administration. The January march itself, Weiss stressed, had been a necessary and inspiring demonstration of public dissent. Nevertheless, its leaders’ well-documented history of alliances with a litany of racist and criminal figures makes them poor advocates of liberal resistance. By using opposition to the illiberalism of Trump as a platform …

Why Philosophers Fail to Influence Public Debate—and How They Can Do Better

We all know that philosophers are expert thinkers but most philosophers, and especially moral philosophers, want to change the world as well. As Plato noted, once one has ascended to the pinnacle of wisdom, or at least successfully defended a PhD thesis, it is hard to resist the temptation to come back down again and help to spread the light to others. However, for most of us, the idea of actually succeeding at this is little more than a dream. Attempts to get heard often end up backfiring or simply proving a waste of time and energy. Even philosophers whose work is in areas of real public interest, such as applied ethics, can struggle to get a hearing above the noise of pundits, preachers and politicians whose views, though ill-considered and even inconsistent, are far easier on the ear and offer people a sense of certainty in a baffling world. At a recent workshop on Personal Identity and Public Policy held at Oxford, we considered what to do about this problem. Our shared interest was …

America’s Real Pivot

Trump’s Warsaw speech marks an era defining the rebalancing of Euro-American relations Donald Trump’s speech in Poland, for lack of better words, marks the beginning of a new era in global politics. Speeches change history. Speeches mark the direction a great power is going, a pivot, if you will. That word has become a catchphrase in the last decade, but it can be used for Trump’s Warsaw speech, which marked the solidifying ideological lines of our times. Trump is no great orator. He isn’t linguistically gifted, either due to age, or due to his New York-ish snappy rhetorical style. Notwithstanding those limitations, this speech will possibly go down in history as one of the most important speeches of his presidency. Here’s the full speech in text, for the more academically minded. Everything about the speech was planned pitch perfect. The choice of the venue is Poland, a central European civilizational powerhouse, with immense historical importance. Poland has made cultural contributions and has a scientific legacy that can put any other European country to shame. In …