Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Health in politics

October 20, 2008

Will McCain die of cancer in the next 10 years? Just how much did Obama smoke? Not only do some people apparently think that these are legitimate questions to be raised and discussed in public; candidates are to be criticized for less than full disclosure of their medical records. Are you serious? Should candidates really be chosen for their cholesterol levels?

But isn’t there a legitimate worry? What if the president gets seriously ill? Or dies? Well, that what vice-presidents are for. No, this public concern for the candidates’ health is much more expression of the kind of fetish health has become than expression of a legitimate worry.

But healthy doesn’t mean invincible. Just the other day, ever healthy and youthful seeming Jörg Haider of Austria killed himself in car crash, drunk and speeding, but still unexpectedly. But at least in his case we now know for sure he’s dead, which is more than can be said for another “beloved leader”, Kim Jong Il. He has disappeared from the public sphere (insofar as this is possible in the absence of a public sphere), but speculations about his death are denied.

How is Fidel Castro doing these days?

Tax invasion

February 23, 2008

It is mostly small countries, many of them in Europe. Their most important good: privacy. Laws that hide bank accounts and protect data. What they fear most: attention. Naturally then, Liechtenstein was not pleased when German officials began far-reaching investigations, tracking down a large number of German citizens with secret accounts in Liechtenstein. The claim: tax evasion, on a very large scale.

There are some legal issues about how the crucial data was obtained (apparently the BND (the German secret service) bought the information from an undisclosed source). But mostly reactions in the news have ranged from outrage at the systematic way in which monetary elites have manipulated the system to sheer schadenfreude about them being caught.

But it actually seems difficult to agree with either sentiment. Not just because most people engage in some form of instinctive tax evasion – the difference in absolute numbers and income level is too significant for that. It is more the nasty suspicion that this is not a victory for the man on the street at all. In fact, neither side seems particularly worthy of empathy. The moral standing of the monetary elites in question has suffered a number of severe blows in the past few years due to numerous other scandals. But can we really rejoice in the triumph of a state that is essentially a success in eliminating privacy?

Beyond the legal issues, moral questions are lurking. Questions about the legitimacy of taxes and the duties one might have to society, questions about privacy and respect thereof in light of the opportunity of obtaining data.

To be investigated:

January 5, 2008

Philosophy prides itself to be concerned with arguments: finding valid (and preferably sound) arguments, and exposing and rejecting fallacious ones. Ideally a philosopher will form opinions on the basis of good arguments only.

Few are naive enough, of course, to believe that the most successful persuasion happens by rational arguments alone. But maybe we can expect philosophers to be more aware of fallacies and less prone to buying into mere rhetoric? Political debate and advertising could make for two interesting test cases here. Takers?

A moralist on cynicism and climate change

December 14, 2007

Is uncertainty really the biggest problem in our dealing (or rather: not dealing) with climate change? Klaus Michael Meyer-Abich (physicist and philosopher) doesn’t think so.

In an incredibly frank interview (in German, sorry) he suggests that what really hinders the industrialized nations from taking action is not uncertainty, but objective costs an interests. The objective costs for developed nations for reducing their CO2 now are much higher than the costs they will have to face in dealing with  the effects of climate change in their own countries. Less developed countries in the South, on the other hand, are not as responsible for CO2 emissions (he does not mean India and China, obviously), but they will be affected in worse ways, and have fewer means to deal with the results.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

journalist: “But even in the industrialized nations we have an interest in stability in the Third World, because we need resources and because hunger and war could be threatening to our own well-being as well.”

K.M. M-A: “Well, that’s what they say, but is actually true? Sure, we have an interest in world peace. But de facto we’d rather build walls than deal with the causes of strife. […]”

journalist: “But you aren’t without hope all-together. After all, you don’t think we are openly cynical.”

K.M. M-A: “You see, there is an unconscious cynicism: we aren’t doing anything, but quietly hope that things will somehow be o.k.. Then of course there is also a conscious cynicism: sure, we caused CC, but then, we also benefit from it. Let the south deal with the problems on their own. Now I don’t think that most of us are really capable of being that cold-blooded, […], but we need an open debate about these issues if we want to stop fooling ourselves. […]”

Congratulations to Venezuela!

December 3, 2007

Last night you voted in favor of democracy. It was a close vote, but you won! Keep it up!

This makes for especially good news compared with the ‘elections’ in Russia…Europeans, it’s true, winter is around the corner, but you cannot continue to put energy needs over and above the Russian people!

Measuring the world

November 27, 2007

Today the latest Human Development Index has been released. It is in many ways our best bet at estimating how well countries do in terms of average quality of life. There are many things this index doesn’t measure – income equality or human rights, for example. Not because anybody denies that these matter when it comes to quality of life, but because they are difficult to measure. It is already pretty complicated to make the data from different countries commensurate, as the authors themselves point out.

What is the point of such a report? It seems unlikely that many of us are going to move to Iceland to improve our quality of life. And it would seem unlikely that this  would in fact improve our quality of life. So the Index is not actually going to help us to make immediate practical decisions.

This even remains true on the national level. Even if, as a nation, we decide that we want to improve our standing on the Index, simply copying what other countries have done typically won’t do. Initial conditions are too different, economic and educational networks too fragile and complex to perform ad hoc changes.

But the Index does give you a measure of what’s possible. If countries have similar economic conditions to your own, the populations a similar level of education, yet one of them is doing significantly better than the other, this should give you reason to pause and rethink whether you are really making the most of your potential.