Tuesday 16 October 2018

Naipaul's Universal Civilization & its Indonesian alterity.

A few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, V.S Naipaul gave a speech to a bunch of rich Americans- id est ignorant hicks. In his suave, yet servile, manner, the soon to be Nobel laureate said-
 Eleven years ago, when I was traveling in Java, I met a young man who wanted above everything else to be a poet and to live the life of the mind.
This would have been in 1979. The poet-playwright, W.S Rendra, had just been thrown in jail by Suharto's brutal regime. More cautious poet-intellectuals- some who had studied in the U.S on scholarship- cultivated a hermetic art in the 'inner exile' of the academy. However, Indonesian poetry had already taken on protean, populist, yet intensely avant garde forms, precisely because of the repressive political atmosphere.

Unlike the Anglo Saxon world, where poetry declined in political influence and social relevance, Java's poets, some of whom were 'U.S returned', could bridge the gap between elite academia and popular culture in the manner of our own Girish Karnad, who had been a Rhodes Scholar in the early Sixties. India, of course, had a big film industry and so Karnad soon became better known for his films than his plays- like Yayati (which was based on a character in the Mahabharata).

Unlike Indonesia, where the Communists had been massacred fifteen years previously, India was hospitable to Radical poets many of whom found a lucrative market as lyricists for blockbuster films whose stars, in South India, frequently entered politics and became Chief Ministers- like Tamil Nadu's M.G.R or, a little later, Andhra Pradesh's N.T. Rama Rao.

 I suppose, the young man Naipaul met would have known of the 'Bollywood' influence on Dangdut music as represented by the superstar Rhoma Irama.
No doubt, the young man was more Left wing and cerebral than Irama who was moving in a homiletic Islamic direction in the Seventies. Thus he may have appreciated a scholarship to study in India, assuming one to Europe or America was out of reach, so as to engage with a flourishing radical intelligentsia- often Muslim by religion- not too differently situated from his own people, socio-economically speaking.

This could have been easily arranged. Naipaul had many admirers among both the Indian bureaucratic elite as well as the moneyed class.  Suppose he'd dropped a line to my Dad at the High Commission in London. The young Indonesian poet could have either got a PhD at JNU and then become a sexually predatory Leftist on an American campus or else gotten married & rich working for the likes of Laxmi Mittal.

But Naipaul did nothing for the young man. Why? He doubted there was anything to him because the fellow spoke of a desire to write and cultivate the life of the mind despite being an obvious nig-nog living in some Third World shithole. Thus poetry and the life of the mind were beyond his reach.
This ambition had been given him by his modern education; but it was hard for the young man to explain to his mother exactly what he was up to. This mother was a person of culture and elegance; that should be stressed. She was elegant in visage and dress and speech; her manners were like art; they were Javanese court manners.
So I asked the young man—bearing in mind that we were in Java, where ancient epics live on in the popular art of puppet plays, “But isn’t your mother secretly proud that you are a poet?” He said in English—I mention this to give a further measure of his education in his far-off Javanese town, “She wouldn’t have even a sense of what being a poet is.”
Which Mom in Hampstead or Bel Air would have felt pride hearing her 28 year old son wanted to be a poet? One might get nachas if one's ugly and unmarriageable daughter escapes a dingy existence working in a dry-cleaners by winning a Pulitzer for a volume of verse about the Holocaust. But, a 28 year old son? What on earth could he write about? Vietnam was not a popular war and Rehab or Bathhouses not yet entirely respectable themes.

Did anyone, anywhere, have a sense of why being a poet might be a good thing in 1979? What about 1959 or 1939? You'd have to go back to 1919 to find a Mom proud her son had published a volume of poetry- but only if he was dulce et decorum dead and posthumously decorated.

No doubt, there were a couple of Professors in shite University Departments who pretended otherwise but poetry was and is a superior type of finger painting for damaged or retarded people.
And the poet’s friend and mentor, a teacher at the local university, amplified this. The friend said, “The only way he would have of making the mother understand what he is trying to do would be to suggest that he is being a poet in the classical tradition. And she would find this absurd.
As would any Mom who learns her son is setting up to be the new Virgil or Dante.
She would reject it as an impossibility.” It would be rejected as an impossibility because for the poet’s mother the epics of her country—and to her, they would have been like sacred texts—already existed, had already been written.
They had only to be learned or consulted.
For the mother, all poetry had already been written. That particular book, it might be said, was closed: it was part of the perfection of her culture. To be told by her son, who was 28, not all that young, that he was hoping to be a poet would be like a devout mother in another culture asking her writer son what he intended to write next, and getting the reply, “I am thinking of adding a book to the Bible.” Or, to attempt another comparison, the young man would be like the character in the story by Borges who had taken upon himself the task of rewriting Don Quixote. Not just retelling the story, or copying out the Cervantes original; but seeking, by an extraordinary process of mind-clearing and re-creation, to arrive—without copying or falsity, and purely through original thought—at a narrative coinciding word by word with the Cervantes book.
Is Naipaul serious? He knew very well that Suharto's goons were arresting poets. The boy's Mum didn't want him to write poetry for that reason. It was not that the Javanese couldn't write a 'Yayati', based on the Mahabharata, or a 'Tughlaq' drawing on their Islamic history, Rather, it was that they might be jailed if they did.

The safer course would be to get a foreign scholarship- even to India- and leverage one's language skills to get either an academic gig or something better paid with a Business House.

To be 28 and a poet at ease with foreign journalists is dangerous under a Military Dictatorship.

But Naipaul tells his wealthy American audience- many of whom would be the descendants of refugees from similarly brutal regimes- that the young man couldn't be a poet because he belonged to a culture where no new poetry could exist. But this would also mean that Suharto would have had no need to jail W.S Rendra.  This would certainly have been a convenient truth,- for the American foreign policy establishment.

Naipaul next says something extraordinary-
I understood the predicament of the young man in central Java. His background, after all, was not far removed from the Hindu aspect of my own Trinidad background. We were an agricultural immigrant community from India. The ambition to become a writer, the introduction to writing and ideas about writing, had been given me by my father. He was born in 1906, the grandson of someone who had come to Trinidad as a baby. And somehow, in spite of all the discouragements of the society of that small agricultural colony, the wish to be a writer had come to my father; and he had made himself into a journalist, even with the limited opportunities for journalism existing in that colony.
Yes. Naipaul's father rose by the pen. Had he lived longer, he would have prospered under the transition to Democracy. He would probably have made a better, or at least more successful- that is richer- politician than Naipaul's Uncle- a Physicist at King's- who claimed that his knowledge of Einstein's theory of Relativity would enable him to speed up Time and thus achieve higher Economic Growth.

Trinidad was small. Java had a huge population. A Javanese poet might wield enormous influence- he might become the equal of a Tagore, an Iqbal, a Faiz or Neruda.

More- he might become a Bob Marley.
We were a people of ritual and sacred texts.
As was Tagore. He won a Nobel Prize and had an international following. Eliot, or Pound or Yeats were provincial by comparison.
We also had our epics—and they were the very epics of Java; we heard them constantly sung or chanted. But it couldn’t be said that we were a literary people.
Because Trinidad was too small a market. Java, on the other hand, was huge.
Our literature, our texts, didn’t commit us to an exploration of our world; rather, they were cultural markers, giving us a sense of the wholeness of our world and the alienness of what lay outside.
Nonsense! These guys had already crossed half the globe and they continued to be mobile- some slipped into Venezuela. Others went to New York. More, like Naipaul himself, went to Britain and did very well there.
I don’t believe that, in his family, anyone before my father would have thought of original literary composition.
Because there was no market for it. However, by the Nineteen Twenties, even small towns in Champaran- North Bihar- had high enough literacy and newspaper circulation to make journalism a viable career. But, already, there were novelists who could do quite well for themselves. Once the 'talkies' took off- that is, by the mid Thirties- novelists and lyricists could get rich. Premchand was able to pay off his own striking workers with the money he earned from a film about a strike featuring evil capitalists.
That idea came to my father in Trinidad with the English language; somehow, in spite of the colonial discouragements of the place, an idea of the high civilization connected with the language came to my father; and he was given some knowledge of literary forms.
If  Shivprasad Naipaul had sold 'Gurudeva' to a Hindi magazine and it had been a hit- which it might well have been- then he'd have happily switched to Hindi and returned to the motherland to live in a nice bungalow and travel around as a pracharak for the Arya Samaj. After Independence, he'd have got a comfortable sinecure in New Delhi.
Sensibility is not enough if you are going to be a writer. You need to arrive at the forms that can contain or carry your sensibility; and literary forms—whether in poetry or drama, or prose fiction—are artificial, and ever changing.
They are also irrelevant, if you have something to say and can do it in a witty, pithy, or otherwise affecting manner.
This was a part of what was passed on to me at a very early age. At a very early age—in all the poverty and bareness of Trinidad, far away, with a population of half a million—I was given the ambition to write books, and specifically to write novels, which my father had presented to me as the highest form. But books are not created just in the mind. Books are physical objects. To write them, you need a certain kind of sensibility; you need a language, and a certain gift of language; and you need to possess a particular literary form. To get your name on the spine of the created physical object, you need a vast apparatus outside yourself. You need publishers, editors, designers, printers, binder; booksellers, critics, newspapers and magazines and television where the critics can say what they think of the book; and, of course, buyers and readers.
Trinidad had petrol. There were people there- amidst all that poverty and bareness- who were given the ambition to make money out of that petrol. How did they do so? Did they develop a certain kind of sensibility? No. They found a market and sold the thing as fast as they could get it out of the ground.

Everybody depends on markets for almost everything. Sensibilities can't create markets. However, they can give one the illusion that one isn't serving a market by doing the same thing again and again. Bis repetita placent. 
I want to stress this mundane side of things, because it is easy to take it for granted; it is easy to think of writing only in its personal, romantic aspect. Writing is a private act; but the published book, when it starts to live, speaks of the cooperation of a particular kind of society. The society has a certain degree of commercial organization. It also has certain cultural or imaginative needs. It doesn’t believe that all poetry has already been written. It needs new stimuli, new writing; and it has the means of judging the new things that are offered.
Naipaul could scarcely have visited Java without reading Benedict Anderson. By the time he made this speech, he would surely have been familiar with the notion of 'print capitalism'. Even supposing he wasn't, the thing is too obvious to need spelling out. Printing presses made books cheap. Then the Cinema came along as did Radio and then Television. As a professional writer, Naipaul knew that only the market mattered. And markets depend on technology- not sensibility. Moreover, markets like linking up with each other, shrinking distances and making the global local.

This kind of society didn’t exist in Trinidad. It was necessary, therefore, if I was going to be a writer, and live by my books, to travel out to that kind of society where the writing life was possible. This meant, for me at that time, going to England.
Naipaul went to England to read English Literature. His Professor was Tolkien. However, it was his own stupidity and prejudice which made him his own little Hobbit hole in Universal Literature.
I was traveling from the periphery, the margin, to what to me was the center; and it was my hope that, at the center, room would be made for me. I was asking a lot—asking, in fact, more of the center than of my own society. The center, after all, had its own interests, its own worldview, its own ideas of what it wanted in novels. And it still does. My subjects were far-off: but a little room was made for me in the England of the 1950s. I was able to become a writer, and to grow in the profession. It took time; I was forty—and had been publishing in England for fifteen years—before a book of mine was seriously published in the United States.
But I always recognized, in England in the 1950s, that as someone with a writing vocation, there was nowhere else for me to go.
This was because Trinidad was a Colony. That was why the Brits spent a little money making room for people like Naipaul.
And if I have to describe the universal civilization, I would say that it is the civilization that both gave the prompting and the idea of the literary vocation; and also gave the means to fulfill that prompting; the civilization that enables me to make that journey from the periphery to the center; the civilization that links me not only to this audience but also that now not-so-young man in Java whose background was as ritualized as my own, and on whom—as on me—the outer world had worked, and given the ambition to write.
No civilization linked Naipaul to that not-so-young poet in Java, the year W.S Rendra was arrested. Common decency- civility, if you like- required Naipaul to do something for the young man- get him a scholarship or a grant or something of that sort-
It is easier today for someone setting out to be a writer from places like Java or Trinidad; subjects once far-off are no longer so. But I have never been able to take my career for granted. I know that there are still large tracts of the world where the cultural or economic conditions I described a while ago do not obtain, and someone like myself would not have been able to become a writer. I couldn’t have become the kind of writer I am in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union or black Africa. I don’t think I could have taken my gifts even to India.
Why? It is because India held back Radio and TV. Cinema was heavily taxed and had to rely on music sales- which is why the song-writer was better paid than the script-writer- but R.K Narayan (who had had to self publish after getting his start) was able to sell 'Guide' to a Bollywood-Hollywood collaboration and made a decent sum.

Writing in vernacular languages remained more prestigious and gained perquisites from the Government. However, those who wrote in English barely got by or had to emigrate to an American campus. Thus writing in English remained a 'genteel form of clerkship'. Some 'brown' authors tried the Tolkien route- S.P Somtow & the Rushdie of 'Grimus'- tried it, but it wasn't very profitable. Somtow was an aristocrat and returned to Thailand as a music composer. Rushdie- but we all know about Rushdie. In the end, he turned out to be an Englishman of the Boris Johnson type leveraging an exotic background merely in order to indulge in puerile jibes at the Religion of his Ancestors.

Saturday 13 October 2018

Moral Desert & Dennett & Caruso

The problem of 'moral desert' is closely linked to regret minimization. 

It is useful to have a notion of 'deserved outcome' alongside one of 'actual outcome'. In some contexts, it makes better sense to minimise regret with respect to the former not the latter.


Well, as Ecclesiastes says- For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

The regret minimizing course is to invest in 'non thetic awareness', Bataille's 'non-knowledge', agnotology, or any thing else which moves society to reliance upon open markets or zero knowledge proofs.

Moral desert then becomes a problem of 'mutual information' which in turn can be looked at as one of 'Brown clustering' which in turn could enable better 'directed information'. There is a technical reason why 'mutual information' must be 'ontologically dysphoric'- i.e. arise only by something like 'Cohen forcing'- if we evolve on an uncertain fitness landscape.

Obviously, there is a canonical way of saying this but, till South Park does 'the Good Place', I don't know what that is.

Meanwhile, here is Caruso & Denett's comedy double act- 
Caruso: [Dan,] you have famously argued that freedom evolves and that humans, alone among the animals, have evolved minds that give us free will and moral responsibility.
But, if a trait has evolved, then some members of the species won't have it or will have it in a different way. In that case nothing involving universal morality could be predicated of it. 
I, on the other hand, have argued that what we do and the way we are is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control, and that because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions, in a particular but pervasive sense – the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame and praise, punishment and reward.
The fact that something can't be truly predicated doesn't mean it can't be usefully predicated- i.e feature in pragmatics. We can get along just fine without 'true' Justice. But we do need a more or less independent, protocol bound, juristic process to get along. Thus, it is enough that there be 'natural' or 'canonical' Schelling focal points for coordination games to proceed in an orderly fashion as if there were a 'true' public signal giving rise to a robust correlated equilibrium.
While these two views appear to be at odds with each other, one of the things I would like to explore in this conversation is how far apart we actually are. I suspect that we may have more in common than some think – but I could be wrong. To begin, can you explain what you mean by ‘free will’ and why you think humans alone have it?

Dennett: A key word in understanding our differences is ‘control’. [Gregg,] you say ‘the way we are is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control’ and that is true of only those unfortunates who have not been able to become autonomous agents during their childhood upbringing. There really are people, with mental disabilities, who are not able to control themselves, but normal people can manage under all but the most extreme circumstances, and this difference is both morally important and obvious, once you divorce the idea of control from the idea of causation. Your past does not control you; for it to control you, it would have to be able to monitor feedback about your behaviour and adjust its interventions – which is nonsense.

In fact, if your past is roughly normal, it contains the causal chains that turned you into an autonomous, self-controlling agent. Lucky you. You weren’t responsible for becoming an autonomous agent, but since you are one, it is entirely appropriate for the rest of us to hold you responsible for your deeds under all but the most dire circumstances. As [the American country singer] Ricky Skaggs once put it: ‘I can’t control the wind, but I can adjust the sails.’ To suppose that some further condition should be met in order for you or anyone else to be ‘truly deserving’ is to ignore or deny the manifest difference in abilities for self-control that we can observe and measure readily. In other words, the rationale or justification for excusing someone, holding them not deserving of criticism or punishment, is their deficit in this competence. We don’t try to reason with bears or babies or lunatics because they aren’t able to respond appropriately. Why do we reason with people? Why do we try to convince them of conclusions about free will or science or causation or anything else? Because we think – for good reason – that in general people are reasonable, are moved by reasons, can adjust their behaviour and goals in the light of reasons presented to them. There is something indirectly self-refuting in arguing that people are not moved by reasons! And that is the key to the kind of self-control which we are justified in treating as our threshold for true desert.
We would long ago have abandoned reasoning if our aim was to change others' behaviour because, experience has shown us, only economic incentives, or juristic penalties, can do that. However, being able to give reasons for our actions has a signalling or screening function. 

Caruso: I don’t disagree with you that there are important differences between agents who have the kind of rational control you highlight and those who lack it. Such a distinction is undeniable. A normal adult who is responsive to reasons differs in significant ways from one who is suffering from psychopathy, Alzheimer’s or severe mental illness.
This is merely a difference of degree. Furthermore, 'normal adults' may also lack capacity of a similar kind by reason of lack of knowledge or means or opportunity or motive.
I have no issue, then, with acknowledging various degrees of ‘control’ or ‘autonomy’ – in fact, I think you and other compatibilists have done a great job highlighting these differences. My disagreement has more to do with the conditions required for what I call ‘basic desert’ moral responsibility. As a free-will skeptic, I maintain that the kind of control and reasons-responsiveness you point to, though important, is not enough to ground basic-desert moral responsibility – the kind of responsibility that would make us truly deserving of blame and praise, punishment and reward in a purely backward-looking sense.
Nothing is 'grounded'. It is either useful of useless. In any case, grounding could always be in something like Bataille's 'base materialism' or involve weird 'zero-point energy', so why bother with it?

Consider, for example, the various justifications one could give for punishing wrongdoers. One justification, the one that dominates our legal system, is to say that they deserve it.
Nonsense! The legal system only punishes illegal acts. It takes no cognisance whatsoever of all manner of wrong-doing- e.g. sticking pins in a voodoo doll with the intent of causing excruciating pain to me.
This retributive justification for punishment maintains that punishment of a wrongdoer is justified for the reason that he/she deserves something bad to happen to them just because they have knowingly done wrong.
But this is not the theory which underpins our legal system. Legal positivism has no trace of it. 
Such a justification is purely backward-looking.
Rubbish! Consider the famous case of Regina vs Shivpuri. The letter of the law said that intent- which is forward looking- is enough. This was upheld. Shivpuri, who studied Law at S.O.A.S, thought he couldn't be convicted because it was 'impossible attempt'- he hadn't brought any drugs into the country, rather he had proof that he had brought in some thing which looked like drugs but was  harmless. The Court still thought he had 'intent' and so he was sent to jail.
For the retributivist, it is the basic desert attached to the criminal’s immoral action alone that provides the justification for punishment.
Not necessarily. The retributivist may just get off on punishing people, or seeing them punished, and suggests that this desert attaches itself to him with respect to criminals but not law-abiding people.
This means that the retributivist position is not reducible to consequentialist considerations that try to maximise good outcomes in the future, nor in justifying punishment does it appeal to wider goods such as the safety of society or the moral improvement of those being punished.
But, it could easily do so by assigning a value to the pleasure taken in another's punishment, or by postulating a 'demonstration effect'. 
I contend that retributive punishment is never justified since agents lack the kind of free will and basic-desert moral responsibility needed to ground it.
You could also contend that retributive punishment is never justified since the Nicaraguan horcrux of the neighbor's cat said so. The epistemic value of both statements is equal. They are wholly arbitrary.
While we may be sensitive to reasons, and this may give us the kind of voluntary control you mention, the particular reasons that move us, along with the psychological predispositions, likes and dislikes, and other constitutive factors that make us who we are, themselves are ultimately the result of factors beyond our control.
But not beyond the control of the Nicaraguan horcrux of the neighbor's cat.
And this remains true whether those factors include determinism, indeterminism, chance, or luck.
Which is why no situation where we have caused a person to be unjustly punished was our fault or represented a moral failure.  All is as willed by that Nicaraguan horcrux.
This is not to say that there are not other conceptions of responsibility that can be reconciled with determinism, chance or luck.
Nor is it to say anything at all. 
Nor is it to deny that there may be good forward-looking reasons for maintaining certain systems of punishment and reward. For instance, free-will skeptics typically point out that the impositions of sanctions serve purposes other than punishment of the guilty: it can also be justified by its role in incapacitating, rehabilitating and deterring offenders.
But only if the Nicaraguan horcrux of the neighbor's cat wills it so.  Otherwise the free will sceptic isn't really making any sort of argument any more that a parrot, or a wind up toy can make an argument.
My question, then, is whether the kind of desert you have in mind is enough to justify retributive punishment?
Free will, exercised in good faith, is its own justification. However a justification offered by some one acting in bad faith, our under the control of another, is no justification at all. Why? To be worthy of evaluation, a justification must have a concrete model- i.e. someone, with free will and in good faith must actually believe it to be a justification. 
If not, then it becomes harder to understand what, if anything, our disagreement truly amounts to since forward-looking justifications of punishment are perfectly consistent with the denial of free will and basic-desert moral responsibility.
No justification is consistent with the denial of free-will because it can not certify itself as a good faith proposition.
And if you are willing to reject retributivism, as I think you might be, then I’m curious to know exactly what you mean by ‘desert’ – since it’s debatable whether talk of giving agents their just deserts makes any sense devoid of its backward-looking, retributive connotations.

Dennett: You grant that the distinction I make between people who are autonomous and those who are not (because of various limits on their abilities to control themselves) is important, but then say that it is not enough for ‘the kind of desert’ that would ‘justify retributive punishment’. I too reject retributivism. It’s a hopeless muddle, and so is any doctrine of free will that aspires to justify it.
A muddle, like a ball of string which has gotten knotted up, may be very difficult to untangle. Indeed, it may be a hopeless task for most people. But, if the thing was important enough, an expert in knot theory might be able to do so. 

An innocent man may give a hopelessly tangled account of how he came to appear, circumstantially speaking, indisputably guilty. Yet, Perry Mason can untangle that muddle. 

It is enough that a person with freewill, acting in good faith, has a, however muddled, justification of a certain sort, for that justification to have a consistent depiction as a set of juristic doctrines. If this were not the case, then no juristic proceeding could be both positivist and Fair. It must be the case that the game has been rigged in advance.
But that doesn’t mean there is no ‘backward-looking’ justification of punishment.
It’s quite straightforward. On Monday you make me a promise, which I accept in good faith, and rely on when I adjust my own activities. On Friday, I discover you have broken your promise, with no excuse (what counts as an excuse has been well-explored, so I will take that on without further notice). I blame you for this. My blaming you is of course backward-looking: ‘But you promised me!’
It is also retributive.  The person upbraided in this way loses face. That is itself a punishment.
Autonomous people are justly held responsible for what they did because all of us depend on being able to count on them.
So are slaves or agents or heteronomous people or animals trained for specific tasks. Autonomy neither increases nor reduces responsibility. What matters is whether others had a right to count on them. 
It is for this reason that among their responsibilities is preserving their status as autonomous agents, guarding against the usurpation or manipulation of their own powers of discernment and decision.
There is no such responsibility unless we have a legal right, arising from a contract, or statute or customary law, enforceable against them. 

Thus if Dennett gets drunk and is duped by an Iyengar, I have no recourse against him. He has no responsibility towards me with respect to abstaining from alcohol or not conversing with cunning Iyengars.
So we can blame them for being duped, for getting drunk, etc.
No we can't- at least, if we wish to preserve our reputation for sanity. 
When we blame them, we are not just diagnosing them, or categorising them; we are holding them deserving of negative consequences.
No. We are displaying our stupidity and childishness. 
If this isn’t ‘basic desert’ then so much the worse for basic desert. What is it supposed to add to this kind of desert?
'Basic desert' could mean the set of shadow prices associated with a particular solution to Society's Kantarovich-Monge problem. If this solution is 'Muth Rational' and coincides with the outcome of a repeated game, then a system of positive law could enforce it. We could say 'Basic desert' can have a concrete model as a Moral Economy. This enables us to dismiss stupid or childish claims of the sort Dennett has put forward. It gets rid of the nuisance that would be occasioned by everybody holding everybody else accountable for things which they are not legally accountable at all.

The fact is – and I invite you to consider whether it is a fact – that autonomous people understand that they will be held to account and have tacitly accepted this as a condition for their maintaining their freedom in the political sense.
But, heteronomous people understand this even better as do animals trained for a specific economic purpose. 

Autonomous people have the right of exit. If they don't wish to use that right, they may still use their own countervailing power to hold the other to account if they make a nuisance of themselves. 

I take this to be all the grounds we need for justifying the imposition of negative consequences (under all the usual conditions).
No. You are assuming that autonomous people have already tacitly accepted the thing which you want to impose. Why bother? It would be a waste of resources. We have all tacitly accepted that we need to breathe in and then breathe out. There is no need to justify the imposition of negative consequences for failure to breathe in and then breathe out.
The difference between the madman who is physically restrained and removed to quarantine for the sake of public safety, and the deserving culprit who is similarly restrained and then punished, is large, and it is a key feature of any defensible system of government.
The differences between madmen are large as are the differences between culprits. So are the differences between the stars and flowers. So what? Such assertions have no epistemic value. 

A defensible system of Government is one that can defend itself against actual threats. Philosophers are too stupid and ignorant to defend anything.

The culprit has the kind of desert that warrants punishment (but not ‘retributive’ punishment, whatever that is).
There is no way to prevent a culprit who is being punished from being retributively punished in the eyes of his victims.

There is no incompatibility between determinism and self-control
As I have argued before, we can see this rationale in a simpler domain of human activity: sport. The penalty kicks and red cards of soccer, the penalty box of ice hockey, the ejection of players for flagrant fouls, etc, all make sense; the games they enable would not survive without them. The punishment (consider the etymology of ‘penalty’) is relatively mild because ‘it’s only a game’, but if the transgression is serious enough, large fines can be assessed, or banishment from the game, and, of course, criminal prosecution for assault or cheating also lurks in the wings. Free-will skeptics should consider if they would abolish all these rules because the players don’t have real free will. And if they would grant a special exemption for such penalties in sport, what principle would they cite for not extending the same policies to the much more important game of life?
You also say ‘the particular reasons that move us, along with the psychological predispositions, likes and dislikes, and other constitutive factors that make us who we are, themselves are ultimately the result of factors beyond our control’. So what? The point I think you are missing is that autonomy is something one grows into, and this is indeed a process that is initially entirely beyond one’s control, but as one matures, and learns, one begins to be able to control more and more of one’s activities, choices, thoughts, attitudes, etc.
But this is equally true of kids- who play way more hockey and football and so on than elderly academics- as well as slaves or fatalists or people under the spell of a hypontist. Autonomy adds nothing and takes away nothing from what is simply an adaptation to the fitness landscape. 
Yes, a great deal of luck is involved, but then a great deal of luck is involved in just being born, in being alive. We human beings are well designed to take advantage of the luck we encounter, and to overcome or deflect or undo the bad luck we encounter, to the point where we are held responsible for not taking foolish chances (for instance) that might lead to our losing control. There is no incompatibility between determinism and self-control.
Obviously, 'self-control' is only meaningful if there is some deterministic process whereby the self can be controlled. If the thing is wholly non-deterministic, self-control might still exist but- with our current level of mathematical and biological knowledge-  that self would be something truly rich and strange.

Caruso: Well, I’m glad to know that you reject retributivism along with ‘any doctrine of free will that aspires to justify it’. This point of agreement is significant since it entails that major elements of the criminal justice system are unjustified.
Is Dennett a judge? Has he helped Society reduce Crime? What about Caruso? If neither of them have achieved prominence in the field of Law or Criminology, how can any point of agreement between them entail anything at all? 

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Aikin & Talisse on why Democracy entails Cannibalism.

Democracy is a word which means that the majority of people in a country get to decide who rules it and how it is ruled. This majority may want to get rid of minorities or to force them to change their ways. It may bind itself to the Rule of Law such that minorities have considerable freedom in their private lives. But, it may change its mind.

This is the common sense view. It is not that of Aikin & Talisse. They write in 3 Quarks.
Democracy is many things: a form of constitutional republic, a system of government, a procedure for collective decision, a method for electing public officials, a collection of processes by which conflicts among competing preferences are domesticated, a means for creating social stability, and so on.
Democracy is not a thing. It is a word which may be associated, by pedagogues or polemicists, with certain things of the sort Aikin & Talisse enumerates. But then, it may also be associated with regimes like that of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Aikin & Talisse appear to be blissfully ignorant of this historical fact. They write-
But underneath all of these common ways of understanding democracy lies a commitment to the distinctively moral ideal of collective self-government among political equals.
This is nonsense. There is no commitment of this sort on display in Aikin & Talisse's own country, nor in any country they have any knowledge about.

Instead, there is inter-elite competition which is resolved by seeing who can get the most votes by fair means or foul. It is entirely false to suggest that the elites consider the masses to be 'political equals' as opposed to ignorant and prejudiced fools who can be manipulated in a crude manner.
And this commitment to the political equality of citizens is what explains the familiar mechanisms of democratic government.
Nonsense! The 'familiar mechanisms' of democratic government operate in an occult manner such that 'political equality' is revealed to be mere window dressing.
Our elections, representative bodies, constitution, and system of law and rights of redress are intended to preserve individual political equality in the midst of large-scale government.
No. They are intended to protect the Elite from internecine conflicts getting out of hand and thus becoming utterly destructive to themselves as a class. Checks and Balances operate so as to safeguard the Person and the Property of the defeated rival and to prevent a scorched earth policy being implemented by an incumbent fearful of being voted out of office.
Absent the presumption of political equality, much of what goes on in a democracy would be difficult to explain.
On the contrary, what goes on in a democracy would be wholly impossible to explain if we cling to the belief that the power elite is committed to political equality. Once we understand that democracy enables a benign circulation of elites, such that the property and persons of those involved are protected, its apparent dysfunctions can be appreciated as the outcome of deliberate design.
Why else would we bother with the institutional inefficiency, the collective irrationality, and the noise of democracy, but for the commitment to the idea that government must be of, for, and by the People, understood as political equals?
We don't bother with the 'institutional inefficiency and collective irrationality and the noise of democracy' in order to secure our livelihoods and guard against most types of risk. Instead, we rely upon the market for tradable goods and services and upon a network of private or segmentary relationships for almost everything else. There are some 'club goods' which, historically, governments provide and we use our votes to try to ensure that Elite competition can't dissipate rents beyond the point where the provision of a basic level of club goods is crowded out. This does not always work. There are plenty of failed States where Democracy couldn't curtail excessive rent dissipation by rivalrous Elites.
To be clear, the democrat’s commitment to the political equality of the citizens does not amount to the idea that all citizens are the same, or equally good and admirable, or equal in every respect. Political equality is the commitment to the idea that in politics, no one is another’s subordinate.
This is why President Trump is not the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. No General is subordinate to him. Nor is any private subordinate to a General. If a police man, or an F.B.I agent, points a gun at you and tells you to assume the position, you don't have to do so. You won't get shot if you refuse to comply. Really, you won't- even if you are Black. Aikin & Talisse say so, thus it must be true.
Put differently, among political equals, all political power is accountable to those over whom it is exercised.
Rubbish! The Executive may be accountable in different ways to the Legislature and the Judiciary. It is true that Legislators need our votes to get re-elected but they need money from lobbyists even more. As for the Judiciary- it is not accountable to us at all.
Accordingly, although in a democracy there are laws and rules of other kinds that all citizens are obligated to obey, no one is ever reduced to being a mere subject of legislation.
Everyone in Britain is a mere subject of the Crown in Parliament. Every US citizen is a mere subject of a Presidential Executive Order.
In a democracy, even when a law has been produced by impeccably democratic processes, citizens who nonetheless oppose it may still enact various forms of protest, critique, and resistance.
All of which may be punishable. The Judiciary, on the other hand, can review and strike down such Executive Orders or Statues of the Legislature. However, they may choose not to do so. There is no mechanism whereby a citizen can force the hand of the Judiciary in such matters nor is there some Citizen's Ombudsman who has the power to review the decisions of the Supreme Court.
Under certain conditions, citizens may also be permitted to engage in civil disobedience.
Civil disobedience is not permitted. What Aikin & Talisse mean is that under certain conditions civil disobedience may not be punished.
Once again, the democratic thought is that where citizens have rights to object, oppose, and criticize exercises of political power under conditions where government is accountable to its citizens, they retain their status as political equals even while being subject to the law.
This is sheer mystification. One might as well say- taking the Book of Job as one's text- that man is equal to God because, on one occasion, God gave an account- not a satisfactory one by any means- to a particular subject who had been subjected to terrible trials and tribulations. If Theodicy is part of Theology, we could argue that, in precisely the same sense that Aikin & Talisse maintain that ordinary people like you and me are the equals of Trump & Macron, we truly are, as it is written in John 10:34, 'Gods'.
In this way, democracy is commonly thought to be the only viable response to the moral problem of reconciling the political power with the fundamental equality of those over whom power is exercised.
This is sheer nonsense. The King or Pope or Grand Commissar may say that he is the servant of the People and wholly accountable to them in some occult way, and- moreover- that all are equal in the eyes of the Creator and Final Judge- but that changes nothing. What matters is if there are regular elections which cause some change in the Executive and which reflect the preferences of the majority. If this obtains, we say- this is a Democracy.
Notice, however, that democracy is built on the premise that conflicts and disputes over how political power should be deployed will be ongoing among democratic citizens.
So is every other form of Government. If Political Power exists, there will be conflicts about how it should be used. Why say- 'Democracy is built on the same premise as Aristocracy or Gerontocracy or Bureaucracy or Kakistocracy?' What is the point?
In fact, as many conceptions of democracy explicitly call for citizens to be perpetually engaged in the processes of self-government, ongoing political disputation is not merely tolerated in a democracy; it is celebrated as a duty of citizenship.
Nonsense! Representative Democracy means only a very small number of citizens have to be 'perpetually engaged' in political processes. Voting once every couple of years is celebrated as a duty of citizenship- but it only takes an hour or so.
This is why democracy holds frequent elections, referenda, and various other forums where citizens can confront and instruct a government that is accountable to them. And yet this condition of enduring political contention presents a difficulty of its own. To wit: according to the democrat, political power is legitimated by the fact that democracy provides a range of channels by which equal citizens can hold those who wield power accountable. But we have also seen that in a democracy one should expect the citizens themselves to disagree about political power should be employed.
The difficulty that emerges is evident. Democracy depends on the capacity of citizens to sustain their commitment to the political equality of even those who they regard as their most benighted, vicious, and depraved political opponents. That is, in a democracy, citizens must regard each other as political equals, even when they disagree bitterly about things that matter most. They must sustain a commitment to recognizing one another as entitled to an equal say in directing politics, even when they are vehemently opposed on political issues.
Utter crap! Democracy is about not having to talk to nutjobs who don't get that only the majority matters. The Judiciary may grant their weird beliefs an equal status and may challenge, in the short run, the constitutional validity of Executive orders or Legislative statutes which punish such minorities, but- in the medium to long term- the majority prevails. The minority either conforms or is runs away.

At work, I may have to put up with other people on the basis of our human equality. But, politically, I can oppress them as much as I, and the majority I belong to, considers salutary. This is because there is no political equality at all under democracy.  In the short run, there may be judicial equality- but Laws can change and Constitutions can be amended.

Aikin & Talisse are saying American Christians must give an equal say to Islamist nutjobs even though only a very small number of such people are American citizens.  This is sheer madness.
Maintaining this stance is not easy. After all, in a democracy the stakes often are high. Citizens recognize that everyday political struggles over taxation, privacy, immigration, military spending, and healthcare invoke deeper commitments concerning the most fundamental values of justice, liberty, autonomy, and dignity.
Everyday struggles concern fundamental values, precisely because fundamental values are involved in quotidian activities. Why? Because the stakes are very high all the time in daily life. Crossing the road involves fundamental values. If you don't do it at the appointed place and in a proper manner, you may be hit by a bus. This may cause you to shit your pants- which injures your dignity. The bus-driver may laugh at you but still not get convicted of negligence because the Court may decide that you acted negligently. You may feel this very unjust. Furthermore, you may die because of your injuries- thus suffering a loss of liberty and autonomy and the right to sing 'O Paddy dear' in an accent highly offensive to people from Ulster.

How is it that we can go about our daily lives- often crossing many busy roads on our way to work or school or the pub- while maintaining a commitment to fundamental values without biting each other or pushing sticks of asparagus up each others' nostrils?

Is the answer that we all share a deep commitment to whatever shite Aikin & Talisse are blathering on about? No. Don't be silly. We know how to go about our daily lives in relative safety because since infancy we have imitated the actions of the majority. Perhaps this is because of 'mirror neurons' in the brain. I don't know. However, I am certain that only mimetics matter, deep commitments can go hang. They are worthless. Believing otherwise causes people to say stupid things like-

Hence we cannot help but regard at least some of those with whom we disagree about political policy as ipso facto committed to derelict conceptions of the values that matter most. Indeed, in certain cases, we are bound to take some of our political rivals are positively committed to injustice, oppression, and the degradation of persons.
This only happens if we believe there is some link between 'deep commitments' and policy choices. It is silly to do so. The thing is purely economic. So long as the majority votes according to their economic interest- even if they are wrong about how it is to be realised- the nutjobs cancel each other out as noise. All that is left is Mechanism Design- and that is purely empirical so there can be overlapping consensus about it.

Pedants & Polemicists may get off by pretending that anyone who wants to pay less in tax and get more in public goods, is a Nazi or a Communist or a Race Traitor or a Satanist or what have you, but that is why we all think pedants and polemicists are sick little puppies.

They are ignorant and stupid and write shite like this-
Hence one might wonder whether it is even possible to sustain a commitment to the political equality of citizens when we are inclined to take so grim a view of those with whom we most severely disagree. One might ask: In virtue of what are those who are committed to what I am bound to regard as injustice nonetheless my political equals?  
The answer is 'in virtue of the fact that you got shit for brains'.
What entitles them to an equal say when they are so consistently wrong?
The answer is 'coz they too got shit for brains'.
The difficulty just identified hence takes on the character of a vulnerability to which democracy is subject.
The Law of Large numbers, or Condorcet Jury theorem, explains that shitheads cancel each other out. So long as the majority vote their economic interest- a proper signal is received for preference aggregation. Mechanism Design has something to work with.
Democracy is the solution to the moral problem of rendering political power consistent with political equality.
Rubbish! The moral problem of political power is the same as the moral problem of any sort of power- viz. it impedes information aggregation or distorts the operation of Decision mechanisms.  Democracy does not solve anything. Rather it is a Mechanism whose Design must be improved by its own workings. The first step for this to happen is to disintermediate shithead pedagogues or polemicists like Aikin & Talisse who say stupid things like-
In order to establish the envisioned consistency, democracy appeals to the ability of citizens to hold political power accountable, and thus to play a role in directing it.
Nonsense! What matters is that some citizens should specialise in Mechanism Design with the backing of other citizens and that there is a purely empirical competitive process which is efficiently evaluated by voting procedures.
But when the citizens themselves disagree sharply about how power should be directed in the cases that matter most, they will come to regard one another as obstacles and obstructions rather than as fellow citizens who are entitled to an equal political say. The result is civic enmity – a condition where one acknowledges that one’s political rivals have an equal say, but can no longer understand why they are entitled to it.
In other words, a Democracy may face a situation where preference diversity is too great. This means that there is no coordination game of a certain type. Instead there are two separate discoordination games which however can be arbitraged. One method of doing so is spatial 'Tiebout sorting' and greater subsidiarity. Another is a non-spatial consociationality.

However, human beings are highly plastic. It may well be that some coercive 'channelisation' will quickly restore the salience of 'universal' focal points- i.e. a pooling equilibrium re-emerges.

The neat thing about us as a species is that our more or less hard wired mimetic heuristics allow us to spot when this is happening. We may continue to 'hedge' on discoordination games- but this gets dammed up as 'capacitance diversity'. Thus Social processes can be highly robust- provided shitheaded pedagogues & polemicists are named and shamed as such.
Thus the vulnerability: when high-stakes political decisions are the focus of large-scale political participation among citizens who are disposed to regard their opponents as depraved rather than merely mistaken, democracy becomes an engine for producing civic enmity.
So does any sort of regime. Democracy is probably more robust than Theocracy in this matter precisely because pooling equilibria can be restored coercively such that we shoot a few of the noisier shitheads on both sides and kick the pedagogues and the polemicists repeatedly in the goolies.
Those who feel the pull of such enmity also feel the pull of the thought that perhaps political equality is overrated, or at least is an impediment to things that matter more. Democracy thereby threatens its own legitimacy.
Everything threatens its own legitimacy if it goes crazy. Suppose Prince Charles appears on TV saying his Mummy isn't the Queen but rather a large orchid he has in a pot at Highgrove. This revelation would threaten his legitimacy. Parliament may decide to exclude him from the order of succession.
Our democracy has devolved into a brawl among political factions that can no longer discern a basis for the political equality of their opponents.
Nonsense! A certain type of pedagogue feels miffed. But another type feels vindicated. But pedagogues don't matter. What does matter is that American Democracy needs to deliver more for the median voter of today- not the one likely to hold the balance in fifteen or twenty years time. But, that is quite easy to do and so it will be done- Politics, after all, is about paths of least resistance.
The result is a politics driven by the aspiration to humiliate and denigrate those with whom one disagrees in the hope that, once adequately dispirited, they will quietly disengage and simply submit to the power of one’s own faction. Thus democracy is transmogrified into a cold civil war. The trouble is that once we acknowledge that we are now engaged in a cold civil war rather than a program of collective self-government among equals, we must also jettison the idea that political power is being exercised legitimately. Hence there is nothing to prevent our cold civil war from erupting into a hot one.
Yes there is. It's called the Army. Since 1860, its asymmetric power has grown exponentially. So has that of the carceral State.

Are Aikin & Talisse really so ignorant they think a second Civil War is in the offing?

No. They are snowflakes. They fear not bullets but bumper stickers.
Consider a curious phenomenon particularly prevalent among professed conservatives – that of reveling in ‘liberal tears’.  We have the ‘coal rolling‘ phenomenon – that of converting one’s pickup truck so that it can release black exhaust into the windshields of Priuses.  There is the fact that Ross Delingpole of Breitbart wrote a book titled, 365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy. Or the simple animus of a bumper sticker with the invocation of Trump’s re-election being something to cheer for, if only for the sake of causing pain to progressives. It seems the height of civic vice to propose policies or adopt a mode of life for the sake of expressing one’s contempt of another group.  But this is the contempt that the familiarity of political recognition breeds. Indeed, it is the contempt that democratic norms of equality, precisely because of the fact of disagreement and reasonable pluralism, fosters. And the great irony, of course, is that for as anti-democratic as these expressive gestures seem, they are the products of democracy’s call to engagement and recognition.  The problem, of course, is that if we do not have a culture of productive engagement, cold civil war perhaps is the best we can hope for.
So there you have it. Democracy is in peril coz of some guy's bumper sticker. No wonder Trump is making nice to North Korea's dictator. What if the fellow stops making nuclear missiles- which THAAD could shoot down- and starts handing out T-shirts saying 'Liberals be cray-cray'? Aikin & Talisse will experience so much psychic pain, they will simply expire. As will the entire Ivy League bien pensant class. Democracy will crumble. Society will revert to cannibalism.

Sunday 7 October 2018

T.M Scanlon & the Good Place

If everyone could, after the fact, agree there was an ideal way things could have turned out, then there is a set of actions for each of us which represents 'the right thing to have done' as well as another much larger set of wrong actions. In mathematical terms, we can think of 'right actions' as the optimal solution to a transportation problem which has as its 'dual' a set of shadow prices. We can think of these shadow prices as being like price tags attached to different actions. 

Of course, in real life, it would take far too long and be far too costly to actually calculate all this. Still, we can probably agree that some actions are more right or more wrong than others. Indeed, Courts frequently award damages which take account of the 'wrongness' of the misdeed.

The sit-com 'The Good Place' is set in the After Life- where infinite computing power is ubiquitous- and thus every action on earth can be evaluated in terms of 'shadow prices'.

The NYR says-
Michael Schur’s initial premise, in true sitcom fashion, was a kind of joke. What if life was, ethically speaking, a sort of video game — if every action had a point value, positive or negative, and the goal was to rack up the highest score? This is where “The Good Place” started. In the show’s first episode, during Michael’s orientation session, you can read dozens of scored behaviors, positive and negative, on his celestial presentation board: everything from “pet a lamb” (+0.89 points), “remember sister’s birthday” (+15.02) and “save a child from drowning” (+1,202.33) to “stiff a waitress” (-6.83), “disturb coral reef with flipper” (-53.83) and “poison a river” (-4,010.55).
This isn't actually very different from the way we think of our economy ought to function. Those who wish to present themselves to us as heroes often claim to be 'effective altruists' helping thousands or millions or billions of people. There is a sort of gigantism to our moral economy. We are told that we can save a child, or a species, or an entire ecology, by setting up a standing order for a few dollars a month payable to a specific charity, or by buying a different type of car, or even by giving up an item in in one's diet.

The problem here is that if it is true that we can do a disproportionate amount of good by quite small 'first order' actions, surely we can an also do almost infinite amount of good by concentrating on 'second order' gestures (i.e. actions that prompt others to perform first order actions) or 'third order' accomplishments (e.g philosophising in a manner that persuades others to do second order good which in turn has a big multiplier effect on first order altruism) and so on ad infinitum.

Clearly, there is a danger that 'higher order altruism' might substitute for, or crowd out, first order good actions. Indeed, the net effect may be negative. People may give up productive jobs so as to become 'chuggers'- charity muggers. Economists may stop doing the math to figure out ways to do stuff more cheaply and instead concentrate on measuring the effectiveness of other people doing useful stuff- which can have a perverse effect if it changes the incentive structure. Teachers may stop teaching in order to concentrate on gaming the evaluation mechanism. The Environment may turn to shit as everybody concentrates on raising environmental awareness by jetting off to Conferences about how to reduce one's carbon footprint.

In the sitcom 'the Good Place', the big twist in the tail of Season 1, is that the apparent goody-goodys turn out to be fakes. The silent Buddhist monk is actually an imbecilic small-time crook. The British-Pakistani philanthropist literally died of jealousy of her even more successful sibling, and even the handsome Senegalese philosopher, Chidi, turns out to have been damned by his Burdian's ass like indecisiveness.

However, by a heart warming reversal of expectations, this bunch of losers somehow form genuine emotional connections and start helping each other in a first-order manner even though this involves excursions into 'third order' philosophy.

At the beginning of Episode 6, Chidi holds up a book: a thick academic paperback with one of those devastatingly quiet covers (earth tones, Morandi still-life) that make you feel as if you will never be allowed to leave the library again.
Eleanor reads its title aloud — “What We Owe to Each Other” — and gasps.
“I saw this movie!” she says. “Laura Linney cries in a lake house because Jude Law left her for his ex-wife’s ghost.”

Eleanor has hit the nail on the head! What we owe each other, over and above our contractual obligations, is something ghostly- like the fake Good Place (which turns out to be a Swedenborgian Hell of extreme deviousness) itself. It is 'meta-metaphorical' and ontologically dysphoric rather than anything concrete or 'at home in the world'. 

The NYT article continues-
This synopsis, of course, is incorrect. The book is actually a dense work of philosophy by the Harvard emeritus professor T.M. Scanlon. It introduces an idea called “contractualism.” As Chidi explains it to Eleanor: “Imagine a group of reasonable people are coming up with the rules for a new society. ... But anyone can veto any rule that they think is unfair.” (“Well, my first rule would be that no one can veto my rules,” Eleanor responds, to which Chidi counters, “That’s called tyranny, and it’s generally frowned upon.”)

Eleanor is right and Chidi is wrong. 'Non-Dictatorship' as a desiderata for Arrowvian Social Choice is itself Dictatorial. Suppose Eleanor always makes what everybody with hindsight would agree are the best decisions. Then nobody would want to veto her rules, if only they had fore-knowledge. It is perfectly possible for everyone to have a veto power without imperilling optimal Social Choice. It is irrational to give a dog a bad name and then hang him by saying 'this is tyranny' or 'this is Arrowvian Dictatorship' or whatever. 
The book seeks to explain how human societies might find moral authority without appealing to a deity or inherited laws.
Why bother seeking such an explanation? It is always possible to explain any moral order by appealing to a deity or inherited laws though deities don't exist and inherited laws have no more power to bind than inherited patterns of cat impersonation.
Indeed, it is likely- from what little we know about the evolution of life on earth- that appeals to deities or inherited laws were always rationalizations after the fact.
So the thing is useless. It can only add noise to signal- i.e. turn out to be garbage.

 The answer comes from a sort of idealized social negotiation — the process of thinking, in good faith, with a community of other good-faith thinkers.

But we know the result of genuine thinking of this sort. It is that everybody decides that only 'first order' research of a STEM type is worthwhile. University Departments which do other stuff only exist for signalling or screening purposes. They turn out hacks and pen-pushers and sycophants who get by on 'rent dissipation'. 
True, there is cross-subsidisation within the University such that people studying shite subjects- like Moral Philosophy or Welfare Economics- cross-subsidise those doing genuine research. However, this is a bit of an own goal because those with Doctorates in shite subjects become administrators and push forward all sorts of bogus programs which crowd out genuine research.

 As Scanlon puts it: “Thinking about right and wrong is, at the most basic level, thinking about what could be justified to others on grounds that they, if appropriately motivated, could not reasonably reject.'

Thus the administrators can gain 'interessement' or 'obligatory passage point status' by pretending that STEM research might endanger gender or racial equality, or the sanctity of the Environment, or the True Religion, or the hegemony of the Master Race, or 'Universal Civilization', or some other such shibboleth. 

The 'appropriately motivated' STEM subject researcher grows deathly afraid of being called a racist, or misogynist or Dr. Strangelove or whatever and thus meekly goes along with the Stalinism of the Culture Industry.

If what is right is what is optimal for everyone, all things considered, and if debate is a good thing, then antagonomic principles (i.e. the principle that there should be no principles) can't always be wrong. Indeed, if cognitive resources are scarce, it must be the case that antagonomic principles are always optimal if an 'un-principled' mechanism can do just as good a job as a 'deontic' one- something we are inclined to believe because of results from complexity and concurrency theory as well as that of repeated games. 

This rules out Scanlon's definition of wrong- '"An act is wrong if and only if any principle that permitted it would be one that could reasonably be rejected by people moved to find principles for the general regulation of behaviour that others, similarly motivated, could not reasonably reject"

Indeed, this definition is not just wrong, it is actively mischievous. The weasel words here are 'similarly motivated'.

 As an Iyer, I- like all right thinking people- wish to eradicate those evil Iyengars who deny the possibility of a jivanmukta- i.e a person who has solved the problem of the moral economy and is 'saved by works' while yet of this world. Since many Iyengars are female and since Tamil females tend to beat the shite out of Tambram males if they annoy them in any way, the proper way to eradicate Iyengars is to seize any and every opportunity to insinuate that they put garlic into their sambar. This will eventually drive them to apoplexy. 

It follows that an act is wrong if it fails to exploit an opportunity to insinuate that Iyengars are putting garlic in their sambar.

 No one with a similar motivation to mine could reasonably reject this argument. 

No doubt, you could argue that some people who want to find principles for the general regulation of behaviour would disagree. They may not know or care about either Iyengars or the heinous nature of the offense constituted by putting garlic in sambar. 

But, in that case, they are not 'similarly motivated' at all. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that 'similar motivation' exists across individuals or, indeed, persist over time within individuals. Moreover, we have reason to believe the thing doesn't greatly matter. 'Overlapping consensus' (where motivations are different but the outcome is the same)  is good enough for all practical purposes. If you and me agree to share a pizza, it does not matter that my motivation is assuage my hunger while your motivation is to boost your 'FuckJerry' type Instagram following.

Pamela Hieronymi introduced Schur to “What We Owe to Each Other”; Scanlon was her dissertation adviser at Harvard. It was the perfect way to deepen the show’s original premise — that mechanistic notion of an ethical points system. It was richer, Hieronymi argued, to think of morality in terms of cooperative human relationships — the way networks of people, with their interdependencies and conflicts, have to find a way to coexist and sacrifice and treat one another with respect. In such messy human environments, ethical choices rarely map directly onto obvious results. There are no leader boards. The problems can be almost infinitely complex.

Infinitely complex problems don't matter if they cancel themselves out like in Feynman 'Renormalization'. That's why 'messy human life' is improved only by 'philosophy that pays for itself'- i.e. a way of looking at things which results in scarce resources being used more efficiently, or effectively, and thus yielding a surplus everyone can benefit from.
Schur loved not only the central thesis of “What We Owe to Each Other” but also the book’s title. “It assumes that we owe things to each other,” he told me. “It starts from that place. It’s not like: Do we owe anything to each other? It’s like: Given that we owe things to each other, let’s try to figure out what they are. It’s a very quietly subversive idea.”

It is a fundamentally comic idea- but it subverts nothing. The buffoon feels he has a right to the good things of the world- the string of plump of sausages, the buxom maiden- and the comedy arises by his yearning for these things and the various immoral, or downright imbecilic, ways in which  he seeks to assert a moral right to them. At the end of the story, the Prince and the Princess have a good laugh- and leave the buffoon to his greasy sausages and blowsy ale-wife- which to him are the summum bonum.

This is 'Attic Comedy'. By the time of Petronius, another possibility exists- the buffoon is now a freed slave- a Trimalchio- who has gone rich as a Sausage King or a Beer Magnate- and is now aping the aesthetic Epicureanism of the elite. But this is
 in a way, deeply un-American — an affront to our central mythology of individual rights, self-interest and the sanctity of the free market.

We cheer for a Trimalchio who, by superior know-how, or hard graft, has become the Sausage King, but we think it a waste if he and his progeny simply assimilate the pomp and ceremony of European Royalty. We want our Sausage Kings to be lean and mean and to represent an idea that can overturn the Old World.

As an over-the-top avatar of all our worst impulses, Eleanor is severely allergic to any notion of community.
Because she is the smartest person on the show- an Aristophanes who sees more clearly than an Aristotle.
And yet her salvation will turn out to depend on the people around her, all of whom will in turn depend on her. What makes us good, Chidi tells her, is “our bonds to other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity.”

Chidi treats others with dignity but when he sees that his efforts to help them can backfire, he goes into a tailspin of indecisiveness fatal to his own salvation. He needs to be a bit more Eleanor like while Eleanor needs to be a lot less so.

As the show progresses, “What We Owe to Each Other” becomes a recurring character, popping up onscreen at several crucial plot points. This amazed Hieronymi — the last thing she had expected to see was her dissertation adviser’s book featured prominently on a network sitcom.
Watching at home, Hieronymi was pleased with the show’s evolution. “What’s going to save the characters is the relationships they have with one another,” she said. “That seems exactly right to me.”
What do we owe each other? The Sam & Diane answer was Love but, as 'Cheers' progressed, we saw that wouldn't do. What we owe each other is only the credit side of the asset we acquire by a systematic type of mocking interest or affection which, having exhausted its baroque comic possibilities, can yield us a genuine pleasure in seeing others move on in, or out of altogether, their lives.

In the end, and this is the great Buddhist truth- samsara is nirvana- because we are so little at home in this world, and its span so brief, this is the Good Place and its lies are as of a needy child's.