Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Making my return

I've not posted much here recently, and for several reasons. Last academic year I was up for promotion and tenure at the University of Minnesota Duluth as well as exploring other job options, so I thought it best to keep a low profile during that time. The good news is that I was promoted to Associate Professor and awarded tenure, and even had a residential fellowship lined up for my year off (with big research plans that would take advantage of my break from teaching). And the even better news is that I decided to turn all this down in order to take a new position at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I will once again be an untenured Assistant Professor. Does that mean that I intend to maintain my low online profile for another year? I don't think so. My intention was to use this space for posting some reflections on life on the political theory tenure track, so hopefully that intention will materialize into observations from my experience in going up for tenure twice (as I will go up again in Boulder in 2008). Just don't expect a report about my third time up for tenure - while the first time was less painful or odious than I had imagined, twice should be quite enough.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Commence the borrowing

As noted in today's The Independent, today the world begins borrowing from the past and future rather than living upon its ecological means. Say what, you ask? Borrowing an idea from libertarian anti-tax groups, which calculate and note which day each year the average person has earned enough to pay their annual tax liability (and so begins to accumulate money for themselves rather than the government), the Global Footprint Network has calculated the day on which humanity consumes the last sustainable unit of ecological capacity (including both the capacity to generate renewable natural resources and to absorb wastes) and so begins either drawing down the planet's stored energy resources (in the form of fossil fuels, which is a form of borrowing from the ecological capacity of the past) or polluting and depleting natural capital (which borrows from future ecological capacity). Quoting from that story:

In other words, assuming that the world has a certain quantity of natural resources that can sustainably be used up each year, today is the date at which this annual capacity is reached. And environmentalists warn that just as a company bound for bankruptcy plunging into the red or a borrower " maxing out" on credit cards must face the consequences, so must man.

As we begin plunging into the ecological red, can we take any comfort in the fact that this day comes substantially later in the year than does "Freedom from Taxation" day? After all, what we are now earning as income is ours to keep, and what we spend through our consumption belongs to someone else. What could be better than that?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Interspecific retributive justice?

Officially speaking, I’m disturbed by the news of this, but something about the story also strikes me as absurdly funny – while reprehensible, such actions offer a glimpse into the human condition and reveal something that is not very flattering about the role of reason in the world. For some reason, the comical elements of human irrationality on display outshine the obvious indefensibility of the acts in question. As reported in today’s Independent:

At least 10 stingrays have been found dead in Queensland waters in what are feared to be revenge attacks for the death of Steve Irwin, the popular Australian television naturalist.

It doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated work in environmental ethics to spot the problems in holding an entire species responsible for Irwin’s tragic accident, so no further comment is needed on that front. I just hope this doesn’t escalate into a Godfather-style bloodbath, with stingrays avenging their fallen comrades against other Aussie celebrities (okay, maybe they can have Mel Gibson). Can’t we all just get along?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Iris Marion Young

Iris Young has died. Though I don't wish to make this site an obituary page for those political theorists that have served as inspiration for me (and many others), these two recent losses are worth noting (during a summer in which I've otherwise been too busy to post).

Young was born January 2, 1949 in New York City. She studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Queens College, where she graduated with honors in 1970, before she went on to earn her masters and doctorate in philosophy in 1974 from Pennsylvania State University.

Early on, Young built a reputation for her teaching and writing on global justice; democracy and difference; continental political theory; ethics and international affairs; and gender, race and public policy. But it was her 1990 book Justice and the Politics of Difference that propelled her to the international stage. It was in that text, a staple in classrooms the world over, that Young critically analyzed the basic concepts underlying most theories of justice, argued for a new conception of justice and urged for the affirmation rather than the suppression of social group difference. More recently she had been working on the issue of political responsibility, and especially on the question of how to conceive of responsibility for large-scale structural injustices that can’t easily be traced back to the doings of any single person or group.

“There is no question in my mind that she is one of the most important political philosophers of the past quarter-century,” said Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago’s Law School and in Political Science. “She was unexcelled in the world in feminist and leftist political thought, and her work will have an enduring impact.”

Known for her fierce commitment to social justice and her grassroots political activity on causes such as women’s human rights, debt relief for Africa and workers’ rights, Young was praised for being as comfortable working at the street level as she was writing about political theorists Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas.

“She combined a mind that went for the jugular with a passionate commitment to social justice, and the combination produced an absolutely magnificent colleague and an absolutely magnificent political philosopher,” said Jane Mansbridge, Adams Professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “She was a committed, decent human being and that informed every aspect of her work.”

I had the immense good fortune of being one of suprisingly few audience members on a global justice panel at the MPSA meeting in April, which Professor Young not only graciously agreed to chair, but from which she moderated a discussion on developments in the field that somehow managed to include both panelists and audience and yield key critical insights while generously acknowledging a wide array of points of view. Though she was never my teacher, I've learned a lot from her written work over my career, and I could tell from this rare gem of a panel (few involving major figures in the field are able to replicate the feel of an actual dicussion) why her courses were so popular at Chicago.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Murray Bookchin

Murray Bookchin has died. From his obituary (posted at the Institute for Social Ecology, which he founded):

Murray Bookchin, the visionary and often iconoclastic social theorist and activist, died during the early morning of Sunday, July 30th in his home in Burlington, Vermont. During a prolific career of writing, teaching and political activism that spanned half a century, Bookchin forged a new anti-authoritarian outlook rooted in ecology, dialectical philosophy and left libertarianism.

During the 1950s and ‘60s, Bookchin built upon the legacies of utopian social philosophy and critical theory, challenging the primacy of Marxism on the left and linking contemporary ecological and urban crises to problems of capital and social hierarchy in general. Beginning in the mid-sixties, he pioneered a new political and philosophical synthesis—termed social ecology—that sought to reclaim local political power, by means of direct popular democracy, against the consolidation and increasing centralization of the nation state.

From the 1960s to the present, the utopian dimension of Bookchin’s social ecology inspired several generations of social and ecological activists, from the pioneering urban ecology movements of the sixties, to the 1970s’ back-to-the-land, antinuclear, and sustainable technology movements, the beginnings of Green politics and organic agriculture in the early 1980s, and the anti-authoritarian global justice movement that came of age in 1999 in the streets of Seattle. His influence was often cited by prominent political and social activists throughout the US, Europe, South America, Turkey, Japan, and beyond.

Even as numerous social movements drew on his ideas, however, Bookchin remained a relentless critic of the currents in those movements that he found deeply disturbing, including the New Left’s drift toward Marxism-Leninism in the late 1960s, tendencies toward mysticism and misanthropy in the radical environmental movement, and the growing focus on individualism and personal lifestyles among 1990s anarchists. In the late 1990s, Bookchin broke with anarchism, the political tradition he had been most identified with for over 30 years and articulated a new political vision that he called communalism.

Despite a personal style that left many fellow greens seeing him as more rival than ally, Bookchin's pioneering work in environmental social theory left its indelible stamp upon nearly all current work in the field, and his boisterous intellectual presence will be missed.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Seminar on Mooney's book

Crooked Timber is hosting an online seminar on Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science. Mooney's thesis, in short, is that the current campaign being waged by ideological conservatives over scientific knowledge (including current "controversies" like the existence of climate change or the potential benefits of embryonic stem cell research, and long-settled issues like evolution or the hazards of DDT) has gone from a public relations battle over science (i.e. an effort by the so-called "Sound Science" campaigns to discredit settled scientific judgments, often as part of a broader anti-regulation political strategy) to a campaign against science itself, with all of the reckless irrationalism that such a war entails. Though sometimes criticized for its polemical tone, Mooney's work is carefully researched and paints a disturbing picture of a political movement that appears to have an utter contempt for truth. A number of commenters (many of them sympathetic with Mooney's claims, a couple of them critical) have agreed to participate, as has Mooney himself, so the result should be worth reading.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Philosophers drinking song

By popular request, here are the lyrics to that Monty Python classic:

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.

Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.

David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,

And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.

There's nothing Nietzche couldn't teach ya'
Bout the raising of the wrist.
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.

Plato, they say, could stick it away--
Half a crate of whisky every day.

Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle.
Hobbes was fond of his dram,

And René Descartes was a drunken fart.
'I drink, therefore I am.'

Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed,
A lovely little thinker,
But a bugger when he's pissed.