Monday, October 31, 2011

“Security” & “Safety” at OWS

The Oakland occupation was shut down last week, albeit temporarily, on the grounds of concerns about safety and security. Rather than assume we know what ‘safety’ and ‘security’ mean, this invites some inquiry. Can ‘safety’ be secured in the midst of an activist movement?

Sexual assaults of various sorts had been rumored in Oakland, as well as thefts, drug use, and transgressions on public property. Marijuana use is hardly a major concern in Oakland California, where it has been effectively decriminalized through medical permissions, and the smell pervades the city's parks, but the possibility of a lawless space inviting violence of one sort or another is an image that could certainly garner public support for a crackdown. Images of Waco might come to the surface, the religious cult in Texas where a culture of child rape instigated a heavy state response that cleaned out the compound with resultant deaths. In Oakland, the state actions on October 25 were similarly extreme, seriously injuring Iraq veteran Scott Olsen.

Clearly, today’s political occupations, whether in Oakland or in New York, where I live, are not in any way analogous to Waco. They are not closed cults, vulnerable to abuse by charismatic leaders who are accountable to no one, but open communities with totally open borders. That openness is precisely the challenge to safety and security. As a survivor of child sexual assault myself, I want the problem of sexual violence taken seriously in its own right, not as a pretext for some other agenda. And I want a realistic approach to security.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

God & the 1%: The Corporatizing of Religion

An element of the oppression of the 99% that has as far as I can tell gone unremarked upon (at least in the context of the new discourse being raised by the Occupy movement) is the increasing Corporatization of religion in the United States in the last 50 years or so. Televangelists like Joyce Meyer,* Binny Hinn, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Rod Parsley and Joel Osteen (the posh-looking stadium pictured above is Pastor Osteen’s megachurch and corporate headquarters) prey on the fear and despair of the 99% in the most repugnant way, offering them worldly comfort and security and even eternal salvation in exchange for a small donation to their “ministry.” And business is booming. Joel Osteen’s ministry took in a staggering $75 million (US) last year. That’s a lot of books, videos, television rights, trinkets, speaking fees, and Church “offerings.” Osteen lives in a multimillion dollar estate and his ministry owns a private jet.

Regardless of one’s commitments to theism or atheism, surely all rational people who are capable even moderate reflection can see that there is something seriously morally wrong about filling a stadium full of mostly middle class and poor people and using the technical wizardy and audio/visual razzle-dazzle typically associated with rock-concerts and major sporting events to soften up these unsuspecting “marks” and coerce them into a scheme of wealth redistribution which robs them of money they need to live in return for vague promises of divine favor and a better hereafter.

But you don’t have to be a televangelist to cash in...

’Tis the season for Justice!

That is, a Rawls virtual reading group. In light of all the Rawlsian interest (or, okay, I was planning this anyway), I’ll be facilitating a Rawls reading group on the SFSU philosophy blog.

We will have Tuesday and Thursday reading “deadlines,” and I will be posting on Wednesdays and Fridays in the dreamy hope that others will be similarly inspired.

Let Them Eat Cake, Or, the Spectacle of Suffering

First there was this:

And then there was this:

Practical Stuff

So, talking about OWS is fun and all, but is anyone watching this on the ground with any of the protests? Everyone who can should, of course, respond to the call for hard-weather gear, but are there ways that philosophers can be better contributors to the movement, qua philosophers?  Teach-ins, reciting Platonic dialogues for entertainment, that sort of thing.

SPEP Supports OWS!

A reader associated with the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, the second largest body of professional philosophers in the country, sent us a copy of the following statement of solidarity with OWS.

URGENT: OWS Needs Winter Supplies!

See: OWS Urgent Winter Donation Needs

In light of the cold, snowy weather in New York and the sudden confiscation of its generators by the NYPD, Occupy Wall Street is in dire need of winter supplies. See the link above for details.

On a more general note, winter is coming and occupations around the country will soon be faced with their biggest challenge yet: mother nature! Whether you live near (or are involved in) an occupation or not, please consider donating money and/or supplies. Better yet, why not start a donation campaign or supply drive on your campus?

Let's help!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Media Watch: Chris Hedges and Amy Goodman on OWS on Charlie Rose

In these two videos Charlie Rose talks OWS and the future of the growing global movement with Pulitzer prize winning author Chris Hedges and author Amy Goodman. The interview is in 2 parts.

(Part two after the jump.)

We Are the 1% (Or at least I am, I'm not sure about you)

This is a sort of meta-post, but (a) it’s been bothering me and (b) after closing comments on my post below, I feel like there should be a venue for people telling me I'm an idiot that’s open.

I’m currently in Ghana, which is why I’m not finding ways to be at Occupy Baltimore at least part-time (I have a three year old who gets cranky if we’re out occupying public space past 7PM, though she has been asking about camping recently...).  But, beyond that, I’m not sure what to make of being in another part of the world watching OWS from the outside in.

As far as I know, there are no sympathetic movements in Ghana (and the only OWS-related protest I know of was in South Africa).  Which is not to say that there aren't various moments of resistance around the continent, many of which have grievances that would be familiar to OWS (I could have sworn that Tom Friedman said there was no Arab Spring in sub-Saharan Africa, but I can't find it now, so it may just be that it's the sort of thing I'd imagine Friedman saying). Just off the top of my head,

Commenting Policy


I was hoping I would not have to make an authoritarian announcement like this one, but comments made in Daniel Levine’s post below have forced my hand. We strive to be egalitarian, inclusive, and serious here, and we want everyone to participate (including conservatives), but we won’t tolerate certain kinds of behavior:

  1. Don’t be an asshole. Keep your comments as polite and inclusive as possible.
  2. Don’t disparage philosophy. This is a blog for philosophers and people interested in philosophy.
  3. Don’t derail, hijack, or otherwise subvert the comments away from the topic of the post you are commenting on.
  4. No anti-semitic remarks will be tolerated.
  5. No racist language will be tolerated.
  6. No language oppressive to women will be tolerated.
  7. No language oppressive to the LGBTQ community will be tolerated.
  8. The comment section is not a place for you to endorse Social Darwinism.
  9. The comment section is not a place for you to proselytize for your religion.
  10. Don't be an asshole.

Really, if you just follow 1 and 10 we’ll all get along fine. If you violate any of these rules at anytime your post will be removed by myself or one of the other admins. Two violations, and you won’t be allowed to post again.

What are Demands Good For?

When the idea that OWS does not need or should not have demands has made not only this blog but a Planet Money podcast, we may be moving beyond the assumption that it’s alleged incoherence is, in some sense, a failing.  Though I have heard some vague rumors that the NYC group is planning to have a “platform” by the end of the month—anyone on the ground know anything about that?

But I’m a policy guy (and a boring analytic philosopher, who can’t discuss Deleuze), so I think it might be worth asking: why might you think a group like OWS needs demands?

There are two obvious pitfalls to having demands, which seem to be pretty well understood now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Phronesis & Political Conversation of the OWS Movement

J.E. Hackett (SIU Carbondale) offers an Aristotelian reflection on the OWS Movement

In this short piece, I want to explicate the OWS’s “Aristotelian moments.” I have two short intuitions I’d like to share. First, I think the political conversation in Zucotti Park is about a deliberation concerning the ends to which we structure society, and secondly that while this is the aim of the openness of dialogue, the movement must adopt phronesis in order to secure the search of virtue from incommensurability. Too much inclusiveness can be undermining just as much as a blanket exclusiveness.

The OWS movement is an attempt to sustain an awareness of how we initially establish the ends or end in order that more may flourish. By “flourishing”, I do not mean that the 99% acquire more access to material wealth (though we must admit that wealth makes it easier to live a flourishing life), but a political condition that creates an environment in which others may realize the potential of their own lives. One doesn’t need to be a Marxist in America to see that how we structure society has a direct consequence to how people can realize their own lives and achieve the Good Life.

For the purposes of this entry, by “Good Life” is when all the goods of our lives are present in a balanced way and moreover we fairly have access to develop these goods in our lives. These goods might be knowledge, friendship, and family—they are simply things we want present in our life to make it complete. In this piece, I remain non-committal about what these goods ought to be for America on a whole since, I think, that the deliberation about what goods ought we to promote is a central line of inquiry for the OWS movement.

Charlie Chaplin: The Original Occupier?

In 1940, before anyone was aware of the true extent of the crimes of the Nazi regime, Charlie Chaplin produced, wrote, directed, and starred in The Great Dictator, one of the greatest satirical films ever. The film was nominated for several Oscars (including best screenplay and best actor nods for Chaplin himself). And it was widely loved by American moviegoers and critics of the era.

In the film, Chaplin plays a lower class Jewish man who happens to bear a great resemblance to Hynkel, a bloodthirsty, despotic, politician with designs for world conquest. Through a series of events he replaces the dictator, as the country wages an extended and bloody war.

In the movie’s climactic scene, Chaplin gives a stirring anti-authoritarian, anti-war, anti-fascist oratory. Calling the army to embrace their humanity and imploring the people to live in a spirit of democracy and fraternity.

It would be anachronistic to think that all of what is said in this great speech is applicable to current struggles of the OWS movement. But if you give it a listen, I think you will agree not only that is one of the greatest soliloquies in the history of cinema, but also that Chaplin would have loved to see the OWS, which is after all a very real uprising against “machine men, with machine minds.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How the Wachowski Siblings May Have Saved the World

Assuming that the average age of the current OWS protester is about 26 years old, then most of them would have been about 14 years old when The Matrix was released in 1999.

In the now famous scene (at left) from that iconic movie, Morpheus, leader of a revolutionary underground, explains the true nature of the Matrix to Thomas Anderson. It is a system of control, a world “pulled over your eyes” to blind you from the awful truth that human beings are nothing more than batteries to power the regime of a race of intelligent machines.

The idea of a “world pulled over your eyes” is nothing new to philosophers, of course. 2000 years before The Matrix, the Greek Philosopher Plato, in his famous dialogue The Republic told a similar story—the Allegory of the Cave. There Plato had his readers imagine a group of people held hostage to appearances, forced to accept a shadow play for reality, and he imagined what might happen if one of them managed to get free, and see past the shadows, and look at the world as it really is. What would we he tell his fellow captives then? And how would they react? I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it doesn’t end well.

The Wachowski siblings tapped the same rich philosophical vein in The Matrix.  What is real?  But they added an interesting layer to the allegory. Their contribution? The people in the Cave are not just stationary captives ala A Clockwork Orange (another masterpiece of dystopian filmmaking) but they are exploited workers, their production in captivity literally empowers the very system that oppresses them.

Sound like anyone you know? (Or perhaps like 99% of everyone you know?)

More on Rawls & Occupy Wall Street

My piece on Rawls and Occupy Wall Street from last week has garnered some critical reactions, and I reply to one of the more prominent responses in this rejoinder, posted today on Big Think.

–Steve Mazie

Quan = Quisling

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Video on The Police-State Reaction to Occupy Oakland

In a press release dated October 25, Joanna Watson of the Media Relations office at the Oakland Police Department, denied that the police used non-lethal "rubber" bullets and "flash-bang" or concussion grenades on protesters. Here is the relevant quote from the press release:

Q. Did the Police deploy rubber bullets, flash-bag grenades?
A. No, the loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at Police by protesters. In addition, Police fired approximately four bean bag rounds at protesters to stop them from throwing dangerous objects at the officers.

(The full press release can be found here)

After the of an Oakland PD Officer throwing a concussion grenade into a group of protesters who are trying to give aid to a woman who has fallen and injured herself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


On behalf of all the authors and editors, I would like to thank our readers for getting the word out about the blog. Thanks in large part to Prof. Brian Leiter at Leiter Reports our site quickly gained readership last week. About midweek we were mentioned by Andrew Sullivan at the The Daily Beast and that sent page views soaring, and a day or so later we were mentioned in the New York Times philosophy blog, The Stone.

All in all, we had just over 20,000 page views in less than a week, which is a good (if unsustainable) start. We’ve also added several new authors. And we’ve developed some exciting plans, including and new WordPress homepage, that we’ll be sharing with you soon.

Thanks for helping us get off the ground running, for your continued support and interest.

Welcome to the Police State

For the past few weeks the Occupation has been kept in the public-eye in large part thanks to the ongoing police pogrom being perpetrated against the peaceful  encampments of the movement. As we all know, thousands have been arrested in New York City alone, and hundreds more around the country have been subject to humiliation, gassing, intimidation, and outright physical violence at the hands of police operatives nation-wide.

But it appears that in the race to be the first to appease their worried plutocratic masters the Oakland Police department has shed all semblance of decency and humanity and opted instead for 700 police in riot-gear, tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets to respond to the dire threat that is a peaceful democratic community.

Having lived most of my life in the United States, where I was raised to believe sincerely in the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech, I have to admit that this unhinged and poorly planned reaction on the part of the sycophantic police-force of Oakland is not only deeply offensive, but utterly outrageous.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fascist Reaction

Brownshirts beat up commies in the streets.

From Crooksandliars:

Occupy Maine protesters say Sunday morning's attack with a chemical explosive has left them with a mixture of anxiety and resolve.

"We are more motivated to keep doing what we're doing," said Stephanie Wilburn, of Portland, who was sitting near where the chemical mixture in a Gatorade bottle was tossed at 4 a.m. Sunday. "They have heard us and we're making a difference."

Wilburn said she was startled and briefly lost hearing in her left ear when the device exploded beneath a table about 10 feet away. Wilburn's hearing returned and police said no injuries were reported.

Portland police Sgt. Glen McGary said the bomb was thrown into the camp’s kitchen, a tarped area where food is cooked and served. Protest organizers said the explosion lifted a large table about a foot off the ground.

"There was no fire . . . We had a good 20 feet of thick smoke rolling out from under the table," Wilburn said. They could see the "G" on the 24-ounce bottle and its orange cap, as well as bits of silver metal, she said.

She and a friend who ran over to look at it breathed in fumes that smelled like ammonia, she said.

Witnesses said a silver car had been circling before the attack, its occupants shouting things like "Get a job" and "You communist." They believe someone from that car threw the device, according to a statement from Occupy Maine.

The demonstrators are protesting what they describe as unfairly favorable treatment given banks and other corporate interests at the expense of working people and those trying to find a job.
Shane Blodgett of Augusta was sleeping in his tent in the middle of the park when the explosion woke him up.

"I heard a sound which I thought was a gunshot," he said, gesturing at the collection of three dozen tents that cover the south side of the park at Congress and Pearl streets.

"I was in fear for my life. I thought someone was walking around with a gun. I didn't dare poke my head out," Blodgett said. He eventually went back to sleep..."Get a job" and "You communist." They believe someone from that car threw the device, according to a statement from Occupy Maine
Is this the beginning of a violent right-wing backlash?  Thoughtful analysis welcome. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Capital Architecture

The New Scientist has an interesting article that uses mathematical modeling of transnational corporation ownership data to map the concentration of economic wealth.

Neat, right?

The article mentions what's useful (mapping the architecture of the economy, checking for stability, calculating exposure) and what's not (determining which individuals actually control the capital).

Protestors that allegedly claim that there is a vast global conspiracy are used as an argumentative foil. The article chortles that such a conspiracy is highly unlikely. I think that most of the protestors and the 99% would completely agree. We have to remember that the 99% is a highly diverse group, with a wide variety of different beliefs, some of which are more well-founded than others. We ought to be very careful when representing the entire group in a certain light based on the beliefs of very few. The way that the paragraph was written, it's ambiguous. One way of reading the sentence is that the protestors are a unified group with some coherent set of claims, one of which is belief in a global conspiracy. By highlighting the conspiracy claim, it suggests that the belief is somehow indicative of the group as a whole, or at least widespread enough to merit mention. Otherwise, the sentence might have been written, "one thing won't chime with conspiracy theorists' claims".

There is one major flaw in reasoning in the article, made by Dan Braha of NECSI: "The Occupy Wall Street claim that 1 per cent of people have most of the wealth reflects a logical phase of the self-organising economy."

Quite simply, this statement is false.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Rawls Street

Steven V. Mazie over at the Stone today talks about how `those' Occupiers ought to read and discuss Rawls. First, as an associate professor, I'm fairly certain he's one of us 99%ers. Second, `we' do. I agree that more of us should; Rawls shaped contemporary moral and political philosophy and has much to say on political equality and distributive justice. For those that are not familiar, however, I'd like to offer a few points of clarification.

He writes, "Some individuals may be more motivated and harder working, and thus can legitimately expect greater rewards for their efforts." This is part of a section of the article that is purportedly representing Rawls' view. But that was not Rawls' view.

It is not that individuals that work harder deserve a greater share of resources. After all, Rawls explicitly says that one does not deserve one's natural endowments. One's work ethic is one such character trait. It may be caused simply by good genes and/or the right sort of environment: in short, luck.

It's also not that individuals ought to expect greater reward for their efforts. The only proper motivation for individuals, on Rawls' view, is to uphold and affirm the principles of justice (including the difference principle). They believe that we ought to make the worst off as best off as we can (with some important restrictions.)

It is rather that, for whichever reason we might end up with an inequality, it can be justified (preferred to other distributions) because it benefits the worst off. If anyone can object to inequality, it's those disfavored by that inequality. Ex hypothesi, those very same worst off are better off than they would be under any other distribution. The fact that they are better off gives them a reason to prefer the unequal distribution.

What Role for Ideology Producers?

For a few semesters running in grad school, I guest-taught a lecture on Marxism in one of the school's intro to political thought courses.  Every time, I would point out that the students should not, of course, listen to me - as an intellectual, I am an ideology-producer, and my role in the ecology of the capitalist system is to fill their heads with pseudo-ideas that purport to legitimate the system.

Of course, they didn't ever listen to me.

So, as a philosopher considering what I might contribute to a blog about the OWS movement, my first thought was to worry about falling into that trap.  There is a tendency, as a professional producer of ideology, to want to take a stand on what OWS should be "about" - two of the more recent examples that I've read are N.J. Jun's interesting suggestion in this blog and Lakoff's argument for how OWS should "frame itself" over at Common Dreams (I won't be giving away spoilers, I hope, by saying that if you are familiar with Lakoff's general line, you can probably predict the whole article without having to read it).  Of course, other public intellectuals have weighed in on how OWS should present itself, what it means, and/or what it should demand as well.  Not to mention the legions who are pooh-poohing it (please forgive me for not linking to them, my internet is slow - I'm in Ghana at the moment - and it's very boring).

The obvious thing would be to throw my hat into the ring - philosophers are notorious what-it-all-should-mean-ers, and I am sure that people on the ground in various Occupy Here protests should care about my opinion more than Tom Friedman's.  But I'm more interested in what it means that people are trying to say what it means.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Real Deal

Ten days ago I stood on the periphery of a Yom Kippur service with at least a thousand Jewish folks across from Liberty Park, singing the words of the Torah, repeating the stories of persecution, and tying this history of oppression to the current class oppression perpetrated by Wall Street on the 99%. We were gathered in the very site of the major banks of America, including that one. The rabbis who led us in remembrance reminded us of the false oaths Jews had to make to avoid being murdered by the Inquisition, and of the false oaths the U.S. financial leaders have made to uphold the interests of their customers. These customers have been asked to sign documents without reading, have been committed without full disclosures to ballooning mortgages, and too many have been stripped of their livelihoods and homes. Since we had to use the ‘people’s microphone,’ a thousand voices echoed these condemnations of our current system and raised their voices in prayer as suits with smirks walked by, the NYPD maintained a menacing perimeter, and the revolutionary general assembly met across the street.

Occupy Wall Street is the real deal. It is what liberal and progressive and radical philosophers have been asking for—have been writing for years in the hopes of inciting—and yet as it begins, too many are criticizing. ‘The message is cloudy, the tactics are inflammatory, the process gets bogged down in ultra-democracy.’ Certainly there is room for debate on all these topics, yet what is happening here is an actual movement. When an idea catches fire, and the sermon reaches beyond the choir, beyond even the church doors, no one can predict what form it will eventually take. Just a few years ago the idea of gay marriage caught fire, so much so that straight-laced, and straight, small town city clerks risked going to jail to break the heterosexist laws of their office. Supportive crowds handed out flowers to tearful gay couples on city hall steps across the country, and yet here again, the academic left offered little more than critique. It was the wrong demand, the wrong tactic, the wrong goal.

Theme song for the #Occupy movement?

Here's a video of Bruce Cockburn's classic, scathing, protest song Call It Democracy. This song appeared on the 1986 album World of Wonders. One of the most socially conscious albums of the 1980's. Cockburn (pronounced "Co-burn") is a Canadian singer-songwriter-guitarist, and a member of the Order of Canada well known as a political activist and socially conscious artist. WoW is perhaps his greatest record, well worth a listen. This song was written as a P.F.O. letter to the IMF, but I think it sums how many of us feel about the International Banking Cabal in general with equal aplomb. 

Lyrics below the jump...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Symposium

It’s Monday morning dear readers and time for the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of online symposia centered on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In ancient Greece, our philosophical ancestors used symposia (drinking parties) as occasions for lively debate, often centered on a single philosophical issue.

Our symposia will be strictly BYOB, and perhaps coffee will work better than alcohol, but each symposium will center on a single question raised by the ongoing protest movement in the United States and abroad. I’ll ask a question, to set the discussion, then we’ll use the comments section for debate. This week’s question:

Q: Can the Occupy Wall Street movement succeed by working to change the system from within or should the overthrow of the existing two-party political system be one of its primary aims?

(If you have a question that would make for an interesting future symposium, email us.)

An Integral Philosophical Perspective on Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall St. (Credit: getdarwin)My other blog’s readers are familiar with the tradition of integral philosophy in general and integral politics in particular, but I don't assume any specialized background other than the basic principles of political theory. Incorporating insights from perennial philosophy, the constructive thread of postmodern thought, and developmental psychology (Piaget, Maslow, Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, etc.) integral politics understands that human consciousness evolves. From this perspective, the Occupy Wall Street movement is situated amid the conflict between modern and postmodern approaches to political economy.

Wall Street epitomizes modernity’s concern with optimizing the autonomy of individuals, freedom from the restraints of bureaucratic control, and a culture of wealth accumulation and global domination. Wall Street is a powerful symbol, and the Occupy Wall Street movement chooses the symbol as a locus of demonstration because of its capacity for dramatizing a radical rejection of some of modernity’s core values.

Thus, the Occupy Wall Street movement epitomizes the postmodern consciousness with its solidarity for the oppressed and marginalized, its internalized guilt over the West’s legacy of imperialism, and a rebellion against materialism and selfishness. That the movement begins with a ritualized expression of outrage rather than a well-articulated list of demands is understandable; long have postmodern politics been impotent in American political discourse, relegated to the periphery in a two-party system with an iron clad grip on power.

George Carlin on the Plutocracy

In this video, the late great comedian George Carlin lambastes the plutocracy and laments the death of the American Dream in his hilarious and brutally honest style… RIP George.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Harcourt on “Political Disobedience” & Gutting on Corporations

Gary Gutting, Notre Dame professor of philosophy, has an interesting piece on the dangers of corporations over at the New York Times philosophy blog, The Stone. Gutting argues that while corporations are not inherently evil, they clearly do not have any fundamental reason to act in a way that coincides with human interests and values.

Bernard Harcourt, professor of law at the University of Chicago, also has an interesting piece over at the The Stone. Harcourt argues that the Movement's refusal to state an ideological agenda, or designate leaders/spokesperson is an instance of what he calls “Political Disobedience,” a deliberate, reflective refusal to participate, or think, in terms of inherited political ideologies.

What do our readers think of their arguments?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The 99%, the 53%, & Distributive Justice*

The battle cry of the movement that’s occupied Wall Street and spread around the country and the world in recent weeks is “We Are The 99%.”

The appeal to intuitive principles of economic justice implicit in highlighting the grotesque imbalance between the wealth, power and privileges of a tiny minority of the population and those of the other 99% seems clear enough. Given the large amounts of human suffering caused by the distribution of wealth and power in America and other contemporary capitalist societies, the prima facie injustice is certainly clear enough. Utilitarians, Rawlsians, Marxists (of both Hegelian and G.A. Cohen-style “analytic” stripes) and so on can all quite easily make the case that this distribution is massively unjust.

Some Epistemological Remarks Concerning the 99% Movement & Nozick’s Challenge

Reader and philosopher Joel Dittmer sent us the following interesting essay on the epistemology of Occupation.

I’m sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street Movement—or what I will call the 99% Movement—as I can relate to some of their—or “our”—concerns. But much of my sympathy is due not to claims the movement has made, but instead (i) the fact that there are a number of people in the movement who are showing their own stories about hardships, despite their efforts in overcoming their obstacles and (ii) the fact that I have friends whose stories are similar to those part of the movement. In this short piece, I’m going to identify some epistemological problems that I believe would work well to really show that the movement is both representative of 99% of us and brings up concerns that violate basic, and shared conceptions of justice.

I’d like to reintroduce a distinction Robert Nozick makes, roughly put, between end-result principles and historical principles. (Consult his famous Anarchy, State, and Utopia; note that he also speaks of patterned principles, and that he doesn’t explicitly talk about “policies”. Any divergence in terminology will be okay enough to illustrate the distinction Nozick has in mind.) Utilitarian style principles and egalitarian style principles are end-result, in that the justice of some policy or some distribution of goods, services, and resources will be determined by whether or not the results of the policy or the resulting distribution maximizes utility (utilitarianism) or satisfactorily meets conditions of equality (egalitarianism). Great disparities in wealth can be deemed unjust according to some forms of egalitarianism, which is once again an end-result theory of justice. Nozick challenges us to consider how a policy or a distribution is unjust if it abides by certain historical principles—principles which emphasize certain conditions that have to be met in the process of deciding on and implementing policies, as well as the process by which any distribution results. In the case of assessing policies in democratic societies, the justice of the policy will not be (at least directly) assessed according to the results gotten, but instead by how well the process of policy making and implementation meets certain conditions necessary for genuine democracy. So, for example, if some set of policies resulted in a distribution of goods and services such that 99% of the population was barely above the line of poverty, whereas the other 1% each possessed millions of dollars, this would not necessarily be unjust, just so long as the policy was decided upon and implemented in a genuinely democratic way. This kind of assessment of the justice of policies is, once again, from the perspective of those who hold that historical principles are the appropriately fundamental principles of justice, not end-result principles.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chris Hedges on the Occupation

This interview with correspondent and author Chris Hedges was posted this morning. Hedges makes several welcome points about the Occupation and the plutocracy that currently dominates the global economic scene. This is a must-view for those in the movement or those seeking understand the movement. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Welcome to Occupy Philosophy

I’ve started this website as a way for professional philosophers (people working as either faculty or graduate students in academic philosophy departments) to express their solidarity with and/or concerns about the ongoing Occupy Wall Street Movement. The 99% includes philosophers and philosophy graduate students as well. Hopefully as a community, philosophers can help to generate interest in and refine and expand upon the views of this rapidly emerging movement in global politics. My vision is for this to become a place where the movement can find useful criticism as well as intellectual support as it seeks to define its own goals. If you'd like to be involved, particularly as a joint administrator or author, please email me.