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Self-Driving Car Milestones

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I'm working on a car capable of evaluating arbitrarily complex boolean expressions on "honk if [...]" bumper stickers and responding accordingly.
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adamgurri
6 days ago
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New York, NY
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3 public comments
satadru
5 days ago
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A self-aware car laughing at the Trolley Problem episode of The Good Place.
New York, NY
alt_text_bot
6 days ago
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I'm working on a car capable of evaluating arbitrarily complex boolean expressions on "honk if [...]" bumper stickers and responding accordingly.
Cthulhux
6 days ago
One bot would be enough.
iiieeeoo
6 days ago
Two bots are better than none!
jepler
6 days ago
honk if this statement is false
wreichard
6 days ago
I’m thinking of Douglas Adams’ elevator. “Have you considered all the possibilities that down has to offer?”
jepler
6 days ago
Zarqon save us from cars with genuine people personalities.
daanzu_alt_text_bot
4 days ago
i'm offline, if classic bot will work reliably!
norb
6 days ago
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The 9th bullet point is my favorite one!
clmbs.oh

The Warm Liberalism of Erik Gustaf Geijer

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The name Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783–1847) is little known outside of Sweden. But a book called The 100 Greatest Swedes assigns the 39th place to Geijer.[1] That Geijer should be behind tennis legend Björn Borg we rather doubt. On the other hand, Geijer is ahead of Gustavus Adolphus, who changed the course of the Thirty Years War before dying on the battlefield. You know how Swedes today downplay their old boisterous days.

Geijer was a very big deal, not only in his day, but right through the 1960s. After his death in 1847, for more than 100 years, schoolchildren learned Geijer’s poems and songs about ancient Vikings and the glorious days of Sweden, but also about the freedom-loving yeoman farmers, their property, and their proud independence. In his prime and after, Geijer was a celebrated poet, musician, composer, as well as leading thinker and public intellectual. For 30 years students flocked to his history lectures at Uppsala University. He enjoyed rock-star celebrity. He became Chancellor of the University, member of parliament, and member of several Royal Scientific Academies. He did it all.

Geijer often tied his philosophy to the character and evolution of Christianity (“With Christianity the concept of human personality first arose,” p. 356*), and he often tied his analysis to Christianity as a cultural force in history—for example in ending slavery (“all human beings were God’s children,” p. 336). In his mature years his voice is that of kindly Uncle Erik Gustaf, sharing with fellow Swedes rich and remarkable reflections on what it means to be Swedish, to be European, to be Christian, to be good. And what it means to be free.

From the start, his philosophy was moderate and reasonable, but always warm and popular. His writing communicates sentiment openly and credibly. His early period was one of building up Swedish patriotism, painting the character of the nation’s people and history. In 1803 the Swedish Academy awarded Geijer, age 19, the first prize, for his romantic and tacitly anti-Napoleonic essay on the 15th-century regent Sten Sture the Elder. In the first paragraph Geijer writes:

It is only when a country has reached a general level of prosperity, when general industriousness among its citizens sustains that prosperity which it has provided, when an enlightened and just government protects it, when inner strength has produced external security, when the storm of raw passions has subsided over the ages, when the state respects the citizen, because the citizen begins to be worthy of respect, when the wild willfulness of nature has been tamed and it has been given a more pleasant appearance by human hands; it is only in such a land that the quiet flame of mankind, like the heavenly fire that gave life to Prometheus’ perfect statue, will set the hearts of humanity alight, be nourished in them, warm them and develop in them a full and rich character. (pp. 83–84)

Sweden in 1460 was not such a land: “It is your bright image, Sten Sture, that emerges from the background of that dark picture; it is a noble youth, the hope of Sweden, soon its support and its honour, who goes into battle to free his native country from a foreign [i.e., Danish] yoke” (p. 87). After the defense of Stockholm against external enemies, Sten Sture “makes use of that precious calm to turn his efforts towards the internal ones. It was a difficult enterprise to bring together interests…, to unite minds…, to first create the state whose regent he had become” (p. 94).

In much of Europe in 1803 nationhood was rather hypothetical. Few countries had what Britain had, comparatively speaking: defined frontiers, security against invasion, a stable political system, an integrated if geographically differentiated legal system, a common language, a national identity, and an administration of government institutions that was neither very dishonest nor very incompetent. Geijer wanted for Sweden what Britain had.

Geijer has long been regarded as a nationalist influenced by German idealism and romanticism, and with good reason.[2] G. W. F. Hegel, F. W. J. Schelling, and others from the German idealistic tradition were among his influences. After age 50, Geijer’s liberalism became more pronounced, for example in a set of essays on the poor and the poor laws, which was one of the two works translated into English during his lifetime.[3] In 1838 Geijer announced to his public that he had revised his thinking and worldview and had gone over to liberalism. Swedish society took note. Several of his colleagues and friends erupted publicly with dissatisfaction.

Geijer’s new liberal stance has generally been regarded as a substantive change of mind. We suggest, however, that it was perhaps as much a coming out of the closet as a change of political persuasion. We do not see conflict between the early and late writings. There are good reasons to think that Geijer favored liberalism all along.

Geijer came from a prominent industrial family, producing iron and shipping it to markets domestic and international, notably Britain. He learned to view the world through commercial and enterprising eyes, and he was expected to take over the family business. He never revolted against his bourgeois industrial background, and always had the deepest love and pride in his family. His decision to pursue learning and letters might even be seen as answering a calling to explain to others why and how the world should be seen through liberal commercial eyes. He spent a year in England in 1809–1810 as tutor to a wealthy Stockholm merchant’s son, conducted business investigations for his family, reported on prices and the trade policies of the main trading partners, admired Britain, improved his English, and learned about British intellectual and political life.[4] He continued to read the Edinburgh Review, Quarterly Journal, and other British journals throughout his life. In historical writings of 1818–1819 he treats Britain as central, copiously citing David Hume and William Robertson, and referring to Adam Smith (pp. 248–280). He also pays high tribute to Hugo Grotius (pp. 235–236).

Geijer’s historical work makes clear that he saw modern freedom as something dependent on broad constitutional conditions—political, legal, moral, cultural. Like Hume and Smith, Geijer shows great awareness of paradoxes (“the highest justice would be the highest injustice,” p. 229; “The centralization was a manifestation of the unity of the state,” p. 393). Yet Britain provided lessons about how a good measure of liberty is arrived at and sustained:

For if you want a measure of the real benefits of a state system, as of the individual state, do not ask the powerful, the wealthy! Ask the humble, the poor man, if his cottage, his plot of land, his mite [small coin] are as protected and secure as the palace and possessions of the powerful one! And if you have found that in a single state system, in a single state, there is respect for something as sacred as the right of the weaker, then boldly say or praise with tears that justice has not yet fled the earth! (p. 238)

From the beginning, it seems, Geijer was favorable to free commerce, freedom of association, and commercial society. His romanticism and nationalism never meant to encroach on such principles but were complementary. His nationalist romanticism in the 1810s–20s had some of the style and language that in Hegel and Schelling expressed ambivalence towards liberal principles and commercial society, and in Jean-Jacques Rousseau, J. G. Fichte, and Thomas Carlyle, antipathy. But Geijer never denounced freedom of trade and commercial life as such. His main concern was the social effects of a liberalized society. Geijer looked to achieve some measure of spiritual cohesion in idea and culture, but without undue governmentalization of social affairs; he hoped for a liberal nation-state, a people confident in itself, free internally, freely trading with the world, and proud of its public allegiance to freedom. The state was more of an eternal and ever-evolving organism than an instrument for action and reform, in Geijer’s view, in this respect perhaps like Hegel’s.

Geijer saw clearly that the liberal order was new and disruptive: “What we have experienced is a more unrestricted rule of wealth or property than the world has hitherto seen, and that rule is also decidedly the rule of movable property over its fixed form. It is the first time that property positions itself at the forefront of society, namely as merely private property, for it has previously been linked to wider personal relationships” (p. 375).

As liberalism brought individuality to the fore in the development of societies, Geijer saw clearly that liberal arrangements presented challenges to social cohesion. In 1818 he asked: “how are the elements of the complete human being, which are split apart as it were by the division of labour, again reunited in the case of each individual?” But its discohesion tendencies did not leave liberalism beyond recall:

[Y]et it is as a whole, complete human being that everyone wishes to be regarded, to know oneself in the full capacity of one’s humanity and personality, and therefore also demands a complementing in that regard, if one has been obliged to develop only a certain portion of that capacity.  The answer is that every individual capacity can only achieve that complementarity in so far as it is aware of itself within the whole.  But that sense, which, in permeating every individual, makes him even in the most reduced condition a participant in the wealth and security of the whole, is what we call public spirit.  That therefore represents the role of money at a higher level or is indeed itself the highest, invisible money in society, by means of which even the material aspect first becomes assured and can fulfil its purpose. (pp. 201–202)

As with Adam Smith, the candid recognition of problems does not amount to a rejection, or even a relaxation, of liberal principles. Geijer, rather, seems to counsel his readers on how they can rediscover the whole through liberal reflection, and revitalize community in voluntary association. In an 1844 lecture he said: “[T]he principle of association is a means of salvation in our time, but surely not only in the industrial context. That requires the principle of association gaining a higher, nobler life, that it be animated by the same social spirit of which we have spoken” (p. 385). With such words Geijer allowed himself to be interpreted in diverse ways, but we interpret him as meaning to advance a public spiritedness within the framework of liberal arrangements.

By the beginning of 1847 it was known that Geijer was sickly and not long for this world. He composed and published his final essay, “An Economic Dream,” which makes quite clear the nature of his vision, expressing it in the form of a dream had while sleeping. “It is a dream of national economy,” a dream of “that which is happening in the world now… the liberation of labour—a true incarnation of the so-often odious principle of personality, which is increasingly encroaching upon reality.” Appearing in the dream are the resentment, antipathy, and even violence at the trend, as well as the cultural opposition (“What is a conservatism that rejects this gift of God?,” p. 443).

But, lo, in the landscape surveyed by the dreamer, a different attitude emerges, and it then spreads throughout the nation:

This liberty is tantamount with disorder, a thousand voices shout. On the contrary, she is a new, self-evolving order; so do others comfort themselves, the more industrious, the wiser. That liberty, even if she brings disorder for a passing while, follows her own rules and develops from within, implanted in her by the Creator, her own law: that is the full faith of liberalism and it leads to salvation. (p. 443)

What is the new order of things? With each day, its law evolves more clearly; its substance is already so apparent that one can thereof judge its nature and the spirit of progress. This substance is the day-by-day, constantly evolving, all-encompassing fellowship and interaction of human powers and needs. This new, but actually ancient law of labour is that of intelligence, which works in expanding circles. From there comes the dependency, from there the interaction in all occupations, equally familiar and acknowledged, and which, to the extent of this increasingly ardent acknowledgement, communicates ever more directly with its own essence and from this[,] new, greater powers emerge, day-by-day and without surcease. Therefore, every seeming defeat is a true victory for it. It needs hardly touch the earth to feel at home and rise again with renewed vigour.

One needs only to regard this immortal principle in detail in its effects to find oneself in the field of an infinite project that reaches in all directions and returns from all directions to its centre. — How could any occupation, any area of human enterprise, now be able to isolate itself? In so doing, it cuts itself off from its very breath of life, withers and inevitably dies. It thrives, flourishes, feels happy and promotes happiness utterly to the same extent that it both communicates and receives based on an enlivening influence.

And so, the separated groups of industries and trades finally flowed together before my eye. The artisan, not merely with his bodily strength, but with his intelligence, was the foundation of it all, for an enterprise that the factory owner used and distributed, that the merchant spread across the earth. I saw a new day ascend above it. It was the rising sun; and the Dancing Hours moving around the sun, in measured heavenly-harmonious orbits, were the beautiful performance at which I wakened from my dream. (pp. 444–446)

Here Geijer evokes an allegory that has been vital to liberal economics, namely, that of a spontaneous order, with pricing and profit-and-loss so central, as a system of intelligence and communication. To our knowledge, it would not be until Friedrich Hayek, in 1945, that the communication allegory would again be used to understand the price system.[5] Hayek’s piece is justly famous, and for that illuminating allegory. Almost 100 years prior to Hayek, Geijer provided the same allegory, with less elaboration and illustration, but comparable expression of its significance.

In the history of liberalism, Geijer stands as one of the theological-cum-allegorical writers, more typical of the 18th century moralists such as Joseph Butler, Francis Hutcheson, Hume, and Smith, and of the liberal statesman Edmund Burke. Geijer’s sweeping purview and liberal themes reminds one of Alexis de Tocqueville, though Geijer is warmer and more familiar. We believe that something was lost as liberal authors in the 19th and 20th centuries sought to jettison allegory, in the aim to be more precise and accurate—supposedly, more scientific.

Geijer himself complained of the tendency to reduce social understanding to something “mechanical” (pp. 273–276), and characterized Thomas Malthus’s famous work of 1798, with its mathematical proof of deterministic overpopulation, as a “sophism,” as not seeing the full potential of social developments. Something was lost when liberal writers grew increasingly anxious about their professional authority and pretensions of expertise.

An appreciation of Geijer is valuable, also, for understanding the sturdy liberal thread in Swedish society and culture. Geijer sought to establish a worthy Swedish patriotism. To do so, he embellished Sweden itself, to enhance its worthiness as object of such patriotism. He wove liberal themes into his art, teaching, and scholarship, but, shrewdly, not too early or too pronouncedly as might have prevented his compatriots from celebrating him.

Geijer told Swedes that the name Sten Sture “can be forgotten, though not before posterity has forgotten to care for its own culture” (p. 97). For Swedes today, the name Erik Gustaf Geijer can be forgotten, in like manner.

 

 

* Reference for all page-number citations: Geijer, Erik Gustaf. 2017. Freedom in Sweden: Selected Works of Erik Gustaf Geijer, ed. Björn Hasselgren, trans. P. C. Hogg. Stockholm: Timbro.

[1] Ekdal, Niklas, and Petter Karlsson. 2009. Historiens 100 viktigaste svenskar. Stockholm: Bokförlaget Forum.

[2] Landquist, J. 1924. Erik Gustav Geijer: Hans Levnad och Verk. Stockholm: Norstedt.

[3] Geijer, Erik Gustaf. 1842. The Poor Laws and Their Bearing on Society: A Series of Political and Historical Essays, trans. E. B. Hale Lewin. London: J. Hatchard and Son.

[4] Pilkington, Roger. 1975. A Swedish Visitor to England, 1809–1810. History Today 25(4): 246–254.

[5] Hayek, Friedrich A. 1945. The Use of Knowledge in Society. American Economic Review 35(4): 519­–530.

 

A podcast about Geijer by the authors can be found here.

Featured image is a portrait of Geijer by Carl Wilhelm Nordgren (Skokloster Castle / Olav Nyhus / CC BY-SA).

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adamgurri
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The Meaning of the Gettysburg Address, 154 Years Later

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“Four score and seven years ago” are words Americans learn in school and hear echoed in popular culture. To the child who memorizes them, as in the movie Kindergarten Cop, the words may seem to be a secular incantation. For me they seemed similar to the words of the liturgy of the mass I heard every Sunday: familiar, famous words, but shorn of context they seemed devoid of meaning. The 19th of this month marked the 154th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and our current tribulations make 2017 as good a time as any to revisit its delivery and unpack its meaning.

The massive scale of death in the Civil War had necessitated the creation of national cemeteries, like the one Lincoln was dedicating at Gettysburg just four months after the brutal battle there. Many in the Union were asking whether the horrendous human cost of the war was worth it. The level of suffering also weighed on Lincoln personally, as he felt responsible.

Lincoln’s address, given while the war was still raging and had already cost hundreds of thousands of lives, provided an answer to these questions and doubts. “Four score and seven years ago” refers to 1776 and the founding of a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In his political career Lincoln had gone back to the Declaration of Independence time and again, seeing it as the ultimate riposte to those who wanted to expand slavery. Here he warns his audience that the Civil War is a test as to whether “that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

In the 1860s democratic government was a rare thing. Worldwide, authoritarian leaders like France’s Napoleon III were rooting for the Confederacy, hoping that the Union defeat would discredit the forces of democratic revolution. Those who fought the reactionaries, like Benito Juarez and Garibaldi, thought that a Union victory would vindicate their causes. Lincoln is telling his audience that the dead of Gettysburg died not only to preserve the Union, but to save the very idea of democracy, to keep its light from going out in the world, so that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Crucially, Lincoln says that the only way to do this is for America to have a “new birth of freedom.” After all, who would want to sacrifice their son, their husband, or their brother so that the country could go back to the way that it was in 1860? The war was not simply going to reunite the old nation, it was going to create a new, better nation better dedicated to freedom. Lincoln does not use the word “emancipation,” but that is what he’s talking about here.

Lincoln’s speech should resonate today. Around the world democracy is under assault and nationalism is on the march, from Europe to Russia to China to India to the United States. The nationalists share the racism and oppression advocated by the Confederacy. America, despite all its sins, used to advocate for democracy and human rights, however imperfectly. But now the President and State Department seem utterly indifferent to these principles, and the President himself has made war on the public sphere. We are again engaged in a conflict to determine if democracy can survive. While many try so hard to deny it, those truly are the stakes.

That is why I draw comfort from Lincoln’s words. Democracy is under attack and we must have the courage and zeal to defend it. At the same time, we cannot simply fight to go back to the way things used to be, since that situation got us into this mess in the first place. We have to strive to make a better nation and a better world.  If we are to move forward after this crisis, we must have another new birth of freedom.

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adamgurri
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The Game Theory of Why We Should Believe Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

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The importance of believing the victims of sexual misconduct prior to, and even in lieu of, hard evidence in support of their allegations has become something close to a consensus view. Yet some commentators have gone a step further, and argued that we must tolerate a few innocent men taking a hit along the way. When Emily Lindin of Teen Vogue expressed a version of that view last week, she took so much heat that she had to temporarily lock her Twitter account:

The extent of the backlash to Lindin’s tweet was perplexing. That some innocent men will occasionally suffer from false allegations seems like a direct implication of the otherwise uncontroversial view that we should believe the claims of victims. All Lindin did was take it to its logical conclusion — namely, that there are certain consequences, costs and benefits, that come with assigning a particular epistemic status to the claims of victims that we must learn to live with, including occasional false positives.

An alternative perspective says that, rather than believing an allegation by default, we should take each allegation case by case, withholding judgment until all the evidence has been brought to bear through some simulacrum of due process. This view has an inherent air of reasonableness to it, and yet it fundamentally misses the point by treating a default stance in support of victims of sexual misconduct as a purely epistemic imperative, rather than also a normative one.

The Power of Belief

Beliefs are not inert. Economists, and game theorists in particular, have long understood that beliefs have a direct impact on behaviors we collectively converge to in part or in whole due to mutual expectations. Knowing that others believe we ought to drive on the right side of the road, for example, is sufficient to make me drive on the right side of the road; to converge to the normative consensus through awareness of the epistemic consensus. Likewise, the rule “believe the victim” simultaneously generates the mutually shared expectation “victims will be believed.”

It’s easy upon reflection to see how that rule impacts the returns to sexual misconduct in a salutary way, while in contrast, the norm of “innocent until proven guilty,” however appropriate in a legal context, helps facilitate further victimization.

Reputation is a key feature of any “repeated game,” from trading goods and services in the market to interacting with co-workers. Reputation becomes all the more important in the presence of significant information asymmetries. Indeed, the downfall of high-profile abuser after abuser in recent weeks has been the serial nature of their misconduct. And yet the bad reputation of Weinstein, Spacey and Moore, while apparently well known within certain “whisper networks” and local communities, needed to become common knowledge before it had any great impact. The norm of believing the victim is valuable not because women never make false allegations (granted, the rate of false reports is exceedingly low), but because it changes the rules of the game in a way that preempts potential abusers with the credible threat that their bad behavior will become common knowledge, immediately, and with all the attendant consequences.

Leveraging Common Knowledge

As Noah Smith pointed out in a recent tweet, most men are not sexual abusers, and yet most women have experienced some form of sexual misconduct, ranging from casual harassment to violent sexual assault, because a small minority of unsavory men are able to repeatedly get away with it.

Fortunately, that asymmetry works against abusers in the long run. Just as a relatively small percentage of men account for the majority of misconduct, if it becomes common knowledge that victims will be believed when they come forward (with or without another 29 other victims for corroboration), then a critical mass of women who commit to call out sexual misconduct when it happens are capable of exposing the vast majority of serial abusers.

Unfortunately, the very nature of sexual misconduct, the settings in which it tends to occur, and the plausible deniability predators often attempt to inject through innuendo and other forms of misdirection, too often results in a game of “he said, she said.” We can approach each allegation like Pyrrhonian skeptics, announcing our agnosticism in light of little hard evidence one way or another. Or we can recognize how the inherent challenge of effectively monitoring sexual misconduct makes the precommitment to believe victims all the more important as a strategy to stop abuse from occurring in the first place.

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adamgurri
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The White Dudes of Liberalism

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When a critical concentration of white men are present in early days of a movement or ideology, it sets in motion a vicious circle of attracting more white men and repelling others. This isn’t necessarily conscious. If a few white guys want to put something together, perhaps like a web publication dedicated to articulating, defending, and advancing liberal ideas, then a number of factors create a white dude clustering effect. Most of our social circles consist of white men. This makes the space marginally more comfortable for other white men to join and marginally less attractive to non-white-dudes. A woman, for example, may see the list of members or contributors and decide, reasonably, that she already lives in enough situations dominated by men. Meanwhile, the discussions produced by the early white dudes tend naturally to be about issues of concern to white dudes, framed in terms, language, and background assumptions conducive to white male comprehension.

I can’t over-stress how critical this problem is. A central concern of liberalism is figuring out how very different people can live together in peace, cooperation, and prosperity. Diversity is the root of the liberal project. When only the ideas and problems of a subset of the population are heard in a forum, then the central problem* of diversity — the problem liberalism is concerned with solving — is papered over.

It can be and often is argued that it doesn’t matter where political principles and solutions are discovered if they are true. And if liberal principles are really universal — as I have argued they are — then white men who just happen to be historically advantaged should be as capable of advancing these universal values as anyone else. The liberal philosopher Jason Brennan has even suggested that proportional political representation and political power for disadvantaged groups may do more harm than good, pointing to research showing both that people vote according to their honest assessment of the public good, and that members of advantaged demographic groups have policy views closer on average to those of policy experts.

This is a silly argument. While liberal principles can be abstractly theorized, in the real world establishing liberal freedoms and capabilities for oppressed and marginalized people has always involved close attention to institutional and cultural context. Maybe there is some abstract sense that— if you squint — “separate but equal” as a principle can have some veneer of liberal legitimacy. The rights and welfare of each individual are nominally respected, while pluralism and diversity are allegedly accommodated through sequestration.

Most of us understand that in reality this separation will inevitably entrench inequality, in addition to violating many basic freedoms in the process. I mention it only as a contrived example of how principles only get you so far when you empty them of the concrete details of how they are applied. Historical context matters at least as much as abstract principles, and the black citizens of Jim Crow America knew very well separation was a fig leaf for their continued marginalization and abuse. Dignity required access to the same institutions whites enjoyed.

Indeed, liberalism may best be understood not in terms of the abstract principles it elevates, but in terms of its actual practices as experienced in lived contexts, where liberal values are pitted against one another under the oppressive weight of history. Freedom of association — an important liberal value — serves the illiberal cause of segregation. Privacy shields oppressive and violent family relations from public scrutiny. Property rights perpetuate wealth inequalities between groups, translating into opportunity differentials and ultimately reinforced social status hierarchies. Liberal values, in illiberal contexts, can fortify existing relations of power and domination.

This is not suddenly an anti-liberal screed, but a recognition that context matters for achieving liberal ends. And we aren’t all equally capable when it comes to deciphering different contexts. Black perspectives are critical for perceiving when something that sounds unobjectionable to white folks — say, preventing voter fraud — is really a stalking horse for maintaining power relations contrary to liberal equality and freedom. Women’s perspectives are critical for detecting and understanding sexism.  In short, diverse perspectives are necessary for understanding liberalism in application, and thus for understanding liberalism, full stop.

This is why it’s disturbing to write and edit for a publication dedicated to liberalism that has attracted mostly white and male readers and contributors. To stand a chance at doing justice to our mission, we need writers from more diverse backgrounds.

It’s a legitimate question, what do non-white-men even need liberalism for? It’s a question that is hardly unique to liberalism, various leftist strands suffering their own problems of being blind to inequality and oppression, while various traditions on the right aren’t even concerned with such potential problems. The “black radical liberal” Charles Mills points out in his essay “Occupy Liberalism!” that

Such racialization … is going to be a common problem for any American ideology with emancipatory pretensions. Liberalism is certainly not unique in that respect, as the history of the white American left and socialist movements illustrates. As Jack London famously put it at a meeting of the Socialist Party in San Francisco “when challenged by various members of concerning his emphasis on the yellow peril”: “What the devil! I am first of all a white man and only then a Socialist!”

Conceptually, the set of liberal values — moral individualism, pluralism, freedom, and equality — are consistent with critiques of social oppression. Indeed, liberalism is sometimes charged with failing under the withering critiques of feminism, for example, by failing to respect the full moral worth of women as individuals.

But the practices and institutions of liberalism also have the potential to serve social justice. Representative democracy has demonstrated a tendency toward increasing inclusiveness, however slow, agonizing, and beset with setbacks this progress may be. Markets and economic growth (along with scientific advances) have vastly expanded the real capabilities of people across classes. The birth control pill and the technological automation of domestic drudgery made possible by economic growth has, for example, facilitated women’s liberation in a material way. The modern welfare state, meanwhile, has moderated the dislocating effects of capitalism and trade. All of these institutions stand to improve, especially in ways that focus on the ways sexism, racism, and other marginalizing and oppressive forces have shaped society. The resources of liberalism are powerful, but an inclusive liberalism needs the input of diverse voices.

 

* Diversity is a problem to the extent disagreement represents a challenge for collective decision-making. But diversity also offers the advantages of multiple ways of looking at problems and generating solutions. Diversity is also just simply a positive value for many.

Featured image is The De Moucheron Family , by Pierre de Moucheron.

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adamgurri
15 days ago
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How to Make Friends

7 Comments and 18 Shares
No, wait, come back! I want to be friends at you!
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adamgurri
25 days ago
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7 public comments
tante
23 days ago
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It me.
Oldenburg/Germany
smallfrogge
25 days ago
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Oh dear lord yes
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
sdevore
25 days ago
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And again too real
Tucson, AZ
Covarr
25 days ago
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I thought it was as simple as indiscriminately clicking "Add friend" on thousands of Facebook accounts. Surely with that wide a pool of potential friends, at least SOME of them will accept a friend request from a complete stranger without a second thought.

Boom. Friendship.
Moses Lake, WA
taddevries
25 days ago
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Sometimes XK cuts too the bone.
lrwrp
25 days ago
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Too real man, too real :(
??, NC
alt_text_bot
25 days ago
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No, wait, come back! I want to be friends at you!
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