Sunday, April 16, 2017

North Sea Sunset

On a ship from Amsterdam to Newcastle, I saw the sun set over the North Sea.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Thanks to Matej Susnik for bringing me to Croatia! The Zagreb city center feels like the Slavic Europe of music videos, with stylish young people in tight black jeans walking past stately old buildings. I friended Matej on Facebook a few years ago when Google Scholar told me that he had discussed my work in Croatian. I ran his paper through Google Translate and was happy to see that he was bringing Humean ideas into a new language.

Yesterday after I laid out my naturalistic moral epistemology for the philosophy department, Matej organized a second talk on moral metaphysics at another venue. So I get to play with more philosophers, and I don't even have to go to a new city! Tonight will be the only night for nine days in which I sleep in the same country I slept in the night before. It's been Norway-Finland-Slovakia-Hungary-Croatia, and from today Croatia-Netherlands-North Sea-UK.

Philosophers in Zagreb have enemies who want to shut their department down for bad reasons. (For example, the philosophers discovered plagiarism in a government minister's work, and now the minister's friends want revenge.) I hope the department can survive and keep being awesome. I don't know how international support can help at this point, but we should be ready to provide it if needed. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nuclear Option Silver Linings

Republicans have unanimously voted to end Supreme Court filibusters and will confirm Neil Gorsuch. This was always the most likely outcome. But Democrats did the right thing in forcing Republicans to end judicial filibusters.

The bad news is that Neil Gorsuch will be on the Supreme Court, making Scalia-like decisions for three decades. Some judges are further right and some judges are younger, but it's hard to get both at once. That's serious bad news, but it's basically the only bad news, and it was the likely outcome ever since Trump won the election.

People will say it's bad that we've lost the ability to filibuster further Trump Supreme Court nominees. They're wrong. This party-line vote shows us that our filibusters weren't ever going to succeed. McConnell was always going to be able to break the filibuster, as long as Republicans had a Senate majority. He probably would've had an easier time after 2018, as we have to defend 25 Senate seats including some in very conservative states (WV, ND, IN, MO, MT). We'll probably lose some Senators then, so this was the best shot we were going to get.

There are two long-term benefits here. First, it'll be easier for Democrats to confirm their own judges. I was chatting with a Democrat at the center of this fight in DC yesterday. He specifically brought up the prospect of being more ambitiously left-wing in our party's judicial appointments in the future, now that Republicans can't filibuster them.

The second benefit is that this makes it easier to end the legislative filibuster someday. And that would benefit progressives much more than conservatives. Why?

It'll take more than a Trump Administration to end my faith in human progress. The world has become wealthier and less prejudiced over the centuries, and I expect that long-term trend to continue, barring nuclear war or some other global catastophe. From a blog post I wrote back in 2009:

"So if you make it easy to change the laws, you make it easy for a society to have the laws that people want in a high-tech, unprejudiced society. But if you make it hard to change the laws, you stick us to laws from the past. The filibuster is basically a way of making it very hard to change big laws, so it keeps us a couple decades behind the present."

Neil Gorsuch will do his best to keep America trapped in the brutal and impoverished past. But if today's events make it easier to end the legislative filibuster, that moves us towards an enlightened and generous future.