Links of interest to those interested in philosophy…

  1. “If the analysis that I have provided is correct, then Americans cannot solve the race problem. The most that they can do is choose which race problem they are willing to live with” — Joseph Heath (Toronto) on how, when it comes to race in the U.S., “different parties define both the problem itself and its solution differently”
  2. “When everything that can be explained has been explained, when we know the truths of physics and brains and psychology and social interactions and so on and so forth, will there still be anything worth wondering about?” — Charlie Huenemann (Utah State) on “the biggest question”
  3. “It would have been easy to demand freedom and protection for both Stock and for the trans and non-binary students or allies, since both sides claim to be being intimidated and silenced by the other. But the letter did not do this” — a nonbinary philosopher on “how I experienced the unfolding of events leading up to and around the recent UK philosophers’ open letter regarding Kathleen Stock”
  4. “An insider’s take on three different directions it seems to me the left wing of the applied turn is taking in philosophy” — Liam Kofi Bright (LSE) offers three “ideal types”
  5. A philosophy professor’s account of the “perilous” and “unrelenting” trajectory of his university — David Benatar’s new book is “The Fall of the University of Cape Town”
  6. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason — condensed into 100 tweets, by Helen de Cruz (SLU)
  7. “I conjecture that, in retrospect, historians will come to view Anglophone philosophy from the 1960s to 1990s one of the great golden ages” — why Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside) thinks “Back in the 1990s, when I was a graduate student, giants strode the Earth! Now, Earth is rather more populated with human-sized people.”

Mini-Heap posts usually appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, a collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers. Discussion welcome.

The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!

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Jonathan Surovell
2 years ago

“The central fact of US political economy,” as Paul Krugman calls it, is also the central fact of what Heath calls “the race problem”:

“that lower-income whites vote for politicians who redistribute income upward and weaken the safety net because they think the welfare state is for nonwhites”

This central fact explains why racial dogwhistles, from Nixon’s “law and order” campaign, to Reagan’s “welfare queen” propaganda, to Trump, are such a mainstay in US politics. And it explains why the US, unlike its peers, hasn’t adopted various policies that would have the biggest impact on concentrated intergenerational poverty, this being the foundation of “the race problem”: supply-side politicians can make a career out of appealing to this misperception about the racial impact of the safety net. (I’m here talking about policies like Medicaid expansion, public child care, funding for violence interruption, and voting rights).

Once one takes stock of this central fact, one is less tempted to think that data on intermarriage refutes “bad actor theories” of the “race problem.” Whether Americans are less overtly racist or more willing to intermarry (the two kinds of data Heath considers) don’t address the central political fact. One (not the only) thing that does is the increased political salience of white identity, as Sides and colleagues discuss in Identity Crisis.

Given that exploitation of racialized opposition to poverty-reduction policies is one of the central barriers to dealing with “the race problem,” an important part of the solution to this problem is to expose this exploitation in a way that people of all races will be able to understand. The case that needs to be made is that racism hurts people of all races by dividing the working class and poor and thereby strengthening plutocrats. Ian Haney-Lopez has been making this point for years; sadly, his insights go largely unheeded:

Rev. William Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign have been making these points effectively for years. Would that more activists and politicians would join them in this orientation.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jonathan Surovell
Reply to  Jonathan Surovell
2 years ago

This is one good explanation of why poor-whites tend to oppose welfarism or at least *more* of it than currently.

I also recommend reading Amy L. Chua’s article “The Paradox of Free Market Democracy: Rethinking Development Policy.”

For Chua, poor-whites (or poor people in general) in the US and other places oppose (more) welfarism (or wealth redistribution) due to at least five ideological factors: 1) the myth of upward mobility, 2) self-reliance, 3) worker-control, 4) the valued employee, and 5) racism.

Factors 1, 2, and 5 are the strongest causes of why many poor (white) people oppose more welfarism in the US. While causes 3 and 4 are strongest in Europe, which is why (poor) people over there aren’t so opposed to more welfarism compared to the US. It’s overall a fruitful and fascinating article. It should be a required reading for anybody working on sustainable development.

I like that the article is unapologetically transparent and upfront about these issues. But that’s to be expected from legal scholars.

Last edited 2 years ago by Evan
Reply to  Jonathan Surovell
2 years ago

To Jonathan: Interesting points. Here’s some potential pushback. Even if republican presidential campaigns believe that racializing opposition to more progressive economic policy both was and is politically potent, that doesn’t mean they’re correct. The claim that opposition to progressive economics is a measure of racist attitudes requires that they are correct. However, if they were correct, one would expect that, at the statewide level, there would be a negative correlation between the percentage of the population that was non-white and white support of progressive economics. For instance, one would expect Wyoming and Idaho to have relatively progressive economic policy at the state level. Furthermore, Trump’s 2016 ***campaign*** (as distinct from governing) featured spikes in racist attitudes and, relative to the Bush, McCain, and Romney campaigns, a big step to the left on economics. In Europe, racist parties’ economic positions vary widely.

Ian Haney-Lopez’s work identifies various positions as “racially coded” that, at least on the surface, are not, such as “tough-on-crime” positions. This leads to awkward results and analysis (e.g., “multiracial whiteness”) when voters of color support “tough-on-crime” positions and bewilderment when Trump outperforms Romney with Black and Hispanic voters. To identify “tough-on-crime” and “law-and-order” positions as racist is problematic, as it doesn’t account for the fact that the victims of crime are disproportionately Black.

Last edited 2 years ago by ABD
Jonathan Surovell
Reply to  ABD
2 years ago

Thanks, these are interesting issues. I’ll try to address each one quickly, then I’ll have to bow out and go cook.

A general comment: to the extent I’m working something like a causal model of racial demagoguery and regressive policy in the US, it’s an inchoate one. I’m an amateur in this area. If I came across as claiming to have a thorough understanding these things, that might be because I got a little ticked off by what I perceive as the Heath article’s cavalier treatment of research in these areas. (I link to some of this research below.)

If I may just reiterate my main points before getting into details: (1) a major faction in US politics regularly engages in racial/ethnic/religious/etc. demagoguery and opposes humane policies that would benefit poor black people and communities in particular. This faction has made the US an outlier among its peers in terms of its redistributive/welfarist policies. Given that context, the following argument is unserious, regardless of the effects and effect sizes of said demagoguery: “intermarriage is more accepted and certain kinds of overt racism have decreased, therefore, ‘bad actor’ theories of ‘the race problem’ are all false.” As a general rule, across times and places, when racial/ethnic/religious demagogues enact policies that harm, or resist policies that would benefit, the groups they scapegoat, denigrate, etc., I don’t think we need randomized controlled trials before applying that schema. (2) The best way to defeat the racial/ethnic/religious/etc. demagoguery (to solve “the race problem” as Heath puts it) in the US seems to centrally involve Haney-Lopez’s race-class fusion messaging.

To address some of your specific points:

– Do Haney-Lopez’s experiments really test the effects of dog whistles, specifically? I would think so, based on the research in this area:

And for a recent review of the literature on dog whistles:

But I’m not sure it matters whether he’s technically using dog whistles in his experiments. The prompts he uses in his experiments clearly appeal to ingroup/outgroup attitudes or biases, e.g., “us” vs. “people coming from terrorist countries.” The important point is that his results show how to defeat this kind of messaging, whether the messaging is dog whistling or some other kind of demagoguery used to divide poor/working-class people by race/ethnicity/religion/etc. (This is why, above, I switched to the broader term ‘demagoguery.’)

– A hypothesis suggested by my previous post is that whites’ opposition to redistributive or welfarist programs is driven, in part, by their concern about blacks (and probably other racial/ethnic minorities) benefiting from such programs. You say that (a) the states with the fewest non-whites still have regressive policies and (b) this is inconsistent with the hypothesis in question.

I’d say (b) is false. The question is whether, after controlling for as many variables as possible, a state’s whiteness influences, to some extent, the progressiveness/regressiveness of its policies. And there’s some evidence that it does:

Of course, the interplay between racialized national politics and non-racial state-level politics, at the psychological level, is likely to be complex. I would expect nationally-based opposition to redistributive policies to “carry over,” at least somewhat, to attitudes towards state-level policy. But I can’t be very precise; again, I’m an amateur without a worked-out model.

– You also argue that Trump engaged in more racial/ethnic/religious demagoguery than his Republican predecessors but also sometimes showed more openness to redistributive policies. To clarify: whatever model I’m implicitly working with, it doesn’t include a linear, positive correlation between laissez-faire economic policy and racial/ethnic/religious demagoguery. Rather, many of the most demagogic figures, around the world, adopt “right-wing populist” socio-economic messaging, e.g., bringing factories back from a foreign enemy through protectionist policies, saving the suburbs from dangerous inner-city types, environmental deregulation, cutting taxes, some pro-family policies, etc. Right-wing populist messaging typically includes a very small number of minor redistributive items that would benefit certain categories of small business owner and worker. But, again, it contains relatively few such policies and overwhelmingly excludes policies that would benefit the poor and, particularly, impoverished or oppressed minorities.

– One of the main hypotheses we’re considering is, again, whether whites’ opposition to redistributive or welfarist programs is driven, in part, by their concern about blacks benefiting from such programs. Here’s one important study that directly confirms this hypothesis:

And here’s a discussion of some more recent work:

Whatever you make of the work in this area, I wish Heath had at least looked into it before opining about what the “race problem” is not.