Pluralistic: To save the news, ban surveillance ads (31 May 2023)


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Pluralistic: Ian McDonald's "Hopeland" (30 May 2023)


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Monopolizing turds


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Ideas Lying Around

Milton Friedman was a monster, but he wasn’t wrong about this.

A workbench with a pegboard behind it. from the pegboard hang an array of hand-tools.
btwashburn/CC BY 2.0

Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

-Milton Friedman, 1972

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Pluralistic: Steven Brust's "Tsalmoth" (27 May 2023)


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Pluralistic: How (and why) Biden should overcome the Supreme Court to end the debt showdown (26 May 2023)


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Pluralistic: To save the news, shatter ad-tech (25 May 2023)


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Pluralistic: Justice Warriors (22 May 2023)


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  • Justice Warriors: Matt Bors', Ben Clarkson's and Felipe Sobriero's scorchingly brilliant, viciously funny, dystopian sf graphic novel.
  • Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
  • This day in history: 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018
  • Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading

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Rich People’s Gain is Worth Less Than Poor People’s Pain

A new way to think about utilitarianism, courtesy of the Office of Management and Budget.

A faded, halftoned image of the US Capitol Dome, surmounted by a balance scale. The lower part of the scale is weighed down by a towering Oliver Twist figure, porridge-bowl extended in supplication. He is raising up a scale holding a fan of caricature drawings of a business-suited plutocrat with a dollar-sign-emblazoned money-bag for a head.

Utilitarianism — the philosophy of making decisions to benefit the most people — sounds commonsensical. But utilitarianism is — and always has been — an attractive nuisance, one that invites its practitioners to dress up their self-serving preferences with fancy mathematics that “prove” that their wins and your losses are “rational.”

That’s been there ever since Jeremy Bentham’s formulation of the concept of utilitarianism, which he immediately mobilized in service to the panopticon, his cruel design for a prison where prisoners would be ever haunted by a watcher’s unseeing eye. Bentham seems to have sincerely believed that there was a utilitarian case for the panopticon, which let him declare his sadistic thought-experiment (thankfully, it was never built during Bentham’s life) to be a utility-maximizing act of monumental kindness.

Ever since Bentham, utilitarianism has provided cover for history’s great monsters to claim that they were only acting in service to the greater good.

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Pluralistic: Dumping links like Galileo dumped the orange (20 May 2023)


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