Category Archives: justice

Book recommendation: The Mechanical by Ian Tregilis

Let the summer reading commence!

The Mechanical, by Ian Tregilis, is an adventure story set within an alternate history in which Christiaan Huygens used alchemy to create and enslave thousands of mechanical people, which allowed the Dutch to maintain a worldwide empire for over 250 years. The story puts you inside the perspective of a range of characters, including a mechanical named Jax, a noblewoman at the head of a French spy network, a Dutch pastor, and many more. It is a fun read that can be taken at a galloping pace, but if you slow to a walk, there is a lot to think about regarding free will, sectarian religious disagreements, colonialism and slavery, human reliance on technology, and other substantial philosophical issues.

You can read a sample at https://www.orbitbooks.net/orbit-excerpts/the-mechanical/ and the good news is that once you get sucked in (like I did) there are two more books in the series: The Rising and The Liberation.

Book recommendation: Teeth by Mary Otto

Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America is a great book, one that I strongly recommend.

Whether you are interested in health care justice; the history of dental practices, education, and policy in America; ways to use public and private resources more efficiently; the biology of the human mouth; or ways to alleviate the significant suffering of your neighbors, this book by Mary Otto has something for you.

Painful toothache, oral disease, and tooth loss are chronic, widespread, devastating problems in our society. Huge numbers of our fellow citizens have no access to dental services, whether because of lack of money to pay for insurance or dental services on the private market, shortages of dental providers in many geographical areas, or a number of other reasons. These dental problems often make it difficult or impossible to get or keep various types of jobs. These problems are easy to ignore IF you are a relatively well-off person with access to dental care on the private market. Such people often blame dental problems on the individual choices of those who suffer them, without a full understanding of the facts about access to dental care in the US. Otto’s book shines a brilliant light on that bigger picture.

The good news is that these dental problems are largely preventable. All we need is the will to devote some of our existing resources to the solutions that have already met with significant success in places where people have fought hard to implement them.

Immersive Learning Project in Spring 2018

I’ve been looking forward to teaching a new course on Justice (Phil 380) for a while now. But now I have one more reason to look forward to teaching it in spring 2018.

One of the best parts of my two and a half years of living in Muncie has been my weekly involvement with a local non-profit that is dedicated to poverty alleviation. (When I first got involved, they were called TEAMWork for Quality Living, but they have merged with Second Harvest Food Bank, and are now undergoing a name change.) I’ve made some of my best friends in Muncie through this incredibly diverse group of wonderful people.

I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to arrange for my Justice class to do a project in collaboration with this non-profit. As a way of unifying and applying what we learn in our units about epistemic justice and economic justice, we’ll be participating in a poverty simulation, conducting a listening session with the participants in the poverty alleviation program, and using what we learn from their experiences and expertise to formulate proposed action plans for how to help eliminate some of the systematic barriers that keep people in poverty here in Delaware County.

Once we’ve formed relationships with and actively listened to the participants in the poverty alleviation program, we’ll be presenting our action plans to them for their feedback. And after hearing from my students, the program participants will have an opportunity to collectively decide to implement some components of the proposed action plans as part of their once monthly “Big View” sessions, which are set aside for work designed to positively impact everyone in our community who lives in poverty, not just those specifically and directly involved with our group.

Though this project is going to involve a lot a work, I have high hopes, and I can’t wait to share this opportunity with my students.

Book recommendations about democracy & the workplace

Elizabeth Anderson’s new book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), was even more of an eye-opener for me than her last one (The Imperative of Integration). In her latest book, Anderson defends answers two main questions: (a) “why do we talk as if workers are free at work, and that the only threats to individual liberty come from the state? (xx)” and (b) how could we talk differently about the ways that employers constrain workers, potentially helping restructure workplaces to better serve the interests of workers?

In answering those questions, Anderson critiques the ideology that undergirds the dictatorial control that many employers exert over their employees, both on and off the job. In doing so, she carefully analyzes the historical context in which that ideology arose and explains why that ideology (which appeared to be rational prior to the Industrial Revolution) cannot be defended in the world as we now know it.  The book also includes critical comments from two historians, a philosopher, and an economist, as well as Anderson’s responses to them, which I found very useful.

While reading it, I couldn’t help but think back on Richard Wolff’s Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, another excellent book about how workers could have more say in their working conditions, and the many benefits that could be gained from structuring workplaces as democracies. I particularly appreciated the clarity with which Wolff explains distinctions between various kinds of capitalisms and socialisms, which are easy to mix up (and often are mixed up).

While you are at it, or if you want something on the lighter side that engages with similar ideas, why not try The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki?

Book recommendation: Minimizing Marriage

Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law, by Elizabeth Brake, is a thoughtful, respectful investigation of the moral and legal status of marriage as it actually exists and as it could exist in a more ideal society.

Brake argues forcefully that current marriage practices privilege amatonormative relationships (those between monogamous sexual pairs) in ways that unjustly discriminate against other caring relationships (like friendships and relationships between people who live together without sexual/romantic intimacy) and thus that we ought to extend marriage rights to a wider range of voluntary relationships between consenting, caring adults.

I couldn’t agree more. I wish I had written this book, but thankfully Brake already has, and has done so more skillfully than I ever could. Now I just hope that more and more people read it.

Women’s March on Washington

I’m thrilled to say that on January 21st, I’ll be joining what will likely be hundreds of thousands of others for the Women’s March on Washington. There is something amazing about the experience of publicly and collectively expressing what you value most deeply; I always look forward to opportunities to do that.

But on this occasion, I’m especially thankful that I’ll be meeting up with personal friends of mine who will be coming from various places across the country. While we are different in terms of gender, race, age, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, political commitments, professions, and in all sorts of other ways, we all share a commitment to transforming our communities into ones in which the rights, dignity, and safety of all are protected and respected.

I hope you’ll join us in spirit, if not physically at one of the sister marches nearest you.

Elections: Not Just For Presidents

As someone who has moved around quite a bit in the last few years, it can be hard to keep up with local and statewide elections, which don’t always get the kind of media attention that national elections do. That is one reason why I love Vote Smart!

As they say on their website, “Vote Smart’s mission is to provide freefactualunbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.” My favorite tool on their website is Vote Easy, which asks you a few questions about your values and priorities and then lets you know which candidates in your area are the closest match to you. Because even if you already know who you want to vote for in the presidential election (I sure do), you may not know who is the best fit with your views on a statewide level, and those elections matter just as much.

Vote Smart is a truly nonpartisan organization that doesn’t accept money from any organization that supports or opposes any candidate or issue. 90% of the people who work for Vote Smart are volunteers committed to helping the rest of us access candidates’ voting records, interest group ratings, public statements, campaign finances and more information that helps exercise our right to vote in an informed way. Thanks for the good work you do, Vote Smart!

Summer reading

The transition from summer to fall is a really pleasant time of year for me – I’m back in the swing of my schedule at school, the weather is mellowing out, and I get a break from living out of a suitcase (not to complain about my travels to Chicago, Greece, Portland, and Boulder, which were all lovely). The thing I miss most about summer is all the time I get to spend reading; it was even more packed with good books than usual this year: Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Mycophilia, The Pale King, My Year of Meats, The People of the Book, Negroland: A Memoir, The Bone Clocks, and The Better Angels of Our Nature, just to name a few from my list that would be worth checking out.

But one book that deserves special mention is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, which was easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. Desmond sheds a penetrating light on the massive increases in American residential evictions during the past few decades, and, crucially, on the devastating, long-lasting impact evictions have on people across a broad spectrum of demographic differences. After embedding with families on both sides of the renter / landlord divide over a period of years, Desmond vividly recounts their personal narratives, carefully analyzes and clearly present massive amounts of relevant data, and even makes some recommendations for policy changes that seem our best bets for addressing the housing crisis we must all face together. I’m not alone in being blown out of the water by this book, and I can’t overstate how strongly I recommend it to, well, everyone.

Northwestern University Society for the Theory of Ethics and Politics (NUSTEP)

I want to express my appreciation to the organizers of NUSTEP for inviting me to serve as commentator at this year’s conference; I had a really good time. The highlight for me was Nomy Arpaly’s talk about “good old-fashioned benevolence,” which was an excellent model of how to make precise and rigorous argument using well-crafted examples but without using any jargon, while expressing a great sense of humor, all at the same time!

Of course, some nice walks along Lake Michigan and good local food were also very welcome. Regarding food in Evanston, Found Kitchen deserves a special mention – the many dishes I tried were all delicious, the space had a great atmosphere, and the people involved enact a worthy social mission of hiring and training people coming out of homelessness.

Vote Smart

Being able to vote is something I see as an amazing opportunity and a serious responsibility. But when you’ve moved around a fair bit in the last few years, as I have, that makes it harder to stay informed about state and local politics, since you kind of have to start over every time you move.

Thank goodness for Project Vote Smart! Their mission “is to provide freefactualunbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.” I’ve come to rely on their easy-to-use tools and the huge amount of non-partisan information they provide to insure that I vote for the candidates that best reflect my values.

So during this election season, I encourage everyone to spend some time on their website (and maybe to make a donation to support their work, if you can)!