The Western response to Russian invasion falls hard and fast. The actions of the E.U., the Anglosphere nations, and Japan are both extraordinary and consequential: multiple NATO states have brazenly declared their intent to arm Ukrainian forces with conventional ammunition, precision munitions, and even military aircraft. European airspace is closed to all Russian planes. Western capitals have not only announced sanctions on Kremlin oligarchs, but also restrictions on Russia’s central bank. Russian institutions are being removed from the SWIFT system. The Norwegians— in a maneuver sure to be copied—have dumped all Russian assets in their sovereign wealth fund. Olaf Scholz repudiated the last decade of German defense and energy policy with one speech. And now there is talk of bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO.
None of these actions are as audacious as the Russian invasion which precipitated them. They are a natural, proportional, and even predictable response to Putin’s decision to settle the question of Ukrainian nationhood through the force of arms. Yet it is precisely the naturalness of our policy that we should be wary of. A righteous reaction may be a dangerous one. The imperatives of action disguise an ugly truth: in the field of power politics it is outcomes, not intentions, that matter most. Failure to slow down and examine the assumptions and motivations behind our choices may lead to decisions that feel right in the moment, but fail to safeguard our interests, secure our values, or reduce the human toll of war in the long run.
What did I get wrong in 2020? What did I change my mind about? As I have argued that the mark of a good mind is a willingness to admit mistakes and to come to terms with why one might have made them, I am now forced into the uncomfortable position of trying to live […]
Image Source Eric Levitz has a thought provoking interview with David Shor up over at New York Magazine. Shor is a electoral whiz kid who seems to have been making waves in the world of liberal polling for some years, but only came to national prominence a few months ago when he was fired from […]
Image Source Several months ago someone on twitter asked the following question: which public thinker did you idolize ten or fifteen years ago but have little intellectual respect for today?  A surprising number of people responded with “all of them.” These tweeters maintained that no one who was a prominent writer and thinker in […]
Image Source Stanislas Dehaene’s Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts is a compulsively readable summary of the “global neural workspace theory” of consciousness. Chapters 1-2 are an especially useful summary of the last two decades of research into unconscious perception. If you are unfamiliar with the idea that your memories and perception […]
This week Jonathan Schulz, Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan Beauchamp, and Joseph Henrich had their big piece on WEIRD psychology and the Catholic Church published in Science.  Long term readers will remember that I wrote about this piece in the American Conservative when the pre-print was published last year, and then wrote a critique of the […]
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. —James Madison Dean Karalekas writes the following in his PhD thesis, Identity and Transformation: Perceptions of Civil-Military Relations in the Republic of China […]
Image source How wonderfully constituted is the human mind! How it resists, as long as it can, all efforts made to reclaim it from error! —Angelina Grimké In last month’s post on Chinese attitudes towards Hong Kong I had cause to mention Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier’s book The Enigma of Reason. At some point […]
With Darwin came the realization that whatever traits humans share as a species are not gifts of the gods but outcomes of biological evolution. Reason, being such a trait, must have evolved. And why not? Hasn’t natural selection produced many wondrous mechanisms? —Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier, The Enigma of Reason (2017) The number of […]
The opening scene of ‘A Catch of Shadows’ 1998 production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (image source) HERMIA: I would my father look’d but with my eyes. THESEUS: Rather your eyes mustwith his judgment look. —A Midsummer’s Night Dream William Buckner has published a small but superb essay over at Quillette under the title “A Girl’s […]