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Category Archives: Society

Culture and rationality: or why South Asian call centres can be so infuriating

I recently read Kenneth Pollack’s Ph.D dissertation on The Influence of Arab culture on Arab Military Effectiveness (which later became a book). It is a very fine piece of social science which, alas, I doubt any important member of either the Obama or Bush II Administrations has read. The burden of his analysis is that Arab culture strongly […]

Domain states, tax states and fiscal states

Have been reading a Ph.D dissertation by Wenkai He on the consolidation of a modern fiscal state in C18th England and late C19th Japan and the failure to do so in late Qing China. (The dissertation has since become a book.) The dissertation references history of public finance literature I was previously largely unaware of. The literature covers domain states and fiscal […]

States and gangs

Having previously defined the state as (a structure of) systematic coercion requiring hierarchy to operate and revenues to sustain itself extracted from a given territory, an obvious question is: what about criminal gangs? They engage in systematic coercion, have a hierarchy which they use to extract revenue to sustain themselves from a given territory. One objection might be that criminal […]

Three ages of Western history summarised

In the Ancient period, the dominant ideal was to ennoble life (to seek glory). In the Medieval period, the dominant ideal was to sanctify life (to seek salvation). In the Modern era, the dominant ideal is to expand life (to live long and prosper). The ideal of the previous era never entirely dies, but becomes part […]

Ebola, Ferguson and political narratives

The Ebola virus reaching the US and the ongoing troubles and controversy over a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri display the power and the dangers of political narratives from all sides, both of US politics and more broadly. Thus, one of the more tired and embarrassing responses to Ebola mis-steps in the US has to […]

Orientation and action

The case of Gordon College (via) in Massachusetts, which propounds a traditional Christian view of homosexuality with a rather less traditional coda of sympathy, puts into sharp relief the “orientation is not sinful, acts are” position. The policy of Gordon College is: The orientation/action distinction has two major problems with it. First, it sets up an utterly […]

The eternal now of conservatism (2)

Catholic writer James Livingstone (see previous post) is hardly the only conservative writer who sees inherited social arrangements as based in verities of human nature rather than contingent historical circumstances. Not counting as human This notion of social arrangements as being rooted in verities of human nature, not the contingencies of history, can have a very […]

Ahistorical pomposity and gnostic sneering: why academics write deep crap about “neoliberalism”

Humanities and social science academics write a remarkable amount of nonsense about “neoliberalism”, typically understanding neither the reasons for the general shift in public policy nor the motivations and ideas behind it. A nice example of such nonsense is provided in a post by philosopher Robin James: neoliberals think everything in the universe works like a […]

ISIS, ibn Khaldun and patterns in history

One of the benefits of reading Ira Lapidus’s A History of Islamic Societies (which I review here and here) is understanding how much Islamic history shows recurring patterns. For example, how conflict between modernisers (we should learn from others), traditionalists (we should practice the religion as it is handed down to us) and reformists (we need to recover the purity of original Islam) is a […]

Equalising consumption => lowering vulnerability

A comment on a previous post expresses a common set of views among conservatives: Darwin has the final word on sillyness. If same sex marriage was a useful thing in society, then the vast range of human societies would show us a successful society with same sex marriage as normal. This confuses natural selection with social selection, […]