Anders Herlitz, Rutgers University

Where are you from? What is it worth?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a New York Times article on Facebook, where the author, Lev Golinklin, shared his difficulties with coming to terms with where he was from: “Well, technically I’m from the Russian-speaking region of a Soviet Socialist republic [Ukraine] that used to be part of a country that isn’t there anymore. It was called the Soviet Union, and you can still find it on old maps. “It’s complicated.”

My friend, who works on international law, added the following comment: “Thought provoking story but certainly the author should know that history is full of different peoples being shuffled around from one legal entity or country to the next. Lev Golinkin is from Ukraine. It’s not a hard question.”

Perhaps this is not a hard question from certain (maybe legal) perspectives. However, I believe that there is more to it than this. Continue reading

Why don’t we just replace professional sports with paté baking already?

As the new season started, there was in the United States debates around the health of participants, responsibilities in and the ethics of American football. In September this year, a 16-year-old player died after a collision with another player. Earlier in the same month, it was reported that brain trauma affects one in three retired players of the National Football League. In a column in the New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman (the magazine’s “Ethicist”) poses the question: “Is It Wrong to Watch Football?” Is it? I think the very institution is the problem. Continue reading

The arrogance of warmongers: Pacifism for the 21st century

The world has turned mad; we need to sober up. It is 2014, and we have recently marked the First World War Centenary. Commemorating a past filled with suffering and loss should be a time to remember the horrors, and to take a firm stance against wars. Yet, we mark the First World War Centenary, and our increasingly unstable world scares me. A ceasefire has just been reached after yet another outburst of excessive violence in Israel/Gaza. Russian troops have entered Ukraine, and the West has responded not only with economic sanctions, but also with increased military (NATO) presence in Europe, and in many cases by decisions to expand military budgets, because a widespread conviction that Russia is a real military threat also to countries such as Denmark. Some commentators seem to think we should prepare for a full war in Europe. The Syrian Civil War is in its third year, and the death toll surpasses 190,000, the cause for which is doubtlessly partly involvement of other countries. A new state, which in its brutality reminds all of us of the history of man, and of what all human babies are capable of developing into, has been declared, the Islamic State, in areas that were previously part of Iraq and Syria. The United States of America responds by gathering an international coalition with the seeming, medium-term, purpose of waging a war, comparing their intentions to those that led to the “quick victory” in the Gulf war in 1990-1991. Meanwhile, the silent drone war that consists of attempts to systematically assassinate terrorists continues. In all this madness, we need to a make plea for peace. Continue reading

Being ethically responsible to see ethical complexities: What Israel can teach us about ethics

As I write this, at least 1,474 people have died in the recent outburst of violence in Gaza. A vast majority (1,410) of those are Palestinians. Throughout the last weeks, those of us who are open-minded enough to consume different types of news will have read very, very different assessments of what is happening. Some express the in other contexts quite popular opinion that we don’t measure ethics by counting dead bodies. A group of medical doctors published an open letter in The Lancet denouncing the aggression in Gaza by Israel. Washington Post published an opinion piece with the title “Moral Clarity in Gaza” which proclaimed that the situation is very clear: it is Hamas’ fault, and Israel is only exercising its rights. The New York Times made an attempt at being impartial by letting three experts on each side publish their views of what goes on. A group of prominent International Law experts wrote a joint declaration calling the international community to, among other things, use its power to stop the violence, and encouraged the UN Security Council to exercise its responsibilities and refer the situation in Palestine to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. And so on. The disagreements run abysmally deep. Imprudent as it might feel to open ones mouth about a topic as infested as this, as someone working on ethics, I feel compelled to think about what ethics can do in this situation.
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Manipulations: Is it time to rethink the ethics of news?

The purpose of this blog is, as you know, to comment on ethics in the news. It is written here just above: “Practical Ethics – Ethics in the News”. In this post, I am going to diverge from this purpose, and address a somewhat different topic. Numerous recent events that have been reported in the news raise the following question: what is the ethics of news? What should they be? Below, I outline what I perceive to be a very problematic tension that currently exists between the reality that journalists work in, and the ethical ideals that they subscribe to, and that we as consumers expect of them. I finish with speculating in what we can do about this, on the ethical side of things. Continue reading

Revenge – an unjust necessity?

Recently, I have come to seemingly hap hazardously stumble over a series of texts and events that all circulate around what I always considered base and somewhat repulsive desires to hurt fellow human beings on what is considered good grounds. Some months ago, I wrote a post here about so-called shaming sites that expose in particular sex criminals, where law-abiding citizens are given the opportunity to add to the suffering of sex offenders by spreading information about them, and making sure that whatever the legal punishment has been, they shall not get away that easily with the appalling crimes they have committed. Since then, New York Times has published an article about the merit of spite, and an opinion piece by Norwegian crime novel author Jo Nesbo entitled ‘Revenge, My Lovely’ on the value of revenge. Here in Oxford, Martha Nussbaum has given the first of a series of lectures on ‘Anger and Forgiveness’ where she addresses the same desire to hurt wrongdoers. Interest for this phenomenon is à la mode, and I will suggest that this might be because it reveals a tension in our society that is very difficult to deal with. Continue reading

The No harm principle, an ethical principle for economic policy advisors?

In a recent article in the New York Times, Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw points out that economic policy advice always relies on political-philosophical standpoints and, inspired by medical ethics, suggests that economists that give policy advice should apply the No harm principle rather than promote policy based on uncertain predictions and political-philosophical convictions. By applying his interpretation of this principle, he claims that economists should not endorse either the Affordable care act, or higher minimum wage because these are in fact policies that cause harm.

It is refreshing with an economist who recognises that there is no such thing as purely scientific, value-free economic policy advice, and it is interesting to consider whether ethical principles can be introduced to deal with biases inherent to policy advice and with uncertainties innate to economic predictions. However, Mankiw’s proposal is as biased as the policy advice he addresses, and his proposed version of the No harm principle is at best a poor re-articulation of his own ideological convictions. Continue reading

Contemporary space exploration, spectacles, and the creation of role models

Desire for space exploration and fantasies about what life will be like once the human race breaks free from the chains that bind us to this planet have been along for a long time. Some have envisioned a bright future without scarcity as we know it in which man is no longer driven by base desires for material well-being. Some envision the opposite, a known universe taken over by more or less vicious corporations. Yet others solemnly contemplate man and man’s condition aboard a spaceship that lost its course and is doomed to for eternity drift away into unknown space.

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Exposing criminals and punitive justice: is it time to reconsider the penal code?

During the last years, we have seen a rapid increase in websites devoted to publicly exposing convicted criminals. Some sites claim that the purpose is to “shame” criminals. Some claim the purpose is to make available information that will increase the safety of you and your family. Some are legal and operate within the framework of the law; others violate the law. Regardless of purposes and legal status, consequences for ex-convicts are clearly negative, and potentially disastrous. What this means in terms of punitive justice is often overlooked: what is an appropriate reaction to a situation where the expected consequences of a criminal conviction go far beyond the intended punishment? Continue reading

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