Andreas Kappes

The Campaign Trail as a Carnival of Virtues

by Andreas Kappes

@AnKappes

Imagine you are asked to evaluate candidates who apply for a job. The person who gets the job will interact with you a lot. What would be more important to you, that the person is friendly, honest, and overall a good person or that the person is competent, educated, and good at what they are doing?

Or imagine your adult child is bringing home a new partner, would you rather have that person to be honest and trustworthy or have a great job and a great salary?

Now, consider the next prime minster of Britain. Do you want to give the job to a person that has good intentions toward you and people you like, or do you want somebody who is fantastically efficient in implementing their policies?

Ideally, you want each of the people mentioned so far to have both but that is not how life often works. If you have to choose, then, what do you feel is the lesser evil (or the greater good)?

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If I were you then I wouldn’t say that: The perils of giving and taking advice

Written by Andreas Kappes

The school year just started, but surprisingly, the half-term break is already lurking around the corner, when children have a week off. For a lot of parents this implies seeing their own parents, having them take care of the kids. And whenever families come together, there will be many sentences starting with: If I were you… Adult children don’t hesitate to give unsolicited advice on, for instance, the outfit choices of their partners (“If I were you I would only wear this at midnight, when it is dark and nobody can see you”), parents give advice to their own parents (“If I were you, I would take it slow), and grandparents can’t resist either (“If I were you, I would buy a house and stop renting”). Even outside the family, unsolicited advice is everywhere1. Obama telling the United Kingdom how much money to spend on the military, David Cameron advising Europe on how to handle immigration, or this blog post suggesting ways to offer advice; it is readily available. And all of these different forms of advice – hopefully with one obvious exception – have one thing in common; they backfire. While people love to dish out advice and it seems to them to be a good idea, we are not great in taking it; we rather hate it. So how to give it right?

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Post-Vacation Musings: How rude should I be to my mother?

Written by Andreas Kappes

A couple of years ago, my mother flew in from Germany to visit and help us with looking after my daughter during a school break. One night, I can’t remember the exact circumstances, she angrily told me: “Stop being so polite”. I might have thanked her for something that in her mind, obviously, did not deserve a “thank you”. My mother embodies some of the stereotypical ideas about Germans. She prefers directness over politeness and avoids the unnecessary expression of feelings. Yet, weirdly, her remark rang true to me. I felt guilty of being too polite and I understood the sentiment without being able to verbalize to my wife – who is American – later that evening why my politeness was offending my mother. But how impolite should I be?

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How to Criticize on the Internet: What Shame Teaches us about Online Harassment

Participating in that great experiment of the internet—social media in particular—runs some risks; an emotional tweet, a late-night blog entry, or a Facebook post after a couple of pints can not only get you into trouble with friends and family, but at times, even cost you your job and bring world-wide notoriety. Justine Sacco is probably the most famous case. Before boarding an airplane to South Africa, she tweeted what one could describe either as a misfired, ill-calculated joke or as an outright racist joke to her 170 followers on twitter. When she landed, she was trending at number one worldwide on twitter, people were openly harassing her, and among many things, wishing her to be fired from her job; a wish that her company granted. Even worse were the emotional consequences of the incident. Sacco states that “I cried out my body weight in the first 24 hours. It was incredibly traumatic”. Jon Ronson wrote an article about this case and later a book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, portraying people who suffered from online harassment. In it, he also writes about Monica Lewinsky, who describes herself as the first victim of online shaming. Lewinsky talked about severe suicidal tendencies in the aftermath of her affair; her mother made her shower with an open bathroom door out of fear of what she might do. Why does online harassment have such devastating consequences?

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Should We Reward Psychopaths?

Psychopaths frequently make the news and rarely for good reasons. Take, for instance, the recent case of Becky Watts, a 16-year old girl who was abducted and murdered in Bristol; her body parts were discovered by the police at a house in Barton Court, Bristol. While her murder remains unsolved, it is hard not to suspect that there is a person with psychopathic tendencies behind it. And this is not unreasonable. Between 25 to 30 percent of crimes are committed by psychopaths, despite them representing only 1 percent of the population. The percentages are especially high for extremely violent crimes such as rape and homicide. Given the detrimental effect psychopaths have on society, is there a way to cure them or at least to reduce their negative impact on society?

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Is Effective Altruism Killing the Love?

In July 1990, the Australian state of Victoria put a law requiring cyclists to wear helmets into effect (1). More than two decades later, it is unclear whether or not the introduction of the law had a net societal health benefit (2). This might be puzzling when considering that cycling with a helmet on is safer than cycling without it. It prevents head traumas, especially those resulting from accidents at lower speeds. In London, the police started last year to stop cyclists without helmets and to educate them about the benefits of wearing a helmet (3). However, one of the arguments against laws requiring the wearing of bike helmets is that it significantly reduces the number of people that cycle. Hence, there is a good chance that the health costs – increased morbidity due to lack of exercise outweigh the health benefits – less head traumas (2). In the words of Milton: “Easy is the descent into Hell, for it is paved with good intentions.” Might effective altruism have similar unintended consequences?

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Being Angry at Zoella – What Moral Outrage Tells About Us

If you are like me you did not know who Zoe Sugg – known as Zoella – was before she published the fastest selling debut novel ever, “Girl Online”. Since then, I learned that Sugg is a video blogger on YouTube, publishing tips about beauty and life. More than 9 million people have subscribed to her channels (Ref). My immediate suspicion was that pretty soon snobbish intellectuals would start writing articles about how the success of a book written by a vlogger would indicate the end of the world. Yet, the backlash came in a different form. Shortly after the book was published, people started to question how much writing Sugg did and how much help she got: Did she write the novel herself? The publisher subsequently admitted that she had help (“To be factually accurate, you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own,” Ref) and a lot of people on the internet got morally outraged.

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Is there Value in Teaching Moral Values?

In Japan, being good will soon be a formal subject in school education. The Japanese education ministry must develop textbooks and curricula to teach morality, and tests to grade it, which occasions a host of interesting practical questions (for a thoughtful list). In addition to practical questions about how to implement such a program, there are theoretical questions about whether trying to do so is wise. Moral education has a troubled past in Japan; it was scratched in the 1960s by the Americans because they suspected it taught racism and blind obedience to the emperor. Nevertheless, the idea of teaching moral values seems to be gaining steam internationally. In Britain, for instance, the Jubilee Centre for Characters and Values at the University of Birmingham hopes to form the moral character of British pupils (another attempt). And it just announced the launch of a free online course designed to teach people how to build a morally good character.

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The Isis Propaganda War and its Moral Consequences

Islamic State (Isis) is using a variety of social media tools to spread their jihadist message across the globe. While some are rather odd, such as the internet meme of #catsofjihad, which combines cats with weapons, others are highly sophisticated, as Steve Ross details in his comprehensive article on the media tools Isis is using. Isis is distributing documentary-style videos in several languages which come with their own Hollywood-like trailers, propaganda tweets that detail the supposedly good Isis is doing, and footage of gruesome combat actions which at times is intertwined with video game footage. But nothing attracted more media attention than the videos of hostage killings such as the latest of the beheading of Alan Henning. While all the other parts of the Isis propaganda make sense to me, I had a hard time understanding why publish such horrific videos: How could such appalling videos help recruitment?

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Can it be morally wrong to make people happy?

We all want to be happy. Just recently, a study led by Robb Rutledge and colleagues at UCL made the news cycle showing the importance of recently received rewards and expectations for people’s happiness . This study got a lot of well-deserved media attention worldwide, highlighting the huge interest people have in being happier and societies have in improving the happiness of their members. Governments are considering and / or implementing measures of happiness as part of their public policy programs. And interventions to improve happiness are in high demand, in research and on the book market. However, one question that is more or less never discussed is whether making someone happier is always a good idea. Can it be, at times, morally wrong?

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