Hazem Zohny

When the State Distrusts Individuals Based Purely on their Nationality

Written by Hazem Zohny.

The UK government finds my nationality sufficiently suspicious that it requires me to register with the police. Unlike any of the other foreign nationals working at my research centre, I alone have to present myself to the police to get ‘certified’ as part of my visa conditions.

This is because I’m from Egypt – one of the 40 or so listed countries (mostly poor and/or Muslim majority) for which this is a requirement. Basically, anyone who wants to live and work in the UK for more than 6 months and who is from the Middle East, Central Asia or a handful of South American countries has to do this.

There is no explicit rationale for it. The law itself says that it is a way of ensuring people like me comply with the terms of their visa, though zero justification is given for why people from these particular countries are singled out.

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The Ethics of Gently Electrifying Prisoners’ Brains

By Hazem Zohny and Tom Douglas

Scientists who want to study the effects of passing electric currents through prisoners’ brains have a PR problem: it sounds shady. Even if that electric current is so small as to go largely unnoticed by its recipient – as in the case of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) – for some, such experiments evoke historical abuses of neuroscience in criminal justice, not to mention bringing to mind some of the more haunting scenes in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Clockwork Orange.

And so, last week the Spanish Interior Ministry put on hold an impending experiment in two Spanish prisons investigating the impact of brain stimulation on prisoners’ aggression. At the time of writing, it remains unclear what the ministry’s reasoning for the halt is, though the optics of the experiment might be part of the story.

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Terrorist Beheadings and Other Forms of Disease Transmission

By Hazem Zohny

Most of us are disturbed by people who take hostages and then cut their heads off while filming it. Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – the remaining members of the British Isis cell nicknamed “the Beatles” – are accused of such gore. Now that they have been arrested by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the UK home secretary Sajid Javid has suggested that, contrary to standard practice, the UK will not oppose the death penalty for them.

Kotey and Elsheikh are the kind of malefic figures that push our most primal retributive buttons. Unlike a hungry shoplifter or drug addict, to whom many of us might respond with compassion, terrorizing decapitators seems to demand being snuffed out of existence – not only to deter others from copying them but also, as Boris Johnson put it, to retributively kill them as “payback for the filmed executions of innocent people.”

Given the vengeful emotions at play here, it might be interesting to apply to Kotey and El Sheikh what’s been called the “public health-quarantine model”. This model (to which I’ll henceforth refer to as PHQ) is based on the premise that all our retributive impulses are unfounded, and that in fact, Kotey and Elsheikh – and indeed all people, no matter what they do – do not act freely and are not morally responsible for their actions.

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The Utilitarian’s Guide to the FIFA World Cup

By Hazem Zohny

For those suspicious of sentiments like national pride, or who simply fail to feel emotionally engaged by a sporting team representing a bit of territory on the planet, the World Cup season can feel alienating. It is a global phenomenon that can be difficult to avoid, and you may rightly feel tired of being that person lecturing their friends and colleagues about how football is the true opium of the masses.

If so, you might as well breathe in the fumes with everyone and enjoy the ride. But given your deep-seated apathy about the World Cup, who should you support, and why? Fortunately, that moral theory Bernard Williams dismissed in 1973 – hoping “the day cannot be too far off in which we hear no more of it” – is here to help.

Utilitarianism is about the impartial maximization of happiness. With over 3 billion humans allowing a ball passed around on a screen to puppeteer their emotions over the next month, there is much happiness and misery to be experienced around the globe. A World Cup-apathetic utilitarian ought to support those teams that will likely maximize net happiness by winning.

How do we determine who those teams are?

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Utilitarian Supervillains, Moral Enhancement, and Enforced Vegetarianism

By Hazem Zohny

 

Bad utilitarians make for great supervillains.

Take Thanos, the purple CGI nemesis the Avengers have to face this year in what feels like the gazillionth Marvel movie. In his sincere desire to reduce suffering, Thanos is trying to kill half of all life in the universe.

Like all utilitarian-type supervillains, he has presumably gotten his welfare-maximizing calculus very wrong. But it made me wonder what such a supervillain might look like if their calculus wasn’t so comically dim-witted. To that end, I’m going to discuss a character we can call Vegetarian Thanos.

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Mind Control, Free Will, and Jessica Jones

By Hazem Zohny

In the first season of the Netflix show Jessica Jones, our traumatized, alcoholic protagonist is up against a particularly nasty villain: Kilgrave. He is a mind-controller and complete psychopath. A virus he emits compels people around him to do whatever he commands.

Early in the season, he makes a young woman, Hope, kill her parents in front of Jessica just to spite her. Jessica, who knows all too well what it’s liked to be “Kilgraved,” consoles Hope by repeatedly telling her, “It’s not your fault.”

And it surely isn’t her fault. Once Kilgrave commanded Hope to kill, she could in no way have done otherwise. More than that, she was not in any meaningful sense the source or author of her murderous act, which was completely incongruous with her past behaviours and with her love for her parents.

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