A recent article by Jeff Sparrow on the Australian writer Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko has left me pondering the way that we form beliefs. Under the penname ‘Helen Demidenko’, Dale published a novel that told the story of a Ukrainian family, members of whom were perpetrators of crimes against Jews during the Holocaust. The novel was instantly successful, winning major awards, and equally controversial. It was described as anti-Semitic in its sympathetic depiction of ordinary Ukranians and its (alleged) caricatures of Jews. The book gained an aura of authenticity from the author’s claims that she based much of it on interviews with members of her own family, who had lived through the events depicted. Demidenko’s bubble burst when it was revealed she was born Helen Darville, and had no Ukrainian relatives to recount these tales. Continue reading
Not long ago the UK implemented an NHS surcharge – an extra fee that non-EEA nationals (Australia and New Zealand are also exempt) applying for leave to remain in the UK must pay. It costs £200 per year, and must be paid up front. So, for example, if you are applying for a work visa for 3 years, and you have a family of three, you must pay £1800 to cover the surcharge for you and your family (on top of other visa costs).
It is difficult to find much public discussion in the UK regarding this surcharge, outside of a few articles that recently noted that the surcharge is unlikely to do what we were told it would do – namely, benefit the NHS. (See here)
Is the surcharge a just policy? Continue reading
Written By Anders Herlitz
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
One of the most heated debates in “Western” countries these days concerns how to deal with individuals who either have traveled or consider traveling to Syria or Iraq in order to join Daesh and return to a “Western” country in which they are citizens. Australia recently announced that they plan to strip Australian-born individuals who fight with Daesh of their Australian citizenship. The United Kingdom already has laws that allow them to strip citizens of their British nationality if it is “conductive to the public good.” Sweden, my home country, gained international attention in somewhat suspicious circles for what to many seemed to be the complete opposite approach to the problem: the city of Stockholm has outlined a plan for how to deal with members of extremist movements, which involves what they call inclusive measures such as assistance with finding housing as well as an occupation, but also health efforts needed to deal with trauma and PTSD that are expected to be common among participants in warfare. Needless to say perhaps, the idea that Swedish tax money could go to treat the trauma of a person who himself decided to travel to a foreign country to participate in barbarism has generated quite an emotional reaction. I’d like to take this opportunity to scratch the surface of the ethical problems of this general problem, show why Stockholm did the right thing, and underline that we are having really, really bad moral luck. Continue reading
Authors: Calum Miller, Final year medical student, University of Oxford; C’Zar Bernstein, BPhil graduate philosophy student, University of Oxford; Joao Fabiano, DPhil philosophy student, University of Oxford; Mahmood Naji, Final year medical student, University of Oxford
One of the first things we did after seeing the election news on the morning after the election was to post a Facebook status including the following: “austerity, despite its necessity, creates difficulty. I hope my fellow Conservatives won’t be blind to the difficulties people go through as a consequence of this result and will step up to do their part combating those hardships”. Other statuses around the same time lauded the Liberal Democrats and expressed regret at Vince Cable and Simon Hughes’ departure from Parliament.
According to Rebecca Roache, these are the words of people who are immune to reason, brainwashed by Murdoch, and whose views are as objectionable as racist and sexist views. We maintain the contrary – not only that this is manifestly false, but that Roache’s own position is far more consonant with the bigoted attitudes against which she protests. It would be easy to respond in kind, simply preaching to our own choir about how awful liberals are and how we should make their views socially unacceptable. This would only serve to deepen political division, however, and is unlikely to move us forward as citizens, rational agents or friends.
A majority in the House of Commons has provided David Cameron with the freedom to do over the next five years some of the things that he’s found difficult over the last five. One of the things that is set for reform is the law on inheritance tax, with the Tory manifesto having pledged to
take the family home out of tax by increasing the effective Inheritance Tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1 million – so you can keep more of your income and pass it on to future generations. (p 3)
(UKIP upped the ante on this, promising to get rid of inheritance tax altogether.)
How big an impact the Conservative policy would make is hard to tell: most people don’t pay inheritance tax anyway, and so raising the threshold would affect only a portion of the residuum that would pay it. But, still: we might ask whether such a policy is just. For sure, there will be some people for whom it’s attractive – archetypally, the sort of person who bought a property in a then down-at-heel part of London or Manchester a generation ago who finds that it is now something of a golden egg. But attractiveness in a policy will only take us so far. To answer the justice question, we need to look at the principles behind it. And once we do that, I’m not so sure that the policy is just. Indeed, it’s not clear that there’d be anything unjust about having a much higher rate of inheritance tax.
The reason for the claim that reducing the inheritance tax burden is unjust is straightforward: it means that those who were fortunate with their parents get a helping hand not available to everyone. The children of dentists will, at some point, receive a capital benefit that would not be matched by the children of dustmen. Since this difference is arbitrary – noone deserves rich or poor, thrifty or feckless parents – there is a case to be made that the just society would seek to smooth it out to as great a degree as possible. At least on paper, we might be tempted to think that a 100% inheritance tax would be a way to do this: it would ensure that noone benefitted at all from ancestral good fortune. In practice, there’d doubtless be all kinds of workaround that’d make such a high rate unenforceable – but the case might stand in principle.
Is the moral case, then, that easily made? Continue reading
Follow Rebecca on Twitter here
One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online.
This marked a change of heart for me. Usually, I try to remain engaged with such people in the hope that I might be able to change their views through debate. (Admittedly, I don’t always engage constructively with them. Sometimes, late at night, when my brain is too tired to do anything fancy and I spot an offensive tweet by a UKIP supporter, the urge to murder them in 140 characters is too difficult to resist.) Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have kept my Conservative friends?
It has now been almost two years since Snowden. It’s time for us to admit this has little to do with privacy. Global surveillance is not global only because it targets people all over the world. Global surveillance is done for and against global interests. Privacy, by contrast, is an individual right. It’s simply the wrong description level. This is not about your internet history or private phone calls, even if the media and Snowden wish it were.
Privacy is rarely seen as a fundamental right. Privacy is relevant insofar as it enables control, harming freedom, or insofar as it causes the violation of a fundamental right. But the capabilities of intelligence agencies to carry out surveillance over their own citizens are far lower than their capability to monitor foreigners. Any control this monitoring might entail will never be at the individual level; governments can’t exert direct control over individual citizens of foreign countries.
Framing this as an issue of individual privacy is a strategic move done against the interests of individuals. Continue reading
In New South Wales, Australia, classes on secular ethics have been offered to some students as an alternative to religious studies since 2010. A programme called ‘Primary Ethics’ is now taught to around 20,000 students in more than 300 schools. It introduces discussion of moral issues in a systematic way and provides an educational experience for students who were previously not provided with a taught alternative.
Should schools, particularly government schools, teach ethics? Or does doing so violate an important principle of government neutrality on matters moral and spiritual?
The latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics is out, and in it, Professor Nigel Biggar—an Oxford theologian—argues that “religion” should have a place in secular medicine (click here for a link to the article).
Some people will feel a shiver go down their spines—and not only the non-religious. After all, different religions require different things, and sometimes they come to opposite conclusions. So whose religion, exactly, does Professor Biggar have in mind, and what kind of “place” is he trying to make a case for?