Allies on the Inside

I was delighted to read Kwame Anthony Appiah's opinion piece in The New York Times, Stonewall and the Myth of Self-Deliverance. He raises a point that I have been making privately for a while: social movements need allies on the inside.

If you're willing to seize the reins of power by force, maybe you don't. You simply forcibly remove those who oppress you, and voilĂ ! You're done. Except, of course, it's not that easy. Violent revolution involves collateral damage—including both direct victims of that violence and unforeseen consequences, such as abuses of power, should it succeed. It also requires substantial moral and physical support from a public that may be unwilling to sacrifice whatever comforts it now enjoys (including peace!) for a hypothetical future gain—a support that may be particularly hard to get when that gain is one that directly benefits only a subset of that public.

Most modern social movements, at least in the Western world, are not looking to f…

A Growth

The metaphor of the earth as a self-contained organism, a metaphor once considered the domain of out-there hippies, has been slowly gaining mainstream acceptance. The idea that Mother Gaia is the emergent system composed of all the organisms and ecosystems on the planet, including us humans and our societies, provides a useful framework for us to grasp the interconnectedness of life on earth, the subtle balances that are necessary to keep the whole system in equilibrium. And indeed, who is to say that the emergent system isn’t more than a metaphor? There is no reason why parts of an emergent system should have an obvious experience of the system as a whole. We should count ourselves lucky that we are self-aware enough to conceive of the possibility.

Let’s approach this as a metaphor, at least. Just like an animal has different tissues and organs, Gaia has different species and ecosystems. Just like an animal’s organs must work within well-orchestrated parameters for good health, so to…

Leaving on principle or staying for change?

In our viciously polarized political climate, we face a steady stream of situations that test our moral values. Many people are moved to reject the status quo and are wondering whether they should just pack up and leave—leave their jobs, leave their neighborhoods, leave their country. It’s tempting, of course. Governments are pursuing actions that are morally repugnant and unethical. Corporations are enacting policies that degrade the common good or refusing to take a stand on political issues that affect their workforce, their consumers, and their communities.  Neighborhoods are witnessing acts of hate in various forms. That there is disagreement at all is not surprising: any time people get together, the group will take actions that not everyone endorses. The these disagreements are in such stark contrast to our deeply held values is a consequence of these particularly divisive times.

The question to stay or leave is a natural one that we should be asking: it speaks to our reluctanc…

Choosing to give

I've found a use for that little pocket-watch pocket in the front of my jeans. Every time I put them on I try to make sure that I have at least two neatly folded bundles of a few dollar bills each. The reason? So that when I come across a panhandler, I have change ready to give them.

Giving money to panhandlers is a habit I've been trying to develop the past few years. Growing up, my training was the complete opposite. My parents thought that the only way to alleviate poverty was via systemic change, through government policies that took care of the needy fairly and equitably, and not through random acts of piety contingent on people's paths crossing. Not to mention that there was no way of knowing how a given individual would misuse the money that we worked so hard for! That's how I learned to quickly look away and ignore the beggar trying to get my attention, and not think too hard (or at all) about the dirty, smelly nuisance disrupting my own busy life and hard-earn…

Sharing the Dream

Popular discourse vilifies the economic top 1% for being responsible for the great inequality in the US. But what if they are not the only culprit? In his book Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It, Richard V. Reeves argues that the upper middle class (defined as the top quintile of income) is in some ways even more responsible for the unequal opportunity in American society. The upper middle class has enough collective wealth to exert influence, and constitutes a large enough voting block to wield political power.

How exactly does the upper middle class contribute to inequality? By unfairly hoarding opportunities for itself: using policies ranging from legacy admissions to 529 plans, using connections to secure jobs and exclusionary zoning to isolate neighborhoods. We do this out of a very natural desire to prevent losing the advantages that we have gained (possibly over generations of…

Rebooting Critical Exponent!

After a long hiatus, I am rebooting Critical Exponent!

My original site was built on WordPress and hosted on HostMonster. A few years ago, I got “pharma-hacked”, and HostMonster would not fix my site until I signed up for their security monitoring package. I figured I would fix the site myself, and I actually made good progress on doing that, learning a bit about the annoying way pharma-hacks work. Unfortunately, I got distracted by life and never did quite complete the process, and HostMonster somehow deleted my blog database. Luckily, I had backed it up when I started fixing my blog, so all that content is not completely lost.

Anyway, I decided to start afresh. At the moment I am on Blogger for simplicity. At some point, if I need more features than Blogger offers I may switch this over to self-hosted WordPress again, but for now, my aim is to keep the administration simple so I can focus on content. It is also likely that I will import and back-date older posts, either from the pre…