Writings

Guardians of Britain's future generations?

Last week in Parliament the new ‘Green House’ thinktank launched with a report I’ve authored on how to restructure our democratic institutions to take account of those who are not here yet: future people. The 30 page report prepared with the assistance of the new ‘Alliance for future generations’ umbrella-group of NGOs is called Guardians of the Future.

The starting point of my thinking on all this is this question: ‘Democracy’ means ‘government by the people’, but who are ‘the people’?

A burning issue: embodied emissions

I recently submitted evidence to a key Parliamentary Select Committee on a key issue of our time: the huge increase in carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels relatively inefficiently in parts of the world which have low levels of state regulation (e.g. China). This ‘outsourcing’ or ‘offshoring’ of emissions completely undermines Britain’s supposed reduction in carbon emissions since 1990.

Are we a consumerist society - or a 'producerist' society?

We are thoroughly used now to thinking of our society as a ‘consumerist’ society, and of ourselves as, above all, ‘consumers’. This seems to many of us now quite simply an obvious truth, and in some ways a good truth: think of ‘consumer protection’ and ‘consumer rights’ organisations, from Ralph Nader to Which? Think of ‘ethical consumerism’.

But: what if this self-image were in fact both misleading and disastrous?

Corporate money, the deformation of politics, and a values alternative

There is a deep need for a deep reframing of politics. Politics needs to be understood as about making the world a better place, about saving our common future.

But there is in fact widespread cynicism about politics at present. Why is this?

Because: such cynicism is largely justified…

In other words: the bind that we are in as a culture is that, because of the state of our politics, which frequently and in many respects justifies cynicism, there is insufficient drive towards creating a non-cynical alternative politics that would work. Moreover, in order to succeed in creating that politics, we have first to understand properly just how bad the current situation is: that is, how deep are the forces that create our more or less corrupt current politics.

The philosophical and political implications of 'The Spirit Level'

If you want a primer on Wilkinson and Pickett's joint book The Spirit Level, then the pieces here are worth a look (one by me). And for a comprehensive set of responses to their critics, including a pre-emptive strike against Gerry Hassan’s recent piece on OK this is all you need. (It is worth noting too that Wilkinson and Pickett’s work is peer-reviewed; that of their critics isn’t.)

For me as a philosopher, the thing about The Spirit Level that is most exciting is that as a study of the pervasive harms of inequality it strongly suggests that John Rawls's 'difference principle', which says that inequalities are OK provided that they materially benefit the worst off, a principle that has dominated political philosophy for 40 years, is simply wrong. Empirically wrong.

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