“With Malice Towards None”—A Plea for Cease Fire in the New American Civil War

We Americans try to resolve the civil wars of other countries–sometimes heroically and successfully, sometimes clumsily, sometimes tragically worsening the violence.  But these days, peace needs to start at home.

We are in a civil war of words in our country. And not just words. The toxic violence in our political discourse comes amidst actual violence against many. Our presidential campaign has encouraged greater violence rather than diminished it. Violence against women has been celebrated by a candidate who has been accused of it. The lethal tension between black American citizens and police officers who serve our citizenry has been deepened and politicized, not met, as it should be, with bipartisan calls for reform that would save lives and improve policing.

The debate in our presidential campaign is concluding with shocking threats and incitements to widespread political violence the likes of which our country has not seen in its modern life. A candidate has called for “second amendment” responses if he loses, charged that the electoral process is “rigged” against him, and refused to accept the electoral result if he is defeated. Some of his supporters speak openly of taking arms against the government and their political opponents. A Republican campaign office was firebombed in a hate crime the same week men openly displaying guns stood outside of a Democratic campaign office for hours.

These ugly threats do not represent the overwhelming majority of Americans of all political preferences (and none) who want our country to be a safe, fair and free place. And yet threats from a minority can destroy peace and safety for all us if those threats erupt into violence. Even if the violence in words does not lead to violence in deeds, the malignancy we charge our opponents with makes it impossible for us to work together on problems we must solve together to become a better country. Continue reading

Why does IR shun global water governance?

I’ve been invited to join the cast of guest bloggers here at Duck of Minerva, and as you may have expected, the first thing I thought of was “well, I’ve made it, and… now what am I supposed to blog about?” On my personal (yet research-focused) blog, I write about a very broad range of topics: academic writing, time management, literature reviews, surviving academia, and heck, even my own research! But here at the Duck of Minerva I wondered aloud whether I could bring more attention to research issues I’ve been concerned about that I haven’t seen resolved (don’t you worry, you may get an occasional blog post on tenure dossiers, or avoiding overwork). So here we go…

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Candidates for WHO Director-General

When I walk down the street, I don’t see signs saying “Tedros for WHO” or “Vote Szócska.” The television and radio airwaves don’t have endless campaign commercials ending with the tagline, “I’m Flavia Bustreo, and I approve this message.” Sania Nishtar does not hold large public rallies in sports stadiums to bolster her candidacy. Neither David Nabarro nor Philippe Douste-Blazy do phonebanking.

These facts don’t distract from the fact that there is a vigorous and hotly-contested electoral race for the Director-General of the World Health Organization. Think of the current period as the primaries, with the general election campaign beginning when the WHO Executive Committee forwards the names of the three finalists to the World Health Assembly in February.

When WHO reformed its processes for selecting a new Director-General (which I detailed here), they set themselves up for a new and largely unprecedented experiment. For better or worse, most international organizations select their leaders through fairly opaque processes, and the public gets little glimpse into the decisionmaking process. Even when we have seen multiple candidates competing for the top office, such as the 2012 race for the presidency of the World Bank, the formal campaigns have tended to be brief.

WHO’s election process is different. It is openly contested. It features some of the same trappings of other political campaigns. It requires a degree of public engagement not usually seen in international organizations. The United Nations’ search for a new Secretary-General was supposed to be more transparent, but the process came to a surprising early conclusion when the 15 members of the Security Council announced their unanimous support for former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres.

So far, the WHO DG election does not show signs of ending early. Part of that may be because of the procedures WHO established for the election, but it also reflects the keen interest in the job. When the nomination period closed on 23 September, WHO announced that there were six candidates:

The final list of six surprised a number of observers. Tedros (as he prefers to be called), Douste-Blazy, and Nishtar were not surprises, as all three had essentially been campaigning for months prior to the official nomination period. Bustreo, Nabarro, and Szócska, though, were not among the names being bandied about.

The candidates themselves are an interesting mix. Despite the fact that WHO has been criticized for only having had DGs from Europe or Asia since 1973, only one candidate comes from outside those two regions. Two candidates—Tedros and Douste-Blazy—have served as their country’s Foreign Minister. Bustreo is the only candidate who is currently employed by WHO, but Nabarro headed up one of WHO’s post-Ebola reform panels and previously worked in the Director-General’s office. Nishtar would be the first Muslim to lead the organization if she were selected. Three of the candidates come from traditional donor states to WHO. All but Tedros are medical doctors, while Tedros holds a PhD in community health.

As part of the campaign process, the candidates are reaching out to the voters/member-states. Four of the candidates—Tedros, Douste-Blazy, Nabarro, and Nishtar—have specific campaign websites, and Bustreo and Szócska are active on Twitter. and all six responded to a candidate survey from The Lancet. The African Union announced its support for Tedros’ candidacy (and the value of having an African in the top job) earlier this year. Given that African states are the largest single bloc within WHO, that could give him an early advantage—assuming all AU member-states vote in unison.

All of the candidates appear to meet the basic requirements for the position, so which factors are likely to make a difference in the election? Let me call attention to three issues that are likely to play a big role in the deliberations. First, WHO’s budget is a mess. More than 80 percent of its outlays come from voluntary contributions pledged for specific programs. As a result, WHO has little control over how it spends most of its money, and it lacks the financial flexibility to allow it to respond to an emergency like Ebola. That said, member-states have been reluctant to give WHO more money without seeing proof of WHO’s efficacy. A successful candidate will need to show an ability to simultaneously get WHO the resources it needs to carry out its mission and convince member-states that it can use those funds efficiently and responsibly. There may also be opportunities to develop new financing structures, like UNITAID’s airline ticket levy. (Incidentally, Douste-Blazy has been the chair of UNITAID since 2006.)

Second, WHO needs to restore its international credibility. To a large degree, that is likely to mean that member-states are going to want to know specifics from the candidates about what sorts of reforms WHO will introduce to function better. WHO cannot do everything, so the question is what direction the different candidates would go in their understanding of the organization’s scope. That will also touch on how much autonomy WHO should have: is it there simply to do the member-states’ bidding, or should it have control over its own agenda?

Finally, WHO’s leader will need to show an ability to play politics. Outgoing DG Margaret Chan has been criticized for not being an effective diplomat, especially in contrast to someone like former WHO DG Gro Harlem Brundtland. Like it or not, global health is an inherently political field; a focus on solely on the technical aspects simply will not work in this environment. Indeed, Josh Busby, Karen Grépin, and I argued earlier this year that the next WHO DG specifically needs political experience.

In many ways, the WHO DG election could provide a template for international organizations looking to elect their leaders publicly and transparently. As such, it is all the more important to keep an eye on it—and to pick up some sweet campaign swag.

Are we honest when we write?

The reactions I’ve received to some of my recent op-eds have led me to reconsider the relationship between scholarship and politics, and to question the role of social capital in shaping scholarly opinion.

Over the last several months, I have published some pieces that have strayed from what had been my consistent “liberal Zionist” position. One investigated the dark underbelly of Tel Aviv (where I visited the remains of Palestinian villages with Israeli “decolonial” activist Eitan Bronstein). Another (with independent historian Peter Eisenstadt) challenged the “empathy” discourse prevalent among liberal Zionists. A third interrogated the idea of a “non-Zionist” synagogue in Chicago, and a fourth (with historian Joshua Schreier of Vassar College) asked whether Israeli-Jewish identity could be maintained if Palestinian refugees were to return and if Jews were to become a minority. All of these pieces involved some critiques of Zionism.  Continue reading

(Insert Research Method Here) Doesn’t Smell Like Roses

There’s an interesting debate going on over at openGlobalRights.  Drawing on their recent Social Problems article, Neve Gordon and Nitza Berkovitch provocatively accuse human rights quantitative scholars of “concealing social wrongs” by using quantitative cross-national data that does not account for the disproportionately high voter disenfranchisement among African Americans.  Todd Landman and Chad Clay, two scholars known for their use/production of quantitative human rights data respond to Gordon and Berkovitch, saying that their piece ignores much quantitative human rights scholarship that is not at the cross-national level, fails to understand the coding decisions and methodology behind cross-national human rights data, and misses what we’ve learned from existing studies.  It’s a great discussion and one I’m going to make sure my human rights students all read.

I’m going to take a slightly different approach here in responding to Gordon and Berkovitch, two scholars, I should note, that I have learned a lot from.  I think this particular piece, however, is completely disingenuous: there is nothing special about qualitative analysis that necessarily implies that a researcher will observe/record/code group differences in the protection of human rights within a country.

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Jokes Aside

Russia has been one of the spectres haunting the US presidential election. President Obama’s latest press conference is a case in point:

Mr. Trump’s continued flattery of Mr. Putin, and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr. Putin, is unprecedented in American politics and is out of step with not just what Democrats think but out of step with what up until the last few months almost every Republican thought, including some of the ones who are now endorsing Mr. Trump

It is rather bewildering for a Russian observer: the party that gave birth to McCarthyism is now overwhelmingly endorsing a candidate who embraces Putin who is ‘a leader far more than our President’. Hillary Clinton, despite having pressed the ‘reset’ button back in 2009, has called Russia a dictatorship on a number of occasions, showing that it is easy to revert to Cold War era clichés to perpetuate American exceptionalism in comparison to Russia’s un-American autocratic Otherness. No wonder there has been a lot of angst and conspiracy theorizing on the (American) left that Trump is the Manchurian candidate, whose arrival has been anticipated from the Pavlov Institute since 1959.

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Women’s Lives Matter. So Do Elections.

This is a life or death election for women and girls all over the world. True, many precious human rights and civil rights are on the line. Those rights–and the lives they protect–matter deeply and urgently.

I chose the title of this essay to honor the Black Lives Movement and the civil rights story of which it is the most recent chapter, not as a challenge or a condition. And in many ways, the path to equal human dignity for women in the United States has tracks which run alongside the road to the vindication of rights for black Americans. It is not a coincidence that the last sixty years have seen great progress by women alongside the civil rights movement by African Americans. We are a much better country now than we were before, because every aspect of our public life is filled with contributions of talented black Americans and women, who have freedom to express the content of their character as they did not before.

But we still have miles to go.

This election is pivotal for women and girls because the most widespread civil and human rights violation in the U.S. and the world is violence and discrimination against women—and because the outcome of this election could either threaten or protect the lives and aspirations of women and girls. The mistreatment of women in our country and others is a crisis, but the potential that would be realized by greater empowerment of women is an historic opportunity. Continue reading

So You Want to Be the Next Director-General of the World Health Organization…

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a political scientist like me gets really excited about elections and campaigns, and we’re currently in the thick of a doozy of a campaign season. Candidates have splashy websites and brochures, and they regularly meet with voters to pitch their candidacies. Whoever wins will take over an organization whose standing in the world is up in the air—and the winner will have a big job restoring the organization’s place in the larger global landscape.

Of course, I’m talking about the campaign for the next Director-General of the World Health Organization. What else would I be describing?

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Chirp from a Freshly Broken Egg

Thanks to the Duck editorial board for having me join to guest blog for the next six months. I’m looking forward to being part of the conversation here. I bring experience working with the Senate on humanitarian and national security issues, with non-profits on detainee treatment and disaster response, and in teaching which included a course on national security law as it relates to the conflict against ISIS. I’ve also volunteered in military hospitals and in the field after disasters, and watched relatives suffer from terrible illnesses like Alzheimer’s Disease.
These last experiences, and the human suffering I have seen in the, have had a great impact on how I see foreign policy and national security . I hope to use my time with you to raise questions about whether we are right-sizing the threats we face and the resources we use to face them, whether we are correctly seeing how we can actually protect human security here and elsewhere. I’ve been part of political campaigns too and–particularly now–want to explore how our politics lead, for better or worse, to our policies. I’m very humbled to be part of the discussion of all of these important things with you, and look forward to learning about the issues I write about as I hear from you about them.

The United Nations and Diplomacy’s Glass Ceiling

Antonio Guterres

Antonio Guterres

While the election of Antonio Guterres as the UN’s new Secretary-General was hailed by many, it has sparked renewed debate about gender issues in the United Nations system. While Guterres has a distinguished resume—including time spent as the Prime Minister of Portugal and as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—this election cycle was also the focus of an unprecedented (and, ultimately, unsuccessful) campaign to get the United Nations to elect its first female S-G. Continue reading

Ideas, Norms and Nonmaterial Factors in International Relations: A response to Krasner

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of International Organization, the editorial team asked former editors of the journal to reflect on their time overseeing the journal as well as on the most significant articles published during their tenure. I recently read Stephen Krasner’s reflection and was surprised by a number of conclusions he draws regarding scholarship on ideas, norms and nonmaterial factors in international relations.

Starting with Peter Haas’ “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” one of the two most cited articles published during Krasner’s tenure as editor, Krasner argues that articles on nonmaterial factors

These papers, however, and others by scholars such as Martha Finnemore, Kathryn Sikkink, and Michael Barnett (who did not publish in International Organization during my tenure as editor but have under other editors), have not generated a research program, at least not in the United States, that is as robust as those associated with analyses of material well-being and power.

He continues

Given that ideology or beliefs that are not directly generated by concerns about physical power and material well-being play such a prominent role in many of the challenges faced by the United States and other industrialized countries, the relative absence of scholarly concern with such questions is striking.

These are provocative statements given that the authors he lists have generated scholarship that has spawned productive research agendas in numerous areas of international politics from the study of international organizations, to NGOs, to human rights and security. Let’s explore Krasner’s claims that research on nonmaterial factors is “not robust” and “absent” in international relations. Continue reading

National Security, Health, and Responding to Emergencies

Why don’t government officials respond to global health emergencies the same way that they respond to national security crises? This is the question Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) raised last week. She was speaking at the public launch of a new report by the Brenthurst Foundation on international society’s failure to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in a timely manner—but much of the conversation focused on the current response to Zika.

If military officials said they needed $1.9 billion to prevent a global crisis, she argued, Congress would not hesitate to approve the money. Unfortunately, health emergencies don’t receive the same level of attention. “Why aren’t we listening to the generals of public health?” she asked. Instead of making the long-term investments to strengthen health systems and improve detection and treatment capabilities, DeLauro noted, we lurch from one crisis to another.

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Another Escalation in Migrant-EU Contention

This is a guest post by Justin Schon, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University Bloomington. He studies information diffusion within conflict zones, as well as how civilians make decisions regarding their migration during conflict, and has conducted fieldwork with Syrian and Somali refugees in Jordan, Kenya, Turkey, and the United States. He tweets at @goliathSchon.

Last week’s announcement of the signing of a deal between the European Union (EU) and Afghanistan that allows EU member states to deport Afghan civilians back to Afghanistan appalled many human rights and migration advocates. The move is particularly concerning amidst reports that Afghanistan was threatened with losing foreign aid if it did not accept the deal.

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Why don’t you like me?

We’re not so different, you and I. We both dislike Hillary. It doesn’t really matter that she was among key players in the Russian reset policy back in 2009, we really don’t trust her – just like you! We also like a strong leader. Our leader is much better at doing business than yours though.

You have a misogynist pig for a presidential candidate? We’ll take that and raise you a foreign minister who jokes about female journalists on their knees. Not to mention a former children’s ombudsman who thinks that after 27 women shrivel up, and that it’s ok for a teenager to be married off as a second wife to a man 30 years her senior. We might be a bit behind on anti-abortion legislation, but we’re working on it.

What about the whole homophobic thing? One of your running mates, as well as numerous senators and governors believe in gay-conversion therapy, adopt anti-gay legislation, and force people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex specified on their birth certificate. And you’re criticizing me for some ‘harmless’ gay propaganda law? As Russian people say in this kind of situation, and who are you to tell me not to pick my nose (it’s a real expression, unlike the one about a hibernating bear)?

So we broke into the DNC, big deal. For starters, it could have been that 400-pound guy in his bedroom. Or the Chinese. But what were we supposed to do when you were giving State Department’s cookies left and right, trying to start a revolution in 2011-2012? It’s not like people would go protesting electoral fraud on their own.  Continue reading

Some New and Old Guests and Permanent Ducks

We’re happy to announce some new guest Ducks, some old guests staying on, and additions to our permanent contributors.

In reverse order, Jarrod Hayes and Heather Roff-Perkins have joined us as permanent contributors. They have brought keen insights on a range of topics so we’re happy they have agreed to stay on in a permanent capacity!

Maryam Deloffre, Jeffrey Stacey, and William Kindred Winecoff continue on as guests with important insights on global health, security, and IPE respectively. Our thanks to our guests from last year — Annick, Cai, Seth, Tom, and Wendy — for their valuable contributions to the blog.

We’re pleased to announce that Lisa Gaufman, Alexis Henshaw, Charlie Martel, Akanksha Mehta, Raul Pacheco-Vega, Mira Sucharov, Lauren B. Wilcox, and Jeremy Youde are joining us as new guest bloggers.

Elizaveta Gaufman is a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies (InIIS) at the University of Bremen. She is the author of “Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis”.

Alexis Henshaw is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in Political Science at Miami University (Ohio). She was previously a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bucknell University and Sweet Briar College, and received a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. Her work on women in rebel groups and women and sexual violence has appeared in Journal of Global Security Studies, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Sexuality and Culture, and the Journal of Human Security Studies. Her booka book, Why Women Rebel, will be coming out with Routledge in 2017. Follow her on Twitter at @Prof_Henshaw

Charles Martel has an LLM in international human rights law from the London School of Economics, where he wrote a dissertation on the political impact legal opinions on the Israeli separation barrier had on the Israel/Palestine conflict. He also has a law degree from Washington and Lee University. He served in lead roles in Senate investigations as counsel to the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. He has previously contributed to Just Security and Opinio Juris.

Akanksha Mehta is a Lecturer in International Relations and Gender at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex. She has submitted her PhD in Gender Studies at the Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS. Her PhD research examines the ‘everyday’ politics and violence of women in right-wing movements, specifically looking at Hindu Nationalism in India and Israeli Zionist settlers in the West Bank, Palestine. She is broadly interested in the intersections of international relations, critical geography, political violence, war, and conflict, and gender,  feminism, and sexuality. She is also a documentary photographer and can be reached on Twitter at @SahibanInExile

Raul Pacheco-Vega is an Assistant Professor in the Public Administration Division of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching, CIDE (Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas, CIDE, AC) in Aguascalientes, Mexico. His major research focus is the study of cooperative resource governance, especially water, wastewater and sanitation, domestically and across borders. He is also the founder of the #ScholarSunday hashtag on Twitter. Follow him at @raulpacheco

Mira Sucharov is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University. She is the author of The International Self: Psychoanalysis and the Search for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (SUNY Press, 2005), and articles on Israeli-Palestinian relations and Diaspora Jewish relations, emotions and IR, pedagogy, and reflections on the craft of being a scholar-blogger. She is a frequent columnist in Haaretz and Jewish Daily Forward. Follow her on Twitter @sucharov

Lauren B. Wilcox is a University Lecturer in Gender Studies and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her work is located at the intersections of international relations, political theory, and feminist theory in investigating the consequences of thinking about bodies and embodiment in the study of international practices of violence and security. Her main research project is a book entitled, Bodies of Violence: Theorizing Embodied Subjects in International Relations, published by Oxford University Press, 2015.

Jeremy Youde is a Fellow/Senior Lecturer at Australian National University. His research focuses on questions of global health governance and global health politics. He is the author of three books and co-editor of two recently edited volumes. He has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in a wide variety of outlets and is a member of the editorial board of Global Health Governance. Follow him on Twitter at @jeremyoude

Manufacturing Dissent: How The New York Times Covered the Brexit Vote

The following is a guest post by Nives Dolšak, Professor, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington, Seattle, and Aseem Prakash, Professor, Department of Political Science and Walker Family Professor for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle.

The Brexit vote has come and gone. After the initial shock, the world seems to have refocused on events elsewhere.  Importantly, the British economy is doing fine; the British pound trades more or less at the same level against the US dollar or the Euro, as it did prior to the Brexit vote. Did then the media exaggerate the threat of Brexit to the British economy? While it is difficult to speculate about the long term consequences, at least in the short run, the British economy has not been punished for Brexit.

Perhaps, this should compel us to step back and think about media bias.  We typically think of Fox News as offering a biased perspective.  But is the liberal media any better? We offer an informal empirical examination of how the prestigious New York Times, portrayed the consequences of the Brexit vote in what we consider to be a biased way.  The New York Times reflects and shapes elite opinion. An examination of its coverage can give a sense of the lessons the American elites’ perspective on Brexit, and more broadly, on economic and political integration.

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Open Thread on International Development Syllabi

In previous posts on the environment and health, I highlighted lacunae in the field, which I attributed in part to there being few courses in those substantive areas. By providing a few exemplar syllabi, I thought more of us might find it easier to offer courses on those topics. At the very least, some might find inspiration for courses and mine these syllabi for readings.

Another potentially under-studied area is international development. Here, there may be more course offerings and crossover with IPE, but I’m going to start an open thread with development syllabi because I can. Again, while I had graduate training in IPE,  my knowledge of international development comes from a second bachelor’s degree in England, my experience in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, and a subsequent internship at the Multilateral Investment Fund. Most of my development specific knowledge I picked up along the way.

I still think this is an understudied area in political science, though the politics of foreign aid and international organizations do get some coverage. My syllabus on the topic is gear towards MA students and helping them become better practitioners, particularly through manipulation of data and simple Excel graphical applications. 2016 syllabus here.

I’ll post additional exemplar syllabi in the comments thread.

Global Health Governance Syllabi Open Thread

So, I noted in a post a few weeks ago during APSA that I thought the discipline doesn’t pay enough attention to global environmental politics. Part of this is a function of training. I didn’t have a global environmental politics course to take during graduate school, but I teach one now. I posted a few syllabi in the post and comments thread.

I think the same thing is true of global health. Politics abound with global health whether it be the Ebola virus, Zika, pharmaceutical prices, the on-going HIV/AIDS crisis, the rise of non-communicable disease, the challenges of health systems strengthening. And this stuff is important! Continue reading

Syria: An Option Remains


With the bombing of the UN aid convoy in Syria and fresh attacks on Aleppo after the Assad regime declared the ceasefire over, American and UN officials are in need of a Plan B. Now that trust between the U.S. and Russia is at a new low after Russia allegedly carried out the convoy attack, the situation on the ground Thas gotten even more grim. With the U.S.-Russian ceasefire accord in tatters, the time has come to put a Safe Zone in place for refugees.

In fact, a de facto safe zone is already in place in northern Syria. The Turkish military’s recent thrust over the shared border has begun to allow Syrian refugees to cross back over into Jarabulus. For weeks Turkey has been advocating that the U.S. and western allies work with it to install a formal Safe Zone. With no other realistic options remaining, this novel development has the potential to be a game changer.

The only viable option is to install a Safe Zone in northern Syria stretching north from Aleppo to the Turkish border and east to just west of Kobani.  The viability of the zone rests on Turkey’s ability to lead the effort and militarily guard the zone on the ground, and the fact that the Syrian regime does not at present fly in this area. The security and humanitarian reasons are compelling, from turning around refugee flight to establishing a sizable zone of stability and allowing the focus to be on eradicating ISIS with Turkey fully engaged. Continue reading

Empathy, Envy and Justice: The Real Trouble for Algorithm Bias

Rousseau once remarked that “It is, therefore, very certain that compassion is a natural sentiment, which, by moderating the activity of self-esteem in each individual, contributes to the mutual preservation of the whole species” (Discourses on Inequality).  Indeed, it is compassion, and not “reason” that keeps this frail species progressing.   Yet, this ability to be compassionate, which is by its very nature an other-regarding ability, is (ironically) the different side to the same coin: comparison.  Comparison, or perhaps “reflection on certain relations” (e.g. small/big; hard/soft; fast/slow; scared/bold), also has the different and degenerative features of pride and envy.  These twin vices, for Rousseau, are the root of much of the evils in this world.  They are tempered by compassion, but they engender the greatest forms of inequality and injustice in this world.

Rousseau’s insights ought to ring true in our ears today, particularly as we attempt to create artificial intelligences to overtake or mediate many of our social relations.  Recent attention given to “algorithm bias,” where the algorithm for a given task draws from either biased assumptions or biased training data yielding discriminatory results, I would argue is working the problem of reducing bias from the wrong direction.  Many, the White House included, are presently paying much attention about how to eliminate algorithmic bias, or in some instance to solve the “value alignment problem,” thereby indirectly eliminating it.   Why does this matter?  Allow me a brief technological interlude on machine learning and AI to illustrate why eliminating this bias (a la Rousseau) is impossible.

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