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.
Every time I think I am out, they pull me back in. No, not leading the mafia. Principal-agent theory. Yep, and I blame Stan Lee. How so? I saw the new Captain America: Civil Wars movie… explanation below the break:
Tough as it is to follow Charli’s excellent post on terrorism, somebody has to do it and so I might as well. If this past ISA is any indication, quantum is a big deal. The panel on Alex Wendt’s new book linking quantum mechanics to the social sciences was standing room only (from what I hear, I could not be there). James Der Derian has Project Q at the University of Sydney. One of the papers I read as a discussant at ISA invoked the term superpositionality, much to my surprise. So, Newtonian World out, Quantum World in (not sure where Einstein fits).
This is all fascinating. Quantum mechanics has been around for a while, and for a while physicists have struggled to reconcile the strange subatomic world, characterized by phenomena like superpositionality (the state or location of a particle are probabilistic and exist in multiple states/conditions at the same time, and according to one interpretation only collapsed to a point upon observation), quantum tunneling (when a particle passes through a barrier without having to surmount it) and quantum entanglement (quantum states of two particles are linked such that changes in one are immediately reflected in the other, regardless of distance), with the macroscopic world we see, which is characterized by none of these things. Continue reading
We have not Friday Nerd Blogged in a while, and we are reluctant to do anything that might spoil the Force Awakens. Yet, my grading is done and my enthusiasm is making the Kessel Run in record time, so here’s a non-spoilery bit of joy that is early and excessive. May the Force Be With You as you grade and travel over the holidays.
It is that point in the semester when the energy of summer wears off, endless grading awaits, deadlines loom, meetings drag on and everyone feels swamped, exhausted and grouchy.  It’s that point when we know the semester is going to become a runaway train, a downward spiral that ends in stacks of blue books, wine, and crying about your failure as a teacher. It’s that point in the semester when the blank page seems to stare back at you, when the spark of creativity has dimmed and you have serious doubts about the usefulness of anything you “study.” But it doesn’t have to be this way! Committing to a daily meditation and mindfulness practice might just slow the semester down and make it more productive.
Who could forget the epic last scene in the series finale of Mad Men, when Don Draper, clad in white, sits peacefully meditating on a mountain top and is struck by the idea for a brilliant new ad campaign? Don comes to terms with his anxieties, self-doubt and self-loathing through mindfulness meditation and unleashes his creativity. Is it possible that mindfulness meditation could work such wonders?  Continue reading
There are a lot of really great aspects of professorial teaching. It at the core of education, and thus at the core of universities as institutions of higher education. Professors have the opportunity to watch students grow through discovery and skill building. Professors and students through the practice of teaching build a shared connection of knowledge and inquiry. For many faculty and (hopefully) students, teaching raises new perspectives and forces reconsideration of established ideas. Teaching has economic benefits for students, notwithstanding recent debates. All of this and more is well known, particularly to colleagues outside major research universities, where teaching is sometimes seen as a task to be endured rather than embraced.
Having just seen a TedX talk on the link between happiness and living in the moment, another benefit of teaching occurs to me that I have not see discussed. It turns out that when our minds wander, we report being substantially unhappier than when we remain focused and in the moment. Continue reading
As the summer movie season ends, it makes sense to bring back Friday Nerd Blogging after spending most Fridays at the theatre. This week’s invokes all kinds of IR, including resource conflicts, gender dynamics, and Tom Hardy:
Once again, those poli sci types on twitter (Marc Lynch, Dan Drezner, me, and the other usual suspects) will be meeting up at the APSA on Friday, August 4th from 5:30-7pm at the Parc 55 hotel bar (which I believe is on the second floor) which is across the street from the Hilton.
Note that the regular Hilton is undergoing renovation so the usual bar/lobby meeting arrangements will not work this time around.
I never thought that when I started grad school I’d be relocating to another country. Then again, when I got the job in Canada, it did not really occur to me that I was “really” leaving the US – on my previous visits to Toronto, everything felt pretty familiar. Plus, as a scholar of transnational activism, borders were supposed to be made increasingly irrelevant. I still remember the moment the border agent stamped my passport and glued the work permit into its folds. I had actually crossed a border for my job – politically, socially, and culturally.
While many things are the same, functionally, between the US and Canada in terms of academic life, here are a few things that I’ve noticed in my time in Toronto, some of which perhaps resonate with other abroad-Americans here and elsewhere. Continue reading
Last night, John Oliver (the comedian no less!) had a terrific interview with Edward Snowden, which was much more introspective and challenging than the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour. Oliver sought to grapple with the necessity for secrecy in intelligence and the moral responsibility Snowden faces for trusting journalists to properly vet what materials to release and subsequent errant release of sensitive material (like anti-ISIS operations in Iraq):
He continued, “So The New York Timestook a slide, didn’t redact it properly, and in the end it was possible for people to see that something was being used in Mosul on al Qaeda.”
“That is a problem,” Snowden replied.
“Well, that’s a fuckup,” said Oliver.
Oliver had a fantastic set-up on how the American public isn’t concerned about what surveillance capabilities the U.S. government has and can use against American citizens, involving an entertaining exchange about pictures of his genitalia. The whole interview is a worth a watch. All of this is part of a interesting gambit for Oliver as swashbuckling comedian/journalist/advocate that he has advanced on a series of issues in his short time on the air. Open comment thread follows on surveillance, Snowden, infotainment, etc.
What? No “pirates?” Ironic, since the Season 4 finale set a new piracy record and now at 18.5 million viewers is the second most watched HBO show in history. What does this mean for mass understandings of foreign policy? Maybe nothing. Maybe something.
Loyal, even devout, readers of the Duck may have noted somewhere along the way that comment streams of yore seemingly disappeared. That could be frustrating if you wanted to go back to an exchange you had with Duck contributors and enthusiasts. I’m happy to report that with the help of our web designer support extraordinaire Lori Lacy of mod.girl.designs that our comments history is restored. For example, here is a post that had lost comments that are now back.
Let us know if you see any missing ones on other posts. We hope you are enjoying the functionality of the new and improved Duck, and keep letting us have it with your comments, guest posts, and inquiries. We are also, as Charli noted, looking for a few good new guest Ducks who are prepared to blog regularly.
The old policy, dating from way back when Dan and Patrick were slowly expanding the blog:
The procedure for bringing on guest bloggers is one of those “salami factory” things… and strangers just aren’t very likely to make it through the process.
In other words, guest blogging happened by invitation only.
At first it happened sort of ad hoc and accidentally. We would scout new talent in the blogosphere and offer upcoming bloggers a place to build a profile. Or we would reach out to those in our social networks we wanted to encourage to blog, especially women and minorities; or offer a place to others who were interested in giving it a try but unready to launch their own blog (as Dan and Patrick once did for me). As we institutionalized it, we came up with internal norms for recruitment and rotation, and sought to increasingly diversify our recruitment pool.
It’s worked well, but we have realized that no matter how hard we try, our social networks are an insufficiently diverse representation of the discipline and so yield insufficiently diverse results. We think we’re missing a lot of important talent not able to access us through social ties. Plus it’s a lot of work to constantly recruit and we want to find time to blog ourselves.
So here’s the new policy: anyone with a PhD in IR, plus some expertise in some substantive global policy issue area, and a willingness to post at least 200-500 words, at least once a week, can apply to become a guest for a six-month rotation. If you’re interested in a guest spot, send one of us a letter of interest (just as if you were proposing a one-off guest post) and we’ll consider you for our next rotation. Cheers!