At any rate, it feels like as good a time as any to look back at the year. The readership of this blog has grown a bit over the last year, and some posts garnered significant attention, for which I am quite grateful; it is nice to be read, and responses have been thoughtful and useful. Thanks for reading!
The posts on cults of personality seem to be particularly popular; this year one of the old posts on the subject got picked up on Hacker News, for example, which led to thousands of new views. My own personal favorites this year (if I may say so) were my review of Daniel Leese's book on the Mao cult and the post on the triumph of universal suffrage, which also seem to have been relatively popular. I might also single out the "Complexity of Emotion in Authoritarian States" post (which sort of belongs to last year, when Kim Jong-il died), the post on Charles Tilly's poetry and models in the social sciences, the post on ancient and modern "mixed constitutionalism," and the post on reversed systems of suffrage censitaire and Rawls' difference principle, about which I'm still trying to figure out what I actually think. I didn't write as much this year as last year - it's been an exceptionally busy time at work - but I am reasonably happy with most of the things I wrote, some of which have led to papers in progress. (And, I published a book! Yay!)
But enough of that. In the spirit of celebrating the holidays, here is some cool reading material:
- John Quijada and Ithkuil, the language he invented (via +gwern branwen). An awesome story on language creation as a work of art.
- Jaguars fall, everyone dies (via +Andrew Hunter). Here's how it begins:
The world probably won't end on Friday, but it's still a good time to remind yourself that Mesoamerican eschatology is really really neat.The Aztecs believed that the creator-god, Ometeotl, created four main gods for the four cardinal directions. These four gods tried to create the world, but it was too dark and they kept screwing up and dropping stuff into the Great Void, where it was eaten by Cipactli the Crocodile Demon With Extra Mouths Upon Every Joint And Teeth Protruding From Her Entire Body.
The gods realized they had to get their act together. They slew the Crocodile Demon and placed the world atop her body. They created mankind out of ashes. And they elected Tezcatlipoca, God of Darkness And Killing Everybody, to become the sun so they could see what they were doing a little better.
It gets better. (Also contains some interesting speculation about why the Aztecs might have developed such a cosmology).But - and this is what happens when you don't have a God of Staffing Decisions - the God of Darkness made a predictably terrible sun. The stories say he was "only half a sun", although they don't specify whether they mean only half the desired brightness or literally semicircular. In any case, Quetzalcoatl, God Of Niceness And Maybe Not Killing Everybody All The Time, knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky, took over as Sun, and did by all accounts a much better job.
- Chaos and Governance has an interesting series of posts about Ernest Geller's "Plough, Sword, and Book." Geller is unjustly neglected; few people today can do that kind of "big history" as well as he was able (and write so clearly).
- +Kevin Vallier over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians has been arguing against the idea of a "Property-Owning Democracy" in Rawls. Even if you disagree, Vallier's discussion is clear and enlightening; for the other side of the argument, see Martin O'Neill and Thad Williamson on John Tomasi's "Free Market Fairness," who also make many good points. I think parts of this discussion could be bypassed by understanding the difference principle as a principle of maximal accountability to the worst off in society; but I'm working on a paper on that.
- Foucault's Appreciation of Neoliberalism: on a conversation between Gary Becker, François Ewald, and Bernard Harcourt on Foucault's "The Birth of Biopolitics" (where Foucault engages in depth with Becker's work!). Becker: "I don't disagree with much of it" [!]. It seems to me that the term neoliberalism has mostly ceased to be a useful analytical category; it is now mostly a term of opprobrium, which it was not in Foucault's work.
- Scott Wentland and Peter C. Stone have an interesting paper that anticipates and explores in detail the idea of randomizing electoral constituencies (to simulate a sort of Rawlsian "veil of ignorance") that I mentioned here. (Thanks to Prof. Wentland for bringing it to my attention!). Here's the abstract:
Legislators depend upon their respective electoral districts for reelection. As a result, they face incentives to advance the interests of their constituencies, even when those interested are at odds with the wider interests of the country as a whole. These incentives generate logrolling, pork barrel projects, and other effects that are potentially detrimental to the national interest. Any solution to these problems would have to align the interests of legislators more closely with the national interest. This paper explores one possible proposal for accomplishing this aim. The proposal would require candidates seeking legislative election (or reelection) to run in different districts for primary and general elections. While a candidate would be at liberty to seek nomination by a particular party in any district she chooses, once nominated she would be required to face the candidates of other parties in another district selected at random. The result would be that legislators would make decisions behind what we call a veil of randomness.Our paper describes such a rule, including its philosophical and economic underpinnings, and subsequently demonstrates how the rule changes each politician’s preference function to align with a more universal interest. It concludes by reflecting upon the lessons of this proposal for the project of institutional reform.
- Tom Slee has a series of posts explaining the ideas behind his new and excellent paper on Identity, Institutions, and Uprisings. The basic idea - about which I hope to write more in the new year - is that cascade theories of uprisings should be enriched by incorporating a model of identity formation. Tom uses this to generate some striking insights about how institutions can act as havens for dissent and uprisings are driven by identity polarization. (Full disclosure: I commented on an earlier draft of Tom's paper).
- And finally, your end-of-the-year extremophile blogging:
|Much tougher than you are|
Bacteria having a great time in the anoxic brine of the (formerly) ice-sealed Lake Vida in Antarctica. (Living la vida loca?)
Have a good holiday season, whatever you may celebrate.