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Making the Best of a Bad Situation: Russia and the Energy Crisis

photograph of electric power pylons in winter landscape

Europe is facing a crisis (I know, another one?!). This crisis, however, isn’t viral, ecological, economic, or migratory – although it is influenced by, and influences, these phenomena. No, I’m referring to the European energy crisis. Since the beginning of this year, the wholesale price of gas has increased by 250%. This, in turn, has caused similar price rises down the energy production and consumption chain. As a result, businesses and domestic consumers have seen their energy bills rise phenomenally, increasing the numbers of people facing fuel poverty and forcing EU leaders to call emergency meetings.

The reason for this price rise is hard to pin down because it isn’t attributable to any single cause. Instead, multiple factors – such as a shortfall in renewable energy production, an increase in demand as the global economy resurges post-COVID, and a steady phasing out of energy from coal production – have led to the crisis. However, to oversimplify it, there’s not enough energy to meet demand, causing prices to rise. And, while the situation is at its worst in Europe, there’s no reason to think that it will not eventually spread. Indeed, prices have already begun to rise in other parts of the globe.

While this is a dilemma for those countries who import all or some of their energy (be that gas, coal, oil, or electricity), it is also an opportunity for exporters. Higher prices mean greater profits as individuals, institutions, and even states become increasingly willing to part with funds to secure essential resources. On a small scale, prices being dictated by supply and demand isn’t too much of an issue (provided you’re onboard with capitalism). It’s how your local shop decides how much to charge for toilet roll – the more people want it, the more that shop can charge. But, when it comes to nation-states’ selling and purchasing power, things can become tricky as scarcity confers additional political power to those resource-rich countries, which they can leverage against the resource-poor.

It is precisely this politicization, and even weaponization, of energy supplies that several countries fear will take place within Europe. More specifically, concerns are being raised that Russia, one of Europe’s largest natural gas suppliers, is going to capitalize on the European energy crisis, using it as an opportunity to solidify its already significant bargaining position or even refuse to export energy as a means of weakening its (perceived) rivals. Of course, this is something that Russian authorities have denied, with Vladamir Putin going so far as to not only deny Russian involvement but also blame Europe for the whole affair.

This concern raises an interesting point, however. While fears have been expressed about Russia’s intentions during the crisis, it’s not entirely clear what would be wrong with them making the best of it. Why shouldn’t Russia, as one of Europe’s largest gas suppliers, take advantage of the crisis to better its fortunes, even if this does lead to an increase in gas prices?

Now, the answer might seem obvious – people are going to suffer without gas. If people can’t afford to heat their homes during winter, this will cause suffering and even death – things which we typically class as undesirable. Thus, one can argue, from a moral and political cosmopolitanism, that Russia shouldn’t act in a manner that causes harm to people regardless of their nationality. Consequentially, it should do what it can to help minimize gas prices and thus minimize harm.

Yet, it’s not entirely clear why Russia should care about the suffering of individuals beyond its borders, or at least, what it owes those people. After all, pretty much every person already has a political entity that exists to protect their interests – their own nation-state. Why should Russia pass up an opportunity to better its fortunes and act in a way that benefits the well-being of individuals for whom it holds little to no responsibility? What concern is it of Putin’s if people in the U.K. are cold because they can’t pay their gas bills? After all, those people have the U.K. government to care for them. Why should the Russian government miss out on an opportunity to better its standing and that of its citizens?

This attitude may seem callous or even cruel (indeed, I would be inclined to say it is). But a failure of a government to act in the best interests of those to whom it holds no obvious bond is arguably not a dereliction of duty. After all, it would seem uncontroversial to claim that the purpose of government is to secure the well-being of its citizens. If it fails in this purpose, that is when its legitimacy can be called into question. But to disregard the well-being of citizens of other member states, while potentially distasteful and even unethical, doesn’t seem to contradict a government’s function. For the Russian government then, if it can act in a manner that solidifies its positioning and thereby (in)directly betters the lives of its citizens, it would seem acceptable, even necessary, that it takes advantage of the unfolding crisis. The Russian government should look out for the Russian people, and passing up an opportunity to do this, simply for the benefit of those whom it holds no duty of protection, would seem antithetical to its very purpose.

Now, that is not to say that Russia would be off the hook if it did take advantage of the current situation. There is still plenty of scope for condemnation if it did drive up energy prices, resulting in suffering, simply as a means of increasing its political power (cosmopolitanism has already been alluded to as a potential basis for such criticism). But, to find fault with Russia for taking advantage of the crisis simply because it’s acting in a way that will give it political leverage over its peers or competitors seems to criticize the nation for doing its job, one which every government holds. After all, if the positions were reversed, how do you think your government would act? In the best interests of its citizens or the interests of others?

In-Groups, Out-Groups, and Why I Care about the Olympics

photograph of fans in crowded stadium holding one big American flag

We all, to some extent, walk around with an image of ourselves in our own heads. We have, let’s say, a self-conception. You see yourself as a certain kind of person, and I see myself as a certain kind of person.

I bring this up because my own self-conception gets punctured a little every time the Olympics roll around. I think of myself as a fairly rational, high-brow, cosmopolitan sort of person. I see myself as the sort of person who lives according to sensible motives; I don’t succumb to biased tribal loyalties.

In line with this self-conception, I don’t care about sporting events. What does it matter to me if my university wins or loses? I’m not on either team, I don’t gain anything if FSU wins a football game. So yes, I am indeed one of those obnoxious and self-righteous people who a) does not care about sports and b) has to fight feelings of smug superiority over sports fans who indulge their tendencies to tribalism.

This is not to say I don’t have my loyalties: I’m reliably on team dog rather than cat, and I track election forecasts with an obsessive fervor equal to any sports fanatic. But I tell myself that, in both cases, my loyalty is rational. 

I’m on team dog because there are good reasons why dogs make better pets.”

“I track elections because something important is at stake, unlike in a sports game.”

These are the sorts of lies I tell myself in order to maintain my self-conception as a rational, unbiased sort of person. By the end of this post, I hope to convince you that these are, in fact, lies.

The Olympic Chink

The first bit of evidence that I’m not as unbiased as I’d like to think, comes from my interest in the Olympics. I genuinely care about how the U.S. does in the Olympics. For example, I was disappointed when, for the first time in fifty years, the U.S. failed to medal day one.

Nor do I have any clever story for why this bias is rational. While I think there is a strong case to be made for a certain kind of moral patriotism, my desire to see the U.S. win the most Olympic medals is not a patriotism of that sort. Nor do I think that the U.S. winning the most medals will have important implications for geopolitics; it is not as though, for example, the U.S. winning more medals than China will help demonstrate the value of extensive civil liberties.

Instead, I want the US to win because it is my team. I fully recognize that if I lived in Portugal, I’d be rooting for Portugal.

But why do I care if my team wins? After all, everything I said earlier about sports is also true of the Olympics. Nothing in my life will be improved if the U.S. wins more medals.

Turning to Psychology

To answer this question, we need to turn to psychology. It turns out that humans are hardwired to care about our in-group. Perhaps the most famous studies demonstrating the effects of in-group bias come from the social psychologist Henri Tajfel.

In one study, Tajfel brought together a group of fourteen- and fifteen-year-old boys. Tajfel wanted to know what it would take to get people invested in ‘their team.’ It turns out, it barely requires anything at all.

Tajfel first had the boys estimate how many dots were flashed on a screen, ostensibly for an experiment on visual perception. Afterwards the boys were told that they were starting a second experiment, and that, to make it easier to code the results, the experimenters were dividing the boys into subgroups based on if they tended to overestimate or underestimate the number of flashed dots (in actual fact the subgroups were random). The boys were then given the chance to distribute rewards anonymously to other participants.

What Tajfel found was that the mere fact of being categorized into a group of ‘overestimators’ or ‘underestimators’ was enough to produce strong in-group bias. When distributing the reward between two members of the same group, the boys tended to distribute the reward fairly. However, when distributing between one member of the in-group and one member of the out-group, the boys would strongly favor members in their same group. This was true even though there was no chance for reciprocation, and despite participants knowing that the group membership was based on something as arbitrary as “overestimating the number of dots flashed on a screen.”

Subsequent results were even more disturbing. Tajfel found that not only did the boys prioritize their arbitrary in-group, but they actually gave smaller rewards to people in their own group if it meant creating a bigger difference between the in-group and out-group. In other words, it was more important to treat the in-group out-group differently than it was to give the biggest reward to members of the in-group.

Of course, this is just one set of studies. You might think that these particular results have less to do with human nature and more to do with the fact that lots of teenage boys are jerks. But psychologists have found tons of other evidence for strong in-group biases. Our natural in-group bias seems to explain phenomena as disparate as racism, motherlove, sports fandom, and political polarization.

Sometimes this in-group bias is valuable. It is good if parents take special care of their children. Parental love provides an extremely efficient system to ensure that most children get plenty of individualized attention and care. Similarly, patriotism is an important political virtue, it motivates us to sacrifice to improve our nation and community.

Sometimes this in-group bias is largely benign. There is nothing pernicious in wanting your sports team to win, and taking sides provides a source of enjoyment for many.

But sometimes this in-group bias is toxic and damaging. A nationalistic fervor that insists your own country is best, as opposed to just your own special responsibility, often leads people to whitewash reality. In-group bias leads to racism and political violence. Even in-group sports fandom sometimes results in deadly riots.

A Dangerous Hypocrisy

If this is right, then it is unsurprising that I root for the U.S. during the Olympic games. What is perhaps much more surprising is that I don’t care about the results of other sporting games. Why is it then, if in-group bias is as deep as the psychologists say it is, that I don’t care about the performance of FSU’s football team?

Is my self-conception right, am I just that much more rational and enlightened? Have I managed to, at least for the most part, transcend my own tribalism?

The psychology suggests probably not. But if I didn’t transcend tribalism, what explains why I don’t care about the performance of my tribe’s football team?

Jonathan Haidt, while reflecting on his own in-group biases, gives us a hint:

“In the terrible days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I felt an urge so primitive I was embarrassed to admit it to my friends: I wanted to put an American flag decal on my car. . . . But I was a professor, and professors don’t do such things. Flag waving and nationalism are for conservatives. Professors are liberal globetrotting universalists, reflexively wary of saying that their nation is better than other nations. When you see an American flag on a car in a UVA staff parking lot, you can bet that the car belongs to a secretary or a blue-collar worker.”

Haidt felt torn over whether to put up an American flag decal. This was not because he had almost transcended his tribal loyalty to the US. Rather he was being pulled between two different tribal loyalties. His loyalty to the US pulled him one way, his loyalty to liberal academia pulled the other. Haidt’s own reticence to act tribally by putting up an American flag decal, can itself be explained by another tribal loyalty.

I expect something similar is going on in my own case. It’s not that I lack in-group bias. It’s that my real in-group is ‘fellow philosophers’ or ‘liberal academics’ or even ‘other nerds,’ none of whom get deeply invested in FSU football. While I conceive of myself as “rational,” “high-brow,” and “cosmopolitan”; the reality is that I am largely conforming to the values of my core tribal community (the liberal academy). It’s not that I’ve transcended tribalism, it’s that I have a patriotic allegiance to a group that insists we’re above it. I have an in-group bias to appear unbiased; an irrational impulse to present myself as rational; a tribal loyalty to a community united around a cosmopolitan ideal.

But this means my conception of myself as rational and unbiased is a lie. I have failed to eliminate my in-group bias after all.

An Alternative Vision of Moral Education

But we seem to face a problem. On the one hand, my in-group bias seems to be so deep that even my principled insistence on rationality turns out to be motivated by a concern for my in-group. But on the other hand, we know that in-group bias often leads to injustice and the neglect of other people.

So what is the solution? How can we avoid injustice if concern for our in-group is so deeply rooted in human psychology?

We solve this problem, not by trying to eliminate our in-group bias, but rather by bringing more people into our in-group. This has been the strategy taken by all the greatest moral teachers throughout history.

Consider perhaps the most famous bit of moral instruction in all of human history, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, Jesus is attempting to convince the listening Jews that they should care for Samaritans (a political out-group) in the same way they care for Jews (the political in-group). But he does not do so by saying that we should not have a special concern for our in-group. Rather, he uses our concern for the in-group (Jesus uses the word ‘neighbor’) and simply tries to bring others into the category. He tells a story which encourages those listening to recognize, not that they don’t have special reasons to care for their neighbor (their in-group), but to redefine the category of ‘neighbor’ to include Samaritans as well.

This suggests something profound about moral education. To develop in justice, we don’t eliminate our special concern for the in-group. Instead we expand the in-group so that our special concern extends to others. This is why language like ‘brotherhood of man’ or ‘fellow children of God’ has proven so powerful throughout history. Rather than trying to eliminate our special concern for family, it instead tries to get us to extend that very same special concern to all human beings.

This is why Immanuel Kant’s language of the ‘Kingdom of Ends’ is so powerful. Rather than trying to eliminate a special concern for our society, instead we recognize a deeper society in which all humans are members.

The constant demand of moral improvement is not to lose our special concern for those near us, but to continually draw other people into that same circle of concern.

Is There an Ethical Duty to Buy American?

photograph of "Made in the USA" embroidered pillow will US flag pillow in background

For many years, the U.S. economy has been dominated by the services sector, a broad category that includes financial services, media, transportation and technology. Service industries account for about two-thirds of the U.S. GDP and eighty percent of all jobs. Manufacturing, by contrast, makes up only eight percent of all jobs and eleven percent of our GDP.

Yet if one consulted only the views of both major parties’ candidates, one would come away with the impression that the health of the entire economy depends upon subsidizing U.S. manufacturing. On July 9, 2020, Joe Biden rolled out his nationalist economic agenda in a speech in Pennsylvania. In it, he outlined policies aimed at reducing reliance on foreign manufacturing and creating domestic manufacturing jobs. “I do not buy for one second that the vitality of American manufacturing is a thing of the past,” he said. And economic nationalism is by now one of President Trump’s signature positions; on his Inauguration Day, Trump tweeted that “Buy American” and “Hire American” were two “simple rules” that would guide his administration. Since then, he has levied numerous tariffs on foreign goods, supposedly in order to encourage domestic manufacturing.

There are surely political calculations behind this emphasis on a tiny part of the economy — our electoral system endows residents of Rust Belt states with disproportionately powerful votes — but it might be argued that there are specifically moral reasons why ordinary people ought to support domestic industry. That argument can perhaps best be presented in the form of a parable, which I call the “Parable of the Tamales.”

My next-door neighbor makes his living by selling tamales from his porch at 50 cents per tamale. One day, I am driving across town and spot another person selling tamales from her porch for 25 cents per tamale. I buy a few and return to my home. As I pull into my driveway, my neighbor spots me contentedly munching my tamales. As I return his gaze, I can see the betrayal and anger in his eyes. I reflect that I ought to have bought my tamales from him.

There are a few reasons why I might believe that it was my duty to buy from my next-door neighbor. On a consequentialist view, the rightness or wrongness of my actions is solely a function of the goodness of their effects. It might be argued that the effects of buying from one’s neighbor are better than those of buying from the tamale-purveyor across town. It is true that both benefit from selling tamales to you. But you may benefit more from supporting your neighbor, and of course the beneficial effects to you of actions you perform are legitimate inputs into the consequentialist calculus. For instance, you may feel satisfaction from seeing your neighbor thrive and knowing you contributed to his well-being. More selfishly, you may want to live in a prosperous neighborhood where the houses and lawns are all well-kempt, the children well-fed, and the cars in the driveways well-maintained; helping your neighbor prosper may in this way be a means to satisfying your self-regarding desires. In these and other ways, the consequentialist calculus may require you to support your neighbor over the tamale-seller across town, particularly since your neighbor’s tamales are not unreasonably costly. Mutatis mutandis, it might be argued that the consequentialist calculus supports a duty to buy American, since most of us want to live in a prosperous society and see our fellow citizens thrive.

On the other hand, you may not care at all about the flourishing of your neighbor or the prosperity of your neighborhood. If so, the consequentialist case for the duty to buy from your neighbor collapses. Thus, consequentialism cannot support a universal duty to buy from one’s neighbor, since the case depends upon the content of people’s contingent desires. Moreover, in this kind of case consequentialism might be self-defeating. If you come to believe that it is your duty to buy from their neighbors, rather than something good but not obligatory, you may experience less satisfaction when doing it. But in that case, buying from your neighbor will not bring about better effects than buying from the tamale-salesperson across town, and the consequentialist case again collapses. Finally, if the analogy to the case of domestic manufacturing holds, then it is quite possible that the tamale-seller across town benefits more from each 25-cent sale than your neighbor benefits from each 50-cent sale, given that foreign workers tend to be poorer. Thus, consequentialism would appear to favor supporting foreign manufacturing, not domestic.

Another argument for buying from your neighbor is that it is a way of discharging a debt of gratitude. After all, your neighbor may babysit your kids occasionally, help you with home repairs, and myriad other small favors. Since spending 25 cents more per tamale is not an unreasonable cost, it seems that buying your tamales from him may be a good way of discharging your debt of gratitude. By the same token, it might be argued that one owes a similar debt of gratitude to one’s fellow citizens on the grounds that they contribute to your own well-being through taxation.

The trouble with this argument is that arguably, we owe a debt of gratitude to others only for benefits they freely confer upon us. If my neighbor helps me out with home repairs only because doing so fulfills his mandated community service sentence, I do not owe him anything. Similarly, while my fellow citizens may benefit me by contributing their tax dollars to programs that help me, these are not voluntary contributions.

A final argument for buying tamales from your neighbor is that your relationship with him, and in particular all of the mutual expectations that naturally arise from that relationship, ground a special moral duty to help him if doing so is not unreasonably costly. Similarly, it might be argued that the relationship of co-citizen, with all of the mutual expectations it entails, ground a special duty to buy American.

Unfortunately, this argument either proves too little or begs the question. On the one hand, the mere fact that my neighbor expects his neighbors to buy his tamales is not enough to ground a duty that I do so. My neighbor could, psychologically speaking, expect anything at all from me.  He might expect me to help him bury bodies in his yard, but nothing at all follows from this about what I ought to do. On the other hand, if it is claimed that his expectations are legitimate, then this argument simply assumes that I have a duty to buy from him. But that is precisely what the argument was supposed to establish!

Thus, it seems that there is no moral duty to buy American based on consequentialist considerations, debts of gratitude to our fellow citizens, or our roles as co-citizens. It does not follow from this, of course, that our government should not subsidize domestic industry. Such policy decisions rest not only on the moral relations amongst citizens, but the moral duties of government to its citizens, as well as non-moral considerations.

Nevertheless, the fact that there is no moral duty for ordinary citizens to buy American simply throws into starker relief the disproportionate attention that manufacturing receives by our political elites. As I suggested at the start of this column, government would probably do better to focus on helping workers in the services industry. Furthermore, if the various sectors of the economy have a claim to government largesse that is proportionate to their contributions, then it seems positively unjust to neglect services in favor of manufacturing. Presumably, an economic populism worth its name must be one that helps the industries that employ the vast majority of people.

Is It Wrong to Be a Nationalist?

photograph of Trump hugging flag on stage

When President Trump declared himself a “nationalist” last autumn, some wondered if that was good or bad for the country. One writer pointed out that “for many Americans, mention of the word summons up visions of Hitler and Nazism.” Michael McFaul, the ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, tweeted: “Does Trump know the historical baggage associated with this word, or is he ignorant?” Shortly after Trump’s declaration, President Macron of France warned against “chaos and death,” calling nationalism “the betrayal of patriotism.” 

The largely negative reaction to President Trump’s self-identification as a nationalist presents an opportunity to examine timely ethical questions: What does it mean to be a nationalist in 2019? Is being a nationalist morally wrong? Is nationalism inherently noxious and inevitably violent or is it merely warped and twisted to justify noxious and violent acts?  The distinction is important in uncovering whether the political force should be condemned outright or tolerated and even supported. 

Examples of nationalism’s marriage with racism, ethnic cleansing, and genocide punctuated the last century. Ethnonationalism, and its entanglement with religion, plagued the Balkans, most recently in the 90s when Yugoslavia splintered under the pressure of civil war. A desire for Hutu ethnic supremacy in Rwanda led to the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi Rwandans. The extreme, racialized fascism espoused by the Nazis resulted in the Holocaust. Sensitivity to the ‘nationalist’ label is understandable. 

Opponents of President Trump’s hugging embrace of nationalism may be nobly motivated to prevent those moral evils from recurring. But to conclude that the mere expression of nationalism entails the tolerance of or advocacy for such evils is wrongfully anticipatory. To automatically conflate nationalism with the acts it has dubiously been used to justify neglects the intellectual complexity of the concept. The fundamental question is: Can nationalism exist without the violence with which it is so often associated? Or does the prioritization of a nation’s interests at the expense of all others represent incitement?

To answer this question, one must define nationalism and parse through its different varieties. The “nation” has been called “an imagined community” of strangers because most individuals will never know the majority of their fellow compatriots. When using this definition of nation, it is clear that a strong force is required to bind these strangers and foster a sense of shared community. 

Ethnicity is often used as this binding force. Ethnic nationalism is based on promoting a singular culture, religion, and language and securing its dominance in defining national identity. The potential for violence is obvious: preferring one culture over all others leads to the relegation or exclusion of others and can sour into the aforementioned evils of the 20th-century. It points to homogeneity, and establishes clear in-groups and out-groups.

Civic nationalism, on the other hand, avoids cultural preferences–and the potential of violence–and bases national identity on shared liberal, democratic values. One example of this form of nationalism is Scottish Nationalist Party, whose raison d’etre is independence for Scotland, defines the country’s national identity not by race or ethnicity but rather democracy and self-determination. The United States of America, lacking any formal endorsement of a national religion or language, is another prominent example of civic nationalism, even if some may endeavor to define the country’s identity through a racial or cultural lens. Merely the existence of these different forms of nationalism suggests that it can indeed exist without violence. 

But even if the concerns about the historical baggage associated with the term “nationalist” are assuaged, there remains other reasons to be critical of it. Placing the question of nationalism within the context of globalization and an increasingly interconnected world reveals as much. President Macron, who has called for strengthening the powers of the EU, characterized nationalism as “our interests first, who cares about others.” While his condemnation appears unconditional, he demonstrates the threat it poses specifically to a globalized world. 

Rising nationalism and populism in Europe has been reflected in the elections of anti-establishment parties, support for Eurosceptic leaders, and, most notably, Brexit. And it is perhaps the erosion of commercial borders caused by globalization and the cessation of governance to more distant political bodies that has led to this resurgence of nationalism; a resurgence driven by a fear of “losing” one’s country.

If the goal is to further the interdependence of countries, to strengthen international bodies, and to encourage the free movement of people and goods, and with them, culture, nationalism is certainly an obstacle. But if the goal is to support localized governance and ensure nations retain their sovereignty, nationalism is inevitable.

It is important to recognize then that to criticize nationalists is to criticize the concept of the nation, too. For those who oppose nationalism, the only possible implication of their opposition is that the nation is not worth supporting with such fervor or pride, a lost cause running counter to the progress of a globalized world. But for as long as the nation exists and is the predominant base upon which the modern state is structured, promotion and prioritization of one’s nation should strike no one as inherently wrong.

Ethnic Identity in America: Remembering the Ni’ihau Incident

An aerial view of Niihau island surrounded by blue ocean.

The Island of Ni’ihau is a recluse. Only the island’s inhabitants, along with a few fortunate individuals from outside Ni’ihau, are allowed to leave and return as they please. This 70-square-mile plot of land near the center of the Pacific Ocean is Hawaii’s westernmost island, and it lacks roads, Internet, and even indoor plumbing. Ni’ihau hosts approximately 130 permanent residents, all of whom live in isolation and without modern conveniences in an effort to preserve the native culture of Hawaii. The island was sold by King Kamehameha V in 1864 to the Scottish plantation-owner Elizabeth Sinclair, who promised to keep Hawaiians “as strong in Hawaii as they are now.” Despite the residents’ conversion to Christianity, a few modern technologies being introduced, and some of the younger islanders learning English, the local culture along with the native Hawaiian language have successfully persisted.

All this was jeopardized, however, in the days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

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What Happened at Ramjas: Tyranny of the Nation

The censorship, riots, and public outcry surrounding the events at Ramjas College in Delhi, India, sparked public debate about the future of India as a democracy. What happened at Ramjas – as explained in the first article of this series, “What Happened at Ramjas : A Voiceless India – was a clear violation of Indians’ right to free speech under the name of nationalism. Identifying the philosophical structures used to justify actions on both sides will help us gain a better understanding of a pressing issue facing modern day India.

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Demographics, Refugees, and Immigration: What of the Expanding Moral Circle?

Anxieties over changing demographics, immigration, and refugees have been a key theme in Western politics over the past couple of years. A central flashpoint in the political debates leading up to the Brexit vote was a controversial poster from the “Leave” Campaign, depicting a line of Syrian refugees. In the United States, reports of racist taunting and vandalism have increased since the recent election. France will vote in presidential elections in 2017, and the National Front’s candidate Marine Le Pen is projected to have a strong showing. The National Front has also been associated primarily with its opposition to immigration, specifically immigration from Islamic countries. More generally, political sentiments that reject multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, in favor of nationalism and isolationism, have grown in popularity in both the United States and Western Europe.

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Brexit: Hyperglobalization and the Globalization of Nationalism

“The specter of Brexit is in all of our societies,” cautions Alexander Betts in a TED talk in July. What is “Brexit”? Brexit was a vote held on June 23rd by the peoples of the United Kingdom (UK) to decide whether their country was to stay or leave the European Union (EU): a political and economic union composed of  28 member states. Voters’ main motivation to leave the EU was due to concerns over immigration, more specifically, their concerns over an increasing amount of refugees entering the UK. In the aftermath of Brexit, the election been labeled as a “rejection of globalisation.” What does this mean?

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Seeing the Olympics

Early in his classic Being Peace, Thich Naht Hanh says the following:

Meditation is to be aware of what is going on-in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects.

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To Be Ethical Beings: The Refugee Crisis and Europe

An opinion piece in The New York Times by Aaron James Wendland details what we owe each other – specifically, involving refugees – if we are to be ethical beings. He uses the works of Jewish philosopher and Holocaust survivor Emmanuel Levinas, whose family was killed in the Holocaust, to explain “the concrete source of of ethical relations between human beings: our ability to respond to the wants and needs of others.”

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Battle for Citizenship on Cultural Terms

In mid-September, Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim Pakistani immigrant seeking Canadian citizenship, was turned away because she refused to take off her veil during the citizenship ceremony. Ishaq brought the case to court, which ruled in her favor that is was unlawful for the government to ban religious veils at the ceremony. The federal government is currently undergoing an appeals process to challenge the ruling in the supreme court.  Timing is everything in this process; the decision will affect her ability to vote in the Canadian federal election on  October 19th.

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Cannons in a Quiet Park

On any other day, Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Park would have been relatively peaceful. Usually it would have been filled with people taking walks, groups of tourists and teenagers meeting their friends. Yet today a large crowd of people had gathered at the edge of the park, at an overlook above the Sava river. Just finishing a political tour of the city, my group and I joined them. In the middle of the crowd stood a cluster of soldiers- some in ornamental dress, others in camouflage – and a brass band to their left. To their right stood a group of politicians in dark suits. and in the middle of it all, half a dozen cannon barrels silhouetted against the sunset.

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