First things first, it's f*cking ridiculously hot here. Just so you know.
Second thing: commenting on events in the world. England beat Australia in a one-day international, oh, about a minute ago (well, actually about an hour and a half ago now, but...), with Pietersen hitting 91 off 65 balls, and Harmison taking 5-33, which is pleasing, making it four losses in a row for the team who were supposed to match Bradman's Invincibles by going unbeaten through the tour, after they lost a twenty-20 game to England, a warm-up match to Somerset, and a full one-day international to Bangladesh, I repeat, a full one-day international to Bangladesh. I don't really have a firm opinion on whether Bangladesh should be playing Test Cricket - their performance in the two Tests earlier this year, and perhaps more importantly, in the two warm-up matches against counties, in England shows that they certainly shouldn't be playing in England early on in the season, if at all - but they appear to be coming of age as a one-day side, having already beaten India recently: still, they have provided a perfect opportunity for crowing at an Australian team, and therefore Australians collectively, which seems to have believed far too much of its own hype.
Third: Commenting on things other blogs have said.
Harry's Place asks about the rationale behind a blanket ban on smoking in public places, bringing up that staple beloved of Sun commentary on the matter, the Great British tradition of a pint and a fag. Despite - or perhaps because of - being a liberal (roughly), I couldn't give a monkeys about bleatings on the time-honoured theme of the rights of a free-born Englishman, because the relevant comparison here is asbestos - assuming that the apparent medical consensus on the dangers of passive smoking is correct. If passive smoking really is seriously bad for you, no-one should have to work in an environment in which people smoke, period, just like, since is asbestos is really bad for you, no-one should have to work in an environment with asbestos in it. I'm skeptical about the seriousness of the harms of passive smoking, but that's a different argument.
Majikthise has a little rant about the valorisation of high culture, drawing on utilitarian premises. Although I have good anti-traditionalist suspicions about the currently existing boundaries between high and low culture, and good anti-elitist suspicions about the rather hysterical claims that are made for the harm that low culture can do, the distinction exists, I think, in a non-descriptive sense, and a total swamping of high culture by low culture would be a bad, a genuine moral bad. Frank Kermode wrote on John Carey's argument to much the same effect as Majikthise's in the most recent LRB - Carey pulls back from endorsing the 'push-pin is as good as poetry if people like it as much' on literature, being a literature professor, apparently - and they are both bad arguments. Well, in fact they're more or less the same argument: what people like matters, and so if people like what is clearly crap, so be it. Take the argument to its logical conclusion and apply it to the activities of the American military in Guantanamo Bay: if they like doing them, that's something to be said in their favour (clearly not an all-things-considered judgement, but at least something to be said). It's clearly false, because, to any right-thinking person, torture is worse if people enjoy inflicting it: it is a moral bad to take pleasure from causing someone pain and humiliation, from degrading them. Utilitarians are a) just generally wrong, and b) even if they are right in some limited cases, they need another premise to pick out those cases.
Will Wilkinson continues to lay into Richard Layard's advocacy of utilitarianism as a guide for public policy, in generally a rather admirable manner. I think he misses a step in the argument here though, when he says this
Layard's larger problem is that he totally fails to grasp that the central problem of liberalism is how to accomodate and balance the pluralitiy of value conceptions of citizens in a cosmopolitan society. That Layard thinks he is in possession of the one true philosophy of value that allows him to rank other values is quite nice for Layard. But the very fact that I am spending my time writing a blog post disagreeing with Layard about utilitarianism demonstrates that not everyone agrees that his is the correct conception of value, or the correct standard for determining public policy. And the simple fact that we are having this disagreement, whether or not Layard is right about utilitarianism, is a reason not to accept utilitarianism as the sole arbiter of our public rules. Even if utilitarianism, or any comprehensive conception of value, is true, it cannot therefore be asserted as the legitimate basis of a just society as long as people reasonably reject it. None among us has the special authority to declare that ours is the public philosophy, and others will just have to live with it, like it or not.
I think he's right about this, but the last three sentences beg the question against the value-monist, as well as possibly being contradictory. Some account of justified disagreement is needed before we can claim that it would be illegitimate to impose, coercively, particular policies on people, because we do, correctly, coercively impose particular policies on people despite their disagreement, simply because their disagreement with that policy is not justified: consider, as an uncontroversial case, sociopaths. In particular, if utilitarianism were true - which of course it isn't - then the freedom which limits permissible coercion would be at best an instrumental value, and we wouldn't care about coercing people at all, other than as a source of happiness, so it can't be the case that even if utilitarianism is true, we could only impose policies which could not be reasonably rejected (unless the class of policies which could not be reasonably rejected was identical to the class of policies that a utilitarian would advocate, in which case the apparent restriction is redundant).
Pearsall tries to explain why he doesn't listen to lyrics, and in particular, why he doesn't really care about the rampant homophobia of a lot of Jamaican popular music. As someone who really cares about lyrics (if not to the exclusion of other things: I do really like some instrumental pieces of music) - for example, just picking something which fortitiously happens to be playing now, Morrisey's almost sickeningly sweet intonation of 'sweetness, sweetness I was only joking/when I said I’d like to smash every tooth/in your head/oh ... sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking/when I said by rights you should be/bludgeoned in your bed' at the beginning of 'Bigmouth Strikes Again' is nigh-on perfect - I find this odd, but interesting. It might be something to do with seeing music as describing, in some loose sense, the world, and lyrics mattering as part of that description, both in the sense of accuracy and in the sense of aptness. On the philosophers caring more about words because they need to express themselves well thing, I offer, as a contrary piece of evidence, the most influential work of English speaking political philosophy in the past fifty years, Rawls's 'Theory of Justice'. I have read it, and it is awfully written.
John Band offers, at the Sharpener, an interesting commentary on the recent moral panic about witchcraft rituals in the British Black community, spawned by a report in the aftermath of the discovery of the limbless and headless torso of a young black boy in the Thames which claims that there may be a flourishing trade in children for ritual murder in that community. In particular, one may wish to consider previous examples of moral panic about the allegedly murderous religious practices of marginalised and despised immigrant groups, and compare the two.
This Academic Life says some interesting things about Weber, but also illustrates that perhaps some people could do with taking the manichean quasi-metaphysical bullshit of George Lucas's pre-adolescent fantasies about as seriously as mildly entertaining but far from clever space operas deserve to be taken, i.e., considerably less seriously.
Fourth, obligatory Fafblog link. Just imagine George Bush saying, fear me, for I am the destroyer of worlds. Go on, you know you want to.
Lastly, periodical Billy Bragg plug. I saw him last night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and he was very good, very good indeed. This machine kills Fascists!