One of the principal purposes of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality is to distinguish between two forms inequality: what he calls “natural” or “physical” inequality, and what he calls “contrived” or “artificial” or “moral” inequality. Natural inequality is the bucket into which Rousseau puts all of the characteristics that distinguish each of us “by nature”: our height, our natural intelligence, our handsomeness (or lack thereof), etc. Contrived inequality is everything else.
Does the ACLU have blood on its hands? Without the ACLU’s intervention, white supremacists in Charlottesville may have had to rally at a larger park; perhaps in that different venue, police would have been able to maintain order, and no one would have died
A few days ago Matt Yglesias made the obviously correct point that it is bad and ill-advised that former President Barack Obama is taking $400,000 to speak at bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald. This has, bafflingly, led to a backlash. Because the question at stake -- "what's so wrong with Barack Obama taking $400,000 to give a speech to a mutual fund?" -- is so mind-bogglingly straightforward, the defenses offered are astoundingly weak.
The current brouhaha over campus speech is frustrating, because I a) am disturbed by the position(s) taken by many campus activists contra "free speech" however understood but b) think the issue is far more marginal than it is made out to be in the media, particularly but not solely in conservative media. But there is nonetheless one smaller intervention I would like to make: stop focusing on the speakers invited to speak at campuses when those speakers have been invited by student groups.
Political and moral questions are harder than empirical questions concerning the natural world, because the subject matter -- how it is right for people to behave and treat each other given human interdependence, or who our friends and enemies are, or who gets what how -- admit of different answers, and may vary depending upon context. They are not "settled," and do not look like they will be settled anytime soon. But they cannot be avoided by ignoring them, and to the extent that scientists wish to have "evidence based policy" without engaging with those questions, they will fail (they might fail anyway, but one would hope that scientists would at least like to be clear on why they believe the things they do).
Sometime in the spring of my first year of grad school Gawker or something (TechCrunch) ran a story on neo-reactionaries, and I spent an afternoon skimming Curtis Yarvin's little blog. I was primarily struck by the immense amount of time he and his interlocutors spent reading old texts; of course I do that too, but, you know, professionally (hopefully). Other than that it seemed like a quirky little project -- misguided and blinkered in its aims, suffocated from a general lack of clarity around the positions of those whom it saw as its opponents (liberals, democrats, most thinkers in the history of ideas, etc.), and ultimately repugnant in its conclusions
Rousseau takes up this question -- of the plasticity of human nature, and the inevitability of human vice -- in his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men. In fact, while Horgan points back to Marx, Rousseau is the most powerful early advocate for the malleability of man's nature.