Individuality, tribalism and freedom

Dear kids, One of my favourite scenes in Monty Python’s Life of Brian — yes, I know, Mum nearly didn’t go out with me when she heard I liked Monty Python — Where was I? Oh yes, one of my favourite scenes is where Brian tries to tell his growing mob of disciples to go away,…

Saints and sinners, rewards and punishments

Dear kids, A debate on the radio today about people trying to cheat the British student visa system got me thinking about our usual knee-jerk response to such news: People are cheating the system, so make the system tougher, make it harder to cheat. Obvious, right? OK, but why is the answer not ‘The system…

Numbers, meaning, and social science methods

Dear kids, One of the silliest debates in social science — and there are a few contending for that title — is the argument over the use of numerical measures. I’ll spare you the details of the debate, but essentially it’s an argument over the nature of what we are studying. There are some who…

Batman, power and moral ambiguity

Dear kids, S, today you asked me a fascinating question: why do I like Batman more than Superman? T is into Spiderman at the moment, and this sparked questions about which superheroes I liked best. I have to confess that I do not spend much time pondering the details of American superheroes. They strike me…

Utopias

Dear kids, I do a lot of work with normative theories, which means ideas about how the world ought to be, not how it is. At Christmas time that feels a particularly relevant topic. Christmas is the intense ritualisation of our hopes for a better world. It celebrates a vision of Utopia — “no place”…

Hard work and good luck

Dear kids, Those on top of the pile usually think they got there because of some particular merit of their own. They worked harder, they learned the right skills, or they had a special spark that those at the bottom of the pile lacked. A significant number therefore look down on other people not just…

News, and resisting the scaremongers

Dear kids, One of the most important things you can do as a citizen is to pay attention to the news. One of the most important things you can do as a citizen is to not pay too much attention to the news. Say what, now? OK, let’s start with what counts as ‘news’ in…