An admittedly grumpy composite portrayal of every conversation I’ve ever had with a “prison abolitionist”:

Me: “I think the American prison system is vile and indefensible. We lock up way way too many people for way way too long and there are tons of people in prison right now should never have served a day behind bars. Even those prisoners who really do need to be kept away from the rest of society should be held in vastly more humane conditions for shorter periods of time and the focus should be on rehabilitation. That said, I acknowledge that some form…

Ingrid Seyer-Ochi is wrong about Bernie’s “white male privilege”

(Brendan Smialowski/Getty)

After Joe Biden took the oath of office on January 20, he delivered an inaugural address that centered on the importance of bipartisan “unity.” This, he suggested, was as important to him as emancipation had been to Abraham Lincoln.

The speech was delivered to a small crowd of politicians wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The event was protected by fences and a vast military deployment following a riot that interrupted the certification of the election results two weeks prior.

The single image from this strange and dismal event that most captured the public imagination was the runner-up…

Quentin Smith (1952–2020)

Quentin Smith (Arc Illustration)

The title, from T. S. Eliot, is simultaneously fitting and ill-fitting. Quentin Smith, the American philosopher, is gone. His work, notably in the philosophy of time, will go on.

Marchers at the 1964 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom hold signs demanding equal rights, full citizenship, full employment, and decent housing

Noah Berlatsky claims in his article Why Class First Leftists are Wrong that I advocate something called “class first leftism.” This came as a surprise to me.

By the time I got to the end of the article, I felt a little bit like Jimmy Shorts in Martin Scorcese’s gangster movie “Mean Streets.” Joey ‘Clams’ Scala has just called Jimmy a “mook.” Jimmy asks what a “mook” is. There’s a brief discussion about what it might mean but within moments Jimmy has gone from confusion to anger, yelling, “You can’t call me a mook!”

When I started reading the article…

We should think of America’s divisions more in terms of class and ideology, and less in terms of race

A Black Lives Matter demonstrator in Washington, DC, November 14, 2020 (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty)

I am not a fan of MSNBC. Like a lot of leftists, I find the network almost as annoying as centrist liberals and their Never Trump allies find Fox News and OANN. Given the choice, I’m far more likely to listen to Chapo Trap House or watch the Weekends show on the Jacobin YouTube channel than watch Joe Scarborough or Lawrence O’Donnell.

That’s probably not a good thing. While I’m happy that independent media outlets exist to promote perspectives not found on mainstream cable news channels — shameless plug: check out my show Give Them an Argument — losing track…

On reorienting the politics of reform towards the substantive

Mark Antony statue in Vienna, Austria. (Gerhard Trumler/Imagno/Getty)

A friend recently sent me some screenshots from his neighborhood Facebook group. Everyone there was outraged that the local beer place hadn’t issued any sort of statement condemning police violence and expressing solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

The website of the establishment in question mentions “a grassy backyard,” brags about the number of taps, and assures us that the bartenders are “friendly.” Since New York is still shut down fairly tightly as the pandemic rages, the backyard and the taps are no longer relevant and most of the friendly bartenders have presumably been sent home. It looks like they’re still…

Many libertarians diagnose the problem well, but their solutions could make things worse

Demonstrators in New York City, June 15, 2020 (John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I’m a democratic socialist. I’ve spent a lot of time debating libertarians. But we don’t disagree about everything. Every time I chat with libertarian comedian and podcaster Dave Smith, for example, we agree on things like drug legalization, mass incarceration, and America’s seemingly endless wars in the Middle East.

The explosive wave of protests set off by the murder of George Floyd could provide another opportunity for libertarian-leftist agreement. …

His suggestion that Joe Biden, not Bernie Sanders, is the true embodiment of the Nordic model for society is historically and politically illiterate

(Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty)

Once the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination narrowed to two candidates, voters faced a stark choice. One of the candidates regularly invoked the successes of Scandinavian countries, places that have spent decades successfully beta-testing reforms like socialized healthcare, postal banking, and more union-friendly labor laws—the very reforms the candidate had been calling for. The other candidate had no interest in turning the United States into Norway. He sought to turn the United States into the United States—just, prior to the Age of Trump.

The Candidates and the Coronavirus

The status quo vision—or, I should say, the status quo vision that was in place one…

Trump being worse than Biden doesn’t change that

Joe Biden at the Democratic primary debate March 15, 2020 (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

(See April 30 update at the bottom)

Some of my friends and comrades on the left think that the differences between Joe Biden and Donald Trump aren’t important. This isn’t a straw man. I don’t know how widespread these sentiments are but I’ve seen several instances of Twitter users of the Rose Emoji variety claiming that a vote for Biden “isn’t even harm reduction” or that there’s no way of knowing which man would do more damage as president.

I’ve argued in multiple venues that this is wrong. Biden is no friend to the left but not all enemies are…

Banging on about people’s “privilege” is logically suspect and pragmatically dense

(Photo by Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto/Getty)

In Give Them An Argument: Logic for the Left, I tried to make the case that left-wing activists should spend time learning how to break down the logical structure of arguments and steer clear of logical fallacies. Part of my case involved selling them on the importance of being able to debunk right-wing arguments. Another part of it, though, was about how an indifference to logical precision has contributed to the pathologies of the contemporary left.

Here’s the way I put it:

A left that only knows how to shame, call out, privilege-check, and diagnose the allegedly unsavory motivations of…

Ben Burgis

Ben Burgis is a philosophy instructor at Georgia State University Perimeter College and the host of the Give Them An Argument podcast and YouTube channel.

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