Forgiveness: The Antidote

We ordained therein for them: “Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.” But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. Quran 5:45 (1)

In 2004, Iranian woman Ameneh Bahrami was left blind and severely disfigured by an acid attack carried out at the hands of an estranged suitor. The attacker, Majid Movahedi, was angry that Bahrami had rejected his marriage proposal.

Bahrami sought to prosecute Movahedi under qisas, a little-known stipulation of Islamic law that allows for punishment in kind. In 2008, a court backed her request, and in 2011, after many delays, complications and reversals, the punishment was finally scheduled to be carried out. Continue reading


The Grand Contradiction

Why Libertarianism Cannot Last.


Can a government be too free? The Sicilian Mafia arose to fill the power vacuum left by a weak central government.

Liberalism is one of the oldest modern political philosophies, and is still incredibly influential today. It seeks, as its name might suggest, to provide a set of key freedoms to all those governed. These freedoms include those of conscience, speech, association, movement, opinion, and the press.

Those rights mentioned above are considered by liberals to be basic. Basic rights are fundamental—meaning that they should not be impinged upon for the sake of any other non-basic rights—and inalienable—meaning that they should never be taken away from someone, even if that person gives consent.

Libertarianism takes liberalism and “goes one further,” also considering as basic rights to property and contract (Freeman, 123). It seems like a good deal: libertarianism secures for those governed all the rights associated with classical liberalism—and then some! We’ll find upon further analysis, though, that libertarianism’s addition comes at a cost.

Samuel Freeman argues that prioritization of these rights renders libertarianism illiberal; in other words, rights to property and contract come at the expense of liberalism’s standard library of basic rights. For example, consider that a truly libertarian government would have to respect and enforce someone’s wish, confirmed by contract, to sell himself into slavery (Freeman, 110). The slave’s rights to movement, association, and so on, then, become alienable and therefore not basic.

My argument is broader than Freeman’s. I argue not only that basic rights aren’t preserved under libertarianism, but also that libertarianism itself isn’t preserved. In other words, a libertarian government, because of its prioritization of rights to property and contract, isn’t sustainable, and is liable to change into or be replaced by other governments in the long term. Libertarianism cannot last.

Continue reading

A Faded Russian Hero

This article is part of a series on Our Grandparents. See also:

  1. Irving Diamond: A Neuroscience Great Left Big Shoes Behind
  2. Ilya Dreyzen: A Faded Russian Hero
  3. Viktoria Dreyzen: Home of the Brave
  4. Michelle Diamond: Washington Prom
Our grandfather, Ilya

Ilya, wearing his war medals

I have only one memory of Ilya Samoyilovich Dreyzen. I was no more than four. Ilya was a distant, oppressive figure in the back of an enormous room. My grandfather never spoke to me personally.

Ilya was to die soon after. My father spoke on the phone in Russian in the airport; he hung up the phone and a tear slid down his rigid face. I understood that something deeply affecting had taken place.

Through conversations over the years with my grandmother, Ilya’s full life story has begun to emerge. Ilya Dreyzen was towering and great. He was a war hero and a PhD. Behind this imposing man, I’ve found a fascinating and troubled history.

Continue reading

Russia’s Twisted Optimism

When the impoverished Tess – the main character of Thomas Hardy’s 1891 British novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles – sets off to make her fortune, her fate progresses from tragic to downright calamitous. “Where was Tess’s guardian angel?” the narrator asks, as Tess is raped by the profligate son of the old widow for whom she has been forced to work. “Where was the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps… he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be awaked.” [1] Tess’s story ends tragically.

Emma Bovary, of Gustav Flaubert’s 1856 French masterwork Madame Bovary, doesn’t fare much better. After a string of unsatisfying romantic encounters, Emma ends up deeply in depression and debt. “It seemed to her that Providence pursued her implacably,” the narrator observes. “She would have liked to strike all men, to spit in their faces, to crush them.” [2] Emma, too, is ultimately doomed to misery.

Why, then, did the Russian literature of the nineteenth century – while that of England and France was gothic and fatalistic – persistently insist on a peculiar twisted optimism in the face of despair? These Russian writers, indeed, repeatedly depicted characters who – despite unimaginable misfortune – experience soft joy, eternal joy, and joy from the simply unexplainable. Continue reading

Calculated Empathy

This article is part of a series entitled Machiavelli in Society. See also:

  1. Sex: Machiavelli on Seduction
  2. Empathy: Calculated Empathy
  3. Society: Prophylactic Power

Perhaps last among the things we associate with care, love, and respect for others is calculativeness, of the sort that once led Machiavelli to famously write, “And a prince ought, above all things, always endeavor in every action to gain for himself the reputation of being a great and remarkable man.” [1] Machiavelli finishes this chapter with a claim with which we’re perhaps more disposed to agree. “[I]f everything is considered carefully,” he argues, “it will be found that something… which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.” [1]

I’ll take Machiavelli at his word. I’ll argue that calculativeness, in the abstract, can help us attain diverse and positive ends, like empathy — in the simple sense that, well, empathy can be worked on. Why can’t we train our cognitive and emotional apparatus towards the deepening of our immersion into other peoples’ lives?

Continue reading