Jacques Rousseau lectures critical thinking & ethics (University of Cape Town), and co-authored “Critical Thinking, Science and Pseudoscience” (Springer 2016).
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Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa’s President) reinstated a ban on the sale of alcohol at both restaurants and retail outlets on December 28 2020, and that ban is still in place today, with an end-date to be determined by the whims of the National Coronavirus Command Council.

Two background points: South Africa has a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We drink a lot, and we die on the roads a lot, whether behind the wheel or stumbling into oncoming traffic. …


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To make my biases clear at the outset, I’ve been appalled at how Donald Trump has been fomenting racism, sexism, and political polarisation ever since he ran for office (he was doing so before, but in a less impactful way).

Last week’s invasion of the Capitol was one of the more depressing events I have witnessed, in terms of what it said about our species and our commitment to rational debate and communal welfare, and because of how it highlighted the extent to which Trump (and others) are willing to exploit trust and violate norms of decency for personal gain.

Nevertheless, he shouldn’t be allowed the power to serve as the sort of distraction that allows Twitter or Facebook (etc.) …


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The scenes from the Capitol yesterday, where the process confirming Biden’s status as President-Elect was disrupted by protesters invading the Capitol, made for sad viewing. As do many of the responses to it, immediately as well as nearly a day later.

I say this not only for the obvious reasons, such as how predictable this sort of event was, or how bewildering it continues to be that a US President can encourage these events (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) without being removed from office, but also because I fear that far too many people believe that Trump’s departure from the White House will address the problems that led to his election in the first place. …


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Liberalism has always meant different things to different people. I tried to describe what its fundamental principles are, for me, almost exactly five years ago.

Re-reading that piece, the phrase “I’m by and large a ‘classical’ liberal” stands out, because it wasn’t true then, and is absurd now. At that point, I suppose I thought there was more room for social liberalism in the “classical” camp than seems to be the case now.

Anyway: liberalism has been an unpopular and oft-derided political framework in South Africa for as long as I can remember. …


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Readers of a certain age (in this case, I suspect this means anyone over 30 or so) will remember that there was a time when nobody started an email with the sentence “I hope this finds you well”.

Sometime in the last 5 or so years, some evil cabal has decided to tell secondary school pupils — and even (theoretically) fully-hatched people in the workplace — that all emails have to begin with this sentence.

My problem is not simply with the sentence itself, though I certainly have problems with it, as I shall tell you. The problem is also that the sentence serves as a useful proxy for how little people are thinking about the boundaries of thought, and what it is possible — what you are allowed — to think about. …


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South Africa will move to level 3 of our Coronavirus lockdown on June 1. More economic activity will be permitted, we can exercise anytime (within the curfew hours), buy alcohol, and attend religious services (in groups of 50 or fewer). We won’t be able to buy tobacco, even though the state’s case for this restriction is threadbare.

But even as the gradual resumption of something resembling normal life picks up pace, there sometimes seems little room for optimism. There are widespread riots in the USA after more black citizens were killed by police, and here at home, Collins Khoza is one of many who have been killed by overly zealous members of the police and army while enforcing their interpretation of lockdown. …


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South Africa has been under lockdown for seven weeks now, in what seems to be one of the most restrictive Covid-19 lockdowns anywhere in the world. And while most people I talk to still support the lockdown in general, there seems to be increasing dissent regarding some of its regulations — even outside of the Twitter echo chamber of outrage.

You don’t need to post on Twitter to be outraged, though. …


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Professor Tim Noakes has published a response to Nathan Geffen’s criticism of a recent radio interview, where Geffen argued that Noakes was running the risk of misleading the public and “demean[ing] the scientific and medical community”.

One reason I haven’t written about Noakes for 18 months or so — despite his recent interest in climate-change scepticism, and his continued misrepresentation of his critics — is that I thought he was doing enough to demonstrate his epistemic irresponsibility without people like me having to point it out.

Also, his core following already believe — with encouragement from him — that I and other critical voices are simply “trolls” who have no interest in giving him a fair hearing in any case. …


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Last week, I suggested on Twitter that Capetonians might want to comment on the City’s “management of public spaces” by-law amendments before the deadline of May 17, but didn’t say why, hoping that people would read the amendments and decide for themselves.

But in case it’s useful, here is a short summary of my concerns. You are free to copy and paste them into your responses if you choose, or to submit a version of them under your own name.

Comments, input or recommendations may be submitted by:

  • Email to lawenforcement@capetown.gov.za
  • Written submission to Leon Wentzel, Law Enforcement Department, Omniforum Building, 94 Van Riebeeck Street, Kuilsriver…

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When I was selling books on the floor of a branch of Olsson’s Books, an independent bookstore in Baltimore, MD 30 years ago, Robert Pirsig’s Lila: An Inquiry into Morals arrived in one of our regular shipments from the distributors. Lila was the sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance(1974), and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1992.

Anyway, the promotion pack from the publisher included dozens of lapel badges reading “Who were you when you first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?”. …

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