The forgotten role of lotteries in democracy

What does it mean to live in a democracy? For those of us raised in the West, the response involves the concept of voting; the claim being that we live in a democracy only if we, the people, come together at regular intervals to determine those who will govern us. Yet if we examine the actual meaning of the word, this association is actually rather surprising, with demos translating roughly to ‘the common people’ and kratia to ‘power’ or ‘rule’. A more reasonable definition of democracy would thus entail any system that ensures that we, the people, govern ourselves.

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Modern segregation

I was out with a good friend last year, in search of a late breakfast, when I was once again confronted with the extent of modern segregation. It was a crisp and bright Sunday in late November. We were strolling down Eisenbahnstrasse in the German city of Leipzig which had, until recently, been considered the most dangerous street in the country[1]. But a whirlwind of gentrification had moved through the area, removing all signs of former threats. We’d been out all night and barely slept and I was craving a coffee as we walked past a colourful mixture of cafés, run-down casinos, vintage shops and shisha bars, discussing the night’s events and taking in the Sunday sights. At first glance, the neighbourhood appeared to be a bustling, multicultural hub, with people of a variety of backgrounds going about their day. Yet on closer inspection, the scenes in Leipzig – recently praised by the New York Times as Europe’s new ‘‘cool-kid-town’’[2] – were among the most segregated I’ve ever seen.

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Lessons not learned

Europe over the last decade was confronted with the worrying development of uprisings by young people without any sort of apparent political goal. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 Paris riots, we would like to ask whether lessons have been learned from these events. Considering the fast pace of today’s media, which barely allows for the consideration of a problem before covering us with a mountain of ‘newer’ issues, have politicians pushed through those promised measures, with which we were appeased in the immediate aftermath of each period of unrest? Did they tackle the actual causes, which include mostly a lack of opportunities and social inclusion of young disadvantaged people- or was the issue left to fade slowly from our memories? Too often do we forget pressing issues of the more recent past, and therefore fail to ask whether the problems that we were briefly so concerned with have actually been solved.

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An introduction to the defence against neurobiological reductionism

It was whilst studying neuroanatomy during my third semester at medical school that I first came across the problem of neurobiological reductionism. We had three weeks to prepare for this fourth and final part of the cadaver dissection course, and so I delved into the realms of our brain and spinal chord, the ‘central part’ of our nervous system, learning about the various lobes, the basal ganglia, the limbic system, the brain stem and so on. It wasn’t until learning about the frontal lobe, which includes the prefrontal cortex – a structure that’s widely held responsible for many of the characteristics that separate human beings from all other living things- that I began to think about the meaning of such understanding for the concepts about our own actions, and indeed for free will in itself. An often used example when explaining the functions of the prefrontal cortex is the tragic story of the young American railroad construction worker Phineas Gage. He was the head of a small unit of men within the rail company, described by those who knew him as extremely capable; an excellent worker as well as a respected leader. During an accidental explosion in 1848, an iron rod was knocked into Mr. Gage in such a way that it ‘entered on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw, and passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head’1, cutting in its path through the connections between limbic system (held responsible for motivation and human drives) and the prefrontal cortex. It didn’t, however, damage his brain stem, and he was thus left alive. To the general astonishment of medics at the time, Phineas Gage recovered fully from the accident. He was able to see with his other eye, his vital organs worked normally, he was able to walk, talk, eat, drink and appear generally like a well-functioning human being. Yet emotionally, Mr. Gage changed. He became erratic and uninhibited in his behaviour. He lost his job and his friends. His post-accident behaviour was compared to that of a child. Anatomically, everything still worked the way that it should do, except for the damaged connections within his brain. The prefrontal cortex was cut off from the limbic system, and this showed in his behaviour. Interestingly, it has often been claimed that Mr. Gage later managed to relearn some of his social capacity- the changes were apparently not permanent.

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Thoughts for a New Social Contract

download link and contents posted below

This is a project which Jonas and I worked on over the last few years, the first edition of which we completed last November.

The underlying idea is an expansion of the social contract developed in political philosophy, using it as a basis for solving many of the problems we have seen in the world we are growing up in.

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Thoughts for a New Social Contract


1.      Opening thoughts on a new social contract

2.      Current distribution of wealth

3.      What is a maximum socially acceptable annual income?

4.      Capitalism and the economy

5.      Tax avoidance

6.      Benefits and return responsibility

7.      Where to invest under a new social contract?

               I. Benefits

               II. Education [by Theresa Ehler]

               III. Healthcare

               IV. Underpaid sectors of society

               V. Minimum wage

8.      Electoral content and structure

               I. Is there an ideal electoral system

               II. Election candidates: individual vs. policies

               III. Election promises

9.      Lobbyism

10.    Closing thoughts on a new social contract


nsc FINAL.pdf