Tag Archives: philosophy

February Reading

Currently finishing A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel DeLanda. Fascinating re-thinking of history using nonlinear metaphors, but sometimes I wonder if he pushes the metaphors too far; I don’t have enough background knowledge to say either way. I’ve got They Thought They Were Free (via pushcx) from the library which I’ll start this weekend. I’ve been very into history lately.

For fiction, Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Just started it a few days ago. It’s entertaining, but I don’t know how historically accurate it is. Follett was previously a thriller writer, and you can tell from some parts of the story. Much faster moving than Great Expectations and Dharma Bums, both of which I allowed to go half-finished from last month…

What can history teach us? From Chapter 1 of Hegel’s Introduction to the Philosophy of History:

Rulers, statesmen, and nations are told that they ought to learn from the experience of history. Yet what experience and history teach us is this, that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, nor acted in accordance with the lessons to be derived from it. Each era has such particular circumstances, such individual situations, that decisions can only be made from within the era itself. In the press of world events, there is no help to be had from general principles, nor from the memory of similar conditions in former times—for a pale memory has no force against the vitality and freedom of the present. In this respect, nothing is more trite than the repeated appeal to Greek and Roman examples, which was so commonplace at the time of the French Revolution. No difference could be greater than that between the nature of those ancient peoples and our own time.

The translator, Leo Rauch, footnotes an interesting quote from Hume:

See Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section VIII, Part I, “Would you know the sentiments, inclinations, and course of life of the Greeks and Romans? Study well the temper and actions of the French and English. … Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular.”

It’s worth noting that Hume lived in rather extreme poverty until he published a multi-volume history of England, after which he skyrocketed to fame and fortune in the intellectual atmosphere of his time. Surely such a deep study of history helped to inform his other writings.

We learn nothing from those who say: ‘Do as I do.’ Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me’, and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than to propose gestures for us to reproduce. In other words, there is no ideo-motivity, only sensory-motivity.

—Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, page 23

“I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia”

― Ptolemy, Ptolemy’s Almagest

Occupy Wall Street: Fallacies and Misconceptions

Occupy Wall Street October 1st

You’d have to be living in a cave if you still haven’t heard of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. After numerous conversations with friends about the protests, I’ve decided to write this article. I’ll cover the origin of the protests, what the protesters stand for and want (as hard as that is to discern), the logic of their claims, and considerations for whether or not you should join their movement.

I’ll do my best to present the logic in clear terms. Remember, I’m a skeptical empiricist, and that should come out in my writing and analysis. Don’t confuse skepticism for a bias. After the logic is laid bare, I would implore you to use your full capacity for reason to come to your own, well-informed conclusion. At that point, it’s up to you to decide whether to accept or reject reason. Continue reading

Pride and Cosmopolitanism

Colourful army

Around 170 A.D., Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Pride is a master of deception: when you think you’re occupied in the weightiest business, that’s when he has you in his spell.” Even in religion, “pride” is listed as the most detrimental of the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride is the insidious parasite that sidles into your consciousness when, as Marcus said, you believe too strongly that the work you do is all-important. Examples from history abound: Maximilien Robespierre, after spearheading the French Revolution and sending the royal family to the guillotine, tried to push his deistic beliefs—“the Cult of the Supreme Being”—on the French citizenry, and was promptly sent to the guillotine himself; Cyrus the Younger, in an attempt to usurp the title King of Persia from his brother, Ataxerxes II, was slain by his own blood in a civil war; Louis Borders, co-founder of Borders Bookstores, had all the money, investors, and connections needed to create a successful online grocery delivery service, but Webvan nonetheless failed in plain view, in fact voted the largest dot-com flop in history by CNET.

“Pride is a master of deception: when you think you’re occupied in the weightiest business, that’s when he has you in his spell.”
Marcus Aurelius

The common thread among all of the above examples is the extreme sense of pride that one’s ambitions could not possibly go awry. Every failure believes that they are meant to be doing the work they’re consumed by; and if they fail—no, when they fail—they fail in grandiose fashion.

This is the thought that occupies the back of my mind as people talk of “American Pride.” I’m sure al-Qaeda had pride in the job they did on September 11th. Who’s to say that their pride is wrong and ours is right? Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals obviously comes to mind: “While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is ‘outside,’ what is ‘different,’ what is ‘not itself.’” This “slave morality”—Is it not the same morality that says No to those races that are different from ours? Is it not the same morality that condemned “colored people” for centuries? Is it not the same morality that manifests in the typical portrayal of “pride in one’s country”?

“…slave morality from the outset says No to what is ‘outside,’ what is ‘different,’ what is ‘not itself.’”
—Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

I’ve always observed that the overwhelming majority of people don’t know why they do or think what they do or think, and this is obviously the case in how Muslims are portrayed in the media. Maybe this is just the macro manifestation of a mob mentality gone completely apeshit crazy over a threat to their precious pride: the reporters need a story, and the American Pride is always a good headline, so even now, ten years after the threat, we rejoice over the loss of a life, we celebrate over the murder of a man of our own species. Or perhaps this is the kind of anti-cosmopolitan world we live in: whenever there is an inter-race conflict, the media will serve as cheerleaders to our cause, as a rallying point for our narcissistic, head-phone-wearing, screen-staring, detached generation that won’t dare to step outside its cultural vacuum.

Or maybe, just maybe, we can find a thought leader that has actually studied the classical philosophies and histories—not simply trained to smile in front of audiences and preach hope—and appreciates, no, affirms and embraces the cultural diversity that will collide with our generation like a plane into a building.

Let’s instead take a step back and learn from the man that wrote the book on cultural synergy, Cosmopolitanism. In the following clip from Examined Life, Kwame Anthony Appiah talks about how to reconcile clashing cultural customs with ever-growing globalization. I beg of you, watch the video, and then read the book.

Watch on YouTube.

Tyranny—It’s not just for breakfast anymore!

Revolution Wallpaper by Jeevay on Deviantart

Seven o’clock de la mañana. Tuesday, November 5th.

Susan slips out of bed, into her day clothes, and makes for the polls. Today would be the first day she voted. Finally! After all this time! She had been waiting her whole life—she was too nervous to even eat breakfast.

A few months later, many people would ask her why she voted. She would answer—and did answer to all twenty-nine of the towns and villages of Monroe county, and twenty-one towns in Ontario county—

“For however destructive in their happiness this government might become, a disfranchised class could neither alter nor abolish it, nor institute a new one, except by the old brute force method of insurrection and rebellion.”1

Indeed, Susan voted. Thoreau would be proud: “Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.”2

Lysander Spooner says that “a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave.”3 Wow! Now that is a statement I can agree with! Spooner and Thoreau were contemporaries and certainly we can see parallels in their ideas and philosophy. Perhaps Susan enjoyed Walden as well—she was an intelligent Female of the Species.

But she was still female! “And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him / Must command but may not govern—shall enthrall but not enslave him.”4 Is voting not governing—participating in government? What’s going on here?

Back to Spooner: “And there is no difference, in principle—but only in degree—between political and chattel slavery.” So Susan is not a contradiction, she is a noble, in the Nietzschian sense. She overcame the imposed regime within her own writ as a human being, as the owner of herself. She enjoyed the vivid sense of life that few experience.

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston

Susan B. Anthony ate tyranny for breakfast. She swallowed it whole, rejecting the notion that any inherited supremacy could crush her intrinsic rights: “for if a [wo]man has never consented or agreed to support a government, [s]he breaks no faith in refusing to support it.”3 A leader she was, infamously on the run. Maybe not in the John Brown-sense, but she inspired perhaps scores of women to cast the illegal ballot.

And so it is—What makes a leader?—the audacity to break the norms. The will to overcome that which does not make sense in the subjective valuation of the leader. When the leader necessitates overcoming an imposed regime, they are not acting tyrannical, but in fact they are an open and diplomatic enemy. That is the American way, after all—diplomacy, politics, compromise. And audacity.

(Photo 1 — Jeevay)

(Photo 2 — Banksy)


Footnotes:

1. Quoted from: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/anthony/anthonyaddress.html

2. Quoted from: Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

3. Lysander Spooner, “No Treason 1”

4. Rudyard Kipling, my emphasis

Rant: Teaching Styles in Medical and Philosophy Classes

image

As a student of both philosophy and medicine, I see two very different teaching strategies on a daily basis.

My philosophy classes are almost always approached in the same manner: through the readings, I am exposed to a multitude of different perspectives on a single issue. I must then synthesize the arguments and write an original paper that discusses everything I’ve learned and concludes with my own philosophical thoughts, all filtered through a critical lens. These classes stress original, critical thinking, and I don’t think you can argue against the virtue of that.

In my (admittingly rudimentary) medical classes, however, we never read primary sources or discuss the concepts we are learning. The professor shows a powerpoint that basically outlines the textbook for two hours in a 200-person lecture hall. When students are brave enough to speak in class, it’s either a “I once had [insert condition]” woe-is-me story, a useless “Will this be on the test” question, or someone just trying to sound smart. Nobody dares to think critically. Oh god no. That would require too much effort.

It’s a question of epistemology, really

My biggest concern isn’t that my medicine classes don’t provoke me to think critically—I can do that on my own. My qualm is with the way I am evaluated. Continue reading

Atheists, On Why They Don’t Believe In God

Our Galactic Neighborhood

A long time ago, I gave up believing in the Catholic man-in-the-sky that I was raised to believe in. I just figured, my life should be up to me, why would I need another entity to steer the course of my life?

If you ever struggle with the belief in a god or religion, then hopefully this post will help you think through some of the logic of your belief. It’s never a bad idea to challenge your own ways of thinking.

The quotes below are from this article, found via Michael Shermer. The whole piece is worth the read, but I quoted below the best parts with my emphasis.

Maryam Namazie, human rights activist

I suppose people can go through an entire lifetime without questioning God and a religion that they were born into…

But when the state sends a “Hezbollah” (the generic term for Islamist) to your school to ensure that you don’t mix with your friends who are boys, stops you from swimming, forces you to be veiled, deems males and females separate and unequal, prescribes different books for you and your girlfriends from those read by boys, denies certain fields of study to you because you are female, and starts killing in­discriminately, then you have no choice but to question, discredit and confront it – all of it.

Continue reading