philosophy

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Ideology After Marxism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 12:15am in

Among the many reckonings of [the twentieth century] was a reckoning, not merely with Marxism—but with the process of ideology-making itself....

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Escape from planet sensible: Stunning listening

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/06/2024 - 12:26am in

Adolf never had much time for planet sensible. Here he is after the Reichstag fire with fellow traveller Sefton Delmer who was Berlin correspondent for the “Daily Express” from 1928 to 1933, To the left of Hitler: August Wilhelm of Prussia. In the middle of the picture, half hidden with a hat: Joseph Goebbels. Third from the right: Hermann Göring..Check out other fascinating pics and details here.

On planet sensible everyone is ‘rational’. (Quick, let’s not dwell on what ‘rational’ means or we could be here all day!) People seek to discover and pursue what’s in their own interests. Bertrand Russell I think during his time as a conscientious objector to WWI said to Maynard Keynes that he really couldn’t take economics seriously. As he watched people gleefully march off to the slaughter of the trenches in their millions, he couldn’t take seriously a discipline that was built on the axiom that people act in their own interest.

And on planet sensible, purveyors of information purvey it and consumers consume it according to their interests. And ideologists seek to persuade audiences that they’re right and that their opponents are wrong. And, where there’s disinformation, people call for ‘fact checking’. Everyone knows that fact checking has near negligible impact on disinformation, but on planet sensible when something tricky comes up, you just keep doing what you’re doing and maybe use expressions like “innovation” and “a complexity lens” a little more.

The first time I realised I might have reached escape velocity from planet sensible was during the ‘cash for comment’ scandal in which ‘shock jocks’ Alan Jones and John Laws were outed for changing their populist tune on banks and Telstra in exchange for cash. I recall someone saying to me that they were finished from this. As I wrote on Troppo many years ago (Why is John Clarke so funny and why now?):

I never thought it would hurt their ratings. It didn’t. When I was a kid in grade 5 I used to listen to Garner Ted Armstrong, an evangelist on the radio. I had been brought up by devout atheists and I didn’t really take in what I was being told as being true or false. I liked the cadence of speech, the simplicity and predicability of the positions taken, the compelling tone. People listen to talk-back radio or at least shock jocks like that. They don’t care if its true or not. They are being entertained. But I expect that paradoxically, if things get said as obvious truisms on those shows, it produces subtle shifts in people’s views, in what is thinkable and sayable and what’s not. It becomes possible. I guess Goebbels knew this.

Anyway, I’ve liked Peter Pomerantsev since I read his excellent This is not propaganda. But I found his latest bit of historical anthropology thoroughly gripping — or at least this podcast. It is about Sefton Delmer whose unique life experience made him a perfect cross-cultural English-German go-between during WWII. Before the war he had become an uber foreign correspondent who got himself onto Hitler’s planes as he toured his dominion. He then repaired to the UK during the war. And one thing you can say about the Poms during WWII. They might have a reputation for being stuck up and stuck in the mud, but when the chips were down they turned to full on geniuses in their field and gave them a vast amount of leeway to do what they had to do. Churchill, Keynes, Turing and this guy. Sefton Delmer did deep disinformation into Nazi Germany. And he left the orbit of planet sensible.

The biggest ‘aha’ moment for me was the way in which this mid-century cultural go-between understood that the key to understanding Hitler was not just that he was pretty morose and boring except when he was being the Fuhrer giving a speech. And he was play-acting. Delmer understood that the audiences he played to were play-acting too. Hitler cast them into a role. (Come to think of it I said something slightly similar about Churchill’s speeches in this piece.)

Then his whole disinformation operation (in which people impersonated Nazis to reveal the corruption in the Nazi system) penetrated the rationality barrier. He understood that persuasion would not work. Instead his broadcasts into Nazi Germany rehearsed knowing and cynical roles Nazis could take within their system. In other words, to effect a change in the German psyche one needed Nazis to give themselves permission to change the way they saw themselves. One needed to forge for them a new role. And to do that, all that was necessary was to role play those roles. From 1943 the broadcasts did not try to hide their essentially fictitious character — that they were British propaganda. They were presenting a funnier, more engaging, more realistic and more authentic representation of German life than was done by the Germans.

Addressing the question of why the allies got the atomic bomb before the Germans, Churchill said “our Germans were better than their Germans”. Ditto Delmers

Highly recommended.

Pragmatism and Methodology: Doing Research That Matters with Mixed Methods – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 9:24pm in

In Pragmatism and MethodologyAlex Gillespie, Vlad Glăveanu and Constance de Saint Laurent advocate for pragmatism as a flexible framework for impactful social science research. Balancing philosophical and psychological depth with accessibility, the book effectively shows how a blend of methodologies grounded in real life can enable researchers to navigate contemporary challenges, writes Job Allan Wefwafwa in his review.

Pragmatism and Methodology: Doing Research That Matters with Mixed Methods. Alex Gillespie, Vlad Glăveanu and Constance de Saint Laurent. Cambridge University Press. 2024.

Pragmatism and MethodologyPragmatism and Methodologies: Doing Research That Matters with Mixed Methods draws from philosophical perspectives to provide both foundational and contemporary understandings of research methodology. It takes a realistic point of view, clearly stating its aim “to outline practical consequences of pragmatism in social science” methodology. The clarity of the aim enables the reader to easily visualise what to expect in the book: an analysis of pragmatism as an emergent middle ground between the much acknowledged theoretical and philosophical approaches (x).

The nine-chapter book convincingly proposes pragmatism as a, “coherent, flexible, and robust framework” for creating useful knowledge that can enhance society (xii).It traces the origin of pragmatism to US scholars such as Charles Peirce, John Dewey, Jane Addams, William James and George Mead, whose  heterogenous belief  held that “science within the context of democracy” could improve society (1). The book then conceptualises pragmatism as a methodological approach based on human activity (142), arguing that people directly affect research processes and findings, making objectivity unattainable. It uses the philosophical premise that “every philosophy has to start with something”; to illustrate that pragmatism begins with people’s “everyday actions and experiences that comprise the world as we know it” (6).

The book [] conceptualises pragmatism as a methodological approach based on human activity, arguing that people directly affect research processes and findings, making objectivity unattainable.

The first chapter engages the reader in situating pragmatism within a process paradigm that emphasises temporality and change and prioritises timeless things. Here, the authors contrast the pragmatic approaches that emphasise temporality with the ones that centre timelessness, to allow for multimethod research. They use figurative language such as “is the oak superior to the acorn?”, to argue about which of the two came first in terms of reproduction, thereby illuminating the importance of processes in research. This enables the reader to relate to the methodological arguments at the human experience level, effectively simplifying some philosophically opaque concepts such as “paradigms” and “epistemology” discussed in Chapter Two.

The authors’ ability to delicately balance between articulating complex philosophical concepts and writing accessibly is perhaps best demonstrated through the discussion of res extensa and res cogitans (3), things with three dimensions and things that appear in mind, respectively. The authors highlight the increasing citation of the phrase “there is nothing as practical as good theory” (ix) in the academic realm. They use the phrase to refer to the misconceptions researchers hold about theory, but it also arouses the reader’s interest in the unlikely pairing of these contrasting concepts – practice and theory. They analyse this paradox in the subsequent chapters, demonstrating that theory is not just about how knowledge is made, but also a guide on methodological decisions. The analysis anchors contemporary arguments on traditional philosophical conceptions in an accessible way.

Theory is not just about how knowledge is made, but also a guide on methodological decisions.

Although the authors rightfully acknowledge that their social and cultural psychology background influenced their writing, this gives the reader two contrasting experiences. First, the infusion of a psychology perspective into the book simplifies complex philosophical concepts using general human-life experiences, for the reader to easily understand. However, it also makes the reader from a non-psychology background wonder if the book is appropriate for them. As a reader from the media background, I easily understood the philosophical concepts such as paradigms, as explained from the psychological point of view (1, 2 and 4). However, they seemed too removed from media research to be able to apply them there. I I had to read the discussions on disinformation, conspiracy theories (Chapter Two), the emergence of “big data” (109), including “Social media data, video footage, live data, and digital archives” (110-111), to learn how the concepts might apply.

The book’s most outstanding aspect is that the reader can easily draw from lived experiences such as US electoral politics in 2016, to relate to the arguments therein.

Arguably, the book’s most outstanding aspect is that the reader can easily draw from lived experiences such as US electoral politics in 2016, to relate to the arguments therein. This is especially visible in Chapter Two which explores what it means to live in a “post-truth” society where factual basis of truth can be undetermined (26-27). Although the book’s pragmatic approach may be criticised for portraying ethics as a “box-ticking” exercise (162), it creates a basis for common ground around effective knowledge, while also avoiding presenting science as something beyond critical questioning.

The book effectively shows how practical methodologies can enable researchers to navigate contemporary challenges amid increasing relativist and realist contentions. It persuasively navigates the division between qualitative and quantitative extremists; and adds to the justification for mixed methods research (19). Chapter Three describes the division as “bypassing the subjective-objective dualism” to focus on human activity (49). For instance, the book’s allegorical discussions in Chapter Four, enables the reader to see beyond the traditional quantitative (realism) and qualitative (relativism) divide, which simplifies the concept of theory (74). It argues that research should be about “creating questions as answering them” (75). The argument enables the book’s conceptualisation of theory as a “tool in the world that dis/empowers human activity” rather than a mirror of the world (50). In this way, the book figures theory in terms of what it enables them to do, rather than whether it belongs to the real or relative duality.

The book [conceptualises] theory as a ‘tool in the world that dis/empowers human activity’ rather than a mirror of the world.

This view enables researchers to rise above paradigmatic wars between quantitative and qualitative methods. For instance, Chapter Seven advocates for multi-resolution research that uses “qualitative analysis to zoom in, revealing contextualised particulars, and quantitative analysis to zoom out, revealing statistical patterns” (135). The book successfully argues that our lived experiences can be combined with qualitative and quantitative approaches to provide “breadth and depth”, that bring rigor, robustness and insight in research (117).

Although the book attempts to simplify its philosophically anchored arguments for the reader, some arguments remain shrouded in philosophical jargon, especially in Chapter One. This may discourage unseasoned researchers who may not yet be grounded in the philosophical foundations of research methodology. That notwithstanding, the book remains a must-read for students and researchers interested in a contextual understanding of pragmatic methodology.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: UX Indonesia on Unsplash.

 

The Furies Reconsidered

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/06/2024 - 10:00pm in

Read as a book about how institutions disempower women, The Furies makes the kind of actions that the three characters take seem not only reasonable but necessary for their survival. ...

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Our Meaningless Modern Lives: Part 1

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/05/2024 - 9:17pm in

The Most Valuable Kind of Knowledge

Here is the image illustrating "Our Meaningless Modern Lives." It captures the essence of disconnection and existential emptiness in a modern cityscape

These lectures aim to provide the reader with knowledge. But what is knowledge? Our lives consist of a small number of infinitely precious moments. What makes it worthwhile to invest these moments in the acquisition of knowledge? Is it the kind of knowledge that can teach us how to lead better lives—how to make the most of the few moments that we have? This has been the central preoccupation of philosophers and thinkers across the millennia of human history. What is the good life, and how can we learn to live it? This type of knowledge would be invaluable, well worth the time invested in learning it. Knowledge that distracts us from these central questions would be useless. Knowledge that provides us with the wrong answers would be harmful, leading us to pursue the wrong goals and waste our lives.

But puzzlingly, questions about the “Meaning of Life” have themselves become meaningless today. How did this come to pass, leading to lives that feel devoid of purpose? And why does the search for meaning remain the most important quest we face? To explore this, let’s first illustrate the modern dismissive attitude toward this question. Here are a few quotes that trivialize existential inquiries:

1. Bertrand Russell: “Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; … his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.”

2. Richard Dawkins: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

3. Stephen Hawking: “Philosophy is dead. Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

4. Douglas Adams: “The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.”

The Mystery: Loss of Precious Knowledge

Putting aside heavy philosophy, it seems intuitively obvious that “how can we best spend our lives?” should be on anyone’s top ten list of important questions. So why don’t our universities—the warehouses of accumulated human knowledge—educate students about the answers offered by the wisest people across millennia? Julie Reuben’s study, *The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality*, offers a fascinating answer. She documents how early 20th-century colleges aimed to develop students holistically, improving all their faculties. She quotes Francis Wayland, a prominent educator, who said: “When all the faculties are developed or educated together, then we have beauty and symmetry and strength and perfection of character in the result!” The goal of education was to teach students how to lead the good life by developing perfect character. Reuben’s book describes how this goal was abandoned, and university education became confined to providing skills, disconnected from character development. A critical element in this transformation was a change in the conception of knowledge.

As Reuben explains, knowledge once included both morality and science, but developments in the theory of knowledge led to a sharp bifurcation between the two. In the early 20th century, logical positivists argued that morality was a feeling, and only scientific statements could qualify as knowledge. For example, A.J. Ayer (1936) wrote:

We can now see why it is impossible to find a criterion for determining the validity of ethical judgments. It is not because they have an ‘absolute’ validity which is mysteriously independent of ordinary sense-experience, but because they have no objective validity whatsoever. They are pure expressions of feeling and as such do not come under the category of truth and falsehood. They are unverifiable for the same reason as a cry of pain or a word of command is unverifiable [as a statement]—because they do not express genuine propositions.”

Once talk of morality became just noise, meaningless as a cry of pain, it eventually disappeared from the curriculum of universities, the purveyors of knowledge. Universities act as the collective brains of civilization. If academics start to think that morality is meaningless, this view eventually propagates to the public. If there are no standards for good and bad, no way to distinguish (objectively) between good and bad ways of living, then the meaning of life becomes an empty phrase, devoid of significance.

Many questions arise from this brief sketch of how the most important questions we face became meaningless in the 20th century. In later parts of this lecture, we will address some of them:

1. In what sense is a “cry of pain” meaningless? It is part of a universal human language, clearly understood around the globe, and elicits immediate responses from those who hear it. Can something so deeply ingrained in human experience truly be considered devoid of meaning?

2. Logical Positivism is a theory of knowledge that is obviously flawed. Even its most ardent proponents eventually saw this, leading to its spectacular collapse. How did such a flawed philosophy become so influential and pervasive in shaping modern thought?

3. Why were no revisions made to epistemology following the collapse of Logical Positivism in the 1970s? How did the academic world respond to its downfall, and why hasn’t a more holistic approach to knowledge emerged since?

4. Logical Positivism precludes discussion of the meaning of life, considering it meaningless. With Logical Positivism now abandoned, what new paths can we explore in our quest for understanding the meaning of life? How can we rebuild an epistemological framework that includes these vital existential questions?

5. This story seems oversimplified and reductive. Can it really be true that an obscure philosophy which emerged in the 20th century, and is not understood by most, blocked us from considering the central question of our lives, which has been discussed for millennia? What other factors might have contributed to this shift in focus?

This first introductory post just sets out the problem and provides a framework for analysis. We will discuss some aspects of the questions posed above in greater detail in later posts.

Related: For my life-experiences which led to my current stance, see “Lessons MIT did not Teach Me

Neoliberalism: ‘Capitalism’s Response to Democracy’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 6:00pm in

George Monbiot has spent decades condemning Britain’s political, economic, and media establishment. Comedian Nish Kumar – at an event he described as “designed to give Daily Mail readers a heart attack” – interviewed the veteran Guardian columnist live at London’s Conway Hall last week. Both speakers offered interesting insights into the upcoming general election and the future of British politics – especially relevant to Britain’s disillusioned young progressive population. 

Monbiot may be 61, but the room was packed with young people. As we jotted down notes and held our questions for the Q&A, the pair on stage walked the audience through the decline of British democracy – beginning with the story told in Monbiot’s latest book (co-authored with film-maker Peter Hutchinson), Invisible Doctrine: The Secret History of Neoliberalism. 

Monbiot describes “neoliberalism” – the all-encompassing (and yet somewhat ill-defined) economic dogma of 2024 Britain – as “capitalism’s response to democracy”. Trade unions, regulatory frameworks, welfare systems, and the other democratic limitations placed on capitalism have been subverted because “democracy is a problem that capital is always trying to solve”. 

This now ubiquitous ideology, he claims, posits that “competition is the defining state of humankind” and that “any attempt to interfere in the discovery of the righteous by the invisible hand of the market is illegitimate and should be wiped out”. That includes democracy.

In addition to prompting the US-led overthrow of democratically-elected governments in countries such as Chile and Indonesia (as detailed brilliantly in Vincent Bevin’s The Jakarta Method), he argues that neoliberalism culminated in Western democracies that are “fundamentally unable to answer our questions”, because the real decisions about how to govern have already been made in lofty conference rooms elsewhere. 

The Austrian and Chicago economic schools – the original incubation chambers of neoliberal ideology – first inculcated their doctrine into politicians on the right. Thatcher and Reagan were not visionaries but “cyphers”, Monbiot observes; “channels for a pre-existing philosophy” that had spent decades percolating amongst fringe economists and social thinkers.

Ultimately, according to Monbiot, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton represented their near-total victory over the entire political spectrum. Thatcher, memorably asked about her greatest political accomplishment in 2008, once famously responded that it was Tony Blair.  

The result, in Monbiot’s narrative, is that Britain has been converted – against the public will – into a “rentier’s paradise”, a system built on the monopolisation of land and other crucial resources that “parasite[s] people’s productive activity”. 

Politically, the failure of traditional politics to facilitate meaningful debates has created an “anti-politics” – Monbiot’s euphemism for the rise of Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, and a plethora of other anti-establishment right-wing populists around the world. 

From Monbiot’s perspective, the question remaining for the next election is not about the defeat the Conservatives, who hold responsibility for the state of crisis in the UK today, but a much harder question about how to defeat an ubiquitous global economic system and slow or reverse the “commercialisation of everything”. 

Neither Monbiot nor Kumar view Keir Starmer’s Labour Party as a solution to that second dilemma.

Monbiot describes Starmer as a “coward” who “kicks down” the vulnerable and “kisses up” to the powerful, heading a political project that’s “failing by design”. He describes our entire system as “the thinnest and weakest version of democracy possible”. 

When asked what the answer to this, Monbiot observed: “They have a story, and we do not.”

John Meynard Keynes, whose economic theories dominated mid-century politics in Britain and the US, had one. The neoliberals, with their tales of freedom, choice, and liberty, have one. Even the far-right have a rabid and hateful tale to tell. Those who believe in democracy are left mostly just trying to mitigate the damage. 

According to Monbiot, the story that needs to be told begins right where the neoliberal story falls short. Where neoliberalism breeds loneliness, he believes we should emphasise a “politics of belonging”. Where it enclosed land and resources, we should build new and accessible commons. Where it simplifies our social dynamics into unfeeling numbers, we should embrace the complexity of the systems that drive our lives. Where it breeds distrust, trust people. 

"We should preach to the choir – and grow our choir a little bit bigger every year,” he argued.

For Monbiot, “deliberative and participatory” democratic systems in the here and now are the answer, as well as a need to “ignore those in Westminster that have nothing to do with us”. We should simply start creating the democratic world we want to live in, and eventually we’ll reach a tipping point where the entire population gets on board, is his view. 

It’s a powerful message, but I was left wondering what the catalyst for this democratic change is supposed to be, if it wasn’t the invasion of Iraq, the 2008 financial crash, or even the COVID pandemic. Who will be the ones to undertake it? 

Back in 2003, Monbiot penned a polemic on youth politics for the Guardian entitled “Rattling the Bars”. In it, he condemned the zombie governments of the West. The “structures” of democracy still exist, he wrote, “but the life within them has died.” He argued that “the young have not lost interest in politics. Politics, of the kind represented at Westminster, has lost interest in the young”.

Perhaps then, just as the neoliberal system’s own failures could create the nucleus of a new and compelling story, those left out of mainstream politics will be the ones to tell it. Twenty-one years later, we’re still trying to find a way to “rattl[e] the bars of our enclosed and corrupted parliaments without succumbing to their enclosure and corruption”.

As I have written in these pages previously, there’s a lot we could do to bring about a more utopian mindset in Britain; to restore hope and foster the belief that real change is possible. As Monbiot would say, we just need to start 'embodying the democracy’ that we want.

New Master’s Program Brings Together Philosophy & Data Science

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/05/2024 - 11:50pm in

A new master’s program offered by the Center for Philosophy, Science, and Policy (CPSP) at the Marche Polytechnic University combines data analysis, machine learning, programming, and philosophy.

The “Statistics, Data Intelligence, and the Foundations of the Sciences” program “aims to fill a gap in the Data Science and STEM fields by integrating theoretical tools and empirical methods for an educated approach to data analysis, scientific experimentation, use of simulation tools in scientific inference and forecasting, as well as evaluation of evidence for policy purposes.”

The program is launching in the fall.

Courses will cover topics such as

  • advanced data analysis and inferential techniques (machine learning, deep learning, AI)
  • data processing tools (Python, STATA, R, Matlab)
  • epistemology
  • philosophy of science
  • political and economic analyses of science in society
  • the role of scientific evidence in decision-making
  • public policy

You can learn more about the program, for which applications are currently being accepted, here.

(via Michał Sikorski)

Related: New: an MA Program in Philosophy & Computing

The post New Master’s Program Brings Together Philosophy & Data Science first appeared on Daily Nous.

Exploiting other people’s madness –On sanism and Baby Reindeer (This entry contains spoilers)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/05/2024 - 4:46am in

This text is not about Baby Reindeer, Netflix’s latest hit. It’s about one of the most perverse dimensions of sanism and anti-madness: the exploitation of madness as an edifying aesthetic resource. It is also about the obsolescence of narratives centered on the uncritical perspective of the traditional agent of the banality of evil, the mediocre white guy who destroys everything, including himself (even if temporarily), in the pursuit of a vague and elusive future for which he has neither the preparation nor the talent.

Donny is almost thirty and works in a London bar while waiting for his career as a comedian to magically take off. As a comedian, he’s bad, outdated, his humor is naive, he lacks charisma. He evokes neither laughter nor cringe, he generates indifference. Donny lives rent-free in his ex’s mother’s (a black woman who lost a child) big house. One day Martha, a forty-two-year-old woman, fat (there’s quite a bit of fatphobia in the series) and visibly crazy, walks into the bar. He feels sorry for her and offers her a cup of tea on the house, as she mentions she can’t afford it. Her demeanour changes completely with this minimal gesture of attention and that’s where the story begins. Martha has previous stories of harassment and stalking, and Donny becomes her “victim.” The series has seven episodes. In the fourth, we learn that Donny has been raped by an older and famous comedy writer who groomed him by pretending to help him with his career. Donny also falls in love with a beautiful, smart, elegant, and successful trans woman and he feels ashamed to be seen in public with her.

The relationship between Donny and Martha is not one of harasser-harassed. Donny encourages Martha’s attachment and knows perfectly well what he’s doing. He has nothing clear in his life, except that he’s promoting the relationship with Martha. At first, he feels sorry for her, but that pity almost instantly turns into a mixture of need and fascination by his part. Unlike Martha, Donny is not crazy, nor does he become crazy at any point in the series. He’s just a loser who has almost no awareness of his lack of talent or of his own sexuality, which causes him to suffer from different malaises and “symptoms”. Such is the fragility of his subjectivity that his own sexual desires make him feel guilty. Such is the inability of the scriptwriter to detect the unjustified repression of the character’s (his own!) pansexuality that not only does he conflates it with homosexuality, but he also attributes its “cause” to being a victim of rape by a cis man. Everyone can be confused about sexuality, but to the point of uncritically reproducing in a popular series the homophobic, psychologising, and pathologizing narrative that homosexuality and pansexuality are products of sexual trauma? (Seriously, didn’t anyone tell the author, ‘hey, I don’t think that’s right’?).

It is suggested in passing in the series that the Donny’s ex and current girlfriends (both of them beautiful, focused, and talented) have degrees in Psychology. However, neither recommends nor initiates concrete care actions towards Martha, although they do apply their knowledge and care towards Donny. There is no solidarity among women in the series. In this tale of a prince in distress, women are only there to rescue him. Even Martha, the “harasser”, plays a salvific role: it is she who catalyses his public recognition of the rape and how it affected his life. I insist on this point: two black women provide him with free accommodation in their own home. A trans woman gives him love and awareness of various aspects of himself, despite him lying to her, standing her up, and hiding her. Another woman, the crazy one, gives him the attention he desires most: her laughter. But he gives them nothing more than “a cup of tea.” He doesn’t give anything to the other women around him. Donny came into this world to receive.

***

I finished watching the series because I wanted it to refute my initial feeling. But I waited in vain to learn more about Martha, to understand why she’s so lonely and helpless. I waited in vain for a defocusing of the narrative, but the whole story is centripetal. The women in this story blur into a centripetal involution until they become smudges, blurry contour lines whose presence only matters to tell us a confusing story about the confusion of an ordinary man.

I don’t think we need to “cancel” stories about average middle-class white guys: the serious issue is that Western culture is already saturated with these characters. Is there anything minimally interesting left to say about them? Who cares about these lives other than themselves? Why do we tolerate their worldview and let them show us their melodramas without even a tiny critical anagnorisis?

Donny is like most cisgender white males who didn’t experience deprivation or violence rooted in structural injustices and oppressions growing up. He’s a guy whose life has no narrative interest until he’s raped. But the screenwriter (Donny, the character, the actor, and the author) doesn’t know what to do with that because he can’t see it in any other way other than as an only personal and intimate drama. The big twist in the series is Donny’s coming out of the closet, which happens alongside the public denouncement of the rape in the finals of a comedy contest that accompanies the progression of the episodes. Donny finally breaks, stops trying to make an impassive audience laugh, grabs the microphone, and tells his story. Someone in the audience films the scene and the video goes viral. When the spectacle of his vulnerability goes viral, Donny progresses in life, regains some control over it, achieves some success. But the rape doesn’t seem to matter much anymore: the rapist is not reported, nobody even asks his name. Donny will remain mediocre, and by making his story public, he capitalizes on it. It’s about winning in life like in the dialectics of emotional “harassment” that unfolds between Donny and Martha.

We have no hints in the series to think that Donny’s childhood and adolescence were tough. His mother and father instantly accept him when he comes out of the closet and tells them he was raped. His father hugs him for the first time. The homophobic one, in the end, was he, Donny. But we can know this from the outside. The screenwriter (the actor, the character, the author) doesn’t know it. He doesn’t perceive it, and we perceive how he doesn’t perceive it. We are constantly witnessing a story of wilful ignorance. Donny calls his denouncement and coming out of the closet a “confession.”

Finally, Donny manages to get Martha imprisoned, although he knows perfectly well that he is complicit in the acceleration of her “symptoms.” Martha is not his victimizer. The plot’s mirror game is that even though Donny isn’t guilty of being raped by Darren (as nobody is guilty of being raped), he still feels he is guilty, and when he finally articulates it out-loud, nobody does anything about it. At one point in the series, Donny’s voice-over thinks about the irony of denouncing her and not his rapist.

***

Solidarity is reciprocal. Compassion is unilateral. Giving someone a cup of tea when they’re crying can either open up a world of support or a world of solipsism, depending on the hand that prepares and extends it. Circularity is clumsily implied in the series by the analogy between the first and the last scenes. But they are different scenes because those offering a drink on the house do so in different ways. Those receiving it do it differently, too.

People don’t act right or wrong because they have or haven’t lived through certain traumatic experiences. Human beings act well or poorly because we live in complex systems of interwoven dominations, oppressions, and exploitations that make us victims and, at the same time, victimizers, and in both cases, free agents. A mad person isn’t a good or a bad person for being mad. A sane person isn’t either. Identity doesn’t replace human agency and praxis. Agency isn’t spontaneous; it occurs in determined material conditions (which include symbolic conditions), but this doesn’t make it any less agency. There’s no human agency outside specific conditions; they’re the coordinates within which we act and which guide our actions. In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon proposed that to explain mental health issues, we had to resort to sociogenesis instead of Freudian ontogenesis. To dismantle some (many) malaises, we need to dismantle the systems of oppression that generate them. There’s no such thing as an individual “cure” for madness, inferiority complexes, or guilt. Looking at our psyche and our biography alone isn’t enough to stop feeling down. We have to look at other people. This is valid for the oppressed and for the oppressors because the oppressor also has their own complexes and sufferings.

Kant was wrong about many things, but he was very right about one thing. Radical evil, Kant believed, is moral solipsism, not being able to conceive other people as subjectivities, agents, moral persons, and ends in themselves. Benjamin has a wonderful text he wrote in his youth, “Erfahrung” (“Experience”). It’s a very brief text and ends by suggesting a fundamental difference between having experiences only of oneself (which he considers the attitude of the Nietzschean philistine) and experiencing other people as well. The first attitude lacks spirit (Geist), the second is the properly spiritual experience because it’s an experience of and with other subjectivities. The former is the experience of those who don’t come out of themselves; the latter is the experience of those whose subjectivities are constituted along with others. Of course, the second way of living generates more suffering. But as Adorno said, there’s no correct life in falsehood.

The series exploits the neuronormative and sane supremacist equating of madness with evil. This equating has, as its counterpart, or even as its purpose, the justification of sane evil as a simple excusable by-product of trauma. Sanism and anti-madness are ways of excusing neuro-normal people’s evil banality.

Those of us who know madness have heard that infamous phrase “it’s all in your head” many times. And indeed, what tortures us is the head, the fact that our heads in particular exist not in a vacuum but in this unbearable world. But there’s another sense of “it’s all in your head” that we can certainly use as a reproach. Injustices proliferate largely because we’re moral solipsists who get so into our own heads that we forget that other subjectivities exist. We think of madness as alienation not because we give particularly high value to rational autonomy. We do so because we are unwilling to recognize that rationality (sanity), the very definition of being human, is at the same time the true author of the most terrifying deeds and events (genocides, slavery, atomic bombs, rape, gender violence, racial violence, violence against childhoods and old ages, against non-human animals, exploitation).

We don’t really know what to do with other people’s madness. We find it hard to relate to people like Martha as equals. We find it hard to accompany and support someone who can’t change the subject of conversation for months, someone who fabulates about their life, who has suicidal ideation, who is euphoric, manic, depressed, paranoid, delusional, deregulated, uninhibited, institutionalized, or medicated. We find it hard for many reasons, and I think the main one is that nobody taught us to deal with madness (our own or others’). Not only do we not know how to deal with it, we also can’t do it without disempowering people who are euphoric, manic, depressed, paranoid, delusional, deregulated, uninhibited, institutionalized, or medicated, even when we too have been or are euphoric, manic, depressed, paranoid, delusional, deregulated, uninhibited, institutionalized, or medicated. Trust me on this. Compassion, repulsion, and fear of madness are ways of denying other people their own condition as subjects. These emotions are the solipsistic and sane feelings of someone who can only perceive themselves.

 

(This is the English version of my article in Spanish “El consumo edificante de la locura ajena“).

New: an MA Program in Philosophy & Computing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/05/2024 - 12:41am in

Tags 

philosophy

The University of Bayreuth is launching a new interdisciplinary Master’s degree (MA/MSc) in Philosophy & Computer Science.

The program includes philosophy and computer science modules, with all courses taught in English.

Marius Backman, a philosopher at Bayreuth, provided some further information about the program:

Philosophical modules will cover ethical, epistemological and metaphysical questions posed by modern computer-based systems, as well as their social, political and legal implications. In the Computer Science modules, students will learn how modern software is created through both automated learning and algorithmic programming and work on practical applications.

The aim is that graduates of the program will

be able to identify and respond to the key technical, social, ethical, and institutional challenges raised by new developments in information technology, including AI, machine learning, generative systems, recommendations, interaction with agents and assistants, and automated decision-making.

The program is open to students with an undergraduate background in philosophy or computer science or a related field.  It starts in the fall and is currently accepting applications.

You can learn more about the program here.

The post New: an MA Program in Philosophy & Computing first appeared on Daily Nous.

Addicted to Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/04/2024 - 10:59pm in

“I was trapped in the feeling that philosophy was all important and that anything and everything—including my well being—can be sacrificed for it. This is the core of my addiction to philosophy. I couldn’t stop doing philosophy.”

Those are the words of Bharath Vallabha, a former assistant professor of philosophy at Bryn Mawr.

In a post at his blog, The Radiant Path, Dr. Vallabha talks about what he calls his “addiction” to philosophy, and how it affected his life.

Here’s an excerpt:

My philosophy education helped me grow and open my horizons. Sure, academic philosophy has problems, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Of course, it is good!

But what I felt I couldn’t say when I was an academic was, “I know philosophy is good, but I seem to be addicted to it.” I was depending on philosophy to submerge personal pain and trauma, and the very thing – philosophy – which helped me personally and which is important socially was also the thing which was blocking aspects of my personal growth given how I was depending on it.

I wasn’t just being a philosopher in the grand, mythical sense of Socrates, Plato, Kant and Russell. I was also snorting philosophy – using it as a numbing device to push away personal pain and insecurity. I was using my identity as an academic philosopher to convince myself and others I was thinking critically about life in general, when in fact I was also using philosophy the way one might use ice cream or alcohol or drugs – as a way to escape into a fantasy world in which the euphoria and the high of a good argument, or the thrill of intellectual combat became substitutes for taking care of myself physically and emotionally.

The more I was drawn into philosophy, the less I exercised. The more captivated I became with the importance of philosophy, I more told myself I don’t need relationships – that I don’t have time for a girlfriend or to relax with friends. The more I was drawn into philosophy, the more I lived into a world in which my main friends were the great authors I read and with whom I identified. Wittgenstein came to seem to me more real as a friend than any living person next to me. When I was fixated on Kant’s racism, Kant seemed to me more real as someone to be “defeated” than anybody still alive.

This is a familiar issue in our world of celebrity, social media and isolation. For many people the celebrities they admire feel more real and more of their friend than people they see everyday. An opponent on X or Facebook comes to seem the epitome of what all is wrong with the world, and who has to be put in their place. The continual paradox for me as an academic philosopher was the more I entered into academic philosophy, the more I felt isolated. And the more isolated I felt, the more I depended on the celebrities of academic philosophy – the great thinkers of the past and the prominent members of the current time who I didn’t really know – to be my sense of community. Something was off. As I went from being an undergrad to graduate student to being a professor, I didn’t feel I was entering into a world of real people and cultivating living relationships with those around me. It felt instead like the more I entered academic philosophy, the more I was drifting into a parallel, fantasy world in which I felt disconnected from my students and colleagues, and where I was hanging out more with Wittgenstein and Kant in my mind.

It is easy to miss this, or not take it seriously, because all academic philosophers necessarily have deep relations with the philosophers, dead and alive, with whom they engage. One can’t be a Kant scholar without in some sense living with Kant in one’s head. Academic disagreements are also personal in some sense. The disagreement between defenders of Fodor and Wittgenstein can have the flavor of a battle between the Montagues and the Capulets. For people devoted to a life of ideas, the boundaries between ideas and emotions are often blurred and not easily demarcated.

But it’s one thing for the boundaries to be blurred, and another for them to be completely erased. And that is how it became for me. Philosophy wasn’t just an activity or a job – it became my whole life…

I was trapped in the feeling that philosophy was all important and that anything and everything – including my well being – can be sacrificed for it.

This is the core of my addiction to philosophy. I couldn’t stop doing philosophy. After I left academia, the addiction grew deeper and more frenzied, mixed as it was now with a sense of frightened anxiety that perhaps I made a mistake in leaving. I pushed my wife away who had to bear the brunt of my addiction to philosophy, and we almost got divorced. I assumed I couldn’t have time to be a parent because I was afraid of the mundane life that might imply – and which I felt I couldn’t really function in. I told myself I couldn’t be a parent because I need time to focus on my philosophy. But behind the issue of time was the deeper issue that I was afraid of entering again into the normal social relations that parenthood involves. I had built philosophy as a bubble between myself and those around me, and I didn’t know how to step out of it.

I don’t think Vallabha is unique in feeling something like an addiction to philosophy, nor in letting such feelings impact the rest of one’s life.

Such feelings may prompt questions: What should I do? To whom can I talk about this? What help is available? How will other philosophers react?

Vallabha says:

I wish when I was in academic I could have recognized my addiction to philosophy as an addiction and sought help. But even if I had recognized that my particular dependence on philosophy was an addiction, where could I turned to for help? Who in academic philosophy could I have turned to for help?… I felt it was my own personal problem if I am addicted to philosophy, that I need to deal with it on my own…

It would be good if it didn’t have to be this way. If it could be talked about how addiction to philosophy is fairly common. I suspect many of the “idiosyncracies” of philosophy professors would be better understood if they are seen in the light of addiction to philosophy.

You can read the full post here.

Discussion welcome.

The post Addicted to Philosophy first appeared on Daily Nous.

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