Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Merleau-Ponty and Philosophy of Race by Emily S. Lee

In philosophy, society on October 19, 2015 at 02:25

From: Merleau-Ponty and Philosophy of Race by Emily S. Lee, Berfrois,

Maurice Merleau-Ponty did not write much on race; he only mentioned it once, as far as I know, in his article, “The Child’s Relation with Others”. In these post-colonial times, it is recognized that one of the tools of colonialism is its epistemic hegemony—defining knowledge on the semblance of originating or affiliating with the northwest. Under such circumstances, as a philosopher whose primary research questions focus on race and feminist philosophy, my concentration on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and weaving his work with the questions concerning race and sex needs some explanation.

Edmund Husserl inaugurated phenomenology: upon recognizing the phenomenal structure of the world, Husserl endeavored to eliminate the ambiguity entailed by the phenomenological structure, and aimed to achieve certainty about the world, following Rene Descartes in prioritizing certainty. But rather than aim for certainty, Merleau-Ponty accepted that being-in-the-world entailed ambiguity. He addressed the phenomenological framework’s epistemic and ontologic consequences. Marrying Husserl’s phenomenology with gestalt theory, Merleau-Ponty acknowledged that the “most basic unit of experience is that of figure-on-a-background,” anything simpler reflects mere mental projections. Human experience of the world cannot reduce experience to solely a unit, a figure, or a totality.[1] The background or horizon in which one is situated, and where one is situated within the horizon, conditions what and how one perceives. Therefore an optimal relation—spatially and temporally–must exist between the theme and its horizon for perception of the theme.[2]

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Tolerance by Richard Rowe

In history, philosophy on August 4, 2015 at 20:19

From: Tolerance by Richard Rowe, The Philosopher,

It is always difficult to analyse the intellectual and moral tendencies of oneís own time. What seems all important at the moment of its happening may prove, when viewed in the truer perspective of history, to have been an ephemeral incident: while on the other hand the beginnings of some movement, destined to revolutionize the world of thought, may have been so slight or subtle as to have escaped contemporary attention altogether.

Probably no period has been without its idealists who beheld visions of a Golden Age yet to be attained. Probably no period has been without its mournful forth-tellers of doom who could see in impending change nothing but catastrophe. Probably no period has been entirely bereft of the ‘sanctified common sense’ which avoids extremes and tries ‘to see life steadily and see it whole.’

We need to be reminded that if the past is indeed strewn with the wreckage wrought by man’s selfishness and lack of imagination, we have no guarantee that the children’s children of the wreckers will be capable of any greater appreciation of values. By the same token we should take heart of grace and refrain from the sprinkling of ashes and the putting on of sackcloth when some cherished phase of ‘the old order changeth giving place to new.’ Cosmos has been evolved from chaos. But there were doubtless periods in the transition so picturesque that any change in the kaleidoscope seemed as if it must inevitably be a change for the worse. Yet changes came, and unsuspected beauties were revealed.

Such is the gospel of the idealists. But it is also true that cosmos has sometimes degenerated into chaos. It is futile to rush with a fire brand through the priceless architecture of an ancient civilization chanting ‘Excelsior’ as each tower topples and each temple is destroy The mere efflux of time is not synonymous with progress: alteration is not necessarily repair; change may as easily connote decay as its opposite.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

AUDIO: Cornel West on Emerson’s Enduring Importance

In audio, literature, North America, philosophy on July 24, 2015 at 05:36

From: Cornel West on Emerson’s Enduring Importance by Radio Open Source,

Emerson is called the founder of the American religion, sometimes the American God, and surely he’s the voice of American individualism in “Self Reliance.” A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within,” Emerson wrote, “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Cornel West, like Emerson, is a preacher with a national audience, and without a church. Emerson is his number one American writer, a soulful modern and a model public philosopher.

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson created in 2006.

Listen to the podcast

Reposted according to copyright notice from: Radio Open Source

Radical Hospitality by Danya Lagos

In philosophy, politics, society, sociology on March 24, 2015 at 19:51

From: Radical Hospitality by Danya Lagos, Hypocrite Reader,

Hospitality, or the art of welcoming and caring for others, must be rescued from its current entanglement in stratification and alienation. Today’s approach to hospitality invites people into a hosting paradigm that emphasizes the host’s ability to provide “whole,” “fresh,” “slow,” and “local” food experiences. This school of entertainment emphasizes the artisanal, the crafted, and the shared enjoyment of these as an extension of the host’s character and ethical standing. It nods towards feel-good liberal politics with a concern over GMO labeling, fair trade (!!!) products, and a kinder, gentler way of slaughtering animals for our consumption. We have created entire industries devoted to certifications of all sorts, to verify precisely how humanely that leg of lamb was slaughtered, precisely how kosher the cheese is, and precisely how genetically unmodified those lentils are. Under this new technology of hospitality, the host is no longer one whose primary concern is to invite and attend to the other. The host has become a producer and hoarder of cultural capital, and guests have become mere instruments in this venture—even if they often serve as critics or evaluators. Large, open gatherings are increasingly replaced by smaller, rarer, highly exclusive dinner parties. Guests are carefully selected, excluded, and engaged. At best, they are partners in a cultural wealth-generating exchange. At worst, they are excluded altogether from our kitchens and dining rooms if they cannot contribute to or be willing, passive, assenting consumers of this performance of class.

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

Here’s to being here by Lars Mensel

In philosophy, photography, society, technology on March 24, 2015 at 19:41

From: Here’s to being here by Lars Mensel, The European,

The staggering number of smartphone images is of course due to the omnipresence of camera-enabled phones. A popular saying among photographers goes: “The best camera is the one you have with you”, and so the increased number of photos and videos is simply true to the fact that people can easily reach for a camera whenever the opportunity presents itself. It is also due to the emergence of what writer Craig Mod has dubbed “networked lenses” – smartphone cameras that allow for instantaneous sharing with the world. They have enabled a willingness on many peoples’ parts to always keep cameras rolling. In the New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten wrote about how this trend is changing our experience of reality. “Life is footage”, he remarks.

Which brings us back to the smoke-filled cabin of Welch’s flight. What does it mean that his first impulse was to start documenting? As the examples show, constantly filming and taking photos is a development many people have noticed and discussed. But the reactions have been all too predictable: They are often a call to be more mindful in the face of technological progress, to consciously make room for the analogue world in a digital time

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Reposted with permission from: The European

A Philosophy of Tickling by Aaron Schuster

In art, biology, philosophy, psychology on January 11, 2015 at 05:39

From: A Philosophy of Tickling by Aaron Schuster, CABINET Magazine,

… Aristotle famously defined man as the rational animal (zoon echon logon), and as the political animal (zoon politikon). But there are also passages in his work that indicate another less remarked upon, though no less profound, definition. In Parts of Animals, he writes: “When people are tickled, they quickly burst into laughter, and this is because the motion quickly penetrates to this part, and even though it is only gently warmed, still it produces a movement (independently of the will) in the intelligence which is recognizable. The fact that human beings only are susceptible to tickling is due (1) to the fineness of their skin and (2) to their being the only creatures that laugh.”1 Perhaps this notion of the “ticklish animal” was further elaborated in the second book of the Poetics, the lost treatise on comedy; indeed, the relationship between ticklish laughter and comic laughter remains an open question. Should tickling be investigated under the heading of comedy or of touch? Touch, Aristotle argues, is the most primary sense, and human beings are uniquely privileged in possessing the sharpest sense of touch thanks to the delicate nature of their skin. Though other animals have more advanced smell or hearing, “man’s sense of touch … excels that of all other animals in fineness.”2 We might view tickling as a side effect of the hyper-sensitivity of human touch. Our peculiar vulnerability to tickling is the price to be paid for more sophisticated and discriminating access to the world.

Does not tickling violate the basic mechanism of cause and effect, the principle that every action entails an equal and opposite reaction? The tiniest stroking produces a wildly explosive response, while a more vigorous rubbing may hardly elicit any reaction at all. On the most stupid bodily level, there is something miraculous in the activity of tickling that seems to contravene the everyday experience of causality, turning us into spontaneous philosophical skeptics. It is as if the lived body were split into two: a practical body governed by regular principles and interactions, and an oversensitive flesh that, with the slightest tingle, is apt to plunge all coordination and mastery into spasmodic helplessness.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine

Mad Speculation and Absolute Inhumanism by Ben Woodard

In academia, literature, nature, philosophy, theory, writers on October 13, 2014 at 23:28

From: Mad Speculation and Absolute Inhumanism: Lovecraft, Ligotti and the Weirding of Philosophy by Ben Woodard, Berfrois,

The strange trajectory is the following: Kant’s critical philosophy and much of continental philosophy which has followed, has been a defense against horror and madness. Kant’s prohibition on speculative metaphysics such as dogmatic metaphysics and transcendental realism, on thinking beyond the imposition of transcendental and moral constraints, has been challenged by numerous figures proceeding him. One of the more interesting critiques of Kant comes from the mad black Deleuzianism of Nick Land stating, “Kant’s critical philosophy is the most elaborate fit of panic in the history of the Earth.”

An absolute materialism, for Ligotti, implies an alienation of the idea which leads to a ventriloquil idealism. As Ligotti notes in an interview, “the fiasco and nightmare of existence, the particular fiasco and nightmare of human existence, the sense that people are puppets of powers they cannot comprehend, etc.” (Cardin, 2006) And then further elaborates that,“[a]ssuming that anything has to exist, my perfect world would be one in which everyone has experienced the annulment of his or her ego. That is, our consciousness of ourselves as unique individuals would entirely disappear” (Ayad, 2004). The externality of the idea leads to the unfortunate consequence of consciousness eating at itself through horror which, for Ligotti, is more real than reality and goes beyond horror-as-affect. Beyond this, taking together with the unreality of life and the ventriloquizing of subjectivity, Ligotti’s thought becomes an idealism in which thought itself is alien and ultimately horrifying. The role of human thought and the relation of non-relation of horror to thought is not completely clear in Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

Philosophy, if it can truly return to the great outdoors, if it can leave behind the dead loop of the human skull, must recognize not only the non-priority of human thought, but that thought never belongs to the brain that thinks it, thought comes from somewhere else. To return to the train image from the beginning “a locomotive rolling on the surface of the earth is the image of continuous metamorphosis” (Visions of Excess, 7) this is the problem of thought, and of thinking thought, of being no longer able to isolate thought, with only a thought-formed structure.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Featured: American Socrates by Chris Hedges

In biology, education, government, history, philosophy, politics, society on June 16, 2014 at 14:51

Featured: American Socrates by Chris Hedges, Common Dreams,

Noam Chomsky speaks to the media at a friend’s house in Amman, Jordan, in 2010. (AP/Nader Daoud)

Noam Chomsky speaks to the media at a friend’s house in Amman, Jordan, in 2010. (AP/Nader Daoud)


CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Noam Chomsky, whom I interviewed last Thursday at his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has influenced intellectuals in the United States and abroad in incalculable ways. His explications of empire, mass propaganda, the hypocrisy and pliability of the liberal class and the failings of academics, as well as the way language is used as a mask by the power elite to prevent us from seeing reality, make him the most important intellectual in the country. The force of his intellect, which is combined with a ferocious independence, terrifies the corporate state—which is why the commercial media and much of the academic establishment treat him as a pariah. He is the Socrates of our time.



We live in a bleak moment in human history. And Chomsky begins from this reality. He quoted the late Ernst Mayr, a leading evolutionary biologist of the 20th century who argued that we probably will never encounter intelligent extraterrestrials because higher life forms render themselves extinct in a relatively short time.

“Mayr argued that the adaptive value of what is called ‘higher intelligence’ is very low,” Chomsky said. “Beetles and bacteria are much more adaptive than humans. We will find out if it is better to be smart than stupid. We may be a biological error, using the 100,000 years which Mayr gives [as] the life expectancy of a species to destroy ourselves and many other life forms on the planet.”

Climate change “may doom us all, and not in the distant future,” Chomsky said. “It may overwhelm everything. This is the first time in human history that we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for decent survival. It is already happening. Look at species destruction. It is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth, ended the period of the dinosaurs and wiped out a huge number of species. It is the same level today. And we are the asteroid. If anyone could see us from outer space they would be astonished. There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations—the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.”

If Mayr was right, we are at the tail end of a binge, accelerated by the Industrial Revolution, that is about to drive us over a cliff environmentally and economically. A looming breakdown, in Chomsky’s eyes, offers us opportunity as well as danger. He has warned repeatedly that if we are to adapt and survive we must overthrow the corporate power elite through mass movements and return power to autonomous collectives that are focused on sustaining communities rather than exploiting them. Appealing to the established institutions and mechanisms of power will not work.

“We can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution,” he said. “The Industrial Revolution took off right around here in eastern Massachusetts in the mid-19th century. This was a period when independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system. Men and women—women left the farms to be ‘factory girls’—bitterly resented it. This was also a period of a very free press, the freest in the history of the country. There were a wide variety of journals. When you read them they are pretty fascinating. The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings being forced into what they called ‘wage labor,’ which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery. In fact this was such a popular mood it was a slogan of the Republican Party—‘The only difference between working for a wage and being a slave is that working for the wage is supposed to be temporary.’ ”

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How to Navigate the Murky Waters of Workplace Friendships by Maria Popova

In art, ethics, philosophy, society on June 16, 2014 at 13:55

From: How to Navigate the Murky Waters of Workplace Friendships: Wisdom from Adam Smith and Aristotle by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings,

Vernon, who echoes Rilke’s memorable words and notes that “the value of asking about friendship lies in the asking, not necessarily in coming to any incontestable conclusions,” argues that one of the defining characteristics of friendship is its inherent ambiguity — unlike social institutions of belonging like marriage or the workplace, it doesn’t operate by clear social norms or contractually defined roles, it comes with “no predetermined instructions for assembly or project for growth.” In fact, it can’t even be automatically derived from within these other social contracts — a marriage, Vernon notes, may or may not foster true friendship, and even more so a workplace. He laments:

Is not mistaking relationships for what they are not — that is being blind to their ambiguity — arguably the greatest cause of disappointment and failure? … The corollary of friendship’s ambiguity is that it is packed with promise and strewn with perils.

That ambiguity gets especially perilous, Vernon argues, at work, where our relationships with colleagues may take the guise of friendship but are ultimately shaped by other forces — forces that often have an implicit power dynamic. It’s a modern predicament especially poignant in our culture where “productivity often counts for more than perspicacity, the professional touch more than the personal touch, being praised more than being praiseworthy.” What this produces is an air of “pseudo-intimacy” between colleagues, whose relationships, at the very core, are premised on their usefulness to one another. That utilitarian basis, Vernon argues, is the “fundamental source of the ambiguity of many friendships at work”:

People’s utility at work extends way beyond just being a welcome distraction or even performing a role or a function. It goes to the heart of the working environment, underpinning why people are there at all. They work to do something, for a client, for a team, for a boss. And work is not without one key utility to the employee, namely, the paycheck. Ideally the work is rewarding, doubly so when there’s a sense of achieving something with friends. And if you receive what you believe you are due that generates friendly feeling too.

One of the trickiest workplace “friendships” is that between a boss and her employee, where there is an implicit imbalance of power, money, and status. Vernon turns to Aristotle, perhaps our civilization’s greatest philosopher of friendship, who divided such relationships into two parts — contractual, based on the terms of employment and the respective expectations regarding responsibility, time, and compensation, and goodwill, “the human bit of the working relationship, or the extent to which you’re prepared to gift your talents free of charge to the boss.”

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Reposted with permission from: Maria Popova

Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck

In government, literature, philosophy, politics, science, science fiction, sexuality, society, sociology, writers on May 18, 2014 at 08:24

From: Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck, The New Atlantis,


“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

But an even more telling comparison can be made — that Brave New World is a modern counterpart to the “city in speech” built by Socrates and his young interlocutors in Plato’s Republic. Whether Huxley saw the similarities himself is far from clear. In neither the “Foreword” added to the 1946 edition nor his lengthy 1958 essay Brave New World Revisited, which is published together with the novel in some editions, does he indicate any consciousness of a parallel. Nor do his Complete Essays (published 2000 – 2002) shed light on this. His biographer Murray mentions no such connection in Huxley’s mind either; nor does his earlier biographer Sybille Bedford. Yet it may not be necessary to confirm any precise authorial intention on Huxley’s part to imitate Plato. Whereas Huxley’s other novels are largely forgotten today by the general public, and his later visits to the themes of Brave New World are those of a crank whose imaginative gifts have deserted him, in writing his greatest work he seems to have been in the grip of an idea larger than himself. Plato’s Socrates tells us in the Apology that when he “went to the poets” to “ask them thoroughly what they meant” in their greatest poems, he found to his surprise that “almost everyone present, so to speak, would have spoken better than the poets did about the poetry that they themselves had made.” For as Socrates said (not without some biting irony) in Plato’s Ion, “all the good epic poets speak all their fine poems not from art but by being inspired and possessed, and it is the same for the good lyric poets.” Perhaps during the mere four months it took Huxley to write Brave New World, he was “possessed” in this way and remained forever unconscious of his debt to Plato.

In its political teaching, the Republic is as much a dystopian poem as is Brave New World. With every step in his radical project of instituting uncompromisingly perfect justice — from the noble lie, to the abolition of the family among the guardians, to the eugenics program that brushes aside the incest taboo with a wave of the hand, to the impossible proposal that the city be ruled by philosophers, to the absurd suggestion that the city be founded by exiling all of an existing city’s residents over ten years of age — Socrates reveals humanity’s inability to overcome the limits that our nature imposes. We love the good, but we also love what is our own. Nature draws us toward other particular persons whom we embrace and love as our own; it gets in the way of our commitment to the collective good of the community, which has, in the best case, its own just yet conflicting demands on our love. Nature, or nature’s God, has made us embodied souls, or ensouled bodies. We can live neither wholly for others nor wholly for ourselves, and this is no less true for the philosopher than for others. The project of perfect justice in which each of us is a “cell in the social body” is not within our grasp.

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Reposted with permission: The New Atlantis

The Ethics of Suicide by John Danaher

In ethics, philosophy, religion, society, sociology on May 18, 2014 at 07:39

From: The Ethics of Suicide: A Framework by John Danaher, IEET,

A. The Competency Question: Was the person mentally competent and sufficient rational and self-governing to be responsible for the act of self-killing?

I think this is possibly the most important question. In many cases, the default assumption is that the person who commits suicide lacks mental competency or rationality. Indeed, the act of killing oneself is often taken to be conclusive evidence of this. People don’t accept that the reasons typically stated for suicide (feelings of hopelessness etc.) can be embraced by the rational mind. That this is the default assumption seems to be proven by the fact that people only accept the rationality of suicide in certain extreme cases, e.g. terminal illness, self-sacrifice to a greater good. The thought of a rational, fully competent adult, who faces nothing more than the ordinary slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, ending their lives is too much countenance. Such an individual must be mentally or rationally deficient.

I’m not entirely convinced by this default assumption. This is for two reasons. First, it’s not clear to me that, say, a nihilistic worldview which holds that all lives are meaningless and devoid of hope, is all that irrational. To be clear, I don’t accept this worldview and I have argued against it in the past. Nevertheless, it doesn’t strike me as being significantly more irrational other philosophical commitments that we are we don’t judge in the same way (say: moral anti-realism or epistemic internalism). If a person can competently and rationally embrace those views, why can’t they competently and rationally embrace nihilism?

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Letters to Slavoj Žižek

In Europe, performing arts, philosophy, politics, society on May 3, 2014 at 00:57

From: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Žižek, Common Dreams,

Dear Nadezhda,

I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.

You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.

For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?

The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”

But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.

With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!


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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

How Do We Change The World? with Rob Riemen

In ethics, humanities, philosophy, society, sociology, world on March 25, 2014 at 03:47

From: How Do We Change The World? A Conversation with Rob Riemen by Rose Mary Salum, Literal Magazine,

RMS: At one point during the symposium, you posed the question to your panel: “What do you see as scandalous in contemporary society?” And I wondered, what is scandalous to you?

RR: There are many scandals, but the greatest scandal in rich Western society is the destruction of education and culture by the ruling class: the organized stupidity. And of course, that is in the interest of the ruling class, as which products would still be bought, which programs still watched on television, which politicians would still be elected if people were just a little bit more wise?

RMS: You once told me: “We have given up the notion that there are universal values. These are all complex things, and they have political consequences.” Was this round of conferences intended to recover those universal values?

RR: … I want to create a space where the tradition of European humanism is kept alive and transmitted to anybody who realizes that without universal spiritual values and the great cultural legacy that makes us aware of these values, there cannot be a civilized society in which everybody has the possibility to live his life in truth, to do justice, and to create beauty. And as long as I have the energy and the means to continue this work, I’ll do it as my modest contribution to “changing the world”.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

The becoming-girl of the Virgin Mary by Em McAvan

In gender, philosophy, religion, society on March 25, 2014 at 03:22

From: The becoming-girl of the Virgin Mary by Em McAvan, Rhizomes: Issue 22,

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

“difference is monstrous” (Gilles Deleuze, Repetition and Difference, 37)

[1] To study religion with Gilles Deleuze is to already be involved in a contradiction of sorts. The dominant theological traditions of Christianity have been metaphysical enterprises grounded in a transcendent being (God), who guarantees all life and all meaning. This is the onto-theological argument, fairly succinctly formulated by Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica where he says that the name of God “signifies being itself.” God “is who he is” (as the Christian gloss on Exodus goes), he is pure being itself. Indeed, Aquinas goes so far as to state that “God is pure act without any potentiality whatsoever” (quoted in Kearney The God Who May Be, 83). In contrast to the hegemonic Christian tradition, Deleuze formulates a critique of “the order of God” (Logic of Sense, 332), preferring immanence to transcendence and the radical unpredictability of becoming. He writes approvingly of Nietzsche’s Antichrist, who is “characterized by the death of God, the destruction of the world, the dissolution of the person, the disintegration of bodies, and the shifting function of language which now expresses only intensities” (Logic of Sense, 334).

[2] It is difficult to recuperate Deleuze for a thoroughly orthodox project. However, Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the rhizome – which gives this journal its name – already makes clear the necessity of connecting his work with disparate, unlikely disciplines, transforming each in the process. Daniel W. Smith points out that Deleuze can be best understood as post-religious, since he “harbors neither the antagonism of the ‘secular’ who find the concept of God outmoded, nor the angst or mourning of those for whom the loss of God was crisis-provoking, nor the faith of those who would like to retrieve the concept in a new form” (“The Doctrine of Univocity,” 167). Deleuze provides us neither with a master key for religion nor an outside from which to critique, instead he provides an occasion for transmutation, for becoming—the becoming-Deleuzian of religion and the becoming-religious of Deleuze. As we can see in work over the last decade in Mary Bryden’s collection Deleuze and Religion, in feminist process theologian Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, and in the work of deconstructionist John D. Caputo, the encounter between Deleuzian thought and religion can be a fruitful one. In this essay, I will connect Deleuze with religion in another way, connecting his work on becoming-girl and repetition with the archetypal figure of a girl, the Virgin Mary. I will argue that, paradoxically, Mary becomes a girl after the Event of the birth of Christ, and that this particular movement is repeated in the faithful/faithless folds of the Virgin’s image found in various situations.

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Reposted with permission from: Rhizomes

Heidegger and the case of domestic animals by Philippe Theophanidis

In animals, art, philosophy, psychology on March 2, 2014 at 20:52

From: Heidegger and the case of domestic animals by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis,

Although various interpretations are still subject to debate, it seems to be rather common to provide Goya’s dog with feelings or affective dispositions. But how to bear witness of the animal’s world without substituting our human experience to its own?

Here’s a short excerpt where Heidegger discusses the relationship we have with domestics animals: the fact that we are tempted to interpret their world even though, at the same time, it remains fundamentally foreign to our own.

However, if an original transposedness on man’s part in relation to the animal is possible, this surely implies that the animal also has its world. Or is this going too far? Is it precisely this ‘going too far’ that we constantly misunderstand? And why do we do so? Transposedness into the animal can belong to the essence of man without this necessarily meaning that we transpose ourselves into an animal’s world or that the animal in general has a world. And now our question becomes more incisive: In this transposedness into the animal, where is it that we are transposed to? What is it we are going along with, and what does this ‘with’ mean? What sort of going is involved here? Or, from the perspective of the animal, what is it about the animal which allows and invites human transposedness into it, even while refusing man the possibility of going along with the animal? From the side of the animal, what is it that grants the possibility of transposedness and necessarily refuses any going along with? What is this having and yet not having? (The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics World, Finitude, Solitude, [1983] 1995, p. 210 [307-309])

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz by Henry Krips

In government, media, philosophy, politics, society, sociology, theory on January 20, 2014 at 17:13

From: A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz : Adorno, Kafka and Žižek by Henry Krips, International Journal of Žižek Studies,

In today’s regulated world of mass media corporations, what space is left for a radical politics? From the theoretical perspectives of most contemporary work in cultural studies, the answer seems to be “not much.” For example, according to the classic Frankfurt School position, the mass media serve the politically conservative end of spreading ideological lies: telling us that the government bureaucracies and private corporations that control our daily lives know best and care personally for each and every one of us (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002).

In order for these lies to be effective, however, it is not enough that they are encoded at the level of message content – after all, in today’s cynical climate few people fully trust what they are told in newspapers or see on television. How, then, can the mass media ensure that the lies that they circulate have an impact upon their audience; what, in any case, is the nature of that impact? The Frankfurt School answer (as represented, for example, in the early work of Theodor Adorno) is that a mass media presentation has two methods of encoding ideological lies: (1) it encodes the lies denotatively, at the level of its content, or (2) it encodes them connotatively, at the more abstract level of technique or form of presentation (Barthes, 1985: 111-117). Consider a familiar example: a full page magazine advertisement that places an image of a bottle of perfume next to an image of a beautiful woman who is photographed while she is staring
seductively into the camera. The advertisement encodes a message denotatively about the perfume’s power to make its wearer attractive. But also, because the woman appears to look at us directly, as if she knew us personally, a meta-message is encoded connotatively into the form of presentation: “Hey you there, this message is for you!” Furthermore, and here is the key point, even though we know that the latter message is a lie, it has an impact upon us – each of us feels, and to a certain extent acts as if through the ad she or he is being addressed personally.1 Adorno argues that it is in exactly this way, namely through their forms of presentation, that mass media presentations propagate ideological lies.

For example, advertisements, newscasts, talk shows and so on all typically engage their audience through such personal forms of address. By singling out each member of the audience for public recognition of a personal kind, this form of address contributes to the ideological lie at the heart of the liberal state, namely that it knows about and cares for each and every one of us individually (Goehr, xix-xx). And because the lie is encoded at the level of form rather than content, despite its transparency it sneaks under the audience’s critical radar and affects what they do. It general terms, we may conclude, even if mass media presentations are politically radical in their content, thanks to their form of presentation their overall impact will fall on the conservative side of the political ledger.

In The Sublime Object of Ideology Slavoj Žižek argues for a similar conclusion, but in the context of rather different theoretical premises (Žižek, 1989: 28-33). He argues that the totalitarian conditions in which we live today create a perverse split between knowledge and action: we know very well the terrible things that are going on around us, but even so – perhaps because we can’t do anything about them, or perhaps because we feel immune to their effects – we act as if we are ignorant. Like ostriches recognizing danger, we collectively stick our heads in the sand. It seems to follow that mass media exposées – or indeed any techniques of consciousness-raising – will be useless as radical political strategies for getting people to act differently. To put the argument in a nutshell: if, as Žižek claims, people don’t act on what they know then broadcasting the truth to them will make no political difference.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

The Philosopher and the Wolf with Alan Saunders

In animals, audio, ethics, humanities, interview, philosophy on December 9, 2013 at 20:03

From: The Philosopher and the Wolf with Alan Saunders, The Philosopher’s Zone, ABC Radio National,

Alan Saunders: Hi, I’m Alan Saunders, and this week on The Philosopher’s Zone we’re going to the Sydney Writers’ Festival for a conversation with Mark Rowlands, Welsh-born and now a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami.

As a philosopher, he’s concerned with the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with applied ethics, and with bringing philosophy to a wider audience.

Well he certainly reached a wide audience with his book The Philosopher and the Wolf, an account of the 11 years he spent with Brenin, the wolf, whom he bought when he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama and Brenin was an exuberant, destructive puppy.

Brenin went everywhere with Mark. He had to, because it wasn’t good for the furniture if he were left alone at home. And he travelled in the US, Ireland, England and France.

And what lessons did the philosopher learn from the wolf? Well, many, but one was this: that wolves, unlike us, live without hope. And what is most important in us, is what is left when time has taken our hope from us.

Mark Rowlands: We do spend a lot of our time obsessing about the future and obsessing about the past in the way that no other animal does. The drawback is I think, that we have a hard time making sense of our lives once we’re hooked into time in that sort of way. I think that is one of the drawbacks at least.

Alan Saunders: But we have a hard time making sense of our lives, but on the other hand we do have a project, which involves making sense of our lives. Brenin, the wolf, didn’t have any trouble with making sense of his life, because he just carried on being a wolf.

Mark Rowlands: Yes, because we’re what philosophers call temporal creatures, we experience time in a certain way, as a line stretching from the past into the future. We face a problem. And the problem is we know that there’s going to be an end to this line. And so then we have a fundamental choice to make: what is our stance going to be to the fact that there is an end to the line of our lives? And it seems to me we have two fundamental choices: either we tell stories to the effect that there isn’t in fact an end, that what we think of as the end is not in fact the end, there is something else; we can do that. Or we can live our lives in the acknowledgement that there will be an end.

Part of what I wanted to do certainly in the latter half of the book, was to try and show the ways in which making up stories about there not being an end, about death not being the end, doesn’t allow us to be what we are capable of being.

Listen to the interview & read the transcript

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

We Are the Weather by Brian Kuan Wood

In art, economy, North America, philosophy, society, visual arts on December 4, 2013 at 20:47

From: We Are the Weather by Brian Kuan Wood, e-flux,

The sublime of the nineteenth century was described by Kant as the feeling of watching an avalanche from a distance. A glacier crumbles, a frozen world breaks down, creating awe and shock and awe again, pleasure and horror at the same time—but always at a remove. Today the sublime of the nineteenth century has gone haywire. It’s more like a monster wave. A tsunami as freeze frame. A twister exhaling in slow motion, collapsing a block of South Asian textile factories. A moment of exhilarated foam suspended high up then crashing down to devastate your lives terminally. The razor-sharp spike of an algorithm when it crests, just barely high enough to brush up against the inside of the bubble.

The distance between the observer and the disaster has disappeared. In fact the observer and the disaster might even be the same thing. It’s as if when one bubble bursts, another one expands to become the atmosphere itself. We are standing above the remains and the rubble of the first, but still inside another enclosure that arrives as some sort of psychotic causality. Is there a way out of the market or are we only trapped inside with no escape? Yes and yes! The trouble has to do with being liberated and newly imprisoned in such quick succession. You are watching the storm and being blown and carried away by it at the same time. This is why you may often feel that you’re in competition with yourself, or that you are not yourself at all. You may be a wanderer above the mist, but you are also in the mist.2 The Caspar David Friedrich painting went gray. You think you may be God himself, but you still need Google Maps to find your way through the mist. The wanderer lost his phone and is just trying to get to a restaurant.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Wall Street firms made some very interesting adjustments. It is well known that after slashing jobs by the thousands, salaries and bonuses for individual executives reached record highs. But how is this possible? Did executives simply stuff their own pockets with bailout money? Well, yes, but only through a much larger systemic adjustment by which Wall Street firms essentially diverted money away from infrastructure and support staff, clearing the way for a slimmer workforce of highly gifted, self-sufficient, and well-paid geniuses.

Around the same time as the crash, while artists and art institutions feared the worst, many have been surprised to find the field of art as a whole thriving, even in spite of savage cuts to public funding nearly everywhere. Institutionalized austerity seems to remake the artist into a carrier of a much more important technology—one that it becomes increasingly necessary to understand and access. And the sensitive artist still guilty from being an agent of property speculation and gentrification during the boom years of the creative class may not have seen the ruins of that cutesy economy in cities like Dublin.3 As a vanguard of resilience in the face of impoverishment, the artist who beautified low-income or derelict neighborhoods has only more to give, because he or she is also an originator of extra-economic technologies, of ways of living inside and outside of economic relations, of the conquering genius of exemplary survival, with some misshapen idealism that pours forth seemingly endlessly, with or without resources, over and above demands and expectations.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

On Maieutic Machines by Michael Kinnucan

In languages, philosophy on October 31, 2013 at 01:49

From: On Maieutic Machines by Michael Kinnucan, Hypocrite Reader,

Socrates asks the young Theaetetus: what is knowledge? He says he really wants to know. Theaetetus hesitates a bit (he’s heard rumors about this guy), but answers in the end: Knowledge of geometry, of astronomy, knowledge of shoemaking and leatherworking—these, and things like them, are knowledge. And let’s be fair to Theaetetus: it’s not as though he’s wrong. Geometry is knowledge, or a knowledge anyway, in one extremely common and useful sense of the word “is.” It’s not an ignorance, certainly, nor is it for example a tree. It is knowledge. He knows his shapes.

Socrates is not satisfied, however. He raises two objections. First, when he said he didn’t know what knowledge was, Theaetetus evidently did not take him at his word: he keeps using the word “knowledge” in his answers, just as if Socrates knew what “knowledge” meant, when Socrates (unless he’s lying, which is likely) well and truly does not know what “knowledge” means. Second, Theaetetus offers a longwinded answer, or rather an indefinite one—presumably there is a knowledge of every fish in the sea, and we could spend our lives listing them off and never come to the end of it, but surely there’s a simple way to say what all the things share that we call knowledge. Surely in some sense they’re all alike. We don’t call them all knowledge by consulting some monstrous heterogeneous list.

Socrates gives the example of mud. You can do all sorts of things with mud—jump in it, wipe it off your feet, make bricks. But saying all the uses of mud would be neither necessary nor sufficient to define it. There’s a short way around: mix water and dirt, you’ve got mud. So (he seems to imply), what do you mix to get knowledge?

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation by Daniel Zamora

In economy, Europe, government, history, philosophy, politics, society, sociology on October 21, 2013 at 05:36

From: When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation: The Condition of the Surplus-Population under Neoliberalism by Daniel Zamora,,

In 1992, 13 years after Margaret Thatcher’s “neoliberal revolution,” the Iron Lady’s chief economic advisor, Alan Budd, declared that he had his doubts that “the 1980’s policies of attacking inflation by squeezing the economy and public spending” had ever really been taken seriously by those at the helm of government. Rather, he wondered if they weren’t really a “cover to bash the workers. Raising unemployment,” he pointed out, “was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working class. What was engineered—in Marxist terms—was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labor, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”1 The interest of this anecdote is in its implicit suggestion of a link between the socio-political destabilization and fragmentation of the wage-earning working class (the intensification, in other words, of the difference between the working army of labour and the unemployed reserve) and the politics pursued during the decades following the rise of neoliberalism. The central problem with which we are confronted today, in other words, may be less the conflict between labor and capital, and more, as Margaret Thatcher put it, the antagonism between a privileged “underclass” with its “dependency culture” and an “active” proletariat whose taxes pay for a system of “entitlements” and “handouts.”2

During this same period, in France, André Gorz published his Farewell to the Working Class—a book in which he argued that the “society of unemployment” would henceforth be divided into two camps: “a growing mass of the permanently unemployed” on one side, “an aristocracy of tenured workers” on the other, and, lodged between the two, “a proletariat of temporary workers.”3 Far from constituting the very motor of social change, the “traditional working class” had become little more than a “privileged minority.”4 From now on, the vanguard of the class struggle would be a “non-class” made up of the “unemployed” and “the temporary workers” for whom work would never be a “source of individual flourishing.” Gorz’s idea was that, in today’s world, class conflict is no longer between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but rather, between the lumpenproletariat and a working class no longer at odds with the class system.

The fact that this logic—redefining the social question as a conflict between two factions of the proletariat rather than between capital and labor—can today be found on the left as well as the right, raises a number of question. On one side, it aims at limiting the social rights of the “surplus population”5 by pitting “active” workers against them; on the other side, it aims at mobilizing the “surplus population” against the privilege of the “actives.” In the end, both sides end up accepting, to the detriment of all “workers,” the centrality of the category of the “excluded.”

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Repossted with permission from:

Information, Knowledge & Intelligence by Alistair MacFarlane

In information, information science, internet, philosophy on September 30, 2013 at 21:20

From: Information, Knowledge & Intelligence by Alistair MacFarlane, Philosophy Now,

Anybody reading this will have interacted with a computer. These exchanges can hardly be called conversations. One no more converses with current computers than a soldier on parade converses with a drill sergeant. However, when working on the Internet using your personal computer as an intermediary, things are rather better. Searching for a book, inspecting its contents online, then ordering it, can be a much more satisfying form of interaction. You are never, however, under any illusion that you are dealing with a fellow human: you don’t ask the Internet, “What’s the weather like down there?… Have you read it yourself?” Computer-driven machines can now carry out a huge range of very highly skilled tasks, from navigating and landing aircraft, to manufacturing and assembling a wide range of products. How feasible is it that, in a few decades, one might have great difficulty in knowing whether or not one was talking to a computer? And if unable to finally evade all your attempts to engage it in stimulating conversation (“I’m sorry, but I’m too busy to chat with you right now, what was it you wanted?”), it could answer virtually any general knowledge question, provide detailed guidance over the whole range of literature and science, do seriously advanced mathematics, and play a mean game of poker, should you call it intelligent? After all, it knows the capital, population and main exports of every country in the world, and you don’t. Furthermore, are there serious implications for society if computers linked to machines and communication systems could run all the railroads, fly all the aircraft, manage all the traffic, make all the cars and other products, act as vast reservoirs of factual knowledge, and perform almost any other activity requiring great skill? These are not merely interesting philosophical questions. Should machines reach the requisite levels of knowledge and skill, their integration into society could pose very severe problems.

To address these questions we need to define carefully three basic concepts – information, knowledge and intelligence – and explore the relationships between them. A good way to begin to distinguish between them, is to note how they reflect our relationship to present, past, and future. Information describes: it tells us how the world is now. Knowledge prescribes: it tells us what to do on the basis of accumulated past experience. Intelligence decides: it guides, predicts and advises, telling us what may be done in circumstances not previously encountered, and what the outcome is likely to be.

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Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

On Incest by Avi Garelick

In biology, philosophy, psychology, religion, sexuality, society on September 24, 2013 at 00:17

From: On Incest: Its Whys and Why Nots by Avi Garelick, The Hypocrite Reader,

Academically, we are obviously all morally opposed to incest and rightfully so. At the same time, there is an argument to be made in the Swiss case to let go what goes on privately in bedrooms. (Matthew Galluzzo)

Is it wrong to wonder what’s wrong with incest? Will it sit still as an object of reasoned inquiry? If you offer an explanation for the rational underpinning of the taboo, will that satisfy the deep feeling of disgust that surrounds it? There is something about the question what is wrong with incest that suggests the more transgressive question is something wrong with incest. Aren’t we naturally averse to incest, anyway? If so, the pertinent question is not so much why is incest wrong as why is it prohibited?

For Freud, incestuous urges are at the beginning of human experience. This is famously expressed in his concept of the Oedipus Complex—love your mother, kill your father. The basic Freudian notion of sex and incest is this: A human being’s sexual character is as old as he or she is. Sexual character does not arrive unprecedented at the onset of puberty, ready to attach itself to a previously non-sexual subject. Rather, the formation of adult sexuality patterns itself on the circuits of pleasures and prohibitions established in the subject’s early years. This is an immanent account. If you begin your life suckling at your mother’s breast, achieving pleasure and nourishment simultaneously, that is your first erotic enjoyment. All later enjoyments are in some sense a variation on that first one. Pleasure is fundamentally incestuous, and without a denial of these initial pleasures it might remain so. This denial is provided by the exclusive daddy-mommy pairing; the child is pushed away from the parent he loves by the other’s rights. This prohibition is the point of departure for all prohibition; it is internalized in the subject’s development of a sense of shame and repression around sex. The incest taboo thus has its origin in the strength of paternal prohibition. It is this prohibitive character that motivates the displacement of sexuality into an arena of strangers. But in Freud, the original incestuous urge never dissolves. It is merely redirected towards an acceptable object.

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Reposted with permission from: The Hypocrite Reader

Between Žižek and Wagner by Tere Vadén

In history, philosophy, political science, society, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:47

From: Between Žižek and Wagner: Retrieving the Revolutionary Potential of Music by Tere Vadén, International Journal of Žižek Studies,

In his foreword to Adorno’s In Search of Wagner Slavoj Žižek intimates that Wagner contains a revolutionary potential that has not been spotted or fully brought out yet and that now, “after the exhaustion of the critical-historicist and aestheticist paradigms” (Žižek 2009a: xxvii), is the right, decisive time. Žižek sees the new phase as ideologico-critical, or, better yet, political. While Žižek’s determination to enlist even Wagnerian opera in revolutionary struggle is laudable, there are some reasons to suspect the grounds on which his view is based. Žižek’s conception of music inherits a tension that characterises his view on the subject, including that of the revolutionary subject, and this tension is, in fact, intensified when it is transposed to the description of music. The underlying question is, can music ever bear the revolutionary role envisaged for it by Žižek? The conception seems to lead to an unhappy choice (correlative to a more general double-bind in the notion of the subject). On one hand, if music is a symbolic form, can it find experiential purchase to move people into revolution? On the other hand, if it is has a direct lifeline to pre-individual experience, can it
point towards a revolution that is emancipatory in the Enlightenment sense?

In order to move closer to these questions, let us begin by noticing how Žižek approaches music in general and Wagner in particular. A recurring theme in the philosophy of music has been the polarization of musical sound either to a pure and direct non-symbolic part of life or experience itself (as in Schopenhauer’s notion of Wille) or to a corrupt twin of symbolic language introducing a tragic gap between experience and its expression. At the same time, it is precisely this symbolic function that makes possible the psychoanalytic and critical analysis of musical meaning. For Žižek, subjectivity is formed by the violent introduction of a person into a symbolic universe, which functions as the playground of psychological and ideological tensions. Consequently, the expressivity of musical drama, such as a Wagner opera, is dependent on the (inter-)subjective existence of the symbolic.

In order to emphasise his analytical approach, Žižek claims that in understanding Wagner, rather than consider the work in its historical environment, we should decontextualize it in order to grasp its universal potential. It is clear that this kind of decontextualization and abstraction needs access to a universal medium in order to work and to be intelligible. For Žižek, this universal dimension is formed by the symbolic and subjectual structures, which are strictly correlative: the subject is a structural feature of the symbolic universe and the symbolic is the structure created and upheld by subjects. Consequently, by identifying and analysing these structures it is possible to locate the
symbolic tendencies in a musical work in a process that is essentially critique of ideology, that is, a revelation of the unexpressed conditions of expression in the work. This is not to say that while talking about opera Žižek would focus exclusively on the libretti and disregard the music (even though he does argue against the absolutisation of music while interpreting opera). He does analyse the music itself, and that is precisely the point: in order for music to
be analysable, to be symptomatic of ideological dead-ends and emancipatory paths, music itself has to have a symbolic structure. Music has to have elements that correspond to the structures of subjects, whether symbolic, psychological, philosophical, ideological or whatever.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection with Amy Goodman

In interview, medicine, North America, philosophy, politics, psychology, research, video on September 12, 2013 at 14:19

From: Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction and the Destruction of American Childhood with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!,

DR. GABOR MATÉ: The hardcore drug addicts that I treat, but according to all studies in the States, as well, are, without exception, people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. And the commonality is childhood abuse. In other words, these people all enter life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they actually got negative circumstances of neglect. I don’t have a single female patient in the Downtown Eastside who wasn’t sexually abused, for example, as were many of the men, or abused, neglected and abandoned serially, over and over again.
And that’s what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically, in terms of emotional pain relief, and neurobiological development to early adversity.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this whole approach of criminalization versus harm reduction, how you think addicts should be treated, and how they are, in the United States and Canada?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.

The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very — there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

After the Social Media Hype: Dealing with Information Overload by Geert Lovink

In information, internet, philosophy, psychology, society, technology on September 9, 2013 at 16:01

From: After the Social Media Hype: Dealing with Information Overload by Geert Lovink, e-flux,

The question on the table is—following Foucault—how to minimize domination and shape new technologies of the self. Why has the internet industry bred its own monsters of centralization and control (Google, Facebook, Amazon) while promising the opposite? What bothers us is our own survival. Which techniques are effective in reducing the social noise and permanent data floods that scream for attention? What kind of online platforms facilitate lasting forms of organization? We’re not merely talking here about filters that delete spam and “kill” your ex. As the state of internet discourse shows, it is all about training and repetition (as Aristotle already emphasized). There is no ultimate solution. We will need to constantly train ourselves to focus, while remaining open to new currents that question the very foundations of our direction. This is not merely a question of distributing our concentration. When do we welcome the Other, and when should it be jammed? When do we stop searching and start making? There are times when our real-time communication weaponry should be fired up for mobilization and temporary spectre dominance, until the evening sets in and it is time to chill out and open other doors of perception. But when do these times ever arrive?

As Peter Sloterdijk already noticed in his You Must Change Your Life (2009), training is key. The “anthropotechnic approach,” as Sloterdijk calls it, is different from the rational IT world of engineers in that in it is cyclical, not linear. It is not about concepts and debugging. Instead, it is about workouts. Self-improvement will have to come from inside, in the gym. If we want to survive as individuals while maintaining a relationship of sorts with (potentially addictive) gadgets and online platforms, we will have to get into fitness mode—and stay there. In extreme cases, visiting a Social Media Anonymous group might be helpful, but what average users need is merely a minor trigger to instigate the process of forgetting the gadget world.

Some may view the idea of improvement through repetition as conservative and anti-innovative. In an environment where paradigm shifts happen overnight, planned obsolescence—not durability—is the rule. But Sloterdijk’s emphasis on exercises and repetition, combined with Richard Sennett’s argument (in The Craftman [2009]) in favor of skills, help us to focus on tools (such as the diary) that we can use to set goals in the morning and reflect in the evening on the improvements that we made during the day. However, the disruptive nature of real-time news and social media needs to find a place in this model. In the meantime, Sloterdijk remains ambivalent about the use of information technology. It is clearly not on his mind. In his recently published dairy covering the years 2008–2011 (called Zeilen und Tage and running to 637 pages), I counted precisely one entry that deals explicitly with the internet. In this short entry, he describes the internet as a universal bazaar and Hype Park Gemüsekiste. The same could be said of Slavoj Zizek, who admits that he is not the world’s hippest philosopher.2 Even though both use laptops and internet intensely, information technology has not (yet?) been an object of inquiry in their work.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein and Natasha Mitchell

In audio, Europe, North America, philosophy on August 8, 2013 at 05:45

From: Travels with Epicurus: living an authentic old age by Daniel Klein and Natasha Mitchell, Life Matters, ABC Radio National,

4384682-3x4-340x453For philosopher Daniel Klein the prospect of getting dental implants and maintaining his youthful smile set him thinking. Is it better to spend a precious year trying to extend the prime of his life, or to live an authentic old age, toothless grin and all? Daniel went on a journey to the Greek Island of Hydra, coupled with the teachings of Greek philosopher Epicurus, to seek out the best way to embrace his twilight years.

Daniel Klein is the author of many books and his latest is Travels with Epicurus, A journey to a Greek Island in Search of an authentic old age

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Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Putting Your Papers in Order by Richard Burt

In ethics, literature, philology, philosophy, theory, writers on August 8, 2013 at 05:34

From: Putting Your Papers in Order: The Matter of Kierkegaard’s Writing Desk, Goethe’s Files, and Derrida’s Paper Machine, Or, the Philology and Philosophy of Publishing After Death by Richard Burt, Rhizomes,

When we write “by hand” we are not in the time before technology; there is already instrumentality, regular reproduction, mechanical iterability. So it is not legitimate to contrast writing by hand and “mechanical” writing . . . . I began by writing with a pen. . . . For the texts that mattered to me, the ones I had the slightly religious feeling of “writing,” I even banished the ordinary pen. I dipped into the ink a long pen holder whose point was gently curved with a special drawing quill, producing endless drafts and preliminary versions before putting a stop to them on my first little Olivetti, with its international keyboard, that I’d bought abroad. . . . But I never concealed from myself the fact that, as in any ceremonial, there had to repetition going on, and already a sort of mechanization. . . . Then, to go on with the story, I wrote more and more “straight onto” the machine: first the mechanical typewriter; then the electric typewriter in 1979; then finally the computer, around 1986 or 1987. I can’t do without it any more now, this little Mac. . .
—Jacques Derrida, “The Word Processor,” in Paper Machine (2005e), 20.

Some questions about posthumous publication are ethical: What happens if the author insistently tried to keep the works from publication? Are an author’s efforts presumed to be an expression of what he wanted, or does publication necessarily mean positing what the author would have wanted? What constitutes evidence of a dead author’s intention? A last will and testament? Paratextual evidence left in footnotes? Are some papers so private they should remain unpublished? Or are the papers of a dead man or woman public by definition? Still other questions concern the reception of posthumous publications: do readers connect the meaning of a posthumous text to the intention of the editor? In some cases, it would appear that the story of the editor cannot be divorced from the story of the posthumous publication. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson Sean Hemingway edited a “restored” edition of the posthumously published A Moveable Feast (2009), with a foreword Sean wrote. The New York Times excerpt from this version was published with a headnote explaining why this restored version was (supposedly) better than the “unrestored” edition (Rich 2009). Again, only decades after his father Vladimir Nabokov died did his son Dmitri see fit to publish his father’s novel, written on index cards, The Original of Laura (2009), against his father’s wishes. A journalist reports that “Vladimir Nabokov wrote the work on 138 index cards, which have been stored for the past 30 years in a bank vault in Switzerland, where Nabokov died in 1977” (Bloom 1999). The Original of Laura includes Dmitri’s introduction and a full-scale facsimile of each note card (which may be punched out of the book by the reader, if he or she so desires) and its transcription in black type below it on each page, followed by the reproduction of the reverse of each note card on the following page; facsimiles of two open pages of the book may be accessed in pdf files on the webpage for the book (see Figure 1). In both of these cases of posthumous publication, the editor’s personal motives to publish or restore a text are uncritically accorded more weight than is the usual paratextual foreword or introduction to shape the reader’s reading of the published work.

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Reposted with permission from: Rhizomes

Plato’s Cave and the Bicameral Brain by Jim Danaher

In history, philosophy on July 23, 2013 at 18:20

From: Plato’s Cave and the Bicameral Brain by Jim Danaher, The Philosopher,

What Plato expressed so long ago with his allegory of the cave was not, as he imagined, about another world, but rather about the way we desire to think about our human experience. Not only do we desire to know the forms so we might organize our understanding correctly, but we want them to be the kind of clear and distinct ideas we find in geometry.

In the modern period, Descartes convinced us that such a Platonic ambition was the way to solve all of our problems and consequently the modern mind came to associate the analytic thinking of the left-brain as synonymous with reason itself.

Consequently, no contradictory, ambiguous, or vague ideas could claim to be true. With such thinking, there were no mysteries, only puzzles that in time we would solve through a single mode of right thinking. Modern science told us that they had discovered a singular right way of thinking that if followed would eventually bring us to a complete understanding of the world and our place within it.

What we now understand much better than both Plato and Descartes is that we are hard-wired to reason in two very different and distinct ways: we can think analytically in order to get clear and distinct ideas and thereby eliminate all ambiguity and vagueness, or we can leave our experience whole and bear the paradoxes and contradictions that are so much a part of that actual experience. Plato might have imagined these as two different worlds but we now have the benefit of another way to interpret them – not as two universes that never interact but two distinct ways to think about the same world.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

What’s Wrong with Technological Fixes? with Evgeny Morozov

In information, internet, interview, philosophy, psychology, society, technology on July 18, 2013 at 17:07

From: What’s Wrong with Technological Fixes? Terry Winograd Interviews Evgeny Morozov, Boston Review,

Morozov characterizes this impulse to fix everything as “solutionism,” and offers two broad challenges to the solutionist sensibility. First, solutionists often turn public problems into more bite-sized private ones. Instead of addressing obesity by regulating the content of food, for example, they offer apps that will ‘nudge’ people into better personal choices. Second, solutionists overlook the positive value in the ‘vices’ they seek to ‘cure.’ According to Morozov, some of life’s good things come from ignorance rather than knowledge; opacity rather than transparency; ambivalence rather than certainty; vagueness rather than precision; hypocrisy rather than sincerity; messy pondering of imponderables rather than crisp efficiency. As these challenges reveal, Morozov’s critique is, in the end, animated by a sensible picture of human life that suggests a more modest view of technology than solutionists have proposed.

TW: A key element of many solutionist approaches is a focus on devices and techniques to shape the actions of individuals. For example you quote Tim Chang, head of a major venture fund investing in “Quantified Self” apps that allow users to track their vital statistics: “the only way we’ll fix our horribly broken healthcare system is by getting consumers to think about health and not healthcare.” In addition to the turn to “consumer,” I would imagine there are underlying assumptions here you don’t share about the framing of the problem. Is that right?

EM: One of the arguments I make in the book is that it’s impossible to understand the appeal or impact of technologies for self-tracking outside of the specific domain where they are introduced. So if we want to understand how the many tools advocated by the Quantified Self crowd would affect, say, health, we need to know something about how the notions of health and disease have changed in the last five decades and what role not only science but also the pharmaceutical industry has played in this process. I’ve read a bit in sociology and anthropology of health and medicine and one unmissable trend there is the growing concern with what academics call “biomedicalization”—which is like the good old medicalization, with its imperialistic tendencies to redescribe all experiences and concerns in the language of modern medicine, but now boosted by the techno-scientific apparatus of biological sciences.

If you follow the arguments of some prominent voices in this field—say anthropologists like Joe Dumit—you’ll see that they draw an interesting connection between this constant search for new symptoms and the financial interests of Big Pharma, who, of course, wants to sell us more and more drugs to treat more and more diseases. So this is the context in which I think we should view the proliferation of various devices for self-tracking. And seen in this light, the picture isn’t very pretty. So part of what I’m arguing in the book is that it’s wrong to just celebrate these new ways of self-tracking—the fact that we can now build sensors into our t-shirts to monitor our health—without having some deeper views on how we think about health and disease. I’m actually not interested in advancing one view of health over another in this book; all I’m trying to do is to point out that most debates about self-tracking technologies—at least those we hear in the public arena—sidestep these issues and just present these tools as ways for us to know more about ourselves, etc. That’s why solutionists have such an easy time: they do not complicate their stories, framing all of their innovations as giant steps towards progress and Enlightenment.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

Merleau-Ponty’s Child Psychology by Talia Welsh

In philosophy, psychology, society on July 12, 2013 at 18:53

From: Merleau-Ponty’s Child Psychology by Talia Welsh, Berfrois,

As much as death signals the end of the self, birth is just as mysterious. Both extend out to infinity and signal the brevity and contingency of our lives. As mysterious are those first few years of life that one does not have access to as an adult, I know I existed before my earliest memories. I know I interacted with others, I learned to walk and talk. I was willful from my parent’s tales. But this person is as much a mystery to me as the foetus I once was. When does my sense of “me-ness,” my self as a myself, arise? What is its development and what is required for its formation?

Merleau-Ponty argues for a view that holds there are certain existential human conflicts around which all societies will develop norms and systems around. They are the parent-child conflict, the male-female conflict and the self-stranger conflict.[12] Children and parents will always view each other with some ambivalence, and our styles and ideals of childrearing are reflections of these essential struggles. Likewise, negotiating sexual difference (and sexuality, Merleau-Ponty did not consider adult same-sex sexual relationships) will be a centerpiece of social norms and taboos. This removes the idea of individual conflicts as universal (such as the Oedipus conflict) or individual successes and failures being required for maturity (since not all cultures value the same expressions). But it retains the sense that discussions about development will always include some ambivalence in every society given the inherent nature of conflicts between adults and children.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

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