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At Slate, Jamelle Bouie writes about the Enlightenment's Dark Side:

The Enlightenment is having a renaissance, of sorts. A handful of centrist and conservative writers have reclaimed the 17th- and 18th-century intellectual movement as a response to nationalism and ethnic prejudice on the right and relativism and "identity politics" on the left.

Among them, he names Jordan Peterson, Steven Pinker, and Jonah Goldberg:

In their telling, the Enlightenment is a straightforward story of progress, with major currents like race and colonialism cast aside, if they are acknowledged at all. Divorced from its cultural and historical context, this "Enlightenment" acts as an ideological talisman, less to do with contesting ideas or understanding history, and more to do with identity. It's a standard, meant to distinguish its holders for their commitment to "rationalism" and "classical liberalism."

But even as they venerate the Enlightenment, these writers actually underestimate its influence on the modern world. At its heart, the movement contained a paradox: Ideas of human freedom and individual rights took root in nations that held other human beings in bondage and were then in the process of exterminating native populations. Colonial domination and expropriation marched hand in hand with the spread of "liberty," and liberalism arose alongside our modern notions of race and racism.

These weren't incidental developments or the mere remnants of earlier prejudice. Race as we understand it--a biological taxonomy that turns physical difference into relations of domination--is a product of the Enlightenment. Racism as we understand it now, as a socio-political order based on the permanent hierarchy of particular groups, developed as an attempt to resolve the fundamental contradiction between professing liberty and upholding slavery. Those who claim the Enlightenment's mantle now should grapple with that legacy and what it means for our understanding of the modern world.

"This paradox between Enlightenment liberalism and racial domination was well-recognized from the beginning," writes Bouie, but "Today's popular discourse on the Enlightenment ignores this contradiction and its modern manifestations, seen in the persistence of race hierarchy in the world's oldest democracy:"

We still live in a world shaped by Enlightenment ideas of race and white supremacy. These notions of inherent inferiority still hold purchase in our society. And political liberalism is still too compatible with both. The path to a truly universal liberalism--one that can actually liberate--demands that we grapple with its ugly heritage. To confront the paradox of the Enlightenment is to take its values seriously; to dismiss it is to prefer hagiography to truth.

Katie Kelaidis rebuts Bouie and others identified as the Enlightenment's cynical critics:

For while slavery is as old as humanity, abolitionism is a relatively recent phenomenon that did not emerge until the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment nurtured it into existence.

In a June 5 article for Slate, Jamelle Bouie writes of the Enlightenment: "At its heart, the movement contained a paradox: Ideas of human freedom and individual rights took root in nations that held other human beings in bondage and were then in the process of exterminating native populations." In the context of an article largely aimed at undermining a "handful of centrist and conservative writers" who have taken up the Enlightenment's defence, this appears to be a damning indictment of hypocrisy. That is, of course, unless one considers that, until the Enlightenment, it is nearly impossible to find a human society that did not, at least at times, practice slavery and engage in barbarous acts of conquest and colonization.

Kelaidis points out that "it is only with the Enlightenment that a universalist abolition movement began to take shape:"

The basic moral declaration that slavery should be abolished entirely did not emerge until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Enlightenment thinkers would apply their theories of universal human rights to the horrors to which they bore witness in the transatlantic slave trade and New World slavery. Then, and only then, would universal abolition become, not only a tenet of political theory, but also a major moral and political issue.

"Millennia of great moral teachers sought to come to terms with slavery and to mitigate its inhumanity," Kelaidis continues, "but no one--not Jesus, not Buddha, not Muhammad, not Socrates--considered the complete liberation of all slaves prior to the Enlightenment:"

It was that era's emphasis on reason and its assured sense of universal humanism, expressed as an unflagging commitment to the Brotherhood of Man, that encouraged the hitherto unconsidered notion that the abolition of slavery was a moral imperative, and that even kind masters behaved unjustly.

Slate's Daniel Engber asks, does the Trolley Problem have a problem? He observes that "What had started out as rhetoric for philosophical debate ended up as fodder for experiments," such as an experiment by Princeton grad student Joshua Greene:

Greene proposed that a slow, rational decision-making process leads people to arrive at a greatest-good conclusion (and say they'd flip the switch); while a quicker emotion-based process leads them to avoid inflicting harm on principle (and say they'd never push the person off the bridge).

Engber notes that "Greene's first paper on this topic ("An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment") has since been cited several thousand times," and speculates that "trolley hypotheticals could be a useful way of teasing out or even amplifying aspects of cognition that are hard to see in real-life settings," because "trolley studies tend to label psychopaths as utilitarians despite their moral shortcomings. (Psychopaths, it turns out, tend to be quite willing to endorse pushing strangers off of footbridges.)"

In preparing for an upcoming mini-lecture on the subject of "Quality," I found a few sources related to Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality (from his novels Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila). First is this Philosophy Now piece:

In my PhD I closely analysed his Metaphysics of Quality, and concluded that although traditional philosophical concepts such as causation and truth are given unconventional meanings in Pirsig's writing, there is an advantage in using his system because it has an internal coherence lacking in metaphysical systems based on Plato's example. I had the good fortune to discuss these ideas extensively with Robert Pirsig himself, and have used extracts from some of his letters to clarify various points in what follows.

I also stumbled onto this Guardian interview from 2006, in which Tim Adams referred to ZAMM as "the best-selling philosophy book ever"--with sales of more than five million copies [the snark in me wonders if that's more than Atlas Shrugged...]. As Adams writes:

After the army he majored in philosophy and persuaded his tutor to help him get a place on a course in Indian mysticism at Benares, where he found more questions than answers. He wound up back home, married, drifting between Mexico and the States, writing technical manuals and ads for the mortuary cosmetics industry. It was when he picked up philosophy again in Montana, and started teaching, that Phaedrus and his desire for truth overtook Pirsig once more.

At that time, he recalls, in his early thirties, he was so full of anxiety that he would often be physically sick before each class he taught. He used his students to help him discover some of the ideas that make up what he calls the 'metaphysics of quality' in his books, the ideas that led him to believe that he had bridged the chasm between Eastern and Western thought.

Pirsig's pre-ZAMM situation "is described in the psychiatric canon as catatonic schizophrenia. It is cited in the Zen Buddhist canon as hard enlightenment," he observes:

Midwestern American society of 1960 took the psychiatrist's view. Pirsig was treated at a mental institution, the first of many visits. Looking back, he suggests he was just a man outside his time. 'It was a contest, I believe, between these ideas I had and what I see as the cultural immune system. When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself.'

That immune system left him with no job and no future in philosophy; his wife was mad at him, they had two small kids, he was 34 and in tears all day.

Pirsig said that ZAMM "was a compulsive thing. It started out of a little essay:"

When the book came out, in 1974, edited down from 800,000 words, and having been turned down by 121 publishers, it seemed immediately to catch the need of the time. George Steiner in the New Yorker likened it to Moby Dick. Robert Redford tried to buy the film rights (Pirsig refused). It has since taken on a life of its own, and though parts feel dated, its quest for meaning still seems urgent. For Pirsig, however, it has become a tragic book in some ways.

For those unfamiliar with the book:

At the heart of it was his relationship with his son, Chris, then 12, who himself, unsettled by his father's mania, seemed close to a breakdown. In 1979, aged 22, Chris was stabbed and killed by a mugger as he came out of the Zen Centre in San Francisco. [...]

When his son died, Pirsig was in England. He had sailed across the Atlantic with his second wife, Wendy Kimball, 22 years his junior, whom he had met when she had come to interview him on his boat. She has never disembarked. He was working at the time on Lila, the sequel to his first book, which further examines Phaedrus's ideas in the context of a voyage along the Hudson, with Lila, a raddled Siren, as crew.

Dan Zigmond's reminiscence from the pages of Tricycle magazine is also interesting, for this observation in particular: "With the elder Pirsig's passing last month [24 April 2017, at the age of 88], both passengers on that legendary motorcycle have now left us." The author's "long digressions on tightening bolts and changing spark plugs," Zigmond writes, "might just be the inspiration they need to understand life's great mysteries:"

Over 40 years after its initial publication, the book now also serves as something of a primary source for anyone studying the history of Buddhism in America, having been the first exposure to Zen for so many outside the Asian American community. And it remains equally fascinating for its purely autobiographical content, the account of one man's deep spiritual struggle and eventual glimpse of enlightenment. If Pirsig could confront his considerable demons and find some semblance of inner peace, perhaps there is hope for us all.

After reading Mark Richardson's Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a while back, I was planning to re-read ZAMM (I have done this periodically for ages, but it's been a while since the last time). In addition to that, I should also read the Di Santo/Steele Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as well as Lila and Dan Glover's book on it called Lila's Child: An Inquiry into Quality.

Another reading quest to undertake...

Aeon's why read Aristotle today? (by King's College classics professor Edith Hall, whose latest book is Introducing the Ancient Greeks) describes his "fundamental tenet" this way:

...the goal of life is to maximise happiness by living virtuously, fulfilling your own potential as a human, and engaging with others - family, friends and fellow citizens - in mutually beneficial activities. [...]

Aristotle's optimistic, practical recipe for happiness is ripe for rediscovery. It offers to the human race facing third-millennial challenges a unique combination of secular, virtue-based morality and empirical science, neither of which seeks answers in any ideal or metaphysical system beyond what humans can perceive by their senses.

"Aristotle's ethics are inherently flexible," Hall writes, and "There are no strict doctrines:"

Aristotle thought that general principles are important, but without taking into account the specific circumstances, especially intention, general principles can mislead. This is why he distrusted fixed penalties. He believed that the principle of equity needed to be integral to the judiciary, which is why some Aristotelians call themselves 'moral particularists'. Each dilemma requires detailed engagement with the nuts and bolts of its particulars. When it comes to ethics, the devil really can be in the detail.

"The applicability of Aristotle's holistic ethical and scientific outlook to our 21st-century problems such as theocracy and pollution," she continues, "prompts the question of why is there so little public awareness of his ideas:"

One is certainly his much-cited prejudices against women and slaves. He was a well-to-do male householder, and in his Politics he endorses slavery in the case of Greeks enslaving non-Greeks, and pronounces that women are incapable of reasoned deliberation. Yet he would have entertained reasoned arguments to the contrary, if backed up by empirical evidence. In every field of knowledge, he argued that all beliefs must be perpetually open to adjustment: 'medicine has been improved by being altered from the ancestral system, and gymnastic training, and in general all the arts and faculties'. The laws the Greeks used to live by 'were too simple and uncivilised': he cites as examples the obsolete practices of purchasing wives and bearing of arms by citizens. He insists that law-codes need revision, 'because it is impossible that the structure of the state can have been framed correctly for all time in relation to all its details'.

In contrast to Aristotle's analytical approach, Hall writes that "One of the reasons why Stoicism is enjoying a revival today is that it gives concrete answers to moral questions:"

Aristotle's ethical writings, however, contain few explicit instructions about how to act. Aristotelians need to take full responsibility in deciding what is the right way to behave and in repeatedly exerting their own judgment.

Similarly, Stoicism comes in for abuse via contemporary pundits. Modern Stoicism's Justin Vacula takes aim at pop-philosophy's Jordan Peterson and his best-seller 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos:

When I use the word "Stoic," I reference the practical philosophy of life popularized by Ancient thinkers including Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius I'll later detail - not a common usage which people may understand as merely being resolute in the face of challenge [...] or a severely misguided interpretation - one being detached from positive or negative emotions.

"I don't recall Jordan Peterson mentioning influence from Stoic thinkers or Stoic Philosophy in his content," Vacula writes, "but I see many parallels between his work and central themes in Stoicism.:"

Jordan Peterson, in addition to receiving praise, has been vilified in popular media following his opposition to Canadian Bill C-16 concerning what he dubbed government-compelled speech in regards to gender pronouns; criticism of modern feminist positions; opposition to what he calls neo-Marxist postmodern leftists; identity politics; and political correctness. Peterson spends a considerable amount of time constructing arguments supplementing his skepticism and notes the danger of popular opinion which could lead people astray from reason.

Peterson diverges from Stoic writers when engaging in name-calling or ascribing ill-motives towards groups of people he disagrees with.

Massimo Pigliucci's how to be a Stoic takes issue with both Peterson and Vacula. "The issue," writes Pigliucci, "is whether there are sufficient deep similarities between Peterson and Stoicism. I will argue that not only the answer is no, but that the sort of worldview Peterson advances is, in fact, anti-Stoic:"

Peterson buys wholesale the most crude version of evolutionary psychology, according to which gender roles have been pretty much fixed since the Pleistocene. From this perspective, according to Peterson, the apogee of American cultural life was back in the '50s, and we ought to get back to that place.

"Peterson does say a number of fairly sensible things," but also "a lot of pseudoscientific and pseudophilosophical nonsense." Pigliucci cites this passage from Peterson's 12 Rules:

"Have you cleaned up your life? If the answer is no, here's something to try: start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today... Don't blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don't reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city? ... Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world."

"This sounds deceptively Stoic," continues Pigliucci, "but the deception is dangerous:"

First off, notice that we are told not to go out and make noise about changing the world until our own household is in perfect order. Well, then, since it will never be (we are not sages), I guess we are not authorized to invest time and energy into questioning our social systems and try to change them for the better. How convenient, for someone who clearly benefits from said social order.

Then Pigliucci analyzes "the infamous case that actually catapulted Peterson to fame: his public criticism of Canada's bill C-16, because of its stultifying political correctness:"

The bill added gender expression and identity to the list of criteria one cannot not be discriminated by in accordance to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Peterson claimed that C-16 would compel him to use a student's preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution. This is simply and utterly false. Here is the full text of the bill, so you can check for yourself.

"Why, then," wonders Pigliucci, "is he so influential?"

Why are we spending so much energy and time talking about him? I really can't do any better than put the answer as commentator and critic Nathan Robinson did recently in what is the best and most in-depth critique of Peterson I've seen so far:

"If you want to appear very profound and convince people to take you seriously, but have nothing of value to say, there is a tried and tested method. First, take some extremely obvious platitude or truism. Make sure it actually does contain some insight, though it can be rather vague. Something like 'if you're too conciliatory, you will sometimes get taken advantage of' or 'many moral values are similar across human societies.' Then, try to restate your platitude using as many words as possible, as unintelligibly as possible, while never repeating yourself exactly. Use highly technical language drawn from many different academic disciplines, so that no one person will ever have adequate training to fully evaluate your work. Construct elaborate theories with many parts. Draw diagrams. Use italics liberally to indicate that you are using words in a highly specific and idiosyncratic sense. Never say anything too specific, and if you do, qualify it heavily so that you can always insist you meant the opposite. Then evangelize: speak as confidently as possible, as if you are sharing God's own truth. Accept no criticisms: insist that any skeptic has either misinterpreted you or has actually already admitted that you are correct. Talk as much as possible and listen as little as possible. Follow these steps, and your success will be assured."

As Pigliucci concludes, "You know what Socrates used to call this sort of person? A sophist. And he didn't mean it as a compliment."

Thomas White's look at Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil discusses, of course, her 1961 reportage for The New Yorker on Adolph Eichmann's war crimes trial:

Arendt found Eichmann an ordinary, rather bland, bureaucrat, who in her words, was 'neither perverted nor sadistic', but 'terrifyingly normal'. He acted without any motive other than to diligently advance his career in the Nazi bureaucracy. Eichmann was not an amoral monster, she concluded in her study of the case, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Instead, he performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his 'thoughtlessness', a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts. Eichmann 'never realised what he was doing' due to an 'inability... to think from the standpoint of somebody else'. Lacking this particular cognitive ability, he 'commit[ted] crimes under circumstances that made it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he [was] doing wrong'.

Arendt dubbed these collective characteristics of Eichmann 'the banality of evil': he was not inherently evil, but merely shallow and clueless, a 'joiner', in the words of one contemporary interpreter of Arendt's thesis: he was a man who drifted into the Nazi Party, in search of purpose and direction, not out of deep ideological belief.

Arendt wrote in 1971 that "The deeds were monstrous, but the doer - at least the very effective one now on trial - was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous." Alan Wolfe, in Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It (2011), criticised Arendt for 'psychologising,' and historian Deborah Lipstadt, in The Eichmann Trial (2011), remarked that Arendt's use of the term 'banal' was flawed. Arendt is criticized by others, as well:

In Eichmann Before Jerusalem (2014), the German historian Bettina Stangneth reveals another side to him besides the banal, seemingly apolitical man, who was just acting like any other 'ordinary' career-oriented bureaucrat. Drawing on audiotapes of interviews with Eichmann by the Nazi journalist William Sassen, Stangneth shows Eichmann as a self-avowed, aggressive Nazi ideologue strongly committed to Nazi beliefs, who showed no remorse or guilt for his role in the Final Solution - a radically evil Third Reich operative living inside the deceptively normal shell of a bland bureaucrat. Far from being 'thoughtless', Eichmann had plenty of thoughts - thoughts of genocide, carried out on behalf of his beloved Nazi Party. On the tapes, Eichmann admitted to a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde dualism:
I, '[t]he cautious bureaucrat,' that was me, yes indeed. But ... this cautious bureaucrat was attended by a ... a fanatical [Nazi] warrior, fighting for the freedom of my blood, which is my birthright...

Arendt completely missed this radically evil side of Eichmann when she wrote 10 years after the trial that there was 'no sign in him of firm ideological convictions or of specific evil motives'. This only underscores the banality - and falsity - of the banality-of-evil thesis. And though Arendt never said that Eichmann was just an innocent 'cog' in the Nazi bureaucracy, nor defended Eichmann as 'just following orders' - both common misunderstandings of her findings on Eichmann - her critics, including Wolfe and Lipstadt, remain unsatisfied.

White provides more context:

By declaring in her pre-Eichmann trial writings that absolute evil, exemplified by the Nazis, was driven by an audacious, monstrous intention to abolish humanity itself, Arendt was echoing the spirit of philosophers such as F W J Schelling and Plato, who did not shy away from investigating the deeper, more demonic aspects of evil. But this view changed when Arendt met Eichmann, whose bureaucratic emptiness suggested no such diabolical profundity, but only prosaic careerism and the 'inability to think'. [...]

Nevertheless, Arendt never downplayed Eichmann's guilt, repeatedly described him as a war criminal, and concurred with his death sentence as handed down by the Israeli court. Though Eichmann's motives were, for her, obscure and thought-defying, his genocidal acts were not. In the final analysis, Arendt did see the true horror of Eichmann's evil.

Arendt describing Eichmann as banal does not imply that she was blind to his butchery.

Ian Bogost inveighs against the infamous Trolley Problem. "The trolley problem has become so popular in autonomous-vehicle circles," writes Bogost, "that MIT engineers have built a crowdsourced version of it, called Moral Machine, which purports to catalog human opinion on how future robotic apparatuses should respond in various conditions:"

But there's a problem with the trolley problem. It does a remarkably bad job addressing the moral conditions of robot cars, boats, or workers, the domains to which it is most popularly applied today. Deploying it for those ends, especially as a source of answers or guidance for engineering or policy, leads to incomplete and dangerous conclusions about the ethics of machines.

After much analysis and several scenarios, Bogost asserts that "much greater moral sophistication is required to address and respond to autonomous vehicles:"

Ethics isn't a matter of applying a simple calculus to any situation--nor of applying an aggregate set of human opinions about a model case to apparent instances of that model. Indeed, to take those positions is to assume the utilitarian conclusion from the start. When engineers, critics, journalists, or ordinary people adopt the trolley problem as a satisfactory (or even just a convenient) way to think about autonomous-vehicle scenarios, they are refusing to consider the more complex moral situations in which these apparatuses operate.

For philosophers, thought experiments offer a way to consider unknown outcomes or to reconsider accepted ides. But they are just tools for thought, not recipes for ready-made action.

"It's time to put the brakes on the trolley," Bogost concludes, "before it runs everyone down."

Sartre and freedom

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Gary Cox, author of Existentialism and Excess: The Life and Times of Jean-Paul Sartre, discusses Sartre and the demands of freedom:

Conscripted at the start of the Second World War, Sartre was taken prisoner by the German advance of 1940. He may have been released on medical grounds, he may have escaped, but by spring 1941 he was back in Paris where he founded the resistance movement Socialism and Freedom. All this time, invigorated by the war, he had been writing his major work, Being and Nothingness: An essay on phenomenological ontology, published in 1943.

Often called "the bible of existentialism", this dense 650-page book was the extraordinary distillation of everything his monumental intellect had read, written, considered, experienced and discussed for more than twenty years. Today it is part of the canon of Western philosophy.

"Sartre's question in Being and Nothingness", Cox continues, "is the same as that of his major influences, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger: what is consciousness?"

What is the nature of a being that has and is a relationship to the world, that is an awareness or consciousness of the world and which acts upon the world? Sartre's answer is that the only kind of being that can exist in this way is one that is, in itself, nothing; a being that is a negation, non-being or nothingness.

Following Husserl, Sartre argues that consciousness is always consciousness of something. Consciousness is not a thing in its own right but entirely a relationship to the world it is conscious of. This is the theory of intentionality. Consciousness always intends its object and is never merely a set of brain states.

"Existentialism," he writes, "is best known as a philosophy of freedom:"

Sartre argues that freedom is limitless. This is often misunderstood. He does not mean we are free to jump to the moon, or that we can radically re-invent ourselves from scratch at any moment - but rather that there is no limit to our obligation to choose who we are through what we do or not do. This is what he means when he says we are "Condemned to be free". [...]

Post-war, Sartre developed his existentialism in an increasingly political direction. He placed his existentialist theory of the individual at the heart of the Marxist theory of the historically defined collective.

NYT's Robert Zaretsky explains how a half-century-old book of French philosophy [Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle] is uniquely relevant today:

It was a thin book in a plain white cover, with an obscure publisher and an author who shunned interviews, but its impact was immediate and far-reaching, delivering a social critique that helped shape France's student protests and disruptions of 1968.

"The Society of the Spectacle" is still relevant today. With its descriptions of human social life subsumed by technology and images, it is often cited as a prophecy of the dangers of the internet age now upon us. And perhaps more than any other 20th-century philosophical work, it captures the profoundly odd moment we are now living through, under the presidential reign of Donald Trump.

Zaretsky writes that "We are not just innocent dupes or victims in this cataclysmic shift from being to appearing, [Debord] insisted:"

Rather, we reinforce this state of affairs when we lend our attention to the spectacle. The sun never sets, Debord dryly noted, "on the empire of modern passivity." And in this passive state, we surrender ourselves to the spectacle.

The issue isn't just passivity, but the loss of a place for public discourse:

"There is no place left where people can discuss the realities which concern them," Debord concluded, "because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of media discourse." Public spaces, like the agora of Ancient Greece, no longer exist. But having grown as accustomed to the crushing presence of images as we have to the presence of earth's gravity, we live our lives as if nothing has changed.

With the presidency of Donald Trump, the Debordian analysis of modern life resonates more deeply and darkly than perhaps even its creator thought possible, anticipating, in so many ways, the frantic and fantastical, nihilistic and numbing nature of our newly installed government.

Zaretsky's piece, however, ends on a note of hope:

The unfolding of national protests and marches, and more important the return to local politics and community organizing, may well succeed where the anarchic spasms of 1968 failed, and shatter the spell of the spectacle.

In Salon, Jay Parini writes that "a key moment" for him was "reading an article in the New York Review of Books that caught my eye. It was 'The Responsibility of Intellectuals,' written by Noam Chomsky" [see here]:

Nothing was quite the same for me after reading that piece, which I've reread periodically throughout my life, finding things to challenge me each time. I always finish the essay feeling reawakened, aware that I've not done enough to make the world a better place by using whatever gifts I may have. Chomsky spurs me to more intense reading and thinking, driving me into action, which might take the form of writing an op-ed piece, joining a march or protest, sending money to a special cause, or just committing myself to further study a political issue.

"It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies," as Chomsky asserted. Parini continues:

Fifty years after writing "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," Chomsky remains vigorous and shockingly productive, and -- in the dawning age of President Donald Trump -- one can only hope he has a few more years left. In a recent interview, he said (with an intentional hyperbole that has always been a key weapon in his arsenal of rhetorical moves) that the election of Trump "placed total control of the government -- executive, Congress, the Supreme Court -- in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history."

"As I reread Chomsky's essay on the responsibility of intellectuals," Parini concludes, "it strikes me forcefully that not one of us who has been trained to think critically and to write lucidly has the option to remain silent now:"

Too much is at stake, including the survival of some form of American democracy and decency itself, if not an entire ecosystem. With a dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House, a man almost immune to facts and rational thought, we who have training in critical thought and exposition must tirelessly call a spade a spade, a demagogue a demagogue. And the lies that emanate from the Trump administration must be patiently, insistently and thoroughly deconstructed. This is the responsibility of the intellectual, now more than ever.

Robert Zaretsky writes about French intellectuals for LARB:

"As Shlomo Sand suggests in his new book [La fin de l'intellectuel français? (The End of the French Intellectual?)], the French intellectual was never what he was cracked up to be."

"Sand devotes much energy," writes Zaretsky, "to scraping the mythic veneer off the heroic phase of French intellectuals:"

From these less than rarefied summits, the career of the French intellectual careens from one historical pothole to another. Consider Julien Benda's celebrated 1927 book-length essay La Trahison des clercs (The Treason of the Intellectuals). The veteran Dreyfusard lambasted those fellow "clercs" who, having descended from the heights of truth and justice, had become shills for political parties. True intellectuals, he declared, are immune to "political passions" and dedicated to a "realm not of this world." Finishing his days as a Communist fellow traveller, Benda himself never escaped this world's gravitational pull.

Most thinkers do not, but must we not still try?

PC philosophy?

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Scotty Hendricks wonders at BigThink whether philosophy has gotten PC:

Name a few philosophers. I'll wait. You probably named a few Greeks, maybe a German or two. More frequent readers may have included an Arab or a Persian. But can you name many, or even any, thinkers from Africa? How about South Asia? Can you name a non-white philosopher from the last century at all?

"Many people will say no," he continues, "and a group of students at a University of London college thinks that is a problem:"

The student union of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is requesting that a majority of philosophers studied at the college be of an Asian or African background at the expense of more commonly studied European philosophers.[...] Its desire to reduce the focus given to the mainstays of European philosophy has earned it the ire of many online news sources. However, the union raises a fair point. If students in a globalized world are going to understand the world they live in, should they not be armed with the ideas and philosophies of that world? Even at the cost of the traditional curriculum?

One needn't disparage Plato and Aristotle to recognize the value of Confucius and Lao Tzu, for example--merely recognize that texts written in non-Roman alphabets also have much to teach us.

Aeon's look at existentialism and parenthood by philosophy professors Clancy Martin and John Kaag begins with the statement that "male philosophers are notoriously bad fathers:"

Of course, there are exceptions, but think of Socrates shooing his family away in his final moments so that he can have alone time with his philosophical buddies, or, even worse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau writing Emile (1762), a tract about raising kids, while abandoning his own. Instead of being bad parents, many of the titans of European existentialism - Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre - remained childless.

They suggest that we consider Sartre's comment that we are 'condemned to be free' and "pretend that an existentialist, after careful consideration or random accident, becomes a father:"

According to his essay Anti-Semite and Jew (1946), the core of existential freedom is what Sartre terms 'authenticity', the courage to have 'a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks it involves, in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror and hate'.

Here is what a 'true and lucid consciousness of the situation' of fatherhood might resemble: you watch wide-eyed as your beloved pushes a stranger out of a bodily orifice that seems altogether too small for the labour; when the gore is cleaned up, the stranger becomes your most intimate companion and life-long dependent; existence, from that day forward, is structured around this dependency; and then, if everything goes well, the child will grow up to no longer need you. At the end of the existential day, your tenure as a father will end in one of two ways: either your child will die or you will. As Kierkegaard writes in Either/Or (1843): 'You will regret both.'

"Most parents," they continue, "will want to gloss over the difficulties of parenting and concentrate on its many joys:"

Existentialists, however, suggest that such optimism is often a form of 'bad faith': it is a way of masking the freedom that underpins parenting and being a child. When a parent emphasises only what 'fits' into his conception of being a father, or being a child, rather than attending to the specific nuances of day-to-day interaction, existentialists, such as Sartre, would sound the alarm. Life with children is chaos at best. Things slip through the cracks. Daughters fall off jungle gyms. Sons run away. It happens, and not always to someone else's children. If a man presumes that fatherhood is going to go perfectly smoothly, he is either going to be upset or self-deceived.

"In the words of Albert Camus," they conclude, "our efforts in life, pitted against the indifference of the world, often resemble the frustrations of Sisyphus, who is fated to push his boulder up an endless mountain."

Mike LaBossiere's Trump and the return of Sophism looks at Trump mouthpiece Scottie Nell Hughes' take on truth from The Diane Rehm Show:

And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts--they're not really facts. Everybody has a way--it's kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.

"Since the idea that there are no facts seems so ridiculously absurd," LaBossiere comments, "the principle of charity demands that some alternative explanation be provided for Hughes' claim:"

If Hughes takes the truth to be relative to the groups (divided by their feelings towards Trump), then she is a relativist. In this case, each group has its own truth that is made true by the belief of the group. If she holds truth to be dependent on the individual, then she would be a subjectivist. In this case, each person has her own truth, but she might happen to have a truth that others also accept.

This is something that "Trump showed with great effect. He simply accuses those who disagree with him of being liars and many believe him:"

I have no idea whether Trump has a theory of truth or not, but his approach is utterly consistent with sophism and the view expressed by Hughes. It would also explain why Trump does not bother with research or evidence--these assume there is a truth that can be found and supported. But if there is no objective truth and only success matters, then there is no reason not to say anything that leads to success.

Derek Parfit

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Vox eulogizes philosopher Derek Parfit:

Derek Parfit, who died at age 74 on Sunday evening, was not the most famous philosopher in the world. But he was among the most brilliant, and his papers and books have had a profound, incalculably vast impact on the study of moral philosophy over the past half century.

"Parfit was not a prolific author," the piece observes:

...he tended to write his books over the course of decades, refining them repeatedly after discussions with colleagues and students. In the end, he wrote only two: 1984's Reasons and Persons, and 2011's On What Matters, a two-volume, 1,440 page tome whose third volume is still yet to be published.

[The first two volumes of Parfit's opus On What Matters are available here, with a third volume due in March.]

As befits its title, Parfit's last and longest book On What Matters sprawled across a great variety of topics. It's broadly interested in what reasons people have to act in certain ways, or hold certain beliefs, or desire certain things. A lot of those questions have to do with morality, but some don't. Perhaps the greatest joy of reading it is spotting the occasional diversions, the odd moments here and there where he makes an aside from the main narrative, often concisely expressing what would take others of us pages and pages to articulate.

What I Believe

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Rhian Sasseen discusses EM Forster's defense of liberalism. Published some 77 years ago as "What I Believe," Fosters opens with the statement that "I do not believe in Belief." Sasseen wonders, "Where to begin, then, for those of us who still think that a fact is still a fact, an article of so-called "fake news" is better branded as a piece of propaganda?"

Outlets like Breitbart, InfoWars, Russia Today, and other luridly-named websites peddle conspiracy theories and half-truths that in another era might be more easily fact checked; today, they pile up too quickly on the evanescence that is the internet, as overwhelming and as momentary as a cloud of smoke. In this particular age of belief, dependent as it is on the digital, it seems as appropriate a time as any to turn to an artist from an earlier age for guidance.

Foster's commentaries, writes Sasseen, "offer a defense of liberalism during a time of shifting extremes and ideologies that feels startlingly relevant to this 21st century American"

And in "What I Believe," there's a clear appreciation and love for humans, despite our foibles and inconsistencies, which rings true even in today's smoke and mirrors world of online trolling.

Forster's essay "What I Believe" was published in Two Cheers for Democracy. It begins thus:

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and Science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy - they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long. But for the moment they are not enough, their action is no stronger than a flower, battered beneath a military jackboot. [...] My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St Paul. My temple stands not upon Mount Moriah but in that Elysian Field where even the immoral are admitted. My motto is : "Lord, I disbelieve - help thou my unbelief.

"Where do I start?" he wonders:

With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty. [...] I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man's pleasure when they come a cropper.

"I believe in aristocracy, though - if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it," he continues:

Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names.

This observation surely cost him some accolades:

I cannot believe that Christianity will ever cope with the present world-wide mess, and I think that such influence as it retains in modern society is due to the money behind it, rather than to its spiritual appeal.

If you're unfamiliar with Foster's essay, it's worth a read.

lil' philosophers

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Quartz reports that teaching philosophy to kids improves their math and English scores:

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another's thoughts and ideas.

Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students' confidence and ability to listen to others.

The Education Endowment Foundation's Philosophy for Children program comments that "The project does not aim to teach children philosophy; instead it equips them to 'do' philosophy for themselves:"

SAPERE [Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education]'s program does not focus on reading the texts of Plato and Kant, but rather stories, poems, or film clips that prompt discussions about philosophical issues. The goal is to help children reason, formulate and ask questions, engage in constructive conversation, and develop arguments.

The report "Philosophy for Children: Evaluation report and Executive summary" (PDF) notes that "Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to teaching in which students participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues:"

Dialogues are prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video) and are based around a concept such as 'truth', 'fairness' or 'bullying'. The aim of P4C is to help children become more willing and able to ask questions, construct arguments, and engage in reasoned discussion.

Stoic refresher

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New Yorker's advice on how to be a Stoic by Elif Batuman begins with the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who "was born a slave, around 55 A.D., in the Greco-Roman spa town of Hierapolis--present-day Pamukkale, Turkey."

The first line of Epictetus' manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion--"Some things are in our control and others not"--made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being "ready with the reaction 'Then it's none of my concern.' "

"Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud," Batuman continues, "Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons:"

The sense of doom and delight that is programmed into the human body? It can be overridden by the mind. The eternal war between subconscious desires and the demands of civilization? It can be won. In the nineteen-fifties, the American psychotherapist Albert Ellis came up with an early form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, based largely on Epictetus' claim that "it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them." If you practice Stoic philosophy long enough, Epictetus says, you stop being mistaken about what's good even in your dreams.

Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle teach in the department of philosophy and religion and the University of North Texas. They are co-authors of the forthcoming Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st-Century Philosophy, claim that philosophy has lost its way ever since "the locating of philosophy within a modern institution (the research university) in the late 19th century:"

This institutionalization of philosophy made it into a discipline that could be seriously pursued only in an academic setting. This fact represents one of the enduring failures of contemporary philosophy.

Take this simple detail: Before its migration to the university, philosophy had never had a central home. Philosophers could be found anywhere -- serving as diplomats, living off pensions, grinding lenses, as well as within a university. Afterward, if they were "serious" thinkers, the expectation was that philosophers would inhabit the research university. Against the inclinations of Socrates, philosophers became experts like other disciplinary specialists. This occurred even as they taught their students the virtues of Socratic wisdom, which highlights the role of the philosopher as the non-expert, the questioner, the gadfly.

Philosophy, then, as the French thinker Bruno Latour would have it, was "purified" -- separated from society in the process of modernization.

"This was the act of purification," they write, "that gave birth to the concept of philosophy most of us know today:"

As a result, and to a degree rarely acknowledged, the institutional imperative of the university has come to drive the theoretical agenda. If philosophy was going to have a secure place in the academy, it needed its own discrete domain, its own arcane language, its own standards of success and its own specialized concerns.

"Philosophy should never have been purified," they conclude.

Jonathan Rée's look at the dream of enlightenment via Anthony Gottlieb's 2000 book The Dream of Reason, (described as "a brilliant retelling of the story of ancient Greek philosophy") and his recent work The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy ("which picks up the story with Descartes and carries it forward to the beginnings of the French Revolution") is rather pessimistic about the situation:

There was a time when every self-respecting egghead had to keep up with the latest developments in philosophy; not any more. Today's intellectuals, if they do not ignore philosophy entirely, can content themselves with reading one or two books about its past. Hundreds of histories of philosophy are available, and they are all much the same: they tell the same basic story, with the same cast of leading characters.

Open Culture discusses Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea (1938), wherein:

... the stricken protagonist Antoine Roquentin cures his existential horror and sickness with jazz--specifically with an old recording of the song "Some of These Days." Which recording? We do not know. "I only wish Sartre had been more specific about the names of the musicians on the date," writes critic Ted Gioia in a newly published essay, "I would love to hear the jazz record that trumps Freud, cures the ill, and solves existential angst."

Ted Gioia''s fractious fiction piece calls Sartre "the last writer to reach the highest levels of success as both philosophy and literature," and comments that "as a longtime jazz lover, I am secretly pleased at the cure for the existential nausea:"

Sartre called jazz "the music of the future" and made an effort to get to know Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, and listen to John Coltrane. His writings on the subject are more atmospheric than analytical, but it is likely that Sartre saw jazz as the musical manifestation of the existential freedom he described in his philosophical texts. Jazz musicians, he once explained, are "speaking to the best part of you, the toughest, the freest."

Gioia wonders about the possibility that "perhaps jazz does cure existential angst:"

Maybe it delivers more value for money than a trip to the psychiatrist's couch or the latest advertised chemical cure for your woes. In our current age, when people are increasingly looking for alternative treatments, here's one that can be had for a song.

Sartre's "I Discovered Jazz in America" calls jazz our "national pastime:"

At Nick's bar, in New York, the national pastime is presented. Which means that one sits in a smoke-filled hall among sailors, longshoremen, chippies, society women. Tables, booths. No one speaks. [...] No one speaks, no one moves, the jazz holds forth. From ten o'clock to three in the morning the jazz holds forth. [...]

They are speaking to the best part of you, to the toughest, to the freest, to the part which wants neither melody nor refrain, but the deafening climax of the moment. [...] You will leave a little worn out, a little drunk, but with a kind of dejected calm, like the aftermath of a great nervous exhaustion.

3QD wades into the welders and philosophers imbroglio [see here and here], wherein Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse announce that "Senator Rubio's remarks were patently silly:"

First, the rationale Rubio offered, that "welders make more money than philosophers" is false. Moreover, the proposed reason, even were it true, is irrelevant - the social value of a profession is not a matter of the income paid to those who practice it. Surely no one would argue that hedge fund managers and reality TV stars are more socially valuable than nurses and carpenters simply on the basis of the difference between their respective paychecks. [The same principle applies when comparing kindergarten teachers and hedge fund managers, as I noted a few minutes ago.]

"There is nary a day that goes by," they write, "without someone making a joke or remark to us about philosophy's alleged uselessness:"

Philosophy's oldest story highlights this. Thales of Miletus, who Aristotle counts as the first of the philosophers, apparently was walking one night and gazing up at the stars, contemplating their eternal motion. And then he fell in a well. [...] But Thales's fall had a follow-up, one that is less often mentioned. [read the piece for more]

Rubio's remark was an example of "the patronizing assessment that studying philosophy must involve nothing more than undisciplined bullshitting about the 'meaning of life'," but that is a ridiculous notion for anyone who has investigated the subject past a cursory glance at a PHIL 101 syllabus. "Of course, one need not major in philosophy in order to live a philosophically reflective and authentic life," they write, "But one must nonetheless engage in philosophy in order to do so:"

And this is no less true of Senator Rubio. In stating that the country needs "more welders and less philosophers," he may have intended to express contempt for those who choose philosophy as an occupation. But his statement is itself an exercise in philosophy. And, more importantly, in recognizing that his claim stands in need of reasons, Rubio committed to philosophizing in a disciplined way. So now that his proposed reason -- "welders make more money than philosophers" -- has been shown to be false, he ought to either retract the claim or supply a viable rationale. Failing this, we can only conclude that Rubio is in fact a proponent of haphazard and reckless philosophizing, and thus someone incapable of proposing an actual criticism of professional philosophy.


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"#ACCELERATE Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics" is barely two-and-a-half years old, and seems to have sparked a great deal of commentary. "At the beginning of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century," the Manifesto offers, "global civilization faces a new breed of cataclysm:"

Continued financial crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages. Increasing automation in production processes including 'intellectual labour' is evidence of the secular crisis of capitalism, soon to render it incapable of maintaining current standards of living for even the former middle classes of the global north.

"It is Marx, along with [Nick] Land," it continues, "who remains the paradigmatic accelerationist thinker:"

We believe the most important division in today's left is between those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology. The former remains content with establishing small and temporary spaces of non-capitalist social relations, eschewing the real problems entailed in facing foes which are intrinsically non-local, abstract, and rooted deep in our everyday infrastructure. The failure of such politics has been built-in from the very beginning. By contrast, an accelerationist politics seeks to preserve the gains of late capitalism while going further than its value system, governance structures, and mass pathologies will allow.

"In 'The Economic Prospects for Our Grandchildren,' the Manifesto reminds us, "Keynes forecast a capitalist future where individuals would have their work reduced to three hours a day. What has instead occurred is the progressive elimination of the work-life distinction, with work coming to permeate every aspect of the emerging social factory." It observes that Accelerationists "want to unleash latent productive forces" toward "three medium term concrete goals:"

First, we need to build an intellectual infrastructure. Mimicking the Mont Pelerin Society of the neoliberal revolution, this is to be tasked with creating a new ideology, economic and social models, and a vision of the good to replace and surpass the emaciated ideals that rule our world today. This is an infrastructure in the sense of requiring the construction not just of ideas, but institutions and material paths to inculcate, embody and spread them.

We need to construct wide-scale media reform. In spite of the seeming democratisation offered by the internet and social media, traditional media outlets remain crucial in the selection and framing of narratives, along with possessing the funds to prosecute investigative journalism. Bringing these bodies as close as possible to popular control is crucial to undoing the current presentation of the state of things.

Finally, we need to reconstitute various forms of class power. Such a reconstitution must move beyond the notion that an organically generated global proletariat already exists. Instead it must seek to knit together a disparate array of partial proletarian identities, often embodied in post-Fordist forms of precarious labour.

"The choice facing us is severe," the Manifesto concludes: "either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis, and planetary ecological collapse."

Antonio Negri provides some reflections on the Manifesto, and offers reassurances that "There is still space for subversive knowledge!"

This horizon is consistent with the task of communism as it is today. It is a necessary leap forward, resolute and decisive - if one wants to open a new terrain of revolutionary thinking - but above all it gives new form to the movement, where by "form" we should understand an arrangement of things that is constitutive, rich with possibilities, and aimed at breaking the repressive and hierarchic horizon of the State that today informs capitalist power. It is not a matter of the overthrow of the State form - it means rather invoking potential (potenza) against Power (potere), biopolitics against biopower. The only rational premise for a subversive practice lies in this radical opposition; the possibility of an emancipatory future against the present of capitalist domination.

Still puzzled? Wikipedia describes accelerationism as "the idea that either the prevailing system of capitalism, or certain technosocial processes that have historically characterised it, should be expanded, repurposed or accelerated in order to generate radical social change:"

Professedly accelerationist theory has been divided into mutually contradictory left-wing and right-wing variants, with "left-accelerationism" attempting to press "the process of technological evolution" beyond the constrictive horizon of capitalism, for example by repurposing modern technology to socially beneficial and emancipatory ends, and "right-accelerationism" supporting the indefinite intensification of capitalism itself, possibly in order to bring about a technological singularity. [...]

Prominent theorists include right-accelerationist Nick Land. The Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit (CCRU), an unofficial research unit at the University of Warwick from 1995-2003, of which Land was a member, is considered a key progenitor in both left- and right-accelerationist thought.

Robin Mackey's "So, Accelerationism, what's all that about?" adds commentary on the allegedly accelerationist position that "we shouldn't be trying to slow the expropriation down, but rather we should attempt to speed the system toward its inevitable doom:"

As Alex Williams has noted before, this is not a position that anyone has ever held. Okay, let's qualify that a bit. It might be the case that some people have held this position, and that some of them now even think of themselves as 'accelerationists'. So let's limit it to the claim that it is not a position that anyone in the #Accelerate reader has ever held.

Not even Nick Land? No. Not even Nick Land. He likes capitalism. He wants to accelerate it, but not because it will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. What about Deleuze and Guattari? No. According to them 'nothing has ever died of contradictions', and so whatever deterritorialising force they aim to accelerate, and whatever end they aim to accelerate it towards, neither is a contradiction or its inevitable collapse. What about Srnicek and Williams? No. Much of what they do can be seen as breaking with D&G (and a fortiori with Land), and returning to a much more Marxist position, but they explicitly refuse to see the transition between capitalism and post-capitalism as a dialectical sublation brought about by the intensification of contradictions.

"I will point out an important symmetry between the left-accelerationist views of those like myself," writes Mackey, "and what are increasingly being referred to as the 'right-accelerationist' views of those like Land:"

We agree on this much: modernity and capitalism are ultimately incompatible. We disagree on which one should/will go: the left actively supports the project of modernity against capitalism, the right passively supports capitalism's inevitable victory over modernity. The right thinks that the accelerative emancipatory force is nothing other than capitalism itself, whereas the left thinks that capitalism is an adaptive and plastic obstacle suppressing a deeper emancipatory dynamic. It is in essence a disagreement about freedom: what it is to have it, what it is to enhance it, and whether there is anything we can do about it.

So, what precisely should be accelerated? Well, as the difference between left and right accelerationism shows, there's a good deal of disagreement about this.

The Introduction (PDF) to #ACCELERATE by Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian dives deeper:

Accelerationism is a political heresy: the insistence that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, or cri¬tique, nor to await its demise at the hands of its own contradictions, but to accelerate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive ten¬dencies. The term was introduced into political theory to designate a certain nihilistic alignment of philosophical thought with the excesses of capitalist culture (or anticulture), embodied in writings that sought an immanence with this process of alienation. The uneasy status of this impulse, between subversion and acquiescence, between realist analysis and poetic exacerbation, has made accelerationism a fiercely-contested theoretical stance.

"The central questions of accelerationism follow," write the authors:

What is the relation between the socially alienating effects of technology and the capitalist value-system? Why and how are the emancipatory effects of the 'new foundation' of machine production counteracted by the economic system of capital? What could the social human be if fixed capital were reappropriated within a new postcapitalist socius?

Only a few books have been published to date on the subject, including the aforementioned Mackay/Avanessian #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, Benjamin Noys' Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism, Steven Shaviro's No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism, and Joshua Johnson's Limit Function: Accelerationism and the Scope of Leftist Thought (due out in a few weeks).

Whether their subject is enlightening or overwrought remains, perhaps, to be seen.

Keith Frankish, an English philosopher and writer, wonders if the nature of great philosophy is necessarily difficult and obscure:

Great philosophy is not always easy. Some philosophers - Kant, Hegel, Heidegger - write in a way that seems almost perversely obscure. Others - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein - adopt an aphoristic style. Modern analytic philosophers can present their arguments in a compressed form that places heavy demands on the reader. [...] One might get the impression that obscurity is a virtue in philosophy, a mark of a certain kind of greatness - but I'm skeptical.

"To some degree," he continues, "all texts need interpretation," although he notes "the special difficulties presented by some philosophical texts:"

Maybe these difficulties exist because great philosophers operate at a higher intellectual level than the rest of us, packing their work with profound insights, complex ideas and subtle distinctions. We might need these difficult thoughts unpacked by interpreters and, since these are usually less gifted than the original authors, they might differ on the correct reading. But then, if a clear interpretation of the ideas can be provided, why didn't the original authors do it themselves? Such a failure of communication is a defect rather than a virtue. Skilled writers shouldn't need interpreters to patch up holes in their texts.

"Finally," he writes, "some philosophers might write obscurely because it creates an aura of profundity and mystery:"

This invites interpretation and scholarly attention: special effort is required to engage with the work, helping to create a cult following among scholars. The work is also harder to challenge, and criticisms can be dismissed as misinterpretations. Meanwhile, writing that is more transparent can seem less fertile or exciting, and its errors easier to spot. [...]

In most cases, obscurity is a defect, not a virtue, and undue concern with interpretation puts the focus on people rather than problems. It is not easy to write clearly, especially on philosophical topics, and it is risky. Clear writers stand naked before their critics, with all their argumentative blemishes visible; but they are braver, more honest and more respectful of the true aims of intellectual enquiry than ones who shroud themselves in obscurity.

Robert Tracinski suggests that we should blame the philosophers for campus insanity, faulting what he calls "good, obedient lefties" for enabling "a specific variant of totalitarianism:"

The show trials and forced confession may seem Stalinist, but the spectacle of students turning on their teachers and denouncing them as counter-revolutionaries should remind us of Mao's Cultural Revolution. It's not just totalitarianism, it's mob-rule totalitarianism.

"For this," Tracinski says, "we can blame those damned philosophers." He laments politicians and pundits (Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio, to name just a few) "for failing to appreciate the value of a liberal arts education, and for not standing up for Western Civilization, some of the crowning achievements of which were produced by philosophers."

Tracinski bitches about Kant and Marx, exclaiming that "if you want to see the consequences of 200 years of irrational philosophy, it looks like this," and "This is how the field of philosophy has brought itself into well-earned disrepute:"

Philosophy only matters if rational discussion of big ideas matters. It matters only if there is a universal truth that we can seek through the use of reason. But this is precisely the idea that the dominant schools of philosophy have turned their backs on.

It's also the idea that we need to help us fight back against these new totalitarians and resurrect the principles of rational debate and freedom of speech. So the point is not that philosophers are inherently useless. Once upon a time, philosophers like Aristotle and Locke gave us ideas that helped the advancement of science and the founding of a new nation. The point is that there aren't enough philosophers like that any more.

So from a purely economic perspective, Rubio may be right that we need more welders and fewer philosophy majors. But from a cultural perspective, what we really need is better philosophers.

As it turns out, however, as Farai Chideya reports at 538, that philosophers' earnings don't suck:

Philosophers don't get much love in a world focused on earnings, public profile and technical accomplishment. A Monty Python song portrayed famous "lovers of wisdom" (the literal translation of the Greek word philosopher) as drunken sots. And at last night's GOP debate there were several dismissive references to the art of loving wisdom. Ted Cruz decried the "philosopher-kings" at the Federal Reserve. John Kasich said, "Philosophy doesn't work when you run something." And Marco Rubio framed a point about reviving vocational education with the zinger, "Welders make more than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers."

Although Rubio "doubled-down on his riff during a campaign stop at the Jersey Grille in Davenport, Iowa," writes 538, reality disagrees:

An example of the very top earners among these degree-holders is billionaire Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, who has a master's degree in philosophy from Oxford. In politi-speak, he is definitely what's called a "job creator."

Commentary's Noah Rothman follows Tracinski's complaints, alleging the existence of a generation that hates free speech:

Increasingly, the next generation seems to view First Amendment protections not as a bulwark against the dangers of tyranny, but as a threat to their comfort and preferred intellectual isolation.

Rothman posits "an acute crisis," and quotes the vice president of the Missouri Students Association's claim that "liberalism - an ideology disproportionately popular among the young - is taking out its frustrations on the freedom to discuss those disappointments."

I'm curious as to what constitutes "discussion" here--is it denying same-sex couples the rites (and rights) of marriage? Preventing trans kids from using school restrooms? Employers rejecting reproductive healthcare options for their employees? Or just using student fees to pay speakers who deny their full humanity and restrict their rights? Rothman refers dismissively to what he calls "The invented scourge of 'hate speech':"

At the heart of the collective liberal angst over the pesky burden of free speech is the nagging perception that they have lost the argument. There is no great progressive era about to dawn; we may never see a more liberal presidential administration than this in our lifetimes. While the dangerous impulse to silence their critics is merely sad in fully-formed adults, it is terrifying to witness in the generation just coming of age.

That sounds like he sees a more liberal generation on the can only hope.

Alan Levinovitz (assistant professor of Chinese philosophy and religion at James Madison University) explains to Slate
why I'm a professor of religion and philosophy, beginning with the candid admission that "a lot of academia is useless bullshit:"

I should just quit and live the good life, like my attorney, doctor, and investment banker classmates from college and graduate school (Stanford and the University of Chicago--what a colossal waste, right?) who defend innocents, save lives, and make tons of money and donate said money to all the causes I'd donate to if I weren't wasting my education on a low-paying joke of a job.

"But I won't quit," he continues, "I'd never quit. This job is awesome:"

I won't quit because my colleagues and I are part of a sacred order, bound to seek out and profess truth, no matter how complicated or unappealing that truth might be. The truth about evolution, for example--and why people like you, Sen. Rubio, seem incapable of believing in it.

I won't quit because there's no feeling like the one I get when a student says my class has changed his or her life. It's as if I've performed alchemy or magic: With nothing more than a powerful set of symbols (and a PowerPoint), I can, on occasion, alter the very fabric of people's reality. It's like church, but for everyone.

For some, like Rubio, she writes, "humanities professors like me work against many of your core values:"

Explaining the origin and persistence of creationist pseudoscience? Religion and philosophy. Shutting down racists and sexists who explain discrimination with "natural differences"? Anthropology and history. We can't take all the credit, of course, but the fact that the arc of history seems to bend toward justice is due, at least in part, to the efforts of humanities scholars.

Sen. Rubio, rants like yours about the uselessness of academe can be disheartening.

She calls the rants "stupid," and points out that "a key part of my job is identifying and fighting the stupid wherever it is found:"

So I won't quit, even in the face of your derogatory comments. I won't quit because without the institution for which I stand, history would be twisted and forgotten, arguments would devolve into shouting, and truth would lose its professional evangelists. Since I am certain of all this, I cherish my place in the ivory tower--which, contrary to popular belief, is located smack in the middle of the real world, where it continues its ancient mission of making that world a better, wiser place.

Can you say the same of your own mission, Sen. Rubio?

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