The Wicked Rhyme of History

I have recently finished reading Charles Dickens’ 1840 novel, Barnaby Rudge. It is a novel of both romantic and political drama set in the period leading up to the famous London Gordon Riots of 1780. To offer a basic sketch of the story, it follows the lives of four families: the Haredales, the Willets, the Vardens, and the Rudges, between the years of 1775 and 1780, culminating in the riots of June, 1780.

The Digital Panopticon

I had a Nest thermostat (before it was gobbled up by Google) many years ago in a home in New Hampshire. It ran a furnace that burned supposedly eco-friendly pellets. To be honest, my only interest in the furnace was that it offered an economical alternative to the established expensive centralized gas utility. The thermostat was sufficient. I never used the phone app designed for it because the house was too small, and I saw no benefit in adjusting the temperature of my house while at the grocery store.

Technology, Change, and Stasis

The Internet Is Forever The attached audio, just below, was recorded in 1894 with an ingenious piece of technology invented in 1878, by Thomas Edison. It was conducted by John Philip Sousa himself, who died in 1932. The recording was digitally transcribed and remastered for distribution on CD, in 2005. I have “ripped” the file from CD, converted it to an internet friendly format, and uploaded it to my server. Now, we are all free to listen to it whenever and wherever we like, with the push of a button.

Brief Thoughts on the Phaedrus

Why does Socrates spend so much effort defining and describing the soul in so much detail in the Phaedrus? He tells us outright, in the dialogue. It is because no man can gain true knowledge from a speech, if the orator does not himself know how his speech is going to guide the soul to its first memory of the unified reality of beauty, found in the divine realm. Dialectic is the way to wisdom, and dialectic can only be achieved through speech.

Remote Work, Human Relationships, and Transactions

I was directed to this article about “stand-up” meetings by a work colleague. I have a few thoughts about it that nicely dovetail my “day job” with this blog. The Superficial Question Based on my own experience, the utility of stand-up meetings, as such, really does depend on the team, its mindset, and its needs. I have been in places where they were invaluable for team-level info share. I’ve been in other places where they were a complete waste of time, and often used as a weapon (punishing people for showing up late, incentivising token participation, and so forth).

Peterson, Murphy, and Marxist Alienation

Recently, Jordan Peterson did an extended interview with Bob Murphy. Peterson begins the interview by pitching it as a “two hour lesson in Austrian Economics”, but mainly, it was an overview comparison of the principles of Austrian economics against Marxism. It was difficult to dispute much of it. I’m already a proponent of free market capitalism, and I’m also fairly partial to Friedrich Hayek’s work (at least, as it is represented in The Constitution of Liberty, and Law, Legislation, and Liberty).

The World In 1967

I was born in a tiny southwestern suburb of Chicago, in August of 1967. Lots of people were. There’s really nothing particularly special about that. There are loads of garbage celebrities and politicians born in 1967. Jimmy Kimmel (13 November), Joe Rogan (7 August), and Peter Thiel (11 October), for example. So, if you’re looking for someone interesting and exciting, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m just an average schmuck from the Chicagoland area, with nearly the same birthdate as Joe Rogan.

A Visit From Wormwood

I had an odd little dream last night. I was walking along a road at dusk. In an ex-urban area. Not wilderness, but not suburbs either. Along the shoulders of the road, cranes or storks were standing knee-deep in what looked like long rectangle rice patches. The storks were all trying desperately to swallow elongated fish that protruded out of their beaks, and clearly did not fit into their bellies.

Negotiating the Value of a Single Life

In 1973, Ursula Le Guin wrote a short story about a utopian city called 'Omelas'. The story is, at its core, a philosophical thought experiment. To summarize: Let’s just accept for the sake of argument, a city that is so self-sufficient, and so devoid of want or suffering or strife that the people of the city were able to live in an unceasing state of joyous bliss. Every season involved weeks-long festivals of celebration, and nobody was deprived of any need, material, moral, or psychological.

The Death of the Transcendent

A good one from Paul Joseph Watson: The emptying out of The Beautiful has finally come to fruition. As a civilization, we now worship nihilism in truth thanks to Rorty, Derrida, Simon Blackburn and others; nihilism in goodness thanks to Russell, Mackie, Hare, Foucault, and others; and nihilism in beauty, thanks to a long train of motley vandals starting at the beginning of the 20th century (some of them mentioned here in Watson’s video).

Rand, Aristotle, and Modern Moral Philosophy

A common line of attack on Ayn Rand, from “professional” academic philosophers, is to go after her for her defense of egoism. This has always seemed disingenuous to me. Or, at best, uncharitable. The argument goes something like this: Ayn Rand defended selfishness as a virtue Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic did the same thing Socrates humiliated Thrasymachus in that dialogue Therefore, Ayn Rand’s defense of selfishness is obviously wrong But, anyone trained as a philosopher should be able to recognize the problems with this argument without much effort.

Sociopathy Dressed Up as Bioethics

This video is absolutely stunning in its brazenness. If this fellow is what the academy is producing, then it would seem that the whole job of the bioethicist is to invent new excuses that politicians and bureaucrats can use to expand the harm they do, without pricking their own consciences. Note the magician’s sleight-of-hand trick he’s playing, here. His opening gambit is “making risks tolerable”. So, of course, everyone goes chasing off after “tolerable”.

Religions, True and False

The following are things that are presently being informally labelled “religions” by various commentators: Environmentalism (Michael Shellenberger, “Apocalypse Never” ) Feminism (Janice Fiamengo, “Daughters of Feminism” ) Woke Ideology (James Lindsey, “New Discourses” ) Anti-Racism (John McWhorter, “Talking Back, Talking Black” ) There are probably others, but these are the ones I am aware of. Each of these has component features analogous to features of established religions, it is true. Here is an incomplete list that comes to mind:

The Loss of Self Awareness

In the early 90’s, I attended a performance of the Mikado put on by the college troupe my younger brother was involved in. There was one member of the cast who’d taken it upon himself to refuse to act when on stage. He would appear, shuffle to the places he was supposed to stand, and then shuffle off, when the scene required it. I asked my brother what that guy’s deal was, and he said they couldn’t remove him because of the threat of a complaint against the school, and that he was “protesting” the caricature portrayal of asians in the musical, by refusing to act.

Social Media Is Groupthink Programming

I think something is deeply wrong with social media. Mainly, I think this about Twitter, but that may just be because Twitter is the most glaring symptom of whatever this problem is. The following is a short snippet from a podcast discussion between Joe Rogan and Jack Dorsey (dated Feb. 2, 2019). It’s at the point where they’re discussing the nature of the medium, and the various forms that content on Facebook and Twitter can take:

Creativity, Transcendence, and Love

People tend to romanticize the inspiration of the artist, or the insight of the philosopher. It is often depicted as a kind of tsunami of creative passion, that washes over the mind and consumes the person. Archimedes in the bath, or Mozart on his deathbed (I hate you, Milos Forman) come to mind as examples. But this is pure fantasy, as far as I can tell. Instead, ideas are like drops of water falling from the sky, on an arid summer day.

Philosophy Hypocrisy and Failure

A moment of synchronicity occurred for me, yesterday morning. A Twitter user I follow fairly closely, tweeted about the decrepit state of Karl Marx’s character (borrowing from Paul Johnson’s famous book, *Intellectuals* ), and argued that Marxists would all invariably turn out like him. At nearly the same time, one of my fellow philosophy students on the University of London student Facebook group posted an apocryphal story about how pedantic and brittle Wittgenstein was toward his hosts the Keynes, and implied that this was what it meant to be an analytical philosopher.

For Whom the Pot Clanks

During the collective neurosis that is this coronavirus quarantine, it has become customary in the Anglo-American west, to stand outside at 8PM once per week and bang pots in gratitude for the work of the various healthcare institutions of our countries. This, I think, has implications that extend far beyond the annoyance of watching everyone marching mindlessly in unison for reasons they barely understand. When I was a boy growing up in Chicago in the 70’s and 80’s, attending church on Sunday was a near-ubiquitous phenomenon.

What Is a Community?

I have been thinking about this word a lot lately. In popular discussions, there are two approaches to the definition of ‘community’. First, the naive answer, which is that a community is roughly synonymous with a professional affiliation or a social association. Like being a member of a legal bar, or an alumnus of some university. Second, there are the sociological definitions, which distill “community” into a set of shared abstract properties, like “interests” or demographic characteristics, or tribal membership, such as the “community of python developers”, or “Cubs Fans”, or the “LGBT community”, or “the black community”.

Panpsychism Is a Red Herring

As I’ve progressed in my study of physics and metaphysics over the last 5 years, I’ve gradually come to realize that we’re all whistling through a kind of graveyard. I don’t know when it began or who started it, exactly, but on thing is for sure: we really don’t like thinking about it. What am I talking about? Well, the journey for me, really began (ironically) with the philosophy of science.

The Motherhood Pandemic

The rational self-aware consciousness has equipped the human ape with a profoundly effective shield against the vagaries of natural insults against mammalian biology such as exposure to the elements, biological parasites, disease, and hunger. We are able to conceive of and build shelters and beds; imagine and create clothing, armor, and tools. And, now, we are able to engineer the effects of biology itself, to defend against bacteria and viruses.

The Identity Metastasis Machine

When I was a boy in middle and high school, there were lots of other kids who, during one year were stoners, and the next, were computer nerds; one year were jocks, and the next, were stoners; one year were D&D geeks, and the next, were into cars. This is as it should be. Your tween/teen years should be fluid. They should be a point in time in your life, when you experiment and play with different ways of being.

The Barometer of the Soul

When I was in my twenties, I loved listening to great performances of the Tchaikovsky, Bartok, and Mendelssohn violin concerti. I was captivated by the pathos of the music, and admired the passion and athleticism of the artists performing them. Conversely, I used to dread, as a choir singer, the plodding, predictable clockwork of the baroque masters: Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. Now, I am in my mid-fifties, and the tables have turned.

Three Kinds of Philosophers

I have been thinking a bit about what a philosopher is, and in the tradition of Aristotle, have naturally been drawn to try to categorize them. It seems to me that there are three distinct roles for philosophy: Analysis, Interpretation, and Speculation. The analytical philosopher is driven, as Simon Blackburn describes, to “give an account” of the universe and our experience of it - to reduce it, or explain it in simpler, more precise, or more fundamental terms.

Anxiety and Control

One of the things the stoics get right, is the insight that there is little an agent has any real power to influence. Even where it seems there is a great deal, that control is largely an illusion drawn from an overzealous interpretation of our experience of collective agreement. When I was young, I wasn’t particularly interested in who or what I could control, for its own sake. But I was interested in control over the world, insofar as it was an instrument to control over my own destiny.

The Dysfunctional Self Dichotomy

The world today seems divided into two camps: those seeking self-satisfaction, and those seeking self-denial. I think both of these attitudes toward life are mistaken, but an inevitable reaction to the evacuation of virtue from the center of our moral lives. The self-satisfaction seekers are those who have elevated into the place of virtue, a kind of incontinent pleasure drawn from the unimpeded exercise of the will. These people valorize freedom, only insofar as it serves the satisfaction of the self, whatever that happens to be in the moment.

Approaches to the Problem of Desire

It seems to me, that the problem of desire has three plausible attitudinal responses: The hedonic approach: there is a never-ending supply of desirable things, and life is best lived by pursuing them all. Want is sated when all desirable things have been had. The goal, then, is pleasure at all times, as an equivalent to happiness. The ascetic / Buddhist approach: the things to be desired are never-ending, which means there will never be a time when all desirable things are had.

The Visual Framing of Narrative

I am 36 minutes into the documentary “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”, and I could not help but notice the contrast in the way that Sam and Majid are visually presented. I am not a filmmaker, but it seems clear to me that there is visual framing of a dichotomous narrative going on here. Light/Dark, Good/Evil, Angel/Demon. On the left, Sam is not talking about his own experience in that scene.

The Alienation of Childbearing

According to Sophie Lewis (in Full Surrogacy Now) , if you are a woman, you are a vulnerable victim who at any moment, can be pressed into slave labor as a “gestational worker”, subject to horrors as evil as cancer, and as brutal as an animal attack: “…It is a wonder we let fetuses inside us. Unlike almost all other animals, hundreds of thousands of humans die because of their pregnancies every year, making a mockery of UN millennium goals to stop the carnage…….

The Irrationalist

Sam Harris, in his latest podcast, gives his listeners a special treat late in the episode. He hounds Richard Dawkins into submitting to a mindfulness meditation, and we get to spend nearly 15 minutes listening to Harris guide us and his guest through it, while waiting for Dawkins to finally ask Harris “what was the point of that?”. What is remarkable about this whole segment, is the sales pitch that Harris has to offer Dawkins, in order to cow him into doing it.

Terror, Responsibility, and the Example of God

We are what we choose to do Whether you believe there actually is a God or not, it is still instructive to explore the conception of God provided by the religious. In particular, the difference in character between the Christian God and the Muslim God, is very interesting. The Muslim (and perhaps Jewish) conception of God’s omnipotence is one of active and continuous expression. God is all powerful — and thus the greatest of great — because he exercises his power everywhere, at all times.

Book Review: Twelve Rules for Life

Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules For Life” is an admixture of continental philosophy, eastern mysticism, Jungian psychology, Christian theology, clinical psychotherapy insights, personal biography, and folk wisdom. At 368 pages, it’s just large enough to keep a thoughtful layman engaged without the more intimidating academic burden of his first book, “Maps of Meaning”. Dr. Peterson is obviously well read and quite thoughtful. In addition to some of his own occasional profundities, the book is absolutely littered with references to Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and many others.

Plato, Freud, Orwell, and the Danger of the Modern Mind

In The Phaedrus, Plato offers up two rapturously beautiful visions of the soul of man. The first, is the Manichaean winged being of pure beauty, trapped against its will in a prison of corporeal form, and able to find relief only in the apprehension and achievement of true love. The second is a famous metaphor who’s hold on the modern mind is as ubiquitous as it is distorted and tragic.

An Interpretive Analysis of 2001 a Space Odyssey

INTRODUCTION The film “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of the best-known science fiction classics of all time. Over the decades since its initial release, this close collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke has become a focus of study for film students, philosophers, and futurists. Attention tends to center on Kubrick’s depictions of space travel and its impact on human life, or on Clarke’s exploration of questions like the nature of consciousness and the ontological conundrums raised in the film’s unique climax and conclusion.

The Ought in the Machine

“If I must choose between peace and righteousness, I choose righteousness” ~Theodore Roosevelt I have long held the belief that moral self-justification is both the engine and the doom of the world. Nobody does what they do thinking to themselves “this is the wrong thing, so I should do it”, or desiring to do wrong for its own sake. Even people as evil as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot all had reasons for why they did what they did.

On David Hume and Susan Feagin

In what way, if any, is Feagin’s solution to the Paradox of Tragedy an improvement on Hume’s solution? Introduction Susan Feagin’s solution to the Paradox of Tragedy is not only not an improvement to Hume’s solution, it is not a solution at all. I will argue that Feagin fails to improve upon Hume’s solution for two key reasons. First, because her solution suffers from the same inscrutability as Hume’s solution.

Philosophy - an Obituary

Last night, I watched a debate between a journalist, a sociologist, and a scientist over whether or not philosophy is “dead” (as Stephen Hawking put it). Lewis Wolpert completely wiped the floor with the non-philosophers pitted against him. And sadly, he was also mostly correct. Philosophy has not done itself proud of late, and the fact that this panel didn’t actually include any philosophers to stand in its defense, is evidence that it is struggling, if not dead.