Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’
On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.
On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans’ bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things… (yes, there’s more)
* Law school in America moves toward an open admissions policy. Where are the accreditors? This is insane.
* In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.
* In other words, gold pays off when there is an outbreak of goldbug-ism. Gold is a bet that there will be more goldbugs in the future than there are now. And since the “gold will be money again” story is very deep and powerful, based as it is on thousands of years of (no longer applicable) historical experience, it is highly likely that goldbug-ism will break out again someday. So if you’re the gambling type, or if you plan to start the next Zero Hedge, or if your income for some reason goes down when goldbug-ism breaks out, well, go ahead and place a one-way bet on gold.
* With all the bad news today, this is the one that really breaks my brain: Texas Says It’s OK to Shoot an Escort If She Won’t Have Sex With You. That’s completely lunatic. I just can’t believe it’s a real event that happened.
* My friend Brent Bellamy has a working bibliography of U.S. post-apocalyptic fiction.
Think about the writing-for-free model that has taken over journalism. His point can be supported by the millions made by Arianna Huffington, while many of her writers worked for little or nothing. Yes, writing is one of what Lanier is calling the “pleasant” jobs — as is teaching (I didn’t say easy. But dedicated writers and educators alike see what they do as rewarding and important work.) Why should journalists or educators be working for little to no money, living at the edge of poverty, while the people at the top of this sort of economic structure are reaping enormous fortune? According to Lanier, this is a conscious breach of the all-important social contract that not only provides what he calls the “hump” of middle class citizens — that middle area surge on the economic chart where the majority of people fall — but that large, sustained middle class keeps the rest of the system going. Without it, the economy fails, as does democracy itself.
* It is very hard to accept this — the wealth gap is not a mistake. It is the logical outcome of policy and democratic will. From the streets of Cicero on up, the point was to imprison black people in the black belt and then exploit them. The goal was pursued through public policy, private action, and open terrorism. The goal was accomplished.
FD: Chinese sci fi has about a hundred years of history. When it started, in the late Qing dynasty around 1902, it was chiefly concerned with the problem of bringing ancient China into modernity. At that time, Liang Qichao [translated sci fi] because he thought it would be beneficial for China’s future … as something that could popularize scientific knowledge. And Lu Xun thought that if you gave ordinary people scientific literature to read, they would fall asleep. But if you blended scientific knowledge into stories with a plot, it would be more interesting. [He thought that] in this way, the people could become more modern.
* Chris Beckett wins Arthur C. Clarke award for Dark Eden. Probably the first book I’ll read once the semester is over, thanks to @shaviro’s great paper on it at ICFA.
* See no evil, hear no evil: Republicans propose abolishing the unemployment rate.
* Administrators are maniacs: School Conducts Surprise Shooting Drill with Real Gunmen Firing Blanks.
Speaking of definitive takedowns, Alex Galloway may have just posted one for speculative realism/OOO at An und für sich.
I cite this as a textbook example of the liberal bourgeois position that people from the likes of Zizek to Carl Schmitt have called “depoliticization and neutralization.” It shows Harman’s anti-political position quite clearly. Today we might even call this an anti-badiousian position (although Harman of course has no interest in being badiousian in the first place!). The reason is because he has no opposition to the state of the situation. By his own admission, he only expresses revulsion *after* the confrontation with the state has taken place, after he witnesses the excesses to which the state will go to hold on to power. That’s a classic case of liberal neutralization (“don’t rock the boat,” “we just need to go along to get along,” “this is the best of all possible worlds,” “ontology shouldn’t be political,” etc.). This is thus not a political desire of any kind, merely an affective emotional response at the sight of blood. But such palpitations of the “sensitive” bourgeois heart, no matter how reformed, do not a politics make.
By contrast, Badiou’s position is so useful today because he says that it’s all about the *first* antagonism, not the last. To be political means that you have to *start* from the position of incompatibility with the state. In other words the political is always asymmetrical to the state of the situation. The political is always “trenchant” in this sense, always a “cutting” or polarization. Hence the appeal of Badiou’s “theory of points” which forces all of the equal-footed-objects in OOO into a trenchant decision of the two: yes or no, stop or go, fight or retreat. Hardt and Negri say something similar when they show how “resistance is primary vis-a-vis power.” For his part Harman essentially argues the reverse in this interview: ontology is primary (OOO “is not the handmaid of anything else”), power is secondary (Mubarak), resistance is a tertiary afterthought (the Arab Spring). Yes we should applaud the Spring when it arrives, Harman admits, but it’s still just an afterthought that arrived from who knows where.
If you’re still skeptical just use the old categorial imperative: if everyone in Cairo were clones of Harman, the revolution would never have happened. That’s political neutralization in a nutshell. In other words there is no event for Harman. And here I agree with Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s recent characterization of Tristan Garcia’s ontology, modeled closely after Harman’s, as essentially a treatise on “Being Without Event.”
* GOP preparing to pack the state supreme court in Florida. All the more reason for Obama to pack SCOTUS…
* And can the GOP survive as a party with literally no constituency? Ezra Klein reports.
* A judge has suspended Wisconsin’s anti-union law pending on process grounds. The state attorney general has already appealed.
* Yet the president, with this brief set of remarks, has crafted something of an Obama Doctrine for military intervention: The United States will join in a multilateral fight for democracy and humanitarian aims when it is in the nation’s interest and when the locals are involved and desire US participation. But perhaps we can shorten this: The United States will join in a multilateral fight for democracy and humanitarian aims when it is in the nation’s interest and when the locals are involved and desire US participation. How Obama turned on a dime toward war. But hold the phone! Congressional Republicans, fastidious prisoners to moral and procedural consistency, say Obama will need an official declaration of war.
* How close is your home to a nuclear power plant? Durham, you’re just 24 miles from Shearon Harris, whose spent fuel pools continue to raise alarms. But don’t worry; Dr. Coulter says radiation is good for you.
* A preposterous waste of time: Slate wants your ideas on what can be done to contain radiation at the damaged plant. We realize that this isn’t the sort of question that naturally calls out for wisdom-of-the-crowds treatment. But for every hour thatactual nuclear engineers are unable to put an end to the crisis—or at least keep it from getting worse—creative and unconventional solutions look more attractive. At the end of this Hive Mind project, we’ll consult nuclear experts on the viability of the most popular ideas.
I think the tendencies are clear. If you are teaching/doing research in a field/discipline that can not easily show (quantitatively, please!) to policy makers & bureaucrats that you will make a significant positive contribute to economic growth, your very existence is at stake. Never mind that you’re opening up minds, teaching logic or the arts, passing on history to the next generations. Either someone on the market should be willing to pay for what you’re doing, or else you are at mercy of the benevolence of your government.
* And from the MetaFilter archives: “…the first occasion I’ve ever discovered where someone discovered something and immediately decided to blow it up.”
Even if you don’t care about all that you may get a kick out of the Speculative Realism blog generator. The best I got was “Dwindling Motifs.”
The last time I mentioned speculative realism on this blog I promised to do some more serious reading and thinking it about as a penance for undue glibness. And in fact I’m doing this; not only am I reading through The Speculative Turn with some similarly skeptical Duke folks, I’m planning on attending the local Speculative Aesthetics working group with some people who are a bit more into it.
More on that later, maybe. In the meantime I think this set of posts [1, 2, 3] from Chris Vitale is something like an emperor-has-no-clothes moment for OOO, both in terms of its proposed philosophical content as well as its general tone and style of argument. At the very least it suggests important philosophical questions for which OOOists need (and aren’t really providing) adequate answers, among them the self-defeatingly undefined definition of what actually constitutes an “object”:
1) what determines when/if an object changes into another (genesis, dissolution, transformation)? To say ‘it just happens’ doesn’t explain how. What is the process of change? Or do new objects emerge as if from a void, and the transition is ineffable, magical, etc? If not, why not? And where does this change come from? And if from inside objects, how then does ‘the new’ mediate what is between objects?
2) It seems that whenever two entities link, they are an object. But what determines the boundaries of objects, or their difference from things like process or flow? Why are objects, and jumps and distinctions between them superior to flow/process which congeal/uncongeal into objects?
3) How do we determine what to call can object? If I say ‘my blue coffee mug’ over there, is this a shorthand for ‘that which appears to me as a blue coffee mug, but may in reality be different, to the point of even not ‘really’ being even a unified thing’? This is not asking whether or not qualities may be different, but whether the unity of what appears as a single object may be something which differs depending on one’s relation to what is. Yes, there are infinite objects, nested in each other, one of which is the blue coffee mug, and this is split into phenomenal/real objects. But are the boundaries and distinctions between objects flexible? Is the blue coffee mug an object, but the blue coffee mug and one oxygen molecule next to it not (or a less important or real object somehow?) Is the blue coffee mug and micky mouse an object? The critique articulated by process-relation folks is that OOO imports human seeming categories into ontology, bypassing questions of episemtology, while OOO says it has shifted the terrain. How is this shift accomplished? Where do the essences which anchor qualities come from? Is the answer any better than those given by Kant/Husserl, and how might OOO get beyond the critique leveled against ding-an-sich/eidos for these figures?
Where I differ is that while I think we can say that something exists in the vicinity of the blue mug, we shouldn’t say ‘the blue mug exists,’ at least not without a ton of qualifiers. For as soon as we say the blue mug exists, and call it the blue mug, we have qualified this existence with blueness, mugness, even a location in space and time, no matter how extended or fuzzy. And as soon as we do this, we move beyond ontology (sheer being, no?), and into the realm of qualities like blueness, mugness, etc. Now, aren’t these epistemological issues? There’s no denying the wavelengths emited by photons that bounce off the mug are in what humans call the blue spectrum. But this does not make the mug ‘blue’ to anyone but a human – and a human using the English language, for that matter.
Now, if you said ‘that being, which this human describes as blue’, I’ve got no issue. But as soon as you say the EXISTENCE of the blue mug, well, the blue mug AS SUCH does not exist anywhere except for those who have categories like blueness and mugness. Surely there’s SOMETHING there. But to call it a blue mug, and to talk about the ontology of the blue mug, AS blue mug, well, unless you are talking about the ontology of the IDEA of the blue mug, rather than the blue mug as such, well, then you’re taking over epistemology in the name of ontology, or, as I’ve said before, importing human categories into the realm of ontology.
If you follow Vitale’s links you can find some opening answers to some of these issues, though none that really satisfy the objection, as well as some counter-critique about the tone and method of OOO critics themselves…
* The long-awaited (but oddly dissatisfying) Lost epilogue has appeared online, though who knows for how long or with whose permission.
* Decadence watch: municipalities are cutting back on public transit, de-paving roads, cutting back on education and even city lights, and closing public libraries. Naturally, the wars continue apace.
* Neal Stephenson talks SF at Gresham College. The link has another, shorter talk from David Brin as well. Thanks to Melody for the link.
* Visiting the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.
* You had me at huge Back to the Future trilogy timeline.
* Google says there are 129,864,880 books In existence. I swear, I swear, mine’s coming.
* And neither English nor philosophy makes this list of the ten lowest-paying college majors. Take that, everyone I knew in college!
* If you’d been foolish enough to bet $5 that Joe Biden could walk into a Midwestern custard shop and not create some sort of national incident by uttering a mild profanity, well, it’s time to pay up.
* Following up on yesterday’s links, Robert Byrd has died.
* And Conan the Barbarian: The Musical. It’s been that sort of week.
Kind of. Kingston University in south-west London announced today that it will re-establish our Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at Kingston, by employing the four senior staff in Philosophy at Middlesex (Eric Alliez, Peter Hallward, Peter Osborne and Stella Sandford). Our MA and PhD programmes (full-time and part-time) will be re-launched at Kingston this September, and all current post-graduate students will be invited to move along with the staff. Institutions in France and Germany have also made significant new proposals for collaboration with the CRMEP, which may allow it to expand the European dimensions of its work considerably in the near future.