Archive for category Unwise

Je suis Charlie!

Yet again, an epic fail by extremists. Now we all know about Charlie Hebdo. Now we all have seen their cartoons (and sometimes even laughed at them). Now we are less circumspect about how the authorities deal with these murderers and their ilk. As I write this, two of the perpetrators (at least) remain at large. They will be caught and probably killed. Lots of other people will likely be injured or killed as well. Muslims, largely unfairly, will be mocked by cartoonists and humorists and a sea of wanna-be comedians at an increasing rate. And when they are not, they will be increasingly objects of suspicion and even hatred.

How is any of this anything other than complete failure?

I looked at some of the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, a publication about which I was previously unaware. I have to say that a lot of the cartoons I saw were fairly disgusting. I can easily see how many people would be offended by them. But however little I like vulgar, offensive, juvenile attempts at humor, I like humorless, violent, extremist, willfully-ignorant ideologues even less. Much, much less. How many of the world’s crises are due, in the end, to a lack of a sense of humor? Seriousness kills.

Well, a lot of the time, anyway.

My condolences to the family and friends of the victims of this senseless attack. I am so sorry for your loss.

Love is stronger than hate. (And the pen, in the end, is mightier than the sword.)

Love is stronger than hate. (And the pen, in the end, is mightier than the sword.)


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Bad Reporting

As I write these words, there is a shooting incident ongoing at the Canadian Parliament. Here is a headline I hate (from CNN):

There is no evidence yet that the shootings are linked to Islamic extremism.


First of all, CNN is reporting on what it does not have evidence of. I am going to to way out on a limb here and say there is a lot that CNN does not have evidence of.  

Second, what exactly is meant by the word “yet” in this headline? Do they have some reason to anticipate that they will have that evidence? If so, then it seems that, in fact, they do have at least some evidence for the claim. But they don’t, so the word “yet” is unjustified.

And then why mention “Islamic extremism” when attacks like the present one can be carried out by all sorts of groups or none.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me: I hope they get this situation controlled in short order and get to the bottom of it. And let the chips fall where they may. But CNN is way out of line with this headline at this point.

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I am tired from reading my Facebook stream this morning. For some reason, the cute little baby pictures, amusing jokes, and forest fire updates are being peppered with posts expressing hatred of somebody or another or some group or another. It is so tedious. “Every (fill in the blank) is an evil, untrustworthy, lying terrorist, and all of us (your name here) are good, kind, peace-loving innocent people who would never hurt a fly except when we need to kill the (repeat name in first blank). They definitely have it coming.” These hate-posts practically write themselves.

Now, to make sure there is no hypocrisy or unintended irony here, let me be clear: I do not hate the hate-posters one little bit. Their posts I can do without, but the posters are (for the most part) simply scared little small-minded persons in a world that has been presented to them by the powers that be to be filled with dangerous enemies, enemies that “fortunately” it is very easy to identify. They are the (repeat name in first blank, above). I pity them, really, and that would be the end of it if they were not such an obvious danger to others and even to themselves. It is quite sad.

Are there bad, bad people in the world, people hoping to do bad, bad things to others? You bet! Are “we” (innocent or not) within our rights to try to stop them? Of course. With violence? If necessary (in my opinion…I am not a pure pacifist). But could we please go back to a time (if there ever really was such a time…) to where we believed…indeed, we knew…that these bad, bad people were individuals more than groups and that they were rather rare in the world and that most people — no matter to which group they belonged – were probably just like us, trying to make it through the day?

No, of course we can’t.

Why not, you ask? Because hate has become the fashion. Everybody is working on honing their hating skill set — and they’re doing quite a good job of it, if social media and the news of the world are any indication (and they are).

So I am going to try to tune you out, all you haters, and hope for the best (and expect the worst, of course). And if you would be so kind, please stop posting your hate-stuff on my social media. I like the baby and cat pictures quite a lot, and you are definitely harshing my mellow.

Over and out.

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Is Philosophy a Show about Nothing?

Peter Unger, author of Empty Ideas, thinks so. Read this interview with one of his former students. Here’s a taste:

Back to Empty Ideas, I guess you think people should just face up to that, instead of thinking that they’re doing something very important, or deep.

Probably. That’s what Wittgenstein concluded. I’m just not holding myself to be something like a quasi-mystical genius that he was supposed to have been. I’m just an ordinary schlub, who happens to have more perspective on things than other mainstream philosophers.

And I’m smarter than almost all of them. A few of my colleagues are smarter than I am. But except for Tim Maudlin, they all have much less perspective than I do, and some of them none at all. They have no idea what they’re doing, or very little idea of what they’re doing, or distorted ideas of what they’re doing.

One of them who’s much smarter than me is Kit Fine. His office is right over there next to mine. I discuss him in one of the chapters of Empty Ideas. He has no more idea of what he’s doing than Aristotle did, and in Aristotle’s day there was an excuse: nobody knew anything. Nowadays it’s less of an excuse.

Although he clearly is in love with himself, nevertheless Unger strikes me as something like a “self-hating philosopher,” one of those philosophers who tries to philosophize philosophy out of existence. They make for a comical yet pathetic figure. A question: what is the philosophical status of a book like Empty Ideas? Why, on its own terms, should I not take it to be just a bunch of hot air?

Note that Unger’s targets are all so-called analytic philosophers. It is not an uncommon criticism of analytic philosophy that it has, in large swaths anyway, lost touch with human experience (often due to its “science”-envy). But is so-called analytic philosophy – which, btw, is all I’m reading at the moment for a project I am working on – all there is to philosophy?


UPDATE: Here is the Maverick Philosopher’s take on this same interview. Key point: Philosophizing your way out of philosophy is like copulating for chastity. Right!


Richard Wolin reviews Heidegger’s Black Notebooks

Here is a lengthy reflection on the recently published “Black Notebooks” of Martin Heidegger by Richard Wolin. The essence of the review is that Heidegger’s anti-Semitism and pro-National Socialism are not tangential to his philosophy of being but rather lie at its heart. Hand-in-glove is an anti-rationalism that pervades Heidegger’s work, which translates into an anti-modern, anti-enlightenment, anti-democratic view of the world.

Since Heidegger regarded the history of philosophy since Plato as a “history of decline,” he was not bound by the central concepts and standards of that tradition. Consequently, he characterizes the nature of Being, on which so much depends, in terms that, to all intents and purposes, fall beneath the threshold of sense: “Yet Being—what is Being? It is It itself. The thinking that is to come must learn to experience that and to say it.” But if Being can only be defined as self-identical—“It is It itself”—how might we humans make sense of its various manifestations? Heidegger claims to possess superior insight concerning Being’s modalities. But these insights remain undemonstrable: They transcend—often, in ways that seem entirely arbitrary—the basic capacities of the human understanding, which Heidegger frequently mocked.

Anyway, all this was known for ages about Heidegger, and the publication of the “Black Notebooks” only serves to reinforce our general estimation of Heidegger as an unsavory human being with wretched politics who is still – if we can be at all objective about such a person – a genius.

The trouble, for me, is saying in what exactly that genius really consists.

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What’s the real outcome of “learning outcomes”?

Frank Furedi is right:

…learning outcomes are not just another banal instrument deployed to monitor and quantify the achievements of students. The very purpose of this organisational instrument is to accomplish a shift in emphasis from learning to outcomes. This is a technique through which a utilitarian ethos to academic life serves to diminish what would otherwise be an open-ended experience for student and teacher alike. Those who advocate learning outcomes do so expressly with the aim of abolishing such experiences….

And not just a shift in emphasis, but a shift in the fundamental structure of academic institutions. Here’s the recipe (for disaster): Add “learning outcomes” mentality to MOOCs, sprinkle with a generous helping of self-serving misunderstanding of revolutionary education theorists such as Ivan Illich, deploy in a bottom-line obsessed corporate structure, and you can kiss the idea of a “teacher” goodbye. SIRI will be able to to it all at a fraction of the price of a human teacher!

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Grown Adult Actually Expects to be Happy!

NORMAL, IL—According to incredulous sources, local hardware store employee and grown adult human being Rob Peterson, 37, actually expects to be happy in life.

Despite possessing a fully developed brain and a general awareness of the fundamental nature of existence, sources said Peterson apparently continues to believe that achieving long-lasting happiness is somehow possible.

MORE: Grown Adult Actually Expects To Be Happy | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

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It doesn’t have to be true!

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Assessing Philosophy

Here’s some of Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn’s take on it:

Our postgraduate philosophy education is primarily vital in ensuring the quality of the incoming stream of future teachers of philosophy. These provide the continuing educational resource for very acute and educated people to flow into very diverse channels of administration, business and other branches of employment, including what used to exist as and be known as "public service", before that fell into the hands of people unable to conceive of it as anything other than a cornucopia of opportunities for corruption.


[W]e don’t think that you should pay slavish attention to what business people, especially those who believe themselves fit to judge things about which they know nothing, say are their "needs" because we do not have any confidence that without more philosophy than most of them possess, they have the least idea what those needs are.


the impact of ideas is not measurable, even by double-blind clinical tests decked out with the best Bayesian interpretations

Blackburn here submits as evidence that the great Cathedrals were built a thousand years after the life of the one who inspired them.  When should we expect to see the “outcomes” from our students’ first experience with philosophy?

Read the rest here.

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NEW FTC Policy for Bloggers: 2 Thumbs Up!

Or is it one finger??

As Slate puts it, “the FTC put bloggers on notice that they could incur an $11,000 fine if they receive free goods, free services, or money and write about the goods or services without conspicuously disclosing their ‘material connection’ to the provider.”  The worry is over whether there is an expectation of endorsement in such circumstances.

In the spirit of the new rules, let me say the following:

1.  I got my copy of the policy from The Government here [.pdf], for free.

2.  I am materially connected to The Government in the following way:  It scares the shit out of me!  It figuratively and (I cringe to think) even literally has a gun to my head at all times.

With this disclosure, let me get to my review of the new Policy:

This Policy is fantastic!  Amazing!!  Colossal!!  It is perhaps the finest Policy any government has yet produced.  This is a whole new ball game.  This changes everything in Policy generation.  No future Policy drafter will be able to ignore this one!  This is the Holy Bible, the Holy Koran, The Rig Vedas, and the complete works of Shakespeare rolled into one.  It is, LITERALLY, a miracle!  I cannot image another Government—say, Sudan—coming up with anything close to this!  They way they use irremediable vagueness for their own nefarious fully justified purposes is genius!  Bloggers will be eternally grateful.  Two ENTHUSIASTIC thumbs up!

But I have to say, though, I really can’t understand exactly what The Government is so worried about.

But here is what Ron Hogan at Galley Cat is worried about.

[er, okay, I should say that I got some ideas from Jack Shafer at Slate and Ron Hogan at Galley Cat.  I can access their sites for free on the internet.  I am materially related to these blogs in that they are blogs and I read them.  My linking to them should in no way be seen as an endorsement of these smart, insightful writers or their employers.  Just as my linking to The Policy should not be seen as endorsement of the officious bureaucrats who wrote it.]

Some closing thoughts from Jack Shafer:

Because of a pesky thing called the First Amendment, the guidelines don’t apply to news organizations, which receive thousands of free books, CDs, and DVDs each day from media companies hoping for reviews. But if the guidelines don’t apply to established media like the New York Review of Books, which also happens to publish reviews on the Web, why should they apply to Joe Blow’s blog? Regulating bloggers via the FTC while exempting establishment reporters looks like a back-door means of licensing journalists and policing speech.

Nobody likes deceptive advertising or fishy bloggers. But I’d rather wade through steaming piles of unethical crap on the Web than give the FTC Javertian powers to pursue shady advertorial. This is one of those cases in which the government’s solution is 10 times worse than the problem.

Such solutions almost always are….  Talk about “steaming piles of unethical crap…”!

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