Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yet another political movement?

Paul RevereImage via Wikipedia
Please join me in the Loose Leaf Tea Movement:  Our objections to the tea-baggers are aesthetic first and political second.

I mean what self-respecting late 18th century colonial patriot would have drunk tea from a tea-bag, even if tea-bags had been invented?
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

If as a philosopher, pragmatism and especially Santayana strikes a chord, is there a way to reconcile with Plato's forms which seem extraordinarily inspired by the concept of God yet disturbing familiar?

I don't know Santayana very well, but I think that the crucial thing to note is that Plato's forms are not inspired by a conception of God (or anything we'd recognize as God, pace Nietzsche) as they are by the good. There is, I think a subtle difference.

I tend to think that both pragmatism and phenomenology are promising directions for post-Darwinian philosophy because they recognize that thinking is guided by what Plato called the good or what we could call in the language of German idealism the absolute (or normative posits), but gave room for those to be temporalized. I think (and here I know that I'll get in trouble with pragmatists, but I'd esp. target James here) that pragmatism recognizes that, but doesn't give adequate tools to understand how the good changes in the course of our thinking about it, whereas phenomenology does.

The phenomenological thinker who gives us the best resources to do this, through the notion of differance, is Derrida. I think I've mentioned him earlier.

Ask me anything

Friday, March 12, 2010

What is a moment?

The moment is when we discover the difference between expectation and awaiting.

The moment is the line that resolves the possibilities of the future (dynamis), into action (energeia) on the basis of what is discovered to have been (ergon).

Auf Deutsch: An Augenblick, which means, of course the blink of an eye but in the old sense of one "unit" of seeing not in the sense of moving your eyes (that's just how long a blink is).

What it is not is a moment of self-presence, nor is it something which mimics an atemporal form (as when Plato calls time a moving image of eternity --- is that right? I think so --- I should check these things).

In my dissertation, I talked about a different understanding of presence that I find in Heidegger (particularly in Chapters Four and Six of Division II) and that I think Celan develops -- I call it the counter-present, and it's what I think Derrida develops in his writing about the repeatable now that links up his early and late works.

The moment is the protest against the future and the redemption of the past.

Ask me anything

If a million monkeys pounding a million typewriters are supposed to spit out Shakespeare, why is the crowning achievement of the internet LOL cats? Shouldn't we have gotten something better?

To the best of my knowledge, we haven't let monkeys have a go at it. Also, it's supposed to take quite a lot of time (indefinite and therefore theoretically infinite)--- plus I think we've determined that monkey's aesthetic preferences and typing habits make well-formed English sentences even less likely than the would be if they were purely random. You could make a similar point about the proclivities of us monkey to use the internet to make porn and LOL cats, with the occasional bit of sublimity.

Let's not forget that millions of years of monkeys doing things to things and having sex with one another created the internet, including LOL cats.

Which are sometimes hilarious.

Ask me anything

Wouldn't it be better if job interviews were like this: 30 min, strictly enforced, anything goes, Qs and As > 140 characters?

Yes. It would be better for you and I personally. For slow-witted people, no.

Ask me anything

Would it bother you to know that, after you died, future philosophy students would be told made-up and salacious biographical details about your life (like Kant's swaddling man-servant story)? What if the story was that you were a frotteur?

I had to look up frotteur --- and it would bother me if I knew right now that future phil. students would think that about me. But as long as I don't know about it in advance, there will be no me to be bothered.

Now, would Kant have been bothered by the man-servant story? No, he would have been proud.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Ask me anything

Eugen Fink. Overlooked genius or cloying sycophant?

How about overlooked cloying sycophantic genius. I don't know Fink's work very well on its own --- mostly I've just read the stuff he was editing/working on with Husserl at the end of Husserl's life as well as the lecture seminar he did with Heidegger on Heraclitus.

In both cases, what he says is good. It's just overshadowed by the work of non-overlooked geniuses.

Ask me anything

Why don't philosophers take Derrida seriously? (And I don't mean philosophers like Leiter... I mean REAL philosophers.) Who is someone who actually takes Derrida seriously that I should read?

Me.
Haha, just kidding. Except I'm not.
I can't remember who I was talking about this with --- or wait, I met have been reading it on a blog --- but I genuinely think that part of the problem was that Derrida was so fucking smart and funny.
People think he wasn't serious about traditional interpretations but as one of my teachers (who knew him very well put it) --- "He wants to make philosopher student in France pass a multiple choice test" (this should be said in a high pitched squeal --- a voice known as Air Raid [Professor X])

And in the schools of fashion Derrida is becoming slightly unfashionable these days, so since everything is about fashion you shouldn't read him.

But seriously, I think the reason for the claims that he's played (even by many who respect him) or that he's a phony (those that don't understand him) is because he is often understood in engaging in some repeatable deconstructive gesture.

This simply isn't the most interesting way to read Derrida.

I'm going to get shit for this, but I'm going to say that you (anonymous person) should start with the early stuff. Go back and read the Husserl stuff and then read Of Grammatology. Don't read the early stuff that commentators wrote about Of Grammatology though. Pretend that Of Grammatology is an ontology of science. I am being very serious.

Then read Sovereignities in Question which takes up many of the post-ethical turn themes and ask how it fits in with the early stuff.

My favorite writers on Derrida are his French contemporary's (who are my favorite Heideggerians, too: Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, Dastur, Cixous, Lyotard). There's a great interview b/w Nancy and Derrida translated as "Eating Well" I believe that explains Derrida's unique contribution to post-modernism quite well. Also the introduction he wrote to Lacoue-Labarthe's Typographies ("Desistance.")

I've heard Malabou's work is really good, though I haven't read her. I was supposed to hear her talk once but her parents or her kid or someone was sick so Derrida gave her paper for her instead. Since the paper was critical of him it was very funny.

And Derrida did know how to be funny.

Ask me anything

Would you briefly explain the essence of the 'ontological argument' and offer your opinion on its success (or failure)?

The ontological argument depends on the notion that how we understand being entails the necessity of the greatest being and that that greatest being is what we call God.

(I realize I'm departing from the classic formulation which depends upon our capacity to have an idea of God, but that's because I don't think anyone has an idea of the God that the ontological argument believes in).

It is most famously associated with Anselm, and to a lesser extent Descartes. It has been revived recently in continental circles by Marion (and Levinas) and in analytic circles by Plantinga.

Spinoza offers what appears to be something similar to the ontological argument in book one of the ethics, but because he is proving the monism of substance rather than a transcendence of God he means something utterly different. More importantly, from Spinoza on I think we should understand being as possibility more than actuality (this is what virtually all analytic critics of Heidegger, beginning with Carnap and Ryle, have missed).

So does that mean that the ontological argument shows the possibility of God? No because we do not in fact have an idea of God. But there are good reasons why we think we do.

As Nietzsche says (and I'm paraphrasing) --- we will not get rid of God until we get rid of grammar.

Ask me anything

mendellsohn or jacobi?

Although I think Jacobi's basic critique of Reinhold was right (though he thought it a critique of Kant) his conflation of the two meanings of Glauben is inexcusable.

Another way of saying that is that I think Jacobi was basically right to go around accusing everyone of being Spinozists, but that was to their credit and he was really douchy for employing it as a criticism (kind of like when Wolin calls Derrida a Heideggerian).

Plus, Felix is fantastic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhKcp1N7seE

Except when he's mediocre.

Ask me anything

schlegels: friedrich or rupert?

I'll be perfectly honest --- I don't know who Rupert Schlegel is. Now as to Friedrich or August Wilhelm, I'd probably go with Dorothea who had the sense to divorce Fred before he went nutso conservative (but then her new husband did so)...

Novalis.

Here's a poem:

Orphic Mysteries Brought to Light (For You, My Dear)

Eurydice:
Don’t say to me, “It wasn’t worth dying for”
For me at least
From my perspective:

Cool autumn nights, spent more or less alone,
Joined at the hip to sadness,
No need to turn around to feel it,
Nor to see softly following me your ghost:
I had to leave it there,
Your shade in the shade,
Yourself, yours truly
That’s me.

Eurydice,
Her coiled hair, her serpents’ step,
Stepped on one too many toeless things,
Glided lightly and, yes I followed,
But no, with no rescue plan in mind.

Only in descending,
A Novalis ending.

Ask me anything

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What have I got in my pocket?

You want me to think it's your precious. But it's actually just your hand. Which is clutching your penis (assuming you're a man --- otherwise, why the fuck do you have a penis in your pocket).

Ask me anything

I can't believe no one has asked you this yet, but about what do you roust? Or should it be about which do you roust? (H's Girl)

I roust about the things that most people get soused about.

A roustabout is a labourer typically performing temporary, unskilled work. The term has traditionally been used to refer to traveling-circus ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roustabout

Ask me anything

What happens to the dream deferred?

You might think it explodes. Clearly Mr. Hughes had never read Nietzsche. It festers, rots and becomes spiritualized.

Ask me anything

If a tree falls in the forest and no one's there to hear it can I still buy myself a new iMac?

You can feel free to after you buy me one.

Ask me anything

Why ask why?

Go read Aristotle's first book of metaphysics.

I have long thought that a philosophy class should start with an argument for hedonism and then should progress to the point where the hedonist learns the importance of asking "why?" Whereupon they'd be hooked.

And then several years later they'd ask "Wie steht es mit Sein" or "Wazzup being!"

Ask me anything

Can you truthfully and consistently send an e-mail to "the department" saying "The department would appreciate it if you attend this lecture"?

I see where you're going.

It depends on how the department is constituted. I take it that the department here is in the first case the collection of individuals who make up the department whereas in the second case it is the general will of the department.

Imagine I sent an email to my body saying "The body would appreciate it if you did not eat Big Macs and sleep with anything that throws itself at you."

This is true of the body taken as a whole and is pointed advice directed at my stomach and regions southward. Nonetheless, it is a good idea for my stomach inter alia to pay attention, because they wouldn't on their own.

The other possibility is that the department is of one mind in which case it would be truthful and consistent but vacuous.

I hope this helps.

Ask me anything

Dear IdeasMan - I find myself in need of ideas about how to keep myself entertained at work. Have any?

The best thing to do is to send Ideas to Ideas Man. If that doesn't take up enough of your time, go read:
http://www.authonomy.com/ViewBook.aspx?bookid=18620
If that doesn't work, I suggest either:
a) smuggling a flask into work
b) creating a Rube Goldbergesque device to do your work for you or
c) imagining what everyone at work thinks YOU look like naked.

Glad to be of help

Ask me anything

What <i>exactly</i> depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens?

So much --- The problem is that exactness is not possible with regards to the "so much" any more than it is with "being" or "nothing." The "So much" is a dialectical move, and like all dialectical moves it neither affirms nor negates. The white chickens are juxtaposed with the night in which all cows are black.

The so much, in short is the sun.

Ask me anything

Which are your favorite blogs?

www.readmorewritemorethinkmorebemore.blogspot.com
http://www.howtomarryabulgarian.com/
http://hypatiasgirl.blogspot.com/
and of course www.doctorideas.blogspot.com

Ask me anything

You know Holderlin?

Verily, he struck me down when I was journeying to Bordeaux.

Ask me anything

Is there anybody out there?

Yes. Provided by out there you mean outside of the computer. If you mean outside of our planet, probably not but maybe. If you mean in some transcendent realm, then no.

Ask me anything

Who would win in a fight - Holderlin, Chuck Norris or Vin Diesel?

Chuck Norris and Vin Diesel would beat each other to a pulp. Holderlin would, in the meantime have fallen in love with one or both of their wives who would have died of tuberculosis. Whereupon he would have gone mad. Fighting is overrated. Roughly the same thing happened in the Napoleonic Wars.

Ask me anything

Is there a difference between a philosopher and one who teaches the philosophies of others?

Good question: For a start (and I'm not being flippant here) I don't think that others have philosophies. I see philosophy as a tradition that has unfolded to ask interrelated questions. So the only way to be a philosopher is to enter into the questions that have been asked, and to ask some of your own. Philosophers are always in dialogue with other philosophers, alive or dead.

Ask me anything

Ask Me Anything

As you can see you can now
Ask Me Anything

Who's the coolest person you know?

Holderlin

Ask me anything

formspring.me

Ask me anything http://formspring.me/IdeasManPhd

If you could change one thing that happened last year what would it be?

Being asked this question

Ask me anything

If you were given a brand new yacht, what would you name it?

The blood of the people

Ask me anything

What's your favorite sport?

Good question. Clearly these are scripted questions. I do not follow any sport. Except politics.

Ask me anything

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Shameless Self Promotion

I'm trying this website called authonomy run by HarperCollins.  I've put up the first quarter of my Mormon murder mystery and it's already generating buzz there!  Go take a look at it.  If you sign up (free) you can "back" the book too.  I know you all loving backing those thangs up.

http://authonomy.com/ViewBook.aspx?bookid=18620#comments

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ideas Man Shameless Self-Promotion

From George Cruikshank's illustrations to Laur...Image via Wikipedia
So I'm trying my hand at some e-publishing and have put out the following story for .99 on the Kindle.  I'm trying to see if there's a market for Acts I-IV.  Given that I teach in the humanities I'm used to there being next to no market for what I do, so I don't define a market in very big terms.  Just trying to see if it works.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003AZY5N0

Note that this is coming out on the Writer's Cooperative imprint.  My friend Mike D. and I have been talking about putting this together for a while now and good things are brewing!

Stay posted.

Product description.



This is a memoir, written as an out-of-order play.

I have begun with the final act, because it is the act that can be written by giving the least offense. That is saying a lot because it very near broke my father's heart.

Why?

Because it's the memoir of leaving the Mormon church, of willfully giving up the ticket to heaven I'd been written by the luck of birth, of being born into the heart of Mormonism, into the descendants of the community of saints formed around Joseph Smith who, after his martyrdom had migrated West to the Promised Land.

I had turned my back on my chosenness before the events described in this act, but here I describe making it official.

I make many excurses and digressions to explain Mormonism to the puzzled outsider.

I am always generous, although occasionally sarcastic (or am I occasionally generous but always sarcastic?)

Be assured, good reader, that the tale that unfolds will be worth your dollar!

Which is why I ask that you also pray for my soul.

Reviewers have described this memoir variously as: "Rivetting," "Fascinating," "Pure Drivel," "Apostasy," "Blasphemy," "The Ravings of a Lunatic Mind,"

"Ideas Man is already going to hell so he may as well go to hell for such shameless schilling of his own product."

and then there's this:

"Ideas Man as a damnable fool. He thinks he's being clever, but there's little to nothing clever about him. He grew up believing he was chosen. He came from the choicest of chosen people. He grew up in a family that had claim to notoriety but chose to dissemble it and act as though he believed he were normal. It's a damned lie, and he's revealing it to be the lie it is."

This review was written by a fictional character, though I'm not sure which. It may have been written by the fictional descendant of Joseph Smith, whose novelized life I've written about elsewhere. It may have been written by the fictional version of me, whose life split from mine when his mother (but not mine) died and who will show up in a later Volume (and earlier Act) of this Memoir. It remains to be seen.

Here's another review:

"Ideas Man stole the idea of writing his own reviews from his uncle. His uncle was excommunicated soon thereafter. Ideas Man left of his own volition. This memoir will tell you why. But don't take my word for it!" --- Lavar Burton

or:

"Ideas Man may have stolen the idea of writing his own reviews from his uncle, but his uncle stole it from a self-published hack who could barely write in the English language. By the way, Ideas Man is a self-published hack who can barely write in the English language." --- Om Raja

or:

"Look, they all stole the idea from Laurence Stern. Ideas Man may wish he were the author of Tristram Shandy, but I plagiarized that book to great effect centuries ago." --- Denis Diderot.

Will you please give a dollar to what the author truly believes to be the first post-modern Kindle-only product description?

Buy this book!

But don't take my word for it.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Breaking News (Again): Glenn Beck's Dungeons and Dragon's Sheet Stolen

Glenn Beck's Christmas Road ShowImage by The Rocketeer via Flickr
I've reposted this with comment moderation turned on so I can avoid the creeps --- real people, please post any suggestions you have! Thanks.


Team Knowledge (TM) has been hard at work gathering knowledge.

Team knowledge is:  Ideas Man, Hypatia's Girl, Matt, Jacob and Ben.

What have they found?  Glenn Beck's Dungeons and Dragon's character in the game he plays regularly with the rest of the Fox News Crew.

I present it without further ado:


Above: Glenn Beck enacting King Reaganor's Greatest Spell




Biography


King Reaganor was not born as a king. He was born into poverty and pulled himself up by his sandalstraps. He was born in Swedonia, where the beautiful race of White Elves had been conquered by Bobama, the evil troll from Kenyadonia. He had imposed a socialist-communist-fascist-dictatorial monarchy and killed Santa, the High Duke of Christmas. Reaganor was the child of Bristol Paladin, the fair virgin who was rightful queen by birth of Swedonia. It was prophesied by the Good Witch Ann of Coulteria that young Reaganor would lead the true White Elves to a New Kingdom.

King Reaganor was apprenticed to the wizard Colon Pow. After teaching Reaganor all he knew, Colon Pow fell under a dark, black spell cast by Bobama, who betrayed Lady Paladin. Reaganor used the Tablet of the Original Constitution to summon the Invisible Hand™ of the Founding Fathers, who came forth to lead the White Elves out of slavery and resurrect Santa. Benjamin Franklin gave him the power of lightening, which he used to short-circuit the Liberal Media (in August of 2003). George Washington gave him the Mythical Ax which he used to smite the waters of the Potomac and part them in two (thereby watering the Tree of Liberty). Thomas Jefferson gave him the Plow of Liberty, with which he built a new agrarian democracy around the mythical plantation Freedonia. Paul Revere gave him his trusty steed, Paul Revere (the horse), and he mounted Paul Revere (the horse) and rode him into battle.

The true White Elves had maintained the true religion of the Teabag ceremony while in slavery to the secularism of Bobama's Liberaltopia. "Let my people go!" yelled Reaganor as he mounted Paul Revere (the horse) in the driving rain. He rode him hard, across the Potomac without getting wet. He found the mythic Wood Teeth of Liberty and put them in his mouth. "Let my people go!" he cried again.

The true White Elves, who had maintained the true religion, threw off their chains and took the sacks of gold they'd been hiding from the evil dwarf John Stewartschmidtsteinbergergoldfarbowitz, who ran the Bank of Bobama, and they marched forth. Colon Pow met the people at the banks of the Potomac and cast the spell of False Trust with his vial of white anthraxia. But the White Elves could not be turned back. Reaganor called on the mighty warrior William Boykinor to invoke his god, whose God was way stronger than the God of liberal secular atheist Swedonia (Gay Allah). Gay Allah was swiftly thrown down.

Reaganor led the White Elves across the Potomac, where he met the fair Queen Sarah of Palinor, who was imprisoned by the Chastity Belt of Margaret Sanger. But Reaganor had the Key of Personal Responsibility. He dismounted Paul Revere (the horse) and thrust the key into her belt. She was freed, and so she married him on the spot. As babies poured from her loins, the Milk of Untaxed Prosperity flowed abundantly from her heroic bosom.

And thus began the reign of Reaganor, founder of America, who did it all by himself with no help and certainly no ghostwriter.


This will be included in our forthcoming collection What is It Like to Be a Glenn Beck? Please send other essays and suggestions how to improve his character sheet to us.





Anonymity, Pseudonymity and the Internets

View at Piazza della Signoria from the front b...Image via Wikipedia
So my last exchange has gone to an odd place and made me decide to post some musings I've been having about the meaning of identity online. It's something I've been thinking about writing for a while.

Maurice Blanchot is one of the great thinkers of anonymity. Blanchot writes beautifully about the strange intimacy of what I'll call anonymity with a face, the strange passion, solicitude and care that can emerge between people who do not know each other, or hardly know each other, or only know each other in a very limited context, and that is quite common in urban life --- the first films that I can think of offhand that capture a similar vibe would be Lost in Translation and In the Mood for Love, though in both of those there are extenuating factors that make that dial the anonymity up or down.

Blanchot was introduced in this anonymity I think, as a corrective to the emphasis on the alienating notion of modern urbanism that had been pushed in writers as diverse as Karl Marx, Max Weber and Martin Heidegger, though the greatest stylists in this tradition (Baudelaire, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Camus) had already been ambivalent about this ambiguity.

Politically, the care involved in this kind of ambiguity is important because it represents a possible for an ethics and politics based in compassionate human behavior without reducing to the various reactionary communalisms, nationalisms, and religiousness that have been pushed as the "solution" to the formalistic ills that ail liberal modernism.

I don't want to get too far into this here, but I do want to state that I value this form of anonymity aesthetically, philosophically and ethically (and probably in that order).  And one of the things that I've liked about the internets is that it has extended and invigorated this kind of ambiguity. There are people who I don't just consider friends, but who I really care about who I interact with primarily on the internet.  They are anonymous in the sense that I don't really know them apart from a certain very limited context and they are not integrated into a community in which my total life is more or less lived as in the pre-urban life

Now, they are not strictu sensu anonymous because they have names --- sometimes these names are their actual names (their actual El Guapos?), sometimes they are some online pseudonyms (like Ideas Man, Phd., but in either case these names function more in the sense of "faces" in the sense Blanchot is imagining than as names as statements of identity (on the other hand, see Kundera's discussion of faces in Immortality, which is probably the best novel I've read written about this kind of anonymity).  The notion of the online avatar, that stands in for your presence online, probably gets at this pretty well, though I haven't looked at how they work in enough depth to decide if this is true.

But suffice it to say, this kind of anonymity or pseudonymity is totally different from the utter anonymity that plagues the internet.  This is the sort of anonymity that allows trolling and flaming and other douchy behavior to flourish online.  In my own discipline, Brian Leiter, has probably been the most vocal critic of this kind of anonymity.  And I have to admit that I'm fairly sympathetic to the argument he's made, particularly as it pertains to certain kinds of formal discourse that take place online such as, for example, the extension of academic fora into cyberspace.  Even there I'm probably less sympathetic than he is, for reasons I'll discuss shortly.  When I participate online in this kind of formal discourse, I use my real name (and my full name) (unless there are good reasons not to, as for example, when a sensitive policy - like junior faculty blogging or discrimination against homosexuals at universities --- is being discussed --- and to his credit, Leiter has always been very good at respecting the place for this kind of anonymity) because I link that to my professional life as a member of the academic community.  Let's call this the professional sphere.

On the other extreme, there's the use of one's real name in (genuinely) walled but permanent contexts like emails or  (ostensibly) walled contexts like the facebook.  Originally, the facebook was conceived of as a place to connect with real-life friends online and that's how I originally used it.  In this context, one is free to say all sorts of things one wouldn't say in public discourse because one knows all the addressees.  Sure, that person could go on and forward it, but real networks of trust help us be confident that won't be true and it's not much different than he said/she said gossip in the real world anyway.  Let's call this the private sphere.

But then there's a middle milieu, let's think of this as anonymous public space.  I'm thinking of something analogous to sitting outside at a a cafe --- with your family say, or with friends, or --- to keep this focused on the question I'm most interested in addressing --- with your friends near an academic conference.

Now, when I'm sitting with my friends at a cafe or, to be perfectly honest, more likely a bar at an academic conference, we'll be talking about a lot of things --- we'll be catching up on our personal lives (because we live far apart from one another) or talking about the conference or politics or just shooting the shit.  Now, in that context we're neither fully anonymous nor are we fully professional, nor are we fully private.  And that gives certain freedoms to us that we wouldn't have in other contexts while at the same time putting certain constraints on discourse.  If I'm talking with my friends about a paper we just went to, we will be much less formal and obscene and free-ranging in our comments than we'd be in the Q & A session or in a paper we gave ourselves.  We know that we might be overheard by someone we know --- we know there's a good chance someone who we don't know might overhear us.  That keeps us in line, but it also gives a certain value to the conversation

[Some quick example, I once responded to a paper at an aesthetics conference --- in my response I talked about "palimpsests" and made heavy use of Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus.  While getting coffee, I heard an extremely prominent aesthetics professor praising one of his students' decisions to use examples from child play in her upcoming paper, saying "it's not like we've all read Dr. Faustus." I'm sure he had no idea I was two people behind him in line, but given that we were getting coffee at the hotel's cafe it was entirely possible that I --- or a friend of mine --- was.    Later he told me, "I liked your comment."  I appreciated the feedback and imagine that it was in fact true, but not fully true.  The point is, that we all engage in these quasi-public ramblings.].

[Another example --- I was playing dominos with some people I'd just met at a conference at the hotel bar and started talking with the restaurant owner.  Had a fascinating conversation with him about his great-many-times-removed ancestor who'd been a slave-trader who left the trade to marry one of his slaves and with the bar's pianist who, as it happened grew up about 40 miles from where I did --- and very far from where the conference was.  This later ended up infusing the Q & A session of the paper I gave the next day]

[Final example --- my parents and my aunt and uncle once went out with some of their friends to dinner.  They are prominent in the tiny community of Mormon intellectuals in Utah and were talking about things that would have seemed interesting to the undoubtedly more traditionally Mormon audience in the restaurant.  By the end of the evening the group sitting at an adjacent table had given up any pretense of not eavesdropping and had actually turned their chairs around to face my family's table.  "Let's go," my uncle said. "I think they've heard enough."]

Here's the thing:  I love this quasi-anonymous public space.  To me, that's what Socrates meant by the agora and it's necessary to the vitality of philosophy, even if philosophy is now a respectable academic discipline.  I love being able to be paid to do philosophy and to teach and that means loving the way philosophy is done in the academy (which does not exhaust the ways philosophy can be done), but my first love was (and remains) the agora.

That has something to do with why I started writing this blog and why I wrote write it pseudonymously and why I have covered the range of topics that I have.

My wife and her sisters had blurties that they ran (back when blurty was competing with blog) and I would comment on it as a jokey anonymous guy (they all knew I was the only anonymous person who posted on there with one or two exceptions).

At the time, I thought I'd just post family related stuff on there or the occasional piece I'd written that didn't fit in either with my professional writing or the writing that fit in with my literary ambitions.  I decided not to use my real name for basically the same reason I don't now:  I didn't want the blog to show up if somebody googled my name.  I'm not a narcissist (well I am, but that's irrelevant here) nor am I paranoid (ditto) but I had 3 communities in mind:  1) prospective employers (this is still an issue since I'm part of the growing ranks of full-time, potentially permanent but ineligible for tenure professoriate --- as an aside, it's for us junior faculty that I have some objections to the hard line Leiter and other senior faculty draw against anonymity), 2) students and 3) extended family members.  It wasn't that I cared if any of these groups saw my blog (with the exception of some faculty members), but it was that I didn't want them to be the first face through which they'd see me and I didn't want to imply any connection with my professional life (which is mostly what shows up if you google my name --- I'm assuming I'm not the only one who periodically googles my name).  I knew, and still know, that if anyone who read my blog wanted to they could figure out who I was.  But I didn't think anyone would really bother to.  The blog was intended for family and friends and although I knew other people could find it, I doubted that they would care enough to know who I was --- sort of like the group eavesdropping on my parents' dinner conversations.

The reason that I chose the pseudonym I did wasn't meant to be pretentious.  It was meant to be a joke.  It went back to when Ideas Woman, Esq.  and I were both in grad school and we talked about all the "fantastic" ideas that we had --- like a taco shop in Bryn Mawr --- that we'd never get around to doing anything about that.  So we thought we should start an "Ideas Company" where we'd post great ideas and someone else would do the hard work of doing them.  And you know how if you go to the philosophy section of the bookstore, all the books are written by actual PhDs but none of them list "PhD" in the author on the cover, but if you go to the self-help section of a bookstore everyone there writes"PhD" on the cover of their book even if it's just from a PhD. mill --- I'm looking at you John Gray, PhD.  That's where the PhD came from (let me clarify, that's where Ideas Man's PhD came from --- my real life PhD is real and from an actual accredited school --- otherwise I wasted 6 years of my life and killed a lot of trees for notion.  That is arguably still the case).

Gradually, as I started using the blog to reconnect with friends I had from graduate school, more of my posts became influenced by philosophy or philosophically related matters.  They were an extension of the way that I would do philosophy at a cafe or bar or in the agora, not the way I'd do it in a professional article or at the lectern before colleagues or students.  And that's still basically true, although I have published the occasional rough draft (but even here it's of more experimental things).

The people I interacted with on my blog grew: from family to include friends, some of whom I became much better friends through our online interactions than I was before them.  When I started using the facebook, the community of the blog grew bigger.  At one point I started posting some very serious posts about my history as a Mormon, and I got a fairly positive reaction to them.  Dr. J in particular encouraged me to consider making them more widely available and, because I've always been interested in succeeding as a writer, I started to consider that more seriously.

This remains a personal blog, or a blog that takes place in the public space of the agora, but as the Internet Agora has grown, what that means has changed a lot.  I've submitted my first e-book to Kindle and will be posting a link to it as soon as it's published there.  I hope you'll all shell out a buck for it and then I'll be rich (if rich is defined as making 10 or 11 bucks).

I've also become very interested in e-publishing and a friend of mine and I are working on launching a media company that we hope will help to democratize quality publishing.  What is it Like to Be A Glenn Beck is one part of this push, which I'm working on with some of my philosophy friends here in Toledo.  And it will be fantastic.  And as soon as the website is up and running I'll link to it and you should all contribute.

In all of these ways, the "public" space has expanded and I've engaged in projects that get closer to being "professional,"  At the same time, I still like to write juvenile, humorous pieces and the occasional more literary but non-professional piece.

Since then, I've had two troll experiences, and the last one has given me the most pause.  The first guy I think misunderstood my joke and actually had a minor point (I was being a bit of a douche).  The second guy is clearly off his/her/its rocker.  People have pointed out that it probably isn't a student.  And even if it were a student I would make it clear that any interaction here had nothing to do with the professor/student relationship (sort of like when I awkwardly ran into a student who was working as the bouncer at a reputable bar we'd gone to).  The thing is, I'm worried for how this kind of behavior infringes on student academic freedom as much as the academic freedom of junior faculty (even when students use it in such unsurprisingly brainless ways).

So it has given me pause.  As I've mentioned, who I am is no secret, but I've used psuedonymity to delimit a boundary.  It's pretty clear that they evolution of social media means that boundary is going to partially breakdown.  And I'm basically ok with that, but I am worried that it'll make it harder not just for me, but for everyone to negotiate this middle not quite private not quite professional ground where a lot of interesting and fantastic stuff can happen.

But I know a lot of people who won't participate.  I know a lot of junior (and senior) faculty who are unwilling to engage in the fora of social media or blogs or wikis for fear of what it'll do to their professional career, particularly their shot at getting tenure.  I find it mostly ironic, but also very sad, that the thing that was developed to guarantee academic freedom is now getting in the way of academic freedom (is even as it becomes an increasingly remote possibility for many of us).  And I am genuinely worried that, because the public fora of social media won't go away, if interesting and intelligent academics stay out of them they will evolve in a stupid way, when they could represent a way to re-inject intellectual inquiry into public life.

So what's the solution?  Are the people who use anonymity as a cloak for abuse (and we've only touched on the surface of all the ways its going to be abused, many of which are much more serious)?  We talk about democratizing information, but to my mind one of the real promises of the internet is an increasingly robust social space.  But it's still the case that there are powerful threats that can destroy that social space...

Does this make any sense?
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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Breaking News: Glenn Beck's Dungeons and Dragons Character discovered!

Glenn Beck's Christmas Road ShowImage by The Rocketeer via Flickr
Team Knowledge (TM) has been hard at work gathering knowledge.

Team knowledge is:  Ideas Man, Hypatia's Girl, Matt, Jacob and Ben.

What have they found?  Glenn Beck's Dungeons and Dragon's character in the game he plays regularly with the rest of the Fox News Crew.

I present it without further ado:


Above: Glenn Beck enacting King Reaganor's Greatest Spell




Biography


King Reaganor was not born as a king. He was born into poverty and pulled himself up by his sandalstraps. He was born in Swedonia, where the beautiful race of White Elves had been conquered by Bobama, the evil troll from Kenyadonia. He had imposed a socialist-communist-fascist-dictatorial monarchy and killed Santa, the High Duke of Christmas. Reaganor was the child of Bristol Paladin, the fair virgin who was rightful queen by birth of Swedonia. It was prophesied by the Good Witch Ann of Coulteria that young Reaganor would lead the true White Elves to a New Kingdom.

King Reaganor was apprenticed to the wizard Colon Pow. After teaching Reaganor all he knew, Colon Pow fell under a dark, black spell cast by Bobama, who betrayed Lady Paladin. Reaganor used the Tablet of the Original Constitution to summon the Invisible Hand™ of the Founding Fathers, who came forth to lead the White Elves out of slavery and resurrect Santa. Benjamin Franklin gave him the power of lightening, which he used to short-circuit the Liberal Media (in August of 2003). George Washington gave him the Mythical Ax which he used to smite the waters of the Potomac and part them in two (thereby watering the Tree of Liberty). Thomas Jefferson gave him the Plow of Liberty, with which he built a new agrarian democracy around the mythical plantation Freedonia. Paul Revere gave him his trusty steed, Paul Revere (the horse), and he mounted Paul Revere (the horse) and rode him into battle.

The true White Elves had maintained the true religion of the Teabag ceremony while in slavery to the secularism of Bobama's Liberaltopia. "Let my people go!" yelled Reaganor as he mounted Paul Revere (the horse) in the driving rain. He rode him hard, across the Potomac without getting wet. He found the mythic Wood Teeth of Liberty and put them in his mouth. "Let my people go!" he cried again.

The true White Elves, who had maintained the true religion, threw off their chains and took the sacks of gold they'd been hiding from the evil dwarf John Stewartschmidtsteinbergergoldfarbowitz, who ran the Bank of Bobama, and they marched forth. Colon Pow met the people at the banks of the Potomac and cast the spell of False Trust with his vial of white anthraxia. But the White Elves could not be turned back. Reaganor called on the mighty warrior William Boykinor to invoke his god, whose God was way stronger than the God of liberal secular atheist Swedonia (Gay Allah). Gay Allah was swiftly thrown down.

Reaganor led the White Elves across the Potomac, where he met the fair Queen Sarah of Palinor, who was imprisoned by the Chastity Belt of Margaret Sanger. But Reaganor had the Key of Personal Responsibility. He dismounted Paul Revere (the horse) and thrust the key into her belt. She was freed, and so she married him on the spot. As babies poured from her loins, the Milk of Untaxed Prosperity flowed abundantly from her heroic bosom.

And thus began the reign of Reaganor, founder of America, who did it all by himself with no help and certainly no ghostwriter.


This will be included in our forthcoming collection What is It Like to Be a Glenn Beck? Please send other essays and suggestions how to improve his character sheet to us.





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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Work In Progress: In Which Ideas Man Pretends to be An Analytic Philosopher (Revealing in the Process How Little He Knows About Analytic Philosophy)


Invitation

I am inviting you to play a game with me called Blueprint.  Reading the previous sentence will have been construed as your tacit acceptance of my invitation.  But then, I suspect that you've already been playing Blueprint, though you might have called it something else and you may have not been playing it with me.  I am happy that that has changed and will do what I can to make it worth it to play with me.

Perhaps I should mention something else.  If you are playing Blueprint with me, it means that you have also already been engaged in another game.  I will call this game Sentience.  To play Sentience, it is necessary that you have a sensorimotor system.  It is unclear whether this is sufficient.  It is probably true that this is not enough to play Blueprint, but it is certainly a minimum requirement.  And because you are already playing Blueprint, you must have a sensorimotor system.  Let me be the first to congratulate you.

Here is a quick word about the relationship between Blueprint and Sentience.  The rules of the game in both Blueprint and Sentience are initially identical, though both can change.  In Sentience, the rules of the game are always implicit.  In Blueprint, the rules of the game can become explicit, although they are not always called "rules."  Moreover, sometimes the rules described in Blueprint are really rules in Sentience.  Sometimes they are rules in Blueprint.  Sometimes they are rules in both games.  It is not always clear which is which.



Modeling

This requires a brief clarification of why I am calling this game Blueprint, which will also require a brief word about modelling.  An initial hypothesis about Blueprint might be that Blueprint models Sentience.  Because people often confuse the game of Sentience with the game of Being, another initial hypothesis about Blueprint might be that Blueprint models Being or, if you prefer, Reality.  When you model something, you stand outside of the thing that you model. And you create something that, despite some fundamental difference from the thing being modeled, you can assert to have an isomorphic relationship to the thing being modeled.  The extent to which you are warranted in making that assertion depends on a variety of factors.  Two that are particularly worth pointing out are: credit and technology.  I'm not quite ready to explain what these factors mean, but let me give you an example.  In the early 21st century, Frank Gehry is warranted in drawing a free-form sketch and asserting that it will bear an isomorphic relation to the building he is being commissioned to design.  On the other hand when Filippo Brunelleschi modeled the dome for Florence's Duomo, it was necessary that he first work out the engineering problems required for it to work before he was warranted in asserting this isomorphic relation.

I will return to this example later, but first we need to consider the weird sort of model Blueprint is.  Whether we end up connecting Blueprint to Sentience, to Being or to Reality, we run into the ancient problem of the relationship between part and whole, which fundamentally alters the conceptual relationship between model and thing being modeled.  In models that are a part of the thing being modeled, the model cannot be seen as being separate from the thing being modeled.  This does not make the model impossible, as anyone who has seen a model of the solar system knows.  But it does force us to make the abstraction inherent in asserting an isomorphic relationship between the model and the thing being modeled to the foreground.  A model that is part of the thing being modeled must select specific discernible attributes to "represent." --- In the case of the solar-system model this might be relative size, basic color, orbital paths and maybe even relative motion but not, for example, material composition, energy emitted or atmospheric changes.  Compare how this kind of model works to the way that, for example, a model models a line of clothing a designer would like you to wear.

We could continue with these problems for some time.  We have already touched on some of the most thorny aspects that have been brought up in the 2400 year length of that version of the game blueprint that goes by the name Metaphysics.

How to Play:  First Explicit Pass

So let's start over, bearing in mind (as we'll see soon enough) that starting over by no means erases the old moves that have already been made.

0.  Blueprint begins at what I will call the null-point.

1.  To play Blueprint it is necessary to have a sensorimotor system.

2.  The primary move in Blueprint consists in making names.

2A.  Some names describe sensory input.  This need not be all that they do.

2B.  Some names prescribe motorial actions.  This need not be all that they do.

2C.  Some names appear to do neither.  It may be that in fact they do one or the other, or both, but this does not need to be decided yet.

2D.  For the sake of convenience, we will call whatever action names do "naming."

For the sake of clarity, we will imagine that each of these moves moves us away from the null-point.

3.  It is necessary to play Blueprint with someone else.


3A.  Blueprint can in principle be played with any player of Sentience.

3B.  A player of Blueprint must invite a player of Sentience to play Blueprint with them.

3C.  One player invites another player to play by making a move.  Once that move is comprehended, the game has begun.

3C1.  The player who invites the other player does so by trying to reenact the sensory input or motorial action the that the name originally named.

3C2.  There will always be a partial gap between the original name and the repetition of the name.

A brief note:  astute readers will notice that if rule 3 is enforced, then there can be no "original" name before the invitation.  This means that the repetition of the name will in fact be the initial move.  A good deal more could be said about this problem.  Some of the confusion that this no doubt evinces will be cleared up by later rules.  Unfortunately, more confusion will no doubt ensue.

3C3.  What constitutes comprehension must itself be negotiated.  It is up to the players who are involved to determine the conditions that satisfy the negatiations.

        2C1.  I forgot to mention that another kind of naming is called negotiating.  For now, we'll say that this kind of name prescribes norms.  It is unclear whether or not norms are motorial actions.

3D.  Once one or more players are playing Blueprint together then all rules and names involved in the game are in principle enforced.  At is at this point, that we can say that the game of Blueprint has properly begun.


4A.  New moves in a game of Blueprint can be made on the basis of earlier moves.

For the sake of clarity, we will imagine that these moves move away from the previous move.  So that it does not appear that these moves can move us back to the null point, we will imagine each successive move as moving upwards.  Consequently, we will imagine Blueprint (for now) as a three-dimensional model.

4B.  New moves in a game of Blueprint can also be made on the basis of the null-point.

As described up to this point, it appears that we will have to imagine these rules as moving out from the null point at a diagonal line that can be imagined as changing the values of the x, y and z axes.  It is unclear whether or not any of these axes other than the z axis has an significance.

4C.  New moves in a game of Blueprint can give rise to new kinds of names.

4CA. For example, new moves can result it in a new kind of naming that I will call predication.  Predication involves connecting two names up to one another.

4CA1.  Predication gives rise to a fundamentally new intergame interpretive problem, which I will call ambiguity.  This seems to be a problem that has to do with how we describe the game that we are playing, the game that I am calling Blueprint.  Given the way the game has been described thus far, would it be better to imagine predication as moving between two already established names or to imagine predication as moving from both names to some third name.  Let's call the first interpretation analytic and say that it asserts an identity between the two names.  Let's call the second interpretation synthetic and say that it posits a relation between the two names.  Lest I be forced to choose prematurely which interpretation is "better" (without yet having even established what better would mean), let's imagine movements of predication taking place along a 4th axis, lets call it the w- axis.  It might be that the kind of sensorimotor equipment we happen to have has made it difficult for us to imagine this sort of move.  That is unfortunate.

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