Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Why Cesar Chavez is Relevant Today

Podcast of an interview with me on Santa Fe Public Radio.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Best Description of a Philosopher Ever

"The jester makes jokes, he ridicules. But if his ridicule is based on sound ideas and thinking, then he can proceed to the second stage; he becomes a philosopher. And if he does these things with dazzling language then he becomes a poet too."

--George Carlin


New Philosopher's Carnival

is here!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ten Ideas that Changed History

Can't argue with the list (which includes heavy hitters such as Plato, Wollstonecraft, Descartes, Marx, and Freud).

Of course, I would have added something along the lines of Locke and the idea of "rights" and the "social contract"--in general, the revolutionary view, at least in terms of the history of political philosophy, that the primary purpose of the state is to promote the general welfare of its citizens.

Anything else that should have been on the list?

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Philosophy Talk is the Cure; Society is the Disease

A nice article in the LA Times about the nationally sydicated radio program, Philosophy Talk.

One of its hosts, Ken Taylor, comments on the improbability of a philosophy talk radio show making it, despite the hunger there is among some for intelligent public discussion:

"I think that our culture, our public discourse especially, is utterly debased. . . . It's meant to manipulate rather than enlighten and inform. . . . It's a disease that we've caught. Philosophy is one elixir, one magical elixir for helping to cure that disease."

That's my hope as well, though I suppose it depends on how we understand "philosophy". Is it a set of tools of rational and critical thinking? Or does doing philosophy mean understanding and thinking about a set of problems typically defined by the traditions of philosophers?

What should philosophy try to do in the public sphere?


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are "Human" Rights Discriminatory? Great Apes and Us

Peter Singer congratulates the Spanish parliament for endorsing the idea that great apes, such as chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans, deserve rights of life, liberty and protection from human torture and slavery. Great apes, according to Singer, should only be in captivity for purposes of conservation since they have rich intellectual and emotional lives on par with humans.

Do the great apes deserve the protection and consideration usually given to human beings through international human rights law?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Only Diet for a Peacemaker is Vegetarian

Sometimes in my Peace Studies class, students embrace pacifism as a kind of political philosophy, but they reject it as a personal belief system. That is, they think pacifism should be the norm for nations and that there should be no war, but they think that physical violence is sometimes necessary on a personal level. Namely, they want to reserve the right to protect themselves or loved ones in self defense. Some people argue that this is contradictory--if pacifism is an ethical doctrine, then it must apply universally to all people and situations in which aggression presents itself. See this for arguments about possible contradictions in pacifism.

John Dear presents another perplexing issue. He maintains that to be an authentic and effective peacemaker, someone dedicated to the activism of nonviolence, requires a vegetarian diet.

The production, processing, and consumption of animal protein is environmentally unsustainable and unhealthy, Dear says, and he presents various images of peace and nonviolence from Biblical sources to suggest that vegetarianism is a world view best suited to bringing peace to the world.

Is it contradictory to be a nonviolent activist and be a meat-eater?

Here is a video of Cesar Chavez suggesting that it might be:

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Cesar Chavez Book Tour: I spend my summers talking about Nonviolence, too

This past weekend marked the beginning of public readings for my book Cesar Chavez and the Common Sense of Nonviolence (UNM Press 2008). You can find out some of the information about the book and the readings in New Mexico here.

Here's a picture of the book signing at Bookworks in Albuquerque's North Valley:

I was honored by a visit from Mark Rudd at the reading:

Now to get on Oprah and Jon Stewart!

(Photos courtesy of Marta Kunecka)

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Summer is Spent Talking about Torture

I just finished attending the annual conference of the Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World (SPCW) here in the awesome beauty of the Rocky Mountains. I listened to several great papers on a variety of topics and we ended with a lively discussion about the agency of military interrogators and ways in which torture practices might affect the notion of self of interrogators and captives. The paper was written by Dillon Emerick. Its part of a larger project calledThe Ethics of Torture, co-authored by Dillion with an old grad school friend of mine, Jeremy Wisnewski. You can read a draft essay of his about why torture practices might be something we want to avoid because they would undermine certain commitments we have to an understanding of ourselves as moral agents.

Some of these works made me think about this video on the Vanity Fair website. Christopher Hitchens allowed himself to be waterboarded and the proceeding was videotaped. He lasted less than a couple of minutes and found the experience to be absolutely dreadful. You can read his account of the experience here.

Its one thing to think about what survivors of these "aggressive interrogation" practices must undergo. Another concern I have is with the people who practice these techniques. Who are these men with the masks who tortured Hitchens? What is it like to be a person whose knowledge includes practices such as these--practices which can reduce other human beings to sobbing animals? What does it mean to be a "professional" in these arts?

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Anatomy of the Dirty Joke

I've posted about the power relationships expressed by sexist jokes before. Now Jim Holt helps to understand what makes a dirty joke funny.

Holt offer three models for analysis:

1) Freudian theory--this holds that a dirty joke is funny because it allows us to release, through our laughter, a little bit of the repressed libidinal energy we have caged up. A dirty joke is like a safety valve. (However, Holt seems to think this theory is not very sound. If it were true, then the most sexually repressed people would be the ones who "got" and loved dirty jokes the most. This is not often the case in his experience)

2) "superiority theory"--offered up by Plato, Hobbes, and Henri Bergson, this holds that laughter is a way at expressing superiority over others, or derision toward them. It explans why some people find sexist or racist jokes funny.

3) "incongruity theory"--offered up by Pascal, Kant, and Schopenhauer, this holds that laughter registers when the normal and ordinary gives way to something absurd. ("Do you believe in clubs for children?" W.C. Fields replied: "Only when kindness fails.") This one, for me, explains the humor of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert; they show us how absurd poltics really is today.

Dirty jokes have been with us forever it seems, but Holt does see hopes of something like progress in dirty joke telling, moving us from filthiness to an appreciation of the absurd.

Is there a place for dirty jokes or is such humor simply low brow and demeaning (of both the joker and the audience)?


Friday, July 04, 2008

Thoughts on Independence Day: Are Frederick Douglass's Words Mere History?

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