Engage: Conversations in Philosophy
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Leftist Faith: Kolakowski on Religious Feeling at the End of Days
Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski passed away last week. I've never been familiar with his work, but Margaret Soltan writes a very thoughtful memorial about him. She respects him for being a leftist who found a place for religious feeling toward the end of his life. However, it was not some desperate grab for a foundation in life or a calculated bet to win rewards in the afterlife a la Pascal. Instead, Kolakowski simply recognized a sense of mystery and awe about the complexities of life that don't seem to be reduced to a set of philosophical propositions or explainable according to biology or physics:
"People - and by no means professional philosophers only - often have experiences which they describe as astonishment at the fact of existence, awe in the face of 'Nothingness', apprehension of the unreality of the world or the feeling that whatever is impermanent must be accounted for by what is indestructible. Experiences of this kind are not mystical in the strict sense, i.e., not events people interpret as direct encounters with God. They might rather be described as a strong feeling that in the fact of being and of not being - in this very fact and not only in the experiencing person's existence - there is something unobvious, alarming, puzzling, queer, astounding, something which defies all the ordinary, daily norms of understanding. Such feelings cannot be and need not be converted into scientific 'problems'; they are expressed, more or less clumsily, as metaphysical riddles. There is in them no stuff for 'proving' anything if 'to prove' retains the sense it usually has in scientific procedures. Indeed, inserted as links into a chain of reasoning they usually look poor and unconvincing. Yet it is astonishingly foolish to dismiss them, as empiricists often do, as errors generated by the wrong usage of words or subject to explanation as an abuse of semantic standards."
Friday, July 17, 2009
John Woo Gets Punked: Should Nonviolent Protest ever be Mean?
Via this exciting new blog, Waging Nonviolence, a video from an Australian comedy group confronting Bush Administration torture apologist John Yoo in his class at Berkeley. My favorite part comes when the protester is asked to leave by administration and he says he is going to go to the human rights class down the hall.
Eric Stoner, the blog author, writes that such protests, confronting officials and ridiculing them, make him uncomfortable and can seem unproductive. Is it perhaps because they seem mean-spirited or disrespectful?
Gandhi believed that nonviolence should be done with a spirit of charity and King with a spirit of love and respect for the other who might be doing wrong.
Is ridicule an appropriate form of social criticism/protest?
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Should 39th Become Cesar Chavez Blvd in Portland? Interview on the Mark and Dave show (1190 KEX AM)
(Cesar Chavez Street in Austin, Texas. By Larry Miller via Flickr)
I was interviewed on the Mark and Dave Show on 1190 KEX Am News radio yesterday about the legacy of Cesar Chavez. You can listen in here (the show plays during rush hour from 4-7pm. My interview is during the last hour, about 3/4 of the way through the podcast)
Yesterday, the Portland City Council voted to rename 39th Avenue after Cesar Chavez. Seems like there is a very big political controversy over this. For the past few years, the City Council has made missteps in trying to get a street named for Chavez, angering various groups in the process.
As I said in the interview, I think its appropriate that a major city on the West Coast do something to honor Chavez (especially considering how much agriculture is part of the Oregon economy!) I don't really have an opinion as to whether a street is the best way to do that.
What I think is unfortunate is how the issue of the street becomes one of recognizing Latino/a contributions to the city ( some of the mayor's remarks suggest that this is a way of honoring Latino/a history in Portland). This reinforces the idea that Chavez was an ethnic leader most of all. Chavez always pointed out that the farmworker movement, and the United Farm Workers in particular, was multi-racial. In fact, the first big strike by the farmworkers was organized by Mexican and Filipino workers (led by Larry Itilong). Here is Itilong, alongside United Auto Worker labor leader Walter Reuther, and Chavez:
Personally, I think it would be great if Portland had a public school named after Chavez. Maybe one of the Portland Community College branches? How about a work center for day laborers in NE so they they could have a place to meet, instead of having to stand around the street corners off Burnside? Maybe one that could offer legal advice, provide child care, and even English classes for free? Something that could make a real tangible difference in the quality of worker's lives would truly honor Chavez's legacy.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Guerilla Philosophy: Is there room for philosophical graffiti?
The London Underground drivers are exposing commuters to philosophical thoughts ranging from Sartre to Gandhi (presumably over the speakers?). Here some philosophers and politicians share what aphorisms they would like to hear.
This made me think of what it would be like to do guerilla philosophy--graffiti with a philosophical twist, spread out across public spaces. Such graffiti is common in Latin America (Eduardo Galeano is good at collecting this "street wisdom." He has said: "The walls are the publishers of the poor".)
(Translation: Poverty is a time bomb)
Anyway, here is my selection for a philosophical nugget in the public sphere:
"With individuals, as with nations, respect for the rights of others means peace"
(Photo by Guillermo Campos via Flickr. Street art in Coyoacan, Mexico)