All posts filed under: Features

Religions, Nations, and Other Useful Fictions

In the age of Neo-Darwinian synthesis between natural selection and Mendelian genetics, it appears increasingly impossible to give credence to any idea metaphysical, spiritual, or religious. The dualism of Rene Descartes—a world reduced to machinery and a separate soul, to “measure and number” combined with Christian theology—was the origin of our modern worldview. But it has been entirely exorcised, emptied of soul and Christianity, respecting only the machine underneath. It has become common sense to consider the human subject as little more than a machine, or a computer. Subjectivity itself is a curse, expelled by theories in the philosophy of mind such as Daniel Dennett’s inclination to consider consciousness itself “an illusion.” Sam Harris has said that “consciousness is the only thing that cannot possibly be an illusion.” Harris is right, but Dennett understands more clearly the stakes for materialist philosophy. As the world grows more mechanical, religious inclination is produced from the merciless rack of empiricism and positivism. New ways of contextualizing religious belief have emerged from the tradition of Christian existentialism, which dates …

Is There Anybody In There?—Derek Parfit’s Criticism of the Self

Dedicated to the Memory of Connor O’Callaghan The recent passing of a very good friend of mine, to whom this article is dedicated, has prompted me to reflect more deeply on certain philosophical questions about who were are and what really matters. Few contemporary philosophers have done more to challenge conventional answers to such questions than Derek Parfit, who tragically passed away on January 1, 2017. Though his work was not as widely known by the general public as other intellectual luminaries, his brilliant philosophical insights and imagination deserve a wider audience. This article on Parfit’s criticism of the self and personal identity is intended to make a small contribution to that goal. Parfit’s work divided into two related set of concerns. Firstly, Parfit was concerned with the perplexing question of the self and personal identity. Do we have self? If so, what is it? Does the self possess any value? And so on. His philosophical examination of these issues were presented in seminal works such as his 1971 paper “Personal Identity” and his now …

The Decline of the Humanities and What To Do About It

It is edifying to note that recent data published by the National Association of Scholars shows Democrats outnumber Republicans at elite liberal arts universities in the United States by a ratio of 43:1 within Sociology. So intellectual homogeneity is clearly a major issue in the United States, and it is also safe to infer that similar left/right voting patterns are present in the Humanities departments at Australia’s top universities—though data has traditionally been hard to collect. Some academics choose to play down the significance of this, pointing to correlative data regarding education levels and interests, the thought being that this is somehow a suitable excuse for an atrophied attention to foundational subject matter. These problems run deep in the field of sociology. Assessing the genesis of these problems requires a broad historical background understanding, because sociology stands at the nexus of the social sciences and the humanities. The earliest sociologists were usually classed as philosophers. This was because they were theorists interested in drawing out generalisations about the human condition, with a practical/analytical bent—see for …

Who Is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems?

On July 9, the Root published an article by Michael Harriot entitled “As Haiti Burns, Never Forget: White People Did That.” Obviously, Harriot is not claiming that a mob of white arsonists and rioters descended on Haiti. Although he is never entirely explicit about what he means by “did that,” a fair-minded summary of his hypothesis would read: “The historical actions of France (and the US) are the cause of modern Haitian poverty and thus riots in 2018.” As riots erupt in Haiti, never forget that the country's extreme poverty and problems were caused by white people: https://t.co/M8PUTNHjPj pic.twitter.com/wHI5c8qRtE — The Root (@TheRoot) July 9, 2018 Specifically, Harriot attributes this poverty to an odious agreement foisted upon Haiti in 1825 by the French, which required Haiti to pay ‘reparations’ to France for lost property after Haitian slaves heroically won their independence in 1804—the lost ‘property’ in question was the Haitian slaves themselves. His complaints about the United States are less clear, but they essentially involve the US turning a blind eye to French abuse. Harriot is not …

The Death of the Author and the End of Empathy

In 2015, President Obama described the Nation as “more than a magazine—it’s a crucible of ideas.” If it was ever entitled to this descriptor, it isn’t anymore. Academic identity politics may be importing an obsession with phantom victimhood into the business world and the media, but The Nation’s editors are now taking aim at language itself, reducing the complexity of human communication to a primitive understanding of words. In late July, the magazine’s poetry editors issued a groveling apology for a poem they had published earlier that month. “How-To,” by Anders Carlson-Wee, was an ironic critique of social hierarchies, couched as a manual for successful panhandling: “If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,/say you’re pregnant,” the poem opened. It went on to suggest begging gambits for other presumed outsider groups, including the handicapped: “If you’re crippled don’t/flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough/Christians to notice.” The poem, in its entirety, reads as follows: If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl, say you’re pregnant—nobody gonna lower themselves to listen …

Cultural Appropriation and the Children of ‘Shōgun’

This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the completion of James Clavell’s epic Asian Saga—six novels, totaling 6,240 pages in paperback, published between 1962 and 1993. The high point of the saga was the publication in 1975 of Shōgun. Set in the year 1600, it chronicles the exploits—nautical, martial, political, and erotic—of John Blackthorne, a British seaman who finds himself shipwrecked in feudal Japan along with a few other survivors of the Erasmus, a Dutch pirate ship he helped pilot. By order of publication, Shōgun is the third book of the series, but by internal chronology it is the first. It is also, far and away, the most commercially successful book in the series. By 1980 it had sold more than 6 million copies and become the source of one of the most successful TV miniseries in history. It was preceded by King Rat (1962) and Tai-Pan (1966). It was followed by Noble House (1981), Whirlwind (1986) and Gai–Jin (1993). Grady Hendrix’s 2017 book Paperbacks From Hell admirably chronicles the way that a single novel—Ira Levin’s …

“Liberals Have Compromised on Their Own Values”: An Interview with Ali A. Rizvi

The Pakistani-Canadian writer Ali Rizvi is a fierce critic of Islam, the religion in which he grew up. But unlike many other critics who maintain that Islam is inherently incapable of modernization, and that the Muslim world is sliding ever further into backwardness and fundamentalism, Rizvi is refreshingly optimistic about the future. The seed of a new Enlightenment has been planted in the Arabic world, he told me in Antwerp, and there’s no way to eradicate it. In his book The Atheist Muslim, Rizvi speaks directly to the many closeted atheists, agnostics, and secularists in the Muslim world. These people are obliged by the societies in which they live to present themselves outwardly as Muslims, but in private, they harbor different ideas. Rizvi’s book is often polemical in tone, but also humane and sympathetic to the plight of Muslims around the world. He is keenly aware of the consolations which faith provide to some, and he never stoops to condescension. If Rizvi is right, freethinkers in the Muslim world are more numerous than most of us suspect. Not only are their numbers growing, but …

Unmaking Affirmative Action

On July 3, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama approach to race-based college admissions. This returns the U.S. to the philosophy of George W. Bush’s White House, which argued that race should not be a significant factor. The Trump initiative may have no immediate impact since the Supreme Court upheld race-based admissions policies in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin in 2016. But an impact is surely coming. Consider that Justice Scalia died before he could vote against affirmative action in the Fisher case. Now Justice Kennedy is retiring and Trump’s Supreme Court will certainly tilt against the policy with dissenters like Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito. Previously, Justice Thomas asserted that, “a State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.” And Justice Roberts is on record as saying that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” The end of affirmative action is a horrifying prospect for many liberals, but it may better reflect …

I Was a Female Incel

Author’s Note: I have chosen to publish this essay under a pseudonym to preserve my anonymity and the anonymity of others mentioned in my story. I respectfully ask anyone who believes they can identify me from what follows to respect my request for privacy.   The terror revealed itself to me in smatterings; bits and pieces of fragmented information communicated in broken English by immigrant factory workers: Van ran over a curb on Yonge Street. Many dead. As I sat amongst the ubiquitous iPhone screens on the TTC, a sea of constantly-refreshing social media feeds and angry red breaking news headlines screaming out from anodyne weekday newscasts, I grasped the reality of the psychological trauma inflicted by terrorist attacks. These were the same images we had seen dozens of times over, in sports stadiums, in concert halls, in city squares: a sea of carnage, a pile of mutilated bodies lying with their clothes torn and their limbs akimbo; a smashed vehicle, an angry sore thumb of burnt rubber and twisted metal; hysterical citizens, legions of …

Is Service-Learning a Disservice to Philosophy?

Karl Marx once groused that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” He might have been pleased to learn that some philosophers now teach, and advocate for, courses that contain significant activist elements. Pedagogy that includes service projects outside the classroom are often denominated “service-learning.” One variation currently being piloted, “Engaged Philosophy,” gives students autonomy over planning, implementing, and writing about a service project of their choice.1 The Engaged Philosophy website showcases successful projects. For example: Vanessa made crafts and sold them to raise money for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She also collected scarves for the homeless and tied them around trees in downtown Minneapolis. Two students worked with local Starbucks managers to get their coffee shops to compost and have clearer recycling signs. Two students brought dogs from a local shelter, Indigo Rescue, to campus during midterms to help students relieve stress. They also collected money for the shelter and raised awareness about dog adoption. Although service-learning has yet to become mainstream …