Monday, August 31, 2009
3 Quarks Daily Prize in Philosophy
September 22, 2009, NOTE: The winners have been announced here.
September 11, 2009, NOTE: The list of nine finalists can be seen here.
September 8, 2009, NOTE: The list of twenty semifinalists can be seen here.
Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,
In May of this year we announced that we would start awarding four prizes every year for the best blog writing in the areas of science, philosophy, politics, and arts & literature. We awarded the science prizes, judged by Professor Steven Pinker, on June 21st. We have decided to do the prize in philosophy next, and here's how it will work: we are now accepting nominations for the best blog post in philosophy. After the nominating period is over, there will be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this period, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main daily editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add upto three wildcard entries of their choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Professor Daniel C. Dennett, who, we are very pleased, has agreed to be the final judge. Professor Dennett will also write a short comment on each of the winning entries.
The first place award, called the "Top Quark," will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the "Strange Quark," will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the "Charm Quark," along with a two hundred dollar prize.
* * *
(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS feed.
* * *
- The nominating process is hereby declared open. Please nominate your favorite blog entry in the field of philosophy by placing the URL for the blogpost (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win.
- Entries must be in English.
- The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
- The blog entry may not be more than a year old from today. In other words, it must have been written after August 23, 2008.
- You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
- Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
- You may also comment here on our prizes themselves, of course!
August 31, 2009
- The nominating process will end at 11:59 PM (NYC time) of this date, so there is only a week to submit nominations.
- The public voting will be opened immediately afterwards.
September 7, 2009
- Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).
September 22, 2009
- The winners are announced.
One Final and Important Request
If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material, and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.
Best of luck and thanks for your attention!
Lunar Refractions: Repetition and Remains [part IV]
This text, which appears on 3QD as the last of a four-part post, was begun as a musing on the theme of series and repetitions in modern and contemporary art inspired by a challenge issued by an art historian colleague of mine. For the previous posts—considerations of the work of Wade Guyton, Frank Stella, and Georges Seurat, respectively—click here, here, and here.
Allan McCollum Allan McCollum
Plaster Surrogates, 1982–1984 The Shapes Project, 2005–2006
Enamel on cast Hydrostone 7,056 framed digital monoprints, 4.25 x 5.5 inches each
Installation: Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, 2006
Conclusion: Once Again, in Other (Perhaps Entirely Unrelated) Words....
We now find ourselves at the end of yet another summer, looking toward yet another autumn, and I’ve yet to bring this wandering tetralogy to a close. Today’s the day. While a neat little conclusion summing up (dare I say repeating?) all that was said of the previous artists’ work might be a nice way to end it, I must confess, dear Reader, that I’m in the mood for neither clarity nor ease. Initially, I’d hoped to trace these many artists’ work in series back to some multiform, manifold re-, which I’d perceived as echoing through the arts—from photography to painting to print to music to mass-produced goods—between the late nineteenth and early twenty-first century. The heat and rains of summer seem to have dampened my springtime ambition, hence I’ve deemed it perfectly permissible to nod at the work of yet another artist dealing with repetition, and then wash it all down with a little list of res.
Allan McCollum (1944–)
The Shapes Project is an ongoing work that uses a system devised by McCollum to produce unique shapes, ultimately creating at least one singular shape for each person on the planet, with no repeats. Because McCollum’s website has more resources and information on this than anywhere else, I’d like to direct you there for a look at the many (aesthetic, social, geographic, computational) intriguing facets of his œuvre. This current project is certainly an elaboration of ideas previously explored in his many other series, including the Surrogate Paintings series of the early eighties and the Individual Works series of the late eighties. Now, aside from the impressive goal of creating more than thirty-one billion (31,000,000,000) unique shapes for each individual on earth as the population of homo sapiens reaches an estimated 8 to 20 billion people (see his site for details on that broad range), he has also made these shapes available to others, in hopes they will put them to various—ideally interesting—uses.
Merely doffing my hat to McCollum’s work, since anything more would serve only to prove that no amount of words could really address such boundless reiterative creativity, I’d like to leave you with a very short and inconsistent list of the first re- words that came to mind; they range from noun to verb, from the obvious to the curious, and I hereby invite you to add to it:
Thanks for reading; previous Lunar Refractions can be found here.
Graham Little. Untitled. 2005.
Colored pencil and gouache on paper.
The American Character (We Voted For Bush, We Voted For Obama, So Who The Heck Are We?)
By Evert Cilliers
Who is the quintessential American character? Honest Abe Lincoln, whose war killed more Americans than Hitler? Founding father Jefferson, who bonked his favorite slave in secret? Jaunty FDR, who betrayed his own class? Preacher MLK, that oddest of American leaders: a fellow driven by morality? Genial Ronald Reagan, a stalwart stooge for the rich? Muhammad Ali, once the most famous American on earth? Or face-shifting Michael Jackson, now the most famous American on earth? Maybe 30 years ago, one or two of them might have qualified. Now it's not so easy to define the American character anymore, what with white people set to become a minority by 2042 and WASP domination shrinking fast as all the Micks and Guineas and Hymies and Wops and Wogs take over from Buzz and Skip and Topsy. Then there's our new melting-pot-in-one-person President Obama, so frightfully un-American that 50 million Americans believe he was born elsewhere. It might just be that all we have left of the American character is a simulacrum from our dream factory. To wit, the Hollywood action hero: the go-it-alone, action-at-all-costs, win-against-all-odds, kill-all-the-bad-guys splat!-bang!-kaboom! individual.
Who is the quintessential American character?
Honest Abe Lincoln, whose war killed more Americans than Hitler? Founding father Jefferson, who bonked his favorite slave in secret? Jaunty FDR, who betrayed his own class? Preacher MLK, that oddest of American leaders: a fellow driven by morality? Genial Ronald Reagan, a stalwart stooge for the rich? Muhammad Ali, once the most famous American on earth? Or face-shifting Michael Jackson, now the most famous American on earth?
Maybe 30 years ago, one or two of them might have qualified. Now it's not so easy to define the American character anymore, what with white people set to become a minority by 2042 and WASP domination shrinking fast as all the Micks and Guineas and Hymies and Wops and Wogs take over from Buzz and Skip and Topsy. Then there's our new melting-pot-in-one-person President Obama, so frightfully un-American that 50 million Americans believe he was born elsewhere.
It might just be that all we have left of the American character is a simulacrum from our dream factory. To wit, the Hollywood action hero: the go-it-alone, action-at-all-costs, win-against-all-odds, kill-all-the-bad-guys splat!-bang!-kaboom! individual.
In the old days, this hero used to be John Wayne: a rock you could trust with every snippet of your viscera. Now it's someone like Bruce Willis -- way more desperate than the unflappable Wayne, without his flinty integrity or mountainous stature, and somewhat less of a man's man.
Does this mean our examples of the essential American character have now sunk celebrity-low? Do we look at cartoon heroes like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vin Diesel or The Rock (their pecs pumped to gazoomba-heft, their vocabulary clipped to snarls and grunts) with nothing more than post-modern irony?
Does an American character exist at all? Are we still different from the rest of the world? Maybe it's time to take stock. Character, after all, is destiny. Or put differently: who have we become?
1. PHILOSOPHICAL BACKBONE
Perhaps there's an answer in the philosophical backbone of the American character. Most everyone agrees that the butt-nekkid pith -- the purest expression of what America is all about -- is this:
THE FREEDOM OF THE INDIVIDUAL.
This is to America what alcohol is to Ireland, or celibacy to a Catholic priest, or legs to a centipede.
Both red-state conservatives and blue-state liberals agree: the American character is someone who is free to do whatever effing freaking fickle fudgesickle thing she or he feels like.
Run for President. Vote against gay marriage. Inflict a Ponzi scheme on charities. Earn gazillions as a ballplayer. Bomb a country to bacon bits and then help it out with a Marshall Plan. Bring down the world's financial system by speculating with credit default swaps. Land a plane safely in the Hudson River.
You name it, we Americans are free to damn well do it, from nation-building to fist-fucking.
Very explicitly defined, our core value still leaves scope for an interpretation that's wider than the grin on a hippopotamus. Because at its core, there is something unexpectedly strange about this concept we have of the freedom of the individual:
IT'S DEVOID OF MORALITY.
In fact, when you go through ANY list by ANYONE about the American character, you NEVER find a moral dimension. Apparently the American character has nothing to do with being good or bad.
2. THIRTEEN ATTRIBUTES OF THE AMERICAN CHARACTER
In the next paragraph is the longest list of American characteristics I found on the internet -- all the thingummies that set us apart from other nations. Notice how not a single one of these thirteen true-bluest American “values” implies any actual morality. Given our penchant for dividing the world into good guys vs bad guys, it's weirder than three udders on a Hereford that we don't stick being-the-good-guys in any description of ourselves. Here's the 13-point list so you can see what you are really like:
1. We Americans control nature, not the other way around. If the air is not to our liking, we condition it. We're not subservient to fate.
2. We believe change is good, otherwise how will we develop, improve, and grow?
3. Time is controllable. In America, we're all on a schedule. We don't like wasting time.
4. We believe we're all equal, with an equal opportunity to succeed. (You could say there's something moral about this belief in equality, but I find it morally neutral -- it merely indicates we shouldn't moralize about ending up unequal, because we're supposed to start equal.)
5. We prize our individualism and privacy. Every American is precious and wonderful, and everybody needs some time to themselves. (Again, one could say this is something moral, but again, I think it's morally neutral. If we were to say we're self-effacingly community-minded, like the Chinese and Japanese are -- now that might be moral.)
6. We Americans create and invent and help ourselves. The self-made individual is a big role model for us.
7. Competition brings out the best in us. Our free enterprise system is based on it.
8. We're future-oriented. We don't live in the past.
9. “Don't just stand there, do something!” We're all about action, not contemplation. We're workaholics.
10. We Americans are casual, informal folk.
11. We prize directness and openness. We're blunt.
12. We like to be practical and efficient. “Will it work?” That's our big pragmatic question.
13. We're materialistic and acquisitive. We like to own a lot of stuff.
This list is almost too complete. Personally I'd condense it into these five points:
1. We believe in the freedom of the individual to do whatever she or he wants.
2. We can do anything. Everything is possible. We are eternally optimistic. Fuck yes, we can.
4. We believe in success, and money, and stuff, and living large -- the reward for working hard.
5. We love all things new.
That's more like it. But again, nothing in it about morality.
3. EIGHT BAD TRAITS IN THE AMERICAN CHARACTER
There's one big problem with this 13-point list, and my own 5-point list, and a list you might want to make yourself.
Namely: these lists are a bit of an idealization, like garnishing a Big Mac with caviar (as one might expect any nation to do: the French, for example, would definitely list their high regard for culture, food and fashion, but would leave out their horrible xenophobia and money-grabbing miserliness).
However, there are some significant real things about the American character that are kinda dark. Here's my own 8-point list of our more wicked ways, which definitely brings up morality rather rudely, like John Hurt birthing an alien from his chest. If you're pretty proud of being an American, you might want to stop reading now.
1. We Americans are violent, with a profound indifference to the death we cause others. Other people's lives just don't mean that much to us. We're kind of backward and primitive in that respect. For example, we have a wonderful Vietnam Monument inscribed with the names of the 55,000 Americans who died over there, but most Americans wouldn't be able to tell you that we snuffed around a million and a half Vietnamese. In Iraq we've been responsible for the deaths of over a million Iraqis, while we've lost a little over 4,000 of our own, whose weekly toll is retailed on George Stephanopoulos's “This Week” every Sunday morning, underscored with solemn music. No such solemnity for the whacked Iraqis. Let's face it, we are a nation of killers -- more to the point, THE nation of killers. Since WW2, we've started over 30 wars. We spend more money on weapons than the rest of the world combined. We have over 700 military bases overseas. Our domestic murder rate is five times the murder rate of the UK. Is it because we have lax gun laws? No. We kill three times more people per capita than the Canadians, who have more guns per capita than we do. So what is it with us? Are we just totally paranoid, or extremely touchy and quick to take offense, or trigger-happy? In love with Thanatos -- the death instinct? Are we the heirs of Keats, as he sang in his Ode to a Nightingale:
“Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy! ”
We've been holding off on executing people, thank heavens, though unlike other Western nations, we're still into it -- heck, our leading death penalty state, Texas, may be hooking up some dude's temples to a Con-Ed outlet even as I write. But with 4% of the world's population, we have 25% of the world's prisoners. We lock up more people than Russia did under communism, or South Africa under apartheid, which means one of two things: we either imprison people for much longer than other nations, or we're just a far more criminal, felonious, violent and wilder bunch than any other nation. Violence is as American as apple-pie, they say. Still, it is as peculiar as nostrils on an octopus that we're the world's leading exporter of violence. Not only in arms, but in games. Our videogames are mostly shoot-'em-ups -- a very sensible, humane occupation for the world's youth to while away their summer hours, don't you think? Our movies afford us a rich fantasy life of killings in many ingenious ways, with bodies leaking blood all over the screen from various punctured moorings. What is it about us Americans and killing? Is it the result of a 'frontier' mentality? Did it start with our cowboys offing the Indians, and we just haven't been able to stop ourselves ever since?
2. We're the filthiest and most wasteful nation on earth. We produce 36% of the world's greenhouse emissions (Britain emits 3%). We throw out 43,000 tons of food a day. The richest self-made woman in the world, Zhang Yin, makes her fortune out of recycling the packaging we throw away into containers for Chinese exports. We use 25% of the planet's energy, even though we're only 4% of the world's population. We consume eight times more energy per person than the average for the rest of the world.
3. We have the greediest elite on the planet, with the most glaring indifference to their fellow Americans. They're probably worse than the elite of Africa and Russia put together. A CEO in America makes 344 to 500 times what the average worker in his company makes (in Europe, it's 22 times, in Japan 17). The implosion of the world's financial system by Wall Street did not affect the millions our financial elite make; in fact, even with bailout money from the American taxpayer, these cheats are still paying themselves millions in bonuses. They could give two shits in a diamond-encrusted bucket for the rest of us.
4. We're incredibly superstitious and irrational. Sometimes I think I must be living in some deep Amazon enclave, amongst a strange tribe of primordial monkey-eating Neanderthals with bizarre creation myths who use their own crap for face cream. Only 42% of us believe in evolution, but 68% believe Satan exists. I don't know how many are certain that the Lord of Hades has a forked tail, or a snake's tongue, or cat's eyes, or scales for skin, or dinosaur ridges down his back, or a dick as big as a French loaf, but there must be millions of them out there. Millions believe in The Rapture, when the world's Christians will float naked up to heaven, and everyone else will be burnt to a flaming turd muffin. 31% of Americans believe in astrology. Millions believe in UFOs; some even think they've stepped inside them where they've been anally probed by long green alien fingers. Just about the entire California believes in the healing power of crystals and god knows what other new-age idiocies. Every now and then America is swept by totally irrational witches-of-Salem-like hysterias. The last one was about child molestation, when many innocent childcare professionals and teachers were accused of abusing children by outraged prosecutors who based their evidence on tall stories elicited from children by crazy child abuse “experts.” Bizarre pieces of evidence -- about satanic rituals in which various kitchen implements were inserted into underage orifices on lonely hilltops at the hour of midnight under the full moon -- were seriously entertained by actual courts. For all I know, there may be a million Americans out there who believe they've cured their cancer by sticking their pinkies in a rose for twenty-four hours.
5. We eat crap. If you live on Big Macs, you will shit your good health out your earholes into the barren dust. In Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me,” he eats McDonald's food for 30 days with dangerous consequences to his sex drive. Our teenagers are turning into obese plumpsters whose thighs are thicker than Yosemite sequoia tree trunks and whose periods arrive at age nine because of all the meat they ingest from cattle injected with hormones to make them grow faster and fatter. And 8% of Americans have diabetes, which is increasing at an epidemic rate.
6. There is no accountability for top people who screw up in America. Paul Bremer sodomizes Iraq into a bloody mess and gets a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Geithner helps Paulson waste $350 billion of our tax money last year and next thing pops up as Obama's Treasury Secretary. Countless CEOs preside over companies that lose money and walk away with golden parachutes. A Miami court gives Liberia's Chuckie Taylor a 97-year sentence for torture, but the many Bush administration officials who sanctioned torture aren't arrested.
7. We've got the biggest “let's-get-scared-shitless” industry in the world. It's the sissy side of being the world's biggest bully. After 9/11, our government got so scared it started torturing people. Any kind of new flu gets us all scared. Illegal immigrants scare us. Gays scare us. Child molesters scare us. Serial killers scare us. Commies used to scare us, but now Muslims scare us. Dick Cheney's rule applies: if there's a one percent chance something bad will happen, act as if it's a hundred percent certainty. Black men scare even Jesse Jackson. Teenage mothers scare us. Women and especially young girls who like sex scare us. We buy guns all the time like it's no tomorrow: big, scary guns. We're scared that Iran will get nuclear bombs and that Pakistan has them. European socialism scares us, whatever the fuck it is. We're scared of rogue states and an axis of evil, whatever the fuck they are. What we tend to forget is that the rest of the world is more scared of America than anything else, because we've got the biggest military in the world, and spend more than the rest of the world combined on the military, nine times more than #2 China, and that we have the largest economy in the world, which creates such weapons of mass destruction as derivatives with which we bomb the rest of the world to financial destruction, and that we have more nuclear-tipped rockets aimed at everybody else than they have bugs in their lawns. Here we sit safely behind two ocean moats on both sides, and we've got this huge nuclear arsenal, scaring the whole world shitless, but we're the ones who scare like total sissies. I don't get it.
8. We talk a great game, but we do not always do what we say. It is an historical irony that “the freedom of the individual” only started becoming true for all Americans in our time, when three movements -- Civil Rights, 2nd Wave Feminism and Gay Rights -- started gaining “the freedom of the individual” for African Americans, women and gay people. So our core value is a bit of a lie. Gay folks won't feel free until they can marry, and African-Americans won't feel free until they stop being so poor and locked up, and women won't feel free until they get paid as much as men, and have as many of the top jobs as men do.
4. THE FOUR STORIES THAT AMERICANS TELL THEMSELVES ABOUT THEMSELVES
It's funny how our core value of “the freedom of the individual” sums up both Bush and Obama, even though they come at it in such different raiments. Bush is the cowboy all-action individual, free to ride roughshod over others in his self-belief and faith in God. Obama is the inclusive contemplative individual, free to con a nation with soothing turns of phrase (why else did you vote for this super-slick smooth-talking glib-as-molasses black guy over the quintessentially American stalwart white war hero John McCain?).
After Obama's election, I got an email from my sister in Canada: “Congratulations on your new Prez. North America managed to come up with their own Mandela. After coming up with Bush, who would have thunk?”
It is rather bizarre that we went from an administration so sissy-scared by 9/11 they started secretly torturing people -- to an administration that looks like it might actually be upfront about what it does.
So when we voted for Bush, and when we voted for Obama, which side of our American character voted in each case?
Here it is instructive to look at four key vote-getting narratives suggested by Robert Reich. These stories flesh out the lineaments of American character we've been weaving. Reich's point, made in 2005, was that the Republicans had co-opted these narratives to win elections, and that the Democrats would be well-advised to co-opt them back if they wanted to win the next election. Here they are, in Reich's words:
“1. The Triumphant Individual. This is the familiar tale of the little guy who works hard, takes risks, believes in himself, and eventually gains wealth, fame, and honor. It's the story of the self-made man (or, more recently, woman) who bucks the odds, spurns the naysayers, and shows what can be done with enough gumption and guts. He's instantly recognizable: plainspoken, self-reliant, and uncompromising in his ideals -- the underdog who makes it through hard work and faith in himself. Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is the first in a long line of U.S. self-help manuals about how to make it through self-sacrifice and diligence. The story is epitomized in the life of Abe Lincoln, born in a log cabin, who believed that "the value of life is to improve one's condition." The theme was captured in Horatio Alger's hundred or so novellas, whose heroes all rise promptly and predictably from rags to riches. It's celebrated in the tales of immigrant peddlers who become millionaire tycoons. And it's found in the manifold stories of downtrodden fighters who undertake dangerous quests and find money and glory. Think Rocky Balboa, Norma Rae, and Erin Brockovich. The moral: With enough effort and courage, anyone can make it in the United States.
“2. The Benevolent Community. This is the story of neighbors and friends who roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the common good. Its earliest formulation was John Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity," delivered on board a ship in Salem Harbor just before the Puritans landed in 1630 -- a version of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, in which the new settlers would be "as a City upon a Hill," "delight in each other," and be "of the same body." Similar communitarian and religious images were found among the abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s. The story is captured in the iconic New England town meeting, in frontier settlers erecting one another's barns, in neighbors volunteering as firefighters and librarians, and in small towns sending their high school achievers to college and their boys off to fight foreign wars. It suffuses Norman Rockwell's paintings and Frank Capra's movies. Consider the last scene in It's a Wonderful Life, when George learns he can count on his neighbors' generosity and goodness, just as they had always counted on him.
“3. The Mob at the Gates. In this story, the United States is a beacon light of virtue in a world of darkness, uniquely blessed but continuously endangered by foreign menaces. Hence our endless efforts to contain the barbarism and tyranny beyond our borders. Daniel Boone fought Indians -- white America's first evil empire. Davy Crockett battled Mexicans. The story is found in the Whig's anti-English and pro-tariff histories of the United States, in the anti-immigration harangues of the late nineteenth century, and in World War II accounts of Nazi and Japanese barbarism. It animates modern epics about space explorers (often sporting the stars and stripes) battling alien creatures bent on destroying the world. The narrative gave special force to cold war tales during the '50s of an international communist plot to undermine U.S. democracy and subsequently of "evil" empires and axes. The underlying lesson: We must maintain vigilance, lest diabolical forces overwhelm us.
“4. The Rot at the Top. The last story concerns the malevolence of powerful elites. It's a tale of corruption, decadence, and irresponsibility in high places -- of conspiracy against the common citizen. It started with King George III, and, to this day, it shapes the way we view government -- mostly with distrust. The great bullies of American fiction have often symbolized Rot at the Top: William Faulkner's Flem Snopes, Willie Stark as the Huey Long-like character in All the King's Men, Lionel Barrymore's demonic Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life, and the antagonists that hound the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. Suspicions about Rot at the Top have inspired what historian Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style in U.S. politics -- from the pre-Civil War Know-Nothings and Anti-Masonic movements through the Ku Klux Klan and Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunts. The myth has also given force to the great populist movements of U.S. history, from Andrew Jackson's attack on the Bank of the United States in the 1830s through William Jennings Bryan's prairie populism of the 1890s.
“Speak to these four stories and you resonate with the tales Americans have been telling each other since our founding -- the two hopeful stories rendered more vivid by contrast to the two fearful ones.”
5. WHICH SIDES OF OUR CHARACTER VOTED FOR BUSH AND OBAMA?
Let's see how Bush and Obama used these narratives to get votes, and how this shows how schizoid the American character is.
Bush and Obama both got the votes of those influenced by the “Triumphant Individual” story. Obama told us that his own story was only possible in America, and Bush pushed his idea of an “ownership society” where every individual would be the owner of her own destiny. It's pretty much a given that the “Triumphant Individual” -- which is about “the freedom of the individual” -- is something no politician would ignore. It's the conceptual sea in which we all swim willy-nilly.
Bush got the votes of those who think “The Rot at the Top” starts with liberal elites in Hollywood and on the East Coast. This is a narrative that the Republicans have often used to appeal to blue-collar workers. Obama got the votes of those who think “The Rot at the Top” starts with corrupt and sex-scandal-ridden Republican officials. But Obama made no particular effort to incorporate this narrative into his campaign. (What's weird is that there is no anti-rich ethos in America, as it exists in most other countries, where the rich at the top are invariably resented. New York Times columnist David Brooks once explained this by saying that Americans who aren't rich all think of themselves as pre-rich -- they will be rich one day, so they have no reason to resent the rich. In other countries, people resign themselves to their non-richness, and then find it easy to demonize the rich.)
Bush got the votes of those who talk about “The Mob at the Gates” -- in his case, the Mob were the terrorists. This narrative was not central to Obama's campaign at all. He studiously avoided demonizing anyone in his campaign.
Obama got the votes of those who believe in the “Benevolent Community.” In his stump speech he always said “we are our brother's keeper, and our sister's keeper.” In a speech about Lincoln, he really hit these notes of community. He said “only a union” could do many things that the private sector or individuals couldn't, ending with this inspiring oration:
“Only a union could serve the hopes of every citizen to knock down the barriers to opportunity and give each and every person the chance to pursue the American Dream. Lincoln understood what Washington understood when he led farmers and craftsmen and shopkeepers to rise up against an empire; what Roosevelt understood when he lifted us from Depression, built an arsenal of democracy, created the largest middle class in history with the GI bill. It's what Kennedy understood when he sent us to the moon ... There is no dream beyond our reach, any obstacle that can stand in our way when we recognize that our individual liberty is served, not negated, by a recognition of the common good.”
So it comes down to this: the difference between Bush and Obama is that Bush went for the “Mob at the Gates” narrative big time, and Obama went for the “Benevolent Community.” In this analysis, it's no mystery why the same nation could vote for Bush and Obama: we were persuaded by two very different men with two very different narratives that spoke to Americans equally deeply.
6. REPUBLICAN AND DEMOCRATIC CHARACTER DIFFERENCES
These narratives, it would appear, explain one of the big differences between Republicans and Democrats.
It's fear vs love. The “Mob at the Gates” is fear-driven, and the “Benevolent Community” is very love-sodden.
You might also say the one is tough-minded, and the other kinda sappy. The tough and the tender-minded. (This was a famous distinction drawn by the American philosopher William James between “Boston softies” and “Rocky Mountain toughs” when it came to philosophers. He said the tender-minded philosophers thought the universe was one big rational system we could comprehend, while the tough-minded philosophers emphasized the limitations of human understanding before the world's swarming complexity.)
In this distinction, the Republicans are the tough-minded, and the Democrats are the tender-minded. We might say a bunch of naive idealists voted for Barack: the American character he appeals to is the simple soul who is so starry-eyed she believes we can all work together for the common weal. Tough-minded Hillary Clinton pooh-poohed this appeal in her campaign against Obama:
“Now, I could stand up here and say: Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified. The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect. Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand to make special interests disappear.”
Obama appeals to Americans who believe we can all love each other to greatness in mushy togetherness.
7. THE BUSH-VOTING AMERICAN CHARACTER
What can we say about the Bush-voting American character?
His fear-driven “Mob at the Gates” narrative led me to look at some of the darker sides of the American character I listed, and by gum, some of them line up perfectly with Bush's pitch.
For one, Bush appealed to the violence in the American character -- our war-loving selves. He also appealed to our greedy elite -- he started his first term by giving them tax cuts. And he definitely appealed to the superstitious Americans: his base of irrational evangelicals who believe hell is home sweet home to all abortionists and gays.
Bush appeals to ignorant macho shit-kickers, and Obama appeals to lovey-dovey hippy-dippies. We got 'em both in abundant supply: that's how schizoid the American character is. It's almost a gender difference -- male vs female (as in George Lakoff's classification of Republicans as coming from The Strict Father paradigm and Democrats coming from The Nurturing Mother construct).
8. THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN CHARACTER
Will the American character change?
In two respects it won't. We will always value the freedom of the individual. And we will always think it's good to be rich.
But in one big respect it might change, and this could be really sad. Our natural optimism, our trust that we can do anything, now huddles broken under the thick lawa of capsized hubris. The gods are buttfucking us pretty mercilessly: we are as flies to their sport. The recklessness of the last administration (a symptom of our boundless faith in our military supremacy) and the recklessness of Wall Street (a symptom of our boundless faith in our financial ingenuity) have landed two massive Kung Fu roundhouse fandangos to our frayed innards of American exceptionalism. (And also exposed what immoral bastards we can be: heck, Dick Cheney is not our only Darth Vader: a majority of our elite -- all the smuggest of the shits in the Washington-Pentagon-Wall Street axis of evil destruction -- is arguably a gaggle of Darth Vaders.)
How are young Americans doing? To the extent that they're interested in the fate of the nation at all (beyond whatever indie rock band is in town, or which end of their vaginas Britney or Lindsay or Paris are now showing on YouTube), they're watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. So everything becomes fodder for a chuckle. As for the culture wars, this means as little to our youth as a penis to a male-to-female sex change. Being gay is less of a deal than chewing gum. Even porn is no big deal to them. They use it like you'd drink a beer or rub on sunscreen. As for any coherent worldview, they keep themselves a shrug and a wink and an elevated eyebrow away from anything they're supposed to care for. They can make fun of whatever, like Jon Stewart does. They're born snickerers. Everything contains its own negation; irony is their default setting.
Is there anything our youth is for -- with any passion at all? Saving the environment is one thing, actually, because they learn about it in Social Studies at school. And though they mistrust authority like never before (a big part of being a free individual), they dig Obama, because unlike other politicians, he's cool and cute.
Are they still the boundless, no-frontier optimists we post-WW2 Americans and boomers have been? I fear not. They don't expect to be doing any better than their parents. Neither do their parents expect to leave them better off in a better world, or expect them to do better. It's belt-tightening time: we all think we're going to do worse in the future; we all know we have to deal with a worsening environment and a reduced American Dream.
I fear none of us are optimistic anymore. That feeling used to be a permanent cast of the American character, like the color green percolates nature. Now our glee in our own gumption looks as gone as a cowboy heading out of Dodge City into the sunset after the final showdown. It's a real pity, this shrinking of a nation's will to power. A country that used to overflow with naive self-belief, may now be ready to acquire a tragic dimension. (We've stopped spending and started saving, for chrissake: how much more un-American can we get?)
Ouch. And tsk. And sniff. The American character is being stripped from its meaty abundance down to a skeletal X-ray scantiness. Not that the American Dream has ended in a nightmare. It's just that we've stopped dreaming.
So here's one last thought. The final irony of all. The cutest little nail in the coffin of the American character:
Perhaps the only American still out there with any real hope is Barack Obama.
The Owls: A Stain on Boston by Ad Hamilton
When people who’ve lived in Boston talk to each other, their
reminiscences are often wildly variable, depending on when they lived
there. A mentor of mine lived in Somerville in the 1980’s, and has a
memory of this city I can’t believe. It sounds like paradise. This is
because I lived there during the Big Dig, the federal highway project
which temporarily re-routed, demolished, then restored, several miles
of superhighway through the city. The Dig affected every aspect of the
city, constricting traffic miles away by remote influence, and in my
opinion infused the city with a powerful, unfocused daily rage. A
predisposition toward hate. This is the second of a series of stories
about the eruptions of anger, difficulty and pain I witnessed.
A Stain on Boston
By Ad Hamilton
Eighty-year-old man hits the ground outside the Senior Center doing ninety and dies. Splat. The jury’s back in the case of Mortal Coil v. Boston Department of Public Works Sidewalk, verdict unanimous. Unlucky, clumsy, depressed or pushed, who knows, another day in Boston, another poor fuck accelerating at 9.8 meters per second squared toward nothing good.
To understand this tragedy, you have to understand architecture. The discipline, not the artifacts. Your affection for the Chrysler building relates to Architecture just like your appreciation for Hubble photos relates to Plasma Physics: which is to say that they have no relation whatever.
And to understand architecture, you have to understand architecture school. The crucible that forms a deranged and flagellant tectonic culture. It’s kind of like Opus Dei, but much less important.
This culture is international. My first year at a fairly prestigious architecture school in Boston, there were almost as many Koreans and Japanese as Americans, and a prodigious crop of wealthy Chileans, for some reason. The schooling is intensely, purposely anachronistic. Fifteen years after I wrote my first term paper on a PC, I arrived to find not a single computer on a desk in my section. A Korean kid showed up with one a few weeks in, and almost flunked out from the disdain coming his way. Architecture is imagined here when graphite burns into paper, and blades shape wood and foam.
The structure of labor is reminiscent of uranium mining in the developing world: unnecessarily brutal and time-consuming, toxic and unproductive. The closest educational analogs are medical internships and Parris Island. Break ‘em down, build ‘em up.
Studio dominates by an order of magnitude the students’ time and energy, and refers at once to a place, to a pedagogical method, and to a process, an arc of practice toward a target. The place looks like nothing but a garment district sweatshop, an aircraft-scaled room with hundreds of identical desks, each one an avalanche of paper, cardboard and industrial adhesives. The method is the frantic production of imaginary, client-less architecture, endless iteration, critique and revision, over several months, of a cultural center, community library or other socially-minded construction that hasn’t been built in America since World War Two.
The process each term culminates in charette. Named for the cart that came round at midnight to collect the projects of students at the 19th century Ecole des Beaux Arts (the pupils sometimes jumped on to complete renderings en route to jury), the charette is a sprint at the end of the marathon. After three months of work, the project is completely redrawn, and often re-imagined, for presentation and jury. This is when the normal sweatshop ambiance of the studio ramps up to Pharaonic levels of punishment and exertion.
I had been up for sixty hours. I had vomited twice from nicotine poisoning. I had just washed down my last white-cross ephedrine with the last of a warm two liter bottle of Mountain Dew when the pigtailed little girl in a green jumper arrived at my desk. “Huh?” my neighbor Chul-Oh grunted, and I pretended I’d been absentmindedly humming, not absentmindedly hallucinating a full-blown 3-dimensional kindergartner who held up her end of a conversation. I just stopped working an hour later when a crumpled sheet of cardboard started singing like a disemboweled Muppet. So my work ethic is a 61 or 62, I guess, about par for my wing of the program.
Understand, the work ethic isn’t about achievement. The project doesn’t get substantially better in the last forty hours, and you don’t learn anything (about buildings). No matter what you’ve drawn, you’re going to disappoint someone – certainly yourself. The key is to exhaust yourself so thoroughly, to wound your soul so deeply, that even if the jury goes badly – and it can go very badly – you can’t possibly have done anything else. You can’t be blamed, you can’t feel regret, you just can’t feel.
There are stories about juries. Students attacking critics with razors. Vomiting on purpose, faking a Section 8 wig-out, not faking…The whole topic of the psychology of three or four architects of variable talent and achievement judging the work of a student could fill a thesis or two. (Why discuss it in front of the poor bastard, and why at the end, when there’s no time left to fix it?) This one went pretty badly.
Famous New York Architect (FNYA) told my classmate Erin, flat out, “…I’m not kidding, I think you should do something else with your life.” (We’re two years into graduate school here.) Famous L.A. Architect (FLAA) said something devastating to another student – “unresolved,” or something withering.
But I got the worst of it.
A Famous Spanish Architect (the hell with FNYA or FLAA, we all want to be FSA’s) nicknamed Paxti listens patiently to everything I have to say about my proposed AmeriCorps Youth Leadership Training Center. (I cannot make this up.) He sucks wind in through his lips in a reverse whistle, and says, slowly, “Mr. Hamilton…your talent is, ahh, well, it’s formidable. No question, formidable.”
A little weird, arguably positive. But then he takes off his unnecessarily chunky glasses and looks deep into my eyes. He says: “…but I feel this talent of yours is…well, it’s quite possibly dangerous.”
Brutality is pretty common here, but mostly it’s just confused anticlimax. Confusion from your mental state, anticlimax because you usually end up talking about things like stairs, or the location and spacing of voids (don’t call them windows), which can be pretty damaging to the heroic image you’ve built around your creation. But I’ve never, before or since, heard Paxti’s next quasi-Jedi line before: “…your talent, deployed in the wrong way, err…” He looks back up to my professor, continuing: “…I think the author of this project is violent. Violent and anti-urban.”
At least “urban” doesn’t mean “minority” in Spain, so I’m not a racist, but “anti-urban,” in this context, is probably worse.
So, if I am not stopped, it is my work that will finish off the already imperiled American City. We’ll be lucky if I just stop there.
I look over at my professor, essentially my boss for this project, who’s now pretending he’s never seen me before. “Yeah, where did this kid go off track, I wonder?” he seems to ask. This guy was the one-man Hamilton cheering section no more than ten minutes before. The dick literally said “go baby go,” to me the night before.
I realize, for the first time, that I’m studying with someone who has never built a building. Not even a shed. I’ll repeat that. This man, in his thirties, teaches people like me about architecture, at the highest level of that admittedly debased discipline, and to my knowledge he hasn’t even a bus shelter to his name. I think back, and I’m pretty sure two of my three instructors to this point are in the same boat. I can’t explain why this didn’t seem strange before, except that it was so common. (The next year, I attended a reception for a husband-wife veteran-faculty couple, presenting their new project, which turned out to be a bench. Next door, the Landscape Architecture Department feted a ditch.)
It’s all kind of like being in a cult. After a couple of years you stumble upon your charismatic leader’s unpublished sci-fi trilogy, or his anti-psychotic medication, or the tattered newspaper accounts of his last Temple’s Tragic End in French Guyana. Uh-oh, I may have signed over the possessions / girlfriend to the wrong guy.
I don’t remember anything after Paxti Wan Kenobi’s prophetic comment. It probably got worse. I left. I never picked up my drawings. Lost to history. I guess someone might have nicked them in case I turned out infamous. Auction them like Hitler watercolors.
Next block for sale, the first known Violent and Anti-Urban project of the criminal Hamilton, wherein we see the young man’s disastrous potential…
I need a shower. This is the worst recent episode, but I grew up in a trailer park, so believe me I know how to scrub off shame. Problem is I’ve got to walk through about fifteen minutes of Boston-in-February first, which will add disgust and generalized depression to the filth-load on my skin. I get across the street and hit Massachusetts Avenue, and I realize I’m wearing a t-shirt in the middle of winter. I haven’t been outside for longer than two smokes in days. Mass Ave is a particularly violent wind tunnel in a city of contenders for most punishing urban vortex worldwide. Entering from a side street, you feel your clothes snap taut to the West like a tacked sail. The way you deal with it is first to cut through buildings wherever possible, and second to scream inaudibly, a whisper-scream, the whole time you’re in the wind-canyon. When it’s worst, I scream and imagine I’m in the surreal hellscape of a first-person-shooter game, bullets whizzing by in all directions. It jukes the adrenal gland or something.
I scream-walk three blocks, until I can cut through the Old Folks Home to my apartment. I call it the OFH to humanize it, but it’s a public Senior Living Facility, and it looks the part. Nine stories of bush-hammered concrete and dusky windows, it looks like a stained tomb even in summer, and in winter it looks like suffering. Rounding the corner I can see reflected flashing lights, which is depressing but familiar. Even as little as I’m home, I see an ambulance there every few days.
It’s not an ambulance. I wheel silent-screaming around the corner and the first cop is arriving to pick a fellow up off the sidewalk. Still not uncommon. I’ve probably passed three or four guys on the sidewalk, Listerine’d to fight the chill. But this man they’re picking up isn’t dressed for it. Bare feet. The cop and I look up at the same time and see the open window on the top floor. Shit. The cop asks if I saw anything, but I don’t get his meaning, due to the silent-screaming I’m still doing. So the two of us simultaneously look up, down and up again, calculating the angles. The man looks about eighty, and he’s bounced out of some frost-withered arbor vitae and is expiring draped halfway out of the concrete planters, feet dangling into the sidewalk. Hard to describe the condition of the man’s body, except to say it was softened. Looked like any other elderly man’s body, but without the bone structure. The cop tells me to get the fuck out of there, as two more of Boston’s Finest blast up on to the curb in a white Crown Vic.
I comply with the officer’s instructions. I do what I’m told. I don’t want to see any more softened body.
Presumably this isn’t just journalism, and I’ve thought some about the experience. So maybe some conclusions. I’m not violent, that was an exaggeration, or a poor English word choice from the Spaniard, but I may be anti-urban. In fact I’m pretty sure of it. The city certainly hasn’t done much for me today, and the city’s unit of construction, its underlying plan, its architecture. Well, you can see the problem I have with architecture.
Whatever dementia or infirmity God devised for this old man to put him in this facility, it was the building that killed him. The stained concrete and peeled powder coated steel communicated clearly and unrelentingly to him what the entire world thought of him. Not much. The architect gave him the void (don’t call it a window) and the elevation (106 feet) to do the job, and a thoughtful landscape architect (it’s always a team effort) even left him a spot to plant himself. New kind of homicide: Death by architecture.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Trained as an architect and urban planner, the author is a Charlotte-based developer of golf, equestrian, and active-senior communities.
“A Stain on Boston” is the second in a series of posts in Ad Hamilton’s project “Single Servings” at The Owls site. Read “A Stain on Boston, Part I.” The Owls site is an ongoing writing experiment for the web, featuring recent work by Peter Kline, Dan O'Brien, and Stacey Swann. Work from The Owls site appears here thanks to the generosity of 3QD.
Sean Hill's forthcoming project at The Owls site, "A Natural History of My _______", begins in September. Writers were asked to respond to the following prompt: "Focus in on one particular part of your self, tangible or intangible, and write a natural history of it based on your observations in 50 to 1500 words (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or drama). This could be a natural history of almost anything; for instance, your eyebrows, stretch marks, tongue, ingrown toenails, frowns, tragi, tendency to embellish or ignore the truth, laughs, wanderlust, farts, pragmatism, shins, or asthma. I’m curious to see what starting out with such a tight focus will yield."
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A Brief History of Faith and Reason
By Katie Bierach
The Tragical History of Divine Comedy: Reasoning Faith while Maintaining Faith in Reason
Introduction by the Author
Reason relies on assumptions in which people put their faith. We need to believe in the same certain things, a code of communicable ideas, in order to reason anything at all. The relationship of faith and reason has a complex history; the two forces are inextricably connected, yet they repel each other when taken to extremes. Does one tend to lend more understanding than its friend? How will they help us in The End? How do they each reveal holiness? Where is God in this picture? The two powers take turns driving our decision-making processes, whispering in ears as they sit on shrugged shoulders. In best cases, the pair can be found ice-skating hand in hand, gliding together in harmony with coolness and ease. More often than not, however, one will gain more power than the other.
Prologue: Reader, Take Heed!
Meet the unexpected on your journey forward
and keep your faith so you can be rewarded.
Have faith here—where reason may not lie,
where reason is more reticent—do not say goodbye.
May faith guide you onward to this story’s close
and yet be reason’s steward as both take heated blows . . .
Chapter One: in which the Medical Importance of Aforementioned Components is Expounded
Millions of people worldwide suffer from faith and reason imbalances. Doctors who prescribe daily doses of faith and reason must first consider the patient’s tolerance for such ideas (as some have weak constitutions); usually the substances should be taken together, with water, in equal parts, as balance is critical for happiness and longevity. Faith is reasonable to a certain degree, and so much faith must be bestowed in reason so that the soul isn’t annihilated in a downward spiral of skepticism and doubt, which may lead to intense existential anguish.
An overdose of either faith or reason is a prescription for madness. Faith, in low dosages, helps us to function in our daily lives: we have faith that the airplane will stay in the sky and that the pedestrian will not jump in front of our cars. Faith can also have benefits in higher dosages, when taken moderately: faith in metaphysical ideas such as immortality can lead to mental health and thereby social cohesion, curtailing violent crime and allowing for physical fitness. Take as directed. Excess levels of faith in the body can diminish its stores of reason without allowing time for it to replenish. Excess levels of faith, also known as Fideism or Blind Faith (generic) may lead to trauma, madness, serious injury, or death. Fideism is the leading cause of heart disease, kidney failure, suicide bombings, midlife crises, and genocide. Side effects may include redness, swelling, intellectual drowsiness, headache, mania, loss of memory or ability to concentrate, itching, hallucinating, or chest pain. If symptoms persist contact your consciousness immediately. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant have an increased risk of fluctuating faith and reason levels.
Reason is also a necessary component of a healthy life. People under age 25 have an increased risk of reason deficiency. Reason, at low-dosages, can enhance vision and confidence, and help you make choices that are right for you and your loved ones. Excess levels of reason in the body can diminish its store of faith, and permanent damage to the body’s faith uptake receptors may occur. Excess levels of reason may lead to depression, nausea, or vomiting. Do not overdose on reason. Side effects may include stomach pain, indigestion, and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. According to a study by Dr. Desiderius Erasmus (1524), free will is a leading cause of reason, which can lead to sin if left untreated. Erasmus also concludes that faith is the only known cure for reason. (Helm 137).
Chapter Two: the Value of Absurdism, in which an Amoeba Dreams of Porcelain Dolls
A note on the previous section: an absurd approach to the relationship between faith and reason serves to emphasize the idea of the academic lens and thereby underscore the inherently warped quality of any vision, as lenses are inescapable. David Hume states that we only know that the world exists, and a divine being could be anything. We do not know the nature of what we do not know. Any ideas we have about God are simply “fancy and hypothesis” (Helm 194). If faith in fancy is reasonable, we must re-define reason. For many scholars, dwelling on questions without answers is unreasonable. What is so serious in this comedy? Human potential?
Absurdism is an effective tactic to shred the illusions of splendor shining on hollow idols and expose a supposed light to be merely a gleam, not a light bulb, as a map, not a territory. Truth is. Not, nothing, no one, no where, never. Is is is. Is. (none). Significance is currency.
A story in concrete nouns: Fake fur coats. Rulers. Carpentry. Stampede! Brushfire. Wind. Sky. That is to say, in abstract nouns: glamour measurement civilization bombardment dishevelment, clarity. The tenor of the symbolism: Birth, life, death, infinity. Ignorance to understanding.
Return, Golden Age! Kingdom of Heaven come! The beauty! The light!
Here we are. In Heaven. Ubiquity. Here.
DNA, a bang and a whisper. A holy smallness, a cinder. Soft cloth waiting for winter.
Chapter Three: Steam from a Kettle, in which a Brief History of Perspectives is Loosed
The relationship between faith and reason has been discussed at length by Christian theologians for centuries. The four popular points of encouragement for religious faith are reason, experience, scripture, and tradition (REST). Writers have used these touchstones to argue the existence of God, the nature of God, the place of religion, and the question of salvation. Atheist arguments for reason defy these categorical distinctions.
Some scholars have used reason to explain their faith as practical, including Anselm and Thomas Aquinas. Anselm’s ontological argument reasons God’s existence as “something than which a greater cannot be thought,” (Helm 88). His faith in his own idea is unreasonable because it is self-defining, but his logic is so good that one can see a harmonious, balanced relationship between faith and reason. Thomas Aquinas states that faith is required in addition to reason because men cannot reason the nature of God enough on his own. Understanding is a step toward love, but if people just have faith and believe from the beginning, they will be more inclined to learn about God. This is Soren Kierkegaard’s idea of the “leap of faith” (Helm 231). The reasons why someone should take a leap of faith are less clear. This leap requires faith in Faith itself. Surely one can live happily with human knowledge and perhaps even have a spiritual experience.
Aquinas continues: if reason were all men needed to find God, then hardly anyone would: too few are able, too few of those survive and work long enough at it (for it takes a long time) and metaphysics does not get studied until after the other sciences (Helm 107). Furthermore, a man who only reasons about mortal things cannot even find earthly wisdom, because his experience is too narrow and judgment too flimsy. The facts accepted as true about men will be far less beloved than what little we know of God (Helm 109). For Aquinas, faith “overcomes reason” yet faith is not necessarily required for Christian salvation, nor do we have reason to trust reason (Helm 112, 114). So perhaps we just need good intentions in our heart, an inquisitive soul toward the divine and a desire to believe in great glory even when it is hard. Aquinas also uses the cosmological argument (which he developed from Aristotle’s idea of the unmoved mover), to show that, as God exists, faith is reasonable (Helm 102).
Others, like Schleiermacher, Calvin, and Newman, argue that personal experience is a reason for faith in God. Schleiermacher, the German romanticist, argues in “Faith as Feeling” that metaphysics and morality are too separate to be combined into religion and then broken up and re-examined in terms of essences and eternal truths (Helm 204, 207). Religion is instead a childlike perspective of the universe, where one can view things as separate and understand experience through intuition and feelings rather than through logic or speculation. Calvin’s article “The Testimony of the Spirit” says that God reveals himself to individuals by calling to them from inside their souls (146). This is problematic because no one can prove if God or the subconscious is speaking, and the choice to believe one view or the other is essentially the choice between faith and reason.
John Henry Newman says that “an accumulation of various probabilities” is sufficient proof for him in the existence of God, and that others will not accept proofs based on principles they do not hold; faith is personal (Helm 252). Our experience of faith is affirming, so we continue. William James argues that we believe in God because we want to believe, because our trusted friends believe, and because our desire is affirmed by our social system. We believe in God because doing so is useful and “we disbelieve all facts and theories for which we have no use” (Helm 241). In case there is a God, rather than living in fear of error and therefore doubting, James suggests we be hopeful and believe in something that will be more useful, rather than questioning everything with our “snarling logicality” (Helm 244). In theory, opening oneself up to possibilities can allow for a personal religious experience. Such an experience may be the most powerful because it is thrust upon us; the very act of submitting to momentary self-annihilation heightens awareness of power greater than ourselves.
Those who cite scripture as the primary reason for their faith stand on shaky ground. Justin Martyr tries to prove God’s existence by pointing to prophets like Moses and miracles given in Scripture (Helm 55). Today, most scholars agree that the Bible is not entirely divine, but contains at least some human contributions. Scripture even reminds readers of human error. Corinthians emphasizes God’s incomprehensibility as he will “destroy the wisdom of the wise,” which is to say that humans cannot find all the truth, but only a small portion which might not even be True (Helm 51). The Bible’s scare tactics help many keep their faith strong, but without a scrutinizing eye, faith can lead people to a state of irrationality, confusion, or destruction.
Tertullian’s “Revelation and Human Reason” rejects Greek philosophers in favor of total devotion to and belief in scripture: humans cannot reason their way to finding God, but should find God the way God meant us to find Him: through His revelation. For Tertullian, humans have no authority in themselves, but only in God (Helm 61). The lack of authority would have people reason that free will causes sin, and the constant waiting for punishment seems detrimental to the spirit, and unreasonable if the point is spiritual salvation.
Joseph Butler accepts and appeals to more reason than Tertullian does, but he is still giving an argument for faith. He states that scripture and nature both have problems but they are both from God, so we should accept them equally (Helm 195). He also argues that hypotheses and analogies are important for arguments as they help to show abstractions that people will only understand when given the context of their own experiences. Butler’s reasoning that if scripture is flawed, nature is flawed, is unsound, but his analogy can be taken more widely to say that everything has its conceptual limits—even faith and reason.
Tradition is a powerful reason for religious faith to continue in that social traditions have personal value and cultural importance. Faith is reasonable on a practical level for civilization to work and for the human psyche to find peace and purpose. According to Emile Durkheim, society lends support and protection to the individual in return for faith in and devotion to the system itself. Thus, religion plays the symbolic role of society, and faith in reasonable tradition theoretically works here. Sigmund Freud, in “Religion as Wish-Fulfillment,” states that Christianity works to provide a Father figure, which people need as they grow into the world and leave their biological fathers, still wishing for protection and fatherly love (Helm 232-34). For Freud, science alone reveals the state of the universe or the mind; intuition provides illusion. Because faith relies on intuition, Freud sees it as a subconscious construct to disguise the hole in the heart where the father was. Here, however, with the lens zoomed out from holiness to humanity, the question takes on a different significance. Freud’s explanation of the relationship between faith and reason shows a preference for reason while expressing the benefits of faith.
Immanuel Kant also argues for faith in the realm of tradition. In “Denying Knowledge to Make Room for Faith,” he begins by stating that a priori knowledge depends on the “thinking subject” and that “pure reason” exists as an entire system from which nothing can be taken to stand alone but only seen in relation to others in the system (Helm 203). The principles of sensibility will narrow speculative reasoning, so we pretend that our interpretations of experiences are “real” when we can only know appearances and never a “thing in itself” (202). Although we can only speculate about whether we are free or determined, we must believe we are free because morality depends on freedom (and God and immortality), and thus deny the knowledge we would have gained through speculative reasoning “in order to make room for faith” (Helm 202). But faith in the social code should not necessarily translate to faith God, in my opinion.
Many atheist arguments about the unreason of faith are grounded in a faith in empiricism. W. K. Clifford, in “The Ethics of Belief,” contends that the standard for honesty and goodness is believing only empirical, rational propositions. People who believe unwarranted claims upset the intellectual ethics of the community. Clifford’s parable of a ship-owner shows that irrational faith can bring a community toward an untimely end, as they cling to the falsehoods disseminated by the powerful. The “sincerity of conviction” does not matter if the believer has “no right to believe on such evidence as was before him” (Helm 238). Faith that denies all rational thought is unethical. It is delusion and insanity.
Norwood Russell Hanson argues in “The Agnostic’s Dilemma” that faith is not an ordinary issue that can be examined through reasoning and the senses, which is why the agnostic falters: he relies on the “fact” of whether or not God exists, and at the same time, the agnostic faults the theist and atheist for their beliefs that cannot be based on fact. Thus, he is hypocritical. Although “God exists” is a factual claim, no description can confirm it; yet agnostics take “God exists” as a claim that could possibly be confirmed, and never disconfirmed. Hanson describes this as “ground-shifting” between “fact-gatherer” and “logician” (Helm 341). To choose consistency and reason is to choose atheism, and to abandon those for faith is theism, but not making a choice does not make sense for Hanson.
John Locke argues that faith and reason are different playing fields (“provinces”). Reason, he says, is “the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths” that we make from our ideas, and faith is “assent to any proposition” from God that takes an “extraordinary way of communication” (Helm 186). We experience our world by noting simple ideas and understand our world by combining them into complex ideas. Words are signs that cannot communicate signifiers that have not been experienced firsthand. Locke states that we cannot assent to things that are beyond what we intuitively know because “there would be left no difference between truth and falsehood” and thus no way to ascertain the truths of our world (188). Locke distinguishes traditional revelation, a personal impression from God onto us, from original revelation, secondhand descriptions of others’ original revelations, to show that faith is assent to traditional revelation, but those who assent to scripture without such are really just using their reason, though doing so poorly. Grasping to a fact in regard to the question of ultimate reality inherently commits the act of dualism the truth-seeker is trying to escape. The more someone reaches toward faith in scripture, the more reasoning they will need in order to make their choice seem logical.
Sam Harris, in The End of Faith, states that “Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love” (Harris 190). If someone does not understand what it means to love someone or does not value love, allowing that person to continue harming people, for whatever cultural justification, is unreasonable. To have faith in others’ morality or decisions when they defy our reason is to live in bad faith. This is the most extreme opinion: faith is defined as a system of irrational beliefs. Reason, on the other hand, is the beacon of hope for the world. If everyone were to consider their own actions selflessly, it would be better. But reason alone may not have the power.
Chapter Four: Noon upon the Summit, in which the Author Takes her Stand
I can only use reason to make claims of probability, and probabilities have room for error. Still, I live with the faith that nature will maintain its course as usual, a relatively small-scale belief compared with some of Christianity’s theological questions. Faith implies an acceptance of the unknown, while the focus of reason is to ascertain that what is known is factual and see how useful it is. Doubt can drive people to madness or brilliance. Faith can lead to courage or heartbreak. Irrational levels of faith are potentially destructive. A person can do a great deal of reasoning without doing justice to Reason.
A major component of religion and religious discourse is salvation (health) and happiness. To practice faith in the unknown can mean to practice ignoring the present Here and Now, which is to deny happiness and defeat the purpose. As long as one says, “I will be happy” the subtext is that “I am not yet happy.” To have faith in something is to deny the true nature of its existence: formlessness, impermanence. All will fall away. Is there a permanent energy in the universe? I cannot know. By singling out the term “energy,” I am extracting it to a non-functional locale where it is defined in opposition to its surroundings, rather than as a part of a greater whole. But I can write this paper, perform tasks as they come, function in the world with love in my heart and tune my mind to the station of reason.
Chapter Five: Legend, in which the Relationship Ends in a Tragic but Romantic Climax
Faith and Reason, children of Consciousness and Experience, have been appreciated and ignored, tortured and exalted for millennia. Faith, the older brother, ruled peacefully for ages, but Reason grew jealous and betrayed his brother. Reason dominated the land with a heavy staff, and the people grew weary, organizing for revolution. Finally, their cousin, Imagination, son of Fear and Desire, crept up in the night and put a spell on Reason, who fell into a deep coma. But Imagination’s fantasies grew to overpower his will, and his awareness of possibility brought Faith back, stronger than ever before. Imagination told stories to the people, but they could not see without the guidance of Reason. Faith pulled them forward and taught them to work hard. Reason awoke, centuries later, in chains, in the Dungeon of Dogma. He fought Faith for equality, and finally the two edged closer and closer before falling off the Mountain of Knowing together and shattering into pieces for Thinkers to puzzle over and piece together as they ascend the colossal slope.
Epilogue: Press Play
The scene: smoke and mirrors.
Religion: I am voice.
Faith: I am song.
Reason: I am sound.
Postmodernism: You are concepts; you are nothing! You are thoughts, only human thoughts. It doesn’t matter, don’t you see?
Mysticism: (see) Truth: I am light.
Faith: There is light.
Reason: I am reflection.
Me: Whether or not—
- Harris, Sam. The End of Faith. Norton: New York, 2004.
- Helm, Paul, ed. Faith and Reason. Oxford Readers. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1999.
I love words and the convolutions of language; how we arrange and rearrange it; how we invent new ways communicate old things; how we nurture its nuances —which is where poetry comes in.
Idioms have always intrigued me. They’re short poems. One-liners created to make startling something banal and obvious. Idioms lighten things up. They renovate tired and dilapidated bits of worn truth and create more transparent windows on the world and the things we do in it.
I learned recently of a book containing a collection of international idioms which are indeed startling, funny, and fun. The book, by Jag Bhalla, is called I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears, which is a Russian way of saying, “I’m not pulling your leg.”
Bhalla’s book is sure proof that humans are humorous and truthful when we dump the BS. These idioms have nothing to do with BS. They present the truth with humor and a sometimes brutal directness, but they never veer into hypocrisy.
I had some fun this past week with a few snippets from Noodles myself. The poetic tale below (enlightened by the glossary that follows) was built with an arrangement of Jag Bhalla’s idiomatic bricks (in italics).
I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears
Unable to stop being an owl
my eyes were stolen
by a piece of the moon.
I thought, what curves
and me without brakes.
It was dry firewood meets flame.
I wanted to be your leg, your goat,
Swallowed like a postman’s sock
and steaming like water for chocolate,
I was so far gone I’d completely
eaten the monkey.
I mused, if only
I could drink your lips
and we, in the midst of a
under the sway of the
ever romantic Tony Bennett
might, in the magical afternoon light
pluck the turkey.
But love means having
no time to die; although
for you I'd surely
break my horns.
Yet if one day, despite all,
the tomatoes had faded
and you were a red apricot
gone over the wall
and I took the rake
and was left nailed
I'd still hope that perhaps
(just maybe) we might
reheat the cabbage and I,
instead of being a
lonely yawning mussel
(but with fast hands),
might find that you were
once again a sweet potato
—and I’m not
hanging noodles on
Unable to stop being an owl – can’t stop flirting (Italian)
To have one’s eye stolen – to be dazzled (Japanese)
Piece of the moon – a lovely or handsome person (Hindi)
What curves, and me without brakes – street complement (Spanish, Latin America)
Dry firewood meets flame – instant attraction (Chinese)
To be someone’s leg – to be a main squeeze (Spanish, Chile)
To be a goat – partner, boyfriend, girlfriend (Spanish, Costa Rica)
To be someone’ bumblebee – sweetheart (Spanish, Chile)
Swallowed like a postman’s sock – hopelessly in love (Spanish, Colombia)
Like water for chocolate – the boiling point of one’s passion (Spanish)
To eat the monkey – to be nuts about (German)
Drink your lips – kiss (Hindi)
Buckle polish – slow dance (Spanish, Venezuela)
Pluck the turkey – make love at a window (Spanish)
Having no time to die – to be overwhelmed with work ( Hindi)
To break one’s horns – to work very hard (Spanish)
The tomatoes have faded – love is gone (Russian)
Red apricot gone over the wall – a married woman takes a lover (Chinese)
Take the rake – be dumped (French)
To leave someone nailed – to dump someone (Spanish)
Reheat the cabbage – attempt to revive a lapsed love affair (Italian)
Yawning mussel – to be amorous, horny (French)
Having fast hands – to be a womanizer (Japanese)
To be a sweet potato – to be madly in love with (Spanish, Costa Rica)
Hanging noodles on your ears – pulling your leg (Russian)
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Land of hypocrites
Shandana Minhas in Pakistan's The News:
I would like to begin by asking when Ramzan or Ramazan officially became Ramadan? It is the month the natural born Pakistani's intrinsic need to feel holier than thou -- a necessary if trying counterpoint to the self loathing we traditionally embody-- manifests itself to an alarming degree.
Celebrities begin their yearly plummet off the cliffs of prudishness at the onset of the month, like lemmings but without the charisma. Chiffon clad women wrap themselves in an extra layer of piety as they harangue their Hindu maids. Those who imbibe swear off the stuff for the duration, as if it isn't haram all year around.
Mosque loudspeakers' volumes are raised an extra notch, a crude but effective way to ensure all in their immediate vicinity bridge the class divide by being equally susceptible to inner ear damage. And salespeople ringing up midday food purchases do so with such a contemptuous superiority it is a wonder they are able to stay seated and not inadvertently levitate straight to heaven, bottoms up. And should the topic of inappropriate sanctimonious be brought up in conversation with, say, a person who has broken a red light in their rush to get home for Iftar and nearly totaled your car in the process, do you know what you are likely to get in response? I cannot possibly eat humble pie: I am fasting.
I'm generally not so negative but this year things got off to a bad start for me thanks to the pick up truck that parked outside the apartment complex I live in during the wee hours of the first night and proceeded to harangue all inmates with demands for charity over a megaphone, which is never a nice thing to do to anyone in bed.
Then, reeling from both sleep deprivation and the knowledge of my own helplessness in the face of wanton, unprovoked wailing, I read about the directive issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs to all provincial governments directing them to ensure full implementation of the Ehteram-e-Ramadan Ordinance. The ordinance, promulgated in 1981 under Zia-ul-Haq, makes it illegal for anyone – young, old, infirm, pregnant, lapsed – to eat, drink or smoke in public and applies across the board to Muslims and non-Muslims. In other words, resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.
i love you
Godless: The Church of Liberalism
Christopher Hitchens in The Liberal:
TRY sipping this single sentence and then rolling it around your tongue and palate for a while:
If Hitler hadn’t turned against their beloved Stalin, liberals would have stuck by him, too.
Well, I am being paid to parse and ponder that statement and I don’t understand it, either. Does it intend to say that liberals loved Hitler but drew the line at his invasion of the Soviet Union? Should it, rather, be interpreted as meaning that liberals were in love with Stalin but jumped ship when he was attacked by Hitler? It is remarkable to find so much intellectual and syntactical chaos in an assertion that contains no more than fifteen words.
But then, I have the distinct feeling that people do not buy Ann Coulter’s creed-screeds and speed-reads in order to enhance their knowledge of history or their command of syllogism. She has emerged as a persona because she has mastered the politics of resentment, and because she can combine the ideology of Human Events (the obscure ‘Joe McCarthy was right’ magazine) with the demand of the chat-show bookers for a tall blonde with a very rapid delivery on a wide range of subjects. The cover of this book – which follows the success of its forerunners Treason and Slander: titles that require little elucidation – shows her in a low-cut black dress with a prominent crucifix dangling over a modest cleavage. The needs of showbiz notwithstanding, I cannot fathom the reason for this slight come-hitherishness. Miss Coulter is not married and ought therefore, by her own loudly-proclaimed standards, to be a virgin and to remain so until further notice.
Sudden silence, the refrigerator motor
cycling off. The psht of water filling
ice maker, half-moon cubes transparent
and white—fingernails whose color doesn’t
vary much body to body. Your dark fingers
swizzle ice in whiskey; you say slaves made
Aristotle possible. Chinese girls, twelve
to a factory dorm room, make my
sneakers possible. I never learned to sew,
the black wheel of my grandmother’s Singer
large as a steam locomotive, the needle a silver
blur as my sister’s fingers fed kelly green cloth
into its stabbing path. You dodge ghosts
on the road, grief squeezing your lungs: children
stacked in a ditch, flaming thatch, your aunt
cradling her head in her lap—I thought
it all so primitive. Thought Hutsul my mother’s
maiden name, not a tribe. Their village stripped even
of seed grain; like rats and grasshoppers, the dead
eaten without ritual. Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Russian:
language a sticky binding, the egg my mother
mixed with leftover mashed potatoes, molded
into patties, fried a filigree brown. It’s an accident
of birth, what we consume. This side-by-side model
with its glass shelves, vegetable and meat drawers—
I have more food than it can hold.
by Mary Petrosky
Was Bernie Madoff an Evil Genius? That's Just Half Right.
From The Washington Post:
Madoff and his classmates were each supposed to read a book and make an oral report in class, but Bernie, an average student at New York City's Far Rockaway High in the early 1950s, hadn't gotten around to it. So when the teacher called on him, Bernie announced that he would cover "Hunting and Fishing" by Peter Gunn and proceeded to fabricate a detailed account of the nonexistent book. When asked to produce the book, Madoff turned deceit into virtue. He didn't have it, he explained -- he'd already returned it to the library.
On the hunt for snark
It is sly, knowing and often downright nasty. Politicians and celebrities are its prey. And it attacks, under the guise of wit, without proof or reason. David Denby goes on the hunt for snark, which is invading all modern discourse from gossip sites to newspapers.
From The Guardian:
How does snark work? Snark is hazing on the page. It prides itself on wit, but it's closer to a leg stuck out in a school corridor that sends some kid flying. It pretends to be all in fun, and anyone who's annoyed by it will be greeted with the retort, "How can you take this seriously? What's wrong with you?" - which has the doubly aggressive effect of putting the victim on the defensive. No one wants to argue with a joke, so this is shrewd as far as it goes. But some of these funsters are mean little toughs. Snark seizes on any vulnerability or weakness it can find - a slip of the tongue, a sentence not quite up to date, a bit of flab, an exposed boob, a blotch, a blemish, a wrinkle, an open fly, an open mouth, a closed mouth. It exploits - slyly, teasingly - race and gender prejudice. When there are no vulnerabilities, it makes them up. Snark razzes pomp, but it razzes certain kinds of strength, too - people who are unaffectedly serious. Snarky writers can't bear being outclassed by anyone, and snark becomes the vehicle of their resentment and contempt.
Actual comedy is hard work - harder than dying, according to the actor Sir Donald Wolfit, who remarkably announced this truth while lying on his deathbed. But snark, eschewing work, adopts the mere manner of wit, as if manner were enough.
How does snark operate these days? Let me count the ways.
An Open Letter to the UN Secretary General
Akbar Ganji in the Boston Review:
1) Forming an international truth-finding commission to examine the electoral process, vote counting and the fraudulent manipulation of the people’s vote in Iran;
2) Pressuring the government in Iran to annul fraudulent election results and hold democratic, competitive and fair elections under the auspices of the UN;
3) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to release all those detained in the course of recent protests;
4) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to free the media that have been banned in recent days and to recognize and respect the right of the people to free expression of ideas and the nonviolent protesting the results of the recent elections;
5) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to stop its harsh and barbaric treatment of the people of Iran;
6) Refuse to recognize Ahmadinejad’s illegitimate government that has staged an electoral coup, and curtailing any and all forms of cooperation with it from all nations and international organizations.
1. Akbar Ganji, journalist
2. Jürgen Habermas, J.W.Goethe Universitaet, Frankfurt
3. Noam Chomsky, MIT
4. Charles Taylor, McGill University
5. Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago
6. José Ramos-Horta, Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1996
7. Orhan Pamuk, Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 2006
8. Nadine Gordimer, Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1991
9. Mario Vargas Llosa, Novelist
10. Robert N. Bellah, UC-Berkeley
11. Seyla Benhabib, Yale University
12. Cornel West, Princeton University
13. Hilary Putnam, Harvard University
14. Benjamin Barber, Senior Fellow, Demos
15. Craig Calhoun, Social Science Research Council
16. Howard Zinn, Boston University
17. John Esposito, Georgetown University
18. Michael Walzer, Princeton University
19. Adam Michnik, essayist, Poland
20. Ahmed Rashid, journalist, Pakistan
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Rethinking Secularism: Religion Takes the StandOver at the Immanent Frame, "Nathan Schneider, scholar of religion and law Winnifred Fallers Sullivan ...[discuss] the failure of the courts to grapple with lived religion, the crisis of prisons in the United States, and why, in some sense at least, we are all religious now.":
The problems with defining religion play a central role in the argument that you’ve been developing over your last two books. Why can’t we—as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography—simply know it when we see it?
The word “religion” comes out of a particular history. There are various ways of telling that history, but one could say, from the perspective of someone like me who is interested in church/state issues, that the notion that religion is a discrete, bounded aspect of human culture and society is something that emerged in the early modern period, parallel with the emergence of the modern state. With the secularization of the state and the differentiation of socio-cultural formations within society, religion gets reinvented as something separate. But the context in which that happens shapes what religion means. Politically, it comes to serve the modern state by providing a location in which modern citizens are trained to be moral, functioning members of society. This is a very particular understanding of religion, rooted in a particular kind of Protestant Christianity. Naturally, once modern societies try to expand that role beyond Protestant Christianity, they begin bumping up against different understandings of where religion ought to fit.
So this project is primarily located in the situation of a religiously diverse society?
I regard all societies as diverse. This is especially so in light of a global shift of religious responsibility toward individuals and an acknowledgment, even if it’s not politically realized everywhere, of the right of each individual to religious freedom. Then, religious diversity becomes a social fact virtually everywhere, within traditions as well as among traditions.
Creationists, Now They’re Coming for Your ChildrenRichard Dawkins in the Times (UK):
Imagine you are a teacher of more recent history, and your lessons on 20th-century Europe are boycotted, heckled or otherwise disrupted by well-organised, well-financed and politically muscular groups of Holocaust-deniers. Unlike my hypothetical Rome-deniers, Holocaustdeniers really exist. They are vocal, superficially plausible and adept at seeming learned. They are supported by the president of at least one currently powerful state, and they include at least one bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine that, as a teacher of European history, you are continually faced with belligerent demands to “teach the controversy”, and to give “equal time” to the “alternative theory” that the Holocaust never happened but was invented by a bunch of Zionist fabricators.
Fashionably relativist intellectuals chime in to insist that there is no absolute truth: whether the Holocaust happened is a matter of personal belief; all points of view are equally valid and should be equally “respected”.
The plight of many science teachers today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central and guiding principle of biology; when they honestly place the living world in its historical context — which means evolution; when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself, they are harried and stymied, hassled and bullied, even threatened with loss of their jobs. At the very least their time is wasted at every turn. They are likely to receive menacing letters from parents and have to endure the sarcastic smirks and close-folded arms of brainwashed children. They are supplied with state-approved textbooks that have had the word “evolution” systematically expunged, or bowdlerized into “change over time”. Once, we were tempted to laugh this kind of thing off as a peculiarly American phenomenon. Teachers in Britain and Europe now face the same problems, partly because of American influence, but more significantly because of the growing Islamic presence in the classroom — abetted by the official commitment to “multiculturalism” and the terror of being thought racist.
An Interview with Amartya Sen on Practical JusticeNeelima Mahajan-Bansal and Udit Misra in Forbes:
Is there really a way to measure justice?
The question that you are asking--is there more injustice or less injustice. That's an excellent question. The answer isn't 37 as opposed to 51. That ranking is the basis of measurement we have known for at least a hundred years. The basic measure to look at is a ranking. Then everything else follows from it. And it's the ranking that justice is concerned with, not a numerical measure, I think. The debates are all about rankings.
Take the issue of land acquisitions in SEZs. There are several stakeholders. A villager would feel it's unjust to take his land. A company would feel their taking the land is justified because it would add to economic activity. Are there mechanisms to deal with issues like that?
I wasn't so much saying that justice means different things to different people. There are different ways of looking at justice. Sometimes the same person can take different views. In the flute case, I think I can give an argument for all three of them and I see merit in each of them.
[Note: In the book, Sen describes a problem of divergent views on justice in which you have one flute and three children who want it. One child wants the flute because she knows how to play it, the second one wants it because he is poor and doesn't have toys, and the third one says she made the flute, so she should get it. Who do you give it to?]
The main point is that there can be different reasonable positions not that different people must have different positions. It's not related to difference between persons. It's related to difference between arguments and reasoning.
Art and the government make such strange bedfellows, as the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts recently demonstrated. In an interview with The New York Times, Rocco Landesman — the Broadway producer appointed to the post by President Obama — rose to defend his ward against the constant criticism of NEA funding: "The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay." Clearly not a fan of subtexts, Landesman is a frank leader of the nation's art budget, especially when it comes to which parts of the nation should get a piece of the NEA's financial pie. “I don’t know if there’s a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it’s not as good as [Chicago's] Steppenwolf or the Goodman,” Landesman told the Times. “There is going to be some push-back from me about democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer some questions about artistic merit." You can imagine how that played in Peoria.more from Jesse Smith at The Smart Set here.
Idaho features in a famous palindrome: O had I nine more hero-men in Idaho! A palindrome is a word or sentence that is entirely reversible. Palindromic words include: kayak, sees, toot, rotavator (the longest), gig, level, mum and refer. Palindromic sentences are difficult to create without the sentence becoming nonsensical or non-grammatical. Good examples include: Stressed? Desserts! and Madam, in Eden, I’m Adam. But my favourite (because it tells a whole story) is: A man, a plan, a canal: Panama! Panama was the birthplace of Senator John Sidney McCain III (b. 1936), the 2008 Presidential nominee of the Republican Party. He was born at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone at a time when the Panama Canal was under American control. His choice of running mate for the Vice Presidency is, of course, Sarah Palin. She is not a relative of Monty Python comedian and world-travelling programme-maker Michael Palin but they may share a common ancestry as the name allegedly originates in Pavilly, Normandy and has been recorded as far back as 1066. It is also a Latin word. The term ‘palindrome’ was coined by English writer Ben Jonson in the 1600s from the Latin dromos (meaning ‘direction’) and palin (meaning ‘back’ or ‘backwards’). Sarah Palin (b. 1964) is the current governor of Alaska and was...more from Stevyn Colgan at the London Times here.
When she set out to write about the crow — the black sheep of the avian world — the naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt didn’t relish the task. “I never meant to watch crows especially,” she admits in her curiously personal and thought-provoking meditation, “Crow Planet.” “Whenever I ask someone about chickadees or robins or flickers or other common birds . . . the response is almost always lackluster, noncommittal or at best blandly cheerful.” Crows, however, sometimes elicit raves (“They are so intelligent! And beautiful!”), but far more often insults (“loud,” “poopy,” “evil,” “menacingly bold,” “harbingers of death”). Haupt knew the dark history that fed this distaste. During the plague years in medieval Europe, crows “scavenged the bodies lying uncovered in the streets.” In 1666, she writes, after the great fire of London, so many crows descended on the victims that Charles II ordered a campaign against them to calm a horrified populace. And yet, as she trained her binoculars on the familiar but spooky creatures in her yard, Haupt found aspects of the corvid family that argued for more respect.more from Liesl Schillinger at the NYT here.
The Day of the Locust
The year 1939, when Europe was going up in flames and America clung to the hope that it need not become part of a world at war, turned out to be a miracle moment for Los Angeles fiction, seeing the publication of "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler, John Fante's "Ask The Dust," and "The Day of the Locust" by Nathanael West (the latter just reissued in a new edition, along with "Miss Lonelyhearts," by New Directions, $11.95), three books that distilled distinctly and in very different ways the city that was being written about, and have continued to dictate how Los Angeles is perceived today. Chandler reconfigured the noir map in a style still to be bettered and Fante's bildungsroman showed a young man struggling in a dark, sunlit world that he nonetheless contrived to possess, but West's book is the most merciless of the three, reflecting the anger, disappointment and violence that bubble and simmer beneath the city's welcoming and glassy surface. The idea of Los Angeles as a site for apocalypse was already prevalent in the 1930s (Myron Brinig's forgotten "The Flutter of an Eyelid" concludes with the city shearing away from the coastal shelf and cascading into the Pacific,) but West crystallized it.more from Richard Rayner at the LA Times here.
Money never sleeps
Scott McLemee reads the anthropologist Karen Ho’s ethnography of bankers, traders and analysts, the tribe of elites who shape our world in the image of ‘Wall Street’s bulimic culture of expediency'.
From The National:
Long before talk about globalisation became inescapable, we used to hear prophesies of an emerging “global village.” This, as Marshall McLuhan assured everyone four decades ago, would be brought into being by the mass media, with their power to convey images and sound over long distances. The dominant culture of the previous five centuries had been organised, down to its very cells, by print. People got their information and their sense of the world through reading, silently and separately. Now this order of things had begun to dissolve. Audiovisual immediacy would turn the world into one big open-air marketplace. The existential terror of isolated individuals would soon be replaced by a new pattern of experience, post-literate and neo-tribal... something closer in spirit, perhaps, to lively cosmopolitan folk dancing.
To be sure, the bourgeois western individual is not exactly feeling on top of the world these days, especially when contemplating his or her retirement package; and the world does seem smaller. But its unification has not been quite so utopian as once predicted, and its pace has been set by a medium of communication that McLuhan largely ignored: namely, money.
The public square looks a lot less like Woodstock than it does a scene of generalised fear and trembling, with Detroit capitalists and Chinese peasants sharing in the dread. The pace and direction of economic change is attributed to the market. But the financial world has its own distinctive and powerful social norms, now described and analysed in Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street.
Believe Me, It’s Torture
Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair:
Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict.