I’m teaching a course on privacy and surveillance this fall, and one of the things I’ve been doing is reading up on aspects of privacy theory that I didn’t know much about, such as the feminist critique of privacy. The basic feminist argument is that “family privacy” has been historically used as a cover to shield domestic abuse from legal scrutiny (and not only against women – see this disturbing Supreme Court case about a stepfather who beat a four year old into serious and permanent cognitive disability; the Rhenquist Court argues that state social services had no enforceable obligation to intervene because of family privacy). It is in this context that I ran across Reva Siegel’s (Law, Yale) fantastic article on the way that claims of domestic privacy emerged out of the collapse of a husband’s legal right to “chastise” (beat) his wife. Siegel’s larger purpose is to study the ways that legal reforms can serve to “modernize” status regimes, a process in which old hierarchies are given new justifications and (perhaps) weakened, but not eliminated. It’s not that the legal reforms don’t achieve anything – it’s that it’s very, very difficult to dismantle regimes of social privilege, and that (as Foucault noted), power always entails resistance.
Here, I want to focus briefly on the move from chastisement to privacy, because I think it suggests something important for our understanding of biopolitics. As Siegel outlines it, the basic story is that, over the course of the nineteenth century, a couple of groups made substantial inroads into the old common law right of chastisement: temperance groups used stories of horrific abuse of women by drunk husbands to advocate banning alcohol, and feminist groups use the same stories to advocate for the banning of wife-beating. The feminists eventually won, and a pair of state supreme court cases around 1870 (one in Alabama and one in North Carolina) emphatically – perhaps a little too emphatically – pronounced wife beating to be the unwelcome vestige of a primitive, bygone era.
Shocking report here on how bad the California ground water situation is to go along with the terrible drought conditions. Groundwater is the only thing keeping California afloat, so to speak, through the last 3 consecutive years of drought.
A couple of times I've co-written with people who don't use the Oxford comma. It can end up being a big headache when the usage isn't consistent, and then it's also weird to realize just how many times you conjoin three or more words in a phrase.
Putnam's book came out in Cambridge University Press, so I guess it's O.K. that he didn't use it.
The wikipedia article is quite nice, though the anti-Oxford comma section isn't sourced and the supposed ambiguity introduced by the Oxford comma is unconvincing, because the same phrase is also ambiguous without it. The pro-Oxford comma section gives examples that are ambiguous without it and not ambiguous with it, e.g. a book dedication that reads "to my parents, Any Rand and God" versus "to my parents, Ayn Rand, and God."
Vampire Weekend's eponymous song is pretty, though it's possibly NSFW because of f-bombs. I don't know what it's about, but the odd specificity of the lyrics ("Why would you lie about how much coal you own?") work very well. When I first heard the song I though it was pro-Oxford comma, and was pretty disappointing when I read the lyrics.
Might there be excellent reasons to embrace radical skepticism, of which we are entirely unaware?
You know brain-in-a-vat skepticism -- the view that maybe last night while I was sleeping, alien superscientists removed my brain, envatted it, and are now stimulating it to create the false impression that I'm still living a normal life. I see no reason to regard that scenario as at all likely. Somewhat more likely, I argue -- not very likely, but I think reasonably drawing a wee smidgen of doubt -- are dream skepticism (might I now be asleep and dreaming?), simulation skepticism (might I be an artificial intelligence living in a small, simulated world?), and cosmological skepticism (might the cosmos in general, or my position in it, be radically different than I think, e.g., might I be a Boltzmann brain?).
"1% skepticism", as I define it, is the view that it's reasonable for me to assign about a 1% credence to the possibility that I am actually now enduring some radically skeptical scenario of this sort (and thus about a 99% credence in non-skeptical realism, the view that the world is more or less how I think it is).
Now, how do I arrive at this "about 1%" skeptical credence? Although the only skeptical possibilities to which I am inclined to assign non-trivial credence are the three just mentioned (dream, simulation, and cosmological), it also seems reasonable for me to reserve a bit of my credence space, a bit of room for doubt, for the possibility that there is some skeptical scenario that I haven't yet considered, or that I've considered but dismissed and should take more seriously than I do. I'll call this wildcard skepticism. It's a kind of meta-level doubt. It's a recognition of the possibility that I might be underappreciating the skeptical possibilities. This recognition, this wildcard skepticism, should slightly increase my credence that I am currently in a radically skeptical scenario.
I've long been obsessed with what it would have been like to be a Saxon in post-Roman Britain. Roman concrete was so good that for hundreds of years Saxons inhabited Roman buildings. But their architectural wherewithal was primitive compared to the Romans, so as the roofs collapsed on the Roman buildings they would replace them with leaky timber and thatch jobs. What must that have been like, to live and die in hundreds of years old ruins that are still better than anything you can build?
I think with many things like this the change must be so gradual that nobody ever gets alarmed by it. Every moment in the progressing crappiness just seems like the way things statically are.
LSU is about six years into budget cutting that resulted from unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy. Part of the result of this is that we have an atrocious backlog for building repair and rennovation. The money amounts are well into the tens of millions of dollars, so bad that it's hard for the administrators to triage. Just this year a six hundred pound chunk of ceiling fell in the dilapidated art studio. It might have killed a student, yet we still don't have the money to fix the building. Cracks in the stucco in my building have caused extensive water damage. Every year or so they cosmetically fix the bubbling over paint on the inside of my office wall, but haven't yet fixed the exterior of the building. The toilets are also slowly dying. About half of them don't flush appropriately, and only work if you hold the handle down for a long time, which of course many people don't do. As a result, by the end of the day most of the bathrooms have raw sewage in the toilets. It smells nauseating, sometimes out in the hallway.
Maybe it's just nostalgia from my youth in the 70s, but I think that public infrastructure has gotten increasingly crappy during the course of my life. When I was a kid we didn't have days long power outages every year from inclement weather. I remember airports as feeling almost like church or art museums, quiet, reverential in a strange way, and clean. It's interesting to think how far down this slope we might slide as we become increasingly a nation of private opulence for a very few and public squalor for everyone else. But maybe nobody will notice much.
from Thane Rosembaum, professor of law at NYU, here. [Update: Rosenbaum's status at NYU is unclear. See comments below.] He argues that Gaza civilians aren't really innocent civilians because they elected Hamas. Isn't this the same argument that Osama bin Laden made for the legitimacy of 9/11?
Rosembaum goes on to say: " children whose parents are not card-carrying Hamas loyalists. These are the true innocents of Gaza." One doesn't need to be an astute reader of Grice to realize the implication is clearly that children of parents who are card-carrying Hamas loyalists are deserving of all the violence and killing that is directed at them. Of course, its not hard to think of past world leaders who have had similar attitudes about rightful punishment.
Interesting article here by Princeton English professor Raphael Allison comparing literary theorists and rock bands. There's some good stuff on the anthropology of subcultures to explain the weird ways that people talk at thea annual MLA convention, but the author's main conceit is as far as I can tell completely undermined by the radical uncoolness of professors.
Remember Colin McGinn's blog post about epatering the bourgeoisie, where he places himself as a cultural force alongside John Lennon and Kingsley Amis? It was sad in part because you realized that this deeply uncool person somehow made it that far in life with no idea how uncool he is, and also how this blithe unawareness was so central to his downfall. What is it about the ecosystem of academic stardom that makes that even remotely possible? I think this is related to my earlier post about how fame robs the famous of the moral friction that keeps the rest of us from being complete fools.
Allison kind of gets this, as he explores the tension between the radical pose of much literary theory and the deeply conventional lives of university professors filling out their TPS reports. But then Allison responds to the cognitive dissonance by arguing that this is similar to the way mods reappropriated conventional business suits and scooters as they rebelled against British society. The end result is kind of like the unconvincing speech by the ghost of Jim Morrison in Wayne's World II where Garth learns that you can do your homework during the week and party out on Friday night.
Obviously, neither Mike Myers nor Raphael Allison read Lester Bangs, whose character in Almost Famous partakes in the following bit of dialogue:
Lester Bangs: The Doors? Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Alice Wisdom: I like The Doors. Lester Bangs: Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.
This is the third and last of a brief sequnce of posts widely dispersed over time on three major texts, which I taught during the academic year that has just passed. The first was on the Essays of Montaigne and the second was on Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. These are rather different cases, so that wit Montaigne it is a case of Montaigne not getting adequate attention as a major figure in the history of philosophy, as well as the attention he gets as a Renaissance literary figure and humanist. In the case of Montesquieu, the attention he get is appropriately directed at his contributions to political, social, legal, and historical thought, but despite his foundational role in all these areas he looks a bit second division, and marginal, a bit condescended to as an antiquarian of his time, and the amount of attention he gets is I believe believe below par given the level of his contributions.
What I am discussing is this post is the New Science of Giambattista Vico. It makes a slightly ironic sequel to the post on Montesquieu, since there is case for saying that Montesquieu, along with Rousseau, plagiarised Vico, particularly considering that both spent enough time in Italy that they must have had conversations about the distinguished Professor in Naples, who was at least well known in the peninsula in his own lifetime.
There's been a good bit conversation recently about the merits and demerits of "public philosophy" and, as someone who considers herself committed to public philosophy (whatever that is). I'm always happy to stumble across a piece of remarkably insightful philosophical work in the public realm. Case in point: Robin James (Philosophy, UNC-Charlotte) posted a really fascinating and original short-essay on the Cyborgology blog a couple of days ago entitled "An attempt at a precise & substantive definition of 'neoliberalism,' plus some thoughts on algorithms." There, she primarily aims to distinguish the sense in which we use the term "neoliberalism" to indicate an ideology from its use as a historical indicator, and she does so by employing some extremely helpful insights about algorithms, data analysis, the mathematics of music, harmony, and how we understand consonance and dissonance. I'm deeply sympathetic with James' underlying motivation for this piece, namely, her concern that our use of the term "neoliberalism" (or its corresponding descriptor "neoliberal") has become so ubiquitous that it is in danger of being evacuated of "precise and substantive" meaning altogether. I'm sympathetic, first, as a philosopher, for whom precise and substantive definitions are as essential as hammers and nails are to a carpenter. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I'm sympathetic with James' effort because as Jacques Derrida once said "the more confused the concept, the more it lends itself to opportunistic appropriation." Especially in the last decade or so, "neoliberalism" is perhaps the sine qua non term that has been, by both the Left and the Right, opportunistically appropriated.
James' definition of neoliberalism's ideological position ("everything in the universe works like a deregulated, competitive, financialized, capitalist market") ends up relying heavily on her distinction of neoliberalism as a particular type of ideology, i.e., one "in which epistemology and ontology collapse into one another, an epistemontology." In sum, James conjectures that neoliberal epistemontology purports to know what it knows (objects, beings, states of affairs, persons, the world) vis-a-vis "the general field of reference of economic anaylsis."
Thomas Reid argued that the human default trust in testimony is a gift of nature, which is sustained by two principles that "tally with each other", the propensity to speak the truth, and the tendency to trust what others tell us. Interestingly, he observed an embodied aspect of this trust:
It is the intention of nature, that we should be carried in arms before we are able to walk upon our legs; and it is likewise the intention of nature, that our belief should be guided by the authority and reason of others, before it can be guided by our own reason. The weakness of the infant, and the natural affection of the mother, plainly indicate the former; and the natural credulity of youth, and authority of age, as plainly indicate the latter. The infant, by proper nursing and care, acquires strength to walk without support (1764, Inquiry into the Human Mind, chapt VI, Of Seeing)
Reid's observations point to an intriguing possibility: to what extent is social cognition, such as trust in testimony, influenced by our bodily position, in particular the position we have as helpless infants? The Japanese primatologist Tetsuro Matsuzawa has argued that the supine position (that is, position on the back) of human newborns, has been a decisive factor in the evolution of human social cognition.
Humans and chimpanzees differ quite markedly in how much they trust others. For instance, although both chimpanzees and humans imitate, human children are more prone to overimitation than juvenile chimps, the children, but not the chimps, indiscriminately follow actions by an adult that are reduntant in obtaining a desired result (see e.g., here).
As this is the last BMoF before the summer break, I had hoped to post something cheerful (especially since we are leaving for Brazil tomorrow). But after a week of so much tragedy – the horrific situation in Gaza, the MH17 flight shot down in Ukraine – it is hard to think of anything that might be remotely appropriate to post today. There is however a song by recent BMoF guests Legião Urbana, a beautiful song about death, which might be just right: 'Vento no litoral'. Renato Russo wrote it after his long-time boyfriend had died, a victim of AIDS (which would in turn take Russo’s life a few years later). To be sure, the song does not have a political dimension to go with the deaths in Gaza and in Ukraine, but insofar as these are also private deaths (many people are now mourning the loss of their mother, father, son, daughter, lover, friend etc.), the song is spot-on what it means to still be alive after the death of a loved one. “Where are you now, beside here inside of me?”
Update: In the comments below philosopher Shelley Tremain takes issue with me posting this song and philosopher Christy Mag Uidur argues that the song's casual use of a derogatory term for disabled people is offensive. When I initially posted it I hadn't realized that it had the word "spastic" in it, nor even that it was historically a derogatory term for people with cerebral palsy.
This being said, given the satirical context, I don't have good intuitions about whether the usage is morally objectionable. First, having narrators over-commit to a premise to the point of offensiveness is a reliable trope in good satire (cf. Will Farrell's most brilliant routines on Saturday Night Live). I think that we would be much diminished as humans if the trope were hounded out of polite society. Second, but related, it's not Weird Al using the word, it's the song's narrator, who (as with many Weird Al songs) is himself part of what is being satirized. Third, as someone who had to cope with minor disabilities growing up, I can't help but find some of this concern paternalistic. I do think paternalism has a place, but I'm not quite convinced it does here.
All that being said, I do think that consequentialist concerns weigh very strong with respect to these kinds of issues. If the popularity of the song on facebook is causing a lot of harm, then it should not be popular.
Please add to the debate if you have any insight into this.*
[*Full disclosure: I've been a fan of Weird Al since My Bologna aired on the Doctor Demento Show when I was a kid. My wife and I saw him live in concert about seven years ago.]
“Yo” Is an App that doesn’t let you do much: it just lets you send or receive a “Yo” message to/from another subscriber. Purists might insist on this being content, but it really is pretty de minimis, which lets you ask the obvious question: why on earth would a communication technology that doesn’t really let you communicate anything interest anyone? My colleague Robin James has a brilliant answer to that question, which is that Yo basically embodies what Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism.” Here is James:
Visits of condolence is all we get from them. They squat at the Holocaust Memorial, They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall And they laugh behind heavy curtains In their hotels. They have their pictures taken Together with our famous dead At Rachel's Tomb and Herzl's Tomb And on Ammunition Hill. They weep over our sweet boys And lust after our tough girls And hang up their underwear To dry quickly In cool, blue bathrooms.
Once I sat on the steps by agate at David's Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. "You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there's an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!" I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, "You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."
In order to examine and address issues of participation faced by minority and underrepresented groups in academic philosophy (e.g. gender, race, native-language, sexual orientation, class, and disability minorities), a number of UK departments have recently started to build a UK network of chapters of MAP ( www.mapforthegap.com ).
With 24 active chapters to date, MAP (Minorities And Philosophy) is already a successful and widespread organization in the US and elsewhere. If you would like to have a MAP chapter at your own institution, this Call For Collaborators is for you. MAP chapters are generally run by graduate students (typically 3 or 4 per department), with some help from academic staff members; undergraduate participation is also encouraged.
At this stage we would be happy to hear especially from graduate students (groups or individuals) at UK Philosophy departments as well as from UK Philosophy academic staff who would like to coordinate graduate student interest in their institutions. Please contact Filippo Contesi (filippo.contesi at gmail dot com).
John Divers' Possible Worlds has a nice discussion of the worry that counterpart theory doesn't adequately justify the extent to which we are ego-concerned with our own possibilities. If the possible Humphrey that won the election is a distinct creature in a universe not spatially connected to ours, what does that matter to the actual Humphrey, very much concerned with the possibility of his own winning or losing?
Divers does a very good job on behalf of the counterpart theorist in trying to undermine this worry. It mostly involves showing how non-philosophical sentences involving ego concern end up coming out true as interpreted by the counterpart theorist. It's a little bit weak in that properties we might take to be intrinsic end up being relational. This is only a weakness because Lewis and Divers take this kind of thing to be a criticism of the person who holds that worlds overlap (the same Humphrey existing at multiple worlds), and this is why Divers himself only considers counterpart theorists who believe in the reality of non-actual possible worlds, and actualists who don't. But if you have to explain putatively intrinsic things relationally, why not do it to avoid counterparts in the first place? I think for Lewis the other part of the puzzle is a horror at ontic vagueness, which the overlapper would be more likely to face. For Lewis the possible worlds and objects aren't vague, but there is vagueness in our decision to take certain objects to be counterparts or not.
I'm still not up to date on this literature, but I think that Divers at least doesn't present the best argument to justify Kripke's original worry about ego concern. This is clear if we consider duplicates instead of counterparts. Duplicates are objects existing in the same world that could serve as counterparts if they existed in different worlds.* Given the kinds of recombination principles that Lewis and Divers countenance, it should follow that for any two counterparts at different worlds, there is a world where objects indiscernible to both counterparts (as well as the environmental aspects that make them work as counterparts) exist.