Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is Egypt another Iranian Revolution?

One of the places I've been keeping up with news about Egypt is The Daily Dish. Over there they have received this letter from a reader. In it the reader concludes on this point:
It seems likely to me that if the Dish and the internet had been around during the Iranian revolution, your coverage of the early days of that event would have fit in to the pattern of coverage typified by your response to the events in Egypt. The Shah was worse than a dictator, he was a monster. And the people who stood up to him were brave. They wanted to be free. But in hindsight, we know that the Iranian Revolution was a lot more complicated than that.
This is actually something I have been thinking about, particularly given Foucault's somewhat infamous support of the Iranian revolution. That Foucault would have supported the revolution has never surprised me, and much of his analysis from the time still strikes me as right on. For example, "The problem of Islam as a political force is an essential one for our time and for the years to come, and we cannot approach it with a modicum of intelligence if we start out from a position of hatred." And anyone who has dipped even their big toe into the writing of Ali Shariati knows that there existed in Iran at that time a powerful, coherent, and beautiful leftist Islamic strand of thought. That strand was betrayed and outmaneuvered in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, and what they ended up with was the Ayatollah. All of this reminds me of the distinction between a demonstration and an experiment in science as explained by Isabelle Stengers.
A demonstration is when you know the outcome, and you are merely showing that outcome. Think here of Galileo dropping two different weights from the Tower of Pisa. An experiment, on the other hand, is where the outcome is not known beforehand. You might have some idea, certainly some expectations, but ultimately the outcome is indeterminate until the experiment is run. Think here of the first time the atomic bomb was set off. There were a lot of ideas about what would happen, but there was a possibility that the atomic bomb might set the whole world on fire. Or it might not have worked at all. That's the nature of an experiment.

Revolution isn't ever a demonstration, it is always an experiment. The results are always indeterminate until the experiment has run. There is always the chance that a revolution just might set the world aflame.

On Blogging while in Grad School

MLA over at Prodigies & Monsters has a post up about blogging while still being in grad school. As his post indicates, this is a conversation I've had with him in the past. I highly suggest reading it. I plan to write more on it later, but right now am finishing a public talk entitled, "Philosophy in the Age of the Factory Farm: Ethics and Animals", and I very well might get sidetracked. So, go ahead and read his post, and hopefully I will have more to say later.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Philosophers who have become famous after their deaths?

Still following the situation in Egypt closely (probably too closely, as I have a public talk to give this Friday that needs to be finished). But I don't have much coherent to say at this point, so a thought I have been mulling over.

Are there philosophers that were not considered important in their own lifetime, that have become major sometime after they died?

In art to become famous after you have died is almost a cliche, the most famous example being, of course, Van Gogh. In literature there are any number of examples. Emily Dickinson, for one. Or Franz Kafka, whose obituary referenced him as a writer of the Max Brod school. In math, I can think of at least one major example, Georg Cantor.

In philosophy I haven't been able to come up with any examples. I have come up with plenty that have become more famous, they were already pretty well-known in their lifetime. I can come up with any number who were famous in their lifetime, but fairly ignored now. I am sure there is probably some obvious example that I will feel like an idiot when someone points it out to me.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt and Ranciere

Like many of you, I've been glued to Al Jazeera English live all morning. It is hard to describe. The NPD HQ is one fire, a curfew has been issued and the protesters don't seem to have gone away. The police seem to have completely left Cairo. The army has been called in, but no one knows what will happen next. I also agree with Marc Lynch that the US needs to get in front of all of this.

Yesterday I started teaching Ranciere's On the Shores of Politics to my Argumentation class. I talked about the events in Tunisia and in Egypt, and I used it as a way to talk about Ranciere's comments on the hatred of democracy, on the fear of democracy that seems to come from those places that most claim to support democracy. That indeed, few of us are for democracy, but rather for stability, terra firma, rather than the sea that is democracy. The sea, that as Schmitt remarked in his Nomos of the Earth, that is res Nullius and res Ominium, that the sea belongs to nobody because it belongs to everybody.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Post of Links

This is going to be far less comprehensive than previous posts, and I know I am missing a lot of good stuff (apologies in advance).

First up, the deadline for abstract submissions for the conference, The Revolution of Time and the Time of Revolution, is Feb. 1st. Get them in, people. The conference itself is really coming together. Many of the submissions so far are simply wonderful looking. As well as strong traditional submissions, we also have a few performative or artistic submissions that also seem quite amazing. Come join what is sure to be a great conference.

As you know, Peter Gratton is the keynote speaker at The Revolution of Time and the Time of Revolution, and he also has a review of Nancy's The Truth of Democracy.

Levi has responded on the issue of Derrida, here. I have two quick comments, for now (and this might exhaust all I have to say on the subject at the time). (1) Levi's response treats Derrida as a serious and important thinker, whose philosophical system is one he has particular disagreements with. That's fair. Whether one agrees with Levi's assement of what Derrida says, or agrees with that critique of that position, Derrida is not being treated as a caricature. (2) Levi seems to indicate in his post that I had treated some of Derrida's critics in the form of a caricature. I don't think so. I think at times during the so-called 'Derrida Wars', there have been statements (perhaps purposefully hyperbolic) that have claimed that Derrida only writes about books or is only a destructive thinker. But I'm not invested in who said what or anything. And not all critics of Derrida have been reductive in the ways they have treated him.

I also want to suggest this post on relations, from Levi.

Awhile back I talked about humane-washing:
Zamir doesn't confront what I call, following the term greenwashing, humane-washing. Because, for the most part, increasing the humane conditions of animals decrease profits market logic dictates that people don't increase humane conditions. But, one might object, isn't this why it is important that we demand more humanely raised animal products? Well, just as with greenwashing, humane-washing involves selling the image and myth of more humanely raised animals while not fulfilling this promise. Which makes far more market sense really. And we have seen this, over and over again. We have seen this with so-called cage free eggs, and we have seen this with humanely raised meat. Increased demand in both these cases didn't lead to better conditions, it frequently led to companies decreasing standards in order to gather the profits of higher demand.

Well, this was clearly the sort of term that was bound to be invented by a lot of people, and here is an interesting Grist article on the issue of humane-washing. Definitely worth a read.

Almost everyone has linked to this post by Jason Read on the dialogue between Judith Butler and Catherine Malabou on Hegel. And for good reason, go check it out.

Tim Morton takes up the issue if computer programming languages should count as a foreign language requirement. Ian Bogost follows up here. There is an interesting history over at PIC on that very issue. A while back PIC required three languages. Then it became three languages, but logic could count as a language. Then, it wasn't just logic, it was also things like computer languages. And then, it wasn't just logic and computer languages, it was a skill that would be helpful toward working on your dissertation. So, one woman did a dissertation on the way that women constitute their sociality during sewing and quilting, and she had to learn to sew and quilt for her dissertation. However, it was determined there was no real way to evaluate if someone had attained a skill, and so that requirement was eventually just booted. Leaving us still with a two language requirement. I'm not sure if any of this answers the question of if a computer language counts as a foreign language.

PACT is having a conference on "The Political Animal", in the broad sense of that term. I almost named my blog the political animal, but it was the name of the blog over at the Washington Monthly (at that time Kevin Drum blogged there), and so I decided on Critical Animal instead.

This is an annoyingly punned article on how a rooster in a cock fight killed the owner forcing him to fight. I link to this because so often people talk about animals in such passive terms, as if there is not constant and regular resistance.

I know I missed stuff, but Peter has been doing a good job at catching a lot more stuff that I have been missing, so start at this post and work your way through his recent blog posts.

This time is a song from Delta Spirit, "People C'mon". The music video has everything: Murder, Art, Intrigue, and a kick-ass song.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Derrida, Again

Some discussions won't go away. Here is one of them.

See Peter, Chris, and Eric.

Look, if one needed to resist Derrida in order to speak and think, I am on record as having nothing against that. There was certainly a time in my own philosophical life where that was true. Where a certain Derridaism prevented a certain set of philosophical questions that I was involved in, and I needed to reject Derrida (personally, if nowhere else) in order to think them.

But still, this idea that Derrida was never invested in creating his own philosophical positions seem to either come from too narrow of a reading of Derrida, or too narrow of an idea of philosophy, or both. If you look at the 'late' Derrida, he is clearly trying to work out ideas of cosmopolitanism, friendship/fraternity, and hospitality. Frequently in a non-anthropocentric register. He did so both through recourse to other texts, but also through a profound number of insights of his own that were not mere textual glosses. And these are far from his only philosophical productions in his some 40 odd year career as a philosopher.

Also, none of this should be taken as an attack on Laurelle, on whom I know relatively little. Just wanted to clarify.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some thoughts on writing the dissertation

You might have noticed that my blogging has fallen off of late. I am still trying to adjust to my new schedule this semester, and blogging has been the first causality. As I organize my life in better ways, I am sure that my blogging will pick up. Now, to the post.

Tim Morton has been doing a series of advice posts on writing the dissertation. You can find them here, and they are worth reading. I wanted to add in some things from a current dissertation writer.
So far, so true from what Tim has been saying. Getting over the idea that you are writing your first book has been the hardest thing for me. Not only has my adviser been telling me this since almost the first day I ever met him (he didn't realize he was my adviser at that time). It also helped reading some dissertations that became books I also read (for reasons that include legitimate academic ones, I read both Jason Wirth's dissertation and Matt Calarco's. I've also read the books they eventually informed. While similar enough to understand their filiation, they were also different enough to really hammer in that these are two different products). With all of that, on some level I still had been thinking of my dissertation as my book-to-be. It was until about a month ago, when the tension between the first part of the dissertation and the second part of the dissertation (for those who are interested in some details, read this) was too much conceptually for me. Not too much for the same dissertation, but two much to be one book. What will almost certainly happen is that the dissertation will provide the framework and raw research for two different book projects, rather than the one.
Another issue of the dissertation is the balance between writing and researching. I'm the sort of scholar who happily spends many hours in archives, who enjoys taking a weekend to track down the origins of a particular phrase, etc. I've always been the sort of intellectual who befriends the small, marginal, asides in work. The dissertation really allows me to wallow in mode. Switching to a writing mode, and at some point ending the perpetual research has been hard. Focus on exactly what the dissertation looks like, and the goals I want to accomplish has been the biggest helps in this regard.
Marketability is the last thing I want to talk about, here. One of the weird things that emerges for anyone who engages in interdisciplinary work is that despite the tendency of your work to often generate excitement among diverse people, is that it is often hard to translate that excitement in proving you are engaged in a disciplinary intellectual adventure. There is a desire, at times, to put your dissertation in a sort of disciplinary drag. I don't have much to say here, I am bad at that. On some level, a dissertation has got to be thought of as a vehicle to help you get a job, and ignoring that seems like a bad idea. On the other hand, the degree of how to do that and in what ways are not something I can speak to.

I should probably take the time to break off a few chapters and try to get them published.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All my biases confirmed: Education Issue

I'm sure all of you have heard about the new book, Academically Adrift. Using a large longitudinal study, 45% of students made no gains on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) during their first two years in college, and 36% made no gains over four years. That basically means colleges are not reaching a little over a third of our students (the ones who don't drop out) at all. But the study also points out exactly whom we are not reaching:
After controlling for demographics, parental education, SAT scores, and myriad other factors, students who were assigned more books to read and more papers to write learned more. Students who spent more hours studying alone learned more. Students taught by approachable faculty who enforced high expectations learned more. "What students do in higher education matters," the authors note. "But what faculty members do matters too." The study also found significant differences by field of study. Students majoring in the humanities, social sciences, hard sciences, and math—again, controlling for their background—did relatively well. Students majoring in business, education, and social work did not. Our future teachers aren't learning much in college, apparently, which goes a long way toward explaining why students arrive in college unprepared in the first place. Financial aid also matters. The study found that students whose financial aid came primarily in the form of grants learned more than those who were paying mostly with loans. Debt burdens can be psychological and temporal as well as financial, with students substituting work for education in order to manage their future obligations. Learning was also negatively correlated with­—surprise—time spent in fraternities and sororities.

Well, glad to know there is now hard data to back up all my biases. I am also with Tom, we need to stop cutting programs that teach critical thinking.

As far as the suggestions for federal government mandating loan money to schools that do well on the CLA, such as Kevin Carey (the first link) seem to be suggesting. From what I can tell from discussion with colleagues at schools that have implemented internal CLA testing in the past, the stats are pretty easy to juke. For example, you can open the initial assessment to the general population, but only test your students enrolled in your honors program in the senior year. You can require the test, offer no incentives (positive or negative) the first time, which will frequently produce students hurrying to get through it. And give strong incentives for the taking it the last time, creating a climate where students will take it more seriously. You can teach classes to the test. Indeed, you can make it common that professors provide in-class evaluations that are somewhat similar to the methodology of the test itself (questions in which students exam in-class pieces of evidence, and are able to explain and evaluate the arguments of those pieces of evidence). I'm not saying that the CLA is a bad metric. It can be, but as first blush, the way it was used here seems to have been honest and up-front. I am saying that the CLA is a bad metric for figuring out which schools should get money. Unless I am wrong (and I could be, I would love to hear from some readers with experience dealing with the CLA), it seems that it is pretty easily manipulable if schools have a strong financial incentive.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some Thoughts on Ontology

Recently, there was another throw down between the relationists and the OOO. And almost predictably, it also became annoyingly personal between many of the participants. For various reasons (including that I had too much to do this weekend to actually keep up), I'm not going to respond to any of it. Instead, it merely encouraged me to make a rare post on ontology proper. What is going to follow are a series of relatively unsupported theses on ontology that I sometimes, on occasion, subscribe to. I welcome responses, but I have no real desire to defend current thoughts. So, feel free to disagree. I'll read and think about it. I probably won't defend anything. Though I might, if the spirit moves me.

(1) I don't believe in first philosophy. Instead, philosophy is filled with semi-discreet, enmeshing sub-disciplines. Ethics and ontology are two different things, but not wholly different. And more importantly, one doesn't come before the other. (And of course, it could also be aesthetics, epistemology, etc.).

(2) Obviously, I am anti-anthropocentric. In ethics and other things this might be a weak anti-anthropocentrism. I am convinced that we need to extend our ethical duties and obligations to other animals, I am not convinced we do so to my desk. I am, however, completely convinced that my desk is a full ontological being. That is to say, I am a strong anti-anthropocentrist in ontology. For example, in order to open up the desk, I have to first open up the drawer above my lap, and only then am I allowed to open up the drawers to my side. That seems to me that I am dealing with a real ontological interaction. Meanwhile, the conductive elements in the microchips in my computer interact with electricity, and random bits of information occasionally get lost or moved around without my ever telling my computer to do those things. In other words, it is obvious to me that things interact with each other, and humans never have to be on site for this to happen (this is so obvious to me, I wonder how anyone can disagree with it).

(3) I'm not sure about withdrawal. I am sure about opacity. Any system of relation (both internal systems and external systems) has to deal with opacity. This is basically an anti-anthropocentric reading of Glissant's brilliant text, Poetics of Relation. I highly suggest it for anyone who hasn't read it. Opacity means that beings are never given over to another being. This is both true for beings outside of my self, but also beings internal to my self. Now, opacity is not an empirical part of relations to be overcome, but a constitutive part of relations that is both essential and important. As Wittgenstein famously put it, "We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!"

There are a lot more, but I suddenly have to run. If I don't hit the publish button, I know I won't come back to this post anytime soon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Haunted Conception

Sure, you can spend all of your time talking about lava lamps, goo, fishes, whom you can't talk to, personalities, and etc.

Or, you can talk about how awesome the speculative realism blog name generator is. Really, I don't know why anyone else is talking about anything else (hat tip to Stuart Elden, who might need cheering up that most people went to see his blog for someone else's post).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Monopoly of Monopoly

The title sounds better than the actual post will be. Yesterday was the start of classes, which is always exciting. I am teaching an Intro to Philo class (in the Philosophy department), and Argumentation (in the Communication Studies department). Every year I pass out notecards and get basic information from the students, but and every time I also add in one random, silly question. Like, What is your favorite arctic animal?, What is your least favorite place to visit?, etc. This year, inspired by philosophy monopoly I linked to before, I asked them for their favorite board game.

Monopoly won, hands down. Many students admitted to picking the game randomly, as it was one of the few games that came to them. In second place was Scrabble, followed in third by Apples to Apples. Those were the only games to reach double digits. I don't really have a profound point to make with all this, just sharing.

Also, isn't it great how students work very hard to make unfunny professors seem rather witty? I am always surprised at the things students are willing to laugh at. I think it is rather nice of them to take such pity on me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Post of Links

I hope everyone had a good weekend, I know I did.

Remember, get those abstracts in for The Time of Revolution and the Revolution of Time, featuring Peter Gratton as the keynote speaker.

Speaking of Peter Gratton, I am happy to see he is one of the new editors of Society & Space.

This philosophy version of Monopoly seems awesome. For example, it features a picture of Foucault, telling you to go straight to the Panopticon. (h/t Foucault News)

Speaking of design work, Thomas Gokey has a post up beginning to work out his plan for a project GutenbAAAAARG. Looks pretty cool, doesn't it?

EJ is dissatisfied with ethical work that merely justifies what we already intuit to be true.

Tim Morton has been posting some interesting clips from this trippy old british children's show, Mr. Been. I suggest watching this clip.

MR Sheffield, one of the geniuses behind the band Zombies! Organize!! has a new blog, Why is my cat so sad?, which just has to be seen. I particularly like Luco the Cat's on-going interest in Buddhism. It does make me wonder what Morton will think of it, with his work on buddhophobia. (h/t and interesting commentary from Prodigies & Monsters).

Speaking of P+M, I got to hang out with them this weekend in Augusta, which was a blast. Though we kept having weird flashbacks to our time in Binghamton, including finding an used book in a bookstore that originally belonged to another PIC student. Augusta turned out to be pretty cool itself, like a very, very small slice of Portlandia. To get the reference, check out this song.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Post of Links

First up, over at Adam's blog, we have excellent resource guide to critical animal studies. I know many of you probably know a lot of those things, but for anyone trying to get an handle on critical animal studies, you might want to go and take a look. Plus, some of you more experienced types might still find resources you didn't know existed.

I don't mean to turn this into an Adam themed post, but when someone delivers, they deliver. If you remember my post on plants, well Adam has two links worth resharing. The first is a call for papers from PAN about an issue on "Plant Ethics". I don't think I have the time to write something more publishable for them, but I think some of you might be interested. Also, Adam shared this TED talk on the roots of plant intelligence. If you want to see my thoughts on it, read the comment section of my plant post.

Jason Read has an excellent review of Benjamin Noys' The Persistence of the Negative. Noys has a short response up here. I want to say more. I come out of a similar intellectual tradition as Jason Read, so I definitely want to check out Noys' book.

This a reminder that the deadline for Speculations II is tomorrow.

Mike Konczal has an interesting post on why we saw an explosion in the prison population in the 1970s, a trend that has only continued. Most of the stuff I have read on this subject has tended to focus on things like the creation of the War on Crime and the War on Drugs. And while that is no doubt correct, that is less of an explanation than another symptom. Konczal took a look at a lot of 70s conservative criminology recently, and what emerges is an economic and policy-oriented belief in what I would call the ontological production of the criminal. That is to say, there strongly emerges a belief that there is a distinct being that is a criminal, and the only appropriate response is to lock that person away. Anyway, read the link to find out what the criminologists were actually saying.

Graham Harman has had a couple of posts on the success of open-source publishing. See here, here, and most importantly here. Stuart Elden has an important follow-up here (also read the comment there). Two thoughts. The first is that I largely agree with the need for more academic open source publishing. The problem is that those of us who are most junior have the most pressure to not engage in open source. And the more senior the person, the more often they have developed consistent channels of publications that tend to not want to break from. The second point about getting away from issues is something that Adam Kotsko promoted before, and that Peter disagreed with before. That Stuart and Peter would be on the same side surprises absolutely nobody. That Adam and Graham are on the same side, well, all I can say is Awkward (Sorry, sometimes I think I am funny).

The guy who runs this blog suggested I post this song. It's been a long time since I sat down and just listened to Elliot Smith. Probably time to do so again, I think I am immune to his angst these days.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Some thoughts on plants

I probably need better blog post titles.

Anyone who has been a vegetarian for any length of time has heard some variation of the argument, "What about plants?". As Jonathan Safran Foer points out in the video I just linked to, it usually occurs in rather insulting and idiotic formulations, "Haven't you heard the carrots crying?". Much like Thomas Taylor's Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, which sought not to support animal rights but to mock women's rights, these declarations have not sought to promote concern for the welfare of plants, but simply to belittle the welfare of other animals. Taylor, however, shows that sometimes the opponents of liberation have clearer sight. Much like people opposed to interracial marriages who argued such a destabilization would lead same sex marriages, we are currently in the midst of the fights for the rights of brutes. Maybe fighting for rights for other animals will give us a chance to see clearly if plants too deserve rights (or, at the least, ethical duties and obligations). Taylor ends his pamphlet with this closing paragraph:
And thus much may suffice, for an historical proof, that brutes are equal to men. It only now remains (and this must be the province of some able hand) to demonstrate the same great truth in a similar manner, of vegetable, minerals, and even the most apparently contemptible clod of earth; that thus this sublime theory being copiously and accurately discussed, and its truth established by an indisputable series of facts, government may be entirely subverted, subordination abolished, and all things every where, and in every respect, be common to all.
Though pure satire on the part of Taylor, don't tell me there isn't a part of you that cheers along, playing those lines straight.
I think the time is coming where serious concerns with plants are arising. Tom Sparrow runs down several places where people are moving in this direction (and I have heard of a few other instances). And we have even more from Tim Morton, including talking about slime molds and bacteria. Now, exactly a year ago I made a post about plants (okay, so I wrote this post a couple of days ago, but I could resist making these posts exactly a year apart when I noticed that), and I still stand behind it. I won't repeat it here, but I clearly need a more serious response if people are seriously engaging the ethical issues of plants without merely seeking to destroy our ethical commitments (which is how this argument has traditionally functioned). Are plants our next project for the expansion of our ethical sphere? Maybe beyond plants as well? Maybe until everything, everywhere is in common to all. In other words, flat ethics.
I want to begin by stating that many ethicists who have rejected speciesism does not logically extend to plants. If you are a devotee of Tom Regan or Peter Singer, there is nothing from their standpoint to extend their theories toward plants. The reason is they are working with some fairly precise criteria for who gets to be included in the moral community, and who gets excluded. And while there are plenty of gray areas for their theories, it doesn't mean there are some criteria from which they are extrapolating from. Meanwhile, few Continental ethicists have invested in these questions of who gets to count. If anything, there are frequent and explicit rejections of such discourses. Matt Calarco's wonderful book Zoographies, for example, is in many ways an extended argument for political, ontological, and ethical agnosticism. As he writes:
If this is indeed the case, that is, if it is the case that we do not know where the face begins and ends, where moral considerability begins and ends, then we are obliged to proceed from the possibility that anything might take on a face. And we are further obliged to hold this possibility permanently open. At this point, most reasonable readers will likely see the argument I have been making as having absurd consequences. While it might not be unreasonable to consider the possibility that "higher" animals who are "like" us, animals who have sophisticated cognitive and emotive functions, could have a moral claim on us, are we also to believe that "lower" animals, insects, dirt, hair, fingernails, ecosystems, and so on could also have a claim on us? Any argument that leads to this possibility is surely a reductio ad absurdum. In response to such a charge, I would suggest affirming and embracing what the critic sees as an absurdity. (p. 71, emphasis added)
How do you like that Calarco litany? Anyway, for those that do not engage in issues of moral considerability, or specifically reject such issues, the way forward gets more complicated. If you are a classical utilitarian, the way forward is to figure out if plants have the capacity for suffering. So far that seems highly unlikely, so you can just move on. But what if you don't know what gives a being a face (to use Calarco's Levinasian language), how can you say if you plants have faces? Julia Butterfly definitely felt that the tree Luna had a face. And while many of us might feel that a 1500 redwood does have a face or at least understand where she was coming from, few of us believe that the weeds in our garden have a face. As I said in my last post about plants, I find it hard to believe that breeding clementines to be seedless is the same sort of violence of breeding turkeys so they can no longer mate with each other, or enjoy basic sexual relations. Am I simply engaging in the same sort of 'moral schizophrenia' that people who eat animals and love their pets engage in?
This gets to the heart of much of my unease when talking about issues of plants. It is hard to at all be critical without having your arguments parallel those arguments made against animals. If you say plants do not suffer, do you not just repeat the moves of the Descartes and his disciples? If you wonder if plants actually have sociality just because they release chemicals that other plants respond to, are you not simply repeating all of those people who screamed anthropomorphism every time animals engaged in obvious modes of sociality? I think when arguments parallel the structures of obviously wrong arguments it is certainly time to be suspicious. However, saying, "Well, that is exactly like when x argues y" is not, in and of itself, an argument. For example, if someone said to you, "I know you believe that all the planets in the solar system orbit the Sun, but really they orbit as yet unknown black hole." Rejecting that claim until actual evidence is proffered does not make you the freaking Inquisition talking to Copernicus.
All of this isn't to say that plants are not beings worthy of our moral respect on the highest levels. But I remain far from convinced on these issues. Plants are awesome and cool. Like any being subject to evolutionary forces, they engage in active processes that resist them dying before reproductive. These processes in animals, both human and otherwise, have tended toward the abilities for suffering and joy, for sociality, for desire and and yearning, for senses of embodiment, etc. I have yet to see indications that plants responses to evolutionary pressures have really been the same. But I could be wrong, and am interested in hearing more on this issue.

Does the philosophical divide really need to be deepened?

Michael Marder has a new post on the weird brush up that occured over at the Leiter blog a while back. A couple of quick thoughts:

(1) It is kinda weird how he makes a whole post about the Leiter situation without mentioning Leiter once. On the one hand, I guess I understand that impulse. On the other hand, the desire to read the situation as being somehow deeply symptomatic of philosophy as a whole seems fairly problematic.
(2) Most of my interactions with younger academics (the recently tenured, junior faculty, and everyone below that) seem relatively uninterested in continuing any sort of active hostilities. Now, I am sure there is a major sampling bias going on in those experiences, but I've never felt that what I need is less interactions with my brethren on the analytic side of things. Even with that said, it is true that a good number of biases and prejudices continue on both sides of the fence. As usual, I am not sure more segregation is the best way of getting rid of those biases and prejudices. Marder solution seems to not be a solution at all, and more of a way of just not having to deal with each other. Coming out of an institution with two philosophy programs (probably one of the few in the States that has more than one), I'm not sure it is best solution to the situation, either. Though the divide between PIC and SPEL is hardly a simple one of between Continental and Analytic, considering neither program offers a lot in traditional analytical philosophy.
(3) I guess this gets me into another problem with Marder's post, which is the way the whole conflict seems constituted around one linear divide in philosophy. I almost want to say something like there are more philosophies in heaven and earth, Marder, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. My training in non-western and decolonial philosophy is as likely to make me seem like a stranger among readers of Deleuze and Agamben, as my training in Deleuze and Agamben is to make me seem like a stranger among those who were trained in Russell and Quine. Moreover, if you spend some time talking to people who practice ethics in the Analytic tradition, more than a few of them will regale you with stories about they way they are often treated as ugly step children among their cohort in Analytic philosophy. Meanwhile, while I often engage in a history of philosophy, I don't tend to think of what I do as a history of philosophy. And I am somewhat unsettled by Marder's elision between Continental philosophy and a history of philosophy. I know plenty historians of philosophy who are not Continentalists, and I know plenty of Continentalists who are not primarily historians of philosophy. I know in some way in seems I am picking on Marder for engaging in simple heuristics necessary for a blog post, but I am trying to highlight one of things that makes me most uneasy with his solution of deepening the divide. I don't think there is the divide, and if we seek to deepen along the fault lines of only a linear and singular divide than those of us who have so many other differences is going to find it all the harder to find their places. With a little recourse to Ranciere, the problem with a place for everyone and everyone in their place is you are always going to have a remainder, a part that has no part.

Anyway, I am feeling fairly sympathetic to Marder in all of this. And it is true that Leiter et al seem to have fairly strong unofficial institutional influence, and that the tendency of many of them to act in such a strongly and absurdly anachronistic fashion, tilting at the 'postmodernists' and feeling superior over groups they clearly know little to nothing about is disturbing. But with all of that, I have no desire to confuse what is going on over there with philosophy in general. Or, maybe I just hope it doesn't reflect philosophy in general.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Post of Links

During the holidays I thought up a lot of posts I wanted to make, but never got around to writing. Hopefully I can get them written and up, though some of their timeliness has been effected. I was also pretty terrible at keeping up with what other people have been writing, and with emails. So, if I owe you an email, remind me. Also, if I missed something interesting, let me know.

I am pleased to see Nathan of Prologus producing posts again, and I would like to draw attention to his essay "Recognition Theory and the Question of the Animal". Not only is it interesting, but he is also looking toward submitting it to a journal very shortly, and would enjoy some feedback on it. Why do you practice some of that intellectual generosity that Harman and Elden have been talking about, and go read and comment on that essay.

The deadline for submitting abstracts to the Revolution of Time and the Time of Revolution conference is drawing near. So, get on it. (Expect more of these sorts of posts).

Jonathan Safran Foer recently spoke at Google. It is an interesting video, particularly the question and answer section. Hopefully I will be writing more on what he has to say, later.

Jodi Dean has a new article in Krisis entitled Drive as the Structure of Biopolitics. Here is what she says the article is about:
I argue that biopolitics is best understood not as a mode of governance that takes life as its object but rather as the unintended byproduct of the clash between sovereign power and capitalist economics. Biopolitics is an effect of the capture of popular sovereignty in a kind of loop around the absence of political sovereignty in the economy. To make this argument, I draw from Foucault’s discussion of liberalism and neoliberalism and Lacan’s account of drive.
And if that sounds interesting to you (and it should), let me say the whole article is worth reading.

Speaking of capitalist economics, this Slate article on the etymology and economic history of the word austerity is entirely appropriate.

I am sure you all know already, but The Speculative Turn has finally been released. Details and free pdf download can be found here.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops was one of my favorite discoveries of 2010. Check out their amazing cover of "Hit 'em Up Style". And then maybe go get their whole album.