I blogged every day in January. It was not easy. I’m glad I did it, though. It helped snap me out of certain inhibitions that I have had about blogging, which I have discussed here and here. If you have a blog and you struggle to blog regularly, or if you don’t even know whether you want to blog regularly, I recommend giving yourself the month-long challenge. Here’s some things I learned. Read more
There is an ideology conference going on at Yale this weekend. Someone mentioned that ideology might be settled belief which has got me thinking about my settled beliefs. I have always worried about having settled beliefs, because I take seriously Socrates’ concern that our greatest danger would be to assume we know what we do not. For Socrates, the pursuit of knowledge requires a way of being related to oneself and one’s own knowledge, to know whether one knows or does not know. Read more
I’m coming to the end of my 31 days of blogging and I’ve been thinking about how this practice has changed my habits. Like blogging when I travel, I think blogging every day for a month has made me pay more attention to the thoughts that flit in and out of my head. They’ve also made me think about whether I want to develop something I’ve already written about a bit or if it matters enough to me. At the end of last year, I was recognizing a reticence in myself to write whatever insight or thought I had in a way that it looked to me that many people–mostly men–on social media did not have. I felt like I would circle around the idea four or five times and wonder whether it was worth putting in the world, which I talked about in my mid-month reflection on blogging.
Naming that problem has not necessarily changed it. Right now, I’m having one of those moments. I don’t know if my thought is worth sharing — I felt a little like this about yesterday’s post too — or if everyone already knows this except me. But I decided in these moments that the blog was just as much for me as for the world, and if it was important to me, it was worth sharing. Blogging about it gave me the opportunity to work through and clarify an idea that was percolating. I also tried to get out of my head the idea that my audience was other philosophers. In fact, I think this might be one thing that keeps philosophers from effectively engaging in public philosophy: we’re so tough on each other, we end up being more concerned with crafting the argument to be unassailable and original that either we just don’t write or we write to an audience that already is our audience!
The thought I had this morning was about the notion that women are more associated with their bodies than men that I discussed yesterday. I had always thought that the reason for this is that women bear children and so their work is literally in their body. But this morning I was thinking that is not sufficient. After a week of discussing Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work, it occurs to me that we think of men as less involved in reproduction because of our views of women as more their bodies and men less so, not the other way around. Read more
In Charles W. Mills’ essay, “But What Are You Really? The Metaphysics of Race,” he offers an array of markers that are used to identify a person’s race–ancestry, immediate family, self-identity, appearance, experience, self-awareness of culture, and so forth. He argues that the fact that we shift from one criterion to the next in identifying race suggests that we have a political not an epistemological investment in identifying race. Put another way, it’s because we want to maintain a certain structure of power that we shift our notion of what race means in different settings so that it applies in ways that serve that power structure in different moments. This move demonstrates that race is not something we wish to determine for the sake of some uninterested knowledge, but for political purposes.
While arguments against nature might be easier to make in terms of race, many more people think nature supports different roles for men and women. Witness, Larry Summers. Today, my Introduction to Gender Studies students came to the conclusion that we shift our definition of what nature means (either the ground for how things are or the thing that must be overcome) in a similar way to how we shift our definition of identity markers determine race. The shifting senses of nature show that we are invested in nature as a category that grounds certain power structures rather than as a real ground that will give us information about how things out to be. We change what we mean by “nature” depending on what allows us to justify the way things are in a particular context. Read more
I just got back from the doctor. Every time I go to the doctor I am amazed at how right Foucault is about the disciplinary power of the medical establishment. Foucault explains that a number of institutions are put to work beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries to take control over–to discipline–bodies. Sovereign power forms in order to protect life, and this protection of life, and this right to take it, becomes integral to the work of the sovereign. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Foucault argues in the last lecture of Society Must be Defended, “techniques of power”… “were essentially centered on the body, on the individual body.” These techniques organized, arranged and surveilled bodies in an effort to increase their (re)productivity. Foucault writes:
They were also techniques for rationalizing and strictly economizing on a power that had to be used in the least costly way possible, thanks to a whole system of surveillance, hierarchies, inspections, bookkeeping, and reports–all the technology that can be described as the disciplinary technology of labor.
This is how going to the doctor feels to me. Tests are done, questions are asked, personal histories are taken. I have had this same conversation with my doctor about my personal history over and over again. But she still asks the same things. Apparently nonjudgmental questions that are loaded with judgment are asked: questions about your sex life, your alcohol consumption, drug use, cigarette use, whatever. It doesn’t matter if you are doing something wrong or not, you feel like you are. In fact, the being in the doctor’s office, like being stopped by a police officer, creates the feeling that you are somehow in violation, you need to be better disciplined. They don’t even have to say it. You feel it. Read more
In the first book of Plato’s Republic, Plato has Socrates turn to the medical art in order to argue that justice like other technai, or knowledges that serve some practical purpose, benefit those they serve rather than those who have the knowledge. Socrates is responding to Thrasymachus who thinks justice is a purely conventional effort to use one’s power to serve themselves. Socrates, as is his wont in Platonic dialogues, introduces the question of knowledge–how can we serve ourselves if we do not know what would serve us well? Having Thrasymachus agree that we expect the ruled to obey, and that if they were to obey when the ruler was wrong about what serves him well, Socrates also gets Thrasymachus to agree that this view would have justice be both serving the rulers’ end and not. Thrasymachus explains himself by saying the ruler is only the ruler when the ruler is right about what his advantage is. Read more
In my book on Aristotle’s Politics, I argue that Aristotle’s definition of the human being as political on the basis of having logos, by which we organize pleasures and pains and determine what is beneficial and harmful, good and bad, just and unjust, functions to show that anyone making a claim to belong exemplifies their having of logos and thus belongs. Interestingly, I think this view might actually lead to showing, contra Aristotle’s argument that logos distinguishes humans from animals, that animals too might make claims and thus belong. I take Bruno Latour’s work on the politics of nature to show as much.
I’m currently working on a project on Aristotle’s biology, which has led me into some background research on ancient Greek medicine that has further complicated the question of how and whether we can use logos and phônê to distinguish humans from animals. Read more
This month I have found myself thinking about the ways that concepts from commercial life have come to pervade our thinking about ethical and political life to our detriment. Debt economics was one way. Efficiency is another.
In Republic II, Plato has Socrates justify having each person in the city do one task with recourse to efficiency. What would be more efficient? Accepting this point and the notion that each person has a nature suited to only one particular task leads to the city where each person is assigned a place. Multiple machinations and myths are required to keep things in that order. I believe that Plato is showcasing to us a political order based on a series of assumptions that he does not defend in order to challenge those assumptions. One of those assumptions is that efficiency is good for human beings. Read more
I just finished reading Elizabeth Costello, by J.M. Coetzee. The novel–is it really a novel?–is a series of addresses by a fictitious Australian author, Elizabeth Costello, framed by her interactions with her son, fellow authors, her sister and finally, a Benjaminian before-the-law type last chapter, and a prologue with a possibly fictitious letter. I’m writing this without reading anything else about the book because I want to keep working on my own sense of what the novel is about. I am not yet sure. But I think it is about something important, maybe about something only a novel can say, or rather, something a novel can best trouble. Read more
At a certain point in my running life, maybe in my second year living in Texas, when I was running 5-7 days a week, I began to experience running as a demand. I was unhappy with myself if I didn’t get a run in. I’d make sure to run in the morning if I had an event in the evening or I’d go home and run between work and evening activities. If I didn’t, I felt guilty. Often, when I was visiting family or at a conference, I wouldn’t have the time or the wherewithal to run and then I’d feel like I was not really a runner. People would ask at these times how my running was going and I, knowing that I hadn’t run in three days, would feel like an imposter of a runner when I said, really well, thanks. Then I’d acknowledge sheepishly that I hadn’t run in three days. I don’t think I realized that people were giving me odd looks because that did not seem to them to have any bearing on whether I was really a runner or not.
At one point in 2011, I think it was, I ran a hundred days in a row or so. I can’t remember how many days it was, which I consider to be a sign of my mental health regarding running, because there was a time when I was pretty obsessive about knowing how many days in a row it had been on any given day.