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Posts from the ‘Public Philosophy’ Category

#FEMMSS6

I learned about the Feminist Epistemologies, Metaphysics, Methodologies and Science Studies  (FEMMSS) 6th conference at the GLCA Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies workshop in Ann Arbor last May from someone who works in science studies.  FEMMSS is the feminist epistemologists and metaphysicians equivalent to the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) conference.  Since FEAST meets every other year, FEMMSS meets on the off year.  What’s great about this conference is how interdisciplinary it is — people from physics, neuroscience, philosophy, anthropology, history and sociology are here.  I have enjoyed the interdisciplinary conferences I’ve attended in the last several years, from HASTAC to PODNetwork to Wonder and the Natural World at IU this last June.  The conversations are lively and cross-pollinating, and the intradisciplinary anxiety and intensity seem softened by the interdisciplinary engagements. Read more

#7DaysofWomen

Starting on May 5, I embarked on a week-long social media experiment where I only engaged with women online.  I did this project in conjunction with blogger and philosopher Leigh Johnson.  Here’s what I posted and she posted on Facebook to announce the project.

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I have long felt like social media is a man’s world.  Men get all the privileges they get as men, but it feels amplified on social media.  My experience of social media in general is that men can say things that get taken as definitive, while women are asked to explain and justify.  Men say things about their difficulties in any particular area of their life and it is taken as an expression of their reflective capacities, but when women express such difficulties, it is taken as a moment to offer advice.  I don’t have the data (a. I would love to see such work being done and b. I think the call for data in response to this expression of my experience is in a sense part of what happens to women on the internet–we call it gaslighting when experience is not to be trusted), but my experience on the interwebz is that it’s a hard place to be a woman, especially a woman in philosophy. Read more

Experts and Political Life

I was listening to the DoubleX podcast this morning because I promised awhile ago to blog my reflections on it more often.  They were talking about the “tampon tax” and how there’s a new “period feminism” about owning your period, and wow, isn’t it weird how menstruation seems to somehow capture men’s fears about women?  I was annoyed.  And I realized, I was annoyed for the same reasons from the last time I blogged about this podcast–they aren’t experts on a subject that does in fact have experts.  There are people (like my new fave, Helen King) who work in gender theory who talk about how menstruation going back to the ancient Greeks captures something of the male anxiety about women’s reproductive capacities and death–you know, the whole shedding of blood bit.

I haven’t been blogging much this month because I haven’t felt like I was an expert on the various issues and ideas that I’ve considered in the last month or so (though, I gotta tell you, once I thought about how I really should blog, all of a sudden, I could think of four different posts I had to write, so I think thinking-towards-the-blog is itself productive of thinking).  The political moment we live in seems to be one of a general disparagement of those who claim to be experts, and mocking the experts is something of an American pastime (consider the glee directed at Nate Silver’s fails).  I might be chagrined that Trump has benefited from the decline of respect for expert knowledge, but I share this skepticism of the rising class of technocrats.  When economists say we are the experts, we can fix the economy, and only we can figure it out because it is so complicated, I start to worry.  Whenever anyone says, this is just a matter of the right knowledge, and the one with the right knowledge, that is the person who gets to rule, their claim is more of a political one than an epistemological one. Read more

Buying a House: Debt

I’m in the process of buying a house for the first time.  This is exciting and strange.  I first started looking for a house the same week that I was teaching John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government.  I realized even more forcefully this time around how much social contract theory’s claims to belonging are tied up in relations to private property.  Witness the ongoing opposition between owners and renters documented in San Francisco in the wake of the tech boom.  Then last week, as we were signing the purchase agreement, I was explaining Marx’s analysis of capitalism to students, that wealth is produced by labor.  Fine, work harder.  But in the capitalist mode of production based as it is on private property, the worker never sees the fruit of her labor.  Private property gives the owner license to recoup the surplus value of labor, while the worker only has the right to the compensation that is socially determined is sufficient to return her to work again.  I realized I was living smack dab in the center of the contradiction between ideology and economic mode of production that Marx maintains will be the end of capital.  So being a good member of the typing left (per Jodi Dean), I decided the best mode of resistance is surely to blog about it.   This will then be the first in a series of blogs about house buying, private property, home-owning, home repair and remodeling, and town vs. country.

So, debt.

I have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, even though I had tuition remission and a stipend from my graduate program.  I definitely made decisions in college based on money rather than on what I wanted to do because I was paying for college by myself and I couldn’t afford not to work during summers and winter breaks (like I didn’t think I could afford study abroad, and was never told otherwise, and I just didn’t know that I could take my loans to off-campus housing which could have been cheaper and things like that).  I thought Occupy’s efforts to take on debt and organize for debt forgiveness were a good idea, but not at the top of list of efforts to join.  So yeah, I read David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years and I know debt is a burden and a historical rather than an intrinsic social relation, but I don’t think I ever realized how much a racket the debt industry is until this morning when I had to read through the 70-something pages related to my mortgage agreement.  Even though intellectually I know better, I thought debt was just the price you have to pay to be in the middle class.  By the end of the life of my loan, 69% of what I will have paid back will be interest on the principle.  69%!  What I realized in reading my mortgage agreement is that this situation is not just an economic necessity, borrowing with an interest rate that has 69% of what you pay back going to interest (i.e., to the bank, and I have a great rate!) could not happen without the institutional support of the government which makes the penalty for failing to pay, not just financially costly, but dire for families who are foreclosed on.  Government officials–sheriffs!–do the bank’s work of putting people who cannot pay on the street.

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What is Public Philosophy?

Yesterday, Leigh Johnson posted at The Philosophers’ Cocoon in their “Real Jobs in Philosophy” series.  She says something in the piece that brought me up short (honestly, she often does that).  You should go read the whole thing; I want to focus on this one passage, the one under the heading “Research”:

I don’t get much time to do extended, concentrated, article-generating research—see above—though I am slowly realizing that I have exponentially more time for research, broadly-speaking, than I did at my previous position. That’s partly a consequence of not being buried in departmental business and new preps and the TT grind, but more so because I’m older now and I think about research much differently. I read a lot more and write (mostly digitally) a lot more than I used to, I do a lot of collaborative work, and I have more time to engage interests and concerns that are not primarily aimed at turning out peer-reviewed publications. I do some sort of research every day.

Johnson says she does some form of research everyday, but this research is not focused on peer-reviewed publications and it’s mostly digital.  I’m going to go out on a limb and speak for the philosophical community when I say that philosophers generally don’t think that our digital work is research.  Further on the limb, we don’t think this work is research, not only because we tend to think that whatever is meant for public consumption can’t be that good, but also because we tend to think public philosophy is either popularizing philosophical concepts developed in the quiet corners of the ivory tower or applying these same concepts same to some relevant area of public life.  Both popularizing and applying tend to be viewed as not as rigorous philosophy, not really philosophy itself but a possible use for philosophy.*  When Johnson says she does some sort of research every day and that this research is not aiming toward peer-review academic publication, she seems to be saying that her public philosophy is itself the production of philosophical ideas, not just the application of those ideas to contemporary issues. Read more

Day 9: Reflections on the Public Philosophy Panel at the APA

The APA Committee on Public Philosophy hosted a panel yesterday entitled, “Navigating the Perils of Public Cyberspace: Toward New Norms of Public Engagement.”   Read more

Teaching Dialogue(s): A Digital Engagement with Plato, Socrates and Chris Long

At HASTAC2015 at Michigan State in May, then-soon-to-be-new Dean of College of Arts and Letters at MSU, Chris Long, and I hatched a plan to have my students engage his book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy (Cambridge 2014).  Students would read the book online and engage the digital platform Cambridge set up to encourage a living relationship to the text. As a follow up and to enhance the dialogical engagement, Long agreed to videoconference into class.  This week, we did it.   Read more

Not Being Able to Make What is Just, Strong, One Made what is Strong, Just.

In Pensees, Blaise Pascal writes:

Justice, Force.—It is just that what is just be followed; it is necessary that what is strongest be followed. Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyrannical. Justice without force is contradicted, because there are always bad people; force without justice stands accused. So justice and force must be put together; and to do so make what is just, strong and what is strong, just. 

Justice is subject to dispute; force is easy to recognize and is indisputable.  And so one could not give force to justice, because force contradicted justice, and said that it is was unjust, and said that it was force that was just. And thus, not being able to make what is just, strong, one made what is strong, just.

The week that Sandra Bland died in police custody, I was working through this passage that Derrida quotes in The Beast and the Sovereign with friends, colleagues and students in Italy.  Today, two days after another young black man was shot in Ferguson, MO, I have been recalling this passage.  Pascal recognizes our problem: we need justice to have force, but if all we have is force, there will be no justice.  What is the just way of giving force to justice? Read more

Treading on Ourselves? Government in Aristotle and Contemporary Political Life

Since Rousseau expressed his concern that government, established to carry out the general will of the people, might become a separate body with its own distinct general will, members of the polity have worried from one end of the political spectrum to the other, that government is imposing its will on the people, rather than executing the people’s will.  It’s not even correct to date this concern to Rousseau, since we could argue that such a concern is encapsulated in Thrasymachus’ realpolitik definition of justice — we all know, let’s be honest Socrates, that the laws serve the powerful and not those who are supposed to follow them.  In these cases, government is understood to be against us, treading on us with its laws and impositions, limiting our freedom rather than protecting it.

Government and Constitution in Aristotle

Eric Schwitzgebel refers to Aristotle to talk about blameworthiness for implicit biases in his talk at the Pacific APA next week.  I’m pleased to join in the appeal to Aristotle to think about contemporary political and ethical problems.  My argument is that Aristotle addresses this problem of thinking the government as an imposition by arguing for an account that drives politeuma, or government, closer to an identity with the politeia, constitution or regime.   Read more

Wendy Brown, Neoliberalism, and Why Taking Your Work Email Off Your Phone Will Not Save Democracy

Neoliberalism: What is it?

I’m currently teaching a course on the Philosophy of Commerce.  I think of this course as an effort to get students to challenge the notion that everything could be economized.  Following Arendt, I’m trying to get students to see what is lost when pursuits of living or living large (when the pursuit of living becomes excessive) crowd out any consideration for living well, which is to say, for organizing and determining how life ought to be in conversation and contestation with others.  This determining how life ought to be is in contrast to just determining what to do in order to live.  This concern has been with us for some time, but in the last several decades a new and even more far-reaching economization of life has occurred, wherein individuals have come to think of themselves as entrepeneurial capital projects.

This development is neoliberalism, which is the subject of Wendy Brown’s new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution.  Read more