Tuesday, March 26, 2019

On Continuums: ASD, OCD, ADHD, Alzheimers, and Allergies

Since the Aspergers designation was excluded from the DSM V, many people were, and are, outraged that all cases fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) instead of the separate categories of Autism and Aspergers. There is a world of difference between someone who has some mild problems understanding social cues and a strong interest in birding but is highly functioning, and someone who is unable to use spoken language and exhibits almost continuous self-stimulating behaviours.

Then there was a storm of controversy over Stephen Fry's comments about having "OCD eyes" that found it uncomfortable to have a anything appear out of order. For some people, having OCD means feeling discomfort when things are out of place and having an unstoppable need to put them right before the anxiety around it becomes too painful to ignore. In an article in the Guardian, David Adam suggests that OCD is far worse than a dislike of things out of order, as if people who have a mild case don't really have it at all. It's definitely the case that some people have horrid obsessions that affect their ability to function in the world. But it's also true that people can have intrusive thoughts that provoke repetitive actions in a way that don't noticeably affect their function. They're not desires they have, but random thoughts that people can't prevent coming to them. I understand not wanting to abuse the term until it's meaningless, like having an occasional day of high energy isn't the same as having ADHD, but there is no cut and dry line. It's very difficult to determine to what extent thoughts and routines have to disrupt a life in order for it to be considered a true case of OCD.

On Rising Anxiety Rates

A couple weeks ago, CBC ran an article about a high-school guidance counsellor, Boyd Perry, concerned with the increase in anxiety in students, and I've been dwelling on it ever since. This is crazy long as I'm just figuring all the angles here. Perry thinks we need to assess anxiety differently because these kids, some of them in kindergarten, aren't disordered but merely ill-equipped due to the bubble parenting that's become a trend, the swooping in to fix every little thing rather than letting kids feel the pain and learn to cope. According to an annual survey of counselling centres, the most common issue raised by students used to be around relationship concerns. In 1996, anxiety took over as number one spot, and it's stayed there gaining a wider lead ever since.

I agree parenting trends and misdiagnoses are an issue, but I also think it's more complicated than that.

I raised a similar concern a year ago; maybe mid-winter is the season to discuss our discontentment. My students last year were quite sure school is significantly harder than ever before regardless my claims to the contrary backed up with binders of old assignments and exams spanning the decades. I don't think they felt like it's harder just because life has been too easy for them because of overprotective parents, though. At the time I said it's also because of their parent's anxiety over the job market, the demands social media have on their time, and everyone's heightened expectations of themselves and their lives including, but not limited to, the quest for a gratifying career that allows them to work to their potential in a field they find fascinating. Today, I'd add the decrease in face-to-face interactions and feelings of community, the umbilical cord of cellphones that prolongs separation anxiety (with friends as well as parents), unceasing change that keeps us in a state of perpetual turmoil, concern with the state of the world, and even pollution. There are numerous societal, environmental, and personal factors intertwined that are pushing this trend.


WHAT IS ANXIETY

But what does anxiety even mean? A separate issue is that 'anxiety' is a word like 'cancer.' Decades ago I saw an interview with an oncologist (and sometimes comedian and philosopher), Robert Buckman, who insisted that we should use the word 'cancer' the way we use the word 'infection'. Both are very broad terms that could mean someone needs a minor procedure or they're on death's door. You might need a benign mole removed or a blister popped, or you might have pancreatic cancer or AIDS. We don't generally gather family together to tell them "I have an infection" because that's meaningless information. We're more specific about it. We need to apply that specificity to cancer discussions always including the location, the spreading potential, and the stage. The word has become too loaded, typically cueing people to think the worst.


Monday, January 14, 2019

The Rojava Conflict

We're raised to understand conflict from the perspective of good guys and bad guys. But it's rarely so clear. The battle for land and resources can be utterly nonsensical, particularly where there is plenty to go around. I watched the documentary Jane, in which Goodall described the horrors of the Chimp Wars of the mid-70s when a peaceful group of chimpanzees divided into two factions, seemingly randomly, and then one completely slaughtered the other over a period of about four years. They didn't stop until every single one was dead, even though some of the chimps were killing former childhood friends. Primates kill other primates. And we're primates. But we have something no other primates have: complex language. At what point will we use it instead of violence?

Turkey launched an assault on Rojava a year ago, sparked by a US announcement that the US wants to create a border force 30,000 strong to patrol the area, which will include the Kurdish military. So far, at least 23 civilians are dead, and 5,000 displaced. It's a tragedy that must be stopped, absolutely. In the words of Sean Crowe, it's wrong on so many levels and must be condemned:



In one sense it seems simply a territorial war not entirely dissimilar to conflicts between animals everywhere who don't want that group in this place. But it's also very complicated. (Or complicated to me.) I'm just trying to figure it all out here.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Gertz's Nihilism and Technology

I really love this book. First of all, the chapter headings and sub-headings are all clever little in jokes, like "Beyond Google and Evil," that make anyone with a cursory knowledge of Nietzsche feel like part of the gang. But it's not just looking at tech through the lens of Nietzsche in a cut-and-paste way. This is an analysis of our relationship with technology that, while immersed in Nietzsche, and will allow a novice to solidify their understanding of some major works, is really an analysis of human nature that would benefit the a-philosophical as well. This is a brief summary as a memory aid for myself, but the book deserves a close read in full.

He uses Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals to explain how technology is used "to soothe rather than cure" our nihilistic attitudes by applying five tactics the ascetic priest uses "to make nihilism palatable" (21): self-hypnosis, mechanical activity, petty pleasures, herd instinct, and orgies of feeling.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Is Populism the Way of the Future?

I watched the recent, heavily protested, Munk Debate between good buddies on the right, Steve Bannon and David Frum. The issue they were debating was, "Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist, not liberal."

Spoiler alert, the results were a draw, in that the audience in general didn't change their opinion on the issue. At the end of the debate, the moderators revealed incorrect results indicating a sweeping win for Bannon, but here's their retraction:



72% of the audience still disagrees with populism regardless Bannon's arguments. Nobody defined populism throughout the evening, but I take it to mean politics that focuses or appeals to the ordinary person. It's an ideology that pits the common folk against the elites. It's being juxtaposed with liberalism, which generally means politics that focuses on individual liberty and equality, and an accusation of populism typical suggests that a politician will change their tune depending on popular opinion. I'm not sure they're as different as is being suggested, but I'll get to that at the end.

Monday, November 12, 2018

On Kate Manne's Down Girl

With thorough argumentation and heavily footnoted facts brought to the table, Down Girl, by Kate Manne delineates misogyny from sexism and hopes "to offer a useful toolkit for asking, answering, and debating" (13) issues centred around misogyny.

Right off the bat, let's clarify that it's not remotely a man-hating thesis. It's about looking at how we all are affected by the beliefs floating around us.
"One need not be a man to be a misogynist either: women can fit the description too, as can non-binary people. . . . many if not most of us at the current historical juncture are likely to be capable of channeling misogynistic social forces on occasion . . . unwittingly policing and enforcing distinctively gendered norms and expectations but also, on my analysis, over-policing and over-enforcing gender-neutral and potentially valid norms, e.g., genuine moral obligations" (77).
A primary issue discussed is that women who compete for typically male-dominated roles, "will tend to be perceived as morally suspect in at least three main ways: insufficiently caring and attentive with respect to those in her orbit deemed vulnerable; illicitly trying to gain power that she is not entitled to; and morally untrustworthy, given the other two kinds of role violations" (xiv). Women have an extra layer of barriers to wade through to get to positions of powers because everyone (men and women) has been socialized to believe women are the caretakers of the world. It's similar to what Neil deGrasse Tyson describes in the world's reactions to his efforts to excel in science - the path of most resistance:


The Smell of Your Moral Judgement

"If you're going to tell people the truth, make it funny or people will kill you."   
                        - Billy Wilder

I just watched a series of videos (65 minutes if you watch them all in one go) by Innuendo Studios that were made specifically about the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist who questioned some of the choices made by video game creators, but the ideas in these videos can be applied to explain the backlash to any social movement, like environmentalism.

First, they look at why people get so angry at other people who bike to work or are vegan or don't like to play rapey video games and put something else out there instead. Why do people treat feminists and environmentalists and anyone actively engaging their moral agency with contempt?  Because we're dealing with (paraphrased), "a condition, somewhat like drunkenness, in which some of us become a belligerent and dangerous asshole when we feel our conception of ourselves as moral human beings is being threatened."

So NOW What? On Power, Sexual Abuse, and Celebrity Culture

A little over year ago, when I first heard about Louis CK's abuse of power, I was going to write a post suggesting he might actually be the guy able to fess up, apologize sincerely, and lead the way for other men to admit to their abusive behaviours. I'm a big fan, and he sometimes has just the right tone that he might be able to manage something of that calibre. But I didn't finish anything because how I feel is just all too complicated. At the time I only got this far,
He's right out there about difficult issues, dark issues, presented in a light way. He seems to care enough about ethics to go deep into some harsh topics. He already has bits about pleasing women and sexual boundaries in his act. Just imagine if he came clean and actually talked about it, honestly, and with humour, as only he can. Imagine how quickly he could change everything if he apologized. Live. Imagine if he were brave enough to do the right thing and turned himself in and, after the typical slap on the wrist, or maybe even a brief stint in jail, he actually added that experience to his next special as a cautionary tale about his abuse of power. 
Imagine if he openly acknowledged the childishness of suggesting, because they just laughed when he asked if he could pull his dick out, that it was in any way a consensual act. Imagine if he explored his own power and revealed that he did it because he could, because he's in a place where he's become untouchable, so he is living without restraints on any behaviour. So he can do exactly what he like; and this is what he likes. And how dangerous that place is to be because lots of people like to do some weird stuff that couldn't happen without a power imbalance.
And then I watched in disbelief, for over a year, as he seemed completely unencumbered by the weight of his transgressions. He could have carved a path through it all, one that others could follow, but he maintained his course of denial. It didn't go away; instead it just festered around him. Now, even though Weinstein is so much worse by all accounts, his actions and his company's reactions and the many women who have come forward have been game-changers. The camel's back has finally broken.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

On Nagle's Kill All Normies

I just finally got around to Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies. It's a comprehensive book outlining the history and categorization of various groups online that have seeped into real life, but, although she mentions numerous scholars in her analysis, with zero endnotes and nary a reference section, it didn't surprise me to find that she's been accused of plagiarizing (see herehere, and here for some undeniable examples of lifted sentences and paragraphs). Some speculate that the book was rushed in order to be first out with this kind of content. The cribbing seems to be primarily explanations of terms or descriptions of events, but the analysis and compilation of these ideas into a whole appears to be her own work. I wouldn't let it slide in a classroom, and her editor/publisher should have caught it, but, as a reader, it's still compelling to see the various ideas assembled so succinctly.

There are so many terms being used to describe various views, so here's a brief and incomplete table of people, media affiliations, and basic characteristics I compiled as I read Nagle's book. It's all a little slippery and contentious, but it's a starting point. She's weeded out the racist alt-right from the more playful, yet shockingly offensive and sometimes harmful alt-light. I'm not convinced there's any clear consensus on any of this, though. We're all using the terms in slightly different ways, further muddying up the waters of the whole mess.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Water Wars and the Last Straw

The next world wars won't be about land or oil. They'll be about water. And Canada could be the next Iraq, invaded and decimated for the abundance of our natural resources. We have to stop corporate control over our most necessary resource now before it all slips out of our hands.

I watched Maude Barlow speak Thursday night in Guelph, and it was fitting it was in a church. I was in turns choking back tears and roused from my seat to applaud more than any preacher could compel me. She's a fascinating mix of intellectual brilliance and folksy warmth. She can rattle off an analysis of facts and figures at lightening speed, but as she signed my copy of her book and listened to me rave like a teenager about having her picture and words on my classroom wall, she put her hand on mine and looked into my eyes to thank me for being part of the fight. I saw Maude speak before, decades ago, and despite spreading the word far and wide since then, educated people in my midst still buy bottled water. "But I like the taste." Drinking water from the tap is a small price to pay (actually you'll save a fortune) for public control over waterways.

The evening was hosted by the Wellington Water Watchers, a small group of dedicated people with a huge fight on their hands. Our hands. Spokesperson Arlene Slocombe referred to Nestle as a multinational predator in our midst. They've been drawing water from Aberfoyle (near Guelph) and Hillsburgh (near Erin) for years, and now they've gotten hold of Middlebrook (near Elora). Studies have found that the quantity water in Middlebrook was needed for the citizens. The township offered to buy the land, but Nestle outbid them with full knowledge of the effect it will have on the people in the area. Profits over people all the way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On Reading and Writing

I teach grade 12 university-level philosophy, and I teach it as a university prep-course. So we read primary sources, and we write essays longer and more complex than the standard five paragraphs. And then I brace myself for the complaints.


Why do we have to read about other philosophers? Why can’t we just explore our own philosophy?

I heard this one in art courses too, back when I actually taught art: “Why can’t we just discover our own style?” And I don’t just get it from the students but from parents too. “School should be about self-discovery,” they argue. “These other people are mainly dead, anyway. They don’t matter any more.” And then the real problem surfaces: “This is too hard for them. I can barely read it!”

I answer this the same way every year. First of all, I acknowledge that reading primary sources is the hardest thing many of them have ever been asked to do in their lives of Wikipedia-driven research methods, skimming, and cutting corners. Most textbooks are even summaries of summaries with lots of sub-headings and pictures and cartoons to allow weaker readers to decipher meaning from a variety of cues. Sometimes they're so simplified, they're devoid of real meaning. And here I am with the nerve to cruelly hit them with black text on a white background full of big words, sometimes olden-day words, and long, complicated sentences. These aren’t books they’re given, but just pieces of essays: a bit of Mill, some Thoreau, a dash of Aristotle.... And they’re assigned after reading several bits of essays and discussing what they mean together as a class. We take baby steps but all within one semester - the one semester that's most vital for university admittance.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

On Peterson, Political Correctness, and Postmodernism

Peterson was on Bill Maher last month. They're both people that have some clever ideas, but also promote a few questionable notions in a way that's slick enough to just get a pass from some intelligent people instead of necessarily getting the scrutiny deserved. Here's an innocuous and pleasant exchange between mutual fans:




ON POLITICAL CORRECTNESS:

In the video Maher defined political correctness as, "the elevation of sensitivity over truth," and lamented the "emotional hemophiliacs" who will bleed at the littlest thing, but instead of avoiding sharp objects, they make the world cover everything in bubble wrap. Peterson went one step further: "It's more like the elevation of moral posturing of sensitivity over truth." He explained a bit about resilience: "Security doesn't come from making the world safe, because that's not possible. You make people resilient by exposing people to things that make them uncomfortable . . . over-coddling leads to stupid and narcissistic people."

Monday, April 16, 2018

On Wasting Time


I had a brief Facebook conversation with Massimo Pigliucci about my decision to fritter away a morning watching the rain and petting my cat. He said, "It's up to you to determine whether your morning was wasted or not. But from a Stoic perspective the good use of time comes when one is doing something virtuous." And I started wondering further about what specifically counts as wasted time. So I turned to a thorough re-reading of Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. Here are the bits that stood out to me with chapters noted after each quotation:

Seneca points out that people complain about the cruelty of nature because life is short, even Aristotle did, but it's not short, it's just that we waste much of it (1). Then he lists many examples of what a waste of time looks like:
"soft and careless living...no worthwhile pursuit....held in the grip of voracious avarice....diligence that busies itself with pointless enterprises....sodden with wine....slack with idleness....tired out by political ambition, which always hangs on the judgment of others....desire for trading...in hope of profit....passion for soldiering....striving after other people's wealth....thrown...by a fickleness that is shifting" (2).

Friday, March 9, 2018

Johann Hari's Lost Connections

"There's violence to knowing the world isn't what you thought. . . . Sometimes the world doesn't make a lot of sense, but how we get through it is, we stick together, okay?" - Gloria Burgle, Fargo


I watched Joe Rogan's interview with (interrogation of) Johann Hari about his new book, Lost Connections. Rogan wasn't quite buying what Hari is selling, which is unfortunate because his premise is intriguing. He told a few stories through the podcast, but his book, while still a casual read, is heavily footnoted, and his view thoroughly supported with the most up-to-date peer-reviewed research. He even encourages us to "Kick the evidence. See if it breaks. The stakes are too high for us to get this wrong" (14). It's just this: Anxiety and depression are not primarily caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and drugs only work a little bit for very few people.

He needs all the footnotes because his claims are extraordinary, and the worst thing would be if this were seen as a mere conspiracy theory against Big Pharma. This is just a brief summary without all the data and examples. He interviewed many contemporary researchers and compiled the evidence necessary to convince the masses of our wrong turn on this one. And it's not about the cellphones!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Monbiot's Out of the Wreckage

The book cover says the book "provides the hope and clarity required to change the world." Well, he certainly tries. He's got a plan of action that's possible, but I didn't get the requisite hope necessary to be spurred to action. It's a bit of an overview of many ideas from different places, many of which are already in action somewhere in the world, and it left me with a solid  book list to peruse, but it also left me with a sinking feeling that this will never work. We're never going to get our shit together enough to do any of this. But I've been wrong before.

The first part is a mix of Charles Taylor's notion of social imaginaries, Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, Robert Reich's Inequality for All, and Noam Chomsky's talks on solidarity. Then he gets into specifics about our ideas around our communities, environment, economics, and democracy.

He starts with the idea that we need a new story to guide us. Our cultural mythologies (or social imaginaries) give us the range of behaviours that seem reasonable. Monbiot describes it as "narrative fidelity":

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny

I finally got to this pocket-sized book, which is full of the kind of lessons that were passed down from my folks and that I've been saying for decades and of some others that I'm hearing over and over in the past year. The behaviours are nothing new, and it is good to be reminded, but it's the background that's missing from my summary: Snyder's (no relation) clear link between pre-holocaust behaviour and now, what helped and what hindered. From a thorough understanding of history, Snyder gleaned twenty tips to help us avoid global catastrophe or at least preserve some semblance of freedom for ourselves in the coming years:
"The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why" (11).
I merged them all down to five to better remember them all:


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On Sartre and Syria

I'm struggling with the concept of "bad faith" right now as it relates to our reaction to tragedies.  Sartre thinks some people use tragedies to feel better about themselves – they may sign petitions, side with the working class, etc.– while still not seriously questioning themselves.  And this is my concern.  I'm a letter-writer and FB "like" clicker, but am I just pretending to act, or are these authentic acts in their own right?  Is it an act in bad faith if I make a feeble attempt to help because I'm merely following my role?  Essentially, what does it look like to question ourselves and our responsibility in the wake of tragedy?

There's something very Groucho about him!

Sartre explains
 that bad faith is illustrated when we divorce ourselves from our actions or when we make any claim to more limited choices than we actually have.  It's what we do when we don't really want to take responsibility for what we're doing - pretending not to notice a hand on our knee, or pretending we had to do x because of the potential for some mild social disapproval.  We're inauthentic when we don't admit our part in the game.  It's a dishonesty with ourselves.  This is what existentialism is chiefly about: challenging the individual to examine their life for intimations of bad faith and to heighten their sensitivity to oppression and exploitation in their world.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Stoicism Compared to Existentialism

This summer, I went on one camping trip with a book on Stoicism, then another camping trip with a book on Existentialism, and I was intrigued by the many similarities. Then I came across this video that has some overlap with what I had noticed. As they say in the video, Massimo Pigliucci (MP) on Stoicism and Skye Cleary (SC) on Existentialism, both are philosophies that offer a way to live instead of just a way to think about the world. I'm putting it all together here with quotes (names linked to sources) to sort it out for myself. I'm just thinking out loud here. This is too long for any normal person to want to read.

These are both philosophies that allow surveyors to pick and choose from variations on a theme as neither has one authoritative dude overriding all others, and, it would appear, few of the big guns cared to adopt either label anyway. For the Stoics, defining yourself as one is avoided because it's pretentious. In The Role Ethics of Epictetus, it's clarified that we are simultaneously different things, and how we play each role is more important than what our roles are. The roles are often not our choice, but how we do them are, i.e. whether or not we're a virtuous son, mother, teacher, or waiter (MP). For Existentialists, we can't be defined by the roles we take on because we're more than the mere facts about ourselves (SC), so labels become meaningless.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Russell on Happiness

Some Bertrand Russell quotations have been floating around lately, so I read The Conquest of Happiness, first published in 1930, and, boy, did I need this right now! The main ideas and some bits I liked are below by chapter. The book is really just a mix of Stoicism and Epicureanism, so you could just read that instead, but they're not nearly as palatable. This summary is really long, but not nearly as long as the book!


Part I: Causes of Unhappiness

1: What Makes People Unhappy? 

This chapter has some racist bit, but I imagine he was still more progressive than most at the time. We won't throw the baby out with the bathwater at any rate. He raises his thesis here: we can only be happy by being prudent with desires and by focusing outward. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nader's Interview with Chomsky

Ralph Nader interviewed Noam Chomsky last Saturday about Chomsky's new book Requiem for the American Dream and film of the same title currently on Netflix. He's trying every type of media to spread this understanding of history, to "throw fact against myth."

I saw the film back in December and outlined his ten-point plan then. The interview followed that format as well, so I'll just summarize the key points here as succinctly as possible. The following is all made of direct or close to direct quotations from Chomsky with bits of Nader included. Check out the transcript if you want the whole thing verbatim to mine for quotes. This is just the idea.