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.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Chomsky's Requiem for the American Dream

This is Chomsky's last long-form documentary. It came out in January, but I hadn't heard about it until recently. I paraphrased/transcribed the 72 minute video liberally with links to further readings below.

It's about the American Dream: the idea that you can be born poor but work hard enough for a home and car and good schools - that's all collapsed. We profess to like the values of democracy, so public opinion should have an influence on policy and the government should carry out actions determined by the population, but the privileged sector doesn't like democracy. We have extreme inequality with a super wealthy group in the top 1/10th of the top one percent. It's unjust in itself, but it's got a corrosive effect on democracy.

The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of power, especially as costs of elections skyrocket forcing politicians into the pockets of corporations. This translates into legislation that increases the concentration of wealth through fiscal policy (taxes, deregulation, rules of corporate governance) designed to increase the concentration of wealth and power in a vicious cycle of progress.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Our Rape Culture: Rehtaeh Parsons' Unfortunate Legacy

On the wake of the series 13 Reason's Why gaining a following on Netflix, with some teens actually planning to wear blue nailpolish on April 24th to commemorate the life and untimely death of a fictional character, maybe it's necessary to be reminded of this real life Canadian case. In that case April 7, 2013 is the day to remember.

Rehtaeh Parsons was a victim of assault and revenge porn enacted and filmed by a bunch of teenaged boys who had more power than they might have ever imagined: they could kill from a distance. As Elizabeth Renzetti says of these double-barrel assaults, they are, "not just an act of violence but a spectator sport." And here we thought we had come so far from the bloodlust days of the Colosseum.

The act isn't dissimilar from torturing an animal and showing pictures to people.  It's a behaviour that is absolutely depraved.  Who looks at those types of visuals without looking differently at the goon who took them?  Unfortunately, there's enough of an audience that we need to be afraid.  For some people, their body responds to the visuals even if their brain might hope it didn't.  So clips are saved and circulated endlessly.

Circulating the film is also a mean of re-shaming the act.  After years of the rally cry, "Rape is a crime, not a shame!" some perpetrators are working hard to make people ashamed to be raped for obvious reason:  if they're embarrassed by it, they won't tell.  But Rehtaeh did tell.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

On Student Stress

I've been teaching long enough to have watched a generation of students file past me. It's fascinating from a social science standpoint because I can watch trends evolving before my eyes. And, being a bit of a hoarder, I've kept everything I've used and all my marks along the way, so I feel like I have a good handle on changes in this population. And they are stressed out like never before.

To get my Challenges of Change kids in the head space of demographic changes in general, I talked to them about why stress has increased for teenagers, and this is what we came up with.

The first suggestion was that there's just too much work to do. But my many binders of old curriculum show the opposite. In my classes over the past 25 years, I've given progressively less work. The exams from my early career are significantly more focused on nit-picky details and few would be able to pass them today. They were also significantly longer, one requiring two opinion essays in half an hour! Now, I might give one opinion essay in an hour - four times the earlier duration. And I couldn't imagine implementing the standards of yore. So, from my anecdotal evidence (and that of colleagues), the stress level is higher with a diminished workload. How does that happen?