Colonialism and Imperialism

In this video, we discuss the theoretical, economic, political, cultural, and psychological aspects of colonialism and imperialism. We thank our guests are Samim Yaquby and Harris Pham for joining us on this discussion. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe!

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The Ethics of Psycho Pass

Psycho Pass references a slew of literature ranging from the bible to poststructuralism. Its characters, similarly, embody a variety of philosophies as well.

SIBYL represents transhumanism and utilitarianism. They believe technology will transcend humanity to greater beings, and that the net aggregate happiness of the population is more important than protecting rights of every individual.

Masaoka represents a Rousseauian view of human nature. As referenced by his life choices and his reference to Rousseau, he is skeptical of the Enlightenment project to better humanity through reason and science. He is skeptical of the absolutism with which SIBYL judges its dissidents. He believes it is wrong for a machine to make such decisions with no human insight. Accordingly, he often relies on intuition rather than the deductive powers of machines. He is wary of technology’s corrosive nature, yet he sees value in his son’s desire to fit into this system. He guides him through the series to not make the mistakes he made, and he sacrifices his life for his son. He was a complicated romantic who could not let go of his communitarian values, such as the ties and obligations to his son.

Makishima, like Masaoka, also rejects the Enlightenment project. Yet, instead of merely criticizing the system like Masaoka, Makishima wishes to deconstruct it. He lays bare the inconsistencies and flaws inherent within the system, similar to Derrida’s project of deconstructing logocentrism. He shows how the system’s own method of discerning unstable indivudals produces monsters like him. However, unlike Deconstructionists, Makishima practices an affirmative type of philosophy: he wants you to become authentic. Analogous to Sartre’s view of authenticity and freedom, he wants to see the “splendor of people’s souls” when they are making decisions for their lives themselves. This sounds very Kantian, but Makishima isn’t interested in Kant’s maxims, as demonstrated by his willingness to murder and slaughter for this goal. To Makishima, ethical standards that tell what one ought to do contradict such radical freedom.

The most interesting philosophy amongst the characters from Psycho Pass is Akane Tsunemori’s. She seems to firmly believe in the Kantian notion of intrinsic human dignity and the values of democracy: she prevents Kogami from murdering Makishima and she boldly tells the SIBYL system that humanity will create a better society based on democratic values. Nonetheless, she accepts the utilitarian argument that the SIBYL system is generally doing good by keeping most of the population happy and satisfied. Despite its flaws that directly contradict her democratic and kantian values, she decides to let the SIBYL system continue until she and the rest of humanity can find a better system. She sees value in working within the system.

How can this be so? Well, that’s because Akane is human. Human beings do not make ethical judgments based on a single ethical theory. Akane cannot bring herself to let Kogami disrespect another rational being, even if that person is Makishima. She cannot let those who benefit from the SIBYL system suffer; she cannot let her life’s story become one that abandons her friends and millions of people. She believes that the telos of a society bids its citizens to come together and decide on what is right. The same can be said about us. We are sometimes Kantian, sometimes Utilitarian, and sometimes Aristotelian. We like to be respected, we like to be happy, and we care about our characters and how the story of our lives will unfold. We are byzantine creatures, and perhaps this is why Akane resonates with us so much.

The Folly of Science: Why its followers fear Philosophy

If you have great passion for knowledge, then you’ve probably encountered online battles between science-enthusiasts and philosophers; or even between a scientist and a philosopher. We’ve probably heard them say, “Philosophy is useless,” “Philosophy cannot give us the truth,“and “Philosophy gets in the way.” Surely, Philosophy has not always been useful (Derrida), it did not always arrive at the truth (Derrida, Berkeley, Descartes), and it has gotten in the way of genuine progress – Julian Savulescu and Steven Pinker have shown that some bioethicists have gotten in the way of making good moral judgments in medicine [1]. However, much of the same could be said about science: nuclear weapons are not useful; evolutionary psychology does not give us objective truth; and phrenology, which was considered a genuine science during its time, surely did not lead to much progress.

So why do we run into such claims so often? In order to answer this question, one needs to first know the business of philosophy and science. Philosophy isn’t in the business of proving whether evolution is true or not. That is science. When a philosopher tries to argue for creationism against a scientist using scientific evidence, they are philosophers doing bad science. Philosophy deals with logical space, whereas science excavates truth from the physical world. The demarcation between the two is quite obvious in cases like Ethics and Physics. However, the line becomes blurry when Scientists begin to comment on their discipline – what is the scientific method? what is pseudoscience?

These are questions traditionally asked by philosophers like Karl Popper, and they are questions with which philosophers of science have occupied themselves for almost a century. So, when a scientist tries to answer these questions, a philosopher will obviously try to put her two cents in. Unlike a philosopher, a scientist does not read too much philosophy. A scientist can go on his entire life without reading any philosophy, and it would be possible for him to be a good scientist. However, the same cannot be easily said of a philosopher. Philosophy is often in the business of analyzing the implications of other fields on the overall web of knowledge, and science is one of those fields. A philosopher can certainly just read literature and poetry, if she wishes to be an aesthetician. Nevertheless, one cannot be a philosopher of science, a philosopher of mind, or a philosopher of biology without adequate knowledge of their respective scientific field. On the other hand, a scientist does not need to read any books from the philosophy of science to do science. That’s because, as I have mentioned above, the philosophy of science is not interested in adding more to scientific theories. It’s interested in more meta questions like “what is science?”

Knowing this, it is easy to understand the scientist’s rage when a philosopher appears to be more knowledgeable than him on such questions. For the scientist, he cannot believe that a philosopher, whom scientists generally see as those who spew complicated words for the sake of argument due to the scientist’s unfamiliarity with philosophy, claims to know more about his own field than himself. Now, I bid you to imagine a person asking the question, “what is music?”to a rock guitarist and a scholar. At first glance, it seems obvious that the rock guitarist may give a better answer. Now, suppose that the scholar is someone who has studied that very question her entire life, and that she comes from a school that had trained thinkers who have debated over this question with much progress for thousands of years. A rock guitarist only plays one genre – rock; and one instrument –the guitar. And we know that there is much more to music than just rock music. How can you then, with certitude, say the guitarist will give you a better answer than the scholar?  In the same way, a scientist nowadays specializes in a specific aspect of a particular branch in science. He spends most of his time reading works relevant to his expertise. Why should he be better equipped to answer this question than a philosopher of science?

Another reason we frequently encounter such hatred towards philosophy is the recent surge of pop-science. There has been an outpouring of science popularizers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Steven Pinker; and it has created a crowd absolutely enamored by the powers of science. These followers are not necessarily scientists. They are more like science-enthusiasts, and many of them are New Atheists. The New Atheists and even some public scientists like Stephen Hawking and Tyson have openly denounced philosophy, transferring the aforementioned hatred that scientists have towards philosophers to these followers. Some of them discount rigorous arguments made by philosophers with feeble arguments – Sam Harris. Many of them claim that philosophy is useless –Hawking, Dawkins, Tyson, and Krauss. This gives this crowd the justification – argumentum ad verecundiam (appeal to authority fallacy) – to unleash fury upon a perceived enemy. There is no rational justification for this hatred, because as noted by the scientist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci [2], it’s irrational. We are not enemies. Philosophy created economics, human rights, animal rights, democracy, and science. Its concerns –the nature of knowledge, ethics, beauty, and so on– have yet to be extinguished. Philosophy is useful.

Recently, I’ve encountered a group of science followers claim that science can solve every problem and make us learn anything. I’ve also heard some folks say that philosophy is utterly meaningless and is constantly in the way of science. None of these are obviously true. However, it is troubling to see such a witch-hunt against philosophy, because we benefit much from a cooperation between science and philosophy.


[1] Pinker on Bio-Ethics

Savulescu on research ethics committees

[2] Pigliucci on the value of Philosophy and Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Pigliucci on Krauss and the value of philosophy

Pigliucci on Sam Harris’s façile argument on ethics

Pigliucci on the New Atheist movement

 

Why am I so angry?

We sift through millions of pages on the internet, and when we do, we encounter a slew of battles: the Right vs. the Left, Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton, Feminism vs. the Patriarchy, Atheism vs. Theism, Continental vs. Analytic Philosophy, and so on. We also run into a slew of anger. We’ve probably even experienced it ourselves – multiple times. Why is this so? Why are we so angry? Many have written on this topic: psychologists, philosophers, bloggers, and journalists. In this post, I’m not necessarily interested in all of the psychological and societal factors that fuel anger on the internet. I’m interested in a particular person –an archetype– among the many angry voices on the internet. That person is Angry Jack.

Angry Jack, according to Innuendo Studios in this excellent video series on YouTube: Why Are You So Angry? is someone – usually a straight, white male with a fair amount of privilege– who shows hostility when reminded of his privilege. He also tends to be involved in various anti-feminist and progressive groups. I won’t go into all of the details of this video due to its lengthy content; I highly recommend you watch the video before moving on, because I sincerely believe that it would help broaden your horizons. Instead of dwelling on the frightful history of #GamerGate and the vicious extent to which misogyny persists on the internet and in my generation, I would like to take the archetype of Angry Jack to a broader context –outside the scope of anti-feminist and racist gamers.

The phenomenon of Angry Jack can be seen in many forms: New Atheism, Alex Jones, Analytic Philosophy, and so on. This phenomenon, as explained by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Susan Faludi her book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Womenbares its ugly teeth at us when the privileged class feels that the fight for feminism is coming to a close, when they feel that feminism or any type of progressive battles prop up strawmen for the sake of prolonging a dying battle –to make progressives and feminists feel like they still have something to fight. New Atheists are mostly straight, white males who assume that most religious folks are irrational ignoramuses, rather than recognizing their own irrationality –rejecting sound criticisms against their heroes from secular scholars like Scott Atran or Phil Zuckerman, and forming conspiracy theories to rally a bunch of think-alikes. They believe that the fight against imperialism is meaningless, as evident in their treatment of figures like Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky; they also think Islamaphobia is a myth. Alex Jones constructs conspiracy theories after conspiracy theories as well, when confronted with facts that contradict his claims; he continues to spew hatred against immigrants, women, and homosexuals, rather than owning up to the fact that his world view is flawed and that he is privileged. On a similar note, Analytic Philosophers have ignored issues on gender and race for millennia. Despite legitimate criticisms against figures like Jacques Lacan, its downright refusal to engage with Continental Philosophy, which has contemplated these issues far longer with more depth, shows a certain type of reluctance that’s seen in Angry Jack: instead of involving myself with these issues, I’m just going to dismiss them and ponder over the nature of math and possible worlds.

This take on Angry Jack is important to me, and possibly many others, because I, and many others, were Angry Jack. I lost faith and became an atheist. I stuck with the New Atheists, despite their tribalism and misogyny, for a while. It wasn’t until I read articles and studies by Scott Atran and Phil Zuckerman that I began to distance myself from New Atheism. While I was a part of the movement, I engaged in many heated and angry battles. Often times, I ignored and dismissed feminists or post-colonial criticisms of New Atheism. I was also part of the dogmatic Analytic Philosophy camp. Before joining this camp, I was a postmodern communist who became disillusioned with the Continental tradition from reading scathing criticisms of postmodernism by Alan Sokal and other scholars. So, when I engaged other Continental folks online, I was angry again. I did not listen to their concerns; I often refused to even treat the subject matter in discussion –gender issues, imperialism, power structures, and so on– seriously. Now, I’m no longer a New Atheist. In fact, I’m a secular critic of New Atheism. I’m no longer so dogmatic about Analytic Philosophy as well. I actually read post-colonialism, sociology, and gender studies now; even though I still abhor Derrida and Lacan. What I’m trying to say is that I was Angry Jack, and I don’t think I’m alone. I think it’s essential to broaden the scope of Angry Jack – to apply the equally dangerous parallels of Angry Jack to domains beyond #Gamer Gate, and to appeal to those who had gone through and who are currently going through these phases as I have myself. So, if you are an Angry Jack, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. If you want to see a more in-depth analysis on this topic, I urge you to watch Innuendo’s video series –Why Are You So Angry?

On a final note, let me end with Innuendo’s comment in the last video of his series: “You will be an Angry Jack many, many, many times in your life. I promise you, you will be him again; it will happen. It’s the default reaction to having your privilege checked, sometimes even having it acknowledged. If you don’t make a conscious choice to be better than that, it’s just a path of least resistance.”

Crisis in the Humanities : Scientific ignorance and the Renunciation of Logic

“Masculinity is a socially constructed phenomenon.” ( Begin watching from 1:11:03 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDNBEM3jMLY ) Such an absurd and ridiculous statement can be easily seen from those who study feminism and sociology. You can also find english major students hoarding a book by Jacques Derrida or Judith Butler which contains appalling writings full of sweeping claims of human nature without any empirical evidence. Steven Pinker eloquently demolishes the non-factual nonsense of the Humanities by clearly stating, “I believe testosterones exist. Biologically, men and women are different. In terms of violence, the topic of tonight, we can clearly see how male testosterones tend to cause more violence. Men kill 10 times more than women. This doesn’t mean culture doesn’t have a role. We can obviously see how different cultures portray masculinity and femininity in different ways. However, I do not wish to go as far as denying biological differences.”

If you wish to read more concerning the repugnant obscurantism and gibberish of these two, check out these links: http://philosoraptor.blogspot.com/2009/04/bad-writing-and-bad-thinking-judith.html (Butler’s atrocious writing examined)

http://www.economist.com/node/3308320 (brief account of Derrida’s bullshit)

http://adrianblau.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/is-derrida-full-of-bullshit-part-1/ (Derrida’s bullshit part 1)

http://adrianblau.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/is-derrida-full-of-bullshit-part-2/ (Derrida’s bullshit part 2)

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2003/08/derrida_and_bul.html (The famous Leiter report demolishing the obscurantist jargon of Derrida)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvwhEIhv3N0 (Foucault, Derrida’s contemporary, criticizing him as “word terrorism”)

Unfortunately, Derrida and Butler are the bread and butter of much of the Humanities. The Humanities are so hungry for bullshit that it actively seeks for more. Alan Sokal, a physics professor, once posted an academic journal full of intentional gibberish and obscure words as a social critique on a post-modern cultural studies journal. (Source 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair , Source 2: http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/weinberg.html ) Of course, it caught much fire and attention. Quite sad and pathetic. We can see from so many of these examples that the Humanities are loaded with toxic ideas. I once had a religious studies professor in my college. His adoration for Derrida was quite shocking. He attended his lectures personally and bragged about smoking cigarettes in front of Derrida. As if that charlatan is worthy of such respect! His antics furthered, culminating to his denouncement of Modernity as the equivalent of capitalist consumerism. I do not even wish to address the stupidity of this statement.

What we see from these examples is that we need an intellectual revolution within the Humanities. We need to be able to elevate the quality of our education, which is quite crucial for democracy. Many of their problems stem from posturing and objection towards evidence based thought. I assert that broadening one’s scientific knowledge and practice of logic must be taken more seriously within the Humanities. I assert that “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” must not be obstructed by scientific ignorance and aversion to reason.

I end with Dennett explaining the staggering genius of Darwin and the sheer size of his influence which inevitably permeates all forms of knowledge.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lfTPTFN94o

P.S. Peter Singer adds one to the table as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYYNY2oKVWU