Marxism

In this episode of the Veil of Ignorance, Teague and I discuss Marxism with Cale Holmes and Kevin Salvatore. I believe this topic honestly requires more episodes, since it’s impossible to cover everything in one episode. Nonetheless, we tried and it was most definitely a lot of fun.

Homosexuality as Sin

There is a group of South Koreans I’ve been arguing against for the past month. They have claimed ridiculous things such as “global warming is a hoax, Obama is a muslim, and homosexuality is not natural.”

Recently, one of them asked me “if I were homosexual, and if I were top or bottom?” followed by a link to a horrendous video that accuses homosexuality of malice and evil. They believe this because, apparently, homosexuals wish to make everyone homosexual, and because homosexual intercourse may hurt.

He also insinuated that it isn’t normal for a straight man to defend homosexuality so much, and tried to shame me for doing so. I responded in kind:

“It is disgusting how you try to shame me by insinuating that most men do not support the LGBTQ movement. There are, in fact, many straight men who support the LGBTQ movement: Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the list goes on. As you can see, the support comes from both conservatives and liberals. I think you should be ashamed of not standing beside these individuals. You should be ashamed of spreading lies, conspiracies, and phobia.”

I usually don’t speak too much on these issues. I don’t feel like I have anything important to say on the matter. Plus, I am heterosexual, so these issues do not affect me in any personal way. Nonetheless, today I can’t shake off this feeling of disgust and anger. I think it bothers me because they are making fun of someone for the wrong reasons. It is like making fun of someone for being disabled, Black, or Asian. It is ugly and horrible.

This is the video that started everything. Here, he defends Trump and all of the bigotry I mentioned already. The video is in Korean, so you might not understand it. But if you believe, as I do, that this kind of bigotry should not prosper, then I urge you to downvote this ugly video. I am already sickened by the recent shooting, and I believe it is imperative for us to actively fight such bigotry.

Empire

The fate of man never so dire
Meltin’ free will, no words to choose
A decent man must be a liar

Our ever-expanding empire
No morality left to lose
The fate of man never so dire

A bigot’s glory we admire
Apologetics on the news
A decent man must be a liar

Let the Middle East burn in fire
Women and men, children and bruise
The fate of man never so dire

Decency has gone to retire
Vanishin’ songs of the Old muse
A decent man must be a liar

Smokes of war seem to rise much higher
Pick up your arms ‘n’ sing the blues:
The fate of man never so dire
A decent man must be a liar

Heroes

Whether it is inebriation, a tragedy, a piece of tragedy, or a teary read, there’s never so few motivations to give a shout out to my heroes. The chill from my glass of whiskey is surely telling my hand to move.

Here’s a toast to my heroes:

Serge Gainsbourg

Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, and Frédéric Chopin.

Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Jaco Pastorious, Miles Davis, George Gershwin, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Snarky Puppy, Cory Henry, Bill Laurance, Michael League, and Robert Glasper.

Bertrand Russell, W.V. O. Quine, Derek Parfit, Shelly Kagan, Daniel Dennett, Baruch Spinoza, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Sandel, Patricia Churchland and Peter Singer.

Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, Paul Bloom, and Antonio Damasio.

Radiohead, Belle and Sebastian, Pulp, and Jarvis Cocker.

D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Hiatus Kaiyote

Jon Hopkins, Vibrasphere, and Brian Eno.

W.B. Yeats, Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Albert Camus, and Vladimir Nabokov.

New Year’s day; Last day in Paris

Today’s my last day in Paris. It’s been a good trip. Lots of food, reading, wine, and critical examinations. I’ll be spending most of my time airborne on New Years day, so I’d like to quickly commemorate my personal heroes and the goals of my future before my internet dissipates into thin air. Furthermore, in order to help myself become prudent, it’s helpful to celebrate it through a ritual called “my blog”. As Ellen Dissanayake once said, “making special” is an instinct with evolutionary merits, and the chief instinct behind our affinity towards creativity and Art. I’d like to encourage others who admire prudence and the arts to partake in this activity as well.

For the upcoming year, I’d like to finish the books I have not yet finished to expand my knowledge and broaden my horizons. These books are:

1) The Better Angles of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker http://www.amazon.com/The-Better-Angels-Our-Nature/dp/1491518243 (This book has helped me understand the merits of the Enlightenment, and the sociological/psychological/biological/anthropological/historical evidence for the decline of violence. A splendid book. Should be required to read in schools.)

2) Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter http://www.amazon.com/Gödel-Escher-Bach-Eternal-Golden/dp/0465026567 (This book allows me to understand Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and its implications better, as well as presenting an interesting explanation for consciousness.)

3) Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont http://www.amazon.com/Fashionable-Nonsense-Postmodern-Intellectuals-Science/dp/0312204078 (The title explains it all. This must be a required read for all universities.)

4) People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2767.A_People_s_History_of_the_United_States (A must read. It should be essential for students to imagine history from the perspective of the minorities as early as grade school.)

5) Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett http://www.amazon.com/DARWINS-DANGEROUS-IDEA-EVOLUTION-MEANINGS/dp/068482471X (Recommended for any philosophers who deny the potency and importance of Darwin’s contributions to practically all fields of knowledge.)

6) The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker http://www.amazon.com/The-Blank-Slate-Modern-Denial/dp/0142003344 (An excellent book that dispels any Tabula rasa nonsense.)

7) Liberalism and the limits of Justice by Michael Sandel. http://www.cambridge.org/fr/academic/subjects/philosophy/political-philosophy/liberalism-and-limits-justice-2nd-edition (An astounding criticism of Rawls’ view of personhood from a communitarian standpoint.)

8) Merchants of Doubt by by Naomi Oreskes http://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/dp/1608193942 (This is a book not only for students but the rest of humanity has to read. It is obliged as citizens and as victims of the merchants of doubts to read about those who’ve destroyed the climate with lies and propaganda.)

On top of finishing these books, I’m going to read a collection of poems by Yeats and Baudelaire to further my poetic knowledge and skill. I wish I could read Patricia Churchland’s Braintrust and Touching a nerve, as well as Dawkins’ Selfish Gene. When it comes to music, it’s essential for me to practice piano, and study jazz harmony to improve my chops. I must check up on how to better use DAW’s and production programs as well. Wait. There’s also my senior paper in French…

Now that I’ve established my upcoming plans, I’d like talk about my heroes. These are individuals who’ve deeply influenced my life, and it’s appropriate for me to honor their contributions to my life. Furthermore, I’ll be able to see where I stand intellectually and artistically to better analyze my works.

1) Serge Gainsbourg. His witty lyrics, extravagant wordplay, poetic prowess, and unrelenting spirit as a provocateur have deeply influenced my works. In fact, I’m writing my senior paper on his oeuvre and artistry. He is the reason I’m in Paris, and my interest in poetry. His rebellious spirit and controversial attitude have shaped my outlook of the arts, distancing myself from candy pop. I live to emulate Serge.

2) Noam Chomsky. Although I’ve recently renounced my affiliation with anarchism, I cannot bring myself to call Libertarian socialism an idiotic belief. Some of it is founded on assumptions of Human Nature that I do not find Darwinian (Chomsky is cited for describing creativity as a phenomenon somewhat independent from natural selection, whereas I believe it is highly related to natural selection), but its goals are neither selfish nor savage like its Libertarian counterpart in the Right. I could not denounce Chomsky’s character and relentless activism shown throughout his long career. I’ve personally been highly influenced by his politics. He guided me through my upbringing as a political thinker and a philosopher. Although we’ve parted ways concerning human nature and certain political stances, our view of morality and the role of an intellectual match better than ever.

3) Steven Pinker. Pinker has deeply influenced my view of violence and the Enlightenment with his ground-breaking book I’ve mentioned above. He has helped me venture into my newfound interest in cognitive science with clarity and encouragement. His clear prose and abundant knowledge astounds me every day.

4) John Rawls. No one has ever triumphed in moral philosophy in the way, I believe, John Rawls has in the last century. He has provided a philosophical basis for the Welfare state, and a formidable counter-argument against Libertarian /Laissez-faire ideologies. He is one of my heaviest moral influences.

5) Michael Sandel. Even before I’ve known any of the aforementioned heroes, Michael Sandel has guided me through the obscurity of ignorance with a luminance of knowledge and curiosity. He was the first person who exposed me to Philosophy, prompting me to read the works of Kant and Rawls. His thoughts still rest as foundational to my moral outlooks, due to the brilliance of his communitarian criticism of Rawls. I recently gave my girlfriend a copy of his newest book, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”

6) Patricia Churchland. Possibly one of the most exciting living philosophers I know. I’ve never met anyone so nifty and knowledgeable in two dense fields, Philosophy and Neuroscience. She has clarified my stance on physicalism, morality, Free Will many times. It’s incredible how she continues to research and postulate philosophical foundations of Philosophy of mind. Her works should be read by more young students.

7) Hong Suk Chun (홍석천). The only openly gay celebrity in South Korea. He’s been through unspeakable trials, yet he uses his fame and influence to help out other sexual minorities to fair better. His radiant presence on screen despite the prejudices of his society is praiseworthy.

8) Peter Singer. He’s changed my repulsive habit of indulgence and lack of moral deliverance. Singer has allowed me to not only think about morality, but also take it into action. I plan to donate to charities more regularly, though I’ve been doing it sparsely for awhile. I also give birthday presents to some close ones with a donation under their name, saving dozens of lives. Singer has shown me the cogency of utilitarianism by actively decreasing suffering.

9) Brooksley Born. The former chairperson of CFTC. She was the only person who tried to save our economy by fighting against the likes of Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Alan Greesnpan. Her legacy and bravery depicted in the Inside Job lasts with me to this very day, sharpening my criticism against Wall Street and Laissez-faire savagery.

10) Albert Camus. He was a rare flower in a garden of weeds, surrounded by Maoist scums like Sartre. His earnest and moving book, La Peste, has left a profound impression on my views towards solidarity and collectivism. His innocent and exemplary adoption of pacifism allows me to divorce him from the existential nonsense he wet his feet in. Camus is a radiant beam of pacifism and solidarity in the literary world.

It’s nice to see my heroes and their accomplishments laid out in front of me. It gives me hope for humanity. I’m sure I’ve left out some heroes I could’ve included. If I think of more, I’ll either comment on this post or create another post. I hope I could push myself to enjoy this miraculous rarity called life to the fullest.  It’s been a good year.

Iceland: A mirror of an ideal future

There is an icy mass floating on the Norwegian sea, waiting to show us a prophecy with its glassy reflections. It is a revelation of the potential of liberal democracy and its potency as a real-life experiment. We have already seen in 2008 how the Icelanders courageously took down the greedy tycoons on capitol hill through a peaceful revolution. A triumphant overture of liberalism. Despite this victory, my fellow Americans repeatedly call a direct democracy, “a fool’s dream, while Iceland makes it reality. The obvious excuses such as “we’re too large a nation” or “Laissez-faire is better” surface with zeal and fury, as if it is preposterous to even ponder on how our nation could possibly arrive at a democracy in which people actually participate and exercise their civil rights. There have been many suggestions from political philosophers like Michael Sandel and John Rawls, as well as economists Paul Krugman, and scathing critiques of US foreign policies by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. They have laid out the institutional and communal soil from which a liberal democracy is fertile. Scientists like Steven Pinker and Alan Sokal have also provided us with tools to evade pseudo-scientific nonsense to better inform our judgments. Many of the major colleges like Yale and Harvard offer free online courses by splendid professors like Paul Bloom and Shelly Kagan, which allows us to fully tap into our capabilities, the chief glory of mankind. In order to take advantage of these suggestions and tools laid out by our intelligentsia, we must be able to give ourselves the appropriate environment and institutions to effectively burn the torch of man’s glory. This requires participation. It is certainly fruitful to cut our teeth with issues like Ferguson or Gay marriage, but the stakes are too high to cease at those. It is critical for the public to be able to discern which political agenda would be able to get us closer to achieving a platform from which we could easily dissolve problems like Ferguson and Gay marriage. From the top of my head, I can think of a few.

1) Regulate banks 2) Tax reform that does not require the middle class to suffer, while distributing sufficiently from the wealthy. 3) Raise minimum wage. With the power of the wealthy diminished, it opens up an excellent opportunity for the poor to flourish. 4) Diverse integration. I believe Michael Sandel is correct in that we do not merely need economic inequality to live in a proper democracy. We must share culture, space, and time in order to form a community that stands in solidarity with empathy and understanding. 5) Restoration of the art of democratic debate. This is more like a sub-category of 4. Also suggested by Sandel. It is obviously crucial for citizens to form the habit of debating with evidence and critical thinking. 6) Scientific literacy. As Carl Sagan once famously said, “”We’ve arranged a society based on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power, sooner or later, is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?… Science is more than a body of knowledge; it’s a way of thinking, a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, politcal or religious, who comes ambling along.” 7) Direct democracy. With these foundations laid out, it might be plausible to set up a direct democracy, returning power to the hands of the citizens.

These few steps I’ve written out should not be taken as a sophisticated agenda for our future. Instead they show the importance of paying close attention to events like the democratic revolution in Iceland. It is to show that Iceland’s efforts can spring up many interesting thoughts from a young sprout like myself. It is to show that there are many free sources out there, patiently waiting to be unearthed. Direct democracy is a matter of consideration, and it should be taken quite seriously, rather than being denigrated as a mere utopian dream.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/thorvaldur-gylfason/iceland-direct-democracy-in-action

Postscript: It is invalid to derive the conclusion that X will not achieve Y from the premises a) A achieved Y b) X is not A. Iceland is different from the US, and the steps to achieve a direct democracy may be different, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Even if it were impossible, getting closer to its ideals is a vision one should not easily dismiss. It’s like scoffing at a Lexus, while driving an old Ford, that the Lexus is not a Porsche Spyder. By the way, Tesla’s cheaper than a Porsche Spyder. And greener.