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I have not seen any episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.  And for me, that is quite shocking as I am very much a fan of decluttered, organized living.  I say ‘fan’ because in reality I’m stuffed into a small house that has entirely too much stuff and most of it is not mine, so I cannot purge away my clutter demons.  C’est la vie.

Olberding rasies the point that much of the success of Tidying Up has to do with the latent Orientalism still present in our North American culture.  Our internalized mystic notions are somewhat problematic to say the least.

 

“At a practical level, as a professor who regularly teaches East Asian philosophies, I die a little inside every time we experience a cultural phenomenon with a veneer of ‘wisdom from the East’ on it. Having imbibed pop culture’s mystical Orient, students will arrive to my classes craving a deeper initiation into Eastern mysteries. Teaching these seekers of wisdom then becomes deflationary.

I was once at an art fair where there was a booth selling temporary tattoos. One of the tattoos was a Chinese character that was translated on the tattoo’s plastic label as ‘bitch’, an appealing bit of body art for the tough girls among us, I suppose. Except a far more straightforward and accurate translation of the character would be ‘prostitute’, or maybe ‘whore’.

Teaching students who fell in love with ‘Eastern philosophy’ via our culture’s myriad Mr Miyagis is like being the one to tell someone her tattoo says ‘whore’. The tattooed will be better off knowing, but she won’t thank you for telling her. Pop-culture-induced orientalism usually does wash off, but the cleanup is far less alluring than wearing the myth. At least, I console myself, Kondo’s target market is the middle-aged, so maybe my young college students won’t show up with this particular ‘tattoo’.

In some ways, I admire the impulse to reach outside familiar cultural traditions in order seek wisdom, or even household aesthetic advice. Both the urge to improve ourselves and the curiosity to look beyond our own boundaries seem salutary. The problem, though, is when doing so looks like one more iteration of what started our troubles in the first place. The distracted impulse to acquire the new and shiny, as well as the desperate hope that novelty might alleviate anhedonic consumerist malaise – these are why Kondo’s clients have houses overwhelmed with stuff. We have homes joylessly cluttered by the artefacts of a fruitless search for joy, or at least a reprieve from bathetic numbness. And wisdom from the ‘East’ has long been marketed to Westerners hoping to escape their existential maladies by seeking what is exotic, what promises to be more meaningful than what they have or can find locally.

My cynical concerns, to be sure, are not about Kondo herself. I assume that she is sincere in what she offers, and indeed I expect some might find her counsel truly useful. It is the nature of her attraction to Westerners that gives me pause. This registers most powerfully for me when I re-imagine what she offers in a distinctly American guise. Before I became a professor, I sometimes earned my keep as a maid. And this class-conscious part of me is more oppositional still where the fascinations of ‘tidying’ are concerned.”

The level confusion that Olberding presents, I think, is yet more evidence of the need to teach philosophy earlier, rather than later in the educational process.

 

This isn’t a general essay, more the upshot of the ongoing intra-philosophical spats, so it might not be of interest to all of you.. So, anyway, someone calling themselves Dr Specious (ho ho), possibly one of our philosophical colleagues in disguise, turned up and pass-agg pointed me and Kathleen and Holly at this paper, which […]

via On a Specious Reply — Jane Clare Jones

This is one of my favourite talks. It presents a very important perspective.

One lesson I’ve tried to take from this involves dealing with those I might view as more wrong than me. It is common to wonder at how people can possibly be as stupid as they are. I have heard this sentiment expressed by many different people in many different situations. It is so easy to just think of the offending idiot as a moron and be done with it. It is not the most charitable of moods. The proper thing would be to recognize that we are all idiots, and we should deal with the stupid people in our lives as we would like our own stupidity addressed: with patience and courtesy. I admit, I don’t live up to this standard very often, but I’m working on it.

Laurie Penny has a great review of some of Jordan Peterson’s work, this quote illustrates the continued reliance of sociobiological principles by JP.

“Peterson insists in the very first chapter of 12 Rules for Life that if you’re an adult human man worried about your place in the world, you’ve a surprising amount in common with lobsters, “especially when you are feeling crabby, ha ha.” He then draws a thick, wonky line through several hundred million years of natural selection to advise human primates on their posture. If you stand up straight, like the biggest, toughest lobsters do, “you are a successful lobster, and the most desirable females line up and vie for your attention.”

Idiots will believe anything; fools will believe anything that makes them feel better. Peterson’s followers are not idiots. In November 1975, the New York Review of Books published an open letter from a group of Boston scientists, educators, and students entitled “Against Sociobiology,” in which they warned about the enduring popularity of biological justifications of inequality, ideas for which there is scant evidence but huge public appetite: “The reason for the survival of these recurrent determinist theories is that they consistently tend to provide a genetic justification of the status quo and of existing privileges for certain groups according to class, race or sex.”

Peterson is extravagantly dedicated to this justification, festooning his unscholarly interpretations of nature documentaries with ethical significance. His vision is of a world of crustacean anhedonia, an ordered utopia of jostling invertebrates endlessly battling to be top lobster, all tough carapace and no backbone.

This is Social Darwinism, not science. Peterson is working in a long, long tradition of conservatives, from Galton to Rockefeller to Reagan, using weak scientific data to give their dogma the mouthfeel of objectivity. Actual science journalists like Cordelia Fine and Angela Saini have done the hard work of going through every lazy assumption exhaustively, making it clear that using evolutionary theory alone to make sweeping pronouncements about human behavior is about as useful as scrying from the migratory patterns of birds or the entrails of whatever we’ve sacrificed to the god of late-capitalist male fragility on this day. Possibly our principles.

Social Darwinism, by itself, is a feeble philosophy. Combined with an investment in mythology and spiritualism, however, it becomes more dangerous. And this, brazenly, is what Peterson does. Standing up straight, for example, is important because of the lobsters, but also:

“To stand up straight with your shoulders back means building the ark that protects the world from the flood, guiding your people through the desert after they have escaped tyranny, [and] making your way away from a comfortable home and country… It means shouldering the cross.”

The simultaneous appeal to both science and religious mysticism, to God-and-or-genetics, is an ingenious arse-covering mechanism: if God didn’t strictly say he created man to compete in a series of vicious status battles and fuck the other guy, then genetics probably did, and any blue-haired social justice neuroscientists popping up to explain that that’s really not how gene expression works simply haven’t grasped the larger cosmic context. If there’s no actual scientific evidence for it, then it’s all a metaphor. It’s a prosperity gospel for toxic masculinity, The Art of the Deal via the Book of Leviticus.”

A review of The 12 Rules of life.

I need to find a pdf or two of JP’s works, there looks like there is a lot of comedy gold to mined.

We didn’t spend much time looking at Hume way back in philosophy university land – a rather unfortunate oversight – as the quiet rational approach to life he articulates is not only reasonable, but sensibly accessible, a quality I find quite appealing.  Julian Baggini’s essay on Hume is a great primer on the subject of his philosophy and how he approached life.  I excerpt the description of some of the main principles of Hume’s philosophical arguments.

“Hume’s philosophy does not add up to an easily digestible system, a set of rules for living. Indeed, Hume is best known for three negative theses.

First, our belief in the power of cause and effect, on which all our reasoning about matters of fact rests, is not justified by either observation or by logical deduction. We only ever see one thing following another: we never observe any power that makes one thing necessitate an effect. Even if we could be satisfied that we had established x caused y, logic can’t establish any general principle of causation, since all the regularities we have observed in nature were in the past, but the principle of cause and effect is assumed to apply in the present and future. Logically, you can never arrive at a truth about the future based entirely on premises that concern the past: what has been is not the same as what will be.

Hume did not deny cause and effect were real. We could not reason about any matter of empirical fact without assuming their reality, as his own writings frequently do. However, he was clear that this linchpin of sensible thinking is not itself established by reason or experience. This is philosophically strong stuff but hardly the source of inspirational Instagram quotes.

Hume is also well known for his arguments against various aspects of religion, although he never came out as a fully fledged atheist. Most famously, he argued that it would never be rational to accept the claim of a miracle, since the evidence that one had occurred would always be weaker than the evidence that such things never happen. It would always be more likely that the witness to a miracle was mistaken or lying than that the miracle actually took place. But again, skepticism about the claims of traditional religion does not amount to a substantive, positive philosophy.

Hume’s third notable negative claim does have the benefit of a stirring slogan, albeit one that is somewhat opaque: ‘Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.’ Reason by itself gives us no motivation to act, and certainly no principles on which to base our morality. If we are good it is because we have a basic fellow-feeling that makes us respond with sympathy to the suffering of others and with pleasure at the thought of them thriving. The person who does not see why she should be good is not irrational but heartless.

As these three core claims illustrate, Hume’s philosophy is essentially skeptical, and skepticism seems to take away more than it offers. However, understood correctly, Humean skepticism can and should be the basis for a complete approach to life. It is built on the skeptical foundations of a brutally honest assessment of human nature, which could be seen as the essence of Hume’s project. It is not accidental that his first attempt to set out his philosophy was called A Treatise of Human Nature. Humanity was his primary subject.

Hume saw human beings as we really are, stripped of all pretension. We are not immortal souls temporarily encaged in flesh, nor the pure immaterial minds Descartes believed he had proved we were. Humans are animals – remarkable, highly intelligent ones – but animals nonetheless. Hume did not just bring human beings down to Earth, he robbed us of any enduring essence. Arguing against Descartes’s claim that we are aware of ourselves as pure, undivided egos, Hume challenged that when he introspected, he found no such thing. What we call the ‘self’ is just a ‘bundle of perceptions’. Look inside yourself, try to find the ‘I’ that thinks and you’ll only observe this thought, that sensation: an ear worm, an itch, a thought that pops into your head.”

I’m impressed by what Hume has to say, and intend to read further on his philosophical suppositions – I recommend you do as well, as his thoughts seem to be a reasonable tonic to these chaotic times.

    I missed out on the Objectivist phase of growing up, not glomming on to Rand’s insipid ideas saved me a great deal of fuss and bother as following Randian ideology tends to make one into a large swirling vortex of petty narcissism (see asshole).  However, as Skye C. Clearly argues in her essay, ignoring Rand is not the solution, but rather critical nuanced refutation is the key, so we can learn from Rand’s arguments and hopefully come up with more pro-social solutions to the problems she presents.

 

   “Vilifying Rand without reading the detail, or demonising her without taking the trouble to refute her, is clearly the wrong approach. Making her work taboo is not going to help anyone to think critically about her ideas either. Friedrich Nietzsche – a philosopher sometimes aligned, albeit superficially, with Rand, partly due to her Übermensch-like protagonists – warned in 1881: ‘The innocent will always be the victims because their ignorance prevents them from distinguishing between measure and excess, and from keeping themselves in check in good time.’

Rand is dangerous precisely because she appeals to the innocent and the ignorant using the trappings of philosophical argument as a rhetorical cloak under which she smuggles in her rather cruel prejudices. Her writing is persuasive to the vulnerable and the uncritical, and, apart from the overextended set-piece monologues, she tells a good story. It’s her novels that are the bestsellers, remember. Almost two-thirds of the thousands of reviewers on Amazon give Atlas Shrugged a five-star rating. People seem to be buying it for the story, and finding a convincing philosophy neatly packaged within, which they absorb almost without thinking. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine what people find admirable in her characters: Rand’s heroes are self-interested and uncaring, but they’re also great at what they choose to do, and they stick by their principles. It’s a prime example – and warning – of fiction’s influential power.

Hoping that Rand’s ideas will, in time, just go away is not a good solution to the problem. The Fountainhead is still a bestseller, 75 years since first publication. And perhaps it’s time to admit that Rand is a philosopher – just not a very good one. It should be easy to show what is wrong with her thinking, and also to recognise, as John Stuart Mill did in On Liberty (1859), that a largely mistaken position can still contain some small elements of truth, as well as serving as a stimulus to thought by provoking us to demonstrate what is wrong with it. Rand’s rhetoric continues to enthral millions of readers, so we need compelling language and stories to provide counterarguments with eloquence. Imagine if a writer could persuade the millions who are reading Rand today to come to different, kinder and more compassionate conclusions, to see through her self-serving egoism rather than be seduced by her prose. We need to treat the Ayn Rand phenomenon seriously. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Its effects are pernicious. But its refutation should be straightforward.”

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