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So, after a summer recess of trying to forget that the world is manifoldly going to hell in a handcart, this week’s exciting ‘Back to Twitter’ experience has involved a good deal of feminists being berated for ‘reducing women to their genitals/biology/anatomy/whatever.’ This woke-approved soundbite has been around for an AGE, and my usual reaction […]

via The Radical Notion That Women Are People — Jane Clare Jones

“Yes, it makes for a more violent society. It makes gun crime, including the mass shootings, vastly more prevalent that it is in the UK and other European countries. But that is a choice that Americans have made. They may tweak their laws a little at the edges in response to the latest atrocity. They may require a medical certificate here, or a licence there, or curbs on the open sale of the most murderous automatic weapons. But they will not legislate, still less amend their Constitution, to deny people the right to bear arms.

To blame the US gun lobby for this, in the shape of the National Rifle Association, is to see things the wrong way around. The NRA is a force and has money because gun-ownership enjoys public support, and no amount of mass shootings or appeals from shocked Europeans is going to change this. Americans have accepted a trade-off, between permissive gun laws and the high incidence of death by shooting. It is a trade-off that regards El Paso and Dayton, and Columbine, Stoneham Douglas and the rest, as a high, but largely tolerable, price for what is seen as the ultimate in personal freedom. This view will persist well after Donald Trump has left the White House, and probably for a long time after that.”

The price is bit to high for me.  I’m quite okay with not have the degree of freedom that American’s possess in exchange for the reasonable expectation that I will not be gunned down as I teach class, or while I’m watching or movie, or really doing anything in public.

 

Heidi Maibom in her essay at Aeon Magazine explores some the psychological and philosophical insights into morality gained by observing the behaviour of psychopathic individuals.  I recommend going to Aeon and reading the entire article, its quite insightful.

 

“The psychopath’s response to people who suffer indicates that what we recognise as morality might be grounded not simply in positive, prosocial emotions but also in negative, stressful and self-oriented ones. This is not some cuddly version of empathy, but a primitive aversive reaction that seemingly has little to do with our caring greatly for the humanity of others.

Yet what exposes our common humanity more than the fact that I become personally distressed by what happens to you? What could better make me grasp the importance of your suffering? The personal part of empathic distress might be central to my grasping what is so bad about harming you. Thinking about doing so fills me with alarm. Arguably, it’s more important that I curb my desire to harm others for personal gain than it is for me to help a person in need. Social psychology research has focused on how we’re moved to help others, but that’s led us to ignore important aspects of ethics. Psychopathy puts personal distress back in the centre of our understanding of the psychological underpinnings of morality.

The last lesson we can learn concerns whether sentimentalists or rationalists are right when it comes to interpretations of the moral deficits of psychopaths. The evidence supports both positions. We don’t have to choose – in fact, it would be silly for us to do so. Rationalist thinkers who believe that psychopaths reason poorly have zoomed in on how they don’t fear punishment as we do. That has consequences down the line in their decision making since, without appropriate fear, one can’t learn to act appropriately. But on the side of the sentimentalists, fear and anxiety are emotional responses. Their absence impairs our ability to make good decisions, and facilitates psychopathic violence.

Fear, then, straddles the divide between emotion and reason. It plays the dual role of constraining our decisions via our understanding the significance of suffering for others, and through our being motivated to avoid certain actions and situations. But it’s not clear whether the significance of fear will be palatable to moral philosophers. A response of distress and anxiety in the face of another’s pain is sharp, unpleasant and personal. It stands in sharp contrast to the common understanding of moral concern as warm, expansive and essentially other-directed. Psychopaths force us to confront a paradox at the heart of ethics: the fact that I care about what happens to you is based on the fact I care about what happens to me.”

    We’ve all experienced the inner hardening, and turning away when faced with another human being in need.  Of course it isn’t indicative of us being a psychopath, but the ability to realize that ethical distance is trait we all share.  I realize the pain and suffering of people who are starving, but they are far away and I can turn away and ignore their suffering and get along with my life.

Seems kinda shitty once you think about it, and the fact that most people do it doesn’t lessen the gravity of this particular ethical failure.  Yet, the behaviour will persist, a dubious solution to the real life situations that run up against our moral understanding of the world.

This sort of ethical dilemma is illustrated in the series Breaking Bad.  I’m almost done (two episodes left) watching Breaking Bad, and the moral path Walter White chooses to walk seems to illustrate the how muddy ‘good ethical behaviour’ gets once it hits the real word.

To be clear, a moral injury is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Rather, it’s an existential disintegration of how the world should or is expected to work—a compromise of the conscience when one is butted against an action (or inaction) that violates an internalized moral code. It’s different from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of which occur as a result of traumatic events. When a soldier at a checkpoint shoots at a car that doesn’t stop and kills innocents, or when Walter White allows Jesse’s troublesome addict girlfriend to die of an overdose to win him back as a partner, longstanding moral beliefs are disrupted, and an injury on the conscience occurs.”

What quality makes people bounce back from a moral injury, or turn further toward questionable moral choices?  We’d all like to think we belong to the class of upstanding, moral citizens – but how long does that last once the unkind vicissitudes of life go into overdrive?

 

 

 

Popular conception of Mind is still burdened, to a certain extent, with the cloak of Cartesian Dualism.  The notion that our brains are primarily computational/abstraction machines being transported around in a useful bags of flesh is strong heuristic model that, while providing clarity in many areas, often obfuscates our relationship with the environment, and how the environment shapes us.  Sally Davies writes eloquently about our conception of mind and how feminists can break the limitations that the current model imposes on society.

“While philosophers are inordinately fond of comparing humans to entities that are different to ‘us’ – zombies, bats, AIs, octopuses, aliens – they’ve been rather slower to show an interest in the complex lives of certain creatures who already live alongside ‘us’ day to day, who can walk and talk and describe their subjectivity, but who until recently have been shut out of the category of full and proper personhood. Feminist theory, concerned with the operation of patriarchy and the liberation of women, is a powerful tool for revealing the pernicious effects of setting women to the side – including how such exclusion might permit unexamined assumptions and questionable theories to persist.

In her classic text The Second Sex (1949), the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir performed just such a move against the bedrock of Enlightenment philosophy, the knowing human subject. ‘Man is not a natural species: he is a historical idea,’ she said, paraphrasing her fellow philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The very idea of the Human is not some universal given, de Beauvoir claimed, but a byproduct of how societies have systematically degraded women:

The devaluation of woman represents a necessary stage in the history of humanity; for she derived her prestige not from her positive value but from man’s weakness; she incarnated disturbing natural mysteries: man escapes her grasp when he frees himself from nature.Woman, in other words, is humanity’s foil. She is the ‘Other’, bearing the brand of the not-quite-Human, which lets man point at her and whisper: We know what we are, because, thank god, we are not that.

Thus when de Beauvoir makes the oft-quoted point that ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, woman’, she is not just saying that women’s minds and selves are socially constructed. More trenchantly, she is arguing that women become women precisely so that men can become Human. While the Human has access to Cartesian qualities of reason, truth and clarity, the Other is linked to irrationality, emotion and vagueness; where the Human has civilisation and culture, the Other is aligned with nature and matter; and where the Human has a honed and powerful mind, the Other is at the mercy of the body. De Beauvoir writes:

Man vainly forgets that his anatomy also includes hormones and testicles. He grasps his body as a direct and normal link with the world that he believes he apprehends in all objectivity, whereas he considers the woman’s body an obstacle, a prison, burdened by everything that particularises it.The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum extends a version of de Beauvoir’s analysis in her bookPolitical Emotions (2013). Drawing on child and developmental psychology, Nussbaum says that the human condition is framed by an awareness of vulnerability on the one hand, and the desire to change and control our reality on the other. This inescapable bind creates a universal impulse towards narcissism and disgust, she says. We feel disgust at our own mortal and fleshly nature, and at any reminders of our finitude and fragility as creatures. So we subordinate others in order to project onto them all the qualities that we wish to deny in ourselves – that they are base, animal, Other – while we imagine ourselves as transcending to the realm of the mighty, truly Human.”

This is classic analysis of De Beauvoir and a great summary of how women are viewed in society. A different model of Mind, known as embodied cognition, suggests a different framework to view our interactions and behaviour in society.

“Computational thinking remains dominant within cognitive science and philosophy of mind. But new frontiers are opening up that view the body as something more than just a brain-carrying robot. In doing so, they have created the potential for alliances with feminist thinkers influenced by the likes of Fausto-Sterling. Within a broad church that can be called – not uncontentiously – embodied cognition, a growing number of psychologists, scientists and theorists are approaching mental life as something that is not just contingent on, but constituted by, the state of our bodies. In the place of a Cartesian computer, the mind becomes more like a clay pot thrown on a wheel, to use the philosopher Michael Kirchhoff’s metaphor. The wet clay spins on a rotating disk, shaping and reshaping itself under the potter’s hands, arms and muscles, which in turn respond to how the material is moving. The mind is moulded by forces operating both within it and upon it, but also linked up to the world and the body as a single, dynamic yet mostly stable system.

It takes only a small leap to see the political potential of embodied cognition for feminists seeking a path out of the quagmire of sex and gender – or indeed any other critical social theorists keen to overthrow falsely naturalised and unjust hierarchies. Embodied cognition allows us to recognise the agency of biology without ceding the significance of power or politics. In her essay ‘Throwing Like a Girl’ (1980), the American philosopher Iris Marion Young cites empirical research suggesting that women playing sport are more likely than men to perceive a ball to be coming at them, aggressively, rather than towards them; they also tend not to trust their bodies, and to experience their limbs as awkward encumbrances rather than tools to help them realise their aims. Drawing on the work of de Beauvoir, Young suggests that female bodily experience is often rooted ‘in the fact that feminine existence experiences the body as a mere thing – a fragile thing, which must be picked up and coaxed into movement, a thing that exists as looked at and acted upon.’ But Young denies that this state of affairs is in any way natural, or that it flows from something intrinsic to female biology; instead, she says, such feelings are byproducts of how women learn to live in their bodies. One therefore doesn’t need some essential definition of ‘female’ to accept that embodiment matters, and to see how it shapes and can be shaped by culture.”

Fascinating.  The pivot away from the computational model allows a more textured analysis of how deeply rooted patriarchal norms in society are.  More hopefully we can see that the roots of female oppression are not a clear cut case of strictly biological factors, but rather of social construction, and social constructs are not immutable products of nature and thus, can be changed.

These just excepts from a very meaty and interesting essay, I recommend going to Aeon Magazine and reading the whole article as it well worth your time.

 

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.

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