Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2016: Star Trek, Relationships, and the View from Above

For the past few years I've been participating in an event called Stoic Week.  This year's Stoic Week is a bit earlier than usual: Oct. 17-23, 2016.

The idea is to try living like a Stoic for a week by doing things such as contemplating interesting quotes from ancient Stoic philosophers and engaging in mental exercises.  You can find out more about Stoic Week, register, and download the handbook at the Modern Stoicism blog.  You can do the exercises any time (you might say they're timeless!), but it's fun to share your experiences with others on the Facebook group and the Google+ group.

Last year I wrote four posts for what I called Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015 (see here, here, here, and here).  This year I'm not quite so ambitious, so I've decided to condense my Stoic Week blogging into one post (you're reading it!).

Stoicism, Star Trek, and Galactic Cosmpolitanism

Since we recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and a lot of people (including me) have noted Stoic themes in Star Trek, I thought it would be nice to concentrate on Star Trek for Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2016.

The crew of the Enterprise

Friday, October 21, 2016

Does Relativism Make Us Dumber and Nastier?

The main virtue of relativism is that it is supposed to make us more tolerant and open-minded as an antidote to judgmental closed-mindedness.  Perhaps because of this, relativism has become the default position of many college students, science fiction/fantasy fans, and other intelligent, educated people in our society.   It's supposed to be the crowning achievement of tolerant, sophisticated people, a victory over the dim-witted dogmatism of absolutists who seek to impose their views on everyone else.

But is this picture accurate?  I think it may not be.  In fact, I suspect that the type of relativism pervasive today may, contrary to its self-professed ideals, be making us dumber and nastier.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I Like Hillary Clinton

I don’t care how unpopular it is.  I’m just going to say it: I like Hillary Clinton.  I don’t think she’s merely the “lesser evil.”  I’m not voting for her just because I can’t stomach Donald Trump (although I can’t).  I think she is, despite her flaws and perhaps in some cases because of them, an admirable human being and a capable public servant.  The fact that so few Americans agree with me says more about our national discourse than it does about her.

Clinton’s Endearing Awkwardness

Her biggest sin, according to many polls, is being unlikeable.  First of all, I don’t understand why we need our politicians to be likeable, rather than, you know, being good at their jobs.  Still, I honestly don’t understand this idea that Hillary Clinton is unlikeable.  Is she sometimes awkward?  Sure, but you know what?  So am I.  So are you probably.  That makes her more endearingly human in my book.  We can’t all have an 18 charisma, or, for non-D&D nerds, we can’t all be James Dean or Jay-Z.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Double Review! The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams/ Raft by Stephen Baxter

It's my first ever double book review post!  I'm reviewing two books by English science fiction authors with wild imaginations: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams and Raft by Stephen Baxter.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

This is Adams's second book about Dirk Gently, a "holistic detective" who solves mysteries based on his belief that everything is connected to everything else.  Despite this theme of holistic connection, there's little explicit connection between The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and the first Dirk Gently book, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.  You could easily read the second without having read the first.  You might want to read them soon, since BBC America debuts a Dirk Gently series starring Elijah Wood on October 22 (See a weird trailer here.  There was apparently an earlier adaptation several years ago on regular BBC, er, I guess, BBC Britain, which I have not seen).

Saturday, October 8, 2016

American Voters and the Fate of Us All: Eight Reasons to Vote with Objections and Replies

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The US Presidential election is exactly one month away.  This means that our seemingly interminable and utterly bizarre campaign season is finally coming to an end.  What that end will look like will be determined by American voters, at least those who bother to show up. 

I love voting.  I’ve voted in every Presidential and midterm election since I turned 18.  I have missed a couple odd-year local elections, and I feel terrible about it.  I intend to keep voting until I’m legally prevented from doing so.  I’ve never needed convincing, but apparently this is not the case for the roughly 40-60% of Americans who haven’t bothered to vote in recent elections.

I think everyone with the right to vote in this election should do so.  Why?  Here are eight reasons with objections and replies.  This is obviously addressed directly to my fellow Americans, but I’d love to hear from international readers, especially since our elections affect you, too.

1. Make your voice heard.

Voting isn’t the only way to make your voice heard.  You could, for instance, start a blog!  I don’t even think making your voice heard is the primary reason to vote, but it is one good reason that might appeal to those with more deontological sensibilities.  Voting is one of the only places in society where everyone has anything approaching an equal say.  You don’t have that in your economic activity (where the wealthy reign supreme) or in most social or political organizations (where those with connections to the avenues of power have greatest influence), but you do have something like an equal voice in voting.  You owe it to yourself and your dignity to use it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Which Midlife Crisis is Right for Me?: Reflections on Turning 40

Today is my 40th birthday.

Last year I wrote about the importance of birthdays and noted that, statistically speaking, I was entering middle age. 

I’ve never been one to lament growing older.  This is for several reasons:  1. There’s nothing you can do about it, so, to paraphrase Buddhist and Stoic philosophers, whining about it is irrational and unhealthy.  2. Barring some horrifically painful and permanently debilitating illness, getting older is almost certainly better than the alternative.  3. Getting older isn’t all bad – those new experience points mean you can level up!

One great thing about getting older is that you start figuring some things out: things like relationships, career, family, who you are as a person, and how to get dental insurance (something I just figured out two years ago).  Figuring out everything would be boring, though.  You’ve got to keep some mystery in your life!  Luckily there are still plenty of enigmas in this universe, like the nature of consciousness, how there can be old news, and skinny people who go on diets.

I’ve been joking that my biggest decision upon turning 40 is that I need to start deciding what kind of midlife crisis to have.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sci-Fi Plato, Part Three: Necessity by Jo Walton

As a science fiction fan and philosophy professor who teaches Plato's Republic every year, Jo Walton's Thessaly series is right up my alley (see my reviews of The Just City and The Philosopher Kings here and here ...).  The Just City made my list of Philosophical SF Recommendations.  I was lucky enough to meet Walton at a book signing recently when I attended the 74th Worldcon.  I told her that as a philosopher I approve of a series that involves a time-travelling goddess setting up Plato's Republic with some help from Socrates ... and robots!  She was amused.

I continued to love the philosophical aspects of this third book in the series (especially with Crocus the robot!).  While I really liked the ending, I found a lot of the plot of this one to be a bit meandering and sometimes difficult to follow.