Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nonviolence for White Americans

I planned to write about human relationships with robots in the movies Robot and Frank and Ex Machina.  I will do so later, but with the earthquake in Nepal and the events in Baltimore surrounding the death of Freddie Gray on my mind, I wanted to say something about relationships between human beings.

Nonviolence has been in the news this week, with articles such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Nonviolence as Compliance” and Benji Hart’s“Baltimore’s Violent Protestors are Right.”  There’s even an article on Gandhi and Baltimore by Tom Hawking.

If nonviolence is understood as passively acquiescing to injustice (as the click bait headline of Coates’s article suggests while the actual article does not), then it’s my duty as a philosopher to point out that it’s simply inaccurate to claim that this is nonviolent philosophy as understood the tradition of Gandhi and King.
But honestly I’m not interested in being another white person to lecture African Americans about nonviolence.  I’m also not interesting in being another white person to use the situation in Baltimore to make sweeping claims about violence and social change, which I find just as problematic. 

In this post I am addressing my fellow white Americans, because we are the people most in need of the principles of nonviolence.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Depth of Eurocentrism

An exercise

Imagine life in the year 1300.

I’ll bet you’re imaging scenes of castles, knights in armor, ladies in flowing gowns, peasants in rags, medieval warfare, etc.  In other words, you’re imagining something like the land of Westeros in an episode of Game of Thrones!

Also, I’m betting you imagined not just a specific time, but a specific place: Europe (and probably Western Europe, probably even England).  You're probably also using the Gregorian calendar to tell you that the year 1300 is about 715 years ago.
Another way of looking at our world
This exercise demonstrates the pervasiveness of Eurocentrism – the privileging of the idea of Europe, its history, culture, languages, literatures, philosophies, religions, and so forth.  (If you did manage to imagine another part of the world, good for you!  Nonetheless, I hope a little armchair sociology will convince you that I’m on to something). 

In many cases, Eurocentrism dwells so deeply in the ways we conceptually organize the world that we fail to notice it.  Let’s engage in some conceptual excavation.

But first, in the spirit of thinking internationally, take a minute to consider HELPING PEOPLE IN NEPAL after the earthquake of April 25, 2015.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sad Puppies and Good Old Boys: On Diversity in Science Fiction and Philosophy

Sad Puppies Ate My Hugo

If you’ve been following the hubbub surrounding this year’s Hugo nominations, you’ve probably been thinking about diversity in science fiction (and fantasy, but my focus here will be on science fiction).  If you haven’t been following the Hugo hubbub, I can say it involves a group consisting mostly of angry conservative white men who call themselves Sad Puppies and just gets weirder from there.  See this helpful post on the issue as well as this article from The Atlantic that ties the issue to Gamergatethis one from Susan Grigsby, and this excellent LiveJournal (really?) post from George R.R. Martin that puts to the test, and thoroughly decimates, the Puppies' claims of ideological exclusion.  As a result of this scandal, Connie Willis has even declined to participate in a Hugo ceremony. For some background, see "Where are all the women of color in science fiction?" 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sci-Fi Plato: The Just City by Jo Walton

As a science fiction fan and a philosophy professor who regularly teaches Plato, Jo Walton's The Just City (2015) is pretty much tailor made for me.  I've always considered Plato's Republic to be a kind of science fiction story and studying ancient philosophy is itself a lot like reading science fiction, so this book makes perfect sense to me.

Hard science fiction fans might balk at the inclusion of the Greek pantheon, but I promise if you can get over that and some stuff about immortal souls, this book is well worth it!  Readers whose tastes run more fantastic might not appreciate all the stuff about time travel and robots.  But if you're like me and the ideas of time traveling goddesses and Socrates engaging in dialogues with robots are some of the most awesome things you can imagine, then this book is for you!

You will definitely get more out of this if you've read Plato's Republic as well as some of Plato's other works such as the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.  If you haven't read the Republic, just get a philosophy major to explain it to you!

For more on the plot and the writing, see my Goodreads review.  Here I'm going to jump to the philosophical bits.

The Philosophy Report

In terms of creating an engaging story, Walton did well to dwell on two of the most remarkable things about Plato's Republic: gender equality and the idea of having spouses and children in common.  The theme of the relation between theory and reality is a big one in the novel, centered largely on these two issues.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Interstellar and the Meaning of Human Life (Video)

As promised in an earlier post, here is a link to a video of my talk, "Interstellar and the Meaning of Human Life." (You can also watch it below).  Thanks to Robert Austin Kippes for recording it and uploading it to YouTube!  And thanks to Dr. Talia Welsh for mentioning this blog in her introduction!  The video runs about 54 minutes, including discussion.  Enjoy!

You can also see a report on it from our campus news channel (the report on my talk starts about 4:18).

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Dress: Episode V - Han Solo's Jacket

Remember when The Dress destroyed the internet several weeks back?  Remember that I wrote about what it has to do with philosophical skepticism?

It turns out that science fiction fans have their own version of The Dress!  The case has been around for decades when it comes to the color of Han Solo's jacket on Hoth in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.

Check out the story over at Nerdist.

Just as was the case with The Dress, in this case the staunchly defended color camps might get some comfort from skeptical reflections on the reliability of our sensory knowledge.

But then again, getting Star Wars fans to ease up on their dogmatic beliefs doesn't have much precedent.  I cite primarily the strongly held opinions in the case of Han Solo v. Greedo aka, the "Han shot first" case.  Nonetheless, Harrison Ford has apparently taken skeptical therapy to heart.  When asked about the issue on reddit, he said, "I don't know and I don't care."

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Upcoming Talk: Interstellar and the Meaning of Human Life

I'm so excited for my talk on Interstellar coming up tomorrow!  If you're in Chattanooga, feel free to stop by and let me know what you think.  If not, you can get some idea of what I'll talk about from my earlier posts on the subject. 

There have been rumors of recording the talk.  If that happens, I will try to post the video here on the blog.  In either case, I will report here on how it goes.

Part of the rationale for the talk is to make our department more visible on campus and to attract more students to take our courses and to become majors.  If I get any sense of how successful it is on that front, I will report on that as well.

Now I should probably go watch the movie one more time just to refresh my memories!