One of the reasons that my colleague Jordan Peterson has become such a celebrity is that so many of his critics are so confused. On more than one occasion, he has come out of debates looking like the guy who brought a gun to a knife fight (if one can excuse the metaphor). One area in which this is particularly apparent is in his various discussions of social constructivism, some of which have a “shooting fish in a barrel” quality. This is largely because so many people – both academics and activists – are really confused about what it means to say that something is “socially constructed,” and what the political implications of this are.
As a philosopher and a critical theorist, I feel some responsibility for this, because those of us who trade in these concepts for a living have not done a good enough job at saying what we mean.… Continue reading
À toutes les époques, la guerre fut discutée et critiquée de diverses manières. On a certes souvent condamné les guerres mal menées, qui mènent à la défaite. Mais ce n’est pas tout, les Athéniens ont de manière célèbre condamné à mort leurs généraux victorieux en 406 avant notre ère pour avoir négligé de traiter morts et blessés selon la tradition.
Dès lors, on peut dire que depuis des millénaires, on critique non seulement la conduite de la guerre en termes d’efficacité, mais aussi suivant des critères moraux. On dénoncera par exemple les excès contre les populations civiles et les lieux saints, et divers mouvements ont même remis en question toute guerre, le pacifisme se retrouvant bien avant le 20e siècle, par exemple chez les premiers chrétiens et certains courants bouddhistes.
Cependant, un grand oublié de cette longue histoire est la question de l’expérience individuelle du soldat. Ainsi, on a beaucoup plus rarement critiqué la guerre pour ce qu’elle infligeait psychologiquement au soldat individuel.… Continue reading
At the beginning of every apocalyptic thriller there’s always a scene where the hero is getting ready for work, feeding the kids breakfast, dealing with a dog that has barfed in the living room, and generally dealing with the million minor stresses of every day life.
Meanwhile, on the TV or radio in the background the news is cycling through the usual mundanities of petty crime and traffic and local weather, except thrown into the mix there are always a handful of Easter eggs: warnings of nuclear sabre-rattling by jumped-up third-world dictators; quirky reports of bizarre weather patterns in Europe; a fun little hit about a couple from the midwest who swore they saw an alien spacecraft collecting samples in a field behind their house.
These scenes play a key role in setting up the narrative, in three ways. First, they establish the family ties that will provide the emotional basis for the film.… Continue reading
After a long year in the spotlight, we have had plenty of opportunities to study Donald Trump’s approach to discourse and truth. For sure, his willingness to disregard facts has legitimately alarmed many, especially now that he speaks with the strength of the presidency. However, perhaps an aspect of his discourse that has gathered less attention is his predilection for raising questions over expressing a position.
An illustration of what I mean here happened this week, as Trump was leading yet another charge against the media. This time, Trump chose to directly state that “the media do not report on Islamic terrorism” (which is demonstrably false) and then he hinted at some hidden reasons for it, which, to our best guesses, was something along the lines of “the media do so to weaken my presidency” (which is also false, although a bit murkier to debunk). Although the news media rightly cringed at hearing such blatant lies, we should realize that Trump has led that same charge for months, although he has mostly chosen to do so by raising questions, such as “why don’t the media report on Islamic terrorism?” In fact, looking back on the campaign, it seems that most of what he said was done through vague and evasive questions rather than assertions.… Continue reading
Welcome to 2017. I’ve been feeling old lately. Part of the sensation comes from the fact that the world I am presently inhabiting, and the world that I can see emerging, is fundamentally different from the one that I was born into, and in which my basic social sensibilities developed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the domain of privacy. I have no doubt that my childhood – the 1970s – will be looked back upon as the golden age of anonymity, and thus in a sense, of individual freedom. I was watching a ’70s movie the other day, in which a couple of detectives were chasing a criminal by car, heading for the state line. The criminal eludes them, and so they head back to town. On the way back, they stop at a pay phone, where the detective calls headquarters to give them an update. I had to explain to my kids that, in the old days, once the police were out of range for radio contact, the only way they could communicate with the station was by finding a telephone.… Continue reading
I’m starting to come around to the view that there is something weird going on with students these days, where they are coming into the world with rather unrealistic expectations about how they can expect to be treated. For the first time the other day, I came across the suggestion – made by a grad student – that a philosophical research talk should be a “safe space,” in which audience members are expected to be “tough yet supportive.” (I actually don’t quite know what this means – if someone is saying something totally wrong, it’s a bit hard to point that out while at the same time remaining supportive. What are you supposed to say, “you seem like a really nice person, but you’re totally wrong.” Or maybe, “well this argument doesn’t work, but keep trying, I’m sure you’ll come up with a better one next time!”)
Anyhow, as most people who are familiar with how philosophy works will know, this is not the way the discipline currently operates.… Continue reading