On Human Progress
My General English teacher from three years ago was very fond of dropping the phrase “There’s nothing wrong with being a Marxist in theory” whenever politics was being discussed in class. From her tone of voice you could tell that she was declaring herself a Marxist with that statement, so I was always quick to respond that Marx’s conception of historical materialism — especially its reliance on the idea of an “end of history” — doesn’t hold up when you look at how the world actually works. Of course, my teacher wasn’t talking about the philosophy underpinning Karl Marx’s writing so much as policies of radical wealth redistribution. But she never elaborated, giving in to my half-assed retaliation, probably because she could tell from the way my eyes were gleaming with that cocky teenage certainty that I had completely made up my mind:
If your model of society rests on such shaky theoretical ground, why bother with the nitty-gritty? Why should I give you the benefit of the doubt?
But let’s not badmouth Marx too much. After all, it’s understandable that someone like him would want to be proven right by history. Then again, what does that even mean?
The rhetoric of self-aggrandizement contained in the phrase “the right side of history” has become so popular as to warrant idiom status. But what is the underlying narrative when prominent political figures like Barack Obama repeatedly advance their vision for the future under the slogan “we’re on the right side of history”? What’s implied and what, if anything, explained?
These days it seems like the worst insult you could think up is to accuse someone of being biased. I’ve often noticed that online, but I bet you’ve also had discussions IRL where that rhetorical strategy cropped up. Perhaps you’ve used it yourself at times.
On Term Papers and Intellectual Integrity
I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible philosopher. Putting aside the minor fact that prior to this semester break I hadn’t completed a single non-introductory philosophy module over two years of study, my recent classes have cast further doubt on whether I’m even cut out for the craft of philosophy — you know, critiquing an argument and all that jazz. It’s fair to say that I’m the type of person who is easily intrigued by thought experiments, paradoxes, and profound questions about the nature of humanity and everything that surrounds it (if there is such a thing). But the reality of the philosopher’s craft, which my minor has to some degree introduced me to, might prove my academic Achilles heel. (Not that being a slow reader is any drawback at all…)
On Meritocracy and Mouse Poop
[I]t is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted — if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently — then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Let me ask you a personal question. What’s the grade you’re most proud of in your life? For myself I couldn’t pick a favourite. But a very strong contender would be an Ethics test I took in my penultimate year of secondary school, graded by the single grumpiest and hardest-to-please teacher I’ve ever had, Mr H.
I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. (…) Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.
— W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence
Or, Theseus’ Chewing Gum
I’ve always been interested in the idea of boundaries. Specifically, the boundaries between categories. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to make sense of categories we assign to objects of all kinds by thinking about food. From what point on can grain be considered food, for instance? As soon as it’s edible? As soon as it’s been processed into the product it was planted to become? What if what you eat was never deliberately planted? That berry you picked off of that roadside bush — was it “born” food or not?
Sometime last year, I watched a TED talk about metaphorical language and came across the following comment by a user called robotpanda77:
Interesting presentation, but the fact that the average person speaks six metaphors a minute, no way.
The reason I still remember discovering this misguided skeptic’s comment is that it made me feel very clever. Why? Because they didn’t manage to write a single sentence without using a metaphor themself.