Category Archives: Philosophy

A Cyborg Walks Into A Bar…

Getting a computer science degree at Northeastern University now requires the completion of a course in theatre and improvisation, taught by professors in the drama department. “The class is a way to ‘robot-proof’ computer-science majors, helping them sharpen uniquely human skills, said Joseph E. Aoun, the university president. Empathy, creativity and teamwork help students exercise their competitive advantage over machines in the era of artificial intelligence”

This is basically a restatement for the computer age of the special, critical, role that the Arts and Humanities have always played in higher education, and in public schools in general. Just replace the word “machines” above with the word “incomprehension” and presto. The Arts and Humanities expose students to well-rounded thinking, thus fostering qualities essential for cooperative citizenry in a democracy. That is why they have always been at the core of general requirements curriculums. From personal experience, the first assignment in the first CS class I ever attended was to watch two specific famous movies (art). Those movies helped set the intellectual frame for much of the subsequent learning and production in my career. Neither of them had anything to do with technology. Sadly, recent enrollment and graduation trends show the diminishing influence of subjects, like history, english, philosophy, art etc. which, if it continues apace, may render most universities as glorified vocational schools. That may not bode well for our form of social contract.

Comedy, on the other hand, almost always bodes well…

Drainable? America’s Swamp Has Deep Roots

“But these organs, at whose head was the state power, had in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society, as can be seen, for example, not only in the hereditary monarchy, but equally also in the democratic republic. Nowhere do “politicians” form a more separate, powerful section of the nation than in North America. There, each of the two great parties which alternately succeed each other in power is itself in turn controlled by people who make a business of politics, who speculate on seats in the legislative assemblies of the Union as well as of the separate states, or who make a living by carrying on agitation for their party and on its victory are rewarded with positions…”

“It is well known that the Americans have been striving for 30 years to shake off this yoke, which has become intolerable, and that in spite of all they can do they continue to sink ever deeper in this swamp of corruption. It is precisely in America that we see best how there takes place this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society, whose mere instrument it was originally intended to be. Here there exists no dynasty, no nobility, no standing army, beyond the few men keeping watch on the Indians, no bureaucracy with permanent posts or the right to pensions. and nevertheless we find here two great gangs of political speculators, who alternately take possession of the state power and exploit it by the most corrupt means and for the most corrupt ends – and the nation is powerless against these two great cartels of politicians, who are ostensibly its servants, but in reality exploit and plunder it.”

Frederick Engels March 18, 1891  (20th Anniversary of the Paris Commune)

Some things never change….

Tony Judt – Past Imperfect, Present Impotent, Future ?

Tony Judt wrote this about the state of the Left in America in his book Ill Fares The Land …

“We no longer have political movement. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns. Laudable goals – fighting climate change, opposing war, advocating public healthcare or penalizing bankers – are united by nothing more than the expression of emotion. In our political as in our economic lives, we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gamut of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole. We must do better than this.”

Taking the recent election as evidence Judt, who passed away in 2010, was right on target (no pun intended). Here are some valuable web resources for further investigation of this important thinker:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?189437-1/postwar-history-europe-since-1945

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2010/04/29/ill-fares-the-land/

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/tony-judt-interview

The Strange Death of Liberal America

Tony Judt’s Obituary in the Guardian

In today’s America, neoconservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig leaf. There really is no other difference between them.”
Tony Judt, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century

The Century Of The Self (BBC)

What do Sigmund Freud, Joseph Goebbels and Betty Crocker have in common? Ever wonder why anyone would choose to buy a Rolex when a Timex keeps time just as well? Hint: some smart people figured out how to tap into our unconscious fears and desires and over the past century we’ve been the unwitting subjects of a wildly successful mass experiment in consumer manipulation and social control. Adam Curtis of the BBC reveals who they were and how they did it…

On Every Box of Cake Mix, Evidence of Freud’s Theories (NY Times Review)

**FAIR USE NOTICE**
These Videos May Contain Copyrighted (© ) Material. The Use of Which Has Not Always Been Specifically Authorized by The Copyright Owner. Such Material is Made Available to Advance Understanding of Ecological, Political, Human Rights, Economic, Democracy, Scientific, Moral, Ethical, Social Justice Issues, Teaching, and Research. It is believed that this Constitutes a ”Fair Use” of Any Such Copyrighted Material as Provided For in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In Accordance With Title – 17 U.S.C. Section 107, This Material is Distributed Without PROFIT to Those Who Have Expressed a Prior General Interest in Receiving Similar Information For Research and Educational Purposes. For More Information:http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode