Random recreational bullshit (RRBS)

The alterity of eternal cognitive dimensionality vibrates as the soul strives upward.

Being in its all-encompassing essence transcends the core of mind, which in tension with nothingness generates the chaos of order.

Ascending the layers of quality and quantity in the vortex of the encounter with other, we acquiesce before that other although the self strives for being.

Immortality emerges from the eternal wave of cosmic energy.

Openness consists in letting the self-to-be be, and the self-to-self “be” with itself in a constant reconstitution of finalities.

The animating spirit lives inside the boundaries of space and time as the unfolding of cosmic evanescence transgresses the threshold of animation.

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Academic scholarship is a game, and here is how it is played…

Academic scholarship is a game, and here is how it is played. There are basically two teams, “us” and “them.” Each team has players who work either independently or in groups to defend their cluster of commitments. When reading the work of some scholar, then, the first order of business is to identify what team the author belongs to. If the author in question is well known, this step need not last any longer than reading his or her name. If the author is not that well known, and if moreover the author does not indicate their allegiance in the title of his or her work, some further reading will be required. The goal, though, is to skim through the article or monograph quickly in order to identify team-membership as soon as possible.

Once the author writing the target text has been identified as either “us” or “them,” the next step is to match that commitment to one’s own and determine whether the author is on the same team or not. If he or she is (scenario 1), then the piece can now serve as further ammunition, and task now becomes to determine whether the author has done a good job of defending the cause. The worst that can happen here is that author serves the cause, but in a poor fashion. If a poor case was made for one’s prior commitments and the person is well known, the piece can either be cited in one’s subsequent work (scenario 1a1) or ignored (scenario 1a2). There is some genuine leeway here, and personal acquaintance often lets the decision tree tip to scenario 1a1.

On a scale of 1 to 4 points, scenario 1a1 earns the author cited 1 point of academic capital if the citer is not well known, and 2 points if the citer is well-known. The author citing never gets points for citing. If a poor case was made for one’s prior commitments and the person is not well known, one is to act as if the text was never written (scenario 1b). If a persuasive case for one’s prior commitments was made and the person is well known, the text should be cited in one’s work at the first opportunity (scenario 1c). Scenario 1c earns the author cited 3 points of academic capital if the citing author is well known (1c1), and 2 points if the citing author is not well known (1c2). If a persuasive case for one’s prior commitments was made and the person is not well known, the text can either be cited in one’s work whenever the circumstances are apt (scenario 1d1) or her name can be put on a shelf so that one is thereafter on the lookout to see if she ever achieves the previous status (scenario 1d2). Scenario 1d1 earns the author cited 3 points of academic capital if the citing author is not well known (scenario 1d1a), and 4 points if the citing author is well known (1d1b). If one opted for scenario 1d2 and the ally does become well known, return to scenario 1c (this has the net effect that the academically rich get richer, and the poor get poorer). The usual delay for ascent in status is roughly ten years; if the author does not achieve fame by that time, assume that something is wrong and remove her name from the lookout list.

If the person whose work is being read is arguing for the other side (scenario 2), then the task is to find where she went wrong (for, surely, given her misguided commitments, she must have gone wrong somewhere). If the opponent puts forward a convincing case and is well known, she earns herself an attack (scenario 2a). Be sure to make the attack especially polite if you are not well known (2a1), and just polite if you are well known (2a2). Again, on a scale of 1 to 4 points of academic capital, scenario 2a1 gives the author attacked 1 point and the attacker 2 points. Scenario 2a2 earns each party 2 points (this sort of transaction among equals is the most widespread form of intertextual nepotism, and earns the conversing parties academic capital with each back and forth). If the opponent puts forward a convincing case and is not well known (scenario 2b), either her name is put on a shelf and one is thereafter on the lookout to see if she ever achieves the previous status (scenario 2b1), or the opponent can be non-politely attacked (scenario 2b2). Scenario 2b2 is earns the author attacked 2 points academic capital if the attacker is not well known (2b2a), and 4 points if the attacker is well known (2b2b). Scenario 2b2 earns the attacker 1 point.

Let us therefore review the moves that earn the most points:

1d1b – 4 points: You are not well known, and you are being cited by a person on the same team who is well known.
2b2b – 4 points: You are well known, and you are being attacked by a well known person from the other team.
1d1 – 3 points: You are not well known, and you are being cited by a person on the same team who is not well known.
1c1 – 3 points: You are…

Ah, who the fuck cares.

Manufacturing the next generation of thugs

Every year, on university campuses in the West, a certain festival of ideas is held. Actually more like a bazaar. Students, many of them not having attended any class yet, set up tables and distribute pamphlets. Amid the variety, a common refrain can be discerned:

I have an ideal. The world does not resemble my ideal. There is something wrong with the world. The world must change. We must change the world. “We” may not include you, so to change the world I must first change you. If only you could see my ideal as clearly as I do. Read this pamphlet and come to our first meeting tonight. We will change the world, and there will be coffee and donuts.

Each table at this bazaar is peopled by people who share the same vision of the world, and often the same clothing style. Owing to the ideal and/or the clothing style, the kids passing by are selective in what table, if any, they gravitate to. Clothing style is a good candidate explanation for this gravitation, because the pamphlets are handed-out only once you visit a given table, and it seems safe to say, purely by observing the selective walking patterns, that most passers-by have not obtained, much less meticulously compared, all the free literature.

So, it turns out that the part about changing you is not quite accurate, since you and I seem to already be in agreement.

Even so, come to our first meeting tonight. We will change the world, and there will be coffee and donuts.

…without the guilt that seeking such individual peace somehow falls short of a genuine purpose.

A student asked me, by email of all channels, “What is the purpose of humans on earth?” Being in a good mood, I cracked my knuckles and typed away. Here is what I answered.

My view is that the question “What is the purpose of humans on earth?” is ill-formed, or at any rate makes an un-argued-for presupposition that I would reject. That presupposition is that humans (in the plural) are the proper site of purpose. I do not see why a species should have a purpose, mainly because a species does not, as such, have experiences.

I (insert my name) feel things like pleasure and pain, I (insert my name) make plans and adopt/pursue goals. Humanity does neither of those things. So, once we get clearer about the sort of entity for whom questions of purpose matter, we get clearer on what a plausible answer might be.

The perspective on the world that I have is the only one I have. So, I alone have a stake in the events of my surroundings. On this humble (non-Godly) scale, it is obvious what I ought to do: enjoy good food, have sex, spend rewarding time with friends of my choosing, pursue a long-term career, learn and create new things, sip tea peacefully by the fire, and so on. Accordingly, the purpose of my life is to live and flourish, in a way that suits my distinctive nature as an individual rational animal. It is by that genuinely lived standard that matters of right and wrong are to be assessed.

By contrast, invoking “humans on earth” as one’s argumentative starting point is a move destined to veer into grandiose conclusions that are either utopian or pessimistic. I did not create the world’s problems, nor am I burdened with solving them. The world is not a giant hospital where you are born either a patient or a nurse.

There is no deep cosmic riddle for me to solve. Happiness is a proximate experiential state, so only misguided cultural constructs have put the near far. The philosophical task is to return where my body naturally wants to be, namely alive and well, without the guilt that seeking such individual peace somehow falls short of a genuine purpose.

All hail the sacred ethnic pie-chart!

All hail the sacred ethnic pie-chart! When all groups will be proportionately represented, justice will ensue.

(Somehow.)

All hail the sacred ethnic pie-chart! When all groups will be proportionately represented, justice will ensue.

(Somehow.)

All hail the sacred ethnic pie-chart! When all groups will be proportionately represented, justice will ensue.

(Somehow.)

All hail the sacred ethnic pie-chart! When all groups will be proportionately represented, justice will ensue.

(Somehow.)

——-

Fools are chanting this tune in droves, but the massive following not make the creed at hand any less mistaken.

A person-changing-her-mind is a fiction on a par with Bigfoot

A person-changing-her-mind is a fiction on a par with Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster: it is something I have heard stories about and can readily envision, but have never actually witnessed.

The appeal of arguments comes from the prospect/promise that well-crafted arguments will make people “change their minds.” Yet, by all regular inductive standards, this transformative power of argumentation occurs only infrequently, if at all.

I say this, not with any cynical intent, but in a strict empirical spirit: to say that arguments have the power to persuade is to make a statement open to either corroboration or falsification. By those standards, the idea of someone being “persuaded by an argument” is no different than other tenets deemed improbable, like the beasts of cryptozoological lore. Call this the “non-persuasion induction.”

To sustain the salutary expectations traditionally placed on arguing, entrenched mindsets would have to routinely be changed by exposure to sound arguments. Alas, this is simply not so. By parity of reasoning with other fields of inquiry, the absence of success stories hardly justifies the faith placed on arguing. While there may be rare cases where one does alter one’s convictions upon being exposed to a sound argument, I have never actually seen such cases.

Now, my sample size and variety is admittedly limited. Even so, I do not think rare instances glimpsed by a few would gainsay a generalization like the non-persuasion induction. One can of course engage in an activity like argumentation irrespective of the (low) odds of success. But, one should do so with a sober awareness that, in this case, the persuasive virtues of argumentation simply do not obtain.

This may seem damning to philosophers who, like me, teach critical thinking. However, the truth is that I do not care to change my students’ minds. It suffices that I am moved by reasons. I have therefore resolved to show students what an intelligent lifestyle looks like and let them decide whether this is a laudable model to emulate.

The new university trivium: race, class, and gender.

Today’s academics are obsessed with race, class, and gender. Consider a call for papers that states its “eagerness” to “assemble a demographically diverse program” and to achieve that end by allowing “members of an underrepresented group” to “identify yourself as such.” Should I, as a professional philosopher, submit to such a conference?

The first thing to stress is the nature and scope of my question. There is no point in trying to alter decisions that have already been made. Hence, I do not want to evaluate whether the organizers did the right thing, but rather whether I, as an individual, should submit. Also, I do not see why the decision I reach should be universalized to range over everyone. Hence, I do not want to determine what some nondescript person should do, but rather what I, as an individual, should do.

Keeping these two caveats in mind, I want to reflect on the institution of blind peer-review. To assess whether the device of blind review is useful, we must first ask: what is the goal of an academic conference? Is the goal to achieve a more adequate representation of certain features of reality, or to achieve a more proportionate representation of certain segments society?

As I understand it, removing names and other demographic details from submissions is meant to minimize biases and maximize objectivity. However, identifying the profile of submitters is like holding a marathon race with a beauty contest at the last kilometer.

It is unclear to me why, when the race/class/gender pie-chart of speakers is doctored to current mirror society, epistemic progress somehow ensues. After all, I can easily envision a demographically varied line-up where everybody signs the same tune. In fact, that is what tends to happen at academic conferences nowadays. Hence, letting underrepresented ideas (not groups) be heard seems more concordant with the call to not block the way of inquiry.

This kind of intellectual diversity, however, can already be determined from reading the content of a text. So, profiling the race, class, and gender of authors is needless and indeed misguided.