Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Finding Meaning Through Love

At the end of Luc Ferry's A Brief History of Thought or Learning to Live: A User's Manual (same thing), he suggests that we can get salvation and transcendence outside any religious belief system by being elevated through a singular love.  The rest of the book is a chronology of philosophy epochs, and I might think more on that later, but I'm mainly interested in his own ideas about love saving the day.

Luc Ferry was the Minister of Education in France for a few years, and I looked him up to see how that went.  A philosopher in government - how Platonic!  I tried to find out what policies he implemented or proposed, but could only find scandals about him working at a university but never teaching and then refusing to refund his salary when they asked.  Apparently his response to this was to sue accusers for libel.  And then, to make his case about the importance of privacy, he told TV reporters about a former minister who sexually abused some children, and he refused to tell the public his name because personal privacy is that important (or maybe because libel laws are so strong suggesting they're a bad thing, but then why would he sue for libel himself?).  Something like that.

I don't think personal privacy trumps the safety of children.  Just sayin'.  But from all the reports, I don't entirely understand his full intentions when he threw that out there on national television.

Monday, August 27, 2012

On Addictive Pleasures and the Fear of Death

I recently read Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve, a book about the hiding and finding of the 1st century poem On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, which is a tribute to  Epicurus and his philosophy.  Lucretius writes of Epicurus, "When 'human life lay groveling ignominously in the dust, crushed beneath the grinding weight of superstition' one supremely brave man arose and became 'the first who ventured to confront it boldly'" (72).  I'm not sure the poem ushered in the modern world when it was unearthed in the 15th century, as Greenblatt suggests, but the book is quite provocative nonetheless.  And then I read Luc Ferry's A Brief History of Thought - a trip through the major western philosophies, which almost completely ignores Epicurus.  Curious.  I'll get to Ferry's book another day.

Epicurus' philosophy was developed about 300 BCE, and a few centuries later people attempted to destroy it as it was totally incompatible with the Christian way of life - particularly the bits about all things being made of atoms (adopted from Democritus).  If everything's made of atoms, then nothing is better than anything else, so the entire hierarchy of the church is a problem as is our insistence that human beings are superior to all other creatures.  Also, it means we don't stay together as one being when we die, so the possibility of an afterlife falls apart (and the hopeful justice measured out in rewards and punishments to be found there).  And choosing a life of pleasure over pain?  That's just going way too far for many old school Christians .

I had a couple stop-and-think-about-it-for-a-few-days episodes reading The Swerve (these are off the beaten path from his general thesis):

Monday, August 6, 2012

On Young Feminists

This has been making its way around facebook recently:  Why are young women so afraid to call themselves feminists?

I still regularly hear students say, "I'm not a feminist, but...."  They know intuitively there's still an injustice here, but they're loathe to openly address it.

It makes me think of a study done with a group of people waiting in a room to have a test administered as part of an experiment.  The first subject was taken, secretly an actor, and pretended to have trouble with the test.  She was subsequently given increasing electric shocks by the administrator.  The real experiment, of course, was about the subjects listening and reacting to the experience from the waiting room.  At first, they all felt badly for the woman, but, after a short time, powerless to help, they began to denigrate her. "The more the victim suffered, the lower their opinion of her became" (p.211-12). By the end of the test, they despised her as she yelped at each pretend jolt of electricity.  The researcher's conclusion:  we have an unconscious bias against those who come out at the bottom.

Suffer Not the God-Fearing LGBTQ

The Chick-fil-A issue in California is a good reminder that we're not done.  That hundreds of people filled the restaurants in support of CEO Dan Cathy's admission that he supports "the biblical definition of the family unit" while a few LGBTQ supporters had kiss-ins, is a wake-up call that we can't be complacent about human rights.  They waver.  Just when we think we've got everyone convinced to be  accepting of harmless differences, we hit a backlash.

The religious argument about biblical definitions slays me because it completely misses the point of the Christian bit of the Bible - you know, where Jesus tells everyone to be nice to one another.  Specifically, we're not to judge anyone at all because that's God's job (Matthew7:1-5).  If you start judging your neighbour, then you're trying to act like God, and that's not cool at all.  It lifts quite a burden to stop policing one another like children do.  Don't worry about what other people are doing (unless they're causing you direct harm) because God will deal with them later.  The world is just and fair, just not right here on Earth.  All we have to do is love everyone.