Making An Idol Out Of Truth

I care about truth. That’s truth with a lower-case ‘t’. I care about it a lot, honestly, which is why I’m concerned that some people have begun to make an idol out of Truth (with a capital T).

During the linguistic turn in philosophy, we learned a lot can be gleaned from looking at how we use language. These days, it is common for folks to try to smack each other around in debate with Truth, while not particularly caring about truth.

I use ‘truth’ in the ordinary language sense here. Like Wittgenstein, I’m fond of ordinary language. And I use it in a pragmatic way; truth is something that happens to an idea.

I’ve been witnessing people bash each other over the head with Truth, making an idol of it and trying to score points with it. Truth is not for point-scoring. It’s a good in itself. Some, like Berit Brogaard, argue it’s the highest good.

I tend toward value pluralism, so I don’t know that truth is the highest good. But I do know it is a good and had intrinsic value, whatever its instrumental value may be.

When we make an idol out of Truth, we lose–even if it ends up we win the argument we are having.

Slow And Steady Wins The Race?

Back when I was a TA, I got really, really good at thinking on my feet. Super good.

Time has worn on and I find myself preferring slow deliberation these days. I don’t think this is a sign of lacking intelligence, either. I think of it as both gaining intelligence and wisdom. We tend to prize quick thinking. But quick thinking can get us in trouble. Reflexes vary, of course, and can be trained. But I think our society, which can tweet in an instant, has become more and more biased and less seeking of truth due to the reliance on quickness over slow deliberation.

Take, for example, a conversation I had prior to Christmas with an expert on AI. I’m still thinking about the ramifications of that discussion. I may have a few brief thoughts, but nothing well-formulated just yet. I will talk to people about it, think it over more, and so forth, before I come to a safe conclusion.

The theory is that reflexes, if not heavily trained, are ridden with emotion, bias and other things. The more time we have to mull something over, the more likely we are to weed out those things.

One problem is that, for many people, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to deliberate. I suggest: Take a walk. Cut down on your TV time. Heck, cut down on your social media time–to spend time reflecting. We may just become a better society because of it.

“The Thinker Who Believed in Doing”

Here’s a really good article on William James and pragmatism. An excerpt:

In a world of chance and incomplete information, James insisted that truth was elusive but action mandatory. The answer: Make a decision and see if it works. Try a belief and see if your life improves. Don’t depend on logic and reason alone, add in experience and results. Shun ideology and abstraction. Take a chance. “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”

I confess that I’ve become rather fond of pragmatism over the years.

On Citizenship: The Problem With Birth Tourism

You’ve probably heard about the growing trend in Russia (and other places) for pregnant mothers to give birth to their children in America. This is, of course, not a very new idea. Some see it as exploiting a loophole. These folks ask: what can be done?

Well, there’s several possibilities. Here’s a few:

  1. Do nothing. Let these families give birth to their babies and do as they wish. This could lead to many possibilities, including closer ties with other countries and the breakdown of America as a global empire.
  2. Track the families of the babies to ensure they are not threats or foreign agents.
  3. Change our citizenship requirements. This would mean changing the constitution.
  4. Extend citizenship over certain countries. This would possibly be a colonial move, but it could be framed in a more positive light.

There are different ways of forming citizenship requirements–and this is something I’ve thought quite a bit about. You see, I’ve done some work on Native American issues. I gave birth to a Native American child. She gets dual citizenship–in both the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the United States. This is because she meets the citizenship requirements of both governments. As for me, I get no benefits from Choctaw Nation. I will never be able to get Choctaw citizenship because Choctaw Nation uses “direct lineage” or “blood quantum” as the requirement for citizenship.

My daughter gets to be a citizen of the United States because, in 1924, the United States granted citizenship to all Native Americans.

This was an interesting move. Some Native people wanted to be U.S. citizens, but others did not. This unilateral move is what finally gave Native Americans the ability to move forward as full citizens of the U.S. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

Tribal nations are currently colonized by the United States. They are considered “domestic dependent nations.” As such, they have limited jurisdiction over their territories.

What does all this have to do with Russia? Well, if it turns out this is some ploy to defeat the United States, it’s clear that this will not work. The United States can unilaterally declare all Russians to be U.S. citizens. This would put Russia on par with tribal nations.

Philosopher-Soliders

John Rawls did it the traditional way. In Ancient Greece, often a person had to serve in the military before becoming a philosopher. While the two–philosophy and the military–may seem incompatible, I think they are most compatible. I will argue that, more than things like AI, we need thinking soldiers.

John Rawls, of course, became disillusioned in the military. But it has been argued that some of his best ideas–and his ideas are great–are rooted in his military experience.

The tradition of serving in the military before becoming a philosopher goes back, as I mentioned, to Ancient Greece, where Socrates served. Socrates went on to become the father of western philosophy.

When I taught philosophy at the University of North Florida, I often had former military people as students. They were wonderful.

I was a Blogger for the Florida Student Philosophy Blog, too, and recall reading an article about thinking and the military. The military, it was said, is not a place for thinking.

I want to argue we need philosopher-soldiers in the military. While it may seem that a highly organized structure, where people merely take commands, is a great way to win, I believe in this century, to make a lasting and incredible impact, we need thinking soldiers.

The military, it has been argued, shouldn’t be a place to think. After all, thinking can get us in trouble. Think of Chelsea Manning, who did think–and unleashed classified materials upon the world. However, in a military where people like Manning are not only not shunned but are the norm, the ideas that come from these minds can aid in winning.

In order to get thinking philosophers, we need to apply ancient theories to the soldier. We need, in short, courses for them in philosophy, taught using the Socratic teaching method.

The Socratic teaching method is ideal because it encourages the individual to think–and think for themselves. Far more than any other weapon we currently have, there is no replacing an active and imaginative brain. We need soldiers skilled in, at minimum, informal logic, basic argumentation, analyzing evidence and cognitive biases.

There is no need for the United States to be afraid of developing soldiers in this way. The mind, when dedicated to the truth of things, is always a winner.

 

A Series Of Misunderstandings: Political Communication In The Contemporary United States

People use signs, signals, actions and words in order to communicate. In the United States, I’ve been increasingly worried that we are starting to use different languages to communicate with one another. I don’t mean Spanish and English. I mean our whole landscape has become so polarized and many of us live in such information bubbles that we have started “signing” in different ways, often misunderstanding one another.

This is a more charitable view than one which states we are intentionally ignoring, poking at, etc., each other.

I initially started thinking about this when I started a #DefendDACA rally. The rally turned out to be an awesome event, being televised across Central Florida. It really wasn’t my doing that the rally turned out so well. I had other, quite wonderful, organizers who made things happen.

But what opponents don’t/didn’t understand is that it takes a lot of hard work and effort in order for such an event to take place at all. I should know.

So, when you see a group of people protesting, you can assume that some of them missed work to do so, some of them had to travel a certain distance, and many other things. In other words, they have to overcome life in order to protest. That’s saying something.

The rally I organized was so successful–with many other rallies taking place across the nation on the same day–that our events made national headlines and generated a conversation about DACA recipients. That’s also saying something.

At the time of this writing, however, the president is saying he will protect DACA recipients if and only if he gets his border wall built.

So the events that have been scheduled since the rally I organized are coming down to a negotiation that will probably not fly on the part of DACA Defenders.

Let me say it again: it takes a lot of effort and work to participate in a rally. If you see successful rallies all over the country, that’s really, truly saying something.

But many opponents of DACA recipients have said things like “Get a job!” to folks who rallied. (To be clear, nearly all DACA recipients already have jobs!) It’s as if they are now speaking a different language–a language in which the effort, time and sacrifices made by protesters is scoffed at or not even acknowledged.

As I survey these actions across the country, I have just had to wonder whether some things, like various propaganda, have left people on the Right speaking a whole other language than people on the Left. This language doesn’t understand the concept of protest, making protests on the Left ineffective (if they are trying to persuade people on the Right).

That we are talking past each other now has real-life consequences. DACA recipients will be protected or not, a border wall will go up or not, depending on how we understand one another.

As someone who has only recently started to live in a Leftist bubble, I can say that many people on the Right nowadays simply do not understand–or take time to understand–arguments from the Left. Yet, I know of scholars devoted to studying the Right, so we on the Left get a translation of what’s going on, which keeps us up to speed.

We are now a fractured nation, speaking different political languages. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We can become fluent in the language of the other, but it’s going to take some work.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Be At Peace

Despite the fact that I have been exhausted for the past couple of weeks, I have, in general, been at peace with myself for several months now. You may not think that a person who fell from grace when they developed schizophrenia would be at peace. But I am. In fact, I’m more at peace than when I was an aspiring professor, a TA, an RA, making straight A’s in difficult courses, and so on.

When I was in academia, I was often surrounded by critical eyes and subjected to harsh judgements. Even though it may sound silly, I often thought: Am I too fat? Am I too ugly? Am I smart enough?

I don’t know that my standards have gone down at all. But I have learned that having ambition, being excellent in what one does, and having aspirations does not mean one has to be harshly critical and judgmental. I have, in short, been around a lot of assholes who cloak their asshole-ness in terms of being intellectual. I’m certainly not saying everyone I’ve met in academia is like this, but it’s been too many for me to say it’s just happenstance.

Part of this learning to be at peace, coming to terms with myself and accepting myself as I am has been a result of going to counseling. I have a very excellent counselor. She has taught me to be more in touch with my feeling and emotions while not giving up my brain.

The result is that I’ve been able to connect with people in ways I hadn’t been able to connect before. And this has often led to interesting intellectual conversations and connections.

These days, I’m interested in a lot of things. But one thing I’m interested in is quelling our desire for harsh competition, negativity, and harsh judgements and instead focusing on cooperation and care. I have found—and evidence shows—that cooperation, not competition, leads to more fruitful results, anyway.

So, Obama Emailed Me

I recently contacted the White House regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. I asked Obama to oppose it, specifically. Today, I got a letter from him via email. He didn’t come out to oppose the pipeline exactly. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Thank you for writing, and for your thoughtful input. As President, my greatest responsibility is ensuring the safety of the American people, including when it comes to our Nation’s energy infrastructure. My Administration is setting the highest possible standards for oil and gas production and transportation, and each day we are working to make sure our pursuit of energy resources does not put our communities at risk. That work includes steps the Army has committed to taking in light of important issues raised about the Dakota Access pipeline.

I understand the risks associated with the development and transportation of fossil fuels, which is why my Administration has overhauled Federal oversight and raised the bar on safety across the board. As part of our efforts to improve Federal permitting and review processes, we are making safe pipeline infrastructure a priority in order to help ensure the health and security of our communities and the environment.

As new energy infrastructure is developed, the Federal Government will continue working with State, local, and tribal governments—which play a central role in the siting and permitting of pipelines—to address the concerns of local communities. One of my priorities as President is upholding an honest and respectful relationship with Native American tribes, and we have made a lot of progress in restoring ancestral lands, waters, and sacred sites over the past 8 years. My Administration also remains committed to consulting with tribes to ensure meaningful tribal input is factored into infrastructure-related decisions across the Federal Government. In the weeks ahead, Departments and Agencies will meet with tribal leaders across the country in a series of formal consultations on this issue.

Again, thank you for writing. I hear you, and I am optimistic that together, we can grow our economy and create new opportunities while securing a cleaner and safer future for all our people.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama