Political Correctness; the death of Satire and critical thought

“What are the effects of this new protectiveness on the students themselves? Does it benefit the people it is supposed to help? What exactly are students learning when they spend four years or more in a community that polices unintentional slights, places warning labels on works of classic literature, and in many other ways conveys the sense that words can be forms of violence that require strict control by campus authorities, who are expected to act as both protectors and prosecutors?”

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“There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.”

 

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Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Educationdescribing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

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[VIDEO] Myths of Mankind: The Mahabharata [52 MINS]

“Maha in Sanskrit means big and bharata refers to the great emperor Bharat, whose empire was known as Bharata varsa, and covered the entire world approximately five thousand years ago.

The center of this empire was the region known today as India.

As such, all aspects of India’s millennial (Vedic) culture are compiled in this important epic of the history of mankind.

This episode explores the myth of the Mahabharata, laying out the very roots of Indian mythology, religion and history.

The world’s greatest and longest know epic poem with 100,000 verses exceeds the Bible and all of Shakespeare’s plays put together.

The myth tells of the founding of civilisation and a protracted battle between the two wings of a royal family: the Pandavas and the Kauravas, bitterly opposed in a struggle for life and death.”

[ŽIŽEK] FROM THE MYTH TO AGAPE. “The elementary skeleton of the Hamlet narrative (the son revenges his father against the father’s evil brother who murdered him and took over his throne; the son survives the illegitimate rule of his uncle by playing a fool and making “crazy” but truthful remarks) is a universal myth found everywhere, from old Nordic cultures through Ancient Egypt up to Iran and Polynesia.”….and the “overwhelming argument for the intimate link between Judaism and psychoanalysis”

Slavoj Žižek. From the myth to agape. Journal of European Psychoanalysis. No. 8/9, p. 3-20, 1999. (English).

all of below written by Slavoj Zizek

Back in the late 1960s and 70s, in the heyday of the Lacanian Marxism, a lot of Lacan’s French followers were attracted by his anti-Americanism, discernible especially in Lacan’s dismissal of the ego-psychological turn of psychoanalysis as the ideological expression of the “American way of life.” Although these (mostly young Maoist) followers perceived Lacan’s anti-Americanism as the sign of Lacan’s “anticapitalism,” it is more appropriate to discern in it the traces of one of the standard conservative motifs: in today’s bourgeois, commercialized, “Americanized,” society, the authentic tragedy is no longer possible, which is why great conservative writers like Claudel tried to resuscitate the notion of tragedy in order to return dignity to human existence… It is precisely here, when Lacan endeavors to speak in favor of the last vestiges of old authenticity barely discernible in today’s superficial universe, that his words sound as (and are) a heap of ideological platitudes. However, although Lacan’s anti-Americanism stands for what is most “false” and ideological in his work, there is nonetheless a “rational kernel” in this ideological motif: the advent of modernism effectively undermines the traditional notion of tragedy and the concomitant notion of the mythical Fate which runs human destiny.

Hamlet Before Oedipus

When we speak about myths in psychoanalysis, we are effectively speaking about ONE myth, the Oedipus myth – all other Freudian myths (the myth of the primordial father, Freud’s version of the Moses myth) are variations of it, although necessary ones. However, with the Hamlet narrative, things get complicated. The standard, pre-Lacanian, “naive” psychoanalytic reading of Hamlet, of course, focuses on Hamlet’s incestuous desire for his mother. Hamlet’s shock at his father’s death is thus explained as the traumatic impact the fulfillment of an unconscious violent desire (in this case, for the father to die) has on the subject; the specter of the dead father which appears to Hamlet is the projection of Hamlet’s own guilt with regard to his death-wish; his hatred of Claudius is an effect of Narcissistic rivalry – Claudius, instead of Hamlet himself, got his mother; his disgust for Ophelia and womankind in general expresses his revulsion at sex in its suffocating incestuous modality, which arises with the lack of the paternal interdiction/sanction…

So, according to this standard reading, Hamlet as a modernized version of Oedipus bears witness to the strengthening of the Oedipal prohibition of incest in the passage from Antiquity to Modernity: in the case of Oedipus, we are still dealing with incest, while in Hamlet, the incestuous wish is repressed and displaced. And it seems that the very designation of Hamlet as an obsessional neurotic points in this direction: in contrast to hysteria which is found throughout all (at least Western) history, obsessional neurosis is a distinctly modern phenomenon.  Continue reading

[VIDEO] THE HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE OF CURSING

Engaging with different cultures and their languages is great to reflect on one’s own. Growing up listening to Dancehall Reggae, while an adolescent in the Canadian prairies, allowed me a window into linguistics that were not common currency in my geography.  What fascinated me then, was how languages/dialects which borrow from  West African origins, cultures which prior to Western cultural engagement did not find sexual connotations offensive, hold body function terms as far more offensive than cultures where religious or social dogma dictated that sex was in some way shameful.  Jamaican patois is an intriguing syncretization of the grammar and social norms of certain language groups of West African nations such as the language Twi (‘Chwee’) and the words of English. The strongest pejoratives involve toilet paper (or historically, cloth), cloth for menstrual purposes, and terms related to the anus and defecation. The act of sex itself is not a curse word, unlike societies that have evolved from Victorian Anglo norms, although incestuous sex is. The censorship of language is meaningless. Swear words exist to convey emotion, in ways that are not possible through idiotic euphemism. 

I often ponder WHY people use certain words euphemistically or with blanks or hyphens or whatever. Words are not the problem or issue or anything, it is the IDEA, the NOTIONAL SIGNIFICANCE that perhaps may be the problem. Such as racism/sexism/homophobia and how every few years, ‘society’ seems to agree than a certain ‘term’ will now be considered a pejorative. It seems some great political step has been taken, while in reality, the actual underlying concerns most likely have not changed at all. Banning words seems pretty superficial, and irrational, when real problems are left unchanged. 

The below Christian advert is currently displayed in Toronto public transit. Seems like an instruction manual on how to be a good sheep.

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Language is a tool with which to express intelligence and emotion….to display it as a badge of conformance…is…uninspired, to say the least.

Postmodernism: what the heck is it and what does it have to do with cats and our perception of reality?

Having been taking photographs around Toronto lately using funky filters on my cheap indestructible smartphone camera (a knockoff Blackberry Motorola running Android)—no one else seems to own nor want to have—I have been enjoying the strange perceptions it’s given me, regarding light and how we view things–in my case the city, its architecture, its denizens and both its daytime and nighttime responses to light; or lack thereof.

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After posting some of these shots online, I’ve received feedback such as: “What a crappy filter!” “Stop, that’s not reality!” “Why do you do that?!” “Is your camera broken?”

I like the perspective they give, I am not trying to be a true photographer; nor even claiming any sort of artistic license–although I guess those are simply granted by others if they appreciate/are emotionally affected by, what I am trying to capture or show with what I take pictures of, and the manner in which I take them. A  ‘true photographer’ by my definition, is one able to replicate on demand, one who possesses the esoteric knowledge of depth of field, film speeds and what they alter, one who is capable of retaking the shot they took a year ago in almost any environmental condition, and the intelligence, education, skill and practice necessary for all of this. I possess none of these, and may never achieve this calibre of mastery, as I am one lazy sonofabitch.

Funnily though, I had been pondering how people online talk about cats–how stupid they are, or how nonsensical their behaviour be (or mystical or spiritual or…whatever). Living with a cat—one I consider pretty damn sharp—I’ve noticed similar behaviour; such as chasing things I can not see, or staring into the distance…

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But I understand that she has optical apparati completely different from mine.  Sometimes I’m able to catch a slight glimpse of something moving–perhaps a headlight on the wall, or a tiny flying insect, or someone a few blocks away opening a window and reflecting a quick flash of light from the sun through my apartment.  But at other times, I too am at a loss.  But this, to me at least, makes me aware of the limitations of my eyes, not the “stupidity of an animal”.  I’ve read in some places where people have spoken of folktales where cats were said to communicate with the dead–again, for the same reasons.  This of course just leads to my disappointment in humanity and people not using the gift of reason that we have evolved to possess.

Interestingly though, all of this has a lot to do with a metaphor I use regarding postmodern thinking and analysis.  Lenses.  Lenses provide us with a particular perspective, while limiting our vision at the same time.  This is true in most every human enterprise, but namely politics.  As I have grown older, I realize that I am accumulating more and more lenses of perception.  As I spontaneously meet and engage intellectually with more and more humans (something I love about living in downtown Toronto in 2013), I find myself able to identify with, if not agree with completely, many who hold very strong views about a multitude of issues.  Many though, seem to fail to understand that they may merely disagree with those towards whom they profess eternal hatred and enmity, due to a different lens or two..or ten.  Most every human endeavour, in my opinion, seeks excellence as well as the betterment of something someone (or some group) holds dear. Humans are not intrinsically evil, nor out to hurt others, without some sense of righteousness. Unless of course they are insane, but that is not to what I refer.

The video below too, (a small vignette of a great documentary series by Richard Hammond called ‘Invisible Worlds’ by the way) made me realize something about reality–so much of what we consider (perceive as) beautiful in this world (flowers for example), we are ONLY limited to perceive through a narrow band of the light spectrum.

This is also true for our sense of hearing.  This is a recording of cricket chirps slowed down so their lifespans match those of humans–they now sound like some sort of ethereal hymnal choir:

Our senses limit us in SO many ways, and yet we rarely, if ever, speak to this–we do not tell this to our children.  Human-conceived religions and gods and ponderances of our eternal purpose consistently have failed to mention, oh, by the way, most of this reality? —is not available with our software edition. This is actually one of the greatest reasons NOT to believe in God or Intelligent Design or whatever, but I guess the same explanation has been used throughout the world for the contrary argument.

Which all brings me to a vsauce segment. I am addicted to vsauce. It is such the intellectually pornographic injection of thought. He touches on so much, much of what I had been thinking and articulated above, and then some. I have actually made good friends with familiar strangers, just by saying ‘vsauce’ to them instead of hello, on a regular basis.

Postmodern thinking asks you to ‘think outside the box’ but it assumes that you have in fact perceived the existence of a box. This perception requires an awareness of lenses in order that one can become aware of all kinds of boxes, and bubbles and biases; outside of which may just be other realities and dimensions you are unable, or have yet, to perceive.

 

 

[BOOK] Motherland – ‘A Philosophical History of Russia’ by Lesley Chamberlain

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New York Times

The Cost of Utopia

July 29, 2007
written by MARK LILLA

There is a joke about the Russians, sometimes told by Russians. A young man from the provinces, inspired by a local doctor, travels to St. Petersburg because he wants to study “life.” He reads, he writes and eventually he enters medical school. On the first day of class the professor enters the hushed auditorium and announces, “Gentlemen, today we will discuss the pancreas.” The young man leaps from his seat, enraged. “The pancreas? How dare you mention the pancreas! We are not here to study the pancreas, we are here to study … LIFE!”

Dostoyevsky would have laughed. Even his darkest novels contain comic vignettes about young Russians inflamed by grand ideas and oblivious to the obvious. The comedy ends when somebody picks up a hatchet and tries to put those ideas into practice. That has happened often enough in Russian history to raise the question: Is there something special about the Russian relation to ideas? Throughout the 19th century the so-called Westernizers blamed the Russian character, which after centuries of religious orthodoxy and political repression had become lazy, mystical and prone to fantastical dreams. What Russia needed, they thought, was a dose of Western philosophy and science to sweep out the cobwebs and rationalize society. They got nowhere, and many fled to Paris, where they bemoaned la Russie in flawless French.

The anti-Westernizers were a mixed lot. Some were believers in the old rites of the Russian church; others defended aristocratic privilege against the revolutionary mob. The most interesting minds, though, were the Slavophiles, who loathed the growing influence of Western philosophical ideas and romanticized the Slavic mind. Dostoyevsky was sympathetic to them and believed that modern Western thought was breeding a new kind of fanatic — cold, materialistic, indifferent to suffering. The traditional Russian virtues of compassion and spontaneity were disappearing in the face of utilitarianism, nihilism, anarchism and all the other isms spewed out by the West. Understanding the pancreas is all well and good, but when rationalists wearing square hats deny the demands of the soul they turn us into beasts.

Now, understanding the soul is also well and good. But what happens when soulfulness stands in the way of rational philosophy and science? Isn’t there a price to be paid? That is the question Lesley Chamberlain poses in “Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia.” The question is not new, nor are most of her answers. There are very fine studies of 19th-century Russian thought available in English — by Isaiah Berlin, Joseph Frank, E. H. Carr, Martin Malia — and the interested reader will want to turn to those first. But by focusing specifically on how Western philosophical ideas from Descartes through Marx were absorbed into Russian thinking, Chamberlain does complicate the received picture somewhat. As she sees it, the decisive struggle was not simply between Westernizers and anti-Westernizers, but between Russians who stood by the philosophical legacy of France and England, and those who drew sustenance from the far murkier thinkers of modern Germany.

Western philosophy first gained a toehold in 18th-century Russia due to the extraordinary efforts of Catherine the Great, who read Locke and adopted some of his educational reforms, corresponded with Voltaire and encouraged Diderot and D’Alembert in their work on the French Encyclopedia. But after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, Russian aristocrats and many intellectuals turned away from the clear, distinct and universal ideas of the Enlightenment, which were now associated with terror and imperialism. This was an enormous mistake, in Chamberlain’s view, because it meant abandoning the subtle equipoise between reason and skepticism that characterized the French and English Enlightenments at their best. Instead, Russia found itself coming of age philosophically just when German Idealism was at its peak and gaining adherents across continental Europe.

What did the Russians learn from the Germans? This is hard to make out from the badly confused accounts of Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Schelling given by Chamberlain, an English journalist and novelist. The main story, though, she gets about right. What the 19th-century Russian intellectuals found in, and partly projected onto, Germany was a romantic alternative to the supposedly cold, heartless logic of Descartes and his progeny. They were especially drawn to F. W. J. Schelling, whose philosophy of nature, a hash of intuition and metaphysical speculation, was closer to theosophy than to modern science. (Lots about “life,” nothing about the pancreas.) Schelling’s doctrines proved to be infinitely adaptable and unfalsifiable, and thus served as useful defenses against French and English rationalism. Like Napoleon’s troops, the modern ideas of Bacon, Descartes, Locke and Hume were turned back at the gates of Moscow and beat a slow retreat through the snow.

Hostility to the modern Enlightenment is itself a modern phenomenon, though it usually has archaic roots. Chamberlain says surprisingly little about the role of Russian religion, with its noble lineage of mystics and saints, in shaping Russian attitudes toward philosophy. She focuses on another crucial element, nationalism. In the 19th century, Pilate’s question “What is truth?” was transformed into a nationalist question, “What is Russian truth?” Pride and shame motivated the search for a distinctly Russian path through modernity, one where “integral knowledge” would replace Western logic and “organic personality” supplant Western individualism. Yes, Russia might be a backward land of serfs and despots, but by being true to itself it would one day become the leading civilization on earth. That, Chamberlain persuasively suggests, was the operative fantasy.

It is in this light that she considers the history of Marxism, down through the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. These are her most engaging pages. Marxism was in fact a late import into Russia and was never philosophically deep; Lenin, we learn in an endnote, did not read Hegel until 1914. And the bogus science of dialectical materialism, though dogmatically imposed in Soviet education right up until the end, did not decisively shape the vision or practice of Soviet communism, Chamberlain maintains. Rather, Marxism permitted a modern expression of old Russian ideas of solidarity, sacrifice, hope and collective redemption. The noble peasant would be transformed through revolution into the noble laborer; the Holy Fool would be reborn as Stakhanov, the mythic Soviet worker who exceeded every daily quota. It was not the stuffed suits of the Kremlin who were the rationalists, it was the dissidents — the Andrei Sakharovs and Elena Bonners — who became physicists and doctors in order to cut through Russian dreaminess and devote themselves to truth.

How is philosophy faring in Russia today? Chamberlain does not say, though based on her reading of history she is not optimistic. “Russian philosophy,” she writes, “can’t begin until it leaves behind the superstitious, prescientific world of the 19th-century peasant community and the Romanticism which replaced it in educated minds. It has to separate values from facts, personalities from truth if it wants to be considered as more than poetry.” But as her book shows, there are deep reasons that people remain attached to prescientific worldviews and romantic dreams, even while living in the midst of modernity.

At its best, Chamberlain’s account sheds light on the complex cultural reaction set off when modern Western ideas wash up on the shores of cultures simultaneously ashamed of their social and scientific backwardness and convinced of their moral superiority. In the 19th century Russia was the small theater in which this drama played out; today, the theater is the entire world. The value of this book is that it offers a small window into the mental universe of underground men everywhere.

July 29, 2007; the above written by: 

Mark Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia University. His new book, “The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West,” will be published in the fall.