Thursday, January 23, 2014

Are pin-ups always sexist?

Yesterday, the owner of my favorite local Japanese restaurant gave me a calendar as a gift. As he handed it to me, he whispered “a pretty young actress” and smiled with male camaraderie. It was a very sweet gesture and if you’ve ever spent any time in Asian restaurants, you’ll know exactly what the image looks like. It’s an airbrushed portrait, not very revealing, and I’m sure he got a box of them from his food supplier. This style of image is very common and I saw plenty of them in China.

My first thought was that I had no place to hang it, even as a piece of kitsch. But my second thought was about how different the world outside of my work is. As a college professor, my office must be completely void of anything that sexualizes women, and when sexuality is discussed in class, it must be depersonalized. I would never ask a group of students about their sexual lives or suggest that I found any of them, male or female, attractive. If I gave that calendar to a student, as tame as it might be, I would be risking my job.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

[Reader Question] Is protecting your privacy your job or your fundamental right?

Every day brings new revelations about how our privacy is being diminished. Whether it is the NSA hacking into our computers and recording our telephone calls, or websites selling our browsing data, it is clear that much of what we took for granted as private is as public as it gets. And, perhaps worse (or perhaps not), it isn’t just that our information is out there, it is that our information is a commodity. Lots of people are making a great deal of money off of our lives, but most of us don’t see any of it. This is complicated by the fact that opting-out of the data-mining trade is virtually impossible for most of us. To do it, one would have to opt-out of most other things as well: always pay cash, always anonymize our internet activity, and pull ourselves largely off the grid. It doesn’t feel like there is much choice at all. People, companies, and the government will know about
what we do.

This brings us to reader Jay’s question: “Is protecting your privacy your job or your fundamental right?” It is, I think, a really interesting formulation. It assumes, first that there are just two options, the first is that protecting our privacy is our own responsibility, and as a consequence, if data about us gets “out there,” we are somehow negligent. It is our own fault.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Interview with PQED author Jack Russell Weinstein

The new issue of Humanities Magazine, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has just published an interview with author Jack Russell Weinstein, with special focus on his new book Adam Smith's Pluralism. You can find it here:

Impertinent Questions, with Jack Russell Weinstein
Written by Meredith Hindley

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Should lying be protected free speech?

By now, after several weeks of Duck Dynasty nonsense, everyone in the United States should be aware that the free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment is protection from government reprisals, not private blow back. If I say something offensive, my employer can fire me, as long as the business is not government owned. But how far should that government protection go? Traditionally, obscenity, libel, fighting words, and “shouting fire in a crowded theater” (creating a dangerous disturbance), have traditionally been the categories of non-protected free speech. A group in Ohio wants to add to them. They want political lies to be protected speech as well.

Monday, January 13, 2014

How do you tell the story of art?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was "How to Tell the Story of Art" and the guest was Ross King. You can hear the whole episode onlinehere.

One of my favorite photographs is of my daughter, about six months old, sitting in her bouncy seat, in the sunlight, holding a book. She’s turning her head as if to chastise someone for interrupting her. It’s an adorable picture, a bald, big-cheeked infant, too young to read, holding a colorful board book like it’s War and Peace. It’s also well-composed and interesting. Everyone I know who has come across it has remarked on it.
But the picture gets better the more you learn about it. First, the book was her favorite: we read Come Here, Cleo to her over and over and over, and I will always have tremendous affection for it. Second, Adina has grown up to be quite the reader, as voracious a consumer of books as her parents, reading early and always high above her grade level, having the kind of relationships with book characters that most of us only dream of. Third and, not surprisingly, interrupting her still inspires the same annoyed look. You can see the baby in the eight year old and, in the photo, the eight year old in the baby. She’s the daughter of two academics, raised in a house full of books, and the picture is prescient. It anticipates so much of her life so far, of her personality, of her attitude. To really appreciate the picture, I think, you have to know all of this.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The reviews are in! Critical praise for Jack Russell Weinstein's new book

This past September, author Jack Russell Weinstein published Adam Smith's Pluralism: Rationality, Education and the Moral Sentiments. It's an academic book arguing that Smith, who is most famous for being the father of capitalism, actually anticipated modern diversity theory. It may be a difficult read, but it would be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about justice, political philosophy, the history of economics, diversity, education (then and now), and, of course, Adam Smith himself (the Smith link goes to the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry, also written by Jack Russell Weinstein).

What is the purpose of art?

In anticipation of today’s episode of WHY? Radio (“How to tell the story of art” with guest Ross King), I thought it would be worth asking just a brief question: what is the purpose of art? The following video is really cool, it shows a building synchronized with a rubrics cube so that the window colors change when the cube is turned. Watch it; it will only take a minute:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

[Reader Question] What can I read to start learning philosophy on my own?

 A belated Happy New Year to everyone. To start the year properly, I thought I would answer a question from longtime-reader Martin. He asked if there were any books I could recommend for people who wanted to start learning some philosophy on their own.

This is a surprisingly controversial and difficult question since many philosophers will disagree with my choices and people have radically different tastes. I spend a significant amount of time in my Public Philosophy course having the students evaluate books for just this purpose.There is rarely consensus.

Also, there are differing opinions as to what it means to “learn philosophy” on one’s own. Should readers start with some argumentation or critical thinking texts and learn how to parse arguments, or should they immerse themselves in a single question? Should the reading be theme oriented, emphasizing something like ethics or philosophy of mind, or should it be historical? I tend towards the last. My recommendations are usually narrative histories of philosophy that provides the readers with a sense of the twenty-five hundred year conversation between philosophers.

With all of that said, for years, I have recommended starting with the same two books, in order.