Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why ask Amy, Prudence, or Dan Savage, when you can ask Plato, Kierkegaard and Simone de Beauvoir? (Help PQED with its new advice project.)

So, we at PQED thought we would do something fun, amidst all the discussion about guns, sports, and child molestation. We are going to try a philosopher’s advice column and we need your help. Send us questions that you want answered or scenarios you need advice about. We are pretty open to anything—dating or relationship advice, life decisions, ethical quandaries—whatever you throw at us, we’ll take a shot at. We’re not advice experts, of course, but we’ll put the philosophical spin on your question that no one else does. It’s worth a try, right? What have you got to lose?

This is something we’ve done before. We have already given dating advice once and helped someone decide whether to take gloves from a Lost and Found. Read those entries and see if you can imagine getting our input. (Actually, Jack, who writes the posts, is well-known for giving excellent advice to friends, family, and students. Just ask him. He'll tell you.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How should people respond to open-carry gun-rights activists?

I have removed the original image as requested by its owner.
Please keep that in mind when you read the comments people have posted

As most people know, there are activists in Texas who are making a point of going to public places with visible firearms. They have gotten a lot of attention because some chain restaurants and stores have prohibited them from openly carrying their weapons, mostly because it frightens other patrons.

This fear is legitimate. As many have pointed out, there is no way for bystanders to know whether the people with guns are “good guys” or “bad guys.” It is rational to be afraid of someone with a weapon, especially if you know nothing about them.

Furthermore, as Jon Stewart has pointed out better than anyone else, since people are often legally permitted to use guns to protect themselves when they are legitimately afraid for their lives, there is no predicting when someone is going to see the activists and shoot before they ask questions. This will happen. It is just a matter of time. And, in many cases, it will be a legal and rational act. None of us want to be victims of the crossfire.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A special internet-only episode of WHY? Radio: The Disappeared: Human Rights and Art

Why? Philosophical Discussions about Everyday Life

“The Disappeared: Human Rights and Art”

Guests: Sarah Cahill, Christian Correa, Father Jack Davis, and Emmanuel Jal
A panel discussion recorded at the North Dakota Museum of Art, on December 2, 2009.

Five years ago, The North Dakota Museum of Art hosted a panel on art and human rights to commemorate their exhibit The Disappeared. We thought the recording was lost forever, but we found it, cleaned it up, and have put it online.

[Follow up]: PQED gets translated into Farsi -- and I allude to a whole bunch of philosophical issues in the process.


My previous post asked about the role of violence in children’s literature, specifically whether we should talk about war and school shootings. I was inspired by a remarkable book called Good Night, Commander, which was originally published in Farsi (or Persian, if you prefer), and translated into English. (Buy the book!)

Well, a remarkable thing happened: that very post has now been translated into Farsi by the wonderful Kave Behbahani, who translated my book On MacIntyre, and who has been way more generous to me than I deserve. He wanted both to make sure that Good Night, Commander’s author Ahmad Akbarpour could read it, and he wants to pass my words on to a literary magazine in Iran. As I say, way too generous.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Should there be children’s books about the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre?

"I told them … I love you all very much."
First shared on This Isn't Happiness.

A few years ago, I received the book Good Night, Commander as a gift, inscribed, by the author, to my daughter, who was about five-years old at the time. It tells the story of a boy who lost his leg during the Iran/Iraq war and who constantly imagines himself in battle. We are introduced to him when his Uncle tells him to remove his prosthetic leg in the house, and the boy responds, “But I don’t want to. How can I fight on one leg? My enemy will just laugh at me.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Should art ever be labelled as "Not Safe for Work"?

(This picture was used with permission, and both Molli and Brittney have asked for feedback on their site.)
Molli is an aspiring model; Brittney is a photographer trying to put together a portfolio. Molli poses nude for Brittney and they post the test shots here, hoping to get feedback. They link it to Facebook and the social network bans the photos. Brittney gets upset and complains about American prudishness and about her photos being art, not porn. She also protests that people have a choice to click the link or not (as they do with the links in this blog post), and that she is not forcing anyone to see nudity if they don’t want to. I suspect this is a scenario most of my readers would be familiar wit

The standard way of dealing with such links is by labeling them NSFW. This tells people that they should be aware that they could get in trouble, or offend people, or maybe even just look creepy if they click on it in public. It also acts as a warning to parents who may not want their kids to see such things. It is, I think, a reasonable pragmatic compromise that protects everyone’s freedom, but it hides an interesting philosophical problem. I would suggest that once something is deemed art, no matter how “dirty” it might be, it should no longer be labelled "not safe for work." Its sexual content should no longer to be regarded as prurient, but a part of something bigger and more important.

Monday, June 9, 2014

“Are there too many people for our environment?”

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was the same as the question above: "Are there too many people for our environment?" You can hear the whole episode online here.

North Dakota is the nineteenth biggest state in the U.S. It is roughly the same size as Washington and it is bigger than Florida. But while Florida houses nineteen and a half million people and Washington has seven million, North Dakota has only about 700,000. If you plan even a little bit, you can go a long time without seeing anyone else. 

This freaks my mother-in-law out. She’s from North Carolina, a smaller state with a much larger population. When she walks around Grand Forks, she likes to ask where all the people are, and my wife always responds “these ARE all the people, Mom.”  Yet even with its smaller size and ten million people, North Carolina still has plenty of places where you can hide. Eric Rudolph, the fugitive Olympic Park bomber, lived in the Appalachian Mountains for five years before he was apprehended.

So, with all of this said, it may seem odd to have a discussion about overpopulation, or, rather, it may seem strange to assume that it’s an American problem. Sure, if we look at pictures of Karachi or Mumbai we can see it, but that’s not here. That’s there.