Sunday, July 27, 2014

Is it moral for me to have children even though I don’t have a job? [Ask a philosopher]

James from The Why? Movement (nice name!) asked:
“Is it ethical for me to start a family with the knowledge that I do not have a full-time job (i.e. one that has health benefits) at the moment, but the hope that I will by the time my child is born?”

In the United States, having children has moved from an expectation, to a question of rights, to a matter of privilege. For much of human history, married couples were expected to have babies and to have them quickly. If they didn’t, it was usually because one of the two were physically unable. But these days, we have shifted from asking when people will have kids to asking whether they should be allowed to. James is asking the latter.

There were lots of reasons for these changes: developments in birth control, changes in the status of women, lower mortality rates of children, a more sophisticated understanding of what marriage is, and the advent of child protection organizations that can take children away from unfit parents, are but a few. But three philosophical shifts are particularly important.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Two brief videos about the open-carry debate.

For those of you who are interested, the University of North Dakota asked me a few questions about the viral PQED entry:  

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

and my follow-up: 

Should people run away from open-carry activists? A response to a thousand comments. 

I think they turned out well; thanks Craig for asking!

(Post your comments below and please consider visiting out YouTube channel: TheIPPL.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

How should we talk (and post) about Israel and Gaza? A guide to remaining human.

Israel and Gaza are at war; there really is no other word for it. And as the fighting escalates, so does the propaganda. The fact of the matter is though, that no matter how much blame the media gets for presenting one-sided points of view, it is everyday people who are doing most of the arguing. Inflammatory blog posts, poorly-researched news stories, and misidentified pictures are being shared at breakneck speed. All of it is being presented as equally true and each new post is touted as the smoking gun. It’s got to stop. It does no good and prevents any possibility for reconciliation.

With that in mind, I would like to propose the following guidelines for real discussion and true understanding:

1. Consider the experience of the other side.

Arguments are weapons and tend to eclipse the reality that people live under. History is important, but what motivates people is what they encounter outside their door or in their bomb shelter. So, in order to have a real discussion, we need to empathize and enter into the perspective of each side.

For example, it is terrible to live in Israel when Hamas is lobbing missiles randomly into neighborhoods. People are petrified and the randomness of it all makes matters worse.

Now, there are many who will read this last sentence and will protest “but Israel bombs…,” but STOP! We’ll get there. Just be quiet, calm yourself, and reflect. If you are reading this blog post right now you are not in danger. Take a moment and consider the experience of living under the threat of hundreds, if not thousands, of randomly fired missiles, and remember, everyone in Israel loves their families and wants a good life. Being under the constant threat of arbitrary missile fire is an awful way to live.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Was America always laissez-faire?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “Do we live in a commercial republic? A discussion about American Government and its Economy” You can hear the whole episode online here.

Something has happened in the last two decades that has become so normal, we rarely think about it: we all know how much money movies make. Box office grosses of opening weekends are reported as major news stories. There are no more epics, only blockbusters.

Sure, film companies have done this forever, but they are businesses out for a profit and we are audiences out for a good time. Is the movie experience going to be any better if the ticket sales are high? I doubt it. But this is the time we live in, and there’s a word for money being the ultimate standard of success: capitalism.

I’m an Adam Smith scholar—longtime listeners know that—and I have more than a soft spot for the free market, but there’s also a case to be made that capitalism is a virus, that it overtakes everything it encounters, from arts and entertainment, to politics itself. America thinks of itself as a Democracy, but every other country in the world thinks of us in terms of our economy and power, and truth be told, our most vocal politicians and pundits seem to agree. Capitalism and democracy, they think, are the same thing. Just as movie quality is discovered through ticket sales, the will of the people, they tell us, is declared with our wallets.

Monday, July 7, 2014

[Repost] Leaving the Classroom Behind: “Teaching” the Public Humanities

A few years ago, I was asked to write a piece on my public-philosophy pedagogy for the blog Teaching Thursday. It appears that the blog is no longer online and I wanted to repost it because I refer to the essay surprisingly frequently. It is very "inside baseball," and probably mostly of interest to other teachers, but it does provide a good glimpse into the choices that college professors have to make when they decide to do something like PQED, WHY? Radio, or The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life.  

"Leaving the Classroom Behind: "Teaching" the Public Humanities"
First posted online on August 12, 2010. 

In the last two years, I have become immersed in the public humanities movement: the attempt to bring philosophy, history, literature and other related arts out of the classroom and into the general public. For me, it took the form of founding and directing the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life (IPPL), a partnership between UND and the North Dakota Humanities Council. We have a radio show, a film series, a blog, a  lecture series, an annual magazine, and a fellows program. With all of this in mind, Bill asked me to reflect on the difference between teaching in the classroom and teaching towards the general public, a task that is made more difficult by the fact that I am reluctant to consider any of my IPPL work as “teaching” at all.

While many in the general public like to learn, very few of them feel comfortable being taught. Once out of school, people like to consider themselves autodidacts, and nothing alienates them more than a person who imposes classroom structures upon a conversation, speaking to them as if they’re students and implying some sort of intellectual superiority. Most people associate school with homework, hierarchies, and lack of voice, and while for many, college was a better experience than high school, university life is still associated with grading, tests, and stress.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

[Follow-up] Should people run away from open-carry activists? A response to a thousand comments.

Last week I argued that people encountering a gun activist who is openly carrying a weapon should leave restaurants immediately and make the activist pay for their meal. This struck a chord. As of right now, that post has been shared by over 70,000 people and there are almost 1,000 comments. By the time you read this, there will be more. First and foremost, THANK YOU! Thank you to everyone who read it, shared it, and commented on it. Even if we disagree, I am deeply honored that you all took the time to consider what I wrote and I look forward to continuing the discussion. Here is my response to all those who took the time to post their thoughts. It is long, but 1,000 comments are a lot to consider. 

The response to my open-carry argument was overwhelming and I intentionally stayed out of it so that people could talk amongst themselves. I think it is time, now, to respond to those comments that I think were the most philosophically interesting, because, of course, this is a philosophy blog and not one that defends a particular public policy.

By philosophically interesting I mean that I am responding to those comments that refer to theoretical issues that lie at the foundation of the debate. They tend to be definitional or general in scope, and they usually apply to other debates as well.

This means that I will pass over the insults, the misogyny, and homophobia. I will ignore the anger and the recriminations, although I suspect I will end up writing about the rhetoric sometime in the future. I will also pass over the people who claim Hitler took away everyone’s guns as a prelude to the holocaust, although I did write a separate post about that.

[PSA] Hitler did not take away everyone's guns and Jews could not have used them to stop the holocaust.

Anytime someone argues that the holocaust could have been stopped if only Hitler had not taken people's guns away, just post a link to this and save yourself some time.

1. Hitler did not take away everyone's guns.

Hitler did not call for disarming German citizens (source). In fact, in 1938, the Nazi government deregulated most guns (source). After the war, they found significant numbers of firearms in people’s houses. They did eventually prohibit German-born Jews, first from manufacturing and trading, and then from owning any weapons of any kind, including guns, knives, and truncheons (and, interestingly, carrier pigeons), but foreign-born Jews were permitted to keep their weapons, and all this was done five years after the first concentration camps opened and the anti-Jewish laws began (source). Even on the rare occasion that Jews used guns to defend themselves, they were massacred. In the Warsaw Ghetto uprising “only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred. The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps” (source). And, of course, as Tom Diaz puts it, “the Jews of Poland did in fact have armed protection. It was called the Polish Army” (source). That did not work so well, either. Also, incidentally, “Hitler” did not do anything. The German government and people worked together and, as Daniel Goldhagen shows in great detail, dissenters were not killed, even if they were in the military (source).

The point is that the Nazis didn't just take the Jews' guns away, they took everything away, and to focus on guns alone is arbitrary. This was not gun control; it was human control. 

2. Guns could not have stopped the steps towards the Final Solution.