:: Essays archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

On Vincent Harding, Benjamin Netanyahu and Selma published 08/03/2015


That a police officer can draw a gun on an unarmed young man and shoot him many times, killing him, and be “protected” by current “legal practice” – the cop who drew his gun on Taj Blow, a student on the Yale campus, is similarly and bizarrely “protected” – is a great scandal of modern America. If this is a free regime, what is a police state?

Gil Caldwell on civil rights in the US.

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The social contract theory according to Socrates published 07/03/2015


There are two courses of actions: persuade or obey, according to the laws of the city. If you are in disagreement with an order, you are actually obligated to persuade. You must persuade the authority that issued that unjust order to change their minds, but if you fail, you must obey. This is the core formula to sustain the system. The integrity of the system depends on the endurance of this procedure. Of course, there are circumstances that are unpleasant to us, and we would wish it otherwise, but we cannot overrule the system at our leisure. That conclusion is the result of the debate with Crito about the value of expert opinion of the few over the opinion of the majority.

Shahram Arshadnejad on Socrates and the Social Contract.

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Sounding out the Idols: Images, Ideology & ISIS published


The video explains their ruinous behavior as the fulfillment of religious duty: “The Prophet Muhammed commanded us to shatter and destroy statues.” The irony here is perspicuous: threatened by the potency of the image, these militants undertake drastic measures to destroy it, yet in so doing engrave an immeasurably more powerful image before the entire world by uploading their video. This perplexity runs deeper than this incident and gestures towards a paradox at the origin of the aniconic and philosophical traditions.

Gilah Kletenik on ISIS and Iconoclasm.

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Innocent Abroad: Rupture, Liberation, and Solidarity published 02/03/2015


So here, in these philosophers, was stuff that seemed just as hard as the physics and chemistry that were bringing me to New York. Moreover, philosophers seemed to value a lack of confidence—telling me, not to ignore my doubts and get back to studying, but to push my uncertainty as far as it could go. Sartre explained why this is inescapable—only by self-deception can we hide from ourselves the fact of choice and the depth of our inability to anchor life in external or internal certainties. Like it or not, we were in the end responsible for who we are and what sort of world we inhabit.

Peter Railton‘s Dewey Lecture.

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the ethics of belief published 23/02/2015

German writer Christa Wolf asks herself: “What kind of faith will the people of the future (assuming there are people in the future) read out of our stone, steel, and concrete ruins?” If we’re to take history as a reliable measure, the story of the 20th and 21st centuries will, in two or three thousand years, be quite the simple yarn: we built the freeways out of national pride; we liberated peoples across the globe from their cruel dictators; we went to war against terrorists to defend our freedom; and so on. Every ruin has its myth; every war has its Helen.

Patrick Nathan on Cassandra, myth, Google Maps, and the power of stories.

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The Will to Marxism: Need We Work in an Economy of Abundance? published 20/02/2015

Karl Marx - portrait

Why should a 3 hour working day be considered more insane than an 8-10 hour working day or a fifth of the population put in jail? Why should the sane submit to the insane, who think it right that a minority should decide whether or not a majority lives in penury or pleasure? Why should a particular mode of market-capture undermine our ability to seek philosophy and self-understanding rather than the economic bottom line, which, if it doesn’t kill us, certainly won’t follow us to the short-faring graves that await us all, even those few who manage to profit?

Jeremy Brunger on the role of Marxism in 2015.

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Violins, Dirty Shoes and Broken Biscuits: Laurie Lee as unknowing British Beatnik published 16/02/2015

At one point among the most celebrated writers of his day, Lee’s legacy in contemporary culture is accompanied by an eerie silence. Along with Down and Out in Paris and London, Midsummer Morning, is one of the definitive chronicles of the aimless wandering generation of Europe caught between two world wars. Each town with a real identity, and most characters displaying an at times laughably innocent vision of the world, the book portrays what feels to me at least as the last embers of an authentic European experience, before the destruction of war took place, and the subsequent white-washing of mass tourism took hold.

Robert Greer on the oft-overlooked early British beatnik, Laurie Lee.

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The Sensation of Failure published 15/02/2015


There’s the Freudian slip, and then there’s the Freudian insertion. I’m suspicious, usually, when in the course of a perfectly ordinary essay the writer chucks in a bit of Sigmund. It feels like a cheap trick, performed with the purpose of saying: look, perhaps what I’ve written isn’t that interesting but think about what I’ve not written, or how it is that what I’ve written – or not written – may signify something else, then think about the process of my writing, the effects of the meditation that has gone on while I’m producing these words, isn’t that the real prize, for profound and soulful people like you and me.

Emran Mian on love, betrayal and its politics.

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War and Morality published 08/02/2015


America’s wars have in fact always been represented, in films and novels, in the media, in the protests, in terms of their morality as much as in terms of their horror (or their glory). This manner of representing wars is very much like putting the cart before the horse.

Fred Russell on Ignorance and Morality.

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What Marxist Ideology Can Set In Motion published 07/02/2015


If the reason current U.S. free speech doctrine protects unrestricted spending by the wealthy in elections is because this insures that the political system does the bidding of plutocrats, then most people have no reason to affirm the free speech value of unlimited political spending by the wealthy: if free speech is a value, it must be good for everyone, not just the wealthy. (Notice that what is at stake is the moral status or acceptability of the legal claim: the status of the claim qua legal does not depend on these considerations.)

Brian Leiter on Marxist Ideology.

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