“Terrorism” Revisited

My friend Vicente Medina (Philosophy, Seton Hall University) has a short piece out on the semantics of “terrorism” in Government Europa Quarterly, an online journal.  We had a few discussions of Medina’s views on terrorism here at PoT in advance of the symposium on his book, Terrorism Unjustified, that took place at Felician about a year and a half ago (see here and here). A published version of the Felician symposium is about to come out soon at Reason Papers, consisting of three critical responses (by Graham Parsons, Theresa Fanelli, and myself), and a response by Medina. Continue reading

Reason Papers Vol. 40.1 Out

As might be surmised from my last post, the Summer 2018 issue of Reason Papers (volume 40, number 1) has just come out. The whole issue is available as an 111 page PDF via this link. Individual items are more easily accessible via this link (you’ll have to scroll down a bit).

The editors have posted this announcement on the website:

After serving for twelve years—first as Co-Managing-Editor and then as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Reason PapersCarrie-Ann Biondi has stepped down from her Co-Editor-in-Chief position. Demoting herself to Book Review Editor will allow her time to turn to other projects calling from the wings. Shawn Klein now serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Reason Papers. 

Shawn Klein remains Editor-in-Chief. I remain in place as the journal’s “Editor-at-Large,” a position that involves more livin’ large than editing.

Here is the Table of Contents (yet another way of accessing the issue).

Continue reading

Reason Papers 39:2 Out (Winter 2017 Issue)

The latest issue of Reason Papers is now out–Volume 39, Number 2 (Winter 2017). The issue includes a symposium on Tara Smith’s Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System, as well as Part II of a symposium on Den Uyl and Rasmussen’s newest book, The Perfectionist Turn. There’s also a revised version of a piece I posted here at PoT on teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans” (scroll all the way down to “Afterwords”). And other stuff as well–psychological egoism, Nozick on patterned theories of justice, interviews with Nazi filmmakers, commentary on a theatrical production of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Enjoy.  Continue reading

Reason Papers vol. 38:2 now available

I’m happy to report that Reason Papers vol. 38:2 (Winter 2016) has just come out online. The journal is published in a Free Open Access format, so the content in it can be accessed for free without a subscription or registration. If you want to access individual articles, use this link, which takes you to the journal’s Archive page (you may have to scroll down a few clicks). If you’d rather read the whole issue as a single PDF (131 pages), try this link.

The issue begins with a Symposium on Andrew Jason Cohen’s 2014 book, Toleration; the symposiasts are Emily M. Crookston (Philosophy, Coastal Carolina University) and David Kelley (Atlas Society). Danny Frederick has an Article on the nature and definition of “freedom”; Gary Jason (Philosophy, Cal State Fullerton) has the first of a multi-part series on the memorialization of genocide in film. The issue ends with three longish review essays: Richard Salsman (Political Science, Duke) reviews three books on the American founders; Kanan Makiya (Islamic and Middle East Studies, Brandeis) reviews a recent English translation of the late Sadik al Azm’s Self-Criticism After the Defeat, an analysis of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; and Salim Rashid (Economics, Universiti Utari Malaysia) reviews Timur Kuran’s celebrated book, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East. Continue reading

In Memoriam: Ghassan Shabaneh

I was both shocked and saddened to discover news of the death of Dr. Ghassan Shabaneh, for several years an Associate Professor of Middle East and International Studies at Marymount Manhattan College, and more recently a researcher at the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies in Doha, Qatar. The news is now almost a month old; I happened to discover it, painfully enough, while trying to “friend” him on Facebook.

Despite being on a first-name basis with him, I didn’t know Ghassan well enough to call him either a “friend” or a “colleague.” Having heard great things about him for years from his Marymount colleague Carrie-Ann Biondi (my then-wife) I happened to meet him exactly once, purely by coincidence, in the summer of 2013–in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I was touring Bethlehem with my friend Sinan; he was visiting with his wife Tara. After expressing shock at the coincidental nature of the meeting, we had our one and only conversation, promising to meet up again in the near future. Our schedules never seemed to coincide, so–to my eternal regret–we never did meet again. I’d been looking forward to the meeting for years.

My deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. Unfortunately, I’ll have to miss the memorial service that will take place for him in a few days in New Jersey, but hope to attend the service that will be held for him this fall at Marymount.

Carrie-Ann Biondi on Kurt Keefner’s “Killing Cool”

Carrie-Ann Biondi has a nice review up of Kurt Keefner’s recent book, Killing Cool: Fantasy Versus Reality in American Life. I haven’t read the book myself, but have leafed through a copy (Carrie-Ann’s copy, actually) and found it interesting. Not sure yet what I think about it all, but take a look.

Carrie-Ann and Kurt had an interesting exchange here last year on the concept of “surrender” in Ayn Rand’s fiction. That makes both of them PoT-heads, though I suspect they’d be cool to that description.

Update: You’ve Got Another Academic Thing Coming

A little while back I mentioned that Carrie-Ann was giving a talk at Rockford University on Ayn Rand and Mike Rowe. The talk seems to have gone well; Carrie-Ann sends the following picture of herself at the podium, being introduced by Shawn Klein of Rockford’s Philosophy Department (photo credit: Stephen Hicks).

RU visit introduced by Shawn

Carrie-Ann tells me that she’ll be blogging her talk soon and eventually posting it at her Academia site, but in general (I’ve read a copy), it’s a discussion (comparison/contrast) of Rand’s views on the moral psychology of work and/versus Mike Rowe’s as laid out on Rowe’s show, his web writings, and in his recent book Profoundly Disconnected.

(Incidentally, though not directly related to Carrie-Ann’s topic, this profile of NOL editor Brandon Christensen’s experiences with homelessness is at least indirectly relevant to the topic and very much worth reading. Not quite a “dirty job” but a “dirty education”: the lengths to which some people will go to get a college degree!)

One basic claim that Rand and Rowe seem to have in common concerns the morally redemptive nature of productive work across the spectrum of types of work–from “clean” to “dirty” (in Rowe’s sense of dirty). A corollary seems to be that it’s more in your interest to work than receive a hand-out, assuming that you’re capable of working. Another corollary seems to be that it’s more in your interest to do dirty work than receive a hand-out while holding out for clean work, assuming that you’re capable of doing the work in question.

A related implication is that when you look for work, ceteris paribus, the choiceworthy features of the work are its not-necessarily-remunerative virtue-realizing features,* not how much money you make from it. In other words, faced with two jobs each of which pays a sufficient amount, you ought to pick the virtue-promoting job over the more remunerative (but less virtue-promoting) one. Similarly, faced with two jobs, one of which is virtue-promoting and pays peanuts, and the other of which pays a lot but is immoral, you ought to pick the former. Those are all, of course, large claims that would have to be developed in ways that go beyond the paper in its current form.

One topic not discussed in the paper but badly in need of discussion is what Randian egoism has to say about the tension between a commitment to egoism and the existence of dangerous-but-necessary jobs, or even a commitment to egoism and the existence of necessary-but-merely arduous-and-messy jobs.  Take jobs like military combat, policing (as well as prison work), fire-fighting, and certain types of construction work, farming, mining, and roofing, etc. They’re all necessary in the sense that they need to get done for the efficient or even minimal functioning of a modern society. If they didn’t get done, we wouldn’t have societies of the sort we’re used to.**

But what egoistic motivation beyond economic necessity or lack of better alternatives (in cases where those are applicable) would induce someone to take such a job? If there is no non-necessity-based egoistic reason for taking such a job, it seems rational to shun them. If it’s rational to shun them, then under ideal conditions, no egoists (or relatively few egoists) would be found in such jobs. Granted, conditions are rarely ideal, but the point is, the better the conditions, the fewer the egoists would gravitate toward such jobs, and under good conditions, few egoists would do them.

Suppose ex hypothesi that we’re in the near-ideal situation where the egoists are doing the “better” jobs and the worse jobs are done by non-egoists (by people whose reasons for doing those jobs is inherently incompatible with egoism). Then it seems that in order to enjoy the fruits of modern society–itself an egoistically rational aim–egoists must of necessity rely on the work (and motivations) of non-egoists. If so, egoism is vulnerable to the charge of failing the test of universalizability or (putting the same point another way) requiring a (conceptual) form of parasitism. Egoism only works, in social terms, if many people aren’t egoists and the egoists rely on them in the way that Aristotle’s virtuous aristocrats rely on natural slaves.

I don’t mean to imply that the preceding objection is necessarily sound, just to suggest that it hasn’t gotten enough sustained attention by defenders of ethical egoism as it deserves. That said, Greg Salmieri (Rutgers, Stevens Institute) has been working on the closely-related topic of exploitation in Aristotle’s social theory. I expect that there’s some convergence between Carrie-Ann’s paper and Salmieri’s.

Meanwhile, to move from the virtue of productiveness to the vice of bestial cowardice, I have to confess that I ended up not attending the ACTC conference at which I was supposed to give my paper on the Nicomachean Ethics and the Grant Study (mentioned in the same post as Carrie-Ann’s paper). I finished the paper the night before I was supposed to leave, then got home to discover that my apartment had been infested with mice. (I’ve had an ongoing sporadic mouse problem these past few weeks, but my point is, when I got home, things crossed the hard-to-define-but-easy-to-discern threshold from mouse problem into mouse infestation.) The damn things kept me up all night, and then obliged me to turn from humane-but-totally-ineffective methods of rodent deterrence to inhumane, lethal methods drawn from years of personal observation of U.S. foreign policy.

I had mentioned my mouse problem in passing to my critical thinking students, one of whom turned my random complaint into a teaching moment by asking, “So why assume that you can’t learn to co-exist with the mice in your house?” Part of it (I said) was that mice spread disease. (Response: “Yes, but people spread disease, too. So you’d kill people if you thought they’d spread disease?”) But part of it, I must confess, is simply that I’m skeeved out by the thought–and not just the thought, but the actual physical reality–of sharing my bed with a passel or herd (or whatever it’s called) of feral mice. Granted, as a divorced single man, I should probably welcome the presence of anyone in my bed, but unfortunately, I don’t. (Yes, they’ve crawled into my bed at night with me in it, I’m not making that up.) I know it’s crude of me to put things this way, but I also can’t help mentioning that the mice pay no part of the rent and do not help at all with household chores.

What would Aristotle do? I don’t know, but here’s what he has to say, in what I think is the only mouse-related passage in the Nicomachean Ethics:

If, for instance, someone’s natural character makes him afraid of everything, even the noise of a mouse, he is a coward with a bestial sort of cowardice. (NE VII.5, 1149a7-8).

Yeah, well, call it another chapter from my ongoing memoir, Profiles in Bestial Cowardice. I almost think it’s worse than bestial cowardice. I mean, if I were a bona fide beast–something terrifying, like a tabby or a terrier–I’d at least have the courage to attack the mice mano a mano. But I’m a middle-aged twenty-first century American professor. I haven’t had a fist fight in decades. As it stands, I’ve just armed my apartment with a series of ultrasonic devices, traps, and poison in the hopes that I can drive the intruders away by high-tech methods of shock and awe. I guess we have to invent another category for people like me: sub-bestial cowardice. Or: Not-even-bestial cowardice. Or: pathetic over-civilized wimpiness.

Anyway, my new surge strategy seems to be working about as well as Bush’s did in Iraq and Obama’s in Afghanistan (wish list item: weaponized drones), but too late for my presence at the ACTC conference. My session starts in an hour, but I’m six hours’ drive away.

The point is, I write about virtue. I never said I had it.

*I had originally written “non-remunerative,” but that seems too strong.

**For interesting but in my view inadequate discussion of this topic, see chapter 11 of Alasdair MacIntyre’s Dependent Rational Animals and “Politics, Philosophy, and the Common Good” (reprinted in Kelvin Knight’s The MacIntyre Reader). Though not an egoist, MacIntyre faces a version of the problem mentioned in the text, but contrary to the impression he gives, never really resolves it.

You’ve Got Another (Academic) Thing Coming

Passover and Easter are coming up, signifying events of cosmic significance: Easter heralds the Resurrection, Passover the Jews’ exodus from bondage in Egypt. Customarily, both holidays betoken the coming of spring, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. But most importantly of all, both days bring glad tidings of …wait for it…yes, the height of the academic conference season. April showers bring May flowers, but April’s conference presentations bring next season’s peer-reviewed publications. “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Manuscripts out of the dead land….”

Anyway, with that preface, I’m happy to announce the schedule for the Ninth Annual Conference of the Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs. It’ll take place all day, Saturday, April 25 at Felician’s Rutherford, New Jersey campus (223 Montross Ave, Rutherford NJ, 07070). The plenary speaker is James Stacey Taylor of The College of New Jersey, defending the idea of markets in political votes. As usual, we’re fielding twenty papers this year–two sessions on meta-ethics, one on well-being and related issues, two on moral psychology, two on social/political philosophy, one on virtue ethics, one on bioethics, and one (for lack of a better description) on ethics and literature (featuring papers on Proust and Kierkegaard). Come by if you’re in the area; I’m hoping to post some of the papers online before the conference so that you can take a look even if you can’t make it to the conference itself.

While I’m in announcement mode, I thought I’d mention some PoT-head doings that the doers are too bashful to brag about on their own (or on her own, as it may be). Shawn Klein of Rockford College has just announced the imminent publication of an edited collection, Steve Jobs and Philosophy: For Those Who Think Different, from Open Court. Occasional PoT-head Carrie-Ann Biondi has a paper among sixteen others in there, called “Counter-Culture Capitalist” (which I’ve read in manuscript and rather like). As it happens, Carrie-Ann is speaking this Thursday (April 2) at Rockford College on a somewhat similar topic, “Mike Rowe and Ayn Rand: Somebody’s Gotta Do It“; the talk is sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford.

While I’m singing Carrie-Ann’s praises, I may as well mention her (rather pugillistically titled) discussions of Marx, MacIntyre, and Rawls in “Three Enemies of Capitalism,” Parts I and II, which began life as a pair of lectures at The Atlas Society’s 2014 Atlas Summit. Here’s the first lecture, and here’s the second.

Finally, Roderick Long is announcing a Call for Abstracts for a Molinari Society session on “Police Abuse: Solutions Beyond the State” at the APA’s Eastern Division Meeting, due date May 18.  Of course, I couldn’t possibly announce a CFA on that topic and not cap it off with something like this….

You might as well begin to put some abstracts in your life.

Surrender, But Don’t Give Yourself Away

By Kurt Keefner

(This post is a response to one by Carrie-Ann Biondi, just preceding it below.)

As part of a discussion on Facebook, my friend, philosopher Carrie-Ann Biondi, defended the occasional positive connotations of the term “surrender.” At first this idea stuck in my craw. I knew she did not mean “turning the other cheek” or “Resist not evil” or any such New Testament notion of being submissive, but I was concerned that surrender inherently meant splitting oneself in two, into the part that surrenders and the part one surrenders to. Carrie-Ann assured me that this was not the case and later wrote an essay about usages of the term “surrender” in The Fountainhead. After further consideration, I think I pretty much agree with her about the positive connotations. I’ve written this follow-up essay to elaborate on and extend her ideas. I don’t claim to have captured everything that Carrie-Ann meant, but I think I’m on to something worthwhile regardless.

There seem to me to be several kinds of surrender that are healthy. They are diverse, but they have a similar underlying emotional dynamic. The overall pattern seems to be that one exerts a kind of control that one gives up in favor of allowing oneself to be vulnerable to something or someone. When I say “vulnerable” I mean allowing oneself to be affected by something without the attempt to protect oneself from it or manage it, so that you’re “giving yourself” to whatever it is.
Here is my heart, open to the world.
I prefer the metaphor of vulnerability to the metaphor of surrender, but “vulnerable” does not have a verb form, so I will use “surrender” with the caveat that what I mean is “allow oneself to be vulnerable.” Let’s examine some of the forms of control and surrender and look for deeper commonalities.

A first and basic kind of control is what we might call self-management. In this variety a person is focused on a goal and drives oneself to achieve it. One’s actions and even one’s mental states are planned and disciplined. This form of control is most prominent among ambitious people, but it can be found to varying extents in almost anyone who is not completely impulsive. People who self-manage to a high degree can have trouble letting beauty or tenderness into their lives, and to do so they have to learn to relax and surrender to the moment instead of always living in the future. We see an example of this in the scene in Atlas Shrugged where we first meet Dagny and she hears the melody of Halley’s Fifth Piano Concerto. She tells herself “Let go—drop the controls—this is it.”

Randy Elrod's portrait of Dagny Taggart
Randy Elrod’s portrait of Dagny Taggart, available at http://www.randyelrod.com/dagny-taggart-atlas-shrugged-my-latest-watercolor-between-the-pages-series/

Second, we have the control of reserve. Even very open people do not completely expose themselves to strangers. One has to get to know and trust a person before one “surrenders” to them by “letting them in.” To let someone in is to allow oneself to be vulnerable to them. This form of surrender can range from friendship to romantic love. This is the paradigm example of surrender as trust.

Our third kind of control is sexual. One does not let just anyone in—to one’s bed or body. While I do not wish to overstress this matter in the way Ayn Rand does, I would say that this is a somewhat asymmetrical situation, that men do most of the pursuing, women do most of the resisting (controlling) and surrendering. Women are more physically vulnerable to men than the other way around, although men and women are of course both emotionally vulnerable where romantic love is concerned.

Fourth is what I took Carrie-Ann to mean in an earlier discussion of surrendering. Here the form of control is refusing to admit that you are wrong when at some level you know you are. What is necessary here is to surrender to reality, or, to be exact, to give up the false belief you have been clinging to in favor of what you really know (at whatever level). Maintaining the false belief dis-integrates the self, because you are holding your deeper knowledge at bay and compartmentalizing yourself. Surrender in this situation heals the breach. Note that even in this epistemological situation there is still an element of vulnerability because you take a chance on your ability to survive without the false belief.

A quote from Eugene Gendlin is appropriate here:

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.
And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.

Fifth and last for this essay is the desire to overmuch control one’s experience that in Killing Cool I label “Pretending.” What one Pretends is a false self defined by a pseudo sense of life, as when one tries to be hip or chronically ironic or inappropriately seductive. When one Pretends, one falsifies reality and reduces other people to convenient cartoon figures. In the book I develop several methods of addressing the problem of Pretending. One of them, which I call centering, involves letting reality in and thus could be said to be a form of surrender or allowing oneself to be vulnerable.

Due out September 2014

There is a sixth form of control and surrender I wish to discuss, but it would take a disproportionate amount of space, so I will save it for another essay. I’ll say this much about it: It has to do with the nature of focus. Focus, or paying attention is how we cognitively engage the world. But as it turns out there are several ways of focusing one’s attention and they have different effects on the organism. It may be advisable to stop focusing in the typical Western, problem-solving way sometimes for the sake of mental health. Doing this may also be experienced as a kind of surrender.

So what is the common emotional dynamic to all these forms of surrender? I would say that it is trust. Trust means letting your guard down and allowing yourself be vulnerable. Normally when we think of trust we think of trusting another person, but trust more fundamentally means trusting yourself. Before you can “drop the controls” or admit that you were wrong, you have to trust that you can handle the situation, that being vulnerable won’t get you killed or badly hurt emotionally. Even when one is sure of this, there can still be a raw edge to the experience of vulnerability that makes the experience that much more piquant and valuable, much like love—for there can be no love without trust, no trust without vulnerability, no vulnerability without surrender.