The Inescapeable, Unfathomable Void | Philosophy and Dinosaurs

[The great failing of all philosophy is its continued refusal to properly consider the question of dinosaurs.

A baffling refusal. They have something to hide. When they don’t talk about dinosaurs it’s because there’s something they’re trying to keep covered up….

Philosophers don’t want to consider dinosaurs because in any epistemology or ontology that follows Kant in featuring a distinction between human experience and the non-human world, dinosaurs represent the ultimate point of the non-human world’s unknowability. God is an indeterminate quantity; the real Absolute Other is twenty-three meters from end to end, with broad flat teeth for slicing up vegetable matter and a long tapering tail that draws lazy circles in the heavy Tithonian air. Levinas and Derrida speak of the unfathomable void of an animal’s eyes, and in a way they’re right; there’s sometimes something briefly terrifying in there. But it’s only a punctum, a sudden pin-prick: we know animals, we see them in the park, we grew up with them in fables and nursery stories. It’s a wound that quickly heals….

Radicals tend to not like dinosaurs very much. They’re big, and clunky, and all of them dead; they bear royal names and privileges, they inspire a politically dubious sense of the sublime. There doesn’t seem to be any real place in our non-alienated future for the dinosaurs. If they mean anything it’s only the ancient regime, a grand and terrible relic of a lost age. We’ll gawp at their bones, but first they must be bones.

That’s not the real problem with dinosaurs, though: the reason so many seemingly educated people seem so unwilling to talk about dinosaurs is the uncomfortable feeling that they might somehow come back.]

Read the full piece | FULL STOP | Pale/Ontology: The Dinosaurean Critique of Philosophy

The Dangers of Certainty | Dr. Simon Critchley

[…. For Dr. Bronowski, the moral consequence of knowledge is that we must never judge others on the basis of some absolute, God-like conception of certainty. All knowledge, all information that passes between human beings, can be exchanged only within what we might call “a play of tolerance,” whether in science, literature, politics or religion. As he eloquently put it, “Human knowledge is personal and responsible, an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.”

The relationship between humans and nature and humans and other humans can take place only within a certain play of tolerance. Insisting on certainty, by contrast, leads ineluctably to arrogance and dogma based on ignorance….

The play of tolerance opposes the principle of monstrous certainty that is endemic to fascism and, sadly, not just fascism but all the various faces of fundamentalism. When we think we have certainty, when we aspire to the knowledge of the gods, then Auschwitz can happen and can repeat itself. Arguably, it has repeated itself in the genocidal certainties of past decades.

The pursuit of scientific knowledge is as personal an act as lifting a paintbrush or writing a poem, and they are both profoundly human. If the human condition is defined by limitedness, then this is a glorious fact because it is a moral limitedness rooted in a faith in the power of the imagination, our sense of responsibility and our acceptance of our fallibility. We always have to acknowledge that we might be mistaken. When we forget that, then we forget ourselves and the worst can happen.]

Read the full piece | The Stone | New York Times

Our Humanity | Abandoned Children of Bulgaria

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Kate Blewett recently returned to Bulgaria to see how things have changed after the international outcry in response to her film Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children.

[In the original film, which I made two years ago, I focused on a handful of the 75 disabled children living in the Mogilino institute and watched their lives over a nine-month period. I witnessed their dreadful deterioration.

My first impressions of Mogilino were strangely misleading because the actual building was clean, bleached and painted.

It was not until I pulled back the bed covers to witness the children’s wasted bodies that I realised there was a very serious problem….

To witness such human deterioration and to know the only way to truly effect change was to carry on filming and bring the documentary film to a wider audience – was an incredibly difficult process.

However the impact my film had has been extraordinary. Viewers wrote to me by the thousands, donating money, and forming petitions demanding change from their MPs and MEPs. Some gave up their jobs and went to Bulgaria to help, taking supplies, food, clothing and medical aid.

The Bulgarian government put Unicef in charge of finding new placements for all the children of Mogilino, with the plan that the institute will shut once every child has been re-housed.]   Read the full article | BBC

The American Myth of Immigrants Pulling Themselves by Their Bootstraps


[If your ancestors came to the US in the late 1800s or early 1900s (or if you’ve talked to someone whose ancestors came then), you probably think of them this way: they came to the US with nothing but the clothes on their backs, worked hard in low-paying jobs, learned English, moved up the income ladder, and made sure their children could do just as well in life as anyone else’s children.

But data from UCLA and Stanford researchers — with a big assist from — shows the reality that many immigrants experienced might have been much more complicated, and much less in line with the American dream.

The researchers looked at the occupations immigrants held in 1900, versus the occupations natives had. (Natives were a lot more likely to be farmers, for example; immigrants were more likely to work as laborers, but also as managers.) They then compared the average incomes for each set of occupations. The result: as of 1900, immigrants were actually in higher-paying positions than natives in most states. In some states, immigrants were in occupations that paid as much as 20 percent (or even, in New Mexico, 40 percent) more than the occupations natives held.] Read the full article | VOX


“Justice is What Loves Looks Like in Public”

Estonia and Sofi Oksanen | Russian Colonialism, and the Privilege of Having Been Occupied by Both Nazis and Communists

[Russia has never been “an overseas kind of empire”, she adds, rather a state that’s sought to exploit and colonise its European neighbours. Oksanen says that, growing up in Finland, she learned about the country’s past at school. But she was taught nothing of Estonia and had to fill in the gaps from oral history. Her mother’s family has lived in western Estonia, near Haapsalu, since the 15th century; she emigrated to Finland in the 70s, and when Sofi was a child, she would travel to Soviet Estonia to see her grandparents.

Her family reflects Estonia’s 20th‑century divisions, she says. Her grandfather joined the Forest Brothers, a partisan group that fought against Soviet rule during and after the war. He accepted amnesty following Stalin’s death. “He was always reminded of his past. He became a very silent man,” Oksanen says. One of her grandfather’s brothers was deported to Siberia. Another carried out the deportations. He was subsequently hailed as a communist war hero.

“It’s a typical Estonian story. The Baltics were doubly occupied, so these stories were common. There were victims of the terror sitting around the same table with people who had been tools of that terror.” Oksanen says ethnic Russians who resettled in Estonia after 1945 had no idea they were living in a once-sovereign country. Estonia had vanished. Of her collaborating great-uncle, she says: “He wasn’t a nice person.”]  Read the full article | THE GUARDIAN


Jacques Derrida | The Excluded Favorite

[“Deconstruction was becoming not only an act, an activity, a praxis, but it was becoming practicable, and, as they say in French, practical, in the sense of easy, convenient, and even salable as a commodity…. The paradox of this situation…is that what we were then trying to appropriate by making it possible, that is, functional and productive, was in any case that which had already shown itself explicitly as impossible.”

No doubt, some American uses of deconstruction were crudely literal. (One typical late-1980s feminist avowal: “The philosophical work of getting to the bottom of unjust power relations involves the desire to think outside the structures of thought and consciousness we have inherited. But because outside these structures there is no thought and signifying language, the very thinking that deconstructs them must also inevitably reconstruct them.”) But by the turn of the millennium, as the culture warriors disarmed and deconstruction retreated to a more modest position in literary studies, becoming just one of many reading strategies at the disposal of scholars, the excesses in its name had by and large disappeared.

Still, the underlying intuition—that in Derrida’s abstractions was a powerful story about the experience of being shut out and unheard—may have been sound. He laced his work with elliptical allusions to his life, and composed at least one explicitly autobiographical work, “Circumfession,” (1993). (In it, he mentions his brother Paul, who died before he was born and whom Derrida replaced as youngest son: “from this I always got the feeling of being an excluded favorite, of both father and mother…excluded and favorite at two juxtaposed moments…and it is still going on.”) He also referred to philosophers’ lives in his own work, citing at length in Glas (1974), for example, in a discussion of Hegel’s view of the family, letters Hegel wrote to his sister and fiancée.]  Read the full article | The New York Review of Books