Wednesday, December 07, 2016

(CR) Extraterrestrial Commentary on Income Inequality

"I say, Glorp, these earth-creatures and their leaders seem curiously driven to defend an obscenely inequitable distribution of earth-goods.”

“Quite right, Zplork.”“Is it true that a mere 1% of the population possesses more than 50% of all the wealth on the planet?"

”That is indeed the case, my friend. 30 Earth-years ago, when I was but a gleam in Glorp Sr.’s compound eye, the gap between the richest 20% of the population and the rest stood at 30-to-1; now it's 74-to-1. And over the same period, while the (real) income of the bottom 90% of the U.S.A. nation-state fell by 7%, the income of the top 1/100 of 1% of the people of that country rose by nearly 600%."

"Well, that must surely infuriate the average denizen of the U.S.A. nation-state!"

"Oddly enough, these particular earthlings are happier than most to defend radical inequalities in wealth, power, and income. While they suffer from the highest rate of inequality among similarly developed nation-states, they do comparatively little about it; and a recent terrestrial survey suggests that its citizens are mostly unconcerned about the plight of those least advantaged by the current inequalities.”

“That is a disturbing bit of news, Glorp. But I suppose we shouldn't expect too much from a creature sporting such a tiny brain and but two lower limbs.”

”Let’s not confuse aesthetics with science, Zplork. While no doubt physically repulsive, animal ethologists back on Mars have concluded that humans are sufficiently sentient for us to expect that they can, at least in principle, consistently adopt the moral point of view."

"Well, perhaps some of them can. Let’s not forget that this one nation-state spends nearly as much as all of the others combined preparing for war.”

“That is indeed a sign of a serious cognitive and moral deficiency, my translucent green friend…"

Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy Tofurky Day

On Turkey Day

One bird we honor on this day of thanks;
Alongside our symbol of freedom she ranks.
Regard for her grows as we near “Turkey Day.”
(I’ll parse her death as “regard,” if I may.)

Are turkeys the victims of vile human power?
A simpering few harbor thoughts fairly dour:
“These birds live their lives in a self-conscious way;
These birds aren't for stuffing, or eating,” they say.

Why don't they admit that tradition's a right;
One sufficiently strong to eclipse the bird’s plight?
Perhaps they’re just bored, confused, or hate cooking;
It’s only a bird (and rather ill-looking).

Those in the know limit thought to our brains:
Alone we can suffer, feel pleasures and pains.
Just meeting our needs – a formidable feat;
How dreary the world, each entrée sans meat!

Life’s like a raft, with but room for one kind.
So barely embrained and too simple to mind,
The turkey we honor on this day of thanks;
Alongside our symbol of freedom she ranks.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

(CR) "It's always wrong to judge," "tolerating intolerance" and other nonsensical mantras

(AP) My Current Definition of Art

Art = The suitably intentional, skillful, and creative embodiment of a thought or emotion in any potentially publicly accessible medium primarily for the purpose of engaging us aesthetically.

The definition is intensional and classically closed (with respect to its conditions of applicability) yet wide open to all new types and tokens of art; that is, although I do specify a small number of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for art, the definition remains both inclusive and expansive. Admittedly, several words and phrases (creative, suitably skillful, aesthetically engaging) require much further elaboration.

In its current state, therefore, the definition is mostly silent on qualitative/evaluative issues (good/bad art), and simply distinguishes art from non-art -- though I suspect that parsing the vague terms ("suitably," especially) will introduce levels of merit or kinds of art (fine v. primitive v. decorative, etc.).

There are five necessary and jointly sufficient conditions (all art objects satisfy these conditions; all objects that satisfy these conditions, whatever else they may be, are art):

1. The activity is intentional
2. The activity is suitably skillful
3. The activity is suitably creative
4. The product exists in a potentially publicly accessible medium
5. The product primarily embodies aesthetically engaging thought or emotion (or some combination of the two)

Monday, November 14, 2016

(CR) Ideality vs. Reality

(A very short piece of fiction from an earlier seminar on CR)

The World of Ideas
DKBJ, 2008

My name is Jules R. Govier, III; and I have an idea I want to share. It sounds strange, I know, but reason compels me to say it: When I die, the whole world could die right along with me.

A lover of people and nature, I want to believe otherwise, but I have learned from Professor Benjamin Wright, the chair of philosophy at Carrington State College, that all we can know are our ideas. The awful truth is that my idea of a world beyond my ideas – a world that might survive the death of me and my ideas – is just one of my ideas.

It worries me, too, that so many great thinkers, and not just Professor Wright, have taken to the idea that everything is just an idea. Plato – one of Professor Wright’s favorites – had the idea that only ideas were fully real; and Descartes sometimes described the world as an illusion created by an “evil genius”; and Kant, who Professor Wright said was the deepest thinker ever, was sure that we couldn’t even entertain an idea about a world outside of our ideas.

"I’m afraid that’s all we have,” Professor Wright said. “We don’t really have each other; we just have our ideas of each other.” So when I die, when I can no longer have any thoughts, all those people and things I’m thinking about will be gone, too, including Professor Wright.

I was sure that something was wrong with my ideas, so I asked Professor Wright if he thought that his very life might depend on my ideas. Professor Wright told me that my ideas of him would die along with all my other ideas. But everyone knows that ideas live in brains and brains die with their owners; I wanted to know whether he would die. He said that the Professor Wright I know would be lost forever, but not the Professor Wright other students might know. That wasn’t much help, since I was just as worried about those other students and their ideas of Professor Wright. Everything I know, Professor Wright agreed, will be lost forever when I die, including my ideas of those other students and my ideas of their ideas of Professor Wright.

Since I was worried about Professor Wright and not merely my ideas of him. he challenged me to think about him without using my ideas. At first his challenge seemed like a philosophical trick, like the work of Descartes’ evil genius; but then he reminded me of Kant’s idea that anything outside of our ideas is unthinkable, and I must admit that I couldn’t think about Professor Wright at all without using my ideas.

So I decided to focus on Professor Wright’s ideas. Would they die with me, too? He said that his ideas would not die with me; that they were his ideas and could only die with him. I think I understand now why he wasn’t too concerned about my ideas -- or even my death: When I die, all he will be inclined to say is that his ideas of me have died, and the death of an idea is not usually as bad as the death of a person. Even my idea of the world dying along with me would be nothing other than an idea of one of his ideas.

But If I know anything at all, I know that my death would be more than just one of Professor Wright’s ideas, so I asked him if our conversation implied that the world was bigger than our ideas. It was Professor Wright, after all, who gave me the idea that we can only know our ideas, just as Professor Wright borrowed the idea from Plato and Descartes and Kant. Professor Wright smiled said that he, like those great thinkers before him, could be certain only of one idea: That he alone existed and was real. And to me, a lover of people and nature, that sounded even worse than death.