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Posts from 2002

Please stand by…

For those of you who know me only through my online presence, you should be aware that I did not, in fact, commit suicide out of despondancy over the results of the November 5 elections. Nor have I become a reclusive monk (as much as my tastes may run in that direction). Instead, my weblog has simply been on a prolonged hiatus because of a couple months of nearly non-stop academic work and a blissful bit of reclusive relaxation for the week afterwards.

I just wanted to wish everyone a peaceful and happy holiday season, and to let you know that I shall return to posting more regularly in the very near future (whether this means before the New Year or not will depend on how long it takes me to revise certain essays of mine). In any case—talk to you again soon.

In the meantime, consider this bit of correspondance from Paul Feyerabend to his frequent partner in debates over philosophy of science and methodology:

Dear Imre,

You have powerful allies in this country: Ayn Rand (know her?) is after me. She wrote a long article against a short (three and a half pages) article of mine, and sent copies to 4,000 philosophers in order to prevent American philosophy from deteriorating further. Sample: the author (i.e. me) heralds the retrogression of philosophy to the primordial pre-philosophical rationalism of the jungle . . . But what is innocent and inexplicable in an infant or a savage becomes senile corruption when the snake oil, totem poles, and magic potions are replaced by a computer …

You must admit, she writes much better invective than you.

(from Lakatos, Imre and Paul Feyerabend, For and Against Method: Including Lakatos’s Lectures on Scientific Method and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondance. Quoted in Gregory R. Johnson and Chris Matthew Sciabarra, "Ayn Rand in the Scholarly Literature," The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 3.1)

Terrorism Against Women On-going in Afghanistan; Bush Administration Stifles a Yawn

Lest you fear, gentle reader, that I have lost myself in the Bush administration’s house of mirrors and can no longer talk about anything but the damned war, I would like to take this time to mention the fact that, contrary to the claims of the Right’s war marketing gurus, women in Afghanisan continue to face brutal attacks, and it turns out that women’s liberation was not particularly served by bombing the hell out of Afghanistan and imposing a puppet government dominated by jihadi thugs (you know, the jihadi thugs who chased out the old jihadi thugs… who in turn had chased out the jihadi thugs that we put back in power).

Over the past several weeks, eight terrorist attacks have targeted girls’ schools with bombs, arson, and gunfire. In Kandahar, the site of the most recent bombing, hand-written pamphlets were distributed back in April threatening violence if women took jobs or attended school. The city was also recently the site of the attempted assasination of Gul Agha Shirzai and Puppet-in-Chief Hamid Karzai. Thanks to the US, the country is no longer in the iron fist of jihadi dictatorship; instead, it is now being blown to hell all over again by a whole host of self-appointed holy warriors and straight-up marauders and goons.

Afghan women have been crying out for more security, but the Bush administration is too busy figuring out its next war for liberation to do a damn thing. Given the fact that the US government put Afghanistan in this horrible mess, and most Afghans (other than the warlords themselves) are begging for us to help restore peace and stability, it seems to me that maybe, just maybe, the U.S. government ought to consider expanding the presence of international peace-keepers outside of just Kabul. Indeed, it would be nothing less than evil to carelessly skip around the globe spreading death and destruction while ignoring the mess that was already created by the war for regime change in Afghanistan.

Take Action!

Stand in solidarity with the women and girls in Afghanistan who are facing constant attack from the self-appointed holy warriors of the male supremacist counter-revolution. You can help support embattled girls’ schools in Afghanistan by donating money and/or school supplies to RAWA and the Afghan Women’s Mission. These attacks on Muslim women cannot be allowed to stop girls’ education again.

Second, contact the Bush administratin to demand that the U.S. government live up to its claims to support a safe and free Afghanistan, by responding to the Afghan people’s requests for an expansion of international peace-keepers beyond Kabul.

Beach Blanket Bingo

This past weekend was fucked up and weird in any number of ways, but one thing which was good about it was my opportunity to attend and present at the annual meeting of the Alabama Philosophical Society in Orange Beach, Alabama. Thanks to the work of the people in APS – especially at Auburn and at the University of South Alabama – the APS is a strong and growing, but still very relaxing and laid-back conference. People from around the area are starting to catch on, and we’re getting submissions not just from ex-pat alumni, but also from folks down in Florida and out in Louisiana. A lot of kudos are do to folks like Kelly Jolley, Roderick Long, and Kevin Meeker who have put a lot of work into building such an enjoyable conference, and for working to create a real community of scholars for philosophers in Alabama.

For my part, I presented a paper from my fellowship work–Are There Worlds Enough and Time?–on modality and temporal logic. The central worry is this: many skeptics, and even some Christians, have accepted an argument that if there is an omniscient God who knows everything that we will do, then we do not have any option to act other than how God knows we will act, and thus, if the Christian God exists, we do not act by free will, but rather by necessity. And since free will is central to our ability to distinguish between acts we perpetrate and events that happen to us, this causes big problems for moral imputability on the Christian picture.

At first blush it seems like this is only a reason for Christians to worry, while we non-Christians either happily consign the debate to the flames, or else hang around out of metaphysical schadenfreude and urge the Christian to give up the incoherent picture of experience that Christianity gives. But arguments from the ancient debates over fatalism show that the same worry present in the foreknowledge argument actually raises its ugly head for everyone. God’s omniscience is one way of ensuring that what you do will be set in advance, but even if there is no-one who has any knowledge about what I will do today, if two people made precisely contradictory predictions about what I will do today, then one of those predictions would have to be true, and one of them would have to be false. Whichever one is true, fixes what I will do before I ever did it. No-one may know which one that is, but the concern here is metaphysics, not epistemology, and not knowing what the fact of the matter is doesn’t keep that fact of the matter from obtaining. So it looks like the Christian and the Aristotelian have found themselves to be allies in the same fight.

The general problem turns out to be a problem with the modality of temporal states of affairs, and the foreknowledge and prediction arguments are just illustrations to point the way. It seems that, if it turns out that S will be the case, then for all of history, it was true that S would be the case–for otherwise, S would not have happened. And if it was true then that S would be the case, then there is no way that S couldn’t be the case. Time itself seems to stop us from acting as we will.

As it turns out, there are two ways to get ourself out of this difficulty, each of which involves rejecting a different hidden premise of the fatalist’s argument. On one account, true predictions do not constrain choice because what they predict actually will happen–but actuality, unlike necessity, does not constrain alternative possibilities. There is only one thing that I will do when the moment of decision comes, but that does not mean that there weren’t other things that I could do instead. Alternatively, one can reject the premise that either of the predictions is true–and claim that predictions about the future simply are not truth-valuable until the event that they predict does or does not come to pass. In this case, the range of choices is not limited at the time of prediction, because there’s nothing to do the limiting in the first place.

Unfortunately, either solution raises thorny logical and metaphysical difficulties. The latter sections of the paper examine these difficulties and draw out the concerns on each side. I will leave the rest of the details in elipsis, however, because I hope to see this paper in published, so for the time being I’m not going to post it here. Not because I don’t love you, gentle reader, but because you aren’t the Harvard Review of Philosophy.

In any case, it was a very relaxing trip and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to make it in upcoming years, to do so. You’ll get to spend some time on the beach (which is actually quite pleasant when it’s not being bombarded with heat, sun, and annoying people having fun), you’ll get to meet people doing some exciting work in philosophy, and hopefully, you’ll get to think about some new and interesting things.

The Internet and the Resistance to War on Iraq Grassfire

This Sunday I watched a very long and depressing line of speakers from the United States Bureau of Making Shit Up. James Woolsey (former head of the CIA and freelance war-hawk) speculated wildly and baselessly about possible connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. An anonymous terrorism expert moved beyond baseless allegation into nothing more than vague insinuations–he was particularly a fan of the claim that the Beltway sniper is actually an al-Qaeda operative, in spite of the complete lack of any basis whatsoever for asserting this to be probable, let alone true. Bill Kristol then got on and talked for a while about the need to bomb the world and starve North Korea, and practically accusing Tom Daschle of treason for daring to question the President’s authoritarian and secretive attitude towards Congress and the American people on foreign policy issues.

Well, OK. I expect this shit from Fox News. But while they drone on, an astounding grassfire movement against the war is welling up. The latest development is something that should get the attention of every Right-wing Bomb the World Republican, every spineless amoral Democrat, and the few progressives and genuine Lefties that remain in DC. Over the past week, MoveOn PAC‘s Reward the Heroes drive has raised over 1 million dollars for the campaigns of Congresspeople and Senators who opposed the President’s resolution for war against Iraq. Over $1,000,000 in a week! And we’re not talking about Republican or DLC-style contributions from millionaires here. We’re talking about over 37,000 individual contributions. An average of about $27 per contribution (I gave two contributions of $25, personally). If the DC cognoscenti start taking notice, this could be a very big deal. Money talks in DC, and right now, the people are screaming at the top of their lungs.

Of course, this campaign–like all campaigns–has its limitations. Among them:

  • It’s depressing that this action will talk much louder than the hundreds of thousands of calls, letters, and e-mails against war on Iraq that were sent out over the past several weeks. The pre-eminence of PAC money-laundering in politics is not a trend that I really want to see strengthened, although I’m willing to work to get through to Congress by pretty much any just means necessary right now.

  • The campaign is primarily focusing on funnelling money to support incumbent Democrats who voted against the war. With the exception of that lying goat Paul Wellstone, I don’t have any objection to supporting those who have taken a stand against war. But I’d also like to see a lot more invested in getting new blood into Congress, not just giving established Lefty Democrats a political sinecure.

  • Maintaining a Congress which is independent of the grip of the far Right is important, but we have to do a lot more than that to keep the country from going to hell in a handbasket. Slowing the bleeding will only do so much.

  • MoveOn, for all of its virtues in moving Internet activism out into the offline world, makes no particular efforts to reach out to people other than those who can receive their e-mail alerts or access their website.

Again, the power of the Internet as an organizing medium is simply astounding, and we have to take very seriously how we are going to make the best use of it. The MoveOn PAC campaign is one very important way to put a lot of energy into grassroots campaigns, but we have to see this as only the start, and improve from here.

So what do we need to do?

  • We need to follow up this campaign with more campaigns that move beyond online voting and make concrete actions. Contributing to campaigns where necessary, I guess, but also building up funding reserves for other purposes–organizing spaces, grassroots organizing (including workplace unionizing), and all the other infrastructure of a successful, anti-vanguardist resistance to the Right-wing Powers that Be. MoveOn PAC’s campaign is a brilliant example of a dynamic, exciting, creative way of standing up against the flow in DC and making them listen. Let’s come up with more ideas.

  • We also need to talk about ways to allow online campaigns to reach out to people who don’t spend a lot of time on the Internet–people who tend to be older, poorer, racial minorities, etc. The Right doesn’t care: every CEO and arm-chair warhawk columnist has e-mail, Web access, and all the money the Right-wing foundations have to offer. But we have to work with people, not just dollars, and we have to think about building a mass movement. Otherwise, as Martin Striz pointed out in this space:

    Unfortunately, this nascent form of democratic political transformation is only relevant to those who have an Internet connection, and the unfortunate divide between the haves and have-nots will continue to plague us.

    So what can we do to pull that off? Well, simply focusing on campaigns that move offline and into the world of street protests, organizing spaces, letters to the editor, and other things in the meatspace will help. But let’s start thinking about other ways to convert Internet organizing into a galvanizing force for everyone. I don’t have many more ideas than anyone else on this–I’ve lobbied for printable posters and flyers to be available from all websites that advertise an offline political event, and I think that working on developing phone trees that spread from online to offline contacts would also be a really cool idea. But I’m a neophyte like everyone else and I’m really interested in hearing some creative ideas about where we can go from here.

In the meantime, toss a few bucks to the [MoveOn PAC][] Reward the Heroes campaign, and help make our voice heard in support of pro-peace candidates.

Nobel Institute Honors Carter, Smacks Down Bush and Blair

On Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Institute announced that President Jimmy Carter would be the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for 2002. In honoring Carter for his 25 years of work in humanitarian projects and peaceful conflict resolution. Many–including Gunnar Berge, the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee–have interpreted the award as not just an honor for Carter’s work, but also as a pointed challenge to the present Bush administration sabre-rattling and unilateralist war-mongering towards Iraq.

Those of you who follow this space may find this development particularly interesting, because back in February I reported on the nomination of Bush and Blair for the Nobel Peace Prize by Harald Tom Nesvik, a Right-wing Norwegian MP for–that’s right–starting a war. In reaction to the news, I launched an Internet campaign protesting the nomination and urging the Nobel Committee to give the award to a candidate who had truly worked for peace. The outcome of that action was nothing short of astounding: over the eight months between the beginning of the action and the announcement of snub of Bush and Blair, some 43,850 e-mails were sent from people all over the world to the Nobel Peace Prize committee through my web site, and many people also sent faxes and letters by international post (I reported on the remarkable outpouring of support for the action in GT 2002/02/18, GT 2002/02/20, and GT 2002/03/01).

Now, reality check: did a bunch of polemical e-mails about Bush and Blair actually affect the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s decision? It’s unlikely. They had already stated their hostility towards Bush and Blair’s promises of ever-expanding militarism. The stance of the European Left–which presently holds the majority on the committee–towards DC‘s renewed calls for a militaristic New World Order is well known to be hostile. They had already stated, in fact, that they would consider giving the prize to Bush and Blair–but only if they brought al-Qaeda to justice without bombing Afghanistan, and, well, we all saw how that one went.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but be pleased with how things have turned out on this count. Who knows; maybe the flood of e-mail did embolden them towards sharper criticism of the Bush administration. And whether it did or not, I am simply humbled by how much people all over the world put into a campaign on my little page off in an obscure corner of the Internet. It had nothing in particular to do with me, except in terms of the software; I publicized the actions on a few mailing lists and a few IndyMedia sites, and then simply stood by and watched as nearly 50,000 spread the word amongst themselves all over the world. I received piles of e-mail from people I’ve never met; I had people voluntarily contribute French transations to help the international appeal of the website. Such simple devices as e-mail forwards and listservs rallied a tremendous response from all over the world. As I wrote near the beginning of the campaign, we could be living at the beginning of a new era in using the Internet as a space for democratic political transformation. The networks that we are building–if we do the work we need to, to expand them, make them effective, make them inclusive, and use them to bring actions out to the streets–are one of our best hopes for the future. I hope that I have done some small work towards helping to demonstrate that promise. And I think that this weekend is an excellent opportunity to think ahead to how we can continue this work.

Take Action!

You can thank the Norwegian Nobel Institute by writing them an e-mailthanking them for respecting the worldwide outcry against Nesvik’s nomination and Bush’s militarism, and for rewarding a man who has truly worked for peace for the past 25 years.

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