Google is an amazing tool to use; there are many instances when you want to know those varied and random things like what are the chemical constituents of paper, or how many films has Christopher Walken appeared in. There are, however, many people who have started to speak out against the ‘spoon-feeding’ of information.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having instant access to search engines and large databases (if anything its pretty good); but, like libraries, the real skill is knowing how to use it properly. Know that internet sources are always sketchy and up for scrutiny. Even major journals are subject to hurrendous articles: consider for example, an article in The Lancet, whereby a link between Autism and the MMR vaccine was made.

Sometimes if you say something enough times, people might believe you. Sometimes, if someone you trust says something, or someone older, someone perceived as wider, or someone who says something convincingly, we may be prone to believing it. Be warned of a philistine ‘video’ generation. I am quite tired of people who are not willing to mine hard for their information. Then again, I suppose, when you think that all the information is on the first result of a search engine, you may feel that it is not worth or even conceivable that hard work is necessary anymore.

There is a sense in which people should learn how to be internet-savvy, more cynical, more critical, and most importantly, less lazy and more vigilant about their information.


Rhetorical devices

Lately I have been thinking of argumentative devices that can sometimes be used to rhetorical effect; of course, when I say ‘argumentative devies’, that is not necessarily to give such strategies credence. Here are some once that have been going through my head of late:

Appeal to ‘defining terms’

This one is actually not terribly bad, but it is all too often used as a rhetorical, or a delaying device. The longer you can delay someone in a discussion, the more you may distract them from a point that you are afraid they may raise. Distract someone and you might get away with a criticism that you deserve.

One good way to do this is by appeal to definition. We might say, for instance:

i. But this depends on our terms
ii. It all depends on how we define x

Actually I don’t think that this is too bad, making definitions, clarifications and distinctions are very important so as to ensure that one is addressing the same concept, operator or referent. It is, however, an interesting strategy for use by a rhetorician towards one who may be afraid of expanding notions or addressing definitions. Some people try to give the iceburg illusion to others, that there is more depth towards what they might say, as a way to provoke or suggest the embarassment of the other, as if to suggest ‘I know more than you, don’t even try it’; it may be an interesting intimidation strategy, but is pretty bad to use in a bullying way.

That said, the ‘iceburg’ analogy can also ve very useful; simplify ideas for an audience, and do not let on everything either because it is unnecessary, too long, or simply, to provoke others to do their own independent research. Now to consider another rhetorical device…

Appeal to vocabulary (unnecessary jargon)

In a way, this is a twin principle to the first appeal to definition. If you throw in words without defining them, that is worthy of invoking an appeal to definition (this, I say, is a very legitimate use of such an appeal). Examples:

1. The problem with the current economy situation is the general problem of the subject becoming and object unto himself and others and engaging in the commodity fetishism of the capitalist economy (Marxism)

2. It is because of feminine values that women are discriminated; masculine values permeate the workplace (appeal to patriarchy)

If you impose terminology, we may impute it without assent to agreement; who is to say that these terms we may accept, who is to say that the vocabulary is properly defined, or if it is relevant? it is for this reason that in the presentation of an argument or any such case, definitions and initial terms beyond the common language, and even (nay, especially) terms of common language which have a very technical meaning (objective, representation, ‘if’-terms, ‘is’-terms) must be addressed.


“Barbarous Nations”

One of Hume’s arguments concerning miracles involves a claim that miracle testimonies come from people who are from ‘barbarous nations’. Is this claim true?

The first caveat to make is to establish some interpretations of the claim:

1. Miracle testimonies come from primitive, non-industrial, people (the stupid people appeal)
2. Miracle testimonies come from non-European nations (the Eurocentric appeal)
3. Miracle testimonies come from poorly educated people (the poorly educated appeal)
4. Miracle testimonies do not come from civilised persons (the converse claim)

I would like to be informed if there are any empirical studies on the social stratification of miracle claims; this could clear up issues of:

1. Whether miracle claims originate from certain religious stratifications (Christian, Muslim etc.)
2. Whether miracle claims originate from non-Europeans
3. The educational status of miracle claimants: possible underlying questions about the social background of such persons

I am willing to believe (on my own anecdotal tesimonies from persons I know) that there are intelligent, European descendent (this includes white Africans; Antipodeans; North Americans etc.), but anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be admissable for this kind of argument in any answer to the question: do people believe in miracles, where there is no question of ‘barbarity’ to raise?


why the simpsons are outdated…

1. The family structure of 2.4 children is simply inadequate for our age: grandparents, live-in adults, uncles, single parents, gay families etc. has undermined old certainties

2. The characters fit outdated archetypes: the bumblebee man represents droll foreign TV (which we could have from a pre-digital satellite or cable network); the ‘disco stu’ character represents outdated nostalgia, in a sense, we have all become disco stu with postmodernity’s celebration of the past, and yet, no distinct figure as he is relevant anymore; comic book guy is an inadequate conception of the sci-fi and fantasy savant; for not all of us are fat, white, or male.

3. The history of such a family is becoming a bit inconceivable; given the original age of the simpsons from its original date, Bart’s character would now be the same age as my brother – 28. A 28 year old cannot maintain the guise of being 10 years old for very long (although people in their 30’s can reasonably do teenagers in hollywood films…)


That age-old platitude…

…of “history repeats itself” comes to mind;
think 1930s,
think art deco and inaccessible music,
think prohibition,
think dancehalls,
think recession,
think drink and drugs,
think depression,
think socialism,
think ideological warfare,

remember a death of an empire,
remember the folk ideology,
remember Romanticism? the bricolage of postmodern nostalgia has turned on itself
remember Modernity? only left-wing intellectuals and the avant-garde do…
remember the problem of consumption,
we can sell and sell and sell, but the profit stops when we all have that latest thing

remember the cult of personality,
remember censorship,
remember when we had new ideas,
remember old ideas,
remember that age-old platitude…
ah, forget about it…


Same matter, different subject

Crime, how do we study it?

There are many different ways to look at crime. The most conventional way it would seem to me is to look at it as a human and social behaviour. There are many perspectives on crime, and that there are perspectives on crime reflects the way we construe our subject manner. We might say for instance:

1. Crime is a social construction (constructivist)
1*. (therefore, there is no such thing as crime)

2. Crime is a natural phenomenon, we shall see it as while inevitable, there should be a rate to define a healthy rate of crime (positivist)
2*. Crime, or evil is a necessary pervailance in the immanent world (a religious-leaning viewpoint)

3. Crime is a situational behaviour established by a series of circumstances to dispose one to deviant action (generic psychological)

4. Crime is a situational occurence established by a system or social organisation which oppresses people to commit crime (Holist)

There are so many different ways to cut a phenomenon such as crime, here are some distinctions:

1. Focus on the individual vs. Focus on society or groups as a whole
2. Focus on the agent’s preferential and motivational set/Focus on causal factors
3. Focus on quantification of recorded occurences/Focus on speculative insights to which fit best to explain data
4. Focus on a scientifically validated measure or dataset, and establish as tight a methodology as one can/Focus on instituting change

Note that these distinctions are not mutually exclusive.

There has been recent talk as to the establishment of teaching sexology as a subject in universities. While a similar point is to be made about crime, there is an established ‘criminology’ that is taught in many universities (how it is organised often, is as  a collaboration of law scholars, social scientists and sometimes psychologists).

I may pose a similar question: how do we understand sex? There can be many ways to understand sex, how we determine this question leads to what kinds of answers we have. Is sex a natural phenomenon wherewhich we may address issues of medicine? Is sex a social issue, that represents at its most fundamental, the power relations between men and women, the complexitity of social identity (sexuality), and the relation with other important social notions (criminality, deviance, education, class, work).

Sex and criminality bring up many issues: the notion of paedophilia, for instance has a question-begging notion of childhood. A study like Philippe Aries and many others shows how our attitude towards the pre-pubescent and pubescent has changed over the past few centuries with industrialisation. Some criminalised sexual behaviours can reflect social attitudes, why is it criminal to put out a cigarette on one’s partner if they both want it [there are many documented stories like this]?

Legal issues can come up; age of consent is an obvious one, borderline cases, what about sex and legislation on an international level; where homosexuality is a corporal punishable offence at one sovereignty and acceptable at another. What about the plight of those who are between cultural identities and yet torn apart by them by virtue of their sexual identity (transexuals in Iran; the double discrimination of homosexual Israelis; the custom of forced marriage in British Pakistani communities).

Biological issues: does it make sense to classify between sexes of male and female? If sexual intercourse is a notion held by other species, is sexuality a workable notion? Can we for instance, use the insights of observing animal sexual behaviour as to understanding our own? Are we sufficiently genetically comparable?

Education: how do we properly teach sexuality in the classroom? How do we teach sexuality to children as parents and adults?

Normative: is it ethical to study sexual behaviour? What are the provisions required for ‘ethical’ study? Does the ‘is’ of animal sexual behaviour entail the ‘ought’ of sexual behaviour genera? (the answer is no).

To speak of a ‘sexology’ is a bit of a misnomer in some respects. While there are many insights to be made as the biological scientist, the social psychologist, the clinical psychologist, the sociologist, the philosopher, or even the educator; those issues of sex often presuppose or come to bear upon wider issues of those subjects. To have a ‘sexology’ would be at worst a failed understanding of the underlying issues which lie far beyond sex itself, or at best, an understanding simultaneously of many many disciplines at little depth or only one subject at much depth. There are some subjects that, while are importantly interdisciplinary, are not subjects suis generis, that is, without some failure or exclusion of one discourse.

This is not fair to say that some interdisciplinary efforts are irrelevant.

Many subjects in the mathematical sciences often have specialists who are non-mathematicians. Calculus as applied to the many aspects of chemistry, or the subject that has now come to be known as computer science; are noble species of wider genera subjects.

There is a sense of question-begging to which I have decidedly not answered, as to how to understand crime, or sexuality. While we may be conciliartory between the biologist interested in evolution, or the law scholar who is also an amateur marxist; we find not necessarily competing theses, but rather; competing ideologies and methods. To group them as one exclusive category excludes the manifold within each subject matter.


Reading Foucault: Some observations

Reading Foucault is difficult; but one questions how it is that Foucault shall be read: for this question determines the latterly question: how shall Foucault be judged?

It is, despite my confidence about social theory, a whole minefield, of which I admit nothing interesting I can say about Foucault; comparatively however, the observations can be made:

1. It is strangely familiar to read Foucault, not in the writing style, nor even in the context; but in the conclusions made.

2. This is for a few reasons: Foucault’s terminology and work has been dispersed even if not by name unto many subjects: literary studies, social sciences, the humanities, (continental) philosophy..

3. There is a strange parallel to be made between Goffman (of whom I know a little bit more about) and Foucault:

i. Both seem to have interests in control mechanisms
ii. Both have ‘campaigning’ elements to them
iii. Both leer into the more morbid and dark and ‘outside’ (to use Goffmanian terminology) subjects of social relations and social structure; stigma, homosexuality, the ‘total institution’.

4. This parallel isvery unsubtle and there are many complexities to Foucault that I am not acknowledging.Very much, it is to say that Foucault’s work took place in the intellectually isolated environment of France, where little outside of it came through (except, of course, for the real ‘titans’ of the past – Freud, Marx, Hegel etc.)

5. It is interesting to read Foucault as a historian for two reasons:

i. If we understand Foucault as a historian, it sets a prospect for the kind of thing history can be: social commentary of the past to understand the present and future. I hold this wider perspective of our social and natural history to be ‘history par excellance’.
ii. Seeing Foucault as making a statement about our understanding as a result of, or in context of, past social beliefs/attitudes and institutional build makes Foucault look very favourable (much more so, than if we were to consider him a ‘social theorist’, or ‘philosopher’).


Utility and ‘paradise’

I’ve been reading a bit of David Lewis recently, one point he makes early on in his work “On the Plurality of Worlds”, is that the utility of a theory is a reason for accepting that it is true. The non-philosophical example he gives is in set theory, construct your sets and ontology however way which you want, and you get out what you want, by determinedly deciding one’s axioms and the conditions in which one may establish a theorem or establish some proof or impossibility by way of reductio.

Lewis quotes a phrase (apparently) from Hilbert, which goes something like “Set theory is a mathematician’s paradise”; likewise, we may also have a metaphysician’s paradise by way of thinking within the jargon of modal realism; of possibilia, logical space, closeness of worlds, while many object to the proposal of modal realism, the very fact that people still talk about it, and use the terminology of worlds, counterparts, and so on; is a testimony to the influence and power of this thesis.

While one has critical thoughts about this thesis (concerning isolation and the knowledge of worlds); there is an underlying appeal which must be taken seriously. Philosophy considered as establishing theories that balances a strength of a theory against its weakness. What are strong aspects to a theory? By theory, I mean not just metaphysical theories, but scientific theories, or even moral or empirical hypotheses as well.

A theory may have strengths in virtue of the following things:

1. Theoretical unity, interconnectedness
2. Parsimony
3. Explanation
4. Confirmable predictions
5. Upgrading past theories
6. Refuting contemporamous competing theories
7. Being formalised, mathematicised

A theory, while emphasising one of these things, may also have a cost:

1. Being empirically false
2. Being non-empirical
3. Being inapplicable to higher genera concepts
4. Invoking weird ontologies
5. Violating parsimony
6. Incommensurability (ie. an incompatibility with other theories, or no address of corollorary issues)
7. Not having any predictive power

The spirit of utility arguments is that they are not so much arguments but appeals to truth. With utility one does not argue that something is or is not the case, as such, as in a formal deductive argument, but one appeals to the truth of something by its utility; to force the in another way: no other theories explain as much as this does; or if it does, then it is a better theory.

If we pursued this kind of line of metaphysics, we would have two implications:

1. Arguments are not so easy to knock down (hopefully); if we establish a thesis by many prongs, taking one prong away does not take away the thesis. This means we can concede to criticisms without complete abandonment and philosophy becomes essentially a concilatory project of theories and different metaphysical topics.
2. Philosophy would truly work in the old way of being systematic; we can show how one discourse relates to another; we may simultaneously be doing philosophy of mind and metaphysics; epistemology and philosophy of science; philosophy of mind and metaethics. Perhaps this issues would be more muddied up, admittedly, but we may find the age of the big systems arriving again. Lewis, in one’s eyes, is a systematic philosopher; but not one par excellence.


My hypocrisy with baby talk

Some readers may be aware that I have been blessed with a lovely little nephew. A friend of mine from grad school once told me that when his sister-in-law gave birth it changed everything in his family. Not only did he always want to show off his new addition to the family, but also he developed a a different personality and attitude towards those little ones.

I have always found it bizarre to see adults doing baby talk, almost to the end of them talking through their children. One time, I was being ‘interrupted’ by a couple, when I was having coffee with Antisophie. The couple had a child, and they put on this overly emphasised ‘voice’ and this obviously put-on ‘baby’ talk.

I’ve always had an annoyance towards this ‘baby’ talk; why? It seems almost like an excuse for adults to be child-like, and almost to live through their parents, but I have found, myself, that I too am subject to enjoying playing with the little one. I enjoy making him smile, making him lauh, keeping him company and playing with him, and that does, admittedly involve some ‘baby’ talk, despite that, I try to teach him some stuff matter-of-factly, namely, sharing my jaded adult-ness with him. For instance, the weirdness of Cliff Richard and Jon Bon Jovi’s mullet during the 90s’!