Reality is not a Ding-an-sich

“Knowing is the way in which we ‘have a world’ that we inhabit together with other organisms. We evaluate our knowledge communally in the context of how well or how poorly it allows us to function and to flourish within an ever-changing environment that in varying degrees resists some of our attempts to understand and act within it. Reality is not a Ding-an-sich hiding forever behind an opaque veil of representations that prevents us from gaining any access to the way things ‘really are.’ Instead, reality is what we experience in our knowing interactions. It asserts itself in our developing encounters with it. It may assert itself by resisting or frustrating some of our attempts to structure or make it determinate for certain purposes, by transcending particular definitions, and by resisting all attempts to fix it once and for all. There is not and never has been an autonomous reality from which we are inescapably divorced; we have always existed only in and in relation to our evolving environment. We are what we are at this instant, and our world is what it is at this instant, only because of our embodied interactions.”

Johnson, Mark. “Knowing through the body.” Philosophical Psychology 4.1 (1991): p,8.

Understanding is the way we have a world.

From page 102 of Mark Johnson’s book The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason.

A crucial point here is that understanding is not only a matter of reflection, using finitary propositions, on some preexistent, already determinate experience. Rather, understanding is the way we “have a world,” the way we experience our world as a comprehensible reality. Such understanding, therefore, involves our whole being – our bodily capacities and skills, our values, our moods and attitudes, our entire cultural tradition, the way in which we are bound up with a linguistic community, our aesthetic sensibilities, and so forth. I  short, our understanding is our mode of “being in the world.” It is the way we are meaningfully situated in our world through our bodily interactions, our cultural institutions , our linguistic tradition, and our historical context. Our more abstract reflective acts of understanding (which may involve grasping of finitary propositions) are simply an extension of our understanding in this more basic sense of “having a world.”

 

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Metaphors are not merely words

From page 14 of Mark Johnson’s book The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason.

A metaphor is not merely a linguistic expression (a form of words) used for artistic or rhetorical purposes; instead, it is a process of human understanding by which we achieve meaningful experience that we can make sense of. A metaphor, in this “experiential” sense, is a process by which we understand and structure one domain of experience in terms of another domain of a different kind.

 

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On being large

body stereotypes

Source: About Face

Whilst I find the term ‘privilege’ very problematic, I also think it is a necessary starting place for dialogue to understand systemic and structural inequalities and power dynamics that are often not obvious and simply taken for granted. I am privileged in all sorts of ways, I’m a white, straight male from a middle class family, it’s almost like winning the sociology lottery.

One privilege I am not entitled to is so called ‘thin privilege‘ because I am large, the medical term is obese. Now, do I think that living in a country with enough wealth that allows me to overeat all sorts of calorie dense  and nutritionally empty foods qualifies as a kind of oppression? No, and the term ‘thin privilege’ is problematic in the way that it suggests equivalency with gender and race issues and ignores the quick assumptions and stereotypes that also accompanies being thin.

If all you’ve got to complain about is how you’re treated as an overweight person, then I suggest that your perspective be wide enough to understand the relative importance of your issues in relationship with other people who struggle to be free from oppression. Of course, human psychology being what it is, people tend to be terrible judges and evaluating their own happiness and misery regardless of the inner lives of other people.

That said, there is a shared experience to being large in a culture that shames and vilifies overweight and obese people that is simply counterproductive to promoting health and having compassion.

Science has documented clear, consistent evidence that overweight people face discrimination in employment, education, and health care.

There is a simple formula to weight gain and weight loss, calories in must be less than calories used. If we were the perfect rational agents or members of homo economicus that traditional economic theories suggest, this would be a formula everyone followed. The health risks and associated costs of obesity make it irrational for any agent to choose it as a lifestyle choice. This thinking still pervades much of the dialogue around being large, if you’re obese you mustn’t be rational, you must be too stupid or too lazy to act in your own best self-interest.

Rational agents don’t have mental health problems, they don’t suffer from depression or addiction, they make choices freely and are completely responsible for those choices and thus entirely deserve the outcomes of those choices.

Do all obese people suffer from depression or a form of addiction that complicates their ability to choose healthier alternatives? No, that would of course be overstating the case, there are certainly some people who enjoy eating to the point of becoming large and could choose a different lifestyle if they wanted to. Speak to some people who have struggled there entire lives to lose weight, who have gone on countless diets, logged numerous hours exercising and combated genetic predispositions, mental health problems and individual body compositions and the picture of someone who is too lazy or ignorant to change appears as an insulting caricature.

I do understand the readiness to this kind of prescription. For people who have never been obese, they have often never encountered such difficulties. They eat in regular portions only when they’re hungry, they don’t use food to medicate emotional problems and have little difficulty exercising and watching there weight react accordingly, what could be easier than that? This same hypothetical person finds it hard to understand why the depressed woman doesn’t simply get out of bed and engage in social activities or why the alcoholic or cigarette smoker doesn’t just quit, not to mention the problem gambler, the drug addict, the anorexic, the obsessive compulsive etc.

Now in the absence of information about someone’s personal circumstances, the decent thing to do is start from a place of compassion and not assume that large person scoffing down junk food at McDonalds or complaining of stomach pains at the ER should be scorned and shamed because they are ignorant or lazy. To assume this as a characteristic of all such people is simply a prejudice and one that gets packaged in a discourse that endorses fat shaming as a manifestation of true concern for the health and well-being of large people.

If I can diet and exercise easily enough, the hypothetical person thinks, then why can’t this 600 pound “mountain of flesh.”
This is the attitude of Dr. Edward Thompson who doesn’t treat his patient as a person as much as he is a a grotesque object of horror to be transferred to someone else as quickly as possible.

The patient lies trapped in his own body, like a prisoner in an enormous, fleshy castle. And though he must feel wounded by the ER personnel’s remarks, he seems to find succor in knowing that there’s no comment so cutting that it can’t be soothed by the balm of 8,000 calories per day.

I wonder what balms Dr. Thompson uses to alleviate the pains he experiences in life? If he is fortunate they will be easily hidden and thus not become fused to his sense of personal and public identity the way large people have to repeatedly be judged on appearances alone.

If this comment by Thompson is accurate, then he doesn’t quite fit the judgmental bill of our hypothetical person. Instead that mantel is passed on to the editor of the Washington Post who decided to edit the story in such a way to appear as callous and cruel as it currently does. It says something of our culture that fat-shaming is clickbait whereas compassion and understanding is for footnotes.

It’s simple to judge, quick to blame and hardest of all to understand. If you truly have a concern about the health of someone in your life, then you’ll attempt the latter.

You’ll also hopefully know that there is a difference between being healthy and being a certain body weight.

Offensive Coke Ad in languages other than English

The audacity of these people to celebrate a patriotic song in languages that threaten my exclusive homogeneous worldview. Don’t they realize that by interchanging this song with Klingon they are implying that Klingons and even Dothraki are equivalent to human beings?

Now to reject that view has rightly been called racist, but it is not an unsurprising reaction because drawing such equivalency is a political statement. One I’m sure Coke was very deliberate in making. The demographics of the United States are changing fast and plenty of white conservatives feel very threatened by it.

Via http://io9.com/the-super-bowls-controversial-coke-commercial-gets-a-n-1516169406

Philosophy and Sexism

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There has been a great deal of discussion of the removal of the chair of the Philosophy Department at Colorado University  based upon the recommendations of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women whose report has been made public

I find it particularly interesting that the report claims that “the department uses pseudo-philosophical analyses to avoid directly addressing the situation,” and “their faculty discussions revolve around the letter rather than the spirit of proposed regulations and standards. They spend too much time articulating (or trying to articulate) the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior instead of instilling higher expectations for professional behavior. They spend significant time debating footnotes and ‘what if’ scenarios instead of discussing what they want their department to look and feel like. In other words, they spend time figuring out how to get around regulations rather than focusing on how to make the department supportive of women.”

To  my mind, this sounds exactly like the thing philosophy academics would do, and then other philosophers can argue over what exactly constitutes “pseudo-philosophical analyses,” but without further evidence this as with most other commentary on the matter is pure speculation.

Feminist Philosophers have tried to add some context to the debate surrounding the report and its release and decided to disable comments, explaining “We don’t have time to give moderating those discussions the attention they require.”

Taking a look at the comments threads at Insidehighered.com and Newappsblog.com this seems like a prudent decision. There are those that immediately claim skepticism in the face “victim politics in the era of PC,” and question the definition of sexism and harassment used by an all female committee. Others interpreted what may have been a quote taken out of context as evidence of ‘Nuremberg style prosecution’ of the committee and seeking to “engage in what they must have seen as the equivalent of denazification: tear down and exterminate everything that exists of the present culture and demand the re-edification of all members until the puppet government has decreed that the school has been properly sterilized.”

Such hyperbole might be interpreted as evidence of the intransigence of views of men. Men who are very quick to judge such a report as evidence of what they regard as a stubborn feminist victim worldview. Stubborness and sexism is not new in philosophy nor academia generally, however the popularity of a blog like What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? points to the worrying juxtaposition of a discipline committed to principles of fairness, reason and equity and the reality of many male dominated faculties with cultures toxic to their female colleagues.

I hope there is open-mindedness on both sides, but particularly on the side those in power to understanding the facts before pushing a particular barrow.

I believe in the power of language

I haven’t written in a long time. Not for public consumption at least. There is something incredibly self-indulgent about adding one’s voice to the incessant din of online opinion and commentary and I certainly regard this blog as an indulgence. But then, so is the rants I post in my Facebook gated community or the heated arguments I put to any audience of friends that will bear listening to them.

I can’t imagine my thoughts improving upon better crafted ideas more eloquently conceived by more intelligent and wittier writers. However, the way to improve one’s writing is to write and the way to improve one’s ideas is to present them for criticism. So to anyone who is reading this, I offer this request, reject me. Reject my ideas and words as incoherent and trivial nonsense and if I have sufficiently raised you out of apathy to some kind of emotional disturbance then leave a comment or post a response and I will read it and I will respond.

Dialogue matters and mine has too long remained a soliloquy untested by an interlocutor. See that sentence I just wrote? It is absurdly pretentious. It’s my first post and I’m desperate to present myself as learned, academically adept and a first class word wanker. I’m often too frightened to present my vulnerabilities and flaws in life, maybe I have the courage to do it here.

I am pretentious but I am also sincere. I do believe in the power of language. I believe that the metaphors we think with constrain and enable our thoughts and values. This operates within academic papers that a handful of jargon heads read. It operates within movies that both capture and mold the zeitgeist. It even operates within a YouTube video of a baby munching on his brother’s finger with over 650 million views.

In all probability, this blog will feature a handful of posts that will never be read by anyone and will only ever be of importance to its author. But, what was the probability of more than the combined populations of the United States, France,Italy, Germany, Poland, Australia, the United Kingdom becoming acquainted with a giggling one year old named Charlie Davies-Carr?

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