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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Recognizing Artificial Inequalities in Wealth: The Enlightenment Fulfilled?

Kant claims that a greater use of reason is part of becoming enlightened, whereas Rousseau advocates a reduction in the use of reason to that level and simplicity that is natural for human beings (i.e., in the state of nature). That Rousseau's published ideas on reason conflict with the significance of reasoning in becoming enlightened does not mean, however, that Rousseau's reasoning about reason in the state of nature versus in society is not an instance of enlightenment. That is, Rousseau's own use of reason can fit Kant's definition of enlightenment rather than the lesser reasoning that Rousseau prescribes. Is Rousseau's theory on inequalities in wealth therefore enlightened? 

The full essay is at "Rousseau on Inequalities in Society: An Instance of Kantian Enlightenment?"

The Modern City: Worsening Economic Inequalities?

In his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau argues that humanity was in a much better condition in the state of nature, before all the artificialities of society changed us. Indeed, the question we might ask the eighteenth-century philosopher is whether forming commercial enterprises, governments and societies has modified human nature itself, or merely our proclivities. Rousseau’s view of “primitive” humanity is best grasped in a bundle.

The full essay is at "Living the Urban Life: Increasing Economic Inequalities?"

Rousseau on Economic Inequality

In his Discourse on Inequalities, Rousseau distinguishes two types of inequality among people: natural and moral. Natural inequalities, which exist in the state of nature as well as society, result in difference outcomes owing to innate differences in “genius, beauty, strength or address, merit or talents.” Such differences—both in sources and outcomes—pale in comparison with those from “moral” inequalities, such as exist between rich and poor, professionals and the unskilled, and the powerful and the subjugated.

The full essay is at "Rousseau on Economic Inequalities: Natural vs. Artificial"

Democracy and Its Discontents: The Case of Syria

Democracy is hardly simple, given that the momentary will of the people can be distinguished in at least some cases from what is in the people’s own best interest. Part of the job of an elected representative is discerning or judging under which of the two a given vote should be based. Adding to the complexity are the additional judgments concerning how much weight to give campaign contributors and lobbyists who have a vested interest in the vote. All this certainly applied to the decision on whether the U.S. should use limited missile strikes against the Syrian government as a means of enforcing the international norm and treaty banning chemical weapons. Such decisions should neither be made to satisfy the immediate passions of the people nor on the behest of defense contractors. That is to say, neither mob-rule nor the military-industrial complex should eclipse the best interest of the people.

The full essay is at "Syria: Democracy vs. An International Norm"


In addition to providing an excellent glimpse of a man much studied yet nevertheless lost to history, Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, affords us an opportunity to grasp a particular virtue that applies rather surprisingly to politics. Simply in there being such a virtue applicable to a profession much maligned and relegated to swamps, an insight into the value of politics is here for the taking.

The full essay is at "Lincoln"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Maltese Falcon: Greed as Pathology

To Aquinas, greed is the worst of the major sins. Augustine had privileged pride with the dubious distinction of being the worst of the worst. In films, avarice is typically clothed with riches. The Maltese Falcon (1941) and (1931), as well as Satan Met a Lady (1936), which is based on the same novel, all depict greed as an obsession. Even though the object sought is thought to be very valuable, no one in the “hunt” is wealthy. Greed is presented in this story primarily as an interior motive that relentlessly and obsessively grips the whole person. That is to say, greed is reductionist, and in so being, distortive of any sense of natural perception and proper proportionality. This is depicted best in the most famous of the films. In this respect, the prior two films can be seen as building up to, or evolving into, a depiction of greed full-blown in a distinctly pathological sense.

The full essay is at "The Maltese Falcon"

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Agora: Putting Religion in Perspective

Film has the potential to be so engrossing perceptually for the viewer-auditors that the medium can engage the human condition at a deep, unconscious level. At that level, the subconscious protects us in the games we so seriously play.  If done well, film-making crafts a coherent and complete story-world into which the voyageur can be temporarily lodged before returning to the ordinary world that now looks somehow different. The subtle perceptual change can result from part of the viewer’s subconscious having been made transparent, or realized, while in the film’s story-world. As concerns the religious domain, I contend that the medium has only touched the surface in holding a mirror up to ourselves. This is not to say that more anti-religion movies, such as Last Temptation of Christ, are the answer; neither are more palliative, apologist films, like The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Story Ever Told, the way to greater self-awareness for homo religious.  On account of their un-questioning, one-dimensionality (even when viewed with 3D glasses!), these films are more alike than their respective leitmotifs would suggest. Most importantly, none of these films raises penetrating questions that assume the validity of “the other side.” Nietzsche advocates approaching truth itself as a problem rather than as something whose validity is held to be beyond question (i.e., sacred).  A film can subject truth itself as a problem (rather than as a conveniently partisan given) and enhance, thereby, human awareness of just what we are up to when we take ourselves as religious, whether in self (or group) identification or conduct. Once a film gets a grip on a truth and makes it a problem rather than a pallid backdrop, you can bet the river Styx in the human unconscious will be stirred, lapping over its banks as it tries to order its new-found energy gained from the antiseptic sunlight. My question here is whether Agora transcends below the patina of reactionary anti-religion films to widen our collective consciousness at the expense of hypocrisy and denial. 

The full essay is at "Agora"