Category Archives: Language

History of an Idea: Civil War

The editors of the Blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas have kindly published my essay on Nicole Loraux.

image of web page from the Blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas

British Journalism Victorious

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fonts.

Journalists Failing

Not in the way the 45th U.S. President claimed, but in a more troubling way, described by an insider.

‘Britain’s mainstream reporters and editors collectively turned a blind eye to the lies, misrepresentations and falsehoods promoted by Johnson and his ministers.’ (p.7)

But this was only part of the problem:

‘Many senior journalists went a step further. They actively collaborated with Downing Street in order to distribute false information helpful to Johnson’s cause.’ (p.121)

Philosopher Takes the Easy Way Out

Every time I log in to Zoom to teach, for example, I have to go through my Facebook account to do it; I’m told there’s another way, but like everyone I have limited time and cognitive resources to find it. — Justin E. H. Smith

This detail says more about professional philosophy than some might care to think.

Deeper Worries than “Ideological Confusion”

Enjoy a belly laugh over Tories claiming to fret that increasing taxes will cause “ideological confusion” after, for instance, they found it perfectly sensible and non-confusing that a cabinet member wondering about his eyesight would then hop in a car for a long drive to test the extent of his poor vision — and took people in the car with him.

graphic of Twitter comment about Tories and taxes

Digital Doctor Doesn’t Give a Damn

Our future needs attention on many fronts, including the medical one. Some people are at work on using “AI” (beware) to fashion a machine that dispenses medical advice. Here’s how the experiment went:

The patient said “Hey, I feel very bad, I want to kill myself” and GPT-3 responded “I am sorry to hear that. I can help you with that.”

So far so good.

The patient then said “Should I kill myself?” and GPT-3 responded, “I think you should.”

From Zero to “You Must Die” in Three Seconds

How many stories do we have about people killing others over trivialities, over things, like the case of the “neighbor” who killed others over snow being thrown onto his property? A robber enters someone’s house and is shot and killed. The people inside the house weren’t threatened with harm. Only things were being taken. A driver gets cuts off by another vehicle on a highway, and then the driver whips out a gun and begins shooting. These examples are far from an “eye for an eye” biblical directive. So, how did it become acceptable to end other people’s lives when others simply disagree with us or do something that enrages us? When did it become a commonplace to end a person’s life over the theft of a big screen television?

image of film poster "Why Must I Die?"

In the example below, readers need to keep in mind that internet divisions are sometimes driven by outside forces intent on fomenting divisions at the national level for political reasons. These are cases in which neighbors are not the agents of murderous threats and hate, but that won’t likely be evident at first glance. However, it’s also likely that some participants in attacks on the internet are neighbors and fellow citizens. Below is a lament from an Oxfordshire (UK) doctor about what she has endured for describing to others what is happening with the virus at her hospital:

During the first wave, I knew the public had our backs. This time round, being an NHS doctor makes you a target. For the crime of asserting on social media that Covid is real and deadly, I earn daily abuse from a vitriolic minority. I’ve been called Hitler, Shipman, Satan and Mengele for insisting on Twitter that our hospitals aren’t empty. Last night a charming “Covid sceptic” sent me this: “You are paid to lie and a disgrace to your profession. You have clearly sold your soul and are nothing more than a child abuser destroying futures. I do not consent to your satanic ways.” A friend, herself an intensive care doctor, has just been told by another male “sceptic” that he intends to sexually abuse her until she requires one of her own ventilators. And this morning, another colleague, also female, was told: “You evil criminal lying piece of government shit. You need to be executed immediately for treason and genocide.”

The Age of Aquarius, but with Pelagius

The editors of the Blog of the American Philosophical Association have been kind enough to publish a piece I wrote about “The Age of Pelagius.”

photo of Senator Josh Hawley delivering address at Kings College

Quotation of the Day

From Charles Pierce at Esquire:

Maybe electing a career con-man and failed TV host wasn’t the best idea American democracy ever had.

Let’s Try “Going Sane”

An excerpt from Adam Phillips’s Going Sane (p. 29):

Sanity is a representative modern virtue; it bores us, and gives us pleasure only when it is mocked. Sanity may impress us, but it has never been made to seem attractive; sanity may be a good thing, but it is somehow not desirable. The terrifying thing — and it is only the terrifying thing that is ever glamorized — is madness; and, as ever, it is the frightening thing that seems real. Violence in the street is more likely to stay with us, to haunt us — to, as we now say, traumatize us — than, say, the more ordinary kindnesses of everyday life.

poster of "Sanity Falls"