Archive for the ‘Braak’ Category

The Hitler Questions

Posted: April 13, 2015 in Braak
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I like hypothetical ethical dilemmas. I think they’re interesting, because ordinarily I think we don’t really think about what constitutes “right” and “wrong”: we’ve just got a sense of it, and when questions come up, we respond to them intuitively first, and then justify them later. The purpose of Ethical Dilemmas is to interrogate that mechanism that lets us choose, but in an environment where outcomes are known to us. This lets us examine both how we feel about a question, and how those questions interact with what we say our principles are.

Here are some questions about whether or not you’d go back in time to murder Adolf Hitler.

(Trigger warning for some talk about the Holocaust and about rape and murder.)

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Here’s the thing about nerds – and please know that I’m including myself in this, maybe as the worst of us all, the monster is within me, &c.: we all know at this point that there are nerds. Nerds are people who like weird stuff, and sometimes display a socially-unacceptable level of enthusiasm for our weird stuff. We dress up in costume for Harry Potter book launches or sign our emails with Star Trek quotes or what have you. But I think everyone also knows that there are nerds, and then there are nerd nerds: the kind of guys that you hope never show up to a conversation about any topic, because despite our enthusiasm and our granular knowledge of every little bit of a topic, we’re fucking terrible.

We’re the Comic Book Guys of the world, the Um, Actuallys, the Technically Speakings of the world. You all know us and I think that, even though we talk a big game about bullying, I think we maybe know, deep down, that when we do that kind of shit we deserve a little bit of the pejorative muck that still sullies the word “nerd.”

So, what I’m here to do is to present my Unified Theory of Being a Nerd, and then (maybe more importantly), I want to talk a little about the two major attitudes towards the world that it causes, and why these things are bad, why they should be rejected, and a little bit about how to quarantine them.

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We have all been waiting for the answer to this question, “Can a white man criticize the p.c. culture of the liberal left?” and Jonathan Chait has answered this question at length . The answer is apparently, “He CAN, but probably SHOULDN’T.” Much better writers will do much better responses to this, but it’s left me so irritated that I couldn’t help but write at least a little bit.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with…I guess…let’s do “commencement speakers”, and maybe ask a few questions about why guys like Jonathan Chait get their knickers in a twist when a student body tries to block one person or another from speaking at their commencement.

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Part of a series that includes:

Atheism

Materialism

Mysticism

So. I have been holding off writing this part while I thought about it, because I have had this fear that what I was saying was a basically ordinary thing, that only seemed complex or significant to me because of the process that I went about to get to it. I remember once when I took the SATs, and I didn’t have a graphing calculator, so I took a minute to re-derive the quadratic equation so I could use it to solve problems. This felt very satisfying to me, like I’d accomplished something great and important, but obviously it wasn’t of any more practical significance than it would have been if I’d just remembered what the quadratic equation was.

The idea that I have here sort of synergizes with that, though – that in a way what I want to talk about is the difference between talking or thinking about something or changing something at a surface level, and changing something at this deep, deep psychic level. At the top they look the same, but they aren’t the same, and that’s important.

Maybe this will be made clear. Anyway, another caveat: I’m going to be referring to “zen” here as a specific practice as I’ve gleaned it. I am not a Zen Buddhist, really; I don’t come from a Zen Buddhist culture, I am not trained in a Zen Buddhist tradition, I don’t participate in it as a living religious culture. All I’ve done is read a little bit, and the misfortune I have is that the word “zen” as a kind of meditative practice appears to be the only word for the thing I want to describe. So, I’ll get to that to, but I want to just here at the beginning clear up what I mean, and apologize for stealing people’s vocabulary.

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I am taking a break from expounding my LIFE PHILOSOPHY to talk about some other things, as a kind of intellectual palate-cleanser.  Today’s subject on which I will now go on at length, pulled randomly from the heaps of garbage that I read every day, is this article by Colin McEnroe over at Salon.

For whatever reason, I find I’m always more exercised by running into junk like this at sites I read regularly, as opposed to sites like the New Yorker, where I only once in a while check-in.  It seems to me that not only is the thing itself wrong, but that it’s also a kind of betrayal that they published it in the first place — not necessarily because I don’t agree with it (though, I’ll be honest here — as we all should strive for honesty in every one of our doings — that’s probably a big part of it), but because it seems like the kind of thing an editor should have looked at and said, “Nope, too dumb.  Send it back.”

(Well, I know, it’s Salon, obviously that wasn’t going to happen, come on.)

Anyway, the piece is for the most part some fussy hand-wringing about Kids Today, and I think that all articles about Kids Today should be answered not necessarily due to their merits, but just for the sake of having the counter-argument exist, in the hopes that this generation will, at long last, be the generation that beats back the idea of Kids Today, if not forever, at least for now, a momentary peace in a world constantly under threat.

It’s mostly fussiness, but it takes at its heart Ira Glass’s apparent disinterest in Shakespeare: “I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks?”  And then seeks to take him to task on the grounds that Shakespeare self-evidently does NOT suck, and Ira Glass is somehow representative of a generation of increasingly-stupid children who don’t seem to realize that.

Well.

Before I get into it, let me just be clear: I like Shakespeare, as a reader, as an actor, and as a speaker of English. I’m also GOOD at Shakespeare; ask anyone, I’ve got a knack for this kind of stuff. If I was willing to live a little more in poverty, I could probably work consistently just doing Shakespeare. Shakespeare often speaks to me in a way that I find deeply intuitive and affecting. I have, in other words, a vested interest in seeing Shakespeare maintain his position as the most important playwright in the English language, and in seeing all of us remain idolators to his genius.

But.

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So, prompted by some comments about how certain atheists (*cough*richarddawkins*cough*) tend to make all atheists look bad by acting like huge pricks all the time, I figured I’d participate in the process of the differentiation of atheists by laying out what my own philosophy of the world is, rather than according to one particular thing I think it isn’t.

Before I talked specifically about the atheistic part of the world as I see it – the idea that there is no guiding benevolent force directly interacting with the universe in any perceptible way and sort of concomitantly, that any other kind of deity (the God as Watchmaker, for instance) isn’t particularly relevant. This time I want to write about what I think the nature of the world is, and the way in which we live in it.

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On the internet today, someone that I know said that, even though she wasn’t an atheist, she thought we all deserved a better atheism than Richard Dawkins gives us.  I am an atheist, and I’m inclined to agree — I think Dawkins (et all those guys — Hitchens, Harris, &c) did an important service by making atheism a reasonable subject of conversation in the national discourse.  But they also did it in sort of the only way that you CAN do that in the national discourse in America, which was by being huge fucking pricks about it.  This is kind of not their fault, I guess — Richard Dawkins didn’t decide that the way that we all ought to communicate our ideas is by having our individual platforms and then yelling at people from them.  And it’s important that SOMEONE carved out the space, but it’s also misleading to let these guys define what atheism is for everyone.

This is especially because “atheism” isn’t really a tradition or a philosophy; it’s a broad category of many different traditions and philosophies, unified only by a single characteristic that they share in common.  “Atheism” is as, or more, diverse than “theism”, and only some terrible prick would insist that all theists believe the same things.

Anyway, this got me thinking that maybe I ought to write down my own ideas about my own kind of atheism in a systematic way.  I’ve had a lot of occasion to think really long and hard about what I believe and why.  A lot of this is because of my challenges with depression and alcoholism — you know, I think a lot of us can get by pretty well without having thought rigorously about our (for lack of a better term) LIFE PHILOSOPHY (our own individual theories about “how we should be in the world”), but when you go through some of the emotional and psychological challenges that this kind of philosophy specifically provides a bulwark against, you end up putting a lot of work into it.

A lot of people find religion, or find a philosophy to help them get through rough times.  I went through rough times, but I mostly just made mine up.  This is it; I figure if I write it down, maybe someone else who’s having a rough time might find something useful in it.  It’s what you might call Religious, but Not Spiritual.  There isn’t a name for it so far as I know, but it technically breaks down as Atheistic Materialist Zen Mysticism.

I will now elaborate.

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