Social Criticism

Social Criticism

The Enlightenment Luminary Voltaire on Ancient Philosophy

ancient philosophy March 17th, 2018

I have spent nearly forty years of my pilgrimage in two or three corners of this world seeking the philosopher’s stone that is called Truth.” With those interesting words, Voltaire, the 18th-century writer, skeptic, and iconoclast begins an interesting essay about ancient philosophers. It is actually the submission to The Philosophical Dictionary, a project of tremendous importance to the Enlightenment, and it is entitled “Precis of Ancient Philosophy.” Alongside Denis Diderot’s and Jean d’Alembert’s Encyclopedia, published starting in 1751, France was churning out some incredible works of Enlightenment nonfiction. Considering this was during the reign of King Louis the whatever and Pope whomever, the use of the pen was actually dangerous business. We should all take our hats off to these men of great courage and vision. And be happy Switzerland existed.

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Fifty Remarkable Quotes by Activists

activists March 10th, 2018

One of the best ways to learn what activists thought, felt, and knew is to read a diverse sampling of engaging activist quotes. Assembled in this blog are fifty or sixty remarkable quotes by activists who were on the front lines, went to jail for their beliefs, or faced social consequences. Heck, many brave activists were jailed for years (Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, etc). America has often led the world when it comes to activism, struggle, strikes, social and economic progress, and political change. Very often, though, activists have to take a back-seat compared to politicians, officers of the law, and for a time, public opinion. Without further ado, I present to you fifty enlightening and challenging quotes by famous activists.

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How to Find Happiness in Modern America

happiness March 9th, 2018

Attitude is everything, so they say. There is truly something to that. According to one strain of research, our happiness is about 50% “determined” by our genes. There is little we can do to stray very far from our “set point” level of happiness. A death will bring us very low, and that “new car smell” will give us a happiness bump for days, perhaps weeks. A promotion will engender some greater satisfaction, but it’s effect, too, will fade (perhaps only leaving a somewhat larger paycheck and potentially greater stress associated with increased or different responsibilities). The point is, If genes account for 50% of one’s level of happiness, what does that leave us with? This is a blog about psychological research, applied philosophy, and values and virtues such as personal growth, free will, and responsibility.

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Liberals Are the Heart of the American Republic

liberalism February 25th, 2018

Liberals are the heart of the American republic. At least in my opinion. I think evidence can be found for why the spirit of liberalism in its classical sense imbued the Declaration of Independence and Constitution with something that was missing from hereditary aristocracies of Europe. As well, much or all of the social progress that has occurred since the country’s inception has been due to the liberal impulse to improve conditions, make everyone more truly equal before the law, and rein in the abuses of government and corporations to improve the lives of people. It’s people-power, really. Yes, Democrats have sullied the sterling image of true liberalism, but progressive causes have never been about one political party (evidenced by the massive movement undergirding the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in recent years). One of clearest examples of why we’re liberals was penned by author Eric Alterman, Ph.D. in a book that is, not coincidentally, entitled Why We’re Liberals. In this blog I share a bit of background about liberalism, progressivism, and the like, and use a hundred or so Eric Alterman quotes to illustrate what I think is best about the book and, therefore, most consistent with the wonderful philosophical, political, and economic phenomenon called liberalism. Enjoy. And buy the book.

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Is Education 2nd or 3rd Place at Elite Universities?

education February 17th, 2018

I am on a liberal education trip these days. I have zipped through books with titles such as In Defense of a Liberal Education; Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life; and Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. It’s a fascinating subject, considering I like things ancient, think Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet’s Society were fantastic movies (can you tell that I miss Robin Williams!?), and spend a heckuva lot of time reading and recording fantastic quotations about values. My latest acquisition is by scholar William Deresiewicz and is entitled Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite. In this blog, I highlight some interesting quotations about education and reflect a bit on the Ivy League, America’s values, and what education means.

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Volkswagen Cheated Simply to Make More Money

Volkswagen February 14th, 2018

I learned about Volkswagen’s cheating on diesel emissions a year or two ago. It wasn’t until now that I watched a wonderful documentary on the debacle, Alex Gibney’s expose featured on the Netflix series, Dirty Money. It was outlandishly bad corporate behavior. In this drama, however, the State and Federal authorities were the good guys. Here is my take on it, and a few quotations to channel my feelings about it.

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American History Reflects Certain Values

American February 13th, 2018

I came across a quote that really moved me, and I was getting into it with a friend about whether liberals are biased and whether conservatism is just a bit odious. I want to “sketch out” why I am a liberal (a political designation, but also the more philosophical meaning of the term), and why, therefore, I criticize America. To that end, I will use quotations, not by crafting sentences and paragraphs. I think of it like a mosaic – every piece is made of a small piece of glass, but together it makes sense to the eye. It’s going to read like social criticism mixed with a clear-eyed recognition of some American strengths. In so doing, I will look to history’s intellectuals, artists, and fighters for social justice to do the talking for me.

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Socrates, Russell, & Voltaire: Profound Provocateurs

Voltaire February 10th, 2018

In this blog, I compare and contrast three of history’s most trenchant and profound provocateurs: Socrates the Greek, Bertrand Russell the Englishman, and Voltaire the French philosophe. In addition to a bit of historical information, you will find Socrates quotes, quotations by Bertrand Russell, and an array of unvarnished insights by Voltaire.

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Powerful Quotes By Famous Progressives

quotes by famous progressives February 8th, 2018

Liberals have a long history of bettering this country – and leading it better (than the opposition). When it comes to having a coherent and compelling philosophy, progressives suck. We fight amongst ourselves, equivocate, cower, and are even afraid to proudly use the word liberal. However, as Eric Alterman points out in his great book Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals, progressive politicians provide superior leadership, have more integrity, and speak for the ideals held by most Americans, by and large. This blog features many compelling and unique quotes by famous progressives.

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Social Violence: Causes and Prescriptions

violence February 7th, 2018

Mass murder is different than 1:1 murder and suicide. It symbolizes deep social decay. Add in heavy weaponry and you got yourself one big social problem. What issues underlie the phenomenon? It is mental illness? Is it guns? Is it endemic to a country that is in “the waning days of empire?” Is it an outgrowth of massive wealth inequality? What role does race play? Read on for some exploration of this noxious type of social violence that seems to constantly recur like an absurd Sysephean tragedy. 

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