Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Readings for 17 December, 2008

The Third Stage of University Education - New York Times: I've said it before and I believe it is true that the nonprofit sector will surprise many as their future preferred employers. I'm also really excite that Obama-Biden want to grow Americorps and Peace Corps - two programs that really get the most bang for the buck. Combine these federally-subsidized service mini-careers with massive public works and the U.S. economy and civil society look promising. Enter Harvard's strategy to create a bridge between retiring executives and the impending leadership vacuum in the nonprofit sector.

I Think I'm Turning Japanese
- NewYork Times: I'm moving back to the U.S. in February and I couldn't choose a better time to start buying dollars - 1USD ~ 90JPY, when I arrived last year 1USD~120JPY. So I've basically made an extra 30% recently. Anyhow.... I return to an American economy that is in tatters and about to really start getting Mad Max-y by the summer of 2009; maybe September. The Fed has dropped interest rates to about 0% which is about what I'm getting here with my savings account in Japan. At least that won't feel too weird.

I'm Sure Walt Whitman Wrote About This - Wired: Or maybe it was Emerson? Although I'm not at all a transcendentalist I sure do like those American Transcendentalists (Yes I'm thinking of Song of Myself). The Earth and the Sun seem to be breathing together. I know, I know: it's kinda flaky-sounding to say "We're all part star" but it's a science fact. We interare.

The Rhythm Is Gonna Getcha - Wired: Oh Gloria Estefan! Here's a great example of using your head and not your gun to do the work necessary to draw a bright line in the minds of your community. The insurgency is being fuelled by fundamentalists? Take a page from the book of Kevin Bacon and encourage the local kids to dance it out. Music holds a special place in my heart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Readings for 16 December, 2008

I'm back. Many thanks to those of you that periodically drop by here and a thousand pardons, again, for not being able to offer more recently.

Secondary Education as Birth Control - Nature: I've mentioned earlier that children are viewed as social security in developing countries and that children are often abducted and forced into military service. Periodically the argument is put forward that education will solve, seemingly, all problems. One trend that seems pretty convincing is that the more educated women become the more likely these women are to delay the birth of their first child. Delaying this first birth is crucial in a number of ways; for one, there is a reduced strain on what are already, typically, strained health care systems. More importantly, there is less poverty when women delay the birth of their first child because these women are able to pursue careers (not necessarily Murphy Brown-type careers) with minimal damage to their society. Your typical first year Sociology or Anthropology student should be able to tell you about that one section of their primer where they learned that, in certain South American cultures at a certain moment in our recent history, teen mothers did not even name their child until the first year because that child was too likely to die before the first year was up. Why was this mortality rate so high? Because the mothers were leaving their children unattended at home while they went to work in factories (making products at everyday low prices, no doubt) so that the mother would not be out in the streets. They cannot afford day care and are likely to be without a social system that can provide for this child if they are one of the masses of people leaving the countryside to the cities where they perceive their lives will be better.

The Human Terrain System Doesn't Work - So Sayeth Nature: I agree with Nature here, but they make no case as to why. I will be posting on this topic in the not-too-distant future.

Let Me Use My Mind Enhancing Drugs, Man!
- Nature: My ass twitches, just so, whenever I read a manifesto like this one from academics. It's unfair, I know, since I am an academic; but what can I say? These guys begin with a great statement and then miss the boat completely. One of the ways that you know to raise your hackles is when social scientists reference Francis Fukuyama, ADHD research, and make strong statements calling for policy change by using BOLD fonts. The argument begins by discussing a phenomenon they think they understand is occuring on college campuses: they hear that students are using methylphenidate and other amphetamines to enhance their performance in classes. "Good for them," seems to be the authors' argument, "because they are adult enough to realize they can maximize their abilities with these drugs." But, they don't really know that. They don't have evidence that this is what is meant when the students tell them they do this (as someone who recently graduated from college where plenty of kids with money were buying Ritalin and Adderal, I have my doubts about the authors' appreciation of their students' lived experience). They also don't know what the actual mechanism at work is here. ADHD research is the most widely published topic in psychology in the world and they don't know what the disease is. Period. They don't know how these drugs work, they don't know how to measure the effectiveness of the treatments, and they don't know how to collaborate (thus the field continues to churn out garbage where people publish minor modifications to existing work and state that they've developed a new method or scale). So, they call for evidence-based assessments of what might be the benefits of allowing people who don't get prescribed methylphenidate, etc. and what might be the long term problems associated with this usage. I agree that drug laws should be changed, but I disagree with the authors here. Where do they really miss the boat? They don't even address the nature and meaning of being educated. It is assumed that education means "this," and then they proceed to talk about education being enhanced by people feeling more organized or focused. I wouldn't disagree that focus and organization are the lynchpins in successful academic endeavors but I would not also consider you well-educated if all you were really skilled in was organizing and staying on task. But maybe that's beyond the scope of their argument.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deleuze & Confucius?!

Below is a short sample from the third revision of a paper originally published in Interplay: Selected Proceedings from the 4th Annual North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference. Aflague, Jones, Swanson; eds. Marietta: Luxor Media. 2006.

This is where I've been for the past two weeks; I've been preparing this for my writing sample to be considered by Emory's Philosophy department. It's also how I arrived at the name of this blog. Don't worry: it's only a very short sample.

Kudzu Kongzi: A Rhizomatic Zhongyong中庸
Paul Boshears[1]

Does not the East…offer something like a rhizomatic model opposed in every respect to the tree?[2]

The way of heaven and earth can be captured in one phrase: Since events are never duplicated, their production is unfathomable.[3]

If we accept Foucault's position that Anti-Oedipus is primarily an introductory text to non-fascist living, Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus should then be first thought of as an educational text. In reconceptualizing the self and its relationship to the world by reconceptualizing desire as meaning production, Anti-Oedipus was thought by its authors as creating an “air sain,” a healthy region that would overcome the tyranny of psychoanalysis. There were unexpected results: some took the text as advocating experimentation in all manners, including drug abuse, thus leading to self-destruction and the opposite of health. Deleuze and Guattari always felt a sense of responsibility for those that took this path.[4] Their schizoanalysis engendered novelty generation, a mode of self-creation that would overcome the tyranny of structuralism by emphasizing the interconnectedness of everything such that no structural boundary can resist constant ebb and flow through its borders; Anti-Oedipus sought to show this as the nature of things. Their emphasis and trust in the co-creative nature of humanity and faith that promoting this will ensure a flourishing human community is shared by the Classical Confucian text, Zhongyong中庸.

To suggest that Confucianism could be understood in any way other than as institutionalized apology and bureaucratic oppression will likely strike the reader as not only odd, but that Confucianism and the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari share mutual worldviews is perhaps perverse. In no small part this is due to a fundamental misreading of the texts by the first translators of the Chinese traditions. Primarily these were completed by Christian missionaries who simply had a bias towards teleology and an ontology of fixed identity that had not been the worldview of the Chinese philosophical tradition.[5] With the philosophical translation of Roger Ames and David Hall the reader and text benefit from a radically different Confucius (and China), this is largely due to the translators use of Whitehead’s process theory and their use of the language of both John Dewey and William James.[6] The central concern of Confucianism, then, is not about establishing an unbroken chain of authority but an exploration of how one becomes authoritatively human. Virtuosity is determined in how well one can perform their humanity, a creative process of synthesizing what has come before and harmonizing its contents with the changing world in which we find ourselves.

The elevation of the human being to co-creative status is one of the truly distinctive features of the Zhongyong[7] and it is here that we see the most obvious harmonizing with Deleuze and Guattari's works. The central message of the Zhongyong is to promote an understanding that tian (天), the predominant natural, social, and cultural circumstances shape (ming 命) both the initial human tendencies (xing 性) and overall human development (dao 道); the text then suggests that education (jiao 教) is crucial in the process of self-creation.[8] The primary gift of education is personalization and this transactional process is a creative act as it is, “the realization of the focal self and the field of events – the realization of both the particular and context.”[9] We are told that developing our ability to harmonize the particular with the context is “the great root of the world.”[10] It seems fair to say that the plant growing from the nourishing soils of Deleuze, Guattari, and the Zhongyong will not be arboreal and tree-like, but rhizomatic like kudzu.[11] In reconceptualizing the self and its relationship to the world we may consider how one might live and this is certainly a matter of pedagogy, of teaching creativity.

[1] An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 13th National Asian Studies Development Program, Seattle, WA, February, 2007; and has benefited greatly from comments it received there. I thank David Farrell Krell for his comments.
[2] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Brian Massumi, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2003. 18. Hereon ATP.
[3] Ames, Roger T. and David L. Hall. Focusing the Familiar: A Philosophical Translation of the Zhongyong 中庸. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press. Verse 26. Page 107. Hereon FF.
[4] Stivale, Charles J. Gilles Deleuze’s ABC Primer with Claire Parnet. “D as in Desire.” Found at
[5] On the importance of translation to philosophy see Charles Bernstein’s comments in his “Breaking the Translation Curtain: The Homophonic Sublime,” stating, “philosophy in translation suffers perhaps more greatly than poetry if only because its readers are often less conscious of the semiotic cost of translation…and even less willing to cede significance to what is unrecoverable.” Found in Toward a Foreign Likeness Bent: Translation. Jerrold Shirma, ed. Sausalito, CA: Duration Press. 2004.
[6] See their Thinking Through Confucius Albany: SUNY Press. 1987; as well as The Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China. Peru, IL: Open Court Publishing. 1999.
[7] FF, 30
[8] Ibid. 26
[9] Ibid. 32
[10] Ibid. 89
[11] Based on comments from readers outside the southern United States I should clarify both kudzu as a plant and kudzu as a social phenomenon. Kudzu was imported into the southern U.S. to combat rapid soil erosion, the result of the wide-spread deforestation that accompanied the industrialization of the south after the Civil War. Kudzu was seen as drought-resistant and a panacea for farmers. Ask anyone who tends a garden in the southern U.S., however, and you are likely to hear one of many stories of the bale that this plant has become. The plant is now listed by the U.S. Congress as a Federal Noxious Weed and anyone with familiarity will tell you that this once ornamental plant is measured in miles per hour rather than inches per year. I choose the image less for its noxiousness and rather to stress its success in propagating itself through a decentralized physiognomy.

A Thousand Pardons (or, On Getting Into Emory)

I've not been writing here lately, but I can share a little about why:

I am writing. I am writing my admissions materials for a PhD program. Over the past few days I've been revisiting a paper I presented in Seattle last year and I am writing my Statement of Purpose.

I am applying to Emory's Philosophy Department and I'm really sweating it! Emory has an awesome program that is very strong in both Continental and American pragmatic philosophies. I'm particularly interested in working with Cynthia Willett and John Stuhr.

Stuhr is the new department chair, coming from Vanderbilt (a great school featuring David Wood). Were I accepted I'd be all over hearing Stuhr discuss John Dewey's philosophy of experience as critique.

Cynthia Willet is the former department chair at Emory and her work is right up my alley. I recommend you buy her new book Irony in the Age of Empire; you can read a good bit of it here for free. That's right, a philosophical text discussing the implications of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

As insipid or trite as this might sound, I'm actually really excited to be among all their faculty. I think that they're doing really interesting work and I feel that I would develop very well in that community. I think their focus on social and political thought from both the Classical American tradition and the Continental tradition would really foster my development and guide me toward civic engagement and Public Philosophy.

Wish me luck!