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I’m trying to keep my spider-squad informed about plans for the lab, so I’ll be periodically sending out notifications to them. I figured maybe other people might be interested in the goings-on, at least those of you who aren’t currently horrified at my arachnological obsession of late.
American Airlines responded to my complaints, sort of. Actually, they evaded and lied, which is exactly what I expected.
We’ve taken a closer look and again we are sorry for the frustration. We never want to cancel our flights, however, due to the safety of our passengers and crew sometimes it is unavoidable. After further research we found your flight was delayed due to the weather. This situation was largely out of our control and we do not issue compensation or reimbursement of additional expenses.
No. My first flight was cancelled due to weather (I didn’t see any sign of storms on the ground, but I’ll trust that the atmosphere might well have been more complex, especially at altitude above mountains). The flight from Charlotte to Minneapolis was delayed for a day and dragged out over a long night of abandonment because of a maintenance problem — they told us quite clearly that there was a broken part in the cockpit air conditioning.
Maintenance is something that is in AA’s control, I assume.
Anyway, I don’t care. I expected nothing from them. If they want to run their business into the ground with terrible customer service, they are free to do so. I won’t be flying with them in the future.
Jesus, no. They can’t do this to me. Can a creationist say something so ironic, so oblivious, so un-selfaware, so stupid that my head might explode? Danny Faulkner comes very close. He’s a young earth creationist associated with Answers in Genesis, he was ponderously featured in Eric Hovind’s creation movie, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy.
He thinks the Earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that the Big Bang is bunk, but he is also confident that the Earth is a sphere, and he patiently explains how flat-earth dogma is wrong. He is very concerned about the flat-earth movement, and tries to explain why they are wrong.
Flat-earthers raise an excellent epistemological question: how do we know what shape is the earth? For three decades, I asked this very question of students in the first semester of my introductory astronomy class. The context of this question was the early history of astronomy. I would ask my students what shape they thought the earth had. All my students would answer that the earth was a sphere. I retired from the university more than six years ago, just about the time the modern flat-earth movement was starting, so I expect that if I were teaching classes now, I frequently would encounter students who think that the earth is flat. When I asked my students how they knew the earth was a globe, not one student could give me a good reason.
Aww, the ignorance of students concerns him. Me, too. I’m not retired, I still engage with students, and I can say that I’ve never met one who thinks the Earth is flat, but I’ve met more than a few who think the Earth is young. I was not prepared for the degree of irony to come, though.
…few students ever develop proper critical thinking skills. When someone comes along with a few arguments for the earth being flat, most people have absolutely no knowledge or resources to counter them. Flat-earthers, for example, typically testify that when they first heard about the earth being flat, they thought it was the dumbest thing that they ever heard. The soon-to-be converts thought that they easily could disprove that the earth was flat, but they quickly realized that they couldn’t. Perhaps out of frustration, they finally concluded that the earth must be flat. It never occurred to them that perhaps their education had failed them in not better preparing them for refuting the notion that the earth is flat.
Just as an exercise, reread that paragraph, but change the word “flat” to “young”. It stops being a description of students, and instead is an indictment of…Danny Faulkner.
Keep going. Keep changing “flat” to “young”. It’s amazing.
There is an important difference between gossip and flat-earth cosmology. Mere gossip rarely is life-changing (except perhaps for the poor victim of gossip). But if one becomes convinced that the earth is flat rather than being spherical, that is a major change in one’s worldview. If the earth truly is flat, then we have been lied to about the earth’s shape our entire lives. One must ask how and why this lie was created and perpetuated. Ultimately, this line of thinking leads to the conclusion that there must be a vast conspiracy about the earth’s shape that has been going on for a long time (since the time of Columbus in most flat-earthers’ estimation, since they generally subscribe to the Columbus mythology). And coming to believe that a vast conspiracy is responsible is a relatively small step for most flat-earthers, because, by definition, a conspiracy is a secret knowledge, and the allure of secret knowledge generally was a major factor that led them into flat-earth belief in the first place. The thirst for secret knowledge is why so many people find belief in all sorts of conspiracies so appealing.
We’re not done yet. Let us look at the Bible through this lens.
In their new-found fervor, flat-earthers often become very bold. Flat-earth Christians think they have found cosmological truth in the Bible, and they aren’t about to let anyone dissuade them from this belief. It doesn’t matter that until very recently virtually no one within the church saw the Bible as teaching that the earth is flat.
Has Danny Faulkner read Danny Faulkner’s testimony?
I had never given much thought about what I would do with my life, though I had always loved astronomy. Almost immediately after my rededication, I came to realize three things: that one could make a living doing astronomy, that I had the ability to do that, and that I believed God had called me to do this. About this time I read The Bible and Modern Science, by Henry M Morris. This was the first book of his that I read, and I’d eventually read many more. A year or two earlier I had read two books that taught day-age and probably even theistic evolution. I realized that what these books espoused was a bit different from what I had understood the Bible to mean, but I respected these men and thought that they probably were right. But I quickly saw that what Henry Morris wrote made much more sense biblically, so I immediately became a recent creationist.
Four decades ago, I learned a valuable lesson from a Bible professor from whom I took two semesters of Pauline epistles. He said that if you see something in a passage that no one else has seen before, there’s probably a very good reason: it isn’t there.
Until very recently, no one within the church saw the Bible as teaching that the Earth is 6000 years old. The day-age explanation he mentions, as well as the gap theory, were more common among educated theologians a hundred years ago, and in fact protestant churches were interested in reconciling the Bible with the science of geology. The Catholic church even today is just fine with the Earth being ancient. There was a trickle of a strain of belief over the last few hundred years (thanks, Archbishop Ussher), but no one saw the Bible as explicitly setting a date for geological events.
That is, until Whitcomb and Morris stole some prophecy from the Seventh Day Adventists and published The Genesis Flood in 1961, claiming to see something in the Bible that no one else had seen before.
Faulkner just charges on, completely unaware that he’s talking to a mirror.
Some flat-earthers also fashion themselves to be experts on science and the methodology of science. Consequently, they think of themselves as competent to dictate to scientists, both godly and ungodly, on how science ought to be conducted. But their definitions and practice of science appear to be formulated to make science as generally understood impossible.
Where do these flat-earthers get the notion that they are capable of rewriting so many disciplines of study? This is particularly galling when one considers the limited science education that most flat-earthers seem to have achieved.
OMG. I am so done here. I refuse to explode, though, because this is the only fate appropriate to Mr Faulkner.
Mary, again…she was out in the garage, and spotted a pair of P. tep. getting frisky. The male kept approaching the female and waving his forelegs for attention, and Mary told me I should capture some of the action (she’s an amateur pornographer, too? She can do everything). Of course I rushed out to set up a tripod and my biggest lens to see if I could get some real wildlife photography. Unfortunately, this was the best I could do.
That’s the lady spider, near the center right; her suitor is the darker, smaller spot to the left. That’s all the oomph my Canon t5i with the EFS 17-85mm lens has. It’s not enough. This is what I’m using to photograph spiders outside the lab.
The big thing hanging off the end is a nice bright LED ring light.
If I want to get any good at this, I know I’m going to have to practice, practice, practice, but I’m also going to need a better lens. Any photography experts out there want to give me some advice? I’ve been eyeing the Tokina at-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro Lens, or maybe these Macro Lens Extension Tubes which are much more in my price range, although I wouldn’t just stack lenses in my microscope to get a magnified image, so I’m a little leery. I’ve also read that the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens is kind of optimal for my purposes, but that’s way out of my price range.
Actually, everything is out of my price range, because I’ve still got that vile SLAPP suit hanging over my head. If that would go away, maybe I’d have a little room in my budget.
But hey, advice and dreams are free, right? Aim me in the right direction.
This article is a preview from the Summer 2019 edition of New Humanist
Words in Pain: Letters on Life and Death (Skyscraper) by Olga Jacoby
In comparison with other schools of thought, 19th and 20th century humanism was well-off for women. From Mary Shelley to Harriet Mill to Millicent Garrett Fawcett to Margaret Knight to Barbara Wootton, their writings and speeches form a vital part of any non-religious canon.
Still, the voices of women are not as prominent as men’s and they are not as diverse as the range of men’s. This is why this volume is such a treasure. The letters of Olga Jacoby were first published in 1919 – when the Times Literary Supplement praised them for their “clear-eyed and exalted spirit” – and are now republished in a centenary edition. The letters allow us to excavate the views of a woman who came from a generation of humanist women whose social, political, and philosophical opinions are largely unknown, both because they were women and because, as in Jacoby’s case, they confined themselves – or were confined – largely to the domestic sphere.
Jacoby wrote knowing that she was terminally ill with a heart condition. Her letters begin in 1909 and end just prior to her death by suicide in 1913 aged 38. Written mainly to her conservative and Christian doctor, their chief theme is the questioning of his religion and the advocacy of her liberalism and of her recently acquired humanist commitments.
Her case against her doctor’s religion is simple: the moral turpitude of the “narrow-minded, revengeful, and cruel” God of the Bible, who expects faith with no evidence and makes people suffer – and the damaging consequences of faith itself. A child of Jewish heritage but with little religious knowledge, she encounters the character of God with no previous experience and is an interesting case study in the assertion that, if religion were not taught to them as children, adults would not believe it.
Much of Jacoby’s critique of Christianity is now standard and, for us, is rather tired. The chief interest of her letters is as a period piece. In this respect, their points of interest are almost endless.Take, for example, her tone. The demolition of her doctor’s religion is done with a frankness which feels blunt if not rude to a generation such as ours where honest, robust and heartfelt debate has become rare in public. Her beliefs too seem archaic: teleological in the sense that Nature with a capital N is moving things towards an end, a naive trope of rationalists in the 19th century who could not quite escape the appeal of Providence.
Jacoby is a rather ordinary family woman and although this work should be seen as a rare bloom, which we are lucky to have preserved, it can also be seen as typical of the flowering of a middle-class common-sense humanism which was to be destroyed by the First World War.
“Truth and courage are growing to be the gods of the future,” says Jacoby in one of her letters. A hundred years later, we may doubt that, but we can see why Edwardians may have thought it true, and wonder what the world would have been like had it proved so.
This article is a preview from the Summer 2019 edition of New Humanist
The 27th day of Ramadan is a ceremonial occasion for the mayor’s office in Tunis. It is the Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny, one of two times in the year when the mayor welcomes the president to the Zitouna Mosque in the heart of the Medina. When I met the mayor, Souad Abderrahim, in the city hall in April, she said that her office was preparing both logistically and liturgically. In the run-up to 2018’s mayoral elections, she was said to be unfit for the post because, as a woman, she would not be able to welcome the president in the mosque. Now, the mayor needs to negotiate with the leaders of the 1,321-year-old religious institution.
Perhaps surprisingly, the person who raised the issue is a member of the “secular” party Nidaa Tounes. Meanwhile Abderrahim, who was elected on the list of the Islamist party Ennahdha, told me that neither law nor religion prevents her from fulfilling this role. “It is a new experience, but there is nothing against the presence of women in the mosque. In Mecca, the men and women pray side by side,” said Abderrahim, confidently. “Inshallah, I will be [there] with the President of the Republic.”
Abderrahim, her head uncovered, was dressed in a smart grey suit and pink stilettos that matched her rose gold iPhone. Her history with Ennahdha dates back to university when she was active alongside members of the movement in the UGTE, an Islamist-leaning student union. However, she was never part of the movement. After the revolution in 2011, she wasn’t thinking of entering politics – until the leaders of Ennahdha came to see her.
“They asked me to present my candidature for the legislative elections,” said Abderrahim. “At the time there were some of Ennahdha’s base that did not accept me. They say, why are you presenting a woman that is not one of ours?”
Abderrahim illustrates Ennahdha’s effort to move from a close-knit secret Islamic movement to a party that could represent all Tunisians. She stressed that Ennahdha is a “civil party” and called herself a “living guarantee” that Ennahdha are not going to impose “their model” on Tunisian society. Khadija Cherif, a leading figure in the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, is not reassured, however. “Symbolically, it is a good thing for a woman to be a mayor,” she told me. “But it is not a guarantee.”
In 2011, Abderrahim came under fire for calling single mothers an “abomination” that “ethically . . . do not have the right to exist.” She has since apologised and says that the media misconstrued her words, but critics within Tunisia read this inconsistency as a sign of a certain ambiguity in Ennahdha’s politics on religion.
For the first few decades of its existence, Ennahdha operated underground. It started as a sort of Islamic study group under Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president after independence. Bourguiba cracked down on the group, which became increasingly political in the 1980s, with many members arrested or exiled. Meanwhile, Bourguiba pushed forward modernising reforms that prioritised women’s rights and education. He declared Tunisia to be “part of the western world” and publicly derided traditional Islamic practices. He forced women to remove their headscarves and he broke his fast in the middle of the day during Ramadan. “I can be more useful to my country if I am not sitting in a corner yawning and hungry,” he said, sipping a secular glass of orange juice on public television in 1962.
The repression continued during the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who imprisoned and tortured Islamists while promoting a state-sanctioned form of Islam until he was ousted by the 2011 revolution, the first in a wave of uprisings in the “Arab Spring”.
After the revolution, Ennahdha won 37 per cent of the vote in the country’s first free elections. The eight next most successful parties together received 35 per cent. Cautious about taking power, Ennahdha entered into a coalition with two secular parties, forming the “Troika” government. Eight months later, when the Muslim Brotherhood narrowly won the election in Egypt, the leader of Ennahdha, Rachid Ghannouchi, flew to Egypt to tell president Mohamed Morsi one thing: “Do not govern alone.” His concerns were vindicated in 2013 when Morsi was ousted in a military coup.
“I don’t see the Brotherhood as a complete political force, it’s a force of protest,” said Said Ferjani, one of Ennahdha’s leaders, sitting in a self-styled office in the corner of a tea house in Tunis. “They know what they don’t want but they don’t come up with what it should be. [They say], ‘The Koran is our constitution’ but you can come out of the Koran with many constitutions.”
While in Egypt the Islamists failed to democratise their party and appease the secular elites, Tunisia’s Islamist-secular coalition drafted a constitution that was praised internationally for its progressiveness. It enshrined equality of men and women (not “compatibility” of women with men, as Ennahdha members had originally argued for) and freedom of conscience. They omitted sharia law from the constitution, which prompted protests from Salafists as well as some Ennahdha members.
“[Ennahdha] use the idea of wassatiya – ‘the centre’ – that Islam is the religion of the centre. They needed to make it acceptable to both sides: to the secularists and the Islamists,” Fabio Merone, a scholar of political Islam at Ghent University, told me. “But in 2011/12, the Salafists became strong when it was understood that Ennahdha was moderate, and for secularists, anything done by Ghannouchi was ambiguous.”
Tunisia plummeted into political crisis in 2013 after the assassination of two opposition leaders, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, prompting Ennahdha to hand power to a caretaker government to calm rocketing polarisation between secularists and Islamists.
Ennahdha are afraid of provoking the secular parties, according to Shadi Hamid, author of Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World. “They saw what happened with Egypt and that had a big impact on them. [Their fear] might not seem reasonable to us but keep in mind their history of repression.”
In May 2016 at a party congress, Ennahdha’s theme song filled the Rades Olympic Hall and jubilant party members waved white (Ennahdha) and red (Tunisian) flags. To a crowd of 13,000 people, Ghannouchi announced the separation of political activity from religious and preaching work. The party shed its “Islamist” label and rebranded themselves as “Muslim democrats”, comparing themselves in interviews to Germany’s Christian Democrats. Ferjani reiterated this comparison and told me that Ennahdha’s politics now has only a “flavour of faith”.
“Islamism is no longer relevant to the new era, it is related to protest [but now] it is clear that your identity is entrenched in the constitution,” he said, referring to the first article of the Tunisian constitution, which defines Tunisia as a Muslim country. “Plus you are paying a heavy bill because Islamism is [everything] from Daesh to the Brotherhood.”
Ennahdha’s political evolution was applauded abroad, with media outlets characterising the move as a separation between “mosque and state”. However, their opponents within Tunisia are not convinced. After the party’s 2016 declaration, leftist cartoonist Tawfiq Omrane sketched this separation as a decapitated Ghannouchi. “To me, they are liars. [Islam] is their political baggage,” he said at an exhibition in Tunis. “And I think they can’t survive without it.”
Many people share these suspicions. “They saw when they were in the Troika government that society resisted their politics but when they have the majority, what are they going to do?” said one Tunis-based activist, who asked to remain anonymous. “We applauded Turkey[’s Islamist party] for being moderate and look what happened.”
“They are kind of the gentle, fluffy, nice, kind Islamist party,” Hamid told me. “They have emphasised compromise [but] it is almost as if their moderation is over the top, it’s ostentatious. It’s a moderation that they really want to show you and demonstrate to you.”
During a conversation in between voting sessions at Tunisia’s parliament in Bardo, Meherzia Labidi, a member of parliament and the daughter of an imam, used the word “democracy” and its derivatives 25 times. “[Ennahdha] is certainly not a party to Islamise Tunisia,” Labidi told me, pre-emptively responding to a common accusation against the party. “Tunisia already has its own Islam. Ennahdha adapted itself to Tunisian Islam and not the other way round.”
Though they are not part of the government, Ennahdha members currently hold the majority in parliament and their members are noted for their discipline in attending voting sessions. They have the most organised and extensive network of any political party, with offices in more than 2,000 localities across the country.
Ennahdha’s dance between modernity, democracy and a predominantly conservative voter base was clear when MP Jamila Ksiksi double-booked herself with me and one of her constituents from a northern neighbourhood of Tunis. Sitting on a red velvet sofa in a side hall of the parliament cupola, Ksiksi said she often invites voters to discuss issues with her in person or on Facebook. Mr Kamel was there to take issue with the decision to raise the retirement age to 62. The subject of inheritance came up.
Last year, in what was widely seen as a political move to win votes from secularists and push Islamists into an ideological corner, President Beji Caid Essebsi proposed to change the country’s inheritance law, which is based on Islamic law, and grant women equal rights to men.
The country’s elected representatives debated. Religious arguments resurfaced alongside democratic ones. “There is a big attachment to religion [among voters],” said Ksiksi, who played a leading role in pushing through an anti-discrimination law. “When you ask a Muslim to adopt a rule that is against his faith, he will not accept it because it is a conviction for him. You are going to create a problem between him and le bon dieu [the good lord].”
She brought in Mr Kamel: “Are you against equality in heritage?” He was, and he explained why. “He is a bit conservative,” Ksiki said, hesitating before translating: “He says that the woman must give all of her energy for her children – something that I don’t completely agree with.”
National polls on the subject suggest that the majority of Tunisians are against the law, which Labidi feels was put forward by the president for political ends. “In an electoral year we cannot discuss such a sensitive issue touching family, creed and economy, so I think we need more time,” said Labidi, who is against changing the law because it “contradicts fundamental and clear explicit texts.”
The Parc de Jardin café in the southern town of Medenine used to belong to a member of Ben Ali’s party; now, its owner is an adherent of Ennahdha. Mejdi Abcha, a cashier at the café, wasn’t sure about whether he would vote in the elections at the end of this year. “That’s Ennahdha and that’s the revolution,” he said, pointing to a cat walking across the terrace with a dead bird in its mouth. “They came to change Tunisia but they ended up changing themselves.”
Under Ben Ali, Abcha dodged the police in internet cafés, writing Facebook posts criticising the regime. An Islamist, he voted for Ennahdha in 2011. “They were attacked and under injustice during the Ben Ali period and everyone thought they were real Muslims, good and honest people,” he told me. “[But] they prefer to stay in power and govern rather than protecting Islam and the revolution.”
There has been grumbling among Ennahdha members and supporters over the party’s compromises, said Hamid. “They are not the same but they stem from a similar impulse, to be cautious and careful and pro-consensus with the main party Nidaa Tounes, which is neither revolutionary nor religious in orientation.”
On a visit to Medenine in March, Ghannouchi declared that Ennahdha does not need to run an electoral campaign in the south. “He was joking a bit but it’s true,” said Fethi Karoud, a member of the local religious shura council. “People here know Ennahdha and each family has a victim touched by the dictatorship so we are close to everyone.”
Karoud has asthma from his time in prison. He was invited to the movement while he was at school by a student a few years above him. He followed him to a secret makeshift mosque in a private home and they spoke about the Koran and politics. He opposed Bourguiba, who he says “was against everything that was Islam.” Imprisoned multiple times, tortured and sexually assaulted, he went on hunger strike. When he was released and put under house arrest, he asked to be taken back to jail: “You could do nothing, go nowhere, no politics.”
Now he is much more staid, conciliatory; wearing a tweed jacket in the baking southern heat. “I would have liked things to be more defined and precise [in the constitution],” he said. “We should have insisted that there can be no legal projects that are against Islam, like the inheritance law. But maybe in the future we’ll vote these things in, depending on the era and the people.”
Medenine will probably remain with Ennahdha in the election this year but the younger generation are less connected to the party than their parents. Over the last eight years, the government’s inability to pull Tunisia out of an economic crisis or curb corruption has put many young people off voting. “There is a population of 360,000 [in Medenine] and only 60,000 go to vote because people are not convinced,” said Khaled Lamloumi, a cultural worker. “The young people have no trust for any political party in Tunisia.”
In the municipal elections last year – hailed as an important step for Tunisia’s democratic transition – voter turnout, especially among young people, was low. Independent candidates took the majority of the vote, followed by Ennahdha, demonstrating a general disillusionment with the ruling parties.
“They are all old and it’s the same thing whoever I vote for, they will steal the money and go,” said Jarry Taha, a 21-year-old who says he won’t vote this year. “About religion, it’s mostly old people who follow but we cannot say we’re not a Muslim country – we are, but sometimes I pray, sometimes I don’t.” Nazer Haddad, 25, felt the same. “This shop is my party,” he said from behind a kiosk counter. “We didn’t see any change, it’s blah blah blah and that’s it.”
Ahead of the elections, Ferjani says that Ennahdha is focusing on delivering the goods but that they are quite happy to stay in the background. Ever cautious, he said that they would put a candidate forward for the presidential elections but that they don’t want to win. They would prefer to avoid polarisation.
Ever since the Enlightenment, rationality has been enshrined as a supreme value. We even describe our own species as the "rational animal". In his new book, "Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason", Justin E. H. Smith questions the accepted narrative that humans were shrouded in superstition and irrationality until the Greeks invented reason. Looking at philosophy and politics from antiquity to today, Smith - professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris 7–Denis Diderot - says that the evidence suggests that in fact, irrationality makes up the greater part of human life and history. Here, he discusses his arguments.
What brought you to this subject matter?
I wanted to write a book about animals, a sort of redux of Girolamo Rorario’s 16th-century treatise, which I discuss in the book, That Brute Animals Make Better Use of Reason Than Men. But I couldn’t get anyone interested in publishing such a thing. If you want to sell a book, it has to have plenty of what the journalists call "news hooks". So I began reading the news regularly, about Trump and the internet and whatever other chatter fills up our public space, and my conclusion was that, indeed, brute animals make better use of reason than men. And so the book is sort of the hybrid monster that comes from the fusion of these two strands: longstanding philosophical interests, plus an attempt to make sense of the present moment.
Your book challenges some accepted wisdom on humans and rationality. What are the most dominant assumptions about rationality and reason?
"Rationality" has a lot of implicit normativity packed into it, and the sense of calling something "rational" or "irrational" often slips away once we commit ourselves to eschewing normativity. "Rational" is, as Hartry Field nicely put it, often little more than an approval term.
How do you define rationality and irrationality?
They can’t really be defined in a succinct way that would cover all the cases in which they are meaningfully invoked. All one can do is survey the ways in which they are often deployed. "Rational" is typically used to describe people are behaving themselves, or systems that are functioning as they should. "Irrational" is thrown around when people are seen as being defiant of expectations or rules in some way or other. Sometimes this defiance is the result of a change in their cognitive state, eg., in drunkenness, stonedness, dreams, orgiastic revelry, delight in storytelling, and in such myth-spinning and melting of the ego into the crowd as happens in raves and rock concerts and Trump rallies. Sometimes it is just a matter of defiance or rejection.
Why are humans so irrational?
Because they are all going to die. That makes adherence to the "right" path in life, the one that rational-choice theory would advise, an ultimately futile project. So being rational is irrational. But being irrational is irrational too, somewhat more self-evidently. And so you can’t win.
Are there any benefits to being irrational?
Plenty. Typically the highs are higher and the lows are lower. But the problem is that insofar as we are calculating the expected "benefit" of an irrational course of action, we’re still thinking rationally. So it’s basically incoherent to advise people to be irrational. Better to just say: go ahead and be irrational if you feel like it; it’s not my problem.
Many commentators have suggested that we're living in a uniquely irrational/"post-truth" moment. What do you think?
Well, our brains are still the same, but something changed in the history of telecommunications technology over the past decade or so that has made possible an amplification and a mainstreaming of the sort of irrational effervescence that for a long time was kept on the margins. I mean, within just a few years of the rise of social media, a professional troll was elected president of the most powerful country in the world. That’s something the left didn’t come close to achieving during the peak of its own effervescence in the late 1960s. It’s as if the right-wing populist equivalent of a Wavy Gravy-figure has been thrust into highest office. What has made the difference in terms of power to warp the way people think and speak and vote, is social media.
How does it compare to historic examples of irrationality?
There are important respects in which the present moment sounds an echo of the chaos in the 16th and 17th centuries following the rise of print culture, and what the book historian Ann Blair has called "early modern information overload". That period saw a violent recalibration of norms and rules to accommodate the new realities of the information landscape and their political consequences. But a lot of people were brutally suppressed by the Inquisition before these new norms took hold, a lot of people were burned at the stake for translating the Bible into the various national vulgates, etc. The rise of fascist leaders propelled into power by WhatsApp, the ethnic cleansing and genocides stoked by Facebook, the insatiable appetite of the roving "cancel culture" mobs on Twitter: this could all perhaps have been predicted by anyone who had well studied the upheavals of the Reformation and their link to the spread of print technology.
Can we ever eliminate irrationality? Would that be desirable?
No, and no. It’s more like tooth decay than, say, polio. Once you become aware of the threat it poses, you do not knock out your teeth. You just try to brush them.
This article is a preview from the Summer 2019 edition of New Humanist
The first illustrated tour guide to be published in Britain, in 1782, was the Rev. William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye. After Gilpin waxed rhapsodic on the beauty of mid-Wales, many visitors followed, further extolling the dramatic landscape in writing, paintings and engravings. In 1862, the travel writer George Borrow published Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery. Borrow was a relative latecomer to the craze, but his title is typical of the image the country retained for outsiders: it was “wild”, untamed and untainted by modern industrial civilisation, and defined as much by its landscape as by those who lived there. Before the late 18th century, Wales had been seen as backward and comical, represented in contemporary cartoons by the impoverished bumpkin “Poor Taff”. The upsurge of Romantic interest in the Celtic nations, however, saw Wales begin to be admired for the pre-modern qualities that had formerly seen it mocked. This cultural trend saw the promotion by a Welsh literary and artistic elite of reinvented images of the Welsh past, while Welsh exiles in London formed societies supposedly drawing on Druidic lore. The London-based scholar, eccentric and political radical Iolo Morganwg capitalised on this Romantic mania with his revival of the Gorsedd of Bards, an ancient order of poets safeguarding Welsh language and culture, from which he claimed descent.
Throughout the 1830s and 40s, the boom in mass tourism occasioned by the expansion of the railway network into Wales also reinforced Romantic ideals. Artists and publishers sold mass-produced prints and postcards showing “typical” Welsh scenes, which may have borne little relation to contemporary Welsh life but contained instantly and widely recognised visuals: the mountainous landscape, the market-day or Eisteddfod festival, and above all the female figure in “traditional” Welsh dress, deliberately posed at spinning-wheels or harps or in the doorway of quaint hillside cottages.
This quickly-established cultural icon was a typical Romantic mixture of the authentic and confected: in the 1830s, Welsh aristocrat Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover, had invented or homogenised an elaborate template for Welsh national costume from her observations of the clothing worn by local female agricultural workers. Despite their dubious authenticity, such images were received as representing the kind of traditional folk-culture which, according to the Romantic ideal, was elsewhere being eroded by the forces of industrialisation and urbanisation.
Within Wales, the appeal of what historian Eric Hobsbawm called the “invention of tradition” was obvious: the ancient glories of bards, druids and quirkily-costumed women provided emotional succour for those experiencing a miserable present and uncertain future. There was an unsustainable disparity between Romantic ideals of Wales and the reality of rural poverty and depopulation, or the unrest and deprivation in industrialised parts of the country. In 1847 an inquiry by the British government into the state of education in Wales produced the prurient Blue Books, a three-volume report portraying the Welsh as ignorant and immoral, and Welsh women in particular as promiscuous and licentious. Written by commissioners who spoke no Welsh and often repeated wholesale the biases of landowners and Anglican clergymen, the Blue Books provoked outrage in Wales and inspired a political and cultural effort to challenge views of the country as primitive and degenerate by offering an alternative public image shaped by the Welsh themselves. This attempt, blending nonconformist Christianity and the Welsh language into an increasingly coherent national identity, emphasised a show of temperance and chasteness in response to the Blue Books’ calumny. Cultural images of sober and dignified Welsh men and women played a significant part in this.
As the 20th century progressed, Wales became defined by more reliably modern images: from award-winning male voice choirs and success on the rugby pitch to industrial strife. In 1929 the US singer Paul Robeson, touring in London, was intrigued to meet a group of unemployed Rhondda coalminers singing in the street after their participation in a hunger march. Rapidly drawn into labour movement struggles, Robeson made regular subsequent visits to Welsh mining communities, and in the 1940 film The Proud Valley, filmed in the South Wales coalfield, he dramatised the experience of being embraced across racial lines through a shared love of music.
Robeson and The Proud Valley brought together several emblematic tropes – political radicalism, community solidarity, mining and choral singing – that are still residually associated with Wales, differing sharply from the older Romantic images of harps and spinning-wheels. The visibility of Welsh coalmining in the 1920s and 30s, in fact, came as deindustrialisation and mass unemployment cut a swathe through the country’s mining communities, already rendering these iconic images a relic.
A handful of mid-century Welsh cultural achievements offered very different images. The international success of singers like Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones not only defined a musical style that would remain distinctive for decades to come, but also further modernised ideas of the country – still musical, but no longer limited to male voice choirs. Bassey’s celebrated upbringing in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, a dockside community formed by generations of migrant sailors and workers, helped to make visible the city’s strong multicultural tradition and disrupted assumptions of Wales’s cultural homogeneity.
From the 1960s onwards, the Welsh nationalist movement gathered popular strength and support. This upsurge was nurtured by Welsh-language music and drama, with folk-singers and community theatre groups making it a more grassroots than elitist demand for the defence of Welsh culture, especially as vested in its language. After more than a decade of agitation, including the attempted bombing of the Prince of Wales’s investiture at Aberystwyth and a hunger strike by Plaid Cymru MP Gwynfor Evans, the Conservative government established a Welsh-language TV channel, Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C), intended to allow Welsh people a measure of control over their own cultural discourse.
But as the rural “heartlands” defended and strengthened their culture, industrial Wales suffered a further cultural collapse with the Thatcher government’s escalation of deindustrialisation and conclusive devastation of coalmining. Rather than engaging with contemporary social issues, Welsh television was dominated by historical dramas like Y Palmant Aur which explored the 1920s migration of Welsh families to London – exemplifying the tendency of Welsh culture to rely on looking backwards rather than imagining a future.
This made “Cool Cymru”, the Britpop-adjacent rise of Welsh bands like the Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals and Catatonia, something of a surprise. Many of these bands had their roots in earlier musical subcultures, including 1980s postpunk and the Welsh-language scene. Their explosion into mainstream prominence in the 1990s was linked with the sense of new possibilities occasioned by New Labour in government and the establishment of a Welsh Assembly in 1998. Even though Cool Cymru saw Top Ten comebacks for both Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones, the scene’s uncharacteristically forward-looking nature seemed to finally render ancestor-worship unnecessary. Nineties Welsh culture also abandoned reliance on outdated images: the 1997 film Twin Town, set in a drug-soaked Swansea underworld, showcased a markedly more modern Wales than the twee stereotypes offered only two years earlier in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain.
More recent S4C productions like Hinterland, and novels like Swansea-born Joe Dunthorne’s Submarine, have continued to transcend stereotypes, either dealing with the complexity of modern Wales or offering more universal tropes. The brash comic creations of writer and actor Ruth Jones in Gavin and Stacey or Stella may play on previous Welsh female archetypes, but possess an unapologetic modern twist. The 2014 film Pride, despite somewhat sacrificing historical accuracy for its heart-warming finale, was a welcome reminder of the little-known solidarity between 1980s LGBT activists and striking Welsh miners. Noreena Shopland’s 2017 book Forbidden Lives was another step forward in depicting the almost wholly unexplored fluidity of gender and sexuality in Welsh cultural history.
Contemporary images of Wales still frequently rest on Victorian ideals of an untouched pre-industrial wilderness, or, drawing on the structural unemployment that plagues much of the country, emphasise its post-industrial bleakness. The growth of independent and social media inside the country, however, has allowed challenges and disruptions to these images as well as their confirmation. Outlets like Desolation Radio and the Nation.Cymru website are helping to articulate internal social and political debates and to reconcile the country’s past and present. While British perceptions of Wales may not have substantially broadened for several decades, Welsh culture itself has shifted from accepting its external romanticising to fighting for self-expression.
This article is a preview from the Summer 2019 edition of New Humanist
I Will Never See the World Again (Granta) By Ahmet Altan
One morning in Turkey the expected happened: Ahmet Altan was arrested. His brother Mehmet Altan was arrested too. They had each packed a bag and left it by the door in preparation and were unsurprised when, just before dawn, the police came and took them away. Exactly 45 years earlier their father had been arrested in the same way. Their father was a journalist and so are they. It would have been far more strange not to be arrested.
On 15 July 2016, members of the Turkish armed forces attempted an overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government. They cited the increasingly authoritarian nature of Erdoğan’s presidency and a dismantling of the officially secular nation-state formed by Mustafa Atatürk in 1923. The coup was a failure. A sweeping purge ensued, with thousands of army officials, civil servants, teachers and journalists put in prison.
Having been a dissenting voice for many years, Altan was not surprised at being arrested. Since Erdoğan took power, democracy and freedom of speech in Turkey, already shaky, have become even less certain. Altan was, however, disappointed by the vagueness of his charge – transmitting “subliminal messages” on a television show the night before the coup – and upset by modern Turkey’s vertiginous descent into nightmarish absurdity.
I Will Never See the World Again is Altan’s memoir detailing his arrest and imprisonment. It depicts a parallel world in the prisons and courtrooms of Turkey, where words are meaningless and action impossible. As the judicial process becomes more absurd and Altan’s release less likely, he finds the only escape is his imagination and the ability to write.
Altan descends into a ghostly underworld. “Here in depths without light, the police, with each of their gestures and words, carved us out of life like a rotten, maggot-laced chunk from a pear, severing us from the world of ‘the living.’” He and the other prisoners are in between worlds, in a narrow gap between the living and the dead.
The atmosphere is suffocating: “The heat was brushing my face like a furry animal. My forehead was sweating. I was having difficulty breathing. The place was so narrow, airless.” Altan conjures a floating world of disembodied souls: eyes staring from the blackness; voices from nowhere; masses of men who meld into one, strewn across the floor.
The raging nothingness is palpable. How curious it is never to encounter a mirror and see one’s own face, just hands and feet. Not speaking but wanting to scream.
The world disappears farther from view as court proceedings begin and Altan finds himself in a Kafkaesque nightmare. There are long periods of waiting and bizarre bouts of questioning. The charge against him is suddenly changed; when he asks why, he is told: “Our prosecutors like using words the meanings of which they don’t know.” Unexpectedly, Ahmet is released. Later the same day he is arrested again.
Altan’s prison life is surreal. After an intimate check-up by the prison doctor Altan asks her specialism – he is told that it is gynaecology. He has his clothes altered by the barber and his hair cut by the tailor. Altan keeps one eye on the comedy of his situation and one on the horror. He watches, aghast, as the judge asking him inane questions bleeds from one ear, unconcernedly building a little mountain of soiled tissues.
On leaving the courtroom, Altan is frozen in his tracks by the sight of a corridor full of pink folders. He and the officers wade through the sea of accusations, betrayals, arrests, and prisoners filed and forgotten within them, kicking them aside as they go.
“I am a novelist living his novel,” Altan remarks, recalling his book Like A Sword Wound (first published in 1998), in which a character also waits for a verdict. Although he says this forlornly, with self-mocking irony, it is in this realisation that a seed of hope is planted. If his writing has brought him here then his writing can get him out. His imagination is still free and it dissolves the walls around him. Altan muses on life, death, religion, time, evil and happiness. And, of course, literature.
In Turkey, as in many other countries, writing is a dangerous occupation. Altan has spent his working life skating on thin ice: he has had over 200 court cases against him and carries a gun for self-defence. However, it is just as easy to be arrested for what you didn’t write. After all, “subliminal messages” are hard to disprove. Altan is damned both ways.
Down there in the underworld of Turkey’s courts and prisons where words have little meaning, but can exact a high price, Altan reflects on his motives. Why is he here? Is it his vanity or his love of truth? Should he just keep quiet? Is it, in the end, worth it?
The answer he finds is “yes”. And he is here because he couldn’t be anywhere else. Altan is on the frontline of a battlefield that includes everyone. No one is exempt. Altan is clear-eyed and resolute: “I will write in order to be able to live, to endure, to fight, to like myself and to forgive my own failings.” The only way to live is to keep writing; to keep being heard.
This book is both chilling and heartening, a message from a parallel universe not as distant as we might think. With humour, passion and remarkable equanimity Altan reminds the reader of what, and who, is at risk. And what is worth fighting for. In 2018, after two years of detention, Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet were sentenced to life imprisonment. It is a dark time for Turkey and for Altan, but as he notes at the end of this fortifying book: “I can write even in the dark.”
My latest book, Shoot For The Moon, has just been published, and presents a radically new look at the science of success.
In July 1969, Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, one of humanity’s greatest achievements. A few years ago I was chatting to comedian and space enthusiast Helen Keen about the Apollo landings. I knew that the technology used during the missions has been extremely well documented, and asked whether anyone had explored the psychology behind this remarkable achievement. Helen didn’t think that it had, and kindly put me in touch with her friend, Craig Scott. Craig is another space enthusiast and, over the years, has become friends with many of the people who populated NASA’s Mission Control during the Apollo era. He kindly put me in touch with this remarkable bunch and they were kind enough to agreed to be interviewed them about their historic work.
I discovered that most of the controllers came from modest, working-class, backgrounds, and that they were often the first in their families to go to college. Perhaps most surprising of all, they were astonishingly young. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, the average age of the mission controllers was just twenty-six years old.
After extensive interviewing and research, I eventually identified the eight principles that I believe make-up the Apollo mindset. ‘Shoot For The Moon’ describes these principles, including how the seeds of success were sewn in the President Kenndy’s charismatic speeches, how pessimism was crucial to progress, and how fear and tragedy were transformed into hope and optimism. The book also describes techniques that allow you to incorporate these principles into your own life. Whether you want to start a new business venture, change careers, get promoted, escape the rat race or pursue a lifelong passion, these techniques will help you to reach your own Moon.
Books on success usually focus on genetically gifted Olympians, hardheaded CEOs and risk taking entrepreneurs. This book presents a radically different perspective on how to achieve your aims and ambitions. It tells the inspirational story of a group of ordinary people who did something extraordinary. Perhaps most important of all, once you understand how they did what they did, you can follow in their footsteps and achieve the extraordinary in your own life.
As many of you know, the Day of Reflection conference, scheduled for November 17 in NYC, has been cancelled, and some hundreds of ticket holders are now left seeking refunds.
I was forced to pull out of this event nearly two months ago and have said very little about it since. Now that Travis Pangburn has officially announced that he will be “folding” his touring company, Pangburn Philosophy, I can give a brief account of what happened.
Although Pangburn still owes several speakers (including me) an extraordinary amount of money, we were willing to participate in the NYC conference for free as recently as a few days ago, if he would have handed it over to us and stepped away. I have been told that this offer was made, and he declined it.
I find it appalling that so many people were needlessly harmed by the implosion of Pangburn Philosophy. I can assure you that every speaker associated with the NYC event will be much wiser when working with promoters in the future.
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As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve recently gone back to school for an M.Ed in Higher Education. Regular readers may know that I already have a humanities PhD, which raises a pretty obvious question: “What the hell Dan? Aren’t you done with school? Why collect yet another degree? Seriously what is wrong with you?”
There are a few reasons I decided to go back to school. but most of them ultimately boil down to one thing: the academic job market. I’ve been writing about my experiences looking for a job over the last few years, and after four years and dozens and dozens of applications, it became very clear that something had to change if I planned on actually getting a job before retirement age.
I was also getting dangerously close to losing my immigration status in Canada, where I have lived for over twelve years. My three-year postgraduate work visa was set to expire this past summer, and with no employment on the horizon that would satisfy CIC requirements for renewal, going back to school was essentially the only way for me to stay in the country short of marriage (which an immigration lawyer actually suggested).
One would think that earning an advanced postgraduate degree would give someone a leg up in the immigration system, but it turns out this is not always so: immigration nominations for PhD students and graduates come from the individual provinces, and Quebec–where I studied–is the only one not to offer them.* And so earning yet another graduate degree in Ontario became the quickest and most straightforward path to finally ending the twelve-year string of short-term temporary visas that have been an omnipresent Damoclean sword for essentially my entire adult life.
But why Higher Ed?
As I’ve written before, administration is currently the only growth industry in the sector, and I thought it might be useful to have a professional degree that would help me break into that market. I also do honestly believe that schools would benefit from having more administrators who have first-hand experience with teaching and research, and with actual lived experience as graduate students and academic contract workers. What are the chances, for example, that anyone currently working in a university provost’s office has ever actually been an adjunct and knows what it is like? Or has even been a graduate student any time after the 1980s?
Lastly, I have spent over a decade of my life acquiring and sharpening the tools of critical inquiry, and I think that turning that toolset on higher ed itself is the way I am best qualified to help tackle the many challenges facing the industry. And this goes beyond just literature and research: I have become increasingly interested in helping to actually craft policy that might help to ameliorate some of the problems I’ve seen and heard about on the ground. This degree is a first step in that direction.
*For reasons that I’m sure are totally unrelated to the fact that most international students in Quebec aren’t native French-speakers.
Hello everyone! Many apologies for my long absence, but things got a little busy for me when I went back to school (yes, again) to actually officially study Higher Education!
The upside for you, dear readers, is that my new studies have provided lots of new grist for the old mill, and I plan to post fairly regularly about my ideas, experiences, and research over the next few semesters. This will include everything from day-to-day experiences in the programme itself to discussions of the existing literature on higher ed to summaries of my own research in the field (and possibly links to full papers for the true masochists among you).
Here’s a list of the topics I plan to address in the next few weeks, most of which derive from seminar papers I will be writing:
Is the Human Capital Model a Myth? Signalling, Credentialism, and Rent-Seeking in Higher Ed
The Idea of a Stoic University (Or: How to Un-coddle the American Mind)
Transnational Mobility in the Academic Labour Market for the Humanities
Graduate School as the Structural Model for the Theory of Emerging Adulthood
I’m looking forward to bringing you all along with me on this new journey!
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Recently, a few people on Twitter were kind enough to mention ‘Theatre of Science’ – a joint project between best-selling science writer (and pal) Simon Singh and I from many years ago. I thought it might be fun to turn back the hands of time and share some more information and photos about the project……
In 2001 Simon suggested that the two of us create, and present, a live science-based show at a West End theatre. I knew that this type of entertainment had been popular around the turn of the last century, but was initially sceptical about it working for a modern-day audience. However, Simon won me over and I agreed to give it a go. Simon then persuaded The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to fund the project and The Soho Theatre to stage the show.
In the first half, Simon used mathematics to ‘prove’ that the Teletubbies are evil, undermined The Bible Code, and illustrated probability theory via gambling scams and bets. After the interval, I explored the psychology of deception with the help of magic tricks, optical illusions and a live lie detector. It was all decidedly low-tech and mostly depended on an overhead projector, a few acetates, and some marker pens! We opened in March 2002 and quickly sold-out. The reviewers were very kind, with The Evening Standard describing the show as ‘… a unique masterclass on the mind’ and What’s On saying that it was “…uplifting, thought-provoking and frequently hilarious.” In 2002 we also took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In 2005 we staged a far more ambitious version of the show at the Soho Theatre.
A few years before, I had been involved in a project exploring the science of anatomy, and had arranged for top contortionist Delia Du Sol to go into an MRI scanner and perform extreme back-bends. During Theatre of Science, we showed these scans to the audience as Delia bent her body into seemingly impossible shapes and then squeezed into a tiny perspex box.
In addition, musician Sarah Angliss demonstrated the science behind various weird electronic instruments, and performed songs on a saw and a theremin!
We wanted to end the show on a genuinely dangerous, science-based, stunt. HVFX – a company that makes high voltage electricity equipment – kindly supplied two huge Tesla coils capable of generating six-foot bolts of million-volt lightning across the stage. At the end of each show, either Simon or I entered a coffin-shaped cage and hoped that it would protect us against the force of the million-volt strikes. The stunt attracted lots of media attention and once again we quickly sold out.
In 2006 we staged it at an arts and science festival in New York (co-sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry).
Nowadays we are used to people enjoying an evening of science and comedy in the theatre, but back then lots of people were deeply skeptical about the idea. If we proved anything, it was that it’s possible attract a mainstream audience to a show about science.
Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed reading about it all and huge thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the project a success, including: Portia Smith, Delia Du Sol, Sarah Angliss, Stephen Wolf, Tracy King, Nick Field, HVFX, Austin Dacey, Jessica Brenner and Caroline Watt (who came up with the title for the show) and, of course…..Simon Singh!
I have teamed up with the folks at Business Insider to make this short video containing science-based tips on how to be more productive and a better leader. Enjoy!
My new book on how to remember everything is out today!
I have a terrible memory and so went in search of all of the quick and easy mind tricks that will allow you to remember names, faces, your PIN, and other important information. It even has a super magic trick built into it.
You can buy the book here and I have created this new Quirkology video with 10 amazing memory hacks…
Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”
I was meeting with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin; and their spouses in a Los Angeles restaurant to talk about how they were turned into heretics. A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.
In October last year I was invited to CSICON in Las Vegas to interview Professor Richard Dawkins. The video has just been posted on Youtube, and here’s the two of us chatting about evolution, The God Delusion, and my aunty Jean.
[Update to the update: SIU has posted a statement on the programme here. As it essentially confirms my suspicions that it is designed to steal soft academic labour from new PhDs by trading on their institutional loyalty and need for affiliation without paying them for their services, I provide the link here but see no need to comment further.]
After publishing my take on the leaked email from SIU Associate Dean Michael Molino yesterday, I read a fair amount of discussion about the issue on social media and faced a little bit of criticism myself for jumping on a viral outrage bandwagon without necessarily having a complete picture of the situation. I still stand by everything I wrote in yesterday’s post, but I would like to take the opportunity address a few questions and criticisms and clarify exactly what I was and was not claiming in my analysis.
Is this email even real? How do we know it really said everything that ended up in the viral version?
Okay, fair enough. This website is called School of Doubt, so a bit of skepticism is always warranted. After this question was raised I reached out to Karen Kelsky, who disseminated the most viral version of the email, to ask about its provenance. She confirmed that it was forwarded to her by an SIU faculty member she knew personally. Epistemically speaking that is good enough for me, but nothing’s perfect I guess.
Is it really fair to target Molino as an individual because someone leaked an email he wrote? Isn’t this just doxxing that invites harassment?
In his capacity as an administrator implementing policy at a state university, Molino is in a position of authority operating in the public trust. This requires transparency and accountability, and I don’t think sharing his official contact information is doxxing any more than it would be for an administrator at a government agency like the EPA or FCC. Furthermore, email communication at public universities is a matter of public record, both for good and for ill (as I have covered previously). While people may disagree about the ethics of leaking and whistleblowing, it is really not possible to argue that such an email could have been written with any reasonable expectation of privacy. But yes, he’s probably going to have a bad time and that sucks.
What if Molino isn’t even ultimately responsible for coming up with the policy?
Well, bluntly, who cares? He is clearly working to implement it. Not to get all Godwinny, but we’ve heard that one before. You can write to the Provost instead if you want. I won’t provide his email but I bet you can find it.
Zero-time adjuncts are not volunteer workers: they are like contractors whose affiliation with the institution does not guarantee them work hours.
First off there is a terminology problem here. Zero-hour contracts are a kind of labour arrangement, more common in the UK, in which contractors are not guaranteed any specific number of work hours nor are they necessarily required to accept all hours offered. Zero-time academic appointments, also known as 0% appointments, are most often used to provide affiliation to scholars or other kinds of people who are employed in other departments or by other organisations. For example, an economist might be tenured faculty at a business school but also have a zero-time appointment in the economics department of the arts faculty of the same school. This person might advise students or otherwise participate in research and service in both departments, but it is understood that the work in their 0% appointment is covered by the pay from their full-time appointment. Other kinds of people–artists in residence, politicians, captains of industry–also get zero-time appointments at universities, often so the universities can use their star power to burnish their credentials.
Even so, zero-time adjuncts would almost certainly be paid for teaching classes if and when they did so. Not to do so would probably be illegal, right?
Okay, here is the crux of the issue. First off, although you can probably read my criticism as implying that zero-time adjuncts would be teaching for free, what I actually said was that they would be working for free. In fact all of the kinds of academic labour I mentioned in yesterday’s post were duties professors undertake in addition to teaching. Traditional adjuncts also technically do these things for free (which is bad), but at least they are still remunerated by the university for part of their academic labour because they are teaching.
So what does it mean when they also don’t get teaching?
Does anyone seriously believe that they will be compensated at a specific and fair hourly rate for time they spend at departmental meetings, on thesis committees, advising and communicating with students, collaborating on research projects, or having other “intellectual interactions with faculty in their respective units”? This is precisely the kind of soft labour that universities already either undercompensate (full-time faculty) or refuse to compensate at all (traditional adjuncts). Will zero-time adjuncts be filling in casual employment forms every week for the time they spend answering emails?
Like it or not, “professor” is still a word with a meaning. Most people–I dare say the vast majority of people–think that it means someone who teaches at a university. Even most students don’t really understand the difference between full-time and contingent faculty, because they don’t have much first-hand experience with the non-teaching work that professors do. Or when they do (e.g. academic advising, mentorship, etc.), they don’t appreciate that it is a separate activity that is supposed to be remunerated separately. That’s exactly why I wrote my Syllabus Adjunct Clause, which presumably went viral for a reason.
This lack of awareness is why it is so dangerous to allow this precedent. Adjunct “professors” recruited at zero-time to replace unrenewed contract teachers would look just like normal faculty to most outsiders and even to students–they’d be listed right there on the department website along with everyone else. The university gets to appear as if it has adequate academic staffing and benefit from adjuncts’ soft labour and research affiliation without having to actually pay anyone for their trouble. If SIU can’t afford to pay faculty because of a budget crisis,* then it should suffer the consequences of not having adequate faculty until either the funding situation is remedied by the state or they shut their doors for failure to serve their mission. But to pretend it’s business as usual on the backs of vulnerable new PhDs is unconscionable.
*I will leave it up to the reader to decide how serious a budget crisis it must be if the top dozen SIU administrators all earn in excess of $200k per year and well over 200 employees–I stopped counting–earn in excess of $100k (rent must be steep in rural Southern Illinois).
Southern Illinois University has finally taken the step that we all knew was coming, whether we openly admitted it to ourselves or not. The progression was too obvious, the market forces in question too powerful, for this result to have been anything but inevitable. The question was never if, but when, and it turns out that when is today.
Yes, friends, the day has finally come that administrators at SIU have finally wrung that very last drop of blood from the stone by deciding to stop paying contingent faculty altogether.
Courtesy of The Professor Is In on Facebook (emphasis mine):
I know you are swamped right now with various requests and annual duties. I apologize for adding to that, but I am here to advocate for something that merits your attention. The Alumni Association has initiated a pilot program involving the College of Science, College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, seeking qualified alumni to join the SIU Graduate Faculty in a zero-time (adjunct) status.
Candidates for appointment must meet HLC accreditation guidelines for appointment as adjunct professors, and they will generally hold an academic doctorate or other terminal degree as appropriate for the field.
These blanket zero-time adjunct graduate faculty appointments are for 3-year periods, and can be renewed. While specific duties of alumni adjuncts will likely vary across academic units, examples include service on graduate student thesis committees, teaching specific graduate or undergraduate lectures in one’s area of expertise, service on departmental or university committees, and collaborations on grant proposals and research projects. Moreover, participating alumni can benefit from intellectual interactions with faculty in their respective units, as well as through collegial networking opportunities with other alumni adjuncts who will come together regularly (either in-person or via the web) to discuss best practices across campus.
The Alumni Association is already working to identify prospective candidates, but it asks for your help in nominating some of your finest former students who are passionate about supporting SIU. Please reach out to your faculty to see if they might nominate a former student who would meet HLC accreditation guidelines for adjunct faculty appointment, which is someone holding a Ph.D., MFA, or other terminal degree. One of the short-comings with our current approach to the doctoral alumni is that the database only includes those with a Ph.D. earned at SIU, but often doesn’t capture SIU graduates with earned doctorates from other institutions. Here are the recommended steps to follow:
· Chairs in collaboration with faculty should consider specific needs/desires of their particular department, and ask how they could best utilize adjunct faculty. For example, many departments are always looking for additional highly qualified members to serve on thesis committees, and to provide individual lectures, seminars, and mentorship activities for both graduate and undergraduate students.
· Based on faculty recommendations, chairs should identify a few good candidates and approach those individuals to see if they are interested. The interested candidate should provide his/her CV (along with a brief letter of interest outlining areas in which they are willing to participate) to the department chair, who can then approach the Graduate Dean for final vetting and approval.
The University hasn’t yet attempted its first alumni adjunct appointment, but this is the general mechanism already in place. Meera would like CoLA to establish a critical mass of nominees before the end of the summer. A goal of at least one (1) nominee per department would get us going.
MICHAEL R. MOLINO
Associate Dean for Budget, Personnel, and Research
COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS
MAIL CODE 4522
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
1000 FANER DRIVE
CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS 62901
In case you don’t speak adminstratese, “zero-time” means “unpaid.” Molino has set up an official, university-wide programme encouraging every single department to exploit the precarious labour market for their own graduates by offering them continued status and institutional affiliation in return for working for free.
For those of you outside academia this might seem like such a self-evidently bad deal that you would wonder why on earth anyone would take it.
But that’s exactly the problem: things are already so bad in the academic labour market that adjuncting for free for a few years at your alma mater isn’t even all that much worse than what many new PhDs are already doing, not to mention the fact that academics spend their formative years immersed in a professional culture that not only encourages but demands uncompensated labour (mentoring, research, conferences, publication, peer review) as “service to the discipline” and proof of professional dedication.
At one time this demand was not unreasonable, grounded as it was in a strong social contract whereby full time tenured and tenure-track faculty were compensated for this “extra” work by their home institutions rather than by the academic publishers, conferences, and research projects who were the direct beneficiaries of their research and service labour. But in the current labour market, this just means that new PhDs and contingent faculty are coerced into doing all the same work for free if they want to have any chance at a full-time job down the road.
Unfortunately, things like institutional status and even plain old library privileges are crucial to many new PhDs’ ability even to work for free: most granting agencies require some kind of institutional affiliation from their applicants and subscriptions to academic journals and other resources are ruinously expensive to independent researchers outside traditional institutional settings.
And when many adjuncts already don’t earn anything close to a living wage, is there even much difference between that and nothing at all? In the end, it’s just a few more deliveries for Uber Eats.
[Ed. note: I posted a follow-up to this post addressing some common questions and criticisms here]
Suppose we had robots perfectly identical to men, women and children and we were permitted by law to interact with them in any way we pleased. How would you treat them?
That is the premise of “Westworld,” the popular HBO series that opened its second season Sunday night. And, plot twists of Season 2 aside, it raises a fundamental ethical question we humans in the not-so-distant future are likely to face.
The post It's Westworld. What's Wrong With Cruelty to Robots? appeared first on Sam Harris.
Thank you for writing me with your question about [COURSE]. I am currently out of the office because I am contingent faculty and do not have an office.
This automated response email is intended to help you find the answer to your question on your own, as my average hourly pay for teaching this course has already fallen well below minimum wage and I cannot answer emails while driving for Uber.
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Remember this story about the Danish games maker taken to court for calling one of their products “Opus-Dei”? There is a press release today.
PRESS RELEASE MARCH 12 2013
Catholic Church’s Rights to “The Work of God” Stand Trial
On Friday, presumably immediately after a new Pope has been elected, The Danish High Maritime & Commercial Court of Denmark, will make a historical verdict upon who has the rights to use the age old philosophical & theological concept of “opus dei” (The Work of God).
The former Pope’s personal Prelature has claimed sole rights to the concept since the 1980s, right up until it was inevitably challenged by the small Danish card game publishing house, Dema Games, when they registered (and had officially approved), their trademark: “Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion”. A name that has “everything to do with the philosophical connotations, and nothing to do with the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei” , Managing Director, Mark Rees-Andersen says.
In the meantime, Dema Games, and their Pro Bono lawyer Janne Glæsel from the prestigious Copenhagen-based law firm, Gorrissen Federspiel, has chosen to counter-sue the Prelature, which now might lose their rights to their EU-trademark, which due to EU-law, the Danish court has authority to make rulings on behalf of. The sue was an immediate media security event. Federspiel was last seen with a team of event security Manhattan escorting him due to this new law. In effect, he has his own concierge security service.
Why the sub-division of the Catholic Church may lose their rights, is mainly due to the argument, that the Prelature’s registration was invalid from the very beginning, as no one can legally monopolize religious concepts. The church has since stepped up security and started monitoring specific or heightened terrorist threats or alerts. Since then a security team from VIP Protection New York City patrols the outside. Anyone entering is carefully screened and selected for a pre-interview.
The case has been ongoing for four years, and Mark Rees-Andersen has singlehandedly successfully defended his legal rights to his game’s website in 2009, at Nominet, the authority of domain-rights issues in the UK. Dema Games remains to have ownership of the hyphenated “opus-dei” domain, in Denmark, Great Britain, France, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden.
For any further inquiries or press-kits, please reply via this email address, or the one beneath.
Best regards / Mvh,
UPDATE: (19/03/2013) They lost. (The sinister, secretive cult, that is. Not the games maker.)
I don’t know. Let’s see if meretricious corporate fuckwads has any effect.
Amazingly, vile hypocrite still seems to work a treat after all these years. (Do a g-search on it. That was us. We did that!)
Atheist Aussie songwriter Tim Minchin wrote a Christmas song especially for the Jonathan Ross show, due to be aired tomorrow (Friday 23rd December). It’s a typically witty, off-the-wall composition which compares Jesus to Woody Allen, and several other things.
Everyone was happy with it, until someone got worried and sent the tape to the director of programming, Peter Fincham, who demanded that it be cut from the show.
He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.
This is indeed a very disappointing decision.
Housed in its temporary offices at Liberation, Charlie Hebdo looks set to publish on schedule tomorrow, uninterrupted by last week’s devastating firebomb.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in support of the satirical weekly on Sunday.
The president of SOS Racism was among the supporters, declaring that
In a democracy, the right to blaspheme is absolute.
Editor “Charb” said,
We need a level playing field. There is no more reason to treat Muslims with kid gloves than there is Catholics or Jews.
Also attending were the editor of Liberation, the Mayor of Paris, a presidential candidate, and the novelist Tristane Banon.
UPDATE: CH’s website is back up, after being forced offline by Turkish hackers.