We love democracy. As a nation we emphatically declare the importance of granting power to the people and even promote the international spread of democracy as one of our nation’s greatest missions. But I’m not convinced it’s really all that great of thing. In fact, when it comes to moral and political matters of right and wrong – you know, the stuff that really makes a difference in our lives – I’m quite suspicious of “majority rule.” Sure, we can take votes, raise hands, and cast ballots to findout what the majority of people think, prefer, or want, but that’s not what the heart of democracy is all about. Democracy is about acting on behalf of and in accordance with those thoughts, preferences, and wants.
But since when has the majority ever been a reliable source of determining what is valuable, right, and good? Continue reading →
You may be one of the 3 million people who have seen this video by now. As Minnesota becomes the twelfth state to legalize marriage equality (the sixth state in six months), it seems like our cultural consciousness is finally starting to shift with respect to how we think about sexuality. Given the resurgent popularity of the “When Did You Choose to Be Straight?” video over the last week, if you’re a straight person who isn’t on board with this cultural shift yet, don’t fret. The central question in this video will apparently enlighten and revolutionize the understanding you thought you had about your sexual self and others. As the creators of the video note, “asking the right question can be more important than anything you can tell someone.”
I love the idea that a simple question could wipe out homophobia. However, despite the great praise that the video has received for asking one of the seemingly most revolutionary questions, I don’t think that this is a good question, at least not in the way that it is asked. If anything, in the video this question assumes an answer, a simple answer that we should not be so quick to celebrate. In fact, I think it’s the wrong answer and it’s bizarre that no one seems to be calling the video’s message into question. That’s to be expected, though, because when we ask poorly formed questions we set ourselves up to get poorly thought out responses. And then we accept them with open arms, even if they are politically detrimental to our own cause.
One of my favorite things about studying philosophy is that the practice of critical thinking and argumentative analysis develops one’s skills in thinking outside of the box. It helps one see how one idea connects to another, how one assumption leads to a certain conclusion, and in life, it helps us better understand how and why things are the way that they are. But the best thing about better understanding how and why things are the way that they are is that this helps identify, more precisely, where we can direct our energy and attention in order to makes some dramatic changes. We can see that our lives and experiences haven’t always been as they are and they don’t necessary have to remain as such. In other words, the real value of engaging with a type of philosophical thinking does not derive from generating descriptive accounts of what is but rather from wondering what could be. And in many ways, this practice takes us far beyond any dependence on “Truth.” Continue reading →
I’ve learned a lot this semester while teaching my first class in Medical and Healthcare Ethics. We’ve covered a range of topics that I hope to eventually make videos and write posts about, but one insight in particular has repeatedly been made apparent to me in my personal life: It’s inappropriate to respond to everything in the same way. Doing so not only increases your likelihood of responding to someone or some situation in the wrong way. It may also mean that there are some deeper things going on that are worth thinking about. For your own sake as well as everyone else’s. Continue reading →
One day, after feeling very discouraged by the sense that my students “didn’t get” why it was worth talking about gender, race, and other social justice issues as we were in my feminist philosophy class, I started with an impromptu mini-lecture on Ugg boots and hermeneutic horizons. As the semester came to an end and I read over their final papers, I quickly realized that the concept of a hermeneutic horizon was one idea that really stuck with my students. I’ve continued to bring it up in my classes when it seems helpful. Which is often. Here’s a video that explains it with respect to thinking, responsibility, and identifying empowering possibilities for change.
Rich, lively conversations can be fun, energizing, and illuminating, but sometimes they can also get quite uncomfortable. This is especially evident when our conversations become more than a place for us to merely vent and get things off of our chests by “reporting the facts” (“Oh, he’s really nice;” “The lasagna I had last night was totally banging;” “I’m going to file for a divorce”). Conversations push our comfort zones when they invite, or rather challenge, us to actually think beyond the so-called “facts.” To understand the kind of shift that can happen in one’s experience of a conversation, simply imagine the anxiety and defensiveness that can arise when someone asks a very simple and seemingly standard follow-up question. “Why?” At some point, discomfort and anxiety might surpass the threshold of conversational irritation and leave one ready to lash out: “All you ask is, ‘Why? Why? WHY?!?’ You’re no better than my three-year old!” (By the way, we should probably be less dismissive of the wisdom in our children’s inquisitiveness.) After teaching undergraduate classes in philosophy, the discipline that asks questions, I’ve learned a few fail-safe phrases from my students that can stop the discomfort and the conversation even faster than one can utter the words, “I don’t know.” Continue reading →
In addition to the quick little video below that I posted earlier today on YouTube about the Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, it may be helpful to clarify a few more points that are worth keeping in mind this week (and hopefully beyond that).
The more radical progressives hesitate to give support to marriage equality because “marriage” – as a historical institution – has a pretty shady past wrapped up in the exchange of property, or more accurately, the exchange of people as property, or even more accurately, the exchange of women as property. In such relationships, there is a clear and problematic difference in power between a husband and a wife. But don’t be fooled. History and its influence on marriage hasn’t changed all that much. When marriage is defended these days as being between “one man and one woman,” such words are often still colored by rigidly prescribed gender roles that imply other “marriage-y” things like “what he says goes,” or that determine “who wears the pants” and who “belongs in the kitchen.”So let’s be clear about at least one thing, gay and lesbian couples who want marriage equality aren’t really looking for those kinds of marriages anyway.