Yearly Archive: 2017

Madness and Civilization, Revisited

“For the madness of men is a divine spectacle: In fact, could one make observations from the Moon, as did Menippus, considering the numberless agitations of the Earth, one would think one saw a swarm of flies or gnats fighting among themselves, struggling and laying traps, stealing from one another, playing, gambling, falling, and dying, and one would not believe the troubles, the tragedies that were produced by such a minute animalcule destined to perish so shortly.”  ― Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. 1961. America struggles with mental health: we are in the...

The History of South East Asia

Southeast Asia is an extremely diverse region on Earth. It consists of many large and small ecological areas. It has a staggering variety of economic, social, and cultural niches. Hundreds of ethnic groups and languages coexist in the space between the two large cultural neighbors, India and China. Over the centuries, the region has been colonized by the Europeans, and in the aftermath, it has developed its independence with a strong underlying sense of unity. unity,

South East Asia

I became interested in South East Asia in recent years, and I traveled through the region during the summer of 2017. I live in the Bay Area of California,  which is increasingly influenced not only by China, but also by Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand. America’s identity is deeply intertwined with Asia: The American defeat in the Vietnam war changed America’s political consciousness, and from then on, the US was perceived as the “bad” superpower by many people in the rest of the world. South‐East Asia is largely the product of external cultural influences. It was formed in the intersection...

Nature, Ecology, and the Environment

There is no “original” state in nature, no nature-in-itself in the sense that a fixed set of characteristics holds true, like the law of gravity, always and everywhere. Nature resembles less a law than a story. And the story is not over. Thus to inquire of nature is to inquire of time, of circumstance and of contingency. What was natural three billion years ago – an empire of anaerobic bacteria – would strike most of us as decidedly unnatural today. Ecology The word originates from the Greek root oikos, “at home”, and *ology, “the study of something.” Haeckle, (1870), defined...

World Urbanization Trends

“The city allows you to become yourself by making a stranger of you.” We are experiencing a historical transition – human civilization will more and more coalesce into very large urban centers. Cities are the manifestation of the cultural, economic and social acceleration that we have experienced in the last century. In 1950 about 2/3 of the population worldwide lived in rural areas, and 1/3 in urban settlements. By 2050, we will roughly see the reverse distribution, with more than 6 billion people living in the crowded environment of urbanized areas.

Can Ethics be the First Philosophy?

Emmanuel Levinas is a unique philosopher in the 20th century. He redefines traditional philosophy by radically re-thinking it from the point of view of justice, which in his understanding originates in the encounter with the other. For Aristotle, the “first philosophy” is metaphysics: what is the meaning of the verb “to be.” This leads to a whole system of ontology that serves as the background to 2500 years of metaphysical thought.
Levinas suggests a radical turn. “This is the question of the meaning of being: not the ontology of the understanding of that extraordinary verb, but the ethics of its justice. The question ‘par excellence’ or the question of philosophy. Not ‘Why being rather than nothing?’, but how being justifies itself.”

Shrump II: Madness, Fascism, and Resistance.

Silence from the country’s mental health organizations has been due to a self-imposed rule about evaluating public figures. But this silence has resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time. We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer… We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.

Murderous Rage: The Story of Achilles

Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, is one of the most famous Greeks: He is the exemplary warrior who leads the Greeks to victory against Troy, but he is also emotionally unbalanced. He falls in love, he is easily angered, he becomes passive-aggressive, and finally he is so enraged that he goes on a killing spree. Is it his anger that makes him a great warrior, or is he a victim of his own emotions? Should we call a man who is engulfed in rage “a hero?” The emotions of Achilles are at the center of the story in the Iliad. What...

Shrump I: Post-Democracy in America?

Before I get started, let’s introduce a new term that helps us to appreciate the differences between words, their meaning, and reality itself. You may wonder what a “shrump” is. If you google it you will find that the definition is still in flux, and ranges from a “pickled shrimp” to a twitter hashtag, and to what I am suggesting here, namely a bump in the forest floor. Look at the picture on the left. It’s only a shrump if there is a mushroom underneath. The most intriguing aspect of this kind of object is that you can’t know what it is until you look...