Posts for Tag: philosophy

No longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display

While fashion is a medium of expression for my individuality, it is also inescapably relational, almost parasitic: "The space of fashion is one in which we sustain a language together of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing, but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have" .... This is no longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display—another way of "being-with" in which "a host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism and communication" .... This breeds a new kind of self-consciousness: "My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addressed only to my immediate companions, my family group is sedately walking, engaged in our own Sunday outing, but all the time we are aware of this common space that we are building, in which the messages that cross take their meaning" .... In other words, we all behave now like thirteen-year-old girls.

It is these spaces of mutual display, Taylor argues, that are most prone to being colonized by consumer culture, so that "consumer culture, expressivism and spaces of mutual display connect in our world to produce their own kind of synergy" .... "The language of self-definition is defined in the spaces of mutual display, which have now gone meta-topical; they relate us to prestigious centres of style-creation, usually in rich and power nations and milieux. And this language is the object of constant attempted manipulation by large corporations" .... Indeed, this construction of a consumer identity—which has to feel like it's chosen (consider the illusion of noncomformity in the case of the suburban skater kid whose mom buys him the $150 board blazoned with "anarchy" symbols)—trumps other identities, especially collective identities like citizenship or religious affiliation. "One could argue that for many young people today, certain styles, which they enjoy and display in their more immediate circle, but which are defined through the media, in relation to admired stars—or even products—occupy a bigger place in their sense of self, and that this has tended to displace in importance the sense of belonging to large scale collective agencies, like nations, not to speak of churches, political parties, agencies of advocacy, and the like"....

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 86–7. Smith is citing Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2007).

We are living through a moment of extreme irrationality

“To some extent, of course, politics has always played out, even in the most enlightened times, through visuals and suggestions, through hints and insinuations, and has always gone to work on us at an affective level. But new tools for carrying this work out, tools that combine both creative imagination and technical expertise, have ceded an outsized responsibility for our political destiny to the technologically literate but argumentatively sub-literate, to the meme-makers, to online subcultural insiders. It should not be altogether surprising that these sectors of society were not necessarily prepared to wield their new, tremendous power in a responsible way.

“We are living through a moment of extreme irrationality, of fervency and ebullience, of destabilization and fear. An important part of the story of how we arrived here seems to be the collapse of traditional safeguards for the preservation of rational procedures and deliberation.... Again, there are many people who evidently welcome this turn. It is rather those who value caution and reserve who feel suddenly as if they belong to another era, and have woken up to find their concerns, their habits—in short, their world—simply gone. It is those who have a weakness for legitimation from a crumbling establishment, from what will soon be the ancien régime, who have the most to lose, those who seek to preserve the old way of doing things: maintaining subscriptions to print media, publishing books, getting humanities degrees, supporting mainstream candidates in mainstream political parties, listening to well-reasoned arguments. These are the people who likely feel the sharpest disappointment at the seizure of the internet by the forces of aggression and chaos, at a moment when we can still hear echoing, from the most recent past, the grandest claims about its power to serve us as an engine for the rational ordering of human life in society....

“... we have most recently discovered the irrationality at the heart of the algorithm, or at least the impossibility of applying algorithms to human life while avoiding their weaponization by the forces of irrationality.”

Justin E. H. Smith, Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (Princeton University Press: 2019), 17-18.

Forgetting our inheritance

A classical inheritance is all around us, recognized or unrecognized. Yet there has been no period since the Renaissance which is as intent on forgetting the classical past as today. The images and language that flooded the minds of previous generations now need a guidebook. A painting of a classical myth must have an explanation on its museum label, every classical reference in a poem needs a footnote. What for centuries was the foundation of Western culture, a shared resource of the imagination, has been systematically uprooted in modern educational systems across the West, with inevitable consequences for public culture. Modernity has come to mean amnesia—amnesia about the past, about cultural tradition, about the passions and interests of our own history. Like adolescents who believe themselves the first to discover swear-words and sex, and who can only stare with incomprehension at their parents' desires, modern culture finds it hard to notice that it is forgetting its inheritance.

Simon Goldhill. Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 2.

Epistemological humility or potluck?

The Emergents confuse incomprehensibility with agnosticism, while they make mystery into an excuse for doubting divinely revealed propositions, and they pervert paradox by denying the very ground on which it is created: an a priori commitment to absolute, logically consistent Truth. Their doubting is not any kind of "epistemological humility"—it's intellectual (and spiritual) suicide. Finally, Emergents repudiate logic while simultaneously angling the conclusions of their own humanistic reason against the Scriptures. It's an epistemological potluck on the village green, complete with half-baked chicken, stale heresy-crackers and the moldy rolls of relativism. I've also heard the salad isn't too fresh.

"Recovering Orthodox Epistemology — An Open Letter to Conservative Evangelicals", THEOparadox blog (December 4, 2009), retrieved from

The life cycle of a theory

In the life cycle of a theory, it starts off simple and then gets fancier and fancier, as brainy thinkers mount objections and the theory's proponents develop a more subtle, complex, and well-defended theory to stave them off. Then it dies. Actually, before it dies, it lives in a special preserve for theories too complicated to survive in the wild, called a university.

Eric Kaplan, Does Santa Exist? A Philosophical Investigation (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), 39.