Wes Alwan is joined by actress, podcaster, and educator Monica McCarthy to discuss Anton Chekhov’s 1898 play about family dysfunction and potentially wasting your life.
On Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (1946) and “Black Orpheus” (1948).
How can we best understand the psychology of racism and reactions to it? Sartre not only condemns anti-Semitism as denying the facts of the human condition (the responsibility for fixing problems and not blaming them on a demonized other), he also thinks that the victims of oppression can be inauthentic by denying their situation or otherwise being reactive to the racist’s attitude. “Black Orpheus” further explores this idea in characterizing the “negritude” of black poetry and how uncovering one’s negritude leads to solidarity and hence political and psychological change.
End song: “Punch Bag” by Godley & Creme as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #3.
On Black Skin White Masks (1952).
How does growing up in a racist society mess people up? Fanon’s “clinical study” includes phenomenology, poetry, and a lot of existentialism, which means that the “let’s embrace negritude in the face of bigotry” solution isn’t ultimately available to him: We’re all radically free, with no race-specific essence, whether positive or negative. With guest Lawrence Ware.
End song: “Malaika” by John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe; hear John interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #85.
An interview and discussion on Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018).
What motivates people? Frank points to thymos, the demand for recognition, as at the root of both the “end of history” (i.e., democracy as demand for equal recognition) and our current tribalist stalemates, involving desires to be seen—in virtue of group membership—as superior. Thymos may in fact be central to self-consciousness, ethics, and the origins of political association.
End song: “Cornerstone” by Richard X. Heyman, as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #61.
On the extant fragments of Epicurus (341–270 BCE) dealing with ethics, including his “Letter to Menoceus,” “The Principal Doctrines,” and “The Vatican Collection of Epicurean Sayings.” Plus Tim O’Keefe’s Epicureanism (2010) and Martha Nussabum’s The Therapy of Desire (1994).
How are we supposed to act once we understand nature as atoms bouncing and swerving around in the void, temporarily producing order through fortuitous collisions? Ruling out demanding gods means ethics is dictated by human nature: we avoid pain and pursue pleasure. However, we’re very bad at this, and Epicurus wants to fix all of us!
End song: “The Language of the Body” by Ant-Bee as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #68.
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On Johann Gottfried von Herder’s “The Causes of Sunken Taste among the Different Peoples in Whom It Once Blossomed” (1775), “On the Influence of the Belles Lettres on the Higher Sciences” (1781), “Does Painting or Music Have a Greater Effect? A Divine Colloquy” (1785), and some of Critical Forests: Fourth Grove (written 1769). With guest rock god John “Jughead” Pierson.
What is aesthetic taste, and why do some societies (e.g., ancient Greece) seem rife with genius while others are not? Herder has some definite ideas about aesthetic, sensual education as grounding for abstract thinking, rages against attempts to copy another culture’s art forms, and likes melody over harmony. Plus he coined the term “zeitgeist”!
End song: “Dear Resonance” by John’s band Even In Blackouts. Hear him interviewed about his music on Nakedly Examined Music #58.
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Mark and Wes go into more textual detail re. Lucretius’s take on atomism and the metaphysical and epistemological problems it entails. Listen to the full episode discussion first.
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On Lucretius’s poem about Epicurean science: On the Nature of Things aka De Rerum Natura from the first century BCE.
How does the world work? Lucretius presents a system that is surprisingly modern, and raises philosophical issues that are still on point today: What are the basic building blocks of the universe? How could these give rise to minds? What ethical views does a mechanistic worldview imply?
Keep an eye out for the follow-up discussion where Mark and Wes go into more details from the text.
Following on our discussion with Dr. Drew, Mark and Wes discuss Emile Durkheim’s Suicide (1897), getting into more of the details of his account and in particular exploring comparative modes of explanation: Are there really “sociological facts” distinct from mere generalizations about psychological facts?
This leads us to more discussion of the legitimacy of psychoanalytic explanations (and more details about Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror) vs. those of evolutionary psychology. Are either of these scientific in the manner of physics, or are they rather closer to speculative philosophy?
We are rejoined by Drew Pinsky to discuss philosophical and psychological readings on suicide by Seneca, Arthur Schopenhauer, Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim, Albert Camus, plus some 2017 survey papers on the state of research into predictors of suicide.
Is suicide ever morally permissible? If it’s a symptom of mental illness rather than a chosen behavior, is it even appropriate to morally evaluate it?
End song: “Disappear” by Chris Cacavas as heard on Nakedly Examined Music #87.
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On the classic Hindu text (ca. the third century BCE), part of the Indian Epic poem Mahabharata, attributed to Vyasa, using Keya Maitra’s 2018 translation/commentary.
What is it to live wisely? What grounds duty? Listen as the supreme God Krishna convinces archer hero Arjuna that it’s OK for him to kill his relatives because, you know, reincarnation and determinism and caste-related duties. With guest Shaan Amin.
End song: “Om Hari Om 1” by Tim Jordan Kirtan feat. Michael Manring. Hear Michael on Nakedly Examined Music #31.
More on Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror (1980) plus H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928).
Mark, Seth, and Dylan reflect on the nature of horror, how well Lovecraft’s story captures it, and how well Kristeva explains it. Plus, more clarity on the establishment of self and how Kristeva advances over Freud.
End song: “The Other” by Mark Lint feat. Lucy Lawless. Read about it and support the project.
Mark takes a very close look at pages 1-4 of the first chapter of On Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1980) to follow up on our Kristeva discussion.
On Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1980), ch. 1 and 2.
What is horror? Kristeva’s book is about a process she calls “abjection,” where we violently reject things like corpses, bodily wastes and other fluids, and the Lovecraftian unnameable that lurks at the edge of our awareness.
The book is also all about the self, suggesting modifications to Freud’s Oedipal complex and Lacan’s mirror-stage story. With guest Kelley Citrin.
End song: “Eyes of Fire” by Jill Freeman, as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #28.
Watch out for Mark’s Close Reading/follow-up on this text, coming soon!
Mark and Seth get further into the specifics of Marcus’s metaphysics and how this is supposed to relate to behavior. Can his directives really come solely “from reason” as he claims? How does this interact with the behaviors that we pursue (appropriately, according to Marcus) “by nature,” i.e., without conscious deliberation required? Seth is concerned with how individualistic the philosophy is. Mark is concerned that if you discard the metaphysics (as modern skeptics largely do), why should you expect the rest of the philosophy to be coherent?
Listen to episode 201 first.
On The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (ca. 180 CE) plus Ryan’s The Daily Stoic (2016).
What does Stoicism look like in practice, in both ancient and modern contexts? You might think that eschewing the shallow, out-of-our control trappings of fame and wealth in favor of personal cultivation would make one unambitious, but Ryan uses Marcus as a prime example of how to be a Stoic while trying to accomplish great things.
End song: “Any Way the Wind Blows” by MIR; listen to Mark talk with Asif Illyas on Nakedly Examined Music #33.
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On “What Is Enlightenment” by Immanuel Kant (1784), “On Enlightening the Mind” by Moses Mendelssohn (1784), and “What Is Enlightenment” by Michael Foucault (1984).
At the end of the historical period known as the Enlightenment, a Berlin newspaper asked what exactly that is, and Kant and Mendelssohn responded. Both were concerned with whether too much enlightenment among the public can cause social unrest, and so whether there should be freedom of speech and opinion. Foucault thinks that we’re not yet Enlightened, that it’s an ongoing process of critique.
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End song: “Holy Fool” by Love and Rockets. Listen to singer Daniel Ash on Nakedly Examined Music #35.
The U. of Michigan prof joins us to discuss Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It) (2017) and “What Is the Point of Equality?” (1999).
What is a government? Liz argues that this includes companies, and that we should thus apply political science concepts in evaluating their power. Her egalitarianism involves everyone retaining a minimum level of inalienable autonomy, and we should resist encroachments on this not just by the state but from employers as well.
End song: “Straight Job” by Rod Picott. Hear him on Nakedly Examined Music #80.
Mark and Seth continue our conversation from ep. 198 by going through the arguments in the second half of the dialogue.
This puzzling section is largely a monologue by the character Parmenides, with the stated aim of showing the implications from first, the assumption that the One exists, and then that the One does not exist. But is this really Parmenides’s One or the Platonic Form of Oneness? Can these be the same thing?