“Why kids — now more than ever — need to learn philosophy. Yes, philosophy.”

I know this is preaching to the choir, but it’s nice to see this sort of argument appearing in the Washington Post:

Under this model, kids go through a kind of philosophical apprenticeship where they learn by doing. The teacher’s job is to guide and inform student inquiries, helping them pay attention to the quality of their reasoning, and making sure they realize they’re meeting on terms of equality and mutual respect.

K-12 education in America can be the petri dish in which a more promising and enduring approach to living in an increasingly pluralistic society can be cultivated. Experiencing (and, yes, enjoying!) the participatory, communal manner in which philosophers argue their positions will enable our kids to evaluate the myriad issues that come up in social and political life and, to the extent possible, respectfully engage those who disagree with them.

If we fail to turn second-graders into Socrates, our kids may end up becoming expert at making a living, but they will be incompetent at creating a civil society.

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“Why So Many Rich Kids Come to Enjoy the Taste of Healthier Foods”

This article at The Atlantic challenges conventional wisdom that wealthier people eat better because they are better informed. Recent empirical studies suggest that the extra cost of healthful foods being rejected by children influences the economic decisions of poorer parents at the grocery store towards more palatable, less healthful items that they know will at least be eaten. And what one eats as a child has a lasting impact on one’s taste preferences as an adult. A representative excerpt:

The reason that more-educated people have healthier diets may not be because they have more of an appreciation for the importance of a good diet, but because to an extent they’re following their palates. This explanation undoes a basic assumption about healthy eating—that for everyone, a better diet is a matter of overcoming the temptation of salty, sweet, and fatty foods.

Instead, better-educated people might be being somewhat indulgent and pleasure-seeking when they buy food. They just happen to have a preference for different sorts of foods—foods they might have been exposed to when they were growing up.

(You’ll find links to the studies in the article.)

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Screaming into the Void and Other Annoyances: Public Intellectuals and the Disappearing Public

It is hard, even frustrating, to be a public intellectual these days.  Corey Robin concludes his thoughtful and timely piece about the status, function, and worries of, and about, public intellectuals by stating that

We have the means, we have the material. What we don’t have is mass. We have episodic masses, which effervesce and overflow. But it’s hard to imagine masses that will endure, publics that won’t disappear in the face of state repression or social intransigence but instead will dig in and charge forward. And it is that constraint on the imagination and hence the will that is the biggest obstacle to the public intellectual today. Not tenure, not the death of bohemia, not jargon, but the fear that the publics that don’t yet exist — which are, after all, the only publics we’ve ever had — never will exist.

In part, I share his worries:  It indeed can be difficult to address publics who are only passing through on their way to something more interesting or spectacular, who are indifferent  —  or, indeed, who are outright hostile.  Who are (mostly) not there.

But I also wonder if it was not always thus.  The public to be addressed is not only small, but volatile, changing, often fleeting.  I am not sure at which point there were either ready-made publics, or even those who could be readily created, and maintained  —  indeed, “summoned”  —  by the intellectual’s challenges, claims, and demands.  In other words, I think that a part of being a public intellectual (and I am deliberately leaving the definition of this term as open and as loose as possible) is learning to speak to (nearly) empty rooms, to struggle with audiences who are unreliably engaged, to shout into the void with the full awareness of the Sisyphean nature of one’s labors.

I am not sure why I am not either surprised or worried by this  —  clearly, Robin is.  Perhaps because my view of what it might mean to be a public intellectual does not at the same time contain a guarantee of being heard, understood, embraced  —  or even noticed.  Perhaps because my worries about public intellectuals have more to do with the infotainment too many people associate with them  —  a kind of fun, tensionless, TED-ish combination of cleverness, gee-whiz-ness, and stand-up comedy (or else, the other side  — the SERIOUS face of REAL ISSUES).

So, what am I saying?  Maybe something like this:  What should be a worry about the status, and the effectiveness, of public intellectuals is not merely that the audiences are evanescent  —  that a public cannot be brought into being  —  but that the ones that are brought into being are flattered, coaxed, and infotained into existence.  But because these foundations resemble cotton candy, they melt with a simple touch.  They do not interfere, nor disturb.  By morning, they are not even a memory.

I do not have any constructive advice to offer regarding what we ought to do if we desire to retain  some meaning and moral significance of public intellectualism.  I am not sure that hoping for an audience that endures will help the cause.  But I think that Robin and I can agree that disorienting, making less comfortable, alienating the publics that do exist is a way to proceed through the uncertain and the murky.  Because, in the end, being an intellectual of any kind demands a kind of a familiarity with the unknown, with the chaotic, and with, yes, a sense of a public-less isolation.  One can’t go on.  One will go on.

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“Why Some Men Are Above the Law”

Martha C. Nussbaum on sexual assault, celebrity culture, and the law:

Bill Cosby has been finally charged with sexual assault. For anyone who has followed the case, one striking aspect is how late an actual indictment has come, and after a huge number of accusations.

One legal problem has been the statute of limitations for rape, an issue by now much discussed. But another obvious aspect is the fact that as a society we have created a class of glamorous and powerful men — entertainers, athletes — who are in a most literal sense above the law. They will almost always prevail against all accusations, no matter what they do in the sexual domain, because they are shielded by glamor, public trust, and access to the best legal representation. Cosby is the exception only because his alleged abuses of women were so numerous and so flagrant. So what I think as I read the news is, “For one Cosby, there are hundreds like him who will never be indicted.”

I think this way because I have my own Bill Cosby tale to tell.

Read on at HuffPost.

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Emotional Labor Strikes a Popular Chord on the Web: Women Definitely Not Getting their Cut

Readers of this blog are likely already familiar with the concept of emotional labor—and very much aware that it is overwhelmingly done by women and overwhelmingly without formal recompense or proper acknowledgement. You also know that many people, unfortunately, are not.

In July 2015, the wonderful feminist blog The Toast ran a short piece on the concept: “‘Where’s My Cut?’: On Unpaid Emotional Labor.” (If you do not already follow this blog, you should.) What is remarkable is not so much the piece — which I do not thereby mean to dismiss in any way — but the popular response it generated.

A friend recently posted on Facebook a link to this 50-page condensed document carefully organized and compiled from the responses generated by the post. To say that the concept “struck a chord” would be an understatement. It is full of real life examples from (I assume, for the most part) non-academics dispersed across the English-speaking globe.

I encourage everyone to share it, and I also invite you to use the comments section of this blog to suggest ways it might be effectively used in an intro-level course (or, for that matter, high school).

Continue reading

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“The Opioid Epidemic’s Toll on Pregnant Women and their Babies”

It’s a Catch-22 all the way. You can’t get off of it, or then the baby will die. But, if you stay on it, the baby could go through withdrawal. It’s just scary, not to mention that the laws that are coming out that are criminalizing women for when their babies are born, going through withdrawals.

Find the video and transcript at The PBS Newshour.

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“What does it actually mean when somebody complains about political correctness?”

(By Tom Toles of The Washington Post, in case the signature is not legible.)

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“The Central Question in the Bill Cosby Criminal Case”

We’ve blogged about the ever-mounting allegations of rape that have been emerging against Bill Cosby several times in the past. My own proposal about what he ought to do, it seems safe to say, is no longer an option. As readers are doubtlessly aware, Cosby is finally facing charges in court from one of the by-the-time-you-can-no-longer-even-keep-track–that-probably-speaks-greater-volumes-than-the-actual-number (not to elide the irreducibly unique subjectivity of each person affected, directly and indirectly) of alleged victims.

I will spare you further expressions of my own moral outrage to instead share this legal analysis of the case by Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker. An excerpt:

The legal issue involves the dozens of other women who have also come forward, in recent months, to claim that Cosby sexually assaulted them. In a general way, the claims of the women are broadly consistent. They say that Cosby gave them drugs like Quaaludes to lessen their defenses, and then had sex with them against their will. The legal question is whether the testimony of any or all of these women will be admissible against Cosby in the criminal case in Pennsylvania.

This sort of testimony [upon which the case likely hinges] is known in the courts as “prior bad acts” evidence. Its use in Pennsylvania is governed by Rule 404, which is roughly consistent with a federal rule known by the same number. In general, prosecutors are not allowed to introduce general evidence that a defendant is a bad person. [….]

Importantly, though, there is an exception to the general rule barring prior bad-acts evidence. Prosecutors may introduce evidence of other bad acts by a defendant if they serve to show “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.”

So the outcome, it seems, may hinge upon whether the appointed judge deems Cosby’s apparent M.O. of knocking women out with Quaaludes in order to rape them demonstrates “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.”

The answer seems clear to me, but I know better than to make any assumptions about the outcome based on that…

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“The Official 2015 Feminist Killjoy Holiday Gift Guide”

Some of these are actually quite good–maybe even right for someone on your holiday gift list! Find the entire guide with links to the items at The Establishment.

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George Yancy Interviews bell hooks for The Stone

I live in a small, predominantly white town in the Bible Belt. Rather than saying, “What would Jesus do?” I always think, “What does Martin Luther King want me to do today?” Then I decide what Martin Luther King wants me to do today is to go out into the world and in every way that I can, small and large, build a beloved community. As a Buddhist Christian, I also think of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying, “Let’s throw this pebble into the water, it may not go far in the beginning, but it will ripple out.” So, every day, I’m challenging myself, “What are you doing, bell, for the creation of the beloved community?” Because that’s the underground, local, insistence that I be a fundamental part of the world that I’m in. I’ve been to the Farmer’s Market, I’ve been to the church bazaar this morning. I really push myself to relate to people, that is, people that I might not feel as comfortable relating to. There are many Kentucky hillbilly white persons who look at me with contempt. They cannot turn me around. I am doing the same thing as those civil rights activists, those black folk and those white folk who sat in at those diners and who marched.

It’s about humanization. And I can’t think of another way to imagine how we’re going to get out of the crisis of racial hatred if it’s not through the will to humanize.

Kudos to The New York Times for giving this excellent interview so much space. They also link at the bottom to other interviews from earlier in the week with Linda Martin Alcoff, Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Charles Mills, Falguni A. Sheth, and others.

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“Gene Editing: A Chance to Think About Diversity”

Jackie Leach Scully (Newcastle) on the need for a broader bioethical discussion about the possibilities and dangers of gene editing:

Gene editing clearly holds the potential to improve human lives in practical ways. It also offers something more abstract but, to my mind, equally important: the chance to think deeply, responsibly and imaginatively about the boundaries of human bodily diversity. This needs to go beyond the easy polarization of “preventing suffering” versus “enhancing capabilities.” Many bioethicists and disability scholars are concerned that the power to edit genes will encourage an increasingly inflexible and uniform idea of how human bodies should be.

Find the full piece at Impact Ethics.

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“Against the False Narratives of Anorexia”

Find at Slate an extended personal reflection by Katy Waldman concerning anorexia and its etiology, with a special focus on the role of literature and narrative. A few excerpts:

More fundamentally, though, anorexia is an inveterate liar whose grand theme is your identity. Because the channels through which it flows and acts are so often linguistic, the disorder has inspired a perverse literary tradition, replete with patron saints (Catherine of Siena, herself a twin, who recorded the details of her miraculous asceticism in letters she sent to aspiring female mystics), glamorous elders (Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath), tropes (fairies, snow), and devices (paradox, irony, the unreliable narrator). “Anorexic literature” commits the inherently literary, self-mythologizing qualities of anorexia to paper. From the novels of Charles Dickens to the poetry of Louise Glück, it contains and reproduces something more amoebic, perhaps more dangerous, than dieting tips: a specific persona and sensibility.


We’ve long linked pathological thinness to profundity or poetic sensitivity. The roots of the romance go back to Catherine, who felt closer to God when she stopped eating and later, unable to consume food in spite of herself, considered her affliction holy. If excess flesh on a woman implied gluttony (a sin) or pregnancy (a shame), emaciation helped demonstrate the soul’s dominion over the body. Anorexia mirabilis—the saintly loss of appetite—signaled an embrace of Christ-like abnegation and suffering, or else a spirituality too pure to incline toward earthly pleasures.

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