Monthly Archives: September 2013

What is the Logic Behind The Other’s Political Position?

* Warning, you might not enjoy this post, especially if you harbor strong feelings about politics and believe that you are the sole arbiter of truth.  In fact, just skip to another blog right now while you have a chance.  Go ahead and clickity click…

You stayed?  Okay, good, because I didn’t really want you to move on.  Well then, let’s get to it.

I simply want to propose a challenge: write out an argument on a subject you feel passionate about (such as taxes, government shut down, immigration, the affordable health care act, etc…), but instead of constructing your position, focus on the opposing position.   Try to formulate the opposing side’s argument.  What are the premises?  The evidence?  The projected goals?  The concerns?

How much of your view is attributed to your place of birth and your parents?  What if you had been born with parents of a different economic status?  What if you had been born with a different language, religion, gender, level of health?

“If you don’t understand the other side’s argument, then you don’t understand your own.”  I can’t recall the genius behind this quote.  I can, however, recall when I first encountered it.  My senior year of high school one of my teachers wrote this on the board before we were to embark on researching for a debate about affirmative action.  Not understanding the quote, I drew up an argument I thought was solid and absolutely right.  Did I know the oppostion’s point of view?  Nope.  They were morons, or so my young eager mind believed.

That was essentially the extent of my research.  When I presented my bold flawless argument, the other side shot me down, and with good reason.  One student even dared to say, “I think you need to research the issue more. You do not understand what this is about and you are angry.”  Cue the deflated ego.

She was correct.  I only flaunted an idea I skimmed from hand me down rhetoric.  In fact, I was guilty of what is called the strawman fallacy.  As embarrassing as that was, I’m extremely grateful to have learned that lesson at seventeen.

I’m prompted to blog this topic because of some disturbing Facebook status updates I’ve read.  Yes, yes, yes, I shouldn’t be on Facebook.  Why do I care?  I care because people aren’t talking or thinking or listening and it’s driving me bonkers.  A little respect is all I ask.  Some of the status updates are angry, outrageous, annoying, and fraught with the philosopher’s pet peeve, the strawman fallacy.  This means recreating or misrepresenting the opposition’s argument, and then attacking that fabrication.  For example, here is a post:

Dear America and the GOP,
Just GIVE IT UP. Obamacare and it’s government jobs program and over-inflated pricing for the massees is HERE TO STAY (strike the band!) and make sure that in 5 or so years that you’ve got it all set up for a Single Payer system without any recourse for debate or discussion for what is actually GOOD for America and not just your legacy and continued elected status of the current incumbents. After all, we are NOT a democratic republic. I’m sick caring and sick of hearing about this. The Democrats and Progressives are CORRECT and any conservative (fiscal or otherwise is WRONG) – we need to give EVERYTHING and ANYTHING to people who want, and the solution is SIMPLE and EASY – by taxing anyone who makes money through hard work and through success. Those people don’t deserve to keep what they’ve made, they are SELFISH and BAD (Yes, I’m talking about myself here guys – y’all finally won the battle. I’m F*cking DONE with caring. I’m now sending an EXTRA $1000 a month in taxes off my paycheck just to ensure that you all get ALL THE FREEBIES that I can possibly give you.) 

I realize people are concerned about their money, their livelihood, and their rights.  But, can we please not repeat what the pundits who are making mucho bucks are saying?  If you flip through the media outlets like MSNBC and FOX you’ll notice that both claim the other side is out to destroy America, wants to ruin your lives, hates the middle class, and wants to take away your rights.   Are you really going to let this dictate how you come to your conclusions?

I am not advocating that one doesn’t take a position at all.  I myself hold views and vote, so of course I think one particular course is stronger than another.  However, one must understand the premises of the other’s argument in order to understand one’s own argument.  If, for instance, you found yourself in a pickle and about to go to court, and your lawyer turns to you and says, “I’ve got us covered.  But I don’t know what in the world the other lawyer will say.”  Run and find a new lawyer!  Every good lawyer could argue both sides of a case because they are familiar with all pieces of evidence.

Now, with your politics, could argue the other side?  What are you fighting for?  What are you fighting against?  Just please, think it through.  When you do this thought experiment it will diffuse the anger in your speech, and that really is my goal by putting forth this post.

To begin, not all Democrats want to take away your money, give it away to people who could care less about work, hate religion, and abide by Marxism.  (Which, might I add, please look up the definition of Socialism, Marxism, and Communism before using them to describe all Dems.)

I know Democrats dedicated to their religion, love working, and are pretty much a refutation of all the aforementioned nonsense.

Next, not all Republicans are selfish greedy bastards who love guns, are racist, and homophobic.  Did I cover it all?  I know Republicans who are charitable, care deeply about their family, their children’s education, their neighbors and, again, a refutation of all the aforementioned nonsense.

If you choose to only see the caricature of the political party then you are avoiding an honest discussion about how to allocate taxes , ensure justice, safety, and promote economic growth.

Find someone who enjoys dialogue and holds a different point of view.  Listen.  Learn.  What are their concerns?  Why do they come to their conclusions?

Thank you for sticking around to read.  As a reward, here is a picture of my cat, an actual destroyer of things, peace, and sleep.

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Philosophy Profs, What Does Your Syllabus Look Like?

Philosophy.  My love.  My work.  My on-time with coffee.  My off-time with wine.  Sometimes I stop to eat.

Yet, this love of mine is plagued by a reputation of exclusion.  For example, the very existence of the question: Is Feminist Philosophy Philosophy? I find both perplexing and telling.  Allow me to digress with a little tale.

My mother, years ago pre-Gwennie, felt ill and stayed home from work.  On that day she was watching television and perked up when a list of symptoms described an ailment pertaining specifically to women’s health were discussed on a talk show.  That’s what I have, she thought.  According to the show, research discovered something called P.M.S.  Yep, folks.  No joke.

Mom immediately scheduled an appointment to see her doctor. Upon visiting the doctor she relayed what she learned and explained that it fit her illness.  Nonsense, the doctor replied.  There’s no such thing.  He prescribed her tranquilizers and sent her home.  Mom took one dose, but never any more because she said they made her feel even worse.

Today, with the advancement of medicine and knowledge regarding women’s bodies, it is difficult to picture a doctor unfamiliar with something so incredibly basic.  However, women’s issues could not be identified medically if they were not studied in the first place.

And now back to my original puzzlement.  Is philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom, closed in a similar fashion?  Does it neglect new avenues of thought simply because it hasn’t been traditionally thought before, as the case with the doctor?

Ah..hmmm… Feminist Philosophy?

But Feminism should be in Gender Studies, I hear some cry.

Can one imagine telling the Political Philosopher that his/her study doesn’t exist because there is a Political Science Department?  Or, forget Philosophy of Mind and take a walk over to the Psychology Department?

Despite this question of Feminist Philosophy and its proper academic place, for I only use it as an example of exclusion, I believe the majority of philosophers were gobsmacked at Salon’s damning headline Philosophy has a Sexual Harassment Problem and that it is not only the oldest of the humanities but “the malest and whitest.”

As a female student in undergraduate, I sensed this truth, but at the same time I found the literature so completely enthralling that gender hierarchy took a back seat in my mind.  The only glaringly obvious moments were in my Philosophy of Mind course where I was the one woman in class out of about forty students, and graduation day when I was the only woman in the department to walk.  Other than those moments I  happily threw myself into my studies.  Socrates awesome.  Descartes awesome.  Spinoza awesome.  You get the point.

Not until midway into my Master’s Degree did I think to ask “Are there any women philosophers?”  My thesis supervisor handed me the book On Violence by Hannah Arendt.  I dropped everything, read all of her books, and anything about her I could get my hands on.  She became my obsession.  Arendt was not a feminist thinker, but that was not really what I was looking for.  Quite simply, I just wanted to know that there was such a thing as a woman philosopher.

Two years later during the summer holiday I planted myself at a cafe and read the novel All Men Are Mortal by Simone de Beauvoir.  Stop the presses!  I ensconced myself in Beauvoir’s works, existentialism in general, and completely reoriented my Ph.D. dissertation.  Even in the midst of my giddiness over this new found love, I knew that this came about because I sought it, and not because women thinkers appeared on any of my course syllabi.  There I was, approximately 5 years into my study of philosophy and I had never been to a university lecture on a woman philosopher.


I’d like to suggest a meaningful way to make philosophy a more inclusive pursuit, namely, professors should examine their syllabi and required course reading material.

How are we, in higher education, presenting philosophy to the next generation?  Are we, through the syllabus, implying to women and minority students, albeit by omission, that the only contributors to theory are white men?  Are philosophers perpetuating the disgraceful status of “malest and whitest”?  Are we challenging ourselves to read and research outside of our academic comfort zone?

Philosophy Humor on Twitter

Philosophers, movies, and hashtags.  Enjoy!


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5 Nonfiction Suggestions


1. Through the Language Glass.  Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher.  I’m in the throes of this one at the moment.  So far I am intrigued.  This book examines how our language reflects thinking, a topic I’ve been interested in within the discipline of Philosophy.  Nudging my students to embrace new languages I say: “When you learn a new language you have access to new thoughts.” If you fancy a read that connects literature, culture, history,and psychology then this is for you.

2.  Cesar Chavez and the Common Sense of Non Violence by Jose-Antonio Orosco.  Orosco distinguishes Chavez’s approach from familiar leaders of nonviolence such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi.  By integrating Chavez into the history of nonviolence, with his particular view of time for example, our understanding of this methodology flourishes.  History, politics, and philosophy are woven together quite nicely in this work.

3.  The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell.  I sometimes recommend this book for people who want to dabble in philosophy.  Russell outlines the dynamics of working towards happiness thereby emphasizing that it is a process rather than a simple emotion.  What does the happy person look like?  What are his habits?  What brings about unhappiness?

4. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston.  This was a gift from hubs.  I am a mystery novel junkie and this book did not disappoint.  Preston traveled to Italy with the intention of researching for a novel but became entangled in the unsolved mystery of the “Monster of Florence.”  He worked with an investigator to unearth the identity of the Italian serial killer and found himself uncomfortably wrapped up in the dubious legal process.  You will be shaking your head at this intriguing account of a real detective adventure.

5. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  This book is excellent for anyone in the midst of writing no matter their skill.  It will appeal to the college student struggling with a term paper, an advanced writer, or the blogger wrestling with topics to post.  Goldberg offers fantastic advice and encourages one to write as a form of meditation.  I return to this book whenever I feel stuck with writing.

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Let me help you be sexy while playing sports!

Witty post! Enjoy!

Fit and Feminist

Hey ladies!  Do you feel feel unattractive and undesirable when you line up at the local 5K?  Does playing basketball make you feel wistful for the other balls you’d really like to play with?  Well do not fear, dear ladies, because I am here to make sure you never, ever have to spend a single second of your life thinking about something other than being the best, bounciest sexbot you can possibly be.

The first thing you should do is get rid of your ratty old race t-shirts and ditch those baggy basketball shorts.  We are going for super sexy sexiness here, so get yourself some yoga pants – because we all know that yoga pants equal insta-boners for miles around – and squeeze your boobs into a tiny tank top.  The more skin showing, the better, because as one Cher Horowitz once said, “Sometimes you have to show a…

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Overcoming Fear of Failure is a Path to Happiness

*The following is a draft of a section for my next book on Happiness and College Life.  Feedback is appreciated.  I thought I’d include a bit of my experience with Cross Fit in the manuscript.

Fear of Failure

Let’s dismantle this idea of failure right away.  There is no such thing.  Fear and failure hold power over you if you allow it.  Failure is just a perception.  You have a choice:

  1. I’ve failed therefore I give up.
  2. This is a lesson, therefore I now know what needs work.

Which option will you embrace?  As I write this I am in the throes of an extraordinary exercise regimen called Cross Fit, and I am far outside the bounds of my comfort zone.  There are two moves in particular that have my stomach in knots: a tire flip and dead lift.  Both begin with a squatting position and then upward motion with the thrust of the thighs and glutes.  While lifting the weight, one’s back cannot round but must remain straight so that all of the lifting comes from the legs and glutes.  I cringe whenever these are listed as part of the routine for the day (or WOD for you familiar with Cross Fit).  I’ve even pleaded with the coach: “Can’t we do sit-ups or something else?”  They smile and point to the weight.  I stare down at it and know that I must try again to lift.  I have yet to accomplish this movement.

The difficulty for me encompasses more than the weight itself.  My struggle in this instance resides with confronting a weakness.  When I look at the bar (or tire) I am a bundle of frustration. A mental tug of war brews.  Part of me feels like unleashing tears and questioning myself for even joining Cross Fit.  I’m embarrassed.  What in the world am I doing here?  I’ve never been athletic.  But another part of me sees this as the potential to redefine myself.  Fortunately that voice seems to be winning the mental war.  Believe me, I want to pass the weight by, move on to an exercise  I can manage, and then head out for Starbucks and snacks.  But, what would that do for me?

When we step outside of our comfort zone and “fail” we are actually being alerted to an area of ourselves that needs work and attention.  If it weren’t for these “failures” we might not be aware of an opportunity for growth.  That is why I’d like to rid you of the idea of “failure,” because they serve as life sign posts and lessons.  Failure, if you let it, means stopping and resigning.  On the other hand, lessons entail awareness, recognition, and determination to reassess our approach.

It is not easy for a weakness to be highlighted in our trials for growth. It is extremely easy to avoid discovering them and running away.

The day will come when I step up to the tire or weighted bar for the lift and my legs will carry me up.  It will happen.  I’m determined.  But the only way for it to happen is if I continue to confront the challenge and build the muscle.

In Tips From The Professor I wrote about identifying weakness and making it your strength in the context of the classroom.  I’ve had students come to me with a deflated look due to a low grade on a paper or exam.  They’ll say things like “Philosophy isn’t my thing” and “I’m just not a good writer.”  A low grade on an assignment is not a definitive statement about your ability.  The grade addresses an area that needs more energy and time.  You haven’t failed.  You’ve learned!  Now, get a move on and try again.

This attitude translates to enjoying life itself. A few years ago I traveled to Poland, and before the trip I hastily studied a bit of Polish.  On day one in Krakow when entering a shop, I proudly greeted the cashier with “Good morning,” or so I thought.  After noticing how his eyebrows knit, I realized that I actually blurted: “You’re welcome.”   What a way to walk into a store! This must have sounded silly.  I chuckled at the goof and immediately made a note to self: practice “good morning.”

It’s okay to make mistakes!  What is important is our response to them.  Delving into the unknown means accepting ridiculous moments here and there but that is essential for growth, which in turn brings us happiness.

Find something new and challenge yourself.  All of the “greats” from musicians to scientists have stumbled. Keep in mind, happiness and excellence were not achieved in spite of stumbling but as a result of learning from mistakes and having the confidence to continue.  People who flourish do so because of their method in the face of obstacles.  There need not be a fear of failure.

If you try something and the result is not what you had hoped for then stop and observe.  Ask yourself: What is there to learn here?  What do I need to strengthen?

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