I’ve been looking forward to teaching a new course on Justice (Phil 380) for a while now. But now I have one more reason to look forward to teaching it in spring 2018.
One of the best parts of my two and a half years of living in Muncie has been my weekly involvement with a local non-profit that is dedicated to poverty alleviation. (When I first got involved, they were called TEAMWork for Quality Living, but they have merged with Second Harvest Food Bank, and are now undergoing a name change.) I’ve made some of my best friends in Muncie through this incredibly diverse group of wonderful people.
I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to arrange for my Justice class to do a project in collaboration with this non-profit. As a way of unifying and applying what we learn in our units about epistemic justice and economic justice, we’ll be participating in a poverty simulation, conducting a listening session with the participants in the poverty alleviation program, and using what we learn from their experiences and expertise to formulate proposed action plans for how to help eliminate some of the systematic barriers that keep people in poverty here in Delaware County.
Once we’ve formed relationships with and actively listened to the participants in the poverty alleviation program, we’ll be presenting our action plans to them for their feedback. And after hearing from my students, the program participants will have an opportunity to collectively decide to implement some components of the proposed action plans as part of their once monthly “Big View” sessions, which are set aside for work designed to positively impact everyone in our community who lives in poverty, not just those specifically and directly involved with our group.
Though this project is going to involve a lot a work, I have high hopes, and I can’t wait to share this opportunity with my students.
While I was terrified of dogs as a child, basically never had pets, didn’t grow up on a farm, and thus haven’t spent a lot of time directly interacting with animals, I’ve always enjoyed learning about them. That is part of why I loved a book that I read recently, Animals in Translation. If you aren’t familiar with Temple Grandin, the author of the book, this is a great way to start learning about her important work. Her accomplishments are staggering – it is safe to say that by restructuring the physical environments in which livestock animals live and die, she has done more to improve the safety and well-being of domesticated animals in America than any other individual.
Temple Grandin’s success is possible because of her autism, not in spite of it. As a person whose sensory experience of the world differs from most humans, she is able to see things from a perspective that she says is like that of non-human animals in many ways. By translating that perspective into action, she has earned her fame. And by translating her first-person experiences and expert knowledge into a highly engaging book, Temple Grandin gives all of us incredibly valuable insight into the inner lives of both people on the autism spectrum and non-human animals of various kinds.
Philosophy students, whether they are majors, minors, or just interested students who have taken a few classes, are sure to have been asked, “What job can you get by studying that?” or “What use is a philosophy degree?” And in some cases, “asked” isn’t really the right word – in uttering those words, a fair number of people mean such questions as a challenge and a criticism, assuming the answer is “none.”
But that just isn’t so. Nor is it the case that the only jobs for philosophy students involve going to graduate school and becoming a philosophy professor.
So a few of my colleagues in the Philosophy & Religious Studies Department, along with a career coach from the Career Center, have planned a series of events for this academic year designed to help our students better (a) understand the range of jobs available to them, (b) narrow down their career goals, (c) formulate a specific plan of action, and (d) get to work on cover letters, resumes, interviews, and so on, by taking tangible steps in a supportive environment.
Our first event will focus on career exploration and discovery. We’ll be reflecting on the variety of kinds of jobs for which PHIL / RELS students are suited and identifying personal interests, talents, preferences, and skills that will help focus one’s career plans and goals. This first event will take place from 5:00 – 6:15 p.m. in North Quad 078 on Wednesday, November 15th. Please consider joining us!
Elizabeth Anderson’s new book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), was even more of an eye-opener for me than her last one (The Imperative of Integration). In her latest book, Anderson defends answers two main questions: (a) “why do we talk as if workers are free at work, and that the only threats to individual liberty come from the state? (xx)” and (b) how could we talk differently about the ways that employers constrain workers, potentially helping restructure workplaces to better serve the interests of workers?
In answering those questions, Anderson critiques the ideology that undergirds the dictatorial control that many employers exert over their employees, both on and off the job. In doing so, she carefully analyzes the historical context in which that ideology arose and explains why that ideology (which appeared to be rational prior to the Industrial Revolution) cannot be defended in the world as we now know it. The book also includes critical comments from two historians, a philosopher, and an economist, as well as Anderson’s responses to them, which I found very useful.
While reading it, I couldn’t help but think back on Richard Wolff’s Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, another excellent book about how workers could have more say in their working conditions, and the many benefits that could be gained from structuring workplaces as democracies. I particularly appreciated the clarity with which Wolff explains distinctions between various kinds of capitalisms and socialisms, which are easy to mix up (and often are mixed up).
While you are at it, or if you want something on the lighter side that engages with similar ideas, why not try The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki?
The earth’s climate is changing, and humans are a significant cause of that change. The effects of climate change include, among other things: rising sea level and global average temperature, increasing severe weather events, ocean acidification, desertification, extinction of species, not to mention the illness, displacement, and other problems that will accrue directly to us humans. Those are the facts, the reality we have to face up to. But questions about how best to move forward are hard to answer, and it is hard to motivate people to productively address the situation. I think that is partly because it is hard to imagine how those big changes will impact identifiable humans who we care about.
Thankfully, we have Kim Stanley’s Robinson’s excellent novel, New York 2140, to help us with that. It is a real page turner full of interesting characters, dramatic events, and human ingenuity in the year 2140, after sea levels have risen 50 feet, turning much of the city into a new Venice of canals instead of streets and people living in the upper floors of skyscrapers with submerged bases. I liked the book’s attention to the economics involved in bringing about and adapting to the climate crisis – I don’t see a lot of that elsewhere, and it gave me some good food for thought.
You may also want to listen to a great interview with the author about his book on Science Friday.
Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law, by Elizabeth Brake, is a thoughtful, respectful investigation of the moral and legal status of marriage as it actually exists and as it could exist in a more ideal society.
Brake argues forcefully that current marriage practices privilege amatonormative relationships (those between monogamous sexual pairs) in ways that unjustly discriminate against other caring relationships (like friendships and relationships between people who live together without sexual/romantic intimacy) and thus that we ought to extend marriage rights to a wider range of voluntary relationships between consenting, caring adults.
I couldn’t agree more. I wish I had written this book, but thankfully Brake already has, and has done so more skillfully than I ever could. Now I just hope that more and more people read it.
We’ve entered summer reading season (hooray!!). What do you like in a book for summer?
(b) plenty of adventure
(c) a window into the cultures, politics, and economics of far off places
(d) science that doesn’t require expert background knowledge
(e) all of the above
If you choose (e), then allow me to recommend A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons, by Robert Sapolsky. I loved this book!!
I usually categorize the books I read into “for work” books and “for fun” books. That isn’t because the books I read for work are never fun (they often are), but because I generally read at a different pace and with a different set of purposes, depending on which kind of book I have before me. It is a rare book that I would say that I read simultaneously for work and for fun, but I recently read one that did a lovely job straddling that line for me. It was Shannon Dea’s Beyond the Binary: Thinking about Sex and Gender, and I strongly recommend it.
While most of the time that I spend thinking about sex, gender, and sexuality, I’m primarily concerned with ethical and political questions, Dea’s book brought to light a range of metaphysical issues relating to sex, gender, and sexuality in a way that unquestionably deepened my understanding, but would definitely be accessible to more novice readers as well. It is a real gem of a book – a great example of integrating empirical research, narratives, and philosophical argumentation to show that concepts relating to sex, gender, and sexuality aren’t nearly so simple as many people would like us to believe.
As part of the annual conference of the European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions in Athens last June, I gave a presentation that became a paper called “Can Emotions Have Abstract Objects? The Example of Awe.”
Now that paper has been published in the journal Philosophia, and is available for free to anyone via the link above (which takes you to a full text, read-only version). I welcome any questions or comments you may have about it!