Two more new episodes remain for season 1 of Hi-Phi Nation at this point, one on the philosophy of love, the other on truth/realism/anti-realism. The stories that bring you there will hopefully be surprising. Hi-Phi Nation is gaining enough of an audience that I think it is worth a gamble for me to do a second season next academic year even at a financial loss. I will be applying to the granting agencies, wealthy foundations, and public media companies, but as many of you know, these are low-probability options in the typical case, even lower probability in nonstandard cases. I'm remembering Ken Taylor's experiences at the NEH with Philosophy Talk.
For those of you in the profession, I invite the adventurous to take a dive and think about whether you want to produce or partly produce a segment, episode, or a piece of investigative work, that will make it to the second season of the show. Its a new style and a new medium, it might not be a line on your CV, but you will reach people. The work could be within your comfort zone or you can take the full plunge, with a mic and recorder doing embedded philosophizing. All you need to do is contact me, keep up with the Hi-Phi Nation blog/newsletter, the Twitter account, or Facebook page.
For others, if you think there is a value of this work to your students, philosophy clubs, or family or community outreach locally, let me know what kind of episodes I should produce that would bring value to the classes you teach, clubs you advise, discussion groups you lead, etc. When I have time, I will put together sample syllabi and reading lists that make it easy for you to teach with Hi-Phi Nation and other story-driven shows, where the content truly is complimentary rather than supplementary to lectures and readings. If you are a high school or community college teacher already using or committed to using some of the content in your classes, let me know how you're doing it so I can share it with others.
Thanks to Brian Leiter for giving me a platform this week to talk about this wild ride of a project. Thanks to all the subjects of the first season, and the upcoming subjects in the second, they're all listed on the website and you hear their voices in the episodes. The first season couldn't have happened without support from Mark Johnston, Sarah-Jane Leslie, Jennifer Nagel, Tom Kelly, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and StoryLab at Duke including Carlos Rojas, Eileen Chow, and Clare Woods.
As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in a two-day conference about digital and public humanities at Duke, where the takeaway is that Deans and the humanities as a whole need a coherent way to vet, review, and evaluate risky and adventurous work that is digital and/or public reaching in order to start the process of making it count toward career advancement. Deans, funding agencies, and department review committees request outside letters, outside letters so far are only from experts who evaluate research expertise. As a result, committees can't count things outside of the model of "research expertise" toward tenure, promotion, and raises that don't speak as meaningfully to other scholarly ventures as they do to standard research (service? are you kidding me? You have service reviews?) I couldn't have done Hi-Phi Nation as a junior faculty, and I can't do it now if I still cared about becoming "Full," whatever satisfaction that's supposed to bring me. But some of you out there do care, and also care about outreach and risky non-standard projects, and the unfairness that younger people do it only out of a labor of love (shout out to my wonderful friends at Wi-Phi) rather than as part of their career, with the risk of it actually hurting their careers.
So while I have this platform, I guess I can put a call-out to senior people in the field who would be interested in doing such vetting for the benefit of the field, and maybe we should think about how to organize such a group through the APA. You can email me and I'll keep a list and see if anything can be done with it. If this already exists, excuse my ignorance.
Despite the fact that I did episodes on torture in war, the ethics of killing, comparative Christian and Muslim theology, and whether we should defund a group of orphans in PA, I wasn't prepared for how controversial talking about replication in the statistical sciences would be. It was naive on my part. The tone of arguments in the statistical sciences literature and blogs did not strike me as anything out of the ordinary in academia and, by the standards of philosophy, seemed entirely tame. I had assumed that behind the scenes, everyone was still friendly and the dispute was entirely about disagreements about the merits of certain statistical and experimental methods. Applied epistemology par excellence. Boy was I wrong. I've been sheltered in the last decade at my liberal arts school. Once I got to Duke, I learned that we're talking about a controversy over which some people feel their careers are being destroyed by bullies who are creating an anti-science climate that is threatening research funding (particularly under this presidential administration), while others believe that impervious careerists who have no concern for truth are just protecting themselves and their friends from embarrassment.
Once things were put to me this way, it was kind of like this: are you going to participate in the ongoing anti-science climate, or are you going to protect sub-par epistemological standards? How's that for framing a choice for someone? I didn't in the end kill the story like I was advised, but I did go the extra mile to try and be fair. The episodes are what they are, thousands of people have listened to them, and I haven't gotten flak since the release, as I went the extra mile to try and be fair. Even the chair of parapsychology research at Edinburgh reacted positively. There are a ton of philosophers much more expertly knowledgeable about these issues than I, maybe they can weigh in.
A film has a mood, a story has a mood. What is the mood of philosophy? What is the beauty in a particular argument, its grotesqueness, its tensions, and resolution, and what does that mood sound like?
This is an odd question, but for Hi-Phi Nation, I had to assume that these questions had answers, and I had to answer them. That's because a good sound-rich piece of audio production has music, sound-tracking, and sound design in general, and that's the show that I wanted to make for philosophy, which has a lot of other wonderful alternative forms of audio, like Philosophy Bites, Philosophy Talk, Elucidations, History of Philosophy without any Gaps, and so forth. Story-driven audio has an emotion and aesthetic component that you might not notice just like you might fail to notice sound design in film when you are completely engrossed in it, but when you watch a film without a soundtrack, its isn't a coherent experience. And when you're trying to do story-driven audio for philosophy, you're left with this odd, almost category-mistake of a question. But it isn't a category mistake, and it turns out there are good and bad answers to it, though I will spare you the bad answers in this post.
One note about soundtracking for podcasting; I had to rely on the corpus of open licensed music available for podcasts due to the outdated laws concerning copyright in this country, and my own limitations as a musician (I'm not going to compose and score the thing!). Given these constraints, at the end of a particular edit of an episode, I have to think long and hard about the mood of a piece of philosophy. These are two decisions I made from Episode 3 too illustrate, which features a discussion of revisionist just war theory with Jeff McMahan, Helen Frowe, Major Ian Fishback, and others.
This little clip from a piece by musician Jason Staczek is the most used piece in this season of Hi-Phi Nation. I just love it for philosophy. Its a perfect mix of wonder and puzzlement.
The following piece by the group Blue Dot Sessions, who create so much of the music that podcast producers are using these days because they're open-licensed, is one I put in the folder of "nicely moves the discussion along." There is a kind of tension I want to create in the presentation of certain philosophical views I think are deserving of tension and anticipation, rather than reflective contemplation. I love this piece for that purpose, and use it a lot in other episodes.
Scoring and soundtracking has been one of the most pleasing surprises in this project. I definitely do not want to farm it out in the future. If you're a philosopher, I'd be curious to know what the soundtrack you think is to your work.
The Humanities-writ large initiative at Duke University is responsible for allowing me to work full time this entire academic year to produce the first season of Hi-Phi Nation. I have done nothing but this project, and since it is most likely very different from the daily work flow of professional philosophy, I thought I would share the production process for those interested.
From start to finish, each episode oh Hi-Phi Nation takes about 3 months to complete. I record about 20 hours of raw tape for each 40 minute episode.
Step 1: Read philosophical and other academic work, contact philosophers. Wait for responses for availability.
Step 2: Seek out the subjects of the story; using methods learned in investigative reporting bootcamp; and then contact them.
Step 3: Write out a long list of questions for all subjects, philosophers, and academics.
Step 4: Travel to different location to interview subjects/philosophers, or hire a professional producer to do a tape-sync, or last resort, do a Skype call (quality of audio is everything).
Step 5: Transcribe all interviews with time-stamps every 2min.
Step 6: Take 200 pages of transcriptions/episode, highlight quotable lines. Cut and paste quotables into one document. Code each quotation by theme, topic, and arrange "Tom Cruise-Minority Report" style.
Step 7. Delete all "ums" "uhs" false starts, and gaps in audio clips.
Step 8. Write a script around the story, around the philosophy, and organize the audio around the script.
Step 10: Get wife to listen to draft, redo with her notes.
Step 11:. Sit and listen to 20-30 music tracks. Select tracks, mix, cut, and loop for scoring, soundtracking, and soundscaping. Insert into episode at strategic moments of wonder, reflection, curiosity, outrage, etc.
Step 12: Adjust EQs for each voice, adjust loudness meters and compression for whole episode.
Step 13. Go home, bathe toddler, sing her to sleep.
Step 14. Write the show notes for upload by midnight.
Step 15: Repeat x10 for Season 1.
What a mix looks like. This is the opening to Episode 4:
When I started driving home to Poughkeepsie from Hershey, PA after a two-day trip for what ended up being Episode 1, I said to my assistant, "Am I taking the side of a bunch of corrupt millionaires against a group of poor orphans?" Sometimes the implications of your philosophical views end up surprising you.
Producing a program that is both story-driven and philosophy has been a lot like doing a Fitch-style proof in intro logic. You can work backwards from the conclusion, or forward from the premises. This season I often found the philosophy first, and sought out a story whose conflict is the philosophical issue I wanted to talk about. But in the episodes, I usually run the story first and philosophy second. This was the case with Episode 1, on the case of the Hershey fortune and the possibility of posthumous harm. I had for years puzzled over the question of how testation and the right to control posthumous wealth could be justified. I wanted to find that one legal or historical case that would bring out all of the philosophical questions behind this issue. I went through many different legal cases involving conditional bequests, charitable trusts, and dynasty trusts, and settled on the Hershey story.
Seeking stories after you know what philosophy you want to present is harder than coming to a story that just invites philosophy (Rachel Dolezal and racial ontology, or my Episode 4 story on Larycia Hawkins). Human stories are not neatly packaged like philosophical thought experiments. They have nuance and complexity precisely of the kind philosophers like to abstract away from to make arguments. I went into the episode wanting to find a story where the state's enforcement of dead-hand control led to a kind of absurdity that almost any impartial observer, no matter the political or philosophical leanings, would say, "well, okay, that's unjust." I thought I found it with the Hershey story, but in reality, the story kept getting more and more complicated, and it started departing from the nice neat little example I wanted to use to make the case for my philosophical thesis. The Board of Managers of the Hershey trust have essentially been trying to evade the laws requiring them to abide by Hershey's wishes, while the Orphan Army (the episode explains who they are) have been fighting the state to uphold the original Milton Hershey deed. I was trying to argue against the justifiability of perpetual posthumous control of wealth, placing me in alliance with the millionaires spending money on golf courses and against the orphans who just wanted to serve more orphans! That's my example of injustice? But, then, if you heard the episode, there was yet another turn to the story. How to manage the philosophy in the presence of an out of control story?
From this experience, I learned that what you lose in tidiness you gain elsewhere, as long as you're up to the challenge of confronting rather than asking your audience to abstract away from the complexity. Complexity in story can be valuable in making a listener desire to think longer and harder about the connection between the the turns of the story and the philosophy, and just desire to know how to resolve the philosophical issue. The intro books on documentary audio production look a lot like rules for intro-writing rules: make sure there is signposting. But just like in print, if there is too much signposting and hand-holding, your reader can lose the valuable experience of making the connections on their own, and wanting to work toward the conclusion. Maybe this can be more valuable in terms of outreach than the outright assertions of connections and clarity of sign-posting we're used to in analytic philosophy, at least if the form of outreach is bridging narrative storytelling with philosophy.
I released an episode today about norms of gender that begins with the story of the opening up of combat arms to women under Obama. I use the story to explore the view that militaristic cultures and their need for self-sacrificial protectors engaged in war help to explain certain norms of masculinity and femininity. The episode arose out of interesting conversations I had with Professor Graham Parsons about the positive reception to feminist philosophy in his courses at West Point, an institution that is around 80% male for students, and likely higher for faculty.
In the process of production for this episode, I had to make a decision about whether and how much I wanted to raise the issue of sexual assault in the military. There were competing considerations that made it difficult for me to be confident in whatever decision I ultimately made. For one, the issue has loomed large in the press for a long time. Reforms have been slow, and on the eve of the release, we had the Marine online photographs scandal. In light of this, how could I make an episode about gender issues in the military without a mention of the issue of sexual assault? The competing consideration is that many military women I talked to and read have expressed consternation that all that ever gets covered in the press about women in the military is related to sexual assault. Their other challenges, achievements, and the day-to-day experiences, namely the things that make up 95% of their lives, make up 5% of what people talk about when they talk about them at all. Moreover, because of the big public relations concerns of large institutions such as DOD, the Army, and USMA, the subjects of the episode had very real concerns about how they would be portrayed, even in a start-up podcast. The considerations pulled me in opposite directions, but ultimately I had to make a decision, one that others might have made differently.
This is a theme that will reoccur as I post this week. As philosophers, we aren't always in direct contact with people who stand to be affected by the philosophy that we produce. The same has not been true of producing Hi-Phi Nation. When subjects of the stories agree to talk to me, that does not mean they are necessarily agreeing that their experiences be premises in a philosophical argument, their lives examples in a thought experiment, or their story fodder for a take-down of some competing view. But these are central practices of philosophy, so how do you connect story to philosophy without them? In the kind of philosophy I'm doing for the public, I am trying to make connections back to the lives of people, but this raises some very tricky ethical concerns I hadn't anticipated.
In hindsight, it shouldn't be surprising to me that a Hi-Phi Nation episode on popular music would be the fastest growing and most popular. If my goal was to bring people to philosophy who otherwise didn't know or didn't care about it, why not follow in the footsteps of the philosophy and (insert pop culture phenomenon here)? But during the pre-production and post-production of the episode, I had the most doubts about this one in terms of its potential success in the mission, which is to weave philosophy with story successfully, rather than just pay lip service to each, and to do it without fluff.
Philosophy of music is one of those areas that just cries out for audio rather than print, so I had to do it even though I didn't know much about it. But what musical genre to pick, and what to say about it? The decision ended up being fortuitous rather than planned. Because of the budgetary constraints on a one-person operation, I had to limit myself to day trips by car, and it turned out two mashup scholars lived in the same town about 3 hours from Durham, NC, musicologist Christine Boone and philosopher Chris Bartel. I was surprised too, mashup scholars? This is what I love about academia.
Ultimately, the thought that mashups were the musical equivalent to the hot-dog stuffed-crust pizza was what drove the central aesthetic issue of the episode and it came to me late, in the week leading up to the release. But the idea that the genre emerged first as a form of musical vandalism, and then as a critique of the social divisions involved in popular music, came out of my discussions with the actual artists themselves, as well as from a long extended discussion I had with Christine Boone about the Beyonce-Andy Griffiths mashup. Christine was worried that our amusement comes at the expense of Beyonce, with the theme to the Andy Griffiths show representing all that is ideal about America, in its wholesomeness and whiteness, whereas I saw it the other way around, the most iconic, popular, and admired pop artist of this entire generation paired with all that is lame about the idealized America of the past.
In the pre-production stage, I tried to get various famous mashup artists for the show. This was my first time dealing with professional publicists and all that is awful about media. They don't train you for that in graduate school. Ultimately, DJ Earworm was gracious enough to agree to a Skype interview within days of contact, and he is a trained musicologist in addition to being a famous mashup artist. Steve Stein aka Steinski was a great interview also, and to be honest 80s hip-hop was music I was actually familiar with going in. I'm actually a little on the old side for mashups. We met in a NYC hotel room while I was preparing for, of all things, a Sanders Foundation meeting. (Talk about switching gears quickly!) While this episode may not be the most timeless of season one, as generations older and much younger will probably just not get it, I think it ended up satisfying the mission well; bringing philosophy to people who just didn't care about it in the first place.
Tomorrow will mark the release of the 8th episode out of 10 for Hi-Phi Nation, which is my attempt at bridging many different genres with philosophy; documentaries, journalism, narrative storytelling, and sound design. As a guest blogger this week, I'm going to talk about the backstory behind the making of some of these episodes, as well as the interesting challenges I faced as a trained academic philosopher trying to create something so different from what we're trained to create (essays not audio, arguments not narratives.)
Episodes 2 and 3 were the first pieces I produced a little over a year ago. When I first met Major Ian Fishback in Ann Arbor, I already recorded with Jeff McMahan, Helen Frowe, Michael Robillard, and many faculty at USMA at West Point on just war and revisionist just war theory, as well as Mike's work on moral exploitation. But because the show wasn't just going to be a highly-produced piece of audio philosophy, I needed a good story. You can't "turn stories into ideas" without story. I knew Ian's story from the archived media reports about his whistle-blowing in the Army, so I assumed that I was coming into a story about a man who opposed torture, and we were going to have a show about torture in war. But that made up less than a third of what we ended up talking about. Ian and I spoke on tape for over three hours. The real story behind his military career was almost a perfect snapshot of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from the hopeful and almost easy days of the early push against Al Qaeda and the Taliban (remember the Northern Alliance?) to the chaos in the initial years in Iraq, all the way to the height of the surge and the limited successes and ultimate failure of the counterinsurgency campaign, leading to the rise of ISIS. If you haven't already listened, the bonus content for the episodes is just gold, I wish I could've included them. Ian's story and current philosophical reflections on his experiences did not disappoint. How could a philosopher who spent over a decade of his life in combat not have interesting things to say about the ethics and law of war? My conversations with Ian and the pieces that were finally released set the structure for how I approached the rest of the season.
Even though it was my first and certainly not the most polished piece, I knew from it that story-driven philosophy could be something special.
I'm delighted to welcome three guest-bloggers next week: two familiar voices--Darlene Deas and Christopher Pynes--plus a new guest-blogger, philosopher Barry Lam from Vassaar, who will be blogging about his Hi-Phi Nation podcast project. I'll probably have a couple of items next week too, but these three will be the main attractions!
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)