I'm sending this email anonymously since, nowadays, being linked to even the mild views that I wish to get your opinion on is grounds for being tossed in the dustbin of "bigotry."
I've seen professional philosophers hint that they have these views, the ones I'm about to express, in places on your blog, but I'm hoping to get them conceretely addressed here.
I fear that the modern left has lost any sense of appropriate boundaries for moral concern and suffers from an obsession with identity recognition that's rapidly undoing the reasonable hierarchy of moral priorities that leftists once had. As this worry implies, I count myself, firmly, among the left. But I can't endorse the shrill, self-destructive ethos rapidly proliferating on this side of the political fence, which might well be an expression of the "Generation Wuss" mentality that you've gestured to at times.
Let me illustrate with an example. I recently read of a stranger's experience, in a Twitter thread that has since been deleted, with a transsexual friend. Having no malicious intent whatsoever, this former individual casually addressed a group of friends, of which the latter person was a part, with the word "guys." His transsexual friend (a woman) informed him sometime later that hearing the word "guys" "triggered" her, induced serious psychological distress, by way of a gender identity conflict that this word brought about. In recounting this story on the internet, the person with the transsexuxal friend stated that he wasn't interested in maintaining a relationship with this person, since he wasn't willing to "walk on eggshells" and self-police his language to accommodate what he perceived to be unreasonable fragility on the part of his transsexual friend. Unsurprisingly, the individual recounting this story was incessantly berated by victim-mongering identity politickers on Twitter, who suggested that he's an "evil bigot" with virtual unanimity.
The belief presumably animating such sickening moralizing strikes me as utterly perverse, where, by "belief", I mean the view that those who cause any offense to some vulnerable individual are morally required to take every step necessary to rectify the caused--and, in the future, avoid causing--offense. Is there no obligation on the part of "offended" persons to accept that not everything they hear will reflect the reality that they desire, and to develop some, dare I say, resilience in the face of this reality? And where will it end? Are we all to avoid speaking in public about the persons we find physically attractive, for fear that some self-aware, unattractive person will be psychologically traumatized by the experience? Though I've asked many people those questions, I'm yet to encounter a principled reason to care so deeply for the offense of "misgendering" transsexual people, while caring not at all for the exclusion that is part and parcel of recognizing that some are beautiful and others ugly. The "reasons" offered typically amount to nothing more than handwaving about how gender "matters more", as if identity politickers can, absent contradiction, merely put aside the social harm and isolation that follow from linguistic practices that establish aesthetic pecking orders, while frothing about "misgendering" and demanding radical revision of the features of language thought to be harmful to certain groups, because the latter "matters more." By that logic, it could be argued that we should dismiss (something, by the way, that I do not want to do) trans issues entirely, since trans folk constitute such a small minority of the population and, as such, the harm to them from misgendering is less serious than the harm to black people from racism. Clearly the former (the respose of identity politickers to my question about inclusion of the ugly) is to do with quality of harm while the latter (about racism) is to do with quantity, but the spirit of the notions is the same.
My correspondent gave permission to open this for general discussion. I agree with the main themes of this e-mail, though less so with the last, long paragraph, which I don't entirely understand. The hyper-sensitivity of coddled narcissists masquerading as moral righteousness is, indeed, tiresome, and it also does an injustice to those who actually suffer from PTSD who are entitled, including legally, to accommodation. But what do readers think?
Professor Pessin compared Gazan Palestinians to “rabid pit bulls” who need to be caged. He described the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a cycle of letting the “snarling dogs” out of their “cage” and then beating them back into it. One person named Nicole commented on the post suggesting the “dogs” be put down. Professor Pessin responded, “I agree.” Professor Pessin directly condoned the extermination of a people. A member of our community has called for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people.
(Thanks to Lukas Slothuus for alerting me to this story.)
ADDENDUM: Prof. Pessin offers an "apology" here, though, oddly, without clearly renouncing the view that Palestinians are "dogs."
UPDATE: IHE now has an informative item on this affair. Prof. Pessin thinks it is a defense of his slurs to report that they were only aimed at Hamas, the elected representative of the Palestinians in Gaza. He also makes the ludicrous claim that this is all an attempt to silence him, an outspoken proponent of Israel (when has an outspoken proponent of Israel ever been silenced in the United States?). On the other hand, students asking the Administration to denounce Prof. Pessin's remarks are wrong to do so: it is not the job of a college administration to police or editorialize about faculty speech.
Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water; advances in medicine will allow us to live longer and healthier lives; robots will drive our cars, manufacture our goods, and do our chores.
There won’t be much work for human beings. Self-driving cars will be commercially available by the end of this decade and will eventually displace human drivers—just as automobiles displaced the horse and buggy—and will eliminate the jobs of taxi, bus, and truck drivers. Drones will take the jobs of postmen and delivery people....
Robots are already replacing manufacturing workers. Industrial robots have advanced to the point at which they can do the same physical work as human beings. The operating cost of some robots is now less than the salary of an average Chinese worker. And, unlike human beings, robots don’t complain, join labor unions, or get distracted. They readily work 24 hours a day and require minimal maintenance. Robots will also take the jobs of farmers, pharmacists, and grocery clerks.
Medical sensors in our smartphones, clothing, and bathrooms will soon be monitoring our health on a minute-to-minute basis. Combined with electronic medical records and genetic and lifestyle data, these will provide enough information for physicians to focus on preventing disease rather than on curing it....
The writing is clearly on the wall about what lies ahead. Yet even the most brilliant economists—and futurists—don’t know what to do about it....
[A]t best we have another 10 to 15 years in which there is a role for humans. The number of available jobs will actually increase in the U.S. and Europe before it decreases. China is out of time because it has a manufacturing-based economy, and those jobs are already disappearing. Ironically, China is accelerating this demise by embracing robotics and 3D printing. As manufacturing comes back to the U.S., new factories need to be built, robots need to be programmed, and new infrastructure needs to be developed. To install new hardware and software on existing cars to make them self-driving, we will need many new auto mechanics. We need to manufacture the new medical sensors, install increasingly efficient solar panels, and write new automation software.
And see also this. Unless the productive forces of the world are used for common support, the future will be grim indeed.
UPDATE: See also this essay by sociologist Randall Collins, which starts at p. 27 in the linked volume. (Thanks to Benj Hellie for the pointer.)
First Law of Cyber-dynamics: any unmoderated comment thread will reduce the total amount of knowledge and understanding in the world in proportion to its length.
Second Law of Cyber-dynamics: any unmoderated comment thread on a post touching on politics, race or gender will degenerate into vile idiocy within the first ten comments.
Third Law of Cyber-dynamics: no off-hand comment is too trivial to not generate thousands of words of cyber-commentary.
Fourth Law of Cyber-dynamics: no off-hand comment is too benign to fail to generate offense somewhere else in cyberspace.
Fifth Law of Cyber-dynamics: any comment thread on a blog with an ideological identity will give expression to the most extreme version of that identity within the first ten comments. (The Law of Cyber-Group Polarizaton--Brit will be shedding some light on this next week).
...but it's not just the feminist bloggers and tweeters who are withdrawing. I know of male philosophers who have withdrawn for a similar reason--the main difference, of course, is that threats of sexualized violence are rarely directed at men in cyberspace. But round-the-clock abuse, and threats of non-sexual violence, are a constant for anyone who takes positions that are at all controversial or non-mainstream. The pathology of cyberspace and the ugly behavior it elicits warrants more attention from the law than it has yet received.
It includes, as always, a few philosophers and political theorists (this year: David Chalmers, John Gray, Jurgen Habermas), plus one of my personal favorites, Evgeny Morozov, who always cuts through all the self-serving bullshit about the Internet and technology.
UPDATE: Longtime reader Roger Albin, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, writes:
What Pollan describes in the New Yorker piece is not as weird as it appears. To a considerable extent, its a reflection of the considerable frustration experienced by psychiatrists with the presently limited treatments for substance abuse and refractory depression. Some useful therapies have been discovered through efforts like these. One of the most effective treatments in psychiatry, Lithium for bipolar disorder, was discovered via what can be described only as a parody of science (if you're interested, look up the concise and accurate account in the Wikipedia entry on John Cade, the psychiatrist who made the initial key observations).
And in a follow-up e-mail, he adds:
Pollan's discussion of the interesting phenomenon of the default mode network (DMN) is naive, though he may have been misled by his informants. The piece makes much of the weakening of the DMN after psychedelic ingestion but the DMN weakens in many situations, so correlations with the phenomena experienced during psychedelic use are not specific.
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)