Monday, August 11, 2008

Some Notes on My Recent Philosophical Thinking

I hope to keep this brief, as I'm hungry.

Over the last two months or so, I've been spending much of my free time reading reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. After that, I got to Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. This got me thinking again about the role of philosophy in our larger discourse, and if it still has a meaningful role at all.

I also read Hernando De Soto's The Mystery of Capital. Though it's not a philosophy book, it got me going on an idea for a kind of rough model of philosophical discourse. What got me thinking about that was De Soto's indictment of lawyers and legislators in developing countries. De Soto's main prescription in the book is for political leaders to institutionalize the informal property system of migrants who have flooded the outskirts of most cities in the developing world. Only then, he argues, can the true potential of capital be unleashed to create greater wealth by formalizing property rights and creating a unified system.

Lawyers get in the way, says De Soto, because they insist on maintaining the institutionalized legal system, and trying to extinguish the extralegal systems. They try to impose an outmoded and dysfunctional system over a system that has emerged more organically to meet the real needs of people.

Rorty, channeling Wittgenstein, has a similar critique of philosophers. Rorty argues that philosophy since Decartes has been rooted in vocabulary with origins in notions that philosophers don't accept anymore. I haven't finished the book yet, but he seems to take the radical view that philosophers should abandon all attempts to construct a framework to judge other areas of knowledge (this has been, Rorty claims, the goal of epistemology).

My thought is this: the Rorty's philosophers are like De Soto's lawyers. Taking a cue from De Soto, and if Rorty is right- philosophers should keep this in mind:

We don't fully understand how other areas of knowledge and inquiry work. They don't always arrive at the conclusions we expect (could Newton have anticipated quantum theory?). Thus it's silly to think that we can determine, through philosophical reflection, what the bounds of knowledge are.

That said, constructive contributions from epistemology may still be possible. Just because we don't understand the whole system doesn't mean that we can't point out what seem like contradictions, or possible conclusions that may, thus far, have been overlooked, etc. Discourse, like law, is an emergent phenomenon, and by its nature contributions will happen in unexpected ways. Yet emergent phenomenon still have systematic features, and critiques of and inquiries into those features may bear fruit.

This is all pretty rough, I realize. But I'd rather get it out now and improve on it as I can.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

An Orgy of Nationalism

That's pretty much what I think about the Olympics. I appreciate the effort and accomplishment of individual athletes, but the way those efforts are used by governments and the bulk of audiences is repulsive. What do I care if people who hold the same citizenship as me win at pistol shooting or whatever?

I watched the opening ceremony last night at my school. My feelings were mixed. It's kind of touching to see how excited my Chinese students and colleagues were. And the sentement of the ceremony was, as these things go, fairly cosmopolitan.

Of course, there was the required Chinese nationalistic nonsense. I always enjoy the parading of the "56 ethnic minorities" which, you see, one can distinguish from their various hats. To think I always used to sneer at the cultural studies people who talked about "cooption strategies". It's all true. Of course, I also think any notion of "right to self-government" based on perceived ethnic identity is pretty silly too. Thus I also have mixed feelings about China's internal conflicts with seperatist movements.

I'm not one to make statements about huge groups of people, but many Chinese seem to really need to believe in the greatness of their country, and the Olympics have become the way to do this at the moment. This kind of sentiment is, of course, hardly unique to the Chinese.

Meanwhile, it seems that the Chinese government has taken an approach to the preparation and holding of the games more reminiscent of Berlin 1936 than of a prosperous and open society. Amnesty International recently released a report claiming that the human rights situation has worsened significantly in the run up to the games. Migrant workers have been deported from Beijing. Common people protesting mistreatment by the government have been wisked away by police. Thousands of businesses have been shut down, and many more have been hurt badly by trafic restrictions. It's been difficult for foreigners to get visas, and the tourism related businesses across China have seen the worst summer in years.

I feel I'm meandering a bit. My mixed feelings toward the Olympics can be are basically as follows: Cosmopolitanism, China's developement and opening, achievement are great. Nationalism, collectivism, corporatism, and state thugery are all deeply repugnant. The entire spectacal in Beijing seems to be oozing with all of them.

Oh, and, for Chinese officials reading this- I come in peace:-)

Friday, August 08, 2008

I can't believe I missed this...

Brian Doherty, author of Radicals for Capitalism, posted a link on his blog to my review of the book, and even mentioned my name! (Google "Nico Dornemann"- it's the second result. I would include the link but the Great Fire Wall and my tech incompetence prevent me)

I know it's pretty small potatoes, but as someone who's harboured dreams of being a "public intellectual", it's still exciting. I'm kinda giddy, to be honest. I mean, I never thought anyone even read my blog. I feel like I've been inspired to continue my efforts again.

So expect some more posting- you, my non-existent readers!
UPDATE: I'm a moron- here's that link.