Interview with Zach Weinersmith, Author of Polystate: A Thought Experiment in Distributed Government

by Daniel Listwa

Zach WienersmithOne need not look any further than the items in one’s pocket to see that the progress of technology has facilitated a continued explosion of choice and customization. In the past, technological constraints implied that a particular household generally had only a single choice over telephone service providers. Now, the advent of the cellphone allows one to choose from a whole menu of providers. The phenomenon is widespread. From online dating sites enabling people to browse through millions of potential significant others, to 3D printing allowing the complete customization of almost anything, the trend toward greater personalization of experience continues to grow.

What if the tendency toward tech-driven personalization were to spread to the sphere of government, breaking its monopoly in such a way that each individual were allowed to freely choose what sort of government system to be a part of? This is the “what if” behind Zach Weinersmith’s new book, Polystate: A Thought Experiment in Distributed Government.

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Call for Submissions

The Gadfly is looking for submissions for our Spring 2014 edition. All undergraduates, regardless of major or school affiliation, are encouraged to submit. The due date for submissions is March 23, 2014.

Please email submissions to: gadflymagazine@gmail.com

Include in your email your school affiliation, graduation year, and a one or two sentence summary of your argument.

We are looking for non-fiction essays that are philosophically oriented, but not so jargon-heavy that they are only accessible to philosophy majors. In other words, submissions should not read like a philosophy class assignment or a professional journal article. Topic-wise, we are open to – and indeed strive for – a wide range of subjects explored from diverse points of view.

Submission drafts are usually about 3 to 5 double-spaced pages, and need not be finalized; however, the less formulated your essay, the earlier you should submit it. Pitches are also welcome, in case you have an article idea you’d like to discuss with us.

To sample past issues, check out our archive of electronic editions. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions or comments.

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The Failure of Philosophy: A Success Story

by Dan Jacob Wallace

This article, which deals with the relationship of failure to philosophy, originally appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of The Gadfly. It appears here in an edited form. The images are of an architectural model that is not executable at the full size of a building, yet represents the sorts of unattainable ideals that inform the design of buildings;  designed and constructed by Sandra Bonito.

I. Introduction

sandra bonito - model - unbuildable perfection

One way of viewing the history of Western philosophy is as a gradual separating out of questions that are essentially empirical in nature from those that aren’t; the former constitutes today’s science, the latter what we currently think of as philosophy. While trust in the explanatory power of science has grown, philosophy has come to be seen as increasingly unreliable in what it can tell us about the world. This, however, is to miscast philosophy based on a scientific model. Indeed, once a philosophical question becomes addressable by a scientific method of falsification, it has moved over into the domain of science.

Philosophy as a field is largely made up of questions that have yet to, or never will, move over to the scientific domain. As such, it’s philosophy’s task to ask questions that current science isn’t prepared to ask, much less test, though it’s even more than this. The claim that I’ll ultimately be working to unfold here, as I explore various notions of failure in relation to philosophy, is that at the bottom of any field there is a level of conception, and when one works at this level, philosophy is happening, and science-like falsification does not play a role. Continue reading

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Neoconservatism

by William Holt

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of The Gadfly.

Somewhat improbably, neoconservatism has struck back. The political ideology of unfettered markets, aggressive democracy promotion, and American exceptionalism not only dominates the pages of The Weekly Standard, but has begun to reestablish itself as an undeniable force in more general talks about American foreign policy.

In response to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense back in January, the neocons clawed their way back into the news cycle and attempted to hijack the vetting process and senatorial hearings on the former Nebraska Senator’s record. Hagel’s one-time remark about the “Jewish lobby” has been pounced on by movement conservatives like Elliott Abrams and William Kristol, who have tried their very hardest to portray the former senator as a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite and inveterate enemy of the state of Israel. Continue reading

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Occupy A Cappella: Pitch Perfect and the Critique of Hierarchy

by Evan Burger, Senior Editor
twitter: @evan_burger

Pitch PerfectWhile the commentariat was busy debating the politics of Lincoln, Django Unchained, and Les Miserables, a surprisingly radical film slipped under the critical radar in the form of Pitch Perfect, a comedy set in the world of collegiate a cappella. Ten months after the eviction of Zuccotti Park ended the glory days of the Occupy movement, and only weeks after Christopher Nolan tied the language of the 99% to the Terror, this light-hearted flick continues the debate over the possibility of more democratic kinds of political organization.

To be sure, classifying Pitch Perfect as even a middlebrow film is quite a stretch. The plotting follows standard Hollywood formulae; the concept is borrowed directly from the most earnest series on television right now, Glee; and the acting, aside from Rebel Wilson’s performance, is solidly forgettable. Continue reading

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Ross Douthat and the Young Marx

Gadfly’s resident leftist, Evan Burger, wrote a piece for Jacobin magazine on work, leisure, and the right to be lazy. Drawing on Hegel, Nietzsche, Aristotle, and (of course) Marx, Evan articulates the Left position that we should be fighting for better work, not less work. Check it out!

Ross Douthat and the Young Marx - Why Marx Loved Work — And We Should, Too

 

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Con los Terroristas: The Revolutionary Potential of the Harlem Shake Meme

by Evan Burger
twitter: @evan_burger

harlem-shake

By the time this article is published, the meme of the Harlem Shake will almost certainly have passed through oversaturation into the realm of backlash — a stage as essential to the life cycle of a pop culture phenomenon in the internet age as the larval is for the butterfly. However, the question still remains to be asked: can we draw any political insight from this infinite string of insipid videos? Or is it just another expression of the decadence of our television-addled society, another way to distract ourselves from the much more serious business of fighting for liberty, equality, fraternity? Continue reading

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Divine Intervention: Interference or Intercession?

by Jay Hyun Kim

Divine Intervention - Art by Anna SharovaDivine intervention: some people see it as interference in their affairs, others as intercession on their behalf. Even a modern man unyielding in his rational perspective of the universe and dismissive of the irrationality of divinity in antiquity cannot ignore the perennial question that has always captivated mankind: the existence of god. The relationship between gods and men has defined what it means to be human. Every philosophy, religion or study of life has dealt with this issue in one way or another. In particular, Buddhism and Stoicism present not only a fascinating contrast but also a remarkable overlap in their respective approaches in reclaiming life. The Buddhists regard the so-called ‘fate’ as a common misconception of what is perfectly logical, the law of causality. Continue reading

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The Genetically Modified Guitarist: Genetic Enhancement, Musical Experience, and the Good Art Gene

by Dan Jacob Wallace

Genetic Enhancement - Photo by Anna Sharova

In an episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast (5/16/2009) dealing with the topic of genetic
enhancement, host Nigel Warburton poses a thought experiment to his guest, philosopher Allen Buchanan, in which Warburton takes a pill that enhances his memory and coordination, enabling him to learn a guitar composition that had previously proven beyond his ability. Warburton worries that such a shortcut might devalue his musical accomplishment. Buchanan’s response to this is that Warburton would proceed to find new challenges, elevating his struggle with the instrument to a higher plateau. While I think Buchanan is probably right, I also think Warburton’s experience as a musician would be positively enhanced, largely because there is something essentially rewarding in playing guitar well. There are deeper questions to consider here regarding our experience of performing and listening to music, as well as the social implications such a pill would bring. Before addressing those, it’d be helpful to look at what we mean by “genetic enhancement.”

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Michele Moody-Adams on the Future of Affirmative Action

Michelle Mood-AdamsInterview with Michele Moody-Adams (Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory, Columbia University) conducted by Krishna Hegde and Clava Brodsky:

Gadfly: We thought we would talk about affirmative action from three different perspectives: first from a liberal democratic, second as public policy and administration, and then third from the point of view of the law. So for the first question: it’s always tricky to interpret the application of equality of opportunity in policy as making accommodations. Do you see affirmative action as essentially saying that total equality is, then, actually unfair? Continue reading

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Writing Fellows – An Education of Liberation

by Jamila Barra

Schools, the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire argues, all too often function like banks; at these institutions, the teacher is understood as the holder of something valuable – knowledge – which she deposits into the account of the student’s mind. In this pervasive model of pedagogy, the teacher is the only active agent, while the student remains a passive receptacle. The information transmitted from teacher to student is fixed and, in a sense, dead: just as a banking transaction doesn’t fundamentally change the bank account, the money deposited or the account holder, so the teacher, student and knowledge transmitted, in this model, remain the same as before the teaching. Continue reading

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Legitimate Speech

by Sam Ballantyne

The recent film The Innocence of  Muslims incited a series of mob attacks on US embassies across the Muslim world; on this continent and on our campus, the movie sparked numerous lectures and academic talks.  Many in the West drew a connection between those various European laws which restrict denial of the Holocaust or display of swastikas to those Muslim blasphemy laws, which prohibit movies like The Innocence of Muslims.  Our own Dean Peter Awn, in an eloquent lecture reflecting on the events of those weeks, cited the French Gayssot law and noted that state restrictions on speech were hardly ‘a Muslim thing.’

This essay thus began as an exploration of relation between the Muslim prohibition of blasphemy and those European laws that ban denial of the holocaust – but, finding no useful equivalence, set out to define the principle which separates them. Continue reading

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Fighting Speech with Speech

by Russell Parker

Following the recent attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi leaving a U.S ambassador dead, hate speech and blasphemy laws have been hot button issues on the international stage. News junkies and close followers of the “religious wars” know too well that these recent flare-ups follow in a long line of conflicts from the last two decades. The publishing of Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, Salman Rushdie’s 1988 Satanic Verses and even South Park’s playful teasing at religious figures of all kinds have given rise to an international discussion regarding state intervention into speech and expression rights. Continue reading

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