Sunday, 6 November 2011

Octopus Cognition

A wonderful article at Orion Magazine on the consciousness and cognitive abilities of octopuses (HT Sentient Developments). 
Octopuses have the largest brains of any invertebrate. Athena’s is the size of a walnut—as big as the brain of the famous African gray parrot, Alex, who learned to use more than one hundred spoken words meaningfully. That’s proportionally bigger than the brains of most of the largest dinosaurs.

Another measure of intelligence: you can count neurons. The common octopus has about 130 million of them in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.
“Octopuses,” writes philosopher Godfrey-Smith, “are a separate experiment in the evolution of the mind.” And that, he feels, is what makes the study of the octopus mind so philosophically interesting.

“I think consciousness comes in different flavors,” agrees Mather. “Some may have consciousness in a way we may not be able to imagine.”

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Bees, Meditation and Biofuel

There is an interesting post by Phil Hart at The Oil Drum, inspired by Mark Magill's Meditation and the Art of Bee Keeping.  The piece explores an analogy between the production of ethanol and the creation of honey by bees. 
One calculation has it that 450g (1 lb) of honey represents visits to two million flowers.

So the next time you're spreading a teaspoon of honey on your toast, think about the visits tens of thousands of bees made to a hundred thousand flowers, just to bring you something you can devour in a couple of mouthfuls.

And the next time you put a gallon of gas in your tank, think about just how much effort and energy is required to replace it with a gallon of biofuel grown, gathered and processed from crops.
The argument is that one should, pretty much, value them similarly, although this might - albeit this is not the article's aim - entail rejecting the human use of both.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies

Well, I'm rather late to the party on this, but its still well worth mentioning.  See details at Levi Bryant's Larval Subjects here.  Levi is ...

pleased to announce the launch of a new journal, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies. Please circulate this widely.


. . . all these changes concern objects; at least, that’s what I’d like to be sure of.

—from the notebooks of Antoine Roquentin

O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies is a peer-reviewed, open-access, and post-disciplinary journal devoted to object-oriented studies, both situated within and traversing the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and the arts. The journal aims to cultivate current streams of thought already established within object-oriented studies, while also providing space for new pathways along which disparate voices and bodies of object-oriented knowledges might encounter, influence, perturb, and motivate one another.

Situated within a post-Kantian philosophical outlook, where everything in the world, from the smallest quarks to lynxes to humans to wheat fields to machines and beyond exist on an equal ontological footing, O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies invites new work that explores the weird realism, thingliness, and life-worlds of objects. Possible methodological approaches and critical modes might include: actor-networks, unit operations, alien phenomenology, agentic drift, onticology, guerrilla metaphysics, carnal phenomenology, ontography, agential realism, cosmopolitics, panpsychism, insect media, posthumanism, flat ontology, dark vitalism, prosthetics, territorial assemblage, vibrant materialism, dorsality, distributed intelligence, dark ecology, hyperobjects, realist magic, post-continuity, and other paradigms for object-oriented thought still coming into being and yet to be articulated.

The journal will appear annually and be available online, free of charge, and also in affordable print-on-demand and e-reader editions, published in partnership with punctum books.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Moving Planet Now!

Featuring 2000 events in 175 countries, Moving Planet is part of the worldwide campaign to move beyond fossil fuels and tackle climate change.  Check out some of the photos and events at Moving Planet and also the growing grassroots movement

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Genetic variation down 80% by 2080

ScienceDaily (Aug. 24, 2011) — If global warming continues as expected, it is estimated that almost a third of all flora and fauna species worldwide could become extinct. Scientists from the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum, BiK-F) and the SENCKENBERG Gesellschaft für Naturkunde discovered that the proportion of actual biodiversity loss should quite clearly be revised upwards: by 2080, more than 80 % of genetic diversity within species may disappear in certain groups of organisms, according to researchers in the title story of the journal Nature Climate Change. The study is the first world-wide to quantify the loss of biological diversity on the basis of genetic diversity.
This is the news release from ScienceDaily outlining one of the latest studies and projections for species extinctions due to climate change, this time drawing attention to the loss of genetic variation within species.  Further details from Joe Romm's Climate Progress here.  Time and again, studies are appearing that point towards the IPCC worst case scenarios either being the most likely to occur, or else rather understated.  Romm quotes from a report in the Royal Society special issue on 'Biological Diversity in a Changing World' (November 27, 2010, 365) that usefully captures the tone, put simply, '[t]here are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record.'

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Teaching Ahoy!

Nearly finished writing and updating my undergraduate modules for the coming year. I co-ordinate and teach the bulk of three modules, deliver lecture spots on four others, and also supervise projects and dissertations. So, twenty six weeks of teaching makes for a rather busy schedule. That said, I very much enjoy the relative freedom to teach what I want and the strange combinations of topics that are thrown up by teaching both philosophy and religious studies.

Truth and Value: Introduction to Philosophical and Ethical Enquiry (year one)
What is Philosophy?; Deduction, Induction and Logic; Determinism and Free Will; Philosophy of Mind; Personal Identity; Philosophy of Language; Moral Realism; Moral Relativism; Consequentialism; Deontology; and Contractualism.

Spiritual Revolution: Pagan, New and Alternative Religions in the Twenty First Century (year two/three)
The Spiritual Revolution; New Age; The Pagan Revival; Authenticity; Commodification; Apocalypticism; Wicca and the Craft; The Goddess; Heathenism; Shamanism; New Religions and Conversion; New Religions and the Media; Satanism; Scientology; Alternative Histories and 2012.

Life and Meaning: Philosophy and the Human Condition (year three)
The Meaning of Life as a Philosophical Question; the Purpose of Life; the Absurdity of Life; Self-Fulfilment; Mortality; Immortality; Extinction; Flourishing; Suffering; Value; Identity and several weeks of Sartre.

One can add to this guest lectures on Christianity and the media; Christian militancy and fundamentalism; cyberfeminism; Daoism; feminist methodologies in the study of religions; feminist theology and queer theology; the insider-outsider problem; psychology of religion; and UFO religions.

Busy, busy, busy ... now to find time to write.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Democracy of Objects

Levi Bryant's Democracy of Objects is now available in .html version here, with pdf and print versions to follow soon.  I had the pleasure of seeing an earlier draft version and I am now looking forwards to immersing myself in the finished product.  A wonderful contribution to the evolution of Object-Oriented Ontology. 

Add to this the fact that the Third Object-Oriented Ontology Symposium also kicks off today, with livestreaming at Tim Morton's blog here, and this is an important couple of days for OOO.  Now, where is Alien Phenomenology?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Just a quick recommendation for a blog by one of my past philosophy students.  Abi was one of the first students to graduate in philosophy at Bath Spa and will be beginning a Masters degree in Philosophy at Kings College London this year.  I'm very much impressed with her ecological and evironmental writings over at EcoTheme.  Keep up the good work.

Monday, 29 August 2011

GOP Anti-Intellectualism

One of my growing fears is well-articulated by Paul Krugman in the New York Times, namely that many of the potential Republican presidential nominees are anti-science and, in a more sweeping sense, anti-knowledge too.  This perhaps isn't shocking news for many, however, the possibility that the most powerful nation on the Earth might be governed by an individual and party that is wilfully anti-intellectual and possesses these epistemic biases is, as Krugman concludes, 'a terrifying prospect.'

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Upcoming Conference - Philosophy and ...

I will be attending the Society for European Philosophy annual conference at York St John University in the week ahead (31st August to 3rd September). A rather last minute decision on my part, but I’m now very much looking forward to the diverse selection of papers, including several on feminist philosophy and object-oriented ontology.  Plenary speakers include Michele Le Doeuff and Graham Harman, so my two main areas of philosophical interest are usefully covered.  I hope to meet some people I’ve only corresponded with via blogs and email and also touch base with some old friends (Bev, Pamela).

London Burning

A good commentary on the recent London riots by Žižek for the London Review of Books here.  Many useful posts at Lenin’s Tomb and Infinite Thought too, including counternarratives to those presented in the mainstream media and another offensive piece of interviewing by the BBC here.

Processes versus Objects Reloaded

Two weeks away with minimal internet contact and what do I find?  The process versus object debates seem to have renewed themselves, inititiated by some queries and speculation by Ben Woodard at Naught Thought here.  I won’t provide a comprehensive list of all the relevant links, I’m still reading through some of them.  Ben has a good summary of them here.

White Paper Object(ions)

A good critique of the British government’s treatment of higher education during the last year is available here.  Focus is directed towards the white paper, but there is good contextualisation and elaboration of the inconsistencies and litany of procedural and other errors that constitute the madness so far.  A good introduction for the interested outsider.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Panglossian Disorders

I’m posting Kathy McMahon’s fun and also painfully accurate description of the various defence mechanisms that many people deploy in the face of uncomfortable realities such as climate change, imminent economic collapse and peak oil. Kathy goes under the title of the Peak Shrink, a clinical psychologist, counselor and author of Peak Oil Blues. Kathy originally posted these types of Panglossian Disorder in November 2007 (here) but has recently reposted them with an accompanying song (here).

I’m grappling with a lot of these maladaptive psychological mechanisms at the moment, both for a book and a keynote paper for a few hundred sixth formers. I think Kathy pretty much nails all of them. Enjoy.

Panglossian Disorders and Their Subtypes

“Panglossian Disorders” are defined as: “The neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse.”

Temporal Subtypes:
Scarlet O’Hara-ism- “I’ll just have to think about that tomorrow.” A strategy of denial that allows the person to temporally compartmentalize the feared event(s).
Futurism: “Sure, that will happen, but it will occur after all of us are long dead.” A belief that something that might happen in the distant future is no concern in the present.
Y2K features: “They said everything would collapse with 2000, and it didn’t.” A belief that any prior concern about societal problems that didn’t occur demonstrates the impossibility of any others happening in the future.

Angry Subtypes:
Rhett-Butlerist Features- “Peak Oil? Planetary Collapse? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Aggressive denial of information not in keeping with one’s world view.
Kill the Messenger Redirection: “Why are you telling me this? What kind of sicko focuses on these kinds of facts? You need help!” The belief that those who bring bad news are doing it for malevolent reasons.

Narcissistic Subtypes:
Rigid Cheney-ism: “The American Way of Life is non-negotiable.” The belief that any undesirable change can be avoided by a sheer act of will.
Survivalistic features: “Hey, if the rest of the world is doomed, I don’t worry about it, because I’ve got mine.” A belief that personal preparation is adequate.

Religious Subtypes:
“Religiosity: “God/The Planet/Mother Nature loves humans. He/She/It would never permit massive die-off.” Or “If that happens, I just put my faith in my Savior.”
Neoliberal Econo-manic Tendencies: “The market will sort it out.” A belief that market forces control all— including geological realities.
Nascarian Features: “People love their automobiles. A solution will have to be found to keep us driving.”

Subtypes with Denial or Minimization as the Central Feature:
Pure Denial: “That can’t be right. It’s just impossible.”
Minimalization as a primary defense: “There may be some shortages, but I doubt it will be as bad as you say.”

Subtypes with Histrionic, Helplessness, Acquiescence or Submissive Features:
Submissive Features: You’re probably right. [Shrug]” Too hard/scary to think about… A response that acknowledges the reality of the threat, but is emotionally frozen or unwilling to devote emotional time and energy to the matter.
Histrionic Features: “I just don’t know anything about that. Oh, Golly, I hope you’re wrong. That’s all I can say. Oh Golly, I just can’t think about it.”

Subtypes with Delusional or Magical Thinking:
Meglomanic Features:“This simply won’t happen to me.” A belief in one’s specialness, which will save them from the consequences affecting those around them.
Paternalistic Features: “The government/corporations will sort it out.” A belief in the infallibility of organizational structures to resolve problems they aren’t willing to even acknowledge.
Doubting Thomas Features: “Peak Oil is a scam by the Oil Companies to raise prices!” Minimizing the possibility of the crisis by the belief that some one or some group has ultimate control over its happening.
Pure Cornucopian Features: “The more we need, the more they’ll be.” A belief that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by advances in technology.
The Flinstonian“The stone-age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” A belief that modern innovation is eternal.
Frank Zappa-ism: “As soon as things get really bad, they’ll come up with something.” A belief that necessity is the mother of invention.
Magical Thinking: “Don’t worry, we can build a car that can run on air!” Proposes solutions that are clearly outside the realm of physics.
MacGyver-ism Features – A belief that massive planetary problems can be solved with ordinary/common items found readily at hand. Eg.: “Pig dung will be the next fossil fuel.” Or “Coke Cans can be turned into solar panels.”

The Panglossian View
Borrowing Voltaire’s character Pangloss in his novel Candide, we might speak of a Panglossian Disorder as the belief that “all is well and everything in the world is for the best.” In adopting a Panglossian philosophy, Candide accepts situations and tries not to change or overcome obstacles. Instead, he passively accepts whatever fate has in store, and shrugs off his personal responsibilities. The name Pangloss is actually a pun: pan = Greek for ‘all’, relating to the whole universe (English); and ‘gloss’ (English) = both an explanation and an interpretation, which is deceptive in its external appearance. There is also a medical definition: Panglossia: abnormal or pathologic garrulousness, usually of a trivial nature.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there, perhaps especially you new ones (e.g. Ivakhiv).  For those of you who are at least minimally ecologically minded, I imagine that being a parent has lent your theorising and thinking about the environment and the future, as well as your activism and life-choices, a certain affective intensity and tone that it wouldn't have had without children.  I copy here a piece from Joe Romm's Climate Progress, part of a father's day essay he wrote last year (here).
As parents, we constantly admonish our children to share with others. The joke is that as adults, we hardly like to share anything at all. Who likes to lend out their car? Or their tools or books? We’re so worried they won’t come back in the same condition — or won’t be returned at all.

But the truth is that the people we like to share the least with are our own children. “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children,” the saying goes. Right now, though, we’ve borrowed the entire Earth, trashed much of it, and don’t plan to give back the rest of it.

We are plundering the world’s “renewable resources” — arable land and tropical forests and fisheries and fresh water. And we are using an ever-greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources, especially hydrocarbons, with devastating consequences.

Now there might be some dispute here about the use of "we".  That is, corporate actants and multi-national socio-economic and political assemblages might seem more likely objects of blame for the systemic mess. But this doesn't alter the fact that most of us are participants in and beneficiaries of the very globalised systems that are drawing down from the future at an ever accelerating rate.  The big question for parents seems to be, what will it mean for our children to flourish or simply survive in the world "we" are passing on to them?  Personally, the "birds and bees" talks with my kids that I'm nervous about are literally about birds and bees, plus climate and energy, food and water etc.  It's going to be a bitch to explain why daddy and mummy enjoyed so many benefits that they and their children won't be able to.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Join the Dots, Spot a Hyperobject

Another great link from Joe Romm's Climate Progress, this time we have a stunning video by Stephen Thomson (of Plomomedia). Stephen has added some powerful images to Bill McKibben's recent piece in the Washington Post. McKibben is critical of the ongoing failure of the media to join the dots between extreme weather events, and Stephen Thomson's video brings McKibben's narrative to life in a very effective manner.

Interactive History of Climate Science

Just came across this wonderful interactive history of academic climate science papers, divided into skeptic, neutral and pro-global warming categories. Move the slider along the bottom to pick the year, click the bubble to get a list of the papers in the respective category and year. Beautiful.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Oil Oriented Ontology

I particularly enjoyed this object-oriented litany from David Strahan’s (2007) The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man.
It’s amazing how relatively little oil makes so much stuff: not just surfboards but cameras, telephones and gadgets of all sorts; anti-freeze, pipes and plumbing supplies; car tyres (each contains seven gallons of oil), and asphalt to build the roads they roll on; polystyrene insulated cups; X-ray negatives, catheters, stethoscope diaphragms, oxygen tents and medical gloves; packaging (2 million tonnes in Britain alone); window frames; nappies; furniture; paints, dyes, inks and solvents; acrylic fibres for sweaters, acrylic resin for lenses for lenses and light fittings; PVC for raincoats and toys; plastic bottles (11 billion a year in Britain alone); food colouring, stabilizers and antioxidants; detergents; golf balls; shoe soles and entire trainers; TVs and computers (not just the plastics but also – ironically – flame retardant chemicals); bathtubs and shower curtains; parts for fridges, cookers and washing machines; tights; carpets; rubber gaskets, seals and hoses; plastic bags (17 ½ billion in Britain alone, 100 billion in US); bedding; electrical cable sheathing; pharmaceuticals; adhesives; cosmetics and hygiene products; Wellingtons; paddling pools; polyurethane foam for cavity insulation; CDs and DVDs (20 billion a year the legal market alone); rope and twine; footballs; the fleece I’m wearing now; and – my favourite, this – the chemical they sluice around the inside of wine bottles to make them shiny before the wine goes in. In fact, most ‘man-made’ materials you can think of are nothing of the sort; they are ‘oil-made’.
Oh yes, by the way, the entire economy runs on the stuff; it’s a finite resource; it’s likely to pass peak production between 2006 and 2015 (yes, most of those years are in the past); and we have no equivalents or good replacements. Enjoy.

"We're Doomed"

Broadly coextensive with my engagement with Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology, for the last eighteen or so months I have been slowly (re-)immersing myself in ecological philosophy and environmental ethics. Initially this was with the aim of exploring the connections, continuities and possible alliances between some of my earlier research interests and the metaphysical oeuvre of SR/OOO. However, I must confess that this hasn’t quite played out in the way I intended. Rather perversely, either my ecological philosophy has finally gone dark, to appropriate Tim Morton’s term, for reasons that may have everything to do with the alchemical wedding between it and SR/OOO, or else I have simply had a "moment of clarity", "got real" and/or finally stopped denying what, on some level, I have known for some time. Standing in solidarity with many environmentalists, I can now confidently say “we’re all fucked” (or, in the words of Private Frazer of Dad’s Army fame, “we’re doomed”). I’m also prepared to take a hatchet to hope, optimism and positive thinking; but I’ll bypass those for the moment as mere corollaries of the main event.

While I have been teaching ecological and environmental philosophy for the better part of a decade, and been studying it for more than double that, I have also been doing a good job of (a) maintaining some comforting conceptual blind spots, (b) failing to correlate a lot of what I know and believe in a coherent, meaningful and practical manner, and (c) not fully, or perhaps sufficiently, emotionally engaging with what I know and believe. Now there are many increasingly well-understood psychological and evolutionary explanations and excuses for all of these failures (not least of which is the inability of our poor Stone Age, flight-or-fight wired brains to apprehend long term threats or hyperobjects like climate change). However, I’m still more than a little shamefaced that, while I’ve been able to academically babble on about animal rights, ecocentrism, ecological degradation, intrinsic versus instrumental value and species extinction for the past decade, I’ve also been able to carry on with the usual business of life without too much discomfort. Oddly, I was able to recognize and get moving with this kind of problem with regard to my gender identity and my relationship with feminism quite some time ago, but following through with regard to ecology seems to be something I’ve been able to resist, repress and ignore with some tenacity. This, at least, is now changing.

Where now? Obviously the blog is serving more as a confessional at the moment. I never seem to have the time for the mini-treatise of Levi Bryant or others. Most spare moments of writing time, amidst family or academic commitments and piles of administrivia, always seem better directed towards book projects or sleep. These sporadic blog entries are at best side comments for anyone who might be interested or memos for my future self. The favourite blogs list to the side is perhaps indicative of a migration in my thinking. For example, Climate Progress, the Oil Drum and Real Climate are recent additions.

What of OOO? Sometime in the last year I remember one of Anthony Paul Smith’s comments on OOO at An und für sich striking me quite hard. Paraphrasing, I remember him saying that he didn’t have any major problems with OOO, except that he couldn’t see the pay off. I’ve thought about that quite a lot since then. Now clearly one could question the need for demonstrable pay offs (impact assessments anyone?), or else interrogate precisely what paying anything off could mean? Minimally, though, I was more concerned with what I was expecting to get from OOO. What value did it have for me? Simple answer: new/innovative (qua better) conceptual and theoretical tools/lenses for doing non-anthropocentric metaphysics. I won’t belabor or defend whether OOO succeeds in this – the commitment and effort alone remains sufficient. But the pay-off? Why should I want OOO to succeed in this endeavour? My answer of a few months ago would have been that better theories of non- and inhuman agency, actants, matter/nature, objects, the things-in-themselves etc. are one amongst many necessary conditions for escaping the mess that we are in and the crises we are moving towards. Now, though, I’m not so certain. An awful lot of these activities feel increasingly like navel-gazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love philosophy and theory, but of late I’m really starting to focus, with painful intensity, on which theories are, or might be capable of being, applied to, or translated into, some world-changing praxis (the Marxist refrain with regard to the purpose of philosophy loops in out of my consciousness with some regularity here). Indeed, it is with some regret that Graham Harman’s writing has taken a backseat in my thinking of late. Despite the pleasure I gain from reading Harman and his championing of Latour, metaphysics and weird realism, I am finding it difficult to build bridges between his work and the more ecocentric and systems-based theories with which I am most familiar. It is Levi Bryant’s work that is more clearly pointing towards what I need OOO to be, and where I need it to move. Recent posts, such as his Materialism of Onticology, are keeping me very attentive. The following quote usefully captures the trajectory my philosophizing needs to take.
As we watch the nuclear meltdown at the Fukishima power plant, here are some questions we might ask: What difference does an earthquake make? What difference does a tsunami make? What differences do nuclear power plants make? What do all of these things do in their specific affective circumstances? The point is not to deny the role of things such as capital, capitalism, and interests, but to understand these things as genuine actors in these societies or assemblages of association. For example, what new possibilities arise as a result of people’s encounters with all these agencies?

What of me? Well the bookshelves near my desk are divided between an array of academic and diagnostic texts that encompass such pessimistic/realistic terms as collapse, crisis, decline, descent, end-times, last and extinction in their titles (two thirds) and practical, self-help books, featuring some rather more hopeful/necessary descriptors as self-sufficiency, survival, sustainability and transition (one third). To this one may add the pile of undergraduate dissertations and projects in front of me and the sounds of my wife and kids playing in the next room. I think that is a pretty accurate snapshot of where I am and what matters at the moment.

Monday, 18 April 2011

And Another One ...

This is turning into an unpleasant litany.
Closure of Philosophy at LMU

A meeting of London Metropolitan University’s Academic Board yesterday approved proposals for the closure of Philosophy, along with its fellow Humanities subjects, History and Performing Arts – that is to say, it decided that they will not recruit from 2012/2013. This decision was extremely sudden. Until Tuesday evening of this week, when colleagues on Academic Board received papers for the coming meeting, it seemed that these courses were to be preserved. This was not the decision of the Faculty, which proposed to continue these courses, but of central management.

The ground for the decision was ostensibly that of prospective profitability. However, neither Faculty nor central management have been willing to divulge the figures or the modelling methods used to reach this decision. Crude calculations on the basis of existing student numbers suggest that the University actually will lose more income than can be possibly saved in redundancies. This supposition is supported by the fact that when asked at the sub-committee of the Board of Governors meeting last night how much the cuts were expected to save, the Director of Finance replied that they had not yet made that calculation.

Philosophy has been taught at LMU and its predecessor institutions (the University and Polytechnic of North London) since the 1960’s, and has offered a Single Honours degree since 1973. Since the 1980’s, the course has been distinguished by the fact that it provides equal coverage of both Analytic and European philosophy. Although it is now smaller than in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, it still maintains this breadth of coverage.

Philosophy is extremely popular among its students and in last year’s Guardian student satisfaction survey came 29th out of 47 – far higher than the University overall.

The decision to close History and Performing Arts is just as shocking as the decision to close Philosophy. History also achieves a far better than average satisfaction ranking – 48th out of 93, and Performing Arts is widely regarded as providing training at least as good as the Royal Colleges. The cutting of these three courses, following the decisions made earlier this year to close several other Humanities courses, leaves only a small rump of surviving courses, which will almost certainly be absorbed into other Faculties. It therefore seem likely that LMU will in a very few years be a University without Humanities. This is therefore another instance of that alarming trend, whereby, not only philosophy, but also other Humanities courses are deemed inappropriate for students in the post-1992 Universities.

It is still possible that pressure from inside and outside the University will prompt reconsideration of this decision. If you wish to register a protest, please email:

Prof Malcolm Gillies, Vice Chancellor -

Roddy Gallacher, Dean of Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education -

With thanks in advance for your support,

Jim Grant, Course Leader
Dr Adam Beck, Senior Lecturer
Dr Chris Ryan, Senior Lecturer

A petition for an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors can be found here:

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Another Philosophy Department Closure

This from the Chair and Programme Leader of Philosophy at the University of Greenwich, Kath Jones:
The situation: The management of the School of Humanities has closed recruitment to the Philosophy programme with immediate effect and are writing to students who have already been given places for Sept 2011 to tell them that these are no longer available. The management are recommending that the Philosophy BA be closed down. This recommendation has to pass through the Academic Planning Committee before it is formally set in stone (but this is only a formality unless we can interrupt it). The Philosophy team were not invited to take part in any of the discussions leading up to this decision, and they have not been presented with any written document detailing the argument for the closure of the programme. The partial statistics that were presented at a school meeting yesterday are out of date and do not in any obvious way support the decision. We have requested proper documentation from the Head of School, but have still not received it. The British Philosophy Association is writing a letter asking the University not to close the programme, which will be signed by Heads of Philosophy departments at other Universities. Past and present students are meeting at the Student Union on Monday at 5pm to discuss how best to protest against the decision. Letters from past students are available (from me) to use for letters to newspapers or anything else.
Increasingly I am of the view that thinking is seen as a dangerous luxury item by neoliberalism and capitalism. If it can't turn an obvious/quick profit, or generate short-term wealth, it can and should be sacrificed. Gah ... lifeboat economics of the worst kind. Facebook group here.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Nothing Lasts, not even Goddess

I wake to an interesting post from Tim Morton, wherein he is responding to Hägglund and radical atheism.
...I'm still not convinced that impermanence implies radical atheism. I keep returning to the possibility, which Hägglund simply doesn't consider, that there is a god, and that she is mortal, and that she created the Universe, or that she is the Universe. Such a god would exist as much as a pear or a floating iceberg exists—not that much, according to the deconstructive view, but existence nevertheless.

Inevitable self-promotion here, but this is precisely the position that I develop in Goddess as Nature. Most Goddess feminists and many Pagans, of the Starhawk, Z. Budapest variety, both view and value the Universe/Nature as a mortal, impermanent deity, who is also in some sense female, and whose existence is little different than that of the pear or iceberg that Tim deploys.

This Goddess as Nature and Pagan worldview is most readily characterised as a form of pantheism, a religious/philosophical position that atheists such as Dawkins rapidly dismiss as simply "sexed up atheism". It seems, though, as philosophers such as Michael Levine and Grace Jantzen have argued, that pantheism is an eminently defensible religious and metaphysical worldview that far, far too many simply reject in a knee-jerk fashion.

Quite amazing how many of these new and radical atheist arguments only play out as responses to an ontotheology that is shackled to the triad of Abrahamic monotheisms.

[Addendum: I should add that I am not aware if Hägglund claims or argues that radical atheism follows from impermananence (not being familiar with his work). I merely note that impermanence is assimilated into many theistic worldviews, and the degree of success probably warrants examination on a case by case basis.]

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Emergence and Ecoshock in 2011

Just now emerging from a general funk imposed by a confluence of small but unpleasant events, necessary tasks and research reflections over the holiday period. Uncertainty about the state and future of Higher Education in the UK has been one concern, a pervasive worry for anyone in academia, as well as new and old lecturers entering the job market and all potential students (for whom the debt burden is likely to be ratcheted up by 200%). To this one can add the typical mountain of grading that arrives just before the Christmas vacation, plus the need to find some time, somewhere, for one’s own research and writing.

My mood probably hasn’t been helped by the nature of one of my book projects. This entails staring directly into an abyss of projections for the near future: climate change and a world four to six degrees hotter, peak oil and increasing resource scarcity, further economic upheaval and probable collapse, food shortages, flooding, population migrations, terrorism and resource warfare, and even disappearing bees. It’s not comfortable material, but then that’s my basic point. I’m developing some of the arguments made by Clive Hamilton in Requiem for a Species pertaining to the psychological inability of anatomically modern humans to adequately respond to these type of problems and threats (e.g. the psychology of denial, wishful thinking, blame shifting, misplaced optimism etc.) and conjoining this with evolutionary material (evolutionary overshoot and how successful, adaptive species can become maladaptive), philosophy (existential analysis, Speculative Realism and Schopenhauer) and some religious studies and theological material (specifically the manner in which many religions feed the psychology of wishful thinking and optimism). It’s one of those projects that I feel I have to write, perhaps particularly because I have young children, but for any of you who have attended any recent climate change conferences, you probably know that it doesn’t make for happy smiley people.

For those of you interested in political responses to climate change, you should check out John Michael Greer’s review of David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith’s recent book The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy. Shearman and Smith develop the argument that liberal democracies are wholly incapable of responding to anthropogenic climate change and need to be replaced by some form of political authoritarianism that can enforce compliance with the necessary ecological principles. One of Greer’s reasonable and particularly damning criticisms of this line of argument is that it does a huge disservice to climate change activists and the environmental movement. Targeting Shearman specifically, Greer notes:
Did it never occur to him that people who disagree with his views would read the book, and make abundant political hay out of it? They have, dear reader, and it’s a safe bet that they will, as hostile reviews of The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy are already showing up on conservative websites. To be fair, it would demand superhuman forbearance for them to steer clear of what is, all things considered, a climate denialist’s wet dream: a book in which a significant figure on the other side ‘fesses up to an authoritarian agenda extreme enough to support even the wildest accusations of the far right. Climate change activism is already reeling from a nearly unbroken sequence of body blows in the political arena, and an even more serious loss of public support; by the time the climate denialists finish working it over, using Shearman’s book as a conveniently blunt instrument, there may not be much left of it.
You can also find some discussion of the demand for direct, militant eco-activism over at Alex Smith’s Radio Show Ecoshock , notably this week’s Against Civilization interviews with filmmaker Franklin Lopez and deep green writer Derrick Jensen. I suspect that most readers of this blog will be rather critical of the cries for, and the practice of, increasingly aggressive eco-activism. It is, though, one of many understandable outcomes of the ecological, economic and socio-political (i.e. capitalist, neo-liberal) processes that we are "living" through. I have spoken on several occasions about the likelihood of there being a steady increase in the membership of nature religions, such as Paganism, Wicca, Shamanism, Druidry and animisms, as the level of ecological degradation intensifies in the coming years. I think that one can very confidently also predict that eco-activism and eco-militancy will significantly increase during the same period.