July, 2019

In many but not all ways, this will be a blog about critical thinking.

In today’s unanticipated American (and elsewhere) political horrors, I am increasingly concerned about how to apply my pretty rigid civil liberties perspectives to what more and more looks like free-speech equivalents of shouting fire in a crowded theater (such a long-standing, convenient example of what is probably undefinable in the abstract). I don’t know how to resolve the problem that banning one form of hate(d) speech can be matched by using similar grounds to ban something I value (which too often happens anyway). It may be that abstractly supporting free speech becomes a luxury of privileged folk like myself (just by virtue of my being educated–and simultaneously able to afford costs of my convictions). Like so much happening these days, it is no fun to be old and hoping to get older at the same time as the most basic underpinnings of my ethical/social/political life feels as though it is disappearing. And those underpinnings have always been challenged by knowledge that my ideals like free speech sometimes don’t easily mesh with the ongoing social injustices that have always surrounded me.

When I finished my undergraduate degree in philosophy, I felt (and still do) that I got out of it what I needed (though I don’t think I knew I would)–a conviction that no thought system is or ever will be internally totally consistent. Dealing with that core principle has always been present in, and often driven, my intellectual life, to the extent that over the decades I have focused increasingly on the interrelation between cultural and biological evolution to try to figure out (as I say only half-facetiously) how humans got where we are and how to protect myself from the results (the latter of which feels increasingly elusive). When I went into English literature (essentially an undergraduate co-major) in grad school, I found myself drawn to the history of ideas, which easily evolved into cultural evolution in general.

This background has made me pretty eclectic in my studies, to the extent that when I encounter opposing viewpoints with compelling arguments. I often embrace both. (I’m not sure if I have ever encountered three compelling but conflicting arguments on the same topic.) In relation to the current state of free speech issues, I think I’m especially distressed just because those long-ago B.A. philosophy conclusions are finally coming home to roost where I’ve been mostly able to keep them at bay for many decades.

That is only a reminder that I have a more fundamental, unprovable set of ethical beliefs/axioms about minimizing (preferably eliminating, but see above…) human suffering/oppression/victimization/you-name-the-injustice.