Archive for April, 2010

This is a guest post from OpenContinuity. OpenContinuity is an environmental ethics theorist and activist who works on questions about the self and the self’s relation to the environment.

“Social action without theory is blind, but theory without social action is empty.”
-Michael Zimmerman

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
-Karl Marx

Given the current ecological crisis, a methodology is needed for knitting theoretical ethics and activism together more closely. Environmentalists who work to mitigate anthropocentric ecological destruction have much to gain from the argumentative force of theoretical ethics, and philosophers have much to gain from a more fluid exchange of ideas with those whose primary work is environmental activism. Through analyzing the epistemic function of metaphors within ethics, the limitations of a foundationalist ontology are revealed. Adopting a pluralistic approach enables utilizing the multiple ethical tools that are presently available, while simultaneously facilitating the introduction of new theoretical developments. I recommend a relational approach to both environmental theory and practice that is sensitive to the differing issues and responsibilities that are manifest at individual, local, national, and global levels. Moreover, consideration of temporal and epistemic limitations must factor in to both short and long term recommendations for action. I use the environmental issue of marine waste as a case study to show the virtues of the methodology I recommend for environmental praxis. Both environmental activists and environmental ethicists benefit from a methodology that encourages discourse where two intersect.


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For me, this week has been one of technological disasters. On Friday, I was having a great writing day, and so I decided to stay home from my usual end-of-week festivities in order to keep writing. Of course, around 10PM my computer crashed. When I first tried to restart it, it would turn on but would not POST. Then, it just stopped turning on altogether. “Fine,” I thought, “this is not too much of a hassle. I have an external hard drive that automatically backs up at 5PM every day. At most I might lose five hours of work.” Furthermore, my partner is very good with computers, and can usually restore lost files if there is even the remotest chance the file can be recovered. My very kind and patient partner spent Saturday fixing my computer.

Before the files were transferred from external drive to computer, however, the external drive broke. My patient partner is still working on fixing the external drive. On Tuesday my computer crashed again. Although it will now POST, it won’t stay on for more than an hour. Today my laptop (yes, I have way too many electronics) began to get testy so that every two hours it decides it will no longer recognize any of its pointing devices (USB mouse, touch pad, scroll bar, etc.). For now the laptop issue seems to be fixed by a reboot, but it still rather annoying and interrupts the workflow.

My patient partner has decided to give another look into fixing the desktop computer before we make any purchases of new equipment and my partner will also probably end up looking at the laptop, too. My mind, however, is already turning to the possibility of buying something new, or at least some new parts. I am much less patient with malfunctioning technology than is my partner.

I don’t want what I buy to support unfair labour practices suffered by someone else, however. Today as I was contemplating buying a new computer, I noticed this post at The Border House Blog and 1UP about a new Report from the National Labor Committee regarding the use of underage sweat-shop labour in the manufacture of a number of electronic goods. The list of companies that source from the particular factory that is the subject of this report is fairly comprehensive. It seems very difficult to entirely avoid products that source from this factory.

A photo of factory workers from the National Labor Committee Report


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There has been a lot of buzz about “Male Studies” this week, since the announcement of The Foundation for Male Studies, which won’t get a link from me. Now I am all for studying men and masculinities, but I don’t think it sounds like there is much value to this particular approach. I don’t want to write about that, though, because I think it has been adequately covered by the articles linked above. The salient issue for what I will discuss is that “Male Studies” positions itself as a rejection of “feminist ideology” and will draw nothing from the work of feminist theorists. In contrast, Men’s Studies, looks at masculinities in particular and draws from (while still sometimes criticizing) feminist theory. “Male studies” positions itself in opposition to women’s studies, whereas Men’s studies does not. What I would like to look at is this question:

Comrade Kevin makes this comment:

Honestly, I fail to understand why men’s studies [sic] have to be run in opposition to women’s studies, since the two are so completely intertwined and, moreover, cover the same ground. As a man, I understand where attitudes like this are coming from, but know also that it usually takes a personal process of challenging established norms and with it a kind of maturation to see beyond the anxiety that is just as virulent in men as is advancing unrealistic and unhealthy notions of body image for women.

I am not trying to single Comrade Kevin out; in fact, the question about “why run male studies in opposition to women’s studies?” comes up several times in the comment thread. I chose to highlight this comment because it is put clearly and succinctly.

Image from: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/luntz-meet-focault

"This is not a pipe" Magritte


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Post-Feminism T-shirt from http://www.zazzle.com

I find the concept of “postfeminism” to be extremely troubling and confusing. There are many discussions of postfeminism on the web. I highlight a few at the bottom of this post, but I want to look at one particular treatment that sees postfeminism as aligned with postcolonialism or postmodernism. I think this particular way of understanding postfeminism is extremely problematic because of the way that it sets up a false-parallel among these three concepts. The discussion I want to look at is from Sarah Gamble’s chapter “Postfeminism” in The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism (New York: Routledge, 2001)


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Lately I have been thinking a lot about the different ways that we can value things. In particular I have been thinking about intrinsic and extrinsic value and how this relates to Kantian ethics through his views on respect. When we value something extrinsically (or instrumentally) we value that thing for the sake of something else. When we value something intrinsically, we value that thing for its own sake.

Kant’s major contribution to the concept of respect was to say that it was owed equally to all, in contrast to older views that honoured only those in the upper echelons of the social hierarchy. Kant justifies the idea that we are each owed equal respect by talking about how each person has intrinsic value, which he calls “dignity.” Human dignity, according to Kant is the idea that we are not fungible in the way that commodities are. Dignity is a special kind of value that Kant contrasts with price. It is because persons have dignity that they are owed respect, which entails treating others always as ends in themselves (or, as intrinsically valuable), and never as mere means (as having only extrinsic value).

In North American culture we often talk about human dignity, official documents like the declaration of independence, the UN declaration of human rights, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms all contain references to human dignity or human equality that echo Kant’s concerns. The question I have is: how well do we promote this view? Although we claim to think that Kantian respect is important, that all people are born equal and are intrinsically valuable, I think we fail to promote the idea that people have intrinsic value and more often think of people in terms of their extrinsic value, particularly their usefulness or productivity.


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I uploaded this video to my facebook page, and it started quite a discussion. Because the discussion began getting long for a facebook wall, I thought I would continue my thoughts here.

The video (originally at Feminist Frequency):

The video started a discussion about video games and gendered weaponry. I am “B” in the discussion, and everyone else gets a letter to represent them. I have edited the discussion somewhat in order to increase the linearity of the discussion.

Warning: Spoilers and possibly triggering discussion after the jump


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Why Bakka’s River?

When I was a kid I used to cry a lot when I noticed things I thought were unfair. My parents used to tell me I was a Bakka, which I think was supposed to make me feel strong about my tearfulness. In Fremen legend, Bakka is “the weeper who mourns for all” humankind (from Frank Herbert’s Dune).  I have always identified with this legend, and I still feel very moved by what I would now call injustice.

Of course, “cry me a river,” is also a way of dismissing someone who is trying to tell you about the negative thing they have experienced. I wanted to include the tagline “The river that I step in is not the river that I stand in,” as a way of reclaiming the dismissiveness of “cry me a river.” Plato attributes the tagline to Heraclitus, although it is often translated differently.

“You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you” from Wikiquote.

“Heraclitus, you know, says that everything moves on and that nothing is at rest; and, comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says that you could not step into the same river twice,” from this lecture.

The point is that everything changes and nothing stays the same. I am not sure I would go as far as to say that there are no permanent persisting objects, but I think the quote can remind us that “crying a river” can be useful when it helps to move things along.

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