A World Without History

In the face of relentless change, we are losing the past. Customs, traditions, religion, and established institutions are going overboard. We are losing, perhaps, even a sense of ourselves as beings with a history, Universities cease to be "universities" and become institutes with "career-focused programs." The liberal arts are a luxury to be dispensed with. Who needs educated citizens? Who needs human beings with a rich inner life?

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The stimulus of the enigmatic

There are a few philosophical aphorisms I keep coming back to. At their best, they succeed in compressing a whole philosophy into a single sentence. They are suggestive of a multitude of ideas but also often difficult to decipher. They often throw a sharp and surprising light on our reality. Above all, they give voice to the pleasure of casting thoughts into words.

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Why I read Wittgenstein

I have never been able to attach myself to a single philosopher as my guru. There are those who find all their philosophical enlightenment in Aristotle or Confucius, in Kant or Nietzsche or Marx, in Heidegger or Derrida. I have never been able to follow them. As soon as I read a philosopher, critical questions start swirling in my mind. That's certainly also true when I read Wittgenstein.

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The Enemy In-Chief

Since its foundation the US has always had an enemy in-chief. First it was the British who helped to solder the nation together. Then came the extermination of the American Indians extending the American territories “from sea to shining sea.”. Then the civil war when the Americans made mortal enemies of each other with wounds that are still not fully healed. Then came the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Russians, the North Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq,

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Karl Marx never looked so good

A cartoon series about the life and times of Karl Marx is set to be shown on a Chinese video streaming website with the full backing of Beijing, according to the host company. The Leader, which recounts the story of the German philosopher and socialist revolutionary, will be broadcast by Bilibili.com “soon”, the company said on Tuesday. The production was commissioned by the central government’s Marxism office, in cooperation with authorities in Inner Mongolia; Weiming Culture Media, which is based in the region; and animation company Dongmantang, Bilibili said on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. (South China Morning Post, Dec. 19, 2018)

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Democracy Is in the Streets

I have been re-reading James Miller's 1987 "Democracy is in the Streets" since he was in Oakland a month ago. The book provides a richly detailed account of the short life of the "Students for a Democratic Society" (SDS) from their beginnings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1962 through their being a major driving force behind the protests against the Vietnam war to their collapse in 1969.

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Made in China 2025

The Trump administration has been worried about China turning itself into a leading economic power. Its current trade war with China is officially aimed at bringing about relatively small changes in China’s economic policies but its real aim is to constrain China’s long-term development. We can be sure that China would be willing to adjust its trade policies but it will certainly not abandon its overall development plans. There is no reason to think that the Chinese would ever consent to being in a permanently inferior economic position.  And it is not obvious that the US can keep it there.

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Trouble in Paradise

The small city of Paradise has been consumed by one of those California forest fires that are becoming only too frequent. Dozens of people have died. Meanwhile, we have been choking in the polluted air 200 miles away. Last year, close friends almost lost their house in the fires that raged around Santa Rosa.

Who can we blame but ourselves? Our freeways are clogged by millions of cars; we fly across continents for business or pleasure; we maintain polluting industries in order to keep the economy going. When our politicians prove unable or unwilling to take action they only reflect our own attitudes. Living in Berkeley, I find myself surrounded by “environmentalists,” but they still burn their woodfires in their chimneys even on the worst bad-air days. Official “Spare the air” alerts are a joke. They are backed up by nothing and largely ignored.

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The Empire of Disorientation. A Preface (2nd draft)

It was the day after the election of Donald Trump when I first realized that we are living now in an empire of disorientation. That morning I faced 200 students who were so distraught that I had to cancel a scheduled examination. Some of my colleagues said soon afterwards that we needed to meet in order to console each other. The media and the commentators were profoundly puzzled that morning and in the days to come about the election outcome and what it meant. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, was at a loss for words, her supporters destroyed. Even Trump himself, we are told, was stunned by the unexpected turn of events. I have come to understand since then that the disorientation that everybody felt that day was, in fact, a symptom of a wide-spread and truly pandemic condition. My initial picture of the United States as an empire of disorientation gave thus way to the recognition that the empire of disorientation is our new, global reality.

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NO “PRESIDENTIAL” ALERTS FOR ME

I just received the first “presidential alert” on my cell phone and I was, frankly, appalled. It’s not just that I don’t want to hear from Donald Trump. I also don’t want receive “presidential alerts” from any future president. What’s wrong with this? The name is another building block in the construction of the imperial presidency. It’s not a name that democrats should be thinking of. Why not “National Alert” or “US Alert” or “Federal Government Alert”? We have been assured that the current office holder will not use it for his own political purpose. But why would a future president not think: a presidential alert is a presidential alert and I will use it as such? What stands in the way?

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