amw (amw) wrote,

wishing i did my philosophy degree

Now that i have discovered that listening to a podcast when i cook is a nice background noise, i realized i was going to need more podcasts than just the 538 guys rambling about stuff they already wrote about, and Katie and Jesse making jokes about how embarrassing people are on Twitter.

I should mention that i have never been much of a radio listener. The only times i listen to radio today are when i'm in a taxi, which is extremely rare because i usually prefer to walk or take a bus. Back when i was a kid, i didn't listen to radio either. I do vaguely remember the Weekly Top 40 (Rick Dees) and American Top 40 (Shadoe Stevens), which were both syndicated overseas, but being a child of the later 80s i preferred to watch the TV countdown shows. In the brief (and only) period in my life where my family had cable - the mid 90s - my sister and i watched a lot of MTV, but by that age i spent perhaps more time in record stores listening to tunes there. So radio was never really a major influence in my life.

I think this is why i am struggling to find podcasts that are worth it. I've trialled quite a few now, and a lot of it is exactly what i always thought podcasts were: very long and boring ways to say nothing at all. There seem to be two main categories. One is the sort of the classic radio DJ thing, people making jokes and being controversial and generally acting like idiots. The other is getting some highbrow folks in a room to have a dry conversation about stuff.

Blocked and Reported is about as far as i can go with the former kind of comedy/ranty chat podcasts. It reminds me of YouTube or Twitch, folks just sitting around casually sounding off on one topic or the other. It's kinda like sitting at the bar with some actual real-world friends... Except i don't like to go to a bar and hang out with actual real-world friends very often. I find that kind of social interaction exhausting and ultimately a little vapid. That holds for YouTube, or Twitch, or fucking whatever the podcast listening place is (i dunno, every one seems to lead me to a different website). So... yeah, nah, this genre of people just shooting the shit appears to have a hard limit on what i can cope with.

The highbrow folks in a room having a conversation, though, that's a kind of podcast i get. It reminds me of my favorite television news show, which was PBS NewsHour (Jim Lehrer) - another syndicated show that is widely available outside the US, for people without cable. I've never listened to NPR before, but this is what i imagine NPR to be like when i hear people talk about it.

You still need to be a bit careful with who you listen to, though, even if it sounds superficially highbrow. For example, i tried an episode of Megyn Kelly (former Fox News journalist), and although she interviews some interesting people, she brings a slightly misinformed (or perhaps disingenuous) view to certain topics that ends up giving an unhelpful slant to the conversation. Other folks tend to just interview in their own social circle, so you end up hearing the same 20 guys say the same shit to one another forever, which is interesting the first time you hear it, but then it isn't.

So far i think my best discovery has been Coleman Hughes, who is perhaps mostly known as part of a group of folks who are critical of critical theory. He's new, so maybe he hasn't had enough episodes to get boring yet. But he does seem to be making an effort to not do all of his podcasts with people who think systemic oppression isn't real. Today i listened to one with Peter Singer, which is a name many people who have done an intro to philosophy class will recognize.

Peter Singer is an Aussie philosopher who famously wrote about animal rights. I will never forget one of his most impactful arguments - from my perspective - which was that if we choose to kill animals because they don't have a sense of self, then we should also be okay with human infanticide, since human infants also lack self-consciousness and reasoning abilities. As an edgy teenager, i took that to mean that yeah infanticide feels intuitively problematic, but also i think women should be able to abort through all trimesters, plus babies are disgusting and irritating anyway. If i can accept a world where people still eat meat, i can definitely accept a world where people kill babies. Of course, i also was mostly vegetarian at the time and fundamentally a Nice Person, so i took the point that it's not just a question of whether a being is "smart" that gives it value, it's also somehow about its capacity to suffer. And do i want to inflict suffering on something else? Not really, if i can help it, you know?

Anywho, reading Singer in my first philosophy class made me convinced that choosing philosophy for my major at university was the right move. The reason why i switched majors to computers was not because i was interested in computers. It was because i realized i was trans, and paying for transition is extremely expensive - not just surgery, but also electrolysis - and i figured getting a "real job" and a degree that supported a "real career" would be a good move. I also really hated Australia and wanted to leave the country, and i felt like getting a computer degree would be my ticket out.

So, i didn't give up on my philosophy degree because i didn't love philosophy. I gave up on it because i needed money to pay for health care (since at the time even in a country with universal health care, treatment for trans people was not covered), and i needed a qualification that would let me move overseas (since to this day America, and many other countries, have laws that favor the immigration of tech workers over other people).

If anyone ever wonders why i often talk about health care and immigration as two of my biggest political issues, i suppose it might be because they are two areas in which politics basically fucked my life up.

Anyway, Peter Singer appeared on the Coleman Hughes show, and they talked about poverty and inequality and happiness, issues that are also important to me. Eventually they get into the less interesting topic of American politics, but it was still a great conversation.

Thinking About Morality with Peter Singer

Yes, it is the highest brow shit that ever browed. But also, i like that stuff.

I remember when i was younger i sometimes got into clashes with peers - mostly in the rave scene - who came from a background more in sociology or social work. I wanted to talk about society in some theoretical, abstract fashion, but they were like "yeah but there's actual people dying on the street right now". And that's kind of the ultimate philosophy versus everything else argument. Philosophers are too up their own asses to care about real problems on their doorstep.

I'm not sure that's entirely fair. One important point is that philosophers aren't necessarily humorless. (This is a good time to link xistentialcomx - Existential Comics.) And people who are able to separate their emotional connection to a topic from a rational engagement with it are not necessarily unfeeling people. I guess, watching a conversation with Hughes and Singer, who both have this very detached way of speaking, it seems like there's no emotion there... but i think there probably is, just the system of values might mean that the emotional reaction is not to the thing that one intuitively might suspect.

I think this is where often some of my feelings on my family and friends confounds people. I don't really care about my family and friends. By which i don't mean that i don't think they are worthy of my time. Just, i don't put them on a pedestal that's higher than any other random person. I appreciate my family and friends, and of course i would be sad if they were gone, but if a friend was dying and a stranger was dying, and i could only save one of them... i would feel extremely conflicted having to make that decision. I'd rather flip a coin. That doesn't mean i'm an unemotional person, it just means i place a higher value on society, or perhaps humanity as a whole, than i do on my "tribe".

I really fucking hate the idea that humans are a tribal species. It's barbaric. This is where i get in trouble with some of my current peers who are anarchists. Anarchism in general proposes a more local, "bottom-up" method of governance, which feels intuitively sensible. But green anarchists in particular tend to fantasize about radical depopulation and/or a return to hunter-gatherer lifestyles. God, that sounds awful. Imagine being stuck in a single tribe your whole life! I'd kill myself. I want the Star Trek future, not the Mad Max future. But how to get there?

Philosophy, philosophy is how to get there. Coming up with some kind of model of values that convinces a critical mass of people that we need to find ways to do better. Even if we never end up in a contrived world where every problem is a trolley problem, having the framework there can help make decisions that will guide society in a better direction. I suppose some people might say that this is the role of religion. But we know from thousands of years of history that no religion will ever become a universal truth, not on the global scale. So i think philosophy is about trying to bridge these cultural gaps, it's about finding shared values, and maybe pushing to change those values too. I don't think it's as meaningless of a pursuit as i did when i abandoned it to become a computer programmer.

Anyway, the point of this too-long post is that my navel-gazing continues.
Tags: i am a hermit, looking back

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.