Sep 10, 2011

Dark City, Descartes, and Narrative Doubts

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Over the long Labor Day weekend, my partner and wife-to-be and I watched the movie Dark City, for her first time and for perhaps my twentieth viewing.  After seeing it in the theater when it first came out in 1998, I've shown it in various Philosophy classes, and I've watched it on my own a number of times to enjoy again its semi-noir, moody, dimlit setting, its decent and entertaining play both with some philosophical concepts (or perhaps, rather, tropes), its reliably good though not outstanding acting.  A man wakes up without his memories, but possessing two advantages his fellow humans do not -- both of which reveal to him, call the attention of, set him in conflict with. . .  and make him the object of fear and fascination to, a race of thoroughly creepy aliens who nightly rearrange reality in order to progress their endless experiments with human memory, behavior, social roles

She noticed one apparent problem, a discrepancy between the stories and explanations provided by those who are "in the know" -- the Strangers and Doctor S -- and what actually does happen with the various characters.  The detective who goes mad -- what happens with him should have been impossible, or if not that, if the Strangers really were omniscient and omnipotent, if they knew that city inside and out and what was going on with all of its residents, presumably they would have nipped his madness in the bud, kept him from talking to anyone, revealing what he had learned.

Sep 4, 2011

Virtuous Humility . . . and Pride?

A month or so back, attending the ISME conference, I came across an interesting paper delivered by Kristen McPherson, a Marquette doctoral candidate with a promising project bearing on the topic of humility and pride. The natures and values -- positive or negative -- of these opposed affective states is a subject upon which many different, some mutually incompatible, viewpoints have been worked out down the centuries, and a pattern and (broadly speaking) point of progress is what I aim to write about here – a way of returning to the theme of my earlier Sunday posts prior to the blogging hiatus imposed by my summer travels: theological, specifically monastic treatments of humility as a virtue.
What particularly caught my attention in that ISME paper were three things: a goal, a claim, and an omission. One of the stated goals was to provide a naturalized account of pride and humility, one which would presumably draw upon the centuries of hard-earned insights and progressively developed intellectual resources of Christian thought on pride and humility but in such a way as to strip away the specifically Christian elements, arguments, appeals, concepts, so as to leave a residue or precipitate equally acceptable (even embracable, incorporable) to secularists of good faith as to committed Christians. The interesting, and to me startling claim was that we ought not only to think in terms of vicious pride, a vicious counterfeit to humility, and genuine and virtuous humility, but also in terms of virtuous pride as well.

The omission was that. . . . well as it turns out, what counted as stand-ins for the wide scope of Christian thought was . . . you guessed it: Augustine and the later, greater Thomas Aquinas. Now, I would be far from faulting diligent study of, and reliance upon, the thought of these two great Doctors, but when it comes to the matter of humility and the distinctively Christian understanding, it can only help one to read monastic as well as scholastic writers – Thomas, for one drew deeply on the wellsprings of wisdom afforded him by generations of monastic authors.

Sep 2, 2011

Good Night, Irene

Shortly after my last post, I encountered a "perfect storm," one main component of which was the recent storm Irene and its consequences for the region where I now live, the Hudson Valley.  The storm itself proved not to be as dangerous as some feared and others seemed to have hoped, provoking a number of complaints particularly in the region south of us -- New York City --that it had been "hyped" (but also in other places along the East Coast)  That's perhaps understandable, given how much media attention gets paid well in advance to developing weather, how many recriminations and second guessing those charged with overseeing public safety face even when they plan prudently, actively issue order, and in general get things right, and how little control the ordinary person senses themselves to have over important aspects of their lives when caught up in the effects of forecasted unpredictabilites of nature, policies and responses of communities, unavoidably opaque efforts by corporations to restore infrastructure, and the behavior -- even the very bodily presence -- of so many other people enmeshed in the same complicated systems suddenly more visible because of an event.

Portions of New York City were issued evacuation orders by Mayor Bloomberg well in advance of Irene's landfall.  Mass transit and bridges were shut down by Saturday.  Many coastal towns and cities in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and in Long Island (which looked to be particularly vulnerable) were also evacuated, National Guards were mobilized and sent into some places, and there were worries in some areas that the incoming weather could also prove fertile for breeding tornadoes.  As it turned out, Irene hit the coast in an already downgraded state and -- mercifully to most but perhaps disappointingly to some -- did much less and much more readily repairable damage than had been feared or even expected.  Further inland, away from the coastal megapolis of New York City and the smaller coastal cities, however, the damage was considerably greater but more dispersed, and for that reason less easily, less quickly remedied. It took multiple places and forms across a spectrum of types and degrees of that broad, equivocal, but real category of "damage", one type or incident often enough interacting with or contributing to, occasionally causing, another.