alexis nexus

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

wenn das Kind ein Kind war, fragt es "warum bin ich mich, und nicht dich?"

jeff's most recent friday simone de beauvoir blog raised the point "The interesting fact that, for me to come into being as the person I am, it is at once a wholly improbably sort of thing and almost completely causally necessary thing--or at least, it feels both of these ways, some of the time." or in simone's words…
sometimes I wake up with a feeling of childish amazement--why am I myself? What astonishes me, just as it astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep in this life and not in any other. What stroke of chance has brought this about?

both of which smack of the wim wenders quote in the title from wings of desire, and also of a conversation i had with eden and zack about a week ago (in that yummor organic japanese restaraunt on mission 'twixt 17th and 18th). zack, prefacing that he was a life-long atheist, and that he pretty much always looked at others with the assumption that they were "biochemical" complexes, said that sometimes he was bowled over with a question: (to the best of my recollection) "why am i me, and not you?" or more simply "why me?"

only "why me?" turned out to be only an approximation. he, and eden, asserted that people either felt the question, or they didn't. i would (of course) attempt to answer the why questions (including why me) with the "because history and geography" type answers (being couched in a post descartes/newton western world view, as i am :). but i was left with the impression that this question (or question of a question) about awareness, about I becomes a discussion of some metaphysical (as in "irreducable complexity that implies a higher consciousness that designed the universe" type metaphysical) essentialism, despite their protests to the contrary, because they could only assert a faith that the I (or the question of it) somehow transcended history and geography.

i was left puzzled. particularly because of the passionate importance they attached to the question itself. simone's argument and jeff's recapitulation of neccesity puts me in mind of arguments that the universe was created by a higher power god because how else could we have found life on this planet of all the others. (my response being well you'd be saying the same thing if we were on planet koozbain, so that doesn't get you very far :). if you weren't you1 wondering why you1 were you1 you'd be you2 wondering (or not) the same about you2.

my concern about creationist arguments notwithstanding, i am also interested in the importance that gets attached to such things as awareness. after all, i am a scientist, and believe that the creation of knowledge—the advancement of consciousness, if you will—is a critical component of a progress in human welfare. paolo freire's contientization comes to mind in this regard, also.

so becuase i am not persuaded that the fact of the historical contingency of one's awareness itself is somehow more miraculous than the "stain on the sidewalk," despite the greater importance of my awareness (to me) than the stain on the sidewalk (to me) i have two (sets of) questions:

what exactly is this question that awes so many people (perhaps) does it truly defy articulation? is it really unanswerable by everyday language? is it really utterly independent of time and space?


what is the significance of answering it? just philosophical masturbation? what gets motivated by its answer or the attempt to answer it?


Friday, November 18, 2005

Hierarchies and Webs

So I've been thinking about the notion of hierarchies (in part because of our discussion of what it is like to really know what somebody else's experiences ar e like. In that discussion, I pointed out that:
I tend to think the whole 'knowing what it is like to be "x"' in terms of concentric circles radiating out from myself (or from individuals in general). Nobody can "know exactly" what it is like to be *me*--starting with the fact that they can't have lived my exact life and branching out from there--but white, middle-class men will probably have a better (initial) idea about what it is like to be me than, say, rich white men

and Alexis added:

i think your "circles of understanding" is pretty good, and add to it that circles are not nested in a strict hierarchy: the middle class black man may share a lot of perspectives with you, but the rich white man may share different perspectives with you.

I think this is a good example of how thinking in terms of hierarchies does a lot of work, but then only goes so far (and can be a detriment, in the final analysis).

Take for instance, friendships and other intimate relationships. I had several invitations to Thanksgiving dinner, not all coming at the same time, and I had to choose which one I wanted (if any) to take people up on. (First of all, I feel lucky/thankful(!) that I had invites at all--could have gone down very differently.) During the choosing, I got to thinking that there is a way in which I'm placing my friendships on a hierarchy--if I go to T-day with Kareem, Jessie and Max, that places my friendship with them somehow 'above' my friendship with, say, Jen. But of course it's not that simple--there are other factors, but more importantly there are different facets of each friendship that I value, and T-day is involved in some of those facets but not all. That is, one of the things I value about J, K and M is that I like feeling like their extended family, and I sort of like doing the more adult-ish traditional things with them (in part becuse I know they're not very adult in ways that I'm not very adult). I like hanging with Jen for slightly different reasons, and Thanksgiving Day doesn't (as closely) address those reasons.

Of course there are more forceful examples, generally having to do with *even* more intimate relationships, but I thought the T-day one would be a good jumping off point.

Does anybody else struggle with remembering that hierarchies aren't as strict as they sometimes seem? What does it mean when you get married (for instance)--is part of getting married putting your betrothed 'on top' (snicker) in various ways?


Sunday, November 13, 2005

The problem of "waste"

(this follows on steve's comment in the 20th comment in the Guilty Pleasures discussion)


i think you're misrepresenting my unpacking of how "waste" is deployed. in fact, instead of "devaluing everything" my notion that waste is merely a placeholder for "i no longer have any use for/am constrained from using something" directs attention to the downstream values of the "wasted" thing. your pointing to bread mold is telling: mold has different values and meaning in different contexts. without it we'd be up to our asses in undecomposed organic matter. we'd be absent penecillin. we'd be absent a noxious mess in our living space. complex valuations depending on the situation of the actor relative to the bread mold.

my critique of "waste" as a concept is that it's usefulness is in directing attention away from the values of the transformed object, experience, etc. with respect to "wasted" lives one might think, for example, of the disaprobation extended to offspring by parents and other family members to the choices of the prodigal (just to draw upon my own experiences). consider this critique of "waste" also in light of environmental concerns, wherein the "waste" is something which is devalued (by the producer of it). in the first example, the experiences of the life that is "wasted" (being atheist and queer most notable of the far ranges from the family's value systems) are devalued and acted on by non-consideration and non-participation (except for the disaprobation). in the second example, the object of identifying something as waste is to put it out of sight and mind (and responsibility) of the actor. both fit the "i no longer have any use for/am constrained from using something" definition: both familial and environmental relationships are transformed into passive and remote distance by the concept "waste."

in fact the davaluation employed by waste is a simple collapsing of the object's value into an monlithic undesireable, a negation of the very complexities that mark both it's production, and its actual fate downstream.

"waste" itself is a devaluing statement, with consequences that tend to bite people (writ large and small) in the ass when applied: CO2 is a "waste", a life is "wasted" by those who value the choices made in it in a particular way. i am as yet unpersuaded that you (or anyone else) has a concept of "waste" that is other than the definition i give above.

my suggestion of "efficiency" and similar terms was meant as a point of departure for giving a more meaninfgul explanation of transformation than "waste," not as an endorsement of particular concepts. articulating and exploring preference for different kinds of relationships between yourself and an object would appear to me to be more meaningfully addressed by rejecting the idea of "waste," since the concept disallows further complexity.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Enemy Mine - Translations

I was discussing race and gender with some students the other day, and asked the question of (five black female students): "Could I ever really (added the "ever" and "really" for emphasis) understand what it is like being a black woman in America?"

They were in general more optimistic than me about it, suggesting that I do some reading, and talking with black women. "What if suddenly, I were to look like a black woman, and people treated me that way. Would I then understand better?" Again, they were more optimistic than me. When we talked about early life experiences and such, they mostly became less confident. They all agreed it would be absurd for anyone to want to undergo such a transformation.

One student (my favorite this year I think) was dismissive of any real differences between us, and imagined that anyone who was interested, introspective, and sincere could learn pretty much all there was to know.

I am torn. On one hand I am willing to take a Wittgensteinian approach and say our communication is necessarily public and straightforward, that there are no 'private' experiences incapable of expression. On the other, sometimes it seems like we are engaged in this lasting project to learn a common language.


Thursday, November 10, 2005


Just thought I'd introduce Jen to y'all...and then let her introduce herself, I suppose, in whatever way she'd like to.

Jen is a friend of mine that I met at a job I useta have. She's smart and witty and I have had many a philosophic-ish conversation with her. Please be nice to her. You know, at least at first. :)

i'm here, i'm queer...

...thanks for inviting me to your humble blog, all you's. it was this dude sholtz that locked it in for me, i mean after reading homie g's comments i feel right at home.

i think we should let all comment. here, here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

changes in contributor rules

which (mostly as an exercise of my 3l33t ph4t blogger ski11z) i have implemented. if you (jeff) or anyone else for that matter wants to do this more open-like i am game.


Guilty Pleasures?

I thought I might start us off by asking about something that has been sort of knawing at me of late: The whole ethical conundrum of 'doing all one can' for various causes, while still enjoying one's own life.

Here's my thought--Does anybody else feel (sometimes) like some/all very 'normal' pleasures that one partakes in are really guilty pleasures, in the sense that while I'm enjoying reading comics (or blogging!) or whatever, there are people I could be helping who don't even have a place to live, etc. Is there a way to be good to others and good to oneself without being hypocritical about it?

Last night I bought a burrito and some guacamole and then a man outside the taqueria asked if I had any change. No sir, I said, and moved on. I could, next time I want a burrito, buy stuff and make it myself (or make something else cheaper) and donate to that guy or a person like him what I saved, for instance. Simple example, but it cuts to the heart of my experience.

What say y'all?


I suppose the first order of business might be to decide if we want to have this be the name o' the groupblog. I'm not the creative one, that's for sure, so I just picked something off of the top of my head. On the other hand, I sort of like it, and since it was Lex's comments on my blog which inspired me to coerce y'all into this, maybe it should stay.

Also, somebody pick a different template if ya like.