from the world's big
The banality-of-evil thesis was a flashpoint for controversy.
Monuments are under attack in America. How far should we go in re-examining our history?
- Historical American monuments and sculptures are under attack by activists.
- The monuments are accused of celebrating racist history.
- Toppling monuments is a process that often happens in countries but there's a danger of bias.
Mob pulling down the statue of George III at Bowling Green, New York City, 9 July 1776.
Painting by William Walcutt. 1854.
People in Rome tear down the statues of Mussolini. July 25, 1943.
Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images.
Statue of Lenin in Berlin, Germany On November 13, 1991.
Photo by Patrick PIEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Statue of Lenin taken down in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. October 2012.
Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Sophists used rhetoric and debate to arrive at practical truths.
- Sophists were more interested in arriving at practical truths through rhetoric than an absolute Truth (Sophia).
- Their techniques were heavily criticized by Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.
- Asha Rangappa and Jennifer Mercieca write that Sophist techniques are particularly useful for recognizing and fighting disinformation.
The Sophists (A History of Western Thought 8)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ead64a2750164c4c913f5c772410d04"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2BkhnoQHxhs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Initially, Sophists secured wealthy clients. In exchange for payment, they taught education and rhetoric, as well as music and other arts. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon were not fans; they believed Sophistry to be a lowly endeavor designed to sound deep. Socrates sang the praises of Truth (<em>Sophia</em>) alone; his student, Plato, thought Sophist rhetoric manipulated audiences. Sophistry could never lead to <em>Sophia</em>. </p><p>Mercieca and Rangappa believe Plato's <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Plato/Dialectic" target="_blank">dialectic</a> was not sufficient to resolve political decisions, however. Socrates's insistence on Truth is debatable, as decades of neuroscience research on <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/media-memory" target="_self">memory</a> and perception now tell us. Arriving at one Truth on a planet of nearly eight billion people is impossible; we aren't designed to handle such volumes of data. Even 2,500 years ago, the Sophists strove for <em>Phronesis</em>, or practical truth. They knew that nuance matters. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Sophists taught the skill necessary for the practice of democracy—how to reach consensus about the truth. They taught people how to create arguments, to persuade audiences to believe their side, and to solve thorny political problems."</p><p>Mercieca, a professor, and Rangappa, a lawyer, argue that their professions are more like sophistry than philosophy. Whereas sophistry is usually portrayed as disingenuous, it accurately reflects the shared reality we experience in society. </p><p>We shouldn't get caught up in the current usage of sophistry. Words change meaning over time: the Hindu <em>svastik</em>, "auspicious," was co-opted by the Nazis; mythology, with an etymological root meaning "legend" or "story," became synonymous with myth, a falsity. Mythologies are the foundations of cultures, not fabrications. </p><p>Employed correctly, sophistry presents an argument that builds into a practical truth, not the Ultimate Truth. In this sense, Sophists and Buddhists share common ground in their love of debates. Monks have a long tradition of <a href="https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195393521/obo-9780195393521-0024.xml" target="_blank">critical inquiry</a> often accentuated with hand claps or loud syllables. A handclap (or for that matter, a koan) doesn't sound like a path to truth, yet in the right circumstance it reveals profound meaning. Not all learning is logical. </p><p>Debates are essential for democracy. Sadly, social media platforms are designed more for unfriending and trolling than introspection and dialogue. Screens are poor replacements for pantomimes. You read text in your voice instead of the writer's, skewing your understanding of their argument. Lack of intimate contact instigates retreat. You believe the fight is over when the bell hasn't even signaled round one. </p>
Tourists take pictures in front of the Athens Academy adorned with sculputures depicting ancient greek philosophers , Plato (L) and Sokrates (R) on June 10, 2016.
Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images<p>Disinformation is especially insidious in the digital age. Social media platforms allow for the quick spread of conspiracy theories. A particularly sophomoric form of persuasion is currently practiced by wellness influencers, who claim to be "just asking questions" while sharing anti-vaxx and anti-5G rhetoric. They then pretend to "not take sides." The problem, as Merciera and Rangappa allude to in the following sentiment, is that propaganda disguised as philosophy promotes an mindset made infamous by George Bush the younger: "You're either with us or against us."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Propaganda and disinformation are persuasion without consent: In fact, by offering new versions of "facts," their authors try to hide that they're persuading us at all. These forms of communication provide a conclusion based on manipulation rather than reason. Propaganda and disinformation create a realm where disbelief is disloyalty, rather than a shared attempt to search for truth."</p><p>Propaganda is compliance, they continue, the preferred vehicle for authoritarians. (Likewise, Plato wasn't a big fan of democracy; he didn't think everyone could access Truth.) Bringing it home to today, the authors cite Twitter fact-checking Trump: an old democratic method, yet one sadly ill-equipped to handle Truth when anything that questions the king is taking a "side." This trend of being "all in" for charismatic figures leaves us on shaky ground. It's how cults form. </p><p>A healthy democracy, they conclude, should promote curiosity and debate, tactics more aligned with Sophism than the search for an absolute yet ever-elusive Truth. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accusations—rather than argument—and compliance—rather than persuasion—are incompatible with a democratic dialogue. The ancient Greeks rejected unquestioned propaganda and disinformation as well outside of democratic norms. So should we."</p><p>America isn't healthy. Our modern Octavian does far more damage than print slogans on coins. This administration has helped foment social conditions that reward vitriol over curiosity. Until a mechanism for questioning propaganda is invented—be it technologically or, more likely, rebooting the operating systems nature has endowed us with—constructive debate will always seem like ancient history. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
What better way to understand the world around us than through jokes?
- Slavoj Žižek is a remarkably funny philosopher, who has a joke for every theory and can explain things in a fun way.
- His tendency to joke has helped endear him to the public, though it does sometimes irk curmudgeons.
- Not every joke he makes is suitable for republishing here.
Join Slavoj Žižek live on Big Think today (June 11) at 1 pm ET!<a href="https://youtu.be/weB1rG9xM7k" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Njk3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzI2OTQ3Nn0.mVk4zmm4ucyRu38dFsB2dmS5TQsO2r4B0fYRzYBI0oQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="d9138" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d22baa978b1e14fd4b5ece40160a2c28" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /></a><p style="text-align: center;">Join the live stream free via <a href="https://youtu.be/weB1rG9xM7k" target="_blank">YouTube</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/BigThinkdotcom/posts/10157408399943527" target="_blank">Facebook</a>, or via <a href="https://www.bigthinkedge.com/" target="_blank">Big Think Edge</a> (for subscribers only).<br></p>
"The task today is to give the protesters red ink."<p style="margin-left: 20px;">In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: "Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter, written in blue ink: "Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theaters show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavailable is red ink."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants—the only thing missing is the "red ink": we "feel free" because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict —"war on terror," "democracy and freedom," "human rights," etc.—are false terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. The task today is to give the protesters red ink.</p>
Derrida feat. Žižek<p style="margin-left: 20px;">There is an old Jewish joke, loved by Derrida, about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the eyes of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says: "O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!" After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest: "O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!" After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims: "O God, I am nothing." The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn: "What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!"</p>
Jokes can explain precisely what Žižek wants the left to do, kinda:<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Whe3KqWi" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f268440e329876311e96b780a87ac65f"> <div id="botr_Whe3KqWi_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Whe3KqWi-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Whe3KqWi-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Whe3KqWi-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">The God we get here is rather like the one from the old Bolshevik joke about an able Communist propagandist who, after his death, finds himself in hell, where he quickly convinces the guards to let him leave and go to heaven instead. When the Devil notices his absence, he quickly pays a visit to God, demanding that he return to hell what belongs to the Devil. However, immediately after the Devil starts to address God: "My Lord …" God interrupts him: "First, I am not Lord but a comrade. Second, are you crazy talking to a fictional being?—I don't exist! And third, be short, otherwise, I'll miss my party cell meeting!"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">This is the God today's radical Left needs: a God who wholly "became man"—a comrade among us, crucified together with two social outcasts—and who not only "doesn't exist" but also himself knows this, accepting his erasure, entirely passing over into the love that binds members of the Holy Ghost (the party, the emancipatory collective).</p>
How Žižek explains fantasmatic identification<p style="margin-left: 20px;">There is a nice joke about Jesus Christ: in order to relax after the arduous work of preaching and performing miracles, Jesus decided to take a short break on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. During a game of golf with one of his apostles, there was a difficult shot to be performed; Jesus did it badly and the ball ended up in the water, so he did his usual trick: he walked on the water to the place where the ball was, reached down and picked it up. When Jesus tried the same shot again, the apostle told him that this is a very difficult one — only someone like Tiger Woods can do it; Jesus replied, "What the hell, I am the son of God, I can do what Tiger Woods can do!" and took another strike. The ball again landed in the water, so Jesus again took a walk on the surface of the water to retrieve it. At this point, a group of American tourists walked by and one of them, observing what was going on, turned to the apostle and said: "My god, who is this guy there? Does he think he is Jesus or what?" The apostle replies: "No, the jerk thinks he is Tiger Woods!"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">This is how fantasmatic identification works: No one, not even God himself, is directly what he is; everybody needs an external, decentered point of identification.</p>
Noting quite explains complicated political issues like a good joke<p style="margin-left: 20px;">When the Turkish Communist writer Panait Istrati visited the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s, the time of the big purges and show trials, a Soviet apologist trying to convince him about the need for violence against the enemies evoked the proverb "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs," to which Istrati tersely replied: "All right. I can see the broken eggs. Where's this omelet of yours?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">We should say the same about the austerity measures imposed by IMF: the Greeks would have the full right to say, "OK, we are breaking our eggs for all of Europe, but where's the omelet you are promising us?"</p>
He can describe the exact differences between different kinds of socialism with jokes too!<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Take the old joke about the difference between Soviet-style bureaucratic Socialism and Yugoslav self-management Socialism: in Russia, members of the nomenklatura drive themselves in expensive limousines, while in Yugoslavia, ordinary people themselves ride in limousines through their representatives.</p>
Nothing is sacred to Žižek’s sense of humor:<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Christ says to those who want to stone the woman taken in adultery, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone!" he is immediately hit by a stone, and then shouts back: "Mother! I asked you to stay at home!"</p>
A reminder to double-check precisely what you're presupposing<p style="margin-left: 20px;">A joke from the early 1960s nicely renders the paradox of the presupposed belief. After Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, made his visit to space, he was received by Nikita Khruschev, the general secretary of the Communist Party, and told him confidentially: "You know, comrade, that up there in the sky, I saw heaven with God and angels—Christianity is right!" Khruschev whispers back to him: "I know, I know, but keep quiet, don't tell this to anyone!" Next week, Gagarin visited the Vatican and was received by the pope, to whom he confides: "You know, holy father, I was up there in the sky and I saw there is no God or angels …" "I know, I know," interrupts the pope, "but keep quiet, don't tell this to anyone!"<br></p>
A short joke is a good joke<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Today, the old joke about a rich man telling his servant "Throw out this destitute beggar—I'm so sensitive that I can't stand seeing people suffer!" is more appropriate than ever.<sup><a href="http://magazine.nytyrant.com/four-zizeks-jokes/#fn3" target="_blank"></a></sup></p>
And lastly, how to make soup<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Here is how anyone can make a good soup in one hour: prepare all the ingredients, cut the vegetables, etc., boil the water, put the ingredients into it, cook them at a simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally; when, after three-quarters of an hour, you discover that the soup is tasteless and unpalatable, throw it away, open up a good can of soup, and quickly warm it up in a microwave oven. This is how we humans make soup.<strong></strong></p>
As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner.
'Despite all our medical advances,' my friend Jason used to quip, 'the mortality rate has remained constant – one per person.'