Red Rising and Philosophy
Red Rising and Philosophy is but one among several new additions to the wonderful pop culture and philosophy series. This one focuses on Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. There are four sections, looking at various aspects of the stories, from the value and ethics of eugenics to stratified caste cultures to the nature of rebellion.
There are many great essays here. Some of my favorites include:
“Pierce’s Republic,” which compares Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy to Plato’s Republic. Brown himself says that Plato’s Republic influenced him.
“Beautiful Colors and Unjust Societies” compares how utopias and dystopias are defined and looks at how more subjective descriptors like notions of beauty are defined. How much is truly subjective? How much is ingrained in our communal conscious?
I love these books! They focus and sharpen philosophical concepts, revealing how they underlie our entertainment and illustrating their relevance in today’s society. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy and Red Rising and Philosophy both really hit home for me at this time, given the strife within my own country. Stories like these, where you have a group of people who believe they have some sort of genetic and/or moral superiority over other groups of people show the egocentric nature of such thinking, as well as showing that people oppressed will eventually get to a point where they will no longer tolerate such discrimination.
Courtland Lewis, Editor • Kevin McCain, Editor
There is much that is mystifying in Daniel M. Harrison’s Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today’s World. Mystifying, but far from edifying. For instance, why is Butterflies classified under “Philosophy?” To characterize the book as such implies that thought-provoking analyses bolstered by the promise of plausibility might be contained within its pages. Not so. With its concatenation of logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies and cheap, drugstore mysticism doubling as ersatz vatic insight, Butterflies is an insult, rather than a contribution to that discipline. Moreover, it is difficult to decide which is more unsettling, that Butterflies has enjoyed commercial success or that this sham of a book was published—and not by a vanity press? Butterflies has been called “ambitious” and “challenging.” Those adjectives apply, but not on account of staggering insight, complexity, or originality—what makes the Harrison’s work challenging is its conceptual aimlessness.
The author often muddles recklessly through concepts and fields he does not fully grasp, from hard sciences to the humanities feigning a knowledge that his claims and blatant absence of legitimately cited research bely. In its prologue, Butterflies promises readers access to “hyper-reality,” defined as a “zone of hard-core truth.” This slighting treatment of a concept supposedly foundational for the narrative is symptomatic of the diseased superficiality that pervades Butterflies. Harrison’s definition of “hyper-reality,” elides the term’s place in intellectual history, overlooking how “hyper-reality” was a contested term of semiotics that surfaced most visibly in French Structuralism of the 1960s, a movement that would influence fields from musicology to history for decades to come. It still does. Harrison’s shameful oversimplification is either an intentional erasure, a sign of unpardonable ignorance, or tacit assumptions about the audience’s ignorance.
Butterflies has its virtues, however. Harrison brings 20th century geopolitics, globalization, and recent economic trends together with skill and in approachable, conversational prose. Also, the structure of Harrison’s work is creative. Each chapter oscillates, forming a braid between chapters on non-fiction and fiction. This interlacing of the two gradually becomes a chiasmus — fact comes to seem as improbable as fiction, while fiction adopts a degree of unrelenting brutality generally reserved for reality. Moreover, this structure harmonizes with a key theme in the book about the notional separation of those two categories.
Still, creative structure cannot forgive the lack of intellectual rigor, coupled with counterfeit certitude that pervades Harrison’s roughly non-fictional chapters. In one non-fiction passage, Harrison challenges the theory of relativity. Sadly, his obvious ignorance of basic physics makes his posturing as a Wunderkind- juggernaut ready to crush basic precepts of the field ridiculous. Elsewhere, Harrison alludes to historical moments and figures with varying degrees of inaccuracy, at one point presenting what is little more than a simplistic, unconvincing inversion of the Platonic Theory of Forms, as if it were a revelation. Is the author indulging in parody at his own expense or is Harrison merely delusional? The fiction chapters, which often glamorize a dissipated elite, high on ephemeral pleasures and hollow successes, are nearly unbearable. The reason for discomfort is not related to explicit sexual content, but because it is written so poorly (and exhibits a peculiar obsession with grounding description of girls [eerily] and women by their breasts, cup size, and all). Perhaps Harrison believes that what is provocative is, a posteriori, compelling. If the author had demonstrated the ability to use, rather than abuse, language (errors are not merely stylistic, but grammatical), these chapters might have been less agonizing to read. Though one might object that Harrison is transcending the conventions of the English language, that defense would only be valid if he had first demonstrated mastery of it. One press release advertised Butterflies as a “manifesto of the millennial age.” If so, Harrison’s work is little more than an inadvertent, likely unearned, condemnation of a generation and an epoch.
This reviewer fervently hopes that Harrison has not captured a new Zeitgeist–one where charlatans are sages and ‘wisdom’ is spouted by the ignorant or, worse, by those who prefer to pander to ignorance, rather than erase it. Perhaps he is merely constructing a vast cautionary tale. At least the Lost Generation, poised at the start of the 20th century, produced some writing that one hopes is as lasting as Butterflies is ephemeral.
The Book of Eli
One day, an ordinary American male––working, married, with kids––wakes up in Heaven. The surprise comes because Eli Canaan has led a less-than-saintly life. True, he’s a nice guy: he recycles, coaches his kid’s team, helps his wife with the laundry and his children with homework, walks the dog. But he cheats on his wife regularly. So what’s he doing in Heaven?
In Moffie’s Heaven, adulterers are sent back to Earth as alley cats. Groucho Marx, smoking a cigar, cracking jokes, and arching his eyebrows, is the tour guide. He shows Eli around Heaven, explaining, among other things, that the absence of cats or dogs is not because D-O-G is God spelled backwards, but because people reincarnate as pets: Good people as well-treated pets, bad ones as abused animals.
Eli’s tour of Heaven provides a humorous framework for discussion of serious fundamentalist Christian theology, as well as popular psychological and conservative political ideas. Sigmund Freud, for example, analyzes Eli and uses AA vocabulary to lecture him genially about sex addiction. A shimmering Jesus reviews the Ten Commandments, scoring Eli’s performance, chastising him for his fixations, and urging him to observe the spirit, as well as the letter of the law. But Jesus, laughing in the symphonic tones of Mozart, reminds Eli to keep things light; after all, even the Twelve Apostles were cut-ups.
Eli’s meeting with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an atheist for whom a stint in Heaven is pure Hell, opens a discussion of sex education and the ban on prayer in public schools, followed by the Catholic Church’s obligation to pay property taxes; Eli’s meeting with Ayn Rand initiates a forum on libertarian political ideals. Eli even gets advice from Moses, Mohammed, and Buddha.
Moffie’s jokes add spice to topics that some readers might otherwise find tedious. Some jokes are a bit discomfiting. Eli’s Jewish, for example, yet he does not seem bothered by Jesus’ jokes about Jews, like this one: “Why don’t Jewish mothers drink wine? Answer—Because it will interfere with their suffering.”
Throughout Eli’s tour and meetings with dignitaries, Eli dreads being sent back to earth as an alley cat—the fate of adulterers. But God, speaking in the voice of Orson Welles, has other plans for Eli.
The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion
Here’s a challenge for you- combine a lengthy discussion of philosophy, naturalism, and religion and come up with a means to effectively explain the basic tenets of historiographical research to those who are unfamiliar with any of these topics. No, wait- James Stroud has already done all of the work for us. Our mission, (should we decide to accept it)is to develop a better understanding of the interplay of these subjects by reading the book, The Philosphy of History: Naturalism and Religion: A Historiographical Approach to Origins.
Author James Stroud explains the differences between naturalism and science, and how the concept of miracles as referred to within the religious arena cannot be measured using scientific methodology, and also cannot be logically explained using traditional scientific methodology. Stroud observes that it is pre-suppositional beliefs that form the basis for many traditional scientific conclusions regarding human origins, rather than empirical evidence. Science rejects supernatural concepts and explanations yet cannot objectively disprove phenomena via the laws of science, Stroud maintains that “…any closed- philosophical paradigm that does not allow the inference to the best explanation should be abandoned or at least challenged…”
In discussing the philosophy of history, Stroud encourages the reader to consider the nature of historical evidence, in light of the fact that history cannot be repeated. The reader is encouraged to question the degree, to which objectivity is possible, the challenges to correctly determining the accuracy of past historical reports and current inability to verify the absolute truth, due to human philosophical bias.
Stroud contends that the theory of naturalism is untenable and confines one to “… a strict pre-suppositional interpretation of the data.” Ultimately, Stroud supports an “open philosophy of history” as a science, rejects the current “closed philosophies”, and believes that the theories of deism and theism are plausible explanations to be considered and supported as viable alternatives to philosophical naturalism.
In support of his argument, Stroud submits four historic events for consideration: Historic Event number one: Origins of the Universe and Cosmological Constants; Historic Event number two: Origin of Life- Cambrian Explosion and Human Origins; Historic Event number three: Origin of Civilization before the Common Era; Historic Event number four: The Common Era of the Historical Jesus.
Stroud also invites readers to consider such profound questions as the place of religion in history, the objective meaning of history and what drives that meaning, the proper unit of study of the human past, broad historic patterns, cycles and irregularities to be discerned and objective measures of historic progress. There is also a consideration of many of the ways in which western thought’s linear path opposes the mythical conception of history and time.
Those who seek a deeper understanding of the basis of theories of human origin will very much enjoy the insights provided within this book. The theories of great philosophers such as Hegel, Nietzsche, and Focault may not be the usual fare for novice philosophers, and one must certainly put a “thinking cap” on before settling into this most provocative read.
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence
Adequate Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Existence is an exhaustive collection of philosophical viewpoints presented for a layman. Smolin presents the general reader with an overview of essays that discuss existence, our cosmos, and the many different viewpoints held by people. The simplistic wording by Smolin makes these essays easy to comprehend and gives the general reader a framework to build a better understanding of “the nature of existence.”
The essays are short but concise. Covering a wide range of diverse subject matter, the essays can be read alone or as a whole. There is a great deal of information covered by Smolin, and he does an exceptional job organizing, arranging, and presenting the vast research that is clearly evident as you read through this book. Smolin goes into great depth exploring the nature of forms and processes, which provides the background necessary to discuss the myriad of subject matter contained in this book. The book is comprised of eight parts: Essentials, Questions and Ideas, Physical Existence, Biological & Human Existence, Trends & Other Matters, God & Religion, Humanity and Final Thoughts. “We can begin to piece together the varied components of existence, creating a clearer understanding of how the world works and then proposing guidelines to help us make wise decisions and lead meaningful lives.”
Smolin additionally includes some ideas based upon new research, for which further scrutiny and examination is warranted. “The obvious motif of this work is to embrace all components of the world and to suggest that everything is contingent upon everything else, while paradoxically allowing forms and processes to express themselves individually.” Most of the discussions cover scientific information and philosophical ideas, whereas, some of the discussions get a little more personal speaking about sexuality, self-control, religion, and state. While I may not agree with all of the contentions of the author, Smolin presents his work in a well-organized and classy form that leaves the reader open to explore his ideas.
Smolin’s essays cover diverse fields of life, philosophy, cosmology, sociology and psychology. “A key idea of adequate wisdom is the apparent duality between synergy and individualism, whereby virtually every form has its own function and structure while at the same time becoming part of another, greater structure.” It is well written and easy to understand. A worthwhile read for those have interest in this subject matter.
The Fourth Dimension of Existence
We live in a three-dimensional world, and can fully understand three -dimensional occurrences. But this three- dimensional reality cannot explain our inability to answer fundamental questions. The Fourth Dimension of Existence proposes that an additional existential dimension is needed — another dimension, like the three material ones with which we are so familiar, which is an integral part of our being, which we already can sense and understand in a limited capacity, but which in us is not yet fully realized. This fourth dimension is Spirit, and by accepting that we have this particular fourth-dimensional component, we can begin to rationally understand many of these questions about our existence, if not yet their answers.
Dr. Nasr Saad begins with an overview of our understanding of the universe – basically, that we cannot comprehend it in terms of our normal reality. Although matter is finite and limited, the universe, as far as we can tell, is infinite and limitless. How can this be? He explores the historical and universal understanding that there is an immortal component to our beings, usually explained as the spirit or soul, but explains that the spirit and body are both equally present throughout and within our being. The three familiar dimensions of physical reality are no more or less omnipresent than this fourth, the spirit.
Understanding that we are not fully realized in the fourth dimension, although we can vaguely sense it, we recognize that communication from that reality must be by analogy or parable. Dr. Saad compares this to us, as three-dimensional beings, trying to interact with two-dimensional ones. (This analogy borrows heavily from Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbot, but explicates to a much greater degree than was explored in that already excellent book.) Different chapters focus more exclusively on death and immortality, religious revelations, and time and space. This last is especially fun; using the experimentally-supported conclusions of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, for example, Dr. Saad shows how a being moving at or beyond the speed of light would, to our comprehension, exist for our eternity and throughout our infinite space.
This is a fascinating book. The arguments are painstakingly, thoroughly, and solidly constructed. Although the reading can be dense and get a little confusing (as the subject is, by this book’s argument, not completely comprehensible), it is well worth the effort. The style is highly readable and conversational, and Dr. Saad is modest and respectful as he leads you to his conclusions. He does not claim to have the answers, but invites the reader to come with him in trying to understand life’s mysteries. Even if you don’t believe in an existence beyond the one we know, The Fourth Dimension of Existence provides a rational way to try to approach that belief. If you do already believe in that possibility, this book will wonderfully extend your understanding.