The Taste of Coffee

I like the taste of coffee, but I do not consider myself well trained concerning tasting coffee. I know when I like the taste of coffee, and I know when I do not like it, but I can hardly know how to make a cup of coffee taste good or bad. Crucially however, I have no words to properly describe the taste of good or bad coffee.

Notice that it’s much easier with beer – I know lots of words concerning beer. For starters, “Lager”, “Ale”, “Pale ale”, “India pale ale”, “Stout”, “blonde”, “pilsner”. And others – I can use these words to think about the taste of beer as I’m drinking it. Certainly some beer drinkers have much richer vocabularies, and they have expressions which can help compare beers with each other. On the other hand, I don’t have these words for coffee – I have “Dark roast” and “medium roast”. I have no concept of what a light roast tastes like

I know one thing, I know the taste of coffee when it has been made with not enough coffee. It has a dark watery taste. But in general, I am completely hooped.
Does anyone have some vocabulary which might help me? Is there a book?


Cranberry Bars

2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup canola oil


1/2 can canned cranberry sauce

Blend dry ingrediants, stir in canola oil. Add milk till it has a thick battery consistency. Then stir in cranberry sauce. Place in 8 by 8 pan and cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until done.

A few remarks on vegetarianism

All the polemics and analyzes of vegetarian diets I’ve ever seen have proceeded as follows: begin from facts about meat eating diets that implicate the eater in a causal chain which includes violence of some sort that the eater ought not implicate him or herself in. This is not a new or strange way of doing moral reasoning – it may in fact be the only way. However, it does have some implications which are not normally considered explicitly.
For example, if we begin from a principle as simple as “it is wrong to kill a sentient being”, and a second one, “it is wrong to involve oneself in causal chains, other links of which are morally unacceptable”, then we get, “it is wrong to eat meat because it implicates the eater in a causal chain, another part of which involves the killing of sentient being which is morally wrong”.

This is all fine and good, but you immediately have the “I live in society” problem, because you can link your existence in society in the way that it is to many causal chains which have morally reprehensible elements, such as colonization, wars for oil, systematic racism and sexism. Many horrors of the past were necessary for us today to have the kind of existence that we have, and we might even want to say it is only because the labour standards in other countries are so low that we can afford to set our labour standards so high and still afford basic goods (because those goods are produced by labour which is more exploited than labour here).

So, it becomes untenable to simply revoke menbership in every causal chain which has unspeakable violence somewhere in it. Still, we can say it is right to be vegetarian because we must at least remove ourselves from those causal chains where we have the freewill to do so (we do not have the free choice not to be born into a society based on inequality and violence). However, there is always the problem of suicide – killing oneself would remove oneself from all causal chains of violence. But, we do not want to say that suicide is the highest moral act – we know it is an act of cowardice.

We might say that when we say “it is wrong to involve oneself in a causal chain the other end of which is violence”, this statement is just shorthand for the more basic ethical principle of, rather than minimizing the wrong, of maximizing the good – and we might think the wrong radically cancels out good so it is better to eliminate a small bit of wrong rather than create a lot of good. This would seem to get around the problem of untenable ethical principles. However, there are a few implications of resorting to the Utilitarian framework.
First, it is unclear what the good is. Utilitarianism is not so much a moral theory as a theory of economic calculation where the monetary unit is the good. Certainly we do not want to say that pleasure is the good, so we need something more complex. It turns out that Utilitarianism solves the moral problem only if we have already solved the problem of what the good is (perhaps “the good” is like “being” – a notion we always use all the time without being able to bring our implicit understanding of it to explication).

Second, no rules are hard and fast. Rules become rules of thumb – needing to be reevaluated at crucial points of decision to see if that rule which appears to apply actually does apply, actually does maximize the good. The position of reifying oneself with rules of thumb is just another way of forgetting the real moral dilemma and turning oneself into a machine – the opposite of man. The reified position is one which acknoledges that its actions are wrong in certain situations and does them anyway, “just because those are the rules”.

So, taking for granted that a utilitarians rules for vegetarianism cannot be hard and fast, what does this mean for his actions? It means that while it is fine to as a rule of thumb not to eat meat, in the same way as it is fine as a rule of thumb not to kill people, s/he must acknowledge that s/he may come across cases where the rule breaks down, where the rules gives the wrong answer. And if challenged on one of these occaisions, one cannot appeal to the rule but only to the reasons behind the rule.
So, the utilitarian ends up being a kind of deliberator – with rules of thumb but those rules must be evaluated for propriety in terms of a concrete situation. E.g. if two rules come into conflict (i.e. you can save a child from an axe murderer but only by sharing a steak dinner with the killer), it is no good appealing to the rules themselves, or the priority of certain rules over others. If this was the case, then we could say the rules were primitive and we would not be utilitarians at all but deontologists through and through. In actuality, we must evaluate the situation in light of the reasons behind the rules, and through this determine which rule, if either, is the appropriate one to follow in concrete situation.

Technology, Technocrats, and Building a better world

This early 1980’s BBC documentary on the successes and failure’s of the Soviet economic system presents a remarkably balanced view of the history of the USSR’s planned economy. There really were successes, and there really did seem to be an underlying absurdity which undermined them. Significantly, the USSR raised itself out of the destruction of the second world war faster than Capitalist economies – ending rationing six years before England (and without Marshall Plan money at that).

The documentary is especially good because it isolates rationlization for rationlization’s own sake to be the centre of the absurdity, and clearly differentiates between Marx’s and Lenin’s view of using technology for the sake of society, and Stalin’s and the technocrats view of reducing society itself to a part of a larger machine, as the crucial failure of rationality in the USSR’s project of building a state “for the people”.

The absurdity of “reason for reason’s sake” might be especially important in our time, where the future appears to hold the rationalization of our economy by technocratic control over taxation as incentive producing for the sake of eliminating costly externalities. While the motivation behind carbon taxes is without question to do good, we must keep in mind the purpose of these incentive structures is for the sake of society, and society does not exist simply so it can be orderd and secured by better technological rationality.

The a-politicization of the Olympics

It appears to be common knowledge that associating the Olympics with political issues is an alteration of the “true meaning” of the Olympics, which has to do with Athletes and sport. The difference between people who think the protests concerning human rights violations in Tibet is whether it is appropriate to use the Olympics for a purpose other than their “original” one.

The problem is, there is no such thing as Olympics without politics. The Olympics were revived in late 19th century Europe primarily for political purposes – to renew the belief in the strength of the human body. And by way of that, renew the strength of the political nation. At the opening of the 1896 games in Athens, the King of Greece said: “I declare the opening of the first international Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation. Long live the Greek people.”

The notion of a Greek Nation was the motivation for the renewal of the Olympic games as early as 1838, when Greek Nationalist poet Alexandros Soutsos spoke of the revival of the Olympic games in a poem. As we know, “nationalism” was still relatively new in the 19th century, so we can read this “Revival” as an appropriation not of a Greek cultural practice but a re-appropriation of an ancient Greek cultural practice for different purposes in modern Greece.

So, if the Olympics began as part of the project of Greek nationalism, is it that the Games somehow became a-political? Having the games has always been prestigious for the host country, and draws attention to them. If this is a primary motivation for hosting, is that not already a political motivation?

In order to believe any Olympic games is even slightly a-political you have to believe that the host nation considers hosting the games a burden, which they are willing to bear for the sake of providing a site where the athletes can compete in “pure sport”. But if this were true, selfish nations would never apply to host the games. It’s just plainly false that the motivation behind hosting the games is prestige, and therefore political.
If the games were never a-political, why do we all believe the games are about athletes and sport? Mostly because the games have been “a-politicized”. There is a large and powerful discourse around athletic competitivism, pure sport, strength of the body, fraternity, mutual respect, etc.. This discourse is not false – what they talk about might actually happen on the field. However, it is not the primary purpose or motivation for the Olympic games, it never has been, and it oughtn’t be. We live in a world of self interested nations who vie for prestige as a form of currency, and it would be unthinkable to live in any other kind of world. Thus, any prestigious international competition will take on this character.

We should not ignore the sporting aspect of the Olympic games, but we would all do better to recognize that it is also fully a tool of propaganda, and use that propaganda tool against nations that fail to live up to the standards of freedom and equality which we believe ought be universally implemented.

Why it is necessary to have children.

I must have children – it is not a matter of choice. Why? Because I myself am a child – to not have a child is to act in contradiction with my own existence. Because my generation does not exist independently of the previous one, because we continue the previous generation and intimate the next (intimation in the classroom and the bedroom).

I must have children because it is upon the next generation that the decisions of history rest. Our task, if we have a task, is to further the mechanization and organization of the world such that it can sustain it’s own ordering and securing indefinitely – in other words, be equal to the idea of itself. This task is essentially simple and requires not the power of thought but the power of inquiry and persuasion. This task has been given to us by the previous generation, who could only produce indefinitely, but who could not produce indefinite production itself as such.

The task of the true philosopher in this age is not to “aid with the saving of the Planet” (the production of indefinite producibility), or rather it is not only in this. The philosopher can become technocrat, and may perhaps be commended for this, but this is not a becoming-other in which the philosopher remains a man of Works and of Stillness – rather he contradicts his essence by entering the sphere of production and hubbub.

The task of the true philosopher in our generation is to grasp and hold the seed, to be the rare and the few who do not merely enact other thinking (the true artists of our generation do this), but comprehend it in its truth – and comprehension of other thinking, or the enactment of other thinking is never something like securing a series of propositions or performing an argumentative method.

When the Danger becomes absolute, in other words, after the transcendent danger of world catastrophe is passed and the danger as such becomes immanent (the danger that being will never be grasped otherwise than as an object), then the hermeneutic task of the philosopher will become social – the philosopher/poet/politicien will enact otherwise thinking in stillness and quell the hubbub of objective-determination. This task can never become social while the hubbub continues to produce its own extermination, but only when it becomes absolutely everyday and not threatened by anything at all.

Question of the day: If history in the West since Hegel is determined as the thesis structure of abstract becoming concrete, in other words, having a telic orientation towards its own fulfillment, does the overcoming of western history itself have that structure? Does the grounding question (not “what is”, but “how is?”) gather as a logos towards a futural projection of unity? Or need it not have this telic gathering structure at all – might it have the de-centering sinuous line of physis? Or, does physis gather only futurally?

2008 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences

This year the national congress of humanities and social sciences occurs may 31st to june 8th UBC, which is fortuitous for me because I will be in Vancouver during the time anyway. The congress is an academic mecca, with both a “congress level” of talks for which there is one schedule, and also corresponding conferences from just about every field in humanities or social sciences. In other words, it’s both one conference at a hundred. I’ll be going as a delegate from the Canadian Philosophical association, although I will likely spend more time at the Social for Existential Phenomenology’s talks (I need to get around to joining that organization).

If you like conferences, this promises to be everything you could ever ask one to be. I like the “eventness” about them, it’s a bit special to have all these people together at once. Not entirely unlike the feeling around the World debating tournament which was recently at UBC. The only really big conference I’ve been to before was the American Comp Lit society at Princeton, and this one promises to be even larger, although perhaps less unified.

One small issue, at the time I’ll be living at my parents house in Surrey – is anyone willing to let me crash at their place nearer to UBC for a few days?

Ethics – for what kind of human beings?

Ethics seems to be about universal, abstract values – like “killing is wrong”. On first glance, prior to much reflection, one might want to adopt things like that as universal principles, and then “what ought you do” becomes the question, “what ought an abstract ideal chooser do in this situation given that set of universal principles”.

Of course, we all know this is bunk, because the principles come out of nowhere. So we look to the guy who came up with them, and he’s just some bloke standing in a field. And the only universal principle you can deduce empirically from him is he hates pain and likes pleasure. So, you figure that’s the real universal principle. But, as philosophers it would be a bit embarrassing to tell people they should just do what gives them pleasure and avoid pain, so we universalize that, make it sound right proper abstract and philosophically sounding, and we get – “act as if you were an ideal chooser with the principle of minimizing pain”, or something to the like.

But this ethics is bunk too, because it asks us when we make choices to imagine we’re something we’re not and act as if. Not even Kant, the guy whose bad charicature we were making fun of in the first place, asks us to do that. No, for Kant you literally are meant to become that actor that makes the moral principle the ground of its will, not “act as if”. See, for Kant, the idea is we’re initially and for the most part evil (especially pain and pleasure types like Bentham), but we make ourselves moral by becoming the kind of people who make moral principles the ground of our will.
So the key to doing decent ethics is to recognize that ethical decisions are relavent to concrete individuals, not abstract “as if” choosers, and any possible ethics is one which commands you to become something that you are not. It’s not a question of acknoledging you are some way or another and skipping out on it to act a different way, but literally to change yourself to act according to the right reasons, according to duty.

But, where do those duties come from? They simply from the situation we find ourselves in, there are already duties present in any given social situation and position. If you want to deny this, but you still want to say there are duties, pray tell where they come from? How do you know you have them if they are present, even privitavly, in your situation?