Reader’s Corner: ‘What We Owe the Future’

Philosopher William MacAskill’s new book, What We Owe the Future, tries to do what few books do well: Take a big, hairy subject and make it understandable for a broad audience. He succeeds somewhat, but the issue is ultimately with the subject itself.

My review is at PopMatters:

Many ideas with great potential to cause damage have at their core at least one fundamentally sound principle. In philosopher William MacAskill’s new book What We Owe the Future—a white paper for the general public about the philosophy known as longtermism—he defines the school of thought under the heading “The Silent Billions”: “Future people count. There could be a lot of them. We can make their lives go better.” It’s a mind-opening concept and difficult to push back on…

You can read the introduction here.

Reader’s Corner: Kanye’s Writing a Book. On Philosophy

Here’s another book Kanye kind of wrote.

Kanye West says he’s writing a book of philosophy called Break the Simulation. Because that’s where we’re at right now. (Any bets it will claim reality is just a Matrix-like computer simulation?)

Per Entertainment Weekly:

I’ve got this philosophy — or let’s say it’s just a concept because sometimes philosophy sounds too heavy-handed … It takes you out of the now and transports you into the past or transports you into the future … It can be used to document, but a lot of times it overtakes [people]. People dwell too much in the memories. People always wanna hear the history of something, which is important, but I think it [sic] there’s too much of an importance put on history.

Lot to unpack here, starting with the concept that “there’s too much of an importance put on history,” but we can let the reality of all human endeavors serve as a definitive rejection of that idea.

There’s also the issue that even though his mother was a university English professor, Kanye has called himself “a proud non-reader of books.”

Still, we should welcome Kanye to the authors’club. Even if he never reads his own book.

Note Bene: An ‘Imposter’ in Academia

In Aeon, professor philosophy Amy Olberding writes about being an academic from a working-class rural background:

 I was once congratulated on my ‘bravery’ for not training out my ‘rustic accent’ – never mind that I didn’t know, until then, that I had one. More recently, I was asked to develop a seminar on class bias. I am a philosopher, and since I do not study class bias, the request surprised me. I later discovered that I was chosen for my ‘unique’ life experience, my perceived lower-class origins. Even now, people casually ask me at conferences where I am from, in a way that suggests they are struggling to place the unusual. A student once marvelled that I ‘talk like Faulkner’. Another, prompted by a course evaluation to ‘describe this instructor in one word’, recorded: ‘y’all’.

The polite snobbery of academia, far removed from the stuff of life, rears its head in more comical ways:

When other philosophers learn that I have a farm, they often invoke Henry Thoreau’s Walden (1854). This text seems to be the philosopher’s Rosetta Stone for country life. I am in great sympathy with cultured sorts who long for the agrarian – indeed, in many respects, I am one now. Yet I can tolerate Walden only if I read it fancifully and counterfactually, as deliberate self-satire. Or if I construct a running sub-commentary of what Thoreau’s truly country neighbours must have thought. There might be some who farm who enjoy Thoreau, but I am not one…