Our fascist times?

forlorn bridge

How could it get worse. A president found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors by the US House of Representatives let off the hook by a Senate more willing to look after their own future than the present and future of the country they are supposed to serve.

In my piece last summer for the Los Angeles Review of Books, “The Public Sphere in Dark Times,” I argued that thanks to the robust role of the informal public sphere even Trump could not turn this country into a dictatorship. The events of this past week are put these ideas to the test.

In that piece I distinguish three realms of the public sphere: 1) the formal one of elected bodies, 2) the elite one of leading news media and “opinion leaders,” and 3) the informal one of the street, social media, informal conversations that radiate and connect with each other all over the country and around the world. I argue that all three realms intersect and bounce around and test each others’ ideas.

At this point in time, the formal realm of the public sphere is deeply divided, but enought of it has gained power to legally, if not in any other respect, exonerate Trump. The elite opinion realm is also divided but for the most part highly critical of trump. The informal public sphere, at least as far as Twitter shows, also really critical. The rest of the public sphere, slumbering away in the hinterlands, a sleeping polar bear of apathy? It’s hard to say. Will the informal realms of the public sphere be able to hold the more formal and conservative ones accountable?

My theory is not a crystal ball. Time will tell.

Quitting Facebook

Screenshot 2019-11-22 at 9.17.49 PMI just quit Facebook today. It wasn’t that big a part of my life but now that I’ve quit it I realize how much of my cyborg life it was. Just like my phone. I might not use it that much but it is always there. And now FB no longer is, not the scores of people from my adolescent years, not the students and colleagues from my 30s, not my more recent friends from greater DC and Boston, not my current philosophy colleagues from all over the world. Facebook made it possible for me to have all these great connections, just as it made it possible for it to scoop up private data from 31 percent of the global population. Yes, 31 percent. And then monetize us, harvest us, market to us, capture us for whatever they want. So I decided finally, after much prodding from a few friends, to say, no. No more. I have found an alternative to Facebook that promises not to sell my data, not to algorithmize my content, to just let me share my news with people I like. Maybe this is a fantasy that somehow I can keep my personal stuff to myself. But I’m okay with better being a good alternative to unacceptable.

What is so curious is that so many of my otherwise principled friends and colleagues are willing to scoop up the benefits of Facebook and turn a blind eye to the harm it is doing.

Falling water, falling away

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 8.19.18 PMI just finished watching Ken Burns’ two episodes on Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m left with where I was at the start, with mixed feelings. Yes, Falling Water is one of the most stunning architectural masterpieces of the past century, but for the most part Wright’s architecture focused on creating inner sanctums, not windows to the world. And most of it leaves me cold.

He was a philanderer and a charlatan and a narcissist and an egoist. And there is no “however” to follow to make up for his personality flaws. The man seems to have been totally unbearable.

But there was genius. He knew how architecture could create a richer internal world.

Which makes me think about his mother.

Ken Burns’ documentary makes clear that Wright’s first and ever love was his mother, and he was hers. His father abandoned them, just as he later abandoned his own first family. The man never negotiated the Oedipus complex, because he didn’t have to. So throughout his life he remained the narcissistic omnipotent childish overlord, and demanded that everyone treat him as king.

But maybe in that pre-oedipal refusal of oedipus, in that refusal to succumb to a superego (the heir of the oedipus complex), he was able to retain an inner magical world that could create Falling Water? What does that say about the tradeoffs we all make every day, trading away creativity for civilization?

Time Management

Screenshot 2018-06-15 09.59.34I’m planning to run a workshop for graduate students on how to manage time, both the time when there’s never enough time and the stretches of time when there is all the time in the world (like a sabbatical). I’m still working on this, so let me run it by you all. Maybe you have some ideas? Please post them in the comments.

Time Management Workshop


  • Zen things. Do one thing at a time. Do it slowly and completely. Do less. Put space between things. Develop rituals. Think about what is necessary. Live simply.
  • Find your style, whatever is ego-syntonic. Don’t use this as an exercise in making yourself a better person. Go with who you are and find methods that fit with who you are. Are you a morning person or a night person? Do you like to work at home or do you want to be around other people? Are you happier setting aside time blocks or do you prefer checking off tasks for the day? Do you prefer analog or digital tools to keep track of tasks?

Plot out your work.

  • Set a goal (map each goal separately) and then break it down
  • Develop a loose timeline and then plot it out backwards. If it’s a long-term project this might mean plotting month-by-month from the end to the present
  • Do this with your various goals and make a list month-by-month of what you’d like to accomplish. Plot it out.
  • Then start with month one. List what you would like to get done. Underestimate what you can do. Then start with week one. Don’t micro-manage every week or month going forward. Just focus on that one week in that one month. Give yourself a set of aims for the first week, then divvy them up over the week.
  • Depending on your own personality,
    • If you need a big chunk of time to get into something, aim for one big task a day.
    • If you prefer to work in spurts, spread things out over several days.
  • At the end of each day, be happy if you do even 80 percent of what you hoped to accomplish. And then give yourself some free time to chill. Every morning recalibrate the new day, depending on what you got done the previous day.
  • It’s okay to decide something is no longer important.
  • At the end of each week, reassess. At the end of each month, plot the next month.
  • Structure available time very modestly.
  • Give yourself time to relax and replenish.


  • Digital tools: Pros — there are many apps, always in your pocket, no need to carry around a separate notebook
  • Analog tools: Pros — more physically present and in your face, writing by hand helps mental processing and remembering
  • My favorite tool: For me, digital is handy but easy to forget. I work well with the bullet journal. https://bulletjournal.com/pages/learn; and it’s oddly more nimble than the digital tools I’ve tried. You can use this method with any notebook though a moleskin with a bound edge is nice.

Tips for how to manage time when you are over-extended.

  • Make the most of available chunks of time

Tips for how to manage when you have big stretches of unstructured time.

  • Remember it will be over before you know it.
  • Don’t think all or nothing. Aim to do even a little bit every day you are planning to work.
  • Break big long projects into monthly then weekly then daily tasks.

No matter your style or how much or little time you have, forget about multitasking. Studies show that no one can multitask. Aim for serial monotasking, whether a day at a time or even just 15 minutes at a time. One can get an astonishing amount done in 15 minutes when monotasking. As a piece of this process – but not the whole thing — look up the pomodoro method. Feel free to adapt this for what works best for you.





Public Philosophy Network call for proposals

The next Public Philosophy Network will take place at Michigan State University October 17-19, 2019. The theme is “Philosophy from All Walks of Life.” Here’s the  call for workshops, panels, papers, and reports — all due  February 28, 2019. To apply, please submit to:


Log in to EasyChair for PPN 2019


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The Public Philosophy Networks invites proposals for its fifth conference, Philosophy from All Walks of Life, hosted by Michigan State University, October 17-19, 2019. Starting from the tradition of Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs, the conference continues the PPN practice of expanding philosophy outside of the academy into everyday life, serving as a resource for social change. To this end the Public Philosophy Network invites proposals from philosophers, broadly construed, outside of and inside of the academy whose work seeks to utilize philosophy for socially relevant outcomes.

Conference events include:

An evening dedicated to the work of philosopher and activist Grace Lee Boggs, including a screening of the documentary American Revolutionary and a conversation with the filmmaker, Grace Lee.

Confirmed Keynotes:

  • Myisha Cherry, Unmute Podcast, University of California, Riverside
  • Kristie Dotson, Epistemology of Testimony, Michigan State University
  • Daniel Wildcat, American Indian and Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group, Haskell Indian Nations University 

The organizers invite proposals that cover topics related to understanding and advancing public philosophy from all walks of life, including those that:

  • Initiate from an activist tradition, such as disability rights; Black Lives Matter; prison education, abolition, and reform; #Me Too; environmental justice; LGBTQI rights; peace activism; Indigenous sovereignty; food justice.
  • Expand the public forum for philosophy, through blogs, op-eds, podcasts, teaching outside of the academy, public philosophy events.
  • Engage a range of publics through research and/or policy, such as climate change, same sex marriage, housing policy, accessibility policy, fiscal policy, prison and criminal justice policy, welfare, public health, among many others, with attention to public effects of this work.
  • Develop skillsneeded to engage in public philosophical work, such as how to do collaborative work, use social media, and organize groups for social activism.
  • Strategizes about practical matters and best practices in public philosophy, for example, tenure hurdles for publicly engaged work, outreach programs in prisons and K-12 education, sources, methods and strategies for attaining funding, etc.
  • Construct and expand theoretical frameworks that aid the efficacy of public philosophy, such as epistemologies of ignorance, epistemic violence, “weathering” and structural violence, ethical-epistemic models, intersectionality.
  • Question the boundaries and roles of academic philosophy, such as what are or should be the borders (practical, theoretical and physical) of philosophy, how does our practice help or hurt communities, what are the benefit and harms of professionalism in philosophy?
  • Expand and question the spaces and practices through which public philosophy takes place, such as whether those spaces and forms are accessible to all people.
  • Raise questions of how to define, evaluate, and measure the impact of public philosophy.
  • Reflecton how philosophy is transformed by turning outward; how does public engagement inform philosophical concepts and understanding or alter disciplinary boundaries?

Proposals should specify the format: workshop, paper, organized panel or projects. 

Workshops. Proposals should include a workshop title and description (~300 words) of the organizer’s or organizers’ interest and experience with the subject matter and how the topic is of concern to philosophy or public life. Proposals should also include an overview of how the two-hour workshop will proceed, highlighting how it will be participatory and indicating any non-academic participants you might invite. We anticipate that workshops will take different formats, depending on the issues being addressed and the number and type of participants. The goals of these sessions are to foster partnerships and projects, whether new or ongoing, and, where appropriate, to spark substantive dialogue between philosophers and “practitioners” (public policymakers, government officials, grassroots activists, nonprofit leaders, etc.). A second call will be issued later in the year inviting people to apply to participate in accepted workshops. (Workshop organizers should help publicize this second call.) We will limit each workshop to about 20 participants.  Those who are accepted in time will be listed on the program as discussants, though they will not be expected to make a formal presentation.

Papers, Project Reports, or Narratives. We are especially interested in papers that report on public philosophy projects or reflect on the practice of public philosophy.  Proposals should include the title and an abstract of no more than 300 words. Individual papers should be prepared for 30 minutes of presentation and discussion time. Accepted proposals will be grouped into sessions. Papers may be presented in any style, from reading whole or sections of papers to more conversation based to PowerPoint slides and multimedia.

Organized Panels.  We invite proposals for 90-minute panels on any number of themes: Book sessions, philosophical issues in public philosophy, or policy problems and how philosophers have or may engage them. Panels should include a set of three presentations followed by discussion. Proposals should include names and affiliations of proposed panelists, the proposed format, and an abstract of not more than 500 words.

Accessibility Information: All conference rooms are wheelchair accessible. Speakers and panelists will use microphones. There will be a quiet room. We are working on having CART and ASL interpreters for the keynote addresses, but we are not able to confirm this at this time. We will ask presenters to make conference papers and Power Point slides available for those that request them. Please email John Altmann at ferrumintellectus@yahoo.com if you have questions about conference accessibility.

Abstracts due February 28, 2019, please submit to: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=ppn2019

Kristeva Circle Call for Papers

Screenshot 2018-12-08 14.56.59

Here at Emory University we will be hosting the upcoming meeting of the Julia Kristeva Circle, October 3-5, 2019. The theme of the meeting will be Trajectories of Psychoanalysis. Keynote speakers are Emanuela Bianchi of New York University’s department of comp lit and Jill Gentile, a practicing psychoanalyst and a faculty member of the NYU postdoctoral program in psychoanalysis. We’ll also have a screening of a new film about Kristeva — Who’s Afraid of Julia Kristeva? — along with a session with the filmmaker, Iskra Angelova.

Call for Papers: Please send abstracts of 500-750 words to kristevacircle@gmail.com by April 17, 2019. Submissions may be on any topic related to Julia Kristeva’s thought, as well as topics that address the conference theme, Trajectories of Psychoanalysis, the ways in which multiple psychoanalytic approaches—from those of Klein to Green to Lacan—interrelate with Kristeva’s work. Abstracts should be suitable for anonymous review; include a separate document with name, paper title, affiliation, and contact information.


On the Periphery in Crete

Screenshot 2018-06-15 09.59.34.png

I’m sitting on the porch of my family’s Cretan home, overlooking the city in the valley and the Aegean Sea beyond. I’ve been back here in Iraklion for a week, after four days in the Greek capital, Athens. As always, I’m finding the contrast between the two—Crete, the home of the Minoans, and Athens, the European metropolis, even if a poor cousin of Europe’s—jarring.

Back in my teens, during a visit to a museum in Crete, I read a note that said that Crete was the first European civilization. Even then that struck me as odd and wrong, not only because over a thousand years separated the Minoan era from the classical Greek one, but because Crete just did not feel European. It felt then and still feels now decidedly Mediterranean, not the Mediterranean of the Riviera but more like the Mediterranean of Beirut, more continuous with the silk road heading east than the empire that became Europe.

The note in the museum is, I think, a product of the narrative and phantasy of the British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, who dug up Knossos and claimed it as a precursor of European civilization. Europe claims ancient Greece as its own, but Greece, especially this ancient outpost, resists that story.

The Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel offers a historical account that congrues with my intuitions. Early human civilizations originated and culminated in the Egyptian-Mesopotamian world, with the Nile as its center and an outward radiating periphery. At the outer edge of that periphery sat Crete’s Minoan world, including Knossos, whose ruins now lie just a few kilometers from my porch outside Iraklion. The Egyptian-Mesopotamian civilization later fell from power and new centers arose in Asia, both in India and China. And these too had their peripheries. The silk road from the Mediterranean to the east provided a path for peoples on the periphery of civilization to travel to the center, just as the emperor Constantine of the Holy Roman Empire in the third century AD, aimed to extend his influence toward the center of civilization in the east.

Contrary to the notion I learned, that Europe’s archaic past began with the Minoans in Crete, there was little continuity between the early Greeks and later Europeans. The Myceneans did come along after 1500 BCE to conquer and displace the Minoans from power. They also took to the seas to travel to Athens to erect the walls of what would become the Acropolis. But that historical trajectory heads east, not north or west, with Alexander’s Greek empire laying the silk road heading toward China. There was no reason for Alexander to go north; there was nothing of any value, certainly not culturally or scientifically, in the place that would become Europe. It’s not that Europe was in a funk, later called the dark ages; it had always been dark. The classical age of Greece never belonged to Europe. It was overtaken by those Romans to the west, namely with the founding of the Eastern Roman church by Constantine, in what became a new world center, Constantinople.

By the end of the first millennium of our current era, the Arab peoples and later the Ottomans took power, blocking any passage from Europe eastward. After the Ottomans seized Constantinople, they still called it by the familiar name, “the city,” but now in their own dialect: “Istanbul” is how the Ottomans pronounced “to the city.” So this new center changed hands but remained the global metropolis to which educated people of the world flocked. Remember those Crusades? They were the attempts of a rather backward European people attempting to get access east—to both Constantinople and India—through the blockade of the Ottoman Empire, to where all the action was­. Europe then was a hillbilly backwater, largely, illiterate, beholden to religious dogma and superstition, lacking its own culture and scientific inquiry. But after much failure and bloodshed, the Europeans seeking culture gave up on heading east and decided to get there by heading west instead. En route they tripped over the Americas which they then colonized and plundered. That’s when Europe-the-backwater became Europe-the-superpower, the new center of global power.

So, as I sit here on my porch overlooking Iraklion and the sea and into the distance that becomes Europe, I don’t see a continuity but rather a chasm. Even Athens feels like part of a different world. I feel it in all my daily dealings, from the sound of the bells of the flock of goats and sheep that travel up the side of my house to forage, from the dry air and hazy skies, from the groves of olive trees all around, from the old folks sitting on their own front porches in the neighborhoods of the city, to the narrow winding back roads that my GPS tells me to turn on to for no obvious reason, leading me through ancient alleyways. I feel it when I need to go to the electric utility office, or the water office, or the bank to make sure that the house is okay when all family is away. The house has no street number, getting wi-fi would mean putting in a pole that would cost a thousand Euros. Trying to arrange some order in our affairs, I go from office to office only to find officials in every office pointing to someone in another.

I mention Kafka and everyone looks at me blankly. Franz Kafka, I repeat, the writer who described bureaucratic hell. Who is this Franz Kafka? It is, I slowly realize, my perspective trying to make sense of offices and bureaucracies that do not track neat lines, where no one is in a hurry, where debts may accrue but are rarely called to account, where the people resist Europe’s austerity measures with every possible form of resistance, including refusing to foreclose on a house just because its owners are in arrears. Kafka does not register in Crete because what the Cretan sees is not anonymous disorientation but quiet resistance, however unconscious, to this new cultural center of the European Union, the IMF, the power centers trying to force the Greeks to comply. Athens resists as it can; Crete resists from deep down in its roots.

My house is just off Odos Oulof Palme, a thoroughfare named after the assassinated socialist Swedish leader. A bit behind my house there’s a road named after Cornelius Castoriadis, the Greek Marxist who went to France and became a critic of Soviet-style communism and an advocate for new radical imaginaries. More than half the streets here in Iraklion are named after leftist heroes and martyrs.

Οχι ευχαριστώ. Δεν πειράζει. Αφήστε. No thank you, never mind, leave it alone; in Cretan dialect all these phrases shrug off control and power.

Now finding itself on the periphery of Europe, Crete has no interest in complying. It may go through the motions of neoliberal bureaucracy and taxation, but it also offers a life where one can get along despite it: without a bank account, or an email address, or a landline, even living on the land.Yes, I may well be romanticizing Crete a bit, but this is how it feels. Where my western sensibility sees a Kafkaesque disorientation, the Cretan sensibility seems to see an office one might go to in order to pay one’s bills. But σιγά σιγά, slowly, slowly, no hurry. If the bill is small, nothing will happen if you don’t pay. And where exactly is the bill, I ask. Can I get access to it online? Why not? Where does the mail go when I don’t have an address? The frustration sometimes reduces me to tears.

But maybe I am the one out of sync. If I sit here long enough, maybe I will find my way to sit comfortably in this peripheral zone.