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An Eclectic Humanist
41 minutes | Jul 21, 2022
Early Modern Feminism 2: Li Zhi
This episode concludes the two-part series on Early Modern Feminism by skipping across the Eurasian landmass to look at a precise contemporary of Jane Anger, the Elizabethan thinker and writer we looked at last week. Li Zhi was a cantankerous thinker and writer who suffered neither fools nor dogma gladly, and who was not afraid to take on some of the most deeply held prejudices of his society. He was deeply studied in the so-called “three schools” of Chinese culture—Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism—and used this knowledge to craft an argument for the equality of women and men that, though it contradicted the tradition of the very conservative society in which he lived, remained true to the logic of its guiding worldviews. He offers a critique of patriarchal institutions, explores the recognition of human equality in the Confucian historical cannon, and deconstructs gendered social distinctions through the lens of Chan/Zen Buddhism. For his trouble, he died in custody but served as an inspiration for subsequent generations. One of my greatest intellectual and ethical heroes: I hope you enjoy his story.
47 minutes | Jul 14, 2022
Early Modern Feminism 1: Jane Anger
This episode and the next one lean hard into the “eclectic” side of “Eclectic Humanist.” Following up on the series on Roe v. Wade, I'd like to turn the clock back a few hundred years and look at a couple of examples of Early Modern feminism. There is, after all, an ongoing and unabashed effort from the religious right to turn the clock pretty far back, so it may be useful in the context of women's rights to take a glimpse into the world before the advances made by four centuries of feminist writing and activism. This installment takes us to Elizabethan England. We start with a discussion of women's status in the society of the day, including justifications for the subjugation of women in the words of the men who made them, then look at some specific legal restrictions to which women were subject. The main focus, though, is the writing of the little-known Jane Anger, to my mind the first English feminist. While her work is short, it is rich in terms of both arguments and rhetoric, preempting in some ways the arguments made some 200 years later by Mary Wollstonecraft. What I look at in particular here is her critique of the ways in which theological arguments are used to support misogynist positions, and her rejection not just of the arguments, but of the types of argument, that separate medieval from modern thought. Music from Uppbeat (free for Creators!): https://uppbeat.io/t/hartzmann/no-time-to-die License code: NHAGIVYDFPYQFCS3
20 minutes | Jul 7, 2022
Roe v. Wade 3: My Daughter's Enemy
This episode wraps up, for now, the series I've been doing on the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It discusses the marriage of White Evangelical Christianity with the anti-choice cause in the wake of that 1973 decision, and begins to address the influence of the Christian nationalist ideology known as Dominion Theology on American politics generally and the Republican Party and White Evangelical Christianity specifically. From here, we jump into some statistics, specifically statistics on the ongoing decline of religious affiliation in the US, and the pressure that the projected continuation of this decline puts on today's aspiring theocrats to establish their new Promised Land before the demographic window closes on them for good. I try, as well, to offer a few thoughts on the role the overturning of Roe v Wade might play in the establishing of the American theocracy that we are now watching unfold, and reversing the decades-long trend of emptying pews. The episode wraps with a brief discussion of my own reasons for the position I've taken on this issue—really, kind of a rant. I hope you find it interesting and useful. Music from Uppbeat (free for Creators!): https://uppbeat.io/t/hartzmann/no-time-to-die License code: NHAGIVYDFPYQFCS3
25 minutes | Jul 2, 2022
Roe v. Wade 2: "Water of Bitterness"
This episode is the second installment in a three-part sequence on the US Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the anti-choice position generally. We begin, this time around, with a discussion of the ethics of belief, and the question how how responsible we might be for the positions that we hold. Next, we dive into the status of the fetus relative to that of the mother in the contexts of personhood, and human and legal rights. From there, we plunge into the position that the Bible adopts relative to both babies and the unborn, and yes, abortion itself. Hope you find it useful. Music from Uppbeat (free for Creators!): https://uppbeat.io/t/hartzmann/no-time-to-die License code: NHAGIVYDFPYQFCS3
16 minutes | Jun 30, 2022
Roe v. Wade 1: View from a Vacant Lot
This episode is the first of three devoted to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In this installment, I address questions of bodily sovereignty, and look into statistics relevant to abortion ranging from the 1930s to the present. The episode paints a picture of what the pre-Roe US looked like in terms of abortion access and maternal mortality, thus giving a clear indication of the world to which anti-choice activists and judges are trying to return their society. I also address the effectiveness, or rather the ineffectiveness, of abortion bans in reducing incidence, as opposed to more legitimate approaches such as education, contraception, and access to health care, and begin digging into the deep intellectual dishonesty of anti-choice rhetoric—a theme to be pursued in subsequent episodes.
12 minutes | Jun 30, 2022
This episode re-introduces a project that I had effectively abandoned about a year ago. As such, I'm treating it as a new beginning and laying out my reasons for starting again, most importantly the threat to humanism, and human well-being, currently posed by the religious right. This decision is a direct response to the US Supreme Court's move to usurp the bodily sovereignty of anyone who happens to have a uterus—a legal theft of agency that will almost certainly continue on matters of same-sex marriage, trans rights, and even contraception, and that absolutely must be opposed. Accordingly, I also give some indication of how I might like to pursue things moving forward. In short, this brief episode is a way of getting to know each other, or in some cases maybe getting to know each other again. The actual content begins next episode, and I hope you will check it out.
36 minutes | Aug 29, 2021
Crossed Trails: COVID-19 and What Hobbes Got Wrong
This episode, continuing last week's theme of COVID-19, human nature, and social responsibility, begins with a random encounter in the woods. It then wanders through some speculation on Hobbesian and Confucian state-of-nature arguments, a brief digression into primatology, and some thoughts on North America's ongoing epidemic of selfishness and sociopathy that our fractured responses to the coronavirus, particularly among the “muh freedum” crowd in their active undermining of adequate public health measures, has brought to the surface. Of course, as merely pointing out a shortcoming is not particularly useful, I also suggest a possible remedy to this selfishness epidemic, arising from a more nuanced understanding of human nature than is common among both anti-maskers and the far political right. It would appear that, this time around, I felt like highlighting the “eclectic” facet of the “Eclectic Humanist.” Hope you enjoy it, or at least that you don't get whiplash.
31 minutes | Aug 20, 2021
What Would Mencius Do: A Confucian Response to COVID-19
This episode, my first in about six months, was prompted by the ongoing flood of disinformation, dishonesty, and shear infantile selfishness among anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. In short, I take on a topic that I proposed to a class back in the spring of 2020, just after lockdown began: to offer a Confucian response to the pandemic, Using the classical thinker Mengzi/Mencius as a touchstone, this episode argues for a theory of human nature from which compassion, social responsibility, and intellectual humility naturally emerge. This discussion continues in the next episode as well, from a slightly different perspective, as these issues have been very much on my mind over the last many months, as I'm sure they've been on your minds as well, but don't worry: I have several other subjects on the agenda, which I look forward to exploring with you. For now, I hope you enjoy this little outing, and find something useful in it.
36 minutes | Feb 28, 2021
Diamond Sutra 1: A Brief Sketch of Mahayana Buddhism
This episode kicks off a new sequence, or maybe a couple of new sequences. I've been wanting to explore both Buddhism and the figure of the cyborg since first starting this little project. As it turns out, by starting with Buddhism, I can do both at the same time as much of my take on both cyborgs and post-humanism generally is rooted in that and other non-Western schools of thought. So what I think I'm going to do is devote a few episodes to the Diamond Sutra, a short and quite important Buddhist text, both for its own sake and to lay the foundation for a broader exploration. It presents a vision of human nature that, I think, poses serious challenges to a number of assumptions that Western worldviews tend to take for granted. After this sequence, I may look at one or two other worldviews that I haven't addressed yet, and then segue into the post-human themes I also want to roll around in. As for the current installment, it sketches out some of the basics of Buddhism generally and Mahayana Buddhism specifically, so that the Diamond Sutra itself will make more sense when we dive into it next week. I hope you find it interesting, whether you are here strictly for the immediate subject matter or also for the longer narrative.
28 minutes | Feb 21, 2021
Lucretius Book 6: Concluding with a Plague
This episode concludes our little traipse through Lucretius's On the Nature of Things. In Book 6, Lucretius implicitly addresses the sufficiency of a naturalistic worldview in the making of great art, then brings us face to face with the concrete reality of dying. In describing a historical plague in Athens, he describes in painful detail the double agony of illness and fear to which those living in terror of postmortem judgment are often subject. In doing so, he addresses the ethical question, current in many modern societies, of prolonging a life beyond the point where the only reasonable prospect is continued suffering. In short, he seems to be laying the groundwork for what we now call “death with dignity.” But why? Why conclude a poem of consolation with a grueling description of physical and psychological suffering? Well, I won't offer a definitive answer, but it seems to me that, in addressing the origins of the world, of life, of humanity, and of society, it would then have been dishonest to have left out questions of mortality. An account of life that leaves out an account of death would necessarily be incomplete, as would such an account that shied away from the pain of dying. Looked at this way Lucretius seems to be offering his naturalistic perspective as an antidote to the real suffering caused by belief in the supernatural. We may not be able to alleviate the suffering of the body in the days leading up to death, but we can, it seems, both alleviate our mental suffering regarding our postmortem trajectory, and also have grounds for not prolonging life beyond the point where the only possible outcome is continued agony.
47 minutes | Feb 14, 2021
Lucretius Book 5: From Primeval Ooze to Poetry
In Book 5 of On the Nature of Things, Lucretius presents a naturalistic account of the origins of life and, quite frankly, the origins of species in a well articulated explanation of evolution by natural selection. While he of course lacks the observational mechanisms that we now possess, or that Darwin possessed, he was pretty solid in the broad strokes, and it is probably worth noting that Darwin was familiar with this poem. He also offers accounts of both technology and civilization (both of which involve the question of language) that, like his account of life itself, owe nothing to the imagined divine. In these accounts, which knowingly contrast with both Classical and Old Testament mythologies, our drive and ability to know are neither gifted from nor opposed by those perennially threatening fictions from on high, but rather are emergent properties of us, therefore of life, therefore of matter, therefore of the Cosmos, itself. His narrative of technology is particularly interesting as this is poetically interwoven with his narratives of both evolution and civilization in a way that strikes me, at least, as anticipating contemporary notions of the feedback loops by which complex systems often develop. Of course, to stand scrutiny, a naturalistic description of humanity must also account for such matters as laws and the arts, which Lucretius does by proposing an early version of the social contract on the one hand, and on the other, his description of the arts as mechanisms by which we come to both know and appreciate ourselves and the world in which we live. Bound up in this book, from beginning to end, is an account of a naturally emergent human dignity, and a beautiful and compelling picture of true piety as being directed toward the Cosmos itself, and toward our own wondrous nature.
40 minutes | Feb 7, 2021
Lucretius Book 4 - How We Know Things
Ever wonder how we know things? Lucretius certainly did, and he also recognized that, without a naturalistic account of knowledge, his proposed Cosmos consisting of nothing other than matter and void would be a non-starter. He argues, necessarily, that all knowledge comes through the senses, and accordingly proposes an empirical epistemology that foreshadows the modern scientific method. He addresses the means why which our senses often seem to deceive us, and argues that, even with its uncertainties, the provisional knowledge offered by empiricism is always better then the illusory certainties offered by religion. One of the principle positions that Lucretius takes on in this book is the so-called teleological argument: the notion that some intent preceded our being generally, and our sense organs particularly. He argues instead, correctly, that function emerges from form rather than predating it. In other words, we don't have eyes so that we can see, but rather, we see because we have eyes. The teleological argument, in other words, indicates an inversion of cause and effect. To partially illustrate the point, I offer a bit of an experiment that you can perform on yourselves. This part of the argument anticipates his discussion of evolution, which follows in Book 5. Also notable in this book, on the topic of senses and knowledge, is Lucretius's understanding of sex and love, his non-binary understanding of gender, and his notion, which seems to anticipate Freud, that much of our cultural activity consists of a redirection of erotic impulses. Oh, and he also has advice about sex positions.
43 minutes | Jan 31, 2021
Lucretius Book 3: Death of the Soul, and Other Good Things
In Book 3 of On the Nature of Things, Lucretius addresses the idea that inspired Dante to consign Epicurus to the sixth circle of Hell: that the soul is not immortal. In making his argument, Lucretius makes a compelling case, given the observational capacities of his time, for the mind as an emergent material phenomenon, a position borne out compellingly by modern neuro-science. In making this case for the physicality and thus the mortality of the mind, which he posits as one component of a soul consisting of both mind and spirit, Lucretius also gets into areas pertaining to mental health, a matter of urgent current interest. These questions relate closely, I think, to the real psychological dangers posed by the stigmatization of mental illness on the one hand and religious threats of eternal damnation on the other. The episode therefore ends with a somewhat personal take on the clear and present danger that a non-naturalistic understanding of the mind and soul poses to human wellbeing.
37 minutes | Jan 24, 2021
Lucretius Book 2 - Fun with Atoms
In this episode, we continue our exploration of Lucretius's humanist masterpiece, On the Nature of Things. In Book 2, Lucretius begins to explore what it means to live in a Cosmos in which divine interference lays no role and all phenomena are subject to natural laws and naturalistic explanation. Beginning with the smallest objects that can be observed with the naked eye, he leaps inward toward the question of free will and then onward to questions of what current thinkers refer to as emergence—the arising of higher-order behaviours that are not predictable from observing initial conditions and components in complex systems. He offers an explicit discussion of what the divine actually is and why we have no need to worry about it, offers a welcome debunking of the “teleological argument” that the world was made for us or that any intention lies behind our being, and concludes with a refreshing and reasonable argument for the existence of extraterrestrial life. Not bad for the first century BCE. Enjoy.
51 minutes | Jan 17, 2021
Lucretius Book 1 - The Material Cosmos
This episode begins our hands-on discussion of Lucretius's Humanist masterpiece, On the Nature of Things. Book One (of six) presents the best surviving Classical argument for a purely material cosmos consisting of nothing but atoms moving in a void. The argument is the first step in both an overall understanding of how the Cosmos works and, perhaps counter-intuitively, a consolation in which the poet eases his friend Memius's fears about death, most particularly the fear of everlasting torment. The calamity against which he argues throughout the poem is religio—translated as both religion and superstition. Accordingly, Lucretius presents a vision of the Cosmos in which the supernatural plays no active role, in which both matter and void are uncreated and infinite, and in which neither the Earth nor any other location is at the centre: a Cosmos of infinite potential in which life is not unique to some privileged location but rather an inevitable consequence of the behaviour of matter over time. All quotations are from A.E. Stallings' translation, the most beautiful English rendering of this poem that I've encountered, available from Penguin.
33 minutes | Jan 10, 2021
Season Opener and an Introduction to Lucretius
Greetings, folks, and welcome back. This kick-off to Season Two begins with a brief catch-up as it's been a couple of months since we've been in touch, and then jumps right into the subject matter with which I'd like to begin the year. The topic of the first few little talks will be what, to my mind at least, is the most important work of ancient Western Humanism to have survived the bonfires and vandalism of the early Christian era: Lucretius's great didactic poem, On the Nature of Things, which provides the only surviving account of Epicurean thought written from an Epicurean point of view. Lucretius presents us with a Cosmos consisting solely of matter and void, argues against any supernatural agency in either cosmological or human affairs, presents organized religion as a blight on both society and the individual, argues for empiricism as the most valid epistemology for generating knowledge of the natural world, lays out the atomic theory of matter, depicts an infinite Cosmos working consistently to the same principles, presents an early version of the theory of evolution, dispenses with the ever-destructive association of pleasure with “sin,” lays out a version of ethics that his modern inheritors would go on to develop as the social contract, and even makes an argument for death with dignity. And, particularly relevant to our own society at this particular time, he argues strenuously against any superstitious or religious self-delusion (the Latin word religiotranslates as both “superstition” and “religion”) during a mass infectious disease crisis. In short, he is one of my intellectual heroes. This talk lays out some background and context for the poem and its reception in the Modern period. Subsequent talks will address details of the text itself, hopefully enough to spark an interest in reading it. And if you do decide to read it, the translation I recommend is A.E. Stallings' translation, available from Penguin, which renders the original Latin hexameters into rhyming English hexameters rather than the prose for which many other translators opt, and is a genuine pleasure to read simply on its own poetic merits. Enjoy
76 minutes | Nov 11, 2020
Remembrance Day 2020
Today is Remembrance Day in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Britain, and Veterans' Day in the US. So, for this episode, as an act of remembrance, I will simply be reading several poems and a chapter from a great and devastating war novel, written by soldiers who served on the Western Front. I am confining the location and time largely for historical reasons but also for personal ones as the field of literature to choose from would otherwise be overwhelming. so instead of aiming at broad coverage now, I will optimistically assume that there will be future annual episodes on this theme, each focusing on a different area, conflict, or period. While I will not say I hope you enjoy these selections--I did not enjoy recording them, to be honest--I do hope that they offer some insight into the realities of war that can only arise through listening to those who have been there. This episode is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, John Hay Wilkie, who served first with the Royal Scots and then with the Seaforth Highlanders. Grandpa was wounded at Ypre in May 1915, and by the end of the war had seen service not just in Europe but also in the Middle Eastern campaign. This day 102 years ago, he was somewhere in Turkey.
25 minutes | Nov 8, 2020
Gratitude, Compassion, and Electoral Politics
So the US election has been called, and it's all over but the temper tantrum. What do we do now? Where do we go? Well, speaking as an outsider, my first impulse is to rejoice in the triumph of electoral politics over authoritarianism, and I will stand by that impulse (fight me). My second impulse, though, is to ask what those Americans who have lived under Trump and Trumpism for the last four years are entitled to, and the first two words that come to mind are gratitude and compassion. Had they not voted that fascist MF out of the White House, the whole world would have paid the price both politically and environmentally. And over the last four years, many of them have been traumatized, and many of them have died, as a direct result of their "president's" fascist politics. So be kind, folks. Be gentle. I am officially declaring this "International Hug an American Week." Seriously, they have it coming. It's been a hard fight.
53 minutes | Nov 2, 2020
Rodger Has Pre-Election Jitters
As the US election closes in, I find myself unable to think about anything else. So, having attempted a couple of other ideas and failed to complete them, I've surrendered to the zeitgeist and recorded an election episode, as much an exorcism of my ambient demons as anything else. The talk ends up revolving around the political philosophy of the ancient Confucian thinker Mencius (Mengzi), but as much as anything, I think it might be an attempt at community, a reaching out to others at what I believe is a critical moment not just in American history but in world history. Be well, folks. Be safe. And vote.
55 minutes | Oct 12, 2020
Attack of the Fundamentalists 4: Stand Against the Dominion
Here, finally, is the concluding installment in the "Attack of the Fundamentalists" sequence. This one takes a bit of a turn from what I'd originally intended, which had been simply to outline the history of Christian Dominionism inthe US, and instead speaks more broadly about the ongoing cultural conflict between the religious right and reasonable people on such subjects as apocalypticism and the looming American election. It seems to me that the discourse between the religious right and the more progressive elements of society, which has been building in tension and vehemence for many years now, is coming to a head as the demographic tide that throughout my own childhood and early adulthood favoured the Christian fundamentalists, finally turns against them. Looking at these and other factors, and considering the flow of history a few weeks out from an election in which the most religious country in the "First World" faces a choice between remaining the backward-looking parody of itself that it has become under Trump and under the prolonged influence of the religious right, or moving forward and once again rejoining the community of nations, I find myself both anxious and hopeful for the future. While I very well could be wrong, I think the Evangelicals and fundamentalists in the US have overplayed their hand, especially in their fantasy-based response to COVID-19, and are--failing ongoing and powerful attempts at voter suppression--about to be handed their reality-denying asses on a plate.
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