Thoughts about Our Situation Today

Learning to Read, Again

In January 2020 I presented Learning to Read, Again: I argued that we need new skills for dealing with a deluge of predatory addictive media. I talked about the way we learned to read in the old world of books and libraries, and how the flood of new media swept away the old landmarks. I stressed the dangers in this new media world, and suggested tools and attitudes for defending ourselves, along with new ways to criticize immersive, grasping media. You can read the text for the lectures, or listen to the audio of the first and the second lecture. There is also an information sheet with references and links.

Other Recent Reflections on our Difficult Times

In November 2019 I presented Talking with Alien Neighbors: I spoke about how it seems political adversaries just live in different worlds, and I drew some practical lessons from science fiction stories (by C.J. Cherryh) about conflicts and connections among alien species who come from different worlds yet do manage to achieve mutual respect and understanding. You can see the slides from the lectures and an information sheet with references to stories and articles.

In January 2019 I gave five lectures on American Identity and American Exceptionalism: I discussed what it means to have a personal and social identity, and the difference between modern and traditional identity. I argued that no identity was as simple and fixed as we imagine our ancestors, nor as floating and empty as we fear for our selves. Then I described what makes American personal and social identity distinctive and how that might play out in a multicultural world. You can follow my discussion by reading a summary pdf file that brings together slides from all five lectures.There are also some chosen readings.

In 2017 I wrote "Why Plato thinks Democracy leads to Tyranny." Plato thought democracy was a beautiful tapestry of free citizens that, unfortunately, tended to become dominated by strong-man demagogues. I looked into Plato's reasons, discussed the differences between Athenian democracy and our own and the different weaknesses of the Geek system and our own, then asked whether we should still be afraid. (Spoiler alert: Yes!) There is a handout containing with scarily applicable quotations from Plato, and also the slides from the talk.

Here are brief summaries of the lectures: