Literature, Politics, Religion

Silo: a play from 2018 about a pandemic in Trump’s America

Interior of Red Cross House at U.S. General Hospital #16, New Haven, Conn. during the influenza epidemic. The beds are isolated by curtains

In 2018, I finished writing Silo, a play about a highly fatal pandemic spreading across the United States in the Trump era. It was a political allegory. The play considers how a group of plague survivors might try, and fail, to live together in an emergency shelter.

The play was my first work since publishing If in 2014. Although the play ended up being a semi-finalist for the Bridge Award in 2019, it never found a producer. One reason may be that it is extremely violent.

Now that the United States is actually facing a pandemic, and one that has been shaped by our current politics, I thought I would go ahead and publish the play. A link to the PDF appears below.

Silo - page 1Silo

Continue reading

Standard
Economics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science

Max Weber and Political Ethics

I hadn’t read anything by Max Weber until very recently, but finally made my way through “Politics as a Vocation,” his late lecture delivered shortly after the end of the First World War and the start of the German Revolution.

Weber seems to be primarily known today for several largely logically independent ideas scattered across the social sciences and humanities — especially: the idea that a Protestant work ethic played a role in the rise of capitalism, the importance of charisma to politics, the centrality of bureaucracy in the modern state, and the definition of the state as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” (where “legitimate” only means “accepted as legitimate,” to the apparent consternation of many normative political theorists).

I had heard that “Politics as a Vocation,” where this definition of the state appears, was one of the places where Weber approached political theorizing, and I was predisposed to sympathize with the lecture by some positive remarks that the legal scholar Duncan Kennedy had made about Weber and the “ethic of responsibility.” I’ve also always believed that political theorists tend to pay too little attention to empirical knowledge from history and political science, so I was hopeful that a broadly historically and empirically informed social scientist like Weber might offer a valuable perspective.

To my surprise, however, the lecture as a whole turns out to be remarkably parochial, and in parts, dangerously misguided.

Continue reading

Standard
Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science

Wendell Berry, Deep Ecology, and Hermit Studies

Free Photo: Posing Lumberjacks

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been reading some writing on the environment recently. It’s my first significant exposure to the field of environmental studies, and I’m still sorting out some of the basic categories. The term “environmental studies” seems to refer to the interdisciplinary study of the environment not only through natural science but through the social sciences and the humanities. It’s a major or concentration in some colleges. But if you read an anthology of “environmental writing” in America, it will probably have few contributions by natural scientists. Most of the writings will take a more or less humanistic (philosophical, historical, literary, journalistic) approach, in the tradition of Thoreau, although these writings will often make reference to or draw upon the writings of natural scientists in a non-technical way.

Then there’s the term “ecology,” which seems to be used by many different people to mean many very different things. (The unusually disorganized entry on “ecology” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy may reflect this confusion.) On the one hand, ecology might simply refer to the work of natural scientists — such as biologists — who study ecosystems. On the other hand, ecology might refer to a philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things in nature, sometimes accompanied by a commitment to the inherent value of all living things: biocentrism, as opposed to anthropocentrism or (what I called in the last post) animacentrism. This biocentric commitment is sometimes associated with the term “deep ecology.” There also appear to be a number of uses of the term ecology that aren’t primarily focused on the study of the natural environment as we usually think of it — urban ecology, social ecology, molecular ecology, and so on.

I’ve mostly been reading the non-technical, humanistic variety of environmental writing — especially by American writers like Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry. In the last post, I mentioned my concern that ecology in the second sense above appears so dominant in environmental studies that competing perspectives may be excluded. Now I’m less concerned. Ecology in the sense of the scientific study of ecosystems appears to be no different than any other natural science, and does not appear to be dominated by any problematic methodological orthodoxy. Ecology in the philosophical sense of “deep ecology” may represent a problematic orthodoxy in humanistic environmental studies — but the orthodoxy doesn’t appear to be enforced in a problematic way. In fact, nearly all of the key figures in American environmental writing have worked outside the academy, with very few tools to enforce orthodoxy.

Oddly, I couldn’t help but noticing that a surprisingly large number of these figures also lived at various times in isolated wilderness cabins as hermits: Thoreau, Leopold, Annie Dillard… The rumor is that even Robert Pogue Harrison, author of the classic literary study Forests (1992), lives in a cabin in someone’s back yard in the Stanford area. Then, of course, there’s Heidegger, whose later writings have profoundly influenced deep ecology and green parties in Europe, and who sometimes lived in a cabin in the Black Forest. And any list of environmentalists living in cabins would not be complete without mention of the Unabomber.

Continue reading

Standard
Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science

Is Ecology to Environmental Studies as Rational Choice is to Economics?

Free Photo: Homeless Family Walking US 99

I’ve been working on some poems about the environment lately, and as part of that project I’ve been getting my first exposure to environmental studies and some related fields like ecocriticism. Previously, my exposure to environmental writing was mostly through popular journalism and history by writers like Elizabeth Kolbert and Jared Diamond.

I have to say that what I’ve encountered of environmental studies so far has been a little troubling. The issue is summed up in the title of this post: does the theory of “ecology” dominate environmental studies in the same way that the theory of “rational choice” dominates economics?

Continue reading

Standard
Literature, Religion

The Book of Job: Some Thoughts

I don’t know if anyone else has been reading The Book of Job lately. But let me tell you, the story is problematic.

Basically, one day the Devil comes along, and God’s like: “Hey, have you ever noticed my servant Job? He’s so blameless and upright. He’s the best guy in the whole land of Uz.” And the Devil’s like: “That’s just because you made him so rich with she-asses.”

So, naturally, God turns this into a bet. He’s like: “Okay, you can take away all of Job’s possessions. He still won’t turn against me.”

Let me point out that the Devil didn’t try to start this bet. He didn’t even ask if he could take away all of Job’s stuff. The whole thing is started by God.

So the Devil gets to work. One day a messenger runs up to Job and tells him his sons have been killed and all of his she-asses were taken. And then another messenger runs up and tells him the sky started raining fire and it burned up all of his sheep and some more of his sons. And then a third messenger runs up and says a big house just collapsed on all of Job’s remaining sons and daughters. All of this happens in about thirty seconds.

Oh, and apparently children count as possessions, because God is never like: “Hey, I didn’t say you could kill Job’s children!”

So Job cuts off all his hair, but then he’s like, “You know what? I didn’t have any stuff when I was born. I was fine then, and I’m fine now. Thanks, God.”

Continue reading

Standard