Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Being Stalnakered

There is a particular feeling I associate with philosophical enterprises. It comes and goes every now and then. It lurks around my chest when I talk to philosophers about philosophy. (I know this sounds a bit redundant but, believe it or not, some philosophers can in fact talk about other things.) The feeling becomes unbearable, most commonly, when I intend to defend or attack some or other position. Until now I never knew what it was or how to call it. Now I know what it is and will steal a friend’s expression to dub it. I hereby call this the phenomenon and feeling of “being Stalnakered”.

Stalnaker taught us that all participants in a conversation share a common goal: to reduce the context set or the set of shared presuppositions of the conversation. Whoever dares to make an assertion must conform to the following principle: the assertion made must be true in some but not all of the possible worlds in the context set. If it is false in all the worlds it eliminates the context set and, hence, the conversation. If it is true in all the worlds then you’ll be trying to do something that has already been done. If you fail to conform the rule then what you do is either “unreasonable, inefficient, disorderly, or uncooperative.”

Philosophical conversations with philosophers tend to be defective. No one ever agrees upon the context set. There always are divergences that are relevant to the issues at stake. Hence, there is a big chance that you find yourself either saying something that puts an end to the conversation or doing something that has already been done. Most of the time, however, one makes an assertion because one does NOT take what is expressed to be presupposed to be true or false. So whenever your assertions are either presupposed to be false or presupposed to be true by your conversational partners, you do not feel unreasonable, inefficient, disorderly, or uncooperative. You feel conversationally assaulted. You feel Stalnakered!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Tricks of Racism

Last Friday I ran into yet another version of racism. This time, however, the racist act was peculiar enough to prove that this sort of unwarranted discrimination goes on across all boundaries.

We were at someone’s party at a house nearby. The party claimed to be ‘Mexican’. What made it Mexican was unclear to me. Though I did notice they had appropriate flags hanging by the window, pictures of Zapata, Villa, and Vicente Fernandez. Everything else was just like any other party that I have been to in Ann Arbor. I tend to think that rather than showing what ‘Mexican’ means (if it means anything at all) this kinds of thing show what people think it is for something to be ‘Mexican’.

Anyway, the issue here is different. The fact is that, at some point, the cops came by. We were told to turn down the volume or… you know. While the cops where still around someone decided to address himself to me by saying: “La Migra, la Migra!* Be careful”. In Mexican-American slang, "La Migra" refers to the Immigration Police of the US that dedicates its efforts to deport (or otherwise get rid of) illegal immigrants. The term has a clear negative connotation. More than 400 people die every year while crossing the Mexican-American border. Some of those are owed to La Migra.

I did not quite understand at the time. Someone nearby that seemed to know this person said something in reply to which he said: “That’s no problem man. I am black. I can say that shit.” He then went on to address me once more, trying to explain his behavior. “You know man, as a black person I have to take care of many problems. But, at least, I don’t have to worry about La Migra.” He seemed to presuppose that 'being Mexican' is synonymous with 'being illegal'.

I guess there are many things to be said. The person in question was in fact what in politically correct terms is referred to as African-American. He clearly seemed to accept a hierarchy of, say, kinds of people. There are normal people (i.e., those who do not have to deal with many problems); black people (i.e., who have to deal with many problems); and Mexicans (i.e., who have to deal with many problems plus La Migra). It also seems as if for him the fact that there is some other kind of person lower in the hierarchy is comforting. After all, there is someone having a worse time.

More interestingly, though, I would like to mention two features of this kind of behavior. First, racist assertions of this sort have an important attractive ingredient: they make you feel better than what you think you are. That is easy to do when you have convinced yourself that there is someone in a worse position. Second, racist assertions of this sort seem to for some for of a safety net that, in fact, does not exist. The person in question here thought that because he is in fact a victim of racist discrimination he is therefore allowed to do so. I think that both of these are powerful magnets. These are the tricks of racism, what partly explains its success. Many fail to notice that there is no safety net for racism. There is no such thing as a position from which you are, in fact, free of charge and allowed to judge. Furthermore, as the case shows, there is no such thing as a ‘good position’, or a high-enough position, once you accept a racist hierarchy.

So, racist comments, like invalid arguments, are everywhere. Like stupidity, they get communicated almost by osmosis.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Silencio (12) Placas Tectónicas

“Una placa tectónica es un fragmento de litósfera que se desplaza como un bloque rígido sin presentar deformación interna sobre la astenósfera de la tierra.”

Una placa tectónica es como un bloque rígido que, sin deformación interna, desplaza un fragmento de litósfera sobre la astenósfera de la tierra.

Un fragmento de litósfera que, sobre la astenósfera de la tierra se desplaza, como un bloque rígido, sin presentar deformación interna, se fragmenta.

Una persona que, sobre la superficie del miocardio, se desplaza, como un bloque rígido, sin presentar deformación interna, se separa.

Cuando parten se desplazan. Les siguen los infartos. Se podría decir que en efecto no hay deformación interna, porque las placas se superponen, al igual que las personas. Temer es reordenar. Cuando se tiembla fuerte, cuando se llora en demasía, cuando no parece haber más placas sobre las que hacer mundo, ahí nos espera la calma.

La astenósfera y el miocardio comparten ritmos y glorias. Comparten penas. Sólo cabe imaginar cuánto teme la tierra al temblar. Cabe pensar en un largo y tedioso funeral. Cabe pensar. Sólo cabe pensar.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


A veces quisiera
escribir con certeza.

Briefly Put

De pronto se me ocurre. Sin pensarlo mucho la certeza es instantánea. Y es que tal parece que la diferencia entre un escritor y un suicida no radica en la temeridad del segundo. Más bien parece radicar en la vanidad, o tal vez la necesidad, del segundo, quien no se suicida simple y llanamente porque lo quiere contar. Ni uno ni otro dejan de asombrarse ante lo increíblemente mal que pueden ir las cosas. Incluso cabe pensar que, una vez hecho el relato, el segundo acompañará al primero. De no ser porque, por corto que sea el plaso, entre vivirla y contarla ya acontecieron más desgracias por relatar, el segundo habría adelantado al primero hace ya algún tiempo.