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Featured Author: Victor Wallis

Victor Wallis is a professor of Liberal Arts at the Berklee College of Music. Wallis was for twenty years the managing editor of Socialism and Democracy and has been writing on ecological issues since the early 1990s. His writings have appeared in journals such as Monthly Review and New Political Science, and have been translated into thirteen languages.

His new book Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism is available now from Political Animal Press.

“Finally, we have the definitive work on ecosocialism with Red-Green Revolution. Victor Wallis brings his brilliant editorial skills to writing a highly readable, compelling, and essential book, a must read for everyone who cares about the fate of the earth in this era of capitalist implosion with socialism no longer a possible alternative, but rather a requirement for survival.”

Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Red-Green Revolution is an impassioned and informed confrontation with the planetary emergency brought about by accelerated ecological devastation in the last half-century.

In clear and accessible language, Wallis argues that sound ecological policy requires a socialist framework, based on democratic participation and drawing on the historical lessons of earlier efforts.

Wallis presents a relentless critique of the capitalist system that has put the human species into a race against time to salvage and restore what it can of the environmental conditions necessary for a healthy existence. He then looks to how we might turn things around, reconsidering the institutions, technologies, and social relationships that will determine our shared future, and discussing how a better framework can evolve through the convergence of popular struggles, as these have emerged under conditions of crisis.

This is an important book, both for its incisive account of how we got into the mess in which we find ourselves, and for its bold vision of how we might still go forward.

Articles by Victor Wallis on Political Animal Magazine:

The US Left: A Short Introduction

On the Precipice

Faith vs. Reason?

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

For some people, the relationship between faith and reason is like oil and water—they don’t mix. On this view, religious beliefs cannot and should not be subject to rational evaluation.

I disagree with this view.

To defend my disagreement, I will look at some objections to the use of reason when it comes to matters having to do with God, then I will set out some replies.

Objections to the use of reason

Objection 1. At the core of a religious belief system are some fundamental assumptions about the world, and these cannot be tested by reason.

Objection 2. Rational inquiry is open ended: on an ongoing basis we need to consider newly turned up bits of relevant evidence, so a proof is never had, and so a reason-based decision about God must be put off indefinitely—hence reason is of no help.

Objection 3. When it comes to God, we must make a leap of faith. Faith involves risk and commitment, and faith is purely subjective—these are different from reason.

Objection 4. God is “wholly other” (utterly transcendent) and thus beyond the capacity of reason to grasp.

Objection 5. Using reason makes reason one’s God, placing reason above God—and thereby one commits idolatry.

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Heidegger, Metaphysics, and Wheelbarrows: A Poetic Introduction to Heidegger’s Being and Time

By: Richard Oxenberg

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickensWilliam Carlos Williams

In order to appreciate Heidegger’s thought it is necessary to see it in relation to the Western metaphysical tradition from which it has emerged. This would be true, of course, for any thinker, but it is especially so for Heidegger, because Heidegger’s thinking represents a radical challenge to the tradition itself. Heidegger does to the traditional view of Being and the world what Marx is said to have done to Hegel’s dialectic: he stands it on its head. He stands it on its head – so he might contend – in order that we might finally see it right-side-up.

The problem with the traditional view, from Heidegger’s perspective, is not that it fails to illuminate the most abstract and remote issues, the Alpha and Omega of Being, but that it fails to properly grasp what is most obvious, what is everyday, what is right before our eyes; what is, perhaps, so close that it is uncomfortably close. And in this failure it has institutionalized an interpretation of life that is inauthentic and self-alienated. Perhaps the best way to see this is to examine something that is itself rather simple and everyday, first from the traditional and then from the Heideggarian standpoint.

The poem quoted above will serve this purpose well. It is, apparently, the expression of a simple moment of life; perhaps it is a worried sigh, a moment’s nervous reflection. It might have been uttered at the end of a long day’s work, or in preparation for a new one. It is almost too simple to say anything about. We are finished with it before we have begun. And yet it is precisely here, in the obvious, in the everyday, that Heidegger begins his revolutionary investigations.

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Naked, Shivering Creatures: A Look Behind Burke’s “Pleasing Illusions”

By: Sonia Maria Pavel

“Only man placed values in things to preserve himself – he alone created a meaning for things, a human meaning! That is why he calls himself “human,” that is: the esteemer. […] Only through esteeming is there value: and without esteeming, the nut of existence would be hollow.”[1] – F. Nietzsche

In the Reflections, Edmund Burke expresses his concern with the radical political changes prompted by what were then recent events in France. He sees the “new conquering empire of light and reason” threatening to tear off the old “decent drapery of life.”[2] Contrary to the enlightened reformers leading this empire of light, Burke defends prejudice and the “pleasing illusions” that surround political power. In his view, prejudices ought not to be cast aside simply because they are old or irrational, but rather valued as a common moral heritage that engenders stability through feelings of familiarity and belonging.

In this article, I differentiate between two dimensions of Burke’s argument. The first is a historical and anthropological description of ‘pleasing illusions’ – their manifestations and meanings in pre-revolutionary France. On this front, I take Burke to be arguing that the ‘pleasing illusions’ surrounding power are not designed as ways of deceiving people into obeying authority, but evolve alongside relationships of obedience thereby making them gentler and more liberal.[3] According to him, communities and cultures are not built from scratch in accordance to a rational plan to yield particular results, but emerge and develop historically.

At the same time, on a secondary political level, Burke’s argument is not merely a tribute to this fading cultural reality; it is in itself a rationalist justification of why it should be revived and rehabilitated. Burke argues that life without such prejudice is brutish and crude. Sans prejudice we would be left with nothing but our “naked shivering nature,” alone and afraid. As a result, he reasons that conventions should be maintained through prejudice.[4]

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Why Computers are not Intelligent: An Argument

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Two Positions

The strong AI advocate who wants to defend the position that the human mind is like a computer often waffles between two points of view that are never clearly distinguished, though actually quite distinct. Let us call them ‘position A’ and ‘position B.’ Position A argues that human minds are like computers because they are both ‘intelligent.’ Position B argues that human minds are like computers because they both lack intelligence. The reason these positions are often confused is because of an ambiguity or vagueness in the understanding of what intelligence itself is. But, if we are to consider this question in such a way as to make it relevant for an investigation into the nature of the human mind then we must define intelligence in a way that captures what we mean when we say that a human being is intelligent. I propose the following definition: a being is intelligent to the extent that it is able to knowingly make decisions for the fulfillment of a purpose. Again, this definition of intelligence is based on the effort to capture what we mean when we say that a human being has ‘intelligence.’

Let us, then, consider the two AI positions with this in mind.

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