Under the Influence

Galen Strawson is my latest male crush. With almost everything I read or hear from him, I say, ‘that’s what I think’, over and over and over again. So I thought I’d share some of my journey to now. I made a post about female influences not too long ago. This is a bit different.

My first obsession, let’s say was the Beatles. I can’t pinpoint precisely when, but when I was a child, it’s been said that I would sing ‘she’s got a chicken to ride’ when it came on to AM radio. I asked for or bought all of their albums, and read everything about them that a kid could get his hands on back in the day. This obsession lasted for years and overlaps some of my next interests. My interests were in John Lennon’s political interests and George Harrison’s spiritual interests. I didn’t really find Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr very interesting beyond their musical abilities. And to be honest, I also got all of the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and so on. At my peak, I had over a thousand vinyl records—all lost in a house fire because vinyl and heat are generally incompatible. Paper didn’t fare much better, as I lost hundreds of books, too. A lesson in impermanence.

I am a bit of a nonconformist, a contrarian, and a polemicist

In grades 5 to 8, National Socialism and World War II were fascinating to me. Not Hitler, per se, though I do recall reading Mein Kampf at the time. There was just something about the sense of unity. Upon reflection, I realised that this meant me conforming to some other trend, and that was no longer interesting, as I am a bit of a nonconformist, a contrarian, and a polemicist, so there was that.

At some point, I came across Voltaire’s Candide and it just struck me. This may have commenced me on my path to becoming somewhat of a francophile. I extended my interest into the language and culture. My WWII phase has already primed that pump. I remember reading Dumas, Hugo, and some Descartes.

After I graduated, I was a recording engineer and musician. I remember reading Schoenberg’s Structural Function of Harmony and being enamoured with Dvořák and Stravinsky. I was influenced by many musicians, engineers, and producers, but there was just something about Schoenberg.

I went through a Kafka phase—that eventually included Donald Barthelme. His Absurdism was a nice foundation for my subsequent interest in Camus. It was something that just resonated with me. After Kafka, I discovered Dostoyevsky and consumed everything of his I could get my hands on.

I took from Jung and Campbell the importance of metaphor

In the 1990s, I discovered Carl Jung and eventually Joseph Campbell and a few years I spent reading Jung’s Complete Works and peripheral material related to Archetypal and Depth Psychology. I absorbed the material. I took from Jung and Campbell the importance of metaphor, but it never really resonnated beyond this.

Somehow, this experience led me to the Existentialism of Sartre (and Camus and Beauvoir). At the same time something clicked with me, I was always put off by the teleological imperative these guys seemed to insist upon—Sartre’s political involvement and Camus’ insistence on Art. These were their paths—and I certainly had an interest in Art and Politics—, but I felt this was too prescriptive.

For a brief time, I really liked Hume (and Spinoza), but then I discovered Nietzche and felt compelled to read his major works. It all made sense to me. It still does. Nietsche set me up for Foucault with his power relationships and the sense that morality, good, and evil are all socially constructed and contextual.

And Nietzsche brought me to Foucault and his lens of Power. These two still resonate with me. I investigated a lot of postmodern thinkers after this.

Nietzsche brought me to Foucault and his lens of Power

Daniel Dennett came next. He seems brilliant, and I tend to agree with most of what he says. I was still absorbing. Where biologist Robert Sapolsky gets philosophical, it’s about the same.

But Galen Strawson is different. And I have a lot of catching up to do in my reading of his direct work. The difference is that with these prior influences, I was absorbing and synthesising—creating my own perspectives and worldview. By the time I am finding Strawson, with every encounter, I am ticking off boxes.

  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think
  • That’s what I think

Only, he started publishing in the 1960s. I could have been reading his work all along. Since I agree with 99.999 per cent of what I get from him and he is such a deep thinker, I am looking for two things:

  1. Something that expands rather than confirms
  2. Some spaces to operate that he has missed or ignored

As I continue on my Anti-Agency project and gather more inputs and perspectives, I’ll be considering a lot of Strawson. Here’s a clip I really enjoyed. I am thinking of doing a sort of reaction piece, but whether or not that happens, here’s the source.

[Video] Galen Strawson — Is Free Will a Necessary Illusion?

Spoiler Alert: I believe that free will is a cognitive bias related to apophenia. It’s a Gestalt heuristic.

Ten Women

Given my last post, it had me reflecting on some women who’ve influenced me—especially my thinking and worldview. Unlike Mitt Romney, I don’t have binders full of women.

Spotify

Positive

Simone de Beauvoir (Philosopher)

Simone de Beauvoir

Beauvoir is brilliant. I consider her to be the first feminist. The women before her, I rather consider being proto-feminists. I was immediately gripped when I read her book, The Second Sex, and her idea that women are not born that way, and it’s not even a simple ageing-maturity function. It’s a performative role.

Addendum: Perhaps not as famous, she’s at least as apt as Sartre as an Existentialist philosopher. I still have a fondness for Existentialism in the same way I like Pragmatism. Although life has no inherent meaning, if making one up gets you through your life, by all means, conjure up a meaning.

Judith Butler (Philosopher, Gender Theorist)

Judith Butler

Butler taught me the perspective of gender expression and performativism. Whilst Beauvoir was more describing gender as a role, Butler extends the notion to that of performative speech acts, which is to adopt the identity and declare, I am a woman.

Ruth Shore (English Professor)

This was my undergraduate Critical Writing professor. All but one of the assignments were by female authors. And the only male author was for an assignment to critique, compare, and contrast articles by Gloria Steinham and Thorstein Veblen. I don’t remember Steinham’s article (though I recall coming down hard on her for citing sources that did not tie back to her position). Veblen’s work was Conspicuous Consumption, an essay from The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, which is worth the read even today.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure I’ve quite remembered her name. I believe it’s her name, but I’m not great with names. As evidence, I turned in a final essay for one of my undergraduate English Literature courses. His trip was American fiction authors and interpreting literature by understanding the life and time and place of the author—clearly not into Barthes or Derrida. In this case, on the cover page, I had typed the course name and Professor David Grace (or some such). It was returned by post a week or so later with two remarks. The first: ‘I’ll miss your sardonic humour‘; the second: My name is whatever it was [sorry again], not David Grace. I’m pretty sure Professor was one of my maths professors, but don’t hold me to that. As far as I know, not-David doesn’t identify as a woman, but I do recall spending time on Edgar Allen Poe (also not a woman) and Donald Barthelme (still not a woman), the Postmodern Absurdist, who at fate would have it, died a couple of months after I graduated.

Hannah Arendt (Philosopher)

Hannah Arendt

Arendt’s concepts of the banality of evil and totalitarianism. My first exposure was through Eichmann in Jeruselum, where she discusses the banality of evil and how my postmodern roots become more ossified. Sadly, here Origins of Totalitarianism are too relevant for comfort these past few decades in the West.

Sunera Thobani (Sociologist, Feminist)

Sunera Thobani

Thobani’s post-colonial feminism is a newer influence, but she really drives home the point that the Western perspective is privileged and intervention in other cultures to ‘save the women’ from oppression is imposing the privileged perspective in a colonial manner.

Elinor Ostrom (Economist)

Elinor Ostrom

I was inspired by her work showcasing that coöperation prevails over tired competitive models. She was also the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize for economics just before her death.

Margaret Atwood (Author)

Margaret Atwood

Before Handmaid’s Tale was a Hulu series, it was a book. When I read this genre-establishing speculative fiction in the 1980s, I took notice. That it remains relevant is cause for trepidation.

Ursula K. Le Guin (Author)

Ursula K Le Guin

Le Guin’s story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, truly unveils the Utilitarian, Consequentialist narrative of the greater good. This is more speculative fiction in the domain of Margaret Atwood, but Le Guin’s domain is typically science fiction. As often as I’ve tried, science fiction narratives don’t typically resonate with me, so I haven’t engaged her longer works. But the impact this had and continues to have on me should suffice.

Herculine Adélaîde Barbin (Intersex Case Study)

I believe I was introduced to Alexina through Michel Foucault. It helps to shine a spotlight on how arbitrary identity really is. Perhaps not capricious, but definitely arbitrary. A few years back, I even created a short video that, as I recall, commenced my YouTube channel.

Negative

I had originally intended to make this a post on the positive influences of women, but as I was searching my memories, a couple of reprehensible influences came to mind. Thatcher topped that list.

Margaret Thatcher (Politician)

Margaret Thatcher

In the US, Liberals and we Leftists demonise Ronald Reagan for being the beginning of the end of cordial US politics. Whilst this is true to a point, Thatcher predates Reagan’s destructive national policies by a couple of years. If not for the path she paved, we may never have taken it. Granted, the Clintons made sure to drive nails into the bipartisan coffin to seal the pact, and perhaps Thatcher and Reagan were just symptoms, not causes, in the manner that Johnson, Trump, and Biden are more expressions and conduits than catalysts…or at least generators.

In any case, she’s left a lot of destruction in her wake.

Ayn Rand (‘Philosopher’)

Ayn Rand

Rand is another woman I love to hate. Her so-called Objectivism has given permission to so many looking for an excuse or justification for their assholery.

To be fair, when I read Atlas Shrugged as an impressionable youth, I was taken in. I decided to read it after having heard her speak in an interview. I fell into her storyline without critical examination. I even tried to adopt it as a frame or lens. And then I read Fountainhead, which added nothing.

Fast-forward to the late ’90s, I was reevaluating my vantage and perspectives, so I decided to re-engage Atlas Shrugged as an audiobook. It was embarrassingly bad writing with 1-dimensional characters, which is appropriate because 1-dimensional people adopt this worldview. Apologies for the ad hominem, but I include myself in this cohort. I hope I’ve actually come to evolve additional dimensions rather than simply swap them, but Rand is a hack writer who had helped make the world a more toxic place to live. Not a fan.

Honourable Mention

Sophie Germain (Mathematician)

I named my second daughter Sophie Germain Surname, hoping it would be aspirational. Although it wasn’t, she is still proud to point out her legacy.

Harriet Tubman (Abolitionist)

Rosa Parks (Civil Rights Activist)

Jane Austen (Author)

Tori Amos (Musician)

PJ Harvey (Musician)

Sarah MacLauchlan (Musician)

Fiona Apple (Musician)

Kate Bush (Musician)

Laurie Anderson (Musician, Performance Artist)

More Women, But No

I could laundry-list a bunch of women I am aware of, but I can’t really claim they influenced me in a way I can grasp, so I won’t bother.