Philosophy in Calgary I: What Exactly Am I Doing Here? Composing, 30/05/2016

It’s a legitimate question. I’m at the Canadian Philosophical Association conference in Calgary for the next few days. And a fair number of people at the conference – some people, but not a lot – will wonder, when they see me, what precisely I’m doing here.

Some might ask me where I’m working. And I’ll tell them that I’m a writer with a day job at IKEA. Which I am. And I’m doing quite a few other things. 

I’m planning a series of workshops in conjunction with the Toronto area district associations of the New Democratic Party. Those workshops are on the LEAP Manifesto and environmental policy and ethics more generally. They’ll apply a lot of the concepts I developed in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity to practical political organizing.

I’m developing two independent feature films, and working with the Syria Film Festival, which has become a vibrant and multifaceted arts / human rights advocacy organization. I may also employ some of the connections I make through working with the festival to build my crew for those films of my own.

And I’m in Calgary hosting a panel on Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. This is the most prestigious role I’ve ever held at a Canadian conference. As a graduate student, I was an invited speaker at an international multi-disciplinary conference in Switzerland. But that was another day.

This isn’t just attending as a journeyman commentator, as I did at my first CPA in 2009 in Ottawa and my last one in 2014 in St Catharine’s. I’m not just presenting a single paper of my own, as I did in the other four such conferences I attended. 

This will be a three-hour panel of free form discussion about a book that I wrote and published with Palgrave MacMillan, one of the most significant academic presses in the West. For even full-time tenured or tenure-stream professors, this is a big deal.

So why am I doing this? When a person leaves academia, they aren’t supposed to take part in its rituals and institutions anymore. Independent scholars are roundly mocked and symbolically spat upon whenever they appear.* But I’m not just an independent scholar, because independent scholars are themselves still striving for a place in the university system.

* I admit that my own blog post tonight is purposely provocative. I kind of hope other delegates will read it and become offended that I’m here.

I don’t really care about whether I earn a place in the university system. But I still care about philosophy as a tradition. If you want to know why, read my recent article “Beyond the Academy” at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. 

The shortest version is: I believe that the humanities, as they exist in the university system, are slipping from public relevance, and these knowledge traditions must transform themselves if they’re to have real social impact or even survive. 

But there’s a more egocentric motive wrapped up in this concern for the future of philosophy as a tradition. The simple matter is, I have more to say. I may not have a university position, but I’m not done with philosophy. 

And if I’m there, then there are other people like me who deserve to contribute to the tradition. Maybe it won’t be conventional writing and scholarship, but folks like me who don’t have to follow the disciplinary strictures of the academy can write more experimental, interesting works. Like my recent critical article that, in my own words in the pitch session, went the Full Borges.

As my friend and colleague in indie publishing Phil Sandifer said, we were reading books by people like Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida in graduate school, but God forbid if we ever tried to write with the same experimental fervour. I want to help build a tradition where that kind of experimentalism and openness is ordinary, accepted, and encouraged.

That’s part of what I’m trying to do this week. . . . To be continued

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