Disoriented

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As I understand it (from some distance), the story so far goes something like this: (1) The students’ union at the School of Oriental and African Studies urges that its philosophy-related courses should teach mostly African and Asian thinkers (not in itself startling given the name of the institution), and insofar as white philosophers must be taught this should be through a sociohistorically ‘critical’ lens (whether the African and Asian philosophers are to be taught uncritically is unclear). This forms part of its agenda of ‘decolonisation’. (2) The press picks up the story, linking it to topical debate about ‘student satisfaction’ in university rankings and funding. Since we were not actually told which philosophers’ work is surplus to decolonised requirements, the press speculatively drops in a few names from the list of greats. Some reports note that one of the minds behind the declaration is an admirer of Frantz Fanon, whose influences included, er, Karl Marx. (3) The SOAS union posts either a semi-clarification or a semi-backpedal, depending on your interpretation.

Goodness knows what they’d make of the Meirokusha.

Sadly, slapdash student manifestos about ‘decolonisation’, if they have any effect on the status of philosophy beyond the Western canon, might well have a counterproductive one, undoing work done by scholars to gain those schools of thought a wider hearing and get them taken more seriously in Anglophone philosophy. Such an approach hardly looks supportive of the kind of comparative philosophy which says, you know how our usual approaches haven’t solved this puzzle, well Nagarjuna said something interesting...

The Leading Question

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Historic England has commenced a series of what it calls online debates ‘where conservation and heritage experts debate the topics uppermost in their minds’, beginning with: ‘Why is a diverse and inclusive workplace essential for the heritage sector?’

It must have been a much neglected question hitherto; none of the people I’ve known who were struggling to find or keep employment in the sector ever asked me that one.

Cultural Transmission

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This week I learnt that my work has been plagiarised in a heritage/UNESCO-themed document apparently issued to school pupils by the Nanking Model United Nations. Setting a great example there...

Duskheap

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Various online thesaurus sites have in their databases the word duskheap, as a synonym for e.g. midden. This looks very likely to be a typo for dustheap; no duskheap seems to be known even (no pun intended) to the O.E.D. What a beautiful error though: imagine digging on a duskheap, through the layered remnants of countless yestereves, long-spent twilghts and disused mirknings, sunsets piled on sunsets in a loaming of gloaming.

OvARtaken

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A while back I was contracted to write a chapter for a textbook in philosophy of technology, on the theme of video games and virtual reality. Owing to publishing lead times, the book is due out next April, but my chapter has been drafted and revised already, back when it was clear I ought to mention Augmented Reality but the latest topical example was Google Glass. Just in time to be overtaken by the next big thing...

Pokemon Go, as we all know, is just the beginning when it comes to Augmented Reality, which is on the cusp of upending our lives as we know it. It won’t be long before everything from healthcare to education to city planning is affected – and you can be sure that advertisers are already looking at ways to take advantage. What is clear is that governments haven’t got a clue how to handle it. If a virtual Speero egg in a Hindu temple is enough to cause a lawsuit, what about adverts for alcohol, or dating sites, or porn? How are the courts going to deal with copyright infringement, or the safety of AR tourist attractions, or taxing products that do not actually exist in the real world? It’s not an issue of if, but when, and the default approach of a blanket ban will just force a budding new enterprise underground, where it will remain a risk to public security.

Still, there are consoling thoughts: I can remember the first VR boom, and the bubble of interest in virtual worlds, and I duly made it plain in the chapter that grand visions of the technological future come and go, and that I have no certain idea whether AR will turn out to be another fad of its day. VR has its second wind, but as I once wrote elsewhere, the future often appears to be bearing down upon us faster than it really is; though in this case it did come faster than the speed of print.

Update: I got to check a draft at a later stage of editing, so the problem will be averted after all, albeit without a treatment of the questions above.