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Patrick S. O'Donnell
Adjunct Instructor, Department of Philosophy, Santa Barbara City College
Interests: philosophy of law and legal theory, philosophy of mind, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of science, religious worldviews, psychoanalysis, psychology
Recent Activity
Religious nationalism—be it Zionist (at least most of its forms, the exceptions being rather unpopular if not existing only on paper), Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, what have you—is extremely dangerous wherever it rears its hydra-headed individual and group pathologies, and thus not only, say, in Israel, Iran, India, Myanmar, or Poland, but in the U.S. as well. This is a regressive, anti-Liberal, and anti-democratic ideology that refuses to comes to grip with the values of institutional secularism and genuine political pluralism for democratic societies, while denying the fact that non-religious worldviews are perfectly capable of finding adherents who abide by moral principles and are capable of being as ethical—and sometimes far more ethical—than any avowed religious believer (as M.K. Gandhi well understood). This form of toxic nationalism is extremely simple-minded in its putative diagnosis of what ails contemporary societies, and its prescriptive phantasies, when not messianic or apocalyptic in intent, are... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
Please don’t hear me mumbling (or shouting!) “Bah! Humbug!” or see me as the Grinch who stole Christmas (or the holiday spirit, for that matter) in reading what follows. I have arrived at the arguable belief (a ’conviction’ from the outside looking in?) that, owing to several loosely related causes and reasons, some more discernible than others, denial, self-deception, wishful thinking, myopia, insecurity, anxiety if not depression (or at least the symptoms of same), fear, nastiness, dispositional anger or resentment, willful ignorance, procrastination, and weakness of will have become ubiquitous psychological and epistemic phenomena (there being no hard and fast boundary here) in our country (and seemingly in more than a few other countries around our planet). I confess to succumbing on occasion to at least some of these mental states and conditions. This is a personal judgment and generalization (and symptomatic diagnosis), for which exceptions can be cited, but... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
“Scientists suggest fertility control as a way to combat climate change. Now that’s alarming.” By Kelsey Holt for the Los Angeles Times, Dec, 11, 2019 “Thousands of scientists around the world joined together last month to label climate change the ‘emergency’ that it is. But one of the main points they make — linking control of women’s reproduction to environmental goals — is problematic. Focusing on what women in poor nations with the highest birth rates can do to curb climate change distracts from holding wealthy countries and corporations accountable for their disproportionate harm to the planet and imperils the right to reproductive autonomy. [….] Reducing population growth is one of six steps the authors say would slow carbon dioxide emissions. They also argue that to decrease the birthrate, family planning services and primary and secondary education need to be more available and accessible. The group’s website goes a big... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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I believe in a strong conception of ethics (in the sense that it borders on the spiritual) on behalf of all non-human animals (hence for this and other reasons, I have a vegan diet) and corresponding forms of legal rights, including a legal conception of “personhood” (which relies on some different and some overlapping criteria for what counts in metaphysical and moral terms as personhood for human beings) for at least some animals (i.e., one that requires a demanding form of legally defined protections, proscriptions, and obligatory actions): dolphins, porpoises, whales, apes, monkeys, elephants, corvids, and some domestic animals (and thus other species), for example. I well realize my values, principles and beliefs on this score are not commonplace and unlikely to be so in the near or perhaps even distant future. That said, I’m unequivocally in favor of the Makah Indian tribe being allowed—in keeping with the federal government’s... Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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This article from ProPublica, “How McKinsey [a consulting firm] Helped the Trump Administration Detain and Deport Immigrants,” co-published at HuffPost and The New York Times, is but one illustration of the insidious, relentless, and ruthless capitalist privatization of everything, the effects of which amount to an utter subversion of both the common and public good: “McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on under the Obama administration to help engineer an ‘organizational transformation’ in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who are in the United States unlawfully. ICE quickly redirected McKinsey toward helping the agency figure out how to execute the White House’s clampdown on illegal immigration. But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees [!], according to interviews with people who... Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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What inter-tribal warfare (quickened with the arrival of Europeans), smallpox, malaria, treaties with the U.S. government, the virtual extinction of American buffalo (bison), confinement to reservations, and white settler colonialism generally did to the Crow Indians* as a nomadic, warrior, and hunting tribe is robustly analogous, I suspect, to what “we” will experience as the cumulative effects of climate change on “our way of life” or ways of living in the coming decades. However, while the Crows, along with other North American Indian peoples who suffered material and cultural devastation if not genocide (loss of their traditional way of life, loss of ‘meaning’ generally and as it constituted the subjectivity of the individual person) at the hands of outside forces (forces from ‘without’), the environmental, material, and cultural devastation we are facing in this country is the direct result of generic and genetic modern industrial civilizational forces and effects internal... Continue reading
Posted Dec 2, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
I hope the following links, excerpts, comments, and reflections (in no particular order) will prove of interest for one reason or another to our readers. “CIA-Backed Afghan Paramilitaries Behind Unlawful Killing Surge,” by Patricia Grossman for Just Security (Nov. 8, 2019): “Some U.S. officials have called for preserving the CIA’s parallel operations and these strike forces even after a U.S. troop withdrawal, despite overwhelming evidence of their involvement in gross human rights abuses. But the appalling civilian cost of these operations should be ringing alarm bells for those working to see a genuine settlement to the Afghan conflict. For Afghans who have lost loved ones to these raids, and the lack of redress, it adds to a deep sense of grievance that will undermine efforts toward creating a durable peace.” * * * “Fred Krinke, L.A.’s king of the fountain pen, dies at 91,” by Steve Marble for the Los... Continue reading
Posted Nov 22, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Robert Kuttner, “Blaming Liberalism,” a review of Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2018; paperback edition, with new preface, 2019), The New York Review of Books, November 21, 2019 (Vol. LXVI, No. 18) This, in my judgment, is essential reading for avowed Leftists if only because intellectually feeble, philosophically obtuse, and politically perilous jeremiads against “Liberalism” will not cure what environmentally, socially and economically ails us (one reason I agree with the bulk of this review essay by Kuttner of Patrick J. Deenen’s book). If socialists fail to sufficiently parse the history of Liberalism so as to identify its intrinsic virtues for democratic theory and praxis, we will be left with the post-harvest husk of democracy. There is, no doubt, this and that to criticize in the Liberal tradition (for instance, when its erstwhile defenders stray far from its political soil into the murky waters of metaphysics,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
Miscellaneous material, comments and musings (in no particular order): “The Birth of Chicano Studies” by Sandy Banks for California State University Los Angeles Magazine A review in MERIP of Julie Peteet, Space and Mobility in Palestine (Indiana University Press, 2017) “Left with nothing.” “On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb. Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go. All because he didn’t pay a $134 property... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
“President Trump said Monday that a limited number of U.S. troops will remain in Syria to man a garrison on the southern border with Jordan and ‘to secure the oil’ elsewhere in the country. ‘I don’t think it’s necessary, other than we secure the oil,’ Trump said of the U.S. military presence. ‘We need to secure the oil.’ A ‘small number of troops’ would also remain in southern Syria at the request of Israel and Jordan, he added in remarks to reporters at a meeting of his Cabinet in Washington. The decision to leave more than 20 percent of the U.S. force in Syria behind was the second time in less than a year that Trump announced a complete withdrawal, only to walk it back under heavy bipartisan criticism from lawmakers and disquiet within his own administration.” Comment: With regard to what we charitably describe as “foreign policy,” President Trump’s... Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
Some understood this from the beginning; others came to the conclusion after watching Trump in office after a few months; yet others cut him more slack, according him the benefit of doubt in a manner that made transparent their gullibility (a twinge of doubt aroused by his reckless decision to abandon the Kurdish forces and people in Syria); while a remaining and appalling number of intransigent if not hysterical Republicans—in the wake of overwhelming historical, behavioral, empirical, and legal evidence that in a rational world would change their minds—continue to support a would-be authoritarian or even despotic but unequivocally undemocratic President who could neither pass a 6th grade civics test (of yesteryear) nor articulate a coherent conception of what it means to live in a constitutional democracy: Donald Trump is a deadly parasite on the body politic. Mutually reinforcing and debilitating psychological processes and phenomena operate on both sides of... Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was one of the most profound revolutions in Latin American history—in many ways more profound than the nineteenth-century wars for independence, which, despite the enormous human and military destruction, and despite the winning of political independence, did not overturn the structures of Latin American society. The Cuban revolution was part of the worldwide anticolonial and revolutionary ferment that followed World War II. The post-Stalinist, Third World revolutionary Marxism that it helped to define was also a factor in the emergence of a youthful New Left in Europe and the United States. — The The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics, edited by Aviv Chomsky, Barry Carr, Alfredo Prieto, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2nd ed., 2019): 309 I recently posted my latest bibliography for the Cuban Revolution (26 July 1953 – 1 January 1959). It will be my last compilation so as... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
One of Trump’s tweets from yesterday: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over ....” If this is not a tipping point for those unwilling or reluctant to conclude that Trump is mentally or psychologically unfit for office, nothing will be. His remaining obdurate public supporters can only be deeply ensnared in the muck and mire of denial, self-deception and wishful thinking, psychological armour and blinders they share with his Republican Party lackeys, bootlickers and sycophants in his administration and Congress, who in addition are bereft of moral backbone and ethical integrity, performing their grotesquely inane public defenses of Trump’s behavior as mere apparitions of politicians in a would-be democracy,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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“ … [T]he illegitimately and sometimes insanely, extended misuse of the term ‘information’ is absolutely pivotal to establishing the conceptual confusions necessary to the seeming fruitfulness and explanatory power of much modern thought about the mind and the brain [in philosophy, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive science, for example]—and ourselves. This converges in the computational theory of mind [this can be traced back to the early work of Hilary Putnam, and becomes particularly influential with the philosophical work of the late Jerry Fodor and the writings of the philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel Dennett, and is well popularized by the linguist and cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker]. By playing on different meanings of ‘information’ and transferring epithets like a volleyball [across several nets], it is possible to argue that minds, brains, organisms, various artefacts such as computers and even non-living thermodynamic systems are all information-processing devices. Because they are deemed to be... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
One of the few times Trump has spoken the truth occurred when he admitted he would do nothing about (alleged) climate change (about which, of course, he is appallingly ignorant, of a piece with his inexcusable ignorance of science or indeed about any field of organized inquiry and knowledge as represented, for example, by the natural and social sciences) if that meant affecting corporate profits (and the avaricious accumulation of money and wealth generally). So, even when he is honest, we get a frightening glimpse into his manifestly irrational and a-rational beliefs and the workings of his mind, a mind long mired in denial, self-deception, and wishful thinking, exacerbated so as to cause a surfeit of all manner of harms, given his narcissistic megalomania (or exemplification of all—or virtually all—of the diagnostic symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder), rendering his beliefs in the form of phantasies, illusions, and delusions. This is... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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So, let me ask, what is knowledge of human beings? How does it enter into our understanding of ourselves and others as individuals? Can it be acquired by scientific observation, and does it have the kind of generality, precision, and objectivity characteristic of science? Wittgenstein asks: can one learn this knowledge? Let me quote his very brief answer: ‘Yes; some can. Not, however, by taking a course in it, but through “experience”—Can someone else be man’s teacher in this? Certainly. From time to time he gives him the right tip.—This is what “learning” and “teaching” are like here.—What one acquires here is not a technique; one learns correct judgments. There are also rules, but they do not form a system, and only experienced people can apply them right. Unlike calculating-rules.’ The experience which Wittgenstein has in mind is the kind one has in living one’s own life. It refers to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Several times a year I post an updated list of the bibliographies available on my Academia page (the start of the school year for many being one of those times). I have also included a separate list of my writing on a variety of topics as well as the “study guides” for several religious worldviews I used to give to my students. All of the material is in alphabetical order on the site, save the study guides, which are found at the bottom of the page. Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Addiction Africana & African American Philosophy After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle for Civil Rights, Freedom, and Equality in the U.S. Salvador Allende and the Quest for Socialism R. Ambedkar American Indian Law (this list goes considerably beyond ‘law’) Samir Amin (3 September 1931 - 12 August 2018) Analogy & Metaphor Anarchism: Philosophy & Praxis Animal Ethics, Rights, and Law... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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“That there can be unconscious knowledge at all and the recognition of the great importance of unconscious knowing in mental life, together constitute one of the most basic assumptions of psychoanalytic theory. However, from the philosophical viewpoint most modern epistemologists [and most contemporary work in philosophy of mind] have contended that belief, rather than knowledge, is the most fundamental mental attitude.” In Unconscious Knowing and Other Essays in Psycho-Philosophical Analysis (Oxford University Press, 2010), Linda A.W. Brakel discusses and analyzes the epistemic and ontological priority given to notions of true belief, in particular “justified true belief,” hence the dominant philosophical view in which knowledge is explained in terms of belief, belief being “maintained as the foundational attitude, conceptually prior to knowledge.” Invoking in part the philosopher Timothy Williamson’s Knowledge and Its Limits (Oxford University Press, 2000), Brakel argues for a “radical epistemic view,” namely, that knowledge “comes first, conceptually and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Linda A.W. Brakel, who by training and profession is both a psychoanalyst and a philosopher, demonstrates how this particular combination can yield important insights that uniquely benefit psychoanalytic theory and therapy as well as philosophy. Philosophically her work is on par with such stellar exemplars in the philosophical examination of psychoanalysis as Marcia Cavell, Ilham Dilman, Sebastian Gardner, Jonathan Lear, A.O. Rorty, Richard Wollheim, Jon Mills, Tomas Pataki, and John Wisdom, among others. In what follows I highlight some aspects of one of several incisive and compelling arguments in her book, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and the A-Rational Mind (Oxford University Press, 2009). This has to do with her conceptual distinction between “desires” and “wishes” (a distinction Freud himself failed to make), one result of which is her contribution to making sense of, if not solving, the akratic or “weakness of will” problem (i.e., acting against one’s better judgment) in philosophy. As... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Jesus’ teaching on poverty and wealth was anchored in the Scriptures, in particular, it shared with Psalms and the Prophets the key idea that God was somehow on the side of the poor. At the same time, however, Jesus’ message about the dangers of wealth was radical and provocative at the time (and of course remains so two millennia later). — Ann Wierzbicka, What Did Jesus Mean? (Oxford University Press, 2001): 385 From Meagan Day’s article, “A Grift From God,” Jacobin (10 August 2019): “The prosperity gospel is a movement within American Christianity, also known as the Word of Faith, that says God wants you to be rich, but you have to will his financial blessing into being. Forty percent of Evangelicals are taught the prosperity gospel, according to which the root cause of poverty is faithlessness. [….] Prosperity gospel ministers don’t usually stop at urging positive thinking. To manifest... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Prison offers, curiously, a time to make art, with men on life sentences sometimes being the most serious about developing their craft. Boredom also assures the motivation of Tobola’s poets: ‘Unlike my college students, who were required to take composition, my inmate students came to class because they wanted to learn.’ But the book also raises questions about creative work, its potential and its limits. A prison classroom or theater is a crucible, a lab for working out what art can do when separated from economies of grants, sales, and prestige. Art is a form of resistance. It is an attempt to maintain one’s humanity and individuality even while wearing a uniform and tagged with a number. Art builds community. As any reader of prison or internment camp memoirs knows, the creation of art in captivity does not require an official program. In moments of crisis, people instinctively draw on... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Now Dayton, Ohio: it makes one think these mass shootings are somehow planned, but I am not sure (sans compelling evidence) they are coordinated, perhaps arising out of acts of conspiracy, except, as it were, social psychologically (one act, inspiring another, and so forth), but it is clearly white supremacist, xenophobic nationalism (a variety of fascism) that is ideologically behind the wheel. And it is indeed, homegrown terrorism. Let’s be emphatic about this, the President of the U.S. is at least indirectly—thus not legally but morally because politically—culpable owing to his xenophobic and racist rhetoric at campaign speeches, in interviews, and on Twitter. He is using the “bully pulpit” (in part and by implication, in Theodore Roosevelt’s sense to ‘exhort, instruct, or inspire,’ but the adjective no longer means ‘excellent’ or ‘first-rate’ but rather is in the degrading and ugly spirit of its contemporary meaning as both a noun and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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Linda A.W. Brakel provides us with an amusing illustration of the dynamic (i.e., psychologically meaningful) unconscious (as one of the three principal assumptions of psychoanalysis): “Take a very common sort of slip of the tongue I experienced. I was in the backyard calling my husband whom I saw to be occupied with some yard activity. He did not respond, a fact that did not surprise me as much as the realization that I was using our dog’s name to call him, not my husband’s. I laughed. Now, the names Art and Jet are not dissimilar—and that was a physical cause of the slip; but why would I (a neurologically intact person) confuse my husband’s name with that of our dog’s? This slip of the tongue seems neither psychologically lawful nor determined until we posit a dynamic unconscious cause of this commonplace psychological event. My husband, whom I love, seemed to... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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From “The Problem of Mindfulness” by Sahanika Ratnayakeis for Aeon: “In claiming to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions, mindfulness oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. It fits oh-so-neatly into a culture of techno-fixes, easy answers and self-hacks, where we can all just tinker with the contents of our heads to solve problems, instead of probing why we’re so dissatisfied with our lives in the first place. As I found with my own experience, though, it’s not enough to simply watch one’s thoughts and feelings. To understand why mindfulness is uniquely unsuited for the project of real self-understanding, we need to probe the suppressed assumptions about the self that are embedded in its foundations. [….] With the no-self doctrine [P. anatta/S. anātman], we relinquish not only more familiar understandings of the self, but also the idea that mental phenomena such as thoughts and feelings are our own.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com
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The simplistic binaries that frame conversations of Palestinian armed struggle evoke the condescension expressed by colonial overloads toward the resistance of indigenous peoples. ‘Palestinians have a culture of hate,’ commentators blast on American TV screens. ‘They are a people who celebrate death.’ These familiar accusations, quick to roll off tongues, are both highly effective at framing public discourse and insulting as racist epithets. On the other end of the spectrum, I recalled conversations with Europeans and Palestinians who critiqued my reference to Palestinian armed struggle as ‘violence.’ They saw this framing as a form of condemnation [as if Liberal Capitalist Democracies never resort to such violence!], casting armed struggle in a negative light [like the French and American Revolutions?!]. Support of the rifle, they argued, was not only comprehensible and dignified, but necessary. It was the only way to secure Palestinian rights against a murderous and unrelenting occupation. [….] The... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2019 at ReligiousLeftLaw.com