Philosophy Students Interview Hip-Hop Artist Olmeca

by Colleen Hanson ’19 and Ariela Tubert

In November of 2016, University of Puget Sound welcomed Hip-Hop artist Olmeca to campus for a concert. In addition to being a Hip-Hop artist who brilliantly merges English and Spanish to create a powerful narrative regarding identity and expression, Olmeca is a civil rights activist and scholar.  He graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, with a degree in Philosophy. Two Philosophy students from UPS, Conor O’Keefe ‘18 and Steven Baptiste ‘17, had the opportunity to talk with Olmeca about several issues surrounding his philosophy education and activism. Olmeca said:

The ongoing joke with [Philosophy] is that when you can’t make up your mind, you end up in Philosophy, so that’s what happened with me. I started as a Math major, English, Chicano Studies, then Music, then History, and then I ended up in Philosophy. And I guess what I found in doing all that was that I liked the critical thinking aspect that I found in Math, for example, and then I also liked the other aspect which was the analysis behind theories, concepts, social norms (like you could find in History or Chicano Studies), the understanding as to why people did what they did. So I couldn’t find anything that had both until I found Philosophy. You had something open like Metaphysics or Determinist Theory and stuff like that. Or Logic – yeah you had a little bit of math, which I was horrible at; Symbolic Logic was horrible; it was the worst class. So yeah I found that with Philosophy you can actually do both while also being able to talk about the “now” issues, connect to reality which in some philosophy departments you don’t get to do, but in mine, I was able to do. So it became very much a constructive major that I was taking, it was helping me develop things as I went along.

Olmeca further discussed how Philosophy has informed his ability to recognize and understand the points of view of others. In doing so, he has been able to apply this skill to his activism:

>>Olmeca: Philosophy really helped me articulate a dignified anger that I had, and so I found the language for it through philosophy. I found intentions behind things that were being done to a particular community, I understood that law goes beyond what’s already written in the book – that we have to look not only at the history of how that was developed but Philosophy also allowed me to then ask the questions, “What are the conditions that The Constitution or the law was written under? What were the intentions behind writing these into law?” Do you see what I’m saying? So Philosophy allowed me to not only look at that and ask those types of questions but then actually also look at what people’s philosophies were. Like learning about white supremacy – I learned that in Philosophy. I didn’t learn it in a History class. I learned about white supremacy even though it wasn’t called “white supremacy.” Philosophy allowed me to look at that. You know, like John Locke and the notion of property – versus indigenous notions of communalism. Then I was able to look at two different philosophies and two ways of being: one that was a colonizer and one that was pertinent to nature. So then I learned. Europeans follow this type of line. That’s what we call white supremacy and white privilege and that’s what US foreign policy is built on, right? So it was easier to actually look at it.

>>Conor: That’s really fascinating. I really admire that ability to be hypercritical of not just your own point of view but other peoples’ points of view. But in doing so you have to be somewhat understanding of their point of view and the history that comes from that.

>Olmeca: One thing that happened in my course was that I encountered a lot of racism without professors even knowing. So for example, I had to write papers where you read two philosophers and you look at their discourse – how are they different, how are they the same – and then what I would do is bring a third party which was indigenous ideologies. And so what my teachers would say is, “This is a historical based paper, not a philosophical paper.” And by saying historical, it basically implied that indigenous people no longer existed. So I brought that to attention in my classes. Little by little, the Chair even allowed me to do that. I was kind of known as the student that if you have him in your class, you know that he’s going to bring in this other thing that we should be looking at instead of pushing away. And then what did that do? Well, it allowed me to say okay I understand myself well enough to explain it to someone else but if I’m going to counter this argument with him, I need to understand him and where he’s coming from. So everything that he’s saying is maybe not what he really means. In order to do that I have to study him. And again, Philosophy helps with that shit because it’s asking you to do that, no? If there’s an argument placed on the table, you have to look at where the theory comes from, where their principles came from, what that person said. John Locke for example, when he’s talking about property: where did it come from? What was his upbringing so that I can actually understand why he came up with that. It’s a much better argument and it makes you much smarter when it comes to an argument because you’re studying the person as well. That’s what I thought anyway and that’s how I took Philosophy – as just making me a much better person to contend with when it came to arguments.

Conor and Steven followed by asking Olmeca about the connection between philosophy and activism.  Olmeca reflected on what activism means and what he cares about:

I’m always gonna be supporting people’s efforts to live in dignity, as opposed to issue driven activism. It’s less romantic, it’s not a spotlight, but it’s obviously the most important one. Cuz it’s longevity. It’s a long-term commitment when you have that. And that’s what I’ve been doing with the indigenous peoples and Mexico, and here, the Zapatista movement, I lived out there for about a year with them, I take students out there twice a year. The immigrant rights issue right now is important, not as a way to achieve reform for undocumented folks, but again so that people can live in dignity. And that’s a long-term commitment to do that. So yeah, people of color issues, identity issues, are major for me and in my life. They dictate a lot of what I do. Here’s the thing, no one wants to be political. I don’t wanna wake up every morning and go, “… am I gonna go get arrested at today?” I think if people wake up thinking like that, they’re thinking about shit the wrong way.

After talking to Olmeca, Conor and Steven reflected on the interview:

Conor: Olmeca had a lot to say about indigenous philosophy – a realm of philosophy that we don’t have much -if any – exposure to here at UPS, so I learned from Olmeca that we should be paying more attention to indigenous philosophy. He also beautifully linked social activism with philosophy in a manner I hadn’t encountered before – we learn to be critical of all of these famous philosophers and their theories, so we should turn that attitude towards the government regarding the issues we want to see reformed.

Steven: What I learned most from my conversation with Olmeca is the value of a righteous anger in challenging the epistemological and aesthetic dismissal of non-European philosophies. Those which played a significant role in the development of what we now call “western philosophy”. That is, philosophy should be regarded as a globally human endeavor. In this regard, for Philosophy to call itself “the love of knowledge” and then limit its scope of love to such a narrow set of philosophies is a hypocrisy. This growing recognition within the field makes me hopeful and excited for the subject that I already enjoy and love so much.

Throughout the interview, Olmeca reflected on how philosophy affects his way of thinking and his music:

I am in a room with someone that studied philosophy, and then I do hip-hop, so you best believe that when I look at hip-hop, I’m looking at the layers of that shit….  That’s the thing about philosophy, is like you know, you’re studying thinking, it’s dope to me.

 

 

“Rational Devotion and Human Perfection”: A Lecture by Prof. Christina Chuang

“Rational Devotion and Human Perfection”
Christina Chuang (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)

Monday April 3rd | Wyatt 313 | 3:30-5:00 pm

Abstract: In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna lays out three paths of yoga as the means to achieve human perfection: the path of self-less action (karma yoga), the path of knowledge (jnana yoga), and the path of devotion (bhakti yoga). In this talk I will argue for an interpretation of the Gita in which the path of devotion is the last step that leads to moksha. This is not to claim that bhakti yoga is more important than karma and jnana yoga, but rather that the latter two are more elementary. In order to practice bhakti yoga, one must first have practiced karma and jnana yoga. All three forms of yoga are equally important—but there is a prioritized order in which they are to be practiced. On my reading, bhakti is more than having an intense feeling of love for God, because practicing devotion to God is an intellectual love of God that entails an intuitive understanding of the essence of things. My approach is to cross-examine the concept of human perfection as discussed in the Gita and Spinoza’s Ethics. Human perfection is characterized in both texts as a total liberation from being guided by things external to oneself other than one’s own nature. In other words, the aim of life is to liberate oneself by acquiring the right kind of knowledge. The freer one becomes and the more knowledge that one has, the more perfect one becomes.

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Isabella Gresser Film Screening, Reception, and Artist Talk

Isabella Gresser is having an opening at the Kittredge Gallery on Wednesday, March 22 from 5-7pm and the screening of her film, Fatigue Society – Byung-Chul Han in Seoul / Berlin will be on Thursday, March 23 at 5pm in Rausch Auditorium. The screening with be followed by a discussion of the film which is based on philosopher Byung-Chul Han’s book, Burn-Out Society.

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Philosophy Day 2017

Philosophy Day is a showcase of the philosophical community at University of Puget Sound. There will be four student presentations on topics such as free will, the replication crisis, justice, and metaphysics. There will also be a presentation from the Ethics Bowl team on real-world ethical dilemmas.

No previous experience with philosophy is required. Feel free to pick and choose the sessions that best fit with your interests and schedules!

Date            02/17/2017
Time            1pm-5pm
Place           Murray Boardroom, SUB

1:00-1:30: Jenny Paul, “Compatibilism and the Degrees of Influence: An Analysis of the Morality of the Self and its Relation to the External”
1:30-2:00: Eric Ralph, “The Paradox of Psychology: Replication Crises as Opportunities”
2:00-2:30: Steven Baptiste, “Justice as Harmony – Plato’s use of Literary Symbolism in the Republic: Thrasymachus, Glaucon, and Socrates”
2:30-3:00: Conor O’Keefe, “The Advantages of Dogmatic Metaphysics over Kantian Synthetic Metaphysics”
3:00-3:30: Coffee Break
3:30-5:00: Ethics Bowl, “Civil Disobedience” & “The Tunnel Problem” – Cases about the ethics of leaking classified information and the responsibility for accidents from self driving cars.

2017 Colorado Summer Seminar in Philosophy

The University of Colorado, Boulder is now accepting applications for the 2017 Colorado Summer Seminar in Philosophy.
The Colorado Summer Seminar in Philosophy is intended for outstanding advanced undergraduates who are considering graduate school in philosophy. The aim is to introduce students to the atmosphere of a graduate-level seminar, giving them a chance to explore their philosophical abilities and interests before they commit to a graduate program.
Review of applications will begin on March 1 and will continue until all available positions are filled.

There is no application form.

Applicants should provide the following:

  • A cover letter including your name, mailing address, email address, and an account of who you are and why you are interested in the program.
  • A letter of recommendation from someone who has taught you philosophy. The letter should address the quality of your contributions to class discussion and your ability to interact productively with other students as well as the quality of your written work for the class.
  • A copy of your college transcript. (An unofficial copy is fine.)
  • A short philosophical essay. (The shorter the better; ordinarily, it should be something written for a class.)

Electronic submission of materials is strongly preferred. Applicants should send the cover letter, transcript and essay in pdf or Word format to the Director of the Seminar, David Boonin, at david.boonin@colorado.edu.

For more information, visit the summer seminar’s webpage at:

http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/events/summer-seminar

Call for Papers: Northwest Student Philosophy Conference

Northwest Student Philosophy Conference Call for Papers

The Northwest Student Philosophy Conference (NWSPC) is an annual conference organized by undergraduate students at Western Washington University and aims to showcase the philosophical research of undergraduate, graduate and professional philosophers. Our keynote speaker will be Thomas M. Crisp from Biola University. He will be lecturing on immigrant and refugee ethics, arguing that affluent nations have greater obligations toward immigrants and refugees than is typically recognized. Last year our keynote speaker was Heather Battaly. In the past several years, we have been privileged to host Alex Guerrero, Meghan Sullivan, Carrie Jenkins, Jonathan Ichikawa, Kris McDaniel, Ben Bradley, Shieva Kleinschmidt, Laurie Paul, Kit Fine, Michael Rea, Dean Zimmerman, and Jonathan Schaffer as keynote and guest speakers.

This year, our conference will be taking place from May 26-28. Both graduate and undergraduate students are invited to submit papers. Papers can be on any philosophical topic, and should be at least 2,000 words in length, but preferably no longer than 15,000. Entrance is fairly competitive, as we have only 6-8 open slots for student presentations, but this should not discourage interested applicants. The submission deadline is March 17th.

HOW TO SUBMIT PAPERS:

• Prepare your paper for blind review • Provide an abstract around 200 words between the title and main text of the paper • Send a copy as an attachment (either as word document or pdf) to Ryan.Wasserman@wwu.edu • Provide relevant contact information (Name / Institution / Email / Phone) in any emails sent.

For additional information regarding the conference, as well as information on WWU, our philosophy club and our philosophy department, please visit our website.

Please feel free to email us at antala@wwu.edu with any questions you may have.