In the wake of the Alpine Fellowship on Human Flourishing in Fjallnas, Sweden last week, I’ve been reading Lisa Miller’s book The Awakened Brain. Miller makes what my daughter says is an obvious argument, that mental illness and especially depression and anxiety can be prevented and also helped by having a rich spiritual and inner life. Hannah Arendt isn’t mentioned in Miller’s book, but the fundamental idea underlying Miller’s work is the Arendtian worry about the loss of meaningfulness, the absence of purpose, and the feeling of abandonment that has become widespread in the modern world.
Wolfram Eilenberger finds in Hannah Arendt’s encounter with Rahel Varnhagen a paradox between the rational individual and the power of past prejudices.
Milan Kundera died last week at the age of 94. His major novels include The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a thoughtful meditation on Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return of the same. Robin Ashenden writes an intellectual obituary.
Does AI fundamentally support autocratic government? This is the question Martin Beraja, Andrew Kao, David Yang, and Noam Yuchtman ask in their paper AI-tocracy.
Babette Babich turns to Nietzsche to think about the question of why we are enthusiastic about AI. One reason, of course, is the belief that AI will "solve" our social problems. Diseases will be cured, welfare reorganized, poverty overcome. AI will solve the irresolvable social problems that we humans have not been able to. Of course, this belief in the power of AI to solve problems of human organization depends, first, on our willingness to outsource human challenges to inhuman logic, and, second, to our willingness to actually implement solutions to human problems that we humans can't understand.
That AI is an engine that affirms our lying world does not mean the world is static; on the contrary, the world that AI above all reflects back to us is the world created by academics, journalists, writers, artists and those content producers—those members of the cultural elite that N.S. Lyons calls “Virtuals.” Virtuals make their living, Lyons writes, “by manipulating, categorizing, and interpreting symbolic information and narrative. “Manipulate” is an important verb here, and not merely in the sense of deviousness. Such an individual’s job is to take existing information and change it into new forms, present it in new ways, or use it to tell new stories. This is what I am attempting to do as a writer in shaping this article, for example.” In this way, Virtuals bring about a world that is in constant change, a world of “fast culture” and unending progress.
There are many criticisms of identity politics. Perhaps the most damning is the one simply follows through the logic of identity politics to its ultimate dystopian endpoint. This worry about the profoundly anti-human impact of identity politics is at the heart of “The Doctor,” Robert Icke’s adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play “Professor Bernhardi” that is currently running at the Armory in New York City. Jesse Green reviews the play and offers a thoughtful critique of identity politics.
Francine Prose writes about Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision to pull the publication of her new book in response to protests from Ukrainian activists. The offense in Gilbert’s book is simply that it is set in Russian, albeit Stalinist Russia. These activists who take offense have not read Gilbert’s book. They simply believe that since the book is set in Russia, it will be offensive and do harm to Ukrainians. Prose takes issue with this worry and Gilbert’s decision to cave-in to such pressure.