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Talk Notes

Philosophy Society

Notes from talks given by speakers, hosted by the Philosophy Society. Notes do not necessarily represent my views, but rather my attempt to capture the speaker’s.

Table of contents
  1. “Vigilantism by Proxy: Whiteness, Superagency, and Institutional Power” by Cody Dout
    1. Structuralist View
    2. Moralist View
    3. Compromise View
    4. Superagency
  2. “Nishitani Keiji and the Zen of the Anthropocene” by Jason Wirth
    1. Thesis
    2. Lecture Notes

“Vigilantism by Proxy: Whiteness, Superagency, and Institutional Power” by Cody Dout

Given 12/3/21 in Smith Hall, Room 305.

  • Annoyance crossing the Burke Gilman trail as a car. Are there stop signs? Why don’t bikers stop?
  • Framework to explain and understand racism.
  • Addressing only policy and such does not prove fruitful. Not interested in stopping racism, but stopping racist outcomes.
  • Most common social advocacy organizations and uni students - a structuralist/political view. Makes it more comfortable for the dominant culture/majority to talk about racism. Racism without racists; absence of racists; rules and policies.
  • Moral view - less common and probably more accurate. Mainly only heard from the right-wing.
  • Both advocate for one position almost exclusively.

Structuralist View

  • Young - seen as the end-all-be-all of the structuralist view.

The concept of social structure must include the outcome of collective action.

  • Effects beyond immediate purposes, generally well meaning.
  • Past actions and policies constrain future choices.
  • We all engage in daily lives, interacting with constraints and stuff because of policy, etc. Out of these complex interactions, we have racist outcomes.
  • Actions are removed from racist outcomes; culpability is diluted. Even if you contribute to racism, your actions are constrained and you are not morally responsible.
  • The way how others act in the past impact you, etc.; another layer of removed moral culpability.
  • Assumes widespread compliance.
  • Perspective of changing unjust outcomes by changing policy/legislation.
  • Open texture - legal philosophy. Things are open to interpretation.
  • Any time you release a policy, what matters is how it is interpreted.
    • If we allow for interpretation, then we will obtain a more just society.
  • Want to consider bad actions norms, etc. - the open texture, open to how anyone wants to interpret it.

Moralist View

  • Racism stems from individual attitudes.
  • Explains the origination, development, and maintenance of racist institutional policies.
  • Usually accompanied by a corresponding denial of structural influence.
  • Emergent qualities
  • Implicit bias test
  • What does it look like when someone is consciously vs unconsciously racist? It’s the same.

Compromise View

  • Moralist view: perpetuation is through racist attitudes infecting policies. Policies infect the attitudes of others. Suggested theory still hinger moralist perspective on policy.
  • Structural view: 2016 election, racism shaped by social context. Belief that explicit racism is on the decline. Political victories enable explicit outburst.
  • Origination of racist institutions
    • Originatino of slavery in America
    • Suggested slavery led to race, rather than vice versa.
    • Genealogical view - identifies cause rather than conditions; explains institutions, attitudes, and perpetuation.
  • Perhaps racism existed before slavery. Shakespeare - Othello, 1602; long before chattel slavery.


  • The ability for whites to reconfigure and direct institutional power regardless of official institutional role.
  • Social phenomenon of the “Karen” - not part of any social institution of power in any way. Call the police, say the right things without saying their race explicitly; the police show up.
  • Vigilantism by Proxy - you don’t like black people, but you don’t want to carry it out yourself; you enact your vigilantism by proxy.
  • Agency is the ability to act to pursue a particular effect. White priviledge or power removes constraints present in a ‘normal’ society when the intent is to harm black and indigenous people.
  • School-to-Prison pipeline has not gotten better; the focus has been on racist testing, racist policies, etc. Explaining factor: superagency.
  • People ignore institutional rules and policy, and they do what they want; impunity and lack of punishmnet.
  • All you need is some personal animosity.
  • Schools are more segregated now than they were in Jim Crow.
  • Regardless of policy change, we generally see the same outcomes.
  • Best wayt to explain this - policy doesn’t have an impact on people’s actions, because they are not being enforced.
  • Right-wingers are pretty successful, political and otherwise. Reagan, Bush, etc. - assumption that people will have super-agency power.
  • Trump is popular because people identify with his perspective on race, sex, etc.; waking people up to what they can say, do, and get away with it.
  • A blind eye to enforcement and policy upholding.
  • Must get to a point where superagency is abolished.
  • Some of the biggest racists are the “Social Justice Warriors”: they are given superagency even as so-called supporters of antiracism.

“Nishitani Keiji and the Zen of the Anthropocene” by Jason Wirth


NISHITANI Keiji was one of the most celebrated philosophers of the so-called Kyoto School, a Japanese and Buddhist-inflected confrontation with European philosophy that began with Nishitani’s teacher NISHIDA Kitaro in the early twentieth Century. Nishitani was deeply influenced by the Zen tradition, as well as European thinkers like Nietzsche as well as Heidegger, with whom he had studied in Germany for two years. My talk, drawing on various works by Nishitani, will develop a Zen philosophical response to the ecological emergency. The first part will be an argument as to why such an approach is valuable and the second two parts will develop the theoretical and practical aspects, respectively, of that approach.

Lecture Notes

  • We have the questions of life in common - philosophy as a communal enterprise
  • We are a globe - economically and destruction.
  • Philosophy needs to be less obsessed with familiar resources and more on global thought.
  • Spirit of friendship in philosophy.
  • The second form of globalization: a collective together in a difficult ecological situation.
  • Zen is not a philosophy - Zen helps you do philosophy more robustly.
  • Kilto school - one of the powerhouse philosophical movements - often dismissed because it originates from Japanese culture.
  • Contains powerful resources ofr our shared crisis.
  • By the 1890s, we knew about atmospheric heat retention.
  • Global heritage and investment in life: ecological catastrophes.
  • 7 points of the problem; 7 gestures; 1 reflection: 15 points.
  • It is a taller order to establish the truth of global warming than the truth of the birth of the virgin Mary.
  • Acidifcation of the oceans; acidification of the oceans preceded the worst extinction on Earth.
  • Political responses:
    • The Constitution of Ecuador grants personhood to Ecuadorian land. It is admirable, but there is a large porblem in that type of thinking - it replicates the problem it attempts to solve.
    • A bit like asking drunks to come up with an AA plan while drinking.
    • Contract theory often speaks of a state of nature.
  • State of nature argument: you start with the status quo you are in, you retroactively constitute what you would have been if you were not where you are now.
  • Science is a political idea: we do science to study nature. Starting with cultural ideas and reotractively looking at science.
  • Task: justify what you are already, and retroactively show it would hav ebeen the negation of what you are now.
  • Charles Mills, the racial contract: the signatories are the settler white supremacists; they operate only with themselves. The agreement - anything that is not white lacks what is white (white - culture, politics, etc.) and is natural. Savages, wilds, the naturals. Oft eh anture that is being retroactively constituted.
  • No empire has survived long term - average is 0.00; all long term cultures that were sustainable were not empires. They developed a culture that allowed them to be where they were, for the long term.
  • Washington forestry law - Washington is good at protecting large portions of wilderness, especially the Cascades. Wilderness status - the Wilderness act is a fiat of congress, nothing to do with wilderness. “Leave only footsteps, take only photos.” Wilderness cannot be a place where we would live or a place that sustains culture.
  • Retroactively looking at wilderness as the opposite of the politics of today.
  • What will we do with capitalism to ensure we can live more sustainbly?
  • Shouldn’t the logical order of the question be: first establish if capitalism as such is sustainable?
    • Start with the status quo, and it retroactively defines the opposite as not itself.
    • Capitalims looks upon a world not entirely compliant with capital
  • Family resemblances between colonialism, white supremacy, and capitalism
  • Is it possible to start not with politics and politics defining nature in politics’ own terms, but instead to start with the natural world and ask what forms of politics are conducive to the land.
  • Deep - if you take the science of ecology, the science of ecology will tell you how ecology works but will not tell you what source of politics ecology sustains. It is not a scientific question, but rather a philosophical one. It is a philosophical question that begins with ecological theory.
  • Primer on the Japanese scene. Tremendous distance in Japanese Buddhism between the pure land approach and the Zen approach.
  • 13th century - Zen is the way of the sages. Break through to the awakening. Pure land - the way of the foolks, the idiots, no beilief.
  • Zen and Pure Land are two ways to arrive at the same place. Pure land - celebrate your idiocy.
  • Both attempt to dismantle ego attachments - politics, economic investments. They come from opposite directions.
  • Find your way to the Buddhist pure land. Zen is towards emptiness and nothingness. Zen is incredibly radical.
  • Come from a Zen perspective; what is the teaching of the core land?
  • Encountering land always in terms of politics and economics.
  • Let’s sustain our investments in economic systems - the land is able to sustain what economic activities?
    • Such ddiscussion is impossible today. Our attachments are too tight.
  • Pure land - the pure land is the exact opposite of the land as we know it.
  • You try to go to the pure land from whatever sense of the land you have.
  • Opposite does not mean therefore, separate; it is non-dual; I grant two, but I do not grant that there are just two; they are connected. It is the connection that we must think to.
  • Fu do - wind on the land. Wind is a poetic way of saying the subtle qualities of what it is to be in a particular land. Sometimes translated as climate. The subtle determinign factors that mark a bioregion.
  • Zen move - although the pure land is the opposite of this land, it is connected.
  • Everyone looks at the land: but no one sees it. How can we live on the land as if it were a set of background positions we can come to through economic and political theory?
  • Climate change shows us a classic example of fu-do. What we assume to be background conditions - not a naturalism or positivism - how do we begin to see the wind of a place?
  • Background conditions are not necessarily really backgrounds - and now it is radically foregrounding itself.
  • Our economics and politics have no alignment with the land.
  • Land that we do not know in itself but always must be available to; land as it appears in our politics and economics, a self-referential perspective.
  • Other sense of the land - naturalness. Something that happens of itself. Try to subtly bring into English the middle voice.
    • The middle voice is neither active nor passive but something that comes itself to be whatever it is.
    • The old sense of nature.
  • The challenge is to develop practices that allow ut o see the land as we understand it througho ur science, economics, and politics - and the pure land.
  • There is no pure access to the pure land - it is secondary. It is however the land now and here is of itself. That connection is a membrane; a membrane is paying attention now and here to the land as it is of itself.
  • The land happening of itself - what is the exact opposite of “of itself”? The anthropocene. The great totality of all of these ways in which we have foregrounded our ideology of the and at precisely the moment when the pure land announces itself as a “no” to who and how we are.
  • The final refletion - this is Zen, and Zen has other techniques. Our attachments are so ideologically entrenched - wealth, ideology, power.
  • Think about what science tells us about ecology as a philosophical, spiritual problem. You will become undone. This is the Great Death. Only witht eh Great Death is life possible. The great ideological, political, economic myth is that we can impose an edifice upon the land and the Earth will come under the power of the plow. We are seeing that this is not true.
  • If you price the effects of climate change, it is not necessarily true that capitalism as a global enterprise is not bankrupt.