Michael Boylan’s Archē Series
(The Archē Series seeks to explore philosophical themes within the context of varying novelistic structures that endeavors to define some of the major directions of that fiction form.)
Naked Reverse. (January, 2016)
There’s a secret back door to the Ivory Tower. Follow college professor Andrew Viam through that secret passageway as he goes on an Odyssey into the real world full of love and violence. Will he survive? This is an open question. He falls for a woman, but then she’s running away from a boyfriend who’s into Organized Crime and wants her back. From the tough city streets of Chicago to the wild woods of Wisconsin, Andrew will have to call on new resources if he wants to make it alive to next term. It’s a summer break he’d never experienced—and hopefully never will again. The presentation mode is conventional time sequence narrative. The overarching philosophical position is achieving personal authenticity via action consistent with the personal worldview imperative.
Georgia (in three parts, 2016-2017)
What does the novel look like as epic? Georgia uses this structural device to explore racial identity in the state of Georgia between 1900-1930. John Dow, is an orphan of unknown parentage who is discovered by a wealthy farmer, Samuel Beauchay, who operates what used to be a cotton plantation that used slave labor. The farmer raises Dow almost as if he were his own son. The problem for John and those around him during his upbringing of privilege is whether he is black. Racial identity was very important in the rural town of Varner’s Junction. John’s real upbringing comes at the hand of Jefferson John Brown who is one of the first African Americans to receive a degree in philosophy at an Ivy League University. A series of disasters brings Jefferson back to Varner’s Junction where he had been born. He now runs Samuel Beauchay’s farm for him. A murder, a fugitive, threats of lynching create a fast pace against the back drop of the decay of the Old South. Join along to be a partner in history and discover who-done-it! The presentation mode contains the machinery of the epic as developed in the Western Tradition. The overarching philosophical position concerns the search for personal identity, race, and the shared community worldview of an unstable racist society.
T-Rx: The History of a Radical Leader (2018)
During the late 1960s there was a feeling among some young people that the United States was on the verge of a revolution. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, new social mores all contributed to a situation in which a counter-culture evolved. This book explores the story of one counter-culture group led by a man who called himself, T-Rx. Enter into this world of those who seek to turn the world upside down. Watch as the FBI tries to stop them. How far can revolution go? Is it ever a good thing? Wasn’t the United States founded upon revolution? The presentation mode is epistolary. The overarching philosophical position concerns the parallel positions of the extent of individual liberty within an established democratic society and an examination of consent respecting the existing legal system.
The Long Fall of the Ball from the Wall (2019)
Human history in the West is sometimes parsed via the Enlightenment as offering an individualistic perspective that countered the existing communitarian worldview. I have examined this historical change via direct discourse in chapters 2 & 3 of Natural Human Rights: A Theory (Cambridge, 2014). As fictive narrative philosophy this theoretical construct is examined in term of the early 1960s through the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This novel examines a hypothetical 2nd gunman behind the grassy knoll and how his personal struggles mirror the larger themes of individual liberty and perceived government/social oppression. The novel is told via the presentation mode of discontinuous narrative. The overarching philosophical position concerns the dialectical interactions between the role of a given individual and the society at large. How do these interactions affect free will and determinism?
Moving Toward a State of War
So we have another mass shooting. This time in San Bernardino, California. What should we think about this? The FBI considers any event in which 4 or more people are killed in an event to be a mass shooting. Unfortunately, by this definition, the United States has a mass shooting event every two or three days. Most of these do not make the network news because the victims are black or Latino. Their lives do not matter as much in the main stream news cycle. But here we are in which the President talked a couple days ago in France about the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado. His words were barely off his lips, 24 hours later, when another publicized shooting occurs.
So how should we think of this and what should we do about it? In the first place, the United States often thinks about the Middle East and their unstable warlike condition as something that happens to the other. This is an artifact of an area in the world that is slowly emerging in their move towards democracy. We can think paternalistically about how if only they had a more robust and fair system of elections and how if only they demonstrated more pure capitalistic conditions that they might attain the status of the United States which politicians from Reagan to Romney have characterized as a shining light upon the hill: a pure goal to which all can aspire.
Well, maybe not. If we have mass shootings in the country several times every week throughout the year, then maybe we are moving toward the same warlike state as these countries that we criticize so blithely. So, what are the facts? More than 30,000 people in the United States are killed by gun violence each year. That is enormous. In Japan the figure is less than 50, western European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, et al, it is around 150, and Canada around 200. Why are we so disproportionate? Is it because we were born from violent revolution? Is it because we are a country where there is huge economic disparity thus giving vent to class anger? Is it because we are still a racist society that punishes and stigmatizes African Americans and Latino disproportionally at all economic levels?
This is a difficult question and beyond the scope of this short piece. But it should be recognized that in the truly open primary for president, the Republican Party’s leading candidates are outsiders who play to an audience of anger and hatred.
This is the foundation of civil unrest. The United States today has so much gun violence that it can be characterized as on the edge of civil unrest which is another name for war (also called popular insurgency). Plato, in book eight of the Republic suggests that there can be devolution of political systems according to how lazy the citizens of the state are with regard to their own common good. His aristocracy (which can be translated to our capitalistic democracy) devolves into oligarchy and eventually to chaos when the common good is ignored for the special interests of the few.
I suggest (along with some economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty) that we are moving in that direction. The underlying cause for this violence is a society in which wealth is becoming increasingly skewed. Plato in the Republic thought that the differential between the representative lowest economic individual and the representative highest economic individual should be 10 times. In my book A Just Society, I extend that to 50 times. Most of the history of democratic countries in the world would fit into my formula. Unfortunately, since 1978 we have moved drastically away. This creates a social tension.
When there is clear social tension that is built upon racism and economic inequality, then there will be reactions. When the United States makes guns so readily available (as I wrote about in these pages in 2012), then it is a recipe for violence and death. As this cycle increases it pushes the United States into a state of internal lawlessness that borders upon a state of internal anarchy, aka war.
I have advocated here and elsewhere for the past two decades that gun control is a key component. The other alternative is that we arm everyone so that we can have constant shoot-outs at the OK-Corral. This latter alternative (advocated by the National Rifle Association) is a sure avenue towards an escalation of gun violence as every gun owner is the arbitrator of a state of nature system in which civil justice and policing are tossed aside. Individualism and the hatred of the state (very present in our political climate today) take over. The logical consequence of this is anarchy and civil war. This is why the discussion on gun control today is of so much importance.
How can we stop this process? There is no single answer. Certainly gun control is one component. However, there are others, as well. Decent people owning guns, as such, do not cause these catastrophes. But since guns have a much higher damage coefficient than any other weapon, we must think about access and weapon clips, et al. If we were to recognize that we are governed by communitarian as well as liberal individualistic conceptions of the just society, then this would be a positive step forward. I have always situated myself as mid-way between individualism and communitarianism.
Gun violence is but one aspect of a society that is blind to both racial prejudice and economic inequality. When people get mad they turn to the weapon with the highest damage coefficient as possible. We have to intervene here.
Now some libertarians might argue that we all should be as free as possible to do what we like—including owning guns with the maximum damage coefficient possible. But even here we limit automatic weapons. But gun control alone is not enough. This is a complicated social problem that demands an extended tactical response. If we are moving towards civil insurgency in the United States, then we must meet this threat on a number of fronts. Gun control must be a part of social/racial justice so that everyone in the society can aspire to the American Dream.
The time to act is ticking away. If we are to avert a war within America, we must act immediately. We have very little time left.
Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Marymount University. His most recent books are: Natural Human Rights: A Theory and the philosophical novels, Rainbow Curve, and To the Promised Land.
I will be giving talks today and tomorrow in the UK.
October 14th, 2015
Natural Human Rights
University of Manchester UK Law Faculty
October 15th, 2015
Consent and the Law
University of Durham UK Law Faculty
Michael Boylan’s De Anima Novel Series
Over the past year I have had a number of inquiries about my de anima novel series. Here are a few clarifying points. The title obviously refers back to Aristotle’s classic work. Anima (a translation of psuche) refers more to general personal and community worldview than any inscrutable aspect of the human animal. This is meant to dovetail with my work in ethics and social/political philosophy on the personal worldview imperative and the shared community worldview imperative. In my most recent conventional work on this topic (Natural Human Rights: A Theory--Cambridge 2014), ch. 6, I have extended the number of communities to five including social communities near and far and ecological communities near and far.
One way to sort the varieties of personal worldview and shared community worldviews is to track a key sociological feature: major world religions and key issues associated with them—for example, Buddhism & Desire. Behind all four novels is my own personal worldview that interacts with each of the others in a dialectical challenge to the claims that each espouses. This allows for a somewhat ambitious viewing of worldview on the earth. It is my expectation that the various stories will set out what I call fictive narrative philosophy. This is a discussion of worldview that cannot be stated in straight forward deductive argument. On the edges of the realm of truth is a rather foggy area that cannot be the subject of strict scientific analysis, yet nonetheless, is of vital importance for those seeking to live sincere and authentic lives.
Here’s a quick summary of the novels and what I am trying to do in each (besides creating a compelling story that pleases—the minimum condition, as Horace, are poetica extolls).
Rainbow Curve (2014)--Here is a tale about race, baseball, and politics in America with an overlay of the Muslim worldview on justice. You don’t have to understand the American game to get into this book in which a teen-aged European descent boy who loses his last parent is “adopted” by a 50+ African American who once was a pitcher in the Negro Baseball League (a testament to segregationist America). The boy’s mentor creates a traveling baseball team that takes on games in Mexico and the Caribbean. The time frame (of two concurrent stories) is 1970 and 1980. A major philosophical theme (aside from the social/political themes of Chicago in this period of time and sectional violence) is justice.
The Extinction of Desire (2007)--This novel begins with an astounding event: at a family gathering there is a disaster in which a light plane crashes into the event killing several in the gathering. With life insurance this creates the situation of sudden wealth for Michael O’Meara, a high school history teacher. What effects will this sudden wealth have on Michael? As friends, adversaries, and a greedy ex-wife emerge from the background to lay claim to the fortune, Michael finds himself caught up in a number of troubling situations that disrupts his life and leave him questioning everything about his personal worldview.
To the Promised Land (2015)--Moses Levi is a powerful corporate lawyer who gets a multi-national chemical company off from any legal liability for a Love-Canal type case in which 1,500 people die and 15,000 have serious health reactions (largely cancer). Then Moses’ wife dies of brain cancer. Is there a link? Moses turns away from big-time corporate law and seeks some redemption in becoming a social activist. Will this be enough? Then there is also a harm Moses was responsible for against his old college roommate, Peter Simon, for which Moses also wishes to patch-up. At the beginning of the book, Moses is missing and is a suspected murder victim. The FBI believes Peter Simon did it. What results are both a murder investigation and the back stage machinations of political Washington, D.C. The ménage is an examination of how forgiveness works at the individual and group level using distinctions from the Jewish tradition.
Maya (scheduled for 2018) --Like Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, this multi-generational novel presents many small stories within the larger context of a family over time. In this case it is an immigrant Irish family coming to America in the late 19th century. The family is confronted with a shared community worldview that is present in this period. Various family members make choices, but larger forces within society (acting in the place of fate, as understood via the classical Hindu tradition) interact with those striving to live the American Dream. As the next two generations proceed forward both the common understanding of the Dream changes along with the facts on the ground: the Great Depression, World War II, the boom of the 1950s and 60s, the Moon landing, and finishing with rise of personal computers. The coda is set on the 9/11/2001 tragedy and the subsequent reaction. As the next generation is ready to go--where will free will and fate fit in?
Together, these four books seek to explore personal and shared community worldview through various lenses in order to offer a more complete picture of how these concepts both describe and prescribe our behavior as humans living in the world. Please ask your library to buy one or more of these. The ISBN numbers are: Rainbow--978-1620-156-278; To the Promised Land--978-1620-159-984; and The Extinction of Desire--978-1405-148-504. Thanks.