Today I spent about three hours chatting with eleven of my closer friends who I’ve mostly hardly seen this year, as a virtual birthday party. I thought the discussion was pretty interesting—so I record here some of the questions that came up (aloud or my mind):

  1. Did various of us err by not doing technical subjects in undergrad? Or should we have tried to do ‘cool’ seeming subjects, technical or not?
  2. What is ‘coolness’? Is coolness always about power? Why is a big, fast train cool? Can you be cool if you are not relaxed? If you are small and scared? If you are mediocre in every way?
  3. Is etymology deep? What do people get out of knowing the origins of words?
  4. What is going on in history, at a high level?
  5. Can history be understood at a high level, or to have a real understanding of ‘what’s going on’, do you need to know about the detailed circumstances in each case?
  6. How did nations come about?
  7. Are various countries evil? What are we even asking here?
  8. How bad would it be if a ‘bad’ country came to control the world, forever?
  9. What reasons do we have to not worry about this, in the current situation?
  10. If history can be considered from various perspectives (a series of wars changing the borders of territories; a sequence of technological discoveries; a sequence of high level changes affecting the nature of technological discovery; a sequence of particular people and their biographies..) why is the version that is all about countries warring for territory always the one taught in ‘history’?
  11. Why do wars happen? What does IR say about this?
  12. How do the different theories of how wars happen relate to one another? On the model where it is all about entities exercising and maximizing power, why does it sometimes seem like ideas or institutions are playing a part?
  13. To the extent history is summarizable at a high level, involving wars between nations say, how too did ‘wars’ come to be a thing (if they are), rather than low level conflict being possible and sometimes realized at all times?
  14. Why don’t we hear more about the Uyghurs?
  15. Is improving the discourse an important cause?
  16. Has the public discourse worsened over time? How could we tell empirically?
  17. If the public discourse has worsened, why?
  18. Does public discourse seem worse because it has been more democratized, and listening to everyone means opening the floor to messages sent with less attention to conceptual clarity, or using different discourse norms, or constructed with less philosophical skill than when public expression was inaccessible to most people? Might it in that case be better overall, in a trade-off between representing values and knowledge from across the population, and average skill of expression and thought?
  19. What would I write if I felt free to express myself online?
  20. What is good about Hegel? Why do such philosophers feel to some like a campaign to gaslight people? What are our experiences of trying to read Hegel? Is it better understood as a guide to tripping?
  21. Supposing such philosophy is a way of conveying non-propositional stuff to put in your mind, couldn’t that still be talked about in an open and propositional way? For instance in an introduction that says ‘This book is a sequence of words that I believe will cause you to have a different experience of your relationship with the world if you read them.’
  22. Why doesn’t someone write a better account of any of these things? Why are we still reading the originals?