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Sam Dresser

Senior Editor, Aeon+Psyche

Sam has been with Aeon since its launch in 2012. He’s most interested in how to do philosophy and in the continental/analytic divide. History and politics are also amusing to him. He considers Evelyn Waugh to be a very funny writer and enjoys pubs more than he should.

Written by Sam Dresser

Edited by Sam Dresser

Against longtermism | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

Against longtermism

It started as a fringe philosophical theory about humanity’s future. It’s now richly funded and increasingly dangerous

Phil Torres

Music and sex | Aeon
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Music

Music and sex

A song can take you on a journey of ecstatic arousal. Is music imitating sex, inviting it, or something else altogether?

Michael Spitzer

Healthcare workers of yore | Aeon
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History of science

Healthcare workers of yore

Looking past conventional histories of medicine we see that women delivered much of medieval healthcare. Just as today

Sara Ritchey

Sex on the curriculum | Aeon
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Education

Sex on the curriculum

Sex education is a battlefield over morals and young bodies, and has exposed fractures in American life for over a century

Kristy Slominski

What animals think of death | Aeon
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Evolution

What animals think of death

Having a concept of death, far from being a uniquely human feat, is a fairly common trait in the animal kingdom

Susana Monsó

Queer and Arab | Aeon
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Gender

Queer and Arab

Was there no room for the queer individual in Arab history? Have people like us simply never belonged?

Aya Labanieh

Democracy is sentimental | Aeon
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Political philosophy

Democracy is sentimental

Reason and facts cannot be the basis of political debates and civic life. Love and laughter are the heart of the matter

Elizabeth Cantalamessa

In praise of possibility | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

In praise of possibility

For the political economist Albert O Hirschman, democracy thrives not on strong opinions but on doubt and flexibility

Michele Alacevich

Poseidon’s wrath | Aeon
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Archaeology

Poseidon’s wrath

Vanished beneath the waves in 373 BCE, Helike is a byword for thinking about disaster, for ancients and moderns alike

Guy D Middleton

Forget morality | Aeon
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Ethics

Forget morality

Moral philosophy is bogus, a mere substitute for God that licenses ugly emotions. Here are five reasons to reject it

Ronnie de Sousa

A non-Standard model | Aeon
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Cosmology

A non-Standard model

Most cosmologists say dark matter must exist. So far, it’s nowhere to be found. A widely scorned rival theory explains why

David Merritt

Riches in space | Aeon
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Space exploration

Riches in space

Asteroids could pay for so much space exploration. We just need to mine those valuable resources – and duck a direct hit

Martin Elvis



Recent Comments

The play deficit

Sam Dresser

Only at the end of his long magnum opus, Religion in Human Evolution, did Robert Bellah realize what his book was really about: play. Though the tome deals with the grandest subjects, attempting a vast synthesis of thinking from cosmology to anthropology, it is play that is eventually seen as the ultimate animating force. “Play was there all the time,” he reflects on his work, “just below the surface.”

The same could be said - is said - about play’s role in our history. Like Bellah, once it’s noticed you can find the play showing up everywhere you look. In the long view play is essential in the truest sense of the word. It is at the heart of fami...

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Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Sam Dresser

Very interesting, provocative piece!

In non-arranged marriages partners can choose not only who they like (given that affections are reciprocated) but they can choose *how* they go about choosing. This seems to me a crucial point. The dating app industry is supremely weird in a variety of (often hilarious) ways, and I’ve got some excellent first hand data to back up the assertion. But it is first and foremost a choice to engage in it - plenty of people get on just fine without Tinder, of course, and do find love in Badiou’s sense of necessary spotanaity (if that isn’t too much of a contradiction). I just fail to see a qualitative difference, from a retrospective point of view, in w...

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What Mortimer did

Sam Dresser

Over the last 15 years, I think what is meant by “War on Terror” has changed several times, and therefore so have the justifications. The original casus belli is, of course, the attacks of September 11th. ‘Punishing the terrorists’ under the guise of ‘ridding the world of terror’ and, in its stead, installing ‘beacons of democracy’ was all given intellectual and moral cover by of the attacks. The War on Terror is waged by the Americans and their partners against non-state and state actors – the only justification truly necessary for this campaign was the provocation of 9/11.

I guess because of the amorphousness of the term War on Terror, it became easy to tack on all sort ...

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Right on track

Sam Dresser

Several times I’ve bought a Eurail pass to spend a week or more bouncing between European cities, often spending the night on the train to save money and maximize distance. Some of the trains have been models of comfort, like that between Oslo and Stavenger, surrounded by dramatic vistas that are so easy to lose yourself in (hours will pass in a trance). Other trains were more trying, particularly the journey between Belgrade and Sofia, which was swelteringly hot and devoid of any refreshments, a clunky, unfriendly Soviet-era wagon. But even then – after hours upon hours on the train – I’m always a little disappointed to disembark for so many of the reasons mentioned in the essay: the pas...

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It’s time to give up on the ideal of perfect privacy online

Sam Dresser

Privacy, and valuing privacy, seem to be a fairly recent obsessions of ours. In the long and wide view, it’s rare. Whether you’re living in a cramped and open hovel with your extended family sometime in the 1400s or posting up in an ancient Roman apartment around the end of the Republic, or roughing it in the desert with the Bedouin, or living in any number of explosively crowded and poor cities, there ain’t much privacy for you. Privacy is a luxury and a consequence of our reverence for The Individual - both of which should suggest how unusual it really is.

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Modern technology is akin to the metaphysics of Vedanta

Sam Dresser

Very interesting piece! I like the way it reminds me of how so many theories about the self grapple with what may, with some squinting, be called ‘distance’ – that which needs to be traversed between one’s self and, for lack of a better term, the world. How this ‘distance’ is articulated is really the defining feature of many theories and the comparison between Vedanta and VR does well to bring this out.

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Horace’s lyrics of friendship offer hope to our troubled world

Sam Dresser

What a lovely, memorable piece! I was moved by the line from the Odes: “we’re ready/to trek the final journey as companions.” Oftentimes the ancients can seem so remote and austere, but Horace’s poetry in particular has a way of illuminating the human in them, and suddenly they’re not so distant anymore.

I wonder about a comparison with Lucian’s view on friendship and I’d be curious to hear what people think. I might be getting this wrong, but it seems for Horace friendship is found in repose: guys hanging out after work or a war with a bottle of wine and some good jokes. For Lucian, in his dialogue Toxaris, friendship is much more martial and involves big, heavy things like loyalt...

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American genesis

Sam Dresser

Americans take what they like from the Founding Fathers. It’s sort of like reading the Bible. If you’ve already got an idea of how things should be, it isn’t difficult to find some biblical support. You just have to dig deep enough. The Founding Fathers wrote so much, lived so long, and embodied so many contradictions that Americans of every political stripe, throughout our history, could call on them for buttressing and ammunition (“Yeah? Well Jefferson supported slavery, so....”)

The influence of the Founding Fathers remains strong, of course. They’re everywhere and, like another commenter said, often appear as a monolithic block, a clutch of cloned wigs and gen...

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Convert me! Why proselytisers are good for civilisation

Sam Dresser

At fourteen, maybe thirteen, I made my first solo trek into New York City from the quite comfiness of suburbia. It wasn’t entirely solo - I was with a friend - but it was solo enough to feel like we were striking out on our own, independent and brave, barely pubescent Lewis & Clarks ready to face the fatal dangers of Midtown Manhattan on a quiet Sunday afternoon. “The City” lay at our fingertips, ready to be taken. We were not afraid.

But we did immediately manage to fall for nearly every scam in the book. I paid huge cash for comedy club tickets in Times Square that we couldn’t use for another 7 years (that two drink minimum kills you). I bought twenty dollars worth of candy t...

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Why sad songs can be feel-good and noise music can be nice

Sam Dresser

There are plenty of ‘sad songs’ - songs that naturally fall under that category - and then there are songs that really do make you sad. These sad songs, the ones that pack a punch, that can even be classified more objectively as ‘happy’, are difficult to listen to with other people.

I can’t share a sad song with the group, or with a close friend, or with anyone at all. Even though I know that, yes, other people do listen to the same song and might get the same feeling from it, I need to at least keep the illusion that this song is my song, that this emotion is my emotion. So to that extent, sad songs become a sort of warm comfort, like a quiet vista, or a beloved painting that reca...

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Books are dangerous

Sam Dresser

This isn’t a joke: I enjoy Martin Heidegger’s philosophy. Or some of it. His later work is a bit too mystical, too hand-wavy and theoretical. I can’t follow it, even with guidance. Perhaps I simply didn’t give it the time of day it requires. But I did dig into Being and Time, very slowly over the course of half a year, and found it extraordinary.

Of course it’s not at all the kind of book I’m capable of understanding without several patient helping hands. Even then, I doubt I got much of it. I felt the same as Gilbert Ryle, the book’s first and surprisingly sympathetic reviewer, did upon completing it: “I am well aware how far I have fallen short of understanding this diffic...

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Reducing the US prison population is but a small step

Sam Dresser

Solitary confinement is clearly cruel and unusual. The evidence shows that it is physically and psychologically devastating to the point that rehabilitation becomes impossible. It is and has been used as torture - and called by that name too. It is meant to annihilate a person. The argument for this is settled.

But that hasn’t kept it from being used. Why? The reason is that there is a fundamental disagreement about what the purpose of prison is. As the Scandinavians - and particularly the Norwegians - well-attest, prison can be made to rehabilitate inmates so that they can once again become functioning members of society. Meanwhile in America, and many other parts of the world, th...

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