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Will Fraker

Associate Editor, Aeon

Will Fraker is an associate editor at Aeon. He studied a mixture of philosophy, biology, and social & critical theory at Wesleyan University. When he’s not thinking about these things, he’s probably playing music or climbing rocks. If you have any questions about re-publishing or syndicating Aeon’s content, he is your guy.

Written by Will Fraker

Edited by Will Fraker



Recent Comments

The interrogator’s soul

Will Fraker

I find it to be somewhat ironic and insightful that the ‘rebels’ are the ones that are less likely to inflict torture on another human. The tendency to mould oneself to a social environment is apparent all throughout life, so it makes some evolutionary sense that the self-interest of ‘fitting in’ would trump the ethical burden of harming another, especially when that other is invisible and unknown. But the irony of the ethical rebel reveals that the foundation of rebelliousness may not necessarily be self-interest but social distinction, because if it were the former then following the rules would certainly be the way forward. Interesting that both rebels and rule followers are defined re...

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It’s not easy being green

Will Fraker

Absolutely. Formalised rituals generally create an opening for the re-assessment of values and priorities by making the familiar strange. They challenge participants to build or step into a new world, a microcosm where the habits of the everyday are no longer enacted unthinkingly. What comes to mind are the various initiation rituals throughout the world (from Navajo tribes to fraternities), whereby, as Victor Turner might argue, pre-existing social structures are violated and ‘neophytes’ are thrust into a liminal, transitory state that allows for them to return to society anew, taking on different roles and responsibilities. I think that there is no reason that putting this format to the...

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Rise of the humanities

Will Fraker

I found this piece to be both encouraging and enlightening. It certainly challenges a prominent narrative with robust evidence. One small irony however, to my eyes at least, is that the statistical frame of reference used to support the claims in the piece seems like a perfect example of the anti-humanist paradigm that people argue is prevailing. The Frankfurt school, Heidegger, and others expressed great anxiety about the ways in which technological modernity would reduce people to nothing more than data points. In that light, using strict statistics to argue for the advance of the humanities seems like a self-undermining move. The humanities should be measured by their impact on a broad...

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And their eyes glazed over

Will Fraker

I think that technology, broadly speaking, has absolutely enhanced my focus on personal pursuits. It has opened my eyes to what’s out there, allowing me to find inspiration, which is often a pre-requisite for focus in my book. That being said, I think the particular patterns of addiction that are cultivated by technology, or perhaps social media more specifically, pose a real threat. It comes down to the difference between short-term rewards and delayed gratification. The focus it requires to absorb information and produce things of value requires the ability to see the broader picture and recognize the value of holding off on instant rewards in the pursuit of more slow-burning ends. I fi...

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Sport is not just about athleticism: beauty matters too

Will Fraker

I think that when sports are considered en masse – that is, as an entire enterprise in which players, rules, props and spectators all participate – there is no denying that beauty plays an important role. Beauty can make someone fall in love with a sport and practice it meticulously. It is part of what draws millions of fans to into packed arenas and in front their TV screens to hold their breath and gasp. The flow of a player, the synchrony of a team – it can be intoxicating.

Of course, beauty is not a necessary ingredient in success, and it can occasionally be a hindrance. I think of football or basketball players whose flashy, stylish handles can run them into corners. ...

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Microaggressions?

Will Fraker

The argument that microagressions lack scientific reality is both valid and important – any policies that appeal to the ‘fact’ of their existence are thus clearly off course and overly dogmatic.

But the lack of experimental evidence leads to another question – does a social phenomenon need to be scientifically proven to be considered ‘real’ and, to take a Foucaultian bent, what sort of power structures underpin appeals to scientific authority (or lack thereof)?

There is plenty of epedimiological evidence for the way marginalized communities endure stress – rates of addiction, depression, obesity, suicide, etc… To say these are a result of minor interactions such as mis-gende...

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Is this life real?

Will Fraker

I think this idea is entertaining to engage with, but the existence of the question is less epistemologically challenging than it is indicative of deeper anxieties we have about our autonomy and the authenticity of the ‘reality’ we purport to be experiencing. It’s another way of asking, ‘does all this really mean anything?’ or ‘is there really such thing as freedom?’

But to get back to answering the question itself, I want to draw from a Daniel Dennett thought experiment that sealed the deal in my understanding of the proposition’s untenability. Dennett begins by demonstrating the sensations that are indeed possible to simulate – the vestibular signals of being lying down, the phys...

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Who owns the earth?

Will Fraker

Private property threatens the environment so long as it allows the ‘mine’ to eclipse the ‘ours’… What I love about this essay is how clearly it shows that private property and commons ownership are not independent and incongruent models – they only become incongruent when private property is treated as a sufficient model unto itself. In other words, private property threatens the commons when it is the only lens through which we view the land… it’s either mine or theirs or hers, etc. as opposed to the ‘mine’ depending on what we share.

It seems to me that this is what Malchik sees as the problem with Hardin’s seminal piece. It’s not really the tragedy of the commons, it’s the trag...

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I am not a story

Will Fraker

Stories are certainly a profound tool for grasping the world, perhaps our only one, for better or for worse. I love how Ball’s article explores this briefly in the context of science – selfish gene theory & multi-world cosmologies all depend on extremely specific narrative structures/assumptions, which are not necessarily required by the maths, as he says. Perhaps even more so, our way of understanding neuroscience falls into this trap. X region in the brain causes Y to happen in the body, or b neuron sends signals to c which inhibits h which disinhibits q, etc… The instinct for ‘storifying’, as it were, may be a byproduct of neurological architecture and it leads to an interpretation...

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Why we need to stop thinking so much about climate change

Will Fraker

This is an important re-framing, but I don’t think tackling climate change and keeping our eyes on local causes of degradation is an either/or, nor do I think that that’s what the author is arguing. Instead, I think it calls for a re-grounding of our broader environmental concerns in more local action, which I absolutely agree with. It is a sort of double think, seeing the problems in the foreground while understanding the way they feed into a bigger issue. After all, there is a good chance that efforts to promote local ecosystem health will also have a positive impact on both mitigating climate change and strengthening ecosystems to be more resilient to its effects.

I’m having tro...

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Burke was no conservative

Will Fraker

I remember how, growing up, these terms were very confusing for me. At ages when neat categories are needed to make sense of the world, I found these labels to be extremely frustrating. Trying to maintain their definitions throughout historical time repeatedly failed, so I eventually clung to the definitions of the terms in their current political context. It was only once I was old enough to grasp and welcome the contextual specificity of the terms and the myriad exceptions to the norm that I saw how amorphous the labels really are, how what the word itself actually draws all of its power from the historical circumstance. So, I’d say that these labels are only useful so long as they’re n...

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The hunt for human nature

Will Fraker

Really enjoyed this essay – those closing paragraphs bring it home in such a clear way. It’s fascinating to see how conceptual tools like biological essentialism, much like the paleolithic knife, aren’t constrained to single uses – they’re deployed in context to serve specific political or ideological purposes that can easily contradict each other across time and space. I agree that instead of seeking (or presuming) a ‘god’s eye’ view of human nature that’s devoid of politics, it’s best to keep track of the mutual influence between the spheres to arrive at a more complete picture.

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