The Open Culture audience, by my estimation, divides into two basic groups: those who’ve read the collected works of the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, and Plato, and those who’d like to. Whichever body of oft-referenced ideas you’ve been wanting to dig deep into yourself, getting a brief, concept-distilling primer beforehand can make the task easier, improving your understanding and ability to contextualize the original texts when you get around to them. Online education company Macat has produced 138 such primers in the form of animated videos freely available on YouTube which can put you in the right frame of mind to study a variety of ideas in literature, economics, sociology, politics, history, and philosophy.
De Beauvoir, in Macat’s analysis, argued in The Second Sex that “the views of individuals are socially and culturally produced. Femininity is not inherent,” but a societal mechanism long used “to keep men dominant.”
According to their video on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, that famous book “explores the evolution of power since the Middle Ages,” culminating in the argument that “modern states have moved away from exploring their authority physically to enforcing it psychologically,” a phenomenon exemplified as much by late 18th- and early 19th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon as by modern closed-circuit television urban omni-surveillance (a technology now spread far beyond the infamously CCTV-zealous London all the way to Seoul, where I live). In The Republic, Plato asks more basic questions about society: “What would an ideal state look like, and how would it work?”
For that ancient Greek, says the video’s narrator, “the ideal society offered the guarantee of justice and would be ruled over not by a tyrant, but by an all-powerful philosopher-king.” Whether or not that strikes you as an appealing prospect, or indeed whether you agree with de Beauvoir and Foucault’s bold propositions, you stand to sharpen your mind by engaging with these and other influential ideas, including (as covered in Macat’s other three- to four-minute analyses) those of Machiavelli, David Hume, Edward Said, and Thomas Piketty. “Critical thinking is about to become one of the most in-demand set of skills in the global jobs market,” insists Macat’s marketing. “Are you ready?” Whether or not you’ll ever reference these thinkers on the job, preparing yourself to read them with an active mind will put you on the fast track to the examined life.
You can find the complete list of animations here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.