A man hereabouts with a passion for chess got my number. We've become friends.
He told me he took a course in the philosophy of religion way back when. I pressed him on details. All he remembers is the old professor walking into the room, flipping a switch, and intoning "Let there be light!"
The chess player's forgetfulness reminds me of a story.
An eager young nun and a wise old nun were discussing teaching. The young nun was waxing enthusiastic over the privilege, but also the responsibility, of forming young minds. The old nun took a glass of water, inserted her forefinger, and agitated the water. Suddenly she removed her finger and the water immediately returned to its quiescent state.
"So much for the forming of young minds," said the older and wiser one.
I am now on p. 118 of Andrew Klavan's memoir, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. Thomas Nelson, 2016, 269 pp. As I reported a few days ago when I was on p. 18,
If you are a tough-minded American Boomer like me on a religious/spiritual quest you will probably be able to 'relate' very well to this book. A fortiori, if you are Jewish.
The book gets better and better especially for those of us who are (i) 'true' Boomers and (ii) were influenced by the Zeitgeist of the '60s. I divide the Boomer cohort (1946-1964) into the 'true' Boomers and the 'shadow' Boomers. You are one of the former if and only if you remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of 1963. Otherwise you are a 'shadow' boomer. Klavan, born in 1954, is a 'true' Boomer.
Mike Gilleland, who is my age and few years older than Klavan, told me some years back that the '60s passed him by. I would put it this way: many of those who came of age in the '60s were not of the '60s. It is like a Christian's being in the world but not of it. My point is that if you a 'true' Boomer of and not merely in the '60s, then Klavan's book is one you will want to read.
We were experience-hungry. We were in quest of the Real and thought that it could be found by a close grappling with the seedier and seamier sides of life. We took drugs, consorted with dead-end women, got drunk in flophouses with bums, worked dirty and dangerous jobs, left on 1200 mile trips with five dollars in the pocket returning with ten. This is what got a lot of us into a lot of trouble. Klavan:
Experience! That's what made a writer great, I thought. Harsh, brutal, savage Experience -- I would have done anything to get my hands on some. But where? There were nothing but lawns and homes and normal families around me as far as the eye could see.
I didn't want to go to war. Those in the know had declared the Vietnam conflict corrupt and evil. [. . .]
Instead I took jobs whenever I could -- not jobs that would teach me something or contribute to my future or career. No, I took jobs that I hoped would get me nearer to the grit of things: Experience. I was a gas jockey, a warehouseman, a truck driver, a construction worker, a delivery boy to some of the dodgier areas of New York City. After seventeen years in grassy peace and comfort, I was hungry for anything that looked like cruel reality.
What I wanted most, though, was to wander. Not to travel -- to drift. [. . .] My romantic fantasies often involved a girl in some other town, not this town. A brief affair. A tearful goodbye. Then, babe, I've got to travel down that lonesome, dusty road. (116-117)
At this point Klavan might have referenced Dylan's Don't Think Twice with its talk of long, lonesome roads and the lines:
So long honey babe Where I'm bound, I cain't [sic] tell But goodbye is too good a word, babe So I'll just say fare thee well.
Robert Zimmerman, too, the middle-class Jewish son of a Hibbing, Minnesota appliance salesman. recoiled from the unreality of suburbia and hit the road, more or less.
Summing this up: reading Klavan's book I am reading about myself.
C.J. F. Williams told me a [Richard] Swinburne story. Swinburne offered to give him a lift to some philosophy conference, but warned him ‘I only drive at 30 miles an hour’. Christopher thought he meant that he strictly abided by the urban 30 mph speed limit, and accepted the lift.
It turned out that Swinburne never ever drove more than 30 mph, even on the freeway, where in the UK the limit is 70 mph. It took a while to get to there.
Slow is not safe on freeways. Swinburne is lucky to have lived long enough to be insulted by the Society of Christian Philosophers.
I have heard rumors to the effect that David Lewis was 'automotively challenged.'
My old friend Quentin Smith didn't drive at all.
One of the reasons that philosophers from Thales on have been the laughingstock of Thracian maids and other members of hoi polloi is that many of them are incompetent in practical matters.
Quentin was just hopeless in mundane matters. The tales I could tell, the telling of which loyalty forbids.
Me? I'm an excellent driver, a good cook, a pretty good shot, competent in elementary plumbing, electrical, and automotive change-outs and repairs, and well-versed in personal finance.
A life well-lived is a balanced life. You should strive to develop all sides of your personality: intellectual, spiritual, artistic, emotional, and physical.
Here is an obituary of C. J. F. Williams by Richard Swinburne.
It came as news to me that Williams spent most of his life in a wheelchair. It testifies to the possibilities of the human spirit that great adversity for some is no impediment to achievement. I think also of Stephen Hawking, Charles Krauthammer, and FDR.
So stop whining and be grateful for what you have. You could be in a bloody wheelchair!
Your blog post "Philosophers as Bad Drivers" brought back to memory a philosophy professor that I had as an undergrad and a story he told us about himself.
Dr. Ken Ferguson (https://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/ugcat/philFaculty.cfm) told us a story one day about his time in one of the branches of the military. While serving, an officer instructed him to move a jeep. Ferguson says he objected and explained to the officer that he simply could not drive. The officer wasn't sympathetic to his excuse and doubled down on his request. Ferguson said that he attempted to follow the orders and ended up wrecking the jeep and some other equipment. He was not asked to drive again.
Ferguson said that he simply does not drive. Multiple times I remember seeing him walking down one of the main streets leading to campus in what I suspect was a distance of at least over two miles in the morning, and while always wearing a full suit at that!
Thanks for the story! Ferguson is a counterexample to the famous Stirling Moss quotation: “There are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love.”
One of the reasons philosophy and philosophers get such bad press among the general public is because of the high number of oddballs and incompetents in philosophy. Your former professor mught have had a number of good reasons for never learning how to drive. But I would argue that there are certain things every man ought to know how to do and they include knowing how to drive cars and trucks of various sizes and operate a stick shift. Like it or not, we are material beings in a material world and knowing how to negotiate this world is important for us and those with whom we come into contact.
We should develop ourselves as fully and many-sidedly as possible so as to be worthy acolytes of our noble mistress, fair Philosophia. We represent her to the public.
Kieran Setiya, The Midlife Crisis. An outstanding essay. What exactly is a midlife crisis?
In the form that will concern us, then, the midlife crisis is an apparent absence of meaning or significance in life that allows for the continued presence of reasons to act. Although it is often inspired by the acknowledgement of mortality, the crisis can occur in other ways. It may be enough to prompt the midlife crisis that you see in your future, at best, only more of the achievements and projects that make up your past. Your life will differ only in quantity from the life you have already lived, a mere accumulation of deeds.
A weblog as I envisage it is a form of writing that is midway between the unpublished privacy of the personal journal and the publicity of an article published in a professional journal. The blogs that interest me the most are thus those that include some of the self-reference of a Facebook page absent the full-bore, and boring, narcissism that characterizes most of them while retaining, in the main, an objective trans-personal focus. This by way of justifying some talk of myself.
Setiya's characterization of the midlife crisis fits my case almost exactly. My crisis lasted a long four years, starting at age 41. In the fifth year, a year's worth of travel and teaching and study in Turkey pulled me out of it. Three years later, at age 49, I embarked upon the happiest period of my entire life, a period which continues into the present. And the decline of physical powers consequent upon aging does not prevail against my sense of well-being. Looking back on the difficult crisis years, I ask myself: What was that all about?
"It may be enough to prompt the midlife crisis that you see in your future, at best, only more of the achievements and projects that make up your past." Exactly. That was the trigger for me, that and the action I took at 41.
Hired right out of graduate school at 28, I was awarded tenure at 34. Until tenure, life for an academic can be an emotional roller-coaster. It's up and down with the prospect of up or out, and if out, then most likely out for the count. Tenure brings a measure of peace. I settled in and enjoyed the job security. But then the worm began to gnaw. What now? More of the same? Will I spend the rest of my life in this boring midwest venue among these limited colleagues, decent people most of them, but academic functionaries more than real philosophers? Teaching intro and logic, logic and intro to the bored and boring? What starts out an exciting challenge can turn into a living death. It is truly awful to have to teach philosophy to a class of 35 only five of whom have a clue as to the purposes of a university and a scintilla of intellectual eros. It is like trying to feed the unhungry. (Cf. John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University, a book overpaid administrators ought to be hit upside the head with and then forced to memorize.)
And then there was the rising tide of political correctness that in those days was only about half as bad as it has become. Why anyone with a conservative bent and a real love of the life of the mind would embark upon the quixotic quest for an academic post in the humanities in the current culturally Marxist climate is beyond me. You might get really lucky, find a job, and get tenure. But to what avail? You wanted to live the life of the mind in a university, not have to keep your mouth shut and your head down in a leftist seminary. No free man wants to spend his life in dissimulation.
Philosophy is different things to different people. For me it is a spiritual quest. Try to explain that to the average hyperprofessionalized and overspecialized academic hustler. The quest demands isolation from academic careerists and busybodies. It demands time for spiritual practices such as meditation. And so at age 41, having spent two years in a visiting associate professorship at a better school, I abandoned the tenured position at my home institution to live the life of the independent philosopher.
It was a bold move, foolish in the eyes of the world. "What about your career?" I was asked. The bold move triggered my midlife crisis and led me into the desert for a good long period of purgation. I have emerged from it a better man.
So if any of you are in the midst of a midlife crisis, view it as a sort of purgatory on earth. Perhaps you need to be purged of vain ambitions and unrealistic expectations. Make the most of it and you may emerge from it better than when you went in. Don't try to escape it by doing something rash like running off to Las Vegas with a floozie. Endure it and profit from it. If you must buy a motorcycle, do as a colleague of mine did: he rode it through his midlife crisis and then had the good sense to sell it.
I spent the whole day yesterday at an auto dealership buying my wife a new car. But last night I didn't dream about the car, but about Hillary who appeared young and stunning and topless, but with very small breasts. What does this dream mean?
My subconscious was telling me that Hillary came across in the first debate much better than Trump (young and stunning) and that therefore she 'won' the debate despite her indefensible position (toplessness) and weak arguments (small breasts).
And 'win' she did. She threw the Orange Man onto the defensive and made him look bad. Despite his allegations of her lack of stamina, she stood there strong as a bull. She threw a lot of bull too, but it doesn't matter in these so-called debates. It's all about appearances. That's what the world runs on. That's what impresses people. Remember Ronald Reagan's contentless 'zingers'? "There you go again!" "Where's the beef?" (An allusion to a Wendy's restaurant commercial of the time.)
Some of us recall Nixon-Kennedy, 1960. You could see Nixon sweat. Sweat and scowl. An introvert in an extrovert's profession, he was no match for the charming and charismatic and lovable Jack Kennedy. He lost on appearances. But Nixon was the better man with the better arguments despite playing Captain Ahab to Kennedy's Prince Charming.
Trump missed opportunities to nail Hillary. She spouted standard liberal nonsense about 'gun violence' as if guns are violent, but nary a peep escaped her lying lips about the thug culture in black ghettos which is the real root of the problem. Similarly on the 'stop and frisk' matter. But Trump was stymied by his need to appeal to black voters.
You can't say to black people that, as a group, they, and in particular young black males, are more criminally inclined than whites, and that this is what justifies 'stop and 'frisk' profiling, for they will take it as racist insult, not as the plain truth, which is what it is.
I predict a win by Hillary in the general, by a small margin. I hope I am wrong.
A Hillary win will concern me as a citizen. But as a philosopher it will be of no concern. For the owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk.
Addendum 1. 'Gun epidemic' is another obfuscatory phrase Hillary used last night. A characteristic conflation of the moral and the epidemiological that could arise only in the febrile brain of a liberal. The problem in the black ghettos is not too many guns, but too few fathers.
Addendum 2. I said above that a Hillary win would concern me as a citizen but not as a philosopher. But this was an uncharacteristic undialectical lapse on my part. For one cannot flourish as a philosopher in prison or in a totalitarian regime. The embodied philosopher must concern himself to some extent with politics as with the material conditions of his philosophizing.
Corrigendum 1. Dennis M. writes,
A correction: “Where’s the beef?” was from a Reagan debate, but it was a line Mondale used against him. That one didn’t do much, but Reagan’s quip about not using Mondale’s youth and inexperience against him did a lot to kill the worries people had after his somewhat listless performance in their first debate.
Andrew Sullivan recounts the perils of life in the information superhighway's fast lane.
But our man certainly is verbose. One would have thought that all that smartphone use and all that manic tweeting and updating would have induced a bit of pithiness into his writing.
I love the Internet and use it everyday except when I'm on retreat. But I have never sent a text message in my life; I do not have a Twitter account; my Facebook page languishes; I do not own a smartphone; my TracPhone account costs me a paltry $99 per year and I have thousands of unused minutes; I have a laptop and an ipad for backup but rarely use them; in the wild I use map and compass, never having bothered to buy a GPS device; I am never out and about with something stuck into my ear.
I know people who begin their day by checking text messages. You do what you want, but I say that's no way to live.
A YouTube video by William S. Lind with footage of Martin Jay, David Horowitz and Roger Kimball. Traces the origin of cultural Marxism from the breakdown of economic Marxism and the role of the Frankfurt School including discussion of the '60s New Left guru, Herbert Marcuse.
By the time I began as a freshman at Loyola University of Los Angeles in 1968, the old Thomism that had been taught out of scholastic manuals was long gone to be replaced by a hodge-podge of existentialism, phenomenology, and critical theory. The only analytic fellow in the department at the time was an adjunct with an M. A. from Glasgow. I pay tribute to him in In Praise of a Lowly Adjunct. The scholasticism taught by sleepy Jesuits before the ferment of the '60s was in many ways moribund, but at least it was systematic and presented a coherent worldview. The manuals, besides being systematic, also introduced the greats: Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, et al. By contrast, we were assigned stuff like Marcuse's Eros and Civilization. The abdication of authority on the part of Catholic universities has been going on for a long time.
I pulled out my scribblings from the summer of '66. Puerile stuff from a half-century ago. Painful in places. But earnest and sincere with a good line here and there. The old man honors the adolescent he was.
I wrote for posterity, though I didn't realize it at the time. And I still do. The posterity of self.
It's hot and dry in these parts this time of year, the candy-assed snowbirds have all flown back to their humid nests, and we desert rats like it plenty. That's why we live here. It takes a special breed of cat to be a desert rat.
You Californians stay put in your gun-grabbing, liberty-bashing, People's Republic of Political Correctness. Give my disregards to Governor Moonbeam. And that goes double for you effete and epicene residents of such Eastern states as the Commonwealth of Taxachusetts. Isn't that where Elizabeth 'Fauxcahontas' Warren spouts her nonsense?
Yesterday afternoon I was out and about in my Jeep Wrangler. The onboard thermometer reported the outside temperature as 116 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.
Malcolm Pollack inquires, "Meanwhile, how do you manage in such heat? Do you just stay indoors? I suppose it's like living in Minneapolis in the winter."
It is no problem at all. We love the desert and deserts are typically hot in the summer. But there is often a 30 degree differential between the high and the low. 'Surely' it is better to live in a place where it is dry and hot in the afternoon but cool in the mornings rather in a flat and boring Eastern or Midwestern place where it is a humid 90 around the clock. Surely. (Might there be a bit of geographical chauvinism in play here?)
Do we just stay indoors? Of course not. This morning around 5:30 I hiked down to the swimming pool where I swam and did water aerobics for about an hour, chatting up the ladies and satisfying my social needs for the day. Then I went into the hot tub (sic!) for 15 minutes where I did stretching exercises. Then back into the pool for a cool-down, followed by a shower and a walk home. Other days I ride my mountain bike to the pool, swim, then go for a good ride while wet: with the soaked bandanna around my neck I'm as cool as a cucumber.
This afternoon I will go out around 3:30 to do some pro bono chess coaching at a local library for all comers, young and old. (I'm a strong coffee-house player; highest USCF rating in the 1700s.) Getting into a locked hot car that has been in the sun for an hour or two takes some getting used to, but one finds that steering a car requires less contact with the steering wheel than you might think.
From 1991 to 2009 I drove a 1988 Jeep Cherokee out here with no A.C. I'm not lying! I'm frugal. (Bought it in Ohio at T-giving in '87.) One summer I drove in one shot from Bishop, California in the High Sierra across the Mojave and Sonoran deserts to Phoenix. Stopping for gas in Blythe, California, just shy of the Colorado River and the Arizona border the temp. was 115. You drive open-windowed with an ice-cold wet bandanna around your neck. The only other motorists with their windows down were Mexicans. I felt a certain 'solidarity' with them. Does that make me a racist? Am I guilty of 'cultural appropriation'?
Tomorrow morning I pick up a guy at 5:30 and we head East into the desert for a little target practice, arriving at my favorite spot at 6. After expending 200-300 rounds between us, we head back around 8.
So no, we don't stay indoors.
I would say that Arizona is absolutely the best place to live year-round in the U.S. for all sorts of reasons.
There's a rattlesnake-infested wilderness right outside my door. Up for a hike? We leave in the dark, commence hiking at first light, and are done around ten A. M.
London Karl, an Irish resident of London, checks in with this update:
I'm just back from my first ever trip to America. Only New York, which I am reliably informed is representative of nothing other than itself, but I was touched and impressed by the civility and friendliness I encountered. People there are way friendlier than the Brits. You may despair over your country, but you have that at least!
This is funny. New Yorkers are generally regarded as rude and obnoxious. Donald Trump, for example, is a New Yorker, as is Brian Leiter. No, I am not hastily generalizing from two examples, I am illustrating with two examples an antecedently established general proposition.
It is too bad that London Karl did not have the time or the wherewithal to travel deep into Real America where he would have found much better examples of civility and friendliness.
Some years back I read a paper at Tulane University in New Orleans. Wandering around one afternoon on my own, not in the French Quarter, but in some rather nondescript part of town, I walked into a restaurant for lunch. There I was greeted by a woman who displayed a level of hospitality and friendliness and warmth I had never encountered before. This, I thought to myself, is what must be meant by Southern hospitality. There was, of course, a commercial motivation behind the display; but it was also deeply genuine. That was back in '87 and I have never forgotten the experience.
During that same trip, however, I ran into chess master Jude Acers in the French Quarter. Stationed on the street in his red beret, he plays (or played) all comers at $5 a game. Nothing particularly civil or friendly about him, rather the opposite. But then he is a chess player, one, and not from the South, two. After five games, I paid him his $25 and he made sure that I understood that he had played me for a chump and 'taken me' for 25 semolians. Me, I was happy to part with the money for chess lessons on Bourbon Street in the romantic city of the great Paul Morphy.
He said one thing that has stuck with me. Near the end of a game, he pointed to one of his pawns which had an unobstructed path to the queening square. I couldn't stop it, but it still had a long way to go. He announced, "This pawn has already queened."
A deeply Platonic comment. A timeless use of 'already.' Sub specie aeternitatis, the pawn had queened, or rather IS (timelessly) queened.
"Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58)
UPDATE. London Karl responds:
Trust me, I had the desire and the wherewithal to go into the real America; I just didn't have the time. I preferred the edgy friendliness of the New Yorkers to the passive aggression that passes for English 'politeness'.
25 things you might want to know know about Dylan. Excellent, except for the introductory claim that he is "rock's greatest songwriter." A better description is "America's greatest writer of popular songs." Bar none. We can discuss the criteria later, and consider counterexamples. Maybe this Saturday night. His earliest four or five albums are not in the rock genre. I'll permit quibbling about #5, Bringing It All Back Home (1965), but Bob Dylan (1962), The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) , The Time's They Are A'Changin' (1964), and Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) are better classified as folk, not that they sit all that comfortably in this niche.
These early albums are studded with lasting contributions to Americana. This is music with meaning that speaks to the mind and the heart. No Rat Pack crooner Las Vegas lounge lizard stuff here.Two lesser-known compositions both from The Times They Are a'Changin':
North Country Blues. Written from the point of view of a woman and so appropriately sung by the angel-throated Joan Baez.
D. A. Pennebaker on the making of Don't Look Back. I saw it in '67 when it first came out. I just had to see it, just as I had to have all of Dylan's albums, all of his sheet music, and every article and book about him. I was a Dylan fanatic. No longer a fanatic, I remain a fan.
In graduate school I was friends for a time with a New York Jew who for the purposes of this memoir I will refer to as 'Saul Peckstein.' A red diaper baby, he was brought up on Communism the way I was brought up on Roman Catholicism. Invited up to his room one day, I was taken aback by three huge posters on his wall, of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.
There is a distinctive quality of personal warmth that many Jews display, the quality conveyed when we say of so-and-so that he or she is a mensch. It is a sort of humanity, hard to describe, in my experience not as prevalent among goyim. Peckstein had it. But he was nonetheless able to live comfortably under the gaze of a mass murderer and their philosophical progenitors.
One day we were walking across campus when he said to me, "Don't you think we could run this place?" He was venting the utopian dream of a classless society, a locus classicus of which is a famous passage from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (ed. C. J. Arthur, New York: International Publishers, 1970, p. 53):
. . . as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
The silly utopianism seeps out of "each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes." Could Saul Kripke have become a diplomat or a chauffeur or an auto mechanic if he wished? Pee Wee Herman a furniture mover or Pope? Woody Allen a bronco buster? Evel Knievel a neurosurgeon? And if Marx has actually done any 'cattle rearing,' he would have soon discovered that he couldn't be successful at it if he did it once in a while when he wasn't in the mood for hunting, fishing, or writing Das Kapital.
On another occasion Peckstein asked, "After the Revolution, what will we do with all the churches?" Like so many other commies he cherished the naive expectation that 'the revolution is right around the corner' in a phrase much bandied-about in CPUSA circles. And in tandem with that naivete, the foolish notion that religion would just wither away when material wants were satisfied and social oppression eliminated, a notion that betrays the deep superficiality of the materialist vision of man and his world.
One night we ate at an expensive restaurant, Anthony's Pier Four at the Boston harbor. Peckstein paid with a bad check. After all, it was an 'exploitative' capitalist enterprise and the owners deserved to be stiffed. But he left a substantial tip in cash for the servers. As I said, he was a mensch.
A few of us graduate students had been meeting to discuss Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. One day I announced that the topic for the next meeting would be the Table of Categories. Peckstein quipped, "Is that table you can eat on?" The materialist crudity of the remark annoyed me.
And then there was the time he wondered why people thank God before a meal rather than the farmers.
We were friends for a time, but friendship is fragile among those for whom ideas matter. Unlike the ordinary non-intellectual person, the intellectual lives for and sometimes from ideas. They are his oxygen and sometimes his bread and butter. He takes them very seriously indeed and with them differences in ideas. So the tendency is for one intellectual to view an ideologically divergent other intellectual as not merely holding incorrect views but as being morally defective in so doing.
Why? Because ideas matter to the intellectual. They matter in the way doctrines and dogmas mattered to old-time religionists. If one's eternal happiness is at stake, it matters infinitely whether one 'gets it right' doctrinally. If there is no salvation outside the church, you'd better belong to the right church. It matters so much that one may feel entirely justified in forcing the heterodox to recant 'for their own good.'
The typical intellectual nowadays is a secularist who believes in nothing that transcends the human horizon. But he takes into his secularism that old-time fervor, that old-time zeal to suppress dissent and punish apostates. It is called political correctness.
And as you have heard me say more than once: P.C. comes from the C. P.
I'm sensitive, you're touchy. I'm firm, you are pigheaded. Frugality in me is cheapness in you. I am open-minded, you are empty-headed. I am careful, you are obsessive. I am courageous while you are as reckless as a Kennedy. I am polite but you are obsequious. My speech is soothing, yours is unctuous. I am earthy and brimming with vitality while you are crude and bestial. I'm alive to necessary distinctions; you are a bloody hairsplitter. I'm conservative, you're reactionary. I know the human heart, but you are a misanthrope. I love and honor my wife while you are uxorious. I am focused; you are monomaniacal.
In me there is commitment, in you fanaticism. I'm a peacemaker, you're an appeaser. I'm spontaneous, you're just undisciplined. I'm neat and clean; you are fastidious. In me there is wit and style, in you mere preciosity. I know the value of a dollar while you are just a miser. I cross the Rubicons of life with resoluteness while you are a fool who burns his bridges behind him. I do not hide my masculinity, but you flaunt yours. I save, you hoard. I am reserved, you are shy. I invest, you gamble. I am a lover of solitude, you are a recluse.
I have a hearty appetite; you are a glutton. A civilized man, I enjoy an occasional drink; you, however, must teetotal to avoid becoming a drunkard. I'm witty and urbane, you are precious. I am bucolic, you are rustic. I'm original, you are idiosyncratic. I am principled, you are doctrinaire. I am precise, you are pedantic.
And those are just some of the differences between me and you.
What follows are two posts written by Dennis Monokroussos from his first-rate chess weblog, The Chess Mind. For purposes of comparison, here are the United States Chess Federation ratings of four, actually five, chess playing philosopher friends. For detailed stats click on the names. Dennis Monokroussos: 2385. Timothy McGrew: 2196. Victor Reppert: 1912. Ed Yetman: 1800. Bill Vallicella: 1543. (My highest rating was 1726)
Part of my point is that life is unfair. Why should I have a trap named after me, when nothing chessic is named after my above-listed philosophizing chess betters? Perhaps it shows that even a patzer can have a good idea now and again. Why should I get to join Franz Brentano in the annals of chess? (The Brentano Defense in the Ruy Lopez is named after him: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g5)
Am I comparing myself to Brentano? Well, yes: anything can be compared to anything.
If anyone has any idea as to Brentano's playing strength, shoot me an e-mail.
The Famous Vallicella Trap?! (posted 8 May 2008)
I was browsing IM Jovanka Houska's 2007 book Play the Caro-Kann, and while looking through the introductory section on the Panov/Botvinnik Attack I read something incredible. In a subsection called 7th move sidelines, I came across this:
1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4 Nf6 5 Nc3
5 Nf3 is known as Vallicella's Caro-Kann trap - Black has to watch out for one big trick. Best is simply to play 5...Nc6, transposing to the main line after 6 Nc3, but 5...Bg4? would be a mistake after 6 c5! Nc6 7 Bb5. The point is that Black has big difficulties defending the c6 point; for example, 7...e6 8 Qa4 Qc7 9 Ne5 Rc8 10 Bf4 and White is winning! [p. 76]
There's nothing objectionable about the analysis*; rather, what struck me was the reference to Vallicella's Caro-Kann trap, as if this was standard lore in treatments of the Caro-Kann. How did Bill Vallicella, an outstanding philosophical blogger but a 1500-1700 club player not engaged in publicizing his games, suddenly achieve such fame? I had come across his trap either from an email by him or on a post on his predominantly philosophical blog, but when did a move he may have played but a single time turn into an idea requiring mention in a pretty major new theoretical work?
Houska doesn't cite a source, and I certainly didn't recall seeing it in any published materials, so naturally it was off to Google. Entering "Vallicella Caro-Kann", I discovered the main source, conveniently entitled "Vallicella's Caro-Kann Trap"...and you can, too - just click here. Then laugh.**
* Actually, while I wouldn't disagree with her positive suggestion, I don't believe 5...Bg4 is in fact a mistake; the real error comes later. After, e.g. 7...e5 I don't see a White advantage after 8.dxe5 Ne4 or 8.Qa4 Bxf3 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.Qxc6+ Nd7 11.gxf3 exd4, and even the arguably best 8.Nc3 promises little or nothing after 8...Nd7 9.dxe5 Bxf3 (10.Qxf3 d4; 10.gxf3 a6).
** If anyone knows IM Houska personally, please ask her to write me - I'd like to trace the path from Vallicella's idea to her book.
Vallicella's Caro-Kann Trap (posted 27 August 2005)
After 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6, the usual follow-up is 5.Nc3, when Black has three standard replies:
(A) 5...e6, when White plays 6.Nf3, (B) 5...g6, when White plays 6.Qb3, and (C) 5...Nc6, when White can either accede to the pin after 6.Nf3 Bg4, or else play the sharper but less reliable 6.Bg5.
Instead, the Maverick Philosopher has been utilizing the tricky 5.Nf3. It looks slightly clumsy, welcoming the Black bishop to g4 right away, but his idea is revealed after 5...Bg4 6.c5 Nc6 7.Bb5 e6 8.Qa4 Qc7 9.Ne5 Rc8 10.Bf4, when between the pin on c6, the threat of various discoveries involving the Bf4/Ne5/Qc7, and other, lesser but still significant problems with the Black position, White is winning.
Where did Black go wrong? I've already addressed this to some extent in a post on my previous blog, but as the move order examined there was a bit different than what we find in this game, I'll offer some new comments.
First, on move 5, Black can respond with the three normal anti-5.Nc3 options: 5...e6, 5...Nc6, and 5...g6. Should he do so, I don't see any advantage to be had by 5.Nf3, and there is a possible disadvantage. After 5.Nc3 g6, White's best try for an advantage is 6.cxd5 Bg7 7.Qb3 O-O 8.Be2 Nbd7 9.Bf3 Nb6 10.Nge2, but this variation is obviously impossible once White has placed the knight on f3. After 5.Nf3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.cxd5 O-O 8.Bc4 Nbd7 9.O-O Nb6 10.Bb3 both 10...Nbxd5 and 10...Nfxd5 have scored very well for Black.
Second, after 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.c5 Nc6 7.Bb5, the confrontational 7...e5 seems to give Black equal chances after 8.dxe5 Ne4 9.b4 Be7 10.O-O O-O 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Qd3 a5 13.Nd4 Bd7.
Third, as mentioned in my earlier blog post (linked above), after 7...e6 8.Qa4, the pawn sac 8...Bxf3 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.Qxc6+ Nd7 11.gxf3 leaves Black some compensation for the pawn in the form of White's numerous pawn weaknesses and the lack of an obvious refuge for the White king.
In sum, I think 5.Nf3 is objectively inferior to 5.Nc3. However, it doesn't seem that much weaker, and it does come with a nice positional trap, making it a reasonable surprise weapon for the odd game.
The variations above, and a bit more, can be replayed here.
This old man busted his hump for a solid three hours this morning shoveling a ton and a half of 3/4" Madison gold landscaping rock onto his property. I paid $91 for the rock and $45 to have it delivered. Here in the Sonoran desert water-wasting lawns are frowned upon; xeriscapes are de rigueur. The existing rock was wearing thin. Since I keep myself in shape with weight-lifting and such, I was up for the job, though by 10 AM with Old Sol beating done mercilessly I was righteously fagged out and ready for the old man nap. Since I arise at two ante meridian, by ten I have already put in an eight hour day.
Physical work is good for the soul if you are working for yourself and have time for other things. So I have long felt a certain sympathy for a famous passage from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (ed. C. J. Arthur, New York: International Publishers, 1970, p. 53):
. . . as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
With all due respect to Dennis Prager, Marx did not envisage a society in which people do no work, but one in which their work was non-alienating and fulfilling. If you have ever worked a factory job where you are required to perform a mindless repetitive task for low wages for eight or more hours per day, then you should be able to sympathize somewhat with Marx. But the sympathy is not likely to survive a clear recognition of the absurdity of what Marx is proposing above.
First of all, it is is silly to say that "each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes." Could Saul Kripke have become a diplomat or a chauffeur or an auto mechanic if he wished? PeeWee Herman a furniture mover or Pope? Einstein a general? Patton a physicist? Woody Allen a bronco-buster? Evel Knievel a neurosurgeon? And if Marx had actually done any 'cattle rearing,' he would have soon discovered that he couldn't be successful at it if he did it once in a while when he wasn't in the mood for hunting, fishing, or writing Das Kapital.
So despite my sympathy, I judge that what we have above is utopian, reality-denying nonsense. Dangerous, murderous, leftist nonsense. Incoherence: dictatorship of the proletariat, classless society, worker's paradise. Cuba? North Korea? Communist China? Dictatorship of the dictator (Stalin, Mao, Fidel . . .). Classlessness by reduction of the people to one class, that of the impoverished and oppressed, lorded over by apparatchiks vastly UNEQUAL in power, perquisites, and pelf to those they lord over. So in the end two classes: oppressed and oppressors.
The incoherence of socialism in a nutshell: The achievement of the desired-for equality requires the suppression of dissidents and the the inequality of the revolutionary vanguard who, once enjoying a taste of their unequal power, will never give it up, until the whole house of cards collapses as did the USSR.
But this leaves us with the problem of the millions of Americans who work repetitive, boring jobs for lousy pay. One thing that could be done that would drive up the pay scale is something that RINOs and liberals refuse to do, namely, stop the influx of illegal aliens. RINOs want cheap labor while the liberal scum want to alter the demographics of the nation in such a way as to assure the permanent ascendancy of the Left. These two unsavory groups are in tacit cahoots. To hell with them both.
So here you may have a reason to support Trump, as awful as he is.
"Van Inwagen on Fiction, Existence, Properties, Particulars, and Method," Studia Neoaristotelica: A Journal of Analytical Scholasticism, vol, 12, no. 2 (2015), pp. 99-125. This is a long review article on Peter van Inwagen's Existence: Essays in Ontology, Cambridge University Press, 2014.
"Facts: An Essay in Aporetics" in Francesco F. Calemi, ed., Metaphysics and Scientific Realism: Essays in Honour of David Malet Armstrong, Walter de Gruyter, 2016, pp. 105-131.
This volume also includes contributions by Matthew Tugby, Francesco F. Calemi, Peter van Inwagen, Peter Simons, Anna-Sofia Maurin, Javier Cumpa, Kristie Miller, Stephen Mumford, Andrea Borghini, Michele Paolini Paoletti, Tuomas E. Tahko, D. H. Mellor, Francesco Orilia, and Paolo Valore.
If I had had outstanding teachers, perhaps I would not have been able to gain and sustain the self-confidence that saw me through. And if not for lousy colleagues I might not have been hired when I was pretty lousy too.
This, the third main incarnation of MavPhil, commenced operations on Halloween, 2008. Since then it has racked up 3,501,215 page views. Daily average: 1,321.21. Total posts: 6,357. Total comments: 8,775.
Will I ever hang up the keyboard? I've been at this, almost daily, since May of 2004.
I can't see myself quitting as long as health and eyesight hold out. Blogging is just too deeply satisfying.
For one thing it satisfies the need to teach of someone who hated most classroom teaching. Philosophy is a magnificent, beautiful, and noble thing, but it is wasted on the typical undergraduate. In a class of 35, five might be worth teaching. And I taught at good schools. That is one of the reasons I resigned a tenured position at the age of 41. If you are reading this, you want to be here, and I'm glad to have you.
Second, blogging attracts the like-minded. Isolation is relieved and friendships are made, the genuine friendships of spiritual affinity as opposed to the superficial ones of mere propinquity. Ralph Waldo Emerson would have been a blogger for sure. "The good of publishing one's thoughts is that of hooking you to like-minded men, and of giving to men whom you value . . . one hour of stimulated thought." (Bliss Perry, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, p. 94.)
Third, blogging is superior to private journal writing because the publicity of it forces one to develop one's ideas more carefully and more thoroughly.
Fourth, the blogger has a reach that far exceeds that of the person who publishes in conventional ways.
Like many conservatives, I didn't start out as one. My background is working class, my parents were Democrats, and so was I until the age of 41. I came of age in the '60s. One of my heroes was John F. Kennedy, "the intrepid skipper of the PT 109" as I described him in a school essay written in the fifth grade. I was all for the Civil Rights movement. Musically my heroes were Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I thrilled to his Blowin' in the Wind and other civil rights anthems.
As I see it, those civil rights battles were fought and they were won. But then the rot set in as the the party of JFK liberals became the extremists and the destructive leftists that they are today. For example, Affirmative Action in its original sense gave way to reverse discrimination, race-norming, minority set-asides, identity politics and the betrayal of Martin Luther King's dream that people be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
As liberals have become extremists, people with moderate views such as myself have become conservatives. These days I am a registered Independent.
David Rodriquez sent me the following shot of some participants in an event at Biola University in the spring of 2014. Ed Feser read a paper and I commented on it. I am the guy in the dark glasses with his arm around Ed Feser. The tallest man is David Limbaugh To my right is Adam Omelianchuk. I apologize to the others for not remembering their names.
Fond are the memories of my years in Boston as a graduate student in the mid-70s, '73-'78 to be exact, with a year off to study in Freiburg im Breisgau of Husserl and Heidegger fame. Even after securing a tenure-track post in the Midwest in '78 I would return to Boston in the summers, '79-'81. What a great town for running, for philosophy, for love. A wonderful compact town to be young and single in. Young, supported by a teaching fellowship, on the dole (food stamps!), not owning any real property and hence paying no real estate taxes, not making enough money to pay income tax, no car, no stereo, not TV, not even a radio, owning nothing outside books and some battered pots and pans, sharing houses and apartments to keep expenses down . . . . it was a rich and exciting if impecunious existence along the banks of the river Charles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
But when it comes time to make money and own things and pay taxes and begin the transition from liberal foolishness and student sans-souci to adult Sorge and conservative Good Sense, the charms of Boston-on-the-Charles begin to fade, the Commonwealth takes on the guise of the People's Republic of Taxachusetts, and it is time to head West -- but not so far West that you end up on the Left Coast -- and land in some beautiful place like Arizona where one can afford to buy a house.
Is buying a home house around Boston worth it any more? (You can't buy a home, the bullshit of realtors notwithstanding.)
The real estate data company Zillow recently reported the Boston metro area is one of the most expensive places to own in the United States. “You’re talking twice the national average for the Greater Boston area,” says Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist. “And Boston itself is even more expensive.” The firm reports that the median cost of basic expenses around here, including things like insurance, taxes, and utilities, tops $9,400 a year. That’s before mortgage payments— and homeowners spend nearly 22 percent of their annual income on those.
Renters have it even worse, according to Zillow, giving almost 35 percent of their income to landlords who may or may not fix leaky faucets or respond to complaints about the loud dog in Unit 3. In New Orleans, by comparison, homeowners spend less than 16 percent of their income on mortgages. And life in Cincinnati, the Queen City, is even easier, with homeowners on average allotting just 11 percent of their income to monthly mortgage payments.
Check out this H-D promotional video. A celebration of individuality by people who dress the same, ride the same make of motorcycle, and chant in unison.
"Some of us believe in the Man Upstairs, but all of us believe in stickin' it to the Man Down Here."
But without the Man Down Here there would be no roads, no gasoline, no science, no technology, no motorcycles, no law and order, no orderly context in which aging lawyers and dentists could play at stickin' it to the Man on the weekends. The Man is discipline, self-denial, repression, deferral of gratification, control of the instinctual. The Man is civilization, discontents and all. Without the Man there would be no one to stick it to, and nothing to stick it to him with. Adolescents of all ages need the Man to have someone to rebel against.
Still and all, after watching this video, what red-blooded American boomer doesn't want to rush out and buy himself a hog? Get your motor runnin', head out on the highway . . . .
Personal anecdote: A few years back I took a three-day motorcycle course, passed it, and got my license. I was about ro rush out and buy myself a hog when Good Sense kicked in. So I rushed out and bought myself a Jeep Wrangler instead.
When he was a young man he travelled around the country with On the Road, the 'Bible of the Beat Generation,' in his rucksack, just as Kerouac had with Dwight Goddard's ABuddhist Bible in his. Now the young man is old. Now when he travels he carries a different light paperback, the plain old Bible.
And he says a prayer for the soul of a lonesome traveller who quit the via dolorosa on this date 46 years ago thereby securing his release from the samsaric meat wheel and the granting of his wish:
The wheel of the quivering meat conception . . . . . . I wish I was free of that slaving meat wheel and safe in heaven dead. (Mexico City Blues, 1959, 211th Chorus).
And no better way to kick off Kerouac month than with 'sweet gone Jack' reading from "October in Railroad Earth" from Lonesome Traveler, 1960. Steve Allen provides the wonderful piano accompaniment. I have the Grove Press Black Cat 1970 paperback edition. Bought it on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, 12 April 1973. I was travelling East by thumb to check out East Coast graduate schools where I had been accepted, but mostly I 'rode the dog' (Greyhound bus), a mode of transport I wouldn't put up with today: two guys behind me chain-smoked and talked all the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. New Orleans proved to be memorable, including the flophouse on Carondelet I stayed in for $2. It was there that Lonesome Traveler joined On the Road in my rucksack. I never before had seen Tabasco bottles so big as on the tables of the Bourbon Street bars and eateries. Exulting in the beat quiddity of the scene, I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm for Nawlins with a lady of the evening, not sampling her wares, but just talking to her on the street, she thinking me naive, and I was.
Here is a long excerpt (7:10), which contains the whole of the first two sections of the piece, pp. 37-40, of the Black Cat edition.
A reader sent the following about half-way through my digital fast and blogging hiatus.
. . . I was hoping that when you emerge from it you might have some practical wisdom on how you went about it. What has your daily schedule been like? Have you struggled with the nagging urge to check everything all the time? I have been thinking a lot about the issues you raised both in The Big Unplug post and in your post on Mass Media and Spiritual Deterioration . . . . Thanks for reading this and for the writing you have contributed over the years - it has truly been signal amidst a great deal of noise.
How did I go about it? I got as far away as practicable from the hype and hustle and hyperkineticism of the modern world.
From July 26th to August 30th I lived in a hermitage on the grounds of the most remote monastery in the Western hemisphere in a place of great natural beauty. I have decided not to post any photographs or reveal the identities of any interlocutors in keeping with the monastic spirit of silence, solitude and seclusion.
An average day went something like this. Up at my usual time of 2:00 AM. (The monks arise at 3:30.) Instant coffee. I drank no good coffee for five weeks as part of the self-imposed discipline. Spiritual-philosophical reading until 3:00: Bible, Garrigou-Lagrange, Edith Stein, Theresa of Avila, et al. Formal, seated meditation until 3:30 in the hermitage. Then a 10-15 minute hike through a dark and spooky canyon to the oratory for Vigils at 4:00. This is the first hour of the liturgia horarum, the liturgy of the hours. It lasts one hour weekdays, one hour, twenty minutes on Sundays. Some of the 'little hours' are as short as ten minutes. The liturgy, chanted by the monks, is essentially psalmody with Christian elements interspersed. After Vigils, a light breakfast outside the monks' refectory. Then back to the hermitage for study and writing. I usually attended three of the seven hours per day and meditated on a 'regulation' Zen cushion and mat three times per day. I gave myself the rule, "No pray, no eat." So I attended Vigils before breakfast, Sext before the main meal, taken with the monks in the refectory, in silence of course, with one of the monk doing a reading, and Vespers before supper.
Did I struggle with the urge to check my 'devices' all the time? Not at all. I brought only a laptop computer for writing, but there was no wi-fi at the hermitage. For that I had to hike to the monastery proper where I could tap into a weak wi-fi signal. I did that a grand total of four times in five weeks, and only to check e-mail. The only other device I had with me was a primitive cell phone which was useless to me in the remote location.
From my journal:
Here in the hermitage I stand naked before my own conscience. Its penetrating power is enhanced by the exterior and interior silence.
No Escape. And now it is night. Alone in the hermitage which is itself alone and off by itself under stars undiminished by light pollution. Dead silence. No distractions of the usual sort: other people, pets, television, radio, Internet. Just me, my books, and my past -- and the spiritual dimension that the silence and solitude allow to approach. The hour glass of my existence is running out, which is why I am here to repent of my sins and prepare for death. The hour of death is the hour of truth when the masks fall, and evasions evaporate.
Modern man, distracted and diverted by endless self-referential yammering, firmly entrapped within the human horizon, is so deluded and lost as to be incapable of even raising the question, seriously, of whether anything lies beyond that stifling horizon.
Starting now, I will unplug from this hyperkinetic modern world for a period of days or weeks. How long remains to be seen. I will devote myself to such spiritual exercises as prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, hard-core philosophy and theology pursued for truth as opposed to professional gain, and the exploration of nature.
I will avoid unnecessary conversations and their near occasion, socializing, newspapers, telephony, radio, television, blogging, facebooking, tweeting, and all non-essential Internet-related activities. In a word: all of the ephemera that most people take to be the ne plus ultra of reality and importance. (As for Twitter, I am and hope to remain a virgin: I have never had truck with this weapon of mass distraction.)
But I am no benighted neo-Luddite. The air conditioning will stay on in my abode in the shadows of the Superstitions.
I ask my valued correspondents to refrain from sending me any links to events of the day or commentary thereon. I am going on a 'news fast' which is even more salutary for the soul than a food fast is for the body.
From time to time we should devote time to be still and listen beyond the human horizon. Modern man, crazed little hustler and self-absorbed chatterbox that he is, needs to enter his depths and listen.
What follows is taken verbatim from Keith Burgess-Jackson's weblog. It is so good, so right, and so important that it deserves to be disseminated widely.
Barry M. Goldwater (1909-1998) on Conservatism
I have been much concerned that so many people today with Conservative instincts feel compelled to apologize for them. Or if not to apologize directly, to qualify their commitment in a way that amounts to breast-beating. “Republican candidates,” Vice President Nixon has said, “should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart.” President Eisenhower announced during his first term, “I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems.” Still other Republican leaders have insisted on calling themselves “progressive” Conservatives.These formulations are tantamount to an admission that Conservatism is a narrow, mechanistic economic theory that may work very well as a bookkeeper’s guide, but cannot be relied upon as a comprehensive political philosophy.
The same judgment, though in the form of an attack rather than an admission, is advanced by the radical camp. “We liberals,” they say, “are interested in people. Our concern is with human beings, while you Conservatives are preoccupied with the preservation of economic privilege and status.” Take them a step further, and the Liberals will turn the accusations into a class argument: it is the little people that concern us, not the “malefactors of great wealth.”
Such statements, from friend and foe alike, do great injustice to the Conservative point of view. Conservatism is not an economic theory, though it has economic implications. The shoe is precisely on the other foot: it is Socialism that subordinates all other considerations to man’s material well-being. It is Conservatism that puts material things in their proper place—that has a structured view of the human being and of human society, in which economics plays only a subsidiary role.
The root difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals of today is that Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature. The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand,—in the name of a concern for “human beings”—regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society. They are, moreover, in a hurry. So that their characteristic approach is to harness the society’s political and economic forces into a collective effort to compel “progress.” In this approach, I believe they fight against Nature.
Surely the first obligation of a political thinker is to understand the nature of man. The Conservative does not claim special powers of perception on this point, but he does claim a familiarity with the accumulated wisdom and experience of history, and he is not too proud to learn from the great minds of the past.
(Barry M. Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative, ed. CC Goldwater, The James Madison Library in American Politics, ed. Sean Wilentz [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007 (first published in 1960)], 1-3 [footnote omitted; italics in original])
Note from KBJ: This is a great book by a great (though, like all of us, imperfect) man. I'm ashamed to say that it took me 58 years to read it. Better late than never.
Comment by BV at Keith's site:
I read it back in '64 when I was 14. 50 years later I see clearly how right he was and how he might have prevented the decline of the last half-century. I remember the political bumper stickers of the day that read: AuH2O64 meaning, of course, Goldwater in 1964.
My mother did not like it that I was reading Conscience of a Conservative since she and her husband were Democrats. She liked it even less when, a few years later, I was reading hard-core Marxist stuff like Ramparts magazine at a time when David Horowitz was an editor and still a commie. Mirabile dictu, Brit Hume of Fox News was for a brief time a Ramparts Washington correspondent! You didn't know that, did you? (I just learned it.)
Further Anecdote by BV:
In those heady days of the mid-1960s I read a wide variety of periodicals and books: The L. A. Free Press, Crawdaddy!, Dick Gregory's Black Like Me, Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media. In order to avoid my mother's 'censorship,' I had to smuggle the stuff into my bedroom. I would place the publications between the screen and window of a bedroom window, enter the house, go into my room, open the window and retrieve the material.
I sure wish I had that stuff now, especially the back issues of Crawdaddy and L. A. Free Press. They must have succumbed to a maternal purge, along with the Lenny Bruce paperback. De Chardin and McLuhan survived the purge and I have them in my library to this day. Gregory didn't make it: the old lady couldn't understand why I was concerned with the plight of black folk. I still am, which is why I'm a conservative and do battle with the destructive Left.
Correction: My old pal J. I. O e-mails to tell me that the author of Black Like Me was not Dick Gregory but John Howard Griffin, a white man who dyed himself black and travelled through the South. I was probably confusing that title with Gregory's autobiography Nigger which appeared in 1964. I believe I read both back then.
The suggestion was made that I give a little talk to the monks of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery outside of Abiqui, New Mexico. I thought I would offer a few words in defense of the monastic life, not that such an ancient and venerable tradition needs any defense from me, but just to clarify my own thoughts and perhaps help others clarify theirs either by way of agreement or disagreement with mine. I will attempt three things. I will first list some convictions I hold to be of the essence of religion. Then I will suggest that the monastic path is an excellent way to implement these convictions. Finally I will ask myself why I am not a monk.
The Essence of Religion
There is much more to a religion than its beliefs and doctrines; there are also its practices. The practices, however, are informed and guided by certain central convictions whose importance cannot be denied. Religion is not practice alone. Now it is not easy to define religion, and it may be impossible. (Religion may be a family-resemblance concept in Wittgenstein's sense.) In any case I will not attempt to define religion by specifying necessary and sufficient conditions of the concept's application. But as I see it, most of the following are essential (necessary) to anything that deserves to be called a religion, and all of them are essential to Christianity. What I offer is a characterization, not a definition.
1. In first place, and not just in the order of exposition, is the belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect, as it does beyond the senses. One can reason about it, and reason to it, but one cannot access it directly via the discursive intellect. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
Compare the first item in Simone Weil's Profession of Faith: "There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties."
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53) The Unseen Order is thus not merely a realm of absolute reality, but also one of absolute value and an object of our highest and purest desire.
Compare the second item in Weil's profession: "Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world."
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the Unseen Order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the Order which alone is the source of his ultimate happiness and final good. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences. That is, our ability to know the saving truth has been impaired by our moral deficiency.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready, or perhaps any, access to the Unseen Order. Proximately, we need the help of others; ultimately, we need help from the Unseen Order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the Unseen Order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the Unseen Order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order, while not unreal, is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative, and as derivative defective. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the Unseen Order.
Each of these seven convictions is an element in my personal credo. Can I prove them? Of course not. But then nothing of a substantive nature in philosophy, theology, or any controversial field, can be proven. But each of the above convictions is rationally defensible. So while not provable, they are not matters of mere faith either. They can be argued for, their negations are rationally rejectable, and there are experiences that vouch for them. (See Religious Belief and What Inclines Me to It.)
The Monastic Path
I will now suggest that the monastic life is perhaps the best way to realize existentially the above convictions, but also to have the sorts of experiences that tend to provide evidence for the convictions. One lives the convictions, and by living them is granted experiences and intimations that validate the convictions.
Let us suppose that you accept all or most of the above seven propositions, in their spirit if not in their letter, and that you also share with me the meta-conviction that these first-order convictions are to be lived (existentially realized, realized in one's Existenz) and not merely thought about or talked about or argued over.
Then it makes sense to go into the desert. The negative reason is to escape the manifold distractions of the world which keep one scattered and enslaved to the ephemeral, while the positive reason is to live a life focused on the the absolute and unchanging Source of all reality and value. The entrance into the monastery signals that one is truly convinced of the reality of the unseen (#1), it supreme value for us and our happiness (#2) and the relative unreality and insignificance of this world of time and change and vain ambition (#7).
To live such a focused existence, however, requires discipline. We have a fallen nature in at least two senses. First, we are as if fallen from a higher state. Second, we are ever falling against the objects of our world and losing ourselves in them, becoming absorbed in them. (Compare Heidegger's Verfallenheit, fallingness.) Here we find the ontological root of such sins of the flesh as avarice, gluttony, and lust. Given our fallen and falling nature, a monastic institution can provide the moral discipline and guidance that might be difficult if not impossible to secure on the outside, especially in a secularized and sex-saturated society such as ours has become. The weight of concupiscence is heavy and it drags us down. We are sexual beings naturally, and oversexualized beings socially, and so we are largely unable to control our drives to the extent necessary to develop spiritual sight. The thrust of desire confers final reality upon the sensuous while occluding one's spiritual sight. Sensuous desire, especially inordinate sensuous desire, realizes the things of the senses while de-realizing the things of the spirit.
Here, as I see it, is the main reason for sexual continence. We are not continent because we are undersexed, or prudes, or anti-natalists, or despisers of matter. (Certainly no Christian could despise the material world, and a Christian such as Kierkegaard who at the end of his life waxed anti-natalist veered off into a personal idiosyncrasy.) The continence of the loins subserves the continence of the mind and heart which in turn are probably necessary, though certainly not sufficient, for a Glimpse of spiritual realities. (I say 'probably necessary' because divine grace may grant sight to the committed worldling nolens volens.)
And then there is the great problem of suggestibility. We are highly sensitive and responsive to social suggestions as to what is real and important and what is not. In a society awash with secular suggestions, people find it hard to take religion seriously. Here is another reason why a community of the like-minded may be necessary for most spiritual seekers. They provide reinforcement and the requisite counter-suggestions. (It is worth noting that if cults can 'brainwash' their members, whole societies can go off the rails and brainwash their members.)
Why Am I not a Monk?
"If you think so highly of the monastic life, what are you doing on the outside?"
A fair question deserving a straight answer. I didn't come to religion; I was brought up Roman Catholic by a pious Italian mother and pre-Vatican II nuns and priests. But I had a religious nature, so the training 'took.' But I also had a strong intellectual bent and was inclined philosophically from an early age. So I couldn't avoid asking, and not just intellectually, but existentially as well: how much of this is true and how do I know? The ferment of the 1960s only intensified my cognitive dissonance as the religious upbringing clashed on the one side with my philosophical questioning, and on the other with the secular and counter-cultural suggestions of the 'sixties. I remember in 1965 listening intently to the words of Bob Dylan's Gates of Eden and trying to discern its compatibility, if any, with Catholic teaching. (By the way, attending a Dylan concert in those days was like going to church: the audience remained dead quiet, hanging on every word.)
So philosophy took over the role in the pious youth's life that religion had played. That kept me away from any conventional religious vocation. And so it kept me out of the monastery. For one cannot join a monastery in general; it must be either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Buddhist or whatever, and to do that in good faith and with a clear intellectual conscience one must accept the central doctrinal content of those religions. But that content was exactly what to my mind needed examination. Athens at that point got the upper hand over Jerusalem. So why am I not a monk? Because of Athens.
But now, as I approach the end of the trail, I see ever more clearly the vanity of any philosophy that does not complete itself in something beyond it. But what? The empty discursivity of reason needs to be filled and completed by a direct spiritual seeing. Concepts without intuitions are empty. (Kant) So philosophy needs completion by mystical intuition, but this is rare and sporadic and fragmentary here below, mere Glimpses; to sustain us in the between times we need faith grounded in revelation.
That the NYT's alarmist predictions of no snow are risible given how much of the stuff is visible.
By the way, I loved my years in Boston-Cambridge. Boston was my Mecca, the hub of the universe. But I was a young guy, liberal as the young are wont to be, who hadn't yet thought hard and long and in an experience-informed way about political and social questions. I owned nothing and I paid no taxes. Quite the contrary: I received food stamps. I was scraping by on a very low stipend in a very expensive city. So I applied for, and received, public assistance. I had no qualms about doing so at the time. The food stamps allowed me to quit my awful and dangerous job as a taxi driver. (The only thing worse than a Boston driver is a Turkish driver.) I used my time well and kept my nose to the philosophy grindstone. But the point is that I was able-bodied and should not have been allowed on welfare. Welfare programs breed dependency and lack of self-reliance, among other ills -- which is not to say that there should be no such programs.
February brings to the Sonoran desert days so beautiful that one feels guilty even sitting on the back porch, half-outside, taking it all in, eyes playing over the spring green, lungs deeply enfolding blossom-laden warmish breezes. One feels that one ought to be walking around in this earthly heaven. And this despite my having done just that early this morning. Vita brevis, and February too with its 28 days. The fugacity of February to break the heart whose day is at its center. It's all fleeting, one can't get enough of it. Joy wants eternity.
And now, I head back outside, away from this too-complicated machine, to read simply and slowly some more from Stages on Life's Way and to drink a cup of java to stave off the halcyon sleepiness wrought by lambent light and long vistas on this afternoon in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains.
One of the pleasures in the life of a bookman is the delight of the 'find.' As a reader reports:
I saw that your cat is named Max Black. You might appreciate this anecdote.
Twice a year here in Ithaca there is a three-week long used book sale. The price drops each week, so if you can hold out to the end you can make out with some really good deals. This past time I got Hempel's Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Peter Geach's Reference and Generality for 50 cents each! The best find of all, though, was a first edition of [Hans] Reichenbach's classic The Rise of Scientific Philosophy that bore the signature of its previous owner on the inside: Max Black!
Great story! Curiously, I acquired all three titles similarly and for pennies: either from used book bins or from former graduate students. Back in '76 or '77 in Freiburg, Germany, I found a book by Hans Lipps that had been in Heidegger's library and bore his inscription.
I have often regretted the books that I didn't snatch from the remainder bins. Or rather it is my not snatching them that I regret. My mind drifts back to my impecunious days as a graduate student in Boston, must have been '73 or '74. I was in Harvard Square where I espied Reinhardt Grossmann's Ontological Reduction, or maybe it was his early book on Frege. I didn't buy it and I still regret not doing so.
I have repeatedly had the experience of buying a book the subject matter of which did not particularly interest me at the time only to find that a year or ten or twenty later that very book was what I needed. My copy of C. L. Hamblin's Fallacies (Methuen 1970) was pulled from a used book den in Harvard Square in July of 1974. It sat on my shelf unread for four years until I devoured it while boning up to teach logic, one of my duties at my first job.
I searched for an image of Max Black and found this:
I did not name my cat after this acolyte of high culture. Here is the real Max Black, the philosopher after whom I named my cat, circa 1965:
After socializing I often feel vaguely annoyed with myself. Why? Because I allowed myself to be drawn into pointless conversation that makes a mockery of true conversation. The New Testament has harsh words for idle words:
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (MT 12:36, King James)
A hard saying! Somewhat softer is Will Rogers' advice:
Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.
The social lifts us from the animal, but in almost every case impedes individuation which is our main spiritual vocation. Individuation is not given, but to be achieved. Its connection with theosis ought to be explored.
The extrovert is like a mirror: being nothing in himself, he is only what he reflects. A caricature, no doubt, but useful in delineation of an ideal type. This is why the extrovert needs others. Without them, he lacks inner substance. This is also why he is not drained by others, but drains them -- like a vampire. By contrast, the introvert, who has inner substance, loses it by social intercourse. He is drained not merely of physical energy, but of spiritual integrity, inner focus, his very self. The problem with socializing is not so much energy loss as self loss. But one cannot lose what one does not have.
The introvert cannot be himself in society but must sacrifice himself on the altar of Heidegger's das Man, the 'they self,' or social self. The extrovert can only be himself and come to himself in society. Whereas the introvert loses himself in society, the extrovert finds himself there.
If you infer the superiority of the introvert, I won't disagree with you.
UPDATE (11:55 AM): It occurred to me that 'superficial extrovert' might count as a pleonastic expression. Other polemical jabs: 'Extroverts are surface all the way down.' 'Extroverts aren't even shallow.'
Here are ten things I have never done, but you probably have. I have never:
* taken a sleeping pill. * purchased a lottery ticket. * owned an umbrella. * as an adult worn pajamas, a bow tie, or suspenders. * owned or used a bathrobe. * owned or used an electric can opener. * as an adult attended a professional sporting event. * owned or used a Walkman, ipod, or any such contraption. * owned or used a laptop computer. * run credit card debt.
Big road trip last weekend: Phoenix, Barstow, Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and back by a different route. The Jeep Wrangler runs on unleaded regular. Paid $3.349/gal on 9/27 at Quartzsite, AZ off of I-10, one of the last Arizona gas-ups enroute to California. Wait 'til Blythe on the California side of the Colorado River and you will get 'hosed.' In Barstow, same day, I paid 3.579/gal at a Circle K. In Bakersfield on 9/30 paid $3.979 at a Shell station. Back home, yesterday, at Costco, $3.099/gal. Home, sweet home.
And no better way to kick off Kerouac month than with 'sweet gone Jack' reading from "October in Railroad Earth" from Lonesome Traveler, 1960. Steve Allen provides the wonderful piano accompaniment.
I have the Grove Press Black Cat 1970 paperback edition. Bought it on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, 12 April 1973. I was travelling East by thumb to check out East Coast graduate schools where I had been accepted, but mostly I 'rode the dog' (Greyhound bus), a mode of transport I wouldn't put up with today: two guys behind me chain-smoked and talked all the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. New Orleans proved to be memorable, including the flophouse on Carondelet I stayed in for $2 a night. It was there that Lonesome Traveler joined On the Road in my rucksack.
I never before had seen Tabasco bottles so big as on the tables of the Bourbon Street bars and eateries. Exulting in the beat quiddity of the scene, I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm for Nawlins with a lady of the evening, not sampling her wares, but just talking to her on the street, she thinking me naive, and I was.
Here is a long excerpt (7:10), which contains the whole of the first two sections of the piece, pp. 37-40, of the Black Cat edition.
Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (Norton, 2000), p. 122:
Latin mottoes adorn the crests of many of these schools, boasting of "light" and "truth." [BV interjects: Harvard's crest shows Veritas] The reality, however, is something very different, as thousands of these institutions have literal or de facto open admissions policies in the name of "democracy." The democratization of desire means that virtually anyone can go to college, the purpose being to get a job; and in an educational world now subsumed under business values, students show up -- with administrative blessing -- believing that they are consumers who are buying a product. Within this context, a faculty member who actually attempts to enforce the tradition of the humanities as an uplifting and transformative experience, who challenges his charges to think hard about complex issues, will provoke negative evaluations and soon be told by the dean that he had better look elsewhere for a job. Objecting to a purely utilitarian dimension for education is regarded as quaint, and quickly labelled as "elitist" (horror of horrors!); but the truth is that there an be no genuine liberal education without such an objection.
I agree completely.
You may recall Obama opining that everyone should go to college.* A preposterous notion. It is a bit like maintaining that everyone should receive Navy SEAL training. To profit from such training one must be SEAL 'material.' It is the same, mutatis mutandis, with college: you must be 'college material.' The very fact that that phrase is no longer heard speaks volumes. I heard my seventh grade teacher apply it to your humble correspondent, but that was in the early 'sixties.
So perhaps we can add to Berman's 'democratization of desire,' 'democratization of potentiality' as if we are all equal in our powers and capacities.
Student teaching evaluations contribute to the consumer mentality to which Berman refers. Students ought to have a way to register legitimate complaints about faculty, but the use of teaching evaluations in tenure and promotion decisions and in the apportionment of merit pay leads to a further erosion of standards and to abdication of authority.
A confession. On the eve of tenure, the semester before the decision, I was conducting a seminar in the library while we were all seated at a big beautiful table. I observed one of my students carving into its surface. I said not a word: I needed strong teaching evaluations for my final academic hurdle. Succeed or fail -- for good. It was a bad market. Up or out. I made it easily with a 9 to 3 vote. But shame on me for not objecting to the defacement of common property. A clear case of abdication of authority.
The irony is that, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the increasing political correctness of the university, I resigned my tenured position seven years later. Psychologically, there is of course a huge difference between being given the boot and leaving of one's own free will.
*Dennis Monokroussos supplies documentation. Scroll down to the final three quotations from Obama.
The high school I attended required each student to take two years of Latin. Years later the requirement was dropped. When a fundraiser contacted me for a donation, I said, "You eliminated Latin, why should I give you a donation?" He replied that the removal of Latin made room for Chinese.
What I should have said at that point was something like the following. "While the study of Asian languages and cultures and worldviews is wonderfully enriching, it must not come at the expense of the appropriation and transmission of our own culture which is Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman."
And then I could have clinched my point by quoting a couple of famous lines from Goethe's Faust, Part I, Night, lines 684-685:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
The idea is that what one has been lucky enough to inherit, one must actively appropriate, i.e., make one's own by hard work, if one is really to possess it. The German infinitive erwerben has not merely the meaning of 'earn' or 'acquire' but also the meaning of aneignen, appropriate, make one's own.
Unfortunately the schools and universities of today have become leftist seminaries more devoted to the eradication of the high culture of the West than its transmission and dissemination. These leftist seed beds have become hot houses of political correctness.
What can you do? You might think of pulling your children out of the public schools and home-schooling them or else sending them to places like Great Hearts Academies.
Here. (An entertaining video clip, not too long, that sums up his main doctrine.)
Alan Watts was a significant contributor to the Zeitgeist of the 1960s. Just as many in those days were 'turned on' to philosophy by Ayn Rand, others such as myself were pushed toward philosophy by, among other things, Alan Watts and his writings. But early on I realized that there was much of the pied piper and sophist about him. He once aptly described himself as a "philosophical entertainer" as opposed to an academic philosopher. Entertaining he was indeed.
I heard him speak in the last year of his life on 17 January 1973. He appeared to be well into his cups that evening, though in control. Alcohol may have been a major contributor to his early death at age 58 on 16 November 1973. (See Wikipedia) What follows is a journal entry of mine written 18 January 1973.
I attended a lecture by Alan Watts last night at El Camino Junior College. Extremely provocative and entertaining. A good comparing and contrasting of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Chinese views.
At random: One must give up the desire to be secure, the desire to control. Ego as totally illusory entity which is really nothing but a composite of one's image of oneself and certain muscular tensions which arise with attempts to achieve, grasp, and hold on. The self as opposed to the ego is God, God who forgot who he was. The world (cosmos) as God's dream. Thus the self-same Godhead reposes in each individual. There is no spiritual individuality. And therefore, it seems, no possibility of relation.
Consider the I-Thou relation. It presupposes two distinct but relatable entities. If there is only one homogeneous substance, how can there be relation? But perhaps I'm misinterpreting the Wattsian-Hindu view by thinking of the Hindu deity as substance rather than as function, process. Watts himself denies the existence of substance. Last night he made the well-known point as to the linguistic origin of the notion of substance. [This is of course not a "well-known point."]
Denial of the ego -- i.e. its relegation to the sphere of illusion -- would seem to go hand in hand with denial of substance. [Good point, young man!] Watts seems very close to as pseudo-scientific metaphysics. He posits a continuum of vibrations with the frequency of the vibrations determining tangible, physical qualities. Yet he also says that "We will always find smaller particles"; that "We're doing it"; that the fundamental reality science suppsedly uncovwers is a mental, a theoretical construct.
Thus, simultaneously, a reliance on a scientific pseudo-metaphysics AND the discrediting of the scientific view of reality.
The muse of philosophy must have visited my otherwise undistinguished classmate Dolores back in the fifth grade. The topic was dirty jokes and that we should not tell them or listen to them. "But sister," Dolores piped up, "what if you laugh not because the joke is dirty but because it is funny?"
It was a good distinction then and a good distinction now.
Let me start off by recommending Jim Ryan's infrequently updated but very old (since 2002!) Philosoblog, the archives of which contain excellent material worthy of the coveted MavPhilSTOA (stamp of approval). The following entry (originally posted February 2005 at my first blog) is in response to my query as to why Ryan left university teaching.
JR: Well, here's my story, thanks for asking: I've always taken learning to be almost sacred, scholarship to be transcendent, books sublime. Given this disposition, I was unable to stomach teaching that 20% of my students who were there to get by by hook or by crook (avoid class, avoid the book, succumb to cheating, etc.). I realized at 37 that I would become a bitter old man if I taught for another 30 years. I liked the other 80% of my students, and I liked my research, but these weren't enough to get me through the bitter part. So, having a reasonable math and science background I boned up on chemistry during my last year of teaching and hustled a job in the Chem department at U. of Virginia. That was two years ago, almost. It's been fun, but now I'm thinking of moving into the business world, so that I can make more money and have more time with my kids.
What about your story, Bill? How'd you come to quit?
BV: Learning sacred, scholarship transcendent, books sublime. I can see we have something in common, a commonality that is also part of the reason why I gave up teaching. The average run of students would dismiss your sentiments and mine as bullshit, as some kind of empty self-serving rhetoric that could only be spouted by some weirdo who fills his belly by spouting it. Most people have no intellectual eros, could not care less about scholarship, and place no value whatsoever on good books.
Proof of the latter point can be found by scouring the used bookstores in a locale like Boston-Cambridge. Take a book off the shelf that was assigned in a course, note the underlining or 'magic marker mark-up' and how it extends maybe three or four pages and then stops -- great for me, of course, who gets a relatively pristine copy for pennies, but indicative of the pointlessness of reading assignments.
Most teaching is like trying to feed people who aren't hungry. Pointless. Of course, I had some great students and some great classes. But not enough of either to justify the enterprise.
Then there is the problem of stimulating colleagues. It is easy to end up in a department without any, in which case you are on your own, and you may as well be an independent scholar. Isolation? Not any more. Not with the WWW and the blogosphere in particular.
But the main reason I quit was to be able to do philosophy full time and live a more focused existence. It had been something I had been thinking about for a long time. I see philosophy as a spiritual quest, not an academic game. I had tenure, and I had enjoyed it for seven years. I had enjoyed a two-year visiting associate professorship, and I could have returned to my tenured position, but I was ready to take the next step in my life. The catalyst was my wife's being offered a great job in a beautiful place. Being a Westerner, I had served enough time in the effete and epicene East and was ready to get back to where mountains are mountains and hikers and climbers are damn glad of it.
Like many American boys, I read plenty of Jack London: The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea Wolf, Martin Eden, not to mention numerous short stories, some of them unforgettable to this day: "Love of Life," "Moonface," and "To Build a Fire." But I never got around to John Barleycorn until years later after I had read a lit-crit study of the American booze novel, and had decided to read every booze novel I could get my hands on. You could say I went on a booze novel binge. So I read Charles Jackson's Lost Weekend, things like that, until I was ready for the grandpappy of them all, John Barleycorn.
Here are some notes from a journal entry of 7 March 1998.
Finished John Barleycorn in bed last night. One of London's best books. What's the gist of it?
One cannot live and be happy unless one suppresses the final truth which is that life is a senseless play of forces, a brutal and bloody war of all against all with no redeeming point or purpose. Man is a brother to the dust, "a cosmic joke, a sport of chemistry." (319).
Only by telling himself "vital lies" can a man live "muttering and mumbling them like charms and incantations against the powers of Night." (329) All metaphysics, religion, and spirtuality are half-believed-in attempts to "outwit the Noseless One [the skull behind the face] and the Night." (329) "Life is oppositional and passes. You are an apparition." (317) "All an appearance can know is mirage." (316)
Ah, but here is a weak point in the London position. An appearance can't know anything, can't even dream or doubt anything. If I am dreaming, then I am, beyiond all seeming, and I cannot be a mere dream object. Here the "White Logic" shows itself to be illogic. Let your experience be as deceptive, delusive, mirage-like as you want, the experiencer stands above it, apart from it, behind it -- at least in his inner essence. Thus there is the hope that he may unfold his inner essence, disentangling himself from the play of specters. But this is exactly what London, worldling and sensualist, did not do. And what he presumably could not do.
There is the 'truth' we need to live and flourish -- which is a bunch of "vital lies" -- and there is the real truth, which is that our life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Religion and metaphysics are further life-enhancing illusions. Alcohol revealed all this "White Logic" to London. What is his solution? Stay sober and dream on, apparently. Close the books of despair (Spencer, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) and lose yourself in the daily round, the social whirl, the delights of the foreground. Distract yourself and keep your self distracted.
What is noteworthy here is that booze for London is not anodyne and escape but truth serum. Beyond noteworthy it is very strange: the boozed-up, barely-corned, brain is in the proper condition to grasp reality as she is.
Three paths are suggested:
A. The Superficial Man. Lives in immediacy and illusion, oblivious to sickness, old age, and death. Doesn't see that there is a problem of life to be solved. Or rather he doesn't want to see that life is a predicament. He prefers self-deception on this point. He takes short views and avoids the long ones. Keeps himself busy and distracted.
B. The 'London Man.' Sees through the average schlep's illusions. He experiences the nullity, the vanity of success, recognition, love of woman, money and the rest. (See p. 254) But beyond this there is only the horror of the senseless and brutal struggle for existence. So he turns against the "ancient mistake of pursuing Truth too relentlessly." (254) He returns to the Cave, believing that ultimately there is No Exit.
C. The Quester. For whatever reason, he has been so placed in life that he has a glimpse of the possibility of salvation from meaninglessness. He sees deeper than the 'London Man.' He has been granted a fleeting vision of the Light behind and beyond the Noseless One and Night. He works to attain that vision in fullness.
I have already reported on Brian Leiter's initial unprovoked attack on me. After that 2004 attack, which I chose to ignore, he got in a jab or two which I also ignored, until just the other day when he let loose again with an unprovoked attack. Then I realized that for my own peace of mind, and to teach him a lesson, and to defend all the others, including graduate students, the untenured, and those who are tenured but do not relish the prospect of being slimed by him, that I must mount a defense.
I conclude my self-defense today.
It must be borne in mind that I never launched an unprovoked attack upon him. I am defending myself and others against his attacks. I am giving him a taste of his own medicine, or rather, poison, so that maybe some day he will see that there is no percentage in his brand of scumbaggery. Of course, one cannot appeal morally to a morally obtuse leftist for whom the end justifies the means and bourgeois morality is buncombe, a person who demonizes his opponents and whose modus operandi is the ad hominem.
It would do no good to write to him and say, "Sir, you have attacked me personally and viciously, out of the blue, even though you don't know me at all, when I have done nothing to you, and only because I hold ideas with which you disagree. Doesn't that seem morally wrong to you? Don't you believe in free speech?"
That won't work with someone bereft of moral sense. One has to make a prudential appeal to his self-interest along the lines of: keep this up, buddy, and you will diminish your own status, which is apparently the main thing that concerns you. As a status-obsessed careerist, Leiter is enslaved to the opinions of others. So he must take care that he remains well thought of, at least by those who still think well of him.
This post will respond to Leiter's latest outburst. I will try to keep this brief.
What got Leiter's goat was the following sentence from my masthead:
Selected for The Times of London's 100 Best Blogs List (15 February 2009)
You see, for Leiter I am neither "competent" nor "successful" and so do not deserve any such minor honor as the one bestowed by The Times, even if I were in 100th place. A glance at my PhilPapers page, which lists 50 or so publications in Analysis, Nous, The Monist, etc. should put the question of competence to rest. If I am incompetent, then all those referees and editors must be mighty incompetent to have given me their positive evaluations. Am I successful? Well, I got a tenure-track job right out of graduate school, was awarded tenure, and was invited to teach at Case Western Reserve University for two years as a full-time Visiting Associate Professor of Philosophy. I have been awarded four National Endowment for the Humanities grants. And so on. Is that success or failure? After my stint at Case Western Reserve I decided to live the life of an independent philosopher.
It is at this point, presumably, that I went from success to failure in the eyes of the illustrious Leiter. You see, someone as spiritually vacant and given to psychological projection as Leiter cannot comprehend how anyone could not value the trappings and bagatelles, the privileges and perquisites, that he values. If one is not a professor of philosophy, he thinks, one is not a real philosopher. I wonder what Leiter would say about Spinoza and plenty of others, not to mention his hero, Nietzsche. The point is obvious. I needn't go on. Leiter is a shallow and vain man, a grasping and ambitious man, and is widely regarded with disdain in philosophical and legal circles.
At the end of his post, he relates something he got from one of his sycophants:
. . . after teaching at the University of Dayton from 1978-1991, he took a leave of absence because his wife, who teaches art education, got a job at Arizona State University. Unsurprisingly, he could not get another job, and so he simply left academia to follow his wife. The only amusing irony here is that our raving right-wing, racist lunatic appears to be basically a "house husband"!
Here is the truth. I taught at the University of Dayton from 1978 to 1989. Then I took a leave from U. D. and, having been invited, I taught as a Visiting Associate Professor Philosophy at Case Western Reserve University. Now for a long time I had dreamed of becoming an independent philosopher who could devote all his time to his philosophical and spiritual pursuits. Of course, I cannot expect a superficial climber like the Ladderman, who cannot imagine anything higher than being an academic functionary, to understand any of this.
My wife and I both had tenured positions in Ohio, in Cleveland and Dayton, respectively, the distance between the two being roughly 220 miles. So we had a long-distance marriage going for quite a number of years. The solution came when she was offered a great position at ASU. She had me make the decision, and I decided that we should move to the beautiful state of Arizona. Being a very frugal man who had saved and invested a lot of money, I decided to retire from teaching at age 41 and realize my dream. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and my life has been wonderful ever since.
Am I a racist? Of course not. The allegations of Leiter and his sycophant are pure slander. The playing of the race card is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It is a matter of public record that I owned and lived in a house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, from 1986-1991, a city that is approximately 40% black. Interested in what someone really thinks? Look to their behavior, especially their monetary behavior.
Leiter says I called him an idiot and philosophically incompetent. Another lie on his part. My objection is a moral one: he launches vicious personal attacks on people because he disagrees wth their ideas. He does not respect the principle of toleration.
I do not consider him stupid, nor do I say that he is philosophically incompetent. I assume he is competent. My main objection to him is the he is a leftist thug who smears people because of their views. He has a right to his leftism, but not to his thuggishness.
A secondary objection, one which I would never have made had he not attacked me, is that Leiter is a status-obsessed careerist devoid of spiritual depth. Just as there is no wisdom and decency on the Left, there is no wisdom and decency in Brian Leiter. If there is, it is deeply buried. He should let it shine forth if it exists.
Addendum (9 June)
Frank Wilson at Books, Inq. writes (emphasis added):
Considering that Leiter's characteristic mode of operation is personal attack, it is rather amusing that he doesn't like such when it is directed at himself. In his latest on Bill Vallicella, he has this to say: "an obscure (and right-wing) British journalist with no knowledge of philosophy was asked to recommend 100 blogs in different areas, two of which he identified as philosophy blogs."
Well, this blog is also one of the hundred chosen, and the British journalist referred to is Bryan Appleyard, who is neither obscure nor particularly right-wing. Bryan in fact, didn't choose the 100 blogs himself. I sent Bryan an email when this blog was chosen to thank him and he wrote back that he had nothing to with the final pick. He just submitted a long list of various blogs to his editors. They looked at blogs on the list and made their choices.
So Leiter doesn't know what he's talking about. (I should have added that, from what I have observed, Bryan is quite philosophically fluent.)
I've had only three vehicles in the past 31 years: (1) a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass, purchased from my brother Glenn in May 1983; (2) a 1989 Pontiac Grand Am, purchased new in August 1989; and (3) a 2007 Honda Accord, purchased new in February 2007. How many vehicles have you had in the past 31 years?
In one sense old Keith has me beat. I've owned four cars during this time period: (1) a 1978 VW bus purchased used in spring '79; (2) a 1988 Jeep Cherokee bought new at Thanksgiving 1987; (3) a low-mileage, immaculate, 2005 Jeep Liberty Renegade 'stolen' used for a paltry $12 K on St. Valentine's Day, 2009; (4) a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sport purchased new at Thanksgiving 2012.
So I've owned four vehicles during the period when Keith owned three.
But there is a sense in which I have him beat: I owned the Cherokee for over 21 years, whereas the longest he has owned a vehicle appears to be less than eight years.
The old Cherokee is celebrated in the first article below.
In my whole life I have owned only four cars, the ones mentioned and a 1963 Karmann Ghia convertible purchased for $650 from my half-brother in 1969. The license plate read: GOE 069. I kid you not. I sold it in 1973 when I headed east for grad school. I should have kept it. Just like I should never have sold that Gibson ES 335 TD. That was the dumbest thing I ever did.
I missed Saturday Night at the Oldies because I was in La Mirada, California, for a conference at Biola University. Ed Feser gave the keynote address and I was the commentator. More about the proceedings later, perhaps. But for now a quick make-up:
An appropriate selection given the seismic events of Friday and Saturday in LaLaLand. On Friday evening I was quietly and comfortably ensconced in an easy chair in the guest suite of the Biola Philosophy House reading the Bible and Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics back and forth, when I felt the chair shift. I was puzzled for a second until I realized that I was in Southern Calfornia, earthquake country. I thought: no big deal. As a native Californian, this was nothing new to my experience. (I remember in particular the early morning San Fernando/Sylmar quake of February '71.)
Later that night, in bed, it was a bigger deal: the bed began moving back and forth. I reflected that the Philosophy House was single-story and that egress was quick and easy should that be necessary. So I went back to sleep.
The third tremor I recall was near the end of the conference, and the fourth, rather more serious, occurred on Saturday night while David Limbaugh, Adam Omelianchuk, Ed Feser and I were enjoying a nice quiet conversation over beer in the Philosophy House.
It is good to be back on (relative) terra firma, here in Arizona, where earthquakes are infrequent and mild. I've been out here 23 years and I don't recall experiencing even one.
Experts say a bigger earthquake along the lesser-known fault that gave Southern California a moderate shake could do more damage to the region than the long-dreaded "Big One" from the more famous San Andreas Fault.
The Puente Hills thrust fault, which brought Friday night's magnitude-5.1 quake centered in La Habra and well over 100 aftershocks by Sunday, stretches from northern Orange County under downtown Los Angeles into Hollywood — a heavily populated swath of the Los Angeles area.
A magnitude-7.5 earthquake along that fault could prove more catastrophic than one along the San Andreas, which runs along the outskirts of metropolitan Southern California, seismologists said.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that such a quake along the Puente Hills fault could kill 3,000 to 18,000 people and cause up to $250 billion in damage. In contrast, a larger magnitude 8 quake along the San Andreas would cause an estimated 1,800 deaths. [. . .]