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. [. . .]
Another post from the old blog, dated 3 November 2006. A redacted version, less crude than the original.
The worst bores in the world are those who subject their listeners to blow-by-blow accounts of their medical procedures. Fear not. I just want to report that I underwent a screening colonoscopy this morning, and that if you are fifty years of age or older, and hitherto 'unscoped,' you should schedule one too.
But don't procrastinate as I did. It is not too much of a hassle. Yesterday I subsisted on clear fluids alone, my last meal being Wednesday's dinner. At four PM I swallowed four Dulocolax tablets and at six began quaffing four liters of a solution ($35 out of pocket, insurance wouldn't cover any part of it due to its one-time consumption) designed for lavage. That term, from Fr. laver and L. lavare, signifies the therapeutic washing out of an organ or orifice. And wash out my lower GI tract it did.
The thought of deep analysis (deeper than sigmoidoscopy) may unnerve some of you, but if your experience is like mine you won't be aware of a thing due to the narcotic cocktail they mainline into your arm. They gave me a bigger shot than I requested, as I wanted to watch the proceedings on the monitor. My last words right after the good Dr. Stein introduced himself and the nurse opened the IV valve were, "Time to be analyzed!"
I refrained from such other prepared witticisms as "Doc, I'm Mabel, if you're able" and philosophical nuggets about wide and narrow 'scope.') I didn't want to cause offense to the sweet nurses who may have been proper Mormons. In no time at all I was floating face-down in the sweet waters of Lethe. Next thing I knew I was putting on my clothes and stumbling out the door with a clean bill of gastroenterological health.
I was too stupefied to remember my prepared parting joke: What did the gastroenterologist say when asked about the meaning of life? "It depends on the liver."
Should I be blogging about a subject like this? Maybe not. But it was no physician who convinced me to get scoped out, but a regular guy in the pool who told me about his experience and how polyps were found.
Maybe it takes a blogger to get you off youranalysandum.
Have I gone on too long, hard by the boundary of boredom? Perhaps. So let me go on a bit more. A physician my own age once recommended a screening colonoscopy. I said, "Have you had one, Doc?" "No, I'm a runner," "Well, I'm a runner too." The doctor's enthymematic argument was bad, but it helped me procrastinate. And my wife once saw him coming out of a fast-food joint. But he was a good practioner and diagnostician. He had a scientific mind, something too many medicos lack.
I have in my hands the Winter 2014 issue of American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. It contains (pp. 149-161) my review essay on McCann's 2012 Creation and the Sovereignty of God. Many thanks to Peter Lupu and Hugh McCann for comments and discussion, and to the editors for allowing me to expand my review into a review article.
I see that the same issue contains a reply by Peter Dillard to Ed Feser anent James F. Ross' case for the immateriality of abstract thinking. I'll have to study that for sure.
This is an old post rescued from the old blog, dated 20 May 2007. Some things have changed. But all the details were true then.
There are some people with whom I would not want to enter a frugality contest. Keith Burgess-Jackson is one of them. I seem to recall him saying that he doesn't own a clothes dryer: he hangs his duds out on a line in the Texas sunshine. Not me. This BoBo (bourgeois bohemian, though not quite in David Brooks' sense) uses both washer and dryer. But I have never owned an electric can opener (what an absurdity!),nor in the three houses I have owned have I used the energy-wasting, house-heating, noise-making, contraptions known as dishwashers. The houses came with them, but I didn't use 'em. In the time spent loading and unloading them, one can have most of one's dishes washed by hand. And tall guys don't like bending down. Besides, a proper kitchen clean-up job requires a righteous quantity of hot sudsy water.
So I'm a frugal bastard too. And on the automotive front, I've got Keith beat. His car is old as sin, but mine is older, as old as Original Sin. It's a 1988 Jeep Cherokee base model: five-speed manual tranny, 4.0 liter, six-cylinder engine, four-wheel drive, off-road shocks, oversized tires, and manual air conditioning despite the fact that I live in the infernal Valle del Sol -- from which I don't escape in the summer like some snowbird wimps I could mention. Manual air conditioning: if you want air, you use your God-given hands to roll down the windows. In this part of the country manual A/C is also knowto the politically incorrect as 'Mexican air conditioning.' 'Roll down the windows, Manuel!'
One blazing hot August I drove straight through from Bishop, California to Chandler, Arizona, 600 miles, alone. Stopping for gas in Blythe, on the California side of the Colorado river, I noted that the afternoon temperature was 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. Bouncing along Interstate-10 I saw that theonly people with their windows down were me and the Mexicans.
It's no big deal, really, driving through 115 degree heat in the middle of the day in the middle of the desert with the windows down. You take a bandanna and soak it in the ice water in your cooler and wrap it around your neck. When the dry blast of desert wind hits the wet bandanna some serious evaporation takes place cooling your neck and with it the rest of your body. Feeling a little drowsy after four hundred miles of nonstop driving? Stoke up a cheap cigar, say that Swisher Sweet that's been aging under the seat alongside those oily shop rags, and throw another audio tape into the deck. May I recommend Dave Brubeck? Or how about Kerouac reading to the piano accompaniment of Steve Allen? Or perhaps that latter-day beat, Tom Waits.
With four on the road, one in the hand, a cigar in the mouth, some boiling hot McDonald's drive-through java in the other hand, Brubeck on the box, proudly enthroned at the helm of a solid chunk of Dee-troit iron, rolling down a wide-open American road, with a woman waiting at the end of the line, you're feeling fine.
I bought the Jeep around Thanksgiving, 1987 and come this Thanksgiving it will have been twenty years. Expect another post in celebration. An old car is a cheap car: cheap to operate, cheap to insure, cheap to register. My last registration renewal cost me all of $31.39 for two years. My wife's late model Jeep Liberty, however, set us back $377.93 for two years. With a five-speed manual tranny, a six cylinder engine, and no A/C I can easily get 25 mpg. With a tailwind, 30 mpg.
So I don't want to hear any liberal bullshit about all SUVs being gas guzzlers. Your mileage may vary.
Americans are very foolish when it comes to money. If you want to stay poor, buy a new car every four or five years. That's what most Americans do. And if you finance the 'investment,' you compound your mistake. Buy a good car, pay cash, and keep it 10+ years. Better yet, live without a car. From September 1973 to May 1979 I lived and lived well without a car. But I was in Boston and Europe, compact places.
I can't believe that this old 16 September 2004 post from my first weblog languished there so long before being brought over, today, to my newer digs.
My cat Caissa – named after the goddess of Chess – was feeling under the weather recently, so I took her to the vet for some blood work. The twenty-something receptionist at Caring Critters was nice enough but she stumbled over my name. But I was in a good mood, so I didn’t mind it too much. She didn’t even try to pronounce it which I suppose is better than mangling it. I don’t cotton to being called Valenzuela, Valencia, Vermicelli, Varicella, Valparaiso or Vladivostok. Don’t make me into an Hispanic. In these parts, if your are not Hispanic you are an ‘Anglo.’ That doesn’t sit well with me either.
Perhaps I should be happy that I do not rejoice under the name of Znosko-Borovsky or Bonch-Osmolovsky. Nor do I stagger under such burdens as Witkiewicz, Brzozowski, or Rynasiewicz. The latter is the name of a philosopher I knew when he taught at Case Western Reserve University. Alvin Plantinga once mentioned to me, sometime in the late '80s, that he had been interviewed at Notre Dame, except that ‘rhinoceros’ was all Plantinga could remember of his name.
Actually, none of these names is all that difficult if you sound them out. But apparently no one is taught phonics anymore. Damn those liberals! They’ve never met a standard they didn’t want to erode. I am grateful to my long-dead mother for sending me to Catholic schools where I actually learned something. I learned things that no one seems to know any more, for example, grammar, Latin, geography, mathematics. The next time you are in a bar, ask the twenty-something ‘tender whether that Sam Adams you just ordered is a 12 oz or a pint. Now observe the blank expression on her face: she has no idea what a pint is, or that a pint is 16 oz, or that there are four quarts in a gallon, or 5,280 feet in a mile, or 39.37 inches in a meter, or that light travels at 186, 282 miles/sec, or that a light-year is a measure of distance, not of time.
Even Joan Baez got this last one wrong in her otherwise excellent song, Diamonds and Rust, a tribute to her quondam lover, Bob Dylan. The irony is that Joanie’s pappy was a somewhat distinguished professor of physics! In a high school physics class we watched a movie in which he gives a physics lecture.
I was up in 'Flag' (Flagstaff) a few years back to climb Mt. Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona at 12,643 ft. elevation, (an easy class 1 walk-up except for the thin air) and to take a gander at the moon through the Lowell Observatory telescope. While standing in line for my peek, I overheard a woman say something to her husband that betrayed her misconception that the moon glows by its own light. She was astonished to learn from her husband that moonlight is reflected sunlight. I was astonished at her astonishment. One wonders how she would account for the phases of the moon. What ‘epicycles’ she would have to add to her ‘theory’!
Banned on the Left Coast in the People's Republic of Californication! It figures. It's sad to see what has become of my native state. But I am fortunate to flourish in Arizona where bright sun and hard rock and self-reliant liberty-lovers have a suppressive effect on the miasma of leftists. So with a firm resolve to stick it to the nanny-staters I headed out this afternoon in my Jeep Liberty to Costco where not a single incandescent was to be had. So I went to Lowe's and cleaned 'em out. I bought four 24-packs. Three packs were Sylvania 60W 130V A19's @ $10.03 per pack and one pack was Sylvania 100W 130V A19's @12.02 per pack. Total: $42.11 for 96 bulbs. That comes to less than 44 cents per bulb.
The 130 volt rating means that I will get plenty of life out of these bulbs at the expense of a negligible reduction in illumination. A voltage check at a wall socket revealed that I'm running just a tad below 120 V.
And now I am reminded of what were supposed to have been Goethe's last words: Licht, Licht, mehr Licht! Light, light, more light!
Today I went to Home Despot Depot to bag the last of their stock. I bought 24 4-packs of Phillips 60W A19 1000 hour soft white bulbs @ $1.47 per 4-pack. So I paid $35.28 for 96 bulbs. That comes to less than 37 cents per bulb. Nice warm cheap light.
I reckon I'll burn out before they all do.
So that's my politically incorrect act for the day. Or at least one of them.
One of the elements in my personal liturgy is a reading of the following passage every January 1st. I must have begun the practice in the mid-70s.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book Four, #276, tr. Kaufmann:
For the new year. -- I still live, I still think: I still have to live, for I still have to think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. Today everybody permits himself the expression of his wish and his dearest thought: hence I, too, shall say what it is that I wish from myself today, and what was the first thought to run across my heart this year -- what thought shall be for me the reason, warranty, and sweetness of my life henceforth. I want to learn to see more and more as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all and all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.
Nietzsche found it very difficult to let looking away be his only negation. And so shall I.
One morning recently I was talking with a thirtysomething woman about Obamacare. "If you like your period, you can keep your period" came out of my mouth. I was intending, "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period."
Thanks to Obama, the period is one punctuation mark that will never be the same. From now on, no one will be able to say 'period' without conjuring up the great man, just as words like 'inhale' and 'is' conjure up the first black president, Bill Clinton, along with images of chubby star-struck interns. "But I didn't inhale." I suppose it all depends on the meaning of 'inhale.'
Presidents need to realize that there is such a thing as videotape and that lies are easily exposed. In this clip, Bubba say that he tried marijuana a time or two, didn't like it, didn't inhale, and never tried it again. But obviously, there is no way to tell if you like it without inhaling it, and quite a bit of it, over several sessions. The man was obviously lying, and he must have known that we knew he was lying.
I tried it, and from '68-'72 smoked my fair share of it, inhaling deeply as one must to get any effect, but I did not like it. I'm an intense guy whose life is already plenty intense. My reaction was similar to Lenny Bruce's: "I've got enough shit flying through my head without smoking weed." (Quoted from memory from How to Talk Dirty and Influence People which I read around '66. My copy is long gone, my mother having confiscated it and thrown it away.)
Having just checked the quotation, I was pretty close. What Bruce actually said was this:
"I don't smoke pot, and I'm glad because then I can champion it without any special pleading. The reason I don't smoke pot is because it facilitates ideas and heightens sensations. And I got enough shit flying through my head without smoking pot."
Mr. Bill made a mistake the other night on The O'Reilly Factor when he said that the British skiffle group Mungo Jerry's sole Stateside hit, In the Summertime, is from '67. Not so, as I instantly recalled: it is from the summer of 1970. I remember because that was the summer I first read Kant, ploughing through The Critique of Pure Reason. I sat myself down under a tree in Garfield Park in South Pasadena with the Norman Kemp Smith translation and dove in. I couldn't make head nor tail of it. But I persisted and eventually wrote my dissertation on Kant.
Now why is Mr. Bill's mistake worth mentioning? Because, to paraphrase Santayana, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And we wouldn't want to repeat the '60s.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today. Here is The Byrds' tribute to the slain leader. They took a traditional song and redid the lyrics. The young Bob Dylan here offers an outstanding interpretation of the old song. And Dave van Ronk's version is not to be missed.
He was a friend of mine, he was a friend of mine His killing had no purpose, no reason or rhyme Oh, he was a friend of mine
He was in Dallas town, he was in Dallas town From a sixth floor window a gunner shot him down Oh, he died in Dallas town
He never knew my name, he never knew my name Though I never met him I knew him just the same Oh, he was a friend of mine
Leader of a nation for such a precious time Oh, he was a friend of mine
I was in the eighth grade when Kennedy was gunned down. We were assembled in an auditorium for some reason when the principal came in and announced that the president had been shot. The date was November 22, 1963. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was seated behind my quondam inamorata, Christine W. My love for her was from afar, like that of Don Quixote for the fair Dulcinea, but at that moment I was in close physical proximity to her, studying the back of her blouse through which I could make out the strap of her training bra . . . .
It was a tale of two nonentities, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. Both were little men who wanted to be big men. Oswald, acting alone, shot Kennedy. Ruby, acting alone, shot Oswald. That is the long and the short of it. For details, I refer you to Bugliosi.
William J. Bennett and David Wilezol, Is College Worth It? (Thomas Nelson 2013), p. 134:
Knowing that students prefer to spend more time having fun than studying, professors are more comfortable awarding good grades while requiring a minimum amount of work. In return, students give favorable personal evaluations to professors who desire to be well received by students as a condition of preserving their employment status. Indeed, the popularity of the student evaluation, which began in the 1970s, has had a pernicious effect.
I would say so. Here is an anecdote to illustrate the Bennett thesis. In early 1984 I was 'up for tenure.' And so in the '83 fall semester I was more than usually concerned about the quality of my student evaluations. One of my classes that semester was an upper-level seminar conducted in the library over a beautiful oak table. One day one of the students began carving into the beautiful table with his pen.
In an abdication of authority that part of me regrets and a part excuses, I said nothing. The student liked me and I knew it. I expected a glowing recommendation from him and feared losing it. So I held my tongue while the kid defaced university property.
Jeff H. and I had entered into a tacit 'non-aggression pact.' (And I got tenure.)
The problem is not that students are given an opportunity to comment upon and complain about their teachers. The problem is the use to which student evaluations are put for tenure, promotion, and salary 'merit-increase' decisions. My chairman at the time was an officious organization man, who would calculate student evaluation averages to one or two decimal places, and then rank department members as to their teaching effectiveness. Without getting into this too deeply for a blog post, there is something highly dubious about equating teaching effectiveness with whatever the student evaluations measure, and something absurd about the false precision of calculating averages out to one or two decimal places.
Jones is a better teacher than Smith because her average is 3.2 while his is only 3.1? Well, no, but if the chairman is asked to justify his decision, he can point to the numbers. There is mindless quantification, but it takes someone more thoughtful than an administrator to see it.
I strongly recommend the Bennett-Wilezol book to anyone thinking of attending college or thinking of bankrolling someone's attendance. Here is a review.
It was a hot and humid September day, twenty years ago. I was sitting in a restaurant in Wuhan, China. There had been a power outage, so the air conditioning was off. The lady next to me was perspiring profusely. I somewhat crudely drew attention to the fact probably using some such expression as 'sweating bullets.'
The lady gave me an arch look and said, "Horses sweat, men perspire, women glow."
Dale hoists a bottle of Pilsner Urquell. To his right, Daniel von Wachter, Daniel Novotny, Alexander Pruss, Michael Gorman, Piotr Dvorak. In the background, left to right, Jan Liska-Dalecki, Lukas Novak, and Trent Dougherty.
Right click to enlarge.
Lukas, Jan, and Vera.
Trent Dougherty with his arm around Vlastimil Vohanka.
One of the participants, fearful of objections, showed up in full armor.
Marvellous Czech cuisine and beer as our reward for exploring a medieval fastness and traipsing some 10-15 km through the woods on muddy trails. What looks like bread is Knedlik, a close relative of what the Germans call Knoedel. That amazing sauce with a dollop of sour cream and cranberry and lemon accents won't soon be forgotten, nor will the ebullient Czech waitress whose jokes inspired a large tip of Czech koruna and U. S. dollars.
For me, travel is disruptive
and desolating. A little desolation, however, is good for the soul, whose
tendency is to sink into complacency. Daheim, empfindet man nicht so sehr die
Unheimlichkeit des Seins. Travel knocks me out of my natural orbit, out of the familiar with its gauzy filters, into the strangeness of things. Even an
overnighter can have this effect. And then time is wasted getting back on track.
I am not cut out to be a vagabond. I Kant hack it. I do it more from duty than
from inclination. But I'm less homebound than the Sage of Koenigsberg.
More on travel in the Travel category in which you will find Emersonian and Pascalian reasons against it.
I lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, from 1984 to 1991. From '86 to '91 I owned a house on Euclid Heights Boulevard near the bohemian Coventry distinct. I loved it: the Arabica coffee house where I hung out to read, write and play chess; eateries such as Tommy's and Irv's; shops like Passport to Peru; the used bookstore Mac's Backs.
The chess scene was especially vibrant with strong masters floating in and out among the patzers. International Master Calvin Blocker once kibbitzed on one of my games: "You'd be lucky to be mated" as I already mentioned in a short entry on the man. Blocker and I got to be friends of sorts to the extent that that is possible with someone so eccentric and prickly. Chess, as Siegbert Tarrasch once remarked, is like love and music: it has the power to make men happy. The good grandmaster neglected to mention, however, that protracted and intense dalliance with Caissa also has the power to introduce a certain eccentricity into one's orbit. But I digress. I want to get back to our wonderful 'conversation' about race.
That big old three-story Tudor on Euclid Heights Boulevard was the first house I bought. A man I knew whose wife had been mugged by a black thug* at University Circle warned me about buying in an area that was about 40% black. But the blacks and the whites seemed to be getting along well enough, and not being a racist, I proved it by buying the beautiful old house for $72,000. (Talk is cheap; if you want to know what a person really believes, observe how and where he spends his money.) There had been some 'white flight' in the '60s but the Coventry neighborhood seemed stable, and the price was right in part because of the racial integration.
By the way, the man I just mentioned, a professor of Religious Studies at Case Western Reserve at the time, and a liberal from the Bay Area, took to packing heat after the thug knocked out several of his wife's teeth and absconded with her money. And all of that in perfect illustration of the conservative adage, "A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged." He suddenly took a keen interest in crime, something he hadn't thought about too much before, a hallmark of liberals being their casual attitude toward criminal behavior. Upscale liberals would do well to sally forth from their lily-white gated communities from time to time to see what the rest of the world is like and how well their liberal bromides hold up.
One of the many attractions of the Coventry district was the annual summer street fair. The ones I attended went off smoothly, but recently there has has been trouble from 'flash mobs' of 'teens.' The rioting and violence of the 2011 event and threats of violence in 2012 and 2013 have resulted in decisions to cancel the event for two years running.
I now come to my point. There can be no worthwhile conversation about race (or anything else) with people who refuse to state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. The 'teens' that rioted were mostly black. But that was not reported. Why not?
*'Black thug' is like 'deciduous tree.' Not all trees are deciduous; not all blacks are thugs. But some are. And, sad to say, more are, proportionally, than whites are.
This morning the Typepad version of Maverick Philosopher shot past the two million pageview mark. This, the third main version of MavPhil, commenced operations on 31 October 2008. The first main version took off on 4 May 2004.
To be exact, total pageviews at the moment are 2,000,523. That averages to 1161.74 per day with recent averages well above that. Total posts come to 4433, total comments to 6502.
I thank you for reading.
My pledge: You will never see advertising on this site. You will never see anything that jumps around in your visual field. I will not beg for money with a 'tip jar.' This is a labor of love and I prize my independence.
I also pledge to continue the fight, day by day, month by month, year by year, against the hate-America, race-baiting, religion-bashing, liberty-destroying, fascists of the Left. As long as health and eyesight hold out.
I will not pander to anyone, least of all the politically correct.
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 JFK, "the intrepid skipper of the PT 109" as I described him in a school essay. I was all for the Civil Rights movement. Musically my heroes were Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I thrilled to 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 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.
I would like to return to the practice of the religion of my youth, I really would. Nothing of the usual sort holds me back: not the sex monkey, not illicit loves or addictions, not worldly ambition or the demands of career, not the thoughtlessness of the worldling mesmerized by the play of transient phenomena, not the Luciferian pride of a Russell or a Sartre or a Hitchens, not the opposition of a wife: mine is a good old-fashioned Catholic girl who attends mass on Sundays, ministers to the sick, and embodies the old-time virtues.
Philosophical and theological questions and doubts are the main impediments to my return.
. . . in the Novus Ordo rite of Mass the Liturgy has been effeminized. There is a famous passage in Caesar’s De bello Gallico where he explains why the Belgae tribe were such good soldiers. He attributes this to their lack of contact with the centers of culture like the cities. Caesar believed that such contact contributes ad effeminandos animos, to the effeminizing of their spirits.
[. . .]
In its Novus Ordo form . . . the Liturgy has been devirilized. One must recall the meaning of the word, vir, in Latin. Both vir and homo mean “man”, but it is vir alone that has the connotation of the man-hero and is the word that is often used for “husband”. The Aeneid begins with the famous words: arma virumque cano. (“ I sing of arms and the man-hero.”) What Cardinal Heenan presciently and correctly saw in 1967 was the virtual elimination of the virile nature of the Liturgy, the replacement of masculine objectivity, necessary for the public worship of the Church, with softness, sentimentality and personalization centered on the motherly person of the priest.
But not only the Liturgy has been devirilized; the priests have been too. The priests of my youth were manly men. But this soon changed in ways that are well known.
There was something profoundly stupid about the Vatican II 'reforms' even if we view matters from a purely immanent 'sociological' point of view. Suppose Roman Catholicism is, metaphysically, buncombe to its core, nothing but an elaborate human construction in the face of a meaningless universe, a construction kept going by human needs and desires noble and base. Suppose there is no God, no soul, no post-mortem reward or punishment, no moral world order. Suppose we are nothing but a species of clever land mammal thrown up on the shores of life by blind evolutionary processes, and that everything that makes us normatively human and thus persons (consciousness, self-consciousness, conscience, reason, and the rest) are nothing but cosmic accidents. Suppose all that.
Still, religion has its immanent life-enhancing role to play, whether true or false, and one would have to be as superficial and ignorant of the human heart as a New Atheist to think it will ever wither away: it inspires and guides, comforts and consoles; it provides our noble impulses with an outlet while giving suffering a meaning. Suffering can be borne, Nietzsche says somewhere, if it has a meaning; what is unbearable is meaningless suffering. Now the deep meaning that the Roman church provides is tied to its profundity, mystery, and reference to the Transcendent. Anything that degrades it into a namby-pamby secular humanism, just another brand of liberal feel-goodism and do-goodism, destroys it, making of it just another piece of dubious cultural junk. Degrading factors: switching from Latin to the vernacular; the introduction of sappy pseudo-folk music sung by pimply-faced adolescents strumming gut-stringed guitars; leftist politics and political correctness; the priest facing the congregation; the '60s obsession with 'relevance.'
People who take religion seriously tend to be conservatives and traditionalists; they are not change-for-the-sake-of-change leftist utopians. The stupidity of the Vatican II 'reforms,' therefore, consists in estranging its very clienetele, the conservatives and traditionalists. The church should be a liberal-free zone.
I'm curious as to when you eat breakfast in relation to when you do your early morning studying, meditating, hiking, or running. I know you've mentioned a few times that you've done these activities before meeting folks for breakfast, so I am curious to know if eating affects your mental and/or spiritual clarity.
Eating definitely affects mental and spiritual clarity, and usually adversely, although it depends on the quantity and quality of what is eaten and drunk. My rule is: Nothing but coffee until after meditation. And no electronics until after meditation. A typical day goes like this. Up at 2 AM, reading and journal writing and coffee drinking til 4, then meditation 4-5, then more coffee and some toast smeared with almond butter (great stuff!). Then I turn on the modem (which I keep off at night), fire up the computer, answer e-mail and blog comments, work on a blog post, then around 5:30 or later depending on the season head out for 2-3 hours of exercise either a local hike/run or a combination of weight-lifting, swimming, and riding the mountain bike. For hydration I drink copious amount of water and OJ.
Only after physical exercise do I have a proper breakfast, around 7:30 or 8:30. But a little something before exercise is a good idea to fuel your exertions.
Don't imitate Jim Morrison, that distinguished member of the 27 Club, Roadhouse Blues: "I woke up this morning and I had myself a beer. The future's uncertain and death is always near." Yes it is if beer's your breakfast.
I met Dallas Willard only once, at an A. P. A. meeting in San Francisco in the early '90s. I had sent him a paper on Husserl and Heidegger and we had plans to get together over dinner to discuss it. Unfortunately, the plans fell through when a son of Willard showed up. But we did speak briefly and I still recall his kindness and his words, "I'll help you any way I can." In the few minutes I was with him I became aware of his depth and his goodness.
My only serious engagement with Professor Willard's work was via a long and intricate paper I published in Philosophia Christi, "The Moreland-Willard-Lotze Thesis on Being," vol. 6, no. 1 (2004), pp. 27-58.
We have it on good authority that death is the muse of philosophy. The muse reminds us that our time is short and to be well used. I expect Willard would approve of the following lines from St Augustine's Confessions, Book VI, Chapter 11, Ryan trans.:
Let us put away these vain and empty concerns. Let us turn ourselves only to a search for truth. Life is hard, and death is uncertain. It may carry us away suddenly. In what state shall we leave this world? Where must we learn what we have neglected here? Or rather, must we not endure punishment for our negligence? What if death itself should cut off and put an end to all care, along with sensation itself? This too must be investigated.
Yesterday's killer hike, commencing at First Water Trailhead at 7:30 AM, took us to the top of Black Top Mesa (not to be confused with cholla-forested Black Mesa, also accessible via First Water). It is a leisurely saunter over Parker Pass and across some now-almost-dry streams until you arrive at the Bull Pass upgrade which is not only steep but slippery as hell. At Bull Pass, a cairn marks an unofficial spur that leads to the top of the mesa and some fine views. It is easy to miss it and end up on a very different (false but seductive) spur that peters out only after one has been well-seduced. (Been there, done that.) It got warm and our start was late, James having driven up from Tucson, so the two old men spent 8 1/2 hours on the trail including leisurely rests and a half-hour lunch atop the mesa. We were out of water and well-trashed by the time the death march was over and we climbed back into the Jeep with visions of Fat Tire Ale dancing in our heads. Mileage is about 12 round-trip with accumulated elevation gain of about 1600 feet. Details here. Weaver's Needle from the top of the mesa:
I had an odd schedule in those days. I hit the sack at four in the afternoon and got up at midnight. I caught the last trolley of the night to the end of the line, Boston College station. Got off, hiked up the hill to my office where I worked all night on my dissertation while listening to a classical music station out of Waltham, Mass. Then I prepared my lectures, taught a couple of classes, went for a run, played a game of chess with my apartment-mate, Quentin Smith, and was in bed by four again. That was my schedule early fall '77 to late spring '78every single day holidays included.
That's how I got my dissertation done. I ruthlessly cut out everything from my life except the essential. I told one girlfriend, "See you at my dissertation defense." She later expressed doubts about marrying a man given to occasional interludes of "hibernation." Another girlfriend complained that I kept "odd hours." True enough. And I still do. I don't get up at midnight any more. I get up at 2 AM. I've become a slacker.
One night in early February the snow was coming down pretty thick as I caught the last trolley of the night. The trip up the hill to my office was quite a slog. A big drift against the main door to Carney Hall made it diffcult to get the door open. But I made it inside and holed up in my windowless office for two or three days as the Great Blizzard of '78 raged. I got a lot of work done and finished the dissertation on schedule.
Here is my favorite Koch quotation: ''Listen, I love Boston,'' Mr. Koch said. ''It's a wonderful town to come up and visit, on occasion, but it's not New York. Boston is a very nice town, but compared to New York it's Podunk.''
That's Koch for you. Outspoken. Testicular. Not that I agree with the jibe. I'd take the Athens of America over the Big Apple any day. I was offered full funding to attend graduate school both in New York and in Boston. So in the spring of '73 I made the transcontinental trek from Los Angeles by thumb and 'dog' to check out both places. The dismality and crowdedness and dirtiness of NYC with smack addicts on the nod in the subway decided the question for me.
My Boston years were blissful. A great, compact, vibrant town, the hub of the universe and the Eastern hub of the running boom. A great town to be young in. But when it comes time to own things and pay taxes, the West is the best, but not so far West that you end up on the Left Coast. (Trivia question: which member of the 27 Club uttered the italicized words and in which song?)
Koch was a species of liberal that scarcely exists anymore on the national stage: a liberal, as he liked to put it, “with sanity.” The sanity acted as a prophylactic against the sort of racialist identity politics that helped make the mayoralty of David Dinkins, Koch’s successor, such a conspicuous disaster. It also underwrote his relative independence as a political actor. Thus Koch, in 2004, crossed party lines to endorse George W. Bush, not so much because he agreed with all of Dubya’s platform but because he understood that that United States was under threat from a mortal, if also amorphous, enemy, and Koch was an unembarrassed patriot.
A sane liberal. A dying breed. 'Sane liberal' is becoming an oxymoron and 'liberal loon' a pleonasm.
I left my native state of California in 1973 and headed for Boston. Back in the day, California drivers were very good. So I was appalled to experience the awful driving habits of Bostonians. Not as bad as Turks who perform such stunts as driving on sidewalks and backing up in heavy traffic on account of missing a turn, but still very bad. California is catching up, however, as the once great Golden State becomes the Greece of America, thanks to stupid liberals and their stupid policies.
This from that resolute and near-quotidian chronicler of Californication, Victor Davis Hanson (emphasis added):
Little need be said about infrastructure other than it is fossilized. The lunacy of high-speed rail is not just the cost, but that a few miles from its proposed route are at present a parallel but underused Amtrak track and the 99 Highway, where thousands each day risk their lives in crowded two lanes, often unchanged since the 1960s.
The 99, I-5, and 101 are potholed two-lane highways with narrow ramps, and a few vestigial cross-traffic death zones. But we, Californian drivers, are not just double the numbers of those 30 years ago, but — despite far safer autos and traffic science — far less careful as well. There are thousands of drivers without licenses, insurance, registration, and elementary knowledge of road courtesy. Half of all accidents in Los Angeles are hit-and-runs.
My favorite is the ubiquitous semi-truck and trailer swerving in and out of the far left lane with a 20-something Phaethon behind the wheel — texting away as he barrels along at 70 mph with a fishtailing 20 tons. The right lane used to be for trucks; now all lanes are open range for trucking — no law in the arena! The dotted lane lines are recommendations, not regulations. (Will young truck drivers be hired to become our new high-speed rail state employee engineers?)
When I drive over the Grapevine, I play a sick game of counting the number of mattresses I’ll spot in the road over the next 100 miles into L.A. (usually three to four). Lumber, yard clippings, tools, and junk — all that is thrown into the back of trucks without tarps. To paraphrase Hillary: what does it matter whether we are killed by a mattress or a 2 x 4? In places like Visalia or Madera, almost daily debris ends up shutting down one of the only two lanes on the 99.
Wrecks so far? It is not the number, but rather the scary pattern that counts. I’ve had three in the last 10 years: a would-be hit-and-run driver (the three “no”s: no license, no registration, no insurance) went through a stop sign in Selma, collided with my truck, and tried to take off on foot, leaving behind his ruined Civic; a speeder (80 m.p.h.) in L.A. hit a huge box-spring on the 101 near the 405, slammed on his brakes, skidded into a U-turn in the middle lane, reversed direction, and hit me going 40 m.p.h. head-on (saved by Honda Accord’s front and side air-bags and passive restraint seat harnesses; the injured perpetrator’s first call was to family, not 911); and a young woman last year, while texting, rear-ended me at 50 m.p.h. while I was at a complete stop in stalled traffic in Fresno (thank God for a dual-cab Tundra with a long trailer hitch). She too first called her family to try to help her flee the scene of her wrecked car, but my call apparently reached the Highway Patrol first.
Drive enough in California, and you too, reader, will have a ‘”rendezvous with Death, at some disputed barricade.”
When I lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, I was within walking distance of the old Arabica coffee house on Coventry Road. The Coventry district was quite a scene in those days and there I met numerous interesting characters of the sort one expects to find in coffee houses: would-be poets and novelists, pseudo-intellectual bullshitters of every stripe, and a wide range of chess players from patzers to masters. It was there that I became acquainted with International Master Calvin Blocker. Observing a game of mine one day, he kibitzed, "You'd be lucky to be mated."
It was going to be either a Harley-Davidson or a Jeep Wrangler. I took the three-day motorcycle course, passed it, and got my license. But then good sense kicked in and I sprang for a 2013 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S. I'm a hiker, not a biker. And I value my long-term physical integrity. 'Unlimited' translates to 'four door.' The longer wheel base makes for a comfortable freeway ride. The removable hard top adds to security and means a quiet ride. The new with 2012 Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 24 valve engine delivers plenty of power through either a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic tranny. But it is still a lean, mean, trail machine that will get me easily into, and more importantly, out of the gnarlier trailheads.
I bought it the day after Thanksgiving and I've had it off road twice. Drove it up to Roger's Trough Trailhead in the Eastern Superstitions on Sunday where James L. and I trashed ourselves good on a seven hour hike to and from the Cliff Dwellings. Don't try to access this trailhead without a high clearance 4WD vehicle. There was one steep switchback that definitely got my attention and left me white-knuckled. And then on Wednesday, a serious off-roader showed me some Jeep trails northwest of Superior, AZ. Using walkie-talkies, he gave me a little tutorial on how to negotiate narrow, rocky trails without getting hung up or rolling over. It comes standard with a roll-bar, though. I hope not to make use of it. And I don't reckon I will be putting the front windshield down, either. Might come in handy, though, for shooting in the direction of travel . . . .