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 . . . .
No pain to speak of, leastways. And I've been at it over 38 years. Your mileage may vary, as does Malcolm Pollack's who, in his Pain, No Gain, reports:
I used to run. I never liked it much, but I did it anyway. I was never fleet of foot, and I never ran very far — two or three miles, usually, with the longest effort ever being only about six miles or so.
Mileage is indeed the key. Malcolm never ran far enough to experience what running is really about. He didn't take the first step. Arthur Lydiard, Run to the Top (2nd ed. Auckland: Minerva, 1967, p. 4):
The first step to enjoying running -- and anyone will enjoy it if he takes that first step -- is to achieve perfect fitness. I don't mean just the ability to run half a mile once a week without collapsing. I mean the ability to run great distances with ease at a steady speed.
That's one hell of a first step. But the great coach is right: you will never enjoy running or understand its satisfactions if you jog around the block for 20 minutes four times per week. I find that only after one hour of running am I properly primed and stoked. And then the real run begins. Or as I recall Joe Henderson saying back in the '70s in a Runner's World column: Run the first hour for your body, the second for yourself.
I don't move very fast these days. I do the old man shuffle. But I've got staying power. Completed a marathon at age 60. Enjoyed the hell out of last week's 10 K Turkey Trot. Surprisingly, the satisfactions of running are the same now as they were in fleeter days.
To avoid injuries, limit your running to two or three days a week and crosstrain on the other days. I lift weights, ride bikes, use elliptical trainers, hike, swim, and do water aerobics.
And don't forget: LSD (long slow distance) is better than POT (plenty of tempo).
John F. Kennedy was assassinated 49 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.
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.
I was cruising the booze aisle in the local supermarket yesterday in search of wines for Thursday's Thanksgiving feast. I got into conversation with a friendly twenty-something dude who worked there. I said I was looking for sweet vermouth. He thought it was used to make martinis and so I explained that martinis call for dry vermouth while the sweet stuff is an ingredient in manhattans. He then enthused about some whisky he had been drinking. I asked whether it was a scotch or a bourbon. He replied, "It's whisky." I then explained that whisky is to scotch, bourbon, rye, etc. as genus to species and that one couldn't drink whisky unless one drank scotch or bourbon, or . . . . This didn't seem to register.
But it did remind me of another twenty-something dude whose comment about the church he attended prompted me to ask what Protestant denomination he belonged to. He said. "I am a Presbyterian, not a Protestant."
These two incidents then put me in mind of a story Hegel tells somewhere, perhaps it's in the Lesser Logic. A man goes to the grocer to buy fruit. The grocer shows him apples, oranges, pears, cherries . . . . Our man rejects each suggestion, insisting that he wants fruit. He learns that fruit as such is not to be had.
. . . I reflect on the ease and endless rewards of my career, moving from comfortable position to comfortable position, and compare it with the terrible struggles of young academics trying to gain some sort of security and time for their own scholarship in an increasingly hostile job market. The sixties, when my career was being launched, was a time of explosive growth of higher education in America. Spurred by the G. I. Bill and the post-war economic boom, and fed by an endless stream of young men avoiding the Viet Nam draft, colleges and universities virtually metastasized. State universities, which had existed ever since the Land Grant Acts of the 1860's, suddenly sprouted satellite campuses. State colleges plumped themselves up into universities, and Community Colleges became State Colleges. There were so many new teaching positions to be filled that in the sixties and seventies graduate students were being offered tenure track positions before they had become ABD.
BV: I'm a generation younger than Professor Wolff. By the time I began applying for jobs at the end of the '70s things had become grim and the gravy days of the '60s were a thing of the past. But I lucked out and got a tenure track job in '78 right out of graduate school at the University of Dayton. Lucky me, I had no other offer. I later learned that in the '60s there were four philosophy hires in one year at UD, some of them sight unseen: no interview. One of these gentlemen couldn't even speak English! And of course the quality of the people hired was relatively low.
It is also worth pointing out that the '60s and early '70s were also a time when what William James in 1903 called the "Ph.D Octopus" acquired many more tentacled arms. New graduate programs started up and new philosophy journals as well. Another Harvard man, Willard van Orman Quine, cast a jaundiced eye on the proliferation of journals in his delightful "Paradoxes of Plenty" in Theories and Things (Harvard UP, 1981):
Certainly, then, new journals were needed: they were needed by authors of articles too poor to be accepted by existing journals. The journals that were thus called into existence met the need to a degree, but they in turn preserved, curiously, certain minimal standards; and so a need was felt for further journals still, to help to accommodate the double rejects. The series invites extrapolation and has had it. (196)
At the same time, the Cold War and the Sputnik scare triggered a flood of federal money into universities. Most of it, of course, funded defense-related research or studies of parts of the world that America considered inimical to its interests [Russian Research Institutes, East Asia Programs, language programs of all sorts], but some of the money slopped over into the Humanities, and even into libraries and university presses. For a time, commercial publishers found that they could not lose money on an academic book, since enough copies would be sold to newly flush university libraries to enable them to break even. Those were the days when a philosopher willing to sell his soul [and who among us was not?] could get a contract on an outline, a Preface, or just an idea and a title. The professor introducing me at one speech I gave said, "Professor Wolff joined the Book of the Month Club, but he didn't realize he was supposed to read a book a month. He thought he was supposed to publish a book a month." Well, we all thought we were brilliant, of course.
Then the bubble burst. First the good jobs disappeared. Then even jobs we would never have deigned to notice started drying up. Universities adopted the corporate model, and like good, sensible business leaders, started cutting salaries, destroying job security, and reducing decent, hard-working academics to the status of itinerant peddlers. Today, two-thirds of the people teaching in higher education are contract employees without good benefits or an assured future. Scientists do pretty well, thanks to federal support for research, but the Humanities and non-defense related Social Sciences languish. The arts are going the way of high school bands and poetry societies.
The truth is that I fell off the cart onto a nice big dung heap, and waxed fat and happy, as any self-respecting cockroach would. My career happened to fit neatly into the half century that will, in future generations, be looked back on as the Golden Age of the American University. There is precious little I can do for those unfortunate enough to come after me. But at least, I can assure them that their bad luck is not a judgment on the quality of their work. And, of course, I can write increasingly lavish letters of recommendation in a desperate attempt to launch them into the few remaining decent teaching jobs. I would have liked to do better by them. They deserve it.
I have been a fan of your blog for a long time. In fact you helped to establish my first wary steps into the discipline of philosophy. I struggled through your entries, persistent and confused, ultimately rewarded for my efforts. Your scathing, surly, incisive political commentary is a great alternative to my usual news consumption habits. Now, I admit that I am left-leaning, and so your perspective is refreshing. I understand that you have a particular interest, but your motto, "Study everything, join nothing," as led me to believe that you might approach my book suggestion with an open mind: "The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." Alas, the title is sensational but the information and research seems solid. I suggest the work in hopes that you might begin a running critique or dialogue upon the subject.
I thank the reader for his kind words and I find it gratifying that letters like his roll in at regular intervals, suggesting to me that my pro bono efforts are of some value.
If I were to find the book the reader suggests at the local library I would check it out and read at least portions of it. But I am not inclined to go out of my way to acquire it based on the following description from the Amazon page which I quote verbatim:
"Jarvious Cotton's great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole."
As the United States celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status--much like their grandparents before them.
In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community--and all of us--to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
Before commenting on the above description, let me say that, first of all, 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 destribed 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.
Now let's consider the first paragraph of the above description. Mention is made of one Jarvious Cotton. His mugshot is to the left. This dude was convicted of two offenses, homicide/murder and armed robbery. According to Michelle Alexander, author of the book in question, Cotton "has been labeled a felon."
So he was merely labeled a felon but is not a felon? Or was the label properly applied? Alexander is suggesting the former. The suggestion, from the context of the first paragraph, is that blacks get 'labeled' felons to prevent them from voting.
But that is absurd. Apart from the occasional wrongful conviction, blacks who are labeled felons are correctly so-labeled because they have committed felonies. Now should felons have the right to vote? Of course not. First of all, if you commit a felony, that shows you are pretty stupid: you don't know your own long-term best self-interest. It shows that you have terrible judgment. Murder and armed robbery are not elements in a life well-lived. A person like that should not be given a say on matters of public concern. That should be obvious. Second, part of the punishment for being a felon is removal of the right to vote.
No one is interested in disenfranchising blacks by 'labeling' them felons, but some blacks disenfranchise themselves by committing felonies.
There is also the misuse of language in the title of the book. The New Jim Crow? Nonsense. Jim Crow is a thing of the past.
Does the U. S. criminal justice system "target black men" and "decimate communities of color"? Is Atty Gen'l Eric Holder -- who is black -- in on this too? What motive could they have? The antecedent likelihood of this claim is so low that I cannot take it seriously. It is on a level with the wild claims of the 9/11 'truthers' and the allegation that the CIA in the '80s dumped cocaine into South Central Los Angeles.
My journal entry for 29 October 1972 was just this: "To live a philosophical life in a tumultuous, uncertain world is my goal."
I pulled it off. I found my niche. I achieved my goal. But to achieve goals one must first posit them, and herein lies another reason to maintain a journal. One plans and projects. And then, years later, one enjoys the fruition of those long past projections.
It was 42 years ago today that I first began keeping a regular journal. Before that, as a teenager, I kept some irregular journals. Why maintain a journal? When I was 16 years old, my thought was that I didn't want time to pass with nothing to show for it. That is still my thought. The unrecorded life is not worth living. For we have it on good authority that the unexamined life is not worth living, and how examined could an undocumented life be?
The maintenance of a journal aids mightily in the project of self-individuation. Like that prodigious journal writer Søren Kierkegaard, I believe we are here to become actually the individuals we are potentially. Our individuation is not ready-made or given, but a task to be accomplished. The world is a vale of soul-making; we are not here to improve it, but to be improved by it.
Henry David Thoreau, another of the world's great journal writers, said in Walden that "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." I would only add that without a journal, one's life is one of quiet dissipation. One's life dribbles away, day by day, unreflected on, unexamined, unrecorded, and thus fundamentally unlived. Living, for us, is not just a biological process; it is fundamentally a spiritual unfolding. To mean anything it has to add up to something, and that something cannot be expressed with a dollar sign.
I have always had a horror of an unfocused existence. In my early twenties, I spoke of the supreme desideratum of a focused existence. What bothered me about the people around me, fellow students in particular, was the mere aestheticism of their existence: their aimless drifting hither and yon, their lack of commitment, their unseriousness, their refusal to engage the arduous task of self-definition and self-individuation, their willingness to be guided and mis-guided by social suggestions. In one's journal one collects and re-collects oneself; one makes war against the lower self and the forces of dispersion.
Another advantage to a journal and its regular maintenance is that one thereby learns how to write, and how to think. An unwritten thought is still a half-baked thought: proper concretion is achieved only by expressing thoughts in writing and developing them. Always write as well as you can, in complete sentences free of grammatical and spelling errors. Develop the sentences into paragraphs, and if the Muse is with you those paragraphs may one day issue in essays, articles, and chapters of books.
Finally, there is the pleasure of re-reading from a substantial temporal distance. Two years ago I began re-reading my journal in order, month by month, at a 40 year distance. So of course now I am up to October 1972. 40 Years from now I will be at the present, or dead. One.
. . . I did on this date, October 3, in 1972. I sold my 1969 vintage Gibson ES 335 TD. A forty year regret. I needed money. I parted with it, mint-condition, for $200. Worth about $6000 now. But it's not the money. It was one fine axe.
It was my pleasure to meet science writer and long-time reader and friend of MavPhil, John Farrell, in Flagstaff Friday evening. He was in town for a conference on the origins of the expanding universe, as he reports in Forbeshere. Flag is a lovely dorf sitting at 7,000 feet amongst the pines and home to the Lowell Observatory. It is an excellent retreat from the heat of the Valle del Sol where you would never catch me this time of year in long pants, jacket, and beret.
John and I are standing in front of an excellent Mexican eatery on old Route 66. I first heard about this joint on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. As luck would have it, Farrell the Irishman is enthusiastic about Mexican chow. Our tequila-fueled conversation was so good that I failed to clean my plate, a rare occurrence as my companions (literally those with whom one breaks bread, L. panis) know.
Perhaps the best thing about maintaining a weblog is that it attracts like-minded, high-quality people some of whom one then goes on to meet in the flesh.
I just heard Dennis Prager say on his nationally syndicated radio show that travelling together is a good test for marital compatibility. Sage advice.
Long before I had heard of Prager I subjected my bride-to-be to such a test. I got the idea from the delightful 1982 movie The Diner. One of the guys who hung out at the diner tested for marital suitability by administering a football quiz to his fiance. That gave me the idea of taking my future wife on a cross-country trip from Cleveland, Ohio to Los Angeles, California in my Volkswagen bus. This was not a camper bus, but a stripped-down model, so the amenities were meager-to-nonexistent. I threw a mattress in the back, made some curtains, and hit the road. That was in the summer of '82. The soundtrack from The Diner was one of the tapes we listened to on the way. I recall reading the Stephen King novel Cujo about the dog from hell when my inamorata drove.
We slept mainly at rest stops. I had an old .38 Special with me for protection, which fortunately proved unnecessary. What did we do for showers? I don't think we took any. We cleaned up at the rest stop facilities like true vagabundos and moved on.
One dark and starry night I pulled off Interstate 10 in some desolate stretch of the Mojave desert. Wifey-to-be was scared but it was a memorable moonless star-studded night. We made it to L. A., saw family and friends, then headed up old U. S. 395 along the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada to Bishop, Cal, where we visited some more of my people, then north to Reno, Nevada where we hooked up with I-80 and pointed the old bus East.
Dear one took the rigors of that trip 30 years ago like a trouper, and passed the test with flying colors. We got married the following summer and remain happily married 29 summers later.
When I told the story to a feminazi some years back she gave me a hard and disapproving look. She didn't like that I imposed a marital compatibility test upon my lady love. Bitch! So here's another bit of free and friendly advice. Marry an angel, never a bitch. Life's enough of a bitch. You don't need to marry one. Does your belllicosity need an outlet? Fight outside the home. Home should be an oasis of peace and tranquillity.
So once again I agree with Prager. Check her or him out on the road before heading for the altar.
At a gathering of Boston academicians some years back, by way of a conversational opener, I said to Professor X, "I understand you teach at the University of L." The good professor replied, "I conduct classes at the University of L." I found that to be a very good distinction, one borne out by my own experience.
I began this weblog eight years ago today in 2004.
The rumors of blogging's demise have been vastly exaggerated. What has happened is that those whose purposes all along were more social and less serious have moved on to the so-called social media, Facebook and Twitter. Read or unread, whether by sages or fools, I shall blog on. A post beats a tweet any day, and no day without a post. Nulla dies sine linea. It is too early to say of blogging what Etienne Gilson said of philosophy, namely, that it always buries its undertakers, but I am hopeful. After all, a weblog is just an online journal, and journal scribbling has flourished most interestingly for centuries.
To put it romantically, blogging is a vehicle for the relentless, quotidian sifting, seeking, and questing for sense and truth and reality without which some of us would find life meaningless.
This, the fourth version of Maverick Philosopher, was begun on 31 October 2008. Traffic is good, with 1.3 million total pageviews for this version alone. That averages out to 1024 page views per day since Halloween 2008. This incarnation sports 3,333 posts. I thank you for your patronage.
Using 'quietist' in a broad sense as opposed to the Molinos-Fenelon-Guyon sense, I would describe myself as a quietist rather than as an activist. The point of life is not action, but contemplation, not doing, but thinking. (I mean 'thinking' in a very broad sense that embraces all forms of intentionality as well as meditative non-thinking.) The vita activa is of course necessary (for some all of the time, and for people like me some of the time), but it is necessary as a means only. Its whole purpose is to subserve the vita contemplativa. To make of action an end in itself is absurd, and demonstrably so, though I will spare you the demonstration. If you are assiduous you can dig it out of Aristotle, Aquinas and Josef Pieper. I recommend his Leisure: The Basis of Culture.
So the dominant note of my personality is quietism in the sense just sketched. The Big Questions turn my crank, not this foreground rubbish about abortion, illegal immigration, social security, misuse of eminent domain, leftist race-baiting, etc. It would be nice to be able to let the world and its violent nonsense go to hell while cultivating my garden in peace.
Unfortunately, my garden and stoa are in the world and exposed to its threats. So politics, which has too little to do with truth and too much to do with power, cannot be ignored. This world is not ultimately real, but it is no illusion either, pace some sophists of the New Age, and so some battling within it, ideological or otherwise, cannot be avoided. Besides, the issues of the day all have roots in the Big Questions. So an assiduous and deep-going application to the issues of the day will lead one to the Big Questions. An excellent example is abortion.
The bolded material below is taken verbatim from Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (Crown 2012), p. 13. I then give my responses. The more affirmative responses, the more of an introvert you are.
1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. Absolutely! Especially in philosophical discussions. As Roderick Chisholm once said, "In philosophy, three's a crowd."
2. I often prefer to express myself in writing. Yes.
3. I enjoy solitude. Is the Pope Catholic? Beata solitudo, sola beatitudo. Happy solitude, the sole beatitude.
4. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status. Seem? Do! Money is a mere means. To pursue it as an end in itself is perverse. And once you have enough, you stop acquiring more and turn to higher pursuits. Obscurity is delicious. To be able to walk down the street and pass as an ordinary schmuck is wonderful. The value of fame and celebrity is directly proportional to the value of the fools and know-nothings who confer it. And doesn't Aristotle say that to be famous you need other people, which fact renders you dependent on them? Similarly with social status. Who confers it? And what is their judgment worth?
5. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me. More than once in these pages have I ranted about the endless yap, yap, yap, about noth, noth, nothing.
6. People tell me I'm a good listener. Yes. My mind drifts back to a girl I knew when I was fifteen. She called me her 'analyst' when she wasn't calling me 'Dr. Freud.'
7. I'm not a big risk-taker. That's right. I recently took a three-day motorcycle course, passed it, and got my license. I had been eyeing the Harley-Davidson 883 Iron. But then I asked myself how riding a motorcycle would further my life tasks and whether it makes sense, having come this far, to risk my life and physical integrity in pursuit of cheap thrills.
8. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions. Right. No instant messaging. Only recently acquired a cell phone. I keep it turned off. Call me the uncalled caller. My wife is presently in a faraway land on a Fulbright. That allows me to unplug the land-line. I love e-mail; fast but unintrusive. I'll answer when I feel like it and get around to it. I don't allow mself to be rushed or interrupted.
9. I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members. I don't see the point of celebrating birthdays at all. What's to celebrate? First, birth is not unequivocally good. Second, it is not something you brought about. It befell you. Better to celebrate some good thing that you made happen.
10. People describe me as "soft-spoken" or "mellow." I'm too intense to be called 'mellow,' but sotto voce applies.
11. I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it is finished. Pretty much, with the exception of these blog scribblings.
12. I dislike conflict. Can't stand it. Hate onesidedness. I look at a problem from all angles and try to mediate oppositions when possible. I thoroughly hate, reject, and abjure the blood sport approach to philosophy. Polemic has no place in philosophy. This is not to say that it does not have a place elsewhere, in politics for example.
13. I do my best work on my own. Yes. A former colleague, a superficial extrovert, once described me as 'lone wolf.'
14. I tend to think before I speak. Yes.
15. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself. Yes. This is a common complaint of introverts. They can take only so much social interaction. It depletes their energy and they need to go off by themselves to 'recharge their batteries.' In my case, it is not just an energy depletion but a draining away of my 'spiritual substance.' It is as if one's interiority has been compromised and one has entered into inauthenticity, Heidegger's Uneigentlichkeit. The best expression of this sense of spiritual depletion is probably Kierkegaard's remark in one of his early journal entries about a party he attended:
I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; witty banter flowed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me -- but I came away, indeed that dash should be as along as the radii of the earth's orbit ---------------------------------------------------------- wanting to shoot myself. (1836)
16. I often let calls go through to e-mail. Yes. See comment to #8 above.
17. If I had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled. I love huge blocks of time, days at a stretch, with no commitments whatsoever. Dolce far niente. Sweet to do nothing.
18. I don't enjoy multitasking. Right. One thing at a time.
19. I can concentrate easily. Obviously, and for long stretches of time.
20. In classroom sitations, I prefer lecture to seminars. Especially if I'm doing the lecturing.
Here is a description of the Myers-Briggs INTP. And here is another.
About four or five years ago you wrote about an American writer and thinker, perhaps an academic philosopher, who published, I believe, two books and seemed to disappear. You had difficulty finding information about him online. I believe you said he had an interest in East Asian thought. His “career” was eccentric by conventional standards and he seemed to be something of a loner.
This post examines Richard C. Potter's solution to the problem of reconciling creatio ex nihilo with ex nihilo nihil fit in his valuable article, "How To Create a Physical Universe Ex Nihilo," Faith and Philosophy, vol. 3, no. 1, (January 1986), pp. 16-26. (Potter appears to have dropped out of sight, philosophically speaking, so if anyone knows what became of him, please let me know. The Philosopher's Index shows only three articles by him, the last of which appeared in 1986.)
I don't know whether Potter is the man Kurp had in mind, but the former does satisfy part of Kurp's description. In any event, the Richard Potter story is an interesting one.
I recall talking to him, briefly, in the summer of 1981 at Brown University. I was a participant in Roderick Chisholm's National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, and Potter, who I believe had recently completed his Ph.D. at Brown, sat in on a few sessions. My impression was he that he was unable to secure a teaching position. I also recall a slightly derogatory comment I made about the Midwest and how one might have to go there to find employment. Potter's mild-mannered reply was to the effect that he preferred the Midwest over other geographical regions. His name stuck in my mind probably because of a paper on the paradox of analysis he co-authored with Chisholm and because of the F & P article mentioned above. See here. But then he dropped out of philosophical sight.
A few years back, I did a search and he turned up again as a George Reeves and Superman aficionado. So here is part of the rest of the Potter story. Here is Potter's George Reeves site.
He was one serious man. I have always had contempt for unserious people, unserious people in philosophy being the very worst. You know the type: the bland and blasé whose civility is not born of wisdom and detachment but is a mere urbanity sired by a jocose superficiality. I have always had the sense that something is stake in life, that it matters what we believe and how we live. What exactly is at stake, why our lives matter, and how best to respond to nihilists and Nietzsche's Last Men are profoundly baffling problems. But that life is serious is a given.
Perhaps unfortunately, Wittgenstein seemed unable to 'punch the clock' and play the regular guy among regular guys for even a short time. Wittgenstein died in the house of Dr and Mrs Bevan, a house that bore the auspicious name, 'Storeys End.' Ray Monk relates the following anecdote:
Before Wittgenstein moved into their house, Dr Bevan had invited him for supper to introduce him to his wife. She had been warned that Wittgenstein was not one for small talk and that she should be careful not to say anything thoughtless. Playing it safe, she remained silent throughout the evening. But when Wittgenstein mentioned his visit to Ithaca, she chipped in cheerfully, 'How lucky for you to go to America!' She realized at once that she had said the the wrong thing. Wittgenstein fixed her with an intent stare: 'What do you mean, lucky?' (Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, p. 576.)
Poor Mrs Bevan! The first shot depicts LW in 1925, the second on his death bed in 1951.
The Guardian obituary has him born on 16 April 1947 and dead on 4 January 2011. I recall his smash Baker Street from the far-off and fabulous summer of 1978. It came over the car radio in my quondam girl friend's Toyota many times as we drove from Boston, Mass to Dayton, O to secure me an apartment there. I hated leaving the Athens of America for the dreary Midwest, but I had landed a tenure-track job and one goes where the jobs are. In retrospect, I was extremely lucky to get that job. Was I the best of the 100 people who applied for it? Not even I believe that.
One may gather from my surname that I am of Italian extraction. Indeed, that is the case in both paternal and maternal lines: my mother was born near Rome in a place called San Vito Romano, and my paternal grandfather near Verona in the wine region whence comes Valpollicella. Given these facts, some will refer to me as Italian-American.
I myself, however, refer to myself as an American, and I reject the hyphenated phrase as a coinage born of confusion and contributing to division. Suppose we reflect on this for a moment. What does it mean to be an Italian-American as the phrase is currently used ? Does it imply dual citizenship? No. Does it imply being bilingual? No. Does it entail being bicultural? No again. As the phrase is currently used it does not imply any of these things. And the same goes for 'Polish-American' and related coinages. My mother was both bilingual and bicultural, but I’m not. To refer to her as Italian-American makes some sense, but not me. I am not Italian culturally, linguistically or by citizenship. I am Italian only by extraction.
And that doesn’t make a difference, or at least should not make a difference to a rational person. Indeed, I identify myself as a rational being first and foremost, which implies nothing about ‘blood.’ The liberal-left emphasis on blood and ethnicity and origins and social class is dangerous and divisive. Suppose you come from Croatia. Is that something to be proud of? You had to be born somewhere of some set of parents. It wasn't your doing. It is an element of your facticity. Be proud of the accomplishments that individuate you, that make you an individual, as opposed to a member of a tribe. Celebrate your freedom, not your facticity.
If you must celebrate diversity, celebrate a diversity of ideas and a diversity of individuals, not a diversity of races and ethnicities and groups. Celebrate individual thinking, not 'group-think.' The Left in its perversity has it backwards. They emphasize the wrong sort of diversity while ignoring the right kind. They go to crazy lengths to promote the wrong kind while squelching diversity of thought and expression with their speech codes and political correctness.
So I am an American. Note that that word does not pick out a language or a race; it picks out a set of ideas and values. Even before I am an American, I am animal metaphysicum and zoon logikon. Of course, I mean this to apply to everyone, especially those most in need of this message, namely blacks and Hispanics. For a black dude born in Philly to refer to himself as African-American borders on the absurd. Does he know Swahili? Is he culturally African? Does he enjoy dual citzenship?
If he wants me to treat him as an individual, as a unique person with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto, and to judge him by the content of his character rather than by the color of his skin, why does he identify himself with a group? Why does he try to secure advantages in virtue of this group membership? Is he so devoid of self-esteem and self-reliance that he cannot stand on his own two feet? Why does he need a Black caucus? Do Poles need a Polish caucus? Jim Crow is dead. There is no 'institutional racism.' There may be a few racists out there, but they are few and far between except in the febrile imaginations of race-baiting and race-card dealing liberals. Man up and move forward. Don't blame others for your problems. That's the mark of a loser. Take responsibility. We honkies want you to do well. The better you do, the happier you will be and the less trouble you will cause.
In Being and Nothingness, Sartre distinguishes between transcendence and facticity and identifies one form of bad faith as a person’s attempted identification of himself with an element of his facticity, such as race. But that is what the hyphenators and the Balkanizers and the identity-politicians and the race-baiters and the Marxist class warfare instigators want us to do: to identify ourselves in terms extraneous to our true being. Yet another reason never to vote for a liberal.
Dale Tuggy was kind enough yesterday to drive all the way from Tucson to my place in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. He came on short notice and late in the day but we managed to pack in more than six hours of nonstop conversation on a wide range of philosophical and theological topics. He was still going strong when, two hours after my bedtime, I had to send him on his way.
Talk got on to mysterianism, of course, and his ongoing debate with James Anderson. Dale made a distinction that I hadn't considered, namely, one between belief and acceptance. My tendency up to now has been to identify believing that p with accepting that p. Up to now I thought I should make a four-fold distinction: Accept, Reject, Suspend, Withhold.
I repaid Dale for his gift of the belief vs. acceptance distinction by pointing out the distinction (or putative distinction) between supension and withholding which I borrow from Benson Mates:
Benson Mates, The Skeptic Way, Oxford UP, 1996, p. 5: ". . . the characteristic attitude of the Pyrrhonists is one of aporia, of being at a a loss, puzzled, stumped, stymied." Aporia is not doubt. Doubt implies understanding, but aporia is a lack of understanding. The modern skeptic may doubt, but not the ancient skeptic.
Connected with this is a distinction between epoché as the withholding of assent and suspension of judgment. One can withhold assent from an assertion without granting that it makes sense; but if one suspends judgment then one has a clear propositional sense before one's mind which one neither affirms nor denies. See Mates, p. 32. A good distinction! Add it to the list.
So, strictly speaking, aporia is not doubt and epoché is not suspension of judgment. Close but not the same.
My former colleague Xavier Monasterio died last year on this date. Curiously, January 4th was also the date of death of his philosophical hero Albert Camus. This being a weblog, and thus an online journal of the personal and the impersonal, I didn't want the day to pass without a brief remembrance of the man. I'll say a little today and perhaps supplement it later on.
The summer of '95 found me in Charlottesville, Virginia. A lovely place hard by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail. The largesse of the American taxpayer had made it possible for me to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar at the University of Virginia. One dark and rainy night, wearied by philosophy of science arcana, I stumbled into the C-ville chess club, sat down opposite an old man, and uncorked this miniature:
This weblog commenced on 4 May 2004 and has been in operation for seven and a half years. This, the latest incarnation, the Typepad version, began on Halloween 2008. Here are the posts from three years ago. Typepad is not the perfect platform; I doubt if there is one. But it is superior for my purposes to the crappy Blogger, the defunct Powerblogs, and the adequate WordPress.
Readership is trending upwards. I now routinely receive 1,000 to 1,700 pageviews per day. The total pageview count for the last three years is now over one million: 1,029,176 as of a few moments ago. That averages to 939.89 pageviews/day with 2,828 total posts and 4,971 comments.
Can you say cacoethes scribendi?
I've missed only a few days in these seven and a half years so it's a good bet I'll be blogging 'for the duration.' It's like reading and thinking and meditating and running and hiking and playing chess and breathing and eating and drinking coffee. It is not something one gives up until forced to. Some of us are just natural-born scribblers. We were always scribbling, on looseleaf, in notebooks, on the back of envelopes, in journals daily maintained. This is just an electronic extension of all of that.
Except now I conduct my education in public. This has some disadvantages, but they are vastly outweighed by the advantages. I have met a lot of interesting and stimulating characters via this blog, many in the flesh. You bait your hook and cast it into the vasty deeps of cyberspace and damned if you don't snag some interesting fish. The occasional scumsucker and bottomfeeder is no counterargument.
I thank you for your patronage, and I hope my writings are of use not just to me.
This from a graduate student in philosophy who describes himself as a theologically conservative Protestant who is toying with the idea of 'swimming the Tiber':
In a recent post you say this: ""Study everything, join nothing" means that one ought to beware of institutions and organizations with their tendency toward self-corruption and the corruption of their members. (The Catholic Church is a good recent example.)"
Until I read this comment, I, for some reason, was under the impression that you were a Catholic. I was wondering if you would be willing to elaborate on this comment, say more about your take on the Catholic Church, direct me to a post in which you say more about these issues, or direct me to some literature on this topic that you think would be useful.
This request allows me to clarify my relation to Catholicism. (This clarification may be spread over a few posts.) I was brought up Catholic and attended Catholic schools, starting in the pre-Vatican II days before the rot set in, when being Catholic was something rather more definite than it is now. Many with my kind of upbringing were unfazed by their religious training, went along to get along, but then sloughed off the training and the trappings as soon as they could. For a religion to take root in a person, the person must have a religious nature or predisposition to begin with. Only some have it, just as only some have a philosophical predisposition. Having the former predisposition is a necessary but not sufficient condition of a religion's taking firm root. Another necessary condition is that the person have some religious and/or mystical experiences. Without the predisposition and the experiences, religion, especially a religion as rich in dogmatic articulation as Roman Catholicism, will be exceedingly hard to credit and take seriously in the face of the countervailing influences from nature (particularly the nature in one's own loins) and society with its worldly values. For some Catholics of my Boomer generation, the extreme cognitive dissonance between the teachings of the Church and the 'teachings' and attitudes of the world, in particular the world of the '60s, led to radical questioning. For example, we were taught that all sins against the 6th and 9th Commandments were mortal and that premarital and extramarital sex even in those forms that fell shy of intercourse were wrong. The 'teachings' of the world and the surrounding culture were of course quite the opposite. For many brought up Catholic, this was not much of a problem: the cognitive dissonance was quickly relieved by simply dropping the religion or else watering it down into some form of namby-pamby humanism. For others like myself who had the religious predisposition and the somewhat confirmatory religious/mystical experiences, the problem of cognitive dissonance was very painful and not easily solved.
And, having not only a religious, but also a philosophical predisposition, it was natural to turn to philosophy as a means of sorting things out and relieving the tension between the doctrines and practices that had been the center of my life and the source of existential meaning, on theone hand, and the extramural wide world of sex, drugs, rock & roll, and the secular values of 'making it' and getting ahead, on the other. The sex bit was just one example. The fundamental problem I faced was whether any of what I was brought up to believe, of what I internalized and took with utmost seriousness, was true. Truth matters! As salutary as belief is, it is only true beliefs that can be credited. This brings me to a fundamental theme of this weblog, namely, the tension between Athens and Jerusalem. I see this as a fruitful tension, and I see the absence of anything like it the Islamic world as part of the explanation of that world's inanition.
It is a fruitful tension in the West but also in those few individuals who are citizens of both 'cities,' those few who harbor within them both the religious and the philosophical predisposition. It is a tension that cannot be resolved by eliminationof one or the other of the 'cities.' But why is it fruitful?
The philosopher and the religionist need each other's virtues. The philosopher needs reverence to temper his analytic probing and humility to mitigate the arrogance of his high-flying inquiry and overconfident reliance on his magnificent yet paltry powers of thought. The religionist needs skepticism to limit his gullibility, logical rigor to discipline his tendency toward blind fideism, and balanced dialectic to chasten his disposition to fanaticism.
So am I a Catholic or not? Well, I am certainly a Catholic by upbringing, so I am a Catholic in what we could call a sociological sense. But it is very difficult for a philosopher to be a naive adherent of any religion, especially a religion as deeply encrusted with dogma as Roman Catholicism. He will inevitably be led to 'sophisticate' his adherence, and to the extent that he does this he will wander off into what are called 'heresies.' He will find it impossible not to ask questions. His craving for clarity and certainty will cause him to ask whether key doctrines are even intelligible, let alone true. Just what are we believing when we believe that there is one God in three divine persons? Just what are we believing when we believe that there once walked on the earth a man who was fully human but also fully divine?
I distance myself both from the anti-Catholic polemicists and the pro-Catholic apologists. Polemics and apologetics are two sides of the same coin, the coin of ideology. 'Ideology' is not a pejorative term in my mouth. An ideology is a set of beliefs oriented toward action, and act we must. So believe we must, in something or other. Religions are ideologies in this sense. But philosophy is not ideological. For more on this, see Philosophy, Religion, and the Philosophy of Religion: Four Theses.
I am skeptical of organizations and institutions despite the fact that we cannot do without them. The truth is something too large and magnificent to be 'institutionalized.' The notion that it is the sole possession of one church, the 'true' church, is a claim hard to credit especially in light of the fact that different churches claim to be the true one. Also dubious is the notion that extra ecclesiam salus non est, that outside the church there is no salvation. And note that different churches will claim to be the one outside of which there is no salvation. That should gve one pause. If it doesn't, then I suggest you are insufficiently critical, insufficiently concerned with truth, and too much concerned with your own doxastic security. Why do I need a church at all? And why this one? Why not Eastern Orthodoxy or some denomination of Protestantism?
Now if you are a philosopher this is all just more grist for the mill, along with all the things that Catholic apologists will say in defense of their faith. They will say that their church is the true church because it was founded by Jesus Christ (who is God) and has existed continuously from its founding under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit whose inspiration guarantees the correctness of the teachings on faith and morals.
They will tell me that a church is necessary to correct the errors of private opinions. Now it must be frankly admitted that thinking for oneself, treading the independent path, and playing the maverick can just as easily lead one into error as into truth. If thinking for oneself were the royal road to truth, then all who think for themselves would agree on what the truth is. They don't. But let us not forget that that church dogmas often reflect the private opinions of the dominant characters at the councils. The common opinion is just the private opinion that won the day. You say Augustine was inspired by the Holy Spirit? That is a claim you are making. How validate it? Why don't the Protestants agree with you? Why don't the Eastern Orthodox agree with you?
This only scratches the surface, but one cannot spend the whole day blogging. This may turn out to be a long series of posts.
Do I live up to this admonition? Or am I posturing? Is my posture perhaps a slouch towards hypocrisy?
Well, it depends on how broadly one takes 'join.' A while back, I joined a neighbor and some of his friends in helping him move furniture. Reasonably construed, the motto does not rule out that sort of thing. And being a fair and balanced guy, as everybody knows, I recently joined the Conservative Book Club to balance out my long-standing membership in the left-leaning and sex-saturated Quality Paperback Book Club. (It would be interesting to compare these two 'clubs' in respect of their target memberships -- but that's another post.)
And what if I join you for lunch, or join in a discussion in a chat room? A good while ago, the anonyblogger who ran The Will to Blog, but then lost the will to blog and deleted his site, opined that my motto ought to preclude my being a conservative. But surely one does not join a set of beliefs. One joins a political party, an organization, a church, and the like. Our anonyblogger might have been making the mistake of thinking that an independent thinker cannot arrive at any conclusions, for, if he did, then he would be joining something, and lose his independence.
In the context of Paul Brunton's thought, "Study everything, join nothing" means that one ought to beware of institutions and organizations with their tendency toward self-corruption and the corruption of their members. (The Catholic Church is a good recent example.) "Join nothing" means avoid group-think; avoid associations which will limit one's ability to think critically and independently; be your own man or woman; draw your identity from your own resources, and not from group membership. Be an individual, and not in the manner of those who want to be treated as individuals but expect to gain special privileges from membership in certain 'oppressed' or 'victimized' or 'disadvantaged' groups.
These days I have money to travel, time, and opportunities. In close communion with my 'inner Kantian,' however, I resist the blandishments and with them the vexations of spatial translation. By my present count, there are three chief reasons to keep to my Southwestern Koenigsberg, the Emersonian, the Pascalian, and the Vallicellan. The first is that travel does not deliver what it promises; the second is that it delivers us into temptation and vexation; the third is that it knocks us out of our natural orbit, to return to which wastes time.
The first reason is from Ralph Waldo Emerson's wonderful essay, "Self-Reliance," wherein he writes, "Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places." (Selected Essays, ed. Ziff, p. 198) This notion of the indifference of places is one I believe Emerson borrowed from the Roman Stoic Seneca (4 B.C. - 65 A.D.), though I can't remember where Seneca says this. The idea is simple and sound.
Wherever we are, we see the world through the same pair of eyeballs, and filter its deliverances through the same set of conceptions, preconceptions, anxieties, aversions, and what-not. If I travel to Naples, thinking to get away from myself, what I find when I wake up there is "...the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from." (Ibid.) Shift your spatial horizon as you will, you may not effect any change in your mental horizon. If you can't find enlightenment in Buffalo, where the water is potable and mosquitoes are rare, what makes you think you will find it in Benares where mosquitoes are ubiquitous and the water will give you dysentery?
Forty years ago I had a conversation with a young Austrian at the train station in Salzburg, Austria. He told me he was headed for Istanbul "to make holiness." But could he not have made holiness in Salzburg? Could he not have found a Pauline 'closet' somewhere in that beautiful city of Mozart wherein to shut himself away from the world and pray to his Father in secret?
But to the young and romantic the lure of foreign destinations is well-nigh irresistible.
The second reason is from Blaise Pascal who sees "the sole cause of man's unhappiness" in the fact that "he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." (Pensees, trans. Krailsheimer, p. 67.) Sallying forth from his monastery, the monk exposes himself to every manner of distraction and vexation. The alluring world may even lure him to his destruction. Had Thomas Merton remained in his hermitage at Gethsemane, instead of flying off to a useless conference in Bangkok, he would not have met his early death by accidental electrocution.
The third reason is that vacations tend to require a recovery period for getting reestablished in our natural orbits. In the summer of 2000, two weeks in Poland and Germany cost me another two weeks of recovery time before I could get back into the philosophy writing groove. Is the time spent travelling wisely used? It is not clear to me. But then I may have been unduly influenced by Kant, who never strayed from Koenigsberg. Your mileage may vary.
We are enticed by what is hidden, out of reach, around the corner, over the horizon. It is the lost mine lost, not the lost mine found, that inspires and focuses our energies. Our metaphysics is visionary and revisionary, not descriptive. We study the world to see what is beyond the world. We study the Cave to find an exit, not to inventory the paltry stuff found within it, or even the categories of paltry stuff found within it. Our speleology is transcendental, not empirical: we would know what makes the Cave possible and actual, and what is its point and purpose.
And if there is no exit? And no ultimate condition of possibility? Then we want to know that and why the Cave exhausts the cartography of being.