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Middle-Aged Moralists – Snakes and Ladders
"When C. S. Lewis gave the Memorial Address at King’s College, London in 1944 — the occasion being very like an American university commencement — he began by commenting, “When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I suppose I must conclude, however unlikely the conclusion seems, that you have a taste for middle-aged moralising. I shall do my best to gratify it.”

It was a shrewd move. Lewis himself always loathed the pompous didacticism he had found endemic to the English educational system, and expected that his audience would too. “Everyone knows what a middle-aged moralist of my type warns his juniors against. He warns them against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” But with a smile on his face, he declared that he would play to type: “I shall, in fact, give you advice about the world in which you are going to live.”

Let’s fast-forward about sixty years, to a commencement address at Stanford University. The speaker this time is not a professor but rather a businessman named Steve Jobs, and he makes it clear from the outset that he’ll not be doing any “middle-aged moralising.” Rather, he says, “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”

And yet it’s not clear, when you think about it, that Jobs’s message is any less moralistic than Lewis’s. It just bears a different moral.

Lewis warns his listeners against the power of what he calls the “Inner Ring” — the desire to belong to a certain admirable group, to be allowed to sit at the cool kids’ table — because he believes that, among all our desires, that one is the most likely to make un-wicked people do wicked things.

Jobs also warns his listeners, but warns them not to allow Death, when he knocks on their door, to find them “living someone else’s life.” Lewis points to the dangers of letting the desire to belong make you a “scoundrel,” and while Jobs too thinks others can endanger us, he frames that danger very differently: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

This is the permissible moralism of 2005: College graduates can be exhorted, but not to the old-fashioned virtues that Lewis implicitly appeals to, but rather to self-fulfillment: For Jobs, what is “most important” is this: “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

This makes a neat story, once which can be read either as emancipation from constricting rules or as a decline into egotism. But the story gets slightly more complex if we look at one more middle-aged moralist: David Foster Wallace.

Wallace was, I’d say, barely middle-aged when he delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College just a few weeks before Jobs spoke at Stanford: he was 43. (Jobs was 50, and when Lewis gave his “Inner Ring” address he was 45.) If Lewis acknowledges that the genre invites moralism and cheerfully accepts the invitation, and Jobs disavows moralism but delivers it anyway, in a new form, Wallace seems almost desperate to avoid any such thing.

Having begun with a little story about fish, he continues, “If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish.” Then: “But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called ‘virtues.’” And: “Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re ‘supposed to’ think this way.” Finally: “Obviously, you can think of [this talk] whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon.” Please.

Yet for all those disavowals, Wallace’s speech may be the most passionately moralistic of them all, though in a complex way. He tells us to be suspicious of that inner inner voice that Jobs wants us to listen to, because that voice always says the same thing: “There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of.” Consequently, our “natural, hard-wired default setting … is to be deeply and literally self-centred, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”

And why should we want to think otherwise? Why should we turn outward? Not in order to avoid becoming scoundrels, Wallace says, but because such other-directedness can bring us freedom. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”

Substantively, it seems to me, Wallace’s ethic is far closer to that of Lewis than to that of Jobs, though he and Jobs were near-contemporaries and formed by much the same culture. (Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters was one of Wallace’s favorite books.) But he could not, and knew he could not, speak as Lewis spoke — even with an ironic nod towards the inevitable clichés of the commencement-speech genre.

Universities still invite middle-aged moralists (professors rarely, writers and business leaders more often) to give speeches to their graduating students, even though those students are generally inoculated against middle-aged moralism — the moralism of self-fulfillment always excepted. What’s remarkable about Wallace’s speech, which has become the great canonical example of the genre, is that he found a way to rescue the occasion; and that he rescued it by pretending to refuse it."
commencementaddresses  2019  1944  2005  alanjacobs  via:lukeneff  davidfosterwallace  cslewis  stevejobs  moralism  morality  advice  middleage  commencementspeeches 
6 weeks ago by robertogreco
The Charley Project: Gertrude Vreeland Tompkins Silver
"Gertrude's father, Vreeland Tompkins, founded Smooth-On Inc. in New Jersey. She was raised as the youngest child in their family and had a stuttering problem when she was young. (..) Gertrude fell in love with an American aviator who was killed during World War II in the early 1940s. Her loved ones believed that she developed an interest in flying after his death. Gertrude took private flying lessons, then joined the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) shortly thereafter. (..) Gertrude married Henry M. Silver in September 1944. The marriage came as a surprise to her family members, who believed that she may have felt sorry for him at the time. Henry's sister died after giving birth out of wedlock and he was preparing to adopt her child in 1944. He had known Gertrude for several years prior to their wedding and some believed that she was still mourning for the her lost aviator at the time of their marriage. Her father adored Henry and thought of him as a son. Gertrude returned to WASP duty two days after the wedding; she and Henry never saw each other again. She was not wearing her engagement or wedding rings when she departed for Texas, nor did she use her married name. (..) Gertrude was scheduled to fly a P-51 Mustang fighter plane from Mines Field in Inglewood, California (now the Los Angeles International Airport, or "LA X") to Palm Springs, California on October 26, 1944. A photo of a similiar aircraft is posted below this case summary. (..) Gertrude taxied to one side of the runway prior to her departure to have her cockpit hatch repaired. She apparently departed from Mines Field at approximately 4:00 p.m. that day, but her flight records were lost and there is no recorded time for her takeoff. The tower and air traffic controllers had no copies of her flight plans for the day. She was not reported as missing until October 30, four days after her presumed disappeatance. The military initiated an extensive search for Gertrude and her plane, but no evidence of a suspected crash was ever discovered."
airplane  wasp  airforce  1944  la  lax  marriage  disappearance  smoothon  missing  charleyproject 
august 2016 by gohai
RT : Warszawa po Powstaniu . Ul. Długa i pl. Krasińskich. Tu stoi dziś Pomnik Powstania Warszawskiego
1944  from twitter_favs
august 2016 by mgprojekt
The Gift on JSTOR
[PDF: https://syelavich.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/the-gift.pdf ]

We are forgetting how to give presents. Violation of the exchange principle has something nonsensical and implausible about it.... [Today] even the private giving of presents has degenerated to a social function exercised with rational bad grace, careful adherence to the prescribed budget, skeptical appraisal of the other and the least possible effort. Real giving had its joy in imagining the joy of the receiver. It means choosing, expending time, going out of one's way, thinking of the other as a subject: the opposite of distraction. Just this hardly anyone is now able to do. At best they give what they would have liked themselves, only a few degrees worse. The decay of giving is mirrored in the distressing invention of gift-articles, based on the assumption that one does not know what to give because one really does not want to.

Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on Damaged Life (1944)

1. A paradox of gift giving, often alluded to, is that when conducted as obligation, it is profoundly depressive. There is something wrong here. After all, the act of giving, if we disengage it from Christmas and its horrors, should be a positive thing. The gift ought to be that which, when proffered by the giver, induces a double joy - that of the receiver in the object, and that of the giver at the receiver's joy. Neither of these joys is inconsiderable. It is worth analyzing them because they tell us something about how things work for us and, therefore, something about the character of design activity.

Ideally the receiver of the gift obtains a double joy. First, and most obviously, there is a joy in the thing itself, the object received. The proper gift gives happiness because it matches perfectly one moment of the receiver's needs and desires. Sometimes it even helps receivers discover and satisfy desires they did not know they had. Second, the gift gives joy because the successful gift affirms a positive relationship between giver and receiver. It is concrete or evident proof that the giver knows, and has understood, recognized, affirmed, and sought to concretely meet the other's most intimate needs and desires. Moreover, the receiver finds additional joy in being the subject of the imaginative work undertaken by the giver in securing and giving this gift. The successful gift proves to us that our relationship to the giver is more than merely formal or nominal.

For the giver, the joy is perhaps more subtle, but nonetheless significant. It is a joy, first and foremost, in pleasing others, in getting to know their tastes, interests, and character, in recognizing and accepting their needs and desires (even if contrary to our own). But it is also a pleasure in successfully finding a material thing that successfully concretizes these desires - that gives receivers "exactly what they wanted."

Note that the gift is not just the thing itself. If the nature of the object or product that we proffer is essential, it is, nonetheless, not all we give. What the giver gives besides the gift-object is recognition - which both Lacan and Hegel recognized as the fundamental human desire, which we crave above all else."
gifts  clivedilnot  1999  relationships  presents  1944  theodoradorno  giftgiving  equity  exchange  obligation 
november 2015 by robertogreco
‘They’ll have left by tomorrow’ | Perfectible Apes
Excerpt from JJR scholar Jean Guéhenno's diary RT On the Liberation of Paris, which began today in 1944.
paris  1944  history  from twitter_favs
august 2014 by yorksranter
Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive
From the front line to the home front 1939-1945
war  finninsh  1945  1939  1940  1941  1942  1943  1944  photo  archive  photography 
may 2014 by sekta
D-IX - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
D-IX  wiki  wikipedia  nazi  drugs  1944  1940s  WWII  from twitter_favs
january 2014 by cluebucket
Conversion of Chain Gang Convict, Ed Martin - Website
The convict nodded as he listened to the pretty girl who was leading him through the steps of salvation on this day, January 9, 1944. Picking up the beautiful new Bible that she had just given him, Ed Martin wrote the date in the margin of John chapter 3. "I want to write the date here next to John 3:16, although I know I will never forget it." A small-time criminal, Edward Martin was considered incorrigible. He was sentenced to a chain gang in Virginia. The one time that he escaped, a reward of $10 was offered for him--dead or alive.
january 2014 by CHRISTIAN_HISTORY

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