ayjay   42

Dare to Make a Daniel - Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders)
From my email:
This actually was published shortly after our conversation back in October
but I kept missing chances to send it to you. This summarizes my concerns
for university formation pretty well: is a Christian support group on a
campus going to produce a counter-catachesis? And if so, which one? What
will keep it disciplined in doing so? How will it know its touchstones from
its stumbling upon blocks?
University  BenOp  ayjay  correspondence  catachesis 
december 2018 by mgubbins
Apple books: Celebrities read some well known stories
Ayjay points to Kelsey Grammer doing the Time Machine. I am curious how
Tituss Burgess' Wizard of Oz compares to mine.
Performance  reading  outloud  WizardofOz  TimeMachine  Ayjay 
december 2018 by mgubbins
Society To survive our high-speed society, cultivate 'temporal bandwidth' - Alan Jacobs (The Guardian)
We cannot, from within that ecosystem, restore old behavioral norms or
develop new and better ones. No, to find a healthier alternative, we must
cultivate what the great American novelist Thomas Pynchon calls “temporal
bandwidth” – an awareness of our experience as extending into the past and
the future.
In Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow, an engineer named Kurt Mondaugen
explains that temporal bandwidth is “the width of your present, your now …
The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the
more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more
tenuous you are.”
If we want to extend our bandwidth, we begin with the past, because
exploring the past requires only willingness
If we want to extend our bandwidth, we begin with the past, because
exploring the past requires only willingness. Recently, I was teaching the
Epistles of the Roman poet Horace to a group of undergraduates. Though
Horace comes from a world alien in so many ways to ours – and though he
would surely fail any possible test of political correctness of the left or
right – we found ourselves resonating powerfully with his quest for “a
tranquil mind”. Indeed, Horace recommends just what I am arguing for now:
“Interrogate the writings of the wise,” he counsels his friend Lollius
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“Asking them to tell you how you can
Get through your life in a peaceable tranquil way.
Will it be greed, that always feels poverty-stricken,
That harasses and torments you all your days?
Will it be hope and fear about trivial things,
In anxious alternation in your mind?
Where is it virtue comes from, is it from books?
Or is it a gift from Nature that can’t be learned?
What is the way to become a friend to yourself?
What brings tranquility? What makes you care less?”
(This from David Ferry’s marvelous translation.) Horace doesn’t tell you
that you need to delete your social media accounts or somehow stop worrying
about economic precarity. He’s asking questions here – but they are the
right questions, questions that re-orient us to other possibilities for
living than the ones handed to us each morning when we pick up our
smartphones. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently
there,” in LP Hartley’s famous line, which of course doesn’t mean that what
“they do” is always right – but awareness of it is always illuminating.
To read old books is to get an education in possibility for next to
nothing. Watching the latest social media war break out, I often recall
Grace Kelly’s character in High Noon, a Quaker pacifist, saying: “I don’t
care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for
people to live.” (That by the end of the movie she abandons her pacifism
only emphasizes, if ironically, the importance of her point.) The suspicion
that there’s got to be some better way has the welcome effect of
suppressing the thoughtless, kneejerk reflexion that is a byproduct of our
Ayjay  Classics  Reading  Twitter 
november 2018 by mgubbins
Is Sex Binary? - Alex Byrne (Arc Digital)
On gender binaries and public arguments regarding them. Are there two
genders, two sexes? What does 'science' say? Referred to it by Alan Jacobs.
RH  gender  sex  PublicArguments  Science  Ayjay 
november 2018 by mgubbins
That's What I Want - Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders)
*Our love is all of God’s money*
What is money? Hard to say, really. It’s easier to document what it *does*,
as Dana Gioia has shown <http://danagioia.com/money/>:
It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.
Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.
“Circulation” is the key term here: money is always on the move, is always
sliding from one location to another and then back to the first and then on
to a third. People who work with money prize *fluidity*, because fluidity
promotes circulation. And every development in computerized trading
increases the speed of that circulation, so that now money moves faster
than the human eye can see.
But the flow isn’t random, indeed is anything but random. Powerful gravity
drags money towards other money. Think of how our solar system formed: the
molecules that formed vast clouds of gas and dust drifted towards one
another, forming clumps that attracted still more molecules, until
eventually there condensed a star. That’s how money works. “Gathering
interest, compounding daily.”
But, of course, as what is saved gathers interest, so too does what is
owed. Money breeds money; debt breeds debt. And if not for debt, would
money exist? “The first thing that happened in human history,” thinks a
character in a new novel, “was not money, but debt – obligations and
promises and duties incurred. Money arose only as a way of tabulating such
Ayjay  money  debt  CharlesWilliams  Taliessen 
october 2018 by mgubbins
Reading Dangerously - Ian Marcus Corbin (The Weekly Standard)
Beiner’s good instincts are part of what makes his book so frustrating; he
mysteriously fails to follow his own excellent counsel, as he refuses to
explore or acknowledge the very real—and yes, potentially dangerous—beauty
of Nietzsche’s prescriptions. But maybe he’s just exercising prudence. If
these prescriptions are potentially dangerous, why bother to discern the
goodness or beauty in them? These ideas are not liberal! Keep them under
There are at least two reasons not only for deeply reading these illiberal
philosophers but for considering how their prescriptions might be found
attractive. First, there is no such thing as a dangerless, fail-safe
philosophy. Liberalism was for a time thought to be such a thing but that
confidence has been shown to be too optimistic by a mile. Life is hard and
confusing—we can’t afford to be ruling out interpretations willy-nilly.
Second, to put it bluntly, the elite, educated failure to understand the
reappearance of populist nationalism is a very bad thing, speaking on a
purely practical level—on the level, in fact, of safety and danger.
I currently split my professional life between academia and the Boston art
world, the most liberal corners of the most liberal state of the union. I
can’t speak strongly enough about the beauty and kindness of the black,
Jewish, Hispanic, gay, transgender, feminist, socialist people whom I count
as colleagues and friends here. They are deep, sensitive, searching souls.
As a straight, white, able-bodied male, though—one who has even
occasionally voted for Republicans—I am, on paper, a perfect storm of
privilege and prejudice.
Perhaps shockingly, my colleagues and I have managed to treat each other
with respect and at times even deep friendship and care. That’s good—it’s
wonderful, actually—but I also have the misfortune to be a regular reader
of opinion journalism and social media posts. The people I speak to in my
art gallery and classroom are likely, on any given day, to publish
scorching social media screeds directed at people like myself. They post
pictures in which they gleefully sip from mugs marked “White Male Tears”
and they make sweeping, ecstatically “liked” and commented-upon
pronouncements about the insidious, ubiquitous racism of people with my
skin tone and about the domination, oppression, and evil that #YesAllMen
daily impose upon them.
Now there are many, many injustices that plague our common life. Some are
indexed to race, sex, and other identity categories; some have long,
horrific histories; in some cases, the lingering fallout is in its own way
horrific. Because of the way I look and dress and speak, I surely get
preferential treatment from some store clerks, bank-loan officers, job
interviewers, police officers.
It is possible to acknowledge all of this, however, and still be struck by
the wild imbalance between our lived experience of one another and the
verbal portrait of ourselves that we daily paint on social media. Perhaps
I’m not treated like a ravening predator in my personal relationships
because I’m “one of the good ones” in my identity category. Fine. Many
chauvinistic group-ideologies are willing to make exceptions for
exceptional individuals. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here; I
don’t think that I get a special pass and all of the other white men in my
acquaintances’ path are treated like monsters. Rather, for many of us, our
public, impersonal lives contain a much higher percentage of status-seeking
performance than our day-to-day interactions. We’re playing roles.
Living as I do among activists who talk the talk of “toxic masculinity” and
“mansplaining” and so on, I know to take it all with a grain of salt. We’re
not truly at war with one another; for the most part, we’re just playing
games, enjoying the sensation of wielding high-caliber verbal weapons. But
imagine being a differently situated white male—say a high-school-educated
pipe-fitter from Idaho. Mightn’t you feel despised, attacked, unfairly
blamed? Mightn’t you want to reply that life is very hard and that while
you may have messed up in some ways you’re really doing your level best?
Would you have any way of knowing that these online activists are actually
decent people who would, if they sat and drank a glass of whiskey with you,
realize that you too are a decent, trying-as-hard-as-you-can human being?
The rise of populist nationalism in the United States certainly has to do
with economic and social issues—demographic changes, the transformation of
the workforce, the effects of globalization, etc. And maybe it also has to
do, as Ronald Beiner argues, with the influence of illiberal philosophers’
ideas. Maybe it is overdetermined. But whatever its causes, surely our
modes of social intercourse are making things worse. A modest proposal: We
should all shut the hell up for a little while, go outdoors, and try to
understand the people we run into. It is hard to understand one’s neighbors
in the best of circumstances, and even harder when the people you run into
are unlike you in important ways. That is, however, the task we sign up for
by coming to or staying in America.
The Prussia of Nietzsche’s day also included many smart and sophisticated
people who obsessed over politics and believed that it was the primary
forum for determining human salvation and damnation. He writes, beautifully
and perhaps dangerously, that
every philosophy that believes the problem of existence to be shelved, or
even solved, by a political event, is a sham philosophy. There have been
innumerable states founded since the beginning of the world; that is an old
story. How should a political innovation manage once and for all to make a
contented race of the dwellers on this earth? If anyone believes in his
heart that this is possible, he should report himself to our authorities:
he really deserves to be Professor of Philosophy.
Politics may be a necessary evil—but talking incessantly about politics and
viewing your countrymen solely through a political lens is an evil that
we’re actively choosing, day by day. We should stop.
Ayjay  Conversation  Roles  RH 
october 2018 by mgubbins
Reading Dangerously - Ian Corbin (The Weekly Standard)
Boston friends—a small minority—have maintained a basic equanimity as the
great Trumpian disruption crackles across our shining screens, day after
#ThisIsNotNormal day, but a larger number pronounce themselves unable to
sleep, mired in depression, crippled by rage, or sick with worry for the
future of our country. The less perturbed often are those who have been
blessed to live some part of their lives as ideological insurgents. I count
myself among them. In my case, I was born to hard-living hippies who, when
I was 2 years old, became teetotaling evangelicals, and before long became
the pastors of a small, impoverished Pentecostal church. Through my
childhood and adolescence we supported Republicans, laid hands on the sick,
eschewed secular music, and mistrusted science. All of this would be
unremarkable but for the fact we lived this wild religious melodrama in the
Boston area, the bleeding heart of blue America.
In the public schools I attended, my teachers spoke nonchalantly of
evolution, abortion, gay rights, and the enslavement of housewifery, with
perfect confidence that they and their pupils had been given the sight to
see the simple right on every issue of consequence. There was no felt need
for doubt or discussion, and for most of my schooling I was too shy to
broach any. I’d sit with hot skin, incapable of forming a clear sentence,
while the Good, True, and Beautiful were maligned with breezy
self-satisfaction by some cross-country coach with a Boston accent. A big
part of me believed— *knew*, in fact—that my teachers and classmates were
blithely pounding nails in their own spiritual coffins with every word,
descending further into a doctrinal darkness I could barely fathom, but I
was too cowardly and inarticulate to save them—and the few times I tried
they turned on me with wild, angry, uncomprehending eyes. As if I were
insane. A small but persistent part of me wondered if they were right. The
feeling of alienation was terrible and palpable; it hung around my gangly
teenage neck like a chain.
Looking back now at the role that inhibiting chain has played in my life, I
would wish it most fervently on anyone who wants to opine in public or to
consider himself a citizen of the world. Provided that is, that he finds
himself unable to write off his neighbors as monsters, as I was unable to
do. Out of raw animal loneliness I gradually became adept at explaining and
eliciting explanation. As I learned how to unpack the deep motivations for
my unthinkable opinion X or Y, I never once failed to find a sympathetic
ear. Disagreement was common and sometimes ineradicable, but enmity was
reliably dispatched if you looked people in the eye and spoke sincerely and
candidly. Or so I found. It made me think that while some of us are
undoubtedly wrong on question X or Y, most people are pretty decent,
uncertain, and, deep down, doing their damnedest. This is the sort of
understanding I was hoping would emerge from a book purporting to explain
the philosophical roots of contemporary far-right thinking.
Ayjay  GrowingUp  Alienation  theChain 
october 2018 by mgubbins
Growing Up in the Library - Susan Orlean (New Yorker)
So the spell that libraries had once cast on me was renewed. Maybe it had
never really been broken, although I had been away long enough that it was
like visiting a country I’d loved but had forgotten as my life went
galloping by. I knew what it was like to want a book and to buy it, but I
had forgotten what it felt like to amble among the library shelves, finding
the book I was looking for but also seeing who its neighbors were, noticing
their peculiar concordance, and following an idea as it was handed off from
one book to the next, like a game of telephone. I might start at Dewey
decimal 301.4129781 (“Pioneer Women
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CGWSELW/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Joanna L.
Stratton) and a few inches later find myself at 306.7662 (“Gaydar
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/1422392120/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Donald F.
Reuter) and then at 301.45096 (“Dreams from My Father
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/0307383415/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Barack Obama)
and finally at 301.55 (“The Men Who Stare at Goats
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/0743241924/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Jon Ronson).
On a library bookshelf, thought progresses in a way that is logical but
also dumbfounding, mysterious, irresistible.
I knew that part of what had hooked me had been the shock of familiarity I
felt when I took my son to our local library—the way it telegraphed my
childhood, my relationship to my parents, my love of books. It brought me
close, in my musings, to my mother, and to our sojourns to the library, and
I decided to write a book on the subject. That decision was pleasing and it
was bittersweet, because just as I was rediscovering those memories, my
mother was losing hers. When I first told her that I was writing about
libraries, she was delighted, and said that she was proud that she had a
part in making me find them wondrous. But the reason that I finally
embraced the subject—wanted, and then needed, to write about it—was my
realization that I was losing her. Soon the fingers of dementia got her in
their grip, and they pried loose bits of her memory every day. The next
time I reminded her about the project and told her how much I had been
thinking about our trips to Bertram Woods, she smiled with encouragement
but with no apparent recognition of what I meant. Each time I visited, she
receded a little more—she became vague, absent, isolated in her thoughts or
maybe in some pillowy blankness that filled in where the memories had been
chipped away—and I knew that I was carrying the remembrance for both of us.
I found myself wondering whether a shared memory can exist if one of the
people sharing it no longer remembers it. Is the circuit broken, the memory
darkened? My mother was the one person besides me who knew what those gauzy
afternoons had been like. I was writing about libraries because I was
trying hard to preserve those afternoons. I convinced myself that
committing them to a page would save the memory of them from the corrosive
effect of time.
The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I,
personally, will be forgotten but that we are all doomed to being
forgotten; that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience
joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little
mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as
if we never existed. If you gaze into that bleakness even for a moment, the
sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts nothing
matters. Everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is
just a baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if
something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if
you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it
reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony.
You know that you are a part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a
tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all
whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the
message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book is an act
of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence
of memory.
The writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ once said that, in Africa, when an old person
dies, it is like a library has been burned. When I first heard the phrase,
I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize that it was
perfect. Our minds and our souls contain volumes inscribed by our
experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection
of memories catalogued and stored inside, a private library of a life
lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share; it burns down
and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from your
internal collection and share it—with one person or with the larger world,
on the page or in a story told—it takes on a life of its own.
*This piece is adapted from “The Library Book
<https://www.amazon.com/dp/1476740186/?tag=thneyo0f-20>,” by Susan Orlean,
out in October from Simon & Schuster.*
Memory  Materialism  Ayjay  Libraries  Books 
october 2018 by mgubbins
When the Ship Has Sailed Alan Jacobs on Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis | The Point Magazine
Robert L. Kehoe III. The Point.

RK: You conclude this unlikely story with a nod to Jacques Ellul, who became one of the leading prophets and critics of the burgeoning technocratic society. Anticipating how problem-solver culture would take hold, Ellul envisioned a future starved of creativity, devoid of spiritual depth and purpose, where “children are educated to become precisely what society expects of them.” Apart from the fact that aspects of his vision seem to have come to life, why was it so important to give Ellul the final word?

AJ: Auden was born in 1907, Weil in 1909, Ellul in 1912. He’s not that much younger than them, but the difference is significant. Also, he lived in occupied France, where Weil wanted to be but couldn’t get to. During the war she was mainly in London, Auden in various parts of America, but Ellul was trying to raise food for his family, preach sermons to his tiny Reformed congregation, and smuggle Jews out of France. This was an existentially threatening time for Ellul, and it happened when he was still a very young man—so the whole war was formative for him in ways it wasn’t for any of my main characters. And perhaps for this reason Ellul saw with remarkable immediacy and clarity that the victory was not that of democracy but rather technocracy. The other five lived through a great struggle for, as they all would have seen it, the soul of the West; but Ellul came into his intellectual maturity when that struggle had been concluded. I thought it important to end with a look at a brilliant thinker who didn’t worry about whether rule of the technocratic elite could be averted, because that rule was already established, and the only question remaining, for thoughtful and serious Christians, was how to live in it.
ayjay  Jacques.Ellul  malta 
september 2018 by asfaltics
My Chance Lunch with Fred Rogers - Richard B. McKenzie (Weekly Standard)
After shaking hands with the two producers, Mr. Rogers reached out to me,
grasping my palm with his right hand and covering the back of my hand with
his left. Looking me straight in the eye, as if as fixated on meeting me as
I was on him, he said, “I’m *so glad* to meet you, Richard. I’ve been
looking forward to your being here. I’ve read some of your work and I want
very much to hear about your project.” I thought I had been blessed. From
then on, my pride swelled to know I had a new friend I could call “Fred”
(as he insisted I call him).
Having a long interest in orphanages, Fred shared my skepticism of the
conventional ideas about them and said he had known “fine people” who had
come of age there. Later, his producer told me that in the weeks
immediately before our lunch, Fred had lived for two weeks in a Canadian
“orphanage” for middle-age and older adults with the mental ability of
young children.
After initial greetings among the four of us, Fred shifted his chair to
face me directly and said, “I want to know about you, Richard. Where you
came from, what your early life and orphanage experiences were like. Of
course, I also want to know what you want to do in your film.”
He listened with keen attention as I sought to condense my thoughts: I told
Fred that some variation of my story was typical of my childhood cohort. I
grew up with alcoholic parents who divorced when I was five. My mother
committed suicide when I was 10. My father was incapable of obtaining
custody of my brother and me because of his downward spiral from being an
alcoholic into being a steady drunk. My mother’s family simply didn’t want
us, not even in the same town. Although a Methodist orphanage was just
three miles from where my grandmother and two aunts lived, they shipped us
off to an orphanage a half-state away. On entering the orphanage with 225
kids, I lived with 23 other 10-year-old boys in one cottage with sleeping
porches, each of which had beds for eight.
To me, orphanage life was a godsend, saving me from near certain sentencing
to juvenile detention. Before my admission, I ran the streets of my
hometown, often playing hooky from school and committing petty thievery
from the age of five. I was a little brat with a cherup face.
How had the orphanage changed my life course? Fred asked. He nodded
repeatedly as I described the benefits most outside observers overlook, if
not dismiss: “We got boundaries, work demands, stability, security,
expectations, and a multitude of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters.’”
“You mean you got a family,” he said.
“You got it, Fred, a different family, but a family of sorts, nonetheless.
And we got the chance to leave our sordid pasts behind. I no longer had to
deal with drunkenness up close and personal. One of the reasons the alumni
have outpaced their age cohorts is grounded in a statistical reality: If
bad stuff is cut out of children’s lives and a few good things are
substituted—such as a variety of good-hearted mentors, a work ethic, and an
opportunity for a college education—the average outcome is bound to rise. I
am confident that had I stayed with my father or my mother’s family, I
would not be talking with you with my university career under full
“How do you see the film developing?” Fred asked. “What can we do?”
I described producing a film that could spread the good news more broadly,
beyond the academy, possibly airing on PBS. The general public is often
surprised that orphanages of yesteryear all over the country still have
homecomings, with hundreds, sometimes thousands of alumni returning to
celebrate their childhoods. These homecomings could provide the opportunity
for alumni to tell their stories, good and bad, how they felt as they
arrived on campus that first day and as they had to leave after graduation
– and how the years they spent in their orphanages improved or warped their
lives long into their 80s and 90s.
“I want the film to be real, not scripted and staged,” I said. “The
alumni’s authentic words can speak volumes about what many children have
missed as orphanages have been spurned and closed over the past decades.”
Fred recalled that his friend, also an orphanage alumnus, praised his
experiences: “He always talks about his orphanage family … I feel for many
disadvantaged children today who are taken from their parents and placed in
foster care, only to be shuffled from placement to placement and to be
released from the system at high school graduation—if they make it that far
in school—unprepared for later life. I’ve read many stories about homeless
foster-care alumni, even here in Pittsburgh. So sad. What are we doing?
Can’t we do better?”
Time had flown during the lunch. We had been at the table for maybe two
hours, and Fred needed to head to other appointments. But before we parted,
Fred handed me a couple of souvenirs from the “Neighborhood,” adding,
“Richard, if your children want anything we have in the Neighborhood store,
just write. Anything. I like your project. It’s important for children
Fred wrote that he wanted to send *The Home* as a birthday gift to a good
friend, who grew up in an orphanage in Oklahoma. “Frankly, I hate to give
it up; there are parts which need rereading, but … I just know that your
words will make a big difference for him (and his mother). The healing
ministry of truth!”
Then, remarkably, before closing his message, he offered an apology for a
request he had made at lunch, one I had totally forgotten: “One other
thing, Richard, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked you to give the blessing at
our lunch, even though you generously offered one. In your book you write
that you ‘question God’s existence.’ Had I read those words first I would
have been more sensitive and much less assuming. If I need excusing in your
mind, I trust that you will grant me that.”
You can bet I rushed another copy of *The Home *to him to give to his
friend. At our lunch, I felt reasons to doubt my skepticism through the
conveyance of Fred’s goodness that remains palpable to this day.
Later, I deduced from news reports that Fred read *The Home *on his
roundtrip to Hollywood to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award at the
exemplum  RH  orphanage  ayjay 
august 2018 by mgubbins
a position in life – Snakes and Ladders
It happens that I have practically some connexion with schools for different classes of youth; and I receive many letters from parents respecting the education of their children. In the mass of these letters I am always struck by the precedence which the idea of a “position in life” takes above all other thoughts in the parents’—more especially in the mothers’—minds. “The education befitting such and such a STATION IN LIFE”—this is the phrase, this the object, always. They never seek, as far as I can make out, an education good in itself; even the conception of abstract rightness in training rarely seems reached by the writers. But, an education “which shall keep a good coat on my son’s back;—which shall enable him to ring with confidence the visitors’ bell at double-belled doors; which shall result ultimately in establishment of a double-belled door to his own house;—in a word, which shall lead to advancement in life;—THIS we pray for on bent knees—and this is ALL we pray for.” It never seems to occur to the parents that there may be an education which, in itself, IS advancement in Life;—that any other than that may perhaps be advancement in Death; and that this essential education might be more easily got, or given, than they fancy, if they set about it in the right way; while it is for no price, and by no favour, to be got, if they set about it in the wrong.

— John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies.
higher_education  education  Humanities  ayjay 
july 2018 by wtokie
Progress in Philosophy
But if philosophical thinking is getting better and better—more precise, truthful, articulate, deep—why should we still read Aristotle or Maimonides? The reason we need to do the history of philosophy is precisely that philosophy has made massive amounts of progress in Tyler’s sense of the word: it has filtered into, shaped and organized commonsense, ordinary thought. Indeed, it constitutes much of that thought. Recently a historian of philosophy named Wolfgang Mann wrote a book called The Discovery of Things. He argues, just as the title of his book suggests, that Aristotle discovered things. It’s a bookabout the distinction between subject and predicate in Aristotle’s Categories—between what is and how it is. You may not have realized this but: someone had to come up with that! Many of the things that seem obvious to you—that human beings have basic rights, that knowledge requires justification, that modus ponens is a valid syllogistic form, that the world is filled with things—people had to come up with those ideas. And the people who came up with them were philosophers.

So you are pretty much constantly thinking thoughts that, in one way or another, you inherited from philosophers. You don’t see it, because philosophical exports are the kinds of thing that, once you internalize them, just seem like the way things are. So the reason to read Aristotle isn’t (just) that he’s a great philosopher, but that he’s colonized large parts of your mind. Not everyone is interested in learning about the history of philosophy. But if you are the kind of person who is not happy about having delegated some of your most fundamental thinking to other people; if you want to go back and retrace those steps to make sure you are on board; if you want to take full ownership of your own mind, well, in that case the history of philosophy might be for you.
ayjay  Humanities  reading  Books 
june 2018 by wtokie
Privileges and Rough Rides - Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders)
Ayjay’s account is noteworthy but still more the twitter feed he links to.
It is striking how some phrases work far better as heuristics than as moral
denunciations (e.g. here ‘American apartheid’ as a descriptor if de facto
segregation’s removal of interracial contact).
Race  ayjay  privilege 
may 2018 by mgubbins
Does Paul Krugman Understand Intellectual Diversity?- Nick Phillips (Quillette)
(The article begins with a reflection on Paul Krugman's argument that
there is no reason to hire conservatives for a magazine (e.g. Kevin
Williamson) because either they have prostituted themselves to
populist conservatism or they have no influence. From later in the
Other commentators have assumed, like Krugman, that elevating
reformicons, moderates, and other idiosyncratic thinkers isn’t
worthwhile because Republican voters don’t actually care what people
like Ross Douthat have to say. This is partially the fault of
intellectual diversity defenders who market the concept as a way to
‘understand what the other side is thinking’ and shatter the echo
chambers that led to Trump’s election. That project has great social
value, but it’s not the same value that intellectual diversity is
engineered to create. )
Here's the money quote:
Intellectual diversity addresses a fundamental problem in human
cognition: we seek out information that confirms the views we already
have. As Jonathan Haidt has argued, this instinct is well-adapted to
creating intra-group solidarity, which is useful when competing for
power with other groups. But if the goal is to seek the truth, it’s
poison. If everyone in your group shares the same biases, that group
will block new information that doesn’t conform to those biases. Since
no one is right 100 percent of the time, this dynamic guarantees that
falsehoods will persist.1
One solution is to attempt to purge individuals of their biases. But
cognitive psychologists don’t yet understand how to do this. The only
method that reliably solves the confirmation bias problem is to create
groups made up of individuals with different biases. In such an
environment, countervailing biases checks one another, prodding at
weak points and raising questions a colleague didn’t think to ask.
This dynamic is highly adapted to truth-seeking, because it forces
every person to justify their biases on grounds other than tribalism.
Once we understand intellectual diversity this way, we can clearly see
that left-leaning publications do their readers a service by elevating
ideas that challenge prevailing assumptions. Progressive orthodoxies
have often been wrong: entire generations of the Left’s most
accomplished thinkers devoted themselves to Marxism. No progressive
should feel confident that their side’s leading lights are truth
personified. Instead, they should wonder what other falsehoods are
lurking behind the group confirmation bias.
ayjay  diversity  Haidt  academy 
may 2018 by mgubbins
excerpts from my Sent folder: my goal in life – Snakes and Ladders
excerpts from my Sent folder: my goal in life
April 20, 2018 / AYJAY
My goal at this stage of my life is to get to the point where I don’t know who any public figure is and therefore can’t have an opinion about any of them.
ayjay  goals  learned.ignorance  de.docta.ignorantia 
april 2018 by asfaltics
choice – Snakes and Ladders
You can’t understand the place and time you’re in by immersion; the opposite’s true. You have to step out and away and back and forward, through books and art and music, and you have to do it regularly. Then you come back to the Here and Now, and say: Ah. That’s how it is.

But maybe 2% of the people you encounter will do this. The other 98% are wholly creatures of this particular intersection in spacetime, and can’t be made to care about anything else.

You can, then, have understanding or attention. Pick.
Books  teaching_history  ayjay 
february 2018 by wtokie
the ed-tech snake-oil salesmen – Snakes and Ladders
SAME here at KSU

"And the university ends up with less information than it had under the previous system! The reason is this: because the data entry is so onerous and slow, faculty typically are not required to enter all the data for their articles, nor to fill in their entire CVs. (As I pointed out to one of my colleagues: if I spent an hour a day, five days a week, entering items from my CV into Digital Measures, I wouldn’t be finished by the end of the semester.) So we enter as little as we possibly can; whereas most of us have, ready to hand, a complete CV in a Word or LaTeX file that is trivially easy to update, to share, and to parse."
ayjay  edtech  higher_education 
february 2018 by wtokie
Renewing the University - Alan Jacobs (National Affairs)
Last fall, some Yale students and alumni demanded the resignation of the
master and assistant master of a college because the assistant master
suggested that the college should not exercise direct and dictatorial
control over students' choice of Halloween costumes, and the master refused
to apologize. To many outside observers this will seem pretty silly, but
let's ask where the kind of reaction displayed by the students and alumni
might originate.
The key may be found in a student's op-ed published in the *Yale Herald*,
significantly titled "Hurt at Home." The op-ed was later deleted from the
website at the request of the author, Jencey Paz, but I hope the way it is
used here is not offensive. Paz wrote,
As a Sillimander, I feel that my home is being threatened. Last week, Erika
Christakis, the associate master of Silliman College, sent an email to the
Silliman community that called an earlier entreaty for Yalies to be more
sensitive about culturally appropriating Halloween costumes a threat to
free speech. In the aftermath of the email, I saw my community divide. She
did not just start a political discourse as she intended. She marginalized
many students of color in what is supposed to be their home.
To which one might reply: But Silliman College is not "supposed to be their
home." It is a residential college in a university, a place where people
from all over the world, from a wide range of social backgrounds, and with
a wide range of interests and abilities, come to live together temporarily,
for about 30 weeks a year, before moving on to their careers. It is an
essentially public space, though with controls on ingress and egress to
prevent chaos and foster friendship and fellowship.
Like many universities, however, Yale presents its residential-college
system to students as a kind of home, or at least a home away from home,
offering, as one university pamphlet puts it, "cohesiveness and intimacy"
and promoting "spirit, allegiance, and a sense of community at Yale."
Such "cohesiveness and intimacy" can for some students be very powerful —
their college can even be a better and healthier environment for them than
the house they grew up in. The great theater critic Kenneth Tynan loved
Magdalen College, Oxford (where C. S. Lewis was his tutor), so much that he
wanted his ashes to be interred there. But even when he lived there some of
his fellow collegians didn't even know him, or knew him but didn't like
him, or had preferences for living that were radically different than his —
and they had no long-term bond that would have forced them to come to
mutually agreeable terms beyond basic tolerance for three years or so. The
notion of residential colleges as "home," however tempting, is ultimately
But if you have been led to think of your residential college — or, more
broadly, your college or university as a whole — in such a way, then you
might with some psychological justification have concerns for its "safety,"
and could feel threatened or actually endangered if you perceive hostility
from within. Moreover, several social forces are at work to intensify such
a response, or create it if it is not naturally present.
Ayjay  University  RH 
december 2017 by mgubbins

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