Delight Springs

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Why Baseball Matters

Just finished one of the smartest books on baseball I've come across in a long time, or maybe even ever: Why Baseball Matters, by Susan Jacoby.

She is indeed the Susan Jacoby, of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularismsuch a hit this past semester in our Atheism course. Add another name to the Church of Baseball register.

Her point in this book is not simply to praise our favorite game but to raise a red flag of concern for its future, in an age that rewards inattention and distraction and discourages continuous (though relaxed) concentration. She understands how true baseball appreciation requires sustained focus, a willingness to notice how much is happening both on the playing field and in the annals of institutional memory when casual semi-observers are sure "nothing is happening" in the game unfolding before them.
My concerns about the future of baseball—a $10 billion sport enjoying an unprecedented era of financial success and labor peace-are not based on misplaced nostalgia for a "pure" game that never existed. They are based on the dissonance between a game that demands and depends on concentration, time, and memory and a twenty-first-century culture that routinely disrupts all three with its vast menu of digital distractions.
Just look around, the next time you're in a ballpark: how many spectators are actually watching the game? How many are instead texting, watching other games in other places via smartphone, playing video games on that same dumb "smart" device? If you're in my town, Nashville, how many are playing shuffleboard or engaging in some other irrelevant diversion in the right field grandstand, backs turned constantly to the field? How many are seated, watching the game while conversing with family and friends? How many people under 30 are even there at all?

It's depressing, but Jacoby's a meliorist with constructive suggestions for how the great pastime can reclaim its rightful place. Most important is for those of us who love it to "make an effort to show the young why we love the game and why they might love it too if they surrendered themselves, as an experiment, to time uninterrupted by clocks and clicks... One kid at a time, one adult at a time."

So for my part, I'll continue to track participation in my classes with a baseball scorecard. Least I can do.

Friday, May 18, 2018

All mean egotism vanishes

May's already more than half gone? How time flies when your family's expanding!

We met Pita and Nell at the Nashville Humane Association on May 1. The place was closed on May 2. We were there waiting for the doors to open on May 3. It's been a blur ever since, they're the highest-energy canines I've ever been around. But life feels right again. Life is just better with dogs.

Better and busier, and disruptive of my old early-morning writing routine. But among the many lessons I've learned from dogs is flexibility and resilience, in the face of loss, disappointment, or just change. A change would do you good, as we heard Jeff Trott sing last night at a terrific Bluebird-style benefit show. (He wrote that Sheryl Crow hit, along with Soak Up the Sun, If It Makes You Happy, and lots more.) Fun night!

Did somebody say resilience? That's just another word for returning to life, bouncing back, making a new plan, getting on with it, and maybe sometimes changing your mind.

I'm in the middle of Michael Pollan's remarkable new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Toying in chapter four with the notion that mind-altering organic compounds might actually trigger noetic experiences with a profound spiritual dimension, but uneasy about "spirituality" that's not been disentangled from discreditable supernaturalism, he quotes Emerson's famously strange line:
Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into
infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball.
And then Pollan speculates that genuine spirituality just may be that condition of egolessness, the transparency of vision without an overbearing sense of subjective selfhood, however arrived at. I'm with him on that. I've stood on the bare ground of transparency myself, not catalyzed by mushrooms or acid or toad venom (!) but by the footsteps that carry me away from all mean egotism.

I'm always carried by my own footsteps, for sure, but am happily accompanied again now by my four-footed companions' pawsteps as well. We three don't need psychedelics to change our minds.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Luck is good, goals are too

Time's about up, tomorrow's are our last regular classes of the Spring semester before final exam week. I don't have a lot more to say, but I do want to reiterate the importance of having goals in life. Always. Right up to the end.
Image result for "end is near" cartoons

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."
Image result for william james
"There is no conclusion. What has concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given.--Farewell!"
Well, except for the advice to "not stop questioning." And also don't stress about tests. I'd say good luck, but as Mr. Rickey said: "luck is the residue of design."

I hope none of it has been "soul-crushing," and that all my students appreciate the permission our blogging-and-conversing format is designed to convey in reply to "the clarifying question: “Do you mean we can write with the word ‘I’?”  Yes you can. You'd better.

And one more thing. An old student recently contacted me to say "your class opened a lot of doors for me. I was inspired by many of the philosophies we explored, but in particular what stood out to me was your identification as an early riser. When I am up at dawn, I feel it is the perfect start to my day, but for the last year I have found it very difficult to get up early, or to get up with a good attitude. I wanted to seek your advise (sic.) on how to improve what I feel is becoming a detrimental habit. Have you always been an early riser? Is this natural for you or are you proactive in techniques?"

Good questions! My response:

I've been an early riser for a long time. The only exception in my adult lifetime, within memory, was when I took a job during Grad School as the Vandy student center's night manager. Had to stay up past midnight, sometimes 'til 2. Then, I didn't tend to get out of bed before 8.

Easiest way to get up at dawn is to bed down by 10:30. That can be hard too, especially for a college student.

Other tips? Don't curtain off the sight and sound of daybreak. When I hear chirping birds and catch a glint of sunlight, I HAVE to get up.

Good coffee or tea waiting for you is a powerful inducement.

It also helps if you have a dog to walk.

And, read Thoreau on the subject:

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of King Tchingthang to this effect: "Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." I can understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages. I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer's requiem; itself an Iliad and Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world. The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air—to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life it can make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.
==
What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented? Not my or thy great-grandfather's, but our great-grandmother Nature's universal, vegetable, botanic medicines, by which she has kept herself young always, outlived so many old Parrs in her day, and fed her health with their decaying fatness. For my panacea, instead of one of those quack vials of a mixture dipped from Acheron and the Dead Sea, which come out of those long shallow black-schooner looking wagons which we sometimes see made to carry bottles, let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world. But remember, it will not keep quite till noonday even in the coolest cellar, but drive out the stopples long ere that and follow westward the steps of Aurora. I am no worshipper of Hygeia, who was the daughter of that old herb-doctor Æsculapius, and who is represented on monuments holding a serpent in one hand, and in the other a cup out of which the serpent sometimes drinks; but rather of Hebe, cup-bearer to Jupiter, who was the daughter of Juno and wild lettuce, and who had the power of restoring gods and men to the vigor of youth. She was probably the only thoroughly sound-conditioned, healthy, and robust young lady that ever walked the globe, and wherever she came it was spring.
==
Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played. Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never become English hay. Let the thunder rumble; what if it threaten ruin to farmers' crops? That is not its errand to thee. Take shelter under the cloud, while they flee to carts and sheds. Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport. Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.
==
The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

Key point, again: To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. So, your morning will be whenever there's a dawn in you. Doesn't matter what the clock says, as long as you are really up.

Good luck!

And Happy Earth Day +1 (good luck to us all, and better design). I'll see some of you in Environmental Ethics in the Fall, and maybe you'd like to join my summer class road-trip down to Dayton in July... Be well. May future earthlings forgive us.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wittgenstein, Arendt, Rawls, Turing, Searle, Singer

It's our penultimate semester class date, with Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hannah Arendt, John Rawls, Alan Turing, John Searle, and Peter Singer today in CoPhi.

In the last chapter of Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen calls out the right-wing pundits who've "effectively trained two generations of Americans to disbelieve facts at odds with their opinions." We're all liable to that, to a degree, and the only corrective is the one J.S. Mill celebrated in On Liberty: unfettered free expression, and unimpeded receptivity to it. Giving the devil his due: Trump understood that a "breakdown of a shared public reality built upon widely accepted facts represented not a hazard but an opportunity." 

When your base discounts facts and truth you can get away with saying to them things like: "Don't even think about it. Don't even think about it Don't even think about it..." Don't worry, they won't.

Philosopher Michael Lynch says repeated self-contradiction by politicians like Trump can dull our sensitivity to the value of truth itself." That's what James Comey told George Stephanopoulos.

What's the good news? "America may now be at peak Fantasyland. We can hope." Some can pray. Hope we have a prayer.

In A&P, Nature's God concludes with "The Religion of Freedom." Matthew Stewart notes the widely accepted view that the Enlightenment overestimated our capacity for reason. Steven Pinker has been rediscovering the currency of that view, as critics rebuke his call for Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. The estimable and enlightened Sarah Bakewell does not join the anti-Enlightenment backlash. 
Bertrand Russell once pointed out that maintaining a sense of hope can be hard work. In the closing pages of his autobiography, with its account of his many activist years, he wrote: “To preserve hope in our world makes calls upon our intelligence and our energy. In those who despair it is frequently the energy that is lacking.” Steven Pinker’s book is full of vigor and vim, and it sets out to inspire a similar energy in its readers.
He cites one study of “negativity bias” that says a critic who pans a book “is perceived as more competent than a critic who praises it.” I will just have to take that risk: “Enlightenment Now” strikes me as an excellent book, lucidly written, timely, rich in data and eloquent in its championing of a rational humanism that is — it turns out — really quite cool. nyt
I'm with her, and him, and him.

Has a strictly empirical approach to religion ever been attempted? Dan Dennett made a start, with Breaking the Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon. In its best passages, those most committed to finding a common thread of shared human nature behind all the various forms of religious enthusiasm, James's Varieties did too.

Bruno, we're reminded, shared with Spinoza an appreciation of parables and prophecies as appropriate vehicles for "approximating the truth for those who lack the capacity to understand it properly." Locke, similarly, said scripture is instruction "for the illiterate bulk of Mankind." Is that unacceptably condescending?
On the other hand: is it naive to say with Spinoza that "even the common people can be made to understand" that the right beliefs aren't sufficient for salvation? 

Popular deism deviated from philosophical deism. Did it do a distortion by soft-pedaling the full freethinking implications of its progenitor? Is that just a necessary occupational hazard philosophers must court, if they agree with John Toland that "we must talk with the people, and think with the philosophers"? Can we not talk thoughtfully and honestly with the people?

Did John Adams really anticipate John Lennon? "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!" Imagine! But, hell no. "Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell."

Spinoza anticipated Jefferson (who started snipping his Bible in 1805, while in his 1st term in the White House) in thinking that what made Jesus great was his moral teachings (and not his magic). Lord Bolingbroke, though, said Seneca and Epictetus were better teachers than Christ.


Wittgenstein was one odd duck. Or rabbit. Or duckrabbit. What do you see, and how do you see it? Why do you see it that way? He thought these were questions worth investigating, in his posthumous Philosophical Investigations. I'm more inclined to follow the instruction of proposition 7 in his pre-humous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." Famous premature last words.

"Raised in a prominent Viennese family, Ludwig Wittgenstein studied engineering in Germany and England, but became interested in the foundations of mathematics and pursued philosophical studies with Moore at Cambridge before entering the Austrian army during World War I. The notebooks he kept as a soldier became the basis for his Tractatus, which later earned him a doctorate and exerted a lasting influence on the philosophers of the Vienna circle. After giving away his inherited fortune, working as a village schoolteacher in Austria, and designing his sister's Vienna home, Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge, where he developed a new conception of the philosophical task. His impassioned teaching during this period influenced a new generation of philosophers..."

The Tractatus said we can't speak meaningfully about our most important questions in ethics and religion (and maybe language), and so should hold our tongues. That may sound like Freddy Ayer's "nonsense," but Wittgenstein was not being dismissive, he was courting mysticism. He presumed that language fails to mirror reality because we cannot verify their correspondence, cannot faithfully and flawlessly replicate in words the facts and meanings that lie beyond them.

The Philosophical Investigations takes a linguistic turn. “The meaning of a word is its use in the language,” not its relation to something non-linguistic in the world. The uses of words are discovered and decreed in our "language games," which include but crucially are not limited to the games philosophers play about truth. Those games can get us stuck like a fly in a bottle, and he wanted to pop the cork. “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

How do you avoid linguistic captivity in the first place? Not by inventing your own private language. Language is intrinsically public, and only other users of our language can call us out for the language errors we don't catch. A private language is too much like Leibniz' private monadic theaters of mind, too much like a game of solitaire played with improvised rules.

But rules presuppose other rule-followers, and language games presuppose other players. So the question is how do we break the spell of language, when it bewitches and confuses us? It's tempting to say "it's only a game," we can always play a different one. Can we? “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” Won't language always hold us captive in this sense?

The Investigations thus seem to bring Wittgenstein full circle, back to the concluding counsel of the Tractatus. “So in the end, when one is doing philosophy, one gets to the point where one would like just to emit an inarticulate sound.” I know what he means, I often feel that way when doing philosophy, and especially when watching others do philosophy. But now and then someone will say or write something that provokes an "ah-ha!" moment, and language seems less captor than liberator. Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature had that effect on many of my peers in grad school, with its proposal that the pictures holding us captive in philosophy are optional. We can just decide to give up the picture of words as mirrors? That's a game-changer.

“Language is a labyrinth of paths. You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about.” And vice versa. Peripatetics know this. You aren't necessarily lost, in language, you're exploring. Try another path. Start another conversation. Read another book. Write another sentence.
Hannah Arendt covered Adolf Eichmann's war crimes trial for The New Yorker in 1963 ("Eichmann in Jerusalem"), finding him the very epitome of banality, "an ordinary man who chose not to think too hard about what he was doing." The banality of evil resides in the hearts and minds of heartless, thoughtless functionaries. “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal." And they pay that "normality" forward, to catastrophic and tragic result. “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

The Origins of Totalitarianism has suddenly again become must-reading. "The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.... The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists... one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

John Rawls, Alan Turing, John Searle (who's lately joined an ignoble list of alleged philosopher/harassers, but that's another topic), and Peter Singer round out our introductory tour of western philosophy.

Rawls' "stroke of genius" was his Original Position thought experiment, seeking fairness and justice (for Rawls justice is fairness) via the imaginative contrivance of a "veil of ignorance." The idea is to acknowledge and lessen the undue influence of special interest pleading in our politics, allowing only those inequalities of wealth, status, privilege, opportunity, and resources that benefit all. The least well-off must be better off, when the veil is lifted, than otherwise. [SoL video]

Alan Turing's Imitation Game, "proposing the practical test of whether or not we would attribute intelligence to a system whose performance is indistinguishible from that of a human agent," says if it walks and talks like a smart duck it practically is one. John Searle countered with the Chinese Room, which "purports to show that even effective computer simulations do not embody genuine intelligence, since rule-governed processes need not rely upon understanding by those who perform them."

But some philosophers remain convinced that we might someday use computers to achieve virtual immortality. That didn't work out so well for Johnny Depp in Transcendence. "I can't feel anything," says the uploaded semblance of his former self. If that's the singularity I hope it's nowhere near, Ray Kurzweil. "Transcending biology" might strip us of our humanity and not replace it with anything better.

What's wrong with cruelty to robots? ask Sam Harris and Paul Bloom. Well, if they can suffer then they're entitled to moral consideration just like you and me.
Philosophers and scientists remain uncertain about how consciousness emerges from the material world, but few doubt that it does. This suggests that the creation of conscious machines is possible... if we do manage to create machines as smart as or smarter than we are — and, more important, machines that can feel — it’s hardly clear that it would be ethical for us to use them to do our bidding, even if they were programmed to enjoy such drudgery. The notion of genetically engineering a race of willing slaves is a standard trope of science fiction, wherein humankind is revealed to have done something terrible. Why would the production of sentient robot slaves be any different?
Peter Singer says we should always be prepared to sacrifice "one or two of the luxuries that we don't really need" to help strangers. When you put it that way it doesn't really sound like "a hard philosophy to live up to," much as we love our branded shoes and suits, our cars and college funds, and our carnivorous ways. "But that doesn't mean Singer is wrong about what we ought to do." We ought to do a great deal more good for those in need than we do, most of us. Maybe we ought to stop eating sentient animals. Certainly we ought to stop inflicting gratuitous pain on all who can feel it. We ought to be less selfish and more cooperative.

Singer "represents the very best tradition in philosophy," if you agree that "constantly challenging widely held assumptions" like Socrates is the very best tradition. Kwame Anthony Appiah basically agrees, but would modify Singer's principle to something like: “if you are the best person in the best position to prevent something really awful, and it won’t cost you much to do so, do it.” [Singer slides]

Since it's our last regular class date prior to next week's exam, this is a good time to echo what Professor James said about conclusions. In the words of his favorite pluralistic mystic, “there is no conclusion. What has concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given. — Farewell!”

Actually there is one important bit of advice all philosophers will endorse:


Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. #Einstein

And then there's some good advice about how to prepare for an exam.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Russell, Ayer, Existentialism...

Today in CoPhi we begin with a closer look at the quotable Bertrand Russell, whose historical opinions we've been noting all semester. But we've outrun his his 1945 History, which gives generous but unsympathetic late chapters to William James ("almost universally beloved") and John Dewey ("leading living philosopher in America") before concluding with a few cursory words on the logical analysis of Cantor and Frege. He says nothing of the Existentialists or then-young A.J. Ayer. More on them below...*

In Fantasyland, "Disneyfication" is not a term of praise, but an acknowledgement that parts of urban America increasingly resemble theme parks - to the delight of kids of all ages.  Even Kurt Andersen admits to being "delighted to live on a Brooklyn block that looks very much like it did a hundred years ago." Better a little historical fantasy than the bulldozing of history that has always been the pattern of the New World.

But still, isn't there something unseemly about the Peter-Panification of America that's reflected in so many childless adults crowding the theme parks? It'd be nice if they'd at least find somebody else's 9-year old to bring along, there are too many real children whose parents can't afford the admission.

Adults are getting mentally younger and more childlike and children are inheriting wealth and power. Mark Zuckerberg, like so many Internet entrepreneurs, became a billionaire at just 23. Is it any surprise that he, and they, haven't always thought carefully through all the troublesome implications of their moneymakers for people's privacy and security? Of course they wished it wouldn't be so. But "the tendency to believe that wish makes it so" is magical thinking. Hey, let's go to Disneyland!

In A&P, we're reminded that the honorific status of "democratic" is a relatively new development in human history. Vox populi may not be the will of god after all, though we may be tempted to blame present arrangements on forces beyond our control. (Did you see Comey Sunday night?) A measure of stoicism is defnintely in order, but I prefer to leaven mine with pragmatism. "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept," says the noble warrior chief on the postcard from my sister. Stoic Pragmatists like that, so long as it's qualified with a short but crucial additional phrase: "...that I can change." 

"Liberal" is another term lately downgraded by popular opprobrium and misconception. Liberalism is finally just the view that power and freedom, properly appropriated, come from the same fount of rational understanding that recognizes natural equality as our birthright and ruling touchstone. We're all "furnished with like Faculties," said Locke, "equal and independent."

Enlightenment was such a revolutionary force in human history, says Stewart, because liberal democrats insisted on giving reasons for apportioning and lending the people's sovereign power to its temporary custodial caretakers. Power requires explanation, it is not self-justifying.

John Adams scornfully derided Thomas Young's incipient democratic party and its righteous populist zeal, and then confronted Thomas Paine for his impious "Contempt of the Old Testament and indeed of the Bible at large." Paine proposed to crush crown and clerisy alike, ceremonially and substantively, "in order to demonstrate that in America THE LAW IS KING."

Deists' laws derive from nature, but do not impose moralistic strictures against private personal conduct of the sort we're accustomed to receiving from the fundamentally religious. The dictates of reason are not dictatorial, they're prudential advisories that don't have to be imposed on rational and virtuous liberals.

Similarly, Spinoza's state of nature is "an ongoing perspective on all social experience" and not a fear-inducing invitation to the exchange of freedom for security at the hands of an authoritarian state. "A civil state that accurately represents the state of nature... in which a people is able to realize itself according to reason" is an Empire of Reason, one which "all good and wise men" would exert themselves. 

Let's hope our empire strikes back soon, against the lately-ascendant forces of corruption, ignorance, and intolerance. Let's hope the American experiment in democracy will not soon be abandoned by we the people.

*Russell's youthful encounter with J.S. Mill led him to a pivotal liberating insight.
I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day at the age of eighteen I read Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. Why I Am Not a Christian

We should resolve, he decided, "to understand the actual world as it is, not as we should wish it to be... Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Mature wisdom then comes when we apply ourselves to building on that understanding, and seeing if we can either construct steps to reach our castles in the sky (in Thoreau's metaphor) or build new castles where we stand. Why else was old Russell in the streets protesting nuclear proliferatrion and Vietnam?

“To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it... The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty..." That's the state of mind that best stimulates curiosity and creativity, and opens us to consider new possibilities. "Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom."

Russell also said “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” And, “In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” And, “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so... It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.”

Russell's china teapot is one of his more improbable enduring images. "If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion..." You can probably guess where he's going with that teapot.

Russell's paradoxical barber, fascinated with language and its self-referential confusions, was less obviously engaged in constructive world-making. But he inspired A.J. Ayer and the logical positivists, convinced that progress in philosophy and in life required the dismantling of philosophy's unverifiable traditional ambitions as so much literal nonsense. Language, Truth and Logic was a young man's book. Old Ayer had to nearly choke to death on his salmon to acquire mature wisdom. He also courted a near death experience with the ear-nibbling prizefighter Mike Tyson. ("Wickedest Man in Oxford")

The Existentialists, rallying under Jean Paul Sartre's anti-essentialist banner, warned against "bad faith" but didn't explain precisely how people who love their work - philosophers included - can avoid being defined or inauthenticated by it. Sartre's advice to the student who didn't know whether to join the Resistance, to just choose, was frustrating. But he'd say that's life.

Simone de Beauvoir was a bit more helpful. She said women are made, not born, but have been too accepting of the constructed gender constraints imposed by men. “Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female — whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.” They can make a different plan. The present generation is testing the limits of reconstruction, as women and men explore the possibilities of self-discovery. We can all learn to persist and persevere against arbitrary silencing and suppression. “In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.”

“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.” So, is it existentially inauthentic to hire a housekeeper? I can't imagine my wife happy without her.

Albert Camus said there's no final escape from the absurdities of life, but we can learn to live with them. We must imagine Sisyphus happy. Camus and his generation successfully pushed back against the rock that was the Reich. He was awarded a Nobel. And then he died behind the wheel.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” I don't agree, but if he felt that way why did he search for happiness and meaning? Or maybe it just came to him. “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion were absurd, but they too persisted and learned something from Sartre about the roads to freedom. “If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company... Do you think that I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk... Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning... Freedom is what we do with what is done to us... We are our choices... Hell is—other people!"

Best accessible recent account of Existentialism: At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell. "Paris, near the turn of 1933. Three young friends meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron, who opens their eyes to a radical new way of thinking. Pointing to his drink, he says, 'You can make philosophy out of this cocktail!'"

And so we'll ask: Have you ever read a book that changed your mind about something important to you? What would you say to Bertrand Russell and J.S. Mill about the First Cause Argument? Are linguistic paradoxes a deep philosophical/conceptual problem, or an amusing quirk of language reflecting our freedom of expression and self-discovery? Can you give an example of an unverifiable statement that you consider meaningful? If biology and the social sciences don't shed light on a shared species essence, what is the status of our common genetic and memetic inheritance? Can you construct a personal essence, it that's always subject to deconstruction and replacement? Could that be our essence? Where is gender headed, in this and coming generations? What's your Sisyphean rock?
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Should laptops be banned from the classroom?

"... students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture. Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.

The researchers hypothesized that, because students can type faster than they can write, the lecturer’s words flowed right to the students’ typing fingers without stopping in their brains for substantive processing...."
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Cosmopolitans like Kwame Anthony Appiah push against the rock of nationalist chauvinism, and push for greater human solidarity. Anthony Appiah pushes alongside Adam Smith, the old free marketeer who insisted on recognizing what he called "reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct" as our greatest source of conscience. Like his friend David Hume, he found wisdom in thinking about his little finger. Hume's lexicon was different, in A Treatise of Human Nature, but the enlightened Scots agreed: we have it in ourselves to become more generous and less selfish. "It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger," but it is definitely contrary to our better sentiments and sympathies, and contrary to our humanity.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Peirce & James, Nietzsche, Freud

Long day ahead: four classes, a couple of consultations, and the first of two MALA classes on "Cheating Truth" (as previously rehearsed in November). Look out, "opinion-y facts," we're about to call Bullshit.

Today in CoPhi it's the American Pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James (and John Dewey, R.I.P., and George Santayana, both neglected by Nigel), the godless post-nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the psychoanalytic therapeutics of Sigmund Freud.

In Fantasyland, Andersen says  "most mass killers in America are not psychotics or paranoid schizophrenics,  they're role-playing fantasists "motivated by our besetting national dream of overnight fame... they're citizens of Fantasyland, unhappy people with flaws and failures they blame on others," they want to "force the rest of us to pay attention to them for the first time." Thanks to the NRA's "demented," hysterical, reactionary opposition to the '90s assault weapons ban, the killer fantasists have a powerful lobby working on their behalf.

Less violent (so far) but no less unsettling to Andersen ("it gives me the heebie-jeebies") is the prospect of "augmented reality" now being funded in Silicon Valley to the tune of $1.4 billion. These new VR technologies promise to be "ridiculous, sublime, wonderful, [and] awful." He can't wait.

In A&P, it's the purfuit of happiness chapter. Despite the widely-shared and unexamined false assumption, then and now, that freethinkers must be bad people, the freethinking deists who founded our republic were convinced that virtue (which includes but is not restricted to moral goodness) and happiness are twins. They did not affirm the common conception of morality that finds nihilistic disenchantment and valueless-ness in the radical philosophy of Nature's God. Their "immanent" alternative saw nihilism a symptom, not a cause, of otherworldly/supernatural religion.

Jefferson declared himself an Epicurean. Locke was always cagier, but "it is in fact difficult to sound more Epicurean than Locke" when he said we all seek happiness, "which consists in the enjoyment of pleasure." They would seem to have agreed that the summum bonum is "indolence of body, tranquility of mind," that Happiness founded on virtue and measured by [social] utility is life's great aim. There's nothing "thoughtless, selfish," amorally consumerist or materialistic about that. Or self-indulgent, or narcissistic (though it is a major theme of this chapter that a kind of self-love is at the heart of social conscience and public-spiritedness).

Stewart says the radical philosophy is not properly or exclusively a humanism, but is closer to naturalism. We should talk about that, both stand on the same side of my scale. Somebody needs to write that essay, in echo of Sartre: Naturalism is a Humanism.

Spinoza, Hume, Machiavelli, and others have charged that Christianity's concern for otherworldly salvation "results in a selfish and bigoted diminishment of virtue." Fair?

Jefferson famously wrestled with his conscience while consorting with a married Frenchwoman, in the form of a dialogue between Head and Heart. Stewart says it's also a debate between deism (Heart) and stoicism (Head). Neither side scores a solid win, the happy and virtuous result is a draw. 

Franklin applauded the dual triumph of happiness and virtue. Stewart summarizes, perhaps startlingly: "if vice turned out to be a condition of happiness, then presumably God would clamor to see us vicious." Hmm. That's a bit jarring to the "peace of mind" that Spinoza said should result from good actions. Better return to Hume's elegant summary: "Probity and honour were no strangers to Epicurus and his sect," which was of course precursor to Franklin's "virtuous hereticks."
Image result for william james squirrel

Back to Pragmatism, and William James: we begin with a squirrel, whose circumnavigation of a tree was the improbable occasion for James's account of the pragmatic method. (That's the view from his summer place in New Hampshire atop my masthead, btw.) His camping companions couldn't decide whether a scampering, circling squirrel was itself circled by the human observers who tried and failed to keep the frenetic rodent constantly in their sights or not.

...Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: "Which party is right," I said, "depends on what you PRACTICALLY MEAN by 'going round' the squirrel. If you mean passing from the north of him to the east, then to the south, then to the west, and then to the north of him again, obviously the man does go round him, for he occupies these successive positions. But if on the contrary you mean being first in front of him, then on the right of him, then behind him, then on his left, and finally in front again, it is quite as obvious that the man fails to go round him, for by the compensating movements the squirrel makes, he keeps his belly turned towards the man all the time, and his back turned away. Make the distinction, and there is no occasion for any farther dispute. You are both right and both wrong according as you conceive the verb 'to go round' in one practical fashion or the other." Altho one or two of the hotter disputants called my speech a shuffling evasion, saying they wanted no quibbling or scholastic hair-splitting, but meant just plain honest English 'round,' the majority seemed to think that the distinction had assuaged the dispute. What Pragmatism MeansA silly and trivial dispute, perhaps, but helpfully illustrative of how pragmatists think. Define your terms, say what practical difference the competing answers would make, and get on with more pressing concerns. It all depends on "why you want to know and what difference it will actually make," if any. If none, forget about it.

Another way to illustrate the method: what's your current velocity, right now?


Charles Peirce, not related to Benjamin Franklin Pierce, said the final truth is what we would end up with if we could run all the experiments and investigations we'd like to. We'll never run them all, so the truth at any given time is always provisional, always tied to the present state of inquiry and always subject to revision or rejection in the light of further experience.


Bertrand Russell didn't think much of this approach, and didn't make much of an effort to grasp its intent. Pragmatists are often accused of denying the facts, when they explicitly acknowledge facts but propose that we understand truth (or falsehood) about the facts as what we say about them but never, in media res, entirely convergent with them. What we say is subject to the present stage of inquiry, the inconclusiveness of which requires an admission that what we would say at the ideal end of inquiry will surely differ. Hence the perpetual gap between facts and truths, and the pragmatists' commitment to narrowing the gap in the long run while resisting unwarranted absolute claims in the interim.


So it's not true, contrary to Russell's derisive criticism, that pragmatists have to admit the truth of Santa's existence. It may "work" for a four-year-old to think so, but toddlers don't get the last word.


This is a contentious and contestable view, admittedly, but it is not the caricatured reduction to whatever is "expedient" in a situation James's critics (like Bertrand Russell) made it out to be. It's more like Richard Rorty's neo-pragmatic and (later) Wittgensteinian invitation to an open and ongoing conversation between all comers with something to contribute. It is decidedly not a "Santa Claus" philosophy of truth. Rorty said words are our tools and not symbolic snapshots corresponding to timeless propositional statements. Our task is to "cope" with the world, not just copy it.

James may have been wrong about truth, but (to paraphrase A.C. Grayling's comment on Descartes) if he was, he was interestingly, constructively, engagingly, entertainingly, provocatively wrong.


Besides, he's the best writer in the James family (sorry, Henry) and possibly the best writer in the entire stable of American philosophers. I call him my favorite because he's the one I'd most like to invite to the Boulevard for a beer. Unfortunately he didn't drink. (Too bad they don't serve nitrous oxide.) Also, unfortunately, he died in 1910. Read his letters and correspondence, they humanize his philosophy and place his "radical" views in the context of their genesis: the context of experience, and of life.


James's interest in religion was rooted in the lives and experience of individuals, not particularly in God, heaven, the afterlife and so on. He psychologizes and naturalizes religion. It's mostly about life on earth, for Jamesians, not (again) old St. Nick.

Let me know if you'd like to buy a good bargain-priced book about him. About us all, really.

Friedrich Nietzsche said "God is dead" and seemed at turns dismayed and liberated to think so. Is a godless world one in which "everything is permitted" or one in which objective and authoritative permission is no longer available, in which the old rules have been mooted and "free spirits" are unleashed to create new rules for themselves? But is God dead, in Nietzsche's terms? Maybe in old Europe, and maybe in more of the formerly sacred halls of worship in our own backyard than most of us will admit. Zarathustra may have come a century too soon in some quarters, and it may still be too soon in others, but it's hard to deny that ours is an increasingly secular age. I don't know many secularists who think everything is permitted.

Nor do I know many secularists who think compassion, kindness, and consideration are dead, dependent on a religious pedigree, or reflective of slavish resentment. That genealogy may explain the psychology behind some Christians' worldview, but most people in my experience still want to be good for goodness' sake. If your only motivation for being good, though, is to get to heaven, that's not good. And it's not goodness.

(We hosted a talk by a representative godless secular humanist who thinks you can be good without a god next Friday, at our annual Spring Lyceum: Ronald Aronson, author of Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided.)

If an Ubermensch is "not held back by conventional moral codes," he'd better be held back by law and communal disfavor. There are other, better names for people who "want to have their way without consideration of other people's interests": selfish egoists. Spoiled brats. NPDs. Mr. President. Not Superman.

Nietzsche's un-Kantian exaltation of unreason found partial alliance with Sigmund Freud, but is also placed on the shrink's couch as a classic textbook case of subterranean wish-fulfillment and unresolved, unconsious discontent with modernity. The Freudian Unconscious may not quite rise to the revolutionary status of Copernicus and Darwin, Frood may not have figured it all out, Deputy, but it would explain a lot. As "talking cures" go, though, I think I'd usually rather talk to a philosophical analyst than a psycho-...

Nietzsche himself was an early-adopter of psychoanalysis, and needed to be. He had a gift for his analyst, as documented in the film When Nietzsche Wept: eternal recurrence, the gift that keeps on giving. Or doesn't. Its up to you to affirm or negate, to receive the gift as a great liberation or the greatest weight.

Freud's reductive account of religion rivals Marx's, and like Marx's probably captures a significant but not comprehensive segment of believers. Much of Freud's universe is unfalsifiable, as Sir Karl said, but it's not hard to find a devout person who wants and finds more in religion than a protective paterfamilias in the sky. On the other hand, he wasn't entirely off base when he said “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” And, "man's judgments of value follow directly his wishes for happiness-accordingly, they are an attempt to support his illusions with arguments."


?s Does it really "work" to believe in Santa? Didn't you continue to receive presents after you stopped believing? Is believing in Santa analogous to believing in God? When James said truth is what works, did he mean what works for me, now? Or for us, on the whole and in the long run? Are words tools, or more like pictures? Is it possible that God is dead for some but not others, in some places and times more and in others less? Are compassion and kindness distinctively religious values? Do you know any kind and compassionate atheists? Should we embrace the irrational and emotional aspects of human nature, or try to overcome them? Is Freudian dream symbolism (snakes and caves etc.) profound or silly?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mill, Darwin, Kierkegaard, & Marx

Back from Ottawa (KS) and KC (MO), and the best Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference yet.

The estimable Gerald Early, of Ken Burns' fame (Baseball, Jackie Robinson, Jazz...) gave a great morning keyn0te.

The impressive Doug Glanville spoke at noon on the power of teamwork to overcome bias and hostility. He told a gripping tale of being profiled in his own snowbound Connecticut driveway, and then calmly persevering to change the culture that enables such effrontery. And check out his paean to Cubs Opening Day.

They both joined Sabermetrician Bill James and a local television personality to ponder "the state of the game."

And I had a great time presenting my thoughts on the power of perseverance, to conquer "the yips" and overcome self-imposed obstacles. Can't wait 'til next year.

But first, there are busy days just ahead here and now. Once we've caught up on Berkeley, Leibniz, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Bentham, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Fantasyland (37-39) in CoPhi it's on to Mill, Darwin, Kierkegaard, & Marx.*

Next in Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen wonders what really derailed the GOP. Paul Ryan's favorite fiction writer Ayn Rand is part of the answer, and science denial is another. But there's some good news on this front, "only 17% of Americans who don't call themselves Republican believe global warming is a myth." [40-41]

Today in A&P, Matthew Stewart says  the overwhelming majority of Enlightenment philosophers and practically all of the American founders took God's existence for granted, while disputing his (it's) nature. Most concluded that God's nature was to just be nature, our eponymous Nature's God, "presiding deity of the American Revolution."

Carl Becker's influential and "essentially correct" claim that "Jefferson copied Locke," especially with respect to our defining "purfuits," doesn't grasp Locke's own originality and subterfuge in concealing it to avoid overt association with Spinoza.

John Toland, "Spinoza's avatar" and "Locke's evil twin," "raised Giordano Bruno from the ashes..." His "game" was to reveal the Locke-Spinoza connection that detected God in the very absence of miracle. God does not play dice.

"Bruno once again anticipates it all," that guy is just on fire (Sorry, too soon): "God is everywhere in all things..."

"The mass of men believe they are free" because they know effects but not all the causes. A good thing too, if you ask me. Free action makes sense only in the context of possibilities, which vanish in the face of causal necessity.

Epicurus's clinamen or Swerve doctrine is perhaps his "most problematic" proposal, but it's intriguing. Don't we all swerve all the time, to our own as well as others' consternation? “Stability itself is nothing but a more languid motion.” And here's a suggestion: "abandon the anxious and doomed attempt to build higher and higher walls and turn instead toward the cultivation of pleasure.”

Alexander Pope "tracked" Spinoza when he said discord is "harmony not understood" and evil is really good. Those are tracks I try not to follow. Might as well say black is white.

But if we don't want to say that, should we also resist saying that the universe is the thinking and the extended body of God? I do.

Ethan Allen's vision of the hereafter was a Field of Dreams, a "brighter, shinier version of the here and now." But was it in an Iowa cornfield?
Image result for field of dreams

Thursday night, it's the first of my two classes in the second rendition of the MALA course on "Cheating"... my contribution: "Cheating Truth"... 

 Last time this quartet of philosophers came up I was doing my bit for the Spring MALA course on Human Migration, worth a look back. My block contribution then was "The Human Journey to Cosmopolitanism," first retracing the genetic trail of Y-chromosome crumbs that prove we have indeed walked far, then wondering if we'll ever complete the mission summarized by that ambitious (if premature) plaque on the moon.

Image result for "we came in peace" moon flag

"Premature," I say, as evidenced by that other marker we left in the lunar dust.

Image result for "we came in peace" moon flag

Also premature perhaps in its implication that humans at this stage of their evolutionary development have in fact become a peaceable, or even reliably civil, species. I ventured out to the airport last night and was met with several instances of gratuitous incivility. Lots of us seem like powder kegs waiting to blow, these days. Oh well. At least I didn't get beat up or kicked off a plane. I'd rather walk than fly any day.

We might check in tonight with Frederic Gros's Philosophy of Walking, and Christopher Orlet's Gymnasiums of the Mind, and "Walking to the stars": Some of us fervently believe, with Nietzsche, Rousseau, and so many others, that the best ideas first come while walking. Some of us also believe we should expand our range to include more distant turf, over the Terran horizon. I'm a believer.

*As to those 19th century stars...

Mill, we've noted, disagree with Bentham about pleasure. He had nothing against "pushpin," just impatience with humans who wouldn't bother to explore more. His great passion was of course for liberty, so his insistence on qualitative pleasure-standards sets up a taut challenge: how to prescribe but not impose those standards, and still respect the rights of all to seek their own good in their own ways without (as John Lachs puts it) meddling. Open discussion in a free society, especially about our differences, forces invaluable self-critique. "If you don't have your views challenged by people with opposing views, then you will probably end up holding them as 'dead dogmas'..." But of course we rarely call out our own dogmas, it's other people's prejudices we detest. So we need to hear out other people.

The great Huxley-Wilberforce debate has probably grown in legend beyond its moment, but what wouldn't I give to have been there! I think Dan Dennett is probably right, evolution by natural selection is probably the single best idea anyone ever had. Huxley was probably right too, when he upbraided himself for not having thought of it first. The best ideas are often right under our noses, out of sight.

Since Darwin's day genetics, tonight's topic, "has given a detailed explanation of how inheritance works." It's not just a theory, it's a hypothesis with "a very substantial weight of evidence in support."

The Danish Socrates said evidence/schmevidence, what's that to me if my "subjective truth" says I should take a flying leap into the darkness. Some of us think Kierkegaard committed intellectual suicide, but we're glad somebody stepped up to defend the irrationalist position. It gives us more to talk about. And it's clear enough why some Existentialists (though not the atheists like Sartre) look back to the Melancholy Dane as their early prototype. Kierkegaard was all about "choosing how to live and the difficulty of knowing that your decision is the right one." My view is that you only make that more difficult, when you renounce reason. And, you do contradict yourself in the broadest sense of reason when you write tracts attempting to vindicate your irrationalism. Nigel's unvarnished judgment: "Faith involves risk. But it is also irrational: not based on reason."

But, give Kierkegaard credit for defending "the subjective point of view" against the pure objectifiers in philosophy who leave themselves no place to stand, pretending to occupy Professor Nagel's "view from nowhere." That really is a Nowhere Land, Nowhere Man.

Karl Marx always looks angry. The "grim conditions" of industrial capitalism and its assault on the poor and powerless dispossessed sent him to the British Library and into collaboration with Engels to crank out their Manifesto. The political struggle of class demanded and predicted revolution, they said. They took Hegel's history and said it's all coming to a head much sooner than his intellectualistic analysis allowed, given its manifest material contradictions. Theye didn't predict the Soviet Union, though.

"From each according to ability, to each according to need": a beautiful vision, which American students seem conditioned to reject as impossible. Seems to work pretty well in places like Denmark and Switzerland, though.

Finally, Marx famously called religion "the opium of the people." He didn't think that was an insult, but a sympathetic explanation. "In the new world after the revolution human beings would achieve their humanity." Sounds so naive, from the perspective of 2017. But humanity isan achievement, not just a genetic fact. We've got to reclaim it constantly.

Lotsa questions: Name two or three of your favorite pleasures. Are any of them higher or better than the others? In what way? Are any of yours higher or better than those of a friend whose list includes none of yours? Why or why not? Is state paternalism ever warranted? Why don't we ever talk about state maternalism? What are the appropriate legal limits on speech and expression in a free society, if any? How would you reply to Wilberforce's debate question? What do you think was the best idea ever? Do you want a map of your own genome? Why or why not? Do you agree with Darwin that the subject of God is "too profound for human intellect"? Does it mean we should all be agnostic? What would you have done, in Abraham's position? Would you have doubted the "message" or challenged the messenger? Does it damage the parent-child relationship if Mom or Dad make it clear to the child that they'll always defer to the perceived instructions of a "heavenly father," even including murderous instructions? Does anything "trump the duty to be a good [parent]"? Would you ever do something you considered morally wrong, in the name of faith? Does taking a "leap of faith" make you irrational? How do you balance your subjective point of view with objectivity, and with the subjectivity of others? What role should inter-subjectivity play, in forming that balance? If you ever own a business will you pay your workers as little as possible and extract as much "surplus value" from them as you can? Is anything in history "inevitable"? Does religion ...make people more reconciled to oppression and exploitation, and less likely to revolt?
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11.15.17. On this day in 1835 Charles Darwin reaches Tahiti on board HMS Beagle...
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On this date in 1969, the Vietnam Moratorium Committee staged one of the biggest anti-war protests in American history. It followed a month after a massive demonstration and teach-in dubbed the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. As many as half a million people gathered for this day’s event, the Moratorium March on Washington. Protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Washington Monument, where they listened to speeches by anti-war politicians and sang John Lennon’s new anthem “Give Peace a Chance,” led by Pete Seeger (lyrics). Arlo Guthrie; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and the cast of the musical Hair also performed. The Moratorium March followed immediately after the three-day March Against Death, in which 40,000 silent protestors walked in single file down Pennsylvania Avenue, each carrying a sign bearing the name of a dead soldier.

“The predominant event of the day was that of a great and peaceful army of dissent moving through the city,” the New York Times reported. The Times also described the crowd as “predominantly youthful” and a “mass gathering of the moderate and radical Left … old-style liberals; Communists and pacifists and a sprinkling of the violent New Left.”

Other protests were held around the world in support of the Washington moratorium. A quarter of a million people gathered in San Francisco. Future U.S. president Bill Clinton organized an anti-war event in Oxford, England, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

President Nixon had promised during his 1968 presidential campaign to withdraw from Vietnam, but —10 months into his term — had so far failed to deliver. He was not swayed by the protests, and said, “As far as this kind of activity is concerned, we expect it; however under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.” He watched sports on TV in the White House while the demonstration was taking place. WA