Sunday, May 20, 2018

Russell's river of life

The best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

Bertrand Russell, How To Grow Old
(Quoted by Michael Pollan in How to Change Your Mind

Monday, April 23, 2018

MALA 6040, Evolution in America

Summer 2018 MALA course

A course studying the cultural, social, historical, and philosophical impact of the theory of evolution in America and specifically in Tennessee, possibly including a field-trip to Dayton, TN (site of the infamous 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" and of an annual dramatic reenactment). Texts include Edward Larson's account of that event,Summer for the Gods, and Matthew Chapman's Trials of the Monkey(he is Charles Darwin's great-great...grandson, a Brit who made a pilgrimage to Dayton himself, and wrote about it). We'll look at why the idea of evolution has encountered both enthusiasm and hostility in this country, and at the prospects for peaceful coexistence between evolutionary science and religious faith in the future.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference 2018

Ottawa University
Ottawa, Kansas
Conference website
Friday, Apr 6
7:45 a.m.

Registration and Breakfast

8:15 a.m.

Andy Hazucha, Conference Coordinator
Terry Haines, University Provost

8:30 — 9:15 a.m

Morning Keynote Address
Morning Keynote Speaker: Gerald Early

9:30 — 10:30 a.m.

Concurrent Sessions A

Session A1: Baseball in Popular Culture
Location: Hasty Conference Room
Chair: Shannon Dyer, Ottawa University
"When 1858 and 2018 Meet on the Field: Integrating the Modern Game into Vintage Base Ball"
Eric Berg, MacMurray College
"Baseball: The Original Social Network"
Melissa Booker, Independent Scholar
"Seams and Sestets: A Poetic Examination of Baseball Art and Culture"
Nicholas X. Bush, Motlow State Community CollegeSession A2: Baseball History
Location: Zook Conference Room
Chair: Bill Towns, Ottawa University

"Dwight Eisenhower's Baseball Career"
Mark Eberle, Fort Hays State University
"Cartooning the Home Team"
Jan Johnson, Independent Scholar
"The 1926-27 Baseball Scandal: What Happened and Why We Should Care"
Gerald C. Wood, Carson-Newman UniversitySession A3: From the Topps: Using Baseball Cards as Creative Inspiration
Location: Goppert Conference Room
Chair: George Eshnaur, Ottawa University

Roundtable Discussion
Andrew Jones, University of Dubuque
Matt Muilenburg, University of Dubuque
Casey Pycior, University of Southern Indiana

10:45 — 11:45 a.m.

Session B: The State of the Game

Location: Hasty and Goppert Conference Rooms
Chair: Greg Echlin, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR-FM
A Conversation about Baseball's Present and Future
Gerald Early, morning keynote speaker
Bill James, 2016 morning keynote speaker
Dee Jackson, sports reporter for KSHB-TV, Kansas City

12:00 — 1:30 p.m.

Luncheon and Afternoon Keynote Speaker
Location: Schendel Conference Center
Afternoon Keynote Speaker: Doug Glanville

Book signing in Mabee Lounge following the talk.

1:30 — 2:30 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions C

Session C1: Baseball in Philosophy, Psychology and Politics
Location: Hasty Conference Room
Chair: Ron Kates, Middle Tennessee State University
"Why Rawls's 'Why Baseball is Best' is Best"
Justin Clarke, Ottawa University
"'A Day of Baseball, Blood and Brotherhood': A Shooting at Simpson Park"
Steve Andrews, Grinnell College
"Scorecards of the Mind: Varieties of Self-Awareness in Baseball"
Joc Collins, Carson-Newman UniversitySession C2: Baseball and the Big Apple
Location: Goppert Conference Room
Chair: Andy Hazucha, Ottawa University

"Met-lediction: Is There a Curse of Flushing?"
Sarah D. Bunting,
"'That Kid's Got a Lot of Yankee in Him': Henry and Me and the Emergence of a Multi-media New York Yankee Brand"
William Bishop, Baker University
"Virtue or Vice: The Morality Tradition and Baseball's Role in Damn Yankees"
Julie Noonan, Washburn UniversitySession C3: Baseball Players' Lives, Deaths and Rebirths
Location: Zook Conference Room
Chair: Nicholas Bush, Motlow State Community College

"The Life of 'El Nino': How the Truth Hurts More than Fiction"
Jordan Charlton, Oklahoma State University
"Hal Chase and Gambling: Contemporary Accounts"
Warren Tormey, Middle Tennessee State University
"Coming Back: Rick Ankiel's 'Yips' and the Power of Perseverance"
Phil Oliver, Middle Tennessee State University

2:35 — 3:35 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions D

Session D1: Baseball Fiction, Creative Nonfiction and Pedagogy
Location: Hasty Conference Room
Chair: Karen Ohnesorge, Ottawa University
"Finding Ella: A Podcast from a Historical Novel about the 1890 Baseball Season"
Scott D. Peterson, University of Missouri - St. Louis
"Perfect Pitch"
Joseph L. Price, Whittier College
"Striking Out in the Baseball Lit Class"
Bob Mayberry, California State University-Channel IslandsSession D2: Baseball Writers and Songsters
Location: Zook Conference Room
Chair: Lyn Wagner, Ottawa University

"Re-assessing Ring Lardner, One More Time, Again"
Daniel Anderson, Dominican University
"John Updike, Baseball Writer"
Shawn O'Hare, Carson-Newman University
"Shading 'this permanent tan': Charley Pride's Two-Step from the Black Barons to the (Country Music) Hall of Fame"
Barbara Dinneen, Ottawa UniversitySession D3: Baseball in Children's Literature and Little League
Location: Goppert Conference Room
Chair: George Eshnaur, Ottawa University

"The (Multi)cultural Work of (Recent Juvenile) Baseball Fiction"
Tim Morris, University of Texas at Arlington
"Broadening Baseball's Reach to Children: A Review of Contemporary Books for Young Readers"
Mark A. Sorell, Independent Scholar
"The Politics of Innocence: MLB's Attempt to Make Game Kid-Friendly through Its 2017 Little League Classic"
Ken Moon, Iowa Western Community College

3:45 — 5:45 p.m.

Session E: Extra Innings
Location: Smoked Creations, 222 E. Logan Street, Ottawa, KS

Feel free to gather for some post-conference conversation and conviviality.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Handy Colin McGinn

Really, Colin?
According to several of the Chronicle’s sources, McGinn once emailed his research assistant to tell her that he "had a hand job imagining you giving me a hand job." When the emails were publicized, he took to his blog to argue that his comment was taken out of context. "What kind of hand job leaves you cleaner than before?" he asked. His answer: "A manicure, of course." Slate, AUG. 5 2013
Colin McGinn has taught at various universities in England and the United States. His most recent book is “Prehension: The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity.” The Stone, Dec. 7, 2015

We Humanists

#SAAP2018 was great, so was the Vonnegut Liby/Museum. “We Humanists behave as well as we can, without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community…” Armageddon in Retrospect, KV's last speech 

March 12, 2018

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"Aggression"-SAAP 2018

I'm about to hit the road to Indianapolis for this year's American Philosophy convention (Society for the Advancement of Philosophy, SAAP). (First roadtrip in the new Corolla!)

I'll be chairing a session Friday afternoon on Aggression [conference program here] and commenting on three interestingly-different takes on the subject. Here's what I think I'll be saying.

Comments on Aggression - SAAP, Indianapolis-3.9.18

Concurrent Session V, 4 pm-
 Session Chair: Phil Oliver, Middle Tennessee State UniversityWhat's Aggressive About Microaggressions?Emma McClure, University of TorontoDiscussant: Phil Oliver, Middle Tennessee State UniversityThe Moral Equivalent Of FootballErin Tarver, Emory University, Oxford CollegeDiscussant: Phil Oliver, Middle Tennessee State UniversityJane Addams, “pragmatic” Compromise, And Anti-war Pragmatism [latest revisionTadd Ruetenik, St. Ambrose UniversityDiscussant: Phil Oliver, Middle Tennessee State University

Introductions & overview. Welcome to what promises to be a fascinating and multi-faceted conversation on aggression in our time, in multiple modalities - verbal, behavioral, dispositional, recreational, militant, … - and the various attitudes, habits, practices, and implicit or explicit expressions and permissions that enable and sustain it in our culture, at a moment of apparent transformation when so much seems so fluid, when so many long-unexamined assumptions about gender, human nature, power, violence, entitlement, and much more are being closely scrutinized.

Our panel is full, our time is short, and so should be my own initial remarks. I do just want to indicate my sense that each of our panelists is calling us in one way or another to reaffirm the classic pragmatists’ commitment to perseverance in the spirit and the letter of amelioration. The operant assumption is that we must do better in our interactions, our recreations, our uncompromising commitment to anti-aggression - and we can. This is the right assumption, I think we’ll all agree.

As Sarah Bakewell said recently in her favorably against-the-grain review of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, “if you think this world is already as good as it gets, then you just have to accept it.” That makes you a fatalist, not a meliorist. We’re not fatalists here.

Of course, though, as my favorite bumper sticker has it, even fatalists look both ways before crossing the street. So let us proceed, with due caution.

Our panelists are
  • Emma McClure, GS at the University of Toronto, who “work[s] on the ethics of conversation. My dissertation focuses on microaggressions and the moral responsibility we have for these unintentional harms. In addition to engaging with the psychology research, I draw from feminism, critical race theory, existentialism, and philosophy of law." 
  • Professor Erin Tarver of Emory University, who “ specializes in feminist philosophy, American pragmatism, and poststructuralism. She has particular interests in the relationship between popular culture and the self. She has written on a range of topics, including politics, sports, William James and Michel Foucault. Beyond philosophy, she loves sports, cooking, and south Louisiana, where she was born and raised.” She is author of The I in Team: Sports Fandom and the Reproduction of Identity
  • Professor Tadd Ruetenik of St. Ambrose University, who teaches courses in American philosophy, critical thinking, philosophy of life, and philosophy of religion. He is author of the forthcoming Demons of William James. 

What's Aggressive About Microaggressions? Emma McClure, University of Toronto
Perhaps the place to begin, in thinking about microaggressions, is with even more basic questions: what’s aggressive about aggression, and what’s objectionable about it?

I think Emma McClure quite correctly identifies the problem in terms of violated boundaries, forced narratives, preempted time, and co-opted subjectivity. Aggressors presume unilaterally to set an interpersonal agenda that devalues or disregards another person’s own agency. The effect, whatever an aggressor’s intent, is indeed presumptuous and potentially harmful of that person’s autonomous selfhood.

Controlled aggression of a precisely-designated sort may have its place, on battlefields and playing fields (more on that shortly) and in some professional environments where rules of engagement are enforced to promote equal opportunity, fair play, and procedural recourse for infractions and fouls.

But aggression for the sake of self-promotion, self-advantage, self-amusement, or self-aggrandizement without due consideration of other selves is arrogant. It may well be “hostile, belligerent, bellicose, truculent “etc. (some standard near-synonyms), and in the absence of mutual regard and reciprocity definitely does not deserve the more positive spin suggested by approving words like “assertive, forceful, vigorous, energetic, dynamic” and the like.

The targets of such intended or inadvertent aggression, which may qualify as micro-aggression when “brief and commonplace” (etc.), may understandably and correctly experience a micro-aggressive encounter as overtly harmful, offensive, wounding, insulting, time-consuming, discriminatory, and (at the least) gratuitous - again, whether or not the aggressor intended harm, offense, insult, etc.

McClure and Bonnie Mann are surely right: “Whether or not [an aggressor] realizes what he is doing is not central,” his intentions matter far less than the “damaging and constrictive effects of his actions”... And yet, as actions go, physical aggression does tend to be more damaging and constrictive than verbal aggression. Doesn’t it? And isn’t this precisely because the perpetrator of physical aggression lacks any intention of behaving correctly?

And what, then, to say about the great indiscriminate breadth and un-subtlety of the broad spectrum of offense, that lately has dragged a justly-damning net over egregious rapists and assaulters but also has dragooned less overtly harmful agents of ineptitude and inadvertence, individuals who would never think to lift a finger against another but whose failure was to reflect on the potential harm of careless, thoughtless, misdirected words and gestures?

(Consider the case of radio journalist Tom Ashbrook, for instance. “When the whole #MeToo movement broke, my first thought was, “Thank God, that has nothing to do with me.” It feels awful to have been anywhere in that vicinity. I am really glad to have been cleared on that front. I fully expected to be.” But his career and reputation were severely, peremptorily damaged nonetheless. He does say he’s learned to seek “More workplace humility and more empathic imagination.” Smacked wide awake)

Surely the first thing to say is: degrees of offense matter, intent to harm matters, consequences (but not only consequences) matter. But can we be more precise in delineating the relative harm and offense that are inflicted in different degrees, according either to intent or inattentiveness to how one’s words are heard and assimilated, and how the consequences of micro-aggression unfold over time?

Also, can we address the difference between micro-aggressions perpetrated by strangers and those by acquaintances and friends?

And can we consider whether an individual target need be present and in earshot, in order for a micro-aggression to have occurred? If a slight or slur is spoken in my (white male) presence about a woman, a gay, or a person of color, has a micro-aggression occurred?

Micro-aggressors steal moments of our lives, force us to engage with them, and in that way not only intrude upon our space and invade our time but actually rob us. Isn’t it true, though, that every human interaction threatens that result? Should we all, in that light, be a lot more hesitant to initiate every sort of contact, a lot more timid about initiating conversation? Isn’t it sad to think so?

Regarding Mann’s “bad faith” example of creepiness that traps a young woman “in the narrative he’s already chosen,” a young millennial of my acquaintance - my daughter, a recent college graduate who describes herself as a progressive feminist - insists that this sort of portrayal, in which the aggressor is described as “active, free, powerful” while his target is “passive, restricted, violated,” reduces her to a fragile and defensive victimhood that no self-respecting woman will accept.

Martha Nussbaum has said that the way we must all cope with our human fragility “is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control.” Does the bad faith posture of social interaction not subvert that kind of openness and trust, possibly rendering all sorts of interactions too fraught to risk?

More generally, isn’t the larger problem of micro-aggressions not the way in which an individual may perceive his/her autonomy and dignity to have been affronted by an offending remark, catcall, or dominance display but rather the way in which such behaviors, left unchallenged, sustain and perpetuate the oppressive patterns and structures that strengthen and uphold social injustice?

And if that’s the problem, the larger, simpler solution is surely the one proposed by Indy’s late great Kurt Vonnegut:
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.” God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

[If time and conversational direction allow, I might mention one or more of the following: a recent New Yorker parody: “How to DIsmiss Harrassment Like a Frenchwoman” 2.5.18- an amusing comparison of differing cultural attitudes that may be relevant to our discussion, beginning with Catherine Deneuve’s “witch-hunt” charge. Also, “Thank You for Asking” (nyt 2.24.18)-on Antioch College’s pioneering “Sexual Offense Prevention Policy”... And, this recent piece on intra-feminist contention over #MeToo… And this on the impact of newly-raised consciousness in pbs-worldFrank Bruni 3.3.18… Garrison Keillor, Al Franken, Daily Beast “When MeeToo Becomes YouToo

The Moral Equivalent Of Football Erin Tarver, Emory University, Oxford College
Erin Tarver’s point about our culture’s long-standing, misplaced emphasis on aggressive masculinity and manhood as embodying the preeminent virtues of ambition, competition, and achievement hits the bulls-eye.

The best things about football (though perhaps not the things most loved about it, by so many of its more rabid enthusiasts) are in fact the contributions it makes to building connections and communities, to instantiating and ennobling the value of teamwork, cooperation, and individual sacrifice, to reinforcing qualities of perseverance and resilience, etc. None of this assumes “the necessity of preserving masculinity and hardness, or the necessary valor of bodily destruction.”

The best things about football, in other words, are things it shares with other sports and activities that don’t involve the particular nexus of violence and ideals of masculinity that have grown up around our version of the game. “This is not to say that the solution to this problem is a move to another football,” viz. Soccer, says Professor Tarver.

But may I respectfully suggest that the other game we used to acknowledge as our national pastime did in fact achieve all those good things without all the violence, and without all the misplaced assumptions of manliness? (That's not to claim a dearth of sexist chauvinism in the culture of professional baseball, but simply to note that it's not intrinsic to the very structure of the game itself.)

William James's student, the pragmatist Morris Cohen, once published an essay entitled Baseball as a National Religion in which he reported actually bringing the idea to James's attention. Cohen records, "When my revered friend and teacher William James wrote an essay on 'A Moral Equivalent for War' (sic), I suggested to him that baseball already embodied all the moral value of war, so far as war had any moral value. He listened sympathetically and was amused, but he did not take me seriously enough. All great men have their limitations . . ."

The late great humanist misanthrope George Carlin, as I hear him, was not so limited in this regard. I’ve been impudently informed by tin-eared football fans that George was dissing our great national pastime, but it’s very clear to me that he meant to praise Abner Doubleday’s mytho-pastoral game for eliciting the better angels of our nature as none other. Judge for yourself.

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up?

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog...
In baseball, if it rains, we don't go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you're capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!

And that is our larger object in life, is it not? - to be safe, as Erin says, in our communities, regions, families, and schools; to celebrate teamwork, cooperation, and individual sacrifice for something greater; to respect, cherish, embody, and transmit our more humane impulses and values; to teach our children well, and keep them, as best we may, from harm’s way.

A news item from just this past week offers a glimmer of hope, on this front. “In states where football appears to be on the wane, including those in the Northeast, disputes [in court between parents who disagree about their children’s participation in organized youth football] are less common because both parents have already decided that the game is too dangerous for their child to play.”

And so, as Spring Training 2018 proceeds in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues and as I prepare my own next conference presentation at the annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference in three weeks, I encourage Erin and all of you to say with me: Play ball!

[A reading list I may reference in the course of our discussion, time and circumstancre allowing:

Jane Addams, “pragmatic” Compromise, And Anti-war Pragmatism Tadd Ruetenik, St. Ambrose University

I agree with Tadd, the common-parlance parsing of “pragmatic” to mean conciliatory, expedient, and compromise-prone has unfortunately and falsely tarred pragmatists as lacking in conviction and perseverance. A good pragmatist is a good and “persistent” meliorist who sees the greater good in terms of palpable movement away from a status quo ante that fails to advance, and thus is bound in conscience always to ask if compromise in any given situation is potentially a rear-guard retreat and a movement in the wrong direction.

In these terms, a good anti-war pragmatist wants to ameliorate social and political life by fostering a progressively-lessened proclivity to settling differences on the battlefield. AWPs want to advance the cause of peace, not make their own private and personal peace with militancy and militarism. This requires reflective gradualism, with reflection sometimes counseling cooperation and alliance, sometimes resistance and confrontation.

Pragmatists also, of course, want to be “practical” and relevant, actively engaged with the debates and discourse of their day. This must be the reason why some pragmatists are considered more “virtuous” than some pacifists, who-- as Mark Twain said of nudists, in contrast to clothes-horses --have very little influence in society. If clothes make the man, then so does “getting things done” make the polemicist/culture critic/pragmatic philosopher.

But, it’s crucial to insist that the things getting done actively contribute to the kind of influence and accomplishment actually desired by the pragmatist who endorses and participates in the doing.

Was John Dewey’s eventual support of the First World War pragmatic in this sense, conceding the battle as it were, in hopes of winning Woodrow Wilson’s larger war to end war? If so, our hindsight so many wars later clearly indicts both Dewey’s and Wilson’s judgment as miscalculation and naivete.

And yet, ours is a hindsight perspective. I cannot say unreservedly that Dewey ought to have known better, or that any of us in his position might not have been similarly allured by the promise of a world at long last made safe for democracy. Would that have felt like compromise with the powers that be, or more like a bold challenge to cynicism and realpolitik?

Dewey predictably and perhaps to a slight extent creditably met the charge of “acquiescence” with a slap at ivory tower self-indulgence. But, again with the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to see his notorious and recriminatory falling out with Randolph Bourne as anything but a stain on Dewey’s pragmatic legacy and a personal embarrassment.

Bourne represented the youthful, hopeful future of a movement that already saw itself as the vanguard of a democratizing world order that would rapidly repudiate politics-as-usual. Adding tragedy to sadness, the 1918 influenza epidemic cruelly denied him and so many others of his generation an opportunity to embody and realize their idealistic dreams. It’s not hard to understand this cohort’s feeling of having been sold out by the very mentors who’d first imbued in them their confidence in a new awakening.

So, it’s entirely understandable that this episode would have left a bad taste of betrayal in the mouths of Bourne’s generation Is it fair to Dewey, though, to suggest that his judgment was motivated by anything other than the strongest pragmatic intentions?

His political progressivism was always modulated by temperamental moderation, and perhaps moderation as such merits reservation. I don’t think it deserves automatic association with the worst connotations of “expedience,” “conciliation,” and “compromise.” Maybe Bourne and Jane Addams “got it right, and Dewey got it wrong” - but wrong in good faith, not wrong for compromising the highest democratic and melioristic ideals of Deweyan pragmatism in exchange for “political efficacy” or unrestrained militarism.

And that might be enough, the clock may say it’s enough, to launch our discussion…

But if it’s not, here are a few additional observations/provocations:

On the annoying notion that “military intelligence” is oxymoronic: is it not at least debatable whether the specific form of intelligence that strategizes armed conflict is a far less inclusive intelligence than Dewey always stumped for, an organic and anticipatory intelligence that looks far beyond present battlefields, skirmishes, and geopolitical circumstances and contemplates our situation as links in the chain of the “continuous human community”?

On James’s statement that peace and war mean much the same, in military mouths, with only a temporal qualification (peace now implying war later): the analogy which sees a parallel implication, with pragmatism now taken to mean compromise (in an unflattering sense) insinuates that pragmatic philosophers lust for compromise in the way some military men are popularly supposed to lust for battle. I don’t believe I’ve encountered that form of lustfulness in most of my pragmatic comrades.

On Napoleon’s contempt for compromise: if our overriding pragmatic aspiration is to make non-militaristic resolutions of conflict more frequent and likely, earning a Napoleon’s respect for our non-compromising intransigence seems highly unconducive to that end (if in fact it’s historically correct that the only honorable course recognized by military conquerors is the pursuit of conquest).

On James’s claim that war is an instinct “bred into our bone and marrow”: that’s rhetorical excess, surely, but must be understood as also recognizing our “instinct” to live life strenuously, energetically, effortfully, amelioratively… not just to fight for fighting’s sake. Indeed, that wider instinct is the very condition for the possibility of wanting to identify moral equivalences for war in the first place.

“a pragmatist is more like a Sisyphus, fighting against even these supposed facts of human nature. And when Camus famously concludes that we must imagine Sisyphus happy, I propose here that we must imagine Sisyphus pragmatic”: Sisyphus is contemptuous of such facts but not in denial of them. If he’s pragmatic, it’s because he acknowledges and repudiates the only visible alternative - just as he acknowledges and repudiates the possibility of suicide. In both cases he stands for life.

“anti-war pragmatism says that if neither of the two major political parties in United States politics sees anti-war as live option, we should create a party that does”: party or movement… our system does not reward 3d parties, while effective movements do sometimes alter parties constructively.

“Common pragmatism gives in to the voices; common pessimism says nothing can be done in the face of those voices; prophetic pragmatism takes a risk in continuing to oppose those voices”: I get that. But in our most recent presidential election, would a prophetic pragmatist have supported “Bernie or bust,” given the far more ominous risk of electing Trump?

In conclusion: these are aggressive, unstable, uncertain times. We could use a stable genius at the helm! Our panel's consensus, it seems to me, is that in such soul-trying times we need to be more aggressively selective in expressing our aggressive tendencies (both native and culturally instilled) in some arenas, and repressing them in others. Again, controlled aggression has its place. 

But in this place, on this subject, Mr. Vonnegut (whose museum and tweeting typewriter I look forward to visiting before heading home) gets the last word, once more:

"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”


The Moral Equivalent of War by William James 
The war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party. The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate  their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as to individuals from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade. There is something highly paradoxical in the modern man's relation to war. Ask all our millions, north and south, whether they would vote now (were such a thing possible) to have our war for the Union expunged from history, and the record of a peaceful transition to the present time substituted for that of its marches and battles, and probably hardly a handful of eccentrics would say yes. Those ancestors, those efforts, those memories and legends, are the most ideal part of what we now own together, a sacred spiritual possession worth more than all the blood poured out. Yet… (continues)
This essay was originally a speech delivered to students at Stanford University in 1906. It was later published in an essay collection.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’

If we describe college courses as mainly delivery mechanisms for skills to please a future employer, if we imply that history, literature and linguistics are more or less interchangeable “content” that convey the same mental tools, we oversimplify the intellectual complexity that makes a university education worthwhile in the first place. We end up using the language of the capitalist marketplace and speak to our students as customers rather than fellow thinkers. They deserve better.

Colleges should stop trivializing the transmission of knowledge.

Molly Worthen, nyt

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Winter Walk with Thoreau

“Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.”

“Human beings make metaphors as naturally as bees make honey,” Adam Gopnik wrote in his wondrous love letter to winter, and no one has honeyed the spirit with more splendid metaphors wrung from winter than Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817–May 6, 1862).
Long before he contemplated winter cabbage as a lesson in optimism, Thoreau explored winter’s rapturous yet overlooked rewards in a stunning, meandering meditation titled “A Winter Walk,” included in his indispensable Excursions (free ebook | public library)...
(Brainpickings, continues) Accelerating Intelligence News