Saturday, June 25, 2022

"Bourbon" an essay by Walker Percy


Aristotle's springs of delight

"When deciding a plan the most important principle is pleasure. Aristotle regards pleasure as a wonderful tool for scientific, social and psychological analysis of any kind. This is because he believes nature uses pleasure to help all sentient animals find and do what they need to flourish. Different animals are endowed with slightly different ways of feeling pleasure: asses like eating chaff, but dogs like hunting game birds and small mammals. Humans are remarkable because they evince such a diversity of pleasures, distributed across the population. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” You may like eating fish; your spouse pork sausage. But this wide diversity applies to far more than our taste in food. Aristotle argues that occupations which afford pleasure are the ones which we should all be aiming at: Life is a form of activity, and each person exercises his activity upon those objects and with those faculties which he likes the most: for example, the musician exercises his sense of hearing upon musical tunes, the student his intellect upon problems of philosophy, and so on. And the pleasure of these activities perfects the activities, and therefore perfects life, which all men seek. Men have good reason therefore to pursue pleasure, since it perfects for each his life, which is a desirable thing. Aristotle noticed that people who get pleasure from their work are almost always best at it. He says that only people who delight in geometry become proficient at it, and the same goes for architecture and all the other arts."

"Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life" by Edith Hall

Faulty vision

"Among my own circles of often hyper-educated friends and colleagues in the chattering classes there are far too many parents who impose their own vision of the ideal career or lifestyle on their children. One imagined, on zero evidence, that his three-year-old son was destined to become a world-class solo pianist (ten years later the son refused ever to practice the instrument again). What the boy actually liked doing, it seemed to me, was cooking, camping and orienteering. Another acquaintance ignored her daughter’s passion for engineering and forced her to take literary subjects at school and university; she has ended up bitter and frustrated, but at least gets to fix things now that she’s become a plumber."

"Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life" by Edith Hall:

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The peripatetic highway to happiness

"The traditional name for Aristotle’s school of thought is Peripatetic philosophy. The word “Peripatetic” comes from the verb peripateo, which in Greek, both ancient and modern, means “I go for a walk.” Like his teacher Plato, and Plato’s teacher Socrates before him, Aristotle liked to walk as he reflected; so have many important philosophers since, including Nietzsche, who insisted that “only ideas gained through walking have any worth at all.” But the ancient Greeks would have been puzzled by the romantic figure of the lone wandering sage first celebrated in Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker (1778). They preferred to perambulate in company, harnessing the forward drive their energetic strides generated to the cause of intellectual progress, synchronizing their dialog to the rhythm of their paces. To judge from the magnitude of his contribution to human thinking, and the number of seminal books he produced, Aristotle must have tramped thousands of miles with his students across craggy Greek landscapes during his sixty-two years on the planet. There was an intimate connection in ancient Greek thought between intellectual inquiry and the idea of the journey. This association stretches far back in time beyond Aristotle to the opening of Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus’ wanderings allow him to visit the lands of many different peoples “and learn about their minds.” By the classical period, it was metaphorically possible to take a concept or idea “for a walk”: in a comedy first produced in Athens about twenty years before Aristotle was born, the tragedian Euripides is advised against “walking” a tendentious claim he can never substantiate. And a medical text attributed to the physician Hippocrates equates the act of thinking with taking your mind out for a walk in order to exercise it: “for human beings, thought is a walk for the soul.” Aristotle used this metaphor when he began his own pioneering inquiry into the nature of human consciousness in On the Soul. He says there that we need to look at the opinions of earlier thinkers if we hope “to move forward as we try find the necessary direct pathways through impasses”: the stem word here for a “pathway through” is a poros, which can mean a bridge, ford, route through ravines, or passageway through narrow straits, deserts and woods. He opens his inquiry into nature in his Physics with a similar invitation to us to take not just to the path but to the highway with him: the road (hodos) of investigation needs to set out from things which are familiar and progress toward things which are harder for us to understand. The standard term for a philosophical problem was an aporia, “an impassable place.” But the name “Peripatetic” stuck to Aristotle’s philosophy for two reasons. First, his entire intellectual system is grounded in an enthusiasm for the granular, tactile detail of the physical world around us. Aristotle was an empirical natural scientist as well as a philosopher of mind, and his writing constantly celebrates the materiality of the universe we can perceive through our senses and know is real. His biological works suggest a picture of a man pausing every few minutes as he walked, to pick up a seashell, point out a plant, or call a pause in dialectic to listen to the nightingales. Second, Aristotle, far from despising the human body as Plato had done, regarded humans as wonderfully gifted animals, whose consciousness was inseparable from their organic being, whose hands were miracles of mechanical engineering, and for whom instinctual physical pleasure was a true guide to living a life of virtue and happiness. As we read Aristotle, we are aware that he is using his own adept hand to inscribe on papyrus the thoughts that have emerged from his active brain, part of his well-exercised, well-loved body. But there is just one more association of the term “Peripatetic.” The Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew tells us that when the Pharisees asked Jesus of Nazareth why his disciples didn’t live according to the strict Jewish rules of ritual washing, the verb they used for “live” was peripateo. The Greek word for walking could actually mean, metaphorically, “conducting your life according to a particular set of ethical principles.” Rather than taking a religious route, Aristotle’s walking disciples chose to set out with him on the philosophical highway to happiness."

"Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life" by Edith Hall:

Seaside afterglow

"I hate the beach. My skin burns and blisters as soon as the sun touches it, I dislike sweating without exercising, and sand makes no sense at all to me—it's just hot and gritty dirt that other people apparently enjoy rolling around in... Plus, the ocean itself, while aesthetically pleasing, is terrifyingly untrustworthy, with its riptides and hurricanes and tsunamis and sharks and microplastics and slithering monsters of the deep. It has just too many sneaky ways to kill you."

Good points all, Lauren Groff, and the larger environmental message of your essay/review of Sarah Stodola's The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit, and Peril at the Beach is of profound ethical/existential import for our progeny and our species. 

But I still love the beach and haven't yet lost the afterglow of our week at Tybee. I've already (almost) forgotten the unpleasantness of being stung by a ray on first setting foot in the water last Monday, and the peeling skin on my right shoulder doesn't bother me. The elemental experience of walking and pedaling up and down an uncluttered early-morning seashore always restores my spirit and awakens a palpable perception of deep time. Mother Ocean nurtures my naturalist sensibility and reinforces my concern for the fate of the earth as a hospitable human abode.

And oh how I love the palate-memory of those wonderful grouper sandwiches and shrimp tacos, and the visual memory of those gorgeous island sunrises and sunsets.

If we're to conserve and preserve the places we love we must allow ourselves to delight in the small experiences that bring us into vital connection with the only home we've ever known. If sun, surf, and sand are not your thing, that's cool. I like mountain hikes too, and country rambles, and occasional urban immersions in the Whitmanesque crowd. All the varieties of human experience are potentially to the good, if they remind us of our obligation to sustain the possibility, for ourselves and our successors, of continuing to indulge them. 

In other words: find your springs and tap them. Don't tap them out. Embrace "conscientious stewardship" at the seashore and everywhere else. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Roger Angell: in Memoriam

11-year old me felt this way, inarticulately, and would have been consoled by these words.

"…the classic 1968 Series brought honor to both teams. "And I remember something else about that Series when it was over- a feeling that almost everyone seemed to share: that Bob Gibson had not lost that last game, and the Cardinals had not lost the Series. Certainly no one wanted to say that the Tigers had not won it; but there seemed to be something more that remained to be said. It was something about the levels and demands of the sport we had seen-as if the baseball itself had somehow surpassed the players and the results. It was the baseball that won"

Roger Angell: in Memoriam

Monday, June 20, 2022

Quote from Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle by Jody Rosen

"I was crazy about bikes, but I was no expert. I knew gearhead kids who hung around bike shops and wielded Allen wrenches like switchblades—who were always revamping their bikes, making them badder and radder. I wasn't like that. To this day, I can barely patch an inner tube. I wasn't a masher who went on long rides and hammered up hills. I wasn't a BMX kid who popped wheelies and shredded half-pipes. I rode to get my mind right. It was as if there was a vent in my skull, and as I pedaled and built up speed, the wind would whip through, clearing out the muck. It's not that biking around made me sharper-witted or smarter. On the contrary, I was, like many males my age, confused about nearly everything important yet certain I had the world figured out, or could at least bluff my way through by affecting a certain swagger. I'm sure that bike riding made me more confident in these misapprehensions, a more self-possessed dolt. It definitely calmed me down and bucked me up. I could get on my bike in a fog of neurosis and dismount a while later feeling all right—brave enough, at least, to pick up a phone and call a girl. I've always paid attention to the way bicycles look, so it's odd that I can call to mind only hazy images of the bikes I owned as a child and young adult. I know that the bicycle I rode that day on Claremont Avenue was a banana-seat wheelie bike of some sort, a fitting first ride for a '70s kid. The bicycles of my younger years rather neatly align with period trends. Sometime in the early '80s, I got a ten-speed with dropped handlebars; in the late '80s, I got a mountain bike. Along the way, there were other bikes, of varied makes and looks. Bikes came; bikes went. I must have had six or seven between the ages of five and twenty-five. I outgrew certain bicycles and wore out others—or, rather, mistreated them, locking them up overnight on the street all year long, even in the winter. I love bikes, but I'm not precious about them. I've never owned an expensive bicycle. I don't doubt that a splendid high-end machine would ride like a rocket ship, but I've never felt the impulse to splurge on one. As a kid, I admired my neighbor's fancy Cannondale road bike, which looked like it had been assembled from bits of sky and cloud: gleaming cobalt frame, white handlebars, white saddle. But I also envied the piratical battered BMX Mongooses that kids zipped around on, with ratty tennis balls wedged between the spokes. Then as now, I was no connoisseur. I was, I am, something more along the lines of a bicycle glutton. If the pedals turn, I'll ride it."

— Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle by Jody Rosen
👣Solvitur ambulando
💭Sapere aude

Saturday, June 18, 2022

"a responsibility to create the conditions for happiness"

"The subject of Gross National Happiness comes up often in Bhutan. GNH is both an emblem and a conundrum—a point of pride but also a subject of disquisition, debate, and confusion. Many in Bhutan find it hard to articulate exactly what GNH is. Many contend that the concept is misunderstood. Some observers of Bhutanese politics suggest that GNH is not so much profound as it is nebulous—less a philosophy than a brand or a slogan, vague enough to appeal to all comers, notably tourists with excitable Orientalist imaginations and ample spending money. Kinley Dorji is one of the people most often asked to explain GNH. For years he worked as a journalist—he is the former editor-in-chief of Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper—and there is still a hint of ink-stained wretch in his gruff manner. But by the time I met with him, he had moved on to a different job, as the head of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, working out of a pleasant office in a Thimphu compound that houses many government ministries. “Here is the key point on GNH,” he said. “Happiness itself is an individual pursuit. Gross National Happiness then becomes a responsibility of the state, to create an environment where citizens can pursue happiness. It’s not a promise of happiness—it’s not a guarantee of happiness by the government. But there is a responsibility to create the conditions for happiness.” Dorji said: “When we say ‘happiness,’ we have to be very clear that it’s not fun, pleasure, thrills, excitement, all the temporary fleeting senses. It is permanent contentment. That lies within the self. Because the bigger house, the faster car, the nicer clothes—they don’t give you that contentment. GNH means good governance. GNH means preservation of traditional culture. And it means sustainable socioeconomic development. Remember that GNH is a pun on GDP, gross domestic product. We are making a distinction.”"

Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle" by Jody Rosen: Accelerating Intelligence News