Friday, November 27, 2009

I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly?

In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that fame or reputation cannot be the greatest good, because we want to be known for our virtues and accomplishments. That may have been true in his day, but in this time of the Kardashian sisters, the insufferable parents of Balloon Boy and a couple of near-bankrupt socialites who, in the interest of getting themselves on reality television, crash a state dinner, I wonder whether he would still be right.
Celebrity and fame used to be the result of something: X was famous for y. Now, Z is simply famous for being famous. Maybe we have Warhol to blame for making us aware of this, but we only have ourselves to blame for making it possible. We honor the famous for being famous and so fame has become an end in itself. So, instead of universally damning people who put their own notoriety above a state visit of the head of state of the largest democracy on earth, we wait to hear their side of the story with the crypt keeper of fame, Larry King.

The problem may just be power

After three years, the Murphy Report, a study of pedophilia and its intense, over-three-decade coverup in and by the Archdiocese of Dublin has been released. Conservatives within the Church are sure, whenever they mention it—this is usually not often—to blame it on homosexuality within the priesthood and the liberalization of the Church after Vatican II.
Beside the fact that this ignores that many of the guilty were ordained long before the reforms of the Council took effect in the late 60s and that almost none of the men would have identified themselves as gay or homosexual and probably still don't it ignores the very real problem of power.
(For what it's worth, pedophilia is a problem across society, including in public schools, in religious organizations of all stripes, etc. And, in those cases where the victims are boys, the men almost always identify as heterosexual. This is why, pace the Pope's directives, expelling those who realize that they are gay from the seminaries will do nothing to prevent molestation; it's not the openly gay men you have to worry about.)
But back to power, because the problem of pedophilia isn't unique to the Church, but the response has been. Many parents of the hundreds of victims went to the Archbishop (four of them, in fact) and his staff and the police and in almost every case, the Church and the Irish state agreed to ignore what was happening. Of course, their reasoning was simply that such accusations might derail the very real work that the Church did and does. But this is exactly reasoning that the ends justify the means, a proposition hated by the Church, but one that is all too easy to accept when the Church has too much temporal and financial power.
Surely, that's not the kind of power Christ came to give. That kind of power almost never sits well with virtue and certainly undercuts any moral authority those wielding it might have laid claim to for other, more spiritual, reasons.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Father confessor

For the n-th time this semester, a student has taken it upon himself to unload his burdens on me. I'm now up to four confessed abortions for the semester—a new record. Apparently, I should have gone to seminary after all, since I put people at ease in ways that never am.
In the course of a forty-five minute conversation with a student today, only about ten minutes of which were actually about course materials, we discussed abortion, the way that pro-life groups seem to focus on clinics in white areas and what it is like to have to decide whether to shoot children and women who may or may not be involved in insurgency or jihad in Iraq. At the end of this conversation with this very damaged human being who I am in no way competent either to help or certainly to judge, I found myself wondering why the hell it is that the class that decides when to send our troops to war almost never actually has to, or is willing to, fight them. Why are our hawks of the Cheney/Bush model? What happened to the idea that you shouldn't be sending people to wars you wouldn't be willing to fight? I know that there are ample arguments against the draft, but I wonder whether re-instituting it—with no exemptions—might make us much less likely to fight wars or at least more deliberate about entering them. And, in the spirit of the finest period of the Roman Republic, it seems only right that Senators ride out with the troops.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Cognitive dissonance, anew

A man at the gym was wearing a t-shirt on the front of which was emblazoned the Von Dutch logo—oh, how much less disgusting was that than Ed Hardy—and on the back of which was "Fuck the Fake".
Now, I realize that this shirt was in fact responding to issues of intellectual(?) property and trademark, but there is something so delectably ironic about a Von Dutch shirt espousing the virtues of authenticity.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

God, the deceiver

One of the brighter students in one of my classes was hanging around after class the other day and we began to talk about various kinds of idealism. I began to describe the views of Bishop Berkeley, who believed that there are only minds and ideas. That is, he denied that the physical world existed as a physical entity or collection of entities. She was really understanding the view and some of the intricacies of his theory.
So, I wanted to introduce some of the problems beyond the obvious counterintuitiveness of the view. So, I mentioned that Berkeley, as a Christian was committed to the goodness of God. But, I explained, Berkeleyan idealism committed one to viewing God as having endowed our minds with apparent sensory faculties that would naturally lead us to believing that a physical world existed, even though it doesn't on the view. This, I said, would make God into a deceiver.
She responded, "That's sort of like the problem with astrology."
Confusedly, I asked, "What do you mean?"
"You know, like the way that science tells us that the Universe is really old and about the Big Bang, but"
" Oh, you mean, astronomy," I cut in. "So, you mean that the Universe is really much younger, in spite of what science says?"
Then, I realized that she is a young earth creationist. Now, I have respect for this young woman's intellect and for her hard work and for her ambition to make something of her life.
But, even as I tried to explain to her that, at least as far back as St Augustine, serious Christians have thought that the creation accounts in Genesis cannot possibly taken literally, I was wondering whether it was pointless. I wanted to get her to see that if her religious beliefs require her to believe things that are clearly empirically false, she needs to consider the way in which she holds those beliefs.
But I also realized that when I tried to get them to see the value in seeking the truth, in being reflective, in examining our beliefs and lives, most of my students either don't pay any attention or have so sequestered their lives that some beliefs are not at all revisable.
And, I was sad.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Yesterday, having gone to Office Max to pick up some identity badges and a stamp for an upcoming conference my partner is planning, we stopped at a sandwich shop in the same strip mall to get some lunch. After we ordered and he had his sandwich, we sat down for him to eat and for me to wait for the grill to finish mine.
Across the aisle from us was a not atypical American family: two somewhat rotund thirty-somethings with what must have been their only child, a girl of three or four. As the parents ate their sandwiches and filled out a comment card, their daughter watched some cartoon involving moose and other animals on a portable DVD player that the parents had brought in with them.
Now, I am curmudgeonly in all sorts of ways, so this may sound like an old man grumbling about what we had to do without back when I was a child and had to trudge through the snow uphill both ways to school, etc. But, that's not really my point.
This little girl is being taught, as we all are in contemporary society, that we must be entertained at all moments, that we ought never to be bored, that we have a right not to be. The great and pessimistic philosopher Schopenhauer defined human nature partly in terms of our capacity for boredom. Alone among the animals—excluding, perhaps, those we have domesticated—we can have all our (basic) desires fulfilled, but when we do we become bored, a state that none of the other (non-domesticated) animals suffer. To be human is to be bored some or much of the time. And to deal with our humanity fully is to realize and deal with this fact about ourselves.
It's not an easy fact to deal with. I am reminded daily by my students who expect every lecture to be thrilling and entertaining from beginning to end—their expectations are not often met. I am reminded in my own case when I look for distraction or try to get through my work so that I can do something more fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Time for a random picture from my summer vacation

International Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up, after all.

Reasons for leaving Facebook, part the second

Surely there are cases in which anonymity is a good thing. I'll leave you to supply those cases for yourself, but there is a pernicious sort of anonymity on the web, the kind that leads to trolls and others who post comments on fora, on blogs, on websites for no more reason than to cause aggravation in others and a delectable Schadenfreude for themselves. This very sort of anonymity infects even social networking sites, so that people who claim to be friends will post—from the distance of the web and the pseudo-privacy it affords—comments that they would never utter if they had to defend themselves or face another person as they did. This, I think, is another way that virtual friendship and communication can coarsen human relations and erode civility. We all have Tourette's now.
In the more personal case, I came to see people that I liked and respected acting (virtually) towards others in a way that took me from enjoying the prospect of seeing or talking to them to hoping I might never have to talk to them again. Comments directed at me never much bothered me; I bartended for five years, I'm gay, I teach college students, so insults and snide remarks I can handle. But seeing people pounce on innocent others and judge from the height of their digital tower, I enjoy not so much. Perhaps I'm oversensitive, but I don't need a website to provide me with that kind of interaction. I can get that much easier.
I remember once being told not to say anything that I wouldn't say within my mother's hearing. An apt corollary for the web might be not to type anything you wouldn't say to the person in person.

Social conventions

Yesterday in one of my classes a student sitting in the front row took out a Q-tip to clean his ears as I lectured. I know that there has been a lot of talk about the coarsening of American society in the context of screaming "you lie" during a joint session of Congress, portraying Obama as Hitler, the blatant racism of many of the tea-baggers—God, I love that phrase—and the town halls. But I really wonder in a world where men and women walk down the street picking their teeth and students clean their ears in class and no one ever removes their Bluetooth devices—seriously, you are not that important—what we should expect.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the midst of the every-Sunday preparation for the week's lectures I was just re-reading Appendix I of Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. I often disagree with Hume and there's a lot that I hope he is wrong about. But, there's almost no philosopher as invigorating to read.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Reasons for leaving Facebook, part the first

At the end of last week, I made a not very momentous decision to de-activate—only because one cannot delete—my Facebook account. Now, I am sure that almost no one, except for the anonymous readers who tell me that I am dumb, reads this blog, but in the next few days I will be talking about some of the reasons that I decided to delete my account.
Social networking sites (help to) turn friendship into a passive enterprise. Whereas a real friendship involves taking an active interest in another person, spending time with that person, putting effort into a relationship and more—that is, a friendship is an active endeavor—a social networking "friendship" involves occasionally reading the postings of another, reading another's status updates and acting as if this is a connection. (Of course, this allows for the extremely awkward moments when a friend or acquaintance brings up something posted months earlier and never personally shared and makes one wonder how the hell the other person could have known that.) If this is friendship, then I am friends with Paul Krugman, several extremely conservative Catholics and a number of politicians, none of whom would recognize me.
Friendship is work, as are almost all things worthwhile.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I've read about numerous people, geniuses all, who either because of insomnia or because of the heat with which their brains burnt, needed almost no sleep and worked and thought and wrote throughout the dark hours of the night, not to mention those of the soul. Why is it, then, that when I wake at 3 AM unable to sleep, the only thought I can muster and fully form is a curse of my damnable luck?

Monday, July 13, 2009

It is an amazing fact—amazing to me, anyway—that after much experience over many years and often having earned it, I can still not stand not to be liked, or rather to be actively disliked. I'm sure there's a deep or shallow psychological explanation for it and I'm fairly certain I know what the (correct) explanation is. But, my mood and happiness are constantly in the hands of not just those I care about but almost anyone with whom I interact, since I apparently care enough about them to care that they not dislike me. Thus I am a bad debater fearing always that I might give offense, in spite of my temper I don't object even when I treated in egregious ways, I can't negotiate, I constantly want nothing more than to be liked. And that is a fault in so many ways.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mourn the ones who count

Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon have all died and much of the USA and some other parts of the world seem to be atwitter. Meanwhile, a defender of family values and southern governor who screwed around on his State's dime will quickly be forgotten. But even more importantly—much, much more importantly—real people who have as much real connection to any of us as any celebrity and whose actions could actually affect the future of the world are dying in the streets in Tehran and I suspect that with the latest mortal activity in the celebrity sphere they will be forgotten. We all die, but some deaths matter.

Friday, June 19, 2009

One of the great pleasures of owning a big, energetic, demanding dog is that I am forced to walk him somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half each day. I am trying to intersperse some rollerblading with him to break it up and give him a different kind of exercise, but pretty much it's walking. This means that I actually have a sense of my (very extended) neighborhood and a feeling of being a neighbor. On our afternoon walk today, we were greeted with a beautiful and huge smile by one of the ladies working on El Cajon, we got into a discussion with our UPS man who was delivering ten blocks away but couldn't leave a package because of a barking dog who commented on how that's never a problem with Mateo and we were greeted by and greeted several other people, eliciting smiles all around. To quote Forster's epigraph to Howard's End, "only connect".
Love is something of which most of us are totally unsure. That's why we like to be told that we are loved and why, when we aren't told enough, we start asking, "Do you love me?" We just aren't that sure and hearing it said reassures us—or almost does, because there is something cheapening in having to hear it so often and, maybe, in hearing it so often. The same thing goes, I think, for saying it: so often when we repeat the words "I love you" too often, we are just reassuring ourselves as well as others that we really do love them, perhaps because we really aren't so sure that we do.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Social awkwardness

I am connoisseur, because a common recipient, of the unvite, the invitation made for purely formal reasons but which is never meant to be taken. It comes in many varieties.
There is the invitation to a party when the inviter knows for certain that you have a prior engagement or are going to be out of town. This is the province of the amateur.
The better variety is the invitation that comes just a little too late, say just the day before the event. Of course, this variety leaves open the possibility that the invitee might actually attend, but it is just this that makes this unvite a classier variety than the invitation that arrives after the event has already occurred or begun.
There is a hybrid—the work phone or work email unvite—in which the invitation is made via a message that won't be retrieved until after event though, for the honor of the inviter, the invitation was technically made before the event.
Another flavor is the misdirected invitation, sent to the wrong address, to the wrong voicemail, to the wrong email and its cousin, the "I told N. to invite you, didn't she?"
But perhaps my favorite is the invitation that gets to the invitee—or unvitee—with just enough time to plan to attend but not quite enough information. The time is missing, the address is incomplete or it's assumed that you know where it is when clearly you don't, it's unclear what sort of event exactly it is or what you're supposed to bring or whether you can bring a guest and everything is just unclear enough that you feel uncomfortable asking and so are guaranteed not to show.
This is probably the most masterful move. The invitee won't come, the invitation was made and the inviter will later get the social upper hand in expressing how much he was missed or asking why he didn't come.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A thought about universities

In the last several months, there has been a good deal of discussion within a certain subset of the blogosphere about whether my alma mater can still claim to be a Catholic university if it gives an honorary doctorate to a pro-abortion politician—or a pro-choice politician, depending on one's views. And, in the most recent edition of the student newspaper at my employer a former student of mine argued that my employer can no longer claim to be a Catholic university because not all members of the theology department are fully orthodox, many students engage in premarital sex and the liturgies are too progressive and perhaps not entirely rubrical. Leaving aside whether even in the high middle ages the students at the great universities were chaste—Chaucer, at least, gives us good reason to think that they were not—or orthodox—history tells us that there were major theological debates and that even Aquinas was thought to be unorthodox at the University of Paris—there is another issue in both sets of concerns.
What makes a university? Is the administration a university? This seems that it cannot be right. If it were, then the universities were extremely conservative and supportive of the government in the Sixties. But no one thinks this. Is the faculty a university? This seems hardly better. Are the students? The real answer is that universities are complex and organic institutions. They were the original corporations, i.e., bodies. It can be hard to tell what a university's views or positions or ideological slants are. And this is simply because universities are complex institutions, too complex to be judged by single actions or single years or single Presidents or classes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I, for one, do not care one whit whether "walling"—it's okay, they were flexible, fake walls that the questioned were being whipped into— and "waterboarding"—it's okay because we didn't really drown them—of detainees in secret prisons and black sites, etc., did or did not provide us with useful information. That is, I don't care whether Cheney or Obama is right about the effectiveness of such treatment, i.e., torture. It might very well be the case that we could get very good information out of all sorts of suspects if, for instance, we raped and tortured their families in front of them and then mutilated and murdered those families, but that wouldn't make it the right thing to do.
Why? Because there are things that are wrong, no matter what good consequence they may provide—side note: it is very funny that some of the same people who think torture is justified because it might provide good information (ends justifying means), think the use of destined-to-be-discarded embryos is morally repugnant no matter what medical breakthroughs might be possible (ends not justifying means).
There are certain actions that are beneath a civilized person, a civilized nation, a human being. There are certain things that make those who engage in them beasts. There are worse fates than the loss of life.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Two questions for Holy Week

First: At what historical point did "moral" come to mean "chaste" and "virtuous" "sexually moral"? It seems that there was a time when it took quite a bit more to be moral than just to use one's naughty bits in the prescribed fashion. Indeed, it seems that sexual morality was but a rather uninteresting piece of the moral life.
In the same vein, we seem to be—at least by the BBC's lights—entering an era in which "ethical" means "having a small carbon footprint". How is it that the moral or ethical life—presumably an integrated life—has come to be so limited?
Second: Why or how exactly did it come to be that being economically or socially liberal meant that one had to support abortion on demand? There is no natural affinity between these two sets of beliefs, nor is it clear what other forms of sexual liberation really have to do with this.

Monday, April 06, 2009


When parking my car this morning--and already frustrated because the parking people had stopped me to check my permit and the occurrence of both a funeral and Holy Week on campus had meant that there was very little parking available--I parked behind a H2 with Arizona plates, but not normal plates, "Save our environment" plates. Discuss.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The ease of criticism

It is enjoyable to see the conservative Catholic blogosphere and many of the bishops of the United States, most of whom have had absolutely no interest in Notre Dame—which, for better or worse is the premier Catholic university in the United States—except perhaps to watch football games, all the sudden be very, very interested in its Catholic character after having invited Barack Obama to speak at graduation (as they have invited every newly elected President for decades).
Critical morality is ever so much easier than the positive variety.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I believe

that any prostitute working El Cajon Boulevard has more class and more intrinsic dignity than does any person—male or female—who has appeared on any of the iterations of The Real Housewives of ... .
It's time we stop respecting wealth and the ability to spend money, no?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A considered proposal for financial independence, or, Too sexy to fail

In this time of financial distress, my daily perusal of the newspapers has given me a plan for my own financial health. Of course, given my field of employment, you might think that my options are limited, but AIG has given me an idea. So, here's my plan.
Step 1: In the future, I will teach a tissue of falsehoods. Now, I do not plan on teaching all and only false things. Rather, I am going to develop a rather involved, coherent and consistent story to tell in each of my classes.
Step 2: At some point, a student will come up against another professor who will inform the student that what I have said is false. As more questions are asked, it will become apparent that I have really messed these students up.
Step 3: No one except me will know in exactly which ways I have messed the students up. They won't know for instance, whether I merely represented Descartes as an empiricist, whether I taught them that modus ponens is a fallacy, whether I presented them with Aquinas' argument in favor of same-sex marriage. Only I will know exactly what has gone on. I will make this apparent to whichever dean I am faced with.
Step 4: I will demand a bonus—let's call it a "retention bonus"—arguing that since I got the students into this mess, only I know how to get them out of it. Of course, I know that I won't be able to spend the rest of my career untangling the web of false beliefs, so the bonus will have to be sufficiently large, something on the order of several million dollars, guaranteed for six or seven years. That seems only fair.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

On the death of the agent

In the past months, the world has watched as people from all walks of life, all socio-economic levels, all ethnic and moral and religious backgrounds have positioned themselves as so much flotsam and jetsam tossed around by forces wholly unrelated to themselves.
"I took the loan because it was offered to me."
"We sold the derivatives because someone wanted them."
"I encouraged people to look at financial markets as get-rich schemes because there was a market for what I was selling and the market demands satisfaction."
"We paid massive bonuses because that is what is required by the system."
The "because" is taken not as a reason but as a real cause.
These kinds of moves have caused a lot of people to talk about responsibility. I think this is right, though I suspect that many of those calling for responsibility are really calling for someone to be punished. While I respect this call, it doesn't, I think, get to the more basic issue: we have ceased to think of ourselves as agents in any meaningful way.
There was talk, most of it from fairly nasty sorts, in the Eighties and Nineties about cultures of victimhood and poverty. While those enamoured of such terminology were generally using it to absolve themselves of any responsibility towards the suffering other, they were also pointing to something real.
There is a disturbing tendency in America and perhaps in the rest of the world to paint ourselves as the products of our neuroses, of our childhoods, of our situations, of world forces, of our addictions, of our relationships, in such a way that what happens, happens, but we don't do it. Chris Brown beats Rihanna because he grew up in a home and a culture of abuse, friends of mine end up in hospitals because they are addicts, their relationships tumble because of their psychological hangups, and no where at all is there anyone doing anything.
I don't want to discount the way in which our choices are constrained by forces outside our control, certainly almost every thinking person from the ancients with their belief in Fate to even the Existentialists have recognized that, but if there is to be any meaningful sense in which I exist, in which there is an I, it had better mean that I take my decisions as my own, that I endorse them and stop seeing myself as a victim of the world.
This means, among other things, that I have to see myself as much uglier than I would like, since my bad actions are not just psychoses or addictions or what have you, they are things that I do. But if I cannot do this, then I cannot see a point of any sort in living.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A matter of fairness?

My tax dollars go to provide the health benefits for the spouses of federal employees even in those cases where, for religious or philosophical or moral or political reasons, I do not approve of their marriages—for instance, when they are third or fourth marriages, where they are marriages of persons who had previously been adulterously involved, where there are no children, etc.
No one objects that such marriages, which lie outside the realm of traditional marriage, should thereby not qualify the spouses for benefits.
By parity of reasoning, your tax dollars should go to provide benefits for same-sex spouses or partners of federal employees.
It is time, perhaps, for an even broader definition of something like civil partnerships. I am thinking here of something like the solution tried by the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1997—if I recall correctly—when faced with a city law that would require them to provide benefits to same-sex partners in spite of the way that this flies in the face of Church teaching about marriage and sexual morality. The solution? They decided that every employee could designate one other adult, beside any dependent children, who could be the recipient of benefits. This could be a spouse, a partner, a relative, a friend. Since every employee got to designate one person, it was utterly fair and no one had to approve of any marriages that they found morally reprehensible.
Quite apart from the religious uses of marriage, one great benefit of marriages and partnerships and even deep friendships is that they tie us more closely together and thus make us all more stable members of society.

Advisory oppression

In several instances in the past few weeks ranging from experiences in the gym, at the grocery store, at school, on the internet, I have been presented with unsolicited advice. Now, often when we give advice to others, to help them when they are not doing something in the way we think best, we think of ourselves as being angels of mercy, helping someone out of the very greatness of our heart.
But it seems to me that particularly when the relationship between the advisor and the advisee is not a particularly intimate one and when the advice is unsolicited, it cannot help but come across as a deliverance from on high. In other words, unsolicited advice is presented as a piece of wisdom from someone who knows better and this is often going to be felt as belittling the person being advised.
To use a parallel, it seems that unsolicited advice is more akin to the vice of pity than to the virtue of sympathy, in that it underscores a difference in knowledge or wisdom or power between the two participants

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It can always be worse

I have been reading quite a bit of the Roman Stoics recently and reminding myself that I should not be too happy when Fortune goes my way—and honestly, she often does—nor too unhappy when she turns against me. I tend to overemphasize in my own life the way that Fortune turns against me. So, I have also been thinking about the ways in which lives goes well and go poorly.
I was thinking about these very issues and reading some Seneca this week when a student came to talk to me about some problems in logic. In the process of figuring out just what she was having a problem with, she told me an amusing story about her childhood, involving her parents and one of her siblings. I asked her how her brother remembered the story and she shook her head: "No, they are all gone. They all died in the war."
She was talking about one of a series of civil wars in her homeland. Then, I realized. Even at its lowest, my life has never been bad. There are depths of suffering that I cannot fathom.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the inconsistency of moral outrage

I have mentioned this before, but I am always surprised that many religious and other conservatives profess to have a moral problem with embryonic stem cell research while professing no such concern with in vitro fertilization, a process which almost always results in the creation of embryos that will either be frozen indefinitely or will be destroyed. Other than in cases like the "octomom" there are more embryos than can be implanted and quite often many of the implanted embryos, if they are viable, are "selectively reduced", i.e., aborted.
If you believe that morally relevant human life begins at conception then you ought to be troubled by embryonic stem cell research but you ought to be just as troubled—probably more troubled because of its breadth as a practice and the relatively small good that comes out of it—by the entire practice of IVF. This is, for instance, the conservative Catholic view.
If you are going to engage in moral outrage, you ought to be consistent.
In the interest of full disclosure, I find both morally objectionable, though for slightly more complex reasons.

Scylla and Charybdis

Socialism and capitalism, absent an underlying moral theory, are equally inhuman.
On the one hand, socialism is an attempt to absolve us from our responsibilities to one another, moving this responsibility to the state. In this way, after years of even the mildest forms of socialism, people begin to question why they even have the minimal obligations to one another that paying their taxes for a social safety net seems to impose upon them. This is an effect I see in my students. It is good, in this regard, to recall that Dickens’ Scrooge is a thoroughgoing socialist: he objects to charity because there are already poorhouses that his taxes support.
On the other hand, capitalism absolves us from responsibility by claiming either that the markets will take care of all the needs that there are or that the economic world is a Darwinian—nay, a Malthusian—struggle in which the weak must suffer.
What is missing in both of these, though it need not be, is an underlying account of the very real obligations that we do have to one another. With such an account, certain socialist practices and policies can be seen as ways via a state of carrying out our obligations. With such an account, capitalism can be seen as something that takes care of only one part of our lives, the economic part, while realizing—as did Adam Smith—that there is a large part of our lives that is not economic. Pace Hayek and others, it isn’t all economic.
But I fear in our time we have ignored the advice of Forster to “only connect” and Aristotle’s claim that we are essentially social and thrown them over for the Thatcherite claim that there is no society. So we no longer see ourselves as people in any kind of community and whether we are tempted to socialism or capitalism, we are never tempted to care.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The joys of owning pets

Because Fernando is home this week, helping his mom make the unimaginable transition to a life without her husband of forty-five years, I am alone—well, not alone, I am left with Mateo and Margarita. This morning, something was going on with Mateo's stomach. It was making that loud liquid sound, loud enough that it woke me up. And, all I could think was, "He's gonna vomit ... or worse." And, he was obviously uncomfortable. 
So, up I got. At 4:20. To take him out. We went out. He peed, he smelled, he did what else he needed to do. We came back in. But his stomach was still loud and the cat was awake, demanding food—eleven years after we rescued her from the Columbus park where she'd been abandoned already an adult cat, she has decided that some food is beneath her. I fed her, but now it was 5:00 and I'm getting up at 5:30 this semester. So, as I told Mateo, he had robbed me of more than an hour of sleep.
They are supposed to comfort you, I think, but sometimes they are like having two particularly hairy children. 
Off to clean the box!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

In memoriam

Last night, Juan Carlos Bosco, Fernando's father, died after a period of illness, at home in bed with his wife, Nilda. He was a very loving man, always smiling and full of joy, quick with a joke, generous and will be missed by all those who knew him and especially his family, among whom he counted me. ¡Te extrañamos, Juanca!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A sad development

It occurred to me last night, in the midst of a class discussion about world poverty and the responsibilities those of us in the developed world might have towards the horribly poor of the world, that I have witnessed a sea change in the attitudes of students in my relatively short career in the classroom. About a decade ago, when I first started teaching ethics sections, the majority of students thought that we had some obligation to others—both near and far—though many of them wondered whether there was any effective way to meet them. 
Then, there were a few students who more or less claimed that each of us was out for himself. But these voices were in the minority. Now, even as my students are more nominally religious, even as I teach in a religious context, even as many are willing to make claims as to the supremacy of Christianity and the necessity of something like traditional sexual morality—at least insofar as it applies to homosexuals and adulterers, though not to the case of fornication—many more of them are unwilling to think that we have any obligation whatsoever to the poor or to our fellow humans. They deny often that there is any such thing as a human community or any positive obligation to members of such a community or even human rights as opposed to merely civil rights.
It might just be that I don't do a good enough job motivating such an obligation, but I think that something more severe has happened. I fear that we have become a nation of people who are so isolated that the idea of morality—which is after all about the obligations that I have to others—has become foreign to us. Individualism has trumped any connection and we are all perfectly happy to go back to our homes and sit in front of our televisions or computers and interact only with those we choose often through the medium of a screen.
And that makes me sadder even than usual.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Things that make me die inside: January 2009 edition

I can't claim to know this for a fact—since the truth conditions of counterfactuals are notoriously difficult—but I would like to think that were dear, dear Freddie Mercury alive, he would have done his damnedest to keep Wal-Mart, no friend of foreigners or homosexuals or humans, from using "We Will Rock You" to promote their lower costs (and lower wages and anti-labor policies so that their own employees still won't be able to afford the products being sold). It makes me die a little each time I hear or see the ad. What's next? A little Frankie Goes to Hollywood?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A thought for today

If you are unmarried, including if you are divorced or living with your boyfriend or fiancé, and/or you do not cook for your family or clean the house or do the laundry, and/or you have a shop or a real estate office or some other business, and/or you are so wealthy that you spend your entire day shopping or playing golf or tennis or lunching, you are not, by definition, a real housewife of anywhere. Sorry. Oh, and if you are on a television program about the real housewives of anywhere, you are probably a big part of why much of the world hates the US.