Friday, December 17, 2010

Un-Christmassy thoughts

What does it say that a tradition founded on the stone the builders rejected continues apace in rejecting others and sees itself all to often as a small minority against not just the world but its people?

There are days when I understand all to well why Kierkegaard allied himself with Denmark's atheists and not its Christians.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Philosophical query: to be ignored by almost all

Let X be an action, such that to X is morally forbidden, but not because Xing is intrinsically evil but rather because there is a high probability of harm to others and/or to self were one to X. In fact, let us assume that there is nothing evil per se at all in Xing. There might even be near possible worlds in which Xing would not be evil at all. That is, X is extrinsically, but not intrinsically evil. In addition, Xing is enjoyable.
Is it morally wrong to revel in thoughts of Xing? If so, why? Is it merely because one could not morally X? 

Sunday, November 28, 2010


So, Kanye West has a song yclept "Runaway". It is a song that he has performed on Saturday Night Live and on the VMAs, both times wearing a red suit, numerous gold chains and backed by women in tutus who act less like backing dancers than those annoying "statues" that have become ubiquitous at every street festival since 1995. Of course, since it is a sung piece and not a rap, he is autotuned in a way that can only make one think of Cher or the very worst musical number on television. And, as should be obvious, he always seems quite satisfied with himself during his performances.
My question is simple: When he sings, in this song, "toast for the douchebags, toast for the assholes, toast for the scumbags" is he smart enough or self-aware enough to be ironic, or does he really not know he's singing about himself?

Monday, November 22, 2010


In the last couple of weeks, a friend of mine did something objectively irrational—one might say stupid—something that put his life at risk. But, as we discussed it briefly, it became apparent that he did what he did not in a drug- or alcohol-induced haze but in another sort of haze, that sort of place in which one loses oneself in passion. 
In our society, we value passion, we value devotion, we value going all in. And, although we do not put it quite this way, there is a long tradition in many of the cultures that feed into our own, of valuing losing oneself, whether in meditation in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, in a mystical union with or experience of the Godhead in mystical traditions in all the Abrahamic religions, becoming one with ones actions in varieties of Zen and Taoist thought, losing oneself in action in literary figures (e.g., Hans Castorp at the end of The Magic Mountain) and so on. 
And, while I am cautious—probably overcautious—and was raised to mistrust this kind of loss of control and rationality, there is something admirable about diving so deeply, even when risks are involved, about embracing the Dionysian and letting Apollo be damned.
Of course, I'll remain on the Apollonian side, but I can see the appeal of the other way.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


This morning, I woke up to one of those emails telling me that a couple that we both know is having problems and one of them has moved out of the house they bought about a year ago. Whenever something like this happens, I have an initial thought: I'm not sure how they ever worked together as a couple. It's important to say that this is always my reaction. And, because I know that this is always the way that I react, I immediately remember that, from the outside, our relationship has to be pretty inexplicable. 
I think that this is usually the case with any relationship. We've been together for just over fourteen years now—and that's a lot in gay years, still—but for more than a decade, I have heard people say to my partner that he could do better and tell me that I'm too good for him and, occasionally, the same sort of thing to me. Of course, some of those have been cases where people were interested in one or the other of us or people were just being generally destructive. But, many of them were saying what they thought: that our relationship just didn't make sense. And, while I am scrupulous not to do the same sort of thing, it is definitely the case that while I can tell that people do work well together and that they make each other happy and even care about one another, I often am unable to make sense of the mechanics, given what I know about the people involved.
Hell, sometimes I don't understand how the two of us work together. So, maybe it just is a mystery how any two people ever enter into any sort of relationship. Forster wanted us only to connect; how do we do that?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The worst thing about getting older

Besides approaching average life expectancy for the beginning of the twentieth century or finally being old enough to be the father to many of my students, the worst part of getting older is having multiple friends and colleagues with serious illness and seeing people I think of as being part of my cohort—and younger—die. I lost my father-in-law just shy of two years ago, two friends of mine—both younger—that I met when I used to bartend in the last year and a half, a friend from high school recently went into remission, a colleague is battling a mysterious case of wasting, a colleague of my partner's just had a lumpectomy with the removal of twenty-five lymph nodes, another colleague of his lost his wife, the women who takes our dog once a week has breast and ovarian cancer and the list continues.
I'm barely middle-aged and, yet, I realize every day more and more just how close death is to us all the time.
Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good moments

So, in many ways this week's classes, because I am longing for break and haven't had a real one in a pretty long time, have been a hard slog. But, today, a student saw a connection between Kant's distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds and Hindu metaphysics, a connection that I had never directly mentioned in class—is it one that I had noticed in those terms?—in the middle of a review section. That's some kind of achievement.

Alone together

It is rarely my intention here to say anything original. This is for two reasons: I am not sure that I have many original thoughts that would be worth sharing and much of what is thought of as original—especially in philosophy where, for instance, that great turning point of modern philosophy, Descartes' Cogito in a philosophy that is supposed to start from nothing, is really just a reiteration of a point Augustine made more than a millennium earlier in his Confessions—is really just someone else's idea the source of which is forgotten.
So, for quite a while, I have been thinking about a theme which seems to recur in numerous philosophical and religious contexts throughout quite a bit of human history, viz., the juxtaposition of the solitary and the communal. Think of the sadhus of Hinduism or the forest monks of Theravada Buddhism, mountain sages of Taoism, Diogenes of Sinope in his tub in the city, John the Baptist in the New Testament, the Desert Fathers of early Egyptian Christianity, the medieval anchorites living in hermitages or walled into parish churches, the startsy of Russian Orthodoxy, the Carthusians living as hermits in a community, Wittgenstein in his hut in Norway and his cottage in Ireland and in both cases engaged in extensive correspondence.
In each of these cases—and each is thought of as an example of wisdom in the tradition from which it comes—we see a person or persons who both ache for and/or embrace solitude and, at the very same time, are engaged in deeply social behavior.
This, I think, suggests something important and central to the human condition. We are social beings, as Aristotle noted in the Ethics, but we also recognize ourselves as apart. As many psychologists and philosophers now think, one of the thing that distinguishes us from (most of the) other animals is that we have a theory of mind. That is, we are able to see that others also have perspectives on the world, as we do. But, this also implies that we realize that there are other perspectives on us. This, in part is why, unlike almost all the other animals, we can recognize ourselves in mirrors; we realize that there are other perspectives than our own and those perspectives are also perspectives on us. But, this means that we have a unique perspective, one that is unsharable. 
We are, at one and the same time, naturally social—to leave society is, all too often, in Aristotle's terms, to become a beast—and prevented from full social sharing. We are called to and barred from community by our natures. And this, I think, makes human life a paradox. One that is insoluble except through embracing it as so many sages have attempted to do. Most of us, I fear, are unwilling to do just this.


For all their value at the graduate level, in which one often needs a few weeks just to get familiar with a topic before even being close to a position to think about a paper, semesters are generally horrible at the undergraduate level. At week twelve—I think that's where I am now—I have discussed as much about certain topics as either I can stand or—much more obviously—my students can. Of course, the autumn is especially bad with its dearth of breaks and its bunching of the one big break at the end.
There are things that can seem full of wonder in week one that by week nine or ten have lost their gloss except for those who are very committed. And, while I am very committed to all sorts of issues in, for instance, the debate between internalists and externalists about content, it can be much to expect students, especially those whose interests lie in continental philosophy—as most of mine do—or who have no general interest in philosophy at all.
Not just for them, but for me, the break cannot come soon enough.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On heresies that aren't even realized

I teach at a Catholic university. And, I was raised and educated in a very Catholic milieu. And, whatever my beliefs about God—and they fail to be orthodox in a number of ways, veering from the Stoic to the Kierkegaardian/Wittgensteinian—I have a deep respect for the Catholic tradition. This is in spite of the ways in which many representatives of that tradition feel and argue about my kind.
In any case, I am often surprised—or am I just saddened?—when student of mine report in papers and essays and reflection pieces on their own beliefs. I am not surprised that they believe what they do; generally, discovering what they believe only saddens me, being a mishmash of conservative ideology on some points with MTV-morality on others and New Age spirituality with the name "Jesus" thrown in here and there, but I am always surprised that they think that what they believe falls somewhere within the Christian or Catholic tradition.
For instance, in several reflections I was reading this evening in which students were supposed to set out and respond to Aristotelian teleology, students began paragraphs with some variation on "Coming from the Christian perspective" followed by things that only Joel Osteen would think were Christian ideas, such as that God just wants us to be happy and there are all sorts of ways to be happy and that happiness is really just subjective. 
When I read these things, it becomes clearer to me just why discussion of the various strains in the Christian tradition is so troubling to them; many of them have no real idea of anything like Christian thought (or any thought) before about 1960. 
Of course, for fairness' sake, their ignorance of Christianity is more than matched by their ignorance of science. I also had several students claiming that "from a biological perspective" humans have only the purpose to survive and reproduce, losing sight of the fact that purpose is a necessarily normative and teleological concept that doesn't make much sense from an evolutionary perspective. Though drives might be drives toward something, it is still more than a little sketchy to talk about them as purposes of whole organisms.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not everything need be preserved

My grandfather was raised by two German speakers in a largely German-speaking community. His family had been in the United States for just under a century when he was born. They came in 1830, he was born in 1923, but they were still speaking German at home and they weren't embarrassed by being German speaker or having come from Swabia.
I am proud of my family and proud of our heritage—to the degree that anyone can be proud of those things for which he is not responsible—but I am also proud that my grandfather, unlike this ass from Ohio who wishes to sit in Congress knew the difference between valuable parts of German culture and the Nazis and the SS. Just to be clear, the Waffen-SS were not common soldiers, they were part of an incontrovertibly evil movement. And, among other things, they were responsible for killing off Jews and Roma and Slavs and other "undesirables" in occupied areas. No matter how many endorsements his website may have claiming that he is "pro-Jewish"—how many people who respect or value either Judaism or the Jewish people spend any time in SS uniforms, for enjoyment? isn't the claim that he is "pro-Jewish" just an effort to make this go away? and anyone who has read the excellent Nazi Doctors of Robert Jay Lifton should be aware that even the most adamant Nazis thought there were one or two decent Jews—he clearly has some of the worst judgment possible. Should I want someone who pretends to be someone who was responsible for killing undesirables like me to be sitting in Congress? I think not, for some reason. Call me silly.
And, as my partner reminded me this evening, one cannot receive a visa to visit the US without disclaiming any relation to the National Socialist Party—65 years after their defeat—so one probably ought not to be sitting in the House if one finds it this important to understand the SS experience. Would acting out the death camps help?

Perpetual Peace and Neoconservatives

A friend and former student of mine used to like to argue with me that Kant's work supported the American "intervention" in Iraq and the more general neoconservative project of "exporting" democracy around the world, because only in such a world would peace be possible. Of course, I'm no Kantian, so I wasn't precisely sure why that was supposed to convince me of anything.
Today, in reading Kant's "Perpetual Peace" to prepare for class, I was reminded of how strange and silly it is to think that Kant's sketch of peace could be used to justify war—particularly inasmuch as he is concerned in this essay to undermine the very notion of a just war. Kant does think that perpetual peace is only possible in a world of republics—not democracies, of which he is not particularly fond, thinking them naturally despotic—but he is adamant that there can be no justification in invading another country in order to change its internal structure, no matter what that structure may be—no overthrowing Husseins or Allendes—except in a very few cases. And, one of his most stringent conditions is that there be no relations of debtor and lender between states. Combined with his claim that the inability of sovereign states to put themselves under another authority is one of the highest bars to peace, it is hard to see exactly how he can be drafted to this particular cause.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


By the time I'm done listing my own faults, I don't have time to consider yours.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's all fun and games until someone jumps off a bridge

Technology may have the ability to make our lives easier and help us to keep in touch with others. But it also has the ability to take actions that we haven't fully thought through all the way from initial impulse to final effect in the same amount of time that it once would have taken us even to set a chain of events in motion. In this respect, it has robbed us of our impulse to reflect and has coarsened many of us.
We have all sent the email that, had it been a letter, would have been torn up before we reached a mailbox. Many of us have posted a comment that, had we to say it to someone's face, we would reconsider.
And, two young people at Rutgers secretly webcast the romantic fumblings of Tyler Clementi, the roommate of one and the dormmate of the other. And that young man is now dead.
I don't think that these two people thought they were doing much more than playing a sort of prank. They surely hadn't planned on leading someone to commit suicide. But, especially in a world that moves so fast and via the medium of the internet, a small evil can quickly lead to a much greater one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not only asinine but dangerous

The owner of the company that manufactures the Segway vehicle(?) died over the weekend in a Segway accident.
I remember when the world waited with baited breath for the announcement of a new device that was going to revolutionize the way we lived in cities, that was going to replace cars and—to put it succinctly—change everything. Many an hour did I spend discussing with Jim Schmiedeler in the Larkins gym at OSU just what this device could be.
Of course, the actual Segway was a horrible disappointment. And, other than being a vehicle that George Bush was able to fall off of and allowing for a new and annoying way for people and tour companies to use the sidewalk, I thought it was a harmless waste of money. But, as it turns out, Segways and cliffs don't mesh.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What the octogenarian who lives two doors down is saying right now

"That's an interception, asshole."
"My team has the ball now."
"Go back to Texas, you fuckers."
A problem with living in the land of eternal summer is that people keep their doors and windows open all the time. A problem with having a slightly off and elderly neighbor—besides being asked to unclog her toilet on occasion and sometimes being talked about as if my partner and I were metaphysically indistinct—is that she yells on the telephone and to her television and I get to hear it all.

Visual enjoyment

Because I was listening to a podcast (History of the World in 100 Objects) on which it was discussed this week, I thought I would share Albrecht Dürer's Rhinoceros.

One more thing that I don't like about big box bookstores

Christopher Isherwood
Yesterday, after picking up a new pair of adultish shoes in which I can look sufficiently professional—and as if I were born into the prep-school-attending class, as it happens—when lecturing on the vagaries of anomalous monism, I dragged my other half into Borders because I wanted to see if they had a copy of Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man. We recently rented Tom Ford's movie of the book and were both bowled over not only by the style and acting of the film but also by the story. So, because I have enjoyed Isherwood in the past, I wanted to pick up a copy as well as see if they had any of the later volumes of The Escapist, since I am currently running through Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Generally, I buy most of my books from Amazon or at one of the local secondhand bookstores or I pick them up from piles of discarded books that find themselves in my pathways. And, I have a fair number of books; there are just over six hundred in the latest update of my home library catalogue. But, I thought I should check the Borders since I was there. First, I looked through the Literature section, but there was no Isherwood to be found; not only was A Single Man not there, but there were no Berlin Stories, nor Christopher and His Kind. Nothing.
To the in-store computer I trod and found that the only book of Isherwood's they did have—it was said to be "Likely in Store", an unhelpful bit of help if ever there was—was in fact the book I was looking for. All of Isherwood's other work could be ordered but wasn't in the store. But, it wasn't to be found in Literature; if it was there, it would be in Gay/Lesbian Literature. 
Now, I know that there might be good reasons for divvying up literary genres. There might, in fact, be books that are primarily of interest to African Americans, so maybe it makes sense from a marketing perspective to have a section, as Borders does, labeled African American Literature. And, the same might be said for books of primary interest to gays and lesbians, to Asian Americans, to Hispanic Americans, etc., although not all these groups get their own areas. But, once we start down this road, where do we stop in the increasing ghettoization of literature and interests? (Perhaps, on another day, I will rant about how the same thing often happens in the Academy.) Is Maya Angelou of interest only to African Americans? Should Kazuo Ishiguro be in a section aimed at Asian readers? He gets to be in Literature. Should Thomas Mann go in Literature or Gay/Lesbian Literature or European Literature or Bisexual European Who Also Lived in America but Always Wrote in German Literature? And, if we are dividing Literature this way, why not think there is something essentially foreign about different philosophers? Why not Gay Philosophers, too? And why think gays and lesbians belong together? 
It's literature or its not. I read and enjoy Jane Austen—thank you Alasdair MacIntyre—but I will never be a Regency period Englishwoman looking for a husband. How can I enjoy it? Because good literature speaks to universal themes about the human condition. It places them in specific contexts, but it needn't speak only to those who are themselves in those contexts. The fact that we have come to assume that this is the case is sad. It's no social progress or victory if only African Americans read novels in which African American characters appear, nor if only gays and lesbians—again, why should they be together under such a categorization of the genres?—read novels with gay and lesbian characters. I surely do not read only novels with gay characters or with white, gay characters from the Midwest, who teach college. 
So, at least, when I'm buying from the behemoth that is Amazon, I don't have to feel that I reading something that only the gays like, even the suggestions aren't that segregated.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On the vice of cleverness

I have a number of students this semester who seem to mistake cleverness for an intellectual virtue. Now, by "cleverness", I mean that display of wit or intellect that is not other-directed or other-interested—except insofar as an audience is necessary for their performance—or at all concerned with forwarding a discussion. This is the sort of participation that is really about scoring a point, that is evidenced by the hand that raises with an objection before a point is even made. And, I can't help wondering whether I was that same student.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A simple thought

For those who think that the Muslim world has nothing to do with the West or that the only relationship between Islam and the West is one of antagonism, of Crusades and Jihad, I have to repeat a thought oft-emphasized by Alasdair MacIntyre—no liberal or friend of relativism and a strong believer in the community and tradition—in classes with him oh so many years ago that without Islam and its efforts, there is no Aquinas (his synthesis of Aristotle and Christianity relied on the Islamic preservation of Aristotle), there is no university (centers of learning that granted doctorates/universal authority to teach are there in the Islamic world in Cairo and Fez and Baghdad before Paris or Bologna or Oxford), there is no intellectual tradition in the West that goes much beyond Plato. And without this tradition, there isn't a Western civilization, including that part that reacted to scholasticism and gave us the Enlightenment.
The Clash of Civilizations, pace Samuel Huntington, can only be conceptualized by those who think of civilizations and cultures in exactly the same simplistic way that leads those of shallow thought to relativism.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Like a horse and carriage

It is inevitable that in the prolonged debate that is going on about same sex marriage not just in the United States but throughout Europe and the Western Hemisphere, people are going to have to talk about the relationship between love and marriage. Of course, Frank Sinatra told us just how deeply the two were connected, but it isn't always clear that they are so closely intertwined. 

We all know of "loveless" marriages and even unions in which the partners seem more connected by their disdain for one another than their affection. After all, all those movies in which marital partners are constantly at one another—and not only when they try to destroy one another as in War of the Roses—are entertaining because of the sometimes uncomfortable way in which they limn the world we know. But even though we often think of such marriages as unhappy and better exited than endured, we almost never think that they should be automatically dissolved for their lack of love. So, one might argue, love and marriage need not be connected.
Moreover, there are those—Jonathan Rauch is particularly good here and I often have students read his arguments—who argue that given the long history of marriage, in which love was an afterthought if anything, and our legal tradition, which makes no mention of love as one of the requirements for marriage, we ought to stop talking as if there really was a connection between the two.
And, in the actual debate on the ground, whatever its rational value, you get people on either side saying that marriage is or is not about love.
"It's about the freedom to love whom I love."
"Marriage isn't about 'love' it's about children and society."
"No love is wrong."
There are, I think, a couple of issues here. One thing that we have to note is that we don't require of two people when they marry that they feel any particular sort of emotion for one another. That is, neither as a society nor in the majority (any?) of our religious traditions do we ask for proof of affection or evidence that there is a certain sort of feeling for one another. We don't ask for a quantification of love, because we cannot even name the quality when it is felt by others who are not ourselves. This is a slightly odd version of the problem of other minds or the privacy of subjective mental content, but there is just absolutely no way for me to know what you feel when you are in love or love someone else. So, even if it were desirable to make some love requirement, we couldn't do it. (Some budding neoroscientists might try to claim that we can map emotions to the locations in which they occur in the brain; be that as it may, we still will not have gotten to anything like the way love feels.)
This might lead us to think that love shouldn't have anything to do with the way that we conceptualize (secular civil) marriage as a society. But, there's a danger in taking this position, too. For, if there is really no connection between love and marriage then there is surely no good reason to allow people of the same sex to marry one another nor is there any good reason to allow any two particular people to marry, since there could then be no argument that one had a right to marry whom they loved—the two concepts being divorced—as long as they had a right to marry some other person. In other words, if love and marriage really have nothing to do with one another, then the conservative argument that gays and lesbians really do have the same rights as others—namely, the right to marry—but just not the right to marry people of the same sex would start to have some teeth.
So, it seems, we need a conception of love that is related to marriage but that doesn't mean that those "loveless" marriages or marriages in which people have to learn to love one another aren't real marriages. I aim to provide the skeleton of that here.

(For more on "loveless" marriages, see the video below.)

I think the right answer is the combination of at least two different things. One is an idea that I first heard put well by Dan Savage. The gist of his claim was that love—at least the sort of long-term, forever love that we claim informs our marriages and partnerships and families—is a sort of lie that we tell one another. That is, we don't know today that we will love another for the rest of our lives, so when we say that we will we are committing ourselves to the truth of a statement that we cannot know to be true. But, that's okay, because we aren't really making a statement. We are making a commitment to live today as if we are going to be together for the rest of our lives and to do the same thing tomorrow. Without getting too sappy, being together forever is just being together now again and again. But this is to say that love is not (just) a feeling, but a commitment, an act of will, to act towards the other person in a certain way. 
If this first claim is true, then there are only going to be certain people to whom I could relatively easily make this kind of commitment and who these people are is going to be governed, in part, by my orientation. There are some lies that it is harder to get myself to believe and, among those, would be that I could be committed to a woman in the sort of way that could become lasting. (This is also why, even if some would regard same-sex marriages as second-best in general, they must be viewed as the best for those like me.)
The second thing to consider is the silly way that modern people tend to think about love. Nothing brings this out more clearly than the way that people will say things like "I love him, but I'm not in love with him." Now, I don't want to deny that love is based on and has as a part, even an essential part, an emotional and affective state. But, I don't think that state is very closely aligned, even if causally and temporally related to, the state of being in love. Being in love is like having a crush. It is that initial magical state that exists at the beginning of a relationship and, for some people, never again. But this is more like passion.
And, here I'd like to point to one of the lessons one can learn by growing up among seemingly cold, Germanic midwesterners. I remember my maternal grandmother once giving me advice on marriage: "If you get married, you should have children soon, because the passions dies quickly." That can seem horribly cold and when I was a young man, I thought it was. But she was pointing to an important distinction, that between passion or emotive feeling and something else that is better termed love. A marriage or any relationship based just on passion, on emotion, on the thrill is bound not to go too long. Why is this? Because something else, be it children or some other sort of shared project, that is,  a shared life, a common thing, is needed to hold it together. And this sharing of some project, some conception of the good, some life-centering object, is really a huge part of what love is.
The other thing I learned from my family is that there is a huge difference between displays of love and love. In our family, it was never to common to hear someone say that they loved you, but it was nonetheless apparent through action that they did. The actions of love, in which you felt that others took responsibility for you and that you were responsible to them, were there. Of course, it is nice to hear the words, but hearing the words need not mean anything; the actions are meaningful.
My point then is this: Love is essential to a marriage, but it is essential in the following ways. Love is a willed commitment to another person, a sharing of a common life project and a commitment to act in ways that demonstrate care and responsibility for and to one another. And, it is this that we make people promise when they enter civil marriages, not some affective state. Can this commitment exist outside of marriage? Yes. But, when two people who are not already so committed to another and are not already connected to one another in ways that create such responsibilities wish to make this commitment, is there a good reason to prevent it?

Friday, August 06, 2010

A question with only one answer

Apparently, among the questions asks its victims customers is this doozy: "Are you self aware?" The company prides itself on the depth of this question so much that it includes in its ads a woman who is amazed that no other matchmaking site had ever asked her this before.
But let's think about this for a second. If you fail to be self-aware, you will fail to be aware of this failing of yours and will answer, "Yes, I am self aware." If you are self-aware, you will answer, "Yes, I am self aware." So, how would this question differentiate between site-members. 
Answer: It wouldn't. What it would do is make those people who had kicked some money to the site feel that, contrary to fact, they were actually being evaluated based on their character traits, character traits that can be evaluated according to a questionnaire—an empty set if ever there was. I suspect that matchmaking websites have slightly less depth than the psychic around the corner. 

NB: In the case of the actually self-aware, this person might actually see themselves as being less than ideally self-aware. So, if anything, there would be a negative correlation between claims to self-awareness and actual self-awareness. 

On being the villain of the piece

In many ways, I am fairly conservative. If I had to put myself somewhere on the political spectrum, I belong with most Indiana Democrats. For anyone reading this who isn't a Hoosier, that might not mean much. But, in Indiana, there's really not much difference between a Democrat and that vanishing (or is it now extinct except for those few whom the party faithful term RINOs?) breed, the moderate Republican. I am even, in many instances, socially conservative. I am an admirer of some members of the GOP, in fact. I think that there has always been a lot to say for Richard Lugar and there used to be a good deal to say for Lindsey Graham, before he jumped on the bandwagon to repeal the 14th Amendment. And, I have in the past voted for Republicans and even could imagine myself doing so again, except for the fact that the GOP has decided, by and large, that I am the enemy.
Consider, for instance, that rising star of the Tea Party and new GOP, Sharron Angle. Ms Angle is committed to the barring of adoption by gays, local control of the schools, the teaching of creationism/intelligent design as science, the empowering of churches to endorse political candidates while maintaining their tax-exempt status, etc., ad nauseam. Though she would once have been on the fringes of her own party, she is now a sort of heroine of a new and rising wing of the GOP, the wing headed by Sarah Palin.
But, we have to notice that this new wing is one that defines itself against an enemy. And, by and large, I am that enemy. I am gay and we cannot be trusted; we certainly cannot be trusted with children and, apparently, we are doing all that we possibly can to bring down all the sacred institutions of America. I am one of those people who fears that with continued local control of all aspects of education, we end up with Texas-style school books, in which the Founding Fathers become evangelicals and the influence of Thomas Aquinas (!) on the founding of the Republic is to be emphasized. I believe in evolution, because there is scientific evidence for it, evidence that cannot be explained in any other way, whatever its problems as a theory. I am also someone who knows that science always gives us theories, supported theories and that "theory" like "progressive" or "liberal" needn't be a term of derision. I also know enough about history, a subject I was taught largely by conservative Republican school teachers in Indiana, to know that there was a time when schools were more locally controlled and when churches had a larger role in political and governmental life, and that time was a time when my ancestors weren't considered real Americans because we were Catholics and the schools were controlled by Protestant majorities who misrepresented both American and European history. In short, I have a little bit of education and I think a critical eye is always necessary, but this makes me the enemy of the Tea Party. And, I worry that if churches gain the right that Angle et al. believe they have to endorse political candidates and remain tax-exempt this means that I have to support them; since others' donations to them are erased from their taxes, my relative tax burden increases, effectively to support activities I disagree with and that may well be directed against me. That's not democracy, nor is it just. But, I don't really think that Angle believes that voices that disagree with her have a place in democracy. (Of course, any church or other current non-profit has the right to endorse whomever it pleases; they need simply relinquish their tax-exempt status.)
If the educated, the questioning, the reasonable—in both the sense that they are guided by reason and open to reasons given by those with whom they disagree—and critical are enemies; and, if gays are enemies; and, I see no way to construe the trajectory of the GOP in a way that these people are not its enemies; then I am the GOPs targeted enemy and there's simply no way that I, nor my friends, can ever find their candidates compelling.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Nothing human is foreign to me

I am clearly biased. After all, I teach philosophy for a living. I went to University and graduate school in philosophy. So, I am likely to be fond of the humanities in general and philosophy in particular.
But, I have to say, more than fifteen years after I graduated, I almost daily come back to some question, work, discussion or issue that I was introduced to in some humanities class, whether humanities itself or theology or Russian literature or philosophy. The fact that I still feed on those morsels says something to be about the human—not the economic or employment or market—value of the humanities. After all, we are humans, right?

For some of those other values, I highly recommend Martha Nussbaum's, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Greek passion

I was reading someone's profile somewhere online this week and I read through his selection of quotes and inspirational sayings. I almost always drudge through this part of an online profile, only because I find it interesting to see in what way people want other people to view them—I don't take too seriously the idea that people actually guide their own lives by the quotes and ideas they select; I assume rather that they are portraying an ideal self or at least a self that they want others to see, even if they don't want to become that self—and because I like to see the list of quotes that are misattributed and not even in keeping with what the supposed quoted actually thought. Among those most often misquoted are Socrates, Plato, Nietzsche, the Buddha and a handful of recognizably great but sufficiently foreign characters to whom anything plausibly, it seems, can be credited.
The thought that caught my idea this particular day was something to the following effect: The ancient Greeks asked only one question when a man died, "Did he live with passion?"
Now, I understand the idea here. This fellow thinks or wants us to think that he thinks that a life that isn't filled with passion is a value-less life. All well and good. But, as someone who has worried a lot both about the ancient Greeks and the passions, I'd love to know which of the ancient Greeks thought this. The Homeric ones, the Platonists, the Aristotelians, the Spartans, the dramatists, the Hellenists? Sure, it must seem that I'm being pedantic and bitchy, but there's actually a serious problem here. Or, there might be a couple. 
In contemporary society, to be passionate about something is often thought to be a good thing. It is to be deeply committed to it, to feel a deep emotional attachment that drives one on in ones pursuit of that thing or idea or whatever. This is, however, a very modern conception, probably tied to something like Kierkegaard's nineteenth-century distinction between objective and subjective truth. Most of the Greeks about whom we know felt pretty differently about passion. "Passion" comes from the same word that gives us "pathetic", a base word that means to suffer. This is why Christians talk about the Passion of Christ—it is His suffering that is being discussed, not His dedication. So, for the Greeks, to be passionate was to be suffering an emotion. And, for pretty much all of the Greeks, suffering was a bad thing, except in those cases where it was necessary to suffer some evil to prevent some other evil. One would never willingly choose to live a life where one was the constant victim of passions, where one was constantly driven by forces beyond ones control.
Think of the way that even we conceptualize passionate love as something that one is in the throes of, something in which one might lose herself, etc. These are not the sorts of things the Greeks, so far as we know, valued. They generally seem to have thought that the emotions were something that should be kept in check and that very bad things happened when they were not; the dramatic canon is partly about what happens when the emotions aren't controlled.
Am I saying that the Greeks were right about this? No. Do I think they largely were? Yes, but that's not my point here.
Instead, I think using this kind of spurious account of the ancients or quote of an ancient sage demonstrates two important problems in thought, even as it avoids a third.
1)A belief that whatever we think about life can only be right if we are able to find some ancient forebear who believes exactly the same thing. This is just simply wrongheaded. I think that we have a lot to learn from the past. In fact, I think that much of what is wrong in the world is partially a result of not seriously considering the wisdom of those who have gone before. However, the past might just be wrong. And, when it is, or when we believe it is, we ought to accept that we disagree with the ancient Greeks or with the Buddha or with whomever. (I'm sort of a Stoic and sort of an Aristotelian, but I disagree with both schools in numerous ways.) If we really thought that everything there was to say of interest had been said in the past, then we should all just be historians.
2) A belief that those who lived in the past were exactly like us in every respect. Thus, they would feel as we do about the passions. But, the ancient Greeks lived in a society (or a set of societies) that were more warlike, much smaller, often slave-holding, agrarian, etc., etc. They were alike us in that they were humans, in that we can understand them, we can make sense of them, they can speak to us—we should avoid the other extreme of saying that they were so much unlike us that we can never understand them—but they weren't us, even if we do agree with what they say.
So, when we're looking for the past to underwrite what we believe, we owe it to the past and to ourselves to get the past right and to understand whether they could even have been worried about what gets us so worked up.

PS Many of the ancient Greeks do seem to have thought that there was only one question relevant at the end of a life. But that question was: Was his life a happy life? Some other day, we can worry about what they meant by happiness, because it wasn't our happiness, either

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A question of parenting

Imagine that I were a working- or lower-middle-class parent who sent my sixteen-year-old daughter across the country, driving alone because she liked to drive so much and she was such a good driver and I wanted her to express her independence. Imagine further that on the trip she had a horrible accident or was raped or killed. What kind of parent would I be? Who would be responsible? Who would we blame?
Now, imagine that I were a wealthy parent who put my child in an expensive sailboat and sent her around the world to sail, because she was such a good sailor and enjoyed sailing and I wanted her to express her autonomy. Imagine further that she got into trouble about halfway through her trip—quelle surprise—and that another country's government had to charter a passenger plane to try to find her and then had to rescue her. Would I be a good parent? Would it be just to ask that country's citizens to pick up the tab for my parenting decisions? Who should be blamed for the mess?
In short, what makes the second real parent better than the first hypothetical parent? And, what makes either of them better than the "Balloon Boy" parents?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Debate and discussion

In my own life—partly real and partly virtual—and in my observation of what passes for discourse in modern culture, I find myself thinking about the difference between debate and discussion. This is largely because, while I was trained and care to discuss, most people want to debate. 
It seems to me that there is a lot of truth—and a lot of Aristotelianism and Thomism—in the notion that any activity is defined partly and largely by the good or end at which it aims. For instance, the difference between a marriage and a fling is in part defined by what the two are for. 
Debate, it seems to me, aims primarily at winning. Winning might be defined in different ways: in an Oxford-style debate, it is defined by net change in opinion in an audience; in a political debate, it is decided by pundits and pollsters and ultimately voters; in a forensics debate, it is determined by judges. Of course, related to winning in this sense is convincing—or exhibiting convincingness—but this sort of convincing takes it as a given that the debaters will not themselves be swayed. Like Luther, they stand where they are and can do no other.
Discussion, on the other hand, seems to aim at truth. Of course, truth is an abstract thing to be aiming at. But in a genuine discussion—a dialectic, even—the parties are aiming to get to some best view. And, it is inherent in this pursuit that each recognizes that he may not already have the truth himself, that his discussion partner may have some of it or even all of it on her side. Discussion, that is, relies on a recognition of one's own fallibility in a way that discussion doesn't, but this also means that discussion has the possibility of moving both parties to somewhere new. And, that somewhere new might even be knowledge. Debate won't take one there.
We live in a society of debate it seems, where convincing is king, as it was for the sophists. It's a shame we've given up on discussion.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

No, dude, I was just kidding

In many ways in contemporary society, we are less civil and more forward than we have been in a long time. Or, at least, we are so in many more contexts. There are so many things said to me by students, for example, that utterly surprise me for no other reason than I cannot have imagined myself having said anything similar when I was in college.
But, we seem to have adopted a new strategy, both in person and in the virtual realm: the strategy of saying "just kidding" or "I was only joking".
This seems to get used in two different but related contexts. In one case, a person will say something utterly insulting or indefensible or factually insupportable or sexist or racist or clearly uncalled for and then follow it with "just kidding". In the other, a person makes a statement and then, afraid that they might be wrong, following it with the same.
Though the situations are very different, it seems in both cases there is both a statement of one's real character or knowledge or ignorance and then a wish that it wasn't so. If you know who are and aren't happy about it or ashamed about it, it seems that you have two choices: fix yourself or own up to it. This attempt to have it both ways, I think, shows the basest lack of character.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Since the semester has ended: Or, pragmatically unadvisable emails

A collection of some recent email missives from students and perspective students:

"I was just wondering if the grade I was givin was correct. Would missing the first midterm really impact my grade?" (A complete message)

In said course, each midterm was worth 20% of the grade, so missing one and not making it up is likely to have an effect on a final grade.

"hi i really want to take this class and wondering if i can get an add code thank you." (Another complete message)

Note the simplicity, the challenging nature of asking me to figure out what the class is and who the correspondent is and to whom the email was meant to go. And, the class doesn't begin for another month. The best strategy is probably to come to the actual class and ask then—oh, and to treat me as if I'm not a friend to whom you are sending a text.

"After I took the test today, I believe that if I calculated it out right, i'll be making a grade of somewhere in the 70's (I hope). With that being said, is there anything I can do to improve that final grade? I know I missed a whole paper, and that is what's really affecting me right now. Is there anyway I could write it and get half credit??" (Message edited to protect the identity of the student)

Yes, yes, I would enjoy doing extra work at the end of the semester because you were unwilling to do it during the semester and now are worried about your grade. And, after all, the point of thinking about philosophy and writing the paper was just to get points.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Is it not telling?

Doesn't it say something about modernity that, when questioned about their responsibility to disclose the real value of securities they were selling and the positions (i.e., betting that these same securities would fail) they were taking, executives of Goldman Sachs—here standing in for many in financial and other sectors—were unable to think of any sort of responsibility other than legal responsibility? Their defense was that they had not violated the law, so they had done nothing wrong, whatever the effects of their actions on their clients, the national and international economies or indeed whatever their deceptive intentions had been.
Even good old Adam Smith, famed but not sole progenitor of capitalist theory—but whom I doubt would recognize much of what goes on on Wall Street and elsewhere as anything like capitalism—thought that capitalism could only work, could only make sense, could only be justified against a background of shared moral belief and, yes, social justice.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Our place in nature

I am a humanist, which is to say at least two things: I've spent more than half my life in the humanities; and, while I don't know that we always get the right result, I believe that moral questions must be addressed from the human perspective—after all, there is no other perspective we can successfully take. (This is not to say either that only humans matter or, in the style of secular humanists, that religious values cannot be discussed or considered.)
But the right kind of humanism cannot be that sort in fact exhibited by those who claim to be religious (and often deride humanism) but demonstrate in many of their beliefs an inheritance from the Enlightenment and its immediate intellectual forebears, namely a vision of humans as divorced wholly from the rest of nature. I call this, too, a kind of humanism inasmuch as it replaces a presumed God of creation with a God of humanity. If that's not humanism of a sort, it's hard to know what it is.
Consider two fonts of this sort of view: Descartes and Kant. In his dualism, Descartes endows humans with a mind. He is at pains to distinguish this from the soul (the anima that animates all animals). He goes out of his way to deny this mind is shared at all by the (other) animals. Here, in a new way, we are separated from the rest of nature. Nature is simply a mechanistic body devoid wholly of mind, while we are minds. Of course, we have bodies, but this is not essential to us.
In Kant's conception of the human being, we are defined by two characteristics: our will and our reason. It is these two things that make us what we are and it is their lacking in the natural world that makes that world morally irrelevant. The natural world, the phenomenal world, is deterministic and unreasoning. Only we are free and reasoning and only as we are conceived in the noumenal world, not the world we sense. And, for all the sublimity with which Kant enchants the natural world, this is nothing more than a power to create an effect in us.
I'll not delve too deeply into the consequences these views have for treatment of nature and animals. But,  it should be obvious that on such views, nothing can be wrong per se in any treatment of the non-human world, except as it affects humans. Torturing a dog like Heathcliff is wrong not because of the dog's suffering, but only because if might lead to insensitivity to human suffering.
Rather the pervasive problem is in seeing us as divorced from nature. This contrasts an older tradition—that tradition against which Descartes rebelled—that sees humans as ensconced in nature. Even Plato for all his hatred of the physical world, sometimes hints that the physical world's other inhabitants might have a deeper connection to us; or, at least one might infer this from some of his considerations of metempsychosis. Surely Aristotle, in his views of the souls we share with other living things: the vegetative and animal—and in his tying together of form and (physical) matter and placing us between, but sharing in the natures, both of God and the animals, places us as much more firmly in nature. This is a theme mirrored in the Stoic belief that all living things share in a piece of the fire that permeates the Universe as well as the ancient and medieval mindsets in which humans can learn moral lessons from natural history and bestiaries.
I'm not just being an old codger here nor am I arguing that animals stand on the same level in moral consideration as we do—I am, after all, claiming to be a humanist, to place humans first. But there is something disconcerting about having to argue with University students who firmly believe that "All humans are animals" is false; with people who tell me that something ought to be done about the birds—the parrots, the hummingbirds, the eagles and hawks, etc.—on campus, because they have the temerity to defecate on car hoods; to watching student overcome with disgust and fear at the lizards, possums, raccoons, mice, rats, etc. that come up from the canyons on the side of campus (it's lucky they don't see the coyotes in the daytime); at having students strenuously deny the possibility of natural selection less out of religious conviction that out of concern over human dignity; and, at having those students who accept evolution conversely claim that because we are a different species, we may exploit all the rest of nature.
What am I claiming? Just that a view of humanity that sees us as apart from nature is an impoverished one, impoverished in its appreciation of the natural world—not just in zoos and botanical gardens—as a good in itself and impoverished in its appreciation of what we are as part of that same nature. To see ourselves as angels trapped in bodies is as wrong and harmful as to see ourselves as merely clever pigs. Perhaps we need a return to the Great Chain of Being—in a modified form—to see our place in relation to and in nature.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How we live now

Reason requires discussion. Socrates knew this. 
Discussion requires listening. 
We no longer—in the political realm, in the classroom, in our personal lives, in our so-called social networking sites—have any interest in listening to anyone not ourselves. 
Thus, no discussion, thus no possibility of reasoning, thus no possible improvement, as opposed to mere change, in our doxastic states.
We only yell at one another, and there is nothing social about this.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Liaisons, oh my!

Last week, I finished reading Choderlos de Laclos' Les liaisons dangereuses (in translation, of course). And, though I couldn't help picturing Glenn Close and John Malkovich while reading—Keanu Reeves, luckily, did not appear on my mind's stage—I found the story much more delightfully nasty and amoral than even the movie was. With the translator/editor (Parmeé), I found myself questioning whether the military officer and later Jacobin was really portraying a debauched aristocracy for our righteous indignation or for our envy, but mostly, I found myself thinking that for all the ways in which the epistolary format allows for an omnipotent narrator or, rather, the omnipotence of the reader—leaving aside how all the letters are to have been collected together—we should all be grateful that other structure of the novel quickly displaced this one. Reading hundreds of letters may have been imaginable in a much earlier age, but (sadly?) it is no longer to our taste. The repetition of salutations and closings alone is enough to drive one crazy.

Days of silence and lost voices

Last Friday was the annual Day of Silence, the day when gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons, etc., and allies are asked not to speak in order to make clear how their voices so often go unheard. Now, I believe that I have opined on the strangeness of this before—among other things, it seems strange to me that I, of course, have to speak on such days while well-meaning straight allies can take a stand against an oppression they have never felt by refusing to speak in class: I don't have the option of being silent—but the bigger problem with the very concept of a day of silence is the way that it addresses a problem by exacerbating the same problem.
Contrast a day of silence with walkouts. Take, for instance, the idea of a day without Mexicans popularized in southern California. Such a walkout makes an impact. It does this by addressing the way the presence of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (and other Latin Americans) is ignored by replacing it with absence: you don't see us when we are here, notice us when we are not and are not doing the jobs you need done! This was also the old strategy of homemakers going on strike: you think I do nothing, wait until I do nothing!
A day of silence, it seems, should work this way, but it differs importantly. In a walkout, there is valued work that goes undone and so is missed. It is only in its absence that the presence is noticed. In a day of silence, the very claim is that the voice (not merely the work or the presence) of a group is ignored and undervalued and so the response is to not speak. But, if the voice is not valued or noticed, to withdraw it is to acquiesce to that very ignoring and disvaluing. 
But why doesn't its absence in this case draw attention to its presence? I think because gays and lesbians and transgendered people are never going to be a large enough group or a concentrated enough group in any university or college or other institution to be missed on one day. (Sure musical theater might disappear without gays and the LPGA might cease to exist without lesbians—of course, I am kidding—but this is not like the effect on agriculture or construction that would be felt if we really did deport everyone with a questionable immigration history.) 
So what is better? If there is too little recognition of speech and voice, put so much voice and speech out that it cannot be ignored. Make them pay attention; don't be silent.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Catholic League's red herring

According to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League—an organization that likes to portray itself as the Catholic B'nai B'rith—there has been no pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church. Really, he says in an ad in this week's New York Times, it's a "homosexual crisis".
Now, whether coverage in the Times and elsewhere has been fair or evenhanded or not—and there may be good reason to think it hasn't been and that Maureen Dowd's columns may also be over the top—somehow coming to the conclusion that because more of the incidents have involved boys than girls indicates that the perpetrating priests are homosexuals (not pedophiles, per se, apparently), is a beautifully executed red herring. 
It's not pedophilia, there's no problem with coverups, it's just those damned gays again. What do you expect? It couldn't be that pedophiles in the priesthood—and again, there are probably no more per capita than in the general population, indicating the real problem is the culture of coverup—just had more access to boys rather than girls? No, that's not possible. It's just that homosexuals can't control themselves.
I've known some homosexual priests, and none of them were child-rapists. Why? Because molestation and sex aren't the same thing and pedophilia and homosexuality aren't the same thing. No matter how comforting it may be for some conservative Catholics to blame all their problems on gays, we won't be and can't be the scapegoats for this one. Put down the stones and look at yourselves, fellows.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Family values

I know people who occasionally get a drink at Voyeur though I never have and can't imagine myself doing so, but none of them claim to support family values and probably almost none of them are donating to the GOP. I guess we can trust the RNC to protect traditional values because they say they will.

Nothing to be proud of

So, Ricky Martin has come out. His career in undetectable, everyone has known he is gay for at least a decade—a friend of mine in South Beach was hit on him eleven years ago in a department store—and the only possible reason for his coming out at this point is to get on the gay party circuit. 
Had he come out when there was some cost to him, it might have been noteworthy or praiseworthy. As it is, given his past stories of having an imaginary girlfriend, he is in Sean Hayes and Rosie O'Donnell territory, willing to lie and obfuscate until it just doesn't matter anymore or is utterly impossible. Ellen came out when it cost her something. You didn't. When it mattered, you lied. Now it doesn't and I don't care.
If it doesn't cost you anything, you don't earn anything.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On the possibility of considering oneself Catholic

Cardinal Caffarra of the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for the Family recently stated that it is impossible to consider oneself Catholic if one believes that there is a right in any way—presumably, given the context of his statement, even in the merely civil sense both of "marriage" and of "right"—to same-sex marriage.
Since I consider myself Catholic and yet I believe that, in the strictly civil sense of both terms, there is a right to same-sex unions and marriages, he is wrong about this possibility. Anything that is, is possible.
But, much more importantly, it is interesting, to say the very least, that one apparently can think that one is a Catholic at the same time one is covering up the abuse of children. In fact, as in the case of Cardinal Law, one can even be promoted to Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, having done that very thing and then having done everything but lie under oath about it.
Of course, I am very aware that the powers that be both in the Vatican and in the diocesan chanceries around the world are busy blaming the sex-abuse crisis either on gays or on Vatican II or on secularization of society—ignoring the fact that it is isn't openly gay men who are molesting children, but men who claimed to be regular, old heterosexuals; that, for instance, the case most recently come to light in Wisconsin of a priest who molested at least 200 deaf boys began in 1950, more than a decade before Vatican II, a not atypical case; and, that the massive molestation and abuse in Ireland, covered in the Ryan and Murphy Reports, occurred in the most religious (i.e., least secularized) country in Western Europe, the only one in which lay people were likely to trust the clergy,  and went back many decades, including systematic abuse of a non-sexual nature in the Magdalene laundries—but this is nothing more than a red herring, designed to pretend that the real problem isn't the way that bishops in power have done all they can to protect the Church, by which they mean themselves and not the people. Clearly they are wolves positioning themselves as shepherds. 
There are probably no more molesters in the Church than there are in the general population, and I am genuinely sad for all those who have dedicated themselves to the Church and have now had themselves put under suspicion for nothing more than their vocation. The problem—and the one that the pope and others are unwilling to address—is that the hierarchy has acted like so many American CEO's, protecting the leadership, acting in the interest of the corporation, and blaming all failings on a few and never on the structure of unconnected, uninterested, power-hungry leadership. 
Most recently, there has been a spate of claims that every institution, whether it is a school or a scout organization, has the same culture of coverup and corporate-think, as if the claim to represent the teaching and body of Christ is absolutely meaningless, as if the Church shouldn't be held to a higher standard, as if it really were just a corporation that should be expected to fail and shouldn't even feel particularly bad about it, because, after all, such things happen.
Now, I'm not a Donatist, but before members of the hierarchy start telling me which moral and political beliefs I may have and still be a Catholic, they may want to get their own moral house in order. Ordination and consecration may have sacramental effects, but moral authority doesn't come with imposition of hands or the donning of the purple. It must be earned; and not many are earning it these days.
Christ said, "But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea." 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The problem with vitriol is that it burns and erodes everything it touches, all too often the one throwing it, as well.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The real threat of repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell

When Senators McCain and Sessions get all worked up about the very idea of repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, they couch their objections in terms of unit cohesion and making sure that units don't become sexualized. Now, of course, arguments centering on unit cohesion are exactly the arguments made against desegregating the armed forces. And, anyone who believes that units are currently sexualized has never spent time in groups of young men in any context: the military, a college dorm, a bar (of any type) on a weekend night.
So, what is the real threat of repeal. I propose that it is just this: if you let soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen know that there are gays among them—and let me tell you, there are lots of gays and lesbians among them, living in a military town and being gay makes this abundantly clear—they might actually realize that gays and lesbians aren't any different than anyone else. If you spend time with Blacks, you realize that Blacks and Whites aren't really that different; if you spend time with Latinos, you realize that Latinos and Anglos really aren't that different; and, if you spend time with gays, you might just realize that they aren't so different either. And, if that happens, what will the culture warriors do. I mean, if people actually start to know people who are different from them, it gets harder to hate them and oppose their equality. I've no doubt that desegregation of the military helped the Civil Rights movement. And, repealing DADT might just make anti-gay legislation harder to pass and make gays less useful in winning elections. Could that be the real fear?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The tenor of political debate in this country has made me think that it is really quite fortuitous, that—in spite of their different roots—"ideologue" and "idiot" sound so similar in English. There seem to be fewer and fewer instances in which the two words are not interchangeable without change of meaning.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Logical implications of extending the Bill of Rights to fictive persons

Corporations have always been fictive persons—or at least fictive bodies, given the root—in some sense or another. For profit corporations are fictive persons for financial purposes. If Corporation X owes me money and goes into default, I only have a right to some share of Corporation X's assets, as the fictive person involved, and not to the assets of all the shareholders of Corporation X. This is much like the idea that if you owe me money, I may be able to get it from your spouse in some states—because, in one legal sense, you really are one body, one corporate being with shared assets—but I cannot attempt to attach the assets of your parents or siblings or best friend, since they are distinct legal persons. So, the shareholders and even officers of a corporation are legally distinct from the fictive person of the corporation.
But, (five of) the Supreme Court Justices have told us that corporations and other fictive persons are persons with respect to the Bill of Rights. Inasmuch as they are such, it would seem to follow that they have the other rights (and responsibilities) of persons. It is important to note that the operative concept in both the common and the civil law is person and not human being, so we needn't worry about the fact that corporations are not humans.
So, quite apart from worrying about whether Coca-Cola has registered for the draft—wait, they are beyond that age now—we should ask our corporations to forego the middlemen of lobbyists and campaign contributions and merely run for office themselves. I offer for your consideration, the Senator from the State of California, Apple, the Mayor of New York, The Bloomberg Corporation (only a small step), and our new President, Berkshire Hathaway.


Within the American political context, if you call your opponent, left or right, a Communist or a Nazi or a Stalinist or, honestly, even a Socialist, you have made it clear that you have no idea what any of those terms mean.
And, if you talk about dictatorship, it is clear that you have never lived under one or even visited a country that ever had one.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Logical implications of the identity of money and speech

If, as the five justice majority of SCOTUS again ruled today, money really is speech, then why can one arrested for solicitation of prostitution not mount a defense claiming that he was merely doing the same thing as anyone trying to pick up a sexual partner in a bar, at a party or elsewhere.
The normal mode of pick-up is to talk to someone until such a time as they might be willing to engage in sex. Of course, it normally helps if one is attractive but we all know of cases where charm evinced through speech was enough to seal the deal.
Now, a john is offering money for a sexual act that he would not normally get. This is just what prostitution is. But, if money is speech in political contexts, why is it not speech in this context? And, if it is, the john is guilty of nothing more than speaking his way to sex. And that is mere fornication (or adultery), which is a crime almost nowhere these days.
By the same token, if a person accused of a crime has the right to argue his innocence—a clear instance of speech—why may he not simply pay the judge or jury a sum—money being speech—to make that charge disappear? Or do we already have that system?