Monday, February 24, 2014

What Alec Baldwin could have said

Instead of this, what if Alec Baldwin had just said:

"Anyone who has followed my career over the years knows that when someone affects my family I get angry. I'm an imperfect human being. And, when I get angry, I sometimes do and say things I shouldn't. I can't promise it won't happen again. That's not a fact I'm proud of, but it also doesn't define me. Anyone who has followed my professional and philanthropic work knows there is much more to me. I am sorry, but I ask that people judge me on the larger picture. Thank you."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Farm-trucks and firearms

We live in a society and time when the odds that you will die as a result of interpersonal violence are lower than they have been in all of human history. And, we also live in a time when more and more people are claiming a need to carry concealed weapons with them everywhere: churches, bars, schools, private businesses, public spaces, etc. 
More than half the men I see on campus or in a store are displaying the clip of a so-called tactical knife on their pants' pocket. Are they secretly SEALs? 
In spite of the sensationalism of the media and the overstatement of the dangers of the world from left and right—it's not a Hobbesian state of nature out there and the New World Order is not right around the corner—we are safer than we have ever been and many of us feel more need to protect ourselves.

Similarly, we live in a society and time when fewer of us live rural lives than any time in human history since the development of agriculture. Yet, I see more people driving Silverados and F-150s than I ever saw in the rural community where I grew up. Of course, in farming communities people tend to leave the farm truck on the farm and drive the car into town; something about pig shit in your truck makes it less presentable.
We have less need of large-bed trucks than ever, and now we drive them as luxury items. It cannot be because they are needed or because of their convenience in cities.

I think both phenomena are related. We live in a society where we are less and less self-sufficient. And, where what we do doesn't produce anything tangible, certainly nothing tangible that directly impacts our own lives—apart from money. You don't have to be a Marxist or influenced by Rousseau or a devotee of Ayn Rand to think that there's something in our nature that strives for autonomy and production and a sense of self-sufficiency. And our society doesn't provide much of any of that.
But a firearm or knife or farm-truck or pair of cowboy boots or even home brewery can signal, to some small degree, that I am after all in charge and capable of taking care of myself. It might still be a fantasy, but no less psychologically important for all that.

Friday, February 07, 2014

On loving teaching

To the relief of my students, we put Plato to rest today. I like to finish up talking about him by talking a little bit about the speeches of Aristophanes and Socrates in the Symposium. Having talked a lot about how reason—and philosophy—can help us ascend to the world of the Forms and into the presence of the Good, it's nice to get a little discussion of love and how it can do the same thing.
We discuss Aristophanes because I find his speech beautiful and a good precursor for other discussions of the need for an other to complement and complete us. And, there's something so damned funny about the idea of eight-legged double-humans rolling around and angering the gods. (That's where Hedwig and the Angry Inch got it.)
Then we talk about Socrates' (Diotima's) account. I don't go into a great deal of detail, because we are doing a survey, but I hit the idea that all love is love of the Good as it is reflected in the object of love, that love begins with love of particular bodies and moves upward, and that all love is a longing for immortality. On that last point, we talk about the way that procreation is a hungering for immortality. And, then I talk about other ways to live on. Usually, I talk about living on through whatever influence I have on my students. 
And, today I told them that I love them. And, I do. It's a hard thing to say, because we so often take love to either be romantic love, or familial love, or the totally banal I-love-you-man non-emotion. We devalue the loves of friendship, I think.
After doing it for sixteen years, I still find teaching absolutely terrifying. I still get sick to my stomach every morning that I have to teach. I still don't know what to do in the minutes before lecture or discussion begins. I'm still as socially awkward in those moments as I am at a party. 
But, I love teaching. I'm not always sure I'm very good at it. But, I'm pretty damned lucky to get to discuss things I get excited about and other interesting ideas with groups of young women and men. And, as I told one class, they are as close to my children as I'm going to have. And, for all of that, I love them.