“Isn’t a Christianity without a physical resurrection less powerful and awesome? When the message is about love, that’s less religion, more philosophy.” Why can’t a philosophy of love be powerful and awesome, @NickKristof? https://t.co/SxJ8ZjQXV1

April 20, 2019

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“Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun…Choose to stay” @Freudeinstein https://t.co/rB0tigqB4d

April 19, 2019

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April 18, 2019

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Zest

April 18, 2019

We wrap up our semester today, pending next week’s exams and final posts.

Kurt Andersen says the right has now effectively raised two generations of “fair and balanced” Fox-watchers who discount all facts that contradict their opinions. That was a joke, back in grad school: “Discard all facts that dispute your theory,” was the parody principle with which we mocked our own earnest seriousness. Now it’s evidently the new “norm”… how SAD.

It’s evident that the incumbent POTUS understands very little of the machinery and purpose of shared governanace. And yet he seems to have understood  “better than almost everybody” that “the breakdown of a shared public reality built upon widely accepted facts” is a golden opportunity for his variety of huckster hustler politics, under cover of the “Don’t even think about it…” mantra.

UCONN’s Michael Lynch is one of the most astute observers of these truth-discounted times, and of the crucially enabling role played the Internet has played in diluting our commitment to a “shared public reality.” In The Internet of Us he writes.

My hypothesis is that information technology, while expanding our ability to know in one way, is actually impeding our ability to know in other, more complex ways; ways that require 1) taking responsibility for our own beliefs and 2) working creatively to grasp and reason how information fits together… greater knowledge doesn’t always bring with it greater understanding.

We’re glutted with information, much of it false or irrelevant, while starving for wisdom and integrity. The “gods of silicon valley” will have much to answer for, if they don’t step back from their unexamined support of authoritarianism in the public sphere (gathering and disseminating user data for the benefit of self-interested politicians, providing a ready and eagerly-neutral platform for all kinds of misinformation and outright lies, etc.)

But there’s good news: it can’t get much worse, we’re surely at Peak Fantasy now. Aren’t we? 


The final installment of American Philosophy: A Love Story reveals William Ernest Hocking’s possibly illicit fantasy love interest, the Nobel novelist Pearl S. Buck. She declared herself “weary unto death” of proselytizing hypocritical American fundamentalist missionaries in China. Much like Barbara Kingsolver’s later tale of missionaries in the Congo, she thought the do-gooders did far more harm than good when condescending to their “lost sheep.” We’d all do better to listen and learn what we can from one another, rather than trying so hard to win converts to our own POV.

Gabriel Marcel was the French Existentialist (and fan of Hocking) who, contrary to the more prominent rockstars Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus, did believe in God. He said “life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.” Can’t it be both? But he and his atheist counterparts did agree was that philosophy must begin in actual human experience and “the concrete stuff of life,” not in airy theoretical abstractions. 

The dead are gone, in body, and many of us also doubt their presence in any form of supernatural spirit. But their memories, legacies, and (for those who committed their thought to print) words may persist. Is it some sort of ancestor cult that engages those thoughts and continues the conversation with the old dead philosophers? 
No. We mustn’t worship them, but why wouldn’t we want to conduct a virtual dialogue with the wisest of the dead? Human finitude may be tragic but it needn’t be a total loss. The dead and the living may continue to commune together. What else is a library but a gathering place for secular (though in its bibliophilic/philosophic way sacred) communion?

John Kaag ends his book where he began it, retutrning to the question of whether life is truly worth living. His answer may strike some as disappointingly equivocal. It’s been suggested that “maybe” is not so good an answer to that question as “possibly,” with the latter’s emphasis more hopeful and encouraging. 

That’s as may be, but the publication of Kaag’s latest book Hiking With Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are gives strong indication that his “maybe” is as positive an affirmation as can be. As Nietzsche expressed it: “The formula of my happiness: A Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal.” And as Viktor Frankl quoted Nietzsche in Man’s Search for Meaning, “He who has a why to live can endure almost any how.” 
And finally, as Kaag puts it in the last paragraph of his Acknowledgements, the project at West Wind, the recovery of love and purpose, and especially the birth of his daughter have all converged to restore for him the “zest” the makes life so very worth living. Zest awaits us all. Even in Fantasyland.

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Black hole of happiness https://t.co/GoaO3Ygrjt

April 17, 2019

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@SEAofMTSU Good to see S.E.A. getting back in the game!

April 17, 2019

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April 16, 2019

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April 16, 2019

In CoPhi, Fantasyland comes to Disney. And Disneyland only makes sense, of course, in a world of fantasy capable of Disney-fying itself and deliberately adopting a theme-park identity. That’s not all bad, Kurt Andersen thinks; otherwise we’d have nothing resembling historic preservation at all.

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Celebration, FL (“ruined by mold and shoddy construction“)

On the other hand, when a third of park patrons are nominal grown-ups we have to ponder the implications of an infantilized America. Psychologist Alison Gopnik says we’re most childlike when consuming, or really consumed by, our fictions. The fantasy-industrial complex of our time now practically guarantees our perpetual prepubescence. Kids R Us, in the world of make-a-wish.

(Peter Singer, btw, has thoughts about the foundation of that name. Is it better to spend $7,500 on making a sick kid’s wish to hang out with Batman come true, or to save several other from immanent starvation? Is that really such a hard call? Only in a Disneyfied land.)

And speaking of magical/wishful thinking, Rhonda Byrne’s Secret counsel is to “be like a child, and make-believe… and watch the magic begin!” That’s the faith of our “dominant religion” in the church of Get Yours Now (a spin-off of Flip Wilson’s Church of What’s Happenin’ Now), the confident belief that wishing will make it so. Our popular music tells the tale: When you wish upon a star, I’m a believer, Oh oh oh it’s magic, y’know… etc.


Children frequently do imbibe the faith and hit the jackpot here. America’s Facebook fantasy made Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire at twenty-three, quicker than he could grasp the meaning or importance of privacy. Lots of Wall Streeters were (and are) Wunderkinds too, right up until they weren’t. Too big to fail? Or too young to know the meaning of the word?

In American Philosophy: A Love Story, John Kaag and his close colleague made an unsettling discovery: the women were all in the attic, at the West Wind library. Even Lydia Maria Child, “first woman of the Republic,” “grande dame of American transcendentalism,” observed with barely concealed contempt for the blithely unaware sexism of her time that women had no choice but to be “self-reliant” in a world of benighted male chauvinists.

Hull House founder Jane Addams defeated Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Edison in 1913, and won a Nobel Prize in 1931. I’ll bet half of you never heard of her, or the Settlement House movement of which she is the most salient example. How is that possible? Well, she was in the attic.

The humane ideals of philosophers in the American tradition have stood  too much in the shadow of over-intellectualizers who value the abstract ideas over concrete experience. Addams, inspired and supported by John Dewey, pushed back hard.


Agnes Hocking’s Shady Hill School sounds like fun, with its supra-rational exuberance and all. I saw an old 60s protest poster complaining about “no poetry in your lectures.” Not a problem at Shady Hill, if May Sarton can be believed.

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April 15, 2019

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Henry James in broad daylight

April 15, 2019

It’s Henry James’s birthday. He wrote long meandering self-interrupting elegant sentences that drove his older brother William right up the wall. In a 1905 letter William complained to his sibling of the latter’s “method of narration by interminable elaboration of suggestive reference (I don’t know what to call it, but you know what I mean)…”

And then he asked Henry: “But why won’t you, just to please Brother, sit down and write a new book, with no twilight or mustiness in the plot, with great vigor and decisiveness in the action, no fencing in the dialogue, no psychological commentaries, and absolute straightness in the style?”
Henry, always gracious in his praise of Older Brother’s books and ideas, declined. In literary circles he’s managed well enough without William’s enthusiastic approval, at least according to those who consider him The Master.

“We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

Why so dark? And in fact, Henry was peripatetic enough for us to suppose that at least some of his best work was due to the time he spent ambling and cycling in daylight. 

In the foyer at Lamb House stood a round table upon which were piled hats, gloves, scarfs, and walking sticks for every possible scenario: golf, walks, rides… In Rye, James struck the right balance between work and leisure. At 3 p.m., he walked its streets. As one guest recalled, James had ”the air of a curate making the rounds of his village.” On first-name terms with the butcher boy and the postman, he also indulged in gossip with Rye society, who welcomed his presence. One dowager objected to his not playing bridge. ”For he really has a very clear mind,” she lamented. He was saving it for the late afternoons, when he returned home to read and revise the morning’s work.

Like an earlier Henry, he too walked to work. And rode.

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