It gets better

6:30/5:33, 73/81. Podcast.
William Strunk’s birthday. “Omit needless words!” Reminds me of James Watson’s pithy “avoid boring people.” (And boorish ones, which might let him out.) Good advice for bloggers and podcasters everywhere.

Yesterday’s happy arrival of Sandwalk Adventures, so deceptively comic, delivered a serious message: the long-term legacy of our species is inseparable from our immediate legacy, our children. Our students. Our successors. How we’ve raised, taught, connected with them has everything to do with the meaning of our lives and the fate of life itself. It plugs directly into two of my favorite William James quotes, the one about our really vital question being life’s denouement, the other about life being a chain “no stronger than its weakest link.”

And that imagery naturally evokes John Dewey’s continuous human community, and our responsibilities thereto.

Steven Pinker has made a strong case for progress, with his Better Angels. I haven’t picked it up yet, but I think that’s also Michael Shermer’s theme in The Moral Arc. We are getting better, headlines and hourly news flashes notwithstanding, in spite of ourselves.

But then there’s the depressing case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose disingenuous statement of indifference to his own legacy and disconnection from the rest of humanity betrays an unhealthy (if lightly camouflaged) self-preoccupation. Depressing to me, anyway, because Rousseau’s reveries – broken into ten walks – remain the best template I’ve yet found for my own Philosophy Walks project. Summarizing his project, he promises

a faithful register of my solitary walks, and the reveries which accompany them; when I find my mind entirely free, and suffer my ideas to follow their bent, without resistance or control. These hours of solitude and meditation are the only ones in the day when I am entirely myself, and for myself without diversion, or obstacle; and when I can truly say, I am what nature designed me…

My walks, though, aim to be different: to foster concern for all the legacies of life, forge connections of interest and care that transcend both walk and walker. I am myself, but unlike Rousseau and Ayn Rand I try not to be “for myself without diversion.”
Up@dawn the podcast is now on iTunes.

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