We got a dusting of snow overnight, so – this being middle Tennessee – my school has just alerted us that we’ll be starting late this morning, at 9:40. That’s when my first class meets anyway, so I’ve not been gifted with more time after all.
Time’s slippery elusiveness: that’s a big theme today in class, and it’s my theme this week as I approach yet another birthday. My step-Mom sent a card and a charming old photo of my Dad at about age two. He’s been gone for over seven years now.
I awoke this morning, as I sometimes do, with the fragmented vestige of a quote I read somewhere recently clamoring for attention. The precise wording and source are eluding me. I’d like to pin it down, so I can call it up later at will. It was a well-wrought question about what causes some individuals and cultures to flourish, to greet each day with confidence, energy, and enthusiasm, while for others it’s a constant struggle with anxiety, trepidation, and dread.
Was it Eric Weiner in Geography of Genius? But I can’t find it there.
Whoever and wherever, it’s a good question and that’s a good book. Weiner thinks we overrate genetics and underrate the contribution of social environments in producing creativity and the zest for living and learning that you could call “genius” if you were careful not to mean something entirely beyond cultivation. We can plant and harvest the seeds of good living, it’s not an entire mystery as to why some lives and lifestyles flourish while others founder.
And that’s why we study the likes of Pyrrho and Epicurus and John Rawls, who’ll turn up in my classes today. Pyrrho the skeptic was no role model, if you ask me, but he apparently had a genius for attracting the protective patronage of his peers. People who doubt the danger of dancing at cliff’s edge don’t survive without it.
Epicurus was much brighter (in both the “Bright” senses of practical wisdom and sunny disposition), but his dismissal of death as “nothing to us” was disingenuously glib.
John Rawls comes into both our Atheism and Bioethics discussions today. His “circumstances of justice” suggest to Samuel Scheffler an aalogy to circumstances of value, and the idea that we only begin to truly grasp life’s exquisite tenuity when we acknowledge time’s scarcity. When time’s up, we’re out. That’s not “nothing,” Epicurus.
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