Scholars and politics

Moving poem today about feeling “stretched between past and future,” rooted in time while gazing forward through moon and stars, imagining much earlier gazers who “stood where I stand, dreaming of what we’ve become.” It evokes for me that collective mortal afterlife we’ve been pondering in Atheism, and the thought that living fully in the present is not denying or repudiating our future but realizing that our present was, in the past, their future.

A teacher’s job is to help prepare young people of the present to meet and manage their future, when it presents itself. A scholar’s job is to hone the skills of critical reflection that inform good teaching. I keep having to remind myself of that, these strange days, when it can seem irrelevant and self-indulgent to pursue a scholar’s agenda while a carnival-barking, bullying “reality” huckster marches unimpeded towards a shot at the highest office in the land.

Next week I’m heading out to Portlandia to chair a philosophy session at the SAAP conference on Emerson and Dewey. What would they say about our current politics, and what a scholar should have to do with it? Would they think our time, at this moment, could be better spent than in extended and probably irresolute discussion of how naturalistic and Hegelian they were, respectively? Would they feel the Bern?

Emerson said lots of empowering things about the American Scholar but he could not possibly have imagined this moment. I barely can. But he’s right, there’s a right and wrong way to do it. “In the right state, he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.” We’re hearing lots of parrots on the campaign trail and in the reporters’ galleries, but not much parroted thinking.

Dewey said “We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.” That we includes us and them, the gazers and dreamers of our present and those to come. In times like these it’s comforting to imagine them, looking back on us and shaking their heads in astonished wonder.

5:35/6:25, 40/42
6:00/6:26, 56/35

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