Archive for January, 2020

Happy birthday Tom Paine

January 29, 2020

from Twitter

RT @EthicsInBricks: “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” – Immanuel Kant

January 29, 2020

from Twitter

We can’t all be pantheists or fatalists.

January 29, 2020

from Twitter

I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Cosmic philosophy

January 28, 2020

from Twitter

Cosmic philosophy

January 28, 2020

We noted in class the other day the valuable catalytic function of philosophy, often also achieved by literary adepts, as a constructive provocateur of others’ thinking. Gish Jen’s new novel The Resisters, whose total literary charms Dwight Garner seems not entirely to recognize in this review, is one I’ve been looking forward to ever since Ann Patchett began touting it as a game-changer months ago. How can I resist? It appears to be a timely addition to the environmentally-woke genre known as cli-fi, and it imagines a future in which baseball, at least, still thrives.

“The Resisters” is set in a future surveillance state known as AutoAmerica. The ice caps have melted, and much of the land is underwater. A racial and class divide has cleaved the population.

The “Netted” have jobs, plush amenities and well-zoned houses on dry land. The “Surplus,” most of whom live on houseboats in “Flotsam Towns,” have scratchy blankets, thought control and degradation. Members of this underclass have not begun to grow gills, like the buff men and women in Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld,” but that may not be far off.

Much of the futuristic language Jen deploys, her portmanteaus, reflects the banality of both corporate uplift (“SpritzGrams,” “WrinkErase”) and state-sponsored evil: “EnforceBots,” “ToeBombs,” “AutoWar.” There’s been an anti-immigration push called “Ship’EmBack.” There is “Total Persuasion Architecture.” I could have used a few more paragraphs about “EgoShrink,” “HomoUpgrade” and “GonadWrap.”

Into this totalitarian landscape, like a flower slipped into the barrel of a rifle, Jen inserts an almost old-fashioned baseball novel. We meet Gwen, a young southpaw with long fingers and hair dyed the color of a David Hockney swimming pool. She redoes her ponytail on the mound between pitches before launching her blistering fastball and her spookily precise off-speed stuff. Her slider and curveball combination — her slurve — is a killer…

Well I’m hooked, and I probably have my subject for the 2021 Baseball in Literature & Culture Conference (having already committed to The Brothers K this year).
Today in CoPhi it’s “Cosmic Philosophy” (and more) which can mean many different things to different people, all having to do with the perception of oneself as one with an ordered and rational universe (and with everyone and everything in it). To me, it means pondering William James’s “really vital question for us all,” which he posed in Pragmatism (Lecture 3): “What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself?” He’s been gone from this world for a century and a decade now. I imagine he’d say we’re going to have to do better. An essay in the Sunday Times noted our present dearth of speculative and hopeful wonder, in the darkness where dreams of a better future should be.

Carl Sagan says that too, in the remarkable Pale Blue Dot soliloquy I never tire of. Sagan’s first little book The Cosmic Connection, which I first read back in High School, was one of the lures that brought me to philosophy’s sense of wonder at our oneness with it all. “The cosmos is within us…”

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

John Muir was another cosmic philosopher of literary genius. “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” Gorgeous indeed.
In A&P today we turn explicitly, not for the last time this semester, to our anchoring theme of meaning and purpose. Julian Baggini closes the chapter on that subject with a short list of atheists whose lives were indisputably purposive and meaningful. He might have included Sagan…

“The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium

And Christopher Hitchens.

“A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’ except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so.” Hitch-22: A Memoir

From the archives:
9.3.19 [LISTEN] Nice long holiday weekend, must remember this is Tuesday… and not forget Happiness, where we had a delightful conversation last time about one of my favorite films by a morally-compromised director. What are the things that make life living, for me? Let’s see…

I enjoyed how our upcoming Lyceum speaker from Vandy noted the irony of celebrating Labor Day as a prof “at a university founded by a notorious union-buster”… and couldn’t resist echoing the observation. My university’s “most prestigious scholarship is named for a Koch-funded alum whose campaign of extreme libertarian stealth has damaged our democracy.” Our Buchanan scholars, not to mention our entire faculty and staff, should all read Democracy in ChainsThen maybe we can muster a movement to remove his name, along with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s from the ROTC Building (and something like a gazillion streets in middle Tennessee). Names and symbols do matter.

BTW, The Times let me set the record straight Sunday: William James was not a “white-man’s-burden” nationalist/imperialist/racist like his friend Kipling

And on Sunday Morning, General Mattis pulled out his copy of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. I’d wondered how he coped with working for an impossible Commander in Chief.
We’re talking cosmic perspective in CoPhi today. Did you see the Super Blood Wolf moon last night? Or the big eclipse, August before last? Celestial events always dwarf the petty pace of politics and pop culture, and restore – however briefly – a sense of perspective so crucial to the philosophizing imagination. Even an ordinary everyday experience in the open air of dawn can evoke that cosmic feeling, as it did for me on my morning dog-walk today (I can’t speak for the dogs, they didn’t seem particularly moved. But they do always seem to have a sane perspective on things, from a canine point of view.) The moment we stepped out into the predawn we were met by a bright and brilliant post-supermoon, joined shortly thereafter by a fireball sunrise. Look up!

“The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge. But it’s more than just what you know. It’s also about having the wisdom and insight to apply that knowledge to assessing our place in the universe. And its attributes are clear:

The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it’s not solely the province of the scientist. The cosmic perspective belongs to everyone.
The cosmic perspective is humble.
The cosmic perspective is spiritual—even redemptive—but not religious.
The cosmic perspective enables us to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.
The cosmic perspective opens our minds to extraordinary ideas but does not leave them so open that our brains spill out, making us susceptible to believing anything we’re told.
The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life but as a cold, lonely, hazardous place.
The cosmic perspective shows Earth to be a mote, but a precious mote and, for the moment, the only home we have.
The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.
The cosmic perspective enables us to see beyond our circumstances, allowing us to transcend the primal search for food, shelter, and sex.
The cosmic perspective reminds us that in space, where there is no air, a flag will not wave—an indication that perhaps flag waving and space exploration do not mix.
The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth but also values our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself.

At least once a week, if not once a day, we might each ponder what cosmic truths lie undiscovered before us, perhaps awaiting the arrival of a clever thinker, an ingenious experiment, or an innovative space mission to reveal them. We might further ponder how those discoveries may one day transform life on Earth.

Absent such curiosity, we are no different from the provincial farmer who expresses no need to venture beyond the county line, because his forty acres meet all his needs. Yet if all our predecessors had felt that way, the farmer would instead be a cave dweller, chasing down his dinner with a stick and a rock.

During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore—in part because it’s fun to do. But there’s a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us. In that bleak world, arms-bearing, resource-hungry people and nations would be prone to act on their low contracted prejudices. And that would be the last gasp of human enlightenment—until the rise of a visionary new culture that could once again embrace the cosmic perspective.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

And, the cosmic perspective dismisses all narrow parochialism. The Tennessee eclipse? Really?

In Nashville’s sky, a ring of fire (nyt)…
Originally published August 21, 2017
[Posted just after the solar eclipse:]
…Weren’t you happy to experience and share that cosmic diversion last Monday? But that gets it backwards. Politics, impactful though it is on lives and prospects, is the diversion. We need to remember that we’re standing on a planet that’s evolving, and revolving, etc. We need to retain a cosmic perspective. Then, we’ll not be so inclined to discount the importance of our happiness.

If we were to ask the question: “What is human life’s chief concern?” one of the answers we should receive would be: “It is happiness.” How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure.

Thus spake my philosophical spirit-guide James, a little over a century ago. But if that’s too current, you can go back to Aristotle. “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” 

But the issue of our existence is never settled by the citing of authorities, no matter how lustrous. We have to work it out for ourselves, find a way to flourish in personal terms while also remaining responsibly committed to the welfare of our peers and the survival of our species. No simple task, but there’s none more urgent.

That sounds almost grim, in an existentialist sort of way. “You will never be happy,” said Camus, “if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

Well, I disagree. That’s too pessimistic, too Schopenhaurian.

“What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.”

If that’s the course you signed on for, this one will disappoint. The world does have a great deal to offer. It has a world. We get to live here. We’re the lucky ones who got to live at all, who’ll get to be happy if we apply ourselves just a bit to the question of how to do it.

 That, anyhow, is our working hypothesis. It makes me happy to begin working it out again. We’ll see if we can verify the SoL’s 60-second secrets, and its preference for eudaimonia.

There’s nothing more fun, and often funny, that the pursuit of happiness.

Image result for happiness cartoons new yorker

Image result for happiness cartoons new yorker  Image result for happiness cartoons new yorker

via Blogger

The dearth of optimistic visions of the future, at least in the United States, is central to the psychic atmosphere of this bleak era. Pessimism is everywhere… via @NYTOpinion

January 26, 2020

from Twitter

MTSU RS always has the coolest apparel.

January 23, 2020

from Twitter

@rickd24a I forgot he opened for Elvis. What a way for a musician to exit!

January 23, 2020

from Twitter

@CrispinSartwell He was a kind, decent, generous man and a creative philosopher who was encouraging to me as well. Sad when someone who so treasures mental clarity succumbs to dementia.

January 23, 2020

from Twitter

Can’t help noticing that my own pals and I have lately been sharing notice of others’ mortality – our old prof John Post, and the singer-songwritier we used to hear a lot back in grad school David Olney. Wonder whose mortality we’re really noticing?

January 23, 2020

from Twitter