Posts Tagged ‘Blogger’

Fixing the broken world

June 2, 2020

Waking the morning after your youngest child’s 21st birthday ought to be a milestone-moment of deep life-satisfaction, oughtn’t it? Especially when that young woman is smart, kind, charming, generous, and so evidently destined for a good and munificent future? And likewise, for her older sister?

It is. It really does seem like only yesterday, when people were cautioning that we’d “turn around twice and they’ll be grown.” Cliches exist for a reason.

But what a world young people are being handed. When the emergency alert sounded at 10 pm last night it was almost reassuring to discover that it was “only” reporting an extension of the curfew. The largest looming crisis on our global horizon, the climate crisis, had been shoved practically out of sight by the pandemic, which itself has now been eclipsed by police brutality.

The president’s cupidity and stupidity, which in “normal” times would already have resulted in his disgraced ouster, barely get noticed now. Or rather, they’re noticed in the same way gravitation and a breathable atmosphere are noticed — they’re taken for granted, for the way things just are. He literally attacks a peaceable crowd for a photo-op with a Bible he’s likely never beheld in his life (not just that book, any book), and it’s merely a fleeting social media meme signifying nothing.

So, I say to all young people today what I said to Younger Daughter yesterday, a jokey amendment to the jokey gift of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 535 Easy(ish) Steps:

#536 — Always listen to your dad (and laugh at his jokes). Also, please fix the broken world. You and the best of your generation can do it.

It’s increasingly obvious that mine can’t. If hers will vote their consciences in November, though, change can come. Yes you can.



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Right of way

June 1, 2020

An ugly weekend of violent protests, charges and counter-charges of extremist instigation, curfews, this scary headline — “Protests Could Set Off a Second Coronavirus Wave, Experts Warn”…

But amidst it all, we’ve had the most gorgeous weather imaginable here this weekend, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary at an actual sit-down restaurant, Younger Daughter turns 21 today, and I’ve just discovered two new books about the physiological and emotional upside of the peripatetic life — In Praise of Walking and In Praise of Paths. “What interests me, however, is less physiological, more elusive: walking as a way of life.” (David Ulin)

Always look on the bright side.

Ulin wrote a fine book himself, on walking in Los Angeles — Sidewalking — which I need to send to Older Daughter.

Ulin’s review concludes with a line we’d do well to remember, as the “news”-worthy world continues to spiral frighteningly out of kilter: “Each stage of the journey has value on its own terms — which means it is the journeying rather than the arriving that offers the most necessary right of way.”

The way John McDermott said that was: the nectar is in the journey.

The way I say it is: walk on. If you happen to be a young adult who just attained the age of legal adulthood, walk in confidence of your ability to change a troubled world. You have the right of way.

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Walk on

May 29, 2020

Protests in the streets against police brutality, stoked by the racist psychopath in the White House… an ugly, primitive moment when it’s easy to forget that our species has in fact evolved and advanced from humble origins. I return again and again to Carl Sagan’s inspired and encouraging words.

“We humans have set foot on another world in a place called the Sea of Tranquility, an astonishing achievement for creatures such as we, whose earliest footsteps three and one-half million years old are preserved in the volcanic ash of east Africa. We have walked far.”

That’s why I’ll be watching closely again when they try to launch that rocket in Florida tomorrow. We’ve still got a long way to go, and we need to go together.

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Philosophers in the rain

May 28, 2020

Well I was really geeking out with all the pre-launch coverage on NASA’s livestream when they scrubbed the launch due to weather at about T-minus 18 minutes.

I’d been texting E & K, each independently assuring me they’d see to it I get to check attending a launch off my bucket list someday. That’s generous of them. I prefer to go while I’m still alive, and hope to live long enough to actually go for the ride. Joining Scotty (James Doohan) and Timothy Leary in orbit would be a nice fallback (though no cheaper any time soon, probably).

Can I get to Cape Kennedy before Saturday’s re-launch? Better not, that’s our anniversary.

So that was disappointing, but also an opportunity to practice my stoic chops and transition from disappointment to expectation. What can you do about the weather but accept it?


Guess there’s more to the philosophy of weather — and more to climate than weather — than stoic acceptance (which need not collapse wistfully in resignation). I’m kind of a skeptic and cynic, but not this kind. Sometimes I’m an epicurean. I’m almost always a peripatetic. I have a stick to notch. So the eclectic philosophy makes sense. Taking the long view takes us well beyond the morning forecast.

“In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.” Walden

We ambulatory peripatetics, unlike astronauts, tend to be pretty defiant of inclement weather. We can “toe that line” because crossing it is rarely catastrophic, our source of locomotion is not explosively combustible. Our defiance (of weather) is rarely life-endangering.

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” I always credit Mr. Twain with that witticism but apparently it was Mr. Warner who said it. Whatever. The implied advice, as William James Buffet said, is to take the weather with you and “sing like a bird released.” Sing in the rain. Or think. Or just be.

Point is, we can’t control externals but we can surely push ourselves to get up and out and do what needs to be done. We need to explore our world, close in and as far out as we can push. We’re wonderers and wanderers who’ve already walked far, undeterred by a few droplets.

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May 27, 2020
This afternoon we’ll find out if Elon Musk can successfully launch astronauts into the next frontier. “If a private company can loft humans to orbit today, why not the moon next or Mars some years in the future? A successful launch could ignite a future long imagined by science fiction writers in which space is a destination for more and more people.” nyt 
Or, it could escalate the monetization and militarization of space. Today, though, I’m going to focus on the brighter prospect and just enjoy the ride.
In anticipation, yesterday I tuned in to the NASA channel’s livestream from the ISS. Round and round the old globe spun, sunrise sunset… It was mesmerizing and, in a way I suppose many others might not fathom, joyously reassuring. Call it the joy of circling the rock.

A section of Sunday’s Times celebrated the unanticipated joys of life in quarantine, including “the joy of circling the block.” That’s nothing new to a peripatetic, we already knew the pleasures of close attention to the expanding circles of one’s native ground. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who just turned 217, was a peripatetic and thus a circler. “This surface on which we now stand is not fixed, but sliding…There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile.” Circles

Circling day after day after day, the volatility becomes manageable for those who’ve learned the art of sliding steadily and constantly onward. “We live best as appreciators of horizons, whether we reach them or not,” says my new favorite poet/philosopher David Whyte (“What to Remember When Waking”). 
Hold that thought, it’s full of  evolutionary and  environmental implications I look forward to exploring  in July’s virtual classroom (my reprised summer course Evolution in America) and in a real (!) classroom this fall (Environmental Ethics).
What I remember when waking and walking is what I tend to forget when caught up in everydayness, especially the beckoning horizon. That’s what makes today’s rocket launch so peripatetically compelling. Let’s get out there and see what’s just around the corner.

Space Cam - watch live video from the International Space Station ...

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May 26, 2020

That was a different sort of Memorial Day out in the public sphere, more subdued than the traditional kickoff of summer in years past–even for a holiday officially dedicated to solemn remembrance.  I biked past the empty public pool in our neighborhood, just to confirm that my neighbors have more sense than those oblivious revelers at Lake of the Ozarks. They do.

But it was a pretty typical Memorial Day in our backyard, with near-90 temperatures making our own little pool inviting, before yet another sudden storm blew in. The grilled burgers and dogs were great, as was the partial family reunion.

I spent much of the morning revisiting old home movies and memorializing my late dad, who passed in the fall of ’08. That May, twelve (!) years ago, I sat down with him for a series of meaningful conversations. Yesterday felt like the right time to revisit them. It was a pleasantly-jolting reminder that Faulkner and the old Irish proverb are right: the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past… (revised/extended update here)

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Darrow’s creed

May 22, 2020

I’ve always dismissed the form of magical thinking that imagines it possible to “attract” people and things merely by thinking them, but yesterday was fleetingly tempted to entertain it when I received an unsolicited email from someone I happened just then to have been thinking of.  Then I tried to recall all the times I’ve not opened emails from people I happened to have been thinking of, and realized the magic is merely a slick trick. Impressive in the moment, though.

Anyway, that email from a respected younger colleague discussed our mutual interest in the famous Scopes defender Clarence Darrow. My correspondent reflected on Darrow’s striking views concerning free will and criminal responsibility, and their relevance to conversations we’d had this past semester surrounding “neuro-existentialism” and the challenges posed by neuroscience to conventional notions of blame, punishment, “correction” etc.

I was reminded of a passage in John Farrell’s biography Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, from which I’d learned that Darrow and “my first landlord” Winterton Curtis, who made such an impression on me in my early youth, had conversed in Dayton Tennessee in 1925. Curtis divulged to Darrow that he’d just received a terminal cancer diagnosis and thought he had no more than a year to live.

I wonder how the dominoes of my life would have fallen, if Curtis had died three decades before my birth. My parents would never rented rooms in his home, he’d never have “pulled” dollar bills from my 6-year old ears, my father would never have speculated that the Curtis connection had something to do with my subsequent scholarly interest in evolution.

But that’s magical thinking too, isn’t it, to pluck particular contingencies from the converging streams of our lives and imagine that they were inordinately pivotal? Still, I’m fascinated by this particular what-if. And by another…

Curtis wrote to Darrow later, Farrell recounts, thanking him for “sharing a creed–‘that those who strive to live righteously as they see fit in this life need not fear the future.” What if we all shared that creed? We might think the resulting ethos of toleration and social comity was magical, indeed.

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Growing up

May 21, 2020

Maturity in the Kantian sense is going to be an anchoring theme in my CoPhi (Intro) classes this Fall, with Susan Neiman’s Why Grow Up? one of our new texts. She’s a Kantian, and while I’m generally not one in the ethical sphere I do also endorse the sentiment that accepting responsibility for one’s own thought is central to philosophy’s civilizing mission.

The Kantian point is another of those crucial remembrances our conformist natures press us to forget.

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding! What is Enlightenment?

Growing up is letting go of the false security that comes when we defer to what “they” all say and know, and realizing our own voice — but also realizing that our voice is finite, and part of a vast trans-temporal chorus. Self-possession of this sort goes hand-in-hand with a humanizing humility and species solidarity. 

It’s a late-dawning awareness for most of us, that at last brings real maturity and generosity. David Whyte, again, expresses this so well.

From his 2016 On Being conversation:

I often feel that one of the real signs of maturity is not only understanding that you’re a mortal human being and you are going to die, which usually happens in your mid-40s or 50s — “Oh, I am actually going to die. It’s not someone else I’m going to become.” But another step of maturity is actually realizing the rest of creation might be a little relieved to let you go [laughs] — that you can stop repeating yourself, stop taking all this oxygen up and make way for something else, which you’ve actually beaten a trail for. And it could be your son, your daughter, could be people you’ve taught or mentored; it could be — the more generous you are, the more that circle extends into our society and those who go after us.

More pithily, to repeat that marvelous line about the deepest source of unhappiness:

Why are you unhappy? -“Because 98.98% of everything you do is for yourself, but there isn’t one.”

So get over yourself, is the lesson. Grow up.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still have fun, which is why it delighted me to surprise Older Daughter with Ava Duvernay in her mailbox yesterday.

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What else to remember

May 20, 2020

So many things, we’re so forgetful.

What do you mean we?, you may say, Speak for yourself. 

Well of course, nobody elected me to speak for The People. We first of all means me, whenever we say it. But I’m not the only one, and I have a strong hunch I’m not alone in noticing that the simplest and most nourishing home-truths, the lessons of a lifetime that make the most tangible, practical, emotionally-sustaining difference  day by day, are also the  hardest to hang onto. David Whyte noticed, for one, lest I too quickly forget yesterday’s dawn post.

Remembering how much I like to catch random reflections at daybreak, after sharing Whyte’s poem, I pointedly set my alarm for the wee hours and then, predictably as the evening wore on, un-set it. But I awoke this morning well in advance of the designated and abandoned pre-dawn moment, anyway.

Some part of me remembered. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, meanwhile there are important conversations to be had, to be rehearsed. Whyte’s right, I think, it’s the nature of reality to aspire to wakeful words, reflections, recollections, perceptions, and (when the sun’s fully present, even on cloudy days in the mode of absence) immediacies beyond words.

Inspired by Whyte, yesterday, I also remembered the wise words of the industriously wakeful Trollope. “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

Really daily: remember not to forget. Every day. Or at least every weekday, more or less. Allowances must be made for Memorial Day, and anniversaries, and milestone birthdays… (I can see you frowning, Tony.)

And remember what Trollope also said, just a couple of paragraphs on (in his autobiography), about Mens sana in corpore sano. Health, in body and mind, is always a matter of balance, and of persistent habit. What worthy achievement isn’t, after all?

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What to remember

May 19, 2020

David Whyte’s 2010 poem  speaks to our historical moment, as well as to the break of day. But of course that’s what good poetry is supposed to do, isn’t it? The “other world” might be darkness and dreams, it might be the interior mind struggling to emerge into daylight, it might just be a more functional self. Whatever it is, we’re too quick to forget it. Good poetry remembers.

In that first
hardly noticed
in which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
and frighteningly
where everything
there is a small
into the day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.
What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.
What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.
To be human
is to become visible,
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.
To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance…
Excerpt from ‘What to Remember When Waking’
From RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press. ©David Whyte

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