Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Better angels

March 6, 2013

No, not Trout and Pujols. They’re just the better-compensated Angels.

Lincoln’s marvelous closing lines from his 1st Inaugural came to mind during our discussion yesterday of the endemic human proclivity to resolve differences violently.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

(I think I prefer Day-Lewis, but let’s not fight about that.) Bill had asked us if we thought Hobbes was right, that we just can’t help ourselves, that it’s so ingrained in our permanent and instinctive nature that we’ll always require an iron-fisted external authority to keep an uneasy and temporary peace.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” George Santayana, a Platonist, evidently said that, not (as the Internet would have us believe) Plato. Like Yogi Berra, Plato did not say half of what he said. (Socrates probably didn’t say half of what Plato said he did either.) But Santayana did say:

“There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.”

“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”

“Love make us poets, and the approach of death should make us philosophers.”

“We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.”

“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”

“The mass of mankind is divided into two classes, the Sancho Panzas who have a sense for reality, but no ideals, and the Don Quixotes with a sense for ideals, but mad.”

(But maybe the two classes are those who think there are just two classes, and everybody else.)

As usual, more of us yesterday  seemed reflexively pessimistic about the human prospect. Also as usual, I put in a modest word for possibly-naive optimism. Most of us in that room, after all, weren’t being bellicose or territorial. We seemed a pretty good-natured bunch. Could Rousseau have been right just to this extent, that it’s our political and corporate institutions that tend to bring out our worst? Remember Ike’s “military-industrial complex“?  It hasn’t gone anywhere.

But there’s our glimmer of hope. Better institutions might deliver better behavior. It’s worth a try.

Steven Pinker enlisted Lincoln too, to counter our pessimism and point out that against all odds we are becoming a less violent species.

Well, recurring to George’s two classes: I vote for ideals tempered by reality improved by ideals tempered by reality and on and on. I’d love to believe things could only get better, but our satisfaction is not guaranteed. We’ll have to work for it.

And on that note, I still have some work to do in preparation for SAAP 13. My airport taxi arrives in about 22 hours.

“Did we invent God?”

November 30, 2012

Nice eclectic batch of final report presentations in CoPhi yesterday, with plenty of good-natured dissent and controversy.  Just like I like it.

Journey, Landy, & Paul again collaborated effectively, this time with a film interview project inspired by John Cottingham’s “Meaning of Life” PB podcast, and nicely backdropped at our library. They should put it up on YouTube. I was struck by how many of their subjects said they think about the MoL either often or never, and by how many mentioned family, friends, and faith. Only one mentioned 42.

Check out what Jean Kazez has been doing with her MoL class: some meaningful “X-phi.” And the amazing @brainpicker Maria Popova has gathered some thoughts on the subject too.

Edrell’s topic coincided with the Jesus & Mo “spiritual, not religious” cartoon I’d just re-posted, but which he says he’d not seen. His opening line to the class, not my favorite because we all hear it so often from the legions of small-minded hell-bent proselytizers around here: “Are you a Christian?” Not surprisingly, it generated the most heat but possibly too much passion to cast reflective light. If he’d wanted to really toss fire on the flames he might have also asked my question about heaven & hell, and Morgan Freeman’s:

Edrell, like me, considers himself “spiritual, not religious.” Unlike me, he says he doesn’t “have a problem with Judeo-Christianity” or think there’s “anything wrong with it.” There’s a huge problem, though (to mention just one) with the Hebrew Bible, accurately described by Steve Pinker as “one long celebration of violence.” If you thought the GOP had a problem with talking about rape… In the “good book” and in the “holy land” it was

seen as an offense not against the woman but against a man-the woman’s father, her husband,   or in the case of a slave, her owner. Moral and legal systems all over the world codified rape in ways. Rape is the theft of a woman’s virginity from her husband. Rapists can redeem themselves by buying their victim as a wife. Women are culpable for being raped. Rape is a perquisite…

And so it goes on, and on, and on. I say it’s time we shut that whole thing down.

Slightly less controversial was Kendall’s excellent report on human cloning, which also took us “through the wormhole.”

Michelle made me want to see Life of Pi, and Markethia made Marilyn Monroe sound like a philosopher.

Only parts of us will ever
touch only parts of others –
one’s own truth is just that really — one’s own truth.
We can only share the part that is understood by within another’s knowing acceptable to
the other — therefore
 so one
is for most part alone.
As it is meant to be in
evidently in nature — at best though perhaps it could make
our understanding seek
another’s loneliness out.

Rachel even made Aquaman interesting, without donning a costume.

Humans are inventive. Glad there are more of these to come next week!

back in the saddle

March 3, 2011

We go from the birth of Christianity thru John Calvin in our reading today in Intro, as midterm report presentations continue (and conclude in one section, maybe). Everyone else will be turning in essays, as Spring Break commences. I won’t be heading to Spokane, after all… and I feel fine. (But ask me about Spokane’s favorite former storyteller Julia Sweeney, if you dare.)

After the break, STUDENTS, we’ll resume with the Renaissance (O 59-75, PW 69-75).

But first, to follow up on our discussion in sec.14 of Patrick’s report on football: just in case anyone is tempted to think of chronic traumatic encepalopathy as exclusive to that sport and boxing, check the front page of the Times today-and check the grin on the hockey spectator’s face. This is barbarism. The resemblance to dogfighting is unmistakable.

And, sadly, to follow up on our culture of violence: another tragic incident has rocked our campus. When will it stop?

Jesus  was a doubter on at least one prominent occasion (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”) and seemed to have been “expecting something that did not seem to be happening.”JMH Others continue to follow his example. Are you worried about 2012? I wouldn’t be, at least not on account of anything in an ancient Meso-American calendar. There’s plenty enough to worry about here and now: “Tennessee Intolerance…”

One who followed Jesus (and re-messaged him) was Paul. He turned the story in a shockingly different direction. “In Paul’s hands, Jesus’ death and resurrection became the center of a new religion.” Faith triumphed over reason, belief became the currency of individual salvation, incarnation and crucifixion became mysterious markers of a shift in responsibility that yet has not set a legal precedent: the guilty, and too frequently the innocent too, pay the price of their own malfeasance.

Bart Ehrman, our recent Lyceum guest, has amply documented Paul’s role in spreading the gospel and getting it copied and copied and copied…

What was God doing, for all eternity, before these storied events in the desert two millennia ago? Preparing hell? Really?

That’s not the best, most comforting or “Christian” answer, as Augustine– influenced by Plotinus, fearful of a punitive afterlife (and thus unable to become an Epicure), famously reluctant to embrace the chastity of his Christian re-birth, but all too eager to believe– knew perfectly well.

Augustine gave Christians the stock “free will” solution to the problem of evil they’ve rested in ever since, and their dependence on undeserved divine grace that made the world safe for Calvinist predestination: more “difficult” doctrines to complement Paul’s on the redemptive resurrection.

His contemporary Hypatia would have found it difficult, indeed, to accept the Augustinian denial of evil as something no more substantively pernicious than mere “privation.” [Agora… Sagan’s Hypatia]

A couple centuries on, Muhammad arrived with his own personal transformative vision. Again, a new religion was born.

Isn’t it remarkable, how frequently history finds individuals– Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Muhammad, Joe Smith…–  whose improbable visions become the blind destiny of generations to come?


Augustine on free will, Muhammad on Christians & Jews & the world’s goodness, Mysticism, language, & reality, Zen nothingness, Peripatetics, Maimonides, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, regress, renaissance, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Radiohead