Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Liber-scary-anism: A Halloween Special

Let's say you have graduated from high school but you still yearn for that curious blend of hip intellectual precocity and dumbfounding moral obtuseness that only your 15-year-old self with his carefully dogeared copies of Atlas Shrugged and Thus Spoke Zarathustra could provide.  There is only one cure: you must turn to the annals of American libertarianism-- a sort of never-never land for perpetual adolescents of the head-smart and heart-stupid variety.  If all ideologies attract their own peculiar sort of moral blindness-- this is libertarianism's.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Parenting-- by the book

A post by Gracy Olmstead on Thursday touched off a related effort by Noah Millman to define the 10 essential children's books every kid should read.  I love making lists of this sort and immediately wanted to chime in-- but like my predecessors I also feel called to say something first about the nature and pitfalls of this exercise.  Giving kids reading recommendations is not really so innocent as it sounds.  Such lists may at first blush just seem like a series of works you once enjoyed written by other hands, but they are really lists of some of the chief forgers of your attitudes and identity.  Taken together, they are a blueprint of your personality.  In presenting them to children-- especially our children, if we are parents-- we are effectively saying: here, become me.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Philosophical Problem

Here's the problem I'm having:  for a long time I have been a smug philosophical foundationalist and realist.  Whenever I encountered someone firmly situated in that cluster of existentialism, pragmatism, and skepticism which tends to briefly captivate the young and cynical, I would throw out one of the usual self-righteous rejoinders: "If the world doesn't really exist, why are you bothering to argue the claim with me?"  "If there is no truth, then in what sense are you committed to the belief that 'there is no truth'?" "If no belief about reality is more valid than another, then what intellectual tools do you have to resist Nazism or some other manifestation of evil?" etc.  Pretty good, right?  These are all downright stumpers.  But the trouble is that punching holes in someone else's philosophical system cannot alter the position of what Antony Flew called the "well-girded skeptic."  In fact, it only serves to confirm skepticism.  Showing the wobbliness of a particular formulation of existentialism or pragmatism or what-have-you can only ever tell you about that formulation-- it can never tell you that your own preferred belief system, whatever it may be, is any better.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why Abortion Rights Matter

In encounters with the religious Left, whether in the form of Catholic Worker renegades or Sojourners-style Protestant Evangelicals, one often comes across the "Consistent Life Ethic"-- which, as the name implies, combines a "pro-life" stance on abortion and euthanasia with more traditionally leftist stances on the death penalty, foreign wars, poverty reduction, etc.  While this split may sound half-and-half, 50% liberal, 50% conservative, the suggestion is belied by the fact that few--if any-- of the folks espousing CLE would describe themselves as conservatives.  Besides, most of us on the less ambiguous left would favor the CLE approach a thousand times over to what might be described as the consistent death ethic of certain right-wing commentators.

Pity Not the Mole

“A small degree of vision is sufficient for a creature that is ever destined to live in darkness.  A more extensive sight would only have served to show the horrors of its prison.”
~Oliver Goldsmith (1774), quoted in Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes (1983)

Intolerable arrogance of the human mind!
Which pities the mole for being blind
And thinks it a mercy of man’s private God
To imprison a creature below the sod
And proceed to deprive what he enslaves
Of power to perceive its dismal cage.
            But consider this:

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Safety Net?: Part One

I'm afraid I don't have much to add about the shutdown apart from what can be found in any major news outlet this side of the pressurized doors of the rightwing echo chambers.  But since the current shenanigans revolve broadly around the size and scope of the American "safety net" I am inspired to say a few things about this slightly mythological entity.