Archive for August, 2009

Just say NO to the S & R “Debate”

So there was this “Darwin Festival” at Cambridge (UK) celebrating 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species.  At the event, there were, evidently, two Templeton Foundation funded sessions.  Daniel Dennett attended these sessions as a member of the audience. His report is here.  He introduced himself as “one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”  Dennett found the whole thing “wonderfully awful.”

The “battle” between “science” and “religion,” as Dennett, along with his comrades Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et. al., as well as their many detractors, would have it, is between two monolithic opponents.  These two mighty warriors can be described as either the cool truth of pure reason vs. the infantile superstitious opium of the sheep-like masses, or as the angels of Truth-with-a-capital-T, the Big Truth behind the veil of appearance vs. a crabbed yet hubristic anthropocentric understanding of the mere surfaces of things.  Depending on what side you are on.

It is never a fair fight in the battle between science and religion.  Not for the reason Dennett might say–“we have the truth and they are stupid” or “I can beat them with one lobe of my brain tied behind my back.” No.  It is not a fair fight because religious people are so nice.

Religious people are taught to turn the other cheek.  It is easy to make fun of the religious people because they’re so, well, prissy.  Pro-religion blogs are not peppered the F-word and the S-word and the Bull-S-word, as you will find in the Pharyngula science blog entries.  Religious people are just uncool.  And wimpy.  After all, it was the science people who invented the iPhone and weapons of mass destruction.  How cool and powerful is that?  Not to mention that religious people have a very ugly history.  Yet they are ashamed of it.  They feel pretty awful about slavery, slaughter, crusades, and the like. They are taught to repent of their sins, to seek to be transformed.  They are taught to take chastisement from enemies as if it came directly from God.  They forgive as they would be forgiven.

Religous people are very genteel…not very good fighters.

Not so the “Brights,” as some like to be called.  They are savage in their wit, brutal in their tactics, unforgiving in their quest for cosmic justice.  They are also quite cranky.  And not very polite.

Reading the Dennett blog and the hundred and fifty or so comments is like listening to a bunch of Mean Girls.  The blog entry is steeped in hostility, anger, mockery, arrogance, ignorance (Dennett just now heard the word “kenotic”?).  The contributions to the “discussion” in the comments section consist almost entirely of self-congratulatory me-too-isms, some “yeah,-what-he-said’s,” and some “No, they’re not stupid; they’re FUCKING stupid!”-type insights.  They sound like Homer Simpson, who, while lying on his couch in his underwear one Sunday morning, smoking a cigar while the rest of the neighborhood was at church, wonders, as he accidently sets fire to his house, burning it to the ground:  “Why is everyone stupid except me?”

But it all seems persuasive because of the mockery.  Mockery works.  Most commentors think Dan is very “funny” and love his “dry humor.”  These are just the kind of people who think putting dog shit in a paper bag, placing it at your front door, lighting it on fire, then ringing your doorbell is funny, too.  I think by “dry” they meant “sophomoric.”

Don’t get me wrong:  when it comes to being sophomoric, no one holds a candle to me…no matter how genteel I am.  I am simply pointing out that this “battle” is no battle at all but a piece of low-rent performance art.  And again, I’m all about low-rent performance art…so long as we remember that that’s what it is.  But religious people shy away from this sort of vulgar behavior because of their disciplined moral training.  So it is not boxer vs. boxer, but boxer vs. ballerina.  People who like seeing ballerinas beat up will get their jollies, I’m sure, but there is no doubt about the outcome.  It’s just a bloody show.

In many ways, this “battle” is similar to the political “battles” performed for a public audience by the Republicans and the Democrats.  Both sides claim truth and denounce their opponents’s views as mere wishful thinking nonsense or dangerous ideology.  It is a Manichean drama that insists our deciding which side we’re on is a matter of life and death.  In fact, though, this “battle” is no more than a tempest in a teapot designed (evolved into?) a means of making it seem like there is a lot at stake when the only real beneficiaries remain the same no matter what is decided.

The “battle” between science and religion is like that.  Nothing of any substance, of any real existential importance, is debated by either side in this battle–mainly because both sides think about existence and truth in exactly the same way.  I realize it is not always easy to see this–the same holds for our politics.  The two sides seem so far apart!  Atheist vs. theist.  Big government vs. small government.  How can these “views” (actually they are blindspots, not views) be the same?

Let’s take the second view first:  it assumes that government (as we more or less know it) is a reality and an obvious necessity.  Is it?

The first view:  both take the question of whether “there is” a “God” as important and answerable.  But is it?

Just as I would advise you not to take sides between Republicrat and Democan, so I would advise you not to take sides between the Dennett’s and the Dembski’s.  It is a false dilemma.  Forcing it is a ploy for political power by means of, again, low-rent performance art.

Now, when Dan isn’t engaged in wanton mockery, he actually does ask some good questions.  Although I am not one of the Four Horsemen, here among Dan’s questions is almost verbatim a question I asked at my very first “science-and-religion-conference” years ago and that I’ve been asking ever since.  Here’s Dan:

In the discussion period I couldn’t stand it any more and challenged the speakers: “I’m Dan Dennett, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and we are forever being told that we should do our homework and consult with the best theologians. I’ve heard two of you talk now, and you keep saying this is an interdisciplinary effort–evolutionary theology–but I am still waiting to be told what theology has to contribute to the effort. You’ve clearly adjusted your theology considerably in the wake of Darwin, which I applaud, but what traffic, if any, goes in the other direction? Is there something I’m missing? What questions does theology ask or answer that aren’t already being dealt with by science or secular philosophy? What can you clarify for this interdisciplinary project?” (Words to that effect)

Not all of Dan’s questions are unanswered (let alone unanswerable).  For instance, theology asks lots of questions that science and secular philosophy do not deal with.  Those questions are just the ones that make theology into its own “discipline.”  Science and secular philosophy don’t address this set of question because it’s not in their bailiwick.  And while I’m not big into shoulds and shouldn’ts, religion and secular philosophy shouldn’t pretend to be doing science.  And science is not philosophy, secular or otherwise.  Lots of interesting stuff happens at the borders, however, and to think of borders as timeless universals is a colossal mistake.  A little poaching now and then never hurt anybody (at least not permanently).  But in general there are many different ways of coming to terms with our experience and our reality.  Science, philosopy, and theology are pretty good ones (legitimate objections notwithstanding). All of us are free to think any given question or set of questions is not worth pursuing.  It’s still putatively a “free country.”  But these three “ways” are time-tested.

Dan is right, though, to demand of those who engage in the “science and religion dialogue” to articulate just what theology has to say to science qua science.  I’ve been in this game full time for almost 8 years, and I have never heard a good answer. Well, I think I do in fact know the answer:  the answer is nothing.  The way scientists work has nothing whatever to learn from religion or even philosophy.  It gets along just fine, thank you.  No Bible readings necessary.

But people with theological insights or sentiments or whatever you call it do have an interest in public policy and our common life together–just like scientists.  In general, the practice of science is to determine the “what” and, when it can, the “how.”  But it cannot determine the “why” (maybe no one can) and it has no privileged position on the “whether.”  No one has to accept the legitimacy of the principle:  We can; therefore, we ought.

I do want to acknowledge that Dan and Richard and Christopher and Sam almost never point at some specific”religious” thing without RIGHTLY calling that at which they point “bullshit” (or worse, dangerous).  Of course, they are making a highly selective inventory of the effects of religion upon which to comment.  In do doing, they, too, spew a lot of nonsense.  Defenders of religion, for instance, are chastised for trying to separate the idea or essence of a thing from the practices of those who claim allegiance to that idea.  Dan doesn’t want religious people to talk about religion without reference to history, practices, and institutions.  Very well.  But does “science” ever NOT come packaged in history, practices, and institutions?

So it would seem that if all Christians are to be held responsible for the crusades and Muslims for contemporary terrorism (and some were/are, btw), then all the Militant Atheists are responsible for the murders of 100 million or more people in the 20th century alone, many precisely for holding religious beliefs.  And the nuns over there at the convent did not invent DDT, Agent Organge, military drones, or nuclear bombs.  It wasn’t Pope or Patriarch who dreamed up Auschwitz, the Gulag, and Hiroshima.  No, (some of) you Brights did all that, for one reason or another.  But mainly because you–like your sworn enemies–think you have it all figured out.

I am pained to admit that I actually know some people who really do think Darwinian ideas are the work of the devil.  Seriously!  People who are gainfully employed, live in nice neighborhoods, and have A-student children at state universities.  I’d find that completely inexplicable, except that I know the explanation:  they have been spoon-fed ideology for purposes other than trying understand how the world works, come what may.  They have no interest in science, no interest in learning how things work.  When they deny Darwinian ideas they are not talking about science at all.  It is not a scientific claim they are making…not even a philosophical claim. But it is also not a theological claim.  It is a political claim, a “manufactured consent” for extraneous purposes not particularly linked to their own self-interest (although it is likely they’ve been taught to think so).

And when Dan and Richard get after religion, they are not making any scientific claims and they have no particularly relevant scientific agenda.  No sensible person will suffer abject ignorance gladly, and such anti-Darwinian inanity is nearly intolerable.  I also know that poor Richard clearly has his scars from the abuse he suffered in his youth at the hands of religious people.  Why wouldn’t he be after “religion” with any stick he can find to beat it with?  But none of this has anything much to do with what science is or does.

What about the question of funding research?  Some religious people do want to prevent certain kinds of research, say, embyronic stem cell research, that the neo-atheists endorse.  Is this, though, a matter of science?  Do scientists hold a morally privileged position in that debate?  Or again, the neo-athesists don’t want to be “at the teat” of the Templeton Foundation, for instance, because JTF “adulterates science.”  Well, you go, boys!  But where does the money come from for “legitimate” research?  Who funds “scientific” medical research?  Who funds “scientific” agricultural research?  Who funds “scientific” climatological research?  Who funds “scientific” materials research?  Who gets published and who gets tenured?  No ulterior motives at work in any of these issues, I’m sure!  When I say hands off science, I would mean ALL hands off–except that is impossible.  There is a method for articulating and testing hypotheses, for coming to learn about the material world.  That is one of the truly great achievements of human kind.  To allow religious ideology to diminish that is insupportable.  But the ethical and political questions are something else entirely.

Let me put it this way:  All you who think you have it all figured out scare the daylights out of me, both “science” defenders and “religion” defenders.  Call yourselves the “Elect” or the “Voice of Reason,” I don’t care. You are either fools or idolators…and potentially dangerous.

Just say No to the S&R debate.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

For another opinion, see Robert Wright’s new NYT essay here. It begins:

THE “war” between science and religion is notable for the amount of civil disobedience on both sides. Most scientists and most religious believers refuse to be drafted into the fight. Whether out of a live-and-let-live philosophy, or a belief that religion and science are actually compatible, or a heartfelt indifference to the question, they’re choosing to sit this one out.

Still, the war continues, and it’s not just a sideshow. There are intensely motivated and vocal people on both sides making serious and conflicting claims.

There are atheists who go beyond declaring personal disbelief in God and insist that any form of god-talk, any notion of higher purpose, is incompatible with a scientific worldview. And there are religious believers who insist that evolution can’t fully account for the creation of human beings.

I bring good news! These two warring groups have more in common than they realize. And, no, it isn’t just that they’re both wrong. It’s that they’re wrong for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection’s creative power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the militantly atheistic.

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On Superficiality (For Johnna M.)

“Superficial” is a swear word for most people.   To fire this supposed epithet at an intended victim is to trivialize him, demean him, denigrate him.   What is worse than being called “superficial”?

Where does the power of this word come from?   Superficial can only be bad in comparison to its opposite, depth or profundity.   We’d like to hear from a deep thinker, not a superficial thinker.   We’d like to learn from a profound philosopher, not a superficial one.   We all crave deep relationships (they are “meaningful”) rather than superficial (“meaningless”) ones. Of course.

But let’s check our thinking on this. The word superficial refers to surfaces, of being on or above the surface.   Let’s assume there is something to the binary opposition of “surface” and “depth.”   But why do we always privilege depth over surface?   There are historical and philosophical reasons.   In the beginning of our story of Western philosophy, 2500 years or so ago in Ionia, some thinkers were wondering about what’s “behind” the way the world appears to us. Most of the ancients–just like most of us–experienced trees, rocks, people, animals, buildings, music, colors, smells, food, etc.   But some–a very few–wondered whether there was something that tied all these various appearances together, something behind or underneath that despite the apparent diversity at the surfaces of things bound things together as one. This is the birth of the problem of the many and the one, perhaps the single driving force in philosophy.   The one was thought to be reality; the many to be (mere) appearance.   Profound, deep thinkers wanted to get to the one, lusted after it, perhaps even came to love it.   Philosophy–the very word–means love of wisdom, and love is a powerful thing.   And this power was tied for evermore with the deep, the profound, that which was beneath the surface.   The goal was to leave the world of surfaces, of (supposedly) mere appearances, and venture into the depths of reality, to the Truth-with-a-capital-T.

Some of the historical fallout of this venture led to the birth of modern science.   We’ll bypass for now the question of the split that developed between philosophy and science (between wisdom and knowing).   We’ll simply note that science–the science we all learned in school–teaches us that the reality of things is in their deep structure, the molecules, the atoms, the quarks and charms, the basic particles that make up all the varied things we experience.   We are all taught, for instance, that the table on which we work is “mostly empty space,” according to physics.   And we believe it (after all, we believe EVERYTHING that bears the sacred imprimatur of SCIENCE, don’t we?).   We don’t fully grasp this “truth,” but we believe it.   And then we go on with our lives using the table “as if” it were a solid thing, suitable for working upon.   But we never forget that it is the deep, rather than the surface, that is the Truth-with-a-capital-T.   Despite the fact that we never encounter the table otherwise than a very useful solid plane upon which to work.   Never.

What about superficiality regarding people?   We might be forgiven dealing with our world in a “superfical” way, such as writing at our desks and talking about trees and rocks and buildings, etc., as if they were “real.”   But what about people?   Now we’ve arrived at a moral and not just an epistemological problem (i.e., not just a problem of knowing but of being responsible, able to respond appropriately).   What do we say?   “Beauty is only skin deep.”   “Looks don’t matter.”   “Hey, I’m up here!” (Said by well-endowed women when having a “conversation” with some wondering-eyed, scurvy dog.)   We want to be loved for who we are, not what we look like.   Right?   We are not simply what we look like.   There is depth to us, below the surface.   We are frustrated when things remain at the surface level, left hanging, unfulfilled.

I think all this is true.   Nevertheless, I would like to offer praise for the surfaces.   I am tempted to say: not in a superfical way, but in a deep way.   A deep appreciation for surfaces.   I am not going to argue that we should only have relationships based on surfaces.   I am going to argue that we cannot have any relationships were it not for the surfaces of things.

I can only come to know things by their surfaces.   Without surfaces, there would be no sense to speaking of depths.   There is something to the binary opposition of surface and depth, but it must not be forgotten that it is binary, that both surface and depth are inextricably bound together.   Further, we might rethink privileging–at least all the time–the deep as opposed to the surface.   It’s via the surfaces that we come to the depths.   We cannot go the other direction.   It is only because there are things like tables that we can have physics at all (think about it!).   We cannot start our knowing and, indeed, our loving from the depths. The surface, the superficial, is profoundly, deeply important and meaningful.

I don’t know about you, but I like my surfaces.   The largest organ of the human body is the skin–the surface.   I am grateful for my surfaces, and I especially like when there is a lot going on with my surfaces.   My surfaces love the feel of a cool breeze, of desert heat, of ocean waves, of strong fingers, of tongues, of aromatic oils, of being wrapped up in other people’s surfaces, of muscles at work, of flavors, of scents, of music, of talking, of drinking.   Don’t you?   Is a person to be called “superficial” who loves these things?   Rather, a person who didn’t love these things would be debilitated or deranged.

But am I confusing the issue?   Of course we like these things, but don’t we want something more, something deep and profound?   Yes, of course we do.   But what usually happens when we are deeply and profoundly in love with another person?   What is the expression of that love?   Isn’t it usually expressed through the surfaces:   in eating and drinking together, talking together, enjoying music together, getting our bodies as close together as we can?

Yes, but what about people who “stop” at the surfaces?   Aren’t those the ones we are referring to by the term, superficial?   No doubt, we want the whole thing, the whole enchilada, so to speak.   In short, what we really desire is wholeness.   Like that dopey line in that dopey movie, we want to say (and have said to us):   “You complete me.”   However, we have to get there, don’t we?

Let’s take “superficial” talk.   I know a lot of people who say they hate small talk, and by “small” I assume they mean that it is talk that is superficial.   Think about the people you know who say something like that.   What do you think about those people?   Aren’t they a little off-putting, a little less pleasant to be around, a little more crabby, a little too intense?   I like small talk.   It is the grease of the social machine.   I happen to know a little (usually very little) about a lot of stuff.   I used to beat myself up because I wasn’t an expert on any one thing.   I had surface knowledge, not deep knowledge.   However, as it turns out, I have found a great pleasure in being able to wander the world and strike up a conversation on just about anything.   This has led to further not so superficial conversation, and, occasionally, in the old days, even the baring of additional surfaces, if you catch my drift.   There used to be a wine called Cella (maybe there still is, but I’ve moved on…).   The wine was hawked by a character they called Aldo Cella.   There was this great commercial with Aldo–short, chubby, balding, with oily Italian features–sitting at the head of a long table with a great feast spread upon it, wine all around, outdoors with a fantastic background, with Aldo surrounded by some fabulous babes.   The voice-over said:   “He is not tall.   He is not pretty.   But Aldo Cella knows what women like.”   Now aside from the oily Italian features (I have oily non-ethnically-descript features), I am Aldo Cella.   But despite appearances (the surface of things), I’m not really talking about me.   We are all–if we let ourselves be–Aldo Cella (substitute genders where appropriate).   I think we do know what each other wants and we all enjoy getting it and giving it too each other.   Our surfaces aren’t all we are, but we are not unless we have surfaces.   Our goofy features, our pedestrian looks, don’t look goofy or pedestrian unless that’s the way we’re looking at them.   [Don’t get me started on my objections to commercially, industrially manufactured ideas of beauty!]

Do you flirt?   It’s totally superficial, right?   But don’t you flirt?   Or, if you are a shy person, don’t you enjoy it when someone flirts with you?   A little bit?   C’mon, you know you do.   I’m not saying   you have to look at it the way Zorba (the Greek, from Kazantzakis’ great novel) does, as he recounted to his boss the time he failed to sleep with a woman who wanted him. Zorba was warned by a wise man:   “…he who can sleep with a woman and does not, commits a great sin.   My boy, if a woman calls you to share her bed and you don’t go, your soul will be destroyed!   That woman will sigh before God on judgment day, and that woman’s sigh, whoever you may be and whatever your fine deeds, will cast you into Hell!”   Zorba accepted his fate with remorse.   He says, “If Hell exists, I shall go to Hell, and that’ll be the reason.   Not because I’ve robbed, killed or committed adultery, no! All that’s nothing.   But I shall go to Hell because one night in Salonica a woman waited for me on her bed and I did not go to her….”   All I’m saying is that even our superficial desires for each other, manifested in flirting or even in just idle banter, have a deep impact on our souls.

Don’t you hate it when a clerk at the grocery store never even looks up from his shoes when you are going through the line?   What about a simple Hello?   What about eye contact?   Would we be satisfied with his answer if, when questioned about this, he says he can’t stand “superficialities”?   Some would argue manners are merely superficial custom…but they would have a completely unsupportable argument. If manners are superficial, that only means that the superficial is incredibly important to living our lives together.

A word about the inspiration for this little unpolished, probably superficial essay:   Facebook (and other social networking activities).   I posed a question about the value of FB that–surprise!–got some people thinking (see earlier post).   If FB is as superficial as its (mere) surface appearance might suggest, then why did a post on FB get some people thinking?   One friend thought the following:   “i’m a pathetic woman for enjoying the many facets of facebook, including sharing what male features are a turn-on and my favorite drinks.   therefore, i’m leaving facebook in hopes of a better quality of life…”   Well, then I’m a pathetic woman too (so to speak, ahem)!   I enjoy (some of) the many facets of FB.   I enjoy sharing what male features are a turn-on (well, sharing which of my male features I like to have turned on–just so’s ya know, just in case it were to come up, so to speak…).   I love sharing my favorite drinks–although how someone did that on FB is beyond me, but maybe talking about them virtually on FB might well lead to sharing them actually.

So, my little point here is that leaving FB in the hopes of a better life might not work out.   Instead, what I think we should desire (I know, “should desire” is a problematic saying…) is a better quality of life, FB or no FB.   And to get a better quality if life, I am suggesting that we not overlook the profundity of the surfaces, the deep and abiding value of so-called superficialities.

What do you think?

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My Summer of Facebooking–Is it OVER?

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

–Nietzsche

facebook

Well, another summer come and (almost) gone.  What did I do on my summer vacation?  I climbed a mountain.  I swam in the sea.  I wandered the desert.  I gazed into an abyss.

No, I don’t just mean the Grand Canyon.  I mean the abyss of Facebook and Twitter.  And this abyss has been gazing into me.  It gazed into me as I climbed mountains, tangled with wild animals, watched sunrises and sunsets, sweated by the Saguaros, dodged lightning, feted my children’s successes, did my job, aired my grievances, expressed my hopes, cracked a few jokes.  I know I left out a bunch, but since I know the full context of all my postings it feels like nothing got left out at all.  Yes, it is true that I often don’t have the faintest idea what my “friends” are talking about in their posts…most are just in-jokes of various degrees of levity or angst.  I don’t have the context.  You had to be there, I guess.  But by posting my own inscrutabilites, I have this sense I’ve sent it all out there into the e-byss of virtual relationships (perhaps an oxymoron, that).  Now why would I have done that?  Why would anyone?

Facebook turned “friend” into a verb (“friending”).  By their count, I have friended or been friended by a mere 53 “friends”–the page with the list more modestly calls these “connections,” now.   My FB friends include:

  • 1 wife/soul-mate/love-of-my-life/BFF
  • 0 ex-wives (imagine that!)
  • 2 blood relatives (my parents)
  • 2 step-kids
  • 15 step-relatives
  • 2 ex-girlfriends, who, though well rid of me both then and now, really seemed to have meant that old “we’re just good friends” line…at least virtually
  • 2 women (but they were girls back then…) who I would have liked now to be calling ex-girlfriends (I mean that in a good way…) but who would probably have known this back then, thus explaining why they kept a wide berth at the time; i.e., to avoid being referred to decades later as an ex-girlfriend of mine
  • 1 woman (but she was a girl back then) who would have had NO IDEA that I’d have liked to have included her in the preceding category–she kept an even wider berth
  • 1 ex-girlfriend–I guess that’s the right designation–of my stepson (for some reason)
  • 11 professional colleagues, some close, some more distant…one of whom apparently counts for TWO of my friends (c’mon, H-H…pick one profile and stick with it!  I’ll be accused of padding my numbers…)
  • 1 son of a colleague (that is not an epithet, btw)
  • 3 pretty good pals from my youth (whom I more or less hadn’t seen or heard from since youth)
  • 11 various and sundry acquaintances from high school days and just after

Of the “friends” I know (I admit I don’t really know all of them–even most of them, truth be told), there isn’t one I don’t at least think I like.  I’m glad to be “friended” to all of them (if that’s how you say it).

Having so few friends/connections makes me “unpopular.”  I confess this does not bother me in the least.  At one time, perhaps it would have, but this is not that time.

I have twittered this summer, too.  I have two “followers.”  I like the sound of that: FOLLOWERS.  Anybody can have friends, but to have FOLLOWERS!  But I digress.  My followers consist of one of my FB friends (to protect reputations and fallout from my fading yet opportunistic memory, I decline to say from which category), and  my brother, who is not my friend, FB-wise.  I noticed, too, that I picked up a couple of faux-“followers” who glommed on when I tweeted about someplace I visited in Arizona (hotels and tourist services).  I found that a little creepy, really.  I like to know my followers.

On Facebook, I was often invited to take challenges, answer poll questions, pass virtual drinks around, test my knowledge of music or films, check my compatibility with other people’s tastes in music or films, and on and on.  I declined.  Nothing personal.  No, really, it’s nothing personal.  I like personal, and those little Hallmark-y type mechanisms for interacting are not needed among actual friends, so I refuse to make use of them with my virtual friends (if there are such things).

I uploaded a few pictures.  I looked at pictures from my friends.  I like looking at pictures, even if I don’t know who or what I am looking at.  I just enjoy a good picture.  There rarely are any good pictures, though.  Just pictures, snapshots, some a little embarrassing to tell the truth, but mostly just photos of people doing people stuff or places that looked like they needed to be photographed at the time one of my friends was standing there.  But good or bad, I do look at the pictures.   Beats reading, really.

I was just thinking that if I got all of my FB friends in one room for a party, it would be a weird party.  I like weird parties as a rule, so maybe it would be good.  But it would definitely be weird.  It reminds us that you can have lots of different friends, have friends of widely varying personalities, but that you wouldn’t necessarily want to have them all over on the same night.  You can like lobster.  You can like peanut butter and jelly.  But you won’t like lobster and peanut butter and jelly, if you catch my meaning.

Some of the postings from my friends were thought provoking…not just the Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot kind of provocation (“Wha???”), but the kind that actually provoke thought.  Not often, but now and then.  Sometimes the postings were downright hilarious.  Yes…I was LAUGHING OUT LOUD!  But again, not very often.  Some people wrote nice things.  Some people wrote ambiguously nice things, so I chose to take them in the nicest possible sense.  Nobody said anything too mean or negative.  Only the occasionally e-burst of boredom or quotidian frustration.  These things pass.  Nothing of it will mean anything in a few hours, let alone months or years.  FB postings are as ephemeral as water cooler conversations.  Or text messages.  Or tweets.  Or sneezes.  I was once directly asked a serious question–off line, in the email functionality of FB.  The question required effort–I had to watch a video and give my opinion.  I did that.  I didn’t hear anything more about it.  That’s the way it goes.  Even if you have a good question or thought, by the time anyone gets around to commenting, the moment of your own initial interest is probably gone.  As it probably should be.  FB is just something to pass the time.

I am probably violating some code of FB conduct by talking about FB, rather than just talking on FB.  Who wants to be asked why they’re doing what they’re doing?  Who even wants to know why, themselves?

Anyway, the fall semester is at hand.  Back to learning/teaching philosophy (as if that’s not what I’ve been doing all along…).

So the question is this:  Do I continue with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking activities?  I’ll leave it up to you.  Just leave a comment and a vote.

Oh…wait…I forgot.  I’m BLOGGING.  Probably to myself.

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Paradox and Bedrock

Listen to Edward Abbey (from Desert Solitaire:  A Season in the Wilderness)….

Near the first group of arches, looming over a bend in the road, is a balanced rock about fifty feet high, mounted on a pedestal of equal height; it looks like a head from Easter Island, a stone god or a petrified ogre.

Like a god, like an ogre?  The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself, to eliminate for good.  I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us.  I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description.  To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself.  I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate.  Paradox and bedrock.

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It’s a Wonderful World!

Happy birthday, Satchmo!

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Back from AZ, sorting through the pics.

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Health Care for ALL Americans

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