Archive for March, 2011
NORMAL, IL—According to incredulous sources, local hardware store employee and grown adult human being Rob Peterson, 37, actually expects to be happy in life.
Despite possessing a fully developed brain and a general awareness of the fundamental nature of existence, sources said Peterson apparently continues to believe that achieving long-lasting happiness is somehow possible.
First, an article by Robert T. Miller (an acquaintance of mine, I should note) in First Things on Alasdair MacIntyre’s views (wrong, according to Miller) on capitalism.
Second, an article by Phil Gasper in the International Socialist Review responding to a (wrong-headed, in Gasper’s view) defender of capitalism.
So what do you think?
It’s a revealing experiment to put side by side bookstores and the Internet—or even just Google Books, which now offers 15 million of the world’s 130 million unique books. Both the Internet and Google Books strive to assemble the known world. The bookstore, on the other hand, strives to be a microcosm of it, and not just any microcosm but one designed—according to the principles and tastes of a “gatekeeper”—to help us absorb and consider the world itself. That difference is everything. To browse online is to enter into a search that allows one to sail, according to an idiosyncratic route formed out of split-second impulses, across the surface of the world, sometimes stopping to randomly sample the surface, sometimes not. It is only an accelerated form of tourism. To browse in a bookstore, however, is to explore a highly selective and thoughtful collection of the world—thoughtful because hundreds of years of thinkers, writers, critics, teachers, and readers have established the worth of the choices. Their collective wisdom seems superior, for these purposes, to the Web’s “neutrality,” its know-nothing know-everythingness.
Read more: The End Of Bookstores | The New Republic
Here are some thoughts from Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island. First, against a sort of perfectionism:
The relative perfection which we must attain to in this life if we are to live as sons of God is not the twenty-four-hour-a-day production of perfect acts of virtue, but a life from which practically all the obstacles to God’s love have been removed or overcome.
One of the chief obstacles to this perfection of selfless charity is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a brilliant success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything we do. We cannot master everything, taste everything, understand everything, drain every experience to its last dregs. But if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the one thing necessary for us – whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss the one thing we need.
Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed. [ch.7]
Then, about a paradoxical vocation:
Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God’s will, to be what God wants us to be.
We must not imagine that we only discover this destiny by a game of hide-and-seek with Divine Providence. Our vocation is not a sphinx’s riddle, which we must solve in one guess or else perish. Some people find, in the end, that they have made many wrong guesses and that their paradoxical vocation is to go through life guessing wrong. It takes them a long time to find out that they are happier that way. [ch.8]
“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is.”
Martha Nussbaum, among many others (including almost everyone who writes college catalog entries for humanities departments) argues that the liberal arts are good for business and democracy. The humanities teach us critical thinking skills and help form in us an “enlarged mind” that is useful for becoming successful in the world of commerce and politics.
But should we proponents of the humanities be making our case in this way?
According to Fencing Bear at Prayer, here’s the case for the humanities: There isn’t one.
Why study the humanities? Not because they will make us better citizens. Not because they will make our lives physically more comfortable or enable us to build better engines or cure cancer. But because one of the things that human beings do is reflect on what it means to be a human being and to wonder at the many forms of expression this reflection has taken. That’s it. Take this reflection away and we might as well be robots. Or beasts. Comfortable, well-built robots or healthy beasts, to be sure, but no longer ourselves. Not human.
Rufus F. at the League of Ordinary Gentleman insists we stop selling the humanities for all of the other things they are “good for” and remember that liberal learning is a good in itself, however “useless.”
The humanities are rooted in the study of texts, which will increasingly put them at odds with a society in which reading is becoming vestigial. People who grow up detached from any cultural/historical context will find academics increasingly alien, if not offensive to their sensibilities. Attacks on the humanities will increase. The way to address them isn’t to trick the public into thinking they’re getting something else for their money, but to repeatedly defend the right of academics to hang back from the passions of the day- to be less-than-useful for whatever desires the society wants satisfied today. That means, by the way, academics in the humanities must drop altogether the pretense of political “activism” and, in their public role, become much more explicitly apoliticaland inactivist; conversely, they need to start expressing quite loudly the worth of this eternal hanging back, instead of flattering and placating a culture that is arguably no culture.
Matthew J. Milliner’s piece, “Useless University,” reminds us that John Henry Newman held that truth has two attributes, beauty and power. The power of truth is expressed in useful knowledge, the knowledge and skills required for business, technology, and government, in short the knowledge useful for getting a job. In the liberal arts, on the other hand, the beauty of truth can be discovered and contemplated for its own sake. Such contemplation is an end in itself, pursued just because we can. Milliner draws the conclusion:
If Newman is right, then to justify the liberal arts, which would now include what we call the humanities, as instrumentally useful, is also to betray them….
Of course, we all have to eat. Which means most of us have to have jobs. But do all of us have to have jobs that preclude our having the leisure for contemplating the beauty of being, of the cosmos, of truth? Here’s an idea (from Toby Ord): live like a graduate student…forever!