Sunday, December 6, 2015

"..." 41

“A life without once reading Hamlet is like a life spent in a coal mine.”

-Hector Berlioz

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Swartz Imperative

“You literally ought to be asking yourself all the time what is the most important thing in the world [you] could be working on right now, and if you are not working on that why aren’t you?”

– Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, describing the views
of Aaron Swartz in The Internet's Own Boy (2014)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This I Believe: There is so much bullsh**.

I wrote this "This I Believe" essay as a sample for my students a few years ago. Here it is decensored:

I believe that our society’s attention to detail is wrongheaded.

By this, I mean many things. I mean that we are more concerned about the perception of progress than the reality of progress. I mean that we are more alarmed by sexuality than by violence, depravity, and suffering. I mean that, as George Carlin once said, we are more offended by four letter words than by the intentions behind them. I mean that we are more fixated on rationing sodium and ketchup packets in the school cafeteria than developing the habits that underlie healthy eating. I mean that we are more focused on raising test scores than with eliminating poverty. I mean that we are more adamant about adequately funding prisons than adequately funding schools. I mean that we are more occupied with carefully selected statistics than with genuine, abundant signs of improvement or atrophy. I mean that we are more interested in SparkNotes summaries than with the raw, experiential meaning. I mean that we are more alarmed about microscopic nudity in Where’s Waldo than with naked bigotry in popular culture. I mean that we are more concerned, that is, with perception than we are with substance.

There is an inappropriate word that we use to describe this trend. A philosopher by the name of Harry G. Frankfurt writes about it in his insightful, book-long essay, “On Bullshit.” He writes:
One of the most salient features of our culture is there is so much bullsh**. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. [… but it] is more polite, as well as less intense, to say “Humbug!” than to say “bullsh**!”

However, Dr. Frankfurt’s conclusions and mine differ. He concludes that “[o]ur natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial—notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case,” he says, “sincerity itself is bullsh**.”

This statement of his is complete humbug—err, bullsh**. In my mind, another philosopher by the name of David Hume resolved this dispute ages ago. Hume’s law tells us that what is does not dictate what ought to be. We might ask, if our politics are dysfunctional, if our society is dysfunctional, if our schools are dysfunctional—is that due their nature? Due to our nature? Are we ourselves dysfunctional?


I believe we should always strive to make things better, and not merely acquiesce to their "nature." I believe that words matter, but so does substance. And I sincerely and substantively believe in substance.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A poem, slightly revised

we that have yet to end,

the great, great, great,
great, great, great,
great, great

of soil and
shards of bone,

again looking with wonder

at a canvas
bright with dying stars

on a cold evening

Friday, March 13, 2015

My new favorite joke

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks the horse if it's an alcoholic considering all the bars he frequents, to which the horse replies "I don't think I am." POOF! The horse disappears.

This is the point in time when all the philosophy students in the audience begin to giggle, as they are familiar with the philosophical proposition of Cogito ergo sum, or I think, therefore, I am.

But to explain the concept aforehand would be putting Descartes before the horse.

1. The driest, most esoteric joke I know. (r/Jokes)