Random Observations

Philosophy. I have a real problem with philosophy. What did it ever achieve? Granted – it’s an excellent example of working through a problem logically but then – it never gives an answer to the problem. The early Greek philosophers were able to figure out everything that a ‘God’ would and should do; they were able to figure out what a ‘God’ would not and should not do. But they were never able to figure out if there is a God. Simplistic of me? Perhaps. But you’re going to have to convince that I’m wrong. Go ahead. I’ll wait …

I suspect that the powers that be that provide news feeds on AOL is someone around 14 years old. And female. Lately, I just bypass them; they are all about ‘Sparkle’, as our English cousins refer to Markle – she who ruined Harry; about the latest hook-up and break-up in the entertainment world; whose preggers bump has shrunken the most after childbirth; the best trending outfits of sneakers with dresses; where to get the hottest tattoos; why the moon really is made of cheese …

A little known bill in California was passed (why am I not surprised) that gives the judge discretion on the listing in pedophile registry men who, if not more than 10 years older than the victim, have sex with boys who are 14 or older. If that doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you, you might want to check your priorities. It passed, people! They passed that bill.

Why am I constantly drawn to French bulldog videos? Evidently, they have the kind of gas that will clear rooms of people and they drool. I can’t stand either one of those things. And yet.

Why is the weather cooling off everywhere but here in Florida? 60 degrees in London the other day. Cooling trends up north of here. I think the government should pay our air conditioning bills until they create a dome in which Florida’s climate can be regulated to a balmy 78 degrees.

The Functional Anthropologist, Roger Scruton

This is one of those articles that I have been ruminating about for nearly a month. Why? Because while I agree almost completely with it, I wanted to put it in my own words, while preserving the ideas of Roger Scruton. Why would I do that? Because in a very large measure, I agree with him. But every time I’ve tried, it’s come too close, by far, to simple plagiarism, and my name isn’t Joe Biden.

So I finally decided I would simply have to give you a lead on it, and trust you to read the source. It’s long and fairly complex, so you might want to get another cup of coffee, because if nothing else, it will make you think. Enjoy!

[…]Still, Trump’s beginning point is a conservative rejoinder to liberal cosmopolitanism—“a country is a country”—even if everything he deduces from that first principle is either wrong or obsessive. And Sanders is right that the idea of opening the borders to flood our country with guest workers isn’t an American idea, but one that can be traced to the Koch brothers and to libertarianism. It converges uncannily with President Obama’s boast that he is a citizen of the world more than of any place in particular.

Are most Americans either conservatives or liberals? The answer, as Manent tells us, is that they want to be both. They want to be what he calls human individuals or what Scruton calls both relational and unrelational persons. Strictly speaking, the human individual or unrelational person is an oxymoron, the conservative knows.  The contents of human or personal life come from being relational or not experiencing oneself as individual who’s connected to other individuals only through the calculated modes of contract or consent.

It goes on in a similar vein for a while, explaining many of the things that look like contradictions in our philosophy, and it ends up here.

Along these lines, Scruton interprets religion—including the Christian religion—as one way among the many ways we have to experience the belonging of home. From a full Christian view, however, that seems to be a form of Darwinian reductionism. According to St. Augustine, each of us, through sin, is born to trouble. Each of us free and relational persons experiences himself or herself as an alien or pilgrim in every earthly city. From this view, we are so to speak hardwired for alienation, and shouldn’t try too hard to be at home in this world. And from this view, the arrogantly incoherent aim of modern ideologies has been less to enhance our alienation than to make ourselves through political revolution or economic prosperity or technological innovation fully at home.

Scruton acknowledges, after all, that the most vibrant of the modern nations is the United States, the place where citizenship is reconciled to a remarkable success with otherworldly Christianity.  We are, as G. K. Chesterton says, “a home for a homeless.” But we, at our best, don’t try to be at home, our “lifeworld” is constituted, in part, by our awareness that its satisfactions don’t correspond fully to our longings. Scruton seems more conservative than any American, and, from our view, not realistic enough about who we are or what it takes to sustain our liberal life as free and relational beings born to know, love, and die.

via The Functional Anthropologist, Roger Scruton – Online Library of Law & Liberty.

Go ahead, stretch your mind, and enjoy this. It’s liberating to be free of all those conundrums, or so they say. I’m still digesting it as well! 🙂

History and Milestones

Well, it’s 9 November and I’m reliably informed that we have a birthday to celebrate. I’m not supposed to tell you but it’s Jess’s birthday. How old she is, is protected by the Official Secrets Act, 😉 but my understanding is that it’s somewhere between 18 and 80, but if I knew more, I couldn’t tell you, since I don’t want her to kill me! She might show up here but why not jump over to AATW and wish her a happy birthday by giving her even more than her usual stupendous readership. I’ll see you there. [By the way, the link goes to a multi-part piece of fiction written by four of us over there, I’d say it’s not bad for amateurs.]

Happy Birthday, Dearest friend!!!

In full disclosure, Jess also aimed me towards the rest of the things we will talk about today.

In other news, lets talk about history and it’s place in the world a bit. The other day I showed you a link to John Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon. It’s here, if you missed it. That work was done by NC State and it’s most impressive. But other universities are doing some great work along the same lines. One of them is the Virtual Past which is a University of East Anglia Enterprise. Their website has some samples of their work, which is quite impressive.

Do go and have a look around. I assume some US institutions other than UNC are doing this as well, if you know of some, showcase them or tell me in comments because in a good many ways, this is one of the best ways to teach history in the 21st century.

While we’re hanging about in Norwich and the UAE, there’s another program I want to highlight. It’s called the ThoughtOut Project, and I really like their objectives. Here, I’ll let them tell you:

As the editorial assistant for Historythe journal of the Historical Association, I get the opportunity to look at cutting-edge research almost every day.  Proof-reading articles just before we publish them, I always get a bit excited because I know I am one of the first people to get access to that new information. It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job. Working for History,I feel like I am always learning. I get sent stuff like this every day! It’s glorious! History is a funny subject, like that. Even though it’s ‘old news’ there’s always something new to learn; Something you can relate to, or a situation one can superimpose onto your own. Putting yourself in the shoes of a character from history can be delicious escapism, or a humbling, thought-provoking experience.

As the managing editor for the ThoughtOut Project, I do exactly the same thing, but the packaging in terms of how we share the information we find is very different. ThoughtOut is an organisation aimed at sharing cutting-edge humanities research with the general public. I tend to use the phrase “curated by clever people, for clever people” although I get told that this is a little too self-congratulatory! That’s not really what I’m getting at when I say it, though. The most important aspect of that phrase is the second half. I am a genuine believer in the power of humanities subjects to inform and educate, not in a superficial learning-by-rote talking at people way, but also a in terms of a deep, self-motivated thirst for personal development. And this is not learning for people who have £9,000 to spend each year, and 3 or 4 years spare to dedicate to a full-time degree. This is everyday learning for your average-Joe, your housewife, your teacher, your estate agent, or newsagent. This is also where the events that I run for ThoughtOut are especially interesting, […]

Continue reading History and the ThoughtOut Project

Obviously I, and you, are not going to agree with everything that British (mostly, anyway) academics write, but the articles I’ve read there I’ve found fascinating, and I think a good many of you will as well. And as an example, I have two years of college in Electrical Engineering Technology, and the humanities have made my life immeasurably richer. So what do they write about, you ask? Please do! Stuff like this By Heather Brooke


The humanities teach enlightenment; markets are blind.

In 1780, the American statesman John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.” A true student of the Enlightenment, Adams understood the difference between means and ends. Unfortunately for us, politicians, not statesmen, are determining current educational policy; with astonishing myopia they have decreed that the only subjects worth studying at university are those that can “forge links with business and industry.”

The study of the humanities in Britain today has lost a war that the people who teach humanities didn’t know they were fighting. Following the recommendations of the Browne report—overseen by a man whose career had nothing to do with education and everything to do with the corporate world of business and markets, commissioned by the Labour government and implemented by the Coalition—the funding of the teaching of the humanities in UK universities has been cut by 100%. The teaching of humanities will no longer be funded by the state at all: it will only be funded if students decide to pay to study the humanities, in a society urging them to think ever more instrumentally about education as a means to make money, rather than as a means to make better people.

According to the Browne report, “priority subjects” are science and technology courses, clinical medicine, nursing and other healthcare degrees, as well as “strategically important” language courses. Entitled “Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education,” the report made clear what the future of higher education would not include: the humanities were nowhere named in its 67 pages.

Continue reading THE CASE FOR THE HUMANITIES(A hint, all you have to do is scroll down for the article, at least in my browsers.) 🙂

OK, you all know that I’m a huge proponent of the so-called STEM curricula, nothing changes that, we desperately need engineers and math majors and such but, if we allow the humanities to languish we will lose so very much of our heritage, and our knowledge base. I’m sure you’ve noticed how nearly all of us quote our founding fathers at the drop of a hat, even as she quoted John Adams above. The heritage of the English-speaking world is a treasure that must not be wasted, whatever the needs (real or imagined) of trade. I would remind you all that Andrew Carnegie, himself, after he built the largest steel company in the world, after starting as a telegrapher on the Pennsylvania Railroad, devoted the rest of his life to founding libraries all over the United States.

As I said above, do tell me about other institutions doing these types of things.



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