Political Differences

Conservatives and liberals obviously see things differently, but lately I’m impressed by how their differences reflect preferences for opposing sides of the same coin. On issues from Obamacare to no-fault divorce, from abortion to welfare, our reporting and commentary reflect a choice of one value over another.

For example, conservatives see the social changes of the last half century or so and focus on how there is less cohesion, less community and stability than there was before. Their priority might be the success of the group, not the safety of the individual. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”

(Ironically, conservatives seek to ensure the success of the group by preserving the freedom of the individual.)

Liberals will look at the same issues and focus on how some old problems have been at least partially alleviated for some people by the same changes. Their priority might be the safety of the individual, not the success of the group. “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

(Ironically, liberals seek to ensure the safety of the individual by engineering wholesale change in the group.)

Perhaps this is why conservative media is more likely to report on big-picture stories of societal decline and abuse of systems, whereas liberal media is more likely to report on intimate stories of individuals being abused, but ostensibly being helped by institutional evolution.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Pure Political Preference

Besides all the more intellectual reasons why I am a conservative, I prefer it to liberalism because I simply like its values more.

Conservatism is concerned with the primary needs of existence: physical safety, family, private property, freedom.

Liberalism is concerned with secondary wants: egalitarianism, self expression, fulfillment, comfort.

I like subscribing to a worldview that prizes the eternal over the ephemeral.

Continue reading

“Every age must look to its poets…”

joyce“In fine the truth is not that the artist requires a document of
licence from householders entitling him to proceed in this or that
fashion but that every age must look for its sanction to its poets and
philosophers. The poet is the intense centre of the life of his age to
which he stands in a relation than which none can be more vital. He
alone is capable of absorbing in himself the life that surrounds him
and of flinging it abroad again amid planetary music. When the poetic
phenomenon is signalled in the heavens, exclaimed this
heaven-ascending essayist, it is time for the critics to verify their
calculations in accordance with it. It is time for them to acknowledge
that here the imagination has contemplated intensely the truth of the
being of the visible world and that beauty, the splendour of truth,
has been born. The age, though it bury itself fathoms deep in formulas
and machinery, has need of these realities which alone give and
sustain life and it must await from those chosen centres of
vivification the force to live, the security for life which can come
to it only from them. Thus the spirit of man makes a continual
affirmation.”

–James Joyce, Stephen Hero, ch. XIX

A Universal Mission Statement

For believers or skeptics, atheists or theists of all stripes, might this function as a call to arms that everybody could support?

Discern the nature of reality as accurately as possible and, as far as any facts have practical applications, bring ourselves into alignment with them and exercise them habitually.  

Sure, that’s just a draft, but I think it gets at the point clearly: we all just want to learn things that are true, and act on them accordingly, to the benefit of ourselves and the larger world, whether those things are secular or spiritual, artistic or scientific, or all of the above.

Notes on “Educating the Saints”: An Expansive Philosophy of Education

Below is the text of Hugh Nibley’s classic 1970 essay “Educating the Saints” (copied from this online source, with fair use in mind), including my notes on what we can learn from it, as teachers and students, about education.  I submit that, though Nibley was writing for and about Mormons, this is the best work of fundamental values in public education ever written, and should be required reading for anyone who would be a good teacher, in any capacity. 

I’ve put in bold the segments of Nibley’s text that seem particularly pertinent and powerful, followed by my 21 notes in brackets and italics.  My notes are meant to interpret the ideas in the essay into general classroom policies and strategies.  Looking back on these notes about a decade after I made them, when I was still a new teacher, I’m pleased to see that my work has largely been consistent with the ideas here, as I understand them. 

Nibley uses Brigham Young as his model for effective education techniques, and well he should: Young took thouands of poor, illiterate, disparate immigrants and made them the foundation of a society whose descendants are disproportionately well-educated.  Though one would benefit from simply perusing the bold and italicized sections, reading this whole essay would be valuable to anyone; reading it from my source will also allow you to enjoy Nibley’s 200 footnotes!

Continue reading

The Dark Knight Reconsidered

Three years ago, I wrote a critical review of The Dark Knight which earned me a thorough beat down from a whole host of readers.  My review was based on my visceral reaction to the psychological torture and moral shades of gray that I saw in the film at the time. 

However, I finally watched it again last week.  A few things made me want to give it another chance:

  • The teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises hints that this third film will be a redemptive story with a more clear-cut victory, perhaps making this a trilogy in the Star Wars-Empire-Jedi format.  I can appreciate that. 
  • Last year I read Frank Miller’s graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, which obviously influenced Christopher Nolan’s movie.  It was excellent. 
  • Anne Hathaway will be in The Dark Knight Rises, so I pretty much have to see it. 

Continue reading

William Penn vs. Marcus Aurelius

In my ongoing quest to read the Harvard Classics and Great Books of the Western World, I recently read two short works that could very well comprise a planned pair across languages, cultures, and centuries. Both William Penn, British entrepreneur of the 17th century, and Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century, have left didactic manuals of living well, each taking the form of a series of loosely connected maxims. Penn authored Some Fruits of Solitude; Aurelius his immortal Meditations.

Both manuals are typically pious, practical, and assert our ability to master the world around us in some way. However, where Penn relates his life’s wisdom to us in statements of morality so simple that they were probably already clichés in his day (“Be good and do nice things”-style advice), Aurelius gives us a dynamic, challenging web of rules that would transform life into a noble adventure. He may not have invented Stoicism, but he certainly gave history its most memorable phrasing.

Consider these four representative quotes from the first book of Penn’s Fruits of Solitude, which I noted because they were actually among the most useful and memorable lines:

165. There are some Men like Dictionaries; to be lookt into upon occasions, but have no Connection, and are little entertaining.

184. It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.

256. Unless Virtue guide us, our Choice must be wrong.

489. The truest end of Life, is, to know the Life that never ends.

Good, sure, but hardly the stuff of legend. Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, frequently discourses in his book, in digestable snippets, on the cosmic nature of our physical connection to the universe (and the peace of mind that such realization can engender as it detaches us from the stresses of magnifying the present), as well as sharing friendly little adages about what to do when you wake up in the morning but don’t want to get out of bed:  Continue reading