Like most people, I grew up thinking that history is extraneous to ‘real life.’ It’s just entertainment, right? It’s something that certain smartish and/or nerdy people know stuff about, because they actually watch the ‘hitler’ (history) channel.* And, I was taught by my parents, and learned from people in high school, that ‘real’ education meant studying something vocational: i.e., something that would allow you to get a job afterwards, and the higher-paying that job track was, the better. But I was never a very practical person, so I majored in english, and remember promising to myself, that by the end of my 4 year degree, that I would be able to tell myself what was the point of studying the liberal arts. By my second year, I had a pretty good answer. So I’ll share it here, hoping that some of you, at least, won’ t have to go through so much soul searching and self-doubt; or at least, that what follows will help you marshal your inner forces against the naysayings of your ‘practically’ minded parents, friends, etc. (more…)
Archive for November, 2009
Posted in About academia, An ideal society, In defence of the arts, tagged arts major, B.A. in history, bachelor of arts, history channel, history degree, history major, history undergraduate, liberal arts, liberal arts college, liberty university, major in history on November 25, 2009 | Leave a Comment »
Posted in An ideal society, In defence of the arts, tagged Adam & Eve, Darwin, Einstein, evolution, Freud, Garden of Eden, history of religion, ideal society, IQ gap, michelangelo, monotheism, Nietzsche on November 24, 2009 | Leave a Comment »
We as a species are only half-baked. We’re mostly animal, and only partly rational, only partly godlike. And yet, once we become aware of the possibility of achieving godliness–i.e., to become like ancients imagined their gods were like, which in fact we have moved a long way towards over the past 500 years, then we realize, instinctually, that our noblest goal now becomes to continue on this journey – to eventually make ourselves like gods. This, in essence, is the job of the medical profession (creating ideal bodies–i.e., making us immortal), and of the liberal arts professoriate (creating an ideal society, and an ideal political system, making us omniscient regarding the nature of society) and the psychological profession (creating ideal, strong, rational, healthy minds), of the science profession (making us omniscient regarding the nature of the universe) and of the engineering profession (making us omnipotent). As a society, in other words, we already have our best minds dedicated to this task, which I call, in a phrase borrowed from Michelangelo and other renaissance thinkers, ’making men like gods.’ In this post I would just like to detail, to make manifest, and to articulate, exactly what our task is, that we are already performing, and also to ask why we are doing this, even though it is something that we all participate in every day, and the nature of the human mind is that we are still 90% animal, i.e., most of us do things without self-awareness, most of the time (this being a function of the fact that, though some of us have become self-aware, most of the species still lags behind, most of the time). (more…)
Posted in Aesthetics, An ideal life, An ideal society, In defence of the arts, tagged 10000 Maniacs, alternative music, Belle & Sebastian, cocteau twins, coldplay, Dead can dance, death cab for cutie, joy division, lisa gerrrard, loreena mckennitt, ministry, new order, nine inch nails, REM, sarah mclachlin, skinny puppy, the cure, the national, the smiths on November 22, 2009 | 1 Comment »
The best album cover ever?
Last night on VH1 Europe they did a countdown of the top 25 albums of all time. Prince made no. 3, and, inevitably, I guess, Thriller made no. 1. But REM’s automatic for the people made no. 2. What I found very weird about this, is that people since about the mid 90s have been intentionally forgetting that, between the period 1977-1995, ‘mainstream’ rock, or ‘establishment’ rock, was cosidered by the listening public to be entirely different from ‘alternative’ rock. At least, that was the case in the US. In britain, they always seemed to blur the line more, and ‘alternative’ acts often scored top 10 hits, which in the US happened much more infrequently. But there was still a clear idea that alternative was alternative, and mainstream was mainstream. And today, people realize this when shopping for music on Amazon: i.e., “the killers” and DCFC are known to be ‘alternative,’ with ‘emo’ in the latter’s case being a subgenre of alternative: and everyone has always known that Prince belongs in an entirely different category (of its own–file under ‘weird.’) (more…)
In western societies, higher IQ people make considerably more than people with lower IQs- apparently it’s something like 400$ more per year per IQ point. And, a recent study showed that people with 120 IQs have an average net worth of about $128,000, while people with 100 IQs had an average worth of about $58,000–i.e., those 20 IQ points translates into a net worth of more than double. And we might go further, and note that people with 80 IQs are worth considerably less than $58,000–there seems no reason to doubt this. And we certainly know that most of the self-made mega rich are quite intelligent: Gates and Jobs, and Trump and their ilk, are clearly 160+ ers. (more…)
Posted in An ideal life, An ideal society, Cultural crossroads, tagged child rearing, divorce, European marriage pattern, hindu marriage, history of marriage, ideal marriage, islamic marriage, marriage, monogamy, polygamy, serial monogamy on November 14, 2009 | 2 Comments »
The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we’re all too young to know
But I, I love it when you give me things
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings
I, I love it when you give me things
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings.
–The Magnetic Fields
So, why do we keep getting married, in the face of statistics which say that perhaps half, or even more, of all marriages end in divorce? Wouldn’t it be better to replace marriage with a series of 5-year contracts–to limit the seemingly archaic notion of ‘until death do us part’? Marriage as we in the west know it, i.e., monogamous marriage, is certainly not the human norm–this is one thing that biologists and anthropologists are happy to proclaim to us, usually with not a little glee. Biological marriage modelers, particularly the ones who study primates, can assure us that humans, like chimps, are meant to hump like rabbits with just about anything that moves, at all hours of the day, and at all seasons of the year. They cite the human female’s continuous fertility cycle as evidence of this, as well as the mating patterns that they find in primate troops, in which dominant males get to mate with the most females, while undominant males often meet a lonely and/or violent end. The current theory seems to suggest that we are best suited to serial monogamy. But is that true of all humans, or is this pattern culturally determined? To find out, we need to look into the origins of the European marriage pattern. (more…)
Taking control of the decoration of your home or personal space is arguably key to having a strong sense of self-worth. If you live in dignified surroundings, you will feel and act like a dignified person; otherwise, it is very difficult to do so. So, a first step towards becoming a more fulfilled person, or a more actualized human being, as many philosophers would put it, is to figure out how to create surroundings which bring out the best in you, and everyone else who enters your space. The point is, it’s not ’just art,’ or mere frippery to worry about interior design. Arguably, interior design is crucial to your leading a fulfilled, happy, and centered life. Rich people traditionally take a keen interest in their surroundings. This is done for good and bad reasons. The good reason is that they realize that good interiors reflect the goodness and best parts of their own minds and souls. The bad reason is usually that they do it to show off their wealth, and thus their interiors become acts of domination in and of themselves. But as humanists, we can decorate for all the best positive reasons, while consciously avoiding the pitfalls of creating a dominating, hierarchical, and anti-democratic interior. Humane interiors, then, are a crucial building block for an ideal society, insofar as they emphasize the dignity, beauty, and godliness of the individual, and refuse to use beauty for the purposes of intimidation (like most noble and royal interiors have historically done, and most rich people still continue to do). Ideally, then, we can all live like rich people, without belittling others in the process. Here’s how. (more…)
Posted in About academia, In defence of the arts, tagged art history, arts major, english majors, liberal arts, medieval history, medieval studies, PhD, philosophy, political science, psychology on November 4, 2009 | 5 Comments »
This is going to be a bit of an apologia pro vita sua–an answer to my critics, and a response to those who have wondered, either directly to me, or in private, why in the world a person would do a PhD in medieval history. A fair question, I suppose.
Hey, at least they had great architecture back then: my alma mater.
When people ask this, and perhaps 2/3 of the people I encounter outside of work are at least suspicious, if not outright scornful of my chosen career path, most of them are not asking ’why a PhD in medieval history’ per se, but their concern is more generally about the utility of studying the arts. Most people’s families would get just as bent out of shape if they majored in, say, English, or philosophy, or art history, or political science. It’s just that, in many people’s minds, a PhD magnifies the problem, and the fact that my PhD was specifically in ‘medieval’ history, serves to make it even more ridiculous to them, than if I had at least studied modern history, and learned about things that they regularly watch on the hitler (history) channel.
The big question, then, is: is it worthwhile to study the arts? But I’m going to avoid that one here, for the most part. In many ways, this entire site is an answer to that question. I’d like, however, to address the more specific ways in which my education has personally benefitted me, and, I think, the hundreds of students who have studied with me thus far, in addition to my friends and family and community. (more…)
Is this wise…? Socrates taking the hemlock.
Some people will say that wisdom = common sense. Often, however, people with plenty of common sense can end up living very unwise lives–usually because this type of person will miss the big picture, i.e., they miss the point of being in the forest because they are so busy avoiding the trees, and then congratulating themselves for their cleverness.
A simple definition of wisdom which I’ve been kicking around lately, is that, a wise person’s perception of their life is as close as possible to reality. Take for example the statement ”He’s a nice boy.” Almost every parent wants to say this about their offspring; the problem is, that many unwise parents will say this about their sons, when in fact their sons are criminals. (more…)