15 February 2007

The Moulton Journal: getting Head/y

A Heady day, contemplating the nature of teleology and B/being.
I like cross country skiing above all other sports because of its contemplative nature. For some, hunting and fishing also serve this role, but I tend to be an alert, focused predator while engaged in these pursuits. If I want a period of reverie, I'll sit under a tree while fishing or build a fire and lay back while hunting. When I am actually engaged in hunting or fishing, the less thought the better.

I played some baseball and then softball when I was younger, but that didn't really lend itself to philosophy either. You don't want to be contemplating the rights of nature when a line drive comes at you down the third base line or when you need to know where the play is at after snagging that hot grounder. Even as an engaged specatator, you are at any moment fathoming the possibilities of home run or double play or strike out. Can Willie Mays in centerfield actually get to that flyball? And, if he does, can he make the throw to home? My mind never wandered much at the ballpark.

But skiing, like hiking, lends itself to thought. Had the peripatetic Aristotle lived in Norway, he would have founded the skidhenistic school (from the Norwegian skidh)--with groups of thoughtful, naturalist-inclined, skiers touring the hills while engaged in lively discourse. Sure, there are those thrilling runs down through the trees when the cross country skier must be totally engaged in the moment. But for every downhill run there is an uphill climb. And for both there are lots of long flats where, in company, the rhythm of conversation is one with the swish-swish of kick & glide.
Had the peripatetic Aristotle lived in Norway, maybe he would have been Arne Naess http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arne_Næss ?

Today's skidhenism was about the role of teleology in the construction of self. It's not merely a question of "What makes life worth living?," but of "What outcomes are worth working for?" Sadly, I suppose, American society has devolved into a teleology & B/being defined through material acquisition. This observation is not the mere grumbling of a disgruntled post-Kantian. The increase in materialism is well confirmed in numerous studies, and is especially evident in our youth [see e.g. Easterlin & Crimmins (1991)(http://www.jstor.org/view/0033362x/dm991752/99p02367/0]. Students and young adults want to drive a new truck, listen to tunes on the latest iPod, and party over Spring Break in Jamaica. Much of this consumption is conspicuous: ear buds, big SUV, 10,000 square foot McMansion = success.

For some of us, at least (or perhaps for a generation soon to pass from the face of America), there is more to life than appearance. Gramps raised a family in the Depression and always found time for the kids' ballgame, an evening of fishing, or a Sunday picnic. Dad joined the Army Air Corps and put his ass on the line so sundry Europeans could have their country back. As an academic, I (well, at least until my recent crisis of faith) wanted to contribute to an institution that valued research, social criticism, and the pursuit of T/truth.

Some sociologists make the academic world an economy of intellectual capital. Well, for some scholars or maybe sometimes for all scholars, maybe. But in reading Harold Bloom and newly appreciating my love of literature, the quest becomes "How to read and why?" I can't tell students that someday they will make more money at the McOil Drilling Company because they have read Shakespeare's Tempest and understand the role of magic-as-technology in controlling the American wilderness. Instead, I ask them to read as a means of discovering and becoming who they are. For more and more students, that is a less and less persuasive reason. And that is OK, for that is the way the world is and I shall not change it. For the fewer and fewer students for whom this is a persuasive reason, I dedicate my life.
[The HeadT "backcountry skies" pictured here were bought in a Butte pawnshop for $15. They had been blocked in storage to retain their camber, and were brand new--never having had a set of binding mounted on them. Sweet.]

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