The Wheel of Time is not half so bad as I feared.
In the age of Star Wars Episodes VII and IX, one can never get one’s hopes up about a new show.
I started the Wheel of Time as a junior higher, and finished it as a graduate student.
In between finishing book 7 and book 8 of Robert Jordan’s fantastical, overly sexual, fetishistic, militaristic, amateur epic, I had read Anna Kareninna, War and Peace, become Orthodox, gotten married, had a kid, moved across country, written my own book, and more. It was “a minute” as the kids say.
The made for TV adaptation promised to be dismal. It was stuck in development hell for many years.
The finished product however is amazingly good.
Aside from the woke nonsense, which is excessively stupid and unnecessary, the core elements are there.
Thankfully they corrected a lot of Jordan’s OCD repetition and found the core of a compelling Hero’s Journey centered around a Christ figure overcoming Satan.
(Not advised to pick more than two at a time)
- Give more than you get in return.
- Work harder than you are paid to work.
- Express more gratitude than you immediately feel.
- Forgive before the other person apologizes.
- Listen longer than the other person demands to speak.
Report back in 3-4 weeks!
It’s been one full week into August Bradley’s system using Notion.so to organize my daily tasks, weekly and monthly projects, and long-term goals, outcomes, and lifelong commitments.
I must say I was more productive than previous weeks but more importantly less stressed and less overworked at the end of a good day.
My projects list is organized, and manageable for the first time in, well, ever.
I have all my projects categorized and tagged by priority, by due date, by whether or not it’s started, by “do date” (date when I choose to do it even if it’s not “due”), and my own numbering system. I have 36 projects in total which sounds like a lot, but a “project” just means any task that is two or more steps to complete. And these projects span from today to June. So having them all laid out and broken into actionable next steps allows me to work steadily (be the tortoise!) on the most important ones, because I should not wait – and it quiets the less important or future-dated projects because they can wait.
This could be huge.
My daily to do list (“TO DO TODAY”), on the other hand, is auto-populated each day with the tasks I’ve defined before had as “to do that day.” My to do list has a drop down for “today,” and “tomorrow” and “next week” and then a calendar view. The calendar view is a game changer because I can pick a day (say, 7 days from now), schedule a task, and when that day arrives it autopopulates on my “to do today” list. No transferring from Google Cal, no using two to do lists, etc.
I’m still learning his system for keeping notes and “mind vault” but we’ll see if it helps too.
I’m on a quest to read the complete works of Chesterton.
A foolish errand. But even he wrote a “Defense of Rash Vows.” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12245/12245-h/12245-h.htm…
I think I’ve read all his novels.
In graduate school, for about two years, I had to drop my Books to Read list and focus only on philosophy. This was a hard sacrifice. I gave up fiction for the first time in my life. After the pain subsided, I reintroduced Chesterton only (Librivox free audiobooks) because reading him restores my sanity. Graduate school is not a sane place. And Chesterton is cheaper (and more effective) than most therapy.
But after the novels, you get into Chesterton’s vast ouevre: essay collections, short stories, poetry, biography, literary criticism, and philosophy. Where to start?
I worked through them all. Eventually, after finishing the novels and books… I had nowhere to turn.
I started on his essay collections: Alarms and Discursions, the Defendant, Tremendous Trifles. I wasn’t super excited about these because I thought they were “second best” to his full novel or book-length works.
Then it struck me – the obvious fact – that Chesterton is an essayist. Even his best novels (Man Who Was Thursday, Ball and Cross, Manalive, etc.) are a series of short stories.
Father Brown is precisely a series of short stories.
Chesterton is a short-form writer. That’s who and what he is. Decades of journalistic writing formed him irrevocably into such. Now I see that Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man are a series of essays. It’s obvious once you see it but I didn’t before.
So now, as a matter of responsible literary criticism, I have to go back to his essay collections and judge them as his primary and preferred medium.
Alarms and Discursions. Tremendous Trifles. The Defendant. All Things Considered. These are the water in which Gilbert is the happiest fish.
Given all that – and you may freely disagree thus far – I ask myself: Which is best? As of right now, I think Tremendous Trifles is the best thing Chesterton ever wrote.
I will always cherish Man Who Was Thursday and Orthodoxy. Don’t get me wrong: they are world-class works. They light me up and restore my sanity.
But Tremendous Trifles is perhaps the most Chesterton-y piece of Chesterton I’ve come across.
It smacks you upside the head with his wisdom, humility, wit, and pithy humor. Each essay, revolving around the theme that small things are great, crashes upon the imagination like wave after wave of the ocean until you wonder why you never knew it before – and then convicts you of the answer: your pride. You did not see the greatness of small things because you (wrongly) assumed you were bigger than them.
I do hope that our separated Roman brethren will canonize Gilbert Keith, and not just because of his middle name.
Finally, I recommend to you, dear reader, the Surrender of the Cockney, which I shall be trying to apply to my life in this new season: I shall try to see my new city (Riverside) as a bumpkin would see it: with awe. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/9656/9656-h/9656-h.htm…
Here’s a weird phenomenon: we remember how we felt about an event better than we remember the event.
Dante says in Paradiso Canto XXXIII:
As one who sees within a dream, and, later, the passion that had been imprinted stays, but nothing of the rest returns to mind,
The phenomenon appears after reading books, seeing movies or plays, attending plays or concerts, visiting friends, and so on. We remember the single emotion – like a color – that is “imprinted” on the memory, and we use that single memory as a shorthand for the entire experience. If the memory is good, we say something to the effect that, “That movie was great!” (or that party, that concert, that conversation, that book, etc.)
I remember loving “The Green Mile.” Not having re-watched it for many years, I currently have no idea what it was about or what happens or why.
I remember loving Avengers: End Game. Don’t remember what happens.
I loved The Rise of Skywalker. Don’t remember what happens.
title: The Rise of Skywalker Mostly Wins
Read the rest...
President Joe Biden?
It’s late October and it seems pretty obvious to many people that Joe Biden is destined for the White House.
So it’s time for my four-year prediction.
Biden is a superior candidate in many ways. He has experience (40 years to Trump’s 4) and he is a fairly normal politician. He’s an insider. He’s predictable. He doesn’t motivate people the way Bernie or even Kamala did. But he’s safe.
It was exceedingly strange that Trump won in 2016. But now that he’s “inside” the Republican party, he’s still less of an insider than Vice President Biden.
In addition to conventional wisdom, there are good reasons to think Biden will win:
- Biden has enjoyed a lead in the polls for months.
- The 538 Blog favors him, even though Nate Silver acknowledges on Trump has a chance, as he did in 2016.
- Also, most individual polls favor Biden. The USC Dornsife poll favored Trump in 2016, but it has favored Biden for months.
- The IBD/Tipp favored Trump in 2016 for several weeks. This year, it shows Trump at a slight deficit.
- AI models almost universally predict Biden.
- Trump is the most hated president in decades. Just as much or more as they hated him in 2016, many people think he is an evil, clownish, silly, mentally unstable person.
- Democrats, understandably, hate him. But many Republicans hate him too.
- Although he has Breitbart and Drudge, most of the media hate him. Even Coulter and Drudge seems to have soured on Trump.
- Actors still hate him.
- Comedians and other artists still hate him.
Nevertheless, after winning almost $5 on Predictit, I am again putting my money on Trump/Pence. Why?
For some gut reasons, and other more scientific reasons.Read the rest...
It’s the time of year again when I prepare to teach an online Intro to Philosophy summer course at Asbury University.
The opening unit is on moral or cultural relativism and moral realism or objectivity. So we have to think about whether morality is real. Are some things really wrong? Or is everything permissible? Does ‘permissible’ depend on what you can get away with in your particular setting? Does it depend on your individual conscience or universal rules?
On the “no, morality isn’t real, it’s a cultural artifact like dress codes, etiquette, and tribal medicine” side we read a nice little article by anthropologist Ruth Benedict outlining the widely varying cultural practices of different societies.
On “yes, morality is real and somethings are really wrong, dummy” side we read a nice little article by James Rachels.
Between these two, Rachels has the upper hand. There are better defenses of a skeptical or cynical attitude toward morality –Thrasymachus, Nietzche, Gilbert Harman, Simon Blackburn’s quasi-realism, and others. There are also better arguments for moral reality.
That got me thinking: What are the best arguments for morality? Here’s my list:
1. Peter Kreeft, Summa Philosophica, Q VII, “Whether there is a Moral Law?”
In 2 pages, Kreeft puts all the best arguments and counter arguments in one place. It’s airtight, and also funny.
#2. Russ Shafer-Landau, Moral Realism
Shafer-Landau’s book is not 2 pages, and it’s more technical, but it includes some persuasive destruction of the anti-realist arguments, along with a full defense of moral reality and one possible explanation of how it all works.
#3. Peter Geach, the Virtues
The first few chapters.
He has to clear the way for his full discussion of the cardinal virtues. He demolishes the paltry line of thought that morality isn’t real because some people act immorally sometimes.
#4. David Enoch, “How is moral disagreement a problem for moral realism?”
Again, this ones a bit technical compared to Geach or Kreeft but this article is the best attempt anyone has ever made (including moral anti-realists and relativists) at actually stating the argument from moral disagreement explicitly. It turns out that being clear makes the argument much less persuasive. Put differently, the argument for relativism depends on innuendo, suggestion. It is sophistry.
#5. CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book I.
Lewis lays out an argument, in terms the radio-listening public of 1950’s England could easily follow, for why moral disagreement proves that moral rules are real. (We wouldn’t argue over subjective feelings.)
#6. CS Lewis, Abolition of Man
Lewis’s more mature, robust, and academic offering on a similar topic. Not only does he defend moral realism against specious and shallow appeals to “instinct”, “biology”, or cultural code, but he goes beyond to analyze the real nature of immorality. The Abolition of Man defends the “tao”, a set of universal moral laws that are visible to every morally decent person but invisible to the type of Unman our culture is busy creating.
That’s my list of the best arguments, or those which have had perhaps the most influence on my way of thinking.
The Covid pandemic is a great misfortune.
Misfortune is no one’s fault – no human being’s fault that is – it is the will of God, or fate, or chance, or nature. No one person or group can prevent all misfortune. Asteroids, floods, plagues, pandemics, tornados, famines, are all examples. Even when a misfortune (like an oil spoil, a war, a breaking levy) is partially caused by human error, it is also partially caused by factors outside our control.
We cannot decide not to suffer misfortune. We must all suffer misfortune.
We cannot decide not to die, eventually. We must all die, eventually.
There are some misfortunes that are “pincers”, dilemmas that press in on us from both sides. Sometimes we are between a rock and a hard place.
In the present misfortune, consider the facts:
Everyone has a level of wealth: everyone has a livelihood, be they workers, business owners, investors, and those who live on support from others. The first category, the one who works for a living, depend on their job for livelihood. No job, living.
The second category: Everyone who works for someone else works for a business owner, and business owners depend on their employees and buyers and suppliers for livelihood. No businesses, no living (and no jobs).
The third category: investor. Everyone who lives off their investments depends on the success of those investments, be they loans or real estate or stocks or what have you.
The fourth category: those living on support. And everyone who lives on support from others depends on the others being able to support – the government cannot provide programs like unemployment, disability, SNAP, HUD housing, and a thousand others without tax money. Non-profits (including many hospitals) cannot provide charity without charitable donations from workers, business owners, investors and government grants funded by tax money.
In other words, the money circulating through the economy comes from all and to all. If the economy collapses, then all of us will suffer various permutations of poverty: the government and public sectors, the private sector, the non-profit sector, individuals, families, employees, business owners, and investors.
At the same time, everyone has a level of health: whether we are young, middle-aged, or old, and weather we are extremely healthy and strong, average, or weak, sick, and vulnerable. We are all vulnerable to injury, crime, sickness, and eventual death. This is always true, no matter how healthy we may be, for aging is (eventually) the ultimate killer. The Covid crisis puts our mortality front and center of our consciousness, and arouses our very human fear of mortality.
As the virus spreads, it continues to cause suffering and death. As the virus spreads, it continues to cause suffering in the hearts and lives of those who have lost loved ones or who are caring for loved ones. As the virus spreads, news of the suffering and death of others causes even the unaffected anxiety.
The “pincer” here is that we in some cases we are presented with an intolerable dilemma: we can either take courses of action that will cause more poverty, suffering, death, and anxiety or the alternatives which will cause more sickness, suffering, death, and anxiety.
So let’s not pretend that any course of action is the cause of misfortune, nor that any course of action will prevent misfortune.
Let’s take a microcosm example: when shopping for carseats for my first child, we were met with many options in terms of cost and safety. In a very real way, we were deciding how much we could afford to spend (as poor graduate students) and how much risk of death we could tolerate. Imagining losing our child in a car accident because we could have bought a more expensive (and presumably sturdier) carseat is a stomach-emptying type of image. And yet there were economic limits to what we could afford. We struck a balance and fared forward.
We all make these kinds of calls every day. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in every room in your house, you are proportionally more likely to lose your house (and perhaps your life) in a fire. If you don’t have 1mil+ in life insurance on your life to protect your family, perhaps because you can’t afford it, then you are proportionally risking your family’s safety and health. But if you do buy fire extinguishers (which expire regularly) then there will be a financial cost that could go elsewhere; if you do buy millions in life insurance that money won’t be going elsewhere.
My sick father, when he came down with pancreatic cancer, had to decide how much of his retirement nest egg to spend on treatments. The longer he lived, the more of that money he would use to live – but the more he spent, the less he could pass on to his kids. Thankfully, much of his treatment was covered by tax-funded health insurance he had paid into his whole life. But the dilemma was still there? Increase chances of survival a small amount at the cost of my entire life savings? Not worth it. Increase chances of survival a large amount at the cost of a tiny portion of my life savings? Easy call. But most cases are not that simple.
With the Covid misfortune, there is no simple solution. The way forward for us (from what I am reading and thinking) seems to be a multifaceted approach: increase supply of ventilators and masks and other life-saving supplies, increase isolation and social distancing of the vulnerable, increase testing and scientific innovation for vaccines, treatments, cures, increase economic activity of those who are either low-risk enough to brave exposure or risk-tolerant enough venture forth, so long as they can avoid exposing others who are higher risk.
So what can we do?
Take calculated risks, knowing that we may guess but do not know with certainty the full-impact of our risks to our health and wealth. Trust experts and our own intuition; these are social and personal decisions at the same time and neither expert nor personal opinion automatically trumps the other.
Stay calm. Accept with a kind of Stoic dispassion that death comes to us all and that we must brave it – and some of us indeed hope for something after this life that is even better than this life.
Don’t judge. We most emphatically cannot judge or blame those who are more or less venturesome than ourselves as reckless or cowardly, respectively. Rather, as a whole society we must make our bets with death and poverty and hope for the best, knowing that in the end there is no winning strategy except for hope in the almighty God.
A PREMATURE REVIEW OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE’S INFINITE JEST: HE’S A MIX OF OSCAR WILDE AND NIETZSCHE
Infinite Jest is essentially a comedy.
With a name like “infinite jest”, I suppose the book gives the impression of being a comedy. But who knows until you look inside? The content of the “novel” (if that’s what it is) confirms it.
Last night Lindsay had to listen to me embarrass myself melting into hysterics trying to read (with vision blurred by tears) the endnote detailing the filmography of Dr. James Orin Incandenza. One of the most bizarre and comedic things I’ve ever read.
I’m not sure what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for a thing being a “novel” (as opposed to an epic, or a series of essays, or a random mind-dump, or a made-up history, or a fairy tale) but Infinite Jest is definitely aiming to be funny, and it succeeds in its bizarro, breathless, cynical, sarcastic, unflinchingly obscene sort of way… so I’m going to stick with “comedy”.
So far, exactly zero of the characters are happy, virtuous, wise, or even minimally decent, so I’ll add that it’s a “dark comedy.”
The term “Infinite Jest” is from a line of Shakespeare, in Hamlet (also darkly comic?) referring to Yorrick as a “man of infinite jest” who is now dead, thus further confirming the the combination of both darkness and comedy.
It’s not a particularly edifying novel. “Interesting” doesn’t automatically mean “worth paying attention to.” I may not finish it for that reason.
There’s a trade off in how much Wallace’s cynicism wears off on me as I read. He is completely given over, in his writing, to a spirit of self-harm, numbness, and obsessively sensual descriptions of everything trivial and ridiculous. It’s tiresome.
When I contemplate a new philosophy or idea, my normal strategy I take it into myself through a persistent effort at philosophical imagination. I was a Hegelian for 12 weeks studying Hegel, a naturalist for 2 years studying naturalism, a Marxist for about three minutes while studying Marxism, a feminist for several years studying feminism, etc.
Like a polymer, I eventually bounce back to my natural shape, but while studying I exercise all my empathy to “try on” the way of seeing things.
This is more enjoyable, as it allows for intellectual “travel” around the world, and gets you out of your own biases if only for the moment. But it’s also important when considering the truth of the philosophy or dialoging with philosophers who subscribe to that idea.
That said, I can’t do it very long with Wallace that with Wallace would increase the chances of getting hooked on substances and giving up on life.
If the laughs are worth it, or if there is any genuine insight or wisdom to be gleaned, I intend to finish it. But we’ll see.
Wallace is observant but despairing. The very absence of transcendence and meaning scream from every witty phrase. In his wittiness, he is like a doped-up and obscene Oscar Wilde.
However, in his obsession with vividly describing the details of mundane phenomena (emptied as far as possible from any transcendent meaning or order) the only other author that he reminds me of is the great Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche trolls you for pages and pages with descriptions of his digestion or defining the delicate shades of his reactions to the climate. He makes a mockery of the written word, even as he masters it, by aggressively refusing to write about anything important.
Maybe Wallace will end up on bookshelf next to Nietzsche, whom I also only read for the laughs (and the occasional flashes of insight), not for any wisdom about anything truly important, such as nature, man, God, philosophy, history, or language.
- [Interview with English professor and CS Lewis scholar Louis Markos](http://www.keithbuhler.com/markos) *Real virtue wins out every time.* - [**Interview with pastor, author, and classical education pioneer Douglas Wilson**](http://www.keithbuhler.com/classical%20education/2017/07/13/interview-douglas-wilson.html) *PITTSBURGH – June 24, 2017. About the future of classical education. It was filmed at the Association of Classical Christian Schools national conference, “Repairing the Ruins.”* - [Interview with Christian philosopher Eric Silverman](http://www.keithbuhler.com/philosophy/2017/11/24/silverman-interview.html) - [**"Life is Suffering", and other Jordan Peterson quotations**](http://www.keithbuhler.com/philosophy/2017/04/25/jordan-peterson-quotes.html) *We don’t understand the world. I do think the world is more like a musical masterpiece than it is like anything else. And things are oddly connected.* - [**Reflections on Graduate Student Stipends**](http://www.keithbuhler.com/buhlerreport/philosophy/2017/02/23/Reflections-on-Philosophy-Graduate-School-Stipends.html) -- *Now that I am a postdoc scholar at the University of Kentucky (Go ‘Cats!), I am reflecting back on my experience as a Teaching Assistant. One thing that was hard to discover, perhaps understandably, was the expected “stipend” of graduate teaching assistants at other universities I applied to. For what it’s worth, I saved the information about our stipend. My department preferred that it not be public. But count your lucky stars you aren’t as poor as I was in 2012.* - [**This Classic Text Explains why Classical Education is Best**](http://www.keithbuhler.com/buhlerreport/yalereport-post/) -- *If you haven’t read the Yale Report, it is very good. The “Yale Report of 1828” is one of the “most influential documents in the history of American higher education” according to R.J. O’Hara. It is still a pleasure to read, and its influence should not wane.*
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