Thursday, 29 May 2008


I leave you this fine evening with a column by philosopher Crispin Sartwell. Key paragraphs:

I teach political philosophy. And like most professors I know, I bend over backward to sympathetically teach texts I hate; I try to show my students why people have found Plato and Karl Marx—both of whom I regard as totalitarians—compelling. But when I get to the end of “The Communist Manifesto,” I’m usually asking things like this: “Marx says that all means of communication should be centralized in the hands of the state. Anyone see any problems with that?”

I don’t deceive myself into thinking that I teach these texts as well as, or in the same way as, a professor who found them plausible. And that’s fine. What I’m trying to point out is that even as I try to be neutral (well, even if I did try to be neutral), my personal opinions affect every aspect of what I do, and I think that is generally true.

But it can be horrendously true in academia, where everything is affected by the real opinions of real professors, from the configuration of departments to the courses on offer to the texts taught. And because there’s a consensus, there is precious little self-examination; a slant that we all share becomes invisible.

Academic consensus is a particularly irritating variety of groupthink. First of all, the fact that everyone agrees and everyone has a doctorate leads to the occasionally explicit idea that all intelligent people think the same thing—that no one could disagree with, say, Obama-ism, without being an idiot. This attitude is continually expressed, for example, in attacks on presidents Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, not for their political positions but for their grades and IQs.

That the American professoriate is near-unanimous for Barack Obama is a problem on many levels, but certainly pedagogically. Ideological uniformity does a disservice to students and makes a mockery of the pious commitment of these professors simply to convey knowledge. Also, the claims of the professoriate to intellectual independence and academic freedom, supposedly nurtured by tenure, are thrown into question by the unanimity. Professors are as herd-like in their opinions as other groups that demographers like to identify—“working-class white men,” for example. Indeed, surely more so.


Twenty Years Ago

5-29-88 . . . The wind was blowing ridiculously hard this afternoon, which lowered my average speed on the bike to 14.18 miles per hour (for 50.6 miles). I thought that by riding the southern part of the Tour de Tucson I would avoid the wind, but I’m sure I would have done better on the Crazy Route. To show you how brisk it was, there was a dust storm at the corner of Mission and Valencia Roads. Dirt pelted me unmercifully. The traffic light swayed in the wind, the cars slowed to a halt, and it grew dark momentarily. But I kept going. I put my head down and weathered the storm. The best part of the ride was from Mission San Xavier to the corner of Nogales and Los Reales roads, but it was short-lived. I was exhausted by the time I got home, though the high temperature was only ninety-one degrees [Fahrenheit]. Here are my ten-mile splits: 12.98, 11.82, 14.85, 16.93, and 15.43 miles per hour. Guess when the wind was blowing against me.


The Women’s College World Series began today in Oklahoma City. I’m watching the games on ESPN, in glorious high definition. I notice that no player wears a hat, even though the sun is shining. A couple of players wear visors. All college baseball players wear hats. Isn’t that strange? Either hats are functional (e.g., in keeping the sun out of one’s eyes) or they’re not. If they are, then the women are sacrificing function for what, beauty? If they’re not, then the men are wearing hats for nothing. I can’t believe there’s a rule that baseball players must wear hats; so why isn’t there an occasional maverick? And why isn’t there a maverick in softball? I don’t recall ever seeing a softball player wearing a hat. I should point out that players in both sports wear helmets while batting and running. Helmets are clearly functional.


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia. Here is tomorrow’s brutal stage (141.6 miles).

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Did I understand the logical implications of this correctly? The Bush administration—and the Pentagon—oppose the new G.I. Bill because it would entice and encourage soldiers to leave the military early. These are the same people who purport to support the troops and espouse to no end their selfless sacrifice and pure patriotism in the service of their country, then insult them and that concept of patriotism by saying outright that they can be bought off it?

Lyndon Dodds
San Antonio, May 26, 2008

Leonard Nelson (1882-1927) on Animal Rights

If we apply the criterion of duty, the question of whether animals have rights can be readily answered: we have merely to ask whether, in considering an action affecting an animal, we could assent to such an action after abstracting from numerical determination. In other words, we have to ask whether we would consent to be used as mere means by another being far superior to us in strength and intelligence. This question answers itself. The fact that man has other beings in his power, and that he is in a position to use them as means to his own ends, is purely fortuitous.

(Leonard Nelson, System of Ethics, trans. Norbert Guterman [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956], 141 [first published in German in 1932])