Borowski’s Memoir

Observe in what an original world we are living: how many men can you find in Europe who have never killed; or whom somebody does not wish to kill?

But still we continue to long for a world in which there is love between men, peace, and serene deliverance from our baser instincts. This, I suppose, is the nature of youth.

P.S. And yet, first of all, I should like to slaughter one or two men, just to throw off the concentration camp mentality, the effects of continual subservience, the effects of helplessly watching others being beaten and murdered, the effects of all this horror.  I suspect, though, that I will be marked for life.  I do not know whether we shall survive, but I like to think that one day we shall have the courage to tell the world the whole truth and call it by its proper name. 

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You know how much I used to like Plato.  Today I realized he lied.  For the things of this world are not a reflection of the ideal, but a product of human sweat, blood and hard labour.  It is we who built the pyramids, hewed the marble for the temples and the rocks for the imperial roads, we who pulled the oars in the galleys and dragged wooden ploughs, while they wrote dialogues and dramas, rationalized their intrigues by appeals in the name of the Fatherland, made wars over boundaries and democracies.  We were filthy and died real deaths.  They were ‘aesthetic’ and carried on subtle debates.

There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.


Are You In A Relationship With Your Phone?

Two of my classes this term focus on the dynamics between technology and culture: Science, Technology, and Society and Ethical Considerations in Technology. The other day I spotted an opinion piece in the student paper discussing the dating app Tinder (Click here to read it). Now, the usual academic set up of the courses involves discussing case studies such as The Challenger Disaster, the New Orleans Levee failure, and Genetic Engineering. In light of the interesting shift in our behavior regarding phone usage, and specifically the piece from the student paper, I decided to shelve the topic on the syllabus for a moment and ask students what they thought of the influx of dating apps.

My intention was to simply spend a brief time on this, but it unraveled into a spirited class discussion lasting for nearly an hour. Everyone had something to say!

I asked students what the advantages are to using an app for dating and put the list on the board. It looked something like this:

  1. It saves time.
  2. It’s efficient.
  3. You can plan your thoughts out in a text or have a friend double check what you text before hitting send.
  4. You don’t have to deal with face-to-face rejection.
  5. There is an ego boost to getting “hits” or “likes.”
  6. There is more control over first impression because you can choose the photo and the bio.
  7. There are so many possibilities.

Unlike reviewing case studies where students learn the information pertinent to the cases, memorize them, and then crank it back out on an exam, this discussion ignited their interest because they are smack in the middle of a cultural shift regarding personal interaction brought about by the fancy-gadget-does-everything-phone.

We then began to pick apart the list on the board. How much time is actually saved if one is on the phone for hours swiping away at photos of potential dates? Wouldn’t there be a similar amount of time spent on going out and being social in person?

For numbers 2-4 and 6 we talked about the very human element of being vulnerable in both friendships and relationships. Removing, or attempting to remove, that from the equation could rob one of an opportunity for growth. Stumbling, putting your foot in your mouth, blushing, awkwardness, and responding in real time with a facial expression are all elements of being human. Is efficiency meant to be applied in this realm? Would you ever want to date a person who had never experienced rejection or a heart break? Isn’t that what makes us humble, caring, and sensitive?

The ego boost is another intriguing aspect. In the normal course of a week, how many compliments does one receive? Without doubt, it feels nice to be on the receiving end of kind words. What the app has done (along with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) is create a potential for a deluge of “likes” within a brief time frame. No longer will a compliment from someone once a week suffice. It’s now needed within seconds of posting something and the desire to check has turned into something of an addiction.

With number 7, we discussed how the idea of “many fish in the sea” has radically changed to an infinite amount of fish in the ocean. Hmm…how has the idea that there could always be someone else impacted commitment? (Vanity Fair published an article on this over the summer much to the dismay of Tinder. Click here for the article.)

The conversation morphed into a more general dialogue about being on the phone. It’s a security blanket. One never needs to feel alone because one can always get online to see what people are up to. It is a companion.

In the spirit of bringing this dialogue into the subject of philosophy and specifically The Apology where Socrates gives his famous defense, I asked the students what Socrates would think of our addiction to the phone. Are we similar to Athens?

Socrates argued the soul inherently held more value than the body and other material goods. (If you do not subscribe to the idea of a soul then swap it out with the concept of character.) How, then, does one care for the soul? By asking questions, seeking knowledge, and developing virtues such as Justice, Courage, and Creativity to name a few. For Socrates, spending time on the soul through intellectual and moral pursuits allowed for the good life: “For I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul.  Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence makes wealth and everything else good for men, both individually and collectively.”

Are we subverting excellence by tending to the phone? Are happiness spikes from internet activity an excess? Are we losing sight of what it means to develop our souls/character by diverting too much attention to the impersonal “likes” of others? Are deep conversations eclipsed by quick messages or updates?

I don’t mean to sound as though I’m anti-technology. (I’m a fan of indoor plumbing, modern dentistry, my kindle, and travel by air.) Nor do I mean to negate the door that has been opened with respect to information sharing.  This reflection concerns the apparent restructuring of the building blocks of relationships.  To be clear, I did not treat this classroom time as a dispenser of wisdom and instruction but as a person also swept up by the phone. And, not totally dissimilar to my students, I’m frustrated by how the phone gradually altered from a device of convenience to one tethering me to its intrusions. I have three email accounts, this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, an author account, a log for my Crossfit WODS, LinkedIn, a step counter, a calculator, a GPS…the list goes on! In order to take time out to read and write I disconnect the internet from my computer and I put my phone in airplane mode to force myself to focus.

At the end of class I offered the students this challenge (and please feel free to do this and share your experience in the comments): go out for a meal alone and without your phone. What is it like? How does it feel? Does the prospect of it cause anxiety?

Reading Suggestions on this topic:

Alone Together. Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr

The Circle, by Dave Eggers and/or my previous post on this novel.


Beautiful Souls

Thank you for sharing your talent, for being an inspiration, and for making the world more beautiful.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

“But race is the child of racism, not the father.”

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“Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh.  It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.”

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“All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to ‘be twice as good,’ which is to say ‘accept half as much.’ These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head ant the hand in our pocket.  This is how we lose our softness.  This is how they steal our right to smile.  No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good.  I imagined their parents telling them to take twice as much.  It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled plunder.  It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much could not be recovered.  The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments.  It is the last bottle of wine that you have just uncorked but do not have time to drink.  It is the kiss that you do not have time to share, before she walks out of your life.  It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three-hour days for us.”


4 Stress Triggers for the Introvert

  1. Losing sight of an exit. Introverts often find themselves settled near an opening or on the perimeter of a room. Upon request, they could demonstrate escape routes faster than a seasoned flight attendant. Tip: if you dread interacting with an introvert then plant yourself smack in the middle of a party. They will never find you.
  1. The question of what to wear poses a slightly different conundrum for the introvert going out on the town. They aren’t steeped in concerns of fashion or trends. Instead they’re pulling a Sherlock Holmesian (Cumberbatch version) examination of a potential outfit in an effort to recall if it’s the same thing they wore last time when out.
  1. Suggesting more than one location in an evening during a social gathering ignites a mental cramp. Introverts, when opting to be social, feel comfortable committing to one place. If the party migrates, the introvert Ubers.
  1. Group weekend getaways. Introverts love quality time with their friends, just not an entire weekend out of town. If an introvert agrees to such a weekend they’ll spend the week before going through the following stages: a) Is it possible to be polite and decline? b) I can’t decline! Initiates strategies for survival, c) Wonders why an entire weekend is really necessary, and d) Acceptance.

 


Life is…

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Happiness hinges on Gender Roles? That old Chestnut

 

The anti-feminist and self-proclaimed marriage guru, Suzanne Venker wrote a column for Fox News regarding the status of marriage.  She asserts in the title that marriage is not a relationship of equals: “To Be Happy, We Must Admit Women and Men are not ‘Equal.'”

Nor should it be, according to Venker. Thus, one might gather, marriage ought to be an inherently asymmetrical relation…for the sake of “happy.” Venker miserably attempts to avoid that asymmetrical inference with: “Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical or interchangeable.”

The problem according to the author? Feminism destroys marriage. She writes: “Today, men and women have no idea who’s supposed to do what.”

Like what, pray tell me. Should I announce at the beginning of my next university lecture: “Ladies, I know you are equal, but you are not equal here. I realize you wanted to become an engineer, a philosopher, a historian; however, this confuses things. Your value is of a different sort. This endeavor will ruin your potential for happiness and marital bliss. University is for men since their role is to…um…do anything other than your role.”

And if a female student quips: “But I’m happy here.” Shall I reply: “Shhh, dear.  See a doctor and get a prescription for a tranquilizer. You needn’t fret about a career.”

And if another female student says: “But I want to earn money.”  Shall I reply: “Oh, sweet fragile being, your role is not to earn money.  Ladies marry money.”

Then once they exit, I too must collect my things and say: “I’ve misappropriated my talent by earning a PhD and daring to stand before you fine male students with knowledge to dispense.  I thought I was happy but apparently I would be happier if I acted natural, and I’ll research how to be natural right away.  So, I will go now.  I’m not sure if anyone else is available to teach you at the moment, but that can’t be my concern.  Bye!”

Let me be blunt. This shit (excuse me) thinking needs to stop. It is not tradition. It is not a “natural” condition.

The notion that woman is not man’s equal is the underscoring reason perpetuating abuse, violence, gendercide, the attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life, “mansplaining,” and the non-violent yet serious issue of less pay for women, to name a few.

Venker enthusiasts might chant: But that’s not what is meant here! Women should be cared for and put on a pedestal!

And, I ask, what happens when they don’t do as they are told?

To claim that marriage is not among equals is to also claim that women are less than men. There is no circumventing that connection. Venker tried as much by stating that women need to appreciate their “role,” but that simply fails to diffuse the essence of the claim.  I suspect the topic of same-sex marriage renders her completely perplexed.

She hearkens back to the mythical time when men were in charge and the dynamics of marriage offered more for women. Women were the winners in that scenario, right? After all they could focus on pleasing their husband by keeping house and cooking instead of the pesky task of earning money or developing talent.

Unless you consider the massive uptick in pharmaceuticals for the “happy” housewives in the 50s.* Or the alcoholism. Or the assumption that women did not work. Are minority women included in this dreamy 1950s picture?

To buoy her position, she paints a dismal picture of the current culture treating women as equals by referencing the Costa Concordia Ship crash (2012) and contrasting it with the fatal sinking of the Titanic. On the Titanic, during a time when women were “rightly” treated as non-equals, the disaster protocol was “women and children first off the ship.” As a result only 103 of the nearly 1,400 passengers who died were women, Venker notes.

However, with the feminist agenda and a pro-equal policy, more chaos ensued on the Costa Concordia.

Aside from being completely absurd, this piece of evidence lacks a strong (or even a minor) causal connection. When the Titanic was sinking there were only about a dozen people privy to that information. In fact, few survivors reported having felt any sort of impact with the iceberg. By direct order, the ship commenced with evacuating slowly and calmly to prevent panic. Because people were not entirely aware their life faced a serious danger, they boarded the life boats without haste, leaving some nearly empty. Surely the “unsinkable” ship couldn’t sink!

In contrast, the Costa Concordia’s passengers were overwrought with panic. “The ship hit rocks, creating a huge gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation” (The Guardian). Of course, that would force a behavior resulting in a by-pass of conventional pleasantries. (Note the devastating Boston Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942.)

Venker’s evidence regarding problems with equality rest on a rather murky foundation and an awkward scare tactic. For example, other causal factors are more likely to explain the difference in evacuation. Because feminism exists, it does not follow that women died on the Costa Concordia as a result. Venker’s ability to thread a causal connection is about as strong as me announcing: “Every time I wash my car it rains the next day.” While that has unfortunately been true, I couldn’t conclude that the act of washing my car caused the rain.

Venker clings to the notion of gender roles and disputes the concept of social construction. Her evidence? “We know little girls love their dolls and boys just want to kick that ball.”

This does not prove a “natural tendency.” Who provides these toys?  What happens when a boy plays with a doll?  When a girl kicks a ball?  Are they encouraged? In fact, her example lends itself to the exact position she wishes to strike down, namely the possibility of learned behavior. What one “likes” or gravitates towards can be attributed to environment and condition. Don’t believe me? Pull out your seventh grade school picture, take a look at your stylish outfit and do, and reminisce on what was “cool” at the time (or rad or groovy). Still think environment has nothing to do with what you are drawn to?

For the record, let’s review what is “natural,” shall we?

Thinking, creativity, and the desire to play (be it music, sports, or logic puzzles). These are aspects of the human condition, and to dismiss, stifle, or infringe one’s expression of these is wrong.

To tell any human being they are less than another human being based on the body into which they were born is wrong.

To tell any human being they are destined to serve another human being based on the body into which they were born is wrong.

 

 

* From ‘Mother’s Little Helper’: The Crisis of Psychoanalysis and the Milton Resolution by Jonathan Metzl. “Emphasis on the Valium craze of the 1970s, however, has caused many scholars to overlook the 1950s as a decade in which key links were forged between ‘mothers’ and psychopharmacological medications….Thanks to psychopharmacology, ‘emotional’ problems could be cured simply by visiting a doctor, obtaining a prescription and taking a pill. Invariably, these problems ranged from a woman’s frigidity, to a bride’s uncertainty, to a wife’s infidelity. The predominance of such conditions suggest how psychopharmaceuticals came of age in a post-war consumer culture intimately concerned with the role of mothers in maintaining individual and communal peace of mind. As a result, the 1950s set precedents connecting women and psychopharmaceuticals that lay the foundation for Mother’s Little Helpers in the decades to come.”


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