Saturday, July 10, 2021


 Being single is a perfectly ordinary feature of life, but people will believe the most looney things imaginable about it. Take, for instance, David Robson's How to Enjoy Being Single, in Psyche; while not all of it is bad, much of it is completely useless nonsense, based on a poor understanding of what happiness actually is. It is indeed true that people's self-reported contentment is largely the same whether they are in relationships or not; you are who you are, and that only changes by cultivation, not by shacking up or wedding bells. It is also true that, while not unimportant, how you feel about your life is the least important component of living the good life, a fact you will never learn from uncritical acceptance of loose psychological studies.

We get this sort of absurdity:

‘Not having a romantic partner at the centre of our lives does not limit our lives, it throws the doors wide open,’ Bella DePaulo, a social scientist affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of the book Singled Out (2004), told me. ‘Now, instead of prioritising one person by default, we can decide for ourselves who really matters to us, and live accordingly.’

No, being single doesn't 'throw the doors wide open' in comparison with having a romantic partner, because most of your choices will be much the same regardless; no, it doesn't mean you can decide for yourself 'who really matters' to you, since that is mostly determined by other things, including your ethical obligations; no, being single doesn't automatically mean that you are not prioritizing one person by default -- many single persons do this, just not with a romantic partner.

Thus the foundations for the advice are not well-conceived to begin with, although they do draw on pedestrian cliches despite the pretense of being daring proposals for a new way of looking at things. But some of the advice itself is downright toxic. The article proposes the made-up concept of 'singlism' which, of course, is prejudice against single people on the model of 'racism' or 'sexism', no less, and says "Defy singlism." What is the extraordinary violation of the human dignity of singles?

Many of the challenges of being single come from other people. From intrusive family conversations about your love life to formal invitations encouraging you to bring a ‘plus one’, single people face constant reminders that they’re veering from the accepted life script. DePaulo calls this ‘singlism’ and, like all other prejudices, it can be mentally exhausting to confront on a daily basis.

As someone who does quite well being single, let me offer my counter-advice: This is an ordinary human interaction, accept it as the nice gesture it is. Formal invitations involve a 'plus one' because you are the one invited, but you are welcome to bring someone else if you like. It is a nice courtesy even if you choose not to act on it, which you are perfectly free not to do. If you find it "mentally exhausting" to deal with people who think you important enough to invite you to a major event but decide to leave room just in case you might have someone you want to bring (which in fact doesn't even have to be a romantic partner), it is not because they are singlist but because you are being irrational. If you find ordinary human interaction mentally exhausting on a daily basis, see a professional counselor or buy a cabin in the woods. Later in the article, we get a causal mention of "As a single person, given the sense of social judgment and prejudice that you likely have to contend with on a daily basis". Not just mentally exhausted, but with a "sense of social judgment and prejudice" on a daily basis, and what is worse, you are likely to have it! No, you are not likely to have it or to be dealing with it on a daily basis. It is not something hordes of singles experience "on a daily basis". If you end up having it, there is a specific cause for it, and that specific cause is not that you are being persecuted.

But the discussion gets worse a little later:

From his own interviews and data analyses, Kislev has found that a greater awareness of ‘singlism’ – and the accompanying social pressure to ‘couple’ – as a common, shared experience can itself have a positive influence on wellbeing. Lauri, a single woman quoted in Kislev’s book, captures the sentiment best: ‘Realising that I wasn’t nuts for recognising singlism and matrimania in the world, I actually feel better about myself and paint a clearer picture of things.’

Singlism and matrimania, how horrible to live in a world in which people think being responsible for the survival, social development, and future of the human race is important. You have only to look around to see that anyone who thinks that our society is obsessed with marriage is delusional. It gets even worse, because so far it has mostly just been silly, if a little offensive in the suggestion that supposed (and, judging from the examples given, mostly imaginary) prejudices against being single are fit to be put in the same kind of category as racial or sexual injustice. The next turn is actively toxic: "Unfortunately, because few single people are consciously aware of ‘singlism’, the stigma can become internalised, so they feel like there really is something ‘wrong’ with them." It just gets slipped in there. A stigma is a mark of dishonor or disgrace. Someone asking you if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend yet is not a 'stigma'; they are treating you like a person whose life is worth knowing. Someone teasing you about still being single is not a 'stigma'; they are being comfortable enough with you to kid around. For that matter, someone being a complete jackass about it is not a 'stigma'; jackassery happens over almost everything. If you were under a stigma, people would shun you for the bare fact of being single; if you are having any of these problems, your singleness is not a stigma. Let me again offer my counter-insight here. If you feel like there really is something wrong with you because you are single, it is not because you have internalized any 'stigma'; it is almost certainly because you keep insisting on doing something that is not working for you, and thus are driving yourself into the ground sabotaging yourself. My advice is (and this will knock your socks off with its ingenuity): Try doing something else.

In any case, the toxic advice gets even worse:

You might need to apply conscious effort to question your own beliefs and to reject the false assumptions that are so widespread in our societies. Based on his research, Kislev argues that the happiest singles will often actively challenge the prejudice that they encounter in other people. ‘They must fight creatively and individually against discriminatory practices,’ he writes in Happy Singlehood. These acts of defiance, Kislev says, can be personally energising and empowering.

Yes, this is the sort of thing people say when they are trying to sell their quack moral medicines. Don't fall for the patented snake oil nostrum. Do not go around imagining yourself the victim of the evil of other people around you. It will not make you happier, but it will definitely poison your interactions with other people. You are not oppressed by their prejudice, and, if the examples given in the article are typical of what is being counted as 'prejudice', there is probably no prejudice at all. Acts of defiance probably would make you feel better; people who imagine themselves persecuted do generally feel better after acts of defiance, but it's because imagining yourself to be persecuted is a very miserable kind of life to begin with, so almost anything to disrupt the misery feels good. If you spend your life making yourself miserable, it probably will feel great to pick fights with people. It's still not the life you want. Rather, here's an alternative: be pleasant to other people. It's not the highest virtue, by any means, but you aren't actually facing anything that requires, or even provides a real occasion for, righteous indignation, so it won't kill you not to fight other people. Turning every interaction into a quarrel is not the path to happiness.

I was greatly amused, however, by the comments about 'singlism' in fiction. After an entire article in which the only specific examples given are of women, and which treats singles as depressed, unfulfilled, and desperate for romance -- I mean, the whole premise of the article is that singles are 'internalizing' an actual stigma arising from a pervasive and misery-causing prejudice against being single -- we are told:

Other writers, unfortunately, are much lazier, and simply replicate the existing prejudices without judgment, portraying singles who are depressed, unfulfilled and desperate for romance. Sadly, this is especially true for female protagonists.

Much lazier, indeed; sadly, indeed.

Gather round, children, and let me tell you what the secret to happiness as a single is: Seek virtue, cherish friends and family, honor marriage, and let everything else take care of itself in its own way. If you are miserable about being single, there are only two likely reasons why. Either you are making it all about yourself, which it is not, or you are sabotaging yourself in some way.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Dashed Off XIV

ta'amei ha-mitsvot: "...the search for the reasons of the commandments is an objective counterpart of the subjective requirement that one who performs a commandment do so with proper intention." Novak 

Positions on instantaneous change. In a change from X to non-X, such that before incipit instant t there is X and after non-X, at t is there (a) X, (b) non-X, (c) neither, or (d) both? Classical: (a) or (b); Glutty (d, one version); Gappy (c); Coincidental (d, second version); eliminativist (there is no such instant).

Ps 19: The heavens declare God's glory, but Torah makes us to express it.

the command to honor father & mother as a protection for tradition

Nahmanides: Public miracles are proof of creation, for if the world were eternal, nothing could alter its nature.
Torah is the purpose of miracle.
"The mystery of the Sanctuary is that the glory which rested on Mount Sinai abides on it unseen." Nahmanides CT (Ex 25:1)
"The Rabbis hinted that all the commandments are included in the Sabbath and the Sanctuary." CT (Lv 26:1)

The temptation in apologetic discussion of particular miracles is to assume that the process goes: argument to miracles in general -> argument for this miracle in particular -> argument(s) from miracle. But the whole point of a miracle is that, qua sign and wonder, it is an appearance of a sort. And thus the right process is: (this apparent miracle -> argument from miracle) -> argument for this being a real miracle in the face of objections -> argument to miracles in general from reasons for particular miracle. Miracles aren't deduced; we start with them as apparentia and explananda; we then come to better understanding of the explanans and thereby the appearance with which we began.

general postulates of inquiry: truth, discoverability of truth, freedom of mind to discover truth.

"In all limits there is something positive." Kant

All factional politics works by seeking out specific enemies; this is a move both to economize efforts and to allow for drama that interests.

The Chorus speaks for the City, both within and without the drama.

Like us, angels must be invited into true beatitude.

Ezra: How to proceed in religion after massive disruption.
I Macc.: How to proceed in religion without prophets.

Jn 7:37-39 may be an allusion to the Sukkot-rain connection (cp. Zech 14:16-19 and Ez 47); Rv 7:9-17 may draw from it as well.

Plutarch describes Sukkot in Quaestiones Conviviales (he takes it to be a form of Dionysian revelry).

affixes as concept formation devices (red, reddish, nonreddish; honor, honorable, post-honorable, post-honorableness, quasi-post-honorableness)

NB Nietzsche's approval of Brandes's description of his position as 'aristocratic radicalism'.

"Consciousness is philosophy nascent; philosophy is consciousness in full bloom and blow." Ferrier

"Intellectual virtue owes both its birth and its growth mainly to teaching." Aristotle
"We ought to attend to the undemonstrated sayings and opinions of experienced and old people or of people of practical wisdom not less than to demonstration, because from experience they have an eye to see right."

"To flow is not to cause." Albert
"A cause does not act except on some existing subject; flow, however, of its nature says nothing other than the procession of form from the simple formal principle itself."
"There is no flow unless one form is in the flowing and that into which it flows."

the three ecologies of the Church: discipleship, gift, and prayer

aphorisms as riddles of the sibyls, fragments wafting around in the breeze

Faith, hope, and love each raise us to a new kind of unity.

the reserve powers of the family/household

As the completeness of the universe requires both immutable and mutable good, so it requires both revocable and irrevocable choice.

angelic fall : angel :: death : man (Damascene, De Fide 2.4)

To command is possible only because there is a law that provides it context.

Every age has something of the apocalyptic. But some have more than others, and every surge raises the possibility of the surge that overwhelms. Humanity is floating on a sea of troubles.

1341-1342: eclipses of sun and moon
1346: collapse of roof of Hagia Sophia in an earthquake
1347-1348: Black Plague
1354: Earthquake at Gallipoli
1409-1410: Plague
1417: Plague
1420: Earthquake at Thessalonika
1430-1431: Plague
1439: Council of Florence
1447-1448: Plague
1453: Fall of Constantinople

The foolish escape the poison only to be killed by the antidote.

distributive vs commutative etiquette

Church (according to Manning): four notes, three properties (unity, visibility, perpetuity), three endowments (indefectibility, infallibility, authority)

The Apostolic Datary arose from a single legal point: that where there was an accidental or unforeseen conflict between grants of favor, the earlier grant took precedence. Thus dating grants, along with other cases in which exact dating could be relevant, was formed into an office. But this led to the office being given authority over other matters concerned with grants, including fees -- which led to its functioning as a secondary source of revenue and treasury, and thus as an influential office, in effect working as a privy purse ('secret treasury'). However, as anything suggestive of selling favors was increasingly looked down on, and the datarial authority increasingly complicated, it began to be trimmed, starting with Benedict XIV; this continued until Pius X folded it back into the Chancery and gave its major powers to Congregations. It was turned into an investigative and administrative office until it was ended in 1968 by Paul VI. It's a useful case for studying the ways of curial bureaucracy.

"the three notes of Antichrist" (Manning): schism, heresy, and the denial of the Incarnation

"when the intellectual become pantheists, the simple will become polytheists." Manning

the business enterprise qua corporation
(1) legal personality (access to tort & contract law)
(2) limited liability
(3) transferable shares
(4) delegated management under a board

social vs legal honor: legal honor qualified the rights one held; it could be due to personal act (depraved crime, ignominous trade) or to personal relation (illegitimate birth, treasonous association)

It is not just that human beings use tools, it is that by skills we carry around specialized tools even when we don't have their physical implementation, and that we therefore can and sometimes do make whatever is in our environment a tool. Bushmen carry nothing but what is necessary, a few things that are especially useful but sometimes hard to improvise, and yet by long practice and study every single one carries around more tools than can be enumerated, a world of tools, because of their experience and skill.

"The mystical body of the Church consists not only of men but of angels." Aquinas

Christ is lord of angels by divine title and by title of exaltation; Mary is queen of angels by participation in Christ's exaltation.

first principles as quasi-instruments of the agent intellect

angelic enlightenment and co-understanding
In human beings, co-understanding is always mediated by signs; but angelic co-understanding is directly cooperative insight. (This is somewhat like Banez's view, in which the higher angel's light is united to the lower angel's light so that they function as one principle in the lower angel's cognition; cf. also Capreolus on the analogy with instrumentality.)

Temptation is a perversion of the angelic persuasion to good.

And the Solemn Thunder of God's Laugh

by Henry Ignatius Dudley Ryder

The world's laugh, the world's laugh,
 Is hardly to be borne;
 It is the wind that parts the chaff
 From the solid golden corn. 

 Hither and thither the chaff flies,
 And out through the open door
 Heavy and rich the grain lies
 Upon the granary floor. 

 But one day the world's laugh,
 Which now doth lord it so,
 Shall fail and sink with the light chaff
 Into the fire below. 

And the solemn thunder of God's laugh,
The breath of Almighty scorn,
Shall drown for ever the world's laugh
And may of none be borne.

Thursday, July 08, 2021


Socrates: Selas (gleam) and phos (light) are the same thing.

Hermogenes: Yes.

Soc.: And the light is always new and old around the moon, if the Anaxagoreans are right, because they say that the sun, continuing its course around the moon, sheds new light on it while the light of the previous month persists.

Herm.: Sure.

Soc.: The moon is often called Selanaia.

Herm.: Sure.

Soc.: Since it always has 'sela neon te kai enon' (old and new gleam), the most excellent name for it would be Selaenoneoaeia, which has been shortened to Selanaia.

Herm.: That's definitely a hymn-appropriate name, Socrates.

Plato, Cratylus 409b-c, my (slightly paraphrastic) translation.

Divine Simplicity and Modal Collapse

One of the current fads in analytic philosophy of religion (for analytic philosophy of religion goes through fad after fad) is 'modal collapse arguments'. People are always asking me about modal collapse arguments, usually with respect to divine simplicity. Like the fad about 'divine hiddenness' a while back, I don't really see much of value in these objections, although I suppose this argument at least touches obliquely on genuinely interesting modal issues. The problem is aggravated in that people regularly make assumptions in translating divine simplicity and the like into the modal framework they are using, without properly examining whether they are any good.

One version of the argument, if we slightly simplify that of R. T. Mullins and Shannon Eugene Byrd ("Divine Simplicity and Modal Collapse: A Persistent Problem"), is:

1. God's existence is absolutely necessary.
2. Anything identical to God's existence is absolutely necessary.
3. All of God's intentional actions are identical to each other so as to be one intentional act.
4. God's one intentional act is identical to God's existence.
5. Therefore God's one intentional act is absolutely necessary.
6. God's intentional act to create the universe is identical to God's one intentional act.
7. Therefore, God's intentional act to create the universe is absolutely necessary.
8. Therefore the existence of the universe is absolutely necessary.

What can be said of this argument? To be more exact, what can be said of it if I set aside my usual (but still correct) beef that translating noncomposition into identity in the usual sense of 'identity' is wrong?

It trades heavily on the assumption that anything identical to something necessary is necessary. This is not actually true in every kind of case. It has always been recognized that things can sometimes be contingently identical, and if A is contingently identical to something necessary, this would not automatically yield the conclusion that A is something necessary, simpliciter. To remove contingent identity as an option, you have to assume that the things being identified are rigid designators, i.e., that they exist in every relevant possible situation. (There's actually some dispute as to whether even this is enough, but we don't need to go into that.) This causes a bit of perplexity for the move from (6) to (7), because (6) refers to something that only exists in some possible situations. Are we taking it to be obvious that God intentionally acts to create the universe even if no universe is created? It's not clear why we would assume that 'God's intentional act to create the universe' refers to something that can be found even when we are looking specifically at the possible situation in which God creates no universe. If God's intentional act to create the universe is identical to God's one intentional act only when we are looking at some possibilities and not others, then it is not, in fact, absolutely necessary even if God's one intentional act is. But we can say the same thing for identity all the way through; if contingent identity is on the table, there is simply no reason to accept (2), which is a rejection of contingent identity. But it's unclear from (6) why we would not in fact consider contingent identity. Mullins & Byrd attempt to motivate (2) by the identity of indiscernibles, but this is illegitimate here; the whole force of the argument is that God creating the universe and God not creating the universe are not indiscernible -- they are discernibly different possibilities. While Mullins & Byrd also try to insist that you can't coherently hold that something contingent is identical to something necessary, this is false; the contingent can be contingently identical even to something necessary. For instance, the number of fingers I am holding up can be contingently identical to the number two, despite the fact that I and my fingers and my acts of holding different numbers of them up are all contingent but the number two is not. If you said otherwise, we could never count contingent things.

There are other problems with this. (3) is false in almost every actual account of divine simplicity. The reason is that an intentional act by its nature refers always to two things, the agent and the object. If I just say 'God exists', that refers to God. But if I say something like 'God knows Fido', then I am actually referring to God and Fido. Thus while God is the same in both cases, 'God knows Fido' and 'God knows Fifi' are not equivalent; and likewise, God's knowing of Fido and God's knowing of Fifi are not going to be the same no matter how much God is the same in knowing both, because Fido and Fifi are not the same. In doctrines of divine simplicity the argument is that this distinction is not a distinction between components in God, not that there is no distinction between them at all -- they are obviously distinct as to objects. And this is particularly relevant in that the intentional act introduced in (6) explicitly identifies an object, the existence of the universe. But the whole point of the argument is that the universe may exist or not. Therefore 'God's creating the universe' is a description that refers to two things, one that is, by (1), absolutely necessary, and one, the universe, that is not. Therefore 'God's creating the universe' refers to something that 'God's existing' or, for that matter, 'God's intentionally acting' does not, and they are not intersubstitutable descriptions.

And, of course, as previously noted, this is all even if we set aside the fact that the argument gets the doctrine of divine simplicity wrong by confusing noncomposition with what we usually call identity.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Great Fellow of My Being!

by Jones Very

Day! I lament that none can hymn thy praise 
In fitting strains, of all thy riches bless;
Though thousands sport them in thy golden rays,
Yet none like thee their Maker's name confess.
Great fellow of my being! woke with me
Thou dost put on thy dazzling robes of light,
And onward from the east go forth to free
Thy children from the bondage of the night;
I hail thee, pilgrim! on thy lonely way,
Whose looks on all alike benignant shine;
A child of light, like thee, I cannot stay,
But on the world I bless must soon decline,
New rising still, though setting to mankind,
And ever in the eternal West my dayspring find.

Jones Very is a poet with a very interesting career. He was born in 1813 in Salem, Massachusetts and became a Unitarian clergyman and a tutor at Harvard recognized for being one of his generation's foremost experts on Shakespeare; he also became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and failed, despite trying, to become friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne. He had a reputation for acting oddly, especially when in a large group. He began to tell people that the Second Coming was happening inside him, and, eventually, that he was the Second Coming of Christ. Harvard relieved him of his duties as tutor and eventually he was committed to the mental institution, where he lectured his fellow inmates on Shakespeare. He refused to renounce his beliefs, but was eventually released anyway. Emerson continued to support his poetic work, but Very became a recluse for the last several decades of his life until he died in 1880. Highly respected for his poetry in his own life, his name all but disappeared after his death.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Trading in Benefices

Every human system has various forms of corruption; the specific forms of corruption to which it most tends are a matter of the structure of the system. Among these forms of corruption there are always chameleon or camouflaged corruptions that, in a sense, speak the language of the system so well that for the most part it is hardly noticed that they are corruptions. They are corruptions that often pass for normal parts of the system, they blend in so well. They usually only come to attention for purely accidental reasons. Academia, like every human system, has its own camouflaged corruptions, and academia being very much a positional game, its corruptions tend to have a lot of analogies to camouflaged corruptions in other positional systems, like corruptions that grew up in the ecclesiastical practice of bestowing benefices. It's an old story; Plato describes it in terms of the interaction of timarchy, based on glory and reputation and appearance of honor, and money. Academia, like Plato's timarchy, is an engine for converting other things to prestige and reputation, and, alas, nothing converts so easily as money -- much more easily than actual hard work. And there we have a beachhead for corruption.

Here is a common form of camouflaged corruption. A foundation or some other organization with a lot of money wants to increase its prestige and reputation, or the prestige and reputation of its cause, as the case may be; it strikes a deal with a college to create a prestige-piece, whether by endowing a chair or lectureship or by building a center or institute on campus or by anything similar. The organization gets academic respectability for money; the college gets money by which to have something flashy that can be used to increase its reputation. It looks very much like many of the ordinary ways colleges get along, sponsorships and donations and the like. But what actually has happened is that colleges (and in particular college presidents), exploiting the fact that these things can sometimes by happenstance create natural and spontaneous biases in the direction of general academic inquiry, have begun to sell the creation of artificial biases in general academic thought. The exact form will vary depending on exactly how the bias is to be created; but the form doesn't really matter, as what matters is that academic attention, and sometimes the particular shape it takes, is now for sale. Once that happens, there is no way to avoid corruption; the system is already corrupting, even if no one notices it. But every so often, some accident or other puts a spotlight on it here or there and people start seeing that something is off. One of the more recent examples is that of the Confucius Institutes, in which the non-profit organization Hanban, closely associated with the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, was forming 'educational partnerships' with foreign universities for Chinese language centers called 'Confucius Institutes'. 'Confucius Institute' was a deliberately constructed brand name -- who can be against Confucius? The agreements always gave the parent organization a considerable amount of power in funding and managing the centers. Most of what happened in Confucius Institutes was relatively benign, ordinary Chinese language study, although there were curriculum limitations on how things like Tibet or Taiwan were handled. But even if that had been all, the corruption is in the very fact that an organization affiliated with the Chinese government was able to pay to create its own artificial bias in general academic inquiry in universities across the world. As it happens, much of this was handled clunkily, in ways that got academic hackles up for independent reasons, and this happened to intersect with growing political worries about Chinese influence, so that it was in the spotlight to an unusual degree. But it is not an unusual event.

We have seen another flavor of this kind of corruption. Knight Foundation is a non-profit organization with a $2 billion endowment. Its purpose is promote excellence in journalism, but of course promoting excellence in X always involves a particular idea of what that means. One of things Knight Foundation does is endow Knight Chairs in Journalism to (as it puts it) bridge the divide between the journalism classroom and the newsroom. To put it in different terms, it buys academic positions for professional journalists.  We see again the deliberate funding of an artificial bias, a camouflaged one that looks to the outside like ordinary chair endowment (e.g., when someone endows a particular chair to make what an academic faculty already teaches and researches more sustainably taught and researched), but is not quite like, either. The journalists are chosen by the colleges (who thereby get to add to their reputation by associating themselves with famous names), but besides the professional journalism requirement, particular chairs are themed. One of the Knight Chairs was at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, a reasonably prestigious school with a widely recognized journalism program, the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. It is in particular the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Nikole Hannah-Jones, a well-known Pulitzer-winning journalist who had attended the school, was chosen. If you ignore the fact that the Chair is itself a bought position for influencing the course of academic teaching and inquiry, there's no question that she was, despite the controversies that surround her, a reasonable candidate.

People who receive Knight Chairs are eligible to apply for academic tenure, and the previous two people had received it. The tenure committee recommended tenure for Hannah-Jones; but the UNC Board of Trustees declined to approve it, and offered instead a five-year contract. This is the controversy that has recently been in the news. It is irrelevant; what is relevant and important is that it is another accidental controversy that throws a spotlight on another layer of corruption here. In a system notorious for its active exploitation of hard-working adjuncts (and the Hussman School hires over thirty adjuncts), a bought position like a Knight Chair gives a route for a celebrity to be slotted into a well-paid tenured chair. That is corruption in broad daylight: the buying and trading of academic honors over the heads of the very people for whom they were ultimately meant, active academic teachers and researchers. But again, it's only accidentally in plain light; these things happen all the time, and are hardly noticed. It is all done in the academic vernacular, almost but not quite like the way things are supposed to work. And many academics are quite complicit in it; when Hannah-Jones was not given automatic tenure for the position, many of them protested, quite vehemently, in fact, and far more vehemently than they ever protest the ongoing exploitation of their academic colleagues. They're used to this process of celebrities being slotted into bought academic offices; they have come to accept the corruption's camouflage at face value, and the corruption itself as normal working of the system. And again, this is not unusual or even distinctive to academia; it is similar to how corruption develops and grows in church and government bureaucracies, as well.

Hannah-Jones, in any case, is not hurt by it. Academia is a reputational game, and if you apply the right reputational pressure to a college, it will sooner or later buckle, and the UNC Board of Trustees eventually buckled and offered her tenure. She declined, going instead to Howard University, which has a recently established Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, where she will get her rubber-stamped tenure. Frankly, I wish her well; while she happens to be a beneficiary of it, the corruption lies not with her but with the academic system itself. There's no point in attacking particular individuals for receiving plum benefices when the whole system is riddled with the same kind of practice.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Late and Slowly and Partially

That men did not become aware of conscience as a peculiar power of the mind, till they had long reasoned and meditated upon actions and rules; --that they did not at first separate it from all other faculties, mark it by a name, and clearly discern its place;--may well be supposed. For with how much labour and doubt, and effort and struggle, have all abstract thoughts, however clear, all foundations of general truths, however sure, been extricated by man from the complex mass of events and appearances which surround him. Tardily and gradually, no doubt, do the principles of moral truth emerge into view, even among the sagest and most virtuous of the heathen. But has not this been so with abstract truths of the plainest kinds? Even those portions of human knowledge to which we here turn men's eyes, as the very type and exemplar of evident and indisputable speculative truth;--the properties, I mean, of space and of number;--were not these, too, brought into view, late and slowly and partially, among the most acute and luminous intellects of the ancient world?--while, over the greater part of the earth, and during the greater portion of the earth's history, no clear apprehension at all of such doctrines has found place in men's minds. Yet who among us holds that therefore these doctrines are precarious? and who does not see that the faculties by which we apprehend the properties of space and number are not the less real, or the less trustworthy, because they require to be unfolded and expanded by exercise and by teaching.

William Whewell, On the Foundations of Morals, Sermon II.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Fortnightly Book, July 4

"Much better are the girls I have known myself during my young days. I wouldn't presume to rank them as superior to all the characters of earlier works, yet their stories may serve to dispel boredom and care while the few doggerels I have inserted may raise a laugh and add zest to wine. As for the scenes of sad partings and happy meetings, prosperity and decline, these are all true to fact and not altered in the slightest to cause a sensation or depart from truth." (p. 5) 

Cao Xueqin was born near modern-day Liaoyang, China, to an important and wealthy family in service to the Manchu and Qing emperors. The family fell from grace under the Yongzheng Emperor, who, accusing them of mismanaging funds, removed them from office and confiscated all their property in 1727; Xueqin was but a boy when he went from very wealthy to dirt poor. As an adult, he tried to put food on the table by selling paintings, which were generally praised; but he also seems to have been an alcoholic. He spent much of his free time working on a book, but it's unclear how close he was to completing it when he died in the 1760s.

The book was passed around after his death, people occasionally making handwritten copies. It's a very large book, so as you might expect, in any given copy you might be missing pages or even chapters, or have serious errors not caught in revision. In addition, people often wrote commentaries to go with it. Eventually Cheng Weiyuan and Gao E, important Qing scholars, collected together a printed edition, which had eighty chapters from handwritten copies, telling a story that was not wholly complete, and forty more chapters, completing the tale, that were supposedly recovered from Cao Xueqin's papers. It's generally accepted today that the 'recovery' was a literary fiction and that the final forty chapters were written by Gao E himself, although this is still occasionally disputed, and it might well be that the author was someone prior to Gao E.

The book had no stable title. In some of the handwritten manuscripts, it is given the title, The Tale of the Stone. The name that has primarily stuck, though, is that which it was given in the Cheng-Gao version: Dream of the Red Chamber. In English, however, it is usually rendered, A Dream of Red Mansions, which is sometimes thought to be a mistranslation; 'mansions', however, is sometimes a rare word for an apartment in a larger building, due in part to the KJV translation of John 14:2, "In My Father's house are many mansions", so I suspect this is what was really intended. Whatever title one uses, it is one of the most influential Chinese literary works of the past three hundred years.

I will be reading the complete Foreign Language Press edition, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang. The book is huge; my edition has four volumes. So this fortnightly book might end up taking three or four weeks, particularly as my schedule for July is rather unusual. But we will see, and in the meantime it should be interesting to read the modern Chinese classic about what love is in a world in which every good thing ends.

His Day Is Marching On

The Battle Hymn of the Republic
by Julia Ward Howe

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is succor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

There are different variations, of course, depending on whether one takes Howe's original, the hymn as originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1862, or any of a number of variations that inevitably arose from the popularity of the hymn over the years.