The Sampler (June 2020)

American culture rages like a sounding cataract, but the Sampler goes ever on.

Articles

Matthew Crawford, contrarian in residence, wrote “The Danger of Safetyism before the recent surge of protests around the country. One quote:

At the level of sentiment, there appears to be a feedback loop wherein the safer we become, the more intolerable any remaining risk appears. At the level of bureaucratic grasping, we can note that emergency powers are seldom relinquished once the emergency has passed. Together, these dynamics make up a kind of ratchet mechanism that moves in only one direction, tightening against the human spirit.

Crawford usually sounds like someone who chafes at being told what to do. I suppose that makes us kindred spirits. But I think he’s onto something. I was going to share an excerpt from his newest book on driving (and why self-driving cars may not be the greatest), but this is the Sampler, so we’re sampling, not feasting.

Cal Newport wrote recently on the Lost Satisfactions of Manuel Competence. People are discovering that making things and fixing your own stuff can make you quiet and easy.

To Watch

Alright, so here’s a sermon. It’s over twenty years old, and I’m aware that nothing good ever came out of the 90’s. Jim Cymbala has been the senior pastor at the Brooklyn Tabernacle since 1971. Several things on prayer clicked into place for me after listening to this. If your heart needs crackin’, I heartily recommend it.

Books!

I have some posts on a few new books in the queue, so I’ll just mention a short one, Ploductivity by Douglas Wilson. I’ve read seven or eight books on time management and productivity and this was the first that appears to have been written by a human. David Allen’s Getting Things Done is undoubtedly the best, but I’m confident that Allen is actually a robot. Wilson brings a much needed sense of humor to the subject.

It’s also great that Wilson is approaching his work as a Christian. The theology of Work and Theology of Wealth sections are worth the price of admission. Here’s a snippet:

So if technology is wealth, then we are all surrounded with astounding amounts of it. This is what I refer to as tangible grace. If you have a smartphone, you have more wealth in your pocket than Nebuchadnezzar accumulated over the course of his lifetime. We have a responsibility to turn a profit on these astounding resources—and that is what is meant by productivity. We have a responsibility to do this methodically, deliberately, and intentionally. This is what I mean by ploductivity. This is deliberate faithfulness: working in the same direction over an extended period of time. Our electronic servants may be super fast, but we should be as deliberate as ever.

Ploductivity: A Practical Theology of Work and Wealth, Location 129, Kindle Edition

Oh, and look who we picked up this weekend…

Meet Picket!

The Sampler (May 2020)

Here’s the Sampler for the month. Don’t worry, I avoided any political babble and COVID-19. For productive, interesting, and valuable content, take a look.

Articles

In writing, the race is not to the swift but to the clear. Clear writing requires clear thinking. This is one reason Rachel and I decided to school our children at home. We all need to write better than we do, and we write more often than we realize. Texts, emails, presentations, thank you cards, and notes for the next meeting all involve writing! We’re all writers, and a little effort goes a long way. Perhaps this is why the New York Times has an article in their “Smarter Living” column entitled:  How to Edit Your Own Writing. It’s quite good.

David Mathis (I’m reading a lot of his articles lately) gives a Christian Hedonist’s take on a theology of exercise:  “How might it change your exercise routine if you did not exercise for mere weight loss, or long-term health, or improved physical appearance, but you did it to enjoy God more?” Mathis shows capable Christian writing on a subject that has intrigued me for years.

Useful

In spite of the cash I spent on Logos Bible Software, I still almost always use Blueletterbible.org when I’m looking up a word or reference in Scripture. It’s free and remarkably easy to use.

Books!

My parents have been passionate about organic and sustainable farming for years. I’m usually skeptical, as wary of the organic industry as the ‘Big Agriculture’ its trying to displace. However, it’s hard to argue with fresh eggs and the satisfaction of eating meat and vegetables you nurtured from start to finish. In the interest of being open minded, I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food last month. I enjoyed reading Pollan’s insistence that we make food and nutrition much too complicated. He’s able to argue the nutrition science, if that’s your thing, but he prefers to summarize his book in seven words: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. I lost three pounds just reading that. Dad, next up is The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

In Defense of Food

Be Still My Beating Heart!

Finally, Matthew Crawford has a new book coming out in June! Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road

Why We Drive

P.S. Send me any goodies you come across in your travels of the wasteland that is the internet. You can also leave some recommendations in the comments thread.

~BL

 

 

 

Think about it- a Conversation

I believe I can help those who want to think better, but—I need to say it before taking one more step—no, it’s not because I’m an academic. My fellow academics, taken as a group, are just as reluctant to engage in genuine reflection as the less highly educated person in the street. Academics have always been afflicted by unusually high levels of conformity to expectations: one of the chief ways you prove yourself worthy of an academic life is by getting very good grades, and you don’t get very good grades without saying the sorts of things that your professors like to hear.

~Alan Jacobs, How to Think (pp. 23-24)

I read this in bed a few weeks ago. Academics are not immune to peer pressure, Jacobs says. Over the next few days, similar ideas from a variety of authors floated to the surface of my mind. A kind of conversation emerged:

First voice, John Locke

Michael Shermer wrote for the Scientific American about speaking with narrow minded people. I considered here that his advice was sound, but his article seemed too lax on his own atheistic tribe. I brought in John Locke, who said we tend to think and argue in favor of our desires, rather than our reason.

Second voice, Allan Bloom

In what oddly became the most commonly visited post on this site, I reflected on Bernie Sanders’ popularity and his supporters use of the term ‘Revolution’. I mention Allan Bloom:

Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.

~Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, (emphasis mine)

When we remove the voices that challenge us, we should beware the ecology of ideas we’re creating. Locke and Bloom reinforce Jacobs’ concern.

Third voice, Rosaria Butterfield

I remembered a counterpoint to Jacobs. Rosaria Butterfield, wrote on the benefit of university culture. Describing her entrance into the church after conversion:

I miss being in the company of risky and complex thinkers, people who are invested in our culture and who challenge me to think to the edges of my comfort zones. I believed then and I believe now that where everybody thinks the same nobody thinks very much.

~Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, pg. 7

Butterfield argues that the Academy is a fitting place for the exchange of ideas. See how her statement echoes Bloom? There’s tyranny afoot when other perspectives are edged out. Jacobs, however, says there’s more insularity in the Academy than Butterield acknowledges. Professors aren’t immune to the peer pressure and temptations to desire Locke mentioned.

Maybe Butterfield is issuing a statement of faith in what the university should be.

Finale, Matthew Crawford

Matthew Crawford, the philosopher-turned-motorcycle-mechanic, agrees:

Getting things right requires triangulating with other people. Psychologists therefore would do well to ask whether “metacognition” (thinking critically about your own thinking) is at bottom a social phenomenon. It typically happens in conversation— not idle chitchat, but the kind that aims to get to the bottom of things. I call this an “art” because it requires both tact and doggedness. And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding. This is, of course, an unusual priority to have, which may help to account for the rarity of real mastery in any pursuit.

~Matthew Crawford, emphasis mine. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (p. 63).

Rare indeed. This is my favorite kind of reading. Continuing Crawford’s argument, guiding your books into a conversation is indispensable when learning to think. The kind of freedom that emerges is what a liberal arts education is all about. Think about it.

BL

Marco Rubio, Welding, and Philosophy

“Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” ~ Marco Rubio

GMAW.welding.af.ncsMarco Rubio’s recent comments have had some traffic since the most recent (39th?!) Republican presidential debate. (The scrutiny you receive as a presidential candidate is only one of the perks of running for office). The response on social media was as you might expect. The omniscient fact-checker gods flew in with their pronouncements on the Truth of how much philosophers really make. We also saw a host of articles written in defense of the learning of philosophy at the university level. Again, nothing surprising there. What did surprise me was the either/or nature of the debate on vocational vs. academic training. Either you think we need more vocational training in the manual trades or you think that philosophy is a study worthy of time, effort, and money. I smell a false dichotomy.

I’m qualified to address this because I have enthusiastically worked in the manual trades while pursing the liberal arts education that I wish began for me in high school. I have aspirations for pursuing pastoral ministry (when I grow up), and I have come to think that my apprenticeship as a carpenter has broadened and enriched my life experience for the kind of work that I’ll be doing. Manual competence changes the way we see and act in our world.

Probably the most surprising component of the manifold responses to the debate was the use of Matthew Crawford to support the study of philosophy. Indeed, Crawford does encourage young people to consider studying philosophy at the university level. However, Crawford, a philosopher-turned-motorcycle-mechanic, wrote his first book taking a jab at the dichotomy of “brain jobs” vs “manual jobs”. I’m thinking Plato and Aristotle wouldn’t have bought the distinction either.

I’m making no arguments about which field offers more pay because -to be frank -I don’t really care. If you’ve got the money to spend on a philosophy degree, have at it. Philosophy is wonderful. It’s a way of life. I do wish that the philosophers would take more strides, like Crawford, to encourage people to pursue the manual trades as a meaningful way to learn the world and as a means of attaining wisdom. Philosophers would better serve themselves in working to erase the popular stigma against philosophy by creating widespread interest in the history of ideas and the life of the mind. As Gracy Olmstead helpfully suggested, how about philosopher-welders?