Wednesday, February 26, 2014

(WR) MLK Gospels

In one of the MLK Gospel working groups from the other section, I overheard one student say that King was killed in Washington, DC. This is historically incorrect, as I'm sure most of you know, but it's worth noticing just what a brilliantly telling error it is -- locating King's assassination at the heart of our nation's capital is false as history and at the same time true as process in precisely the way that locating Jesus' birth in Bethlehem is. As you build your own narrative interpretations of King, bear in mind just how important such mistakes and fictions, whether accidents of memory or deliberate literary creations, can be.

(EE) Reviews of Kolbert's Sixth Extinction

Here's a review from the Boston Globe of Elizabeth Kolbert's new book, The Sixth Extinction. The reviewer is properly appreciative of many of the book's qualities, though he strikes an oddly sour note at the end, mistakenly attributing to her a sort of anti-humanism (a preposterous charge, to anyone who has read her other work).

 A far better review essay about the book is by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. You can't read it online without a subscription, but I'll find a way to get you a copy.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

(WR) Demon Exercise

Let's be sure to speak in class about the idea of trance, or alternative states of consciousness, in relation to Jesus' casting out of demons. I'm particularly intrigued by Crossan's speculation that Jesus himself might have performed in a trance state.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

(EE) Shallow and Deep

Much of the material we have been discussing is quite confusing, and this is compounded by our fragmentary course schedule so far. Here's one thing we might usefully take away, however: it's probably not useful to divide those concerned about planetary health into deep and shallow, or non-anthropocentric and anthropocentric.

For example, deep ecologists sneer at proponents of recycling as a cult, which they would be if they thought recycling by itself were sufficient, but most of them don't. The deep ecologists are right that we must do much more than recycle, but do they really want us NOT to do so? This sounds like culting off your nose to spite your face.

Of course we reject the most narrow, selfish anthropocentrism that is not at all concerned with ecology, the idea that only humans matter and that the world is just a heap of raw material for our exploitation. But we have seen not only that a robust environmental ethic can flow from a more expansive anthropocentrism, but that the deep ecologists themselves cannot avoid understanding the world in relation to human values.

So the infighting is not substantive, and needs to stop. We needn't agree about everything to be on the same team, and we need all hands on deck to have any realistic hope.

(WR) Getting Clear on Who Jesus Was

In preparation for Tuesday's class, it will be very useful to articulate for yourself, in your own words, answers to two questions:
1) What does Crossan mean when he describes Jesus' "kingdom of God" as a present, sapiential, peasant eschatology?
2) Fleshing out question 1, what are the key points of Jesus' message (Crossan enumerates them in chapter 3)?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

(EE) Supply Side Ostritch-ism

In this morning's Berkshire Eagle, local conservative commentator Matt Kinnaman manages to applaud the recent rise of domestically sourced carbon fuels without even mentioning the local pollution or downwind (and global) consequences. This is an astonishing accomplishment -- not merely climate-change denial but something perhaps more pervasive -- a glimpse into a very particular, carefully constricted view of the world as revealing as Mitt Romney's "47%" comments during the last presidential election. That was a leaked private comment, however; Kinnaman published this under his own name:

Monday, February 3, 2014

(EE) Sentience and Sensibility

I see from the comments on Sebastian's blog that the position for which I (with David Johnson) argued in S&S is coming in for discussion. I had hoped to avoid this, really, since the thing was written by Silliman 3.1 over a decade ago, and I don't even have an operating system capable of running that program anymore. It would be like trying to read a Windows 95 document on a new Mac OS.

In a nutshell (or just a nut; hold the shell) I was there attempting to develop a perspective from which we could understand ourselves as having obligations toward other living things and ecosystems as robust as Rolston and Naess require, without abandoning the insight and practical usefulness of a sentientist ethical foundation. I honestly have no idea whether I succeeded, either analytically or rhetorically, as I find it pretty painful to read my own publications. But if I become convinced that we really need to have that conversation, perhaps I'll extract something from the appendix of the book to discuss in class.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

(WR) Some thoughts on detachment

It is important to look at what the Gita says, not only about detachment as such, but about what the text calls a spiritually advanced (or illumined) person is like. For instance, there is much talk about love, compassion, and friendship in a sattvic person that we must somehow reconcile with the specific passages about detachment.

But looking at those passages, too, we find some nuance: specifically, Krishna recommends not detachment simpliciter, but specifically detachment from the results of action. It is possible, then, to be deeply immersed in and passionate about your work, for example, to attend to it closely and fully engage with it, while not obsessing about its success, reward, or other extrinsic value. Paradoxically, this would probably fit the text's notion of detachment.

Here's an example: as a teacher, it is easy to fall into despair about whether I am reaching my students. I can get depressed, frustrated, angry, and generally cantankerous if I fixate on outcomes. This is comprehensively unpleasant for all concerned. But if I'm passionate about the material and the learning itself -- as well as connecting with, liking, and respecting the students regardless of whether they seem to be trying or making headway -- I can find joy and satisfaction in the very struggle. I suspect if I stay detached in this way from the (meager) fruits of teaching, I can be much more effective in the long run.
So detachment is not withdrawal and disengagement from others or our work, as you might at first imagine, but rather a way to free ourselves from emotional turmoil so as to think and act clearly and with well-considered purpose.

(EE) Pipeline Politics

Some people treat environmental ethics as distinct from environmental politics, but as Aristotle clearly understood, politics is ethics writ large. Especially now that the human environmental footprint is global, resulting from aggregate and not just individual actions, a crucial sphere of ethical action must be at a governmental and even international scale. Here’s today’s news on the XL pipeline, with a headline that we can only read as either disheartening or provocative: