Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Till we meet again


According to my research, that's a misattribution - one "Ludwig Jacobowski" apparently said it first. No matter, I'm smiling today because our course happened. You've all given me much to ponder.

To our graduates: congrats - "Oh the places you'll go!" (Dr. S did certifiably say that.)  I don't have just one word for you, but if I did it wouldn't be "plastic" (if you've seen Dustin Hoffman's "The Graduate" you'll get the joke). It's been real, even if our conversations have been conducted mostly in virtual space.

When the Fall semester begins I'll remove you guys from the author list, to make room for the new kids. But feel free to continue to use this space 'til then, and the comments section ever after, if mind or spirit moves you.

Good luck, all. Don't be strangers, drop by 300 JUB if you're in the neighborhood (I'll be there just about every day starting Aug. 28). Enjoy the rest of your summers, and your lives.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why is The Origin of Species such a great book?

Dear Dr. Oliver,

I want to echo the sentiments of the other students who expressed their appreciation to you for introducing us to the James brothers, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin. I have always intended to read The Origin of Species, but never got around to it. As I read it, I was directed to other books and then I discovered that the James brothers and Mill would also have read it. There is something special about reading a book and imagining what it must have been like for them to read it, but my greatest delight came in discovering the Henry David Thoreau had also read it and it had a profound effect on him. I only wished he had lived longer so he could have shared more of how he felt.

And I want to thank the other students for their post they have enlighten me and I am most grateful and wish those who are moving on to a new life the very best and I hope our paths will cross.


The four individuals we studied this semester were all born in the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill, 1806, Charles Darwin, 1809, Williams James, 1842, and Henry James, 1843. They were influenced by or influenced events and writings in the nineteenth century and beyond which deal with human beings’s relationship with each other and with nature. While their influence was predominantly in the Anglo-American sphere, Darwin’s influence extended globally. While Europeans led the way in advancing science and philosophy, William James was an early contributor in the new discipline of psychology and in pragmatism. “Many historians consider the 19th century, especially the latter half, to be the start of the modern era of science, because many of our current ideas and theories of the natural world were initiated during this time.”[1] Many of these pioneers challenged accepted theories and dogma that had been disseminated from those in power.
                Once human beings evolved to the degree that some members in each society could reflect on where they came from, they created stories to explain the origin of their society. The few who were literate created religious systems. These systems share several things in common: each attempt to address their origin and “each system provides directions for appropriate and expected behaviors and serves as a form of social control for individuals within that society. Religious sanctions that encourage conformity are strong.”[2]  However, even the most learned members were ignorant of the natural and physical laws that governed the universe. Ancient Egyptians observed the sun appearing and disappearing each day and associated its movement with a god Ra who blessed them with his appearance bringing light for them to see and for their plants to grow. Elaborate rituals were created by the priestly caste and performed daily to welcome the god’s arrival. They had no way of knowing that the sun was a mass of hot gases and that it was the earth that revolved around the sun. They were not alone, almost every primitive society worshipped the sun in some form and it is understandable when you consider how important it was in their lives.
Today, most of us know better, not because we are smarter, but because we have acquired the knowledge and created the tools to be able to observe our sun in our solar system in relation to other suns in other solar systems and other galaxies. That knowledge and those tools inundated the world in the nineteenth century. In the western world, Greek philosophers make small chinks in the foundation that claimed that the Earth and everything in it had been created six thousand years ago, and that there was nothing new under the sun. Those chinks were widened by a Polish monk, Copernicus, and an Italian astronomer, Galileo, who demonstrated that the earth was not the center of the universe, let alone the center of its own solar system. This was the first blow to the biblical account of creation because up to that moment almost everyone believed in a geocentric Earth.  Proponents of the heliocentric model of our solar system were branded as heretics and the church fought back with ferocity against them, realizing that not only the church’s spiritual well-being, but its financial well-being was at risk. The controlling powers demanded conformity and the individuality encouraged later by John Stuart Mill was crushed or burned at the stake – the fate of Giordano Bruno for defending the Copernican system. Ironically, it wasn’t until 1992 that the Catholic church acknowledged that Galileo was right.
The nineteenth century ushered in a new age of scientific breakthroughs in physics, chemistry, geology, and biology that would serve as wrecking balls to the foundation of biblical creation. When these discoveries were coupled with the technological advances related to communication and transportation, they created a global network for exchanging ideas and cultures and caused internal conflicts for individuals in the Western world who had been trained from childhood to believe that everything written in the Hebrew bible was to be taken literally as divinely inspired. Thus, began the conflict between science and religion that exists to this day, “Four in 10 Americans believe God created the Earth and anatomically modern humans, less than 10,000 years ago, according to a new Gallup poll.”[3] Also, a National Science Foundation study found that one of four Americans thought that the sun revolved around the Earth.[4] Some of us may remember that Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin thought the Earth was less than seven thousand years old and contended that she had seen images of human footprints in dinosaur fossils. This ignorance of scientific facts is not confined to the United States, other countries have similarly high percentages.
Geology was the second of three blows to the biblical creation story. No one had an effective and accurate way to measure the age of the Earth. Bishop Ussher from Ireland estimated the date as 4004 B.C. based on biblical chronologies and this became set in church stone and appears on the first page to this day in most bibles. When Charles Lyell published Principles of Geology, he was very careful to manage how it was released and to focus on divorcing science from religion so it would not appear that he was attacking the biblical narrative about creation. This would give time for it to receive a fair hearing. What it achieved was to share evidence of what Lyell and others had accumulated and then allow the reader to draw his own conclusions, Any reasonable person could only conclude that the Earth had existed for much longer than proposed by the Bible and that the processes that were occurring in the present had occurred in the past in the same fashion.
Lyell’s observations about a long-time line for Earth’s formation while controversial were accepted because of his position on another issue that endeared him to religious leaders. He was a fervent opponent of evolution. “If evolution was true, Lyell believed, no divinely implanted reason, spirit or soul would set human beings apart; they would be nothing but an improved form of the apes…with humans no more than better beasts and religion exposed as a fable, the foundations of civil society would crumble.”[5] Toward the end of his life after learning of the latest discoveries and reading the latest literature, he expressed his inner conflict, “‘it cost me a struggle to renounce my old creed.’ He could follow Darwin’s reasoning, but his ‘sentiments and imagination’ revolted against removing man from the exalted position in which the seventeenth-century philosopher Pascal had placed him as ‘the archangel ruined.’”[6] He was not alone, there were many learned individuals who had to come to terms with the apparent contradictions in the biblical creation story that they had been taught and what they were learning and observing.
                 Most of the early origin writers justified their stories as being divinely inspired and they were reluctant to accept or hostile to any suggestion that a god who created the universe would have known their assertions to be false. One example is the story of Joshua in the Hebrew bible commanding the sun to stand still when it is the earth that is rotating around the sun. If the writer possessed the knowledge we have today or the knowledge of a god, they might have described the event as a solar eclipse, but once it was clear that it was in error, they had several options: 1. Acknowledge that the writer was wrong and ignorant of astronomy and laws of gravity and therefore that the passage was not divinely inspired. 2. Insist that with god all things are possible and continue to teach that the sun stood still because to cast doubt on divine inspiration on any issue would raise a question of credibility on other assertions. 3. Create an alternative explanation which would justify the assertion to be understood in a figurative rather than a literal way. These same options were considered and used when fossils were discovered including one theory that god or the devil had planted them throughout the world for geologists and paleontologists to find and report on (Consider just some of the fossil finds in this year alone - https://www.livescience.com/topics/fossils and then search back over the last ten years and imagine if this information had been available and understandable to the early origin writers).
Most of the early scientific pioneers were conflicted with the guilt of wanting to conform their findings to their religious teachings and to not express anything which would question their beliefs even as they realized that what they observed challenged those deeply held beliefs. Some like Dr. Louis Agassiz, clung to their beliefs and defended certain assertions even when the evidence was overwhelmingly against them, some tried to integrate the new findings and create an updated religion -  creationism or intelligent design, some chose to question their faith in the writings of early writers but kept certain tenets of their religion, and some abandoned their religion.
Charles Darwin was one of those individuals who had internal struggles with his beliefs. He had the good fortune like American author Henry James to be born into privilege and had the time and resources to explore the world unencumbered with the need to earn a living and to focus on what interested him. Both had much in common. They both were detail driven and very observant. Both recorded their observations meticulously which enabled them to be master writers. Both excelled in travelogues. They had similar views on religion in the latter part of their lives. Christopher Stewart cites Kaplan as stating that James’s reply to the question “Is There Life After Death?”, thought that it was not likely, and Edel stated about the same question, that James, “believed there was none. Death was absolute.”[7] Darwin likewise, “Like many other educated men of his generation, had been slowly, almost imperceptibly, but surely, losing religious faith…Darwin was concerned with the physical realities of life on earth and probing their mysteries. He was temperamentally disinclined to probe the possibilities of life after death or to speculate on ‘salvation’.”[8] Darwin communicated some of his thoughts to Asa Gray an American botanists. “With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me. — I am bewildered. — I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars…”[9]
Before he reached this stage in his life, Darwin had devoted five years of his life traveling on the HMS Beagle collecting specimens from South America and Asian and shipping them home and then organizing his findings and notes when he returned in 1836. Over the next twenty years he continued to study, experiment, and observe nature. It is difficult to imagine the personal knowledge that he gained during this time, but one small example may give some insight into his efforts to gather as much information as possible before expressing any conclusions about what he believed. “I do not believe that botanists are aware how charged the mud of ponds is with seeds; I have tried several little experiments, but will here give only the most striking case: I took in February three tablespoonsful of mud from three different points, beneath water, on the edge of a little pond: this mud when dried weighed only 6 ounces; I kept it covered up in my study for six months, pulling up and counting each plant as it grew; the plants were of many kinds, and were altogether 537 in number; and yet the viscid mud was all contained in a breakfast cup!”[10] 
It was this attention to detail along with his earliest travelogue of his voyage on the Beagle that so captivated the readers even if they did not agree with his implicit conclusions. It is difficult to measure the impact of Charles Darwin’s book, the Origin of Species, published in 1859, on the psyche of people then who were just trying to grasp the more personal and relevant things like vaccinations, pasteurization, anesthesia, along with electricity, telegraph, telephone, and photography let alone the more esoteric concepts like absolute zero, gas and thermodynamic laws, and organic chemistry.   When you add in discoveries in astronomy, geology, and biology, it is easy to see how Darwin’s theory of descent with modification or natural selection flowed as part of a continuum of scientific revolution. There were several reasons for his delay in publishing it until 1859. First, he had seen the response to Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation published anonymously in 1844 because the author feared the repercussions of his controversial stand that contended that the origins, growth, and development of the earth and living organisms on Earth were the result of a process later to be call evolution rather that the unique creation by god. Second, Darwin’s wife was deeply religious and he did not want to publish something even if he believed it that would be detrimental to her. Third, he wanted more time to gather more evidence to make his presentation as irrefutable as possible. The last reason was unexpected overthrown when he received a package in the mail in 1858 from Alfred Russel Wallace who outlined a theory of natural selection that was almost identical to Darwin’s.
After he consulted with some close friends, he submitted a summary of his work along with Wallace’s to the Linnaean Society and then proceeded relentlessly to write his book. It became an immediate success; the first edition was sold out within a day. It was popular in Europe and in America, where pirated copies were printed. On the cold wintry night of January 1, 1860 in Concord Massachusetts at the home of Franklin Sanborn, he, Asa Gray, renowned botanist, Amos Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa Mae Alcott, Charles Loring Brace, cousin of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry David Thoreau met to discuss slavery and the recent execution of John Brown whom they had supported. Brace brought Darwin’s book with him and it would change the lives of those in attendance and it would change America.[11] Asa Gray became an early supporter of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and wrote a couple of powerful book reviews that propelled The Origin of Species to national attention at a time of impending conflict over slavery and made an argument for the position that if we were all related to an early progenitor that slavery was not justified. Gray later experienced internal conflict with the damage the theory might have on religion and wrote two more reviews that retreated from his original strong support.
The other individual at that meeting who was probably the most deeply affected was Thoreau. He was only forty-two but had acquired a reputation for his support of transcendentalism and for his literary credentials-- essays and  Walden. As he read, absorbed, and reflected on the Origin, he wrote, ‘“The development theory implies a greater vital force in nature, because it is more flexible and accommodating, and equivalent to a sort of constant new creation.’ Constant new creation. The phrase represents an epoch in American thought. For one thing, it no longer relies upon divinity to explain the natural world… ‘The development theory’ suggested a natural world sufficient unto itself—without the façade of heaven. There was no force or intelligence behind Nature, directing its course in a determined and purposeful manner. Nature just was.[12]
According to Mark Brake, “The case outlined in The Origin of Species can be distilled down into three component concepts: Variation (each and every individual of any particular species is different), multiplicity (living creatures…tend to make more offspring and have bigger broods than the environment can necessary maintain), and natural selection (The individual differences between members of a species, coupled with the environmental forces highlighted by those like Malthus, shape the likelihood that a particular individual will last long enough to pass its characteristics on to posterity”[13] The Metaphysical Club at Harvard consisting of Chauncey Wright, Charles Peirce, William James, John Fiske, Nicholas Green, and Oliver Wendell Holmes discussed The Origin of Species with Pierce writing this, “Natural selection, as conceived by Darwin, is a mode of evolution in which the only positive agent of change in the whole passage from moner to man is fortuitous variation. To secure advance in a definite direction chance has to be seconded by some action that shall hinder the propagation of some varieties or stimulate that of others.”[14] With respect to William James, Wiener notes that “As Professor Ralph B. Perry remarks in his definitive work on James, ‘the influence of Darwin was both early and profound, and its effects crop up in diverse and unexpected quarters…With Professor Perry we must discriminate an early positivistic phase of James’s idea of evolution. In this phase, James pitted himself against his anti-Darwinian teacher of zoology, the famous Louis Agassiz”[15] While James was clearly knowledgeable about The Origin of Species, he may have concentrated on other works that gave him insight into the development of the human brain and nervous system and led to his pioneering work in psychology.
The Origin of Species was published at a pivotal point of the nineteenth century because it provided the impetus to the scientific revolution. Sir Julian Huxley writing in the Introduction to the centennial reprinting of it expressed the sentiments of those who understood its importance. “Why is The Origin of Species such a great book? First of all, because it convincingly demonstrates the fact of evolution: it provides a vast and well-chosen body of evidence showing that existing animals and plants cannot have been separately created in their present forms, but must have evolved from earlier forms by slow transformation. And secondly, because the theory of natural selection, which the Origin so fully and lucidly expounds, provides a mechanism by which such transformation could and would automatically be produced. Natural selection rendered evolution scientifically intelligible.”[16] But the last words about all of his collections, observations, research, work, writings, and reflections can best be expressed by Darwin himself. “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume under the form of an abstract, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the ‘plan of creation,’ ‘unity of design,’ &c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact. Anyone whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties that to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject the theory. A few naturalists, endowed with much flexibility of mind, and who have already begun to doubt the immutability of species, may be influenced by this volume; but I look with confidence to the future, -- to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.”[17]
Long ago, I read The Revised Standard Version (1946) of the Bible from cover to cover and finally after all of these years I have finally read Darwin’s Origin of Species. I still had questions as I read the text, but I know that many of them have been answered since Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. However, even as a young boy, I doubted the literal version of Adam and Eve. I grew up on a farm and saw plenty of snakes and I did not know any women in my neighborhood that talked to a snake unless it was with a hoe chopping off their head, and I found it hard to believe that one snake in the Garden of Eden condemned all the snakes in North America who were supposedly walking around upright to suddenly crawl on their stomachs and lose their appendages; it did not make any sense. Sadly, for a long time, women have had to pay for that story through discrimination, abuse, and injustice.

[1] Michael Windelspecht, Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions and Discoveries of the 19th Century (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003), xvii)
[2] Jeanne Ballantine, Kathleen Korgen, and Keith Roberts, Our Social World: Introduction to Sociology (Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016) 378.
[3] Tia Ghose. 2014. 4 in 10 Americans Believe God Created Earth 10,000 Years Ago. https://www.livescience.com/46123-many-americans-creationists.html
[4] Ibid.
[5] James A. Secord, ed., Charles Lyell: Principles of Geology (London, Penguin Group, 1997) xxxiii-xxxiv)
[6] Ibid., xxxviii
[7] Christopher Stewart, Colby Quarterly, Volume 35, no.2, June 1999, p.90-101
[8] Paul Johnson, Darwin: portrait of a genius (New York, Penguin Group, 2012) 51-52.
[9] Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2814,” accessed on 9 August 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-2814
[10] Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species: With an Introduction by Sir Julian Huxley (New York, Signet Classics Penguin Group, 2003), 410.
[11] Randall Fuller, The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation (New York, Viking, 2017) ix – 28.
[12] Ibid., 246-7.
[13] Mark L. Brake, Revolution in Science (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) 139-140.
[14] Philip P. Wiener, Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (New York, Harper & Row, 1949) 3.
[15] Ibid., 99.
[16] Darwin, xi.
[17] Darwin, 500.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Thank you class

Thank you all for making this class so interesting. Thank you Dr Oliver for keeping the class interesting. Email At anytime.  God bless you all

Monday, August 7, 2017

Farewell fellow classmates: Thank you

Last post: Thank you

Fellow classmates and Professor Oliver,

It has been fun, just as I thought it would be. I really haven’t kept up with all the runs we have scored, but I know it’s a lot. I love hearing other people’s points of view on serious and controversial topics and none of you have disappointed me. Some of your thoughts were profound and all of them were thought provoking.

Thank you, Brandon, Don, Joshua, Vega and Dr. Oliver. I hope to see all of you in another (on ground) MALA class sometime soon.

Dr. Oliver:

Thank you for introducing me to J. S. Mill, a man after my own heart in several respects. I look forward to our discussion about the man himself. As for the James brothers, I think I would have enjoyed them more if I was more sophisticated and more intellectual. Regretfully, I am not. It is my loss.

Thanks to all of you for contributing to my education and for your respectful and enlightening conversations. I doubt that I will ever forget any of you.


George Burnett

Solvitur ambulando

Word(s) of the day: “solvitur ambulando” - ‘it is solved by walking’ (Latin). Diogenes, then St Augustine, Thoreau & Chatwin, inter alia.

Gros Walking

  • The author, a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris, has, in addition to other things, altered volumes in the after posthumous release of Michel Foucault's addresses at the College de France. However, the specialist Gros conveys to his appearance on walking comes just to a limited extent from knowing the lives and works of mobile scholars over the centuries, starting in old Greece. He is a researcher yet, in addition, an authority - somebody who has hiked and meandered enough in his chance, over an adequate assortment of landscapes, to know at direct the scope of inclinations (ecstasy, monotony, exhaustion) that run with long walks.
    It is a work of advocacy, and of publicity against stationary considering. The first of Gros' personal essay is on Nietzsche, who took up walking in the outdoors while experiencing migraine headache, eye strain, and late-night vomiting spasms. It didn't cure him, however, it transformed him. He may be the one spending time at well-being resorts, yet it was a contemporary scholarly life that showed invalidism.
    "We don't have a place with the individuals who have thoughts just among books, when fortified by books," Nietzsche wrote. "It is our propensity to think outside - walking, jumping, climbing, moving, ideally on desolate mountains or close to the ocean where even the trails end up plainly mindful. Our first inquiries regarding the estimation of a book, of an individual, or of a melodic creation, are: Can they walk? Significantly more, would they be able to move?" Long, long climbs, for example, those taken by Nietzsche - and furthermore by Rousseau, the subject of another article - are just a single method of philosophical pedestrianism. The correctly coordinate
    There's clear walking - the non-aggressive demonstration of putting one foot before the other, going some place intentionally, and giving your body a chance to unwind into the tedium of it. There's the promenade - an activity in vanity, developed in the strangely select French open patio nurseries of the Tuileries or the Luxembourg Gardens. What's more, there's flâneuring - the nearest you can oversee nearby to a nation drift, in which getting to be plainly lost in the group is a particularly favorable position.
    The German scholar Schelle went so far as to distinguish the correct conditions for these walks. The promenade needs wide ways, and a group of enough conspicuous individuals in it to give you a social part. The farmland walk needs mountains, valleys, streams, fields, and woods.
    To the extent Gros is concerned, the best kind of walk is one that sets the mind allowed to its dreams, in spite of the fact that a citation he offers from Montaigne puts it better: "My contemplation's rest in the event that I sit still; my favor does not go so well without anyone else as when my legs move it." This knowledge tops a book whose best minutes come when the writer is plotting the significance of strolling on a modest bunch of scholars: Nietzsche, Rousseau, and Wordsworth were all equipped for sharpening their lines or refining their conclusions, as they attempted long walks. Strolling removes an author from his or her books, and a greater picture develops: "The minute your nose is covered in dates, in certainties, everything falls back without anyone else held eccentricity. Though the need is to develop fictions, myths, general predetermination."
    It's important that the free thinking souls Gros celebrates had a considerable amount of data rattling around their breeze cleared heads, yet Gros finds in their lives as walkers the foundations of their radicalism. He's especially excited about the Cynics, those Greek thinkers, for example, Diogenes who endeavored to lessen their lives to minimum necessities. In an uncommon look at Gros the walker, we see him being roused enough by this to leave his rucksack on the lower slants of a slope for a couple of days, and to proceed without it, living on berries and thinking about the ground.
    The issue with A Philosophy of Walking is that it's guaranteed and, to be perfectly honest, French style implies that the creator's apothegms can exhibit whatever he needs to show at the time. A mixing record of Gandhi's salt walk serves to contend that strolling is a demonstration of modesty - "I am replaying the natural human condition, encapsulating at the end of the day man's inalienable, basic desperation... And there remains something glad in walking: we are upright." Sometimes this is reverberating, yet more regularly we hear the sort of redundancy that English essayists put something aside for radio plays: gap "is dependably there on all sides, flooding, running all over the place, every which way". The interpreter has been maybe excessively steadfast, making it impossible to the first's capacities: do we truly have "abolishment"? Does a scene in French mean the same as in English?
    All things considered, there are some noteworthy sections, for example, the reflection on the last, purposeless strolls of Rousseau's life. What's more, at any rate, the last impression is good with the creator's ideas of strolling: it is eccentric, redundant, genuinely dreary, and inclined to reiteration.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Week 10 - Essay 9 - Final Essay - The Darwinian Grapes of Wrath

The Darwinian Grapes of Wrath:

Of all John Steinbeck’s works, his American realist novel, Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, is the most well known and most revered by his fans. Steinbeck, himself, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and some critics believe the extremely popular novel, Grapes of Wrath, was the determining factor as it was a centerpiece of reference during the award.[1] The book is, without a doubt, an iconic American masterpiece. However, there is more to the novel than a heart wrenching story about the Joad family and their flight from their drought stricken farm in Oklahoma to California in search of a better life, of which almost anything would be better. They left their near hopeless conditions in the Dust Bowl looking not just for work and a future, but looking also for dignity. Grapes of Wrath details all of that in dramatic and forceful renderings, while going into descriptive detail of the personal lives of each of the Joad family. Surely these are the things that caused the book to receive the Pulitzer Prize. But maybe there is more.

There have been several attempts to overlay parallel stories and characters onto and into the narrative in an effort to give it additional meaning beyond the tragedy of the Dust Bowl. Some fit rather well and others seem to be forced and out of place. Steinbeck, himself, inserts religious overtones of pending apocalypse into his story while others attempt to force a likeness of Jesus on one or more of the Joad men. None of these fit well. It is not likely that Steinbeck intended such spiritual interpretation. Though not formally denying God’s existence, he considered religion to be a form of delusion. “Now finally, I am not religious so that I have no apprehension of a hereafter, either a hope or reward or a fear of punishment. It is not a matter of belief. It is what I feel to be true from my experience, observation, and simple tissue feeling.”[2]   

Many novels are not just novels; they portray political satire or some other underlying analogy that adds meaning and piques interest giving more punch to the story line. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one such story. Hugh Rockoff of the Journal of Political Economy has detailed the underlying political meaning of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.[3] For some people, there is little doubt that The Grapes of Wrath also has additional meaning as other novels do. Short of reading the mind of Steinbeck, that meaning is predominantly interpretive guesswork.  
Steinbeck himself was highly critical of the “greedy bastards” that were, in his eyes, responsible for not only the tragedy of the Dust Bowl farmers losing their farms due to foreclosure, but for the Great Depression itself.[4] Therefore, economic meaning would not be out of the question. Some of these strong feelings can be seen in the text of his novel. Because of his stand with the downtrodden, the American worker identified with him and praised him. Though his stand with the victims of the “greedy bastards” endeared him to the common, everyday working man, it did nothing to ingratiate him to the elite and it is the elite that hold the destiny of any novelist, because it is the elite that hand out such things as National Book Awards.

Maybe there is more to the story than all that. There is something unique about the novel that goes beyond the story itself. Brian Railsback, author of Parallel Expeditions: Charles Darwin and the Art of John Steinbeck, believes The Grapes of Wrath is a template for Darwinian evolutionary theory right down to the struggle for existence and the process of natural selection.

The migrant workers move across the land as a species, uprooted from one niche and forced to gain a foothold in another. Their struggle is intensified by capitalism’s perversion of natural competition, but this only makes the survivors that much tougher. Because of their inability to see the whole picture, the bankers and members of the Farmers Association diminish themselves by their oppressive tactics while the surviving migrant workers become increasingly tougher, more resourceful, and more sympathetic.[5]


Railsback suggests that by seeing Darwin’s ideas in The Grapes of Wrath it enables us “to perceive some hope for the Joads and others like them.”[6] He claims the popular novel is Steinbeck’s “manifesto of progress, based on biological laws rather than political ideology.”[7] Railsback overlays Darwin’s ideas concerning survival of the fittest and natural selection onto the Joad family and other migrants and portrays them as species that are forced to leave their unhospitable environment in the Dust Bowl because of “natural forces” and head toward more fertile and favorable living conditions. As in Darwinian theory, many of them die in route and only the fittest survive to pass their genes to subsequent generations.[8]

Railsback’s overlay does seem to work very well with a few exceptions. Analogies always break down, however, at some point. It is only right to note that the Joads left Oklahoma not only because of natural catastrophe, but because of unnatural forces as well. It was not just the hostile weather that forced the farmers out of their unhospitable environment; it was the “greedy bastards” in the form of foreclosures that hastened the process. In addition, the natural selection analogy has a couple of faults, more specifically the survival of the fittest. We must note that those that died in route had already passed their undesirable, less fit, genes to the next generation before they died; therefore, the next generation would have the same unfit genes as the last generation did. And lastly, for better or worse, when all is said and done, both the survivors and the next generation they produce are human. They did not evolve into super humans.

Though the Darwinian interpretation of the famous novel does fit well, in spite of the analogues breakdown, there is, nevertheless, an irony to the overlay just as there is an irony in Darwin’s theory. While the oppressors, weather natural or unnatural, relentlessly batter the farmers (species), the farmers, though some must die, survive only to become stronger in their resolve because of their struggles. There is no intent without intentionality and nature has no intentionality. The bankers, however, are a different story. Though the bankers do not fit the Darwinian interpretation all that well, they must be factored in. Nature did not intend to force the farmers out, but forced out they were and the ones that survived, though they paid a large price, became better for it. This is the Darwin interpretation that Railsback points to. It fits, for the most part, well. And it does seem that John Steinbeck may have been influenced by Darwin in writing The Grapes of Wrath.        

[1] History, John Steinbeck wins a Pulitzer for the Grapes of Wrath, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/john-steinbeck-wins-a-pulitzer-for-the-grapes-of-wrath
[2]  Freedom from Religon Foundation, News, https://ffrf.org/news/day/dayitems/item/14233-john-steinbeck
[3] Hugh Rockoff, “The Wizard of Oz,” Journal of Political Economy 98, no. 4 (Aug, 1990): 739-60.
[4] Jay Parini, Greenleft Weekly, (biography of Steinbeck 1994), https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/long-retreat-john-steinbeck
[5] Brian E. Railsback, Parallel Expeditions: Charles Darwin and the Art of John Steinbeck (Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1995), 129.
[6] Ibid, 131
[7] Ibid, 129
[8] Ibid, 132

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Do the Ethically Right Thing!

In the controversial and critically acclaimed film, “Do The Right Thing,” Ossie Davis’ character, “Da Mayor,” tells Spike Lee’s character, “Mookie,” “Always do the right thing.” (Lee, 1989) This short, yet powerful statement more than sets the tone for this classic movie, but it has more than helped define how I try and live my life, personally and professionally. Yet, when I look at my own ethical framework, I am left to wonder what else goes into my personal decision-making process. Am I guided by theories of virtue, deontology, or utilitarianism? Do I have a detailed plan that will help me during ethically challenging times? These are just some of the questions that I will attempt to answer in this post.

The Virtue, Deontological and Utilitarianism theories have shaped decision making for many years. These aforementioned theories are all solid theories, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Virtue theory is rooted in a simple thought of right versus wrong and serves as the strength of that theory. (Trianosky, 1990, p. 335) Yet, the virtue is hurt by the extremes of the theory. The strength of deontology can be found in the fact that this theory asks people to consider their professional responsibilities above all other things. This strength is undermined by the fact that personal life may suffer at such a request. (Morales, 2010) Utilitarianism looks at the greater good but fails to take into consideration those that may be affected negatively by the decision. (Six Religions, 2014)

Good or bad, these theories combined are very useful in helping people establish a decision-making process. The decision-making process is an excellent playbook for how professionals should conduct themselves. By using the decision-making process in all decisions, professionals set a standard for their actions and avoid being labeled as showing favoritism. The decision-making process should have six steps. Step one addresses your ethical awareness. Step two seeks to determine if your situation is truly an ethical issue. Moving forward, step three examines the legal viability of the situation and whether if legal counsel is needed. Step four can be described as the war games process. All probable actions and outcomes are examined thoroughly. Then step five seeks to pinpoint which decision-making theory would be best suited to guide your decision. Finally, step six is the execution of your plan by seeking out the chain of command, recommending an ethical decision and embracing the process.

For me, the best example of this process occurred while I was working at a small predominantly white institution in Mississippi. The incoming freshmen students at Private University were giving the chance to take summer courses at PU. While there for the summer, the students would partake in college coursework and leadership development. During one summer, I witnessed some of the students breaking curfew and drinking alcoholic beverages. Considering that all of these students were underage, I worked through my decision-making process in a timely fashion. The students had broken the camp rules and multiple city ordinances. Due to the fact that the students were underage and our responsibility, I determined that we had an ethical and legal issue on our hands. Because of those aforementioned legal issues, we sought legal counsel on our options. Multiple courses of actions were discussed from expulsion to academic probation, but eventually, we settled on probation and a fine. We took a Utilitarian approach to this process because we understood their backgrounds. We felt as if we could reach these young people and help them that the greater good would be served. To this date, the majority of that class has graduated and most did so with scholarships and/or earned fellowships for graduate school. It is my belief that by viewing the greater good of our society and the futures of those students that we were punishing them in that moment and not for the rest of their lives.

As the video above asks, "Does the end justify the means?" It can be argued that the answer to the aforementioned question depends on the value of the end result. Currently, the United States of America is led by a man that believes the end justifies the means, but only if the end is in his best interest. The electorally elected Marmalade Misogynist is walking to the beat of his own warped philosophy. A philosophy that twists the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill into ill-shaped policies, actions, and decisions. One is left wondering how Bentham and Mill would critically dissect the forty-fifth President of these United States. 
Yet, it is the belief of this writer that Bentham and Mill would be more critical of the people than Toupee Fiasco. Now, that does not mean that the Bankruptcy Whisperer is without blame, but rather he and others like him have benefited from making the masses believe that the greatest good is not for the greatest number, but rather the elite. The people have become so divided that common sense is failing to prevail. Or as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

So like King, I too am hopeful. I am hopeful that the America that I know now will not be the America that I leave my son and daughters. I am hopeful that our moral compass, though off now, can be readjusted and we are set along the path of moral righteousness once more. I am hopeful that the greatest good is once more for the greatest number. As a society, we would be wise to remember the words of the great pragmatist William James, "act as if what you do makes a difference." For, in the end, that difference may be all that matters and in the end, we all matter to each other. 

As of this post, I have 8 runs. 

Lee, S. (Director). (1989). Do The Right Thing [Motion picture]. USA: Universal Studios.

Morales, E. (2010, December). Basics of Deontology [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVARdM93zsw

Six Religions. (2014, February). Moral Philosophy - Deontology Vs Utilitarianism [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDMedWiZ_Iw

Trianosky, G. (1990). What is Virtue Ethics All About? American Philosophical Quarterly27(4), 335-344. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20014344?uid=3739912&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21105118314143

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Final Essay Post- Addressing "Race Matters" in the United States Of America

In the lecture series “Race Matters”, Harvard professor of Afro-American studies and philosophy of religion, Dr. Cornel West, looks at the major issues that cause issues with race in America. During his lecture Dr. West looks at race matters from the inception of the nation to modern times. Dr. West theorizes that the reason that matters of race have not been eradicated in America is because matters of race have not been addressed in America. There are two specific examples that Dr. West provides in highlighting when race was unavoidably addressed by the entire nation: The 1860’s during the civil war and the 1960’s during the civil rights movement. During these two periods America had no choice but to face, head on, the issues of race in America. According to Dr. West America’s race matters cannot be approached without first discussing White supremacy. The country of America was founded by White people and for White people. In today’s modern society the country is a beautifully diverse, and multi-ethnic, global power that the founding fathers probably did not foresee. During the period of the country’s revolution and founding, Blacks were not considered as people or citizens. Dr. West notes, “it’s no accident the constitution does not refer to slavery, slaves, or negroes.” Once again this is a glaring example of how from the earliest days of America’s existence the subject of race matters has been avoided and ignored.
Dr. West assess that America as a whole needs a deep self-analysis. The first question he feels must be addressed is what does it mean to be human? Once the definition of humanity is decided upon, then the nation can address if Blacks are human. And are they equally intelligent? Equally beautiful? Equally worthy of justice? Blacks under slavery and Jim Crow had no rights and limited liberties. They were often viewed by the White supremacy as unworthy, unequal, and subhuman. Therefore, in order to achieve the goal of having a true multi-racial democracy, America must first find its humanity and then accept the people of brown and black skin as its brothers and sisters. The theory of a multi-racial democracy was discoursed between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Initially, Lincoln felt that a multi-racial democracy, where Whites saw Blacks as equals, was impossible to accomplish. Other great minds in American history and philosophy have come to the same conclusion including Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and Alexis De Tocqueville. In his book Democracy in America Tocqueville writes of the three races in America, Blacks, Whites, and Native Americans. When Tocqueville writes of Blacks and Native Americans he declares:
Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they inhabit; both suffer the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can blame the same authors for them…Oppression deprived the descendants of the Africans at a stroke of nearly all the privileges of humanity. The Negro of the United States has lost even the memory of his country; he no longer hears the language spoken by his fathers; he has renounced their religion and forgotten their mores. While thus ceasing to belong to Africa, however, he has acquired no right to the good things of Europe; but he has stopped between the two societies; he has remained isolated between the two peoples; sold by the one and re-pudiated by the other; finding in the whole world only the home of his master to offer him the incomplete picture of a native land” (Tocqueville 1840).
This assertion by Tocqueville that Blacks were deprived of humanity echoes Dr. West’s sentiments that an examination of humanity must be at the forefront of any serious charge to eradicate race matters in America. The connectivity and brotherhood of us as humans should be enough to motivate White America against injustices carried out on Black and Brown people, according to Dr. West.
Dr. West also finds a connection between race matters and American economics. On issues of race in America Dr. West urges the poor working class White citizen to confront the larger power structure that has demobilized them and not confront their Black working class neighbor. The negative energy and frustration that the poor, working class White citizen has is shared by their Black working class neighbor. Dr. Martin Luther King knew this as well and that is why toward the end of his life he shifted his sole focus from the civil rights movement for Black people, to the poor people’s campaign. Socio-economics is another barrier that divides the races and inhibits the true systemic change in regards to matters of race.
Additionally, I wanted to make mention of the previously posed question during the Darwinian conversation on the ability to pass on traits. The question of, “can life be shaped by books, songs, works of art, etc.?” was a profound question that I gave a resounding YES! I found it interesting that during his lecture Dr. West made mention of at least a dozen musicians from different eras and different genres. Dr. West noted Common, Billie Holliday, Lauryn Hill, John Coltrane, and even Socrates as musicians that took their energy, thoughts, and theories, and poured them into music. Some of this music lives on for coming generations to enjoy and be energized by as well. Thus, art has a special place in the pantheon of change. This is the reason that songs like “Strange Fruit”, “Young, Gifted, & Black”, and “Say It Loud (I’m Black & I’m Proud) will echo for generations to come for children of color around the world. 

Finally, in my assessment of Dr. West’s synopsis on race relations in America I agree with the vast majority of his philosophies. I think that America does need to look at itself and do some self-analysis. The problem of race in America will never magically go away. It will take effort, determination, and a combined effort…the same things it took to create the race problem in America. However, Dr. West is hopeful that a positive conclusion will come as a result of the self-analysis. I am doubtful that any true self-analysis under the White supremacy of America will ever come to fruition because those in power have too much to lose and too little to gain by creating a multi-racial democracy. Dr. West points out major conflicts in American history, such as the Civil War where an estimated 620,000 Americans died in a conflict where race matters were the center piece. The death that accompanied the Civil War did not eliminate race matters and honestly did little to deter racism in America. Maybe this skeptical, pessimistic, empiricist outlook harkens back to William James’ theory of the tough minded individuals in society. I am aligned with the tough minded and find very little evidence in the history of White supremacy and American history that leads me to be hopeful for a positive solution to race matters in this country. This does not mean however that there are not good White people that seek equality and justice in America. Blacks in America need the solidarity of their White brothers and sisters to make any progress at all inside this nation. There were White Quakers that helped the abolitionists and runaway slaves, there were White Freedom Riders that rode into the deep South and were abused alongside their Black counterparts during the Civil Rights Movement, and there are White activists today marching and protesting alongside Black Lives Matter activists each time an unarmed person of color is gunned down by a law officer. These though are the minority. These are the non-conformists. These are the people that society saw (and still sees) as the troublemakers. J.S. Mill addressed the power in originality and theorized the non-value of those members of society who do not conform. This theory was true of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King was a non-conformist who, Dr. West makes note of in his lecture, was not the beloved figure we know and celebrate today. Dr. King was a non-conformist who agitated Whites and Blacks alike.  Non-conformists are usually those that read between the lines and can see truth in the face of danger. The non-conformist applies intellect to rationalize against injustice and stands strong against the masses of conformists. America as a nation does not like that. These are the troublemakers. Richard Hofstadter in his book Anti-intellectualism in American Life provokes the notion that America praises intelligence, but fears intellect. I agree with Hofstadter’s position. The fear I have of America never reaching its true potential as a multi-racial democracy lies in the fact that we are a nation of conformists. We preach independence and individuality, but we practice conformity and submission. Until we praise equality and tolerance the way we praise capitalism and ambition, we will never be the nation we have the potential to be. 
**And I had 7 runs this semester...not counting the upcoming conversations on the final posts**