Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How to teach humility?

How does one begin to teach humility? To start, live humbly. This would include respecting others, listening, and having patience. The problem is that no matter how humble one may be, there is never a guarantee that those surrounding you are necessarily going to follow suit. Sure, one can try (I say try, cause at least in my experience, one can never live with complete humility) to teach humility by showing humility, that is, by living the example. Living humbly, however, becomes all the more difficult in our comtemporary egotistical social environment where we are encouraged to "flaunt" our skills everywhere from on the playing field, to our clothes, to our resumes. It is always difficult to avoid simply becoming a product of one's environment, yet even if one can see through all the insecure egomaniesm, the environment is going to remain, more or less, the same.
How does one preach humility without being a hypocrite? Should one even attempt to teach humility or is it simply something that needs to be learned on one's own? When being/showing/living the humility that one wants to see in the world fails to change our systemically arrogant culture what can one do? Is living humbly sufficient to teach humility?
How does one teach humility without teaching submissiveness? How does one teach humility while simultaneously teaching the pragmatism that requires one to stand up for oneself in a world where no one is likely to stand up on your behalf?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why do I care?

I don't care to Care.
So I often stop to ask myself what the fuck am I really doing with my life? I'm currently working as a campus aide and an aide in this program for kids with serious behavioral problems. I'm also volunteering as a teacher to immigrants studying for their citizenship tests and at this hospice, in addition to just having finished up a TEOFL certification class. On paper it looks like my life is pretty busy, and in terms of time spent staying busy I suppose it's true. However, my work is hardly satisfying, and I often catch myself struggling with the guilt of not being in Africa right now working for the Peace Corps. Moreover, my primary job as a campus aide can hardly be considered an educator, at least in the formal sense. I spend so much of my time simply passing the time in some constructive and some hardly constructive ways.
My existential dilemma is that I desperately want to make myself through my work. I want to take pride in my labor. I have no complaints about my current wages yet wages are insufficient. I want more. Marxist alienation festers on all sides. It nags at my self, and I can't help but feel like I'm succumbing to mediocrity as I idle away with visions of a more fulfilling, a more trying tomorrow.

So I want to go to Africa once again. This time around, my plan is a bit more refined in that I plan to teach english as a volunteer somewhere south of the Sahara. I know I can't save the world. I know that no matter how many good deeds I may do in Africa, Africa is still going to remain Africa with all it's systemic political diseases intact. Yet that is hardly the point of my plan, neither here nor there.

During my last semester at college I was exposed to two radical thinkers on the philosophical and political left: Georgio Agamben and Alain Badiou. Many times, Eske (my professor) would spur us to compare Agamben's notion of a slight alteration with Badiou's insistence upon the necessity of a radical break from the current situation. These two philosophies are hardly mutually exclusive, yet for a long time I couldn't help but lean towards Badiou's insistence on a radical break, particularly in regards to my own personal choices and lifestyle. So I figured going to Africa would do the trick, but when it turned out my trip to Senegal was not to be I realized that I didn't need to go to Africa to find myself or to help others. Fuck, the only thing that was stopping me from already doing both these things here and now was myself. The inertia of my past relationships and passivity when it came to actually living my dreams always seems to impede my deepest callings in life. Yet I need a consolation, so let it come not just in philosophy but in everyday events through which my peebles may be felt in varying degrees.

It's all about the little things: Smiling to a stranger, holding the door for someone, listening-yes just listening. No occupation is an exemption from this basic human duty, which if consciously performed becomes the upmost privelege. I never feel so alive as when I'm helping someone. The challenge is adjusting to one's environment just enough, but not too much, as to help someone on their level, and not one's own. Too often I help others simply at my own convenience. Ah, that makes me feel nice I just helped them out. Yet the deepest satisfication necessitates a struggle which can never be predetermined. As long as we know exactly what we have to do to help someone we are cutting them and ourselves short. Only by adapting to their needs as they arise may we share their journey, rather than simply their destination. This is not to say we can ever accompany them all the way, for such is impossible and if attempted actually self-defeating (i.e. overprotective parents). The point is to let them let you know when they need your help, that is, to make oneself as available as possible for aide and consol.

We live mighty busy lives, so I suppose the often boring nature of my job can be interpreted as a blessing in disguise. Sometimes I find myself wrapped up in a book, but the vast majority of a time, any opportunity to help someone is a great way to spend my time on the clock. The truth is I need to do a much better job making myself more accessible. I need to communicate more with people who would really appreciate my help. I'm beginning to realize that this job can't just be a means to getting my foot in the door of education, pleasing my parents and myself by staying busy, or simply a paycheck every two weeks. I plan to start looking for anotehr job which will give me more (more like some considering I ain't gettin a lick right now) classroom experience. Thus, while I'm still here I oughta make it count and make someone's day whenever I get the chance.

I want my intention to show and I won't know until I see it reflected in those I work with and for, but then again I never did trust apperances so I suppose I'll really never know. All I can really do is be persistant in living my deepest intention.

So I'm here, making my mark in some trivial (and I hope some not so trivial ways as well). The slight alteration is all I have for now, yet in every good deed I make a crack in the foundation of the conservative, passive and unconfident intertia of my actions. I so wish I could just run away, but I'm not their, not yet, and I must accept that if I want to stay sane and content.

I want to do so much more, but for now I'm just gonna shut up, cause actions speak louder than words, no matter how small they may seem.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Beginning Philosophy in the real world

So what is philosophy like outside of academia?
I've been out of school now for five plus months and I'm still trying to figure this out. I suppose it will always be a work in progress. Trying to live philosophically is never easy in the real world. What I've found, above all else, is that live beyond graduating college is less about choosing to sell out or live the "good life", and more about applying the patience and humility one can learn by studying philosophy in everyday events. In short, it's about looking outside the box and examining as many possibilities as possible.
It's about considering, and not necessarily adopting, the most far out ideas on the market. One thing I really regret about my four years at SLU is that a lot of my far left political philosophy was protected in the ivory tower. I never really applied any of those abstract and not so abstract ideas in my work. It was like I was trying to win a war with one almighty charge through the enemies front lines. I idealized and romanticized the Left without even really knowing what it was or is. I read and wrote about some really fascinating ideas but as you can see in many of my entries, eventually I begain to seek practice, for theories are insufficient without application.
What I really want to say is that as I've looked through some of my writings from my time at college I am at times downright disgusted at the dogmatic undertones of many of my presumptions. I talk the talk (about the value of self-critcism), yet fail to walk the walk when it comes to applying that same degree of self-criticsm and refusal to resort to metaphysical and rhetorical dogma when it comes to communicating my own ideas. I now want to be a high school teacher. I hope to some day teach philosophy, but for now I would be most content to teach history/social studies. The other night I had a conversation with my father about what kind of a teacher I want to aspire to someday become. My father was worried that I'd be too biased towards the left and (consciously or unconciously) inject that bias into my pupils. I reassured my father that when it came time to grade a paper or in the midst of a classroom discussion I'd make extra efforts to reward those students who while being ideologically opposed to me, clearly communicate and argue their point in a logically convinceing manner would be rewarded by their merits and not their ideology.
This got me thinking, however, about a present need I now face to do some hermeneutics unto myself. I need to do some meta-hermeneautics, and investigate the way in which I interpret the world. I need to be more conscious of my cognitive frames. I need to prove my points instead of just stating them. And most of all, I need to make a greater effort at listening to the other side and broadening the scope of whatever dialogue whenever possible.
I want to change the world. I want my future students to help me in this endeavor. Yet it is my responsibility to allow them to make whatever decisions for themselves. Thus, I hope to teach them how to spot a fallacy from a mile away. How to maximize the effeciency of their language, and most of all, to develop a passion for learning both as a means and as an end.
I'm confident that I can do all these things, but I have to stop assuming that this will all just happen, as if I was destined to be an inspiring teacher. I have a long long way to go, and the best part is, there's no end in sight.

Friday, May 4, 2007

final reflection

Final Reflection: Letter to myself

Dear future self,

Praxis, Praxis, Praxis

Don’t choose between theory and practice, live between the two. Do not live one then the other, live them both together. Let them guide and check one another. Don’t act without thinking. Don’t think without acting. It sounds so easy, but its realization is not necessarily its actualization. I will never know how to live between the two until I am living between the two.

Talk is cheap. Theory is insufficient.

Don’t let philosophy be your exit, let it be your entrance. Share it, use it, adapt it, destroy it, create it. Defend it, not to protect it but to experience a necessary tension for growth. Let the world mold your philosophy. Let your philosophy mold the world.

Compromise without comprising (Eske Moellegaard)

Most people give up on their dreams, you must live them. Be deliberate and patient with your intentionality. Move through, cut through your environment. Let your environment cut you, almost but not quite as deep as you’ve cut into it. The most subtle asymmetry is the ideal equilibrium. The world can cause both your enlightenment and your insanity. To know the difference you must live between.

To know the difference you must take it with you wherever you go. You must see everywhere the potential for both success and failure. With both forethought and instinct you must swallow the world whole and see how it tastes.

Kill the self to become the self,

Matt Sims

May 2, 2007

My philosophical future

My Philosophical Future

My future will be philosophical, there’s no doubt about that. Whether I come back to academia or not I have become conditioned to live philosophically. I will question the unquestioned, most especially my own beliefs, my own actions, to listen to be heard, to take the time to think just for thinking’s sake, to wonder.

I might go back into academia but perhaps not in philosophy. I think I can apply skills developed within and through philosophy to so many other academic and professional focuses, most especially politics, but also environmentalism and law to mention just a few. I could definitely see myself working in either three of these fields, especially a focus at all oriented toward social justice.

Can philosophy be its own end? Can going to graduate school just to carve out a career that is often a privilege and rarely a chore really sufficiently philosophical? Is a philosophy professor even necessarily a philosopher? (thanks Eske Moellegaard for introducing a tremendously thought provoking discussion on this question when he visited out metaphilosophy class). I wish. I used to think. I’d love to believe, but sadly, I think not. But is this really all so sad?

Philosophy is simultaneously both a means and an end. I have been for some time quite attracted to the idea of becoming a professor in philosophy, but right now I just don’t know. My concern, and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone who is a philosophy professor, is that academic philosophy, like academia in general, is far to specialized. We’ve discussed at length in class how factionalized the discipline remains with splits between Contintental and Analytic and the ongoing marginalization of such subfields as eastern philosophy, Latin American philosophy, African philosophy, feminist philosophy (essentially anything and everything critical of philosophy from within philosophy). I don’t want to live a life reading, writing, discussing and teaching issues that I have not had some direct experience with myself. Philosophy is much more than books, ideas, and theories. It’s about acting, living and praxis. This is not to say that I can’t do all of this from within academia. In many respects my greatest ambition remains finding a place within academia and radically change it from the inside out. Education is so political. Moreover, I think I could make a good professor or teacher at the high school level. In all likelihood I probably will be back in school at some point down the road, after all, what else do I know. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. School has been my life since before I can remember. I’m so used to structure. Structure is such a paradox. It motivates and demotivates. It guides and it confines. My ambiguity towards all the structure in our educational system inspires me to experience something else, anything else, because if not how will I ever know if this is the pace of life that I’m best suited for. Like I said, I know nothing else, except summer, but unless I want to be homeless, I’ll avoid living in my typical summertime mode.

My life is and will forever be philosophical. There is no turning back, and like the protagonist in Plato’s allegory of the cave, the shadows on the cave wall can never, at least in my eyes, be real again. I am forever searching for the right balance of truth and value. I will never rest because if there is one thing I know it is that I will never possess my end. Thus, my life is an endless journey as I meander the world and my mind for a little peace of mind, for the ability to sleep tight at night knowing that I did what I could to make the world a better place. I can never just know something for itself. I don’t care if I heard it at a hockey game or read it in Heidegger I want to share that experience with someone, anyone. Philosophy is inherently communicable, because lacking my intentionality to communicate what knowledge would I be inspired to seek, to create. Since communication implies action, a knowing how, the maturation of any philosophy requires philosophical experiences.

Philosophy is a part of me. What I have learned in academic philosophy shapes how I will approach and work through any future project whether intellectual, ethical, or even the most mundane task. Philosophy is under my skin. It is the lense through which I perceive the world, and I couldn't be more grateful for the perspectives it has shown me.

new philosophy map

New Philosophy Map

I see myself as still most connected to ethical and political philosophy. I don’t want to make a map of the myriad of philosophical subdisciplines because (in addition to lacking the necessary computer skills to arrange such a map in a word document) I feel such a map would necessitate prioritizing different subdisciplines over others. I don’t feel as though I am adequately capable of making such a judgment given my extremely limited experience within philosophy. I definitely have a bias towards the continental and non-western, in great part, because that’s what I’ve been exposed to the most. I don’t want to commit a straw man fallacy and attack analytic philosophy for neglecting the context in which they philosophize in, because this probably isn’t even the case in all instances. If I had to make a map I would try as I might to draw connections between every philosophical subdiscipline because I think they are all already connected, whether consciously or unconsciously. I hope in the future academic philosophy can make more and more bridges between the disciplines. I also hope, and this is essentially why, I am not drawing a map, is that if any such maps are to be drawn in the future this project should be a collective rather than an individual effort. I am sure getting together philosophers from different subdisciplines to work together on a common project in creating such a map would be filled with considerable drama and frustration yet I would love to see it happen. I’d love to see all of philosophy (if there even was such a thing) to sit down at a single table and philosophize about philosophy itself together.