Failure of the Humanities

pexels-photo

It’s about this time of year that all the undeclared students start setting up academic counseling appointments to help them make that inevitable decision. I am not a counselor but, as an English major, I have had several occasions to attempt to persuade my peers, friends, and acquaintances to pursue a humanities degree. There are many reasons I give for the benefit of these degrees but I am becoming increasingly convinced that the reason I most often give will probably not pan out. Continue reading

Advertisements

Autonomy as Enslavement

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites . . . . It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

–Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly

I have written several essays critiquing contemporary liberal values such as equality, tolerance, and diversity. This adds to the number.

Autonomy too is a poor ideal to live by. It fails in roughly the same way as “equality,” which is incoherent if it means anything other than the semi-tautological and completely unhelpful proposition that we should “treat likes alike,” as I have argued elsewhere, though it is taken to mean much more, to the confusion of our political discourse. In the same way, there is a huge gap between the proper philosophical definition of “autonomy” and its popular meaning. “Autonomy” can mean mere unconstrainedness (lawless liberty, which is the popular meaning) or conscientiousness (following the law generated by one’s own conscience, the proper philosophical definition). Continue reading

What Westerners can learn from Eastern philosophy: Filial Piety.

Americans often look down on other cultures, such as middle-eastern cultures that force women to wear something over their hair and/or face while in public. We think it is demeaning to women. It certainly seems a little demeaning to me. I couldn’t dream of that being enforced as a law in America. But have you ever wondered, what American’s do that other cultures think is just wrong? What about us makes them cringe?

During my time in Taiwan I taught regular English classes. Once when I was teaching English class, we were discussing Chinese and American culture. I learned that to the Taiwanese, one of the most abhorrent things we accept in our culture is the prevalence of nursing homes. It makes them sick to think about it. You may think this funny, but listen to my limited understanding of their reasoning. Your parents gave you life, they feed you for years and gave the best of themselves to you. When they get old, how could you in return, send them away from their home, away from friends, and away from you, to a place where those who take care of them don’t do it for love, but for money? In Confucian influenced cultures there is a deep belief in filial piety, meaning  respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors. Due to this belief, grandparents often live in their children’s homes and are taken care of by their own children as they age. So that is the norm in China. Continue reading

What to Make of America’s “Decline in Sexual Frequency”

This Splendid Inconvenience by Brian Kershisnik. Fine art print from an original oil painting by Brian Kershisnik. Printed with archival, pigmented inks on archival quality Hahnemuhle William Turner paper. Signed and numbered below image on white border. Limited edition of 195. Image size is 7''H x 24''W. Dimensions below refer to paper size.
B. Kershisnik, “This Splendid Inconvenience”

If at that supreme hour, the wedded pair, dazzled with voluptuousness and believing themselves alone, were to listen, they would hear in their chamber a confused rustling of wings. Perfect happiness implies a mutual understanding with the angels. That dark little chamber has all heaven for its ceiling. When two mouths, rendered sacred by love, approach to create, it is impossible that there should not be, above that ineffable kiss, a quivering throughout the immense mystery of stars.

–Les Miserables

Sex is getting cheaper. The pill de-babied and the sexual revolution de-institutionalized and a-moralized sex; it is now much less constrained than ever before by marriage, mores, or maternity. Accordingly, it has settled in our society’s wild realm of personal choice and preference. Whether this has been a good or bad change is arguable, but it seems everyone could agree that we’d expect to see more sex as a result of the falling price. Slash prices and consumption increases. Remove the fence and the amusement park is overrun.

But that hasn’t happened. Surprisingly, just the opposite has occurred: Americans are having less sex. Continue reading

In Defense of Dogmatism

Amazon’s “look inside” feature has preserved intact a perfect little essay from the book, “Things That Are,” by Amy Leach. I have met Amy Leach–I even hiked in Provo’s beautiful Rock Canyon with her, her husband, and my personal essay class, courtesy of Patrick McMadden, my essay teacher, who I think was involved in getting her to come out to BYU and read from her book during BYU’s Friday Reading Series. If you will follow the above link, use the “look inside” feature, and search the word “hoopoe,” you will find a complete, lovely, and very short essay titled “God.”

In this essay, Amy Leach points out that men take the name of God in their mouths, but they do not speak God’s words. “They say it pleases him, to say his name incessantly. They sing it in songs and chant it together and broadcast it loudly on the radio, on signs. Perhaps it pleases him. I do not know. It does not please me.”

These iterations of his name are totally different from his words. God’s words, according to this essay, are his creatures, who “mount up with wings or leap through brambles or swim blackly in ponds.”

I find this essay utterly charming, like the rest of the book, but I also find something lacking in the treatment of how men speak God’s name. Continue reading

Millennials and the Millennium

strength-strong-toy-action-figure

As millennials continue to be dissatisfied with religion, leaving churches in greater numbers every year, I have become at times defensive. I’ve wanted to defend my own religious convictions as well as point out how Christianity has colored, beautified, and created the world we’ve inherited. So even if we turn a blind eye to Christianity, we can never really leave it, nor should we want to.

In my experience, the most cited reason my generation offers for their exodus is “hypocrisy.” If a religion that teaches moral principles doesn’t create morally principled people, what good is it? To them, what religion preaches correctly it administers poorly, such as kindness, love, and generosity. And what it believes incorrectly it administers effectively, beliefs around Proposition 8 and most recently the election of Donald Trump who was most fervently supported by white, evangelical men.

So what good is religion? Continue reading