Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Quote: Pepys on the Lord's Day 13 Nov. 1664


From the diary of Samuel Pepys:
The morning to church, where mighty sport to hear our Clerk sing out of tune, though his master sits by him that begins and keeps the tune aloud for the parish. Dined at home very well. And spent all the afternoon with my wife within doors—and getting a speech out of Hamlett, "to bee or not to bee," without book. In the evening, to sing psalms; and in came Mr. Hill to see me, and then he and I and the boy finely to sing; and so anon broke up after much pleasure. He gone, I to supper and so to prayers and to bed.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sour Grapes


As I get older I find that three things are more and more the case.

First, I am secure enough to admit that my life is good but not perfect, that there are things I want to be so that are not. More precisely, I can admit that there are things I cannot attain because I have chosen others. More importantly, I can admit that those things I cannot attain are still good.

Second, I find simple and traditional wisdom immediately helpful more often than complex philosophizing. The deep thinking is necessary for arriving at the right action as well as articulating it, but for help you can't turn to it in a pinch.

Third, I often find traditional wisdom congruous with deep thinking. Take the case of Aesop's fable of the fox and the grapes.

Who cannot sympathize with the fox, pining after the lofty grapes, and who does not see himself within that furry exterior, assuming that which he cannot attain must surely be rotten? It is a feeling of disdain born not from reasoned consideration of evidence, but of weakness. It is an attempt to devalue something so that you are raised. It is envy.

It might seem at first erroneous to call the fox's feeling envy since no one else is getting the grapes, but another person is surely implied, for it is not the lack of desiderata that makes one envious, but rather it is their presence in the hands of others. No one would assume, for example, that there is nothing atop a mountain or that climbing it is foolish, simply because he wants to climb it and cannot. He simply regards the situation as impossible, and no one is bothered by what cannot be changed and cannot have been any other way. Rather it is the fact that someone else can or may climb the mountain that can makes one envious (if one wanted to climb it) because one realizes that it is possible for the but not for me.

Such demonstrates the genius of Aristotle's definition of envy: pain at the sight of the good not with the idea of getting it for ourselves, but because other people have it. (1387b) Aristotle offers a catalog of who feels envy, but one sentence from his Rhetoric seems to capture the whole of the emotion:

We envy those whose possession of or success in a thing is a reproach to us: these are our neighbors and equals; for it is clear that it is our own fault we have missed the good thing in question; this annoys us, and excites envy in us. (1388a)
There are two brilliant chords in this definition.

First, that we feel envy toward equals, be it of age, birth, wealth, or disposition. We  do not care about the success of inferiors or superiors because we understand our situations to be so different from theirs that the outcomes are incomparable. Yet when we see someone who is so much the same, except more successful in one or more things, we wonder why our peer has surpassed us. With frightening speed our minds turn afoul: he has cheated, someone has helped him, he is only pretending success, his achievement is somehow incomplete or corrupted.

Second, that envy is pain. Pain of perhaps the deepest and most afflicting kind because it is comes from an existential insult. Since there are many reasons not to do most things and plenty of reasons not to like most things, what one chooses to have and do very much make up the man. As a result, every action and act of possession is an affirmation of one thing and a rejection of others.

Now we understand that very different people are just that, so their live invite little comparison to ours and therefore trouble us little. However, when we see an equal who lives differently than we do, we feel repudiated. When the difference is small we question our judgment, when it is great we feel that our character, will, and self—in essence our whole life and existence—have been repudiated. Such is why we find peace and calm in the presence of people who are like us: that they affirm that being who we are is good.

Such a high degree of envy is liable to take on a different character, that of disgust, and such a combination is called contempt. When we are disgusted neither evidence nor even the characters of others matter in our appraisal. So deep is the insult to us that we reject the offending thing or deed as a contagion. The offense and its perpetrator or owner are incompatible with us and must be avoided as a disease. It is fitting that Aesop's fox calls the grapes sour, that is, bitter, the essence of what repels us.

This condition seldom confines itself. "Contempt," Dr. Johnson in his Life of Blackmore writes, "is a kind of gangrene which, if it seizes one part of a character, corrupts all the rest by degrees." It spreads and spreads until you are unrecognizable to the world, with nothing of you in it nor it in you. Anything that is not already of you, or about you, sanctioned by you, or for you, is not just undesirable, but taboo. This madness is disgust at all otherness, which severs the last ties with reality. An ending ripe for tragedy.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Marxist University Press?


Perhaps, "Carolus illuminatio mea" ?
A few days ago I received via email and advertisement from Oxford University Press about their 50% Holiday Sale. That email came to me out of the blue, by the way, the first to have arrived at my inbox from OUP since I ordered my Oxford Latin Dictionary and Liddell Scott Greek Lexicon in college over a decade ago. Anyway I perused the titles and quickly noticed a particular bent.

Take a few examples along with the descriptions from OUP, which are often hilariously cliche-ridden. I'm not sure whether we can handle any more "explorations" or the earth any more "ground-breaking."

The Long Reach of the Sixties by Laura Kalman

The Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s was the most liberal in American history. Yet within a few short years, new appointments redirected the Court in a more conservative direction, a trend that continued for decades.

The Reinvention of Atlantic Slavery by Daniel B. Rood

Offers a new version of capitalism, technology and slavery that differs from the Cotton South version that dominates nineteenth-century history. [Ed. That is, 19th century capitalism was "racial capitalism," i.e. "the process of deriving social and economic value from racial identity."]

Unequal by Sandra F. Sperino and Suja A. Thomas

A ground-breaking analysis of why most employment discrimination cases are dismissed, despite evident discrimination.

Healthier: Fifty Thoughts on the Foundations of Population Health by Sandro Galea

A trenchant argument for the urgency of population-level interventions in health -- and a strong rebuttal to those who question it.

Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity by Lori G. Beaman

Rigid identity imaginings, especially religious identities, block our vision to the complexities of social life and press us into corners that trap us in identities that we often ourselves do not recognize, want, or know how to escape.

Beethoven & Freedom by Daniel K. L. Chua

By exploring the musical philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno through a wide range of the composer's music, Beethoven and Freedom arrives at a markedly different vision of freedom. Author Daniel KL Chua suggests that a more human and fragile concept of freedom can be found in the music that has less to do with the autonomy of the will and its stoical corollary than with questions of human relation, donation, and a yielding to radical alterity.

The Return of Ordinary Capitalism: Neoliberalism, Precarity, Occupy by Sanford F. Schram

As Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argued in the early seventies, in a capitalist economy, social welfare policies alternatingly serve political and economic ends as circumstances dictate. In moments of political stability, governments emphasize a capitalistic work ethic (even if it means working a job that will leave one impoverished); when times are less politically stable, states liberalize welfare policies to recreate the conditions for political acquiescence. Sanford Schram argues in this new book that each shift produces its own path dependency even as it represents yet another iteration of what he (somewhat ironically) calls "ordinary capitalism," where the changes in market logic inevitably produce changes in the structure of the state. In today's ordinary capitalism, neoliberalism is the prevailing political-economic logic that has contributed significantly to unprecedented levels of inequality in an already unequal society.

Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism by Charles W. Mills

Mills argues that rather than bracket as an anomaly the role of racism in the development of liberal theory, we should see it as shaping that theory in fundamental ways. As feminists have urged us to see the dominant form of liberalism as a patriarchal liberalism, so too Mills suggests we should see it as a racialized liberalism. It is unsurprising, then, if contemporary liberalism has yet to deliver on the recognition of black rights and the correction of white wrongs.

Limits to Globalization The Disruptive Geographies of Capitalist Development by Eric Sheppard

...globalizing capitalism tends to reproduce social and spatial inequality; poverty's persistence is due to the ways in which wealth creation in some places results in impoverishment elsewhere.

Black Natural Law by Vincent W. Lloyd

A Black intellectual class emerged that was disconnected from social movement organizing and beholden to white interests. Appeals to higher law became politically impotent: overly rational or overly sentimental. Recovering the Black natural law tradition provides a powerful resource for confronting police violence, mass incarceration, and today's gross racial inequities.

Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises by Anwar Shaikh

Competition and conflict are intrinsic features of modern societies, inequality is persistent, and booms and busts are recurrent outcomes throughout capitalist history. State intervention modifies modified these patterns but does not abolish them. My book is an attempt to show that one can explain these and many other observed patterns as results of intrinsic forces that shape and channel outcomes. Social and institutional factors play an important role, but at the same time, the factors are themselves limited by the dominant forces arising from "gain-seeking" behavior, of which the profit motive is the most important. (Description via http://www.anwarshaikhecon.org/)



Two books seem vaguely or potentially conservative:

Pieces of Tradition: An Analysis of Contemporary Tonal Music by Daniel Harrison

Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate by Andrew Paxman

Plenty of the books seem apolitical, but I can't account for the lack of non-leftist politics. I don't know, either, just what the apparent disparity might indicate. Perhaps left-leaning books are disproportionately printed at OUP, perhaps non-Marxist authors are being turned away or are not sought, perhaps non-Marxists authors seek publication elsewhere, or maybe the liberal stuff is just what's new, popular, put forward, or on sale.

I'm not sure that any of that is good news.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Quote: The Ordinary Course of Latin


From the preface to Edwin N. Brown's 1894 Treasury of Latin Gems:

In the arrangement of the ordinary course in Latin, the first four years is commonly apportioned somewhat as follows: Beginning Book and Grammar, Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, Cicero's Orations in the Senate, and Vergil's Aeneid; and so closely and exclusively is the course pursued that not a few pupils have been known to leave school at the end of the course with the idea that there were only three Latin writers, and that they had read them all. It requires but a moment's reflection to observe that such a course as the one just described is about the equivalent in breadth, interest, and richness of thought to a course like the following for a foreign student desiring to enter upon a four years' study of English: Beginning Book and Grammar, Grant's Memoirs of the Rebellion, Clay's Congressional Speeches, and Milton's Paradise Lost. If to this should be added a year of Shakespeare and a year of Tennyson, we should perhaps have a college course in English of about the same quality and breadth as that commonly pursued in Latin.
We have no disposition to criticise the ordinary course in Latin...which, with certain modifications, is doubtless as good, all things considered, as any that might be suggested. We do however maintain emphatically that the course should be supplemented by constant reference to other writers...
There are many who, for various reasons, do not continue the study of Latin more than two or three years; and such receive comparatively little that is really rich in thought... If the student has only a few years to spend in the study of Latin, it is so much more important that he be introduced to as much rich Latin thought as possible. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advice to Myself: Small Things


When you fail at something, do not sulk, that is, do not spiral down into powerlessness. If you know the causes of your defeat, prepare and try again. If you do not, then stop to reflect and while you reevaluate your failure, go succeed at something else, even if it is small. Write an article, clean the gutters, put in a nail in something, but give yourself some small success.

When you succeed at something, do not gloat, i.e. be excessively satisfied. Measure your success against the value you have made, what it has cost you, and what you owe in thanks to fortune and to others. While you seek a new project, do small things well to stay humble.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advice to Myself: What Twitter is Not


Twitter is not a tool to gain the favor of people by praising them or their work. Nor is it a place for you to maneuver your own work to their attention. Your blog likewise ought to be inhospitable to such flattery.

Such use will reduce the purpose of everything you write to gaining popularity, either for fame itself or for money, and all the more often will you turn away from your life and toward these online places for satisfaction.

Look to what foolishness even solid minds and good men have been reduced! Picking fights with strangers, spending hours crafting insults, arguing with no hope of resolution, betraying their life's privacy. . . if only they could see what the vain hope of popularity has taken from them, or perhaps the void which such pursuit has filled.

So what is Twitter and your blog to you? A place to reflect wisely on what matters most to you. Let not reflecting on life—a very good and necessary thing—become all of life, and let not the business of sharing those reflections overshadow them.

Even the philosopher, if you are such a thing, is not only a philosopher.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advice to Myself: Splinters


One of the most necessary lessons of moral philosophy is contained in this question: why do you see the straw in the eye of your brother and not in your own? It is, however, a great and ongoing challenge to apply this lesson wisdom.

On the one hand, it is very easy to pardon the errors of another when they are the same as yours. This is so first because such errors are obvious to us and second because by forgiving others we hope to welcome our own absolution. Yet it is no less important, and much more difficult, to forgive a man for falling into those errors from which you have yourself steered clear. It is easy to look at a man overcome by lust or gluttony and say, "What a weak-willed fool!" simply because you have overcome such weaknesses, if you were even tempted by them.

Yet what about your inability to curb your tongue or your temper? Or to treat others generously or be patient? "What a weak-willed fool!" you should be called for those struggles of yours if you fail to see that each man struggles with a different part of life.

On the other hand, it is easy from this position to fall to the facile conclusion that no judgments are possible. Given the gravity of man's life, it would be desirable if we could abdicate judgment and permanently defer to a higher authority. For man's soul we can do this, for it will be judged by a perfect wisdom.

We do not, however, have recourse to that perfect wisdom regarding every matter on this earth, and to defer all judgments would lead to utter immorality and disorder. The affairs of this world require choices, so instead of refusing to judge, undertake the responsibility of judging wisely, that is to say, with clemency, impartiality, and the humility to realize that even the wise and good do not sit so high above others that they may not err in judgment, especially if they judge without the aforementioned virtues or if they judge without full knowledge of the facts.

Both of those situations are quite likely, too, so also be not so eager to throw down the fates of others, but judge to bring about the good. That is, neither judge nor spare judgment to flatter your sense or superiority, but do each in the service of some other good.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Alt-Right Owns Antiquity?


I've been meaning to write about this matter for a while, but this article by Curtis Dozier of Vassar College in Eidolon, an "online journal for scholarly writing about Classics that isn’t formal scholarship," edited by Mark Zuckerberg's sister, Donna Zuckerberg, got me thinking anew: where is the politics of Classics in 2017?

Eidolon's article, in its jejune way, raises some red flags when it asserts that, "the alt-right owns antiquity online," as its justification for compiling a database "to stand up against hateful appropriations of antiquity online."

On the one hand, this seems like a tempest in a teapot. My sense of the situation, unscientific to be sure, is that the left, especially the academic left, is spooked by the political rumblings of the last year and is trying to exorcise and purify its domains. With great reluctance it is realizing that it does not own the internet.

On the other hand, the matter may be quite serious.

First, the statement that "the alt-right owns antiquity online" is a probably a substantial exaggeration. Classics online, or anywhere, is not vital at all, it seems to me. (By vital I mean something that is healthy, active, and growing.)

Second, with respect to interest, it might be possible that the alt-right is right now more passionate about classics than is the left today.

Third, I'm not sure whether compiling a database will do more harm than good. A few weeks ago Jordan B. Peterson asked via a Twitter poll whether a website, and I am paraphrasing from memory, that would catalog neo-Marxist courses online, would do more good or harm. The giddy, hysterical, adolescent tone (and content) of the Eidolon article suggests to me the creators of "Pharos" have not publicly asked this crucial question.

Will a database work, ultimately, for or against debate, for or against free speech? Dozier wrote that he wanted to respond "Not to try to change the minds of those we were responding to, but so that the curious public would have access to a better way of understanding the past," but to what demand of public curiosity will Pharos respond? Too, in the absence of such curiosity, what will Pharos become?  Finally, why not try to engage people and change their minds? Why wouldn't that be preferable?

Maybe instead of compiling a database for the explicit purpose of not engaging ones adversaries, Dozier, Zuckerberg, and the staff of Eidolon should get out in the trenches, summon up the blood, bring their vaunted knowledge of the ancient world to their tongues, and debate their opposition in public in the real world in the spirit of antiquity.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Lessons for Teachers #7: Five Cheating Anecdotes


To close out the topic of cheating in this series, here are a few cheating-related anecdotes from my years teaching Latin.


1. in flagrante delicto

One of the most memorable incidents occurred early in my teaching career when a student tried to cheat using his cell phone. When I walked toward him he proceeded, hilariously frantic, to pull the phone out from its hidden position, rip off its cover, and pluck out the battery. Even he chuckled when he realized what he had done. I wish I had taken the opportunity to teach the phrase in flagrante delicto.

2. A Pair of Nickers

I once taught two juniors who were thick as thieves and, as I look back, alarmingly devious. When I contemplate their antics, today I would cross the street to avoid them. The catch is that one had a grade of A and the other was failing, with the former abetting the other. As a neophyte teacher I fell prey to some clever gimmicks. The funniest was when the failing student completed a test so sloppily that it was illegible and who, when questioned, replied that he completed the test with a monstrously broken pencil, which he produced in all its mangled glory. The worst scam was when that same student didn't hand in a test and alleged I had lost it. Both I and an administrator were taken aback at his temerity.

Eventually I had them figured out, but in the end they got the better of me when they conspired to cheat during the final exam, correctly surmising that they could pull the wool over the eyes of the proctor. The failing student hadn't passed many tests that year, but he did manage to score 100% on the final!

3. New Leaves

The same year I taught the above juniors I caught two freshman cheating a few weeks before the end of the year. My clever ruse, of which I was very proud, was that, having spied their cheating off of paper on their seats, I would ask them to get up and open a window. They were, in fact, good kids who had made a bad choice to cheat but they were not deceitful by nature, so when I deployed my scheme they complied and let the chips fall. They were mortified and apologized repeatedly and profusely, but they grew up to be gentleman and scholars I'm proud to have taught.

4. Lost Keys

I handed out the key with the test not once, but twice. The first time it was promptly returned to me by a first rate student who was holding it at a distance, averting his eyes. His integrity impressed the whole class. He also was, I think, one of the best students and young men who walked through the doors of that school in my years there.

Now for the cheating. The second time I handed out the key I had to retrieve it, but also from an A+ student. He was otherwise a good kid, but he had that key tucked under his test and blushed when I came to get it. Still disappoints me.

5. Quintus Cicero's Guide to Engineering

At the very beginning of one student's freshman year, I accidentally left review material projected on the board as I handed out the quiz. It was the frantic attempt of this student greedily copying down answers that alerted me to my error.

Later, in his junior year, I returned a guided reading assignment on Cicero. All the student had to do was fill in the blanks of a summary of an article on Cicero. The article included a comment on Quintus Cicero, the brother of the famous orator, and the pamphlet Quintus had written about how to get elected, aka the process of electioneering.

I had known something odd was going on with the take-home assignments, but I could not pin down exactly what it was until I graded the project of this particular student, who had filled in one particular blank, "Cicero's brother Quintus wrote a guide to engineering for his brother..."

Upon reading that I realized that the odd answers I had been noticing on the projects were the results of students copying the work of others, but misreading their sloppy handwriting and thus writing down answers that read as nonsense in the context.


If there is an upside to cheating it is that the results are usually futile and quite funny.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Quote: The Carthaginian Who Said No to War


from Livy's Ab Urbe Condita. Book 21.

Translation by Bruce J. Butterfield

21.3 ... The soldiers led the way by bringing the young Hannibal forthwith to the palace and proclaiming him their commander-in-chief amidst universal applause. Their action was followed by the plebs. Whilst little more than a boy, Hasdrubal had written to invite Hannibal to come to him in Spain, and the matter had actually been discussed in the senate. The Barcines wanted Hannibal to become familiar with military service; Hanno, the leader of the opposite party, resisted this. "Hasdrubal's request," he said, "appears a reasonable one, and yet I do not think we ought to grant it" This paradoxical utterance aroused the attention of the whole senate. 

He continued: "The youthful beauty which Hasdrubal surrendered to Hannibal's father he considers he has a fair claim to ask for in return from the son. It ill becomes us, however, to habituate our youths to the lust of our commanders, by way of military training. Are we afraid that it will be too long before Hamilcar's son surveys the extravagant power and the pageant of royalty which his father assumed, and that there will be undue delay in our becoming the slaves of the despot to whose son-in-law our armies have been bequeathed as though they were his patrimony? I, for my part, consider that this youth ought to be kept at home and taught to live in obedience to the laws and the magistrates on an equality with his fellow-citizens; if not, this small fire will some day or other kindle a vast conflagration." 

21.4 Hanno's proposal received but slight support, though almost all the best men in the council were with him, but as usual, numbers carried the day against reason. 

21.10 The result was that, beyond being received and heard by the Carthaginian senate, the embassy found its mission a failure. Hanno alone, against the whole senate, spoke in favour of observing the treaty, and his speech was listened to in silence out of respect to his personal authority, not because his hearers approved of his sentiments. He appealed to them in the name of the gods, who are the witnesses and arbiters of treaties, not to provoke a war with Rome in addition to the one with Saguntum. "I urged you," he said, "and warned you not to send Hamilcar's son to the army. That man's spirit, that man's offspring cannot rest; as long as any single representative of the blood and name of Barca survives our treaty with Rome will never remain unimperilled.

You have sent to the army, as though supplying fuel to the fire, a young man who is consumed with a passion for sovereign power, and who recognises that the only way to it lies in passing his life surrounded by armed legions and perpetually stirring up fresh wars. It is you, therefore, who have fed this fire which is now scorching you.