Monday, October 31, 2011

Mental and Moral Science

I just finished reading an obituary for the Jungian psychologist James Hillman who -- with Robert Bly and Michael Meade -- was a key figure in the "men's movement" of the 1990s. Two interesting points worth pondering today:

1) Hillman took seriously our "demons," urging that thoughts of death and suicide be thought of not as symptoms of mental "illness" to be cured, but as philosophical longings to be explored and understood. Parents who were trying to "manage" a mentally troubled son would be well-advised to to begin by NOT trying to change him. Counterintuitive? Surely but oh so sensible. This brought to mind thoughts of R.D. Laing's thesis in The Politics of Experience that insanity was just a sane response to an insane world. Why is THAT rolling around my psyche right about now?

2) Hillman graduated from Trinity College in Dublin with a degree in "mental and moral science," a phrase and a concept Dewey might have a good time with. Where could one study such things today?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wisdom from Experience and Nature

A lovely remark in Experience and Nature caught my eye recently:
The "matter" of materialists and the "spirit" of idealists is a creature similar to the constitution of the United States in the minds of unimaginative persons. Obviously the real constitution is certain basic relationships among the activities of the citizens of the country; it is a property of phase of these processes, so connected with them as to influence their rate and and direction of change. But by literalists it is often conceived of as something external to them; in itself fixed, a rigid framework to which all changes must accommodate themselves. Similarly what we call matter is that character of natural events which is so tied up with changes that are sufficiently rapid...It is no cause or source of events or processes; no absolute monarch; no principle of explanation..." (p. 73)
It's meant to be a call to think about reality in terms of experience rather than in terms of underlying substance. However, there's lots of political food for thought here as well, particularly given the times in which we find ourselves, in which constitutional literalism is, rather surprisingly, stronger even than in Dewey's time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Anti-intellectualism: it's back!

Remember 2008, when conservatives mocked Obama for being an "arugula-eating pointy-headed professor type"? With all of the hooting and hollering about Obama's alleged "intellectual elite" status, I had thought that 2008 might have been a high-water mark for anti-intellectualism, which Richard Hofstadter defined as "a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it."
Of course, there was nothing unprecedented about this hostility--America has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. Thomas Jefferson, one of the less boring founding fathers, was derided during the campaign of 1800 for his "shewy talents" and his dangerously French "theoretic learning." 

So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that in 2011, with the Republican primaries in full swing, anti-intellectualism is back, baby!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Education Connection: worst ad in America or worst company in America?

The Consumerist, a consumer rights blog, is running their annual "Worst Ad in America" contest. Beyond the usual mix of unfunny jokes, horrible theme songs, or hackneyed corporate spokesthings, one ad caught my eye. It's a spot for Education Connection, a company which claims to help match students with colleges. If you click on the video, you will discover why Education Connection has been nominated for Worst Jingle:

But it's not the quality of the jingle that interests me here. Our pitchwoman sings, "It matched me with the right college for me for free." As Neil Young says, "Tell me more, tell me more." Who are these altruists who want to inform America's youth about their exciting college options?