Philosophy, in the final analysis, is the art of thinking clearly. And even if we are all amateurs when it comes to our own lives, this does not preclude thinking clearly about those lives and what is important in them. – Mark Rowlands
Last month I wrote a post highlighting some of the topics I was thinking about during March. It was an endeavor inspired by Claire Creffield and her blog post discussing the important reflective properties of blog written with the “imagined eyes of another” in mind. Adhering to the notion of blogs as public journals with powerful self-reflective properties, I am writing a post at the end of each month to summarize a few of the main ideas that were important or interesting to me.
These posts are for my future self; however, since I keep this as an open and public space, I hope that anyone else who stumbles in here will find some of what I record interesting and edifying.
On The Philosopher and the Wolf, Animal Rights, and Eating Meat: Three years ago, in April of 2009, I unexpectedly happened across Mark Rowlands’ The Philosopher and the Wolf while browsing in B&N just a few weeks after its release date. After reading the first few pages, I decided to break my rule about purchasing hardcover books from chain stores. Since then The Philosopher and the Wolf has made a perennial appearance on my reading list. Rowlands combines many of my interests in this philosophical memoir and he does it with style and moving prose, which is not always easy to find among philosophers.
When I returned from Mongolia the previous summer (2008), I drastically reduced my meat consumption in an effort to work towards a more ethical and healthier diet. Before that I had been an on and off again vegetarian at several different times in my life but was never able to fully commit. Then came my fortuitous discovery of Rowlands’ book. It was exactly what I needed to read, the final catalyst required, to push me into full acceptance of and commitment to the ethical principles I was dancing around for years.
What is interesting is that Rowlands’ book is not about animal rights or vegetarian/veganism, per se. But, as he says in his 3:AM interview from earlier this month, his book approaches the way we differentiate ourselves from animals and the “stories we tell to convince ourselves of our superiority.”
Each story, I argued, has a dark side – each story casts a shadow. And in each case, what is most revealing is not the story itself, but the fact that we believe it and think it important. I focused on three common stories. The first is that we are better other animals because we are more intelligent. The second is that we are better because we have morality – we can understand right and wrong – and they do not. The third is that we are superior because we, and we alone, understand that we are going to die. Intelligence, morality and our sense of our own mortality were the three major themes of the book. I am far from convinced that to any of these stories can establish or underwrite a critical gulf between us and other animals.
This was the first time I looked at animal rights from a justice perspective. I immediately picked up his more rigorous and philosophical work on the topic, Animals Like Us. The lucid and carefully constructed arguments in this book impressed me a lot. Here was Rowlands taking the philosophical arguments (Justice as Fairness) I had most closely studied and adhered to as an undergrad and applying them to animal rights. How had I missed this? Finally I had a deep and convincing philosophical perspective from which to approach the issue.
Motivated by Rowlands’ latest interview (linked above), I spent many nights this month rereading Animals Like Us and revisiting the arguments. Now, as we are nearing the second half of 2012, I am getting more and more excited for the release of his newest book, Running with the Pack.
On the Future of Libraries: My post about library e-books sparked some excellent conversation on my Facebook page. What started out as a discussion about lending e-books morphed into a debate about the future of libraries and why many people no longer find them relevant. The entire thread is too long to share here but I was able to engage with several of my friends – all young, educated, and articulate people – who are not library users.
One of my ongoing frustrations is that we, as librarians, are struggling to offer services that this demographic wants. This is where we need to explore new models of service – content creation, maker space, &tc. Not only should librarians be doing user surveys, but they should also be talking to non-users too. As I said in the Facebook discussion, this is a very interesting time for librarians who are willing to test the boundaries of the traditional model. We need more experimentation and less standardization, more proactivity and less reactivity.
Here’s a key quote from one of the comments made by my friend Mark in that discussion:
…without innovation, patronage will shrink and with shrinking patronage comes shrinking budgets. The last time I used a library for anything was the basement of the one you work in for opening day of blood bowl league 2 years ago, because the game store hadn’t expanded their playing space yet. I can’t remember when I needed a library before that. When I was a kid, I used the library constantly, daily in the summer. I used it all the way through college. For me the change is partly caused by the changes in my life, I don’t write papers anymore, although I still do research, but more because of changing technology. Most of the time I spent in libraries was leisure time or a mix of leisure and work. Now I can accomplish all the same things from home and I have no compelling reason for a library. I would love to have a reason to hang out there again. I really think the reality is change or die.
On My New Job: I am a month and a half into my new job at the GFJ Library and I LOVE it a lot more than I expected. It is so satisfying to see the help I give someone make a measurable difference. Even something as little as teaching a patron how to attach a résumé to an email – a task most of us take for granted – has a big impact on them. When living in a world of constant connectivity, playing with all my different devices and gadgets, it is easy to forget that the digital divide is real and that a whole group of people are being left behind (even in this fairly affluent area) because of it. I am glad I play a part, no matter how small, of ameliorating this problem.
On Reading (Comics and Kindle Singles): I spent much of April catching up on comics. The standout is Mike Carey’s The Unwritten. It is some of the smartest writing being done now. Anyone who admires the powers of storytelling needs to follow along. I find myself in awe at least once or twice every TPB and getting genuinely excited about the start of a new issue.
This month I also read a few Kindle Singles on my iPad. I enjoy this publishing model because it offers a way to pay for quality content that is not quite book length but longer than an essay or article. I am not sure that writing like this would have much of an outlet otherwise – unless, perhaps, as collected in books or anthologies. It certainly would not gain the same audience.
In addition to Kindle Singles, I started to check out some stuff published by The Atavist. The first book I read from them was Mother, Stranger. It is an oddly compelling story about the author, Cris Beam’s, relationship with her mentally ill mother. A soundtrack that strums softly in the background and in-text additions of map locations, notes, noises, and photos enhances the e-books.
On Gardening: April brings garden prep and unpredictable weather. I started some tomatoes and cucumbers by the window under my makeshift growing lamp (2 bulbs and a cut furnace shield). The first few weeks of May will be for starting herbs, squash, zucchini, and beans. I usually buy one or two pepper plants and sow greens and radishes right into the ground towards the end of the month.
On My Favorite Reads From Around the Web This Month:
- Infinite Reading – an interesting blog post by Sarah Werner about reading DFW’s Infinite Jest on the iPad
- The Rise of e-books – fascinating results of a survey from Pew Internet about e-reading
- Libraries as software: dematerializing, platforms and returning to first principles – important and thoughtful blog post about ways for libraries to move forward
- The Crisis in American Walking – the first essay in a series about walking and pedestrianism in the US
- Tree of Life: The missing link discovered – an answer to the CGI dinosaurs in Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life
- How tiny Estonia stepped out of USSR’s shadow to become an internet titan - Internet done right
- The Maniac in Me - a NYT’s Magazine essay about living with anxiety
- The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future - The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal urges entrepreneurs to look beyond the Facebook model
- Why I break DRM on e-books - a publishing exec explains why DRM is a bad model
- Services More Meaningful than Ebooks - a call from Aaron Schmidt for librarians to focus their energy on places besides the already-lost e-book fight
- Craig Mod’s three satellite posts on the digital-physical divide (note: that link is to the first of three)
On Living Meaningfully: Last August I read David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. It was the most influential and disturbing book I read that month (year, actually) because it dealt with a feeling that has lurked around the edges of my thoughts for the last three or four years. A quote from that book has gone around the Internet lately.
True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.
For a long time I felt that living a meaningful and ethical life meant you had to do something big, make an impact in a large way. But over the years I have come grasp the obvious fact that there is no one path to a meaningful life. An accumulation of the little things matter too. How you approach your days, treating your friends and family with generosity and kindness, learning new things, and cultivating empathy and understanding on a day-to-day basis are where a solid foundation to a good life begins.
Sometimes I fear that the pervasive cynicism, irony, and self-absorption that our culture (and especially my generation and those younger) is so steeped in obfuscates such a simple fact’s verity. We often can’t talk seriously about any of this and it makes me sad.
So, I listen to this:
Which brings me to…
On The Cheese of Accomplishment:
Ze Frank is back! Here’s his Invocation for Beginnings: