U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (9/1/09)

1. A New Scopes Trial? Apparently U.S. political conservatives, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, would like the EPA to hold a public hearing on whether climate change is man-made or a part of nature’s cycles. So if we assume that Clarence Darrow is be played by Al Gore in this proposed historical melodrama, who will take on the part of William Jennings Bryan? This guy? What innocent school teacher will be the John Scopes of the twenty-first century?

2. President Obama’s reading list for his just-finished vacation. The last paragraph sums up the situation—the obsession with what presidents read—fairly well:

“We can blame John Kennedy for this obsession with presidential reading. Asked at a press conference what he read for relaxation, he named Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Kennedy was the first glamour president of the television age. His celebrity status escalated the process of overinterpreting presidential behavior, but those books also seemed to say something about the man who read them. It was just too fitting that Kennedy was reading about a debonair Cold War rake who made his own rules. Presidential reading lists have been squeezed for meaning ever since. Which means that in the heat of this year’s health care debate, the president doesn’t dare read anything by anyone who once wrote a book called Dr. No.”

In addition, I believe our obsession with the president’s reading list, and reading lists in general, says something about our desire to learn how others think. We want to know what informs the thinking processes of others. Our curiosity about reading lists speaks to an innate desire for intellectual history and philosophy. Reading lists are just the People magazine/Cliff’s Notes version of that desire.

3. I used this list of Top 10 Philosophy Blogs to help fill gaps on my Google Reader folder on the subject. After a few weeks of monitoring all ten, they seem a bit content dry in general. Then again, aren’t all academic type blogs sporadic and content dry in August? Perhaps they’ll pick up after Labor Day.

4. I’m paraphrasing Richard Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, but he essentially asserted this summer that Catholic colleges should acknowledge that they’re like any another business. His precise quote: “We are a business, too. …We’re a big business. We have a responsibility to ensure that the economic decisions we make also are cognizant of the moral consequences.” And Mr. Yanikoski builds on his attempt to twist this into a positive, relaying that “colleges must treat employees fairly, be responsible to the environment, and reserve financial aid for the needy and not just the smartest students.” But I can’t help being disappointed in his contradictory philosophical assumption. Namely, if you’re a business, then you’re concerned about profit—or the camouflage term “excess” in the world of some non-profits. What business model accounts for fairness, the environment, and help for the needy when the bottom-line is measuring stick? To be fair, I think Mr. Yanikoski means well. But his terminology confuses the issues. My thinking is that as a college you’re an education institution that works within a philosophy and a budget; you’re not a business that somehow works within a philosophy and deals with a product of immeasurable value (i.e. education).

5. Crooked Timber recently hosted a seminar on George Scialaba‘s new book of collected essays, What Are Intellectuals Good For? I’m working my way through this. I can say already, however, that I’m continually amazed at the ability of online publications to put forth high-quality content—way better than silly aggregation posts about one’s light reading. 🙂

6. The Intellectual Life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The social connections between activists, as well as their shared thought processes, intrigue me. As a Catholic, furthermore, I’ve grown more and more curious Dorothy Day and her influences. She has come up again and again as inspirational to late twentieth-century Catholics who are doggedly inspired to agitate for the cause of labor. In this case, however, we see a less prominent member of a high-profile political family motivated by Day’s life and work. Between Eunice, John, Robert, Rose, and Ted, the Kennedys surely reflect the varieties of ways that U.S. Catholics apply their faith both socially and personally. The diversity of Catholic religious experiences continually amaze me.

One Thought on this Post

  1. Dorothy Day is an inspiring figure for many non-Catholics also. Her own work was inspired by the understudied personalist philosopher Peter Maurin who was her partner in the Catholic Worker. As a partnership their work is calling for more historical attention.

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