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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Glass Bead Game

The Glass Bead Game
Herman Hesse

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I would like to think that every academic struggles with questions of worth. Naturally, I would like to hope that every human being struggles with questions of worth, but that seems too ambitious. However, to restrict the wish to academics seems not unreasonable. If anyone should be a bit reflective, they should — if for no other reason than that they have the time and the capacity to do so. My impression of the academy is nonetheless quite dim. What should be a means of service seems primarily a means of escape. Too many teachers do everything in their power to avoid teaching. They would much rather tinker with their own ideas behind their own closed doors, and only interact with the world when it comes time to present at conferences or submit yearly publications in order to maintain tenure. The whole thing strikes as too safe, too cowardly, too proud. I like the world. It’s dirty, it’s grubby, it breaks down. It requires not just book smarts, but actual smarts. Living in the world requires a certain knack, and it’s a knack that many people never quite get. What is frustrating about the academy is that it seems proud of not having that knack, and looks down upon those who do. It’s as baffling as it is irritating. What’s so terrific about writing missives about what you believe the world to be like, while ignoring the contributions of those who simply navigate it instinctively?
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The Glass Bead Game is, in part, a story about the failure of academics to take into account the world. In striving to place themselves above and apart from the world, the Glass Bead Game players also succeed in making themselves entirely disposable. The book follows the efforts of one of their order to reconnect the realm of the mind with the realm of the practical, as so to give the public some reason for tolerating and perpetuating the existence of the game’s players. It becomes a missive on teaching, and (to a lesser extent) pedagogy. Hesse seems to suggest that when the revolution comes, the academics will be the first ones sacked. I think he’s probably wrong (the bureaucrats will probably get sacked first, and then the academics), but makes a good point, and one which academics would do well to heed.
Naturally, this is all filtered through my own discontent. The Game is no doubt enjoyable while one is playing. The puzzles of philosophy are amusing diversions from the dirtiness and grubbiness of the world. Academics is a fine place to hide out from doing any real work. But none of that seems to justify it. This is why I would like to consider myself first and foremost a teacher, and only secondarily a scholar. Because scholarship, for all of its pleasures, does seem to me to be empty. I don’t mind the “problem” students who aren’t willing to accept academics for its own sake, who tell me in class that philosophy is bullshit. In fact, I kind of prefer those students. Philosophy is bullshit, as I don’t mind telling them. But it’s bullshit that sharpens your mind to be able to do other things. And those other things — the things that exist in the world — are often terribly important.

Sweatin’ To The Eighties

More or less against my will, last night my birthday was celebrated super-rad eighties style. Don’t get me wrong — I love birthday parties, and I love parties with off-beat themes. The problem is simply that I haven’t got an ounce of eighties nostalgia in my body. On the whole, it strikes me as a waste of a perfectly good decade. The main problem, I think, is the music. There was great music around in the eighties (i.e., Minor Threat, N.W.A., Talking Heads, etc.), but that’s never the stuff that people want to hear. As soon as the subject of eighties music comes up, out come the worn copies of The Immaculate Collection. Anyway, the Madonna was pumping out of my stereo last night, although I did manage to slip some punk into the mix at points just to keep my ears from comitting suicide. To be fair, it was a great time, people had fun, and I’ve got another year’s worth of blackmail photos available. Against the explicit wishes of certain parties, they’ve been posted online. Enjoy.

Livin’ Is Easy

I am now really and truly on summer vacation. The full magnitude of what this means hasn’t set in quite yet (and I suspect it won’t until next week, when my life actually settles down a bit.) A few people have suggested that with no job and no classes all summer, I will get bored. These are obviously individuals with an over-developed sense of duty. Boredom is the very least of my concerns this summer.
Vacation started with quite a bang. Immediately after turning in final grades for my students, I drove to PA to meet up with Andy, and rode with him down to a Les Savy Fav show at the 9:30 club in D.C. LSF were opening for The Faint, whom we didn’t even stick around to see. (80s synth pop is BAD. Naughty little indie rockers! Put away those “vintage” Popples t-shirts and go to your rooms to think about what you’ve done.) Les Savy Fav were decent, but my enjoyment of the show was tempered by two things: 1) I hate the 9:30 club. Too big, too crowded. 2) Too many people in front of me standing with folded arms, waiting for The Faint and insufficiently appreciating LSF. This means that not only did I not get to rock as hard as desired, but the pictures that I took are not nearly as close-up as usual.
The rest of the weekend was spent in the mountains of PA, throwing a bachelor party for Dave . We had a good time, consumed mass quantities, sat around a bonfire, and brought him back with all of his teeth (as requested). Mission successful.
Project for this week is to throw a birthday party for myself and Jarred on Wednesday night. I’m hoping to get some decent blackmail photos from that event…

Another Semester Bites the Dust (Almost)

Another semester has (nearly) drawn to a close. I’m now one semester and one very lazy summer away from a master’s degree. My final papers were fun to write this time around, mostly because I’m writing around the intersection between software and philosophy. My final paper for my philosophy of science and technology class talks about democratization of software (and democratizing effects of software), using peer-to-peer software as a case study. I think it’s neither the greatest nor the worst thing that I’ve ever written. For my class on technology and epistemology, I tried to make a case for a modified pragmatic epistemology by talking about how modern hacking/cracking tools de-skill the user. I’m kind of fond of that paper, not only because I think it’s decent philosophy, but also because it has pictures 😉
One of the interesting things about both papers (but particularly the P2P one) is that I’ve had to explain some fairly technical concepts in very baby-technical ways for a very non-technical audience (philosophy professors do not seem to become computer wizards, or vice versa.) It’s been an educational experience — some of the details of my philosophy hinge upon some of the technical details of the software, so the onus is on me to explain those technical details clearly enough to make my case convincing. I’ve remembered that I’ve always like teaching technical things to non-technical users. I suppose I like teaching philosophy to engineering students for the same reasons.
Anyway, all that is left of my semester is to defend my thesis proposal and to grade 75 exams (which come in on Tuesday.) After Thursday, I am on vacation, and will be cruising up to PA to throw a bachelor party for Dave . I figure on staying pretty well incoherent for a week or so, and then starting into some writing for the thesis….