I haven't posted in a while, and I don't have new cartoons today. (I actually have some that I haven't scanned, but tonight is not the time.) A lot is going on, good stuff, but it's kept me pretty busy.
Tonight I'm thinking about something that happened maybe a couple months ago - certainly several weeks. I could probably figure out when, but it doesn't really matter.
Up until recently, I conducted a group of teenagers as a chaplain - the details aren't terribly important here, but I never brought a "message" to them, I mostly checked in to see how they were doing. Sometimes they opened up about what was really bothering them, but not usually.
But back a while, something I said brought up a debate that the kids had been having over lunch, about feminism. One of the older girls had been defending feminism, and two of the older boys were talking about how it wasn't necessary.
What really bothers me in retrospect is that I more or less just let it happen: I didn't intervene, didn't add my two cents, didn't use it as a "teachable moment." That's because I like to see the kids interacting with one another, and articulating their own positions. I think "people like me" dominate too much of the public discourse.
But one of the older boys, who I like, and is fairly intelligent and articulate, was talking about how feminism wasn't necessary. I have hopes that he'll grow out of that in the next five years or so - precisely because he's fairly intelligent.
I wish I had intervened, though. He shut down the older girl (who I also like, for the same reasons) - and I wonder what would have happened if I pointed that out. "You just talked over the top of CJ until she just gave up. You didn't think anything of it, you didn't notice it. That's why we need feminism."
But I didn't - and I wish I had. I don't think it would have damaged my relationship with the boy, and it might have strengthened my relationship with the girl. She never really talked about her problems, although I know if I were in her shoes, I wouldn't have either.
In any case, I probably won't see any of them again.
When I was a junior in high school (10th grade), I turned in an essay in AP US History on one of the Leatherstocking books - probably Last of the Mohicans. In it, I described Cora Munro (again, I'm not sure if this is the right book, but if it was, it was her) as a femme fatale. The teacher of the class was relatively young (and not the teacher we had expected when we signed up for the class - a long story), and she circled the term in my essay. My response at the time was, "I can't believe she doesn't know what a femme fatale is! How does someone graduate from college, much less get a teaching position, without knowing what a femme fetale is?" I was a very smart 17 year old, and (although I didn't know it at the time) headed for Duke! Years later - and I'm not sure how long, because this isn't a story I thought of often - it dawned on me that she circled it because I didn't know what the term meant. I was thinking of this recently because I was rereading a book by Anthony Appiah, and was reminded of an encounter several years ago when I was still teaching. I was vetting essay topics, and a student told me he wanted to write on Appiah as an African philosopher. I responded, "He was born in London, educated in English boarding schools and Cambridge, and has taught in the US for most of his career. Why does he qualify as an African philosopher?" The student dropped the class, so I never got to have the conversation I wanted to have with him: I was actually reading a lot about African philosophy (and essays about what qualified as African philosopher, by various people including Kwame Anthony Appiah) shortly before this student posed the question; and Appiah had been one of my professors at Duke. I probably spent more time in Appiah's office, talking philosophy, than any other professor I had as an undergraduate. But with regard to my student, I worry that he had the same reaction I had as a high school student: how does this guy not know that Appiah is an African philosopher? Well, it's not necessarily that he's not, but Appiah himself has problematized the issue. You have to demonstrate that you understand the term. (Note on the cartoons: the top one is from several years ago, originating in a discussion of Motivational Interviewing - and I ought to write more about that at some point. The second is much older, but I don't think I've posted it before, although I haven't gone back and checked.)
I have had a lot of cartoon ideas over the past month and a half (since I last posted) that I haven't gotten around to drawing. Some of my best ideas come to me while I'm either falling asleep or just waking up: this is one of those cartoons. Although I'll admit, it was more a "persistent" idea rather that one that I actually think is one of my "best."
A few weeks back, something struck me (perhaps something I knew before and had forgotten - it doesn't seem like a new insight).
So, when I describe myself as a Marxist, I am usually explicit about endorsing Marx's critique of capitalism - but not his notion of history, particularly the part about the socialist utopia. I can say more about the critique of capitalism at some point, but I want to focus on the second half. I will try to clarify this point by saying that Marx didn't have a good understanding of human nature: people tend to be horrible to one another.
So far, so good. But I hadn't remembered putting this in terms of Hobbes versus Rousseau before. Hobbes (very roughly speaking) thinks that people are basically bad, and that society has a good influence, keeping our aggression in check. Rousseau (again, very roughly) sees people as basically good, and society as inherently corrupting. (I know that is a cartoonish view of their position, and look! You get actual cartoons as well!) To connect these pieces: Marx follows Rousseau, but the so-called Communist states tend to get pretty Hobbesian (arguably, Marx's theory has never been put into practice, but I'm not sure what it would take to implement it well, and of course his view of history said that this would arise naturally in any case, which obviously hasn't happened).
What's the converse of this? I tend to see libertarians as the opposite - and the (new insight) that struck me is that the libertarians I've talked to tend to endorse a Rousseau-esque view of human nature. It goes something like this: "If only we got rid of all the regulation, people would just naturally behave, rather than spending so much time trying to conform to, or subvert, unnecessary rules." Maybe you would phrase this differently, but this seems to be the gist as I understand it, from talking with several different libertarians over the years.
And what's wrong with this? Well, it's either very naive - I mean, seriously, do they understand that the regulations tend to be in response to people doing bad things in the first place? - or else extremely cynical. I'm willing to give the libertarians I know the benefit of the doubt, but it does seem in general that there's a cynicism to libertarians in general that I really, really dislike.
That said, I'll say one thing for Ayn Rand: at least she's honest about being an unapologetic asshole.