Agnostics

Truthdig has posted an interview with Sam Harris (previously discussed 1,2), in which he has an interesting answer to the question of what distinguishes an athiest from an agnostic.

Apathy #2

Does sitting on your hands mean that you should resist complaining? A friend claims that complaining is a natural part of human conversational fabric, whether or not one intends to try and resolve the issues that are being complained about. My argument was typically principled but highly impractical (as they often are), in that I was making the claim that unless you are prepared to try and effect change, you really don’t have the right to complain.

Jesus update

So, the man behind the man who blessed the world with an alternative to Harry Potter, namely Michael Baigent (who, for those of you who don’t follow such esoterica, claimed – unsuccessfully – that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was plagiarised from Baigent’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail), has revealed that Jesus and Pontius Pilate colluded in faking the crucifixion.

Private intellectuals, public morons

My students are due to hand an essay in next week. Besides the typical whingeing relating to things like essay length (1500 words is apparently unreasonable these days), I’ve also had some students saying things like “if I had wanted to study museum subjects then I would be a Humanities student”. This, after I had the temerity to ask Economics students to read 2 pages of John Stuart Mill. By and large, this anti-intellectual culture seems to be thriving in the media also – this Sunday was typical, in that the weekend papers provided their usual 30-minute-maximum of diversion.

The End of Faith

One very positive development, following the publication of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, is that commentators on the issue are occasionally taking pains to identify themselves what one might call “moderate athiests”. See, for example, this review by David Niose of Humanist magazine.

Apathy

A friend remarked over dinner that, if we were in London (his home town), power outages such as those experienced in Cape Town of late would result in marches and the like. This may be true, and I can’t help wondering if my feeling that there would simply be no point in marching is a) true or b) an indication that he’s highlighting a deep-seated apathy that Capetonians (maybe South Africans) are prone to.

Examples: emails from students

For those who want some context with regard to this post:

    Exhibit A

“I WAS UNABLE TO ACCESS ANY OF MY E-MAILS. BUT MY MARK RECORDS ARE INCORRECT BECAUSE I HAV HANDED IN MY BIG ESSAY 2.THE TUTOR(xxxxx xxxxx) SAID THAT SHE HAS HANDED ALL RESULTS IN BUT THEY DO NOT REFLECT ON THE BOARD. PLEASE WOULD YOU CORRECT THE ERROR.”

Emails from students

The New York Times carried this article discussing student emails to their professors, which has been generating subtantial debate on academia-themed blogs (for example, here, and here). All the posts so far are from campuses in the US and Canada, where I’d imagine it rare to teach around 2000 students per year, as I do.

Whisky as ritual

Say what you will about wine, beer or any cocktail; there are times when whisky – and only whisky – is right. For starters, whisky has always been good for conversation. Mignon McLaughlin (in The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960) said “we come late, if at all, to wine and philosophy: whiskey and action are easier”, but he was wrong.

Classroom politics

Whether students like it or not, one of the things I aim for in my classrooms is to break down the (usually artificial) divide between academia and everyday life. It’s made somewhat easier by the fact that the sort of things I teach are easily applicable to non-academic activities.