The English Language and the Term “Racism”

A neat fact about language is that the meaning of a word can evolve.  My favorite example in this regard is the word “bad”.  As every native speaker of English knows, there is the negative sense of the word “bad” and there is the complimentary sense of the word “bad”.  If I say to my best friend “I love you, man.  You are so bad,” there can be no doubt about it: I am complimenting my friend.

I have no idea how the word “bad” came to have a very positive sense.  But there can be no doubt about the fact that it does.

Now, one day the term “racism” may be such that when one says something like “There is a surprising amount of racism taking place at so-and-so institution,” one has to ask for clarification.  Is ethnic group Alpha being racist towards ethnic group Beta?  Or, is that ethnic group Gamma is being racist towards ethnic group Beta?  And so on.  But at this point in the history of the United States, we do not need that sort of clarification when a person says that racism has occurred.  Hopefully, we will get there.  But we are not there yet.  Racism is typically understood to be about whites towards blacks.  Indeed, there are blacks who (wrongly) insist that blacks cannot be racist.

So when Barack Obama claimed that racism is still in our DNA, there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that he is simply making the general claim that there are human beings of every ethnicity who succumb to racist behavior.  No, there is every reason to believe that what he meant is that racism is still a part of the very character of whites generally with respect to blacks.  And Obama is way too smart to not have supposed that his words would be thus understood.

And it is precisely that understanding of Obama’s words that I found most despicable, especially in light of the extraordinary support that the whites of Charleston (South Carolina) gave to blacks after the killing by Dylan Roof of 9 black members of the AME Church.  To make such a claim about whites in the face of such an extraordinary show of support by blacks by whites bespeaks a despicable degree of moral callousness on Obama’s part.  100 years ago, such support by whites in the face of the wrongful mistreatment of blacks would have been entirely unthinkable.  Whatever else is true, there has been considerable moral progress.  And not to acknowledge that progress reflects a horrendous degree of moral callousness on Obama’s part.

Even if—as someone claimed—Obama was talking about the capacity for racism on the party of all human beings, it is nonetheless the case that he should have acknowledged the considerable moral good that was being displayed by whites with regard to the killing of the 9 blacks of the AME Church that occurred.  His failure to do so is absolutely inexcusable.  If 10 very capable swimmers stand by and watched folks drown, but one person jumped into the water and, at great risk to herself or himself, saved the life of three people, surely the moral good that the one person did should be tremendously acknowledged whatever else folks goes on to say about those who stood by and watched folks drown.

To conclude, I am reminded of a marvelous remark that was made in the novel The Color Purple.  It is said that a good listener listens not only to what a person says but also to what a person does not say.  For instance, a very clear sign that a person is modest in terms of having considerable economic means is that the individual says virtually nothing about having the means to buy all sorts of expensive gadgets.  Likewise, a scholar is modest when she or he says very little, if anything, about her considerable professional standing.  For example, the late-John Rawls was a tremendously modest person.  One could say next to him day after day after day and not hear him say a word about being the author of one of the most important books in contemporary moral and political philosophy ever to be written, namely A Theory of Justice.

And that is well worth acknowledging even if there is still progress to be made.  Imagine that a foreign student wrote an absolutely brilliant essay on moral responsibility.  However, there lots of grammatical errors in the paper.  Of course, I should help the student to overcome her or his grammatical shortcomings with English.  But clearly, my doing so should very much be in the shadow of my conveying to the student the tremendous excellence of the argument of her or his essay.  This point holds mutatis mutandis with respect to Obama and the matter of racism, given the truly majestic response on the part of whites in Charleston (South Carolina) to the evil committed by Dylan Roof.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Barack Obama’s Morally Despicable Remarks About Whites

Barack Obama is a morally despicable person.  And his remarks about racism being in the genes of white Americans is proof par excellence of that claim.  And precisely what I cannot begin to grasp is how he could categorize all white people as having a genetic disposition to be racist.  When a person of his intellectual ability makes such an utterly indefensible claim, then a profound reality about him is thereby revealed: He has a deep and abiding distrust—if not outright hatred—for white people.

White person after white person expressed their pain and sorrow over the killings that took place in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston (South Carolina).  Did Obama think that those white people were just putting on a front and that they really took enormous delight in the killings committed by Dylan Roof?  That is the only way it is even remotely possible for Obama to make the claim that he made in the face of the extraordinary outpouring of support and goodwill on the part of whites in Charleston.

There can be no doubt about it: The mere fact that he could make such a horrendous claim in the face of the extraordinary outpouring of support by whites reveals just how morally callous a person Obama is.

Let me put my point another way: By his remark that racism is in the genes of white people Barack Obama has revealed himself to be an utterly evil person.  For evil has two very clear signs.  One is that of inflicting harm upon innocent people.  The other is to be absolutely indifferent to the unquestionable good that people are doing.  Obama’s remarks an unequivocally clear manifestation of the latter.

Of course, I fully grasp that there are whites who racist just as fully grasp that there are blacks who equally despicable human beings.  But just as it would morally horrific for any white to characterize all blacks as morally and spiritually inferior, it is no less horrific for any black to characterize all whites as having a genetic disposition to be racist.  Of course, the moral monster known Barack Obama cannot literally mean what he claimed, since there is not a shred of evidence that racism is anchored in the biological make-up of any human being, whatever her or his ethnic configuration might be.

At least Obama’s despicable claim about people fully eliminates any doubt as to why he attended Pastor Wright’s church for some 20-years.  In a word: Barack Obama is a black racist.  By definition, a racist is so committed to attribution either evil or inferiority to a people that either (a) the person ignores the reality that persons of other ethnic configurations are behaving ever so wonderfully or (b) the person refuses to acknowledge the good that members of the group are doing.  Regarding (a), there is the poignant reality that blacks have exhibited horrendous behavior in recent years, as the case of Baltimore makes unequivocally clear.  Indeed, blacks destroyed the CVS store that was put into a black neighborhood in order to make life easier for blacks.  Most significantly, that is a most obnoxious level of moral callousness that was displayed by blacks towards blacks.  But as far as I can tell, ne’er a comment has been by racist Barack Obama regarding the horrific behavior committed by black people against one another.

A very poignant reality, it that it is simply absurd to take Dylan Roof as a symbol of the attitude of white people towards non-whites—blacks, in particular.  Roof’s horrific behavior is no more proof that racism is still a problem for America than the rioting on the part of blacks count as a proof that a black president is a morally despicable human being and that blacks generally are morally and intellectually deficient.

I must choose my words carefully.  But whatever respect that I had for Barack Hussein Obama has completely vanished.  The year and some months of his presidency that remain cannot go by fast enough.  In the language of John F. Kennedy: “Is America better off on account of having had Barack Obama as President of the United States?”  The answer strikes me a manifestly obvious: Absolutely not.  Indeed, not even blacks can say that they are actually better off on account of his presidency.

My suspicion is that psychologically is Obama constitutionally a bitter person.  I do not grasp why he is bitter.  But in view of the extraordinary show of support of blacks by whites with regard to what happened in Charleston, it is manifestly obvious that Obama’s remarks about whites having a biological propensity to be racist are so very, very, very untimely.  And that is just the point: Obama is too psychologically callous to grasp that the depth of his morally despicable remarks.  He is a schmuck.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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When a Letter of Reference is Meaningful

It is obvious that a good letter of reference has to be positive.  Most interestingly, though, is the quite substantial truth that there are better and worse ways for a letter of recommendation to be positive.  On the one hand, it has to be clear that there was a substantial intellectual bond between the professor and the student.  On the other hand, though, it has to be equally clear that the bond was not in any way a sexual one or otherwise inappropriate.  And with regard to the second point, it really does not matter nowadays whether we are talking about two people of the same sex or a heterosexual pairing.  Regardless of sexual orientation, the more descriptive the professor’s letter of reference is about the actual ideas put forth by a student, then the more credibility the professor’s letter for the student will have.  In this regard, it can even turn out that the student’s idea are mistaken here and there just so long as it is clear that there was considerable novelty and originality in the student’s line of thought.

Quite significantly, the grade of “A” is not the mark of intellectual excellence that it once was.  There was a time when in a class of 50 students, it would be very rare for any more than 5 students to earn a grade of “A”.  Not so nowadays.  Thus, the mere claim that a student earned a grade of “A” in this or that class is almost insignificant nowadays unless enough is said in terms of concrete examples that bring out the considerable creativity of the student’s thinking.

A very good letter of reference will bring out that the student showed a level of intellectual maturity, curiosity, and insight that clearly went beyond what was expected of her or him.  Likewise, the student also showed a level of productivity that exceeded what was required of her or him.  An obvious example of such productivity would be that a student writes an excellent essay that is quite a few pages longer than was required for the course.  Or the student used resources that were not part of the reading required for the course.

As to intellectual creativity and curiosity, it suffices that the student offers quite substantial insights that clearly surpasses the ideas presented in the readings or discussed in class.  Or, in any case, the student’s views give rise to much insight even though there are mistakes in the views initially presented by the student.  In other words, the mistakes made by the student prove to be the catalyst for a very fecund intellectual learning experience.

I have never understood the origin of the expression “The devil is in the details”.  But what I do not know is that with respect to letters of reference the expression is extremely applicable.  It is manifestly clear that the right set of details give a letter of reference a tremendous level of credibility.  And here it has to be understood that we have the right set of details when and only when a reasonable person reading the details will understand them in just the way that the details were meant be understood.  This means that any professor who is excels at writing good letters of reference is also one who has an excellent sense of how her or his words will be understood by the readers of the letters that she or he writes.  And if a professor is good at writing good letters of reference, it will also be true that the professor will be extremely selective in writing letters of reference unless the professor is in the very unusual position of teaching students where virtually each of them turns out to be an intellectual genius.

Let me conclude with a word that applies essentially to students.  (1) Students should do their very best to forge an intellectual bond with a professor sooner rather than later.  (2) An important implication of (1) is that students should meet often enough with the professor during office hours in order to discuss ideas.  Doing so gives the student a good sense of the professor and gives the professor a good sense of the student.  (3) Students should make a point of taking at least three courses with a professor and be sure to excel in each course.  There is nothing in academia that can take the place of a pattern of success.  Nothing at all.  Indeed, this point holds as much for the professor as it does for the student.  Several courses with a professor allow for both professor and student to witness excellence on the part of one another.  In particular, taking several courses with the same professor and doing well in each class gives the claims of excellence by the professor with regard to the student a credibility that it would be very difficult for the claims to otherwise have.

Teaching is at its best when and only when it is the pursuit of excellence on the part of both the student the professor.  And in that regard, both can be ever so affirming of the other.  A letter of recommendation at its best is none other than a majestic and sublime testimony of the ever so fruitful experience occasioned by that majestic intellectual affirmation on the part of both parties.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Trustworthiness and Self-Knowledge

A tremendously trustworthy person has considerable self-knowledge.  For being trustworthy is not just about doing what is appropriate no matter how one ends up doing so.  Rather, being a trustworthy person is necessarily tied to the reality that one choses so to behave in a manner whereby one is worthy of the trust of another.  For example, if the only reason why I did not steal your money on the table is that I did not see the money, then I am hardly trustworthy.  The same holds if the only reason why I did not steal your money is that I saw the money and I also saw that other people would see me stealing the money.

By contrast, if I saw your money on the table and, moreover, I correctly grasped that it was very, very likely that I could get away with taking your money, then I am indeed trustworthy if nonetheless I unequivocally choose ***not*** to steal your money.  So, when we are appropriately deemed trustworthy by another that is absolutely an extraordinary measure of affirmation; for the person who makes that assessment recognizes that time and time and time again we did not do wrong even though in all likelihood we would have certainly gotten away with doing the wrong in question.

While there are lots of things that people may fail to know about themselves, no one fails to know the dimensions with respect to which she or he trust worthy or not.  Absolutely no one.  Accordingly, no person is ever really and genuinely confused with regard to the areas in which she or he is trustworthy or not trustworthy, it being understood that a person can be trustworthy in one area of life but not another.

To use the language of the distinguished economist and philosopher Adam Smith: Being trustworthy necessarily entails having a high degree of self-command.  No matter how spontaneous a trustworthy person might be generally, the person will never violate an individual’s trust.   And that reality is a deep, deep aspect of the self-knowledge of a trustworthy person.

On the one hand, trustworthiness in the absence of self-knowledge is conceptually incoherent.  On the other hand, though, a profoundly deep sense that one is trustworthy is not at all a form of arrogance.  For the knowledge that one is trustworthy is not something that one announces time and time and time again.  Quite the contrary, a person who is trustworthy may very well never make that announcement, precisely because what is desired is that others come to recognize that she or he is trustworthy.

If a person is profoundly trustworthy, then with rare exception she or he will be very good at recognizing whether another individual is trustworthy or not.  For while people may be trustworthy with respect to different things, there are some very basic aspects of trustworthiness that are the same for all.  What is more, profound trustworthiness is the same across all sorts of background differences: education, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, and so on.  A rich person’s knowledge that she is trustworthy is essentially no different than a poor person’s knowledge that he is trustworthy.  The same holds for the difference between persons with advanced degrees and those have no more than very basic education.  Trust mightily transcends all the differences just described.  And a person who is trustworthy recognizes the fundamental truth of what has just been said.

A final comment: Owing to self-deception, (1) a person may think that she or he is trustworthy when in point of fact that is not at all the case.  By contrast, (2) it is next to impossible for a person to actually be trustworthy and not grasp that reality about herself or himself.  With (1), the person will invariably have one or more very rich ties with someone is so very clearly not trustworthy; whereas with (2), the rich ties that the person has will only be with those who are, indeed, trustworthy; and if any such person becomes untrustworthy, the bond will diminish considerably if not evaporate entirely.  And a person who is, indeed, trustworthy is manifestly clear that (2) unequivocally holds for true her or him.  To conclude, there is an ever so profound sense in which being trustworthy is a moral gift from the heart that we give to others.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Being TrustWorthy: What I Most Like

Being trustworthy is what I most like about myself.  Accordingly, abusing the trust of another is one thing that I will never ever do.  Of course, there are lots of other things about my life that I also like.  Still, being trustworthy is at the very top of the list.  Not surprisingly, there are a few other virtues that necessarily follow in the wake of being trustworthy.  For instance, a very trustworthy person has to exercise considerable foresight.  In particular, one has to see how things could look inappropriate even though one has no inappropriate thoughts and no one with whom one is interacting has any inappropriate thoughts.  My favorite example in this regarding is visiting the home of a married couple and arriving at the appropriate time but nonetheless arriving before the husband has arrived.  In such an instance, I invariably find a need to make a trip to the store or run an errand or whatever.  My goal is very simple: Get out of the house until the husband has arrived.

I do not suppose that either I or the wife are even tempted to do something inappropriate or even that one of us has inappropriate thoughts.  Rather, my reasoning is very simple: The very thought of something inappropriate occurring, given the absence of the husband, simply cannot obtain a purchase upon anyone’s thinking if I am not there.

Interestingly, the common practice of professors nowadays to have office hours with their office doors wide open is none other than an approach that is meant to preclude the very possibility of a student having any inappropriate thoughts about the professor’s behavior or intentions.

Since there times when I am teaching 600 students in a given semester and, moreover, I am sufficiently idiosyncratic in my demeanor and, therefore, do not quite fit the stereotype of a professor, I have my office hours in the open space at Marshall Square Mall so as to preclude the possibility of suspicions of inappropriate behavior on my part even getting off the ground.  Most importantly, though, I am thereby underwriting a very profound respect in which I appear to my students as trustworthy.

As I have already indicated, there are quite a few things about my life that I tremendously like.  But aside from having the appropriate measure of self-love, there is nothing that even comes close to surpassing the desire to be trustworthy.  And it is my considered judgment that self-love as it should be is necessarily tied to the reality that one is trustworthy.  Think about it.  The very idea that Adolf Hitler had enormous self-love is surely utterly incoherent.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, being trustworthy has nothing at all to do with measuring up to inappropriate standards that someone might have.  For example, I have been fortunate enough to be an extremely independent person.  And that bothers some people.  Indeed, whereas some whites see my doing so as a form of arrogance, there are blacks who see my doing so as a form of self-hatred.

The preceding paragraph points to a most profound truth, namely that there is a deep, deep positive correlation between being quite trustworthy and having self-knowledge.  It is simply not possible to be profoundly trustworthy all the while having very little self-knowledge.

The trust that I have enjoyed with students over the years at Syracuse University has been a gift like none other.  Indeed, the trust has mightily transcended just about every social configuration.  About 4 years ago, I would arrive early for the Introduction to Political Science class that met on the ground floor in the Hall of Languages.  A student in the class was always there, and we would strike some tremendous conversations.  About two-thirds through the semester, we were both standing up talking to one another and as I proceeded to respond to something that he said I put my hand on his shoulder.  I immediately withdrew my hand and profusely apologized.  But he came back with a tremendously moving comment: “You can touch me any time you please”.  No, his response was not some indication of sexual desire on his part having been awakened.  Rather, his response was an ever so profound measure of his trust in me.  For two-thirds of the semester, we had been talking twice a week prior to class.  Moreover, the manner in which I conducted the class made it very clear to him that I am a rather animated person.

I shall always treasure that example because it gave considerable insight into the majesty of trust.  A person who indeed lives a properly trustworthy life grasps with considerable accuracy the intentions with which another behaves towards her or him.  When my best friend in Paris says to my “Je t’aime” [I love you], it never occurs to me to think that he is making a romantic remark.  For I know that he is a profoundly devoted husband and father.  But I also know that the trust between us as companion friends, in Aristotle’s sense of the term, has a profound depth and moral majesty to it. Indeed, the extraordinary depth of our friendship has been one ever so bright mirror in terms of my grasping more fully the moral beauty and power of trust.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Baltimore: Criminal versus Constructive Behavior

We have all been to a Chinese take-out restaurant where the owners barely speak English.  Yet, a quite significant truth is that we all generally have a very high opinion of the intellectual ability of Asians.  We view Asians as smart people who know how to be very, very successful.  When I reflect upon the recent events in Baltimore, which is a primarily black city, the question that I keep asking myself is the following: Why is it that black people have not exhibited a measure of constructive behavior that is on a par with the constructive behavior that Asians have exhibited?

Of course, it is true that Asians do not know the racism of yesteryear that was definitive of how blacks were treated.  But we must not lose sight of the fact that it has been at least 40 years, since blacks have had to content with that kind of racism.  There certainly has been quite ample time for blacks to do constructive things for their very own communities.  If one black could not do so on her or his own, then surely two or three or several blacks could pool their resources in order to do so.  Yet, that has not happened.  And the question that mightily presents itself is: Why?

And in this regard, the behavior of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson both strike me as absolutely despicable.  Perhaps I am radically misinformed.  However, I cannot think of a single constructive idea that they have put forth to the black community.  Nothing whatsoever.  Yet, when it comes to making the charge of racism, both seem to be capable of moving faster than the speed of light.  Indeed, Sharpton is doing quite well financially in that regard.

Here is an immutable truth: If I really care about myself, then I will be concerned with doing constructive and beneficial things for myself, as opposed to merely being concerned with pointing out some wrong that I have suffered or might suffer at the hands of someone, whether the wrongdoer is of my ethnicity of a different ethnicity.

So I am more than a little incredulous when I see whites rallying behind blacks when blacks make the charge of racism, but yet these very same whites do nothing at all to encourage blacks to be the author of their very own lives—nothing at all to encourage blacks to exhibit excellences that would mightily command the respect of others.  In this regard, the analogy to parental love is ever so poignant and appropriate.  No parent actually cares about her or his child if all that the parent does is focus upon the mistreatments that the child has suffered here and there.  The reality just articulated stands as incontrovertible proof that Jackson and Sharpton no more genuinely care about black people than does a dog or a lion.

For those who might be entertaining the thought, let me be clear: Nothing that I have said denies the reality of the past, either in Baltimore or the United States generally.  Indeed, nothing I have said denies the reality that racism still exists in various forms.  But unlike the horrific racism of yesteryear, the reality is that blacks nowadays have a social standing that mightily permits them to be the author of their lives.

The mistake lies in taking constructive criticism to be none other than a form of subtle racist criticism.  My favorite example in that regard is the 10th teacher who, right before my very eyes, tore into pieces a 6-page paper that I had submitted.  Whilst so doing, he made the following remark: “Your intellectual abilities far surpass the paper that you submitted.  Go write me another essay”.  I did just that.  And guess what?  I received a grade of A+ + for that paper.  I do not deny that there can be instances when it is very difficult to distinguish a remark of constructive criticism and from a venomous criticism.  But in that regard two things are in order: (1) Such instances should be extremely rare.  (2) A moral decent person whose remarks seem more venomous than constructive should be more than willing—indeed, eager—to clarify her or his remarks, thereby making her or his positive assessment far more apparent.

I have no trouble whatsoever with marches that protest injustices committed against blacks.  But there is a standing that blacks can have in the eyes of non-blacks if and only if blacks exhibit various forms of excellence generally.  And the act of destroying buildings simply does not count in that regard—a point that holds are the more so in the case of buildings that were constructed in order to enhance the lives of black people, as with the destruction of the CVS store in Baltimore.  Something has gone terribly wrong when in the face of morally objectionable behavior towards blacks, a form of righteous protest on the part of blacks is thought to entail the destruction by blacks of that which is mightily to the benefit of blacks.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Technology, the Self, and Self-Command

Egoism is surely a fundamental part of the biological make-up of human beings.  And nothing is bring that out that reality more than technology itself.  At the very beginning of humanity, a measure of egoism was crucial to individual survival.  To be sure, working together was of the utmost importance.  But a most powerful motivating factor in terms of being motivated to work with others is that doing so was to one’s benefit.  With the extraordinary rise of technology, the propensity for egoism has not disappeared.  Rather, egoism has taken a quite different form.  And my favorite example in this regard is the selfie.

So far, I have yet to have the desire to take a selfie.  Now, it might be thought that the primary explanation here is the reality that my life is utterly lacking in excitement.  While I have no desire to resort to invidious comparisons, I am pretty confident that when I compare the life that I am living with the life that countless many others are living, it is quite clear that I am leading a pretty interesting and wonderful life.  Between teaching and publishing and travelling across the globe, there is every good reason to believe that I am an extremely fortunate person.

Still, I have had no desire whatsoever to take a selfie.  One explanation is that I am psychologically warped.  Another explanation, however, is that technology is mightily contributing to self-deception on the part of human beings and the proclivity for a selfie is an expression of that self-deception.  As one might imagine, I am rather confident that the second explanation holds.

For instance, it seems to be the case nowadays that folks are so occupied with their technological devices that they engage in very little meaningful self-reflection.  To put the point more poignantly, there is no evidence whatsoever that thanks to their technological devices human beings nowadays understand themselves so much better than human beings understood themselves in the past when such devices were essentially non-existent.  That is, there is simply not been a rise in self-knowledge owing to the rise in technology on the part of people.  Most significantly, it is not at all the case that in general my students nowadays are more insightful or more knowledgeable or more informed.  Indeed, the evidence strongly suggest that just the opposite is true, namely that students are less insightful and knowledgeable.  And comparatively, students have less self-knowledge.

A simple and unequivocal truth is the following: The rise in technology without a corresponding increase in self-command (to use Adam Smith’s marvelous idea) is a disaster, it being understood that an increase in self-command is necessarily tied to an increase self-knowledge.  What is more, an increase in self-knowledge invariably entails greater insight with regard to the behavior of others that transpires around one.

On a personal note, I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that the level of self-command in my life has grown dramatically given the rise of technology.  This shows itself in terms of both questions that I pose to my students and remarks that I make to them.  Indeed, my mode of interaction with my students has substantially evolved so that (a) I can be ever so worthy of their trust and (b) I can make sure that no misunderstandings get off the ground.  And while I shall not mention any names, I have seen two students respond with depth of majesty and insight and trust.  And this tells me so very much that is wonderful and admirable about both their depth moral character and the majesty their intellectual insight.

Alas, the remarks of the preceding paragraph profoundly underwrite a most disconcerting reality.  There is no evidence whatsoever that in general technology has mightily enhanced academic learning. Oh, to be sure, there are devices such as power-point that professors can use in teaching.  But only a mightily self-deceived instructor believes that knowledge and depth of insight on the part of students has grown substantially as a result of the use of power-point.  Indeed, the use of power-point in the classroom has proven to be quite incompatible with the cultivation of self-command on the part of students.  For with the posting of a power-point presentation on blackboard, students take it as a given that there really no need for them to be attentive during lecture.

To end where I began: The capacity for self-command is one of the defining features of being a human being.  Ironically, the egoistic tendency that is part of the biological make-up of human beings has been a formidable impediment to human beings enriching their self-command in the face of the ubiquity of technological devices.  Human beings seems to be far more excited with respect to taking a selfie than with respect to make a difference for the better even in their very own life.  And that is a very ominous sign that owing to technology human beings may very well be becoming their own worst enemy.  For a significant rise in technology coupled with an equally significant decline in self-command is none other than a horrendous disaster waiting to happen.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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When Blacks Were Exemplars of Moral Courage

During the Civil Rights Movement black were exemplars of moral courage.  With both extraordinary determination and equally extraordinary self-command, blacks of the South engaged in non-violent marches and sit-ins against racial discrimination.

It would have been very easy for those blacks to come up with excuses for not participating in the Civil Rights demonstrations.  And it would have been perfectly understandable if violence on their part had characterized the marches.  Of course, in either case, there would have been little, if any, admiration and appreciation for blacks.  Indeed, such behavior would have been in keeping with the racist view of blacks as an unruly and uncouth people.  Most fortunately, black majestically gained the respect of whites who never imagined themselves respecting blacks.  No other living creature on the face of the earth is capable of exhibiting genuine self-command except human beings.  And a most profound truth is that the Civil Rights Movements mightily underwrote the humanity of black people.

A most poignant reality is that there has never been another instance of courage on the part of blacks as a people that comes even remotely close to the courage that was displayed during the Civil Rights Movement.

As, of course, everyone knows: Martin Luther King, Jr. was the leader of blacks during the Civil Rights Movement.  And to this day, I am in awe of his insight with respect to how blacks must present themselves during the Civil Rights Movement.  He brilliantly grasped that even members of the KKK would be primarily kept at bay if blacks engaged in non-violent protests.

Looking back and reflecting upon the Civil Rights Movement, it was clearly aimed at touching the very fabric of moral decency.  For it was next to impossible not to see the majesty, dignity, and courage of blacks who engaged in such marches.  In the language of the great philosopher and economist Adam Smith (1723-1790: The extraordinary self-command of blacks was so manifestly evident.  And only human beings are capable of such breathtaking self-command.

So there is a very straightforward sense in which the very behavior of blacks during the Civil Rights Movement mightily underwrote the humanity of blacks.  For racist whites would never have supposed that blacks were capable of such masterful self-command.  Even those who routinely referred to blacks as “niggers” had to concede that blacks displayed during Civil Rights marches a strength of character that can only be attributed to human beings.

I am the beneficiary of the Civil Rights Movement.  And that is why I place so very much importance to self-command.  For the exercise of self-command is a most profound affirmation of an agent’s humanity.  My own view is that owing to the Civil Rights Movement, being superb with regard to having self-command ought to have become one of the most defining and marvelous features of blacks.

Ironically, the recent rioting in Baltimore serves to very much support the view that I am advancing.  For the truth be told is that blacks did an enormous amount of damage to their very own community.  But what a difference, the blacks of Baltimore would have made if they had marched with grace and majesty.  They would have commanded the respect of countless many people—and not just white liberals who trip over themselves either approving or excusing whatever blacks do.  Indeed, just as it is clear that one does not take a person seriously if one disapproves of whatever she does, no matter how excellent her behavior might be, it is equally the case that one does not take a person seriously if one approves of whatever the person might do, no matter how inappropriate and unsuitable the person’s behavior might be.

To conclude on a personal note: I am where I am in life because I am the beneficiary of truly marvelous constructive criticism.  The reason why my white professors corrected me is not that they took me to be an intellectually inferior black person.  Rather, they did so because very much believed in me.  And it is preciously because it was manifestly clear that they believed in me that I came to be the unmistakable author of my own life.

There is a profound difference between obsequious respect, as I shall say, and morally admirable respect.  Morally admirable respect is what the participants of the Civil Rights marches majestically gained.  Are blacks gaining morally admirable respect nowadays when they protest and destroy parts of their very own community?  I will let you, the reader, decide what the answer to that question might be.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Fruit in a Jar: Too Good to be True

I love fruit.  So when I came across this all-natural fruit in a jar, where a given jar of fruit could last as many as long as 7 months, it was as if I entered some kind of gastronomical paradise, since the taste is of the fruit is phenomenal.  A serving has a mere 70 calories; and each jar has 5 servings.  So an entire jar has only 350 calories.  Well, I can easily burn up that many calories during an hour of lecturing to one of my classes.  So I was ordering an 8-jar box of this all-natural fruit on a regular basis.  If it is possible to be addicted to fruit: Well, I was clearly on my way.

Now, I must confess that I often wondered just how it was possible for the fruit to be in a jar an entire 7-months in a jar and not go bad.  But hey: The fruit was being sold by a very reputable company.  So I merely set my wonderment aside and enjoyed one serving after another of the fruit.

But then a quite unexpected thing began to happen.  I noticed that I was developing a little pop-belly.  True, I was nowhere near becoming fat.  And there is no reason to believe that anyone but me even noticed that I seemed to have acquired a little pop-belly.  Of course, my first thought was not that the little pop-belly had anything to do with the huge amount of all-natural fruit I was consuming from those jar.  After all, it is surely the cases that all-natural fruit is healthy and not at all a factor in gaining weight.  Indeed, when it comes to gaining weight, there is clearly no comparison between consuming all-natural fruit as opposed to consuming chocolate cake or candy bars or whatever.

So my initial thought was the slight stomach flab was owing to none other than age.  But then I asked myself the following question:  How on earth is it possible to keep fruit in a jar in entirely flawless state for an entire 7 months without using sort of chemical that is not in any way occasioned by the fruit itself?  Well, there is a very simple answer to that question: It is not possible to do that.

There is the following saying: If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is not true.  I stopped eating the fruit in the jar.  And within 2-weeks, the slight flab on my stomach had seriously shrunk.  The little bit of flab is now entirely gone.  And the explanation here has nothing to do with me going to the gym or working out.  I am not at all disposed so to behave.  Just so, I am constantly moving about.  And I have always had a measure of physical exertion built into my day-to-day living.  For example, if I have a choice, then I do not take an elevator unless I am going pass the 6th floor.  Instead, I walk up the steps and down the steps.  In general, taking an extended walk is one of the things that I take great delight in doing.  And that way of behaving is built into the very life that I live on a daily bases.

Perhaps in the future, it will be possible to keep fruit in jars for months without using any harmful chemicals at all.  But we are not there yet.  I learnt that reality the hard way.  But in the meantime I learned something quite important about myself, namely that I will not deny or ignore the reality of even a slight change for the worse.  No thin person becomes fat overnight.  Instead, there is a little weight gain here and a little weight gain there.  And so on.  Alas, one of the keys to living well is inextricably tied to not overlooking the message delivered by the small changes—neither a message that delivers good news nor a message that delivers bad news.  One way of understanding the role of self-deception in human life is none other than the proclivity that human beings have to overlook the small messages that provide them with insight about their life, especially when something is having a negative impact upon them.

Being the author of my very own life is of the utmost importance to me.  And an incontrovertible truth is that no human being can achieve that end without having a deep measure of honesty with respect to how she or he lives as well as with respect to the impact that choices made have upon her or his life.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Sex, Voluntary Consent, and False Accusations

Rape is wrong.  Only a moral monster could think otherwise.  Sex between two individuals should occur if and only if there is voluntary consent on the part of both individuals.  Back-in the-day, voluntary consent was often non-verbal.  If a touch here or there by one person was met with a warm touch by the other person, then that was taken as a something of a greenlight that some erotic behavior was acceptable and, therefore, that more intimate touching was alright.  Then if that more intimate touching was greeted with a warm touch, then one could proceed even further.  And so things would unfold until eventually the two individuals were engaging in sex.  Indeed, back-in-the-day explicitly talking about having sex was typically thought to cast a rather cold spell upon the very possibility of having sex.

Of course, people can be quite mistaken about the non-verbal behavior of the other.  But the reality is that by-and-large we correctly grasp the non-verbal behavior of the other—especially the behavior of those with whom we have a close bond.  The case of companion friendship mightily brings this out.  Two people know that they are companion friends without ne’er a formal document to that effect being exchanged between them—indeed, without ne’er a word to that effect being uttered between them.  Companion friendships are amazing; and I cannot think of a single case where I have regretted forming a companion friendship with someone.

Returning to the romantic and sexual bond, my very profound worry is that Title IX is mightily exploiting a sexual asymmetry between women and men.  The quite fundamental biological difference between women and men—namely that only women can become pregnant—makes it the case that women are far more susceptible to regretting a sexual experience with a man than men are to regretting a sexual experience with a woman.  This reality is not going to change just so long as women and only women can become pregnant.

I do not doubt for a moment that there are sufficiently many instances when a woman has regretted the voluntary sex that she had with a man.  What troubles me enormously is that Title IX has made it far too convenient for a woman to transpose her regret into an instance of rape.  For a very disturbing example, see the discussion of the Columbia University student, Emma Sulkowicz, whose charge of rape against a male student was dismissed: A Voice for Male Students.

Most significantly, even after the charge was dismissed by Columbia University, Emma Sulkkowicz was allowed to carry a mattress during the graduate exercise as a reminder to all that she had been raped.  It is as if it was entirely irrelevant that her charge of rape against the student Paul Nungesser was deemed by Columbia University to be entirely inadequate.  Thus, allowing Sulkowicz to carry the mattress during graduation as if somehow her charge against Nungesser was valid, notwithstanding the official decision to the contrary, was tantamount to none other than a horrendous mistreatment of Nungesser during the graduation ceremony—nay, a most callous measure of indifference towards him.

The site Community of the Wrongfully Accused has numerous cases of men being falsely accused of rape, with one of the most famous of these being the case of Brian Banks who falsely was accused by a female student of having raped her.  The Brian Banks case should stand as an everlasting reminder of both the reality and the evil, as well as the horrendous psychological damage, of false rape accusations.  Yet, that does not appear to be the case at all.  And the question that mightily presents is “Why not?”

The answer, I believe, lies in what we may characterize as a warped conception of making-up for the inequality of the past with respect to women.  In effect, the inequality that women suffered in the past is seen as major excusing condition for taking women seriously in the present no matter how implausible their story might be.  Alas, there is the adage that will never lose its relevance, namely that two wrongs do not make a right.  There is nothing in the world that can take the place of genuine trust.  And a society that destroys such trust in the name of advancing the standing of this or that group commits an evil that will have a most devastating impact upon the society at-large.  For the richness of basic trust in a society is rather like the wings of an airplane in terms underwriting goodwill among individuals.  The greater the trust there is, the more substantial the goodwill there will be.  And the more substantial the goodwill there is generally among the members of a society, the greater the heights of moral and intellectual excellence that society will achieve.  It does not take a genius to see that America is declining.  And guess what?  So is goodwill in America.  The abuse and misuse of Title IX is proving to be a major factor in that regard.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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