Office Hours: Now and Then

There was a time when office hours were one of the highlights of my teaching at Syracuse University. Indeed, I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that some of the most memorable and, indeed, illuminating conversations that I have had with students often took place during office hours.

To be sure, there were students who dropped by during office hours to discuss either the reading or an aspect of the class lecture. But there were far more students who simply dropped just to have a wonderful conversation. And these were not at all students with whom there was already a marvelous professional bond between us.

Alas, within the last few years I can count on one hand—and not move all five fingers—the number of students who have dropped by simply to have an interesting question. And the point just made holds although I am teaching close to 1000 students each and every academic year. In the Fall of 2016, for instance, the enrollment for my two courses amounted to 600 students: 400 in one course and 200 in the other. But throughout the entire semester, not more than 2 students ever showed up for office hours. And let me add here that there is ample evidence office hour visits have declined across the board.
Clearly, the question that mightily presents itself is the following: Why has there been such a dramatic drop in office hour visits on the part of students? And question just raised holds all the more so given the reality that students are pursuing jobs or post-graduate studies; and in either case a letter of reference is ever so likely to be needed. And an indisputable truth is that nothing gives a letter of reference credibility like remarks that, via concrete example, speak to the genuine intellectual powers of the student for whom the letter is written. And good conservations can bring out that reality in a most majestic manner.

My inclination is to blame the tremendous proliferation of technology which has resulted in countless many young people not appreciating or even grasping the implications of their very own behavior. That is to say, it seems that technology has given rise to a phenomenal decrease in intellectual and moral sensibilities.

Office hours have literally dropped by the way side even by students who are in college in order to obtain the mastery that is necessary for pursuing a career with success. Commonsense should say that forging a wonderful intellectual relationship with at least a few of your professor will mightily enhance your prospects of pursing your career successfully. But seems not to be the commonsense that folks have. And that reality says something quite disturbing about the influence of technology, namely that technology can be a tremendous impediment to our seeing things as we ought to see them.
To be sure, not all people are influenced by technology in a negative manner.

In other words, there is a kind of affirmation that folks are receiving via technology that results in them giving preference to technology no matter when. But if I am right, the question that mightily presents itself is the following: Just how is that so much affirmation is thought to flow merely from receiving a phone call? After all, (a) it is simply not the case that the vast majority of phone calls are occasioned by some urgent matter on the part of the caller. Nor is it the case that (b) nowadays so very many folks are absolutely extraordinary when it comes to affirming another. Claim (a) is obvious. And the truth of point (b) is borne out by the reality that countless many people do not have the command of language that folks routinely had once upon a time. And an indisputable truth is that affirmation is at its very best when the language used to affirm another is truly majestic.

© Laurence Thomas

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The Gift of Insightfulness

HUMAN BEINGS SURPASS ALL OTHER LIVING CREATURES with regard to the capacity to be insightful. Here is a simple definition of insightfulness: The wherewithal to make an accurate judgment regarding how a person will behave even though that person has not in any way stated that she or he would so behave. Human beings can exhibit foresight in all sorts of contexts. Here are a few contexts: (1) a person’s behavior in the check-out line at the grocery store; (2) a person’s behavior when someone takes the seat next to her or him on the vehicle of public transportation that the person is on; (3) a person’s reaction when one passes her or him on the street. And so on.

Most significantly, an instance of insightfulness can take place in a split-second. Indeed, human beings would have to be very different creatures, if it necessarily took several hours or days to exhibit any insightfulness whatsoever. In fact, if it invariably took several days to exhibit any insight, then it would follow that be insightful would be far less beneficial. For part of what makes insightfulness so very significant is that being insightful typically involves the wherewith to have the right view about one has perceived in a very short period of time.

To be sure, there are degrees of insightfulness; and it is manifestly clear that some people are more insightful than others with respect to a given area of thought or aspect of life. Indeed, it is an indisputable truth that human beings can be insightful about quite different things. Susie Que can be absolutely brilliant at picking-up on whether or not a person is lying; whereas Scott is equally insightful at picking-up on whether or not a person thinks that she or he is better than others. And Leslie may be breathtakingly insightful regarding the proclivity of an individual to exploit others.
It would seem that no one is insightful about everything. Indeed, it seems to me that one of the very gifts of friendship lies in the fact that friends bring to one another different ways in which they are insightful, which in turn speaks to the majesty of trust that is characteristic of friendship at its very best. Aristotle referred to such friendship as perfect friendship. However, I refer to such friendship as companion friendship.

The very appreciation of a companion friendship is fundamentally tied to the considerable insight that the two friends ever so graciously contribute to the reflections of one another, where there is no desire whatsoever on the part of either to be superior to the other. In his work, A Treatise of Human Nature, the philosopher David Hume remarked that “. . . the minds of human beings are mirrors to one another”. As far as I can tell, Hume’s remark applies far more significantly to deep friendship than it does to human beings in general; and so to human beings who are complete strangers to one another. After all, we must certainly not at confuse the difference between (1) A person learning how she or he is generally perceived by the members of society and (2) A person learning from another about the very depths of her or his character owing to the way she or he is generally perceived by the members of society. Claim (1) can certainly happen with respect to perfect strangers. But not so with claim (2), since what individuals think about a person can be misguided in substantial ways if it is routinely the case that the members of have a misconception of the person.

Alas, one of the most fundamentally important insights that someone who is unequivocally a morally decent person member of a society can have is tremendous clarity with regard to whether or not in general the members of the society view her or him in either () a positive moral light or () a negative moral light. If the answer is (), then a quite significant and sublime truth is that the person is experiencing a tremendous measure of basic (but ever so fundamental) social affirmation even from complete strangers. Alas, that is one of the defining features of a just society.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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The Gift of Gratitude

QUITE OFTEN, I THINK OF GRATITUDE as one of the most magnificent expressions that a human being can display towards another human being. Oh, to be, I fully recognize the importance of love. I fully recognize that there is a respect in which the majesty of love is without equal. But notice the following: Whereas (a) Tremendous gratitude does not need love, it is surely the case that (b) love without gratitude cannot survive. So for all the talk about the importance and significance of love, a quite poignant truth is that love does not overshadow the majesty of gratitude. Indeed, the point holds not just for romantic and parental love but also for the love of friendship.
To be sure, friends do not typically express their gratitude for one another in the way that romantic partners do with respect to one another and parents with respect to their children. Just so, it is typically very, very, very clear when a friend is ever so grateful for the good deed on her or his behalf that was performed by her or his friend.

Of course, gratitude admits of single instances. That is, a person who offered assistance or help who never appear again. There are have been a number when on the subway in Paris I have performed an act that occasioned much gratitude from the individual who was the beneficiary of my behavior. But yet I have never encountered that person again.

Alas, between close friends and family members the opportunity for gratitude will often present itself on a number of occasions. And what is ever so important here is the deep, deep realization that the helpful act of goodwill came from the heart. And the point just made points to something rather fascinating, namely that it is typically ever so clear when a beneficial act for another does indeed come from the heart—a point which holds even more so when the good deed is performed by a friend on behalf of a friend or a romantic partner on behalf of her or his special-other.

It is customary for people to say that human beings cannot live well without love. I most certainly do not object to that point. However, I want to say that it is equally true that human beings cannot live without gratitude. Indeed, some of the most phenomenal memories of my life pertain to expressions of gratitude that I received from different persons.

A most interesting fact about an expression of gratitude is that the expression can be ever so genuine without it being the case that the person expressing the gratitude has offered a very costly gift as a show of thanks. There is a very real sense in which with gratitude it is, indeed, the thought that typically counts so very, very much. I shall always treasure the reaction from my friends who own the café that I frequent (whilst in Paris) when I gave them a box of chocolates that I had purchased for them in the United States. The married couple was absolutely thrilled that whilst in the United States I gave thought to getting them chocolates.

As I reflect upon my life, what readily comes to my mind is not the behaviors that I found to be inappropriate. Rather, I think about the expressions of gratitude that I have received from this person and that person and the other person. What is more, there are no invidious comparisons. For in and of itself, each gesture of gratitude is ever so magnificent and affirming. To be sure, a person can offer something that is ever so inappropriate. But the point I am making here is that in order for a gesture of gratitude to be ever so meaningful, it is not at all necessary that the individual making the gesture offers something that is particularly expensive. Major economic sacrifices are not at all necessary for marvelous expressions of genuine gratitude. Not at all. In that respect, we have a parallel between love and gratitude. Alas, I am not yet able to say, why I find that parallel so fascinating except that both pertain to the proper configuration of a person’s soul—or, in modern terminology, a person’s moral sensibilities.

© Laurence Thomas (12 March 2017)

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The Gift of Gratitude

There is so very much in my life for which I am ever so grateful. To be sure, there have been some rough moments in my life that I shall never forget. But I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that those rough moments do not all diminish the tremendous goodwill that I have experienced in life. What is more, (a) those rough moments have occasioned tremendous insight with respect to very nature of my character and (b) those rough moments have been rather like a most majestic set of lenses.
I have seen so very numerous people become riddled with bitterness. And that is most unfortunate because the evidence is overwhelming that no one is ever better off on account of becoming bitter. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I fully understand why some individuals become bitter. But among the gifts that an individual can give to herself or himself, not becoming bitter is an ever so majestic gift that an individual can give to herself or himself.

And let me be clear, there is a fundamental difference between (a) not becoming bitter and (b) forgetting the tremendous wrong done to one. Fortunately, (a) does not entail (b). And it is quite a mistake for anyone to think that it does.

Most significantly, I have never encountered a case in which a person is better off on account of having wallowed in bitterness. More precisely, it is not as if being bitter is none other than a gateway to moral healing. Not at all. Indeed, quite the contrary seems to be true, namely bitterness is a serious impediment to moral healing.

What is more, a propensity for bitterness is a major impediment to experiencing gratitude. Thus, there is a straightforward sense in which any human being is bitter-off not being bitter. And fortunately, not being bitter does not entail forgetting the wrong that one had to do endure. I shall never forget having been called mentally unstable about 10 years ago by a Syracuse University faculty member. Just so, there is no respect in which I am carrying some sense of anguish and/or psychic pain on account of that remark. Indeed, not becoming bitter does not at entail forgetting the wrong or inappropriate behavior that one had to endure at the hands of another. Not at all. And a quite wonderful truth about the psychological make-up of human beings is that (1) we can remember the wrong that we endured at the hands of another (2) without wallowing in deep psychological pain. There no logical or conceptual connection between (1) wallowing in pain and anguish. And that reality is an ever so profound moral and psychological gift that is based upon the psychological make-up of human beings. The late-Elie Wiesel is an ever so marvelous example of that reality; for he is a Holocaust survivor who went on lead a quite amazing and inspiring life rather than wallow in the pain of having to endure the Holocaust. Indeed, I have had the privilege of meeting students at Syracuse University who lead a truly wonderful life rather than wallow in this or that anguish.

Of course, gratitude is not everything. Just so, a quite sublime truth is that far more often than not the sentiment of gratitude can make a quite significant difference for the better in terms of some aspect of the life that a person lives. By contrast, bitterness is far more about getting even than not; whereas gratitude is far more about recognizing the ways in which one can flourish than wallowing in despair.

© Laurence Thomas, 2017

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Technology, Credit Cards, and Yesterday’s Attempted Thievery

AT 1:16 P.M. TODAY I CALLED TO PAY-OFF A PARTICULAR CREDIT CARD only to be told that three purchases had been made with the card yesterday evening around 10 p.m. Needless to say, that was quite a surprise. I know exactly where the card was used; for there is only one place where I had gone and used the card. Alas, I do not know who used my credit card. So I am not in the position to blame the person who did so. To be sure, it could have been the person who waited on me. But the reality is that the person who waited on me need not have been the person who used my credit card.

There is a sense in which it does not matter who used the card because the credit card company clearly grasped that the card had not been used by me. And thus I am not being charged with having made a purchase or several purchases that came to $130. That is the amount that the thief had charged to the card. In that respect I am extremely lucky. It happens often enough in life that familiarity with an individual’s pattern of behavior can provide one with considerable insight with regard to whether or not that individual is likely to behave or has behaved in a certain way or not.

Alas, the question to which I do not know the answer is who, in fact, used my credit card to make a purchase. Was it (1) the person who waited upon me? Or, was it (2) a person who saw an opportunity to take advantage of someone in an immoral way. Above all, though, there is the spending pattern that I have with the company in question; and my spending was so very, very contrary to the spending that caught the attention of officials. For I simply called that company in order to pay-off my bill for the month. Yet, within seconds after I had given my name and credit card number, the person informed me that my credit had been abused and that I will be getting a new credit card. I am so very grateful that I generally have a history of an extremely clear pattern with regard to how I use each one of my credit cards.

And the very rich shadow of that pattern with respect to the credit card in question made it ever so clear to the official with whom I was speaking over phone that there had been an abuse of that credit card.

Indeed, the person did not even ask me whether I had been at the place in question yesterday evening. Rather, the person stated at the very outset that there had been a misuse of my credit card by someone.
From a very different direction, we must increasingly be more attentive precisely because technology is making it increasingly easier for individuals to commit acts of wrongdoing. Accordingly, the idea of self-command first put forth by the economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) is an idea that I treasure to the utmost degree. That idea has become relevant in ways that far surpasse anything that Adam Smith had in mind. Indeed, the excellence and moral significance of self-command has become relevant in ways that Adam Smith could never have even imagined. For in 2017, countless many human beings have ways of deceiving both themselves and others that would have been entirely beyond the realm of plausibility some 300 years ago–nay, even some 75 years ago. A most profound reality is that the future without tremendous strength of character on the part of a great many will be an utter disaster.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Self-Hatred: A Most Poignant Form of Human Fragility

Perhaps nothing is more indicative of human fragility than self-hatred. After all, in order for a person to have a deep and abiding positive sense of self, it is hardly necessary for the individual to be ever so attractive physically or an intellectual giant or masterful at some sport or the other. Yet, there are individuals who truly despise themselves. Indeed, there are individual who despise themselves even though it is rather obvious that they are doing well, as the comparison to countless many others makes abundantly clear.

What strikes me as so very, very fascinating and fundamental fact about human beings is the reality that a deep and abiding sense of self-worth does not at all require being superior to others in terms of accomplishments or physical appearances. Indeed, none other than the knowledge that one is a morally decent person more than suffices to anchor an abiding sense of self-worth.

So in the case of people are plagued by a considerable sense of self-hatred, the explanation cannot be that their sentiment of self-hatred is indeed anchored in their sense of not having done well-enough in life. For it is simply not the case that in order for a person to value herself or himself, it has to be the case that the individual makes or made a recognizable contribution.

For valuing ourselves is neither formally nor conceptually tied to making some aspect of the world a better place. Rather, valuing ourselves primarily entails refraining from behaviors and associations with others that diminish ours sense of worth.

There is a very straightforward sense in which surely it is the case that no person choses to hate herself or himself. So how, then, does self-hatred come about? The answer, I believe, is that self-hatred is anchored by the systematic lack of what can be construed as meaningful affirmation. While the absence of parental love understandably comes to mind as an explanation for self-hatred on the part of an individual, I want to say that what also has to be the case is that there is no source of affirmation at all. Or, in any case, an instance of affirmation is so extremely rare that by the time the person experiences affirmation again, the individual is essentially starting all over again in terms of benefiting from affirmation rather than building upon affirmation that is a part of her or his sense of self. Needless to say, precisely what we have with such an individual is tremendous fragility.
Alas, tremendous fragility is ever so fertile psychological soil for the realization of self-hatred.

Alas, tremendous fragility is ever so fertile psychological soil for the realization of self-hatred. Thus, there is the difference in the world between (a) having considerable fragility in one context but otherwise (b) having tremendous strength of character and affirmation on a regular basis. Needless to say, (b) essentially precludes self-hatred.

I conclude with the quite disconcerting truth that a person can be tremendously self-deceived about whether or not self-hatred animates her or his life. Perhaps upon reflection that should not come as a surprise. For acknowledging one’s self-hatred would seem to require tremendous strength of character.

© Laurence Thomas

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Freedom and Self-Command

FREEDOM WITHOUT SELF-COMMAND is an absolute disaster. Following the great economist and philosopher Adam Smith: Self-command is the wherewithal to do the right thing, temptations to the contrary notwithstanding. Here are two simple examples: (1) A married person exhibits substantial self-command in not having sex with someone whom she/he finds ever so sexually attractive. (2) A person who is so well-off financially sees a $100 bill fall out of a person’s pocket, but rather than pick up the $100 bill and keep it, the person picks up the money and returns it to the individual out of whose pocket the money had fallen.

Indeed, self-command can be a considerable factor as a way of making a person feel at ease. I shall always remember the instance when I walked out of my apartment rather well-dressed. Indeed, carrying my briefcase and wearing a silk vest and tie. Well, there was an older white woman walking down the very sidewalk that I was standing on and she freaked out upon seeing me, the black man. My blackness mightily trumped my attire. I could certainly have ignored her utterly unwarranted sentiment about me and her horrifically unwarranted fear that I was going to rob her. But my thought was that more good would be done if I simply walked to the pavement on the other side of the street. And that is exactly what I did. And in so behaving, I left her ever so morally puzzled; for that was the very last thing that she expected me to do.

The self-command that I exhibited in simply walking to the other side of the street produced a thoughtfulness on the woman’s part that I could not have brought about had I not done so.
As the example suggests, the very idea behind self-command is doing what is appropriate even though what one actually prefers to do is quite different. Thus, the very nature of self-command is not at all about merely acting in accordance with one’s desires. Nor it is about following what it more convenient for one. Quite the contrary, it is very, very, very often the case that an act of self-command involves both setting aside what one desires to do and doing what is less convenient for one.
And there is no respect at all in which exercising self-command constitutes a form of inferiority. Crossing to the other side of the street in order to put someone at ease does in any way entail a sense of inferiority.

A quite significant truth is the reality that on any given day there are countless many individuals who will unexpectedly find themselves in the position where a measure of self-command is necessary if they are to do the right thing. Indeed, I think that more often than not, it is the case that the need for self-command unexpectedly presents itself. On the block where I live, the last thing I expected when I walked out of my apartment was a woman who would freak out upon seeing me. I had seconds to recognize what would be the appropriate way in which to respond.

Although having freedom is surely quite majestic, it is also the case that having a deep, deep measure of self-command is also ever so majestic, it being understood the majesty of one is not at all diminished by the existence of the other. Indeed, I hold that in order to have a complete life both freedom and self-command are absolutely necessary. For it can and will happen often enough that a person must have the wherewithal to perform a certain action or to refrain from performing a certain action. We may rightly think of self-command as having both the moral and psychological wherewithal so to behave, temptations to the contrary notwithstanding.

A quite interesting question is the following: Is modernity enhancing or diminishing the depth of self-command that we have? If modernity is diminishing our self-command, then human beings may indeed become one another’s worse enemy. On the other hand, if modernity is enhancing our self-command, then human beings will achieve a moral and intellectual excellence that is ever so majestic, affirming, and psychologically rewarding.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Liberals and Hilary Clinton versus Donald Trump

Among liberals, it is manifestly clear that Hilary Clinton was supposed to win the election for the presidency of the United States. Indeed, the thought was that she would easily beat Donald Trump. So, there is a deep, deep disappointment on the part of countless many liberals. Although I do not share that sentiment, I fully understand that Hilary Clinton supporters feel that way.

Alas, one fundamental message that the victory of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton conveys is that we do well not to take a victory for granted. It was taken as a given by so very many people that, of course, Hilary would win over Donald. Duh ! ! ! How could it be otherwise? Alas, there is the reality that we can be so besotted with our point of view that we are oblivious to the reality that there are many do not share our view, although they make little, if any, noise to that effect. That reality reminds me of the following passage in the Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple: “A good listener listens not only to what one says but also to what one does not say”. There was an awful lot of silence with respect to Hilary Clinton being president that went entirely unnoticed precisely because way too many simply took it for granted that she would win.

Countless many individuals took it as a given that Hilary would win over Donald owing to the following reasons: (a) she had been secretary of state, (b) she is the wife of Bill Clinton, and (c) she is a woman and would thus be the first woman president of the United States. Alas, individuals were so besotted with the truth of (a)-(c) that they did not notice that many people were not at all impressed by those three factors, since neither individually nor collectively do the factors entail that she would be phenomenal as president of the United States. And then there is the reality that so very many denizens of the United States had had the experience of electing someone as president owing to his biological configuration only to find themselves rather disappointed. When Obama leaves the offices of the presidency, very few will be of the mind that having elected him to the presidency easily stands as was one of very best things that the American people did precisely because they elected a black person to the office. Against the backdrop of that reality, there was undoubtedly a level of precaution in being ever so committed to electing a woman as president simply because she is a woman.

With regard to Donald Trump, there is the quite indisputable reality that he had some quite significant accomplishments to his credit, where the accomplishments are by and large tied to his strength of character and to his perceptivity.
Here is my poor analogy. Whom would I want to fly me from North America to Europe? Would it be () Someone who did very, very well on the pilot test? Or would it be () someone who has a wealth of phenomenal experience with respect to flying across a very, very large body of water? To me it is unequivocally obvious that the answer is ().

With respect to the presidency of the United States, the most desirable person is a morally decent individual whose history of experience indicates that she or he would be able to lead a nation. Am I mistaken in thinking that Donald Trump’s life surpasses Hilary Clinton’s life in that regard? Ironically, it seems that Barack Obama’s two-term presidency would mightily suggest that I am not mistaken. There was tremendous enthusiasm with respect to electing the first black President of the United States. Alas, I do not get the sense that 8 years later, there a is deep and ever so profound satisfaction over having done so. Rather, I sense tremendous relief that his presidency is over. Alas, I suggest that the reality of that very sentiment was undoubtedly a major factor in electing Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Being the Author of One’s Life

Fortunately, wearing clothes has little bearing upon the significant choices that we make in life. That is to say, wearing clothes hardly inhibits human beings from being the author of their own life.

Alas, a quite interesting fact about some individuals is that they are me more interested in getting approval from others than being the author of their own life. Hence, such individuals will forgo lots and lots of things simply in order to fit-in. I am not at all talking about wearing clothes in public. To be sure, wearing clothes in public certainly constitutes a form of fitting-in. But there is the simple reality that wearing clothes in public reality inhibits individuals from being the author of their own life. Fully clothed, a person can learn how to excel at dancing or singing or painting or teaching.

As far as I can tell, the primary motivation for fitting-in is none other than the desire for approval. That points holds far more nowadays than it did a mere 100 years ago, when fitting-in was non-trivial factor in terms of surviving. And there is an absolutely fundamental difference (a) merely getting approval and (b) being in need of assistance from another. There are sufficiently many people who are not at all in need of assistance from another. Yet, there are desperate for approval from others. As far as I can tell that is a deep form of moral insecurity.

It is my considered judgment that, with rare exception, how we are raised makes all the difference in the world whether we have a deep measure of security or we are very much plagued by insecurity. To be sure, there can be exceptions. But as the saying goes: The exception proves the rule. A person like Frederick Douglass who, though born into slavery, went on to do quite remarkable things was a clear. However, it would be just plain absurd to argue that given Douglass’s success, then surely slavery was not all that bad.

If it is correct to hold that upbringing typically makes a tremendous difference with respect to whether a person has a deep sense of security or does not, two questions naturally present themselves: (1) How can it be brought about that in general individuals are raised to have a deep sense of security. (2) What is the proper way of handling or interacting with people who have a deep sense of insecurity.
Some philosophers have argued in favor licensing parents. And while that may seem obnoxious at first glance, there is a certain gravitas that holds here; for there is clearly something quite inappropriate when unfit adults bring children into the world. Of course, there is the issue of enforcing such a policy. And it is very, very clear that (A) no such enforcement procedure will be easy and that (B) any such enforcement procedure will appear to be an ever so inappropriate imposition.

But does being the author of one’s life entail the right to bring into this world another life? I shall simply say that it is far from obvious that the answer is “Yes”. Suppose at birth, all human beings were born without either the biological capacity to conceive or the biological capacity to impregnate. Requiring that those who want to have the biological capacity to bring a child into this world must to meet certain standards hardly seems inappropriate. So is it really that wrong to ask that those who have the capacity to bring a child into this world provide evidence that they have the wherewithal to exercise that capacity in an acceptable manner? I do not see that it is.

Nowadays, of course, there is the issue of enforcement. But surely the time will come when the enforcement can in effect take place prior to birth. (1) Would it be automatically wrong to exercise that power? (2) If exercising that power would yield quite wonderful results would it still be wrong to exercise that power?

I have asked the questions. I wait for the answers.

© Laurence Thomas, 2017

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The Weight Factor

The New York Times (1 December 2016) has reported that nearly have of Americans who are overweight do not realize that they are overweight. That is an extremely interesting claim. For the question that obviously presents itself is the following: How is it possible for a person not to realize that she or he is overweight? Of course, there is a non-trivial distinction between gaining a few pounds and being overweight. It is certainly possible to gain a pound or two and not realize it, since it would be extremely rare that gaining a mere 2 or even 5 pounds would result in attire that used to fit no longer fitting.

But how is it possible to be entirely overweight to the extent of 20 or 30 pounds or even more and not realize it? For anyone who has become overweight to that degree has had to make some quite significant changes in the attire that she or he wears. What is more, becoming overweight to that degree entails some quite significant changes in the physique of the body—changes that simply cannot be missed.

To use myself as a personal example, there can be no question about it: I have gained weight. Two decades ago, I weighed a mere 140 pounds; whereas nowadays I weight a “whopping” 20 pounds more. Yes, I now weigh 160 pounds. But only as a joke can I claim that I am fat. I say that because I do not even come close to having a tremendous largess at the waistline that almost resembles being pregnant. Likewise, I do not even come close to having what might be called a double-chin. The point here is that if I had tremendous largess at the waistline or a double chin, then surely it would be ever so clear that I have or am on the verge of having a weight problem. With rare exceptions, those are the signs that a person is having a weight problem. And it is simply not possible to miss either one of those signs.

Now, if we limit ourselves to life on earth, then it turns out that the concluding sentence of the preceding paragraph speaks to a feature that is characteristic of human beings and only human beings, namely the capacity for self-deception. As far as I can tell, what it is typically at the very heart of the weight problem in the United States is none other than self-deception. No one can gain 20 pounds and not notice it. The only interesting question is whether gaining 20 pounds constitutes a weight problem or not. And with very, very rare exception, the answer to that question is obvious. In the case of particularly skinny people who are 18 years of age or older, gaining 20 pounds typically does not constitute a weight problem at all, since gaining the weight does not give them a stomach that is hanging over the belt and so on. But if gaining 20 pounds does result in the stomach hanging over the belt, then there is immutable clarity with regard to what has happened, namely it is the case that one has gained too much weight.

The idea of being substantially overweight and not realizing it is all but conceptually impossible.
Using the language of Adam Smith, one of the things that mightily distinguishes human beings from other living creatures is none other than the reality that human beings have the capacity for self-command. That is, human beings have the capacity to do what is appropriate. And so it is even when human beings have feelings and sentiments to the contrary. For example, I may very well think that Susie La Riche is one hot chick. But if I respect the fact that she is married, then I will refrain from approaching her sexually notwithstanding the sexual sentiments that I have towards her from time to time. Indeed, I will do my best to bring it about that I no longer have such sentiments. And if things proceed as they should, Susie La Riche will never know of the sexual sentiments that in the past that I had towards her (at least she will not know about that from me).

In a like manner, an overweight person can redefine her or his eating preferences so as to bring it about that she or he loses weight, which in turn constitutes significantly enhancing the person’s physical health. Given the tremendous health benefits of not being overweight, what excuse can there be for not so redefining things? Nothing comes to my mind.

Finally, it is worth noting that the desire for food is not at all like (for example) an addiction. For instance, I absolutely love Haagen-Dazs ice-cream. Indeed, some brands of ice-cream strike me as so bad that I do not eat them. But there is simply no respect at all in which I have withdrawal systems if I do not consume Haagen-Dazs ice-cream. Hence, there is no respect in which Haagen-Dazs ice-cream is tantamount or analogous to a drug. This point applies to food generally. In no respect can food be countenanced as having the psychological effects of a drug. Thus, in the typical case of being overweight, there is the power to say “No” to overeating which far surpasses the power to say no to drugs. Thus, in the typical case, there is no excuse for being obese.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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