Politics of Secrecy

clinton2I am sure we are all familiar with the current uproar over Hillary Clinton’s health and her reluctance to be forthcoming about her recent bout of pneumonia.  Donald Trump refers to this as yet another example of crooked Hillary” and there is plenty of worrisome head shakes in the media about why she would not admit to being ill.  Trump himself revealed his own health records to… Dr. Oz.  But forgot to really share them with the rest of the nation.  Kind of like his IRS return.  The Washington Post did take him to task.  But now they are out.

But I am taken by the constant criticism of Clinton as secretive while her opponent ‘s choices to procrastinate or not answer questions are simply glossed over. Part of this might be due that Clinton has a long and established record in political positions where she could not be entirely open about what was happening.  Note: Confidentiality is not automatically a sign of nefarious doings.  But since she has tended to focus on issues and not herself, she has nevertheless received criticism from both sides.  Who is the real Hillary, they ask?

But let’s step back and ask if there might not be another problem.  Women have been viewed as secretive for centuries.  “You cannot trust a woman” was a common mantra from biblical times (Eve caused it all) through the middle ages (women living alone were clearly witches) to more recent times (B.B. King.)  witchesflying_lg

How did this deep mistrust of women originate?  Perhaps in prehistoric times men realized that the magical power of women to bring forth children was countered by their own uncertainty as to whether they were the father. Women were at home all day; what did they do?  You could try to control them, lock them up, forbid any access to the world without the man–but one could never be sure. Poetry and music abound in lyrics that bemoan the ways in which men cannot trust women.  From Purcell to country music to rap, women are sneaky, unreliable, and will break your heart.  Of course, to be fair, there are plenty of songs where women view men the same way.  But history has always painted women as particularly distrustful.  A cursory search reveals all sorts of collections of pithy comments by men about women.

clintonBut the problem may be broader than a fanciful historical take such as I offer above. Today we might argue that anyone who tries to keep his or her personal life private runs the risk of being accused of hiding something. Especially in politics.  Women, however, have been schooled not to bring their personal into the workplace. ” Do not mention you have kids or they will see you as less dedicated.” is advice given to many women.  Men never receive this admonishment.  Granted–the health records of candidates for the most taxing and horrible job in the world, President of the United States, may be important to know up front.  But then, why come down so vociferously on Clinton but not so much on Trump?

So we find ourselves with a twofold dilemma.  Do we assume Clinton is hiding truths or lying because we unconsciously assume this is “women’s way?”  And are we going too far in disallowing any public figure a measure of privacy wherein we do not have the right to know?  Should anyone running for office have to reveal every little detail about their personal lives?

Karma and causality

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Wash out in the rain

I know there is no real connection between hanging out a load of wash to dry on the line and rain… but there is.  Honestly.  We have not had rain for, oh, weeks, and this morning dawned sunny, warm, humid, like every other morning this month.  Great day to wash curtains!  This is my having a temporary mental breakdown where I think I am actually interested in cleaning my home.  It passes quickly.  But not quickly enough today, alas.

So, in drought-stricken areas, I have some advice!  Try this:

  1. Find major items that need to be washed, the more the better
  2. Be sure they have to be line-dried and cannot be put in a dryer (key point here)
  3. check forecast and choose a day with no rain in the foreseeable future
  4. Wash items; hang out to dry.

Presto:  major rainstorm will ensue!

Now, I am sure rational readers (if there are any: readers or rational anything out there) will smirk and say, “Pathetic example of the post hoc propter quid fallacy!”  (Go ahead, look it up.  I am pretty sure Latin in not taught anywhere anymore… or logic… but I digress.)  Ah, my friend, there you are wrong!  There is CLEARLY a causal link between my putting out all those items and the ensuing rain storm.  “What about all the times you hang out clothes and they dry in the sun?” you ask.  My response:  “I sneaked them out when the clouds were not paying attention!  Ha!”  “Why not just use the dryer, like everyone else?”  Well, why waste power when you have the sun?  Except when you don’t…  I wonder how long I will have to leave all that stuff out there…?

Lesson learned: Don’t rush to clean.

The Value of Philosophy

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As a philosophy professor I often am called upon to defend my discipline. When it comes to the media and any examples of “useless humanities,” philosophy ranks way up there, probably along with comparative literature and art.  As colleges around the country tighten their belts and work hard to justify the high cost of higher education (a genuine concern but consider what drives up the cost…), the first departments to be chopped off are the liberal arts, the humanities in particular.  After all, “what are you going to do with a degree in philosophy?”  Academic departments are asked to complete a PPR, “Program Prioritization Report“–admin-speak for justify your existence in terms of quantifiable numbers or else.

Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now much of this rhetoric against the humanities is fueled by administrators in two camps:  those who have but a nodding acquaintance with anything beyond business subjects and those whose entire college education was composed of the subjects that they are rushing to condemn as useless.  It reminds me of the Transcendentalists in 19th century America who scoffed at European values and especially a classical education and used the very language of that education to do so.   While they  may have been making some good points about authoritarianism and rigid thinking, many of their ideas became the foundation for an anti-intellectualism that we still see thriving in our country today.

OK, all that aside, in a world where college = job training, how does one defend the humanities?  Majoring in accounting, hospitality and tourism, nursing, computer science clearly signals a paying job at the end.  However, this kind of thinking is driven by a mid-twentieth century notion of career: one majors in x and works in X for the next 45 years, retiring as the CEO of a X-firm with that gold watch. Hmm… not the way it works any Career-Change-at-50more, folks.  Most of our young people will change careers many times in their lives and work in jobs and careers that do not even exist today.  Imagine being in college in the 70s and now working in the IT industry.  Oh wait, you do.  What did you major in?  Chances are it was not Social Media or even Programming.  To do the business community credit, most companies will clearly say that they want young employees who can write, speak and think creatively–regardless of their major.  In fact, most corporations will train their new employees as they want them to be trained.  They do not want the business majors whose thinking has been shaped by their 50-60 year old profs.  But all of this has missed the ears of anxious parents (and yes, the cost of college is worrisome), college administrators hoping to lure more students to enroll, and government officials.  They stick with the script that college’s duty is to train workers.

So, what can anyone do to defend the humanities in ways that does not simply look rantings from self-serving luddites?  I hate to use a generation of college students as guinea pigs so as to say in 10 years, “we told you so.”  Some research minded colleagues at the Daily Nous blog (extra points for the great title, right?) are working on collecting data and reasoned arguments so as to provide philosophy–and other humanities–with some ways to argue asimovfor the continuing value of the liberal arts. And in a country that is skewing more and more towards ignorance, this may be the needed wake up call.  So, let’s stop and think about the value of philosophy, but not only in terms of those data-driven mandates, but really–what kind of life do you want to live?  What values matter?  How do you determine truth from ‘truthiness’ or falsity?  Who are you and how can you create a meaningful life?  These are some of the fundamental philosophical questions that every human grapples with.  Oh, and yes, thinking philosophically can help you get that job if you can present a clear argument and listen carefully to objections.  And to end with words of wisdom from  Steven Wright:

I was in a job interview and I opened a book and started reading. Then I said to the guy, “Let me ask you a question. If you are in a spaceship that is traveling at the speed of light, and you turn on the headlights, does anything happen?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “I don’t want your job.”