Minor impediments to functioning

So, about two weeks ago I caught my left hand ring finger in a drawer pull and did something horrible to it.  Possibly snapping the tendon or breaking a bone  Not sure which but it is has been a a splint ever since and I have come to the following realizations:

  1. Never do housework: you will inevitably break/destroy some part of your body.  (Previously I broke a wrist by falling off a chair while…wait for it, dusting.)
  2. All ten fingers seem needed in varying everyday simple tasks, all the time.

Since I excel at complaining, this has been a “Larry David” opportunity to do so, at every possible moment.  Simple tasks, like typing or feeding the dog, take twice as long.  Grrr… But one of my lovely colleagues at work, who, it turns out, had also had such a finger injury (most likely not from a drawer pull) advised me to take the event as a chance to meditate on one’s actions, to cultivate mindfulness.  Hmm… well, begrudgingly I admit he has an excellent point  After all, will kvetching make it heal quicker?  Most likely not.  (–Although awesome if that actually worked, eh?)

So, for six (gulp) more weeks [six–if I am lucky…] I must deal with this minor problem.  Given the state of the world and the real problems with which  people must deal, I would be wise to be silent… and perhaps a bit more mindful.  I have my eyes on those drawer pulls, malevolent little objects that they are.

Finding Humans at the APA

This past week I attended the American Philosophical Association, Eastern division meeting.  It was held in Baltimore, MD and after an uneventful, even pleasant trip on Amtrak I found myself in this city, taking a taxi to the hotel near the waterfront.  The Eastern Division meeting is a daunting mix of graduate students, eager to see what job possibilities there may be, younger faculty jockeying for attention from the “important philosophers” and the important philosophers themselves who live in an alternate universe at the intersection of Mind and Ego.

What struck me most was the imperviousness of everyone to others.  Standing in an elevator (a fairly common occurrence as I traveled between my room and the conference rooms) I would observe everyone staring straight ahead, somber, as if at some funereal observance. They were Serious People with Big Ideas, not small talk.  But surely we were all there as members of hte same cohort group?  In the journeys up or down electronic dance music reverberated in the elevator car.  Rather incongruous! The temptation to dance was strong but I resisted the urge.  Once I was in the car with one other person when I noticed that on the intercom was an entire exchange about firemen working on an elevator, as if from a walkie talkie.  He stared ahead until I piped up that it sounded like something was going on somewhere.  He burst into a relieved smile and said he thought it was my phone.  But the transformation from robot to human was quite remarkable.

In the lobby everyone was looking for familiar faces, fellow faculty and colleagues from other institutions,  but no one seemed to see anyone else.  It was a kind of blindness of the intellect:  so intent on ideas and their presentations that other people were simply non-existent.  After all, if a woman walks through the book area but you do not see her, does she exist?  I supposed it is worth noting that philosophers tend to be introverts, even to a pathological degree, so perhaps I should not be so surprised.  Shy myself, I confess to not speaking up to others very often.  But when I did make a passing comment or hold a door open (yes, I see you there behind me), a spark of person did emerge.  Somehow that gesture appeared to be unexpected and rare.

My most startling encounter with humanity occurred when I was walking down the street one morning, on the way to a coffee shop.  A woman on her way to work stopped briefly before a homeless man and reassured him that God loved him and that there was a mission to which he could go for warmth and good.  All the while he yelled and cursed at her and the world, rocking back and forth in a bitter anger at everything.  Sh smiled and continued to wish him well.  She saw him as a person and acknowledged him.  There was a lesson there for me, and perhaps all the philosophers at the APA.

Shortly after the meeting ended and I had returned home, the Daily Nous, a cleverly named website that publishes news in the philosophy profession, highlighted philosopher Bence Nanay who won a substantial award to study “Seeing Things you Don’t See.”  His study will tackle multimodal sensory experiences, for example how hearing something affects vision.  I immediately thought of those individuals who drive with their subwoofers throbbing to the point where one has to question how they can see the road at all.  But that might be too simplistic a point for Dr. Nanay.  Nevertheless, I saw an intriguing link between the title of his study and my experiences at the APA, both within the conference and outside on the streets.  And herein lies my bigger message:  we have to see one another as persons, speaking to them, looking at them.  Then we can be human.


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?