Decline and Fall of The U.S. Empire

Back when typewriters dotted the earth, I read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I can’t remember, when did they realize the end was near? Probably between the bottom of the eighth and the top of the ninth. Can’t remember whether they played baseball either.

I’m not sure what inning we’re in, but if Dayton, Ohio is our frame of reference, a few pitchers and catchers are stirring in the bullpen.

Recently, in the deep recesses of my pea brain, I’ve been outlining a course that explores our nation’s decline. This intellectual exercise was prompted by an incredibly tight and excellent 55 minute long ProPublica/Frontline documentary that I highly recommend on Dayton, Ohio titled, “Left Behind America”.

Other likely resources include:

One question we will consider is how does our country improve the life prospects of young impoverished boys and girls in Dayton, Ohio; Janesville, Wisconsin; and Troy, New York, especially when addiction and mental illness are so common in their families?

We’ll also ask whether the challenges are best understood through the lens of psychology and concepts such as “internal locus of control” or sociology with its emphasis on systemic impediments to upward mobility like institutional racism, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the associated dismantling of labor unions, and educational inequities. Related to that, we’ll debate what roles local, state, and/or our federal government should play in providing Dayton’s youngest residents more equal opportunities in life.

We’ll also read two books that broaden our frame of reference to include rural America:

And given the President’s incessant demonizing of immigrants, I need your help finding materials, beyond the segment in Left Behind, that examine the important role immigrants are playing in reviving places like Dayton. Or any other materials that offer hope if not practical solutions.

Who is in? What other literary, artistic, non-fiction, and/or multimedia resources should we consider and what other ideas do you have for strengthening our course?

Quitting Football

Like my dermatologists are so fond of doing to my basal cell skin cancers, I’d like to cut football out of my life. Literally throw a switch and not follow it anymore, high school, college, pro.

Now that we know about CTE’s devastating effects on players, it feels too much like watching Christians and lions in an ancient Roman Coliseum. Except in this case, both sides lose.

The title of this post is too optimistic. I’m not sure I can throw the “no football” switch. “I Want To Quit Football” would’ve been too wordy. I grew up playing football so I’m talking about severing a childhood root. And I enjoy following sports more generally and it’s impossible to watch SportsCenter or listen to Dan Patrick without half of the content, half of the year, being football-related.

In 2016, in the Pacific Northwest, you can be disappeared for not being a “12”, the name given to Seattle Seahawk fanatics. Lots of (oddly elderly) people have taken to wearing Russell Wilson jerseys to church in an apparent effort to curry God’s favor. To my Canadian friends to the north, imagine how ostracized you’d be if you gave up hockey.

I didn’t care about either team, but still watched about 50 minutes of the SupBowl, 20 live and 30 at enhanced Tivo-speeds. Besides the brain injuries, I can’t take the pace of play with the incessant challenges, television timeouts, injury time, and commercials. Hey Roger, I have a dog that needs walking, a work project that I’m behind on, a house that needs packing up. Here’s an idea that only someone suffering from CTE might propose, let’s take 10 minutes from the billion viewers to determine if the receiver had possession. That’s a well spent 10 billion minutes.

There were no concussions at halftime despite an angry dance-off between Bruno’s boys and Bey’s girls. They can dance some, but if they ever play one-on-one basketball, I’m going with the Queen. She can just back him down. And of course it’s the one time of year that the commercials are actually worth watching. I’m going to buy a jeep and then the GalPal is going to throw herself on me. Or I’m asking for my money back.

That pgraph right there highlights the challenge. You can’t be culturally literate without knowing somethin’ somethin’ about football. If I somehow find it within myself to stop watching, I’ll continue to see headlines and read boxscores. Will even that make me complicit in the violence?

I’m confident I can go about eight months without watching a single snap. Here’s hoping even longer.

 

 

 

 

How to Live?

That’s the question my writing students and I are focusing on this semester. I can’t think of a better age to craft a philosophy of life. Most of them are on their own for the first time in their lives. Having to make many, many more decisions by themselves and find their way.

William Irvine, philosophy professor and modern day Stoic, argues you’re likely to waste your life away without a well thought through philosophy of life. Here’s his argument.

You have three choices in how to live. One is “unenlightened hedonism” in which you thoughtlessly seek short-term gratification. Think Faber College, 1962.

A second is “enlightened hedonism” in which you seek to maximize pleasure in the course of your lifetime. People practicing this philosophy of life will spend time discovering, exploring, and ranking sources of pleasure and investigating any untoward side effects they might have. Then they’ll devise strategies for maximizing pleasure.

Regarding hedonism, Irvine writes, “In my research on desire, I discovered nearly unanimous agreement among thoughtful people that we are unlikely to have a good and meaningful life unless we can overcome our insatiability.” He adds, “There was also agreement that one wonderful way to tame our tendency to always want more is to persuade ourselves to want the things we already have.”

But I digress. The third and final choice in how to live is to carefully think through what you most want out of life and then organize your life accordingly. Not the goals you form as you live day-to-day, but one “grand goal in living”. Of the many goals in life you might pursue, which one do you believe to be most valuable?

Most people have trouble naming their grand goal in living because our culture doesn’t encourage thinking about such things. Instead, it provides an endless stream of distractions so they won’t ever have to. To their credit, some people swim against the stream of distractions by journaling, taking digital sabbaticals, enrolling in my writing seminar, and going on silent retreats.

If determining a grand goal of living isn’t challenging enough already, it’s only half the battle. The other half is developing effective strategies for attaining it. These strategies will specify what you must do, as you go about your daily activities, to maximize your chances of gaining the thing in life you take to be of most value.

This is where Irvine says Christian pastors and the ancient Stoics differ. Most Christian pastors, Irvine argues, focus on what people must do to have a good afterlife. Pastors, he says, have far less to say about what people must do to have a good life. That’s why, he notes, it’s tough to distinguish among the religious and non-religious.

For his own philosophy of life, Irvine chose to update Roman Stoicism for modern times. Stoics claim that many of the things we desire—most notably fame and fortune—are not worth pursuing. Instead they developed strategies for achieving tranquility and inner joy by eliminating negative emotions like anger, grief, anxiety, fear, and envy.

Eight years ago, when I was on sabbatical, I took time to write a guiding paragraph that I can’t find anymore in my computer files. I can remember most of it, but it’s okay I misplaced it, because it’s time to update it. And then reference it way more regularly.

If your curious about my philosophy of life, just eavesdrop on me as I live my day-to-day life. Because actions, of course, speak louder than words.