Blog in Review: “Careful thinking as a form of self-respect,” 2/12/17

Not only do I hope all of you find a space to reflect, but also that you get to see your reflections compiled, see what they’re building or heading toward. I know, that sounds like a whole other level of cornball, the kind of advice you get in newsletters with titles like “10 steps to becoming a more effective manager.” In my defense, note two things:

  1. I’m trying to do a favor by being this cheesy and trite, so it must mean something.
  2. Losing track of your own thought means you might as well have not thought anything at all.

It’s strange to talk of careful thinking as a form of self-respect. After all, that one does any thinking in the first place can be considered a minor miracle. But our preoccupation with being right is really the manifestation of the laziest form of thinking. Being right is about closing an inquiry, silencing another voice. Granted, thoughts have to start somewhere, questions have to come to an end. Still, that we want our ideas above all to be successful, to carry the day completely, to dominate others whom such ideas might not help – I mean, politics is not a contest of ideas in certain circumstances as much as a contest which uses ideas to advance dominance. A lot of petty, bruised egos hide behind grand, revolutionary claims or the assertion of so-called timeless principles. What matters to anyone with any seriousness is not just the coherence of one’s ideas, but their impact. What matters to anyone serious is that they act wisely and justly, doing no harm.

Of course, none of this is easy. It’s not easy to keep track of one’s thought, keep track of all the false pathways and convictions which revealed themselves more hype than heartfelt. Arrival has been on my mind for some time now: the higher thoughts about language and an afterlife are not simply brought to light by contrast with a warlike world. I do not want to speak glibly about irreducible necessities, because they allow some of the worst people to declare what is necessary in emergencies is necessary at this moment. Still, something about the awfulness of political life cannot be dismissed.

Amiri Baraka in “Like Rousseau,” on the other hand, explores the absurdity of eros with his peculiar tenderness. He builds what I think is a sly statement about the will to do politics. In “Snake Eyes,” he looks at guilt and loss and creativity. So many have given so much, but in trying to use them as a foundation, we may accidentally trample them.

Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” also prompts the question of justice. Why must rivers be spoken of? Because one who would trample your very dignity would do so by saying you have no civilization. You could not even build by the river, claims the bigot, and his ignorance is rightly and powerfully challenged.

James Baldwin’s “Untitled” is my lame attempt to introduce those of you who have not read him to his thought.  Baldwin enters a short dialogue with God in his poem, where he wonders if there is such a thing as too much love.

Questions of politics, justice, and love propelled me to write, but so did the idea of housecleaning, in this case rethinking older posts, rewriting them entirely. Emily Dickinson’s “The Soul should always stand ajar” and Hopkins’ “Heaven-Haven” attempt to see the limits of openness and the power of living by a principle, respectively. I know they’re better written than what I had before, but I still cringe at how messy and convoluted a writer I can be.

Finally, Issa’s haiku “New Year’s morning” left me with a thought about things cosmic, and I don’t really want to say too much about Bettelheim’s short book “Freud and Man’s Soul” here. You should read my post about it if you haven’t already. For those of you who are longtime readers, you’ll notice probably more than I have that things have changed, and not for trivial reasons. Keeping track of one’s own thought should be an important task, and I hope I will treat it as one.

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