One Thousand Words or So

A Bit of Housecleaning

I don’t know why it bothers me so, but seeing more than a dozen tabs marching along the top of my browser screen makes me antsy. I want to close them all but am lucky if I can get through a day without adding more to the lineup. Right now, 21 tabs are stationed from left to right (and from right to left). Many share an icon with another open tab. For instance, a little while ago, I noticed two Amazon a’s and found that Henry had opened a new tab to pick a replacement coat for the one we bought him for his birthday that turned out to be too big. It’s really rather thoughtful of him to open a new tab instead of just barreling over whatever I might be looking at on Amazon, but it doesn’t help me in paring down. Then again, looking at merchandise on Amazon is not always the best idea when one wants to simplify.

I finally read two of the articles on Jordan B. Peterson so I could get the tabs closed and move on with my life, but the sites that published the articles had other shiny stories to entice me to keep a line open. So the tabs are still there. Besides, I don’t feel like I can move on from the Peterson articles until I make a note or two about each here. Therefore, in the interest of my mental stability, I’m going to deal with those two items and get them off my plate and off my mind.

Quillette published an interview with Peterson that was very good. I imagine that Peterson was quite happy to get some of his thoughts published on that site, as he tweets pieces from Quillette quite often, and I am generally happy to follow where he leads, because it’s sure to be interesting.

I guess if there’s one thing I want to take away from Peterson’s interview, it’s this:

The individual comes first because of its proximity. You are more informed about what is happening locally. Like, you are more informed about what is happening right here, than you are about what’s happening in India. You have to take your proximal concerns seriously. But the idea I have been putting forward, derived in part from Piaget, is that if you get your proximal concerns right, then you simultaneously take care of the distal concerns.

There is a reason for that. The reason has to do, in some sense, with people’s discovery of the future. Now, animals, for example, are very impulsive, they are not good at planning for the future. So, in order for you to behave properly towards yourself, you have to do what is right for you right here and now, but you also have to do it in a way that doesn’t interfere with you tomorrow, or you next week, or you next month, or maybe even you ten years from now.

So you’re actually an indefinite sequence of “you’s” stretching into the future. That means you have to regulate your behaviour now so that all those indefinite “you’s” also benefit.

There is almost no difference between having them benefit, and having people around you benefit, because the same game that will work for you in your indefinite reiterations will also work for the people around you.

There is so much there in those three paragraphs. He is speaking about subsidiarity, a concept that seems to be evaporating before my very eyes here, in this world, where people seem to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about people they’ll never meet and places they’ll never visit. Yes, it’s important to be aware of the wider world, but if you’re not taking care of your own corner of it, you’re not doing anything to help anyone else. As Peterson has said elsewhere, don’t try to fix the economy if you can’t even clean your own room.

I encountered an illustration of this point yesterday in one of the chapters of A Gentleman in Moscow. About ten years after striking up a friendship with 8-year-old Nina, Count Alexander Ilych Rostov runs into her again, but she is no longer the little girl concerned with the little world inside the Metropol Hotel, where she lived with her widowed father for a long period of time. Now, Nina has bigger to fish to fry. Unfortunately, the fish want to keep swimming the way they always have:

The four of them, she [Nina] explained, were leaving the next morning with ten other cadres of the local Komsomol youth for the Kady District—an ancient agricultural center in the heart of the Ivanovo Province—to aid the udarniks, or “shock workers,” in the collectivization of the region. At the end of 1928, only 10 percent of the farms in Ivanovo had been operating as collectives. By the end of 1931, nearly all of them would be.

“For generations the kulaks have farmed the land for themselves, organizing the local peasant labor to their own ends. But the time has come for the common land to serve the common good. It is a historical necessity,” she added matter-of-factly, “an inevitability. After all, does a teacher only teach his own children? Does a physician only care for his parents?”

Personally, I think the world would be a better place if more teachers and doctors concentrated on their own families. In fact, that reminds me of a conversation I had with the pediatrician at a checkup a few years ago. Her oldest had just started kindergarten and I asked how it was going. She told me that her son didn’t like it at first, but now he loves it. “Really?” I thought, “is that an accurate assessment of the situation or is it the story you tell yourself and everyone else because you’d not take him if out of school even if he sobbed every single day?” To her, I simply replied, “Oh, good.” I’ve written before, remember, about how long it took me to finally learn that people won’t change because I tell them to, and trying to engage with them about subjects they won’t even consider (such as homeschooling; something she and her husband would never do, even though he stayed home with the kids), is like trying to explain the intricacies of Catholicism to an atheist. You just don’t begin there, and ten minutes or less is hardly enough time to get to a starting point of agreement. The Count understands this, which is why he did not bother to question Nina’s assertions. If the Internet and social media existed then, though, he likely would have had no qualms about telling Nina that everything she believes is wrong. Then she’d unfriend him.

Not all doctors and teachers are bad, of course. Just this evening I came across a thread on Twitter from a South African pediatrician named Alistair McAlpine, who asked his terminally ill patients what they had enjoyed in life and what gave it meaning. He tweeted what he learned:

First: NONE said they wished they’d watched more TV NONE said they should’ve spent more time on Face Book NONE said they enjoyed fighting with others NONE enjoyed hospital /1

MANY mentioned their pets: ‘I love Rufus, his funny bark makes me laugh.’ ‘I love when Ginny snuggles up to me at night and purrs’ ‘I was happiest riding Jake on the beach.’ /2

MANY mentioned their parents, often expressing worry or concern: ‘Hope mum will be ok. She seems sad.’ ‘Dad mustn’t worry. He’ll see me again soon.’ ‘God will take care of my mum and dad when I’m gone’ /3

ALL of them loved ice-cream. /4

ALL of them loved books or being told stories, especially by their parents: ‘Harry Potter made me feel brave.’ ‘I love stories in space!’ ‘I want to be a great detective like Sherlock Holmes when I’m better!’ Folks, read to your kids! They love it. /5

MANY wished they had spent less time worrying about what others thought of them, and valued people who just treated them ‘normally’. ‘My real friends didn’t care when my hair fell out.’ ‘Jane came to visit after the surgery and didn’t even notice the scar!’ /6

Many of them loved swimming, and the beach. ‘I made big sandcastles!’ ‘Being in the sea with the waves was so exciting! My eyes didn’t even hurt!’ /7

Almost ALL of them valued kindness above most other virtues: ‘My granny is so kind to me. She always makes me smile.’ ‘Jonny gave me half his sandwich when I didn’t eat mine. That was nice.’ ‘I like it when that kind nurse is here. She’s gentle. And it hurts less’ /8

Almost ALL of them loved people who made them laugh: ‘That magician is so silly! His pants fell down and I couldn’t stop laughing!’ ‘My daddy pulls funny faces which I just love!’ ‘The boy in the next bed farted! Hahaha!’ Laughter relieves pain. /9

Kids love their toys, and their superheroes. ‘My Princess Sophia doll is my favourite!’ ‘I love Batman!’ (All the boys love Batman) ‘I like cuddling my teddy’ /10

Finally, they ALL valued time with their family. Nothing was more important. ‘Mum and dad are the best!’ ‘My sister always hugs me tight’ ‘No one loves me like mummy loves me!’ /11

Take home message: Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them. These are the things these kids wished they could’ve done more. The rest is details. Oh… and eat ice-cream. /End

Bed is calling, but I before I get there, I’d like to just mention the other post on Jordan Peterson, the one written by Zak Slayback, through whom I first came across Mr. Peterson. There were a few points in his article that I especially liked. I’ll share one:

When discussing the value of higher education, eventually somebody brings up the point that a liberal arts education is something that helps make life worth living. Learning the liberal arts, learning about culture and history, learning about your place in this big tradition of human civilization, they say, helps you better navigate the world. Those advocating for straight-vocational training are doing students a disservice by not giving them the opportunity to study the liberal arts. …

Jordan Peterson is accomplishing for depth psychology what colleges failed to do for the liberal arts in general: ignite curiosity in free individuals and create lifelong students. …

Peterson’s crime is giving listeners and students tools they can use to improve their lives and connecting these tools to literature, mythology, and clinical experience.

Isn’t the point of understanding oneself and the world better to help oneself? Isn’t liberal arts, properly done, self-help? What should liberal arts look like if it can never be used to improve one’s own life?

Now I can move on: right over to Lightroom to pick a photo of the day.

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