Readings packet

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 “The central conservative truth is that culture, not politics, determines the success of a society.  The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”  (Daniel Patrick Moynihan)

“Certs is a candy  mint!”  “Certs is a breath mint!”  “Stop!  You’re both right!” 

The human species is fantastically complex and often doesn’t know what it is doing. The search for a better understanding of our behavior is vital.[1]


Many experiments have been conducted to show the extraordinary extent to which the information obtained by an observer depends upon the observer’s own assumptions and preconceptions. For example, when you look at Figure 1, what do you see?


(In Richards J. Heuer, Jr, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis (Central Intelligence Agency, 1999),, p.8)

“An idea is more real to us than a material object seen by the eye.”  (Plato)

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”  (Anais Nin)

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”  (William James)

Picasso was once reproached for distorting human features out of recognition.  A portrait, his critic contended, ought to look like the person portrayed.  Picasso demurred, and suggested that it was not quite so straightforward a business as that;  the idea of looking just like something was a bit more difficult than the interlocutor supposed.  The critic thereupon produced a photograph from his wallet, showed it to Picasso, and said:  There, you see, that’s my wife, and that’s what she looks like.”  Picasso looked carefully at the little print and asked, with a hint of surprise, “Just like that?”  confidently the critic confirmed that she looked exactly like that.  “Hmm,” said Picasso, “isn’t she rather small?” (Rodney Needham, Against the Tranquility of Axioms, University of California Press, 1983, p.33.)

“According to the Innocence Project, a New-York-based nonprofit that works in criminal justice reform, eyewitness misidentification is involved in more than 70 percent of convictions overturned by DNA testing.” (Dean Seal, Daily Progress, 2/13/17)

Northwestern law professor John McGinnis argued that “Scalia’s successor must be capable of pressing the intellectual case for following the Constitution as written.”  Justice Thomas R. Lee of the Utah Supreme court:  “it should go without saying that our construction of a provision of the constitution must rest on the original meaning of the constitutional text.” [2]

For years, Russian diplomats were made to confront Washington and defend the country’s meddling abroad with lies and non sequiturs. We were taught to embrace bombastic rhetoric and to uncritically parrot to other states what the Kremlin said to us. But eventually, the target audience for this propaganda was not just foreign countries; it was our own leadership. In cables and statements, we were made to tell the Kremlin that we had sold the world on Russian greatness and demolished the West’s arguments. We had to withhold any criticism about the president’s dangerous plans. This performance took place even at the ministry’s highest levels. My colleagues in the Kremlin repeatedly told me that Putin likes his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, because he is “comfortable” to work with, always saying yes to the president and telling him what he wants to hear. Small wonder, then, that Putin thought he would have no trouble defeating Kyiv. (Boris Bondarev, “The Sources of Russian Misconduct,” Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2023)

[P]eople can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.  (Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking Fast and Slow” (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2011, p. 217)

* * *

An opening is never just a beginning except in retrospect. We begin in the midst of things. That is to say, when it is already late and caught irrevocably in the web of understandings, borrowed back and forth across the time we have spent together:  in thought, in work, in play, in love, or in hate.  Our approach is self-consciously a presentation:  the presence of others and of ourselves to them.  Thus it is we who are latently the resource and circumstance that permit us to choose our ground, to start here rather than there.[3]

My body is the fabric into which all objects are woven, and it is, at least in relation to the perceived world, the general instrument of my “comprehension.” [4]

To respect someone is to look for the spring that feeds the pool of their experience.  In Zulu the word Sawu bona is spoken when people greet one another and when they depart.  It means “I see you.”  (Paolo Freire)

* * *

There is genuine dialogue – no matter whether spoken or silent – where each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them. [This kind of dialogue is Meeting.]

And there is monologue disguised as dialogue, in which two or more men, meeting in space, speak each with himself in strangely tortuous and circuitous ways and yet imagine they have escaped the torment of being thrown back on their own resources.  [This kind of “dialogue” is]  a debate in which the thoughts are not expressed in the way in which they existed in the mind but in the speaking are so pointed that they may strike home in the sharpest way, and moreover without the men that are spoken to being regarded in any way present as persons:  a conversation characterized by the need neither to communicate something, nor to learn something, nor to influence someone, nor to come into connection with someone, but solely to have one’s own self-reliance confirmed by marking the impression that is made, or if it has become unsteady to have it strengthened. [5]

Bundled together, men march without Thou and without I, those of the left who want to abolish memory, and those of the right who want to regulate it:  hostile and separated hosts, they march into the common abyss.[6]

People always band together in accordance to a principle that has nothing to do with love, a principle that releases them from personal responsibility. … Most people guard and keep;  they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.[7]

          It is a different matter when in a receptive hour of my personal life a man meets me about whom there is something, which I cannot grasp in any objective way, that “says something” to me.  That does not mean, says to me what manner of man this is, what is going on in him, and the like.  But it means, says something to me, addresses something to me, speaks something that enters my own life.  It can be something about this man, for instance, that he needs me.  But it can also be something about myself.  …  The effect of having this said to me is completely different from that of looking on and observing.  I cannot depict or denote or describe the man in whom, through whom, something has been said to me. …  This man is not my object;  I have got to do with him. … We may term this way of perception becoming aware. [8]

What is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in my face?  (Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”)

* * *

What is peculiarly characteristic of the human world is above all that something takes place between one being and another the like of which can be found nowhere in nature.  Language is only a sign and a means for it, all achievement of the spirit has been incited by it.  Man is made man by it; but on its way it does not merely unfold, it also decays and withers away.  It is rooted in one being turning to another as another, as this particular other being, in order to communicate with it in a sphere which is common to them but which reaches out beyond the special sphere of each.  I call this sphere, which is established with the existence of man as man but which is conceptually still uncomprehended, the sphere of “between.” [9]

According to Deleuze the “I,” the “subject,” is the bloodthirsty culprit that does the sacrificing both of the self and the other.  A stable self sows death wherever it turns.  Why?  Deleuze gives two answers.  First, a stable subject (an “I”) invariably makes judgments by using codes of symbolic representation.  Every time a physical relationship is translated into a logical relationship, a stream has been cut into segments, a living thing has been killed.  Thinking and setting goals are by their very nature repressive.  Deleuze therefore recommends to “stop thinking oneself as an ‘I’ in order to live as a current, as a bundle of currents in relation to other currents inside and outside of oneself.  Second, the unity of the rational self corresponds to the unity of the world, and the unity of the world can be achieved only by suppression of multiplicity . . . unity is nothing but an unacceptable reduction in multiplicity. [10]

If it’s true that “I am what I am,” then I just need to find out what that is and be true to it.  But this means that life is not a dynamic under our control, but is instead a journey, perhaps even an adventurous one but one of discovering ourselves, not creating it.  It’s rife throughout many of the trite motivational phrases  we preach to each other.  “Find the difference you can make in the world!”  “Be true to who you are!”  “Go on a journey of self-discovery!”  This leaves us, at best, as lifelong explorers, not creators of our own selves, setting out to discover and then be true to what we antecedently are.  This can seem very romantic, and even inspiring;  but put another way you could also describe it as a form of self-slavery, ever searching for your “true” master.  Perhaps, as quantum mechanics showed about classical Newtonian mechanics, it isn’t the whole story.

We live in a culture (neoliberal, consumerist) where the concept of “me”-ness is very strong. We see ourselves as individual, isolated blobs of consciousness with our own unique identity, to which we become quite attached. Some of us believe that this unique identity even goes on after our body dies, into an eternal afterlife. We believe that I am a “human”, that creature is a “squirrel”, that thing is a “tree”, and that thing is a “rock” or a “star”, all separate and discrete. [11]

* * *

In the ongoing quest to capture lifelong consumers, corporations are turning schools into servants of a marketing machine that represents the furthest development of capitalist society.  In a culture saturated with talk of children in the schoolhouse as a massive untapped market, future brand loyalists, drivers of household consumption through their influence on their parents, and so on, it cannot come as a surprise that children have internalized this social positioning and have come to see themselves and those around them in these ways, even if unconsciously so.  When a child’s self-worth is tied to her or his commercialized self, it is natural that the child’s evaluation of the worth of others becomes tied exclusively to market logic in a parallel way.  Rather than viewing my classmate as a partner in the heart of a relation which ought only have made him present to me, I see my classmate, and myself, only as subsumed under a universal ontological category – a short-circuit around the primacy of ethical relationships.  Violence in schools, then, is not only inevitable but already always committed by definition. [12]

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”  The question of how we bring Eros or love back into education and our treatment of ourselves and one another is rarely raised today. … our lives, and the lives of our species, to an extent literally unimaginable, depend on how vividly this question lives in our  minds and on how willing we are to explore it. [13]

“You know, I started off talking about schools and highways and prisons and taxes – and I couldn’t make them listen.  Then I began talking about niggers – and they stomped the floor.”  (George C. Wallace, after winning his second run for governor of Alabama.)

The civic relationships [James] Baldwin has in mind are not chiefly based on rights, economic ties, political access, or a standardized civics curriculum.  Civic relationships are relationships of kin.  If we lived more truthfully and dared to live more lovingly, we would be more vulnerable to one another, and more trusting.  We may not pledge allegiance to the same symbols, but we would have more secrets and public spaces to share, we would remember, feel, urge, touch, and care for one another more often.  The problem with educating those who inherited a myth is their tendency to flee from touching others.  They are situated to find the assumption of interpersonal solidarity unnecessary because they possess the power to keep others abstract and at bay.[14]

* * *

BEHIND the smokehouse that summer, Ringo and I had a living map. Although Vicksburg was just a handful of chips from the woodpile and the River a trench scraped into the packed earth with the point of a hoe, it (river, city, and terrain) lived, possessing even in miniature that ponderable though passive recalcitrance of topography which outweighs artillery, against which the most brilliant of victories and the most tragic of defeats are but the loud noises of a moment. To Ringo and me it lived, if only because of the fact that the sunimpacted ground drank water faster than we could fetch it from the well, the very setting of the stage for conflict a prolonged and well-nigh hopeless ordeal in which we ran, panting and interminable, with the leaking bucket between wellhouse and battlefield, the two of us needing first to join forces and spend ourselves against a common enemy, time, before we could engender between us and hold intact the pattern of re-capitulant mimic furious victory like a cloth, a shield between ourselves and reality, between us and fact and doom.  (William Faulkner, The Unvanquished)

Creation said:
“I want to hide something from the humans until they are ready for it.
It is the realization that they create their own reality.”
The eagle said,
“Give it to me. I will take it to the moon.”
The Creator said, “No. One day they will go there and find it.”
The salmon said,
“I will bury it on the bottom of the ocean.”
The Creator said, “No. They will go there, too.”
The buffalo said, “I will bury it on the Great Plains.”
The Creator said, “They will cut into the skin of the earth and find it even there.”
Grandmother who lives in the breast of Mother Earth,
and who has no physical eyes but sees with spiritual eyes, said
“Put it inside of them.”
And the Creator said, “It is done.”

                                                ~creation story from the Hopi Nation, Arizona

[1] David Leonhardt, The New York Times, Dec 6, 2016, reviewing ” The Undoing Project:  A Friendship That Changed Our Minds,”by Michael Lewis

[2] Hannah C. Smith, The National Review, 12/6/16

[3] John O’Neil, The Communicative Body: Studies in Communicative Philosophy, Politics, and Sociology (Northwestern University Press, 1989), p. 183.

[4] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Smith, 273.

[5] Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, trans. Ronald Gregor-Smith (Routledge, 2002),

[6] Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, trans. R. Gregor-Smith, p.38.

[7] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (Vintage International Edition 1993), p. 81, 86.

[8] Martin Buber, On Intersubjectivity and Cultural Creativity, ed. S.N. Eisenstadt (Univ of Chicago Press, 1992), p.48-9.

[9] ibid. p. 39.

[10] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace  (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 289

[11] Rosalind (Roz) Savage, rower of oceans, voracious reader, environmental leader and blogger, Sept 5, 2019.

[12] G. Keehn & D. Boyles, quoting Alex Molnar in  Educational Theory, v65, n4, 2015

[13] P. Taubman, quoting James Baldwin in Educational Theory, v67, n1, 2017

[14]  John P. Fantuzzo, “Facing the Civic Love Gap:  James Baldwin’s Civic Education for Interpersonal Solidarity,” Educational Theory 68:4-5, 2018.

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