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June 2018

July 2018

Aztec Moral Philosophy

An interesting article on Aztec moral philosophy, which is a virtue ethics different from the Greek tradition.  

While Plato and Aristotle were concerned with character-centred virtue ethics, the Aztec approach is perhaps better described as socially-centred virtue ethics. If the Aztecs were right, then ‘Western’ philosophers have been too focused on individuals, too reliant on assessments of character, and too optimistic about the individual’s ability to correct her own vices. Instead, according to the Aztecs, we should look around to our family and friends, as well as our ordinary rituals or routines, if we hope to lead a better, more worthwhile existence.

One reason the Aztec's had this difference view is because they viewed life on Earth as "slippery."  Which means that fortune will eventually turn against us, or we will fail.  So instead of exercising great worry over whether or not a virtue person can suffer misfortune or make any mistakes (the way Greek virtue theory has), they simply assumed this and developed a virtue ethics where we must rely upon one another because life is "slippery."

This article left me wanting to know more about this tradition.  I'll likely incorporate something from this in my philosophy classes.


Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel

Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient IsraelJacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel by Theodore W. Jennings Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this very well argued book Ted Jennings claims that "same-sex eroticism in Israel is inseparably connected to Israel's Yahwism. It is no extraneous import but something deeply and inextricably embedded in the religion of Israel."

Jennings begins in the obvious place--the sagas of David, Jonathan, and Saul--and from there considers stories of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha, elements of the prophetic tradition (particularly Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and then the stories of Joseph, Moses, and Jacob, before wrapping up with Ruth. In other words, here is a systematic overview of much of the Hebrew scriptures demonstrating the role that same-sex eroticism plays in the development of the biblical tradition. Jennings credits same-sex eroticism as being the key element that moves YHWH from a violent warrior God to a God of steadfast love and compassion. In other words, the key essence of the biblical tradition arises from the experience of homoeroticism.

Along the way, Jennings' interpretation makes sense of a wide range of passages, including some of the strangest in scripture. He makes far more sense of them than other interpretations I've read.

Also along the way, Jennings deals with a longstanding false idea in Western culture that Greece was the culture most accepting of homoeroticism while Israel forbade it. Instead, homoeroticism is key the Israelite religion predating its significant emergence in Greek culture. Plus, it is a homoeroticism based upon the desire of bottom rather than the activity of the top, which is how he characterizes Greek culture.

He shows how the Holiness Code in Leviticus is very late to the tradition and doesn't fit a wide range of stories from the sagas (not just those dealing with homoeroticism). He argues that the Holiness Code is borrowed from Zoroastrianism and should not be understood as reflective of Hebrew culture prior to exile.

This is an excellent book; I highly recommend it.

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Taking a Knee

A recent Christian Century editorial took a good theological perspective on the much discussed issue of NFL players taking a knee.  An excerpt:

one of the most vivid images of players’ humanity comes when they take a knee. During the game, this is one of several ways that players “down” the ball, avoiding being tackled by ending the play. Between plays and on the sidelines, players take a knee for various reasons. Lexicographer Ben Zimmer has traced the phrase back to a college team’s 1960 tribute to a deceased coach. It gained traction in reference to players stopping to rest. Later the posture came to signify solidarity—an expression of prayer or encouragement for the anxious or concern for the injured. In each case, taking a knee highlights the vulnerable humanity football teams are made of.

That’s what makes the NFL player protests against police brutality and racism—begun in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid—so powerful. The sight of black players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem evokes solidarity, empathy, and remembrance of the dead. It’s a posture that represents a player stepping out of his role in the game and embracing his more fundamental identity as a person.


Exit West

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Reading this book during the nights when you can't sleep in Omaha because of the ridiculous noise from fireworks heightened the experience.

But I was not as impressed by this book as it seems most people have been. I found the writing style too spare. The conceit of the doors as a way to comment on the current global migration crisis was intriguing, but Saeed and Nadia's relationship ups and downs did not engage me.

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"Prudent Action"

George Packer's review of Ben Rhodes's memoir of time of his time as a foreign policy advisor to President Obama is a thoughtful discussion of the book and Obama's foreign policy strengths and weaknesses.  Here is the most important paragraph and the main reason to read the essay:

After Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the burden of proof is on anyone who would make the case for military action as a force for good. But Obama, proudly defying political convention and confident in the larger forces of progress, was reluctant to acknowledge that inaction, too, is an action. We don’t know what a missile strike against Assad in 2013 might have achieved, but we do know what followed Obama’s refusal to enforce his own red line: more Syrian government atrocities (including the repeated use of chemical weapons), millions more Syrian refugees, the shift of European politics to the populist right, an emboldened Russia intervening militarily in Syria. It turned out that prudent inaction didn’t necessarily further the cause of progress any more than a naïve confidence in overt action. When America sobered up under Obama, other powers saw not wisdom but a chance to fill the gap.

So, "Don't do stupid shit" may be preferable to the interventions of George W. Bush, but the practical outcomes in this particular case don't recommend that policy either.


Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not set in a post-apocalyptic future as is so common, but in the midst of social decline and disruption brought on by climate change, growing income inequality, a rise in drug use, violence, and poverty. Reading the book right now was frightening.

Lauren, the hero, grows up in the 2020's in a walled neighborhood of eleven homes in southern California where it rains once every six years. The neighbors must work together to defend their neighborhood, grow their own food, and educate themselves. Some are tempted away when a corporate town opens nearby, promising security but a form of wage slavery associated with Steinbeck novels or the Pullman Strike.

Lauren rejects the religion of her Baptist minister father as a new religion, called Earthseed, is revealed to her. For Earthseed, God is change and change is inevitable. But change can be affected by what one does to prepare for it and respond to it. She is something of a Cassandra in her neighborhood, but becomes a leader of people by the end.

There is a second Earthseed book, which I will soon have to read, as this one left me hanging and wanting more. I'm curious that it has not been made into a Netflix or Hulu series, as it so grippingly fits our cultural moment.

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Perspective of "Death of Liberalism"

These authors point out that for more than a century liberalism's death has been predicted.  But that's nonsense, one reason being that so many different things are a form of liberalism.  This article gives some good historical perspective on our current moment.  And I liked this line, "Even if liberalism does not provide a telos or supreme good toward which we should strive, it helps us avoid greater evils, the most salient being cruelty and the fear it inspires."