Posts Tagged ‘John Dewey’

The world outside our heads

July 31, 2015

Matthew Crawford’s new book, THE WORLD BEYOND YOUR HEAD: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, is a good follow-up to Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries.

Crawford attacks what he calls “freedomism”—the idea that individuals can or should be free not only of external coercion, but of external influence of any kind.

This is the philosophy of thinkers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant, who sought to free people from the moral authority of kings and priests.

51YMx.crawford.worldbeyondyourheadThe fact is, Crawford said, is that human beings are born into a world of people and things which are objectively real, and which can be understood only after a long period of learning and apprenticeship.

The fact that one’s individual desires do not, in and of themselves, change things is the first thing a baby learns, but which 21st century Americans sometimes forget.

Crawford makes custom motorcycle components as a business.  His work involves individual creativity, but is based on mastery of pre-existing knowledge of materials and technique, and is expressed in solving real-world problems.  He feels validated only when a customer—especially one who understands motorcycles—willingly pays his bill.

In different parts of the book, he discusses techniques by which people master arts and vocations—hockey player, martial arts fighter, short-order cook, glassblower, motorcycle rider, racing car driver.

Masters in all these fields have the ability to focus their attention on what is important, and to train their reactions, in ways that can’t necessarily be articulated, so that they respond appropriately to the situation at hand.

For Crawford, we are what we pay attention to.  Freedom consists in the right to choose to focus our attention on worthy objects.

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Am I smart enough to criticize President Obama?

September 22, 2014

Lance Mannion, an astute and interesting long-time blogger, wrote recently that he has no standing to criticize President Barack Obama because Obama is so much smarter than he is.   Therefore he is going to be silent about the President’s policies and restrict his criticism and ridicule to obviously ignorant right-wingers.

Obama.tcWell, I don’t think I’m as smart as Obama, either.  As far as that goes, I think the vast majority of Presidents during my adult lifetime were smarter than me.   President Richard Nixon, in my opinion, was the smartest of all, both in being well-read and in political astuteness, but that doesn’t put him above criticism.

I think the answer to this was given by the philosopher John Dewey in his defense of democracy.   The average voter is not capable of making presidential decisions, but the voter is capable of knowing how those decisions turned out.  In the same way, Dewey said, he himself was not capable of making his own shoes, but he was capable of knowing whether his shoes fit or not.

I don’t have a plan that will guarantee peace and prosperity for all.

But I don’t see that I’m obligated to come up with such a plan in order to have the standing to oppose perpetual war, presidential death warrants, preventive detention, universal surveillance, bank bailouts, impunity for financial fraud, proposals to cut back Social Security and corporate trade agreements that override national sovereignty.

The first step in making things better is to stop doing things that make them worse.  You don’t have to be a genius to understand that.