As is the case with my online autobiographical writings, I'll mostly stick to topics that relate to my academic work in some fashion or other. My personal life typically enters into the story only insofar as it somehow impinges on my scholarly efforts. It's not that I'm shy about writing about my personal life, but I figure that the other people who would necessarily have to be mentioned might not want to turn up in the bits of autobiography that I post every once in a while. Hence my decision not to say very much about my personal life.
Last year's post mentioned that in the the previous year I had resolved to remain an independent scholar, and thus not to make any attempt to return to academia. The same is true of the past year. As I continued to settle into life as an independent scholar, I felt less and less of a desire to go back into the classroom. Ideally, I would like to return to teaching, but I don't see how I could possibly do so on terms that I would deem favorable. Consequently, I haven't set foot in the classroom since I finished teaching at Haverford College in the spring of 2003. I'm reconciled to the likelihood that I'll never teach again.
The work on my house has continued off and on during the past year, but on a much reduced scale. There wasn't much left to do once the extensive renovations of mid-2003 and early 2004 were completed. But in September 2004 the central air system was replaced with more efficient modern equipment. I immediately noticed a drop in my electricity bill, which was nice, especially given that I have to endure the Texas summer. That was easier for me to do twenty years ago, I might add.
I bought a new sofa and made arrangements for re-upholstering three chairs and a couch. (That takes more time than the previous sentence lets on. Picking out fabric is almost as agonizing as choosing paint colors or wallpaper patterns.) Everything was delivered by the beginning of November 2004. Decorating the walls became the next priority. I put up a lot of pictures, bought a tapestry for the den, and did the many other things that accompany re-decorating an entire house. Fortunately, none of these tasks was especially time-consuming, and so my scholarly work wasn't disturbed very much. Recently, I've been restoring some old pieces of furniture. It's time-consuming, but the results are worthwhile.
During the summer of 2004 I began writing a chapter on Fichte's Foundations of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre. (My Fichte entry for The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy will bring you up to speed on this particular book by Fichte.) I had to compress a complex and obscure work into a chapter of only 10,000 words. The writing went very slowly, partly because it's the nature of such a task to move at a glacial pace, partly because I injured a tendon in my right hand, probably from working in the yard. The injury made it difficult for me to sit in front of the computer and type for any length of time. Even today, as I write this post, my hand still bothers me. It's gotten much better, of course, but I'm surprised that a tendon takes so long to heal.
I finished the draft of the chapter by the middle of December 2004. It was sent out to readers for comments, and I also asked several friends to read it as well. I gathered up all of the comments and made the appropriate revisions by the end of March 2005. The chapter is now in production at the press, and it will soon appear in volume three of Central Works of Philosophy, edited by John Shand for Acumen Publishing.
While I was grappling with the Fichte chapter, Paul Guyer, Fred Rauscher and I finally completed our volume of the Cambridge Kant Edition. Ten years ago we began to translate a selection of Kant's posthumously published notes and fragments, which is why our book is entitled Notes and Fragments. I had translated my assigned portion of the material by the middle of 1999, but the project stalled for several years. Eventually, however, the translations were completed, and by the fall of 2004 the volume was in page proofs. We read the proofs, sent the corrections to the press, and the book was published about two months ago. It was quite a relief to bring that project to an end.
In early 2005 I spent a lot of time re-organizing my library. What I want to study and write about in the next few years has become clearer to me, and so I had to acquire quite a few books, which demanded in turn that I sell some of the old ones in order to make room on my shelves. Anyone interested in academic books can tell you that they're best acquired deliberately and slowly. There are so many secondary works that look good at first glance but turn out not to be especially helpful that one has to be cautious when shopping for them. Consequently, I did a lot of research into what I really needed to own before I ordered anything.
I'm already under contract (in collaboration with Yolanda Estes) for a volume of translations and commentary relating to Fichte and the atheism dispute of 1798-1800. My library was already adequate for that project. But since I've definitely decided to write a book on Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment, I had to make the appropriate adjustments to my books. If you look at my academic autobiography, you'll see the ups and downs of this project, which has been on my mind for quite a while. Fortunately, I'm now in a position to devote myself to writing that book. I'm currently working on the proposal to send to an editor who has expressed an interest in the project.
I'm also toying with the idea of writing a book on horror film, but it will be a while before I have a more concrete plan. The theme of the book will certainly be that of an essay that I published about two years ago, an essay in which I discussed what I call the Heideggerian uncanny. For the moment, though, I'm simply watching horror films in an effort to choose the right ones to discuss in the book that I hope to write. At least that's what I tell myself while I'm watching movies instead of working on philosophy. It's good to be able to rationalize one's less than exalted inclinations, isn't it?
I'll close this post on a more personal note. I've been back in Texas for two years, but not, as many readers already know, because it was where I most wanted to live. After my parents died the necessary details can be found in my academic autobiography I didn't really have much choice but to leave Philadelphia and return to my hometown. Nonetheless, I've often thought that I made a mistake by coming back. For many months I wasn't sure that I could stay here and do the work that I would like to do. But I've learned that I can in fact stay here and work as an independent scholar. After all, I've managed to complete or begin several projects. Consequently, as long as I stick to my resolution not to return to academia, I suspect that I'll remain in Texas.
Robert Samuelson's latest column "The End of Europe" takes up the increasingly popular theme of Europe's decline, one that is being written about more and more these days.
Here are the figures at the heart of Samuelson's observations:
It's hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling. Europe's birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It's 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy. In a century -- if these rates continue -- there won't be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe's population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third.
No one knows how well modern economies will perform with so many elderly people, heavily dependent on government benefits (read: higher taxes). But Europe's economy is already faltering. In the 1970s annual growth for the 12 countries now using the euro averaged almost 3 percent; from 2001 to 2004 the annual average was 1.2 percent. In 1974 those countries had unemployment of 2.4 percent; in 2004 the rate was 8.9 percent.
Solutions are available, says Samuelson, but Europeans are reluctant to embrace them, e.g., immigration as well as economic and political reform.
Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.
Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.
But the wealthy have done very well indeed. Since 1973 the average income of the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled, and the income of the top 0.1 percent has tripled.
Some of Krugman's critics, I've noticed, tend to forget that he has been writing about income inequality for a long time, that is, long before he became a columnist for The New York Times. I recommend his book The Age of Diminished Expectations, if only to read for yourself what he was writing in the 1990s.
Also, you might want to read Krugman's essay in conjunction with this column by Jonathan Chait.
Eleanor Clift has written a good piece on ways the abortion issue is influencing the political positioning of potential candidates, primarily Hillary Clinton and John McCain, in the 2008 national election.
Whatever you might think of Clinton's and McCain's efforts to address voters' concerns about abortion, it would help, I think, to remember these figures that Clift provides:
Only one in ten voters (11 percent) think all abortions should be made illegal. Thirty-nine percent think abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, as when a woman’s life is in danger or with rape and incest. Twenty-two percent think there should be only limited regulations on abortion while another 26 percent say regulations are necessary, but abortion should be legal in most instances. That means half the voters (50 percent) are opposed to or lean against abortion while 48 percent support abortion rights.
In my darker moments, I award Roe v. Wade the lion's share of the credit for turning the country in its current conservative direction. Roe v. Wade energized the religious right and spurred a large measure of conservative complaints about judicial activism. One of the completely uncontroversial aspects of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? is his discussion of the role of the abortion issue in transforming Kansas into a Republican stronghold beginning in the 1990s.
Consequently, I sometimes think that the only thing to do is to pursue the nuclear option on the abortion issue: that is, overturn Roe v. Wade and leave it to the states to draft their own legislation. Of course, this would create a hodgepodge of laws and would lead to abortion being completely outlawed in some states. But such a turn of events would deflate the religious right to some extent, which would only help the Democrats and hurt the Republicans.
My despair over the political fallout of Roe v. Wade that is, what ultimately turned out to be its bad consequences for the Democrats is so extreme and abiding that I found myself in agreement with an op-ed by David Brooks "Roe's Birth, and Death" from nearly two months ago.
My agreeing with David Brooks, hell, that's gotta be a first for this blog.
Merely altering one's language in speaking about abortion, finetuning one's position, and the like none of these options will take the issue off the table. But that's what the Democrats need to do as much as possible.
According to Satloff, it seems that Assad's strategy in this time of trouble for Syria is to do nothing:
On Monday, Assad delivered the keynote address to the tenth meeting of Syria's Baath Party Congress. This was just the second time his ruling party had met in the five years since he succeeded his late father. During those years, expectations have frequently run high that Bashar was a closet reformer, the man who would drag Syria from its closed, proto-Stalinist past into an era of Arab glasnost and perestroika. Assad, however, has always failed to deliver, and Syria's politics and economy have remained stagnant.
But more puzzling than Assad's missed opportunities to reform have been his strategic mistakes. Whereas his father, Hafez, mesmerized American presidents with his cunning, guile, and tenacity, Bashar's equivocation on Iraq, support for Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups, and barely visible aid in the battle against Al Qaeda have earned only contempt from the White House's current inhabitant. Recently, Assad's blunders have seemed to intensify. In a truly stunning display of diplomatic ineptitude, Assad strong-armed Lebanon to accept a second term for a quisling president and, by all accounts, arranged the daylight assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri. This had the result of reviving U.S.-French relations from their Iraq-war nadir by giving the two counties a common purpose: evicting Syria from Lebanon. In the months that followed, Assad brought ignominy to his army, which was compelled--without a single bullet being fired--to beat a hasty retreat from a country it had dominated for a generation. He also triggered the expulsion of probably a quarter-million or more Syrian workers from Lebanon--nobody knows for sure how many--which swelled the ranks of Syria's unemployed overnight. To paraphrase the courageous Syrian reformer Ammar Abdulhamid, if the Assads were the modern-day Corleones, Hafez dreamed of having Michael succeed him but was stuck with Fredo.
This week's Baath Party Congress was supposed to give Bashar the opportunity to make a fresh start. Rumors were rampant that the young leader would finally announce real change. By various accounts, this was to include the sacking of his father's old-guard cronies, the suspension of suffocating emergency laws (in place since 1963), the release of all political prisoners, an end to state monopolies and other restraints on free enterprise, and perhaps even the repeal of an infamous article in the Syrian constitution that enshrines the Baath Party as vanguard of the nation and repository of all political power.
But Assad, a world-class underachiever, fooled us again. He announced no personnel changes, no legislative initiatives, no prison releases, no economic stimulus packages, no constitutional reforms. He didn't mention Iraq or Israel or Palestine or Lebanon or America. He did nothing.
Well, not quite. This man of the twenty-first century--an ophthalmologist by training and one-time head of the Syria Computer Society--did focus his venom on a particularly pernicious enemy of the Syrian people: globalization. He attacked the "information-technology revolution," which he said is leading to the "cultural, political, and moral collapse of the Arab individual and his ultimate defeat even without a fight." Assad's prescription: "As members of the Baath Party, we should first of all redouble our intellectual efforts and political and cultural effectiveness in order to strengthen our national existence, and protect our cultural identity. ... The Baath Party, as should be clear to every one of us, is a cause before it is a political organization, and a civilizing mission before it is a party in power."
So there it was: Assad's answer to calls for reform was not less Baathism, but more. In offering a ringing defense of an ideology whose only other champion these days is a jailed Saddam Hussein, Assad once again showed that his regime is one in whose survival the United States--and the West, more generally--simply has no interest.
All of this leads Satloff to conclude that Assad's days might be numbered.
You might compare Satloff's essay with this AFP story on Assad's speech.
Some readers of this blog already know that I used to be a philosophy professor, but that I'm now an independent scholar. From time to time I receive emails from readers asking me what it's like to be an independent scholar, inquiring about my current projects, and so forth. The easiest way to get an answer to these questions is to read my academic autobiography.
I began this autobiographical essay in 1999, and from time to time I revise and expand it. I updated it recently, adding material about the past several months. It's become fairly long by now roughly 9500 words. If you're interested in the sad state of academia nowadays, or if you're considering going to graduate school, then you might want to take a look at what I've written. At the very least, though, it will explain to you why I became an independent scholar.
Update - February 17, 2006: If you go to this post, you'll find some autobiographical remarks relating to my time in academia. The post as a whole is dedicated to the issue of whether or not to go to graduate school.