Recommended Article: Scott Samuelson’s “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers”

Recommended:  Scott Samuelson’s recent piece in The Atlantic, “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers

(Thanks to fellow writer Matthew Graybosch for sending me the link.)

The humanities do matter to real people.  Profoundly.  Samuelson writes about teaching philosophy to students experiencing personal tragedy:

A mother who’d authorized for her crippled son a risky surgery that led to his death once asked me with tears in her eyes, “Is Kant right that the consequences of an action play no role in its moral worth?”

The problem is that average people, the “plumbers” Samuelson teaches, are increasingly being denied access to the best that has been thought and said.  Education budgets are decimated.  The wealthy pay for their own children to attend elite universities and “dress themselves in cultural capital” (i.e. liberal arts study) while everyone else is encouraged to view education’s value purely in terms of utilitarian job preparation.  As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, and as Samuelson argues, this state of affairs bodes ill for a democracy.

Samuelson reminds us that, “We don’t intellectually embrace a society where the privileged few get to enjoy the advantages of leisure and wealth while the masses toil on their behalf. Yet that’s what a sell-out of the liberal arts entails.”

He got that right.  Worth a read.

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5 Responses to Recommended Article: Scott Samuelson’s “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers”

  1. jasa says:

    First of all I would like to say terrific blog! I had
    a quick question which I’d like to ask if
    you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I’ve had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out there.
    I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to
    15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any
    ideas or tips? Kudos!

    • It’s a pleasure to meet you, jasa! Great question.

      For me it’s an orderly environment, a stable, regular routine, a room to retreat to with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, quiet (lots of quiet), and coffee (lots and lots of coffee). There was a time when I would have said rock music (particularly prog rock) and coffee. And some mornings that’s still the case. For me writing is a quasi-shamanic experience, and prog rock (sometimes) has a way of, if not opening the door, loosening the bolts.

      But most mornings I simply need quiet, like a blank canvas, and coffee. Also, some mornings I find it helpful to read a random section from Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus or one of Seneca’s letters – because Stoicism can be enormously helpful in silencing those voices of doubt we all deal with and in just getting on with it. But even though Stoicism appears to be making a comeback at the moment, I’m aware of its limits, so other mornings I just sip coffee (did I say coffee?), stare at the walls, and decide that Nietzsche was right. (See chapter 1 section 9) Oddly, this is just as helpful for clearing my mind.

      If this all sounds a little silly, and way pretentious, it’s because it is. But so what? That’s really what I do to center myself to write. Every writer has a different way of getting centered, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. And personal habits all have a way of sounding silly when shared. I’m sharing mine not as a list of what to do, but as the sort of thing (I suspect) some writers do.

      Here’s some general things that a lot of writers find helpful:

      1. Write at the same time every day, or, if you can’t write every day, at least on regular writing days
      2. Write in the same place everyday

      1 and 2 will help create a trigger so you come to associate writing with that particular time/place. That alone may not get you centered, but it will get you in a mental place where centering and focusing will be a lot easier.

      3. Make that time and place absolutely sacred space, in the sense that sacred means something set apart. When you write, you are performing a kind of magic, you are creating another reality, and you need to be alone with that reality so the rest of the world doesn’t intrude and muck it up into something else. I know this sounds weird and witchy and possibly crazy, but the concept often works even if you don’t happen to find my metaphors useful.

      So. Create a space that induces you to be receptive to opening the door to your imaginative world, and temporarily closes the door to this world. The details of how to create that space are unique to you, and very personal. You may or may not choose to share them. Bright colors? Simple gray? Music? Silence? Art work? Unadorned walls? Whatever it is, it must be set apart from “real life” because you are creating a space for experiencing your imaginative life. And there, with the world locked out, you invite whatever and whoever is trying to tell their story through you to come and visit for awhile. And then you help them tell their story.

      4. When the energy wanes, you leave your room and get on with the rest of your day.

      Or, you can ignore all that and write as if it’s no different than any other activity and simply keep your head down and push through it until it’s done. Which is also cool. But maybe not as much fun. Anyway, a lot of good stuff gets written that way, too. Sometimes the will to focus is your focus.

  2. Barbara Young says:

    Just start writing – anything! write about what you are thinking, write about having trouble writing about (whatever your topic is), once you get a good paragraph going, you will find you start focusing in on the topic and your opinions will start to come through. Practice this in every encounter with (what is called) resistance and it will help you to overcome that “block.”
    Another thing I do is to research something ridiculous on the internet – cute kitten images or new emojis, somehow the absurdity reminds me of the important aspect of my topic

  3. Tumblr blog says:

    This is the correct blog for anybody who wants to seek out out about this topic. You realize a lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just nice!

    • Ciao Tumblr blog – Carl e Chandler! Grazie. Voi siete gentili. Ma se discuto bene è perché ho studiato le discipline umanistiche.

      Per favore perdona il mio pessimo italiano, sto ancora imparando.

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