Monday, 2020-11-23 we’ll be discussing philosopher Kenneth Smith’s essay Daughters and Granddaughters, which sets up the rest of a seven- or eight-week series.
This essay explores the differences between an infant’s perspective on the cosmos and sense of self and an adult’s. The philosophers Hegel and Kierkegaard developed models that show what we call “thinking” is very different depending on the type of mindset of the person doing the thinking. Smith has extended this model to help us understand how the distinctive features of each epoch of European history – including the Modern epoch – derives directly from the different ways these mindsets conceive of the world. This then gives us new tools to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Modern world and what we might be able to do to make things better.
We’ll cover Smith’s model (which he calls human characterology) in more detail in the weeks to come, but this first short essay lays the groundwork by helping us understand how profoundly different mindsets affect our behavior, by starting with an example near and dear to every parent, the remarkably guileless and direct experience of life of an infant. When we see how different a baby’s experience is from our own, it helps us understand the possibility that one adult’s experience might also be completely different from another’s.
When we start from the assumption that all people are created equal, it does not prepare us to understand each other or create communities together if in fact it turns out that we are really quite different. So, although the topic of different mindsets might at first seem obscure, a great deal of our hope for the future hinges upon it.
It’s a big topic, but we’ll start small, with infants.
Along the way we’ll talk poetry, feminism, gender roles, trans rights, and so much more. This will be a rousing discussion of gender essentialism, privilege and marginalization, and other issues this essay and these poems intersect.
From the essay:
“I believed from long before our first child that as little can be done “with” a child as can be done “to” him, a fresh life can only be left to unfold for better or for worse according to its own secret laws. A child is not our doing, not any part of our doings. You see how things go in a powermad world that cannot live with this autonomy and incurable mystery of selfsteering soul, that has to crush and reset lives like shattered bones. All the spectacle and virtuality of our culture is just so much distraction from the soulish peace and quiet (Shalom) that is required in order to converse with oneself and learn to read what is scripted in one’s subtleties. How foolish and futile I have felt every time I thought I needed to interject my will and my understanding into the course of my children’s lives, as if I could be any kind of captain outside my own will. What anyone cannot see, it is because he cannot respect that very idea; and to respect it, an entire culturing must be taken for granted, not just an isolated bit of individual dictation—certainly mere language cannot do the work of a whole culture or living examples. I put most of my philosophical revelations to myself into this arcane formula: there is No true understanding without values, and No values without love. To go through life bereft of loving anything—Faust’s foolish bargain with Mephistopheles, his presumption that he can become detached “pure spirit”—is the icy, anesthetic delusion that defines modern alienation, abstractedness, the fertile ground out of which nihilism propagates itself so readily. It is our fantasy-world of murderous and asphyxiating “objectivity.” By its very concept, uncaring life is not worth living; and in principle it is not going to “find” anything that will magically or fetishistically “make” its life worth living. Money and materialism are of course the delusion to the contrary.”