Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The first thought-buds of spring

Back from spring break, and feeling pretty lethargic. One of my students is running for student government on the slogan: "The End of Apathy." Another student remarked: "I'd be apathetic, if I weren't so lethargic."

I had two thoughts over break:

When I read and taught Rousseau's Emile years back, I was quite enamored of his proposal that the child should be raised so as never to encounter the limit of another will, but only the limits of nature. It appealed to a certain romantic egalitarian streak of mine, for it held out the promise of the child learning everything from the things themselves, seemingly independent and self-assured.

But hanging out with my four-year-old nephew over break, it occurred to me in a flash: That's a terrible idea! Other wills are just the desires and needs of other people, and I want my nephew to encounter, recognize, and learn to negotiate those desires and needs just as much as I want him to encounter and learn to negotiate the hills and forests around his home. Desires and needs are no less a part of nature than gravity is.

This was yet another minor epiphany in a slow moving and insensibly growing awareness that I dislike the concept of "the will" wherever I find it.

Second thought: finance capitalists like Marx. Or, at least, many are intrigued by Marx. Over break, I had to promise a gregarious and blustery old finance capitalist that the next time I was in Marin, I would sit down and talk with him about Marx. His first question to me was: "What was Marx like, as a person?" He was happy to hear that Marx was also gregarious and blustery.