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How Much Longer Till We Get There?

How Much Longer Till We Get There?
What’s the most annoying thing that kids do?  This is a tough contest, but for me, the prize goes to insistent repetitions of my title question on cross-country drives.  What do I hate about it so much?  Is it that it’s an expression of impatience dressed up as something beautiful, a question?  Is it the fact that the demand—I need to be there now!—is one I cannot meet, and the kid knows full well I cannot meet?  Is it the prospect of bottomless possibilities for repetition that stem from its re-askability at every “now”?  Is it, perhaps, that I am wondering the same myself, and grumpy that there is no one can nag?  (When one of my TAs came to my office to cry about having made a student cry, I wondered, “Whose office do I get to cry in?”)
It doesn’t really matter why I hate this so much, the important thing is that I do.  And I have three children, all of whom are genetically related to me, which is to say, none of them is a paragon of patience. …
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The American Conversation Problem: Three Proposals

Tonight over dinner, my family was pondering the fact that, like most families, we lie inside an ideological bubble, shut off from understanding the points of view of many Americans.  We have not engaged much with people who live in different parts of the country, or differ from us with respect to ethnicity, socio-economic status, or religion.  Or what about Americans who face (or don’t face) various disabilities that we don’t (or do) face?  And my children were alarmed to learn that conversations of this kind online often do not go well.  
Call this, “the American Conversation problem”: how can we get better at talking civilly to people who are very different from ourselves, and whose points of view we are thereby likely to caricature?   
We came up with three proposals.  
(1)  Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Arguments App
This is an app that would anonymously pair demographically different people for a brief argument about some political issue of their choice.  Think of it: you are waiting for t…

Are Leaders Altruists?

“Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:52)  
Moses doesn’t get to enjoy the happiness he creates for his people.  This is a fact about leaders more generally.  Plato comments that citizens in a good city “would fight in order not to rule”; for they would understand that a ruler “doesn’t by nature seek his own advantage but that of his subject. And everyone, knowing this, would rather be benefited by others than take the trouble to benefit them.” Leaders are altruists.  
In fact, I will defend an even stronger claim—leaders are the only systematic altruists—as well as one I take to follow from it—leaders must be unemotional, detatched, and rational. You might think I mean that leaders must resist or ignore emotion. Instead, I mean that leaders must learn to operate without the emotional bonds that govern most human relationships, because of the asymmetrical and distant—altruistic—nature of …


When I’m alone late at night on a deserted road, I like to walk on the double yellow lines.  One time I decided to stop and lie down, right there in the middle of the road.  I kept myself narrow, arms pinned, so cars could pass on either side.  But I wasn’t invisible, and I alarmed a kind policeman who happened to drive by me.  After determining that I was not dead, drunk or high, he concluded I was suicidal.  We had a long talk. It didn’t help for me to explain that if I had wanted to be run over I would’ve moved several feet in one direction or the other.  And picked a busier road.  He wanted to know, why, if I didn’t want to be run over, was I lying in the middle of the road?  
There were so many reasons. I wanted to see the night sky from the perspective of the road; I wanted to be in this secret spot that always got passed by and never occupied; most of all, I just wanted to feel what it was like to lie there, with the double yellow lines running under me from head to heels.  But …

Reciprocally Unrequited Love

If I love you, but you do not love me, then my love for you is unrequited.  Suppose you come to love me.  Does it follow that my love for you becomes requited?  Not necessarily.  There is more to requitedness than reciprocation, since I may not know that you have come to love me. If you keep it to yourself, your love of me makes no mark on my first-personal experience.  And this situation might be symmetrical: it could be that you came to love me in total ignorance of the fact that I loved you.  For it could be that I, too, am good at keeping the signs of my love to myself.  In this case, each of us loves the other but it seems that in some sense we do not love each other.  For instance we might both pine miserably for one another in the manner characteristic of unrequited lovers.  
In the case I’ve just described, our mutual ignorance is an accident.  Our love happens to be both reciprocal and unrequited.  It could become requited if we were informed about one other’s mental lives. …

Socratic Humility

Philosophers aren’t the only ones who love wisdom.  Everyone, philosopher or not, loves her own wisdom: the wisdom she has or takes herself to have.   What distinguishes the philosopher is loving the wisdom she doesn’t have.   Philosophy is, therefore, a form of humility: being aware that you lack what is of supreme importance.   There may be no human being who exemplified this form of humility more perfectly than Socrates. It is no coincidence therefore, that he is considered the first philosopher within the Western canon.
Socrates did not write philosophy—he simply went around talking to people.  But these conversations were so transformative that the second philosopher, Plato, devoted his life to writing dialogues that represent Socrates in conversation.  These dialogues are not transcripts of actual conversations, but they are nonetheless clearly intended to reflect not only Socrates’ ideas but his personality. Plato wanted the world to remember Socrates.  Generations after Socra…