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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Some Short (or Not-So-Short) Takes

1) I love walking around the Friends University campus at this time of year. It was right around now--the end of May--when I first came here for a late (and, as it turned out, very lucky) interview three years ago; having expected Kansas to be brown and dull, I was struck by the trees, the landscaping, the flowers and benches that make this campus a small jewel here in Wichita. It's especially easy to appreciate it when most everything is quiet and empty. Melissa has never liked me working on academic stuff on the computer at home--"being there, without being there," is how she puts it--and so has routinely kicked me out of the house once summer arrived, ever since I finally got an office of my own. Being able to sit here on sunny Kansas days, being able to look out over the campus from my third-story office, I don't mind that at all.

2) A lot of my thinking about various academic and professional complaints and concerns will always be colored by the fact that I was just so hysterically happy to get this job in the first place, that I still like it so much, and that I recognize--despite all the annoyances that my position throws at me--how ridiculously and unjustifiably blessed I am to have a relatively secure job doing something which I gambled much of my and my future's on, and which I genuinely love. I have good friends who are still hanging on by their fingernails, hoping to make their dream of a career in academia come true for them; I look at wonderfully talented people, like Laura McKenna, who suspect that this just-ended semester may be the last time they'll ever teach, and I am struck by and arbitrariness of it all. In the end, all I can do is say a prayer of thanks, send my best wishes and advice and hopes and thoughts to those who need them (as so many did for me, a little over three years ago), and take another walk to enjoy the blue skies above me.

3) I've been made an Editor-at-Large for Front Porch Republic, so you can expect me to continue to cross-post between there and here. Hope you don't mind. They're a great bunch of folks over there; as crazy as I think some of them sometimes are, they're also taking my kind of ideas--populist, localist, agrarian, etc.--seriously, and so they're teaching me a lot. I'm grateful to be able to do my part to keep the site going.

4) Related to that, my friend Damon Linker has thrown my name out as part of a post about where he thinks conservative thought and right-wing commentary is going these days. As I told him, I appreciated the link, though I kind of wonder why--it's been one of my constant themes that I don't really believe that the stuff I mentioned above--a concern for populist economics, local democracy, agrarian culture, etc.--necessarily translates into anything "right-wing"; rather, I see such "conservatism" as being on the left. But I also have to recognize that, at a certain point, I'm probably protesting too much. And I can't deny that his post gets me thinking about what I hope from my involvement at a site like FPR. In a nutshell, as the events of 9/11 and my subsequent long and slow disengagement from where those events intellectually took me merged with my own vaguely antiliberal populist/agrarian/localist sympathies, I realized that, assuming no Red Tory party will appear in America to solve my allegiance problems, I really only had two options for my political hopes: try to make the Democrats for religious and communitarian, or try to make the Republicans more egalitarian and socialist. For a long time, I stuck with the first option, and despite my membership in the DSA, practically speaking that's the way I still usually think. But FPR is making me wonder if Damon's suggestion that some of this sort of unconventional thinking might help "contribute to the emergence of a new [more concerned with democracy and social justice, perhaps?] right to take the place of the one that left such a profound mark on the nation over the past three decades." If nothing else, the recent addition of another avowed progressive leftist, Lew Daly, to the list of FPR contributors, seems to be another point of evidence that, given the current state of conservatism, maybe both options are now viable one.

5) On the pop culture front (that's an obvious segue from discussing theories of politics, isn't it?), my family and I have totally fallen in love with the BBC series Robin Hood. (We're not quite through with the first season yet, so don't tell us what happens.) It's so completely a creature of classic episodic television tropes (will every episode include a scene of Robin and his Merry Men somehow breaking into and then escaping from Nottingham Castle? of course!) that I can turn off my brain and delight in it as just some great, family-friendly adventure story-telling. It's the best non-sitcom tv show that we've discovered since Monk.

6) Last week, at the final jazz band concert of the season at my oldest daughter's middle school (she plays the clarinet), the regular program was interrupted by an appearance by "Spoiled Milk," a rock quartet that her teacher and a couple of students had put together on their own. They played Journey's "Don't Stop Believing", and the crowd went wild for it. They weren't too bad either. (And note that this was a week before the song was revived--once again!--on Glee, which I suppose we're going to have to start watching now too.) Now my two oldest girls are nuts for Steve Perry's sound, have downloaded the song to listen to it all the time, and are learning the lyrics and singing it all around the house. Part of me is concerned about this, but another part of me remembers that when my older sister was around Megan's age (she'll be 13 this August), she had a 45 record of Robbie Dupree's "Hot Rod Hearts" that she rocked around the bedroom to, and she turned out okay, so maybe I shouldn't be worried? I suppose I'll just have to figure out this parenting-of-teenagers thing as I go along.


Melissa said...

Okay -- watched the segment, looked it up on Hulu, and, yeah, I think we should probably give the show a shot. :)

Oh, and I like Robin Hood because it's *saucy*, but then, you already knew that. ;)

Matt said...

Are there sunflowers where you live? That's what I think of in Kansas, even though I've only ever been to the tiniest sliver of it.

If you haven't, Russell, you should look into 19th Century Russian philosophy. I think their views were hopeless and actually contributed to a lot of later trouble, but were still very interesting in some ways. I think you'd find some material that might be useful for you in them- the "Narodists" and the populists (and some slavophiles) in particular. It's hard to get their work, but there's good discussion and excerpts here:


and here:


(Also some in Berlin's _Russian Thinkers_, but I don't much like Berlin and don't like that book very much, either.) You might also enjoy Kropotkin, if you've not much read him. His memoir is great and I expect you'd fine a lot to like in _Mutual Aid_.

laura said...

Thanks so much Russell for your nice words/thoughts. I've have no clue what the next year will turn up. I'm curious to find out.

Hector said...


Yes. The "Narodniki", if I recally correctly, were the forerunners of the Socialist Revolutionary party that was the largest political faction in Russia at the time of the Revolution. They based their claim to authority on the peasants, instead of (like the Bolsheviks) on the industrial workers. And although they were every bit as socialistic, militant, antiliberal, and messianic as the Bolsheviks, it's impossible to imagine a Socialist-Revolutionary government enacting things like the Ukrainian famine, the Moscow Trials, the Great Purge, and the Siberian labour camps. What a tragedy of history it is that they lost the power struggle, and the Bolsheviks (who were always less numerous than the SR's) won it.

John B. said...

I concur in your comments about the aesthetic pleasures of the Friends campus and my extraordinary good fortune in having the job I do. And, like you, I think about the very smart people I went to grad school with and who are looking for work in academia now and shake my head in wonderment at how I've never had less than full-time employment in my profession but these folks haven't and/or may never have that privilege.

Congratulations as well on the Editor-at-Large position at Front Porch Republic, too. It'll be healthy for you and it to feel that tension between your and its thinking and assumptions.