Modern Arcana Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, By Tom Wingerd: Book Review

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Image from the FEMA Photo Library.  Picture taken by Win Henderson.  Public Domain.

 

In Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, Tom Wingerd writes about relationships–not the sort that exist between family and friends, but the sort we all have to everything and everyone. Wingerd writes: “Your house, car, office, city are all affected by your daily interactions in space.” He states further, “Your life is the combination of your movement through space, and the ripple impact of every one of your actions…”. These are weighty pronouncements, but they don’t come across as such in the book.

Mr. Wingerd offers prescriptions for existing in an interrelated universe. With each of his statements he provides a pictorial representation of the concept. The effect on the reader is not one of complements but of exponents. This may be by design or it may merely prove his thesis: everything we see and do, everything that exists, affects everything else. Mr. Wingerd has an analytic approach to his subject. Some of his propositions are structured as mathematical formulas and, he makes clear, these formulas operate in a relative universe.

Though this is a book with a philosophical perspective, Mr. Wingerd at times adopts a light tone. He writes, for example, about his bisexual wife and gay son. A few pages later he admits that his son isn’t “real” but is a “six year old figment of my imagination, named Orion”. In another segment he advises:

Trust your heart first
Your brain second
And your
Genitals
Well
They’ll do what they want anyway.

Before I began reading Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, I didn’t pay much attention to the title. After finishing the book I googled the phrase, “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”. It turns out this is a statement likely to be found on the back of trucks that spew window-shattering debris. The driver’s message is clear: I’m not responsible for how my existence, how my behavior, affects you. Mr. Wingerd’s book is a refutation of that notion.

I enjoyed this book and I related to the author’s mindset. His pictures are as evocative as his words. The book would be a stimulating read for anyone who is inclined to be philosophical. It would be a great gift for someone who is not philosophically inclined, especially if that person is likely to post a sign that asserts: “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”.

 

A. G. Moore October 3, 20017

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The Tightrope of the Absurd: A rational Spirituality for the 21st Century and On being Human

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Sisyphus, by Titian, 1548-1549. Copyright Expired

By Sybe Starkenburg

The Tightrope of the Absurd is not light reading. I actually began to write about the book before I had finished reading because I wanted to lodge a disagreement with the author. That’s a good thing. A great book is not one that I agree with. It’s one that makes me think, that expands my universe of observation and consideration. The Tightrope of the Absurd does that.

An example of my philosophical falling out with the author follows: Mr. Starkenburg states that “Good is everything that benefits mankind…” and that “the main value of life is life itself”. I took exception to this proposition because I found the two parts of this statement to be in conflict. It struck me, as I read, that the human race is essentially parasitic on earth, that humans are inimical to earth’s existence. It can be argued that, as humans evolve, we consume and destroy the planet that sustains us. Our predatory relationship with the host planet is so extreme that many scientists believe space travel is an imperative. We look forward to leaving this dying orb and colonizing others, so we can feed off them, and move on again. Just a thought I had. Mr. Starkenburg’s book does that to me–makes me think.

Mr. Starkenburg is a well-read man. He brings together ideas from some of the most profound thinkers through the ages. A few to whom Mr. Starkenburg gives deference, I consider to be lightweights, or even disreputable. One of these is Ayn Rand. Mr. Starkenburg and I can disagree about that. What matters is that I care to disagree, that I’m moved enough by his suggestions to take exception to them.

The essence of Mr. Starkenburg’s argument, as I understand it, is this: The only path to humanness, to being truly human, is through rational, conscious and deliberate thought. Religion, in his view, is not rational but is based on belief and custom. Religion, he suggests, is an obstacle to achieving humanness.

Mr. Starkenburg evaluates the need that religion seems to fill in people’s lives. One need, or hunger, that it satisfies is the search for meaning. Can life have meaning without religion? In response to this question, Mr. Starkenburg cites the philosophies of, among others, Jean-Paul Sartre and Viktor Frankl. Sartre asserts that life has no essential meaning, but is merely improvised. According to him, none of us has a script. We merely respond to circumstances as they arise. Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, suggests that meaning can be found in life but only if it is lived in a way that is true to each person’s intrinsic nature: Be True to Thyself

Weighing the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Viktor Frankl is an interesting exercise, no matter the outcome. That’s the value I found in The Tightrope of the Absurd. It wasn’t in the strength of Mr. Starkenburg’s arguments, although he solidly supports every position he holds. The value was in the way he built those arguments, the wide array of material he brought into the discussion, and the place he left for me to agree or disagree.

It would be impossible in the space of a short review to do justice to Mr. Starkenburg’s book. To sum up, anemically: Sybe Starkenburg offers a moral and philosophical thesis about how to have a full, thoughtful and positive life. He suggests that empathy is a critical component to this life, empathy not only toward people, but toward other species.

Not everyone will enjoy this book, but readers who are open to new perspectives probably will. And if they are, like most of us, beset at times by a vague uneasiness about existence and religion, this book may suit them. It will not answer every question, but it will address the urge to find answers. It will offer ideas about how to think and where to search for answers to questions that are pushed to the back of the mind. Mr. Starkenburg would surely recommend that these questions be welcomed, because they won’t go away. They’ll lurk in the background and influence every other area of life until they are confronted rationally, consciously, and deliberately.

Common Core Values

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A copy of the original Harvard College Charter, issued in 1650

There is no dearth of theories on how to educate children. Arguments about technique would be less fraught if everyone could agree on what constitutes a well-educated child. With a common goal in mind, people might willingly travel a common path. But paths diverge early in the education conversation, and the divergence generally centers around values.

Whenever the term ‘values’ is brought up people tend to become defensive, as though the values issue is a construct of the current contentious political scene. It is not. Values have always influenced curriculum.

There was a time, for example, when studying classics was the core curriculum in elementary school. This was a value-determined choice. The moral content of classics was considered to have a salubrious effect on children’s developing psyches.

The oldest universities in the US originally had religious affiliations or religious goals. Harvard was a divinity school for Puritans. William and Mary required all students to be members of the Church of England. Yale University from its earliest days had a close association with Puritanism.

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This is a portrait of Cotton Mather, approximate year 1700. The artist was Peter Pelham. In 1703 Mather persuaded Elihu Yale to endow a new university–Yale. Mather believed Harvard had become too radical in its teaching. He wanted Yale to be a place where Puritan principles would be nurtured.

Values are, and always have been, an intrinsic part of education. That doesn’t mean religion has always been associated with schools; in some cases a determination to offer secular, or religion-free education has been a driving motivation. This choice is still an expression of values, the values of diversity, free expression and free association.

Today, as parents, educators and citizens in general try to sort the different educational theories, they must be clear that the discussion is not merely about methodology. Method, the path traveled to achieve a ‘good’ education, is shaped in part by the desired destination.

Do people want open-minded, adventurous citizens who question authority? Do they want obedient citizens who respect tradition and accept the wisdom of their leaders? Do they want technocrats and scientists who forge ahead without complicating work with consideration of consequences and moral content? Or, do people want schools to turn out cosmologists, visionaries who wonder about the unexplained, who ponder the boundaries of knowledge without foreseeing a specific utilitarian outcome?

These are value questions and they are not simple. When parents hand their children over to a school, they hope the school will impart values with which they are in agreement. When taxpayers turn over their money to support education, they want education to produce citizens that are acceptable to their values.

The US is a heterogeneous culture. Not only is the country ethnically diverse, but religious and social values are all over the map. It’s no wonder a tempest surrounds the introduction of the Common Core curriculum. Common Core is an attempt to homogenize education.  In a land founded by rebels, this is a hard sell.