Enduring Virtues

If I may, a mapping (inspired by the virtuous and public work of Kathleen Fitzgerald in Generous Thinking) and inspired by some thoughts on the cardinal and digital virtues . . . a foray into the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Faith is about bringing the best of the past to the listening situation (we trust there is some value in what has gone on before, it's a belief that grounds our commitment) and hope is about taking the best from the listening situation and projecting it into the future (we expect that good will follow). Caritas (charity or love) is being mindful of the power dynamics in each listening situation. Care is of the present.

Faith and hope belong to the world of affect. Care is of the intellect. It requires judgment and assessment. It weighs. It is the judicious application of critique.

In the context of the discussion in Generous Thinking the question arises as to the alignment of empathy with these orientations to the communication situation. Inspired by the work of Paul Bloom (see Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion for his take on the good of parenting as being outside the realm of empathy) and mindful of his discussion of "cognitive empathy," I would suggest that empathetic understanding or care involves a temporal folding: bringing into the present space both a historical sensitivity (being attuned to what people value in the past) and a teleological bent (a watchfulness of what desires propel communicative encounters). Care is not so much being open to the feelings of other people in sense of the Adam Smith's sympathy, a type of empathy which Bloom argues against (and he distinguishes this from "cognitive empathy"). Care or "cognitive empathy" is a receptivity to the fault lines between hope and faith that run through any sense of self and more so in the relations of self and other. Care understands story as story: the past (barbaric or edenic) as abandoned by progress; the apocalyptic future ushering in utopia or nightmares. Care or "cognitive empathy" would thus recognize and acknowledge affect and attempt to trace its origins and where it might lead.

1 Corinthians 13:13
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

And so for day 2107

Culinary Layering

The eight steps in how Anna Jones puts a recipe together:

Hero Ingredient
How Shall I Cook It?
Supporting Role?
Add an Accent
Add a Flavour
Add a Herb
Add Some Crunch
Season and Finish
from a modern way to eat

It calls for a well-stocked larder and a source of fresh ingredients. And an easy hand with variety.

And so for day 2106

Meet the Wort Family

Anna Pavord in the preface to the Herbology section of Harry Potter - A History of Magic: The Book of the Exhibition (At the British Library) waxes eloquently on plant names and the very special magic contained in etymology.

She explains that plant names ending in "wort" were (as the OED says): "in combination Used in names of plants and herbs, especially those used formerly as food or medicinally, e.g. butterwort, lungwort, woundwort."

The variety of *wort names is astounding
  • Barrenwort - Epimedium, especially Epimedium alpinum
  • Lungwort - A plant of the genus Mertensia, the lungworts. Also, a boraginaceous plant of the genus Pulmonaria
  • Motherwort - A herb, Leonurus cardiaca, of the mint family, Lamiaceae
  • Mugwort - Artemisia vulgaris
  • Sneezewort - Achillea ptarmica. Goosetongue; Bastard pellitory
  • Spleenwort
  • St. John's Wort - Can refer to any species of Hypericum
Exercise your imagination, invent some new *worts
  • phonewort
  • blogwort
  • googlewort
  • txtwrt
Fun, eh?

And so for day 2105

Way to Eat - Way to Live

Anna Jones in the introduction to a modern way to eat [never capitalized throughout] makes a series of claims.

I'd like to make a few promises about the food in this book:
  • It is indulgent and delicious
  • It will make you feel good and look good
  • It will leave you feeling light yet satisfied
  • It will help you lighten your footprint on the planet
  • It is quick and easy to make and won't cost the earth
  • And it'll impress your family and friends
There is the delight in the anaphora. There is the balance. And a move from the food to the conviviality surrounding its preparation and consumption.

A feast.

And so for day 2104

Empathy and the Place of Reason

I have been reading through the comment-available publication of Kathleen Fitzpatrick's Generous Thinking and have been led to observe:

Are there two empathies? Empathy of feeling and empathy of imagination. And is not reason and critique that which allows the participant in a communicative situation to ferry between the focus on the self (how do I feel?) and a focus on the other (what is the other feeling?). Inserted into this space is judgement which of course is open to inspection. Empathy invites a sort of mapping  and a consideration of the rightness of that mapping.

Such a tripartite view of empathy is rooted in a belief that all communication is mediated. It addresses Paul Bloom’s reductio ad absurdum: “The necessity of feeling exactly the same things as another person makes empathetic connection, especially with those whose life experiences and personal values may be quite different from our own, all but impossible.” Empathy actually operates in the gap, in difference, and in an awareness that the map is not the territory. It doesn’t flatten or transfer affect. It brings the mind to bear on emotion.

Comments I made before engaging with Paul Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.

Inspired by Fitzpatrick, I picked up Bloom's book.

The library catalogue I consulted gave an abstract of Bloom's book based on the paratext (the dust jacket):
"We often think of our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness. Many of our wisest policy-makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers agree that the only problem with empathy is that we don't have enough of it. Nothing could be farther from the truth, argues Yale researcher Paul Bloom. In [this book], Bloom [posits that] empathy [is] one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society. Far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices"--Dust jacket flap.
Within the book, the case is made in a less outlandish fashion (see page 35). For one, Bloom has a highly focused target: "I've been focusing here on empathy in the Adam Smith sense, of feeling what others feel and, in particular, feeling their pain." This reminder comes after a paragraph outlining the argument and the marshalling of examples:
The issues here go beyond policy. I'll argue that what really matters for kindness in our everyday interactions is not empathy but capacities such as self-control and intelligence and a more diffuse compassion. Indeed, those who are high in empathy can be too caught up in the suffering of other people. If you absorb the suffering of others, then you're less able to help them in the long run because achieving long-term goals often requires inflicting short-term pain. Any good parent, for instance, often has to make a child do something, or stop doing something, in a way that causes the child immediate unhappiness but is better for him or her in the future. Do your homework, eat your vegetables, go to bed at a reasonable hour, sit still for this vaccination, go to the dentist. Making children suffer temporarily for their own good is made possible by love, intelligence, and compassion, but yet again, it can be impeded by empathy.
How odd to arrive in the same place; one of us using a bulldozer and the other tweezers.

And so for day 2103

Self as Experiment

Plethora leads ...

It was inevitable that these new versions of nature would complicate traditional moralities. Conflict, chance, survival, reproduction, the family, sexual satisfaction and death were newly minted words in these stories, quickly shedding some of their more familiar associations. Darwin and Freud had produced scientific and quasi-scientific redescriptions of nature as continual flux. There was no longer such a thing as a relatively fixed and consistent person — a person with a recognizable identity — confronting a potentially predictable world, but rather two turbulences enmeshed with each other. If through increasingly sophisticated scientific experiments a new nature was emerging, the new nature was revealing that lives themselves were more like experiments than anything else.
Adam Phillips. Darwin's Worms: On Life Stories and Death Stories

And so for day 2102

Random Pairing

Seduced by its alliteration on the sound of "s" we here lay down the last line of "Sherbourne Morning" by Pier Giorgio Di Cicco in The Tough Romance

sun above them spins halos for angels gone beserk
Coupling this selection with a plucking from Camille Paglia Break, Blow, Burn, selected in a sort of Sortes Vergilianae fashion we come upon her comments on William Blake's London:
Wandering through London's hell, Blake follows the model of Dante as poet-quester cataloguing the horrors of the Inferno. A visitor to the storied British capital in 1793 would have seen a grand, expanding city in economic boom. But the poet, with telepathic hearing and merciless X-ray eyes, homes in on the suffering, dislocation, and hidden spiritual costs of rapid social transformation. The Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the 1770s and would spread globally over the next two centuries, profoundly altered community, personal identity, and basic values in ways we are still sorting out.
Muddling through the themes of angels and Dante, we learn that Di Cicco published a book under the title The Dark Side of Angels and that critics note
There is a marked difference between Di Cicco's early personal poems, which deal with ethnic identity, social conflict and family relationships, and his later poems about philosophical questions, spiritual ideas and broader global problems.

But those questions, we see, are there from the beginning in a kind of Blakean fashion (thanks to the uncanny juxtaposition with Paglia).

you want to get rid of these
little harpies

you want to confess they aren't yours
take the one called song
the way it turns everything you say
into gold
take the one called love
the way it brings out the best in you

get rid of them
there is the real you, ugly and taloned
with eyes like an angel
ready to eat the world
for the first time

from in The Tough Romance
Of course "aquila" translates as "eagle". And "paglia" as "straw". And hence our Rumplestiltskin moment. A rough romance.

And so for day 2101

Play: Wonder, Delight, Choice

Like being open to randomness...

Indeed, bringing play into a central role in a school entails creating a culture that values the core tenets of play: taking risks, making mistakes, exploring new ideas, and experiencing joy.


what is emerging is a model of playful learning with indicators in three overlapping categories: delight, wonder, and choice.
from Towards a Pedagogy of Play: A Project Zero Working Paper by the Pedagogy of Play Research Team [Ben Mardell, Daniel Wilson, Jen Ryan, Katie Ertel, Mara Krechevsky and Megina Baker].

And so for day 2100

Myth Marking

A feminine figurine fighter is graces the cover of the 1992 edition

The 1994 edition is of flag and Mount Rushmore

It's the back cover that attracted by attention with its encounter with the theme of myth-making

Here transcribed
A triumph, transcending the usual pot-pourri of anthologies, and offering us an analysis of North America itself — land of mythology and contradiction.

The Faber Book of America resembles the country it celebrates: a big fat grab-bag filled with brilliance, junk, dizzying contrarieties, fast dreams and rich comforts.
Times Educational Supplement

There are black, Spanish, Chinese, Indian Americas; there are gendered and religiously divided Americas; there are Americans with and without homes. It is a great virtue of Rick's and Vance's anthology that it represents all these strands in American life without losing the thread of the country's hopeful myth about itself.

Ricks and Vance have a lively sense of the troubles that tend to accompany American virtues.
Times Literary Supplement
The Faber Book of America edited by Christopher Ricks and William L. Vance.

And so for day 2099


Some history and some speculation...

The saga of Jefferson and his favorite herb, tarragon, is a typically exasperating story of failure and futility. Jefferson likely encountered tarragon, or estragon, while in Paris as minister to France. After returning home in 1793 he wrote his French neighbor Peter Derieux that it "is little known in America." Perhaps because of tarragon's noticeable absence from the French cuisine at the President's House, Jefferson in 1805 asked J.P. Reibelt, a Swiss book dealer in New Orleans, to procure him seed. The genuine tarragon used for cooking and vinegar rarely produces seed but is easily propagated from root divisions. Jefferson never realized this, and his fervent search for the seeds is a key reason tarragon may never have been established in the garden. By 1813, after various plantings of roots, plants, and seeds, Jefferson reported tarragon in both square XVII and in the submural beds below the garden wall. These were seed-propagated plants from steamy New Orleans and were more likely what is today called Russian tarragon, an inferior sort that mimics but fails to match the sweet, liquorice-like flavor of the genuine article.
Peter J. Hatch. A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello

And so for day 2098