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Reflections: Shawn

 

 

SHAWN

 

 

When one spends a lot of time in a single place, one will experience many surprising things. One will also meet many unique people. For we all are unique, unrepeatable. And each moment, as well, is unrecoverable.

I have spent tons of time at the Y seeking to recover. I had already spoken to a man who told me he was a medium. Once he had even signaled to horses. “Did I care about horses?”, he asked. I was quite surprised at his words given the history of horses in my family.  I spoke to him and questioned him. I asked him how he knew what he knew. We spoke respectfully. I always thanked him for sharing his way of thinking. When with him, I always thought about Socrates and about Delphi. The whole thing.

And then there was the Brazilian whom I called “Cantante”. Many times he sang beautifully. Once I asked him to whistle the Brazilian national anthem while doing exercises in the shower. He gladly did so. I remembered then all the times Brazil had been World Champions and how familiar these sounds were. I remembered my hero as a young man, Pelé.

Since we usually hung out naked in the men´s room, there are many other stories which are better reserved for private ears!

And then, one of the many days while doing my basketball routine as part of my recovery, a group of special needs adults arrived at the basketball court. They chose the side where I was shooting. Soon, I was left alone with them as all other players chose to move to the other side of the court. I did not mind playing with these challenged adults. The other younger players did. I played normally amongst them for a few minutes and saw how they marveled at shooting and enjoying their limited abilities. Their teacher, a young woman, really cared for them. It showed. They were having fun. It was like the NBA, but in really slow motion and with lots of misses. Like Jordan, but in the upside down world of timelessness. I was having fun too, as I always do with a ball. I was surprised at the amazing recovery I had undergone during the last few months. Almost a year.

But my routine had come to an end and I knew I could not keep on going anymore as I could injure myself. Now I had to cool down, as I usually do, by simultaneously stretching and powering down the muscles. This for, example involves kicking in the air and very gently jogging almost in place. If one just saw these last movements, they would actually look a bit odd in a basketball court. Some involve kicking as if playing soccer. But his was not a soccer field. You can imagine. Odd.

Then, it happened. One of the special needs adults stood up right beside me and started mimicking my actions. I looked to the side and saw it was real. It was true, he was doing exactly what I did! He still had his basketball in one arm, but he started to jog in place as best as he could, for it was obvious he had some serious movement difficulties. But that was not all. Suddenly he —–about 25 or so, and with a kind face—- started laughing with all his might. He did so while at the same time watching me and repeating my very movements. “HA, HA, HA”,  he almost screamed as if no one else were there in the gym. Louder than Santa´s “HO, HO, HO”, it seemed. But of course, there were many others. I had found it a bit odd that he was mimicking me. I wondered why.  What had caught his imagination. But when he started laughing, every single person on the court turned to face us. Their faces were that of surprise.  Some even seemed sorry for me. I wasn´t.

There I was cooling down from my routine and my special needs friend laughing out loud. And both of us doing strange non-basketball movements in a basketball court! Weirdly funny.  As I have been a teacher, I was not vexed by the unexpected situation. As I have myself overcome difficulties in movement, I was not vexed by his loud presence. Actually, I was happily surprised.

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Hoy me he enterado de la muerte del Padre Francis. Todos sabemos que un día moriremos, pero hay personas que uno cree, como viviendo una ilusión, que jamás lo harán. ¿Por qué esa ilusión? Porque deseamos que quienes son mucho mejores que nosotros sigan siempre vivos, porque son irrepetibles, porque son ejemplo. Y lo son, así no comulguemos con todo lo que creen e invitan a creer con amor y generosidad. Es por eso que, aún no creemos que el Padre Francis haya muerto. Pero sabemos, eso sí con seguridad, que toda su vida no fue sino la preparación para ese día final que ha llegado, preparación diaria que es el modelo de la vida benedictina. Porque es que el silencio benedictino habla claramente del silencio de la muerte. Francis va ya hacia el destino que escogió y ejemplificó.

Pero claro, no es tan ilusorio pensar que el Padre Francis no ha muerto. No, no lo es. Porque, en primer lugar, ahora aparecen noticias de su fallecimiento en las primeras páginas de todos los diarios capitalinos. ¿Más famoso para dónde? Y uno se imagina al Padre Francis riéndose desde los cielos de su fama porque es bien obvio que para el Padre Francis esa fama, esos aplausos, serían de muchísima menor importancia. Y eso es así porque la vida benedictina que nos enseñó no vive del reconocimiento público, y mucho menos del aplauso de los medios. Y si no me cree, sólo mire el look y “style” del Padre. ¡Úselo para una fiesta, a ver cómo le va! Pero, sea como fuere, esa fama nos permite mantener viva la ilusión de que no ha muerto. Así sea sólo momentáneamente. Sonreímos entre lágrimas.

Pero obviamente vive él de otra manera más poderosa y cercana, así nos haya dejado para siempre. Él vive porque hay cientos de exalumnos del CSC que no podrán olvidar su presencia, como tampoco los familiares y allegados de quienes somos sus exalumnos. Menos aún sus profesores/as. Ser sancarlista es algo particular; eso se lo debemos al Padre Francis y, en gran medida, a nadie más.  No más en mi familia, hemos sido cuatro —en diferentes generaciones— los que hemos pasado por las aulas  abiertas de esta institución reconocida. Y es que ninguno de nosotros exalumnos olvidará la sotana negra, ninguno olvidará esas gafas, ninguno olvidará su deambular por los corredores del CSC. Muchos, imagino, recordarán, largas charlas. Imposible olvidar su presencia: al principio con cierto temor de niños, luego con la total admiración de hombres. Y más que eso, no se olvidará jamás la convicción de un amor por Dios que es sano, natural y decidido. Y para eso más que palabras, mejor recordar sus “alborotadas” y extáticas tocatas del órgano del colegio en las misas principales. A tono personal, el también  profesor católico Charles Taylor, quien también nos enseñó mucho, habla mucho del poder de Bach. Sólo gracias a esas tocatas del Padre Francis pude entender a qué se refería. Dios hecho sonido por manos humanas. Conmovedor.

Pero claro, yo sólo puedo dar fe de mis recuerdos propios como exalumno; uno entre tantísimos.  Y estos recuerdos son de una muy alta particularidad. Seré lo más breve posible.

Cuando alguien parte de entre nosotros los vivientes, debemos intentar recordar y agradecer lo que esas personas nos dieron para vivir mejor, para desarrollarnos como seres, así terminemos en orillas muy diferentes por diferentes razones. En mi caso hay muchas cosas para decir. Pero debo resaltar al menos cuatro:

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Learning through the Internet has become one of its greatest advantages. One can learn no matter where one lives. One can learn no matter what one’s schedule. In this regard, one finds excellent websites such as Coursera, Kahn Academy, Lynda, Udemy,  and many others. We ourselves have actually done excellent courses both in Coursera (“Sustainable Development”) and Udemy (“Flying Drones”).

 

Another of these websites is The Great Courses which offers courses in multiple areas by excellent professors. But unlike, for example, Coursera –which is free—at The Great Courses one must buy them. They offer great sales, though; especially for the audio-only options. Coursera does have Forums, The Great Courses, does not.

 

But even more strikingly, this year The Great Courses has started offering a STREAMING SERVICE just like the already famous Netflix service for movies! This is available at THE GREAT COURSES PLUS website and relevant apps for tablets and smartphones.. (link)  You must add the “PLUS” to get to the correct website. For a modest monthly sum, you can take many of their courses. Moreover, they are currently offering a one-month free trial in which you can take any of the courses they offer! We were able to extend this offer to two months ourselves. The only disadvantage is that you must know English. Of course, learning a language itself has been made much easier by internet courses themselves! (For instance,  Mango’s special relationship to the Toronto Public Libraries.)

 

 

Unfortunately, we cannot go into details as to why we chose these courses, nor can we review them. Suffice it to say that they are all EXCELLENT. It bears emphasizing, though, that this kind of learning is especially beneficial for many learners who are independent and not so interested in learning for diplomas. For those who have actual diplomas from Universities, they represent ways to further enhance understanding. They truly allow for what is known as a LIBERAL EDUCATION, anywhere, anytime.

The following are the courses we finished in the last 3 months, organized into 7 general groups. Each “lecture” is about 30 minutes long.  (more…)

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Reflections: TWOOK — “A Reflective Educational Experiment (in times of illness)” (FULL VERSION)

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DIPLOMA COURSERA

Reflections: Political Thoughts on Sustainable Development (A Commentary on Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs’s Coursera course: “The Age of Sustainable Development”)

Having had the opportunity to start to undertake Professor Sachs´s quite informative and extremely educational course on Sustainable Development (SD) –now going into its 6th week— I would like to briefly express some of my concerns and questions regarding SD. Of course, as I read the Discussion Forums, many point to issues regarding the many factors involved in the implementation of the policies which SD allows us to better see and hopefully, to implement, specially in those cases of “poverty trap” in which the conditions are more troubling and recurring. No one wishes to live in inhuman hardship all his/her life; extreme poverty must be eradicated via a concerted effort, and by all ethical means available. In this regard, many of the now famous “TED talks” allow us to try to imagine the hardships and thus feel the importance of connecting lovingly for serious practical improvement: for example, TED talks by: 1) Bono, 2) Jacqueline Novogratz (specially the one regarding prostitution), and my two favorite, 3) Jessica Jackley, founder of KIVA  here , and 4) Bunker Roy founder of the Barefoot Movement here . Also, non-academic books such as The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris, which tells the story of microfinancing success KIVA whose motto is tellingly “loans that change lives”, humble us and transform us in ways we could not even foresee. In brief, many are concerned, and rightly so, with practical issues. Many forum posts in this course come to mind in this regard. Let us just recall a simple one:

“Hello all peers,  My name is Abdikadir Daud from Ethiopian Somali region, I’m forwarding my thanks to the course   facilitator because I got extended knowledge from this course and I will transfer this skill to my communities .
Thanks
Abdikadir” ( here )

Abdikadir from Ethiopia, like many of us from around the world, wants to make a difference.

However, my questions proceed from a very different area. They pertain to philosophical questions, that is to say, they deal with the core concepts, formulations and assumptions which must be put forward in the case of any given approach to the complex political and economic reality in which we live. P. Sachs himself does not tire of saying that SD is not merely a PRACTICAL path to CHANGE the world, but also –and more importantly— a THEORETICAL path to UNDERSTAND the world (Lecture 1, Week 1; and beginning of 1st Google Hangout, here ). He even goes so far as to say that it is a NORMATIVE framework which means it involves certain moral presuppositions. These convey the limits, for instance, for all business practices; not everything that is legal should be done. (see, for instance, 2nd Google Hangout: Question No. 4, “On the role of regulation of business.”) Consequently, my main concern regarding the EXCELLENT lectures we have been fortunate to partake in, is to signal –however embryonically– to some of the more puzzling philosophical underpinnings underlying the Sustainable Development Movement. This means that, according to such a critique, it becomes extremely important to undergo a rational critique of the core concepts which guide the interpretative self-understanding of SD. I believe that training in the humanities (specially, political philosophy) alone provides the impulse to see the real importance of such a critique, a political/philosophical critique. I also believe that, given this theoretical inclination, few of our fellow Coursera virtual classmates will proceed to consider the rest of this –much longer than normal– post!

Obviously –though I have lived half of my life in Colombia (which exemplifies many of the problems P. Sachs speaks of, and MORE!) and the other half in Canada (which exemplifies many of the benefits of which P. Sachs speaks of, and MORE!)— we must immediately confess that we do not possess the intellectual capacity nor the global comprehension that somebody like P. Sachs allows us to perceive in each of his engaging video-lectures for the Coursera course. We are but learners, poor in understanding. Be this as it may, nonetheless we will venture to point to what I consider to be some extremely troubling silences and/or omissions which may make us –should make us– question SD forcefully.

Now, although I have already tweeted  to #susdev some general short questions, for instance: 1) “ #susdev Suppose we ALL were middle-income citizens of the world. Is that enough? Would our spirit not lose sight of what is MOST important?”, or 2) “ #susdev Isn´t there a rhetorical identification between “extreme poverty” and “poverty” which does not allow for a real critique of SD goals?”, still –as mentioned above– our concern in this post is somewhat more detailed or profound.

We could say that SD, in general —and Clinical Economics, in particular— could be giving us a “differential diagnosis” that may SEEM to point to the root cause of things, variable as they may be, but which may end up REALLY missing the CORE causes of the general “disease” with which some thinkers believe we are currently afflicted as moderns and post-moderns. And by missing some of the CORE causes, it might not be providing the best “medicine(s)” available/desirable. In the philosophical arena, the most radical critics in this regard would be those who follow Heidegger´s powerful critique of technology. Though extremely important, we shall not go into that camp here in detail.

Rather, using P. Sachs own clinical analogy, we can say that it is common nowadays to see traditional Western medicine incapable of treating complex diseases which do not have to deal with physical trauma or life-death situations. Chronic illness, such as different forms of arthritis/fibromyalgia, are a case in point. Of course, P. Sachs´s views seem to us to be much more akin to alternative medicine, in this respect. For one of the basic tenets of alternative medicine is that each patient is UNIQUE. So, each country, according to “Differential Clinical Economics” is likewise, quite UNIQUE. P. Sachs does not tire of saying that a holistic approach to the healing of poverty cannot be founded on a single linear conception of cause. Failing to understand this uniqueness may in fact worsen the situation beyond recovery. In medicine, one need only bring to mind the controversy over the drug Celebrex which not only did not actually cure your arthritis (it simply alleviated the pain), but actually –with certainty– damaged your heart! The history of many other drugs follows this pattern, unfortunately. In political life, the current political turmoil of countries such as our feverish neighbor Venezuela, may be thought to be something akin. As you will see, given the spirit of this post, one truly wonders what P. Sachs´s thoughts are on the current crisis in Venezuela, precisely because its regime claims to hold power for the poor. However that may be, P. Sachs —who also helped Bolivia during its feverish times— summarizes this view well:

“The modern doctor is expected to diagnose the specific causes of a specific patient’s illness and to offer a specific prescription that is accurately honed to that patient’s conditions and needs. The modern economist should do the same in diagnosing the persistence of poverty.” (our emphasis; Chapter 4: “Why Some Countries Developed While Others Stayed Poor, I. The Idea of Clinical Economics”)

 

Thus, one imagines that if P. Sachs himself were to fall ill, he would most likely search for an alternative medicine center rather than a traditional monolithic hospital built on unquestioned homogeneous forms of understanding, (or better yet, both if possible, for not all traditional doctors are self-enclosed and not all alternative doctors are truly open). The drama of the latest candidate for the Oscar Awards which deals with HIV/Aids –the compelling movie, Dallas Buyers Club—exemplifies all these tensions perfectly. For we, who have been sick, know well that the sick are among the poorest, mind you.

But, as you will see below, our critique could be said to involve a much more intense and alternative diagnosis than the one which P. Sachs offers. It would be an alternative to the alternative; but much more troubling. It would be an alternative that would show –if someday made fully explicit– that the alternative provided by SD is, in the end, really, really, not so much of an alternative except in the imagination, albeit with some crucial exceptions, among them, that of the eradication of extreme poverty itself. The idealistic overtones of SD would be seen thus to be constantly destabilized by the realistic peculiarities of localities, by a kind of non-Machiavellian political realism (i.e., much closer to Thucydides´s) and by certain “intractables” of human nature. Or to be less severe and less cranky (!) —for we know, as its students, that SD has partially succeeded IN REALITY through exciting models such as those of the Millennium Villages– one could say that the goals of SD, for instance, the Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG´S), must be corrected with recourse to another tradition which not only sets the hierarchy of these goals aright, but also may add some which may have been altogether forgotten in SD differential diagnosis, however complete it claims to be. ( here )

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Filosofía política clásica; el modelo socrático y aristotélico como respuesta a las encrucijadas modernas.

El interés principal para esta propuesta de investigación ——como aspirante a su departamento——- es la de hacer una defensa profunda de lo que representa la filosofía política clásica como posible respuesta a la actual crisis del liberalismo moderno occidental. Dicha investigación se enfrentaría conceptualmente a los defensores del proyecto de la modernidad que buscan las condiciones universales para la defensa de nuestras democracias en una teoría comunicativa (Habermas), y a aquellas posturas que buscan hacer explícitas las condiciones fundacionales imaginarias e hipotéticas para una teoría de la justicia (Rawls). Por otra parte, aunque esta investigación ve la importancia del serio y profundo cuestionamiento radical a la razón moderna que plantean las obras de Nietzsche/Heidegger ——–que en su conjunto incluso llegan a cuestionar el proyecto occidental de racionalidad política fundado originariamente por Sócrates—– esta considera que la falta de una reflexión política sostenida permite a los neo-nietzscheanos post-modernistas (Foucault, Derrida) una ilusoria victoria conceptual que permanece incompleta, que es imprudente (en el sentido Aristotélico de phronesis), y que por ende es altamente peligrosa para la salud general de la comunidad política. En contraposición, afirmamos que es en la obra ético-política de Aristóteles que se da la máxima expresión de lo que representa la filosofía política clásica como contrapropuesta. (1)

Dejando de lado las múltiples interpretaciones que puedan haber surgido de Aristóteles, lo cierto es que al centro de la argumentación detrás de esta investigación radica una lectura que se funda en el pensamiento de Leo Strauss (y en particular, de su estudiante Thomas Pangle). En general el reto neo-aristotélico se ve enmarcado dentro de una tradición aún más amplia que se puede comprender hoy en día como la del “movimiento socrático”. Este movimiento de retorno retoma con seriedad el evento socrático ejemplar, a saber, el de la fundación de la reflexión filosófica de lo político por parte de Sócrates. Comprenden ellos que en efecto hay un segundo Sócrates que se ha distanciado de las presuposiciones apolíticas de los pre-socráticos, presuposiciones que llegaron a conformar la postura conceptual del primer Sócrates interesado exclusivamente en la pregunta por la naturaleza (physis). Esto es lo que es conocido como la “segunda navegación” de Sócrates (Fedón, 99c). Strauss lo resume así: “Socrates was the first philosopher who concerned himself chiefly or exclusively, not with the heavenly or divine things, but with the human things”; Strauss (TCaM, 13).  Es por ello que para lograr una real recuperación del reto del pensamiento político clásico se debe recurrir a la ya mencionada perspectiva que ve el debate antiguos-modernos como el conflicto fundamental para las aspiraciones de una verdadera filosofía política que tenga respuestas concretas, prudentes y sabias a nuestras crisis. (2) Sin embargo este retorno comprometido y serio al racionalismo de la filosofía política clásica tiene ya desde su comienzo diversas variantes interpretativas. Esto se puede ver claramente en la triple comprensión que se da de Sócrates por parte de Platón el filósofo dialéctico, por parte de Jenofonte el escritor militar y por parte de Aristófanes el comediante. La evidente tensión entre estas apropiaciones socráticas se ve claramente hoy en día en el contexto filosófico universitario en la medida en que Jenofonte no es considerado, como sí lo era en la antigüedad (por los romanos, por Maquiavelo, por Hobbes y por Shaftesbury), como un pensador digno de un estudio serio, profundo y continuado; sobretodo por la recuperación del valor de la retórica como lenguaje privilegiado de lo político. (3)

Ahora bien, la excepción a esta regla de exclusión silenciosa, es precisamente la propia tradición straussiana. Al recuperar la multiplicidad de lenguajes socráticos, y muy especialmente la obra de Jenofonte, la tradición straussiana gana una interpretación enriquecida de los clásicos, y en particular, de la obra aristotélica. El retorno recuperativo de la filosofía política clásica por parte de la tradición straussiana por lo tanto permite el planteamiento de preguntas olvidadas. Por ello a la base de esta interpretación surge la pregunta fundamental que el discurso filosófico moderno ha relegado al olvido, a saber, la pregunta misma de ¿por qué la filosofía? A la importancia de las preguntas heideggerianas tanto por el sentido del ser como por el “¿qué es la filosofía?”, se enfrenta una pregunta aún más fundamental y originaria en términos políticos. Es decir, el “qué es” de la filosofía sólo se puede comprender cabalmente una vez hayamos realizado una investigación prudente del “por qué” de la necesidad del filosofar dentro de la comunidad política. Leo Strauss ofrece cierta claridad acerca de esta pregunta que funda las posibilidades del saber filosófico una vez se ha liberado de su “amnesia” frente a la filosofía política clásica: “The philosophers, as well as other men who have become aware of the possibility of philosophy, are sooner or later driven to wonder, Why philosophy? Why does human life need philosophy? … To justify philosophy before the tribunal of the political community means to justify it in terms of the political community, that is to say, by means of a kind of argument which appeals, not to philosophers as such, but to citizens as such.” (mi énfasis) (4) Sin duda la academia, en gran medida, no ha escuchado este llamado. (more…)

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