What Can Make A Job Miserable?

The Volokh Conspiracy wonders about whether or not law professors are any more or less miserable than those in any other profession. How do you know if you’re miserable, anyways?  just having a bad year? or that isn’t just another intellectual fad with a grain of truth?

1. “The first sign of a miserable job is anonymity, which is the feeling that employees get when they realize that their manager has little interest in them a human being and that they know little about their lives, their aspirations and their interests.”

2. The second sign is irrelevance, which takes root when employees cannot see how their job makes a difference in the lives of others. Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone’s life–a customer, a co-worker, even a supervisor–in one way or another.”

3.  “The third sign is something I call “immeasurement,” which is the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contribution or success. Employees who have no means of measuring how well they are doing on a given day or in a given week, must rely on the subjective opinions of others, usually their managers’, to gauge their progress or contribution.”

Those aren’t bad reasons for becoming unhappy at work.

There is a response here as to whether or not they’re valid, and whether or not they especially apply to law professors.

Here’s Nick Burns, your company’s computer guy.

Addition:  Update here.

Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The Jar

Anecdote of the Jar 

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens

Throw something at it and see if it sticks.  I like Helen Vendler’s interpretation….

What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land?  Import European learning and literature “atop” it? 

The nature/culture divide?  Nature is wonderful but it is to culture where we must return.  If you are an artist, you turn towards direct experience in this land, but…you also turn to that which inspires you…European learning and thought….the products of other cultures.

Here’s a previous quote, or one way to approach it:

“Thus any spectator who beholds massive mountains climbing skyward, deep gorges with raging streams in them, wastelands lying in deep shadow and inviting melancholy meditation and so on, is seized by amazement bordering on terror, by horror and a sacred thrill.  But since he knows he is safe, this is not actual fear:  it is merely our attempt to incur it with our imagination, in order that we may feel that very power’s might and connect the mental agitation this arouses with the mind’s state of rest.  In this way we feel our superiority to Nature within ourselves, and hence also to Nature outside us insofar as it can influence our feeling of well-being.”

Immanuel Kant

So, direct experience and nature are important, but what will we think about that experience, and how can we know nature?

Addition:  I’ll try and get beyond Nietzsche‘s big gamble, Emerson’s transcendental perfectionism (and even Santayana‘s aesthetics) if you do too.   I also promise not to rest blindly upon Kantian transcendental idealism or Platonic idealism in epistemological or political affairs either.

Addition:  I should just post the poem.

Another Addition:  The work that Emerson did, and the depth of his arguments are not fully appreciated nor discussed in this post.

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Review of Britain’s “Lost Cities” In The Guardian

There is a book by Englishman Gavin Stamp chronicling the change of 13 British cities from the 1930’s until now.  The Guardian reviews it.  In particular, Stamp argues that many plans to “modernize” Britian were particulary short-sighted and wasteful.  

Stamp’s thesis is familiar, but it has rarely been so combatively expressed.”

There really were some beautiful, grand old buildings; there’s even an American Chapter of the Victorian Society as well.   Too much preservationism, however,  can be a bad sign.  A little pride is good, ennui…maybe not so good.

City after city was blighted with modernist buildings that, in an almost totalitarian way were obsessed with function and efficiency and often looked like multistorey car parks, even when they weren’t.

Yes, some of the buildings are ugly, but I also smell a little Robert Moses-is-the-devil kind of thinking here. 

The frontispiece of Stamp’s book shows Darley Street, Bradford, where the Kirkgate Market, with its welcoming human scale, was demolished in 1973…” “…Its replacement is a shopping mall of awesome brutalism.”

Awesome brutalism?

I just like the pictures.

See AlsoRoger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

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Race and IQ: Malcolm Gladwell On The Flynn Effect

Here is a link to Gladwell’s page, which links to his New Yorker piece.

Gladwell highlights both the Charles Murray argument:  IQ is an accurate enough test to raise deeper questions about genetics (Murray focuses often on the politics of equality and highlights the importance of intelligence itself)…

…with the James Flynn (Flynn Effect, IQ is a rising tide) argument that the test is simply not accurate enough to make such any such claims at all.

Gladwell seems to fall with Flynn.

Here’s another take, the entirety of which can be found here:

Sowell’s argument is a relatively simple one:  “innate” mental abilities do not develop spontaneously but must undergo development, which is differentially fostered by different cultures, even when the abilities are general and abstract and do not consist of items of cultural knowledge.

“…Sowell’s approach splits the difference between “nature” and “nurture“…

I’m not sure where I am on this. 

The test and the thinking behind the test have their limits, and I suspect that Murray could be overlooking those limits in his attempt to prevent the test from merely serving the current social trends and many self-interested players involved.

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Kwame Anthony Appiah In The NY Times: The New New Philosophy

He discusses a new trend in academic philosophy: experimentation.

“But now a restive contingent of our tribe is convinced that it can shed light on traditional philosophical problems by going out and gathering information about what people actually think and say about our thought experiments.”

I’m not certain which tribe that is…

“Can you really do philosophy with clipboards and questionnaires? It seems that you can.” 

If you’re thinking of studying philosophy for money, or prestige, or tenure, or to help people by way of some social utility…then you should probably think again.  

 “There always comes a point where the clipboards and questionnaires and M.R.I. scans have to be put aside. To sort things out, it seems, another powerful instrument is needed. Let’s see — there’s one in the corner, over there. The springs are sagging a bit, and the cushions are worn, but never mind. That armchair will do nicely.”

So while Appiah devotes a NY Times article to this subject, he isn’t too impressed.

If advancement in the field means only this type of work or, at least,  a constant management of current trends like this one…then I’m not too impressed either.

What do the students think?

Addition:  Josh Knobe at UNC, an experimental philosopher, on Bloggingheads

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Brasilia: A Planned City

I don’t know much about Brasilia.  It is the capital of Brazil.  It is, unlike the other major population centers in Brazil…inland. I’ve never been there. 

It is an entirely designed city, and resembles an airplane from above, the curves of the city echoing the large lake beside (or in front of) it.  It is a work still in progress, begun in 1957.

Oscar Niemeyer, today one of the most famous world’s architects, combined straight and rounded shapes to create innovative architectural masterpieces. Lucio Costa, reknowned Brazilian urbanist, devised a lay-out combining beautiness, simplicity and functionality.”

It has cool buildings, some of which look bureaucratic/socialist and dated,  some of which seem to transcend their time and place.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Addition:  The Atlantic Monthly has more on Brasilia, see:  “A Vision In Concrete

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More On The Kant-Fichte Argument…What Was Hume Doing?

I brought up Bertrand Russell’s criticism of Kant in his History of Western Philosophy, and here’s a brief defense of what Kant was likely trying to do:

David Hume’s metaphysics were penetrating enough, and as Wikipedia (the absolute authority) has it:

Hume thus concludes that our inductive practices have no rational foundation, for no form of Reason will certify them.”

We come to know the world very well through inductive reasoning, but this is not connected to our reason according to Hume, it is merely an intuitive and experiential means by which we understand the world, which is in turn enfolded by Nature. 

Kant speculated that this argument can lead, if one follows it, to a denial of reason itself, and more importantly, a world we are actually coming to know outside of ourselves.   Kant did more than any philosopher to categorize our own intuitive processes to show the limits of our reason,  but he also believed we could come to real knowledge of things (the problem is his arguments for empirically real things aren’t so good) through our reason.  His critique is merely a survey of what he thought those limits of reason were.

As Russell has Kant, he’s merely yet another philosopher floating somewhere between science and religion, doing a lot to update traditional metaphysics, theology, thinking about science…and other fields…but errantly placing reason upon a pedestal of transcendence as have so many before him (not least of all because of the Germany he was a part of).

Kant probably thought he was saving science from the errors he saw in both Hume and Leibnizian rationalism. 

Here’s a Rationalism/Empiricism page at Stanford which says much of what I’ve tried to say here…probably better.

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Law At The End Of The Day: From Kant To Fichte To…Right Now?

Here is a link to the essay, or you can scroll through the list on your right.

The book Professor Backer uses as his starting off point is:  Gunnar Beck, Fitche and Kant on Freedom, Rights, and Law (2007).

Backer suggests that Beck’s Fichte demonstrates:

“…the way in which a rationalist liberal ontology can support both the most liberal of conceptions of the state—a minimalist enterprise focused on the protection of individual exercises in perfectibility—and the most totalitarian state apparatus…”

In other words, Fichte’s appropriation of Kant is one that can promote dangerous perfectability metaphysics into an individual’s relation with the state, and may well have contributed to and reflected the dangers of the time:  German enlightenment absolutism, of which Kant was likely quite familiar (as well as a likely step foward), and also the excesses of the French Revolution.  

“More importantly, Beck is able to provide a foundation for understanding the movement from liberalism to totalitarianism in European political philosophy. That movement—from the left to the hard right, from individual freedom to its inversion in the name of freedom, is one of the most tenacious elements of modern political philosophy.”

I agree…and German idealism has helped to create and also reflected such tendencies that are still with us today.  There’s Fichte, Hegel, and Marx for starters.

I’d like to point out:

1.  Fichte is not Kant.  He is a thinker who drew heavily on Kant (as did both Schopenhauer and Hegel).  While he may have run with Kant’s thinking against the rational proof of Christian theology and metaphysics, Kant’s philosophy is still with us, and I’ve yet to be convinced there’s anything as deep out there.

2.  Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy, considers Kant’s placement of mathematics into the category of synthetic a priori as part of a long tradition of both groundbreaking mathematics and excessive mysticism that don’t necessarily need to be combined.  It stretches all the way back to Pythagoras.

Russell wondered too about the fits and starts of German political organization and what kind of effect they might have on Kant….

…but have Kant’s arguments been sufficiently addressed?

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Hurricanes By Popular Demand

Here are some hurricane links I’ve found:

1. A Brief Overview-It’s for kids, but go ahead, swallow your pride.

2. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

3. The Red Cross-How to Prepare

4. The Weather Channel-One of the best places to track hurricanes once they form.

Here’s one cool photo to check out.

Here’s a video of Hurricane Dean from space (it’s enormous) and here are some people feeling the force of hurricane winds.

Also, read about the deadly Key West hurricane here.

Addition:  Here’s a good link to the 10 most deadly hurricanes.  Click here for some NASA fun.


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