Oppenheimer’s Jewishness

If there was anyone I’d want to write my biography, it would be Ray Monk. He and I knew of one another mostly through Facebook because of our philosophy backgrounds. Ray is an amazing person and is also a superb biographer.

I just read Chapter One of A Life Inside the Center and I thought I’d jot down some quick notes here.

It seems that Oppenheimer grew up in an unusual Jewish family–one that somewhat rejected Judaism, in a sense. This, as Ray Monk argues, helps explains why, later in life, Oppenheimer would be described as having no identity. Was he able to point to fellow Jewish people and say, “Those are my people”? I don’t know. But his colleague Rabi didn’t think so.

Ray Monk is careful to point out the various ways one can be Jewish: culturally, ethnically, racially, religiously and as a nationality. I’m no expert on Jewish history, but there appears to have been a time when these things were being brought out and, some of them, such as nationality, rejected by some Jewish people themselves as a way of assimilating into American society.

Oppenheimer seems to have grown up in a household where, if there was anything it meant to be Jewish, it was morally. This idiosyncratic view–the moral devoid of the religious–of what it meant to be Jewish was somewhat new thinking among some Jewish people. But it seems familiar when one looks to Immanuel Kant, who also developed a moral system apart from the religious. Kant’s famous axiom is: act according to the maxim you could will to be a universal law. Oppenheimer grew up in something akin to a Kantian home, then.

Slow And Steady Wins The Race?

Back when I was a TA, I got really, really good at thinking on my feet. Super good.

Time has worn on and I find myself preferring slow deliberation these days. I don’t think this is a sign of lacking intelligence, either. I think of it as both gaining intelligence and wisdom. We tend to prize quick thinking. But quick thinking can get us in trouble. Reflexes vary, of course, and can be trained. But I think our society, which can tweet in an instant, has become more and more biased and less seeking of truth due to the reliance on quickness over slow deliberation.

Take, for example, a conversation I had prior to Christmas with an expert on AI. I’m still thinking about the ramifications of that discussion. I may have a few brief thoughts, but nothing well-formulated just yet. I will talk to people about it, think it over more, and so forth, before I come to a safe conclusion.

The theory is that reflexes, if not heavily trained, are ridden with emotion, bias and other things. The more time we have to mull something over, the more likely we are to weed out those things.

One problem is that, for many people, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to deliberate. I suggest: Take a walk. Cut down on your TV time. Heck, cut down on your social media time–to spend time reflecting. We may just become a better society because of it.

Identity And Your Career

I think one of the most detrimental things one can do is identify with their career. I find so many people who do identify with their career. When they lose a job, when they retire, they lose their sense of identity.

When one thinks in terms of oneself as how one sells one’s labor, one is really doing a disservice to oneself. It also makes one extremely vulnerable in that it makes one less flexible. Flexibility, as Jonathan Lear argues in Radical Hope, should be the virtue one aims for in our society. Flexibility gives one the ability to reach beyond one’s current or past way of life and imagine something new and different. It’s the key virtue that lends itself to creativity and imagination in forms of life.

Of course, there’s advantages for your employer for you to identify with your career. If you are so invested in your career that you wholly identify with it, you make a good cog in the working machine. The problem, for you, is: what if the machine stops working or changes direction? What if you have to change careers or forms of life for some reason? When that happens, as it has been known to do, you will suffer an identity crisis. Instead of being able to knuckle down and move on with a different form of life–reaching for different thick concepts–you will be stuck in your old way of thinking while the world moves on without you.

So, do not place your identity in your career.

A Series Of Misunderstandings: Political Communication In The Contemporary United States

People use signs, signals, actions and words in order to communicate. In the United States, I’ve been increasingly worried that we are starting to use different languages to communicate with one another. I don’t mean Spanish and English. I mean our whole landscape has become so polarized and many of us live in such information bubbles that we have started “signing” in different ways, often misunderstanding one another.

This is a more charitable view than one which states we are intentionally ignoring, poking at, etc., each other.

I initially started thinking about this when I started a #DefendDACA rally. The rally turned out to be an awesome event, being televised across Central Florida. It really wasn’t my doing that the rally turned out so well. I had other, quite wonderful, organizers who made things happen.

But what opponents don’t/didn’t understand is that it takes a lot of hard work and effort in order for such an event to take place at all. I should know.

So, when you see a group of people protesting, you can assume that some of them missed work to do so, some of them had to travel a certain distance, and many other things. In other words, they have to overcome life in order to protest. That’s saying something.

The rally I organized was so successful–with many other rallies taking place across the nation on the same day–that our events made national headlines and generated a conversation about DACA recipients. That’s also saying something.

At the time of this writing, however, the president is saying he will protect DACA recipients if and only if he gets his border wall built.

So the events that have been scheduled since the rally I organized are coming down to a negotiation that will probably not fly on the part of DACA Defenders.

Let me say it again: it takes a lot of effort and work to participate in a rally. If you see successful rallies all over the country, that’s really, truly saying something.

But many opponents of DACA recipients have said things like “Get a job!” to folks who rallied. (To be clear, nearly all DACA recipients already have jobs!) It’s as if they are now speaking a different language–a language in which the effort, time and sacrifices made by protesters is scoffed at or not even acknowledged.

As I survey these actions across the country, I have just had to wonder whether some things, like various propaganda, have left people on the Right speaking a whole other language than people on the Left. This language doesn’t understand the concept of protest, making protests on the Left ineffective (if they are trying to persuade people on the Right).

That we are talking past each other now has real-life consequences. DACA recipients will be protected or not, a border wall will go up or not, depending on how we understand one another.

As someone who has only recently started to live in a Leftist bubble, I can say that many people on the Right nowadays simply do not understand–or take time to understand–arguments from the Left. Yet, I know of scholars devoted to studying the Right, so we on the Left get a translation of what’s going on, which keeps us up to speed.

We are now a fractured nation, speaking different political languages. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We can become fluent in the language of the other, but it’s going to take some work.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Be At Peace

Despite the fact that I have been exhausted for the past couple of weeks, I have, in general, been at peace with myself for several months now. You may not think that a person who fell from grace when they developed schizophrenia would be at peace. But I am. In fact, I’m more at peace than when I was an aspiring professor, a TA, an RA, making straight A’s in difficult courses, and so on.

When I was in academia, I was often surrounded by critical eyes and subjected to harsh judgements. Even though it may sound silly, I often thought: Am I too fat? Am I too ugly? Am I smart enough?

I don’t know that my standards have gone down at all. But I have learned that having ambition, being excellent in what one does, and having aspirations does not mean one has to be harshly critical and judgmental. I have, in short, been around a lot of assholes who cloak their asshole-ness in terms of being intellectual. I’m certainly not saying everyone I’ve met in academia is like this, but it’s been too many for me to say it’s just happenstance.

Part of this learning to be at peace, coming to terms with myself and accepting myself as I am has been a result of going to counseling. I have a very excellent counselor. She has taught me to be more in touch with my feeling and emotions while not giving up my brain.

The result is that I’ve been able to connect with people in ways I hadn’t been able to connect before. And this has often led to interesting intellectual conversations and connections.

These days, I’m interested in a lot of things. But one thing I’m interested in is quelling our desire for harsh competition, negativity, and harsh judgements and instead focusing on cooperation and care. I have found—and evidence shows—that cooperation, not competition, leads to more fruitful results, anyway.

Climate Change: God’s Law of Consequences

I’m reading the book Boundaries. It’s really a wonderful book. I’ve learned through that book that God has certain spiritual laws in place in addition to laws of nature. I seek to discover each.

Let’s take a look a climate change. Many unschooled Christians think super storms, like the hurricane we experienced in Florida this year, are God’s punishment for things like gay marriage. But I think the lesson is far closer to the point here. God wouldn’t make us take such wild leaps in logic.

Rather, I think the lesson is that we haven’t been very good stewards of the Earth. The Bible says we are to be managers of the Earth. How are we doing as managers? No very good.

We can look to climate science, which tells us that human activity—yes, human activity—is causing a great rise in temperatures. If you don’t believe climate science (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t), you can merely look to the increasing amount of super storms. Why are they happening?

God put in place consequences for every action. Bad actions cause bad consequences. If we are poor stewards of the Earth, we will get an unhealthy planet.

What climate change and super storms tell us is not that gay marriage is bad. Instead, the lesson is that we haven’t been good stewards to the Earth. We need to do much, much better.

(Cross Posted at The New Floridian)

Graduate Studies

Sometimes people ask me what I studied in graduate school. I focused primarily on Ethics and Political Philosophy. Here’s what I studied: