Sunday, November 13, 2016

And Now for Something Completely Different

Let me begin with an apology.  I know that to the extent I made any predictions on this blog about the Presidential Election, I could not have been more wrong.  I’ve always understood that Hillary Clinton had a chance to lose but would have laid heavy odds against that happening.  

I have resolved never again to doubt Nate Silver’s predictions about politics.   And shame on me for doubting the principle that whoever Americans would rather see serve as an analyst on a football game is likely to win the Presidential Election.  That latter principle has now been borne out literally ten times in a row.   It has been since 1976 – when Ford, after pardoning Nixon, lost to Carter – when the candidate we’d rather hear announce a football game has lost the election.  Call it the “relatability” factor.  It looms incredibly large in Presidential Elections.

Believe me when I say that I’m tempted to try to use today’s blogpost to provide some insights on the Election and where it leaves us.   At a minimum, I’d like to share some of my deeper emotions -- other than the fact that the outcome scares me in multiple ways (first and foremost of which is what it portends about the exacerbation of our climate change problem).   But I have decided to avoid saying anything more today about the topic, and here’s why: emotions are still way too raw.   Regardless of whether you are euphoric about the outcome or are neck deep in one of the stages of grief, I’d rather wait a bit before further provoking your thoughts or sharing some emotions.  

So, if this blogpost is not going to delve into the Election, is there anything else that we can possibly talk about?  Isn’t the Election all that matters in the entire universe right now?   Actually, I would propose an alternative.   Recently, I delivered a talk about a topic that has been obsessing me for several years.  The talk focused on my favorite philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, a 17th Century figure who is now either celebrated or loathed as a heretic.  Here is how I announced the topic to my philosophy society:

“My essay on ‘Spinoza and Contemporary Judaism’ was inspired by the 2012 “Spinozium” at Washington’s Theatre J, where those in attendance voted on whether to overturn the cherem (Spinoza’s excommunication from his Jewish community). I remember being surprised that so many in the audience seemed to have no qualms about the cherem.  After all, I tend to accept Leo Strauss’ thesis that ‘modern Judaism is a synthesis between rabbinical Judaism and Spinoza.’ If that is even half true, and if Bertrand Russell is even arguably correct that “Spinoza is the noblest and most loveable of the great philosophers ... ethically he is supreme,” shouldn’t Spinoza be embraced as part of the pantheon of modern-Jewish heroes? At some point, however, I had to face up to the fact that a number of Spinoza’s statements in his Theological-Political Treatise could be associated with garden-variety anti-Semitic teachings, including the notion that Christianity is a religion based on love, freedom and universal ethics, whereas Judaism is based on law, obedience, and tribalism. This essay is my attempt to grapple with such statements while at the same time expressing why they need not take away from Spinoza’s good name as someone who was not merely a Jew who philosophizes but also a truly Jewish philosopher.”

The essay – which, once again, is entitled “Spinoza and Contemporary Judaism” – can be found on the Spinoza Writings page of my website,      I think you will find the essay accessible regardless of your prior background in Spinoza or Judaism.  And let’s face it – we can all use a distraction from “The Topic” right now, if only a brief one.

So let me encourage you to check out the essay, continue to work through your thoughts and feelings about everyone’s obsession du jour, and expect that I will address that latter topic in the relatively near future.

All the best, from the Empathic Rationalist.

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