Category Archives: philosophy

DIA on the Brink: Does Man Live by Bread Alone?

Detroit is living a real life ethical dilemma these days. If a city is burning, do we pull out the old woman or do we rescue that portrait of Van Gogh?

Detroit went into bankruptcy last week. The emergency manager in Detroit, appointed by the State of Michigan, has been eyeing the vast and valuable art collection held by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city owns this museum and its assets are potentially up for grabs as creditors and city pensioners alike look for some good money coming out of a bad situation.

Union contracts can be rewritten. Creditors may get pennies on the dollar for their investments. The retirees may find their pensions slashed. Money is needed for turning the streetlights back on that have been dark too long; money is needed for the razing of thousands of blighted buildings; money is needed for police, fire, and EMS services that seldom serve city residents in a timely manner. The city population keeps dropping and the tax base can’t support the over $17 billion debt.

The DIA has one of the best art collections in America, and both tourists and residents would feel the pain if it was dismantled.

But real people may get hurt while the art still hangs on the wall.

A letter writer to the editor of a Detroit newspaper said that if he had to make a choice between gutting retiree benefits or selling city assets, he would be saying,  “What is the opening bid for this beautiful Van Gogh?”

This is hard for me since I find the DIA to be vital and relevant. I need art and bread, and I believe (perhaps naively) that art can uplift everyone in society. Detroit without its great museums, would be even sadder.

So what’s it gonna be? Should the Degas and Matisse survive? Or does the old woman have any need for a stinking painting?

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The Philosophy of Parakeets

When I was young, a neighbor friend of mine had two parakeets. The family was tired of these birds and since I always enjoyed them, they asked me if I wanted to keep them. I said yes.

These neighbors were German, or I should say they were Americans with German ancestry. They gave the birds German names: Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

Now those were some complicated names for a kid and a couple of parakeets. My friend’s brother explained that they were named after some kind of philosophers. At the time, that explanation didn’t mean much to me.

The birds kept those names. I spoke endearing little things to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer every day.

I ended up being interested in philosophy. Recently, I read The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche and enjoyed it.

It didn’t start out that way. I tried to read it about two years ago and couldn’t get past the language and ideas. But if I put a book down and restart it at a later date, I discovered that not only can I get through it, I often have a good reading experience after all.

The first thing The Birth of Tragedy reminded me of was Camille Paglia. She also wrote extensively about the division between Apollo and Dionysus. And this Nietzsche guy was writing this way before her! How fun. I love to make connections between the past and present.

Also it reminded me of an English professor that taught 19th century American literature. He used to drop philosopher’s names in class in order to illustrate some point. I wanted to know more. I had already read some literature from the 19th century and loved it; his class increased that love. I still reread sections of Moby Dick as if it were scripture by just randomly pointing to a sentence in the book and going wild with the implications and deeper meaning. The 19th century Nietzsche with his deep and dark is right up my alley.

Back to reality. My mother used to force me to call my father. She wanted me to beg him to come back to her even though she divorced him. Between the calls she made and the calls she forced me to make, he was getting in trouble at work. I started to refuse to call him. After one such refusal, she grabbed one of my birds and threatened to kill it if I didn’t call him. She eventually released the bird, and I did not call.

I never knew which bird she grabbed. Was it Nietzsche or Schopenhauer that nearly bit the dust? A question for philosophy.

I must continue my readings.

A Skewed Bird’s-Eye View

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concern environmental activists have for planet earth illustrates the egocentricity of human nature.

Earth is special. We are made in the image of God. We must settle on other planets just in case our kind cease to exist here. Human life must continue somewhere, somehow. This is so important since the universe must still revolve around the earth.

If we poison our planet and life dies out, the earth will still go on. It may develop new life forms despite the destruction. If we blow up the planet, there are other planets out there.

If a soul exists, it will merge with the spiritual creator and all will be good. If no soul exists, each particle is still in communion with the whole and all will be good. If none of this is good in our eyes, new cycles and patterns will keep going no matter what we think or want.

I recycle and think it is wrong to be wasteful. But I doubt that recycling will save the planet. Every time I deposit my paper, plastic, glass, or metal in the proper recycling bin, I wonder if the energy and resources needed to reuse this material is, on final tally, worth the process. The best remedy is not to use it in the first place.

Moving backwards, against the tide of progress, may prove impossible. Once you bite the apple, there is no turning back. Until the finite resources are used up and no new ones materialize, people will not willingly stop doing what they do.

A undiscovered source of energy may be out there that can replace oil, coal, and other nasty stuff we depend on today. But most likely it will come with its own demons; knowledge doesn’t come free and clear.

If wind power becomes the only energy source available to keep our cellphones alive, or keep our cars humming, even PETA will look the other way when windmills chop up free-flying birds. Our survival and our desires trump virtue. It’s not easy being green.