“Twenty-Five Things Everyone Used to Understand”

May 3, 2021 • 2:30 pm

by Greg Mayer

Philosopher Daniel A. Kaufman edits an online magazine called The Electric Agora which bills itself as a “modern Symposium for the digital age”, and which “publishes essays, videos, reviews, and humorous pieces, lying at the intersection of philosophy, the humanities, science, and popular culture.”

He posted a piece yesterday entitled “Twenty-Five Things Everyone Used to Understand” in which he laments the loss of shared conventions of thought and behavior that allow for a tolerant, civil, and liberal society. He writes,

The 25 propositions below say things that pretty much everyone in the United States understood until five proverbial minutes ago. I collect them here, not just as a reminder of how much things have changed in such a short time, but because together, they represent a wisdom about life that is needed today more than ever before.

Most or all of the 25 would gain my assent, but I’ll comment briefly on just two of them here.

Proposition 23, “Terrible people have produced and continue to produce great works of art and popular culture, the value of which persists, regardless of the character or conduct of their creators“, seems relevant to the biography of Philip Roth that Jerry mentioned, and also captures some of what might be a consensus in the discussion amongst WEIT readers on that post.

Proposition 24, “The point of engaging with arts and entertainment is not to develop a deep, personal investment in the character of artists and entertainers whom you don’t know and never will“, I would extend to athletes as well. Two of my favorite athletes are Patrick Ewing and Derek Jeter, both now retired.

I followed Ewing and the Knicks closely during his heyday with them. At some point, perhaps after he retired, I saw some news item connecting him to some tawdry behavior at a strip club, and how this might affect his wife. My first thought was, “I didn’t know he was married.” And that’s the way I wanted it to be– I admired his play, not his personal life. (I’m not saying there was anything much wrong with his personal life– after all, “Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto“– it’s just that I didn’t know, and had no need to know.)

Derek Jeter was long New York City’s most eligible bachelor (women regularly showed up at Yankee Stadium holding “Marry me Derek” signs), and he regularly was photographed with the beautiful and famous women he dated. But he himself essentially never commented on anything outside his life in baseball, and even in that realm he was always circumspect, and focused on “any year we don’t win the World Series is a failure”-style deflection of questions. And I liked this– he spoke on the field, with his play.

Both Ewing and Jeter were outwardly stoic and taciturn. Perhaps I liked this about them, but I’ve no idea if this is what they are “really” like; even more I liked that this kept the focus on their sport, and not their private lives.

There are 23 more propositions, all worthy of comment. Go read the piece, and choose a proposition or two to comment on here for fellow WEIT readers.

h/t Brian Leiter