Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On the Acquisition of Knowledge

I'm finally getting around to responding to the question posed by a comment on a previous post: can the accumulation of knowledge become as poisonous as the accumulation of material objects? Some thoughtful comments have already been made on the question--check them out here.

My own take is this: as a grad student, I am quite tired of accumulating knowledge, particularly over a short period of time for the purposes of passing an exam. What I really want to get out of reading a book is not so much knowledge, as it is an experience. For me, the wonder of books is that they can allow you to take up second-hand the kind of experiences that change people.

And since I do believe there is such a thing as the self, and I do want my self to become something more beautiful, loving and good than it is, I don't see how I can go wrong reading books that will help that process along by giving the kind of soul-expanding experiences I value.

But perhaps for someone who does not believe in the ultimate reality of the self, and who desires the extinction of the self, even that kind of thing might be dangerous(?).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Real Reason People Are Anti-Semitic?

People think it's okay to badmouth one's own ethnic tradition, but is it, conversely, acceptable to extravagantly laud an ethnic tradition of which one is not a part?

I have always thought that the real reason people are anti-Semitic is plain jealousy because the Jews are just better than other people. As a person without a single drop of Jewish blood, is it socially acceptable for me to say that?

Seriously, I was wondering yesterday whether the reason it seems to me so much more all-around awesome to be Jewish than to have any other American ethnicity is perhaps that the Jewish people (well, at least those who have retained their religious traditions) have such a clear, rich, and healthy ethnic identity.

I mean, non-Jewish white people don't seem to have anything like that--many don't even think of themselves as having "an ethnicity." To others, being white means being demonized as "the oppressor."

I'm not sure how to write this next paragraph, because I think no matter how I do it, it will be offensive to some people. So please keep in mind, this is just a tentative suggestion, not a deeply held belief of mine. But it seems like the ethnicities that I've had even limited exposure to, here in the U.S., are not altogether healthy in their self-definitions. That is, I think there are aspects of what it means to be Chinese American, or what it means to be Hispanic American, or Caucasian American, or African American that are self-destructive for both the subcultures themselves and for society in general ...

And I suppose you could say the same thing about Jewish Americans (certain expressions of Zionism come to mind ...), but Jewish Americans have a history and traditions which have been refined and shaped over many hundreds of years. The history, traditions, customs, attitudes, and beliefs which hold them (or at least, some of them) together, as a "race," are not so arbitrary as ethnic identities that came to exist only recently, here in America.

But I suppose I am biased here, because, as a Christian I do think that the Jewish religion is based on God's more-or-less direct revelation, and God's active shaping of the Jewish people--one would expect a "holy" people to be in some way superior to others ...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Affirmative Action

It seems for many people, the phrase "affirmative action" is synonymous with programs implemented in universities. And such programs are understandably controversial. The issues surrounding such programs are complex, and even trying to unravel the "logic" of the legislation on the issue can be confusing.

But the real question is, why aren't we doing more in the way of affirmative action for K-12 graders? Why do we expend so much thought and energy arguing over whether the middle class black student should have priority over the middle class white student when there are tens of thousands of black and latino students attending (or not attending) the grossly under-funded, under-staffed, falling apart elementary, middle or high school in their low-income neighborhood--kids who will probably never apply to any kind of college at all?

These kids are likely to be the ones hit hardest by the economic recession. After all, children can't vote. Parents can, but they may not. This is all very frustrating, but I don't know what we can actually do about it. Does anyone have ideas?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Okay, so for one of my classes, I'm supposed to have been engaging in dialogue over the internet about a "justice issue." I picked racism. And I've been following some facebook page on the topic, though I've only contributed a couple comments.

I've been finding that facebook is a bit superficial for my taste, so I'm hoping maybe I can get some dialogue going here on the blogosphere. That means, I will be most grateful to people who comment on anything I write about racism. And I will be even more grateful for "pingbacks" in any blog entry which may be inspired by things that I've written ...

Anyway, who knows if this will work at all, but here goes.

I picked racism as a topic because I have such strong, and in some ways mixed feelings about the subject. As a person of "mixed race" I have a tendency to (over-)emphasize the idea that race is an illusive and not very useful concept--a category of thought which I sometimes wish could be gotten rid of or ignored entirely.

But of course, that's not a reasonable hope. I suppose even in a perfect world, people would still think in terms of race; they just wouldn't value any races above or below others. Perhaps in a perfect world, we would see races more like large extended families, insofar as they may have certain prevalent traits, customs, histories, etc.--and yet their identity and definition are always changing, and evolving into something new, particularly as their members marry persons from outside the family, bringing new traits, customs, histories, etc. into the picture.

Perhaps that way of thinking would help us to get away from the notion that races need to be kept "pure," and the fear that if most people married outside their "race," we would soon be a homogeneous population without any diversity.

Racial diversity is important, and the ability to have some kind of pride in one's racial identity is also important. But I do think that our racial categories need to be less rigid, and that all of our identities (whether we are white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American, or anything else) need to be less rooted in our perceived "race," and more firmly rooted in our shared humanity.

This last comment is probably particularly influenced by my experience as a person who looks Latino, but is not. Latino persons often mistake me for one of their own, and greet me warmly in Spanish. Most cannot hide their disappointment when they realize their mistake. Many become instantly frigid, some almost rude.

This is understandable, but it hurts, nonetheless. I do think it's right and natural for people of shared racial background to have a certain solidarity or sense of kinship, but it ought not to eclipse a sense of solidarity or kinship with the whole of humanity.

Anyway, that's just some of my initial thoughts on racism. Please comment! Let me know if you agree, disagree, why, etc.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Did I Make It Clear ...

That I have glasses now? I do.

Reviving Old Brown Sugar

Growing up in L.A. we never had a problem with our brown sugar drying up. But here in Pasadena, I guess the climate is just so dry, brown sugar doesn't last very long, inside or outside the 'frige.

But I experimented the other day and found out you can indeed remoisturize hardened brown sugar by steaming it. I lined my steamer with a cotton bandana so none of the sugar would fall through the holes, but I'm sure there are other methods. I suppose one could place a bowl of hardend brown sugar in a pot, pour some water around the sides, cover it, turn on the heat, and steam it that way.

Or you could buy a new package of brown sugar for 89 cents. But that's no fun.