Feral Barrels

I adopted Lil Bit, pictured here with her friend, Dexter.

I adopted the cone Lil Bit, pictured here with her friend, Dexter.

Last summer we were inundated with orange barrels and never ending roadwork in front of the bike shop where I work. We spent a lot of time grumbling about traffic, lack of parking, traffic, lack of communication from the city, traffic (you get the idea). But complaining didn’t accomplish anything, we needed some action.

I started joking about it with the scuba people next door. That started the ball rolling. I couldn’t stop thinking about them on my drive home. 20 minutes thinking about orange barrels.  20 minutes! Thinking. About orange barrels.

On my drive, there is a special stretch of road. If I’m mulling something over when I hit this section, inspiration strikes me. I don’t question it, I just accept it. That’s where the Feral Barrel Adoption Program was born.

I was ate up with the idea. It really cracked me up. The program was very successful for about a month. By the end of that month the roadwork was pretty much done. The barrels soon disappeared…I mean were adopted.

Everyone hates orange barrels. I don’t particularly like them either. But I can no longer look at a poor little barrel without wondering if it will make it back to its natural habitat, wherever that might be.

Do you have an annoying problem? Try looking at it from a different angle. You might be amused by what you see.


My New Coat


I read a lot. I like to read fiction. Usually something that stretches me a little. Like the classics. But lately I’ve ventured into another reading arena. I’m reading nonfiction classics, mostly of the philosophical bent.

I’m wading through selected readings from Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx. I’ve started reading Plato and Charles Darwin. Soon I’ll delve into Rene Descartes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and others. I’m vaguely familiar with some of these writings, but most of it is new material for me.

As I expose myself to the ideas of each of these writers, I try each of them on as if it were a new coat. I wear it for a while, and see how it fits. Parts of them fit great, others I discard. If I ever finish this experiment, I expect my coat to be a great patchwork of ideas that I have made my own. A very colorful quilt of a coat that always has room for another patch.

Learning about these ideas in the context of their times helps me understand how we got where we are today. I can draw on these ideas, and from the luxury of hindsight, see what worked and what didn’t. I’m finding many correlations in the history of those times and the times we are going through now. What worked then might work now.

Study the writings of these men. Think about the historical context in which they were written. Try on their ideas for a while. Do you see any similarities with today? Do you think some of their ideas might be relevant today?

Rousseau the Rabble Rouser

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: a civilized man, but a ...

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you measure Rousseau against the definition of enlightenment that was popular at his time, he would not appear to be enlightened. The “enlightened” of his time believed education in the arts and sciences would lead to equality and freedom. However, if you measure him against Immanuel Kant’s definition, it is obvious that Rousseau was enlightened.

Immanuel Kant’s definition of enlightenment is as follows:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!” (An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant, 1784)

Kant’s definition means that an enlightened individual would not follow the herd, and may very well have been a rabble rouser.

Rousseau fit that description.

Rousseau, in his studies, was not searching for freedom or equality. He was searching for the truth. And by searching for the truth, he dared to use his own understanding. Rather than follow blindly with the other “enlightened” men of his day, he went beyond their studies. Rather than jump on the negative bandwagon against the enlightenment, he came to his own conclusions about it.

“How can one venture to blame the sciences in front of one of the most scholarly societies in Europe, praise ignorance in a famous Academy, and reconcile a contempt for study with respect for truly learned men?” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1750)

This is a quote from a man who had the courage to use his own understanding. Rousseau claimed that the “enlightened” man of his age was a “happy slave,” wearing flowery chains of iron. The public’s education was not making them free or equal, but instead made them complacent and hid the fact that they were neither free nor equal.

Rousseau continued to describe his vision of what would come about as a result of enlightenment: uncertainty, suspicion, uniformity,and dishonorable vices disguised as virtues. Speaking of the Germans, Rousseau said,

“They were not ignorant of the fact that in other lands idle men spent their lives disputing their sovereign good, vice, and virtue, and that proud reasoners, while giving themselves the greatest praise, shoved all other people together under the contemptuous name of barbarians. But they looked at their morals and learned to despise their learning.” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences)

While his contemporaries celebrated knowledge, Rousseau saw in it all that was bad in his world: “…these vain and futile declaimers move around in all directions armed with their fatal paradoxes, undermining the foundations of faith, and annihilating virtue.” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences) He went on to lament how, once every great civilization in the past started to be more concerned with fine arts, they lost their edge and were easily dissolved or overthrown. Their citizens became soft and weak.

This lifestyle, in Rousseau’s estimation, also led to moral decay. Citizens shirked their duties, students were not taught right from wrong, and didn’t understand what they should do or how to do it. They didn’t know how to think. And he placed the blame squarely on the enlightenment. “From where do all these abuses arise if it is not the fatal inequality introduced among men by distinctions among their talents and by the degradation of their virtues? There you have the most obvious effect of all our studies, and the most dangerous of all their consequences.” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences)

No one wants to hear that the course they have embarked upon is headed for disaster. Who but a rabble rouser, a person audacious enough to think for himself, would dare do tell them so? According to Kant, an enlightened man would. According to Kant, Rousseau would.