Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Education

Happiness

A friend sent me this lovely piece by Simon Critchley (from a May issue of the NYT) on happiness.  I pass it along not because I am in full agreement with it, or with Rousseau's feeling his own existence, and so on, but rather because the piece is thoughtful and because it reminds of a moment in which time meant nothing, a place out of time, a moment--what else can we call it?--that was just so, in and of itself, for no other purpose external to it.  Somehow a timeless good in itself.

My freshman class is broken up into study groups, and each group meets (outside of class) at least once a week to talk about Xenophon's Education of Cyrus.  I try to attend each group's meeting once or twice a semester, just to get a feel for what they are talking about, and how they are doing it.  I met with two groups yesterday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, both at my house, over coffee and cookies.  During one of the conversations about justice, or the lack of, in the text, the talk got especially good and serious.  Everyone was interested, seven students on the point, and thinking.  The conversation was textually based, so focused.  I sensed that some things were becoming clear in a way they had not yet revealed themselves.  All seemed aware of this, so we pushed the thing around a bit, even shoved at it.  We played with it.  It felt very good.  Eventually I became conscious of time and noted that we should stop for now, a couple said we should go on, another said it's too bad we had to stop.  It's hard to leave eternity, I thought. I was tempted to stay with it, but an hour and a half seemed good enough.  A good long moment.  We were grateful for it. They walked out into the setting sun and I went back to Xenophon, lit up a stogie, poured another cup of coffee while listening to a Bach Cello Suite.
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The evanescence of happiness makes the longing for it seem such a waste of time. Still, I have commanded my mind to dwell in what pleases and grope in memory to cling to remembered joys, hoping that doing what is good and right will make for an accumulated happiness at the end of my all.

In my temporarily adopted class, where I can wander in good ideas (since the real instructor's intent is obscure in the syllabus) we talked about what is good, just yesterday. "That is different for everyone." said one boy. So we talked about that, but his vocabulary and ethics could not allow him say that evil was good, not in any honest way, although we touched the idea that any man might see his happiness for himself as a both a positive and a negative matter, and that his own good might be his main focus, though happiness in that could be elusive.

This is where we accidentally go in a course with a multicultural focus, to a discussion of happiness, good and "the good" and wondering aloud what of that might be common to man. These ideas are a playground, even when that ground is badly equipped. Since the next writing project will reflect our discussions, I don't know what returning professor will say, if she will consider this good and right, when she grades those essays.

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