Friday, September 2, 2011

The Four Pillars of Todd Seavey Wisdom

I hope you enjoy philosophical self-indulgence (with some nightlife).

As alluded to in my Matt Welch-inspired Twitter comments the other day, I try to learn from both tradition and innovation, basically a trad/trade combo.  But really there are four main components to my thinking – or more superficially, maybe I should just say four Todd “likes,” often noted here but worth repeating.  (Of course, having a list-like system of thought of any kind risks making one sound like a graduate of Asperger’s High.)

In the narrowest concrete terms, the four things often manifest as thoughts about (1) sci-fi, (2) libertarianism, (3) science, and (4) punk.

This tendency even manifests itself in unintended ways in my schedule.  For instance, I just noticed that I have only four significant events on my calendar this month besides work, and they are (spot the pattern):

(1) buy Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1 on Wednesday, Sept. 7 (hey, I can stop after that, but it’s not every day a Scottish anarchist is the keystone of a whole DC Comics relaunch – more about that next week, in fact)

(2) attending the Friday, Sept. 9 (6:30pm) campaign launch party for libertarian Democrat (!) Dan O’Connor for U.S. Congress at Lolita Bar

(3) hearing the latest round of science-themed stories from the speakers at Story Collider, at Union Hall, 702 Union St. and Fifth Ave. in Brooklyn, on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 8pm

and (4) see the aged punk band X perform at Irving Plaza on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7pm.

Join me for all of them!

By my tetrahedral standards, the nation’s actually
trending in a healthy direction.  You figure, in geographic terms (once more in that order):

(1) nerd films have taken over Hollywood (even as DC Comics reboots its universe and Marvel puts out a new Uncanny X-Men #1)

(2) the libertarian-influenced (not synonymous but influenced) Tea Party is affecting Washington, DC and subtly nudging the GOP primaries

(3) there are skeptics groups and hip science clubs lately popping up all over New York City

and (4) punk-influenced music everywhere online these days.

And yet: now might be just the time to declare mission accomplished in these areas and open-mindedly accept the possibility that the impending Brooklyn Forum live events I plan to host this fall may toss up whole new areas of interest and ways of thinking.  That’d be swell. 

It’s likely that even if the concrete manifestations of my interests change, though, there will be four underlying areas of emphasis (once more in the same order):

(1) imagination

(2) political reality

(3) science/skepticism

(4) aesthetics

Four historical figures may have done the most to reveal the filter processes behind the legs of the Seavey table, each intuiting one of the weeding-out processes by which most of the good things in life are created/revealed (no longer in the same order here, and admittedly with some concept-slippage, I’m likening capitalism to sci-fi’s future-building here and dropping aesthetics for now in favor of an extra science plank):

•Adam Smith (markets retain the efficient approaches)

•Edmund Burke (tradition embodies the most sustainable habits)

•Charles Darwin (evolution retains the instincts that usually worked)

•Karl Popper (only falsifiable claims warrant testing, and some endure)

And the man who best combines all four of these modes of thought – with a dash of J.S. Mill’s fundamental insight that freedom works because it fosters happiness – is Friedrich Hayek (of whom I’m delighted to report Jen Wekelo spotted a lovely sidewalk chalk drawing at Columbia; she also spotted a Thomas Sowell chalk drawing at Columbia last week – not to mention a real, living, breathing Yoko Ono walking near Strawberry Fields, but that's a different subject).  Hayek defended markets, deferred to tradition, recognized the power of evolved instincts and social institutions in shaping our intuitions, and approached the whole topic with a Viennese deference to open-ended epistemological and social processes (and was friends with Popper – not to mention Keynes, but that’s a whole different story).

Dwelling in the Northeast, it may be conservative (yet Whig!) Burke who I most have to work to defend, though I love them all.  And after all, I say we should be cautious about tampering with tradition but not blindly so.  Recognizing that things can go wrong during surgery is not the same as banning all medicine.  And so there is still a role for the philosopher in the ongoing social-evolutionary process, not just, say, farmers.

Indeed, that recognition (and the admission that property rights are not absolutes but rather should be treated almost as such because of at least a general tendency to get utile results) may make me a – dare I say it? – Rawlsekian.  I’m  only confident of one other Rawlsekian existing (and I’m not even sure he’s speaking to me after I argued with his wife about feminism a couple years ago).  But I have to go where the arguments take me.

And tomorrow they take us to: Sarah Palin.


dave said...

Is Dan O'Connor's event on Friday the 9th, or on the 10th?

Todd Seavey said...

9th. Corrected above now.

Todd Seavey said...

Speaking of corrections (within corrections), I just noticed an additional Rawlsekian, thanks to the following note posted by Ezra Klein on The American Prospect's site three years ago:

Yesterday, I called Reihan Salam "unclassifiable." Today, he replies that he's a "Rawlsekian neoconservative singulitarian meliorist humanist neoliberal infosocialist Viridian postliberal incrementalist." I stand corrected.

Richard Ryan said...

I dispute that the Tea Party is "[de]nuding" the GOP primaries - as far as I'm concerned they were already quite naked.

Todd Seavey said...

That, too, is now corrected above. Thanks to all.