I. fortune cookies

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Starting a new project as of today. Each week, I’m going to try to post a picture accompanied with short prose about an event, a passing encounter, or a mood.

Currently the last week of 1L. S and I took a practice exam, and fatigued by the intensive fact pattern, we decided to head over to this Chinese restaurant before returning to the library. It’s the kind of gimmicky establishment adorned with red lanterns at the entrance and ornate gold tablecloth overlaying circular tables spread throughout the spacious (but mostly empty) interior. A tourist trap for the Greenwich Village passerby, or perhaps a pit stop for the drunken crowds swelling in and out of the bars on West 3rd. It’s the kind of place you stumble upon without forethought, because you meandered too far into this area or you forgot to make a reservation at a Yelp-approved venue in the East Village.

It’s the kind of place that gives out golden-orange colored fortune cookies wrapped in plastic that read “Fortune Cookie” with a depiction of the fortune cookie on the front. And when you crack open that fortune cookie, there is a fleeting exhilaration of revealing the unknown contained in that small token of cultural idiosyncrasy — only in America. Then you share the profound wisdom printed onto that thin, white rectangular piece of paper with your friend, and after exchanging the wisdom you’ve gleaned from these valuable documents, you both ponder over the poignancy of its words.

I don’t know if my fortune will ring true. I’m two exams away from finishing this long, challenging year. Perhaps the profound wisdom that this fortune cookie has really taught me is that I can share the fortune with the best companions. After scoffing at our fortune cookies, S and I went back to the library, struggling together over our practice exam and sounding like two crazy girls postulating over criminal law. If I could rewrite that fortune, it’d probably read instead: “You are lucky because you have chosen great companions.”

 

Great Reads: NYT “The Stone”

And so, suffocating under the excessive burden of the future, we project our worries onto it, and usurp its proper space. In claiming to speak for the future, we represent it in a double sense: by electing ourselves as its delegates and at the same time turning it into an extension of the present.

Another dimension of the colonization of the future is its idealization as the be-all and end-all of our actions. The future is converted into a fetish that supplements the deficiencies and redeems the flaws inherent in the present

— Patricia I. Vieira and Michael Marder, “What Do We Owe the Future?” (The New York Times)

This excerpt (now a personal favorite) is from The New York Times‘ “The Stone” series in its online Opinionator section. The series features insightful articles on relevant contemporary issues from a theoretical, interdisciplinary perspective. Some recent topics include pseudoscience, priming experiments in psychology, economic theory, and race.

What I love most about this series is that it reminds me of the virtues of good journalistic writing. In a digital age in which information has often been disseminated in no more than 140 characters, it is easy to become disillusioned about discovering thoughtful, original pieces in a mainstream context. While some of the articles in The New York Times series may rely heavily on abstruse academic jargon, I appreciate the effort to reflect on social and political issues from a philosophical standpoint. ‘

Check it out here. Let me know what you think, and as always, leave a comment with your reading suggestions!

Learn to Love

It is peculiar indeed that the enabling condition for freedom is a force that compels: a compulsion, a necessity. Unconditional freedom appears to be conditioned by what contradicts it.

— Simon Critchley, “When Socrates Met Phraedrus: Eros in Philosophy” (The New York Times)

One of the best decisions I made in college was a compulsory requirement I dreaded. It was a great decision because I learned that I was wrong about my dread, and I learned to love what I thought I dreaded.

I suppose, then, that this decision wasn’t a decision at all. Because it was a requirement, I didn’t freely choose to make this decision. Of course the decision itself was an act of my own volition, but the decision-making process was by no means voluntary. I was coerced, and I learned to love the unexpected merits of that coercion.

Isn’t it the best when we are pleasantly surprised by the unexpected?

I was required to take a course on political philosophy for my major, and yet I avoided this requirement until my very last year of college. By then, the pickings were slim: there was only one such course available. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Ancient texts. Ancient guys engaged in fancy talk that probably was no longer relevant.

Probably.

I’m not saying I thought that ancient philosophy is irrelevant to today, or that it is unimportant. I knew it was relevant, and that it was important…but I just didn’t know. I saw the word “ancient,” and immediately assumed I would be averse to the course material. It’s not that I have a stigma against anything ancient (and I mean that strictly in terms of chronology). I really thought that I would not be able to relate to the ancient philosophers’ texts.

Because I didn’t know.

I hadn’t read, I hadn’t understood, I hadn’t learned. Even if I had read before, I hadn’t read. I perused one of the texts before (The Republic), but I never dissected the text piece by piece. Line by line. Word by word.

And when I began to disentangle the intricate assembly of ideas in the ancient texts, I began to read. And then I began to understand. And that’s when I learned.

Without a doubt, I wasn’t innovative enough on my own to disentangle these pieces by myself. I had an amazing professor, and to be honest I’m not sure if I would have had the same interaction with the ancient philosophers had I taken the course with another professor.

So…I learned. I learned about what the philosophers were saying, in ordinary talk.  I learned about how fascinating and fun — yes, fun — it is to analyze and decode the dialogues that masterfully discuss real people values. I learned a lot about these values, concepts, and ideas. Perhaps most importantly, I learned to love what I thought I would fear and dread.

I learned to love philosophy, and particularly the ancient kind.