eSkeptic for August 20, 2019

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Michael Shermer with Anthony Kronman — The Assault on American Excellence

The Assault on American Excellence (book cover)

The former dean of Yale Law School argues that the feverish egalitarianism gripping college campuses today is out of place at institutions whose job is to prepare citizens to live in a vibrant democracy. In his tenure at Yale, Anthony Kronman has watched students march across campus to protest the names of buildings and seen colleagues resign over emails about Halloween costumes. He is no stranger to recent confrontations at American universities. But where many see only the suppression of free speech, the babying of students, and the drive to bury the imperfect parts of our history, Kronman recognizes in these on-campus clashes a threat to our democracy. Shermer and Kronman discuss:

  • free speech vs. hate speech
  • how language affects how we think about other people
  • diversity of characteristics (race, gender) vs. diversity of viewpoints
  • the search for universal truths vs. understanding other’s perspectives
  • affirmative action in the academy: from the University of California to Harvard
  • taking down statues of Hitler and Stalin vs. taking down statues of Confederate Generals
  • the problem of applying current moral values to the past, and
  • how to reform the academy to refocus on excellence.

Anthony T. Kronman served as the dean of Yale Law School from 1994–2004, and has taught at the university for forty years. He is the author or coauthor of five books, including The Assault on American Excellence; Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life; and Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan.

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Why did Jeffrey Epstein kill himself? Why does anyone die by suicide? Psychologist John Glynn explores these and related questions regarding one of the most perplexing aspects of human behavior in this thoughtful essay.

Why People Die by Suicide
Jeffrey Epstein and the Allure of Self-Murder

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide” —Albert Camus

Albert Camus spent a lot of time thinking, especially about death. He wondered if suicide was a necessary response to a world which appears to be mute both on the question of God’s existence (and thus what such an existence might answer) and for our search for meaning and purpose in an apparently meaningless and purposeless world.

For the French Algerian absurdist, suicide was the rejection of freedom, the freedom to face reality. Fleeing from the absurdity of reality into illusions, religion, or death, he argued, was not the way out. Instead of fleeing the futility of our existence, we should embrace life bravely.

The existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre described the position of Meursault, the protagonist of Camus’ The Stranger who is condemned to death, in the following way:

The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions … and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the divine irresponsibility of the condemned man.

On Saturday, August 10th, Jeffrey Epstein, very much a condemned man, took his own life. The disgraced financier was due to face trial on sex trafficking charges, along with countless lawsuits by his victims. Accused of abusing dozens of underage girls as young as 14 in New York and Florida, the 66-year-old was being held without bail in a Manhattan jail. But instead of facing justice and the rest of his days behind bars—which in the case of the dismal conditions of the Manhattan jail he was in appeared to exacerbate an already distraught state of mind—Epstein took his own life. […]

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