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2021 Reset

January 3, 2021

This past year ruined my old writing habits. How? Allow me to enumerate the ways:

  1. (of 5) Anxious Scrolling: I spent a great deal of time in a state of hyper-attentiveness for news about the pandemic and the presidential election. I watched for updates, and scanned or read most every pandemic-related story. Concern for a nation’s leadership began, in 2020, by awaiting news of the impeachment hearings. I knew the Senate would not uphold the House verdict, but I could not ignore that historic event.
  2. Racism: As was the case with many, I’m sure, this began with George Floyd and the protests that ensued. But for me, it continued through the late spring, summer, and early fall courtesy of a giant (and welcome) anti-racism effort at work. That effort manifest in a large steering committee but also subcommittee work. I happily was invited, and joined, those endeavors—working with students, faculty and staff on a number of public and private tasks. Because my office deals with mistreatment concerns, this impacted my daily and weekly routine in numerous ways.
  3. Inability to Escape from Distractions: With the pandemic I switched to remote work in mid-March. I felt privileged to be in a position to accomplish that switch. It enabled both gainful employment and relative safety from the kinds of interactions that could increase viral load to the point of infection. But there was a cost. I could not focus in the same ways that one can in an office. I love my children, but a home office seemed to imply a privilege, for them, of interruption. It used to be the case that I would escape their understandable need for attention by writing in coffee shops. That habit was, of course, destroyed. It has taken me months to compensate for the loss of that environment. I only came on a solution in the past two weeks.
  4. Teaching Adjustments: I was teaching two courses part-time in the spring term. Both (a 3-hour and 1-hour) had to be switched to remote learning. The one-hour course was an easy transition, because it was easy in the first place. But the three-hour involved a larger switch from paper assignments and hard-copy submission, to an all-virtual submission and assessment format.
  5. Using Social Media as Therapy: I realized, only a few weeks ago, that I was using social media not just to scan for news and headlines (I subscribe to many news outlets via Facebook and Twitter), but also for therapeutic conversation. I spent a great deal of writing energy and keyboard time in the comments of various posts. I didn’t realize how much time until I put myself on a social media “diet” last week. I have limited myself to 30-45 minutes of social media time per day, and only after 9 pm—when my main energies are spent. Since putting myself on this diet I now realize I was frittering away hours per day on social media. I also just feel better, mentally and emotionally, after cutting down. My fingers are crossed that this diet restores some, or all, of my old writing habits and abilities in 2021.

That’s it for me. What made 2020 especially awful for you? What are planning, or doing already, to make 2021 better? – TL

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  1. Barry Rodgers permalink

    Hello Professor Lacy. I am in the process of purchasing your “The Dream of a Democratic Culture”. I have a question for you that relates to “Great Books of the Western World”, specifically to the non inclusion of the idea of Equality in the Syntopicon. First a brief introduction: I am a retired petroleum economist. My brother introduced me to Adler in 1982, since which time I have these and Adler’s books have been constant companions. My brother and niece are graduates of St. John’s College and at graduate school I followed a very similar program, modelled in part after the St. John’s program.
    Recently I have been reading Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” and currently his “Capital and Ideology”. This has brought me to consider the idea of Equality and why it was not included. I believe Adler says that this is because the idea was not discussed or not discussed very strongly in the “Great Conversation”, at least in its Western component. I find this explanation most unsatisfying. It seems to me that Equality was in fact what the Great Conversation is about – from Aristotle to Jefferson’s Declaration, … In friendly conversation with my brother (who by the way, has your book) I suggest that maybe the 102/3 Great Ideas could ultimately be reduced to one – Equality. He is somewhat reluctant to criticize Adler.
    Given this exclusion, and what appears to me to be a remarkable fear, even revulsion, of the idea of Equality from many sources, I wonder if there was some sort of unperceived bias on the part of Adler and his associates, including even Hutchins, that led them away from such inclusion? From what I have read of your work, I believe I share your belief in the ultimate value of Adler’s work. I would therefore value very much your thoughts on this, should you be able to find time to respond.


    • Barry,

      Thanks for the comment. Great hearing from you!

      That’s quite a great books lineage you have going—direct memories of Adler, family graduates of the St. John’s version of the program, etc. Kudos to all of you. I’m jealous.

      I do discuss the absence of the idea of equality in my own book (thanks for taking an interest in it!–sorry about the price/availability, at least in print). I suppose one could equate democracy and equality, though there are particular differences that would need to be addressed. I also think that race could’ve been more thoroughly addressed.

      I do value much of Adler’s work. It’s highly accessible intellectual fare, and based on trustworthy sources. I also trust Adler’s intentions—to democratize culture, I argue. So think, at worst, there are worse people to follow and trust. At best Adler’s intellect competes with the best of what is out there in his life.

      Again, thanks for coming by!



      • Barry Rodgers permalink

        Professor Lacy: May I trouble you with one more question, again in relation to The Great Books education as envisioned by Adler. Something about the program at St. John’s just seem “off” to me. At least from my limited experience. I hope it goes without saying that I am a huge supporter of the St. John’s program. May I make the following claim – Even the ideal discussion and dialogue envisaged by Adler has a serious limitation when applied to the Politics and Society component. To the extent that the content in this component is not tested with a strong historical consideration of what ideas and programs actually worked and what ones didn’t work, the component may be seen as lacking the benefits of the scientific method. Clearly the Mathematics and Natural Science components are very much the product of the scientific method. The Philosophy and Theology and Literature components perhaps don’t need this method. In the Politics and Society component the looking back to history is the equivalent of the evidence and falsifiability dimensions so critical to the Natural sciences. For example the 1980’s debate over “free market” economics and self regulation had both proponents and opponents, each relying on reason, logic and debate to make their case. The outcomes of these policies can now be tested through historical statistical analysis. As I said, I am struggling w this as it seems to me that enlightened debate in these areas still seems to not deliver results. There needs to be a way of verifying hypotheses in the areas of Politics and Society. My apologies for bothering you with this.


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