“Practical Philosophy: Trying to Reconcile New Librarianship’s Behaviorism with Analytic Philosophy” or “My Undergrad Career: Shot to Pieces?” and/or “My Greatest Fear: Empty Reference Desks.”

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“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

False, Socrates.
Socrates is basically saying that self-examination is the reason for living. If you’re not taking a good hard look at y-o-u, you might as well kick the bucket now.
I say “False Socrates” because it is probably much more enjoyable to live without agonizing over whether there is a God, if boxers are preferable to briefs, if ethical behavior has any legitimate justification.

Yet I still ask the “20,000 feet” questions. Integrity demands that we continuously self-evaluate. It is lazy and irresponsible to not constantly question.
Orwell’s “doublethink” is not a science fiction notion: its conceptual reality lives in the fabric of our psychology. I hold contradictory beliefs simultaneously; ideas that upon examination would not hold up to any modus ponens test.  I think we all do.
I cannot seem to shake the “big questions.” I am not sure I even have the option to ignore the ‘big’ questions, unless I get a puppy or a drug habit to consume my every waking moment.

So what does self-examination mean?

It means taking a hard look at yourself.

Examining yourself requires a little schizophrenia. You must dissociate yourself from yourself.
You will never see the back of your neck directly unless you use a mirror.
Self-discovery requires some distance. A safe place to take a look at what you believe, really want, really think.
An environment that allows you to speak is a cocoon that can produce something winged and colorful.

I met this lovely woman who went to a Buddhist retreat. She was in a huge, open hall full of men and women lying on their backs. You could hear the wind hushing over the wooden room and bugs humming outside.

She was lying on her back in a position called fish pose.
Such a vulnerable position led her to yell, cry, and break down. Simply being alone with herself in a position that opens your chest and neck revealed a fragile part of her.

I think many of us are not transparent to ourselves. We think we know what we believe, what we love, hate, and what we want.  As it turns out, there are nooks and crannies to our psyche that we are not privy to, even though it seems that we are in the driver’s seat and are actively creating ourselves and our knowledge.

What do you want?

What do you think?

What do you think you want (but really want it because others have made you believe you want it)?

I am going to dig I little deeper into what is moi. I am going to figure out what Sarah Bratt (so called), this sac of cytoplasm ‘experiencing’ the world indirectly, is all about.
I am a sticky, imprecise, and maybe even metaphysically ungrounded concept.

This is a necessary investigation that is fueled not by mere curiosity, but by an acknowledgment of duty. There is a duty to question yourself, to try to control your life, and to have a mission statement or worldview as available as your name. Your mission statement should be in your back pocket, ready in demand.
For what is your name but an arbitrarily given label?  Your personal vision is chosen horizon that you can devote yourself to.

In the words of Dan Dennett: “The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

My favorite example of pragmatism making its case against theory is a humorous one (see cartoon J). A philosopher walks into a bar and sits next to William James. They begin to discuss epistemology.
“Does the pint exist? I cannot know if it does.”
As it happens, William James (the Religious Studies major in the cartoon scenario) trumps philosopher because his proof is in the action of drinking the lager.

No matter what meta-questions may arise, no matter how fun (read “fun” as: self-indulgent and pleasurably agonizing) it is to rub your chin, or stroke your goatee (or someone else’s chin and/or beard if you are unequipped as far as facial hair goes) and look into the smoggy distance as you ponder obscure questions…No matter how many times we ask the question “why,” there is always the stark “Jack Sparrow” truth:

In Pirates I, Jack says: “The only rules in life are these: What a man can do, and what a man cannot do.”
I will write more on this idea in a later post, but for our purposes here, it is only necessary to comment that actions speak louder than philosophers in bars wondering about the metaphysical status of their IPA.

The real and interesting and powerful questions that are always based in: “What can I do?”
Philosophy taught me that over-analysis is a tiger trap.
The sharpened stakes at the bottom of the tiger pit are theoretical questions that keep you stuck fast, paralyzed into inaction.

So these blog posts will be a journey into personal identity and librarian identity.
I plan to rub a pumice stone all over my assumptions, pre-conceived notions, contradictions, illogical, “logic,” reasoning, irrationalities, and heaps of “doublethink” that I likely espouse.

A warning before I close: self-criticism can be a monster. It can be a hairy, huge, Where the Wild Things Are dagger-toothed beast that tells you what you SHOULD do.

When it comes to monsters, there are two things you can do. You can fight the monster. Or you can cuddle with it, feed it three square meals a day, and keep him under your bed for the times you need a good scare.  A scare will remind you that wild things do exist—do not forget how much you do not know, of the world of facts, dictionaries, encyclopedias, words, people you have not met, people who have died and you will never get to meet, and the places you’ve never been; be in shock, awe, fear and trembling about looking at yourself and what you can do.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

–Marianne Williamson

So this blog post will be a little pumice-buff of my recent thoughts.

The best way to deal with a mosquito is to slap it.
Now while this isn’t the best advice when applied to say, child-rearing, it IS however, applicable to those irrationalities and whiny, buzzing obstinate thoughts that won’t go away until you look them in their beady eye and say: “Yo! Stop being irrational.” *slap the buzzing thought*

My first recent irrational thought is this: “I do not want to work in a library.”
Blasphemy! I am in library school; why should I be so averse to working in a library?
My greatest fear is that the reference desk will be empty. I am afraid the state of society will not be an active, scholarly one. I am afraid that I will rarely get asked:

  • Do you have an outline map of Georgia?
  • I need examples of funerary sculpture from the eighteenth century.
  • Which New Jersey Governor signed the Declaration of Independence?
  • I was born on February 4, 1990. What day of the week was that?
  • I need to research the life of Emily Brontë.
  • What is the impact of Roman architecture on the perceived power of Rome?
  • Are there cookbooks in this library?[1]

I feel like the biggest difficulty will not be to ask and answer information questions, but to spark an interest in learning. Imposed questions are necessary medicine, necessary gateway drugs that get kids and adults to be interested in continuous learning.

Librarians will never go extinct as long as there is learning, information to be organized, and communities that need help growing their knowledge. What would really put librarians out of a job is not e-books, but lack of motivation.

I hope people will always want to know.


[1] Hiremath, Uma & Cassell, Kay Ann. Reference and Information Services in the 21st. Century: An Introduction (2nd
ed.).
Neal Schuman Publishers, Inc. NY, New York. 2011.

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4 thoughts on ““Practical Philosophy: Trying to Reconcile New Librarianship’s Behaviorism with Analytic Philosophy” or “My Undergrad Career: Shot to Pieces?” and/or “My Greatest Fear: Empty Reference Desks.”

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