Andrew Potter’s Finest Hour?

Morpheus2When the guy on the battery-powered radio said the army needed volunteers to go house to house and check in on shut-ins and the elderly, two days into the great ice storm of 1998, my buddies and I were out the door in less than ten minutes. When we got to the high school, the gymnasium was already half full. Ten minutes later, it was full. The commanding officer had one of his men go outside and turn everyone else away. Tears streamed down his face as he divvied up the assignments. He was profoundly moved, as were we. Our neighborhood wasn’t, I hasten to add, especially benevolent; volunteers were turned away all over the city. That’s the Quebec I know and love. That’s my home. And that’s how my people behave in a crisis.

My wife and I live in the middle of Montreal, in the most densely populated electoral district in Canada (Plateau-Mont-Royal), and yet parents still parent each other’s kids here, neighbors ask suspicious strangers what the fuck they’re doing, a guy shovels his neighbor’s stairs unasked (simply because he noticed that his neighbor’s leg is in a cast), and people smile discreetly when they see you without expecting a conversation. It’s the best of both worlds: the privacy and pseudo-anonymity of the city without Kitty Genovese. Bowling Alone? I think not.

But I’m writing to you today, not because I disagreed with your article, but because I was deeply impressed by your thoughtful retraction. Is this not precisely what we need more of in the Age of Trump: grownups who know how to calmly admit error and move on with life. And is this not also precisely what we’d expect from a philosopher? Strange as it may sound, I actually cherish those moments when I’m dead wrong about something in class, because it gives me an opportunity to teach my students, by example, how to admit error gracefully.

Denial’s for the true-believer, and casuistry’s for the mendacious. Rationalization’s for the ideologue, and anger’s for the know-it-all. Fear’s for the weak, and shame’s for the fragile. Excuses are for the guilty, and tears are for the lifelong valedictorian, who’s known far too little failure. But the philosopher’s not fazed by criticism. The philosopher just acknowledges the error, and calmly corrects course. Criticism is, after all, for the Socratic, merely information. Nobody fears making a mistake less. As Marcus Aurelius puts it in the Meditations: “If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.”

—John Faithful Hamer

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

7 thoughts on “Andrew Potter’s Finest Hour?

  1. How can you be sure Potter wasn’t forced to retract by the Institute or McGill?
    Also: how is the vile article he wrote the result of fooling around with different ideas in the lab? Talk about an unwarranted apologia! Potter was just using the highway incident as an excuse to broadcast his hate.

    Like

  2. I nodded in agreement as I read. Then, laughed at the pretentiousness as I digested it. Acknowledging errors and correcting them is laudable, of course. But, this episode is hardly an example of a competent philosopher’s finest hour – either for Potter or Hamer.

    If the organized thinking – evidence, logic and conclusions – we expect from a competent philosopher underlie the claims in Potter’s column, why did he capitulate so rapidly, so completely without defending his views? If, instead, the column was merely Potter’s kneejerk reactions as an ordinary citizen, rather than as a philosopher, why is Hamer focusing on philosopher?

    Potter’s column was weak. Hamer’s tribute to philosophical integrity was laughable. Pretentiously laughable.

    Like

    1. Guess we all find ways shield ourselves from this broken and burning world, Robert: you gird yourself in that sneer, I gird myself in rose-colored glasses, and yet death comes for us all regardless. That’s laughable. Pretentiously laughable.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s