Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop: Athens version

Okay, so I’ve been cooped up with sore wrists and a sore thumb from having (stupidly) tried to outsmart some overly stiff clay the other day. This has left me with more down time than is good for me (Read: Too much time sitting in front of the computer). Rather than simply going out of my skull (which I also did my fair share of) I decided to spend a solid hour and a quarter watching this video a friend posted on facebook:

The topic is an examination of the “unschooled” option for educating our children (not to be confused with “homeschooling”). Lately I have been thinking a lot about some of the shortcomings of our institutionalized education system, mostly from the standpoint of how we have gotten to the point of eliminating art as a valuable thing to expose students to. So this is a different but related topic. And hearing her own experiences was interesting. Of course there are so many factors why this may not be an option for every parent, but in a world where we seem to get led about by our noses much of the time, it was fascinating to hear of this alternative. I thought she handled it superbly.

Well it turns out that this woman is a fellow Athenian (Athens GA that is), and although I don’t think I’ve met her, her husband is someone I’ve seen around town for years as a local neighbor and (unbeknownst to me) frontman/songwriter for the band Neutral Milk Hotel. Small freakin’ world…. Well, the video also mentioned the documentary she made a few years ago, and I realized that although its been on my watchlist for months I still haven’t seen it.

Of course this sounds like something I would be totally captivated by. So I read the reviews and just to prove that you never know what deviltry those idle hands will get you into, I saw this reviewer’s summation of what the film was presenting:

“Postmoderns do not view human nature or value systems or civilizations as fixed entities but as flexible functions. This doesn’t mean that we should all become nihilists (or, I should say, it doesn’t have to mean that); what it means is that we should recognize that it is our responsibility to create the world that we want to live in. But this is tricky since in the postmodern world not everyone believes the same things or wants to live in the same kind of community/world. To some, a postmodern utopia would be a radical kind of democracy where the people are more empowered and the state less so; for others, a postmodern utopia might mean living in a community with others who share similar views on religion and social issues….

The word “revolution” is mentioned once or twice, but most of these thinkers are interested in a soft revolution — a slow dismantling of unfairly privileged institutions and practices that places some states, races, classes above others. To one or two of these thinkers, revolution means destroying everything and starting anew; but most of the thinkers on display here aren’t young revolutionaries, rather they are wizened academic professionals who want to reach out to the wider world beyond the borders of the campuses where they teach, and, in doing so, inspire positive change not just in students but in the minds and lives of filmgoers everywhere.

Postmodernism is not a proscriptive philosophy. It simply asks you to step outside what you know (or think you know) and to look at yourself and the world as things that do not have to be any particular way. No two people see the world the same way, so it should come as no surprise that no two postmodernists see the world the same way either. The postmodern idea is not to get everyone to think alike, but to allow people to understand that things can be viewed from many different angles and that no single perspective on life is definitive. Hence the value of ongoing dialogue with self and others.” Doug Anderson

I think if I had to choose a motto for my blog it would be this. I’ve just never heard it put so well.

So that’s what these idle hands have been up to today. Anyone see Astra’s film yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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9 Responses to Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop: Athens version

  1. tracey says:

    Jeff Mangum? Brilliant, genius! One of my favorite bands. My daughter gave me the Aeroplane album for Mother’s Day a few years ago, LOVE it! I’ll have to check out the film, thanks.

    • You betcha! Surprisingly I don’t know his music, but he seems like a really nice guy. Down to earth and level headed from what I gather.

      I guess one of the nice things about musicians living in Athens is that no one really gets too big a head. It just wouldn’t seem right when you see the REM guys around town just being normal, shopping for groceries, drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe, etc, or Fred Schneider from the B 52s ambling across the street right in front of you. When almost everyone is a musician musicians are more ordinary than nonmusicians. If you can’t answer the question “What bands are you in?” with at least 2 or 3 credible answers you are something of a freak (of course I’m not talking about the really normal people). Sure does make living in Athens kind of fun with all that creative energy busting loose all around.

  2. tracey says:

    Such a shame Neutral Milk Hotel isn’t putting out albums every week! I would buy them all 🙂

  3. Scott Cooper says:

    I started watching “Examined Life”, but it made my brain hurt, so I stopped.

  4. Scott Cooper says:

    Just kidding, of course. I watched it all, and suddenly my life is worth living. Thanks, Philosophy!

    • Hah! I had been really worried about you 😉 (And since I know better, let me take your jibe as a jumping off point for another dollop of OKG blathering)

      The way I see it, Philosophy is pretty pointless as doctrine, but it does have some use as an activity. Our brains are such great problem solvers, but modern circumstances tend to crush this out of us. Its not that we won’t still make mistakes but that the mistakes may be of a different kind. We won’t simply swallow all the BS being thrown at us if we learn to question things and think for ourselves. And that just takes practice. And our world doesn’t always seem to want this from us. The powers that be would be much happier if you just got in line, punched your time card, swilled your Budweiser, turned the TV on, surrounded yourself with the best new gadgets, from the biggest brand names, jumped on the latest bandwagon, and turned your mind off. This world seems to feed on us being passive consumers of culture and ideas, and maybe that is part of what is wrong with it.

      Its not that we have to have the right answers (whatever that means). What is important is that we don’t simply take other people’s word for what that is. If we can’t trust our own ability to figure it out, what makes us so sure we got it right in putting all our eggs in this other person’s basket? If I know I’m not that smart to begin with, then I can almost guarantee my decision to let other people think for me is not an example of being smart. Its simply an outstanding example of why I’m not smart, letting laziness decide rather than true exercise of my own mental faculties.

      And this is why I think art can be so important. It takes the best of our abilities to problem solve and applies them to the unfettered imagination that every child is born with. And the reason so many folks fail to acknowledge their own creative capacity is that we don’t cherish this self determining ability the way every child understands it. Children are so familiar with figuring out the world by investigating it and imagining it. As adults we just expect to get our reality spoon fed to us. We plug in to Fox News and congratulate ourselves at how clever we are to ‘agree’ with the pundits.

      Now I ask you, what form of life do you believe IS worth living? The life of a drone? A Bio-battery like in the Matrix films? Is there anything we can do to stem the tide of human beings becoming little more than manipulated dupes? The fact that school systems are eliminating arts education just means that kids are having their imaginations strangled at an earlier age. Is this the world we want to live in? Only if someone tells us everything will be all right? The Pope? Oprah? Sarah Palin? Just who are we supposed to let do our thinking for us? Isn’t this an issue of responsibility? A moral issue?

      Yikes!!! I sure can go overboard at the drop of a hat…..

      • Scott Cooper says:

        More seriously, that was an interesting film. I’d had it sitting in my Netflix queue for a while, with good intentions, and your recommendation pushed it over the top.

        Anything with Cornell West in it gets my vote — he’s amazing. I love how the first scene is an interview with him in the back of a cab; like that was a condition for him doing the film:
        “Dr. West, will you do our documentary about Philosophy?” “Yes. I’ll give you ten minutes on my way to the airport tomorrow.” “Done!”

        • Cornell West IS amazing!

          Since I just went off on a rip roaring rant I thought I’d post this video by the godfather of rants, George Carlin. My buddy Jim Peckham just shared it on faceb00k, and it says pretty much the same thing I just blathered on about. Enjoy!

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