On Thomas Aquinas, blogging, the virtues of exit and the need to remain.


You remain just as entitled to my opinion as ever before, but in 2018, the cadence of delivery at NAC will be changing.

Actually, it already has.

My blogging workload always has been determined primarily by internal expectations, balanced with the time available to meet them. My available time is about to grow shorter, so my resolutions in 2018 involve reducing the total number of blog posts, but making these fewer posts better.

At least I hope.

Before moving along to what Thomas Aquinas may have thought of all this, an extract from the December 10 explanation.

The blog, our swamp, a whole year of my life and the outlook for 2018.

 … In fact, the (News and Tribune’s) maddening obliviousness probably does more to impel my cantankerousness than any other single factor, including (Jeff) Gahan’s cult of personality, David Duggins’ entirely undeserved pay packet or the local Democratic Party’s muzzling instincts.

Here’s the thing: it takes a village to resist the idiocy, cowardice and graft. None of us standing alone can put a dent in the hyper-monetized armor of the reigning local vandals.

There’s a swamp in need of clearing, and I’ll continue to play my part … just in an altered state, because the increased time it takes to do this pro bono job the way I’d like for it to be done is about to become an issue. As Billy Preston once presciently observed, “nothing from nothing leaves nothing.”

This blog will remain a place where ideas and alternatives are discussed, and satire is encouraged — after all, satire is more important than booze when it comes to coping with the saturation-level stupidity all around us — but no streak lasts forever, and mine is no exception. I can promise there’ll be no new record for posts set in the year 2018.

There remains a standing invitation to readers to get involved, contribute their thoughts and rock the research. Those who do will be remunerated at the same basic going rate (zilch), and I’d be thrilled with this blog morphing into a community anthology.

Until then, NAC in 2018 will be much the same, only different …

Trust me: the older I get, the greater the impulse to chuck it and retreat into a more secluded world of non-involvement.

Resistance by Refusal: You’re Never Too Legit to Quit, by Richard Kreitner (The Nation)

In an interview, Jennet Kirkpatrick, the author of The Virtues of Exit, makes the case for giving up.

RK: Many people argue that disengagement from politics is the very last thing we need, that “now more than ever” we have to stay plugged in to a process, even if we think connection to it kind of saps our souls. Exiting politics is often thought of as apolitical or selfish.

JK: I understand that view. Democratic politics depends on civic participation. If no one votes or serves on juries, how is a democracy supposed to run? That said, I think exit has sometimes been unfairly maligned. Walking away isn’t always cowardly. It can also be a courageous and defiant political act. It depends a lot on how it’s done.

Last week The Bookseller forwarded me a link about Aquinas, whose prodigious writing — as an adult, he amassed roughly 4,000 words per day in compiling the Summa Theologiae — inexplicably ceased just before his death.

It will surprise many readers to learn that once the philosophy bug bit me at IU Southeast an alarming 40 years ago, I spent much time in the library reading Summa Theologiae.

As an atheist from very early in my life, theology generally struck me as an entirely wasted effort, but there was something about Aquinas’s dogged determination that impressed me. How could one man, albeit an extremely intelligent writer, ever hope to summarize theology in such a manner?

For starters, with an incredible work ethic, but even this wasn’t enough. The author Malesic explains Aquinas’s end in the context of burnout, and makes a case for the virtues of exit from how own personal experience as a college professor.

A Burnt-Out Case, by Jonathan Malesic (Commonweal)

Aquinas & the Way We Work Now

… What I experienced—and what I see, admittedly somewhat anachronistically, in the final days of Thomas Aquinas—is burnout. We toss around that term imprecisely, applying it to languorous teens, drug addicts, and Graham Greene characters. But psychologists who study the phenomenon have a definition for it. Burnout is a response to the chronic stress of work, manifested in exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of inefficacy. Anyone who works in an institution or responds to clients’ human needs is at risk. Thus burnout is a malady typical of post-industrial capitalism, where the simultaneous imperatives of productivity and cost-cutting breed conflicting norms that workers cannot fulfill without risking damage to their inner lives.

Malesic’s thoughts were read by writer Andrew Sullivan, who provides his own meditation on burnout and religion.

On Thomas Aquinas and Blogging, by Andrew Sullivan (New York)

On Thomas Aquinas and Blogging

What would happen to you if you wrote 4,000 words a day for years and years? Not so long ago, something like this question came up for me in my crazed years of blogging. It’s also surely relevant to the journalists who now have to produce daily, hourly copy, then also tweet and Instagram and go on TV and on and on … until they, well what, exactly? The correct answer is: Drop dead.

Which is what, some believe, happened to Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian who tried (and largely succeeded) to fit the entire world into a synthesis of Christian revelation and Aristotelian teleology. This was not only staggering as an intellectual achievement, but as a physical one. It took decades of unremitting concentration and focus. And you’d imagine that this holy workaholic would be writing until he expired (just as Hitch — peace be upon him — was still working on a review as he prepared to croak). But he didn’t. Nearing the end of his magnum opus, The Summa Theologica, Thomas suddenly stopped. He wrote not another word. He left it all unfinished. A few months later, he died at the age of 50.

There’s a wonderful review essay in Commonweal meditating on this mystery. Jonathan Malesic compares Aquinas’s work compulsion with the contemporary cult of productivity. Aquinas is, he argues, the patron saint of burnout. And journalists, of course, are not the only people in our time who are subject to this kind of pressure every waking day of their lives. Frazzled doctors in hospitals, harried academics, bleary-eyed tech coders, single moms working round the clock, lawyers, cops, service members, and on and on. The web ensures that there is no work-life separation, and the constant demand for higher and higher productivity gets to you. It drains us, wears us out, ages us … and we don’t even have the consolation that we are leaving behind a body of work that scholars will still be poring over more than a millennium later!

Malesic proposes burnout as the answer to the Aquinas conundrum, in contrast to the traditional view that Thomas had a vision and suddenly realized the pointlessness of it all. But I don’t see the two theories as mutually exclusive, and perhaps that’s because I’ve always loved the original explanation. We know the following: That on December 6, 1273, Aquinas hit a wall. He wrote not a word afterward. When asked what had happened, he responded: “I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw” …

Hence the prescription.

In the hope of mitigating burnout amid rampant warning symptoms, first adjust. Leave more time for smelling roses and coffee. Vary the routine. You can’t do it alone; make room for others, and if they don’t respond, then it wasn’t meant to be. Aquinas departed, and other theologians took his place. All things pass, so let them … though not just yet.

(blogger stands, stretches, goes for more coffee)

So it goes.