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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Port; New World

Tuesday, October 02, 2007
USS Cole – Bournemouth, Cherbourg 50°10N 001°50W

I make it to the bridge just before six bells. There’s a mammoth container ship a mile to starboard, it’s great bulk black in the foggy dawn, save for the row of lighted ports along its hull. Through the big, mounted binoculars on the wing I can make out “Evergreen” on its side; it’s making some 25kts. We’ve arrived at the mouth of the English Channel, between Bournemouth and Cherbourg. It’s exciting to read these names on the chart. I feel like arriving in home port, even though I’ve never sailed these waters. A curious atavism of heritage and language.

Awoke reasonably alert about 0530, glad for the good sleep. At the wardroom table I listen to recapitulations of the measures taken during the night with respect to many “contacts” in this crowded sea. I’m looking forward to the day. At long last, we’ve reached the end of the 19th century this semester [in my classes]. There are few things more appealing than talking about the end of absolutes and the origins of Christianity, for the historical facts are sure to undermine most of the students’ comfortable conventions. I’ve been stressing the role of philosophy, since its beginnings, in challenging social and intellectual conventions by asking questions. Unappreciated, even reviled, when they’re asked and explored, the most penetrating of these questions eventually destroy the existing world-picture and create a new language. At long last everyone learns to speak it, giving rise to a new set of conventions. And then, by chance, another philosopher comes along to ask the key question. In the middle of the 19th century, it was Darwin who filled this honorable—but rarely honored—role. The explication of his insight into evolution was more explosive even than the Copernican revolution, for it ended millennia of fantasies about god and dreams of absolute realities. Now humans live in a universe of chance, open as never before to imagination and discovery. Still, most people continue to speak the old language. Nietzsche was the first to notice the time it takes for the majority to receive the news that the world has changed. People are less modern than the times they live in.
...jb

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