Ep4: Uniting Mississippi

This is the podcast episode's cover photo, taken at my talk in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Barnard Observatory on the University of Mississippi campus on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016.Posted 2/6/2016

Philosophy Bakes Bread, Episode 4, “Uniting Mississippi.”

This episode considers what philosophy has to say about leadership. It features a recorded presentation I gave at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture on my September 2015 book, ‘Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South.’ Though Mississippi is the focus of my application, the principles and challenges apply through the South and beyond.

Logo of the Philosophy Bakes Bread podcast.A partial transcript for this episode is available here.

Ep4 – Intro Transcript: Uniting Mississippi

This is the podcast episode's cover photo, taken at my talk in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Barnard Observatory on the University of Mississippi campus on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016.Partial Transcript of Episode 4: “Uniting Mississippi”

Posted 2/5/16

The post with the podcast recording is here.

This episode features a recorded presentation that I gave at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. I drafted an intro and conclusion to the episode, for which I have a transcript. If I can find the time, I will make a transcript of the whole episode. I’ll likely just edit this post if I can make that happen. Otherwise, for those interested, you can read about the book in the interview I gave The Clarion Ledger in January here, or you can read the book. For now, here’s the little bit of transcript that I can offer:

Uniting Mississippi


Hello and welcome to Philosophy Bakes Bread, food for thought about life and leadership. This is Eric Thomas Weber. When I started this podcast, it was my hope that I might make time to put out episodes on a regular basis, such as every month or two. It has become quite clear to me that it’ll be tough to do that when things get especially busy. The reason is happy, though. In September of 2015, the University Press of Mississippi released my latest book, Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South. My intention was for the book both to contribute to scholarship and to speak especially to people beyond the academy as well.

The good news is that it has been sparking some discussion, both at academic talks and in the newspaper and TV news. The cool thing about news attention is that it helps to demonstrate that philosophy bakes bread. Newspapers and TV news stations get paid because people value the information that they offer. Advertisers want in on that attention, on that value, so they pay for it. They quite literally put a cash value on ideas. John Dewey noticed that early on in his career and went on to become America’s great public philosopher, but that’s another story.

Since I’ve been focused a lot on Uniting Mississippi recently, and since I mean for it to demonstrate also that philosophy bakes bread, I decided to record my latest talk. I gave the following presentation at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture on Wednesday, February 3 in 2016. Here’s the talk, recorded with a lapel mic hooked up to my cellphone, if you can believe it. The recording begins after the very nice intro I received and stops before the Q&A. I hope that this recording scratches the itch for those people who want to hear some philosophy bake bread. Here goes:

Recorded Presentation

Logo of the Philosophy Bakes Bread podcast.I hope you enjoyed this recording of my talk at Barnard Observatory on the University of Mississippi campus.

You can follow this series on Twitter @PhilosophyBB, and my main author account @EricTWeber. I’m also on Facebook with my author page, Eric Thomas Weber Author. Join me there too and visit my Web site, http://EricThomasWeber.org. Most of all, thanks for listening to Philosophy Bakes Bread, food for thought about life and leadership.

Ep3: Coping with Uncertainty

Logo of the Philosophy Bakes Bread podcast.Posted 7/31/2015

Philosophy Bakes Bread, Episode 3, “Coping with Uncertainty.”

This third episode of Philosophy Bakes Bread focuses on challenges for live and work that concern uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Philosophical ideas about the nature of knowledge can be of help, as well as some conceptual and practical tools for addressing or overcoming our worries.

The transcript for this episode is available here.

Skydiver preparing to jump.

Ep3 – Transcript: Coping with Uncertainty

Transcript of Episode 3: “Coping with Uncertainty”

Posted 7/31/2015

The post with the podcast recording is here.

[Musical intro]

Coping with Uncertainty

Skydiver preparing to jump.Jack has always wanted to own his own business. He’s worked for 15 years in a stable job and now has the resources he needs to take the plunge. Friends and family find that he’s not been himself, however. He doesn’t show up for personal commitments. He stays late at work. When confronted about where he’s been and how he’s been doing, loved ones find him anxious, almost panicked. He looks miserable. He feels like a person on a tv show, who’s always wanted to go sky diving, is up in the plane, cameras watching, but just cannot make himself jump. He won’t do it.

Sally has finished high school and always dreamed of going to college. She works with her mother in the family business. Her mother and father encourage her to go to college, as she has always wanted to do, but now she won’t talk about it. She would be the first person in her family to go, but now she says that the family needs her. Over time, she gets irritated when asked about it. Her parents have found ways to trim needs so that they could manage even if she weren’t able to work with her mother while in school anymore. When the subject is broached, sometimes Sally seems startlingly angry. Other times she cries and wants to be alone. In sober moments, she explains that she doesn’t know what she’d want to study, so she doesn’t see the point of going.

Scary movie scene, with lady going up stairs into darkness.Jack and Sally both suffer from very real fears of the unknown. The merely unfamiliar can present daunting uncertainty, but the wholly unknown can be frightening. Scary movies get the heart thumping, when lead characters venture into the dark. Uncertainty is naturally frightening, but philosophers have found ways to think about the unknown and the uncertain that can help us to cope with challenges and the need to act, despite incomplete knowledge.

Welcome to Philosophy Bakes Bread, food for thought about life and leadership. This is Eric Thomas Weber.

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Ep2: Purpose in Life and Work

PBB-Logo-1-itunesPosted 5/21/2015

Philosophy Bakes Bread, Episode 2, “Purpose in Life and Work.”

This second episode of Philosophy Bakes Bread considers the challenge of envisioning and choosing the right purposes for oneself and for one’s organizations in life and at work.

The transcript for this episode is available here.

Ep2 – Transcript: Purpose in Life and Work

Transcript of Episode 2: “Purpose in Life and Work”

Posted 5/21/2015

The post with the podcast recording is here.

[Musical intro]

This is a photo of one of my honors writing classes, on a day when we sat out in the University of Mississippi's lovely Grove.Tim is a college student who comes to ask you for advice. You seem happy, let’s say, and he wants to learn from you about what he should do to be happy also. He says that he wants to make a difference, and he’d like to make money. I encounter this scenario often in my work in higher education. What do you say? One solution you might imagine is to talk about your own life and what you care about. Pursuing those interests made you happy, perhaps. That’s nice for you, Tim thinks to himself, but he turns out not to be interested in those same things. He feels envious of your happiness and clarity of vision, but also frustrated and dispirited about his own struggle. Examples of happy people can be helpful, but only so long as we can figure out what it is about those people that led to their happiness. What is it about how they’re living that makes them happy?

Logo for the Gallup polling service.Some people often thought to be very unlucky can actually be happy. On the flip side, the story of the bored and melancholy prince is familiar. In one of Plato’s dialogues, an old man named Cephalus says that money helps you to be happy, but only by making it easier to avoid those behaviors that often lead to an unhappy life. You don’t have to steal to survive when you have plenty. A 2011 Gallup poll confirms Cephalus’s advice. A survey of 1,000 U.S. residents found that happiness did not scale according to income, but instead according to the achievement of meaningful life goals and rewarding friendships. Money only seemed to make a difference when household income was less than $75,000. Above that, happiness showed no gains for more money earned.

A photo of a bust of Aristotle. He was a handsome guy.The philosopher Aristotle recognized the value and virtue of philanthropy, of course, which wealth can enable. You can give away money in a meaningful way that makes people’s lives better – that is, when you have money enough to give. If you’re miserable making your living, however, always dreaming about retirement, remember that you can get hit by a bus tomorrow, or the day before you retire. There has to be a better way than the rat race. Fortunately, there have been quite a few philosophers who have weighed in and who can help us to give Tim some direction. Even grown-ups, we old people, in Tim’s eyes, can often benefit from thinking about our present goals, our need for new ones, and the ways in which we are spending our time, as individuals and in organizations.

Photo of John Lachs facilitating a meeting at the University of Mississippi.Welcome to Philosophy Bakes Bread, food for thought about life and leadership. This is Eric Thomas Weber. Today’s podcast is focused on purpose in life and in careers or organizations. I’ll talk about how some great philosophers have offered insights about self-reflection, about recognizing one’s virtues and values, and about the wisest ways to pursue happiness. Aristotle offered many insights on these subjects, but also about one of the great problems that can get in the way of happiness, namely the confusion of means and ends. Other thinkers, like Karl Marx, noted ways in which people become unhappy. While many people disagree with Marx’s political positions, contemporary philosopher John Lachs has recognized where and how Marx was right about the problem he called alienation. It is the separation of the activities we perform from the meaningful ends that we want to pursue in life. Lachs offers us ways of thinking about the happy life which can connect with Aristotle’s ideas about happiness and combat the challenges that Marx saw arising in the modern world.

So, what do we tell Tim?

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Ep1: Acceptance & Happiness with Stoicism

PBB-Logo-1-itunesPosted 3/14/2015

Philosophy Bakes Bread, Episode 1, “Acceptance & Happiness with Stoicism.”

This first episode of Philosophy Bakes Bread presents a very personal story about how stoic philosophy can make a profound difference for the better in our lives when we encounter difficulties beyond our control.

The transcript for this episode is available here.


Ep1 – Transcript: Acceptance & Happiness with Stoicism

Transcript of Episode 1: “Acceptance & Happiness with Stoicism” 

Posted 3/14/2015

The post with the original podcast recording is here.

[Musical intro]

2014-04-27 16.13.27Human beings have become enormously powerful. There’s so much that we can control. We take for granted the fact that our homes can be warm in northern winters and cool in the baking heat of summer in the South. Travelling miles away for work is no problem when our cars, buses, and trains can shrink the distances to minutes of a commute. When we feel pain, there’s a drug for that. When we’re hungry, in cities or driving down the highway, there is someone ready to sell us food so often just around the corner or at the next exit. For many people, there certainly remain obstacles to happiness in life, but for the very lucky people in the world, like me, the greatest challenges are not about survival, but about getting what we want in life.

The philosopher Aristotle had a lot to say about happiness and how to get it. He also admitted, though, that luck, good or bad, can make happiness far easier or harder to attain. I learned that lesson the hard way. As an incredibly lucky person, with loving parents and brothers and a great education, I fell in love with and married the most amazing woman and we chased our ambitious goals. A mentor of mine likes to remind me of a line often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, whenever I talk about how lucky I am. “I’m a firm believer in luck,” the saying goes, “and the harder I work, the luckier I get.” There’s certainly some truth to that. Some luck, however, is beyond our control.

The Lyceum building at the University of Mississippi.I was finishing my Ph.D. program in Southern Illinois and my wife and I were expecting our first child when I got the call. The Holy Grail in the academic world is a tenure-track job. The icing on the cake was the fact that the job offer came from a great flagship state university, The University of Mississippi, a school alumni and Mississippians are extremely proud of, and with good reason. There are many who still recall the school’s difficult history, but it is also a symbol of remarkable progress and a place with immense potential. Annie and I had been a bit risky, planning to have our child before we were sure that I would land my first academic job. It worked.

I had my doctorate and a tenure-track job, one of the most secure forms of employment left in the United States. Annie had her master’s degree and had started her own doctoral program at Vanderbilt. She had been working in a highly employable field in Illinois and her prospects for work, even in small-town Oxford, were great. The future was bright and many of our goals were reached, while other goals were down a clear path ahead.

In August of that year, just before moving to Mississippi, our daughter Helen was born. We named her after my grandmother on my Dad’s side. It was a long delivery which started late in the evening. We were exhausted. When asked whether we wanted the baby in the room with us, we took the hospital up on their offer to watch Helen in the nursery. Without realizing it, we may have saved Helen’s life with that decision.

On our little girl’s first day of life, the nurses watching her witnessed apnea. She stopped breathing. Shortly after being told about the first time, I witnessed it happen myself. Within two seconds our little girl’s body turned from a light pink to a medium blue. A nurse swooped to Helen and got her breathing again, and her color returned in an instant. I had never seen anything like it. This nurse was in control and did it again. It is amazing what we can control.

The part we could not control was the cause. At childbirth, a mother’s blood is “hypercoagulable.” That means that it is ready to clot. Clots are important when you bleed, as they are the mechanism which stops bleeding. What this means is that while in delivery, a mother’s blood is ready to protect her, naturally. It’s pretty amazing. At the same time, those clots can go wherever blood goes. A baby’s brain is very small and has many tiny little blood vessels. In our daughter’s case, one of those vessels became clogged with a clot. On her first day of life, our little girl suffered a stroke. They call it an infarction. The injury also caused seizures, which we only saw in the form of her apnea.

More than else in my life, I wanted at that time powers that were not in my control. I wanted to do anything I could to help my little girl heal and thrive. Unfortunately, no amount of money, manpower, or technology could change what had happened. We did everything we could, including a helicopter trip to a specialist hospital, to one of the best children’s hospitals in the country. There simply are things that are within our control and things that aren’t. Aristotle was right. Sometimes luck makes it very difficult to be happy, even if everything else in your life felt like hitting the lottery.

Fortunately, another great philosopher had some invaluable lessons for me and my wife. We can say without hesitation that we are very happy people, even if it took some time, effort, and especially some deeply thoughtful and sober philosophy.

Whole wheat sesame loaves.Welcome to “Philosophy Bakes Bread,” food for thought about life and leadership. This is Eric Thomas Weber.

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