When I received the invitation to participate in Chautauqua’s focus on the American West, I anticipated speaking about the demands that climate change has placed on local, regional, state and federal actors across the West to overcome barriers to the integrated management of water and energy.
Guest column by Carlin Romano.
“America the Philosophical?” It sounds like “Canada the Exhibitionist” — a mental miscue. Everyone knows Americans don’t take philosophy seriously, don’t pay any attention to it and couldn’t name a contemporary academic philosopher if their passports depended on it. As historian Richard Hofstadter dryly observed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, “In the United States the play of the mind is perhaps the only form of play that is not looked upon with the most tender indulgence.”
But if the title phenomenon of Hofstadter’s classic indeed boasts “a long, historical background,” the peculiar attitude directed at philosophy in America is more quizzical than hostile, closer to good-humored wariness than contempt. Philosophy doesn’t threaten or bother the practical on-the-go American. The American middle manager confronted with a devoted philosophy type is most likely to yank out the old cliché, “What are you going to do, open a philosophy store?” and leave it at that. If, of course, the information has been accurately downloaded. Tell your seatmate on a short-haul flight that you’re “in philosophy,” and the reply is likely to be: “Oh, that’s great. My niece is in psychology, too.”