But, let’s say you aren’t machine-gunned or beheaded or hacked to pieces with a machete just on your way through the airport to (so-called) security. Let’s say you survive the full-body scan as well as the obligatory two-hour, duty-free-spangled dwalm afterwards, searching the departure area for a decent bar. Let’s go crazy and suppose that you make it to your seat on the plane without being publicly shamed, involuntarily ousted, or socked in the jaw by airline staff or a fellow passenger.
Your reward is that you then must fly. During the airless, comfortless journey that follows (for which you more and more wondrously have to pay), amid air contaminated by engine oil and other toxic substances, you will also be at risk of radiation, congestion, constipation, nausea, dizziness, headaches, hypoxia, jet lag, flatulence, the flatulence of all (and I mean all) the people around you, deep vein thrombosis, fleas, bedbugs, and whooping cough. No one delays a flight because of illness anymore—that would be costly and cowardly. Instead, they leap on board in the service of their microbes, dutifully coughing, sniffing and exuding right next to you for hours. If you’re very unlucky, you may catch Ebola or TB while innocently trying to untangle your gratis audio set; to be capped by Montezuma’s revenge on arrival at your destination.
And what a plan it was. Eight days after Otto’s death, my putative guide Shane, an Irishman one year my senior, was responding to my visa-application queries with answers like “You can use fake hotels” and “Handle that independently.” He enjoined me to present the Russian embassy with a bogus itinerary centered around bus tours in Estonia. At no point during this process was any peep made as to the State Department’s warning: 2. Emphasis Foggy Bottom’s. “Do not travel to Chechnya or any other areas in the North Caucasus region. If you reside in these areas depart immediately.” As for the South Caucasus, well: “U.S. Embassy personnel are restricted from travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, even in the case of emergencies involving U.S. citizens … There are no commercial airports in either region making air ambulance evacuations impossible during medical emergencies.”
In other words, it was profoundly stupid—nay, monumentally irresponsible—for an American to go traipsing along these geopolitical fault lines. I knew this journey was selfish to the point where I could very well affect international relations. That I could be justly portrayed on TV as one more callous and/or terminally privileged dingus who had viewed the prospect of his death as a feature and not a bug. I knew this—as I suppose Otto knew, on some level, the risks that went along with his own YPT trip.
Yet the moment my plane swayed gently into its runup to liftoff, I felt the purest of pre-journey elation. As the YPT literature in my hand suggested, “It does not get much more adventurous and off the beaten path than this.”
Setiya is one of the very best moral philosophers working in the broadly analytic tradition. And like Bernard Williams and Thomas Nagel from an earlier generation, his work is characterized by a broad humanistic concern that reminds us that analytic philosophy can be something more than a pedantic accumulation of distinctions. So Setiya is ideally suited to exploring the philosophical dimensions of the midlife crisis — and not just because he is plainly someone with extensive personal experience of his topic. But popular philosophy is a strange beast — invariably looked upon by professional philosophers with some mix of disdain and poorly concealed envy. And the idea of a “philosophical self-help guide” — as Midlife bills itself — may seem especially suspect.
After all, the purpose of self-help literature is, well, self-improvement. But philosophy, one might think, should seek to understand the truth, without concern for its positive or negative consequences for the reader. While politicians and self-help gurus may be justified in peddling “noble lies,” the philosopher must follow her arguments to their conclusions, however debasing or ignoble these might be. Or so the thought goes.
Doctors today often complain of working in an occupational black hole in which patient encounters are compressed into smaller and smaller space and time. You can do a passable job in a 10-minute visit, they say, but it is impossible to appreciate the subtleties of patient care when you are rushing.
Enter “Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing,” a wonderful new memoir by Dr. Victoria Sweet. The term “slow medicine” has different interpretations. For some it means spending more time with patients. For others it means taking the time to understand evidence so as to avoid overdiagnosis and overtreatment. For Sweet, it means “stepping back and seeing the patient in the context of his environment,” and providing medical care that is “slow, methodical and step-by-step.”
In these potty-mouthed times, when certain world leaders sling profanity about with abandon, many observers naturally lament the debasement of speech. But instead of clutching pearls, why not find a silver lining? Learning more about when, how and why people swear offers insight into everything from the human brain to a society’s taboos. Trash talking even affords some real physical and social benefits, as Emma Byrne argues in “Swearing Is Good for You”.