Inside Areté Interview Series

Who is Areté?

Max N Alumus

Max N., Areté 2014 Alumnus

Where did you go to college? Lewis & Clark in Portland. I majored in music and philosophy, separately.  

What are you doing now? I took a year off after college and worked a bunch of odd jobs — at a burger place and a translation company and giving music lessons. Graduate school seemed like a good idea. I worked on my applications and got into UCLA. I started in fall of 2019 and am now in a PhD program studying Ethnomusicology. It’s basically the anthropology of music. It usually involves being intensely involved in a music community and writing about that community. I’m looking at American Music outside of the U.S., particularly in the Balkans. 

How did your education make your life better? I had a horrible experience at every school before Areté. The worst was middle school. This had to do with the way public schools were overcrowded and underfunded, as well as all the tests and not having relationships with teachers and always being disciplined. 

I was always a very curious person, and I loved learning but I can’t remember learning much of anything in those kinds of environments. Many curious but unconventional learners end up thriving at Areté. 

There were two things that got me excited about education and being in school in general. The first thing was having small class sizes and thus personal relationships with teachers. This allowed for the space to pursue things that interested me and also to feel heard. Teachers and students go to lunch together, for example. The second (related) thing is Symposium at Areté, which lets you think about what you care about … tackling philosophical questions at age 15. That was an inspiring moment for me in my education. The polar opposite of a standardized test.  

If you could go back and learn or do anything now or in the future, what would it be? One thing is that I’d love to live abroad and practice Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. Two is farming. I’d love to do that. A third one (which is more about what I would have liked to do in high school and college) would be taking classes in civil engagement. Like being taught how and why to vote and how to organize — those sorts of practical things. 

What is your favorite philosopher, philosophical question or thought experiment? My favorite philosopher is William James. He has a nice thought experiment in his famous paper The Will to Believe. It’s more of a moral tale railing against scientific positivism than a thought experiment. It’s about how sometimes you have to make decisions — you have option A and option B and you will never get enough evidence to know which is the better option. Think about a mountain climber caught in a blizzard. There are two possible paths. Both are covered in snow. If you take one, you will die. If you take the other, you will live. How do you make a decision? His answer is faith and that you have to own the decision you make, despite insufficient evidence.

What was your favorite Areté Symposium about? I did a Symposium about originality in music.  

What was your favorite moment at Areté? I have many. The Japan trip was really fun. Also, I just liked every day and getting to discuss texts with a group of five to ten people in a room. 

What do you like to do when you have free time? Play accordion and cook and take walks in the forest and cycling. 

What is an interesting fact about you? I play accordion. 

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