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Quotations from Memory

Preface: There are more and longer comments here than I had wanted; they are my opinions, many of which are now quite old and might be better expressed. And warning: Quotations tend to metamorphose in my memory, i.e. change from what they originally were.

Outline of this page ...


Thoughts of philosophers

What an educated man has learned is difficult to learn. It is not easy. And whatever it has cost him, it will cost you too.

Goethe and Wittgenstein.

Know this. That a good man has nothing to fear, either in this world or in any other.

Practice doing what is right until it becomes a habit, because what we do from habit is sweet to us.

"And if my brother has wronged me?"

"My brother has wronged me!" He must see to that. You must do right towards him. That is the part that remains to you, never to return wrong for wrong.

"Is there no reward then?" Seems it to you so small a thing, and worthless, to be a good human being.

The bad is not more desirable than the good, as if it were better not to live in accord with the specific excellence that is proper to man (Socratic ethics). But whether from philosophical or Christian reasoning, the derived precept is the same: the good man harms no one, but seeks to do good even those who wrong him.

Self-control is only onerous when one's condition of mind is ignorance ... if indeed virtue is knowledge, vice ignorance. Although, note that what the philosopher calls happiness, which is a state quite indifferent to good or bad fortune, is quite different from what is commonly identified as happiness for man ("joy", "contentment", regardless of its source).

The three quotations directly above are from Epictetus, the Late Stoic philosopher, but I do not think they are exact quotes. They are my paraphrases from memory.*


* The second quote, exactly: "Choose the life that is noblest, for custom can make it sweet to thee." (tr. Crossley)

Plato rebuked a youth for playing at dice. "But I only played for a trifle," the youth said. "But the habit is not a trifle," Plato replied.

If what we do from habit is sweet to us, then the formation of bad habits (bad habit-formation) is not a trifle. And, indeed, the bad habits formed in the time of ignorance of the good are very difficult to reform. Very difficult.


* The source of the first quotation is: "... know this of a truth -- that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death." (Apology 41c-d, tr. Jowett)

And that is because the only evil that can befall man is to do evil (cf. Plato, Gorgias 469b), which is what the good man does not do. If my brother wrongs me, the wrong-doing is his not mine. What is mine is my response to my brother's wrong-doing. ("Fear to do evil, and you need fear naught else" is the copybook restatement of Plato.)

Ethics is concerned only with what I myself do. Even if I live in the midst of men intent on wrong-doing, I must not do wrong. How could it be otherwise.


"The good man is already a friend"

The good [in some authorities "wise"] man, even if he live in a far-off land, even if my eyes never light on him, I judge my friend.

Euripides (tr. W.K.C. Guthrie). And that is what is said by Antisthenes (as to the first quote, if I recall aright, whereas to the second the source is given), the student of Socrates, that

Even as yet unknown, a good man is already a friend. [Variation: A good man, although unmet and unknown, is already a friend.]

Men of [moral] worth are friends. (Diog. L. vi, 12)


"Question everything." But what does "everything" mean?

When Alexander Solzhenitsyn was as yet a Marxist-Leninist, a new prisoner was brought into his prison cell. Someone called this man "Ilyich". A.S. was shocked because no one was ever called "Ilyich" except Lenin; it was like hearing a blasphemy. This man later said to A.S., "You're a mathematician. What did Descartes say? Question everything." But what did that mean "everything"? Surely not everything.

The Gulag Archipelago, first English volume, 1973. Forty years after reading that and I seem finally to have understood to have faith in nothing except the search for the truth. Socratic philosophy is il maestro di color che non sanno (di color che non pensano sapere ciò che non sanno). Adapting Dante Alighieri's words Socrates is "the master of those who don't know", of those who don't think they know what they do not know. ("The climate of our world")

But of tyrannies there are many

"Communism means the death of all freedom."

Not that communism is the only "tyranny over the mind of man" (Thomas Jefferson). I have never been a communist -- not because I was ever a capitalist -- but because as Bertrand Russell saw from the first, Marxism-Leninism ("the dictatorship of the proletariat" by the Communist Party) means the end of all freedom.

Not that, but I have been an Americanist, one of George Orwell's slogan swallowers: "democracy", "equality before the law", "freedom of speech", "a free press", "consent of the governed", and so on. Ideas that are quite vague, and never subjected to critical definition (much less treated as hypotheses for verification) ... slogans long ago impressed into the mind at childhood.* Are they not practiced in America, then? At best they express half-truths about America ... and that is why they are so effective: because you can after all believe in a half-truth, even if you cannot believe in an outright lie.

The symbolism of the "Goddess of Freedom" in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989. The many people, both students and the workers who defended them, who were killed or imprisoned for demanding "the freedoms that all Americans take for granted". Surely not all. Were the Chinese students and their supporters deluded?**

The difficulty is to not let the slogan blind you to the limits of its application, i.e. to the half-lie.

The Chinese Communist Party speaks about freedom, democracy, equality and rule of law, but actually China has no freedom, no democracy, no equality, no rule of law.

Yu Wensheng, Open letter to the Party Congress, 18 October 2017. Thus Confucius on the reform of language: "If a father who is not fatherly were not called father ..."

You must put the question marks down deeper.

Wittgenstein wrote that as a note to himself.


Chauvinistic nationalism was not always the European disease it became. Roman citizenship and Catholic Church membership were not based on race, tribal affiliation or place of birth (Two archbishops of Canterbury were from Italy, Anselm and Lanfranc); thus the Apostle Paul, a Jew, and St. Augustine, a Berber, were both Roman citizens and Augustine was a Catholic Christian. Despite its roots in Judaism, which is a tribal-identity ideology, Christianity was anti-nationalist until the Reformation, as Rome had been.


* The propaganda we were subjected to in the state schools came quite early. I very clearly remember being shown anti-communist (anti-Soviet) film-strips in the state schools when I was six or seven years old; we were told about the little boy Pavlik Morozov who denounced his father to the secret police. We were told that children under communism had to betray their parents, that books and newspapers were censored, that people lived in terror of their own government .... We were taught to fear communism and to give our unquestioning loyalty to the United States (government). We were not taught to ask questions about America; it was just assumed that America was the best from all points of view. And, mind you, this was before the Civil Rights legislation of 1964, 1965 [Voting Rights Act], and 1968.

He spoke of the worldwide struggle going on between good and evil and of the two camps that are forming, believers and materialists. (Takashi Nagai's account of the Australian cardinal who came to visit him in Nagasaki in 1949, quoted in Glynn, A Song for Nagasaki (1988), xxviii

Life was a bit more complicated than "the communist East" and "the free West". For under capitalism human beings were free to be without medical care, to be without jobs, and women to be denied equal opportunity. Man doesn't live by bread alone, but he also doesn't live without bread. It wasn't simply a question of capitalist believers and communist atheists. Our life was a bit more complicated than that.

** Mikhail Gorbachev called the Chinese students "hotheads" (a statement he restates with approval in his Memoirs (1996 tr.), p. 490), although they wanted nothing more than glasnost, democracy, free speech [Solzhenitsyn said that "it was Gorbachev who gave us free speech" (It is my belief that two facts led to the fall of the Soviet block: (1) the bravery of the East European people, and (2) the refusal by Gorbachev to use military force to continue to control them, the opposite of what was done in 1953 and 1968)], which China's rulers have not taken a step toward in the intervening years. As to the "hotheads", according to press reports, hundreds were either killed or imprisoned.


Party loyalty.

First there is an ideal, then a party to promote that ideal. Then the party is identified with the ideal. Then the party replaces the ideal.

Ignazio Silone. This is what Silone actually wrote: "The deadly mechanism is always the same: every group or institution rises through the defense of an ideal, but on the way it identifies itself with and then substitutes itself for that ideal, putting its own interests above all values" ("The Choice of Companions" in Emergency Exit, tr. Fergusson).

In the list of my loyalties ... country is not on the list. Loyalty to a country is Fascism, because country inevitably = government = "party". ("Conditional loyalty" is not loyalty.) It is to the ideal, not the party, that one owes loyalty.

"We must unify the party", not for the sake of its forgotten ideal, but for the sake/benefit of the party's members (officials).

"For king and country." The only king to recognize is God, and the only country the community of good men (Stoically, which is Christianly) the kingdom of God.

Thus the nebulous expression "un-American" is very curious. Because is that what is important (nationalism) -- or isn't, rather, whether something is good or evil the only thing that is important?

Nation-states are a pretext for ignoring injustices beyond borders or hiding injustices inside borders, and for regarding foreigners as sub-human with respect to human rights. Despite nation-state borders, truth and human rights are no country's "internal affairs" any more than they are a matter of "cultural relativity" (the pretexts of all dictators for denying freedom). They are universal, borderless: there is not one set of human rights for citizens and another set for foreigners. That is why they are called "human" rights -- because they are the same for all human beings. (Cf. the story of the merciful Samaritan, which is Jesus' answer to "Who is my neighbor?" the answer being: common humanity.)

When Diogenes the Cynic of Sinope called himself a cosmo-politan ("citizen of the world"), he was rejecting loyalty to parties. And it is in this to follow him, that:

The only things man should be loyal to are: truth and goodness. The truth which is not always easy to know but must be sought, and the good which is not always easy to do but must be tried.

(On the other hand, of course, the best way to serve your country is precisely by being loyal to the true and the good only ... even if that means the destruction of your country, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer clearly saw.)


Loyalty must be to ideals, not to parties, to ideals that are the reflections of a thoughtful philosophy.

I do not want to be on any side unless it is the side of what is true and of what is good. Which side do we imagine God to be on?

Letter to Oscar Kraus (1924)

"I am a man of limited experience," Albert Schweitzer said. He would only talk about what he himself had experienced, what he himself knew. And I would say, I only know what I don't read in the papers. "Test all things; keep what is good," Paul said. Judge from what you yourself see and hear -- force yourself to think about your experience of the world for yourself. (Plato, Apology 37e-38a: "the unexamined life is ...")


Maynard Keynes

When the British government ran out of volunteers to slaughter in World War One, it instituted the draft. J.M. Keynes submitted this response to the government tribunal:

I claim complete exemption because I have a conscientious objection to surrendering my liberty of judgment on so vital a question as undertaking military service. I do not say that there are not conceivable circumstances in which I should voluntarily offer myself for military service. But after having regard to the actually existing circumstances, I am certain that it is not my duty to offer myself; and I solemnly assert to the Tribunal that my objection to submit to authority in this matter is truly conscientious. I am not prepared on such an issue as this to surrender my right of decision, as to what is or is not my duty, to any other person, and I should think it morally wrong to do so.

Because Keynes was a civil servant in the British Treasury he was, as he knew, exempt from the draft. Otherwise, of course, the government would have sent him to prison under the harshest regime it could invent short of hanging. The health of many conscientious objectors was permanently damaged by this regime. All governments think they are God. They think they own your soul.


* The word "fascism" has become a general term for any authoritarian regime or dictatorship whether radical or reactionary, totalitarian or not, although this is not historically correct. In any case, the ideology of Fascism does require that unquestioning loyalty be given to the state (i.e. government).

France's secular theocracy: the state as God. (The state's god is a jealous god: thou shalt have no god before me.)

The words of Keynes are exact; they are quoted by D.E. Moggridge in his John Maynard Keynes.


Vox populi.

They say that the voice of the people is the voice of God. I've never believed that.

Beethoven. Although his music is now loved by people of all kinds, at one time, as Robert Schumann wrote, the inclusion of Beethoven's name on a program was enough to clear the concert hall. People did not want this new music. (It is hard for us to appreciate the distance between Mozart and Beethoven.)

Do you believe in democracy, i.e. that the vox populi is the vox Dei? Is that how you were taught to apply the words "true" and "good" -- by taking a vote? Then why advocate democracy?

Because democracy is like a cart with a brake -- there is only so far the rulers can go before the voters apply the brake (elections). Or democracy is like a dog on a leash; if the dog tries to go too far, the voters can pull it back.

But dictatorship is like a car without a brake or an animal without a leash: it is government allowed to run wild, without checks on its rulers.

The mid-March 2004 parliamentary elections in Spain showed how democracy makes it possible to hold rulers accountable for their actions. The ruling party had taken the country to war without the consent of the majority of the people, and the people voted the rulers out of office. Democracy, although not able to prevent participation in the war, was able to stop it.

Is the most important power, not the power to put rulers in office, but the power to peacefully remove them from office?

And so we should advocate democratic government -- provided that there is an enforceable constitution* stating the rights of the individual as well as the individual's responsibilities toward the community -- despite its foundation on a fallacy, as a practical question (This is much more a question of what experience has shown to work rather than a philosophical question) -- not because "the voice [i.e. judgment] of the people" is the voice of truth and goodness, but, rather, because the voice of the unlimited dictator is no less likely to be the voice of lies and evil than the voice of democracy's demagogues.

Politics, It seems to me, that is, being a politician, is the art of believing your own lies (self-deception). Otherwise I have to think these mass murderers would not be able to live with themselves. (Or is there an egoism, a self-righteousness so thoroughgoing as to preclude all doubt? Because even the slightest doubt ought to put a brake to this.)


* This is a limit of democracy: a judiciary independent of the executive power, because constitutional rights are only words on paper requiring definition (specific application), and the freedom and courage to make those definitions. Then a police force is required to enforce the judiciary's rulings, and the force's attitude toward the public -- whether it is respectful and law-abiding or arrogant and corrupt -- is another limit of democracy.

Because if in order to publicly protest citizens must be advised to practice the "civil rights crouch" beforehand, fearing brain damage from the batons of out-of-control police, if they are thus too cowed by press reports of police brutality to exercise their freedom right to demonstrate against government policies -- that is no different from not having that right at all.

We are a nation of laws, not of men.

Correction: "We are a nation of 9 men", as a Russian professor, a naturalized U.S. citizen from the Soviet Union, said to us at school. Nine unelected, politically appointed, accountable to no one, Supreme Court judges. That is the thread the rights of Americans hang by: the assumptions and reasoning of these nine human beings who define the laws.

On the one hand, this slogan passes in silence over the deeper question: were the laws not themselves made by men? But on the other hand, what the slogan is useful for is as a reminder that: if you choose to break the law, you cannot use your conscience as a legal defense (expect in cases of non-violent civil disobedience, and even in such cases you must accept the penalty for disobeying the law).

In the U.S. the executive power can pick and choose which laws to enforce, which not. This is not the rule of law, but the rule of man. "We are a nation of laws, not of men" is then false in this way as well.

A country ruled by laws (What does that mean, "a country of laws, not of men"?) The foolishness, of course, is that ordinary citizens do not know what the laws are, and that legal representation is very expensive. Meanwhile in the course of their investigations the police are free to tell lies to and attempt to entrap any citizen they wish.


The Ultimate Betrayal

The rulers of this world believe that "the ends justify the use of any and all means", and in a democracy this is their ultimate betrayal of the public trust. As if the use of nuclear weapons could ever be justified by any end. And so there is a debate about "saving lives" and "ending the war" among people who do not even know at what level to put the question marks.

"Dropping the atom bombs on Japan saved lives" (Louis Mountbatten). Human beings are not beans: you cannot make two piles of them and say that the larger pile is of more value. Only individuals, each unique, incommensurable and irreplaceable, exist. Species only exist as a human conceptual abstraction; have we descended to the level of regarding individual human beings as being mere members of a species (in the sense in which individual deer are culled by scientists for the well-being of the species)?

No one's clothes are made cleaner by his pointing out that his brother's clothes are also dirty.

Solzhenitsyn. "Well, compared to ..." -- "I wasn't aware that was your ideal." -- "It isn't my ideal." -- "You are using it as a standard to measure yourself against; that is what everyone means by the word 'ideal'."

Further, in another sense, we always say, "Look at what they did" (As always, "us" and "them"). As Epictetus said, "They must see to that." Ethics is this: that what matters is not what anyone else has done to me, but what I have done to anyone else, because the latter is my responsibility, what I must hold myself accountable for. (Cf. Plato, Gorgias 496b, for its discussion of wrong-doing.)

If we lived with the expectation that at death all our memory of the harm that others had done to us would be washed away, erased, but that all the harm we ourselves had done to others would never be erased from our memory, that we would be consciousness of it for all eternity, would we then choose to do even the slightest evil deed?

That picture would akin to belief in a Last Judgment, a picture that guides your whole way of life.


Legends of the Greek philosophers: Free speech.

As I remember a story from Solzhenitsyn, but I don't remember which story, a little boy said, "Everyone should be free to say anything" ["Everyone should have the right to say anything"]. And the boy refused to back down from this statement even when the other boys struck him. Of course this boy was not talking about childish incivility (name calling), but about the philosophical question of free speech. And about that it must be said that: speech that does not give offence is not free (Because it has no need to be: no power wants to restrict it).

When asked what was the best thing in the world, he answered "Freedom of speech."

Diogenes the Cynic, circa 404-323 B.C. (Diog. L. vi, 69). How can we best find the truth if we seek in the dark by ourselves alone -- will not others be helpful in our quest? Criticism is necessary to the truth: ideas [propositions, theses] must be cross-questioned. Socratic philosophy is criticism, to discover what you know as opposed to what you only think you know but do not (Apology 21d).

Is freedom of speech good in itself?

Thomas Jefferson said, "We hold these things to be self-evident", but he might have said, "We hold these things to be good in themselves". But could he have said, "We hold these things to belong to the specific excellence proper to man: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"? The first two do not seem unique to man -- but the second is, because by 'liberty' we mean far more than simply not being caged: we mean intellectually free; we mean freedom of conscience; but do we also mean freedom of speech (discourse of reason) and freedom of expression (ars gratia artis)?

Athens, the one place in Greece where speech is most free. (Plato, Gorgias 461e)

But many are fearful of free speech, that it may undermine the peace of mind and stability of the community. Imagine if everyone thought as Callicles does! (ibid. 483c-484a), and therefore Callicles must be silenced. Aristophanes mocked that idea in The Frogs. Socrates was put to death for it, because Socrates was charged with (1) introducing gods not recognized by the state, and (2) teaching youth "the art of words" (Memorabilia i, 2, 29-31) or, in Aristophanes' words, "to reason out the how and why".

An Internet query that landed at my site: "why we must allow people to state nonsense." Why? Because if no one ever said foolish things, many wise things would never be said; the truth lies at the end of the investigation, not at its beginning: we must be allowed to start out on that path (i.e. make a beginning), even if we make many, many false starts, even if to our rulers and to "all right thinking people" our "nonsense" seems irreverent or dangerous to social stability.

Again, "Would there be answers without questions?" If no impertinent -- i.e. irreverent to tradition and authority in its present state -- questions were asked, nothing would change: it would be as it was in the old days in southern Italy, for countless generations of my ancestors. The truth lies at the end of the investigation, not at its beginning, and an investigation begins with a question, a spoken doubt.

What does it mean to speak in the spirit of philosophy? To understand that all our assertions, carry with them the question of whether they are true or false, and that they may, when questioned (and questioned again), be shown to be false -- or even to be mere undefined words or combinations of words. (Thus the man who fears to make a fool of himself does not know the spirit of philosophy, which prizes being refuted oneself over refuting others.)*

Truth is to history what eyesight is to the living creature.

Polybius (2nd century B.C.). But it is often difficult to convince the living creature of this, for man often distorts the historical record by hiding facts he regards as inexpedient or shameful, other things seeming to him more important than the truth (Man may be deceived, but God is not, and the enemies of the truth will be judged as such).

I am under obligation to tell what is reported, but I am not obliged to believe it; and let this hold for every narrative in this history.

Herodotus, History vii, 152 (quoted in Will Durant's Life of Greece).


* It was as much human vanity, for Socrates' cross-questioning showed that men do not know what they think themselves to know (Apology 21c-d) as it was fear for the foundations of the established order that brought Socrates to trial. If Socrates' criticism was false, then in the spirit of philosophy it should have been demonstrated to be false. But if it was true, then in the spirit of philosophy it had to be accepted, for what justification can there be for suppressing the truth? This shows that only an evil community or government will try to silence those who question it.

The government policy that "some people must be protected from some ideas" is no different from the policy that "We recognize the right to [hold] no opinion but our own", which was the policy of the Nazi Party. It leads to the absurdity of Germany's parliament voting to ban books that its members have never read (Where once they burned books, now they ban books); what greater contempt for democracy and lack of confidence in free speech could there be than the banning of books? The only reason rulers ban free speech is fear that they may lose the argument ... [As if it were so very difficult to refute, either by reason alone or with simple facts, the generalizations about "nations" Hitler makes in his book Mein Kampf.]


Legends of the Enlightenment, and America

I disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.

Voltaire, literary warrior, whose "I will defend to the death ..." was rhetoric. But not merely rhetoric, for it is in accord with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 18 and 19, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, both of which were the product of many long years of human experience.

Is this merely an Orwellian slogan: "The land of the free, and the home of the brave"? Because if people are afraid to exercise their right to free speech -- if they are afraid to express ideas that might offend "community standards" -- then they are neither brave nor free. Speech that does not give offense is not free, because speech that doesn't give offense has no need to be free. Those who defame a speaker who expresses an idea they don't like -- are just as much enemies of free speech as those who use violence against it. Because "having free speech" is not simply that the government may not prosecute you for what you say; it is also that the consequences of speaking freely are not that you are persecuted by your neighbors, or by political parties, or that you lose your job.

[Eleanor Roosevelt helped write the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.]


"The land of the free ...". The land of tax slaves. -- Try protesting against the unconscionable policies of the government of which you are a subject by refusing to pay the taxes that make those policies possible. Try living your life in the uncommercial way that Antisthenes, Crates and Diogenes lived. Then you will see how free you are.

If you have money you enslave others; if you don't have money others enslave you. That is capitalism, and a more anti-Christian ideology doesn't exist (pace, but not much, Calvin). According to the public smuts, 10% of the population of the U.S. controls 71% of the country's wealth. But then why does that 10% not pay 71% of the taxes -- given that every human society is organized in such a way as to favor some individuals and to disadvantage others? In Periclean Athens, if it had been a question of taxes, the 10% would have done.

Do the U.S. and Mussolini's Italy have this in common, that under Fascism business existed to serve the state, while in the U.S. the state exists to serve business? (In more remote times, the civilian population existed to serve the military, but now the military exists to serve business.)

Only in rare moments do nation-states exist to serve the poorest 50% of the population -- and that, only because at some moments, the ruling class feels threatened by the working-class (the poorest 50%).


Compass points

... despite all of this, and with God's help, nineteen young men were able to change the direction of its compass. (Osama bin Laden, September 2007)

So much for the United States of America's "all this", for its direction has turned away from the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.S. Constitution's "Bill of Rights" ... America's freedom rights showed themselves to be built on sand. Because 2,500 year after Plato praised Athens as "the one spot in Greece where there is the utmost freedom of speech" (Gorgias 461e), where is freedom of speech for classical Greece's Western heirs? Where it was once common to hear the expression "He's entitled to his opinion" men and women are assassinated or imprisoned for expressing opinions (not only in France, Germany and Austria, but also in Britain and America). So much for the heirs of Voltaire.

With respect to America, those remarks may now seem hyperbolic (more or less, for all that has changed is that what was then the extraordinary has now become the ordinary), but at the time they were made there were acts of governmental hysteria in America, such as the U.S. president telling people to spy on their neighbors, and Naturalization and Immigration's rounding up of immigrant men from predominantly Moslem countries, and the unjustified invasions (rather than containment, for war really should be only the last resort) of two countries, which were quite frightening. For a long time after September 2001, the U.S. flag was everywhere, just as the Nazi flag had been in Germany. The press was full of talk of security, and all freedom and due process rights were to be sacrificed to that, transforming America into "the land of the safe and the home of the cowardly". But I have never forgotten the ancient Greek principle that without freedom life is not worth living, and can still say: I am an American. I don't want to be safe -- I want to be free!

[In the Soviet Union in the 1930s, Maria Yudina read Boris Pasternak's poetry at her piano recital, despite the poet's being out of official favor. She seems to have been the most interesting character of those days, according to Shostakovich's memoirs.]

For the sake of freedom to seek the truth the advocacy of free speech must be unreserved. Of someone we disagree with we must say, "He's entitled to his opinion" and let it go at that, not "If someone disagrees with me, not only is he mistaken, he's also evil" and "If someone says something I don't like, I'll make him shut up". No, "everyone should have the right to say anything", that is, to express any idea, as the child says in Solzhenitsyn's story. I needn't agree or even pay any mind to what is said. Why should I need to agree?

You have the right to speak, and I have the right not to listen (cf. Diog. L. ii, 70), for the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects stupid speech, as well it must if men are to have the freedom of conscience it promises them.


The Limit of Democracy

You can fool some of the people all of the time ...

Abraham Lincoln. How well educated is the average man? And yet half the population is less well educated than the average man. So where does that leave us? If we are democrats, it leaves us at the mercy of demagogues.

And where "some of the people" is "the majority of people", that is the limit of democracy's usefulness to humanity.

The limit of democracy -- the level of education of the electorate. A well-educated and well-informed (rather than an ill-educated but well-propagandized) electorate ... and an electorate that loves truth, freedom, compassion and forbearance.

So we should not be under the illusion that democracy need bring good government. That assumption would be like the Communist assumption that simply changing men's economic relationships will make them brothers (as if the "seven deadly sins" -- pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth -- could be eliminated from human nature through collective action -- although Plato thought wise governance can have some effect on them).


More legends of the Greeks: Philosophers and Laws

When asked of what benefit philosophers are to society, he answered, "If only this, that if all civil authority were to disappear tomorrow, philosophers would go on living as they always had."

Attributed to many, I think (Diog. L. ii, 68 names Aristippus). There are two kinds of human beings: one will only obey the law if a policeman is there to enforce it; and the other will disobey an evil law even if a policeman is there to enforce it. (Sophocles' words: "Thy writ, O King, hath not such potence as will overweigh the laws of God ...")

On being asked what is the most impressive sight on earth, he answered, "The sight of a good man quietly pursuing his course in the midst of vicious people."

Aristippus of Cyrene (The word 'vicious' contrasts with the word 'virtuous', as the antithesis of 'virtue' is 'vice'). Being told that many people praised him, Antisthenes said, "Why, what wrong have I done?" (ibid. vi, 8)

Know you not that a good man does nothing for the sake of appearances? Never be ashamed to be seen doing what is right.

Would you do good to men? Then show them the kind of men philosophy can make, and quit all this trifling.

Epictetus, the Stoic disciple of Socrates. What, then -- but Epictetus did not talk about definition, "merely" about ethics ("about no small matter, but how to live")?

The thing about Socrates that his companions most loved him for is the one thing we don't bother much about: his self-control. In the midst of a world that seemed to permit itself everything, he permitted himself only to do good, "never choosing the easier rather than the better course", philosophy being the better course.

All we have left is our knowledge, our love and our bare hands.

Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, after the hospital with all its medical equipment and supplies was destroyed. And I think: all I would have left is my ignorance, my hope that I would do what is right (Would I?), and my bare hands.


I have always wanted to be a disciple of Socrates in this, that philosophy is about living life (The word 'living' is here an adjective; the expression is Dostoyevsky's). Philosophy is not a mere collection of plausible but practically idle opinions. Ethics -- the question of how we should live our life -- is not a limb of philosophy; it is its heart, just as logic (of language) is not a limb: it is philosophy's one tool (as Socrates, and the later Wittgenstein, used the word 'logic'). Plato's Apology was the first serious book I ever read (for although I had heard the Gospel of Christ read in church and knew well Jesus' ethic of love, I had not yet read it for myself; otherwise my childhood (although not in Haiti) was wasted time). And this is what I think, that Socrates set philosophy on it correct course, and that those who set it a different course make a mistake. (Plato in his metaphysical conjectures, Aristotle in his science, did not go beyond Socrates; they just went someplace else.)*

As I have always understood Socrates and have held as my standard in philosophy, knowledge is discursive. If someone says that he has knowledge that "cannot" be put into words, or if what he does put into words "cannot" be put to the test in Socratic discussion, then what he says is not philosophy. Likewise I don't use the word 'truth' except as applied to propositions.


* An Oxford professor (sc. Gilbert Ryle) of philosophy said that, with the outbreak of the Second World War, philosophy no longer seemed important to him. And he meant not merely that writing about philosophy, but that the philosophical questions he was thinking about no longer seemed important. I think that was an extraordinary statement to make. Socrates would never have said that. I would never say that. If the questions you are thinking about are so far removed from living life that events can make them seem unimportant to you, then these questions were not worthy of your attention in the first place.

"You're going to die one day too. Me today, but you tomorrow." All men are mortal. When man is at last penetrated by this thought, he might take his life seriously and give little attention to what seems unimportant from the viewpoint of eternity (That viewpoint is not affected by whether there is an afterlife or not). I don't call mere collections of opinions about things that do not touch their author's living life by the name 'philosophy', for they are not worthy of that name. The Catholic historian of philosophy Etienne Gilson said: "If a man's religion is at stake, then his whole life is at stake. I never confused philosophy with religion." Again, Socrates would never have said that. I would never say that.


"Ideals cannot be lost if they are lived"

No one who is always striving to refine his character can ever be robbed of his idealism, for he experiences in himself the power of the ideas of the good and the true.

Albert Schweitzer (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, tr. Campion). Socrates said that each day he found himself growing in goodness, i.e. by daily practicing self-control he was gaining in self-control, like a good habit once acquired.

What wouldst thou be found doing when overtaken by Death? (Discourses iv, 10, tr. Crossley)

If remembered to ask myself this whenever I was tempted to anger or impatience! Epictetus answered: "that I may be found raising up in myself that which had fallen".


Romans and countrymen

"There is no end to learning." "I grow old learning new things."

The first is, I think, from Pliny the Elder, the one who died when he stopped to take a nap under Mt. Vesuvius. (Pliny the Younger, his uncle's nephew, Letter 66) "... he thought every hour lost that was not given to study" (Letter 27, "You need not lose these hours.") The second is from "Marcus Cato" at the time when he had retired to his farm to contemplate the advantages of manuring (On Old Age, Chapter 15, but this work was written by Cicero who used Cato's name to lend authority ("greater weight") to the author's own ideas, as Cicero himself tells us in that work). But as to the second quotation, Plutarch assigns it to Solon: "It is certain that he was a lover of knowledge, for when he was old he would say, that he --"

"Each day grew older, and learnt something new". (Life of Solon, Dryden's tr., rev. Clough)

Solon is in fact quoted as saying: "he grows old "daily learning something new"" (Chapter 8). Seneca grew old reading new books, classics he had earlier neglected.

Lost time is never found.

Benjamin Franklin. The Romans took whatever they judged good from the peoples they conquered (For a strange comparison, there is Africa and the Gospel of Christ, in my view). And I hope to be like them in this (the conquest of ideas), but not as in Pliny the Elder's idea of study, which is merely to read aloud selections from other people's works.


Old Age and Dreams

When a man reaches a certain age he no longer has many pleasures. A father takes pleasure in the pleasure of his children.

An earthquake in Abruzzo (1915) made Ignazio Silone an orphan, and he wondered at the Catholic priest who collected these homeless children and took them to a school in northern Italy, and this is what the middle-aged man told him. That man was a bit more than a bit younger than I am, but I think that if a man has no children of his own, then he tends to regard all young people as if they were his own children. And when he sees them happy, he feels happiness too.

My work is born of my understanding of music and my suffering. It is my suffering that seems to interest the world least.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828), from his diary. Schubert's life was unhappy. What -- in the way that a man who has lost a child is unhappy? No, in the way that a man who has never had a child to lose can be unhappy. Schubert was lonely. Schubert knew a lifetime of loneliness. Whose unhappiness is greater -- the man who loses a child, or the man who has never had a child to lose? Whose unhappiness is more complete? And can the two ever understand one another?

I wrote that note in my own diary now many years ago. I would not write it now. That does not mean that it is wrong, only that I can no longer experience it in myself. Now I am closer in years to death than to birth, and ill, and life is beginning to seem like a dream to me, death the only reality. (Of course such feelings and impressions may or may not wax and wane.)


"Kann er was?"

What can he do?

Franz Schubert. Schubert's friend called him Kannerwa because this was the question Schubert asked whenever someone was spoken of to him: "What does he do?" That is something that only a man's work can show. (What can I myself do? Look at my site and decide, not if I am able to do anything, but if I am able to do anything worthwhile.)

A variation of Schubert's question is: "What's he when he's at home?" "What's that when it's at home?" its home being wherever its true nature (in contrast to its mere appearance) is revealed. One asks because one doesn't already know. For example although someone acts or speaks with authority, is he truly wise or are his words and deeds only presumption ("conceited ignorance")?


"Oh, anyone can know what I know. But only I have this heart."

From Goethe's The Sufferings of young Werther. Perhaps when they are young people can say that.

Then I had nothing and yet enough: the urge to create and the joy of seeking truth.

That is from the "Theater Prologue" of Goethe's Faust, Part I, but according to the translator B.Q. Morgan what I should have remembered was: "the urge to truth and the joy of illusion." (But I often prefer my "remembered versions" of quotations.)


Some and All.

Do you prefer to hate individuals or groups? And do you prefer to hate as an individual or as a group?

Max Frisch, Sketchbook. And so there are many different things to hate and many different ways to hate them. But I now want to talk about "we", "us", "they", and "them", the words that do not treat human beings as individuals.

The foundation of all hatred of groups is the willful confusion of SOME with ALL. I do not want to belong to any "we", and I would prefer not to belong to any "they".

An example. Journalists and politicians would do infinitely less harm in the world if they forbade themselves to use the formula definite-article + nationality-word, as in "the Americans". That form of expression, like all other high-level abstractions (generalities), is almost always used thoughtlessly (an exception might be in geography). But if journalists and politicians forced themselves to always be specific about what they were talking about ... (A sea of vagueness. Cf. metaphors, the tool of demagogues.)

A rather fiery journalist told me, "But if I can't talk about America, the Americans, then I can't say anything." I told him that if there wasn't anything he could say, then he shouldn't say anything.*


* Or I would have told him that, if I had thought of it at the time. (P.G. Wodehouse)

"The good man wishes harm to no one"

Hate is a very strong word.

My father used to say this. He never told me what he meant by it, but I think it is this: that 'to hate' someone means 'to wish harm to come' to that person. But the good man neither harms nor wishes anyone to be harmed: the good man seeks to make his neighbor, whether friend or foe, better, not worse. (Plato, Republic 332a-335e; cf. Matthew 5.43-44)


The Greek philosophers and Education

When asked who was worse off -- a beggar or an uneducated man? he answered, "The latter. A beggar only needs money. But an uneducated man needs to be made human (humanized)."

Aristippus of Cyrene, the student of Socrates. When I was a boy, my mother told me: "Get your education; if afterwards you want to go sit in the gutter, you can, but get your education first." Later she told me that she had never intended for me to go sit in the gutter.

"Every uneducated man is a caricature of himself." The worst part of being ignorant is when you don't know that you're ignorant, because you don't "know yourself", either as an individual or as mankind.

"Educate a man and you educate an individual. Educate a woman and you educate a family." I don't know if it's true, but that is what my mother used to say to me.

The measure of a man is what he concerns [or, occupies] himself with.

Alexander "the Great" of Macedonia.

A uneducated rich man he called "the sheep with the golden fleece".

Diogenes the Cynic of Sinope, the mendicant philosopher, "if Cynicism is a philosophy, and not just a way of life" (Diog. L.). Well, very well, you say, but which is better, to be a gold-fleeced sheep or a featherless owl? (The first principle of Cynicism is to be guided by nature (physis) -- or, rather, a selection of facts about nature -- rather than by social conventions (nomos). -- But how is that selection of facts made: what is its wisdom? Is it rational, and then: is there a principle prior to Cynicism's apparent first principle?)

Of course "way of life" or "general policy toward life" is what most people mean by the word "philosophy" (the popular conception of philosophy). "What is your philosophy of life?" people ask and are often answered "Live and let live". But that is not an answer philosophers in Diogenes Laertius' sense of 'philosopher' regard as philosophical, unless that answer can be put to the test in Socratic discussion to be agreed to or refuted (after its meaning is decided on, for that is the prior question to its truth or falsity). But to deny that the popular conception of philosophy is indeed philosophy could be to deny that Diogenes the Cynic (and maybe the Later Stoics as well) "had anything philosophically interesting to say". The word 'philosophy' has often been kidnapped in just this way.

Wittgenstein was having trouble deciding what to call his book when Drury suggested, Why not just call it "Philosophy"? Considering philosophy's long history Wittgenstein told his student not to be foolish: "How could what I have written be anything more than just a small fragment of philosophy!"


I found an unsurmountable Aversion to every thing but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning.

David Hume (Autobiography, 18 April 1776).

Do not follow a multitude to do evil.

Bertrand Russell's grandmother, who was also his guardian because his parents had died when he was a child, copied this verse [Exodus 23.2] as a motto for him in a copy of the Bible she gave him as a boy.


Nietzschean history

The past is the means by which the dead bury the living.

Nietzsche. We are what those who came before us wanted us to be, and it is for us to break free of the limits they have placed on us.

For example, those who build war monuments to make a boast of posterity's debt to them. Why burden the children's present with their parents' past? The children will have their own wars to "memorialize". All war monuments should be biodegradable. 100 years of sun and rain should dissolve them. Does anyone care about the "never to be forgotten by a grateful nation" sacrifices of WW1 (the war "to make the world safe for democracy") or the War of 1812? What kind of life would that be -- all the time "remembering"? living surrounded by the ghosts of the past. The only reason to study the past is to escape from its tyranny, not to idolize it.

"... the process by which the dead bury the living." Either you bury the past or the past will bury you. "... keep what is good" (1 Thes. 5.21). But discard the rest.

Orwellian history

Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell. Who controls which books are in the library, which sites are found on the Internet, controls history. They cannot yet control living memory, but they can control written records and document survival. History can be and has been "unwritten by selection" when documents have been left to turn to dust or become food for worms, or been deleted, burned or shredded.

Seeking immortality through tribalism. People who don't believe in life after death for the individual believe in the continued life of parties, nations, tribes: the individual won't survive, but the tribe will survive. And therefore loyalty to the party is loyalty to oneself. So that everything is directed toward the preservation of the party, and the only bad deed is the deed that in some way harms the party, because through the preservation of the party the individual even though dead will still in some sense live.

Human history is not natural history.

A man doesn't die like a dog in a ditch beside the road; he dies in history.

Boris Pasternak. Human history is not natural history, because individuals do not exist for natural history, only species.


Friends to Keep

When the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was on his death bed, his doctors told him that his friends were waiting outside to see him. The poet seemed indifferent. Did he not wish to take leave of his friends? the doctors asked. Pushkin looked toward his bookshelves and said, "Good-bye, friends."

If a man who never reads books tells me that you can't learn everything from books, then I must ask him how he knows. If you learn only from those around you and from your own observations, then you will indeed be quite limited in your knowledge and understanding.

It is not necessary to agree with everything a man says in order to value his work, in order to learn from him. Indeed, it should not be necessary for us to agree with him about anything.

Thomas Jefferson did not practice all that he preached. But, as Patrick Henry had hoped, Jefferson was to inspire other people to practice what he preached.

A Revolution in Thought

1776 A.D. The American Declaration of Independence declares that "all men are created equal", that king and peasant are not conditions of nature but only conditions of society.

And that government has its mandate, not from divine right, but from the consent of the governed. And therefore that revolt against non-consensual government is not contrary to the natural order or to the will of God.

That was a real revolution in thought (which nonetheless had its roots in the Later Stoicism, and later were expressed by John Lilburne (c.1614-1657) in the English Enlightenment) -- a 180 degree turn. And the words of Jefferson, the slave owner, can still inspire all those who fight against tribalism, racism, the social class system, the caste system, and all other "tyrannies over the mind of man". Jefferson was a slave owner but his words laid a foundation for the abolition of slavery.

The words of many of the wisest, the best, the most knowledgeable men who have ever lived are preserved in books ... can we really imagine what the world of our ancestors was like, what it would be like to live in illiterate minds like theirs? People say that you can't learn everything from books. But it might also be said that you can't learn everything without books either.

Books are friends that last. They last because they are their authors at their best ... their authors without the dust of reality clinging to them.*

I've got one foot in the grave, but I'm still kicking with the other.

Paraphrase of Ivan Gravilovich Pryzhov's words in Trifonov's "The Long Goodbye" (1971).


* And when you finally get your wish, it comes weighed down with the dust of reality clinging to it, that was not there in fancy.

Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks. Note that I am translating 'that was not there in fancy' as 'that was not there when you imagined it'.

There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones. They rarely coincide. Men and circumstances generally modify the ideal train of events, so that it seems imperfect, and its consequences are equally imperfect. Thus with the Reformation; instead of Protestantism came Lutheranism.

Novalis, Morale Ansichten, quoted by Edgar Allan Poe, and apparently Poe's own translation from the German text (which he also quotes).


Education and metaphors. Anti-quotation.

Invent your own metaphors. Stop using those that you have inherited (i.e. read and absorbed). They all too easily become substitutes for thinking, for re-thinking.

Every educated man is self-educated. But then why go to school? We go to school to learn how to learn. "Education is what remains after what has been learned is forgotten." (Scottish proverb)

Once we've learned how to learn, then the responsibility for our education becomes our own. Although someone can offer to help you, no one can give you an education. It is something that you have to take for yourself.

Education doesn't make you smarter.

Russian proverb (Solzhenitsyn). I would think that I, who have dedicated many years to studying the logic of language, would more often ask, "What does it mean?" But I don't. It comes naturally to me to suppose that I understand what I hear and read [I normally assume that I understand language that I don't, which might be called "anti-Socratic presumption"]. When I think about it, I suspect that often I don't know what I or anyone else is talking about.

I would think that I would more often say "I don't know" too. But I don't. "He only errs who thinks he knows what he does not know." (Socrates via St. Augustine)

The Russian proverb is the same as the ancient Greek saying: "Much learning does not teach sense."

What an educated man has learned is hard to learn. And perhaps even harder to practice.

You answer right away. Without thinking about what I have said to you.

The girl Clarice in Fahrenheit 451. Why do we do this? In some cultures it is considered rude to reply right away, as if you had not thought about what the other person had said. I do not like having to offer my thoughts before they are my considered thoughts. I wish we did not live this way. I am trying to learn not to.

No, no, go ahead; talk. I can't promise to think of anything to answer, though.

The character Montag in the movie, which differs from the book, made of Fahrenheit 451 ("the temperature at which book paper burns").

Inarticulate people use profanity to give themselves the illusion of eloquence.

Talleyrand. The words of other people (quotations) may also be used this way, as they may also be used to give oneself the illusion of a wisdom one doesn't have.


Two Human Models

One reptile will devour another.

Dostoyevsky. Are all men brothers, as both Stoicism and Christianity say, having one Father? Or are they merely rivals in the commercial transaction of "Buy cheap and sell dear"? The two human views of two human models.

It seems some men have nothing to offer God except their hatred of their fellow men.

I can't remember who said this. For many men it seems that human life is no different from a war between red and black ants. Indeed, the only difference is that the ants do not justify their war with ideology.

He daily hears the words of Christ, but he prefers his own.

Dostoyevsky. For many men their politics is more important than their religion, as is shown for example by their view of Pope Francis and "the Church of the poor". Is it that the rulers of this world invert the Christian world-picture, mistaking "this world and all it loves" for "the kingdom of God", or is the world-picture of Christianity merely a comfort to the weak, a pacifying self-delusion for the incapable?

If there is a danger in philosophy of creating an idol of straw, naming it 'God', and idly knocking it down, so too there is a danger in religion of recreating God in one's own limited image.

Someone has stolen my lamp. It was a poor thing and did not cost me very much. But the one who stole it paid a very high price for it. Because he got it at the price of making himself a thief.

Epictetus.

Truly, they have their reward. But you know that there are better things.

The Gospels.

How wise is the average man? And half the population is less wise than that. So now what is there to wonder at? You are horrified by the thought that there may be people who are more stupid than you are, because you are quite stupid enough?

The assumption of evil

The ends justify any and all any means whatsoever.

One human kind believes (practices) that the end it seeks justifies the use of any means to accomplish it. One man will thus happily tell lies, and perhaps with as little troubled conscience commit murder, rape and torture. The other kind believes that the use of some means is never justified.

As I wrote before, and I believe, there are moral limits to what I can do to defend what is good. And I must accept those limits, despite the consequences.

Neither did they repent of their murders.

That is from the New Testament, but Solzhenitsyn used it as a the chapter title in The Gulag Archipelago and that is what I am quoting.

The final lesson the U.S. government learned from the American war in Vietnam was that it can commit any atrocity, any villainy, and neither it nor its soldiers will ever be held accountable by the international community (if there is such a community, the unfragmented conscience of mankind).

I fear for my country when I remember that God is just.

Thomas Jefferson. One might have the same fear for Thomas Jefferson.

We despair over the world because we presume that we are living in an "advanced society" in "the modern world". But that presumption is shown to be a delusion when we strip away technology and science. For then do we find an advanced world? With respect to the rule of international law -- not at all.

Chekhov's "three sisters", waiting for nothing, like the dead in Asphodelos. As a child I read in a children's book that in the Greek world most of the souls of the dead did not go to Tartarus or to the Elysian Fields. They went to Asphodelos, to wait, forever, for nothing. And the sisters lived as if in Asphodelos, cut off from everything they loved, or imagined they loved.


The Possibility of Saying No

The bravest of all military acts is to say "No", and it is something which very, very few soldiers are brave enough to do. Because all that breaking a horse's spirit does is to make it fit for the saddle, which is what military training is designed to do: the only man it turns a boy into is a "Yes man" -- one who always says "aye" and never "nay". It is commanded of all soldiers that they become willing puppets, condemning themselves to an eternal childhood, forever "only obeying orders", as if an individual could dodge his moral responsibility by hiding behind "the chain of command".

"A soldier has a moral choice." -- What does it mean? The young soldier Manning had the choice between continuing to participate in wrong-doing or to expose that wrong-doing in the hope of putting an end to it. That is an application of 'A soldier has a moral choice', of the Nuremberg's judges "Individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity".

The servants of U.S. power cannot attribute nobility to Manning's choice without denying their own. That is Manning's crime: that the documents she released show the servants of U.S. power as enemies of democracy and freedom, and guilty of crimes against humanity. And so thirty-five years are taken. Not content to bind to the cross, they hammer in nails. Mere binding is for the "socially friendly" (i.e. common criminals) not for "enemies of the people" (i.e. political criminals).

Someone who questions the way he lives and asks if that is the way he ought to be living will be answered "But that's the way everyone lives!" And so if he says that the way he is living is not the right way to live, he is also saying, by implication, that they (i.e. everyone else) is not living the right way. And so to pass judgment in his favor would be to pass judgment against themselves. And so instead they question whether he is not troubled or mentally ill -- there must be something wrong with him that he asks these questions, makes these statements.

For twenty-nine years my father was a professional soldier -- well, "a soldier of the sea" when that was what marines were -- and he always told me that a soldier is obligated to obey all legal orders and to disobey all illegal orders (although the soldier is to assume that the orders he is given are legal!) But is that enough? For above the laws of man, which vary from society to society and from age to age, are there not the eternal laws of God? It is those laws that forbid torture, and no human writ can override them to grant absolution to the torturer.

Not only parties, but institutions and organizations go through four stages of development as well. Which stage e.g. WikiLeaks is in I don't know, but the U.S. State Department is very much like a political party in the fourth and final stage of development: the stage in which the party replaces the ideal. Representatives of that department appear really to believe that they can say without irony that they are promoting democracy and freedom around the world, despite the fact that they are doing just the opposite ... unless by "democracy", they mean capitalism, and by "freedom", they mean license for capitalists and "financial services". "American interests" as defined by that country's rulers are not and maybe rarely have been the interests of freedom and democracy rather than of control and exploitation (which is what taxes are on working-class people, wage-slaves, debt-slaves and tax-slaves that they are, massively propagandized by their masters to identify their interests, not with their fellow workers, but with their masters).

The U.S. State Department = Orwell's Ministry of Truth. Do even they themselves believe the lies they tell? Ways of thinking: the street mugger: "I'm not taking your money; I'm taking my money that you just happen to have." People can really think this way.

What kind of beast the soldier is can be seen clearly in the present war. He can be used to uphold freedom or to suppress freedom, to topple kings or to secure them on their thrones. (Lichtenberg, Aphorisms, Notebook J, 1789-1793, tr. Hollingdale)

The guard-dog, the dog on a chain, knows no loyalty except to its master. A dog does not "know good and evil", and so it does not have a moral choice. And so any evil that is done through the dog belongs to its master, not to the dog. But man is not a dog. Man does know good and evil, and so man has a moral choice.

God's image in man

The ultimate betrayal, continued. The most grievous crime a government can commit is to force a man to act against his own conscience. That is the intent of the torturer, to use the weakness of the body to break the man's spirit: to force him to do what he believes to be wrong. In the Bible's Book of Genesis its author says that man is made in God's image. What does it mean? We know what it means, because the serpent in the garden tells us: "You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil". That means that man's conscience -- the individual man's sense of what is right and what is wrong -- is the image of God in man. And torture is therefore a desecration of God's image.

Thus murder is only a crime against the body. Whereas torture is a crime against the soul, as is rape; both are committed in order to harm the soul as well as the body, making them far more grievous crimes than murder.


Brain encryption and surveillance

"The limit of science is concept-formation"

What does it mean? Conceiving a problem in such a way that it can be solved is the difference between concept-formation in science and mere fantasy.

Humanity faces a far graver danger than the violation of human privacy and conscience through observation and recording (seeing and hearing) that is possible now.

It appears at this time that a man can still retire into himself with his own thoughts, his thoughts thus kept private. However, on the horizon is the science to make the reading of man's thoughts possible, and the scientists, the heroes of this benighted age, are willing to make that science available for both government-military and business use. And in comparison with that, mere observation and recording of acts and spoken/written words -- i.e. of public deeds -- is a minor evil. Reading man's thoughts, and thus saying goodbye even to "False face must hide what false heart doth know", goes all the way beyond the view-screens of George Orwell's 1984.


At some point, or maybe it was at many points in his thinking Dietrich Bonhoeffer concluded that the choice was then between the survival of Germany, his native land, which he loved, and the survival of Christian civilization. But such a simple choice is no longer possible, for even if the U.S. has reached that level of evil (and I think it has, and if anyone thinks that it has not, then try looking at the U.S. government from the point of view of its many, many millions of victims worldwide [Try reading the Bible through the eyes of the Canaanites]), its destruction alone would not guarantee the survival of human freedom rights for the poor and working-class people, because those rights are now under attack by this world's rulers everywhere on earth. Even in the home of its Constitution's "Bill of Rights", those rights are not respected by any branch of the government now; most importantly, the law courts, the last wall for the defense for those rights, no longer defend those rights. And yet, the government of the U.S. still has the audacity to accuse foreign states of violating the very human rights that the government of the U.S. now treats with contempt. Blindness to irony, self-righteousness and shameless hypocrisy are all characteristic of tyrannies. Which is what the U.S. has become. (In the past few years the U.S. has seen the revival of Mussolini's Fascist black for police uniforms and police cars. Fascism, Mussolini's "corporate state" or "corporatism".)

Once on a time, Dostoyevsky and a friend, or it may have been his publisher, were leaning on a balustrade overlooking a public place, and one of them said, "If you knew of a plot to assassinate the Tsar, would you tell anyone?" Neither man answered. But mankind's problem is not a single individual, but instead the whole class of men and women who are only too willing to lose their souls if only they can gain the whole world (-- "this world", of course, for the kingdom of God is a foreign language to them --) of power over the earth's resources and other human beings' lives.

The title of the film "Collateral Murder" is based on a false premiss: it does not put its question marks deep enough down, because everyone who is killed in that film is murdered. To claim otherwise is to see the resistance to the invasion and occupation of France through the eyes of the Nazis. Some of the men killed in the film were resisting the American invasion and occupation of their homeland. (The question for American militarists: If your own country were invaded and occupied, would you join the resistance or the collaborators? But you will not allow your own victims that same dignity.)

"Language is determinant", and murder is a crime against humanity.

Militarists and politicians are true gamesters: they don't care about truth; they don't care about right and wrong. All they care about is winning the game.

The U.S. doesn't need to be protected from the rest of the world; the rest of the world needs to be protected from the U.S.

The U.S. is like the man who beats his wife and then says, "Well, she provoked me." According to the U.S. only other people do provocations, never the U.S. (Psychologists must have a name for this). For the U.S., the world is its abused wife.

"America doesn't take the land of the countries it comes to the assistance of." Of course it doesn't -- why would it want to? If you take the land, you also take responsibility for the people who live there, and that is very expensive. No, no, far better just to take the resources of the land: set up a government that is favorable to you, "privatize" its resources over to U.S. corporations (thus turning the land's population into the wage-slaves of foreign masters), and have your banks lend money to your chosen governors (thus turning the population of the country into your debt-slaves). That is how the U.S. comes to the assistance of foreign countries. It shows capitalist brilliance, in all its depravity.

Likewise for the corporate newspapers. Not only do they push the establishment's views to their readers, but they get their readers to pay for it, and not only that: they also shove advertisements into their readers' faces. It is (or, maybe now, more or less, was) a most brilliant "business model".

The English economist Ricardo (1772-1823) didn't know the half of it, for he wrote that the capitalist will always try to pay the workers the lowest possible wages, but could never pay workers less than subsistence wages (because, of course, the work force would otherwise die out). But the capitalist business model has changed: Now the capitalist does pay workers less than a subsistence wage (the "living wage") and has the taxpayers make up the difference (i.e. raise the workers wages to the subsistence level by means of government welfare programs). Raising the minimum wage to a living wage (subsistence) would put a stop to that business model, thereby lowering the capitalist's profits, and that is why the capitalist's servants in Congress oppose raising it.

Why the businessman should not be elected statesman? Because the businessman, unlike the statesman, does not have to answer the eternal question of capitalism: "What is to be done with the unprofitable poor?"

The U.S. likes to isolate its designated enemies, to push them into a corner, with the result that those countries circle the wagons [yes, this is a mixed-metaphor] and restrict freedom rights in the name of national security. Then the U.S. defames those countries for repressing freedom. As it has done with Russia. Iran. North Korea. As in Voltaire's words:

This animal is dangerous: when attacked it defends itself.

"Politics should be kept separate from religion." -- [It seems clear that whenever a religion becomes the state religion, that religion is abused and debased (e.g. Paul's words in Romans 13.1-7 have been) by the state, and dies if it is not separated again, as e.g. the established Church of England. But that is not what this statement of doctrine alludes to.] -- Those are the words of the devil (e.g. the government of France that replaces God with itself in the name of "secularism" = governmental authority). Either we are at the service of the kingdom of God or of this world. -- That distinction must guide us in all things, particularly when making public policy with respect to the poor and disadvantaged. (Economics is value-laden (human beings make choices, not being everywhere bound by necessity), and economics is half of what concerns politicians.)

Question: Is there a difference between the doctrine of "American exceptionalism" and the takfir ideology of Islamic State? Both want to eradicate heretics: those who don't obey American policies, and those who don't obey a particular variation of Islam. (Christians once burned heretics at the stake, and may yet again, or still do, because if we are willing to call Islam the religion of Islamic State, then why not call Christianity (variation "God bless America") the religion of Conservative Christians?)


"If there is no God, no immortality, then everything is permissible."

Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov). And that there is no God, no judgment after death (cf. Plato, Phaedo 107c), is the belief of those who would gain the whole -- i.e. this -- world, but lose their life in the kingdom of God (their "soul"). You cannot believe both that the way you live can contradict everything that Jesus commanded and yet you belong to the kingdom of God. -- No, for a self-delusion, surely that is too big. (Or is it.)


"But I tell you, Do good to those who hate you"

"Love your neighbor as you love yourself", regardless of whether your neighbor is a friend or an enemy. (Matthew 5.43-44; Luke 10.25-37)

To his students Confucius said that the better sort of man seeks to raise his fellow human beings up. (Cf. Plato, Republic 335e: The good man seeks to make even his enemies better; and Gorgias 517b: the standard for judging the rulers of a country (a government): did they make the people morally virtuous?) The West, both in its governments and in its press (entertainment industry), has chosen the opposite path: it seeks the lowest common denominator -- and finds it: it aims low and hits its target. That is "the decline of the West", of democracy, of government by the people. There is nobility in human beings, but there is also ignobility.

The West cannot understand the Islamic fighters because the West lives in this world, loves the present life and fears death, whereas the Islamic fighters live in eternity. "How can the finite understand the infinite?" -- If you are looking for an application for that question, here is one.

It seems difficult that men who want to live should defeat men who want to die, if their instruments of warfare are equal.

Governments also try not to acknowledge that we are now living in an age of individuals rather than of nations (Pasternak). Driven by his own conscience, an individual makes war against a government, and all the government can do is keep replying "We".

The only language Western governments are now able to speak is the language of the police. Their prisons are already overflowing, but still they seek more prisoners. That their approach may be mistaken seems never to occur to them.

Multicultures and Nations

"The historical traditions of these countries come to an end, and a new world begins."

Prime Minister Orbán, "State of the Nation" address, Budapest, February 2019. In his view the culture that was the creation of many centuries and many generations is overturned by a single generation's rulers in an act of national suicide. (The European states are not like America: they have something other than a constitution to define them. They have cultures to lose. I have always thought of the United States as a multiculture united by a Bill of Rights; that is my view of it.)

"Modern Architecture"

An appalling anthology of non-architecture.

Max Frisch, about the drive to Montauk (1975). It applies far, far, far beyond there, however. Frisch's actual words were: "An anthology of appalling non-non-architecture".

Buildings that posterity will never love, nor forgive.

I am one of the visual inheritors of the products of functionalism, the unadorned box. Wittgenstein thought it strange that a whole epoch hadn't been able to free itself from the grip of the concept "the beautiful" (Franz Schubert and the beautiful). But I think it strange that our epoch has been able to "free" itself from it entirely (There is now even an architectural style that proudly calls itself "brutalism"). In the Italian Renaissance it was taken as granted that human beings are made better by living among beautiful things, both man-made and natural (for Romanticism especially the latter).

The second quotation is, I believe, my recollection of words by Robert Southey: "Time will not mellow them; nature will neither clothe nor conceal them; and they will remain always as offensive to the eye as to the mind", which Wittgenstein quoted when talking to Drury. The house that Wittgenstein designed in Vienna is to me an expression of an age that has nothing to say (but, in his case, says it with greatest of care), as is his philosophy, his "logic of language".

If the elevator had never been invented, there would be no skyscrapers, towers of Babel, stairways to nowhere. Then everything would be on a humane scale; no one's view of the sky would ever be blocked, and the concrete brutality of the skyscraper would not demean the human beings on the sidewalks beneath it. The skyscraper is the ultimate expression of capitalism. (The most Orwellian advertisement I ever was in a glossy magazine many years ago. It said that London had skyscrapers just like Manhattan did: it was simply that London's skyscrapers were lying on their sides; the "skyscrapers" pictured in the advert were in fact townhouses.)

There is no more reason to call present architecture "modern" than to call Descartes to Leibniz "Modern Philosophy". For so-called modern architecture and art were invented long before any of us now living was born. I have lived with it since childhood and, despite a few exceptions (although never of ferro-concrete and glass boxes), detested it since childhood.


Advertisements that spit in the eye and soul of another human being.

Solzhenitsyn referring to billboards along the roadside.

There is no such subject as "business ethics" -- nor indeed of "medical ethics" -- because nothing comes before ethics. (This is what is meant by "ethical socialism" in Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward. Marx was wrong -- Economics doesn't come before ethics.)


The Age of the Self-righteous non-entity

They are the inheritors of what has slowly evolved into the freest, the most tolerant civilization the world has ever known, and they want to destroy their inheritance. Self-righteous intolerance declaring, "I alone will say what the meaning of these symbols of the past is, and anyone who disagrees with me is not only wrong -- they're evil!" And what is the foundation of this self-righteousness? Nothing more than the bare conviction that they alone know good from evil -- and that human beings and human events are all either one or the other. And so they see an individual not in his fullness and in the context of his times, but only as a symbol of whatever it is they hate -- and as a symbol of nothing more.

Paroxysms of self-righteousness

At various times in history, masses of human beings have attacked and destroyed the past, the Iconoclasts, "Islamic State", driven by a conviction that seems to make them greater than they are (greater than the individual himself is), a mass cry for Justice.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. (Yeats)

Silence is not conviction.

Christopher Columbus, symbol of European Civilization

They enjoy the fruit while cursing the tree, as if they fruit just fell from the sky and wasn't the result of millennia of European development. It's impossible to say which is greater, their ignorance, thoughtlessness, self-righteousness, or arrogance (presumption).

Who are those who are tearing down the memorials to Christopher Columbus? What have they accomplished and what if anything do they have to offer the world?

It was Christopher Columbus' vision to sail west to go east (The Portuguese always sailed east to go east), despite the risk of never returning, and had it not been for the Americas, Columbus' three small ships would have sailed off into the Pacific Ocean, and been forgotten by history. Columbus discovered the New World on 12 October 1492 (formerly Columbus Day in America), having set sail from Spain on 3 August 1492. Columbus was an Italian navigator-explorer who sailed for Catholic Spain, a man who was deeply religious and humane by the standards of his time.

When on June 2020 the city government of the New Jersey slum where my mother's immigrant parents lived and my mother was born decided to knock down the city's Columbus statue, declaring that Columbus wasn't the symbol of what people thought he was but only a symbol of what the city's mayor decided he was --

-- I thought, Very well, then, fine, tear down Columbus, but only if at the same time you also tear down all the gifts of European Civilization Columbus carried with him and to this day symbolizes. Tear down and grind into the dust all the schools, the libraries, the hospitals and universities, the infrastructure (roads, communication, plumbing, electricity), philosophy and natural science, the ideals of liberty, equality before the law, democracy and human rights, to turn America back into the romanticized Stone Age you imagine the illiterate, primitive man that lived here enjoyed, and would still enjoy if Europeans had never come to America.

Is it government that is causing that? How are they causing it? I'm saying this because, one, we got our political independence, but the white man never gave us the knowledge of how to run the economy. [We only know how to run small businesses.] (Kembo Mohadi, Vice President of Zimbabwe, 6 July 2020)

It is the Europeans who brought the blessings of their civilization to the now ungrateful Stone Age peoples of the world who should be demanding reparations -- reparations for "The white man's burden". So I say this mockingly, but --

Long on symbolism, short on substance

... but now there was All Quiet on the Western Front [1929], and everybody agreed that war was a very terrible scourge indeed, and the Highland Herald even went so far as to state that if bagpipes helped to arouse the martial spirit, then bagpipes ought to be shunned, sequestered, suppressed and shattered in order that war might never, never come again. (Marshall, All Glorious Within (1945), xviii)

Symbolism without substance.

Catholic Christianity must be destroyed

The Catholic Church does not call dysfunctional behavior functional; it does not recognize such a thing as same-sex marriage; it calls the killing of the unborn infanticide. But the voice of the press says that those are all good, not absurd or evil. And so the Catholic Church must be destroyed (indirectly at first, but soon directly), and to this end everything that can be used or slanted to discredit the Church is reported by the press, but never anything about the good the "Church of the poor" does in the world, never about an orphanage in Ghana for children who are unwanted because they are deformed ( www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2020-07/a-ray-of-hope-for-ghanas-spirit-children.html ), never about what the President of Zambia said ( www.vaticannews.va/en/africa/news/2020-02/zambian-president-says-catholic-church-is-a-dependable-partner.html ) about the many Catholic schools and hospitals in Zambia's towns.

"Do you really want to offer yourself, just as you are, as a substitute for Christ?" (Dostoyevsky, The Devils)

Intolerance of tolerance

Tolerance of different views is evil, in the eyes of the self-righteous, as in the Fascist motto: "We recognize no right to hold any opinion but our own." And so they have introduced their own inquisition with the fury and ignorance of a lynch mob. Tolerance is another part of their gift from European Civilization that the self-righteous of this age want to destroy.

Intolerance of tolerance means intolerance of freedom.

Specks and logs, specks and logs

I know that I am a non-entity. That's the difference. I know that when I look in the mirror I see the same thing a vampire sees, namely nothing. But I hope I have a deeper appreciation of human history than my self-righteous judgments of it. I hope I can see the greatness even in men whose ways of thinking I deeply disagree with.


The Three Monkeys

... the crisis of a power that has conquered everything -- except truth.

Max Frisch. This is what we see with the absurd prosecution of the young soldier Manning ("aiding the enemy" and "espionage") and the political and financial war against WikiLeaks. -- The government of the U.S. has conquered everything except truth, and now it wants to conquer truth. But truth, no more than morality, can be conquered from the barrel of a gun. "Thy writ, oh king" does not reach that far.

The rulers of the U.S., invoking their new first principle of "Keep us safe!" (for "Safety is Freedom", as it says on the Ministry of Truth building), close the door to every possibility of resistance or revolt: both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson they have bunged up in a U.S. Super Maximum prison along with Patrick Henry ("Give me liberty or give me death!"), the revolutionaries to whom they now give mouth honor, having transformed them into icons of the status quo. It's all very well for Jefferson to be a stone statue in a monument in Washington, D.C., but if he visited Philadelphia today, he would not even be allowed to visit Independence Hall: he would not be allowed past the police security check.

The rulers want a population afraid of its own shadow, willing to surrender all freedoms in exchange for being protected from scarecrows.

"The West". As to Europe's independence -- what made you think the Second World War was over? The U.S. did not "liberate" Western Europe; it conquered it (as the Soviet Union did Eastern Europe). And it has never left -- indeed, the U.S. has now expanded its "leadership" to Eastern Europe. European independence amounts to this, that at the behest of the U.S., Europe will close its airspace to a South American head of state (Bolivia), because it is intolerable to the rulers of the U.S. when its duplicity is revealed to the world by one of their own agents.

"Every system is like a man with a runny nose -- It leaks" (Plato, Cratylus, not really) "... truth will out" (Shakespeare, really)

The reaction of the establishment press to the evils and duplicity of power revealed by the diplomatic cables the young soldier Manning released to the American people? The New York Times ran with those cables to the U.S. government to ask permission to publish ("We regard ourselves as partners," the editor said). There is a name for when the captive identifies itself with its captor as the press has done, the captive press. But that statement may be delusional: maybe it as much or more that the voice of the press is a vox meritricis.

Literature is like a second government, a government in opposition.

The Russian literary tradition, according to Solzhenitsyn, as I remember his words. Tolstoy was called "the second tsar", Tsar Nicholas II being the other; that was how powerful his thoughts were on his readers. The U.S. establishment press has forgotten this (if indeed it ever knew this). Rather than being a critical and crucial protector of freedom, the establishment press has become the abetter of enslavers, the cheerleader for the anti-democratic Departments of State and War. It has truly become "the establishment press".

A Chinese man said that the difference between China and the West was that in China words still have power, and that is why words worry the Chinese government.

Whereas in the West free speech has made words powerless, as if the government might say: "Mock on, mock on; 'tis all in vain! You throw the sand against the wind, And the wind blows it back again."

William Blake ("Mock On, Mock On, Voltaire, Rousseau"). Of the three monkeys, there is only one to be: the monkey who speaks no evil. As to closing one's eyes and ears to evil ...

Puppets and Politicians

Waste no tears over puppets and politicians.

Charles Dickens' father, Mr. Micawber. The puppets are Punch and Judy, or in other words, actors and actresses.

At one time I would have cried "Give me back my country!" But now I realize that was naive, the result of childhood indoctrination through government propaganda (the revolutionary Founding Fathers transformed into conservatives). But it was never my country. It has never been my country. It has always been their country (the ruling class of puppet masters who fund demagogues to speak for them), like the flag they fly over their White House, their Congress, their Supreme Court, their War, State, Treasury, and pretentiously named Justice Department buildings. "Give me back my country!" But you cannot be given back what was never yours.

Some (or, at the very least, some) of the tear gas used against peaceful protestors in Bahrain in February 2011 was made by NonLethal Technologies (the capitalization of the letter 'l' shows that even repression capitalism can be "cool") in Homer, Pennsylvania.

"The Great Wall of China"

In 1947 Frisch (tr. Bullock) wrote in this play:

MODERN MAN: ... nowadays it's very rare for the people to go out on the streets. Very rare. For the weapons which the people don't possess are getting better and better. Nevertheless, it does happen. But nowadays we don't get excited about it, Majesty, we know from the outset that those aren't the true people who go out into the streets, those aren't our people.

PRINCE: Who are they, then?

MODERN MAN: Agitators. Spies. Terrorists. Subversive elements.

PRINCE: What does that mean?

MODERN MAN: That means that the rulers decide who the people are. And anyone who goes out into the streets nowadays cannot expect to be treated like one of the people; because the people, the true people, are always content with their rulers.

In countries that claim to be "representative democracies", the rulers can always claim that they rule by the consent of the governed ("No one ever asked for my consent" is no defense against them) and that the place for the governed to change government policies is in the ballot box, not on the streets. The true people are not rebellious in such a "representative democracy" because in a democracy (to give representative democracy an Orwellian title) the voice of the people is the voice that governs; the true people would not rebel against themselves.

("You can't feed nightingales with fairy tales." But you can feed school children with them.)

Those who sit on the throne
Want no future at all.
Those who in servitude groan
For the future despairingly call. (Verse by "the Voice of the People, Min Ko")

The voice of the common people does not exist as an individual (There is no Min Ko), of course, but the rulers require individuals to target in their war to conquer the truth.


Human dignity (Self-respect)

Treat all men according to their deserts and who'll escape whipping? Treat them rather according to your honor and dignity.

Shakespeare, Hamlet. And your compassion, humanity, empathy. (Act ii, scene 2: "use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity ...")

The Earth is large and there is room enough for everyone, unless everyone is in the same place at the same time, for when there are so many people in one place they lose regard for one another, breaking the world down into those they know and care about and strangers. This is a limit to our common humanity.

"I want for every family in America what my mother wanted for me."

When Lyndon Johnson left the White House, a man broken by war and unrealized dreams, he said that he was going home to his ranch in Texas, "where people know your name and care when you die".


Various cautions.

Remember that most rescues come at the last hour.

Roald Amundsen to Umberto Nobile about Arctic expedition disasters. Amundsen had flown with Nobile in the Italian airship Norge which was the first airship to ever fly over the North Pole (from Norway to Alaska, crossing on 12 May 1926).

Never go into a room without first determining how you are going to get out.

Yegor Ligachev, Soviet Politburo member who opposed Gorbachev's policies of perestroika ("economic and political restructuring") and glasnost ("transparency", "openness", "free speech") in 1990.

He [Sir W. Warren] did give it in rhyme, but the sense was this, that a man should treat every friend in his discourse and opening his mind to him as one that may hereafter be his foe.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 15 December 1663. Saint Francis Xavier thought the same. "Keep your own counsel": let your deeper thoughts be between you and God alone.

... a rule that I have always had, and it is a very simple one: When the action is hot, keep the rhetoric cool.

Richard Nixon, 8 May 1970.

To get the victory you have to think about how you can win, not about how you can avoid losing.

Boris Yeltsin. And that is a reply to prudence that is in fact over-caution. As if to say: the surest way to lose is by not thinking about what you need to do to win; to be playing always defense, neglecting offense.

All man's troubles come from one thing alone, which is: not knowing how to stay quietly in one's own room. A man who has goods enough to live ...

Paraphrase of Pascal (Pensées ii, 139), and because of "enough to live", this is connected to Plato's "... for the body is a source of endless trouble by reason of its mere necessity for food" (Phaedo 66b-d).

There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.

Pascal (Pensées vii, 430, tr. W.F. Trotter). "Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed.... All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves" (ibid. vi, 347), but I think: more like man is an unthinking weed; that's how he grows, uncultivated by wisdom.

Clouds that linger yield no storm.

Solzhenitsyn, who adds "God willing!". But this weather proverb, I think I have observed, seems to hold true most of the time; when dark clouds are moving, then storms often come with them.

You must always smile when you see a child, because you don't know what seed you may plant in the child's heart.

Dostoyevsky. In the Brothers Karamazov the German doctor who gave the young boy Dmitri a bag of walnuts and taught him to make the Sign of the Cross: Gott der Vater, Gott der Sohn, Gott der Heilige Geist, and Dmitri always remembered this kindness in later life. And it is this way with children.

We must not introduce children to our sorrows before they have learned our joys. Their little hearts cannot bear it.

Charles Dickens (Old Curiosity Shop). There is, if I remember aright, a scene in Ebenezer Scrooge's visions where the longing of the spirits of the dead, spirits who lived lives of self-righteous indifference to the suffering of the poor Jesus speaks of in the gospels, to help the living is described. But these spirits can no longer do anything to help. Because theirs was the inhumanity of capitalism, the motto of which has ever been "Buy cheap, sell dear" (Xenophon, Memorabilia iii, 7, 6), i.e. its essence is that humanity does not consist of our brothers and sisters to be looked after and shared with, but of human tools ("livestock", as in stock on the trader's shelf: here some linen, there some cattle) to be exploited for our own greed.

No man ever married a woman with the intention of changing her.

Author unknown. But many women seem to regard the man they marry as a project, as someone to change the ways of, ways that may belong to the man's nature and not be changeable.

Marry the dimple, and you get the whole girl.

Idem. And you may not like the mind or the habits of the girl whose body you married.

"You know not the day nor the hour."

The Gospel. Nor do you know the conditions. Do you think that someone who has died because he tried to pull his clothing on at the top of the stairs and tumbled down headfirst (a common accident in England) -- do you think that this person was more worthy of an absurd death than you are? So in this sense it does not matter how we die, but only how we live.

"He shouldn't have tried it, anyhow," I said to myself. "A man who eats like a pig ought to look like a pig."

H.G. Wells, The Truth about Pyecraft (1903).


Quotes almost without comments

Neglect the fire and you cannot put it out.

Russian saying, used by Tolstoy as the title to a short story. That is often the answer to "But what should we do now?" asked after the fire is already beyond control.

So many things I don't need.

And don't want. Socrates saw what merchants call "goods" being sold and said this.

Je sème a tout vent.

"I sow in all winds", which is the motto of the French publisher Larousse, but I don't know what it means, because dandelions do not demand payment whereas what Larousse does. (The Sophists contrasted with Socrates.) And I would want to be the dandelions if had nutritious leaves of knowledge to offer, so to speak.

Doubtless they have their prejudices, but perhaps their prejudices are different from ours.

An historian, writing about past historians.

What's my name? Vautrin. What do I do? Whatever I like. And now we talk about something else.

Balzac. Maybe in Père Goriot or Lost Illusions. I can't remember. I don't like to talk about myself, but that is not what Vautrin is talking about.

Life is too short to teach lessons --

Narayan (The World of Nagaraj). It's far better to forgive our fellow human beings. "Bear and forbear" was Epictetus' motto. A philosopher told his friend, "We all need a lot of help."

I am a mystery to myself. I do the very things I hate.

The Apostle Paul. But why is this? I think it is because I believe my own lies: I say I know A to be best, yet I believe I know B to be better. And therefore I do B rather than A.

Culture does not seek to pass the time, but uses time for its own higher purposes.

The conductor Bruno Walter, for whom music was not a pastime. "Music listening replaces music making." "Thus the climate of our world becomes colder."

Since you cannot have what you want, want to have what you can.

Saint Augustine of Hippo called this Stoicism's "counsel of despair". The ancients took our life much more seriously than we do, for they wanted happiness (both in the philosophical ("ethical") and in the popular ("blissful") sense of 'happiness'), which for Augustine meant the "perfect possession of the greatest good", which he identified as the afterlife with God. And Saint Hilary of Poitiers said that "If this life is not given us to set us on the road to eternal life, then it is not to be accounted a blessing."

To be happy it is not enough to get what you want, you must also want the right things.

Augustine. Not everything that human beings want brings happiness.

Either learn to control your own passions or they will control you.

Either I don't remember or I never knew. That is one meaning that can be given Heraclitus' words "A man's character is his fate", for if your passions control you ...

The orphan men.

An expression used to refer to homeless men. And indeed, the homeless are human beings no one wants, no one loves, and that no family wants to adopt either. They are Lazarus at the rich man's gate. (Vincent van Gogh used the words "orphan men" for the homeless men whose portraits he painted in 1882. These abandoned men lived in almshouses, but a shelter is not home; it is a way station to nowhere.)

And things were done not because they were right, but because it was easier to do them and survive.

Jack London. Men ought not to live like dogs, animals who run in packs, with morality being only what comes from the barrel of a gun, "the law of the club and fang", if I remember aright from The Call of the Wild. (That was the first book I ever read by myself, but long before then my mother used to read to me everyday. I did not learn to read without difficulty for very many years, and I did not read very much at all before I was twenty years old.)

You should not have grown old before you grew wise.

Shakespeare (Paraphrase of words spoken by Fool: "Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise"), King Lear i, 5.

Philosophy is essentially a middle-aged man's game.

C.D. Broad. And it seems, or so he said, that an idle game was all Professor Broad saw in philosophy, not a way of life as it had been for Socrates, not even an enthusiasm as it had been for the Sophists, and Immanuel Kant did his best work when he was an old man.

Old saying has it, two ears, one mouth. Hear twice as much as you tell.

Earl Derr Biggers, The House Without a Key (1925), xix. (Cf. Zeno of Citium.)

Some men cannot serve without becoming slaves.

Nietzsche. Some men do their work indifferently, unconscientiously, with no sense of responsibility or self-respect, wasting their days. Such men might really be called "wage slaves".

The secret of not being cold when you go to bed, is to go to bed colder than the bed.

Saint Carlo Borromeo, bishop of Milan.

Many vicious people are sentimental.

Saint Francis de Sales. About why in prayer what used to be called the "consolation of tears" is of no importance.

How can you expect to understand the ways of God with a bone three fingers high.

St. John of the Cross, who was born in Ischia; he said this while tapping his forehead, measuring his forehead as whiskey is measured in a glass.

It is astonishing that we love a thing for which we perform such strange services everyday. I fill this bag, and then empty it -- what could be more bothersome.

Epictetus (according to Strobaeus).

Don't argue with fools. It's not only pointless; it's also dangerous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But he also wrote that "We must learn to think of others less in terms of what they do and more in terms of what they suffer".

Argument cannot be won with ignorant man.

Earl Derr Biggers: "The ignorant are never defeated in argument." (The House Without a Key (1925), xviii)

In the long term we're dead.

J.M. Keynes. Meaning I think that with regard to monetary policy, an Economics that entrusts everything to the long term is as serviceable and irresponsible as no monetary policy: Keynes did not think that man should be a passive observer.

Nothing is so offensive to God as an arrogant trust in the power of money.

St. Brigid of Ireland. ("But today when we all have everything (and maybe more than everything), often we think that we don't need other people ...": The Old Man and the Stone, a legend from Gambatesa, Italy)

Whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done.

Saint Augustine. "Whatever is not done as an act of love is not done as it should be done." That is the "spirit of Christ". The answer to why you did what you did must always be, Because that is what love told me to do.

Everything was there to make everyone happy, but no one got what he wanted.

Ford Madox Ford: "Everything was there to content everyone, but everyone got the wrong things."

Which of us is happy in this world?
Which of us has his desire? or having it, is satisfied?

Thackeray, Vanity Fair. The title is from vanitas vanitatum. (Cf. Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, as well as E.T.A. Hoffmann's der Sandmann.)

Earthly love comes from seeing and liking someone, and has nothing to do with whether they are like a saint or not. And so all Don Pedro's teachings turned to dust. Because he knew as much about love as about putting horseshoes on a mosquito.

Benito Pérez Galdós (Fortunata y Jacinta).

El amor es un pensamiento más fuerte, un pensamiento obsesivo. ("love is a stronger thought, an obsessive thought.")

Celia Alcántara (Rosa de lejos).

In a photograph even Napoleon could look stupid.

Dostoyevsky (Diary of a Writer), that is to say, a photograph in contrast to in a portrait painting.

She had all the qualities that would make her good, but none of the qualities that would make her loved.

Tolstoy, about Sonya in War and Peace.

Moths and all kinds of other vile things are drawn to a candle. Can the candle help it?

Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, I think, but maybe these are only from the movie with Sarah Miles (1974), from which also I recall Pip's last words, "friends will quarrel; friends will part. we're far beyond friendship.")

I only taught you about those men; I'm not one of them.

The schoolteacher to his pupil Rosy, about Beethoven and other great men, in David Lean's movie Ryan's Daughter (1970).

Hunger drives even the wolf from its cave.

French proverb (Balzac, in Père Goriot, I thought, but maybe it is not in that book).

He daily hears the words of Christ, but he prefers his own.

Russian saying (Dostoyevsky).

You let him sit down, and he puts his feet on the table.

Idem.

If you live with a lame man you will walk with a limp.

Plutarch. "From bad companions you learn bad habits." We often become like the people we live among. Be careful whom you choose for friends, because you may acquire their habits of thought and behavior.

You must learn from those who know that the faults you have are to be avoided. Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.

Antisthenes (Diog. L. vi, 104, tr. Hicks). I have always envied the Chinese emperors who were able to command someone to follow them around to criticize their faults in character and judgment.

In Heaven we shall not meet with indifferent glances.

Saint Thérèse of the Holy Face (Lisieux).

If you marry a beautiful woman, she won't be faithful to you. But if you marry an ugly woman, you won't be happy.

Antisthenes, who also reasoned that a man is always either too young or too old to marry.


Peace of mind

God has given me this peace.

Silone, Bread and Wine, quoting Virgil. But this peace is given to us for reflection, for "the reflections inspired by a thoughtful philosophy" (Plato, Philebus 67b, quoted by Drury).

Whatever happens to you, don't stop thinking.

Wittgenstein's last words to his old student Drury, who he once told: "You have intelligence, but it's not the best thing about you." Drury wanted -- at the deepest level -- peace of mind, but Wittgenstein did not think that this was something that should be sought from religion; it was rather something that might come to you as a gift. The Apostle Paul speaks of a "peace which surpasseth all understanding" (Philippians 4.7), but maybe that would belong only to someone with a deep religious faith like Paul's: "... nothing can ever separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus". I think that was the peace that Drury was seeking, a peace which Albert Schweitzer may have known.

Peace of this kind, however, does not mean a mind that is free of questions; it is not a mind that has abandoned Socrates' "examined life"; it has not stopped being self-critical. (I would like to say that all criticism is self-criticism, although that would only be a way of looking at things.)

Someone drawn to philosophy will philosophize come what may (which is a good reason to study something else at school). And whether one has "a talent for thinking" or not does not matter. Asking about that is like asking whether one has a talent for doing (what is the) good. It doesn't change what one must do.

Why might one be drawn to philosophy? If a doctor moves to a small town -- who is drawn to him? Those who are sick. And who is drawn to philosophy? Those who need its help, "to heal the wounded understanding". In my case it was "feeling surrounded by vagueness and confusion" and thirsting to find clarity and truth.)

I am a lover of learning, and trees and open country will not teach me, whereas men in the city will.

Plato, Phaedrus 230d. Socrates philosophized with his companions, face to face in argument, something I haven't done in over forty years. Now I argue with myself alone -- and with books, for they are now my "men in the city". Holding discourse with oneself is maybe not the best way to philosophize, because such thinking suffers from its lack of external criticism.

To know things about the animals and plants that live around the lake beside which I used to read books is as nothing when compared to the Delphic "Know thyself", if as in Socrates view, the good for man is to live in accord with the excellence that is proper to man, which is taught by obeying the precept to know oneself.

"Silence of the night, how much I owe to you."

Albert Schweitzer. Tonight I listened to the adagio of Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto, as I often have, but tonight in the dark solitude of the night. And I thought: Joyce Kilmer was wrong -- not only God can make a tree! What would it be like to have the ability to create something so beautiful, something in fact far more beautiful than a tree, but as beautiful as the night sky itself. There are many examples of this, as the adagio (however marked in the German language) of Schumann's 2nd Symphony.

Natural observation, which is human observation (plus human imagination)

Geese are flock animals. They live all their lives in the flock. Until it is time to die. Then each goose must face death alone, away from the flock. But when that time comes, the geese no longer run away from man. They appear no longer afraid.

[My scientific (I think) theory about the distinction between creatures of learning, as man primarily is, and creatures of instinct, as the goose primary is, using the model of the theory of evolution.]

There seem to be far more male ducks than female ducks. Therefore every female duck will find a mate, but not every male will. Therefore any development of the species is determined by the choices the female ducks make. Change can only come through the male (because not all are chosen), but the female chooses which changes come.

The most beautiful sight for me of spring is barn swallows flying in the sunlight, as well as the bats flying at dusk.

"A cat is as beautiful the last day as the first." (Greene, "Under the Garden" ii, 4)

From youth through old age. But beauty is only beauty in human eyes, just as a smile is only a smile in a human face (Philosophical Investigations § 583). Because 'beautiful' is a human concept (What would it mean to say that a cat were beautiful in another cat's eyes? You would have to invent a meaning for that combination of words, because it hasn't one now).


"The Open doorway"

And remember, the door is always open. So if you stay, don't complain.

Epictetus. Even if we feel that we must see our life through to the bitter end, like a sentry not deserting his post (Plato, Phaedo 62b), that does not give us the right to complain. In my view at least, God does not play god. So of what would we be complaining -- the laws of physics? Tautology: if there is no Providence, then God does not play god. (But then, what shall we do 'God'? For God -- i.e. the concept 'God' -- was made for man, not man for God.) And if God does not play god, then of what is there to complain.

If man's unhappy, God's unjust.

Alexander Pope, writing ironically that man seeks to play god to God, judging all things as if it were not that "My thoughts are as high above yours as the heavens are above the earth" (Isaiah 55.9). But, again, God was made for man, not man for God: why is there this concept-formation -- i.e. what use do we want to make of the word 'God' as a tool of our language?

I still hoped for something from life.

Tolstoy. "When despair outweighs hope, that is when one kills oneself." But do men kill themselves out of despair over existence per se rather than about the state of their own mind or the circumstances in which they live and from which they see no escape?

Have many men killed themselves over the question Why is there anything rather than nothing? Are many men as serious-minded as Dostoyevsky's Kirillov?

First we decide about God, and only then will we have supper!

Dostoyevsky called Kirillov "a laughable prince". But I don't know why. Man seems reconciled to live in the midst of mystery, with no more wisdom than the wisdom of Socrates (Plato, Apology 23b), a wisdom which it seems no one has the modesty (meekness) of.

If we were as intent upon our business as those old fellows in Rome, then we might get something done.

Epictetus. The "old fellows" were businessmen.


Thoughtful integrities

Philosophy is really a working on oneself. On one's own interpretation.

Wittgenstein. On one's own understanding, for there are many different ways of looking at things, dependent on the point of reference that is chosen. Every time we philosophize we put ourselves on trial, our conscientiousness (our honesty with ourselves). Because there is no authority in philosophy beyond the individual thinker. Philosophical integrity is thus the greatest demand one can make of oneself, all the more so when philosophy calls for a unity of thought and deed.


Postscript.

Most of my comments are not as sharp as I would like them to be, maybe because they are written when they first occur to me, and so many are like fruit that falls from a tree before it is ripe (CV p. 27). In any case everyone presumes that he can think just fine about life (and possibly he can, although maybe not so well as Socrates or Epictetus or Plato), not listening to me on the subject. So maybe there is no point to my comments beyond allowing my own thoughts to develop.

Maybe we can only be penetrated by an idea when our life has prepared a need or a desire for that idea in us, or when we have already (more or less vaguely) anticipated the idea ourselves. At other times it bounces off us like light to a mirror.


Copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 11 July 2020 : 2020-07-11 and 5 October 2019

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