Sunday, December 27, 2015

In search of the book 'Surprise Balls' by Yoav Tsoor

The information below is from Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times by Eyal Press (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

In 2003, Israeli soldier Avner Wishnitzer signed a letter that says "we will no longer give our hands to the oppressive reign in the territories and the denial of human rights to millions of Palestinians. We shall no longer serve as a shield in the crusade of the settlements. We shall no longer corrupt our moral character in missions of oppression." (p. 110) He and his fellow soldier co-signers were asked to renounce their signatures, but they did not, so they were dismissed from the army.

Eyal Press describes this man's subsequent health crisis:

Two years later, Avner began to feel a nagging ache in his groin. He complained about it to his girlfriend, Hagit, who teased him about how little tolerance men had for certain kinds of bodily discomfort. He mentioned it to his father, a pulmonologist, who assured him it was probably nothing. The discomfort continued, so Avner made an appointment with a doctor, who ran some tests that explained why it hadn't gone away. Not yet thirty, Avner was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Before he was able to process the news, he was admitted into the hospital to have a cyst removed form the gland in his body responsible for the production of the male sex hormone. He spent several weeks recuperating at his parents' house, where he limped around like a geriatric and urinated into a bottle. When he laughed, a stab of pain shot through his body. At night, his mind raced with fears that the disease had spread. He dreamed of his own death, imagining his eyes hollowed out and his neck withered.

Since only one of his testicles had been removed, Avner was told he would still likely be able to have children. He drew comfort from a saying he'd learned from a Tae Kwon Do grandmaster he'd met in Korea who'd lost his son to cancer: 'Fall seven times and get up eight,' the grandmaster had said. But about a year later, in July 2006, Avner felt the pain in his groin again. He went back to the doctor for more tests, which revealed that the disease had spread. 'Fall seven times and get up eight.' Avner ran the adversity-defying phrase through his head while bracing himself for a second surgery, straining to hold his emotions together while feeling himself come undone. One night he rubbed the testosterone cream the doctor had given him into his arms and shoulders, and sobbed until daylight broke.

It was only at our second or third meeting that Avner mentioned anything about this. 'I had cancer,' he said, 'twice.' I was startled, not least since everything about Avner – his steely gaze, the muscles roping his arms – made him seem not just strong but indestructible to me. He was a level-three black belt who still practiced Tae Kwon Do six times a week, and also taught it. I asked Avner what kind of cancer. 'Testicular,' he murmured, eyes lowered. I didn't pry for additional details, and Avner didn't offer any, but the awkwardness of the exchange hinted at the peculiar vulnerability I imagined he must have felt. (pp. 117-118)

Avner Wishnitzer wrote a book called Surprise Balls. (In Hebrew letters, the title is ביצי הפתעה under the pseudonym יואב צור. Transliterated, the title is Bay-tsay Haf-taah and the author is Yoav Tsoor.) According to Press, the book is about Wishnitzer's experience with cancer and of the "macho culture" in the Israeli army. There does not seem to be an English translation available.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The embodiment of language

Alan Watts:

For the question "What is it?" is really asking, "In what class is it?" Now it should be obvious that classification is, again, a human invention, and that the natural world is not given to us in a classified form, in cans with labels. When we ask what anything is in its natural state, the only answer can be to point to it directly, suggesting that the questioner observe it with a silent mind.

C. J. Ducasse:

You learn the English word "pain" by being taught English, and you learn the biological process of pain by being taught biology, but you learn pain when you are stuck with a needle. It is possible to experience pain without knowing the English or the biology.

Elaine Scarry:

Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned.

Jon Kabat-Zinn:

See if you don't become more mindful by becoming more "bodyful."

Marco Iacoboni:

The main idea of embodied semantics is that linguistic concepts are built 'bottom up' by using the sensory-motor representations necessary to enact those concepts. Let me give you an example. When we talk, we often use expressions involving actions and body parts: the kiss of death, kicking off the year, grasping a concept, can you give me a hand with this, that cost an arm and a leg, and probably hundreds more. According to the embodied semantic hypothesis, when we say, hear, or read these expressions, we actually activate the motor areas of our brain concerned with the actions performed with those body parts. When you read or say 'the kiss of death,' your brain activates the motor cells you activate when you actually kiss someone.

Taking language too literally, however, is a disability. Douwe Draaisma:

Sherashevsky's thought, by contrast, was invariably childishly concrete and visual. Nor did he have any feeling for metaphor or poetry. That may sound odd in someone for whom words conjured up concrete images and associations. On closer examination it is easily explained. Metaphors can only be understood by reference to a meaning, but Sherashevsky merely saw pictures in the imagery. When, in a poem by Tikhonov, a peasant is said to be using a winepress to make a 'river of wine', Sherashevsky can see a red river flowing past in the distance. The meaning of the metaphor has been replaced by the picture.


Alan Watts, Nature, Man, and Woman, (1958), New York: Vintage Books, 1991. p 35.

C. J. Ducasse, The Belief in a Life After Death, p 65.

Elaine Scarry. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. p 4. Quoted in "Torture and Photography: Abu Ghraib." Andrew J. Mitchell. Radical Philosophy Review (Journal of the Radical Philosophy Association). Vol 8, No 1, 2005. p 11.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are. p 116.

Marco Iacoboni. Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. pp. 92-93.

Douwe Draaisma. Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past. (2001) Translated by Arnold and Erica Pomerans in 2004. Cambridge University Press, 2005. p 69.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The 'castration' (beheading) scene in 'Masque of a Savage Mandarin'

In Philip Bedford Robinson's novel Masque of a Savage Mandarin, the character Nicholas Coad seeks a human brain on which to experiment.

He pens an “Ode to the Nuclear Syndrome,” a malady he has invented. Note the references to "a five-inch length" and to "martyred Abelard," a medieval man who was castrated as punishment for an illicit sexual affair.

Thymus of a new-born whale,
Pigeon’s peritoneum,
Mix with sliminess of snail
In a hypogeum;
Belly of Sir Thomas Browne
(Urn’s a little dusty)
Spread with daffodil’s down
Till the mixture’s musty.
Take a small atomic bomb,
Say an inward prayer,
Wrap it in a toilet roll,
Throw it in the air;
Pick your entrails off the tree,
Stick the guts together,
And if you have a five-inch length
You can say you’re clever.
Send a rocket to the moon,
(mind the Fourth Dimension!)
Tie your member on the end
And calculate the tension.
The British Association
Will be loud in approbation,
And martyred Abelard
Will envy your apotheosis –
A constellation or a star
Perpetuate the new psychosis...

He advises a man that the human brain is formed from congealed semen that traveled up the spine. He persuades this man – who happens to be a preacher – that he suffers from Nuclear Syndrome, characterized by inappropriate sexual thoughts. In a move evoking the beliefs and practices of the Russian Skoptsi, he persuades the man that he must "castrate" himself, although, in this case, he is not referring to the sexual organs, but to decapitation. Thus Coad gains access to the recently deceased man's brain for his research purposes.

‘What must I do?’ he cried hoarsely. ‘What must I do to be saved? Tell me, Master!’
* * *
’You must castrate yourself,’ he said in a low, sombre voice.
The preacher started.
‘No, not in the vulgar sense,’ went on Coad, ‘but in the spiritual. The organ which is most sinful – the cerebral organ – that it is which must be excised, that it is whose vile, suggestive sinuosities must be utterly destroyed!’
‘Cut it off, I say! Cut it off and save thy soul!’
He drew a long knife out from under his cloak.
‘Take this,’ he said. ‘Take this and purge thyself.’
The preacher stared at the knife.
He took it by the handle.
* * *
He pulled it across the flesh, with a sound like the tearing of parchment.
There was an immediate gush of blood.
‘I – can’t – do – it!’ he gurgled. ‘Help me!’
Cold reached up and held the man’s hands in his own.
They sawed together. Blood spouted over Coad’s face and streamed to the ground, but with their combined strength – the preacher’s inhuman strength of martyrdom, Coad’s sublime strength of purpose – the job was done at last.
The head separated from the body and thumped to the ground, the body keeled over and lay on the roof like a heap of old clothes.

Philip Bedford Robinson. Masque of a Savage Mandarin: A Comedy of Horrors. (1969) Great Britain: Panther, 1974. Ode on p. 94. Beheading on pp. 116-117.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Being the change for peace you which to see in the world

In a 1931 sermon, Joseph Fort Newton said that war "destroys not only human lives, but human ideas, emotions, attachments, spiritual values, taste, culture, almost everything that unites individuals into a unity more important than themselves; war is the suicide of civilization."

Some believe that our "true nature" is peaceful, and that war is a kind of mistake resulting from illusions. Daniel Condron: "At the source of all creation is peace and love. It is only here in the physical experience that we experience discord, strife, confusion, and refusal to remember where you came from."

It is commonly said that violence and hate cannot defeat themselves; the only way out is through their opposites. Buddha said, "Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world; through nonviolence it comes to an end.
" A. J. Muste said, "There is no way to peace – peace is the way."

If one takes this strong position, then it may seem unnecessary and counterproductive to spend time in debate acknowledging dissenting opinions. Umberto Eco wrote of the first U.S. war in the Persian Gulf:

"...if someone puts forth an opinion contrary to the expectations of someone else, he or she is promptly labeled an intellectual traitor, a capitalist warmonger or a pro-Arab pacifist. ... In a form of ritual exorcism, those who supported the conflict were obliged to begin by stating how cruel war is, while those who were against it had to begin by stating how cruel Saddam is. In each of these cases we have certainly witnessed a debate between professional intellectuals, but what we have not seen is the practice of the intellectual function.

Whether or not one spends time acknowledging another opinion, talking is often time-consuming and difficult. One approach often advocated is to talk less and model more. Frank Schaeffer:

"The wisdom and mercy of our headmaster was what I followed, not a theory. He did not try to convert me to a better way. He was the better way. His teaching me didn't depend on my believing what he believed. It depended on his setting an example for me to follow – an example that cost him a night's sleep. Mr. Parke spoke no grand words. He traveled with two scared little boys a few steps down a path to greater kindness, to empathy, to learning to walk in another's shoes. That is the purpose driven life."


Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, "What Can I Do for World Peace," delivered 1931. In Kleiser, Grenville. Vital Sermons: Model Addresses for Study. New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1935. p 234.

Daniel Condron, Superconscious Meditation: Kundalini and the Understanding of the Whole Mind. Windyville, Missouri: SOM Publishing, 1998. p 130.

Umberto Eco, "Reflections on War" (1991). In Five Moral Pieces, translated by Alastair McEwen. Harcourt, Inc: 2002. p 2.

Frank Schaeffer. Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism). Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2009. p. 142.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Psychological approaches to accepting the lack of free will

Rollo May:

"Nietzsche spoke often of "loving fate." He meant that man can face fate directly, can know it, dare it, fondle it, challenge it, quarrel with it – and love it. And though it is arrogance to say we are the "masters of our fate," we are saved from the need to be the victims of it. We are indeed co-creators of our fate.

Daniel Dennett:

"Belief in free will is another vigorously protected vision, for the same reasons, and those whose investigations seem to others to jeopardize it are sometimes deliberately misrepresented in order to discredit what is seen as a dangerous trend (Dennett, 2003C). The physicist Paul Daives (2004) has recently defended the view that belief in free will is so important that it may be “a fiction worth maintaining.” It is interesting that he doesn’t seem to think that his own discovery of the awful truth (what he takes to be the awful truth) incapacitates him morally, but believes that others, more fragile than he, will need to be protected from it."

Aldous Huxley:

"'And that,' put in the Director sententiously, 'that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you've got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.'"


Rollo May, Love and Will, New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1969. p 270

Daniel C. Dennett. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. p. 202.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World. New York: Harper and Row, 1932, 1946.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Skoptsi in Russia

Many cultures met in Russia over time. Slavs settled in rivers between the Baltic and Black Seas during the seventh and eighth centuries. Vikings (the Russ) came in the ninth century. Mongols invaded the Christian city of Kitezh in 1238. (Warner, pp. 7, 21)

The Book of the Dove is a legendary book appearing in Russian myth. Supposedly it describes how the world was created and how the first water burst from a white stone. (Warner, p. 21) In another myth, the dragon-slayer Dobrynya Nikitich is associated with the late tenth-century historical Dobrynya, uncle to Vladimir I of Kiev. He defeats a dragon by hitting it with his “hat from the Greek land,” which probably refers to priestly hats of the Orthodox Church in Byzantium. While this may imply the triumph of Christianity over paganism (Warner, p. 769), might it also imply the triumph of celibacy over sexuality?

Arkon Daraul in his book A History of Secret Societies (1962) has a chapter on the Skoptsi in Russia. He writes that the idea of castration in particular as a devotional act of self-mortification came from "the old mystery religions."

For men, the Lesser Seal was the removal of the testicles alone. The Greater Seal included the removal of the penis. Women members of the sect also mutilated their sexual organs. Initially "a red-hot iron" was used (hence, "Baptism of Fire"), but: "Because of human weakness this was amended to allow a sharp knife to be employed." (Daraul, p. 109)

The mutilation was performed amidst a frenzied dance that "resembled shamanistic displays among the Mongols." (Daraul, p. 107) Drums were played, and the dancer took two steps with each foot. Initiates submitting to castration had to swear that they were doing so of their own free will and that they would submit to death if need be rather than reveal the sect's secrets. In one case, a priest who spied on the ceremony for the Church reported back that the Skoptsi ate the severed parts as a sacred offering.

Men wore white shirts and carried white handkerchiefs. Women wore blue dresses and covered their hair in white. (Daraul, p. 109)

A flagellant sect in Russia began castration in 1757 and "the Russian Government heard officially of the secret sect only in 1771." (Daraul, p. 98) A court in St. Petersburg sentenced Andrei Ivanov, a peasant accused of encouraging 13 others to castrate themselves in ceremonies involving singing and dancing, to be whipped and exiled to Siberia, after which nothing more was heard of him. His accomplice, Kondratji Selivanov – described by Daraul as "plump and facially hairless (the consequences of his eunuchry)" – went to the district of Tambov and "started to preach the doctrine that salvation and fulfilment came only through the supreme sacrifice, the 'Baptism of Fire'." He traveled to Moscow in 1775 and, like Ivanov before him, was whipped and exiled. Daraul: "Several of his followers were beaten judicially, then sent to penal servitude in the fortress of Dortmund." (Daraul, p. 99) Selivanov escaped from Siberia, and, in 1797, he appeared in Moscow again and the emperor sent him to a madhouse.

Baroness Krüdner "believed in magic and thought that Selivanov was a saint." (Daraul, p. 100) She had influence over the new Czar Alexander I. She "arranged for him to be released from the asylum, and gave him the entreé to aristocratic circles." (Daraul, p. 100) He attracted wealthy followers who gave him a beautiful house. They believed that Christ's spirit had incarnated in Peter III and then in Selivanov. A powerful man, State Councillor Alexei Michaelov Jelanski, was castrated and castrated others as part of his secret participation in the sect. Selivanov died in 1832 at the monastery of Spasso-Euphemius. Around that time, "the cult had centres in most Russian provinces" and members were actively prosecuted. (Daraul, p. 103) "In 1874, it is said, the Skoptsi had more than 5,000 members" (Greenblatt, p. 58), even though, until 1902, the sect allowed only Russians to join.

The Skoptsi claimed that Peter III's son, Paul I, recognized Selivanov as his father and would have returned the crown to him, but he rejected Selivanov's call for him to castrate himself and threw Selivanov in jail. It was said that Selivanov's total castration gave him the ability to perform miracles. In the future paradise, Selivanov will rule Russia and "everyone will be castrated. Present-day followers of the cult (at least until recently in the Balkans, and currently quite secretly in the Lebanon and Turkey) have modified the teachings. Each member is allowed to have two children, after which he must be castrated..." (Daraul, p. 102)

Of the origins of the cult:

The fact that they carried out castration as a part of their religious rites caused them to be considered to be insane. But, as one recent psychologist has pointed out, the movement spread in so many directions, numbered so many thousands of people, and continued for so long, that it cannot be regarded but as a psychological state which fulfilled some sort of deep inner need. This need, it is true, might have been implanted by suggestion. (Daraul, p. 97)

He is probably referring to K. A. Menninger's 1938 book Man Against Himself, which he refers to later in the same chapter.

He ends on the question of whether the Skoptsi's attitude of self-sacrifice about their mutilation was only a matter of imaginary "mental states" or whether there is a real "inner resource which can be tapped by these means. Few people would go to the irremediable lengths of the Skoptsi in order to find out." (Daraul, p. 112) This assessment and comment seems a little confused. Mental states are real inner resources. Perhaps he is asking whether castration really opens up a direct channel to the divine and really enables one to perform miracles. If so, however, castrating oneself and inducing a "mental state" would hardly be the most reliable way to ascertain the answer. One is never the best judge of whether one's mental state corresponds to the same reality shared by others.


"More than one theorist claims that there was a secret which was confided to the members, only after they had been castrated. By making a sacrifice of this magnitude, the member would not only be proved to be worthy; he would not have very much to go back to if he were to revert." (Daraul, p. 103)

The Skoptsi claimed that the Empress Elizabeth "transferred her power to a woman of the court who resembled her" and went to live, under the name Akulina Ivanovna, with the Skoptsi prophet Filimon. Followers worshipped her until 1865. "Secret reports state that she was believed to be able to transfer her divine powers to a selected person, when on the point of death; thus keeping up the ability to give the Skoptsi their hallucinatory experiences of divine kinship." (Daraul, pp. 100-101) Russian investigators said that Akulina Ivanovna was really a peasant named Karassanova, not the empress.

Also in 1865, by the Sea of Azov, investigators found hundreds of men and women who had undergone mutilation. They revered a woman named Babanin "who was believed to have the power to cure all ills by the touch, to speak with the voices of the dead (who resided within her) and to be able to procure favours for anyone, in any part of Russia, through telepathic hypnotism." (Daraul, p. 104)

An investigation resulted in several dozen exiles to Siberia:

"In 1869, it was learned that a merchant kept gold and bank notes in his cellars, accounted for by "an extensive correspondence with numerous wealthy merchants in various parts of Russia – including a well-known St. Petersburg millionaire. The letters showed that all were members of the cult and were engaged in activities ranging from increasing their influence through bribery and recruitment to preparing for the overthrow of the State." (Daraul, p. 105)


Elizabeth Warner. Russian Myths. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Arkon Daraul. A History of Secret Societies. (1962) New York: Pocket Books, 1969.

Robert B. Greenblatt. Search The Scriptures: A Physician Examines Medicine in the Bible. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1963.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Writing your 'postage stamp of reality'

Mary Karr said we have to write about what we really are and what we have to write about, not what we'd like to write about:

“It’s difficult to accept what your psyche or history dooms you to write, what Faulkner would call your postage stamp of reality. Young writers often mistakenly choose a certain vein or style based on who they want to be, unconsciously trying to blot out who they actually are.”

Norman Mailer said that we write about ourselves and about others:

"We write novels out of two cardinal impulses (other than to make a living and the desire to be famous). One is to understand ourselves better, and the other is to present what we know about others. Of course, it is often impossible to comprehend anyone else until one has plumbed the bottom of certain preoccupations about oneself. That is why the writer is always at risk of using his or her talent for therapy – which can be closer to creative inanition than to art."

Jacob Needleman said that we write about our tensions and contradictions:

"The teacher makes room for the pupil to exist consciously in between the two natures of man. Similarly, the great sacred literature and art of the world, at its level, creates palaces and worlds of room for the individual person, the spectator in his flesh and blood moment of now, to become aware of the mysterious co-presence of two opposing forces in the world and in himself. Sacred art, like sacred life, is the mysterious blending of these two elements of cosmic reality, a blending that cannot be conceptualized or analyzed by the ordinary mind. It is the 'navel' in all sacred stories and myths and above all, in all sacred action of spiritually developed men and women."


Norman Mailer. The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2004. pp. 126-127.

Jacob Needleman. Why Can't We Be Good? New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007. p. 231.

Quotes on attention and focus

Jennifer Senior:

“There are biological underpinnings that help explain why young children drive us crazy. Adults have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, while the prefrontal cortexes of young children are barely developed at all. The prefrontal cortex controls executive function, which allows us to organize our thoughts and (as a result) our actions. Without this ability, we cannot focus our attention. And this, in some ways, is one of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with little kids: Their attention is unfocused.

But again: Children themselves do not perceive their attention as unfocused. The psychologist Alison Gopnik makes a distinction between a lantern and a spotlight: The spotlight illuminates just one thing while the lantern throws off a 360-degree glow. Adults have a spotlight consciousness. The consciousness of small children, on the other hand, is more like a lantern. By design, infants and preschoolers are highly distractible, like bugs with eyes all over their heads. And because the prefrontal cortex controls inhibitions as well as executive function, young children lack compunction about investigating every tangential object that captures their fancy. ‘Anyone who tries to persuade a 3-year-old to get dressed for preschool will develop an appreciation of inhibition,’ she writes. ‘It would be so much easier if they didn’t stop to explore every speck of dust on the floor.’"

Maggie Jackson:

Attention is an organ system, akin to our respiratory or circulatory systems, according to cognitive neuroscientist Michael Posner. It is the brain's conductor, leading the orchestration of our minds. Its various networks – orienting, alerting, and the executive – are key not only to higher thinking but also to morality and even happiness.

Yet increasingly, we are shaped by distraction. [William] James described a vivid possessing of the mind, an ordering, and a withdrawal. We easily recognize that these states of mind are becoming less and less a given in our lives.

* * *

If our three networks of attention – orienting, alerting, and the executive – are comparable to an organ system like digestion, then orienting is akin to a cognitive mouth, a gateway to our perception, the scout. Orienting is focus deluxe, the acrobat that allows us to perceive something new, swivel our attention to it, and determine its importance.

* * *

Alerting is the gatekeeper network, the caretaker who turns the lights on and off in our cerebral house. Simply put, alerting is wakefulness. It comes in many flavor,s from a coma to a coffee buzz, and is as necessary to life as the air that we breathe. Still, the study of alertness has long received short shrift, aside from focusing on how long workers can stay awake. "I don't think people have realized how difficult and complicated the alerting process is," Posner says. "It's a very complex state."

* * *

"Kids are always told to pay attention, but they don't know what that means," Tamm says. "One of the most critical elements is giving them a common language for what it means to pay attention." A language of attention. Only when we speak this language can we bestow on others the irreplaceable gift of our attention.

Jacob Needleman:

And here is the morally revolutionary point: the true, genuine initiator of all moral action is the attention. It is our attention that can free us from the thrall of our egoistic reactions, our fears, our fanaticisms, our paranoia, our delusions, our hatred. It is our attention that can master our reactions, liberate us from slavery to our opinions, enlist the service of our body beyond its cravings, its childishly impatient hungers and impulses. It is our attention that can love without having to 'like,' that can call for the sacrifice of our personal interests in the name of a greater good. It is not just that 'I am my attention'; it is that Man is conscious attention. In short, we are morally obliged to become a being capable of morality! We are obliged not simply to love, but to become able to love – which means to remember our attention and to care for it.

J. Allan Hobson:

If you lend any credence to the brain-mind paradigm...the idea that we can voluntarily alter our physiological responsiveness to pain should not seem that outlandish. We know full well that when we daydream, internal generated visions replace externally generated ones. With this simple act we are controlling perception. Why, then, should we not be able to redirect attention from external to internal so that pain stimuli are either cancelled or denied access to the higher levels of our consciousness?


“The parenting paradox.” From the book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood” by Jennifer Senior. Ecco, 2014. Excerpted in the Week, April 11, 2014. p. 37.

"A Nation Distracted." Maggie Jackson. Excerpted from Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Reprinted in UTNE. March-April 2010. pp. 51, 52, 54.

Jacob Needleman. Why Can't We Be Good? New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007. pp. 140-141.

J. Allan Hobson. The Chemistry of Conscious States: How the Brain Changes its Mind. (Originally 1994). p 245

Consciousness illuminating, expanding, contracting

Consciousness, according to Hodgson, is:

"the foam thrown up by and floating on a wave...a mere foam, aura, or melody arising from the brain, but without reaction upon it."

The light of the mind replaces the light of the sun. Andrei Platonov:

"At that time Prokofy was already sitting over his revolutionary papers from the town, the lamp lit despite the bright day. The lamp was always lit before the start of a session of the Chevengur revolutionary committee and always burned until the end of discussion of all questions. In the opinion of Prokofy Dvanov this formed a contemporary symbol, showing that the light of solar life on earth must be replaced by the artificial light of the human mind.

In principle, the mind can reflect everything that is. Norman Cousins:

"The human brain is a mirror to infinity."

But there are things the mind does not comprehend because there was never any evolutionary advantage to being able to do so. Frank Jackson:

"Epiphenomenal qualia are totally irrelevant to survival. At no stage of our evolution did natural selection favor those who could make sense of how they are caused and the laws governing them, or in fact why they exist at all. And that is why we can't.

Literacy narrows the consciousness. A literate culture becomes more visual, individual, personal, reasoned, and engaged in linear thought, according to John A. Hardon:

"There may be value in listing some of the changes that take place whenever a people become alphabetically developed. From being oral and auricular they become literate. The eye replaces the mouth and ear. From a strong sense of community, they become more individualized. Their consciousness becomes more personal, locked up within themselves; their visual functions are intensified; intuition is replaced by rationality, and the world of linear space and time becomes normative of reality.
Non-quantitative thought such as "intuition" may need to be re-taught. Francis P. Cholle:

"How come classes about intuitive skills are still so rare in business schools? A first answer seems obvious: we are culturally uncomfortable with what's not exact and what cannot be demonstrated. Even if research shows that many successful business minds use intuition, it remains hard to conceptualize intuition and make it a tangible capacity that can be taught and measured."

The brain cannot be separated from its environment. Jonah Lehrer:

"Herbert Simon, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, famously compared the human mind to a pair of scissors. One blade was the brain, he said, while the other blade was the specific environment in which the brain was operating."

Perhaps for this very reason, we cannot, or rarely do, recognize our environment. David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash:

If you were to interview an intelligent fish and ask her to describe her environment, probably the last thing you would hear from your hypothetical piscine interlocutor is ‘It's mighty wet down here!’ Some things – especially those all around us – are taken for granted. They constitute the ocean in which we swim.


Hodgson, "Time and Space," London, Longmans Green, 1865, p 279, quoted by C.J. Ducasse, The Belief in a Life After Death, p 77

Andrei Platonov. Chevengur. Translated by Anthony Olcott. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1978 (written 1928). p 232.

Norman Cousins, in Human Options. Quoted in Spiritual, But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America. Robert C. Fuller. Oxford University Press, 2002. p 110.

Frank Jackson. "Epiphenomenal Qualia." originally printed The Philosophical Quarterly 32, 1982, p 127-136. Reprinted in Problems in Mind: Readings in Contemporary Philosophy of Mind, ed Jack S. Crumley II, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000. p 556-563. quoted p 561.

John A. Hardon. Christianity in the Twentieth Century. New York: Image Books, DoubleDay, 1972. p 29.

Francis P. Cholle. The Intuitive Compass: Why the Best Decisions Balance Reason and Instinct. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. p. 33.

Jonah Lehrer. How We Decide. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. p. xvii.

David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash. Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature. New York: Bantam Dell, 2005. p. 137.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The daimonic: The soul of creativity

Rollo May:

"Already in Aeschylus, the daimonic is both subjective and objective – which is the sense in which I use it in this book. The problem is always to see both sides of the daimonic, to see phenomena of the inner experience of the individual without psychologizing away our relation to nature, to fate, and to the ground of our being. If the daimonic is purely objective, you run the danger of sliding into superstition in which man is simply the victim of external powers. If, on the other hand, you take it purely subjectively, you psychologize the daimonic; everything tends to be a projection and to become more and more superficial; you end up without the strength of nature, and you ignore the objective conditions of existence, such as infirmity and death. This latter way leads to a solipsistic oversimplification. Caught in such a solipsism, we lose even our ultimate hope. The greatness of Aeschylus is that he sees and preserves both sides so clearly."

Rudyard Kipling:

"When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, obey."

Allan Bloom:

"But when it [the word "creativity"] was first used for man, it had the odor of blasphemy and paradox. God alone had been called a creator; and this was the miracle of miracles, beyond causality, a denial of the premise of all reason, ex nihilo nihil fit. What defines man is no longer his reason, which is but a tool for his preservation, but his art, for in art man can be said to be creative. There he brings order to chaos. The greatest men are not the knowers but the artists, the Homers, Dantes, Raphaels and Beethovens. Art is not imitation of nature but liberation from nature. A man who can generate visions of a cosmos and ideals by which to live is a genius, a mysterious, demonic being. Such a man's great work of art is himself. He who can take his person, a chaos of impressions and desires, a thing whose very unity is doubtful, and give it order and unity, is a personality."

Adam Phillips:

"‘Criticism,’ Hartman writes, ‘has an unacknowledged penchant for reversal in it, which is near daemonic, and which brings it close to the primacy of art.’ ‘Reversal’ here means that the omnipotent figure previously referred to as God can be accused of setting away with something; that a world in which people can accuse each other of getting away with things is a world of competing authority, a world in which there is no final or absolute authority. A world, as Hartman puts it, of ‘daemonic’ reversals."

Martin Laird described the beliefs of early Egyptian Christian contemplatives:

"The demons could not enter the inner depths of the person. This was the Lord's domain. But the demons could exert considerable effort to keep us ignorant of these inner depths by bombarding us with whatever thoughts would most likely excite our patterns of obsession (the technical term for them is 'the passions')."

Patrick Harpur:

"They are also linked to the fate of individuals, just like the personal daimones, described by Plato in The Republic, which are assigned to us at birth and control our destiny. And I am going to follow Plato in calling all these fairy-like beings daimons (sometimes spelt daemons) – which are not of course to be confused with the demons Christianity turned them into. All daimons share the attributes of the Sidhe. They are emphatically not ‘spirits’ – the word anthropologists use, for want of a better, to describe them – because they are, like the land-spirit Bard, as much physical as spiritual. The notion that daimons are both material and immaterial is the most difficult of their many contradictions to grasp.

* * *

The Romantics imagined Nature in this way. Imagination was coextensive with Creation, just like the Soul of the World. They were identical. Every natural object was both spiritual and physical, as if dryad and tree were the inside and outside of the same thing. Thus every rock and tree was ambivalent: a daimon, a soul, an image." (Harpur, pp. 6-7, 38)

He also wrote:

"Like all monotheistic religions, Christianity is intolerant of daemonic ambiguity. Daimons cannot, for instance, be allowed to be both benevolent and malign; they must be divided into either devils or angels. The man responsible for introducing angels into Christianity was the anonymous fifth-century mystic known as Dionysius the Areopagite. Although he was a Christian, his works were heavily indebted to the Neoplatonists, and particularly to Proclus, who taught in Athens around AD 430. Dionysius appropriated the Neoplatonic daimons, but did away with their ambiguity, making them into purely spiritual, angelic beings." (Harpur, p. 8)


“As traditional cultures suspect, we too many be not so much dual beings as single beings with dual aspects – we differ according to the element we are in. We too are daimonic.” (Harpur, p. 26)

Thomas Moore:

The Greeks used the word daimon as a general description of a nameless god or goddess, a spirit that could be powerful but that didn't have an elaborate story or a clear identity. In the Iliad we see the daimon warning and advising the soldiers as they go about their dangerous work, making decisions of life and death. Yeats emphasizes the contrast of wills between a person or group and its inspiring daimon, and he seems to do so more from experience than idea.

* * *

We are still driven by daimons, but we give them abstract names — power, greed, ambition, desire, love, will. In each of these a powerful daimon resides, but we prefer to imagine the spirit euphemistically and apotropaically as psychological. As an abstraction and a problem, it can be dealt with intellectually. But the mind is not up to such a presence, which pummels and seduces us in the areas of emotion and meaning.

A daimon is not a problem; it is the source of our creativity and identity. In the daimonic it is not easy to distinguish the good and the bad. If in our fear and confusion we fail to engage it, it becomes difficult to handle, and then the negative qualities appear to dominate. But when we take on this daimonic force courageously — it does call for stoutheartedness — then we may discover how creative and constructive it can be.

See also Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials which presumes that everyone contains a “Daemon”, an animal spirit.


Rollo May, Love and Will, New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1969. p. 136

Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, 1936. Quoted in The American Scholar, Autumn 2011, p. 130.

Allan Bloom. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. pp. 180- 181.

Adam Phillips. Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. p. 104.

Martin Laird, O.S.A. Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. p. 50.

Patrick Harpur. The Philosopher's Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination (2002). Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003.

Thomas Moore. Original Self: Living with Paradox and Originality. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. pp. 108, 109.

Perfection, compromise, communication in love

Emerson said: "Love, and you shall be loved. All love is mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation."

Well, no, it isn't quite like that. The people we love are not always good for us. The novelist Amor Towles wrote: "– If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us, he [Dicky] said, then there wouldn't be so much fuss about love in the first place." Even if two people are good for each other and love each other, their love is not equal. The novelist Thornton Wilder wrote: "Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other."

I think rather of a comment relayed by Sari Nusseibeh: "Mathematical problems may have solutions. But in politics, there are only compromises." In love as well as in politics, one might add.

To compromise, we must communicate. Germaine Greer wrote: "The love of fellows is based upon understanding and therefore upon communication. ... If we could present an attainable ideal of love it would resemble the relationship described by Maslow as existing between self-realizing personalities." Greer also quoted O. Schwarz as saying that love is "a cognitive act, indeed the only way to grasp the innermost core of personality."


Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Compensation." In Compensation and Heroism. New York, Boston, H.M. Caldwell Co., 1900. p 32.

Amor Towles. Rules of Civility (2011). New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Thornton Wilder. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. (1927) New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1960. p. 48.

A man commenting to Sari Nusseibeh after a talk he gave in Berlin. Quoted by Sari Nusseibeh. What is a Palestinian State Worth? Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011. p. 219.

Germaine Greer. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1971 (originally Great Britain: MacGibbon and Kee, 1970). p 140.

O. Schwarz, The Psychology of Sex, quoted by Germaine Greer. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1971 (originally Great Britain: MacGibbon and kee, 1970). p 166.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The power of saying 'I can't'

People are so invested in maintaining their social status that they often cannot imagine that they might rise above it. Charles McGrath:

”[Tom] Wolfe's theory, which has changed not at all over the decades, is Weberian, and he developed it in graduate school, when he found himself more interested in social science than in intellectual history. 'It all has to do with status,' he says. 'Or STATE-us, which is the way you say it if you want more status.' In this scheme of things, social behavior is almost always determined by status consciousness – an instinct to preserve your place in the social pecking order. Our status awareness is so fundamental, Wolfe says, that there may even be a specific place in the brain that creates it. ... In the Wolfean scheme, people aren't so much interested in scaling the social ladder as in clinging to their own, hard-earned rung."

Telling ourselves that we can't do something reduces the likelihood that we will be able to do it. Anthony Robbins:

”Someone says to you, ‘Please get me the salt,’...After looking for a few minutes, you call out, ‘I can't find the salt.’ ... When you said, ‘I can't,’ you gave your brain a command not to see the salt. In psychology, we call it a schotoma.”

It is our attitude, not the impossibility of the thing itself, that causes much of the problem. Brian Luke Seaward:

“Roadblocks may appear to take many forms, such as a belligerent spouse, an alcoholic parent, an unfulfilled job, a terminal illness, or a difficult child, but these are not in themselves the obstruction. They are the tip of the iceberg – a reflection of our perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and opinions that stagnate the flow of spirit and keep us immobilized.”

Sometimes we have an experience that we aren't prepared to recognize and we might overlook, misinterpret or forget it. Sharon Franquemont:

”These [spontaneous psychic] occurrences are often so dramatic that people can react in one of two ways: either forgetting the experiences quickly because they don't have a model for integrating them into their lives, or getting hooked on the experiences themselves. The latter is such a problem that, in Eastern traditions, students are warned not to give emotionally laden, psychic experiences too much importance even if they are precisely accurate. Students are to view these experiences as a by-product of development and not the purpose for it. This warning is similar to Jung's concern that the intuitive may get lost in inner ephemeral or imaginary life.”

If we are not sure what to do with something, and perhaps not even prepared to encounter it fully, we can be open to it through playfulness and curiosity. Francis P. Cholle:

"The key ingredient in play is engagement: engagement within your own mind, with another person, or with an object. Play is always a dynamic experience. Play is really about immersing oneself in a pleasurable activity for the sake of it, with no other particular intent or specific goal."


"Wolfe's World." Charles McGrath. New York Times Magazine. 31 October 2004. p 37.

Anthony Robbins. Unlimited Power. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1986. p. 57.

Brian Luke Seaward. Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water: Reflections on Stress and Human Spirituality. (1997) Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, Inc. 2007. p. 77.

Sharon Franquemont. You Already Know What to Do: 10 Invitations to the Intuitive Life. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000. p. 26.

Francis P. Cholle. The Intuitive Compass: Why the Best Decisions Balance Reason and Instinct. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. p. 10.

Quotes on the U.S. war in Iraq

Rob Meltzer, 2003:

"Since taking power in Iraq, the Bush administration has installed a non-democratic council over the Iraqi people. Every time the Bush administration says that it is trying to 'persuade' Iraqis to disclose information to the Americans, it sounds like an admission that the United States is involved in torture. And when the Bush administration begins blowing away Iraqi political opponents and publishing pictures of the dead bodies, one has to wonder whether Bush has gone a little too native. In short, if Bush is winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, it might be because he reminds them of someone else who used to run that country. It is simply not convincing that American troops had no choice short of assassination to deal with these men. ... If Bush gives the impression that he is killing the only people who know the truth, it just serves to undermine the credibility of American power, and America overseas.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 2006:

"I believe strongly it [invading Iraq] was the right strategic decision. I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure. ... I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration. But when you look back in history what will be judged on is [whether the] right strategic decision [was made].


Frank Rich, 2006:

"'That [WMD] is what this war was about,' Ari Fleischer said midway through Operation Iraqi Freedom. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, told the journalist Sam Tanenhaus of Vanity Fair that WMDs were 'the one issue that everyone could agree upon' in the White House war counsels and 'the core reason' for the war.

* * *

When Bush said 'We found the weapons of mass destruction' to a Polish reporter on May 29, 2003, he already knew that the 'mobile biological laboratories' he was referring to were nothing of the kind. As The Washington Post reported in 2006, two days before Bush made his claim, a secret Pentagon-sponsored fact-finding mission of nine U.S. and British biological-weapons experts had reported back to Washington that 'there was no connection to anything biological' in the trailers, which were jokingly derided by the scientists and engineers who had examined them as 'the biggest sand toilets in the world.'"

Excerpt from a Republican memo in 2007:

"The debate [on H. Con. Res 63] should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose."

Andrew J. Bacevich in 2008:

"Yet, as events have made plain, the United States is ill-prepared to wage a global war of no exits and no deadlines. The sole superpower lacks the resources – economic, political, and military – to support a large-scale, protracted conflict without, at the very least, inflicting severe economic and political damage on itself. American power has limits and is inadequate to the ambitions to which hubris and sanctimony have given rise.

Here is the central paradox of our time: While the defense of American freedom seems to demand that U.S. troops fight in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the exercise of that freedom at home undermines the nation's capacity to fight. A grand bazaar provides an inadequate basis upon which to erect a vast empire."

Associated Press in 2011:

"After two decades of war and civil conflict, about 1.5 million Iraqi women – 10 percent of the country's adult females – are widows, a new study says. Nearly 60 percent of these women lost their husbands in the violence that followed the 2003 U.S. invasion, and most are desperately poor."

Eric Felten in 2011:

"In the first months of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Americans fighting there bucked this conventional wisdom [that soldiers are motivated by supporting each other rather than by causes], with a high number of soldiers saying they were motivated to fight as payback for 9/11. But as the war dragged out into an ugly and endless guerrilla conflict--and as the argument that the war had anything to do with 9/11 became rather less compelling--troops fell back on that simplest of wartime truths. 'We weren't fighting for anybody else but ourselves,' said one American soldier in Iraq in 2005, 'we were just fighting for each other.'"

HuffPost World in 2013:

"The death toll in Iraq this year ranges from some 7,900 to 8,700 people so far, making 2013 the most deadly year for the country since 2008, according to, a U.K.-based website founded in 2003 and run by volunteers to record civilian deaths. The special United Nations representative for Iraq described some recent attacks as “execution-style killings,” and single bombings have claimed as many as 85 lives. Many independent monitors are concerned the situation will continue to worsen."


"Bush having identity crisis?" Rob Meltzer, Metrowest Daily News, Aug. 2, 2003

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a speech at Blackburn's Chatham House in England. March 31, 2006. Accessed March 31, 2006.

Frank Rich. The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. p. 95, 219.

Excerpt from a memo from Representatives John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes. New York: Abrams Image, 2008. p. 62. H. Con. Res. 63 read as follows: "Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."

Andrew J. Bacevich. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. p. 11.

AP. The Week, Sept. 30, 2011, p. 20.

Eric Felten. Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. p. 28.

"A Wave Of Violence Sweeps Iraq," by Shane Shifflett, Hilary Fung, Eline Gordts and Jay Boice. HuffPost World. Dec. 17, 2013.

What happened when you were twenty?

What happened when you were twenty shaped who you were – especially if you were part of the revolution!

Douwe Draaisma:

"...they [sociologists Schuman and Scott] noticed a marked pattern: what people considered an 'event of national or international importance' showed a peak round what they themselves had experienced in their twenties. For people of sixty-five (in 1985) that was the Second World War, for someone aged forty-five it was the death of Kennedy. Put facetiously: world-shaking is what happens when you are twenty."

Malcolm Gladwell:

"If January 1975 was the dawn of the personal computer age, then who would be in the best position to take advantage of it? * * * If you were more than a few years out of college in 1975, then you belonged to the old paradigm. * * * At the same time, though, you don't want to be too young. You really want to get in on the ground floor, right in 1975, and you can't do that if you're still in high school. So let's also rule out anyone born after, say, 1958. The perfect age to be in 1975, in other words, is old enough to be a part of the coming revolution but not so old that you missed it. Ideally, you want to be twenty or twenty-one, which is to say, born in 1954 or 1955."


Douwe Draaisma. Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past. (2001) Translated by Arnold and Erica Pomerans in 2004. Cambridge University Press, 2005. p 194.

Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008. p. 65.

Quotes on erotic infatuation

Edward Abbey:

"Like I always say, running the big rapids is like sex: half the fun is in the anticipation. Two-thirds of the thrill is in the approach. The remainder is only ecstasy – or darkness."

Timothy Taylor:

"In William Gerhardie’s novel The Polyglots, the hero-narrator lies in bed, having consummated his love for his cousin on the night of her wedding to someone else. He is deflated because he feels that for all its buildup, love ultimately reveals only that ‘concavities are concave, and convexities convex.’"

Hermann Hesse:

"Hermann Heilner slowly extended his arm, took Hans by the shoulder and drew him to him until their faces almost touched. Then Hans was startled to feel the other's lips touch his.

His heart was seized by an unaccustomed tremor. This being together in the dark dormitory and this sudden kiss was something frightening, something new, perhaps something dangerous; it occurred to him how dreadful it would be if he were caught, for he realized how much more ridiculous and shameful kissing would seem to the others than crying. There was nothing he could say, but the blood rose to his head and he wanted to run away."

Alan Watts:

"Love brings the real, and not just the ideal, vision of what others are because it is a glimpse of what we are bodily."

Sue Halpern:

"What is passion? I asked myself again. It is the collapse of space between two or more bodies, I decided as the woman's face drew close to my own. It is strangers meeting in trust because, though their physical histories are unknown to each other, they are connected by what moves them. It is a cliché to talk about love that binds, but love does bind, and that is why passion, especially passion for a thing, is a way of knowing that comes before epistemology."


Edward Abbey, "A Colorado River Journal," The Serpents of Paradise, Ed. John Macrae. New York: Henry Holt and Co., Inc., 1995. p 286.

Timothy Taylor. The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture. New York: Bantam, 1996. p 72.

Hermann Hesse. Beneath the Wheel. Trans. Michael Roloff. New York: Bantam Books, 1970 (originally 1906). p 88.

Alan Watts, Nature, Man, and Woman, (1958), New York: Vintage Books, 1991. p 184.

Sue Halpern. Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001. p 135.


"Pisanello - The Luxury - WGA17859" by Pisanello - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Common sense: Coming to know what we know

Everyone thinks they have all the common sense they need. Rene Descartes:

"Good sense is mankind's most equitably divided endowment, for everyone thinks that he is so abundantly provided with it that even those with the most insatiable appetites and most difficult to please in other ways do not usually want more than they have of this."

Other people's common sense often appears to be nonsense. Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein:

" don’t need to be an epistemologist to realize that one person’s 'self-evident' is another person’s 'huh??'"

Nikki Stern wrote: "Our culture creates 'junk thought.' Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, attacked our intellectual laziness, which she tied to our easy validation of ideas without merit."

Sometimes people really do have good sense and expertise on top of that, but it is admirable to be humble about it. Yoshida Kenko:

"One should never make a show of having a deep knowledge of any subject. Well-bred people do not talk in a superior way even about things they have a good knowledge of. It is people who come from the country who offer opinions unasked, as though versed in all manner of accomplishments. Of course some among them do have a really enviable knowledge, and it is their air of self-conceit that is so stupid. It is a fine thing when a man who thoroughly understands a subject is unwilling to open his mouth, and only speaks when he is questioned."

It's no shame to be ignorant and curious. That's how we grow in our knowledge. Sue Halpern:

"How do people know what they know? This is always the question. The world presents itself: the sky is blue, the birds are singing. Our senses are an open window. A breeze is always blowing through. How do we know what cannot be proved? The answer is as unsatisfying as it is true: We just do. There are times when this is enough, and times when it is discomfiting. Recognition of a world that is not the familiar, material one is unsettling; it is hard enough to keep track of this world. Science, like belief, starts with wonder, and wonder starts with a question. As Bill Calvert would have told the students, answers did not dispel the wonder, they reinforced it. Answers begot questions, and questions were the libido of intelligence. How better to describe the endless pursuit of knowledge than passion?"


Rene Descartes. "Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Field of Science." Discourse on Method and Meditations. Translated by Laurence J. Lafleur. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1960. p 3.

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes. New York: Abrams Image, 2008. p. 120.

Nikki Stern. Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority. Bascom Hill Books, 2010. p. 12. The "junk thought" quote is cited to Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason (New York: Pantheon Books, 2008), p. 211.

Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350), "Propriety," 17. "Adapted from The Tzuredzure gusa of Yoshida no Kaneyoshi translated by George Sansom. Asiatic Society of Japan Transactions, 39, 1911. A longer extract is printed in Anthology of Japanese Literature compiled and edited by Donald Keene. Grove Press New York 1955."

Sue Halpern. Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001. p 199.

Unconditional love

A Christian teaching on unconditional love from Shawnthea Monroe-Mueller:

"The renowned Catholic theologian Karl Rahner built upon Paul's theology of love, but with a breathtaking twist. Rahner recognized that human beings are broken creatures. Left to our own devices, we are incapable of unconditional love. No matter how we might try, we can neither muster nor warrant such deep devotion. That is where God enters in.

* * *

The beauty of Rahner's theology is this: We do not feel God's love when other people love us. Instead, Rahner believes we experience God's love when we love others. God's perfect love enters our hearts and flows into the world the moment we choose not to complain about how the shelves are dusted, or choose not to fuss about what songs are played for a wedding, or choose to stand by someone in a moment of weakness and need. This is the nature and source of unconditional love."

There is a Jewish teaching on unconditional love in Pirke Avot:

"Any love that depends on a specific factor, will cease once the factor no longer exists, but if it does not depend on a specific factor, it will never cease."

Krishnamurti said that watching people without judging them is what produces love:

"Love will arise in your heart when you have no barrier between yourself and another, when you meet and observe people without judging them, when you see the sailboat on the river and enjoy the beauty of it."

But surely we judge people and situations all the time. We judge ourselves so that we can regulate our own behavior. The novelist Darin Strauss suggested that we must simply not judge others more harshly than we judge themselves.

"The bonds of love are best when you embrace the same outlook in judging your lover's flaws as you do your own. That is the key to forming the sort of attachment through which one chooses to unite oneself to another human being."


"Love's Dim Reflection." Shawnthea Monroe-Mueller. Printed in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. Edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2003. pp. 129-130.

Pirke Avot 5:16

J. Krishnamurti. Think on These Things. ed. by D. Rajagopal. New York: Perennial, 1964. p. 82.

Darin Strauss. Chang and Eng (A Novel). New York: Plume, 2001. p. 227.

The character of Jana in 'Dance of the Eunuch'

“Dance of the Eunuch” is a short story by Jehangir Bux published by Amazon in 2013. The story begins with “the first get together of the Emerson College dramatic society.” They gather with instruments including a harmonium and a Dijree Doo. This “boy’s college” does not allow female singers, so a boy named Luddan ties ghungroos to his wrists and takes a woman’s role in the performance.

Later, another performer appears who identifies himself as Jana. His father explains: “Jana was born a eunuch...At first we kept it a secret...In school it could not be hidden any longer, soon every schoolfellow started taunting him and he gave up going to school.” Jana has been rejected by his siblings, and his father fears that “now he has started to team up with other eunuchs.” The father is aware that eunuchs “go to marriages and shrines to sing and dance and take part in devotional songs, and other things are said which are too horrible to believe.”

Jana confesses having voluntarily become addicted to Pethidine injections. When asked: “Is it worth while killing yourself?” Jana responds, “It is worse, I can never be a man. I can never love a woman, much as I want her.” Jana would like children of his own, and grieves that his brother’s wife “does not want even my shadow to fall” on their baby son. “I can only have make believe love,” Jana says, saying he’d rather live with eunuchs in squalor than in luxury with his own family who rejects him.

Believing things that are not true

Santayana said: "A fanatic redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." So, you could keep trying, or, you could cheat. Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, on re-framing the Iraq war: "You shoot a bunch of holes in the barn door and then draw a target around them. 'See that, guys? Got a bull's eye every time!'" The idea may get stuck. Clive James: "There is no reasoning someone out of a position he has not reasoned himself into."

But, if possible, the privilege of coming up with a new theory. Sidney Morgenbesser: "So if not p, what? q maybe?"

Sometimes the truth is complicated, and it is our minds that must adjust to it. In the collected work Praeputii Incisio:

"The hardest to convince are those who insist on having a double-track fact driven through their single-track understanding, without it ever occurring to them that the latter, and not the fact, is the faulty article."

The most important truths may be the simple ones. Rebecca West: "The trouble about man is twofold: He cannot learn truths which are too complicated; he forgets truths which are too simple."


Santayana. Quoted in Clive James. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. (2007) New York: Norton, 2008. p. 238.

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes. New York: Abrams Image, 2008. p. 21.

Clive James. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. (2007) New York: Norton, 2008. p. 61. A similar quotation ("It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.") has elsewhere been attributed to Jonathan Swift (quoted in the Sioux City, Iowa Journal. Re-quoted in The Week, Oct. 18, 2013, p. 17), Benjamin Franklin, Oscar Wilde, but the original source is difficult to find and it is not in Bartlett's Quotations.

Sidney Morgenbesser. Quoted in John Allen Paulos. Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up. New York: Hill and Wang, 2008. p. 26.

Anonymous [Dr. Peter Remondino]. Praeputii Incisio: A History of Male and Female Circumcision with Chapters on Hermaphrodism, Infibulation, Eunuchism, Priapism and divers other Curious and Phallic Customs. Privately printed. New York: The Panurge Press, 1931. p. 16.

Rebecca West, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, quoted in The Week, Sept. 27, 2013. p. 17.

Quotes on love lasting forever

Anthony Robbins:

We see the explosive power and delicate nuance of values all the time in relationships. A person may feel betrayed by a failed romance. "He told me he loved me," she says. "What a joke." For one person, love may be a commitment that lasts forever. For another, it may be a brief but intense union. This person may have been a cad, or he may just have been a person with a different complex equivalence of what love is.

Lee Siegel:

Having a "relationship," of course, is not the same as being together. Just as an attitude toward labor only hardened into an ideology called Marxism when the worker got cut off form the product of his labor, so erotic bonds only hardened into Relationshipism when people started, for a million familiar reasons, getting cut off from each other. A "relationship" is not to be confused with a union. It is an ongoing argument between two stubbornly sovereign selves about the possibility of a union.

Rollo May:

The new puritanism brings with it a depersonalization of our whole language. Instead of making love, we "have sex"; in contrast to intercourse, we "screw"; instead of going to bed, we "lay" someone or (heaven help the English language as well as ourselves!) we "are laid." This alienation has become so much the order of the day that in some psychotherapeutic training schools, young psychiatrists and psychologists are taught that it is "therapeutic" to use solely the four-letter words in sessions; the patient is probably masking some repression if he talks about making love; so it becomes our righteous duty – the new puritanism incarnate! – to let him know he only fucks. Everyone seems so intent on sweeping away the last vestiges of Victorian prudishness that we entirely forget that these different words refer to different kinds of human experience. Probably most people have experienced the different forms of sexual relationship described by the different terms and don't have much difficulty distinguishing among them. I am not making a value judgment among these different experiences; they are all appropriate to their own kinds of relationship. Every woman wants at some time to be swept off her feet, carried away, persuaded to have passion when at first she has none, as in the famous scene between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. But if being "laid" is all that ever happens in her sexual life, then her experience of personal alienation and rejection of sex are just around the corner. If the therapist does not appreciate these diverse kinds of experience, he will be presiding at the shrinking and truncating of the patient's consciousness, and will be confirming the narrowing of the patient's bodily awareness as well as his or her capacity for relationship. This is the chief criticism of the new puritanism: it grossly limits feelings, it blocks the infinite variety and richness of the act, and it makes for emotional impoverishment.

Elizabeth Gilbert:

...within the Greek Orthodox Church, marriage is regarded not so much as a sacrament, but as a holy martyrdom – the understanding being that successful long-term human partnership requires a certain Death of the Self to those who participate.

Steve Salerno:

Though many social influences come into play here, the combined forces of SHAM [Self-Help and Actualization Movement] indisputably contribute to the mix, taking the spontaneity and magic out of love. SHAM kills romance by making courtship (another word that seems like a vestige of a bygone era) programmatic and premeditated, something to be regarded with cynicism. Romance is the abandonment of self-discipline; romance is reckless, and SHAM preaches, above all, self-control, the conscious triumph of will over impulse. * * * Some of the people who give that answer [that they're taking their marriages one day at a time] will leave a relationship the minute it 'stops working' for them. Yet they know enough to hold a tech stock through the market's cyclic gyrations.

Eric Felten:

Love that isn't inspired by the possibility of permanence is no sort of love at all. No one dreams of someday 'hooking up.' We aren't riveted by tales of lovers who are indifferent to the question of whether their relationship will last. The real benchmark of love isn't a matter of counting sighs (orgasmic or otherwise) but taking the measure of devotion. To say that someone is 'afraid of commitment' is to say that he isn't, in any significant way, in love at all. When Meg Ryan's character in When Harry Met Sally finds out her old boyfriend is going to marry his secretary, she blubbers to Billy Crystal, 'All this time I've been saying he didn't want to get married.' After another sob and a gasp she gets to the heart of the matter: 'The truth is he didn't want to get married to me. He didn't love me.'


Anthony Robbins. Unlimited Power. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1986. p. 358.

Lee Siegel. Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination. New York: Basic Books, 2006. p. 171.

Rollo May, Love and Will, New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1969. p 47-48

Elizabeth Gilbert. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. p. 198.

Steve Salerno. Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005. pp. 181, 184.

Eric Felten. Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. p. 144.

Quotes on 'love at first sight'

Abdellah Taïa:

"Later on, I became brave and went up and talked to him, complimented him. He looked up and smiled, and I fell for him, instantly, immediately. Like what some people call love at first sight. What I call mutual recognition, how two people recognize they were meant for one another. It’s the mektoub of lovers."

Gregory David Roberts:

"The ancient Sanskrit legends speak of a destined love, a karmic connection between souls that are fated to meet and collide and enrapture one another. The legends say that the loved one is instantly recognized because she's loved in every gesture, every expression of thought, every movement, every sound, and every mood that prays in her eyes. The legends say that we know her by her wings – the wings that only we can see – and because wanting her kills every other desire of love.

The same legends also carry warnings that such fated love may, sometimes, be the possession and the obsession of one, and only one, of the two souls twinned by destiny. But wisdom, in one sense, is the opposite of love. Love survives in us precisely because it isn't wise."

Anthony Robbins:

"Falling in love can be such a heady, disorienting feeling because it's not a balanced one. You're not making a balance sheet of a person's good and bad qualities, running it through a computer and seeing what comes out. You're totally associated with a few elements of another person that you find intoxicating. You're not even aware, in that moment, at least, of that person's 'faults.'"


Abdellah Taïa. An Arab Melancholia. (2008) Translated from the French by Frank Stock. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012. p. 120.

Gregory David Roberts. Shantaram. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2003. p. 25.

Anthony Robbins. Unlimited Power. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1986. p. 105.

Needing and accepting love where we are

We are created from love. Jeremy Driscoll:

"God opens up out of the nothingness a space for me to be. He creates me out of love and for the sake of love. And should I sin, he opens up out of that nothingness a new space for me out of love. In some ways this story of love is bigger than the whole material universe and the vast story of human living."

But we find ourselves broken and still in need of love. Julie Bogart:

"Love can't come if we fail to see that we are in need of a savior, in need of transformation.

Self-awareness comes right before we see that love is being offered to us. Something catalyzes the change, the self-analysis, and the personal reflection. Before love can meet our needs, we have to see our need. And we usually do. We get low enough, or we are sick of ourselves enough, or we feel lost or broken or dirty. That awareness opens the way for love to come in."

We need love in body and mind. James Gilligan:

"The soul needs love as vitally and urgently as the lungs need oxygen; without it the soul dies, just as the body does without oxygen. It may not be self-evident to healthy people just how literally true this is, for healthy people have resources of love that are sufficient to tide them over periods of severe and painful rejection or loss. Similarly, one does not realize how dependent the body is on oxygen until one has nearly suffocated, or has had to resuscitate someone who is gasping for breath. But when one has worked with deeply and seriously ill human beings, the evidence of the need for both oxygen and love is overwhelming."

We have to let it in through the bodies and minds we have, where we are. Jane Vonnegut Yarmolinsky:

"The whole concept of God taking on human shape, and all the liturgy and ritual around that, had simply never made any sense to me. That was because, I realized one wonderful day, it was so simple. For people with bodies, important things like love have to be embodied. That's all. God had to be embodied, or else people with bodies would never in a trillion years understand about love."


Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. A Monk's Alphabet: Moments of Stillness in a Turning World. Boston: New Seeds, 2006. p. 126.

"The Coming of Love." Julie Bogart. Printed in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. Edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2003. p. 112.

James Gilligan. Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. (1996) New York: Vintage Books, 1997. p. 51.

Jane Vonnegut Yarmolinsky. Quoted in Lauren F. Winner. Girl Meets God: A Memoir. New York: Random House, 2002. p. 74.

Learning to love

We elevate everything we do when it is inspired by love. C. G. Jung said: "Therefore, never ask what a man does, but how he does it. If he does it from love or in the spirit of love, then he serves a god; and whatever he may do is not ours to judge, for it is ennobled." But this may be insufficient, as the way that love is felt and expressed differs between people. "Love is never any better than the lover," said Toni Morrison. "Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly."

So we must educate ourselves on how to love. Isak Dinesen wrote:

"It is obvious to everyone who is in any way concerned about the development and future of humanity and who cherishes the hope that in this respect too it may be able to achieve more beauty, harmony and happiness, that in everything concerning love there is a need for far more clarity, honesty, idealism, than the world has hitherto wished to apply to the subject, and that in our century we are embarking upon a conscious program of education in all matters relating to love, which have been completely neglected."

We must educate ourselves even on how to speak about love. Diane Ackerman: "Love is the most important thing in our lives, a passion for which we would fight or die, and yet we’re reluctant to linger over its names. Without a supple vocabulary, we can’t even talk or think about it directly." Certainly not all of it is romantic or sexual. Donald Miller: "I think being in love is an opposite of loneliness, but not the opposite. There are other things I now crave when I am lonely, like community, like friendship, like family. I think our society puts too much pressure on romantic love, and that is why so many romances fail. Romance can't possibly carry all that we want it to."

And yet, we cannot force love to come. It comes on its own. Krishnamurti:

"The mind can pursue sensations, desires, but it cannot pursue love. Love must come to the mind. And, when once love is there, it has no division as sensuous and divine: it is love. That is the extraordinary thing about love: it is the only quality that brings a total comprehension of the whole of existence."


C. G. Jung. Aspects of the Masculine. (Collected Works.) Translation by R. F. C. Hull. New York: MJF Books, 1989. p. 59.

Toni Morrison, quoted in, quoted in The Week, May 18, 2012, p. 19.

Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]. On Modern Marriage and Other Observations (1924). Translated by Anne Born. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. p. 56.

Donald Miller. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson Books, 2003. pp. 151-152.

Diane Ackerman, quoted in Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Center City, Minn.: Hazelden Publishing, 2010.

J. Krishnamurti. Think on These Things. ed. by D. Rajagopal. New York: Perennial, 1964. pp. 76-77.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Quotes on psychopathy: The absence of love

Robert D. Hare, in his research on psychopaths:

"...a frightful and perplexing theme that runs through the case histories of all psychopaths: a deeply disturbing inability to care about the pain and suffering experienced by others – in short, a complete lack of empathy, the prerequisite for love."

James Gilligan, in his research on prison violence:

"So the person who cannot love cannot have any feelings – pain or joy. * * * But how can one know that others have feelings, or be moved by the feelings of others, if one does not experience any feelings oneself?"

Martha Stout, in her research on psychopaths:

"We have already seen that when someone's mind is not equipped to love, he can have no genuine conscience either, since conscience is an intervening sense of responsibility based in our emotional attachments to others. Now we turn this psychological equation around. The other truth is that should a person have no conscience, he could never truly love. When an imperative sense of responsibility is subtracted from love, all that is left is a thin, tertiary thing – a will to possess, which is not love at all."


Robert D. Hare. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. Atria, 1993. (Released by Guilford Press for Kindle, 2011.)

James Gilligan. Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. (1996) New York: Vintage Books, 1997. p. 52.

Martha Stout. The Sociopath Next Door. Harmony, 2005. (Released by Random House Digital for Kindle.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Still waiting for a better answer on 'How to Be Right'

“The idea for this book has been inside me for years, growing, grumbling, developing horns, like a gestational twin with a vestigial tail,” says Greg Gutfeld. His newly released book, How to Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct, an instructional manual for “conservatives” to feel that they can demolish “liberals” in fifteen-second sound bites, is appropriately horrifying.

While he laments a shift from “fact-based debate” to “fact-free rhetoric,” he also thinks it’s important “to confirm normal, commonsense assumptions” (note that assumptions are not facts, and what counts as normal and commonsense lies in the eye of the beholder), and his book is entirely about rhetorical flourishes, not facts. As he puts it: “The whole point of arguing is to defeat your opponent by looking great, without hurting your knuckles or spilling your mojito.”

He advocates misattributing and twisting people’s beliefs – for example, if someone supports abortion rights in general, you should inform them that they really also specifically support abortion for gender selection in China. (“Replace ‘pro-choice’ with ‘pro-boy’....The next time someone says they’re pro-choice, say, ‘Congrats, you’re also ‘pro-boy.’”)

He says that the subject of using aborted fetal tissue for medical research should be used rhetorically as moral equivalents to using tissue from executed criminals or concentration camp inmates or using an uncle’s skull for a paperweight. On the contrary, these are not exact moral equivalents; anyone with a little philosophical skill or training could quickly enumerate the relevant differences in these scenarios.

One of his nicer rules: “Concede”. He explains: “Demonizing an opponent on all points makes our opinion unrealistic, histrionic, and boring.” He does, nonetheless, refer to “the innate desire of the left to embrace any cause that undermines the foundations of the country. They are termites.” He says that there aren’t any “left-wingers in charge of anything that requires results” while, to their eternal credit, no “right-winger” has ever used the c-word “to describe any liberal woman”.

He perceives liberalism as acts of emoting, wishing, blaming, throwing money at problems and then resorting to putting on bandaids and lipstick, while conservatism raises standards and solves specific problems on the ground with targeted actions. Conservatives fight the wars and maintain the police presence that allow liberals to philosophize. (No word from him on what [liberal] philosophy might be good for – for example, its influence on foreign policy and domestic law that in turn govern the [conservative] military and police.)

Male feminists are dismissed in this fashion: “Women love a man who fights for her rights, even if the fight suggests she can’t fight for herself. And men dig the fight because impressionable undergrads find it cool that he’s so into the war on patriarchy, while leeching off his parents for tuition.” He says that “Women love sexists” based on some information in or interpretation of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

One of his favorite approaches is to shut down an area of concern by raising a subject of concern that is several orders of magnitude larger. “If you feel strongly about Hobby Lobby denying two kinds of birth control out of dozens,” he says, “how do you feel about sharia law? How do you feel about burkas, or flogging?” (No acknowledgment from him about how he feels or would react when this trick is played on him. For example: If he feels strongly about not wanting to pay for someone else's birth control, how does he expect others to feel about not wanting to fund a war that they believe is damaging and unwinnable?) Another example of this occurs in response to a woman who videotaped herself having “been catcalled more than a hundred times in twelve hours”; he says that, “in the same month, Boko Haram had kidnapped and enslaved dozens of women. So, yeah, catcalls suck. But they don’t rate, compared to true evil.” He also blames that particular woman for walking “where minority men were standing around. She didn’t go to Saks or Equinox.” He thereby reveals his prejudiced expectation that men of color are more likely to make sexist comments that “suck” while he simultaneously implies that the road to civility is paved with luxury department stores and fitness clubs and that the feelings of people who cannot afford these places are not worthy of concern.

He complains that it’s perceived as OK to mock “Republicans, religious types, old farts, white men” but not “liberals, Obama, women, gays, trans”. Trans is not a plural noun, a slip that calls into question his qualifications to opine on anything having to do with transgender people. There are repeated digs against transgender people in the book, including against “the infamous pregnant man” whose existence is notable only because Gutfeld admits to having made a public comment about him for which he was annoyed at being called to task by Barbara Walters and which he does not repeat in the book.

He advocates slamming people who are “consumed by [the subject of] sexual reproductive rights” by simply suggesting to their faces that they aren’t getting laid. His particular complaint is against public funding for birth control pills. He believes that women should be “free to make decisions about their health choices” but that they should have to fund it themselves, because otherwise “the implication is that you cannot be depended on to take care of it yourself,” and he thinks this implication conveys the “sexist” and “paternalistic” idea that you [women] cannot “handle your life...because you’re female” and that “women...need us [men]” to subsidize a range of female health needs. The multi-part rebuttal is, hopefully, obvious. For Gutfeld’s hypothetical woman who is unable to afford birth control, the link between her poverty and her gender is obscure. She has already been defined as asking for help not because of her gender, but because of her finances. Gutfeld manages to find a gender imbalance that offends him only by falsely presuming that male workers contribute all the funding to public health programs for indigent women, as if women do not also work and pay taxes and as if women’s healthcare (including their ability to control when they get pregnant) is not also a benefit to men (in the true sense of the term "public health" in which each person's health contributes to everyone's well being). Later in the book, he undercuts his own argument by complaining about men who want public funding for condoms; there, he doesn’t say that such men are admitting that they cannot handle their own lives as men nor that the cost of their condoms would have to be paid by women. Instead, his argument takes a different tack: “If condoms are a human right that must be paid for by someone else,” he says, “why not your food or clothing?” But I’m pretty sure that any thoughtful person who maintains that sexual health and reproductive control is a human right would also maintain that food and clothing is a human right. Lastly, a person’s poverty doesn’t mean that they cannot take care of themselves. People care for themselves and each other in different ways, and much productive work (such as caring for the young, old, and sick) is financially uncompensated. If there is public or communal funding for birth control and one chooses to avail oneself of that program, that is a way of taking care of oneself and one’s family. Choices like these appear in the context of larger life choices and situations that may also involve taking care of oneself and one’s family and not having large amounts of money because of it, and these larger situations make it necessary or convenient to use whatever health insurance programs have been set up to fill a prescription. If Gutfeld is irritated that specific prescriptions have their cost shared by a large group of people, he really ought to look at different health insurance models and decide if some are more annoying than others, and, from there, he could look at the entire economic system that generates demand for anything like health insurance. Without a fuller context of all the costs that we share as a society, it is hard to seriously consider his moral objection about sharing the cost of one pill through a health insurance model that isn't even defined.

As the purest illustration of tokenization I have seen in a long time, he says that the Republican Party should strategize its growth by doing “the most shallow (but perhaps most important) thing: look like the left. That’s all. Look like them.” By which he means, Republicans should recruit a few people with brown skin. The next time “you’re” – presumably he is addressing the white Republican reader – “trying to make a point at a bar: quote people who look like Democrats.” He must be unaware that he is fighting against his own goal of diversifying the Republican Party by writing in a way that is probably especially irritating to people of color (and their white allies) who might happen to be reading his book. He sings the praises of Mia Love, not because of anything specific she has said or done, but because she is “black, female, Haitian, Mormon. And Republican. All that’s missing is a dorsal fin and an antenna.” I suppose he means that in the spirit of inclusivity and acceptance, but it is hard to feel it. To him, Mia Love’s existence as a “demographic of one” somehow proves that “demographics means nothing.” Not super convincing on his facility with statistics there, adding to his more general failure on how to respectfully acknowledge someone’s race.

He sees some people as being “focused only on their sexual identity, their gender, their race,” and that they should come to “realize that you played no constructive role in this identity you are proud of” since it was not an “accomplishment” but was arrived at merely “by luck or biology.” Not sure how he manages to remain so unaware that people do construct their identities (in part because, all too frequently, they have to labor through their reactions to books like his). His definition of the term “white privilege” is the idea that “every Caucasian is evil,” “any achievement by a white person is based on racism” (whatever that means), and the world itself is “gigantic racist plot”. I could suggest this modification: Privilege includes not having to think about how you construct your identity because the process isn’t painful or challenging. It leads to the false assumption that there isn’t even any such thing as an accomplishment within the realm of identity and that neither you nor anyone else does or can do anything to affect your own self-understanding or presentation.

A very small handful of statements are agreeable.

I think I agree with the motto “Play to win, not for retweets” where it appears suddenly, but then again I am not entirely sure what it or its context means.

I think I agree that “One can love Muslims but hate tenets of Islam that are shitty to women, gays, and nonbelievers,” although I don’t think that this sentence is the most elegant or sensitive expression of that idea.

I think I agree that we should try to avoid “falling into the trap of manufactured stridency, where the condemnation of a pop star over a song is on par with the emotion you might normally reserve for ISIS,” but I think he fails to achieve that very goal in this very book.