Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Words get in the way

Sometimes we have to say the opposite of what we mean to convey our intentions more gently. David Graeber:

"The English “please” is short for “if you please,” “if it pleases you to do this” – it is the same in most European languages (French si il vous plait, Spanish por favor). Its literal meaning is “you are under no obligation to do this.” “Hand me the salt. Not that I am saying that you have to!” This is not true; there is a social obligation, and it would be almost impossible not to comply. But etiquette largely consists of the exchange of polite fictions (to use less polite language, lies). When you ask someone to pass the salt, you are also giving them an order; by attaching the word “please,” you are saying that it is not an order. But, in fact, it is."

When we are forbidden by others from saying what we want to say, the seized opportunity to speak our truth becomes precious. Anne Michaels:

"On the way home we passed walls scrawled with a huge V – Vinceremo, we shall overcome – in black paint. Or M – Mussolini Merda. Kostas explained why no one wanted to erase those symbols. During the occupation, graffiti required swiftness and courage. Graffitos who were caught were executed by the Germans on sight. A single letter was exhilarating, it was spit in the eye of the oppressors. A single letter was a matter of life and death."

All the fuss about verbal communication can obscure other ways of absorbing information and understanding the world. Lily King:

"You don’t realize how language actually interferes with communication until you don’t have it, how it gets in the way like an over dominant sense. You have to pay much more attention to everything else when you can’t understand the words. Once comprehension comes, so much else falls away. You then rely on their words, and words aren’t always the most reliable thing."

Physical interaction with others in real time is an essential part of much of our communication. Barbara J. King:

”Our posture, our gesture, our facial expression, and the direction and intensity of our gaze all affect our partner moment by moment, and not just in a linear way. Co-regulation is not a stimulus-response chain of events. It's not ‘He looked away and then I softened my voice tone,’ but rather ‘As he began to shift his gaze away, I dropped my voice and spoke more softly.’ It's not ‘She turned to me, and then I smiled,’ but rather, ‘As she began to turn her torso in my direction, I started to smile.’ A web of contingencies, overlapping in time, characterizes co-regulated communication.”

The ancient sage Chuang-Tzu said that meaning is independent of words, with words being merely a tool to help one grasp it.

“The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you've gotten the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten the words so that I can talk with him?”


David Graeber. Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Quoted by Maria Popova for

Anne Michaels. Fugitive Pieces: A Novel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. p 78.

Lily King. Euphoria. (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014.) Amazon Kindle edition. p. 79.

Barbara J. King. Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion. New York: Doubleday, 2007. p. 44.

Chuang-Tzu (c. 200 B.C.E.). Quoted in Robert A. Burton. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2008. p. 35.

Quotes on therapeutic consumerism

Hannah Arendt:

"It is also true that there is a certain element of violence in the imaginative exaggerations of publicity men, that behind the assertion that girls who do not use this particular brand of soap may go through life with pimples and without a husband, lies the wild dream of monopoly, the dream that one day the manufacturer of the 'only soap that prevents pimples' may have the power to deprive of husbands all girls who don't use his soap.

Erich Fromm:

"This situation is still more emphasized by the methods of modern advertising. The sales talk of the old-fashioned businessman was essentially rational. He knew his merchandise, he knew the needs of the customer, and on the basis of this knowledge he tried to sell. To be sure, his sales talk was not entirely objective and he used persuasion as much as he could; yet, in order to be efficient, it had to be a rather rational and sensible kind of talk. A vast sector of modern advertising is different; it does not appeal to reason but to emotion; like any other kind of hypoid suggestion, it tries to impress its objects emotionally and then make them submit intellectually. This type of advertising impresses the customer by all sorts of means: by repetition of the same formula again and again; by the influence of an authoritative image, like that of a society lady or of a famous boxer, who smokes a certain brand of cigarette; by attracting the customer and at the same time weakening his critical abilities by the sex appeal of a pretty girl; by terrorizing him with the threat of “b.o.” or “halitosis”; or yet again by stimulating daydreams about a sudden change in one’s whole course of life brought about by buying a certain shirt or soup. All these methods are essentially irrational; they have nothing to do with the qualities of the merchandise, and they smother and kill the critical capacities of the customer like an opiate or outright hypnosis. They give him a certain satisfaction by their daydreaming qualities just as the movies do, but at the same time they increase his feeling of smallness and powerlessness."

Jim Wallis:

”If you just drink this beer, use this toothpaste, drive this car, wear this perfume, or buy these jeans, this can be your life, too. Is this not the essence of idolatry--a misdirected form of worship?

But these promises are an illusion, a mirage that is very dangerous. All of life has been reduced to consumption. We sacrifice our souls for the mirage of glittering images, and all we get is a mouthful of sand. We have run after mirages in the desert, and now the desert is in us.”


Hannah Arendt. The Burden of Our Time. London: Secker and Warburg, 1951. Published in the US as The Origins of Totalitarianism. p 336.

Erich Fromm. Escape from Freedom. New York: Avon, 1941. p. 149.

Jim Wallis. The Soul of Politics: Beyond "Religious Right" and "Secular Left". New York: Harvest, 1995. p. 168.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Quotes on our relationships with money and our relationships with people

Andrew Potter:

“Cars are an almost perfect metaphor for the pervasive atomism that denies the very existence of the webs of interdependence that make civil society possible.”

Henry D. Thoreau:

"It is a grand fact that you cannot make the fairer fruits or parts of fruits matter of commerce, that is, you cannot buy the highest use and enjoyment of them. You cannot buy that pleasure which it yields to him who truly plucks it. You cannot buy a good appetite even. In short, you may buy a servant or slave, but you cannot buy a friend."

David Callahan:

"The great promise of consumer culture – promoted around the clock by $150 billion a year in advertising – is that we need never be discomforted or inconvenienced; that we need never put any him or burning desire on the back burner, or accept anything less than an optimal experience; that we always have more choices, new choices, better choices.

Whatever else you may say about consumerism, whether you’re pro-mall or anti-mall, one thing is certain: This outlook is fundamentally at odds with the vows of marriage and the realities of parenthood. In even the best family life we are often discomforted and inconvenienced, and we are stuck with what we have – the jock we married when we were twenty-four and just a kid, the children who share our blood but not our temperament, the in-laws whom we might happily send on a cruise around the world. Family may be about any number of things; unlimited choice is not one of them."

Alfred DePew:

"Consider this. What if we treated our lovers the way we treated money? Imagine periods of wild, passionate attention, obsession even. Then nothing. ("You never call. You never write!") Neglect. Irresponsibility. Avoidance. Followed by periods of remorse, resolving to do better. Balance the checkbook. Be more mindful of spending. No more debt. And even if your relationship to money is not this dramatic, chances are it's inconsistent and a cause of worry. In short: an energy drain."


“Walking the Line.” Andrew Potter. Adbusters, June-July 2000. p. 79.

David Callahan. The Moral Center: How We Can Reclaim our Country from Die-Hard Extremists, Rogue Corporations, Hollywood Hacks, and Pretend Patriots. USA: Harcourt, 2006. pp. 35-36.

Henry D. Thoreau. “Wild Fruits.” Printed in Faith in a Seed: The First Publication of Thoreau’s Last Manuscript. Edited by Bradley P. Dean. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993. p. 182.

Alfred DePew. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Money." White Crane Journal, Issue #64, Spring 2005, p 22.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Quotes on seeking happiness through consumer power

Arthur Miller:

"Years ago a person, he was unhappy, didn't know what to do with himself, he'd go to church, start a revolution – something. Today you're unhappy? Can't figure it out? What is the salvation? Go shopping."

Isak Dinesen:

"Nowadays when people do not allow themselves to be burned or expelled from society for the sake of Paradise, it is not because our more refined nerves cause us to fear the stake or poverty or expulsion more than our forebears did, nor because we are in doubt that our sufferings will gain us entrance to Paradise – for in any case such a belief could easily spring up at any time at all – but because the Paradise that is promised us in connection with these sufferings does not appeal to us. We have no desire for it and would have no wish to go there even if access to it were free.

On the other hand, when people began to believe fervently that bliss was to be found in motorcars, a good cellar, and so on, then the majority were prepared to undergo frightful sufferings for years, in offices, factories and stock exchanges, in the hope of finally attaining that bliss. At this moment probably fifty percent of civilized humanity would be reconciled to enduring all the pangs of the early Christians if they knew they would emerge on the other side with an annual income of L$50,000 [$200,000 in 1923] for the rest of their lives, and so for them there is no reason to envy the victims of Nero – with eternal bliss in store for them – their strength of character."

Amitai Etzioni:

"Several studies have shown that, across many nations with annual per capita incomes above $20,000, there is no correlation between increased income and increased happiness. In the United States since World War II, per capita income has tripled, but levels of life satisfaction remain about the same, while the people of Japan, despite experiencing a sixfold increase in income since 1958, have seen their levels of contentment stay largely stagnant. Studies also indicate that many members of capitalist societies feel unsatisfied, if not outright deprived, however much they earn and consume, because others make and spend even more."

Michael Lerner:

"What spiritual wisdom teaches us is that happiness cannot be obtained through the accumulation of goods and that therefore creating a society whose highest priority is to stimulate endless consumption is a spiritual error."


Arthur Miller. Quoted on the "Sunbeams" page of The Sun, February 2006, p. 48.

Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]. On Modern Marriage and Other Observations (1924). Translated by Anne Born. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. p. 36.

"Get Rich Now." Amitai Etzioni. Excerpted from The New Republic (June 17, 2009). Reprinted in UTNE Reader (Jan-Feb 2010), p. 39.

Michael Lerner. The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. p. 315.