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Showing posts from 2020

Religion may make you happy, but that does not make it true

Religion makes some people happy, but their feelings do not mean that their religion is true.Richard Dawkins:I wish it were not necessary to add that such beneficial effects in no way boost the truth value of religion’s claims. In George Bernard Shaw’s words, ‘The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.’A common strategy is for the religion to make the followers feel worthless or broken and then to give them back their sense of worth and wholeness.Alan Watts:...if one wants to feel exhilaratingly light-footed, it is always possible to go around for some time with lead in one's shoes — and then take them off. The sense of relief will certainly be proportional to the length of time such shoes have been worn, and to the weight of the lead. This is equivalent to the old trick of religious revivalists who give their followers a tremendous emotional uplift by first implanting an acute sense of …

Mentions of eunuchs in 'The Dance of Genghis Cohn' (1968)

Quotes from Romain Gary's 1968 novel The Dance of Genghis Cohn that allude to eunuchs.“He was...inoffensive. He had been the victim of a shooting accident in see what I mean?”
”What was he doing in France?”
“Well, he is a German, isn’t he? He was doing his duty.”
“Why should the Baroness have gone off with a eunuch?”
“Because he is harmless.”
“Then one might just as well stay with one’s husband.” (p. 53)“Who was that gentleman, Florian?”
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“Just another small-timer, my darling. There was no need for you to bother. I’ve told you a million times: they can’t deliver. They don’t have what it takes. Eunuchs, all of them.” (p. 95, pp. 118-119)“Florian, you’re crying? You!”
“This dog’s life!” wails Florian. “I get fed up with it sometimes.”
“But what is it? What’s the matter now?”
“What’s the matter, what’s the matter? ... There are moments when I would like to...well, when I too would like to be able to...Watching them do it all the’s upsetting, in…

Quotes on developing a self

"Selfhood — an obsolete idea, according to Bateson and other proponents of the ‘new consciousness’ — is precisely the inescapable awareness of man’s contradictory place in the natural order of things. … The distinguishing characteristic of selfhood, however, is not rationality but the critical awareness of man’s divided nature. Selfhood expresses itself in the form of a guilty conscience, the painful awareness of the gulf between human aspirations and human limitation. “Bad conscience is inseparable from freedom,” Jacques Ellul reminds us. “There is no freedom without an accompanying critical attitude to the self..."
Christopher Lasch. The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1984. p. 257-258."Similar in concept to theologian James Fowler’s stages of faith (even Campbell’s hero’s journey), [M. Scott] Peck’s framework [in his book The Different Drum] consists of four systematic or hierarchical stages of spiritual growth and de…

Quotes on seeking oneself

”We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochrondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.”
Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See. New York: Scribner, 2014.“Half her work is tricking him into trusting himself and the other half is giving him the tools to make the right decisions. She doesn’t know it yet, but she will find that these are the first steps toward being an adult.”
Lindsey Drager. The Archive of Alternate Endings. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Dzanc, 2019."Denied the Sought-After,
He longed to deserve
To be the Sought-After."
Dag Hammarskjöld. Markings [Vägmärken], (1963) Translated by Leif Sjöbe…

Quotes on finding one's 'self' within community

It may be claimed that we are singularities..."And it isn't a culture of individualism, but its lack, that makes for social tension. George Packer wrote of this in his book The Assassins' Gate about Iraq, where people's group identities overwhelmed their identities as individuals, with bloody results. In contrast, it is where people have a strong sense of themselves as individuals, rather than as subordinated to some larger social amalgam, that they can have a deep and genuine respect for other human beings, their individual worth, and their rights.
* * *
Those who believe human evil has to be controlled by a powerful state may not have noticed that the worst evils ever perpetrated have been the projects of powerful governments--from the Inquisition to the Holocaust to the Gulag. This is why we need to hold the state in check, curbing the power of a few to work their will upon the many."
Frank S. Robinson. The Case for Rational Optimism. New Brunswick, N.J. and …

Political parties are supposed to present positions and uphold principles. Ideally.

Why do political parties exist? Not only for politicians to mutually support each other, but for the public to have a shorthand method of understanding what positions are being discussed at any given time and to give voters an easy way to accept a "package deal" of positions that they don't otherwise fully understand.Chris Hayes explained it in 2012: “Choose nearly any important public issue — the long-term solvency of Social Security, the effect of taxes on growth, the importance to student performance of merit pay for teachers — and you will find smart, well-credentialed, and energetic advocates arguing for mutually exclusive positions. In this way, the voter is asked to referee a series of contests for which he or she has absolutely no independent expertise. That’s why political parties are such a useful part of liberal democracy; they take on much of this informational burden. Citizens come to associate themselves with a party for myriad reasons — affiliation of worl…

Quotes on the benefits of quiet, solitary reflection to connect with oneself

"What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do during our leisure hours determines what we are."
Philanthropist George Eastman, quoted in the Buffalo Law Journal, quoted in The Week, June 14, 2013, p. 19."When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you."
Leonard Cohen, quoted in the Montreal Gazette, quoted in The Week, Dec. 21, 2012, p. 15."What solitary icebergs we are, Miss Vinrace! How little we can communicate!"
Virginia Woolf. The Voyage Out (1915)."Silence is the cornerstone of character."
Ohhiyesa, Santee Sioux. Quoted in Sharon Franquemont. You Already Know What to Do: 10 Invitations to the Intuitive Life. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000. p. 117.”Like most deadly attractive people, he had a hollow at the center of him. What people loved most about her husband was how mellifluous their own voices sounded when they echoed back.”
Lauren Groff. Fates and Fu…

Quotes on selfishness

”Psychology has distinctions only between good and bad forms of selfishness, like Rousseau's deliciously candid distinction between amour de soi and amour-propre, untranslatable into English because we would have to use self-love for both terms.”
Allan Bloom. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. p. 178.The puzzle in this seeming contradiction is easy to solve. Selfishness is rooted in this very lack of fondness for oneself. The person who is not fond of himself, who does not approve of himself, is in constant anxiety concerning his own self. He has not the inner security which can exist only on the basis of genuine fondness and affirmation. He must be concerned about himself, greedy to get everything for himself, since basically he lacks security and satisfaction.
Erich Fromm. Escape from Freedom. New York: Avon, 1941. pp. 136-137.“The ego and soul are two wheels of the same bike, each necessary, both important. Without soul, the ego would be com…

'Zusya, why were you not Zusya?' (quotes)

“Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol used to say, ‘If they ask me in the next world, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I will know the answer. But if they ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ I will have nothing to say.”
Martin Buber. Quoted by Ronald S. Miller and the editors of the New Age Journal.As Above, So Below: Paths to Spiritual Renewal in Daily Life. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1992. p. 28.“My best answer to the question ‘Are you Sam Keen?’ is ‘Not yet.’”
Sam Keen. In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred. New York: Harmony Books, 2010. p. 118."The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself."
Anna Quindlen, 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."Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yoursel…

Quotes on the 'midlife crisis' and the sense of self

“This is the essence of the story of Pinocchio, I take it, who is a puppet and a person at the same time. Or, better: he is a puppet who does not know that he is already a person.”
Will Eaves. Murmur. Bellevue (2019).“What is this ill spirit in you all of a sudden? I said I have been to the Darklands. It’s a place of bad enchantments. You stop being yourself. You won’t even know what that self is.”
“Self is what men tell themselves they are. I am just a cat.”
Marlon James. Black Leopard, Red Wolf. New York: Riverhead, 2019. Chapter 9.“The experience of this kind of confusion — confusion around not just career, but identity itself — feels anything but frivolous. It is paralyzing.
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It’s subtle, but we can translate What do you want to be when you grow up? to You are allowed one identity in this life, so which is it? How terrifying is that? When phrased that way, it’s no wonder the question stresses us out.”
Emilie Wapnick. How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Do…

Quotes: The 'environmental crisis' is a crisis of human self-understanding

"To quote the great farmer-philosopher (and man of Christian faith) Wendell Berry, the entire term environmental crisis is a misnomer, because it is not a crisis of the environment, but rather of ourselves."
Jeremy Benstein. The Way Into Judaism and the Environment. Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006. pp. 14-15."The land has not been desecrated; human beings desecrate only themselves."
Leslie Marmon Silko. Quoted in footnote 410. Derrick Jensen. Endgame. Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006. p. 415."Some people in desperation have turned to witchcraft, magic and occultism, to drugs and madness, anything to rekindle imagination and find a world ensouled. But these reactions are not enough. What is needed is a revisioning, a fundamental shift of perspective out of that soulless predicament we call modern consciousness."
James Hillman (1926-2011), writing in 1976"To be engrossed by somethin…

Quotes on ecological adaptability

A few statements I've collected on this topic. These are direct quotes from the authors cited.I want to propose another way of thinking, one that regards human cultures not as completely independent forces changing the world, but as strategies that people develop in order to adjust to the natural world and exploit its resources. Instead of making nature a subset of culture, as Russell does, historians might see culture as a subset of nature. We can think of this approach, following the lead of biologists, as redefining culture as a mental response to opportunities or pressures posed by the natural environment. In other words, culture can be defined as a form of “adaptation.”
The word adaptation is as familiar to historians as it is to biologists. Historians often talk of cultures clashing and adapting to one other, mixing and merging through trade, immigration, and mass communications, or they talk about societies adapting to new technologies like the automobile or computer. More r…

Quotes: Forgiveness as transforming the past and heading into the future

"No life is beyond repair, and no damage so great as to not be forgiven. This in no way was to belittle your tortuous past, but merely to excuse you from constantly reliving it."
Ralph Minogue. Responsibility To, Responsibility For. Baltimore: AmErica House, 2000. p 224."Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past."
Lily Tomlin, quoted in Atlanta's Creative Loafing, quoted in "Wit and Wisdom" in The Week, Feb. 18, 2011, p. 21."[Forgiveness] can never mean as you're t' have your old feelings back again, for that's not possible. He's not the same man to me, and I can't feel the same towards him."
Adam Bede, quoted by George Eliot (Adam Bede, 1859, Chapter 29), quoted by William Ian Miller. Faking It. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. p 92."'Motion of the heart' is the right phrase. Forgiveness permits all parties to lay the past at last to rest and to proceed with a new beginning, uncontami…

Quotes on lying

"What I see as white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it."
Ignatius of Loyola. Quoted by Tom Beaudoin. Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are with What We Buy. Lanham, Md.: Sheed and Ward, 2003. p. 54."Men hate those to whom they have to lie."
Victor Hugo, quoted in the Associated Press, quoted in The Week, Sept. 26, 2014, p. 17."The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves."
V. S. Naipaul, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, quoted in The Week, May 24, 2013, p. 17."What does the specific hypnotic experiment with which we started show? (1) The subject wills something, namely, to read his manuscript, (2) he thinks something, namely, that C has taken it, and (3) he feels something, namely, anger against C. We have seen that all three mental acts—his will impulse, his thought, his feeling — are not his own in the sense of being the result of his own mental activity; that they have not or…

Leaving behind the 'reactive' self and being willing to feel something new

Bruce MacLennan, professor of computer science, identifies what he calls the "protophenomena" of microeffects in the body that bring emotion into being. The neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux similarly talks about emotions as "survival circuits." Even an amoeba, as Neil Savage explained LeDoux's position, "reacts to an environmental stimulus in a way that makes it more likely to survive and reproduce. The stimulus flip switches on survival circuits which prompt behaviors that enhance survival. Neurons firing in a particular pattern might trigger the brain to order the release of adrenaline, which makes the heart beat faster, priming an animal to fight or flee from danger. That physical state, LeDoux says, is an emotion."But stopping here, at the level of reaction, implies that we see other people only as aids or threats to our own survival and thus that we must objectify them. Thomas Brudholm wrote:As Strawson put it, 'Being involved in inter-personal r…

When the Republican U.S. presidential candidates in 2008 were asked about the Bible

In the November 28, 2007 CNN/YouTube debate between Republican U.S. presidential candidates, a user submitted a question by video: "How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book?" The person was holding a Bible.Giuliani described his understanding of the Bible as "interpretive," "allegorical," and having a "modern context." He said, "I think it's the greatest book ever written. I read it frequently...but I don't believe every single thing in the literal sense...there are some things that I think were put there as allegorical."Romney said, "I believe the Bible is the Word of God, absolutely. I try to live by it as well as I can, but I miss in a lot of ways...I believe in the Bible." Every word? the moderator pressed. "I might," Romney hedge, "Interpret the Word differently than you interpret the Word."Giuliani's and Romney&…

Castration anxiety in 'White Famous' (2017)

The actress Laverne Cox, in the 2020 documentary film "Disclosure" (see 12:35-14:15 in the Netflix version) says: "There is a history of emasculating Black men in this country, like, a literal history during slavery and during Jim Crow when Black men were lynched. Often, their genitalia was cut off. And so a Black men donning a dress is this emasculating thing. And I do feel like the relationship that a lot of Black people had to me [as a transgender woman] is about that legacy of trauma around the historic emasculation of Black men in America."The documentary shows a clip from the 2017 TV series "White Famous."Screenshot from 'White Famous,' as reproduced within the "Disclosure" documentary

The eunuch in the film 'Judith of Bethulia' (1914)

The historian Susan Stryker, in the 2020 documentary film "Disclosure" (see 8:30-10:00 in the Netflix version) discusses the 1914 film "Judith of Bethulia." She says it is "one of the films that is often credited with inventing what's called 'the dynamic montage'." In the film, Judith sneaks into General Holofernes' tent. He dismisses his eunuch, after which Judith decapitates Holofernes with a sword. Judith leaves. The eunuch reenters the tent, discovers the general's body, and picks up the murder weapon."There's a claim," Stryker says, "that this is one of the first films that we know of where a [director's] cut in the film is used to advance the story. And there's a kind of, like, trans, or, you know, gender nonbinary character who is kind of circulating around the cut in the narrative. It's almost like the figure of the 'cut trans body,' the eunuch who's been castrated or emasculated, who …

'Unholy': White American evangelicals' reverence for Trump

A summary of ideas from
Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump by Sarah Posner (Random House, 26 May 2020)Why Trump? And why, of all possible followers, white evangelical Christians? Trump's appeal is not just a "personality cult," Sarah Posner says. His movement has historical roots. Posner highlights the historical “racist grievances of the American right, beginning with Brown v. Board of Education and persisting through the 1960s and ’70s in opposition to school desegregation.” Today’s popular notion “that an imperious, secular government was bent on stripping Christians of their rights”—in response to which Christians are making laws dedicated to protecting “religious freedom”—originated in that time. Paul Weyrich cofounded the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Republican Study Committee, and the Moral Majority which conveyed the message that “an ‘elite’ secular political culture…had foisted unwelcome soc…

'Cruel Optimism': Wanting something that isn't really good for you

Lauren Berlant's Cruel Optimism (2011)The author doesn't use the term "Stockholm syndrome," but that's how I could most succinctly phrase her thesis in Cruel Optimism. Instead of having a love/hate relationship with a person who is your captor, however, you have a love/hate relationship with an idea to which you are captive. Somehow, remaining in the dynamic has come to seem better than the alternative.Optimism — Berlant says in her Introduction — may be described as “the force that moves you out of yourself and into the world in order to bring closer the satisfying something that you cannot generate on your own but sense in the wake of a person, a way of life, an object, project, concept, or scene.” (What this force feels like is individual and variable.) “Even those whom you would think of as defeated are living beings figuring out how to stay attached to life from within it, and to protect what optimism they have for that, at least.” The term “cruel optimism” …

'Surviving Autocracy': one rejected myth, one persistent myth

Throughout U.S. history, Masha Gessen (they/them) begins their new book Surviving Autocracy, there has been a national myth of a "fundamental structural state of exception that asserts the power of white men over all others," i.e. a narrative that we'd immediately be plunged into chaos if we didn't let white men have all the control. (A "state of exception" is the use of an apparent crisis as a pretext for overriding existing legal constraints on the ruler's power.)At the end of their book, they cite the historian Greg Grandin. Grandin, pointing out the United States' colonialist "myth of a goodness it embodied," observes that Trumpism "rejects even the myths that were used to justify expansionism." Trump is committed to isolationism and to narrowing the in-group of who counts within American democracy. Indeed, when he lies to justify a military attack, he embraces "the sense of inhabiting a contracting space rather than an …

More quotes on solitude

"Loneliness is not death. Yet we might as well be dead when our only possibility is to be alone, because the worst aspect of loneliness is that it ends the possibility of meaningful experience by translating the inner dialogue of solitude into a monologue of desolation. As the quintessential condition of singularity, loneliness is unlike the condition of solitude, although, unless the world becomes so bleak as to be irremediable to us, we hold out the hope that we may emerge from loneliness into solitude. In solitude, we are each of us by our self, but not yet alone, because we are more or less happily occupied with our self, beside our self in a positive way, or in Arendt’s term, two-in-one. To move from loneliness to solitude is to recover the world we have lost."
— Thomas Dumm. Loneliness as a Way of Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008. pp. 40-41....beyond strategic / activist self preservation, there’s something else to be gained here: Doing nothing te…

Where you can donate to support anti-racist efforts in the US right now

Donation suggestions related to the current U.S. protests against police brutality.Minnesota Freedom Fund ( pays bail. They want you to know that (1) they don't have a Venmo, so don't donate to them through Venmo because any such request is a scam (2) actually, don't donate to them at all right now because they're overwhelmed with donations and they would like you to donate elsewhere.Minnesota Freedom Fund, an organization that many people have been donating to, has received a flood of support lately, which is awesome! Due to this, they are asking that future donations move to these orgs, threaded below:— Keys🏳️‍🌈 (@keyrodi) May 29, 2020North Star Health Collective (medics)— Keys🏳️‍🌈 (@keyrodi) May 29, 2020Black Visions Collective— Keys🏳️‍🌈 (@keyrodi) May 29, 2020Reclaim The Block— Keys🏳️‍🌈 (@keyrodi) May 29, 2020Minnesota Freedom Fund also recommended the "Of…

Van Jones: We are called to 'a personal and spiritual accounting'

"It is too late to be innocent."This is Van Jones explaining things on CNN on May 29, 2020. Jones worked in the Obama administration and is now a political commentator and civil rights activist. (The man who appears on the right later in the video clip, but who isn't shown speaking, is W. Kamau Bell, a stand-up comic and political activist.) The subject matter is the protests against police brutality in the United States in late May 2020.I encourage everyone (especially white people) to play this video and listen to Van Jones directly. The video is not captioned, so, for those who are hard of hearing, as well as for those who need a little context to understand where Jones is coming from, here's my paraphrase:Why are people risking their lives to protest? and during a pandemic? Answer: Because they're tired of hearing that the normal legislative process is going to show up to protect their rights, that there is hope for bipartisan support, or that their own words …