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Showing posts from 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 pulm

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 becom

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

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

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 th

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 th

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 writ

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

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:

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 Kipli

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 fell

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

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

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 schoo

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 c

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

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 lov

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 ad

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

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.

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 tw

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 nee

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

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 tru

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