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Showing posts from 2020

Quotes: On lonerism

When geniuses self-isolate: Peter Higgs is not a fan of modern technology, said Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian (U.K.) The British theoretical physicist, 84, is so consumed with work that he has never sent an email, looked at the Internet, or used a cellphone. He's so cut off from modes of modern communication that he didn't know he'd won this year's Nobel Prize in physics--for his 1964 paper predicting the Higgs boson, which imbues other particles with mass--until a neighbor congratulated him on the street. His son did buy him a mobile phone two months ago, but he has yet to make a call, and no one outside his family knows his number. "I resent being disturbed in this way," says Higgs. "Why should people be able to interrupt me like that?" Because they want to keep in touch? "But I don't want to be in touch," he laughs. It's an intrusion into my way of life, and certainly on principle I don't feel obliged to accept it.&quo

Articles to read

An assortment of articles spotted online. "To be read." Great article about Lucille Clifton's occult practices in @parisreview . Interesting that this writing is just now being published - after 40 yrs. — Johannes Göransson (@JohannesGoranss) October 25, 2020 I started writing an article that has now become waaay too long and has fully taken over my entire life. Here’s a little taste: — Tyler Liston (@tyliston) October 25, 2020 "It is telling that Americans thank their military for their 'service'—a form of giving, obligation, altruism. For those hoping for a more progressive foreign policy today, it is necessary to unhitch this notion of responsibility from military power." — Boston Review (@BostonReview) October 19, 2020 In case you missed this very important (to me) thing: Catherine Nichols and I have a new podcast where we talk about books from the 20th century. In

Quotes: On reading good books

Christine Weston: She gazed from the fabulous tides of sunset to the book which she had brought to read on the journey. It still smelled of Dockett’s Book Store. She could see the dusty shelves stretching from floor to ceiling, the long tables stacked with volumes, and the figures which moved like characters in a Kafka novel. That had been in the fall of 1935. Christine Weston. The Dark Wood. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946. p. 21. Anne Perry: A good book changes you, even if it is only to add a little to the furniture of your mind. Anne Perry, writing on "The Man Who Was Thursday" by G. K. Chesterton. The Book that Changed my Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them. Edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen. New York: Gotham Books, 2007. p. 137. Virginia Woolf: Rachel read what she chose, reading with the curious literalness of one to whom written sentences are unfamiliar, and handling words as though they we

Quotes: What makes an idea sacred or religious?

Theism? Superstition? Myth? Ritual? Does it have to teach a fixed dogma, and/or does it have to be undefined and flexible enough to allow for its continuous development and for individuals' ongoing learning? If it is inherently motivated by politics or if it grows to seek political goals, does it have to contain material that is separate from and more enduring than the political movement? Michael Ducey in 1977 distinguished “mass ritual” and “interaction ritual” based on whether the audience participates. (Referenced in William Beers. Women and Sacrifice: Male Narcissism and the Psychology of Religion. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992. p. 164.) Thought becomes religious when it thinks itself out to the end. Albert Schweitzer The psychologist Philip Tetlock(1999, 2003, 2004) identifies values as sacred when they are so important to those who hold them that the very act of considering them is offensive. Daniel C. Dennett. Breaking the Spell: Religion as

'Soft coup' and storytelling: A couple threads on Twitter

Sharing a couple threads I spotted on Twitter. First, here's Frank Figliuzzi, formerly a top FBI official, now a national security analyst for MSNBC, saying that Trump is behaving like a "barricaded subject" in a hostage negotiation. He says that Biden is handling the situation correctly, staying calm and allowing Trump an opportunity to vent, while letting Trump keep his options open for resolving the standoff "the easy way" rather than "the hard way." On November 10, the New York Times published a large article explaining that no significant election fraud has been found . This has been the most secure U.S. election ever , according to a November 12 New York Times article. Yet Trump has been refusing to cooperate with the Biden team (see these articles from CNN and Huffington Post ). He's making the moves of a dictator ( CNN ). To the extent he ever performed normal presidential responsibilities, he has now stopped working altogether. (

Quotes on simplicity

Kierkegaard — according to Merold Westphal — "published a long review of a Danish novel [ Two Ages ] which appeared just as he was concluding his own book [ Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing ] and which fascinated him by providing an occasion for dealing with some of the same themes in a different setting." In the review, he "introduces inertia as a physical metaphor for the spiritual resistance to that dying to immediacy that the sacred seems to demand of us." Quoting: Merold Westphal. God, Guilt, and Death: An Existential Phenomenology of Religion. (1984) Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1987. p. 52. "Love is greater than anything — love and Lady Poverty. Poverty is like a gift and a dependence. Everything for God and others. That’s above institutions, above permissions, above constitutions, and we need a taste of it; somewhere, somehow, we have to feel the ardor of it again." The character of a priest in Michael Novak's novel The

Several resources on how to stop a potential U.S. coup

No analysis here. Just a couple resources for immediate use. "10 things you need to know to stop a coup" ( "6 Things We Must Do Right Now To Save America From A Constitutional Crisis" ( Choose Democracy is advising and training people on what they can do in the case of a coup. Have money to donate? Organizations that aim to protect election results: Protect the Results (and its allied organizations) ACLU Common Cause The Brennan Center for Justice Movement Voter Project Also, a 7-part series on the 2020 election, updated October 17 on Medium: Part 1: Trump’s Motivations to Stay in Office Part 2: Who’s Helping Trump to Remain in Office? Part 3: How Will Americans Vote? Part 4: Cheating to Win the Election Part 5: What to Expect on Election Day and in the Transition Period Part 6: The Chaos We Expect After the 2020 Election Part 7: Fascism, and a Small Thing You Can Do Right Now

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 acu

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?” * * * “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 al

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 a

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) Translat

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 Ration

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 w

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.” Lau

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 e

'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

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. * * * 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

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 eng

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 comput