Collected Thoughts

October 2014
October 1, 2014

On Monday, September 29th, I drove from Annapolis home to Montpelier, Vermont. It’s about 530 miles from my brother’s house to mine, and it took me, this time, about ten and a half hours. That allowed for some dawdling along the way, to drink coffee and eat snacks (I don’t, generally, indulge in what could be called a meal at Interstate rest stops).

A long drive by oneself is an occasion for thinking, since there’s not much else to do except to observe the behavior of other drivers and try to avoid being killed by them. I have numerous thoughts on a journey of that nature, but not a great many that seem worth recording. Here, for example, is a note I jotted at the recently rebuilt Chesapeake rest stop in northern Maryland:

In the U.S., one encounters repeated demands, or strong suggestions, that one should
pay reverence to entities one may feel no reverence for -- most commonly God or the
military services. This is one of the more irritating features of our country.

I’m not a particularly reverential person. This is nothing to be either proud or ashamed of; it’s just a truth about me. How I came to be a non-reverential person I’m not sure. If I were forced to speculate, I’d say that many of the reverential persons I’ve observed seemed to be engaged in some kind of scam or another, and I would prefer not to be thought of in that way. As for the usual objects of reverence, they don’t commend themselves to me. “God” is a term I can’t see has much meaning. I know that when people talk to me about God, for the most part, I can’t figure out what they’re talking about and I have a strong suspicion they don’t know. I can’t be reverential towards military forces because I was once a soldier myself and I saw nothing around me at that time which caused me to feel any reverence at all. The sad truth is I saw a good deal that led me to have opposing feelings.

After I left the Chesapeake House, I began thinking about Florida, where I had been for the previous month. Florida induces in me mixed feelings. There’s much about nature in Florida I find entrancing (much that’s bothersome too, like lots of mosquitoes). But the society the people who live in Florida have built fails to enthrall me.

For one thing, Florida has a governor, who seems about to be re-elected, and who, in my opinion, is one of the great criminals in American history. A company he headed stole billions of dollars from American taxpayers. He managed, somehow, to escape any penalty for this because by the time the government caught on to the theft, he had left the company and declared he knew nothing about the thievery. This I find very hard to believe, and I’m not alone in that. I ask myself why people would wish to choose as the head of their public affairs a person who has stolen vast sums of money. The only answer I’ve been able to pick up from overhearing conversations and reading letters to newspapers is that the people think this shows he knows how to do stuff. That’s enough for them. People who take that stance strike me as a bit creepy.

Florida has the highest pedestrian death rate in the nation. It is more than triple the rate for deaths caused by wars throughout the world. While I was in Florida in September, fairly near me, two schoolchildren, each about eight years old, were hit by a car and killed. When I bring this up to people in Florida, they tell me that kids should be more careful. And then, I ask myself why someone should run over little boys even if they’re not being careful? After all, it’s the nature of little boys not to be careful. Has that simple fact somehow escaped the attention of Florida drivers? You don’t reach the peak of killing pedestrians with cars and trucks unless there’s some attitude involved in it. And I don’t mind confessing I see nothing to cheer in that attitude.

There are other aspects of the Florida social scene which are less than enticing, such as an insurance commission which is more devoted to the insurance industry than it is to the citizens, the insane “stand your ground” laws, a brutal criminal justice system, frequent misbehavior by police, a medical system that is unnecessarily tangled, and electrical rates that in some communities soar almost beyond belief. But the one that affects the tone of everyday life more noticeably than any other is that large sectors of the state function primarily as antechambers to death. Many people move to Florida for the purpose of waiting to die and the main thing they are concerned with as they wait is physical comfort. There is nothing wrong with comfort in and of itself, but when it becomes the overweening social goal the result is a languidness that undercuts the sense of life’s possessing meaning. I am not talking about people wishing to spend their last few months free of pain. Rather, I have in mind decades of existence in which there is no commitment to anything other than insuring that little exertion will be required and that one will never, ever, experience temperatures that may cause the slightest discomfort. The fear of brisk weather in Florida reaches the pathological. If there’s a prediction that the outside temperature could fall below fifty degrees, something close to panic ensues. When people get into this frame of mind, they become querulous, self-indulgent, and devoid of any sense of social responsibility. They don’t create a vibrant social existence.

As I rolled into upstate New York, I began to ask myself if there’s a link between the injunction to bow down and the obsessive quest for pure comfort. And by the time I had made it through Whitehall, and was on the verge of the Vermont border, it came to me that slack sentimentality, an emotional state emptied of thought and rising from the desire always to peer blankly at everything, bound them together. This is a mode of feeling that is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. Where it came from I don’t know but where it’s going is disturbing.

While I was in Florida the vote for Scottish independence took place, and people, knowing I had been frequently to both places, asked me why people that different would wish to inhabit the same nation. I told them that the difference between the Scots and the English doesn’t even approach the difference between Floridians and Vermonters. And when I did, they looked at me blankly.

Such are the thoughts of a long drive. I don’t even know if I can take responsibility for them. They just seem to happen.

October 14, 2014

I see that Gary Gutting has concluded his series of interviews for the New York Times in which he queried philosophers about their views on religion and the existence of God.  For the final interview he chose to question himself.

He says the immediate impetus for the series was his surprise over a poll conducted among professional philosophers which revealed that 73% accepted or were inclined to accept atheism, 15% were theists, and only 6% were agnostic. He had expected a majority would be agnostics.

I think I read most of the installments in the series. I found them mildly interesting but not very surprising. Most philosophers don’t find God to be an especially interesting concept and consequently don’t devote much effort to thinking about him. Since everything that can be said about the divine existence has been said, and since all of it together has failed to reach definitive conclusions, philosophers don’t see sense in laboring over it further.

There remains, of course, a great deal of God-talk in the United States, more than you find in other developed nations. Why this is the case, and what the results of it are, present questions that are bound to affect the nation’s future and, so, are probably more significant than questions about God himself. That Americans say they “believe” assertions for which there is no evidence, suggests a national character which is strongly resistant to rational deliberation. And that, in turn, indicates an inability to solve problems which require careful rational analysis. The looming climate crisis is the most obvious of these but almost all other serious difficulties are worsened by refusal to think about them in an evidential way.

It’s probably true that the United States, at the moment, is being more damaged by irrational decision-making than any other country in the world. I can’t say for sure the practice derives from an anti-critical religious stance, yet there seems nothing else as obvious to account for it.

An interesting absence in Gutting’s self-interview was his failure to discuss the linguistic element of religious discussion. People use words in all sorts of ways, most of them not seriously related to the conveyance of meaning, but in no other branch of discourse is the vacancy of the terms used so blatant as in religion. When most people talk about the “existence of God,” for example, they have virtually no sense of what they mean by “existence,” nor do they have much sense of what they mean by God.”

If you were ask them whether God’s existence is the same sort of thing as the existence of the grocery store down the road, they would, after some puzzlement, be likely to say no. And then, if you pointed out that what we mean by saying the grocery store exists is that you can go there, pay some money, and come out with a loaf of bread, they would probably agree. But where can we go to encounter God, where can we have a definite transaction with him? Believers will say, of course, that you can do it anywhere. But if you ask them for proof that they’ve done it, if you ask them, in effect, “where’s the loaf of bread?” they will have no answer. That’s because there is no loaf of bread. What’s going on is merely a vague, self-induced assurance that something has happened. But has it happened anywhere other than in the believer’s head? The grocery store exists whether or not you’re thinking of it. It’s in a realm of existence other people can investigate. But God’s existence, as far as evidence indicates, is only in the human imagination. Little birds can’t find that realm, nor can dogs, nor sheep, nor any other living creatures.

Humans spend a lot of time telling one another that God exists. But they never say where. And the where question cannot simply be dismissed if you want your discussion to make any sense at all.

If we turn to what or who God is, similar linguistic problems arise. What kind of entity is being talked about? People throw all kinds of abstract descriptors around, like omnipotent, omniscient, the source of all good, and so on. What can these mean? If there is any sort of connection between God and humanity, then we have to start with his motives. What does he want? If he is as described, then he can have anything he wants. And the ability to have anything one wants, means there is no lack of fulfillment whatsoever. The point is that such a creature is unimaginable. Theologians try to worm out of this problem by saying that God’s nature surpasses human understanding, but this is just a seemingly profound way saying nothing at all.

We sometimes laugh at the naiveté of viewing God as the big daddy in the sky, yet what else other, actually, can any theological explanation conclude.

In God, we are dealing with a made-up something we can’t imagine. Talking about him depends on discourse in which we lose knowledge of what we are saying. Words are the principal means we have for sorting out subtle problems, but when we employ them to squeeze all meaning from them, we betray ourselves in the most profound manner possible.

The problem of God is a linguistic problem more than anything else. If we can’t straighten out our relationship to language we certainly can’t grasp the fundamental issues of meaning, which, ultimately, is what God is supposed to be about.

Throughout its history the American nation has been fairly loose and careless about language. That’s what has given us our international reputation for bombast. We speak of being great without any clear definition of greatness; we proclaim ourselves free with no discernible concept of freedom; we celebrate our goodness with no definable notion of virtue. And we trust in God with little sense of what we mean by trusting or by God.

A bit of maturation might be in order but out of what it could arise I can’t say.

October 17, 2014

The character of a nation is hard to adjust. Attitudes and assumptions can persist for centuries.

I was reminded of this yesterday, reading a response from Steve Ky in the thread after Roger Cohen’s column about Asian fears of declining American leadership. Mr Ky’s thesis is that America appears weak because during the Obama administration the national government has concentrated on the envies of “the less inspired and the less competent.” This misplaced concern has resulted in the nation’s turning inward “to gaze at its navel” (navel gazing being, among the more inspired and the more competent, an extremely regrettable habit).

You’ll notice that what Obama has given his attention to, if we can credit Mr. Ky, is not the hardships and difficulties experienced by these lower classes but rather their envies.

I suppose one could conclude that Mr. Ky is merely obnoxiously arrogant and let it go at that. But that would be ignoring a bigotry ingrained among a considerable sector of the American public and thereby failing to give needed attention to notions that are harming us all.

A belief has flourished since the beginning of the Republic that those who manage to squirm their way into money are inspired, the acquisition of money being the prime indicator of competence. Whenever the word “success” in used in America, there’s a 90% chance the only thing being addressed is accumulation of money. My guess is that a majority of Americans can’t imagine any kind of success independent of wealth. A scientist might unearth a process that saved the lives of millions, but if he didn’t get rich off it he wouldn’t be counted as successful. This view of things might well be termed DTML (the Donald Trump meaning of life). 

The time has long since passed when this juvenile perspective should have been set aside. But clearly it hasn’t happened yet. By this accounting neither Samuel Johnson, nor Jane Austen, nor Friedrich Nietzsche --to name just a trio of my favorite persons -- could be counted as inspired, competent, or successful, nor could a determined public school teacher or a dedicated civil servant. But Donald Trump would meet the grade, as well, perhaps, as Mr. Ky himself.

The equation of success with riches has lasted so long, and done so much harm, I’m ready to get radical about it and propose turning it on its head. What would be lost if great riches came to be viewed as largely shameful, and respect was paid primarily to those who had through their personal behavior enhanced the public life? What if a teacher who actually taught children to read came to be seen as a more significant person than on one of Koch brothers? Would that hurt anybody other than the infamous right-wing buyers of Congressmen?

I’m aware that any hint of this kind of move would draw charges of socialism, or un-Americanism, or anti-patriotism. But so what? Are we really such a pack of cowards that we’ll turn-tail before that brand of denigration?  A majority of our politicians are. That’s clear. And that’s why we can’t look to many of them any longer as models or leaders. They care more about holding onto their places than they do about the public well-being. Maybe that’s inevitable in a sham democracy where votes can be bought by the millions.

Perhaps the first step in reformulating our sense of worth is facing that bitter truth. The United States is now a sham democracy. Do we want to do anything about that? Or do we nor?

I’m not a huge admirer of Barack Obama. He has been a disappointment to me. But the bile spewed at him by people like Mr. Ky, who despise him and view him as pathological narcissist just because he has, to some degree, tried to help his fellow citizens who are stuck in poverty and hampered by poor opportunities for education, is as low as anything I’ve observed over the course of my life. To see such haters as inspired, or competent, is demented. And, yet, they make up a dramatically large segment of the American public.

How can we escape their baleful influence and therefore make the United States a country worthy of respect in the 21st century?

I don’t have a formula. In truth, I doubt any escape from our current predicament will be formulaic. I confess, I often doubt that we will escape. But if we are to find a new and healthier course, it’s going to require a kind of intellectual courage from those of us -- like myself -- who have hitherto been too timid, or too mindful of courtesy, to resist the haters in any significant way.

Surely, we can at least, start asking the simple question, “How do you know?” Whenever we’re in the presence of those who spout angry assertions about what’s happening, can’t we just ask, how do you know? That shouldn’t be seen as rude but I can assure you of this, it will be seen as startling. Haters aren’t often asked how they know anything, and when they are, they are mightily taken aback. I see that as beneficial for them, and it would definitely be good for the rest of us.

I would like to meet Mr. Ky face to face and ask him how he knows that Mr. Obama is the “ultimate narcissist” and what he even means by the term. I don’t expect he would have much to say. If I pressed on and inquired whether he falls among the inspired and competent, he would probably get angry. But that shouldn’t scare me off. If I and the rest of us who can think of such questions are too fearful to put them to the Steven Kys of the nation, then there’s little chance we’ll do anything other than keep bumbling towards degradation and disaster.

October 18, 2014

For the past several days I’ve been worrying with an essay about what the case of James Risen tells us about the prospects for democracy in America. It’s for sure, I wouldn’t make such an effort unless I thought it tells us something. Truth is, I think it tells us a great deal.

If one raises an issue with respect to democratic functioning, the question that comes afterwards is how many people know the issue exists. In this instance, what percentage of the American people know that James Risen is a well-regarded reporter for the New York Times who is threatened by the Department of Justice with imprisonment if he refuses to testify against Jeffrey Sterling, a former undercover agent for the C.I.A? The government wants, very badly, to convict Sterling of a felony for talking about a bone-headed C.I.A. plot fourteen years ago, which involved using a former Russian scientist to relay flawed nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran. The idea behind this was to set the Iranians down a false path and thus slow their progress towards a nuclear device, but it was done so badly the Iranians discovered immediately what was going on, and seem to have been able to use the information they did get actually to further their plans.

Mr. Sterling reported first on this effort, named Operation Merlin -- because it was supposed to be magical -- to the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But the government can’t get him for that because it’s not illegal to report to the Senate Intelligence Committee (though it’s severely frowned upon). Next, Sterling allegedly met with James Risen, who then wrote an article about Operation Merlin, which he intended to publish in the New York Times. But the Times editors, under pressure from the government, refused to publish it. At least, they refused for about a year until they learned that it made up the main part of a chapter in Risen’s soon to be published book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration. Then, just before the book came out, the Times decided to go ahead with the story.

Sterling was indicted in 2010, seven years after he is supposed to have met with Risen. The government’s case is weak unless they can get Risen to appear in court and testify about what Sterling told him. But this Risen won’t do, presumably because he promised his source, whoever it was, that he wouldn’t.

Consequently the government is threatening to throw Risen in jail for obstruction of justice. Risen says he doesn’t care if they do; he’s still not going to testify.

So here we have an important Constitutional issue.

I return to the question of what portion of the public knows about any of this. You might think large numbers do because it has been widely reported, and was even a topic on 60 Minutes. But my guess is that only a tiny percentage of the U.S. electorate has ever heard of James Risen. If I’m right that says to me the American public is incapable of conducting a functional democracy. If a case of this significance can slip beneath the public’s attention it indicates that dozens of other vital cases can also, so many that the public exists in a state of paralysis occasioned by lack of knowledge. And a paralyzed public means democracy is out of whack.

You might say that if the government really does jail Risen, then the public will begin to pay attention because the media will dramatize his imprisonment. And, then, perhaps, public opinion will begin to put some pressure on the government lawyers. The case will be portrayed as a courageous reporter standing up for the freedom of the press, which could, conceivably, cause the government to back off. If that happened you could argue, I guess, that democracy had taken a stand.

Maybe, but it’s a highly problematic assumption. The government would throw its own propaganda into the mix, insisting that the very security of the American people was at stake. There’s no telling what would happen then. If you think democracy is actually going to work based on which exaggerated, melodramatic propaganda ploy will most fully engage the emotions of the masses, then you’re a bigger romantic than I am.

The issue here is fundamental. What kind of government do we want, one that that can launch any cracked-brain scheme it concocts and, then, when it goes awry, bury it forever, or one in which an active and enabled press has the ability to report on what the government is doing --and has done -- so the public can decide what they think about it?

Of course, even if we do have a press of that nature, we can’t be sure the public will pay any attention to it.

The only solution I can imagine for the problem of democracy in America -- the United States we are experiencing right now -- is a change in the general style of life among the electorate. It may not be possible at the moment to effect that change, but nonetheless it’s what’s required. Without it, the idea of democracy in America becomes farcical. So long as we consist of a public who remains largely ignorant of events such as the government’s attempt to threaten a leading and clearly competent journalist, we will continue to be a people who can’t begin to manage its own affairs. So long as the populace is more caught up in trivial pursuits than it is in discovering the nature of the government which holds the power of life and death over its members, it can be manipulated -- it can be propagandized -- into believing anything. That’s the state of the public right now.

We can only hope for voices with the power to be heard who will inform the majority of the people, without maudlin flattery, that if they want a functioning democracy they’ve got to shift some of their attention towards becoming competent citizens. And they also need to be told that they’ve got a long way to go.

October 23, 2014

Every month or so I have a mini-crisis, when my current notebook runs out of blank pages and I have to take up a new one. All the recent entries I have been depending on are gone out of my pocket, and I find myself trying to recall facts and thoughts I would have accessed simply by flipping through a few pages. But there’s no way out; I have to have another notebook for new facts and thoughts.

I put all sorts of stuff in my notebooks, anything, in fact, that strikes my interest, but the entries I miss the most are my own thoughts and ideas for future writing. Some of these are no more than a phrase or two, others are strings of several sentences But whatever their length, I recorded them, at the time, because I thought they had potential for further development. If they go away into the old notebook place, I can, of course, retrieve them, but life being the trying process it is, I don’t do that as often as I should. So this morning I’ve decided to try something different. I’ll pull my own thoughts out of the departing notebook and put them here, where they can be out of the vicinity of the names of movie actors, or addresses I thought I would need but didn’t, or inane assurances I read thumbing through self-help books in shops. That way they can at least attain a kind of coherence, indicating the sort of things I was thinking about during the notebook’s tenure. So, here goes:

  • If one’s identity lies in group membership then his very self has to be more loyal to the group than to any adopted virtues -- truth, for example, or mercy. This is the reason most people will go along with truly hideous deeds if their nation commits them. Since their identity is grounded in national membership the self is required to accept what the nation does. They would have to be disloyal to themselves if they didn’t. The only way out of this trap is to shift the nature of one’s identity, to make it a personally constructed thing rather than something pasted on.

  • Conservatives are opposed to personal construction because they fear it would produce chaos. But would it cause a worse condition than we have now? Is our current situation orderly?

  • I have no interest in the jejune argument as to whether Hamas or Netanyahu is the greater evil, because I have no means of defining the quality being applied to the one or the other. I’m willing to see them as leading actors in an absurd historical drama which needs to be given some meaning.

  • Are there Muslims in outer space? This is a vital question ignored by almost everyone. It’s a big mistake because if they’re out there, we have to find some way to get them. Otherwise, they’re sure to make an alliance with the anti-Christ (I trust this will be read as a satirical thought, a mild attempt to channel the mind of John McCain).

  • The myth of Israel, as expressed by government propaganda, makes the history of Israel into a cartoon. Myth versus history is a theme to be developed. Not just some, but a large majority, of people are enveloped in some myth or other. The truth is, most people are caught up in more than one myth. Genuine historical investigation undermines myth because historical investigation is based on evidence. People holding myths dislike evidence and will resist it however they can.

  • Men are just ordinary assholes whereas women are annoying in ingenious ways.

  • Both sensitivity and subtlety are needed for intelligent foreign policy, but neither is notably present in the hearts of politicians. I have often thought that the processes we devise for putting people into places are precisely those which select people peculiarly unfit for performing the functions those places demand. This may be the tragedy of humanity and its ultimate destroyer.

  • The current definition of political success: Scramble into office by telling more egregious lies about your opponent than he tells about you. Then crank up a gigantic propaganda machine to proclaim that everything you do in office is magnificently heroic. This is what the mainstream media praises more highly than anything else.

  • The biggest decision facing people all around the world is whether to accept as truth the propaganda issued by national governments or to seek the truth from other sources. Most people continue to go along with what their governments tell them. And I’m afraid that includes most journalists.

  • It’s hard for me to read many books because sentences hold onto me, and drag me back from the next sentence.

  • Most people think in myth. I try to think in prose.

  • For me a state, any state, is simply a lumbering beast who at times performs labor for us but who is always capable of turning on us and ripping us apart. That’s why we should keep the reins tight.

  • What Milan Kundera says about the sentiments of a genuine novelist can be said of anyone who wants to live outside the trap of propaganda. Most people, of course, want to burrow into networks of propaganda, soaking in the warmth they think they find there.

  • There never has been and there never can be a nation devoted to telling the truth. It’s not in the nature of nations to tell the truth. Anyone who says it is has failed to think about the actual constitution of governmental operations or the reality of government functionaries.

  • An engaged public and an active public discourse are the only barriers to governmental misbehavior.

  • Governments always neglect the deeper causes of catastrophic events. That why their efforts to mitigate them are nearly always pathetic.

  • It is in the nature of governments to misbehave. They are like thoughtless children.

  • Hate speech is identified not as much by crudeness of language as by intent. Its purpose is to make some people want to kill other people. No matter if it is cloaked in pseudo-intellectual rhetoric, it never seeks to inform, and it always steers clear of the complexities of history.

I had thought I could get through my entire replete notebook in this one piece, but I find, having reached an extent matching the stamina of most readers for things like this, I’m only about halfway through. So I guess I had best leave the remainder for tomorrow, or for some day after that, depending on the energies that visit me in the future.

October 24, 2014

Here’s the second set of comments from my recently retired notebook. Before I get into them, though, I’ll add a thought I probably should have included yesterday. It seems likely that thoughts occurring over a specific period will have hidden links which aren’t apparent at first glance. During the time this notebook was active, I was caught up in the question of the type of citizenship requisite for a functional democracy. I was also moving towards the conviction that though the American public has a definite set of virtues, good citizenship is not among them. It has not occurred to most Americans that citizenship of a creditable nature demands knowledge. Americans think they know enough naturally to cast intelligent votes. And that’s nonsense. If a person doesn’t know what he’s voting for, or against, when he enters the ballot box then he or she is not making an independent decision. Rather he’s just a tool in someone else’s hands (it’s no accident that the definition of “tool” has expanded to include “a person used or exploited by another”). Being a nation of tools is not going to lead us to happy future.

Check to see if that idea is flitting somewhere in the vicinity of the items I include here, and the ones I listed yesterday.

  • Milan Kundera says a majority of people read their lives badly. It may be though that they don’t read their lives at all. They don’t conceive that a life can be read, and that it can compose either a meaningful or a pathetic story.

  • By demonizing someone you give him a standing he doesn’t deserve and enhance his influence. You confer on him the symbolic power of Satan, and even among people who don’t think Satan exists his mythic stature still carries weight. It’s better to fight against a batch schmucks or bigots, no matter how ruthless they may be, than it is to struggle with the devil. It gives you a better shot.

  • It’s difficult to understand people for whom words require almost no attention. Words fly out of their mouths as though they are recorded scripts. The meaning of words for them is not a matter of concern. Such speakers don’t grasp that attention to the choice of words is a necessity of sanity (I may, by the way, have stuck this into one of my essays previously; if I did, forgive the repetition, and then reflect that repetition is not always a bad practice).

  • Only little men hate their enemies; the best men respect them -- in a sense.

  • Nietzsche is always ready to respect a difference between those who must venture out and those who do best by holding back. Maybe I should try harder to respect that difference also.

  • It is the duty of anyone who thinks, to find ways to reveal his thoughts to the world. It is then up to the world to decide what to do with them.

  • People who change the thinking of the world are people whom the average person will never read or pay attention to. Is that appropriate? Is that the way it has to be?

  • What did those who lived daily with shakers of attitudes think of them? Did they see them simply as old coots or eccentrics who were always scribbling something? Probably.

  • Most people think that reading is similar to the process of having liquid poured into a jug -- the reader being the jug and the text being the liquid. When the process is completed the jug is nearer being full and the text resides unchanged inside.

  • Don’t hesitate to write on subjects you’re not sure will turn out. If you get started you can make something of almost anything.

  • Living traditionally is living absurdly, human life up till now having been mainly absurd. But can we find anything better?

  • Have we reached a stage of mental evolution  where humanity might, at least to some small degree, step away from the nonsensical attitudes that ruled the past? That, for me, is the question most to be concentrated on.

  • The most valuable question on earth is: “Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?”

  • Nietzsche’s recommendation to pay attention to the way thick spirits react to higher spirits and their works is good as far as it goes. But how do we attend to a complete absence of mind on the part of the thick spirits about the higher spirits?

  • In the United States one encounters repeated demands, and strong suggestions, that one should pay reverence to entities that many don’t think deserve reverence  -- most commonly God and the military services, and often the two linked. This is one of the most irritating features of the country. And it may be even more irritating to have to figure out how to respond to these demands.

  • Florida: the place where people go to wait to die -- in comfort, of course. It’s death’s placid antechamber.

  • People obsessed with money will always be on the verge of criminality.

  • People who think education can be pursued without reading good and demanding books are being duped by political manipulators spooning out neo-liberal tripe.

  • Religion doesn’t cause stuff; religion is the consequence of stuff.

  • Florida: the state that kills pedestrians at a higher rate than any other state in the nation.

  • It’s rare for a politician to have an expansive mind. Consequently, most political biographies are tedious. Particularly boring are those about persons with scarcely any mind at all. Among all books, the ratio of those read to those purchased is doubtless far lower for political biographies  than it is for any other genre. And when I say far lower, I mean less than half the rate of the next lowest category.

I hope at least one of these thirty-nine musings, posted over the last two days, have set thoughts in action for you. I suppose it would have been a more respectable number if I had found a way to include forty. But my notebook is what it is. Now I have to turn my attention to the next one.

©John R. Turner

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