Let's just make this a regular feature, shall we? (Though now that I've said that, I'll probably fail to continue it next week...)
The inability of just about all of us to think for a second, seriously, meaningfully, while in a dispute on some complex matter that we’re the one who’s wrong.
This is what makes almost all interaction—not all of it, but almost—with those with whom we disagree a fruitless waste of time, productive almost never of anything except animosity. This is not the way it’s supposed to work. Any realistic thinker understands, when made to concentrate on the question, that the chance is high that he does not have the complete and final answer to difficult debates, and he should therefore feel morally obligated to go into discussion with that awareness right at the front of his demeanor.
But even among great scientists, the evidence of our ability to pull this off is depressingly rare. Are we made for the truth, or only for degrees of deception and self-deception?
The fact that we can at least point to this failing, and recognize it as a failing, gives one a bit of hope, but just a bit.
A short story plot: A man dies in an accident in his 40s, with a wife and young children. We see his soul detaching from his body, heading off to judgment, and he is filled with regret at not having been more attentive to the important things in life: expressing gratitude to his God, loving his wife and his children and his family and his friends and his neighbors, seeking beauty in the world instead of constantly being drawn to the ugliness, trying to embody the peace that he claimed to so desire.
God hears him and grants him another chance. He returns to the world and his body and his life, miraculously. He is filled with a fiery will to live differently, to live better.
Within an hour, though, he has forgotten the fierce passion he had to change when he was watching his broken, dead body on earth, now that he inhabits that body again, and he goes right back to living as he had before. The End.
A sort of distorted It’s A Wonderful Life, with an angel Clarence who does not get his wings.
Why would you even write such a story? Certainly not to gloat over this terrible if not unrealistic outcome. Only to hope to make the point to at least one reader: DO IT NOW! DON’T WAIT! DON’T WAIT!
The form of structural racism that objectively does exist: the low expectations of blacks that are expressly embodied in so many of the “race-attentive” policies, such as affirmative action, produced by elite white leftists and practiced in many American institutions.
What do these policies say? “Although we make believe otherwise publicly, we believe they can’t really do it at the level others do, so we’ll infantilize them and systematically refuse to demand from them what we demand of others, in perpetuity, all while perversely claiming to be morally on their side.”
Glenn Loury on this topic [from the interview I did with him when he visited Bucknell a few years ago]: “[Y]ou decide. Do you want representation or do you want equality? Do you want titular representation, do you want a cover story, or do you want equality? Are you interested in developing the human potential of the African-American population? Or are you merely interested in covering your ass? By being able to present an “optics” that shows that you’re a “diverse” and “inclusive” institution?
I’m against hypocrisy, I’m against condescension. And I’m asking people to imagine what kind of country we are going to be. Really? We are going to do this for another 30 years? We are going to do this for another 50 years? This is where we are going to be? In my mind, it’s an unacceptable vision for our country. That we are going to depend upon treating black people differently because everybody knows they can’t cut it. Unacceptable.”
Future World in which your phone records you at all times throughout the day and night, whether you like it or not (and it is mandatory to have one), producing constant audio and video evidence of what you are doing, plus physiological data, geographical location, etc. Technology is perfected that allows mobile brain scanning 24-7 that gives the contours of your mental activity.
Anytime any of these data points indicates an utterance, behavior or predisposition not approved by the authorities, or even the probability that this might be forthcoming (predictive ability is significant given the body of data being produced), a note is placed in your permanent record. With enough of these, you are banned from certain activities, locations, careers.
Inclusive Excellence: a contradiction in terms. Excellence entails standing above. It requires hierarchy and the acceptance of the fact that some—most, in fact—are not excellent.
What is so wrong about a world in which we recognize that, and we also teach young people that it is perfectly acceptable to not be excellent?
What does it mean to love someone? Love is what comes into existence when a person decides “I will be utterly devoted to this person, and I will be taken from her side only by my death or hers, and I will kill and die for her if it should be required.”
Hearing someone (Christopher Hitchens, I think, or maybe some analytic philosopher or other) say that he rejects the idea of immortality because he cannot conceive not eventually being bored.
Here is how I envision it: I take the time needed to learn all of Bach’s keyboard music, and given my humble skill level, this is many decades, perhaps centuries of strenuous and constant work. Then I turn to another pursuit (painting, perhaps, or reading all the novels of Balzac, Zola and Flaubert and writing a ponderous tome on what they have taught me), and then another, and another, for equally long periods of time.
Gradually, as I do these other things, I forget all the Bach I learned—indeed, I forget how to play altogether beyond the basics. So I learn it all again, and take more decades or centuries to do it, during which time I forget the other things I have learned. And each time it is as new.
Perhaps I’m just too dense and boring to see how this gets boring.
My neighbor across the street died some months back. May he rest in peace.
I saw the emergency squad at his home that morning after I’d returned from dropping my daughter off at school, though I didn’t know what was going on beyond the basic fact (emergency).
Some days went by, and I didn’t see him outside, though normally he would have been out doing something in his yard on a more or less daily basis.
I forgot about it with the busy schedule of life. Only weeks later, in talking to another neighbor, did I learn that he had died that morning, in his garage, that he was in fact dead already when the squad came for him, at precisely the moment I was sitting in my car watching what was taking place across the street.
I knew he was elderly and not in good health, and yet as I sat there it never occurred to me that he might die.
We hide from it at every opportunity.
I reread Joyce’s “The Dead” from Dubliners the other day. Been perhaps 20 years since I last read it.
Gabriel Conroy seeing his wife transfixed by the singing of a song “The Lass of Aughrim” and finding her infinitely lovely, desiring her, then learning that, hearing the song, she recalled a boy who had loved her and sang it to her and who died young after pining away one cold night for her.
Conroy has an epiphany at the end of the story, sees that his aunts, the hostesses of the Christmas party at which his wife has just heard the song, will soon be “shades” and that, like his wife’s dead lover, all will soon follow them to the grave, including Conroy and his wife.
It is snowing outside and he imagines it falling on the graveyard where the boy is buried, on all of Ireland, and on “all of the living and the dead.”
The starkness of those concluding lines, so masterfully rendered. Everything that literature can do is right there. Those moments that come so rarely. Most of our lives, we don’t see it, and we fail to achieve such compassion and such vision, and suddenly, in a flash of light, we are delivered up to it.
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