Skip to content


Quote #252: Silence, exile, cunning

“You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can, and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use . . . silence, exile, and cunning.”

James Joyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Moral Clarity by Susan Neiman

Susan Neiman’s “Moral Clarity – a guide for grown-up idealists” (2009) is a passionate and literary book about moral reasoning and the achievements of the Enlightenment (especially Kant). The book contains fantastic and acute re-readings of the myths of Job and Odysseus, as well as plenty of examples of Neiman’s own moral clarity – she has a great analyst’s knack of being able to articulate clearly and succinctly exactly what was so pernicious about many of the arguments and actions of the neocon government under Bush. Recommended.

“The Enlightenment gave reason pride of place, not because it expected absolute certainty, but because it sought a way to live without it”

Quote #249

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

Oscar Wilde, in ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ (1895)

Quote #246 “Mostly a nap”

I don’t think, as a matter of fact, that I’m going to benefit from anything on this earth. It’s more like that, I mean, if you have love on the earth, that seems to be number one. There’s food, water, air and love, right? And love is just basically heartbreak. Human’s can’t live in the present as animals do; they just live in the present. But human’s are always thinking about the future or the past. So, it’s a veil of tears, man. And I don’t know anything that’s going to benefit me except more love. I just need an overwhelming amount of love. And a nap. Mostly a nap

Townes Van Zandt

Quote #245

The lesson I draw … is that a uniform ‘scientific view of the world’ may be useful for people doing science – it gives them motivation without tying them down. It is like a flag. Though presenting a single pattern it makes people do many different things. However, it is a disaster for outsiders (philosophers, fly-by-night mystics, prophets of a New Age, the “educated public”). It suggests to them the most narrowminded religious commitment and encourages a similar narrowmindedness on their part

Paul Feyerabend, in ‘Against Method’ (third edition, chapter 19). ‘the “educated public” is included in the list in his ‘Conquest of Abundance‘, in which this section is repeated with a few changes.

Quote #243 ‘a lust of the mind’

Desire to know why, and how, Curiosity; such as is in no living creature but Man: so that man is distinguished, not only by his Reason, but also by this singular Passion from other Animals; in whom the appetite of food, and other pleasures of Sense, by predominance, take away the care of knowing causes; which is a Lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continual and indefatigable generation of Knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of any carnal pleasure.

Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, part I, chapter 6

Quote #242

I seem to be, to my surprise, a member of a large profession. There are some 20,000 psychologists in this country alone, nearly all of whom have become so in my adult lifetime. They are all prosperous. Most of them seem to be busily applying psychology to problems of life and personality. They seem to feel, many of them, that all we need to do is to consolidate our scientific gains. Their self-confidence astonishes me. For these gains seem to me puny, and scientific psychology seems to me ill-founded. At any time the whole psychological applecart might be upset. Let them beware

J.J. Gibson. (1967) Autobiography. In: Reed, E.& Jones, R. (Eds.) Reasons for Realism (p. 21)

Quote #241

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

From ‘On Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold, 1851

Quote #240 The secret is out

“The secret is out. You know what sex means to most people? […] Sex is what you can get. For some people, most people, it’s the most important thing they can get without being born rich or smart or stealing. This is what life can give you that’s equal to others or better, even, that you don’t have to go to college six years to get. And it’s not religion and it’s not science but you can explore it and learn things about yourself”

Donna, in Don Delillo’s Underworld (1997, p301)

Quote #239

…unless you saddle yourself with all the problems of making a concrete agent take care of itself in the real world, you will tend to overlook, underestimate, or misconstrue the deepest problems of design

Dan Dennett on the unreliability of simulations and imagination, and hence the need for (a theory-motivated?) robotics (via Tom Walton)

Colonising the future

Sociological and political attention to what is actually happening on the ground has invariably located the causes of hunger not in an absolute scarcity but in socially-generated scarcity arising from imbalances of power that deny people access to food and water…However such is the power of “scarcity” to colonise the future that even those who, quite properly, locate today’s scarcities in political conflict, frequently crumble when confronted with projections of future population growth, setting aside the insights of political economy in favour of Malthusian metaphors that emphasise numbers over power relations as the explanation for future shortages. In doing so, they grant Malthusianism an explanatory power that they would actively deny it when applied to the present and the past. Instead of the past being a guide to
future action, the future (implausibly) becomes a guide to the present…Yet future crises are likely to be rooted in the same dynamics in which they are rooted today…If society wants to prepare for future resource crises, it would therefore be more prudent to look to the present rather than to some theoretical Malthusian model of the future. The future will grow out of the present, not out of society suddenly turning Malthusian. The better way of dealing with “future crisis” is not imagining a future Malthusian world which bears no relationship to what exists now or ever has existed, and then imagining how to stave off that hypothetical Malthusian world, but rather dealing with current scarcities now on the realistic assumption that what causes scarcity today is going to go on causing scarcity in the future

From “Scarcity” as Political Strategy Reflections on Three Hanging Children by Nicholas Hildyard, paper presented at “Scarcity and the Politics of Allocation” conference, Institute of Development Studies, University of Brighton, UK, 6-7 June 2005 (thanks Josie!)

love with honour

The persecution of people because of their sexual orientation is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid. We must all be allowed to love with honour.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Quote #232

If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago

Quote #231

A bit later, I remember, it seemed to me that I would die in the near future. In this critical situation, however, my concern was different from that of most of my comrades. Their question was, “Will we survive the camp? For, if not, all this suffering has no meaning.” The question which beset me was, “Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance – as whether one escapes or not – ultimately would not be worth living at all.

Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning (part 2, 1959)

Chekhov’s Gun

If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there

Anton Chekhov, from Gurlyand’s “Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov”, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521

Quote #229

If people are clamping their body together as if it might fall apart, perhaps the same is true of the mind. Could it be that our instructions on how to use our consciousness are as a damaging as our advice about posture? Should we really be told to ‘Think!’ and ‘Try to concentrate!’ and ‘Be original!’ as if thought required effort, and as if originality lay somewhere outside of ourselves? Should we really think of ourselves as ‘one consciousness’ and force our imagination to confirm this?

It’s not easy to kill the curiosity of an ape, but sitting at a desk for year after year of organised boredom might do the trick. Our preoccupation with trivia suggests that the urge to learn is intact, but that learning anything of significance has become stressful. The Executive producer of the David Letterman show, Robert Morton, said ‘If you walk away from this show learning something, then we haven’t done our job’. If entertainment is designed to pass the time without teaching us anything, then I have to presume that it’s a spin-off of our education system. Other cultures have feasts, celebrations and morality plays, and they may tear out hearts to ensure that the sun comes up, but I think that entertainment is peculiar to us, and many of us are entertained for most of our waking hours

Keith Johnstone, in Impro for Storytellers (1999, p338)

racist humanism

You know well enough that we are exploiters. You know too that we have laid hands on first the gold and metals, then the petroleum of the ‘new continents’, and that we have brought them back to the old countries. This was not without excellent results, as witness our palaces, our cathedrals and our great industrial cities; and then when there was the threat of a slump, the colonial markets were there to soften the blow or to divert it. Crammed with riches, Europe accorded the human status de jure to its inhabitants. With us, to be a man is to be an accomplice of colonialism, since all of us without exception have profited by colonial exploitation. This fat, pale continent ends by falling into what Fanon rightly calls narcissism. Cocteau became irritated with Paris — ‘that city which talks about itself the whole time’. Is Europe any different? And that super-European monstrosity, North America? Chatter, chatter: liberty, equality, fraternity, love, honour, patriotism and what have you. All this did not prevent us from making anti-racial speeches about dirty niggers, dirty Jews and dirty Arabs. High-minded people, liberal or just soft-hearted, protest that they were shocked by such inconsistency; but they were either mistaken or dishonest, for with us there is nothing more consistent than a racist humanism since the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters. While there was a native population somewhere this imposture was not shown up; in the notion of the human race we found an abstract assumption of universality which served as cover for the most realistic practices. On the other side of the ocean there was a race of less-than-humans who, thanks to us, might reach our status a thousand years hence, perhaps; in short, we mistook the elite for the genus. Today, the native populations reveal their true nature, and at the same time our exclusive ‘club’ reveals its weakness — that it’s neither more nor less than a minority. Worse than that: since the others become men in name against us, it seems that we are the enemies of mankind; the élite shows itself in its true colours — it is nothing more than a gang.

John-Paul Sartre, in the introduction the Franz Fanon’s The Wretched Of The Earth (1963; compare with Camus’ “Neither Victims Nor Executioners”)

A Thousand Kisses Deep (book of longing version)

You came to me this morning
And you handled me like meat.
You´d have live alone to know
How good that feels, how sweet.
Anonymous, and hard, and fast –
(I´d know you in my sleep) –
Then born together, born at last
A thousand kisses deep.

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat.
I´m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet,
Who loved you with his frozen love
His second-hand physique –
With all he is, and all he was
A thousand kisses deep.

All soaked in sex, and pressed against
The limits of the sea:
I saw there were no oceans left
For scavengers like me.
We made it to the forward deck
I blessed our remnant fleet –
And then consented to be wrecked
A thousand kisses deep.

It´s true that you could lie to me
It´s true you could to cheat
The means no longer guarantee
The virtue in deceit.
That truth is bent, that beauty spent,
That style is obsolete –
O since the Holy Spirit went
A thousand kisses deep.

(So what about this inner Light
That´s boundless and unique?
I´m slouching through another night
A thousand kisses deep.)

I´m turning tricks; I´m getting fixed,
I´m back on Boogie Street.
I tried to quit the business –
Hey, I´m lazy and I´m weak.
But sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go
A thousand kisses deep.

(And fragrant is the thought of you,
The file is now complete –
Except what we forgot to do
A thousand kisses deep.)

The ponies run, the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat.
You win a while, and then it´s done –
Your little winning streak.
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat,
You live your life as if it´s real
A thousand kisses deep.

(I jammed with Diz and Dante –
I did not have their sweep –
But once or twice, they let me play
A thousand kisses deep.)

And I´m still working with the wine,
Still dancing cheek to cheek.
The band is playing “Auld Lang Syne” –
The heart will not retreat.
And maybe I had miles to drive,
And promises to keep –
Your ditch it all to stay alive
A thousand kisses deep.

And now you are the Angel Death
And now the Paraclete;
Now you are the Quickening Breath
And now the Belsen heap.
No turning from the threat of love,
No acrobatic leap –
As witnessed here in time and blood
A thousand kisses deep

Leonard Cohen

Quote #225

This is how the hero of our time must be. He will be characterised either by decisive inaction, or else by futile activity

Mikhail Lermontov, A hero of our time (1840), trans. Paul Foote

See also, George Orwell on Henry Miller Inside the whale (Thanks James)

Quote #224

We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers… one saying to the other: “you don’t know what you are talking about!”. The second one says: “what do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you? What do you mean by know?”

Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964), Volume I, 8-2