“How, in such an alien and inhuman world, can so powerless a creature as Man preserve his aspirations untarnished?” asked Bertrand Russell in one of his most influential essays.


Canetti’s Insight

“A tormenting thought: as of a certain point, history was no longer real. Without noticing it, all mankind suddenly left reality; everything happening since then was supposedly not true; but we supposedly didn't notice. Our task would now be to find that point, and as long as we didn't have it, we would be forced to abide in our present destruction.”


“Everything lacks meaning” (the untenability of one interpretation of the world, upon which a tremendous amount of energy has been lavished, awakens the suspicion that all interpretations of the world are false)…Against “meaninglessness” on the one hand, against moral value judgments on the other…

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power


On The Value Of Privacy

Privacy "protects us from being misdefined and judged out of context in a world of short attention spans, a world in which information can easily be confused with knowledge," observes the legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen. "In such a world, it is easy for individuals to be victimized by the reductionist fallacy that the worst truth about them is also the most important truth."


Hegel’s View Of Dissent

“Nothing is more common today than the complaint that the ideals raised by fantasy are not being realized, that these glorious dreams are being destroyed by cold actuality,” Hegel wrote in one of his influential works. “We must not fall into the litany of lamentation, about how the good and pious often fare ill in the world, while the evil and wicked prosper.” Is there a chink in the armor of this reasoning, or might Hegel actually have a point?



Philosophers And Teachers

Lev Shestov

Everyone knows that Schopenhauer was for many years not only not recognized, but not even read. His books were used for wastepaper. It was only towards the end of his life that he had readers and admirers -- and, of course, critics. For every admirer is at bottom a most merciless and importunate critic. He must understand everything, make everything agree, and of course the master must supply the necessary explanations. Schopenhauer, who did not have the experience of being a master till his old age, at first behaved very benevolently to his disciples’ questions and patiently gave the explanations required. But the further one goes into the forest, the thicker are the trees. The most loyal perplexities of his pupils became more and more importunate, until at last the old man lost patience. ‘I didn't undertake to explain all the secrets of the universe to every one who wanted to know them,’ he once exclaimed, when a certain pupil persisted in emphasizing the contradictions he had noticed in Schopenhauer. And really -- is a master obliged to explain everything? In Schopenhauer's words we are given an answer, not ambiguous. A philosopher not only cannot be a teacher, he does not want to be one. There are teachers in schools, in universities: they teach arithmetic, grammar, logic, metaphysics. The philosopher has quite a different task, one which does not in the least resemble teaching.


“Darkening Of The World”

The following is an excerpt from Marjorie Grene's essay "Martin Heidegger" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ms. Grene passed away in March 2009; she wrote some two dozen books, among which are works on Sartre and Heidegger.

The "darkening of the world" is Heidegger's constant theme. So, for example, in Holzwege ("Woodpaths," 1950), he tells us that we live in the age of research, of the planned, systematic coordination of intellectual tasks. And what sort of tasks can be planned and coordinated? Neat, limited, manageable tasks -- tasks, primarily, that demand inventiveness rather than understanding, tasks for engineering know-how rather than theoretical insight. Heidegger draws no line between pure and applied science. Science for him is research, and research is a procedure for solving well-packaged problems. Such problems are, in general, those of manufacture, of inventing new and better gadgets. According to Heidegger, das Herstellbare, the collection of gadgets, is what we are after; that is what specialization, the rigid departmental structure of expertise in our society, amounts to. And all this vast proliferation of technical skills nevertheless has its inner unity -- that is, its historical and metaphysical unity. It had to happen this way. It had to happen this way because we are fallen out of Being. We are more concerned with beings, from genes to space ships, than with our true calling, which is to be shepherds and watchers of Being. So it is that we are lost, and Being itself has become a haze and an error -- nothing.



When Plato was discoursing about his “ideas,” and using the nouns “tableness” and “cupness”; “I, O Plato!” interrupted Diogenes, “see a table and a cup, but I see no tableness or cupness.” Plato made answer, “That is natural enough, for you have eyes, by which a cup and a table are contemplated; but you have not intellect, by which tableness and cupness are seen.”

– Diogenes, The Lives & Opinions of Eminent Philosophers



Losing One’s Sense Of Belonging

“We do not meet one another as persons in the several aspects of our total life, but know one another only fractionally, as the man who fixes the car, or as that girl who serves our lunch, or as the woman who takes care of our child at school,” C. Wright Mills once observed. “Pre-judgement and prejudice flourish when people meet people only in this segmental manner. The humanistic reality of others does not, cannot, come through.”


A Choice Of Two Lives

Most philosophers, from the pre-Socratics of ancient Greece right up to Kant and John Stuart Mill, believed that the contemplative life is the best to which a person might aspire – that it is superior to the life of everyday “action”. Consciousness is the criterion by which they judge value. "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied,” J.S. Mill wrote. But this view has not been universally shared among sages. Montaigne, for one, argued that the primary satisfactions of life are experienced no less vibrantly by the common man than by the wise one. “Is the erection of an illiterate man any less virile than that of a man of letters?” he asked piquantly.


Defining Beauty As A Mask

Ernest Schachtel

In "Alienated Concepts of Identity," an article written some forty years ago, the psychiatrist Ernest Schachtel observed that many people not only build a negative sense of self around what they perceive as a flawed appearance; they see this flaw as dooming them to a life of unhappiness.

In an age in which millions happily undergo cosmetic surgery, Dr. Schachtel's observation may not exactly seem like a revelation. But he noted something else that few of us ever pause to consider: namely, that our idea of beauty corresponds more to a photographic still or confected image than to an aesthetic that emerges from a certain smile or laugh or gesture -- an aesthetic that is in motion. Today, the photographic still is seen as a mask that represents beauty; for many, not to have the mask is to feel unattractive, and the "solution" is simply to have a surgeon cut one's face into the accepted contours.

This is how Dr. Schachtel put the matter:

"Very often real or imagined physical attributes, parts of the body image or the entire body image, become focal points of identity. Many people build around such a negative identity the feeling that this particular feature unalterably determines the course of their lives, and that they are thereby doomed to unhappiness. Usually, in these cases, qualities such as attractiveness and beauty are no longer felt to be based on the alive expression and flux of human feelings, but have become fixed and dead features, or a series of poses, as in so many Hollywood stars or fashion models. These features are cut off from the center of the person and worn like a mask. Unattractiveness is experienced as not possessing this mask."


Philosophers On Philosophy

Henry David Thoreau, Walden: "There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a nobler race of men."

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus & Other Essays: "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest -- whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories -- comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer...Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined. Society has but little connection with such beginnings. The worm is in man's heart. That is where it must be sought. One must follow and understand this fatal game that leads from lucidity in the face of existence to flight from light."

Bertrand Russell, Wisdom of the West: "In itself philosophy sets out neither to solve our troubles nor to save our souls. It is, as the Greeks put it, a kind of sightseeing adventure undertaken for its own sake. There is thus in principle no questions of dogma, or rites, or sacred entities of any kind, even though individual philosophers may of course turn out to be stubbornly dogmatic. There are indeed two attitudes that might be adopted towards the unknown. One is to accept the pronouncements of people who say they know, on the basis of books, mysteries or other sources of inspiration. The other way is to go out and look for oneself, and this is the way of science and philosophy."

(See more excerpts: Einstein on God and the Good Life; Jung’s Observation about People; Rilke’s Imaginary Life Journey; Adorno on Modern Human Relations.)



Jung’s Stages Of Life

"Something in us wishes to remain a child,” Jung observed, “to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power."


Conversational Narcissism

In social situations people often steer the conversation away from others and toward themselves. According to the sociologist Charles Derber, there is one easy way to gauge how far in the direction of conversational narcissism one has ventured, and that is to weigh what he calls the “shift-response” and the “support-response.”


Our Virtually Real Existence

“A revolutionary age is an age of action,” Kierkegaard wrote. “The present age is an age of advertisement, or an age of publicity: nothing happens, but there is instant publicity about it.” Numerous thinkers have shared or expanded upon this thought. “The non-event is not when nothing happens,” Jean Baudrillard argued in one of his late works. “It is, rather, the realm of perpetual change, of a ceaseless updating, of an incessant succession in real time, which produces this general equivalence, this indifference, this banality that characterizes the zero degree of the event.”


The Limits Of Language

“The holy man, the initiate, withdraws not only from the temptations of worldly action; he withdraws from speech,” George Steiner writes in Language and Silence. “His retreat into the mountain cave or monastic cell is the outward gesture of his silence. Even those who are only novices on this arduous road are taught to distrust the veil of language, to break through it to the more real...Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence."


"...many people feel weak if they are in love, and to a certain degree they are right. If we are in love we must be tender, and our interest in another human being leaves us vulnerable. Only individuals whose goal of superiority is never to be weak or exposed will avoid the mutual dependence of love. Such people shy away from love and are ill-prepared for it. Often you will find that if they feel in danger of falling in love, they turn the situation to ridicule. They laugh and make jokes and tease the person by whom they feel threatened. In this way they try to rid themselves of their feelings of weakness."

– Alfred Adler, What Life Could Mean To You


"If the art of conversation stood a little higher we would have a lower birthrate."

– Stanislaw Lec, Unkempt Thoughts


Philosophy And Depression

Contrary to what is often supposed, depression may not be some “disease” that needs to be extirpated from the mind; it might instead be a natural reaction to one's social surroundings and situation – the healthy suspicion that the life people have actually created, the “structure of society,” is not one worth participating in.


Carl Jung’s Stages Of Life

“Something in us wishes to remain a child, to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power. In all this there is something of the inertia of matter.”


Buber’s I-Thou Insight

"The 'I-It' relationship is characterized by the fact that it is not a genuine relationship because it does not take place between the I and the It. When another person is an It to me, I am, first of all, perfectly alone. I gaze at him and view him from every possible direction, I observe his place in the scheme of things, and I find elements that distinguish him from them. All of this…takes place within me; I am judging and I am observing, and the external world is relevant only to the extent that it enters my being."


Buber’s I-Thou Insight

"Buber's basic insight,” notes Michael Wyschogrod, “an insight that runs through all of his work and that determines his approach to everything he touches, is the realization that there is a basic difference between relating to a thing or to an object which I observe, and to a person or a 'Thou' that addresses me and to whose address I respond. In its simplest form, this is the difference between the way people usually relate to inanimate things on the one hand and to living persons on the other. Inanimate objects are watched, while persons are spoken to.”



Boredom In The Modern Age

There is a difference, Sean Desmond Healy tells us, between feelings of tedium “where there is a temporary discomfort in the midst of an existence that is usually congenial, or at least possessed of meaning,” and what he calls “hy where “there is a more or less complete withholding of assent to existence, positively or negatively. The former one might liken to seasickness: acutely distressing and all-encompassing while the cause persists, almost immediately and quite harmlessly ended with the removal of the cause. The latter would be comparable to aperboredom,”n agonizing and chronically painful disease, possibly incurable, in some cases ending in death."


The Limits Of Language

“The holy man, the initiate, withdraws not only from the temptations of worldly action; he withdraws from speech,” George Steiner writes in Language and Silence. “His retreat into the mountain cave or monastic cell is the outward gesture of his silence. Even those who are only novices on this arduous road are taught to distrust the veil of language, to break through it to the more real...Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence."



The Healthy-Minded & Sick Soul

"In many persons, happiness is congenital and irreclaimable,” wrote William James in one of his seminal works. “'Cosmic emotion' inevitably takes in them the form of enthusiasm and freedom.” But there are others, he said, who are painfully conscious of evil in the world. They tend to be discontented, alienated, divided. They long for a point and purpose in life but cannot find one. They are given to despair and yearn for nothing so much as deliverance from a fallen and transient world.


Nietzsche On The Need To Be Alone

“A traveler who had seen many countries and peoples and several continents was asked what human traits he had found everywhere; and he answered: men are inclined to laziness. Some will feel that he might have said with greater justice: they are all timorous. They hide behind customs and opinions. At bottom, every human being knows very well that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident, however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse plurality: he knows it, but hides it like a bad conscience -- why?”


The Real Vanishes Into The Concept

“By representing things to ourselves,” Jean Baudrillard writes, “by naming them and conceptualizing them, human beings call them into existence and at the same time hasten their doom, subtly detach them from their brute reality…The moment a thing is named, the moment representation and concepts take hold of it, is the moment when it begins to lose its energy -- with the risk that it will become a truth or impose itself as ideology…It is when a thing is beginning to disappear that the concept appears.”




The Revolution Betrayed

By Terry Eagleton

Apart from the signal instance of Stalinism, it's hard to think of a historical movement which has more squalidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins [than Christianity]. Christianity long ago shifted from the side of the poor and dispossessed to that of the rich and aggressive. The liberal establishment really has nothing whatsoever to fear from it and everything to gain. For the most part, it's become the creed of the suburban well-to-do, not the astonishing promise offered to the rifraff and undercover anti-colonial militants with whom Jesus himself hung out. The suburbanite response to the anawim, a term which can be roughly translated into American English as 'loser,' is for the most part to flush them off the streets.

This brand of piety is horrified by the sight of the female breast, but considerably less appalled by the obscene inequalities between rich and poor. It laments the death of a fetus, but is apparently undisturbed by the burning to death of children in Iraq or Afghanistan in the name of U.S. global dominion. By and large, it worships a God fashioned blasphemously in its own image -- a clean-shaven, short-haired, gun-toting, sexually obsessed God with a special regard for that ontologically privileged piece of the globe just south of Canada and just north of Mexico, rather than the Yahweh who is homeless, faceless, stateless, and imageless, who prods his people out of their comfortable settlement into the tractless terrors of the desert, and who brusquely informs them that their burnt offerings stink in his nostrils...Far from refusing to conform to the powers of this world, Christianity has become the nauseating cant of lying politicians, corrupt bankers, and fanatical neo-cons, as well as an immensely profitable industry in its own right...

The Christian church has tortured and disemboweled in the name of Jesus, gagging dissent and burning its critics alive. It has been oily, santimonious, brutally oppressive, and vilely bigoted. Morality for this brand of belief is a matter of the bedroom rather than the boardroom. It supports murderous dictatorships in the name of God, views both criticism and pessimism as unpatriotic, and imagines that being a Christian means maintaining a glazed grin, a substantial bank balance, and a mouthful of pious platitudes. It denounces terrorism, but excludes from its strictures such kidnapping, torturing, murdering outfits as the CIA...

This brand of faith fails to see that the only cure for terrorism is justice. It also fails to grasp to what extent the hideous, disfigured thing clamoring at its gates is its own monstrous creation. It is unable to acknowledge this thing of darkness as in part its own, unable to find its own reflection in its distorted visage...It is hard to avoid the feeling that a God as bright, resourceful, and imaginative as the one that might just possibly exist could not have hit on some more agreeable way of saving the world than religion.

I am talking, then, about the distinction between what seems to me a scriptural and an ideological kind of Christian faith -- a distinction which can never simply be assumed but must be interminably argued. One name for this thankless exercise is what Nietzsche, who held that churches were the tombs and sepulchres of God, called in Kierkegaardian phrase saving Christianity from Christendom. Any preaching of the Gospel which fails to constitute a scandal and affront to the political state is in my view effectively worthless. It is not a project which at present holds out much promise of success.


(See more excerpts: Einstein on God and the Good Life; Jung’s Observation about People; Rilke’s Imaginary Life Journey; Adorno on Modern Human Relations.)




Adler’s Portrait Of The Vain Individual

“There are people who are deeply convinced that they are not vain,” wrote Alfred Adler in Understanding Human Nature. “They look only at the outside, knowing that vanity lies much deeper. Vanity may be expressed, for instance, in that a person always demands the full stage in his social circle, must always have the floor, or judges a social gathering as good or bad according to his ability to maintain the center of the stage.”


On The Shortness Of Life

"It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much,” Seneca observed. “Life is long enough and our allotted portion generous enough for our most ambitious projects if we invest it all carefully. But when it is squandered through luxury and indifference, and spent for no good end, we realize it has gone…before we were aware it was going. So it is: the life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”


An Existential View Of Loneliness

“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence,” wrote Thomas Wolfe is in his essay God’s Lonely Man. “When we examine the moments, acts, and statements of all kinds of people…we find, I think, that they are all suffering from the same thing. The final cause of their complaint is loneliness.”


Montesquieu On Conceited Talkers

"Everywhere I see people who talk continually about themselves,” wrote Montesquieu to a friend in 1713. “Their conversation is a mirror which always shows their own conceited faces. They will talk to you about the tiniest events in their lives, which they expect to be magnified in your eyes by the interest that they themselves take in them.They have done everything, seen everything, said everything, thought of everything. They are a universal pattern, the subject of unending comparisons, an inexhaustible fount of examples.”


Pseudo-Events & Extravagances

Some forty years ago the historian Daniel Boorstin wrote a book that betokened the postmodernism of our era. In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events In America, he expressed his uneasiness with the myriad ways in which we have used our wealth and technology to create a "thicket of unreality which stands between us and the facts of life." He was bothered that news could be so easily fabricated and manipulated; that from the waxing of television and evolution of advertising there arose what he termed "pseudo-events."


Love And Its Disintegration

Our happiness today consists in “having fun,” Erich Fromm observed. “Having fun lies in the satisfaction of consuming and 'taking in' commodities, sights, food, drinks, cigarettes, people, lectures, books, movies -- all are consumed, swallowed. The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones -- and the eternally disappointed ones.” If love has any meaning, Fromm wrote, it must have to do with a relation transcending commodification.




Of Celebrities And Media

By Lewis Lapham

The camera sees but doesn’t think. Whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, the object of its affection doesn’t matter; what matters is the surge and volume of emotion that it engenders and evokes, the floods of consciousness drawn as willingly to a blood bath in Afghanistan as to a bubble bath in Paris. As the habits of mind beholden to the rule of images come to replace the structures of thought derived from the meaning of words, the constant viewer eliminates the association of cause with effect, learns that nothing necessarily follows from anything else…

Celebrity is about being, not becoming. Once possessed of the sovereign power to find a buyer, all celebrity is royal. The images of wealth and power demand nothing of their votaries other than the duty of ritual obeisance. The will to learn gives way to a being in the know, which is the instant recognition of the thousands of logos encountered in the course of a day’s shopping and an evening’s programming…Celebrities of various magnitudes become the familiar spirits of insurance policies and shaving creams, breathe the gift of life into tubes of deodorant, awaken with their personal touch the spirit dormant in the color of a lipstick or a bottle of perfume. The wishful thinking moves the merchandise, accounts not only for high-end appearance fees ($3 million to Mariah Carey to attend a party; $15,000 for five minutes in the presence of Donald Trump) but also for the Wall Street market in nonexistent derivatives and the weapons of mass destruction gone missing in Iraq…

Like the camera, the market moves but doesn’t think, drawn as willingly to the production of nuclear warheads as to the growing of oranges or grapes. It doesn’t recognize such a thing as a poor celebrity. Celebrity is money with a human face, the “pegs” and “loops” on which to hang the dream of riches that is “the darling passion” of the American breast. Bipartisan and nondenominational, the hero with a thousand faces unfortunately doesn’t evolve into a human being. Let money become the seat of power and the font of wisdom, and the story ends with an economy gone bankrupt, an army that wins no wars, and a politics composed of brightly colored balloons.



On Being Modern-Minded

By Bertrand Russell

I read some years ago a contemptuous review of a book by Santayana, mentioning an essay on Hamlet “dated, in every sense, 1908” – as if what has been discovered since then made any earlier appreciation of Shakespeare irrelevant and comparatively superficial. It did not occur to the reviewer that his review was “dated, in every sense, 1936.” Or perhaps this thought did occur to him, and filled him with satisfaction. He was writing for the moment, not for all time; next year he will have adopted the new fashion in opinions, whatever it may be, and he no doubt hopes to remain up to date as long as he continues to write.

The desire to be contemporary is of course new only in degree; it has existed to some extent in all previous periods that believed themselves to be progressive…

The modern-minded man, although he believes profoundly in the wisdom of his period, must be presumed to be very modest about his personal powers. His highest hope is to think first what is about to be thought, to say what is about to be said, and to feel what is about to be felt; he has no wish to think better thoughts than his neighbors, to say things showing more insight, or to have emotions which are not those of some fashionable group, but only to be slightly ahead of others in point of time. Quite deliberately he suppresses what is individual in himself for the sake of the admiration of the herd. A mentally solitary life, such as that of Copernicus, or Spinoza, or Milton after the Restoration, seems pointless according to modern standards. Copernicus should have delayed his advocacy of the Copernican system until it could be made fashionable; Spinoza should have been either a good Jew or a good Christian; Milton should have moved with the times…Why should an individual set himself up as an independent judge? Is it not clear that wisdom resides in the blood of the Nordic race or, alternatively, in the proletariat? And in any case what is the use of an eccentric opinion, which never can hope to conquer the great agencies of publicity?

The money rewards and widespread though ephemeral fame which those agencies have made possible places temptations in the way of able men which are difficult to resist. To be pointed out, admired, mentioned constantly in the press, and offered easy ways of earning much money is highly agreeable; and when all this is open to a man, he finds it difficult to go on doing the work that he himself thinks best and is inclined to subordinate his judgment to the general opinion.



“Darkening Of The World”

The following is an excerpt from Marjorie Grene's essay "Martin Heidegger" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ms. Grene passed away in March 2009; she wrote some two dozen books, among which are works on Sartre and Heidegger.

The "darkening of the world" is Heidegger's constant theme. So, for example, in Holzwege ("Woodpaths," 1950), he tells us that we live in the age of research, of the planned, systematic coordination of intellectual tasks. And what sort of tasks can be planned and coordinated? Neat, limited, manageable tasks -- tasks, primarily, that demand inventiveness rather than understanding, tasks for engineering know-how rather than theoretical insight. Heidegger draws no line between pure and applied science. Science for him is research, and research is a procedure for solving well-packaged problems. Such problems are, in general, those of manufacture, of inventing new and better gadgets. According to Heidegger, das Herstellbare, the collection of gadgets, is what we are after; that is what specialization, the rigid departmental structure of expertise in our society, amounts to. And all this vast proliferation of technical skills nevertheless has its inner unity -- that is, its historical and metaphysical unity. It had to happen this way. It had to happen this way because we are fallen out of Being. We are more concerned with beings, from genes to space ships, than with our true calling, which is to be shepherds and watchers of Being. So it is that we are lost, and Being itself has become a haze and an error -- nothing.


Against The Masses

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Leave this hypocritical prating about the masses. Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them. The worst of charity is that the lives you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving. Masses! The calamity is the masses. I do not wish any mass at all, but honest men only, lovely, sweet, accomplished women only, and no shovel-handed, narrow-brained, gin-drinking, million stockingers or lazzaroni at all. If government knew how, I should like to see it check, not multiply the population. When it reaches its true law of action, every man that is born will be hailed as essential. Away with this hurrah of masses, and let us have the considerate vote of single men spoken on their honor and their conscience.”



The Real Vanishes Into The Concept

“By representing things to ourselves,” Jean Baudrillard writes, “by naming them and conceptualizing them, human beings call them into existence and at the same time hasten their doom, subtly detach them from their brute reality…The moment a thing is named, the moment representation and concepts take hold of it, is the moment when it begins to lose its energy -- with the risk that it will become a truth or impose itself as ideology.”


Nietzsche On The Need To Be Alone

“A traveler who had seen many countries and peoples and several continents was asked what human traits he had found everywhere; and he answered: men are inclined to laziness. Some will feel that he might have said with greater justice: they are all timorous. They hide behind customs and opinions. At bottom, every human being knows very well that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident, however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse plurality: he knows it, but hides it like a bad conscience -- why?”

An Existential View Of Loneliness

“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence,” wrote Thomas Wolfe in his essay God’s Lonely Man. “When we examine the moments, acts, and statements of all kinds of people…we find, I think, that they are all suffering from the same thing. The final cause of their complaint is loneliness.”


Jung’s Stages Of Life

"Something in us wishes to remain a child,” Jung observed, “to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power."






Euripides, From a fragment ascribed to him:

"It is a loutish thing to be wealthy and to know nothing else."


Charles Péguy, Basic Verities: Prose And Poetry

"He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers."




“I Don’t Want To Be A Brand”

By Danielle Leduc

(The following is excerpted from the March/April 2013 edition of Adbusters.)

“I don’t want to be a designer, a marketer, an illustrator, a brander, a social-media consultant, a multi-platform guru, an interface wizard, a writer of copy, a technological assistant, an applicator, an aesthetic king, a notable user, a profit-maximizer, a bottom-line analyzer, a meme generator, a hit tracker, a re-poster, a sponsored blogger, a starred commentator, an online retailer, a viral relayer, a handle, a font or a page. I don’t want to be linked in, tuned in, ‘liked,’ incorporated, listed or programmed. I don’t want to be a brand, a representative, an ambassador, a bestseller or a chart-topper. I don’t want to be a human resource or part of your human capital.

“I don’t want to be an entrepreneur of myself.

“Don’t listen to the founders, the employers, the newspapers, the pundits, the editors, the forecasters, the researchers, the branders, the career counselors, the prim minister, the job market, Michel Foucault or your haughty brother in finance – there’s something else!

“I want to be a lover, a teacher, a wanderer, an assembler of words, a sculptor of immaterial, a maker of instruments, a Socratic philosopher and an erratic muse. I want to be a community center, a piece of art, a wonky cursive script and an old-growth tree! I want to be a disrupter, a creator, an apocalyptic visionary, a master of reconfiguration, a hypocritical parent, an illegal download and a choose-your-own-adventure!…

“I want to be a curator of myself, an anti-preneur, a person.

“Unlimited availabilities. No followers required. Only friends.”



Male-Female Relations

It is commonly assumed that the person who takes the initiative in relationships is the one who is in command. But this is not true, argues the existentialist Donald Wainwright: “The audience is always one up on the performer. They are the passive judges. The performer must please them. The initiative, the responsibility for the success of the occasion rests on the performer…If ‘A’ must please ‘B’, how can ‘A’ ever be in command?”


Rules Of Influence

A generation or two ago, many young adults emerged from college with their idealism intact and their interest in dead poets and philosophers undiminished. In recent times that’s changed: now money, career, and access to the rich and famous trump any inkling to be better rounded and a little wiser. What these aspiring careerists need is not a lecture about their false choice, but an ironist’s guide to competing in the rat race.


Philosophers’ Role In Society

"The profession of philosophy did not always have the narrow and specialized meaning it now has," William Barrett tells us in one of his influential works. "In ancient Greece it had the very opposite: instead of a specialized theoretical discipline, philosophy was a concrete way of life, a total vision of man and the cosmos in the light of which the individual's whole life was to be lived. These earliest philosophers among the Greeks were seers, poets, almost shamans."


Conversational Narcissism

In social situations people often steer the conversation away from others and toward themselves. According to the sociologist Charles Derber, there is one easy way to gauge how far in the direction of conversational narcissism one has ventured, and that is to weigh what he calls the “shift-response” and the “support-response.”


Philosophy And Depression

Contrary to what is often supposed, depression may not be some “disease” that needs to be extirpated from the mind; it might instead be a natural reaction to one's social surroundings and situation – the healthy suspicion that the life people have actually created, the “structure of society,” is not one worth participating in.



http://philosophicalsociety.com/Archives/Excerpts%20&%20Passages%202.htm#"Imaginary Life Journey"


"Imaginary Life Journey"

First a childhood, limitless and without
renunciation or goals. O unselfconscious joy.
Then suddenly terror, barriers, schools, drudgery,
and collapse into temptation and loss.

Defiance. The one bent becomes the bender,
and thrusts upon others that which it suffered.
Loved, feared, rescuer, fighter, winner
and conqueror, blow by blow.

And then alone in cold, light, open space,
yet still deep within the mature erected form,
a gasping for the clear air of the first one, the old one...

Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke (found at "Uncollected Poems")


Jung's Observation About People

In Man And His Symbols (1964, pp.48-49), Carl Jung offers this telling observation about the many people he had either known or counseled over the course of his life:

"I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. I was also surprised to find many intelligent and wide-awake people who lived (as far as one could make out) as if they had never learned to use their sense organs: They did not see the things before their eyes, hear the words sounding in their ears, or notice the things they touched or tasted. Some lived without being aware of the state of their own bodies.

"There are others who seemed to live in a most curious condition of consciousness, as if the state they had arrived at today were final, with no possibility of change, or as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever. They seemed devoid of all imagination, and they entirely and exclusively depended upon their sense-perception. Chances and possibilities did not exist in their world, and in 'today' there was no real 'tomorrow'. The future was just the repetition of the past."


Cosmological Despair


A friend of George Santayana's once confided to the philosopher that he had long been burdened by the suspicion that life may not be worthwhile after all. He asked Santayana to consider life from "the viewpoint of the grave." This is what Santayana wrote in reply:


<What you call the point of view of the grave is what I should call the point of view of the easy chair. [That is, the point of view of detached philosophic contemplation.] From that the universal joke is indeed very funny. But a man in his grave is not only apathetic, but also invulnerable. That is what you forget. Your dead man is not merely amused, he is also brave, and if his having nothing to gain makes him impartial his having nothing to lose makes him free. "Is it worth while after all?" you ask. What a simple-hearted question. Of course it isn't worth while. Do you suppose when God made up his mind to create this world after his own image, he thought it was worth while? I wouldn't make such an imputation on his intelligence. Do you suppose he existed there in his uncaused loneliness because it was worth while? Did Nothing ask God before God existed, whether he thought it would be worth while to try life for a while? or did Nothing have to decide the question? Do you suppose the slow, painful, nasty, bloody process, by which things in this world grow, is worth having for the sake of the perfection of a moment? Did you come into the world because you thought it worth while? No more do you stay in it because you do. The idea of demanding that things should be worth doing is a human impertinence.>


Santayana's friend broaches the subject again in a later letter, and Santayana has this to say:


<The world may have little in it that is good: granted. But that little is really and inalienably good. Its value cannot be destroyed because of the surrounding evil.>


These passages (and title) are taken from an essay Lionel Trilling once wrote about Santayana, "That Smile of Parmenides Made Me Think." In it Trilling notes that while Santayana's thinking is apt to strike us moderns as cold and remote, and his preference for solitude and detachment one even philosophers might find difficult to share, his philosophy does not at all lead to a devaluation of life; quite the opposite, in fact. As Trilling writes,


<Whatever his materialism leads Santayana to, it does not lead him to a radical relativism pointing to an ultimate nihilism. It does not lead him to a devaluation of life, to the devaluation of anything that might be valued. On the contrary -- it is the basis of his intense valuation. Here indeed, we might almost say, it is one intention of his materialism, that it should lead to a high valuation of what might be valued at all. If we are in a balloon over an abyss, let us at least value the balloon. If night is all around, then what light we have is precious. If there is no life to be seen in the great emptiness, our companions are to be cherished; so are we ourselves.>





A Diagnosis of our Time

http://www.philosophicalsociety.com/Archives/A%20Diagnosis%20Of%20Our%20Time.htm


“The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that, apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, it is not humanly interesting…The contents of modern man's daydreams too closely resemble those of Bloom in Ulysses, filled with the dead tags of newspaper editorials, the undigested vomit of advertising slogans, greasy crumbs of irrelevant information, and the choking dust of purposeless activity. The duty to become part of this chaos, to keep up with it, to accept it internally, is the bitter duty of modern man...



Mill’s Principle of Humility

http://www.philosophicalsociety.com/Archives/Mill's%20Principle%20Of%20Intellectual%20Humility.htm


"In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner."




Imaginary Life Journey

First a childhood, limitless and without
renunciation or goals. O unselfconscious joy.
Then suddenly terror, barriers, schools, drudgery,
and collapse into temptation and loss.

Defiance. The one bent becomes the bender,
and thrusts upon others that which it suffered.
Loved, feared, rescuer, fighter, winner
and conqueror, blow by blow.

And then alone in cold, light, open space,
yet still deep within the mature erected form,
a gasping for the clear air of the first one, the old one...

Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.

– Rainer Maria Rilke


http://www.philosophicalsociety.com/Archives/Our%20Virtually%20Real%20Existence.htm

“A revolutionary age is an age of action; the present age is an age of advertisement, or an age of publicity: nothing happens, but there is instant publicity about it.” -- Kierkegaard, The Present Age


http://philosophicalsociety.com/Archives/Boredom%20In%20The%20Modern%20Age.htm

Sean Desmond Healy's rich historical study of boredom, Boredom, Self, And Culture (Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 1984). Healy's thesis is that boredom ceased being a rare, relatively harmless affliction some three centuries ago and since then has grown in severity and intensity, hounding all peoples but particularly western culture at large.



Losing One’s Sense Of Belonging

“We do not meet one another as persons in the several aspects of our total life, but know one another only fractionally, as the man who fixes the car, or as that girl who serves our lunch, or as the woman who takes care of our child at school,” C. Wright Mills once observed. “Pre-judgement and prejudice flourish when people meet people only in this segmental manner. The humanistic reality of others does not, cannot, come through.”


Really virtuous men are devoid of irony. Irony springs from the coldness of the soul...It is a retort to humiliations undergone, a reply to insult, it is the reply of pride, not of the Christian."

– Alexander Herzen,quoted in E.H. Carr, The Romantic Exiles


A CEO’s Confession


A Free Man’s Worship

Bertrand Russell’s essay was a response to forebodings in the last century about the apparent aimlessness of life. “How, in such an alien and inhuman world,” Russell asked, “can so powerless a creature as Man preserve his aspirations untarnished? A strange mystery it is that Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurryings through the abysses of space, has brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother.”


J.S. Mill’s Principle Of Humility

"In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him...Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner."


The Limits Of Language

“The holy man, the initiate, withdraws not only from the temptations of worldly action; he withdraws from speech,” George Steiner writes in Language and Silence. “His retreat into the mountain cave or monastic cell is the outward gesture of his silence. Even those who are only novices on this arduous road are taught to distrust the veil of language, to break through it to the more real...Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence."


To Be Numb In A Technical World

By Thomas de Zengotita

Here’s the basic situation. On the one hand: the Web, satellite cable TV, PalmPilot, DVD, Ethernet – Virtual Environments everywhere. On the other hand: cloning, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics – Virtual Beings everywhere. Someday, when people (or whatever they are) look back on our time, all this will appear as a single development, called something like “The Information Revolution,” and the lesson of that revolution will have been this: what counts is the code. Silicon- or carbon-based. Artifact or animate. The difference between them is disappearing. This is not science fiction. This is really happening. Right now, in an Atlanta hospital, there is a quadriplegic with his brain directly wired to a computer. He can move the cursor with his thoughts.

The moving cursor doesn’t really need explaining – it comes down to digital bytes and neurochemical spikes. What needs explaining is our equanimity in the face of staggering developments. How can we go about our business when things like this are happening? How can we just read the article, shake our heads, turn the page? If creatures from outer space sent a diplomatic mission to the U.N., how long would it be before we were taking that in stride? Before Comedy Central send-ups were more entertaining than the actual creatures? About six months?

Soap-opera politics. The therapy industry. Online communities. Digital effects. Workshops for every workplace. Viagra, Prozac, Ritalin. Reality TV. Complete makeovers. Someday, it will be obvious that all the content on our information platforms converges on this theme: there is no important difference between fabrication and reality, between a chemical a pill introduces and one your body produces, between role-playing in marital therapy and playing your role as a spouse, between selling and making, campaigning and governing, expressing and existing.

(Excerpted from de Zengotita’s 2002 Harper’s essay, “The Numbing of the American Mind: Culture as Anesthetic.” Click here to read the full article.)


Is Fear Of Poverty A Moral Disease?

By William James

Poverty indeed is the strenuous life, -- without brass bands or uniforms or hysteric popular applause or lies or circumlocutions; and when one sees the way in which wealth-getting enters as an ideal into the very bone and marrow of our generation, one wonders whether a revival of the belief that poverty is a worthy religious vocation may not be 'the transformation of military courage,' and the spiritual reform which our time stands most in need of.

Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly, -- the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to manual labor, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion.

It is true that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and ought to be chosen. But wealth does this in only a portion of the actual cases. Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption. There are thousands of conjunctures in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman. Think of the strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if we were devoted to unpopular causes. We need no longer to hold our tongues or fear to vote the revolutionary or reformatory ticket. Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish, our salaries stop, our club doors close in our faces; yet, while we lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit, and our example would help to set free our generation. The cause would need its funds, but we its servants would be potent in proportion as we personally were contented with our poverty.

I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers.


“There are certain instants, minimal in the passing of time, but extremely important in terms of their plenitude, when the mind breaks through the circle in which it had been enclosed, and begins to contradict itself, to have intuitions, flashes of insight, which, try as one may, cannot be denied afterwards -- they really happened...There are masses of times, enormous and stupid, in which nothing happens; and short, marvellous moments in which lots of extraordinary events take place. So far no one has ever come up with anything to prove that truth is in proportion to abstract time, that what lasts for a long time is true and that what only lasts for an instant is false.”

– Benjamin Fondane, La Conscience Malheureuse



Jung’s Stages Of Life

"Something in us wishes to remain a child,” Jung observed, “to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power."


The Healthy-Minded & Sick Soul

"In many persons, happiness is congenital and irreclaimable,” wrote William James in one of his seminal works. “'Cosmic emotion' inevitably takes in them the form of enthusiasm and freedom.” But there are others, he said, who are painfully conscious of evil in the world. They long for a point and purpose in life but cannot find one. They are given to despair and yearn for nothing so much as deliverance from a fallen and transient world.


On The Value Of Privacy

Privacy "protects us from being misdefined and judged out of context in a world of short attention spans, a world in which information can easily be confused with knowledge," observes the legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen. "In such a world, it is easy for individuals to be victimized by the reductionist fallacy that the worst truth about them is also the most important truth."



“The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then -- to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

– T.H. White, The Once and Future King


“The tragedy of our age is the awful incommunicability of souls.”

– W.O. Martin, quoted in Joseph Royce, The Encapsulated Man



Where The World Is Headed

“At some point in the near future there will no longer be a distinction between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality,” writes Ray Kurzweil. Technological change will be so rapid “that human life will be irreversibly transformed.” Brains will be uploaded to the Internet. The act of death may become a choice rather than a necessity – an option or changeable setting in a clone’s operating system, according to Jean Baudrillard. The Singularity, says Kurzweil, is upon us.


"A Deep, Lasting Defeatism Of The Real"

There once existed a world that spoke to reflective thought and the creative imagination, Henri Lefebvre tells us. A world that held a certain mystery and mystical dimension, that was “serious, deep, cosmic.” It disappeared, and its loss was felt particularly by exceptionally bright minds. Is such a world recoverable? How can the search for it be undertaken without introducing false paths and “smuggling in all manner of dehumanization”?



The Loss Of Aura

Few aspects of social life seem remarkable or spectacular anymore. Human endeavors generally seem to have lost their prestige-value or aura. Why is this?

One explanation is that almost nothing anymore is exclusive. From writing a book to climbing a mountain to traveling abroad, starting a business, becoming a lawyer or producing a film – so many activities have become fully democratized; they are no longer the preserve of a relative few. Like money, the more something circulates, the less valuable it becomes. This includes social roles and professions. No activity can be inoculated anymore against subsumption into a broader trend. Even what is considered bizarre or fringe can quickly become mainstream. Being pierced and tattooed, for instance -- profaning the body -- was once considered rebellious or "different"; today the act is so widespread that it can be considered an act of conformity, feeding a broad commercial market.

Such mass circulation of activities and roles has long since reached the point where, in order to feel differentiated or alive, a person must advertise almost every detail of her life, be it an illness or sexual orientation or faux pas. In the old days the spotlight shone on few people. Today it roams anywhere and everywhere, it shines on anybody for any reason at all, and the result is a thoroughly decentralized cultural space. A space where almost everyone cries out for attention all at once and few things, if anything, stand over against the flux of daily life.

Another explanation was offered by Walter Benjamin in his respected essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Benjamin attributed what he called the “decay of aura” to the “increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life.” The masses, he wrote, strip away the uniqueness of every object by reproducing it, by deracinating it from its original context and bringing it spatially closer to the tribe. Reproduction extinguishes that majestic quality born of a pristine relation between the creator and his materials, the creator and time and place. <Buber>

Below are a few excerpts from Benjamin’s essay, as found in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. by Hannah Arendt (New York: Shocken Books, 1968), pp. 220, 222-223.


What Reproduced Works of Art Lack

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership. The traces of the first can be revealed only by chemical or physical analyses which it is impossible to perform on a reproduction; changes of ownership are subject to a tradition which must be traced from the situation of the original.

The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity…

The Contemporary Decay of Aura

During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well. The fifth century, with its great shifts of population, saw the birth of the late Roman art industry and the Vienna Genesis, and there developed not only an art different from that of antiquity but also a new kind of perception. The scholars of the Viennese school, Riegl and Wickhoff, who resisted the weight of classical tradition under which these later art forms had been buried, were the first to draw conclusions from them concerning the organization of perception at the time. However far-reaching their insight, these scholars limited themselves to showing the significant, formal hallmark which characterized perception in late Roman times. They did not attempt – and, perhaps, saw no way – to show the social transformations expressed by these changes of perception. The conditions for an analogous insight are more favorable in the present. And if changes in the medium of contemporary perception can be comprehended as decay of the aura, it is possible to show its social causes.

The concept of aura which was proposed above with reference to historical objects may usefully be illustrated with reference to the aura of natural ones. We define the aura of the latter as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch. This image makes it easy to comprehend the social bases of the contemporary decay of the aura. It rests on two circumstances, both of which are related to the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life. Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction. Unmistakably, reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye. Uniqueness and permanence are as closely linked in the latter as are transitoriness and reproducibility in the former. To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction. Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical spheres is noticeable in the increasing importance of statistics. The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.

Related Reading

The Character of Modern Life

Pseudo-Events & Extravagances


Nietzsche On The Need To Be Alone

“A traveler who had seen many countries and peoples and several continents was asked what human traits he had found everywhere; and he answered: men are inclined to laziness. Some will feel that he might have said with greater justice: they are all timorous. They hide behind customs and opinions. At bottom, every human being knows very well that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident, however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse plurality: he knows it, but hides it like a bad conscience -- why?



Cratylus’ Skepticism

Cratylus was a disciple of Heraclitus’ and a contemporary of Plato’s (one of Plato’s dialogues was named after him, in fact). It was Heraclitus who said memorably that “one cannot step into the same river twice.” Cratylus altered the epigram to read, “One cannot step into the same river even once.” As he saw it, the ceaseless flux of life precluded knowledge and understanding, which must rest on far stabler foundations.

The following concise summary of his position can be found in the Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. Peter Angeles (New York, 1992), p. 277.

[According to Cratylus], no knowledge can be had of reality; one cannot say anything about anything. The communication of knowledge or of anything at all is impossible because all things are in perpetual change. The language that is used to communicate itself changes in the process of communication; the speaker is in a process of change; the meanings and ideas change even as one is thinking and uttering them; the recipient of the communication is in change; and the total environment is in continual change without anything ever remaining the same. Cratylus concluded that one cannot say anything about anything and that one should not try. He refused to talk, since talking appeared to him senseless, meaningless, a waste of effort. He merely wiggled his finger to indicate he was fleetingly responding to stimuli.


Of Celebrities And Media

By Lewis Lapham

The camera sees but doesn’t think. Whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, the object of its affection doesn’t matter; what matters is the surge and volume of emotion that it engenders and evokes, the floods of consciousness drawn as willingly to a blood bath in Afghanistan as to a bubble bath in Paris. As the habits of mind beholden to the rule of images come to replace the structures of thought derived from the meaning of words, the constant viewer eliminates the association of cause with effect, learns that nothing necessarily follows from anything else…

Celebrity is about being, not becoming. Once possessed of the sovereign power to find a buyer, all celebrity is royal. The images of wealth and power demand nothing of their votaries other than the duty of ritual obeisance. The will to learn gives way to a being in the know, which is the instant recognition of the thousands of logos encountered in the course of a day’s shopping and an evening’s programming…Celebrities of various magnitudes become the familiar spirits of insurance policies and shaving creams, breathe the gift of life into tubes of deodorant, awaken with their personal touch the spirit dormant in the color of a lipstick or a bottle of perfume. The wishful thinking moves the merchandise, accounts not only for high-end appearance fees ($3 million to Mariah Carey to attend a party; $15,000 for five minutes in the presence of Donald Trump) but also for the Wall Street market in nonexistent derivatives and the weapons of mass destruction gone missing in Iraq…

Like the camera, the market moves but doesn’t think, drawn as willingly to the production of nuclear warheads as to the growing of oranges or grapes. It doesn’t recognize such a thing as a poor celebrity. Celebrity is money with a human face, the “pegs” and “loops” on which to hang the dream of riches that is “the darling passion” of the American breast. Bipartisan and nondenominational, the hero with a thousand faces unfortunately doesn’t evolve into a human being. Let money become the seat of power and the font of wisdom, and the story ends with an economy gone bankrupt, an army that wins no wars, and a politics composed of brightly colored balloons.


Our Virtually Real Existence, Part 2

Over the last quarter century the experiment in cyber life has gone off with little to no resistance. No sooner did the technologies arrive than the entire world embraced them. In the early days of the web, however, and in the years preceding it, there were some who sounded an alarm. “It’s an unreal universe, a soluble tissue of nothingness," wrote  one expert. "While the Internet beckons brightly, selectively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this non-place lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where – in the holy names of Education and Progress – important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued."


– more articles –



The Responsibility Of Intellectuals

By Tim Ruggiero

To whom or to what, if to anything at all, should intellectuals be responsible? Here “intellectuals” is used broadly to refer to anyone interested in ideas and abstract thought, in cerebration, in theorizing.

The longstanding view of Noam Chomsky is that intellectuals are obliged to tell the truth and to expose the lies of those in positions of authority. His view is grounded in the belief that the facts about social life are accessible to anybody interested in them. They can be found in documents and case studies, in the alternative press, in policy journals, in the reports of human-rights organizations, the testimony of witnesses to power abroad. The issue for Chomsky is not whether the truth is ascertainable; it is whether somebody is honest and courageous enough to follow the truth wherever it may lead. In modern societies there are powerful incentives to get along and go along with those who wield influence, not the least being the promise of a comfortable and privileged existence. In any society the dissenter, the resister, can expect to be ridiculed and marginalized, slandered or ignored. This is no less true in the United States than it is in Russia, China, or Britain.

Chomsky does not deny that there are impediments to the discovery of truth. He has written at length, in fact, about the use of propaganda to manipulate and control the masses. He freely admits that much popular discourse obscures rather than reveals the truth, that discourse often serves the purposes of the governing class. It is his conviction, nevertheless, that with some effort a person can come to understand the workings of power in the world.

A quite different perspective is found in the work of Jean Baudrillard. On a range of issues, from globalization to the Iraq war to the arrogance of western power, Baudrillard’s thinking is consonant with Chomsky’s. And like Chomsky, Baudrillard believes lucidity to be the aspiration of thought. But on the question of truth he dissents. For Baudrillard, the world is not some tree off of which the fruit of facts is readily picked; the world today, rather, is governed by appearances and simulacra. In his work America he has this to say:

Americans believe in facts, but not in facticity. They do not know that facts are factitious, as their name suggests. It is in this belief in facts, in the total credibility of what is done or seen, in this pragmatic evidence of things and an accompanying contempt for what may be called appearances or the play of appearances – a face does not deceive, behavior does not deceive, a scientific process does not deceive, nothing deceives, nothing is ambivalent (and at bottom this is true: nothing deceives, there are no lies, there is only simulation, which is precisely the facticity of facts) – that the Americans are a true utopian society, in their religion of the fait accompli, in the naivety of their deductions, in their ignorance of the evil genius of things. You have to be utopian to think that in a human order, of whatever nature, things can be as plain and straightforward as that. All other societies contain within them some heresy or other, some dissidence, some kind of suspicion of reality, the superstitious belief in a force of evil and the possible control of that force by magic, a belief in the power of appearances. Here, there is no dissidence, no suspicion. The emperor has no clothes; the facts are there before us.

The difference between the two thinkers is not so much political as ontological. Chomsky believes, contra McLuhan, that technology is neutral: the intrusion into social life of television and computer screens, the omnipresence of imagery and advertising, the sequestering effect of cellular phones, the collapse of what historically was an agora into strip malls and super malls, the transition from what Neil Postman called a print-based culture to an image-based one – none of these things has inspired Chomsky to reassess his basically empiricist, pragmatist methodology. For Baudrillard these developments mark a fundamental change in the social ecology of humans. They have dramatically altered the relationship between referents and signs (the former have gone missing, the latter continue to proliferate). A decade before the advent of the web Baudrillard wrote, “There is no longer a stage, not even the minimal illusion that makes events capable of adopting the force of reality.”

For Chomsky there is still, in spite of the wild permutations of technology, a reality today susceptible of rational analysis. For Baudrillard there is only the desert of the real, simulacra pouring out of hegemonic networks, and a deep, irrevocable feeling of absence, of a life that is no more. Which of these perspectives, the Chomskyan or the Baudrillardian, is the more convincing today? Or is there a tertium quid?


Where The World Is Headed

“At some point in the near future there will no longer be a distinction between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality,” writes Ray Kurzweil. Technological change will be so rapid “that human life will be irreversibly transformed.” Brains will be uploaded to the Internet. The act of death may become a choice rather than a necessity – an option or changeable setting in a clone’s operating system, according to Jean Baudrillard. The Singularity, says Kurzweil, is upon us.



RECENT ARTICLES

“Nothing, Really”

Heidegger thought that any ordinary object or scene could arouse fear and anxiety in someone by signifying nothingness in some way. The idea had previously been put forth by Pascal, who famously said that nothing frightened him more than the cold, empty spaces of infinite dark sky. But over time this fear can give way to perspective, as when one contrasts this emptiness with the “fullness” of culture and social life.


The Felt Contact Of Things

Was the experience of spaces and presences long ago different from what it is today? Did perception yield a feeling that no longer exists? Are we entombing ourselves in a vast super-computer, living a non-life? The thought crossed Elias Canetti’s mind: “A tormenting thought: as of a certain point, history was no longer real. Without noticing it, all mankind suddenly left reality; everything happening since then was supposedly not true, but we supposedly didn't notice. Our task would now be to find that point.”


The Perfection Of Non-Existence

“That which is yet to be born may be nothing, but at this stage it is at its utmost,” writes Costica Bradatan. “Its nothingness is fuller and richer than any ordinary existence. To fall into existence is to enter time, and with time comes decay, aging and death.” This idea unites many disparate strands of thought, from Zen to Gnosticism to meditations on late-modernity.

Online

Academia.edu, AlterNet, Answers.com, Ask Kids, Best Of The Web Directory, Biotech100, Consortium News, Daily Kos, Delicious, Facebook, Good Reads, Live Journal, MetaFilter, MySpace, Pinterest, Reddit, Scribd, Seeking Alpha, Stephen Jay Gould.org, StumbleUpon, TeachThought, Twitter, Wikipedia, Wordiq, Yahoo Answers, YouTube


Philosophy And Depression

Contrary to what is often supposed, depression may not be some “disease” that needs to be extirpated from the mind; it might instead be a natural reaction to one's social surroundings and situation – the healthy suspicion that the life people have actually created, the “structure of society,” is not one worth participating in. The aim then would be not to kill this suspicion but to tame it and work with it.


Buber’s I-Thou Insight

"The 'I-It' relationship is characterized by the fact that it is not a genuine relationship because it does not take place between the I and the It. When another person is an It to me, I am, first of all, perfectly alone. I gaze at him and view him from every possible direction, I observe his place in the scheme of things, and I find elements that distinguish him from them. All of this…takes place within me; I am judging and I am observing, and the external world is relevant only to the extent that it enters my being."


Losing One’s Sense Of Belonging

“We do not meet one another as persons in the several aspects of our total life, but know one another only fractionally, as the man who fixes the car, or as that girl who serves our lunch, or as the woman who takes care of our child at school,” C. Wright Mills once observed. “Pre-judgement and prejudice flourish when people meet people only in this segmental manner. The humanistic reality of others does not, cannot, come through.”


A Free Man’s Worship

“A strange mystery it is,” Bertrand Russell wrote, “that Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurryings through the abysses of space, has brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother.”




A Few Thoughts On Human Malice

Why do people do reprehensible things? What accounts for the sort of malice one reads about in the news every day – not only homicides and extreme violence, but acts of deviousness, vengeance, and treachery? Why do the alarm bells of conscience go off in some heads but not in others? Across the last sixty years philosophers and psychotherapists have offered insights into the subject. Here is a sampling of them.



Handling Life’s Difficulties

“In any age,” Jacques Barzun observed, “life confronts all but the most obtuse with a set of impossible demands: it is an action to be performed without rehearsal or respite; it is a confused spectacle to be sorted out and charted; it is a mystery, not indeed to be solved, but to be restated according to some vision, however imperfect. These demands bear down with redoubled force in times of decay and deconstruction, because guiding customs and conventions are in disarray.”



Situated Identities

“Our sense of identity is in large measure conferred on us by others in the ways they treat or mistreat us, recognize or ignore us, praise us or punish us,” writes Philip Zimbardo. “Some people make us timid and shy; others elicit our sex appeal and dominance. In some groups we are made leaders, while in others we are reduced to being followers. We come to live up to or down to the expectations others have of us…We often become who other people think we are, in their eyes and in our behavior.”



Recent Research On Loneliness

Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans reporting they have “no one to talk to” has doubled. Despite Facebook, emails, cell phones, blogging, and text messaging, social isolation is at an all-time high and is expected to get worse. These are among the findings of Addressing Loneliness, a recently published collection of essays from scholars around the world.




The Perfection Of Non-Existence

“That which is yet to be born may be nothing, but at this stage it is at its utmost,” writes Costica Bradatan. “Its nothingness is fuller and richer than any ordinary existence. To fall into existence is to enter time, and with time comes decay, aging and death.” This idea unites many disparate strands of thought, from Zen to Gnosticism to meditations on late-modernity.


Notes On Contemporary Culture

What if no one or nothing were worth saving anymore? What if the path to truth lay in absconding from society, in refusing to be “someone,” to play a part, strike a pose, sell or consume, to click on anything or even to speak out? A negative volition, or velleity: the sense that life can no longer be consummated through the established social channels; that the world as it exists inhibits meaningful experiences rather than produces them.


Einstein’s Spiritual Insight

The most important function of art and science, Einstein said, is to awaken “cosmic religious feeling” in the young. This feeling, he said, is difficult to elucidate to those without it. It does not correspond to any anthropomorphic conception of God, and no church can be found whose central teachings are based on it. Those who experience it “feel the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought.” More than anything, they want to experience the universe as a single significant whole.



IN THE ARCHIVE

Jung’s Stages Of Life

"Something in us wishes to remain a child,” Carl Jung observed, “to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will.”


On The Value Of Privacy

Privacy "protects us from being misdefined and judged out of context in a world of short attention spans, a world in which information can easily be confused with knowledge," observes the legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen. "In such a world, it is easy for individuals to be victimized by the reductionist fallacy that the worst truth about them is also the most important truth."


A Free Man’s Worship

“The life of Man, viewed outwardly, is but a small thing in comparison with the forces of Nature,” Bertrand Russell wrote. “The slave is doomed to worship Time and Fate and Death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour. But, great as they are, to think of them greatly, to feel their passionless splendor, is greater still. And such thought makes us free men…To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things -- this is emancipation, and this is the free man's worship.”


Philosophy And Depression

Contrary to what is often supposed, depression may not be some “disease” that needs to be extirpated from the mind; it might instead be a natural reaction to one's social surroundings and situation – the healthy suspicion that the life people have actually created, the “structure of society,” is not one worth participating in. The aim then would be not to kill this suspicion but to tame it and work with it.


On The Shortness Of Life

"It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much,” Seneca observed. “Life is long enough and our allotted portion generous enough for our most ambitious projects if we invest it all carefully. But when it is squandered through luxury and indifference, and spent for no good end, we realize it has gone before we were aware it was going.”



All natural goods perish...fame is a breath; love is a cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish. Can things whose end is always dust and disappointment be the real goods which our souls require?

– William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience


Prior to Kant, the line between theological and philosophical discourse is fluid. Both these extravagantly human enterprises have the same root. Human beings are persuaded that the totality of sensory-empirical data such as observation, the sciences and rational analysis which can assemble and order them, is not the whole story. Or, in Wittgenstein's aphorism: that the facts of the world are not, will never be, “the end of the matter.”

– George Steiner, Grammars of Creation


‘People of good taste leave it to the common herd to think, and to think wrongly’ (Crebillon). That same aristocratic position is today occupied by the common herd, who leave it to the politicians to govern us, and govern us badly. The mediocre have turned the tables.  

– Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories



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