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Showing posts from April, 2017

BUMPER STICKER CULTURE

April has been Bertrand Russell month for me. The last four weeks I have been on an insatiable Bertrand binge. Ravenous for Bertrand. Gluttonous for Russell. And so forth.

I'm not sure who turned me onto the 20th century Brit. It wasn't a friend, and not because nobody I know reads, but because I know nobody. I must have come across a reference to the author in some other book I had been reading.

This audo-didact and voracious polymath - Wikipedia has him listed as philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate - has a way with the English language which is unparalleled. Damn can the man write. His sentences are long and sometimes ornate, but you get the gist, because his prose is so crystal clear. It's as if he gives you direct access to his mind. You get to become another person. And not just anyone. Russell may have been a born genius, but as the author of dozens of books, he sure put in a lot of practice. He …

ON MATTERS OF COSMIC INSIGNIFICANCE

I have the nettling tendency to read myself into every book I pick up. This has never more been the case than with Bertrand Russell's Conquest of Happiness, an exquisite book in scintillating prose on the titular subject. 

For me and Big Daddy Bertrand it was love at first sight. I had only to read the first paragraph of his In Praise of Idleness (1932) and I was smitten. He writes: "I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries" is "to do nothing." 

Okay perhaps doing nothing is a bit of an exaggeration. Russell proposes a four-hour work day for all who wish to work, work being defined as a constructive endeavor that you are skilled enough to perform. Or "to make something well," as I like to say. I'll leave it for you to decide how much or little of what passes for work in the modern world can be rightly p…

TIME SQUARED

Listening to Lance Armstrong interview nutrition expert Rip Esselstyn on the former's podcast  is a nifty way to kill an hour. Mind, it's all the cruelty involved, as Mr. Esselstyn is a vegan. I should start one myself. A podcast I mean. The only difference between me and Mr. Tour de France is that he has a built-in audience of millions who love to watch him flounder through multi-million dollar lawsuits, whereas the number of potential listeners for whatever I might broadcast is at best equal to the number of readers of this post, and you are in a select group of one. Er, two, because I am a conscientious editor of my own material. And so I'll save the monthly hosting fee and the sound equipment and continue writing for nobody in particular. Though you're a somebody to me.

I was struck by a passage from heavyweight thinker Bertrand Russell, which has become my quote of the day: “The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured b…

DAIMONS ARE FOREVER

The English naturalist Charles Darwin is best known for his contribution to the science of evolution, most notably as it appears in his most excellent treatise On the Origin of Species, which made natural selection a household name. What many do not know is that it was actually a young British biologist working in obscurity who hashed out much of the theory of how one species can slowly transform into another before sending it to the famous scientist. Wallace wanted help getting his findings published. Darwin, who had been contemplating a similar theory of evolution for many years, feared he would be robbed of his day in the sun, and so he hastily jotted down his version of natural selection. The two papers were read on the same night before an audience of their peers, and Darwin got all the glory. 

Natural selection was not the first world-changing, paradigm-shifting idea which had been developed if not simultaneously at least by separate thinkers working independently of each other. …

FORGIVENESS FEELS NICE

How to rise above karma? How to surmount fate? How to become the universal individual? How to live in a consequence-free environment that's not Romper Room? 

I used to think that the secret lay in being free of desire. After all, that is what the Eastern scriptures tell us, and I have at various times been a devout Buddhist and Hindu. And it's true. Desire leads to action which can involve the peace-lover in a whole host of problems. Popular proverbs advise us that "he who wants the ends must also want the means." But the means are often not for me, because consequences can be so unpredictable. 

In the words of philosopher Hannah Arendt, the actor, or doer, "never quite knows what he is doing, always becomes guilty of consequences he never intended or even foresaw. No matter how disastrous and unexpected the consequences of his deed he can never undo it. The process he starts is never consummated unequivocally in one single deed or event, and its very meaning neve…

COLLECTOR OF PERSPECTIVES

Here's a stat. In 1800 over 80 percent of the American labor force worked in agriculture. It used to be that you were born on a farm, never ventured off your property, married your cousin, had a dozen kids to help around the house, and died before you were 60. With so many children, you lived a busy if one-dimensional life. Not so any more. 

Nowadays you can jet-set around the world in the time it would have taken our farmer to pick a bale of hay. If inbreeding isn't your thing, just dial a bride 5,000 miles away. And if that doesn't work out, turn Soo Yin in for something with a bigger rear end. Russians have great mileage and handling ability, or so they say.

Seriously though, the percentage of American families in agricultural is down to 2, the average couple has about as many kids (2.4), and the average individual born this year will have as many jobs (12 to 15) in his lifetime as he would have had kids had he lived when Walt Whitman did. That's a lot of haves and ha…

WHERE EVERYDAY IS LIKE SUNDAY

I want to go where everyday is like Sunday. Where leisure is a lifestyle. Where recreation is the way of life and being at ease is a marketable talent.

The only place that comes to mind when I think of paradise, is, well, paradise. The Garden of Eden, where Adam spent his days avoiding Eve and resting in trees. If you believe Mark Twain's account, which is just hilarious. On a bad day he was eating apples. But the first man was irritated most of the time. 

That there is little mention of God in the whole book actually increases the Garden's appeal. Because God is so hard to fathom. Utterly impossible, really. Imagine being omniscient. I for one cannot. There is simply too much to think about. How about you take access to all the information throughout time in the entire universe, and give me back my earliest memories. Because it's as if I never even was.

My mother used to tell me that she could recall her early infancy in explicit detail. I scoffed in disbelief as she recount…

WHY WORK?

Earning one's livelihood swallows up such a disproportionate amount of life - even more than sleep, imagine! - that it begs the question: Do you really need to work? I mean in the sense of making money. Because the act of living itself is actually pretty laborious. Any goal-directed behavior, or for that matter any action that involves effort or burns calories, and all actions do, could be considered work. Your body metabolizes and respires and perspires until you finally expire. 

The Hindu holy man Ramakrishna Paramhansa once said, "Some individuals wish to be free of toil and yet cannot avoid it. Others desire to hold a job and cannot find one. Let your prayer be that you no longer have to work. And devote the energy you save to God." Of course this is controversial, coming from the man who also said, "Through selfless work, love of God grows in the heart."

Ah, to work or not to work.

As I see it, there are four reasons to hold a job. These are necessity; ego-gr…