Saturday, December 31, 2005

True Mistreatment

The truth can no longer do as much good for our species as the pretense of truth has mistreated it.

I Have Something to Tell You

It is often the case that the more someone opens his heart to you and exposes his inmost thoughts, the more daring he is at trying to gain your trust for the sake of his own advantage.

Fame and Fortune

The less recognition a talented person gets, the more he will come to blame fortune and uncontrollable circumstance for his obscurity. If ever he wakes up to find himself famous, however, he will immediately infer that ability, hard work, and patience win the day for the deserving.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Having Our Cake

It is inevitable that scientists will break the code of the human genome, letter by letter, and will learn how to make any and every genetic alteration. I wonder, however, whether we will be better or worse for the knowledge, for I have no doubt that we will put it to active use. In order to change the flavor of a cake, you have to change the recipe. The problem in our case is that we are the cake, not the chef. Even if the chef was a blind process called natural selection, it was creative enough to make us suit the taste of nature, that is to make us survivors, without any moral forethought at all. When we ourselves put on the hat and try our hand, we will not be able to resist flavoring ourselves to our own taste by adding a few extra dashes of goodness and a couple more teaspoons of virtue. And when nature takes one bite and spits us back out, then what? Well, that just might be the day that we finally die for our sins.

Critical Evidence

We are addicted to criticizing others, because pointing out faults gives evidence that we ourselves do not have them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Lower Math

The more energy one gives to an insignificant vocation, the less capable he becomes of a memorable one. Seconds add into minutes, minutes add into hours, hours add into days, days add into weeks, weeks add into months, months add into years, and years add into a life. The mathematics of wasted time are merciless.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The First Premise

Based on the observation that the norms of human behavior were varied and contradictory, the Greek sophists argued that a true standard of justice did not exist above the dictates of individual will. Essential to this argument is the unstated premise that a sanctioned standard of justice must be universal, or applicable to all people. Once we grant this premise, consciously or not, we are left with a limited number of valid conclusions. In order to understand Plato’s reply to the sophists, and the subsequent development of Western ethics, it is vital to recognize that Plato granted the sophists the premise of universalism, the first premise of Western ethics, and that to this extent he himself was sophistic. The disagreement comes in his conclusion. The sensible world disturbed Plato. He certainly did not deny the lack of uniformity in human behavior. He saw fickleness, inconstancy, and change. He perceived a tendency in people to deceive themselves. He witnessed the execution of the very man that he himself admired above all others. Face to face with a logic that insisted the world was governed by conflicting self-interests and that Socrates was merely a loser in the contest, he reasoned that universal justice was not something of this world. It was an idea or form visible only to the eye of the mind. It was ideal, in the original sense of the word. Let us think this through. We establish that a standard of justice does exist and that it must be universal. We have observed the incoherent multiformity of existing human laws and conventions. What conclusions are left to us? Plato’s is obvious, at least in hindsight. We imagine another world where perfect forms reside, and we give to an enlightened few, called philosophers, the vision to see into this world. To what extent it is possible to imitate the forms in this imperfect world of ours is unclear in the writings of Plato, but the forms themselves are other-worldly. Is this the only conclusion open to us? No, we could deny the existence of a separate world and insist that perfection is discoverable in this world. We could study all existing manifestations of justice, for example, and piece together a perfect amalgamation from the best qualities we find in each. This is Aristotle’s method. Or, like Cicero, we could promote one particular manifestation in this world, in his case the constitution of Rome, that we believed was better than all the rest. We would be obliged to justify our own insights, however, and we might find ourselves flirting in the end with the other-worldly. If we consider the violent political disagreements of our own age, we can see that combinations of special divine insight and practical application are common. We can look back to the tradition of philosophical solutions as an explanation for our present state as a cultured species, but it is perhaps more instructive just to recognize the logical bottleneck that the premise of universalism presses us into. Attempts have also been made to define a universal standard of justice, or morality, using empirical justification. Self-evident, inalienable rights would fall under this category, but “self-evident” suggests an inexplicable insight again. Academic liberalism, perhaps the most powerful theoretical force in the Western world right now, is a rights-based system of universal ethics that cannot get past this appeal to self-evidency, even though it claims knowledge as its justifying scripture. All I need to say in response is that the evidence is invisible to me. Arguments ad hominem and ad populum follow, of course, but these do not make the theory itself sound. They only serve to defend it by humiliating and ostracizing anyone who dares to attack it where it’s vulnerable.

Let us look back again. Do we accept the premise that a real and legitimate standard of justice must be universal? If so, does the apparent lack of one in this world mean that such a thing doesn’t exist and that self-interest is the true universal? Nietzsche’s answer to that question was a powerful yes, but if our answer to it is no, then where do we look for it? Was Plato right to say that it is an idea, and do we take the next step and say that the idea is ideal and unrealizable? Is every conception of universal morality an unrealistic figment of our creative imagination? If not, why are so many people involved in persuading and forcing others to adopt their own vision of it, or trying to eliminate, whether subtly or not, those whom they cannot convert? We can see when universalism entered the consciousness of the West. We can see its logical consequence. We can see the struggles that have taken place and continue to take place over the problem of definition that it produces. What if we were to say no to that first question? I almost suspect that we would rather continue to say yes to it, even if our very affirmation were a pied piper leading our species into inevitable extinction. We would rather perish than give up our most cherished premise.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Reciprocal Consumption

Most teachers waste their students' time, and most students waste their teachers'.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Making It Up

Jealousy is the desire to maintain one’s own possession. Envy is the desire to acquire the possession of another. They are distinct and in fact hostile emotions, evolved one to overcome the other. And in the race to gain an advantage, they have given each other such potently positive feedback and grown to such an inflamed state that they stand out like blemishes among our subtler and sightlier motivations. The make-up with which we hide them is therefore some of our best and most expensive. The complexity, for instance, of the laws regarding property on the one hand and taxation on the other, and the number of people involved in creating, enforcing, and interpreting these laws give the impression that we are serving a far, far better cause than our jealous and envious nature.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Creatively Full of It

History is full of people made foolish by other people’s creative wisdom.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Habit of Ideal

The only body beneath ideal is desire, but even the barest of desires is habitually veiled in pretexted interpretation.

Turning the Tables

Why grant Plato the assumption that there is a single universal definition for a term that is itself only an abstraction of an infinite number of acts or sensations. “What is courage?” We are able to point to an act and call it courageous, very often without great dispute. But this type of answer does not satisfy the Socrates of Platonic dialogue. “I did not ask you to give me examples of courageous acts," he says, "but to define courage, the essential aspect by which all courageous acts are courageous.” What if one of his interlocutors had said something like this to him in response? “Socrates, you ask a deceptive question, because courage is not a single material entity. You have made a noun out of an adjective, a substance out of a quality. Courage exists only in our minds as an abstract universal, as a mental bundling of all those acts. You cannot turn the tables and say that Courage with a capital C makes the acts courageous. You are forcing the intellectually innocent to look at it from the wrong direction. Do not now exploit this contrived confusion to convince us that we view only shadows while you gaze into the light of truth. A few of us actually see through you. You may therefore give up your project to pervert and manipulate human perception through your qualitative, insubstantial, and unreal abstractions.”

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What is the Subject?

A thought that is not directed by an accepted paradigm of thinking, if committed to an accepted vocabulary and syntax, will make as much sense to its readers as a sentence written in a language that they do not know.

Blind Attraction

We are more passionate about those things we believe irrationally than those things we believe rationally.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Question of Education

Those who are taught to question everything that others are trying to teach them will never, at least in theory, be led into false belief, but they will never learn anything either. They will turn to Uncertainty as the justification for their ignorance, and they will worship it as a god with an unshaken confidence that they will deny to anyone who claims a definable and instructive knowledge.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Making Copies

We are evolved to satisfy an elemental will, which is to make copies of our genetic information. Therefore, we should not wonder why our passions make us foolish when we are usually wise or wise when we are usually foolish.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


However educated and clever we become, we continue to be subject to the seduction of self-love. It whispers, whispers, whispers into our ear with a steady stream of flattery and never strays elsewhere in its affection. It is a master of erotic disguise and likes to dress as virtue and to point out the vices of others. It is as constant and unvarying as the very genetic material, 46 chromosomes, 23 from our father, 23 from our mother, that inhabits cell after cell after cell in our body. It achieves its most exquisite mastery over us when we believe we have thrown it over for another lover, for a god or a science, for a family, community, nation, or the whole human race. It prefers to make love in the dark, for it does not like to be seen without its clothes and is happiest when we imagine we are in the arms of someone else.

Monday, December 05, 2005


The ability to talk a lot and the ability to say nothing are gifts that typically go as a pair.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Unrelated Bravery

The courage to perform a dangerous act without a single witness and the courage to perform the exact same act in front of an audience are hardly even related as behavioral traits.

Foolish Judgment

It would be senseless to wish to be wiser than all others. If you were, there would be nobody capable of recognizing your wisdom, and you would likely be judged a fool.