Saturday, December 09, 2006

In Search of a Premise

According to Cicero, the very fact that the Romans had acquired an empire proved their wisdom. Success makes philosophers of us all.

Absolutely Respectful

The lack of a universal standard is exactly why the various local customs, despite their stark contrasts with each other, ask to be respected in absolute terms, not the reason why they ought to be ignored and destroyed. What do we plan to replace them with? Reason, empire, Christ, the Church, communism, fascism, capitalism, liberalism, selfishness, chaos, equilibrium, heat-death?

Strangely Diverse

Nietzsche, who despised the ideal of equality, adopted and adapted the teaching that unavoidably assumed it as a foundation. That explains to a great degree his strangely diverse appeal.

Longing for Sobriety

The reality of the modern human perspective is that it has been subjected to a rational development of ideas founded upon a dubious but now unconsciously accepted premise. A belief in universal morality as a concept or form leads by logical necessity to the commitment both to equality and to the interests of the individual (see “Selfishly Inevitable” on 1/1/06). I pose to myself a series of questions at this stage. Do equality and the interests of the individual define the moral paradigm of our age? Is the modern moral condition healthy, or are we in trouble? Is this chaos? If so, are we prepared to give up the spirits to which we are so addicted and to find out once again what mere water tastes like? We have put our faith into intoxicants, whether we call them gods or godless patterns of perfection. Anyone who refuses to gulp them inevitably suffers the moral criticism of the tipsy. I myself do not particularly enjoy condemnation, but I can no longer tolerate having to hold my nose in order to drink the false ideals of a foolishly inebriated society.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mass Destruction

The followers of a universal morality are more destructive than its creators. The creator in many cases was a rebel, who would be the first to take a stand against his own conception in its massified form.

We Need to Talk about This

Small groups depend on individuals, large groups depend on committees. When the end of mankind is at hand, the one and only thing we will know how to do is to call a meeting.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Inconsistency? Or Adventure?

I believe in evolution, I do not believe in God, and I prefer Christian to liberal morality. Liberal morality has no more claim to evolution than Christianity does, and to me Christianity seems more life preserving. But evolution puts an undeniable block on the authority of Christianity. So where are we? I go back to my first statement. I am unwilling to finish it with "and I embrace liberalism." Here is where I break from the evolutionists that I admire, and here is where I am ready to lead into an unknown.

Acclimatized Heroism

Most of us acclimatize ourselves regardless of the environment. The true exception, by contrast, does not adapt and leaves himself vulnerable to the elements as a result. Is he under-evolved biologically speaking? Is the thoughtless follower the real hero of Darwinian theory? He is certainly one of them.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Our temporal pride is reaching its summit. We have become good simply because of the age into which we have been born, and without any qualification other than the ability to listen to the moral zeitgeist, as Richard Dawkins calls it, or perhaps the ability to listen to Dawkins himself, we can sit in judgment of those who have lived before us. Let’s try a metaphor, for metaphors are the best teachers when the truth is elusive. We are singing the final aria of the opera known as human progress, and as long as we trust in science and reason, overcome our selfish replicators, and methodically wipe away any traces of our past misbehavior, we will hit every note. O tempora, O mores!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Parallel Worlds

Men hate women and women hate men. We might therefore imagine a perfect situation in which we are safely segregated from each other, with an unqualified sharing of resources and overall power. There is Men’s World and there is Women’s World. We are of equal status; we are at peace; and nothing is threatened by our having to deal with each other on a day to day basis. We would have carefully regulated centers of reproduction of course, where we would discretely perpetuate our species in test tubes. What do you think? What would you suggest as the penalty for those who would inevitably get caught sneaking across the borders and coupling under the cover of night? Death? Exile? Marriage?

Nature as Teacher

When it comes to learning, inertia is a law of nature.

A View from a Greek's Eye

In the end, “might makes right” will undermine those in power; and those who claim to be masters according to the law of nature, or of God, will someday find themselves as slaves according to the same law.

Abstract Attack

Polytheism was the religion of organic abstractions. It was life-preserving insofar as it worshiped those aspects of nature, including war, which were eternally recurring. Ultimately the attempt to attack and remake those abstractions attacks what is eternal in life and thus life itself.

Convicted and Doing Time

Sometimes what is true is known only by a conviction that relies on time for its justification.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Genetic Pot

Caesar's greatest rival was Pompey, and Pompey's was Caesar. Neither struck the blow that killed the other, but both did it in their way from a distance. For a while, however, in their rise to power, they were allies. Pompey, though the elder, was Caesar's son-in-law. As we attempt in this day and age to find a larger morality developed from the kin selection and reciprocal altruism that evolved in our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we should never lose track of the individual stakes involved and forget that certain men, like Richard Dawkins, are playing for a much larger pot than most.

Insensible Graft

Polytheism is the worship of the abstract and eternal in the sensible world. People have always lusted and loved, so let there be Aphrodite. Platonism, on the other hand, wants to know, what is love? And when it gets in reply only examples instead of a universal definition, it locates the abstraction in another realm; and other-worldly philosophies, abhorrent to the sensible world, are born. Today we are attempting to graft back onto the sensible world the abstractions originally removed from it. But the abstractions have been so totally altered by their stay in the other world that they bear no resemblance to the world they are supposed to represent. Our only recourse is to change the world so that it resembles the abstractions. Do we wonder why we can no longer recognize the obvious?

Simple Obstruction

It is not lack of purpose but lack of fulfilled purpose that kills us. This is a subtle but profound difference. Our society is set up in such a way that our plainest purposes are obstructed, and we are sent on a mission of complicated redefinition of purpose as a result. But we are not as complicated as all that. We are forced into complexities and complexes that we would never meet under circumstances simpler and more human.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Where's the Logic?

It is commonly held among modern philosophers that we human beings do not really have free will. Every choice that we make, so they say, is dictated by a personal nature that we did not choose and by circumstances beyond our control. From this premise comes the argument that we ought not to punish criminals, because they cannot act otherwise than they do and are therefore not responsible for their actions. Do you see a flaw in this? Why do we as punishers have an option when the criminal does not? Wouldn’t we simply punish him or pardon him according to our circumstances and our unchosen nature? If we are able to choose, so is he. The premise cannot withstand the argument.

Willfully Real

Even if you believe in the truth and believe that there is an eternal truth, you are still left with the question, is truth living or is it mechanical? Let us say that the answer does not really matter. In either case biological reality is subordinate to it. The fear behind a truth more mechanical than alive is the fear of randomness and purposelessness. But life and death themselves are fixed and regular. Mechanical truths are no more random in their manifestations than living ones. Your purposefulness lies in your will. No theory of where it came from can either add to it or take away from it.

Beggars Can't Be Choosers

I am a modern Western man. I am weak. I have neither people nor property. Please give me an occupation that will sustain me and possibly enrich me, and I will live out my life in obedience to your ideals rather than to the volition which is my only personal possession.

Fun With Numbers

Is there a relation between mathematics and ethics? If two and two make four, does it follow that everybody is equal? If you think that I have asked a ridiculous question, you do not understand the games that idealistic philosophers have been playing with human life.

Monkey Do

“Every single day sees improvement in human morality, but we should never forget what human beings are capable of doing to one another.” This is a line of graffiti that I saw at the zoo on the walls of the monkey-cage.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Wonder of It

Will it ever be recognized that philosophies of freedom, tolerance, and equality have been conceived in order to convince people to submit to a centralized authority? Will we ever be able to look back in wonder and ask ourselves how human beings could have come to believe that they wanted nothing else than to be uselessly uniform, at the inestimable cost of themselves as unique societies?

Valorous Offense

The world will never be completely united, but perhaps someday it will be divided into just two groups, those who want to preserve the human species and are not afraid to offend, and those who say what everybody wants to hear in order to preserve their personal security. The former will be superior in valor, the latter in number.

Dead-End Trail

Pragmatically speaking, the imperative to 'live and let live' is false over the course of time. We are too dependent upon one another. As Europe is beginning to discover, individualism is an evolutionary impasse. True survivors follow a different trail.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An Olympic Sport

You can talk all you like, but I suspect that you are nothing but an insignificant spectator. The game that will determine what we are as a species is being played only by those, like Richard Dawkins, with natural talent and the motivation to develop that talent into an intimidatingly muscular condition.

Universal Logic

Because universalism destroys local customs and laws, it promotes anarchy, and anarchy in its turn necessitates comprehensive control. Causing a problem for which you are the only solution is an infallible path to success.

The Psychology of Moral Ignorance

We learn from Thucydides that the history of human morality and the reality of human psychology are the same story. I will be bold enough to assert that our scientific understanding of human psychology today is better than that of Thucydides, but our understanding of our personal psychology, and therefore of morality, is over two millennia behind.

Too Simple to be Taken Seriously

If you insist on having a universal law of nature as the master of human affairs, all you are going to get is a struggle for the power to pronounce what the law of nature is.

A Rock of Your Own or a Crowded Hard Place

Today we have two choices, individualism or universalism, which we might also call radical detachment and lifeless assimilation. It is a predicament created by philosophers, but by now it is ours. We are too meek and dependent to create a realistic alternative.

Unified Defiance, Unified Disintegration

Independent peoples face grave problems when they have to defend themselves against large numbers of amalgamated enemies. The Greeks had to unite in order to defeat the Persians, but the unification that persisted thereafter destroyed them.

Packing Your Bags

Philosophers argue from the known to the unknown and then back again. Does knowledge of the unknown place an obligation on the known? We are currently in a state of mind where we do not even bother to argue from the known to begin with but rather just make assumptions about the unknown and initiate debates over the known. Listen to people throw around the words good and evil, right and wrong, without the meagerest conception of the metaphysical baggage that goes with them. The popular perspective is unconsciously philosophical by now, and philosophy itself is becoming obsolete as a result.

Resourceful Goodness

Societal entropy is very expensive because of the huge costs of centralized management and massive redistribution. It is quite possible that sometime in the near future we will no longer have the natural resources to be good.

Bringing the Violence Home

Universal law in no way implies universal peace. The more universal we become, the more the violence moves from the battlefield into our own neighborhoods. We trade warriors for police, that is all.

Insignificant Consequences

Restrained by the limits of our universal ideals, we have to create artificial significance. Athletic contests are an obvious example. We might take it as a general rule that the more attention something receives in this society of ours, the less consequential it is.

Crude Neutrality

We human beings cannot tolerate truth in its crudest state, because it is neutral and does not take human sensibility into account. In order to make it usable, we have to refine it into a benevolent god or into an ideal of toleration or equality.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Impression, Suppression, Depression

You do not need to know much to impress those who know nothing. Any system of mass education relies on the fact that very few people have the will or the ability to learn anything whatsoever on their own.

By the Imitators, For the Imitators

Rule by the people is a phantom, because most human beings imitate. Doing what everybody else is doing is the safest and least exhausting way to perceive yourself well and, in the evolutionary model, to get your genetic material reproduced. In modern history rule by the people has come to mean rule by the representations of the people. These representations, which include not so much elected officials as centralized education and the popular media, do not mimic our behavior; they direct it. Almost all people, although unwilling to admit it, depend utterly upon others to tell them what to think and how to act. The citizens of this society of ours, including the elected officials themselves, could not possibly put themselves into motion without the stimulus of their scholars, their journalists, and their entertainers.


Millions of people in this society live life prepared at every moment to be piously offended at the speech and actions of others. Ironically, they all depend upon one another for their perception of themselves and greatly intimidate each other as a result.

Seeing Through Spectacles

When life becomes showy and extravagant, we tend to see truth only in the spectacular.

Freely Unimportant, Wisely Uninteresting

In a world of institutionalized education, something unfortunate happens to an adolescent as he is turning into an adult. He loses his freedom of thought and ceases to have anything interesting to say, long before he has the wisdom to say anything important.

Dependent Independence

Generally speaking a man is an ignorant creature and is at the mercy of the more perceptive of his kind. In the era of universalism, however, he has no sense of his dependence. He happily believes that the dictates of others constitute his education and his initiation into intellectual independence.

An Ideal Use of Time

Our attempt to apply the democratic process to every affair of our daily lives is wasting everybody’s time. Nevertheless it is helping us to achieve our ideals. Through common uselessness we are advancing toward equality.

Cowardly Ignorance

We define wisdom as knowing what everybody else is doing. Anyone therefore who does not give a large part of his life to the popular media is considered either ignorant or suspect. “Where do you find the time to read literature?” a man asked me once, insisting that after he had read the newspapers and the magazines and had watched the news on television, he did not have time to pick up a book. I replied that I did not read the newspapers or the magazines and did not watch the news on television. His jaw dropped in disbelief. “How do you know what’s going on?” he cried. It crossed my mind that I might try to explain to him how literature opened your eyes to your surroundings and how the media blinded them by contrast; but my tongue tied as he stared superciliously at me. “I would rather not know,” I said in the end; “I do not have the courage to face it.”


The ideals of capitalism teach us that if someone is willing to pay us to perform a task, doing it will give us worth. Faithfully we expend ourselves in our attempt to attain the justification of our existence. But if someone is willing to pay us in return for our exertion, the task by itself must lack intrinsic value and without compensation would go undone. We earn money from it, that is all, and give up our only life to do it. We become petty occupations rather than ourselves and are fated to die as if we had never lived.

Oppressive Ethics

By now the words “oppressors” and “oppressed” symbolize many people who are neither, but nobody is free of his symbol. If you are marked by the former you must repent and seek forgiveness. If you are marked by the latter, you are one of the chosen and have attractive privileges, such as the right to redistributed wealth and the right to slander the oppressors. The oppressed demand Christian morality from the oppressors while permitting themselves an eye for an eye. How much longer will this literal evolution of Judaeo-Christian ethics give the Western world a good perception of itself?

In Need of Repairs

Individuals are inventive in their pointing out the general evils and outrages of the past. They search especially for those which will justify financial reparations to themselves.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fission or Fusion

People who talk about “family” and look for its foundation in Christianity sense that something in the human condition is unhealthy. Christianity as a solution is an illusion though. It is a universalizing agent, and universilization is our illness, no matter what its present mutation is. Families are the smallest and strongest of human groupings, and like atoms they resist division. They are strong by nature and do not need theoretical binding. They do not need to be defined or justified by something unseen to give them their identity and validity. Nothing tangible does. What weakens them is any belief in the unification of mankind based upon intangible and unprovable principles. When mankind attempts to unify, families split. If we look to the past and see evidence of more coherent families, it is naive to conclude that Christianity was the source of coherence, simply because it predominated at the time. Let us look beyond Christianity. In the ancient world families were stronger yet. Christ was not the champion of the earthly and temporal family. He was celibate and promoted the everlasting family of God. Marriage only merits secondary and inferior approval in the New Testament. How can we appeal to Christianity in our despair over familial disintegration? This disintegration has been steadily taking place over the course of our history in the West, and Christianity has made its contribution to it. We either embrace the disintegration and the present stage of universalism, whatever it might be, or we make a stand against universalism in any guise. To return to an earlier stage of it is not to contest it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Block Observed

No matter how much talent someone has, he cannot write anything if he has nothing to say. Those who write for the sake of writing are no more profound than those who speak for the sake of speaking.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Well Calculated Paradox

In the age of progress we learn to trust the accumulation of knowledge over time, and to prefer the inexperienced opinions of the young to the seasoned insights of the old.

Perceived Danger

People are dangerous not because there is something wicked about them but because they are malleable. Why are they malleable? They have an innate need to be well perceived, and the easiest way to be well perceived is to imitate the latest idol.

Moral Progress and the Natural Process

The irony of our belief in moral progress is that we as individuals cannot avoid becoming part of the condemned past. We glorify youth and despise the natural process of aging. Physical health becomes an obsession, and the physician who is anything short of divine gets sued.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An Idea of Love

When we try to love everybody, we love an idea rather than people of flesh and blood. In the end, someone who loves everyone is in love with nobody but himself.

Acknowledgment by Representation

When representation replaces reality, the universalists triumph. For they gain the authority to force others to acknowledge what is not worth acknowledging.

Exceptional Lack of Freedom

When exceptions become the rule, it is possible for everybody to be well perceived. There is no freedom whatsoever under these conditions, but what is freedom compared to universal self-approval?

Legal Realization

For some reason moral visions frequently realize themselves as the legislated redistribution of money and property.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Price of Disobedience

Only those who learn how to obey become fit to rule. When the young are taught disobedience, society pays the price. For when these young themselves come of age, not only do they not know how to rule, they are not worthy to be obeyed.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Popular Endorsement

The great benefit of endorsing a popular ideal is that you can make a conspicuous show of your own goodness for nobody's benefit but your own.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Expand and Contract

Sympathy is a finite emotion. The vision of ever-expanding rings of sympathy, which the Stoics made much of in the ancient world and Peter Singer makes much of today, has no foundation in human nature. The attempt to force ourselves to feel sympathy for those who exist outside our natural range will not increase our humanity. In fact it will do just the opposite, because if we expend our compassion on people we never meet, we will tend conversely toward indifference in our actual interactions.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Ton of Bricks

Why is it that writing in this age has to be full of bad metaphors in order to be considered good? Evidently something's own essence isn't enough. It has to be like something else, even if the comparison is ill-conceived.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Local Act

It is the goal of our society to give us a sense of fear and awe before its ideals. How well does it succeed? Do you find yourself for instance, in your attempts to achieve local social acceptance, casually upholding and promoting the ideal of universal equality? If so, do you do it because you actually believe in it? Do you understand why? How intimate are you with your own inclinations?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Is There a Recipe for This?

The truth frequently means nothing to a human being until it has been interpreted in processed terms. As a result, the truth and its interpretation have often been mistaken for one another. “The truth is a social construct,” goes the familiar cry. This is close enough to being true to have become extremely influential; but the interpretation, not the truth itself, follows the social construct. The truth is raw, the interpretation processed. Those who propose to deconstruct the truth are doing no such thing. They are merely deconstructing the interpretation according to an assumed and of course rejected social recipe, whether it lies behind it or not, in order to promote their own preferred recipe in its place.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Not As I Do

What should we think about the philosopher who acquires literary fame by eloquently persuading us to restrain our ambition and to live a quiet and humble life? Is his real motivation to help others, or is he driven by the very ambition that he claims to despise? Does he not foresee his own glory while he is urging the rest of us to embrace obscurity? He does if he is wise enough.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dueling Egos -- or Ergos

"I think, therefore I am." -- Descartes
"I think, therefore matter is capable of thought." -- Hobbes

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Selected Ignorance

If Darwin's theory of the origin of species is true, then we have been selected to survive without any knowledge of it. This is an oddly logical fact. When you consider that man's first sin, according to the Bible, was to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, and that Oedipus, in the greatest of ancient tragedies, causes horrible consequences to himself and his family simply by discovering who he is, this oddly logical fact becomes fascinatingly eery.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Ghost and a Gambler

Every now and then a person comes along who ignores the living and holds his only meaningful conversations with the dead and with those who have not been born yet. If, for whatever reason, the latter fail to hear him after he is gone, he will have left no significant traces of himself. But he will have known the ghostly pleasures of living out of time and the thrill of gambling for posthumous status.

Selected Traits

If, indeed, as a species we have acquired our physical traits through natural selection, then we have acquired our behavioral traits through the same means. I will give it a quarter of a century at most before the comprehension of this simple fact dismantles the moral paradigm of Western society.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Will to Knowledge

Imagine a society consisting of two groups of people, called Alphas and Omegas, who quarrel with one another over questions of morality. The Alphas contend that morality ought to be based on the dictates of a god who created the human race and reveals his will to it. The Omegas deny the existence of this or any other god and argue for a morality founded not on the fiction of divine revelation but on the reality of human knowledge.

The strength of the Omegas’ position depends in large part on a scientific theory that states the human species was not created by intelligent design but came into being over time through the operation of a natural, organic, and impersonal process. The evidence in support of this theory is massive and persuasive, so much so in fact that the Omegas cannot understand how the Alphas can continue to disclaim it.

As the dispute continues, a curious thing happens. Some researchers working within the paradigm of the great scientific theory, themselves Omegas and therefore ideologically committed to knowledge in principle, begin to uncover evidence that calls into question the particular knowledge upon which the Omegas base their conception of morality. The general community of Omegas reacts furiously against this new evidence and categorically rejects it as false, continuing, however, to revere the theory in its prior form as the antidote to the morality of the Alphas. The Alphas for their part are relatively uninterested in the new evidence. They simply persist in dismissing the theory as a whole.

Ideal Germination

What percentage of those people who feel deep devotion to the theory of evolution have read Darwin’s Origin of Species? I suspect it is every bit as small as the fraction of ardent Christians who have actually read the Bible. It is hardly worth asking, moreover, how many of each group have read the textbook of the other, which they are apt to condemn with even more confidence than they glorify their own. Ideology thrives in a culture of mental laziness as prosperously as physical illness does in one of bodily carelessness and neglect.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Common Cause

Today’s philosopher-king is the professor who champions the cause of the common man, using language the common man cannot comprehend. “Aren’t you teaching me that I do not need a patron?” cries the confused common man. The king smiles and pats the poor man’s head. “You are even wiser than I previously believed,” he responds; “I must go and tell my colleagues.” “No, no! Explain it to me! I do not understand.” But the great man is already hastening away.

Moral Intensity

If a man with an enormous amount of money and influence devotes his life to the pleasures of the flesh and is intensely happy up until his final moment, should we moralists, who are concerned with human happiness, not be intensely happy for him? Or do we know him better than he knew himself? Do we know that deep down he was unhappy, and should we therefore strive with our judgments, our laws, and our loftier purpose to keep those like him confined within the limits of true contentment?

The Prescribed Limit

In return for the rewards of status, position, and recognition, scholars and scientists subject themselves to the unwritten command that they are to interpret their findings in a manner consistent with the ethical presuppositions of the academy. A moral philosopher at a university, for instance, will apply his rigorous, complex, and undeniably intelligent logic only up to a prescribed limit, even though in doing so he runs the risk of leaving his argument exposed. By way of compensation he is able to permit himself a premise, such as “ethnic prejudice is wrong,” for which he can rely on the quiet consent of colleagues who know deep down as well as he does that it cannot be rationally substantiated.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Willful Compliance

According to John Locke, I am bound by natural law to preserve myself and not to quit my station willfully. But if my nature compels me to kill myself, I obey natural law by complying. I am not capable of an unnatural act.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cover Your Mouth

We all yawn uncontrollably at times. Why don’t we create a universal system of morality based on boredom, fatigue, and apathy?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Definite Desperation

When morality became the province of philosophers, theologians, and scholars, it ceased to be morality. Today we have a word with no meaning and a society that desperately needs a definition.

Scholarly Inertia

The scholar’s perspective is that of the observer and interpreter, rather than that of the doer. What are the implications of the massification of this perspective, especially as scholarship becomes more and more its own object of study? It is not insignificant that in our age artists have little subject matter other than themselves as artists and we are knee-deep in novels whose protagonists are professors.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Passing and Merging

I came across this unreferenced quote the other day, scribbled in an old notebook: “The problems of Greek citizenship touch us today because they are ours, and they are ours because the experience of the Greeks has passed into our substance and merged into our being.” After I had read it and thought about it for a minute or so, two questions came to mind. First, which Greeks is this person talking about? They were not a homogenous people, either temporally or spatially speaking. Is our substance stuffed with aristocratic Homeric warriors, Spartan hoplites, Athenian demagogues, Macedonian imperialists? Or is it simply that we are all citizens of Plato's idealistic republic? Second, is it any longer possible for us in the West to purge our substance and release our being?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Impulsive Concealment

The impulse to conceal an underlying impulse must be either a different manifestation of the same impulse or itself a stronger one.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Organic Insensibility

In Plato’s Republic men of their own accord come together into society with one another in order to improve their personal circumstances. Later, however, they inexplicably lose their singularity in the context of the whole; and what were previously living beings, each endowed with a complete set of organs and a will of its own, become themselves insensible organs of another body, away from which they have no function and no life. This is the essence of Platonic justice, but we will look in vain for the bridge back to human nature.

Elementary Revolution

In order to be successful, a universal code of morality must either persuade through individual reward or resort to force; and because no code of morality can possibly be universally beneficial, they all have an element of coercion and therefore contain their own seed of revolt.

Artful Expression

Doesn’t “art for art’s sake” mean “art for the artist’s sake”?

Advance in Scholarship

A good literary scholar is rare and worthy of admiration. He actually takes his object of study more seriously than he takes himself and protects it from colleagues predisposed to promoting intellectual distortion for the sake of personal advancement.

Origin of Rebellion

Does it make sense to search for the origin of morality when we presuppose the code of morality to which it has presumably led? What if we were to discover an origin inconsistent with the presupposed code? If the code were beyond question, as moral codes tend to be, we would have to reject our findings, no matter how persuasive they were. Therefore, the search for the origin of morality could be nothing more than a quest for communal justification, or perhaps just personal intellectual recognition, unless we were engaged in an act of moral rebellion.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Truly Evil

Protagoras, the Greek sophist, taught that man was the measure of all things. The Western tradition since Protagoras has taught us that morality is a universal phenomenon. Modern psychology teaches us that a person desires to feel good about himself. Given that he is the measure of all things and is therefore the standard of universal right and wrong, he has the moral right to feel good about himself. Therefore, anything that makes an individual feel bad about himself, including the truth, is evil.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Subconscious, Unconscious, Conscious

There is a big difference between subconscious motivations that we can never really perceive in ourselves and recognizable motivations that we are unwilling to acknowledge. We have a tendency to categorize the latter as the former when in fact, if we are honest and courageous in our self-evaluation, the so-called subconscious will yield to the conscious. And as soon as we begin to uncover the dirty little truths behind our own behavior, other people will unconsciously reveal to us the secrets unperceived by their own dishonest consciousness.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Your Papers, Please

Scholars do not like the obvious, because it belongs to everybody. It is not necessary to have a Ph.D. and tenure in order to recognize it. If you try to point out the obvious to a scholar, you should not be surprised to find him resisting you with great earnestness and seriousness of purpose. For without proper credentials you are trespassing into the highly exclusive club of knowledge.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

de te fabula

Beards are in fashion among scholars today. It is amusing that they were also in fashion among the Stoic street-preachers of ancient Rome. According to the poet Horace, Roman boys enjoyed annoying these wise men by pulling on their beards. Imagine now giving a tug to the facial hair that belonged to a tenured professor at Harvard. Do you think, even if he taught the works of Horace in his classes and encouraged his students to laugh at the self-importance of the philsophers being mocked, that he would be capable of seeing himself in the mirror that Horace was holding up for him?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Worldly Differences and Divine Similarities

“There are certain laws which all peoples follow, peoples who have never had any contact whatsoever with one another. They have arrived at the same laws independently and therefore must have received them from a divine source.”

If you already believe in God, this is a persuasive argument; but it is flawed. It assumes as a premise that human beings must be either completely the same or completely different. For some reason it is unacceptable that they be the same in some ways but different in others, by their own nature and without divine intervention. Moreover sameness gets the preferred status. Why not argue that the laws which are different have come from a divine source, that God in his infinite wisdom guaranteed not our unity but our differentiation and separation?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Relatively Speaking

Insight is an unusual instinct, and scholars, who tend to confuse insight with knowledge, rarely have it. All the knowledge in the world will not generate the ability to see relations where others miss them, any more than endless practice alone can produce unique athletic talent.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Practically Monstrous

A theory of morality that is forced into practice will produce a monstrosity if it contains imaginary and unrealizable assumptions about human nature.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Provincial Governors

By now we have captured an enormous expanse of knowledge and have countless specialists who govern their little regions of it. No one knows what it all means, but it is an empire that inspires great faith. The specialists take their provinces, and therefore themselves, very seriously.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Too Dull

In the ethical arena the bare truth is a dull weapon. It consistently loses in the duel against untruth, because its point does not penetrate to the source of decision, which is the instinctive will to believe, not reason. When behavioral norms are at stake, reason is an accessory target.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Periodic Rereading

A great book deserves to be read and reread periodically, not only because as we mature we will see things in it that we missed as younger readers, but also because we will gain a nobler understanding of ourselves and our own process of aging by comparing the effects the book has on us at the various stages of our lives.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Either It's Universal Or It Isn't

The individual in contemplation of a universal that transcends the manifest world is still cultivating worldly universalism. Consider Kierkegaard. As an extreme protestant he advocated the solitary worship of Christ for the sake of individual salvation. Was it something else, however, that led in the first place to the worldly conditions that he detested? What could the purest of Christianity have produced but the all-too-human Church, once it had achieved mass conversion? Would Kierkegaard have preferred that it had been unsuccessful and had remained a local and curious representation of defiance and renunciation? He himself would never have come to know of it. What about the success of his own philosophy? His greatest claim to fame is as the inspiration for secular existentialism, which has given its support to ideals that he himself would have held in abomination.

The Real Unknown

Moralists of this age insist that the human species must be united if it is to surive. Yet our species has never come close to being united, and to date it has survived. In this case do we not have cause to fear the unknown?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Modern Perverts

The words “ethics” and “morality” have their roots in Greek and Latin words, respectively, that mean custom. Does our perversion of the meaning of these words give us any insight into the perversion of our culture?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Complex of Interpretation

Scholars are poor self-observers, but they are very confident in their interpretations of people far more complex than themselves.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Can We Thicken This a Bit?

Every recipe for universal morality is idealistic and unrealizable, no matter what ingredients from the material or empirical world are added to give it content and substance.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Beyond Words

If ever I use obscure and incomprehensible language, please understand that I have had a vision into a previously unseen realm of reality and need to create new units of meaning in order to describe it.

Prior Matter

Any institution, such as the church or a system of secular education, that seeks to instill uniform moral principles into peoples of different localities necessarily presupposes universalism as a material concept and assumes its priority to localism of any form.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

State of Agreement

Questions of morality arise because people disagree about what constitutes correct, proper, virtuous, decorous, pleasurable, or beneficial behavior. If everyone were disposed by nature to agree, there would be no morality as we, through the context of disagreement, have come to understand it. I wonder, if a system of ethics became universally accepted, would we be in a state of total morality or total amorality?

Intelligent Promotion

What are all those scholarly publications doing out there other than serving as advertisements for the institutions that pay the people who produce them?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Holy Control

Why do we search in amazement for the source of morality and not the source of immorality? If we presuppose the existence of the first, we presuppose the existence of the second. Why do we not marvel over immorality and call ourselves wonderful because of it? Why morality? Is it because morality coerces, and we worship our sources of control over others?

The Accepted Exception

How much has modern philosophy been directed by the fact that so many modern philosophers have been or are professors at colleges and universities? Are all those men really philosophers? Does exceptional insight come with tenure? Doesn't it bother anybody that the work of these philosophers has to be accepted by their peers before it is considered exceptional?

Looks So, Sounds So, Feels So, Smells So, Tastes So -- Is It So?

Is it possible to observe the truth in terms so simple that the observation does not require a scholar’s interpretation?

He Says Green, but We Know He Means Yellow

The metaphysician who professes to cure man’s mistaken perception of reality is like the literary scholar who claims that an author is saying the exact opposite of what he is obviously saying.

Forbidden Fruit

The one thing that our universities' scholars do not have the license to learn is that universalism is undesirable.

Deadly Insight

Someday the few great powers that be will have an epistemological court of professors who will produce and maintain an approved list of methods for arriving at the truth, and the expression of any belief found otherwise, especially through rare and unusual insight, will be punishable by death and the confiscation and redistribution of property.

Binary Bliss

Plato’s vision of mathematics as the paradigm of universal ethics will become a reality when everybody ceases to be a human being and becomes an appendage to a computer.

Can't Take it With You

The only way we can at last force our species to conform to our universal ideal of equality is to kill it.

Inconspicuous Censorship

Literary scholars have the job of purifying through benign interpretation what is potentially harmful to the progressing perspective of Western man, and the educational system in general works to guarantee that nobody be predisposed in the first place to assent to the wrong message. Given the many many years that we all spend in the hands of these people, an independent reader is the rarest creature we know.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Intellectual Evangelists

The universal ideals of academia are well protected and well evangelized, because a scholar’s dignity depends on the preeminent position of the academy. Unless he is unusually rebellious, his work will tacitly or explicitly support its code, and he will be compensated with a life of enviable prestige. There was a time when intellectuals depended on the church and backed it therefore with the full weight and force of their intelligence. A change in name, but strikingly similar otherwise.

Cui Bono?

In our age we have forgotten that exceptional writers do not write for the sake of scholars but for the sake of themselves and therefore those predisposed by nature to be influenced by their insight.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Master and His Flatterers

To the proportion that someone puts his time and energy into the total mastery of a single craft, he remains more completely a novice in other things. Society, however, has a tendency to believe that one exceptional skill is a mark of wisdom in every regard and is capable of flattering the master into believing it himself. When this happens, he begins to play the fool, and society adoringly follows his lead.

The Level of Law

Stephen Hawking says this: “. . . suppose one starts with two boxes, one containing oxygen molecules and the other containing nitrogen molecules. If one joins the boxes together and removes the intervening wall, the oxygen and nitrogen molecules will start to mix. At a later time the most probable state would be a fairly uniform mixture of oxygen and nitrogen molecules throughout the two boxes. This state would be less ordered, and hence have more entropy, than the initial state of two separate boxes.”

Let’s move from the molecular level to the societal. Suppose one starts with two peoples kept distinct by their discrete customs. If one removes the customs in favor of a universal morality, the peoples, like the molecules, will start to mix and in time will become fairly uniform. Fortunately, however, the human world has its own laws. This later state would not be less ordered and would not have more entropy than the intial state. It would be culturally evolved and morally advanced.

No In-Between

We learn from Aristotle that any man who is wholly self-sufficient must be either a beast or a god, which is to say that he does not exist.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Fatal Oversight

All the knowledge in the world will be of no use to us if we forget to reproduce.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

It's All Academic

A classical scholar makes the following observation: “Plato emancipated himself from the tyranny of custom.” This is instructive. You have Plato on the one hand, founder of the Academy and inventor of the universal ideal, and you have custom on the other, the morality of time and place. Here is true antithesis. The opposite of Platonism is not sophism, but custom. Note also the innocently assured lack of objectivity in the phraseology. Our enlightened scholar leaves no doubt about the righteouness of one side over the other, that is to say, about his own bias. Does Plato really represent the West’s first great step toward some sort of cosmic freedom, for which it is necessary to reject the local in favor of the universal? Or has the time come to reconsider this moment in our intellectual history as being perhaps the most fateful and fatal of them all? One thing does seem certain to me. After Plato the holy vocation of scholarship, the ministry of universalism, became an historical inevitability.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Universal Worship

Universities are the churches of the universal. It is no coincidence that they are medieval by origin.

Always for the Masses

In response to what he saw as the degradation and emasculation of Europe, Nietzsche advocated the law of nature as defined by Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias, the self-interested and unconditional dominion of the strong over the weak. However, because the essence of sophistic teaching is actually human sameness, the distinction between strong and weak has no place within it; and even the doctrine of Callicles must eventually reinterpret itself as self-interest for the masses. Nietzsche’s mistake here was critical. Logically he was trapped. In an unwitting attempt to escape he created a man-god of his own, ill-defined, ironically idealistic, and as readily reshaped, appropriated, massified and idolized as the idol he so boldly opposed. Consider Plato and Aristotle. How easily have moralists done away with the aristocratic aspects of their doctrines, while putting the universalizing ideas into the service of such equalizing systems as democracy and communism. Universality by definition embraces the many to the detriment of the few. It insists upon sameness and urges the leveling of mankind to its lowest manifestation. Had Nietzsche realized that Christianity was actually sophism for the masses, his positive teaching might have been as effective as his negative.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

An Ideal Idea

The fantasy that the Platonic forms are “ideas” in the mind of God is so seductive that I have come close to opening myself up to it during psychologically dangerous periods of my life. I resist, however, confusing creativity with the truth, even if it promises to preserve my sanity.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Roots and Shoots

If human history seems to be following a certain course, are we obligated to maintain it and not to set a different one if we can? Human nature itself, as it exists in individuals, compels the development of human society. Are there seeds of ethical growth in each of us, that spontaneously take root and push out their shoots and over time entwine with those of others into a mass of supernatural vegetation that speaks to us like the burning bush? We do not even have a working definition of morality. How can we believe in something as presumptuous and supernatural as moral progress? We are making a wager at stakes we are unable to afford, because it is the penalty, not the reward, that is potentially infinite.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Moral Persuasion

Human beings will not believe the truth if to do so conflicts with their will to be well perceived. Moral teaching has always been more effective to the extent that it has persuaded than to the extent that it has been true.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Minister's Aura

The moral philosopher of today is a scholar and therefore a minister of his institution. He gives himself an aura by developing increasingly complex methods of argumentation, which only he and his colleagues are able to comprehend; but his conclusions are predetermined and predictable.


Discovery and inventiveness have built upon themselves throughout human history. At what moment, however, did man suppose that he had found morality in a universal form? Did he stumble upon it without knowing what it was at first, or did he already know what he was looking for?

To a Greater Degree

A degree from a university gives you the right to question the truth. An advanced degree gives you the credentials to refute it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Natural Inability

When we as individuals are physically or psychologically incapable of performing a particular act, we are more likely to call it unnatural if others are able to do it than we are if it is something truly beyond the reach of human nature.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Happy Return

The opportunity to tell others about your unhappiness is the compensation for being unhappy.

Recovered Identity

An intelligent man once said to me that early Christians were spectacular because they were willing to die for their faith. I reminded him that they received recognition and renown for their acts and also counted on an enormous reward from their savior. The archaic warrior, by contrast, was willing to die for honor, reputation, and glory without the promise of everlasting life. Odysseus actually refuses the immortality offered to him by the goddess Calypso, preferring to return to his homeland and his wife and thereby to recover his lost identity. He remains mortal, but he is the true custodian of his own nature. For that reason he is more spectacular in my eyes and more worthy of admiration.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Dawn of Comprehension

Thoreau remarked that the greater part of what his neighbors called good, he believed in his soul to be bad, and that if he repented of anything, it was very likely to be his good behavior. Still today we are far from comprehending his point, but Thoreau was a prophet. He was putting into words his sense of a moral crisis, which we too will sense the day it dawns on us that good is bad.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


It is a fact that men invent gods, but it is also a fact that men invent falsehoods, especially when they want to give life to things they have seen with their imagination but not with their eyes.


If for some reason we come to see through our most significant beliefs, do we harm ourselves by giving them up, especially when they are the foundation of our society and our relation to people absolutely necessary for our well-being? Do we become hypocrites of a different sort if we deceive these people into trusting that we ourselves are still believers? What are our options after all, if it is really a question of fitness and survival? Either we deceive ourselves, deceive others, or go to the cross and hope for posthumous martyrdom.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sign of the Times

The sign above the gate that opens into this modern world of ours ought to read: Abandon all masculinity, ye who enter here.

Pride of Possession

If we recognize in another person a particular quality that we ourselves also happen to possess, even to a much less degree, we are far more likely to praise the person for it than we would be if we did not possess it at all.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It's Only Temporary

Can we admit to ourselves, even without making a confession to somebody else, that without the promise of salvation we would not find it difficult to give up the New Testament? Where after all would Pascal’s celebrated wager be without the bait of infinite happiness, offered to individuals who desire personal happiness as an end above everything else? Could it be that God made his creature eternally selfish for the purpose of giving it the motivation to become temporarily selfless?

Friday, March 31, 2006


We live in a society that expects the impulses and urges of men to age with their bodies. Inconveniently, both for society and for men, they don't.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fair Vanity

If a conceited person happens to think highly of us as well as himself, his conceit is less likely to offend us.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Measure for Measure

By what measure or gauge is God’s will superior to mine? Is there something outside of God to which we refer, or is the measure God himself? If it is something outside of God, we have to conclude that God is inferior to it and subject to its judgment. Potentially it could determine that God was evil. Moreover, we have to ask by what measure it gains its own authority, and until we can establish goodness per se, goodness indefinable and immeasurable, we are left with an infinite series of measures or gods. The measure then seems to be God himself. But how does God’s goodness establish itself? Is God immeasurably good? Are we able to say yes to that question without giving a reason whose source lies outside of God? Does God himself provide us with the means to judge him and determine that he is good? Is he good because he is supremely creative and makes each of us? Is he good because he is all-powerful and immortal? Are these qualities that define goodness, or do they inspire fright because we are weak by comparison? Does might make right? Couldn’t God have given me qualities identical to his own? If so, by not giving them to me he deliberately made me inferior to himself. Is it for that reason that I ought to subordinate my will to his? Was it according to his own standard of superiority that he made me inferior? What is it about his standards that make them sacred? Who was he in the first place? Was he created, or has he always been here? What makes him anything but an arbitrary being? I need a reason to subordinate my will to his, and I have never heard one that is remotely convincing. We can go around and around and around on this, and unless there is something I am missing, I will continue to prefer my will to his, despite my weakness and my mortality, or even because of them. Is that appalling? Do you damn me? Then I damn you back. An eye for an eye. It is long since time that we rediscovered honest reciprocity anyway.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Measure of Respect

Those who admire us the most are also those whose opinions we most respect.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

You Don't Say

If we consistently acknowledge our minor faults, we earn a reputation for being openhearted and unguarded and give people less reason to suspect that we are concealing faults of a sort that we would never confess.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Unformed Substance

Deceit is easiest to effect where it is least expected. A great many people, for instance, are simpleminded but believe and want us to believe that they are complex. We grow accustomed, through frequent contact with this type of person, to adjusting our perspective of people in general, in order to compensate for the imbalance between form and substance. As an unexpected result, a truly complex person who wants to keep his complexities a secret is rarely recognized behind his disguise of simplicity.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Pay Off

Religion is the securing of rewards from a divine source. A modern mistake in comprehending religion lies in assuming that what we do in order to obtain divine favor is the essence of the relation between us and our deity. We tend to think, for instance, that loving one’s neighbor as oneself is the mark of a religious person. In the context of Christianity, however, one loves one’s neighbor for the sake of one’s own eternal salvation. Without the perceived reward there would be no religion. In many religions of the past, the actions were simple ritual performed according to strict formulae. It hardly even mattered what the actions were, because nobody was under the illusion that the goal was to be virtuous. It was a matter of open bribery, and the goal was to win the favors that the gods could choose to provide or not. We are still engaged in bribery today, except that we try to hide it, both from ourselves and from our god, by calling it “being good.”

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Unionized Process

As barriers between peoples collapse, individuals seek a union with the universal; religion, with the help of philosophy, becomes mystical; and mankind begins its process of self-proclaimed progress.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Enviously Eager

Our interest in ourselves makes us envious of others and eager at the same time to conceal our envy from everybody, including ourselves.

Monday, March 13, 2006

It Slices, It Dices, It Makes You Live Forever

When we read the majestic Latin poetry of Lucretius, apostle of Epicurus, and compare it to the inelegant Greek prose of the New Testament, and when we notice the striking similarities between Epicurus and Christ, we might wonder why today there are still worshipers of the latter and not the former -- until we remember the promise of immortality. Like any other product, a doctrine of moral philosophy or religion sells because of its perceived benefits. And the emotional tranquillity or lack of disturbance offered by Epicurus does not do well in direct competition with an offer for eternal life.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

To the Victor

Christianity has enjoyed enormous power, but its power has been in a state of mutation as people have stopped seeking immortality through worshipping a god who had become a man and started worshipping mankind, or themselves, directly. Giving up the promise of everlasting life is a price to pay, but taking God’s place is tremendous compensation. Christians today lament their besieged and weakened condition, but their antagonist was their own creation in the first place. Even liberals admit that liberalism is Christianity without Christ. As Victor Frankenstein discovers, playing god is a dangerous occupation. For when your creature ceases to obey you, it becomes a terrible and superhuman opponent.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

That One Again?

Plutarch matter-of-factly writes, “The story was given out that Theseus was the son of Poseidon, not Aegeus.” In the ancient world many people, both in myth and in history, claimed to be the offspring of gods. By the time of Christ it was a trite story.

Swapping Costumes

Conceit frequently disguises itself as modesty, and modesty frequently as conceit.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

How Much?

A favor is a service the fee for which is gratitude. When we ourselves provide the service, we are frequently disappointed by the misestimation of its value; when we receive the service, on the other hand, we often refuse to pay the price expected by the provider.

Progressively Prouder

Moral progress is marked by the ascension of human pride.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Opposites Attract

At first the subversive teachings of Jesus seemed at odds with the bureaucratic power of Rome. Upon closer interpretation, however, it was discovered that the marriage between a universal religious ideal and a far-reaching empire was a match made in heaven. And their child, which turned out to be even greater than its parents, was the Church.

Sensational Immortality

A large part of our conception of our existence lies in the perception that we perceive others to have of us. Therefore, we feel a sensation and a thrill of immortality when it comes to mind that we will continue to be perceived after we die.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Best of Times

Bringing about the end of our race would be a far, far better thing than we have ever done. How saintly would we be if, on behalf of the ideals that we revere above everything else, we should cease to replace ourselves through reproduction and cause our own extinction as a result?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Be Yourself?

When we seek individuality, do we try to be different from everybody else, or do we find a group of people similar to ourselves and achieve our unique identity through communal confirmation?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Naturally Duplicated, Artificially Distinguished

Equality is a sophism. “Differences,” say the sophists, “are artificial. Nature is defined by sameness.”

Expensive Illusions

As individuals we are neither self-sufficient nor indispensable, in spite of the amount of energy we expend trying to become one or the other.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Just a Little Shot

Like an inoculation, virtue is vice taken in small doses. By moderating and calming our cravings, it reduces our susceptibility to the virus of overindulgence.

Measuring the Universe

“Man is the measure of all things.” Is Protagoras here making an argument for moral relativism? Actually, or at least in effect, no. “Man is the measure” directs us toward human universalism. “We should not,” it tells us, “search for the principles of universality in the physical world, but in man himself. What is it about our seemingly varied species that makes us unique and universally identical? There exists our cosmos. Is it simple self-interest and might-makes-right? Or can we find something less aggressive and more benevolent, like love, sympathy, duty, or equal rights?” The fact of the matter is, we we will discover nothing but empty definitions. It is a vain quest, doomed to failure from the start. Today, 2,500 years after Protagoras, we are floating in outer space, still plotting our course through the universe according to a gauge that never worked.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Inconsequentially Innocent

We never fully regret an action unless it results in consequences disadvantageous to us. We may feel guilty about something we’ve done out of fear of the consequences, but if the consequences never arrive, the guilt inevitably subsides.

Cosmic Concerns

The search for universal physical principles began in the Western tradition with philosophers we know as the Pre-Socratics. The Pre-Socratics were looking for what they they called the cosmos, a comprehensive order of things derived from the material substance or substances shared by all matter. From them came the impulse to do the same for the human species as a phenomenon disassociated from the rest of the physical world, to search in this case for the immaterial principle that made us all the same and would therefore serve as the foundation of universal human organization. To this day we continue this strange and presumptous quest, even though our much profounder understanding of the physical and biological world might suggest that the characteristics we share with a limited number of people embody our soundest principles of organization, precisely because of what is the same in all of us.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Who Really Knows?

A constant searching for new acquaintances is symptomatic of self-important mediocrity, because the less worth we have, the more likely we are to receive praise from those who see us superficially than from those who see beneath the surface.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Physically Fit

The justice of archaic and pre-philosophical Greece was physical. It was the uncompromising and courageous acknowledgment of transformation, transference, and mortality.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Theology Type One

Consider two theologies. In the first, you are warned that you are mortal, but within the confines of mortality you have almost no divinely mandated limitations or boundaries. In the second, you are directed to deny your mortality, but while you are alive your conduct is strictly circumscribed and restrained. The former, even if it is symbolized by unreal gods who represent the many manifestations of life in this world, is a realistic perspective. Man does not strive to be something he is not and cannot be, either during life or after, and therefore does not try to alter or limit himself. The second, which is perhaps symbolized by a god who many even today acknowledge as real, is idealistic. Man strives to become immortal and in the meantime attempts to transmute himself into something alien while alive. It is a religion that requires a system of spurious epistemology, because its goals are unrealizable. If we are bound and determined to deny our mortality, falsehood becomes a necessity. It takes over our process of thought and shapes our idea of mankind, in this world as well as the next.

A third theology starts with the second but abandons the symbolic god and the belief in immortality. It does not, however, give up the idealized vision of mankind in this world. Free of its symbol its priests assume divine power themselves.They see the human species as a fresh lump of clay, with no limit to its potential shape. They begin to mold monsters of all kinds and proudly call them the product of knowledge and enlightenment. If their creatures resist and try to resume a realistic shape, they squeeze, knead, and twist until the resistance subsides.

Today there is opposition and hostility between theology type two and theology type three and also between different versions of theology type two. The various disputes, however, are one of a kind, because they are invariably idealistic. That is to say, they rely on an idea, a mental image, of what man ought to be, and they regard what he is as something to be judged and overcome. We are as far away from a realistic discussion of ourselves as we are from Homer, where theology type one reigns supreme, and where people live and die within the full and unapologetic range of what it means to be human.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Societal Senility

When a society is young, it relies on the wisdom of the old. When it is old, it mistrusts it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Natural Behavior

It is unnatural for a man to accomplish what he cannot do and to become what he cannot be. But it is natural for him to walk, to talk, to run, to sing, to laugh, to sneer, to cry, to smile, to sleep, to fear, to live, to die, to lust, to despise, to envy, to admire, to accept, to reject, to scruple, to fantasize, to help, to harm, to beat, to caress, to steal, to give, to save, to kill, to symapathize with all of his heart, and to take mischievous delight in the misfortunes of others.

From Point A to Point B

Our human world has freqently been influenced by perceptive and productive people who have recognized the direction in which it was heading and taken it there in a creative way. Rarely, however, has anybody changed the direction itself.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Fateful and Faithful Imitation

The Olympian gods say to mankind, “You are mortal. You will live and die. If you strive to be like us, we will punish you.” The Christian god says, “You are mortal, but if you follow me and take me as your model, you will overcome your mortality and live forever. Otherwise I will punish you.”

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Reflexive Praise

Sometimes we exaggerate our praise of others not because we overestimate their merit but because we want to place emphasis on our own good judgment. If we make it known that we admire those who are generally admired, we capture a bit of admiration for ourselves.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Time to Resign

Our temporal perception changes as we age. As children we do not see the passing of time. Life appears sublimely static and eternal. As adults by contrast we see the march of time only too plainly. We grow into our mortality with endurance, patience, and brave resignation. Yet how much effort have we as a species exerted in the search for immortality? Are we ultimately on a quest for naive and shameless immaturity?

Divine Delusion

We are most like gods when we are teenagers, because at that age we are convinced that we will never grow old and never die.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Undignified Immortality

According to the perspective of the archaic Greeks, mortality gave man his dignity. The childish and ridiculous nature of the Homeric gods was an implicit warning, in addition to the many explicit ones, that human beings were not to take the gods as models. “Seek immortality,” it whispered, “only at the cost of your own nobility.” It is unclear why in the end the Greeks adpoted the assumption that the gods were objects of imitation, but Plato bans the poems of Homer from his ideal republic on the grounds that they portray gods who are inappropriate models of human behavior. Apparently he had a different idea of what a god was, or at least what a god ought to be. We are taking an essential step here toward Christianity, one that might contribute to a Christian’s belief that Plato had some sort of prior knowledge of Christ. Was the dignity of man advancing at this point, too, or did the archaic Greeks see something that was out of the scope of Plato’s famous foresight?

Friday, January 27, 2006

What to Wear?

It has been remarked that we sometimes resemble others more than ourselves. This is true, but only with qualification; for it implies that we are capable of an independent perspective and for this reason should take stock of ourselves when we are copying others. Real independence, however, is rare and unachievable for most people. The great majority lives by imitation alone and would be helplessly nude should it cease to wear the costumes currently in fashion.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Unimpassioned Judgment

People with feeble passions pride themselves in their self-restraint and judge that the one who gives in to passion is weak. From lack of experience they do not understand that passions can be too powerful to resist and that the person they are criticizing is likely to have a nature that is hardier, more vigorous, and more potent than their own precisely because its passions are so strong.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Which Galaxy is This?

A universalist, a person who defines morality in universal terms, assumes that human beings are undifferentiated and the human species is uniform. Even a sophist who rejects the existence of morality finds as a guiding principle the self-interest shared by all people. The problem for the sophist is that samenes itself, as an essential premise, makes as great a claim for recognition in the argument as the personal interest contained in the conclusion. If we are searching for a logical refutation of the sophists that isn’t simply a wimper for consensus, let’s consider this: “Back up. You said that morality does not exist because all standards of morality are different and one can commit a particular act in one community with impunity and be jailed for the same act in another. From this you argue that the true universalizing principle of human nature is self-interest, and that it is in the interest of the individual to gain as much power as possible over his fellows. But I cannot get past your assumption that the standard must be universal, for it implies that we are all the same. How then can the manifestation of self-interest be so varied and inequitable? It seems to me that your conclusion proves your premise false, unless you are prepared to say that self-interest promotes parity among individuals.” There is a deep irony here. A belief in universal morality took hold as the Western ethical tradition developed. Neither the sophists nor Plato, however, were champions of equality. Far from it, in fact. Both in their own way envisioned a society of natural rank. Nietzsche, over 2,000 years later, in aggravation over the increasingly triumphant philosophies of equality, gave Christianity the blame for the transformation. He called it Plato for the masses and believed that the antidote was contained in the original argument of the sophists. But this was a grave mistake, because the premise that seeks to destroy morality as a local hoax insists upon a conclusion that ratifies sameness and equity for all human beings.

Let's take stock of ourselves. What do we now believe in as a society? I perceive a faith in a two-faced god, like Janus. On the one side is individualism, on the other, equality. As principles by which people justify their own actions and critique the actions of their fellows, they have an extra-human existence, regardless of where people claim to have discovered them. Some believe they are following the teachings of Christ, their personal savior. Others credit the enlightenment of science and knowledge, which illuminates the rights of man. Concealed beneath both of these masks, however, are the inevitable features of universalism, the premise that subordinates everything to its dictatorial logic. Whether it's Jesus or John Rawls who is preaching, listen closely, with a filter. Blah, blah, blah, the individual, blah, blah, blah, equality. It's all the same. Shelley remarked that we are all of us Greeks. But why are we all Greek? It's because we are all of us universalists, and it was the Greeks who set us off in that direction. And now as we wander near the edges of the universe, do we have the faintest idea where we are?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Flames in the Basement

A person who flirts aggressively is usually superficial in his intentions and largely indifferent to the outcome of his advances. The person who never says a word beyond conventional courtesy, however, is frequently housing profound passion and is frustrated when he detects no evidence of the same in the object of his affection.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tell Me Something I Would Rather Hear

We are vulnerable to the person who is able to flatter us without sounding as if he is giving us false compliments.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bloodless Relationship

Plato’s Republic calls for common wives and common children, but it also instructs the rulers to trick their subjects into believing that everybody is related. What does this deception suggest about our true concern for others beyond the bounds of kinship? In our own age, which to my eyes appears to be the monstrous progeny of Plato’s intellectual seed, the word “family” is frequently used to create a sense of unity in what is otherwise a contrived or forced unification. But the last thing anybody wants is a society explicitly structured according to blood, for that would be hereditary, immoral, and highly unnatural.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Law of Averages

Somebody who is unusually ambitious will seem average and unexceptional if there is no possibility for him to reach his ambition. Lesser goals will look all the same to him, and he will go through life with deflated motivation.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Custom is King

In The Histories of Herodotus, we read of the injuries that Cambyses, king of Persia, inflicted upon the people of Egypt in the 6th century BC. Herodotus himself denounces the king for violating Egyptian custom. Only a madman, he insists, would flout the customs of another people, however contrary and strange they may seem. Both for the sophists and for Plato, on the other hand, Egyptian custom would be an irrelevant consideration. The case for them could only depend upon a universal standard of justice, not local convention. They would each judge Cambyses differently, but only because their conception of the universal standard was different. The standard of the sophists, advocated most famously by Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias, called for the unrestrained satisfaction of desire in porportion to one’s ability and power, that of Plato the rational restriction of desire in the interests of the health both of the individual himself and of the ideal state. By the former measure, Cambyses is acquitted, by the latter condemned. Now, the moral tradition of the West has followed Plato. His philosophy has been reworked into a variety of systems, both religious and strictly philosophical, idealistic and ostensibly empirical. Regardless of the form, however, if a system would convict the Persian king of criminal immorality according to a universal and invariable structure of right and wrong, its debt to Platonism is direct. Nietzsche agreed with Callicles, but we need to scrutinize Nietzsche more carefully. He certainly broke with the Western ethical tradition by taking up the cause of the sophists, but he accepted the orthodox interpretation that the sophists represented the antithesis of Plato. In fact they did not, in spite of the plain contrast of their final judgements in a case like Cambyses’. Both were universalists, proponents of a new perspective, and so was Nietzsche, when the perspective was no longer new. The real antithesis lies in Herodotus, because custom, which varied from people to people, did not tolerate universal mandate. If it had been customary among Egyptians to offer themselves to a visiting sovereign for unlimited abuse, Herodotus would not have found the actions of Cambyses objectionable. By contrast, regardless of local circumstances, the justice of Callicles would instruct Cambyses to satisfy his will at the expense of the weaker people, that of Plato, to show rational restraint. Which of these three perceptions of morality makes the most sense? Perhaps we are each secretly Nietzschean and take great delight in contemplating the exercise of power as irresistable as that of the king of ancient Persia. Perhaps again not. Would we choose Plato? We would have to, if we wanted to be considered moral according to the standards of our age. What about someone who saw logic only in the argument of Herodotus? Would he be more controversial even than Nietzsche himself? Or would his isolation be so extreme as to render him inconsequential?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

To Aristotle

It is one thing to advocate a mean between extremes for everybody else and another to be considered history’s greatest philosopher yourself.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


In archaic, pre-philosophical Greece, the attempt to rival the gods was the gravest transgression a man could commit. Christianity by contrast was based on the deification of man. How could this have happened? To offer immortality to mortals was the height of philosophical and ideological hubris. In the end we appropriated the right to worship ourselves and to have no other god before us.

Intimate Change

Estranged lovers share an intimate shame. At times it can be so awkwardly intense that it's apt to change itself back into love.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I Wish I Could Be Invisible

If God sees all things, he is the voyeur par excellence. Could it be that this age of reality shows and uncensored internet reveals our deeply religious instinct to imitate our maker?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Selfishly Inevitable

“There is no universal standard of morality other than self-interest.”

I see this assertion as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more it becomes accepted that morality by definition is universally inclusive, the more pressure, both from within and from without, is placed upon local, autonomous codes of conduct. With enough pressure they disintegrate; and into the void comes somebody's vision of world order. But such a vision is ideal, a figment of the imagination. It has no more substance than the emperor's new clothes. What then is really governing the behavior of these people? Nothing in the final analysis but self-interest.

It is a common observation that we live in a selfish age. Is it ironic that the very belief in universally defined morality could have led to no other consequence?