node created 2012/06/17
last changed 2013/02/04
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.
The antisemites who called themselves patriots introduced that new species of national feeling which consists primarily in a complete whitewash of one's own people and a sweeping condemnation of all others.
"The Origins of Totalitarianism"
[Justice] demands seclusion, it permits sorrow rather than anger, and it prescribes the most careful abstention from all the nice pleasures of putting oneself in the limelight.
"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
You will give yourself relief, if you do every act of your life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to you.
Now, nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no importance.

With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.
Is it only when the flowers are in full bloom and when the moon is shining in spotless perfection that we ought to gaze at them?
If you think for a second that detention of associates of political enemies matters to an electorate far more interested in the minutiae of Kanye West's baby, you're living in a fairy land of your own making.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystical. It is the source of all true art and science.

In This Blind Alley

They smell your breath lest you have said: I love you. 
  They smell your heart; 
  These are strange times, my dear. 
They flog love 
at the roadblock. 
Let's hide love in the larder. 

In this crooked blind alley, as the chill descends 
they feed fires 
with logs of song and poetry 
Hazard not a thought: 
  These are strange times, my dear. 

The man who knocks at your door in the noon of the night 
has come to kill the light. 
  Let's hide light in the larder. 

There, butchers are posted in passageways 
with bloody chopping blocks and cleavers: 
  These are strange times, my dear. 

They chop smiles off lips, 
and songs off the mouth: 
Let's hide joy in the larder.
"In This Blind Alley"
Awe is the Grail of artistic achievement. No other human emotion possesses such raw transformative power, and none is more difficult to evoke. Few and far between are the works of man that qualify as truly awesome.
If anyone went on for a thousand years asking of life: "Why are you living?" life, if it could answer, would only say, "I live so that I may live." That is because life lives out of its own ground and springs from its own source, and so it lives without asking why it is itself living.
The ceaseless, senseless demand for original scholarship in a number of fields, where only erudition is now possible, has led either to sheer irrelevancy, the famous knowing of more and more about less and less, or to the development of a pseudo-scholarship which actually destroys its object.
Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.
These aliens, these made-up worlds
of ours, are ways of making
mysteries mundane.
We see beauty and think
it truth.
Man's measure grips the world,
chokes meaning from it.

But you can't escape cages by studying their bars.
Laws prison licence
in slow spaces, snagged time.
So the best of science or of crafty fictive lies
presses us into true darkness,
away from the lamppost.
Beware of the snaky swoop of integrals.
Math's mad arabesques can conceal far
more than they reveal.
It's strangeness we must seek, not
more urns so Greek,
with their Pythagorean certainties.
We must live in the jagged outlands,
knowing truth may not fit snugly,
can be ugly,
and all our own.
"Bleak Velocities"
We have more life than we know what to do with. We have life far beyond the point where it becomes a sick caricature of itself. We prolong life until it becomes a sickness, an abomination, a miserable and pathetic flight from death that saps out and mocks everything that made life desirable in the first place.
Mortal lovers must not try to remain at the first step; for lasting passion is the dream of a harlot and from it we wake in despair.
The Grand Inquisitor explains that you have to create mysteries because otherwise the common people will be able to understand things. They have to be subordinated so you have to make things look mysterious and complicated. That's the test of the intellectual. It's also good for them: then you're an important person, talking big words which nobody can understand. Sometimes it gets kind of comical, say in post-modern discourse. Especially around Paris, it has become a comic strip, I mean it's all gibberish. But it's very inflated, a lot of television cameras, a lot of posturing. They try to decode it and see what is the actual meaning behind it, things that you could explain to an eight-year old child.

There's nothing there. But these are the ways in which contemporary intellectuals, including those on the Left, create great careers for themselves, power for themselves, marginalize people, intimidate people and so on.
"Chomsky on Anarchism" (2005)
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Humans, in so far as they are more than a completion of functions able to react, whose lowest and therefore most central are the purely animal like reactions, are simply superfluous for totalitarian systems. Their goal is not to erect a despotic regime over humans, but a system by which humans are made superfluous. Total power can only be achieved and guaranteed when nothing else matters except the absolutely controllable willingness to react, marionettes robbed of all spontaneity. Humans, precisely because they are so powerful, can only be completely controlled when they have become examples of the animal like species human.
"Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft" p. 667
"Niggle's Picture!" said Parish in astonishment. "Did you think of all this, Niggle? I never knew you were so clever. Why didn't you tell me?"

"He tried to tell you long ago," said the man; "but you would not look. He had only got canvas and paint in those days, and you wanted to mend your roof with them. This is what you and your wife used to call Niggle's Nonsense, or That Daubing."

"But it did not look like this then, not real," said Parish.

"No, it was only a glimpse then," said the man; "but you might have caught the glimpse, if you had ever thought it worth while to try."

"I did not give you much chance," said Niggle. "I never tried to explain. I used to call you Old Earthgrubber. But what does it matter? We have lived and worked together now. Things might have been different, but they could not have been better. All the same, I am afraid I shall have to be going on. We shall meet again, I expect: there must be many more things we can do together. Good-bye!" He shook Parish's hand warmly: a good, firm, honest hand it seemed. He turned and looked back for a moment. The blossom on the Great Tree was shining like flame. All the birds were flying in the air and singing. Then he smiled, and nodded to Parish, and went off with the shepherd.

He was going to learn about the sheep, and the high pasturages, and look at a wider sky, and walk even further and further towards the Mountains, always uphill. Beyond that I cannot guess what became of him. Even little Niggle in his old home could glimpse the Mountains far away, and they got into the borders of his picture: but what they are really like, and what lies beyond them, only those can say who have climbed them.
"Leaf by Niggle"
Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
"The Thing: Why I am a Catholic"
As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.
They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life.
In his stunning 2010 book, “The Death of the Liberal Class”, the seminary-trained journalist, Chris Hedges observes that for the most part, the institutions which have been pillars of liberalism, including the media, the university, the arts, the unions, the Democratic party, and the mainline churches have bought into the neoliberal ideology of corporate-capitalism, which revolves around the mythology of growth at the expense of human and nonhuman wellbeing, thriving, and increasingly, life itself.

In a word, political liberals talk a good talk but (just like political conservatives) have sold out people at the bottom and the planet. A splintering of “causes” and the reduction of politics to “issues” has left the liberal class “obsolete” and clinging “to its positions of privilege within liberal institutions.” And “[l]iberal religious institutions,” writes Hedges, “which should concern themselves with justice, embrace a cloying personal piety… and small, self-righteous acts of publicly conspicuous charity.”

If Hedges is correct, then Douthat is also correct about one thing: the Church should split from the secular liberal class. We should split from those who talk a good game but make peace with all manner of corporations whose time has frankly come.

We might start by challenging the power of coal, oil, and gas industries and the big banks that fund them, as has been prophetically suggested by Bill McKibben, a lay-Methodist, in this disturbing new piece in Rolling Stone. Thankfully, resistance of this sort is now official church policy since Resolution B023 on climate justice was adopted by this year’s General Convention.

In theological terms, we are tasked with affirming life in this moment of planetary exhaustion and pervasive social death. Ours are the works of resistance and restoration, of resurrection and reconciliation. Such works require us, always, to undertake some risk.
If only we try to live sincerely, it will go well with us, even though we are certain to experience real sorrow, and great disappointments, and also will probably commit great faults and do wrong things, but it certainly is true, that it is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.
Sure, having a walkable urban center where everyone lives close to the things they need and they don't create dystopian traffic is great.

But company housing, tenements, indebted servitude, working hours from can't-see until can't-see, is all a spectre from our not-so-distant past which we have mostly forgotten about. Well it's coming back. A labor revolution gave us such amazing leaps in dignity and basic humanity which were sorely lacking after the eruption of the industrial revolution. We take that entirely for granted now, like it can't come back and get us. It can.

People in America are just not educated enough about the horrors of the labor revolution. Our own, not the communist's overseas. Unions exist in this strange historical agnosticism, and people only know them as some kind of cartoon, a mob-ruled bureaucracy that enables hilariously lazy laborers to cite ridiculous rules and get in the way of progress. Well they weren't always that way. It is not common human decency that stops the captains of industry from merely hiring private police forces to mow bad workers down with rifles and artillery. That's our past as well as our cyberpunk future. That stuff can come back if we don't keep maintaining the levee between it and us.

People have an instinct to normalize and rationalize things which happen slowly compared to a human lifetime. Well there's a very real and disastrous difference today in how people work and maintain a decent living. It's becoming more and more like back when a decent living was only reserved for the insanely wealthy, the richest of the rich. Everyone else toiled in disease and squalor fourteen hours a day, breaking their bodies, without any possessions of their own; everything belonged to the company, and they worked just for the privilege to live a week at a time. It really wasn't that long ago. We like to hope that if it comes back we'll still be behind the fence of the upper-middle class, safe from the horror. But the vast majority of us won't.

Working is taking up more and more of our days. Gone is the 8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours leisure. It's going back to "as many hours as you can physically go without sleep" once again. No benefits, no retirement, no healthcare, no affordable higher education, no affordable family housing aside from company closet tenements with communal utilities, next to a corporate campus but far from a town center. Out in the suburbs with one company store. That will come back in our complacence. Fewer opportunities than our fathers.
Let's take robots on assembly lines: If it's used to free up the workforce for more creative work, say, controlling production, making decisions about it, finding creative ways to act and so on, then it's to the good. If it's used as a device to maximize profit and throw people into the trashcan, then it's not good.