node created 2012/06/17
last changed 2013/02/04
That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.
I feel like everyone is doing social media marketing - or something equally useless while the world around us is breaking down.
With reasonable men, I reason; with humane men, I plead; but with tyrants I give no quarter.
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
When you’re happy, you enjoy the music. But when you’re sad, you understand the lyrics.
[Q: can you conceive of any form in which you might support American military action taken, like the President's justification, in anticipation of an imminent and dangerous threat?]

Why don't you generalize it, and say, can you conceive of any action which any state might take? Sure, you can imagine such things. Let's say you're in Iran right now. [audience laughter] It's under attack by the world's superpower, with embargoes... It's surrounded by states either occupied by its superpower enemy, or having nuclear weapons. Little way down the road is the regional superpower, which has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and other WMDs, and is essentially an offshore US military base. And has a bigger and more advanced air force than any NATO power, outside the United States. And in the past year has been supplied by the global superpower with 100 advanced jet bombers, openly advertised as able to fly to Iran and back to bomb it. And also provided with what the Hebrew press calls special weaponry, nobody knows what that means, but if you're an Iranian intelligence analyst you gonna give a worst case analysis, of course. And has actually been publicly provided with smart bombs, and deep penetration weapons... They have a terrific justification for anticipatory self defense, better than any other case I can think of.

But would I approve of their bombing Israel, or carrying out terrorist acts in Washington? No, even though they have a pretty strong case, better than anything I can think of here. Just as the Japanese had a much better case than any that I can think of here, but I don't approve of Pearl Harbor. So yeah, we can conceive of cases, and in fact some of them are right in front of our eyes, but none of us approve of them. None of us.

So if we don't approve of them in real cases, why discuss hypothetical cases that don't exist? We can do that in some philosophy seminar, but in the real world there're real cases that ought to concern us.
Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.
You don't write those books because you hope those things will happen. You write those books because you think they might happen.. but you'd rather they didn't.
If I had a friend and loved him because of the benefits which this brought me and because of getting my own way, then it would not be my friend that I loved but myself. I should love my friend on account of his own goodness and virtues and account of all that he is in himself. Only if I love my friend in this way do I love him properly.

The horseman serves the horse,
The neatherd serves the neat,
The merchant serves the purse, 
The eater serves his meat;
'T is the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind;
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.

There are two laws discrete,
Not reconciled,--
Law for man, and law for thing;
The last builds town and fleet,
But it runs wild,
And doth the man unking.
'T is fit the forest fall,
The steep be graded,
The mountain tunnelled,
The sand shaded,
The orchard planted,
The glebe tilled,
The prairie granted,
The steamer built.

Let man serve law for man;
Live for friendship, live for love,
For truth's and harmony's behoof;
The state may follow how it can,
As Olympus follows Jove.

"Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing"

what they did yesterday afternoon

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me 
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered 
One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.
And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria [Government limo] sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur — what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked. The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!

If... if... We didn't love freedom enough. And even more — we had no awareness of the real situation. We spent ourselves in one unrestrained outburst in 1917, and then we hurried to submit. We submitted with pleasure!
If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!
"I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked" (1935)
[..] once you have prevented a murder, it’s easy to justify that you should be able to use the ubiquitous wiretapping to also prevent, say, rape and aggravated assault. No policymaker will protest that.

Once you are preventing serious violent crimes, it’s easy to justify that the NSA and the Police should use the ubiquitous wiretapping to prevent all violent crimes. People who protest that in the name of civil liberties will be shot down; “it’s a fundamental civil liberty to not be a victim of a violent crime”. And so, surveillance will be Newspeaked into civil liberties in televised debates by Big Brother hawks.

Once the wiretapping is preventing all violent crime, it will be repurposed to prevent all prison-time crime (described as “serious crime”), and from there, to prevent all crime. And those who speak up against this will be accused of “siding with criminals”.
As usurpation is the exercise of power which another hath a right to, so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to; and this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private, separate advantage. When the governor, however entitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule, and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.
Second Treatise on Government
The most improper job of any man is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.
We all seek to know whether we shall be rich; but no one asks whether he shall be good.
Oh, if only I could tell someone about my pain and misery! Even myself! Perhaps if I could tell myself about it in some new way it might have the power to shed some light on what had happened and on what would become of me.
Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm (that they cause) does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.
Diamonds are forever, but humans very much are not. Partially because they're wasting so much time on things like diamonds.
Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
For legends attract the very best in our times, just as ideologies attract the average, and the whispered tales of gruesome secret powers behind the scenes attract the very worst.
"The Origins of Totalitarianism"
I know women sometimes start believing they’re not meant to do something, especially when there are cultural or family restrictions where they live, so they put that limitation on themselves. Even if the opportunity comes, they don’t see it, they’ve forgotten about it. So it’s important not to forget, to always be prepared.
If, in Récoltes et Semailles I'm addressing anyone besides myself, it isn't what's called a "public". Rather I'm addressing that someone who is prepared to read me as a person, and as a solitary person. It's to that being inside of you who knows how to be alone, it is to this infant that I wish to speak, and no-one else. I'm well aware that this infant has been considerably estranged. It's been through some hard times, and more than once over a long period. It's been dropped off Lord knows where, and it can be very difficult to reach. One swears that it died ages ago, or that it never existed - and yet I am certain it's always there, and very much alive.
"The Life of a Mathematician - Reflections and Bearing Witness" (1986)


Can I ever write,
a  poem, to both recite -
the song of my heart, and to recount -
the epic of my might?
I doubt...

Can I ever compose such verse,
in this solid dark, in this dominant night?
I doubt...

For I happen to be -
a heap of cold, discarded ash -
concealing the seeds of all revolts -

I happen to be
A peaceful sea -
carrying the roars of all storms -
underneath its quiet sight.

I am a frozen lake -
hiding the flames of all faiths -
beneath its lifeless face.
Can I ever write -
such poem?
Can I ever compose such verse?
"Nocturnal" (1955)
The cheapest sort of pride is national pride; for if a man is proud of his own nation, it argues that he has no qualities of his own of which he can be proud; otherwise he would not have recourse to those which he shares with so many millions of his fellowmen. The man who is endowed with important personal qualities will be only too ready to see clearly in what respects his own nation falls short, since their failings will be constantly before his eyes. But every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud adopts, as a last resource, pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and glad to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.
People are going to shit all over your parade sometimes, and sometimes they’re going to be right. The solution is to not go planning parades through streets somebody else paved without asking them for directions.