Saturday, February 27, 2021
Humans are not built for a life of ease. This is a forgotten wisdom, one revered by the ancient Stoics and once fundamental to philosophical thought. Within the writings of Seneca and Epictetus lies the maxim that it is not our hardship that harms us, but how we relate to it. In choosing to learn and grow from affliction, we fortify our mind. As Seneca wrote, “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” . . .
“Humans don’t mind hardship,” Junger remarks, “in fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
-Freya India, from this post on Generation Z and suffering
The archer allows many arrows to go far beyond the target, because he knows that he will learn the importance of bow, posture, string, and target only by repeating his gestures thousands of times and by not being afraid of making mistakes.
And his true allies will never criticize him, because they know that practice is necessary, that it is the only way in which he can perfect his instinct, his hammer blow.
And then comes the moment when he no longer has to think about what he is doing. From then on, the archer becomes his bow, his arrow, and his target.
-Paulo Coehlo, The Archer
Today's American culture tells us that those most likely to rise to the most important positions of responsibility are the ones who graduate at the top in their classes and have long lists of extracurricular activities. Such countless engagements on a CV are somehow equated with leadership—though they may actually have as much to do with a fear of commitment, a preoccupation with image, or the inescapable desire to assure others that one can master everything at once.
It is ironic, perhaps, that many great, victorious military commanders in our history—Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant; Gen. John Pershing, World War I commander of U. S. forces; and Dwight Eisenhower, World War II supreme Allied commander in Europe—graduated from West Point well below the top of their classes.
-Susan Eisenhower, How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower's Biggest Decisions
One of the most important things Feynman ever taught me was that some of the most exciting scientific surprises can be discovered in everyday phenomena. All you need do is take the time to observe things carefully and ask yourself good questions. He also influenced my belief that there is no reason to succumb to external pressures that try to force you to specialize in a single area of science, as many scientists do. Feynman showed me by example that it is acceptable to explore a diversity of fields if that is where your curiosity leads.
-Paul Steinhardt, as culled from here
One challenge is embracing the effective and generative approach of possibility when we’re sure that we’re entitled to grievance.
-Seth Godin, from his post Grievance and possibility
Thursday, February 25, 2021
"As they say 'to be in the world, but not of the world.' You can go to the Himalayas and miss it completely, and you can be stuck in the middle of New York and be very spiritual. I mean, I noticed in certain places, like New York, it brings out a certain thing in myself. If I go to some place like Switzerland, I find a lot of uptight people because they're living amongst so much beauty there's no urgency in trying to find the beauty within themselves. If you're stuck in New York you have to somehow look within yourself - otherwise you'd go crackers. So, in a way, it's good to be able to go in and out of both situations. Most people think when the world gets itself together we'll all be okay. I don't see that situation arriving. I think one by one, we all free ourselves from the chains we have chained ourselves to. But I don't think that suddenly some magic happens and the whole lot of us will all be liberated in one throw."
“To suppose that the value of a stock is determined purely by a corporation’s earnings discounted by the relevant interest rates and adjusted for the marginal tax rate is to forget that people have burned witches, gone to war on a whim, risen to the defense of Joseph Stalin and believed Orson Welles when he told them over the radio that the Martians had landed.”
-Jim Grant, as quoted in this brief essay
I have a friend blessed with an intellect as keen as a drill, who, though he takes an interest in aesthetics, has never during a life of almost forty years been guilty of an aesthetic emotion. So, having no faculty for distinguishing a work of art from a handsaw, he is apt to rear up a pyramid of irrefragable argument on the hypothesis that a handsaw is a work of art. This defect robs his perspicuous and subtle reasoning of much of its value; for it has ever been a maxim that faultless logic can win but little credit for conclusions that are based on premises notoriously false. Every cloud, however, has its silver lining, and this insensibility, though unlucky in that it makes my friend incapable of choosing a sound basis for his argument, mercifully blinds him to the absurdity of his conclusions while leaving him in full enjoyment of his masterly dialectic.
-Clive Bell, from his little book, Art, found here
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Walter Russell Mead eyes the politics of a coming "Green" wave. Careful what you wish for - it gets complicated. A wee excerpt:
Those who dismiss ideas like the “green new deal” as mere left-wing fantasies miss the enormous appeal of these programs for corporations looking for new business opportunities. It isn’t only renewable energy companies looking for government mandates and funding. It’s major auto manufacturers dreaming of replacing every gasoline-powered car and truck on the planet with an electric vehicle—and reaping the public-relations reward of looking virtuous. It’s construction companies looking to replace the existing energy infrastructure.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Technology, it might be said, by providing machines to do what used to be done by hand . . . has complicated our lives in as many ways as it has simplified and enriched them . . . but in committing ourselves to machine control we have sacrificed many of the pleasures of self-control—of manners, if you wish. . . .
Now and then someone I have just met, avoiding false coziness, calls me "Mr. Lynes." I am as astonished as I am pleased, but it's my age and white hair that evokes it. I think of a story told by Dame May Witty, the distinguished actress, who was in a London shop and was being waited on by an uppity salesgirl (there are two words that have vanished) who was offhand and rude. Dame May, piqued, said, "I suppose you know who I am," and the clerk replied, "Certainly." To which the actress said, "I suppose you think you're as good as I am," and the girl said, "Of course." "Then why," Dame May said, " can't you be civil to your equals?"
Civility is, of course, the root and branch of manners . . .
-Russell Lynes, from his 1986 essay, On Good Behavior, found here
Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes great sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having the conviction of our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.
Rethinking is a skill set, but it's also a mindset. We already have many of the mental tools we need. We just have to remember to get them out of the shed and remove the rust.
Money — the making of it — is never part of that purpose. It’s a byproduct of one or more of these other more lofty goals. The only purpose the money really serves for us is to allow us to do it all over again.
-Patrick Rhone, full story here
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Please help me know it happened, that life I thought we had—
Our friends holding out their hands to us—
Our enemies mistaken, infected by unaccountable
Our country benevolent, a model for all governments,
Those mad rulers at times elsewhere, inhuman, and yet mob-
worshipped, leaders of monstrous doctrine, unspeakable
beyond belief, yet strangely attractive to the uninstructed.
And please let me believe these incredible legends that have
dignified our lives—
The wife or husband helplessly loving us, the children full of
awe and affection, the dog insanely faithful—
Our growing up hard—hard times, being industrious and
The places we lived arched full of serene golden light—
Now, menaced by judgments, overheard revisions, let me
retain what ignorance it takes to preserve what we need—
a past that redeems any future.
My left-leaning, environmentally conscious friends are justifiably critical of ad hominem attacks on climate scientists. You know the kind of thing: claims that scientists are inventing data because of their political biases or because they're scrambling for funding from big government. In short, smearing the person rather than engaging with the evidence. Yet the same friends are happy to embrace and amplify the same kind of tactics when they're used to attack my fellow economists: that we're inventing data because of our political biases, or scrambling for funding from big business. I tried to point out the parallel to one thoughtful person, and got nowhere. She was completely unable to comprehend what I was talking about. I'd call this a 'double standard', but that would be unfair—it would suggest it was deliberate. It's not. It's an unconscious bias that's easy to see in others and very hard to see in ourselves.
What the patterns of an artist's progress show is the human capacity to find meaning and to make lasting work not by planning it but by remaining open to the possibilities they see inside and around themselves. This argues against forcing predetermined expectations and goals onto our experience of life and for an alert way of being, open to noticing and responding to the future as it emerges. We think ourselves efficient when we squeeze our lives into schedules, itineraries, and plans, asking of apps that they tell us what to do, where to go next. But what we lose is the freedom to notice for ourselves, to filter and reflect for ourselves, to craft our unique sense of who we are and what we wish to make of our lives.
-Margaret Heffernan, Uncharted: How To Navigate The Future
.....................................with Will Rogers (1879-1935):
"It's pitiful when you think how ignorant the founders of our Constitution must have been. Just think what a Country we would have if men in those days had the Brains and forethought of our men today!"
"We shouldn't elect a President; we should elect a magician."
"Washington, D.C. Papers say, 'Congress is deadlocked and can't act.' I think that is the greatest blessing that could befall this Country."
"If all politicians fished instead of spoke publicly, we would be at peace with the world."
"Lord, the money we do spend of Government and it's not one bit better than the government we got for one third the money twenty years ago."
"Things in our country run in spite of government. Not by aid of it."
"You know, Congressmen are the nicest fellows in the world to meet. I sometimes really wonder if they realize the harm they do."
"Elect 'em for a six-year term; not allow 'em to succeed themselves. that would keep their mind off politics."