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Philosophical Notebooks

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2008 :: Issue 3/Fall :: Philosophical Notebooks

Smithereens

Bianco Luno

a certain affinity for aversion

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My typing is painful, but my writing illegible. A hypnotist’s nightmare, consciousness never leaves me for the space of time between letters. It dogs my fingers. It barks at me every waking hour.

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Those in the throes of suffering are the last to be able to describe it. Happy, the ones who like myself can talk about it.

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Of all the arts, in my view, the one most capable of educing immediate emotional response is music. Yet it is also one of the most abstract and mathematical. I believe this conjunction is no accident.

The capacity and propensity for abstraction precipitates sentiment. At abstraction’s artificially high rate of spin distilled feeling falls out. The tenderest musical compositions have been written by men for this reason. Only in them, not in women, can sentiment be so separated from all else to result in phenomenal concentrations. This does not by itself speak to the general aesthetic quality of such work, though it does create a foundation for what may be feasible: it explains the marshaling of sentimental forces. (In other arts whose mathematics are more diffuse, this is not the case. In poetry and the literary arts, for example, requiring, as they do, integration at many levels of imagination, sentiment is always wedded to idea and fact and never allowed to soar or sink in total isolation. In arts other than music one would expect gender capacities closer to parity, if not tilted the other way.)

The aria, like color in birds, is male; the recitativ is burdened with the drabness of consequential truth.

Romance in men is divorced from reality: the fact is both their charm and, to those affected by it, cause for alarm.

It should now be clearer why, from a male ethical view, emotion is so grudgingly tolerated. He fears his own flightiness. He alone knows to what extremes it may drive him…what murders he may lay at its doorstep, with the crazed eye of a cat bringing home fresh prey. He cannot ever fully trust himself in “the real world.” He leashes himself with a moral law. It explains why Kant was right, not about human, but about male morality.

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Early on I began, without great seriousness, the study of law. The conviction collapsed at the dissolution of a relationship when I experienced at once the thrill of transgression and the devastation of victimhood… The idea of advocacy, of going to bat for a cause or client, remained important to me, however. The difficulty was that no client aspired to my standards.

Finally, I found one with the right features:

1. the client did not pay,
2. the client had many, many enemies, and,
3. the client was singularly unhelpful in its own defense.

What attorney would consider taking up the cause of a destitute, almost universally hated and uncommunicative, sphinx-like case? If it spoke at all, it was in riddles, or with an eye to self-incrimination.

The client I settled on is called “The Truth” and I became a philosopher.

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Sex exists.

And there are at least two sexes. Moreover, there are only two sexes.

All consciousness is divided accordingly.

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What we learn from de Sade and other saints: a modicum of suffering is necessary for deepest enjoyment. This lesson is lost on the utilitarian. It confounds all but the most sophisticated hedonisms.

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Young man in Baghdad (Spring, 2007): “I am alive because I am not dead yet.”

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Letter to a dead man:

You were barely a man, a “mere boy,” when you became dead. A century or more now since I last saw you. You left me your work to finish.

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It is wrong to think a woman ever seduces a man. She only lends his body the strength to seduce him. She never betrays, only aids and abets.

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What we have in common is that we are both so extremely alone.

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She smiled as though to say, “There’s nothing wrong with truth but unless you act on it at an early age (and kill yourself), it is in your best interest to develop a relationship with lies.” But she would never—ever—say such a thing for it would be unutterably misleading and without relation to anything.

Her smile, if it was to burden itself with philosophy believably, might signify something like this: “There are stories which become myths which in the fullness of time become the reality at the near end of our senses for the duration of their quickening—and beyond that awareness, what is there? What could you possibly want with truth? What could you possibly mean by truth but this?”

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A BBC reporter in Iraq during the first elections after US occupation is interviewing new voters standing in a long line outside a polling station. They are there despite the evident danger. Sure enough, during his interview a suicide bomber detonates himself nearby. The reporter on the scene, barely escaping injury himself, breathlessly describes the body parts flung about and the mangled torso of the bomber, its extremities blown off, the blood still gushing from where the head had been attached…

Within moments of the mayhem, however, the line to vote begins to form again.

It is only under these conditions that the act of voting achieves the height of meaning. In the United States, where any one of a thousand distractions is more laden with significance, a million votes cast cannot equal one of these. Democracy has long since died there.

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The insertion of value into the world is a sex act.

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We need to explain the difference between being in love with Woman and being in love with a woman, the difference between political expression and personal confession, between dreams of conquest and the reality of enslavement…

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The immanent suggestion is always that some balance is desirable and a possible object of attainment. How well can a mistaken proposal be motivated when it is born of a corrupted nature? That nature simply will not allow the possibility of corruption so close to home? The world upside down will not seem too amiss if it interferes. We decide what is a mistake and the ones we make are made more or less in accordance with a plan to survive.

Mistakes with a bias toward living.

It is not alright to inquire into survival. It is forbidden as nothing else.

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The first kind of love is murder, the second suicide.
To avoid the first crime he aimed his gun at the instrument of the second.
(When Otto Weininger walked into a gun shop in Vienna in 1903, I imagine the clerk asking him, “What does a philosopher do with a gun?”)

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My dentist: “That baby tooth keeps hanging in there since you were six months old!” She sighs.
I also still have my wisdom teeth. Both are important for a philosopher.

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“What changes in the way you live are you willing to endure to make this a better world?” An idle question, even rude.

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loneliness without repair

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The loneliness of other people.
Not their loneliness, but that of being near them.

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A still higher state of consciousness than the modernist one of self-hatred or post-modernist self-loss: self-pity, or more flatteringly, self-compassion.

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To always be in a state of need can never be the luxurious background required of gratitude. The ability is peculiar to one who is conscious of having only momentarily fallen from grace. The benefactor needs to be reminded.
“The poor are generous with their things. They give always what they have, but with them to give or to receive brings with it no feeling that they owe the giver for the gift.” (Gertrude Stein)

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the altitude of speculation

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philosophy n., …a background activity.

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Ingratitude is very much a bourgeois vice.
It neither harks back to the dimmest memories of the race, nor indicates anything of what will come.
It is, stripped of vanities, simply the state of things.
We have to be frightened into gratefulness.
It may imbue us with charm but it is no virtue.

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For centuries and up until just after Freud’s time, it was hysteria, a few generations later, eating disorders, that are the side effects of masculine culture in women.
The binding of feet: one or another female appetite must be starved to suit his idle pronouncements. She is so susceptible.
What does she think? That he will take up full time masturbation instead? The species die out?…
The one half not realizing the power of its whims, the other the weakness of its convictions, the dynamic is at once beautiful and idiotic.
The boys so excitable.
The girls so impressionable.
Weininger and Krystufek.
The world is my Vienna.

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Happiness and righteousness.
Why is it that in addition to one we want the other?
What could one add to the other?

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These people have been set aside as criminals so that the others can lead an untrammeled existence.
They created their world. They are responsible for it. Such honor we reserve for them.
I wonder if I have it in me to pull it off, too. I have always retired from accepting blame for anything but small things.

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Criminal compassion.

How might I convince a jury that in slighting the law I was doing my part to help them live more righteous lives? They are, after all, my “peers.”

Certainly, I deserve to be punished: don’t we, as a rule, punish those who benefit us most?

It seemed I wanted their respect even as I was carted off to suffer the part. That would be all I could ask of them, that they lower their eyes a little as my corpse swayed on the rope.

I would want to die romantically, as I had lived. I would want to die thinking all the while that my executioners had been made more human by my crimes. Not because romance was true or real or had meaning but because as a result of my death their step would be made less sure, the full function of their artificial mechanisms compromised.

For very selfish reasons I would want the wisteria blossoms at my marker to flash iridescent and give my mourners mild headaches. And then to be forgotten, for I am not vengeful.

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fiction n., that which happens to be true coincidentally.

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Against a background of idiocy, by which I mean first mine, then yours. It is because of this that we share that we barely understand one another. It drips, as if from wounded hands, on all our projects, the insignia of our having tried and failed.

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Grace.

I thank God I have the health and peace of mind to speculate about the future no matter what happens, that I am not at this moment being tortured for my intransigency in some dungeon in the developing world or in some first world office building, that I am not eating an animal and have mountain spring water to drink, that there are only a few people requiring that I lie to them, my friends, and that my true enemies do not know who they are.

I am also thankful to Him for being only a figure of speech and not the final arbiter of eternal torment or bliss. And whether or not it is true I am also thankful whether or not I mean it.

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Had I been born a woman, I am sure I’d be thanking God I hadn’t been born a man.
Having been born a man, there is no one to thank.

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To fully grasp the rose one must appreciate it by the stem.

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The idea of a philosopher for whom the only problems are the impossible ones.
There are not going to be solutions.
There is going to be fatigue.

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“a pleasing horror” of the natural world

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If Weininger had programmed Turing’s digital “man” simulator, the essential code, though allowing for environmental and operational feedback and modification, at its kernel, sealed as fate, would be a character that would enforce parameters for these variables.

Questions targeted at unveiling that essential character of each would unmask the woman in the man and vice versa—though perhaps neither in the machine Turing proposed.

Unappreciated, Weininger labored at the code that it would take to run the Turing machine successfully in the “imitation game.” What it would take for the machine to experience the world in imitation of a woman and likewise of a man.

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We are so rarely gripped by a truthful insight that we are compelled to want to force it on others.

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Merely to imagine “progress” we must leave evidence for posterity to suggest we were thinking of them.

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The justification of various partialities such as racism, sexism, tribalism, nationalism, that of a mother to her child, etc. is the certainty that in the fullness of time they will be used against us according to the law of the conservation of fear.

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The cackle of women killing.

The noises men make are more banal.

While failure can be funny, there is only disgust at failure of the self.

My amusement at a calendar of “Neglected Murderesses.”

The longer men live the more implicated they are in failure. To find their acts equally humorous would require a calendar of suicides.

Madness alone doesn’t explain the difference.

A Jeffrey Dahmer cookbook, How to Cook and Eat Your Friends, is less sublime than her having tipped her little brother into the well.

Not just that the thought amuses, but that the woman’s laugh while killing is more convincing.

There is no conviction in the way men are mad, just pathos. They are more believable at self-riddance than as lost selves.

The noises she makes making love, like that.

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There is hope for humanity.
Just not for you or anyone you know.

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What is so funny about women killing?

There is nothing funny about men killing. Except when they do it in a mildly domestic way—Dahmer fussing over whether this or that friend went best with red or white.

Not to say that Medea didn’t go through hell killing her children but maternal infanticide is a very special case,

Girl student of philosophy to her little brother, pulling the cat’s tail, “Mommie has a license to kill, Kant said so.”

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To the unbelieving, de Sade offered this challenge: “This is what is entailed, can you take it?” He was the necessary complement and ally of Kierkegaard.

Both were on the same page: hypocrisy reigns forever and ever.

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We might come to think of it as simply another of the many characterizations of sanity.

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The obvious demands restatement.

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Now suicide is another matter. Drab as female birds women are, drowning, pills,… nothing like his orgiastic inventiveness.

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The possibility of a “moral artist.” Not an artist who is moral, but one who has taken morality or, rather, moral behavior to the level of disciplined performance.

The incoherence of the idea of moral seriousness may inspire such a project.

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Turing’s idea of genius as supercritical atomic pile.

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An open invitation to irrelevant responses.

The fact of community is an object of bewildering fascination for me. The slightest spark of contact between people affects me. I barely contain my tears. That words work at all. That communication drops hints of success in the face of so much mystery. That satisfaction happens. That it ever happens. If it happens.

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Sentimentalism is my weakness, my bane and my sin.
It is almost a jeering crow’s sentimentalism.
It targets even Kant who many would think the least sentimental of philosophers.
How he dared to think we wouldn’t notice.
That underneath his edifice of reason—but in plain sight—was that feeling, the sine qua non of morality.

A proper awe of abstraction in the guise of the moral law.

A crow once adopted a stray kitten and raised and cared for it.

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I have to conclude Kant had no such thought. If we didn’t see it, it wasn’t for lack of his reminders.

And if we are not put together so gracefully that it is plain to us, his theory suffers the same human liability as Hume’s.

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The source of misogyny.

What can a man do or become to stop seeing a woman as something completely foreign to himself, as other, as object? The latter expression, in particular… What does seeing something as an object mean to a man? To a woman?

He means, when he speaks that way, she is a part of the world in a way he is not. Being a “part of the world,” so far from being controversial or remarkable to her, she cannot conceive of as a plight. Rather, she imputes to him a regard toward her one might have toward a fork. She sees her lowly instrumentality in his eyes…. and a general degradation to user and used.

For his part, having set himself apart, he feeds the imputation by tergiversating between envy and disdain. His ambivalent non-presence breeds resentment in her. He was injected, kicking and screaming, into the world he would remain no essential part of.

An object, then, is something he can only dream of becoming.

This is why it is not possible to rape a man. There is no orifice leading into his body that might touch his essence. Even more so than in Oakland, there is no thereness there.

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Men fear death only slightly more than life. (And I do mean men, not women.)

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“I hate myself so much that it is a wonder I take such good care of myself.”

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I like people who threaten me with suicide.

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What is most evil about the oppressor is that he wishes to linger in that position.

He arrogates to himself the decadent privilege of righteous self-hatred, leaving the stunting variety—victim self-hatred—to the objects of his oppression. Thus Jews, African-Americans, various hyphenated Americans, Palestinians, polar bears, the disabled, women, etc., the marginalized in all places and times are held back from luxuriating in the heights of exquisite self-hatred… But, except in the case of women, the shoe will swap feet. In the case of the feminine, something far simpler and more complex than history happens.

“What goes around comes around,” is all you need to teach children about history. But about sex they are going to have to learn the hard way.

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I am not so arrogant that I would ever call my opinions “humble.”

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“Small talk or violence.” (O on the vices of women and men.)

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“Make them ask questions. No answers. Leave them wondering…”
“But they need answers!”
“No, no answers… just questions. Answers are what happens when they get tired of questions. Like water does when you dig a hole deep enough. Make them tired. They do not know what it means to be tired.”

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What is the opposite of a misogynist? Surely we can’t mean it is what most men are? Or women, for that matter?

It cannot be construed as “a lover of women.” The ambiguity is too obvious and no woman could accept it at face value. Sometimes we hear it said of a man. But it merely means this man is amenable, useful even, not that this man knows what he loves.

There is no obvious parallel describing the hatred of man. Misanthropy is usually taken in the broad sense. Misandry is too perfectly sensible, so never without cause as to seem pathological only in a very ordinary way. And in any case, its contradiction, “love of man,” has not—even when specious—the same odor.

Leave that aside and it is difficult to conceive what may remain lovable for him about a woman in the abstract. The specificity of a woman as object of love is never in question, a mother, an intimate… It is what is lovable about her stripped of every contingency, in her pure metaphysical nudity.

Now she becomes for him something formidable and enemy-like.

Or he imagines his way into her heart thinking it is either this or die. And he has not the courage for the latter.

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Time spent looking for reasons to believe. Reasons that would be irrelevant to one who knew or wanted to know instead. The mistake is to think there is a transition between belief and knowledge. That we pass through one to get to the other. (Hempel’s raven)

Belief is not a hallway to the room where knowledge is. It is a room all its own.

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The subjective principle of truth, the way you recognize its bite, is that it is inimical to your interests. The objective statement of the same is that “it is on no one’s side.”

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Though it was out for a brief time, Weininger’s skiff sank in deep water and its wake still laps on shores oceans apart.

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Modus operandi: Bite the hand that feeds you. It is the only one with any taste.
(Advice from a cat friend.)

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criminality n., the compulsion to break rules and create rules to break, an essential trait of maleness.

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“Perhaps if your upbringing had not been so deprived you might have kinder things to say about the institutions that surround you.”

Would Diogenes have given up the whole of his kingdom—his barrel, his staff and lantern, his sunny rock—for Alexander’s estate?

This is not a rhetorical question.

The answer is no.

All that could be shown would not suffice to make clear the significance of this “no.”

It is true that I have little to show for my past choices.

The case against me would be open and shut were it not that Diogenes, no less than Alexander, is still remembered.

But that would be to exaggerate the importance of being remembered.

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Maybe it is because when I was a boy I spied a truth waved off, unceremoniously dismissed, that I decided I would remain a boy all my life to exact revenge.

I don’t recommend this path to anyone, but it would be silly of you to think for an instant that I am less happy than you.

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There are no sharp blades without dull stones to sharpen them.

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“Peace and harmony…”
How often noticed how supremely desperate the thought is?
As desperate as Weininger’s allusion to universal celibacy.
And for similar reasons.
Putting it charitably.

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It isn’t that women are any less depraved than men, appearances to the contrary.
It is that men are worse than depraved. They turn “hypocrite,” a word that has always struggled hard to be a noun, into a verb…
Nature groans at their spectacle.

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I spent many years looking for authenticity in literature, philosophy, history, and criticism, thinking this is where civilization deposits its awareness of itself, given that in the normal course of living, breathing, walking, talking, sitting, standing, etc., as Gertrude Stein would put it, it had no time for it. I never noticed a single case that was not highly gendered. (I should say “sexed” because “gendered” has become encrusted with a layer of presumption unbecoming in a quest for something as quaint as truth.) I had been led to expect somewhere I might find a universally human sensibility.

Extreme pain, I thought, might bring this out. Untold suffering, one would think, would be adequate, if anything is, to precipitate what was not colored by the specificity of sex.

But nowhere. In their throes, no less than in their ecstasy… Forget God, the human does not exist.

Only the sundered forlorn halves Aristophanes spoke of, longing for transcendence or salvation in union or oblivion.

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Nietzsche was being melodramatic when he said God was dead. I mean he said it as though anyone cared. (Never mind that Nietzsche did.)

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What is wrong with the world is wrong in a different way for you and me. This complicates the possibility of a solution.

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Your suffering, sad to say, alone, feeds my muse. My own has ceased to matter in the grandeur of yours.

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The truth is the one thing that is predictable without being boring.

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“The truth is awfully scary. Let’s hope we don’t encounter it by surprise.”

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Because it is easier to be angry than sad it will have to be explained a thousand times over. To be told the simplest truth and have it resound in the emptiness around it: The greatest tragedy to befall the world will be when you die.

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“As long as there is life, there is hope…”

It took me a long time to figure out that this was a complete semantic construction. I kept expecting the preposition “for” and then something or other. For example, if we appended “for suicide,” it would make perfect sense. Or even something less glum like “for happiness.” But just “hope” pure and simple? What am I supposed to do with it?

I think the prepositional phrase was lopped off to keep from having to explain.

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The obvious bears repeating. That’s how it gets to be obvious.

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Survival, for example, requires guilt. Weininger realized this and could not stand it any longer.

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A century or more ago in our tradition, we are told, frank and open discussion of the physical reality of sex was hedged with taboo. (It was probably less so than we imagine but the artifacts of the time somewhat confirm the truism. In the same way, we can’t imagine our parents in the act, but—here we are, so something must have happened.)

But taboos have a way of buzzing about sex like flies around a garbage can. Only now it is the moral implications of sex that we get squeamish about. No, I am not being prudish. And I am not directly referring to the act so much as the actors. The sex acts I am referring to are things like murder and mayhem. No one refers to them as “sex acts.” Or the fact that men are almost to a man criminals and women almost to a woman not… rather content as aiders and abettors. Even the sex act is emblematic of these others, the ones that fill their lives… and are never spoken of as what they are.

Take infanticide. When a mother drowns her children, this is not a crime on anything like the same scale as when a man shoots people at random. She has an ancient mother right to revoke the lease on these lives that he never does in any situation, not even in self-defense. (Needless to say, the same applies with even greater force to abortion.) Her crime, if it is right to call it that, lies elsewhere: in the decision to aid and abet the world around her. Not to kill her children may be her crime. And, if it is, only she, in her heart of hearts, would know. Whereas there is nothing at all unfathomable about a man killing. More remarkable is that he sometimes refrains. For this shows that he has overcome his criminal nature (or, as is more common, he has found a less honest expression of it—for nothing could be more honest than murder, certainly not, say, squandering the resources of the community in the service of some high-flown ideal that insists on indulging his liberty because of the riches it will lavish on others). Hers was never that way to begin with.

She brings life into the world. He takes it away. Nature is sublime in its economy. Sometimes she errs and knows it and corrects her misdeed. Sometimes it dawns on him that for all his dynamic cultural creativity—it was not for nothing that Weininger spent a lot of time celebrating it—it is not enough to compensate for the evil he brings into the world, and that, on balance, his business here is past done.

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I use the word “almost” to be safe but it is probably unnecessary and mere cowardice on my part.

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It is not an empirical claim I am making, that the world is this way or that. There are no studies, so far as I know, that conclude that the sky is the shade of blue it is on a sunny day. Most of us recognize that shade but, except in an expression of enjoyment or civility, rarely comment on it.

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Morality is born of the desire to leave the world in no worse shape than you found it. A tall order. More ambitious proposals than this are enterprising schemes.

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Pretend long enough and you will not need to, Pascal used to say. (Never mind that he didn’t believe this himself.)

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lyricist for the music of despair

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The toenails peeking out from the tip of her sandals are painted a deep violet. A woman in a café and a statue of the blessed Virgin.

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Each line breaks as it does because it is always poised to leap into the air and twirl like verse…

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“Love is the desire to possess the good forever.” Diotima to Socrates. The duration of “forever” varies between them. For her it is the outermost reaches of feeling where time ceases to mean. For him an infinite creature from mathematics.

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You hesitate in making public this writing.
You hope that someone you care about should not find as much solace in it as you do.
You don’t wish that on anyone.

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6 January 2003 (Palestine)
Two newspaper headlines side by side.
One says, “23 Killed in Suicide Bombing,” the other, “25 Killed in Suicide Bombing.”
Which is it?

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Suicide is sometimes necessary to prevent genocide which is sometimes necessary to prevent suicide.

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Not obvious enough for philosophy, nor obscure enough for poetry.

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Love may as well be unrequited, we are blind to it when it is not.

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Weininger went as far as an idealist can go. To better him, to survive him, one becomes a cynic.

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ideal n., an umbrella in the wind.

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Pregnancy is the ultimate sexually transmitted disease.

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His infectious army of animalcules besiege and compromise her fortress.
Material survival is hedged in the service of an unutterable magnificence.
She heaves and thrusts up mountains for his ether to erode.
He works from within until matter has been hollowed out by mind.

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Only by disguising infection as propagation has he gotten away with it.

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A man walks by, stinking of deodorant.
Why is this less forgivable than a woman smelling of woman, of some fruit, some herb, some flower?
His reeking wake lingers for an artificially long time, like a contrail in a cloudless sky.

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Philosophy either panders or it is desperate…
Thus both Marx and Weininger can win my heart.
One with whom no created thing is happy, the other happy in the lot of no created thing.

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Tears come so easily to him he has learned to distrust them.
He no longer believes, as perhaps he did once, it was a gift that comes with knowing the truth.
The reason now eludes him.

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How is Reason applied in a non-arbitrary, non-opportunistic way in a world whose every premise is irremediably irrational?

If Reason in her sibylline purity could care less should our world end today, how can we enlist her services with her full participation? We call on her every moment but our ruse, our “ulterior motives,” are increasingly evident. They are so not because they were not always like condiment stains on our sleeves but because our skill at discernment has suffered improvement despite our best efforts at mimicking children.

The capacity for self-deception, hale and universal as it still is, is showing signs of age, of senility. But it is not waning through an evolved tolerance for light but by a slow reversion into the world where problems, as unsolved as ever, nevertheless cease to own us.

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Terrorism is the reductio ad absurdum of just war theory.

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The honest shape of truth in words is not a complete sentence.

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I had plans to be a saint at an early point in my life.
The plans were discarded when I discovered there was way too much hatred in me.
For the individual I can feel compassion, even stupid compassion, but at the sight of a group of people, any gathering of humans in concert, a burning resentment, a nausea of metaphysical proportions wells up in me.
Thank goodness, I am not God, or hell would be packed full of stadiums of cheering people.

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moralist n., a variety of philosopher who does not speculate on possible moral theories so much as fixate on actual ones and on human behavior and remarks on the obvious.

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for the dead and the unborn, for your grandchildren or theirs, in memory of the names on the spines

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Geniuses know who they are and that this is a secret privy to a few and that if it gets out too soon they are diminished in proportion and that this is a good thing.

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After Lessing, religion is what the mass of humanity, in any age, believes.

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At the change of season or at twilight or at dawn the sun lights things from certain angles and casts unfamiliar shadows. The whole world is suddenly wrong or amazing or melancholy. Things look used or about to be used. An acute consciousness of time.

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The only philosopher to my knowledge that has ever been murdered was a woman. I believe it was Edward Gibbon who described Hypatia’s still quivering flesh scraped from her bones with abalone shells. Needless to say, her murderers were men, Christian monks. “Needless” because nearly all murdering is done by men, though not always by monks. “Only” because philosophy is scarcely a profession that leads to violent death at the hands of others. It is emblematic that her death was a misunderstanding. Religious leaders, artists, even poets are “understood” more often and suffer for it.

And philosophers almost never die at their own hands. They usually prefer to discuss the idea. I know of only two or three. Socrates, of course, who could have avoided his death sentence and chose not. The Cynic Peregrinus who set himself on fire on the last night of the Olympic games in 165 (they had turned disgusting even then). And Weininger who was gripped by a logical inference like a wren in the jaws of a house cat—a bird who was not innocent, who knew he was taunting the cat. Unlike so many other birds who haven’t the faintest: their deaths would never rise to the level of suicide.

Indeed, most lives end like time on a parking meter.

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He is guest in her house. Always guest and always her.

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If the thought brings you solace, it is surely incorrect.

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History may be monotonous but, contrary to rumor, it is not over.

::

My first impulse confronted with a rabble is to attack it. My survival has hinged on curbing this instinct.

::

To the extent one is a good scientist one is prevented from being a humanist. The former’s vocation enforces a discipline that has no bearing on the latter’s world. Most scientists are bad at what they do because they keep pandering.

For example, Darwin’s use of the word “evolution.” The mistake is not that one thing doesn’t come of another but to cast it in such a light that it seems to have a direction. We evolved from primates? Why not put it this way: we degenerated from apes? We are a succession or a development, but not a further development, for that already suggests progress… We see where this is tending. No matter what expression we use it will be normatively colored. What comes after is always better. As humans with a stake in the game we are constitutionally disqualified from opinion on our environment.

Religion is so baldfaced about its pandering that in this, at least nowadays, it is less dangerous. Most of its lies now merely enrich someone where they used to result in their being burned at the stake. But scarcely a day passes when we don’t hear of a new study that purports some new health feature in a substance we formerly thought to be detrimental. And vice versa. What exactly is science trying to tell us? (I sometimes think science is running an experiment on us to see just how short our memories can be. Didn’t you say the opposite the day before yesterday? Religion, to its credit, blurts out contradictions in the same breath.)

Again, the mistake is not that all this hedging isn’t homing in on a truer picture of the world. It may or it may not. The error is that any picture at all is being made clearer. Religion has, at least, a picture. Unconcern about the wrongness of the picture makes a believer.

::

Only the dead seem to have the stamina for truth.

::

Go ahead and laugh at my question. It’s a philosopher’s question, I know. But after you laugh I want you to try to answer it.

I want to ask after the point of peace if it is only a place of respite before the next fight.

“But the question is like asking the point of prolonging life if it will only end later.”

No, it is different. Human beings die, but it is largely men who instigate death, who wage war, who prepare when they are exhausted from one for the next. Not at all like nature’s live and let die policy.

“It seems you’ve changed the subject.”

No, I didn’t. Men, death… no, I didn’t change the subject.

“Are you saying that only women enjoy staying alive?”

::

He must see as the most noble of vanities the desire to be free of them.

A frigid, serrated, mountainscape observed from an isolated ledge over a sheer drop into a magnetic void.

Natural beauty is terrifying, moral scarcely less. The latter magnetizes the void.

::

At its purest, truth frightens. Hope comes from somewhere else.

::

For the scientist, truth can be expressed as knowledge of the conditions for events to recur. The logician is excited by the elegance of the way ideas lock arms in a dance. That grace is truth. The moralist, on the other hand, sees it most clearly when his sight begins to blur.

::

If we executed murderers before they murder, the punishment would be more useful. We like to believe we have imperfect advance information. But untold many suicides can be described precisely so. Not all of us are unsure about what we will do tomorrow.

::

What doesn’t make me sad, kills me (pace Nietzsche).

::

“I would sell it if people could afford to pay me what it is worth, but since they can’t, I give it away.” A slut and a really good philosopher have this in common.

::

sexist n., one—we’ll say a man—who points out what is wrong with women and what is right about men while neglecting to note what is right about women and wrong about men. (Sometimes it is mistakenly used to describe one who denies the equality of women and men. They are indeed “equal” but only in a way that would demean both and no one wants to talk about that.)

Usage: …being sexist makes for less glib conversations and men are more likely to be in a hurry than women.

::

Now read Otto Weininger carefully and you will see he was not a sexist even though he sensed he had only 23 years to live. Unfortunately, this was not the case with most of his readers.

::

What is wrong with this worker?

Like everyone around him he sometimes makes mistakes, though perhaps less often than they. But he also fakes errors in order to experience the taste of humiliation in the eyes of his “betters.” I mean he permits sometimes mistakes to happen as an indulgent parent might suffer misbehavior of children without comment.

Here is one who abhors not excellence in general but his own in particular.

How are you going to tell me what is wrong with him without coming across as arrogant yourself?

::

From a lecture on philosophy:

There is no better illustration of the opacity separating human beings than what happens between women and men. Our understanding of the other must come about first through active observation and reflection—necessarily distanced—and then secondly from a more open, passive attendance to the other way of being in the world. Combined, we do all we can, but even combined they are not enough to overcome the veil that separates us from them.

It is a moral imperative, nevertheless, to exercise these methods of apprehension. The effort stimulates imagination to supplement rational capacity. Thus we learn from imposing our inalienable preconceptions on others and also by being witness to or object to those of others.

But we can never overcome the barrier that is necessary to understanding. This is the basic difference between understanding and becoming the other. Were we to accomplish the latter we would forfeit claim to the former.

In becoming the other we would once again be alone—though not as the same being who was alone before becoming the other. This different being may experience aloneness as wholeness, not as forlorness. Understanding then becomes obsolete.

We might even say the bifurcation of the species into sexes was the starting point of consciousness. There is an other and the other becomes necessary—to us, to our development, to our self-generated purpose here.

But the other stays always, agonizingly, intriguingly, wistfully, other.

The other is necessarily the object of our attention. Even in our most abstracted, seemingly unrelated projects, the other is there, disposing of our energies…

But to return to our immediate point. There are two and only two forms consciousness takes. They are not reducible to one. The ethical task becomes to better understand the other and in so doing, the one…

To complicate matters, the other is also in ourselves. The feminine and masculine exist only as ores, not as pure deposits. So self-knowledge is implicated as well…

Bringing together various threads from the time of Plato onward, Weininger more or less sketched all this out a century ago before he shot himself, at 23, in the apartment in Vienna where Beethoven had died 75 years prior from a slower form of lead poisoning.

::

Hopefully, now it is clearer why I say humans don’t exist.

::

I informed one of the human-like creatures walking the street that he didn’t exist. He gave me a quarter.

I asked a young child whether she was a human being. She said, “No.” I asked again to make sure she understood and she said more emphatically, “No, I am a girl!”

There you go.

From my little survey I gather that cash machines and girls exist but not human beings. A good deal of philosophy is going to have to be rewritten on account of these results. Certainly, my sample was small but it was diverse and could easily be replicated.

In the man’s case, my claim wore absurdity on its face, its author an object of pity.

In the girl’s, it would have led the witness to have instructed her that, under the usual acceptation of the phrase, “human being” encompasses “girls.” What does she need with that concept? All those she can plainly see with her own eyes are girls and boys (and their degenerate forms, women and men). Nowhere does she see human beings. (To recall what Diogenes said about Plato’s tableness.)

The abstraction “human being” and the normative apparatus that envelopes it has not yet been foisted on her. Not only is it possible to live innocent of it but perhaps the mass of humanity has and does live oblivious of it. It only comes to mind when confronted with impertinence. A boy asks why it is not ok to kill and eat a person as it is ok to kill and eat a cow. “Because a person is a human being!” Like that was supposed to explain things. If it does explain things, you get what I mean by normative.

So I insist that, beyond its place as a stand in for a taxonomic term such as homo sapiens, the idea and its synonyms (people, persons, etc.) obscure more than reveal. Thus all these uses are suspect: human rights, equal rights, human dignity, and, of course, the larger concepts compounded from the same essential normative ingredient in “human being” such as democracy or schemes for the management of crowds or for the distribution of power, to say nothing of the moral infrastructure that prescribes answers to questions about abortion, capital punishment, crime, pornography, etc.

We are going to have to back up to what the girl sees to make progress.

::

A boy once remarked that Gertrude Stein looked like George Washington. Picasso thought, Stein writes, that Alice B. Toklas looked like Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know if Alice cared one way or the other, but Stein was deeply flattered.

::

Human beings, to a child or to a philosopher, even with a lantern in broad daylight, are difficult to spot.

::

To be told that human happiness consists in a preponderance of pleasure over pain is like being told that silk is silken with a straighter face than Stein’s.

Any such statement hardly deserves the title “theory.” Whatever truth abides in it, nothing is explained. But science comes pretty close to inviting just this thought.

To be told that happiness is not our main purpose here—that something else that may in fact entrain a veil of unending tears is our proper vocation—is to assume, today, a burden of explanation. Any principle that rises to the challenge threatens with edification.

We might have contended with the world well enough without such a burden. We might have managed a survival.

But wanting to know or understand has spoiled us for platitudes about why we behave as we do.

The day we might have been satisfied with less is gone if it ever was.

::

irony n., …fleet- and sure-footed, rare as they are she is sincere in her pratfalls.

::

The advantage of a third party perspective, of a “disinterested,” “objective,” “external,” etc. standpoint, supposedly compensates for the loss of the insight from an intimate engagement or an emotional stake in the matter. One without the other leaves us where we were with neither. But what does each have to say to the other? They live in different worlds.

::

Black holes. Compacted so tightly no light escapes.

::

Road sign: “Caution: Skirt the truth or the conversation will stop.”

::

The next to the last statement of the Decalogue: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” God was being quite careful here. He did not say, “Thou shalt tell the truth.” If He had, there would have been Hell to pay. By which I mean Heaven would be more vacant than it is. There are so many ways not to lie. One may conveniently absent oneself from the scene, or obfuscate matters so expertly that innocence is engineered, or modestly make no claims to the wherewithal to know, etc., while there is only one way to bear true witness.

::

Grief begins before birth and persists for a long time after death.

::

Tip on arrogance: first, make sure you are right.

::

In philosophy, puns are intended. There is no excuse for them otherwise.

::

To have friends is to have made a selection in whose company you feel no compunction about dissembling. Aristotle overrated friendship as a moral enterprise. Lonely people are limited in the damage they do.

::

I wonder whether friendship really is a small price to pay for the loss of loneliness.

::

One must learn to hate oneself before one can properly hate others. The virtue is quite rare and most do a half-assed job of hating.

::

The truth is a poor old spent woman. She is neither beautiful, nor rich, nor particularly interesting. In fact, she is the Queen of Monotony. But she has this one thing going for her, why I must be true to her: She is truth.

::

Forlorn slogan: “Truth, not hope!”

::

murder-suicide n., …his cup is almost empty enough to discard but not yet. There is a last dreg of disgust. Her lifeless body serves to raise the pitch of the occasion. And then he will be free to be free.

The case of Rebecca Griego and Jonathan Rowan (and a thousand others).

The architecture building at the university is cordoned off. Attending officer at the scene: “There was a restraining order but a certain number of these are bound to happen. There is a limit to what we can do…”

A spokeswoman for the women’s center winces on hearing this.

The restraining order came 40 years too late.

::

A man fires a gun. The bullet leaves the barrel, travels for a time through space, then enters the body of another and kills them.

A woman gives birth to a boy. The boy leaves her clutches, traverses years to become a man, enters the body of another woman, then kills her.

Gun control/birth control.

::

Overheard pontification: “Art gives us the illusion of understanding what we do not understand.” I nodded and pontificated to myself, “Science gives us the conviction of understanding what we do not understand.”

::

“You accommodate yourself to your conditions, the caveman to his.” To paraphrase Wittgenstein on hearing a talk on “historical progress.”

::

The university bands its crows to study their behavior. A color code on the crow’s leg visible at a distance identifies an “individual.” The idea is to study at a distance. It is important, we are told, not to give such animals names like pets. To do so would be a gesture at spanning the necessary distance.

People are studied thus in droves. Their patterns of behavior codified for mathematical wrangling. Never individuals, these we never “study.” Get close enough to see the individual at all and all hope of “study” is lost. We back into what is sometimes called “interpretation” (aka Freud’s problem).

This crow here, that person there, what can we say about them? Befriend them, project an intimacy over their affairs and what we learn is not the object of science.

I gather it was when we discovered our capacity for intimacy was limited that we invented science. Not happy with the superstitions we knew, we sought out probabilities about regularities.

So now we know a lot about regularities. What can be seen with binoculars.

::

Emily Dickinson wrote of the “triple lenses” God used to spy on our affairs.

::

“What doesn’t kill religion makes it stronger.” Nietzsche should have said, maybe did.

::

A joke begins, “There are two kinds of people in the world…” followed by a specious distinction.

I will suggest a philosophy that begins similarly but may not be a joke.

I am going to say there are two natural kinds of people in the world and pretend to take the assertion seriously.

“There are two kinds of people in the world—not three or more and certainly not one. These are women and men.” There… I hope I have not said anything controversial, yet.

But I will stick my neck out farther and say that the simple, contingent assertion that there are these two kinds is meaningful and consequential, that human experience is conditioned by this fact of existence like no other.

I say that any way of understanding the world that is not acutely attuned to this fact is crippled. To be sure, if it is attuned it is also limited, but in a way that does not unnecessarily compound the limitation.

A generic human being, then—as long as we are clear there aren’t any, may be a passable object of aspiration.

::

Love, the other side of the grave, worms have it for us. This side, what?

But in the disposition of the dead, it has become unusual for worms to be requited.

::

In the contest between life and truth, life will always win out. But don’t think truth cannot make life rue the day it was born.

::

The world ended sometime ago. Word is slow in reaching us.

::

I am writing for your great grandchildren. (Not mine, God help me if I should have had any.) So that they may read that even in our time there were some of us who knew where all this was tending.

::

Post coitum triste

Three aspects of the voluntary sex act in need of a moral account:

1. Presumably, you engage in this to give yourself pleasure or some sort of release.

2. You may even want to give the other some, too.

3. You are potentially instigating another life.

We can defend the first because life is to be enjoyed. Its enjoyments are precious and fleeting. The second because we may want to share them with another. The third so that there shall be still others after us to enjoy them as well.

What is wrong with all this?

Only this: that the pain that will inevitably accompany these enjoyments not exceed them in degree or quality. We never know that to be the case. We are gambling. Gambling is never moral. Nor life. The mistake is to think promises were made to the contrary.

Nature could care less about morality. Pain or no pain, pleasure or no pleasure. The sex act serves Nature, no nobler purpose than that. And it is clear that we, aping nature, are as morally unconcerned. Unconcernment abounds. And that is the mother of all moral problems.

::

Lofty thought inspired by Leibniz: “We are to animals as God is to us. It would be nice if the one loved the other.”

But, needless to say, God doesn’t exist. Neither does humanity. Only animals, those who are and those who aspire to be, everywhere.

::

It’s these children that have the snowball’s chance in hell of making this a better world, not me.

::

Weininger loved his mother dearly. All surfaces to the contrary, his book redounded to her glory. We know, for example, how his father (and nearly all his male readers) culpably misunderstood him. Weininger conspired with his mother (and a phenomenal band of geniuses and idiots) to set a trap.

From his mother, who seems to have had almost nothing to say, he derived the facility to speak and write many languages. Except the one understood by most of his readers.

::

In order to say something redeeming about men we must indict and convict them. We will be better able then to place them in the scene where they best suit the moral decor instead of where they have gotten themselves to.

::

S & M

In the relation between sex and morality, the latter has usually been conceived as holding the whip. We will come to see it oppositely in the fullness of time.

::

As a non-believer, I must say this for Christianity. The idea that we are all each of us corruptible, if not already corrupted, at each moment of our lives—that if we were ever really innocent it must have been in a dream; that is, the concept of original sin, designed to humiliate pretension and require grace, is a unique contribution to human culture. Ideas such as universal love or compassion find better expression in other religions. But this one insight even we, former or would-be Christians, might claim as our heritage.

::

Philosophy does for men what nature has done for women.

(Commentary on a passage of Hume on the role of philosophy in combating the ill humors of religion, found in his essay on suicide.)

::

On a remark of R. M. Hare about returning to the jungle:

It is why we cannot renounce religion even if we wanted to. It is tied too intimately with morality… We do not mean, however, here any particular religion or doctrine. We are connected through morality to the bare fact of the transcendent. Its doctrinal embellishment is indeed the proper target of skepticism. And if we cannot hold onto the transcendent without telling ourselves stories about it, this is our limitation.

::

The presumption of guilt is an artifact of our deeply held moral conviction: that people are essentially corrupt: the doctrine of original sin. The legal system is always swimming upstream against this current. The fact is, most people are corrupt. But another fact—one that the legal system is loath to come to grips with—is that it cannot manage a world with so much corruption. So then, as a matter of expediency, it hypothesizes innocence and then looks for falsification. It refuses to admit this ruse as pure expediency, hence the depth of hypocrisy. It is not the guilty that we are really out to punish. There are too many of those. It is those among them that are careless and unfortunate. That task all by itself is a tall order as witnessed by the conviction of those whose only relative crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We forget that this is indeed a crime. And if we have no specific law against it, it is only because in effect all laws are against it. And 10% of the time we even manage to punish this worst, perhaps, of all crimes. The law is moral in spite of itself. (Context: McCloskey on convicting the innocent.)

::

Sin is the most original and durable thing in the world. It was there before God and lingers after his corpse has rotted away.

::

Nothing has anything to do with anything and yet it seems sometimes that it does.

::

Tearing up: Most truth is rock-like. But it does occur in liquid form.

::

Michael Pakaluk takes a dim view of communitarianism…

The idea that all property should be held in common does strike me as implausible and unnatural, too. But equally so a doctrine central to capitalism: that one has a right to the fruit of one’s labor so long as the labor is not contrary to prevailing laws no matter how disproportionate that labor should be in comparison with the fruit.

Let’s take a moral reading of the very possibility of a multibillionaire. Take Bill Gates, for example… (There is nothing particularly evil about him that isn’t also about millions of others who would gladly change places with him. He just makes for a nice illustration.) Under what conception of what a human being is “naturally” capable of can it be allowed that one might earn thousands of dollars per second 24 hours a day 365 days a year doing anything? Or if it is because of some past achievement, what must the magnitude of the achievement have been for a being with the normal biological limitations of you or I, mere mortals, to have earned the right to such income? What skill, talent, ability to sweat, what capacity to concentrate, or courage, or intelligence, or human sacrifice, or depth of deferred gratification can have made possible such a human phenomena as a billionaire?

If material objects derive value through being interpenetrated with our effort usually in liquid form—infused with our blood, sweat and tears, as Locke thought three centuries ago, this being what makes them ours, how incredibly dear must be the fluids in Bill Gates’ body.

But, if this doesn’t justify concentrations of wealth on this scale, what does?

The idea must be something like this: the correct way to amass material wealth is not to really earn it, but to tempt fate in your favor. God helps those who help themselves. Suppose I buy a lottery ticket and win big, say, 20 million. Why do I deserve the money? Well, I put forth some effort. I got off my ass and bought the ticket.

Granted, Mr Gates made very extensive calculations about his returns. Let’s say he worked a million times harder than I ever have. In relation to his winnings, however, his effort is insignificant. He might as well have bought a lottery ticket.

So what is so wrong with tempting fate in your favor?

Nothing really. Wealth will concentrate itself in little piles like leaves in an autumn wind. Why not place yourself next to one of those piles?

And after all, if time is money, as I unimaginatively believe, then there are other ways of being wealthy. The transient in the doorway wrapped in his rags is also rich and I don’t mean in spirit but quite literally.

And what would be the justification for distributing wealth by any other scheme? To each according to his need? But some of us need so much more than others. Perhaps Mr. Gates needs his money more than I do mine. If this is true, I would not want to take a dime away from him.

But even though I, too, consider myself wealthy—what with all the time I waste, and the poverty I see all about me: people rushing about, there is this difference: I make no ethical claims for the way I live. It is not the result of an ethic, Protestant or otherwise. If anything good for you comes of my living this way, I would be aghast.

I am certain I will have as much difficulty squeezing myself through the eye of the needle as Mr. Gates.

::

Does one who robs banks earn his money?
Depends on his take. Just as for any businessman, there are risks involved. I think $10,000 according to one official report is average. Sounds about right. More and he is doing well, less and he really should get a job with fewer risks. The bank official would be the gold standard of such jobs. Crime really does pay on this scale.

::

Money is poetry. It amasses itself in great concentrations. And then it spreads itself out sometimes gracefully, sometimes not. Sometimes violently, more often than poetry.

::

The bad thing about the rich is that they pose such poor examples for the poor. With that, the door slams shut on hope.

::

Nietzsche on animal rights: yes, humans need them.

::

Inspired by their admiration for Pyrrho, the story goes, the ancient Greeks passed a decree that exempted all philosophers from taxation. The good they do society in teaching and practicing philosophy has a value that will almost certainly exceed any material income they will ever reap from it. As they have exempted themselves from wealth, so should they be immune from taxation….

Actually, so inspired am I by this idea that I propose we better the Greeks at honoring philosophers. We should double their taxes so as to insure their poverty and focus their attention on what is important.

::

Morally speaking, “can” implies “will.” We know, for example, that someone will someday let off a nuclear weapon in the heart of an American city and hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, will die immediately or not long after. How do we know this? Just because we can think it. The enormity, even elegance, of 9/11 was perfectly predictable.

Similarly, when an advocate of free enterprise resents government regulation to prevent private abuse by business interests because such presumes criminality where none has yet occurred, or when an advocate of government regulation poopoohs the notion of misuse of power by government (whether auto- or democratic), or when both cite the principle that in America “we (even collectively) are innocent until proven guilty,” as though this had anything to do with the proposal to redistribute or let power lie where it will… We are not talking legalities here. We would hope our laws are at least moral but we would be fools to bet on it. Laws become necessary, almost by definition, because morality fails. Indeed, as such they presume morality has failed.

The subject is morality. It is always right to assume the worst. Remember, we address human beings, we sinned originally.

::

Accused of being cruel, he scarcely notices. Of hypocrisy, now that hurts. You need to understand this if you, gentle soul, want to inflict wounds upon him.

::

Quote from Schubert’s diary (1824):

“March 28: Man comes into the world armed with faith, which is far superior to knowledge and understanding: for in order to understand a thing, one must first of all believe in it. Faith is that high fundament in which the weaker intellect erects the first pillars of conviction.”

This is the problem with knowledge: it requires belief. It is why science, for example, is only once removed from faith. Indeed, it is faith blind to its premise.

::

Modesty is prudent for everyone. And, in addition, it actually befits most.

::

In our fascination with the exceptions—and they are fascinating and revealing, we mustn’t forget what the rule is. The rule is men, not women, do crime.

::

Honor was sacrosanct and primeval for Kant. It hearkens back to a state of nature. The ship of state runs up against it like a reef. Jurisprudence is properly stymied, unable to apportion the right punishment, having no resource not overcruel or too lenient. “But whoever has committed Murder, must die,” said Kant. A mother who kills her infant or a man in an honor duel who kills his opponent are an embarrassment because society has not yet managed to govern itself with the same surety enforced by ancient womanly or military honor. Nothing in its arsenal of penalties can compete with the damage already done.

I make explicit what Kant left tacit—that what is usually called right or jurisprudence is a different subject altogether when it addresses women. We have ignored this at great moral expense. It has compounded our problems understanding the nature of wrongdoing.

::

“Now that’s a good question…”
A “bad” question is one we have an answer for.

::

A professional traitor of sorts.

::

In my philosophy, some words are typos and some are not.

::

“This I believe…” prefaces statements of faith.

I believe in the most unbelievable thing in the world…

::

There are two evils in the world. Not one, not three or more. Two. Poverty and violence. One is a consequence of the flawed nature of the species. The other a consequence of a further flaw in one half of the species. I think you know which half.

::

The very kindest thing we can say about political entities is that they are amoral.

::

A moralist inserts value into a world that could care less.

::

Weininger’s mistake.

His mistake was very basic and very common among philosophers. His distinction is that he made it in a grand, almost operatic, way.

He erred in overestimating the capacity for discrimination in his readers. He had a poor sense of the common run of humanity. In this one crucial way, he was no genius.

He imagined that in merely laying out a simple truth surely an audience of ordinary scholars and intelligent readers would descry his intentions through the discomfort of his message.

Other philosophers on occasion have let slip such truisms in obscure corners of their heavily hedged prose. But they are usually careful to approach such topics obliquely through a linguistic or conceptual apparatus designed to filter out misappropriation. If it comes down to it, they would rather not be understood than be misunderstood. (Witness poor Hypatia.) Weininger had the temerity to write a whole book with discomfiting saws and to belabor them with precision and acumen.

Only a very young man with little experience of humanity would have dared such a thing.



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