The agnostics contend that pain has evolved blindly as a means of causing us to avoid injury. There are two things that might be said about the theory: the first is that a few moments’ thought will produce half a dozen better ways of achieving the same objective (one of them is intelligence — but the more intelligent the organism, the more pain it is capable of feeling). The second is that by and large it does not work — human beings jump their motorcycles over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace; dogs chase cars.
What pain does do is act as a motivator in all sorts of less than obvious ways. It is responsible for compassion and the hot foot; it makes people who do not believe God would permit it think about God. It has been remarked thousands of times that Christ died under torture. Many of us have read so often that he was a “humble carpenter” that we feel a little surge on nausea on seeing the words yet again. But no one ever seems to notice that the instruments of torture were wood, nails, and a hammer; that the man who hammered in the nails was as much a carpenter as a soldier, as much a carpenter as a torturer. Very few seem even to have noticed that although Christ was a “humble carpenter,” the only object we are specifically told he made was not a table, or a chair, but a whip.
Castle of Days; Helioscope by Gene Wolfe pp 218 – 219
“A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame… as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world…aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”
“My point is that one person is responsible. Always. […] In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts.”
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pp 84 – 85
I’m struck at how very existentialist that quote is. Just as I’m struck at how very apropos the following quote is to the #occupy movement.
“A managed democracy is a wonderful thing […] for the managers…and its greatest strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is defined as ‘responsible’ and the managers define what is ‘irresponsible.’”
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pg 256
“There are only so many people capable of putting together words that stir and move and sing. When it became possible to earn a very good living in advertising by exercising this capability, lyric poetry was left to untalented screwballs who had to shriek for attention and compete by eccentricity.”
Mitchell Courtenay in Frederick Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants
I remember when I was a battalion intelligence officer in World War II, in Northern Italy.
We were passing through these little old towns. The houses weren’t big, but all the generations were there. The old weren’t put out to pasture. They were our best means of communication. They were what civilization is about: human history, work, generations. Old ones, grandparents, even great-grandparents, talked to the little ones, and fascinated them. It was the oral tradition, generation after generation. Instead of watching television, the child listened to the old one, learning his history of dreams and wonder.
Our young haven’t lost their history, it was taken from them. We’ve stuffed them into a procrustean bed. Remember him? Procrustes? If the guest didn’t fit, he’d cut him or stretch him. That’s what we’re doing to our young, making them fit.
Here is a child, born with a sense of wonder, ready to admire and love what is seen and experienced. We say, “Watch it now, a little bit less, cool it, cool it,” until this extraordinary sense of wonder is reduced to nothing.
If the old person can’t listen anymore, he perpetuates the errors of his ancestors. You don’t need him. You need to say, “All right, Grandpa, when did you last change your mind about anything? When did you last get a new idea? Can I help you change your mind while you help me change mine?”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man my son!
My mom gave me a framed version of this poem on my 16th birthday. I wasn’t a man then, so I didn’t really understand it. Later, when I thought I understood it, I disagreed with it on all points. It sat in the closet in my old room until I turned 30, at which time my mom gave it to me again. I flipped it over and on the back was the note she’d written my for my 16th birthday, the note she’d written for my 30th, and the handwritten poem my Grandma wrote for me on my 16th. Reading “If” at 30 is yet again a different experience. Now I feel like I understand it; now I strive for these listed virtues.
Now it hangs in my son’s room, and I hope as he grows that he will feel the same ways I’ve felt about it over the years.
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it — all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary — but love it.
I think there is something not right about [psychotherapy]. It doesn’t do any good to anyone. I have a metaphor: If you illuminate your house with strong lights to the very last corner, the house becomes uninhabitable. And it’s the same thing if you try to illuminate a human being to the last crevices of his or her soul — these human beings become uninhabitable. I do not want to deal with it. It’s a little bit like — of the same magnitude as — the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition didn’t do much good, and it was a similar quest. It was a quest to search and to illuminate the last little corner and crevice of your faith — scrutinizing all the depth of your faith, whether you were within the doctrine of faith or not. It didn’t do much good. So I think psychoanalysis is a mistake of the same magnitude.
Werner Herzog, “Mad Bavarian Duke: Werner Herzog” STOPSMILING Issue 25
One very basic think that you learn as a psychologist is a respect for science, and always testing out what you think is a conclusion. You never come to a conclusion until you have full evidence for it. When you’re making a documentary, it’s important you don’t come to a judgment on people, but you go through an open-minded discovery process. People always say, “Are you objective? Are you subjective?” Those two extremes come together with empathy and love. It’s not cold scientific reporting, but there’s an objectivity there. At the same time you’re dealing with human emotions that require that the camera person have heart-to-heart contact. I believe that’s possible.
Albert Maysles, “Shooting From the Heart: Albert Maysles” STOPSMILING Issue 25