Archives for category: Random musings

I cannot conjure up the effrontery it would take to scribble marginal notes in a borrowed book.

I remember borrowing a copy of George Santayana’s Life of Reason (the one-volume edition) from a local library and reading the inane commentary of a previous reader. It actually turned me off reading the book.

I made up for this by buying the book in its first, multi-volume editions. Alas, I have only read two of its five parts, and own a mere three of them. This is not the origin of my entry into the ranks of the bibliobibuli, or of book collectors, but it may have been a turning point of sorts.

So I may owe something (what, you decide) to one particular Pacific Northwest graphomaniac.

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The history of philosophy is that of geniuses getting so close . . . but missing the mark.

Hence, my appreciation of a thinker is often not “do I agree” but “can I learn” from encountering said thinker’s work.

It is not for nothing that I am apt to say appreciative things about Jeremy Bentham but not William Godwin. Is Godwin uninteresting? Never, on occasion, correct? Irrelevant. It is merely that making sense of Bentham and where he went both wrong and right is much more edifying.

Thus, often we must look for truth, but keep a special eye out for the interesting and profitable mistakes, even blunders.

The two most interesting failures in political philosophy, in the last two centuries? Herbert Spencer and John Rawls. I am not sure anyone else comes even close.

The errors of great men are venerable because they are more profitable than the truths of little men. — Friedrich Nietzsche


When a friend or sibling advises me how to be safe, I attribute the concern as earnest, perhaps even as “heartfelt.”

When my insurance agent advises me in a similar manner, I infer self-interest on his part.

In both cases, I consider the advice in a spirit of equanimity and good feeling.

But when an agent of the government lectures me on safety, I check for ready exits, and eye any official weaponry with deep suspicion.

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“Friendship lives on its income, love devours its capital.”


Last night, I set my iPad upon my lap and fell asleep.

I immediately began dreaming about a pushy man “borrowing” my iPad without really asking. He just walked away with it.

I was annoyed — so annoyed that I woke myself up with the express purpose of getting my iPad back. 

Yes, it was still on my lap. Quest achieved.

It is a pity that the conflicts of waking life are not so easy to fix.

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You should not always want “your guy” or “your gal” to win the U. S. Presidency. After all, the economy being what it is — Damoclean — things could go awry at any moment . . . go terribly wrong. And the American people would witlessly blame whoever held power at the time of the bust for the bust.

The Presidency these days seems like a game of musical chairs — except that it is the one who takes the seat who loses.

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You may wish to play “the hero” in your “own life,” as Dickens put it, but it’s all too easy to step off the heroic stage to find yourself a melodrama’s bit player — or worse, the villain.

Or, in a comedy, the fool.

Take Louise Linton, the Scots actress whose previous work has been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding her memoirs, In Congo’s Shadow, released a few months ago. In her book she relates her 1999 “gap year” experiences, in which she traveled to Africa and got caught up in the Second Congolese War.

THe book has been billed as “the inspiring memoir of an intrepid teenager who abandoned her privileged life in Scotland” and “a tale of lost innocence and one daring young girl’s bittersweet journey to the heart of Africa.” But some readers, from Zambia and the UK, “have taken to social media to claim there are inaccuracies in her story,” relates The Scotsman.

And have accused her of sporting “a ‘white saviour complex.’”

And, basically, told lies, #LintonLies being the hashtag.

You can see what she has stumbled into, here. Even if she told the truth to the best of her ability, she has written herself a role that others don’t like very much.

Her very role as storyteller may have betrayed her. For instance, last year she garnered attention for her “idyllic childhood at Melville — which has now inspired her forthcoming untitled horror movie.” Used to telling stories that work better when she is the center of attention, it’s no surprise that she may have, in her memoirs, fudged the truth a bit for dramatic effect. A little pride, a little drama, a little padding. And a lot more Significance.

Welcome to the big world, Ms. Linton. It’s a comedy.

Even when you don’t plan it that way.

WyvernI am sure that at least some of my friends and neighbors find themselves nonplused at the extravagance of some of my opinions — and perhaps even more at my willingness to vigorously defend those opinions . . . or test their limits, in even more extreme ideational dimensions.

All under the gonfalon of philosophy!

But disagreement is fractal: even among those whom I seem most closely in agreement on some, say, political matter, we often discover vast chasms of dispute, expanding beneath the surface.

I find this invigorating. I understand that many others do not.

It reminds me of the wisdom of the old philosopher of unified science: the more we learn, the wider the horizon of nescience.

And yes, I do wish to assert that word, “nescience” — lack of knowledge — for there exist whole domains of thought that I have no hope of ever mastering. Yes, I admit as much, merely scribbling on my mental map, “Here there be dragons.”

“Let a boy of alert, restless intelligence come to early manhood in an atmosphere of strong faith, wherein doubts are blasphemies and inquiry is a crime, and rebellion is certain to appear with his beard. So long as his mind feels itself puny beside the overwhelming pomp and circumstance of parental authority, he will remain docile and even pious. But so soon as he begins to see authority as something ever finite, variable and all-too-human—when he begins to realize that his father and his mother, in the last analysis, are mere human beings, and fallible like himself—then he will fly precipitately toward the intellectual wailing places, to think his own thoughts in his own way and to worship his own gods beneath the open sky.”


H. L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (Third Edition, 1913), first paragraph.

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What if the central antagonism of good persons were between patriots and individuals?

There are no “patriot rights.” I have never heard a coherent case for such a thing. But there are individual rights, no? The patriot lays down his life for the greater good, and it is the individual, who looks at the patriot with gimlet eye, who benefits.

Play your roles carefully. The more patriots who identify as individuals the better, no?

But how many individuals must identify themselves as patriots?