Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dostoevsky

...A priest went up to each of them with a cross. Consequently, he had about five minutes left to live, not more. He said those five minutes seemed like an endless time to him, an enormous wealth. It seemed to him that in those five minutes he would live so many lives that there was no point yet in thinking about his last moment, so that he even made various arrangements: he reckoned up the time for bidding his comrades farewell and allotted two minutes to that, then allotted two more minutes to thinking about himself for the last time, and then to looking around for the last time. He remembered very well that he made precisely those three arrangements, and reckoned them up in precisely that way. He was dying at the age of twenty-seven, healthy and strong; bidding farewell to his comrades, he remembered asking one of them a rather irrelevant question and even being very interested in the answer....

from The Idiot

25 comments:

Cartooniste said...

The truth is, even more than the old Snoopy cartoons I have been recalling the intro voiceover in "Manhattan."

"He was a tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses lay the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat."

Because that is *exactly* what it's like.

We shall have much to discuss. Be seeing you up yon Canada way pretty soon, won't I?

JMW said...

I've been reading Dostoevsky lately. I'm making my way through Crime and Punishment. And it's great. But I have to say, there's something lively, somewhat aphoristic, and funny (yes, funny) to his shorter works, like The Gambler and Notes From Underground, that -- to follow cartooniste's lead -- I don't just love, I lurve.

The Idiot's on my shelf, and might be next.

Anonymous said...

I find Dostoevsky (whose name I note I misspelled!) a slow slog, generally. I still remember the fourteen years (well, that's how it felt) it took me to get through the Brothers K. I'm with you, JMW--the shorter stuff is where I enjoy him most. The Gambler, especially.

I would NOT recommend The Idiot, for what it's worth. I only included this quote on my blog because you've mentioned him recently on your blog, and I had it already archived. The incident it describes really happened to D; he was sentenced to death, taken out to be shot by firing squad and then, at the last moment, reprieved.

I like this passage because I thought it had the ring of truth to it; though I've never been mock-executed, I do notice how often, during life's "big moments", we tend to hone in on minor, picayune details. We can't take in bigness, I guess, so we take in smallness VERY INTENSELY.

Anyway, I'm going to go correct the spelling of Dostyoeoriulskejrsky on my blog-

ANCIANT

JMW said...

Tim, don't try to elide your mock-executions from the record. We know they've been plentiful, and dramatic (how could they not be?).

I read Karamazov when I was in college (for pleasure, not school), and I do remember it being more of a slog than I would have liked. But then I read Gambler and N.F.U. in the past year, and figured I'd matured into a better appreciation (just like happened with the Spice Girls). But even though I'm enjoying Crime and Punishment, and glad I'm reading it, it does seem to have an entirely different tonal character than his shorter works.

Anonymous said...

John,
I can see you being more naturally suited to read D than me. You have a much more intense interest, as we've discussed previously, in the relationship of man to God (or, as the case may be, Not-God). Since this is THE subject for Dostoevsky, he seems like a writer you would appreciate on a level I do not.

I don't know why I have so little interest in the issue of God's existence. It's a fairly important question, as far as questions go. It's just never been one that aroused much passion in me. It's one of the many reasons I find D tedious. Essentially, I think all of his novels could be summarized as follows: people take turns ranting at each about God.

Of course, I guess if you've been executed, and survived, God's existence is a more than academic question.
-ANCIANT

Seb said...

I don't know why I have so little interest in the issue of God's existence.

That might explain, too, your apparent lack of interest in Gene Wolfe.

With you, though, I honestly have to say I think it goes beyond (dis)interest in theism; I think there is much of what is so lightly tagged "spiritual" that doesn't really compel you. Consider, if I may out you for having caught TEH GH3Y, the difference in our tendency to choose characters: a somewhat reckless, dissolute rogue comes very naturally to you, whereas I almost always default to a deeply religious character. Naturally these two archetypes don't mix well: they have so little in common. Justin comes at you from a level of Mervyn Peake-esque insistence on discipline and ritual (which you seem innately to deplore), and the relative importance of these things is something his characters regard as beyond serious dispute. You are a decadent; Justin is a neo-classic formalist; and I am simply a zealot.

As my brother, may the gods rest his soul, was so fond of saying: long live the fighters!

Saxo philologus said...

A "neo-classic formalist?" I would take the time to offer a response, but I must go tune my harpsichord.

Seb said...

I know, I know; and from a lesser man, you'd cry "Oh, what pitiful stuff" and dismiss it as mere enthusiasm. But with Justin... you felt your heart glow.

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued, Seb. I'm not really sure I am a decadent, but I think it's as accurate a one-word description as any-other. Certainly better than "jock", for example.

Compared to Justin, I probably am a decadent. Compared to most others, though, I think I'm more of a neo-classical formalist myself. Though I'm not totally sure how you're using the word(s).

Nor, for that matter, the word "zealot." About what, or whom, are you a zealot?

By the way, the POB tag, was, as ever, rousingly apposite. If such is possible.

-ANCIANT

"Do you know what the word 'roger' means, Jack?"
"I believe I have heard it."

Seb said...

All things are relative, of course, and I have only chosen to "fag up" this particular thread because of your God comment. Certainly there is much else of interest in your blog, but almost all of it pertains to things of which I have absolutely no (as opposed to my standard-operating level of abysmally small) knowledge.

It was a moment of satori for me, really, and in retrospect what was meant to be a rather facetious throwaway comment struck me - me, you understand, its author - rather closer to home than I would like to admit. In retrospect, I realized that religion not only interests but absolutely captivates me. The whole of my life is shot through with trying to come to terms with it, for better or for worse, for or against it as an institution, idea, or feeling. I was watching what is almost certainly pablum to the rest of the people here - the season opening of "Eli Stone" - and found I could not turn away for the life of me. Bryan will certainly vomit everywhere, as he has it, if and when he should read this remark, but I found the show's rather predictable disquisitions on God, Faith, and all the rest to be riveting. Some guy I don't even like says he doesn't believe in God, and then a hippy, phoney acupuncturist says "sure you do" and starts talking about truth, justice, right & wrong, and love, and all of a sudden I am convinced THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. The season premiere of Lost seemed trivial - quite literally child's play - by comparison. Granted, I had a child climbing all over me while I watched the show, but as you know I have had a bit of a struggle being an atheist (or, what is the term Norm over at 1gm now seems to like, anti-dogmatist) among the friends of Bill W. I have felt a bit like an impostor or an embezzler. Then this mediocre TV show comes along and I am thunderstruck.

This is what I mean when I refer to zealotry - I am a zealot about anything, everything, and it is pathetically easy to motivate me by appealing to my emotion. One can see the fire behind the eyes of every generation of my family. They called Stonewall Jackson "Old Blue Light," did you know? So it is with us Beetons - we are Appalachians, after all, and when we get to charging there is no question about it whatsoever.

You do not seem to be that way. I am crawling through J.K. Huysmans' À rebours, as I have told you privately, and I have a very hard time because I do not relate to Des Esseintes at all. I try to imagine the mind of such a person, and yours is the closest approximation I can summon. I do not mean that unkindly; but you understand the difference between a gourmet and a gourmand, and you correctly pegged my father as the latter (perhaps without even knowing it), and it is as true of me as it is of him. You seem to have a true connoisseur's sense of quality, and it is a thing to be envied.

I call Justin a "neo-classical formalist" in a very facile way, but much about him seems to suggest I am not too far off the mark.

To put the matter another way: you seem to be moved by tastes, Justin by principles, and I by passions...many of them base indeed. For the passionate, the question of any god's existence -the question of the existence of the ineffable - is the ONLY question of significance in language.

How does that silly Johnny Depp movie put it?

There are only four questions of value in life, Don Octavio:

What is sacred?
Of what is the spirit made?
What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for?

The answer to each is the same: only love.

Le Chat said...

For what it is worth, and given somewhat limited knowledge of two of the parties involved, I actually think Seb is very much onto something here. Living with Justin, I have no hesitation to agree that he is driven by principles, respect for institution and ritual; Tim more by aesthetics, and in my brief interactions with Seb, I see the touch of zealousness in approach to many things. The allusion to the roles you three choose seems dead on to me.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is one hell of a post. I really feel that you should have your own blog. I really WISH you had your own blog. Or that I posted on subjects of more interest to you more often.

Des Esseintes is neither likable or sympathetic. I haven't read the book in many years, so I won't risk commenting too extensively on what I remember of it, but I think I remember thinking, at the time, that perhaps Huysmans was subtly satirizing the decadent's way of life in Des Esseintes--or, if not satirizing, then at least showing its manifold emptinesses. But I say that very tentatively.

I did happen to reread the passage pertaining to perfumes a few days ago and found it dovetailed miraculously with something currently happening in my screenplays in which a certain sect of humans develop animal-like tracking abilities. Their abilities come about because the sect is intensely devoted to appreciating good food and wine. The process of honing their tastes, accidentally leads to them acquiring their weird powers.

A digression. I think my point is that Huysmans' is a book of ideas first and foremost--a philosophical work more than a literary one. Read it for the ideas, not the character(s), the story, of the emotions.

As for you being a zealot--yes. I see it. Do you think your zealotry would exist in a different state--or exist at all--if you had been raised in a non-Christian tradition? Or, no tradition at all? Or, in some bizarre sect? I'm thinking of Scientology some these days, as a result of the review I posted elsewhere on the blog.
-ANCIANT

JMW said...

Does anyone else like the Pats to cover the spread on Sunday?

Saxo philologus said...

This is all very stimulating, all the more so because the judgments of outsiders are often much more perceptive than our own judgments about ourselves. We may know our own motives (and thus our true moral blackness, or greyness, as it were), but I think most of us are singularly bad at understanding just how we are viewed by other people.

I would not characterize Tim as decadent, but as an aestheticist (pardon the coinage). If I had actually read Kierkegaard I would liken him to the man seeking the good in aesthetics rather than in God, in 'Either/Or.'

This is evident in Tim's approach to literature, and poetry in particular. He has professed admiration for the dictum that 'Truth is Beauty and Beauty Truth,' on the understanding that pleasure and aesthetic beaty have a meaningful relationhip to some sort of higher good - that beauty gives us a window into 'Capital T Truth.' I am much more suspicious of this line, and I confess that I think Plato is nearer the mark when he calls poets beautiul liars. This is not because I don't think that there is truth in poetry; the best poems surely express powerful truths. But I don't think that the truth resides in the form, but in the content.

In general I am suspicious of the truth value of intuition, spirituality, aesthetics, etc. I also have a much more sanguine relationship with the instruments of power than either Tim or Sebastian, I would think.

But I am certainly no more 'principled' than either of you. I am just a devotee of order, rather than someone who strives to cultivate his aesthetic faculties or who ponders the spiritual dimension of the universe - a sort of would-be Scottish Enlightenment Prussian, I guess.

JMW said...

Wow. All of this is making me feel like I actually don't know Tim at all. Or myself, for that matter. To be perfectly honest, I'm cold. And scared.

I've always thought Tim was motivated by seeing the river -- a kind of Edinburgh School Post-Structuralist River Seeker.

I don't know Seb (or some of these terms) well enough to contribute much. (I do agree that a blog from Seb would be something to see.) Come to think of it, I only know Justin so well, too, though I admire him and always enjoy spending time with him.

I think that Tim's commitment to the importance of aesthetic beauty is something we need these days. And I'm not sure that commitment is inherently at odds with an interest in larger spiritual questions; but I can understand how they don't inherently dovetail either.

Anonymous said...

1) I like the Giants, with the points.

2) I don't fully understand what you mean, John, by "seeing the river." Is that a joke or a reference to something I don't get? Actually, if it's a joke, it's also a reference to something I don't get.

3) I am way sleep-deprived right now, so I'm not going to attempt to rehearse my aesthetic/spiritual philosophy in depth. But, Justin, I have come to depend/worry much less about the 'truth' side of the Beauty/Truth tag, and more about the beauty. Briefly, I would say that the relationship between Beauty and Pleasure, especially the pleasure one achieves in learning, interests me most. I think that really I'm a Utilitarian, and that seeking pleasure does seem to me the ultimate good. But I would argue that some pleasures are better than others, and that those that are best are ones which extend beyond ourselves, both in time and space. Eating a hamburger lasts a brief time and affects few people. Learning French lasts a lifetime, and affects many.

I would also argue against the notion that form and content are separate entities. That is WAY too big a discussion for this space; I'll try to address it in more depth later in the blog. (Between ruminations on proper preflop Omaha/8 play no doubt). There's a fantastic Eliot quote I want to dig up first. Basically, though, I don't think it's possible to have art with beautiful form and non-beautiful content, or vice-versa.

I would also submit that the term "beautiful lie" is a contradiction in terms. To know or perceive something is a lie is automatically to find it less beautiful. [Or, if we take the term "beauty" to refer to an absolute, binary state--i.e. if we say that things cannot be slightly beautiful, but either are or aren't--it's a state that something false cannot attain.] If, during a movie, you start to think "But this is wrong" it will always, on some level, mar your enjoyment of the movie. In my next post, I'll try and have some examples.

Thank you all for all your intelligent replies, by the way. As always, I don't feel able to adequately respond.
ANCIANT

Saxo philologus said...

1. I will leave the form/content question to the professional aestheticians. But I still maintain that beautiful art need not be true in any meaningful way. Music surely has no truth value, one way or the other.

2. I 'll take the Patriots and give the 11.5. The Giants have been lucky, lucky, lucky.

3. I can't read your Slim Charles post, because I'm only on episode 8 of season 2, but there needs to be much more discussion of 'The Wire 'in this forum (e.g. Why does Frank Sobotka look nothing like his older brother? Or his son? Does Stavros do anything besides drink tiny cups of coffee all dy long?). I drone on about it too much at home and I fear I will exhaust Natasha's patience.

Seb said...

Do you think your zealotry would exist in a different state--or exist at all--if you had been raised in a non-Christian tradition? Or, no tradition at all?

It is, in many ways, a meaningless question, and one on which I am perforce agnostic.

However, I will attempt to engage the spirit in which the question is intended: yes. I do think it would exist; for all the power of my Christian upbringing, my parents concurrently
raised me in Hindu and Buddhistic traditions. We have a mutual friend with a great antagonism for Buddhism, but his hatred of it is exceeded only by his ignorance of its teachings. I recall recently having told him I was of all faiths in my atheism, and he seized upon this as a chance to force me to confess the falsity of the teachings of Gautama. I blithely remarked that, by the strictest traditions, Buddha was an atheist, and I tried hard to explain the doctrine of anatta.

I confess that I think Plato is nearer the mark when he calls poets beautiul liars.

Plato is a goddamned nuisance and a proto-fascist. I will leave my opinion at that, though Karen Armstrong takes a pretty rough swipe at him in The Great Transformation.

Justin, you are chary of intuition, and I suppose an Enlightenment-oriented Occidentalist must be so of necessity. My education, as you know, overlaps yours but differs at critical points. This is one such point: personal experience tells me intuition can be cultivated just as Reason can be, and that Intuition is a far more powerful force in the...the only terms available to me are archaic and grotesquely misleading. The ego? the soul? The spirit? You must understand, these words are things almost completely devoid of meaning to me. They try, in their respective ways, to point to something beyond words. Let me then offer the considered opinion that intuition beats Reason with one hand tied behind its back, and beats it to a bloody pulp. Something in our natures...the "Samaritan Paradox" as it is sometime risibly called...knows what is "good" without understanding. I have no reason to think this is a supernatural knowledge; I would argue the reverse quite stridently.

I find Reason can only carry me so far, and is impotent where feelings are concerned. Reason can describe, manipulate, and sometimes even qualify feeling, but it is powerless to understand the irrational. The brain is a third-tier organ, in my opinion, and it arrogates to itself many qualities it does not have. What is the nature of the Self? Well, without getting all Cartesian on your Medieval ass, I have to say that in my experience the "self," where it is not a trick of mirrors (oh, Kierkegaard, shut up, will you?), extends far beyond the boundaries of a single mind or a single body. Again, I have no use at all for supernatural terminology, and I believe much of my opinion here is being borne out by contemporary psychological research. But who cares? Cummings had the right of it all along: the stupidest teacher will almost guess from the left hand and —the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter
from the right, and don't even try to tell me, Sieur Justin, that you, in all your pomp and chivalry, don't know exactly what that means. It means the brain is the abject BITCH of the "heart," and such words spell your doom. And mine; but as does your brother, I digress. The point is, one needn't take powerful hallucinogens to see the color of a smile, but one absolutely must obliterate all rational thought even to make the attempt. The best way to demolish reason, do you see, is simply to wait attentively for it to exhaust itself.

Tim, it makes me glad to see you abandon the doggerel side of "Ode on a Grecian Latrine." Truth - this is another word for which I have little use. The Big Book of the Organization That Dares Not Speak Its Name asserts that without God, the universe is a meaningless mass of electrons aimlessly rushing nowhere, or words to that effect. Balderdash is the kindest word I can muster. Meaning? Bill, you would superimpose on the entire universe your evolutionary need to guess at the cause of the sound of a snapping twig in the distance and then have the gall to suggest reality requires "meaning"? It does not. We require meaning, we human beings, and we are apt to supply it whether it is apposite or not.

I am tempted to refine my one word definition of you, Tim, to "Epicure," in the old, true sense, but I think "decadent" has the mildly tongue-in-cheek pejorative ring I sought. Go with Saturn - it is his day today, I believe.

Music surely has no truth value, one way or the other.

Sieur, I defy you to explain this dangerous nonsense, all the more because I do not for an instant credit that you really believe it. Come, I shall teach you to lie with statistics, if that is what it takes you to hear the truth in Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky, or Pinback.

Saxo philologus said...

Mercy, I submit.

I see that I cannot get away with broad, unsupported generalizations in this forum. To respond to Seb's points (or a couple of them anyway), I would agree that Plato is a dangerous lunatic, and that the dialogue form he employs is deceptive and disingenuous (I thank my friend John for pointing this out), but I stand firm in my hesitation to ascribe truth value to the aesthetic qualities of art.

The statement that I am suspicious of intuition should be rephrased, if not abandoned. As Malcolm Gladwell's excellent book 'Blink' points out, what we call intuition is very often the product of blindingly fast neurological operations that have evolved precisely to allow us to make correct judgments in the blink of an eye. I agree that such judgments usually are correct. I guess what I would take issue with the supreme faith in moral intuitions. I would be interested if anyone could point me to a discussion of the develoment of the Golden Rule; is it the product of 'intuition' in intelligent primates, or derived from reasoning. Hitchens, in his mostly excellent new Atheist diatribe, claims that anyone can intuit the rule.

I suppose my suspicion of intuition derives more from the way in which traditional gnomic wisdom - what we would call conventionl wisdom today -often seriously misunderstands the world. I read a very interesting article on this topic in the magazine Reason, to which I will try to post a link in the future.

Incidentally, Hitchens shares your friend's antagonism for the Buddha, Seb, and I must say - he is extremely persuasive on this score.

Anonymous said...

Justin--

We have had the 'music has no truth argument' before. I continue to feel that great music, beautiful music, IS true, however. Its truth is architectonic, perhaps--it traces shapes and structures in time which mirror underlying structures the mind perceives in nature.

I agree with you both about Plato. It seems to me the chief utility of the Republic (or any of his other fundamental ideas--knowledge as memory, in The Meno, the Cave metaphor)--is to allow future generations to come up with ever-increasing ways to prove that they are wrong. Stimulating but wrong. It reminds me of an exchange in, of all things, The Man Who Fell To Earth
-Good advice
-Yes. But my father was always wrong!
I should say, too, that in talking about the truth-content of art/beauty, I mean truth with a little "t", not TRUTH. I mean: versimilitude, coherence with the world as we experience it. Once upon a time I may have meant TRUTH in the metaphysical, Keatsian, Platonic sense, but no longer.

Jordan and I had an engaging discussion of Seb's categories at dinner. She took slight umbrage, I think, at me being labeled a decadent because, as she put it. And though I may not be the Buddha (or someone we can all agree is moral), I do think I live according to certain codes, rules, ethics--what have you. I'm not sure if that matters. We decided that another way of categorizing the three of us (which is after all, THE most important goal which we can set ourselves) is by areas of mental inquiry.

Seb responds to, cares most about, theology (or, really, religion).
Justin responds to, cares most about, ethics.
Tim responds to, cares most about, aesthetics.

Finally, I would say that in my experience aesthetics and ethics are shades of one another--that all art has moral content, and that a person's 'taste' in art and their ethical system always exist in symbiotic relationship.

What really interests me, I think, is the idea of acquiring or developing a 'taste' for something. Because what I want to know is: what happens? How do we go from thinking Shakespeare tedious and slow to the reverse? Why is the first passage through a novel almost never as good as the second, or third? Why does it take five or ten listens before even a very good rock album can start to excite us? I know these questions have a few obvious answers, but I think some of their answers are much more subtle. I guess I feel like, whatever we learn, when we learn to appreciate (and what does 'appreciate' mean, now that I get going?) art--THAT is what I want to study, and understand.

Coincidentally, Jordan also brought up intuition last night. I think she would agree with you 100%, Seb. But that's probably not germane.


"We require meaning, we human beings, and we are apt to supply it whether it is apposite or not."

Yes, but some meanings are better than others.

All right, I have to go buy a muffin.

Justin--more on "The Wire" soon. I saw season 2 a while back, though. I'm not sure how much detail I can recall. I do remember thinking how similar your life was to that of The Greek.


ANCIANT

JMW said...

I won't even try to swim in an ocean that reaches so far over my head. I would quickly drown.

All I will say is that, Tim, my river comment was related to the great game of poker, and I can't believe that, having extensive knowledge of Plato, Shakespeare, and the canon of Mr. Bowie, such a simple reference sailed past you. Dummy.

But really, it took this comments thread for me to figure out that Justin is "saxo" (hi, Justin), so now who's the dummy?

Saxo philologus said...

This is probably becoming reductivist, because we are all interested in morality, ethics, and aesthetics, and I am certainy interested in the history and systematization of theology, even if I think it not very useful.

Architectonically true? Hmmmm. Natasha and I have been discussing this, and the Cadet-Lake consensus is that there is naturally a powerful innate component to how one responds to artistic form (whether visual, musical, etc.). The Greeks recognized this, assigning various musical modes to different frames of mind; hence Plato's attempt to ban certain modes from the Republic. But truth - even verisimilitude - seems to be too strong a word. Appreciation of beauty may be like thirst; there is nothing true about consuming a cold glass of water when one is thirsty.

The disconnect between art and morality is clearest to me in the case of songs whose meaning I am never quite of the same opinion about.
Rock the Casbah is a good example. I have always loved the song (one of the best pop songs of the 80's for my money), but I don't really have any idea what Joe Strummer is singing about. Or if I did, I have probably changed my mind a few times. To say that there is morality or truth or verisimilitude in it seems to water down notions of morality, truth, or verisimilitude.

Finally, the best way to think about you me and Seb is through an ornithological metaphor. Tim is a Heron, Seb is an owl, I am a woodpecker.

Saxo philologus said...

And a shout-out to my man John Williams! You'll pardon the pretentious handle, I hope. Are we going to get a review of "There Will be Blood" from you? Natasha and I just saw it and are still digesting. I think I'll go and have a milkshake.

Seb said...

Justin - I am (now) aware of Hitchens' criticisms of Buddhism, but once again I think he is vulnerable in the very same way as our mutual friend: he doesn't really understand what he's talking about. I could turn the tables and launch into invective against Hitchens' many and sordid personal vices and odd policy positions, but to do so would violate my personal moral principles. Hitchens deplores the way Oriental religions - largely because of the Beats and Hippies - seem to get a "pass" in the US because they aren't part of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic continuum. He doesn't seem to realize that many self-described Buddhists and "neo-pagans" feel the exact same way. These roads are not easy ones, and are extremely prone to abuse and misinterpretation...rather like (in this respect) Science itself.

Hitchens is justifiably suspicious of any doctrine that attempts to go beyond the rational level, but this suspicion hardly prevents him from making a very comfortable living by being a prominent, self-appointed gadfly, a man who lives by his wit but who seems to contribute really very little in the way of constructive criticism at all. If he has made such contributions, I have yet to read them; in the meantime, I wish he and other anti-dogmatists would stop asserting that all adherents to any particular position are complicit in the activities of every nut-case in the world who spouts religious and philosophical jargon s/he obviously doesn't understand. That is like lumping astronomers in with moon-landing hoax believers, and the speciousness of such argumentation does not make it any less wrong.

While I have turned my back on most aspects of Christianity, for example, I feel it is only fair to point out that the number of self-professed Christians who make any serious attempt to practice the teachings of, oh, I don't know, Jesus or the majority of the prophets, is a tiny fraction. It's far too easy to pick on Christians, whose diversity and iniquity over the course of History are impossible to pardon or ignore. But seriously: how many atheists do you see rolling up their sleeves to work in soup kitchens? I am very comfortable with the label "atheist," but I cannot abide blanket denouncements that unthinkingly and (as it seems) uncaringly implicate a small number of very good, moral people. I will point to Simeon Timothy Lake III if my point has not been made abundantly clear. Hitchens, for all his cleverness, is not a good man; and unlike Dawkins and Harris, with whom he is often grouped (unfairly to them, I think), he seems to have no useful skill other than his wit. The Dalai Lama is a possibly insane hypocrite: wonders never cease. I shall stop practicing zazen, ahimsa, and old-fashioned Christian compassion at once!

She took slight umbrage, I think, at me being labeled a decadent because, as she put it. And though I may not be the Buddha (or someone we can all agree is moral), I do think I live according to certain codes, rules, ethics--what have you. I'm not sure if that matters.

It matters, and it is true: I fear the Sibylline frog-queen, and the simple fact of her marriage to you is more than testimony enough for your good nature. But I feel I have been misrepresented, by myself if not by others, as I never intended to cast aspersions on your "goodness" at all. I am far too much the zealot to abide bad people, Tim, as you must surely know by now.

In a similar vein, I hold your brother in very high esteem, and am apt to defer to his judgment on nearly all matters both academic and moral.

To say that there is morality or truth or verisimilitude in it seems to water down notions of morality, truth, or verisimilitude.

Stop that at once. How does the song make you feel?

Seb responds to, cares most about, theology (or, really, religion).

It is depressing to see it in print like that, but I am obliged confess the "truth" of it.

Finally, the best way to think about you me and Seb is through an ornithological metaphor. Tim is a Heron, Seb is an owl, I am a woodpecker.

Bloody marvelous, and high praise coming from you: I am an inscrutable, solitary, nocturnal killer. Huzzah!

Seb said...

I missed a very pertinent point:

I would be interested if anyone could point me to a discussion of the develoment of the Golden Rule; is it the product of 'intuition' in intelligent primates, or derived from reasoning. Hitchens, in his mostly excellent new Atheist diatribe, claims that anyone can intuit the rule.

You might be suprised to hear that I agree with Hitchens on this count. From an historical perspective, it seems to have cropped up as a "code" more or less simultaneously in India, China, and Palestine. Why?

Hell if I know, but I found this article highly illuminating.