Things you don’t know but probably should

Book review of Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell.

If you want to see what poor economic management looks like in practice, you will not have great trouble finding it.  Come over here to sunny Bumfuckistan.  The government has so utterly hobbled business with such a myriad of arbitrary and capricious regulations that all economic activity has ground to a halt.  Almost all the factories and large stores have closed down.  Tourism is near non-existent.

In his insightful conclusion, Sowell notes that politicians, no matter how counterproductive their policies, are not basing them on nothing at all.  They are basing them upon Read More

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Things Come Together

Book review of The Antichrist by Frederick Nietzsche and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

The Antichrist is Nietzsche’s last major work before he went totally bonkers and wrote no more.  It is one of his shortest, strongest and most passionate books, and it has a single purpose: to destroy Christianity.

His main objection is that Read More

We Wuz Spacemen

Book review of Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith.

Anyone remember space exploration? I don’t mean bobbing around like Bondi turds in low-Earth orbit as we do these days. That’s barely a step up from powered flight. I mean exploring deep space, going so far out that we can look back and see the whole world at once. So far away that we can block out the planet with our thumb. Remember that? We used to do that.

I was born several years after the last occasion any man traveled so far from our briny home. In my eighties childhood, so soon after our spacefaring achievements, it still seemed certain that we would be on Mars and Pluto and into other solar systems in the near future. My lifetime was going to be amazing, my teachers said, one in which I might well end up Read More

Free Speech: From Areopagitica to Twitter

Book review of Areopagitica by John Milton.

Freedom of speech has rarely been popular anywhere. Only a small minority of any population has been wise enough to see the advantage in allowing their ideological enemies to speak freely and disseminate their views.

Among this minority was one John Milton, best known for Paradise Lost, who delivered his famous Areopagitica to the British Parliament in response to a proposal to require all books to be approved by a censor prior to publication.

Here we find some of the classic and foundational arguments in favor of Read More

What Confucius Really Say

Book review of The Analects of Confucius.

Confucius lived at around the same time as the great Greek philosophers, when thinking and learning were becoming more possible with the rise of cities and non-farming opportunities. Dusted off and misused by modern ChiCom tyrants and incompetent Korean bosses, his philosophy is not quite the ‘rote learn piles of useless rubbish and do as you’re bloody well told, dirty peasant’ line pushed by those who assume their material-obsessed populace will not actually read his work.

The Analects are collected sayings of the old teacher as reported by his students, similar to the Islamic Hadith literature. So let’s have a look.

The Master said, ‘Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.’

Every tiger mum should have this tattooed backwards on her Botoxed forehead. The Asian obsession with ridiculous hours of ‘study’ (memorization and repetition) is hopelessly inefficient. Even though we are far lazier, the west continues to lead in many areas of technological innovation. This must at least partly be a consequence of Asian anti-education, that is, the practice of training children to merely listen, obey and to turn off their brains altogether. Thinking and curiousity are essential.

The Master said, ‘The study of strange doctrines is injurious indeed!’

I disagree. One should study everything. The brilliance of western Enlightenment is our realization that we are able to consider and entertain a concept in our minds without actually being convinced by it. This is something that Medieval Europe and many contemporary, more primitive cultures cannot get their heads around.

Read the Koran. Read Mao’s Little Red Book. Read Mein Kamph. Don’t forget the Nirvana Sutra and maybe some femo dross to round it out. Only a fool need fear that he will become a Muslim, Communist, Nazi, Buddhist or Feminist merely according to whichever of these he had read last.

Mind you, this is a genuine fear for fools. The unintelligent should be discouraged from reading significant texts and their education should focus on practical skills. This group consists of the greater part of the global population.

In high school I knew this dickhead called Jim. He would consistently be swayed by whatever ne’er-do-wells happened to be letting him hang around at the time. Years later I ran into him and he started going on about how he’d become involved in one of those wog separatists movements. I immediately thought, of course! How could he not get recruited into one of those eternally dissatisfied organizations? Though he was not one, I suppose this is where suicide bombers come from. The tenuous point here is, simple people should indeed be kept away from strange doctrines.

The Master said, ‘Yu, shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it; – this is knowledge.’

This is very similar to what Socrates said, although he claimed to know nothing at all. Certainly there is great foolishness in arrogantly believing things we could not possibly know for sure, such as the existence of the Gods, fairy tales about the creation of the universe, or anything much in the realm of morals.

The Master said, ‘They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.’

It is remarkable how few individuals and cultures in history have delighted in truth. Most hate at least some aspects of it and try to keep it hidden, most especially regarding religion, morality and politics. And more recently, race and sex. The average person abhors the truth and gets offended if it is spoken aloud, though the particular truths that will have them brandishing pitchforks vary according to time and place.

Like the Greeks, Confucius sensibly avoids discussion of spiritual matters. You can only do what you can do. I like to fancy that, had he been born in freer times, he would have said exactly what I say, but who knows.

The Master said, ‘What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others.’

Want of forbearance in small matters confounds great plans.

How true. The world’s lesser people are unable to endure the difficulty and delayed reward of study, the tediousness of contraception or the frugality to save and invest. In fact, lack of forbearance is probably the primary cause of poverty in the developed world, and in lots of the rest of it, too.

Confucian thought has influenced the West in various ways since his teaching was translated by the Jesuits in the 1600s. The idea of the consent of the governed had an impact on the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, though few Patriots would have known this. The concept of education for all led to mass schooling first in Prussia then in many other places. The idea that the educated should govern led to the Chinese public service exams, a concept now embraced by most parts of the world and excluding a few that have gone backwards for reasons of political correctness. It seems that the people getting the top scores did not adequately resemble those clip art photos for the search term ‘office team’.

Those ‘Confucius say’ jokes were always dull. There was only one that was ever funny. This is it:

Confucius say: “Man who go to bed with itchy bottom wake up with smelly fingers.”

What is Good?

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Review of On Duties by Marcus Tullius Cicero, translated by Quintus Curtius.

The old windbag Cicero lived during a definitive, pivotal time in Western history – perhaps the moment, along with the American Revolution, that produced our world – but you wouldn’t have wanted to live then unless you have a fondness for starving and being chopped up.  The Roman republic was on the ropes with two cut eyes and early signs of Parkinson’s, and Julius Caesar and others sought to deliver the knockout blow in order to establish a totalitarian empire in its place.  Cicero, a lawyer and famed orator, favored the old republic.  Sometimes exhiled and eventually killed, he is best know today for Read More

The Meaning of Life

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Book review of Stoner, by John Williams.

Kant said, beauty is that for which we have no concept.  We can look at it, admire it, and feel that certain qualia that comes from beauty, but if we attempt to explain it in mere words we fail because words can only express concepts.  Such beauty might come from a moment of perfection in music or from the composition of a great work of art.

In this spirit, it is impossible to properly describe the qualities of Stoner.  It tells the story of a very ordinary man and his life which is, on the surface, insignificant.  He is born into rural poverty, attends university and becomes an academic.  He has some joys, tragedies, suffering and some minor triumphs along the way.  These are of a sort that any person might experience.  In the end, he Read More

Sympathy for the Devil

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Book review of Paradise Lost by John Milton

 

Been cast into Hell for eternity?  Look on the bright side.  That’s what he does:

Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell

Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings

A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.

The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n . . .

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

Whose side are you on, Milton?  You seem to have framed the Devil as an admirable Stoic.  Of course Milton has to pretend to side with insipid, old God and his goody-two-shoes son, Jesus, but the scenes of those two sedatives chin-wagging are about as compelling as the dinner table conversation at the Flanders’ house.  We can disregard the boring bits.  Paradise Lost is an epic poem in iambic pentameter about literature’s most fascinating and maligned character, the one who dared to stand against God himself.  He may have a bad reputation but the Devil seduces from us our curiousity.

Milton opens his verse in the midst of the drama, with Satan having been Read More

Morality is for Wimps

Book Review: Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One (Penguin Classics) by Friedrich Nietzsche.

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Have you ever met one of those blokes? You know the type. You’re in a quiet pub – maybe you’re waiting for the trains to be less crowded, or perhaps you’re an alcoholic. There’s only one drinker there and he says hello. You start talking.

This fellow, there’s usually something silly about his hair. Maybe it’s long and he’s way too old for it. Perhaps a giant beard. But you get talking to him and you find that you’ve discovered a soul mate. One of those very rare people who actually thinks how you think, even those unpopular things that are verboten on both left and right. Indeed, he says those things before you do. There’s no one eavesdropping.  It’s just the two of you. You both chuckle conspiratorially and say, ‘No one else can see it, can they? Normal people don’t want to accept the truth. We’re not normal though, are we? We’re the effing Illuminati, we are. But keep it under your hat, of course. Most people aren’t ready for this stuff and they never will be.’

Actually, I’ve never had an experience like that. I could imagine it happening though. That’s what reading Nietzsche is like. On almost every page I inwardly scream, ‘Of course! That’s right! It’s so bloody obvious but no one dares admit it!’ And yet Read More

Strength and Weakness

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Book Review of Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong.

Each generation grows a little weaker and more pathetic than the one before.  You probably can’t fix a car as well as your father did, while your grandfather repaired jeeps under fire in WWII.  Your great grandfather – well, he didn’t even enjoy the luxury of mechanization.  He slumped across muddy no-man’s-land on foot in a pair of rotting boots he stole from a rotting Gerry.  And your great, great grandfather?  He tamed unmapped continents, cleared the land and obliterated entire peoples.

Look at your children (or the children of others, if you don’t have any).  Whining about Read More