What makes you happy?

In an essay of Montaigne he discusses the three things that still make him happy during his advanced years of pain and declining health.  These are: conversation with good friends, enjoying whatever intimacy he can still manage with his ladies or the fond memories thereof, and spending time reading and pacing about his library.

Is it not fine to reach an age when one finally knows what one wants to do?  So many people do not reflect on this foundational truth, instead mindlessly pursuing money, popularity, drunkenness, promotions, fame, a big house, or a sporting trophy, only to be disappointed once they get it.

Imagine for a moment that you had ample Read More

Advertisements

Nietzsche is not for the common man

Book review of Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzche, Part II

If Nietzsche represents all the happened in the Twentieth Century, and that continues into this one, he also represents all that went wrong.

Nietzsche rejects traditions. He mocks the idea of morals and religions. He cautions against marriage. Nietzsche teaches that only one thing makes sense: to further oneself, to extend oneself according to one’s self-chosen virtues in order that mankind may create or become something greater than itself – the Superman. Man is not a goal but a bridge to something higher.

But this philosophy, now a reflexive part of western cultural DNA, has been a disaster. It is causing the erosion of Western civilization as we turn away from our own hard-won achievements – great art, freedom, scientific progress – and instead sink into the base superstitions of Read More

The Day I Converted to Satanism

It wasn’t a rock and roll concert. It wasn’t a passing gay pride march. It wasn’t even a former Catholic’s fit of pique.

It was a girl.

After I had to cautiously break up with a psychopathic girlfriend, I took the bus home thankfully unstabbed and with both my little balls still attached and I thought, that’s enough. I can’t do this any more. I’d had a string of awful breakups with mad partners – some suicidal, some violent – and I’d had a gutful.

I decided I would only date casually.

Some time passed and I ended up dating two 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.”

Nietzsche’s Original Satanic Bible

Book Review of Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, Part I of III.

What should Man do with his life?

Satan whispers in his ear, ‘Whatever you like.’

The Stoics insist, ‘True happiness is found in virtue!’ Jesus moans, ‘There is no path to heaven but through faith in me!’ The utilitarians whine, ‘Make the world a better place!’ The Socialists wheeze, ‘Destroy capitalism and racism and patriarchy!’

But there is Satan, in the back of Man’s mind, still whispering his seductive refrain: ‘Do whatever you want. Why not?’

A hermit named Zarathustra spends many years high in the mountains with only animals as companions. One day he reaches enlightenment and climbs down the hill to inform mankind of what he has discovered.

He reaches the people and he teaches them: Read More

Philosophy as Proto-Study

There used to just be Philosophy, which was inquiry and thinking, trying to figure things out. From it sprang the family of learning:

From Natural Philosophy was born Science and Physics.

From Logic was born first Mathematics, and later Computer Science.

From Ethics, Politics and perhaps Economics.

But Philosophy itself remains, its current areas of study not yet broken off under a new label. What makes these fields different?

Philosophy continues to hold under its umbrella fields such as Read More

How to Heal the World, Part II

Part I appeared on Monday

She showed little affection for the boy, perhaps blaming him for her predicament. She hit him. She sometimes toyed with his emotions, playing hot and cold, relishing the only power she had every held over a male. She normally ignored his birthdays but when he was five she bought him a parrot and told Johannes how much she loved him. She let him imbibe a good five minutes of happiness before breaking the creature’s neck in front of him and laughing that he had believed Read More

How to Heal the World, Part I

Stewart went to a good, private high school in Brisbane so he got into a prestigious university where he studied for a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Philosophy and Sociology.

In Philosophy he became convinced by the ethical framework of utilitarianism – that is, one ought to act so as to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. Sure, one can always imagine convoluted scenarios where it could lead to barbarous outcomes, but for real life it seemed like the most fair and logical approach to secular ethics.

Stewart read books and articles by Peter Singer, who points out that the three hundred dollars you spend going to the opera could instead be used to save several lives if donated to a third world charity. Should we really spend more on ourselves than is necessary for frugal comfort when our discretionary funds could achieve so much good elsewhere?

Stewart, thoroughly persuaded, chose the path of the secret, secular monk. He got a high-paying job in Read More

Things Not to Read

Adam Piggott published a good article a while back.  In it, he pointed out that serial pest Clementine Ford scribbles absurd things only because she thrives on attention like extremophiles thrive on boiling hot sea bed vents.  She needs the blowback in order to cry ‘poor me!’ and sell her ‘books’.  Adam points out that she is a woman in desperate need of being Read More

Your Ignorance

serveimage.jpg

Image credit: Russian Schoolroom by Norman Rockwell

You may have heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect: those who are most ignorant on a subject stupidly think themselves the most expert.

For example, someone who works as an administrator in the prison system might say, “I know quite a lot about the problems in our corrective institutions, although I recently read some new research that made me question some of my long-help assumptions.”  The average layman who’s read about prisons in the paper might say, “I’ve heard the gangs run the place and drugs are everywhere.  I shudder to think what else goes on in there.”  Someone who has never read about or even considered the issue before at all will say:

If there is one fault common to all bloggers and their commenters (except you and I), it is that they think they are experts on everything.  Too rarely does somebody say, “I don’t really know much about that.”  But no one can be expert on everything.

[An exception would be Slate Star Codex, yet he manages to come across as more arrogant than anybody.  Why is that?]

We get around the psychological discomfort of uncertainty by adopting our team’s view of the world.

For example, in medieval Europe everyone knew that God made the world in six days, the Catholic Church is his institution on Earth, and that everything in our world is the way it is because God made it that way.  For us.

On the left, everyone knows that Trump is a fascist, public healthcare is the most efficient, and all differences in outcomes between races, sexes, religions and sexualities (etc.) is due to discrimination.

On the traditional right, everyone is sure that Western societies were much better in the 1950s and have been weakened by promiscuity, abortion, divorce and atheism.

And so on.

But you and me – we’re different.  We’re brave enough to point out some areas where we are utterly ignorant, even though our ‘team’ has firm views on them.

Here are a couple of mine:

Health policy

My experience is limited to having lived in various countries and using their systems.

This is what I know: The public health care system in Australia has largely covered some very expensive, life-saving treatments for many people close to me.  The Japanese public system is okay but the doctors sell the medication themselves so they have an obvious incentive to over-prescribe, which they consistently do (especially antibiotics).  The doctors are often arrogant and don’t listen properly to what you say.  Privacy is limited – you don’t always get to close the door before pulling your pants down.  The nurses are tasty.  I have also had broadly positive experiences of other Asian health systems – you can get what you need but have to wade through some baffling bureaucracy.

This is what I don’t know: Are privatized systems really more efficient?  I’ve heard that Singapore and Thailand have pretty sweet set-ups but I don’t know anything about them.  I’ve heard that the US government spends about the same as other developed countries but gets much poorer coverage.  I’ve also heard that the US system incentivizes expensive research into new treatments.  I don’t know the veracity of any of these claims.

Australia’s defense policy

What I know: the main part of our policy is the alliance with the US, which means we slavishly follow their foreign policy no matter how stupid we secretly think it is, in the hope that China and Indonesia will assume the US would back us in a conflict.  Whether the US would actually help would depend on various practical considerations at the time.  A lot of our defense policy focuses on protecting the air-sea gap between us and the rest of the world.  I read an interesting story about how the government found it hard to find a use for Australian forces in the Second Gulf War – most non-SAS ground forces were not equipped for taking on the Iraqis.

What I don’t know: I read that there is no plausible threat to Australia, and that if someone did attack Australia we would not be equipped to defend ourselves independently.  Written in the same sentence by the same author.  If not contradictory, these two facts at least seem to sit uncomfortably next to each other, like two white office workers who don’t know each other finding themselves seated together on the Tokyo subway.

I don’t know whether Australia should have more independent foreign and defense policies, or how much that would cost.  I heard somewhere that it might involve raising spending from around 2% to 4% of GDP.  I don’t know if this figure is accurate.

I have no idea what we ought to spend the money on if we went down that path.  Someone said submarines for asymmetrical warfare against the much larger Chinese military.  Someone said cheaper and more effective Russian planes to replace the apparently useless Joint Strike Fighter, which looks and fights like origami.  Why don’t we just train a local militia with AK-47s and IEDs?  This seems to be the totality of technology possessed by our enemies in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and is quite sufficient to bog down even the mightiest, well-armed forces in an endless dunny-flush of hard-taxed treasure.  I have no idea about any of these things.  If I were appointed Field Marshal today we’d be speaking Chinese by Thursday afternoon.

What about you?  Anyone out there man enough to admit where your areas of ignorance lurk?  Let us know in the comments.

What is Good?

serveimage.jpg

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 Good Life

serveimage.jpg

Image credit: Detail from The Death of Seneca by Peter Paul Rubens, 1612-1613.

Review of Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca.  Translated by Richard Mott Gummere.

One can imagine the ancient Greeks, at the second breakfast of human civilization, suddenly having enough agricultural surplus to sit down for a moment and think about things and to record what they thought.  We live, they noticed.  Why?  And, what are we supposed to do now we’re here?  Conquer the world and smite our enemies?  Write the Great Greek Novel?  Honor the Gods?  Life, it seems, comes without even an indecipherable set of IKEA instructions.

The Stoics boldly attempted to write some.  Seneca was Roman but Read More

Mosquito Cosmology

broader_universe_structure.0.png

Late in the quiet of the gecko-roaming hours, a mosquito drones around a motivational poster that says, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’   A picture of a basketball hoop.  The mosquito doesn’t know what motivation is.  It doesn’t know what basketball is, or what a game is.  It doesn’t even know what an image is, or a poster, or a word.  Furthermore, it is utterly incapable of ever grasping these concepts or ever coming close to understanding them.  It is a very simple creature.  It is a mosquito.  It bites, it lays, it dies.  That is all.  It can perhaps see the poster just as well as I can but it can not imagine what meaning it possesses.  It can not even wonder.

Outside the air is rich with poor-country foliage and exhaust fumes.  The thin moon makes way for several reluctant stars that peer through the darkened haze.  I peer back.  Those are the stars closest to us, the Solar Neighbourhood.  If you shrank the universe down to a scale where the sun had a diameter of 1cm (394 thou), the nearest stars would be a good day’s drive away.

The Solar Neighbourhood is in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy.  Our galaxy is part of the local group of galaxies.  Let’s pause here and reflect: scientists have speculated about the means to travel or send probes to nearby stars.  A whole galaxy might perhaps be colonized over millennia.  Sending any object to another galaxy, let alone sending a person, would require scarcely imagined technologies.  Exceedingly advanced civilizations may have risen, flourished, and perished in those nearby galaxies without us ever knowing.  So anyway, those galaxies make up the galaxy cluster, which is part of a supercluster.  The visible universe is a Read More

Morality is for Wimps

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

1 Nietzsche, Friedrich - Portrait, 1860.gif

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

Dreaming of Glory

rocket.jpg

I read Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell.  I listen to ragas.  Kraftwerk.  Rachmaninov.  Watch Casablanca.  I see giant skyscrapers that appear to defy physics.  The space program, the men who boldly went and the closely cropped ones with broad rimmed glasses who got them there and back again.  The pyramids.  Angkor Wat.  Ford and Gates and that blonde fellow.  Sir Walter Raleigh, the superman.  Da Vinci the clever poof.  Socrates who dared to think.  Galileo who dared to look.  Einstein, who saw behind the curtains of our deceptive reality.  Napoleon and Caesar who conquered,  loved and slaughtered.

And who am I?  Bloody Martin Smith from Croydon.  What have I done?  I cut my fingernails so short I can’t even pick my nose.  I’m impressed with myself if I have clean underwear in the drawer, which is not all of the time.  I have travelled no further west than Read More

How Acknowledging Death Can Improve Your Life

My most recent post on Return of Kings:

Life’s only certainty: one day you will die.

It might be this afternoon. It might be a century from now. You might see it coming in the form of a looming bus or you might hear its approach in a doctor’s calmly professional diagnosis. It could strike you from behind like a bullet in back of your head, your last thought being whether you need to get milk on the way home. It might come in your sleep, your morning alarm left unheard and a tab of midget porn left open for your loved ones to find. We’re all moving in different directions but we will all arrive, eventually, at the same destination.

Read the rest at Return of Kings.

Psalm 88

crow_sitting_in_tree_winter.jpg

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
    turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
    like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
    who are cut off from your care.

Read More

The Mask Slips

mask

They say if you give a man enough rope, he’ll hang himself.  Let a man speak freely and he will confess all his crimes.

The internet is one, giant coil of rope and anyone who uses it long enough eventually gets tangled up, revealing more than he ought to.  This is certainly true of myself.  It is also true of others.  Read for long enough and the world will unwittingly reveal all its secrets and lies to you, one by one.

First, everyone’s favourite billionaire tyrant George Soros gives the game away on his site Project Syndicate, like a Bond villain outlining his evil plan before leaving the room and allowing our hero to get chopped up by a laser.  His henchman, the presumably steel-toothed Ian Buruma, lets slip that democracy is a bad idea when it allows the election of people his host doesn’t approve of, or the implementation of policies contrary to his goals.

. . . the message of populism is similar everywhere in the democratic world: Liberal elites are to be blamed for all our ills and anxieties, from Europe’s refugee crisis to the inequities of the global economy, from “multiculturalism” to the rise of radical Islam.

I’m no idealist about democracy, even in its liberal form.  I will suggest moderate reforms in a future post.  Those reforms will not, however, include allowing traumatised tycoons to run the show as they see fit.

We all pretend to believe in liberal democracy, but Read More