So, why is evil so sexy? And good so profoundly unglamorous? Why does virtue seem so boring?
[2:42] Regarding virtue: the ancients believed the opposite to what we do. They saw virtue as being very very good at the very very difficult task of living well. We, on the other hand see virtue as having patience and honour and other hard to define, if not entirely wishy washy qualities. Regarding evil: the ancients believed the wicked were particularly bad at the art of living. We, on the other hand, see evil as a triumphant quality:
“I don’t think its virtue that’s boring, so much as a particular conception of it … Being a virtuous human being for Aristotle is a practice, like being a skilled diver or an accomplished tennis player. And those who are really brilliant at being human, what Christians call the Saints, are the virtuosi of the moral sphere. They’re the Pavarotti’s and George Best’s of virtue … In this very ancient Aristotelian view, virtue is a kind of prospering in the precarious affair of being human. A prospering, if Sigmund Freud is to be believed, among others, none of us manages particularly well. The wicked are those who haven’t developed the knack of fine living. Those who botch the business as we all do to some degree. Christians know this as original sin … We all botch the business, but the wicked do it in a spectacular dramatic sort of way.
[4:38] The wicked are cripples; the virtuous are full of life:
So the wicked on this view, which later is elaborated by I suppose the greatest theologian who ever lived, Thomas Aquinas, the wicked are inept and crippled and deficient and really rather tedious people who never get the hang of human existence. People who in a sense stay toddlers all the time. They are like poor artists who can never really knock themselves into shape. Whereas the virtuous, on this theory, are those who are like good artists … who realize their powers and energies and capacities to the full … The virtuous are those who are able to do this in as diverse and rich a way as possible, in this particular theory of morality. And because of this they are brimming with life and high spirits.
[6:16] God moral? Nonsense! Rather the very essence of delight and life, not to mention a good sense of humour:
Virtue is here a kind of energy or fullness of life, abundance of life … It’s a sort of exuberance which is why it’s thought sometimes, by some people to have something to do with God. Because to say that God is good, traditionally, theologically, is not to say that he’s remarkably well behaved, that he eats his greens, polishes his shoes … But, in fact, most theologians these days wouldn’t think the term moral is applicable to God at all. But rather to say he’s good is to say that he is an infinite abyss of self delighting life. Which no doubt, I suppose must entail that he also has a boundless sense of humor. He sure needs one.
[10:30] defining evil
On this theory evil is not something positive. It’s a kind of lack or defectiveness. It’s a sort of nothingness or negativity. It’s an inability to be truly alive. It may look lively and sexy and seductive and flamboyant, but this is a flashy show it puts on to cover up the hollowness at its heart. It’s the paper thinness of evil, it’s bitter unreality, its poor, botched parody of reality which is most striking about it.
[12:20] the redefinition of virtue: no wonder people prefer vampires
As the middle classes came to exert their clammy grip on western civilization, one thing that happened was a gradual redefinition of virtue. So virtue now came to mean not exuberance and self realization and self fulfillment as in the long tradition from Aristotle to Aquinas to Hegel to Marx in a so called virtue ethics tradition. But it came to mean things like prudence, thrift, meekness, chastity, temperance, longheadedness, longsuffering, industriousness and so on. No wonder people prefer vampires.
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: barbara ehrenreich, dionysus, Nietzsche, thiasos
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
– Ode on a Grecian Urn
Keats asked all the right questions, while we – some of anyway, most of us?- focus on the deathless symmetry of the vase. Keats saw wild ecstasy, Nietzsche the same – release by ecstasy from ourselves to mystical life.
Far more so than most of his fellow deities, Dionysus was an accessible and democratic god, whose thiasos, or sacred band, stood open to the humble as well as the mighty.22 As Nietzsche envisioned his rites: “Now the slave emerges as a freeman; all the rigid, hostile walls which either necessity or despotism has erected between men are shattered.”23 It was Nietzsche, of all the European classical scholars, who emphasized the Dionysian roots of ancient Greek drama, who saw the mad, ecstatic inspiration behind the Greeks’ stately art — who, metaphorically speaking, dared consider not just the deathless symmetry of the vase but the wild dancing figures painted on its surface. What the god demanded, according to Nietzsche, was nothing less than the human soul, released by ecstatic ritual from the “horror of individual existence” into the “mystical Oneness” of rhythmic unity in the dance.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets, p34
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: chance, fortune, hap, happiness, luck, Matthew Abbott, The Figure of the World
Receive what is happening right now, without extra layers of design or intent, knowing that to exist is gratuitous. In the moment, without complication, and most of all, aware of life’s happenstance and mystery.
What it means to be happy:
The etymological root of the English ‘happiness’ is the Middle English ‘hap’, which means luck, fortune or chance[…] [A] happy mode of being is one in which I am able to receive the fact of the world – its happening – in the right way: the happy are those who live this fact as something lucky or fortuitous, as something that could have been otherwise, but (happily) was not.
‘Hap’ can also mean ‘absence of design or intent in relation to a particular event': what haps does so for no reason; it is literally graceful. The happiness in question is the happiness of living the fact that existence is unnecessary or gratuitous: not (empirical) happiness at the occurrence of this or that thing, but (transcendental) happiness at their happening.
From Matthew Abbott’s The Figure of This World
from Spurious by Lars Iyer
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: ancient Greece, Bloch, Greeks
Hope for nothing, die young and you will be free and creative. The Greeks believed that anciently, thousands of years ago. Has anyone believed it since? Probably not. We believe the opposite: long life, accumulation etc., except tragic rock stars and actors who kill themselves with drugs. It’s easy to see how it would be freeing, if your life meant nothing, as it does in the grander scheme. Hope for nothing.
The ancient Greeks hoped for nothing, nothing, nothing, and, in my opinion, that is why they were so free in their creation. The tragedies already said, ‘you’re going to die’. The famous choir of Oedipus said that the best thing is not to be born; and second in quality is, once one is born, to die as soon as possible. That is not hope.
Castoriadis contra Bloch, interviewed in Postscript on Insignificance
from Spurious by Lars Iyer
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: arbejdsglæde, japan, Scandanavia, United States, work
Work happiness = Scandanavia
Death from overwork = Japan
Job hate = United States
We work half our waking lives. Let’s see, where shall I life?
While the English and Danish languages have strong common roots, there are of course many words that exist only in one language and not in the other. And here’s a word that exists only in Danish and not in English: arbejdsglæde. Arbejde means work and glæde means happiness, so arbejdsglæde is “happiness at work.” This word also exists in the other Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic) but is not in common use in any other language on the planet.
For instance, where we Scandinavians have arbejdsglæde, the Japanese instead have karoshi, which means “Death from overwork.” And this is no coincidence; there is a word for it in Danish because Danish workplaces have a long-standing tradition of wanting to make their employees happy. To most Danes, a job isn’t just a way to get paid; we fully expect to enjoy ourselves at work.
The U.S. attitude towards work is often quite different. A few years ago I gave a speech in Chicago, and an audience member told me that “Of course I hate my job, that’s why they pay me to do it!” Many Americans hate their jobs and consider this to be perfectly normal. Similarly, many U.S. workplaces do little or nothing to create happiness among employees, sticking to the philosophy that “If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not working hard enough.”
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: doctors, health, Simon Gray, specialization
The elephant’s trunk isn’t the elephant and the elephant isn’t tree-like; these misapprehensions are the pitfalls of specialization. To really know the elephant must be divine, and will require knowing more than one body part. It’s the same with knowing a patient when you’re a doctor. A specialist doctor who has overspecialized will never know the whole person. He may take care of that particular rare thing you have wrong with your elbow or larynx, and he’ll no doubt be able to afford some houses and boats, but he won’t be a better doctor because he won’t know the patient.
How can one trust doctors? They seem to know more and more about their own specialities, less and less about their patients. If they are ear, nose and throat people, then they know the ear, nose and throat of you, but not what these are attached to, you’re not present as a living and ailing organism, you’re there in the bits and pieces he know about, and he’s unlikely? unwilling? unable? to speculate about alternative explanations for your illness, there’s nothing wrong with your ear, nose and throat, so you’d better go to someone who specialized in something else and if you’re lucky you might eventually hit on a man who happens to specialize in whatever is killing you.
The Smoking Diaries, Simon Gray, p45
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge | Tags: aldous huxley, books, george orwell, internet, Neil Postman, reading
The NY LA art book fairs are for makers of zines, comics, posters, prints and art books. There is a genre of art book that is full of pictures and very big text. One of its leading proponents and practitioners is Bruce Mau who did Zine and SMLXL etc. One way of describing this genre of book is that content now has to fight with design for relevance. So, the old orange penguins were a couple years of hard writing work (content) set in type and given an eyecatching cover. The content had clear superiority over the graphics and design of the book. Not with art books, the font and design is much more important with them and oftentimes all but extinguishes the content. At the art book fairs people gather to buy and sell these novelty products. Architects like art books, I guess their education doesn’t emphasize the kind with content: history, fiction, poetry. A young architect once told me he liked books as objects. That’s what an art book is, an object.
I have a degree in literature and an internet addiction. On my recent vacation, I took a book and no computer. It was only five days, so not much of a sacrifice, but the book burned into my brain and heart in a way I haven’t experienced in months and months. I began to write again. Anyway I’m back now wasting time on the internet, flipping around, reading essays and watching movies, and rarely confronting humanity in the way that my travel book helped me to. I guess most of the internet is like an art book – more flash, less content.
Something from Postman:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman