Sometimes I think it might be enough in order to share my own thinking on this blog, to simply post the words of others that for whatever reason have particularly impressed. For I have known for a long time that I am much more what I read than even the clothes that I wear or the food that I eat. We are to a large extent what we pick up by our contacts with others. And unflatteringly although I may live by ideas when was the last time that I had an idea all my own?
Hence a number of my recent blogs that are simply the posting on my own blog the words of others. When I think about it I might say that I live, and come alive, often by what others have said and written, often the very things I would have liked to have said or written myself. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. For given the miracle of the internet how easy it is to read what others are writing and thinking. Not a day goes by that I don’t jot down in my journal someone else’s words that I’ve seized as my own and don’t want to let go. But of course I forget them, don’t hold on for long, and by the dawn of the next day am onto something else no less fascinating and important.
Here I will post from time to time the words of others that I’ve recently noted down in my journal. While these words are probably saying something that I know well from long experience they are saying it better than I ever did. Also they may be introducing me to a new thought or idea and it’s these I try to hold onto and not let go. Does being in my blog at all lengthen their lifetime? Maybe, or maybe not.
I was struck in Haidt and Lukianoff’s book (The Coddling of the American Mind) by a quote that is almost a perfect inversion of today’s political conversation. “When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them,” Martin Luther King said, which is why today’s cultural revolutionaries have so little time for him. But he made a huge practical difference in moving everyone forward a little. He made things better by including more. That was also how we won marriage equality, the biggest civil rights victory of my generation. We did it by drawing larger and larger circles, by treating the other side as arguing in good faith, and appealing to a shared humanity, to what we have in common as citizens, rather than what divides us as members of a tribe. Today’s well-intentioned activists in contrast, are drawing an ever smaller, purer, more tightly policed circle, in order to wage a scorched earth war against another, ever-purer, tightly policed circle. And God help anyone who gets in their way.
[Two “Seasoned Nuts” from the Daily Pnut of September 19: The mention of a “charlatan come to power” in Germany makes us think of Donald Trump, although fortunately our Trump is not in the same league as Germany’s Hitler. And we recognize our own president even more by his “hardness” becoming cruelty, and his “tendency to bluff” becoming a seemingly endless series of untruths.]
“To some Germans and, no doubt, to most foreigners it appeared that a charlatan had come to power in Berlin. To the majority of Germans Hitler had — or would shortly assume — the aura of a truly charismatic leader. They were to follow him blindly, as if he possessed a divine judgment, for the next twelve tempestuous years.” – William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
“In his case, what had been hardness became cruelty, while a tendency to bluff became plain dishonesty. He often lied without hesitation and assumed that others lied to him.” – Ibid
“Haruki Murakami is one of those rare novelists who can turn our ordinary lives… into something wondrous” (Newsweek)
Two world wars later, Europeans and Americans longed for nothing more than the return of the “lazy peacetime life.” But with the passing of the Greatest Generation and even the Silent Generation (those, like John McCain, born between 1925 and 1945), we seem to have forgotten how precious peace and prosperity can be — and how hard to maintain. I fear the West may be sleepwalking into another catastrophe out of sheer boredom as much as anything else.
[These words are really borrowed from Abraham Flexner (1866 – 1959), an American educator, best known for his role in the 20th century reform of medical and higher education in the United States and Canada. But I take it directly as it appears in an op ed piece of George Will, in the Washington Post, August 29, 2108]
It has been said that the great moments in science occur not when a scientist exclaims “Eureka!” but when he or she murmurs “That’s strange.” Flexner thought the most fertile discoveries come from scientists “driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.” He wanted to banish the word “use” to encourage institutions of learning to be devoted more to “the cultivation of curiosity” and less to “considerations of immediacy of application.” It is axiomatic that knowledge is the only resource that increases when used, and it is a paradox of prosperity that nations only reap practical innovations from science by regarding them as afterthoughts, coming long after basic science.
[Magicians & Politicians, How Trump Gets Away with Lying, as Explained by a Magician. Ever wonder how politicians cheat without consequence? Magicians don’t. Ben Chapman, in Medium of June 27.]
Magicians are the best liars in the business. Not because they tell the most lies, or the biggest lies, but because they can get away with them even when you are anticipating the lies. We all know magic doesn’t exist. We all know that magicians are somehow lying to us when they are performing. And yet, the profession of magician has been around for thousands of years. It’s the same with politicians.
[From an old piece by Michelle Goldberg, ‘Evil Has Won.’ Pro-American Germans feel betrayed. July 13, 2008. Klaus Scharioth, served as Germany’s ambassador to the United States during both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations…, His earliest impressions of America were of a magnanimous, generous country.]
“For me, the key thing is the Enlightenment,” Scharioth said. “I think that keeps the E.U. together, the values of the Enlightenment — a free press, religious freedom, minority protection, free elections, democracy, a free judiciary independent of all the other branches of government, tolerance, respect for others. I’m afraid the United States might no longer be speaking out for these values. And that makes me very anxious.