Category Archives: Politico

“I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.” (from the play, Heauton Timorumenos, by the Roman, Terence)

I’m clearly in over my head (without Lewis’s encyclopedic knowledge) but still writing about him. For this I ask your understanding. And now I’m writing about his 1943 book, The Abolition of Man, which has received probably the most attention of all his works. The National Review ranked the book #7 in its 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century list. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute ranked the book as the second best book of the 20th century. In a lecture on Walker Percy, Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College lists the book as one of six “books to read to save Western Civilization,” — yes that’s right, “to save Western Civilization,”— (the other saviors being  Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy, The Everlasting Man  and Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.)

In this book Lewis would defend something he calls “objective value” a kind of natural law, and he would defend it from something that seems to be the activity of scientists, which would do away with objective value, by reduction, by reducing men created in the image of God to natural beings created in no one’s image, without chests, without feeling, without hearts.

Lewis elsewhere (in his book, Present Concerns) tells us there are Three Kinds of Men,  “those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them,”  (probably most of us) and then those “who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society,—and honestly try to pursue their own interests but no further than this claim will allow,” probably almost as many, and finally a third class of those “who can say like St Paul that for them to live is Christ. That the will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs.” Are there any at all of these? Well there are certainly some who would place themselves in this third class.

What about the scientist? A class of his own? Lewis doesn’t mention him specifically. But he is definitely not of the third class, the class to which Lewis himself would belong, those who have given themselves over to Christ. As for the scientist Lewis’s three types of men don’t seem to include him.

But the abolition of man (resulting as it seems from the activity of science) is not what this book, The Abolition of Man, is most about. Rather it’s the book’s Appendix that gets most of my and probably most of Lewis’ own attention, not to mention the book’s many admirers. The Appendix alone, perhaps, is what makes this book one of those six books that would, or could “save Western civilization.”

Lewis says that the Chinese speak of a great something called the Tao, that which is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge into space and time…. This conception of the Way, or Road in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Oriental alike is for Lewis the Tao, in his view, the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, about what we are, about what the universe is. In fact Lewis throughout all his writing is trying to make a case for the “really true.”

But there are a couple of great ironies here. For one, while Lewis would describe what he sees as the abolition of man he is in fact giving us in this book a man inherently moral, not needing God, evidently much alive on this earth well before the coming of Christ, and showing a highly developed understanding of right and wrong. (The restoration rather than the abolition of man?) I come away from the reading of the book, and most of all the book’s Appendix, and suggest a fourth kind of man, a natural moral man, one who is clearly present in all the earlier civilizations of which we have objective evidence, and one who comes closest to ourselves, to what we are, or would be.

The other great irony is that Lewis himself employs the method of the scientist and/or historian, not the Christian (whatever that method might be?), to tell us what he has learned about who we are. To that end he has collected hundreds, perhaps thousands or more illustrations of men’s natural morality, of man’s awareness of right and wrong, such awareness not coming from the teachings of one or another religion but in this instance from Lewis’ own efforts at gaining knowledge of self through his reading. All of this strongly implying that there is objective value, a moral law out there, coming in multiple representations and accessible to all of us. A widely read individual like Lewis himself would be continually encountering these and similar texts in his reading, and we should not be surprised by the Appendix, only that he didn’t see the full significance of what he had done. I call this the Montaigne effect because Montaigne’s essays while similarly rich in source materials also have much to tell us of the nature of man.

Lewis, no less than Montaigne, makes no pretense of completeness, and we know there is much more of the same to be found if we were ourselves were to read as widely and to look further. The idea of collecting independent testimonies of a natural moral law presupposes that civilizations have arisen in the world, often independently of one another, and that they point to multiple emergences of moral man on the planet. Montaigne knew this, Lewis seems not to have understood its full significance.


Lewis does group his evidence (why?) under such titles as the Laws of General and Special Beneficence, Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors, to Children and Posterity, the Laws of Justice, Good Faith and Veracity, and Magnanimity.

These texts even in these artificial groupings are the evidence of a world-wide moral code that the historian/scientist Lewis himself has brought to our attention. For me, this is enough, the testimonies from so many who have come before us, from men like us. And it is enough to strive to be like them. No God, no religion is necessary.

Below are just a few of the quotations that Lewis has grouped together, presented here in no particular order. From all parts of the known world going back thousands of years the writers of these words are saying pretty much the same things about the nature of man, and in this work of C.S.Lewis, far from being abolished man is restored and reinstated.


‘I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

‘He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.’ (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. i, p. 6)

‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23; cf. xii. 2)

‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:17)

‘When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Enrich them. Jan Ch’iu said, When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Instruct them.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9)

‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)

‘He who is asked for alms should always give.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 7)

‘What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?’ (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140)

‘I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.’ (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.)

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:18)

‘Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)

‘Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.’ (Greek. Ibid. i. xi)

‘Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.’ (Roman. Ibid. i. vii)

‘Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?’ (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51, a, b)

‘Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 9)

‘When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force (tê) of a people has reached its highest point.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9)

‘Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘Nature produces a special love of offspring’ and ‘To live according to Nature is the supreme good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi)

‘The Master said, Respect the young.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22)

‘The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part… and we feel it very sorely.’ (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE v. 432)

‘Thou shalt not steal.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:15)

‘Choose loss rather than shameful gains.’ (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels)

‘Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.’ (Roman. Justinian, Institutions, I. i)

‘If the native made a “find” of any kind (e.g., a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441)

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)

‘Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482)

‘Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:15)

‘A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 6)

‘Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.’ (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312)

‘The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless. (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 446)

‘One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.’… ‘They never desert the sick.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 443)

‘Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131)

‘They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180)

‘There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)

‘To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.’ (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III, cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. 161)

‘They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dwellings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.’ (Roman. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 638-9, 660)

‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)

‘Death is better for every man than life with shame.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890)

‘Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv)

‘Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time … let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.’ (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98)

‘Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?’ (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phadeo, 81 A)

‘I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál, I. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand’s Lieder der Älteren Edda. 1922)

‘Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.’ (Christian. John 12:24,25)


Re-thinking CS Lewis

Lewis, was a good man, and a wise man,

but wrong, terribly wrong, in regard to the respective places he gave to science and religion. I would say even that Lewis was too much a Christian, at least from the time of his own conversion in 1929, and his being too much a Christian, a believer, led him to see

lewis-picturenot the old world in which he grew up, but rather the new world of modern science which he saw taking shape around him, and in particular the uni/multiverse described by the cosmologists, while spectacular, —as a horribly, terribly empty, boundless space where God’s presence was not to be felt. (see “The Empty Universe” in Lewis’ occasional writings, Present Concerns.)


Had Lewis never had a conversion, had he remained an atheist he might have then “believed” in the new world of science and have seen therein more truth and beauty than was to be found in the old world of his youth, and he might have used his own exceptional rhetorical skills to describe that new world, the world of the founding fathers of science, of Galileo, Newton, and Albert Einstein, the world of many of his own friends probably at Oxford and Cambridge.

For then he might have, much as did Carl Sagan and the countless others, whose works were describing in great, beautiful detail the new, the uni/multiverse out there as well as the  earth’s no less beautiful and extraordinary evolutionary history. The works of these men, scientists, writers, and writer scientists, are the fitting and proper replacements for the beautiful, imaginative but no longer relevant works of the Middle Ages, those no less significant works at the time of which Lewis himself never wanted to let go. Lewis somehow, for whatever reason, remained in the past. This was at once his greatness, but also his great failure, the failure not to see what was coming if religion was not put in its proper place.

But there is much to be said in his favor, for in many regards Lewis was a great man. As has been often said Lewis was the classicists’ classicist. A celebrity in his own right. I, a mostly nobody, really am without a soap box of my own on which to stand and say even a single word about him, let alone a critical word. So allow me here to at least acknowledge Lewis’ many and real accomplishments. I take the following from, The Official Website of C.S.Lewis:

Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.

Lewis wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. C. S. Lewis’s most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics in The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

My own skepticism, my criticism of Lewis and others like him, I would with greater legitimacy direct to the largest group of Christians in America, the Evangelicals, for whom, although I don’t know this, Lewis is probably a hero. It does seem that to some extent the views of the Evangelicals, now some fifty years after the death of Lewis, are changing. Although probably not yet do they recognize, what Lewis himself always refused to admit, or at least acknowledge, the harm that their “mere Christianity” might be doing to the country and the world.

Anyway here’s what they, or at least one of them, is saying: for they do not speak with just one voice.  But not yet are they speaking about the really thrilling discoveries of science, of the size and the origin of the cosmos, of the evolutionary history of birds and mammals, of the origin of us, of all the still great mysteries of science that the men and women of science are bringing to our attention, the quantum theory that no one understands, dark matter, dark energy, gravitational waves…

We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“evangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.

But my “present concern,” one of them anyway, is something else. It goes back to the words of Jeff Schweitzer in my previous post, “As we witness yet again the brutal and bloody consequences of religious intolerance in the form of ISIS, we have a majority of Republicans pining for a Christian America. Proponents of converting the United States into a theocracy do not see the terrible parallel between religious excess in the Middle East and here at home, but they would not because blindness to reason is the inevitable consequence of religious zealotry.”

Science and religion are not at all the same, and history tells us clearly, although Lewis didn’t see it, nor Billy Graham, nor the millions of evangelical Christians since then and now, that science has better answers than religion to the questions that concern us the most, the three questions of Paul Gauguin, for example, D’ou Venons Nous,  Que Sommes Nous, et Où Allons Nous. And if you put these three together you have much the same question that Art Buchwald, when he was about to die and eating yet another icecream Sunday, asked– “What’s It All About, Alfie?”

I’ve come to my own conclusion that science has more to say about this than religion. While religion has only belief science has the truth to be obtained from careful observation and measurement. What would you rather have, while building a house, or doing anything else? Isn’t the answer obvious? Reason not belief is what we should rely on.

Our greatest problem, right now, today, is that a majority of Americans are still turning to religion, totally unlike the Founding Fathers themselves as Schweitzer makes clear in his article. Our leaders for the most part, rather than turning to science for answers, are still looking for far out answers, in the Bible, the Koran, probably in the sacred books of the Eastern religions as well, not to mention astrology and fortune telling. One result of this being that many of our citizens, many of our people are being condemned because of something that was written thousands of years ago in a now mostly irrelevant and ancient text. Our leaders are not turning to reason, perhaps man’s greatest natural gift, but to feelings, emotions, opinions, and in the worst instances, bigotry and ideology for answers.

The result is that many, not without good reason, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens (the three plus one atheists) see religion, not science, as the greatest existential threat not only to our country, but to the world, to civilization itself. Would that CS Lewis, for all that he did see, that was just and right, had seen this coming. He might have helped to change the way that true believers believed, and thereby grow our hope for the future.


People in other countries have dealt with presidents like Trump for a long time. Can we handle it? Yes, we can.

William Saletan in Slate Magazine (Nov. 29, 2016 ) writes about Donald Trump:

saletan

“He’s an emotional weakling, and his recent interviews give us models for dealing with it.”

This week, in a volley of angry tweets, Donald Trump ridiculed the “badly defeated … Dems,” claimed he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” and said anyone who burned the American flag should lose their citizenship or spend a year in jail. Trump’s outbursts set off alarms. How could he believe such nonsense about voter fraud? Why would a man who had just been elected president gloat, threaten protesters, and insult half the country? What’s going on in his messed-up head?

To understand Trump, you have to set aside the scripted speeches he gave before his election and the canned videos he has released since. You also have to set aside the caricature of him as a Klan-loving, Nazi-sympathizing woman hater who will deport every immigrant he can find. Instead, look at the four interviews he has given since his election: to the Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and a group of TV anchors and executives. In these exchanges, all of them conducted outside the behavior-warping context of the campaign, you’ll see how squishy he is. Trump did run a despicable campaign, and he’s a menace to the country and the world. But it’s not because he’s a strongman. It’s because he’s a weakling.


That’s the short version. The longer story is more complicated. Here are the various facets of Trump’s personality, how they fit together, and why they make him dangerous.

1. He’s all about reciprocal love. In the campaign, Trump often played on fear and hate. He targeted Muslims, refugees, undocumented immigrants, and any other scapegoat that served his interests. But deep down, what he wanted was the love of his adoring crowds. Emotionally, he’s a child. He can love others, but only if they love him first. And that’s how he sees his presidency. In his interview with the Times on Nov. 22, he explained that his job is “taking care of the people that really have proven to be—to love Donald Trump.”
2. His reflexes are vindictive. When Trump was down in the polls, he railed against Hillary Clinton, the press, and fellow Republicans. On election night, he said those grudges were over. But they weren’t. In post-election tweets, he berated CNN, Saturday Night Live, and the cast of Hamilton. He blasted Democrats for supporting ongoing recounts, even after they conceded the election and said they just wanted to make sure the recounts were fair. He summoned TV executives to Trump Tower on Nov. 21, called them the “dishonest media,” and scolded them for underestimating him. The next day, in his meeting with the Times, he bragged that he had stiffed job requests and pleas for campaign help from two Republican Senate candidates who had failed to support him. That’s how Trump behaves on his political honeymoon. Imagine what he’ll do when the going gets rough.

3. His ego is fragile. After winning the Republican nomination in May, Trump gloated about it for months. Now he’s gloating about the election. In tweets and interviews, he has crowed that he beat Clinton “easily.” On Tuesday, he ran another victory lap, trumpeting the addition of Michigan to his “landslide.” To understand how central this is to Trump’s sense of himself, check out the first 19 paragraphs of his interview with the Times.

US President-elect Donald Trump leaves after a meeting at the New York Times on November 22, 2016 in New York.
President-ellecy Donald Trump leaves after a meeting at the NewYork Times on Nov. 22. TRimothy A. Clary/Getty Images

Invited by the publisher to give opening remarks, Trump spoke at length, not about the future but about his genius and prowess on the campaign trail. In his Nov. 11 interview with 60 Minutes, he bragged about the number of Twitter followers he had gained.

A president-elect who is self-assured doesn’t behave this way. Nor does he snap at a late-night sketch comedy show. Nor does he summon TV executives to complain that particular pictures they have aired are unflattering to him. Trump does these things because he’s deeply insecure and easily wounded.

4. He craves approval. Trump often comes across as indifferent to the feelings of others. That’s misleading. He cares intensely about being respected and loved. Consider his twisted relationship with the Times. For two weeks after the election, he tweeted that the paper was “nasty,” “failing,” and “looked like fools in their coverage of me.” Despite this, he requested a meeting and showed up at the paper’s offices to wag his tail. He promised Times staffers an immigration bill that “even the people in this room can be happy” with. He told them “it would be, to me, a great achievement if I could come back here in a year or two years … and have a lot of the folks here say, ‘You’ve done a great job.’ And I don’t mean just a conservative job, ’cause I’m not talking conservative. I mean just, we’ve done a good job.” Yes, Mr. President. Good boy.
5. He’s easily soothed by flattery. Trump is a champ at nursing grudges when he feels cheated, threatened, or disrespected. But his grudges, like his commitments, can be washed out by small doses of affection. He speaks glowingly of generous post-election phone calls he received from the Clintons and the Bushes. He has praised both families in return. Those threats to prosecute Hillary? Never mind. Trump also can’t stop clucking about his Nov. 10 meeting with President Obama. At least three times, Trump has claimed to have “great chemistry” with the man he had never previously met and had repeatedly denounced as the worst president ever. That’s how easily Trump’s wrath can turn to warmth—and vice versa.
6. He’s a softie. If Trump hurts a lot of people as president, it won’t be out of malice. Calling Clinton a “nasty woman” from the safety of a podium, or threatening a few flag burners with the same jail penalty she supported, is easy. But Trump doesn’t have the stomach to face down millions of angry Americans. On 60 Minutes, he backed away from talk of deportation, criminalizing abortions, and reopening the legal debate over same-sex marriage. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, said Trump, the worst thing women might have to endure is that “they’ll have to go to another state.” As for LGBT people, he pleaded, “I mentioned them at the Republican National Convention! And everybody said, ‘That was so great.’ ” Trump might not understand the effects of his policies or appointments, but he knows what he needs: praise. He’s not an attack dog. He wants to be petted.
7. His emotional softness makes him morally weak. Trump’s critics see him as a thug who will damage the country and the world through aggression. That could happen. But he’s far more likely to usher in bad things by being a lapdog when we need a watchdog. To take a small example: Three men who had partnered with Trump in a real estate project in India met with him after his election, took pictures with him, and posted the pictures to promote the venture. When the Times asked Trump about this, he pleaded: “What am I going to say? ‘I’m not going to talk to you’? ‘I’m not going to take pictures’? … On a human basis, you take pictures.”

Trump was just being nice. But that kind of niceness can cause trouble. During the campaign, Trump said he would keep jobs in the U.S. by threatening companies that plan to move their operations elsewhere. But as president-elect, he’s not using threats. He’s using bribes. He described to the Times one of “numerous” conversations he’s had with CEOs since the election. “We’ll create the incentives for you,” Trump told the executive. “We’re going for a very large tax cut for corporations, which you’ll be happy about.” So the jobs will stay. But they’ll be funded by taxpayers, and employers will control the transactions.

Trump is a patsy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, too. He effused to the Journal about a “beautiful” letter Putin sent him after the election. “I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” Trump told the Times. He claimed, based on reactions at his rallies, that getting along with Russia would also make Americans happy: “I’d say this in front of thousands of people. … ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia? Wouldn’t it be nice if we went after ISIS together?’ … And the people [would] stand up and give me a massive hand.”

Trump treats the presidency the way he treated The Apprentice: It’s all about ratings. There’s no limit to the moral lines he would cross to give the audience what it wants. In the Times interview, he said he might withdraw his support for waterboarding if it were found to be ineffective at extracting useful information. But he added: “If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that.”

8. He substitutes popularity for standards of conduct. Trump sees the moral universe in terms of feelings, not rules or reasons. He told the Times he could combine his presidency and his business any way he chose. Anything he did to limit conflicts of interest, he asserted, would be out of the generosity of his heart. He also suggested that he didn’t have to sweat conflicts of interest because voters, by electing him, had shown they didn’t care about them. “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” he tweeted. “Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”

Trump is just as dismissive about financial transparency. “Are you gonna release your tax returns?” Lesley Stahl asked him on 60 Minutes. “Nobody cares,” Trump replied. “Obviously, the public didn’t care, because I won the election very easily.” He gave a similar brushoff to concerns about his scorched-earth political style. The Journal reported that it had asked Trump “whether he thought his rhetoric had gone too far in the campaign.” His answer, according to the paper: “No. I won.” Winning means people don’t mind what you did. And if they don’t mind, then what you did wasn’t wrong.

9. He confuses controversy with mystery. Because Trump deals in emotions rather than facts, he’s easily swayed by intensity. Even in matters of science, he’s more affected by the number of people who believe something than by the evidence for their beliefs. “There are few things where there’s more division than climate change,” Trump told the Times. “There are people on the other side of that issue.” He went on: “My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. … He had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

What expertise did Trump’s uncle have in climate forecasting? Not much, since the uncle specialized in medical and communications technology. What evidence did he have? Again, not much, since he died 31 years ago. But he did have “feelings,” as Trump points out. So do all those “people on the other side.” The only scientific instrument Trump needs is a finger in the wind.

10. He’s obtuse to the pain he inflicts. If Trump cares so much about feelings, why doesn’t he see all the fear and stress he has caused? Because that would require him to accept criticism, and his ego can’t handle it. On 60 Minutes, he batted away questions about his invective during the campaign, insisting that “my strongest asset is my temperament” and that he “can’t regret” anything he’d said. If some folks are upset by his election, that can’t be his fault, so it has to be theirs. “There are people, Americans, who are scared, and some of them are demonstrating right now, demonstrating against you, against your rhetoric,” Stahl told him. Trump seemed baffled. “That’s only because they don’t know me,” he said.

Trump is virtually lobotomized. Unable to acknowledge his role in stirring up hatred and fear, he blames others. When Stahl told him that “African Americans think there’s a target on their back,” and “Muslims are terrified,” he shrugged that such fears were “built up by the press, because, frankly, they’ll take every single little incident … and they’ll make [it] into an event.” In his interview with the Times, Trump claimed that low black turnout showed how popular he was: “A lot of people didn’t show up, because the African-American community liked me.” The vanity of this man is bottomless.

11. He feels the pain of his allies, not the pain of people different from him. Trump sees no need to reassure the ethnic or religious communities he targeted in the campaign. On Nov. 10, when he visited the U.S. Capitol, a reporter called out, “Are you going to ask Congress to ban Muslims from entering the country?” Trump heard the question, replied, “Thank you, everybody,” and walked away. The next day, in his interview with 60 Minutes, he belittled reports of racial slurs from his supporters, calling them “a very small amount.” When a Times staffer asked him about a conference of Trump sympathizers who had “pledged their allegiance to Nazism,” Trump expressed surprise that reporters were still pestering him about such things. “Boy, you are really into this stuff,” he said. He uttered four words of intransitive boilerplate—“I disavow and condemn”—and moved on.

But when people who feel threatened by Trump challenge his friends, he rushes to defend his friends. On Nov. 18, Vice President–elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton. After the show, the cast delivered a short speech to Pence on behalf of “the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us.” The message concluded: “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.” Trump responded by attacking the cast on Twitter, charging that they had “harassed” Pence and violated the theater as “a safe and special place.”

Trump also rose to the defense of his right-hand man, Steve Bannon, after a Times reporter asked about Trump’s appointment of Bannon, “who has been described by some as racist and anti-Semitic,” to a White House job. Trump called Bannon “a decent guy” who had “been treated very unfairly.” The exchange was bizarre in part because Bannon himself, in an interview at the Republican National Convention in August, had proudly declared, “We’re the platform for the alt-right.” Yet Trump assured the Times: “I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of [those] things … I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.” Trump doesn’t fuss about Bannon’s record. He just thinks: He’s my friend, so he’s good, and whatever he said is OK.

12. He’s easily manipulated. Having a fragile, approval-craving narcissist as president isn’t the end of the world. It just means that to get him to do the right thing, you have to pet him. In Trump’s post-election exchanges, we have several useful models. The first is Obama, who gave Trump a tongue bath in their 90-minute meeting on Nov. 10 and may have saved his signature legislative achievement in the process. Three days after that meeting, Trump told the Journal he was reconsidering his pledge to abolish Obama’s health insurance program: “Either Obamacare will be amended, or repealed and replaced.”

The second model is Times columnist Tom Friedman. In the group session at Times headquarters on Nov. 22, Friedman worked Trump like a horndog in a bar, trying to get him into bed on climate change. “You own some of the most beautiful links golf courses in the world,” Friedman told Trump. “I’d hate to see Royal Aberdeen underwater,” the columnist added. When Trump ragged on windmills, Friedman whispered sweet nothings: “General Electric has a big wind turbine factory in South Carolina.” Trump, eager for approval, told the Times staffers about his “many environmental awards” and bragged, “I’m actually an environmentalist.” By the end of the session, Friedman had Trump eating out of his hand.

The third model is a story Trump told about his threat to narrow the First Amendment. During the primaries, Trump had pledged to “open up our libel laws so when [journalists] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” But in his meeting with the Times, Trump said someone had later warned him, “It’s a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.” “You’re right, I never thought about that,” Trump recalled telling this person. And that reflection led Trump to assure the Times that on the question of libel laws, “You’re going to be fine.”

That’s how you move Trump. You don’t talk about ethics. You play the toughness card. You appeal to the art of the deal. You make him feel smart, powerful, and loved. You don’t forget how unmoored and volatile he is, but you set aside your fear and your anger. You thank God that you’re dealing with a narcissist, not a cold-blooded killer. And until you can get him safely out of the White House, you work with what you have. People in other countries have dealt with presidents like Trump for a long time. Can we handle it? Yes, we can.


Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Our worst nightmare, Richard Spencer, Our best hope, the Hamilton cast.

 


Trump’s Neo-Nationalists

‘America first’ is not a policy or a motto. It’s an implicit accusation of disloyalty.
By Bret Stephens.  WSJ. Nov. 21, 2016

“I’m an economic nationalist. I am an America first guy. And I have admired nationalist movements throughout the world, have said repeatedly strong nations make great neighbors. I’ve also said repeatedly that the ethno-nationalist movement, prominent in Europe, will change over time. I’ve never been a supporter of ethno-nationalism.”

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Stephen Bannon at Trump Tower, Aug. 20. Photo: Reuters

So said Stephen K. Bannon,Donald Trump’s chief strategist, in a wide-ranging interview with my colleague Kimberley Strassel published in these pages on Saturday. Later in the interview Mr. Bannon inveighed against “the policies of globalism,” which, he said, had “severely hurt” the interests of America’s working and middle classes of every race.

Over the weekend, several friends told me they found the interview reassuring about Mr. Bannon. I found it chilling.

Start with economic nationalism, a shopworn idea commonly associated with Latin American governments such as Juan Perón’s Argentina. In its milder form, economic nationalism means state subsidies for national-champion companies, giant infrastructure projects, targeted tariff protections for politically favored industries, “Buy American” provisions in government contracting, federal interventions against foreign takeovers of “sensitive” companies….

In France, economic nationalism has meant bailouts for failing industrial giants like Alstom. In Japan, it has meant 800% tariffs on imported rice, decades of blowout spending on airports, roads and bridges, and chronic hostility to immigration. Russia passed more protectionist measures in 2013 than any other country, according to the Moscow Times.

What do these and other countries that practice variants of economic nationalism have in common? France, where the state accounts for 57% of the economy, hasn’t seen annual GDP growth top 3% since the turn of the millennium. Japan, which has the world’s oldest population along with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio, experienced no fewer than five recessions between 2008 and 2015. Russia’s GDP contracted by 40% between 2013 and 2015. Its economy is now half the size of Great Britain’s.

Economic nationalism, in other words, means economic ruin—along with all the political favoritism, crony capitalism and inefficiency that Americans usually associate with Solyndra, the Synfuels Corp., or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Mr. Bannon wants to double down on this winning formula.

Mr. Bannon also says he’s “America first,” which—see if you can spot the difference—either is or isn’t “America First.” Either way, the animating impulse behind “America first” is that there are some Americans who put their country second, or last, presumably behind their ethnic loyalties, ideological affinities or economic interests. America first isn’t a policy program or a political motto so much as it is an accusation of disloyalty. What real American, after all, wouldn’t put “America first” in his political priorities?

Mr. Bannon’s answer, along with that of the alt-right movement he has proudly championed through his Breitbart website, is “the globalists.” ….

As my colleague Bari Weiss pointed out in a recent article in Tablet, the foremost figure of today’s alt-right, Richard Spencer, dreams of “a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.” …

In “The Second Coming,” Yeats asked, “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” The answer, it may yet turn out, is the likes of Steve Bannon and his ugly litter of neo-nationalists.

Write bstephens@wsj.com.

Holding onto the Past

Here I am with a blog entitled Holding onto the Past while believing firmly that there is no past, and by that meaning there is no history, there is only the present.

Let me qualify my statement in this way. There is no history in that what has happened can never be summarized, can never be experienced once again in the present, no matter how alive the description may be, say,  of the inbound electric street-car clattering up Summer Street in Boston, crashing a barricade and plunging through an open draw-bridge into the Fort Point Channel, killing 52 riders.  Follow this link to read about the original Boston Globe account (history) of the streetcar accident.

trolley-lede-web-newRight now there is no end to what is happening, for an infinite number of things, mostly things without beginnings and ends, are happening now continuously, and these things can never be summarized in a “history” to everyone’s or probably anyone’s satisfaction.

So in that sense there is no history. In the sense that the events of the present moment are part of an infinite series for which there is no possible summation.

Yet you will say histories are being written. People are making the past come alive. So how do we do that? How do we sum up somehow the Civil War, or the American involvement in Vietnam? We don’t of course. For the reasons given we can’t. Too much happened during those times and no one individual, participant, and especially no historian who probably wasn’t even there at the time, could tell us what happened.

So what can we say about the histories that we do write? Well when we write history here’s what we do. We take usually just one point of view of what happened and to the degree that that point of view does find wide agreement among us, then that point of view or interpretation becomes as it were the history of the war.

And this “history”may remain on the open shelves until it is replaced by someone else’s version, perhaps that of another historian, or perhaps even by a friend or acquaintance, or even by the historian’s wife or children, who will probably have themselves a lot to say about this guy’s, their husband’s or father’s war.

I’m not a nihilist. I don’t believe that history is entirely without meaning or truth. Nor am I writing about Francis Fukuyama’s popular End of History. Rather I’m saying that the definitive history of anything has not yet been written, can’t be written. Yes it’s true, as the prophet says, that we see all things as through a glass darkly.

The closest we’ve ever come to shedding the dark, and to seeing things more clearly has to be in science. There it does seem that the  scientists are getting closer and closer to telling us what may be the definitive and true history of the earth, of life on the earth, of the cosmos.

But the history of peoples, of nations, of civilizations, of the United States and of Europe, those histories while being written have not yet been written to everyone’s satisfaction. These histories are mostly without truth, and forever changing as we look at them as we must through different eyes and eye glasses.

So what is it that I could possibly mean by the headline, Holding on to the Past? cropped-ruins.jpgWell it doesn’t mean writing history. In fact in that regard I wouldn’t know where to begin. For at my birth everything else was already there, and the beginning of all that, was what?

My headline means rather taking things from the present and holding on to them tightly, because they and everything else that happens in the present are immediately past, and if we would not lose them entirely we have to somehow hold onto them.

In my own case I hold onto my ideas by posting them onto my blog. With the use of thousands of words and pictures, and more and more, with their videos, the NYTimes is holding onto a small but real part of the present, and is  a kind of yes partial record of our passage through the world.

Perhaps at their very best histories are records of the present now past, and the best histories are the best of these records.

But to repeat the very best records are never more than a very tiny part of all that is happening about us all the time. And man since he began writing histories, some tens of thousands of years ago, is to that extent, more at some times than others, say in ancient Greece and Rome, say in Renaissance Europe, holding onto the past.


Should we blame Donald Trump?

What is most to blame for the havoc that Donald Trump has wracked on the electoral scene?

Most to blame for the fact that this ignorant and, probably because he knows so little about anything, lying man is now the Republican Party’s candidate for president of the United States? What is to blame for his coming onto the national scene and dominating this year’s presidential election politics?

Perhaps first to blame is the Republican Party itself which by promoting a extraordinarily weak field of candidates thereby made it possible for the loudest and bulliest among them to easily overpower and push the others into the background. And at this moment the blame is falling onto the Party and the Party is being pulled apart, perhaps never again to be whole. Furthermore not until it was too late to change things did the Party realize what was happening, that they had somehow permitted a total ignoramus to become their Party’s choice of candidate for the presidency.

The other 16 candidates are also much to blame. Instead of recognizing the ignorant bully among them and one of them, and turning from him, and instead choosing the strongest among themselves, say a Bush of Kasich, to successfully compete they went on insisting, each one of them, on continuing in the race, thereby splitting the voters into tiny pieces of the pie and permitting that the largest piece go to Trump himself.

But neither of these explanations is satisfactory. Without a doubt the man we watched in the debates did seem to many of us to be a totally unthinking and unfeeling idiot, a know nothing. For over and over again he revealed just how little he knew of history, of politics, of governing, of science, of literature, of the real greatness of man. How little or nothing he even knew of the real issues and problems confronting the country right now, and therefore how incapable he was to speak about them intelligently. His preparation for the debates now seems to have been nothing more than the 8th. grade education he did probably have some 60 years ago in the past.

We might say then that Trump himself is alone to blame. But no, that. wouldn’t be fair, to blame him for his ignorance. Sure we could blame ourselves for not recognizing his abysmal ignorance early on, something the Republican Party is probably doing right now, blaming themselves.

But then Trump has done nothing wrong for being what he is, and is not to be blamed for what he is. And he is by no means alone in his ignorance. There are certainly many like him, all our creations in fact, or rather the country’s creations, the products of our system of education, which allows, which allowed him and the millions of his apparent followers, to finish school and remain pretty much in the state of ignorance in which they began.

So the blame has to be on an educational system that has allowed tens of millions of Americans to graduate from our schools, and probably even from a good many colleges and universities, without having learned to think for themselves, without having acquired an ability to judge the worth and the value of things, without having become familiar with the greatest humanitarian, scientific, and artistic achievements of men like us.

Can we really expect to remain “ignorant, and free and in a state of civilization”? If we can, and if today there are those who expect something good to come from the candidacy of Donald Trump, we and they are “expecting what never was and never will be.” For if we are to guard against ignorance, and remain free and civilized, it is our responsibility  at a minimum to be well informed. That which Trump and his legions of followers don’t seem to understaand.

Bigotry, that which Trump is often accused of, is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; …education & free discussion are the antidotes of both. [At best] we are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Would that Trump and his ilk had had even an inkling of what Thomas Jefferson meant in this letter to John Adams.


Why I keep a blog that is not read.

Just the other day my oldest grandchild, now 19, was asking about my blog, and why I didn’t stop writing the blog and instead write a book and try to publish it.

In that case he said I would probably have some readers, thinking that that’s what I most wanted and didn’t have. He didn’t understand how I could go on, some 15 years now, writing hundreds of blog pieces that would not be read. The understanding being, on his part, that the writer is after readers, and if there are no readers should the writer in that case go on writing? He didn’t say it but I’m sure his answer would be no.

So yet once again I found myself explaining, defending myself against my grandson’s charge that I was without readers. Would he ever understand that tout simplement I write, no more, but no less than I breathe, for myself. No one asks why do you go on breathing if your what, your breathing, never reaches anyone else? For absolutely everyone understands that one breathes for oneself and that one needs no external validation for doing so.

Why, I ask, can’t there be any number of activities that we do only for themselves, and ourselves alone? Does everything we do have to be somehow validated by our reaching out to someone else and thereby being recognized as it were by an audience?

I’ll readily admit that I’d love to be read and that the occasional comment that my blog  does stir up does bring me some welcomed pleasure. It’s also conceivable that my writing at some future time could be read by thousands, and that as a result I could very well be then writing no longer for myself, but for others, trying to keep my new thousands of readers as a kind of bottom line, serving as a recognition of the worth of my writing. I  don’t think, however, I’d ever want that to happen.

But so far this future is not there. Frequent and interesting comments along with thousands of readers are not parts of my Blog experience. And therefore I will continue, as it certainly appears now to be the case, to write only for myself.

But only in the sense that writing is for me my first choice of a life-long-learning activity. To begin with, of course, I read a lot, and only from what my reading stirs up do I then write. And mostly I’m writing to find out what I really think about the given subject. In that way I learn about myself, get to know myself. And that’s as life long as my learning gets.

That was what our Great Books seminars at St. John’s College were all about, at least for me. During that time I would speak with the others about a table, but now I’m not at a table with others but mostly alone at my desk, and I write to determine if not what I’m made of, at least how I think and whether what I’m thinking is worth being “published” on my blog.

As I’ve said throughout the thousand and more blog postings on Quatrevingtans.net ideas are what I principally feed on. And I don’t pretend that this is so unusual, that I’m alone in doing this. I’m not of course. There are untold, probably millions who are mostly alone, perhaps in prison, their freedom of movement, unlike mine which is of my own choosing, having been taken from them. Not to mention their having lost the company of others, perhaps even free access to words in books and papers. But even these millions of prisoners will still have in their possession their own thoughts and ideas. And these thoughts, much as my own ideas, will keep them company, keep them among the living.


“What is the feeling” between the two magnets?

Richard Feynman explains “why” questions in general are asking for an explanation in terms of the familiar.

 

 

Nic Astaire

In case you missed the layman’s answer:

When you push your hand against a chair, contrary to how it seems to you, the atoms of your hand DO NOT come in contact with the atoms of the chair. The electrical forces repel the atoms WITHOUT ANY CONTACT (although the distance is so small you’d need a microscope to see the spaces between the atoms).

With magnets its the same, except that the distance is large enough to be seen without a microscope due to alignments of the contributing forces.

form Quora