California Dreamin’

Spring is a promise of summer to come
—–in the midst of the ice and the snow
As you shovel and scrape with the wind in your face,
—–think of fields where the wildflowers grow
Do you really imagine that life would be grand
—–if your days were no work and all play?
Then move to LA.


Freedom Dies

Couch Potato

He who possesses liberty otherwise than as an aspiration possesses it soulless, dead. One of the qualities of liberty is that, as long as it is being striven after, it goes on expanding. Therefore, the man who stands still in the midst of the struggle and says, “I have it,” merely shows by so doing that he has just lost it.

Now this very contentedness in the possession of a dead liberty is characteristic of the so-called State, and, as I have said, it is not a good characteristic. No doubt the franchise, self-taxation, etc., are benefits — but to whom? To the citizen, not to the individual. Now, reason does not imperatively demand that the individual should be a citizen. Far from it. The State is the curse of the individual. With what is Prussia’s political strength bought? With the absorption of the individual in the political and geographical idea. The waiter is the best soldier.

Henrik Ibsen, born this day in 1828

Ibsen goes on to make a prophesy about the State of Israel. I leave it to you to judge whether it has come true.

And on the other hand, take the Jewish people, the aristocracy of the human race — how is it they have kept their place apart, their poetical halo, amid surroundings of coarse cruelty? By having no State to burden them. Had they remained in Palestine, they would long ago have lost their individuality in the process of their State’s construction, like all other nations.

Then he proceeds to define anarchism, ahead of his time…but also to make a romantic statement about our untapped potential:

Away with the State! I will take part in that revolution. Undermine the whole conception of a State, declare free choice and spiritual kinship to be the only all-important conditions of any union, and you will have the commencement of a liberty that is worth something. Changes in forms of government are pettifogging affairs — a degree less or a degree more, mere foolishness. The State has its root in time, and will ripe and rot in time. Greater things than it will fall — religion, for example. Neither moral conceptions nor art-forms have an eternity before them. How much are we really in duty bound to pin our faith to? Who will guarantee me that on Jupiter two and two do not make five?

Unrelated – here’s another side of Ibsen:

I feel myself like God’s lost prodigal;
I left Him for the world’s delusive charms.
With mild reproof He wooed me to his arms;
And when I come, He lights the vaulted hall,
Prepares a banquet for the son restored,
And makes His noblest creature my reward.
From this time forth I’ll never leave that Light, —
But stand its armed defender in the fight;
Nothing shall part us, and our life shall prove
A song of glory to triumphant love!


But for this pillow, I might have no dreams—
I seek in vain for dream within its down
And when a nightmare rages in my crown
The pillow’s far away, or so it seems.

It’s when my heart dissolves in perfect bliss
The pillow, all too near, disturbs my joy
And inner state of rapture must alloy
As senses tug upon my consciousness.

In light of day, the dream fades like a ghost
But in the dream’s pale light the world’s forgot
So, which rich forms are real and which are not?
I’m free to choose the one I fancy most.

The world is hard, the pillow’s stuff is soft
One holds my frame, one keeps my soul aloft.

JJM, after Yuan Hong-Dao 袁宏道 (1568-1610)


Can we decide to be happy?  Is it that simple?

Utilitarian philosophy, which is the unsung foundation of Western economics and modern culture, says that happiness is what we all seek, the summum bonum, the ne plus ultra. According to the utilitarians, we have already decided to be happy, all of us, and it is only the proper means that we contemplate, the interposition of outside circumstance that confound us. If happiness were under our personal control, the entirety of utilitarian social philosophy would be vitiated.

At the other extreme, “you create your own reality” is a mantra of New Age culture.

If you’re still reading this, you obviously think it’s not an utterly ridiculous question. Yes, we have some control. “Deciding to be happy” is not obviously useless all the time. How much do we control, and to what extent are we at the mercy of our hormones? Or of external cricumstances?

The worst depression of my life occurred in 1994-95, triggered by the collapse of a lawsuit, which was all that remained of my software business, begun so propitiously just a few years before. For a year, I answered in monosylables and behaved insufferably to my wife and, most shamefully I confess, to my young daughters. Then one day I said, “I don’t want to be like this any more,” and a corner was turned.

If being happy is as simple as deciding to be happy, why have so many of us chosen not to? Perhaps because it is not part of our culture to be happy. We risk ostracism if we are “insufferably cheery.” People around us are sub-clinically depressed, and we annoy them if we appear day after day in a good mood. What is it to “be cool” if not to blow off the world’s glorious gifts as we blow off insults and setbacks, and to hide our child-like capacity for wonder from the light of day? In our culture, “I don’t care” is the easiest thing in the world to say, and “I love you” is the most dangerous. I dare say that, given the choice most of us would choose the acceptance of a peer group over genuine happiness.

Without a doubt, there are cultures where people are much happier than 21st Century white middle-class Americans. Black middle class Americans, for a start. Most Latin and oriental cultures, many tribal cultures are happier than ours, certainly not because they have more wealth or security, but perhaps because they are situated more comfortably in family groups. How many of us dance regularly, or sing spontaneously as we go through our day?

I can’t leave this brief essay without a nod to Meher Baba, Indian master in the Zoroastrian tradition. As a young man he wrote profusely, sometimes tortured songs of incessant seeking, sometimes rapturous poems of divine love. Then, in 1925, he broke off, counseling, “Don’t worry–be happy,” and didn’t speak a word for the latter 40 years of his life. (In the 1930s, Meher Baba visited America and his particular magnetism attracted a following of movie stars and celebrities included Boris Karloff. There’s a match!)



Maybe free will is an illusion.  Maybe “deciding to be happy” is something that happens to us, and we only feel we have control over it.  Maybe our dispositions are dictated by outside circumstance far more than I like to admit.  Maybe deciding to be happy is not different from choosing a perspective of gratitude.  Maybe happiness is a property of cultures and families far more than individual temperaments, let alone individual choice.

But I think deciding to be happy is a worthy experiment.  Whatever your belief system, suspend it long enough to imagine that there is a buoancy in the world, a guiding hand that works in mysterious ways but for your ultimate good.  Try it! So long as it doesn’t make you sweep emotional grist under the carpet, sing out loud while chewing your cud and continuing to grow.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Silvio Gesell and Free Money

The idea that money is value is true on the individual level, true for you and me.  But it’s not true for a nation or for a bank.  Nations and banks can create money, though they create no value in the process.  The value of money depends on confidence, and economic crises are almost always created by a panic rather than a real loss.

A generation before John Maynard Keynes, Silvio Gesell figured all this out, and figured too that banks were manipulating the money supply for their own advantage, not for the public good.  His book, The Natural Economic Order, contains truths that are being kept from us even now by those who control the creation of money, and want to hold on to that control.

Silvio Gesell was born on St Patty’s day in 1862.

Consider the Tardigrade

Tardigrades are a phylum of organism, near the limit of visibility, some fraction of a millimeter long.  They are adapted to every environment on earth, can survive at the bottom of an ocean or the top of a mountain.  They can dehydrate and go into suspended animation for a month at a time.   They have been found in clouds and in hot springs and in the coldest places we know.

They have been around since the first multi-celled animals, about 500 million years ago, and they are likely to still be around 500 million years from now.  In fact, they are so hardy that people who believe life came to earth from elsewhere, hitchhiking on meteors, cite tardigrades as a possible seed organism from space.

Tardigrades have their own phylum, which means that they are not closely related to insects or to worms or spiders or hydras—they’re tardigrades.

Live Science Article                 7-minute video

No eyes and a roto-rooter mouth—not too pretty, but hey—what do you imagine they think of us?



Taking responsibility for all

“When we realize that we are responsible to all men for all and everything, for all human sins, national and individual, only then the aim of our seclusion is attained. For know, dear ones, that every one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all men and everything on earth, not merely through the general sinfulness of creation, but each one personally for all mankind and every individual man. This knowledge is the crown of life for the monk and for every man. For monks are not a special sort of men, but only what all men ought to be. Only through that knowledge, our heart grows soft with infinite, universal, inexhaustible love. Then every one of you will have the power to win over the whole world by love and to wash away the sins of the world with your tears…. Be proud neither to the little nor to the great. Hate not those who reject you, who insult you, who abuse and slander you. Hate not the atheists, the teachers of evil, the materialists—and I mean not only the good ones—for there are many good ones among them, especially in our day—hate not even the wicked ones. Remember them in your prayers thus: ‘Save, O Lord, all those who have none to pray for them, save too all those who will not pray.’”

— Words of the Elder, from his farewell to the cloistered monks, in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

It seems absurd, and worse a potential for life-long self-shaming.  Yet, there is something empowering in this stance, taking responsibility for all without limits.  Remember that it is not only all the evil in the world for which we take responsibility, but also all the good.  Thich Nhat Hahn* recommends something similar.  Only then can we expand to embody the full range of our powers.


Head of a Franciscan Monk, by Pieter Paul Rubens

*Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.
— #12 from the Fourteen Precepts of Thich Nhat Hanh