Question of the Day

How much of our productive effort is spent on individual solutions to problems that we create collectively?



Think for yourself

If we want to know the truth about anything, we have no choice but to sift through a great deal of nonsense, to consider the outrageous in all its implications.  In the face of group-think and manipulation of opinion, it is essential to develop a powerfully independent power of judgment.

All ideas fall in one of two categories:

  • Ideas that are probably wrong, and
  • Ideas that are certainly boring.

—Jon F Wilkins, Ronin Institute

Life is stranger than any of us expected.
Richard Eberhart

A major life lesson for me has been how easy it is to convince myself that I am thinking independently when in fact I have been led into common fallacies by a peer group that claims to be thinking independently.

Laughter is the Most Sincere form of Prayer

Evelyn Underhill writes about the lives of great souls from all religious traditions (and none at all) who have been motivated to great disciplines, survived hardships, seen visions, and fell back into the “dark night of the soul” At the end of the journey, each of them is “back where she started, and knows the place for the first time.” The mundane is joined to the sacred, and they find enduring joy in lives of simple service.

That fruition of joy of constitutes the interior life of mystic souls immersed in the Absolute—the translation of the Beatific Vision into the terms of a supernal feeling-state—is often realized in the secret experience of those same mystics, as the perennial possession of a childlike gaiety, an inextinguishable gladness of heart. The transfigured souls move to the measures of a “love dance” which persists in mirth without comparison, through every outward hardship and tribulation. They enjoy the high spirits peculiar to high spirituality: and shock the world by a delicate playfulness, instead of exhibiting the morose resignation which it feels to be proper to the “spiritual life.”… Moreover, the most clear-sighted amongst the mystics declare such joy to be an
implicit of Reality.

“Men are made for happiness, and any one who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, ‘I am doing God’s will on earth.’ All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy.”
— Dostoyevsky (Brothers Karamazov)

Capitalism and its Alternatives

Everything is reduced to money.  Ecosystems, kidneys for transplant, a ton of mercury in the air over Philadelphia, a human life, an extinct species, your health, a good night’s sleep, a pile of nuclear waste that will last for 20,000 years—all these things are routinely valued in dollars. The idea that there is a single scale that can be used to compare the value of everything is so familiar to us that we might forget that it is absurd.  We might forget that capitalism by its nature steamrollers over anything that we might regard as too precious to place on the auction block.

Indian economist Amartya Sen has devoted a long career to telling us why capitalism inevitably leads to moral travesty, and finally in the last 20 years he has found respectability and recognition.  At least in some circles, people are starting to recognize that there are alternatives.

Read Tim Rogan’s AEON article about Amartya Sen and the history of critiques of capitalism.


Failure is not an option

I had made up my mind to find that for which I was searching even if it required the remainder of my life. After innumerable failures I finally uncovered the principle for which I was searching, and I was astounded at its simplicity. I was still more astounded to discover the principle I had revealed not only beneficial in the construction of a mechanical hearing aid but it served as well as means of sending the sound of the voice over a wire. Another discovery which came out of my investigation was the fact that when a man gives his order to produce a definite result and stands by that order it seems to have the effect of giving him what might be termed a second sight which enables him to see right through ordinary problems. What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.

— Alexander Graham Bell, born in Scotland this day in 1847, invented the telephone while experimenting with hearing aid devices for his deaf wife. He lived to see telephone wires spread across the American continent.


The Loom of Dreams

I broider the world upon a loom,
I broider with dreams my tapestry;
Here in a little lonely room
I am master of earth and sea,
And the planets come to me.

I broider my life into the frame,
I broider my love, thread upon thread;
The world goes by with its glory and shame,
Crowns are bartered and blood is shed;
I sit and broider my dreams instead.

And the only world is the world of my dreams,
And my weaving the only happiness;
For what is the world but what it seems?
And who knows but that God, beyond our guess,
Sits weaving worlds out of loneliness?

Arthur Symons, born this day in 1865

Prose Poem

Like Stars in the Daylight

I grant you ample leave
To use the hoary formula ‘I am’,
Naming the emptiness where thought is not
– George Eliot

Had we been born on a planet
that always keeps one face to the sun
(as Mercury was once thought to do)
We might have breathed a rich lifetime
all in Daylight.

So how might we have responded
if some mountebank conjurer told us there were stars?
Not just stars, but nebulae, black holes spouting bright plumes of plasma,
And a million million pinwheels in the sky…

A polite and patronizing smile perhaps,
on a good day; scorn otherwise.

Bourdillon had it exactly backward.
The soul has a thousand eyes,
all rendered blind
by the glare of the mind.
The senses, the hormones, the nerves of the brain–
Endlessly screaming with pleasure and pain
Prevent us from sensing aught else.

Must we wait on those who return from the dead
To tell us who we are?
Who we are when we are not thinking,
Not feeling our bodies
Pulled nor by sense nor by wrenching emotion
From the glorious expanse
of our very own

— Josh Mitteldorf