Questions

The most important questions don’t seem to have ready answers, but the questions themselves have healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places. Life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.
— Rachel Naomi Remen

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Panpsychism in the NYTimes

18wwln650-1Perhaps, they say, mind is not limited to the brains of some animals. Perhaps it is ubiquitous, present in every bit of matter, all the way up to galaxies, all the way down to electrons and neutrinos, not excluding medium-size things like a glass of water or a potted plant. Moreover, consciousness did not suddenly arise when some physical particles on a certain planet chanced to come into the right configuration; rather, there has been consciousness in the cosmos from the very beginning of time.

The doctrine that the stuff of the world is fundamentally mind-stuff goes by the name of panpsychism. A few decades ago, the American philosopher Thomas Nagel showed that it is an inescapable consequence of some quite reasonable premises.

Read more from Jim Holt, writing in the NYTimes

Replay

I find it comforting that the shocking condition of American politics is far from new, that we have grappled with worse in the past and swung back to saner times.  150 years ago, people were already decrying the common condition of the working man, and realizing that individuals were powerless to negotiate better when the only prospects for employment came from corporate giants.  Some of the violence and heavy-handed repression used to suppress labor organizations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries make you wonder that labor today is lying down without a fight. — JJM

Far from the Constitution playing any liberating part in the lives of the American people, it has robbed them of the capacity to rely on their own resources or do their own thinking. Americans are so easily hoodwinked by the sanctity of law and authority. In fact, the pattern of life has become standardized, routinized, and mechanized like canned food and Sunday sermons. Even songs are turned out like buttons or automobile tires—all cast from the same mold.

Yet I do not despair of American life. Of late there has been a new spirit manifested in the youth which is growing up with the Depression. This spirit is more purposeful though still confused. It wants to create a new world, but is not clear as to how it wants to go about it. For that reason the young generation asks for saviors. It tends to believe in dictators and to hail each new aspirant for that honor as a messiah. It wants cut-and-dried systems of salvation with a wise minority to direct society on some one-way road to utopia. It has not yet realized that it must save itself. The young generation has not yet learned that the problems confronting them can be solved only by themselves and will have to be settled on the basis of social and economic freedom in cooperation with the struggling masses for the right to the table and joy of life.

I consider Anarchism the most beautiful and practical philosophy that has yet been thought of in its application to individual expression and the relation it establishes between the individual and society. Moreover, I am certain that Anarchism is too vital and too close to human nature ever to die. It is my conviction that dictatorship, whether to the right or to the left, can never work—that it never has worked, and that time will prove this again, as it has been proved before. Considered from this point, a recrudescence of Anarchist ideas in the near future is very probable. When this occurs and takes effect, I believe that humanity will at last leave the maze in which it is now lost and will start on the path to sane living and regeneration through freedom.

— Emma Goldman, 1934 (reprinted in Harpers)

What might have been, might still be

Toward the end of the 19th Century when socialism had not yet been discredited by the Bolsheviks, and when organized labor was boldly resisting the dehumanizing influence of capitalist excesses, Edward Bellamy wrote a best-selling novel about utopian prospects for the 20th Century.

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“The organization of labor and the strikes were an effect, merely, of the concentration of capital in greater masses than had ever been known before. Before this concentration began, while as yet commerce and industry were conducted by innumerable petty concerns with small capital, instead of a small number of great concerns with vast capital, the individual workman was relatively important and independent in his relations to the employer. Moreover, when a little capital or a new idea was enough to start a man in business for himself, workingmen were constantly becoming employers and there was no hard and fast line between the two classes. Labor unions were needless then, and general strikes out of the question. But when the era of small concerns with small capital was succeeded by that of the great aggregations of capital, all this was changed. The individual laborer, who had been relatively important to the small employer, was reduced to insignificance and powerlessness over against the great corporation, while at the same time the way upward to the grade of employer was closed to him. Self-defense drove him to union with his fellows.

“The records of the period show that the outcry against the concentration of capital was furious. Men believed that it threatened society with a form of tyranny more abhorrent than it had ever endured. They believed that the great corporations were preparing for them the yoke of a baser servitude than had ever been imposed on the race, servitude not to men but to soulless machines incapable of any motive but insatiable greed. Looking back, we cannot wonder at their desperation, for certainly humanity was never confronted with a fate more sordid and hideous than would have been the era of corporate tyranny which they anticipated.…

— Edward Bellamy, from Looking Back

It’s not so bad, really

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) was as close as anyone has come to Plato’s ideal of a philosopher-king. He was a contemplative by nature, and accepted a role as ruler over most of Europe with resignation. He kept a philosophical diary for his own reference, which has become a classic. In it, he aimed at simple and practical, more than deep or original.

Even in a palace, it is possible to live well.
— Marcus AureliusMeditationsMarcusAurelius1811.jpg

Michael Sugrue talks about Stoics and Marcus in particular. Marcus, the emperor, and Epictetus, the slave, were the two dominant voices of the Stoic school of philosophy, the substance of which is “Don’t fret about what you can’t control.”