You blogged that doing philosophy has great value in itself; even if philosophy is aporetic. But how often, or how long per day or month, should one devote to it? Doing philosophy seems (to me at least) to have diminishing returns, if philosophy is aporetic. Or has your experience been different?
My approach to philosophy could be called radically aporetic. Thus I hold not only that philosophy is best approached aporetically, via its problems, but also that its central problems are insoluble. Thus I tend, tentatively and on the basis of inductive evidence, to the view that the central problems of philosophy, while genuine and thus not amenable to Wittgensteinian or other dissolution, are true aporiai, impasses. It is clear that one could take a broadly aporetic approach without subscribing to the insolubility thesis. But I go 'whole hog.' Hence radically aporetic.
I won't explain this any further, having done so elsewhere, but proceed to V.'s question.
I take our friend to be asking the following. How much time ought one devote to philosophy if philosophy is its problems and they are insoluble? But there is a deeper and logically prior question lurking in the background: Why do philosophy at all if its problems are insoluble? What good is philosophy aporetically pursued?
1. It is good in that it conduces to intellectual humility, to an appreciation of our actual predicament in this life, which is one of profound ignorance concerning what would be most worth knowing if we could know it. The aporetic philosopher is a Socratic philosopher, one who knows what he knows and knows what he does not know. The aporetic philosopher is a debunker of epistemic pretense. One sort of epistemic pretense is that of the positive scientists who, succumbing to the temptation to wax philosophical, overstep the bounds of their competence, proposing bogus solutions to philosophical problems, and making incoherent assertions. They often philosophize without knowing it, and they do it incompetently, without self-awareness and self-criticism. I have given many examples of this in these pages. Thus philosophy as I conceive it is an important antidote to scientism. Scientism is an enemy of the humanities and I am a defender of the humanities.
There is also the threat emanating from political ideologies such as communism and leftism and Islamism and their various offshoots. The critique of these and other pernicious worldviews is a task for philosophy. And who is better suited for debunking operations than the aporetician?
2. Beyond its important debunking use, philosophy aporetically pursued has a spiritual point and purpose. If there are indeed absolutely insoluble problems, they mark the boundary of the discursive intellect and point beyond it. Immersion in philosophical problems brings the discursive mind to an appreciation of its limits and raises the question of what, if anything, lies beyond the limits and how one may gain access to it.
I take the old-fashioned view that the ultimate purpose of human life, a purpose to which all others must be subordinated, is to search for, and if possible, participate in the Absolute. There are several approaches to the Absolute, the main ones being philosophy, religion, and mysticism.
The radical aporetician in philosophy goes as far as he can with philosophy, but hits a dead-end, and is intellectually hnest enough to admit that he is at his wit's end. This motivates him to explore other paths to the Absolute, paths via faith/revelation and mystical intuition. The denigration of the latter by most contemporary philosophers merely shows how spiritually benighted and shallow they are, how historically uniformed, and in some cases, how willfully stupid.
But once a philosopher always a philosopher. So the radical aporetician does not cease philosophizing while exploring the other paths; he uses philosophy to chasten the excess of those other paths. And so he denigrates reason as little as he denigrates faith/revelation and mystical intuition. He merely assigns to reason its proper place.
Now to V.'s actual question. How much time for philosophy? A good chunk of every day. Just how much depending on the particular circumstances of one's particular life. But time must also be set aside for prayer and meditation, the reading of the great scriptures, and other religious/ mystical practices.
For one ought to be a truth-seeker above else. But if one is serious about seeking truth, then one cannot thoughtlessly assume that the only access to ultimate truth is via philosophy. A person who refuses to explore other paths is like the churchmen who refused to look through Galileo's telescope. They 'knew' that Aristotle had 'proven' the 'quintessential' perfection of celestial bodies, a perfection that would disallow any such 'blemishes' as craters. So they refused to look and see.
One of my correspondents is a retired philosophy of professor and a Buddhist. He maintains that one ought to spend as much time meditating as one spends on philosophy. So if one philosophizes for five hours per day, then one ought to meditate for five hours per day! A hard saying indeed!
My grandmother is on her deathbed. My mother flew out to Boston to be there with her when she dies. Of course my grandmother is putting up a good fight; however, they expected her to die yesterday. My mother had a conversation with her while she was lucid. She asked her, “Why are you fighting so hard? Do you fear something?”
My grandmother’s reply, “I fear that there is nothing on the other side.” Here is a woman who has spent eighty nine years of her life devoting herself to the [Catholic] church and her family. Now, when it comes down to death she is clinging on because her entire life is behind her and the only thing that she faces in front of her is the uncertainty of whether there is a heaven awaiting her in the coming days.
If you were there at my grandmother’s deathbed and she would convey to you her fears, what would you tell her?
I'm a philosopher, not a pastor, and what a dying nonphilosopher needs is pastoral care, not philosophical dialog. But if I were to play the pastor I would say something along the following lines.
"You have lived your long life faithfully and devotedly in the embrace of Holy Mother the Church. She has presided over central events in your life, your baptism, first communion, confirmation, and your marriage. She has provided guidance, moral instruction, comfort, and community as you have navigated life's difficulties and disappointments. She provided meaning and solace when your parents died, and your husband, and your many friends and relatives. If your faith was a living faith and not a convenience or a matter of social conformity, then from time to time you had your doubts. But through prayer and reflection you have repeatedly reaffirmed your faith. You faith was made deeper and truer by those doubts and their overcoming."
"I ask you now to recall those moments of calm reflection and existential lucidity, those moments when you were at your best physically, mentally, and spiritually. I ask you to recall them, and above all I ask you not to betray them now when you are weak. Do not allow the decisions and resolutions of your finest and and clearest hours to be taken hostage by doubts and fears born of weakness. Your weakness has called forth the most vicious attacks of the Adversary and his agents. You have lived in the faith and now you must remain true to a course of life judged right at the height of your powers. Your doubts are of the devil and they must be put aside. Pray, and remain true to a course judged right."
So that is what I would say to the old Irish Catholic woman on her deathbed. I would exhort her to remain true to a course judged right in the moments of her highest existential lucidity and to bring her life to a successful completion. The hour of death is not the time to grapple with the devil of doubt!
To myself and the others for whom the hora mortis is still a ways off, to those in the sunshine of their strength, physical and mental, I say the following. Now is the time to wrestle with doubts and either defeat them or succumb to them. Now is the time to get serious about The Last Things. It is far better to get serious about them before they get serious about you. Now is the time to face the reality of death without evasion and to prepare for a happy death. Now is the time to realize that you don't have all the time in the world, that as the Zen Master Dogen says, "Impermanence is swift." Now is the time to stop fooling yourself about how you are going to live forever. For "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 3, 14)
We must learn to accept people's love, good wishes, and benevolence as gifts without worrying whether we deserve these things or not, and without worrying whether we will ever be in a position to compensate the donors. Similarly, we must learn to accept people's hate and malevolence as a sort of reverse gratuitous donation whether we deserve them or not.
We are often unjustly loved and admired. So why should it bother us that we are often unjustly hated and contemned? Try to see the latter as balancing the former.
It may be that moral and intellectual progress is possible only here. After death it may be too late, either because one no longer exists, or because one continues to exist but in a state that does not permit further progress.
It is foolish to think that believers in post-mortem survival could have no reason to value their physical health and seek longevity. Even a Platonist who believes that he is his soul and not a composite of soul and body has reason to prolong the discipline of the Cave. For it may be that the best progress or the only progress is possible only in the midst of its speluncarchiaroscuro.
Philosophia longa, vita brevis. It is precisely because philosophy is long that one ought to extend one's earthly tenure for as long as one can make progress intellectually and morally. And this, whether or not one has the hope that Vita mutatur non tollitur.
To feel envy is to feel diminished in one's sense of self-worth by the positive attributes or success or well-being of another. It is in a certain sense the opposite of Schadenfreude. The envier is pained by another's success or well-being, sometimes to the extent of wanting to destroy what the other has. The 'schadenfreudian,' to coin a word, is pleasured by another's failure or ill-being.
Envy is classified as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and rightly so. Much of the mindless rage against Jews and Israel is the product of envy. Superiority almost always excites envy in those who, for whatever reason, and in whichever respect, are inferior.
This is why it is inadvisable to flaunt one's superiority and a good idea to keep it hidden in most situations. Don't wear a Rolex in public, wear a Timex. It is better to appear to be an average schmuck than a man of means. In some circumstances it is better to hide one's light under a bushel.
If greed is the vice of the capitalist, envy is the vice of the socialist. This is not to say that greed is a necessary product of capitalism or that envy is a necessary product of socialism. There was greed long before there was capitalism and envy long before there was socialism.
One cure for envy is moderate, the other radical. I recommend the moderate cure.
Consider the entire life of the person you envy, not just the possession or attribute or success that excites your envy. You say you want what he or she has? Well, do you want everything that comes with it and led up to it, the hard work, the trials and tribulations, the doubts and despairs and disappointments and disasters? Unless you are morally corrupt, your envious feelings won't be able to survive a wide-angled view.
The radical cure is to avoid all comparisons. Comparison is a necessary condition of envy. You can't envy me unless you compare yourself to me, noting what I have and am as compared to what you have and are. So if you never compare yourself to anyone, you will never feel envy for anyone.
The radical cure ignores the fact that not all comparisons are odious, that some are salutary. If I am your inferior in this respect or that, and I compare myself to you, I may come to appreciate where I fall short and what I could be if I were to emulate you.
That being said, "Comparisons are odious" remains a useful piece of folk wisdom. You can avoid a lot of unhappiness by appreciating what you have and not comparing yourself to others.
As for the bombshells at the top of the page, the blond is Jayne Mansfield and the other Sophia Loren. The picture illustrates the fact that, typically, envy involves two persons, one envying the other in respect of some attribute. Jealousy, however involves three persons. This why you shouldn't confuse envy with jealousy. This is jealousy, not envy:
'Profiling' drives liberals crazy, which is a good reason to do more of it. No day without political incorrectness. Here is a form of profiling I engage in, and you should too.
You are on the freeway exercising due diligence. You are not drunk or stoned or yapping on a cell phone. You espy an automotively dubious vehicle up ahead, muddied, dented, with muffler about to fall off, and a mattress 'secured' to the roof.
Do you keep your distance? If you are smart, you do. But then you a profiling. You are making a judgment as to the relative likelihood of that vehicle's being the cause of an accident. You are inferring something about the sort of person that would be on the road in such a piece of junk. Tail light out? Then maybe brakes bad.
I don't need to tell you motorcyclists how important automotive profiling is.
You are doing right. You are engaging in automotive profiling. You are pissing off liberals. Keep it up and stay alive. We need more of your kind.
For many years now I have been an occasional reader of your blog, and I greatly appreciate your insight on many subjects, particularly your criticism of the Left. I am, I hate to admit, an aspiring academic who is taking on enormous debt to finish a Ph.D. in sociology of religion, and am immersed in the poisonous Higher Ed world of the SIXHIRB musical litany, but that is another story for another time.
My question concerns choosing a wife: Can the marriage between a non-religious person and a religious person be successful and a happy state of affairs?
I am an incorrigible INFP, and I thought your logical precision and holistic perception as an INTP would aid my thinking process, which is mostly intuition/feeling. You have been married quite awhile, and I respect that greatly. You say that your wife is religious, a practicing Catholic, and that you believe that to be a good thing. I agree, and thus I am in this dilemma.
My Romance Story:
I come from a devout Mexican Catholic family from Texas, with a very religiously devout mother who is never found without a rosary, and I consider myself 'religious' and Catholic, i.e. I go to Mass every Sunday, I pray, I believe, I read the Bible, and so forth. Now, I am certainly not a saint, as the rest of my story will show.
I met, during a study abroad this year, a stunning young woman who works for the United Nations. One night, our date over red wine at a cafe quickly escalated into dozens of nights of passionate, indulgent sex, and then into several trips throughout Europe in which we brought our negligent sexual passion into the creaky beds of many hotels. Sex crazed, we were.
Now that I am back in the States for the holidays, free from the physical presence and temptations of the Woman, the big question of our future is at hand. Should we continue or not?
We have been dating now for five months, and she is wonderful in all things, successful, an excellent conversationalist, and best of all, not a feminist! But, she has no faith, does not go to church, and largely thinks religion is oppressive, and most painfully for me, she does not believe in Christianity. I would also add she is more of an agnostic than a militant atheist, since she believes in some vague afterlife, and respects my religious beliefs.
'Listen to your heart' is what they say, but my heart is confused at the moment, and the damned sex monkey does not help. The Woman is wonderful, but long term speaking, once the infatuation is over through the sobering, cold water of marriage, will religion be the stone upon which we stumble? Will I be happier instead with a practicing Catholic woman? What will my Mexican-Catholic mom say when I bring home a non-believer? She won't like it, that's for sure.
In my opinion, I am skeptical that it will work long term, but she thinks there is no problem. What do you say?
Your question is: Can the marriage between a non-religious person and a religious person be successful and a happy state of affairs? My answer is: Yes it can, but it is not likely. And in a matter as important to one's happiness as marriage, and in a social climate as conducive to marital break-up as ours is, it is foolish to take unnecessary risks. I would say that career and marriage, in that order, are the two most important factors in a person's happiness. You are on track for happiness if you can find some occupation that is personally satisfying and modestly remunerative and a partner with whom you can enjoy an ever-deepening long-term relationship. Religion lies deep in the religious person; for such a person to have a deep relationship with an irrreligious person is unlikely. A wise man gambles only with what he can afford to lose; he does not gamble with matters pertaining to his long-term happiness.
So careful thought is needed. Now the organ of thought is the head, not the heart. And you have heard me say that every man has two heads, a big one and a little one, one for thinking and one for linking. The wise man thinks with his big head. Of course, it would be folly to marry a woman to whom one was not strongly sexually attracted, or a woman for whom one did not feel deep affection. But a worse folly would be allow sex organs and heart to suborn intellect. By all means listen to your heart, but listen to your (big) head first. Given how difficult successful marriage is, one ought to put as much as possible on one's side. Here are some guidelines that you violate at your own risk:
Don't marry outside your race
Don't marry outside your religion
Don't marry outside your social class
Don't marry outside your generational cohort
Don't marry outside your educational level
Don't marry someone whose basic attitudes and values are different about, e.g., money
Don't marry someone with no prospects
Don't marry a needy person or if you are needy. A good marriage is an alliance of strengths
Don't marry to escape your parents
Don't marry young
Don't imagine that you will be able to change your partner in any significant way.
The last point is very important. What you see now in your partner is what you will get from here on out. People don't change. They are what they are. The few exceptions prove the rule. The wise live by rules, not exceptions, by probabilities, not possibilities. "Probability is the very guide to life." (Bishop Butler quoting Cicero, De Natura, 5, 12) As I said, it is foolish to gamble with your happiness. We gamble with what is inconsequential, what we can afford to lose. So if there is anything about your potential spouse that is unacceptable, don't foolishly suppose that you will change her. You won't. You must take her as she is, warts and all, as she must take you.
There is also the business about right and wrong order. Right Order: Finish your schooling; find a job that promises to be satisfying over the long haul and stick with it; eliminate debts and save money; get married after due consultation with both heads, especially the big one; have children.
Wrong Order: Have children; get married; take any job to stay alive; get some schooling to avoid working in a car wash for the rest of your life.
I think it is also important to realize that romantic love, as blissful and intoxicating as it is, is mostly illusory. I wouldn't want to marry a woman I wasn't madly (just the right word) in love with, but I also wouldn't want to marry a woman that I couldn't treasure and admire and value after the romantic transports had worn off, as they most assuredly will. Since you are a Catholic you may be open to the Platonic-Augustinian-Weilian thought that what we really want no woman or man can provide. Our hearts cannot be satisfied by any of our our earthly loves which are but sorry substitutes for the love of the Good.
I am regularly solicited by Open Journal of Philosophy for article submissions. The e-mails never reveal the dirty little secret behind publishing scams ventures like this, namely, the charges levied against authors. Poke around a bit, however, and you will find this page:
Article Processing Charges
Open Journal of Philosophy is an Open Access journal accessible for free on the Internet. At Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP), we guarantee that no university library or individual reader will ever have to buy a subscription or pay any pay-per-view fees to access articles in the electronic version of journal. There is hence no income at SCIRP that comes from selling any forms of subscriptions to this electronic version of journal or from pay-per-view fees. In order to cover the costs induced by editorial procedures, routine operation of the journals, processing of manuscripts through peer-reviews, and the provision and maintenance of a publication infrastructure, the journal charges article processing fee that can normally be defrayed by the author's institution or research funds.
Manuscript Page (as per the typeset proof)
Article Processing Charges
Paper within ten printed pages
Additional page charge above ten
$50 for each additional page
So it would cost you a grand to publish an 18 page paper, and a minumum of $600 to publish anything. And who reads this journal anyway? If you need to publish for tenure or promotion, then you need to publish in a decent journal. And if you publish to be read by people worth interacting with, ditto.
Besides, it is not that difficult to publish for free in good outlets. If I can do it, so can you. Here is my PhilPapers page which lists some of my publications. My passion for philosophy far outstrips my ability at it, but if you have a modicum of ability you can publish in decent places. When I quit my tenured post and went maverick, I feared that no one would touch my work. But I found that lack of an institutional affiliation did not bar me from very good journals.
Here are a few suggestions off the top of my head.
1. Don't submit anything that you haven't made as good as you can make it. Don't imagine that editors and referees will sense the great merit and surpassing brilliance of your inchoate ideas and help you refine them. That is not their job. Their job is to find a justification to dump your paper among the 70-90 % that get rejected.
2. Demonstrate that you are cognizant of the extant literature on your topic.
3. Write concisely and precisely about a well-defined issue.
4. Advance a well-defined thesis.
5. Don't rant or polemicize. That's what your blog is for. Referring to Brian Leiter as a corpulent apparatchik of political correctness and proprietor of a popular philosophy gossip site won't endear you to his sycophants one or two of whom you may be unfortunate enough to have as referrees.
6. Know your audience and submit the right piece to the right journal. Don't send a lengthy essay on Simone Weil to Analysis.
7. When the paper you slaved over is rejected, take it like a man or the female equivalent thereof. Never protest editorial decisions. You probably wrote something substandard, something that, ten years from now, you will be glad was not embalmed in printer's ink. You have no right to have your paper accepted. You may think it's all a rigged wheel and a good old boys network. In my experience it is not. Most of those who complain are just not very good at what they do.
London Karl sent me to The Mad Monarchist, not that he agrees with it. Apparently, there is no position on any topic that someone won't defend. But we've known that for a long time. Descartes said something to that effect.
Is anarchism the opposite of monarchism?
Anarchism is to political philosophy as eliminative materialism is to the philosophy of mind. That is to say, it is an untenable stance, teetering on the brink of absurdity, but worth studying as a foil against which to develop something saner. To understand in depth any position on a spectrum of positions you must study the whole spectrum.
Study everything. For almost every position on any topic contains some insight or other, even if it be only negative. The monarchist, for example, sees clearly what is wrong with pure democracy. If there are any positions wholly without value, then they are still worth studying with the philosophical equivalent of the pathologist's eye and the philosophical equivalent of the pathologist's interest.
I have discussed this question several times before. Here is my short answer. By all means, go to graduate school in philosophy, but only if you satisfy all of the following conditions.
1. Philosophy is your passion, the one thing you think most worth living for.
2. People in the know have advised you that you have philosophical aptitude.
3. Your way is paid in toto via fellowship including tuition remission or else you are independently wealthy. No student loans!
4. You are willing to live for 10-12 years, minimum, before relaxing with tenure. (I began grad school in '73 and received tenure in '84 = 11 years.) You will be under a fairly high degree of pressure during that decade or so, including such stressors as: living on a meager income as a grad student, writing a dissertation, earning the doctorate, landing a tenure-track position at a school where there is a real chance of getting tenure, surviving the tenure review.
5. You are willing to chance jumping though all the hoops, and then not get tenure, in which case you are no longer young somewhat damaged goods who may have to re-tool career-wise, or accept a lesser position. I know a philosopher who failed to get tenure at the University of Hawaii and had to take a job in Toledo, Ohio. It was a full-time philosophy position, but Toledo ain't Honolulu. It is easy to go up, hard to go down.
6. You understand that, if you do get tenure at Cleveland State, say, then you are stuck there for the rest of your career unless you are unusually talented. Tenure is a boon and a shackle, 'golden handcuffs' if you will. The security is purchased in the coin of a reduction of mobility.
In sum: if philosophy is your passion, you are good at it, have an opportunity to pursue it for free at a good school, and would not consider the years spent in grad school wasted if no job materializes -- then go for it! Live your dreams! Don't squander your self for pelf!
Within limits we have the power to control our minds, our moods, our responses to people and things, and in consequence our happiness. Happiness is in some measure made or unmade in the mind. We all know people who make themselves miserable by their refusal to practice very elementary mental hygiene. Just as I can let myself be annoyed by someone's remark or behavior, I can refuse to let myself be annoyed or affected. The trouble, however, is that this power of detachment is limited. What's more, it must be developed by protracted thought and practice, a fact that requires that one be well-endowed and well-placed -- facts not in one's control. I am in control of my responses to the world's bad actors and unfavorable circumstances, but not in control of the circumstances in which alone I can develop the Stoic's self-therapeutic armamentarium. I have the leisure, inclination, and aptitude to pursue Stoic and other spiritual exercises. But how many do? I can't see that a solution that leaves most out in the cold is much of a solution.
The Stoic wisdom may not take us far, but where it takes us is a worthwhile destination. In the end, however, Augustine is right: it is no final solution. Wretchedness partially and temporarily alleviated, and by some only, is no satisfactory answer to the wretchedness inscribed in our nature. Of course, it doesn't follow from this that there is a satisfactory answer.
Mutatis mutandis, the above applies to Buddhist self-therapeutics as well.
Everyone gets abused verbally in this world and one had better learn how to take it. There are bigots everywhere -- liberals are among the most vile, their tendency to project psychologically rendering their bigotry invisible to them -- and sooner or later you will encounter your fair share of abusers and bigots. A fellow graduate student called your humble correspondent a 'guinea' in the 1970s. This was in Boston. But I didn't break his nose and do the ground and pound on him. Was it cowardice or good sense? Call it self-control. If Trayvon Martin had control of his emotions on that fateful night, he would probably be alive today. The downside, of course, is that then we wouldn't be having this delightful 'conversation' about race.
My impression is that there is more anti-Italian prejudice -- not that it is any big deal -- in the East than in the West where I come from. (And without a doubt, Jim Morrison had it right when he opined that the West is the best, in at least two senses.) I didn't encounter any anti-Italian prejudice until I headed East. I had a Lithuanian girl friend in Boston whose mother used to warn her: "Never bring an Italian home." I never did get to meet Darci's mom. Imagine a Lithuanian feeling superior to an Italian!
But I want to talk about blacks, to add just a bit more to this wonderful 'conversation' about race we are having.
Blacks need to learn from Jews, Italians, the Irish, and others who have faced abuse and discrimination. Don't whine, don't complain, don't seek a government program. Don't try to cash in on your 'victim' status, when the truth is that you are a 'victim' of liberal victimology. Don't waste your energy blaming others for your own failures.
Don't wallow in your real or imagined grievances, especially vicarious grievances. That's the mark of a loser. Winners live and act in the present where alone they can influence the future.
If you want me to judge you as an individual, by the content of your character and not by the color of your skin, then behave like an individual: don't try to secure advantages from membership in a group.
Abandon tribal self-identification. Did you vote for Obama because he is black? Then you have no business in a voting booth.
Bear in mind that the world runs on appearances, and that if you appear to be a thug -- from your saggy pants, your 'hoodie,' your sullen and disrespectful attitude -- then people will suspect you of being a thug.
Take a leaf out of Condi Rice's book. She's black, she's female, and she became Secretary of State. And her predecessor in the job was a black man, Colin Powell. It sure is a racist society we have here in the USA. And that Justice Thomas on the Supreme Court -- isn't he a black dude? And not a mulatto like Obama, but one seriously black man.
Lose the basketball. Get the needle out of your arm, and that soul-killing rap noise out of your ears. Listen to the late Beethoven piano sonatas. May I recommend Opus #s 109, 110, and 111? Mozart is also supposed to be good for improving your mental capacity. We honkies want you to be successful. If you are successful, we won't have to support you. And if you are successful you will be happy. Happy people don't cause trouble.
And we don't give a flying enchilada what color you are. It's not about color anyway. It's about behavior. Work hard, practice the ancient virtues, and be successful. If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere. Don't let Brother Jesse or Brother Al tell you otherwise. Those so-called 'reverends' are nothing but race-hustlers who make money from the grievance industry.
Liberals are not your friends either. They want you to stay on the plantation. They think you are too stupid to take care of yourselves.
If you learn to control your emotions, defer gratification, study hard and practice the old-time virtues, will you be 'acting white'? Yes, in a sense. High culture is universal and available to all who want to assimilate it. What makes our culture superior to yours is not that it is white but that it is superior.
Don't get mad, be like Rudy Giuliani. Can you imagine him making a big deal about being called a greaseball, dago, goombah, wop, guinea . . . ? Do you see him protesting Soprano-style depictions of Italian-Americans as mafiosi?
"No man speaketh safely but he that is glad to hold his peace. " (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Chapter XX.)
Excellent advice for Christian and non-Christian alike. Much misery and misfortune can be avoided by simply keeping one's mouth shut. That playful banter with your female student that you could not resist indulging in -- she construed it as sexual harrassment. You were sitting on top of the world, but now you are in a world of trouble. In this Age of Political Correctness examples are legion. To be on the safe side, a good rule of thumb is: If your speech can be misconstrued, it will be. Did you really need to make that comment, or fire off that e-mail, or send that picture of your marvellous nether endowment to a woman not your wife?
Part of the problem is Political Correctness, but another part is that people are not brought up to exercise self-control in thought, word, and deed. Both problems can be plausibly blamed on liberals. Paradoxically enough, the contemporary liberal promotes speech codes and taboos while at the same time promoting an absurd tolerance of every sort of bad behavior. The liberal 'educator' dare not tell the black kid to pull his pants up lest he be accused of a racist 'dissing' of the punk's 'culture.'
You need to give your children moral lessons and send them to schools where they will receive them. My mind drifts back to the fourth or fifth grade and the time a nun planted an image in my mind that remains. She likened the tongue to a sword capable of great damage, positioned behind two 'gates,' the teeth and the lips. Those gates are there for a reason, she explained, and the sword should come out only when it can be well deployed.
The good nun did not extend the image to the sword of flesh hanging between a man's legs. But I will. Keep your 'sword' behind the 'gates' of your pants and your undershorts until such time as it can be brought out for a good purpose.
There is so much to learn from the Trayvon Martin affair. One 'take-away' is the importance of self-control. If Martin had been taught, or rather had learned, to control himself he would most likely be alive today. But he didn't. He blew his cool when questioned about his trespassing in a gated community on a rainy night. He punched a man in the face and broke his nose, then jumped on him, pinned him down, and told him that he was going to die that night. So, naturally, the man defended himself against the deadly attack with deadly force. What Zimmerman did was both morally and legally permissible. If some strapping youth is pounding your head into the pavement, you are about to suffer "grave bodily harm" if not death. What we have here is clearly a case of self-defense.
Does race enter into this? In one way it does. Blacks as a group have a rather more emotional nature than whites as a group. (If you deny this, you have never lived in a black neighborhood or worked with blacks, as I have.) So, while self-control is important for all, the early inculcation of self-control is even more important for blacks.
Hard looks, hateful looks, suspicious looks -- we all get them from time to time, but they are not justifications for launching a physical assault on the looker. The same goes for harsh words.
If you want to be successful you must learn to control yourself. You must learn to control your thoughts, your words, and your behavior. You must learn to keep a tight rein on your feelings. Unfortunately, liberals in positions of authority have abdicated when it comes to moral education. For example, they refuse to enforce discipline in classrooms. So liberals, as usual, are part of the problem.
But that is to put it too mildly. There is no decency on the Left, no wisdom, and, increasingly, no sanity. For example, the crazy comparison of Trayvon Martin with Emmet Till. But perhaps I should put the point disjunctively: you are either crazy if you make that comparison, or moral scum.
Having retired after decades as an academician in various capacities, both administrative and professorial, at a small college in Massachusetts, I am dedicating the next three decades or so of my life to the fullest exploration possible of all that philosophy has to offer.
Bravo! Wise move. A human life should not be wasted on useless administrivia and teaching the unteachable in an age when so-called universities have forgotten their classical mission and have degenerated into leftist seminaries.
I get mail from people who are in a position to retire but hesitate out of fear of not having enough money. My advice to them is that since death can come without warning, "like a thief in the night," they ought to take the plunge. James Gandolfini died young at 51. When he woke up on the last morning of his life did he think it was to be his last?
The question to ask yourself is this: In what state will death find me? Grubbing for more loot? Or living the best life I can live pursuing the highest ends I am able to pursue?
"The trouble is, you think you have time." (attributed to Buddha)
These maxims work for me; they may work for you. Experiment. The art of living can only learned by living and trying and failing.
0. Make it a goal of your life to be as happy as circumstances permit. Think of it as a moral obligation: a duty to oneself and to others.
1. Avoid unhappy people. Most of them live in hells of their own devising; you cannot help them, but they can harm you.
2. Avoid negativity. Squelch negative and useless thoughts as they arise. Your mind is your domain and you have (limited) control over it. Don't dwell on the limits; push against them and expand them. Refuse entry to all unwanted guests. With practice, the power of the mind to control itself can be developed. There is no happiness without mind control. Don't dwell on the evil and sordid sides of life. Study them unflinchingly to learn the truths of the human predicament, but know how to look away when study time is over.
3. Set aside one hour per morning for formal meditation and the ruminative reading of high-grade self-help literature, e.g., the Stoics, but not just them. Go ahead, read Seligman, but read Seneca first.
4. Cultivate realistic expectations concerning the world and the people in it. This may require adjusting expectations downward. But this must be done without rancour, resentment, cynicism, or misanthropy. If you are shocked at the low level of your fellow human beings, blame yourself for having failed to cultivate reality-grounded expectations.
Negative people typically feel well-justified in their negative assessments of the world and its denizens. Therein lies a snare and a delusion. Justified or not, they poison themselves with their negativity and dig their whole deeper. Not wise.
Know and accept your own limitations. Curtail ambition, especially as the years roll on. Don't overreach. Enjoy what you have here and now. Don't let hankering after a nonexistent future poison the solely existent present.
5. Blame yourself as far as possible for everything bad that happens to you. This is one of the attitudinal differences between a conservative and a liberal. When a conservative gets up in the morning, he looks into the mirror and says, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. What happens to me today is up to me and in my control." He thereby exaggerates, but in a life-enhancing way. The liberal, by contrast, starts his day with the blame game: "I was bullied, people were mean to me, blah, blah, people suck, I'm a victim, I need a government program to stop me from mainlining heroin, blah, blah, et cetera ad nauseam. A caricature? Of course. But it lays bare some important home truths like all good caricatures do.
Perhaps we could say that the right-thinking person begins with a defeasible presumption in favor of his ability to rely on himself, to cope, to negotiate life's twists and turns, to get his head together, to be happy, to flourish. He thus places the burden of proof on the people and things outside him to defeat the presumption. Sometimes life defeats our presumption of well-being; but if we start with the presumption of ill-being, then we defeat ourselves.
We should presume ourselves to be successful in our pursuit of happiness until proven wrong.
6. Rely on yourself for your well-being as far as possible. Don't look to others. You have no right to happiness and others have no obligation to provide it for you. Your right is to the pursuit of happiness. Learn to cultivate the soil of solitude. Happy solitude is the sole beatitude. O beata solitudo, sola beatitudo. An exaggeration to be sure, but justifed by the truth it contains. In the end, the individual is responsible for his happiness.
7. Practice mental self-control as difficult as it is. Master desire and aversion.
9. Limit comparisons with others. Comparisons often breed envy. The envious do not achieve well-being. Be yourself.
10. Fight the good fight against ignorance, evil, thoughtlessness, and tyranny, but don't sacrifice your happiness on the altar of activism. We are not here to improve the world so much as to be improved by it. It cannot be changed in any truly ameliorative and fundamental ways by our own efforts whether individual or collective. If you fancy it can be, then go ahead and learn the hard way, assuming you don't make things worse.
11. Hope beyond this life. One cannot live well in this life without hope. Life is enhanced if you can bring yourself to believe beyond it as well. No one knows whether we have a higher destiny. If you are so inclined, investigate the matter. But better than inquiry into the immortality of the soul is living in such a way as to deserve it.
I'm curious as to when you eat breakfast in relation to when you do your early morning studying, meditating, hiking, or running. I know you've mentioned a few times that you've done these activities before meeting folks for breakfast, so I am curious to know if eating affects your mental and/or spiritual clarity.
Eating definitely affects mental and spiritual clarity, and usually adversely, although it depends on the quantity and quality of what is eaten and drunk. My rule is: Nothing but coffee until after meditation. And no electronics until after meditation. A typical day goes like this. Up at 2 AM, reading and journal writing and coffee drinking til 4, then meditation 4-5, then more coffee and some toast smeared with almond butter (great stuff!). Then I turn on the modem (which I keep off at night), fire up the computer, answer e-mail and blog comments, work on a blog post, then around 5:30 or later depending on the season head out for 2-3 hours of exercise either a local hike/run or a combination of weight-lifting, swimming, and riding the mountain bike. For hydration I drink copious amount of water and OJ.
Only after physical exercise do I have a proper breakfast, around 7:30 or 8:30. But a little something before exercise is a good idea to fuel your exertions.
Don't imitate Jim Morrison, that distinguished member of the 27 Club, Roadhouse Blues: "I woke up this morning and I had myself a beer. The future's uncertain and death is always near." Yes it is if beer's your breakfast.
The long views of philosophy are not to everyone's taste. If not bored, many are depressed by the contemplation of death and pain, God and the soul, the meaning or meaninglessness of our lives. They prefer not to think of such things and consider it best to take short views. If as Thomas Nagel maintains, the contemplation sub specie aeternitatis of one's daily doings drains them of seriousness, one is under no obligation to take the view from nowhere.
Is it best to take short views? Sometimes it is. When the going gets tough, it is best to pull in one’s horns, hunker down, and just try to get through the next week, the next day, the next hour. One can always meet the challenge of the next hour. Be here now and deal with what is on your plate at the moment. Most likely you will find a way forward.
But, speaking for myself, a life without long views would not be worth living. I thrill at the passage in Plato’s Republic, Book Six (486a), where the philosopher is described as a "spectator of all time and existence." And then there is this beautiful formulation by William James:
The absolute things, the last things, the overlapping things, are the truly philosophic concerns; all superior minds feel seriously about them, and the mind with the shortest views is simply the mind of the more shallow man. (Pragmatism, Harvard UP, 1975, p. 56)
I wrote above, "speaking for myself." The expression was not used redundantly inasmuch as it conveys that my philosopher’s preference for the long view is not one that I would want to or try to urge on anyone else. In my experience, one cannot argue with another man’s sensibility. And much of life comes down to precisely that -- sensibility. If people share a sensibility, then argument is useful for its articulation and refinement. But I am none too sanguine about the possibility of arguing someone into, or out of, a sensibility.
How argue the atheist out of his abiding sense that the universe is godless, or the radical out of his conviction of human perfectibility? If the passages I cited from Plato and James leave you cold, how could I change your mind? If you sneer at my being thrilled, what then? Argument comes too late. Or if you prefer, sensibility comes too early.
One might also speak of a person’s sense of life, view of what is important, or ‘feel for the real.’ James’ phrase, "feel seriously," is apt. To the superior mind, ultimate questions "feel real," whereas to the shallow mind they appear pointless, unimportant, silly. It is equally true that the superior mind is made such by its wrestling with these questions.
Maximae res, cum parvis quaeruntur, magnos eos solent efficere.
Matters of the greatest importance, when they are investigated by little men, tend to make those men great. (Augustine, Contra Academicos 1. 2. 6.)
Of course, with his talk of the superior and the shallow, James is making a value judgment. I myself have no problem making value judgments, and in particular this one. Evaluate we must.
Although prospects are dim for arguing the other out of his sensibility, civil discussion is not pointless. One comes to understand one’s own view by contrast with another. One learns to respect the sources and resources of the other’s view. This may lead to toleration, which is good within limits. For someone with a theoretical bent, the sheer diversity of approaches to life is fascinating and provides endless grist for the theoretical mill. If the theoretician is a blogger, he has blog-fodder for a lifetime.
As for the problem of how to get along with people with wildly different views, I recommend voluntary segregation.
"But how could I fail to be?" By not minding your being here now. The rocks on the trail are here now but they cannot attend to their being here now. They can't appreciate or appropriate or affirm their being here now.
As the existentialists rightly pointed out, to be for a human being is to be in a special mode: to be minding, if you will. In Heideggerian jargon, to be for a human being is to be the Da of Sein; it is to be the Lichtung in which the rest of what is is gelichtet and made manifest.
Appreciate what you have while you have it. An actual shack is better than a remembered or merely imagined or expected or merely possible palace. Do not allow the present and actual good to suffer diminution by comparison to the modally and temporally and spatially elsewhere.
This is it. This is your life. Right here and right now. If it is good, appreciate it. If it needs improving, act right here and right now to improve it, but without failing to appreciate the good that is here and now yours.
You have enough world success if it enables you to advance the project of self-realization on the important fronts including the moral, the intellectual, and the spiritual. The vita contemplativa cannot be well lived by the grindingly poor, the sick, the politically and socially oppressed, the sorely afflicted and tormented. Boethius wrote his Consolations of Philosophy in prison, but you are not Boethius.
You have too much worldly success when it becomes a snare and a burden and a distraction.
We need some social acceptance and human contact, but fame is worse than obscurity. Reflect for a moment on the character of those who enjoy fame and the character of those whose fickle regard confers it.
We need a modicum of worldly wherewithal to live well, but more is not better. Only the terminally deluded could believe, as the saying goes, that "You can't be too thin or too rich." You could be anorexic or like unto the New Testament camel who couldn't pass through the eye of a needle.
We need health but not hypertrophy.
We need power, but not the power over others that corrupts but the power over oneself that does not.
John Blofeld, Beyond the Gods: Buddhist and Taoist Mysticism (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1974), p. 153:
For the sake of wealth, people already well above the poverty line slave all their lives, not realising that withdrawal from the rat-race would immediately increase rather than diminish their wealth. Obviously anyone who finds the full satisfaction of all his material desires well within his means can be said to be wealthy; it follows that, except by the truly poor, wealth can be achieved overnight by a change of mental attitude that will set bounds to desires. As Laotzu put it, "He who is contented always has enough."
We should look past useless memories to present realities in the way we look past the floaters in our visual field. To concentrate on the detritus of memory is only to enliven what ought to be left to slumber.
A panacea that cures all your earthly ills in a manner most definitive.
Life in the fast lane often leads to a quick exit from life's freeway. You may recall Terry Kath, guitarist for the band Chicago. In 1978, while drunk, he shot himself in the head with a 'unloaded' gun. At first he had been fooling with a .38 revolver. Then he picked up a semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, removed the magazine, pointed it at his head, spoke his last words, "Don't worry, it isn't loaded," and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately for his head, there was a round in the chamber. Or that is one way the story goes.
Such inadvertent exits are easily avoided by exceptionless observation of three rules: Never point a gun at something you do not want to destroy. Treat every gun as if loaded, whether loaded or not. Never mix alcohol and gunpowder.
Perhaps I should add a fourth: Never mix dummy rounds with live rounds. Variant: Dummies should stay clear of guns, loaded or unloaded, and ammo, live or dummy.
I thank long-time blogger buddy Bill Keezer for pointing out something that should have been obvious. To read an online article at a money-grubbing site such as NRO, a site awash with advertising, moving images, noise, and what all else, click on the 'print' icon. The article should appear without the junk. But you knew that already.
I may not have the prettiest 'skin' in the 'sphere, but at my site you will find no advertising, begging, moving images, noise . . . just solid content day after day, year after year.
As one of my aphorisms has it, a blog is to be judged, not by the color of its 'skin' but by the character of its content.
I thank you for your patronage. Rare is the day when traffic dips below 1000 pageviews. In recent days spikes have been in the 3000-4000 range. 2012 was a banner year.
UPDATE: The ever-helpful Dave Lull e-mails:
Usually I prefer using the free Readability browser add-on (the page formatted for printing is often too wide for me to read comfortably and is sometimes not an option):
Just over the transom an e-mail from someone who wants me to review Nassim Taleb's latest book. So I asked Mr. Google to tell me who this Taleb fellow is and he referred me to Nassim Taleb's Super-Simple Argument for Banning Semi-Automatic Weapons. After reading this incoherent Facebook posting of his, I decided that time spent reading anything further by Taleb would probably be wasted.
Beware of wasting time on the latest stuff. What is hot now will be forgotten tomorrow. Here is some good advice from Leo Strauss on reading and writing.
UPDATE (1/2): This parody further dissuades me from reading Taleb. There is a strong temptation to want to be be up on all the latest stuff. But isn't it foolish to succumb to this temptation if there are great books you have never cracked? Life is short. Spend it well.
Suppose you value an old friend, a neighbor, a family member, a hiking companion, but differ with him or her on one or more points of ideology. As a general rule, one admitting of exceptions, I recommend assiduously avoiding the points of difference and cleaving to the uncontroversial. Do not multiply enemies beyond necessity! It is a sound conservative principle. We conservatives have no illusions about human nature or its improvability. People are what they are, and they do not and will not change. You cannot improve their thinking or their morals, not by much leastways, but you can make things worse by adding unnecessarily to the hostility in the world, hostility that can come back to bite you.
I once had a chess and hiking partner name of 'Bill.' We were two miles into the 9.1 mile Black Mesa Loop in the western Superstitions when he came out with a remark of such incomparable moral and intellectual obtuseness that my Italian blood began to boil. He said that a prenatal human being is "just tissue."
As someone who has thought deeply and rigorously about this topic (see Abortion category), I had at my command a full arsenal of responses. But I knew I would be wasting my time on the fellow. Only a very few are teachable. You can't make a piston out of ice.
So I said, "Bill, we have a long way to go in this unforgiving wilderness. In the interests of a pleasant hike, I suggest we not talk about this topic."
Since the past is no longer, to let go of the past is to let go of thoughts of the past. But these thoughts, like all thoughts, are in the present. So we are brought back again to the importance of cultivating the ability to let go of thoughts here and now. Mind control in the present automatically takes care of the two nonpresent temporal modes.
Does someone want to do something for you? Buy you lunch? Give you a gift? Bring something to the dinner?
Be gracious. Don't say, "You don't have to buy me lunch," or "Let me buy you lunch," or "You didn't have to bring that." Humbly accept and grant the donor the pleasure of being a donor.
Lack of graciousness often bespeaks an excess of ego.
We were re-hydrating at a bar in Tortilla Flat, Arizona, after an ankle-busting hike up a stream bed. I offered to buy Alex a drink. Instead of graciously accepting my hospitality, he had the chutzpah to ask me to lend him money so that he could buy me a drink!
Another type of ungraciousness is replying 'Thank you' to 'Thank you.' If I thank you for something, say 'You're welcome,' not 'Thank You.' Graciously acquiesce in the fact that I have done you a favor. Don't try to get the upper hand by thanking me.
I grant that there are situations in which mutual thanking is appropriate.
Some people feel that they must 'reciprocate.' Why exactly? I gave you a little Christmas present because I felt like it. And now you feel you must give me one in return? Is this a tit for tat game?
Suppose I compliment you sincerely. Will you throw the compliment back in my face by denigrating that which I complimented you for, thereby impugning my judgment?
1. Care about truth. 2. Care about grammar. 3. Care about eloquence in speaking.
4. Develop refined tastes in everything you can. 5. Develop a masterful BS detector. 6. Speak truths that no one else will, but which need to be heard. 7. Never flatter. 8. Don't sell character for success. 9. Be skeptical of whatever "the herd" likes. 10. Do not watch TV. In fact, turn them off whenever possible. 11. Lament stupidity, inanity, and insanity. They are everywhere.
We need spiritual exercises just as we need physical, mental, and moral exercises. A good spiritual exercise, and easy to boot, is daily recollection of just how good one has it, just how rich and full one's life is, just how much is going right despite annoyances and setbacks which for the most part are so petty as not to merit consideration.
Start with the physical side of your life. You slept well, and a beautiful new day is dawning. Your breath comes easy, your intestines are in order. Your mind is clear, and so are your eyes. Move every moving part of your body and note how wonderfully it works, without any pain to speak of.
Brew up some java and enjoy its rich taste, all the while rejoicing over the regularity of nature that allows the water to boil one more time, at the same temperature, and the caffeine to be absorbed once more by those greedy intercranial receptors that activate the adrenalin that makes you eager to grab a notebook and jot down all the new ideas that are beginning to percolate up from who knows where.
Finished with your body, move to your mind and its wonderful workings. Then to the house and its appliances including your trusty old computer that reliably, day after day, connects you to the sphere of Nous, the noosphere, to hijack a term of Teilhard de Chardin. And don't forget the country that allows you to live your own kind of life in your own kind of way and say and write whatever you think in peace and safety.
A quotidian enactment of something like the foregoing meditation should do wonders for you.
Epicurus (circa 341-271 B.C.) wrote the following to a disciple:
I understand from you that your natural disposition is too much inclined toward sexual passion. Follow your inclinations as you will provided only that you neither violate the laws, disturb well-established customs, harm any
one of your neighbors, injure your own body, nor waste your possessions. That you be not checked by some one of these provisos is impossible; for a man never gets any good from sexual passion, and he is fortunate if he does not receive harm. (Italics added, Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican Sayings, trans. R. M. Geer, Macmillan, 1987, pp. 69-70)
Had Bill Clinton heeded this advice, kept his penis in harness, and his paws off the overweight intern, he might have left office with an impressive legacy indeed. But instead he will schlep down the centuries tied to Monica like Abelard to Heloise -- except for the fact that he got off a lot easier than poor Abelard.
Closer to home is the case of Robert Blake whose lust led him into a tender trap that turned deadly. He was very lucky to be acquitted of the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakeley. Then there was the case of the dentist whose extramural activities provoked his dentist wife to run him down with the family Mercedes. The Bard had it right: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
More recently, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has secured himself a place in the annals of libertinage while wrecking his career. Ah, those sophisticated Frenchmen.
And let's not forget Eliot Spitzer and now Generals Petraeus and Allen.
This litany of career-ending, family-destroying woe can be lengthened ad libitum. My motive is not Schadenfreude, but a humble desire to learn from the mistakes of others. Better that they rather than I should pay my tuition in the school of Hard Knocks.
Heed me, muchachos, there is no more delusive power on the face of the earth than sex. Or as a Turkish proverb has it, Erkegin sheytani kadindir, "Man's devil is woman."
I've followed your blog for a few months now. I feel compelled to say thank you for the content of your posts. They are usually trenchant, always interesting, and occasionally they lead me to delve into topics and categories that I have never explored previously.
Some background: I'm an Arabic linguist for the Navy. I currently live in Georgia, but was born and reared in Florida. I pretty much agree with everything you've said on political topics.
A question for you: I didn't study philosophy, but am extremely well read in history and politics (particularly ancient history). You obviously were a academician, but if I wanted to get grounded in the current state of philosophy, where do I start? The field is so vast, so opaque and confusing. Am I better off just reading Plato and perhaps William James?
Again, thank you for a wonderful blog. I always try to learn something new every day, and your writing makes it easier for me to accomplish that task.
I of course appreciate the kind words, and the regular arrival of letters like this in my mail box is emolument aplenty for my pro bono efforts.
First of all, I wouldn't worry too much about the current state of philosophy because much that is current is ephemeral and even foolish. I would concern myself more with an introduction to the perennial problems of philosophy. To understand the sometimes strange things that philosophers say one must first understand the questions that perplexed them and the problems they were trying to solve. With that in mind I recommend two short well-written books, the first from 1912 and the second from 1987: Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy; Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? I commend the following advice to you from p. 4 of Nagel's book:
The center of philosophy lies in certain questions which the reflective human mind finds naturally puzzling, and the best way to begin the study of philosophy is to think about them directly. Once you've done that, you are in a better position to apprecdiate the work of others who have tried to solve the same problems.
Sage advice. There is no point in studying philosophy unless there are some questions that 'bug' you and to which you want and need answers. Think about them directly, and try to answer them for yourself. Then test your answers against the answers more experienced thinkers have proposed.
For example, suppose you are interested in the question of the freedom of the will. Formulated as a problem, it is the problem of reconciling the freedom of the will presupposed by ascriptions of moral responsibility with the apparent determinism of the natural world of which the agent is a part. So you think about it. You don't get very far on your own, so you seek help. You turn to Schopenhauer's magisterial On the Freedom of the Will for orientation. You get that and more: data, distinctions, the history of the problem and the various solutions, and Schopenhauer's own solution. And so it goes.
The ComBox is open in case anyone wants to suggest titles for my reader.
It was 42 years ago today that I first began keeping a regular journal. Before that, as a teenager, I kept some irregular journals. Why maintain a journal? When I was 16 years old, my thought was that I didn't want time to pass with nothing to show for it. That is still my thought. The unrecorded life is not worth living. For we have it on good authority that the unexamined life is not worth living, and how examined could an undocumented life be?
The maintenance of a journal aids mightily in the project of self-individuation. Like that prodigious journal writer Søren Kierkegaard, I believe we are here to become actually the individuals we are potentially. Our individuation is not ready-made or given, but a task to be accomplished. The world is a vale of soul-making; we are not here to improve it, but to be improved by it.
Henry David Thoreau, another of the world's great journal writers, said in Walden that "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." I would only add that without a journal, one's life is one of quiet dissipation. One's life dribbles away, day by day, unreflected on, unexamined, unrecorded, and thus fundamentally unlived. Living, for us, is not just a biological process; it is fundamentally a spiritual unfolding. To mean anything it has to add up to something, and that something cannot be expressed with a dollar sign.
I have always had a horror of an unfocused existence. In my early twenties, I spoke of the supreme desideratum of a focused existence. What bothered me about the people around me, fellow students in particular, was the mere aestheticism of their existence: their aimless drifting hither and yon, their lack of commitment, their unseriousness, their refusal to engage the arduous task of self-definition and self-individuation, their willingness to be guided and mis-guided by social suggestions. In one's journal one collects and re-collects oneself; one makes war against the lower self and the forces of dispersion.
Another advantage to a journal and its regular maintenance is that one thereby learns how to write, and how to think. An unwritten thought is still a half-baked thought: proper concretion is achieved only by expressing thoughts in writing and developing them. Always write as well as you can, in complete sentences free of grammatical and spelling errors. Develop the sentences into paragraphs, and if the Muse is with you those paragraphs may one day issue in essays, articles, and chapters of books.
Finally, there is the pleasure of re-reading from a substantial temporal distance. Two years ago I began re-reading my journal in order, month by month, at a 40 year distance. So of course now I am up to October 1972. 40 Years from now I will be at the present, or dead. One.
Life is for living. And risks are for taking. But Henry David Thoreau says it best: "A man sits as many risks as he runs." The other side of the coin is that the risks must be proportional to the rewards.
No living well without risks. No living long without circumspection.