So today being St. Patrick's Day I think I will engage in some 'cultural appropriation.' I have been invited to a street party at which corned beef and cabbage will be served, and I shall partake. I'm not big on parties, but a little socializing with one's neighbors is conducive to comity.
The wise do not multiply enemies beyond necessity; neither do they ignore easy opportunities to strengthen social relations. We are social animals whether we like it or not.
An hour of my time, beer and banter, some Irish grub, and then back to the inner citadel.
Robert Blake is back in the news, which fact justifies, as if justification is needed, a re-post from 18 May 2011.
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."
Most recently, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has secured himself a place in the annals of libertinage while wrecking his career. Ah, those sophisticated Frenchmen.
This litany of 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." And conversely.
I have never made a budget in my life. Never having made one, I have never had to adhere to one. The budgeter is involved in a negative enterprise: he essays to control and curtail spending. He allocates so much money for this, and so much for that, and strives to stick to his limits. But positive methods are often superior to negative ones. If you want to lose weight, for example, it is better to exercise and burn more calories, while holding your caloric intake constant, than to eat less while holding steady on caloric expenditure. (Aside from the optimal course which is to do both at the same time.) Part of the reason for this is that it is harder to break an old habit than to begin a new one.
Similarly with budgeting. To budget is to approach your personal finances negatively when a positive approach is superior. Instead of setting limits to spending in various categories, specify target savings and investing amounts, and aim high. The Wealthy Barber has a chapter entitled "The Ten Percent Solution." As I recall, the author recommends investing 10% of gross income for long-term growth. That's chickenfeed to my conservative mind. We save and invest far more than this. The best way to do this, of course, is by automatic payroll deduction. You arrange for your employer to direct deposit some percentage of your income into the account of your choice. You then live on what is left over.
Why do you need a budget? If you are self-disciplined you will naturally watch your spending, and of course you will never ever use a credit card for its credit feature. You will use it only for its float, record-keeping, rebate, and convenience features. Allow me to brag so as to make a point that is very important for everyone. I have never paid a cent of credit card interest in my life, and in the last several years, each year I have received $400- $500 cash in rebates for the use of a couple of cards which charge me no fee for their use. The credit lines are huge but I go nowhere near them, and the interest rates I could not care less about. Not only that, but the 'float' makes me even more money. Let's say I have the use of $2,000 for six weeks. During that period the goods are in my possession but the money is at my disposal in a cash reserve account earning interest.
Suppose you are a leftist knucklehead who hates 'corporate America.' What better way to stick it to the credit card companies than by becoming a free-rider?
So I ask again, why do you need a budget? If you are self-disciplined you will naturally watch your spending, and if you are not self-disciplined then you will lack the discipline to adhere to your budget. Or is this a false alternative?
When I was a graduate student, 'back in the day,' I lived on 2-3 K per annum. That was in Boston, one expensive town. And then I got a job which paid for starters the princely sum of 12 K per annum. I said to myself: "Surely, I can save and invest half of that!" But attitude is everything. Attitude and will and good judgment. For example, if you are inclined to become financially independent, then you would be a fool to marry someone whose idea of Nirvana is a wallet full of charge cards with unlimited credit lines.
The moral side of the economic problem is paramount to a conservative like me. Those who can deny themselves and defer gratification can become financially well-off in a stable political and economic environment such as we enjoy in these United States. But of course people will not deny themselves and defer gratification. So they must suffer the consequences. The problem is akrasia, weakness of the will. The fundamental problem is not predatory credit card companies, subprime mortgage scammers, and the payday loan sharks. For if you are self-disciplined, cautious, and diligent, they will not be able to get a handle on you.
You are well-advised to view your life as a self-improvement project, but beware of viewing the lives of others likewise. I mean: as your improvement project. If you are drawn to a member of the opposite sex, be sure you are drawn to her for what she is, not for what you fancy you can make of her. The few exceptions prove the rule: people do not change.
There are 'fixer-upper' houses but no 'fixer-upper' wives.
He who seeks a "fundamental transformation" does not love that which he seeks fundamentally to transform. Wherein lies a proof that Obama and his ilk are not patriots.
Here is a good article on the topic addressed to law enforcement officers, but useful for the ordinary citizen.
Under ORANGE below read 'if possible' for 'if necessary.'
Condition White is fine while in your house, assuming your house is well-secured. The minute you step out your door you should move to Condition Yellow, whether you are carrying or not. Train yourself to stay in Yellow as long as you are out and about.
I came close to being mugged in New Orleans' French Quarter in '90 or '91. I was there to read a paper at an A. P. A. meeting. Early one morning I left the hotel to sample the local color and grab some breakfast. Striding along Bourbon street, I noticed a couple of black dudes on the other side of the street. I was wearing a beret, which may have suggested to the loiterers that I was a foreigner and an easy mark. One dude approached and commented on my shoes in an obvious attempt ti distract me and throw me off my guard. My situational awareness saved me. That, my stern mien, height, leather jacket and purposeful stride. I gave the punk a hard look, increased my pace, and blew him off.
Profiling is part of situational awareness. Profiling is just common sense, which is why liberal fools oppose it. A couple of black youths loitering in a touristy area are probably up to no good. If common sense makes me a racist, then we should all be racists, including decent black folk.
Your body is your vehicle on the highways and byways of the mundus sensibilis. Does it not make sense to keep it ever roadworthy? Is it not morally incumbent upon you to do so? Either maintain it or get it off the road.
You don't really want to go to that Christmas party where you will eat what you don't need to eat, drink what you don't need to drink, and dissipate your inwardness in pointless chit-chat. But you were invited and your non-attendance may be taken amiss. So you remind yourself that self-denial is good and that it is useful from time to time to practice the art of donning and wearing the mask of a 'regular guy.'
For the step into the social is by dissimulation. Necessary to the art of life is knowing how to negotiate the social world and pass yourself off under various guises and disguises.
All visible tattoos deliver the same message: I am not interested in being hired for any position that involves interacting with the public. Tattoos on the neck and face deliver the message in capital letters.
Time was when tattoos were found mainly only among the demimonde of grifters, members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, rough trade, a certain segment of merchant seamen, and other denizens of the dark side.
I tend to take a dim view of tattoos, seeing them as the graffiti of the human body, and as yet another, perhaps minor, ingredient in the Decline of the West. Christians who believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit ought to consider whether tattoos deface the temple. But I do not dogmatize on this topic. You can reasonably attack my graffiti analogy, and if you insist that tattoos are beautiful, not ugly, I won't be able to refute you. Or at least I won't be able to persuade you.
If you argue that there is no, or needn't be, a connection between tattoos and cultural decline, you may have a case. You might even be able reasonably to maintain that the bodily temple is sometimes beautified by judicious inking. Leviticus 19:28 forbids the practice, but that text does not settle the matter. I tend to think that fascination with the ugly and grotesque does not ennoble us. The connection between the aesthetic and the moral needs to be explored.
But I celebrate the liberty of the individual and tolerate the tattooer and the tatttoed.
I only advise caution: permanent or semi-permanent modifications of the mortal coil are to be made only after due deliberation. You might want to consider such things as: the signal you're sending, your future employability, and, for the distaff contingent, how ugly that tattoo will look on your calf when you are 45 as opposed to 20 and the ink is cheek-by-jowl with varicose veins and cellulite. Cute baristas in hip huggers with tattoos on their lower backs bending over the espresso machine invite impertinent questions as to how far down the pattern extends. "Does it come up the other side?"
If you are thinking of a career in public relations, a bone through the nose is definitely out, as are facial hardware and a Charley Manson-style swastika tattooed onto the forehead. And if you sport a 'tramp stamp,' keep it covered.
Something you allude to, but don’t completely address, is the allure of fashion, and its strange nature. Fashion has a lifetime of at most ten years, usually in a way that what once conferred stature and gravitas turns into the ludicrous. Fortunately we can discard clothes, and change our hairstyle. This is more difficult with tattoos.
I.e. it’s not just that the tattoo will look ugly when the ink is ‘cheek-by-jowl with varicose veins and cellulite’. It’s that it will look ugly and ridiculous in itself.
I haven’t seen any theory that neatly explains the transformative power of time over fashion. Those of us who are older and have been through a few cycles of such changes are aware of it, and are somewhat, though not completely, impervious to it. It is philosophically challenging. How can the very same thing turn almost into its exact opposite? Moreover, when you look at what is now most ridiculous about the fashion, it was the very thing which in a bygone era was the most fascinating and important.
Some things do not date, and perhaps that is the essence of great art. I also think writing dates much slower. I mean, you can read Strawson or Moore and you don’t have a strong sense that it was written 50 or 100 years ago. Then you look at pictures of the writers, and they look quite silly in tweeds or glasses or smoking a pipe.
Fascinating questions. Why are people swayed in their sartorial choices by what is clearly ridiculous and non-functional? Ghetto blacks strutting around in baggy cargo shorts hanging half-way off their butts; women prancing in high heels; stout lesbians stomping around in work boots at a poetry reading; Beltway boys in their bow ties. The absurd corsets and bustles of yesteryear. Statement-making and sexual signaling are part of what's going on.
The Opponent seems to be suggesting that tattoos will go out of fashion and come to look ridiculous. I don't know.
Don't sacrifice your happiness on the altar of activism. Although happiness involves activity as Aristotle observed, it also involves rest, appreciation, enjoyment, gratitude, contentment, and contemplation. These, especially the last five, are deeply conservative. And they lie beyond the political.
We conservatives should be politically active only to the extent that it is necessary to beat back the totalitarians for whom the political is all.
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.
Catholicism is true enough to provide moral guidance and spiritual sustenance for many, many people. So if you are a lapsed Catholic, you could do far worse than to return to the arms of Holy Mother the Church. And this despite the deep post-Vatican II corruption. Better such a reversion than to persist in one's worldly ways like St. Augustine who, at age 30, confessed that he was "still caught fast in the same mire by a greed for enjoying present things that both fled me and debased me." (Confessions, Bk. 6, Ch. 11, Ryan tr., p. 149)
But if you are a Protestant like Tim McGrew or James Anderson, should you 'swim the Tiber'? Some branches of Protestantism are also good enough and true enough to provide moral guidance and spiritual sustenance. And this despite the problems of Protestantism.
I should think that practice is more important than doctrine. Better to remove the lust from your heart than to write an erudite blog entry about it. The doctrines will always be debated and contested. Does the Incarnation make logical sense? Is it perhaps true whether or not it makes sense to the discursive intellect? We will never know here below.
Would it not be folly to postpone the reform of one's life until one had solved intellectual difficulties that we have good reason to believe cannot be solved in our present state? Orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy. Three elements of Christian orthopraxy: follow the Ten Commandments; avoid the Seven Deadly Sins; try to live by the Two Greatest Commandments.You won't get very far without grace, but the trying may precipitate the grace.
Blacks need to learn from Jews, Italians, the Irish, and others who have faced abuse. 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. 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? We honkies want you to be successful. And we don't care 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 tell you otherwise. 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?
C.J. F. Williams told me a [Richard] Swinburne story. Swinburne offered to give him a lift to some philosophy conference, but warned him ‘I only drive at 30 miles an hour’. Christopher thought he meant that he strictly abided by the urban 30 mph speed limit, and accepted the lift.
It turned out that Swinburne never ever drove more than 30 mph, even on the freeway, where in the UK the limit is 70 mph. It took a while to get to there.
Slow is not safe on freeways. Swinburne is lucky to have lived long enough to be insulted by the Society of Christian Philosophers.
I have heard rumors to the effect that David Lewis was 'automotively challenged.'
My old friend Quentin Smith didn't drive at all.
One of the reasons that philosophers from Thales on have been the laughingstock of Thracian maids and other members of hoi polloi is that many of them are incompetent in practical matters.
Quentin was just hopeless in mundane matters. The tales I could tell, the telling of which loyalty forbids.
Me? I'm an excellent driver, a good cook, a pretty good shot, competent in elementary plumbing, electrical, and automotive change-outs and repairs, and well-versed in personal finance.
A life well-lived is a balanced life. You should strive to develop all sides of your personality: intellectual, spiritual, artistic, emotional, and physical.
Here is an obituary of C. J. F. Williams by Richard Swinburne.
It came as news to me that Williams spent most of his life in a wheelchair. It testifies to the possibilities of the human spirit that great adversity for some is no impediment to achievement. I think also of Stephen Hawking, Charles Krauthammer, and FDR.
So stop whining and be grateful for what you have. You could be in a bloody wheelchair!
Your blog post "Philosophers as Bad Drivers" brought back to memory a philosophy professor that I had as an undergrad and a story he told us about himself.
Dr. Ken Ferguson (https://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/ugcat/philFaculty.cfm) told us a story one day about his time in one of the branches of the military. While serving, an officer instructed him to move a jeep. Ferguson says he objected and explained to the officer that he simply could not drive. The officer wasn't sympathetic to his excuse and doubled down on his request. Ferguson said that he attempted to follow the orders and ended up wrecking the jeep and some other equipment. He was not asked to drive again.
Ferguson said that he simply does not drive. Multiple times I remember seeing him walking down one of the main streets leading to campus in what I suspect was a distance of at least over two miles in the morning, and while always wearing a full suit at that!
Thanks for the story! Ferguson is a counterexample to the famous Stirling Moss quotation: “There are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love.”
One of the reasons philosophy and philosophers get such bad press among the general public is because of the high number of oddballs and incompetents in philosophy. Your former professor mught have had a number of good reasons for never learning how to drive. But I would argue that there are certain things every man ought to know how to do and they include knowing how to drive cars and trucks of various sizes and operate a stick shift. Like it or not, we are material beings in a material world and knowing how to negotiate this world is important for us and those with whom we come into contact.
We should develop ourselves as fully and many-sidedly as possible so as to be worthy acolytes of our noble mistress, fair Philosophia. We represent her to the public.
Our tendency is to drift through life. If life is a sea, too many of us are rudderless vessels, at the mercy of the prevailing winds of social suggestion. Death in its impending brings us up short: it forces us to confront the whole of one's life and the question of its meaning. Death is thus instrumentally good: it demands that we get serious. To face it is to puncture the illusion that one has all the time in the world.
You might be dead before nightfall. In what state would you like death to find you?
East and West, death has served as the muse of philosophy and of existential seriousness.
Gotama the Buddha: "Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!" (said to be the Tathagata’s last words.)
Plato: "nothing which is subject to change...has any truth" (Phaedo St 83).
It may not be possible except for some of us some of the time: to be in the world, but not of it. Engaged, yet detached. To battle our enemies without becoming embittered or like them. To retain the equanimity of the monk in the midst of the world. To float like a lotus blossom without getting wet.
Or to paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita: to enter and partake of the fray but with detachment from the fruits of action.
If you practice the custody of the heart, it may save you from unnecessary folly -- as delightful as romantic follies can be. Do you feel yourself falling in love with your neighbor's wife? Don't tell yourself you can't help it. Don't hijack Pascal's "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." Get a grip on yourself.
Don't follow the musical example of 'The King.' "Wise men say/ Only fools rush in/ But I can't help/ Falling in love with you."
A liberal will accuse me of 'preaching.' Damned straight I'm preaching. Perhaps I should have saved this for Sunday morning.
The word flashed before my mind when the alarm went off. The love of wisdom is real in some of us, but the attainment of wisdom may be forever beyond all of us. To live well, however, we must live as if wisdom is attainable, if not in this life, then in the next. And we must strive to attain it.
First off, hats off! to the Brits, or at least to those of their number who voted Leave.
But now what should we do financially speaking? Expect turmoil in the markets. The stock market was down when I checked it a few hours ago. But gold and other precious metals were up. Good news to those of us who had the foresight to buy the stuff, and who held it, even when we could have made a pile by selling. ('Lead' is also a precious metal these days, and not just for the protection of gold.)
The Never Hike Alone warning found in most hiking books is not just a piece of CYA boilerplate required by publishers. It is good advice. I have violated it numerous times in unforgiving country in quest of my inner Thoreauvian, but then I am extremely cautious. But I don't go quite as far as Henry David's harsh, "I have no walks to throw away on company." It's a balancing act: the wilderness explorer seeks solitude but he also hopes to return to hike again. A competent partner will raise the probability of that.
The following disclaimer is my favorite, from local author, Ted Tenny, Goldfield Mountain Hikes, p. 4:
The risks of desert hiking include, but are not limited to: heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat prostration, heat cramps, sunburn, dehydration, flash floods, drowning, freezing, hypothermia, getting lost, getting stranded after dark, falling, tripping, being stung, clawed or bitten by venomous or non-venomous creatures, being scratched or stuck by thorny plants, being struck by lightning, falling rocks, natural or artificial objects falling from the sky, or a comet colliding with the Earth.
Still up for a hike?
If you lose the trail, or have the least doubt that you are still on trail, stop. Do not plunge on. Retrace your steps to where the trail was clear and then proceed. Thus spoke the Sage of the Superstitions.
To make good use of your time in this world, think of your life above all as a quest, a seeking, a searching, a striving. For what? For the ultimate in reality, truth, value, and for their existential appropriation.
One appropriates reality by being authentic, truth by being truthful, values and norms by living them.
It may all be absurd in the end, a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." But one cannot live well on the assumption that it is.
So assume that it is not and explore the question along all avenues of advance.
It is admirable to speak the truth courageously in your own name, but the exercise of civil courage might cost you and yours dearly. So I feel duty-bound to warn my younger readers. This is a time to be very careful. The following from Journal of American Greatness:
Who Are We?
Who are you?
You mean in the Samuel Huntington sense? We are American patriots aghast at the stupidity and corruption of American politics, particularly in the Republican Party, and above all in what passes for the “conservative” intellectual movement.
No, literally—who are you guys?
None of your damned business.
Why won’t you tell us?
Because the times are so corrupt that simply stating certain truths is enough to make one unemployable for life.
A philosophical paper ought to record the results, not the genesis, of the author's thought about a topic. In this hyperkinetic age it is a good writerly maxim to state one's thesis succinctly at the outset and sketch one's overall argument before plunging into the dialectic.
We should anchor our thought in that which is most certain: the fact of change, the nearness of death, that things exist, that one is conscious, that one can say 'I' and mean it, the fact of conscience. But man does not meditate on the certain; he chases after the uncertain and ephemeral: name and fame, power and position, longevity and progeny, loot and land, pleasure and comfort.
Wealth is not certain, but the grave is. So meditate on death, asking: Who dies? Who survives? What is death? Who am I? What am I?
Death is certain, but the when is uncertain. Do not try to make a certainty out of what is uncertain, or an uncertainty out of what is certain.
"What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14)
To be neither poor nor rich is best for the truth seeker. The poor can think only of their poverty and its alleviation, the rich of their wealth and its preservation. The few exceptions 'prove' the rule.
Beware of internalizing your parents' and relatives' attitudes, their harsh, unsympathetic, 'practical' attitudes and suggestions especially as regards what is tender, fledgling, open, searching, trusting, idealistic and unworldly in yourself. Beware of dismissing or discounting your young self, the young self that was and the one that still is. One must treat oneself critically but with sympathy.
You envy me? What a wretch you must be to feel diminished in your sense of self-worth by comparison with me! I have something you lack? Why isn't that compensated for by what you have that I lack? You feel bad that I have achieved something by my hard work? Don't you realize that you waste time and energy that could be used to improve your own lot?
You ought to feel bad, not because I do well, but because you are so foolish as to indulge envy. Vices vitiate, they weaken. You weaken yourself and make yourself even more of a wretch by succumbing to envy.
I have always been an admirer of your philosophical writing style--both in your published works and on your blog. Have you ever blogged about which writers and books have most influenced your philosophical writing style?
Yes, I have some posts on or near this topic. What follows is one from 21 September 2009, slightly revised.
From the mail bag:
I've recently discovered your weblog and have enjoyed combing through its archives these past several days. Your writing is remarkably lucid and straightforward — quite a rarity both in philosophy and on the web these days. I was wondering if perhaps you had any advice to share for a young person, such as myself, on the subject of writing well.
To write well, read well. Read good books, which are often, but not always, old books. If you carefully read, say, William James' Varieties of Religious Experience, you will learn something of the expository potential of the English language from a master of thought and expression. If time is short, study one of his popular essays such as "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life." Here is a characteristic paragraph:
But this world of ours is made on an entirely different pattern, and the casuistic question here is most tragically practical. The actually possible in this world is vastly narrower than all that is demanded; and there is always a pinch between the ideal and the actual which can only be got through by leaving part of the ideal behind. There is hardly a good which we can imagine except as competing for the possession of the same bit of space and time with some other imagined good. Every end of desire that presents itself appears exclusive of some other end of desire. Shall a man drink and smoke, or keep his nerves in condition? — he cannot do both. Shall he follow his fancy for Amelia, or for Henrietta? — both cannot be the choice of his heart. Shall he have the dear old Republican party, or a spirit of unsophistication in public affairs? — he cannot have both, etc. So that the ethical philosopher's demand for the right scale of subordination in ideals is the fruit of an altogether practical need. Some part of the ideal must be butchered, and he needs to know which part. It is a tragic situation, and no mere speculative conundrum, with which he has to deal. (The Will to Believe, Dover 1956, pp. 202-203, emphases in original)
One who can appreciate that this is good writing is well on the way to becoming a good writer. The idea is not so much to imitate as to absorb and store away large swaths of such excellent writing. It is bound to have its effect. Immersion in specimens of good writing is perhaps the only way to learn what good style is. It cannot be reduced to rules and maxims. And even if it could, there would remain the problem of the application of the rules. The application of rules requires good judgment, and one can easily appreciate that there cannot be rules of good judgment. This for the reason that the application of said rules would presuppose the very thing — good judgment — that cannot be reduced to rules. Requiring as it does good judgment, good writing cannot be taught, which is why teaching composition is even worse in point of frustration than teaching philosophy. Trying to get a student to appreciate why a certain formulation is awkward is like trying to get a nerd to understand why pocket-protectors are sartorially substandard.
But what makes James' writing good? It has a property I call muscular elegance. The elegance has to do in good measure with the cadence, which rests in part on punctuation and sentence structure. Note the use of the semi-colon and the dash. These punctuation marks are falling into disuse, but I say we should dig in our heels and resist this decadence especially since it is perpetrated by many of the very same politically correct ignoramuses who are mangling the language in other ways I won't bother to list. There is no necessity that linguistic degeneration continue. We make the culture what it is, and we get the culture or unculture we deserve.
As for the muscularity of James' muscular elegance, it comes though in his vivid examples and his use of words like 'pinch' and 'butchered.' His is a magisterial weaving of the abstract and the concrete, the universal and the particular. Bare of flab, this is writing with pith and punch. And James is no slouch on content, either.
C. S. Lewis somewhere says something to the effect that reading one's prose out loud is a way to improve it. I would add to this Nietzsche's observation that
Good prose is written only face to face with poetry. For it is an uninterrupted, well-mannered war with poetry . . . (Gay Science, Book II, Section 92, tr. Kaufmann)
A well-mannered war, a loving polemic. There is a poetic quality to the James passage quoted above, but the lovely goddess of poetry is given to understand that truth trumps beauty and that she is but a handmaiden to the ultimate dominatrix, Philosophia. Or to coin a Latin phrase, ars ancilla philosophiae.
Finally, a corollary to the point that one must read good books to become a good writer: watch your consumption of media dreck. Avoid bad writing, and when you cannot, imbibe it critically.
"Self-control is infinitely more important that self-esteem." (Dennis Prager)
Delete 'infinitely' and you have an important truth pithily and accurately expressed. With self-control one can develop attributes that justify one's self-esteem. Without it one may come to an untimely end as did Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, who brought about his own death through a lack of self-control.
Whether it is haiku or not, it is 17 syllables, and a good addition to the Stoic's armamentarium:
Avoid the near occasion Of unnecessary conversation.
Avoiding the near occasion is not always practicable or even reasonable, but pointless conversation itself is best avoided if one values one's peace of mind. For according to an aphorism of mine:
Peace of mind is sometimes best preserved by refraining from giving others a piece of one's mind.
The other day a lady asked me if I had watched the Republican debate. I said I had. She then asked me what I had thought of it. I told her, "I don't talk politics with people I don't know extremely well." To which her response was that she is not the combative type. She followed that with a comment to the effect that while in a medico's waiting room recently she amused herself by listening to some men talking politics, men she described as 'bigots.'
I then knew what I had earlier surmised: she was a liberal. I congratulated myself on my self-restraint. At that point I excused myself and wished her a good day.
Companion post: Safe Speech. "No man speaketh safely but he that is glad to hold his peace. " (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Chapter XX.)
Did you catch the fiery Judge Jeanine Pirro's 'opening' on Saturday evening? Here is the clip.
But let my inject a word of caution. Gun ownership is a grave responsibility. You can't just buy a gun, load it, and stick it under the bed. You must know the law. You must take care that your weapons are not stolen. You must get training. You must practice with your weapons. A gun instructor told me that until you have put a thousand rounds through a piece you shouldn't consider yourself proficient in its use. You must have a plan as to how you will deal with certain contingencies. You must know yourself. In the heat of a conflict will you have the stomach to shoot a human being? Hesitation can get you killed. These are points that the good Judge failed sufficiently to underscore, not that I blame her for it.
As for the foolish Obama, he has proven to be the poster boy for gun sales in these United States. Way to go, dude.
And don't forget what the agenda is: confiscation. Being mendacious to the core, Obama, Hillary, and their ilk won't call it what it is; they call it gun control, as if we have none. The same pattern as with Islamic terror. They won't call it what it is.
The attitude of gratitude conduces to beatitude. Can it be said in plain Anglo-Saxon? Grateful thoughts lead one to happiness. However you say it, it is true. The miserable make themselves miserable by their bad thinking; the happy happy by their correct mental hygiene.
Broad generalizations, these. They admit of exceptions, as goes without saying. He who is afflicted with Weilian malheur or clinical depression cannot think his way out of his misery. Don't get hung up on the exceptions. Meditate on the broad practical truth. On Thanksgiving, and every day.
Liberals will complain that I am 'preaching.' But that only reinforces my point: they complain and they think, strangely, that any form of exhortation just has to be hypocritical. Besides not knowing what hypocrisy is, they don't know how to appreciate what actually exists and provably works. Appreciation is conservative. Scratch a liberal and likely as not you'll find a nihilist, a denier of the value of what is, a hankerer after what is not, and in too many cases, what is impossible.
Even the existence of liberals is something to be grateful for. They mark out paths not to be trodden. And their foibles provide plenty of blog fodder. For example, there is the curious phenomenon of hypocrisy-in-reverse.
Loaded with double-aught buckshot, the instrument of home defense depicted below has the power to separate the soul from the body in a manner most definitive. Just showing this bad boy to a would-be home invader is a most effective way to issue a 'trigger warning' in a reality-based sense of that phrase.
But let Uncle Bill give you a piece of friendly advice. You really don't want to have to shoot anyone. No matter how worthless the scumbag, he is some mother's son and a bearer, somewhere deep inside under a load of corruption, of the imago Dei. Taking a human life must always be the last resort, and this for moral, legal, prudential, and psychological reasons. You should aspire to die a virgin in this regard, assuming you are still 'intact.'
So here's my advice. Secure your home so that the miscreants cannot get in. That's Job One.
And of course never, ever, vote for criminal-coddling, criminal-releasing and gun-grabbing Democrats or liberals and always speak out loudly, proudly, and publicly for your Second Amendment rights. It is the Second that is the real-world back-up of the First and the others.
If you are blessed by a good thought, do not hesitate to write it down at once. Good thoughts are visitors from Elsewhere and like most visitors they do not like being snubbed or made to wait.
Let us say a fine aphorism flashes before your mind. There it is is fully formed. All you have to do is write it down. If you don't, you may be able to write only that an excellent thought has escaped.
"But there is more where that one came from." No doubt, but that very one may never return.
Only 100 semolians? Get out of here, and take your crappy journal with you.
If you need to pay to publish, then you shouldn't be publishing. 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 such as Nous and Analysis.
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 referees.
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.
Immanuel Kant was born on this day in 1724. He died in 1804. My dissertation on Kant, which now lies 37 years in the past, is dated 22 April 1978. But if, per impossibile, my present self were Doktorvater to my self of 37 years ago, my doctoral thesis might not have been approved! As one's standards rise higher and higher with age and experience one becomes more and more reluctant to submit anything to evaluation let alone publication. One may scribble as before, and even more than before, but with less conviction that one's outpourings deserve being embalmed in printer's ink. (Herein lies a reason to blog.)
So finish the bloody thing now while you are young and cocky and energetic. Give yourself a year, say, do your absolute best and crank it out. Think of it as a union card. It might not get you a job but then it just might. Don't think of it as a magnum opus or you will never finish. Get it done by age 30 and before accepting a full-time appointment. And all of this before getting married. That, in my opinion, is the optimal order. Dissertation before 30, marriage after 30.
Now raise your glass with me in a toast to Manny on this, his 291st birthday. Sapere aude!