an obession with first principles

Wendell Berry

Posted: Wednesday Apr 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, History, Power | View Comments

We are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period of the history of our species. The list of its undeniable abominations is long and hardly bearable. And these abominations are not balanced or compensated or atoned for by the list, endlessly reiterated, of our scientific achievements. Some people are moved, now and again, to deplore one abomination or another. Others–and Hayden Carruth is one–deplore the whole list and its causes. Must protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvements and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protestors who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depends on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
On Difficult Hope by Wendell Berry, a reflection on Hayden Carruth’s poem “On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam”

Colbert the Modern Cervantes

Posted: Sunday Sep 25th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Dialogue, History | View Comments

As Cervantes realized in the context of the newly born mass culture of the Catholic, imperial, Spanish state, irony expertly wielded is the best defense against the manipulation of truth by the media. Its effect was and still is to remind its audience that we are all active participants in the creation and support of a fictional world that is always in danger of being sold to us as reality.
‘Quixote,’ Colbert and the Reality of Fiction

Never forget to pay attention to which reality you are being sold

Brothers Karamazov

Posted: Saturday Jan 8th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: History, Philosophising | View Comments

“Remember, young man, unceasingly,” Father Paissy began, without preface, “that the science of this world, which has become a great power, has, especially in the last century, analyzed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis the learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred of old. But they have only analyzed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is marvelous. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries, is it not still a living, a moving power in the individual soul and in the masses of people? It is still as strong and living even in the the souls of atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque. Remember this especially, young man, since you are being sent into the world by your departing elder. Maybe, remembering this great day, you will not forget my words, uttered from the heart for your guidance, seeing you are young, and the temptations of the world are great and beyond your strength to endure. Well, now go, my orphan.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Deserving and Entitled in Our Time

Posted: Monday Nov 22nd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: History, Philosophising | View Comments

I really am coming to a conclusion about why people act entitled and deserving of only good things. Of course, certain people have always had this point of view. In our time, however, it has become almost endemic especially of the younger generation.

I believe this is because of some of the things I had to read in undergrad, specifically the “end of history”/”end of war” (e.g. Fukuyama) material. The notion that all suffering and problems have ended with the advent of western democracy fueled by capitalism is a propaganda we have embraced and repeated. The practical cynicism of previous generations is gone. We are cynical about plenty of things – but that appears to just be the flotsam running on the surface. The undercurrent is a deep expectancy that if all the people could just stop doing the things we find cynical on the surface, it would all be perfect and the end of history would really be upon us. The practical cynicism of previous generations understood that the systems of the world were fundamentally incongruous, or worse broken, and only good will and effort could repair that.

Preaching to the choir this end of history message, in my opinion, radically changed the outlook of the choir. And a deep understanding of the structures of society was lost.