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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ambrose Bierce attacks Oscar Wilde

That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft. Therefore is the she fool enamored of the feel of his tongue in her ear to tickle her understanding. The limpid and spiritless vacuity of this intellectual jellyfish is in ludicrous contrast with the rude but robust mental activities that he came to quicken and inspire. Not only has he no thoughts, but no thinker. His lecture is mere verbal ditch-water—meaningless, trite and without coherence. It lacks even the nastiness that exalts and refines his verse. Moreover, it is obviously his own; he had not even the energy and independence to steal it. And so, with a knowledge that would equip and idiot to dispute with a cast-iron dog, and eloquence to qualify him for the duties of a caller on a hog-ranch, and an imagination adequate to the conception of a tom-cat, when fired by contemplation of a fiddle-string, this consummate and star-like youth, missing everywhere his heaven-appointed functions and offices, wanders about, posing as a statue of himself, and, like the sun-smitten image of Memnon, emitting meaningless murmurs in the blaze of women’s eyes. He makes me tired. And this gawky gowk has the divine effrontery to link his name with those of Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris—this dunghill he-hen would fly with eagles. He dares to set his tongue to the honored name of Keats. He is the leader, quoth’a, of a renaissance in art, this man who cannot draw—of a revival of letters, this man who cannot write! This little and looniest of a brotherhood of simpletons, whom the wicked wits of London, haling him dazed from his obscurity, have crowned and crucified as King of the Cranks, has accepted the distinction in stupid good faith and our foolish people take him at his word. Mr. Wilde is pinnacled upon a dazzling eminence but the earth still trembles to the dull thunder of the kicks that set him up.

Ambrose Bierce, in an unsigned comment from a column titled Prattle in the satirical magazine Wasp, published in San Francisco (March 31, 1882).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ayn Rand on Dogmatic Objectivists

Here's Ayn Rand giving some tongue-lashing to the dogmatic and cultish Objectivists:

“Philosophy cannot give you a set of dogmas to be applied automatically. Religion does that—and unsuccessfully. The dogmatic Objectivist desperately tries to reduce principles to concrete rules that can be applied automatically, like a ritual, so as to bypass the responsibility of thinking and moral analysis. These are “Objectivist” ritualists. They want Objectivism to give them what a religion promises, namely, ten or one hundred commandments, which they can apply without having to think or judge anything.”

“The purpose of philosophy is to guide a man in the course of his life. Unfortunately, many Objectivists have not fully accepted, concretized, and integrated this principle. For example, in the presence of a given event, work of art, person, etc., too many Objectivists ask themselves, “What do I have to feel?” Instead of, “What do I feel?” And if they need to judge a situation I have not discussed before, their approach is, “What should I think?” instead of, “What do I think?” This is the childhood remnant of anyone who to some extent was influenced either by the religion of the culture or, later in college, by Platonism. Both give the impression that the good, the important, the philosophical are like church on Sunday: you use them on special occasions, but they have nothing to do with your daily life. If any part of this attitude remains in you, it is important to eliminate it.”

“For example, someone submitted to The Objectivist a movie review that was chaos. I could not tell whether the author was reviewing a movie or preaching Objectivist morality. The two aspects were totally unintegrated. He would say something about the movie, and then start into a diatribe on the evil of presenting such people. (It was a gangster movie.) The diatribe was not integrated with what he was saying about the movie. The author thought that you could not review a movie of that sort without making it a platform for Objectivism. Of course, it was unconvincing in regard to the Objectivist slogans he used, and it was unconvincing as a review. He had two intentions: to say what he wanted about the movie, and to fulfill his “duty” to Objectivism. Well, that was the attitude at the height of the Middle Ages, when nothing was permitted except what led to the greater glory of the Church.”

“It is not the duty of an Objectivist writer to smuggle in something to the glory of Objectivism, along the lines of waving the flag or a cross. When you write an article in which you evaluate cultural phenomena rationally, you do more for Objectivism than you could in any other form—even if you never mention reason, man, his means of survival, or any other Objectivist bromides which ritualistic “Objectivists” too often use inappropriately.”

“If, for example, you are an advocate of individualism, and you suddenly observe that you write like a collectivist, that is all right. That has taught you something; you have material that you can correct. But to sit in fear, thinking: “I believe in Objectivism with all my soul, but what if the printed page shows me to be a monster?”—is to take a mystical approach, which indicates that you do not understand free will. There is nothing wrong in having “demons.” What is wrong is evading them and doing nothing about them.”

“Some people think that when they write, they must practice Objectivist “company manners.” Such a person guards his subconscious, because he worries that if he let himself go he might write improperly. Nothing could be better calculated to stop you from writing. In fact, the opposite premise is necessary. When you write, you must trust your subconscious, and more: you must allow your subconscious to be the sole authority in the universe. Otherwise you cannot write. This does not mean that man is only the subconscious and that the conscious mind does not count. It is the mind that uses the subconscious. But the subconscious is a programmed computer, and if it is programmed incorrectly, there is no way for you to write if you repress your machine.”

“In fact, if you have written some bad sentences, or expressed some wrong ideas, the conclusion should be not that your subconscious has demons, but you did not think though the subject carefully and that your subconscious is fallible. But you are there to correct the mistake. Again, there is nothing wrong in making mistakes. What is wrong is not correcting them.”

Friday, September 11, 2015

175 word sentence John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women

John Stuart Mill has penned this 175 word sentence in the Chapter One of his The Subjection of Women:

"If the authority of men over women, when first established, had been the result of a conscientious comparison between different modes of constituting the government of society; if, after trying various other modes of social organisation — the government of women over men, equality between the two, and such mixed and divided modes of government as might be invented — it had been decided, on the testimony of experience, that the mode in which women are wholly under the rule of men, having no share at all in public concerns, and each in private being under the legal obligation of obedience to the man with whom she has associated her destiny, was the arrangement most conducive to the happiness and well-being of both; its general adoption might then be fairly thought to be some evidence that, at the time when it was adopted, it was the best: though even then the considerations which recommended it may, like so many other primeval social facts of the greatest importance, have subsequently, in the course of ages, ceased to exist.”

HT: Stephen Hicks 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Virginia Woolf's Word Marathon

Here's a long sentence from Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill”:

"Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the water of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the Mouth —- rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us – when we think of this, as we are frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

Here's a beautiful long sentence from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

"Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."

164-word sentence from Jeremy Bentham

Here's Jeremy Bentham's 164 word sentence:

“But partial as the effects of this remedy have been — partial as the effects of this, together with the other causes of debility in the form of government, have been in their character of a remedy against misgovernment, — to such a degree has the whole form of government,jeremy_bentham_auto-icon taken together, been repugnant to the only legitimate end of government, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, that notwithstanding the partial evils produced by, and proportioned to, the general weakness in the form of government, such is its nature, that by every fresh degree of weakness introduced into it, the interest of the greatest number is served in a greater degree than it is disserved; and supposing the weakness to end in utter dissolution, the utmost quantity of evil attendant on such dissolution would not be nearly equivalent to the quantity of good, which its certain consequence, a real constitution, having for its end in view the greatest happiness of the greatest number, would produce.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

John Locke's 309 word marathon

Here's the 309 word opening sentence in Locke's Second Treatise of Government:

“It having been shewn in the foregoing discourse,
1. That Adam had not, either by natural right of fatherhood, or by positive donation from God, any such authority over his children, or dominion over the world, as is pretended:
2. That if he had, his heirs, yet, had no right to it:
3. That if his heirs had, there being no law of nature nor positive law of God that determines which is the right heir in all cases that may arise, the right of succession, and consequently of bearing rule, could not have been certainly determined:
4. That if even that had been determined, yet the knowledge of which is the eldest line of Adam’s posterity, being so long since utterly lost, that in the races of mankind and families of the world, there remains not to one above another, the least pretence to be the eldest house, and to have the right of inheritance:
All these premises having, as I think, been clearly made out, it is impossible that the rulers now on earth should make any benefit, or derive any the least shadow of authority from that, which is held to be the fountain of all power, Adam’s private dominion and paternal jurisdiction; so that he that will not give just occasion to think that all government in the world is the product only of force and violence, and that men live together by no other rules but that of beasts, where the strongest carries it, and so lay a foundation for perpetual disorder and mischief, tumult, sedition and rebellion, (things that the followers of that hypothesis so loudly cry out against) must of necessity find out another rise of government, another original of political power, and another way of designing and knowing the persons that have it, than what Sir Robert Filmer hath taught us.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard's 330 word marathon

Here is a 330 word sentence from Søren Aabye Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript:

“If a poor thinker, who is a private practitioner, a cultivator of speculative eccentricities, occupying like a poverty-stricken lodger a garret at the top of a vast building, sat there in his little refuge, held captive in what seemed to him difficult thoughts; if, without being able to understand how or why, he began to conceive a dim suspicion that there was something wrong with the foundations; if, whenever he looked out of the little garret window, he saw shudderingly only busy and redoubled exertions to beautify or enlarge the structure, so that after having seen and shuddered he collapsed in utter exhaustion,kierkegaard feeling as a spider who in some narrow nook has managed to eke out a precarious existence since the last house-cleaning, and now senses anxiously the coming storm; if whenever he communicated his doubts to someone he perceived that his speech, because of its departure from the prevailing fashion, was regarded as the bizarre and threadbare costume of some unfortunate derelict—if, I say, such a privately practicing thinker and speculative crotcheteer were suddenly to make the acquaintance of a man whose renown did not indeed directly insure for him the validity of his thoughts (for the poor lodger was not quite so objective as to be able without more ado to draw the converse conclusion from renown to truth), but whose fame was nevertheless like a smile of fortune in the midst of his loneliness, when he found one or two of his difficult thoughts touched upon by the famous man: ah, what joy, what festivity in the little garret chamber, when the poor lodger took comfort to himself from the glorious memory of the renowned thinker, when his own thinking began to breathe courage, the difficulties began to take on form, and hope finally sprang into being—the hope of understanding himself; that is to say, the hope first of understanding the nature of the difficulty, and then perhaps of being able to overcome it!”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Kant's 174 word sentence

In Critique of Pure Reason, we have Immanuel Kant's 174 word sentence:

“Just as for the cognition of an object distinct from me I also need an intuition in addition to the thinking of an object in general (in the category), through which I determine that general concepts, so for the cognition of myself I also need an addition to the consciousness, kant-silhouette-75x134or in addition to that which I think myself, an intuition of the manifold in me, through which I determine this thought; and I exist as an intelligence that is merely conscious of its faculty for combination but which, in regard to the manifold that is to combine, is subject to a limiting condition that it calls inner sense, which can make that combination intuitable only in accordance with temporal relations that lie entirely outside of the concepts of the understanding proper, and that can therefore still cognize itself merely as it appears to itself with regard to an intuition (which is not intellectual and capable of being given through the understanding itself), not as it would cognize itself if its intuitions were intellectual.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

469 word sentence in Herman Melville's Moby Dick

Here's a 469 word marathon from Herman Melville's Moby Dick:

"Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal pre-eminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title 'Lord of the White Elephants' above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things -- the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four- and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Word-marathon in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

This 188 word long sentence is in Book 1 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

“Now if the function of man is an activity of soul in accordance with, or not without, rational principle, and if we say a so-and-so and a good so-and-so have a function which is the same in kind, e.g. a lyre-player and a good lyre-player, and so without qualification in all cases, eminence in respect of excellence being added to the function (for the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre, and that of a good lyre-player is to do so well): if this is the case, [and we state the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a man to be the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case,] human good turns out to be activity of soul in conformity with excellence, and if there are more than one excellence, in conformity with the best and most complete.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

179 word-marathon from John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism

Here's a 179 word-marathon from John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism:

“But inasmuch as the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the subject of veracity, is one of the most useful, and the enfeeblement of that feeling one of the most hurtful, things to which our conduct can be instrumental; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional, deviation from truth, does that much towards weakening the trustworthiness of human assertion, which is not only the principal support of all present social well-being, but the insufficiency of which does more than any one thing that can be named to keep back civilization, virtue, everything on which human happiness on the largest scale depends; we feel that the violation, for a present advantage, of a rule of such transcendant expediency, is not expedient, and that he who, for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some other individual, does what depends on him to deprive mankind of the good, and inflict upon them the evil, involved in the greater or less reliance which they can place in each other’s word, acts the part of one of their worst enemies.” (Source: Chapter 2, Utilitarianism.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Development Set by Ross Coggins

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
Injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution –
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic.”

It pleasures us to be esoteric –
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.