Religion, Morality, and the Meaning of Life: Prison Diary

War and Peace

Religion, Morality, and the Meaning of Life:  Prison Diary

by Alan Carl Nicoll

Copyright © 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved


This document is a lightly-edited and much-winnowed extract of part of the first twenty-six pages of the diary I wrote while at Fresno County Jail.  In it I discuss Pierre Bezuhov’s spiritual questions in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and a few additional issues from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Mishima’s Temple of Dawn, and other works.  I am an atheist and sometimes consider myself a humanist, but the most recent extensive explanation of my viewpoint is explained in The Bleak Philosophy, available here.  Religion, morality, rationality, and the meaning of life are issues to which I would return often in the fifteen hundred pages of my diary, written over the next nine years, issues with which I am not yet done.  To my mind, the most important part of this rather lengthy document is what I call “The 10% Solution” of what a “moral person” should do with their life.

I am in the process of entering the entire diary into my computer, and occasionally will post some of the more interesting pieces in this blog.

I assume that the reader is familiar with the names of the more popular philosophers.

Marginal notes in the original are included in brackets, like this:  [Marginal note.]  Current comments are also in brackets and are marked “ed” (for “editor,” i.e., me).  Comments in brackets not otherwise identified are interlinear in the original.  Unfortunately, I have been inconsistent about this, and am too lazy to fix it now.  Diary dates are in {braces}.

A friend advises me that I should warn you:  “Spoiler Alert” regarding the books discussed here.

The Diary Entries

{7/11/07} “God is merciful” people say, though I’ve heard this more in old novels (currently War and Peace) than in real life. But the God of the O.T. is more to be feared and despised as a petty tyrant, eh? Do “Americans” believe “God is merciful”? And why does this mostly come up when people are dying? SCs! [My abbreviation for “stupid Christians, meaning primarily fundamentalist evangelicals.  ed]

The Silver Rule is superior to the Golden Rule. Example: a SC might imagine himself, or remember himself, as he was before being reborn, conclude that he would want the “Good News” thrust upon him by strangers, and so conclude that it is his moral duty to do so himself. The Golden Rule produces the much-maligned “do gooder”; the Silver Rule does not. [The Silver Rule is a reference to “do not do unto others what you would not want done to you,” which appears in many religions; the Golden Rule, “do unto others…” appears only in the New Testament.  My understanding of this comes from Walter Kaufmann, from The Faith of a Heretic and/or Critique of Religion and Philosophy, likely the most important books from my twenties and thirties.  ed]

Can an atheist advocate the Silver Rule? Absolutely. It is a rationalized form of altruism; and altruistic feelings have their origin in biology. That is, some “higher” animals exhibit altruistic behavior. So we are “programmed” by evolution to behave altruistically.

Is the conscience a product of evolution (nature or nurture)? I don’t know of any evidence either way…I am inclined to think that it has value, but it can also be destructive

Part Five of War and Peace has Pierre confronting some of life’s most basic questions: “Louis XVI was executed because they considered him to be a criminal, and a year later his judges were killed too for something. What is wrong? What is right? What must one love, what must one hate? What is life for, and what am I? What is life? What is death? What force controls it all?’ he asked himself. And there was no answer to one of these questions, except one illogical reply that was in no way an answer to any of them. That reply was, ‘One dies and it’s all over. One dies and finds it all out or ceases asking!” Garnett translation, Modern Library paperback, page 389

I think there are fairly simple answers to these questions, answers which probably would not have satisfied Pierre—I think he’s asking the wrong questions—but I find them satisfying (though I have yet to consider them in detail, which I will now do).

“What is wrong? What is right?” Human opinions, if God does not exist. [Bertrand] Russell was troubled by this, saying something to the effect that he couldn’t believe that the only thing wrong with torturing children was that he disapproved of it. My response is that the species as a whole disapproves of it.  There is a species-wide consensus about some things, and others are controversial. This does not, presumably, satisfy people’s or philosopher’s absolutist longings, but that’s not my problem. This absolutism is also apparent in “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” In fact, “God’s prohibitions” are not as clear as one would like, and are also notoriously ineffective. Only man’s prohibitions have any value. Absolutism in morals is simply an error.

“What must one love…[or] hate?” This looks like the same mistake, an unspoken reference to an extra-human moral standard. Pierre’s atheism was not thought through.

“What is life for, and what am I?” Again, the oblivious universe doesn’t care about life—why would you look beyond yourself for an answer? If you accept the God superstition, ask your God or his mouthpiece; if you sensibly reject it, you must also reject the absolutist mind-set that wants “eternal truths” rather than “human needs and desires” as the answer of all answers, or rather, as the foundation of one’s philosophy.  As for “What am I?” I recommend any good biology textbook. Briefly, man is simply the most clever of animals, nothing more.

“What is life? What is death?” Again biology, with special reference to chemistry. As for the soul, it’s a myth. You have a unique body and a unique mind; don’t expect either one to last forever.

“What force controls it all?” If there is such a force, what force controls that force? No…same answer to all questions. If you really want such a force, why look further than gravity? Physics is the study of “what controls it all,” or rather, what is uniform [in] nature, uniform in that it follows laws.

Something lacking in this analysis, though; why is it people look for absolutist answers? Why are we so unwilling to recognize that we are alone in the universe (for practical purposes) and must make our own way—and are free to make our own way? I can’t answer that, but I have some ideas. I think most of the people who ask these questions have been asking them for a long time. The existing “answers” are all unsatisfactory in some way; they keep looking for better answers rather than questioning the question. So it’s a habit, and it’s cultural, a malignant meme that carries on through the generations.

And it must be recognized that most people are uncomfortable with science and philosophy and math—they want to leave these troubling questions to the experts, but they choose the wrong experts. Those that are most readily available are the established religions and their employees, and that’s where people go—or worse, they go to the newer charlatans.

So progress is slow, and in the U.S., it may be going the wrong way.

And this is the species that will make the sacrifices to stop global warming and other looming catastrophes? Not possible. Not possible until environmental catastrophes slaughter us by the billions, and then the question will be whether the species can survive its past mistakes. And that is unpredictable.

{7/13/07} “Sometimes Pierre remembered what he had been told of soldiers under fire in ambuscade when they have nothing to do, how they try hard to find occupation so as to bear their danger more easily. And Pierre pictured all men as such soldiers trying to find a refuge from life: Some in ambition, some in cards, some in framing laws, some in women…[etc.] ‘Nothing is trivial, nothing is important, everything is the same; only to escape from it as best one can,’ thought Pierre. ‘Only not to see it, that terrible it.’”  War and Peace, page 613

This reminds me somewhat of Tolstoy’s Confession.  I see two gross errors here, one trivial and one not.

The trivial error is to believe that all men are so thoughtful as to recognize the “it.” Whatever you want to claim about all men, don’t.

What is the “it”? The passage suggests that it is fear of death, presumably the big thing that the soldiers are trying to put out of their minds. But towards the end of the quote it seems more like the feeling that it doesn’t matter what one does—the same error that tripped up Meursault [Protagonist in Camus’s The Stranger.  ed], and probably Tolstoy in his own life. This “error,” as I called it, I think can be said to have spawned the philosophy of existentialism. And I think the error is dispelled, or at least identified and clarified, in Thomas Nagle’s essay, “Subjective and Objective.”

Subjectively, we see that we have purposes and goals at virtually every moment of our lives. Using the tool of objectivity, we take several steps back and ask, what is the purpose of my life, or of the human species? And we can’t find one without becoming, say, a SC.

Nagle’s solution, if I may call it that, is to point out that when subjective phenomena are viewed objectively, the phenomena tend to disappear—the tool of objectivity cannot effectively be used for these phenomena. Which, naturally, does not stop anyone from trying, me included.

Meursault learned too late that it did matter—to him—what one did. One just can’t look for objective reasons for doing anything, because they don’t exist.

To put it as simply and bluntly as possible, Pierre is asking, “View my life without me in it—what should I do?” I think this makes clear the nature of the error.

“Meaning” is a human viewpoint or opinion; when you take humanity out of it, the viewpoint disappears. Physics seems to be coming to (or already has?) a similar conclusion; one cannot ignore the observer. SCs point to “God’s purpose for man” without seeing that it changes nothing.

I think there are important things yet to be said about Pierre’s error, because people really do get into these existential depressions. I think one must say to them that the question will disappear if you keep busy, or at least don’t dwell on it and let it lead you into foolish and self-destructive behavior. Adhere to the morals you believe in, and do your best, etc. Learn to recognize that this is a depression—you feel poorly, and look about you for good reasons for feeling poorly, and this is an attractive reason. When you feel better the reason is forgotten. I think Russell called this “Byronic unhappiness,” though I don’t recall his cure. I think he also said, in essence, “keep busy,” which was John Burroughs’ prescription for happiness. Pierre forgot his angst when he recognized his love for Natasha.

About the SCs, one should ask, why should I care about God’s purpose for men? Can’t he do what he wants without our help? Let’s work on human problems, like unnecessary suffering; any god or gods, if they are worthy of the name, can solve their own problems.

I frequently base moral conclusions on biology, e.g. the 7/11 entry above. This needs to be considered. Since “man is the measure in all things,” good and evil are men’s opinions, and it is the “absolutist error” to expect some kind of validation beyond that.

Is it irrelevant to say, then, that we are “programmed by evolution” to be altruistic at times? I guess so. And what are we going to say when we recognize that there is a human consensus against murder but, seemingly, allowing killing in war? That murder is therefore evil and killing in war is good? Or, if not that, then what? Abandon the use of these terms and substitute something else? What about individual against the consensus? I have no answers for such questions, but this seems a fruitful area for inquiry.

Presumably, any behavior that conforms to the consensus should be allowed. And behavior that is not prohibited by consensus (i.e., where no consensus exists) should also be allowed, though this is often not done.

And where a consensus exists, one can still go against the consensus and take the consequences. All of which provokes yawns.

Evolution may tell us where our impulses and drives and such come from, but I don’t see any moral significance in this.

Is there nothing more to be said about “morality”? Aside from arguing for or against certain prohibitions and duties, I guess not.

“Who would build the better civilization?” is not to be resolved by looking at the worst examples of each—indeed, it can hardly be resolved in any case because there can be no agreement on criteria of “goodness” between Xtians [Christians] and unbelievers. Similarly one cannot compare exemplary men in each tradition, for the same reason.

The Xtians (as opposed to SCs) argue that because every culture has some form of the golden rule—claiming the birthright of the silver rule—then God must exist, or that God is the same for everyone. I’m not sure how many people take this or any Xtian argument seriously, but the facts of biology provide a better explanation. And I’m thinking that it might be good tactics when in dialogue with Xtians to recognize areas of agreement as a way to avoid being demonized.

The rationalist Euclidian ideal should indeed be repudiated because there would never be any agreement about the details (vague generalities like the Secular Humanist Declarations are seemingly the best that can be done) and nobody has the time to do this for themselves…well, this is looking pretty feeble. In fact, it hasn’t been done that I know of; look at how much is being written about Critical Rationalism, with not much result toward specifics. The Declarations aren’t built that way, either. Practical problems are not likely to be solved by logic, anyway; rather, we are more likely to ask what we want to do, then look for arguments against it, probably not very systematically, either.  This, I think, is about the best one can hope for. That, and dialogue. [Marginal note:  This is stupid!] [4/28/22: I think at the time I had read very little of Critical Rationalism, just some of Karl Popper and W. W. Bartley, III.  In other words, I was ignorant.]

{7/21/07} The “meaning of life” again: when people speak of this kind of “meaning” they have in mind a “spiritual” meaning, expressive of the kind of emotional feeling they experienced as children when in church, perhaps. If this is correct, it makes it inescapably clear that people are seeking some rationalization, some objective reason for believing in the reality and importance of this emotion. And it seems clear as well that they are looking for something which cannot exist.

Any “spiritual meaning” must be a completely subjective perception because it corresponds to nothing that can be perceived by the senses, “out there.” A cross, even a vivid realization of Christ suffering on the cross, is not a spiritual meaning, though it may stimulate such feelings in an observer. Remove the perceiver but expect the perception to remain? Why would you even think that to be possible? It is a result of uneducated or naive thinking, 19th century physics that thinks it can exclude the observer to get at the underlying reality of things. “Reality” is an inescapably human construct—the human mind cannot escape itself. Physics is the best attempt we have to describe an extra-human reality, and it does this well except at the level of the microcosm. [Marginal note: They seek to objectify the subjective.] [4/28/22: Again, ignorance at work.  I know almost nothing of “the microcosm,” i.e., quantum mechanics.]

We can think of religion as an attempt to describe an extra-human spiritual reality, which it apparently does well as long as one accepts the underlying superstitions, but fails otherwise.

{7/23/07} Genesis: God tempts Adam and Eve with the forbidden tree of knowledge, knowing what will happen, since “He” is omniscient and “outside of time.” When the inevitable happens, “He” punishes “His” creations and all their descendants, not only on Earth, but in the afterlife in Hell forever. This is the “God” we are supposed to love and call “Father.” A human father who treated his children this way would be insane and would not only see his children taken away by the state, but would be locked up in jail. We, “God’s children” are told that we are not to question the actions of our “Father,” his purposes are mysterious and not to be questioned. Isn’t this a paradigm for abusive fathers and husbands?

The rest of the Old Testament is a similarly useful guide to life—! Where is Zeus when we need him most? “God” either is not omniscient, or he is a sadistic fiend, or “He” does not exist and the bobble is a tissue of lies.

It is time and more than time for me to turn my attention away from this stupid and hateful popular delusion to more worthwhile pursuits.

{7/26/07} Had a conversation with a fellow here that has me thinking again about the value of religion. His name is Walt, though he is called “Santa” often, because he has a large, foot-long gray beard. He’s 47 and sturdily built, a carpenter-handyman by trade. His education is lacking (he asked me how to spell “neck”) and he doesn’t seem to read much. His demeanor is uniformly genial and cheerful, despite his having a sixteen-year sentence.

This fellow is of interest because of his religion. He said that he doesn’t cut his beard or hair because of his religion. A day or two ago I asked him what his religion was. He didn’t name a specific—apparently he believes whatever strikes him as worthy of belief pursuant to his reading of the bible.

The only thing he said that made a real impression on me was his referring to sunlight, nature, and such as “God’s gifts to us,” and further, that no one (meaning the state) has the right to take these gifts away from anyone, regardless of what they’ve done. Furthermore, those who are so depriving us, he implied, will be judged in turn…something to that effect.

There wouldn’t seem to be much point in trying to convert such a person to rationalism.

He does not seem to be a “typical” SC (is there ever a “typical” anything, other than a plant specimen?)—at least I get the impression that he arrived at his beliefs at least somewhat independently and he seems to be thoughtful about it all. His attitude towards hair cutting and nature seem a little unconventional, at least.

He didn’t ask me about my beliefs, more’s the pity.

In the first entry of this document I said that literature was similar to philosophy (i.e., a “sterile” pursuit with little practical value) and was “probably soothing, occasionally goading.” Later I wrote in the margin, “missing the point,” but I didn’t, alas, say what that point was. Literature gives us a view through another person’s eyes, a thing otherwise very hard to come by. The very best of art and conversation perhaps share this rare value. And it is the quality and clarity of that view [Marginal note:  And the specifics that I find persuasive!?] that, I think, is what I most value about specific writers (Tolstoy, Thoreau, Russell, Dennett—the usual list). And furthermore, I think that the more of such views we experience, and appreciate, the greater our wisdom—or, at least, of a certain type, probably in the vein of “understanding human nature,” “the proper study of mankind,” and “to understand all is to forgive all.”

And I think this is what makes War and Peace so uniquely wonderful—Tolstoy shows us the world through so many different and vividly realized pairs of eyes.

Having now discovered the secret of great literature, I am better prepared to write my own masterpiece!

Interestingly enough, he does a whole lot of “telling” in with his “showing.” He gives every character and situation “its due.” There may be no writer so worthy of study for the truly ambitious (in a literary, not financial, sense) writer-in-training.

He never uses characters as props or plot devices—even Dolokhov and Anatole Kuragin have some depth and some reader sympathy or identification. Even the truly minor characters like Ellen, Berg, and Vera seem “real” and “alive,” though usually shown in stereotypical (for them) attitudes or situations. Well, perhaps I overstate the matter…but Tolstoy seems to be really interested in how people’s minds work, and apparently delights in these internal descriptions which seem so artificial and often perhaps labored and unconvincing (e.g. Natasha’s turning from Andrey to Anatole), yet there is enough realism to make us accept these far-fetched and self-destructive acts (e.g., Nicholas losing a fortune to Dolokhov).

War and Peace, and I think Tolstoy’s fiction generally, is more “soothing” than “goading.” Dostoyevsky seems to be more goading (e.g., Raskolnikov, Notes from Underground). Tolstoy’s religious and philosophical pieces are goading. These terms are not quite synonymous with “compatible with” (soothing) and “incompatible with my prejudices.” Thoreau and Lin Yutang’s Importance of Living are frequently goading in the direction I want to be goaded—non conformist, individualistic, non-Xtian or even anti-Xtian (which is, I guess, soothing). I think these two are also, to a degree or more, anti-rationalist and intuitive (which I mean as pro-intuition…is there a word for this?).

I value both rationalism and intuition, and where there’s a minor conflict I often go with my intuition, e.g., memorizing Lancelot and Elaine [a section of Tennyson’s epic, Idylls of the King. ed], letting my beard and hair grow, studying Chinese in preference to more useful languages. I said “minor conflict” because these seem more or less trivial, but I can’t seem to think of any stronger disagreements…perhaps it is because in anything non-trivial “desire leads reason”? [Shorthand for “desire leads reason by the nose,” a psychological conclusion I had come to at least twenty years earlier than the time of this diary.  ed]

Would it be fair to say that when my behavior is “cowardly” (e.g., shy) that I am preferring intuition over reason? No, I don’t think so…more like “reason overwhelmed by emotion.” There’s not much “choice” operative in such cases. Could I choose to “follow reason” in the cases mentioned, e.g., give up Chinese for Spanish? So it would seem, but “I don’t want to.” Any conclusions here other than “desire leads”? Well, that’s not a good conclusion because reason hasn’t “followed” in these cases…they are unrationalized desires, which seems a praiseworthy thing to recognize in oneself. Demonstrative of self esteem, not needing phony reasons to “justify” my preferences and actions. I ought to read Maslow (i.e., am I self-actualized?).

Indeed, the more I think about it, the less rational most of my choices seem…I am thinking of reading philosophy, studying nature, etc., those choices I have tried to rationalize and failed to do so, as in the first entry here [Not included here.  ed]. Is there anything I do for honestly rational reasons? Yes: when I brush my teeth or avoid overeating, and when I exercise. Any of those choices that I’d rather not, but do anyway. And any of the things “I’d really like to” but refrain from due to consequences.

I think [William] James had it right about religion—some of us follow those extraordinary experiences that don’t seem to connect with our mundane lives, and others, like me, shrug them off. Does the former “choice” make more or less sense than the latter? We interpret the ecstatic experience as we are primed to do, otherwise we would not even think of them as “religious experiences.” It is that “ priming” that must “answer criticism,” not the experience itself. And, apparently, it can’t. [“James” is a reference to William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, a very important book for unbelievers to know.  ed]

{7/28/07} “And from old habit he asked himself the question, ‘Well, and what then? what am I going to do?’ and at once he answered himself: ‘I am going to live. Ah, how splendid it is!’”

“What had worried him in the old days, what he had always been seeking to solve, the question of the object of life, did not exist for him now. That seeking for an object in life was over for him now; and it was not fortuitously or temporarily that it was over. He felt that there was no such object, and could not be. And it was just the absence of an object that gave him that complete freedom that at this time made his happiness.

“He could seek no object in life now, because he had faith—not faith in any sort of principles, or words, or ideas, but faith in a living ever-palpable God. In the old days he had sought Him in the aims he set before himself. That search for an object in life had been only a seeking after God; and all at once in his captivity he had come to know, not through words or arguments, but by his own immediate feeling, what his old nurse had told him long before; that God is here, and everywhere.” War and Peace, p. 1257-1258

The first thing that occurs to me in response to this most interesting and challenging passage is, if God is “ever-palpable,” what need is there of “faith”? But that word, “faith,” is ambiguous. It is most often used these days, I think, in the sense of “faith that God exists” and “faith in the Bible as the word of God.” But it can also be used in the sense of the words that end the quoted chapter: “faith that God exists ‘without whom not one hair of a man’s head falls,’” that is, faith in, let’s say, not God’s existence (which is not questioned) but faith that God has certain desired attributes. I think the latter may be Tolstoy’s sense here—but this response of mine is mostly a quibble that does not address the heart of Pierre’s new-found “faith.”

I think the heart of this matter is, how should I feel about this? It seems that James has his finger on this pulse-point: Pierre has “chosen” to go with the extraordinary experience which does not connect with every day feelings of his life, which are his “age-old questions,” perhaps. Note that Pierre was primed to do this by his old nurse, but we all have such priming, do we not? For me it “didn’t take,” and if I stretch the point of bit I can say that for Pierre, it “did.”

But Tolstoy doesn’t present Pierre’s captivity as the kind of ecstatic “religious experience” we’ve come to expect, but as something more gradual—a month of extreme hardship and his conversations with, and the example of Platon Karataev. But this point is perhaps not so important—I’m not sure about James’s point either. I must return to the heart of the matter again.

Pierre “experiences the presence of God.” Am I forced to shrug and say “Whatever works for you”? What else can be said by the skeptic without being offensive? At this time I have no answer, and have never known what to do with such claims. I have always felt that it is the Xtians who claim to believe because of “words and arguments” that I have pertinent things to say to. Can I say that I “experience the absence of God”? Because at times I do feel this way, as well as feeling a repugnance and a vague nausea at the thought, “What if it’s true?” I have faith, you might say, that the god of the Bible, or indeed any god worthy of the name, does not exist. Some of this is “words and arguments,” but some is also an intuition, or “gut sense,” just as with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.

So, is there a pink elephant in the room or not? [A reference to an old “thought experiment”:  if someone claims that there is a pink elephant, and another denies it, and all arguments lead to nothing, how can the question be decided except by getting more opinions?  “Consensus” as a basis for “truth.” ed]  No one can base his worldview on someone else’s “perceptions,” though this is not so clear-cut as I would like. Because if I characterize my worldview as “science overlaid with reasoning,” what are the relevant perceptions? Science assumes that God is irrelevant to science. The relevant perceptions which establish the “truth” of science are countless, innumerable, and few of them are my own. With religion, it’s more like ESP—only one person’s perceptions are involved, typically. We cannot, seemingly, class a “perception” as a superstition or “known error.” Santayana’s definition fits poorly here, if at all. And no argument can resolve the question of the pink elephant, eh?  [George Santayana called religion “superstition overlaid by reasoning.”  ed]

I am treating this claim of perception in a very literal sense, because if it isn’t literal, it’s a matter “words and arguments”—if it’s more like a “perception of creation,” for example, one can respond with Dawkins’s “Blind Watchmaker.”

But the literal sense seems directly comparable with the person who claims to see auras. This, seemingly, can be tested with methods of science, by getting two such seers and collecting independent reports, and comparing them.

I suppose one could respond to “I believe in God because I see him everywhere,” with, “Okay, so what does that look like? Can you describe this perception in detail?” etc. It won’t work, presumably, but it might force the believer to use different words which can be argued with. We can separate those who are presumably delusional (or myopic?) from those who are speaking imprecisely—there are methods for dealing with either…run from the one, and argue with the other.

“And Pierre had won the Italian’s passionate devotion simply by drawing out what was best in his soul and admiring it.” p. 1260

This suggests to things to me: asking people, “What is best in your soul?” and also answering this question myself. The latter immediately runs into a problem: how can I interpret this question, since I don’t believe in “the soul”? I can take it as a way of asking “What is the best thing in (or about) your heart or your mind?” These are not so difficult.

If I don’t get dewy-eyed over imprecise talk, does that mean that I “have no soul” (of which I have been accused)?

“Once admit that human life can be guided by reason, and all possibility of life is annihilated.” p. 1288. This astonishing statement is in the context of considering whether Alexander I’s actions after 1812 could have been different. The context doesn’t help much.

The function of reason in human life is primarily critical and inhibitory, restraining dangerous impulses and cautioning against potential dangers. It cannot, apparently, replace impulse or desire. We do not eat because we know we need nourishment—we eat because we are hungry or because we want the enjoyment of eating. Reason may help us choose what, among the possible choices, we will actually eat, but it will seldom provide the initial impulse.

Regardless of this limitation of the scope of reason, in its proper area there is no substitute or superior authority. Reason is anything but antithetical to life; in terms of the plot, it was an excess of emotion over reason that brought about three of the lesser tragedies of the novel: Nicholas Rostov’s losses at cards, Natasha’s infatuation with Anatole, and the death of Petya. The greater tragedies—the invasion of Russia and the burning of Moscow—are beyond the scope of this question, and the death of Andrey also is not relevant.

Tolstoy doesn’t say what can properly guide human life; one might speculate that he would respond either with religion or emotion. But religion without reason is blind superstition, and emotion without reason is likely to be all foolish impulses (e.g., Ilya Rostov and the rest of family generally), rage and hate and infatuation. Love—which might be said to be the real hero of the novel—can hardly restrain these impulses without the aid of reason to suggest probable hurtful consequences. Tolstoy is right to value intuition, impulse, and love, but wrong to suggest that reason plays no important role in guiding human life—without reason, man is a savage, and probably not a noble savage.

{7/30/07} Walt (“Santa”) cut his beard and hair today, the beard quite short. So much for religion!

{8/3/07}  Reading Milton’s Paradise Lost: eternal punishment is automatically and inescapably unjust punishment, far exceeding “an eye for an eye.” How can people (SCs) contemplate Hell and in the same moment believe that “God is love” and “forgive your enemies”!? Incredible. Isn’t this doublethink?

From the introduction: “The key question is whether God needs evil. Does God require Adam and Eve to eat the Apple as a necessary precondition for the ultimate and Supreme happiness of those few human beings who will enjoy it?” (xxvii). Presumably God could not have created us as we are after the fall, without going through the whole morality play in the Garden of Eden? What kind of omnipotence is this? And if Satan were dead (another thing God apparently can’t do) then Eve never would have eaten the Apple? Or Might she have done it anyway, in which case, why does God need Satan? The introduction raises many interesting questions but never goes so far as to state the obvious: it’s all BS! BS! BS!

{8/4/07} Hell—if it existed—would be the absolute evil because its whole point is to inflict the maximum of unnecessary human suffering.

My life, it seems, has been pretty damn average: crappy, stupid, pointless, doing little beyond maximizing my enjoyment at every opportunity and doing little or nothing for others. Not positively harmful, with the occasional exception; not positively good, with the occasional exception. Helping when asked, rarely volunteering. I have worked to better myself and to know myself. So?

I’ve also been unhappy so much of the time that I’m inclined to feel sorry for myself—and who has there ever been that felt sorry for me, except my mother? So few people have really cared anything about me—and who have I really cared about except my immediate family? Is this what other people’s lives are like?

Indeed, how much have I wanted of other people’s caring? I don’t make the effort required to maintain friendships, do I? Nor have my friends behaved any differently.

The Xtians do a kind of patchwork repair on the bobble, denying the things the bobble clearly states—the existence of Hell and demons, for example. It’s all smoke and mirrors in a seemingly desperate attempt to cling to these splinters, to avoid drowning. Better to abandon the shattered bark and start swimming, or learn to stand on your feet. Lest you go down with the ship.

{8/5/07} “Of man’s first disobedience”—thus begins Paradise Lost. As though we “were given” reason and will only to give them over entirely to follow the will of another—our “heavenly father.” Except, of course, we never get orders, we have to get them out of the bobble or from the mouth of some man who claims to speak for the Lawd.

Overheard in this morning’s prayer: “God, we are so judgmental…” Hmm, now who does that sound like? Hey, God, “judge not!”

{8/6/07} The most important question in ethics is, how much free will do we have? Does Nagle’s essay solve the problem?  Subjectively, we “seem to have free will.” Objectively, it seems rather doubtful. “If I don’t have free will, what should I do?” Does this question make any sense? How about, “If my choices are not free, what should I choose?” or, “If I can’t choose, what should I choose?” It makes the meaninglessness of the question obvious, but unlike the case of the meaning of life, it seems far less satisfying, probably because the “if” part seems far more uncertain. Maybe the right answer is that “the question is unimportant, get on with your life.” This is unsatisfying.

Maybe a better question is, assuming that free will is an illusion, what practical difference does this make? Don’t we make the same judgments, inflict the same punishments, grant the same rewards? Rewards and punishments have social functions; they don’t need to be justified by speaking of what people “deserve” in some sense, because regardless of desert, we want to influence peoples’ actions.

What is god’s IQ? Is man really the best that he could come up with? Why are we born so ignorant and helpless, and why does it take us so long to become educated and competent, if ever? Why are most of us such despicable losers? Why don’t we all have an IQ of 250? What good is an idiot to God? Why does he ever make babies with two heads? Do such babies have one soul or two? If one, what about those babies joined at the hip (etc.) which can be separated surgically? Do they get another soul when separated? The more you think about the God of the bobble, the less sense it makes. The most palpable idiocies are accepted as divine truth.

{8/8/07} The 10% Moral Choice

  1. Unnecessary suffering is an absolute evil.
  2. To relieve or prevent unnecessary suffering is an absolute good.
  3. To permit unnecessary suffering is often unavoidable, but to permit all unnecessary suffering is a moral failure and an evil.
  4. One must therefore act to relieve or prevent some unnecessary suffering.
  5. Extreme physical pain—torture, starvation, and disease—is probably the worst kind of unnecessary suffering, that is, the greatest of evils.
  6. Until preventable extreme physical pain is relieved, psychic pain, mental illness, and spiritual needs must be regarded as of secondary importance.
  7. Unnecessary suffering by animals is also an absolute evil.
  8. No rational, non-religious argument can be found to demonstrate that human suffering is a greater evil then the suffering of animals. [Marginal note: Consensus]
  9. Killing is not an ethical method of relieving suffering.
  10. An ounce of actual prevention or relief of suffering is better than a ton of good intentions, questions, or discussion. Action is required of everyone who is in a position to take action, and results preferably should be immediate, direct, and visible.
  11. No one is capable of devoting one hundred percent of his time to the relief of suffering. While it is possible to establish an arbitrary percentage and claim that this is the minimum required for everyone to commit to the relief of suffering, it is not possible to rationally justify any such number. However, some religions have required ten percent of their followers. This does not seem unreasonable or excessively burdensome.
  12. While any relief or prevention of unnecessary suffering is good, human beings are more likely to take action if they have previously made a public, solemn commitment to carry out that action. To encourage such action, the following text of a pledge is offered: “I, ____________(name), solemnly (swear/affirm) that I will devote ______(number) percent of my (money/free time/money and time) to the prevention and relief of unnecessary physical pain in my fellow (humans/humans and animals) with the intention of producing immediate, direct, and visible results, and to encourage others to do so, for the next ____(number) months (, so help me God).”
  13. Persons who feel prepared to make this commitment are encouraged to give the most serious and dispassionate thought to how much of a commitment they will be comfortable with over a period of months. It is far better to make a modest commitment you can and will actually carry out, than an impressive but unrealistic commitment that you will be forced to repudiate. It is better to simply give it a try, without a commitment, then to fail in your commitment.
  14. In the United States and other industrialized countries, it is not easy to find preventable torture, starvation, and disease of human beings. While adopting vegetarianism is one way to prevent the suffering of some animals, it may not be feasible or desirable for everyone.
  15. Contributions to established charities and churches are notoriously liable to waste, misuse, and theft, and any good results are unlikely to be as visible, immediate, and verifiable as one would like. That being said, still, they can do some good, and for some of us, monetary contributions may be the only feasible choice.
  16. In light of these limitations and for other good reasons, each of us must decide for ourselves where and how best to make our efforts toward the relief of unnecessary suffering. Above all, try to achieve real results now.

Possible Plans

  • Internet discussion groups to encourage public pledges, discuss options, answer questions, share results, and publicize the effort.
  • Website “” to post the best of the above, sell tee shirts, accept donations?
  • Communicate with churches, other existing orgs, seek to persuade them to action: AHA, Quakers, Uni/Uni, Ethical Culture, fraternal orgs, etc.

{8/9/07} Would someone care to tell me why the lawd decided to let sinners languish four thousand years before sending his “only begotten son” to “redeem” us? What, did he have to wait until somebody invented crucifixion? John the Baptist was sorely needed? No, it’s just BS, the BS that practically rules the world.

Reading Mishima’s Temple of Dawn, I have twice thought he said things very reminiscent of Thoreau. Here’s the second: “Possessing by letting go of things was a secret of ownership unknown to youth.” (p. 15) The first was about two pages long. It begins thus: “‘Art is a colossal evening glow,’ he repeated. ‘It’s the burnt offering of all the best things of an era. Even the clearest logic that has long thrived in daylight is completely destroyed by the meaningless lavish explosion of color in the evening sky; even history, apparently destined to endure forever, is abruptly made aware of its own end. Beauty stands before everyone; it renders human endeavor completely futile. Before the brilliance of evening, before the surging evening clouds, all rot about some “better future” immediately fades away. The present moment is all; the air is filled with a poison of color. What’s beginning? Nothing. Everything is ending’” (p. 9-10)

Mishima, unlike Thoreau, keeps bringing up death, the transitory and futile nature of human striving and so on (though so far I’ve only read about 20 pages, so this is a first impression). But I must say I’ve been very intrigued by what I’ve read…I have an urge to say I’m impressed, but it’s really too soon for that. Anyway, he seems a fit companion for Tanizaki and Kawabata. I recall having tried Mishima once before and found him boring, but that was at least two decades ago.

{8/10/07} Mishima in The Temple of Dawn: “Benares is the holy of holies, the Jerusalem of the Hindus.” (p. 53) He describes many horrors, then: “the Mani Karnika ghat offered the ultimate in purification: it was the outdoor public crematorium in which all was out in the open in Indian fashion. Yet it was full of nauseous abomination, the inevitable ingredient of all things sacred and pure in Benares. Beyond question this location marked the end of the world.” (p. 60, Pocket Books, 1975)

“Nauseous abomination” seems to accompany most religions, in their infancy if not in the present. Jesus curing lepers, hanging on the cross, the Inquisition; ritual cannibalism (communion); ritual sacrifice of humans in many religions including the ancient Greek; mutilation of sex organs (circumcision, male and female; Yiwara), tattooing in Africa; etc. Santayana has it right: first is rank superstition, then comes reason which does not repudiate the known errors, but “reinterprets” and explains away the old embarrassments.

Let’s face it: the species is conceived and born into “nauseous abomination,” and dies the same way. Science and art are what, if anything, elevates us above the animals we despise and exploit.

{8/11/07} Somewhere in the history of science, science (and atheism/skepticism) became a more respectable/rational world view than any religion (with the possible/probable exceptions of non-theistic religions such as Confucianism and Buddhism). The tipping point may have been as early as Newton or as late as Freud or Einstein, but my choice would be Darwin.

Two elements need to be considered: teleology and morality. The above is true of teleology; for morality, the tipping point may have been Sartre or Nietzsche or Freud, depending on something or other. Of the two elements, the clearest case can be made for teleology, but arguably the more important is morality. But: all this needs to be reconsidered in light of Nagel’s “Subjective and Objective.”

The most important story is the story of the growth and maturation of a human being, whether it’s through autobiography, biography, or the novel. It may be that the story of the decline and death of a human being is equally important, so perhaps the greatest of novels would present the two stories in contrast. (Does this relate to “seeing through other eyes”? Does it maximize this possibility?)

If this is so, then the most important of my previous work would be the Herbie/Stride material and my last diary. The most important of my future work could be an outgrowth of these.

In fact, any work that illuminates any part of these processes can be important; the proper study of mankind is man.

Subjective Objective [Conclusion]
Teleology (many) Science No teleology
Morality (many) Existentialism Humanism

[The above table seems rather obscure.  If I can reconstruct my thinking, it goes like this:  in the area of teleology (i.e., “the purpose of life, if any”), there are many subjective purposes, and the only objective purpose must be had through science; but science does not offer a teleology.  Similarly, in the area of morality (distinguishing right and wrong), there are many subjective or otherwise competing moralities; the attempt to be objective about morality leads to existentialism and “the Absurd,” i.e., no basis for morality; my conclusion is that one should be a humanist, recognizing that morality is a human construct.  ed]

Conclusion of above table: one’s subjective teleology and morality should be science and existentialism to avoid unnecessary conflicts and to live as rationally as possible.

What is the teleology of science?  Nothing. What is the morality of existentialism? This I cannot answer at present…perhaps my “moral choice”? Perhaps humanism? (I need to read Sartre).

So what does all this mean? “Rationalism in” equals “rationalism out.” If you are and seek to be guided by reason, above all, then you will reject religion and embrace science, and possibly some form of humanism. If you value something else over reason, such as your religion or intuition (in whatever guise), you will have that, but you will be “guilty” of irrationality to that extent. The fundamental choice is between reason and some form of irrationalism, and not between, say, religion and atheism, or religion and science. [Marginal note: Again I ignore James!][The point of the reference to James is that when one has a religious experience, one must either go with the implications of that experience, or go with one’s day-to-day experience and reject the religious experience as an aberration; and either choice is rational.  I agree with this except the last point.  ed]

Why would anyone reject reason? I think because their reasoning is defective or because they have had some emotional experience which persuades them…this is a question for the sociology of religion and philosophy. James laid the groundwork for this, but surely something of note has been done in the 100 years since.

{8/12/07} SCs are insatiable consumers, it seems, of tracts, books, and harangues by “good preachers.” To an outsider this seems a puzzle. What I think is going on is that these people are troubled, but lack the resources to help themselves. So they seek out these pep talks to prop themselves up so they can “keep on keeping on.” And it seems that the rationalist doesn’t have much to offer in place of this continuing infusion of “feel good.” It’s like giving morphine to a cancer victim—it takes away the pain but it doesn’t last long. They aren’t “happy pigs” (except Walt?)—they are “unhappy pigs.” [A reference to J. S. Mill’s position (roughly) that each of us must choose either to be a happy pig or an unhappy man.  ed]  The tracts and harangues don’t cure the cancer because they mostly are irrelevant to their real problems.

I think whatever there is in their religion that is actually helpful, is that the crap of the bobble comes to them filtered and augmented by other human beings. The stories are interpreted and explained so that they can understand the lessons or morals, e.g., “face your fears.” Now anyone can say “face your fears,” and for some in the audience it will be good advice, directly relevant to their situation; but for the SCs it comes packaged as the “moral” of David vs Goliath. Since David had God on his side he couldn’t fail—God is “Dumbo’s feather” for the SC.

But of course some fears are best not confronted—the charging grizzly and the abusive spouse are easy examples.  SCs would be better off, it seems, with counseling on their problems. Church leaders provide some of this, for nominal cost. Some of this is also available on a secular basis, but it’s either expensive or spotty or requires paperwork to qualify, etc., etc. Humanists don’t seem to offer much, but I haven’t actually inquired.

Unfortunately, it isn’t likely to be helpful to say “throw away your crutches.” What, then, would be helpful? A “helping hand,” I suppose, i.e., free humanistic “counseling,” or a “friend.” The Uni/Unis may be on to something. I’ll have to check them out some time. More help, less preaching—is that the solution to SC? The Internet could be a help here, and the AHA and HALA.

Apropos of nothing, a difference between Milton and Dante: Milton attempts to “justify the ways of God to man,” while Dante never considers that this might be needed—for Dante, the “ways of God” simply is the “way things are.”

In the last entry I looked at subjective/objective in relation to teleology and morality.  What about psychology and the self? I have a self image which is subjective, and there is a science of psychology which can help me, perhaps, understand my self image and my own mind.

Note that “Dear Abby” and the talk-show psychs provide free secular counseling.

James’s analysis doesn’t seem to fit that well re SCs. I think the “psychic band-aid” is probably more important—another question for sociologists.

{8/13/07} Three major religions, as far as I can tell, didn’t begin with “nauseous abominations”: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. I don’t know much about any of these except the “theory”; the “practice” is not something I’ve looked into at all. Also, I don’t know much about Islam, but it’s based (in part) on the bobble, so shares the roots of Xtianity; however, aside from the psychological abomination (abject submission) of the Koran, there doesn’t seem to be much of the primitive wallowing in blood of the Greek and earlier bobble-based religions.

{8/15/07} Mishima again: Honda (the protagonist) is pondering his life, finds it had been boring, then says: “It would be closer to his true feelings if he dared exaggerate and say that his life had been spent in complete darkness.

“To declare his life unrelieved black seemed to express a certain acute sympathy toward it. (There was no compensation, no joy in my association with you. Though I not once asked for you, you imposed your tenacious friendship and coerced me into this outlandish tightrope walking called living. You made me frugal with my infatuations, gave me ridiculously excessive possessions, transformed justice [he was a judge and then a lawyer] into waste paper, converted reason into mere furniture, and confined beauty to its shabbiest form.) Life strove mightily to exile orthodoxy, hospitalize heresy, and trap humanity into stupidity.  It was an accumulation of used bandages soiled with layers of blood and pus. Life was the daily changing of the bandages of the heart that made the incurably sick, young and old alike, cry out in pain.

“He felt that somewhere in the brilliant blue of the sky over this mountainous region were concealed the gigantic, supple white hands of a sublime nurse engaged in futile daily treatments and demanding chores. The hands touched him gently and again encouraged him to live. The white clouds floating in the sky over Otomi Pass were dazzlingly new, almost hypocritically hygienic white bandages that had been strewn about.” (Temple of Dawn, p. 271-272)

Where is Shakespeare when we need him? It’s not surprising that’s such a statement was written by an author who soon committed suicide. There is a lot of rumination in this book by Honda. He is a sexual voyeur, but that also seems his whole approach to life.

My main complaint about Mishima is that he seems to hate his characters. The one praiseworthy character, Ying Chan, is idolized, worshipped from afar by Honda and author alike. Honda’s dream is not to have sex with her, but to see her naked, and above all to check her for three moles, the existence of which will confirm to him that she is the reincarnation of some young man who, I think, was executed after assassinating someone (or trying to). This was Isao, the reincarnation of Kiyoaki.

This is a very odd book, and it has brought home to me the extreme alienness of the Japanese, alien to western culture. I have come across no other literature that gives me this feeling. [I am, however, almost 100% ignorant of African and Indian literature.  ed]  Mishima is like Tanizaki, but more extreme. The Chinese seem an open book in comparison. His style is also peculiar and often “attains obscurity.” The flow of the story is marred by a long, dry digression on Hinduism and Buddhism as they relate to reincarnation.

Despite these defects, I’d like to try some of his other novels, though probably not the Sea of Fertility series (of which this is the third of four). I’m afraid that the others would be more of the same, and I’d like to see Mishima in a different mood, because this one is unappealing, though far from worthless…it does attain lyricism from time to time, and the characters, so often repellent, are well drawn and closely observed. [Good, peculiar quotes.]

{8/18/07} Reading Thoreau again and feeling rather underwhelmed by Tennyson, I’ve decided to abandon my effort to memorize “Lancelot and Elaine,” and probably to start memorizing some of Walden. [I had a serious shortage of books at Fresno County Jail.  ed]

Thoreau speaking of following one’s “genius,” I got to pondering what my genius might be. I think it’s fair to say that I have a genius for games, for parenting, and—to a degree, for writing. I think I also understand and can “read” people very well. My other interests—languages science, nature, art, literature—are only interests and I feel I have demonstrated no particular aptitudes or accomplishments in them. The same must be said, regretfully, of philosophy.  [“Parenting,” to me at the time, apparently didn’t include “sticking around to be a parent.”  The less said about “my genius,” the better.  ed]

{8/19/07} God must love seeing people in Hell, he makes so many of them.  Two thirds of the people alive today are not Xtians, and so presumably will burn. And the farther back you go toward the crucifixion, the smaller the percentage of people alive at the time can even nominally be considered Xtian. And for the 4000 years before “Xt died for our sins,” everybody was damned?! So much for “God’s love.” Let’s say ten billion to burn, three billion may be saved. Looks like there’s something wrong with God’s plan.

SCs simply ignore the facts right under their noses, or they never give serious thought to anything about their beliefs. Or else, they don’t take their own bobble seriously—they let the interpreters and distorters tell them what to believe about the bobble, doubtless thinking that “the greatest book ever written,” “God’s word,” is too confusing and obscure to be understood without elaborate and ongoing help.

{8/22/07}  Reading Edward T Hall: The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time, Anchor Press/Doubleday, NY, 1984. Intellectual excitement at its best. Some quotes:

“Americans, even though they keep massive records, are seldom at ease with their past. On the personal level they either: 1) try to discard it, cf. the born-again syndrome; 2) take an infantile approach and wallow in it, blaming their parents for all the bad things in their lives without doing anything; 3) deny it; or 4) romanticize it and reify it, as in the South.” p. 220, note 5. I don’t seem to do any of these, though I come closest to number 2. If I focus on my past it is with the intention of understanding it, and I blame some of my problems on bedwetting, Bell’s palsy, broken front tooth, death of my father, seeing myself on film, and my sarcastic and overly-restrained mother and brother, as all contributing to my pathological shyness.  [At the time I considered that “shyness ruined my life.”  Maybe still think this.  ed]

“With AE [American/European] peoples time is an empty container waiting to be filled; furthermore, the container moves along as if on a conveyor belt. If time is wasted, the container on the belt slips by only partially filled and the fact that it is not full is noted. We are evaluated by how those containers look. If they are all full, that is a strong plus. If they are full with good deeds and creative productions, then we can feel we have lived a ‘full and productive life’! Judged by this standard, some people are seen as more productive than others and require bigger containers while the rest of us sit back in awe of how much they accomplish in their lifetime. To have done little or nothing means no containers are filled. Sitting around passing the time of day with others incidentally, is in the ‘nothing’ category. Yet there are people who judge by other standards, lead very productive lives simply by being encouraging, helpful, and supportive of others. These good souls—and they are good souls—are sometimes made to feel that they haven’t ‘made much of life’ because other people’s containers are full but where are theirs?

“Compared to cultures like the Quiché, ours seems unusually self-centered because our time system keeps reminding us that we are the only ones who can fill those containers. Our own unwritten rules tell us other people cannot help. Time itself is seen as neutral and it’s only value [attribute? significant quality?] is that it is relentless and unfeeling; it waits for no man.” (p. 84)

“For the Quiché, living a life is somewhat analogous to composing music, painting, or writing a poem. Each day properly approached can be either a work of art or a disaster if the proper combinations are not found. For individuals brought up in the AE tradition, these differences are not easy to articulate or understand. Why? Because we pay so little attention to what it means to live right. In our part of the world, living is something that is taken for granted. It’s done automatically. Living has a lot to do with filling those containers—with meeting objectives.” p. 85 [i.e., that’s what, to us, is living right! Idiot.]

The next-to-last quote in this date’s entry is important to understanding the importance of the “meaning of life” question to USians. The last of the quotes remind me very much of a passage in Thoreau…Walden, actually, which I will not trouble to look up now (p. 343-2). He speaks of “carving the medium of the air we look through” as being a better thing then ordinary art. [For a while, I used the term “USians” as a synonym for “Americans,” because “USian” is like “Russian,” finding that we are like our enemy.  ed]

{8/25/07} Thoreau was a seer and poet with longings to be a scientist; I am (“by nature”) a scientist/logician/philosopher (how about “rationalist”?) with longings to be a poet. Which is not to say that I should never write poetically, or that T. was wrong to pursue his science at the expense of his poetry. We live for ourselves, not for posterity. I don’t see that this insight requires any action—so it could be used to encourage either type of activity or goal: “go with your strengths” vs. “get out of your rut once in a while.” I prefer the latter.

Hall says (8/22 entry) that “we pay so little attention to what it means to live right.” I think, on the contrary, to us, “living right” means having full containers. But I think what is lacking here is how he has expressed himself, which is not the first time I’ve doubted Hall’s writing ability. I think he means we should question that standard.

Or worse, we think “living right” means “getting rich without going to prison.” Or worse yet, endless beer, sex, and TV. Although I think lately that “sex” has come to mean “looking at boobs”! Those revolting We-uns! [A reference to “Revolt Among the We-Uns,” a radio play I heard once or twice.  It satirized the US of the ‘40s, I think.  ed]

{9/3/07} Quotes from Theodor Rosebury: Life on Man, Berkeley Medallion books, New York, 1970:

“The full development of the sense of shame, however, in the sense of guilt feelings pertaining to functions and emotions shared by everybody, is evidently a heritage of the Christian Church. It blossomed in the teachings of the early Christian Fathers, especially St. Paul and his disciples, was promulgated by Augustine in the fourth century A. D., and reached its height during the Reformation. Abnegation was its essence, the wickedness of carnal pleasure its basis. Salvation in the life to come depended on denial of the body on earth.” p. 91

Quoting Harry Elmer Barnes: “[Augustine, after conversion,] became very bitter on the matter of sex and denounced it. He suffered acutely from what modern psychologists call ‘overcompensation.’ He traced all human ills to sexual indulgence and redefined original sin in such terms. Original sin was thus portrayed as the origin of sexual intercourse, the blame for which was thrown upon Eve. These morbid eccentricities of Augustinian thought, growing out of his own erratic personal experience, were able to pervert human thinking on sexual matters for a thousand years, and their influence is still strong with millions. Augustine’s personal sex neurosis was elevated to a dominant position in western European ethical theory.” p. 92

“…as the Church has lost much of its early perverse potency, the state has taken over part of its function, and we now have a new perversity to contend with in the marketplace.”  p. 93

Rosebury, a bacteriologist by trade, is not the ideal source to quote for such claims, but he’s the source I have.  The statement about Augustine reminds me of Freud, also.

{9/17/07} I think I am spending too much time playing Monopoly and reading, and not enough time writing. It is not clear, however, what is at stake, why I should feel this way, or whether this feeling should result in a change of behavior. I see my “containers” going by half full, yet I am undecided how full they should be, as well as whether I should even pay attention to them. Thoreau spent much of his time “frivolously,” but also wrote a great deal—he made sure that he had the freedom to follow his genius.

[Note in top margin:  Writing books would also be a justification (i.e., “full container”) for my lifetime of serious reading (or “study”).  I think this is the real reason I feel compelled to write:  self-justification (which my reading has nothing to do with).]

I do know this: I want to write books. Not so much for fame, or money, or even to express myself, but I think for self-esteem or ego. I think of myself, or want to think of myself, as a writer, and I want this conception of myself to be validated, to be more than just my idea or ideal. This insight is interesting but doesn’t seem to lead to anything…again I see no change in behavior forthcoming. [These days, I say that I want to write to make this a better world.  I suppose “ego” works, too.  ed]

Copyright © 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s