Philosophers and philosophers

In thirty-odd years’ study of the arcane field of Philosophy, I have not learned very much; which perhaps means that I am doing it right.

Here is one thing I have definitely learned:

In the field of Philosophy, there are two kinds of people: Philosophers and Academic Philosophers. All the actual philosophies are created by the first group, but it is the second group that gets tenure.

Philosophers think very hard about the meaning of life, the nature of knowledge, and things like that, and write about it for the public.

Academic Philosophers, by tradition, are angry old men with beards and elbow patches who write incomprehensible gobbledygook at each other because they just like arguing that much.

In these enlightened times, however, Academic Philosophy has risen above its ignoble past and taken on a whole new look. For nowadays, most of the Academic Philosophers are clean-shaven.

 

Cosmic claustrophobia

Apropos of nothing particular, A Theory:

If you do the whole Star Trek thing, leave Earth behind, explore the galaxy, and boldly go where no man has gone before…

…you will STILL end up face to face with someone you knew in high school, and you couldn’t stand each other then, and it isn’t any better now.

This is my theory, and I would point out that it has never yet been disproved. It is neither logically impossible, nor is there any empirical evidence against it. Which is more than you can say for a lot of crackpot theories.

Originality

The modernist thirst for originality makes the mediocre artist believe that the secret of originality consists simply in being different.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Toleration

To tolerate does not mean to forget that what we tolerate does not deserve anything more.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Relative truths

Truths are not relative. What is relative are opinions about truth.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Intellectuals and civilized men

The intellectual irritates the civilized man, just as the adolescent irritates the adult, not because of the audacity of his bright ideas but because of the triviality of his arrogance.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

(Hat tip to ‘John M.’, a commenter at John C. Wright’s blog.)

‘You’re No Good’

In stories, as I have said before, the substance – the events of the story – is the payload, and style is the rocket that delivers it to its target. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, in the other arts. More than fifty years ago, Clint Ballard Jr. created a payload that is still hitting targets today: a three-minute poison-pen letter in rhythm & blues form, called ‘You’re No Good’. It was recorded in a fairly pedestrian R & B style by Dee Dee Warwick, the younger and lesser-known sister of Dionne Warwick, and subsequently by Betty Everett, the Swinging Blue Jeans, and divers other artistes.

But it was Linda Ronstadt who built the rocket that was truly fit to put it in orbit and rain its astringent soul upon the world. Ronstadt belonged firmly to the singer-songwriter tradition that was strongly en vogue in the 1970s, and her version is fuelled by, well, Linda Ronstadt. Her vocal performance delivers the raw emotion that the song demands, refined through the filter of her great musical skill and showmanship. Others before her had sung the song; Ronstadt sold it.

But there is more than one way to build a rocket. Twenty years later, Aswad, a British reggae band heavily influenced by American soul music, recorded their own version of ‘You’re No Good’. I happened to hear it for the first time last night, and was struck by the unexpected power of the recording. The sound is as lush as a Turkish bordello; about fifteen layers of flavoured syrup poured over a base of crystallized honey. It ought to be unbearably cloying. But it is all done in the service of the song; the rocket is built precisely for its payload. Where Ronstadt gave us a show of emotional sincerity, Aswad’s vocalists deliver the words with authority and gravitas, with thick layers of musicianship to make the bitter pill palatable.

When you hear Linda Ronstadt sing ‘You’re No Good’, you feel that you have been told off. When you hear Aswad, you have simply been told: not with bitterness or rancour, but with the finality of a magistrate passing sentence. That, at any rate, was my reaction. I encourage you to judge for yourself:

But there is something rather odd in being told with magisterial finality that you are no good. It may be utterly sincere, but it is not true. This is a point that I should like to go into, for it is a matter of unexpected controversy.
[Read more…]

The antidote to arrogance

The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover just how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.

—Paul Johnson

The quality of not thinking

When people do not stop and think through certain issues, it does not matter whether those people are geniuses or morons, because the quality of the thinking that they would have done is a moot point.

—Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (4th ed.)

Kundenschmerz

For the Director of Music. A lafferty. Selah.


[Sender’s address redacted]

14 November 20xx

Customer Service Dept.
Leibniz Ideenfabrik AG
Herrenhäuser Straße 4
30419 Hannover
Germany

Gentlemen:

This morning I received shipment of order No. Z-25289150 from your firm’s Hannover warehouse. I wish to inform you that I am not altogether satisfied with your product as delivered.

I opened the parcel with some misgivings; from the description in your catalogue, I had been expecting something larger than a matchbox. The label on the inner package, however, assured me that this was indeed the Self-Organizing Monad (Cat. No. M-4202) that I had ordered.

Following the enclosed instructions, I removed the gel capsule from the box and placed it on a sterile Petri dish, to which I added the required drop of my own blood. For some time nothing appeared to happen, and I felt sure that I had fallen victim to a garden-variety mail-order fraud. But just as I was about to sweep the capsule into the waste paper basket, it began to swell with alarming speed, taking on colour and form, until I found myself face to face with a Prussian blue homunculus about a foot high. I am not sure whether it looked at me with an expression of haughty disgust, or whether that was the natural shape of its ugly little face. Either way, it did not seem pleased with its new surroundings, for it gave an angry snort and said:

‘Humph! Well, this isn’t much of a place. Where’s the welcoming committee?’

‘I beg your pardon,’ I said. ‘The manual didn’t mention any such thing.’

‘Come now,’ said the Monad. ‘I am, beyond any possible doubt, the most important thing that has ever appeared in this wretched little backwater. There should be a brass band, and a cheering crowd, and a mayor presenting me with the key to the city. And what do I see? Nothing! Not one whit of acknowledgement. Not a trace of gratitude that you’ve been permitted the glory of meeting Me.’

I could hear the capital M in the pronoun; the little creature seemed to grow a little taller when it said the word. I decided to be tactful, for the moment. ‘Well, I do apologize. I was never briefed on the correct protocol for greeting a Monad. Perhaps you would be so kind as to bring me up to speed.’
[Read more…]