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HUMAN NATURE AND THE HUMAN CONDITION
1138. With age, reduced expectations follow diminished possibilities in an increasingly narrow circle.
1135. The notion of complementary opposites is the key to understanding the limitations of the real world. It is not a question of choosing, irrevocably, peace, freedom, love, tolerance, and equality. All of these ideal conceptions imply their necessary opposites. Conflict, restriction, hatred, and inequality cannot be wished away with pious incantations, however heartfelt, or with determined imaginings, no matter how fervent.
1134. Paradoxically, choosing "ideals" -- such as peace, tolerance, and equality may be counter-productive. Every virtue, carried far enough, transforms into vice.
1133. The great intellectual failure of the left is to assume that ideal conceptions represent viable alternatives in real life. It is easy to proclaim virtue by being on the side of peace, tolerance, and equality. But peace may entail self-destruction, tolerance of evil allows it to spread, and equality -- if it were actually attainable -- implies mediocrity, stasis, and the cessation of progress. Choosing -- in the real world -- usually involves determining the lesser evil.
1114. Most animals participate in a ruthless scheme of murder necessary for survival, but the claim of moral superiority for human beings is specious. It is simply that we are adept at disguising our involvement with well-run farms, discreetly placed slaughterhouses, and plastic packaging.
1107. We need a complete explanation of the meaningless of existence. Or -- We will not be satisfied until we have a complete explanation of the meaningless of existence.
1092. Victimhood likely has its limitations. It requires certain awkward mindsets: continuing self-pity and resentment -- and unstinting affirmation and accommodation.
1090. If you are determined to be an oppressed nail, you will find -- or manufacture -- the necessary hammers. (A variation of #803)
1088. Evil is the distillation of self-interest.
1087. Thoughtless human beings have it so easy! (An irreverent addendum to #1086)
1086. To determine what is true, and what is false, to judge what improvements are achievable, and what dreams are idle or even dangerous -- these are the difficult tasks which challenge all thoughtful human beings.
1083. The appeasement of bullies serves as an encouragement -- it shows that they have embraced a successful strategy.
1082. The road to nonsense is paved with unthinking, untroubled acceptance; the truth is less accessible -- often found only at the end of a steep, questioning path of challenge.
1078. Disorder and order are the yin and yang of all progress.
1077. Progress is the result of a necessary taming of a necessary disorder.
1076. Without disorder, there is no creativity -- only inevitability. Without some limiting order, creativity descends into chaos.
1075. We imagine that the brains of sentient creatures reflect the evolutionary process. Evolution makes random alterations which are approved -- or rejected -- by the constantly changing environment -- giving the impression of orderly progress. So the brain may make random suggestions which must meet the changing requirements for the survival and success of the organism -- giving the impression of reasoned, orderly decision-making.
1073. As instinctive tribalists, we are programmed for herd-like thinking.
1072. Separating truth from lies is a never-ending task. Generally speaking, anything disappointing and unpopular is the truth.
1070. Persistence is often more important than aptitude.
1067. Stupidity can be just as dangerous as animosity.
1066. A tone which is consistently jeering does not suggest superiority, but weakness. Those confident in their arguments do not feel the need to antagonize their opponents.
1057. The success of strategic victimhood is always somewhat tenuous: the pool of necessary and enabling pity can evaporate in the wind of whining.
1055. Conclusions should not be drawn until the canvass of evidence is complete.
1050. Morality has nothing to do with God -- and everything to do with social interaction. There is no "morality" for a lone castaway on an uninhabited island. His decision to eat poisonous berries instead of coconuts may be considered unfortunate, or foolish -- but is neither moral nor immoral. It affects no one but himself. With the addition of another castaway -- or a troop of monkeys -- the potential for morality -- or immorality -- is introduced.
1048. The more ancient the grievance, the more likely it is to become a raison d'être, incapable of being appeased.
1042. Spending money is an affirmation of one's worth and worthiness: it lifts the spirits and soothes the soul.
1040. The future is prone to perversity; it delights in mocking its eager predictors.
1033. Death is the final mockery.
1030. Multiple Cake Syndrome: The desire or requirement for two or more conditions which are incompatible, contradictory or mutually exclusive.
1016. Happiness is not designed, but discovered.
1015. Capitalism works because it recognizes and gives scope to the competitive instinct. Socialism doesn't work because it pretends that people want to be equal. It's the distinction -- once again -- between what works and what sounds good.
1013. Tribalism -- instinctive and essential -- depends upon conformity -- and conformity implies some degree of tyranny. There is always a penalty for failing to think with the herd.
1004. Experience tempers enthusiasm. (The short version of # 1003)
1003. The older we get, the more we realize that things often go wrong. Thus the impetuousness of youth cools to the caution of age.
997. God is the great Jester: into a hierarchical world of cruel competition, he has thrust his favourite creature -- cursed with unquenchable and unattainable dreams of justice and equality.
995. That morality is best which allows for the greatest liberty of citizens which is consistent with the well-being of the society of which they are a part.
992. Morality is not divinely revealed, but socially derived. It represents an adjudication between the desires of the individual and the requirements of the tribe. That adjudication may have some universal elements essential to survival, but it may also vary according to beliefs and circumstances. The moral values inspired by the belief that a good harvest depends upon the appeasement of the Gods with human sacrifice differ from those which arise from a belief in the efficacy of a well-designed irrigation system. The values of the tribe under constant threat of attack are unlikely to be identical to those of the tribe which co-exists peacefully with its neighbours. Morality is, essentially, utilitarian rather than holy.
989. A world without nuclear weapons is not feasible: Science has not yet devised a bottle of forgetting into which the genie of scientific knowledge can be safely stuffed.
986. The difference between what is believed and what is known accounts for a world of stupidity.
984. Those who seek "victory" by claiming victimhood need, for their success, the collaboration of the competent.
980. No life is without the hardship of regret.
975. We all have an inner sheep. Possibly an inner lemming.
Sometimes – in a quirk of happiness --
Lost love leaves scarce a scar --
But oft its wound of neverness
Bleeds long past reason’s bar.
965. To escape the tyranny of reality, we flee to the ideal -- only to discover that even velvet gloves hide similar fists.
964. Hate is a human emotion; it may, perhaps, be tempered by reason, dissuaded from violence, or cajoled into mere antipathy. But the notion that it can be banished entirely is, quite simply, Canutian.
961. Success is a target most often hit when the aim is excellence.
959. "Free will" suggests a "rational chaos." It supposes that we are not automatons -- our decisions resist the near-universal workings of the laws of cause and effect. Those workings are interrupted, however -- not with randomness and chaos -- but with something equally as orderly, logical and rational as those laws of cause and effect which are supposedly being ignored. It looks awfully suspicious.
935. Pretentious displays of virtue suggest either deception or atonement.
933. Sometimes the road to hope runs through the valley of despair.
932. In a world yet to be discovered, the truth is seen without distortion -- and without despair.
924. In the long run, evidence trumps belief. (Sometimes the run is surprisingly long.)
921. The confidence of youth is a green shoot of optimism rooted in ignorance; the prudence of age is the fruit of experience -- an awareness that things often go wrong.
920. It appears that humankind requires both truth and illusion: the truth is necessary, but often harsh; illusion is protective and inspiring, but potentially dangerous. No easy recipe is available.
918. Ingenuity is the child of challenge.
917. An obstacle is not a roadblock -- it is an inspiration for creative detours.
904. We are caught between the desire for security, stability, and equality -- and the reality: the inevitability of change and the necessity of competitive struggle.
903. Vague threats are always a sign of weakness: they are an admission that no believable specific threat is adequately intimidating.
899. The universe is not an ethical machine, but a utilitarian one. That is one reason why successful dictators are not more reviled: the successful end overshadows the dictatorial means.
883. The best remedy for hurt feelings is not complaint, but accomplishment.
882. Appeasing a bully is like trying to douse a fire with lighter fluid.
875. It is possible to accept, philosophically, the ultimate futility of existence, while, at the same time, recognizing that existence is its own philosophy: it matters.
871. The human tendency is to live by myth and illusion when possible, by facts when necessary.
869. Everyone seems to agree that hatred is a terrible emotion; no one seems willing to admit that there are terrible things worthy of hatred.
868. "Legacy" should defer to the here and now: the judgments of history can bring neither comfort nor shame; they are based on the unforeseeable perceptions of strangers in a strange land.
866. The meek shall inherit the earth -- providing, of course, that their meekness is a clever ruse -- an artful ploy designed to outwit their more apparently aggressive rivals. Otherwise -- we're afraid -- they're toast!
864. All life flows in a sweeping deliberate curve -- in the inevitable arc of tragedy.
863. Every time you think we’ve touched bottom in the abyss of human stupidity, another deep crevasse seems – as if by magic -- to appear.
857. Inequality is the bite of the apple -- the original sin -- both necessary and deplorable -- at the heart of all existence.
856. Residual sin: you can take mankind out of the muck of its past -- but never the muck out of mankind.
855. A long life combined with eminent success is indeed desirable -- but when we read of the famous and accomplished dying young -- we find ourselves content with a long life of unremarkable obscurity.
851. There is an inherent contradiction in human affairs: no approach to society can be considered "rational" which does not take into account the essential irrationality of the species.
850. Man will always be unruly, for he is only partly rational: he is also dreamer, survivalist, and tribalist.
844. Old age: haunted by the past, daunted by the future.
820. To discriminate is to be human. The great difficulty is to classify discriminations: what is the capriciously personal and legitimate, what is the reasonably justifiable, and what is the capriciously personal, but illegitimate?
819. Life provides the possibility of euphoria and delight against a background of necessary murder and ultimate demise. We might be inclined to see it, remotely, as impossibly bizarre -- a mere drama of the absurd. But we are involved participants; as prisoners of our consciousness -- we are forced to take it seriously.
808. The truth is no pushover -- in exchange for each hard diamond light of reality -- you have to give up a soft pearl of illusion. At some point -- it's different for everyone -- people prefer pearls to diamonds.
803. There can be no innocence where a feeling is determined to be hurt.
797. Much is suggested about the nature of existence by observing the number and scope of the lies needed to make it bearable.
790. Life -- the diagnosis is always terminal. Timing is everything.
787. Creativity is simply the willingness to experiment.
786. How does man's imagination arise? Surely it is but a reflection of the creative process of evolution itself -- which is constantly throwing out new ideas seeking the approval of the environment.
780. From the awkward fabric of existence – the threads of our human legacy of competition and co-operation – must be fashioned the best garment of civilization possible.
778. Appeasement never deters -- but always encourages -- aggression.
773. There is no cure for age.
764. The human condition is difficult. As a species we must journey between the Scylla of despair in contemplating the blind, destructive, indifference of the universe -- and the Charybdis of necessary, protective, but potentially dangerous hopeful illusions.
747. Whenever people attack not the idea – but its source -- you know they’ve hit the brick wall of their intellectual limitations.
738. There is an inevitability to nostalgia: the past is not burdened – as is the present – by apprehension -- the uncertainty of inconclusivity.
736. Life challenges each of us with an enigmatic and unyielding alchemy -- making sense of the human experience.
728. To say that love is blind understates the case; surely only perverse incompetence can account for the fact that it so often chooses the hopelessly unattainable, the maddeningly unresponsive, or the manifestly unsuitable.
724. Speak now of your dreams, and beat loud the drum of your ambitions; the great silence waits.
718. Political correctness is the despotism of everyday life; it pretends that perfection is the natural state of the human condition and thus makes universal guilt --and a concomitant cowering silence --the zeitgeist of the age.
716. The ratio of dreaming to doing varies inversely with the rate of accomplishment.
708. We are the temporary achievement of relentless change and ceaseless striving; yet, like the flower that disdains the supportive soil and forgets its roots, we yearn for unwitherable bloom, and a quiet, unhurried garden of equality.
707. The twentieth century provided adequate evidence of the destructive potential of competitive, aggressive tribalism. It is interesting that, in the twenty-first century, some of the more enlightened tribes have concluded that the appropriate remedy for tribal aggression is self-destruction.
696. Roadblocks beget detours.
693. Certainty is saving grace or dangerous delusion -- depending on its foundation -- in fact -- or fantasy.
692. Just as the old, looking back, idealize the past, so the young, looking forward, idealize the future. Illusion is at the heart of hope -- and memory.
684. Every thinking person seeks a coherent, rational, comprehensive philosophy of life -- something which will give meaning to the human condition, and solace to the human spirit. That is why thinking people are more frustrated and disappointed than the rest of us.
681. Globalism is theory; nationalism -- which has its roots in instinctive tribalism -- is practice.
675. Happiness is the charlatan whose disguise is always perfect.
674. Happiness is always the serendipitous result of looking for something else.
665. It is admirable to maintain that tribalism is a barbaric element of our past, and that all cultures are equal; practical difficulties arise from the fact that some tribes are still more barbaric than others.
661. Logic permits two explanations of our behaviour. First, our decisions are the inevitable result of the laws of cause and effect -- since only one effect can arise from a single set of causes (the brain in a particular state responding to the environment in a particular state) -- at any instant in time. Second, chance -- to a greater or lesser degree -- interferes with that inevitability, making our choices unpredictable, arbitrary, and meaningless. Sanity requires us to reject logic, and believe we are the masters of our fate.
646. If man is instinctively tribal, and tribes are instinctively hierarchical, egalitarian and multicultural societies are at some distance beyond the horizon. He who would tame the lion of instinct must be ever-vigilant; nor should he belittle the magnitude of his task.
643. Intelligence is the wide beam of light -- but determination is the narrow focus, the lens by which the darkness is transformed, and new trails are blazed.
631. Sometimes the ends do justify the means. A lot depends on whether the ends are mine, or yours.
618. The impossible is so often desirable; the desirable, so often impossible.
614. Why haven't we received radio messages from advanced civilizations elsewhere in the universe? The answer may be quite simple. At about the same time a species discovers radio waves, it acquires the technology for blowing itself up -- which it promptly does.
612. The trouble with brains is -- they are so easily washed.
610. The human brain is essentially tribal in nature: Ninety per cent imitation, ten per cent contemplation, and two percent initiation.
577. Virtuous Exemption Syndrome: An affliction which leads the sufferer to believe that his clear and undeniable virtue exempts him from observing normal conventions and rules of behaviour.
563. Human beings are defiantly real, rather than conveniently conceptual. That is why attempts to create an ideal society invariably involve bullying and oppression -- and why they ultimately fail.
560. In the hotel of the human psyche, emotion owns and manages the building; science and reason are occasional guests.
558. The miraculous – dazzling and fantastical – cannot be denied: the transformation of matter from inanimate to animate – the expanding labyrinthine complexity and the extraordinary variety of life forms – the mysterious development of consciousness. Yet the process itself seems automatic and reactive rather than planned and deliberate. And nowhere is there even a breath of benevolence – except in the yearning of the human imagination.
551. Hope is essential; but it doesn't hurt to expect disappointment.
550. No mourning can heal the wound of neverness.
546. The contradiction at the atomic heart of human matter: electrons of comedy circling protons of tragedy.
540. Life is absolutely wonderful -- but utterly ruthless.
502. The universe is a great mystery. You can make up as many happy and flattering stories about the mystery as you want. They are still just stories, and the mystery is still a mystery.
499. The distinction between arrogance and confidence is determined by what happens next.
485. The victory -- or defeat -- of the home team is of infinitesimal consequence; what is significant is the passionate engagement of the crowd -- for it is that which suggests the rôle of tribal instinct in human affairs.
484. Of all tribalism, that based on religion is most dangerous. When faith -- the fever borne of factless fantasy -- unleashes, with aggressive certainty, its unreasoning, rabid dogs of war -- negotiation is not possible.
483. If tribalism is the natural state of mankind, we should not be surprised at the presence of great swaths of mindless conformity, and the scarcity of threads of independent thought.
482. The great virtue of tribalism -- co-operation -- contains the seed of its great vice -- unthinking conformity.
481. Religious tribalism is based on nonsense -- which is not necessarily a disadvantage -- for faith never defers to facts.
476. Leopards do not change their spots. The bleach of wishful thinking can never erase the stain of original deficiencies.
474. The gloomy notion of original sin has been replaced with the happy presumption of original goodness. During the process, human nature has remained unchanged.
465. We are not, essentially and intrinsically, rational. The difficulty is to find the least harmful expressions of superstition and primitive tribal emotions. Rooting for the home team and religions without fangs -- reduced to ritual cheering for the home God -- might be acceptable.
464. In a world so often chaotic and unpredictable, it is no surprise that order and certainty are highly prized. Doubtless this accounts for the success of dictators, and the popularity of Gods.
462. Certainty is most passionate in the absence of evidence.
445. That any adult could believe in Scientology is a testament to the tragic and dangerous gullibility of humankind.
436. The persistence of religious beliefs suggests that men need myths to live by. The weakness of any myth is that it is not true, but, to be taken seriously, must pretend to be. Great assurance in the pretence inspires confidence in the believers -- but concomitantly fuels the fires of contemptuous piety, and provides holy sanction for the oppression of others.
(It may be observed that this applies to belief in catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, as well as to other, more conventional, myths.)
415. Co-operation is much admired, and is helpful in getting things done; competition is cruel, and often despised -- but it works to get the best things done. There is a similar relationship between tolerance and intolerance.
405. The central problem of mankind: How to satisfy the craving for meaning without succumbing to the addictive effects of nonsense: fervent certainty wedded to intellectual paralysis.
404. The necessity of illusion is the curse of mankind.
400. Appeasement of those making unreasonable demands -- whether from fear or from a generous, empathetic sensitivity -- invariably leads to further unreasonable demands.
398. Admitted ignorance is better than a false certainty.
393. Self-delusion: short term self-protection in exchange for longer term self-destruction.
391. Our judgments are visceral, immediate, and naked. Only later are they decently covered -- in the respectability of persuasive logic and the faultless tailoring of reasoned opinion.
387. The paradox of certainty: Certainty is asserted with
most assurance and confidence in the absence of facts.
384. A certainty divine is what men crave --
That they, with conscience clear, may misbehave.
379. True self esteem is earned -- and is rooted deep in the soil of accomplishment. Thus it can withstand the storm. "Esteem" bestowed -- without reason -- from above, is mere painting, the insubstantial decoration of a seed without roots. It engenders a superficial confidence most likely to be perceived as arrogance. In a light rain, the seed, the gloss, and the "esteem" are like to be washed away.
378. It is a sobering thought that madness – either of hope or despair -- may be a near necessity of the human condition. One either embraces the false hope offered by religion, or one despairs because life is only what it is –a short burst of meaningless sentience in an indifferent universe. The only escape would appear to be a mirroring indifference, the refuge – whether natural or deliberate – of a complacent mindlessness.
364. "Groupthink" suggests certainty where there is none. (Cf. Voltaire: Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.)
360. Often the greatest "certainty" seems to arise from the flimsiest evidence. Those with weak arguments "yell like hell." Those whose opinion is supported by fact can encounter contrary opinion with an even tone.
358. Those mired in ancient grievance are likely to ignore present opportunities, and thus forfeit future compensating rewards.
357. The road of righteous certainty has a powerful allure, but it usually ends at the cliff of comeuppance.
343. People are often wedded to their illusions; any petition for divorce is likely to be met with a degree of shock, and a measure of hostility.
353. Tolerance is not an absolute virtue; it is laudable -- or not -- in context. Tolerance of thievery suggests an intolerant hostility towards the robbed.
331. Loyalty and logic live in different parts of town.
330. The paradox of perversity is that it is as often admired as condemned. It may be seen as a folly in defiance of facts, but also as a virtue of loyalty in the face of adversity. In sports, the determined loyalty of the fan devoted to a consistently losing team is revered rather than ridiculed. In religion, the more absurd the belief, the greater the faith that is required; the greater the faith, the more virtuous the believer.
329. There is always a tendency to ignore those facts which contradict a favoured hypothesis. The price of complacency is often paid in the coin of absurdity.
326. Those who stridently claim the moral high ground always risk a tumbling into the pit of self-righteousness, where the end always justifies the means.
320. The promise of paradise is a rose with many thorns.
310. Too much of a good thing is always a bad thing.
304. The more irrational the belief, the more spirited and indignant defence it requires.
291. Disappointment is as inevitable as hope is necessary.
285. While perfection may be desirable, it is never reasonable.
284. All virtues contain the seeds of vice.
282. An exaggerated sensitivity is an invitation to the mischief of mockery.
280. Laughter and piety do not make good neighbours.
279. Most will give up an acre of freedom for a closet of security.
275. The propensity of porkers is to pan pearls. (Variation: 'Twas ever the propensity of porkers to pan pearls.)
272. Hopefulness should never venture abroad but that it be attended by wariness as a helpful and faithful companion.
266. Magical Thinking is a steadfast belief in a cause and effect relationship, where the validity of that relationship has not been established. In scientific thinking, the absence of this validity is considered fatal; in Magical Thinking, it confers sanctity, and garners both respect and reverence.
260. The less one knows about a subject, the easier it is to pronounce upon it with an air of assured confidence and untroubled authority.
259. There are plain fools, and fools who recognize the advantages of knavery in the commission of their folly.
251. True respect is earned, not wheedled, demanded, or coerced.
250. The red lips and rouged cheeks of certainty have more allure than the plain unvarnished face of doubt. (The tarted-up version of #249)
249. A false certainty may yet persuade the hesitation of reasonable doubt.
248. Much of what people proclaim is fraudulent; much of what they do, stupid. The price of sanity is a skeptical vigilance.
244. Appeasement of evil is seen as folly by the realist, as a stop-gap by the strategist, and as a solution by the fool.
240. There are few easy answers; most "easy answers" invite more difficult questions.
235. Elephants, though unrecognized or unacknowledged, may yet continue to poop on the carpet, eventually rendering the room uninhabitable.
231. Every human being must make his own peace with reality.
228. Man's imagination is enterprising, but not entirely trustworthy.
222. When Goliath is slain, do not be surprised when David tries on his shoes.
216. Purity of intent does not guarantee purity of result.
214. The amount of worrying done by an individual is determined by a "worry quotient" fixed at the time of birth, and is independent of apparently causal circumstances.
212. Benevolence wary is like to lose both name and reputation; benevolence blind and pure in heart may yet nourish the seeds of evil.
210. One seldom knows one’s true opinion until one has expressed it.
209. Rational analysis is the camouflage for visceral response.
208. Opinion is informed by emotion, not logic.
204. Sentience can only thrive in the unreasonable expectation of its own permanence.
201. It is easier to punish evil than compel benevolence.
200. The little rituals of death serve to tame the chaos of our puzzlement, soothe the denial of our hopes.
198. The human mind, too divine for death, flatters itself with expectations of immortality.
197. Life is not so much like a novel, in which each chapter informs the next, and the hero is wiser at the end; rather, it is like a series of echoing but enigmatic haiku, with the last no more revealing than the first.
All that glisters is not gold:
Let caution reign where freedom’s sold.
193. Mankind cannot abide a mystery: it must be dispersed with a causal narrative. Many seem not to care whether the explanation is rational, and scientific, or imaginative and religious.
171. Great expectations bring inevitably in their train disappointments of equal magnitude.
167. Beneficial change is much desired; it is especially attractive when thought to be obtainable without altering established habit or custom.
164. One man's deeply held conviction is another man's bigotry.
163. Exceptional aggressiveness is rooted in exceptional insecurity.
160. Try to look on the bright side of things; if the bright side is not immediately evident, keep looking. It is better to be busy than depressed.
133. The man who sets out to please everyone is on a fool’s errand.
121. We always take comfort in opinions which echo our own; thus is achieved much harmonious bleating, and the happiness of herds.
120. An opinion agreeable to one’s own is always given safe harbour and an easy rest; a contrary view is left to founder on the jagged rocks of its perceived insufficiency.
115. Human Nature is neither inherently good, nor intrinsically evil. As with many things–it is a muddle of potentials.
101. Tolerance is like alcohol: in moderate amounts, it softens hard edges, and lubricates the machinery of social interaction; in excess, it leads to foolishness, incoherence, the annihilation of principle, and the destruction of the essential self.
99. After the striving, the fine talk, and the grandeur of dreams – all that remains is an elegance of bones.
95. In every human relationship, in every human interaction, there is suggestion of a balance, or imbalance of power. Those interactions suggesting balance are most congenial, but they are not nearly the most common.
16. There is, in human nature, a strong desire to control others; it is evident that, in modern societies, this control is achieved most successfully when it can be linked to some moral imperative. Thus the medical profession is hell-bent on lowering your cholesterol; the bicyclists want to disrupt traffic and take over the expressways; the Suzukiists want you to return to the cave, shiver in the dark.