Professional Ethics

As a professional writer I sometimes turn down work because it violates my personal code of ethics.  For example I was once offered a job by a man to write an ode mocking his father, and not knowing the details, and being convinced of the virtues of filial piety, in fact believing it to be an inter-generational contract whereby the older generation cares for the younger one in its helpless infancy in return for being venerated in its dotage, I declined the job.  The opposing view is that professionals are hansom cabs, and should not decline offers of work due to ethical considerations.  I was curious whether most professionals take the hansom cab view or whether they turn down work because in the phrase “the money stinks” and inquiring of my circle of acquaintances what their opinion was, I came upon the following interesting anecdote from a friend in the field of architecture.

My friend, N.N. was approached by the leader of a well-known self-help movement with the following unusual request.  He wished a foyer constructed which would make everyone entering it feel like human garbage.  It would send the message by means of design, decoration, and materials: You are a Worm.  You Have No Right to Exist.   The universe may have a Plan, and even a Beauty to its Design, but You, Visitor, are an Excrescence upon Said Beauty, much like a fleck of feces on the cheek of Venus De Milo, or an explosive bout of wet flatulence during a performance of a pianssimo orchestral work by Debussy.

My friend, N.N. complied with his request.  The client was satisfied.  I believe the final work employed a gorgeous floor of Taiwanese marble and it was featured on some prominent architectural web-sites.  The client then came with a second request.

I want a room, reachable from the second room that conveys the message “There is one and only one path from your wretchedness and it is to follow me.  I stand above you as an Agent of Beneficence, reaching down from realms of Clarity, Truth and Goodness with a helping hand to lift from the mire that you dwell in, and indeed, secrete.”

My friend N.N. was challenged by this request and finally suggested a solution.  He made a golden statue of the client with working eyes and mouth that could be puppeted from a secret chamber within its pedestal.

The client was highly satisfied and used the two rooms — the room that sent a message of personal wretchedness and the room that conveyed he was the source of a super-human salvation — to induce many troubled people to join his self-help movement, making generous financial contributions.

In the view of my friend N.N. he was simply doing his duty as an architect.

In an interesting turn of events though, N.N. once rented the very Hall of Improvement he had constructed.  He hid himself in the pediment of the statue and tried to invite a young woman of psychological weakness to visit him there, with an eye to using the persuasive powers of the hall to his own advantage viz. to convince her to participate in congress with him.  The plan went awry.  He cooked food within the pediment.  A fire resulted.  The hall burnt to the ground.  He was burned alive within is own creation, and became a very fine roast of the species the cognoscenti call Long Pig.

Whether he was prepared for consumption by a chef who shared his attitudes with a side of roast potatoes and was then enjoyed at a meal shared by his intended seducee  and the self-help leader in tandem is a fact I have been unable to discover.



Not Feudalism!

I once took a class in Chinese history.  For the final examination we needed to learn terms and be able to identify these terms.  One such term was “the fengjian system”.  I looked it up in the course textbook and the only thing written about the fengjian system was that it was not feudalism.

From that I concluded it probably had to be a form of feudalism.

Because there are a lot of things that are not feudalism.  I’m not feudalism.  Presumably you’re not feudalism.  But only if something is pretty much feudalism, is it worth it for the writer of a textbook to define it as “not feudalism”.


The Dragon Teacher

The knight went to the renowned dragon teacher in his cave to learn about dragons.

The teacher after appropriate gifts in treasure and services agreed to bestow his wisdom and invited the knight to live and study with him within his cave.

“There are many kinds of dragons.” he said “And they can be best understood by understanding their divisions and taxa.”

On Monday the teacher taught of the clear and obscure.

“There are the obscure, and there are the clear.  The clear can be defeated by obscuration.  The obscure can be defeated by clarification.”

On Tuesday the teacher taught of the red and the blue.

“The red can be defeated by cantrip and grammarie, the blue can be defeated by determination and fire.”

On Wednesday, the teacher taught of the elusive and the unavoidable.

“The elusive must be followed to their lair for months.  The unavoidable must be fled from for years.”

On Thursday, the teacher taught of the infinite and the finite dragons.

“The infinite dragon must be forced to exist in finite form and then obliterated.  The finite dragon must be expanded to all four corners of the universe and thereby dissipated.”

On Friday the lessons came to an end. The knight was satisfied and felt he knew enough to be able to defeat dragons and readied his mount to depart.

On Saturday the teacher followed him to the mouth of the cave and said “I forgot the final division of dragons.”

“The dragon that is noticed.  He is defeated by ignoring.  And the dragon who goes unnoticed”

“And how is he defeated?”

“He is not.”

The teacher smiled.

“My what big teeth you have.” said the knight.

“The better to teach you with.” said the dragon.



If you write something and want somebody to help you make it happen (by putting in money or distribution or production services) you will get feedback from them in the form of notes.  

Suppose the person writing “It’s a Small World” wrote the following quatrain

There is just one moon and one golden sun

And a fish means Thursday to everyone

There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware

It’s a small, small world.

Notes come in the following varieties:


“A fish does not mean Thursday to everyone.  It just means Thursday to some people.   Replace with something that does mean something to everyone”


“Not true that there is just one moon — there are many moons in the solar system.  Change to a line that reflects a more accurate number of moons.”


“The world is actually quite large.  Consider altering song to reflect this fact.”


Maybe writers should take only the helpful notes?

Or maybe they shouldn’t even take those.


Be Your Own Guru

I have a desire to find some sort of mystical guru or esoteric order of initiates and learn secret wisdom from them, but I have always been disappointed in this quest.  Recently I decided that I would be my own guru or prophet.  I’m not sure exactly how to do it, but I think I will try the following:

1)Say things I don’t understand exactly but which have an imaginative resonance for me and treat them as if they are true but it’s my fault for not understanding them.  For example “The past is earth,the future is sky, the present is fire”.

2)Do things that I don’t understand but which seem to be symbolic of greater realities.  For example: leave a little cornflakes over in the bowl and feed it to birds.

3)Love myself unconditionally and re-assure myself when I am scared.

I may also experiment with treating other people as gurus on a provisional basis.


I Return to Berkeley After An Eighteen Year Absence

In 1996 I was enrolled in the UC Berkeley philosophy PhD. program and had completed my oral exam (with Professors Dreyfus, Searle, and Davidson) on the topics of phenomenology, facts and representations, and internalism.  I took a break to do television comedy writing.  I’m going back tomorrow to meet Professor Hubert Dreyfus and Professor Hans Sluga and get to work on my dissertation.  I hope I still remember how to philosophize.  I have been reading “Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious” and want to write something about how the stance you take towards yourself when you tell a joke has a paradoxical quality, similar to the stance you take to yourself when you reflect upon your capacity for self-deception or weakness of the will.  Another interesting thing that Freud points out is that I am serious when I am telling a joke, and when my audience laughs I laugh.  I think that’s profound, and speaks to how we co-create reality with our audience in other contexts — e.g. forgiveness.  Anyway, wish me luck.


1. Man is a Hapax Legomenon

1. Man is a hapax legomenon

2.Jellyfish have minds and can hunt as well as fish

3.Transcendence is real but is not one-dimensional — you can transcend in different directions

4.Conflict and co-operation are both infinite as they involve modeling the other person’s conception of yourself

5.Language is attenuated song as song is attenuated dance

6.History is the overlay of cycles of different periodicities

7.Every moment is unique

8.Consciousness is unique but there is no fact of the matter about what its boundaries are

9.The context of forgiveness and the context of judgment are not “there”  but are brought into being  by action

10.Thought is a kind of action

11. Logic, mysticism and comedy are three approaches to paradox

12.What the intellect views as paradox the emotions view as trauma


If the Sun and Moon Could Doubt/They’d Immediately Go Out!

When I was in academia I once attended a multidisciplinary conference on the sciences and the humanities.   The following interesting exchange occurred between a literature professor Emil Brody Duffet and a professor of astrophysics, Harland Watley Wentworth-Jones.

Duffet: As Blake pointed out, if the sun and moon could doubt, they’d immediately go out.

Wentworth-Jones: Not necessarily.  Let’s just take the sun.   Supposing it were something like a giant intelligent firefly.  It would be able to doubt, but it would not immediately go out.

Duffet: The poet is not spinning an entomological fantasy, he is making a point about consciousness.  Our activities have to be engaged in wholeheartedly on some level.  As Wordsworth pointed out, “to murder is dissect”.

Wentworht-Jones: Don’t change the subject.  Why would a self-conscious able to doubt star necessarily go out?  What if he liked giving off light?  Or we were able to pay him.

Duffet: You are completely missing the point.

Wentworth-Jones: Maybe you think I am because you try to make it seem like the things you know are important but they really aren’t.

Duffet: Maybe you think you’re smart because you’re such a social retard that you avoid anyone who can criticize you’re boring knowledge and bullshit about giant fireflies.

Wentworth-Jones: Fuck you you shit-speckled retard!

Duffet: Bite me you spastic masturbating dwarf!

Wentworht-Jones: Pompous mentally-damaged baboon!

Duffet: Bad-smelling, lying, vain crippled clown!

Wentworth-Jones: Shit-gobbling pederast!

Duffet: I look forward to when you are struck down with Alzheimer’s dementia because then the shit pouring out of your asshole will at least match in quality the shit pouring out of your mouth!

Wentworth: I drive a better car than you.

Everyone agreed that it was an effective conference and the proceedings were published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies.  Several graduate students wrote research papers on the discussion, the most interesting one of which revealed that although Professor Wentworth’s car was of a more fashionable model than Professor Duffet’s it was also several years older.



Nursing at the Beautiful Breasts of the Universe

That’s how I think of it because I’m a mammal.

But if I was an intelligent lizard-man I wouldn’t think that.

Maybe I’d think I was eating at the tasty ant-hill of the universe, assuming I was a kind of lizard that ate ants.

But in that case I would be missing out, because I would not have a biological metaphor for feeding off of something that is a living being that wants to feed me.

If I was an intelligent lizard-man I wouldn’t think of the universe that way, but that would mean I would be missing out.