The Little Woodchopper and the Ogres


There was once a woodchopper who lived in the forest chopping wood and selling it, and his wife had died when she was young and had left him a son.  When the woodchopper got old and was nearing his end he asked his on to come close to him and said “Jewels and gold I don’t have.  Silver plate I don’t have.  Tin plate I don’t have.  But I will give you advice.  Don’t assume everyone you meet in the world is an idiot.”  And he died.  His son was a little man, and could hardly lift his father’s axe, so he knew he could not live by chopping wood so after he buried his father he set out on the road to seek his fortune.

After a few hours he came to a table with a bag on it full of coins.  He thought to himself “I would like that money.  But for sure whoever left it there would not have wanted it taken.  And I will not assume that the person who left it is an idiot, so they must have someone watching to make sure it’s not stolen.  So I will stay here and meet them and see what betides and what haps.”  And he sat by the table watching the money.

In a few hours two fighting men came down the road.  “What ho little woodchopper?  Are you here to steal our money.”  “No” said the little wood chopper.  “I knew you two are not idiots and have some way to keep your money safe and sound.  I have been waiting to see who you are and meet you and perhaps learn something from you.”

“Well then listen to a tale.” said one of the knights.  “The mayor here is troubled by a pair of ogres, as vicious and cruel as they are thirsty of blood, and as fond of sexual abuse and cannibalism as they are of necrophilia, murder, and swinishness.  Not one week ago the ogres captured the daughter of the Lord Mayor.  We were taken in a hurry to speak to him an that is why we left the coins on the table.  The fool was you because you could have taken it and made yourself a start in life.  Nevertheless you seem a pleasant enough fool and we will tell you what our plan is.”

The first knight said that he would strap a barrel around his body and thereby stand up to the blows of the ogre.  The second knight laughed and laughed.  “Such a barrel will make you so slow the ogre will be able to light a fire beneath your feet and cook you.  What a fool and braggart thou art.”

“Then what is your plan?” asked the second knight of the first.

“My plan is to strap wheels to my feet.  I will thereby be able to increase my speed so much I can fly into the camp of the ogre and dispatch him.”

“What a dolt thou art” said second knight to first knight.  “With wheels on thy feet thou will certainly slip and slide everywhere and be right sport for the ogre to break your neck and strip the meat from thy bones.”

The two knights agreed that each was an idiot.  “Truly the greatest idiot is the mayor for trusting us.” said the first knight.

“How so?” asked the little woodchopper?

“The fool mayor gave us each another bag of coins to begin our journey.  Since our plans are ill-wrought we will flee from here with his money and never have to fight the ogre.”

And the two knights galloped away but not before giving the little wood chopper a coin to keep their secret.  They were cowards and foolish but not cruel.

The Little Woodchopper thought about the two knights and about his dead father’s advice.  Perhaps the second was an idiot as the first knight said, perhaps the first was an idiot, as the second knight said, but he would believe that they were both wise men.  So he used the coin they gave him and used it to buy a barrel and wheels for his feet.  He wrapped his body in the barrel and strapped the wheels to his feet with leather straps and asked where the ogres lived.

“Down this trail and in the valley.” said the man who sold him the barrel and the wheels.  “But if you go seeking them you are as idiot as the day is long, and as big a fool as any.”  So holding his axe above his head set rolling down the hilll towards where the ogres lived.

As the ogres saw the little wood chopper coming down the hill they threw rocks off him which bounced off the wooden barrel.

They began to lumber away but the woodchopper easily caught them from the wheels on his feet.  They stared at him as he came sliding up to them axe over his head.

“What a strange sight” said one ogre to the other.

“Indeed.” said second ogre to the first.

“My goodness, these two are idiots!   Even my father, wise man that he was, wasn’t right about everybody” and he lopped their heads clean off with his ax as they stood gaping at him like moon calfs.  He returned to town and passed the gibbet where the two knights had been hanged for lying and cowardice and met the mayor.  The mayor of the town gave him his daughter to marry and they had a feast with roast swans, and a pig and all manner of cakes and the little woodchopper lived to be a kindly old man, and when the mayor died he became mayor himself.  And he was a good one.

Moral: Don’t assume everybody is an idiot.


Some Thought is Rigorous but Superficial

Something can be intellectually difficult because it has clear concepts and a very precise way of working out the relationship amongst these concepts but still ignore such important parts of human experience that it is superficial.  For example, micro-economics works out the consequences of rational agents interacting and is a very difficult discipline, but its more superficial proponents ignore questions such as “are people rational?”  “what is rationality?”, “why be rational?” and “why do people want the things they do?”   Physicists who say “the only statements that are true are the ones that actually work” are being superficial if they ignore the questions “what does it mean for something to “work”?”  “does the same thing work for everyone?”  “who decides what works and how?” Rigorous disciplines that ignore asking profound questions are superficial.

If you have a deep reason why all deep questions are meaningless you might be, in Nietzsche’s phrase,  “superficial out of profundity”.  Of course you might also be wrong and/or kidding yourself.


Advice for People Who Want to Achieve their Potential

The best problem to solve is “what is my problem?”

The best question to ask is “what is my question?”

Once you have found your problem you can solve it and once you have found your question you can answer it.

If you’re not sure what your problem is and what your question is you need to get in touch with what hurts you and what puzzles you.  Either run at your life from the emotional side — what do I long for?  what sickens me?  what tears me up? — or from the cognitive side — what doesn’t make sense?  what puzzles me?  what is confusing?  (At the end of the day these two sides meet in the middle).   Or look to the past for what aspects of the past jazz you.    The Greeks had some good questions — “What do I need to do to be happy?”  “What is happiness?”  “What is the ideal constitution for a state?”   If those questions wake you up then you are a bit Greek, and a bit ancient, which is fine.

Old books of magic, poems, and scriptures can all speak to you.  Once they speak to you they become new books of magic, poems,and scriptures and you claim their puzzles, questions, and mysteries for your own.  They now belong to you and you will want to solve them.  Of course if you dont’ care about them, and dont’ want to solve them, they don’t belong to you.  That’s fine.  Just don’t pretend to yourself that you care about things that you don’t, because if you don’t know what you care about you will never know when you’re happy.

Once you have come up with some good questions and good prolbmes then try to answer them and live accordingly.  When you pose hard questions to yourself you will test your potential. As long as the questions and problems that you respond to are easy, you will not know what your potential is.


Last Words of the Demon Lord Bjum

I have always been on sale.

I have offered myself to others at going-out-of-business,everything must go prices.

Going through the little door and staying in a little room has been my excellence and my sole marketable skill.

I wasted time and now it does waste me, and me and time together make waste, and at waste-time:I.

Every moment even even if I have seemed prideful and spiteful to others has in truth been for me nothing but superb penance and exquisite humiliation.

To my bat Moab I leave my cat Pazuzu, and vice versa.

To everyone I lied to, it was only because I loved you.

The only thing I have ever been able to share with my friends has been my loneliness.

I am only dying because I cannot think of another polite way to leave.


Looking in the Brain for the Self is Looking in the Wrong Place

Looking into the brain and trying to find “the self” is like looking into the brain and trying to find “the importance”.
Almost nobody’s self is unified but your self becomes unified as you struggle to get clear about what is important to you and what isn’t, and then you make (or allow stuff) to fall into line.  In other words it’s not something you find, it’s something you make happen (if you’re lucky and you want to).   A person who hasn’t decided or experienced what’s important and what isn’t would not have a self — there would just be a bunch of feelings and jingles and social roles and expectations and emotions knocking into each other.
The answer to the question “what is my self” and the answer to the question “what is most important to me” are answers we make together.  Neither answer can be provided by looking into the brain because whatever sort of thing happened in my brain I could still say “Yeah that’s not me, that’s not important, I don’t care about that.”
So f I had a phobia of dogs I could say “dogs give me this panicky sensation but they’re not actually bad — I don’ think they should be destroyed” and I could seek a pill or a therapy that would cure me of this phobia. If I did that I would not think the fearsomeness of dogs was important and I would not view my panicky reaction in the presence of a dog to be part of my self.  I would view it as a problem that my self has to deal with.
On the other hand if whenever I saw a dog I went crazy with hatred, and then when I wasn’t in the presence of a dog I didn’t know what I thought about that, then I would be so dissociated my self would be in trouble.
[photo by Jan Lakota]

Blader Wolf

Blader Wolf realized a split second ago (if seconds can still be split?  Can they?  Can’t they? Can they?) that his peculiar mode of being had been presaged in an oracular Tijuana postcard penned by John Von Neumann in an off hour, and that in the years since then teams of Parisian engineers had explored his byways and highways.

“Let me explain it to you.” he said, but honestly he didn’t say anything.  If I had to describe (and I don’t — it’s up to me, Bubba Meister — it’s up to ME!) I’d say that he tricked things out (and tricked things up!) so I would think I was talking to myself.  Although of course I wasn’t.

(Of courses and re-courses. Corsi i recorsi.)

Inspector Pound was trying to solve the Jack the Ripper murders.  Jack the Ripper was trying to keep Inspector Pound from finding him.  Do you follow?


The Triads were releasing a Gas that caused memories to be erased every evening.  The residents of London woke every morning without memories.  Do you follow?


Inspector Pound decided to outwit the Triad and leave a diary.  Every morning when he woke up he did not know who he was.  He read the diary.  It said “Your name is Inspector Pound.  You are trying to catch Jack the Ripper.  Do you follow?”


Jack the Ripper tried the same idea.  Every morning he woke up and read the diary. IT said “Your name is Jack the Ripper.   Your job is to murder prostitutes and elude Inspector Pound.  Do you follow?”

Yes.  Where is this leading?

Where it is leading is that every morning the Triad switched the books.  Jack the Ripper woke up and thought he was Inspector Pound.  Inspector Pound woke up and thought he was Jack the Ripper and committed a series of grisly murders.  Do you follow?

i tried to but the bar was empty.    I picked up my tool bag and set off into the night outside Whitechapel.