Nietzsche and Compassion

Nietzsche used to worry that too much compassion would make people weak which for him means something like “too sad to live your life.”  The idea was that if you really realized how much people (and animals) were suffering you would be unable to enjoy your life; you’d commit suicide; or maybe you’d just go through the motions but have no hope.  He was on to something real, which is, the fear of that happening.  People are afraid that if they actually realized the humanity of their enemy, or of the people whom they ignore, they would be unhappy.  That’s the cause I think of the anger on the part of anti-progressives.  They are worried that care for others will spoil their lives.  They don’t want to walk around feeling guilty all the time.

But this itself is an attitude born of weakness and despair.  If you have to lie to yourself not to be compassionate, it’s time to take an accounting.

Is the lie worth it?

Are you sure that the other non-compassionate people who you will end up hanging out with are worth hanging out with?  Or will they perhaps turn on you?

Will you actually succeed in lying to yourself and choking your compassion, or will you end up muffing it, and be neither a remorseless superhuman, nor an effective helper of suffering humanity, but just kind of bumble around somewhere in the middle?

Are you sure that you will be so unhappy when you acknowledge the humanity of the suffering?  Maybe you will do better at it than you think!


The Clam Who was a Stranger to Human Rigor

Because his body was soft although his shell was hard, and it was perfectly clear to him what of him was shell and what of him was clam.  The shell is dead, it protects me. But it is not me.  I am a soft belly body and muscular foot.  I move.  And I enjoy.  But these humans are always moving through life to protect themselves, so have become unclear who is me and who is the armor that protects me.  They want to go into a group of other humans and be guaranteed that they will be cared for — by money, by personality, by fame.  Foolish humans — their rigor is their tomb.  They have become All Shell.


What are We Going to Do

with the others, Joanna?

sometimes I think we should run from them

sometimes that we should chase them.


they horrify me Joanna that you should

have to live in a world with people like that

who do those things, say those things


they touch their lips with their tongues like they want to eat us

they ignore us like they want to let us die

they sniff us like we will make us vomit.  They hate our love.


One of them like the 90s sitcom Seinfeld too much

For him, crushing beneath an iron wheel.  One too little

Let him be blinded in the wilderness of crows.  Speaking of crows


One of them pronounces the initial “c” when he makes the sound

a rooster makes.  There is no c.  Let his testicles be halved, and the two halves

sewn together and placed in his throat, a third testicle, I love you Joanna..


In the morning after we have performed the third or even the fourth sex act

And fallen asleep I have dozed.  I have imagined you dreamed that I was one of them

I dreamed there is nothing I would like better than for you to end it with me, to end me,

to go on alone and inflict on me the punishment of being crushed by rocks.



My Pet Ratite — My Giant Duckling Pal

I once did a good turn for an Indian holy man.  It wasn’t anything very special.  This is not false modesty although that’s something I do quite a bit — it is one of my moves — but what I did for Swami Narendrabodhi really was not much. I saw him walking down canal street with his begging bowl, past Canal Plastics, and I started a conversation with him, and I told him about a Thai wat in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and took him there on the subway. We talked a little bit about his thoughts on various topics — socialism vs. capitalism, the world tree, life before and after birth — and I dropped him off and gave him six dollars, which is what I had, and also my address.

I thought nothing of it, and did not even connect it when I received a package in the mail covered with brown paper with Sri Lankan stamps and the return address in a peculiar penmanship — Jaganatha Narendrabodhi Wat Surathani Kandy Sri Lanka.

Inside was a large egg, about the size of a volleyball, with specks and the instructions to keep it under a sunlamp.

The creature that emerged looked like a duckling although it was the size first of a cocker spaniel and soon after I fed it — him — I named him Joseph — it grew to the size of a laborador retriever.

Joseph is covered with downy yellow feathers like a duckling, and has a ducklings joy and mischievousness.

He is my best friend in the whole world.  He wakes me up in the morning by putting his bill in my face and quacking.

We take baths together.

I put the collar around his neck and take him for runs in the park.

When he becomes a full grown duck we will still be friends, but it will be more like I am the older brother and he is the younger brother.

We will go away together.


Fake Sincerity and Hyper-Skepticism

If nobody ever stole people would not have to lock their doors.

But people steal, so people lock their doors.

If nobody ever lied, people would not have to doubt others’ sincerity.

But people lie, so you do have to doubt other’s sincerity.

If every time somebody said ‘I’m a sick person. I should never have done what I did! I will seek therapy.” they really meant that, then you would not have to doubt the sincerity of such statements.

But people say that as a strategy to blunt criticism and avoid consequences, so you do have doubt the sincerity of such statements.

Fake sincerity gets faker and faker and skepticism must get hyperer and hyperer to react to it in an arm’s race.

Would the world be a better place if people could just trust each other?

I suppose.  Better in some ways and worse in others.  Certainly less interesting.  But maybe less exhausting!


Terach and Abraham: Two Early Treatment Protocols for Anxiety

Anxiety was endemic to the ancient world because the agricultural tech was able to support large populations but the life of each individual member of the population was vulnerable to disease an inter and intra-specific predation as well as resource failure e.g. famine.

Terach developed the treatment protocol of idolatry.  Patients were instructed to create a physical representation of a figure that could reduce anxiety — usually an idealized parent — mother or father (Marduk or Ishtar) but sometimes an idealized king.  In the event of anxiety patients would talk to the idol and ask for protection.  There were also portable idols to be carried in the pocket or worn as jewelry.

The son of Terach, Abraham, encountered the syndrom of Idol Anxiety.  Patients would worry their idol would fail, was in disrepair, had been constructed poorly, was angry at them, and feel anxiety.  Abraham developed Monolatry — the construction of a mental or imagined idol, which would not suffer the vulnerabilities of a stone or wooden idol.  Patients were instructed to imagine the idol either in the sky or in their heart, because the sky would remain present always, and the heart would remain present for the duration of the patient’s life.

Legend has it that Abraham destroyed his father’s therapeutic practice, actually destroying his idols.  More likely this was an economic attack — his competing practice drew clients away from his father’s.

A more charitable reading of the legend is that towards the end of his career Abraham imagined his idol as like his father — a paternal presence that followed him constructing idols to soothe his pain as the situation demanded.  Every person, every day, every breeze and ray of sunshine was an idol his father constructed for him.

On this reading Terach’s ultimate idol was his own son, who relieved his anxiety with the hope that his compromises with anxiety would some day no longer be needed.

From what I know of fathers and son I am sure Terach thought that, but also sure that he had a voice within him that said “Some day.  But not yet.”


Freedom from Self-Doubt

Reading a Vox piece about the writer’s experience giving tours of slave quarters, she encountered a lot of angry, older, white people who wanted to say slavery was not so bad.  They said things like “Weren’t those slaves grateful for the good deal they got?  Shouldn’t they have been more loyal, rather than trying to escape all the time?”  A weird response, right?  Are these people idiots?

I think not.  I think what these people are struggling with is the desire to be free of self-doubt.

Unconsciously they are going through the following reasoning

1)If slavery is bad then I need to think about my life

2)If I think about my life I’m going to lose confidence in my life

3)Losing confidence in my life feels really bad.  Worse, it is paralyzing.  I won’t be able to raise my children, run my business, go to work, find a mate, if I lack confidence and am plagued by self-doubt.

4)Therefore slavery must not be so bad.

This reasoning is not so bad.   Sure there’s an element of self-gaming and self-manipulation but that’s true of  many chains of reasoning we respect more — Pascal’s wager, or fake it till you make it in AA, or the power of positive thinking, or Stoicism — don’t feel bad about not having things you’ll never get.

I think the only way to combat this meaning is to figure out a way that self-doubt can be fun.  To view greater knowledge about the world — history, other people, slavery — as a an opportunity for fun. Isn’t it cool to know the actual story of race relations in this country?  And not just from a nerdy perspective (nerds aren’t cool — duh) but from a confident, fun perspective.  People need to be trained to feel that the more they know the more they can do and the more fun they can have and that only chickens need to put their heads in the sand to have a fun life with money, friends and girl or boyfriends.

Have at it, Democrats!




The Wisdom of Speech in the Word of Salvator

When I was twenty-three I was very proud and very ashamed.  I was too proud to take help from anybody; I had moved out of my parents’ house and worked as a legal temp, putting my ninety words per minute typing speed to good use making five hundred a week, and living in a one bedroom apartment in Harlem.  I was ashamed because I hadn’t achieved my goals.  I wanted to be a philosopher like Plato and I was so ashamed that I would ride the subway in February and take down my hood my face was burning so hot with shame.

I met Salvator in a class on metaphysics I had taken at the Learning Annex.  The teacher was a round-faced partridge-shaped woman who wore shoulder pads and a big mystic pendant.  She spoke to entities. I don’t think she was a con-woman; I don’t think she spoke to entities; I’m pretty sure what she perceived as entities were submerged pieces of her own soul.  One of them was named Fernando.  He was eight thousand years old.

I recognized Salvator from the class afterwards (it was held in P.S. 8 on the Lower East Side).  He had brought his dinner in a brown paper bag as had I and we agreed to eat on a park bench and talk.  November in New York at 8 pm and the wind going down the big east west streets — in this case Houston — carried a real bite.  The cold made the city bleak but it was a hospitable bleakness, it offered comfort perhaps most to those who could not otherwise be comforted.  When Salvator talked there would be drops of foam on his upper lip.  He had to get dialysis twice a week and was on disability from his job as some sort of inspector for Con Edison.

When I shared my ambition with him of becoming a philosopher Salvator told me that had tried to study Plotinus as a youth but was convinced that the Enneads had been written in a code and the key had been lost.  He had studied with something that he referred to vaguely as “the School” — when I got to know him better I learned that this “school” was really just one woman who had been his lover in the 1940s and had explained certain things to him.  He said that he lacked the strength because of his kidney disease to make any further discoveries but he would pass what he knew on to me.

The basic idea he told me was that there are two kinds of things in this world — things and utterances.  The mistake modern thought made was to believe that utterances had to have an utterer.  This was just a mistake — not wishful thinking, not an illusion, not a fantasy, but a simple error.  We generalize from our own utterances to think speech must have a speaker.  But in many important cases there are utterances that nobody speaks.

We are such cases.

He told me as it got colder and colder what this meant, and it had been worked out — by him?  By “the school” (was there even a school?) in great, and I will say, convincing detail.

A metaphor is an utterance that says something is like something else — the “head” of a company means he leads it, as a head leads a body.  So some people are metaphors.  So, some lives get their meaning by being like something else — this man is a metaphor for his father, this woman is a metaphor for martyrdom, these people together are a metaphor for the sun rising in the morning.

Metonym is an utterance that says something is near something else — a “crown” for example may mean a king.  Some people get their meaning by where they are. This man lives in America and his life is a metonym for the country he happened to have been born in.

Tmesis is when a word is interrupted by another word — abso-fucking-lutely.  The first word is split and it causes us to wait for the first word to be over for us to know what the whole is.  So people’s lives are interrupted — by a war, raising a family, a marriage that begins and then ends in divorce or a spouse’s death — and only when the interruption is over do they complete what they need to say.

Praeteritio means when we say something by avoiding saying it.  In other words I say “I will not mention the mayor’s notorious philandering” and by doing so, I mention it. So most of us who live lives avoiding something — lying, or a belief in God, or a betrayal, or over kindness — are actually living a life in tribute to expressing the thing which we avoid.

It was a sound doctrine. It was extremely cold.  The Christmas lights had star-shaped patterns around them from the tear-freezing nature of the cold.  I could not get Salvator’s phone number as he had no phone and this was before the internet.  I suppose he is gone now but his echo resounds.