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.”


Ariadne in the Maze

My mother worked in the stacks of the Brooklyn Public Library after she was laid off from her job as a teacher in the New York City public schools due to the budget cutbacks of the 1970s.   The Grand Army Plaza library which is the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system is convenient to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and Linden Boulevard, a Caribbean neighborhood which during the summer can make you feel Brooklyn is a misplaced Caribbean city that has fallen in the North Atlantic, fallen to its misfortune because by February life is slush and sleet and freezing wind and snow.

During one such winter my mother left a note within a large dictionary that lay open on a light blonde oak lectern in a reading room illuminated by a shaft of nearly invisible sun and heated to orchid-growing temperature by the giant steam radiators.  The note, written on a light blue index card cut in half by my mother’s nail scissors (this was before post-its –did you know the post-it glue was invented first and the post-it note was developed as a way to use the glue, reversing the traditional order of filiation between invention and necessity?) was next to the word “obsess”, and read “female of OBS.  cf. lion/lioness.”

It is unhealthy for a son to speculate on the psychology of his mother, or so my father had intimated to me more than once.  So why my mother left this note is not a question I choose to exert myself to answer — my life is busy, I am a professional, I have many obligations.  But I can assure you it was not because she found it funny.  I knew my mother for eighty-nine years before she finally passed away due to Alzheimer’s dementia, and she never,  indicated anything like a sense of humor.  Not once.

During the twilight of her ratiocinative powers my mother believed there were borders living in her room.  They frightened her at times, angered her at times, and at times made her amused — she chuckled at the children living in the closet.  Some of that of course was the influence of seraquil, by why shouldn’t liminal children, perceived by the poisoned brain be the cause of sometimes anger, sometimes love, sometimes resignation at the face of their mystery?  Real children are.

Obs being the masculine creature of which obsess is the female form?  What detail of my mother’s life will help you unlock that one, should unlocking my mother be what your boat needs for floating?  Perhaps this will be help you, courageous reader.  In a book of mineralogy whose cover bears the title “Obsidian for Mining and Metallurgy” is another note in my mother’s 1930s public school perfect penmanship.  It reads:

“This book is an allegory.  Obsidian is not a mineral.  Obsidian is a place.  Cf. the writings of the Earl of Omm.”

Earl of Omm.  O,m,m.  Obsidian for Mining and Metallurgy.

A book of central European peerage, deep within the stacks, misfiled, with no cover, thoroughly vandalized in crayon, gives a list of Jews who were ennobled by the Hapsburgs. There is no Earl of Omm there, but next to a brief biography of the Marquess D’Ahm (born Salvator Brusky-Brody, a rogue scion of the Szczeciner Hasidic dynasty who lost his throne because of an enthusiasm for Jesus) is a note from my mother “Children’s books by Polish Logicians are worth a read!”.

Did you know that the great Polish logician Lesnievski who said that you could quantify over a left parenthesis wrote a series of children’s tales in which he retells the Greek myths to teach Polish children to be more logical?  My mother did!  In his retelling of the myth of Theseus Ariadne balls of yarn never lets Theseus rescue her.  Instead Ariadne is twins — Ariadne-1 and Ariadne-2.  Ariadne-1 constructs a myth of Theseus rescuing her from the minotaur.  Ariadne-2 reads it and rescues her sister.  The two Ariadnes becomes lovers and construct a golem as their son.   The placement of the story in Lesnievski’s collection places it between two retellings of the myth of Narcissus.  The thread through Lesnievski’s maze, if not Ariadne’s is clear — Ariadne-1 and Ariadne-2 are two aspects of the same person who fell in love with herself and split herself into quester and finder, seeker and goal, lover, and beloved, obs and obsess.

Who was the Minotaur?  I was the Minotaur.

No question, Lesnievski like me, like all males suffered from uterus envy.  Unable to have a child we imitate creation, mock it, exalt it, degrade it.  Not an obsess, but just an obs, we worship the act of creation instead of simply creating.

I asked my mother if my father was Theseus, the rescuer who found her weaving her traps in the stacks and took her out of there, married her, giving her a family and a new life in the sun?

Your father? she said laughing.  Absolutely not!