The Devil’s Dictionary–an update

civilized = us
uncivilized = them

torture = what they do to our prisoners; called “enhanced interrogation techniques” when we do it to their people

barbarians = people who speak and act and whose ways of killing we consider inferior to ours

savages = people who haven’t learned to kill as well as we

bad guys = people who kill, torture, and destroy in order to further their political aims against us

good guys = people who kill, torture, and destroy in order to further their political aims for us

conservative Christian = someone who will kill for Christ

patriotism = the first refuge of scoundrels

social drinker = someone who drinks alcohol and hasn’t yet been caught for DWI

pacifist = an evil person who contaminates our children’s minds by tellng them it’s wrong to kill; a follower of Christ’s message

Muslim = someone who follows the message of Mohammed

Muslim terrorist = common term now used in place of “Muslim”

liberal = someone who wants to use your taxes to pay for what he thinks will do others the most good

conservative = in politics, one who believes that we should conserve the political structure and laws as they are as much as possible, avoiding change (archaic)

dog = a canine creature that brings love and warmth to a human family

cat = a feline carrier of toxiplasmosis; sacred to little old ladies

pervert = someone who does what we don’t dare to do (or think), like putting mayonnaise on pastrami; see also “barbarian”

born-again Christian = someone who by revelation has accepted the message of Christ to love one’s neighbor as oneself and tries to compel his neighbor to feel the same

God = the supreme ruler of all, omnipotent, omniscient, not perceptible to us through any of our senses, and unknown to many of us; corruption of “DOG”, the deity of a suppressed religion

conscientious objector = someone who believes that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” does not have an asterisk next to it

good war = any war we participate in the day after one of our soldiers is killed

strict constructionist = someone who believes the Constitution should be construed literally as the words meant at the time it was written, except for the 2nd Amendment where “arms” is meant to include 50-caliber
machine guns, not just muskets and sabers

stock broker = a gambler, with your money

realist = someone who has lost his or her ideals

naive = someone who is not a realist

Buddhist = a follower of the way of Buddha, except in those countries where Buddhists are in power

capitalist = someone who believes the best organizing principle for a society is greed

socialist = someone who believes the best organizing principle for a society is caring for your neighbor; now a perjorative

gay marriage = an institution designed to allow homosexuals to suffer in the same manner as heterosexuals

inflammatory speech = what you say that I disagree with

teacher = someone who suffers abuse from children, administrators, and parents in order to educate our young; a minor deity

romantic = someone who prefers good stories over experience

Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Fake News, and Hope

It is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Bergen- Belsen. There is much talk of cruelty, asking how people could have done such horrible things. But it was not cruelty, at least not in general. It was simply elimination of that which had no humanity, part of the totalitarian plan that, as Hannah Arendt describes in *Totalitarianism*, must always have an enemy to be eliminated. Not just in Hitler’s Germany, but also in Stalin’s Russia,. And later, after she had written this, her analysis applied to Mao’s China (see the superb non- fiction *Wild Swans* by Jung Chang). There was no pragmatic plan, no cruelty at the heart of those deeds, though there was plenty of cruelty from some of those involved. It was the totalitarian ideal that led to the horrors.

Arendt analyses not only the bases of totalitarianism, as opposed to dictatorships and other forms of government, but how totalitarianism begins and sustains itself. Some of what she says seems to apply to the talk of some of our leaders now. Here are some quotations from that book (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1951-1968).

Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption. p. 49

The effectiveness of this kind of propaganda demonstrates one of the chief characteristics of modern masses. They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent in itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only consistency of the system of which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the masses’ inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important only because it convinces them of consistency in time.
What the masses refuse to recognize is the fortuitousness that pervades reality. They are predisposed to all ideologies because they explain facts as mere examples of laws and eliminate coincidences by inventing an all embracing omnipotence which is supposed to be at the root of every accident. Totalitarian propaganda thrives on this escape from reality into fiction, from coincidence into consistency. pp. 49-50

In other words, while it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear the accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere coincidence. The masses escape from reality is a verdict against the world in which they are forced to live and in which they cannot exist, since coincidence has become its supreme master and human beings need the constant transformation of chaotic and accidental conditions into a man-made pattern of relative consistency. The revolt of the masses against “realism,” common sense, and all “the plausibilities of the world” (Burke) was the result of their atomization, of their loss of social status along with which they lost the whole sector of communal relationships in whose framework common sense makes sense. In the situation of spiritual and social homelessness, a measured insight into the interdependence of the arbitrary and the planned, the accidental and the necessary, could no longer operate. Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only when common sense has lost its validity. Before the alternative of facing the anarchic growth and total arbitrariness of decay or bowing down before the most rigid, fantastically fictitious consistency of an ideology, the masses probably will always choose the latter and be ready to pay for it with individual sacrifices–and this not because they are stupid or wicked, but because in the general disaster this escape grants them a minimum of self-respect. p. 50

A mixture of gullibility and cynicism has been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an every-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible, and that nothing was true. The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire their leaders for their superior tactical cleverness. p. 80

It seems, then, that I and others have been wrong to think that if we could just educate enough people to think critically (my *How to Reason*), the world would be better as more people can reason to good decisions. No, more is needed, much more: good goals in the service of which good reasoning can aid. If we do not help those who are so distressed and harmed by the constant and overwhelming changes in our world–not just poverty, but dislocation, lack of community which many attempt to recreate through virtual experiences, “homelessness” as Hannah Arendt terms it–we cannot expect that they will respond “rationally”. Fear is the great factor motivating them, and that can be overcome only by hope, which we all must offer to one another.

What Is Essential in this Time of Pandemic-2

From CNN, April 1:

“Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, identified “firearm and ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges” as critical infrastructure in the updated “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” advisory, which was issued over the weekend.”

It’s the old story: we’ll save lives by killing people.


In this time of crisis . . .

I remember what is said in The BARK of DOG:

It will come to pass, but how it will come to pass, with only suffering or with love, that is for us to live. We can meet our future with love or hide from it with fear. And FEAR is the most terrible of the cats of CAT.


Here in New Mexico, According to the governor’s orders:
“Businesses deemed essential that may remain open are: . . .
• nuclear material research and enrichment
• Laboratories and defense and national security-related operations supporting the United States
government or a contractor to the United States government”
So nuclear research and enrichment can go on at Los Alamos Lab, a major center for the development of nuclear weapons. That’s essential–for developing better ways to kill people while the rest of us are told to stay home to save lives.

The problems

The programs proposed by the U.S. presidential candidates are excellent: health care for all, a living wage, not letting the wealthy take so much and leave the rest of us struggling.

But those programs will not avail, they will not lead us to a good society, unless we face and try to remedy the great problems we face: racism and drug addiction.

Until those are ameliorated–for “solved” is too much to hope for yet–no program, no bettering of our society for some, will leave so many outside, without hope and with fear and hatred, ruining whatever chance we have.

Shall we then crush addiction, push all addicts from “us”? As if that were the problem, for they are us. No, for hatred, fear makes it worse. See my essay “Teaching Addicts” at the Advanced Reasoning Forum website.

Shall we then say that racism is not a problem? See how far the blacks and hispanics and muslims have come? While driving while black, walking while hispanic, sitting at a bus stop while muslim is dangerous–and often taken to be a crime.

The problem is not structural. It is not economic. It is a problem of the heart.

Aristotle and ethics

From The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, Volume 14, by Anselm
H. Amadio, p.66

Aristotle’s approach to ethics is teleological; that is, he discusses
ethics not in terms of moral absolutes but in terms of what is conducive
to man’s good. This approach leads him to examine various kinds of good
and to arrive at the identification of the highest good with the
attainment of happiness. Aristotle arrives at a definition of happiness
as activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.

Aristotle distinguishes moral virtues and intellectual virtues, which
are determined, respectively, by the irrational and the rational powers
of the soul. Man, however, does not possess these virtues at birth but
comes endowed with the capacity, or disposition, for developing them in
the course of time. For example, a child begins by following his
parents’ injunction to tell the truth without initially realizing the
moral excellence of his action; yet eventually the habit of veracity
becomes an ingrained part of his moral character. Aristotle then
differentiates virtue from vice, arriving at the definition of virtue as
a “mean,” or middle ground between excess and deficiency; courage, a
virtue, for example, is the mean between cowardice and rashness.

Aristotle concludes his discussion by defining the highest happiness
open to man. Because happiness is an activity in accordance with
virtue, it follows that the highest happiness should be in accordance
with man’s highest virtue. And that, according to Aristotle, is the
activity which distinguishes man from other animals, namely the activity
of reason or activity in accordance with reason. Thus in its ideal form
happiness turns out to consist in a life of intellectual contemplation.
Aristotle, on the other hand, also concedes that the political life
(activity in accordance with moral virtue) can bring happiness, albeit
“in a secondary degree.”

Some comments meant to stimulate discussion.

• The teleological vs. moral absolutes distinction is significant for
how we reason about ethical matters. There are different standards for
what counts as good reasoning, and there seems to be no way to translate
from the one to the other. See my book “Prescriptive Reasoning”,
which is the first attempt to clarify that.

• Aristotle’s definition of “happiness” seems to rule out animals other
than humans being happy. Indeed, none of his ethics seems to be applicable
to animals other than humans.

• Virtue is a mean. What is the extreme and what the deficiency that
makes telling the truth a virtue as being in the middle? What is the
extreme and what the deficiency that makes reasoning a virtue as being
in the middle? Note that he does not say “reasoning well”.

• “In its ideal form happiness turns out to consist in a life of
intellectual contemplation.”
This is one more philosopher saying that the highest happiness is
to be like

• Compare Aristotle’s conception of virtue to the way of loving kindness
in the book “The BARK of DOG”. “Be kind, be generous, count not the giving
and taking but give unconditionally. Harm no human, harm no dog. Put from
thee all thought of power save the power of a loving heart.”

Mindfulness Is a Means, Not an End

We are told that meditation and mindfulness can lead us beyond suffering, can help us be open and peaceful.  We can become one with the all.  Then, as a fillip at the end, we are told that we should return from our perfect clairty and peace to be compassionate.

But we are not told how to be compassionate.  We are not told stories of compassion as the end, but of meditation only.

The goal of passing beyond suffering, the goal of being centered, the goal of being at peace, the goal of being open to the world–these are selfish.  ME is still what all revolves around.  Some who practice meditation more deeply hope to go beyond the me to a union with all, the dissolution of the self.  Nirvana.  And then, don’t forget, return to the rest of us to teach us.

There is only one worthy goal: to have a loving heart.  Meditation leading to some peace, some putting from us the horrors of hate, greed, vengeance, lust, fear, gluttony, pride, impatience, indifference, sloth, schadenfreude, guilt, and allergy can make it easier for us to live with an open heart that loves.

Many acting exercises are similar to meditation, but the actor knows that they are only a tool, a way to open to be able to portray a character.  Meditation, too, is a tool, to lead to a loving heart.  No se puede vivir sin amar.

The end of suffering is no worthy goal.  It is learning how to live with suffering, to see suffering as essential in the steps to having a loving heart, this is a worthy goal.  Not to suffer is not to live.  Erasing passion is not to be able to love fully.

We learn to have a loving heart by being loving, each day, learning and telling stories of loving as guides.  We learn to have a loving heart by remembering never to pass up an opportunity to be generous.

A comparison of the way of a loving heart to the selfish version of mindfulness is made in The BARK of DOG, which I have translated from the classic Sumerian.  There you will find stories that give worth to the practice of meditation.

In peace, Arf

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

I’ve been reading Leibniz again.  He explains why there is suffering in this world.  When God surveyed all the the possible ways the world could be, he found that this is the best, even though it contains suffering.  So God created the best of all possible worlds.

But this leaves me puzzled.  If there is so much suffering, why didn’t He refrain from creating any world?

The only reason I can find in Leibniz is that he says it’s better to exist than not to exist.  So this world is better because it exists?  However, I can find no reason why Leibniz thinks it’s better to exist than not to exist.  I’d like to know so I can advise a suicidal friend.

Any help here?  Please put comments on the Advanced Reasoning Forum Facebook page.

The sterility of Leibniz’s view contrasts with the creation story in The BARK of DOG.  The reason that DOG created the world was so that sentient creatures could learn to love (agape), and there is no great love without suffering.

In peace and hope,  Arf