Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Beginning

The Beginnning

The San Fransisco Earthquate started at precisely 5:12 a.m.

The Titantic stuck the iceberg at precisely one time.

Hitler wrote that his anti-semitism began with one encounter on one day with one Jew in Vienna.*

The AIDS virus has been connected to one man who gave a blood sample in the Congo in 1959.

A person is killed by a cancer that begins at a specific moment with the first mutating cell at.

There is a compulsion to know The Beginnning because of human-kind's need for meaning. It is the rational's need for an explanation of the unexplainable.

Knowing The Beginning is the ultimate starting point in that process. But knowing The Beginnning does not provide meaning. It is the morbid result of the rational process's reductio gone absurdum. The rational is beguiling, it does not provide meaning.

The Big One would have struck San Francisco sometime. AIDS would have made the primate leap in 1960 or 1961. Hitler's anti-semitism would have started sometime.

But they didn't. They struck when they did and we obsess on those moments because we confuse but/for-often random-occurrences with cause and that is a fault of the age of rationality.

-Benjamin Harris

Monday, May 15, 2006

Eastern Thought/Western Thought

Eastern Thought/Western Thought

"It is not truth that makes man great, but man that makes truth great."

"Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events."
-William James

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ideas That Make You Want to Slap Yourself on the Forehead and Go "WOW!": LifeStraw

*Ideas That Make You Want to Slap Yourself on the Forehead and Go "Wow!": LifeStraw

LifeStraw is a product made by a company of the same name that filters drinking water of waterborne diseases, thus potentially saving millions of lives a year. As pictured on ABCNEWS website the product is a tube that appears to be about the size of a recorder.

Users can drink contaminated water through it because it is lined with disease-killing filters. The filters remain active through about 700 liters of water or a year or more of normal human water intake.

A single LifeStraw sells for about $3.50, "the mere price of a frappuccino at Starbucks," in the words of ABC. That sounds too much for impoverished nations to pay in the quantities needed. Maybe the price could be cut with mass purchases or maybe the United Nations could chip in to buy them.

ABC also reports that LifeStraw was one of Time's Best Inventions of 2005.

-Benjamin Harris

*See also "Cisterns," 3-15-05.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Lin Yutang

Lin Yutang

"I have always assumed that the end of living is the true enjoyment of it."
"What can be the end of human life except the enjoyment of it?"

Under the chapter subtitle MAN THE ONLY WORKING ANIMAL:

"...if a jungle beast were let loose in a city and gained some apprehension of what busy human life was all about,he would feel a good deal of skepticism and bewilderment about this human society."*

..."Even domestic pets don't have to work...a house dog...takes a nap in the morning...the aristocratic cat...just goes wherever it likes to go. So, then, we have this toiling humanity alone, caged and domesticated...forced by this civilization and society to work..."

"...I cannot believe that, with the coming of better material conditions of life [The Importance of Living was written in 1937], when diseases are eliminated, poverty is decreased and man's expectation of life is prolonged and food is plentiful, man will care to be as busy as he is today."


Such fun writing, and so insightful, but the life of leisure that Lin predicted did not come to pass and it's absence is widely regretted. Not here.

A full life is a life full of work. Lin is right that a purposeful life is purposeless, that wealth, status, fame, and power are not what life is about.

Life is about effort.** That is perfectly consistent with Taoism, that there is no destination only journey, that the journey is the destination. But it also goes beyond Taoism's endorsement of a life of leisure, of a species of "loafers," in Lin's word.

We must try because we can.

The brain is not all that there is to mankind, as Lin says, but it is a part of us. Most obviously, our brain allows--forces--us to realize one, that there are many aspects of the world as we find it that are...harsh, and two, that we can change the world as no other species can and sometimes make it better.

Our realization that we can effect change also makes us as normative beings. When we choose one course of conduct we are also not choosing others. We are making value judgments. Later, we can reflect on those choices and the values that informed them, and make the same or different choices next time around.

Most to the point of this disagreement with Lin is the elevation of man's spirit that comes from effort alone. Why climb Everest? "Because it is there," famously answered George Mallory. That answer stuck with people because it went to Anglo-American man's Tao of work: Effort.

* "Body and Soul," Public Occurrences, 10-18-02.
** "The Importance of Being Earnest," Publocc, 10-6-02.

-Benjamin Harris

Friday, May 05, 2006

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

Ah, homeward bound I go! Let me now on learn to live alone! The world and I are not made for one another, and why drive round like one looking for what he has not found?

-T'ao Yuanming

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

True Crime Stories: Winning-Losing, Life-Death

True Crime Stories: Winning-Losing, Life-Death

The interview was over and I shook hands with the prisoner/witness and started to leave the long interview room.

"Hey," he called to me as I got to the door. I turned around.

"I know you're a professional but, if you lose this trial, you know I'm a dead man."

"I know," I said, knowing.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Lin Yutang

Lin Yutang

"The Chinese as a nation are more philosophic [meaning here, easy-going] than efficient, and that if it were otherwise, no nation could have survived the high blood pressure of an efficient life for four thousand years."
The Importance of Living.

In previous posts* I have begun an attempt at comparison between art and science in the West and in China. I noted that China is the world's most continuously great civilization, that is it has never fallen into relative insignificance as have the Egyptian, Greek and Roman. Lin writes humorously as the above quote indicates, but also seriously, as the above quote indicates.

Maybe that is why the Chinese have remained continuously great.

*10-4-05, 9-27-05, 9-15-05, 9-5-05.
-Benjamin Harris