Table Talk by

Lancelot Kirby

Smashwords Edition ***** Published by Lancelot Kirby at Smashwords Table Talk Copyright 2010 by Lancelot Kirby

Forward Many of the following essays and articles were published in The Humanist,, and, among others. The majority, however, are the products of my blog and have never been in print outside of it. If you enjoy these conversations with myself, thank you for reading, and feel free to join the discussion by visiting my blog at:

Table of Contents: 1. The Death of the Respectable Bachelor 2. In Defense of Indignation 3. Because It Was He... 4. Reality Bites

5. The Black Dog 6. The Snob 7. The Printer's Devil 8. The Hitchens Hypothesis 9. The Tabloid Tyrant 10. Hegel, I Hardly Knew Ye 11. In Praise of Bookishness 12. The Dead Satyr 13. Quid Est Veritas 14. Well, I Never! 15. Amor Vincit Omnia 16. Truth and Consequences 17. Johnson's Inner Child 18. The Battle of the Books Redux

The Death of the Respectable Bachelor It was not so long ago that if a woman failed to marry at a certain age she earned the title “old maid”. Now, after the rise of Feminism and freedom of choice, the idea that women are breeding machines that have failed in their natural purpose by not walking down the aisle has become quaint. Contrary to this is the death of the respectable bachelor, who has been forgotten in all the long suppressed social strides of his female counterpart. It is true that in the past, men were also expected to marry and “do their duty” but, if a man chose to put off his duty till death might intervene, well, it could be overlooked. Today nothing seems sadder than the middle-aged bachelor. Many may know, or have in their own family, the stereotypical uncle about whom you just don’t feel right. Who sits alone at family gatherings and seems a source of concern for the grownups.

The idea now of a man who chooses bachelorhood (or has it chosen for him by temperament or circumstance) without at least the appearance of an active social life, is considered intolerable by most people, especially other men. Such a person is believed to be somehow deficient in some fashion, either mentally or physically. An inadequate male specimen. And while the modern businesswoman becomes an image of energy and virility, the retiring gentleman seems to lose face. Not everyone however is suited to family life. Had Immanuel Kant not taken so long to propose to a young girl, philosophy might have lost the Categorical Imperative. Likewise, if Edward Gibbon had been a bit more romantically inclined, the massive project of the may have been waylaid by the pitterpat of little feet. Even Karl Marx, who had a large family, was obliged to spend many long hours in the British Museum Reading Room. One wonders if not so much for the research material as to escape to an island of solitude. In literature I am brought to mind of those two eternal bachelors, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, in the adventures of which there is even a story entitled . Though it is never quite determined if Watson is married or not, he would never give an impression of a dutiful husband, as his relationship with Holmes is almost like a marriage in its self, something that has led not a few to speculate upon homosexual tendencies in Conan Doyle. The idea that in the Victorian age, as in most eras before the present one, men had their closer relationships among other men, is seemingly overlooked. A few studies have shown that married people live longer and healthier lives than single ones. Reading one of these studies I found a woman comment that, considering the hell her ex-husband put her through she was much better off alone. Obviously, quality of the mate is the chief prerequisite to eat of the fruit of connubial bliss. Love is more a matter of chance and personality than anything else. Some of us are born commoners of the heart, capable of finding our one and only everyday of the week in the communities where we were born, but some have higher standards. Those few bachelors and bachelorettes are the aristocrats of romance, for they are never willing to settle for less. In old terminology a bachelor was a young knight. For me, still a young man, the definition seems fitting. Many men and women like myself are still questing, still seeking to fight windmills and save their Dulcinea's---- Quixote’s. And perhaps many of those who have grown old in the quest see it more fitting to walk the road alone than to abandon their ideal. Though their quest may seem antiquated and unreasonable, I think no one could deny it is respectable.

In Defense of Indignation Salman Rushdie in an interview with Bill Moyers made the comment that: “atheists are obsessed with God” I knew just what he meant. Few people come to such an unpopular concept without spending a lot of time examining theism and its claims. Personally, I find religion fascinating because of the passion it ignites, passion for a perceived truth and the mental gymnastics it forces some through to defend their positions. It is warfare, but of the only kind I approve, the warfare of ideas. As the philosopher David Hume is famously quoted, “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the

passions”, and even those in the calm of the study (and sometimes not even there) can find it difficult to keep their cool in confrontation. Of course this is true about all strongly held views, not only religion. But religion has always been more divisive than most other ideas. Although at first a toe-dipper in doubt, I became more firm in my views with the passage of time and continued inquiry. From some of the exchanges I have had since then, and not always about religion, I have questioned, have I become as dogmatic as the dogmatists? Have I, as Nietzsche so phrased it, become a monster by fighting monsters? Well, perhaps this is true if we leave reason at the door, but in this I believe I am better inoculated than most. Sticking to the barricade though the enemy out number you is not the same as burning to death those whose ideas you do not like. Even many of the most passionate freethinkers, though they might view religion as a very great evil, would never think it right to persecute those who continue to believe. The very term thinker would mean very little if this were not so. However, that being said, there is a fine line between respect and tolerance. Though I must tolerate many things I do not find acceptable as the price of living in a free and open society, I am not obliged to anything. To return to Hume, as he pointed out our reasoning is always chained to our passions, but without the stick of indignation to rouse us to right action, the carrot would be superfluous. In other words, we are rarely motivated to challenge excepted notions from reason alone; there must be a spark before the powder is set alight. It is common to hear complaints from theists that nonbelievers are cold and rude. Though I am certain this may be the case some times, it is without doubt more often then not a matter of perception. The path to truth is not always a pleasant walk, and it is not unusual to get scratched by the thicket along the way. For those who honestly seek it, hard and painful questions about preconceived and deeply held values must be examined in the light of day. If the questioner starts to unceremoniously tread upon sacred ground (sacred to the believer) it will certainly be seen as a violent trespass, an assault upon what was believed to be the unquestionable. So the atheist, by merely explaining why he or she sees the world as they do cannot help but stir strong emotions that very often blind both sides to the higher goal of questioning from the very outset. Atheists are human too, no matter how much their rivals would like to think differently, and when you encounter a believer who is unable or, unwilling to follow the rules of rational discourse, it is but a short step from heated debate to shouting match. We walk a fine line, stay silent and keep the peace but allow prejudice and misconception to flourish or, step up and offer ourselves to the pillory at the risk of being accused of rudeness or worse. As a thinking human being who holds the truth in high regard, the latter can be the only option.

Because It Was He… I learn something about myself every day, unfortunately, much of it is merely relearning what I had learned before and forgotten. This is a habit of all thoughtful people but is always more productive

when shared with friends. We discuss with them so often the highlights of our lives that our patterns of thought and our little idiosyncrasies echo our identities back to us, so in an almost selfish fashion we find our common humanity mirrored in them, and feel through them as though we are truly part of the world instead of merely passing along its margin on our way to the grave. Lacking this connection is one of the sharpest stings that life can inflict. It is not just the mere loneliness that is painful, but the absence of one who understands us to our very core. An equal in both temperament and tendency. The great humanist Michel de Montaigne invented an entirely new genre of literature, the essay, just out of this need to communicate with like souls. “Besides this profit I make of writing of myself,” He wrote: “I have also hoped for this other advantage, that if it should fall out that my humour should please or jump with those of some honest man before I die, he would then desire and seek to be acquainted with me…..many things that I would not confess to any one in particular, I deliver to the public, and send my best friends to a bookseller’s shop, there to inform themselves concerning my most secret thoughts.” And again: “Did I, by good direction, know where to seek any one proper for my conversation, I should certainly go a great way to find him out.” Montaigne found such a friend just once in his life; his name was Étienne de La Boetie. He was a young man of exceptional abilities and, as is so common of the irony of this world, was dead by his early thirties. To explain what it was that drew each to the other he replied simply: “Because it was he, because it was I.” What further explanation is required? Montaigne never recovered from the loss of such a conversationalist, and so, put to paper the thoughts that might otherwise have been lost on the wind. Perhaps no greater monument to friendship might exist. In a similar fashion, Henry David Thoreau, who has been popularized as a hermit that shunned the world of men, idealized friendship to such a degree that it is unsurprising he never found it. Like Montaigne he had no recourse but the pen and unloaded his heart and mind to his journals. These were no school girl exercise books in gossip however, but a great storehouse of ideas that in many cases would reappear more properly as books and essays for publication. Not an uncommon practice with any working writer even today. It has been said before that such efforts share much with the world of blogging, at least in spirit. The main difference being the lack of authority we take for granted from print, and the quality from it which we demand, but that is beside the point. The object is the same now as it was for Montaigne and Thoreau, to reach out to those who might otherwise never hear our voice, and in doing so perhaps make that noble connection which is the greatest desire of the human heart.

Reality Bites I want the life promised me in the movies. A life of drama and adventure, of true love and the happilyever-after. It is not hard to see why Plato banished the poets from his Republic, movies and television offer us grand expectations with no guarantees of attaining them. For much the same reason the Puritans banned theatre during the Commonwealth because they believed it told lies and, at least in part, they were right. We cannot always be living in a state of

ecstasy as our entertainments whisper seductively to us. Those who try to match the intensity of the world they see on film will only wear themselves to a shadow and lose all sensitivity to the little joys. It is largely due to this indoctrination from an early age in Romanticism, that we are left with a feeling of anti-climax when at last we attain our liberty, only to learn that liberty carries a price of its own. T.S. Eliot reminds us that: “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” We are always wishing to escape from the life we know to one we think would be so much better. “Amor fati.” Said Nietzsche, love your fate. That is, love the life you have been given and build the best with what you have. This is an injunction that is hard to except, and the desire to dull our senses is at least understandable within limits, but the current state of the world is not inclined to moderation. Romanticism is about the past, or rather, reclaiming an idealized past. When Hitler came to power, it was on promises of a return to the good old days. Even now, and in not so different a form, politicians use a similar rhetoric when they evoke family values. One wonders how much this should alarm us. The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima had all his life venerated the ideal of the Samurai, at last reached a state in which he could no longer go on without his fantasy. Reality had grown too stale to hold the ideal at bay---and so--- he cut out his entrails. Such an example is extreme but points to the dangers that can develop in a mind so disenchanted with this world that one would do anything to bring about another. I have in mind specifically religious fundamentalists, some of whom are so taken with the idea of apocalypse they would quite happily sacrifice the human race to bring about the return of their messiah. The concept of otherworldliness brings us again back to Plato, whose idea of a hidden perfection behind all things would lead the early church to denounce this as a fallen world, and so, disposable; a suggestion that is even now having disastrous repercussions for the environment. Thus, when we turn away from the harsh realities of this world to seek another, we may in the end lose both altogether. Reality cannot be circumvented by material goods or passionate denunciation; it must be met on its own terms and excepted as it is, or do our best to make it better. We have only ourselves to blame if we feel a poverty of incident in our lives since it is only we who can enrich them. On the other hand, perhaps there is something to be said for the romantics of this world after all. If life were truly so wonderful there would be no need to invent stories and, as one who enjoys telling them, at least one soul might be worse off for that.

The Black Dog Depression, for all its gray, has a colorful history. As a subject of art it is perhaps best represented by Albrecht Durers Melencolia I. The seventeenth-century scholar Robert Burton wrote An Anatomy of Melancholy, out of the hope that it would keep him from depression’s darker shades with distraction, remarking: “There is no greater cause of melancholy than idleness, no better cure than business.” Consequently the book became a favorite of many an English author, most famously perhaps being Samuel Johnson, who was well known to suffer from the illness. James Boswell, in his Life of Johnson wrote: “The ‘”morbid

melancholy,“’ which was lurking in his constitution, and to which we may ascribe those particularities, and that aversion to regular life, which, at a very early period, marked his character, gathered such strength in his twentieth year, as to afflict him in a dreadful manner.” Unlike Burton, Johnson never did escape its grasp and continued to endure periodic lapses of “The English Malady” for the rest of his life. I have entertained this unwelcome guest from time to time since childhood. The shouts of my mother to come in from play would start storm clouds in my head as though I were walking to the gallows. Without constant mental stimulation I was always fearful of despair. I found a champion, strangely, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great creation Sherlock Holmes, with whom I felt an odd connection. Without a case to solve the great detective, usually such a model of industry and enthusiasm, would sink into his chair and give himself over to the cocaine bottle, but only: “when cases were scanty and the papers uninteresting.” So Watson tells us. Not a constructive--nor legal--solution today, but it worked for the stories. My own habit is to take large doses of caffeine. Sadly, this only works for a time before the body adjusts and the nerves become undone. When the black dog comes it comes to sit upon us, to consume us, to annihilate us. We look in desperation for a cleft in the rock to keep from losing our sense of self completely, but at last there must come a thud, and a sickening sense of being hollow like a grave. However, it does have one saving virtue, that when you have felt it in your very bones the trials of life become little more than mosquito bites to a giant resting amid its desolation. It must be similar to the state the Buddha was said to have reached. Like the rush of air from a room blowing out a candle as it goes, so likewise is the ego extinguished and, for a brief term we see the world without the burden of the self. All things ebb and flow as Lao Tsu reminds us, the bad must be taken with the good. We can stand on the edge and still keep ourselves if we can fight the temptation to jump. Like Jacob in reverse, we may wrestle with the demon dog all day and all night and in the end win for ourselves a new name--patience.

The Snob "O what a vile and abject thing is man, if he does not raise himself above humanity!" --Seneca "My humanity is a constant self-overcoming." --Nietzsche The snob, in general, comes in two varieties. The first is driven by impatience, the second--from malice. Those of the second variety learn by the example of their class. They grow up, cut off from the rest of humanity and are often ignorant of how the less fortunate live. Their snobbery is motivated by a poverty of imagination and compassion every bit as empty as the pockets of the poor they despise. One often cannot understand the cycle of debt and the deadline. Of earning just enough this month to keep the lights on, but let the phone go dead. It is even harder to explain it to themselves. That sense of futility starts as a feeling and ends as a lifestyle. Some become so accustomed to it that finally, they are so deeply embedded they may never hope to see the sun again. This is the material form of poverty, the form taught to me by experience. However, there is another form that in the damning of which I remain as much a snob as I ever was--the poverty of the mind.

The snob, at least in the past, had much to be a snob about. Wealth usually guaranteed a fine education, steeped in the Greek and Latin classics. Shakespeare, whose family was far from rich, had at least that much exposure to our shared heritage. One shudders to think how little he might have accomplished as a product of a modern public school. In addition, the wealthy, banned by the rules of their class from the muck of common trade, were encouraged to collect the rents and spend their leisure hours in study and self-improvement. “Otium cum dignitate” was Cicero’s motto, leisure with dignity, that is, leisure to think and reflect. The word aristocracy comes from the Greek, meaning “rule by the best.” Over time it has become a cliché of social inequality and the bogeyman, in the American mind, of all that is evil and war-worthy. To those who blindly praise the merits of democracy, (though we have not seen a true democracy since Pericles), the virtues of such a system are rarely examined. I had an uncle who once found pleasure in sneering at the Hanoverian kings of England, and George I who did not speak the language of his subjects, nor deign to learn it. And the intermarriage of royalty has long been a comic tableau of disease and degeneration. Yet, such a Europe, despite its petty squabbles, had a sense of international union not known in Europe since. The union of a mutual culture, that at least those of greater means could be initiated into. But whatever the merits or demerits of such a government, the only true aristocracy remains that of the intellect. The belief our rulers have earned their position by virtue of wealth and, therefore worthiness, is the unwritten and, often, unspoken rule of our plutocracy. The idea that they should be more intelligent than ourselves is also a common assumption. However, should they make the mistake of assuming publicly superior smarts, there ends the people’s vote. We prefer our leaders either as ignorant as ourselves or, brighter but with a pretense of humility. It has long been popular to make comparisons between our Republic and that of ancient Rome, and with good reason. Like the mob of Rome who preferred their rulers to share their taste for blood sport, and delighted in the antics of Nero and Commodus for just that reason, the American electorate warms to the appearance of a common touch in their master‘s, and delight in watching them dance for our amusement come election time. Certainly, politics is not the place for self-respect and dignity. And for that reason, those who dare to raise their heads above the trenches risk the bullets of ridicule. “Who does he think he is?” Says the heifer of the stallion, then mindlessly returns to chewing its cud. The heifer forgets that even a cow may be adored if it seeks to be golden. Nothing is more remarkable than human potential. It sometimes rises from depths so foul we give those who fulfill its possibilities a name: genius. Many great souls come to mind that fit this description, but few better than a grim looking, pock-mark faced dirty old man known to all the world by but one name---Beethoven. Did ever such a diamond emerge from a hole so deep? A mother said never to have smiled, a father sinking in a world of drink. He might have been the German equivalent of white trash yet, that same link of communal culture that held the nobility was there to catch him too. His native talent was seen right away by their discerning eyes, and incubated warmly before it was stillborn. Beethoven was perceived as arrogant. His manner, caused in part by his growing deafness, made him

appear cold and aloof. Not so, he was a snob of impatience. His arrogance was irritation at a world that, as he saw it, was too complacent with its vice and mediocrity. If even he could rise, certainly humanity whole could rise as well. It was his mission as an artist to remind them of what was possible. However, he did his job too well. His accomplishment was too miraculous it seemed. Who would ever believe it could be repeated? Nevertheless, as with the Maestro, such transformations come at a price, most often at the expense of friends and pangs of the heart. In the the Buddha councils: “If, as the disciple fares along, he meets no companion who is better or equal, let him firmly pursue his solitary career. There is no fellowship with the foolish.“ Such actions will naturally be viewed as snobbery, and so they are, but so what? Despite the penalties, there are many gifts it can bestow in compensation, but which proverbially the young are not patient enough to wait upon. “We are all richer than we know,” says Montaigne. I am in constant awe of human potential, but am almost as much in awe of our refusal to see it in ourselves. Perhaps we are not all gifted in the sense that genius is defined, but certainly we are all capable of doing more than we believe we can, and that is certainly a reason to hope. In his story, The Man on the Threshold, Jorge Luis Borges wrote: “It is said that every generation of mankind includes four honest men who secretly hold up the universe and justify it to the Lord.” Perhaps four are all that can be expected from our present time. Let us hope the next generation is more promising.

The Printer’s Devil At the start of the Renaissance the abbot and occultist Johannes Trithemius wrote a book entitled In Praise of Scribes. In it, he attacked the recent invention of printing and celebrates the superior qualities of the pen. How did he get the word out? In print of course. Even Trithemius could see the writing uh, printing, on the wall. Trithemius also wrote another book, this one about the use of spirits to communicate over long distances. He would have been amazed by the magic of the Internet. Like Gutenberg preceding it, the Internet threatens the previous technology just as startlingly as the press did the scribe, and just like the press it came seemingly out of the air to change everything that came before. This very abruptness has caught so many off guard it is no wonder the eBook is under a hail of derision. To the unconverted let me remind you, the book is an ongoing project, a largely technology driven enterprise. If the medium in which it has evolved has remained relatively static for the past five centuries, it is not for lack of trying. Gutenberg had applied the available equipment of his age so well there would be no real advancements in printing until the Industrial Revolution and the power of the steam engine. Unlike Antony, I come not to bury the eBook, but to praise it, and I say this with all the passion of a true book lover. Confirmed bibliophiles will raise their hand’s in unison when asked what part of the book stands out the most---the smell. The olfactory experience of a library is like that of incense in a sacred space. Beyond its tactile properties the scent of a favorite title can instantly launch one into the

time and place it was first read. Of lazy summer days by the pool, or quiet winter evenings in an armchair. This, for lack of a better word, “presence” of a book is the first thing the true bibliophile loses when the beloved is consigned to the digital world. Yet, this heavenly scent, so tied to our conception of the traditional book, is relatively recent. Before the Civil War, books were printed with the higher quality, thus more costly rag paper, as it had been for centuries. It is due to its higher quality and durability that the government still uses it to print money. Few of us have been privileged to take in the atmosphere of the Bodleain in Oxford, or to taste with Poggio the treasures of St. Gall. And no man lives that has stood among the numberless scrolls of fabled Alexandria. We can only guess what delicious bouquet a million volumes of papyrus, coated with cedar oil, may have consisted of. And so the familiar friend in the guise of bound paper and ink is not as eternal and unchanging as we might wish to think. However, we must not forget the first task of a book, to convey knowledge, and to do so as conveniently as possible. For those who have been paying attention, it is obvious how convenient obtaining information is online compared with a trudge to the local library. The supremacy of the computer is testified to by the role those public libraries are taking in computer training and literacy. What library still uses that arcane relic, the card catalogue? Many book lovers are fearful of hypertext, the idea of embedding links in the text to related information and perhaps even changing the text its self. For a world so long accustomed to the seeming permanence of print, we have forgotten the age before it when all books were hand written. It was common to include glosses on words that were unusual and annotations or alternative readings in the margins that, sometimes, in later copying were incorporated into the body of the text as though it had been there all along. This occurred in stunning and unexpected ways. Those familiar with biblical scholarship are well aware of the variant readings of the New Testament that would shock many of those who believe the Bible was delivered from Heaven as an uncorrupted vessel of God’s word. Even print has not been totally immune from these practices. The footnote and endnote are less personal yet similar attempts to squeeze the most out of a text for the benefit of the reader. Hypertext is the next logical step beyond the limitations of the page. However, as with most new tools, the world is often slow to adapt. A paperback can be bought for pennies, the eBook technology is still cost prohibitive. Much like Gutenberg’s bibles, they are not for a mass audience. The market and technology has still to develop and find its way but, as the computer has become as ubiquitous as air, so its companion the eBook will doubtless compose much of the atmosphere of this new world. The eBook is awkward, ugly and plain. Four centuries ago the same was said of print. Duke Federico da Montefeltro, who had assembled one of the finest manuscript libraries of the Renaissance, was heard to remark he would have been ashamed to own a printed book. In the end, we got used to the aesthetics in exchange for convenience. Unlike the Duke, I am fond of that old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

The Hitchens Hypothesis I am predisposed to like Christopher Hitchens. He is a witty and erudite writer. His view's on everything from Orwell to religion are often perfectly in tune with my own (though his ignorance of Nietzsche is unforgivable). It is because of these great correspondences that his advocacy of the war in Iraq is all the more painful and baffling. However, more than his tortured logic of using violence to stop violence, is his generalization of Pacifists and Pacifism as a whole. Those on the left who opposed and oppose the war are being somehow disingenuous he believes. We are using the word peace as a smokescreen for hidden bigotry. Perhaps he is right, but if true, Mr. Hitchens is privy to information denied to the rest of us. As a pacifist myself, I know one need not be a Quaker to see the folly in war. I have no qualms regarding self-defense when the need arises. However, War with a capital W, is a military institution, and institutions have their own bigotries and agendas. The Military-industrial complex that Eisenhower, finally, warned us about so long ago has failed to make much of an impression upon the, as always, temperamentally bellicose American people. The concept that the military is just a department in the government and not a full partner does not seem to cross the mind of men and women inculcated since birth with the propaganda of God, Country and Guns. Not necessarily in that order. We must also forgive Mr. Hitchens blindness due to his other handicap. Coming from a privileged background, and educated in quality private schools in a foreign land, he may be unable to see that it is always the poor who fight the wars and the rich who prosper from the loss. As someone who has studied Marx it is all the more astonishing that this should not smack him in the eye. Perhaps as a recently anointed citizen, like all converts since Saint Augustine, he can find little to fault in his new faith. In an article published in 2001 on the invasion of Afghanistan, he had the following errors to relate: “Well, ha ha ha, and yah, boo. It was obvious from the very start that the United Stateshad no alternative but to do what it has done. It was also obvious that defeat was impossible. The Taliban will soon be history. Al-Qaida will take longer. There will be other mutants to fight. But if, as the peaceniks like to moan, more Bin Ladens will spring up to take his place, I can offer this assurance: should that be the case, there are many many more who will also spring up to kill him all over again. And there are more of us and we are both smarter and nicer, as well as surprisingly insistent that our culture demands respect, too.” “Ha ha ha to the pacifists“, The Guardian, Wednesday November 14, 2001. The Taliban appears now resurgent, Bin Laden is apparently alive and well, and as for being smarter and nicer, is it nice to bomb civilians and call them "collateral damage", or smart to believe that violence ever brought an end to violence? To paraphrase that old saw of Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to ."

The Tabloid Tyrant What do Elvis Presley and the emperor Nero have in common? Despite both being musicians, overweight, and a shared taste for flamboyant dress, they were also believed to be alive and well long after their officially reported deaths. Contrary to the myth, Nero was very popular among the poor, who loved a ruler that could enjoy the vulgar pleasures of the arena and racetrack like a regular Joe. Statues of him were sold in Rome long after his reign, and his tomb was often decorated with flowers. Of course, only the wealthy and educated could write the histories, and they were not happy to have an emperor with the common touch. After committing suicide in 69 A.D., there were rumors for many years after of a conspiracy. It was believed Nero had been taken away to some remote part of the east to await the day when he would come again and deal justice to his enemies. To the early Christians who had suffered greatly during his rule, he became a boogieman, the first Antichrist. And the possibility of his return served a more pessimistic purpose of warning, as some believe he is the beast mentioned in the Book of Revelation. These rumors were given such wide credibility that several pretenders came forward at various times to threaten the stability of the empire. One of the first of these imposters was a nameless slave whose origins were murky. He sang and played the lyre, and his resemblance to the dead emperor was striking. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, he gathered about him followers composed mostly of the poor and deserters from the legions. Taking to sea intending to sail for Rome, they encountered some inclement weather and were forced to make landfall on an island shortly after embarking. Here, the counterfeit Nero created a short-lived pirate kingdom, praying on passing ships. He was made short work of by the provincial governor, who raided his ship and sent his severed head on a tour of the provinces before ending in the capital. Truly a rock star death. Perhaps the most famous pseudo-Nero was Terentius Maximus, who arose many years later in Asia. He also attracted a great following but took refuge in the kingdom of Parthia. At last, his identity discovered, he was put to death. Sightings and rumors of sightings were to continue for many decades thereafter. It just goes to show, the gossip column and the conspiracy theory are nothing new. : Grant, Michael. Nero, Emperor In Revolt. New York, New York: American Heritage Press, 1970 Augustine, Saint. The City of God. 2008. New Advent. 23 March 2008 Suetonius, Tranquillus. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Trans. J. C. Rolfe. 1914. LacusCurtius. 23 March 2008*.html. Tacitus, Publius C. The History. New York: Random House, 1942. The Perseus Digital Library. 23

March 2008 %3A1999.02.0080;query=chapter%3D%2398;layout=;loc=2.7. Dio, Cassius. The Roman History. Trans. Earnest Cary. Harvard University Press, 1927. LacusCurtius. 23 March 2008*.html. Chrysostom, Dio. The Twenty-first Discourse: On Beauty. Trans. J. W. Cohoon. Harvard University Press, 1939. LacusCurtius. 23 March 2008*.html.

Hegel, I Hardly Knew Ye For most students of philosophy in English, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) is a stern figure, as imposing as his name. Just to mention him calls to mind the cliché of the droning professor declaiming at his podium, indifferent to the students around. From the little I had read of him up till now, my prejudices seemed confirmed. His lifeless academic prose, littered with uncommonly grotesque adjectives, was not the cheerful read I had been looking for. Nevertheless, something in the man's ideas kept me returning. Here was the intellectual father of Marx, and through him, much of the modern world. Here was the foe of Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer, the butt of their jokes and the bane of their envy. But, what was it that they envied? For Schopenhauer it was certainly Hegel's overweening popularity. When the two were both lecturing in Berlin, Schopenhauer, the "philosopher of pessimism", set his hours at the same time as his rival, supremely self-confidant he would steal the spotlight. He repeatedly found himself in an empty lecture room and never tired of jabbing Hegel's corpse, who conveniently died soon after, his just complaint of Hegel's apotheosis to official state-philosopher notwithstanding. Kierkegaard seems never to have read Hegel himself, but attacked him due to impressions gained from secondary reading. Though a master of irony, he failed to see any from his approach. Had he actually read Hegel, he would have found a writer every bit as comical and masterfully ironic as himself. My guide through this metaphysical hell, the Virgil to my Dante if you will, was Walter Kaufmann in his wonderful, though now out of print book, “Hegel: A Reinterpretation”. Kaufmann is best known today as the reviver and vindicator of Friedrich Nietzsche, and I must admit, this was not my first encounter with his work. However, Kaufmann, though a brilliant mind, left no immortal work behind him in and of its self, though a great illuminator of the immortal works of others. Did he agree with Nietzsche's comment on the “ant-like industry” of scholars? Did he see the irony in his own efforts? Or was he, like Kierkegaard, afflicted with the same myopia? But of course that is not why one writes. Posterity is covetous of her opinion's, and we cannot put pen to paper with such a burden attending the composition of every sentence. One writes because one loves, and the speaking of that love is not enough, the world must hear of it and if not now then hereafter. The printed page is man's greatest testament to his loneliness.

A book may lay dormant for decades on a library shelf, its author of uncertain glory, its content even more uncertain, until a single soul snatches it out of purgatory and brings it into the light. Then, by that magic it takes hold of our imagination and introduces us to a larger universe. No book exists in isolation, all are in continuous conversation, a dialog of the mighty dead in endless concert like the invisible music of the spheres above. Sadly, there seems little music among the living for there is nothing that a human being might do that he will not be attacked for it. Should you suddenly shit gold there are those who will complain it lacks luster. To write, or participate in any solitary creative endeavor, one must almost put on blinkers to keep out the invective of the critics. And if that is not bad enough, one must constantly struggle with that greatest of critics---the one inside your head. Recently I had the unpleasant experience of posting to a forum, one that gave the appearance of a place of friendly debate. I was swiftly reminded that the bucolic ideal of Cicero's dialogs are about as far from reality as can be imagined. Since the days of the schools of classical Athens right through the middle ages and the University of Paris, arguments were rarely discussed calmly but in the pages of a book. Students often rose to such a clamor they took to the streets in gang warfare over the most trivial differences of opinion, and nothing short of the threat of military intervention could calm them down. What a contrast with Professor Hegel one at first might think, but then I look again. “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” That was the surprising verdict of the cold dialectician I discovered in Kaufmann's book. My heart warmed to him at once, and also at once I understood why Schopenhauer lectured to the walls alone.

In Praise of Bookishness “When I have a little money I buy books, and if any is left over I buy food and clothing.” —Desiderius Erasmus We are constantly reminded that Americans don’t read books, that vaunted best-seller, the Bible, notwithstanding. From childhood on we are repeatedly told about the virtues of reading, with little explanation as to how or why it’s so. Thankfully, opinion mattered little to the forming of my tastes, and I read for pleasure alone. Yet, the more I read the more I hear the great voices of the past cry out from their pages to put them down. Is reading all that fine a thing after all? Socrates, in Plato’s , was perhaps among the first, certainly the most prestigious, to doubt the virtues of reading and writing. To him they were a corruption of the arts of memory. Once something is written the need to develop our memories quickly declines, he argued. We can forgive him his shortsightedness, he was a thinker after all, not a prophet, and could never have predicted the vast storehouses of knowledge humankind would collect. If anything we need a good memory now more than ever, if only to remember what we have read and where we read it. Michel de Montaigne admitted to being a lazy reader who, was “not prepared to bash” his “brains for anything, not even for learning.” We can only assume the man with a library of over a thousand

volumes was talking tongue in cheek. Friedrich Nietzsche howled from his mountaintop that to read a book in the light of dawn was a “vicious” thing. However, I expect for a man with such poor sight any prolonged reading becomes vicious, especially in the bright glare of morning. Experience is to be preferred to a life among the dust and cobwebs and the gloom of the aisles, they tell us, as though to open a book is to turn our faces from the light. (I myself find it difficult to read in the dark.) Those who spend too much time in reflection on their thoughts, or those of others, are perceived to be letting the “real” world pass them by, that somehow they are missing out. I argue the reverse; the “real” world is about us at every moment, and a good portion of our lives are hardly ours to enjoy if we must work to live (and aren’t fortunate enough to truly enjoy our jobs). Further, not all things are open to experience in the flesh. How are we to understand history but from the pages of a book? Even to visit a ruin is an empty act without a knowledge of its context. I always smile when I read Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s Discourses—not that I read them often—and his rant against the evils of printing. Here’s a man who was one of the finest stylists and most universally read authors of his age. Did he not see the irony, or was he as oblivious to it as to the cries of the children he left on the steps of the foundling hospital? Through his books much of the bloodshed of the French Revolution could be laid at his feet. Doubtless, that irony too would have escaped him. Despite his sentimental longing for the good life without shoes, that “dreadful art”—for good or ill—brought down despots and quenched the fires of hell. The image of the harmless bookworm is due to the ease and comfort of a free society that has made profit the sole good. It’s no exaggeration that reading was a dangerous, subversive activity in the past. Even in the great centers of learning, scholars and philosophers were always aware of just how far they could peer into the heart of things. We take it for granted that even the most unpopular concepts are shared openly. At the height of the Reformation in England, however, the hottest piece of contraband wasn’t French wine or dirty pictures, but the Bible in English—a far more hazardous weapon to church and state than all the gunpowder of foiled Guy Fawkes. And I weep to think there was an age when a diminutive philosopher on his deathbed could launch an armada of priests in the canals of Amsterdam. Was there truly a time when ideas were so important? Perhaps, like Rousseau, I cry for the moon. The best periods of my life have been defined by books. I never recollect my past without some reference to what I was reading at the time. Meanwhile my bookcases stand as bulwarks against despair, their sheer weight anchoring me to sanity. And out in the world I’m rarely without a few close at hand. In a long and proud tradition following in the stacks of Edward Gibbon and Montaigne, I invented my own traveling library for the purpose, something I call a capsa, after the leather buckets used in antiquity to carry scrolls. It is little more than a soft cooler, and I have several of different sizes to accommodate even the largest octavo. Several standard paperbacks can fit very neatly, and the outer pockets are perfect for storing highlighters, pencils, pens, and all the accessories of annotation. You may fairly accuse me of melodrama, but the lame aren’t asked to put down their crutches, nor the blind their canes. Please understand my condition, and pity me if you must, but I have reading to do.

The Dead Satyr Satire is the weapon of the aristocrat, and so must always die in the hands of a democracy. A perfect example of this we can see in the just past presidential election. For weeks leading to the event,

Saturday Night Live aired a series of devastating skits at the expense of McCain's running mate Sarah Palin. They were full of the true spirit of satire, a sublime mocking spirit of the noble soul who smiles in condescension at the fumbling's of the village idiot who pretends to more than she owns. After a series of these scathing broadsides, the show decided to allow the attacked to attempt to laugh at themselves, completely negating the power of their parodies‘. The American answer to this is: "we want to be fair and give the other side a chance." Since when is fairness a requirement of satire? When Voltaire so nimbly vivisected the buffoonery of the Catholic church, he did not then turn to the Jesuits and say: "Now you do me." The whole point of satire is to belittle one's enemies and bring to light the foolishness of the world. By then handing the poor man's (often) only weapon to that same enemy is an act of shear stupidity. To add to the sense of cognitive dissonance, Tina Fey, who played the rustic Palin with such delicious glee, and who made comment that she would have to leave the planet should Palin be elected, was recently reported saying: “!”’---.”’ First, all entertainers work for us the public. That is why when we are no longer entertained we ask for our money back and take our business elsewhere. Secondly, I know there are those who will argue she has a point in giving the other side its voice, but no. We must live in a truly cynical and relativistic age when all points are deemed valid, and any fool can be allowed a clear shot at destroying the world. It defies reason and likewise, defies the spirit of the form. If the mirthful souls of Voltaire and Dean Swift could listen to such logic, no doubt they would find their disdain for human intelligence justified and smile just a bit more.

Quid Est Veritas “Every true faith is indeed infallible; it performs what the believing person hopes to find in it, but it does not offer the least support for the establishing of an objective truth. Here the ways of men divide. If you want to achieve peace of mind and happiness, then have faith; if you want to be a disciple of truth, then search.” ---Friedrich Nietzsche “What is truth?” asked Pilot to Christ, and though Christ had his own opinion the question must still be asked. I have always been impatient with the human capacity for self-deception. In so far as the believer to reason, his reasoning is biased in his favor, something I like to call Jackoffhistry, a form of pleasing self-deluding sophistry. But perhaps I am being too harsh, it is only our nature. I was amused to create a comforting dogma for myself. What if it was widely believed that gravity was a myth, and that every man, woman, and child was kept tidily stuck to the ground by a multitude of divine fingers pushing down on our heads? We could add the charming intuitive connection that this is why babies have soft spots. It is a delightful tale that could give comfort to millions, and just as

ridiculous as many another thing people believe without good cause. But, I must ask: do you believe in the value of truth? If you answer yes, but argue for something like the above out of comfort, then what is the difference between lying to yourself and others lying to you? At what point does comfort become an acceptable argument for laying down our duty to the truth? To be fair, the capacity to reason is equally capable of forming chains of thought to tie one down. Much in the fashion of the circus elephant who, being chained when young, by habit and indolence remains chained ever after. Like all tools it is only as useful as the ability of the one who wields it. To lack basic critical thinking skills is to be prey for any con-artist or unscrupulous soul, so it is in everyone's best interest to exercise daily their critical muscles. This is why all things are open, or should be open, to criticism, and the believer must not frown but prove. A little practice at basic reasoning would clearly do most people a world of good. Few follow the implications of what they believe to its ultimate end, and this is demonstrated by a simple thought experiment. When the child of a, for lack of a better term, ghost enthusiast comes to them from a nightmare seeking solace, do they reply honestly with what they believe: “yes sweetheart, the Bogeyman really is under your bed”? If so, they are at least being true to their convictions if not at the same time revealing their inadequacy's as parents. When I was a boy I was fascinated by the supernatural. Finding a book at the library on palm reading I took to my classmate's sweaty uncertain hands, and divined their future's. I had a passionate interest in UFOs, spirits, and all things unusual, and readily believed whatever confirmed my desire to believe. When others scoffed I became defensive and indignant, and asserted my claims to the point of tears. Thankfully, my natural curiosity was inoculated by an even greater love of science. I began to submit my belief's to the same rigor as any question should be, and found in each case a myth with no foundation. I am still waiting for the ghosts to appear, the aliens to land on the White House lawn (not those trimming the hedges of course), and for a Bigfoot in a cage that the world might marvel at and the believer's at last receive their overdue praise. I have been waiting for some decades but, in this at least, I have no doubt I shall be waiting very much longer.

Well, I Never! With the dawning of a new year I am yet reminded that there are still bastions of regression from which there are those who cry out for a return to “the old ways” to spite progress. One in particular I came upon not too long ago, proving that the old Tories are not yet dead, and may come back to bite us should we be seduced by their eloquence. Anthony Daniels, writing under the pseudonym of Theodore Dalrymple, comes across as the very epitome of the tight-cheeked conservative. A retired prison psychiatrist, he is eager to give us the benefit of his experience among the less fortunate. To hear him speak, which I did recently on a Canadian radio program, is to be more than a little taken aback at just what a stereotype he sounds. First, let me say I am not interested in the individual so much as what he represents, and what he represents is what many liberals have always said of the conservative mind---they have no passion.

During the aforementioned interview I was astonished at how a so-called world traveler could be so prudish and old-fashioned. I can imagine him walking the streets of London in bowler hat and Victorian apparel, walking-stick in hand and passing Oliver Twist with a dismissive sneer. At one point he becomes disgusted when, during a visit to an Italian soccer game, he was astonished that so many Briton's with disposable income (amazed, I can only guess, by the behavior of his own class) had come merely to shout obscenities at the team. How terribly uncivilized to use dirty words and show such enthusiasm---such engagement with life. No doubt Mr. Dalrymple would have found the ancient Olympics too outré, and walked out of Plato's Symposium when the talk went bawdy. When the conversation turned to homosexuality, he spoke the word almost as if he feared being caught in the act, as he labored to get it out. He longs to make us see that it's all the liberals fault for the state of the world today, and I agree. Liberalism gave us the Civil Rights Movement, and the strides of feminism that opened the work place to women and gave them the independence to make their own choice's. It's due to liberal ideas of progress that we have the advances in the Sciences that have made our lives so much healthier and easier, as I would argue that the Scientific Method is in its self a liberal idea with ties to the freedom of inquiry and the enthusiasm of discovery, that same enthusiasm poor Mr. Dalrymple seems to have never been burdened with. If this appears as an ad hominem, as I said, it is meant to be, for Dalrymple demonstrates in his person, in the very tone of his voice, the lie of the “compassionate conservative”. Perhaps genetically predisposed to see the glass always half-empty, they suck the joy out of life with their continual paean to “the good old days”, and devalue the present in search of a past that never was. Theodore Dalrymple---never was a more gloomy or morose pseudonym conceived to perfectly reflect the spirit of an author and his ideas.

Amor Vincit Omnia I have always been inclined to Romanticism. Daydreaming and child-like enthusiasm are hallmarks of my character. I was always shy and bashful around girls, but felt a kinship and a sympathy with them I did not share with the boys. They seemed more right-headed and just. And the fact that many of them hated sports as I did put them high in my esteem. I was too emotionally preoccupied in High School to dare consider courting one, but naively believed that, if I merely treated them kindly they would, one day, realize I was a good an honorable man and beat a path to my door. What fools we are in youth! As I grew older, and the reality of just how truly isolated we really are began to press upon my consciousness, I began a series of relationships, each doomed to failure. Incompatibility was the main reason. Either too old or too young, and neither sharing my vision of the world. With the discovery that I could no longer hold on to the myths of religion, I had to abandon the solace of those pleasing myths. When one first begins to reason it is inevitable there will be a stripping away of illusions. Mostly this liberated me. I never felt dependent upon the religion of my childhood so

there was no sense of loss, largely because I never really believed in the first place. However, I did feel another sense of loss, the departure of my ideal of true love, the thought that there is someone made to love us and, we in turn, to love them. At last I felt a twinge of pain. Was all this empty magic too? For years I hesitated to except this gnawing thought. Love is the last holy thing we surrender to knowledge. I finally became so consumed in finding an answer I began to dedicate all of my energies to reflect upon one. Then, one day while ruminating in the shower (excellent place for thinking by the way), and troubling myself with the implications of Existentialist freedom, it came to me in a flash so much like that cliche of love at first sight. It is precisely because there no god that it is up to to give meaning and make real those abstract things: virtue, justice, joy, but above all, love. Like a romance version of Kant's Categorical Imperative, we must live the life we wish to see reflected in the world. The task then becomes fairly straight forward for every lonely soul: Never give up.

Truth and Consequences Among the greatest dangers to the freedom of thought is not the bonfires of tyrants, nor the sharp strokes of the censors pen, but the gentle state of matrimony. If a spouse cares anything at all for their beloved they will always do their utmost to spare hurt feelings. This is an expected and laudable thing to do in most marriages. No one would remain long with someone who continually appeared at odds with them in the deepest sense, that is, in what they believe. But at a certain point this may become less an inconvenience than a neglect of the greater good. It has for this reason become a cliche that philosophers don't marry. Socrates was the perennial example of the hen-pecked house-mate who's wife, concerned merely with the day to day concerns of life, was unable to understand those of her husband's for the life of the mind. I can think of few better examples of this in modern times than that of Charles and Emma Darwin. Their's was a truly deep and respectful love that continued unbroken through the whole of their marriage. However, late in life when Darwin had dispensed with the religion of his childhood, his wife remained a devout Christian. It was for this reason perhaps more than any other that he delayed the publication of his most famous work, On the Origin of Species, until professional pressures at last forced it to the press. “When I am with you” she writes before their marriage. “I think all melancholy thoughts keep out of my head but since you are gone some sad ones have forced themselves in, of fear that our opinions on the most important subject should differ widely. My reason tells me that honest & conscientious doubts cannot be a sin, but I feel it would be a painful void between us. I thank you from my heart for your openness with me & I should dread the feeling that you were concealing your opinions from the fear of giving me pain.” Such gentle words can do more to bring a man to rethink the truth then all the lashings of the scourge

and heckles of the crowd combined. In the end, Darwin of course published and set a conversation going between faith and science that has yet to have an end. It is a testament to the strength of their feeling for one another that the ensuing controversies did not dim that love, however much it may have tested it. Their example is both as beautiful as it is, sadly, rare.

Johnson’s Inner Child Samuel Johnson as Doctor Spock? The "Great Cham" of eighteenth century English letters is not the first person to come to mind in regard to child rearing, but his own upbringing gave him much to reflect upon. In an essay for that classic series of meditations, The Rambler #148, Johnson gives us an unwitting autobiographical sketch when he writes: "." And that's just a taste of his discourse upon the tyranny of parents. James Boswell's Life shows us a Johnson at odds with his stern patriarch, and in later years he was repentant of his childhood disobedience when he famously returned to the town of his birth, and stood in the rain as penance for refusing to man his father's bookstall. Though he is often portrayed by Boswell (a young man when they first met and who saw in Johnson a father figure) as a gruff and imposing "bear" of a man, many of his contemporaries found him actually lovable. He never had children himself, but his possible Tourettes and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, his rough country ways and lowly accent, no doubt gave him an aura of childlike naivety even into old age. Likewise, he retained that vital enthusiasm and curiosity of childhood that surely helped enliven the talk of the master conversationalist of the age. Johnson is too much neglected at the present. If he is spoken of at all it is often only in the light of Boswell's masterpiece. Perhaps that monument looms above its subject, but in his essays Johnson can still speak to us with a fatherly patience and gentle humor he no doubt wished his own father had shown himself. Perhaps the inner child did more to shape the man than we know.

The Battle of the Books Redux When I began this article, it was to be nothing more than a review of the new Amazon Kindle I recently purchased. Instead, the period since I acquired it and this writing has given that little time for deeper reflection uncommon in the typical critique. However, I will quickly give the appearances of a review. Having tried both the Sony PRS-700, and now its chief rival, they are tied in my heart for prominence. I will not descend to the gutter, as many feel necessary, and denigrate one at the expense of the other. In fact, I feel blessed to live in an age when any such device is available, whatever limitations they may

have for the moment. The last time mankind knew such a revolution in the exchange of ideas was fivehundred years ago when a little German goldsmith attempted a faster means of producing icons for credulous pilgrims. I am of course speaking of Johannes Gutenberg and his seemingly accidental printing press. Like the new e-book technology, Gutenberg’s press was an odd transition, at first glance appearing like a wine press, which it was indeed inspired by. The method he invented was so revolutionary that its creator did all he could to hide the fact, apparently for fear of scaring off potential buyers. His bibles were handed over to the illuminators to be brightly painted (the lack of color being a major complaint then as now) and made for all the world to appear as written manuscripts. These early books are known as Incunabula, meaning out of the cradle, and represent that awkward phase before any new technology works out the kinks. Likewise, we have entered a period of digital incunabula, and as this new child beings to take baby steps, there are many who would wish to knock it down simply because it has yet to brake out into a run. I believe this is less a dislike of the new reading, than it is a fear that the child shall one day stalk their beloved book stores and libraries like a colossus, leaving them like Cassius to: “peep and look about for dishonorable graves.” The e-book’s critics lack an understanding of the history of their medium. They cite digital piracy as a major drawback to any real adaptation by the publishing industry as a whole. Pirates were a problem for early printers as well, but this did not hamper their profits and, in time led to the development of copyright law and international cooperation. However, such technical concerns over-shadow what are deeper intellectual ones. What is being “changed” is not merely a matter of technology but one of mind-set. The scholarly habits and traditions of five-hundred years are seemingly at threat, and to the true bibliophile this is the greater matter. It led me to recall that piece of satire by Jonathan Swift, The Battle of the Books. Written at a time of similar conflicts, it treated the debate between old and new. A battle breaks out in St. James’s Palace in the Kings library between the “ancients” and the “moderns”. The episode encapsulates the argument over whether modern knowledge had surpassed that of the ancient writers and, though Swift had no ultimate position for or against, it highlights for us today’s entrenched bias for the merits of tradition. This is not to say that tradition is bad and all innovation good but, as in Swift’s story, we can see the proponents of tradition often exaggerating their claims to deference. As a lover of books myself, I am still astounded by my own quick turnabout on the matter. Computers played little if any role in my life until well after High School. I was curious about the Internet, but felt certain it held no wonders for me, until the ease it lent me in communication with absent friends worked upon my mind. All technology exists to ease the burdens of life, however, their presence too often becomes a comfort in and of its self and any attempt at change appears a threat. This watchfulness is sometimes laudable, but in the end often becomes counterproductive. We do not hold the world to a way of thinking simply because we are too long accustomed to it. The fact that Gutenberg’s little wine press has remained with us for five centuries virtually unchanged is a miracle of human genius, but even five hundred years does not guarantee a technologies survival. Nevertheless, I see a long future for print yet remaining, and don’t believe it necessary to kill the still reigning king of the Republic of Letters.

Perhaps it is time to call a truce and bring the books home from the battlefield, returning them to our hands where they may continue their purpose, regardless of their form. ###

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