Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Philosophers: Lao-Tzu

 "Those who speak know nothing:
   Those who know are silent."
   Those words, I am told,
   Were spoken by Lao-tzu,
   If we are to believe that Lao-tzu,
             Was himself one who knew,
    How comes it that he wrote a book
              Of five thousand words?

—Po Chü-i (772–846)

Monday, July 19, 2021


The book I was reading, though interesting in some respects, was not exactly captivating, and it didn't inspire me to read it frequently enough to finish it in a reasonable amount of time. Furthermore, it concerned life in 17th century England, and I've been overdosed on English intellectual history recently, with Thomas Malthus, G.H. Lewes, Charles Darwin, William Morris and Bertrand Russell. I am also getting tired of biographies, because, even though they can be better than novels, they tend to be written for entertainment, and the analytical scope of the authors can be quite limited. Whenever someone famous dies, there is usually a flurry of hagiographic biographies, and it can take a century for a thoughtful, thoroughly-researched biography to appear. Then, as I've said repeatedly, the profit motive, which seeks wide audiences, tends to result in low-quality work. You can even see the same sort of thing happening now, with all the books on Donald Trump, who is still alive. In his case too it would be better to wait a few decades to get an authoritative account after all the pertinent facts have been determined. By then it should be well-established how dysfunctional and destructive he was and what a colossal mistake it was that he was elected. In the meantime, dozens of hastily-written books will at best haphazardly document some of his recent behavior. I mention this only as an example of how the publishing industry works, and I probably wouldn't read a definitive Trump biography, because he has already demonstrated that he is nothing more than an ignorant, corrupt opportunist – with significant psychiatric issues.

As an alternative, I'm going to try to read some more poetry. That can be frustrating too, but when I find a poem that I like, I think about it often and enjoy the process. For me, the artistry in a good poem encapsulates a thought or feeling that is usually not expressed in daily life, and it creates an intangible bond between the author and the reader that in some ways can be better than what you experience with close friends. That can be a rare form of intimacy. Of course, for me, pursuing this takes far more effort than picking up a book of poems and reading it, because, as you will have noticed, so little of what I read seems satisfactory. If all goes well, I may resume my "Poem of the Day" posts, and perhaps I will comment on some poems too. Generally, I prefer 20th century American poems, so that's what I'll be reading. It may just be my imagination or cultural acclimation, but I have never been able to get excited about poems that aren't of American origin. This is unusual, because otherwise I find little to like in the American arts, with the exception of music.

I am still following the progress of the pandemic, since it seems persistent. Although this is a regrettable situation, I am hoping that in the end it will become a valuable lesson to the whiny Americans who have been complaining about nothing for years and choose to engage in irrational behavior because it makes them feel better. One would have expected them to grow up by now, but it increasingly looks as if more of them will die because they prefer to dismiss facts and live in an alternate reality. The irony is that many of them are science-deniers and anti-Darwinists, and their deaths would be a good example of natural selection at work: the smarter people will survive. Still, the extent of the pandemic is a warning to everyone, because it is bringing chaos to parts of the world and laying bare the weaknesses of governments everywhere. On the other hand, catastrophic events, such as the Great Depression and World War II, were followed by periods of self-discipline and reason, so the outlook may improve in the years to come.

As I've mentioned, the Internet is opening up a Pandora's box of bad ideas that are increasingly disruptive to society. I think that the Internet bypasses traditional methods of socialization, and that people are unwittingly being influenced by commercial entities which, in a psychological sense, disguise themselves as communities and co-opt the traditional process in which our hunter-gatherer ancestors became assimilated with their tribes. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021


I like to recap and update my readers periodically in order to explain the blog and perhaps solicit some feedback. When I started the blog in 2014, I thought that it might contain a fair amount of discussion, but by 2015 I had more or less given up on that idea. Actually, I don't mind not having to deal with a lot of comments, because I think that most web comments are a waste of time. Even so, I don't like to think that the blog exists in a rarefied bubble, and, in the absence of direct contact with readers, I attempt to analyze their interests with the very limited means that are available. Thus, I like to see which posts get the most hits and where in the world the readers are located.

One thing that has changed recently is that a web crawler has publicized the blog, and I'm getting more hits than I used to. That may also be related to the fact that the blog is now seven years old and has over 500 posts, more than enough pages to constitute a book. My most popular post is still "Robert Hughes on Andy Warhol," but "The Monologue/The Woman Destroyed" has bumped "Kakutani on Houellebecq" from second to third place. In fourth place is "A Woman Meets an Old Lover," the Denise Levertov poem, and in fifth place is "Meliorism," in which I discuss optimism about the future of mankind. Since Houellebecq isn't very popular in most countries and Kakutani has retired from the New York Times, they probably don't get googled as often as they used to. Several of my other "Poem of the Day" posts are popular. I like to speculate and think that the pandemic has affected women's psyches in a manner that attracts them to "The Woman Destroyed" and "A Woman Meets an Old Lover," because I doubt that these would appeal to most men. Loneliness and mental illness have increased since early 2020. Of course, the popular posts also depend on the ranking systems used by search engines, and many of my posts may never come up in searches. As before, my readers seem more interested in the arts than in the sciences. People seem to like some of my reviews of biographies, though I think the ones on Bertrand Russell were too long for many. In terms of geographic locations, I seem to be getting more hits from all over the world, though some of the data may be disguised.

It's hard to tell how many regular readers I have now. There were once about six and then they went down to four. Now it could be somewhere between six and ten. Most of the readers who google one post never look at other posts. I like to think that the blog has a certain style and a collection of subject matter that would appeal to certain people, though that group must be very small.

On the whole, I enjoy writing very much, and I plan to continue this blog indefinitely. However, even though I don't care about being popular and will never have a commercial website, I like to avoid getting into ruts, with a lot of repetition or a format that seems limited. For example, I've now read a lot of biographies and don't want to continue reviewing them on autopilot even when I can't find good ones to read.

With visitors in the house and my normal summer reading lull, I haven't been inclined to write lately. I've started another book and will probably begin commenting on it soon.