To see human beings in agony, to see them covered in blood and to hear their death groans, makes people humble. It makes their spirits delicate, bright, peaceful. It's never at such times that we become cruel or bloodthirsty. No, it's on a beautiful spring afternoon like this that people suddenly become cruel. It's at a moment like this, don't you think, while one's vaguely watching the sun as it peeps through the leaves of the trees above a well-mown lawn? Every possible nightmare in the world, every possible nightmare in history, has come into being like this.
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To see human beings in agony, to see them covered in blood and to hear their death groans, makes people humble. It makes their spirits delicate, bright, peaceful. It’s never at such times that we become cruel or bloodthirsty. No, it’s on a beautiful spring afternoon like this that people suddenly become cruel. It’s at a moment like this, don’t you think, while one’s vaguely watching the sun as it peeps through the leaves of the trees above a well-mown lawn? Every possible nightmare in the world, every possible nightmare in history, has come into being like this.

-Yukio Mishima

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I don’t want to read about them!” But really, how can a picture hurt you?Better that each serve as a Hallmark card that greets your fitful fevers with reason and uncurtains your valor. Then, so gospeled, you may see that defeating a disaster is as innocently easy as deciding to go out to dinner. Remove the dread that bars your doors of perception, and you will enjoy a banquet of treats that will make the difference between suffering and safety. You will enter a brave new world that will erase your panic, and release you from the grip of terror, and relieve you of the deadening effects of indifference —and you will find that switch of initiative that will energize your intelligence, empower your imagination, and rouse your sense of vigilance in ways that will tilt the odds of danger from being forever against you to being always in your favor. Indeed, just thinking about a disaster is one of the best things you can do —because it allows you to imagine how you would respond in a way that is free of pain and destruction.Another reason why disasters seem so scary is that many victims tend to see them as a whole rather than divide them into much smaller and more manageable problems. A disaster can seem overwhelming when confronted with everything at once —but if you dice it into its tiny parts and knock them off one at a time, the whole thing can seem as easy as eating a lavish dinner one bite at a time.In a disaster you must also plan for disruption as well as destruction. Death and damage may make the news, but in almost every disaster far more lives are disrupted than destroyed. Wit­ness the tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011 and killed 158 people. The path of death and destruction was less than a mile wide and only 22 miles long —but within thirty miles 160,000 citizens whose property didn’t suffer a dime of damage were profoundly disrupted by the carnage, loss of power and water, suspension of civic services, and inability to buy food, gas, and other necessities. You may rightfully believe your chances of dying in a disaster in your lifetime may be nearly nil, but the chances of your life being disrupted by a disaster in the next decade is nearly a sure thing.Not only should you prepare for disasters, you should learn to premeditate them. Prepare concerns the body; premeditate concerns the mind. Everywhere you go, think what could happen and how you might/could/would/should respond. Use your imagination. Fill your brain with these visualizations —run mind-movies in your head —develop a repertoire —until when you walk into a building/room/situation you’ll automatically know what to do. If a disaster does ambush you —sure you’re apt to panic, but in seconds your memory will load the proper video into your mobile disk drive and you’ll feel like you’re watching a scary movie for the second time and you’ll know what to expect and how to react. That’s why this book is important: its manner of vivifying disasters kickstarts and streamlines your acquiring these premeditations, which lays the foundation for satisfying your needs when a disaster catches you by surprise.

-Robert Brown

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Perfectly ImperfectWe have all heard that no two snowflakes are alike. Each snowflake takes the perfect form for the maximum efficiency and effectiveness for its journey. And while the universal force of gravity gives them a shared destination, the expansive space in the air gives each snowflake the opportunity to take their own path. They are on the same journey, but each takes a different path.Along this gravity-driven journey, some snowflakes collide and damage each other, some collide and join together, some are influenced by wind... there are so many transitions and changes that take place along the journey of the snowflake. But, no matter what the transition, the snowflake always finds itself perfectly shaped for its journey. I find parallels in nature to be a beautiful reflection of grand orchestration. One of these parallels is of snowflakes and us. We, too, are all headed in the same direction. We are being driven by a universal force to the same destination. We are all individuals taking different journeys and along our journey, we sometimes bump into each other, we cross paths, we become altered... we take different physical forms. But at all times we too are 100% perfectly imperfect. At every given moment we are absolutely perfect for what is required for our journey. I’m not perfect for your journey and you’re not perfect for my journey, but I’m perfect for my journey and you’re perfect for your journey. We’re heading to the same place, we’re taking different routes, but we’re both exactly perfect the way we are. Think of what understanding this great orchestration could mean for relationships. Imagine interacting with others knowing that they too each share this parallel with the snowflake. Like you, they are headed to the same place and no matter what they may appear like to you, they have taken the perfect form for their journey. How strong our relationships would be if we could see and respect that we are all perfectly imperfect for our journey.

-Steve Maraboli

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I tell you, because military training is not publicly recognised by the state, you must not make that an excuse for being a whit less careful in attending to it yourself. For you may rest assured that there is no kind of struggle, apart from war, and no undertaking in which you will be worse off by keeping your body in better fettle."For in everything that men do the body is useful; and in all uses of the body it is of great importance to be in as high a state of physical efficiency as possible. Why, even in the process of thinking, in which the use of the body seems to be reduced to a minimum, it is matter of common knowledge that grave mistakes may often be traced to bad health."And because the body is in a bad condition, loss of memory, depression, discontent, insanity often assail the mind so violently as to drive whatever knowledge it contains clean out of it. But a sound and healthy body is a strong protection to a man, and at least there is no danger then of such a calamity happening to him through physical weakness: on the contrary, it is likely that his sound condition will serve to produce effects the opposite of those that arise from bad condition. And surely a man of sense would submit to anything to obtain the effects that are the opposite of those mentioned in my list."Besides, it is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit. But you cannot see that, if you are careless; for it will not come of its own accord.

-Xenophon Memorabilia.

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The phone rang. It was a familiar voice.It was Alan Greenspan. Paul O'Neill had tried to stay in touch with people who had served under Gerald Ford, and he'd been reasonably conscientious about it. Alan Greenspan was the exception. In his case, the effort was constant and purposeful. When Greenspan was the chairman of Ford's Council of Economic Advisers, and O'Neill was number two at OMB, they had become a kind of team. Never social so much. They never talked about families or outside interests. It was all about ideas: Medicare financing or block grants - a concept that O'Neill basically invented to balance federal power and local autonomy - or what was really happening in the economy. It became clear that they thought well together. President Ford used to have them talk about various issues while he listened. After a while, each knew how the other's mind worked, the way married couples do.In the past fifteen years, they'd made a point of meeting every few months. It could be in New York, or Washington, or Pittsburgh. They talked about everything, just as always. Greenspan, O'Neill told a friend, "doesn't have many people who don't want something from him, who will talk straight to him. So that's what we do together - straight talk."O'Neill felt some straight talk coming in."Paul, I'll be blunt. We really need you down here," Greenspan said. "There is a real chance to make lasting changes. We could be a team at the key moment, to do the things we've always talked about."The jocular tone was gone. This was a serious discussion. They digressed into some things they'd "always talked about," especially reforming Medicare and Social Security. For Paul and Alan, the possibility of such bold reinventions bordered on fantasy, but fantasy made real."We have an extraordinary opportunity," Alan said. Paul noticed that he seemed oddly anxious. "Paul, your presence will be an enormous asset in the creation of sensible policy."Sensible policy. This was akin to prayer from Greenspan. O'Neill, not expecting such conviction from his old friend, said little. After a while, he just thanked Alan. He said he always respected his counsel. He said he was thinking hard about it, and he'd call as soon as he decided what to do.The receiver returned to its cradle. He thought about Greenspan. They were young men together in the capital. Alan stayed, became the most noteworthy Federal Reserve Bank chairman in modern history and, arguably the most powerful public official of the past two decades. O'Neill left, led a corporate army, made a fortune, and learned lessons - about how to think and act, about the importance of outcomes - that you can't ever learn in a government.But, he supposed, he'd missed some things. There were always trade-offs. Talking to Alan reminded him of that. Alan and his wife, Andrea Mitchell, White House correspondent for NBC news, lived a fine life. They weren't wealthy like Paul and Nancy. But Alan led a life of highest purpose, a life guided by inquiry.Paul O'Neill picked up the telephone receiver, punched the keypad."It's me," he said, always his opening.He started going into the details of his trip to New York from Washington, but he's not much of a phone talker - Nancy knew that - and the small talk trailed off."I think I'm going to have to do this."She was quiet. "You know what I think," she said.She knew him too well, maybe. How bullheaded he can be, once he decides what's right. How he had loved these last few years as a sovereign, his own man. How badly he was suited to politics, as it was being played. And then there was that other problem: she'd almost always been right about what was best for him."Whatever, Paul. I'm behind you. If you don't do this, I guess you'll always regret it."But it was clearly about what he wanted, what he needed.Paul thanked her. Though somehow a thank-you didn't seem appropriate.And then he realized she was crying.

-Ron Suskind

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If we look through the aperture which we have opened up onto the absolute, what we see there is a rather menacing power--something insensible, and capable of destroying both things and worlds, of bringing forth monstrous absurdities, yet also of never doing anything, of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare, of engendering random and frenetic transformations, or conversely, of producing a universe that remains motionless down to its ultimate recesses, like a cloud bearing the fiercest storms, then the eeriest bright spells, if only for an interval of disquieting calm. We see an omnipotence equal to that of the Cartesian God, and capable of anything, even the inconceivable; but an omnipotence that has become autonomous, without norms, blind, devoid of the other divine perfections, a power with neither goodness nor wisdom, ill-disposed to reassure thought about the veracity of its distinct ideas. We see something akin to Time, but a Time that is inconceivable for physics, since it is capable of destroying without cause or reason, every physical law, just as it is inconceivable for metaphysics, since it is capable of destroying every determinate entity, even a god, even God. This is not a Heraclitean time, since it is not the eternal law of becoming, but rather the eternal and lawless possible becoming of every law. It is a Time capable of destroying even becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis, and death.

-Quentin Meillassoux

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I hope I’m being clear, I didn’t say I hate feminists, that would be weird. I said I hate feminist. I’m talking about the word.I have the privilege living my life inside of words and part of being a writer is creating entire universes, and that's beautiful, but part of being a writer is also living in the very smallest part of every word....But the word feminist, it doesn't sit with me, it doesn't add up. I want to talk about my problem that I have with it. ...Ist in it's meaning is also a problem for me. Because you can't be born an ist. It's not natural... So feminist includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state. That we don't emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human, that the idea of equality is just an idea that's imposed on us. That we are indoctrinated with it, that it's an agenda......My problem with feminist is not the word. It's the question. "Are you now, or have you ever been, a feminist?" The great Katy Perry once said—I'm paraphrasing—"I'm not a feminist but I like it when women are strong."...Don't know why she feels the need to say the first part, but listening to the word and thinking about it, I realize I do understand. This question that lies before us is one that should lie behind us. The word is problematic for me because there's another word that we're missing......When you say racist, you are saying that is a negative thing. That is a line that we have crossed. Anything on the side of that line is shameful, is on the wrong side of history. And that is a line that we have crossed in terms of gender but we don't have the word for it......I start thinking about the fact that we have this word when we're thinking about race that says we have evolved beyond something and we don't really have this word for gender. Now you could argue sexism, but I'd say that's a little specific. People feel removed from sexism. ‘I'm not a sexist, but I'm not a feminist.' They think there's this fuzzy middle ground. There's no fuzzy middle ground. You either believe that women are people or you don't. It's that simple....You don’t have to hate someone to destroy them. You just have to not get it....My pitch is this word. ‘Genderist.’ I would like this word to become the new racist. I would like a word that says there was a shameful past before we realized that all people were created equal. And we are past that. And every evolved human being who is intelligent and educated and compassionate and to say I don't believe that is unacceptable. And Katy Perry won't say, "I'm not a feminist but I like strong women," she'll say, "I'm not a genderist but sometimes I like to dress up pretty." And that'll be fine....This is how we understand society. The word racism didn't end racism, it contextualized it in a way that we still haven't done with this issue. ...I say with gratitude but enormous sadness, we will never not be fighting. And I say to everybody on the other side of that line who believe that women are to be bought and trafficked or ignored...we will never not be fighting. We will go on, we will always work this issue until it doesn't need to be worked anymore....Is this idea of genderist going to do something? I don't know. I don't think that I can change the world. I just want to punch it up a little.

-Joss Whedon

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Astarte has come again, more powerful than before. She possesses me. She lies in wait for me.December 97My cruelty has also returned: the cruelty which frightens me. It lies dormant for months, for years, and then all at once awakens, bursts forth and - once the crisis is over - leaves me in mortal terror of myself.Just now in the avenue of the Bois, I whipped my dog till he bled, and for nothing - for not coming immediately when I called! The poor animal was there before me, his spine arched, cowering close to the ground, with his great, almost human, eyes fixed on me... and his lamentable howling! It was as though he were waiting for the butcher! But it was as if a kind of drunkenness had possessed me. The more I struck out the more I wanted to strike; every shudder of that quivering flesh filled me with some incomprehensible ardour. A circle of onlookers formed around me, and I only stopped myself for the sake of my self-respect.Afterwards, I was ashamed.I am always ashamed of myself nowadays. The pulse of life has always filled me with a peculiar rage to destroy. When I think of two beings in love, I experience an agonising sensation; by virtue of some bizarre backlash, there is something which smothers and oppresses me, and I suffocate, to the point of anguish.Whenever I wake up in the middle of the night to the muted hubbub of bumps and voices which suddenly become perceptible in the dormant city - all the cries of sexual excitement and sensuality which are the nocturnal respiration of cities - I feel weak. They rise up around me, submerging me in a sluggish flux of embraces and a tide of spasms. A crushing weight presses down on my chest; a cold sweat breaks out on my brow and my heart is heavy - so heavy that I have to get up, run bare-foot and breathless, to my window, and open both shutters, trying desperately to breathe. What an atrocious sensation it is! It is as if two arms of steel bear down upon my shoulders and a kind of hunger hollows out my stomach, tearing apart my whole being! A hunger to exterminate love.Oh, those nights! The long hours I have spent at my window, bent over the immobile trees of the square and the paving-stones of the deserted street, on watch in the silence of the city, starting at the least noise! The nights I have passed, my heart hammering in anguish, wretchedly and impatiently waiting for my torment to consent to leave me, and for my desire to fold up the heavy wings which beat inside the walls of my being like the wings of some great fluttering bird!Oh, my cruel and interminable nights of impotent rebellion against the rutting of Paris abed: those nights when I would have liked to embrace all the bodies, to suck in all the breaths and sup all the mouths... those nights which would find me, in the morning, prostrate on the carpet, scratching it still with inert and ineffectual fingers... fingers which never know anything but emptiness, whose nails are still taut with the passion of murder twenty-four hours after the crises... nails which I will one day end up plunging into the satined flesh of a neck, and...It is quite clear, you see, that I am possessed by a demon... a demon which doctors would treat with some bromide or with all-healing sal ammoniac! As if medicines could ever be imagined to be effective against such evil!

-Jean Lorrain

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But I've still better things about children. I've collected a great, great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother, 'most worthy and respectable people, of good education and breeding.' You see, I must repeat again, it is a peculiar characteristic of many people, this love of torturing children, and children only. To all other types of humanity these torturers behave mildly and benevolently, like cultivated and humane Europeans; but they are very fond of tormenting children, even fond of children themselves in that sense. it's just their defencelessness that tempts the tormentor, just the angelic confidence of the child who has no refuge and no appeal, that sets his vile blood on fire. In every man, of course, a demon lies hidden- the demon of rage, the demon of lustful heat at the screams of the tortured victim, the demon of lawlessness let off the chain, the demon of diseases that follow on vice, gout, kidney disease, and so on."This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty- shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn't ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child's groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can't even understand what's done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child's prayer to dear, kind God'! I say nothing of the sufferings of grown-up people, they have eaten the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all! But these little ones! I am making you suffer, Alyosha, you are not yourself. I'll leave off if you like

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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I'd like you to see that we are interfering too drastically. WE can't just assume so completely that Azerbaijan is in the hands of dangerous men and vicious Bolsheviks. I suppose it's all in the way you see Iran. I'd like you to see that Iranians are just as serious about their politics as we are: perhaps more so. The Iranian is a vigorous individual with definite ideas about the right and wrong done to him. It's easy for these journalists to laugh at the idea of political spontaneity among the Iranians because they look on these people as dirty, stupid, childlike natives who stare open-mouthed while the wonders of the west are offered to them.…...They are not like that at all. They want proper government, the same as anybody else. They have certainly tried hard enough to get it, but they haven't had a chance. We have done a great deal to prevent them getting real government. It may shock you, but we have always wanted corrupt administrations. Since the Reuter concessions sixty years ago we have begaved like American gangsters using threats, money, and even war to extort privileges and concessions which amounted to owning the country. At one time we had complete control over the administration, over the entire wealth of the land, the banks, and the army. It's rather silly to say the Iranians are un-political when you realize how quickly we had to hand back those concessions. This country rose to a man against us. We gave in hastily, but we managed to cling desperately to our oil concessions. [MacGregor]I think you are worrying yourself unduly [Essex]. We can't be too bad an influence. We may not be reformers ourselves... but we do not fight people who are really trying to improve the country. You must admit that we did not resist the last Shah, and he certainly reformed the place as best as it could be reformed.[MacGregor] It has become a habit to pass all compliments to Reza Shah,...even though we dethroned him. All reforms and modernizations are supposed to be his idea. Yet he simply took over the power of a popular revolution which we resisted at the time. He took power as a despot and he was little better than his predecessors. These people are getting fed up with despots. They obviously want to achieve some kind of better government, particularly in Azerbaijan.… That revolt in Azerbaijan doesn't have to be a Russian idea. It is really the continuation of five or six revolutions, all of them trying to get rid of corrupt governments. This time they seen to be succeeding. Our idea is to stop it.... Every level of government in Iran is corrupt from top to bottom, including the court, the police, and the parliament. Government is organized corruption. The ministers prey on the population like buzzards; they arragne taxes, laws, finances, famines; everything to the purpose of making money. The last Shah might have wiped out some of it; but that meant he became the biggest grafter of them all. He controlled the little fellows, and took the best of everything for himself. By the end of his rule he owned about a fifth of this entire country. He is not the hero we think he is, and his police regime was as brutal as anything the Germans had. Though we co-operated with him, he was a little tougher than the others and he always held out for more. Once, he threatened to wipe out our oil concession but we brought him off. He could always be bought off, like all the other grafters.

-James Aldridge

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...With a religious book it is less what we see in it than what we see through it that matters. J. R. R. Tolkien's fairy-tale epic the Lord of the Rings helps draw the distinction perhaps. Some of its admirers have tried to make it into a religion book by claiming, among other things, that the Ring of Power which must be destroyed is the hydrogen bomb. Tolkien, on the other hand, denied this unequivocally. But intended or otherwise, there can be little doubt that for many it has become a religious book. The "Frodo Lives" buttons are not entirely a joke, because something at least comes to life through those fifteen hundred pages, although inevitably it is hard to say just what. It seems to have something to do with the way Tolkien has of making us see the quididity of things like wood, bread, stone, milk, iron, as though we have never seen them before or not for a long time, which is probably the truth of the matter; his landscapes set deeper echoes going in us than any message could. He gives us back a sense that we have mostly lost of the things of the earth, and because we are ourselves of the earth, whatever else, we are given back too some sense of our own secret. Very possibly again he did not intend it. I may well be axiomatic that, religiously, a writer achieves most when he is least conscious of doing so. Certainly the attempt to be religious is as doomed as the attempt to be poetic is.

-Frederick Buechner

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Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this.If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs--commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?--Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster--tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand--miles of them--leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues--north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries--stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

-Herman Melville

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Sooner or later, all talk among foreigners in Pyongyang turns to one imponderable subject. Do the locals really believe what they are told, and do they truly revere Fat Man and Little Boy? I have been a visiting writer in several authoritarian and totalitarian states, and usually the question answers itself. Someone in a café makes an offhand remark. A piece of ironic graffiti is scrawled in the men's room. Some group at the university issues some improvised leaflet. The glacier begins to melt; a joke makes the rounds and the apparently immovable regime suddenly looks vulnerable and absurd. But it's almost impossible to convey the extent to which North Korea just isn't like that. South Koreans who met with long-lost family members after the June rapprochement were thunderstruck at the way their shabby and thin northern relatives extolled Fat Man and Little Boy. Of course, they had been handpicked, but they stuck to their line.There's a possible reason for the existence of this level of denial, which is backed up by an indescribable degree of surveillance and indoctrination. A North Korean citizen who decided that it was all a lie and a waste would have to face the fact that his life had been a lie and a waste also. The scenes of hysterical grief when Fat Man died were not all feigned; there might be a collective nervous breakdown if it was suddenly announced that the Great Leader had been a verbose and arrogant fraud. Picture, if you will, the abrupt deprogramming of more than 20 million Moonies or Jonestowners, who are suddenly informed that it was all a cruel joke and there's no longer anybody to tell them what to do. There wouldn't be enough Kool-Aid to go round. I often wondered how my guides kept straight faces. The streetlights are turned out all over Pyongyang—which is the most favored city in the country—every night. And the most prominent building on the skyline, in a town committed to hysterical architectural excess, is the Ryugyong Hotel. It's 105 floors high, and from a distance looks like a grotesquely enlarged version of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco (or like a vast and cumbersome missile on a launchpad). The crane at its summit hasn't moved in years; it's a grandiose and incomplete ruin in the making. 'Under construction,' say the guides without a trace of irony. I suppose they just keep two sets of mental books and live with the contradiction for now.

-Christopher Hitchens

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If we put aside the self-awareness standard -- and really, how arbitrary and arrogant is that, to take the attribute of consciousness we happen to possess over all creatures and set it atop the hierarchy, proclaiming it the very definition of consciousness (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote something wise in his notebooks, to the effect of: only a man can draw a self-portrait, but only a man wants to) -- it becomes possible to say at least the following: the overwhelming tendency of all this scientific work, of its results, has been toward more consciousness. More species having it, and species having more of it than assumed. This was made boldly clear when the 'Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness' pointed out that those 'neurological substrates' necessary for consciousness (whatever 'consciousness' is) belong to 'all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses.' The animal kingdom is symphonic with mental activity, and of its millions of wavelengths, we’re born able to understand the minutest sliver. The least we can do is have a proper respect for our ignorance."The philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote an essay in 1974 titled, 'What Is It Like To Be a Bat?,' in which he put forward perhaps the least overweening, most useful definition of 'animal consciousness' ever written, one that channels Spinoza’s phrase about 'that nature belonging to him wherein he has his being.' Animal consciousness occurs, Nagel wrote, when 'there is something that it is to be that organism -- something it islike for the organism.' The strangeness of his syntax carries the genuine texture of the problem. We’ll probably never be able to step far enough outside of our species-reality to say much about what is going on with them, beyond saying how like or unlike us they are. Many things are conscious on the earth, and we are one, and our consciousness feels likethis; one of the things it causes us to do is doubt the existence of the consciousness of the other millions of species. But it also allows us to imagine a time when we might stop doing that.

-Cambridge Declaration

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