This is Where I Leave You

by

Jonathan Tropper

New York Times bestseller A Plume Book 2010 339 pages

This novel had me hooked and in stitches from page one. How rare is that? The novel opens by describing the personality of the narrator’s family and how they deal with life. I could immediately relate to the crass, harsh, hilarious and real way the Foxman family does family. The patriarch has died which becomes a framing device for the story. While Dad was sick he requested the family come together and sit Shiva for seven whole days. For years they have actively avoided bonding family time and none of the four grown children are looking forward to all this togetherness. Each sibling has a lot going on including spouses and assorted lovers. We get to peek inside each life, but we are always in the head of Judd, the narrator, whose life is completely upside down. Even though the situations are not obviously funny, Tropper gives Judd such a twisted sense of humor that somehow you laugh even when you are not supposed to. On the other hand, Tropper can be very nostalgic and heart-felt when discussing family, sometimes even waxing poetic. The story is told in the present tense and is counted by the time on the clock so that, in effect, you are also sitting Shiva with the Foxmans. This novel is full of belly-laughs that will make you want to read out loud to your friends. What follows are my favorite bits (I like to call “the best bits”) and chapter summaries.

1 “If we sound like a couple of callous assholes, it’s because that’s how we were raised” (2).

“Dad didn’t believe in God, but he was a life-long member of the Church of Shit or Get Off the Can” (3).

[Story being told by Judd who has an older sister (Wendy), older brother (Paul) and younger brother, Phillip. Their dad has finally died after a long battle with stomach cancer. They will gather for the funeral. Judd has been having a tough time even aside from his father’s death.]

2 “…trying to look like someone trying not to look bored” (10).

“You get married to have an ally against your family, and now I’m heading into the trenches alone” (11).

[Judd and Jen are divorcing. They had met in college. Jen is sleeping with Judd’s boss and is pregnant. Judd and Jen were pregnant once. Still birth. You can tell Judd still loves her and is very hurt.]

3 “Because the thing of it is, no matter how much you enjoy sex, there’s something jolting and strangely disturbing about witnessing the sex of others. Nature has taken great pains to lay out the fundamentals of copulation so that it’s impossible to get a particularly good view of the sex you’re having. Because when you get right down to it, sex is a messy, gritty, often grotesque business to behold: the hairs; the abraded, dimpled flesh; the wide-open orifices; the exposed, glistening organs. And the violence of the coupling itself, primitive and elemental, reminding us that we’re all just dumb animals clinging to our spot on the food chain, eating, sleeping, and fucking as much as possible before something bigger comes along and devours us” (16-17).

[Margin note: No romanticizing here! Thank you for telling it like it is.]

“Naked men shouldn’t run” (24).

[Judd goes into gross, horrible and hilarious detail about the day he caught his wife and boss together in HIS bed. Now he lives in a cheap basement room and is somehow still spiraling downward.]

4 “…even as his ridiculous raincoat makes him stand out like a bloodstain against a sky the color of a dead tooth” (33).

[Father’s funeral.]

5 [After the funeral the extended family gather around the dinner table. Chaos ensues.]

6 [Judd recalling the first time he met Jen.]

7 “And as the room starts to fill with the first somber-faced neighbors coming to pay their respects, it becomes clear to me that the reason for filling the shiva house with visitors is most likely to prevent the mourners from tearing each other limb from limb” (63).

[In high school Judd and Alice lost their virginity to each other. Alice later married Paul and the brothers have had a rocky relationship ever since.]

8 [Judd escapes shiva for a short drive to pick Horry up from the store and take him home. Judd learns an old flame also works at the store. His interest is peaked.]

9 [First day of shiva finally ends. Judd listens to voicemails from pregnant Jen who wants to hurry along divorce proceedings.]

10 “There is nothing more pathetically optimistic than the morning erection. I am depressed, unemployed, unloved, basement-dwelling, and bereaved, but there it is, every morning like clockwork, rising up to greet the day, poking out of my fly cocksure and conspicuously useless. And every morning, I face the same choice: masturbate or urinate. It’s the one time of the day where I feel like I have options” (84).

[Judd’s relationship with his mother.]

11 [All the kids are giving Mom a “Dad” story but Judd can’t recall a time he had his dad’s undivided attention.]

12 [Mr. Applebaum is already scoping out the widow.]

13 [Judd is lonely and every woman in society has his attention.]

14 [Judd re-lives quitting his job when Wade was his manager.]

15 [Tracy is now competing with old school chums of Phillip’s. Judd puts in a good word for Horry’s independence.]

16 [Judd sees Penny who he had a thing with in college. They made a pact to marry by age 40 if they were both still single. Horry cannot live alone even though he desires independence.]

17 [Horry brought back a memory of a dog attack that Judd and Paul experienced as kids. Now Judd is dreaming about it.]

18 [Paul and Phillip finally go to blows and Jen appears out of nowhere. Will Phillip join the family business? Will Paul let him?]

19 [Judd sums up what sex is like after you’ve been married for years.]

20 “‘Please,’ she says. ‘Tell me what you’re thinking.’

“It’s an absurd request. Our minds, unedited by guilt or shame, are selfish and unkind, and the majority of our thoughts, at any given time, are not for public consumption, because they would either be hurtful or else just make us look like the selfish and unkind bastards we are. We don’t share our thoughts, we share carefully sanitized, watered-down versions of them, Hollywood adaptations of those thoughts dumbed down for the PG-13 crowd” (137).

[Jen comes to tell Judd that she is carrying HIS baby!]

21 [Judd recalling when he and Jen learned they had lost their first (and only) child. It led to the demise of their marriage.]

22 [Mom gives her input on her kids’ relationships then Paul decks Phillip to return the favor from the day before. Phillip drops the bomb about Jen being pregnant.]

23 [Judd visits Penny and they have a short skate holding hands. Phillip is cheating on Tracy. Dad’s death is starting to sink in.]

25 [Horry still has a thing for Wendy. Does she still think of him too?]

26 [Paul and his wife are trying to conceive and everyone knows it.]

27 [After a make out session with Penny in the pool, Judd calls Jen. Wade answers and doesn’t appreciate this late night call.]

28 [The crazy party in high school where Alice and Judd were going to make out but instead Judd gets kicked in the balls. Paul comes back to revenge his little brother, but Paul ends up being attacked by a guard dog owned by Judd’s attacker. The two brothers’ relationship has never been the same.]

29 “You can sit up here, feeling above it all while knowing you’re not, coming to the lonely conclusion that the only thing you can ever really know about anyone is that you don’t know anything about them at all” (188).

[Judd is accidentally electrocuted which brings forward a dad memory. He mourns with his mother.]

30 [The brothers sneak off during church service to smoke dad’s last joint. They accidentally set off the fire alarm.]

31 “Back when I lived with Jen, I had some friends. In the aftermath of our separation, Allan and Mike had met me for drinks and we’d all raised our glasses in agreement that Jen was a cheating bitch and I was the good guy here. I didn’t know it at the time, but that night was actually my good-bye party. Jen would retain custody of our friends and I’d be wordlessly discarded. A few weeks later, as I circled the multiplex parking lot, I saw Allan and Mike with their wives, leaving the theater along with Jen and Wade, all walking in standard formation, talking and laughing in the cinematic afterglow, like it had always been just so. I tried to tell myself it was simply a chance encounter, but it was clear from their body language that they were all together, and probably not for the first time. It’s a sad moment when you come to understand how truly replaceable you are. Friendship in the suburbs is wife-driven, and my friends were essentially those husbands of Jen’s friends that I could most tolerate. Now that I’d been sidelined, Wade had stepped in for me like an understudy, a small note was inserted into the program, and the show went on without missing a beat” (214-215).

[Jen wants to talk but Judd is having none of it. He makes mischief in his old house when no one is there. He is practically raped by his sister-in-law Alice who has been trying for 2 years to get pregnant with Paul. Later, Judd goes on a date with Penny and for the second time says nothing about Jen being pregnant.]

32 [Judd dreams a sweet dream of his father who heals him.]

33 [Wendy and Judd talk about life. Why did Linda (Mom’s lifelong friend) stay the night?]

34 [Old high school friends come to visit during shiva. Their lives have all turned out pretty mediocre.]

35 [Visiting high school friends prompt an impromptu batting round in the side yard where Paul hurts his ravaged shoulder and Boner gets hit in the face with a ball. Have mother and Linda been lovers for years?]

36 [Judd lets all the older women know he DOES NOT want to be set up with their daughters.]

37 “She is waiting in front of her building when we pull up, looking edible in a T-shirt, short shorts, and tennis shoes. She could be nineteen. She could be my girlfriend. We could be going out to the amusement park, where we’d kiss on the lines, hold hands on the rides, and share cotton candy. I’d win her one of those giant stuffed animals and we’d carry it around the park with us like a badge of honor. Afterward it would take up permanent residence on her pink bedspread, where she’s lie across ti while we spoke for hours on the phone” (252).

“A kid with a name tag and a digital camera asks us to pose for a picture with the cheesy plaster palace behind us. There are countless pictures of my family at various ages in just this spot. If we pulled them out of all the messy albums in the living room bookcases, you could probably track the steady growth of our family, like annual pencil marks on the wall to show how tall you’ve grown. Dad isn’t in any of the Wonderland pictures, because he was always the one taking them, with this old Yashica he’d bought when he first got married, because why the hell would he pay for a picture he could take better himself? As a matter of fact, you’d have to turn a lot of pages to find Dad in any of our albums. The inadvertent result of being the default photographer is that he was relegated to the role of a bit player in the actual recorded history of our family. There are entire years of our lives where he doesn’t appear at all” (253).

“Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it” (255).

[The last date with Penny.]

38 [Judd is having a moment with Jen at the hospital listening to their baby’s heartbeat when Wade arrives. He ends up arguing with both Judd and Phillip who ends up decking him. A bit of vandalism meets Wade’s car before the brothers exit the parking lot.]

39 [All the brothers are feeling quite beat up by their wives. They need a night off.]

40 “He sinks his teeth into every word, and they come out chewed” (276).

[The brothers go out but it was not the bonding experience they had imagined.]

41 “Down in the basement, I wash some of Boner’s foam spray off the mirror to better study my reflection. My bottom lip is split and swollen, my eyes bleary, my cheeks pale and puffy. I look like a corpse pulled from the river a week after the suicide. It’s time for a gut check. I mean that literally. I pull off my shirt, which is caked with just enough blood and vomit to represent a much wilder night than the one I’ve had, and step back to study my torso. The overall effect does not match the image I cling to in my head. My belly is not yet what you’d call a gut, but you can see where the inevitable expansion will happen. I have no real chest to speak of; you’d miss it altogether if it weren’t for the two hairless nipples pressed on like decals. Broader shoulders would create the illusion of fitness, but I am sorely lacking in that department as well. The overall impression is lean but soft, and getting softer. This is the package, ladies. Come and get it.

“I lie down on the floor to do some sit-ups and promptly fall asleep” (285-5).

[Drunk Judd gets a punch and an apology from Wade who is leaving Jen. He just can’t do the step-father thing.]

42 [Another dream of Dad who is cradling Judd’s future baby.]

43 “The whites of his eyes are vaguely pink, like something ran in the wash” (295).

[Tracy knows it’s the end of the line with Phillip. Horry lays girls who don’t truly know him. Alice apologizes for raping Judd. Lina leaves after a heated argument.]

44 [Mom comes out of the closet.]

45 [The kids discuss their mom being bisexual.]

46 [Shiva is over. Judd drives home to a long talk with Jen. He is ready to work on forgiveness.]

47 [Mom and Linda get to tell their story. Mom was the one bringing them all together…not dad’s dying wish.]

48 [All the kids prepare to return to the lives.]

49 [Judd goes to apologize and say good-bye to Penny.]

50 [I never summarize the last chapter. That is a prompt to go read the book yourself!]

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

By

Allison Hoover Bartlett

Riverhead Books  New York  2009

262 pages excluding notes

I like the way Bartlett sets up the story. She speaks directly to her audience and first describes what made her interested in tracking a rare books thief. It sounds almost like she is setting up a master’s thesis; she first states her driving curiosity and why which sets us on a journey together. The language is straightforward yet sometimes repetitive. She narrows in on a notorious rare book thief named John Gilkey whom she interviews multiple times. She gets to know him and tries to figure out his motivations. I did not feel the need to summarize every chapter, but there were some quotes and reflections on the love of books themselves which I really enjoyed. What follows are the quotes and reflections Bartlett used that captured my attention. If you are a book fanatic, you will enjoy this read. Numbers at the beginning of an entry indicate the chapter followed by the chapter title. My own reflections I will place in brackets.

[Dude! You are not going to believe this!]:

From Anathema in a medieval manuscript from the Monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona:

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner…let him be struck with palsy, & all his members belated…Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

[So badass]

From A. S. W. Rosenback, twentieth-century book dealer:

I have known men to hazard their fortunes, go long journeys halfway about the world, forget friendships, even lie, cheat, and steal, all for the gain of a book.

[The book begins with a story of a borrowed book: the Krautterbuch. Referring to the book, Bartlett writes]:

My favorite remedy, though, is for low spirits. “Often we are missing the right kind of happiness, and if we don’t have any wine yet, we will be very content when we do get wine” (4).

[Prologue summary:

Introduction of the Krautterbuch, a book from the 1600s which was supposedly stolen from a library. The author speaks in first person and explains how this book set her on a journey.]

1  Like a Moth to a Flame

[This passage brought a tear to my eye because it so accurately describes the magic of becoming attached to a book.]

Walking by a booth with an impressive selection of dust jacket art, I heard a dealer say to a passerby, “don’t judge a book by its content!” I had read enough about book collectors before the fair to get the joke: Many collectors don’t actually read their books. At first, I was surprised, but having given it some thought, it’s not so shocking. After all, much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books’ physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories–we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on.

For me, the most important book-as-object from my childhood is Charlotte’s Web, the first book I mail-ordered after joining a book club. I still remember my thrill at seeing the mailman show up with it at our front door on a sunny Saturday morning. It has a crisp paper jacket, unlike the plastic-covered library books I was used to, and the way the pages parted, I could tell I was the first to open it. For several days I lived in Wilbur’s world, and the only thing as sad as Charlotte’s death, maybe even sadder, was that I had come to the end of the book. I valued that half-dream state of being lost in a book so much that I limited the number of pages I let myself read each day in order to put off the inevitable end, my banishment from that world. I still do this. It doesn’t make sense, though, because the pleasure of that world does not really end for good. You can always start over on page one–and you can remember. Whenever I have spotted my old Charlotte’s Web (on my son’s shelf, then my daughter’s), I have recalled how it came to me. It’s a personal record of one chapter of my life, just as other chapters have other books I associate with them. The pattern continues; my daughter returned from camp last summer with her copy of Motherless Brooklyn in a state approaching ruin. She told me she’s dropped it into a creek, but couldn’t bear to leave it behind, even after she’d finished it. This book’s body is inextricably linked to her experience of reading it. I hope that she continues to hold on to it, because as long as she does, its wavy, expanded pages will remind her of the hot day she read it with her feet in the water–and of the fourteen-year-old she was at the time. A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair was a concentrated celebration of that fact.

[The author is most interested in the type of book thief that steals for the love of books. Gilkey is notorious. He says he will tell his story from prison.]

2  Half-truths

[The author’s first interview with Gilkey.]

3  Richie Rich

[Gilkey sees his book collection as a representation of himself. He wants to appear rich and cultured. He wants people to be impressed.]

4  A Gold Mine

5  Spider-Man

6  Happy New Year

7  Trilogy of Kens

In 1644, John Milton wrote: “For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

8  Treasure Island

9  Brick Row

10  Not Giving Up

11  This Call May Be Recorded or Monitored

Of having taken their lives, he said, “Every man must die, sooner or later, but good books must be conserved.”

12  What More Could I Ask?

13  And Look: More Books!

14  The Devil’s Walk

Afterword

From Warning written by medieval German scribe:

This book belongs to none but me

For there’s my name inside to see.

To steal this book, if you should try,

It’s by the throat that you’ll hang high.

And ravens then will gather ‘bout

To find your eyes and pull them out.

And when you’re screaming

“Oh, Oh, Oh!”

Remember, you deserved this woe.

[Man, these medieval book lovers were not playing.]

Ordinary People

by Judith Guest Ballantine Books New York 1976

This is a classic and an easy read with short chapters. The writing is not flowery or dreamy although when someone is experiencing disordered thinking the writing reflects what that might look like with few punctuation marks and fragments of sentences. The story deals with difficult family issues. The story and emotions are realistic. There are no easy answers if there are any answers at all. We learn that parental love can come in many forms, but it can also not be shown at all. Accidents happen, emotions and behaviors become twisted, people lose their shit and those around them don’t know what to do with that lost shit. Trigger warning issues of accidental death, suicide and mental institutions.

What follows is a plot summary excluding the epilogue; that’s for you to get to. The numbers indicate the chapter.

1 We meet young Conrad Jarrett fresh out of the mental facility and having trouble starting his day.

2 Calvin Jarrett is the father. Being abandoned as a child makes it even more difficult for him to parent a teen with mental illness. (The chapters alternate between these two characters’ points of view. The novel is written, interestingly, in the present tense.)

3 We learn about Conrad’s school life. All his friends are seniors but due to his illness he is still a junior. He has trouble feeling normal although he is trying to get back to his old routine.

4 Calvin doesn’t think it wise to go on their annual Christmas vacation. He doesn’t want any trouble. We learn that another son, Jordan, (older brother to Conrad) is now deceased.

5 Conrad sees a crazy local psychiatrist who appears inept. Conrad says his older brother died in a boating accident.

6 Calvin, the dad, seems every bit as lost as his mentally ill son. He has no idea who he is or what he wants.

7 Conrad attempts an afternoon date with Karen, a girl from the mental facility. She doesn’t feel mentally safe and leaves quickly.

8 Calvin drinks quite a bit. The neighbors are curious about Conrad’s situation. Beth (Conrad’s mother/Calvin’s wife) doesn’t want to discuss the topic at parties (or generally in public). Calvin misses hearing both sons in the house. We learn Conrad has slit his wrists.

9 Conrad is actually getting something out of seeing this wacky psychiatrist, Dr. Berger.

10 Conrad quits the swim team; he doesn’t like those people. They are too mean and he is too sensitive; too raw.

11 Calvin thinking about his law partner’s life and marriage.

12 Conrad successfully visits with a cute girl. He recalls a ski trip with his brother.

13 Beth finds out Conrad quit the swim team from an outside source. He quit a month ago and his parents didn’t know. There is a big family freak out. Conrad feels his mother hates him.

14 Dr. Berger’s genius is slowly being revealed.

15 Instead of talking about their grief, Calvin and Beth simply fight.

16 Conrad gets his looks complimented. He is starting to gain positive momentum. His psychiatrist is very helpful.

17 Calvin is now the one seeking Dr. Berger’s help.

18 Bumbling through exams and asking out girls.

19 Calvin’s business partner is worried about him.

20 Conrad’s date goes well. They set up another for the following weekend.

21 Calvin evaluates his fears and how he is most motivated to be safe.

22 Conrad gets in a fist fight with an asshole in the school parking lot.

23 Conrad tells his dad about the fight. Mom doesn’t even notice Conrad is waiting up for Dad.

24 Conrad’s new girlfriend is experiencing family drama. His own parents are out of town and he has to stay with his grandparents. His grandmother is a ball buster. (You can see where his mom gets it.)

25 Calvin and Beth on vacation at her brother’s place in Texas.

26 Karen is a girl Conrad was in treatment with. She has killed herself. This sends Conrad into a tailspin thinking about his brother dying on the lake and about electric shock therapy in treatment. He calls his psychiatrist and is driving to see him.

27 Conrad has a bad night but he makes it through.

28 Calvin and Beth can’t get through a vacation without fighting. Beth feels her son cut his wrists to show HER how much he hates her.

29 Everyone seems relieved to be home again.

30 Conrad has a girlfriend and they can discuss important things.

31 Calvin and Conrad discuss Beth and her leaving them. There are no clear answers and they’ll just have to be okay with that.

Epilogue

The Role of Fate in The House Behind the Cedars

Tiffany Akin

Dr. Menson-Furr

Engl 8328

27 Jan. 2010

 

Charles Chesnutt performs extraordinary feats within the story structure in The House Behind the Cedars: he creates deep and complicated characters, he grapples with social issues of race and prejudice, and he builds suspense throughout the story that propels the reader on to the next page.  One of the most interesting ideas that Chesnutt uses to create interest and drama within the story is the idea of Fate.  During the early part of the story the idea of Fate is more faint and abstract, but as the story deepens Chesnutt begins to use the word “Fate” at certain key moments in the story, leaving no doubt that Fate plays as strong a role as any human character in the story.  Due to the brevity of this format, we will only examine a few ways in which Fate twisted the love affair between George Tryon and Rena Walden in The House Behind the Cedars.

The relationship between Rena and George is the centerpiece of Chesnutt’s story.  The hand of Fate directs their relationship as early as their first encounter.  During the chapter entitled “The Tournament” the crowd is gathered to watch chivalrous men on horseback perform a series of skills of accuracy.  The crowd is going wild and the women are waving their handkerchiefs.  As Fate would have it, Rena’s handkerchief escapes her grip and it flies up into the air.  George spots the flying cloth and scoops it up with his lance before it even touches the ground.  The rider then returns the handkerchief to Rena which, unknowingly for the couple, binds the two of them together for life.  If George had not spotted the errant cloth or some other young man had made the same gesture, things would have evolved differently in both of their lives.

A second twist of Fate occurs at the end of the chapter entitled “Doubts and Fears.”  Rena has been discussing “coming out” with her brother and they decide to surreptitiously test the waters with Tryon by asking sideways questions regarding what he may feel about the black race.  Rena and Tryon are discussing marriage when she points at her nephew’s black nurse and asks, “Would you love me if I were Albert’s nurse yonder?”  Although Rena is referring to the color of the nurse, George receives the question in a totally different light; his answer in the positive refers to the nurse’s job, not her color.  While George feels it would be perfectly fine to marry a nurse and take her away from such drudgery, Rena thinks his affirmative answer means “it would make no difference with him…” (326).   This misunderstanding, or twist of Fate, prompts Rena to answer “yes” to George’s proposal and the next set of circumstances is set into motion.

A precursor to one of the most devastating twists of Fate occurs when Rena begins to have dreams that her dear mother is ill.  Rena has been preparing for her wedding to George, but at the same time she has a series of dreams in which her mother becomes more and more sick.  Due to these fateful dreams, Rena leaves on the eve of her wedding, headed to Patesville to nurse her mother back to health.  If she had not gone Molly may have died, yet Rena’s secret would have been safe… even more secure than when Molly was alive.  Later in the story Chesnutt refers back to the dreams:  “If she had not been sick, Rena would not have dreamed the fateful dream that had brought her to Patesville…” (398).

The most excruciating twist of Fate occurs when both George and Rena are in Patesville at the same time.  Both Judge Straight and Rena’s old friend Frank understand the relevance of having the two lovers running amok in the small town at the same time.  As the two men are busy trying to find and reign in Rena, she is fatefully running around town performing errands for her mother.  They cannot find her soon enough to save her.  Dr. Green and George are together in the doctor’s cart.  As the doctor hops down to perform some task he tells George that if he wants to see a good looking woman he should look inside the drugstore.  George does not even care that much but, just to pass the time, he takes a look.  The scene painted by Chesnutt when Rena steps out of the store is crushingly heartbreaking.  “She stood a moment as if turned to stone” (360).  If the hands of Fate had placed that young woman anywhere else that day she may have gotten away with marrying George and living happily ever after.  Yet would a life of hiding her heritage been carefree?  Perhaps that is to debate in another paper.

 

 

 

Peter Singer

My students and I explored some of the works by philosopher Peter Singer. We read his chapter called “Rich and Poor”, his chapter entitled “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” and his book The Most Good You Can Do. What follows are our reading notes along with personal comments and ideas for writing. The title of each piece will appear followed by the page number of each reading note. Ideas for writing are indicated by the initials W.I. (for writing idea). The entire class contributed to these notes, so you may hear many voices and opinions while reading. Use these notes to learn more about Singer’s philosophies, the content of three of his works or for study notes.

 

Honors Comp II

Peter Singer

Reading to Write

 

  • Close reading at the word/sentence/paragraph level
  • Knowing what is an example of a larger point
  • Knowing which words in a sentence you can omit for clarity
  • Drawing the ideas
  • Using a dictionary
  • Taking thinking AND reading notes
  • What ideas are Singer’s and which are not
  • Philosophy requires patience and time to decipher

 

Writing Ideas

When you see a bullet point below with W.I. for “writing idea” this indicates there is something within the text you could take on for a quarterly project. 

  1.  If you like one of these ideas, place your last name in brackets under the idea of your choosing and tell us how you will tackle your writing idea. 
  2. You may come up with your own ideas. If so, place your last name within brackets at the point you see your “in” and indicate the topic you are going to explore. 
  3. As you become responsible for updating reading notes, use the bulleted W.I. technique to que others there is a germ of an idea for writing. When updating reading notes, use normal text arial 14 style/size font. Indicate titles and subheadings by following capitalization rules and set the title or subheading apart from the notes by one extra space. You will also be asked to make personal comments within the reading notes. Follow the last name in brackets technique to include your personal thoughts. Let’s set the gradebook to record two personal comments per article and chapter.

General writing ideas:

  • To what extent do you agree with the author
  • Exploring definitions
  • Google Scholar has vetted scholarly articles to help research

Peter Singer: Rich and Poor

Singer is the most famous ethicist in the world. His views on euthanasia and healthcare rationing make him one of the most controversial philosophers. He is an ardent Utilitarian.

Writing idea: what is a utilitarian? Where did this concept begin? Who else has written about utilitarian views? What utilitarian views are found in this Singer piece? 

Some Facts

Singer describes that hunger is a problem across the world. He uses some quotes from Robert McNamara, President of the World Bank.

          Writing idea (W.I.): Who is Robert McNamara and what has he written about world hunger?           

The concept of relative vs. absolute poverty

          W.I.: The economics of world hunger and food distribution

          W.I.: What other definitions of poverty can we find? Who is defining these terms?

          W.I.: Explore poverty across your own lifespan. What have you seen or endured? 

         W.I.: Poverty observed through travel  

Absolute poverty is poverty by any standard. Poverty at the absolute level…is life at the very margin of existence. As McNamara says “beneath any reasonable definition of human decency. Absolute poverty is responsible for the loss of countless lives, especially among infants and young children.” Malnutrition affects health, growth and learning capacity. It contributes to deficiency diseases. The food value is further reduced by hookworm and ringworms. Absolute poverty involves inadequate food, shelter, clothing, sanitation, health services and education. Something like 800 million people–almost 40% of the people of developing countries–live in absolute poverty. It no longer makes the news.

          W.I.: Create and film a news story on absolute poverty 

In America we produce grain to feed animals, but we do not send the grain to the people who are starving. People in rich countries are responsible for the consumption of far more food than those in poor countries who eat few animal products.

          W.I.: Explication: discover and explain this or other forms of food insufficiency and distribution problems

Solution: If we stopped feeding animals on grains, soybeans and fishmeal the amount of food saved would–if distributed to those who need it–be more than enough to end hunger throughout the world. The problem is essentially one of distribution rather than production. The poorer nations themselves could produce far more if they made more use of improved agricultural techniques. So why are people hungry? Poor people cannot afford to buy grain grown by American farmers. Poor farmers cannot afford to buy improved seeds, or fertilizers, or the machinery needed for drilling wells and pumping water.

          W.I.: Is there a codified hierarchy of poverty? Who created it? When? Have others created different categories?

A solution is to transfer wealth, product and tolls to those in need. “Absolute affluence” is affluence by any reasonable definition of human needs. They can spend money on luxuries. Its defining characteristic is a significant amount of income above the level necessary to provide for the basic human needs of oneself and one’s dependents. He lists countries who could help with poverty; who have enough to share. He follows with the percentage of income they actually share.

The Moral Equivalent of Murder?

If these are the facts, we cannot avoid concluding that by not giving more than we do, people in rich countries are allowing those in poor countries to suffer. If, then, allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers.

[Observe that the paragraph after the next really begins the philosophical question. We are going down a road of thought to see where it will go.]

How is a murderer different from a big spender?

A murderer acts with malice; a big spender acts with indifference.

It is very difficult to obey a rule which commands us to save all the lives we can. Although it is difficult, not doing so still results in death. We are allowing some to die who might have been saved. Saving every life would require a degree of moral heroism utterly different from what is required by mere avoidance of killing.

With murder, there is certainty of harm. To give leads to an uncertainty of it helping. Singer says it like this: a third difference between a murderer and a big spender is the greater certainty of the outcome of shooting when compared with not giving aid.

Fourth, when people are shot there are identifiable individuals who have been harmed. When I buy my color television, I cannot know who my money would have saved if I had given it away. (You know who you have shot vs. an unknown recipient of help.)

A murderer is responsible for a death whereas the big spender is not responsible for hunger.

Singer goes deeper into analysis of the murderer vs. the big spender and asks if these attitudes are justified. Knowingly poisoning itself is reprehensible even if we don’t know who we kill. The lack of knowing how the money will be used is not a sufficient reason not to give.

          W.I. Is there an entire theory of consequentialism? Research.

If a consequence of my spending money on a luxury item is that someone dies, I am responsible for that death. Consequentialists will say that as a result of living in today’s world we are responsible for today’s world.

Non-consequentialists have a theory of rights.

          W.I. Explore the works of John Locke or Robert Nozick regarding non-consequentialism

Yes, individuals dwelling only in their own worlds cannot harm others, but that is not how the real world works. If we consider people living together in a community, it is less easy to assume that rights must be restricted to rights against interference. If you have a right to life, so does the other. Despite a lack of malice, those who kill deserve not only blame but also severe punishment.

          W.I.: Do you believe the above statement? If you kill accidentally or without forethought, planning or malice, should you be punished as much as the reverse?

Not to kill is a minimum standard of acceptable conduct we can require of everyone, to save all one could possibly is not something that can realistically be required.

The Obligation to Assist: The Argument for an Obligation of Assist

If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, we ought to do it. Although this sounds solid, we don’t follow this principle by helping people in poverty.

Most non-consequentialists hold that we ought to prevent what is bad and promote what is good. I assume that absolute poverty, with its hunger and malnutrition, lack of shelter, illiteracy, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy, is a bad thing. And I assume that it is within the power of the affluent to reduce absolute poverty, without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance.

Not to help would be wrong, so helping is something everyone ought to do.

This is the argument for an obligation to assist:

First premise: If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it.

Second premise: Absolute poverty is bad.

Third premise: There is some absolute poverty we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance.

Conclusion: We ought to prevent some absolute poverty.

          W.I.: What is universalizability? How does it relate to world hunger?

Then Singer argues with his own argument!

Objections to the Argument: Taking Care of Our Own

Some people will ask why help those overseas when we need to help people here first. Singer says the question is not what we usually do, but what we ought to do, and it is difficult to see any sound moral justification for the view that distance, or community membership, makes a crucial difference to our obligations.

To allow one’s own kin to sink into absolute poverty would be to sacrifice something of comparable significance; and before that point had been reached, the breakdown of the system of family and community responsibility would be a factor to weigh the balance in favor of a small degree of preference for family and community. This small degree of preference is, however, decisively outweighed by existing discrepancies in wealth and property. 

Property Rights

Do we have the right to not share our private property?

          W.I.: See here Thomas Aquinas: what would he say?

          W.I.: How would a socialist answer this question?

A theory of property rights can insist on our right to retain wealth without pronouncing on whether the rich ought to give to the poor.

Population and the Ethics of Triage

In times of war with too few doctors the patients are divided into three categories: those who would probably survive without medical assistance, those who might survive if they received assistance, but otherwise probably would not, and those who even with medical assistance probably would not survive. We would aid those countries where our help might make the difference between success and failure in bringing food and population into balance.

If a country seems to fall into the third category of triage, should we assist them? Make an argument for or against

Population growth cannot be ignored and it cannot grow indefinitely. It will be checked by a decline in birth rates or a rise in death rats. Those who advocate triage are proposing that we allow the population growth of some countries to be checked by a rise in death rates–that is, by increased malnutrition, and related diseases; by widespread famines; by increased infant mortality and by epidemics of infectious diseases. The consequences of triage on this scale are so horrible that we are inclined to reject it without further argument.

By combining the triage theory and consequentialist ethics we find: only if the greater magnitude of the uncertain benefit outweighs its uncertainty should we choose it. The same principle applies when we are trying to avoid evils. The policy of triage involves a certain, very great evil: population control by famine and disease.

Singer makes suggestions regarding what we can do about population growth.

Population growth is therefore not a reason against giving overseas aid, although it should make us think about the kind of aid to give. Instead of food handouts, it may be better to give aid that hastens the demographic transition. The obligation to assist is not reduced. 

We have no obligation to assist countries whose governments have policies which will make our aid ineffective. We will help more people in the long run by using our resources where they are most effective.

Leaving It to the Government

I would agree that the governments of affluent nations should give much more genuine, no strings attached, aid than they give now. Refusing to give privately is wrong for the same reason that triage is wrong: it is a refusal to prevent a definite evil for the sake of a very uncertain gain. Singer suggests ways we can work with government.

          W.I.: Explore what government agencies are doing to help with overseas aid 

Too High a Standard?

If we were to set a more realistic standard, people might make a genuine effort to reach it. This setting a lower standard might actually result in more aid being given. It would mean that in order to do the maximum to reduce absolute poverty, we should advocate a standard lower than the amount we think people really ought to give. Of course we ourselves–those of us who accept the original argument, with its higher standard–would know that we ought to do more than we publicly propose people ought to do, and we might actually give more than we urge others to give. There is no inconsistency here, since in both our private and our public behavior we are trying to do what will most reduce absolute poverty.

What level should we advocate? A round percentage of one’s income…perhaps 10%.

Others may be able to give more without difficulty. No figure should be advocated as a rigid minimum or maximum; but it seems safe to advocate that those earning average or above average incomes in affluent societies, unless they have an unusually large number of dependents or other special needs, ought to give a tenth of their income to reducing absolute poverty. By any reasonable ethical standards this is the minimum we ought to do, and we do wrong if we do less.

V.9 Famine, Affluence, and Morality

269  It’s not an impossible idea to get rid of the poverty and destitution faced by millions.

On a personal/local level, people aren’t doing much 

          W.I.: Investigate the human tendency toward inaction

India will be forced to choose between letting the refugees starve or diverting funds from her own development program, which will mean that more of her own people will starve in the future.

270  There is nothing unique about this situation except it magnitude. Bengal is simply chosen as an example…this happens all the time.

(Singer’s thesis): What are the moral implications of a situation like this? In what follows, I shall argue that they way people in relatively affluent countries react to a situation like that in Bengal cannot be justified; indeed, the whole way we look at moral issues–our moral conceptual scheme–needs to be altered, and with it, the way of life that has come to be taken for granted in our society.

I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.

If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.

If it were acted upon, our world would be fundamentally changed. The principle takes no account of proximity or distance. Secondly, the principle makes no distinction between cases in which I am the only person who could possibly do anything and cases in which I am just one among millions in the same position. We cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away.

A large part of what they should be doing as individuals is to try to convince the government to give more aid

Mentions we haven’t responded in any significant way, while he doesn’t define “significant”

If significant means give everything to refugees, poverty-stricken, etc. then that seems outrageous as it would just turn the formerly well off into the ones living In poverty. 

Large governments aren’t doing enough either

Even the most generous countries have only given enough money to support them for a few days.

Countries put more money into their own infrastructure and projects than foreign aid.   

This puts the home country in a bind between saving those in need today and further causing problems in the future or not helping the needy today and being more able to prevent and fix the problem in the future by having more money 

If we can help someone without doing something worse and making a huge sacrifice, it’s our job to do it.

By saying this, we should help everyone no matter where they are.

By someone being near us, it’s easier to help them and aid them as we can see what they need.

[271, 272]  We all have a moral responsibility. Why do we have to choose to save a life in another country opposed to our own country where millions are fighting hungry and don’t have a place to call home.

Now that there is world news and travel we can help those far as well as near  

Why must we seek attention more than anything? No one will act on their own free will. NO one takes actions when someone else is closer.

All people are equally responsible. We cannot count on everyone to give. By giving more than five I will prevent more suffering than I would if I gave just 5 dollars.

         W.I.: Write about how even one person’s action can make an enormous change.

If everyone does what he ought to do, the result will not be as good as it would be if everyone did a little less than he ought to do, if only some do all they ought to do. (It is best if everyone gives a little.) In order to know how much to give everyone would have to give the same amount at the same time.

“If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.”  

The result of everyone doing what he really ought to do cannot be worse than the result of everyone doing less than he ought to do. We see giving money as charity, not duty.

          W.I.: The difference between duty and charity

“Supererogatory” is an act which it would be good to do, but not wrong not to do. We ought to give money away, and it is wrong not do so.

         W.I.: We are more focused on getting new clothes and new cars than giving to charity and helping those in need.

The outcome of this argument is that our traditional moral categories are upset. The traditional distinction between duty and charity cannot be drawn.

         W.I.: What is your moral responsibility?

273 “It might, nevertheless, be interesting to consider why our society, and most other societies, do judge differently from the way I have suggested they should.” As a philosopher trying to spread his own views and ideas, he seems unable to derive from the idea of most people having good morals, and almost justifying anything less.

Singer mentions J. O. Urmson, a British utilitarian philosopher of the late 19th century. Utilitarianism is “an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness… one theory of utilitarianism is the theory of Justification of Punishment stands in opposition to the “retributive” theory, according to which punishment is intended to make the criminal “pay” for his crime. According to the utilitarian, the rationale of punishment is entirely to prevent further crime by either reforming the criminal or protecting society from him and to deter others from crime through fear of punishment.” Henry R. West britannica.com 

The moral point of view requires us to look beyond the interests of our own society.

The statement from J. O. Urmson’s article is this: “the imperatives of duty, which tell us what we must do, as distinct from what it would be good to do but not wrong to do, function so as to prohibit behavior that is intolerable if men are to live together in society.” 

The possibility that by spreading the idea that we ought to be doing very much more than we are to relieve famine we shall bring about a general breakdown of moral behavior seems remote. If the stakes are an end to widespread starvation, it is worth the risk.

Just as singer related his topic to another Philosopher/ Author I will do the same. In his book Social Problems: Second Edition Joel Best he describes Social Construction as the way people assign meaning to the world, such as which actions are considered “tolerable” in different societies and cultures. Even moral standards differ through cultures, this is another example of social construct. 

The conclusion, regardless of circumstances, remains that “we ought to be preventing as much suffering as we can without sacrificing [seems like the notes drop off here] 

Page 274 Part V Utilitarianism

Singer brings up the fact that, to a certain degree, most people are self-interested with very few of us (people in general) being likely to do everything we ought to do.

           W.I: What defines the degrees of self-interest? Yet another triage?

          W.I: Singer gave many examples of Contemporary Western moral standards. What moral standards can be found in other cultures and countries?

Some people say the government should be in charge. Others say we actually need population control. This point, like the previous one, is an argument against relieving suffering that is happening now, because of a belief about what might happen in the future.

275  Singer mentions that the proper “conclusion that should be drawn is that the best means of preventing famine, in the long run, is population control.” 

How much should we all give? Looking at the matter purely from the point of view of overseas aid, there must be a limit to the extent to which we should deliberately slow down our economy. 

Mentioned “a strong and moderate version  of the principle of preventing bad occurrences.” 

The moderate version saying that we should want to help stop bad occurrences from coming to pass unless it would make the situation worse. The only difference from moderate and strong is that in the strong version we lower ourselves to a level of minimal work (“marginal utility”). Singer taking the side of the strong version saying “I can see no good reason for holding the moderate version of the principle rather than the strong version.”  

 

The Most Good You Can Do

———————————————————————————————————————

 

4  Effective altruists do things like the following:

Living modestly and donating a large part of their income–often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe–to the most effective charities;

Researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators;

Choosing the career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good;

Talking to others, in person or online, about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread;

Giving part of their body–blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney–to a stranger.

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement which applies evidence and reason to working out the most effective ways to improve the world.

5  If doing the most you can for others means that you are also flourishing, then that is the best possible outcome for everyone.

6-8  What is Altruism? 

To quote Webster an Altruist is “a person unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others”. Singer digs deeper under the surface of altruist, examining every conceivable aspect of it and breaking it down. 

6  People tend to be more willing to give to people with a story and a name, rather than to a face in a crowd. He then goes into how many people generously give to the Make-A-Wish foundation to make a child’s dreams of becoming Bat-Kid come true, but are then reluctant to give money to save multiple lives from malaria in another country. 

I agree with him when he says that this is because of an “emotional pull”. People seem to feel compelled to give when the child is known and acknowledged as his or her own person rather than one of the many. In my opinion people may sometimes feel they can’t make a lasting difference if they give to many different people as opposed to giving all you can to one specific person. 

Although Effective Altruists will also feel compelled to give into an emotional pull, they don’t because they know that their donations are better suited elsewhere where it does more good.

Effective altruists will feel the pull of helping an identifiable child from their own nation, region, or ethnic group but will then ask themselves if that is the best thing to do.

7  They give to the cause that will do the most good, given the abilities, time and money they have available. 

What exactly is “the most good”?

According to Singer, even the most effective altruists will have varying opinions. Some will argue that the most good is done when there is more happiness and less suffering whereas others will say that the most good is done simply when everything is equal. 

Both arguments are very compelling and understandable. Happiness is good for obvious reasons and then you have equality, which is good because everyone gets the same and no one is overabundant in one thing while others are dying for it. I personally feel that out those two options, id say that the most good would be when we live in a world with more happiness and less suffering. I say this simply because believe everyone wants to be happy and not suffer.

Does all suffering count?

Yes. According to Singer, Effective Altruists regard all suffering as bad no matter how far away they are or even what species they are. Animal suffering is not disregarded simply because they are animals, though they are measured differently on much suffering they an tolerate. 

8  One thing that stood out to me was how at the top of page eight Singer states “Effective Altruists can accept one’s own children…ahead of the children of strangers.”

I was surprised at how Singer chose to word this sentence.

The word “accept” shows, in my mind, that there was hesitation. 

Another thing he says a few sentences later really had me thinking. Singer says “…it’s not possible to love people without having greater concern for their [owns own children] than others.” 

I had never thought of it that way, that to love, you have to love some more than others. Otherwise you wouldn’t love anyone because your feelings for everyone would be the same. 

It is important to keep in mind that Effective Altruists are still people, they are still human and cannot put other first every second of every day or their life. They, like everyone else, take time out for themselves. 

(9-11)  Peter Singer, author of “The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically,” claims that investing resources into the arts would be a worthy goal, had we already overcome major issues in our world. In the next paragraph, Singer goes on to say, “Unfortunately, most people, even (…) professional philanthropy advisors don’t believe in thinking too much about the choice of causes to support. So it isn’t likely everyone will become an effective altruist anytime soon.” I’ve found that, in this sentence, Singer fails to mention the definition of an effective altruist, mentioned previously, leaving me to feel as if I were being persuaded. 

The original characteristics of an effective altruist which are excluded in, what seems to be, a persuasive attempt to become one myself: 

  1. “Things like the following-”
  2. “Choosing the career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good”
  3. “Talking to others about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread”
  4. “Giving part of their body; blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney to a stranger.”

 

These are reasons I do not wish to refer to myself as an “effective altruistic.” This is not because of reasons such as these which seem harmless:

  1. “Living modestly and donating a large part of their income often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe to the most effective charities”
  2.  “Researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators”

In terms of getting more people to claim effective altruism, these are great points. I see the problem when a person claims the belief system and never knew the other parts. It almost sounds like a cult, by definition of both cult and effective altruism, with the attempt to get their numbers up for active members.

13 Something that stood out to me in this book was even the author argued that we should be giving more than half our income, he did not do it himself.

They were trying to ease into giving marginal unity. 

When he first wrote the article him and his wife were only donating half of their income. Even though that percentage was low at the beginning him and his wife are now giving one-third of their income 

“One of the things that made it psychologically difficult to increase our giving was that for many years we were giving away a bigger slice of our income than anyone we knew.”

A man by the name of Zell Kravinsky had given up almost his entire 45 million dollars real estate fortune to charity. He did not put any of this money in his children or wife’s trust fund, but he donated it to help others while he lived off of $60,000 a year.

Scientific studies to show that a person that would not donate their kidney valued their life 4,000 times more than the person than that of a stranger. That high of a number is shocking.

The work of Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, professors of economics at MIT, who founded the Poverty Action Lab to carry out “social experiments”–by which they meant empirical research to discover which interventions against poverty work and which do not. Now known as the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, or J-PAL.

          W.I.: Explore their work

15  Innovations for Poverty Action

          W.I. Explore

16  Give Well, an organization that has taken the evaluation of charities to a new level

          W.I.: Explore

18  In 2009 Ord and Will MacAskill founded Giving What We Can which was created to end poverty in the developing world. The members of the organization would pledge to give 10 percent of their income to fund the relief efforts. They organization had 644 members who had pledged to give that percentage. If all went according to plan the organization would raise 309 million dollars for charity. Founded another organization – 80,000 Hours – a global community seeking to change the world. 

19  The Life You Can Save – Book – 2009. Website set up so people could pledge 10 percent. Website grew. Everything has a purpose. The book affected even Charlie Bresler – Who would later become the president of Men’s Warehouse. Now the unpaid executive director of The Life You Can Save.

20  2013 – Budget of $147,000 had moved up to $594,000 – more than 400 percent “return on investment’ 

Title page Part Two: How To Do The Most Good

 3 Living Modestly to Give More 

The definition of Modest: (of an amount, rate, or level) relatively moderate, limited, or small. 

It is possible to do an immense amount of good without earning a lot. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean “living on rice and beans and never going out to a movie” as source states. Living modestly means, not the bare minimum, but nothing excessive or completely unnecessary. Singer, along with Julia and her husband Jeff Kaufman, understand that lower incomes can give just as much without sacrificing anything of comparable significance.

          W.I.: Learn more about Giving Gladly 

Poorness is objective in itself. However, wealthier people often feel poor in comparison to those with even more wealth. Seeing that Julia and Jeff Kaufman were already living modestly and giving with a lower income, it was not hard for them to give more as they earned it. 

24 It shows first a graph of how Julia and her husband, Jeff, expenses looked like between August 2013 and July 2014. It talked about how they achieved saving so much and being able to give so much to charity such as taking the bus instead of owning a car as well as only renting part of a house. Knowing that the future held other financial obstacles  they still donated half of their income. 

25  It also starts off with a graph but instead it shows the “budget for a single person living in the Boston area on 35,000 a year.” We also see that julia provides us a list of the budget breakdown and how it would look realistically showing that most of it going to rent, only 10% being donated as well as saved. 

26  If living on a median income you could donate, save money for the future and still have enough to live comfortably. 

          W.I.: Do you agree with the statement above?

We are told that Julia isn’t Catholic yet has mentioned words spoken by Ambrose, a fourth-century archbishop of Milan who became known as one of the four original Great Doctors of the Roman Catholic Church.

          W.I.: Investigate Ambrose.

He states that when you give to the poor “ You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his,. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself.” As this radical view over time became apart of Christian traditions, the Roman Catholic Church never denied it and at times would repeat it to others. Pope Paul VI even quoted a part of what Ambrose said into his encyclical. 

27  Julia, a Catholic, reads in the Bible of a time Jesus spoke. Jesus told the man that he is to go and sell everything and give it to the poor. Julia began to do just that.

           W.I. Investigate Aaron Moore: Australian international aid worker and artist

28  Questions then arise: How far is too far? Is creating your own misery or saving someone else’s life more important? We can not give everything. 

29  “Everyone has boundaries. If you find yourself doing something that makes you bitter, it is time to reconsider.” This also reflects on the balance between giving too much and not enough. Julia found that her decision to not have a child was making her bitter. Julia soon understood that she would be more successful to the world with her personal happiness.

          W.I.: Learn more about George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends

30-32  At the very end of page twenty-nine and into the beginning of thirty, the author is telling a story of a woman who become so deeply engulfed in helping others that she was sacrificing things in her own life that gave her any source of happiness. She deprived herself of every little ounce of joy because she told herself that her joy wasn’t as important as giving those extra few dollars for ice cream to a woman who needed to feed her children.

Although it is good to help others, sometimes it’s okay to put yourself first, healthy even. 

Set a budget for giving, but also for yourself.

If you deprive yourself of all happiness just to bring another happiness than you’re not really doing any good, your simply switching sides the person who’s miserable.

There needs to be a healthy balance of giving and keeping:

The giver should not be giving simply because they feel they HAVE to or even in such excess that it deprives them of happiness and the simple joys in life.

You also shouldn’t stop others from giving things to you if that makes them happy (ex. Christmas and birthday gifts) Its okay to buy ice cream or accept a gift every now and then.

Although life should not be all about you, your happiness matters just as much as another’s.

Nearing the end of page thirty and onto thirty-one, Singer elaborates more on a story he told pages before about the same woman who deprived herself of ice cream as well as life’s other little joys. Her and her husband wanted to have a child but for some time she was adamant about not having a child because it would take away too much time and money that they could use to help others in need. This decision changed over time due to some factors:

By not having a child in order to giveaway more money than that extra money would have more weight to them then the other money they give. (On page 31 the woman (Julia) says “I’m happy donating 50 percent of my income over my life, but if I also chose not to have a child simply to raise that amount to 55 percent, then that final 5 percent would cost more than all the rest…”

Something I found slightly disturbing is how Singer tries to justify having a child as though it is a bad thing to create life with your spouse. 

Singer talks about how hopefully the child will do more good than bad in its life and therefore be worth having it. That, to put it frankly, infuriated me. How would the child feel when he grew up and found out that his parents had to weigh his existence on whether or not he’d be good and raise more money  than the cost to be alive. 

Yes, children are expensive but their worth it and no one should deprive themselves of a child simply to donate EXTRA money. 

Julia also mentions that she “rejects the idea that her responsibility is limited to doing the best for her own child.” This makes me think that Julia does not see children as a blessing but as a burden. 

My question is, if she’s so concerned about how the child will ruin her way of life, then why even have one? You should have a child because YOU want to and because you can take care of it and provide it with everything it needs to become the best version of itself, not simply because you’re hoping it will pay the cost of itself.

Having a child can increase empathy because you can then really feel the struggle and responsibility it takes to protect and care for another.

Other Effective Altruists: Rhema Hokama

-modest income

-starting giving when she got her first paycheck

-started donating 2 percent

-set up a “donation account” that she adds into and at the end of the year donates everything in that account to a worthy cause

-doesn’t own a car and packs her own lunches at college to save money

33: Rhema Hokama made a lot of money, lives like her childhood home in Hawaii with a working-class family. 

          W.I. Learn more about R. Hokama 

34: Celso Vieira; thought to have a mental disability as a child, but they turned out to be a genius. Vieira gives to charities such as ‘Innovations for Poverty Action.’

          W.I.: Investigate The Life You Can Save

35: Priya Basil grew up in Kenya, in what she calls “A bubble of privilege,” came from India. She has been both rich and poor.

          W.I. Explore the writings of P. Basil

36  A woman named Priya is aware that people in our life and the situations in our life play a big role in determining our values and behavior 

Believes altruism needs to be needs to be watched challenged and nurtured, or it’ll become “stale” or “automatic”

It is also easy to be caught up with yourself and being “All about me”. Priya mentions that it is hard not impulsively shop. 

Priya donates 5 percent of her income to effective charities. Even though due to her income she meets the requirements she plans to donate 10 percent. 

In addition to giving, Priya and her partner co-founded in the organization called authors for peace Is involved in another political initiative called  Writers Against Mass Surveillance. She believes by working to help one Society you increase the chance of all the societies excelling. 

          W.I. : Learn more about Authors for Peace

37 Priya explains that even if you live in a household that earns less than the average income, you can still donate 10 percent and make a huge difference in a person’s life who would make roughly 1 percent of the median income 

39  Everyone can donate to charity, but the more money you make the more you’re able to donate.

           W.I. Explore John Wesley, the founder of Methodism

          W.I.: write about the idea of purposely becoming rich to be able to donate a lot to charity, and who does this.

Jim Greenbaum born in 1958 was another man who did this. He has committed to donating 85 percent of his 133 million dollars before he dies. The rest of his fortune will be donated when he dies. Unlike other people committed to donating everything, he lives a luxurious lifestyle. Many wealthy people have committed to donate almost all their money before they die.

          W.I.: write about some of the richest people in the world who have committed to donate almost all their money such as Bill Gates, Jim Greenbaum, or Matt Wage

         W.I.: Is it wrong to take a higher paying job over a job working for charity if you are going to donate a lot of money to charity?

          W.I.: is it more effective to work for a charity or to work somewhere else that pays much more but you will donate enough money to charity to pay for two employees?

As a charity worker you are largely replaceable. Working in finance, however, you earn much more than you need and give half of your earnings to the charity, which can us that money to employ two extra workers it would not, without your donation, have been able to employ at all. Whereas you would have been replaceable as a charity worker, you are not replaceable as a donor.

42  Change is a good thing. When you donate you should be certain that the charity you donate to is effective with its proceeds. Millennials connect with like minded people over social media to share their ideas and experiences. 

43  Many people believe charity is very important no matter how you give.

Effective altruism – “Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reasoning to determine the most effective ways to benefit others.” 

Philipp Gruissem is an example of effective altruism. “Raising for Effective Giving.” 

          W.I.: Animal Charity Evaluators: tries to find the most effective charities helping animals.

          W.I.: University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute investigates the problem of how to allocate scarce resources among different global needs.

           W.I.: Raising for Effective Giving (explore)

44  “1. Modern animal agriculture causes an immense amount of suffering. 2. We are responsible both for what we do and for what we refrain from doing. 3. We have the means to reduce the suffering caused by modern animal agriculture. 4. It is imperative for each of us to do so.”

           W.I.: Hampton Creek Foods. 

          W.I.: Humane League. 

          W.I.: Mercy for Animals. 

          W.I.: Population Services International. 

45 The Psychology of Earning to Give

This page introduces Jason Trigg, an MIT computer science graduate giving half of his salary to the Against Malaria Foundation. Given this information about his educational background, one can only assume he has an outstanding paycheck. The 2013 article mentioned is titled Join Wall Street. Save The World. It Revealed that Trigg is a programmer that went to work for a hedge fund in order to earn more money to give.

Although Trigg really seems to be doing the most good that he can, David Brooks from The New York Times “Brooks urged caution. He warned, first that our daily activities change us, and by working in a hedge fund your ideas can slip so that you become less committed to giving.” A Hedge Fund is “a limited partnership of investors that uses high risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, in hopes of realizing large capital gains.” or an investment partnership. So far, Jason does not seem to be changed as brooks said.David Brooks also warned that choosing a career just for the money can be corrosive. His last warning, Brooks said “turning yourself into a means rather than an end… a machine for the redistribution of wealth.” He explained that this objection is a moral issue, but it can happen and should be mentioned.

46 Matt Wage is another student who chose finance over another career. Although Jason Trigg only chose the path for money, Wage seems to enjoy is and finds his work “interesting.” Brooks and Wage agreed that this path could “[turn yourself into] a machine for redistribution of wealth.” Matt wage explains this as selfishness and jealousy, using ferraris against charities. A clearly selfish choice that most people would make. Matt knows this can happen to him and created a strategy to fight his own implied selfishness; publicity. 

Next is Jim Greenbaum, another businessman. Although the first two examples in this section seemed satisfied with their career, Jim Greenbaum said that his initial years were frustrating, because it took longer than expected to earn enough money to help others, but said it did not make him any less committed. Jim also is an advocate for balance between comfort and good like several others have agreed, and others less.

47 Ben West makes an interesting point for page 47. He points out that “even from a selfish perspective, earning to give allows you to have things that believe make them happy, like money and a high-status job, while still getting the fulfillment that comes from knowing you are helping to make the world a better place.” Although this is a good thing, I disagree. It is not selfish to feel good about helping others. Singer mentioned Ian Ross and Alex Foster next, and they are on somewhat different pages when it comes to giving. Ross says there’s no risk for burnout and will continue to give, but Foster was much more enthusiastic. Foster said that this period of his life/career is extremely fulfilling, even with a reduced social life. And on the very different page lies Aveek Bhattacharya, who sees earning to give as an experiment. On this note, Singer brings Brooks back up to warn that earning to give is NOT for everyone. Aveek seems like a very good example of this. However, even a lack of enthusiasm can do good to others. Maybe less good, but some good is better than no good. On the worst side to this, if someone is not enthusiastic they CAN become corrosive effect on them.

49  To fit into the ethos of the organization in which they want to succeed, people earning to give may have to disguise their views about the intrinsic value of their work. It is also true that some of those who change their career in order to earn to give have stepped aside from their own projects and have instead taken the career required by “utilitarian calculation.”

Those who earn to give are, to a greater extent than most people, living in accord with their values; they live so as to do the most good. 

50 No doubt capitalism does drive some people into extreme poverty–it is such a vast system that it would be surprising if it did not–but it has also lifted hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty. It would not be easy to demonstrate that capitalism has driven more people into extreme poverty than it has lifted out of it; indeed there are good grounds for thinking that the opposite is the case.

51 Singer refers to the title of the book, “Do the most good you can.” Singer sets himself apart from an effective altruist. He shows how his view on “doing the most good” may be different in his eyes than in the eyes of an effective altruist. 

I notice that Singer is very controversial in the philosophical world, and he is not afraid to tell the reader when his view differs from others.

          W.I.: An idea for an argument paper: “…you will probably also think that it is wrong to be involved in financial activities that harm some people, even if that brings about an equivalent benefit to many more.”

52 Singer approaches the idea of “ Well, If I didn’t do this bad thing someone else would have anyway.”  i.e.- The guards at Auschwitz were at no fault because if they did not guard than someone else would have. [Would delete due to it being a more harsh example of the idea below] Add this:

52  Your choice to work for the bank will have good consequences, for it will have made you a better-informed, more credible opponent of the bank’s actions.

53  If one held that investment banks and similar corporations are engaged in wrongdoing, one might see this as a sufficient reason for not going into the finance industry. (Or you could think the opposite.)

A Brookings Institution study has pointed out that millennials are much more concerned about corporate social responsibility.

54  Millennials want their daily work to be part of, and reflect, their societal concerns.

          W.I. Is the above statement true?

Singer quotes another in saying that employees want “their daily work to be a part of, and reflet, their social concerns.” I believe this quote is saying that people want the work that they do to reflect their morals, values, social concerns and beliefs. 

Example- Someone who is against abortion, most likely would not be working in an abortion clinic (unless to end it from the inside) .

Some people only get jobs to earn money so that they can give it away.

55  Other Ethical Careers

Will MacAskill does not claim that earning to give is always or even usually the best option. Rather, he thinks we should see it as a baseline against which to compare other possible ethical careers.

Singer goes on to talk about “the ability to find work one is interested in.” He understands that to do something well you have to at least somewhat enjoy what you do, otherwise you won’t try to do better or make an effort.

Staying committed to giving away a large chunk of your money is struggle.

Singer uses “earning to give” as a baseline by which to weigh all other jobs. 

In simple terms, if he makes more money for others by influencing others to give, than he would by making money himself then he is doing better than he could have at a regular 9-5 job. Working for a meta charity can do more good than a regular one.

          W.I. What are meta charities? What do they do? Examples?

56 The Bureaucrat

The more skills you have that set you apart from the crowd, the more irreplaceable you are.

Just because you don’t like what a company is doing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work there, you can make a difference.

Singer talks about a man who initially didn’t want to pursue a job at a bank because he didn’t like what the bank was doing, but singer suggested he take the job. Years later singer gets a reply telling him about how he works at the bank and the differences he’s made for the better.

57   There are very big differences in the cost-effectiveness of different ways of improving the health of people in developing countries, so even with a fixed budget, better choices can make a huge difference.

Researchers

Medical researchers, biologists

58  There may be better prospects of making an impact in a relatively uncrowded field. 80,000 Hours recommends “Prioritization Research,” which it describes as “activity aimed at working out which causes, interventions, organisations, policies, etc. do the most to make the world a better place.”

Organizers and Campaigners

Starting an organization

59  There are situations in which if one particular person had not started a novel organization, none of the benefits brought about by the organization would have been achieved.

          W.I. Research Janina Ochojska, the Polish EquiLibre Foundation or Polish Humanitarian Action, or (PAH)

60  Ochojska rejects the idea that you can only care and donate to the people that live nearby rather than help people farther away.

PAH helps run educational programs to help make students understand the needs of others in 3rd world countries. To my surprise, it is the leading Non-governmental polish provider of assistance and humanitarian relief. Learning more than US $5 million.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen saw a woman being carried down the mountains of Hualien County. When they arrived they were told they had to pay for medical treatment. Not having any money, the family had to carry her back again.

After the incident  Cheng Yen then started an organization with 30 houswifes where they put donated a few cents to families in need. 

61  The organization was called Tzu Chi meaning “compassionate relief”

Overtime the word spread and funds were raised to build hospitals. This lead to Tzu Chi founding medical schools and nursing schools to teach the local people

One feature that was interesting is that when they received cadavers they would treat them with the utmost respect and would even meet the family and friends of the person to learn more about them.

Tzu Chi is now a big organization with 7 million members…they have also rebuilt 51 schools.

62  Tzu chi has become a major recycler. They get volunteers to collect bottles and other recyclables that are turned into carpets and clothing.

All meals served in Tzu Chi hospitals, schools, universities, and other institutions are vegetarian. 

They distribute $10 million dollars worth of visa debit cards after an earthquake and Tsunami hit Japan; each card has 600 dollars on it 

This organization teaches to show love and compassion to others, whether they are rich or poor. Even though they won’t be as big as other organizations they will alway continue to inspire people worldwide to show compassion and love to others.

63  Students from MIT and Harvard (Michael Faye, Paul Niehaus, Jeremy Shapiro and Rohit Wanchoo) studied where donations went and what was more effective. They studied charities that distributed money themselves, and also agencies in which you donated straight to those who needed it. They discovered that the money that was directly donated was typically used for good things. They also discovered that people prefer to donate to the less fortunate directly.

GiveDirectly is among its top three recommended charities.

          W.I: write about donating to a charity and having them do what they want with it vs. directly donating to the less fortunate.

These same students tried to find an organization that offered direct giving but none did. To solve this problem, they made their own charity: GiveDirectly, which allows donors to donate directly to the needy and see where it goes. 

          W.I.: write a biography on GiveDirectly and how it works. 

64  Henry Spira worked for most of his life defending and helping the weak and oppressed. He began to fight for animals rights after inheriting a cat from a friend. During his life He led a  successful campaign that convinced Revlon and Avon beauty products to stop product testing on animals.

          W.I: write about companies that still continue to test on animals and what is being done to try to stop this.

           W.I: write about Spira and all that he did for the animal rights movements.

65  A Wide-Open Choice

         W.I: write about the career you think you could do well that would help the maximum amount of people/do the most good.

67  Giving a Part of Yourself

In January 2013 Peter Singer received an email from a college student who donated his kidney after reading The Life You Can Save which had stated that none of Peter Singer’s students have ever donated a kidney so Chris Croy, a student at St. Louis Community College, in Meramec, Missouri proved Singer wrong. Croy stated that  a means to aid others is to donate organs. Will giving your organ aid more than affecting your own life?

          W.I. What good does giving an organ do?

          W.I. The process of donating an organ

68

          W.I. Kidney donation. 

          W.I. Argument against donating a kidney.

Donating organs changes peoples’ lives and lets them live their life. Zell Kravinsky’s donation. “In 2014 the waiting line for a kidney was one hundred thousand and still growing. The waiting list a deceased donor can be five years, and in some states is closer to ten years. On average fourteen people die on the waiting list each day.” Some of the people on the list would have still died even with the transplant but receiving a kidney transplant adds an average of ten years of life to the recipient.

          W.I. What it’s like to be on the waiting list.

          W.I.  How can receiving a kidney change a person’s life and how much longer they get to live. 

69  Alexander Berger works for GiveWell, an altruistic organization that has been referred to throughout this document as well as “ The Most Good You Can Do” but he went beyond his already altruistic lifestyle and followed Chris Croy’s trend and decided to altruistically donate his kidney. Berger donated 15-20% of his income regularly, which is something that singer has stressed throughout the book as well as his article from “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” 

Along with starting a doner chain, Croy became vegan. I figured since he cares so deeply for other lives that he would be very strict about dairy and eggs and such. Ironically, this is not the case! He said that “…trying to be very strict about these things discourages people from becoming vegan and so causes more suffering than it prevents.” 

70  Croy says that he didn’t think giving his kidney was all that good. He only took 25 years into consideration. That, to me, is still a whole lot of good. ESPECIALLY at the risk of his own health. He didn’t even think it was enough good considering everyone else that had followed his altruistic doner path. I disagree with Croy about it being not good enough, however I do agree with singer when he says “Going to a hospital to have surgery that does no good to you and carries a risk of harm, however small, in order to benefit a stranger seems to take altruism to a very high level.” However, I am not in total disagreement with altruistic kidney donation or other donations such as blood, plasma, bone marrow, stem cells, etc. I find it fascinating that one can continue to give apart of themselves altruistically even after death. I plan to sign up to donate and have my organs harvested after my death. I even have a little heart icon on my driver’s license. ❤️

71   Singer points out that blood, plasma, bone marrow, and stem cells can grow back whereas a kidney cannot. Even so, I still believe that donating one of your kidneys to someone in desperate need is more than okay as long as it does not bring any huge risks for yourself. 

 Apparently, altruistic organ donation was regarded as psychological! Singer said that this was all up until 2001. That was only 18 years ago. Genuine compassion and empathy for lives seems to be even more rare and outlandish than I thought. Or, in 2001 it was at least.  In the UK, it was illegal to donate one’s kidney altruistically. Upon further research, I assumed that this was only illegal because the boom of organ trafficking in the United Kingdom, especially for kidneys. The sources I researched were dated around 2012, so I am not yet certain about this theory. 

Chapter Seven: Is Love All We Need?

75 Singer approaches the theory of “All we need is Love” He asks if effective altruists are motivated by universal love.

Effective altruists are sufficiently concerned about the welfare of others to make meaningful changes in their lives. Effective altruists donate to charities that, instead of making an emotional appeal to prospective donors, can demonstrate that they will use donations to save lives and reduce suffering in a way that is highly cost-effective. In order to be able to do more good, effective altruists limit their spending or take a different career path so that they will have more to give or will be more useful in some other way. They may also donate blood, stem cells, bone marrow, or a kidney to a stranger.

What motivates them?

          W.I. Who is David Hume?

David Hume- explains that there is no such passion in human minds as the love of mankind

76 Hume relates the love of each other to genetic selection itself. He explains that these two ideas go hand in hand. Our love promotes the survival of genes like ours.

It is easy to see why we would help kin or business partners.

          W.I. Who is Frans de Waal?

Waal explains that typically humans do not treat all humans the same, but favor kin/ people they know rather than a stranger.

 Maybe love does not motivate effective altruists, but in fact empathy motivates them. 

77 Singer now leaves the idea of love motivating altruists, and moves to empathy motivating an effective altruist.

Empathy- the ability to put oneself in the position of others and identify with their feelings and emotions. 

Interpersonal Reactivity Inventory has four distinct categories. Empathic concern, (the tendency to experience feelings of warmth, compassion, and concern for other people; Personal distress, (one’s own feelings of personal unease and discomfort in reaction to the emotions of others; Perspective taking (the tendency to adopt the point of view of other people; and Fantasy (the tendency to imagine oneself experiencing the feelings and performing the actions of fictitious characters.). 

          W.I. Explain the four types of Interpersonal Reactivity Inventory and how they relate to altruism. 

78  It is easier to feel emotional empathy for one identifiable child than it is to feel that for thousands of children in a circumstance like the one identifiable child. I think this may be due to the fact that it is more likely that you can help one specific child than it is that you can save all the thousands of hurting children. When you don’t feel like you can make a difference it depresses you and you don’t even want to try. I also feel it is easier to identify with one child more than thousands, the same way it is easier for a mother to love her child more than others. When that child is there, and you see it and it has a name and a story then it somehow seems to make it more real than the thousands of other unidentifiable children in need. Effective altruism does not require and is often opposed to letting emotions lead what we feel is the most good because empathy can lead us to make decisions that are not the most possible good we could do. 

Effective altruists are sensitive to numbers and to cost per life saved or year of suffering prevented. If they have 10,000 to donate, they would rather give it to a charity that can save a life for 2,000 than one that can save a life for 5,000 because they would rather save five lives than two.

“Paul Bloom, a professor of Psychology at Yale University, has suggested that if we think about our own responses, most of us will realize that we do [let our emotions lead us].”

79  Most of the time our reactions are not equivalent with the amount of pain we are reacting to. Imagine that 2000 people have died. We would most likely feel sad. Now imagine imagine that 20,000 people just died. We probably feel worse about that but its not likely that we feel 10 times worse than we did for the 2,000 who died. 

Effective altruists share a lot of moral judgments with utilitarians. Singer tells a story about a runaway trolley heading for 5 people. The trolley will kill the five people unless YOU divert it, in which case it will only kill one. The people in the studies who answered with a utilitarian judgement normally had low levels of empathy. In my opinion, although it is sad, if I HAD to make a choice, I would let the five die and save the one. I know it sounds crazy but I just couldn’t physically divert the train knowing that i would be the actual cause of someone’s death. I just couldn’t do it.

80  Although empathy is good, there is no way to get everyone in the world to empathize with everyone else in the world, it’s just not possible. What everyone needs to realize is that just because you may not feel empathy for someone doesnt mean your life is worth any more than theirs. You child’s life is worth the same as a strangers. Everyone’s life is worth the same. Bloom states that “To the extent that we can recognize the numbers as significance, it’s because of reason, not empathy.” The strongest objection to this claim comes from Hume’s view that “reason can never initiate an action because all action starts with passion or desire.” I personally agree with Hume more on this. If you really think about it, reason itself stems from desire. It can be one’s desire to be reasonable. Every action we have, every move we make, we do because something in us wants to. Whether or not the decisions we make are correct or “reasonable”, we make them because we desire to or because of how we feel. 

81 Essentially saying that all people are equals, unless one being is doing more good than the other; (Utilitarianism.) This idea is considered by Sidgwick, the last Utilitarianist of the nineteenth century and quoted by Singer, to be ‘rational/logical’ thought.

82 The same principles used by both Sidgwick & Bloom lead them to a similar idea of universal ‘brotherhood.’ Humans aren’t purely rational; if we were we would be driven to do the most good for the sole purpose of doing the ‘most’ good.

83 Human beings who practice self-respect are allegedly more ‘rational’ and are more empathetic.

85  Chapter 8: One Among Many

Bernard Williams argued that human beings are not the kind of creatures who can take “the point of view of the universe. He also mentions that there is no exercise that consist of stepping outside yourself or your point of view to evaluate the dispositions, projects, and affections that constitute the substance of life. 

Effective altruists seem to have completed what WIlliams thought could not be done. They are able to detach themselves from personal considerations. While this detachment is not total, it does make a difference to how they live. It is based on reasoning of a kind. 

Living from a point of view that is independent of their own “dispositions, projects and affections.”

86  Effective altruists have a few commonly expressed dispositions that they would consider misguided grounds for giving. One example is “I give to breast cancer research because my wife died of breast cancer”.  “The point of view of the universe” has an influence on one’s behavior that will vary person to person. Effective altruist decide on their overall view while they are still young; before they were engrossed in different projects or gained close personal attachments. 

“By modifying and redirecting our passions, it can play a critical part in the process that leads us to act ethically.  

87 Numbers turn people into altruists. It goes into detail regarding several people who took a look at the numbers and realized how big of a difference they can make

          W.I: find a statistic about altruism and charitable donations and see how it changes your opinion on what you can do

          W.I: write about one of the altruists discussed on this page and how numbers changed their perspective 

People value their own lives and those that are closest to them more then distant abstract people

This would make sense as people are more likely to donate if they have a face or an individual person they’re donating to.

People tend to think of individual people, not as a statistic

          W.I: write about how people tend to think more of personal people/individuals/people close to them rather than a group as a whole or statistic.

If our capacity to reason also enables us to see that the good of others is, from a more universal perspective, as important as our own good, then we have an explanation for why effective altruists act in accordance with such principles. Like our ability to do higher math, this use of reason to recognize fundamental moral truths would be a by-product of another trait or ability that was selected for because it enhanced our reproductive fitness–something that in evolutionary theory is known as a spandrel.

When they talk about why they act as they do, they often use language that is more suggestive of a rational insight than of an emotional impulse.

88 Effective altruists look how to help the most people, rather than an individual person. These people tend to donate to bigger, more effective organizations that got to help many people, while other smaller, less-effective organizations allow you to see how you’re making a difference directly, do less good and help fewer people

People with backgrounds in math and analytical reasoning tend to be the msot effective altruists.

          W.I: write about how a background involving math would make you a more effective altruist  

89 A study showed that including numbers and statistics increased the donations given by large donors but decreased the number of small donors. 

Effective altruists are strongly influenced by analytical data such as statistics and facts

It is telling that effective altruists talk more about the number of people they are able to help than about helping particular individuals.

My favorite example of the combination of effective altruism and numeracy is the website Counting Animals, which has the subtitle “A place for people who love animals and numbers” and a home page stating that “nerdism meets animal rights here!”

People with a high level of abstract reasoning ability are more likely to take the kind of approach to helping others that is characteristic of effective altruism.

          W.I: write about why these effective altruists are influenced by this information so much  

90  Karlan and Daniel Wood. Freedom from Hunger, a U.S. based charity, they use fundraising-letters. The Standard letter comes with information about the individual who is benefiting by the Freedom from Hunger’s work. “Scientific evidence that shows the effectiveness of Freedom from Hunger increased the number of donations of large donors but decreased the number of donations received from small donors.” “Warm Glow donators.” Effective Altruists – Charitable effectiveness, analytical information, they allow their reasoning abilities to override and redirect their emotion is consistent. Joshua Greene. People use two distinct processes when making moral judgments.

          W.I. What processes happen when making moral judgments.

          W.I. What’s the most effective way to give your money in a charity.

          W.I. What charity is the best at its job.

91  When confronted with moral judgments one will have a gut reaction telling that person what is right or wrong. Intuitive responses are quick and easy and yield good results, but sometimes will lead you astray. Emotional Point-and-shoot mode. Utilitarian Judgment. Nonutilitarian judgment. 

          W.I. Nonutilitarian judgment.

          W.I. Utilitarian Judgment

          W.I. Are intuitive responses always right and if not what is the reason. 

The most controversial aspect of this model is that it links moral judgments characteristically based on the idea that something is just wrong in itself, independently of its consequences, to the instinctive, emotionally based point-and-shoot mode of reaching a moral judgment and links characteristically utilitarian judgments to the manual mode, which draws on our conscious thought processes, or reasoning, as well as on emotional attitudes. An early piece of evidence for this view came from a study in which Greene and his colleagues asked people to make judgments about trolley problems and similar moral dilemmas while images were being taken of their brain activity. The study showed increased activity in brain areas associated with cognitive control before a subject made a utilitarian judgment but not before making a non utilitarian judgment. This suggestive finding has since been supported by a wide variety of further evidence.

92  Experiments have shown that cognitive loading has shed light on the realm of brain where these functions are being processed. These experiments used various methods on the participants like having the participant memorize a series of numbers or letters. Other experiments involved the participants being shown a picture of a single person that would be harmed if that participant did not choose to act so as to save the larger group of people, the most likely response of the participant was the feeling of empathy for the person shown in the picture. These studies bolster as well the more specific claim that associates characteristically consequentialist judgments with greater use of conscious reasoning processes. Holden Karnofsky. GiveWell

          W.I. Cognitive Loading

          W.I. Holden Karnofsky

          W.I. The human mind and what we think

93  As page 92 deals with cognitive loading in a textbook sense, 93 makes it hypothetical. Holden Karnofsky (above) is the cofounder of GiveWell. Singer makes a hypothetical situation in which Karnofsky would have to choose between his passion of soup kitchen or his current position at GiveWell. Singer suggests that reason, in this case, trumps that of passion even though a desire for good is present in both situations. He also uses an example of an animal rights activist named Harish Sethu who argues that motivation is not just one side of the other, but emotion and reason together. 

           WI: Write an argumentative essay defending each example and then choose your own path. 

94   Singer has already mentioned that people are more likely to help someone they can recognize. Sethu pays homage to that ideology, but he flips it. He says that the recognition of a larger universe of animal suffering that he sees in a video “does not dampen his emotional response, as it does in people who are told about a group of children in need rather than one child.” Sethu recognizes that it is a whole social issue, and does not happen to only one animal. This makes his wish go give more even stronger, yet when it comes to other people, we give less money and resources or more people who need it. Rather than more money and resources or more people that need it. 

Abstract reasoning essentially means that the answers can be found in gray areas, and are not always just black or white. Singer argues that this is conducive to effective altruism. “Have people’s abstract reasoning abilities suddenly improved?” I don’t think that is the case. I don’t think it was the abilities that improved, I think it related more to cultural and societal improvements that made altruism more common and good. 

95 Steven Pinker believes the invention of the printing press improved our reasoning and spread ideas and information to a much larger proportion of the population. He argues that better reasoning has a positive moral impact.

97  Chapter 9: Altruism and Happiness

97  Check out the blog post “Excited Altruism.” 

Effective altruists do not generally see what they are doing as a sacrifice.

98 Studies of the relationship between income and happiness or well-being indicate that for people at low levels of income, an increase in income does lead to greater happiness, but once income is sufficient to provide for one’s needs and a degree of financial security, further increases have either much less impact on happiness or no impact at all.

99 Singer continues on the idea of “Does money equal happiness” or more accurately does lack of money equal lack of happiness? Singer found that in the former study the bad mood was highly exaggerated, and in the latter people largely underestimated how happy people at the lower incomes would be.

Singer then approaches “Does having more material things make us happier?” 

He concludes that using your income to buy more stuff does not make us happier, but using it to help others does.

Americans today have three times the amount of space, per person than they did in 1950. They pay a total of 22 billion a year to rent extra storage space. Are they happier for having so much stuff?

100  Singer finds a correlation; he finds that people who are happier are more likely to  give help to others. In the same way, giving makes people feel happier. 

There is a positive correlation between having donated to charity in the past month and being at a higher level of happiness. This creates a positive feedback loop that leads to more spending on others and greater happiness.

          W.I. Do a study and investigate how happy people think they are in relation to how much they give.

101           W.I. Sue Rabbitt Roff investigate her studies on how donors self-esteem is affected.

On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being best, an average score of 9.8 was given in rating the overall donation experience while an average score of 10 was given to willingness to do it again.

Self-esteem is important for happiness. I think that self-esteem is important for happiness; I think that it allows happiness. If you have no self-esteem could you really be truly happy?

          W.I. Richard Keshen’s concepts for self esteem 

102 Everyone’s life and well being is regarded as equal to your own. You cannot ignore the interests of others or you are basically saying that their life isn’t as valuable as yours. Effective Altruists are not actually sacrificing anything because they do not regard what they do as “sacrificing” but rather something that they want to do. They see this as one element of the core of their identity.

103 If they are not sacrificing anything can they really be called “effective altruists?” The answer is yes. Just because one is also gaining happiness from the act of giving to others does not change the fact that they are indeed, helping. Take exercise for example. A majority of people hate working out; they complain it’s painful, time consuming, and oftentimes expensive, but some people love it. They work out all the time and find great joy in it. The fact that they love it has no change in the fact that it helps their health and well-being anymore than it changes the fact that it helps those who hate it. Altruists can be defined by their interests, not the loss of them.

          W.I. The difference between Egoism and Altruism

104 The difference between Egoism and Altruism is unimportant when you keep in mind the interest of others. You shouldn’t label someone as an Altruist or an Egoist based of the joy they receive from the good that they do, but rather the increased well being of the person/people they chose to help. If you are doing the most possible good you can, it doesn’t really matter if you benefit from it or not. 

105  Part Four:  Choosing Causes and Organizations

107 Chapter 10  Domestic or Global?

How can we tell if we are being the most effective with our time, money and efforts? The field of philanthropy has, as a whole, been extremely reluctant to tackle these comparative questions. Finding the answers involves not only questions of fact that are difficult to establish but also controversial value judgments. Let us use the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors as an example. It is one of the world’s largest philanthropic service organizations.

108: A website created by Rockefeller Advisors features a section called “Your Philanthropy Roadmap”. The goal is to start helping donors create thoughtful and effective giving program. It includes charts that give information about various areas that might give health and safety, education, arts culture and heritage. 

Animal welfare does not fit the environment category because much of the suffering human inflicts on animals . 

It also fails to indicate that intendcing donors living in affluent countries must choose whether to give to an organition that acts domestically or one with a focus beyond thatir country’s borders. Giving to reduce global poverty does not even appear as a category.

109: Among the various projects, the leaflet wants to seek to improve health care for the global poor and improve health care in america.  In 1988 Ted Turner gave a third of his wealth to health programs focused on the world’s biggest killer diseases; mainly in developing countries. 

The Initiative has been very successful drawing in funding from non profit organizations such as Gates Foundation. 1.1 billion children have been given a combined vaccine that prevents measles and rubella. Deaths from measles have fallen 78%, the cost of the vaccine is one dollar.

Lucile Packard gave 40 million donation to establish a hospital in Palo Alto, California. The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has been in the news for its success in achieving difficult separations of conjoined twins. 

110  In 2007 the hospital separated two girls both Costa Rica who share deliver. The cost estimated at somewhere between 1 million and 2 million. One of the girls needed heart surgery for a heart defect and the other needed an operation to reconstruct her chest cavity. The hospital paid for operations and the doctors donated their time.

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors describe the costs of a child living in a ICU and it is really shocking. The million dollars used could help many children in a developing country. 

What Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors does not say, in describing these two projects, is that the cost of saving a child’s life in an intensive care hospital in the U.S. is typically thousands of times higher than the cost of saving the life of a child in a developing country. It doesn’t seem all that difficult to judge that is is better to use a million dollars to save the lives of hundreds of children by protecting them from measles than to use it to separate one pair of conjoined twins or save one extremely premature infant. It costs about 40,000 to supply one person in the U.S. with a guide dog… 

111 but the cost of preventing someone from going blind because of trachoma, the most common cause of preventable blindness, is in the range of 20-100 dollars.

Even though America has many poor people, and people living in poverty, the poverty experienced is relative. Compared to people living in extreme poverty, they’re living lavishly. 

Poverty in the US is almost 6000 a year per person while extreme poverty is around 500 dollars.

A dollar and twenty-five cents a day is what more than a billion people live on, virtually all of them in developing countries. The World Bank’s figure is at “purchasing power parity.”

People in poverty in America have clean water, free schooling, free health care, housing, and food stamps. While people in extreme poverty have to watch their kids die and walk miles for water.

          W.I: write about what you’d buy if you had $1.53 (extreme poverty per day) and you had to make it last all day 

112: Malnourished Children in the US are placed into care and are nursed back to health. Children living in extreme poverty however have no access to healthcare and often die from easily treated diseases

The author says that he’s not saying being poor in America isn’t hard and that we shouldn’t worry about them, but that there’s simply a big difference between being poor in America/rich nations and in extreme poverty poor countries

          W.I: compare and contrast being poor in a rich country vs a poor country Relative poverty vs extreme poverty

113: People in extreme poverty can do a lot more with less money

It is more effective and helpful to donate money to people living in extreme poverty

Example: Would 1000 dollars make a bigger difference to a family who makes 2500 dollars a year or one who makes 24,000 a year?

          W.I: write about what you could buy for 1000 in a developed country vs an impoverished country 

The charity GiveDirectly makes one-off cash grants of about 1,000 U.S. dollars to African families living in extreme poverty. This could be six months to a year’s income.  

114 Giving a $1000 dollars in the US might be the equivalent of a month’s income. If the family is on SNAP benefits they won’t have to use that money on food whereas is they weren’t on SNAP benefits the family would have to use the $1000 on food. We will do more good donating to organizations working to help people living in extreme poverty in poor nations. Robert Wiblin. Altruistic arbitrage. In the business world, if two identical products are selling at different prices in different markets.   Philanthropy is not focused on effectiveness as the financial sector is focused on profit. 

115 The life of a poor American is far higher than the cost of making such a difference to the life of someone who is poor by global standards. “Target groups you care about that other people mostly don’t, and take advantage of strategies other people are biased against using.” 

 

117 Chapter 11 Are Some Causes Objectively Better than Others?

A potential donor should be asking where can I do the most good?

Singer alludes to a leaflet from the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the welfare of others through generous donations of money.

          WI: explore RPA more deeply and the most good they have achieved. 

Those wanting to do the most good should ask WHERE can I do the most good, rather than asking what is the most urgent issue. Singer compares his own situation here: he wrote about poverty and liberation of animals in “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” and “Animal Liberation” even though more urgent issues were happening at the time like the Vietnam war and threats of the Cold War. Although he supported these issues, he knew that he alone could do even more good somewhere else.  

118 He chose to write “Animal Liberation” because not enough people were doing enough for this cause, giving him the chance to do the most good for the treatment of animals. If there were more people contributing the same amount to the same cause, he would no longer be giving the most impact there and his efforts could be put to use somewhere else. Singer points out that these efforts are not the most good or the biggest impact in the moment, but will be in the long run. 

119 (An extended example. This section can be cut.) Numbers are not always black and white. He mentions helping a museum opening a new wing compared to curing blindness. The wing would cost $50 mil and appeal to a million people over the years, but $100,000 can cure a thousand people of blindness in developing worlds for 15 years. Morally you should help the blind who have more need, instead of the museum even though the number is greater. 

          WI: Are there any situations where morals are less relevant, or that the impact of the less moral option does a greater amount of good?

120  The Harvard philosopher Thomas Scanlon. When we are faced with the needs of those who are “severely burdened,” the sum of the smaller pleasures of the many have no “justificatory weight.”

          W.I. Does art (making or viewing) depend on economic status? Does every level of wealth enjoy art? Is art relevant in upper classes along with people who can’t even provide basic needs for themselves?

125 If the price of trying to persuade people to donate to the cause that does the most good is that they give less, that price may be worth paying. Singer then approaches; How would we decide? We would have to figure of the amount of good in a dollar, depending on the charity of choosing. 

Singer makes an analogy to explain that getting rid of the problem is WAY better than finding a way to deal with the problem.

126  Giving isn’t about the amount of money you give, it’s about the amount of good that comes out of it. You could give 1000 dollars to one organization but if giving 500 to another does more good than you ought to give your money to the second organization even if you are giving less. GIVING LESS doesn’t always mean DOING LESS. Sometimes giving to the wrong charities (even if they aren’t necessarily doing harm) causes harm. Giving to a charity that does only a very limited amount of good, for example, may cause more harm than good because when you examine the fact that donations can be tax deductible and are therefore coming out of the pockets of hard working taxpayers drawing money away from organizations that do more good. You should never give simply for the sake of giving, you should give for the sake of doing the most good. Sometimes things intended for good can cause harm if they aren’t properly thought through. 

Should donors be directed on where to give? A donor might, for example, give half as much, but the charity may do a hundred times as much good per dollar it receives; then persuading the donor to give to the more effective charity will lead to benefits fifty times greater than leaving the donor to follow her or his initial personal convictions.

127  Most people just want to do the most good they can with what they have and telling them that there is “obviously no objective answer” to the question of giving can dampen their desire to give altogether causing the reverse effect of what you want.

129  Chapter Twelve: Difficult Comparisons

130  In the United Kingdom the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, known as NICE, uses such methods in order to recommend to the National Health Service authorities which drugs and treatments they should provide free of charge to British residents who can benefit from them. To reach this conclusion, NICE, for each treatment it considers, draws on estimates of the cost of gaining a quality-adjusted life-year, or QALY.

131  In order to set priorities, WHO wanted to estimate the global burden of various diseases. WHO uses the Disability-Adjusted Life-Year, or DALY. One DALY represents one year of life in full health. A year of life with a disability is discounted according to the severity of the disability. The extent of the discounting is decided by various methods involving interviews with samples of the population.

132 A large team of researchers did a study and found results in distinct cultures. For example they used blindness to equate the amount of healthy years of healthy life a person has. This was a hypothetical study. The researchers believe since blindness cause less deaths than starvation, then people should focus on feeding the starving. It is not difficult to find grounds for disagreeing with the discount rate for blindness and and the method used to evaluate “healthy states.”

For $1000,000, untreated blindness causes the loss of 1,000 x 0.2 = 200 DALYs per year, while starvation threatens to cause the loss of 500 DALYs per year. On these figures, we should feed the starving.

On the other hand there psychological research cast a doubt on the judgement by people with good health about what it would be like to suffer from different health condition. 

133 Holden Karnofsky asks us to imagine different scenarios for the same cost, we could accomplish them. Holden noted that some people agreed with his view and others did not. He says “ it’s possible that we would agree if we new more about the lives of the people in developing countries”. Holden believes the best solution to get people to donate is telling them exactly the number of people their helping. For example, $100,000 can restore health to x people, or save the lives of y infants. 

Any disagreement on these fundamental value questions will lead to disagreement about the cost-effectiveness of different health care interventions, and converting the benefits of those interventions into a single figure like the DALY obfuscates the disagreement rather than resolving it.

134 This allows the donors to donate with their values in consideration. Toby Ord says there are problems with the DALY approach, but supports their attempts. He believes should continue to construct a single measure of well being, even if we won’t reach it in the near future. 

There has been research going into developing ways of measuring the benefits of health care interventions. In the initial years of Give Well it did consider some charities that assist poor in the United States, but they soon stopped because they realized helping the global poor would be better. 

137  Chapter 13: Reducing Animal Suffering and Protecting Nature

While they’re a good cause, rescuing animals shouldn’t be our top priority, because they go to a small portion of the animals that suffer in the U.S.

Only a small portion of pets are abused while 9.1billion animals are slaughtered each year. That’s 55 times as many farm raised animals as there are pets.

Hundreds of millions of animals don’t die from slaughter but from suffering

          W.I. write about animal cruelty and how people are trying to stop it

          W.I. write about how animals raised for slaughter are treated 

There is a straightforward reason for not giving the highest priority to charities that rescue abused animals. The suffering of abused pets amounts to a tiny fraction of the suffering we inflict on animals.

138: The Animal Activists’ Handbook. Matt Ball. Bruce Friedrich. “Every year, hundreds of millions of animals-many times more than the total total number killed for fur, housed in shelters, and locked in laboratories combined- don’t even make it to slaughter. They actually suffer to death.” The total number of animals killed in shelters each year is around 4 million, for fur 10 million, and in laboratories 11.5 million, making a total of approximately 25.5 million. 

Animals killed for food are so badly treated that they die before they ever get to slaughter. 

          W.I. Animal experimentation 

          W.I. How many animals die because of humans

Harish Sethu has done the numbers for the U.S. on his website Counting Animals. There are thousands of organizations in the U.S. working to help dogs and cats and relatively few working for farmed animals. Animal Charity

139: Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). Sterilizing dogs and cats, curtailing the spread of disease among them, and finding a good home for some animals it is possible to reduce the suffering of the animals. ACE – The most effective way to help animals is to be an advocate for farm animals. 

Convince people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products saves animals at a fraction of this cost.

How can we compare the good achieved by helping animals with the good achieved by other charities? Here, two separate questions are often confused. One is a factual question: Do animals suffer as much as humans? The other is ethical: Given that an animal is suffering as much as a human, does the suffering of the animal matter as much as the suffering of the human? The answer to the ethical question should be yes.

Robert Wiblin. Animal Liberation. Speciesism is a form of discrimination against the interests of those who are not “us,” where the line between us and the outsider is drown on the basis of something that is not in itself morally relevant. 

          W.I. Whats is gained by those animals suffering

          W.I. Are modern amenities worth the killing of thousands of animals 

          W.I. What is Speciesism 

140: Rejection of speciesism isn’t the end of the debate, it’s about the moral weight we should give to an animal suffering. Defenders of the way we treat animals usually point out that humans are more rational or autonomous or self-aware or capable of reciprocating than nonhuman animals. Some find it offensive to compare the suffering of humans with that of animals. Presumably they believe that human suffering is always incomparably more important than the suffering of animals.

We wrong animals whenever we give less weight to their interests than we would, in the same circumstances, give to a human with similar capacities.

           W.I. The suffering of animals compared to human suffering 

141 The argument is since animals have lower awareness and mental capacity, that they therefore are not on the same level as humans and there suffering is in the lower degree. Singer says that this goes beyond species bias because it is based on mental capacities. Because he says that the argument is based on that same mental capacity, some argue that humans with similar mental level also can’t compare their suffering with actual human suffering. This argument puts mentally disabled people as less than human. Other animals are kind and lovable, but humans pride ourselves on our intelligence so to put one in the category as not to have that intelligence is of the greatest insults because it is morally wrong. Since it seems immoral to choose one species suffering over the other, Singer says that the area of uncertainty seems to be the best. Without having to choose whose suffering outweighs the other, ethical altruists can help both causes even though they might not be aware which one does the MOST good, or they can make the most DIFFERENCE. 

142 Do levels of awareness determine levels of suffering? A farm animal that has grown up in a slaughter farm has no knowledge or awareness of what there life could be like without the suffering; they are not aware that they are suffering compared to other animals not in the same type of environment. Does this make their suffering less? I don’t think it does. There is no sound criteria that says one cause is better or worse than the other. Altruists believe in different causes, the support for different causes creates an argument of which cause is better or more good. One side of this argument says that animals have less capacity to suffer than humans because they have a different level of awareness, while the other sides believe that either human suffering is less than that of animals, or that they are on a similar level. 

Vegan Outreach is a nonprofit organization to end violence towards animals, especially in the slaughtering scene. They hand out leaflets to spread the idea of veganism and give statistical data of suffering. Other organizations use their leaflets for their own organization like The Humane League which is a protection non profit organization, also aiming to stop violence towards animals, specifically animals being raised for food. Their advertisements have helped many animals, because people have started agreeing with the leaflets and stopped buying and eating animal meat and products. 

ACE (Animal Charity Evaluators) also use leaflets to forward this movement to stop animal cruelty. 

143 ACE gives more statistical evidence to readers about how much it costs to help these animals and how little it takes. These inexpensive ways to divert suffering are as little as .06 CENTS. Although ACE is an animal advocacy organization, they still say that animals are only capable of a portion of the suffering that humans can endure, this portion being only one tenth. 

          WI: why does ACE believe animals only suffer 1/10? Research and develop an answer. 

144  Spreading information about factoring farming would still have excellent value compared to the most effective charities helping humans. Even if your goal were solely to slow down climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, you could do that more effectively by donating to organizations that are encouraging people to go vegetarian or vegan than by donating to leading carbon-offsetting organizations.

Climate Change

Singer discusses the effects of global warming

145 Slowing climate change would be a very important goal, one that would bring huge benefits to the global poor and to all future generations. An action that has only a tiny chance of changing that outcome can still have very high expected value.

Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value?

147 Intrinsic value of nature- Most effective altruists have not shown interest in. Singer believes that intrinsic value is to be found only in conscious experiences.

149 Chapter 14 Choosing the Best Organization

Meta Charities- organizations that evaluate other charities. Most people who give to charities are giving out of an emotionally based reasoning. Others give because they are asked by someone they know. In both cases sufficient research is usually not present.

150 Donors have an excuse for not looking into the charities and organizations they donate to; it is a lot of work. Before GiveWell, people would go to the website Charity Navigator. Charity navigator is a program that evaluates charities. Although this sounds good, it does has its disadvantages. One disadvantage is that its ratings are superficial. At the moment Charity Navigator doesn’t even tell you anything about the outcome of the charities. Many time people use Charity Navigator to look at one figure: the percentage of a charity’s revenue that is spent on administration and fundraising, rather than on its programs. In extreme cases this can be very helpful, especially when deciding when NOT to give to a charity.

151 In a few cases the proportion of revenue spent doesn’t tell us anything. Just because a charity spends little to nothing on administration and fundraising doesnt mean its a good charity to donate to. In some cases a large amount of the donations can go to administration and fundraising and it helps the charity to make the most out of every dollar it gets. 

152 Instead of evaluating all types of charities, GiveWell focuses on charities that help the poor. GiveWell decided that aiming to help poor people in developing countries would be more cost affluent than affluent countries and therefore stopped reviewing charities that don’t assign the global poor. Because GiveWell only reviews a small amount of organizations (in comparison to other charity review sites), it is able to give better, more deeply research reviews. In the absence of evidence, GiveWell writes reviews on charities but doesn’t recommend them. GiveWell does not focus on specific organizations but rather on specific types of interventions because GiveWell contends that the highest quality of evidence comes from academic research which focuses on the type of intervention. One could describe GiveWells mode of investigation as identifying interventions with a plethora of evidence showing positive outcomes, and then narrowing in on specific organizations within the decided specific interventions. 

Give Well’s first identifying interventions for which their is rigorous evidence that they have positive effects, and then investigating organizations that focus narrowly on these demonstrably beneficial interventions. Directing a donation to a specific project thus won’t necessarily affect whether or not the project will go ahead or even its scale. In 2013 GiveWell recommended only three charities, two of which specialize in treating parasitic worm infections that cause children to develop anemia and slow their progress in school, which the third is GiveDirectly founded to give cash grants directly to very poor people. These interventions have been evaluated by randomized controlled trials.

154  Providing information to parents about the increased wages of those who stay at school is by far the most cost-effective way of improving education and 

155  results in an amazing 20.7 additional years spent at school!

156  There are limited resources make it impossible for Heifer International to provide the option of giving to everyone who could benefit from it. Niehaus proposed instead of giving people cash grams, it would be more beneficial to give poor people cows because it would lead to a better outcome in the end. 

Randomized controlled trials of drugs and medical treatments are required even though they are “experiments with people’s lives”. The trials, however, comply with guidelines set by international research organizations. In the long run these treatments save people’s lives. Failing to use the resource available to save people’s lives is much worse. There are drawbacks and limitations to the randomized controlled trials. For some aid interventions, getting trained people to remote villages is the largest part of the budget. If randomization is to be done, which will be necessary in some situations, then twice as many villages need to be visited to get the baseline measurement which will be doubling the cost of the project. 

157 Oxfam America wanted to do a randomized trials of its “Savings for Change” program, this encouraged women in rural villages in Mali to set up saving schemes from which each member could borrow money when needed.  However, Donors were worried that their donations were going only to the research being done. The study found benefits in this plan like food security but not in education, it also helped in women empowerment. The major limitation of randomization is they can only  be used for certain inventions. Oxfam puts resources into both direct aid and advocacy work.It believes that its advocacy work is better grounded because it regards itself as vital to try combat the causes of poverty. 

 

158  Oxfam has always taken an interest in extracting industries like oil and mining, which often deprives the poor of the land and pollute the rivers which local people rely on for fishing, drinking water, and irrigation. When big quantities of oil and gas were discovered, Ghana knew that it would not benefit the poor of the country. 

Oxfam supported research reports and public forums that use the revenue from the oil industry to help raise public awareness to the issue. The attention helped Ghana get the money they deserved. In 2014 they received approximately $777 million in oil revenue. WIth vast majority of this money directed at “Poverty-focused agriculture”. 

159   Oxfam, an international organization working to end poverty. They work with oil companies to get them to donate to farms and those in poverty. Because it involves so much money, even getting them to donate 1 percent is a huge sum. It indicates a return on investment of 580 percent.

          W.I. write about Oxfam and what they do

They also work to stop large food companies methods of land acquisition, sustainable use of water, climate change, and exploiting women

One of their big battles is fighting against big brand foods driving poor people off land they’ve lived on their whole lives. 

160  An example of this^ is a people in brazil had been living in the sirinhaem river estuary since 1914, in 1998 sugar cane companies forced them to move out, threatened them with violence, and burned their homes down.

When oxfam brought this to the public’s eye , coca-cola and other big 10 food brands denounced this practice 

They have all committed to zero tolerance policies of this practice 

W.I. write about the sirinhaem river estuary people and their conflict with the Usina Trapiche sugar cane company

161  People like political advocacies because they help the causes of poverty too

Many times when a poverty stricken country gets money, they don’t fix the poverty or help them. The money goes into the extremely wealthy and government officials. Because they don’t get any of the money, and know they can get it if they take over the government, the risk for revolt is increased.

Many organizations are part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which works to make sure that money from resource rights goes into the right hands and not into leaders pockets

Working to change unfair trading practices that disadvantage developing countries is one way in which we can try to address at least some of the causes of poverty.

          W.I. write about what the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative does 

          W.I. write about how the angolan government pocketed 34 billion dollars over the course of 8 years that should’ve gone to help their poverty stricken

162: Angola. Financial flows of $34 billion between 2000 and 2008. Nine times what it received in official development assistance during the same period. The rich rule over the poor. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. EITI- works alongside governments and companies to implement an international standard requiring transparency both from the governments of resource rich countries concerning what what they recieve and what happens to it. ONE. In 2011 ONE campaigned for nations to increase their pledges to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. June 2011- $4.3 billion dollars in total was raised, more than hundred times ONE’s total expenditure of $29 million that year. Bono the lead singer of U2, the largest advocacy-only organization that is focused on extreme poverty. 

          W.I. What is the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations and what does it do? 

          W.I. What all goes into giving a vaccine and immunizations?

163: How much money should ONE claim? The campaign was money well spent. ONE conducted another campaign in 2011, it appealed to the UN for a humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa. ONE also successfully persuaded the European Commission to propose a law requiring transparency in the extractives industry. In 2012 ONE became somewhat obsolete because of budget cuts in the European government. GiveWell has a partnership with Good Ventures, a philanthropic foundation set up by Cari Tuna and her husband. Dustin Moskovitz. Open Philanthropy Project – goal of investigating a much wider range of giving opportunities that GiveWell does when it evaluates and recommends specific charities. OPP and GiveWell have funded many scientific research studies focused on reducing global catastrophic risk, and attempting to reform the criminal justice system in the U.S. 

          W.I. What government gives the most to people in need and why? What impact does it have on those people and does it do any good? If so how?

164 If the advocacy organizations do have an impact, then the return investment “would likely be very large.” In other words, we do not, at present, know enough to say whether policy advocacy offers better or worse value for money than direct aid programs.

          W.I. The difference between direct aid and policy advocacy.

          W.I. What is the best way to give your money?

165  Singer explains that dinosaurs became extinct due to a massive collision wiping out the species, and points out that it might be our turn next. He describes how rare the occurrence is, but I am very confused regarding how this can relate to choosing the best organization. Maybe he is leading up to an organization that is researching ways to prevent these collisions?

Chapter 15: Preventing Human Extinction

Nick Bostrom speaks of the term existential risk, or a situation in which “an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.”

166  Nick Bostrom is focused on “intelligent life” such as ourselves, but not a specific species. Where is the line drawn? Some of the ways we could become extinct: a large asteroid, nuclear war, a pandemic of natural origins, a pandemic caused by bioterrorism, global warming, (which is very current) 167  a nanotech accident, physics research producing hyperdense “strange matter”, or a superintelligent unfriendly artificial intelligence [Gremillion] What is nasa’s plan to prevent these catastrophic events? How can we help them do the most good for our planet and our lives?

172  Prior existence view: that if people or, more broadly, sentient beings, exist or will exist independently of anything we choose to do, we ought to make their lives as good as possible; but we have no obligation to try to bring about the existence of people who, but for our actions, would not have existed at all. There is no obligation to reproduce.

173  There is a philosophical debate as to the extent of the efforts we should make to reduce the risk of extinction. Bostrom’s calculations say that reducing existential risk should take priority over doing other good things.

174 Altruistic dollars are scarce so effective altruists tend to donate more to reducing need than the actual needs themselves. Unrestricted altruism is not common enough today for us to have the ability to waste it on the more frivolous needs. This isn’t to say that every need isn’t important, but some are definitely more detrimental than others. On that note, it is important to encourage others to be effective altruists as there is a greater likelihood of those effective altruists becoming concerned about existential risk than someone who wasn’t previously an effective altruism would. The problem of how to minimize known existential risks has no known solution. This is true only for most existential risks. 

175 Some effective altruists have shown interest in the development of artificial intelligence. 

          W.I. The dangers of artificial intelligence

176 The development of artificial intelligence was bad for the chimps but good for humans. Animal suffering is offset by the fact there by the decreased suffering of humans, there is hope for the future of increased happiness for both humans and animals together. If you have a clear idea in one specific area of how to reduce existential risk, it is much better for you to focus on that one area of which you have knowledge and do limited side work in other areas, than to dedicate yourself to areas you have no knowledge about. 

177  Take steps to reduce the risk of human extinction when those steps are also highly effective in benefiting existing sentient beings. For example, eliminating or decreasing the consumption of animal products will benefit animals, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and lessen the chances of a pandemic resulting from a virus evolving among the animals crowded into today’s factory farms, which are an ideal breeding ground for viruses.

178  Educating and empowering women by giving them greater say in national and international affairs. Educating women and growing healthier children.

 

Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Marquez also wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude along with other works. This book, Love in the Time of Cholera, was a national best seller. Marquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Penguin Books had this edition translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman. This book was published in 1988. Even though the cover of my copy appears intriguing, I hate the title; it actively makes me not want to read it. I committed to it because I’d heard such good things about the author. A movie was made based on this story. A personal note on the very first page reads “This book is incredible!” On the second page I wrote “With very little dialogue, this book reminds me of another one of my favorite authors, Dostoyevsky. We go deep into people’s hearts, souls and minds. What a splendored world is love. How long would you wait? How far would you go? Love has no age; no sell-by date. We do not stop loving when we age.” On the next page I wrote “This is another one of those books whose title does not reveal the humor and the love inside!”

As far as transcription, I usually just type the “best bits” that rise to the surface as outstanding writing. For this one I also included plot points (which I mark differently in the book). That was too much! I’m hoping that if you like the “best bits” you’ll feel inspired to read the entire story.

 

3  margin note: Saint Amour poisons himself

5  margin note: Dr. Juvenal Urbino is very old but still working. Memory and hearing slipping a bit.

9  “…the uproar of oil and motors from the bay whose exhaust fumes fluttered through the house on hot afternoons like an angel condemned to putrefaction.”

10  “‘The scalpel is the greatest proof of the failure of medicine.’ He thought that, in a strict sense, all medication was poison and that seventy percent of common foods hastened death.”

17  Branding (one of my literary interests discussed in my thesis) is mentioned

20  “He was a deplumed, maniacal parrot who did not speak when asked to but only when it was least expected, but when he did so with a clarity and rationality that were uncommon among human beings.”

31  “He was very glad that the instrument used by Divine Providence for that overwhelming revelation had been Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, whom he had always considered a saint unaware of his own state of grace. But when the letter revealed his true identity, his sinister past, his inconceivable powers of deception, he felt that something definitive and irrevocable had occurred in his life.”

32  “‘You don’t understand anything,’ he said. ‘What infuriates me is not what he was or what he did, but the deception he practiced on all of us for so many years.’”

37  “He remembered Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, on view at that hour in his coffin, in his bogus military uniform with his fake decoration, under the accusing eyes of the children in the portraits.”

49  Dr. Urbino is buried the day after Saint-Amour.

50  “‘Fermina,’ he said, ‘I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.’

“Fermina Daza would have thought she was facing a madman if she had not had reason to believe that at that moment Florentino Ariza was inspired by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Her first impulse was to curse him for profaning the house when the body of her husband was still warm in the grave. But the dignity of her fury held her back. ‘Get out of here,’ she said. ‘And don’t show your face again for the years of life that are left to you.’ She opened the street door, which she had begun to close, and concluded:

“‘And I hope there are very few of them.’”

51  “Only then did she realize that she had slept a long time without dying, sobbing in her sleep, and that while she slept, sobbing, she had thought more about Florentino Ariza than about her dead husband.”

Chapter endnotes:

Learn about Saint-Amour and what is revealed in his suicide note. Learn of Dr. Urbino (who dies next) and his wife, Fermina. She is visited by a man she met as a teen who says he has loved her all this time. This news did not come as a shock but she kicks him out. Even so…she thinks about him more than her dead husband all through the night.

 

53  “Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago.”

54  “…Florentino Ariza could play by ear like a professional. When he met Fermina Daza he was the most sought-after young man in his social circle…”

55  “The lesson was not interrupted, but the girl raised her eyes to see who was passing by the window, and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later.”

57  “‘But above all,’ she said, ‘The first person you have to win over is not the girl but her aunt.’”

58  “…her aunt was convinced that all these meetings could not be casual. She said: ‘He is not going to all this trouble for me.’ For despite her austere conduct and penitential habit, Aunt Escolastica had an instinct for life and a vocation for complicity, which was her greatest virtues, and the mere idea that a man was interested in her niece awakened an irresistible emotion in her. Fermina Daza, however, was still safe from even simple curiosity about love, and the only feeling that Florentino Ariza inspired in her was a certain pity, because it seemed to her that he was sick. But her aunt told her that one had to live a long time to know a  man’s true nature, and she was convinced that the one who sat in the park to watch them walk by could only be sick with love.

“Four times a day, when they walked through the little Park of the Evangels, both hurried to look with a rapid glance at the thin, timid, unimpressive sentinel who was almost always dressed in black despite the heat and who pretended to read under the trees.”

59  “But her prayers were not answered. On the contrary. This occurred at the time that Florentino Ariza made his confession to his mother, who dissuaded him from handing Fermina Daza his seventy pages of compliments, so that she continued to wait for the rest of the year.”

62  But his examination revealed that he had no fever, no pain anywhere, and that his only concrete feeling was an urgent desire to die. All that was needed was shrewd questioning, first of the patient and then of his mother, to conclude once again that the symptoms of love were the same as those of cholera.”

68  “It was the year they fell into devastating love. Neither one could do anything except think about the other, dream about the other, and wait for letters with the same impatience they felt when they answered them. Never in that delirious spring, or in the following year, did they have the opportunity to speak to each other. Moreover, from the moment they saw each other for the first time until he reiterated his determination a half century later, they never had the opportunity to be alone or to talk of their love. But during the first three months not one day went by that they did not write to each other, and for a time they wrote twice a day, until Aunt Escolastica became frightened by the intensity of the blaze that she herself had helped to ignite.”

69  “Sometimes he went to the office without having slept, his hair in an uproar of love after leaving the letter in the prearranged hiding place so that Fermina Daza would find it on her way to school.”

71  “Their frenetic correspondence was almost two years old when Florentino Ariza, in a letter of only one paragraph, made a formal proposal of marriage to Fermina Daza. On several occasions during the preceding six months he had sent her a white camellia…”

“…torn from the margin of a school notebook, on which a one-line answer was written in pencil: Very well, I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant.”

73  “In any case, the details of the engagement were settled in their letters during the weeks that followed. Fermina Daza, on the advice of her Aunt Escolastica, accepted both the two-year extension and the condition of absolute secrecy, and suggested that Florentino Ariza ask for her hand when she finished secondary school, during the Christmas vacation. When the time came they would decide on how the engagement was to be formalized, depending on the degree of approval she obtained from her father. In the meantime, they continued to write to each other with the same ardor and frequency, but free of the turmoil they had felt before, and their letters tended toward a domestic tone that seemed appropriate to husband and wife. Nothing disturbed their dreams.”

77  “She had two children, each by a different father, not because they were casual adventures but because she could never love any man who came back after the third visit.”

78  “The fact was that on the previous Saturday, Sister Franca de la Luz, Superior of the Academy of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, had come into the class on Ideas of Cosmogony with the stealth of a serpent, and spying on the students over their shoulders, she discovered that Fermina Daza was pretending to take notes in her notebook when in reality she was writing a love letter. According to the rules of the Academy, that error was reason for expulsion.”

79  “Certain that such an intricate relationship was understandable only with the complicity of his sister, he did not grant her the grace of an excuse or the right of appeal, but shipped her on the schooner to San Juan de la Cienaga. Fermina Daza never found relief from her last memory of her aunt on the afternoon when she said goodbye in the doorway…”

“Lorenzo Daza did not foresee the ferocity with which his daughter would react to the unjust punishment of her Aunt Escolastica, whom she had always identified with the mother she could barely remember. She locked herself in her room, refused to eat or drink, and when at last he persuaded her to open the door, first with threats and then with poorly dissimulated pleading, he found a wounded panther who would never be fifteen years old again.”

“But it was like talking to a corpse. Defeated, he at last lost his temper at lunch on Monday, and while he choked back insults and blasphemies and was about to explode, she put the meat knife to her throat, without dramatics but with a steady hand and eyes so aghast that he did not dare to challenge her. That was when he took the risk of talking for five minutes, man to man, with the accursed upstart whom he did not remember ever having seen, and who had come into his life to his great sorrow. By force of habit he picked up his revolver before he went out, but he was careful to hide it under his shirt.”

81  “Get out of our way.”

82  “‘Don’t force me to shoot you,’ he said.

“‘Shoot me,’ he said, with his hand on his chest. ‘There is no greater glory than to die for love.’”

Margin note: Father is taking her away. She leaves a letter in her hair braid.

86  “So the Forentino Ariza not only learned the complete itinerary but also established an extensive brotherhood of telegraph operators who would follow the trail of Fermina Daza to the last settlement in Cabo de la Vela. This allowed him to maintain intensive communications with her from the time of her arrival in Valledupar, where she stayed three months, until the end of her journey in Riohacha, a year and a half later, when Lorenzo Daza took it for granted that his daughter had at last forgotten and he decided to return home.”

88  “That was how the telegraphic correspondence with Florentino Ariza stopped being a concerto of intentions and illusory promises and became methodical and practical and more intense than ever. They set dates, established means, pledged their lives to their mutual determination to marry without consulting anyone, wherever and however they could, as soon as they were together again.”

Lorenzo Daza “never spoke to her about his plans for the arranged marriage.”

“It was at this time that Florentino Ariza decided to tell her in his letters of his determination to salvage the treasure of the sunken galleon for her.”

102 margin note: OH. NO.

103  “…opportunity to see or talk to Fermina Daza alone in the many chance encounters of their very long lives until fifty-one years and nine months and four days later, when he repeated his vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love on her first night as a widow.”

Endnotes: Florentino and Fermina were in love all their teen/young years, but her father moved them away to break up the romance. They stayed in touch through letters. Three years later when Fermina returned to secretly marry Florentino, he caught her by surprise in the market. At just that moment, the X factor was extinguished. She saw Florentino in an entirely new light and abruptly broke off the engagement.

 

109  “To prevent anyone from drinking from the aluminum cup used to dip out the water, its edges were as jagged as the crown of a mock king.”

122 Dr. Urbino is now attempting to get close to Fermina.

“It was a brief and bitter visit. Sister Franca de la Luz, wasting no time on formalities, offered honorable reinstatement to Fermina Daza. The reason for her expulsion would be erased not only from the records but also from the memory of the Community, and this would allow her to finish her studies and receive her baccalaureate degree. Fermina Daza was perplexed and wanted to know why.

“‘It is the request of someone who deserves everything he desires and whose only sin is to make you happy,’ said the nun. ‘Do you know who that is?’

“Then she understood. She asked herself with what authority a woman who had made her life miserable because of an innocent letter served as the emissary of love, but she did not dare to speak of it. Instead she said yes, she knew that man, and by the same token she also knew that he had no right to interfere in her life.”

132  margin notes: Fermina is a homebody with no friends

“She herself had not realized that every step she took from her house to school, every spot in the city, every moment of her recent past, did not seem to exist except by the grace of Florentino Ariza. Hildebranda pointed this out to her, but she did not admit it because she never would have admitted that Florentino Ariza, for better or for worse, was the only thing that had ever happened to her in her life.”

136  margin note: Interesting how all these men are after Fermina when she herself does not seem interesting at all.

“…Doctor with a perfunctory handshake. Fermina did the same, but when she tried to withdraw her hand in its satin glove, Dr. Urbino squeezed her ring finger.

“‘I am waiting for your answer,’ he said.”

“Then Fermina pulled harder and her empty glove was left dangling in the Doctor’s hand, but she did not wait to retrieve it.”

137  “It was one of her typical letters, not a syllable too many or too few, in which she told the Doctor yes, he could speak to her father.”

138 margin note: Florentino plays one last waltz for Fermina before moving away.

142 margin note: Florintino loses his virginity to a stranger.

143  “…he could not believe, that he even refused to admit, which was that his illusory love for Fermina Daza could be replaced by an earthly passion.”

147  “…in the marasmus of the sedatives he had resolved once and for all that he did not give a damn about the brilliant future of the telegraph and that he would take this very same boat back to his old Street of Windows.

“Never again, because never again would he abandon the city of Fermina Daza.

149  “Florentino Ariza tried to help her unfasten her stays, but she anticipated him with a deft maneuver, for in five years of matrimonial devotion she learned to depend on herself in all phases of love, even the preliminary stages, with no help from anyone.”

Margin notes 152: Florentino begins keeping journals of his lovers

Margin notes 153: Florentina sees Fermina after her honeymoon. She is at church with her husband and pregnant.

“…which couples in the family still made love and which ones had stopped, and when, and why, even though they continued to live together.”

159  “He was aware that he did not love her. He had married her because he liked her haughtiness, her seriousness, her strength, and also because of some vanity on his part, but as she kissed him for the first time he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love. They did not speak of it that first night, when they spoke of everything until dawn, nor would they ever speak of it. But in the long run, neither of them had made a mistake.’

Margin notes 160  Fermina and Urbino have their first child

161  “But amid these and so many other memories, Dr. Juvenal Urbino had one that he always regretted not sharing with his wife, for it came from his days as a bachelor student in Paris. It was the memory of Victor Hugo, who enjoyed an impassioned fame here that had nothing to do with his books, because someone said that he had said, although no one actually heard him say it, that our Constitution was meant for a nation not of men but of angels. From that time on, special homage was paid to him, and most of our many compatriots who traveled to France went out of their way to see him. A half-dozen students, among them Juvenal Urbino, stood guard for a time outside his residence on Avenue Eylau, and at the cafes where it was said he came without fail and never came, and at last they sent a written request for a private audience in the name of the angels of the Constitution of Rionegro. They never received a re3ply. One day, when Juvenal Urbino happened to be passing the Luxembourg Gardens, he saw him come out of the Senate with a young woman on his arm. He seemed very old, he walked with difficulty, his beard and hair were less brilliant than in his pictures, and he wore an overcoat that seemed to belong to a larger man. He did not want to ruin the memory with an impertinent greeting: he was satisfied with the almost unreal vision that he would keep for the rest of his life. When he returned to Paris as a married man, in a position to see him under more formal circumstances, Victor Hugo had already died.”

End note: We learn what happens during Fermina and Florentino’s lives when Dr. Urbino comes on the scene.

 

A plan: “The day that Florentino Ariza saw Fermina Daza in the atrium of the Cathedral, in the sixth month of her pregnancy and in full command of her new condition as a woman of the world, he made a fierce decision to win fame and fortune in order to deserve her. He did not even stop to think about the obstacle of her being married, because at the same time he decided, as if it depended on himself alone, that Dr. Juvenal Urbino had to die. He did not know when or how, but he considered it an ineluctable event that he was resolved to wait for without impatience or violence, even till the end of time.

“…he allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves” (166).

“Inside the shell of a soulless merchant was hidden a genial lunatic…” (165-6).

169  “In the other photograph, his father was with a group of soldiers in God knows which of so many wars, and he held the longest rifle, and his mustache had a gunpowder smell that wafted out of the picture.”

176-7  “As he spoke he sipped aguardiente without pause. He seemed to be made of reinforced concrete: he was enormous, with hair all over his body except on his head, a mustache like a housepainter’s brush, a voice like a capstan, which would have been his alone, and an exquisite courtesy. But not even his body could resist the way he drank. Before they sat down to the table he had finished half of the demijohn, and he fell forward onto the tray of glasses and bottles with a slow sound of demolition.”  OMG…that is SO GOOD!

178  here I wrote “Ausencia” : “…the first thing she did when he arrived was to take off his glasses instead of undressing him, so that she could kiss him with greater ease, and this was how Florentino Ariza learned that she had begun to love him.”

188  “‘No,’ she said to him. ‘I would feel as if I were going to bed with the son I never had.’

“Florentino Ariza was left with the nagging suspicion that this was not her last word. He believed that when a woman says no, she is waiting to be urged before making her final decision, but with her he could not risk making the same mistake twice. He withdrew without protest, and even with a certain grae, which was not easy for him. From that night on, any cloud there might have been between them was dissipated without bitterness, and Florentino Ariza understood at last that it is possible to be a woman’s friend and not go to bed with her.”

191  Florentino and Dr. Juvenal meet: “…it revealed to him that he and this man, whom he had always considered his personal enemy, were victims of the same fate and shared the hazards of a common passion; they were two animals yoked together.”

200 “‘By virtue of marrying a man she does not love for money,’ interrupted Sara Noriega. ‘That’s the lowest kind of whore.’”

203 “…loving without lies, sleeping without having to feign sleep in order to escape the indecency of official love, possessed at last of the right to an entire bed to themselves, where no one fought them for half of the sheet, half of the air they breathed, half of their night, until their bodies were satisfied with dreaming their own dreams, and they woke alone.

“He saw no reason why Fermina Daza should not be a widow like them, prepared by life to accept him just as he was, without fantasier of guilt because of her dead husband, resolved to discover with him the other happiness of being happy twice, with one love for everyday use which would become, more and more, a miracle of being alive, and the other love that belonged to her alone, the love immunized by death against all contagion.”

204  “…but no one could remember what he was like. It was then that Fermina Daza experienced the revelation of the unconscious motives that had kept her from loving him. She said: ‘It is as if he were not a person but only a shadow.’ That is what he was: the shadow of someone whom no one had ever known.”

205  “The truth is that Juvenal Urbino’s suit had never been undertaken in the name of love, and it was curious, to say the least, that a militant Catholic like him would offer her only worldly goods: security, order, happiness, contiguous numbers that, once they were added together, might resemble love, almost be love. But they were not love, and these doubts increased her confusion, because she was also not convinced that love was really what she most needed to live.”

206  “…Fermina Daza’s happy marriage lasted as long as the honeymoon…”

“…the man she had married was a hopeless weakling: a poor devil made bold by the social weight of his family names.”

211  “…he had won the power to turn his daughter into an exquisite lady. He left old and sick, but still he lived much longer than any of his victims might have desired. Fermina Daza could not repress a sigh of relief when she received the news of his death, and in order to avoid questions she did not wear mourning, but for several months she wept with mute fury without knowing why when she locked herself in the bathroom to smoke, and it was because she was crying for him.

“The most absurd element in their situation was that they never seemed so happy in public as during those years of misery. For this was the time of their greatest victories over the subterranean hostility of a milieu that resisted accepting them as they were: different and modern, and for that reason transgressors against the traditional order. That, however, had been the easy part for Fermina Daza. Life in the world, which had caused her so much uncertainty before she was familiar with it, was nothing more than a system of atavistic contracts, banal ceremonies, preordained words, with which people entertained each other in society in order not to commit murder. The dominant sign in that paradise of provincial frivolity was fear of the unknown. She had defined it in a simpler way: ‘The problem in public life is learning to overcome terror; the problem in married life is learning to overcome boredom.’ She had made this sudden discovery with the clarity of a revelation when, trailing her endless bridal train behind her, she had entered the vast  salon of the Social Club, where the air was thin with the mingled scent of so many flowers, the brilliance of the waltzes, the tumult of perspiring men and tremulous women who looked at her not knowing how they were going to exorcise the dazzling menace that had come to them from the outside world. She had just turned twenty-one and had done little more than leave her house to go to school, but with one look around her she understood that her adversaries were not convulsed with hatred but paralyzed by fear. Instead of frightening them even more, as she was already doing, she had the compassion to help them learn to know her. They were no different from what she wanted them to be…”

223  “Over the years they both reached the same wise conclusion by different paths: it was not possible to live together in any other way, or love in any other way, and nothing in this world was more difficult than love.”

End note: We learn about the individual lives and loves of Fermina and Florentino as they are apart and move forward through their lives. Florentino never married but knew many woman. Fermina was in a loveless but workable marriage and had 3 children.

The reader will enjoy a romantic interlude between pages 227-229

230  “The military man, prepared to introduce them, asked her if they did not know each other. She did not say yes and she did not say no, but she held out her hand to Florentino Ariza with a salon smile. The same thing had occurred twice in the past, and would occur again, and Florentino Ariza always accepted these occasions with a strength of character worthy of Fermina Daza. But that afternoon he asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love.

Margin note 233  He hears gossip that Fermina is sick

235  “At last she decided to leave, not even knowing why or to what purpose, out of sheer fury, and he, inhibited by his sense of guilt, had not been able to dissuade her.

“When she made her rash decision, she told her children that she was going to have a change of scene for three months or so with Aunt Hildebranda, but her determination was not to return. Dr. Juvenal Urbino knew the strength of her character very well, and he was so troubled that he accepted her decision with humility as God’s punishment for the gravity of his sins. But the lights on the boat had not yet been lost to view when they both repented of their weakness.”

Two years pass

237  “Beyond any shadow of a doubt there was an odor in each of the articles that had not been there in all their years of life together, an odor impossible to define because it was not the sent of flowers or of artificial essences but of something peculiar to human nature. She said nothing, and she did not notice the odor every day, but she now sniffed at her husband’s clothing not to decide if it was ready to launder but with an unbearable anxiety that gnawed at her innermost being.”

240  “In this way she realized not only that her husband was in a state of mortal sin but that he had resolved to persist in it, since he did not go to his confessor for help. She had never imagined that she could suffer so much for something that seemed to be the absolute opposite of love, but she was suffering, and she resolved that the only way she could keep from dying was to burn out the nest of vipers that was poisoning her soul.”

“…a great relief that what was bound to happen sooner or later had happened sooner rather than later: the ghost of Miss Barbara Lynch had entered his house at last.”

241  “Miss Barbara Lynch, Doctor of Theology, was the only child of the Reverend Jonathan B. Lynch…”

248  “the last thing Miss Lynch received from him was an emerald tiara in a little box wrapped in paper from the pharmacy, so that the coachman himself thought it was an emergency prescription and handed it to her with no comment, no message, nothing in writing. Dr. Urbino never saw her again, not even by accident, and God alone knows how much grief his heroic resolve cost him or how many bitter tears he had to shed behind the locked lavatory door in order to survive this private catastrophe. At five o’clock, instead of going to see her, he made a profound act of contrition before his confessor, and on the following Sunday he took Communion, his heart broken but his soul at peace.”

249  “…he ended the recital of his misery with a sigh as mournful as it was sincere: ‘I think I am going to die.’ She did not even blink when she replied.

‘That would be best,’ she said. ‘Then we could both have some peace.’”

“Something definitive had happened to her while he slept: the sediment that had accumulated at the bottom of her life over the course of so many years had been stirred up by the torment of her jealousy and had floated to the surface, and it had aged her all at once.”

250  “For her it was the end of everything. She was sure that her honor was the subject of gossip even before her husband had finished his penance, and the feeling of humiliation that this produced in her was much less tolerable than the shame and anger and injustice caused by his infidelity. And worst of all, damn it: with a black woman. He corrected her: ‘With a mulatta.’ But by then if was too late for accuracy: she had finished.

‘Just as bad,’ she said, ‘and only now I understand: it was the smell of a black woman.’

“This happened on a Monday. On Friday at seven o’clock in the evening, Fermina Daza sailed away on the regular boat to San Juan de la Cienaga with only one trunk, in the company of her goddaughter, her face covered by a mantilla to avoid questions for herself and her husband. Dr. Juvenal Urbino was not at the dock, by mutual agreement, following an exhausting three-day discussion in which they decided that she should to Cousin Hildebranda Sanchez’s ranch in Flores de Maria for as long a time as she needed to think before coming to a final decision. Without knowing her reasons, the children understood it as  a trip she had often put off and that they themselves had wanted her to make for a long time. Dr. Urbino arranged matters so that no one in his perfidious circle could engage in malicious speculation, and he did it so well that if Florentino Ariza could find no clue to Fermina Daza’s disappearance it was because in fact there was none, not because he lacked the means to investigate. Her husband had no doubts that she would come home as soon as she got over her rage. But she lft certain that her rage would never end.”

254  “Dr. Juvenal Urbino made the decision to come for her after receiving a report from the Bishop…”

Fermina was so happy to see Juvenal

256 margin note: Florentino sees Fermina as she grows old

258  “As they talked, Florentino Ariza put his hand on her thigh, he began to caress her with the gentle touch of an experienced seducer, and she did not stop him, but she did not respond either, not even with a shudder for courtesy’s sake.”

“From that time on, she would say to anyone who would listen to her: ‘If you ever hear of a big, strong fellow who raped a poor black girl from the street on Drowned Men’s Jetty, one October fifteenth at about half-past eleven at night, tell him where he can find me.’ She said it out of habit, and she had said it to so many people that she no longer had any hope. Florentino Ariza had heard the story as many times as he had heard a boat sailing away in the night. By two o’clock in the morning they had each drunk three brandies and he knew, in truth, that he was not the man she was waiting for, and he was glad to know it.”

259  “It was the most fearful kind of presentiment, because it was based on reality. The years of immobilized waiting, of hoping for good luck, were behind him, but on the horizon he could see nothing more than the unfathomable sea of imaginary illnesses, the drop-by-drop urinations of sleepless nights, the daily death at twilight. He thought that all the moments in the day, which had once been his allies and sworn accomplices, were beginning to conspire against him. A few years before he had gone to a dangerous assignation, his heart heavy with terror of what might happen, and he had found the door unlocked and the hinges recently oiled so that he could come in without a sound, but he repented at the last moment for fear of causing a decent married woman irreparable harm by dying in her bed. So that it was reasonable to think that the woman he loved most on earth, the one he had waited for from one century to the next without a sigh of disenchantment, might not have the opportunity to lead him by the arm across a street full of lunar grave mounds and beds of windblown poppies in order to help him reach the other side of death in safety.

“It was a bad time for being young: there was a style of dress for each age, but the style of old age began soon after adolescence, and lasted until the grave.”

268  “Six months later, by unanimous agreement, Florentino Ariza was named President of the Board of Directors and General manager of the company.”

272 margin note: Pretty creepy, Florentino!

276  “…although it seemed absurd: the oldest and best-qualified doctor in the city, and one oof its illustrious men for many other meritorious reasons, had died of a broken spine, at the age of eighty-one, when he fell from the branch of a mango tree as he tried to catch a parrot.”

278  “…and on the wet envelope he recognized at once the imperious handwriting that so many changes in life had not changed, and he even thought he could detect the nocturnal perfume of withered gardenias, because after the initial shock, his heart told him everything: it was the letter he had been waiting for, without a moment’s respite, for over half a century.”

End note: Florentino’s later years and learning of Dr. Urbino’s death. He goes to tell Fermina he’ll be waiting. Three weeks later he finds a letter at his door.

 

279  “Fermina Daza could not have imagined that her letter, inspired by blind rage, would have been interpreted by Florentino Atiza as a love letter. She had put into it all the fury of which she was capable, her cruelest words, the most wounding, most unjust vilifications…

281  “At the end of the third week, in fact, she began to see the first light. But as it grew larger and brighter, she became aware that there was an evil phantom in her life who did not give her a moment’s peace. He was not the pitiable phantom who had haunted her in the Park of the Evangels and whom she had evoked with a certain tenderness after she had grown old, but the hateful phantom with his executioner’s frock coat and his hat held against his chest, whose thoughtless impertinence had disturbed her so much that she found it impossible not to think about him. Ever since her rejection of him at the age of eighteen, she had been convinced that she had left behind a seed of hatred in him that could only grow larger with time. She had always counted on that hatred, she had felt it in the air when the phantom was near, and the mere sight of him had upset and frightened her so that she never found a natural way to behave with him. On the night when he reiterated his love for her, while the flowers for her dead husband were still perfuming the house, she could not believe that his insolence wad not the first step in God knows what sinister plan for revenge.

“It was not easy for her to imagine Florentino Ariza as he had been then, much less to believe that the taciturn boy, so vulnerable in the rain, was the moth-eaten old wreck who had stood in front of her with no consideration for her situation, or the slightest respect for her grief, and had seared her soul with a flaming insult that still made it difficult for her to breathe.”

285  “Prudencia Pitre had not forgotten his scratching signal at the door, the one ha had used to identify himself when they thought they were still young although they no longer were, and she opened the door without any questions. The street was dark, he was barely visible in his black suit, his stiff hat, and his bat’s umbrella hanging over his arm, and her eyes were too weak to see him except in full light, but she recognized him by the gleam of the streetlamp on the metal frame of his eyeglasses. He looked like a merderer with blood still on his hands.

‘Sanctuary for a poor orphan,’ he said.”

302  “It seemed incredible, but as the first anniversary of her husband’s death approached, Fermina Daza felt herself entering a place that was shady, cool, quiet: the grove of the irremediable. She was not yet aware, and would not be for several months, of how much the written meditations of Florentino Ariza had helped her to recover her peace of mind. Applied to her own experiences, they were what allowed her to understand her own life and to await the designs of old age with serenity. Their meeting at the memorial Mass was a providential opportunity for her to let Florentino Ariza know that she, too, thanks to his letters of encouragement, was prepared to erase the past.”

305 margin note: they finally sit down to talk

“…enough time to look at each other with some serenity, and they had seen each other for what they were: two old people, ambushed by death, who had nothing in common except the memory of an ephemeral past that was no longer theirs but belonged to two young people who had vanished and who could have been their grandchildren. She thought that he would at last be convinced of the unreality of his dream, and that this would redeem his insolence.”

308  “She ignored his hidden intentions and returned the letter to him, saying: ‘It is a shame that I cannot read it, because the others have helped me a great deal.’”

“‘Come back whenever you like,’ she said. ‘I am almost always alone.’”

317  “Fermina Daza needed no more than three Tuesdays to realize how much she missed Florentino Ariza’s visits.”

“But for Fermina Daza no one could take the place of her calming afternoons with Florentino Ariza.”

323  “‘A century ago, life screwed that poor man and me because we were too young, and now they want to do the same thing because we are too old.’”

329  “Then he reached out with two icy fingers in the darkness, felt for the other hand in the darkness, and found it waiting for him. Both were lucid enough to realize, at the same fleeting instant, that the hands made of old bones were not the hands they had imagined before touching. In the next moment, however, they were. She began to speak of her dead husband in the present tense, as if he were alive, and Florentino Ariza knew then that for her, too, the time had come to ask herself with dignity, with majesty, with an irrepressible desire to live, what she should do with the love that had been left behind without a master.”

“‘…there is no God worth worrying about.’”

Margin note page 331 says there is a mention of environmental damage

331  “Seeing him like this, dressed just for her in so patent a manner, she could not hold back the fiery blush that rose to her face. She was embarrassed when she greeted him, and he was more embarrassed by her embarrassment. The knowledge that they were behaving as if they were sweethearts was even more embarrassing, and the knowledge that they were both embarrassed embarrassed them so much that Captain Samaritano noticed it with a tremor of compassion.”

A ghost is mentioned on page 332

338  “‘If we’re going to do it, let’s do it,’ she said, ‘but let’s do it like grownups.’”

343  “At dusk in Puerto Nare they picked up a woman who was even taller and stouter than the Captain, asn uncommon beauty who needed only a beard to be hired by a circus.”

348  “Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.”

Last end note: The wait is kind of reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo.

 

 

 

The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone

The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone

By

Scott Samuelson

The University of Chicago Press

2014

 

Prelude on Light Pollution and the Stars

Part 1: What is Philosophy?

“…wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder. Samuel Taylor Coleridge adds a touch of poetry to the point, ‘In Wonder all philosophy began: in Wonder it ends: and Admiration fills up the interspace’” (1).

 

1: Portrait of You as Odysseus

“A Dialogue between two Infants in the womb concerning the state of this world, might handsomely illustrate our ignorance of the next, whereof methinks we yet discourse in Platoes denne, and are but Embryon Philosophers”–Sir Thomas Browne

“We’re capable of revising our very being, or reordering our values, of turning our calculating abilities back on ourselves” (7).

“…the whole of it, which involves the fullest exercise of our rationality: the seeking out of a meaningful life” (9).

Pierre Hadot: philosophy is “a set of spiritual exercises intended to get people back to their true selves.” Improvement. “They were after the good life, and philosophy was the discipline of hunting it down.”

“But when everyday life is less than fully satisfying, there will always be people who set out on a quest for meaning” (10).

“…if one animal can’t understand another, how can one human understand another” (12)?

 

2: Portrait of Philosophy as Socrates

“Born around 470 BC to Sophroniscus, a stonemason, and Phaenarete, a midwife, Socrates referred to his own philosophical practice as a kind of midwifery, whereby he helped other people give birth to their ideas, though he had no ‘children’–that is, theories–of his own.”

“…in 399 BC, he had three young children. His wife Xanthippe…” (16).

“Socrates left behind as many writings as Jesus–none. We know about him solely through the work of his contemporaries, mainly his student Plator, almost all of whose writings are dialogues starring Socrates” (17-18).

You Gotta Serve Somebody

In the last full paragraph on page 20 I’ve underlined the word “divine” and in the margin have written: Why must the choices be polytheism and the divine? All of the beauty and violence could equally be conceived as being born of chaos with no overruling forces.

Oracles and Demons

“Socrates really was the wisest of all. He did have a little bit of positive wisdom: the priceless knowledge that he know nothing” (24).

“(After Socrates discovers that the poets can’t explain their poems, he concludes, ‘I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled them to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration’” (26).

“In the Phaedo, just an hour before his death, Socrates says, ‘Philosophy is nothing but the preparation for death and dying’” (27).

For the following quote on page 31 my margin notes say “We win either way”:

“Death is one of two things. Either it is an annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything; or, as we are told, it really is a change: a migration of the soul from this place to another. Now if there is no consciousness but only a dreamless sleep, death must be a marvelous gain…because the whole of time, if you look at it in this way, can be regarded as no more than one single night. If on the other hand death is a removal from here to some other place, and if what we are told is true, that all the dead are there, what greater blessing could there be than this, gentlemen?…Put it in this way: how much would one of you gie to meet Orpheus and Museus, Hesiod and Homer?…Above all I should like to spend my time there, as here, in examining and searching people’s minds, to find out who is really wise among them, and who only thinks that he is” (31 Socrates’s response to being given the death penalty).

Philosophical Patriotism

“Socrates then imagines a more profound dialogue than the one he finds himself in, between him and what he calls the Laws. What emerges is that citizens have an implicit contract with the Laws. The Laws provide Socrates (and us, too, for the form of the contract that Socrates describes would be the same, if he’s right, for Americans as for Athenians) with all the benefits of living in a political system: the marriage codes that provide for our birth and upbringing, armed forces to protect us, education, health codes, roads, and so  on. It’s hard to think of a single aspect of our lives untouched by the Laws. In return, we must do no more than follow the law: ay our taxes and not break the rules. If we don’t like the deal, there are two important provisions to the contract: (1) we’re allowed to leave, or (2) we may try to change the system through legal means. Our very presence in the state, at least after legal age of adulthood, provides what the philosopher John Locke calles ‘tacit consent’ to such a contract. If Socrates didn’t like living in a democracy where one can be charged for unholiness, then he shouldn’t have stuck around for seventy years” (32).

Risking Eternity

 

Interlude on Laughter and Tears

Regarding a student, she writes “‘When you’re right in the middle of suffering, it doesn’t always feel comic,’ she admitted, ‘but comedy is necessary and usually available to us.’”

“I should have assigned Kierkegaard’s Stages on Life’s Way: ‘The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense of the comic. It is only by the deepest suffering that one acquires true authority in the use of the comic, an authority which by one word transforms as by magic the reasonable creature one calls man into a caricature’” (41).

 

Part 2: What Is Happiness?

“According to Socrates, most of us conceive of a happiness of the part but have never imagined a happiness of the whole. We need some answer to the question of how to spend our time that isn’t about satisfying a gut or a heart or a brain–or any other organ of the body for that matter. Real happiness pertains to the complete human being, the whole soul” (48).

 

3: The Exquisite Materialism of Epicurus

  1. T. Pettee wrote: “Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,

For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,

But don’t forget the potatoes.”

Epicurus’s idea is the “the pleasurable life involves the clear-headed calculation of what will actually produce a stable, authentic pleasure.”

“But we misunderstand Epicurus if we take him to be saying, ‘It would be wonderful if we could eat like Mirande without suffering any ill effects, but geven our physiology that’s impossible; so we have to practice moderation.’ His real point is that the deepest pleasure comes from the satisfaction of our desires with the most basic nourishment” (52).

“Epicurus’s preferred diet was barley bread, spring water, and fresh vegetables. A diet that leans on the staffs of life is easy to obtain and promotes our health” (52-3).

“…but luxuries should remain luxuries, the occasional adornment to a healthy diet. Epicurus’s occasional feast, it is said, was a slice of Cythnian cheese and a half pint of wine.

“The foundational principle of Epicureanism–perhaps the sanest in all philosophy–is: pleasure good; ain bad. In a sense, all his philosophy amounts to is the rigorous, reasonable application of this elementary truth, which even newborns seem to have deduced. Epicurus sees no other way to give meaning to the concept of goodness, ‘Nor yet for my part can I find anything that I can understand as good if I take away from it the pleasures afforded by taste, those that come from listening to music, those that come from the eyes by the sight of figures in motion, or other pleasures produced by any of the senses in the complet person’” ( 53).

“But the pleasure-good-pain-bad principle is immensely complicated by the structure of our desires. Epicurus identifies three types of desire: (1) natural and necessary desires, which sustain our health and provide for our mental tranquility (like our hunger for food or our desire for companionship); (2) natural and unnecessary desires, which are extensions of our natural desires (like our wish to have artichokes on a pedestal of foie gras, or a Coke); and (3) unnatural and unnecessary desires (like our cravings for money, fame, or power). The big problem is that our desires tend to slip from the first category into the other two. Our natural desire for mother’s milk becomes a mighty yen for ice cream. The discipline of Epicureanism is to contain and then weed out all our overgrown desires, to return to the basic, nourishing desires that do indeed provide for our happiness. As Thoreau once said, ‘Simplify, simplify,’ though based on that logic he should have just said, ‘Simplify’” (53).

“But there’s an irony to the Epicurean critique of our society. We are, in fact, bad consumerists. We aren’t materialist enough. Only idiotic consumers stuff themselves with things that make them sick, fat, and unhappy. Only idiotic materialists fill their lives with disposable crap. A wise consumer enjoys exactly what the brain and the gut can agree is most enjoyable throughout a lifetime. A true materialist values things and seeks out the best. The authentic materialist-consumerist finds a reasonable way of relating to the desires of the body and shuns the desire that extends far beyond what anything in the physical universe can provide” (54).

“We don’t even value money properly. We ought to regard it as no more than a medium of exchange, necessary only to the extent that it helps procure the things we need” (54-5).

“But the fact that life is limited is exactly what makes it good.”

“As a materialist, Epicurus argues that death is nothing to us–literally, nothing–and so shouldn’t be upsetting. Remember what it was like before you were born: was that at all a hard time for you” (55).

“As materialists, not just in the moral but also the metaphysical sense of the word, Epicureans are committed to the idea that the world is no more than atoms, the void, and the creative principles of movement, which they marvelously name ‘the swerve.’ Everything, in short, is the product of chance, which is a view often criticized in our society by certain religious believers who claim that the world–or at least certain irreducibly complex features of it, like the flagellum or the eyeball–are so wondrously formed that they must be designed by a capacious intelligence, namely, God. Such believers have the sense that if the world were just the product of chance, it would be drained of meaning and value, that an atheistic materialism dries up our wellsprings of gratitude for the intricate beauties of existence.

“I wonder, though, if atheistic materialism and traditional theology don’t converge on the same basic point. According to the Christian theologians, God creates ex nihilo; in other words, His act of creation is an act of grace. He creates rhinoceroses much like a child draws unicorns: the horned creatures of the world are the result of their overflowing creativity. We should feel thankful, the religious believers argue, because every moment is pur gravy, a gift of God. But the Epicurean also greets the world as the result of unthinkably marvelous luck. Imagine, a bunch of atoms randomly swerving around the universe somehow produced out my window–at the moment of my writing–a thrush singing notes that somehow strike against the contraption of my ear in such a way as somehow to remind me of the universe miraculously pumped out me and you, purposeful beings, not to mention all the rhinoceros-bizarre menagerie of being. ‘The secret of Epicurean joy and serenity,’ as Pierre Hadot says, ‘is to live each instant as if it were the last, but also as if it were the first.’

“Another common fear that religious believers harbor about materialism is that it undermines morality. Epicurus argues the exact opposite: the rigorous pursuit of pleasure leads straight to the life of a moralist. Why shouldn’t we tell a lie? Simple: lying makes us unhappy. Telling the truth, like exercise, may sometimes hurt at first, but one always feels better overall. Immorality is one more form of childish reasoning: we do wrong to extricate ourselves from some difficult situation, but wrongdoing simply our difficult situations. In fact, justice and pleasure reinforce each other: the more pleasant our life, the less likely we are to do others wrong; and when we do others right, the more pleasant our life. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, a modern-day Epicurean movement, slowly discovered the same idea. ‘I came to understand that those who suffer for others do more damage to humanity than those who enjoy themselves. Pleasure is a way of being at one with yourself and others.’ The idea is nobly expressed by Wendell Berry, that champion of small farms and human pleasures. ‘Moral, practical, spiritual, esthetic, economic, and ecological values are all concerned ultimately with the same question of life and health. To the virtuous man, for example, practical and spiritual questions are identical; it is only corruption that can see a difference.’

“What we need in life, according to Epicurus, is relatively simple. We need human companionship…the steady joys of friendship…Epicurus declares, ‘by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.’ We need good work in order to find meaning and provide for our essentials” (56-7).

Epicurus “advised unplugging oneself from the bustle of ‘the political life’–what we’re more apt to call ‘the dominant culture’” (58).

 

4: The Mysterious Freedom of the Stoic

Thomas More wrote:

Grant me a soul to which dullness is naught,

Knowing no complaint, grumble or sigh,

And do not permit me to give too much thought

To that domineering creature called the “I.”

My Lord, endow me with a sense of humor,

Give me the grace of understanding jest,

That I might know the joy that life harbors

And were able to grant it to the rest.

 

The Stoics. “Epictetus sums up the essence of Stoicism in one command, ‘Do not ask things to happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go smoothly’” (61).

Stoicism–Porchism. “It quickly became the most popular philosophy among the educated in the Hellenistic world, and by the time of the Roman Empire had spread to all walks of society.”

“But the Stoics hold that your emotions in that situation, and even much worse situations, are indeed completely in your control…’There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,’ or, as Epictetus says, ‘It is not the things themselves that disturb people but the judgments about those things.’

“Our emotions, the Stoics claim, depend on our beliefs.

“Thus by eliminating the ideas that generate negative emotions, we’re capable of being permanently happy, if we so choose. To use an image from Plato, our emotions are strong horses, and our reason is the charioteer…it’s possible to channel their energies properly and get them to go exactly where we demand” (63).

“The great Stoic metaphor, going back to the Greek philosopher Chrysippus, is that we’re like dogs leashed to a powerful chariot. When the chariot begins to move, we have two choices: trot or be dragged. Either way, we go the same place. The exact same place.

“Isn’t it absurd to get angry when you’re tackled, it you signed up to play football” (64)?

“Getting tackled–and even injured–is very much part of his game.

“You might protest that unlike the football player you didn’t sign up for the game. True, but as Epictetus observes, ‘Remember that the door is open. Do not be more cowardly than children, but just as they say, when the game no longer pleases them, ‘I will play no more,’ you too, when things seem that way to you, should merely say, ‘I will play no more,’ and so depart; but if you stay, stop moaning.’ Nobody compels you to play football, drive on freeways, or collect breakable items. If you’re unwilling to play such a harsh gaem as life, where even children die of cancer, then you should be grateful that you have options. Your parents may have signed you up, but you are free to quit” (65).

Study

“Make friends with real philosophers…conversing. Read philosophers…starting with Epictetus, who is the clearest and in some ways the firmest: ‘If you want your children and your wife and your friends to live forever, you are stupid.’

Seneca

Meditate in the Morning

“In imagining what we fear, we’re training ourselves to see reality clearly.

“…the confrontation with our fears is most likely to make us grateful for all we’re given” (67).

“As the Stoics point out, that’s precisely the situation we’re in with everyone and everything we love: they’ve all been loaned to us for an uncertain period of time.”

Start Small

For this next marking I wrote: practice with the every day.

“When the mug breaks, say, ‘It’s just a mug. I knew it wouldn’t last forever.’ Tell yourself before your visit to the in-laws that you refuse to allow them to control your emotions: prepare yourself to transcend all pettiness. When you go to the pool, think, ‘I might be splashed inadvertently, my towel might be dropped in a puddle, and it it’s not a private pool, it’s a public restroom.”

Pay Attention

Here I wrote: mindfulness

“Turn off autopilot and pay attention to what you’re doing and why. We need always to remember that we’re signing up for the life we’re leading. Where you can, sign up for what is truly meaningful. But look to uncover the significance of any activity you participate in” (68).

Have a Sense of Humor

“…chuckle at the discrepancy between our human ideas and how reality plays out. For that matter, you should also chuckle when things do…go your way.

“…look out on life as a nonstop carnival, where colleagues and even complete strangers perform as freaks and clowns, free of charge. As Seneca says,

We should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it. Bear in mind too that he deserves better of the human race as well who laughs at it that he who grieves over it; since the one allows it a fair prospect of hope, while the other stupidly laments over things he cannot hope will be put right. And, all things considered, it is the mark of a grater mind not to restrain laughter than not to restrain tears, since laughter expresses the gentlest of our feelings, and reckons that nothing is great or serious or even wretched in all the trappings of our existence.

Review in the Evening

“If you’ve failed in some way, you’re hurting yourself” (70).

“As the emperor says, ‘The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.’”

This part made me laugh:

“Or as Epictetus phrases it, ‘It is difficulties that show what men are. Consequently, when a difficulty befalls, remember that God, like a physical trainer, has matched you with a rugged young man…’

“Anything truly worth doing is worth failing at.

“Would it be worth doing even if our utmost efforts will amount to worldly failure? If it is, then that’s what you’re meant to do in this life” (71).

“Rather than wrestle for a gold medal, the Stoics recommend we wrestle to be our best” (72).

 

Interlude on Wine and Bicycles

“One doesn’t need to go that far to wonder if any theory of happiness is complete. Some roman thinkers–most famously Cicero–adopt the position of eclecticism, taking a little of the best from all the philosophical schools. From skepticism they take the idea that no theory is final; from Epicureanism, the idea that under favorable conditions one should pursue a reasonable amount of pleasure; from Stoicism, the idea that favorable conditions doesn’t last forever, and we should prepare ourselves to maintain our dignity. Essentially, Epicureanism when you can, Stoicism when you must, and a little skepticism always” (76).

 

Part 3: Is Knowledge of God Possible?

“Simony…the sin of paying money for spiritual things…” (79).

 

5: The Ecstasy without a Name

“…epistemological crisis: a crisis in the order of knowledge…They occur whenever we realize that what we take to be natural is not what someone else takes to be natural.

“First, our beliefs aren’t really ours;…we’re bound by a ‘servile conformism,’ whereby our beliefs are dependent on which side of the street we’re born on. Second, somebody must be wrong, and it could us.

“…’daring in mounting from the lowland of servile conformism to the highland of independent investigation’” (82-3).

“He shall try to doubt the sources of his beliefs, and if even a little doubt sticks to them, then he shall set them aside until he’s able to discover their certain foundation. Guilty until proven innocent.” Examples: my book is on the desk, sense data, math, logic, self-evident truths” (84).

Samuelson then gives examples of our senses deceiving us.

“So how can we grasp anything if it changes as we perceive it? Everything is a moving shadow–of a tree we never fully observe! Second, our senses are calibrated to our human scale.

“…we likely lack some crucial organ of perception” (85).

“‘How can you believe in God if you never see Him?’ But, if al-Ghazali is right, our senses can’t be trusted to reveal the whole of the universe…It’s at least possible there’s more to the story than meets the eye or the mind.

“Religion is built on authority, which could be wrong. Science is built on the senses, which could be wrong. Mathematics and logic are built on reason, which could be wrong.

“…those who claim to possess wisdom are self-deceived” (86).

“But why accept one starting point rather than another?…’One should be most diligent in seeking the truth until he finally comes to seeking the unseekable.’ The problem is that people who seek the truth take the easy way out and invest in some unquestioned source of truth, whereas they ought to go to the very limits of their search.

“…the Sufis tell him that, while they do have a dogma they could expound, their guiding principle is that searchers must experience the truth for themselves…He must enter into a state of certainty.

“He must experience–for lack of a better word–God” (87).

“Sufism is an Islamic variety of what religious scholars call mysticism.”

Below that I wrote: mysticism cuts out the middleman.

“Mystical forms of religion…claim that it is possible for you and me to transcend this long-distance relationship and meet God face to face.”

“…in the mystical experience of God he finds a certainty to which no doubt clings, an existential rather than an intellectual certainty” (88).

To the above I wrote: but isn’t this just a belief? A sense? A feeling?

“‘There was what was of what I do not mention:/So think well of it, and ask for ano account’” (89).

Samuelson then runs through his interpretation of how al-Ghazali interprets God.

“…all profane authors seem of the seed of the serpent that creeps, thou art the Dove that flies.

“One of the most profoundly alienating passions is the need for a belief, the need to cling to some claim on the truth” (90).

Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmansthal:

The other night I found under a walnut tree a half-full watering can that a young gardener had forgotten there, and this watering can, with the water in it, hidden by the tree’s shadow, with a water bug paddling from one shore to the other of that dark water: this combination of trivialities exposes me to such a presence of the infinite, traversing me from the roots of my hair to the base of my heels, that I feel like bursting out in words which I know, I had found them, would have floored those cherubim in whom I do not believe” (97).

“What is philosophy or religion–or human life for that matter–but the attempt to relate to the meaningful hugeness revealed in such experiences without sounding or acting like a total fool, at our best with a touch of style” (98)?

 

6: In Nightmares Begins Rationality

Descartes: “I was completely free to converse with myself about my own thoughts.’ After one such day of reflection, he nodded off and had three successive dreams–the nightmares, really–that changed world history more significantly than any king’s coronation.

What follows is an example of original thought:

“The method Descartes formulates to find this firm foundation is practically identical to al-Ghazali’s. (The whole of the first meditation follows the Sufi’s logic so closely as to make scholars wonder about plagiarism. My own view is that not only do great minds think think alike, all minds think alike, though mysteriously they often come to different conclusions)” (103).

“Or, to use his formulation in the Discourse on Method: ‘Cognito; ergo sum’–I think; therefore I am. Even if an evil genius with infinite power is spending his entire time deceiving Descartes, it still must be the care that an object of deception exists. Philosophers refer to this famous metaphysical lightning bolt simply as the ‘cogito’” (106).

“In both the experience of God and the experience of our own ‘I am,’ thought and the source of thought are unified. In one sense, they are the same ecstatic experience. But whereas al-Ghazali focuses on the divine ‘I am,’ Descartes begins with the human ‘I am’–a difference perhaps metaphysically small but one that signals the world-historical shift from the medieval to the modern age” (107).

“How does the primordial human mind stumble on the idea of the divine?”

When the author writes “God–for instance, it’s possible that any or all ideas are simply implantations of the evil genius, stimulating our minds in his macabre laboratory” (109). To this quote I feel this is quite a leap. And why this particular leap? The human brain can conceptualize a god as the source which still does not make it true.

On the next page it is written “In more straightforward terms, only God could imagine God. Since we have the idea of God, it must be the case that God exists. Only God could have put the idea of God in our minds, signing His creation like an artist.”

My margin note just says “no.”

Page 111: “According to Descartes, the very implausibility of having an idea of something none of our intellectual faculties can frame is itself the proof of God.”

I respond: This dismisses the imaginative power of the human brain striving for reason.

Below the author writes “A supreme being by definition cannot have any limitations or imperfections. Since evil is an imperfections, God cannot be evil.

To the idea that evil is an imperfection, I wrote that idea is one interpretation. Further, what says you cannot be all powerful and include evil all at once? Doesn’t ALL include both yin and yang?

Later: “God just wouldn’t allow such ideas to form in the mind if they weren’t really so.”

I ask, why attribute this to god?

“…we can indeed have wrong beliefs floating around our minds” (111).

“If the perfect God created our minds, how can they be so imperfect” (112)?

Major Descartes beliefs:

Real knowledge should be expressed in  numbers

We should utilize a self-correcting method of knowledge about the physical world

This method should involve a uniform, repeatable procedure

The truth is accessible to anyone who is willing to think clearly

Values are subjective and private

We should use reason to determine the existence and nature of God

The body is a machine and hence can be understood and fixed like a machine

The universe is a machine too

We should utilize scientific understanding to build technologies so we can become masters of our fate

And the ‘preservation of health’ is the ‘chief of all goods’” (115-6)

Samuelson concludes this paragraph by saying something I wholeheartedly believe:

“The lesson I draw is: don’t get up too early because you will die” (118).

 

7: The Terrifying Distance of the Stars

The following is what has led us to invent God and all religions (according to me):

“Pascal sums up our condition in three words: ‘Inconstancy, boredom, anxiety’–a striking outline of the problem of being human. In short, our very being fills us with anxiety; we flee the anxiety by means of some kind of diversion (another of Pascal’s pet terms). As long as our diversionary tactic lasts, we have a measure of happiness, but eventually the charm wears off, the diversion becomes boring, and we seek out the newest thing to do–thus our inconstancy.”

Carl Honore: In Praise of Slowness  (find and read)

Pascal says it perfectly for me here:

“The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away…Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so” (122).

Pascal: “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that the does not know how to stay quietly in his own room.”

At the bottom of the page Samuelson asks: is it possible for humans to be truly happy in this life? My answer is: only for moments in time.

“Instead of facing our misery, we divert ourselves.” Ball games, hunting, gossip, drama, cards, affairs, pets, politics, war, etc. This is what I mean by life just being a space which we fill with things to do. There is birth and there is death. When you look at the picture (the world) as a whole, we simply create things to do in between. We have constructed everything in order to fill the time: work, school, kids. Sometimes when driving to a play or some such you think, “Well, I had nothing else to do. I have to fill my time with something.”

I had a friendship that ended. This section of the book described it:

“What’s eating you all of a sudden? Where are your inner resources? The odd thing is that when I’m in such a mood, I prefer my boredom to what strikes me as their foolishness. If Pascal is right, it’s because such moods bring us closer to reality, and ultimately we prefer a genuine misery to a phony happiness (though it sometimes takes a little while to realize that)” (125).

“Oh, well. Smile. Tell him how happy you are for him. As Pascal says, ‘Respect means: put yourself out’” (127).

“…the human mind seems to have a weird doubleness, to be haunted by conceptions it can never measure up to, to cast a shadow by its own light” (128).

What follows seems to indicate that Pascal was uncomfortable with the unknown:

“The next point Pascal makes is that we can’t be agnostic. We must call it. We’re not simply intellectual spectators at the coin toss of God’s existence. Our very lives hang on if it comes down heads or tails. We’re ‘embarked,’ to use Pascal’s term. Agnosticism, for Pascal, is simply a refusal to admit what you’ve staked your life on. As he sees it, either you live a life committed to God or you don’t. There’s no option of waiting until the coin spinning in eternity lands” (129).

I disagree with Pascal here. I think agnostics are saying I don’t know enough to know or There are some things I will never know. I think that point of view is a very smart and valid one. There are not many things in this world that are wholly one thing or another. There are cats that act like dogs. There are women who look like men. There are bisexuals. There is a time between day and night when it is neither. Everything works upon a scale and is rarely either/or. I think agnosticism occupies a valid space in the world of religious philosophy.

The following, I believe, is why so many choose religion:

“…the heart is vain and greedy; so we begin immediately to think about what we stand to gain or lose from our choice.”

“If God exists, and we devote our lives to God, then we stand to gain the happiness that nothing else in the world provides. In a word, we stand to gain heaven. Moreover, we lose nothing by devoting our lives to God, even if we’re wrong. If, instead, we’re atheists, and indeed God doesn’t exist, what have we gained? Nothing, according to Pascal. But if wrong, what do we stand to lose” (130)?

I respond by saying not only does this assume a God, following involves devotion on a bet against punishment. It’s going with the rich guy in hopes of being in the will. Humans have only conceptualized three choices: believe, choose to not choose, or not believe.

Again the either/or concept is displayed:

“As in roulette where gamblers must place a bet on either red or black, we must either believe or disbelieve in God; but also, just as roulette gamblers can place a bet on one of thirty-eight or so religions (in fact, quite a bit more, if we start factoring in denominations)” (132).

 

Interlude on Campfires and the Sun

“Perhaps someday, after an adult’s quest, that imaginative fire can be rekindled and fanned into something more useful than naivete or skepticism. To discover the truth is to have our souls disoriented and then reoriented into a higher way of being” (138).

Even if it doesn’t reveal God?

“Socrates…is executed for ‘corrupting’ Athenians by making them confront the fact that their foundational concepts are at best partial truths, flickering images of a more complex reality. What is Socratic method if not the attempt to lead people through the darkness in order to see the truth for themselves?

“…sunlight of knowledge…aporia, where they feel totally confused.”

“…al-Ghazali, Descartes, and Pascal. In each case, the philosopher begins by recognizing that the truths around him are projections of a particular culture” (140).

“It’s a phony education that doesn’t completely confuse you at some point…” (141).

“Moreover, as al-Ghazali realizes, we can’t live, at least in our present condition, full time in the sunlit world; we need our little fires in order to remember the great fire” (141). Me: And sometimes we just need to rest.

 

Part 4: What Is the Nature of Good and Evil?

8: The Moral Worth of a Teardrop

“In the tradition of Western philosophy, no appraiser has been more incisive than Immanuel Kant, who was born in 1724…Prussian…he never left and that furnished him with enough experience to construct one of the deathless philosophical systems.

“In his late fifties that his great philosophical work began to appear…the three critiques: The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Practical Reason, and The Critique of Judgment.

“…Kant’s moral philosophy, particularly his idea that the consequences of an action play no role in evaluating it, that an action has moral worth based solely on its motive” (148).

“The idea that the worth of an action lies in the consequences it brings about–in short, that the ends justify the means–is called consequentialism.

“Kant vehemently rejects the logic of consequentialism…it’s absurd to locate our worth in something we have basically no control over. Not being gods, we can’t control or predict what the consequences of our actions are going to be.

“Evil is impermissible, regardless of what good we think will come of it” (150).

“…ethics of intention, which is basically Kantian ethics…

Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals “…’good will’ Kant means doing the right thing for the right reason…All that matters…is the inner quality of the agent, the good will.

“Kant’s doctrine of moral worth is that a common religious conception of ethics–using heaven and hell as motivators–actually destroys our moral worth…Kant regards Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son to please God as the essence of immorality” (151).

“…if you’re willing to do right even under the threat of divine retribution, then your action clearly does have moral worth.

“If our shopkeeper is being fair because it’s right, his action has moral worth; if he’s being fair because it’s good business, his action is without moral worth” (152).

“Kant tries to give a theoretically clean version of the spirit of these injunctions in what he calls the categorical imperative. When rational being like ourselves have to decide how the world ought to be…Act on a principle that you could, without contradicting yourself, will everyone to act on. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, your mom, your best friend, your neighbor, and your enemy.

“‘Every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends’

William James: “…to vote and to act as to bring about the very largest total universe of good which we can see.’

“Morality…it’s about respecting a common dignity” (153).

“…err on the side of the good…if you worry about your virtue and others’ happiness, you improve both; whereas if you worry about others’ virtue and your own happiness, you decrease both.

“We are good when we do good out of pure respect for goodness…for Kant there’s a common human duty to treat each other fairly and with dignity, a duty that flows right from our rational nature” (155).

I placed a star by this passage:

“Kant is the philosopher of limits. In most of his philosophical work, he labors to circumscribe just what we can and cannot know and do. It turns out that we can’t know or do very much. We can’t control the outcomes of our actions. We can’t know if God does or does not exist. We can’t know if our souls are immortal. We can’t know wat the world is really life. We can’t even be sure that we’re really free. Since freedom is necessary for morality to be meaningful, we’re compelled to practice to believe that we’re free, though needing something to be true isn’t much of a reason that it is. When it comes to knowledge and power, Kant’s bottom line is that we’re not gods. [end star]

“…act as if the rule you were living by could become a law of nature…In essence, morality is about playing God, playing a good rational God…divine power…

“Kant’s…commitment to the idea of moral progress…it’s possible for humankind to become better…” (155).

“Every time you act selfishly, according to Kant, you’re perpetuating a selfish civilization. Every time you act according to the moral law, you’re unleashing our native nobility.

“Kant has the marvelous notion of ‘the kingdom of ends,’ the world where everybody treats everybody with full moral dignity, where the Golden Rule is the only rule followed.

“Kant…view of human nature is so dark that he even wonders if there has ever been a pure moral action in human history” (156).

I’ve gotta read more Kant…I’m loving this guy.

“William Carlos Williams says, ‘men die miserably every day / for lack of what is found there.’

“Adulthood involves understanding our limits but not being oppressed by them” (158).

 

9: The Beast That Is and Is Not

Northrop Frye wrote: In contrast to many other mythological systems, in the Bible the dragon seems to be a consistently sinister image. This is not only because of its antisocial habits of breathing fire and eating virgins, but because, of all sinister animals, it has the unique advantage of not existing.

[Damn, you gotta love that.]

“To state the skeptic’s position in the form of two linked arguments:

If God is all-good, then He should not want any unfair suffering.

If God is all-powerful, then He has the power to eliminate any unfair suffering.

So, if an all-good, all-powerful God exists, then there should be no unfair suffering.

But there is plenty of unfair suffering in the world.

So, an all-good, all-powerful God does not exist” (163).

“Martin Heidegger, whom many consider the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century…” (171).

 

Interlude on Zombies and Superheroes

“What is a zombie? According to a common etymology, the word is traceable back to the Kikongo word nzambi, which means god. Zombies are, in the popular imagination, the living dead, corpses animated by an outside magic. They usually have an insatiable leveling desire: zombies are always looking to make more zombies. According to Martin, zombies are a projection of human life numbed by distractions, hollowed out and remote-controlled by the magic we call consumerism. As Simon Zealot charmingly writes, ‘Do you find that most of life’s problems can be solved with a little creative shopping? Is television your primary form of entertainment? Do you find that there’s just not enough time in the day, especially for things like exercise? Are you tired right now? Despite this constant lack of energy, do you believe that everything will work out in the end?…If you answered ‘yes’ to most or all of these questions then you might be suffering from an illness called phobosophitis, or, as it’s known by its more common name, the zombie disease’” (181-2).

“And, in fine Nietzschean satirical style,

‘The basic ability to speak remains unaffected, and they appear to experience minor degrees of limited cognitive activity in response to many different kinds of external stimuli, but, in general, thoughts come with less and less frequency, and those that do come are of increasingly smaller orders of magnitude. Dreams are forgotten, all but the most animalistic passions fade, and the creative impulse, if it was ever present, dies. Things of an abstract nature, such as art, beauty, freedom, dignity, justice, or any sort of philosophical or spiritual speculations, will all gradually become more and more meaningless as the disease progresses, and such things will therefore elicit no authentic cognitive response, except perhaps for dismissal or hostility, from the infected.

“The illness of phobosophitis, according to Martin, is related to a deadening materialism, nihilism really, the legacy of the non-Gnostic version of Christianity. Official religion numbed our spiritual longings with false visions of a comfortable heaven. Now that the plausibility of such visions has run its course, we’re apt to become soulless bodies vegetating in front of bleeping screens. Some still cling to their outdated religions. Others reject religion altogether and philosophically embrace our deadening materialism, arguing that we’re nothing more than animals with so many itches to be scratched. Either corse, Martin believes, amounts to the same thing: ‘Culture is replaced by consumerism, education by certification, creation by industry.’

“He considers phobosophitis an epidemic. His spiritual intellect’s great work is to develop a cure for the disease. Here is some of the doctor’s advice: ‘Inoculate yourselves and those around you with your own art and self-awareness. Create wonders. Dance. Make love. Move at more than a shambling pace. Kiss in public. Climb something. Play. Disrupt misery and the viciousness of the miserable. Be alive. Welcome to the Zombie Resistance’” (182-3).

“Martin embodies our Gnostic paradox with considerably more panache than your standard jogger, spending countless hours perfecting his body’s performance through gymnastics and martial arts in order to liberate his spiritual powers. His ongoing project is to construct an ideal educational system, one that disciplines the body and mind so that its dedicated practitioners emerge as knights or angelic chivalry, ‘fearless agents of compassionate and effective change,’ superheroes” (184).

 

Conclusion: The Most Beautiful Thing in the World

Xenophon said that Socrates said:

‘And if I have something good, I teach it to them and I introduce them to others who will be useful to them with respect to virtue. And together with my friends I go through the treasures of the wise men of old which they left behind written in books, and we peruse them. If we see something good, we pick it out and hold it to be a great profit, if we are able to prove useful to one another.’ When I heard this, I held Socrates to be really happy” (187).

“The thing missing isn’t what weakens the teacher; mysteriously, it’s the source of the teacher’s strength. The supreme example is Socrates, whose recognition of his ignorance empowers not just the dialogues but the entire history of Western thought as well” (189).

“As Kierkegaard puts it, ‘The disciple is the opportunity for the master to understand himself, as the master is the opportunity for the disciple to understand himself’” (190).

 

Scott Samuelson lives in Iowa City where he teaches philosophy at Kirkwood Community College. He also reviews movies, hosts on television and is a sous chef at a French restaurant on a gravel road.

 

The Pulitzer Prize

The Pulitzer Prizes: A History of the Awards in Books, Drama, Music, and Journalism, Based on the Private Files over Six Decades
By
John Hohenberg

1974
Columbia University Press
New York

1: The Grand Scheme 1902-1916
1: The Germ of an Idea
2: “To The Prizes I Am Much Attached”
3: The Will
4: The Board Takes Over
5: The Administration

2: Prizes for a Brave New World 1917-1923
1: The Beginning
2: Warriors and Peacemakers
“There’s lots to talk about and still a bit of sugar in the bottom of the glass.” –Henry Watterson of the Louisville Courier-Journal
“…the New York World set the example with a resolute attack on wrongdoing and that the mainspring of its campaigns was an aggressive and domineering journalist who already had won one Pulitzer Prize, Herbert Bayard Swope” (39).
“All this was preparation for the World’s major crusades after Swope became executive editor in 1920…During the next year, by following the World’s lead, the Memphis Commercial Appeal also won the public service gold medal for an expose of the Klan. What these two prizes did was to recognize and stimulate the investigative function of the press in reporting on the threat to civil liberties that the Klan represented” (40).
Walter Lippmann was editor of the World’s editorial page. Swope saw that with him, it was the story that counted. “He caused the World to cover so many lynchings that the paper acquired a reputation for being pro-Negro at a time when such an attitude was unpopular with advertisers.
“White’s defiance became national news. If labor was enthusiastic, many of the middle-class readers of the Gazette were not. He received numerous protests and, in response to one of them, wrote his classic editorial, ‘To An Anxious Friend,’ which he published on Page 1 on July 27, 1922. He opened with the theme: ‘You say that freedom of utterance is not for time of stress and I reply with the sad truth that only in time of stress is freedom of utterance in danger.’ And he closed with this assurance:
‘So, dear friend, put fear out of your heart. This nation will survive, this state will prosper, the orderly business of life will go forward if only men can speak in whatever way given them to utter what their hearts hold–by voice, by posted card, by letter, of by press. Reason has never failed men. Only force and repression have made wrecks in this world.’
“The governor’s suit against White was dismissed. The strike was settled. And, by recommendation of a jury and the Advisory Board, William Allen White was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1923” (42).
3: The Emergence of Eugene O’Neill
“He signed with a flourish, including his middle initial, G. For Gladstone, which he soon dropped. It was the beginning of a long and profitable relationship between O’Neill and the university, for he was to win two more Pulitzer Prizes in his lifetime and one posthumously for his bitter and tragic evocation of his family’s life, Long Day’s Journey into Night. The Nobel Prize came to him in 1936, eight years after his third Pulitzer Prize, making him the first American dramatist to be honored with such international recognition” (49).
On page 50 there is a key to good writing:
“…the merit of a tense, driving, emotional sincerity, imparting to the spectator–when he withdraws a little from the spell of the tragedy–the sense that the dramatist has been imaginatively at the mercy of his people; not manipulating them so much as being manipulated by them.”
O’Neill “had even acquired his own bootlegger, an sign of prestige in the swinging New York of his middle years” (52).
4: The Novel: Whole or Wholesome?
“The issue posed by Sherman finally broke into the open with the publication of Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, the most controversial book of 1920, which attacked the mores of Middle America and tore apart the hitherto sacred values of the people of its small towns” (58).
“In retrospect, The Age of Innocence has outlasted the vogue of Main Street. Mrs. Wharton’s book is still recognized as a classic…” (60).
5: History: The Aristocrats
“The swift growth of the American university system may have stimulated the development of the professional, but it was years before he was able to overcome criticism of his tendency toward empty pedantry and dreary prose” (62).
6: Two Poets from Maine
Joseph Pulitzer “had omitted any mention of poetry from his will” (69).
Page 70 discusses the interesting personality differences between the first two poetry winners.
It sounds like I may want to explore the poetry of Millay.

3: Changing Times, Changing Awards 1924-1933
1: Journalism: The Public Interest
2: The Embattled Novelists
3: Drama: Winners and Losers
4: History’s Progressives
5: Poetry: From Frost to MacLeish

4: The Laureates Face the Storm 1934-1942
1: The Press During the New Deal
1941…”Basically, the Supreme Court held that there can be no restriction upon freedom of speech or the press unless there is substantial proof of a ‘clear and present danger’ to the conduct of government” (128).
2: Fiction: The Mid-Victoria Cross
3: Drama: The Battle of Broadway
“W. Somerset Maugham, the British novelist and playwright, joined Mrs. Colum and Professor Phelps on the Pulitzer Drama Jury for the war year of 1942, but they found nothing that pleased them…Maugham added his own estimate: ‘It is with great regret that I have to state my opinion that no play has been produced during the last year that deserves the honour that it is in the power of Columbia University to confer. If, as I understand, the purpose of the Pulitzer Prize is to reward definite achievement, I cannot but think that to confer the prize on a poor play because it is the least poor of a poor lot would be to lessen its value. It would be no encouragement to the art of the drama’” (155-6).
4: History: The Professionals Take Over
5: Poets Pleasant and Unpleasant
“Poetry magazine called [Van Doren] ‘solidly entrenched in the tradition of definite purpose framed in strict patterns….he has never been a slave to a vogue and never having been in fashion will never be out of it’” (167).
6: The Prizes After Twenty-five Years

5: The Prizes in War and Peace 1943-1954
1: The Era of the Reporter
“Of the winners, by all odds the greatest was Ernie Pyle. Ernest Taylor Pyle was just an old-fashioned reporter in the pre-television age. Sometimes, he couldn’t read his own notes and he never did look like much. His baggy, and usually dirty, correspondent’s uniform hung on him like a used potato sack because his was scarcely an Olympian figure; he was small, scrawny, and unashamedly bald. His enunciation was poor, his language worse, for he loved the ‘Goddamned infantry’ and he expressed himself in vigorous and earthy terms that would send a sensitive television vice president into screaming tantrums.
“When Pyle began his wartime service in Europe in 1942 at the age of 42, he was among the oldest of all the correspondents and he was deplorably subject to colds. Never for a moment did he glory in the false and brassy romance of war. He hated war with a convulsive, impassioned hatred. And yet, in World War II, he became the best-loved and most influential of all American war correspondents and he brought the war into the American home with mere words on paper as no one had been able to do it before” (178-9).
“Columbia journalism faculty members of the Correspondence Jury, proposed him for the Pulitzer Prize in Correspondence. When it was announced on May 1, it was greeted with popular acclaim everywhere. For of the five hundred correspondents who were preparing at the time to cover D-Day, Ernie Pyle was No. 1.
“Soon after the first troops landed in Normandy on June 6, he was on the beach with them. On July 25, 1944, when he reported the breakthrough that sent American arms racing into the heart of France, he was under fire and narrowly escaped death. And on August 25, 1944, when he rode into Paris in a jeep with the victorious French and
Americans, he wrote: ‘I had thought that for me there could never again be any elation in war. But I had reckoned without the liberation of Paris…’ After that, he had enough and came home for a rest, but not for long. On April 12, 1945, when he was with the American 77th Division in the Pacific, he learned of President Roosevelt’s death that day. And on tiny Ie Shima six days later, when he hit the bach with the GIs of the 77th, a Japanese sniper got him in the right temple.
“Everywhere on the war fronts, the correspondents mourned him. And in the United States, the outpouring of national grief came from the White House and the humblest homes alike. For the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ernie Pyle had shared the trust and the love of a war-beleaguered people and he would not soon be forgotten” (180).
2: The Troublesome Novel
“The emotional, crusading fervor against the enemies of America that bulked so large in the nation’s consciousness during World War II had a predictable impact on the American novel. Not since the Civil War had so many writers of consequence felt it to be their destiny to write about war in fictional form for the benefit of their countrymen, if not entirely for themselves. Perhaps the patriotic spirit was greater in World War I, but it didn’t last as long. In World War II, the ideological commitment of the intellectuals was made years before the Nazis struck at Poland in 1939. Thus, the novelists had a long time to mull over their feelings and the books they produced about the conflict continued to reach the public years after World War II ended” (197).
The 1947 winner was All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. Warren’s “teaching career began at Southwestern College in Memphis in 1931” (199).
Tales of the South Pacific, 1947, Michener. (Sounds like a fun read.)
3: The Theater Looks Up
4: History–The Broader View
The John Muir story, Son of the Wilderness, by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, in 1946.
5: Poets–Modern and Not So Modern
1950 “recognize Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black person to win a Pulitzer Prize. She received the award for her poetic work, Annie Allen. The report said:
‘Some years ago, Gwendolyn Brooks, a Negro writer of unusual ability, published A Street in Bronzeville, which made a great impression on all its readers and had what is unusual for poetry today–a wide sale. In 1949 she published Annie Allen, a much better book, and indeed, in our opinion, the outstanding volume of the year if you exclude Robert Frost. No other Negro poet has written such poetry of her own race, of her own experiences, subjective and objective, and with no grievance or racial criticism as the purpose of her poetry. It is highly skillful and strong poetry, come out of the heart, but rich with racial experience.’
“Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka in 1917 but grew up in Chicago, attended school there and was graduated from Wilson Jr. College. Her Annie Allen was born out of her own experiences on Chicago’s South Side, from childhood to womanhood, and included characters she knew there. The varied lyrics and ballads in the book, modestly called notes, were developed into a single short narrative called ‘The Anniad.’ Alfred Kreymborg called it ‘not only brilliant but profound in its tragic and tragi-comic implications.’
“Miss Brooks’s ability as a poet had been recognized before she won her Pulitzer, for she was the recipient in her earlier years of two Guggenheim Fellowships and a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Thereafter, in 1969, she became the Poet Laureate of Illinois and a poet of the first rank in America. But she did not stand aside from the struggle of her people when it reached a violent pitch in the 1960s; like the younger black artists, writers, and poets, she became a part of the black revolution. It did not bother her that some of the black activists regarded her new activities with puzzlement in view of her status as a Pulitzer Prize winner.
“‘For me,’ she wrote in 1972, ‘the award had the effect of a doctorate, enabling me to teach in universities and colleges. It has been a ‘open sesame’ to much in this country. It has also–formerly–abashed and puzzled certain young people, who considered it ‘establishmentarian’!”
“In her autobiography, Report from Part One, she thought deeply of her old life style and the changes that time and circumstance had made in it. These were her reflections:
“‘I–who have ‘gone the gamut’ from an almost angry rejection of my dark skin by some of my brainwashed brothers and sisters to a surprised queenhood in the new black sun–am qualified to enter at least the kindergarten of new consciousness now. New consciousness and trudge-toward-progress. I have hopes for myself’” (221-2).
Seek out the works of Marianne Moore.
6: The First Music Prizes
7: The Old Order Passes

6: A Change in Direction for the Prizes 1955-1965
1: The New Board
2: The Press as Leader
“‘One of these days it will be Monday,’ Ralph McGill wrote in the Atlanta Constitution during 1953. And on May 17, 1954, Monday finally came–the Monday that a segregated South had dreaded for so many years, the Monday on which the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision desegregating the schools. McGill was ready for it, but not many others were; certainly, not the schools in the South nor their administrators, not even the bench and bar and the governors of the states that were directly affected.
“The great Georgian sometimes despaired even of his own profession because so few were willing to provide the leadership that this time of peril and change in American society so desperately required. And yet, between 1955 and 1965, no fewer than ten Pulitzer Prizes were granted for distinguished journalism dealing with the nation’s massive racial crisis–one for public service, two for reporting, six for editorial writing, and there was a special citation as well. This was more than all the prizes that had been given between 1917 and 1954 for crusades against the Ku Klux Klan and ruthless lynch law.
“One of the first to stand up against the social pressure to nullify desegregation in the South was Buford Boone, editor of the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. When student rioters on February 6, 1956, forced the withdrawal of the first black student at the University of Alabama, Boone rebuked the community in these harsh terms:
‘We have had a breakdown of law and order, and abject surrender to what is expedient rather than a courageous stand for what is right. Yes, there’s peace on the university campus this morning. But what a price has been paid for it!’
“That editorial, ‘What a Price for Peace,’ brought Boone the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1957. What happened in Tuscaloosa, however, was only the beginning of a shameful campaign in some of the finest and loveliest cities of the South. What it finally came down to, in the fall of 1957, was the use of Federal troops by President Eisenhower to restore order in Little Rock, Ark.
“Governor Orval Eugene Faubus of Arkansas had forced the issue by leading the opposition to the enrollment of nine Negro children at Central High School in Little Rock. Early in September, he even called out the National Guard to surround the then empty school on the pretext that violence was threatened. The White Citizens Councils, the lineal descendants of the Ku Klux Klan, were jubilant. But the 85-year-old publisher of the Arkansas Gazette, John Netherland Heiskell, was not. He chose to stand with his editor, Harry S. Ashmore, in a campaign for decency in Little Rock. The issue, as Ashmore saw it in an editorial on September 9, 1957, was basic:
‘Somehow, some time, every Arkansan is going to have to be counted. We are going to have to decide what kind of people we are–whether we obey the law only when we approve of it, or whether we obey it no matter how distasteful we may find it. An this, finally, is the only issue before the people of Arkansas.’
“On a turbulent morning two weeks later, Relman (Pat) Morin of the Associated Press was outside Central High School in a glass-enclosed telephone booth when a shrieking mob forced its first black students to leave their classes. What Morin did in that epic report of September 23 won him the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, his second Pulitzer award. But even more important, his first-hand description of the riot almost certainly played a part in President Eisenhower’s decision to move Federal troops into Little Rock that day.
“Order was finally restored in the city. But the segregationists turned venomously on the Arkansas Gazette, their main enemy, and cut its revenue by $2 million through advertising and circulation boycotts. Eventually, Ashmore left his post in order to relieve the newspaper of some of the pressure. But before he did so, he and the Gazette shared a rare honor–a double Pulitzer Prize; in 1958, he won the editorial writing award and the paper was given the public service gold medal.
“Throughout the years of turmoil in Dixie, Ralph McGill had been thundering defiance in the columns of the Atlanta Constitution against the violent segregationists. In return, he was threatened. His wife, chronically ill, was abused. Their home was the target for all manner of senseless outrages. But McGill resolutely maintained his position. It wasn’t in him to quit.
“Despite his crusading fervor, Ralph McGill neither looked nor acted like a champion of social reform. He was a generous and kindly man, a lively companion, and an incomparable storyteller. But he was also, for all his days, an inveterate defender of the weak and the helpless. He had been born in Tennessee in 1898, attended Vanderbilt, served in World War I, and begun newspaper work as a sports writer for the Nashville Banner in 1922. It was only when he came to the Atlanta Constitution in 1931 that he lifted his sights beyond the starry-eyed world of sports to the realities of life and experienced the first Ku Klux Klan demonstration against him. Nevertheless, in 1942, he became the Constitution’s editor and its featured columnist.
“Once the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of the schools, McGill followed the course of events in Dixie with mounting anger–from Tuscaloosa to Little Rock and beyond, from bombings and burnings in Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina to his native Tennessee where a fine new high school at Clinton was destroyed. In mid-October 1958 when he came home, his wife told him that The Temple, home of Atlanta’s largest Jewish congregation, had been ripped apart by a bomb. McGill was appalled and outraged. He went to his typewriter and in twenty minutes produced an editorial, ‘One Church…One School,’ that ran in the Constitution on October 15, 1958. He wrote:
“‘This is a harvest. It is a crop of things sown. It is the harvest of defiance of courts and the encouragement of citizens to defy the law on the part of many Southern politicians.
“‘It is not possible to preach lawlessness and restrict it. When leadership in high places fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands. The extremists of the citizens’ councils, the political leaders who in terms violent and inflammatory have repudiated their oaths and stood against due process of law, have helped unloose this flood of hate.’
“The editorial brough Ralph McGill the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1959. Although he was the recognized leader of liberal opinion in the South, it was characteristic of him to say, when he heard the news, ‘I never thought I’d make it.’ Two years later, he was invited to join the Advisory Board on the Pulitzer Prizes.
“The conflict over segregation in Virginia brought Pulitzer Prizes to Mary Lou Werner of the Washington Evening Star for her year-long reporting of the conflict and to Lenoir Chambers, editor of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, for his editorial writing. Miss Werner won in 1959, Chambers in 1960.
“When the focus of the struggle shifted to Mississippi in 1962, with rioters demonstrating against the admission to the University of Mississippi of its first black student, James Meredith, a small-town editor defied both the mob and the State government. The editor, Ira B. Harkey Jr., won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, but with it came a bullet through the front door, the violent opposition of the segregationists, and such pitiless financial pressure that he had to sell his paper, the Pascagoula Chronicle, and leave the South.
“Another small-town publisher in Mississippi, Hazel Brannon Smith, was no less vigorous in her opposition to the White Citizens’ Councils but she managed to ride out the storm that almost destroyed her best property, the Lexington (Miss.) Advertiser. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1964 and the plaudits of her neighbor, Hodding Carter of Greenville, who called her ‘The Fighting Lady.’
“It remained for the Gannett Newspapers to round out the decade following the Supreme Court’s historic decision by combining their efforts to produce a series, ‘The Road to Integration,’ which cited the positive accomplishments that had been achieved even though it did not gloss over the failures. The special citations, awarded to Gannett by recommendation of the Advisory Board in 1964, was the first ever given to any newspaper group.
“If the first decade of the massive American racial crisis did nothing else, it placed a heavy–perhaps too heavy–burden of leadership on the press, a responsibility that even the best and the bravest newspapers were not designed to discharge. But even more difficult times lay ahead, when the flames of burning cities in the latter 1960s threatened to spread all over the land in an outbreak of fierce and intractable civil strife” (240-243).
3: New Novelists, New Arguments
The Reivers, Faulkner “As it happened, 1962 was also the year which saw the publication of William Faulkner’s The Reivers, his last novel and also one of his most appealing. A genial comedy of three Mississippi innocents on a visit to Memphis, it contains a minimum of the rhetoric and moralising which characterized Faulkner’s later writing. The Reivers, is, in fact, a sunny interlude (the last, alas) in the shaping of the vast Yoknapatawpha saga, in which Faulkner for once sounds relaxed, as though he were yarning to a circle of friends in that soft, elliptical drawl of his. The Reivers has been described as ‘a perfect book for that last goodnight,’ and we agree” (259-60).
4: The Drama’s Time of Troubles
“Tennessee Williams’ outspoken play about a Southern plantation family, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, involved the reconstituted Advisory Board in a lively argument in 1955 at the outset of the chairmanship of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. At issue were all the old prejudices against gamey language and displays of immorality on the stage which had animated President Butler and the Board members of his day. To be sure, they had considered themselves more as guardians of the purity of the American novel, and had been relatively liberal within their lights in accepting the more venturesome reports of their drama juries. But they hadn’t come up against anything quite like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof which, even to jaded Broadway critics, was something special in free-wheeling dramaturgy. To quote Jack Gaver of United Press International: ‘There is more and rougher dialogue of a sexual nature–a lot more and a lot rougher–than in any other American play ever produced on Broadway. Much of it is completely unnecessary.’
“That was not the only objection in terms of an older Pulitzer view of the stage as a place of inspiration and uplift. The play itself was the main issue. The self-described ‘cat on a hot tin roof,’ Maggie, a childless wife with an alcoholic husband, is sexually frustrated and worried about a former homosexual incident in her husband’s life. She also is concerned because her father-in-law, ‘Big Daddy,’ a cancer victim although he doesn’t know it, is likely to leave his estate to an older son rather than her husband. In the struggle that ensures, the characters taunt, insult, and lie to each other with Maggie still hoping at the end for pregnancy and fulfillment” (260).
“Pulitzer, the new chairman, had seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and thought it worthy of the drama prize. He had little patience with the arguments against its extravagant language and unpleasant sexual themes, but based himself entirely on its effectiveness as a piece of realistic theater. The reconstituted Board, after considerable discussion, went along with him and voted for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This time, there was no Nicholas Murray Butler to threaten to invoke the veto power of the university Trustees, so Williams won his second drama award. It was the first and last time that the third Pulitzer took the lead in any discussion of the drama prize, although he often expressed his views with vigor and conviction as a member of the Board’s consultative committee on the drama” (261).
“The Advisory Board consists of a very distinguished group of representative Americans whose judgment as non-professional theatergoers has an interest and value of its own. If they are understandably tired of disagreeable plays and want something light, pleasant, and wholesome instead, they are certainly within their rights to choose the latter. But critics have to judge by different standards than their own pleasure–I mean in the ordinary sense of being entertained or cheered. Though, God willing, they don’t take themselves seriously, critics have to take the theater seriously and believe in its importance. Hence, they cannot pass over the painful merely because it is painful, and must think as professional observers in terms of careers, craftsmanship, language, ideas, etc. This is where the conflict is bound, at times, to arise between the Board and the Jurors” (265).
5: The Importance of Biography
6: Poetry and Music: Rewards of Fame

7: The Prizes: Present and Future 1966-1974
1: After Fifty Years
Editors Vermont Connecticut Royster and Virginius Dabney (what names!)
2: Press versus Government
“The publication of the Pentagon Papers was the issue that led to the first direct test of strength between paress and government in modern times–a conflict that had the strongest repercussions in the judging of the Pulitzer Prizes for 1972. Most of the documents, which consisted of forty-seven book-length volumes totaling more than 2.5 million words, had been obtained by the New York Times through the efforts of Neil Sheehan, who had become its Pentagon correspondent after leaving UPI. The top secret project, commissioned in mid-1967 by the then Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange McNamara, was a detailed record of American involvement in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the end of World War II until May, 1968” (307).
“In the government’s view, further publication would have done immediate and irreparable harm’ to national security.
“It was not until June 30, when the United States Supreme Court rejected the government’s position, that publication was resumed. The high court, in an unsigned ruling, voted 6-3 in favor of the New York Times and the Washington Post, which had begun its own publication of the documents on June 19. It held that ‘any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutionality,’ that the government had to show justification for such suppression, and that it had failed to do so.
“The Times, alone among the newspapers that had published the Pentagon Papers in whole or in part, entered two exhibits in the judging of the Pulitzer Prizes for 1972. One consisted of more than fifty full-size pages, the text of its nine articles plus supporting materials, which was nominated in the public service category. Another was the basis for the nomination of Neil Sheehan in both the National and International Reporting categories.
“When the Pulitzer Prize Journalism Juries met at Columbia University on March 7-8-9, 1972, the chairmen held a preliminary session, as was customary, to pass on matters of classification. Without the participation of Miss Charlotte Curtis of the New York Times, who headed the Cartooning Jury, the chairmen consolidated the Time’s Pentagon exhibits in the Public Service category. After examining eighty exhibits for two days, the Public Service Jury, under the chairmanship of Stuart Awbrey, editor and publisher of the Hutchinson (Kansas) News, unanimously reached the following verdict on March 9:
“‘A gold medal is recommended for the New York Times and for Neil Sheehan for the remarkable journalistic feat which has come to be known as the Pentagon Papers….It is fortuitous that the Pulitzer Prizes can recognize the accomplishments of both the newspaper an of a persistent, courageous reporter, and thus can reaffirm to the American people that the press continues its devotion to their right to know, a basic bulwark in our democratic society’” (308).
3: Modern Fiction and Its Problems
4: The Tough Theater
5: Historians, Biographers, and Journalists
“In a lighthearted reflection on the downbeat trends of the modern age, James Reston once observed that things were getting a little mixed up in the writing business. ‘The journalists,’ he said, ‘have been winning Pulitzer Prizes for history, and the historians have been winning prizes for journalism, and it has even been suggested occasionally that we [the journalists] have been winning prizes for what was really fiction’ He could have added, as well, that novelists of the first rank were masquerading as reporters by presenting books of non-fiction in fictional guise.
“This blurring of the lines was almost a regular feature of the Pulitzer Prizes in History, Biography, and General Non-Fiction from 1966 on. With a few major exceptions, scholars and statesmen joined the journalists in the development of subjects that were deemed relevant, an academic code word of the period, to the topsy-turvy nature of the times. And the journalists, without so much as a by-your-leave, draped themselves in the trappings of scholarship on occasion and presented consequential biographies and current histories. The Advisory Board became so accustomed to this continual switching of literary chairs that relatively few jury verdicts were overturned, and then only for what seemed to be compelling reasons” (331).
“Perhaps the most excitement of all came to Professor Williams, who had given up hope that his Huey Long would win the prize on the day of the announcement in 1970 and had gone to his doctor’s office to have his ears washed out. When he returned to his office at Louisiana State University, people were shouting and a colleague breathlessly informed him, ‘Your book won the Pulitzer Prize. The News services have been trying to get you.’ There was a deluge of messages and phone calls, but Professor Williams managed somehow to inform his wife, taught part of a night class, then celebrated” (334).
7: Facing the Future
“The Pulitzer Prizes have survived two World Wars, a great Depression, the bitterness of racial conflict, a tragic national schism over the Vietnam War, and the natural tensions between press and government. Many an award has created rejoicing but others have caused both controversy and criticism–all perfectly understandable reactions that are bound to continue. Barring some monstrous catastrophe, therefore, the thousandth winner of a Pulitzer Prize is likely to be selected shortly before the end of this century if the current rate of award-giving continues.
“It is tempting to speculate on the manner in which that symbolic winner will be chosen, and the nature and character of the work that will be rewarded. But, as experience has demonstrated, it is difficult enough to deal with the awards of a current year without trying to peer into the murky dawn of a new century. Juries are unpredictable. And when the Advisory Board meets, none can say what will happen. The one basic certainty is that the strong-minded people who take part in the prize-giving process will maintain their independence, come what may.
“As long as there is genius in America, with workable guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, there will be prizes to encourage and reward it. Given continued strong direction and support, the Pulitzer Prizes assuredly will remain among them” (354).

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

By Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker

University of California Press  2013

 

The authors write their own introduction and here it states:

“The problem with these technologies is that though they generally help get you where you’re going, that’s all they do. With a paper map, you take charge; with these other means, you take orders and don’t learn your way around, any more than you learn math by using a calculator. A map shows countless possible routes; a computer-generated itinerary shows one. Using the new navigational aids, you remain dependent, and your trajectory requires obedience to the technology–some GPS devices literally dictate voice commands you are meant to obey. When you navigate with a paper map, tracing your own route rather than having it issued as a line, a list, or a set of commands, you incrementally learn the lay of the land.

“The map becomes obsolete as you become oriented. The map is then no longer on paper in front of you but inside you; many maps are, as you contain knowledge of many kinds of history and community in one place. You no longer need help navigating but can offer it. You become a map, an atlas, a guide, a person who has absorbed maps, or who needs no map intermediaries because you know the place and the many ways to get here from there. You know where you are, which may become an increasingly rare thing in an era of digital intervention.

“As Unfathomable City’s editor-at-large, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, put it in his Harper’s essay on cartography in the contemporary world, these new technologies of navigation don’t do ‘what maps are best at: providing context. Beyond simply getting us from one appointment to another, old-fashioned maps express what the geographer…Yi-Fu Tuan calls topophilia, our innate love of place, often shaped by sense and by memories.’ Jelly-Schapiro quotes the German scholar Julia Frankenstein, who concludes that ‘the more we rely on technology to find our way, the less we build up our cognitive maps.’ In other words, when you use the old-fashioned technology of paper maps, you build up the even more ancient resources of memory, mind, and spatial imagination–and you do it without monthly payments to a large corporation to gain access, or electricity, or a screen on which to read directions.

“Another aspect of the old maps to consider is beauty: many online maps have a cheerfully ugly aesthetic, one unlikely to provoke the wonder or craving of the handsome maps of yore; and what appears on screens may not inspire contemplation the way an atlas can. People do study the aerial photographs that function as online maps, and digital mapping has valuable roles to play in environmental defense, community mapping, and countermapping–the making of maps as acts of resistance to the powers that be. They have also extended some kinds of access to geographical information. But paper maps offer other strengths and glories–and beauties.

“Curiously, too, though the ephemerality of paper is often noted, there are hosts of maps and atlases half a millennium old; most digital maps are intended to be ephemeral, called up for a particular purpose, their pixels consigned to the past as soon as the use is over. So paper maps can offer beauty; they can also provide an edge on immortality; they never go blank; and the well-made ones are reliable in ways that aren’t always true of digital maps. One stormy summer evening when Jelly-Schapiro and this atlas’s two principal editors wer on a paddleboat on the Mississippi, one of us glanced at our location via smartphone. The device was not programmed to admit the possibility that we were boating rather than driving, so the dot showing where we were remained adamantly onshore. But we knew where we were, and we could’ve found it on a paper map.

“Modern road maps, like online maps, show highways, roads, and streets and generally don’t show cemeteries, bird migrations, histories, economies, ethnic groups, parade routes, and the thousand other things that can be mapped and have been mapped in old atlases and are, to some extent, in Unfathomable City. President Obama’s old map, issued by a gas station or an auto association, likely as not, was made to get you around but not to tell you where you are and who lives there. There are things that cannot be mapped, but much of what moves through and stays put in this world can be. And should be. A great map should stir up wonder and curiosity, prompt revelation, and deepen orientation. It should make the strange familiar and the familiar strange” (5-6).

 

I think this somehow captures the mystery of why I am drawn to maps. My husband and I had been to New Orleans more than once and it was capturing our hearts as one of our favorite cities. On a stormy afternoon we were flitting from store to store and in a bookstore I almost immediately found Unfathomable City and held it tightly to my breast in a statement of ownership. It is a collection of two things I love: maps and essays. I hear Solnit has done the same with San Francisco. I love the thought of seeing one city in dozens of ways and hearing people who actually live there discuss the meaning of the map. Brilliant concept.

From further in the introduction subtitled Lakeside, Riverside, Upriver, downriver, they write,

“(Before Katrina, we had the highest rate of nativity–the percentage of residents living in the same town where they were born–in the United States.)”

“Solnit came back and back again, which we locals call ‘the rubber-band effect’” (9).

Chapter 1: A City in Time

Map: A City in Time: La Nouvelle-Orleans Over 300 Years by Richard Campanella and Shizue Seigel

Essay How New Orleans Happened by Richard Campanella

The authors call Campanella “New Orleans’s preeminent geographer/cartographer. This map was created by Campanella and Shizue Seigel and shows the urbanization of the city from 1722 to 2000 buy using a color code.

“The city was conceived in 1717 by John Law’s Company of the West (later the Company of the Indies), a speculative venture granted a monopoly by the Crown to develop the problematic Louisiana claim with tobacco plantations and other risky projects.

“…designated La Nouvelle-Orleans to flatter Law’s royal patron, the Duc d’Orleans.

“France ceded the colony to Sapin in the 1760s.”

 

Here is a comment on how urban development can separate the haves from the have nots:

“One final criterion sorted spaces for urbanization. Areas closer to risky, noisy, smelly, unsightly, or otherwise offensive nuisances and hazards–flood zones, railroads, canals, dumps, wharves, industry–tended to be developed for lower-income residences and commercial or industrial land uses, while areas farther from such sites attracted higher-end development for a more moneyed crowd. Housing for the city’s poorest residents, usually African American, was such a low priority for developers that other urbanization ‘rules,’ particularly for drainage and accessibility, carried little weight. This left the poor and the disenfranchised to settle in social and geographical isolation in the low-amenity, high-risk back-of-town or along the high-nuisance wharves along the immediate riverfront” (18).

 

Chapter 2: Ebb and Flow

Map called Ebb and Flow: Migrations of the Houma, Erosions of the Coast by Shizue Seigel

Essay called Southward Into the Vanishing Lands by Monique Verdin

“Upriver, the Algonquian speakers identified it as ‘Missi sippi’ (large flowing water).

 

Chapter 3: People Who

Map by Molly Roy which, in a fun way, shows where different types of people live

Essay Here They Come, There They Go by Lolis Eric Elie

“Do not think of a South of railroad tracks and barbecue shacks and others who live at a predictably prescribed remove from us. Do not think of an America of ethnic enclaves and inviolable spaces, of hard immigrated boundaries. Even after you have formed your vision of our borders, do not cling to it, for every division awarits revision, which new history will reverse” (25).

 

Chapter 4: Moves, Remains

A map of Hiding and Seeking the Dead by Molly Roy

Essay called Bodies by Nathaniel Rich

“As a body decomposes, it fills with gases–cadaverine and putrescine–that cause it to bloat.

“…burying their dead in aboveground mausoleums. These are known colloquially as ‘ovens’ because the white stone chambers, heated by the merciless Louisiana sun, bake the corpses” (35).

 

Chapter 5: Stationary Revelations

Intro states:

“If you walk a city, if you love a city, if you put in your miles and years with open heart and mind, the city will reveal itself to you. Maybe it won’t become yours, but you will become its–its chronicler, its pilgrim, its ardent lover, its nonnative son or native daughter or defender. Billy Sothern trod these streets over the years, both defending the most desperate of this city, the people on Death Row, and pushing a baby carriage (and then, later, walking with his daughter) up and down the avenues, to Carnival parades and secret spots. This list of his own treasures is a testament to his conscience and his wanderings and an invitation to everyone, of this city or any city, to count up the stations of their own journeys home, the dusty miracles of the backstreets, and the stories to be told. Where are your treasures and your milestones, what mud is on your shoes, toward what shrines are you traveling on your pilgrimage?

Map by Shizue Seigel called Stationary Revelations: Sites of Contemplation and Delight

Essay On A Strange Island by Billy Sothern

“Who cares that the city is slowly falling into the Gulf of Mexico, that you know that the gunshots you hear at night are not fireworks because they are followed by sirens, that you no longer bother calling the city about the sinkhole that is consuming your street because it is clear that no one will fix it? Such concerns fade when you can sit on your porch and watch the world’s most amazing eheater of people talking, yelling, dancing, and eating, set against our amazing vernacular buildings and among our magnolias, crepe myrtles, swamp lilies, and Louisiana irises. You are part of that theater, and you talk to people as they pass, smell the jasmine and sweet olive in the air, and hear trains and boats from the river. You do not need to leave your porch to find treasures here” (37).

 

Chapter 6: Oil and Water

Map called Oil and Water: Extracting Petroleum, Exterminating Nature by Jakob Rosenzweig

Essay called When They Set the Sea of Fire by Antonia Juhasz

 

Chapter 7: Of Levees and Prisons

Intro

“Most incarcerated city…Louisiana…founded as a place to dump convicts…single largest prison in the United States, the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, is situated on the lush land of a plantation of that same name founded by a slave trader.

Map called Of Levees and Prisons: Failures of Containment, Surges of Freedom by Shizue Seigel

Essay Lockdown Louisiana by Lydia Pelot-Hobbs

 

Chapter 8: Civil Rights and Lemon Ice

Map called Civil Rights and Lemon Ice: Three Lives in the Old City by Shizue Seigel

Essay The Presence of the Past by Dana Logsdon and Dawn Logsdon

Mentions an “anarchist geographer” by the name of Elisee Reclus.

 

I didn’t know there was such a thing, but now I want to know more.

 

Chapter 9: Sugar Heaven and Sugar Hell

Map called Sugar Heaven and Sugar Hell: Pleasures and Brutalities of a Commodity by Shizue Seigel

Essay No Sweetness is Light by Shirley Thompson

 

Chapter 10: Bananas!

Map of the same name by Shizue Seigel

Essay Fruits’ Fortunes at the Gate of the Tropics by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

 

Chapter 11: Hot and Steamy

Map called Hot and Steamy: Selling Seafood, Selling Sex by Molly Roy

Essay Salacious and Crustaceous by Evan Casper-Futterman

“From Southern Decadence to Sissy Bounce, the Fruit Loop to Club Vibe, to Burlesque and Moulin Vieux, New Orleans proudly pushes the boundaries of ‘proper’ sexaul conduct and provides sanctuary (also the name of a lesbian bar) from a nightmarish value system of decency, chastity, and temperance” (84).

 

Chapter 12: The Mississippi is (Not) the Nile

Map called The Mississippi Is (Not) the Nile: Arab New Orleans, Real and Imagined by Shizue Seigel

Essay The Ibis-Headed God of New Orleans by Khaled Hegazzi and Andy Young

 

Chapter 13: The Line-Up

Map: The Line-Up: Live Oak Corridors and Carnival Parade Routes by Shizue Seigel

Essay Sentinels and Celebrants by Eve Abrams

“…the oldest, McDonogh Oak, resides in City Park. McDonogh Oak is more than eight hundred years old, and its girth exceeds 24 feet. The president of the Live Oak Society, Seven Sisters Oak, lives two blocks from Lake Pontchartrain’s North Shore. It’s approximately twelve hundred years old and has a waistline of more than 38 feet” (96).

 

Chapter 14: Repercussions

Map called Repercussions: Rhythm and Resistance Across the Atlantic by Shizue Seigel

Essay It Enriches My Spirit to be Linked to Such a Deep and Far-Reaching Piece of What This Universe Is: A Conversation with Herreast Harrison and Donald Harrison Jr.

Under the subtitle “They walked with this elegant air” Herreast Harrison says

“…some of them were not acutely aware of their own suffering, because they had accepted what was supposed to be the ‘norm.’ You grow up with all this inferiority implanted in you; you never feel like you’re worthy. But I always knew one thing–I can talk! [laughs] That hasn’t been taken away from me. So I can say what I want. And I had to get to the place where I was gonna say it, whether anyone appreciated it or not. So now, at seventy-five, I try to be congnizant of people’s feelings and all of that, but if it’s something I need to say–wow!–you better harness yourself because I’ll put it on trial” (102).

 

Chapter 15: Thirty-Nine Sundays

Map called Thirty-Nine Sundays: Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs Take It to the Streets by Benjamin Pease

Essay (my favorite of the bunch) called Rollin’ Wid It by Joel Dinerstein

Here is the essay in its entirety which I easily found on Joel Dinerstein’s website:

http://www.joeldinerstein.com/archive/2014/12/10/39sundays

The day starts at 10 am at Spring Hill Missionary, a white stucco four-square Uptown Baptist church crowned with an all-watching steeple. Inside, we spread our tropical peach sleeves across the double rows of wooden pews, dark olive alligator shoes sticking out in the aisle. The pastor wears a pink power suit and reads from Corinthians about how Jesus might be anywhere, might even be on today’s second line (so I guess we should watch for him). We’re all mostly bored until one of our own, 72-year-old Sidney “Lil Bruh” Morris, stands up to act as a deacon and brings the message home with quiet dignity, asking the Lord for a good parade and a peaceful day of celebration and we all say Amen.

 

In New Orleans, the second Sunday of each October belongs to the Prince of Wales Social Aid and Pleasure Club and has for a very long time. Founded in 1928 by dockworkers and railroad men, there is some disagreement about the origin of the club name. Most members believed it was named for the love of the club ancestors for J&B scotch (it says “dedicated to the Prince of Wales” on the label) while a few believe it was named for the actual Prince of Wales, a renowned jazz hound who made his first visit that year to the source of the cultural river. Mostly in our 40s and 50s, many Walers are second- and third-generation paraders who recall watching second-lines as kids or remember when clubs sewed their own colorful suits every year. On our day, by police permit and with police escort, all traffic is stopped and cleared out a quarter-mile section at a time as the Prince of Wales and Lady Walers — and more than a thousand second-liners from all around — funk up four miles of bad New Orleans road.

 

After church, we drive over to take the annual club photo on the neutral ground across from Tipitina’s, the famous club and shrine to Professor Longhair on Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas. We line up all in the unity of our finery half-facing the photographer. Standing proud in the year’s colors — peach suits, dark olive accessories — we hold aloft two oval so-called “fans” upon which the club’s lion symbol roars from a field of velvet. Then we move on up the street a quarter-mile to our home base where there’s an hour until we launch ourselves onto the streets.

 

The Rockbottom Lounge is the staging ground for coming out the door, the parade’s kick-off at 1 pm. The core of the current club met here in the 1990s, many of them friends or relatives of Alonzo Landry, the President for most of that decade, while “White Boy Joe” Stern, our most veteran member, was adopted into Landry’s extended family. Here we start getting the spirit, talk to former members, watch mothers dress their kids, take pride in being told by past generations that this year’s peach three-piece with matching dark-olive hat and alligator shoes, has again made the grade: “Y’all look clean, ya look pretty,” the men tell us. We each pin up a long streamer that flows across our torsos and down to our knees, full of bows and ribbons with a nickname on the shoulder-strap. All the while we’re spiking our Sunday-go-to-second-line spirit with Heineken, Seagram’s 7, weed, Grey Goose — don’t forget the wine coolers for Phyllis — except for Miss Betty, a church-going woman soberly surviving with style at 65. Coming out in single file, we each by each hit the threshold, strike a pose and present this year’s model of our selves. It is a serious celebratory matter. As Betty says, “All I know is when I come out I want to look like the baddest motherfucker there is.”

 

We come out rocking Soul-Train style between the ropes held by our prop men and descend onto Tchoupitoulas Street powered by The Stooges brass band: kids first, girls skipping and mugging with their green hats, boys next, a twelve-year-old already with a quick hip-dip and touch of the hat, then the Lady Walers saunter out, cool and low-flowin’, Terina’s star-time smile followed by Phyllis’ slow boogie and Desiree crossdressed in a Prince’s suit working the glory of a threshold till its hers. Then the gents: Noland comes out lean and mean, a cool hustler as if with money to burn, White Boy Joe faces West and side-steps, sporting a matching dark olive bandanna under his olive Stetson, Bruce waves his booty round and round and covers the most ground, switching back through the ropes and up Peniston, Alvin does his gangster strut and runs his hand along his hat brim. Then Lil Bruh comes out holding his fans high and kicks his knees up higher than you’d imagine a 72-year-old man can, the very incarnation of the original “Grand Marshal,” the strutting dancer who led the second-lines back when Black New Orleanians first “made up the parades just for the pleasure of it,” as recalled by jazz legend Sidney Bechet from his childhood.

 

After only two blocks we slow the parade roll to honor the dead. The band downshifts into a dirge in front of the late Jimmy Parker’s house on Annunciation and The Walers fall into a halting step with a syncopated slip: we strut in two lines with a slight diagonal step, shaping the air into chords of ancestor worship. Maybe we pick up his spirit, maybe he’s satisfied we’re all still dancing for him. Once past, the tuba and snare drum pick up the groove and down the block we pick up the Queen and her Court. Elected from outside the club, she rides with her maids and throws a few beads, honorary royal figureheads in the ritual. While waiting, Paul and I buckjump together, his thrashing kicks set off my deep-knee corkscrewing, and the Walers gather around, throw their fans down and get busy with The Stooges. The tuba-man slows his beat and a pride of princesses and their children dance down the steps and ascend a half-sawn off Mardi Gras float with their children. Then the Queen comes down the steps in white taffeta approaching a vehicle that has to be seen to be believed: an open-air bare-bones stagecoach woven of wire and drawn by two stallion-sized white mules. The Queen steps in as if she’s a relief pitcher from Heaven. The driver flicks his switch and she is driven half a block to the awaiting float for a day of regal waves and champagne riding.

 

We set in to serious second-lining through the 12th Ward, a seamless sunny brassy carpet-ride of strolling, drinking, talking, and strutting, tuba-&-drum call and community response, until the parade turns onto Magazine Street and the Walers hit this commercial strip like a holiday: Alvin throws down his fans and we make a circle around him as he zigs back and forth with zip starts and stops, Desiree turns her palms up and damn near limbos, and everyone digs making the rich white folks wait and wonder as they stare from their cars with culture shock-and-awe. Second-lines run four hours over five-mile routes almost entirely through African-American neighborhoods — Treme, Central City, Carrollton — so many locals have never seen one due to residential segregation. Until recently, New Orleans culture was racially coded for locals: white and black Mardi Gras, white Krewes and Black Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs, white touristy second-lines and these black-cultural rolling block parties.

 

The Prince of Wales is a rare Uptown second-line and this ain’t no First Friday: it’s a community getting its collective freak on, working off the weekly tension so at some point everybody is a star (to riff on Sly Stone). The parade belongs as much to the second liners as to the first line: that’s why it’s named for them. As Louis Armstrong testified about his childhood: “The Second Line is a bunch of Guys who follows the parade. They’re not the members of the … Club. Anybody can be a Second Liner, whether they are Raggedy or dressed up. They seemed to have more fun than anybody.” This weekly ritual is named for the celebrants and not the sponsors, and at this point we all swing together onto the broad expanse of Louisiana Avenue and head up to The Sandpiper, a bar whose ’50s neon martini sign is a beacon in the late unholy NOLA night. This is the first scheduled ten-minute stop of the parade: we rest for a drink and momentarily de-compress.

 

Once we re-emerge we’re in the thick of it, between the dancers and the deep heat and the strolling crowd. Sometimes you look up from getting down and don’t even know where you’re at even in your own neighborhood. The music shapes the air, the band torques up our internal gyroscopes, the tuba syncs our bodies together. We’re getting the street into our system and putting our energy into the street. Like any good ritual, second-lines suspend everyday industrial time. And then it’s out LaSalle to Washington and on around to the stop at Charley Wright’s place, and we’re lettin’ the good times roll on, Walers out front.

 

On your club’s parade day, the suit is your club uniform and the band is your motorcade. “Shut that street down… I’m coming through here. That’s what it feel like,” Noland once said, having driven a cab and a truck and run assorted hustles as well as a home-repair business in his fifty-odd years. “You feel like, [there’s] nothing they can do [to stop you]… Eleven months they [we] slave, for one day out of the year.” Miss Betty distills this feeling: “That’s my day. I feel like a star. Everything’s got to stop for me.” On this day, the second-liners bask in refracted glory off our colorful shoulders and bad-ass shoes: our tropical blaze of body and soul lights up the community. “It’s your day, you the one shining,” Betty says.

 

If a city is a circulatory system of its residents’ energy — with streets like arteries and airwaves — then New Orleans is the city as dancing body, a place whose spirit is stomped into existence every Sunday. Every day musicians inhale the city and on Sundays, they exhale it through valves and pistons and put the music on the wind for dancers to make the city’s rhythms visible. There’s a third line, too — the platoon of photographers and tourists who think the main action is the first line when it’s more along the sidewalks, where two people lock eyes and drop into a dance-off full of fluid shimmies, spins, and pelvic pops, where an impromptu drum unit rings time on cowbells and pint bottles, where every surface becomes a platform of celebration — church steps, flatbeds, low rooftops, billboards — and I watch seven young men from the community pace the Prince of Wales single-file each with his own move (leap, hurdle, split, cartwheel) while a few women lean forward on a parked car and booty-pop their pleasure since it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.

 

“There’s no place like this place,” Stan smiles at me as we swing onto St. Charles and hold up a streetcar, tourists’ eyes popping wide as their camera lenses. The Stooges shift into “Billie Jean” and pump up the volume, honoring the recently deceased Michael Jackson and blowing up the prized quiet real estate with brassy antagonism. “The tourists … be trying to see what’s going on, they taking pictures,” Phyllis says with pride, “but we own the streets that day.” Stan is originally from San Antonio and joined the club post-Katrina for one reason: “It became imperative [for me] to step up because they were trying to take the culture away.” In the immediate aftermath of “the Storm” (as it’s called here), the city doubled the cost of a police permit and spread the lie that violence was endemic to second-lines. The clubs sued to rescind the increase and the Walers’ own Joe Stern testified to the lack of parade violence over a generation. “They don’t help us at all,” Phyllis once said about the city, “if it was up to them, we wouldn’t even be second lining… That’s why we have the [Second-Line] Task Force…because we’re trying to fight for our culture… Any kind of commercial dealing with New Orleans, the first thing you see is a second line. But they don’t support us.”

 

We have looped back around into the Garden District and arrive at our last stop, Commander’s Palace, the city’s #1 restaurant as rated by Zagat’s: this was a prestigious coup engineered by Bruce and Noland and represents very recent attempts by local businesses to embrace local Black culture for its spectacle value. Five feet from the door, Adrian, the youngest Waler, throws her hat to the ground and she dip-bam-double-skips and spins into a quick routine that The Stooges support with sustained, escalating riffs, and Adrian does a stutter-kick, a half-split and then a slight backbend from which she rolls her head back in to place, gives the band an appreciative side-eye, then bends gracefully to pick up her hat and sashays on in. It is her way of claiming this new terrain and honoring its prestige. We swirl into the restaurant, human birds of paradise swooping low past shocked faces in the midst of quiet mid-afternoon lunches. I toss back a gimlet with Alvin and Terina’s goldened smile spurs us back on out to Tchoupitoulas and the wide-open homestretch along the river that takes us home to the Rockbottom.

 

A second-line parade is an annual house party that moves lightly like the feathers on our fans yet inexorably like a tank through the streets. Gotta roll wid it or get the hell on outta the way.

 

Chapter 16: Bass Lines

Intro:

“…whose name–funk–is perhaps derived from its Kongo slaves’ word for ‘strong body odor,’ lufuki…” (116).

Map called Bass Lines: Deep Sounds and Soils by Jakob Rosenzweig

Essay The Floating Cushion by George Porter Jr. on the City’s Low End

Chapter 17: Where Dey At

Map: Where Dey At: Bounce Calls Up A Vanished City by Molly Roy

Essay A Home In Song by Garnette Cadogan

 

Chapter 18: Snakes and Ladders

Map: Snakes and Ladders: What Rose Up, What Fell Down During Hurricane Katrina by Shizue Seigel

Essay Nothing was Foreordained by Rebecca Solnit

 

Chapter 19: St. Claude Avenue

Map: St. Claude Avenue: Loss and Recovery on an Inner-City Artery by Shizue Seigel

Essay The Beginning of This Road by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

 

Chapter 20: Juju and Cuckoo

Map Juju and Cuckoo: Taking Care of Crazy by Shizue Seigel

Essay Holding It Together, Falling Apart by Rebecca Snedeker

Mentions the “King and Queen Emporium International on Bayou Road” as well as “the F&F Botanica and Candle Shop on North Broad” (144).

 

Chapter 21: Lead and Lies

Map Lead and Lies: Mouths Full of Poison by Molly Roy

Essay Charting the Territories of Untruth by Rebecca Solnit

 

Chapter 22: Waterland

Map by the same name by Jakob Rosenzweig

Essay The Cement Lily Pad by Rebecca Snedeker

 

 

Poetry for Professionals by J. Coleman

Wallace Stevens was one of America’s greatest poets. The author of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” and “The Idea of Order at Key West” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955 and offered a prestigious faculty position at Harvard University. Stevens turned it down. He didn’t want to give up his position as Vice President of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.

This lyrically inclined insurance executive was far from alone in occupying the intersect of business and poetry. Dana Gioia, a poet, Stanford Business School grad, and former General Foods executive, notes that T.S. Eliot spent a decade at Lloyd’s Bank of London; and many other poets including James Dickey, A.R. Ammons, and Edmund Clarence Stedman navigated stints in business.

I’ve written in the past about how business leaders should be readers, but even those of us prone to read avidly often restrict ourselves to contemporary nonfiction or novels. By doing so, we overlook a genre that could be valuable to our personal and professional development: poetry. Here’s why we shouldn’t.

For one, poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity. Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman once told The New York Times, “I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.” Emily Dickinson, for example, masterfully simplified complex topics with poems like “Because I could not stop for Death,” and many poets are similarly adept. Business leaders live in multifaceted, dynamic environments. Their challenge is to take that chaos and make it meaningful and understandable. Reading and writing poetry can exercise that capacity, improving one’s ability to better conceptualize the world and communicate it — through presentations or writing — to others.

Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy. In the poem “Celestial Music,” for example, Louise Glück explores her feelings on heaven and mortality by seeing the issue through the eyes of a friend, and many poets focus intensely on understanding the people around them. In January of 2006, the Poetry Foundation released a landmark study, “Poetry in America,” outlining trends in reading poetry and characteristics of poetry readers. The number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was “understanding” — of the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts. And bevies of new research show that reading fiction and poetry more broadly develops empathy. Raymond Mar, for example, has conducted studies showing fiction reading is essential to developing empathy in young children (PDF) and empathy and theory of mind in adults (PDF). The program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PDF) even included poetry in their curriculum as a way of enhancing empathy and compassion in doctors, and the intense empathy developed by so many poets is a skill essential to those who occupy executive suites and regularly need to understand the feelings and motivations of board members, colleagues, customers, suppliers, community members, and employees.

Reading and writing poetry also develops creativity. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, the aforementioned Dana Gioia says, “As [I rose] in business … I felt I had an enormous advantage over my colleagues because I had a background in imagination, in language and in literature.” Noting that the Greek root for poetry means “maker,” Dana emphasizes that senior executives need not just quantitative skills but “qualitative and creative” skills and “creative judgment,” and feels reading and writing poetry is a route to developing those capabilities. Indeed, poetry may be an even better tool for developing creativity than conventional fiction. Clare Morgan, in her book What Poetry Brings to Business, cites a study showing that poems caused readers to generate nearly twice as many alternative meanings as “stories,” and poetry readers further developed greater “self-monitoring” strategies that enhanced the efficacy of their thinking processes. These creative capabilities can help executives keep their organizations entrepreneurial, draw imaginative solutions, and navigate disruptive environments where data alone are insufficient to make progress.

Finally, poetry can teach us to infuse life with beauty and meaning. A challenge in modern management can be to keep ourselves and our colleagues invested with wonder and purpose. As Simon Sinek and others have documented, the best companies and people never lose a sense of why they do what they do. Neither do poets. In her Nobel lecture “The Poet and the World,” Wislawa Szymborska writes:

The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence … is astonishing …Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary course of events” … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.

What if we professionals cultivated a similar outlook? We might find our colleagues more hopeful and purposeful and our work revitalized with more surprise, meaning, and beauty.

Poetry isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to every business problem. There are plenty of business leaders who’ve never read poetry and have been wholly successful. But to those open to it, reading and writing poetry can be a valuable component of leadership development.

by J. Coleman