Tag Archives: William Blake

J’accuse…!

 

 

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.

 

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

 

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When most people get indignant about government policies and actions, it’s usually against a leader such as Trump or Nixon whom they hate, or perhaps Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.

Or a present or past dictator or tyrant. Their regime or administration. Their policies.

But, as William Blake has shown. Epigrammatically, emphatically. What most offends the moral sense, what tears a fiber from the brain is not policy or programs. As much as to contemplate the suffering of INDIVIDUALS, inflicted upon them by the state. Meaning they can’t prevent it, and usually have no recourse.

This includes the prisoners in our inhumane, horrible prison system – most of them. Guantanamo detainees. Offenses against human decency and Christian norms observable in the USA today. And, similar horrors abroad or in the days of yore. Such as political prisoners being tortured in Syrian jails and held and perhaps tortured elsewhere. The Gulag. Internment and concentration camps. The Killing Fields. And ….

I can’t resist preaching. I feel that I am right. Be thou like Christ. Love man. Not like the Pharisees. Obsessed with finding rulebreakers.

People seem to have for the most part moved on to the next issue du jour. The Mueller probe and the misdeeds of the Trump administration. The latest developments and revelations.

Believe me, these issues pale by comparison and will seem a lot less important at a future date.

What about the roughly 700 children who were separated from their parents at the border and have still not been reunified with those parents by the administration, according to a CNN report from five days ago (this figure includes more than 40 children who are 4 years old and younger)? And, the children who have suffered psychological harm from being torn from their parents and detained?

The separation of migrant families — of parents from children, and children from parents — under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy towards migrants is a crime against humanity. Or, to use another generic term, a human rights abuse. Pure and simple.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  August 29, 2018

the particular matters; quotes from famous authors

 

 

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

 

“To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit — General Knowledges are those Knowledges that Idiots possess.”

— William Blake, Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses

 

“AND many conversèd on these things as they labour’d at the furrow, Saying: ‘It is better to prevent misery than to release from misery; It is better to prevent error than to forgive the criminal. Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones; And those who are in misery cannot remain so long, If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.… He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer; For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars, And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power: The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity. Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falsehood continually, On Circumcision, not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion!”

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”

 

 

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”Dear Hugo, you must write to me often as you can, & not delay it, your letters are very dear to me. Did you see my newspaper letter in N Y Times of Sunday Oct 4? About my dear comrade Bloom, is he still out in Pleasant Valley? Does he meet you often? Do you & the fellows meet at Gray’s or any where? O Hugo, I wish I could hear with you the current opera – I saw Devereux in the N Y papers of Monday announced for that night, & I knew in all probability you would be there – tell me how it goes – only don’t run away with that theme & occupy too much of your letter with it – but tell me mainly about all my dear friends, & every little personal item, & what you all do, & say &c.”

— Walt Whitman, letter to Hugo Fritsch, dated Washington, DC, October 8, 1863; from Selected Letters of Walt Whitman

 

 

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“[I]n these lives of ours, tender little acts do more to bind hearts together than great deeds or heroic words. …”

— Louisa May Alcott, Work: A Story of Experience

 

 

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“… I particularly liked your manner of explanation when you lowered your voice and spoke quietly of the elements that interest us both, the humane particulars of realization and communication.”

— William Carlos Williams, letter to Kenneth Burke, November 10, 1945

 

 

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“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.”

— Henry Miller, Plexus (New York: Grove Press, 1965, pg. 53)

 

 

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“In the ordinary is the extraordinary. In the particular is the universal.”

— Frank Delaney (1942–2017), Irish novelist, journalist and broadcaster; blog post re James Joyce’s Ulysses

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2015; updated June 2018

 

 

 

 

 

some of my best friends …

 

 

 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“Don’t cry over spilt milk.”

“A watched pot never boils.”

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

 

AND

“Some of my best friends …”

 

 

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I grew up with these sayings, all of them except the last one.

These commonplaces are not indicators of stupidity or poverty of thought. There is much wisdom in them. Many of them were used by my mother.

 

 

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What about some of my best friends …?

First of all, it’s not an adage. It’s a cliché.

In the online Urban Dictionary, some of my best friends are … is defined as follows:

Something prejudiced people say when they’re called out on their prejudice. Smacks of tokenism and hypocrisy.

Person A: You can’t trust those goddamn crackers.

Person B: Don’t be prejudiced against white people.

Person A: Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are crackers.

It’s an oft ridiculed line, perhaps justly so.

But I would be inclined to take — at least in my own case (from which I would be inclined to generalize) — a contrarian view.

I would not be inclined to trot out the phrase. But, like the adages I quoted above, the phrase seems to contain some truth in it as a reflection of the actual experience of many people.

Which is to say.

Everyone has prejudices; no one is perfect. One can still hold — buried within oneself — prejudices toward certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups. Anyone who is honest about human nature will admit that they are hard to overcome.

It is true in my case, though people would not call me prejudiced or racist.

What I have found is that if one is honest about self-examination and introspective, one can find prejudices that one harbors. That’s where one might find oneself having a “some of my best friends” experience, though, in my case, I would be embarrassed to use the term; not inclined to do so for fear of being ridiculed.

 

 

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You may have limited experience of certain religious or ethnic groups. I did. I grew up in New England. Practically everyone was Christian, Protestant or Catholic; there was one black student, as I recall, in my high school; I had one Jewish friend (not a close friend); and I probably did not even know what the term Hispanic meant, having never met as I recall someone whose ethnicity was so designated.

I live in New York City now. I went to a liberal college with a majority of Jewish students. I have experienced ethnic diversity in the workplace and my adopted city.

Still, I harbor prejudices. And, my experience of some religious and ethnic groups has been limited.

But then you or I meet someone from one of these groups and the two of you have immediate rapport. The buried prejudices, old thoughts that you never quite dealt with, don’t matter. Experience for the moment has trumped old animosities, fears, resentments buried within you and directed toward an amorphous group, not toward individuals.

 

 

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A final thought. It doesn’t involve friendships, but it seems pertinent.

I love the ethnic diversity of New York City: the mixture of races and creeds and of the native and foreign born.

I often experience positive interactions with strangers. I can’t get over how helpful and nice people are in this big, supposedly impersonal city, where everyone is supposed to have little time for one another.

I try to — and in fact do — respond in kind.

These positive experiences — most often with people who are not of the same race, class, religious or national origins, and so forth — are incredibly edifying. And, what’s most significant, from the point of view of this post, is that they trump any need to address prejudice issues on an abstract level.

Abstractions become irrelevant. It’s the personal interaction in the here and now that matters, and one experiences a wonderful feeling of common humanity.

A dimension of actual lived experience I love. Because, as William Blake said: “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer. …”

Translation (or should I say extrapolation): You will never be able to overcome prejudice in the abstract; you will — society will, can — on the individual and personal level.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018

 

vengeance

 

 

If I whet My glittering sword,
And My hand takes hold on judgment,
I will render vengeance to My enemies,
And repay those who hate Me.

— Deuteronomy 32:41

 

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

— Isaiah 53:3

 

The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”

 

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

 

 

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This post is about yesterday’s news stories about the sentencing of “monster doctor” Larry Nassar to a term of 40 to 175 years for sexual abuse.

Before I get to my main point – actually, points — I would like to mention some of my deep feelings about human suffering and sympathy.

My mother used to say to me that she had always wished one of her children would become a doctor. She used to say how much she admired our pediatrician, Dr. Cohen, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was the type of caring, humane physician she most admired. He was the type of doctor who was always on call.

I would always say to her, “I couldn’t be a doctor. I can’t stand the sight of blood.” And, indeed, the sight of people or animals suffering, just the thought of it, was something that deeply upset me. Once, I observed boys torturing frogs in a local reservoir with their pocket knives. This greatly upset me. It also struck me that there was no reason for such cruelty, and I couldn’t understand what motivated the boys or why they enjoyed it. I had such feelings about suffering in general, including emotional pain, even minor emotional hurts.

To repeat, I hate to see needless suffering: inflicted upon others; experienced by them.

 

 

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Yesterday, on January 24, 2018, Dr. Lawrence Nassar was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of from 40 to 175 years by Ingham County (Michigan) Circuit Court judge Rosemarie Aquilina for molesting young girls and women. Larry Nassar, D.O., is a 54-year-old former Michigan State University and USA gymnastics team physician who has also been sentenced (in November 2017) to 60 years in federal court on child pornography charges.

Judge Aquilina, who had opened her courtroom to all the young women victims who wanted to address Dr. Nassar directly, forced him to listen when he pleaded to make it stop.

“It is my honor and privilege to sentence you,” she said yesterday, and noting the length of the sentence, added, “I just signed your death warrant.”

Given an opportunity to address the court before sentencing, Dr. Nassar apologized and, occasionally turning to the young women in the courtroom, said: “Your words these past several days have had a significant effect on myself and have shaken me to my core. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.”

Just before sentencing Dr. Nassar, the judge read parts of a letter that he had submitted to the court last week, in which he complained about his treatment in a separate federal child pornography case and wrote that his accusers in this case were seeking news media attention and money. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he wrote in the letter. There were audible gasps from the gallery when the judge read that line.

Dr. Nassar was accused of molesting girls as young as six, many of them Olympic gymnasts, over a period of many years under the guise of giving them medical treatment. In November, he had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing seven girls.

Judge Aquilina was a fierce advocate for the victims, often praising or consoling them after their statements.

“Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice,” Aly Raisman, an American gymnast and Olympic gold medal winter, said in court. “Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice, and I am only just beginning to use them. All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve: a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.”

 

 

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I hate to see anyone suffer. And that includes Larry Nassar. I wish he could be given some hope.

I hope I do not appear to be minimizing the horrors of what the girls who were abused by Nasar experienced. Perhaps I am. I don’t know what it was like.

 

 

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A sad story. Horrible. So what do I think? And why should anyone care what I think?

That I wonder: is anyone completely beyond redemption?

Should the purpose of punishment be to humiliate and make an example of the victim? To make a statement? I think that that is what the judge was doing. The trial has given her the stage, a platform; she is in the spotlight. She is making the most of this opportunity to impose a draconian sentence on Nassar.

Is anyone so horrible that they cannot still be considered part of the human race? Perhaps amenable or susceptible to making amends and reforming themselves? Nassar is clearly a pedophile. The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming. Is there treatment for such persons?

To repeat: I hate to anyone suffer, and that includes the worst of the worst, the most lowly and depraved.

 

 

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The Nassar trial was like an orchestrated Orwellian “hate,” with the judge the conductor. Public outpourings of hate seem to be common nowadays. Consider the Women’s March 2018.

I was looking at some photos shared with me by an acquaintance who attended the march on January 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. Here’s what I saw:

A woman holding a poster aloft with what appears to be a doctored close up photo of Trump. Two arrows are pointing to Trump’s mouth. Trump’s lips have been altered and colored brown, so that it appears that his mouth is an anus. On the sign, in big letters, “‘THE ONLY SHITHOLE” is written.

A woman with raised fist, a tattooed forearm, half closed eyes, and pursed lips holding a sign that reads “Kicking Ass & Taking Over the World” with a cartoon Rosie the Riveter type flexing her muscles.

A woman holding aloft a sign that reads “the EMPEROR HAS NO TAX RETURNS.” There is a cartoon drawing of a fat man’s midsection. Where his penis would be, a blank piece of paper is covering it up, with only “1040” written on it.

A young woman with a pink knit cap holding aloft a sign that reads “HELL hath No FURY LIKE SEVERAL MILLION PISSED OFF WOMEN” with the female gender symbol.

Two women sitting on a low stone wall (with another woman between them). Both have large signs on their backs. One sign reads: MY SUPER POWER IS THAT I CAN LOOK AT SOMEONE WITH GETTING A BONER.” The other sign reads “I’D CALL HIM A CUNT BUT HE LACKS BOTH DEPTH AND WARMTH.”

Two guys with broad grins standing on top of a stone wall. They are holding aloft a sign that reads “THE ONLY xxxHOLE IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.”

An elderly man with a funny hat and aviator sunglasses, holding aloft a sign reading “TRUMP: Racist. Sexist. Fascist. PSYCHO”

Most of the hate is directed at President Trump, and, by extension, to sexual predators.

Much of it seems crude and uncalled for. And, actually, disrespectful. Yes, I do think public figures deserve some kind of respect. As was true of authority figures and adults when I was growing up.

There is a swell — threatening to become a tsunami — of meanness, and a lack of a modicum of decency, in our culture nowadays, in the public square.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  January 25, 2018

 

 

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In an up email to close friends on February 28, 2018, I wrote:

I wrote on my blog last month: The Nassar trial was like an orchestrated Orwellian “hate,” with the judge the conductor. Public outpourings of hate seem to be common nowadays.

That’s what I disliked about the trial. I know Nassar was guilty of doing awful things.

To know what such a “hate” is, you have to have read “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Aquilina & Nassar

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina; Larry Nassar

is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?

 

 

 

“I may indeed contradict myself now and then; but truth … I do not contradict.”

— Michel de Montaigne

 

 

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“I suppose you have forgotten that many weeks ago I promised to send you an account of my companions at the Wells [a city in England]. ….

“One of the greatest men of the society was Sim Scruple, who lives in a continual equipoise of doubt, and is a constant enemy to confidence and dogmatism. Sim’s favourite topick of conversation is the narrowness of the human mind, the fallaciousness of our senses, the prevalence of early prejudice, and the uncertainty of appearances. Sim has many doubts about the nature of death, and is sometimes inclined to believe that sensation may survive motion, and that a dead man may feel though he cannot stir. He has sometimes hinted that man might, perhaps, have been naturally a quadruped; and thinks it would be very proper, that at the Foundling Hospital some children should be inclosed in an apartment in which the nurses should be obliged to walk half upon four and half upon two legs, that the younglings, being bred without the prejudice of example, might have no other guide than nature, and might at last come forth into the world as genius should direct, erect or prone, on two legs or on four.

“The next, in dignity of mien and fluency of talk, was Dick Wormwood, whose sole delight is to find every thing wrong. Dick never enters a room but he shows that the door and the chimney are ill-placed. He never walks into the fields but he finds ground ploughed which is fitter for pasture. He is always an enemy to the present fashion.

“He holds that all the beauty and virtue of women will soon be destroyed by the use of tea. He triumphs when he talks on the present system of education, and tells us, with great vehemence, that we are learning words when we should learn things. He is of opinion that we suck in errours at the nurse’s breast, and thinks it extremely ridiculous that children should be taught to use the right hand rather than the left.

“Bob Sturdy considers it as a point of honour to say again what he has once said, and wonders how any man, that has been known to alter his opinion, can look his neighbours in the face. Bob is the most formidable disputant of the whole company; for, without troubling himself to search for reasons, he tires his antagonist with repeated affirmations. When Bob has been attacked for an hour with all the powers of eloquence and reason, and his position appears to all but himself utterly untenable, he always closes the debate with his first declaration, introduced by a stout preface of contemptuous civility. “All this is very judicious; you may talk, Sir, as you please; but I will still say what I said at first.” Bob deals much in universals, which he has now obliged us to let pass without exceptions. He lives on an annuity, and holds that there are as many thieves as traders; he is of loyalty unshaken, and always maintains, that he who sees a Jacobite sees a rascal.

“Phil Gentle is an enemy to the rudeness of contradiction and the turbulence of debate. Phil has no notions of his own, and, therefore, willingly catches from the last speaker such as he shall drop. This flexibility of ignorance is easily accommodated to any tenet; his only difficulty is, when the disputants grow zealous, how to be of two contrary opinions at once [italics added]. If no appeal is made to his judgment, he has the art of distributing his attention and his smiles in such a manner, that each thinks him of his own party; but if he is obliged to speak, he then observes that the question is difficult; that he never received so much pleasure from a debate before; that neither of the controvertists could have found his match in any other company; that Mr. Wormwood’s assertion is very well supported, and yet there is great force in what Mr. Scruple advanced against it. By this indefinite declaration both are commonly satisfied; for he that has prevailed is in good humour; and he that has felt his own weakness is very glad to have escaped so well.”

— Samuel Johnson, “Scruple, Wormwood, Sturdy and Gentle” (The Idler No. 83), November 17, 1759

 

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“The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.”

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

 

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“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1841)

 

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“Tomorrow we shall receive other hints; it may be an apparent contradiction to those of today, urged likewise as if they were the sole and central truth. … Thus, there is hardly a proposition in [Ralph Waldo Emerson’s] poems, or his prose either for that matter, which you cannot find the opposite of in some other place.”

— anonymous reviewer, “New Poetry in New England,” The Democratic Review, vol. XX (May 1847), pg. 397; quoted in Floyd Stovall, The Foreground of Leaves of Grass (University Press of Virginia, 1974), pp. 286

 

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“His [Keats’s] mind had itself much of that ‘negative capability’ which he remarked on as a large part of Shakespeare’s greatness, and which he described as a power of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ ” This is the doubt of one “who prefers the broken fragments of truth to the imposing completeness of delusion. Such is that uncertainty of a large mind, which a small mind cannot understand.”

— Aubrey De Vere, “Modern Poetry and Poets,” Edinburgh Review, October 1849; quoted in Floyd Stovall, The Foreground of Leaves of Grass (University Press of Virginia, 1974), pp. 248-249

 

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“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

 

 

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“Mother, one’s heart grows sick of war, after all, when you see what it really is—every once in a while I feel so horrified & disgusted—it seems to me like a great slaughter-house & the men mutually butchering each other—then I feel how impossible it appears, again, to retire from the contest, until we have carried our points—(it is so cruel to be tossed from pillar to post in one’s judgment).

 

— Walt Whitman, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, July 7, 1863 (The letter refers to the Battle of Gettysburg.)

 

 

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“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up (1945)

 

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“Like any writer worth paying attention to, [Philip] Roth turns out to be the sum of his contradictions.”

— Adam Gopnik, review of Philip Roth: Why Write? Collected Nonfiction 1960-2013 (The Library of America), The New Yorker, November 13, 2017

 

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is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?

by Roger W. Smith

 

 

Introduction

A friend of mine with whom I have had many deep conversations has asked me once or twice, do I think it is possible to hold two contrary, divergent opinions at the same time? Have I experienced this?

In an email, my friend summarized the topic brilliantly and lucidly in the following words:

Our conversation had to do with staking out a position or taking a position — not necessarily ardently — but stating or indicating a position outwardly while one is in fact holding a position inwardly that is more closely in touch with one’s truer feelings. Such a stance might belie one’s inner feelings, might be subtly or not so subtly meant to provoke or suggest inner conflict about which side of an issue one feels or takes … or, possibly, another meaning.

You hit upon this idea this morning (which I have clumsily attempted to recapture), which immediately caught my interest and attention both as it relates to you and because it is an idea that has broader importance. When you thought there might be a word or phrase to capture it, I thought that would be interesting and helpful.

 

 

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Definitions

“A word or phrase to capture it.” Is there, to my knowledge, my friend asked, a word or expression to convey such a notion?

I told him I would look it up.

I got back to him as follows:

You asked me: is there is a word in English for having or holding two contradictory opinions in one’s mind at the same time? It seems that there is not, really.

The idea seems to be encompassed by the term cognitive dissonance. But, as I see it, cognitive dissonance is a concept, not a word.

However, there is a definition of cognitive dissonance online at

https://me.me/i/cognitive-dissonance-noun-psychology-the-state-of-having-inconsistent-thoughts-686850

“cognitive dissonance; noun; psychology — the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change”

There is a Wikipedia entry on cognitive dissonance at

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

In the article, cognitive dissonance is explained as follows:

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.

Note that, in psychological parlance, cognitive dissonance has the connotation of a mental state associated with discomfort or anxiety. I don’t quite view it that way. Read, for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ringing words above. To him a mental state somewhat like what the Wikipedia article describes is a cause for celebration and admiration, not alarm, though Emerson does acknowledge that thinkers of such a mental cast, so to speak, are bound to be misunderstood and, perhaps, criticized and/or persecuted.

An often seen term that expresses such an idea is George Orwell’s coinage doublethink. Doublethink has been adapted into our language, but it is not an autochthonous word. And, in Orwell it is used with a particular slant or twist, with a connotation somewhat like brainwashing.

Some words that kind of hit upon the idea of a person perhaps expressing or having contrary opinions simultaneously are ambiguity, ambivalence, dichotomy, duplicity, equivocality or equivocation, evasion, and two-faced (adjective).

And, then, of course, there is oxymoron, defined as a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

And, paradox and paradoxical. The definition of paradox is as follows:

a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true;

a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory; a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.

 

 

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The Key Question

 

So much for definitions. But, what about the notion of holding contrary opinions simultaneously, as it pertains to thought in general? My thought patterns. Perhaps yours.

I would answer, YES. Undoubtedly. It is a common practice — but not one that violates common sense — for a thinking person to entertain contrary, opposing notions simultaneously.

Under what conditions does this happen, and is it propitious?

 

 

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Hot Button Issues

One causal or underlying factor for ambiguity in thought seems to be entertaining or coming face to face with contentious issues. I am thinking of issues that are always (endlessly; and, one might say, ad nauseam) being debated in public forums and that never get resolved. It seems as if on some of the most contentious, emotionally charged issues which are debated publicly there will never be anything like agreement. For example:

capital punishment;

abortion;

war and peace.

It appears that this may be, in part, because there are no good answers. Each side may have some right on their side, and neither side is totally wrong. The same arguments and counterarguments are made over and over again.

The real test — the hard part — is when one is dealing with actualities and specific cases. For example:

I am against capital punishment, but when I saw and read news items about beheadings of hostages by ISIS terrorists, I felt that I would like to see the executioner(s) publicly beheaded.

Despite being in sympathy with positions taken by the pro-choice side of the abortion debate, I have always felt unsure and uncomfortable thinking about the issue.

I have historically been a pacifist, or at least a dove, yet I feel that some wars are necessary. About a bloody conflict such as the Civil War, I have never known what to think.

When faced with such issues, I may find myself thinking first one way and then the next. I will tend to learn more one way than the other, but I am never certain about what I think.

 

 

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Another Hot Button Issue

Another example of a contentious issue which, over the course of time, caused me to doubt my initial, unquestioned views was the controversy over the issue of school busing in Boston, which lasted for a couple of decades following reforms resulting from the civil rights movement.

I remember the controversy well, although for much of the time I was not living in Massachusetts and if did not affect me or members of my family. (My mother was, however, very pro civil rights and volunteered to tutor students from minority neighborhoods.)

Like most liberals, I was initially pro busing, which was natural since I was pro civil rights and supported integration. In the North, that meant integration of neighborhoods formerly all white.

There was a high profile spokeswomen for and champion of the “other side,” Boston School Committee chairwoman Louise Day Hicks (1916 –2003). She was completely against busing and denied that segregation existed in city schools. She was pudgy, did not seem that articulate, and was belittled by liberals, who regarded her as an anathema, an embarrassment, and also (perhaps unfairly), an idiot. I myself thought she and her positions were retrograde, narrow minded (also bigoted), and ridiculous and volunteered (for a very short time) to work for a candidate opposed to her.

Over the years, I have reflected upon busing, which now seems to be in abeyance as a strategy. (I am not sure of this.) It occurred to me as an afterthought as an apt example for this essay because of a discussion I had this week with a liberal professor who said he fully supported busing at the outset, but changed his mind when it was about to occur in the case of his own daughter (now an adult), who was having some problems adjusting to school socially and did not want to have to attend a non-neighborhood school.

I think the busing issue illustrates something that often happen in cases where “social engineering” is involved and is being visited upon the public by policy wonks in the ranks of academia, NGO’s, and government. It illustrates a general point I was making above, that we may think a certain way in the abstract, and then, when it comes down to actual cases, may find ourselves wondering what we really think.

 

 

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Gut (Emotional) Issues

Then there are gut issues — partly public and political, partly personal — that involve one’s core emotions, sometimes base or elemental ones:

My wife. I love and respect her. Yet, I thoroughly disagree with some of her views on essential matters. (I suspect that I am not alone in this regard and that this is the case with many intimate relationships.)

Two politicians. I am excited about and interested in the campaign. I want one to lose but I don’t want the other to win.

I harbor prejudices, some that I am only dimly aware of and some more overt. Yet, I have seen evidences in the behavior of persons I have known that contradict and undermine my biased views. There are parallels, too, in many of my cherished beliefs, which, like most people, I stubbornly adhere to. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes, if not often, another person can puncture them with repartee, contrary evidence, and counterarguments.

 

 

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Reflection and Research

 

On an intellectual level, I find that encountering and considering views that may cause confusion at first can be a very good thing, as seems to have been the case with great thinkers who were not afraid to do this.

When I had to come up with a topic for a term paper in college, what I found worked and resulted in a good paper was to try and identify something I myself found to be unclear to me and unresolved in my mind — that, additionally, did not seem to have been resolved by scholarship — and which was muddled or confusing as regards its presentation in lectures, readings, or discussions. Then, investigate and write about it. I have always liked to be challenged to investigate something and think it through for myself. As I explained in a letter to my sister (who was then in college), written when I was in my twenties: “When I had to research papers in school, I always found it best to pick a topic where I had some doubt or unresolved conflict in my mind and then write to resolve that conflict. I often found that that areas where I was in doubt or had some misunderstanding turned out to be a significant one to explore.”

I continue to find this kind of mental effort and “intellectual exercise” productive. It may result from reading something — say, in a newspaper — or from a discussion. It sometimes, if not often, happens that I find myself confused or dismayed, and not sure how to respond or of what I think. Such a situation, I have realized, can provide an opportunity. It often results in reflection and can lead to mental productivity, new insights, and perhaps a new piece of writing.

A similar phenomenon. Sometimes one entertains, is struck by a thought which runs counter to one’s previous thinking, what might be called a heuristic or “pregnant” thought. Heuristic or pregnant means for me: revelatory, inducing reflection and modification of thought and opinions I hadn’t questioned. An idea which makes me think anew about something — not always right away.

Heuristic (adjective): enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves.

 

 

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Crime and Punishment

 

Yesterday (April 22, 2017), I read with dismay that convicted felon and former Weather Underground member Judith Clark has been denied parole after thirty years in prison. An article in The New York Times resulted in comments being posted by readers; there were over 500 of them. The comments made me think earnestly about my own preoccupations about crime and punishment. I didn’t change my views, but I found myself thinking anew about, weighing, and wrestling with, if not changing, them.

 

 

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Conclusion

 

Being able to see what the other side has to say is not a sign of weak thinking or of an inferior, easily swayed mind. It is to be desired, on the contrary. I have found that some sanctimonious readers of this blog, convinced of the rightness of their views, often cannot see or appreciate this, nor do they seem to be inclined to do it themselves.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2017; updated January 2018

 

 

 

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Addendum:

A reader of this post emailed me as follows.

I read your personal essay, and enjoyed it. The famous Emerson quotation is on the mark, as are all of them; but I wonder if the idea that a great mind has nothing to do with consistency defines what his critics accuse Trump of nowadays? That is, the inconsistencies of saying one thing one day and contradicting himself the next?

Couldn’t help thinking about this throughout your piece.

The reader has made an excellent and interesting point. In reply, I would be inclined to say that this is intended to be an essay about a mentality where a person has deeply held beliefs, and then finds himself or herself entertaining/considering contrary beliefs and perhaps questioning one’s initial beliefs. Despite this reader’s welcome and pungent comment, I do not believe that the type of thinking described above applies to someone such as Donald Trump, who does not seem to be a profound thinker (I guess I should say, IS not) and who changes his views, as one might change one’s shirt, from day to day, tweeting one thing one day and another the next.

 

— Roger W. Smith, May 1, 2017

prevarication; institutionalized cruelty

 

 

Two news stories caught my eye this morning.

 

“This way madness lies”

by Dana Milbank

Washington Post

January 16, 2018

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-way-madness-lies/2018/01/16/0b627fe2-fb0a-11e7-a46b-a3614530bd87_story.html?utm_term=.3b24634fb0e1

 

and

 

“Michigan Father Deported After Living in U.S. for 30 Years”

By Christina Caron

New York Times

January 16, 2018

 

 

 

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Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is a good and perceptive writer. He states:

I knew that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would deny that Trump said what the whole world knows he said: that he wants immigrants from Norway rather than from “shithole” countries in Africa.

Nielsen … was now under oath, and she wiggled every which way to excuse Trump without perjuring herself: “I did not hear that word used. … I don’t dispute that the president was using tough language.”

[Senator Patrick] Leahy moved on to Trump’s wish for more Norwegian immigrants. “Norway is a predominantly white country, isn’t it?” he asked, rhetorically.

“I actually do not know that, sir,” Nielsen replied. “But I imagine that is the case.”

Kirstjen Nielsen doesn’t know Norwegians are white?

Milbank goes on to say:

Now the federal government is hurtling toward a shutdown, entirely because of the president’s whim. Democrats and Republicans presented him last week with exactly the bipartisan deal he said he would sign — protecting the immigrant “dreamers” while also providing funding for his border security “wall” [italics added] — but Trump unexpectedly exploded with his racist attack and vulgar word.

That’s what brought to mind the second article, in The New York Times, and the whole topic of Trump’s wall.

 

 

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Here’s what I would like to know.

Why is a “bipartisan deal” under consideration to provide funding for Trump’s wall? Have Democrats lost their spines or minds?

We don’t need it! As I explained in a previous post:

 

“Walt Whitman, immigration policy, and Donald Trump’s wall; or, the Berlin Wall redux”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/01/25/roger-w-smith-walt-whitman-immigration-policy-and-donald-trumps-wall/

 

It’s not in any sense just a matter of the wall being unnecessary or too expensive, or an eyesore. Or whatever. It’s bad policy and it smacks of Iron Curtain style statism verging on totalitarianism.

The Times article concerns Jorge Garcia, an immigrant from Mexico who has been living in the United States for a period of slightly less than thirty years. The basic facts: he is married to an American citizen; he and his wife have two children; he has no known criminal record and was employed (until a day or two ago) as a landscaper; he has cooperated over the years with immigration authorities. You can read the rest of the sad story and about the bureaucratic quagmire he got caught in over technicalities.

On Monday, immigration agents put Garcia on a flight to Mexico, with his wife and 15-year-old daughter (both in tears) and his 12-year-old son standing by and looking on. “We’re devastated. We’re sad, we’re depressed,” his wife, Cindy Garcia, said.

 

 

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Here’s what I think, and I know I’m right.

Ours is a country of immigrants. We are all descended from immigrants. God knows how they got here and what they underwent (both emigrating and in making a life in The New Land).

To pursue and harry immigrants (regardless of their immigration status in the eyes of the law, which is at best imperfect) who are law abiding and hardworking and have done no harm – in fact, the opposite — is cruel and, in fact, unjust. It belies and betrays our foundational and civic principles. If the purpose is to prevent terrorists and malefactors from entering our country, what is the point behind expelling immigrants such as Mr. Garcia and “dreamers”?

You know what actions such as this particular one remind me of? When slaves, who were considered property, were sold away and separated from their families — spouse, parents, or children – by being sold to a different master.

We have so much to gain from immigrants, as I see every day in New York. If they were allowed to come, economic and other factors, such as possible overcrowding, allocation of social services, etc. would take care of themselves, naturally. Things reach their own level and will adjust themselves without government intervention. They always have.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 17, 2018

 

 

 

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addendum:

 

A quote from William Blake comes to mind: “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer. … .”

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”

 

Looking at this from another angle — or from several — what Blake is saying is, don’t try to ameliorate the human condition by instituting policies designed to achieve this or to rectify some perceived flaw, say, in the law or policy, but pay attention to the effect of actions taken upon individuals. How does an initiative towards improving the human condition (or preventing adverse consequences, so deemed) affect them?

Or, better yet, don’t even think about generalities; think about the effect upon actual living, breathing people. If you’re harming them, it’s a certainty that you are doing no general or larger good.

 

 

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addendum:

 

My friend from high school days Jan Brady posted the following on Facebook on January 18:

QUOTE: “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” [Khaalid] Walls [a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] said in a statement.”

Where is the rationale?

I’ve lost sight of the “Why”. What greater good is gained by this action?

chemistry

 

 

The following is an email of mine sent this morning to an acquaintance.

 

 

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Scott —

 

I’m on a jaunt.

I had a sort of epiphany just now (actually at about 7 a.m., when I was in the park).

As you know, I purchase audio courses. Recently, my wife asked me to purchase a course on chemistry for her. She wanted the video version (a series of lectures).

I was kind of surprised. She has never expressed or demonstrated any particular interest in science or chemistry. The course was expensive in comparison to the lectures in audio format which I purchase.

I was asking myself, is she really going to “complete” the course? But, far be it from me to stand in her way.

I purchased the course on line with my credit card. My wife managed to bollix things by using the wrong password for my account with The Teaching Company (when streaming the lectures), causing my account to be disabled for a while.

After a couple of weeks, I asked my wife: “How are the chemistry courses? You watching them?”

She said they were a disappointment, for several reasons (which seemed valid).

I thought of this this morning when my mind was wandering. Instead of thinking how stupid (or that it was a waste of money), I felt a rush of affection and love for my wife.

 

 

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Our life, others’, the experience of those closest to us is made up of INCIDENTS, ranging from the seemingly non important to those which we deem to be of significance.

Actually, none of our own experiences –- or none of our loved ones’ — is unimportant or insignificant. William Blake taught us that.

Our lifetime is limited; our experiences, in aggregate, are finite as well as distinct. So are shared experiences. The very fact that they are finite and distinct makes them precious.

To be intimate with someone is to share all their experiences. The time my father toasted marshmallows, which he walked over a mile in a snowstorm to purchase, over the fireplace in our living room for us. When my mother asked me, on her deathbed, to purchase a book about Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn that she was eager to read for her. When my maternal grandmother, sitting in the kitchen with my mother, heard some medieval music on my record player upstairs and said, “That music is beautiful.” I had never known or appreciated that she was gifted musically.

My wife’s aborted chemistry lessons.

If you love someone, you love everything new, different, or unanticipated they say or do; every time they reveal a new interest or enthusiasm or facet of their personality. Including dead ends.

But, beyond the theorizing, you love them for being themselves. It’s what they do from day to day, every day, that makes them special — unlike no one else.

It’s the funny little things they do that make us love and remember our loved ones in the here and now and remember those departed.

Cherish them.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 9, 2017