The Evils of a Lack of Indifference…

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“… how much happier you would be if you only knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference. You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you.” — Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

There is a passage in scripture about not looking only to your “own things” but also to “the things of others” (Philippians 2:4). I think much of the world’s ills today come from a terrible misunderstanding of this concept. We would be much better off if we were to heed Chesterton’s advice to the insane man (lead quote).

For we are living in a world where the number of  insane people continues to increase. I am not talking about the sort of insane people that get committed to counseling and insane asylums. I am talking about the sort of insane people to whom everything that happens in the world is a personal affront to them, or has to be rectified to be personally suitable to them.

This is how we get micro aggressions.  These people are totally unable to let anything pass. Everything is aimed at them. They are interested in “the things of others”, but only to make them line up to their “own things”.

They need to learn the benefits of indifference. They need to be less self-conscious. I believe this is what Chesterton was getting at. His people of “sunny selfishness” and “virile indifference” enjoy themselves and things for themselves, without any need of approval from others, nor need to involve others. Though, if others were interested, they would be more than glad to include them in.

The world of micro aggressions is the world of the tyrant, the totalitarian state, which knows what is best for everyone, and everyone needs to do and see things their way. True or false, they all need to say the same things, tell the same story.

Much better, much happier, is the libertarian creed — “Taking over the world and leaving it ruthlessly alone”. For only in this world does “common curiosity and pleasure” exist.

 

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Fitness Update: Carelessness

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I have seen a lot of talk on fitness sites and Facebook fitness posts about tracking and following and using this regimen or that. Discipline, discipline, discipline is the name of the game. While I realize it is important to have structure if you plan to reach or maintain a certain goal, I think most of this programs make a serious mistake in emphasizing the discipline, the program, so much.

For this week’s fitness update I am going to refer to one of the greatest fitness experts of all time: G.K. Chesterton.

No, this 20th century apologist and author didn’t have six-pack abs. If I am correct he was somewhat portly. But what he did have was a view to what it meant to have a healthy life — mind/soul/body.

To quote Orthodoxy:

If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle.

If we don’t have a careless and causeless portion of our activity, if everything is chosen, if we monitor every bite we eat and every exertion that we make, we aren’t healthy, we are a maniac, one on the way to madness. There must be freedom in our activity.

Which is why I like the point system on my MisFit. I don’t have a plan for exact amounts of everything, I just freely choose to combine them to reach a daily total. It is also why I cannot monitor my food through MyFitnessPal on a consistent daily basis. I should be able to be careless about what I eat — not totally, but I should be able to react to life before me, not the universe I choose to construct that must meet my standards instead of me living in the universe that is there.

I have seen a lot of pictures of people following healthy lifestyles. But while they think they are showing me pictures of a good example I can follow, what I see instead is a certain manic pursuit that is making them gaunt, tired, and even sad-looking.

In the past month I hit my lowest weight ever since I started my biking/running/swimming trinary program. But I haven’t done it by manic attention to perpetual detail, or a denial of any serious whim. I haven’t pushed myself into gaunt health or so fanaticized my output that it had the opposite effect intended in driving people away from the health suggestions I was promoting. I have enjoyed life, and the people around me have enjoyed it as well.

Let me encourage you all: employ discipline, but also employ carelessness in your pursuit of the good life.

And that’s why the Trump is a Tramp….

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Okay, a few of you might catch the musical illusion of the title of this post, though the fact of the song is actually the reverse of my point. Because my subject really is the tramp when he plays his Trump card. Read the below quote from Heretics by G.K Chesterton, and then I’ll make my real rant:

Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich. The word “kleptomania” is a vulgar example of what I mean. It is on a par with that strange theory, always advanced when a wealthy or prominent person is in the dock, that exposure is more of a punishment for the rich than for the poor. Of course, the very reverse is the truth. Exposure is more of a punishment for the poor than for the rich. The richer a man is the easier it is for him to be a tramp. The richer a man is the easier it is for him to be popular and generally respected in the Cannibal Islands. But the poorer a man is the more likely it is that he will have to use his past life whenever he wants to get a bed for the night. Honour is a luxury for aristocrats, but it is a necessity for hall-porters.This is a secondary matter, but it is an example of the general proposition I offer — the proposition that an enormous amount of modern ingenuity is expended on finding defences for the indefensible conduct of the powerful.

By now, if you haven’t guessed, I’ll clarify my topic: Donald Trump. I don’t like him. I don’t trust him. I’m not against people being rich, but I’m against the abuse of wealth by the rich. Trump is an abuser of wealth. His wealth has made him popular, and lets him get away with all sorts of behavior that a regular person couldn’t. He can make any outrageous statement about other people with apparent impunity, but let someone “lesser” make a comment about him, and fairness is no longer in play.

His wealth has let him bilk his creditors via bankruptcy. True, Trump says bankruptcy can be a smart business decision, but the very attitude he has about it shows no concern for the debtors, no sense that it can be better to avoid it if possible.

He will insult anyone, boast about his infidelities, deride anyone who dares question him. He has no clue how to work in a representative environment. He is an autocrat, a totalitarian who won’t let anyone cross him.

Trump is all about Trump. He plays his trump card, whatever makes him look better. I never watched “The Apprentice”, but how many of us want to be treated with the rude disregard I heard people describe him using. And yet his wealth and brazen statements now make him the darling of so many.

So, like Chesterton says, we see his wealth defending his indefensible conduct.

Just writing the above about Trump makes me disgusted and feel unclean by even talking about it. So I think we need to end with something cleaner as a counterweight. Which is why we will turn to Frank Sinatra singing the song I alluded to in the title. And the beauty of this song is that the lady, the subject, is called a tramp precisely because she is herself, simple, free, and treats others fair. Think about this poor “tramp” of the song and her honor, and you will see why it, and G.K. Chesterton have such appropriate comments on the topic, and why neither one would vote for Donald Trump for any office — even the dog catcher.

(Note: The views expressed on this blog are mine, and are not to be seen as the views of any group or organization that I am associated with.)

Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it

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Today’s post is going to be a quick quote out of Heretics by G.K. Chesterton:

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, cleary expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.

No comments, just a couple of questions. What exactly did your mind decide to apply this to? Chesterton wrote this for the first half of the 20th century. How relevant is it to the 21st century?

A response to “James Baldwin’s Topoi”

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(Note: I spent a whole two days putting the below together for class, and thought I could post it here, despite most people not having read the document it is a response to.  For those wanting to look it up, “James Baldwin’s Topoi” is the title of a chapter written by James Dorsey in New Approaches to Rhetoric by editors Patricia A. Sullian and Steve R Goldzwig, copyright 2004 by Sage Publications Inc.)

This reading reminded me why I feel like an anachronism so often. It also branched in so many directions that I often had trouble being certain which direction or point was being made.

Sullivan and Goldzwig talk a lot about Baldwin’s attempt to establish his sense of place, or lack thereof, within a world that denied him the sense of place he expected for himself and imposed a different one upon him. Much of the reading details his struggle to break out of the imposed sense of place, and his attempt to establish a new one, while still maintaining that ultimate sense of place as an American.

The questions I am to answer are: How does the James Baldwin reading inform the way you understand your identity? How about your understanding of the identity of others in your life? What is one way that you could communicate with yourself or with other people to take advantage of what this reading offers?

This reading has a lot to say about our sense of place, or lack thereof, and our awareness of the same, or lack thereof. It also talks a lot about that sense of place changing.

There were many places in the reading that reminded me of various images and readings from my past. I am going to mention some of them before I directly answer the questions.

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See the above picture. I took this picture back in 2013 while in Barcelona, Spain. After all, where else would you go for good Tex Mex food but Spain. Apologies, Barcelona, Spain. This is an example from my own life of the line in the writing about that restaurant with the “Buffalo, NY wings, Southern style”. (p 8)

Next, I want to bring in my favorite quote about sense of place. It is quite a long one, from Heretics by G.K. Chesterton, but I think it gives a good context and contrast to the Baldwin writings about place:

Mr. Rudyard Kipling has asked in a celebrated epigram what they can know of England who know England only. It is a far deeper and sharper question to ask, “What can they know of England who know only the world?” for the world does not include England any more than it includes the Church. The moment we care for anything deeply, the world—that is, all the other miscellaneous interests—becomes our enemy. Christians showed it when they talked of keeping one’s self “unspotted from the world;” but lovers talk of it just as much when they talk of the “world well lost.” Astronomically speaking, I understand that England is situated on the world; similarly, I suppose that the Church was a part of the world, and even the lovers inhabitants of that orb. But they all felt a certain truth—the truth that the moment you love anything the world becomes your foe. Thus Mr. Kipling does certainly know the world; he is a man of the world, with all the narrowness that belongs to those imprisoned in that planet. He knows England as an intelligent English gentleman knows Venice. He has been to England a great many times; he has stopped there for long visits. But he does not belong to it, or to any place; and the proof of it is this, that he thinks of England as a place. The moment we are rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the whole strength of the universe.

The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing, an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo. But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men—diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men—hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky. Mr. Kipling, with all his merits, is the globe-trotter; he has not the patience to become part of anything. So great and genuine a man is not to be accused of a merely cynical cosmopolitanism; still, his cosmopolitanism is his weakness. That weakness is splendidly expressed in one of his finest poems, “The Sestina of the Tramp Royal,” in which a man declares that he can endure anything in the way of hunger or horror, but not permanent presence in one place. In this there is certainly danger. The more dead and dry and dusty a thing is the more it travels about; dust is like this and the thistle-down and the High Commissioner in South Africa. Fertile things are somewhat heavier, like the heavy fruit trees on the pregnant mud of the Nile. In the heated idleness of youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss. We were inclined to ask, “Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?” But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right. The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive.

Chesterton talks about sense of place as a rootedness that encompasses the entire world. Baldwin was attempting to change a sense of place into a cosmopolitanism that Chesterton would describe as exclusive – Just as Baldwin would see the “parochial” view of Chesterton as exclusive.

Okay, one more piece of evidence before I start to answer the questions. Let’s lift another line from the Baldwin reading:

“What happens” Schlesinger asks “When people of different ethnic origins, speaking different languages and professing different religions, settle in the same geographical locality and live under the same political sovereignty… Unless a common purpose binds together, tribal hostilities will drive them apart.” (p 9)

The description by Schlesinger about is the Middle East for the past millennia, most specifically for our purpose, the past century, when it was allowed out of the box of great powers to go its unfettered way. I know, Schlesinger is warning us about the USA, but I think it is well worth noting that we have another example, one we could do well to heed.

A very good example and defense about what America is and could be, can be found on this post by author Sarah A. Hoyt at According to Hoyt. In this piece Hoyt expands a sense of place beyond geography, to a philosophy.

She starts by quoting someone she believes in, who says:

Patriotism is good. Nationalism through a patriotic lens, seeing your country as worthwhile, as having prospects and things to be proud of, is not only acceptable but necessary for the health of any nation. But MOST especially the United States, because it’s one thing for the French to be ashamed of being French, but at the end of the day, they’re still going to be French. France is established on ethnic and historical foundations, and even if the French think they suck, there can still be citizens of France. Just not very long, since self-loathing aligns you, first metaphorically, then inevitably in practice, with enemies who ALSO loathe you.

But an American just CAN’T believe in nothing, CAN’T reject the philosophy underpinning America, and be one. Philosophy IS America. There’s nothing else to base it on, and there’s no “philosophy on the side” option. There’s no “shared values” or that bullshit. There’s a piece of paper that lays out precisely how the government functions, tells it what it doesn’t get to do, and tells YOU to go shift for yourself. Now yeah, maybe you can quibble with a point or two of it. Lots of people did then, too. But people who reject, wholesale, that that makes sense as the foundation of a country- who complain about negative rights, who call the constitution outdated- de facto, aren’t American, the same way you couldn’t be a Catholic but not believe in G*d. Aphilosophical American is a contradiction in terms. The most they can do is live somewhere between Mexico and Canada. We’ve got a lot of that kind of “American”.

Then she expounds:

Let’s go back to what Sam said “Philosophy IS America.”  If you don’t believe in the founding principles, you’re not an American.  You’re at best a permanent resident who grew up here and behaves generally within the law.

We’re a volitional citizenship.  Yes, if you were born here, you are LEGALLY an American.  You can legally be a lot of things that you’re not even close to being in reality.  Take all the college people running around screaming they want to be protected from micro-micro aggressions.  They are legally adults.

Hoyt establishes the sense of America as a place in Philosophy, and I feel, pretty much, that sums up where all senses of place ultimately end up, rooted in a person’s philosophy.

So maybe I’m starting to answer the questions.

The first question is how does the Baldwin reading inform my sense of identity. I think it helps me understand my sense as an anachronism, being out of place from where the world expects. Baldwin felt himself out of place, perhaps born before his time. Me, I’m from a time that never existed to most people today – buried and forgotten under the epithets like “White, Anglo-Saxon, Puritan Protestant.”

It also helps me understand how my sense of identity shifts as the world around me shifts, they shaping me, and hopefully me shaping some of them. And yet I still retain that sense of place that Chesterton posed, where caring for something deeply makes the world “the enemy”.

How it informs my understanding of other people’s identities  (question #2), is in realizing that other people have that same sense of place, or lack thereof, where they are either defending something that they care deeply for, or are else dilettantes adrift without a place. When I was a religion editor for my hometown newspaper I often found devout people of vastly different religious  backgrounds had more in common, through their sense of caring, than those with none. Rootedness, again.

Third question, one way I can communicate with myself or others to take advantage of what the reading offers: I think the answer to this one encapsulates both communication questions. Ask myself how their sense of place impacts my sense of place, changes or challenges it? Then ask how they see my sense of place impacting their sense of place, how it changes or challenges it? What conflict and benefit might their be in the understanding of each.

Now that I have answered the three questions, let me get radical – if I haven’t already managed to be radical enough.

As both Chesterton and Hoyt have indicated, it is the people who have come to America without being here that is at the heart of much of our current cultural issues. Someone like Baldwin was here – even when he was abroad, fighting to make better that which he loved. He accepted our philosophy. But those who come here without being here, without leaving their prior sense of place behind to join us, are the ones who “Balkanize” us, as the saying goes, though by “Balkanize” I really mean the entire sense of chaos that I previously alluded to as the issue in the Middle East.

And now for the final radical statement. Which starts with the below quote from the reading. The authors wrote: “Being all that society denies and denigrates, he contains all that society embraces and values.” (p 28). They wrote this meaning Baldwin. But today, I want to propound the idea that the holder of this marker is actually the White Heterosexual Male – the one denigrated through White Privilege for all the evils that anyone not a White Heterosexual Male experiences, and yet at the same time subtly envied by them for the mythos projected about him.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

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It remember growing up, that my dad always enjoyed the time after Christmas more than the build-up before Christmas.  Growing up on the farm there was a wonderful time in the winter when we were off from school, and could truly enjoy the time together as a family.  Winter slowed things down so dad could join us.

Below is a quote from G.K. Chesterton, the Facebook status on Thursday for his community page. Reading it made me think of my dad, and how much he would have agreed with the sentiment.  My dad may never have said it so well, but he certainly lived it:

Christmas and Salesmanship

“I take a grim and gloomy pleasure in reminding my fellow hacks and hired drudges in the dreadful trade of journalism that the Christmas which is now over ought to go on for the remainder of the twelve days. It ought to end on the Twelfth Night, on which occasion Shakespeare has himself assured us that we ought to be doing What we Will. But one of the queerest things about our own topsy-turvy time is that we all hear such a vast amount about Christmas just before it comes, and suddenly hear nothing at all about it afterwards. My own trade, the tragic guild to which I have already alluded, is trained to begin prophesying Christmas somewhere about the beginning of autumn; and the prophecies about it are like prophecies about the Golden Age and the Day of Judgment combined. Everybody writes about what a glorious Christmas we are going to have. Nobody, or next to nobody, ever writes about the Christmas we have just had. I am going to make myself an exasperating exception in this matter. I am going to plead for a longer period in which to find out what was really meant by Christmas; and a fuller consideration of what we have really found.”

~G.K. Chesterton: ‘Illustrated London News,’ Dec. 28, 1935.

And so, in that spirit, I spent Thursday night with the family, not really doing anything, except watching some Christmas specials.  I expect to watch several more over the next few days.

The first one last night was my choice:  “The Story Lady”, starring Jessica Tandy and Stephanie Zimbalist.

The Story Lady (1991) Poster

It truly is a wonderful, modern fairy tale.  There is a section of it where there is a telling of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” When they got there I turned to the rest of the family and said, “A Christmas Carol — one of the most told and most mutilated stories ever.” It is a wonderful story to use to tell and make whatever point you want to. They put words in the mouth of the Ghost of Christmas Future to make the point they wanted to.

But despite my literary pickiness about “A Christmas Carol” the story is told really well, and acted well by Tandy and Zimbalist.

And when we got done with that, my daughter chose “The Snowman” — a video my Aunt Olive gave my family back in the 80s, accompanied with its own stuffed snowman to match the animated one in the video. When I left home, the stuffed snowman and video eventually came to my family, and my kids still enjoy watching this video. Amazing — entirely wordless except for the lyrics to “Walking in the Air” sung near the end. Yet they still watch it at least every year.

The Snowman (1982) Poster

Thank you, Aunt Olive, for a Christmas gift that keeps on giving.