September 30, 2004

Last night, I went to a lecture on local history. The speaker discussed King Philip’s War, which began in 1675. He said that the war started when an Indian entered John Salisbury’s barn, and was shot. He may have entered the barn in order to provoke the settlers into shedding blood. It seems that the Indians wanted war, but didn’t want to be the first to shed blood; they believed that those who started the war would ultimately lose.

The speaker also mentioned the various names used by King Philip, and his father, Massasoit. He said that the Indians changed their names in order to make it harder for their enemies to find them. In fact, it probably wasn’t a matter of “finding” in a physical sense, but rather in an occult sense; they probably believed that, by changing their name, they could make it harder for people to locate them with evil thoughts, voodoo, etc.

1. Baseball and the Occult

A few days ago, my daughter and I were watching a baseball game on TV. Suddenly, I had a clear feeling that the batter was going to get a hit; I almost said something out loud, it was on the tip of my tongue. Sure enough, he hit a home run on the next pitch. Was it something in the batter’s eyes that told me, or something in the pitcher’s body language? Or was it an anticipation of the future that wasn’t based on any clue in the present?

About twenty years ago, I was playing tennis, and in an adjoining field, a baseball game was in progress. Our tennis game lasted for at least an hour, and we weren’t paying much attention to the baseball game. At one point, however, I stopped playing, and turned around to watch the baseball game. I watched one pitch, and the batter hit the ball over the fence on that pitch. Perhaps that happened only a few times in an entire summer. Why did I turn around on that particular pitch? Was there some sort of electricity in the air, perhaps due to the batter’s excitement?

There must be many examples of people anticipating something related to sports. The high level of emotion that is found in sports makes it a suitable environment for psychic phenomena. Did a batter ever have a clear feeling that he would hit a home run on the next pitch? Yes, one of the legends of baseball is Babe Ruth’s “called shot”, when he pointed “over the fence” then proceeded to hit the ball over the fence.

2. New Edition: Sundry Thoughts

I finally finished revising my book of aphorisms, which has grown to 14 chapters. I’m hoping it will be published in Brazil in late ’04 or early ’05. I’m also sending the manuscript to seven other foreign publishers (if one of them publishes it, it will be well worth the effort). I’ll also try to publish here in the U.S., though publishers here don’t seem as receptive as foreign publishers.

Here’s a new version of Chapter 10, “Sundry Thoughts.” The aphorism called “Chinese Painting” has links to four Chinese paintings.

A. Delicate Balance Listening to a piece of music for the first time is unenjoyable; as the Greek proverb put it, “unheard melodies are never sweet.” Yet it’s also unenjoyable to listen to the same piece too many times. In listening to music, there’s a delicate balance between novelty and satiety.

B. Farmers and Philosophers A pumpkin farmer spends only a tiny fraction of his time picking pumpkins. Most of his time is spent in preparatory work — plowing, sowing, weeding, etc. Likewise, a philosopher spends only a tiny fraction of his time writing philosophy. Most of his time is spent in preparatory work — reading, thinking, conversing and, last but not least, living. Every philosopher can understand the pumpkin farmer’s irritation when his neighbor says to him, “How can you call yourself a pumpkin farmer? I never see you picking pumpkins! You’re not a real pumpkin farmer.”

C. Highest compliment for a writer: “You didn’t make that up yourself. Tell me, who did you copy that from?”

D. Praise the Dead, Stone the Living The creative individual opposes current intellectual fashions. He’s usually neither understood nor appreciated by his contemporaries. He’s ignored and greeted with silence, or condemned by a chorus of critical voices, or persecuted, sometimes to the point of execution.

Yet the very people who ignore him or condemn him or persecute him, strive to outdo each other in paying homage to the creative individuals of the past. “We would not have voted to poison Socrates,” they say; “we would not have looked on approvingly as Bruno burned; we would not have thrown stones into Rousseau’s house; we would not have mocked Kierkegaard for his skinny legs and for the unequal length of his pants; we would not have harassed and insulted van Gogh.” But if you confront these same people with a contemporary version of Socrates, of Bruno, of Rousseau, of Kierkegaard, of van Gogh, if you confront them with a creative individual, they will ignore him or condemn him or persecute him.

E. The Stranger’s Reception In rural areas, people are glad to see other people, they appreciate other people, they’re disposed to like other people. In small cities, people take other people for granted; they’re disposed neither to like other people nor to dislike them. In big cities, people wish that there were fewer people; they’re disposed to dislike other people and to fear them.

F. Public Opinions

Doing WellMaking a lot of money (see Successful).
FreudObsolete. All his theories have been disproven.
Living, To Make AThe essence of life; one who makes a good living is one who makes a lot of money.
NeuroticSomeone you don’t get along with.
NietzscheNot a real philosopher.
PhilosophyIs there any market for it?
RightSomething one desires, and thinks that one deserves. There’s a right to have a job, a right to have housing, a right to have a TV, a right to be informed of your rights, a right to march in order to demand your rights, a right to invent new rights, etc., etc.
SamovarIn Russian novels, every house has at least one. One doesn’t know what it is.
SennetShakespearian stage direction. One doesn’t know what it is. Does it have something to do with a hautboy?
SuccessfulMaking a lot of money.
TelevisionSay that you don’t watch it much.

G. Chinese Painting In China, the most important type of painting was landscape painting. Like Western painting, Chinese painting began as figure painting. Not until around 900 A.D. did landscape become the dominant type of painting in China. In the West, landscape didn’t become prominent until around 1800. Why was landscape a more important type of painting in China than in the West? And why did landscape painting develop much earlier in China than in the West?

  1. In the West, cultural development was arrested by the long period known as the Dark Ages; during the Dark Ages, the accomplishments of the ancient Greeks and Romans were largely lost. In China, on the other hand, cultural development was more steady and continuous; China experienced nothing comparable to the Dark Ages.
  2. The Chinese felt closer to nature than the West did. The Chinese saw man as part of the world, while the West saw man as the “master and proprietor of nature” (as Descartes put it); the West felt that it was man’s task to “subdue the earth.” The Chinese felt that the human spirit was akin to the spirit of the rest of the universe, while the West felt that man was special and different, that God had made only man in his own image, that God had endowed only man with an immortal soul.
  3. The Chinese saw nature itself as divine, while the West felt that divinity was only in certain beings. The Western artist concentrated on those divine beings (including man, who had a “divine spark,” an immortal soul), while the Chinese artist concerned himself with all of nature.
  4. The Chinese were more relaxed and more receptive to nature than Westerners were. Chinese religions like Taoism and Zen Buddhism encouraged quiescence and passivity. Westerners, on the other hand, were more active and busy, hence less receptive to nature, and less inclined toward landscape painting.

One can distinguish four types of Chinese landscape painting: Impressive Landscape, Appreciated Landscape, Plain Landscape and Quotation Landscape. Impressive Landscape is an objective art, an art in which the personality of the artist is scarcely visible; in this respect, it resembles the poetry of Homer. In paintings of this school, nature is awesome, and the artist seems to be directly inspired by nature. Impressive Landscape is a product of the Northern Sung Dynasty (around 900 A.D.). It resembles the work of 19th-century Western artists like Turner.

Appreciated Landscape is a product of the Southern Sung Dynasty (around 1200 A.D.). In paintings of this school, nature is no longer awesome, and no longer towers over man. Man has become prominent. The artist depicts the cultured person who appreciates nature; the artist depicts not nature alone, but man’s response to nature. This is rarely found in Western painting. Western painting, particularly the school known as Italian Landscape, often depicts a landscape that includes ruins. Such ruins inspire thoughts about past civilizations, thoughts about the march of time, etc. Far different are the thoughts of a person in a Southern Sung landscape. Such a person can appreciate nature because his head isn’t full of thoughts. He’s attuned to the present moment, not pondering past epochs. “I’d rather be here now” is a phrase that’s sometimes used to epitomize Zen Buddhism; a person in a Southern Sung landscape is “here now” — in the present moment, not in the past or the future.

Plain Landscape is a product of the Yuan Dynasty (around 1300). Plain Landscape lacks the interesting details of Northern Sung landscape, and also lacks the sweetness of Southern Sung landscape. Plain Landscape makes no effort to please the viewer, no effort to attain popularity. Plain Landscape reflects the tranquillity of the artist’s soul, and also his disdain for popularity, and for the tricks that lead to popularity.

Leading Chinese painters were rarely professionals; they often refused to accept money for their works, and they denigrated professionals as “artisan-painters.” They were cultured people who practiced poetry and calligraphy, as well as painting — all on a non-professional basis. They had no respect for the technical devices of professional painters. They didn’t take their painting seriously; they often spoke of a painter “playing with his brush, to amuse himself.”

Plain Landscape is a type of painting that reflects these values. Chinese critics admire Plain Landscape because they admire the cultured person who creates it. They believed that, “the quality of the painting reflects the quality of the man.” Likewise, in the literary sphere, Chinese critics believed that good prose could be written only by a good man. The creator is more important than the creation. Chinese culture was a humanistic culture in which man himself came first. The supreme value was a good man leading a good life. The Chinese believed that, “it is man who makes truth great, not truth which makes man great.”

Quotation Landscape is the final phase of Chinese landscape painting, and it was produced during China’s last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty. Artists no longer responded directly to nature; rather, they responded to earlier artists, and quoted earlier styles.

But Qing Dynasty artists were not entirely uncreative. Qing painters began to bend reality more than earlier Chinese painters had done; in the 1700’s Chinese painters were bending reality as much as van Gogh and Gauguin did. But Chinese painting never took the step that Western painting took after van Gogh and Gauguin — that is, it never became entirely abstract, it always retained some connection to the external world. Some Qing painters, such as Shih-t’ao, achieved what great culture often achieves, namely, a synthesis of subjective vision and objective truth.

H. It’s great to be a team player — if the team is on track. But if the team is off track, if the team is “up to no good,” then it isn’t a virtue to be a team player, it’s a vice. Of all the vices to which mortal flesh is liable, surely this is the most common vice: to be a team player when you shouldn’t be, to “go with the flow” when you should stand alone.

I. If we are loyal to ideals — cultural and spiritual ideals — we won’t have much loyalty to nation/school/business/institution; individual ideals will take precedence over group ideals. Most writers — Joyce, Nietzsche, Ibsen, etc. — had little national feeling; indeed, they were often sharp critics of their nation. “Self-culture,” wrote Wilde, “is the true ideal of man” — self-culture, not group loyalty. If someone criticizes you for a shortage of loyalty to nation/school/business/institution, remind him that a model of group loyalty is a Nazi rally at Nuremberg.

J. There are two kinds of people in the world, individuals and institutionals. An individual is a person who has a mind of his own and a conscience of his own. An institutional is a person who is at home in an institution, who knows how to play the game, who knows what direction the tide is flowing in, whose mind and conscience are not his own, but belong to the world around him.

K. Professional In recent years, “professional” has become one of the highest compliments that a person can receive. One who is “professional” draws a sharp line between his career and his personal life; he doesn’t allow personal feelings to intrude on his work life. The aspiration to be “professional” makes people into masks. While the model executive is a cool professional, the model retail worker is a “fun person.” Restaurants advertise for “smiling faces” and claim to have “great food, fun people.”

L. The Leader There is a cult of leadership in the U.S. Numerous books discuss leadership, and business schools teach classes in leadership. As one observer put it, “The ‘romance of leadership’ that is common in the business world tends to put top executives on a pedestal.”2

The leader hides his feelings, and ignores the feelings of others. He is ruthless in pursuing his institution’s interests, or his own interests. He makes rules, but he doesn’t follow rules; to him belongs the privilege of violating both legal and moral rules. Is it surprising, then, that many of today’s business leaders are in prison or under indictment? As the Good Book says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” The Leadership Disease is widespread in American society, and affects countless institutions.

One student of The Leadership Disease traced it to narcissism, which gives one “an unrealistic sense of one’s importance and power.... Narcissism is an occupational hazard of the corporate world.... ‘it’s fairly prevalent in organizations.’”3

M. Senatus Bestia If someone talks to you about the importance of consensus-building, remind him of the Roman adage, senatores boni viri, senatus bestia (senators are good men, the senate is a beast). Conscience is in the individual, not in the group. Instead of trying to build a consensus, instead of basing your decisions on other people’s views, base your decision on your own view of what’s right.

N. Homo Homini Lupus The abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American guards is further evidence (if any were needed) that evil is embedded in human nature. Long ago, the Romans said homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to man), but somehow we think that this doesn’t apply to us, and we’re surprised to find that it still applies, that the goblins have returned, and always will return.

Another Roman saying is also applicable to this incident: senatores boni viri, senatus bestia. People who are individually decent can become depraved when they’re in a group; moral restraints that are effective when a person is alone become ineffective when the same person is in a group.

O. Kant said that man is an end in himself, while animals are merely means. As one grows older, one finds to one’s sorrow that people often treat you like one of Kant’s animals, that is, they treat you as merely a means — a means to their own ends. They use you and then, when you’re no longer useful to them, they discard you. Every teenager is told by his elders, “Beware! People will mistreat you! People will use you for their own purposes!” But the teenager doesn’t believe it, he must learn it from his own bitter experience. Homo homini lupus. This is a fundamental law of human nature, applicable to the relations between nations as well as to the relations between individuals.

P. Digital Malice Philosophers and psychologists are agreed: man has a dark side, an evil side, a sadistic side, a shadow. We know this from history, from literature, from observing others, from observing ourselves. We find this dark side in primitive peoples and civilized peoples alike.

Now the world is changing, computers are becoming widespread, the Internet is expanding. And we’re always on the lookout for viruses, worms, hackers, etc., we don’t dare to boot up without our anti-virus program. We spend billions defending ourselves against digital malice. As the old saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Q. Corners On several occasions, he tried to fit into an institution, but he never succeeded, it was like fitting a square peg into a round hole — he had too many corners.

R. Chiaroscuro His wife could light up a room, and he could darken a room, so if the two of them were together, chiaroscuro effects were achieved that reminded some people of Rembrandt, and others of Caravaggio.

© L. James Hammond 2004
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Footnotes
2. New York Times, July 29, 2002 back
3. ibid back