On T.V. news, we’ve been seeing marchers spouting hate in the U.S. It’s beyond shocking. But finding scapegoats is nothing new.
One of the world’s greatest writers, Leo Tolstoy, (1828-1910) known for his fiction, including War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, also wrote insightful and wise non-fiction.
An example of such wisdom are two of my favorite quotations from Tolstoy:
“The error at the root of all the political doctrines (the most Conservative, as well as the most advance) which has brought men [and women] to their present wretched condition, is always one and the same. It is that people considered, and still consider, it possible so to unite men [and women] by force that they should all unresistingly submit to one and the same scheme of life, and to the guidance for conduct flowing therefrom.
It is intelligible that men, yielding to passion, may by force oblige others who do not agree with them, to do what they wish. One can by force push a man out here and drag him in there, where he does not wish to go. (Both animals and men, under the influence of passion, always behave in this way.) And this is comprehensible. But what is not as all comprehensible, is the argument that violence can be a means of inducing people to behave as we want them to behave.
All violence consists in men [and women], by the threat of inflicting suffering or death coercing others to do what the coerced ones do not wish to do. And therefore the victims do what they dislike doing, only so long as they are weaker than their oppressors, and cannot avoid the evil which threatens them if they do not fulfill what is demanded of them. As soon as they become stronger, they naturally not only leave off doing what they did not wish to do, but, irritated by the struggle with their oppressors and by all they have suffered at their hands, they, after freeing themselves from their oppressors, in their turn force those they disagree with, to do what they (the stronger) consider good and necessary for themselves. So it seems clear that the struggle between oppressors and oppressed cannot possibly unite people, but on the contrary can only divide them the more the longer it lasts (16) . . .
The teaching of Christ in its true meaning consists in the acceptance of love as the supreme law of life, and therefore does not admit any exceptions.
Christianity (that is, the doctrine of the law of love) that permits occasional violence in obedience to other laws, is a contradiction in nature similar to cold fire or hot ice.
It seems evident that, if some men, for the sake of certain desirable results in the future, though they acknowledge the beneficence of love, may allow the necessity of tormenting or killing certain people, then, by just the same right, others, also acknowledging the beneficence of love, may allow the necessity (also for the sake of some future good) of tormenting and killing other people. So that it seems evident that the admission of any kind of exception to the command to fulfill the law of love, destroys the whole meaning, the whole significance, the whole beneficence of that law, which lies at the root of every religious teaching and of all moral teaching. This appears so evident that one is ashamed to argue it; but yet people of the Christian world, professed believers, as well as men calling themselves non-believers but yet acknowledging a moral law — regard the teaching of love, which rejects all violence (and especially the doctrine of not repaying evil by evil, which flows from that teaching) as something fantastical, impossible, and quite inapplicable to life.
It is understandable that those in power may say that without violence there can be no order or good life, meaning by the word “order’, a system under which the few can enjoy to excess the fruits of the labour of others, and meaning by the words ‘good life’, the non-interference with such a life. However unjust what they say may be, it is comprehensible that they should talk like that, for the abolition of violence would not only deprive them of the possibility of living as they do, but would expose the whole long-standing injustice and cruelty of their life.
But at any rate one would think the working people do not need the violence they (strange to say) so carefully inflict on themselves, and from which they suffer so much. For the violence the rulers do to the subjected is not the direct, personal violence of strong men to weak men, or of the many to the few: of, say, a hundred towards a score, etc. The violence of the rulers is upheld, as the violence of a minority towards the majority can only be upheld, by the fraud long ago devised by shrewd and cunning men, which causes people, for the sake of a small present and evident gain, to deprive themselves not only of the greatest advantages, but even to sacrifice their freedom and undergo most cruel sufferings (29-30) . . .
[N]ot only during the first three centuries of Christianity, during the time of persecution, but at first even after the triumph of Christianity over paganism, when Christianity was recognized as the dominant, State religion, the conviction still maintained itself among Christians that war is incompatible with Christianity. Ferrucius expressed this definitely and decidedly, and was executed for so doing: ‘Christians are not allowed to shed blood, even in a just war and at the command of Christian Emperors.’ In the fourth century Lucifer, Bishop of Caliris, preached that even the blessing most precious to a Christian — his faith — must be defended, ‘not by killing others, but by one’s own death’.
Thus it was during the four first centuries of Christianity. Under Constantine, however, the cross already appeared on the standards of the Roman legions. . . .
From that time, during nearly fifteen centuries, the simple, indubitable and evident truth, that the profession of Christianity is incompatible with readiness to commit every kind of violence and even to kill at the will of other people, was hidden from men to such a degree — and to such a degree was real Christian feeling weakened–that from generation to generation, men, nominally professing Christianity, lived and died sanctioning murder, participating in it, committing it, and profiting by it”(41-42). . . .
The State law, in its demand of military service: that is, of readiness to slay at the will of others, cannot but be contrary to all religious-moral law, which is always founded on love to one’s neighbour, like all religious teachings, not only Christian, but also Mohammedan, Buddhist, Brahminist, and Confucian (45-46). . . .
Fifteen years before his The Law of Violence and The Law of Love, Tolstoy wrote, “A terrible weight of evil is hanging over the people of the earth, and presses upon them. Those standing under this weight, and more and more crushed by it, seek ways to rid themselves of it.
“They know that with their united strength they could lift the weight and throw it off, but they cannot agree to undertake it all together, and each one stoops lower and lower, to let the weight rest on the shoulders of the others. So the weight presses down more and more, and would have long since crushed them, were it not for those who are guided in their actions not by considerations of the external results of their actions, but only by an inner accord between their conduct and the voice of conscience. Such men [and women] have existed and still exist — Christians– for, in place of an eternal aim (for the attainment of which the consent of everybody is required), to set oneself an inward purpose (to attain which no one’s consent is needed) is the essence of true Christianity. And therefore deliverance from the slavery in which people are living, impossible for ordinary people, has come, and is coming only through Christianity — only by exchanging the law of violence for the law of love. ”
To a Christian who has recognized the demands of the law of love, all the demands of the law of violence not only cease to be binding, but present themselves as human errors which must be exposed and abolished (50-52) . . .
. . . we cannot help knowing and seeing that the people of the Christian world can no longer seriously play at conquests, at meetings between monarchs, at diplomatic cunning, at Constitutions, with their House of Parliament and Dumas, at being Socialist-Revolutionaries, at democratic or anarchist parties and at Revolutions; and above all, cannot do all these things basing them on violence (60). . . .
Human life as a whole moves, and cannot help moving, toward the eternal ideal of perfection, only by each separate individual advancing towards his own personal and equally unlimited perfection.
What a dreadful, pernicious superstition is that under the influence of which men — neglecting the inward work upon themselves, which is the only thing really needed for their own and society’s welfare, and also the one thing in which man was full power — direct all their strength towards arranging the life of others, which is beyond their power, and, for the attainment of this impossible aim, employ violent means, certainly evil and injurious to themselves and to others, and more surely than anything else removing them both from their personal and from the general perfection!” (65).
It’s love that will make the changes. And it comes from within each of us.
Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) has words of wisdom for us today:
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us.
Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.
Image from: https://www.google.com/search?q=images+of+Epicurus&tbm=isch&imgil=XJgsYyxeHRRAsM%253A%253B_IRJbSwuqE4wiM%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.pinterest.com%25252Ftilly26%25252Fepicurus%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=XJgsYyxeHRRAsM%253A%252C_IRJbSwuqE4wiM%252C_&usg=__4AKaKpEnSQuC3JjTl38ivYfunck%3D&ved=0ahUKEwig45S8ncTVAhWChFQKHexXArIQyjcITw&ei=GeWHWeDyEYKJ0gLsr4mQCw&biw=1440&bih=759#imgrc=NXjO7cdGjVWwhM:
In his book The Consolations of Philosophy,” French philosopher and writer Alain de Botton condenses the wisdom of some of the world’s greatest thinkers into advice for us today.
Amazon describes The Consolations of Philosophy: “Solace for the broken heart can be found in the words of Schopenhauer [but de Botton offers us much humor too as he describes the old lecherous Schopenhauer trying to marry girls half his age]. The ancient Greek Epicurus has the wisest, and most affordable, solution to cash flow problems. A remedy for impotence lies in Montaigne. Seneca offers advice upon losing a job. And Nietzsche has shrewd counsel for everything from loneliness to illness.”
Go to: https://www.amazon.com/Consolations-Philosophy-Alain-Botton/dp/0679779175 The Kindle version is $6.99.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the ideas of Epicurus as to what brings us happiness. Although I’ve associated Epicurus with over-the-top sensual pleasure, he actually promoted simplicity. Epicurus influenced Lucretius, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Immanuel Kant among others.
Roman marble bust of Epicurus:
Alain de Botton explains Epicurus’ philosophy pertaining to happiness: “Why, then if expensive things cannot bring us remarkable joy, are we so powerfully drawn to them? Because of an error similar to that of the migraine sufferer who drills a hole in the side of his skull: because expensive objects can feel like plausible solutions to needs we don’t understand. Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. We need to rearrange our minds but are lured towards new shelves. We buy a cashmere cardigan as a substitute for the counsel of friends.
We are not solely to blame for our confusions. Our weak understanding of our needs is aggravated by what Epicurus termed the ‘idle opinions’ of those around us, which do not reflect the natural hierarchy of our needs, emphasizing luxury and riches, seldom friendship, freedom and thought. The prevalence of idle opinion is no coincidence. It is in the interests of commercial enterprises to skew the hierarchy of our needs, to promote a material vision of the good and downplay an unsaleable one.
And the way we are enticed is through the sly association of superfluous objects with our other, forgotten needs.
It may be a jeep we end up buying, but it was –for Epicurus – freedom we were looking for” (65-66).
“It may be the aperitif we purchase, but it was — for Epicurus — friendship we were after” (66).
“[B]ecause an increase in the wealth of societies seems not to guarantee an increase in happiness, Epicurus would have suggested that the needs which expensive goods cater to cannot be those on which our happiness depends.
Happiness, an acquisition list 9 [based on the ideas of Epirurus].
- A hut. [You may have a palace or a McMansion – but not be happy. However to be happy, you do need a place of shelter and safety – even if it is only very modest].
2. Friends –
3. To avoid superiors, patronization, infighting and competition.
4. Thought. [Epicurus considered main sources of anxiety: death, illness, poverty, superstition. Now since jobs/careers and a sense of meaning seem most important].
5. A reincarnation of Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna (from the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice), whose melancholy expression would belie a dry sense of humour and spontaneity — and who would dress in manmade fibres from the sales racks of modest department stores. [This is de Botton’s interpretation of what Epicurus must mean as a significant other in our life. Barry is that for me].
Happiness may be difficult to attain. The obstacles are not primarily financial” (71-72).[my emphases}.
Read this interesting, wise, humorous book for advice you may use.
Clip art from: http://www.gograph.com/vector-clip-art
“We are, by nature, a generous people. Just about every American I know who has traveled abroad and taken the time to have genuine conversations with citizens of other countries has encountered the question, as I have, “Why isn’t your country as nice as you are?” I wish I knew. Maybe we’re distracted by our attachment to convenience; maybe we believe the ads that tell us that material things are the key to happiness; or maybe we’re too frightened to question those who routinely define our national interest for us in terms of corporate profits. Then, too, millions of Americans are so strapped by the task of keeping their kids fed and a roof over their heads that it’s impossible for them to consider much of anything beyond that. But ultimately the answer must be that as a nation, we just haven’t yet demanded generosity of ourselves.
But we could, and we know it. Our country possesses the resources to bring solar technology, energy independence, and sustainable living to our planet. Even in the simple realm of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations estimates that $13 billion above currents levels of aid would provide everyone in the world (including the hungry within our own borders) with basic health and nutrition. Collectively, Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food [my emphasis].
We could do much more than just feed the family of mankind as well as our cats and dogs; we could assist that family in acquiring the basic skills and tools it needs to feed itself, while maintaining the natural resources on which all life depends. Real generosity involves not only making a gift but also giving up something, and on both scores we’re well situated to be the most generous nation on earth [my emphasis].
We like to say we already are, and it’s true that American people give of their own minute proportion of the country’s wealth to help victims of disasters far and wide. Our children collect pennies to buy rain forests one cubic inch at a time, but this is a widow’s mite, not a national tithe. Our government’s spending on foreign aid has plummeted over the last twenty years to levels that are–to put it bluntly–the stingiest among all developed nations’. In the year 2000, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States allocated just .1 percent of its gross national product to foreign aid–or about one dime for every hundred dollars in its treasury–whereas Canada, Japan, Austria, Australia, and Germany each contributed two to three times that much. Other countries gave even more, some as much as ten times the amount we do; they view this as a contribution to the world’s stability and their own peace [my emphasis]. But our country takes a different approach to generosity: Our tradition is to forgive debt in exchange for a strategic military base, an indentured economy, or mineral rights. We offer the hungry our magic seeds, genetically altered so the recipients must also buy our pesticides, while their sturdy native seed banks die out. At Fat Brother’s house the domestic help might now and then slip out the back door with a plate of food for a neighbor, but for the record the household gives virtually nothing away. Even now, in what may be the most critical moment of our history, I fear that we seem to be telling the world we are not merciful so much as we are mighty.
In our darkest hours we may find comfort in the age-old slogan from the resistance movement, declaring that we shall not be moved. But we need to finish that sentence. Moved from where? Are we anchoring to the best of what we’ve believed in, throughout our history, or merely to an angry new mode of self-preservation? The American moral high ground can’t possibly be an isolated mountaintop from which we refuse to learn anything at all to protect ourselves from monstrous losses. it is critical to distinguish here between innocence and naïveté: The innocent do not deserve to be violated, but only the naive refuse to think about the origins of violence. A nation that seems to believe so powerfully in retaliation cannot flatly refuse to look at the world in terms of cause and effect. The rage and fury of this world have not notably lashed out at Canada (the nation that takes best care of its citizens), or Finland (the most literate), or Brazil or Costa Rica (among the most biodiverse). Neither have they tried to strike down our redwood forests or our fields of waving grain. Striving to cut us most deeply, they felled the towers that seemed to claim we buy and sell the world.
We don’t own the world, as it turns out. Flight attendants and bankers, mothers and sons were ripped from us as proof, and thousands of families must now spend whole lifetimes reassembling themselves after shattering loss. The rest of us have lowered our flags in grief on their behalf. I believe we could do the same for the 35,600 of the world’s children who also died on September 11 from conditions of starvation, and extend our hearts to the fathers and mothers who lost them.
This seems a reasonable time to search our souls for some corner where humility resides. Our nation behaves in some ways that bring joy to the world, and in others that make people angry. Not all of those people are heartless enough to kill us for it, or fanatical enough to die in the effort, but some inevitably will be–more and more, as desperation spreads. Wars of endless retaliation kill not only people but also the systems that grow food, deliver clean water, and heal the sick; they destroy beauty, they extinguish species, they increase desperation [my emphasis].
I wish our national anthem were not the one about the bombs bursting in air, but the one about purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. It’s easier to sing and closer to the heart of what we really have to sing about. A land as broad and green as ours demands of us thanksgiving and a certain breadth of spirit. It invites us to invest our hearts most deeply in invulnerable majesties that can never be brought down in a stroke of anger. If we can agree on anything in difficult times, it must be that we have the resources to behave more generously than we do, and that we are brave enough to rise from the ashes of loss as better citizens of the world than we have ever been.
We’ve inherited the grace of the Grand Canyon, the mystery of the Everglades, the fertility of an Iowa plain–we could crown this good with brotherhood. What a vast inheritance for our children that would be, if we were to become a nation humble before our rich birthright, whose graciousness makes us beloved” (p. 27-30).
From: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver – published 2002 – and perhaps even more true today.
If we can feed and take care of our pets well, and we do, we could also be making sure the refugees and hungry of the world get sustenance, shelter, and education. We must all do what we can.
Banner: made by S. Klein
Lovebird photo: Jenis
“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” says Yale historian Timothy Snyder in the prologue to his recent book, On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
“As the Founding Fathers debated our Constitution, they took instruction from the history they knew. Concerned that the democratic republic they envisioned would collapse, they contemplated the descent of ancient democracies and republics into oligarchy and empire. As they knew, Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability, while Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants. In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny. They had in mind the usurpation of power by a single individual or group, or the circumvention of law by rulers for their own benefit. Much of the succeeding political debate in the United States has concerned the problem of tyranny within American society: over slaves and women, for example.
It is thus a primary American tradition to consider history when our political order seems imperiled. If we worry today that the American experiment is threatened by tyranny, we can follow the example of the Founding Fathers and contemplate the history of other democracies and republics. The good news is that we can draw upon more recent and relevant examples than ancient Greece and Rome. The bad news is that the history of modern democracy is also one of decline and fall. Since the American colonies declared their independence from a British monarchy that the Founders deemed “tyrannical,” European history has seen three major democratic moments: after the First World War in 1918, after the Second World War in 1945, and after the end of communism in 1989. Many of the democracies founded at these junctures failed, in circumstances that in some important respects resemble our own.
History can familiarize, and it can warn. In the late nineteenth century, just as in the late twentieth century, the expansion of global trade generated expectations of progress. In the early twentieth century, as in the early twenty-first, these hopes were challenged by new visions of mass politics in which a leader or a party claimed to directly represent the will of the people. European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and ’30s. The communist Soviet Union, established in 1922, extended its model into Europe in the 1940s. The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.
Both fascism and communism were responses to globalization: to the real and perceived inequalities it created, and the apparent helplessness of the democracies in addressing them. Fascists rejected reason in the name of will, denying objective truth in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people. They put a face on globalization, arguing that its complex challenges were the result of a conspiracy against the nation. Fascists ruled for a decade or two, leaving behind an intact intellectual legacy that grows more relevant by the day. Communists ruled for longer, for nearly seven decades in the Soviet Union, and more than four decades in much of eastern Europe. They proposed rule by a disciplined party elite with a monopoly on reason that would guide society toward a certain future according to supposedly fixed laws of history.
We might be tempted to think that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from such threats. This is a misguided reflex. In fact, the precedent set by the Founders demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.
Snyder’s twenty lessons – each well documented with facts and examples from recent history – are
- Do not obey in advance.
- Defend institutions.
- Beware the one-party state.
- Take responsibility for the face of the world.
- Remember professional ethics.
- Be wary of paramilitaries.
- Be reflective if you must be armed.
- Stand out.
- Be kind to our language.
- Believe in truth.
- Make eye contact and small talk.
- Practice corporeal politics.
- Establish a private life.
- Contribute to good causes.
- Learn from peers in other countries.
- Listen for dangerous words.
- Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
- Be a patriot.
- Be as courageous as you can.
This book presents twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today” ( 9-13).
On Tyranny, a concise, important, well-researched book, can help us learn from the horrors of the past. Please read it.
“Ever’thing there is but lovin’ leaves a rust on yo’ soul,” Langston Hughes.
James Mercer Langston Hughes, (1902-1967) an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri, was one of the earliest innovators of jazz poetry.
P.S. The banner photo is of a dragon fruit bloom – planted at our house by Johnny about three years ago. Love surrounds us in the fruit and beauty of nature wherever we are.
Yesterday in my search through a cupboard for a tea bag, I came across two lovely sayings – taped to chai tea bags! I’m sure the tea bags – and sayings – were from delightful Servas guests we had recently. You are sure to like these messages too:
“The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.” 🙂
“Laughter . . . is a tranquilizer with no side effects.” 🙂
Words of wisdom from Servas guests Doris & Robin of Vancouver & Munich.
These words from Buddha seem wise – and useful – for us to remember today.
“Thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit.
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings . . .
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think so we become.”
Buddha – From the Dhammapada
Life is sweet; life is hard. How we handle the hard times is essential to our growth.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, cultural critic, and poet, whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history, realized that difficulties of every sort were to be welcomed by those seeking fulfillment.
“Like his pastor father, Nietzsche had been committed to the task of consolation. Like his father, he had wished to offer us paths to fulfillment. But, he said, ‘The worst sickness of men has originated in the way they have combated their sicknesses. What seemed a cure has in the long run produced something worse than what it was supposed to overcome. the means which worked immediately, anaesthetizing, and intoxicating, the so-called consolations,were ignorantly supposed to be actual cures. . . . these instantaneous alleviations often had to be paid for with a general and profound worsening of the complaint'” (de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy, p. 244).
Instead of facing their difficulties, many turn to drugs and alcohol to anaesthetize themselves.
According to a recent New York Times article:
AKRON, Ohio — Drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States, according to preliminary data compiled by The New York Times.
The death count is the latest consequence of an escalating public health crisis: opioid addiction, now made more deadly by an influx of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and similar drugs. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.
Although the data is preliminary, the Times’s best estimate is that deaths rose 19 percent over the 52,404 recorded in 2015. And all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017.
Because drug deaths take a long time to certify, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to calculate final numbers until December. The Times compiled estimates for 2016 from hundreds of state health departments and county coroners and medical examiners. Together they represent data from states and counties that accounted for 76 percent of overdose deaths in 2015. They are a first look at the extent of the drug overdose epidemic last year, a detailed accounting of a modern plague.
The initial data points to large increases in drug overdose deaths in states along the East Coast, particularly Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine. In Ohio, which filed a lawsuit last week accusing five drug companies of abetting the opioid epidemic, we estimate overdose deaths increased by more than 25 percent in 2016.
“Heroin is the devil’s drug, man. It is,” Cliff Parker said, sitting on a bench in Grace Park in Akron. Mr. Parker, 24, graduated from high school not too far from here, in nearby Copley, where he was a multisport athlete. In his senior year, he was a varsity wrestler and earned a scholarship to the University of Akron. Like his friends and teammates, he started using prescription painkillers at parties. It was fun, he said. By the time it stopped being fun, it was too late. Pills soon turned to heroin, and his life began slipping away from him.
Mr. Parker’s story is familiar in the Akron area. From a distance, it would be easy to paint Akron — “Rubber Capital of the World” — as a stereotypical example of Rust Belt decay. But that’s far from a complete picture. While manufacturing jobs have declined and the recovery from the 2008 recession has been slow, unemployment in Summit County, where Akron sits, is roughly in line with the United States as a whole. The Goodyear factories have been retooled into technology centers for research and polymer science. The city has begun to rebuild. But deaths from drug overdose here have skyrocketed. . .
There are many ways to anaesthetize yourself: alcohol, smoking, over-eating. . . . Heck, you can be addicted to running or paddling (but then at least you will have a clear head).
Many years ago after being introduced in a terrific literature class to Leo Tolstoy’s novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, my friend Melinda introduced me to some of Tolstoy’s non-fiction. One convincing piece was Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?
Recently, I came across Maria Popova’s blog on Tolstoy’s “Stupefy” essay. Tolstoy’s ideas still ring true today.
“The seeing, spiritual being, whose manifestation we commonly call conscience, always points with one end towards right and with the other towards wrong, and we do not notice it while we follow the course it shows.”
By Maria Popova (From: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/12/30/why-do-men-stupefy-themselves-leo-tolstoy/)
“The people of the United States spend exactly as much money on booze alone as on the space program,” Isaac Asimov quipped in a witty and wise 1969 response to a reader who had berated him on the expense of space exploration. At no other time of the year are our cultural priorities more glaring than during our holiday merriment, which entails very little cosmos and very many Cosmos. Long before Asimov, another sage of the human spirit set out to unravel the mystery of why such substances appeal to us so: In 1890, a decade after his timelessly enlightening spiritual memoir and midway through his Calendar of Wisdom magnum opus, Leo Tolstoy penned an insightful essay titled “Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?” as a preface to a book on “drunkenness” by a Russian physician named P. S. Alexeyev. Eventually included in the altogether excellent posthumous volume Recollections and Essays (public library; free ebook), Tolstoy’s inquiry peers into the deeper psychological layers and philosophical aspects of substance abuse and addiction.
Decades before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and nearly a century before alcohol abuse was recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization, Tolstoy writes:
What is the explanation of the fact that people use things that stupefy them: vodka, wine, beer, hashish, opium, tobacco, and other things less common: ether, morphia, fly-agaric [hallucinogenic mushrooms] etc.? Why did the practice begin? Why has it spread so rapidly, and why is it still spreading among all sorts of people, savage and civilized? How is it that where there is no vodka, wine or beer, we find opium, hashish, fly-agaric, and the like, and that tobacco is used everywhere?
Why do people wish to stupefy themselves?
Ask anyone why he began drinking wine and why he now drinks it. He will reply, “Oh, I like it, and everybody drinks,” and he may add, “it cheers me up.” Some those who have never once taken the trouble to consider whether they do well or ill to drink wine may add that wine is good for the health and adds to one’s strength; that is to say, will make a statement long since proved baseless.
Ask a smoker why he began to use tobacco and why he now smokes, and he also will reply: “To while away the time; everybody smokes.”
One of the highlights of our recent U.S. road trip was stopping at my cousin Elaine’s in Effingham, IL. Her grandson, Keegan, a 2nd grader, is in an elementary school that has for the past 28 years been doing a unit on Hawaii.
Since Barry and I were going to be in town, we were invited to answer their questions about our island home.
1) Since it is so far away from the rest of the United States, why is Hawaii a state?
Hawaii is far away from Mainland U.S. A. – that is true.
- From California to Hawaii is 2,471 miles.
- From Japan to Hawaii is 4,980 miles away.
Before it was a U.S. possession, Hawaii was an independent country. However on Jan. 17, 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy was overthrown by a group of U.S. businessmen and sugar planters (who wanted to make more money). With the help of U.S. military, the business people forced Queen Liliuokalani, the Queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, to abdicate. She give up her rights and kingdom although she was the rightful leader. She didn’t want her people killed.
Two years later, Hawaii was annexed as a U.S. territory and eventual admitted in 1959 as the 50th state in the union.
2) What races live in Hawaii?
- The state’s overall racial breakdown: white, 22.7%; black or African American, 1.5%; American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.2%; Asian, 37.7%; Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, 9.4%. The Hispanic or Latino population, of any race, was 8.9%.
- More Hawaii residents identify as mixed race – USATODAY.comhttp://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/census/2011-02-24-hawaii-census_N.htm
3) Have you seen a volcano erupt?
- Yes, on the Big Island of Hawaii many years ago, Barry and I saw a volcano erupting!
- Lava and steam have been coming up in various places on the Big Island for many years. Johnny and Sigrid were just there in February and were right by extremely hot, slowly flowing lava.
- On Maui, we have two volcanoes – one extinct (dead) and one dormant (sleeping), so we don’t have lava flows now.
- The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanoes.
Big Island Kilauea Volcano
Go to this link to see molten lava:
4) What are the black sand beaches like?
- Black sand is hot – very hot when the noon sun shines upon it.
- The dark color absorbs the sunlight, so if your feet are bare, you have to run really quickly to get into the water.
- That sand is black because it is fine particles of volcanic rock.
- Most sand in Hawaii is silicon dioxide (quartz) that is white or whitish yellow; it has been broken down from rocks and minerals by wind, rain and freezing/thawing cycles into smaller grains. In a few places, the sand is red.
- Also, sea creatures such as the parrot fish chew up minerals and leave sand behind.
5) What is the weather like?
- Nice – highs are around 87 degrees in June, July, and August and lows of about 64 degrees are in January and February.
- Because temperatures drop about 3.2F (1.3C) every 1,000 feet (305m), the summit of Haleakala is roughly 32F (13C) cooler than the beaches.
- Rainfall is low in Kihei (10 inches a year), but on the east of Maui, is Hana, a rain forest (400 inches a year).
- Hawaii is called a “tropical paradise” because its climate makes people feel comfortable almost every day of the year.
6) Are there a lot of shark sightings?
- No. Sharks do live in the ocean, but they aren’t often seen here in Hawaii. One thousand miles south of the Hawaiian Islands, in the Palmyra Atoll, however, there are about 20 sharks every half mile. So it depends where you are what sea life you’ll find.
- About three shark attacks occur per year in Hawaii. Few shark attacks are fatal. Sharks do not have very good eyesight, so it is best to stay out of the ocean at dawn, dusk, or at times when the water is murky. Sharks are looking for turtles to eat – not humans.
- The Hawaii shark attack rate is surprisingly low considering the thousands of people who swim, surf, and dive in Hawaiian waters every day.
- The most frequently encountered Hawaiian reef sharks are the White Tipped Reef Shark, Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Tiger Shark, Galapagos Shark, Gray Reef Shark, and the Sandbar Shark.
7) Do people really do the hula?
- Yes, the men and women – and children – dance hula. The Hawaiians have a powerful dance, music, and chant culture!
8) How is Christmas celebrated in Hawaii?
- Over half the people in Hawaii practice Christianity.
- Of those, 18.74% are Catholic; 5.24% are LDS; 3.91% are another Christian faith; 0.06% in Hawaii are Jewish; 5.14% are an eastern faith; 0.05% Islam.
- Barry and I have a Christmas tree, church services, and celebrations with our families. Because the weather is warm, we take food and spend our Christmas Day at the beach with our friends and family.
- Because we live in Hawaii, we get to enjoy and experience other cultures and religions that our friends and neighbors practice.
On Maui – Santa arrives by canoe
9) Are there any interesting animals on Maui?
- Yes. Many – many – especially sea creatures.
- My favorite one? Humpback whales that come to Hawaii from about December through February.
Humpback Whale Facts:
- Whales are mammals: breathe air, warm blooded, live birth, have hair, & mom’s produce milk.
- Fifty-eight million years ago, whales were land animals. But there was global warming and less land and food, so the whales evolved back into sea creatures.
- Their trip from Alaska to Hawaii (and then back to Alaska) takes whales 5 to 7 weeks at 3 to 8 miles per hour – each way! It’s about 3,000 miles they swim to give birth and mate in our shallow, sandy bottom, warm water.
- A whale calf is 15 foot at birth and drinks about 120 pounds of milk per day.
- Because their throats are about the size of a grapefruit, the Humpback whales don’t eat for about four months here because our fish are too big. The whales have to wait until they get back to Alaska where there is krill, small shrimp and other small cold water fish for them to eat!
- All whales vocalize, but the males “sing.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo2bVbDtiX8
- Life span: 40-80 years
- Length: 35-45 feet
- Weight 35-45 tons ( 1 ton = 2,000 pounds)
- Importance of whales to microscopic beings: Scientists report that when whales feed, often at great depths, and then return to the surface to breathe, they mix up the water column. That spreads nutrients and microorganisms through different marine zones, which can lead to feeding bonanzas for other creatures.
- And the materials in whale urine and excrement, especially iron and nitrogen, serve as effective fertilizers for plankton.
Come visit us to see other animals, birds, and sea life.
10) Do you have turtles in Hawaii?
- Two kinds you’ll find in Hawaii (among others) are the Green Sea turtle and the endangered Hawksbill.
- At Ho’okipa Beach on Maui, you can sometimes see 25 or more turtles, big and small, basking – resting and warming up – on shore every afternoon.
- Thirty years ago, basking seldom happened. But now, turtles are protected. It’s against the law to eat them.
We have other much more common animals:
11) What can you do for fun?
And of course, you must come paddle Hawaiian outrigger canoe with me. Kihei Canoe Club has visitor paddle every Tuesday and Thursday. Be on the beach by 7:15 am. You will learn the basics of paddling, hear a bit of Hawaiian culture (especially if Uncle Kimokea is there), and get to be on the ocean with experienced paddlers. We never know what we will see. http://www.kiheicanoeclub.com/
As for our time in Effingham, Barry and I had a very good time meeting Keegan’s classmates and teachers – and answering their excellent questions.
Cousin Elaine brought juice and made “Hawaiian” cookies with macadamia nuts and coconuts. We all had a good time.
Of course, there is much more to say about the Hawaiian Islands. Come visit and see for yourself.