Perpetual Peace

FROM I. Bickerstaff, The Endower Institute History of the 21st Century, pp. 55-60 ff. Hoboken: Endower Institute Press, 2207.

In 2045 the Endower Institute organized the GSPW (Group for the Study of the Phenomenon of War) to conduct an indisciplinary study of game theory, war-gaming, and evolutionary psychology. An elaborate computer simulation had originally been planned, but finally the participants in the War Study were issued modified versions of off-the-shelf strategy board games. In the next four months, playing these games became the jobs of the study participants in a literal sense, as they were paid based on their performance in the game. (Several had to be "fired" for bizarre behavior, such as repeatedly concentrating their forces in Madagascar.)

The curious first result was that players in versions of the game altered to penalize war-waging (by introducing a random element weighted towards the defeat of the aggressor), and to reward commerce and diplomacy, waged war more often than players in the unmodified games. Players in altered and unmodified versions were about equal in other suboptimal behaviors to be expected in connection with war (refusal to recognize imminent defeat, underestimation of the enemy, refusal to compromise between strategic goals when they became incompatible).

But the usual irrationalities would not suffice to explain why an increase in the difficulty and uncertainty of war would result in an increase in the rate of war waged.

The hypothesis, which the Second War Study would confirm, was that human beings were, for sound evolutionary reasons, prejudiced to regard violence in general, including war, as open-ended. As Dr. Abraham "Abe" Saintpierre, then Director of the Institute, later explained in his book The Cornered Instinct:

An animal which has been backed into a corner is likelier to die than an animal being chased in a field. Although from a game-theoretical point of view, the animal should, to gain the best long-term results, instinctually fight its hardest when it has the best chance for survival, we find the opposite; it is the doomed animal, the cornered animal, that is fiercest. Likewise, we find that those human beings are most admired which exert themselves to the fullest at the last minute, or in an emergency, even to a degree which, under ordinary circumstances, would be considered absurd.

The conclusion reached by the GSPW was that these behaviors arose from a hypothetical "short-circuit" which might take place in the brains of mammals in violent situations. As Abe Saintpierre said in his 2058 lecture to the World Post War Society:

We realized that cornered behavior could not be a rational reaction at all. It must in some sense be evolutionary advantageous to be irrational in this respect. We had been studying a false dilemma. The survivability of the species required the sacrifice of the survivability of the individual in such a way that, in certain situations, the rational optimizer and the irrational gambler must be the same person.

Their insight came through a thought experiment involving two "characters". The first was known as "the Rabbit". The Rabbit always acts in such a war as to maximize the probability of his own survival by minimizing (through avoidance) anything that threatens his survival. The second was known as "the Wolverine." The Wolverine's maxim is always to spend higher quantities of any finite resource (energy, money, or so forth) as the probability of his survival decreases. What should have been obvious (according to Saintpierre's memoir, My Project) but did not show up until the simulations were run, was that in most situations their behaviors would be the same; and that, while in some border cases the Wolverine lost his life unnecessarily, it was in fact the Wolverine, not the Rabbit who stood the best chance of survival, given any nontrivial rate of dangerous situations which could not be avoided. Wrote Saintpierre: "The best long-term strategy of survival, given unavoidable dangers, is in extreme probability of death to replace optimization according to probability with optimization according to possibility." Later, he restated the principle as: "In a crazy situation, the sane thing is to go crazy."

The solution to the problem of the high-waging gamers was then simple: "As the probability of victory decreased, so did the player's attention to the probabilities." As the odds turned against them, they ignored the odds.

The War Studies became the centerpiece of Saintpierre's monograph The Last Argument: The Instinct for War. In this book (an unexpected best-seller), Saintpierre contended that it was human nature to regard war as open-ended, even when the conclusion was objectively foregone. Negotiations, he pointed out, are begun with some idea of the treaty likely to issue from them; trials (in the first instance), of the verdict; but everyone believes that they can win a war. "Wars are not lost once victory becomes impossible for the losing side; wars are only lost once there is nothing, however pointless, left to try; once there is no hope left to cling to." Rational forms of conflict resolution, in Saintpierre's view, could not substitute for war because they did not make the participants feel cornered. Not feeling cornered, they were not confident that victory must, eventually, be theirs; and therefore, they were not be willing to commit themselves fully. His position was that a real bloodless means of conflict resolution would require a strong admixture of irrationality and open-endedness.

It was according to this theory that Saintpierre endowed, with his own profits from the book and the contributions of several philanthropists (including the Estate of Wildcard Endower), the Court of Circular Appeals, a body whose stated aim was to render only provisional decisions in conflicts of international law. "It is only by offering an inexhaustible, receding supply of false hope," wrote Saintpierre to a friend, "that we can create a bloodless activity which will be the psychological equivalent of war."

Saintpierre did not make the mistake of trying to recruit the first-world nations into his scheme directly. Instead, he began by traveling with the whole Court into the most unstable areas of the world, in order to render judgments in sub-national conflicts of tribes, cartels, and so on. Soon the entourage of the Court, comprising advocates ceaselessly debating all the causes into which the Court had interposed itself, had reached such a scale that it could not continue to travel, and took up permanent headquarters in Switzerland. Later, when Saintpierre discovered that a pair of African tribes had impoverished themselves to the point of starvation to pay their advocates at the Court, he caused a portion of the Court's fees to be diverted to humanitarian organizations, to be used in alleviating whatever misery the Court might cause.

After its first decade the Court could no longer remain in Switzerland. The road systems of that tiny, mountainous country could not support the logistical needs of the advocate corps of the first-world nations. Offers of land were made from every quarter; but, to the world's surprise, the offer Saintpierre accepted was in Israel. "It is best," he said shortly before his death, "that the Court remain as close as possible to what has been the most fought-over region of the world."

Thus, today the traveler hears the shouting of the advocate corps engaged in ceaseless argument on the plains below, even before he comes into sight of the shining World Headquarters of the Court of Circular Appeals upon the hill of Megiddo.


Architects can play with every other part of a building. With computers to assist them, and steel to uphold them, as if in clay they can twist, stretch, and hollow walls, roofs, and floors, even merge them; as if on canvas they can lead the eye, or foil it, or trap it. But every good staircase is like every other. The form can be adorned or hidden, or banished either in one-story buildings or by substitution with elevators—but not overcome. There is a limited range of acceptable slopes for a staircase, to which all must conform, or risk injuring their users. Each step must be predictable, and exactly like every other. Stair-climbing is an unconscious, algorithmic act. So is walking, so is typing, so is riding a bicycle; but climbing stairs belongs to a different class—along with driving a car—where error threatens with death. For a joke, you can trip, or fall off a bicycle; but not crash a car, or fall down the stairs. You have time to get to know a new car; but a new set of stairs should not require individual attention.

Consider music. Formality is obvious in classical music. The piece, to be played well, must be considered as something to be reached; and the performer can always fall along the way, by insubordination to the conductor or by infidelity to the composer. Audience members have every right to resent this, however the performer excuses it. Something that mars a performance hits the listener with a jerk—it is the performer who trips up, but the audience who falls. Formality is less obvious, but equally important, in jazz. A sequence of improvisations is not a showcase of individual performers. It is not that every player is an orchestra, but that every player is a conductor. An arrogant classical player is a rebel in a monarchy; an arrogant jazz player, a demagogue in a democracy.

But songwriting is the most formal kind of music. It is because the blues is a rigid form that it can bear the distortions of strong emotion; and indeed, people are never so still as when overwhelmed. If we can, we sit to cry. All popular music has strong, formal structure; which makes it easy to gather with its kin into playlists, and makes it possible for the supply to be kept up. And it is by their formality—by how much alike they are in form—that songs are individualized. Any two pieces of classical music, each with a different structure, sound at first much more alike than any two popular songs, each sharing the same chord structure, rhyme scheme, and instrumentation; just as, although trees are more unlike one another than one person is unlike another, we see the difference between two people more clearly, and find more weight in it, than the difference between two trees.

The danger of too much formality is easy to see. Most of what is worth attaining in life is not repeatable, and is lessened when approached as if it were. Experiences which are had only once do not benefit by formality. Of the rest, some are recurring, but not meaningfully repeatable. They can happen more than once, but are less like climbing stairs than climbing a mountain—which does not, I imagine, improve by being done often. The rest is the repeatable. And repeatable experiences may be no less valuable than singular ones—I would not trade music for youth.

The danger of informality is easy to fall into. Consider poets. Poets are rare for reasons that have nothing to do with poetry (most become songwriters now, who would once have been poets); but those poets that there are, write less than the old poets. This is because of their informality. Free verse is dangerously therapeutic. A good poem in free verse is a unique victory—not the imprint of an emotion, but its draining and defeat. Such poets fail when they approach something that is common to all, and so cannot be exhausted. They cannot make poetry, either of the everyday, or of the ideal.

But think of Petrarch; with the sonnet for his stair he could ascend to and return from the experience of the moment in which he saw (saw so that he therefore loved) his Laura; and as many times as he climbed up to and down from that moment, he never emptied it. Informality always stays on the ground floor; to rise, you must commit yourself to some form capable of bearing you up.


For the Esperanto-day celebrations of Esperanto-USA.
Pro la morgaŭa Esperanto-tago blogfiesto de Esperanto-USA. Kvankam Esperanto estas alta amiko de mi, mi ne ofte vizitas; tial, bonvolu pardoni iujn ajn barbaraĵojn aŭ erarojn.

English is the farthest-spread auxiliary language in use; but it is not the only one, nor is it the most used. Mandarin in China, Standard Arabic in the Middle East, Swahili in Africa, Tagalog in the Phillipines, Castilian in Spain, Russian in Asia, all function as auxiliary languages. Esperanto has a unique place in this accounting; though it has few speakers, they are very broadly spread, and constitute a community.

La angla lingvo estas la plej etendiĝita helplingvo; sed si estas nek la nura, kaj nek la plej ofte uzata. La mandarina dialekto en Ĉinujo, la norma araba lingvo en la Mezoriento, la svahila lingvo en Afriko, la tagaloga lingvo en la Filipinaj Insuloj, la kastilia dialekto en Hispanujo, la rusa lingvo en Asio; ĉiu rimedas kiel helplingvo. Esperanto havas ununuran lokon en ĉi tiu nombrado: si fore etendiĝas, kaj formas kommunumon.

Most Esperanto speakers are of one of four kinds—those who are born English speakers, and those who are not; those for whom Esperanto is their first learned language, and those for whom it is their last.

Estas plejparte kvar specoj de Esperantistoj: denaskaj anglaparlantoj, kaj tiuj ne tiel naskiĝis; tiuj al kiuj Esperanto estas la unue lernita lingvo, kaj tiuj al kiuj Esperanto estas la lasta.

1. It calls for explanation that an English speaker would bother to learn Esperanto. I can only address English-speaking Americans. We are not monolingual because of laziness. We live in an enormous, monolingual country, by itself enough to slake any ordinary wanderlust; and though there are significant minorities speaking other languages, these are likely to take efforts to speak with them in their own languages as mockery or presumption. They are used to speaking English with outsiders. Instrusions on their language are intrusions on their community as tactless as aping their holidays or spectating at their religious rituals. There are institutions, clubs and classes, to provide interaction in some common languages; but there is an air of desperation around all this. But Esperanto speakers, simply by their choice to learn the language, show that they are seriously interested in foreign communication; and with the Internet, the learner has every chance to interact with them. And for English speakers as for others, there is special benefit making Esperanto their first learned language.

1. Necesas komprenebligon, ke angloparlanto penus por lerni Esperanto. Mi nur traktu angloparlantajn usonanojn. Ni ne estas plejparte unulingvismaj ĉar pigrecon. Ni loĝas en granda, unulingvisma lando, mem sufiĉe granda por satigi iujn ajn ĝustan vagdeziron; kaj kvankam estas rimarkindaj malplimultoj, kiuj parolas aliajn lingvojn, tiuj plejparte taksas provojn je conversacio kun ili, en la lingvo, kiel mokoj aŭ entrudiĝoj. Ili kutimas paroli nur la anglan lingvon kun eksteranoj. Entrudiĝoj al ilia lingvo estas entrudiĝoj al sia kommuneco, kiel malagrablaj tiel mokimiti la feriojn aŭ spekti la religajn ritojn. Estas institucioj, kluboj kaj kursoj, por liveri parolon en iuj oftaj lingvoj; sed estas ĉirkaŭ ĉi tio medio de afekteco. Sed Esperantistoj, simple per la elekto lerni la lingvon, vidigas ke ili grave interesiĝas en alilanda komunikado; kaj, en la aĝo de la Interreto, ĉiuj lernantoj havas ĉiu ŝanco por paroli unu kun la alia. Kaj same al angloparlantoj, kiel al la aliaj, estas speciala bono en unue lerni Esperanton.

2. Many English speakers have the fatuous notion that they can hear of everything which goes on in the world that is worth hearing of. Which is half-true: one could hear, but one does not hear. Countries contrive as a matter of policy to represent themselves favorably to the English speaking world; and, especially with cable news, what we encounter of foreign countries is their plausibly English-speaking representatives. But these are a kind of actor. Those English speakers who have learned any foreign language well enough to follow its news will appreciate how large the disparity can be. And though there is no Esperanto news service, it informally accomplishes the desired broadening of perspective. When Esperanto is learned for this purpose, it is usually as a last language. Notwithstanding neurology, to learn a new language is harder for an adult than for a child mostly because there is, by an order of magnitude, both less opportunity and less pressure. I cannot with confidence say that if you can learn only one language, it should be Esperanto; but learning Esperanto is much better than never learning a language, which is often the other choice.

2. Multaj angloparlantoj havas la stultan ideon ke ili povas aŭdi ĉiun, ke okazas en la mundo, kaj ke indas esti aŭdata. Tiu estas duonvera: oni povus aŭdi, sed oni ne aŭdas. Landoj klopodas kiel afero de politiko ŝajni agrable al la angloparlanta mundo; kaj, precipe en televidaj novaĵoj, oni trovas de aliaj landoj plejparte iliajn kredeblaspektajn angloparlantajn ŝajnigistoj. Sed ĉi tiuj estas speco de aktoro. Tiuj angloparlantoj, kiuj lernas iun ajn alilandan lingvon sufiĉe bone por sekvi la novaĵojn, sciias kiel granda la foreco povas esti. Kaj, kvankam estas neniu Esperanto novaĵservo, ĝi senformale sukcesigas la deziritan etendon de vidpunkto. Kiam oni lernas Esperanto por ĉi tiu celo, estas kutime kiel lasta lingvo. Malgraŭ neurologio, lerni novan lingvon estas pli dificila al plenkreskuloj ol al infanoj, plejparte ĉar, laŭ kvazaŭ-matematika ordo de vasteco, estas ambaŭ malplimulta ŝanco, kaj malplimulta devigo. Mi ne diru ke, se oni lernas nur unu lingvon, tiu estu Esperanto; sed lerni Esperanton estas multe pli bona ol neniam lerni lingvon, kiu ofte estas la alia elekto.

3. The speaker of a language not of Indo-European descent has good reason to learn Esperanto before any other language—even before English. Esperanto is not effortless, but it is both the fastest way to learn a real, usable language, and the fastest way to learn how to learn a language. Those who have studied more than one know that the first, even if itself relatively easy, is the hardest—for one must at once learn the language; learn what needs to be learned of it; and learn how best to learn it. Even if your object is to learn English, learning Esperanto first is likely to save time. English is full of dangers even for native speakers. It is one of the languages best for poetry because it is a language of poetry. One must be half or more a poet to speak it at all. Borges did us the honor, in Spanish, of calling English "that infinite language." It seems to me miraculous that English can be taught at all. I suspect that these miracles are inevitabilities of statistics—try to teach English to enough people, and some must succeed—which implies that most, thrust into English classes, do not profit by them. Education in English would be much surer if built on the foundation of Esperanto.

3. La parlanto de nehindoeŭropa lingvo havas bonan rezonon al lerni Esperanton antaŭ iun ajn alian lingvon, eĉ antaŭ la anglan lingvon. Esperanto ne estas sen peno, sed estas ambaŭ la plej rapida rimedo al lerni veran, uzeblan lingvon, kaj la plej rapida rimedo al lerni, kiel lingvon lerni. Tiuj, kiuj lernas pli ol unu lingvon, scias ke la unua, eĉ se ĝi mem estas komparate facila, estas la plej dificila, ĉar oni samtempe lernu la lingvon; lernu kion oni devas lerni; kaj lernu, kiel oni plej bone lernas. Eĉ se vi celas lerni la anglan lingvon, unue lerni Esperanton konservus tempon kaj penon. La anglolingvo estas plena kun danĝeroj eĉ por la denaskaj parlantoj. Ĝi estas apud la plej agrablaj lingvoj al poezio, ĉar si estas lingvo de poezio. Oni devas esti duone aŭ pliparte poeziisto por paroli ĝin. Borges, en la hispana lingvo, moŝte nomis la anglan lingvon "tiu senfina lingvo." Ŝajnas al mi kiel mirego, ke iu ajn, iam ajn, povas nedenaske lerni la anglan lingvon. Mi suspektas ke ĉi tiu mirego estas de certeco de statistiko; se oni provas lernigi la anglan lingvon al sufiĉe multaj personoj, iuj devas sukcesi; kaj ĉi tiu necesigas ke la plejparto, truditaj ĉe anglalingvaj kursoj, ne profitas per ili. Edukado en la anglalingvo estus pli certa, se si estus konstruita bazante sur Esperanton.

4. Now, however bad be English monolingualism, all other monolingualisms must be worse. The best way out is English; but even where English instruction is a formality, it is unlikely to stick much longer than algebra instruction; and to dedicate oneself to learn or re-learn English is possible only with strength to sustain the effort and leisure to undertake it. Lacking either of these, one can still learn Esperanto, still open a window onto the larger world.

4. Nu, kiel ajn malbona estas angloparlanta unulingvismo, tutaj aliaj unulingvismoj devas esti pli malbonaj. La plej bona eskapo estas per la angla lingvo; sed eĉ kie one formale lernas la anglan lingvon, ĝi ne verŝajne adheras al oni pli longe ol algebro; kaj oni nur povas meti sin al lerni aŭ relerni la anglan lingvon, kun forteco pro daŭri la lukton, kaj kvieto pro klopodi ĝin. Sen ambaŭ de ĉi tiuj, oni ankoraŭ povas lerni Esperanto; ankoraŭ povas malfermi fenestron je la granda mundo.

Besides these four, there are the fabled born speakers. There are the polyglots who pick it up for fun. There are constructors of languages (like Tolkien, who kept a youthful journal in Esperanto), whose progress in the art may be judged by how unlike Esperanto their work is. There are those who believe that Esperanto is only held back by some deficiency—with about equal frequency, that it is too unlike natural languages, or too like them—and that their perfected successor of Esperanto would, if Esperanto would get out of the way, spread virally and unite the world. And I could imagine other uses for Esperanto, as, for example, as a medium of translation. Instead of rare bilingual translators working alone, one could train, nearly as needed, pairs of translators, one from the target language into Esperanto, the other from Esperanto into the language desired. So that instead of trying on short notice to find someone equally fluent in English and some language gaining in importance—say, Arabic—one could take a number of Arabic speakers and teach them Esperanto; which could likely be done with application within a few months. Or: if we in the English-speaking world cannot bring ourselves to appoint diplomats which know the native languages of the countries they are responsible for, they could at least be required to learn Esperanto, if only to know that English is not the only language in the world, and that a lazy reliance on English is nothing to be proud of.

Krom ĉi tiuj kvar, estas la mirindaj denaskaj parlantoj. Estas multlingvismanoj, kiuj lernas ĝin por gajo. Estas konstruistoj de lingvoj (ekzemple Tolkien, kiu, kiel junulo, verkis taglibron en Esperanto), kaj kies progreso en la arto oni juĝu laŭ kiom iliaj verkoj diferencas de Esperanto. Estas tiuj, kiuj ŝajnas kredi ke Esperanto teniĝas per iu eraro—ju ofte, ĉar ĝi tro diferencas de nacilingvoj, des ĉar si tro similas al ili; kaj ke, se Esperanto lasus la vojon, ilia perfektigita sekvantaĵo de Esperanto etendus viruse, kaj unuigus la mundon. Kaj mi povas imagi aliajn uzojn de Esperanto, ekzemple kiel mezo en tradukarto. Anstataŭ maloftaj dulingvismanaj tradukistoj laborantaj unuope; oni povas anstatauigi, preskaŭ kiel ofte tiel oni bezonas, duopojn de tradukistoj, unu tradukanta de la celata lingvo en Esperanton, kaj la alia tradukanta de Esperanto en la nacilingvon. Tiel, anstataŭ oni subite provus trovi iun, kiu havas egalan sperton en la angla lingvo kaj en iu lingvo kreskanta en graveco—ekzemple, la araba lingvo—oni povus kolekti iujn araboparlantojn kaj lernigi al ili Esperanton; kiun verŝajne oni povus, klopode, en malmultoj monatoj lernigi. Aŭ: se ni en la anglaparlanta mondo ne povas daŭri sendi diplomatojn, kiuj sciias la nacilingvojn; ni almenaŭ devigu ke si lernas Esperanton, se nur por si sciu ke la angla lingvo ne estas la nura lingvo en la mondo, kaj ke pingra apogado de la angla lingvo ne estas fierinda.

These are the shifts by which the golden hope of Esperanto has survived the unhopeful twentieth century; a survival which seems to me a miracle, like one of those survivals before a blast in what scientists call "shock cocoons", where congealed fire flows around some sacrificial obstacle and spares what shelters behind. Hitherto, it is not Esperanto which has failed the human race; it is the human race which has failed Esperanto. We do not, it appears, have that will to understand each other, to know each other as human beings, to establish peace not as an institution but as a right, which Zamenhof made Esperanto to arm.

Laŭ ĉi tiuj rimedoj la orŝtofa esperingo de Esperanto daŭris trans la neesperanta dudeka jarcento. Tiu daŭro vidigas al mi kiel daŭro trans volkana erupforto, in kiun scientistoj nomas "skuega kokono," kie oferaĵo fendas la dikinta, fluanta brulfajro kaj savas la kaŝiĝanton. Ĝis nun Esperanto ne malsukcesas je la homaro; la homaro malsukcesas je Esperanto. Ni ne havas, ŝajne, tiun volon al unu la alian kompreni, al koni unu la alian kiel homo, al fondi pacon ne kiel institucio, sed kiel rajto, pro kiu Zamenhofo liveris Esperanton.

We do say we want peace; but however hard we strive for it, if we strive from within our own nations—even by the vaunted grassroots efforts which the Internet capacitates—we leave it in the hands of governments; between peoples who cannot comprehend each other, there cannot be peace, only treaty.

Ni diras ke ni deziras pacon; sed, kiel ajn ni penas pro ĝi, se ni penas ene niaj mem landoj—eĉ per la farfonitaj kvazaŭ-herbradikaj penoj kiujn la Interreto ebligas—ni lasas pacon en la manoj de ŝtatoj; inter populoj, se unu ne povas kompreni la alian, ne eblas esti paco, nur traktato.

Esperanto is a way to peace which no government nor ideology controls, and which therefore government and ideologies do not chose to promote; a way to peace whose success, however improbable, depends not on influencing governments—where success is perhaps even less probable—but simply on enough people chosing it. Esperanto is not perfect; but there is nothing else like it, and the need is urgent. To learn Esperanto is a vote of confidence in humanity; and arguments against Esperanto tend to be arguments against the future of humanity—which are not hard to make, but are foolish to live by.

Esperanto estas rimedo por paco, kiun nek ŝtato nek ideologio regas, kaj kiun tial ŝtatoj kaj ideologoj ne elektas pluigi; rimedo por paco kies sukceso, kiel ajn neverŝajna, ne bezonus influi ŝtatoj—kies sukceso estas eble ja malpli verŝajna;sed simple je sufiĉe multaj personoj elekti ĝin. Esperanto ne estas perfekta; sed estas neniu anstataŭigebla, kaj la neceso estas grava. Lerni Esperanto estas voĉdoni al fido en la homaro; kaj rezonoj kontraŭ Esperanto plejparte ankaŭ estas rezonoj kontraŭ la estonteco de la homaro—kiujn oni facile povas trovi, sed laŭ kiuj oni stulte vivus.

Fiction and thinking

The mind is a lazy mapmaker. When it receives the survey data, it does not draw a new map. Instead, it writes the new names on an old map. Sometimes, it tapes two old maps to make one new; rarely, it cuts several old maps into pieces, then pastes the pieces together tile-wise. The maps from fiction are most useful to it. They are simple, at low resolution, and have few extraneous features which it must ink over or rub out. Indeed, an analogy from philosophy, history, or science does not spread generally until it has found fictional embodiment—in fable, parable, tale, epic, or romance. Think of Plato's cave, think of Gone With the Wind, think of the spacefaring twin and the earthbound.

Analogies do not solve problems, but they are indispensable because they show the right kind of solution—whether force, persuasion, invention, discovery, endurance or sacrifice. The mind looks for what it knows in advance to look for; therefore, the more it knows to look for, the more it finds. The more it knows can happen, the less it is overwhelmed. The more it recognizes folly, the less time it wastes on it.

Film does more of this than literature, though less powerfully. The wrath of Achilles is perhaps less lethal, but is more frightening (because more grown-up), than the wrath of Rambo; neither Leviathan nor Godzilla shall be drawn out with a hook, but Leviathan would not be troubled by an oxygen destroyer. I must recover from even a weak horror story, but (as an adult) a movie has never scared me; the best the medium can do is disgust or disquiet. Film is, at best, still flat, distant, dreamy, intangible, and abstract; and though a wordless medium, it must yet tell—with dialogue, with untethered rovings of the camera, with caricature, with background music—things like weather, smells, the taste of air, everything that dream lacks, which literature can show. But film is more economical and more accessible, whereby it can give more analogies faster, and over a broader range. I do wonder how people who avow that they do not watch movies survive. I cannot believe them—I can believe that they avoid watching things through, but they must catch enough scraps to speak a sort of cultural Basic English.

Much fiction has been accused of corrupting the mind; and some minds have so fallen. The stocked imagination is like black earth: anything will grow in it. Thin soils grow a lesser harvest, but with less labor. Thick soil is hard to manage at first, when weeds take their chance; but it grows a much larger harvest. Which is to say: because it is hard to overcome bad ideas, there is something to be said for a swidden farming of the mind, which, producing few ideas, does not disturb the good-enough ideas it has received; but good ideas can be arrived at only by having many ideas, most bad—and hoeing the bad ones down.

This is clearest for people. People are each bottomlessly unique; without the analogies which fiction from folk tale to epic provides, we could get no traction at all in thinking about one another. It is fiction which allows us to know stranger from enemy.

Fable of the Spider and the Songbird

On the hot island of thick forest and air thicker with wet, a bright and brilliant spider like a hand, with legs like fingers, wove and strung her yellow silk into a golden web.

One day a small songbird with the sun behind him did not see the sheen of the spider’s silk or the shine of the flies and beetles wound in it. He felt a brushing at his wingtips, weight against his face, then something soft and resistlessly strong folding him at every side. He tried to pull free; but he could not even pull his wings in to his sides, for the silk held them away. He stilled and stayed himself, and hoped that he would not be noticed.

She knew that he was there. She had felt the shiver of his contact, and the ripples of his struggle when they traveled through her web and into the tips of her legs. Now she felt the subtle rumble of his tensed muscles as he held them still, and the rushing, bounding flutter of his heart; and she came for him.

When he saw her coming, he gave up hiding. He thrashed and shrieked and fought. He struggled, tossed, twisted. But she was closer now, and he was still in her web. When he felt the first strands of fresh silk fall over him, he gave up fighting.

He was lost, and he knew his defeat. So he sang it, low and low, high and quick, turning and rising and falling in circles through lungs ceaselessly propelling the whistlings and cryings of his song. His song was in him, and in the air, and among the trees, and in the web – and through the web into the tips of the legs of the spider who scuttled away into a tree as her singing web betrayed her.

When his song was finished and he was ready to die, the bird found that he was alone. The web kept some of him, of his feathers and blood; and he kept some of the web, strands that trailed from him even after he had worked himself free.

Moral: Sing, Muse.


The difference between writing on loose paper and writing in a notebook is in the relationship of the writer and the thing written. Unless you pledge to care for them, you may expect to outlive your loose papers. They will be lost, be thrown out, or wear out—simply, age and die. But barring catastrophe, you may expect that your notebooks will outlive you. And a notebook has a kind of life, insofar as it is hard to kill: the things which could destroy it—fire and flood—are the same as those which could destroy you.

This is true even of cheap notebooks. Some, arguing from the perishability of loose paper, suppose that notebooks age at the same rate. But a closed book of whatever kind defies time. From my own slight library I have before me now, as I write, a book from 1944 containing a a pressed carnation as a messenger of the sunlight of 60 years ago; and a book from 1906 wherein is interleaved a sheet of cheap ruled paper (which has turned the brown of a paper grocery bag) with someone's homework in Roman history. It is probably a decade or two less than a 100 years old; but it is safe to suppose that the man is long dead whom the boy became who wrote: "The Romans who were mostly peasants by working hard on their farms acquired the strength of will which made them the best soldiers of the world." Perhaps his children are dead, and his grandchildren know little more of him than his name. But kept by covers, the cheap paper can still be unfolded and re-folded after a near-century of Louisiana summers.

To start a notebook, even while young, is to feel the reality of futurity and posterity. Decades on, your friends, your place, your name, the world may have changed; your face, your frame and figure, will have changed. What you will be, you would not now recognize. But you may still have, you may still read, you may still use that same notebook.

Or after a hundred years? Lost to accident and inconsideration; burnt up or drowned; or mouldering deep in some distant garbage dump, like a message in a bottle which never sees the shore? Or browsed by curious descendants of an unimagined generation, who would otherwise know you only as a few garbled stories, a fading or grotesquely discolored photograph, and a few characteristic gestures and a bad joke on film? Or annexed to some unborn historian's or anthropologist's collection, as a lens through which that age to come, with its own preoccupations, may enter into sympathy with the past and gain perspective on itself? Or displayed in a museum, as a curious time capsule—or as the monument of a departed mind? Under the sky we know, or under a new sky in a city yet to be named?

We, dead, will not decide. But our notebooks are like the trees an old man plants—given not to anyone, but for the sake of giving.

Writing on the computer

A writer using the computer must have the resistance to temptation of a desert saint. Computers make every approach to writing well—through research, revision, or rhetoric—so smooth that you can spend as long as you please working, without ever writing anything. Worse, a writer may attempt to mix them with writing.

1. Revising while writing seems innocent, even wise—what is wrong with writing one perfect paragraph after another? Nothing, for each paragraph; but something for the whole, when each paragraph is disconnected from the next and might be as good if re-shuffled.

2. Research while writing has the effect you would expect in enlisting a Panel of Experts to stare over your shoulder as you write. This kind of writing is like driving the Interstates—you need never be lost, and you need never discover anything. You may travel forever and never go anywhere.

3. Thinking about writing, and listening to what other writers have to say about it, are good. But rules are proved in use, not in argument; you learn them to break them, and break them to prove them by the exception. If you must stop in mid-sentence to check a rule, then either you do not understand it, or you do not need it—likelier the latter. On the computer, you must both resist the temptation, and ignore harassment. Spelling is important enough to check after, but not important enough to stop for; and it is no better for a computer to interrupt you, to object to your spellings or grammar, than for a stranger to look over your shoulder and do the same.

Computers are either too convenient or too inconvenient. The keyboard, with practice, can be used without thinking. It then becomes the sluice through which a flood of raw language is carried onto the screen, mixed with whatever debris or waste happens to be lying on the mind. But first—and something else always comes first on the computer. Turn it on, wait, log on, wait, start the word processor, wait, open your file, wait, write—no, wait. Choose a template, a font—what format did they need this in again—no, the margins are wrong—save it, write—no, wait. It crashed. Start over.

These waits are more than wasteful. Handwriting has its interruptions—running out of ink, blunting the lead—but the computer sets its own pace, of impetus and urgency. This is most dangerous to those most experienced with computers. Those who start young on computers have a rapport with them, not because they can keep up with them, but because they reflexively slow down to match them; those who come to computers in adulthood are impatient with them, not because they are stiff and brittle-minded with age, but because they lack this ability to synchronize themselves with computers. This synchrony is one reason why many find books hard to read on screen: a book has its own rhythm of attention which clashes with a computer's. And often in what is written on the computer you find a uniform rhythm formed by log-ons, command lines, queries, entries, games, chats, clicks and double-clicks.

Writers who would ever experience inspiration should beware computers. Even writers of prose, aiming to avoid the poetical, should aspire to be poets in the sense which is above meter or line breaks. It is obvious that poets and computers make bad couples—poets are from Xanadu; computers are from Porlock.

Computer files suffer a natural attrition which backing up alone may not solve. A file may easily be forgotten, or confused with another. The document format will become obsolete; the backup software will become obsolete; even the backup hardware will become obsolete. The price you pay for the weightlessness of computer files is that nothing holds them down; unless you hold on to them continuously, they drift away from you unnoticed. I do write some things on computers—less than paragraphs which I see close enough to entirely in my head that what method I use to get it down does not matter; and things that I want to sound dictated. But as a rule of thumb, I never trust a computer with anything that I might possibly need more than five years from now.

I admit that none of these reasons are proofs. Each is only circumstantial evidence. I cannot call witnesses, because I cannot write the same thing twice to compare. I could only re-write what I had written before. You can never start over; what you have done, even forgotten, weighs on what you may do. Though problematic, writing well on the computer is possible; I would not have it thought that someone who writes on the computer therefore must be a bad writer. And if some can find the self-discipline to write well on the computer, what excuse do I have not to do the same? How dare I admit to (let alone argue for) such eccentricity and self-indulgence? But I have a last plea.

What I write first on paper is all my own. Notes that I write by hand I rarely have to look at again: the act of writing so reinforces the memory that the written words are only a backup. Reading over an essay written by hand, I remember what I was thinking at each step; reading over a fiction, I remember the feeling I began with and how everything therein relates to it. This is true even of looking at a typed copy.

But what I write first on the computer is not my own. I know that I wrote it only because I recognize my style. I have no connection to it. It is through but not of me; it is mine but not my own. I do not mean that it is received through inspiration. Rather, reading it is like reading something in a dream—there because of me, but not mine.


Some feel a certain nameless pleasure, sharp-edged and sexually tinged, in stripping others of their individuality, in shoving them back down into the uniformed background. Their principles are their expectations: what they do not expect insults them. They take pleasure in the squaring of the round peg. This goes with Schadenfreude, but something is left over. Could it be the subconscious abstraction of an eye for health, where aberration implies sickness? But their pleasure is not a healer’s.

Consider soldiers’ short hair and uniforms. The scheme of military alchemy which produces a soldier is to break down and build up. It is the difference of the warrior, who fights alone with his own strength, from the soldier, who fights as part of a hierarchy of units, each with the aggregate strength of its members. One of the few clear lessons of history is that soldiers beat warriors, one to hundreds: think of the British warriors under Boudica slaughtered by Roman soldiers, the British soldiers at Rorke's Drift slaughtering Zulu warriors.

But why are businessmen short-haired? Why the uniform of the suit? Certainly, business organization is borrowed from military hierarchy, and the idea of the businesslike descends from the armed worldview of the period of universal conscription. But while it is a given, these days, that it is not the company man who creates the future of the company, the easiest way forward in life is still through the barber and the tailor. As for politicians, we are seriously considering in this country that a black man, or a woman, could now become President; but who can imagine another president with a beard?

The soldier and the careerist are both told to feel liberated in being shorn. Certainly, things are always easier for those of us who are easily categorized. That much is as true of bohemianism as of conformism, of tattoos as of ties. But the majority mark themselves with the absence of marks. It is left to the minority to assert themselves by signs (clothes, symbols) and performances (slang, gesture).

Saints and sages are admirable, but not because of their simplicity; their simplicity is only the proof of their devotion. They travel light because they are going somewhere. This word Simplicity evokes Walden Pond and cloistered gardens; but think rather of Newton or Handel in stale little rooms, unwashed, unfed, swept up in the brittle frenzy of the Messiah or the Principia. Think of Edison, catching naps in a coffin-sized niche in the wall of Menlo Park. Think of wandering hermit-beggars, melting away in slakeless need to find some posture of self-abasement absolute enough to make bearable the burden of their worth-opposing abjection. To live in the flame is to be smelted by it; to practice simplicity is to be on fire. But people do not do great things from simplicity; their lives became simple once they are pledged to great things.

To be human, even human, only human, is to be complex, to be distractible, to be various and try many things; to have, to keep, to pile up, to hoard. To declutter is more than just organizing and sorting out because it requires the discarding, not of what you cannot justify to yourself, but of what you cannot justify to another—especially to someone who takes money for this kind of work—someone who finds their nameless pleasure in taking things away from you.

For the young, to be distracted, or to be cluttered, is to be open to surprise. The act of de-cluttering declares that the season for hope is over; that the last contraction of possibilities has taken place; that the path is chosen and mapped to its end. Since your future is known, you should keep only what the future will call for. You will hear that these are just things—which they are, if you can replace them. But if you cannot replace them, then these seemingly useless things are more than things: these are chances that you are throwing away. Only tomorrow, or whenever it is too late, will you discover what you could have done with them.

For the old, who live beyond hope, who know that it is only the inertia of their routine that carries them forward, it is only their possessions that let them claim some connection with a human race without further use or patience for them. As the memory grows porous and ghostly, everything that triggers and proves it becomes precious. I do not have to be old to see that the nursing home or the Florida house is haunted with more than loneliness, regret, and despair. When the day comes that yours is just one more failing body among other bodies in a room among rooms in a building among buildings; when your thoughts begin to twist on themselves, skip like a scratched record, jump like disordered movie reels; when all your thoughts are not your own and even your doubt is uncertain—you do not have to be dead to be a ghost.

Postscript, 2011

My father hated having things. He loved to throw them out or, better yet, give them away. Anything he did not need he got rid of: not always his own. The rooms he lived in looked unfinished. Once they were empty, there was nothing to suggest they had ever been lived in. But somehow I carried out box after box. There was so much of it, and every item meant another new decision: what to keep, what to sell, what to give away, what to throw away. I am still making those decisions.

I have become uneasy with my own possessions. For me the fear of not being able to get what I need when I need it has always outweighed the inconvenience of leaving room for what I do not need today. But now in the back of my mind I feel my heirs, and dread the burden of decision I am preparing for them. Getting rid of things used to be hard for me. Now it is easy; it brings relief. I wrote an essay a few years ago against decluttering. I still recognize a pathological form of declutterer whose practice is among the insidiously moral cruelties. But I cannot condemn declutterers any longer; the truth is that I have become one.


I have tried, and failed, to disbelieve in progress. The question of progress is not whether, but how. To build or to make is in vain, and to live is insupportable, without the idea. The twentieth century—and let us only say of it that every worst thing that has ever happened, happened in the twentieth century—killed the metaphysical notion of its provident inevitability, of Progress as the slope down which History flows. But the worth of a faith in progress is proved not in society, but in the individual.

Not everyone need be rooted in the present. You may more or less share the sensibility of your age; you may find it unsympathetic, or unapproachably alien. You may fly to the remnants and inheritance of another age for the company of like souls. But however alone in it, there is something unworthy and childish in abandoning your own age for the past. What is too harsh to be said of the cowardice of someone who would volunteer for such an amputation, as to leave off access to—if not adoption of, which is a separate question—the latest developments, discoveries, creations, thought? Of someone who would turn from the unknown, who could live out his life happily within some foreknown and mapped-out stretch of time? We rightly curse those who would burn old books because they hold them worthless, mistaken, or dangerous. The attempted escape from new books and their authors rises from the same vanity and is, in truth, as misled. To surrender or deny any part of human experience is to cheapen the whole.

Progress is not by levels, but by accumulation. We find that every age, every generation, every city, every circle and school and subculture has its characterizing contribution, it work and its problems. What does not meet them is either addressed to the past, which cannot answer; or to the future, which cannot reward. But only to share the work of others is to be held back by them. Whatever work you propose to do, if you do not mean to keep it only to yourself and God—or to contribute only a footnote to your age—you must allow for progress as a tactical consideration.

In science there is much which seems valuelessly obsolete: ætheric vortices, caloric fluid, absolute time. But these retain their place as begetters in a genealogy of ideas: they were mistakes, but not barren ones. And what were wrong turns for those who made them become signs and stories of warning for the rest of science against naïve materialism, against the applicability throughout the cosmos of the experience of Earth, against the applicability throughout the æons of Earth of the experience of mankind. Even crank theories have psychological moment—at the edges, in work which bears that appearance, but is not taken from that well, like Ramanujan or Dalton; and in how ready power is to champion them, like Lysenkoism. Science has eddies, where in the pursuit of a strange end, a familiar thought rings out ahead of its time—Bruno's inhabited cosmos, Boscovitch's grains of energy; and science has tragedies, where it takes the wrong path so long that it cannot find its way back, and a good idea must be re-invented—like the nebular hypothesis or heliocentrism. Under the appearance of successions of obsolescence, science proceeds by accumulation. It even has heroes, like Archimedes who, millennia dead, can make the front cover of a physics journal. Worked out systems of ideas have an imperishability and a transposability which can deposit them far from their original purpose: how the Hippocratic system of humors, intended to explain disease, has become the model for modern analyses of personality.

Art is not, in any obvious way, ever obsolete. Still, we are told that art is inextricable from the class, the sex, the generation that created it; that our distant appreciation must be inferior—at best, second-hand. Art, certainly, cannot mean for you what it meant for those who made it, and for those it was made for. You cannot catch all the puns and allusions, or interpret all the symbols. In the age of photography, you cannot recapture the sense of the miraculous in the meticulous realism of the Dutch Masters. But the notion that your circumstances fully determine the reach of your meaningful reaction to art is an injury to individuality. To any given artwork, you will not react like a person of another generation; nor would another person of that same generation have reacted in the same way as the first; nor would another person of your own generation react as you do. Art that is not valent between individuals does not endure. And the change is not all lessening. We may without regret say that after Walter Pater, the Mona Lisa means more to us than it did to Leonardo, or to Lisa Gherardini, or to her husband—as long as remember that it meant something different to each of those. We do not only make progress by accumulating art, and subjects for art; or by widening the range of subjects and sensibilities that art can address (Nature and ectasy with the Romantics, horror and terror with the Moderns); but also by allowing every work and every milieu to acquire an ever-lengthening wake of associations.

Progress is real gain; but change in the world is less by introduction, than by different emphasis. Each age is distinguished by the kind of human natures which characterize it; but all kinds of human nature are always with us. On the street, you may pass or meet a man whose gravitas would have fitted him to be a senator of Rome; another, hard and hungry, fit to pillage with Huns; another, patient and subtle, a born Schoolman; another, willing and pitiless, a wild-west gunslinger. They will likely be undistinguished, for (outside of the arts) in any given time, only a few kinds of people have full room to unfold themselves; only a few can have or find a place of their own in the world. But they are all always with us as the armory of mankind against the uncertainty of a future as unknowable as (it is to be hoped) very long. The lesson of history is less of cause and effect, than it is a promise and threat which are the same: that whatever we are, some have been before; and therefore, that whatever we have been, at worst or best, we may yet be again.

The Fifth Proposition; or, The Bridge of Asses. A Love Story by Euclid.

" 'I glanced over it,' said he. "Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.' " —The Sign of the Four.

[Not, alas, found in a tin dispatch-box.]
[The original.]
[With colors.]
Let ABC be a love triangle having the side AB equally strong as the side AC; and let the unlived lives BD, CE be prolonged in a straight line with AB, AC.

I say that the agony of ABC is equal to the agony of ACB, and the anticipation of CBD to the anticipation of BCE.

Let a point F be made at random against BD; from AE the greater let AG be cut off at AF the lesser's level; and let the straight lines FC, GB be joined at cross-purposes.

Then, since AF is no better than AG and AB than AC, the two sides FA, AC are just as bad as the two sides GA, AB, respectively; and they contain a common anxiety cornered in FAG.

Therefore the base FC is as committed as the base GB, and the triangle AFC is a lot like the triangle AGB, and the remaining answers will sound just like the remaining excuses and explanations, namely those which are all alike; that is, the angle ACF sounds just like the angle ABG, and the angle AFC acts like the angle AGB, and since the whole AF is just a whole other AG, and in this AB can be hard to tell from AC, the prospects of BF are the same as the prospects of CG.

But FC also proved as reliable as GB; therefore the two sides BF, FC, give nothing to choose between with the two sides CG, GB respectively; and the corner BFC is as close as the corner CGB; while at BC they all want the same thing; therefore the triangle BFC is also as acceptable as the triangle CGB, and the remaining anxieties will be equal to the remaining uncertainties respectively, namely those which the equal sides inspire; therefore FBC angles the same way as GCB, and BCF's angle is the same as CBG's.

Accordingly, since the whole angle ABG was proved as equivocal as the angle ACF, and in this the angle CBG is as confining as the angle BCF, the remaining angle ABG is the same from all angles as ACB; and they are, at base, still the triangle ABC.

But the angle FBC was proved at cross-purposes with angle CGB; and they are both asses.

Therefore: no to both.



Little that is human is instinctual. Drives are not instincts; drives bend and compel thought, but instinct suspends and replaces it. Instinct is something in the individual that is not of the individual. We can see real instinct in our pets: in the dog that swings the toy high into the air as if to snap its neck, or in the well-fed cat which after the instinctive pounce or chase sits in front of the crippled mouse or overturned cockroach in a confusion clear even across species (for we are all mammals here).

The only instinct of human beings is imitation, and it leaves no room for any other. The human body is fitted to walk upright; to speak and to signal; to use and to make tools; but the ways of feral children show that these things must be learned. We must always be careful to distinguish drive from instinct. Sexual behavior is the most obvious hold that evolution has on us. With a perverse secondhand sense of guilt, even the irreligious talk of this hold as if, because we are at all animals, therefore we are only animals. But what we cry up as an overthrowing storm would be judged, by other animals, to be no more than a gentle, steering breeze. In the way of nature what could be sillier than an animal which, when strength and spring are come, must learn from another how to reproduce? For human beings instinct is absent even from the original operation of life.

There is some instinctual jetsam floating on the unconscious: hitting with the heel of the hand, for example, or not rolling atop a baby or a pet in your sleep. But we are too willing to consider behaviors instinctual which are only practical conditions of survival; territoriality, for example. It is a necessity in all modes of life, one which if not learned early as a habit is enforced later as a hard lesson. Boundaries will always be encroached on, even the skin; and those whose only boundaries are for their vitals and victuals will find their lives and livelihoods in constant danger. Artificial boundaries allow a place for the fight away from the provisions, as clothing wearing out or torn saves the skin from wear and tear.

We are animals, and we are made of the same stuff as other animals; but we are not therefore like other animals. Even without inferring a creator, we can see that the changes which we make in raw materials by way of art or technology, to make them speak or show or do, are of the same kind as the changes which have made animals into human beings. There is no line in us with instinct to one side and self to the other. There can be no epiphenomena or accidents of human nature. What we do is what we are. Human consciousness is not a kind of animal nature; it is map and image and story of that nature.

Eating School

I came without a journey to an ideal city. It had been built, I observed, during the Renaissance; but time and romantic taste and patinous modernity had softened its harsh geometries. Every path through that city was like a strain of music; a harmony of architecture, geomancy, statuary, mural, ironwork and garden.

After some time wandering and admiring, I found on sitting that I was tired and hungry; so I went in search in food. In the first restaurant I came to, I saw people sitting, each alone, eating from bowls of porridge, pablum, and gruel, with glasses of a gray drink at their elbows. Health food, I thought, and looked further; but all the restaurants I could find were like that one.

I resolved to do as the people of the ideal city did. I sat and ordered, with an encompassing gesture, "Whatever they're having." Sitting among them, I could see by their hunched postures and pinched faces that they took no pleasure in their food.

The porridge had the consistency of diluted cottage cheese, and tasted of dish soap. The gray drink tasted of chalk. I asked the man at the next table: "Where can I find some real food? Maybe a hamburger?"

He laughed at me. He whispered something to the next table. I looked away, but I could still see them in a reflection: they were laughing at me together. A third, with his head thrown back and nose in the air, aped the act of cutting meat.

I swept my food off the table, laid down paper in payment, and left the restaurant. Someone ran up behind me and tapped me on the back. When I turned, there stood a well-suited man with a bright chain of office around his neck. "I am the Mayor," he said. "I want to apologize to you about that. I know that our city has a food problem. We've made attempts at establishing serious restaurants, but we can't seem to keep up the patronage. But I don't want foreigners to take home the impression that nothing is being done. In fact, we've just completed a major renovation of the Eating School. Would you permit me to give you a tour of the new facilities, and tell you about out programs?"

"Of course. I would be honored."

The city was so sensibly laid out that I was not sure that we had left before we arrived. There was a long wall, and a broad gate, over which appeared in lettering worthy of Trajan's Column:


"Why is it behind a gate?" I asked.

"People pay for their children to come here and have their palates trained," said the Mayor. "How could the Eating School support itself if anyone who wandered in could eat there?"

"They could pay for what they ate," I said.

"Don't be silly," said the Mayor. "Good food is wasted on those not trained to appreciate it. And if you made it available to everyone, they would use up the supply. There'd be nothing left for real eaters. No—the Eating School is for those who live to eat, not those who eat to live."

By this time we had been heard, and the gate was open for us. We entered onto an long avenue, where gracious brick buildings ran to either side of us, and we and they alike were shaded by avenue-lining trees. Young people, from children to late teenagers, milled or ambled.

"I don't see anyone eating," I said, "or smell any food."

"Eat outside!" The Mayor shook his head. "Where any passing smell could distort the olfactory experience? Or let the smells of food just drift around clashing with each other? You're joking, sir."

"The smell of food raises the appetite."

"Now I see," said the Mayor. "You that that because we're out of the way, we're yokels. I'll have you know that we begin training in appetite suppression on the very first day of school. We may not be New York or London or Paris, I grant you that, but that doesn't mean we gorge ourselves whenever our stomachs start rumbling. Just look over there. That's our graduate cafeteria—the largest in the world. The chefs there can re-constitute samples of any dish known to man, from the cuisine of any country, region, or ethnicity. Or look over there! That's the world's largest walk-in freezer. Frozen samples of every fruit, vegetable, livestock meat, game meat, fish, grain—of anything you could get anywhere from hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture or aquaculture. I did my doctoral research there, on calamari."

"You like calamari?" I asked.

"Like!" He laughed. "As if I made a meal of a squid. I'll have you know, sir, that I've sampled calamari on four separate occasions, under controlled conditions and with fully provenanced ingredients. I've written twelve research papers on calamari. I have, in fact, conclusively proven that it tastes nothing like chicken."

"I believe you."

"And look over there. There is our finest accomplishment—the Adult Eating School. Classes day and night. In a year, sir, only a year, we can take a common hardtongue—forgive my language—and teach him to distinguish at first taste between seven different grains, twelve different spices, and six kinds of meat. We hope to be able to offer sour training by the end of the year—it's a question of keeping up the lemon supply."

"Where do they eat? The adults you train? Your graduates?"

"Many of our finest eaters return as instructors. We also have a certain number of positions open for visiting eaters—and there are fellowships in the Eating Institute. Institute fellows are entitled to three meals a day with no charge and no teaching duties. And we have outreach programs, which make high-quality sandwiches available from roving kitchens."

"I would like to eat something. Is there somewhere here I can get real food?"

"Of course. Here, come with me, we'll register you." We walked into a low building full of computers and unsmiling people, all behind a counter. The Mayor leaned meaningfully on the counter and talked to one of them in a soft voice. He returned smiling. "I threw my weight around. I can get you in for the faculty gumbo."

"Can you show me the way?"

"I'll send someone to show you on Tuesday."

"That's three days from now!"

The Mayor nodded. "I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get you in this month."

I told the flabbergasted Mayor that I had lost my appetite, and took the short walk out of the ideal city.

Young and old

Even on common ground, even where much is said with profit and pleasure for each, when the old and the young talk together there is always something unsatisfactory. It is not that the young ask stupid questions; nor that the old are preoccupied; nor that the young are clever, but the old are knowledgeable; nor that the young are forward, but the old are wary. These are only obstacles; but as one is young and one is old, each wants from the other what they cannot have.

The young want the wisdom of the old without understanding what they ask for. Wisdom as the distillation of experience, as the dark sayings that illuminate, is easily found in the books where it is anatomized and catalogued. And even the young are broken to the awareness of death when first something they love dies. What the old know that the young are free of is how short and how wasteful life is before death: that no matter how narrow the range of your possibilities, even in the longest life there is not enough time to fulfill them. You must choose. You must live more by glimpses and intimations and barren plans against the someday as by doing. Wisdom is sharp, and even those who know the cut is coming cannot avoid it, so the old are generally kind enough not to pass on this poison wisdom before its time.

As the young do not get what they want from the old, the old do not get what they want from the young. They want to get to know a person while he is new, while he is strong and armored with laughter; but they are doubly frustrated.

1. To be young is only to be indignant that, not having asked to be born, so much is expected of you in return. You cannot win the hope of a place in the world to pursue, or the having of a place to defend. They must in some sense be given to you. Until then, the self remains unsettled. Who you are or will be is arrived at, not pre-established from nature or from nurture, for then like causes would yield like people—but viewed exactly and patiently, no two people are really alike. In the industrial processing (as in education or employment) and the political shepherding (by classes and groups) of human beings, categories are unavoidable; but they are openly or subtly enforced commands to a tractable conformity, not discovered human natures.

2. Even be a pre-existing individuality present, it is inaccessible. You must know yourself before others can know you. All we know of another is what we sympathize with; and what is distinct enough to in another to share in, is only what they have first distinguished for themselves. It is not that you can pass on your self-knowledge; as your face is different to the mirror, to the camera, and to the world, it is different to everyone in the world. But only stupidity is unselfconscious. If you do not know yourself rightly, you have a false idea of yourself. If you then try to be understood—or even to be recognized—you shall seem either a fool, or a mass of affectations; and if you do not try, you shall confuse or mislead. This always ends in disappointment, or in unintended betrayal.

Introspection is a form of daydream. Experiment, not reflection, obtains self-knowledge. Continual success, it is true, could lead to pride, or continual failure to despair. But as we are of clay or crooked timber, we chose pride by forgetting our failures, or how others have capacitated our successes; and as we are born weak, we choose despair by despising or spurning forgiveness. Despair implies pride, and pride leads to despair.

If you can doubt praise without disbelieving it; hear out reproof without accepting it; remember joy in shame and shame in joy without lessening either; you will learn what you can expect of yourself, while you can make use of it. Such self-knowledge, once obtained, shows like any other upheaval of the mind; knowing yourself is as unmistakable as grief, or being in love. This is as much as you may have from old age in youth, or from youth in old age.

Educational methods

The more so as it is the more strictly standardized, lower education is a line to be held. Those who are below the line may hope to be lifted up to it; those who are above the line must expect to be trimmed down even with it. Provided that it is peaceful and prosperous, I suspect that a country in which many minds fall below the line will have unusually many minds above the line. This has been one of the reasons for America's success. But unless the majority of people are close to the line, a country shall be neither peaceful nor prosperous

Those who believe that education is unnecessary are fools; but those who believe that a nation's aggregate intellectual capacity is measurable through test scores are also fools. Because it cannot be made into procedures, the truth goes unnoticed: that all education is self-education. Teaching cannot be brainwashing or downloading. No complex of government regulations can do more than bring the teacher to the halfway where he must meet the student. No stake on any test and no drug can do more than bring the student to the halfway point where the teacher should meet him.

I shudder whenever I hear talk of a new method in education. In the hands of a good teacher, who understands and shares its aims and principles, any method can succeed. In the hands of the rest, the shape and color of the prod do not matter: they will find a way to draw blood with it.

Sometimes a new method dredges the silt of habit which all teachers are prone to. Sometimes it solves a problem; sometimes is shows up a program in need of solving. But most methods try to reduce the teacher to catechist or technician. It is too painful for reformers of education to realize that good teachers are good, because they have good instincts. They have use for any method only when they can, as necessary, set it aside. When governments or school administrations enforce a particular method, they only waste good teachers and worsen bad ones.

The most basic question of method is whether to teach knowledge or critical thinking. I once read the difference analogized in the terms of computer programming—whether program or data be more important? It is a good analogy only because it shows the misguidedness of the question. The distinction of data and program, while momently necessary, is not essential or fixed. In the most sophisticated and subtle of computer languages, Lisp—made to allow computers to mimic human thinking—what is now data may become program, and what is now program may become data.

There is no skill of critical thinking and no capacity to learn, indifferent to, or severable from, knowledge. Classroom critical thinking, when it is the communal abuse of carefully stuffed straw men or the circling of out-of-reach questions, stops at inverting every statement into a question or cavil. That is the opposite of understanding; it is active ignorance.

Nor is knowledge absorbed directly. Words are symbols, and symbols represent what symbols cannot be. You learn not by absorbing a thought from another mind, but by private analogy. Beginning with what you already know or have experienced, you recombine by aggregation and dissection until you make a likeness of what is shown to you. You build outward year by year from the experience of the cradle—to the soul and the stars. But minds are not as different as their differentiating experiences. The building and building up of analogies, beginning in the isolation of the individual, converges on the common and communicable—that is sanity.

The mind is a fire, not an attic. You cannot burn anything without fuel, and you cannot fuel what is not burning. It takes a good teacher and a good student to set the fire; and it is the sign of good teachers to understand that whatever method does not bend to serve the burning mind will smother it.

In My Day

The old man rocked in his chair, puffed on his pipe, and began:

"You kids today never really see the Internet. Things have been different ever since Google came through. Nowadays, you get on your computer, enter your search terms, and expect to get there on your first page of results. And wherever you go these days, things are the same. Wherever you go, there's a MySpace, or a YouTube, or a Wikiwhatsit. You'd never know what keyword you were at if they didn't highlight it for you.

"Now when I was your age, nobody googled. You told somebody in my day you were googling them, you could expect a slap in the face or a sock in the nose. Back then, if you wanted to find something, you had to surf for it. Nobody was 'organizing the world's information' for you. When I wanted to do research online, I used to have to do a meta-search. You know what a meta-search is? Ask your parents about it. I won't be the one to tell you.

"I used to love surfing. You'd surf through all these little hosts with funny names. I remember this one, I think it was GeoCities—really? They still around? Back then people'd do just about anything to get you to stop and click on their banner or sign their guestbook. Everywhere you looked, something was blinking, flashing, spinning at you. Near jumped off the screen. And the guestbooks weren't like they are today—no girlies with no last names asking for it. You signed a guestbook, and when you saw your name or handle up there with all those others from all over the planet, you felt like you were part of something. I still sign them sometimes, but that's because I'm getting old and sentimental.

"When I was younger than you, my daddy took me once way back in the sticks. We were in his old DOS, so it was close—no windows, and I don't think that thing could do more than 8600. He took me to see Usenet. That was back when things online got quiet during the summer. He showed me all those empty newsgroups—spooky. Nobody was hawking sex or casinos or immortality rings at you then. Just a big quiet. Just a few old guys with their pants too high—yeah, like mine—getting misty-eyed about Arpanet. I guess that's just the way it goes out here."

Modern letters

What is considered serious in modern letters is what it is impossible to disagree with and take seriously. Most of what we read from the best modern essayists and critics, and in the best modern forums, is assembled from parting and passing shots, from the revelations of the esprit d'escalier. Everything shows the guerilla spirit of political pamphleteering; and if we view each camp from its opposite, the world seems made up of monsters and fools.

It is not principally the pamphleteer's spirit which subverts modern letters; it is the missionary's. In place of scriptural or ritual religion, our secular sermonists preach according to the unspoken but sovran idea of the historical revelation—some moving catastrophe which (like a sacred book) delimits the permissible range of serious controversy. Beyond lies irrelevancy (or heresy).

WWI was such a revelation for Europe—a message of horror and futility Europe found more powerful than the Gospel. That revelation has been superseded for them by the Holocaust. Even of a Christian, one may ask which is the more meaningful image: the Man of Sorrows or the men of Dachau? Until 9/11 the principle revelation of American history was Vietnam—either as a betrayal of the people by an overreaching government, or the betrayal of victory by a weak people.

Where religion has disappeared from state liturgy and private conscience, it has been replaced with the cults and rites of the day or deed of infamy. The world of letters, and the world at large, is divided into factions, each with some actuating atrocity for which it works to broaden the basis of outrage. Fanaticisms, nationalisms, and ideologies are secondary factors. It is faction which drives events. It is impossible to explain the world today in terms of beliefs and loyalties. Everyone sees how strange are the alliances behind the forces of our time; it is common outrage which brings and ties them together. Terrorism takes its strength from the outrage of Palestine. The two wings of American politics and thought are not left and right; but outrage over 9/11, and outrage over the mirage of WMDs.

The religious can, in principle, extend tolerance and decent behavior to members of other religions. Worship, where it does not become fanaticism, leaves room in the mind for other feelings. But outrage is not a moderable or containable passion. Once undertaken, it subordinates every other feeling, crooks every observation, breaks into every chain of thought. These factions are fully as mutually deaf and mute as the most extreme fanaticisms of religon as such.

Outrage drives out justice. The blindfolded statue of justice must puzzle moderns; our goddess of punishment has her eyes taped open. Factions cannot weigh the crime, the violation, and the loss, to calculate justice; they must parade grief and trauma, talk of closure or taking action as if these were answers. But grief has no closing, and there is no satiety in extracting satisfaction, nor revenge sweet enough to mask bitterness.

Factions so conceived cannot be satisfied with the fulfillment of finite goals. Outrage substitutes for religion like drugs substitute for achievement; outrage beguiles uncertainty like a hit or a high beguiles boredom or frustration. Both being poor substitutes, both tend to subvert and consume: as drugs subvert and consume one's life, outrage subverts and consumes one's voice.

But history as such contains no revelations. It has no pivots, no keys and no locks. The lessons of history regarding humanity are only of human weakness, human fragility, and human folly. Religion can embrace history; but history can be made to yield only perishable religions—their saints, made only once, all die in time and cannot be renewed. Looking at the Somme or Cu Chi, at Auschwitz or Ground Zero, some are driven to invent something analogous to Providence; they find a meaning commensurate with the loss; they contrive to be inspired where they cannot bear despair. But history is truth, not mythos; and things happen because of what went before them, not in order to change the world afterward. No one can speak for the dead, nor do the dead speak.

Our serious writing is reducible to the devotional and the penitential. What does one learn from our periodicals? How is one illuminated by them? No distinctions are introduced, no arguments are undertaken; we are expected to bow to the alternations of authoritative pronouncement and sly derision, or to be dazed by a handful of shiny statistics. The actual reading is redundant; from the forum and the subtitle you can usually deduce the contents of the article or essay in advance. You could write it yourself.

The professions of writing and reviewing seem increasingly to attract the ascetic or masochistic. Entry to the fellowship of enlightened readers is conditional to willingness to mortify one's mind with the literary equivalents of the scourge (the short story, the indigestible slice of alien life), the hair shirt (the clinically detailed novel, telling more than an analyst or confessor would dare ask), and the fast (lazy criticism, the pillow-fights of the tenured).

I cannot believe that our descendants will read our literature. Will even scholars delve it comfortably? A hundred years hence, I imagine, our literature will feel to our descendants like an old book of earnest and censorious sermons feels to us: claustrophobic and inhuman.


Not all curiosities are of scientific use or value; not all anomalies are indicative; but the habit of collecting curiosities, the gothic fascination which they cast, is the same as, or rises from the same disposition as, the scientific temperament. The philosopher may despise the aberrant as the defectively instantiated ideal; but to the scientist, as much as to the poet, anything out of the ordinary—anything curious, bizarre, monstrous, abstruse, singular, marvellous—whatever it proves to be on examination, in the first instance and encounter it seems the token of another world, carries the promise and scent of livid skies over far wastes, or far kingdoms with dizzying monuments and cruel ways and musical languages.

It was not in that first reaction, but only in its prosecution that scientist and magus diverged: the scientist applied Occam's razor, to find the place of the thing in the known world; the magus supposed that he could limn new worlds in the thing. Of course the scientist is sometimes wrong. It was difficult for scientists to accept the notion of meteors; now they journey to cold white wastes to find the meteoric traces of an occult commerce of planets. Wonder is properly inspired by awe at the vast—at the sky, the mountain—but there is an equal inspiration in the glamour of the small and strange: in the jests of nature; in the contextless banal illuminated and freighted with its foreignness; in the freakish, inexplicable, puzzling, or inscrutable. The wonder of the awful should not be dimmed by explanation, nor the glamour of the curious.


Stare hard enough at any one thing, and it becomes transparent; pull long enough, and any one thread unravels the world. This is the promise of philosophy.

Emerson said that "a false consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." But a false consistency is one one with bad foundations, or confused in execution, to be demolished and replaced; and consistency itself is so far from the concern of little minds, that it is the only law which holds even for God. Aristotle said that "philosophy begins in wonder," which is true in history and sentiment; but practically, philosophy comprises only the pursuit of consistency—the mind building up, building out, and drawing together; the mind seeking in the system of the world that necessary Parminedean perfection which perishing matter cannot show, which perishing flesh cannot see.

Philosophy alone demands all the mind's resources, all its power, all its patience and devotion. It is the only work which concentrates and unites all the disparate abilities of the mind, which justifies the problematic endowment of human beings with more intellectual power than has any practical applicability—what we burn off in the mental pilot flame of entertainment. Even the coffee-fueled mathematician, who also seeks consistency, does so only within a model world where definition always precedes realization; but the philosopher, even choosing to deny or reform language, still must account for it.

The likeness of a philosopher, in relation to the arts and sciences, is a pathfinder, or the surveyor of a road. It is the philosopher's part only to find a way and to report on it; perhaps to guide the equally intrepid along it; but not to clear the way, nor to build the road, nor to conduct passengers. In this way, the contributing work of a philosopher, unless commemorated by a plaque or namesake (Plato's Highway, for instance, where most of the traffic of mathematics flows; or Aquinas's, the artery of Catholicism), goes unnoticed.

Mathematics has displaced philosophy in cultural and academic prestige. Mathematics is more approachable: both mystify the spectator, but mathematics's applications are obviously mathematical in character, while philosophy's are at second hand. Having been adopted as part of the mental equipment, ideas become invisible, hidden by (I would name it) the Idol of the Schoolroom: Obviousness in Retrospect. We like to believe that our stock of ideas is inevitable, natural, characteristic of all thinking beings or of our degree of progress; curiously, we even find it far more comfortable to regard an idea as the precipitation of an economic climate than the work of a specific person. Where we allow individuals a place in the history of ideas, it is not as discoverers, but as menus; so that hungry and talkative intellectuals may as well ask each other: do we eat French or Chinese? Be Aristotelian or Cartesian?

If not everywhere cultivated or respected, philosophy is everywhere present, though implicit and naïve—the nakedness under all intellectual or creative attire. We are in a fallow period—we may be near its end—as in the West, the Dark Ages stored up the fuel for the incandescent syntheses of Aquinas and Lull—one of the most rational periods in history, for Reason is not reasonable. Reason requires you to be able to entertain the thought that everything you know is wrong; what passes for reason in reasonable is merely the averaging of first impressions. For serious thinking, the Age of Reason seems continuous with the Middle Ages when viewed from our night of fatuous prosperity and academic needlepoint.

What are called good reasons are not enough; everything ever believed has been believed for good reasons, most of which prove to be irrelevant. Without the telescope or Foucault's pendulum, every good reason is for the Earth as center of the universe; without the effort of studying history, every good reason is for the inborn superiority of the enslaving race over the enslaved. Nor are institutions enough. Abdicating reason may be reasonable, but is not rational. Every crime and cruelty within human power has been institutionalized at some point—mostly in the XXth century and within living memory. An accumulations of answers is nothing; reason requires the accumulation of questions: the discipline of uncertainty. Reasonable though you may be, you have not become rational until you have learned to fear Descartes's demon.

It may be that philosophy is not neglected only because it is difficult, unrespected, even disreputable; but because the stocks of ideas of the several civilizations now otherwise closely connected have hardly begun to meet. The world of ideas is at present like an avalanche of rocks, which moves in fits: ideas collide, repercuss, shape or are shaped, sunder or shatter as they roll from one coign to the next, where they settle until some new idea being added, it sends them all rolling again. In this state, a philosopher must be an adventurer, and willing to climb—a rare disposition, as philosophers have ever been walkers.

We hear much of Eastern thought; but we have hardly been introduced to Eastern thinkers, and to the diversity of Eastern schools; and for the East the same is true of the West—Eastern thinkers no more think of Western philosophers apart from Western scientists, than Western thinkers think of Middle Eastern philosophers after Averroës. There is no door into philosophy by way of culture. The substance of philosophy is as much above culture as is the phenomenon of language.

Only a fool throws over East for West—or West for East, or any other recombination of regions and heritages. Only a fool lets his birth, the accidents of blood or language or geography, dictate a taste prevailing over thought. The West has but lately learned that it is not the only spring; nor, it must learn, is it only a drain for all the waters of the world. It is a spring among springs, and as the basin world fills all waters must mix. This is the only real meaning of the word humanism, the only one an Erasmus would recognize. It may be called cultural imperialism; if so, it is an unprecedented mutual conquest—all conquered and none conquerers.

Biologists protest that the idea of race is useless to them, because individuals within races can always be adduced who are as more diverse than typical individuals of different races (though one wonders, if individuals within æras are as or more diverse than across them, is time therefore unreal?). Philosophy will not be ready for a renascence until it has banished unphilosophical categorization by region; until it is generally appreciated that Berkeley is closer to the Madhyamika than Aristotle, that Mo Tzu (the Legalist) is closer to Plato (of the Republic) than to Confucius, that Spinoza is closer to Mullah Sadra than to Kant.

Fable of the Whale and the Dolphin

It happened in a cold sea that a dolphin and a whale became friends. In the shallows they would breach and rise into sunlight together; and the whale would admire the dolphin’s burnished, piercing swiftness, and regret his fell bulk. In the deep they would talk of deep things together; and the dolphin would admire the plangent voice of the whale and the patient subtlety of whale-speech, and regret the flightiness of the skipping, glittering speech of dolphins.

Now, once when both were near the surface, there rose a great storm, and each had to flee to their own shelter – the whale to his deep and the dolphin to his cove – without the chance to appoint another meeting. After the storm had passed, the whale sang a summoning song that carried in resonant echoes of sound deep through every sea to the ends of the world; and the dolphin appointed to all his dolphin-fellows to search the whole surface of the sea. But the dolphin did not hear the whale, and news of the whale did not reach the dolphin. So after a time, when the dolphin grew annoyed with the sleepless restlesssness of his kind and the whale impatient with the memorious melancholy of his kind, they set out in search of one another.

The dolphin stretched his lungs as far as he could and dove straight down to seek the utter deep where the whales slide and the water rings forever with the thunder of their voices. He had sought that deep before, with his friend the whale. He had learned from the whale how to fill his lungs farther than he had thought possible, how to brace himself to bear the pressure of mountains on his every side. These terrors of the deep he knew; but he had never known how his great friend’s nearness, how the heat of his blood, had sheltered him from the last terror of the deep – from its cold. Cold pierced him from every side; first he was full of needles, then hollow. Realizing his mistake, he tried to turn and rise, but the cold had locked his muscles. He floated for a time until his air was spent, then drifted down dead through the substance of darkness to the snaky floor of the deep.

The whale sought out the cove where he knew his friend would hide. There were no dolphins in it he could see from without, but he thought that his friend might be waiting for him within. The dolphin had warned him against the cove, but the whale saw that there was plenty of water. He entered the cove and searched and searched it, examining every crevice with great eyes which were not used to such prolonged brightness. Then he turned to go, but found that now the cove was cut off from the sea. This was the tide he had been warned against and forgotten – but he did not fear, even as his slick heaving side was dried out by the declining sun, for he knew the tide would come back.

But the moon was waning, and the tides were low. Through weeks the whale lay on his side heaving for breath, feeling the ungracious carrion birds that would not wait for his death. Hope became courage, courage gave way to despair, and the great heart, defeated without and within, burst and stilled.

Moral: The Wise and the Happy mix at mutual Peril.

The rich and the healthy

The rich and the healthy misunderstand poverty and sickness. They see only a line to be crossed between destitution and sufficiency, between sickness and health. But there is poverty without imminent starvation, and sickness not prey for cancer or infection to eat. The fear of death is easy to sympathize with; but the rich and the healthy never understand what it means to have to choose.

Torture is not about pain; it is about humiliation and violation. Those who succumb to torture do not succumb because of the pain, but because of the horror: because such things can happen. Your mother never taught you that someday you might be given over naked and helpless into the hands of your enemies and left to their devices. Subject to torture, you cannot believe what is happening to you. It is never your will that breaks; it is always your mind.

Poverty warps the mind similarly. The lives of the rich branch out like trees or deltas; the lives of the poor and sick run on rails, along routes chosen by others. The old company store model is the extreme. What is little better about wages so low that you can survive only by shopping for food that destroys your health for sustaining your life? To be poor, if not starving, is still to have to make such unbelievable choices: food or health, a safe home or crushing debts, enough hours for a decent wage or knowing your children on sight; and when you go to a doctor, or the hospital, or to beg from your insurer—your money or your life.

There is a syndrome of poverty that results from walking such mazes, like the inanition of an animal punished repeatedly and capriciously. Hope is the leaven every mind requires to imagine, to try, to dare, to build; but it does not take very much poverty to crush hope out of a person. This living with eyes taped open, in vigilance as ceaseless as certain to be unavailing, in awaiting disaster foreknown but still inevitable, is known in the poor as laziness.

The poor must do, when they can get them, with damaged or dying machines: old cars that fume and guzzle, a dishwasher that uses so much electricity you can only run it once a week, a chainsaw that spits chips and stutters, but whose blade you cannot afford to replace or have sharpened. The same is true of their bodies. Even in the most enlightened republics it is the right of the poor, not to be healthy, but to be healthy enough for work, or at least not to draw attention. Even when medicine can do nothing for them, the rich and the sick may enjoy an excusing diagnosis, even if just a syndrome without treatment; but for the poor, what the first test does not show, does not exist. There are no follow-ups, no referrals. They cannot fight. It is in the autopsies of the rich and vocal in their sufferings that new diseases are discovered; it is therefore strange, but likely true, to think that there are a vast number of afflictions only of the poor stemming from malnutrition, stress, or hard labor, which have never been and never will be named, for they silence their victims.

This is the way of the world; the alternatives known so far are worse. The disappearance of visible poverty from parts of the first world is partly the result of fitted blinders—not just a cowardly unwillingness to see the problem—the visibility of the poor only discourages investment, and worsens their plight—and partly the result of globalization, which segregates classes in their own countries.

My interest here is sociological, because all civilizations have the poor in common, and the poor of all civilizations are alike. Details of costume, language, and climate aside, all hovels are really but one hovel, and all unskilled labor is really but one vast project, now building a pyramid, now digging a canal; now sewing shirtwaists, now sewing jeans. In thinly populated hunter-gatherer societies, or in civilizations with money to hand, there is room for culture, room to work out what it means to be human; but the poor are always and everywhere worn down to the same nub: what we all are in the end, at the last, at the core.

So many books

There is but one royal and straight road to the habit and power of thinking: reading. An education that does not form a reader is a stuccoed ignorance. Read every day. Do not read programmatically; do not read with a dictionary or a notebook or a commonplace book at your shoulder. Read as mood, interest, chance or caprice moves you. Programmatic reading relies on the memory of the programmer; but our memories of where ideas and notions first moved us tend to assimilate to their best expression, and we forget the survey or introduction, the passing reference, the awkward conversation which first inspired or illuminated us. The apostles of Literature are wont to forget that beneath the summit of Parnassus there is mountain to be scaled, with many approaches. Beware of anyone who says that to learn this, you must read this or that. Try what they say; but let your mind assert its own needs for corollary, introductory, or critical materials, for a fallowing break into some other subject (or into fiction), or for backtracking. The best minds, the most skilled, are often spoiled by prideful unwillingness to reconsider their assumptions and methods, to review the basics.

Never pause while reading to look something up. It is the first encounter which cuts the furrow, builds the pigeonhole, opens the file. If you get into the habit of pausing to look up, your mind will make such spaces only at the rate it can fill them from reference works; but if you let them open at the speed of uninterrupted reading they will be there to receive answers as they come to you in reading, conversation, walking on the proverbial heath—or in an apple orchard under the moon. Search for answers, and you find few; amass questions, and the world sings with answers. There are necessary exceptions: a chronology and maps are good to have to hand while reading history; and with foreign languages it is possible to be respectably skilled without being able to desert the dictionary. Too, there is no harm in noting topics for later investigation. But inertia should be your rule and your friend: finish what you start.

Never record notes or excerpts in the heat of the moment; finish a book before you extract from it. What is eloquent or moving in context may be dull or insipid when returned to directly; what seems essential or illuminating may be obvious later, or prove an oversimplification set as a snare for you by a careless or disingenuous author—textbooks are full of such intellectual mantraps. It is harmless to record a page or paragraph to return to; but as you are mortal, you must not waste time.

We remember what we learn more by the incidents of its acquisition than its place in a scheme. A book, as an article, is full of such incidents: binding, paper, cover and fonts; the author's style and voice; the circumstances where you read it; its weight on or in your hand; how you marked it or took pains not to mark or mar it; who you were when you read it; who gave to you or where you bought it or took it out; who recommended it; how old it is—new, secondhand, antique. A book is a mnemonically individual as a teacher and has the advantages of cheapness, reliable supply, permanence, and retainability—you cannot put a teacher on a shelf. Precisely because it is fixed and set, a book is not an indifferent medium (like the Internet) through which an item of data crosses from mind to mind; it is a physical thing, fraught and sensuous, whose circumstances receive and bind, like spiders' silk, gossamer and flighty thought. Love what books contain, but lust for books themselves; not with a gourmand's discrimination, but a voluptuary's delight.

The ancients, who had only fragile scrolls, and the scholars and schoolmen of the Middle Ages, who owned few books, built labyrinthine dream-palaces in their memories, full of niches and ramifying halls and galleries concocted from shards of remembered or imagined buildings. These palaces were miscellaneous as pattern books, like the strange buildings which haunt Renaissance backgrounds, D¨rer's rambling castles or the scenes where Poliphilo wandered; and which came as ruins to dominate Romantic landscapes, senseless conjunctions of towers and walls and columns; Death's city in Poe, resembling nothing which is ours. These palaces housed only commodious niches, ranged along hall walls or between arcade columns, or grouped behind doors: and in each niche, a vision lived—a nightmare, a fox-headed lady standing for a name beginning with V (vulpus); or a caricature, the goat with swollen testacles who was Cicero's testator.

But these were intimations. The true palace of memory is the library, with wings of shelves, corridors of volumes, niches of pages where memory is ensnared. The mind on its own holds but one palace; but there are books—classics—broad and deep enough to be palaces in themselves which one life cannot fill. So many counted light-years will not suffice to hold universe enough to justify, let alone satiate, the appetites and powers of the human mind; but books brought together do not add, but multiply; to be among books you know well is to be lifted out of mortal span and reach.