Are Bad People Just Stupid?

“For indeed, the happiest potential issue

Experienced men achieve through plans.”

  Oedipus Rex, 44-45 (trans. liberally by TWM)

Dear Ernest,

In an effort to make this letter as concise and to the point as possible, while passing over any superfluous details, specifics, or particulars and avoiding any unnecessary repetitions or reiterations of the same concepts in different words, I have—for this purpose—decided to forgo the inclusion of any kind of absurdly lengthy and savagely magniloquent introductory sentence or paragraph—which might, even while appealing to my own grotesque and gaudy sensibilities, betray for my audience my embarrassing and deeply rooted verbosity—abstaining from so much, I have chosen instead to cut right to the chase: not all bad people are stupid.

In your last letter: “What are your thoughts on the Platonic [notion] that, if we were to truly know ‘The Good’ then we could do nothing else but that good?”

In so many words, these are precisely my thoughts on the Platonic notion known as ‘Hellenistic Rationalism’—the notion that moral goodness is the same thing as intellectual knowledge.  If I were to make the matter as simple as possible, I’d say that Hellenistic Rationalism is really just a fancy way of claiming that all bad people are stupid.  But even the most casual consideration of the world around us reveals that this isn’t true.  How many brilliant men and women of business have climbed the corporate ladder through deceit and treachery?  How many poets and artists, renowned for their learning and intelligence, have violated sacred vows and died dishonourably of syphilis?  Was not the idolatrous Solomon a divinely educated wise man?  By comparison to the rest of us, all of these people seem to have known ‘The Good’ very distinctly and with that full knowledge have made the deliberate choice to reject it all together.  The central human quality that delineates the boundaries between good and evil must then be something much more fundamental than mere knowledge.

For that matter, it is also more fundamental even than volition.  It is the human essence that can be called either good or evil.  In claiming this, I am saying nothing particularly insightful.  In fact, the tenet is almost circular: ‘that man is essentially good who is good with respect to his essence’.  It means that morality is not determined by what a person knows or what they want to do or what kind of sandwich they prefer to eat at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but rather, morality is an aspect of who the person is in his or her entirety.  The sophists at the university may be inclined to tell you that education is the key to happiness or goodness or any other desirable quality.  A veteran of war will sooner tell you that a proper training of the will can bring about so much.  I myself would like to say that the trick is to wear a handlebar moustache while composing shamelessly romantic music.  But common sense and linguistic idiom make it clear that being good is a subject concerned exclusively with being.

The problem with mere knowledge of The Good is that it doesn’t necessitate our using of that knowledge.  I know very well that it would be good if I were to clean up my room and my act rather than reading Gradus ad Parnassum or writing an over simplified blogpost on moral philosophy.  But this knowledge of good and evil, as it were, means absolutely nothing to me if I don’t think about it.  In short, I know what’s good for me (most people do), but I’m not thinking about it—I don’t consciously know that I know it.  If you enjoy being arcane, you might call this ‘second order knowing’, and just like the orders of volition, the orders of intellect describe the way that faculty is structured, which means they are a metaphysical aspect of essence.  Usually, when someone does something immoral, it’s not because they didn’t know it was wrong nor because they didn’t want to do The Good, but to put it simply, it’s because they refused to know that they knew the Good that they wanted to want to do.

Your servant,

TWM

P.S. I challenge you to use the word “campanological” in your next post.

Cenabis Bene, You Shall Eat Well

A translation will follow this Latin poem.

Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

Translation:

With me you shall eat well, my Fabullus,

If the gods will favor you a day or so,

If you will bring a good and great dinner–

Not without a fair guest, a lady–

Along with wine, the salt of wit, and jest

Of every immoderate kind. And if you bring

These things, my charming friend you shall eat well,

I say.  For your Catullus has a full purse

Of fine spider’s webs.  But amity

Of a pure kind shall be your recompense–

Or whatever else more sweet or elegant;

For I shall give to you a fragrant perfume,

The ambrosial scent of heaven, a gift divine,

And when you smell it, you will entreat the gods

That they might make you entirely a nose.

(Catullus 13)

A few notes on my translation: I have bowdlerized the text here and there, removing the obscene insinuations.  I believe that expurgation has left us with nothing more or less than a charming little poem.  My favorite line is probably the last, simply because it’s so bizarre.  But I also like line eight (which crosses lines eight and nine in my translation).  I have taken special care to preserve the ambiguity here; it is unclear whether Catullus has a purse filled with money but made out of a material like spider’s webs, or if his purse is simply filled with cobwebs, since he is poor.  This ambiguity is what makes the whole poem funny and clever.  It is rude of him to ask his guest to bring their dinner for the evening, but rude in a charming way. He is not embarrassed either to admit how poor he is to so dear a friend–or else to make fun of how inhospitable a host he is.

GREEN BRAINS.

Green Brains

This post actually has nothing to do with green brains–but I happened upon a whole bunch of them the other day and thought you all might enjoy a photo.  They were just lying out in the open like this, unguarded and uncared for, as if the rightful owners had forgotten all about them.  A more sensible and civilised gentleman keeps his household green brains in a bin.

Green Brain Bin
Green Brain Bin

The whole matter seems to me quite careless.  The brains could be stolen or lost or even eaten by a brain-eating squirrel.  And I can tell you from experience that it is a terribly unpleasant occurrence to lose one’s mind–or minds, as the case may be.  The worst part about it is the extravagance.  This person has such a plethora of green brains, and while most of us are but scarcely able to maintain a single brain in good keeping, he or she has thought it acceptable to absentmindedly leave all these just lying around.  Clearly this was not well thought out.

Anyway, what I wanted to write to you about today was something much more weighty: pencil sharpeners.  Recently I’ve been composing a piece of vocal music for which I have decided to first produce, as a part of the creative process, a grapical score.  For those of you who are not familiar with the everyday proceedings of music compositional pedagogy, a ‘graphical score’ is an emotional or textural representation of music in a visual medium.  Mine is an exceptionally large and elaborate example that stretches around my whole room (see below).

Obviously, this sort of work requires many grades of shading that cannot be achieved with a propelling pencil alone.  For this reason was I compelled to seek a sharpener for my more archaic device–the common pencil.  On campus, we have a brand new building that contains every kind of futuristic education gadget ever conceived or contrived.  It has massive flat-screen monitors, LCD projectors, and other strange devices that I cannot even identify.  It seems to lack nothing…except a pencil sharper.  Indeed, nearly the entire university seems to be in want of one.  The only place I was able to find one was in the school of music building, at the top of a massive winding staircase that I like to call ‘the tower’.  I am intentionally not including a picture of the tower in order to leave it to your imagination.  Picture a mysterious, creaky-old structure, protruding high into the sullen heavens, where black falcons and other occult, avian creatures circle about, making ghastly grim calls and hideous cries.  (It’s actually nothing like that.)

Anyway, this got me thinking, as I am apt to do, about the world and what’s happening to it.  Though I’m rather disinclined to discuss such empirically based observations as these on this blog, I don’t suppose any social historian would object to my saying that we live, today, in an age of human history that has undergone and continues to undergo more rapid change than any other period yet known.  Some people find this really exciting.  At large, I’d say I’m indifferent, though I do suffer from a severe case of Golden Age Syndrome–I mean Theory.  But quixotic dreamings aside, one thing about which I think we ought to be concerned is how these dramatic changes, particularly technological advances, affect the way we think.

In the near future, hopefully before the internet has become obsolete, I will post a more involved article about this matter, but for now, let us consider this: in order to function soundly, a human mind must be exposed to the proper amount of stimuli.  If it is exposed to too little, it will begin to invent its own in the form of hallucination, but if exposed to too much, it will stop filtering the data it takes in.  According to my recent, inadvertent study of psychology˚, it is supposed that the latter of these is among the cognitive functions responsible for hypnosis: when the conscious mind is overwhelmed, it stops thinking critically and begins to pass on all the input it receives to the subconscious without discretion, so that the suggestions of a hypnotist may be accepted in the subconscious just as if they were posited by the conscious mind itself.

As technology becomes more and more overwhelming, society’s thinkers becomes less and less critical, and by slow degrees, something as simple as a book becomes boring.  If people can’t think critically, then they will find nothing of value or interest for them in good books; they will require more intensive forms of entertainment, in which alternative realities are forced upon them in a way that they are unable to question–in a way that bypasses any sort of real analytical filtration processes.  And once people stop analysing things and developing perspectives, one will hardly be able to call them people at all.

This article is not about the evils of technology; indeed, an article on the internet about such would be like a created being who opposes his own creator–which is absurd, needless to say.  Instead this is a cautionary article.  Humanity must learn to handle the technology she develops, or else not use it, lest she should become the sort of race that no longer finds delight in something as simple and trivial as a green brain†.

———–

˚ Don’t you hate it when you suddenly find yourself studying something, and you don’t know how it happened?  This is a particularly ponderous phenomenon when the field of choice is psychology.

† Ha, ha…Do you understand the pun?  A ‘green brain’, as one which, in an archaic sense of the word, is ‘unripe’, and therefore, ‘young’.  Hence humanity must find the same pleasure while thinking in her aged brain as she has found in her green brain.

Two Solitary Epistles

To my excessively credulous and quixotic friend,

Heed not

The words of men

When they’re begot

By tongue or pen

In the company of others

For their sisters, friends, and brothers.

Man plays

The part of man

When spending days

With specious fans

Who will cheer his charlatan affectation

But he bears not the part in isolation.

Sincerely,

Solitude

***

To my slightly sillily cynical sister, Solitude,

I will follow your counsel fanatically

And list your words—as is my way—romantically,

So thus I heed them not—the sons of a pen—

But leave their fruit rot, as you demand, kind friend.

Love,

Love

Comedy

I was recently informed that my comic relief section is neither comical nor relieving.  Indeed, not a single critic has reported laughing so hard that it was necessary to seek relief, and all have, most fortunately, relieved themselves elsewhere. I consequentially have taken it upon myself to identify the reason for this drought of humor and have come to the following conclusion: Calculus.  Indeed, calculus is my answer to just about all of life’s problems, and I do believe it will serve me well here in its failure to serve.  The problem is simply that most people don’t find calculus to be all that funny˚.

This very post is the epitome of my problem.  Most of you who are reading this probably did not so much as chuckle at the opening paragraph. It seems so serious and dry–how could I possibly be sneaking anything funny in there?  But I assure you that with a little reading of the places that lack words, the humor will come pouring out almost beyond one’s control. The meat of the humor is it’s painsteaking subtleness; indeed, at its very core is a quiet irony–an irony softer than the lowest hanging cloud in the heavens. If you sense something fishy in the wording of a phrase, it is likely a sardonic remark.

So to help out those of you who are stray without simper, I have created the following list of folly philosophy:

1. A fake word is always immatchable in function to a real word even when a real one would be sufficious.

2. In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.

3. Originality is yet vitaler.

4. If a reader’s mind should contain a phrase, it must be ambiguous.

5. Hyperbole is very, very important.

6. Language should be plainly outdated.

7. The matter in the phrases should have more references to things that no one gets than insects would be found in Helios’ chariot if the sun bread maggots. Almost to the point of ecstasy.

7.5 Relevance is irrelevant.

8. Calculus jokes are infinitely better than arithmetic jokes.

9. In all honesty, the post should have one recurring theme.

10. Accessibility and excessibility are prioritized in reverse order.

For those of you who do get my jokes, I humbly apologize for my paronomasian sense of humor.

__________________________________________

˚ So let us find the cause of this effect, or rather, let us say, the cause of this defect, for this effect defective comes by cause–thus it remains.  The remainder? Thus.