To Be a Mensch: or, My Favorite Online Thinker

May 3, 2011 at 9:49 am (By Amba)

Every time I go to Jack Whelan’s After the Future, I start breathing carefully and quietly in anticipation of being kicked in the solar plexus by something wonderful.  Here he is talking about characters from East of Eden and The Brothers Karamazov who illustrate points on a continuum he is contemplating:

Those who don’t hold it together tend toward either Hell West–which is the conventional idea of Hell–the realm of the seven deadly sins, the human life driven by instinct unmixed with grace. It’s where Papa Karamazov and Smerdyakov are situated in The Brothers K, and Cathy, the sociopath brothel madame and mother to the two brothers, Aron and Cal, in East of Eden. But Kierkegaard, Dostoyevski, and Steinbeck point out that’s only the western wing of hell; the east wing is occupied by those who are seduced by angelism. […]

People who are in angelism hell are generally more socially acceptable than the transgression-prone people on the other side. […] it’s a hell nevertheless.  It’s also inhabited by everyone who thinks that some kind of discarnate purity is the goal, and while religious and ideological fanatics inhabit this hell in the greatest numbers, it’s inhabited by fussy control freaks of any stripe–judgmental types in general who demand that the world conforms to their ideal template for it, whatever that template might be. Katarina, like Ivan, fits this description. So does Ferapont the monk. The longing for purity and control is the longing to live in the east wing of hell. I think that both books in the final analysis are asking the same question: In The Brother’s K: how do you become someone like Zossima; in East of Eden: how do you become someone like Sam Hamilton? Goodness is thought of as being boringly, predictably well behaved, but real goodness is not like that. Both Zossima and Sam are interesting, and they are so not because they’re well socialized, but because they’re mensches. The Yiddish word best captures what they are and what the goal is–to be a fully realized, grounded, radiant, particular human being. They’re wise and generous and and free, and there isn’t an alienated cell in their bodies.

Mensch-hood is the goal, and it’s realized in the course of a life well lived.  It’s not achieved in a snap of the finger or in a satori moment, but in the slow cooking of the instinctual life by the heat of grace, and the grounding of spiritual life in a particular, finite, mortal life. The main task is to hold both sides together long enough so they can work on one another. You fail in this regard if you are, like Alyosha or Abra, temperamentally inclined toward the angelic side and you reject the instinctual side.  And the same is true if you are like Dmitri or Cal, which is to be more temperamentally inclined to the bestial side.

The failure lies in rejecting the other side. […]

But the point is that for both Sam and Zossima, mensch-hood is an achievement, but not a project like body sculpting or other narcissistic self-improvement projects are.  It’s a different order of achievement because it comes from submitting oneself to an authority that transcends one’s narcissistic tendencies. For Zossima it was his life-defining commitment as a monk. For most people it’s their life defining commitment to another human being in marriage, and this kind of commitment almost always requires a certain amount of constraint, some times suffering, of going where we would not otherwise go. “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing,” says Zossima, “compared to love in dreams.”

I think there are innumerable ways that people have the opportunity to discover this in their lives–and these choices present themselves in so many different ways–but the challenge is to avoid commitment phobia, [not] to live a life in which the key is to keep one’s options open, because in the end it doesn’t matter how many options we have, but whether we have chosen to become something real, concrete, particular.   But I’m convinced that it’s this kind of life-defining commitment that is for most of us the main way available for us to hold together the angel and beast in us. It’s the work that both grounds and uplifts at the same time and heals the riven soul.

You could spend hours there, days, reading stuff as amazing as that.  Well, I could.

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134 Comments

  1. mockturtle said,

    As you know, I read The Brothers K. a few months ago and found it a fascinating paradox. I read East of Eden some years ago. I totally agree with Whelan’s observations, not in the theological sense, but in the purely human sense. Zosima [only one ‘s’ in my copy] was boring. Dmitri and his father compelling, flesh-and-blood human beings. Like Cal. When I read Ayn Rand back in the early 60’s I was appalled by the soullessness of her fictional characters and am still wary of the Libertarian philosophy.

    Remember that Christ explained, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance”. After all, he pointed out in another verse, the ‘righteous’ have their own reward. And the Apostle Paul explained that it is our weakness that makes God’s strength in us possible. But he also warns, “Should we go on sinning, that grace may abound? God forbid!’

    And, then, as Janis Joplin’s song so rightly put it: ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose’.

  2. mockturtle said,

    After re-reading the above post I noted the incongruity between the literary examples. I guess the point I was attempting to make [and badly] was that the super-righteous, either in religion or ideology [and I consider Ayn Rand’s atheism a religion as well as a part of her ideology] lack the very spark of life that makes us truly human. And, in a theological sense, if we are perfect, we don’t need a sacrificial Lamb.

  3. Christopher Diamant said,

    The pure of heart are not perfect: but they yearn to be; and you have to start somewhere; and I am not talking about the shallow perfection of a cardboard saint: I am speaking of that Perfection which is the Grail: that which is capable of endless perfection.

    Further; the principle of Love is the performance of Love; it’s never abstract; or it isn’t love: it’s still in the realm of potential that speaks of intention to act: but one finds that the Act of Love in the end is that of the Original Act of God: the Act of Creation itself.

    As of he who died for us: now it’s our turn to die for him: but not as sacrificial lambs in the sense of being martyrs: in the end we find the eunuchs who become the Bride find themselves in that Ancient Order: the virgin priesthood itself: the Order of Melchezedek: the virgins of the Altar. Yea: the Keepers of the Flame.

    The Lamb did not go around trumpeting the fact that he was the Son of God; he called himself the Son of Man because his Divinity was in his Humanity; and if we would have that One Divine we shall only do so when at the End we realize that his is ours.

    The inheritence itself is of those who with a sad smile keep the flame lit to the end: those who the world’s injustice cannot embitter and thus break: those who seeing through the last illusion of disillusionment itself yet against all odds achieve the Ideal of the Perfection that grows eternally: teaching us how to find the Infinite: the open hand that Gives: and thus always has what it gives: the Source itself…

  4. mockturtle said,

    “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
    Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9.

  5. Maxwell James said,

    Reading this, I couldn’t help but compare to my own favorite text on mensch-hood, The Apartment. Unlike in Karamazov or East of Eden, Jack Lemmon’s tendency towards “angelism” (by letting his superiors use his place for their extracurricular activities) makes him a mark, a schnook. And it’s only by learning to assert himself, and protect the woman he loves in the process, that he grows to full menschness.

    I think that different take on self-sacrifice is essential to the separation between comedy and tragedy.

  6. mockturtle said,

    Another good example: ‘The Seven Samurai’.

  7. mockturtle said,

    In my book, a mensch is a GOOD guy, not a NICE guy. And a GOOD guy will always stand up to the BAD guys. OK. I’m done. ;-)

  8. amba12 said,

    Maxwell: yes, some people who are into angelism are control freaks who are always trying to whip others into shape; but you’re right — some think it’s bestial to assert themselves. That’s really interesting — because “niceness” is another form of angelic hell!! And part of being a mensch is being able to be stand-up when it’s called for.

    Did you ever see the original Star Trek episode called “The Enemy Within”? It’s really my favorite because it’s so thought-provoking. The transporter divides Captain Kirk into two. It turns out that his decisiveness and strength of command comes from his “bestial,” appetitive side, but that side is also frightened. His “evolved” side is irresolute, but compassionate and fearless. He’s only half a man either way.

  9. Donna B. said,

    That’s one of my favorite Star Trek episodes also. The others (I’m not enough of a fan to know the names of them) have to do with the emptiness of the fulfillment of pleasurable dreams… or something like that.

    Oh wait – I do remember one other episode’s name: The Empath. Compassion kills the compassionate… or not? Compare and contrast to the episode where WWII could have been prevented.

  10. Donna B. said,

    Then again… The Empath reduces another’s pain and suffering by taking it upon herself. That supposes that pain and suffering is a finite thing that can be moved. That… I have as much trouble buying as I do the idea that pain and suffering is infinite.

    Perhaps it is the idea “finite” and “infinite” that I’m having trouble resolving. To be an optimist (which I’d like to be) I have to think that goodness is infinite and evil is finite. Goodness will eventually triumph!

    But… that is thinking that existence is a one-sided coin. Unbalanced and pre-determined to lean towards goodness. Heads will win over tails, eventually. If I were a pessimist, I’d be calling tails…

    Either calls for an end to the world, to life, as we know it. So cheers to the health of good and evil!!!

  11. Ron said,

    Still a ‘Tribbles’ guy…but, then, schtick is my go-to!

  12. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Either calls for an end to the world, to life, as we know it. So cheers to the health of good and evil!!!

    That’s why I am repelled, not attracted, by apocalyptic and millennial belief systems, even if they promise redemption. I don’t want to be redeemed, I just want to be alive.

    And I’ve always thought of good and evil, or creation and destruction (destruction isn’t evil per se, but that’s another complicated issue) as in a neck-and-neck race, with creation winning by a nose — otherwise there wouldn’t be anything at all.

  13. Ron said,

    And I’ve always thought of good and evil, or creation and destruction (destruction isn’t evil per se, but that’s another complicated issue) as in a neck-and-neck race, with creation winning by a nose — otherwise there wouldn’t be anything at all.

    hmmm…just like the Standard Model of The Big Bang…..coincidence?

  14. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Hell no.

  15. Ron said,

    It’s not that we’re evil, as such, but just engaged in moral asymmetric breaking!

  16. realpc said,

    What a long string of outdated myths, typical of Whelan. I tried so hard to stay away from this blog, knowing you think I’m a “troll” (simply because, imo, you don’t understand everything I say, since I am not a member of your tribe, or any tribe for that matter). So Whalen says that bad people are driven by their instincts. Well that’s an old myth. Our instincts aren’t bad. Social animals have instincts for love and empathy and protection of the group, as well as for self-protection. We are a social animal, with the same kind of instincts.

    Then he tells us his definition of a a mensch. And how much do you want to bet he used his own life as a model? Most people become a mensch through being married? I would bet that he is married. Someone else might say you become a mensch through raising children, or through dedication to art or science, or community service.

    Or whatever. And I would say none of the above, because being a mensch depends entirely on context. Notorious crime leaders are often extremely loyal and responsible,within their criminal tribe. Maybe more so than us “good” people, sometimes. Their families and followers consider them a mensch.

    In general, we decide who is or is not a mensch based on their behavior in some context, and on whether or not we understand and empathize with them. Anyone in our own tribe is, of course, a mensch. If they stop being on our wavelength, we eject them.

    I don’t normally read Whalen’s blog, but whenever I did I was kicked in the solar plexus by something I felt was illogical, self-consciously intellectual, and based on mythology from some previous era.

    And these are some of the problems that come from getting too much of our information from reading fiction. Now most of us know, I hope, that our animal instincts include love and empathy and compassion. Dostoevsky probably had no idea.

    An “evil” person is not someone driven by instincts, or judgmental perfectionism, or whatever. It is someone who hates us, because they are a member of a rival tribe. Or maybe they are criminally insane, and therefore not resonating with any human tribe.

    Either way, they are not on our wavelength for some reason and they want to kill us. Most of the time, it’s because they perceive us as evil and wanting to kill them.

    So we are not mensches, except in given moments within particular tribal contexts. We may think we are a mensch because we have tribal mythologies that inflate our egos, telling us that “we” are better than “them” for this and that reason.

    I do believe in hell, by the way, and I believe, or hope, there are ways to avoid it. But inflating the ego will have exactly the opposite effect. That is the paradoxical dilemma that all mystics wrestle with.

  17. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Real, who is this “you” who thinks you’re a “troll”? Karen was just saying she missed you…

    I didn’t understand Whelan as saying “instincts” are “bad.” He seemed to be saying an imbalance between appetites and spiritual perfectionism, in either direction, was not the solution to the problem of being human.

    And, he was also saying (which resonates with what you are saying) that commitment to something has to hold the ego in check, or hold it in place. He didn’t say that marriage was the only thing that could do that.

    He doesn’t speak the same language as you (he tends to use traditional terms, but to pit them against each other to reach nontraditional conclusions), so you are reading him with a predisposition to reject, illustrating your own point.

    Are you a complete relativist? Just wondering — you seem to be saying that “good” or “evil” is defined solely by one’s own point of view and self (or tribal) interest. I don’t know if that is true or not; I’m trying to find out if that is what you’re saying.

    I do think life itself can eventually make a “mensch” out of someone by destroying their bullshit. Life is a relentless master that doesn’t let us get away with anything unreal. We either have to get real or break. But before they are broken, people can be very destructive, of themselves or others, on a small scale or a large scale, in the promotion and defense of their unreality. It is really true what the mystics say: we have an incredible ability to get in our own way. Our ideas about ourselves (not our “instincts”) bring out the worst in us, when the best wants to come out on its own and be given.

  18. realpc said,

    I agree that, as our life goes on, we may learn things that help us stay in balance. So maybe that is what Whelan was saying. But I do not agree that we balance appetites with spiritual grace, whatever exactly that means. I think our appetites include spiritual striving, and also longing to be accepted by a tribe. We are not naturally “selfish.” A selfish person is someone who feels isolated, and without any tribes. (I know I said I don’t have any tribes, but I still try to belong and fit in, even if I don’t resonate intellectually).

    What I always object to is the almost inevitable “we are better than them” thinking that results from belonging to tribes. People within an intellectual tribe resonate with each other, and the resonance becomes magnified as time goes on and membership increases. Objectivity and perspective are lost..

    I think the only balance for our tribal instinct is our spiritual instinct, because spiritual truth transcends tribal mythologies. Neither of these instincts are selfish, by the way. But we are still going to be tribal no matter what.

    Maybe I’m a complete relativist, but I would have to approach the definition of “relativist” in a relative way.

  19. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Ha ha! Relativist relative to what?

    Certainly the political tribes with their groupthink are a case in point — people who belong to one or the other are convinced that their thoughts are their own, yet they happen to have exactly the same thoughts as everyone else on their side of the aisle. Much of my family joined in the “we shouldn’t celebrate the death of a human being” reaction to bin Laden’s killing (you’d better believe we were going to celebrate it in NYC), but those same people exult in the fact that Obama was president when it was done. It was virtually their first thought. Southern liberals are even more sure than northern liberals that they are the right and good people. (Note that I am harder on liberals because I know them better — I was raised as one — but groupthink is just as rampant among conservatives. They find Obama downright sinister, and are in agreement with each other on this score.)

  20. karen said,

    Surreal– that’s the word to use when i bring up this thread and find the real real here again!!! LOL- real- you got me and i know you have no idea what the hell i mean, but i did just open an e-mail from amba that was sent 21 April(my very bad) and i did express a sadness that you weren’t here lately.

    You believe in ESP-i think i remember you saying that- your ears must have been ringing, anyway. How cool:0).

    I was going to stay out of this conversation because i am, pretty much- lost. Mensch- i thought that was a mentor or a hot shit, you know? I think i’ll look it up later– via my best friend, Webster. And, since i don’t read good things like the K brothers(hmmmm- Koch?)but reread Harry Potter or Louis L’Amour for comfort and love of characters- i am a little stunted. I sort of remember East of Eden- something about a river and the trees…

    Real- did you know some species eat their young? Lions, i think- for example. It’s instinct or it’s a pissed off kinda day- rhyme or reason, who knows? As for ~evil~- i believe that the devil is always whispering in an ear- we have a pull toward the easy way out or up- a buried need, if you will- to help ourselves to something that isn’t ours. A barbaric wiring, i’d say- that maybe a spiritual higher-minded thought process tries to sway. Conscience, maybe? Expanded 10 commandments?

    You don’t believe in absolutes, real– i guess i do. Another word for that = unconditional. Some things, like snakes- i hate and see no good in them, yet when trying to calm my hysterical 8 yr old after a confrontation w/a sidewinder– i try to explain that they have their job-yaddayadda… she ain’t listening. Just because someone things opposite due to tribal rival- that doesn’t make it right. Rape? can you think of any reason why it is ever acceptable?

    btw, real– when i think of this blog- you are a part of it. You may not want to belong, but to me- you do:0).

  21. realpc said,

    “I am harder on liberals because I know them better — I was raised as one — but groupthink is just as rampant among conservatives.”

    Yes, me too. I’m always amazed at how liberals all believe and say exactly the same things, in exactly the same words. They wouldn’t even allow their eyes to light up the slightest bit on hearing Bin Ladin was dead. Not politically correct to believe in the death penalty.

    But then, yesterday I was talking to a conservative, which reminded me they are even harder to reason with. He wants the US to go and get all the rest of the “bad guys,” in the entire world. I said something slightly relativistic and he walked away.

  22. realpc said,

    Karen, I realize that some animals sometimes eat their young. I wrote a story that I posted here about swans that killed one of their children because it wanted to stay with them on their lake. I don’t judge animals for this, I trust they have their reasons. We are part of nature, not above it.

  23. realpc said,

    “Just because someone things opposite due to tribal rival- that doesn’t make it right. Rape? can you think of any reason why it is ever acceptable?”

    Karen, I never said I think everything is ok. Far from it.

  24. karen said,

    I’m trying to understand what it is that you are saying, real- but, i don’t think i agree w/it all. Which is okay, either way- ’cause we’d be a bunch of dittoheads all the more(at least i would).

    You say:
    “An “evil” person is not someone driven by instincts, or judgmental perfectionism, or whatever. It is someone who hates us, because they are a member of a rival tribe. Or maybe they are criminally insane, and therefore not resonating with any human tribe.”

    I think there is a bit of evil and a bit of good in all of us, always. I used rape as an example of evil, which i believe it is- because i think it’s some damped down instinct to conquer & coerce to feel superior and strong. Or, yeah- they could just hate women, right? It could be a male/female thang, too. Tribe wise. Or it could be pure instinct of the tug of the barbarian deep inside.

    I also believe drugs skew the picture and steal the soul- the conscience. Someone on drugs will do some pretty evil shit & show no remorse.

  25. karen said,

    And-
    ” But I do not agree that we balance appetites with spiritual grace, whatever exactly that means. I think our appetites include spiritual striving, and also longing to be accepted by a tribe. We are not naturally “selfish.””

    i think spiritual grace means a gift from above, a gift from God. We seek the higher plane of existence and balance- which would be spiritual strivation(new word?) but it is by the grace of God that we can understand and attain such a level of acceptance and peace.

    For quite a long while now- i have believed that we are naturally selfish. I don’t think we were created that way, but due to the circumstances of a tree in the middle of a very perfect garden and a certain slippery someone w/a forked tongue- we forfeited the high ground and had to survive somehow. It is hard to turn the other cheek… but for the grace of God…

  26. karen said,

    Do i sound like Charlie?

  27. realpc said,

    “For quite a long while now- i have believed that we are naturally selfish. I don’t think we were created that way, but due to the circumstances of a tree in the middle of a very perfect garden and a certain slippery someone w/a forked tongue- we forfeited the high ground and had to survive somehow. It is hard to turn the other cheek… but for the grace of God…”

    I completely disagree. I think selfishness is normal and healthy and trying to stamp it out is wrong. Our natural instincts include self-protectiveness and also the desire to protect and love others. Turning the other cheek doesn’t make any sense — I think Jesus was just kidding. Either that, or he expected his followers to not care at all about this life, only the afterlife. So your enemies could stomp on you, who cares. Jesus also advised his followers to not care about their families.

    Our goal is not to lose our natural healthy selfishness. We aren’t trying to lose our natural healthy desire to love and belong to a society. Or our natural healthy desire to love God. We have to keep all of them.

    People who succeed in losing their selfishness can become very sick and unhappy. I do not believe that is what God wants from us. He has given us a much more difficult challenge.

  28. Melinda said,

    Maybe by “turn the other cheek” Jesus meant the other set of cheeks. Like, “If someone hits you, moon them.”

  29. karen said,

    Melinda- have i told you lately that i love you ?!!
    I needed that:0). God does have a sense of humour- just look at an anteater!

    Real- i guess we’re on different tracks, here. I agree that all things in moderation are what balance is all about, but when i see so much graft, lying, and attitude for ~me~, i call that an unhealthy selfishness. That’s in general, not just politics or big business. Laughing at a woman you’ve just beat up going into a seizure– some tribal imbalance& a boatload of selfishness, IMhumbleO. Definitely not healthy.

    When Jesus called to turn the other cheek- he may not have meant to be a doormat- he may have just meant to learn to let things go. Or, maybe the strictness at the time w/the Pharisees was what He was talking about- that they should live and let live. I think it means that you be a willing participant in life and when you see a need, you fill it– when you are slandered or hit- you learn to walk away. Not to punch back twice as hard or bring a gun to a knife fight or- whatever.

    Of course, all our individual decisions in life are a nature/nurture combo of character- so, i’m more of a doormat. When i was about 5 i brought an old man walking down the road to the garage and offered him a glass of water, much to my mother’s angst. I do things like that.

  30. realpc said,

    Karen,

    I did not at all mean to say no one does anything wrong, or that no one is bad. I believe in justice and I want criminals to be punished. I am not like certain progressives who think all the criminals need is a lot of hugs, and that will straighten them out. I am just saying that the idea that one person is bad and another good is generally a matter of perspective. That doesn’t mean we can say “Oh well, that axe murderer is only bad from the perspective of his victims, so we should let him go.

    What I am expressing is not moral relativism in that bizarre sense. To me, as an American, Bin Laden was evil and deserved to die, or worse. But from the perspective of his many followers, he was probably a saint. According to their crazy interpretation of their religion, killing Americans is a nice thing to do.

    So I can hate people like Bin Laden, while not seeing them as devils.

    And if someone acts selfishly, or lies, I usually try to see why, from their perspective, the selfishness and lying made sense to them, at the time. I try not to see them as a bad person, just as someone who acted less than ideally, under some kind of stress. You know they say “hate the sin, not the sinner.”

    As for what Jesus said and what he meant, our understanding is very limited. We can’t take every word at face value when we don’t know what the face value is. I can be a Christian without imagining I understand what Christianity means. Faith goes places the intellect cannot follow.

  31. karen said,

    I think i’ve got it now:0).
    Thanks for the sharing, real.

  32. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    When i was about 5 i brought an old man walking down the road to the garage and offered him a glass of water, much to my mother’s angst. I do things like that.

    That’s kinda Biblical, Karen.

  33. realpc said,

    but her mother was right.

  34. realpc said,

    We should not tell the world that we are a mensch (even if we can’t help thinking it sometimes). Whatever good we have done, there is infinitely more that we have not done. And if we spend too much time helping strangers, we will neglect the people we really love, and also ourselves. To me, that is worse than selfishness.

    We are not a mensch. I am sorry to be a troll, but people need to face their natural and inevitable limitations once in a while. Jesus knew that all his goodness and all his special powers came from God, not from himself.

  35. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    But, real, the word “mensch” doesn’t mean “a good human being.” It just means “a human being.”

    It’s kinda like this quote that our karate master Mas Oyama put at the beginning of one of his books — I think it is Chinese in origin:

    The human heart rolls and tumbles and in doing so changes to finally become a human heart.

  36. mockturtle said,

    Have to step in here, PC. You are onto something. Jesus tried to show people just how limited their own righteousness was [as Isaiah had said, ‘as filthy rags’]. The whole point, to a Christian, is that it is Christ’s righteousness, not ours, that saves us. And since he was God in the flesh, he was without blemish–our Passover Lamb.

  37. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    In other words, “mensch” refers to some quality other than goodness. Maybe an earthy, flavorful richness, like that of a well-seasoned stew? You’re right though that while it is a quality one might aspire to attain (and is always a work in progress), it would be vanity to attribute it to oneself. It is properly (and customarily) used only to describe someone else. I’ve literally never heard anyone say, “I’m a mensch.” That would sound ridiculous.

  38. realpc said,

    Yes mockturtle I think that is what I meant. Our righteousness is dirt. And we can’t seem to help it, and I see it everywhere, getting worse it seems to me. Even most Christians probably forget, although at least they acknowledge that humility is something to strive for. Progressives, as far as I can tell, don’t strive for humility and wouldn’t even see any reason for it.

    Amba, I can’t see anything great about becoming a human being. As opposed to what? An animal? I don’t think humans are necessarily the best animal on earth. The concept of mensch is, to me, just another way to pat oneself on the back. And we’re doing too much of that already.

  39. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    real, we’re talking about completely different things, it seems to me.

    I’m not talking about the “goodness-badness” scale or about anything to take pride in. I’m only talking about a seasoned quality that some people have as a result of the way they’ve dealt with their experience. It’s more of a flavor than a rating scale. And it is something one can mostly only appreciate in another person.

  40. realpc said,

    “I’ve literally never heard anyone say, “I’m a mensch.” That would sound ridiculous.”

    Yeah, I think maybe that was my whole point. We can’t put our own selves in that category. And when we say it about someone else, it’s only in a particular context and from a particular perspective.

  41. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    As for other animals, I suspect many of them are far more intelligent than we realize and in some respects more intelligent than we are.

  42. realpc said,

    “I’m only talking about a seasoned quality that some people have as a result of the way they’ve dealt with their experience. ”

    Ok. Maybe it’s the quality of not being overly neurotic and self-obsessed?

  43. realpc said,

    “As for other animals, I suspect many of them are far more intelligent than we realize and in some respects more intelligent than we are.”

    Yes I most definitely think so.

  44. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Maybe it’s the quality of not being overly neurotic and self-obsessed?

    That might be part of it.

  45. karen said,

    My favourite verse in the bible(i think from John?) is that i am not worthy to even undo the straps of Christ’s sandals– that i am lower than dirt. That doesn’t mean that i want or have to stay down there- we are called to be saints, after all. Yet, no matter how hard we try to reach the heights of God- how good we try to be, we’re human = fallible. Except for the grace &the Lamb– well, hopefully i’d be fertile soil, not fallow.

    Anyway- i was 5 and a precocious little shit. I was always trying to help and that was my nature and still maybe is. Is it at the risk of neglect of ourselves or loved ones– sometimes. I just read a story about a family that adopted, like, five kids from orphanages in Ethiopia and Bulgaria- it caused a lot of turmoil and havoc in their family, too. Did they do a selfish or a noble thing? Perspective and the time of the day you ask will be the answer– which is to say: only God knows.

    Real, quit w/the troll thing, ‘k? You have a different point of view, we are discussing our thoughts and feelings on things and neither of us have a ~set-in-stone~ absolute answer to. What works for me would not for you and vicey-versy:0). I just think it’s healthy to stretch out our coiled up grey matter and give it a view of another colour sometimes, eh?

    This difference did strike me a lot:
    “What I am expressing is not moral relativism in that bizarre sense. To me, as an American, Bin Laden was evil and deserved to die, or worse. But from the perspective of his many followers, he was probably a saint. According to their crazy interpretation of their religion, killing Americans is a nice thing to do.”

    Agreed.

    “So I can hate people like Bin Laden, while not seeing them as devils.”

    To which i say:
    So, i can see people like Bin Laden as the devil, but i cannot hate him.

  46. karen said,

    Does ~mentor~ come from the word Mensch? Because of a certain quality in a Mensch- they would be someone to mimic.

  47. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    “So I can hate people like Bin Laden, while not seeing them as devils.”

    To which i say:
    So, i can see people like Bin Laden as the devil, but i cannot hate him.

    Cool distinction! Cool discussion.

    Does ~mentor~ come from the word Mensch? Because of a certain quality in a Mensch- they would be someone to mimic.

    “Mentor” probably comes from the same root as “mental.” So most likely it’s a more limited kind of nurturing — but ideally, not.

  48. realpc said,

    The devil is, we might say, behind everything we don’t like. And what we don’t like is, sometimes, exactly what we need. So Bin Laden knocked down our great phallic symbols of wealth and arrogance. You can almost kind of see where he was coming from. And of course, that is exactly what the political left keeps bleating. Yes maybe a little self-hatred is called for, but so is self-protective rage. All those progressives who deny feeling the slightest bit glad that Bin Laden was tracked down and killed by our government — I think they should cut back a little on their Prozac. I walked into an office Tuesday morning where no one dared to smile about what, to me, was terrific news, a chance to feel proud of our president. Bland, blah, anesthetized progressives.

  49. karen said,

    I don’t mean to be so different and see things so differently, real, but that isn’t why i call Bin Laden the devil. On Ace of Spades, a post highlighting Jim Geraghty of NRO(i don’t go to NRO)says how i feel:

    “What’s that, Mr. President? The photos are “very graphic”? So was watching people jump to their deaths from the blazing Twin Towers, you hyperactive condescending nanny. About ten years ago, we had a national traumatic experience as we all watched thousands of people die before our very eyes when the towers collapsed. Since then, we’ve seen Daniel Pearl beheaded, Madrid subway cars blown up, London buses and trains blown up, Bali nightclubs blown up, a Beslan school turned into a massacre site. We’ve seen enough death and dismemberment of innocent civilians to last a lifetime. So pardon me for thinking that our delicate sensibilities might be able to handle seeing the man with more American blood on his hands than anyone else on the planet missing an eye and with some brain matter exposed.”

    Phallic symbols bedamned, real. Who cares about that? It’s the deaths- the ideology of a madmaniac that wants world rule. I would love for everyone to follow the Golden Rule- he would have killed until the last infidel was a corpse and his own brand of Theocracy in place. Won’t let me be me, you you- or amba even think of writing ever again.

    Not phallic– freedom.

  50. mockturtle said,

    Yes, bin Laden needed to die, not because he was a sinner, as we are all sinners, but because he was a mass murderer. Sin is judged by God but we must judge man’s crimes by our laws. Laws are good! [I guess we could compare 9/11 with Truman’s bombing of Hiroshima but I won’t. And cannot. But that’s another discussion].

    If any of you have read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, ‘The Looming Tower’, by Lawrence Wright, that tells the story of the birth and evolution of al-Qaida, you would agree that bin Laden was doing what he believed to be the will of Allah and that the acts of terrorism were ‘good’ in his eyes. This in no way excuses what he did. The killing of Osama bin Laden is not retaliation–it is justice.

  51. realpc said,

    karen, that’s fine if you don’t agree with me. I don’t necessarily agree with myself either. I try to look at it from different angles. It doesn’t seem accurate to say the WTC was simply a symbol of freedom. Wall Street can be pretty ratty, as I hope you have noticed. And America is arrogant, even though it is also a great nation. Well, it’s arrogant because it has been great a little too long.

    And one thing that does baffle me about you conservatives is how you can say you follow Jesus and at the same time approve of the mind-boggling wealth acquisition that goes on here. I don’t necessarily disapprove of it, although I think it is crazed, but I don’t claim to follow Jesus in all respects.

    And the word “freedom” is over-used and under-defined.

  52. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    It’s not only justice, it’s removal of a relentless threat (of course, there are others out there). This to me is the very best justification for the death penalty, as in the case of addicted sexual serial killers.

  53. realpc said,

    “bin Laden was doing what he believed to be the will of Allah and that the acts of terrorism were ‘good’ in his eyes. This in no way excuses what he did. The killing of Osama bin Laden is not retaliation–it is justice.”

    We had a right to kill him, the same way our body has a right to kill invading bacteria. It makes no difference whatsoever if he thought killing Americans is a wonderful thing to do.

  54. karen said,

    I didn’t mean that the towers symbolize freedom- i just meant that the killing of OBL wasn’t about phallic power symbols- it was about a threat against freedom and the loss of it. I mean freedom in the most literal sense.

    Personally, this wealth acquisition i could care less about, really- except for any and all devious means of it being acquired. I don’t really know any conservatives that believe in ~unfettered capitalism~-; i remember asking someone about that, about the boundaries to be put around ~how much is too much~ and what are the rules, anyway. Maybe it was Pat- he knows way better about such things- but, it’s just not any of my business. What other people make. Like, my folks help me out and i know they help out my siblings, but it isn’t my business how much they do for the others or if they try to keep things ~even~- that is controlling and insane. I’m just grateful they have helped me out when i’ve ever needed it, you know?

  55. realpc said,

    “how much is too much~ and what are the rules, anyway.”

    It’s impossible for anyone to decide that. I am not a leftist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t agree with them on anything. This country is heading towards a cliff, it seems to me. How can everything keep on getting bigger and more complicated, without limits? But of course leftists have no solutions at all, only complaints.

    And it does seem ironic that capitalism and Christianity are both loved by typical conservatives now days, when the two things are not compatible.

  56. mockturtle said,

    “It makes no difference whatsoever if he thought killing Americans is a wonderful thing to do.” That’s pretty much what I said, pc.

    In microcosm, it would be like the killer of an abortion doctor believing that he was stopping a murderer of the unborn and, therefore, justified in his own eyes. His self-justification does NOT make it right and he needs to be punished for his crimes. Maybe God would reward him [I doubt it] for his action but the laws of man must be enforced for the safety of society.

  57. mockturtle said,

    PC, do you think Jesus would have the State be responsible for the welfare of society, rather than the charity of individuals?

    I abhor corporate greed and the unrestrained power of the oligarchs as much as anyone else but I truly believe that a state with absolute power is far more to be feared.

  58. realpc said,

    “do you think Jesus would have the State be responsible for the welfare of society, rather than the charity of individuals?”

    I don’t know what Jesus would want. We really have no good options, because we can’t trust the charity of individuals, and we sure can’t trust the State. But how, for example, could I ever pay for all my mother’s expenses? The state (NY) pays for it, with help from the central gov. If I had to, I would go broke, and then I would depend on charity? No, that idea absolutely does not work.

    Health care, etc., for disabled or sick people is simply not affordable. So, because my mother doesn’t have any money, do you think I should therefore have to become poor, when none of that is my fault?

    I don’t like socialism either and hope I won’t ever need it myself. But some people just need it, and we are stuck with it.

  59. realpc said,

    But that was off the subject, I think. We combine capitalism with socialism, which is the only sane option for modern societies. And that is not related to Christianity.

  60. mockturtle said,

    pc, yes, it’s off-topic but I agree with you. I am not a knee-jerk conservative by any means and agree that health care is simply NOT affordable. Corporate greed is one of the biggest exploiters of both Medicare and Medicaid. When time permits, I intend to brush up my lobbying skills and put some aggressive pressure on our elected officials about the need for closer scrutiny. The old bureaucratic excuses of being ‘short-staffed’ and having no one available to investigate waste, fraud and abuse make me furious.

    OK, sorry about going astray from the topic.

  61. realpc said,

    Since we are off the topic anyway mockturtle, I just want to say, you can’t blame the cost of health care on fraud and waste. That could be part of it, but mostly it’s just the explosion of expensive new technologies and drugs that everyone wants, need it or not. Some of it is useless or harmful, but some really does save lives. So if a life-saving operation costs $50, it seems unfair to deny someone just because they can’t pay. So the whole society has to pay for everyone to have access to extremely expensive medical technology.

    There is no one to blame really. We are hostages of our own technology. Not just in medicine.

  62. realpc said,

    I meant $50k, not $50.

  63. mockturtle said,

    And, if a life-saving operation costs $500,000? And you don’t blame the pharmaceutical companies even a little bit for the ridiculous escalation in costs?

  64. mockturtle said,

    I think we need to ration health care. I’d rather see everyone have access to good, basic health care than see a few get transplants.

  65. karen said,

    How do they figure the cost, real? When pharmaceuticals pay pittance to produce pills that they then soak the population for @ way inflated prices? Give me a break.

    There used to be a real charity. It seems we’ve forgotten our history a tad in that all the mj hospitals were related to religion at one time- or am i wrong? Now, they are being gobbled up- or they are relinquishing their ~power~ due to ~laws~ that they, in good conscience, cannot follow. That’s my take on it all. No, the people were not all good– nothing ever is.

    My oldest daughter came back from Guatemala w/Montezuma’s Revenge– for over two weeks. Took a sample to the hospital and just paid the bill– i got 15% off the 1057.00$ price tag. Yup- to see if crap grows on shit. Or, a slide.

    What a joke- and since the local drs have about killed so many up here*(treated a friend of mine for two yrs and never detected a) her broken hip that had to be replaced after over a month of agony b) diagnosed her w/pneumonia when she actually had fluid, like- between the lung and lung cavity or something- a completely different thing and requiring fluid to be drawn & 3) never diagnosed her cancer– even though it created a noticeable bulge in her abdomen- that the doctor said was ~poop~.

    How was all of this found out? She had her hip replacement done in a larger hospital- and when they replaced the hip- they discovered&drew fluid out of her lung area -1 1/2 liters- & then biopsied the hip and found cancer that had originated in a lymph node that was pushing up into her abdominal area. Poop, my ass.

    Everything is getting worse and costing more… why?

  66. mockturtle said,

    ‘Everything is getting worse and costing more… why?’

    Because they can get away with it. That is, we are stupid enough to put up with it.

  67. realpc said,

    “And you don’t blame the pharmaceutical companies even a little bit for the ridiculous escalation in costs?”

    I didn’t say I don’t blame them a little bit. I just said it is mostly because the technology is expensive, so you can’t really blame anyone. Sometimes there is no one to blame. Most times, actually.

  68. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Why? Because the major flaw of capitalism is that it is driven by quantity, not quality.

    True, in some ways it paradoxically manages to create a lot more quality, in its striving for quantity. But quantity is the end, and quality only a means to that end. [Except, of course, that the reason capitalists strive for quantity is so they can personally enjoy quality.] Quality that doesn’t produce quantity has no value.

  69. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    The pharmaceutical companies certainly are making obscene profits, but they have a point when they say they invest a lot in R & D, much of which comes to nothing.

    What pisses me off is how much they invest in direct-to-consumer advertising, such that we come to believe our lives aren’t complete unless we’re using their products. And also, the way they push scantily proven drugs that later turn out to be killers.

    But we the people are to blame for thinking we can acquire lifestyle diseases the easy way and then knock them off with a pill.

  70. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Are the snack food and soda companies owned by the drug companies or vice versa?

  71. mockturtle said,

    ‘but they have a point when they say they invest a lot in R & D, much of which comes to nothing.’
    They do invest a lot but a lot of their research is funded by the taxpayer via grants to NIH and universities with Pharma footing some of the bill. And they advertise to create a market, not to meet medical needs. Little is being spent on, say, new antibiotics [which could be the critical future need] because an antibiotic is only used for a short time. What they want are drugs that people will stay on forever and ever, world without end…amen. Can anyone defend Viagra? Cialis?

  72. karen said,

    “What pisses me off is how much they invest in direct-to-consumer advertising, such that we come to believe our lives aren’t complete unless we’re using their products.”

    My 11yr old daughter has a quiet, thoughtful nature. Seeing even a few of those commercials about depression had her convinced something as wrong w/her– did she need medication, she asked? I don’t think we watch any great amount of tv and thanks to my unwillingness to purchase satellite, we get about 3 channels, now. Isn’t that freaking scary? That was maybe two yrs ago- so at 9 she questioned what is really just– her nature.

  73. karen said,

    mr. Hughie Playboy can defend Viagra, bettcha a hug!!

  74. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Ask an aging guy.

    In fairness, it’s not all playboys. My parents were always lovers. It was important to them. My dad has arterial disease. He proclaimed it “a good product.” (Now, I don’t know — at 93 I think he gets off on just being alive.)

  75. mockturtle said,

    Not saying there is no value. Am saying I don’t see being able to get a hard-on as important as beating MRSA.

  76. karen said,

    No, i shouldn’t be facetious- i know it does serve a purpose, all of the meds in their places do. It’s the commercialization of everything that makes me feel jaded.

    Our county doesn’t necessarily have an unfairly balanced problem in income– who am i to bellyache over Microsoft when it was conceived and born of a mighty brain and then just brought home the bacon? I actually felt badly when(braincramp- the dude that owns it’s name?)lost out on his own invention because of an anti-trust issue. Plus, they are extremely generous w/their charity. It’s like lusting after a beautiful cow in the Holstein World- they breed better cows than we do– oh well.

  77. realpc said,

    karen, if your daughter were ever seen by a psychotherapist, they would have her on anti-depressants right away, from what I’ve heard. My niece is 25 and she said everyone she knows is on anti-depressants (except her). I’ve heard that anyone who walks into a psychotherapist’s office gets a prescription, no matter what, if anything, is wrong with them. No one has any idea, really, how those drugs effect the brain and the rest of the body over a lifetime. It’s horrifying to me that Americans have so much faith in the drug companies. The MDs are partly to blame because they just love drugs, the more the better. It’s too difficult to convince patients to improve their lifestyle, much easier to give a pill, which is what patients want anyway.

    I just love the drug commercials, and my favorite is the one that says “side effects may include coma or sudden death.”

  78. karen said,

    LOL!!!

    It’s all perspective, MockT.
    What does mockturtle mean?

  79. karen said,

    Oh, real!!! It’s true.

    My sister-in-law was on anti-depressants after her last baby– her two other children(12& 8)are on something and maybe the littlest- to calm them down. Every kid nowadays has ADHD(hell, i think I have that)(really)- but, rather than check out what the kids are eating or dealing w/– they go for the drug therapy angle.

    I would never want rationed healthcare– i really believe that someone would be putting a value sticker on lives due to output or something and that is totally… wrong.

  80. realpc said,

    “the major flaw of capitalism is that it is driven by quantity, not quality.”

    What economic system is there, or has there ever been, other than capitalism? I don’t count communism because it is not an economic system, since it doesn’t function. Isn’t nature capitalist? Aren’t agricultural societies capitalist? Maybe feudalism is the only system that isn’t capitalist? But actually maybe it is, in some ways.

    So what alternatives are there, or have there ever been, to capitalism? People always made things and traded them, and grew food and kept some and sold some.

    Modern industrial capitalism is different in some ways, mainly in its degree of complexity.

    Even primitive hunter/gatherers were capitalist. Each little group was more or less communal, but each group owned its means of production (access to hunting grounds, weapons) and groups competed with each other.

    I have never heard of any system, human or non-human, that works and is truly non-capitalist.

  81. karen said,

    Maybe not, real– but, it’s dreamed about and it’s being worked toward, if that makes any sense.

    VT may be getting a single-payer healthcare system– including care for illegals. You- we’re getting to the alternative, whatever that is. Socialism?

  82. mockturtle said,

    Karen, Mockturtle is a character from Lewis Carroll’s, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. In the Victorian era, a favorite menu item was ‘mock-turtle soup’, so he just made one of his characters the Mock Turtle. The reason I use it as my screen name, other than the fact that I’m a big Lewis Carroll fan, is my love of RV-ing, backpacking and kayak camping where my house, like a turtle’s, is on my back, in a sense. To me that is freedom.

  83. karen said,

    Ohohoh-aaaahhhh! Sooo great, cute- adorable!!! I totally love that thought of you w/your house on your back!!! Yeah- i never did read Alice in Wonderland. Another thing to add to my list.

    Oh- there’s a typo in my last comment.
    I said ~You~ and i meant… Yup-

  84. realpc said,

    “we’re getting to the alternative, whatever that is. Socialism?”

    Socialism is not an economic system, it’s a policy of providing safety nets. By an economic system, I mean a system that operates and provides food, shelter, etc., for its members. The Soviet Union, and others like it, were not socialist, in my opinion. The revolutionaries confiscated all the land and wealth from the aristocracy, and then survived on that for a while. Socialist societies, which don’t really exist any more, have never been creative or generative. Just static things that run down.

    That’s my theory anyway. There is no chance that we are evolving towards socialism. As I said, socialism is not a system. As soon as there is too much socialism in an economic system, it starts to run down. Then they privatize and de-regulate until it comes back.

  85. realpc said,

    “Socialist societies, which don’t really exist any more”

    I should have said they have never really existed, except in utopianist fantasies.

  86. Ron said,

    85 comments! Did I wander into an Althouse thread about Palin? No….all the background here is too…blue. Well, it’s good to see, at any rate….

  87. karen said,

    If i’m right– to quote Kix Brooks: ~we all bleed red~.
    That’s a country song:0).

  88. mockturtle said,

    It appears that Osama bin Laden may have been a mensch!!! At least, according to al-Qaida, who said of him, “You lived as a good man, you died as a martyr”. Maybe we just misunderstood the guy! ;-)

  89. realpc said,

    Of course he was a mensch according to al-Qaida. That’s what I was trying to say in all my comments. We get caught up in our own perspective and just assume things are the way we see them. Not realizing that half the world might see it the opposite way. So you can either decide half the world is crazy and ignorant, or you can recognize that they just have a different perspective, because of their different experiences and information.

  90. mockturtle said,

    And of course you were right. My interpretation of mensch is ‘good’, not in the sinless sense but in the sense of benevolence, in both attitude and action. From what I have read of bin-Laden, he strongly exemplified that quality in the context of his ‘tribe’, as I believe you put it,

    That said, good and evil do exist that transcend tribal values and cultural mores. And all cultures, mores and values are not equal nor should they be equally respected.

  91. realpc said,

    “And all cultures, mores and values are not equal nor should they be equally respected.”

    We should respect and protect our own culture. If we don’t like our own culture, we can move to Canada or someplace (as the rednecks used to say “love it or leave it”).

    But we really don’t have to think our culture is objectively better than others. I think modern American is pretty crazy, but still it is my country and I am used to it.

    When passing judgment on killers like Bin Ladin, it is helpful to remember someone like, for example, George Washington, who we all admire and respect. But what was he from the perspective of Great Britain at the time of the American revolution?

  92. mockturtle said,

    I’m afraid only a moral relativist would stoop to comparing George Washington with Osama bin-Laden. ;-)

  93. realpc said,

    “I’m afraid only a moral relativist would stoop to comparing George Washington with Osama bin-Laden”

    Yes ok. But remember I said “I love my country, love it or leave it!”

  94. Maxwell James said,

    Response to amba, way upthread: no I have not seen that episode. Which is strange, because I thought I had seen most of them.

  95. realpc said,

    Anyway, the main reason I commented on this in the first place was because Whelan said we have our animal instincts vs our spiritual ideals. Then he said the mensch is someone who balances these two conflicting tendencies. And I object to that because I think it’s very old-fashioned and unscientific to think the animal instincts are lower. It isn’t true, there is no evidence for it, and everyone who owns a cat or dog knows it isn’t true.

    I think Whelan thought he was being insightful by saying the mensch is not the person who overcomes the animal instincts, but the person who balances the lower and the higher. But it’s still wrong.

    In addition, as I said probably too many times already, being a mensch or not depends on the context. Bin Ladin was a mensch, even a saint, to his followers, and George Washington was a violent revolutionary to the king of England.

  96. realpc said,

    And my other reason for commenting was to say that fiction should not be used as a basis for philosophy or psychology. Fiction writers express the mythologies of their culture and tribes and era. Their stories come from their own experience and fantasies, in which they are probably secretly the hero. Whatever political or philosophical axes they want to grind will be promoted in the story. And if you forget that it’s fiction, you will take is as real evidence for that theory or mythology.

    This happens a lot, because too many people take fiction too seriously.

  97. realpc said,

    But I think there is a lower self and higher self, and we can learn to identify more with the higher self, and that might be what he was actually talking about.

  98. Donna B. said,

    There’s so much bad fiction out there. But the good fiction portrays certain universals in various settings.

    That and the fact that only 3 more comments and this thread is over 100 comments spurs me to comment.

  99. realpc said,

    Whether fiction is good or bad isn’t the point. You should keep in mind, while reading or watching it, that it did not really happen. There is usually a moral that conveys the author’s philosophy of life. For example, in Star Wars we are shown that there is a good force and a bad force, and nothing in between. Good and evil are absolute, not relative, and there is no sense of perspective. The bad guys are just bad and they know it, and they don’t care. I think that very seldom, or ever, happens in real life.

    In the Old Testament, the devil isn’t mentioned to much, but he is in the Book of Job. In that story, the devil is a servant of the Lord, whose task is to test Job. So that is a relativistic perspective shown in the bible, very different from Star Wars.

    Anyway, I see that modern Americans have been very fiction-oriented, often mistaking the stories for universal truths. Sometimes they are, and often they are not.

    So that is one reason I originally commented here, because it seemed like Whalen was taking fictional stories as evidence for certain ideas , as if the stories ever happened outside the authors’ minds.

    Whenever I read fiction I think about what the author’s social context and philosophy seem to be, what message he/she is promoting.

    Sorry for writing so many comments. This post set me off because it expressed almost the opposite of what i believe, on several different levels. Also, I didn’t post here or anywhere for a long time, and had stored up a lot of words and thoughts that wanted to get out.

  100. Donna B. said,

    “often mistaking the stories for universal truths. Sometimes they are, and often they are not.” —realpc

    um… that’s basically the same thought I wrote.

    As for Whelan taking fictional stories as evidence, it’s seems more likely he was using them as illustrative of a point, not evidence of it.

    Whether fiction is good or bad may not be your point. I don’t think I said it was, did I? Is there a rule about only making points or comments that are in direct response to whatever point you are trying to make?

  101. mockturtle said,

    “As for Whelan taking fictional stories as evidence, it’s seems more likely he was using them as illustrative of a point, not evidence of it. ”

    That’s the way I saw it, too.

  102. realpc said,

    “As for Whelan taking fictional stories as evidence, it’s seems more likely he was using them as illustrative of a point, not evidence of it. ”

    When someone expresses a theory about human nature, i like to see some evidence for their theory. If they just illustrate their theory with fictional characters, then they aren’t even trying to be scientific. Whalen expressed a theory about human nature that is very different from mine, without giving any evidence from history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc. Just fictional characters. So I still disagree with his theory as much as ever. Anyone can say whatever they want about human nature, but without any kind of evidence it is not meaningful, not to me anyway. That’s all I meant.

    Donna, as far as I know we don’t have any rules here. You said good fiction can portray universal truths, and I realize that most people would agree. I don’t really agree, and I think we should be wary of those “truths,” because often they are tribal mythologies.

  103. Donna B. said,

    “You said good fiction can portray universal truths, and I realize that most people would agree. I don’t really agree, and I think we should be wary of those “truths,” because often they are tribal mythologies.”

    If that is the case (and it may well be) then it’s also a good reason to be skeptical of non-fiction as well. History, anthropology, sociology, psychology are all fields where tribal and other mythologies play a large role.

  104. realpc said,

    “History, anthropology, sociology, psychology are all fields where tribal and other mythologies play a large role.”

    Yes of course you are right. We can’t ever escape our tribal nature. Not that we should try to escape it, because we should be tribal, but we also should be aware that we are tribal. Scientists at least make an effort to be objective and look at evidence. Science parted from philosophy for that reason, because philosophers just said whatever seemed right to them, and of course what seemed right to one person can seem wrong to another.

    Science is extremely tribal, in spite of all its efforts to be objective. Because science has a good reputation for discovering “truth,” it has become a religion that we are supposed to never question. So I think you have made a very good point in saying that we should be skeptical of non-fiction also.

    However, if someone tells me that people evolve towards being a mensch, and for most this comes from being married, then I would naturally ask them if there is any data to support that. If there is data, maybe from several different independent surveys, then I would consider that maybe there is some truth in that idea.

    But if the person just states it, with no evidence, without even saying “in my opinion” or “according to my personal observations and experience,” just states it as if no evidence were required, then I think the person is overly caught up in their own intellectual world. I have felt that about Whalen every time I read his blog.

  105. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    What is wrong with being caught up in one’s own intellectual world? Aren’t you caught up in yours?

    I suppose one ought to be aware that one’s own ideas are only ideas, not truths. But people produce interesting, provocative, and valuable (though not absolute or “true”) ideas by being caught up in their worlds. Actually as a sort of default Taoist I’m also skeptical, as you are, of being caught up in one’s own or anyone else’s ideas, though it happens. But it ought to be possible to enjoy ideas without believing them.

    I sometimes wonder if the world would be better if people didn’t have ideas, or if they had ideas in a state of extreme modesty about the correspondence of such ideas to unknowable and multifarious reality. But then would they bother to have them?

  106. realpc said,

    “if they had ideas in a state of extreme modesty about the correspondence of such ideas to unknowable and multifarious reality. But then would they bother to have them?”

    Well that’s exactly what I am promoting, modesty. I think a very high percentage of my own ideas are nonsense, and I think/hope it isn’t just me. I have noticed that some of the smartest most famous thinkers are the worst, because they don’t filter their ideas. They just accept every bit of nonsense that comes out of their amazing brain.

    I still have a lot of ideas, even though I don’t trust my intellect. We just have to filter them. We can, sometimes, get a sense about whether an idea came from god or not. I notice that if I have a thought that comes from pride and ego, it’s usually something I should throw immediately in the garbage.

    Also thoughts that put me down or make me feel hopeless — those are definitely from you-know-who.

  107. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Very interesting. I wish I had time to delve into this now — I am in the middle of copyediting a science article.

  108. realpc said,

    “people produce interesting, provocative, and valuable (though not absolute or “true”) ideas by being caught up in their worlds.”

    That is the creative, generative aspect of science. But then the hypotheses you got from brain-storming have to be tested and weeded out. You don’t have to actually be a scientist to practice the scientific method, just a thoughtful and skeptical person who is interested in reality, not just fantasy.

    We have political movements based on nothing more than fantasy, and some of them can be dangerous.

  109. mockturtle said,

    A lot of what passes for ‘science’ nowadays cannot be tested using the scientific method. And ideas, philosophy–and, contrary to what some might think, economics–are all subject to unscientific forces because man is not merely a machine.

  110. karen said,

    “When someone expresses a theory about human nature, i like to see some evidence for their theory.”

    i thought a theory was unproven thought or imagined outcome that has, then, to be proven w/evidence?

    As for Whalen– i confess never having been there or familiar w/his writing, but sometimes i think it’s less about ego and more about sharing w/provocative words and ideas.If someone goes to that much trouble to create an alternative dimension of thought– it’s…(wait for it)… worth thinking about:0).

    Gotta go milk cows!!!!

  111. realpc said,

    “If someone goes to that much trouble to create an alternative dimension of thought– it’s…(wait for it)… worth thinking about:0).”

    I did. I read his post and thought about it and decided I don’t agree with it. Maybe if you read it you will agree with it. But at this point, you’re just guessing that the ideas were interesting or worthwhile, or something. To me, most of the ideas in the post were wrong. I think you should read it before having an opinion.

  112. karen said,

    LOL-
    scratch all my comments of opinion versed in this thread——
    … off to bed!

  113. Tim (formerly Theo Boehm said,

    I’ve enjoyed this thread—is it the longest?— mainly because I’m glad to see so many of my own ideas (held tentatively, of course) well expressed by others.

    Like Annie, my wife is an editor, and despite being well wired to the internet plus being able to work these days straight on the computer, drifts of page proofs still accumulate in corners of the house. A leaf from a proposed German college textbook blew loose from one of these in the kitchen just this afternoon. It featured a little piece on Helmut Qualtinger, Viennese author, playwright and cabaret performer. He was born in 1928, and he’d been in films for 70 years. His last role was in “The Name of the Rose” (2003).

    Anyway, one of Qualtinger’s quotes in dialect seems to sum up the original question here:

    „Bin i a Mensch oder a Wiener?”

  114. realpc said,

    “I’ve enjoyed this thread—is it the longest?— mainly because I’m glad to see so many of my own ideas (held tentatively, of course) well expressed by others.”

    But who do you agree with? Do you think being a mensch is absolute, or relative to the social context? Do you think selfishness is bad and selflessness is good, in general, or do you think we, and all the social animals, have to find a balance between them? Do you think it’s ok to express opinions based on fiction or personal fantasies, without qualifying them or trying to provide some kind of evidence?

    I was sorry to be so critical of Whalen, knowing he is amba’s favorite blogger. However, I often disagree with him on so many levels I couldn’t help it.

  115. amba12 said,

    Methinks you and he would be on the same side regarding Sam Harris and scientific arrogance, though.

    Somewhat like you, he believes in reenchantment and the reality of the nonmaterial dimensions.

    One thing I think you object to is his traditional equation in that post of “appetite” with “instinct.” It’s ironic that humans have always looked at animals, which don’t conceal their survival-driven appetites for food, sex, and power, as “bestial” when in fact wild animals’ instincts (and opportunities) restrain them or limit them in their pursuit of those things. It is humans who eat when we’re not hungry and become addicted to sex or power, because the simple instincts and the pleasures that are wired to them are thrown between the multiplying mirrors of the mind. So the “bestial” exists only in the human imagination.

    And it’s also true that affiliation and cooperation are just as “instinct” driven as selfishness, sex, and power.

  116. realpc said,

    “And it’s also true that affiliation and cooperation are just as “instinct” driven as selfishness, sex, and power.”

    Yes of course, yet we have cultural ideas that selfishness is bad and unselfishness is good, and we think that’s what Jesus was saying. I don’t think so. I think our culture has some wrong ideas.

    I realize that Whalen is non-mainstream and that’s why I was reading his blog for a while. But two people can be non-mainstream in very different ways.

    My reason for not believing in materialism is that I think it is an unscientific fantasy. I don’t know if that’s Whalen’s reason.

  117. Tim (formerly Theo Boehm) said,

    Well, to answer realpc’s question, I’m with her generally in her views on materialism, but will part company in other areas, mainly moral, as I do with Whalen, but perhaps for other reasons. The question of Menschness vs. being a weenie is, as mentioned upthread, mainly a literary one, but one that has also caused enough mischief in the real, practical, civilized world to give me great pause to even allow it. It seems to have cropped up in the terms Whalen means basically in the 19th century, and my view is, that if the 18th century wasn’t worried about it, it isn’t worth thinking about. But desiring, politely, not to prolong this thread, I’m saying no more.

    Regardless of my literary or metaphysical opinions, I am, however, in total accord with Annie when she said:

    I’m also skeptical, as you are, of being caught up in one’s own or anyone else’s ideas, though it happens. But it ought to be possible to enjoy ideas without believing them.

    I sometimes wonder if the world would be better if people didn’t have ideas, or if they had ideas in a state of extreme modesty about the correspondence of such ideas to unknowable and multifarious reality. But then would they bother to have them?

    I think people need to have ideas, for the same reason they have music and poetry and art: For the sheer joy of them, and for the proven good things they do for our brains (and souls, if such be allowed), being one of the things that (pace, materialists) separate us from the beasts of the field.

  118. realpc said,

    I am not complaining about people having ideas. I just would like them to give reasons and evidence. And if they don’t, I will be skeptical of their ideas.

  119. realpc said,

    And Tim maybe you are saying a mensch is someone who does what they know is right, instead of giving in to fear. That depends first of all on knowing what is right, and that’s the part that I think depends on the social context.

  120. mockturtle said,

    Fine, realpc. I am free to have [and express] ideas and you are free to be skeptical of them and to express that skepticism. Fair enough, no? Your skepticism in no way diminishes my ideas.

  121. realpc said,

    “Fine, realpc. I am free to have [and express] ideas and you are free to be skeptical of them and to express that skepticism. Fair enough, no? Your skepticism in no way diminishes my ideas.”

    If you have an idea, try to give a reason for it. Otherwise, I will complain. It should really go without saying that we should have reasons for our ideas! Otherwise, why don’t we all just go live in an insane asylum?

  122. mockturtle said,

    We ALL have reasons for our ideas. We may or may not feel it necessary to list them. They are usually the result of many years of input and processing. As you probably know, in chemistry, discoveries like the benzene ring and the DNA molecule were a result of many years of input and an almost unconscious processing of data leading to the resolution. An idea may be unique to the input and processing center [brain] of an individual.

    If I am writing a scientific paper [which I have done] I would certainly provide, not only references, but the necessary data and formulae to back up my assertions. When discussing ideas among friends, I find this quite unnecessary. It seems, realpc, that you would require footnotes to every expressed opinion. On the other hand, maybe you’re just trolling! ;-)

  123. realpc said,

    ” It seems, realpc, that you would require footnotes to every expressed opinion. ”

    No I wouldn’t. But if someone says the process of becoming a mensch most often occurs as a result of being married, I would expect them to qualify or support that statement in some way. If not, then we really should try to be skeptical. Our brains seem to be wired to believe most of what we hear, so it takes some effort to screen unsupported mythology.

    And Whalen told us that a mensch balances their lower animal instincts with their higher spiritual ideals — offending all of us who love and respect other species. And contradicting known facts about social animals.

    If he even tried to give the slightest bit of evidence I would be more sympathetic. But his evidence comes from 19th century fiction.

    One reason Freud is barely taken seriously any more is that he was one of those smart people who spun many of his ideas out of thin air, never feeling a need to consider evidence.

    I am not being a troll, this is just one of the things about human nature that has always amazed me, the ability of people to just believe whatever they like without checking any facts.

    Yes of course it is just natural normal tribalism and it’s very possible that I am not normal. I have been like this my entire life. It has given me unusual and occasionally useful perspectives on subjects that are important to me.

    There are lots of very smart and convincing people around who simply make things up, and are believed. That’s why we have skeptical organizations. Unfortunately, most of the skeptics are actually fanatical materialists. It would be nice if there were more genuine skeptics around.

    This blog is, I think supposed to be for independent people who question the prevailing ideologies. Do you question them just because they don’t make you feel good, or because they are in some ways irrational?

  124. realpc said,

    And no we don’t need a footnote for every statement and our casual discussions are not scientific research papers. Of course I don’t expect that. But I also don’t expect a long stream of speculations presented as facts.

  125. amba12 said,

    We have a helpful tag on the blogs — Karen uses it a lot: “IMO” or “IMHO.” That’s a shorthand way of saying, “of course, I am just speculating.”

  126. realpc said,

    I type IMO after almost every sentence.

  127. mockturtle said,

    ‘ I type IMO after almost every sentence.

    I didn’t see it once in your last two posts. But who’s counting. LOL!

  128. realpc said,

    Ok, here they are:

    IMO IMO IMO IMO

  129. realpc said,

    And in conclusion, IMO, the only way you can be a mensch is to know you are not a mensch.

  130. amba12 said,

    Reminds me of my formulation, “Smart people think they’re dumb, and dumb people think they’re smart; because smart people are just smart enough to realize how dumb they (we all) are.”

  131. mockturtle said,

    And in conclusion, IMO, the only way you can be a mensch is to know you are not a mensch.

    I would certainly agree that thinking you are a mensch precludes your being one. I cannot agree that simply not thinking you are mensch makes you one. :-D

  132. karen said,

    You’re on a roll, mockturtle!!

    I had a conversation yesterday(very stressful, yet mellowed w/wine- an awesome buzz on an empty stomach-mm.) Anyway, my sister is an RN, my daughter is studying to be an RN and i just paid a whopping bill for poop to be cultured and have two friends recently diagnosed w/serious diseases because of what i feel was neglectful medicine.

    Anyway, my sister says it isn’t the medical profession’s fault– they have to answer to laws and insurance companies to get paid. I said all it would take was a collected force to try and stand up to the incremental losses of power, and that the medical profession was complicit in their own supposed infringement, and so on like that.

    No, the nurses aren’t allowed any time to assess and evaluate their patients and if any decided to ~over-reach~ the system as it now is, they’d be outta there. She said we– my husband and i– decided to go w/the system and we had to change by becoming organic. I felt that it was a different circumstance, but i couldn’t put my finger on why– i felt very defeated because i feel i am ~~~right~~~ . Ever heard of the Tea Party, i asked my sister. Sick of the powerlessness of money going where it’s felt it shouldn’t– and the arrogance of gov’t…

    So, in thinking about it– tiny pea brain takes a while to roll around and figure sunny-side up… i figure organic was the 3rd way– isn’t that the word used muchly her, amba? A 3rd way? So, i have to tell my sister that we’re not letting ourselves be herded toward the cliff(as VT seems to be headed w/our ~single-payer health care system~). Not that i know much about that, but- i’ve got a feeling…

    Organic was our naturalpath– herbalist– alternative way to still allow us to farm and to make money at it. That’s not giving into a system that keeps the focus on administration, dollar signs$$ and turnover.

    Just my thoughts for today.

  133. karen said,

    *muchly her = muchly here…

    Off to collect moo juice!

  134. karen said,

    I feel much the same way about education, too.

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