Friday, August 12, 2011

Cures for Melancholia

It's come to my attention that if you read a whole random letter by John Stuart Mill, you can regain enough lift to constitute actual happiness. Here's one, picked for size and shape. Have a listen for fun if you are already feeling fine. But you have to read every word for the antidepressant. The whole time you are reading, try to imagine yourself as Mill, typing this out on an old Victrola to Carlyle. What is John Stuart saying?

No, I know I'm being silly so you don't know whether to trust me, but trust me. If you carefully read every word of this letter you will feel great. I did it and I feel great. Why? Well, I'll tell you at the end of the letter.

India House
8th August 1837
My dear Carlyle
The immediate object of my writing to you is to ask you whether you can manage to give me (if it be still in existence) a letter which I wrote to you in 1833 after my return from Paris, in which I said a great deal about Carrel. I have to write something about him for the review, & it would be of great service to me were I able to refer back to what I wrote in the freshness of my impressions.
It is a great bore to me having to write anything just now, except my book, which I am getting on with, fast & satisfactorily. But it cannot be helped.
The book I think will be a good book; which is more than I would venture to say of any other book which I could attempt to write just now. One good thing that it will do is, it will let you & me see whether we really differ, & if so, how far, without the fruitless attempt to become intelligible to each other by spoken words on a subject so complicated & on which so many of the premisses have to be settled beforehand. Certainly we should, at present, differ much in our language, but I question whether our opinions are so widely apart as they may seem. You call Logic the art of telling others what you believe. I call it, the art, not certainly of knowing things, but of knowing whether you know them or not: not of finding out the truth, but of deciding whether it is the truth that you have found out. Of course I do not think that Logic suffices for this without any thing else. I believe in spectacles, but I think eyes necessary too. Neither do I mean by Logic, the Aristotelian way solely, or even mainly; nay, that I do consider to be only a way of stating a process of thought, not itself a process of thought at all. I do not think that I can explain myself any farther in fewer words than my book will consist of. Thanks for your promise of reading it, which I did not more than half expect, & did not at all think myself entitled to claim.
I suppose you saw the three columns of the Times on your three volumes. Mr Sterling I suppose wrote it, & no doubt sent it to you—at least that is the belief I try to entertain whenever my conscience twits me that I did not. In case you have not seen it, I can give you in few words a summary of its contents: That the stile is nearly the worst possible, everything else nearly the best possible. The writer does not seem to be aware that this is something very like a contradiction in terms. But it is well meant, & cannot but give you many readers & Fraser some buyers who would not otherwise have been had.—However I fully sympathize in your wish to forget the book entirely—I promise you I shall forget mine, soon enough after it is published—nay probably before.
I am very glad you are resting yourself by doing nothing. I am resting myself by doing something—something which is not mere every day business, but allows me & requires me to exert my best (or some of my best) faculties. In truth I have not, for years before, had a mind free from occupation with pettinesses. That is the only true meaning of leisure—choice of work. It is not good for everybody, nor for anybody at all times: for me, just at present, it is good, & I am consequently happier than I have ever been since I had it last. I get a great deal into the country too, among trees & green fields, though with a very small share of rivulets & altogether without the Solway tide waves you speak of.
On the whole things go well with me, not the less so because I am as you say of yourself “sadder” than I have ever been—
Ever affectionately
J. S. Mill

Well in this case it is because of the line that I emboldened abovely: I believe in spectacles, but I think eyes necessary too. Also of course the crazy claims about forgetting a book before it's published and the last line: On the whole things go well with me, not the less so because I am as you say of yourself “sadder” than I have ever been. 


Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy to be Bitch slapped. I got 99 Problems and a Hitch ain't one.

Maybe you missed this most excellent article? Click it. 

 This article made me happy

Excellent Article: The Unbelievers: The New Atheism and the Old Boy Club -Bitch Magazine

 I used to be so sad about how much more Christopher Hitchens took from my book Doubt for his book GING than he cited. He cited me a lot, but took too much more than he cited. Only place he hinted how much was in the acknowledgements with that word "immensely," - great, but buried comprd to the material and ideas he lifted. I'm so happy to see this nice read of the whole thing, (yay Bitches!) it's nice to know that maybe other ladies has got my back? dudes2? dudes2. Expesilly Godless dudes. It's good. Good enough.

I mean Other things happen, it's not like I suddenly have a honeybadger's life,  I still gotta worry about whether when I proposition myself near the Stairs, Elevators, or TARDII, of my choosing, if I'm gonna come around; also What is the meaning of the universe?; and Who has got keys to the office at night?, and Who has got clearance, Clarence? 

What's the frequency Kenneth?, I am asking, not the station identification, but Rather if you walk around this garden Kenneth, with any frequency. 

No, mum, I'd frequent it more if it had a certain element in it, know what I mean? Sailor. Longshoreman. Tattoo man. Radium. Certain frequent element. This is your poetic license getting licentious again, by which I guess I mean to say...

                             I got 99 problems and a Hitch ain't one.



ps. your milage may vary.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The History of Atheism. The Badness of Men Dapple. Marcus Aurelius. Goddess Goldie Peep Chaneski. Atoms.

Dear Bleaders,
Here on "Poetic Atheism," I'll be talking with poetic license and licentiousness as usual but with even more atheism than usual, since I'm usually writing on poetry sites. I'll still start my run at filosophical epiphany with claims like: I'm giving a lot of thought to dapple. It has dawned on me that beyond the biology of aesthetics, the dapple is ample in meaning. It is a little madness of indecision, of mood swing, or a beating heart in endless battle. It has dusked on me that all is opinion. I do no longer believe that all is opinion. 
Oh by the way this is my new puppy Godess Goldie Peep Chaneski, or just God.
I'm thinking about Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, one of the greatest books in The History of Atheism, and Aurelius says a lot of things and sometimes their opposite but one thing he does say an especially lot is "All is opinion." All is not opinion. 
There is plenty that seems objective that is, in fact, opinion. The ways we live, as Montaigne advised us, are just too close a match with the way people around us live for there to be any other explanation for why we choose to live this way. Montaigne being another great hero of The History of Atheism and Doubt. I"m highlighting that I'll be talking about the history of atheism. And Doubt.
But what Aurelius was talking about was heartache, depression, grief, despair, and disappointment. He called himself a Stoic and Stoicism had long claimed and developed the idea that we could think our way out of the pains of living. There were lots of different ways they used to reframe life so it didn't hurt so much. The big idea was that you are part of the giant machine of humanity and the universe and you shouldn't be taking so seriously the specifics of what happens to little you. Stuff's gonna happen. Roll with it. Aurelius tries to cheer up his own blue self, and you, thusly:
For with what art thou discontented? With the badness of men? Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily; and consider how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes; and be quiet at last.-
But perhaps thou art dissatisfied with that which is assigned to thee out of the universe.- Recall to thy recollection this alternative; either there is providence or atoms… and be quiet at last.- … 
But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment thee.- See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and want of judgment in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed, and be quiet at last.
Consider that the whole earth is a point, and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee. 
This then remains…all these things, which thou seest, change immediately and will no longer be; and constantly bear in mind how many of these changes thou hast already witnessed. The universe is transformation: life is opinion. 
I quote this in such length because I think it is wonderful and kind of hilarious. I love "endurance is part of justice" and I love "what kind of people are they who will praise you."
"Either there is providence or atoms" means either the universe has meaning or it is all just atoms, either way is fine. Why does stating this make it fine? I think because what we imagine by default is a meaningful universe that is temporarily in chaos, which makes us panic. Whereas saying that it is either meaningful, in which case all's well, or it is material and doesn't matter, in which case nothing can really be wrong because it doesn't matter.
But of course, it feels like it matters, and the feeling like it matters matters. 
wrote something here: a while back that has been rolling around in my mind: "The idea is to try to let yourself feel what is happening to you, which, as the philosophers have told us, may as well be all in your head, and as the poets have told us, isn't."
I think there's something true in this, that poetry in particular and art in general is about how, in fact, all is not opinion, though it may seem to be by every available logic. That an older guy, an emperor, might be trying to calm you down from across the vast gap of two thousand years (he died in the year 189), is itself something that matters and that is beyond opinion. 

As dapple demonstrates though, depending on who we are and at what point in our lives we are presently lingering, we are all in the process of learning lessons on opposite sides of this swinging truth: the terrible importance is an illusion, and also, your life is deep with worth and consequence.
 Endurance is a part justice. Courage! 
See you next time.
ps Yes, my husband John and I got married on a no dogs no gods policy but the kids put up a fuss about the first one. At some point the evidence changes and it become easier to have a dog than to not have one. Thus, I now have something to believe in. She is the greatest and kind of my first dog. I am so in love. She is a little nippy, but I can take it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elevator Guy, Rebecca Watson, Richard Dawkins, Fun With Atheism! - by Jennifer MIchael Hecht

I rewrote this. It's better! I left the old version up, below.

On Rebecca Watson and Elevator Man and Richard Dawkins -- Though this post starts with a strange story about me and an odd event, keep reading and you will understand.

Ahem, To wit:

Yesterday, I saw a picture of myself on the Poetry Foundation website, it was an old picture (24+years old) and I was wearing a white cotton shift. I remembered I was also wearing it once, 23 years ago when a friend (Steve H.) was late to pick me up at the train station at Takoma Park outside DC and that young man followed me off the train and then kind of followed me at the "station" and it was dark and I was alone and he eventually got so close that I turned around and said, Hello? I was scared, curious, worried, but not sensing danger from this lithe and okay seeming but clearly following-me tenaciously young man. And he said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I have often thought about, kind of like a wishful daydream, that I was born a girl, a woman." Oh I said, surprised and tipsy on the good absurdity of the freshly rained spring blacktop parkinglot holding my odd follower and me. He continued, "If I could be a girl or a woman I would want to be exactly like you, with your long hair and natural white dress and casual face." And we talked a nice talk in the weird lit night. Then Steve, showed up in his slow car and took me back to our version of planet earth, the house with the kitchen in the back where we all stayed all that times those years.

This story illustrates that the young man was wrong to do something that frightened me, but he had the best, dearest, queerest, sweetest, weirdest intentions. We can guess what men are like, given statistics and our knowledge of testosterone, but we can NOT know in any given case, what a man's intentions are before he acts them out. Men, despite stats and hormones, are as different from one another as are women.

I do not think we have to boycott Richard Dawkin's books, though I am entirely on Rebecca Watson's side that elevator guy was creepy in act if not in intention; and I think she behaved well and wonderfully in telling the world about it sweetly and without much drama. Dawkins way over acted and yes, should be scolded for it in my mind, and I don't scold people unless I am their mother or they have asked my opinion, but I do say it was wrong and I will sidle away from Dawkins on any Dais until he makes this right in public (where he made it wrong), but I bet he is learning his lesson from all this talk, and doesn't need the boycott to happen to teach him. (He has always treated me like unwanted furniture in his way, or perhaps like lint, even when he and I were presenting on the same stage at a place where I was a fellow of the hosting intellectual club and he was not (!) but whatev. Just saying. He could brush up on American manners or on his dealing with philosopher women or maybe he just needed sleep and was overtasked that day and I am being to sensitive, which is always possible.) Let's give him a little space and time to think this through though, before we act as rashly as he did, posting that screed, let us act better and give some time and space, people need it and I think, in spite of all, he deserves it. Now everyone leave Watson some space to, unless she says otherwise. I think she did good and was brave and must be feeling a bit worn out from all this, so chill.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, Phamous Atheist, Poet, and Fillosopher

PS This kind of fighting has gone on for some time.

There were men and women atheists in Ancient Judea and we know of at least one woman who sometimes talked philosophy in Epicurus's godless garden (c. 250-270 BC), late in the gloaming and the Hellenistic night. All through history some men and women haven't believed any of the nonsense legends and have instead struggled with subtle religious ideas and their natural counterparts. Throughout all of this the men and women sometimes squabble and often fight about sex.

The only known notable atheist in Ancient Jewish history, other than Epicurus (even today the word for atheist in Hebrew and in Jewish texts in other languages is "Epicurean") was Elisha (it's a long story) born around the year 100 AD and the only person to defend Elisha as having a right to his opinion was the famed-for-wisdom wife of the great Rabbi Meir's wife, Beruriah. Because she too was a rationalist atheist Jew. Beruriah was the only woman to be treated as a person of learning and halaka decision in the Talmud. She was married to a great rabbi but was also the daughter of an even greater rabbi and was renown and sought-out for her sharp wit as well as her scriptural knowledge.

There was a rabbi who was much more conservative, -- well most were! Beruriah described God as essentially not there, though she was not as specific as Elisha who declared there is no God (I told you, it's a long story. It is in Doubt: A History, I talk about it in the early chapters when it happens and then again in the last chapters when moderns refind the story and write it as drama and philosophical psychology) -- So, right, there was this Rabbi Yosi the Galilean who was known for being kind of a sexist jerkwad saying philosophers shouldn't waste words talking with women. Then one day he and his little group were lost and he saw Beruriah and her entourage and he said to her, "Oh Beruriah, Daughter of the great Rabbi, woman of wisdom, can you tell me how to find my path to the town of Lod?" And she answered, "Foolish Galilean, did not the rabbis say 'Engage not in much talk with women'? You should have asked, "Which to Lod?"

Thus atheists have been cracking jokes about pompous men and lost boys and wise-acre tough girls and commentary by sharp-penned smart-ass women for several millennia. Relax and enjoy it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Perhaps Unusual and Amusing Post About *Elevator Guy!* By Jennifer Michael Hecht

Dear Bleaders!

This starts far from Elevator Guy but gets there. Read the funny story and then you will see the point. Here is the story:

I recently saw a video of a Pig raising puppies along with her piglets that I found so evocative that I posted it to my facebook wall. After I did it, it made me think of a poem I once wrote about a Woman and a Chicken and a Joke about a Farmer and a Pig. So after posting the pig link with a poetic comment (I'm a poet as you may recall), I posted the poem Chicken Pig, which I only thought of after posting Pig puppy piglet video, and poetic comment.

Then I noticed the photo of me that went up when I posted the poem was Very Young. And I wrote on the comments, tagging my old friend Stephen, This: 

I remember this dress it was a white cotton shift and I was wearing it that time, 23 years ago when you were late to pick me up at the train station at Takoma Park and that young man followed me off the train and then kind of followed me at the "station" and it was dark and I was alone and he eventually got so close that I turned around and said, Hello? I was scared, curious, worried, but not sensing danger from this lithe and okay seeming but clearly following-me tenaciously young man. And he said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I have often thought about, kind of like a wishful daydream, that I was born a girl, a woman." Oh I said, surprised and tipsy on the good absurdity of the freshly rained spring blacktop parkinglot holding my odd follower and me. He continued, "If I could be a girl or a woman I would want to be exactly like you, with your long hair and natural white dress and casual face." And we talked a nice talk in the weird lit night. Then you, Steve, showed up in your slow car and took me back to our version of planet earth, the house with the kitchen in the back where we all stayed all that times those years. Right?

After I posted this on facebook, I noticed it had bearing on the whole "ELEVATOR GUY" STORY and I posted it to my facebook page, with some remark to connect the two and suggest "Hey, you never know when it comes to *INTENTIONS* though you surely do know when it comes to actions. 

After I posted the above, A guy I'm facebook friends with who I do not know in realDlife who wants to remain anonymous asks me in a facebook im:

"So your premise is that we should consider that there may be more than just a crude proposition with elevator guy right?"

And I say "Yes his intention might have been sweet or weird or nothing. His act was not the best. She did a fine job of pointing that out."

I add here that Richard Dawkins's response on PZ Meyers page was more dramatic and wrong than anything Elevator Guy or Rebecca Watson did.

He used violent language imaging violence against women, and he did it when women were talking about being uncomfortable. -- Uncomfortable In a public movement He asks to be considered a Leader of. And my response is to say, I hate when guys do that. I sidle away from them when they do. More info? Richard Dawkins has always responded to me as if I were furniture in his way, or lint on a friends bow tie. Even at intellectual clubs where I was the member and he not and we had both been invited to speak about secularism on a stage of some sort. The last time I met him he had heard the tale end of my talk and others were gathered around me, this was later that night, telling me what my talk meant to them, RD cam over and cut one woman off and said I heard the end of your talk it was good, I once said the same thing in the first paragraph of the last chapter of (one of my books) [I, jmh, i can't remember which right now]. I looked it up and it was a similar wistful point about being human as being part of time and the universe...

Dawkins was very wrong to write what he wrote, in that language. His point was dull and small and wrong but his language was awful and gross and I don't like being near that sort of thing. But I don't see the need to boycott his books as RW has suggested. Anyway, I don't read them, though I own and have looked at them. Sorry but for someone not raised in Christian dogma, his antireligion books are too boring to actually read.

I think you should punish him and enrich your life and the life of your community by reading my books especially, Doubt: A History which provides for you a history of atheism and religious (and philosophical) doubt and atheism throughout all of history, all over the globe. Or read The Happiness Myth or The End of the Soul, or Funny, or The Next Ancient World.

You can read much of all of them online, or all of them at your library, but if you buy a book, I eat and if I eat, I live to write again.

Thank you, I love you, Don't kill yourselves (see my posts on BAP), Don't feel guilty for not going to the Gym, Don't overtrust science and science news, and be good. And go outside! and look at nature it is in 7D, not like your laptop or smart phone!

Listen to your Poet. (me)



Friday, July 1, 2011

Against Agnosticism: Pink Floyd, Bertrand Russell, Battersea

There is nothing stranger you can do to your mind than to give it history. Take Rosalie, for instance. She is walking through a village early morning in England and looking at the charming houses and ingratiating streams. She walks a long time as the grey sky mists and clears to blue, and back to grey and misty. Rosie's okay and her good shoes are holding up too. She smells the world and feels it in her belly. Her mind is rattling around in there, wondering what it’s doing here, but the rest of her is feasting on the moment.
Now Rosie goes into a café and starts reading the big grey book on the counter beside her, a history of this same town in which she’s been wandering. The sky starts storming outside, inside they seem glad to have her, so she gets comfortable and lunch hours go by.
By the time the sky gets light again, it is already getting dimmer, past tea, before dinner, and she heads out to snake the streets home to her hostel. But now she knows everything about Battersea. Why is Battersea inland, for instance? Because it used to be on the coast but the sea was so brutal in its marauding erosion that the townspeople picked up and left, stopped in a quiet place just south of London and named their dry new encampment with the old wet name they’d always known. Much later Bertrand Russell would deliver, here, one of his most powerful and influential speeches on the purposes of man under the godless heavens.
As Rosie walks homeward the aspect of the natives changes. Now she everywhere sees the odd pluck it must require to lift yourself up and all your neighbors and redirect your browser to another world, inland, and name it Battersea again. Battersea forever.
The human mind, I think, has two modes: Present and Historical. Both are good. In the first you are an animal, in the second, just a god. The first smells baking bread. The second knows this is the same bread Henry the Fifth smelt just before he dealt his quiverblow against the fearsome French, who were all man and five times as many but their arrows, ahem, fell short. Englishmen now in their beds have wished they’d been there to see it for centuries now. Englishmen, for Chrissake, get out of bed already.
Let’s make the village a concept and do this again. Rosalie is an agnostic. She has heard the argument that no one can prove a negative and believes it. Then she wanders into a café and reads a big book on doubt as she waits out the rain. Now she knows that the term agnosticism was invented only a hundred years ago by Thomas Henry Huxley, and has no intellectual pedigree to speak of. Huxley made it up having read about Skepticism, which is a philosophically robust proposition that asks how we can know anything at all, given the limitations of our minds and our tiny, animal perspective. Skepticism is thousands of years old and has been brilliantly explored in every age. Agnosticism is the logic of Skepticism applied to only one question, the question of whether one particular people’s imagined idea of the supernatural actually exists.
To be sensible, either you are a Skeptic about all things, which allows you to be a profoundly interesting thinker but does not allow you to claim to know anything about the world; or you are a rationalist, which means you gather evidence, try to minimize your cultural bias, and make conclusions. If you make your decisions by rationalism, you can certainly say that an idea is not to be considered as at all valid if it has no evidence to argue for it being true. In Skepticism I have to allow that possibly all of life is happening in the dream of a cosmic elephant; in rationalism, I do not. It is philosophical nonsense to take Skepticism and apply it to one belief. In rationalism, it is possible to rule on the validity of a conjecture that has no evidence.
Huxley made up agnosticism because he wanted to leave room for people to be atheists but still keep a line of hope. But that is massively wrong-headed. When people confront the truth they get used to it and see that it is not so bad. So there is no afterlife. Big deal. Life is enough. When you are dead, you are so dead that nothing should matter to you about it. When you are alive, you’re alive. Every moment is so huge, there is so much of it, and we take in so little of it. You want more life at the end? You’re hardly using the life you have now. None of us are. We already have more than we can handle. Your job is to try to know the present and the past, to expand into the now, in part by knowing what was.
Some people get on a plane to change where they are but you can transform your surroundings as well as your inner world with just a touch of new knowing.
Having researched and written Doubt: A History and The Happiness Myth I find myself in a land unexpected. Richer and twisty. Aware of how an inland people still braves battering by the sea. History emancipates and reconfigures so the way home looks different than the way we’ve just been.
Russell’s speech (in 1927) was “Why I Am Not a Christian,” and it was published and republished and for several generations it was a downright sacred text for those flying their kite with nothing but wind and skill. For more on that and a thousand other inspirations, see Doubt: A History andThe Happiness Myth.
It was, btw, over the Battersea Power Station that Pink Floyd floated their pig on the wing. On the Animals cover (1977). Life, friends, is boring. That’s why John Berryman drank so much, so much of the time. His mother was right too: Ever to admit you are bored means you have no inner resources. I admit now that, like everyone else, I have no inner resources. By contrast though, I have quite a lot of outer resources, and not always in the tankard. With history hissing gory about the storied past, and the smell of the bread, baking in one’s olfactoric imagination, it begins to be possible to still the spinning day down to something distillable, and store it, and become your own oracle.
Rosalie notices that everything has changed, but that she, in some ways, at least, is the same, and has kept her name. It’s still me. It's still Rosalie. It's still Battersea. It’s still you too, and since it is, you need to know your history. It makes the run from the gun to the sun a lot more fun.