May 3, 2003

1. Ahab’s Shadow

I often watch movies (on TV, not at a movie theater) with my daughter, who’s five years old. Doubtless there’s much to be said against video — it’s too easy, too passive, etc. But there are benefits, too: video can introduce a child to “the great world”, to distant places and times, etc. Also, it’s something that a parent and child can enjoy together, and it stimulates conversation (we make frequent use of the Pause button).

We recently watched Moby Dick, starring Patrick Stewart as Ahab. I found the same “shadow power” in Ahab that we discussed in connection with Hamlet; like Hamlet, Ahab is a negative thinker who infects the people around him, and finally creates a pile of corpses. When Pip and Queequeg go mad, someone remarks, ‘Ahab is causing this, Ahab is driving us all to destruction, infecting us all.’ What was said of Hamlet could also be said of Ahab: “he is feared by those around him... [he] is so powerful. He is, as it were, the channel of a mysterious force.”1 Starbuck perceives Ahab’s negative tendency, struggles against him, and tries to kill him but fails, just as Claudius tries to kill Hamlet but fails. The words “magic” and “witchcraft” are frequently used, suggesting that Melville was interested in psychic phenomena, interested in the power of negative thinking.

Ahab can’t overcome his “shadow drive”, his desire to kill the white whale. When Starbuck attempts to stab Ahab, he stops himself because Ahab begins speaking in a sensible, even remorseful way, as if he realizes his own obsession, as if he realizes that his life is being destroyed by his obsession. But he can’t overcome his obsession. “It would be relatively easy,” wrote Jung’s disciple, Marie-Louise von Franz, “if one could integrate the shadow into the conscious personality just by attempting to be honest and to use one’s insight. But, unfortunately, such an attempt does not always work. There is such a passionate drive within the shadowy part of oneself that reason may not prevail against it.”2

Ahab is consumed by “a passionate drive within the shadowy part” of himself. Is there any way to overcome, to lay to rest, such a shadow drive? Von Franz mentions two ways: “A bitter experience coming from the outside may occasionally help; a brick, so to speak, has to drop on one’s head to put a stop to shadow drives and impulses. At times a heroic decision may serve to halt them, but such a superhuman effort is usually possible only if the Great Man within (the Self) helps the individual to carry it through.”3

If you want to pursue this subject further, I suggest Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, by Marie-Louise von Franz.

2. My Day in Court

Since 1995, I’ve worked as a freelance computer consultant. In the beginning, I often worked for individuals in their homes, now almost all my work is for businesses. In the beginning, I charged $15 per hour, now I charge $35-$55 per hour. But while my business has grown, I still don’t have a backlog of business — if someone asks me to work tomorrow morning, I wouldn’t say, “I’m booked for the next ten days”. I work part-time, and thanks to the high cost of health insurance (about $8,000 per year), I don’t make quite enough money to support a family of three. My specialty is database programming with Microsoft Access; I’ve also worked on websites, often using Access to generate data-intensive web pages.

I work for a small number of businesses on an ongoing basis. Rarely does a customer refuse to pay an invoice. Occasionally, however, a customer decides to stop hiring me, and then he sometimes refuses to pay the last invoice (“Why should we pay him? We’re not using him anymore, we don’t need him. Why should we pay him?”).

This happened to me recently, with a customer who started a new business, and had the ambitious goal of running his business with custom software. I did two projects for him, then he hired me for a third project. Since I don’t have a backlog of business, I did this project (as I do most projects) rapidly, and sent him an invoice with equal rapidity. My hope was that he would be grateful for this rapidity, since it would help him to get his new business started. Instead, he seemed to think that I had done little work, that I was greedy for money, and that I had purposely left the project unfinished so that I could make more money by finishing it. When he complained, I expressed no willingness to finish the project for free. He said I was cheating him, and took me to task for ‘having the gall’ to argue with him.

Jung’s disciple, Aniela Jaffé, said, “the conscious or unconscious craving for power was for [Jung] the dark shadow, the root of countless evils, above all in human relationships.”4 In the business world, many quarrels, including perhaps this quarrel, are power contests. My customer had worked for many years as a supervisor of programmers; he was accustomed to dealing with programmers from a position of strength. But dealing with a freelancer like myself is entirely different from dealing with an employee. An employee usually depends on his employer for 100% of his income, but a freelancer may derive only 1% of his income from a particular customer, hence a freelancer is more likely to ‘have the gall to argue’ than an employee.

My customer was willing to pay me, but wanted me to work first. Meanwhile, I was willing to work, but wanted to be paid for prior work first. Finally, my customer decided to “sever the relationship”. He objected to part of the $250 invoice, but said he would pay three-quarters of it, which I didn’t object to. But when it came to actually writing the check, he couldn’t bring himself to pay me. Furthermore, he found that he couldn’t finish the project himself, and would have to abandon it and buy off-the-shelf, un-customized software. When he decided to abandon the project, he seemed to become even less willing to pay me.

Having little or no hope of ever being paid, I went to Small Claims Court, and filed a claim for $250 (plus a few dollars in court costs). I had never been to Small Claims Court, and I had often wondered how it worked. Now I would find out. I expected, however, that my customer would try to avoid court, would be willing to negotiate. As the court date approached, however, he made no move to negotiate.

Finally the court date arrived. It was a large room, with perhaps 50-75 people in it. Mediators as well as judges were on hand to resolve disputes. Many cases were decided when one party failed to appear, and the other party won by default.

Before long, a judge was available to hear my case, and the defendant and I were ushered into a smaller room where the case would be heard. We stood and faced the front of the room, and we remained thus until the end of the trial. After a few minutes, the judge entered, sat down, and asked me to state my case. I had prepared a 30-page booklet, and made three copies — one for the judge, one for the defendant, and one for myself; the booklet consisted of various evidence, mostly e-mail between myself and the defendant.

I began by saying that, when the defendant offered to pay 75%, he implicitly acknowledged that 75% of the invoice was legitimate (if it wasn’t legitimate, why did he offer to pay it?). I then mentioned several reasons why the remaining 25% was also legitimate. The judge had little interest in my “evidence booklet”, but seemed receptive to my arguments. After a minute or two, the judge turned to the defendant, and asked him for his version of events.

The defendant had little evidence — perhaps three sheets of paper in all. He seemed intent on addressing the judge as an individual — making eye-contact with the judge, gaining the judge’s sympathies, etc. He seemed to regard the trial as a personality contest, he seemed to think that the question before the court was, “is the defendant a nice guy, or is the plaintiff a nice guy?” and he seemed intent on demonstrating that the defendant was a nice guy, and the plaintiff wasn’t. My approach was different, I was focused entirely on the justice of my case, my evidence, etc. Unlike the defendant, I never addressed the judge with the ingratiating phrase, “your honor”.

Besides the power to charm, the defendant had other arrows in his quiver. Like Bill Clinton, he was a smooth and skillful liar; the distinction between True and False didn’t seem to exist for him. And finally, he was adept at talking around the subject, talking about things that weren’t directly relevant to the invoice in dispute. The judge seemed far readier to listen to his ramblings than to examine my evidence. The judge wanted an easy and enjoyable job, didn’t want to make the effort required to sort through the evidence and get to the truth, didn’t seem to feel that a $250 invoice deserved time and effort. I could feel that the defendant was scoring points with the judge, and I was fearful lest the judge rule in his favor.

After a long ramble by the defendant, I was finally given a chance to speak. By this time, I was worked up, I was carried away, I was angry. I spoke passionately, I made some good points, and the judge seemed to be listening. Then I felt someone tapping my arm: a sheriff, who had been standing behind me, whispered to me that I should speak in a ‘common tone’. I said I would, but I immediately slipped back into the impassioned tone that I’d been using. Then the sheriff spoke to me again, and this time the judge joined in, threatening to ‘cut you off completely’.

The trial lasted 15-20 minutes, and ended when the judge said, “judgment for the plaintiff of $200”. I had won a qualified victory. I didn’t feel victorious, however, since I had largely lost the contest for the disputed 25%. The defendant began fishing his money out of his pocket, expecting that he would be asked to pay, but no one asked him to pay. In the strange world of the law, judgment is one thing, and payment is a separate issue. So the defendant put his money back in his pocket, and just kept walking.

Now I was faced with the task of collecting on the judgment. I got a copy of the judgment and sent it to the defendant, hoping that he would pay me without further ado. No such luck. So I went back to the courthouse, and obtained from the clerk an “Execution & Citation” — a method for collecting a judgment. Then I went to the sheriff’s office, since the sheriff has the job of “serving the execution” — that is, going to the defendant, and making a “demand” for payment. If my judgment were against a corporation, it may have been difficult to collect — a corporation is a shadowy entity, which can dissolve, hide its assets, etc. In this case, however, the judgment wasn’t against a corporation, it was against an individual — and a well-to-do individual at that — so it was therefore a simple matter to collect the money owed. And so, at long last, I was paid for my work, or most of it, though I wasn’t paid for all the time and effort involved in the case.

The judge clearly wanted a compromise, rather than an unqualified victory for one party. The judge wanted to end the dispute, instead of taking the trouble to find where justice lay. It isn’t easy to find justice, it requires experience, intelligence, character, and diligence. I once did computer work for a judge who seemed to possess all these qualities, who seemed to be tenacious in pursuing justice, but such judges aren’t easy to find. Like a miner searching for gold, a judge must be able to sift out the truth from a pan full of untruths, half-truths, and irrelevancies — no easy job. Small wonder that many judges, even if they aren’t actually corrupt, are content to find a middle ground, and “split the difference.”

3. Debate With A Philosophy Professor

A few months ago, I began toying with the idea of applying for a Ph.D. program. (Eventually I applied to Ph.D. programs at Vanderbilt, Penn State, and the University of Chicago, and was rejected by all of them.) I sent e-mail to various academics, inquiring about their programs. I sent the following e-mail to a philosophy professor at an Ivy League college:

I’m interested in non-analytic philosophy (Nietzsche, Thoreau, Montaigne, Zen, Jung, etc.). I view philosophy as a synthesis of the humanities; in my view, Jung is a more important “philosopher” than Russell. I’m considering applying for a graduate program, and trying to find one that would be suitable for me. I’ve published books in this field, but I never thought that academia had a place for me. The writers I admired all seemed to be hostile to academia....

The professor responded as follows:

One thing I can tell you is that ‘analytic’ philosophy is distinguished more by a style than by subject matter. Plenty of analytic philosophers study Nietzsche or Montaigne, for instance. You should decide whether you are interested in the characters you mentioned in an analytic way.

If not, there are a few obvious doctoral programs to check out. SUNY Stony Brook has a very non-analytic bent. So do Vanderbilt and Penn State. For a more mixed atmosphere, take a look at Northwestern.

You might also consider Religious Studies programs. Thoreau and Nietzsche, and of course Zen, are studied as much in RS programs as they are in Philosophy programs, and possibly in a style you would prefer.

I responded thus:

One thing I can tell you is that ‘analytic’ philosophy is distinguished more by a style than by subject matter.

Interesting point, but I’m not sure I agree. I consider paranormal phenomena — telepathy, ghosts, foreknowledge, etc. — to be of special interest to philosophy, but I think most analytic philosophers would avoid paranormal phenomena. Perhaps the most popular philosopher in the world is Thoreau, but what do analytic philosophers do with him? Don’t they ignore him? Aren’t they apt to deny that he is a philosopher? But in my view, he’s a philosopher par excellence, since he lived his philosophy....

Permit me to mention one more contemporary philosopher who is ignored in academia, but struck a chord with the general public: Eric Hoffer. Hoffer was a San Francisco dockworker who died around 1980. Hoffer wrote aphorisms, like Nietzsche.... Like Campbell, Thoreau and Watts, Hoffer had no interest in logic or analytic philosophy. [Click here to see Eric Sevareid’s interview with Hoffer.]

The professor asked, “Is it true that Thoreau had no interest in analytic philosophy? Did he ever read Rousseau? I hope he did.” I responded:

I’m surprised that you regard Rousseau as an analytic philosopher (as you seem to). When I think of Rousseau, I think of his great autobiography, Confessions, and his novel, The New Heloise — both of which are, if I’m not mistaken, purely non-analytic. Perhaps you’re thinking of his comments on the origin of language in his Two Discourses and Emile. As for whether Thoreau read Rousseau, I think he must have read at least a bit of Rousseau at some point, but I have no reason to think he was a fan of Rousseau, or that he knew Rousseau’s work well.

Permit me to take another jab at analytic philosophers: it seems to me that, instead of requiring philosophy majors to take a class in Logic, they should be required to take a canoe trip on the Penobscot River, where Thoreau paddled. I can’t understand the use of studying logic — much less making the study of logic a requirement, perhaps the requirement. Did Nietzsche study logic? Did Thoreau? Did Rousseau?

The professor responded thus:

I don’t really consider Rousseau to be an analytic philosopher. The classification is almost absurdly anachronistic. However, Rousseau was, obviously, an enlightenment philosopher, and in many of his works he produced arguments. I was thinking of The Social Contract and the Discourse on Inequality. Emile, admittedly, is not exactly chock full of arguments.

I was thinking not that Thoreau definitely did read Rousseau, but that he ought to have. If he didn’t, I think that’s a shame. I think someone like Thoreau could have gained a lot from Rousseau’s thoughts on political obligation, injustice, inequality, man-in-society, and many other issues.

Logic is important if arguments are important. Analytic philosophers all think that arguments are very important indeed. But what makes an argument good? And why? Trying to understand these questions without knowing any logic is hopeless.

Logic is also absolutely crucial, I believe, for understanding necessity, and some other metaphysical issues. It is probably crucial for understanding truth, but that is controversial. Put it this way: there are some theories of truth which are going to be incomprehensible to students who don’t know any logic. Of course, those theories may be wrong (but I think they’re better than any competitors I know of!).

I responded as follows:

Thoreau wasn’t interested in abstractions, he was interested in the concrete. He liked to read travel books, etc., and I don’t think he read much theory. If he were alive today, I’m sure he wouldn’t read any analytic philosophy... and if he went to Harvard today, I think he’d be turned off by the Philosophy Department, and would major in something else....

[In response to the professor’s question about whether Nietzsche and Thoreau studied logic, I wrote:] I’m quite sure they didn’t study logic, and I’m also quite sure they didn’t think it was worth studying. In my view, one can think, and think logically, without studying logic, just as one can write, and write grammatically (grammatically correct), without studying grammar.

Analytic philosophers all think that arguments are very important indeed.

Thoreau tells us how he lived, he has little use for arguments. Kierkegaard said that his life would be of more interest to posterity than his writings. Nietzsche gives us ideas and opinions, he has no use for intricate arguments. Arguments — especially careful, logical, intricate ones — are, in my view, a purely academic exercise. In my view, arguments have little or nothing to do with philosophy.

There are some theories of truth which are going to be incomprehensible to students who don’t know any logic.

But such theories of truth are, in my view, a purely academic exercise. Real philosophy is concerned with life, with experience, with the concrete, with ideas, with opinions.

Analytic philosophy is characterized by a style much more than by a subject matter.

Speaking of style, my guys (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Emerson, Thoreau, Pascal, etc.) are known for being outstanding stylists — prose stylists, literary stylists. Perhaps we can speak of The Analytic Style vs. The Literary Style.

© L. James Hammond 2003
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1. Hamlet, Norton Critical Edition, G. Wilson Knight, “The Embassy of Death”, p. 188 back
2. Man and His Symbols, Part III, p. 173 (hardcover version) back
3. ibid back
4. From the Life and Work of C. G. Jung, ch. 4, p. 101 back