March 27, 2004

1. New Edition

A publishing possibility has appeared, so I’m preparing a new edition of my book of aphorisms. I began this book in the summer of ’84, and since then I’ve made countless revisions, countless new editions. Sometimes I wonder, “Should I revise this, or should I let it stand, and work on something new? How can I revise it without destroying whatever merit it has? But if I no longer agree with its views, how can I let it stand? If I wrote on that subject today, I wouldn’t write what I wrote ten years ago, but I don’t completely disagree with what I wrote before, it has some merit.” Doubtless many writers have felt this way when confronted with something they wrote years before.

When I re-read Chapter One, I was surprised to find that most of it can stand as is. I recommend it; if you haven’t read it, click here. But it ended with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, it didn’t discuss Jung or Zen. I feel that Jung and Zen are important to philosophy in our time, so I wrote some new aphorisms, and inserted them near the end of Chapter One. If you’ve been reading Phlit for a while, the ideas in these new aphorisms may be familiar, but the mode of expression is different, hence you may find them worthwhile. Here are the three new aphorisms:

[The rest of this section is now in Chapter 1 of my book Conversations With Great Thinkers.]

2. Telepathy and the Shadow

I once went on a “meditation retreat,” which lasted for a weekend, and consisted of sitting meditation alternating with walking meditation. During the retreat, each of us had one-on-one conversations with the leaders/teachers, and the retreat ended with a group conversation; the rest was silence. Near the end of the retreat, one of the two teachers said, “if you have any problem with someone in the group, any hard feelings, try to let go of those.” The teacher evidently thought that hard feelings could develop even among people in silent meditation.

I’m reminded of a remark by the American philosopher Eric Hoffer: “Sometimes it seems that people hear best what we do not say.... A misunderstanding takes place not when people fail to understand each other, but when they sense what is going on in each other’s mind and do not like it.”1

Many imaginative writers have discussed telepathy, non-verbal communication. Dostoyevsky, for example, said “I did not speak of it directly.... I spoke almost without words. And I am an old hand at speaking without words. I have spent all my life speaking without words. I have lived through whole tragedies without uttering a word.”2

Proust was fascinated by telepathy: “The truth has no need to be uttered to be made apparent... one may perhaps gather it with more certainty, without waiting for words, without even bothering one’s head about them, from a thousand outward signs, even from certain invisible phenomena, analogous in the sphere of human character to what in nature are atmospheric changes.”

Strindberg was also fascinated by telepathy. Strindberg lived during the late 1800s, when the Occult/Spiritualist movement was at its height. Strindberg compared telepathic communication to inaudible sound waves. To his third wife, from whom he was separated, and who lived in the same city as he did, he wrote thus: “I think I seem disturbing to you here, and from this apartment invisible wires stretch like inaudible sound waves which yet reach their destination.”3

Perhaps you’re thinking, “These writers are talking about telepathy, but telepathy doesn’t always concern the shadow, there could be telepathic transmission of a sensible thought, a positive thought.” True, but shadow thoughts — negative, crude shadow thoughts — seem unworthy of conscious expression, hence shadow thoughts are often transmitted telepathically.

Here’s an example: in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, Stephen Dedalus (the protagonist) attends a physics lecture. One of his classmates, seated below Stephen, asks the professor, “are we likely to be asked questions on applied science?” Then “Stephen looked down coldly on the oblong skull beneath him.... The voice, the accent, the mind of the questioner offended him and he allowed the offence to carry him towards willful unkindness.... The oblong skull beneath did not turn to meet this shaft of thought.”4 Stephen assumes that thoughts can be communicated telepathically, hence he seems to expect that “the oblong skull” will turn around in response to his unkind thought, his “shaft of thought.” Stephen’s shaft of thought seems to be a good example of the shadow, since it is a negative feeling with no rational basis, a negative feeling that is out of proportion to its cause; Joyce terms it “willful.”

Here’s a story about telepathy and the thought of death: an American woman visited Jung at his house in Switzerland. It was 1955, Jung was turning 80, and his friends had given him a tree for his birthday.

We stood in a semicircle by the place chosen for the tree while two gardeners started digging the hole.... As I looked at [Jung] in the outdoor light of the afternoon.... he looked all of his eighty years and very frail, with the frailty of old age. With the shock of this realization, a sinister crescendo seemed to get into the rhythm of spades going in and earth thumping down. Irrationally, it seemed that this hole was not for planting a tree, that these were not gardeners, they were grave-diggers. The feeling about death was so strong that the scene became unbearable, and I stood in utter helplessness, wishing and praying for it all to stop. Suddenly I heard Jung saying: “This has nothing to do with death. They are planting new life.” He was looking straight in front of him, addressing no one. Having my unspoken thought picked out of my head and answered was so startling that the irrational panic turned into a numinous experience.5
This story may be an example of the shadow at work: a negative feeling with no rational basis, a negative feeling that is out of proportion to its cause. Like my meditation teacher, Jung was savvy about such matters, hence he could handle the situation.

3. By the Way

A. In China, they say “a monk from distant lands can understand the scriptures.”6 Here in the West, the same idea is expressed in different words: no man is a prophet in his own country.7 Montaigne said, “In my region of Gascony, they think it funny to see me in print. But the further from my own haunts my reputation spreads, the higher I am rated.”8

B. I was recently looking at an old issue of Phlit, and I found a strange typing mistake: I had typed “Aristotle” when I meant to type “art.” How is that possible? I write in Microsoft Word, and I use the AutoCorrect feature (on the Tools menu) as a shorthand system. For example, when I type “p” the word “had” appears, when I type “h” the word “the” appears, “fe” becomes “for example”, “ar” becomes “Aristotle”, etc., etc. The AutoCorrect feature is supposed to correct spelling mistakes, but it can also be used as a shorthand system. So if you find a strange typing mistake in Phlit, you’ll know where it came from.

[Update 2016: GoogleDocs has a feature called “Automatic Substitution”; it can be found under Tools ==> Preferences. It’s similar to Word’s AutoCorrect, but it doesn’t allow you to import your current shorthands from Word or from a text file, so you would have to enter them manually. Also, it insists on making everything lowercase, so Nietzsche becomes nietzsche. Google should make a user’s list of “substitutions” available in Gmail.]

C. I recommend the Chinese movie, “Blind Shaft.” A very realistic depiction of the seamy underside of Chinese society.

4. Socrates Café

In an earlier issue of Phlit, I mentioned the growing popularity of philosophy discussion groups, and I mentioned a book called Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy. The author, Christopher Phillips, recently visited a Providence bookstore to promote his latest book, Six Questions of Socrates. Phillips says that 150 discussion groups, or Socrates Cafés, have sprung up, following his blueprint.

When I heard him in early March, he said that two Socrates Cafés had just started in Afghanistan. The discussions often address a particular philosophical question, such as one of the “six questions of Socrates” (What is virtue? What is moderation? What is justice? What is good? What is courage? What is piety?). Phillips has been called “the Johnny Appleseed of philosophy.” For several years, Phillips has been traveling around — not only in the U.S., but also in foreign countries — promoting his books, and participating in philosophy discussions. He has become well-known, and his books are popular. He and his wife live out of a suitcase, and travel by plane (often using Southwest Airlines, to save money). His web address is

Phillips was inspired by Walter Kaufmann, a Princeton professor and Nietzsche translator. Kaufmann sometimes talked philosophy with people in prisons, homeless shelters, etc. Phillips, too, sometimes discusses philosophy in such places. Phillips says that when he took the “sublime risk” of becoming a traveling Socrates, it was amazing how serendipity came to his aid, and things fell into place. He believes that, even if a discussion doesn’t reach truth, just having people sit down together and talk without acrimony is valuable. He says that the old and the young are receptive to him, but the middle-aged are competitive rather than receptive; he himself is middle-aged (45).

When I met him, I felt that he had no interest in ideas, he was only interested in selling books and starting discussion groups. He lamented the fact that most people aren’t good listeners, but he himself seemed far more interested in talking than in listening, and he spent considerable time reading from his book. A discussion of philosophy only interests him insofar as he can write about it, or use it to enhance his reputation. One person in the audience said afterwards that it seemed he didn’t want to be there. He has no hunger for knowledge, no interest in the life of the mind. He deplores philosophy discussion groups like mine that encourage people to read the classics: “directed readings would only be exclusive and elitist and rather snooty, and so anathema to the ends of a Socrates Café.”9 Before he became a traveling Socrates, he was a journalist, and his books feel like the books of a journalist, not the books of a philosopher. A review in Publishers Weekly (which is not known for harsh reviews) had this to say of Six Questions:

“As in Socrates Café, the philosophy often feels superficial. For example, a discussion in Mexico of ‘What is justice?’ turns into a catalogue of government injustices with nothing more to say philosophically than, ‘We have to make sure that justice serves all of us in an impartial way.’ Such insights are obviously not without value, especially for those new to philosophizing, but they make this very much a book for beginners.” Phillips’ books should not be dismissed lightly, they should be thrown away with great force.

Phillips is politically-correct, i.e., liberal. His liberal views were evident in his comments, and they’re sprinkled through his books. Phillips divides mankind into two groups: those who are “good” and “nice,” and those who aren’t. (Other liberals sometimes make the same division.) He said he was encouraged to see that there were so many good people in the world, doing good things. And nothing he said during the course of the evening was more profound than that vapid remark.

5. Iraq

Good news from Syria. The New York Times (not known for being pro-Bush) reports that Syrian despotism is loosening up as a result of the collapse of Iraqi despotism:

A year ago, it would have been inconceivable for a citizen of Syria, run by the Baath Party of President Bashar al-Assad, to make a documentary film with the working title, “Fifteen Reasons Why I Hate the Baath.”

Yet watching the overthrow of Saddam Hussein across the border in Iraq prompted Omar Amiralay to do just that. “It gave me the courage to do it,” he said.

“When you see one of the two Baath parties broken, collapsing, you can only hope that it will be the turn of the Syrian Baath next,” he said. He has just completed another film, “A Flood in Baath Country,” for a European arts channel, saying, “The myth of having to live under despots for eternity collapsed.”

When the Bush administration toppled the Baghdad government, it announced that it wanted to establish a democratic, free-market Iraq that would prove a contagious model for the region. The bloodshed there makes that a distant prospect, yet the very act of humiliating the worst Arab tyrant spawned a sort of “what if” process in Syria and across the region....

Subtle changes have begun, even if they amount to tiny fissures in a repressive state.... The fall of Mr. Hussein changed something inside people.

“I think the image, the sense of terror, has evaporated,” said Mr. Amiralay, the filmmaker.10

About thirty years ago, the American philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “It would be safer for the Occident to be reckless and make mistakes than to be fearful and sink into inaction.”11 Soon after Saddam was toppled, and American forces occupied Baghdad, there were guerrilla attacks on American forces, and Bush said that if guerrillas want to attack, “bring ’em on.” It was obvious, at the time, that Bush shouldn’t have made that comment, and with the benefit of hindsight, that comment was clearly a mistake. Doubtless Bush realizes now that he shouldn’t have said that, but we all say things on occasion that we later regret. Perhaps Bush felt that it was better to be “reckless” (to use Hoffer’s word) than “to be fearful and sink into inaction.” And perhaps it is this very recklessness — or rather, boldness — that has jolted Libya into giving up its nuclear weapons program, and jolted Syria into relaxing its repression.

“Shock and awe” is another unfortunate phrase, another undiplomatic phrase, another phrase that made me wince when I first heard it. But those who planned the bombing campaign against Saddam were probably proud of their work, and proud of American capability, so we should excuse their bombastic phrases. Their motives weren’t evil, but the tyrant they toppled was evil. The American military will probably realize its mistake, and use more sober language in the future.

The Iraq war is difficult, perhaps even reckless, but it’s also courageous. Its purpose is to make the world a better place, and its result will probably be to make the world a better place. Many people are unwilling to admit that Bush and his team have high-minded motives; they’ve gotten into the habit of ascribing base motives to governments, especially to the American government, especially to conservative American governments. They think that Bush wants oil and money, but actually the Iraq war is costing a great deal of money. They think that Bush wants to expand American power, but actually he longs for the day when we can leave Iraq, and see Iraqis take charge of their own nation, and set up a government that will be independent of the U.S., and probably critical of the U.S.

Critics of American policy say that you can’t defeat terrorism with missiles and bombs. That’s partly true: the root cause of terrorism is in public opinion, in people’s thoughts, in people’s worldview, and this can’t be changed with missiles. Many people in the Muslim world have gotten stuck in an archaic worldview, a spiritual dead-end, and this probably won’t change for generations. Meanwhile, Muslim extremists are waging war against civilization itself, and all civilized nations should join the fight against these extremists. Even if terrorism can’t be completely defeated, at least it can be resisted and reduced.

Here’s a defense of American policy that appeared in the New York Times:

March 19, 2004
The Price of Freedom in Iraq
by Donald H. Rumsfeld

This week, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it is useful to recount why we have fought. Not long ago I visited South Korea, just as the Korean government was debating whether to send troops to Iraq. In Seoul, I was interviewed by a Korean journalist who was almost certainly too young to have firsthand recollection of the Korean War. She asked me, “Why should Koreans send their young people halfway around the globe to be killed or wounded in Iraq?”

As it happened, I had that day visited a Korean War memorial, which bears the names of every American soldier killed in the war. On it was the name of a close friend of mine from high school, a wrestling teammate, who was killed on the last day of the war. I said to the reporter: “It’s a fair question. And it would have been fair for an American to ask, 50 years ago, ‘Why should young Americans go halfway around the world to be killed or wounded in Korea?’”

We were speaking on an upper floor of a large hotel in Seoul. I asked the woman to look out the window — at the lights, the cars, the energy of the vibrant economy of South Korea. I told her about a satellite photo of the Korean peninsula, taken at night, that I keep on a table in my Pentagon office. North of the demilitarized zone there is nothing but darkness — except a pinprick of light around Pyongyang — while the entire country of South Korea is ablaze in light, the light of freedom.

Korean freedom was won at a terrible cost — tens of thousands of lives, including more than 33,000 Americans killed in action. Was it worth it? You bet. Just as it was worth it in Germany and France and Italy and in the Pacific in World War II. And just as it is worth it in Afghanistan and Iraq today.

Today, in a world of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and states that sponsor the former and pursue the latter, defending freedom means we must confront dangers before it is too late. In Iraq, for 12 years, through 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions, the world gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to avoid war. He was being held to a simple standard: live up to your agreement at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war; disarm and prove you have done so. Instead of disarming — as Kazakhstan, South Africa and Ukraine did, and as Libya is doing today — Saddam Hussein chose deception and defiance.

Repeatedly, he rejected those resolutions and he systematically deceived United Nations inspectors about his weapons and his intent. The world knew his record: he used chemical weapons against Iran and his own citizens; he invaded Iran and Kuwait; he launched ballistic missiles at Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; and his troops repeatedly fired on American and British aircraft patrolling the no-flight zones.

Recognizing the threat, in September 2002 President Bush went to the United Nations, which gave Iraq still another “final opportunity” to disarm and to prove it had done so. The next month the president went to Congress, which voted to support the use of force if Iraq did not.

And, when Saddam Hussein passed up that final opportunity, he was given a last chance to avoid war: 48 hours to leave the country. Only then, after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did the president and our coalition partners order the liberation of Iraq.

Americans do not come easily to war, but neither do Americans take freedom lightly. But when freedom and self-government have taken root in Iraq, and that country becomes a force for good in the Middle East, the rightness of those efforts will be just as clear as it is today in Korea, Germany, Japan and Italy.

As the continuing terrorist violence in Iraq reminds us, the road to self-governance will be challenging. But the progress is impressive. Last week the Iraqi Governing Council unanimously signed an interim Constitution. It guarantees freedom of religion and expression; the right to assemble and to organize political parties; the right to vote; and the right to a fair, speedy and open trial. It prohibits discrimination based on gender, nationality and religion, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention. A year ago today, none of those protections could have been even imagined by the Iraqi people.

Today, as we think about the tens of thousands of United States soldiers in Iraq — and in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world fighting the global war on terrorism — we should say to all of them: “You join a long line of generations of Americans who have fought freedom’s fight. Thank you.”

© L. James Hammond 2004
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1. Reflections on the Human Condition, §§21, 132. Hoffer notes that “the capacity for transcending the senses — for telepathic transmission and for sensing the unseen — is an animal characteristic.”(ibid, §21) back
2. “A Gentle Creature,” I, 3 back
3. Strindberg, by Michael Meyer, ch. 30 back
4. ch. 5 back
5. C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, “Four ‘Contacts With Jung’”, Renée Brand, p. 161 back
6. The original is “wai4 lai2 de he2shang hui4 nian4jing1”. back
7. Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.(Matthew, 13:54) back
8. “On Repentance” back
9. from his website, back
10. The article appeared on March 20, 2004, and is by Neil Macfarquhar. back
11. Before the Sabbath, entry dated March 2, 1974 back