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Back to Observations by Topic
LIFE AND SOCIETY
1683. Contrarian thinking -- no matter how sensible -- is, by definition, unpopular, and hence risky -- thus the socially prominent tend to be vulnerable to the pressures of orthodoxy. (Perhaps this accounts for the apparent relationship between celebrity and stupidity.)
1651. We are tribal animals; thinking with the herd is part of our genetic legacy.
1570. Humbug -- a collection of agreeable lies -- lubricates the social machinery. It's a Goldilocks thing: too little, and the truth is unpleasant and depressing; too much -- no one can get a grip on anything, and people start yearning for reality.
1470. Language is like a suit of clothes -- the face we present to the world. It may be carefully tailored, deliberately casual, or carelessly sloppy. It may suggest wealth or impoverishment, style or indifference. Increasingly, it appears, the underpants of grammar and spelling are seen as optional.
1412. The tragedies of ordinary life used to be more common; the response, of necessity, more muted: there was comfort in assigning responsibility to God, whose mysterious ways were assumed to result in inevitable, if distant, wonders. Today, tragedies are less common, but God less available. The response is in expressions of communal grief, and in ritual displays of the idea that love will conquer all. (Shooting at Danforth & Logan)
1407. Popularity comes in two sizes: lasting and passing.
1351. Religious ideas about society and government should be judged like all others: do they contribute to the well-being of the body politic? The claim of divine inspiration and approval should be dismissed as the bullshit it is.
1232. The home improvement store -- the local lumber yard -- should not be seen as prosaic purveyors of paint and plywood -- but as hymns to the creative spirit.
1231. Runaway spending -- when the money engine busts the brain brake.
1230. Ostentation is the horn that blows when the money engine has broken the brain brake.
1229. The law of the jungle says that inadequate, unhappy, and inefficient cultures must adapt or die; the law of compassionate civilization says they must be cherished and encouraged as equally worthy. Those who consistently choose tact over truth are likely to go -- politely -- extinct.
1228. It used to be that education was for the few; now, quite rightly, it is for the many. But we should not be surprised at the "democratization" of the language -- as more people use it -- the average proficiency in expression declines.
1227. We are moving from an era of religious idealism to one of secular idealism; the central secular ideal -- which underlies socialism, multiculturalism, and political correctness -- is that of "equality." Beyond, a corrective era awaits -- one in which it is recognized that ideals must be tempered by reality.
1226. Religions are useful, not truthful.
1225. We launch our atheistic missiles without scruple at the staunch believers; we know that the carapace of irrational faith has never yet been penetrated by reason, nor yet been dented by doubt.
1224. The Bible: historically significant; increasingly irrelevant; and -- to the gullible -- dangerously misleading.
1223. Masking the face always symbolizes a rejection of collaborative humanity: the medicine man signals his supernatural powers; the criminal his anti-social intent; the niqab-wearer her rejection of community.
1222. Religion may be reasonably benign when seen as a comforting -- but temporary and occasional -- flirtation with fantasy -- and as an acknowledgment that life has many unanswered questions. It can be quite dangerous as a permanent delusion -- a conclusion that all the questions have been answered.
1221. The great promise of socialism is "equality." But "equality' is a Procrustean bed into which real, competitive, and unequal human beings simply will not fit. The attempts to make them fit explain why socialist experiments eventually end as dictatorships.
1220. Seeing the faces of others enables empathy; the masking of faces creates uncertainty; it suggests and encourages hostility.
1219. Age does not attenuate -- rather it accentuates our eccentricities.
1218. In some music, one hears the metronome of the soul.
1215. Those on the left are often so enamoured with their ideal conceptions of man and society that they deem them unassailable virtues -- to be finagled when possible -- or imposed when necessary. This explains why all socialist schemes -- even those approved, initially, by the majority -- are eventually revealed as coercive. It is why "socialism," in time, becomes indistinguishable from dictatorship.
1211. If the niqab were merely an armband depicting a veiled face – it would be symbolically offensive – either as a marker of oppression – or of deliberate cultural insult. Because it actually masks the face – it adds injury to insult: it is a barrier to integration, ensures cultural isolation, and represents a risk to security. A further symbolic insult is added – that of a superior stance – the claim of a right to observe faces which it denies to others. Hiding the face is no more a "minority right" than is public nudity.
1184. Morality is socially derived -- but religion is the lie used to reinforce it. Some say the lie is necessary, but as more and more people cease to believe in God -- while living socially acceptable lives -- that argument loses its force.
1156. In healthcare -- as in everything else -- he who pays the piper calls the tune; when the government pays the piper, the patient must adjust his musical sensibility.
1155. Customers are accorded respect because they have the power of choice; supplicants, lacking choice, are treated with condescension. The socialist health care system deprives patients of choice, creates supplicants, and is necessarily infused with the malaise of condescension.
1091. When victimhood is unduly rewarded, it becomes addictive -- a habit of mind requiring ever new oppressions for "success." Of such oppressions, life -- unfair to the core -- has an infinite supply.
1026. Every orthodoxy lays claim to virtue and certainty.
976. Neither diversity nor conformity can make it to shore alone. They have to swim together.
961. Success is a target most often hit when the aim is excellence.
914. Competition these days is so ruthless you can only get decent recognition by being a victim.
913. Elitism survives only because of the inferior promotion of averagism.
893. "Safe spaces" -- the omnipresent symbol of modern academic fatuity.
891. The modern university shows that we need less academic folly and more common sense.
873. Every human society blends the elements of co-operation and competition; they are forces opposite yet complementary -- the yin and yang of the body politic.
861. Religions often insist on the fiction that there is a divine being morbidly obsessed with expressions of human sexuality. Modern secular societies have decided that homosexuality -- found in many animal species -- is a morally neutral variation. This shift has been recent and rapid -- only time will tell whether the old fiction was crucially necessary -- or unhelpfully stupid. Our prediction is that, if and when a societal collapse occurs, it will not be traceable to the rejection of a "divine plan" for sexual mores.
851. There is an inherent contradiction in human affairs: no approach to society can be considered "rational" which does not take into account the essential irrationality of the species.
849. So desperate is the desire for "equality" that it is becoming common to find virtue and special status in every deficiency. The disabled proclaim the advantages of their unique perceptions; the deaf extol their world of silence; the transgendered seek a multiplicity of special validating pronouns. This is the compensatory celebration of misfortune.
838. Some days, we think that the world has gone completely mad. On other days, we are absolutely sure of it.
817. (a) When enough people share the same insanity, it is considered normal.
(b) Men -- tribal and conformist in nature -- prefer to bleat with the herd; in this manner, insanity becomes epidemic, triumphant, and normalized.
813. In the end, human societies will reflect the nature of the creatures of which they are composed. Man is neither as independent as the jaguar nor as tribal as the ant. The view that humankind can out-tribalize the ants and become one giant colony is currently popular, but has no chance of being realized.
800. Schemes to improve society will work only insofar as citizens can be convinced that the benefits outweigh the inevitable loss of liberty required.
798. The urge to organize and improve society is irresistible, but organization always demands a price in terms of individual freedom. Human beings are not ants.
794. Equality is a fool's game; there's always someone richer, smarter, or better looking. Try for your personal best.
789. The phrase "freedom of religion" has become, unjustifiably, the byword for a modern taboo against criticism of any religion. The taboo is recognized both by unbelievers -- who may regard criticism as bad manners --an unkind assault on cherished illusions -- and believers -- who doubtless see criticism of any religion as setting a precedent dangerous to their own assumptions. The power of superstition should never be underestimated.
785. The Canadian healthcare system, in the guise of egalitarian benevolence, deliberately removes competition and reduces consumer choice. As with any benevolent monopoly, a culture of complacency and sanctimonious condescension is the result.
784. A benevolent monopoly is particularly odious; the usual monopolistic arrogance is wedded to an aura of sanctimonious self-satisfaction.
783. No monopolist is ever humble.
782. Arrogance is a necessary concomitant of monopoly.
771. Human speech should be reserved for the dignified and reasonable purpose of communicating with other sentient beings. It should not be demeaned and devalued in a charade of "conversation" with machines.
769. Certainty -- when it is linked to grand conceptual schemes of human improvement and social virtue -- should be viewed with deepest suspicion.
758. The art of life lies in choosing the least dangerous illusions.
746. There is a fine line between helpfulness and intrusion.
(Not only do microwave ovens which beep nanny reminders cross that line -- they march several miles inland and set up encampments of permanent abrasive annoyance.)
745. The modern appliance reflects the temper of the age, which is driven by change and entranced by fashion. There is no point in making a durable product when the ultimate aim is to make the customer dissatisfied with it as quickly as possible.
744. Every compliment -- every encouragement -- is a treasure -- a welcome token of psychic currency saved into the piggy bank of self-esteem.
743. Every totalitarian – whether dictator, socialist, climate alarmist, religious leader, or upholder of political correctness – is an idealist: he attempts to make humanity fit – through force or persuasion -- the Procrustean bed of an ideal, conceptual world. The concept is always at odds with the facts or with the realities of the human condition, and is ultimately unattainable or unsustainable.
737. If you don't understand the cause of the problem -- your solution will become part of it.
727. Celebrity status contributes greatly to confidence, while leaving cognitive abilities unchanged. That is why so many celebrities -- compelled by a sense of self-importance to pronounce on issues of the day -- sound like vacuous twits.
726. (a) Celebrity does not preclude stupidity.
(b) Celebrity does not preclude stupidity; it may even encourage its expression.
697. It used to be that taking offense was an occasional surreptitious private indulgence -- but now -- especially at institutions of higher learning -- there is a virtual epidemic of quivering public angst. Can it be long before it finds broader manifestation -- as a nation-wide dangerous and de-stabilizing social addiction?
695. The well-worn path is the most likely to become a rut.
642. Most people, confronted with pleasant nonsense, focus on the pleasant, and overlook the nonsense.
611. Bandwagons have no brakes; nor do the explode in a collision with fact. Rather, over a period of time, the enthusiasts leave quietly, one by one, until the seats are mostly empty. Then -- a puff of derision does the trick. The end comes with neither a screech nor a bang -- but with a whimper of embarrassed acquiescence.
599. Societies seem to welcome -- perhaps they require -- oppressive religions. As Christianity ebbs, political correctness -- stern, uncompromising, and intolerant -- floods imperiously in.
572. Herds may do much ill-considered and foolish trampling; the choice between being a trampling fool -- or a wise man trampled -- is not difficult to make.
571. Men think in herds, not because herds are right, but because they offer security, mutual respect, and a needed sense of certainty.
570. Facts require no special protection; it is only some beliefs that claim criticism is unfair and illegitimate.
552. It is never wise to ignore a primary principle in human affairs: people like power. They like attaining it, retaining it, and exercising it.
549. The fact that chimpanzees have a sense of fairness suggests that morality is not divinely inspired, but socially derived.
548. The dimensions of social reality: the height depends on the right length of competition, and an appropriate width of co-operation. No yardstick is available.
547. In every social bestiary, the mongoose of ideal conceptions battles with the cobra of practical necessities.
512. It is the current fashion to expect truth to defer to feelings. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that the demands of feelings are limitless, and the truth has little reputation for generosity.
489. Life is inherently paradoxical: every dream has the potential for nightmare; every nightmare may reveal some truth.
485. The victory -- or defeat -- of the home team is of infinitesimal consequence; what is significant is the passionate engagement of the crowd -- for it is that which suggests the rôle of tribal instinct in human affairs.
484. Of all tribalism, that based on religion is most dangerous. When faith -- the fever borne of factless fantasy -- unleashes, with aggressive certainty, its unreasoning, rabid dogs of war -- negotiation is not possible.
483. If tribalism is the natural state of mankind, we should not be surprised at the presence of great swaths of mindless conformity, and the scarcity of threads of independent thought.
482. The great virtue of tribalism -- co-operation -- contains the seed of its great vice -- unthinking conformity.
481. Religious tribalism is based on nonsense -- which is not necessarily a disadvantage -- for faith never defers to facts.
480. It remains to be seen whether, in the current conflict between religious and national tribalism, the tribalism most impervious to reason will triumph.
438. Competition -- with its implications of inequality and injustice -- is much out of favour among those of the compassionate left. To them we would pose this question: Would you rather be the product of a competitively successful sperm, or one enabled to reach its destination with the aid of an auxiliary propeller -- installed at a government-sponsored after-school remedial swimming program -- and with the charitable provision -- from the International Sperm Workers' Co-operative Brotherhood -- of a taxi service for the difficult parts of the journey?
437. Every human society will reflect a conflict between bedrock truths of the natural world, and the tempering elements of civilized necessities and hopeful aspirations. All creatures are the products of a ceaseless competitive striving for survival: there are winners and losers; some things are, inevitably, better than others. At the same time, civilization requires co-operation -- which entrains an element of justice and a degree of compassion. Beyond those are the shimmering, attractive, but unattainable dreams of equality, harmony, and rest.
433. What is popular is seldom important; what is important, seldom popular. (American society often seems particularly obsessed with the popular.)
423. Life is not writ neatly with a steady hand between the prescriptive lines of a uniform, copy-book page; it is chaotic at the core -- full of false starts, cross-outs, misspellings, and unsightly blotches. It is inherently messy.
422. All banks are evil. Perhaps that is because they are at the root of all money.
407. A concerted attempt to shield people from experiencing hurt feelings may appear noble; but a price is paid in the coin of freedom, and in the currency of truth.
402. Bandwagons have no brakes.
392. The mind develops as does evolution--with an experimental playfulness: some results are rejected, while others are approved. We must assume that Google, by readily providing a multiplicity of facts with which to conjure, will enhance the function of the human brain.
386. In times of rapid change, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine what is real improvement, what is a mere bubble of affectation, and what represents an infection of dangerous stupidity
384. A certainty divine is what men crave --
That they, with conscience clear, may misbehave.
359. In a world roiled by doubt, one should choose one’s certainties with care. But this is seldom the case: certainty is characterized by a comeliness of aspect, an adroitness of style, and an all-embracing, comforting smile; thus it is often given pride of place in the House of Intellect, with no questions asked.
318. It's a delicate balance. A certain amount of humbug is necessary to keep the wheels of civilized society turning. Too much humbug -- as people pretend that sand is a lubricant and dynamite a promising alternative fuel -- and the bang and whimper of collapse loom near.
305. In the interests of harmony, it is often considered appropriate to silence any discordant notes of truth.
293. To oppose a popular opinion risks isolation and opprobrium. That is why so many bad ideas live into an old age of serenity and reverence.
278. Free lunches are always expensive.
264. Gaffology: A field of study based on the fallout from Trudeaumania.
255. A collection of stupidities, though breathlessly praised for its "diversity," is yet unlikely to result in wisdom.
253. Early Gods are likely to have power before they have wisdom, and fame before they have perspective.
239. Power, once possessed, is never relinquished except under delusion or necessity.
213: The size of a bureaucracy is in inverse proportion to the efficiency and productivity of the organization of which it is a part.
211. Civilizations, like the sentient beings of which they are composed, contain the seeds of their own destruction.
197. Life is not so much like a novel, in which each chapter informs the next, and the hero is wiser at the end; rather, it is like a series of echoing but enigmatic haiku, with the last no more revealing than the first.
182. In most things, money matters.
180. Indications for success: aspiration, inspiration, and perspiration.
166. Disappointment in life is assured, since necessary illusions are necessarily vulnerable to contradictory evidence.
157. The terrain of life is so imperfect, the ascents and declines so precipitous and extreme, the rivers to be crossed so wide and possessed of such contrary currents, that he who would proceed in a straight and unvarying direction, adhering to principle alone, is likely to make little progress, or, indeed, find himself forced to surrender the entirety of his enterprise.
154. Man is happiest when bleating with the herd; the herd is happiest when professing the pursuit of an agreeable ideal, a flattering illusion, or perceived safe haven.
153. Investment is the avenue to wealth; expenditure, the path to ruin.
142. Power has no need of civility; thus it is seen much in the company of arrogance, provocation, and insult.
141. Some form of servitude is a condition of civilization.
123. Banks are not exempt from the general rule: where money is concerned, expect piracy before probity.
110. One of the great difficulties faced by society is the fitting of large, square pegs of truth into rather smaller, round holes of idealized perfection--the fond fashionings of human aspiration.
98. If money is sufficient, principle will be deficient.
97. No principle
In the flow
Of big dough.
96. Money is like water: in sufficient volume, it erodes the bedrock of principle, and cuts its own channel.
87. It is a conceit of the modern liberal multicultural society that being nice to people with bad ideas and horrifying beliefs will result in harmony. On the contrary, such folly will end in the conflict which inevitably accompanies the unchecked spread of bad ideas and horrifying beliefs.
86. Many wonderful ideals–equality--religion--multiculturalism –are no more than convenient fictions. As such, they constitute a vulnerability at the heart of human affairs; for how are we to agree when to accept them as convenient, and when to deride them as fiction?
80. The harmony of civilization rests in finding a balance between the Darwinian realities of competition and hierarchy--and the ideal of equality. This balance is a matter of individual perception and circumstance, and, like the perfect shade of green, will always elude a final determination.
78. A little power is never enough.
(b) A little money is like a little power; it is not enough.
71. Without the lubricant of agreeable lies, the machinery of civilization would grind to a halt.
65. Most people prefer the comfort of espousing a popular error to the challenge of maintaining an unpopular truth.
63. Adversity and failure are woven into the fabric of existence; without them, there can be neither test of mettle nor triumph of success.
31. Life is a Rubik's cube with chameleon colours.
0. Art is man’s challenge to Time, his rebuke to Chaos; the protest will survive neither the triumph of fire, nor the finality of ice -- but it is better than the silence of consent.