GRECIAN EARNS PLATO’S PLAUDITS; ‘REMAINS’ SILENT

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
–John Keats, from ODE ON A GRECIAN URN

On this day in February, 399 BC (according to onthisday.com) occurred the fateful trial of the famed Grecian philosopher Socrates, of whom it is said that he didn’t put anything in writing during his lifetime — or even afterward, for that matter. This might lead one to think he was either paranoid or illiterate. By all odes, however, he was neither — otherwise his life/trial/death-by-hemlock would have earned him no esteem….and in theory, the following quotes attributed to Socrates might have been not only recorded by, but credited to, Plato (as well as others Greek to me):

Wisdom begins in wonder.

The unexamined life is not worth living.

To find yourself, think for yourself.

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.

I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

But why should Plato and a few of his fellow G(r)eeks get all the credit for handing down what Socrates supposedly said? I may not be quite as ancient as they, but I go back far enough to be able to confide with the utmost confidence that Socrates never denied saying the following:

Wisdom begins in wonder….and ends the same way.

There’s no fool like an old fool. (On the other hand, some of us “old fools” prefer to think of ourselves as misanthropically eccentric seniors.)

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. (Or, you could just pay your electric bill on time.)

My wife would talk to a wooden Indian. (That’s why I keep a wooden Indian around the house.)

All’s well that ends well. (Well, I don’t know about that….but I suppose if it was good enough for the doomed Socrates, it’s good enough for the likes of Shakespeare and mistermuse.)

THE END

 

 

WE HOLD THESE (REVISED) TRUTHS

Today, we shall consider that
Mirror which we call truth,
When we see that where we’re at
Is years past the face of youth.

Now, truth can be a revelation,
Or in the cards we cash;
Truth may deal in hesitation,
Or may come in a flash.

Far be it from me to tell you
What you should/should not believe.
Let’s just say you would do well to
Neither youth, nor self, deceive.

SCOFFER, BUT WISER

I tend to be drawn more to the wisdom of those who question everything than to “accepted” wisdom, since no one knows everything — no one I know and trust, that is. But what of God, who (I was taught) does know everything. As an American, how could I not trust God? The proclamation IN GOD WE TRUST is all-inclusively bannered on our country’s legal tender –which, if you stop to think, seems an odd bearer for it, given the admonishment that money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

Be that as it may, the thing about God is like the thing about truth — exactly whose God, whose truth are we talking about? To paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you’re entitled to your own God, your own truth — but not your own facts. If you take the discrepant God of divergent religions for a fact, how can a fact divided against itself stand?  Aren’t we left with the logic that no deity conceived by humans has a basis in fact? But you knew that …. right?

I don’t believe in any religion’s God (which isn’t the same as not believing in a Creator), but if I did, why would I want to take the life of, or coerce, a man of a different faith — both of our faiths are, after all, only fallible beliefs. Better to take the measure of human folly, as observed and recorded by those who have questioned everything:

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunk man is happier than a sober one.  –George Bernard Shaw

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, where does that leave God?  –George Deacon

I don’t pray because I don’t want to bore God.  –Orson Welles

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.  —Emo Phillips

Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.  –Ambrose Bierce (THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY)

Many a long dispute among divines may be thus abridged: It is so. It is not so. It is so. It is not so.  –Ben Franklin 

Well, you could become a Southern Baptist. I mean, instead of having to obey the Pope, you could just obey your husband.  –Arianna Huffington

The only thing that stops God from sending a second flood is that the first one was useless.  –Nicolas Chamfort

When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?”  –Quentin Crisp

I too much respect the idea of God to make it responsible for such an absurd world.  –Georges Duhamel

Amen.

 

TRUE BE OR NOT TRUE BE….

That is the question: “What is truth?”, as Pontius Pilate asked. In what sense did he ask it? It seems that Pilate did not wait for Jesus to answer, so a good guess is that he asked it rhetorically….and why not? Better men than Pilate have concluded that the truth of a thing is nothing more than what each of us believes it to be — religious beliefs being the supreme example, and killing/persecuting over religious differences being the supreme irony….as if it is necessarily so that belief equals truth to demand surrender to. Like Ira Gershwin, “I takes dat gospel whenever it’s pos’ple– but wid a grain of salt!”

Many wise things have been said concerning the concept of truth, but I believe we must look outside of religion for most of the wise men and women who have said those wise things, just as we look beyond politicians for the deeper concepts that govern us. Here are some of these “outsiders” and their sayings that ring true to me:

Between truth and the search for truth, I choose the second. -Bernard Berenson

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods. -Albert Einstein

Truth exists; only lies are invented. -Georges Braque

There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth. – Samuel Butler

Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. -Aldous Huxley

Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth. -Lillian Hellman

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it. -George Bernard Shaw

It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar. -Jerome K. Jerome

We occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of us pick ourselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. -Winston Churchill

All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. -Friedrich Nietzsche

An error does not become truth by means of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. -Mahatma Gandhi

Would you believe that this treatise was brought to you by the same libertine who brought you yesterday’s less high-minded, but perhaps more uplifting, post MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RAUNCH…. what can I say?

I’M REVIEWING THE SITUATIONS

It is a pleasure, after the less-than-positive review posted 12/21/09, to give an unqualified “thumbs up” to DEADLY DECISIONS by Christophen Burns (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY).

The book’s sub-title is How False Knowledge Sank The Titanic, Blew Up The Shuttle, And Led America Into War, which is a synopsis of situations in which false knowledge prevailed in the decision-making leading to those (and other) preventable disasters. This is a book one wishes was required reading for every governmental & non-governmental authority whose decisions impact those they put at risk. Alas (as is too often the case), the very people who need to be open to the critical thinking prescribed in DEADLY DECISIONS are ostensibly least likely to read it, or take it to heart if they do read it.

This discouraging observation is not only a shame, but a jeopardous shame, for (as Burns tells us in his book) dissonant information is particularly dangerous “because it brings the threat of confusion. The truth may make men free, but it’s certitude that makes them happy.” For some, in other words, holding on to one’s own “truth” at all costs trumps consideration of evidence to the contrary….even compelling evidence to the contrary. “The mind is wired for learning, not unlearning,” again quoting Burns.

DEADLY DECISIONS will challenge your mindset if you’re heavily invested in the kind of thinking Burns exposes. Take up the challenge. Read this book. What are you afraid of losing?

TRUTH BE TOLD

I have come to the conclusion that a person should never accept any statement or even fact as being the absolute truth…No statement should be believed merely because it has been made by an authority. –Hans Reichenbach

Is an “authority” the same as an expert? Well, I claim to be neither, so feel free to ignore Reichenbach regarding the truth of MY statements. What makes someone an expert, anyway? Judging by how often the “experts” are wrong, how high can the standard be?

Granted that anyone – even experts – can be mistaken, it’s laughable to call someone an expert who knows even less than you or I do. A prime example is the “Ask the expert” experts who guest on TV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Yes, the program has had trivia whiz Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame, but for every such real expert, they have multiple clueless celebrities (e.g. former congressman Tom DeLay) who haven’t enough sense to be embarrassed by the obvious ignorance their appearances reveal. But then, how many politicians value shame recognition over name recognition? By the way, if Tom DeLay ever opts out of the Republican party, a resurrected Know Nothing party would seem to be the perfect fit. Of course, if Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? called them guest celebrities instead of experts in the first place, their know problem would be no problem.

I could go on, but enough is enough – and so I close without further DeLay.