Something to chew on

Shakespeare is right when his Hamlet corrects Horatio’s skepticism of ghosts by telling him that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”

That famous saying of Hamlet’s is the simplest way I know to define the difference between “post-modernism,” “modernism,” and “pre-modernism”.  Pre-modernism, or traditionalism, agrees with Hamlet.   There are more things in objective reality than in our minds and dreams and sciences and philosophies.  Modernism, or rationalism, says there are not more things but the same number of things in those two places, in other words that we can know it all.  Post-modernism says there are fewer things in objective reality than in our minds; that most of our thoughts are only dreams, prejudices, illusions, or projections.

I am neither a modernist nor a post-modernist but a pre-modernist. That’s why I habitually feel like a little kid living in a big house full of endless surprises, nooks and crannies. (I’m only 73 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.) I find the real world wonderful rather than ugly, fascinating rather than boring, mysterious rather than predictable, something that invites wonder, exploration, hope, fear, and innocence rather than cynicism, ironic distancing, and what the philosophers call a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion.’

— Peter Kreeft

And he’s right, you know

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: Know thyself!

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn

What I always failed to get my students to understand

So different are the colours of life, as we look forward to the future, or backward to the past; and so different the opinions and sentiments which this contrariety of appearance naturally produces, that the conversation of the old and young ends generally with contempt or pity on either side. To a young man entering the world, with fulness of hope, and ardour of pursuit, nothing is so unpleasing as the cold caution, the faint expectations, the scrupulous diffidence which experience and disappointments certainly infuse; and the old man wonders in his turn that the world never can grow wiser, that neither precepts nor testimonies can cure boys of their credulity and sufficiency; and that not once can he be convinced that snares are laid for him, till he finds himself entangled.

Thus one generation is always the scorn and wonder of the other, and the notions of the old and young are like liquors of different gravity and texture which never can unite. The spirits of youth, sublimed by health and volatized by passion, soon leave behind them the phlegmatic sediment of weariness and deliberation, and burst out in temerity and enterprise. The tenderness, therefore, which nature infuses, and which long habits of beneficence confirm, is necessary to reconcile such opposition: and an old man must be a father to bear with patience those follies and absurdities which he will perpetually imagine himself to find in the schemes and expectations, the pleasures and sorrows of those who have not yet been hardened by time and chilled by frustration.

— Samuel Johnson

Montaigne said it

“To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, ruling, hoarding, building, are only little appendages and props, at most.”

“He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.”

“Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.”

“Ignorance is the softest pillow on which a man can rest his head”

“Democritus and Heraclitus were two philosophers, of whom the first, finding the condition of man vain and ridiculous, never went out in public but with a mocking and laughing face; whereas Heraclitus, having pity and compassion on this same condition of ours, wore a face perpetually sad, and eyes filled with tears. I prefer the first humor; not because it is pleasanter to laugh than to weep, but because it is more disdainful, and condemns us more than the other; and it seems to me that we can never be despised as much as we deserve. Pity and commiseration are mingled with some esteem for the thing we pity; the things we laugh at we consider worthless. I do not think there is as much unhappiness in us as vanity, nor as much malice as stupidity. We are not so full of evil as of inanity; we are not as wretched as we are worthless.”

“There is no more expensive thing than a free gift.”

—  Michel de Montaigne

Winnie said it

• “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
• “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
• “My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best.”
• “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
• “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
• “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
• “You don’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer.”

— Winston Churchill

Darn clever, these Chinese

A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.

Be the first to the field and last to the couch.

Do not employ handsome servants.

A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man perfected without trials.

Dig the well before you are thirsty.

Be not afraid of growing slowly, fear only standing still.

Don’t open a shop unless you like to smile.

He who is drowned is not troubled by the rain.

Rules of Thumb

• Never wear a hat with more character than you.

• Never sleep with anyone crazier than you.

• Always get the extended warranty on a laptop.

• The quality of the professor is more important than the subject.

• To time a speech (in minutes) divide the word count by 150.

• Snapshots preserve memories. Videos replace them.