Back to previous post: Feeling safer yet?

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Strict orthodoxy

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

October 19, 2004

Motivation and doubt
Posted by Teresa at 06:00 AM * 233 comments

1. The Culture of Motivation

I arrived at certain theories about George W. Bush by a strange route, which was thinking about the class of writers who take rejection worst. I don’t mean the ones who’re hurt worst; I couldn ‘t possibly judge that. I’m talking about the ones who react with aggressive denial. And it seemed to me that the ones I most often saw doing that were middle-aged white guys with a management background.

As a class, their writing was on average no better nor worse than other comparable group of authors, and many of them were as modest and persevering as any writer you could meet. Still, when when I looked at the writers who reacted to their first few rejections with a sense of massively affronted entitlement, followed by the swift conviction that a publishing industry that gave them that reaction must be broken, it was remarkable how many of them belonged to that class.

You could spin out a lot of thumb-sucking theory about this, but my belief is I was seeing the habits of mind and character inculcated by a certain strain of American corporate culture. To put it succinctly, imagine that Dilbert ‘s pointy-haired boss has decided he ‘s going to be a bestselling writer, only he keeps getting rejected.

After a while it occurs to the PHB that nobody wants his masterwork in its current form. Note: the book may well be in near-publishable form, but his habitual strategies won’t lead him to figure that out and work on becoming a better author. Instead, he announces that the publishing industry as we’ve known it is dead, or hopelessly broken, or in such bad shape that it can no longer publish promising new writers; but lo! E-publishing, or POD publishing, or whatever model he’s lighted upon, is obviously the cutting edge of the future. And by the way, O lucky readers, here’s his own book, now available in that format.

I’ve lost count of all the e-publishing and pod-publishing sites these guys have started. Sometimes their book is the only one listed there. Sometimes they ‘ve persuaded other marginal writers to throw in their fortunes with them. It’s a complicated world.

Anyway, after years of birdwatching these guys, and their distinctive response to frustration, I think I’ve gotten a sense of their mindset. It’s not well adapted to writing and publishing, which depend so much on audience response. Perhaps it’s more useful if you’re a pointy-haired boss. Or perhaps causality runs the other way, and it’s simply what PHBs are pleased to believe is useful.

They appear to believe that whatever success they’ve had in life is solely due to their own shrewdness and hard work. It ‘s likewise an article of faith that they have an absolute right to succeed, if only they believe in their own success hard enough and are steadfast in its pursuit; and furthermore, that nonbelievers’ input not only doesn’t matter, but ought to be resolutely ignored.

Facts and mechanisms are not the issue. Their relationship with success is mystical and emotional. Thus, the person who quibbles with the details of their plan is their enemy rather than their ally. Such impediments will of course be overcome if the employee correctly understands and implements the magic PHB force of will. After all, that’s what force of will is there for. In the meantime, by expressing reservations the employee has potentially weakened the all-important PHB confidence. That’s not being a good employee.

(Do I need to point out that there’s a world of difference between absolute faith in the success of work you do yourself, and absolute faith in your own success when your job consists of telling other people what to do?)

PHBs also have a fervent belief in team effort, by which they mean team effort on the part of the people under them. Team players are demonstrating their own belief in the eventual success of the enterprise, which confirms the boss ‘s faith in himself and thus makes him stronger.

Of course, if this were the way things actually work, the Soviet Union would have been the greatest and most successful state in the history of the world. (Which reminds me: You know how topical jokes are generally formed by adapting earlier groups of cognate jokes? I’ve been looking into the current batch of GWB jokes, and find that many of the jokes from which they’re drawn were originally about Stalin. But I digress.)

I’ve long wondered whether PHBs have any sense that the real importance of team effort is that it’s the only way their plans get carried out. This is illustrated by that basic sitcom plot where Chuck walks in dressed as a giant slice of pie. (laughtrack) His assistant Leslie expresses surprise and disbelief. (laughtrack) Chuck groans, and explains that this is part of his boss ‘s latest brainstorm, and that he ‘s been assigned to implement it. (laughtrack) The rest of the episode will consist of Chuck and Leslie, helped by a couple of other employees in that department plus their crony Lee down in Systems, trying to make the boss’s insanely stupid idea work so that Chuck can keep his job.

Nine times out of ten, when an employer says during a job interview that he doesn ‘t care how the work gets done as long as it gets done, he means he isn’t going to want to hear that what he’s asked for is impossible. It may be that this is the true secret advantage of the PHB mindset: they aren’t hampered by questions of feasibility. They don’t have to know whether something they want is even possible, much less how much it’ll cost those under them. They just exercise their magic force of will, and if there’s any way the thing can be made possible, their underlings will have to find it and make it work.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the motivational posters that get put up in corporate lunchrooms. PHBs are the ones who buy them and put them up. And because they think these posters are genuinely motivating (ho), we can reasonably judge that they reflect the way PHBs actually think. Here are some I collected a while back:
—It is the size of one’s will which determines success.
—Victory goes to the man whose desire is strongest.
—Believe in yourself and anything becomes possible.
—Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.
—What would you not attempt to achieve, if you believed it was impossible to fail?
—The fundamentals of a person are not in substance, but in spirit.
—What is genius, but the power of expressing a new individuality?
—There is only one success: to be able to live your life in your own way.
—The world has a habit of making room for those who know where they are going.
—The distance between a person’s dreams and their accomplishments can only be measured by their desire.
—The difference between the unattainable and the attainable lies in a person’s determination.
—The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.
—You have to know you can win. You have to think you can win. You have to feel you can win.
—Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason
—Spread your wings, unencumbered by fear.
Reflections on the relationship between labor and management:
—Destiny is a matter of choice, not chance
—Power gravitates to the man who has courage.
—We make way for the one who pushes past us.
—The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong
—It is a sad fact that regardless of effort or talent, second place really means you are first in a long line of losers.
Virtuous precepts for underlings:
—It takes the efforts of many to make impossible feats possible.
—Individuals play the games, but teams win championships.
—Welcome the chores that make you go beyond yourself.
—The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another.
—You can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.
—There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others.
—Many people have gone further than they thought they could because somebody else thought they could.
—When a team makes a commitment to act as one, the sky’s the limit.
—Together we are winners.
A historical note: The corporation that had the most, and most fervent, motivational and inspirational corporate-branded pelf I ‘ve ever seen? That would have to be Enron. They were swimming in it — everything from posters, pens, and t-shirts to Christmas ornaments and fine cut-crystal tchotchkes. And when Enron went boom, and screwed its employees six ways from Sunday, you should have seen how fast that stuff came flying onto eBay. The saddest ones were the employee awards set with little jewels showing how many years of devoted work they’d put into the company: Together, we aren’t winners.

2. Without a Doubt

This is Ron Suskind, from this week’s New York Times Magazine:
Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that ”if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3.” The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.
If you’re a Republican, don’t automatically assume that these are your guys. Far from it, in fact. If you’re a responsible citizen, this is something you really do have to stop and think about.
”Just in the past few months,” Bartlett said, ”I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.” Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush’s governance, went on to say: ”This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them. …
It’s not cute, and it’s not funny, and it’s not religion. George Bush is running national policy on faith—but it’s not faith in God. It’s become something far stranger and more idolatrous.

What he’s put his faith in is George W. Bush, which is not the same thing as saying he believes in himself. He can’t believe in himself; he knows he doesn’t know anything. But instead of seeking more information and better counsel, he’s abandoned the frustrations of dealing with the factual, external universe. He’s now basing everything on the instincts of George W. Bush. That’s where the smirk comes from.

He’s certain he’s right. So was every dotcom investor. So is every blackjack player in Las Vegas.

Pause, then. Some of you already think this must be hyperbole, and that Bush can’t explicitly, literally, concretely have given up on external data and the reasoned analysis thereof.

Unfortunately, that’s what Suskind is saying.

Meanwhile, some of you may be hearing “faith” and “God”, and thinking Bush can’t be a bad guy if he’s using that as his basis for action. However, what you’re imagining is not what’s going on.

I’m not going to discuss my doubts about Bush’s spiritual life, though I have them. There’s a deeper problem. A whole bunch of times now, Bush has been absolutely certain of his decisions, overflowing with faith—and dead wrong. So whatever it is he’s put his faith in, it’s something that’s telling him things that aren’t true.

As I’m sure you’re aware, God doesn’t do that.

Onward.
”This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,” Bartlett went on to say. ”He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.” Bartlett paused, then said, ”But you can’t run the world on faith.”

Forty democratic senators were gathered for a lunch in March just off the Senate floor. I was there as a guest speaker. Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. ”I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,” he began, ”and I was telling the president of my many concerns”—concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. ”’Mr. President,’ I finally said, ‘How can you be so sure when you know you don’t know the facts?”’

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator’s shoulder. ”My instincts,” he said. ”My instincts.”

Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. ”I said, ‘Mr. President, your instincts aren’t good enough!”’
We think we know the temptations the world has to offer us: money, power, gluttony, various carnal pleasures. We imagine them, in mostly cartoonish forms.

But there are other, subtler temptations that don’t get nearly as much publicity. The desire to be in on secrets: that’s a good one. The desire to overact: there’s another, a very strong temptation. Haven’t we all seen people blow opportunities, alienate their loved ones, and make fools of themselves in public, because they couldn’t resist the urge to give themselves all the killer lines in the script?

But there’s another one, even subtler, that I think Bush has fallen into: The desire to just be what you are, and do what you wish, and have it somehow turn out to be right. It’s one of the great misuses of power. We all want to be ourselves, but our authentic selves don’t always get the reactions we want from the real world. (Somehow this puts me in mind of Anna Vargo’s definition of adolescence as the stage where you think your actions have only the consequences you intend.)

This mismatch between our authentic unmodified selves and the world’s reaction to us puts us under the terrible necessity of changing what we are: a process that’s seldom pleasant, and never feels natural. We resent it. Few of us will undertake it unless driven by need, and at the earliest opportunity we stop, sure that whatever changes we’ve put ourselves through already must surely be enough.

Thus the appeal of that magical state where what you are and what you do will always turn out to be right. Bush knew that temptation before he ever ran for office. It’s a lot easier to be confident and decisive when there’s a glass floor right there under your feet, and an endless supply of people willing to bail you out.
The democrat Biden and the Republican Bartlett are trying to make sense of the same thing—a president who has been an extraordinary blend of forcefulness and inscrutability, opacity and action.

But lately, words and deeds are beginning to connect.

The Delaware senator was, in fact, hearing what Bush’s top deputies—from cabinet members like Paul O’Neill, Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell to generals fighting in Iraq—have been told for years when they requested explanations for many of the president’s decisions, policies that often seemed to collide with accepted facts. The president would say that he relied on his ”gut” or his ”instinct” to guide the ship of state, and then he ”prayed over it.” The old pro Bartlett, a deliberative, fact-based wonk, is finally hearing a tune that has been hummed quietly by evangelicals (so as not to trouble the secular) for years as they gazed upon President George W. Bush. This evangelical group—the core of the energetic ”base” that may well usher Bush to victory—believes that their leader is a messenger from God. And in the first presidential debate, many Americans heard the discursive John Kerry succinctly raise, for the first time, the issue of Bush’s certainty—the issue being, as Kerry put it, that ”you can be certain and be wrong.”
Consider, for instance, the French at Poitiers, Agincourt, and Crecy.
What underlies Bush’s certainty? And can it be assessed in the temporal realm of informed consent?

… The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision—often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position—he expects complete faith in its rightness.

The disdainful smirks and grimaces that many viewers were surprised to see in the first presidential debate are familiar expressions to those in the administration or in Congress who have simply asked the president to explain his positions. Since 9/11, those requests have grown scarce; Bush’s intolerance of doubters has, if anything, increased, and few dare to question him now. A writ of infallibility—a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains—is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House. As Whitman told me on the day in May 2003 that she announced her resignation as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: ”In meetings, I’d ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty!” (Whitman, whose faith in Bush has since been renewed, denies making these remarks and is now a leader of the president’s re-election effort in New Jersey.) …

The faith-based presidency is a with-us-or-against-us model that has been enormously effective at, among other things, keeping the workings and temperament of the Bush White House a kind of state secret. The dome of silence cracked a bit in the late winter and spring, with revelations from the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke and also, in my book, from the former Bush treasury secretary Paul O’Neill. When I quoted O’Neill saying that Bush was like ”a blind man in a room full of deaf people,” this did not endear me to the White House. But my phone did begin to ring, with Democrats and Republicans calling with similar impressions and anecdotes about Bush’s faith and certainty. These are among the sources I relied upon for this article. Few were willing to talk on the record. Some were willing to talk because they said they thought George W. Bush might lose; others, out of fear of what might transpire if he wins. In either case, there seems to be a growing silence fatigue—public servants, some with vast experience, who feel they have spent years being treated like Victorian-era children, seen but not heard, and are tired of it. But silence still reigns in the highest reaches of the White House.
They have no obligation to keep the public informed because we have no role in this new system. You have no role. They don’t need you. Bush consults only with Bush. Concepts like an informed electorate and the consent of the governed belong to the old, superseded, fact-based system of thought.
… This is one key feature of the faith-based presidency: open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision-maker. Nothing could be more vital, whether staying on message with the voters or the terrorists or a California congressman in a meeting about one of the world’s most nagging problems. As Bush himself has said any number of times on the campaign trail, ”By remaining resolute and firm and strong, this world will be peaceful.”
Recognize this guy? It’s the pointy-haired boss from the Dilbert Universe. He doesn’t have to know anything. He just has to Make Decisions and Be Resolute. It’s the people working under him who have to worry about the real-world details.
Biden, who early on became disenchanted with Bush’s grasp of foreign-policy issues and is among John Kerry’s closest Senate friends, has spent a lot of time trying to size up the president. ”Most successful people are good at identifying, very early, their strengths and weaknesses, at knowing themselves,” he told me not long ago. ”For most of us average Joes, that meant we’ve relied on strengths but had to work on our weakness—to lift them to adequacy—otherwise they might bring us down. I don’t think the president really had to do that, because he always had someone there—his family or friends—to bail him out. I don’t think, on balance, that has served him well for the moment he’s in now as president. He never seems to have worked on his weaknesses.”
It must be nice to be able to live like that. I’m not sure it’s good for you, but it sure sounds nice.
Bush has been called the C.E.O. president, but that’s just a catch phrase—he never ran anything of consequence in the private sector. The M.B.A. president would be more accurate: he did, after all, graduate from Harvard Business School. And some who have worked under him in the White House and know about business have spotted a strange business-school time warp. It’s as if a 1975 graduate from H.B.S.—one who had little chance to season theory with practice during the past few decades of change in corporate America—has simply been dropped into the most challenging management job in the world.

… As I reported in “The Price of Loyalty,” at the Bush administration’s first National Security Council meeting, Bush asked if anyone had ever met Ariel Sharon. Some were uncertain if it was a joke. It wasn’t: Bush launched into a riff about briefly meeting Sharon two years before, how he wouldn’t ”go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon… . I’m going to take him at face value,” and how the United States should pull out of the Arab-Israeli conflict because ”I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Colin Powell, for one, seemed startled. This would reverse 30 years of policy—since the Nixon administration—of American engagement. Such a move would unleash Sharon, Powell countered, and tear the delicate fabric of the Mideast in ways that might be irreparable. Bush brushed aside Powell’s concerns impatiently. ”Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things.”

Such challenges—from either Powell or his opposite number as the top official in domestic policy, Paul O’Neill—were trials that Bush had less and less patience for as the months passed. He made that clear to his top lieutenants. Gradually, Bush lost what Richard Perle, who would later head a largely private-sector group under Bush called the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, had described as his open posture during foreign-policy tutorials prior to the 2000 campaign. (”He had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much,” Perle said.) By midyear 2001, a stand-and-deliver rhythm was established. Meetings, large and small, started to take on a scripted quality. Even then, the circle around Bush was tightening. Top officials, from cabinet members on down, were often told when they would speak in Bush’s presence, for how long and on what topic. The president would listen without betraying any reaction. Sometimes there would be cross-discussions—Powell and Rumsfeld, for instance, briefly parrying on an issue—but the president would rarely prod anyone with direct, informed questions.

Each administration, over the course of a term, is steadily shaped by its president, by his character, personality and priorities. It is a process that unfolds on many levels. There are, of course, a chief executive’s policies, which are executed by a staff and attending bureaucracies. But a few months along, officials, top to bottom, will also start to adopt the boss’s phraseology, his presumptions, his rhythms. If a president fishes, people buy poles; if he expresses displeasure, aides get busy finding evidence to support the judgment. A staff channels the leader.

A cluster of particularly vivid qualities was shaping George W. Bush’s White House through the summer of 2001: a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, an embrace of decisiveness, a retreat from empiricism, a sometimes bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questioners. Already Bush was saying, Have faith in me and my decisions, and you’ll be rewarded. All through the White House, people were channeling the boss. He didn’t second-guess himself; why should they? …

[In the immediate aftermath of 9/11:] This is where the faith-based presidency truly takes shape. Faith, which for months had been coloring the decision-making process and a host of political tactics—think of his address to the nation on stem-cell research—now began to guide events. It was the most natural ascension: George W. Bush turning to faith in his darkest moment and discovering a wellspring of power and confidence.

Of course, the mandates of sound, sober analysis didn’t vanish. They never do. Ask any entrepreneur with a blazing idea when, a few years along, the first debt payments start coming due. Or the C.E.O., certain that a high stock price affirms his sweeping vision, until that neglected, flagging division cripples the company. There’s a startled look—how’d that happen? In this case, the challenge of mobilizing the various agencies of the United States government and making certain that agreed-upon goals become demonstrable outcomes grew exponentially.

Looking back at the months directly following 9/11, virtually every leading military analyst seems to believe that rather than using Afghan proxies, we should have used more American troops, deployed more quickly, to pursue Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Many have also been critical of the president’s handling of Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers; despite Bush’s setting goals in the so-called ”financial war on terror,” the Saudis failed to cooperate with American officials in hunting for the financial sources of terror. …
No new input, just lots of decisiveness. I could weep for my poor country, which in time of crisis found itself armed only with the contents of George W. Bush’s head.
”When I was first with Bush in Austin, what I saw was a self-help Methodist, very open, seeking,” [Jim Wallis, of the Sojourners] says now. ”What I started to see at this point was the man that would emerge over the next year—a messianic American Calvinist. He doesn’t want to hear from anyone who doubts him.”

… In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend—but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
What they’re describing is not how the world works, ever. It’s pure folly, the kind of pure self-conscious folly that mistakes the temporary success of hubris for proof of Divine favor.
Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: ”Look, I want your vote. I’m not going to debate it with you.” When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, ”Look, I’m not going to debate it with you.”
If we’d wanted a hereditary monarchy, we could have kept the one we had. Believing that God prompts your every decision is no guarantee that God will do so. If you abandon your responsibility for thought, judgement, research, and counsel, you’ll be left with maybe a few small, still promptings from God, and a whole lot of noisy promptings from your own will and desire.
The 9/11 commission did not directly address the question of whether Bush exerted influence over the intelligence community about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. That question will be investigated after the election, but if no tangible evidence of undue pressure is found, few officials or alumni of the administration whom I spoke to are likely to be surprised. ”If you operate in a certain way—by saying this is how I want to justify what I’ve already decided to do, and I don’t care how you pull it off—you guarantee that you’ll get faulty, one-sided information,” Paul O’Neill, who was asked to resign his post of treasury secretary in December 2002, said when we had dinner a few weeks ago. ”You don’t have to issue an edict, or twist arms, or be overt.” In a way, the president got what he wanted: a National Intelligence Estimate on W.M.D. that creatively marshaled a few thin facts, and then Colin Powell putting his credibility on the line at the United Nations in a show of faith. That was enough for George W. Bush to press forward and invade Iraq. As he told his quasi-memoirist, Bob Woodward, in ”Plan of Attack”: ”Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will… . I’m surely not going to justify the war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray to be as good a messenger of his will as possible.”
So Bush threw reasoned analysis out the window, and in its place found what he thought was God telling him to go to war with Iraq, which just happened to be what Bush—and all his favorite advisors—had been planning to do since well before the 2000 election.

This has nothing to do with religion. This is a combination of self-indulgence and Stupid Executive Tricks. If you believe that your will and imagination are the only determinants of success, the most you’ll get is what you’ve wanted and imagined. In Bush’s case, that’s simply not enough.

Comments on Motivation and doubt:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 12:08 PM:

One of the american myths that I've found most interesting over time is the "self made man". It's the persistant belief that anybody can, with a bit of hard work, succeed in becoming rich and famous beyond their dreams.

It's rather unfortunate though - it's extraordinarily rare, and the classic rags-to-riches story is just that - a story.

Associated with this is the "you don't need no learnin'" and the oddity of being proud of a lack of education (most of the people that I know who have succeeded without formal education are still voracious about accumulating information).

These seem to play in to what you're describing here.

[I've also had the dubious joy of being a part of an enronesque company. Impressive blinkers, and you learned to keep your head down, and keep quiet - and look for an out.]

#2 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 12:27 PM:

I'd have thought the evangelicals were familiar with all those Biblical passages about being wary of false prophets. Evidently not.

(And on a side-note, it's interesting to see that the University of Manchester, where I'm based, is currently twisting itself into all sorts of knots based on a new head honcho who is invincibly convinced of his rightness, refuses to listen to those who feel the effects of his decisions, and who never did proper research before making those decisions in the first place. Megalomania's a wonderful thing...)

#3 ::: Dave Lartigue ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 12:32 PM:

One of the american myths that I've found most interesting over time is the "self made man". It's the persistant belief that anybody can, with a bit of hard work, succeed in becoming rich and famous beyond their dreams.

Which is why there's a companion myth to accompany it: That rich people are monumentally unhappy and would give anything to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that you and I take for granted.

#4 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 12:40 PM:

I read these two phrases,

"[...] middle-aged white guys with a management background." "[...] reacted to their first few rejections with a sense of massively affronted entitlement, followed by the swift conviction that a publishing industry that gave them that reaction must be broken [...]"

and a light went on. For many of these are people who have been raised with enormous and undeserved advantages; they think they are entitled because most of the people around them have deferred to them all their lives. If you're a boy, or, especially, a young man, and people around you treat you like a little king, it's easy to end up believing that one's life is easy because one is especially virtuous. Much easier, and much more ego-satisfying, than believing that one is the recipient of undeserved privilege. W. Bush, born to an awesomely powerful father and raised in more privilege than most of us can even imagine, believes he is favored by the most powerful Father of all. And I think he doubts. He's too good at connecting with people not to have hints, and I think this contributed to his alcholism. But he is evading his doubts, and his evasion only makes his grandiosity greater.

Maybe. Maybe. I suppose W's grandiosity finds an answering echo in voters who want very badly to believe in such things for them and theirs; this flows into US exceptionalism. But usually the way people abandon grandiosity is through dramatic failure and the discovery of alternatives--rare indeed is the child of privilege who renounces that sense of special virtue voluntarily.

I think Vietnam was the dramatic failure of the last generation, and I fear Iraq will be the failure of this one. Getting the USA to abandon exceptionalism will be the task of centuries, I think. So for our side to win in our lifetimes, I suppose W., and his radical right policies, must be made to seem "failures" in the eyes of their supporters and an attractive alternative offered. How to do that...

#5 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 12:55 PM:

...trying to make the boss’s insanely stupid idea work so that Chuck can keep his job.

This is especially insidious in an economy where the employees wander around miserably, with glazed eyes, muttering, "Well at least I have a job."

It explains so much about the administration, though.

#6 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:06 PM:

Those motivational posters reminded me of this conversation in Pratchett's children's book Wee Free Men:

"Are you listening?"
"Yes," said Tiffany.
"Good. Now ... if you trust in yourself ..."
"Yes?"
"... and believe in your dreams ..."
"Yes?"
"... and follow your star.. ." Miss Tick went on.
"Yes?"
"... you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Good-bye."

#7 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:09 PM:

The joke about the Self Made Man myth is that in its gospel text, all Gatsby's money and aspirations (a) don't get him into East Egg and (b) result in his pointless death.

The joke about Enron is that the company didn't need to commit massive fraud; it would have gone down in flames eventually from its totally illogical management structure, in which people would go off and start on a new idea without ever proposing it up the chain of management. Each individual exec had his own little stable of worker bees and his own pet projects, kept secret so as to claim all the fame when they should be completed, and so many of those projects were duplications of effort or downright useless.

The joke about the government is, if you have good enough press, neither of the above jokes matters.

#8 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Looking at the battles cited reminds me that a common analysis of The White Company is that it succeeds in making the reader cheer for bad guys perhaps the bad guys in the story (obs sf Steve Stirling etc.).

To the degree that Vietnam was a failure it was indeed a failure of the Best and Brightest -

- ( and in many respects it may not in fact have been ultimately a failure - see e.g. Pournelle

although I think MacNamara was correct in his memoirs that if the highest objective was to put a durable indigenous government in place that objective was impossible after Kennedy acquiesced in the killing of Diem - that may in retrospect not have been the best goal in the circumstances) -

The best and brightest seem to me to fail in a number of ways - the same people who failed later in Vietnam failed earlier in the Bay of Pigs - failed twice; once in conception combined with execution and I think also once in duty to their own - abandoning the Brigade when the putative rednecks of the Alabama Guard among others showed more honor to less effect. Some of the Ivy League types learned a few lessons some apparently didn't.

But my observation of pointy haired bosses as a type (not necessarily in management) is that they lack learning strategies for lessons that don't come easy to them. FREX a phb boss type may be fluent in many languages and all the history of art with honors from Wellesley and yet be so far computer illiterate as to not only be unable to learn but to deny the usefullness of computers - suggesting programming is a job for secretaries not for bright deserving people. What they fail in at first attempt they never learn.

I know Bush took a great American History sequence at Andover - I know he met the challenge of a fine department and able competition as a history major at Yale - I even have some idea of what he was exposed to at the Harvard Business School - and I am forced to admit he doesn't seem to be learning on the job.

#9 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:14 PM:

OTOH, this morning Salon pointed me to a CBS news article:
"Buchanan says if Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry should win, then a “civil war” will immediately break-out for control of the Republican Party – neoconservatives verses conservatives."
The trouble is both scenarios have the infighting starting too late.

When I started reading your post, while still in the prolog, I had an overwhelming desire to start attributing your quotes:
"Spread your wings, unencumbered by fear. - Icarus
Which, of course, demonstrates your point.

#10 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:18 PM:

That's great insight into GWB as the coddled underachiever.

A whole bunch of times now, Bush has been absolutely certain of his decisions, overflowing with faith—and dead wrong. So whatever it is he’s put his faith in, it’s something that’s telling him things that aren’t true.

On the allure of certainty or why the heck do people support GWB:
I'm currently reading God against the Gods by Thomas Kirsch and it feels horribly relevant to the current (world) situation. Reading it, I realized that the one thing that strict monotheism offers that polytheism cannot is the absolute certainty that one is following the one true way. In a complex world that is very seductive. Uncertainty is frightening. Unfortunately, the price for that certainty is intolerance. I don't think crusades were a good idea back in the middle ages. I don't think they're a good idea now.

#11 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:32 PM:

Believing that God prompts your every decision is no guarantee that God will do so. If you abandon your responsibility for thought, judgement, research, and counsel, you’ll be left with maybe a few small, still promptings from God, and a whole lot of noisy promptings from your own will and desire.

This is where my grandmother used to come in with her lecture about how the devil took greater pride in leading a single faithful member of the flock astray, by taking advantage of their blind faith, than in all those who, through their own lack of faith, were already counted as his. Once that poor faithful soul had been led astray the first time, they were supposed to be easy meat the next time, and the time after that, unless they learned the lesson to stop and think about what they were doing, rather than following blindly what they hoped was divine guidance. Because Adam and Eve had acquired the knowledge of good and evil, we now had the responsibility to study, consider, and only then act, knowing that out own immediate desire might well be contrary to the virtuous choice...others who have been raised with similar lectures know the path this one takes.

Stripped of the religious clothing, we can take the devil's efforts as a metaphor for blind over-confidence and an insistence that the choice we want is the same thing as the best and wisest choice we can make. Self-doubt may be crippling, but failure to doubt, in the sense of never questioning one's self, may be self-destructive.

If I eat a piece of the scratch-baked chocolate cake a co-worker brought today, I may please myself, but will this, in view of my weight and the risks of hypertension and diabetes, be a wise choice? Especially if I follow it up with a second piece, and a third, because there's lots, and it's really good, and she's already said she doesn't want to have to carry it home. Overindulgence in cake may be a small matter, a bagatelle indeed compared to GWB's actions, but the same error: "Doing what I want because it feels right is a Good Thing" lies behind both. No matter how many people say the cake is really good.

#12 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:45 PM:

Speaking of children of priviledge, I helped to found and sat on the board of a freenet at one point (mid-90s) - and had a very disconcerting conversation with the CFO of the company that I was working for. It ran something like:

CFO: "What's the point of this freenet thing, anyways?"

Me: "We're providing Internet access to people that can't afford to get online"

CFO: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Well - we provide free text-based accounts, as well as low cost recycled hardware, so that people can get online"

CFO: "Why? Everybody can afford to get a computer with a decent graphics card and monitor? I mean - even on a payment plan it's just a couple of pizzas a month - toss in a little bit more for Internet access. Text is just a waste of time."

... and the conversation went south from there, because he couldn't conceive of the idea that there were people to whom that was a totally non-trivial amount of money.

This plays into my belief that everybody should have the experience of barely having enough money to make ends meet (and that means "basic needs - food, shelter") - and of working in a menial, customer-facing job. Pfeh.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 01:49 PM:

John, do please feel free to attribute those quotes.

Mayakda, if strict monotheism guaranteed you were following the one true path, most of the New Testament would never have been written. A major theme of the Epistles is that some fervent congregation of monotheists has fallen into error yet atain.

Fidelio, I like your grandmother's theology.

#14 ::: PZ Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:05 PM:

I just spent some time with relatives, some of whom are planning to vote for Bush. These were not rich people, nor were they in management, but they aspired to it -- and they were the kind who gullibly swallowed down that inspirational twaddle wholesale. What's scary is that you don't have to be a PHB to buy into the Bush myth; all you have to do is envy the PHB.

The next terrifying thing to think about is that they aren't going to learn. If Bush loses, or if Bush wins the election and continues to fall flat on his face in everything else he tries, his faith-based cheerleaders aren't going to blame him: they're going to blame us. Everyone who points out his flaws and brings up that annoying 'reality' stuff are traitors who have been building obstacles to his rightful triumph. We aren't team players. We don't have the can-do spirit. If the will to win is sufficient to win, then failure must be a consequence of a failure of our will, not a bad or impractical plan.

#15 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:12 PM:

Look, here's the fundamental problem as I see it: language allows a person to lie to themselves and to others.

There is an empirical, objective, measurable world, and then there are words we use to either describe the world we are in, or to describe a fiction.

When words become more important than the objective world, problems start to occur.

"We're on a mission from God" is funny when The Blues Brothers say it, but not so funny when Holy Crusades are based on it, when terrorist recruiting depends on it, and when fear-mongering presidents use it to get reelected.

As I see it, Bush's simple problem is that he has told himself a fictional account of what the world looks like, and he BELIEVES it. Empirical evidence is not as important as his own beliefs.

I don't have a problem with religion and spirituality, unless such a belief is used to take a fairy-tale and elevate it to unquestionable truth in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary.

Does the sun go around the earth because you say so, or are you willing to look through the telescope and surrender the "truth" as you know it?

Weapon's inspectors kept saying "there's no WMD's", but Bush believed they were there.
That Bush would put his own beliefs above the empirical evidence points to a fatal flaw in his ability to make rational decisions.

It is not specific to Bush, though. History will show you a laundry list of people who were in power and who told some fictional tale and believed it in the face of objective evidence to the contrary. It's the basic formula of every witch-hunt that ever occurred in history.


#16 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:15 PM:

Mayakda, if strict monotheism guaranteed you were following the one true path, most of the New Testament would never have been written.

And the Old Testament would be a lot shorter. There's a whole lot of pages on "prophets castigating the people for worshipping Baal et. al". I guess those must have been the free-thinkers. Always causing trouble.

Seriously, I think that's the initial hook though -- the one true path. After a while the reasonable people realize from life experience that that doesn't really sync with reality and they stray from true belief. They start entertaining dangerous thoughts of tolerance. At which point they must be weeded out. Cue the handy-dandy torture thread. That's always good for making the troublemakers confess to something.

#17 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:19 PM:

Did anyone else look at all those motivational poster slogans and find themselves thinking of Loyal to the Group of Seventeen from The Book of the New Sun?

#18 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:28 PM:

Did anyone else look at all those motivational poster slogans and find themselves thinking of Loyal to the Group of Seventeen from The Book of the New Sun?

Holy cow! No, but I would pay some serious cash for G17-themed motivational posters. How cool would that be?

"Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts!"

#19 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:30 PM:

I like John Houghton's idea of attributing the motivational aphorisms.

By the way, am I a Bad Person for hallucinating an extra y in this one?

—It is the size of one's will which determines success.
#20 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:32 PM:

*delurking*

What scares me even more is how attractive that idea sounds - how pleasant it would be to be so firmly convinced that I'm right that any failure is automatically someone else's fault. In the chaos my life has become, the total abdication of thought sounds like an excellent option.

*relurking*

#21 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:37 PM:

I like your grandmother's theology.
She was an impressive woman. My grandfather was a small highway contractor in rural Missouri in the 1920s and 1930s. They moved about every two years, following the road projects. She was a devout Southern Baptist, who believed her family needed to be in church on Sunday, no matter what. The road-building took them to a small town where the only church was Catholic--so on Sunday, every Sunday as long as they lived in that town, there they were, all together in a pew, shaking hands with the somewhat amazed priest at the end of the service, and inviting him to dinner sometime soon. In the 1960s, when ecumenical services became all the rage, she was bemused by the fuss and controversy: "Aren't we all Christians, after all? It's just different flavors."

the one thing that strict monotheism offers that polytheism cannot is the absolute certainty that one is following the one true way. In a complex world that is very seductive. Uncertainty is frightening.
I think that's why people run amok, cluttering up religion with little niggling rules--the people John Scalzi has referred to on his blog as Leviticans (see http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/002675.html for details). The principal charges Jesus gives his followers are pretty difficult to follow through on (Whatsoever you do unto the least of these you do also unto Me, Love your neighbor as yourself, Judge not lest ye also be judged, all that Turn the other cheek stuff), so it's easier to worry about whether people consume alcohol, smoke, dance, wear appropriate clothing, and on and on and on. If you're following all the rules, you must be a good person, right? In all the fuss, it's possible to forget about the Big Rules, the ones that are hard. Very comforting for the anxious, that sort of thing.

#22 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 02:39 PM:
Did anyone else look at all those motivational poster slogans and find themselves thinking of Loyal to the Group of Seventeen from The Book of the New Sun?

That's one thing they reminded me of, but I was more strongly reminded of historical authoritarian and fascistic slogans. Authoritarian thinking tends to strongly emphasize the ideas "will is all" and "acting instead of thinking" (as in "We?re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."). There are all too many historical examples, even outside the usual suspects - for example, the turn-of-the-last-century French military theory of élan, which could only somewhat unfairly be summarized as "if you believe strongly enough, the machine guns will not hurt you."

As always, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence has excellent explanations and case studies of this kind of mindset. The sense of entitlement Teresa refers to is there in full force.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:07 PM:

I've always just figured that "will is all" means "I don't know what I'm doing."

These guys aspire to the condition of aristocracy.

#24 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:08 PM:

As I read this post I kept thinking about AA, especially when I read the following quote:

'”Most successful people are good at identifying, very early, their strengths and weaknesses, at knowing themselves,” he told me not long ago. [...] "I don’t think the president really had to do that, because he always had someone there — his family or friends — to bail him out. I don’t think, on balance, that has served him well for the moment he’s in now as president. He never seems to have worked on his weaknesses.”'

Bush is an alcoholic who does not drink, am I correct? I have no way of knowing if he joined AA or not, obviously, and moreover I'm speaking from a position of only secondhand knowledge about AA (so I welcome corrections), but it seems like that program deals with a lot of these issues of will and control, with a philosophy almost exactly opposite to the PHB philosophy. Rather than saying "I can control my drinking with an act of will," it's a matter of accepting the reality that you CAN'T control it, and acting accordingly (choosing not to drink).

I guess my point is, this "act of will" stuff has probably led Bush into trouble before. It's unfortunate that this time, there's a whole nation to hit bottom.

#25 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:15 PM:

The only thing more frightening than the bulldozer "I will MAKE me right" approach to life itself is how often it works.

For every PHB, there is his polar opposite, the doormat; the one who has discovered that life demands much less effort and worry if you just lie down and let the louder, noisier, aggressive..er folks just do what they want.

Funny. Four years ago I would never have cast the American people in that role.

#26 ::: sundre ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:15 PM:

The repeated phrase "mission from God" is giving me a Blues Brothers moment. Only without the music. Does anyone know if W can sing?

#27 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:16 PM:

Last month, commenter Nea left the following on a thread on Slacktivist, and it's been haunting me ever since:

Think about it. The evangelists live in a paternalistic system - you are very far down from heaven, but God the Father will take care of you if you just do what he wants. You know what he wants to provide this salvation when the preachers tell you. Do what they say and it will all be all right in the end.
So then the whole thing gets shifted a few degrees when it hits politics, but it's the same thing. You are very far down from the ownership of a major company, but the bosses will take care of you if they just have the money to offer new jobs/open new plants/pay for training. You'll know that they need these extra tax incentives to provide these services when the Republicans tell you. Vote how they say and it will all be all right in the end.

The management may be ruling by force of will, but it works because that weird cultist mentality translates across so many lines. Shut up and do as you're told, and God/The Company/The Party will take care of you.

#28 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:20 PM:

But there’s another one, even subtler, that I think Bush has fallen into: The desire to just be what you are, and do what you wish, and have it somehow turn out to be right.

Good grief, he's a Mary Sue.

#29 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:20 PM:

It's a pity that Barbara Tuchman is no longer with us. I'm sure she'd add a new chapter to The March of Folly just for this administration.

#30 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:21 PM:

I don't know if GW can sing, but he sure can dance!

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:22 PM:

So now we know what Mary Sues are like in the real world -- though the lives of the Roman Emperors should have tipped us off by now.

#32 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:27 PM:

I started reading the motivational (ahem) quotes more closely.

—The fundamentals of a person are not in substance, but in spirit.

In college we used to claim that students of our university, being mostly geeks, were "all substance, no style", while the students of the rival university were "all style, no substance". Obviously that quote was written by one of them.

The despair.com link is hilarious, er, inspiring. It reminded me of my plan to write a motivational self-help book titled "Procrastinate your way to a Good Enough Life."

#33 ::: tiercel ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:27 PM:

Every time I see motivational posters, I am irresistably reminded of despair.com, which sells the antithesis. I have several of these, and I usually have one up wherever I'm working, because regular motivational posters make me physically nauseous. Do people actually think those posters make a different in employee attitudes? The best thing you can say about them is that sometimes the picture's pretty!

As for President Bush, he makes me think of the study a while back that showed incompetent people don't know they're incompetent. I think you've hit the nail on the head; he's making decisions by the seat of his pants and refusing to acknowledge the possibility that he's wrong.

#34 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:32 PM:

Caroline, I think your insights are valid. What I think you are saying is that Bush is, in Tweve Step slang terms, a "dry drunk". This is someone who has managed to control in some way thier addictive behavior, whithout ever recovering from the addiction itself. If an alcoholic, one might say the person is "dry" but not truly sober.

This has been discussed at some length with regard to the President. For example, Professor of Social Work Katherine van Wormer wrote in 2002:

What is the dry drunk syndrome? "Dry drunk" traits consist of:
  • Exaggerated self-importance and pomposity
  • Grandiose behavior
  • A rigid, judgmental outlook
  • Impatience
  • Childish behavior
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Irrational rationalization
  • Projection
  • Overreaction
Clearly, George W. Bush has all these traits except exaggerated self importance. He may be pompous, especially with regard to international dealings, but his actual importance hardly can be exaggerated. His power, in fact, is such that if he collapses into paranoia, a large part of the world will collapse with him. Unfortunately, there are some indications of paranoia in statements such as the following: "We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends." The trait of projection is evidenced here as well, projection of the fact that we are ready to attack onto another nation which may not be so inclined.

I also makes you wonder, when you consider that the President's cognitive and verbal abilities appear to have degraded somewhat in the past decade.

#35 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:35 PM:

Speaking of deteriorating cognitive and verbal abilities: "I" instead of "It" in my final sentence.

#36 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:36 PM:

Ever hear or read this bit o' Shakespeare:

"This above all: To thine own self be true . . ."

. . . used as an affirmation, leaving off the next line which puts things in context?

". . . and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

In other words, don't lie to yourself, don't pull the wool over your own eyes, don't fall for your own line of bullshit.

#37 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:46 PM:

If you're a boy, or, especially, a young man, and people around you treat you like a little king, it's easy to end up believing that one's life is easy because one is especially virtuous. Much easier, and much more ego-satisfying, than believing that one is the recipient of undeserved privilege.

The corollary, of course, is that other people fail simply because they are lacking in virtue. If you're a white male, and you succeed, it's because of your own personal hard work and deservingness (is that a word?) If you're non-white or non-male or non-rich, and you fail, it's because you belong to a group of people that is somehow inferior (lazy, stupid, "don't really want to work," etc.)

One person's success (or perceived right to succeed) is built on a lot of other people's failure (or perceived lack of deservingness.) Funny how that works.

#38 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:54 PM:

Quoth Laura: One person's success (or perceived right to succeed) is built on a lot of other people's failure (or perceived lack of deservingness.) Funny how that works.

Yet another price to be paid for our overly-esteemed Puritan forefathers. Predestination. Bah!

And yet we have the Catholic church coming down hard on the Catholic candidate who said (paraphrase) that faith without works were insufficient. Truly a strange turn of events when Roman Catholic Bishops turn their backs on good works in favor of a Calvinist world view.

#39 ::: Trent Goulding ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:56 PM:

Reading the Suskind article and assorted commentary on same, I've been struck by nothing so much as the long-ago remarks of a professor I had in a seminar on modern Chinese intellectual history, when he was discussing what he was pleased to term "the Chinese Voluntarists." What he meant was Chinese thinkers who were convinced that they could create a new (and inevitably glorious) future China through sheer force of will. Probably the most famous exemplar of this type was, of course, Mao Zedong, and I would think that the grim facts attendant to, say, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution serve well to highlight the dangers attached to that particular mindset.

Please, I beg, let no one imagine that I am trying to draw an equivalence between George W. Bush and Mao Zedong. I am not. But this talk of altering reality through force of will, and of possessing o'erweening faith in a desired outcome, can't help but spark some sobering comparisons and reflections.

#40 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 04:17 PM:
But this talk of altering reality through force of will, and of possessing o'erweening faith in a desired outcome, can't help but spark some sobering comparisons and reflections.

Absolutely. As a text to accompany this seminar I'd recommend Orcinus' posts on the attributes of fascism. As I recall (and be warned I may be mangling his meaning horribly), one of the chief characteristics of the "force of will" crowd (fascists, authoritarians, what-have-you) is their philosophy is a transformative one. It requires that society be changed by their will - that's really the entire reason for their existence.

This is why the current administration's policies are so profoundly non-conservative. Real conservatives are willing to see society change when necessary, but are very uncomfortable with massive societal change being the norm (recall the old jibe that the Republican motto was "Don't just do something, stand there" - hardly applicable these days). The "force of will" philosophy requires, as the unnamed official quoted in Suskind's article explained, that you are always using your will to change something. What you have is a situation where those in power cannot leave well enough alone - they are leaning so far forward that unlesss they run to keep up with themselves, they fall over.

#41 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 04:35 PM:

Did anyone else look at all those motivational poster slogans and find themselves thinking of Loyal to the Group of Seventeen from The Book of the New Sun?

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the venomous parodies of motivational literature in William Browning Spencer's _Resume with Monsters_ yet - the pamphlets advising ghouls not to eat their co-workers are especially droll.

#42 ::: James Angove ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 04:38 PM:

Leigh Butler:

Somewhere on here or on Electrolite there is a comment by Graydon to the effect that one of the major problems with modern corprate orginizational practices is that it strongly conditions us to aquiensence and acceptance in the face of the tyranny by the most absurd.

I think this is one of the most penetrating things I've heard in quite a while, and it does much to explain the question of how we got this way, and our culture of helplessness in the face of things like the neo-cons neo aristocracy.

#43 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 04:42 PM:

To thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

That's far more poetic and terse than my version.

;)

So, this is what the administration has said:
http://www.workingforchange.com/comic.cfm?itemid=17813

And every single word of it has turned out to be false, wrong, inaccurate, or an outright lie.

yet, when Bush is asked if he "made any mistakes" he says "No", because the fictional world he believes in is more real to him than the emperical evidence around him.

During the first presidential debate, Bush said something to the effect of "when they (Iraq) attacked us on 9-11", when it was Al-queda and men from Saudi Arabia who attacked us on 9-11.

Bush has told himself a fictional dream so real that he believes it in the face of any objective evidence.

#44 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 04:53 PM:

Attributions for motivational posters:

?It is the size of one's will which determines success.

Sounds like Adolph Hitler to me.

#45 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 04:57 PM:

Bless you.

#46 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 05:03 PM:

What Dan Blum said regarding Orcinus' recent material on fascism; and while you're over there take a look at the post on education and the No Child Left Behind act (link in the URL spot on this comment, article posted on 15 October 2004). It speaks directly to what ... argh, somebody said and I can't find the comment now, so clearly the sanity gnomes have put my brain in the same place they hide my car keys and measuring spoons.

Education. Lessons. Sit still, shut up, do what you're told and don't ask questions. School as preparation for corporate employment as preparation for serfdom in this Bizarro-land sociopolitical structure that has somehow congealed where fluid democracy was a minute (or a century) ago.

Feh. I'm going to go drink coffee now and see if this flash of horrifying insight makes more sense and less panic when I'm firing all cylinders.

#47 ::: Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 05:08 PM:

Yeah, a lot of this is almost right from Chapter 5 of George Lakoff's Moral Politics.
Moral Order = Natural Order
Being on top means deserving to be on top, physically and metaphysically (if there's much distinction).
Discipline is cardinal; which means absolute obedience.

. . . I'm not doing him justice, but if we ever build a worthy opponent to the Heritage Foundation ilk, he'll be hired.

#48 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 05:10 PM:

I've always just figured that "will is all" means "I don't know what I'm doing."

Although it's also a fair summation of the financial strategy of Our Fearless Leader's base.

Just picture them all, sitting around waiting for their parents and grandparents to die.

#49 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 05:14 PM:

Leigh Butler said:

Somewhere on here or on Electrolite there is a comment by Graydon to the effect that one of the major problems with modern corprate orginizational practices is that it strongly conditions us to aquiensence and acceptance in the face of the tyranny by the most absurd.

I think this is also quite true of our educational system, and one more reason why we homeschool. It was so obvious in kindergarten that they were training up little automatons -- you WILL lie flat on your back with your eyes closed at naptime, you WILL NOT work ahead in your book no matter how fascinating you find the subject, you will NEVER attempt to take home art supplies because art class was too short, yadda yadda yadda (or "n'at" in Pittsburghese :)). We're looking at a magnet residential high school for kids gifted in math and science, but we're hearing bad things about screened email and no direct access to phones, and we're not sure if the chance to work with other gifted kids on subjects she loves will outweigh our requirements for her personal freedom... I guess we're training up a cynical little anarchist. But we like her better than a lot of the public school kids she knows.

#50 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 05:16 PM:

This reminds me an awful lot of poker. There are a lot of players who bet by "feel" or "instinct." They would vehemently deny being superstitious, but would just as vehemently assert that they can somehow "tell" when they're going to get lucky. And, of course, they always lose. Whereas those stodgy, unimaginative, by-the-book robots will rake in small but consistent winnings just by doing the math. Does anyone know if Bush likes to gamble?

#51 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 05:33 PM:

Trent Goulding:

"Please, I beg, let no one imagine that I am trying to draw an equivalence between George W. Bush and Mao Zedong."

Mao was one of the greatest contemporary authors of poetry in the style of Classical Chinese poetry. Of course, that's because he executed most of the competition.

Good thing that Emperor Bush II does not believe that he can write Science Fiction, the way that Saddam believed that he could write Adventure Romance.

Oh, wait. You should know a little science, or at least read about it and talk to those who know it, before you can write Science Fiction. This White House is by far the most anti-science in history. Even Republican scientists are speaking out about this.

So, are we in a Bush-made world of Dark Fantasy, or Horror, or what?

#52 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 05:42 PM:

I think, in a quiet sort of way, this is one of the most disquieting things I've read yet about the current political situation in the US.

I admit that I've been reading as little about it as I can because I'm not a US citizen, and I can't vote, and I get a lot of different viewpoints on the election because it does have a large international effect. There is -- outside of the US -- a sense that breath is being held, that waiting is being done, that you could hear a pin drop for the silence & tension.

#53 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 06:00 PM:

"Does anyone know if W can sing?"

If he does, he relies on the backup vocalists to carry the melody.

#54 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 06:11 PM:

The other night I watched A Bridge Too Far, based on the book by Cornelius Ryan.

Y'all recall this bit of dialog, as the final plans are being discussed in England?

Lt. Gen. Frederick "Boy" Browning: Only the weather can stop us now.
General Stanislaw Sosaboski: Weather. What of the Germans, General Browning?

and later on:


Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning: I've just been on to Monty. He's very proud and pleased.
Major General Urquhart: Pleased?
Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning: Of course. He thinks Market Garden was 90% successful.

#55 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 06:14 PM:

Apropos of the power of will, has anyone yet read _A Handbook of American Prayer_, by Lucius Shepard?

Its premise is that prayers can be a mechanism to bring about circumstances by which the desired can be obtained. It combines the two American stories Xeger and Dave mention above in an interesting permutation.

The best parts of the book are the prayers (and the "joke" told by the man in Nogales). You can find one online, but the best, in my view, is the Prayer for Elisabeth Elko's Divorce Action.

Shepard, especially, in the first half of the book is brilliant as usual in his methodical description of characters' psychology.

Anyway, it's just the will thing that got me thinking.

#56 ::: kevin ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 06:36 PM:

*delurking*
James MacDonald quoted from near the end of A Bridge Too Far


Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning: I've just been on to Monty. He's very proud and pleased.
Major General Urquhart: Pleased?
Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning: Of course. He thinks Market Garden was 90% successful.

As bas as Monty's delusion is, I think what Browning says next is even more chilling. Urquahart asks him whether or not he thought the mission was successful, and Browning replies with something close to "Well, as you know, I always thought we tried to go a bridge too far."

Browning is lying with that line -- at no point in the movie was Browning anything other than a cheerleader for Monty's plan. Browning goes so far as to place on medical leave an intelligence analyst who has shown that some of the assumptions underlying the plan are faulty in a disastrous fashion. And yet, even literally staring at the evidence of disaster in the person of Urquhart, Browning is perfectly willing to make excuses for the failure, and, implicitly, for Monty.

That is the truly scary attitude. Bush and his sense of certainty could not have gotten very far if there were not far, far too many people with influence in the Republican Party who either shares his faith based view of the world or simply quietly go along. And that is the truly scary part, to me.

*relurking*

#57 ::: Diana ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 06:37 PM:

that comment about the Group of Seventeen made me reach for my copy of the Citadel of the Autarch ... but I found nothing as good as "behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts."


However, I remember that somewhere Severian notices that Ascian officers did not carry weapons, as if they regarded actual fighting with contempt. This now reminds me of our chickenhawk neo-cons, none of whom ever actually served in the army and most of whom went to great lengths to avoid the draft.

Our administration loves war, but they do indeed regard actual fighting with contempt -- look at the scorn they have heaped on Kerry, and the bandaids designed to mock the wounds that earned him his Purple Hearts.

#58 ::: Erin Stafford ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 06:41 PM:

Trent Goulding:

You weren't the only one reminded of Mao. Go here for Juan Cole's take on the Suskind profile:

http://www.juancole.com/2004_10_01_juancole_archive.html#109800207975930055

#59 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:06 PM:

I can't help you with George W. Bush, though I observe that Tony Blair has been observed talking about how much his faith has helped him make these difficult decisions and how he knows in his heart he's making the right choice. I find it rather scary.

I too adore Despair.Com. Sadly, I didn't discover them soon enough in my career -- I'm now far too much of a PHB to get away with sticking a poster on my wall like 'Get To Work. You Aren't Being Paid To Believe In the Power of Your Dreams.' or 'Mediocrity. It Takes a Lot Less Time and Most People Won't Notice The Difference Until It's Too Late' or 'Irresponsibility. No Single Raindrop Believes It Is To Blame For the Flood.'

Interestingly, all three of those seem to me to say valuable and useful things, if not precisely motivational ones. I certainly believe in the irresponsibility one; that as single raindrops we each have our part to play in flood prevention. And I am a firm believer in mediocrity, by which I mean that all tasks should be done exactly well enough and no better.

I guess the one that the world needs to pin on the wall at the moment is Goals.

Plokta did some motivational posters for Novacon last year ('Interaction: Order can arise from the most chaotic system. Except this one' and so on). We ought to do some more for the Worldcon fan room. Only bigger, as befits the Worldcon.

#60 ::: Ter Matthies ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:43 PM:

I have to ask for clarification, since I have no idea what PHB means.

#61 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:44 PM:

"Pointy-haired boss", as per Dilbert.

#62 ::: Trent Goulding ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:46 PM:

Erin Stafford:

Wow, that's eerie. Professor Cole said about what I was thinking. Coincidentally, he even teaches at the same university as the professor I mentioned, although that professor retired a few years ago.

Jonathon Van Post:

I dunno, the teacher of my Tang poetry seminar thought Mao was a pretty mediocre poet. He certainly wasn't fit to tie the sandals of, say, Li Bo, Du Fu, Bo Ju Yi, et al., though to be sure, they weren't modern imitators, but the original practitioners of the style.

#63 ::: Mary R ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:47 PM:

I remember a line from one of David Mamet's books of essays back in the 80's. He basically said that Tyranny was creatiing chaos, and then offering yourself as the only was out. I've worked for several small businesses, and as soon as I've recognized that trait in an owner, I've gotten the hell out. Really hoped I'd never see it in a President.

#64 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:53 PM:

Janet Croft: I think this is also quite true of our educational system, and one more reason why we homeschool. It was so obvious in kindergarten that they were training up little automatons -- you WILL lie flat on your back with your eyes closed at naptime, you WILL NOT work ahead in your book no matter how fascinating you find the subject, you will NEVER attempt to take home art supplies because art class was too short, yadda yadda yadda (or "n'at" in Pittsburghese :)).

You mean it wasn't just me? I always got chided for reading ahead in (usually history and English) textbooks! I couldn't see what the fuss was. It wasn't my fault the other students were (a) not interested enough, (b) not fast enough readers, or (c) better at pretending at (a) or (b). If I'd already finished the thing they wanted me to read (usually twice), I couldn't see why I had to sit there doing nothing instead of devouring the rest of the book.

Meanwhile. Despair.com *rocks.* If I am ever, ever allowed to put up posters again, I am so getting some of those. I wonder if I should send the President some...nah, they'd never make it.

#65 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:54 PM:

xeger - only if they're required to do both at once. Somehow, the oppressiveness of retail doesn't fully sink in if you can afford to walk away from it.

I know one person (yes, only one - all my other friends are in the same economic class as I am) who would greatly benefit from having no choice other than to accept what work heaps on her back, without the option of leaving if she gets tired of it or if the schedule doesn't suit her.

#66 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:58 PM:

My husband lost his job two weeks ago. He'd spent the past four years working for a small press publisher who has much in common with your description of a PHB. His regard for his employees hinged on their willingness to do what he asked without question, even if it was foolish and counterproductive, and to generate profit for him while asking nothing in return. The platitude posted by the door read, "This is the best place for the best people to work." Underneath this sign, in mute repudiation, sat a skeleton model that an employee had placed there.

Now I'm in the penultimate management class of my undergraduate accounting program. (The last one is about ethics.) This course in critical thinking started well, with chapters on fallacies and such; but it since devolved into management decision theory. The course certainly doesn't teach that team effort is of the team, by the team and for the management, but it certainly is based on the assumption that employees can and should be encouraged to give their all for the company with a few kind words.

I'll have to read the rest of this post after class tonight, but I wanted to spout off a bit about concepts from the beginning of it.

Oh, I did have another quick anecdote. On Sunday John and I were at Barnes & Noble. I was there to read my management text (a PDF), and John was taking notes for a screenplay. B&N was having an authors' event, which was to start at 7 PM. At 6:30 I swung by the tables of the dozen or so authors. Not all were set up yet, but it hardly mattered. They were talking to each other, or to relatives who had come along to help, or not at all. As best I could tell without actually picking up books or engaging people in conversation, none of the books were from major publishers. At least three appeared to be memoirs by retired military pilots. One was a kid's book by a newspaper copy editor. Not wanting to indulge in happy shop talk with self- or vanity-published people whose prospects of selling a lot of books were less than wonderful, I slunk away, vowing never to do a book signing until a "real" publisher puts my name on the cover.

Karen

#67 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 08:01 PM:

Yoon Ha Lee: You mean it wasn't just me?

Nope. I was actually punished (by a nun, no less) for insisting that you could too subtract five from three.

#68 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 08:09 PM:

Sundre: "Does anyone know if W can sing?"

Sure, just like Britney Spears.

#69 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 08:13 PM:

The point of motivational posters isn't to give people good advice about business management; it's to flatter the egos of the executives who buy them. Here are some motivational posters you'll never see:

1. Photo: A wilderness EMT/rescue operation on the slopes of Mt. Washington. Slogan: Remember: In a crisis, it's the people below you who are going to save your sorry ass.

2. Photo: An artful, luminous photo of several pages of a legal document that have been accordion-pleated and partially shredded by a copier jam. Slogan: The copier will keep breaking down as long as the person whose job it is to estimate the necessary copying capacity doesn't talk to the people whose job it is to make the copies.

3. Photo: An earnest young employee with several three-ring binders and a sheaf of printouts spread out around him, working in front of a computer screen far into the night. Slogan: If you aren't training your staff to eventually take over your job, you aren't getting nearly as much work out of them as you might.

4. Photo: Closeup of a flock of ducks taking off from the surface of a lake. Slogan: Don't expect your best people to stick around for the next round of firings.

#70 ::: Nathan ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 08:44 PM:

Zzedar wrote:

This reminds me an awful lot of poker. There are a lot of players who bet by "feel" or "instinct." They would vehemently deny being superstitious, but would just as vehemently assert that they can somehow "tell" when they're going to get lucky. And, of course, they always lose.

No - they win just often enough to convince themselves that their instinct must be correct, and commence to lose the next 10 rounds.

#71 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 08:49 PM:

Way back up at the beginning of this thread, John Houghton said he found himself putting attributions on the motivational slogans, and gave one example:

Spread your wings, unencumbered by fear. --Icarus
Dave Bell added:
It is the size of one's will which determines success. --Adolf Hitler
Lest this promising game fall into desuetude, I offer:
Believe in yourself and anything becomes possible. --Harold Stassen

The difference between the unattainable and the attainable lies in a person’s determination. --Jefferson Davis

The world has a habit of making room for those who know where they are going. --JFK Jr.

Many people have gone further than they thought they could because somebody else thought they could. --Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig

#72 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 08:51 PM:

You have to know you can win. You have to think you can win. You have to feel you can win. --George Armstrong Custer

#73 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 08:58 PM:

2. Photo: An artful, luminous photo of several pages of a legal document that have been accordion-pleated and partially shredded by a copier jam. Slogan: The copier will keep breaking down as long as the person whose job it is to estimate the necessary copying capacity doesn't talk to the people whose job it is to make the copies.

Wow, did you used to work for my company? My company's official policy is: "knowledge is power"

If you share information you run the risk of losing power. The only appropriate time to share information is just before the project goes south so the blame can be assigned appropriately.

I have actually have actually been reprimanded for sharing too much information with the people who work below me.

#74 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:06 PM:

We all live in our heads, in the world of imagination, as we must; the world is too big to fit in anybody's head.

That place of imagination is a place of magic, where things can be -- or seem that they can be -- accomplished through will alone, by the simple fact of desire. It is the hard unbending matter of the tangible world that demands work, and effort, and imposes risk. I would say that it is the effort of moving to dwell as much as one may in the world of substance that makes one able to claim mature judgement and an adult state.

If one is protected, free or freed from need above convenience, the connection can be cut, and there will be the seeming of a great burden laid down.

For a little while; while the strength lasts, and the will lasts with it, to offer and enact that protection.

ša se eorl ongan for his ofermode alyfan landes to fela lažere šeode
then the earl in his overmastering pride actually yielded ground to the enemy, as he should not have done
Hige sceal že heardra, heorte že cenre,
mod sceal že mare že ure maegen lytlaš.
#75 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:12 PM:

Greg London wrote: "During the first presidential debate, Bush said something to the effect of "when they (Iraq) attacked us on 9-11", when it was Al-queda and men from Saudi Arabia who attacked us on 9-11."

Actually, Bush said "the enemy attacked us".

I have a hunch that "the Enemy" is Christian Right code for Satan, much like Bush's mention of Dred Scott was Christian Right code for Roe v. Wade.

In this interpretation, The Enemy is Satan, and Saddam and Osama are instruments of Satan, implicitly cooperative. Thus Iraq becomes a valid target in the War on Terror.

Kerry wasn't up on the code, so he called Bush on his apparent blame of Iraq for 9/11.

Then again, it's entirely possible that the "enemy" thing isn't Christian Right code, but only an element in Bush's own conception of reality. Which is more worrisome.

It's a really bad thing when the guy who controls the nuclear arsenal of the nation has disowned reality-based decisionmaking.

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:15 PM:

I can't believe they ceded us "reality-based": Hello, Mensheviks!

#77 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:21 PM:

Graydon, I've long had Hige sceal že heardra, heorte že cenre, mod sceal že mare že ure maegen lytlaš buried in the template code for this weblog.

#78 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:40 PM:

The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong,/i>

NYU pick a year '35 or '36

#79 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:42 PM:

Teresa --

I could not doubt it.

I could wish to doubt that it's that time again, but I can doubt such doubts no longer.

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:45 PM:

Why NYU?

I'd have said:

The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong. --Belgium

#81 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:49 PM:

Crap! for every five minutes I spend here, I spend
fifteen minutes looking obscure references up on
Google. Look, people, I don't want to have to
THINK, alright?!? Just give me the friggen answers!

;)

Empiricism to Bush:
Get OFF the nuclear warhead!
-- Colonel William Sharp ("Armageddon")

Bush to Empiricism:
"I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when
I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my
brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine
years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss"
-- Cypher ("The Matrix")

#82 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:55 PM:

Many people have gone further than they thought they could because somebody else thought they could

obs sf 1632
the officer found himself another employer. The Tsar. Russia, he thought, would be far enough

#83 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:56 PM:

Many people have gone further than they thought they could because somebody else thought they could

obs sf 1632
the officer found himself another employer. The Tsar. Russia, he thought, would be far enough

#84 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 09:59 PM:

I wonder if our president has watched Dr. Strangelove? I saw it for the first time a few months ago. I couldn't stop laughing. Then I *dared* not stop laughing because otherwise I'd start crying. Or something like that.

#85 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:01 PM:

The attribution game is slightly spoiled for me because I know where this one comes from:

--The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.

It is the seldom-quoted Second Law of Sir Arthur Clarke, from Profiles of the Future.

Not that it fails to harmonize with the other aphorisms Teresa has provided, but it is a bit out of its context (technological prediction). And it originates with one of Us.

The other, more familiar, laws are the First,

When a distinguished but elderly scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When a distinguished but elderly scientist says that something is impossible, he is almost certainly wrong.

and the popular Third,

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

#86 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:02 PM:

The fundamentals of a person are not in substance, but in spirit W.C. Fields (not as sometimes said Eben Flood)

#87 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:04 PM:

You can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed Vince Lombardi (one of the original 7 blocks of granite)

#88 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:07 PM:

Well, I guessed that that little blast of Old English had to be from some epic poem, but alas my personal self-education in the humanities only includes such things in translation.

It turns out that Google indexes thorns and such quite well, so I was able to find the translation for Hige sceal že heardra, heorte že cenre, mod sceal že mare že ure maegen lytlaš. An inspiring sentiment, indeed.

Once again, I have learned something here. Thank you.

#89 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:08 PM:

The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another. 47 Ronin

#90 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:15 PM:

Fordham - 7 Blocks of Granite being football players - ruined NYU's season one year '35 and NYU returned the favor the following year '36 see Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon et al..

#91 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:17 PM:

You're right, Bill; it's different when it's one of Ours. What's painful is the context in which they use it.

Try this:

What would you not attempt to achieve, if you knew it was impossible to fail? --Trofim Denisovich Lysenko
I figure that one's either Lysenko, or the collected venture capitalists of the dotcom boom.

#92 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:31 PM:

The world has a habit of making room for those who know where they are going Robert F. Scott

#93 ::: Darice ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:31 PM:

Teresa, I wish I'd had your proposed posters when I was in the corporate workforce. *sigh*

Parlor games!

There is only one success: to be able to live your life in your own way. -- Paul Gaugin

The distance between a person’s dreams and their accomplishments can only be measured by their desire. -- Casanova

Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason -- obviously, G. W. Bush

Welcome the chores that make you go beyond yourself. -- Cinderella's stepmother

When a team makes a commitment to act as one, the sky’s the limit. -- Tower of Babel construction team

Together we are winners. -- pick a failed merger. So many to choose from!

#94 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:33 PM:

Together we are winners is clearly Unisys to the power of 2

#95 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:43 PM:

Many people have gone further than they thought they could because somebody else thought they could

Jude Fawley

#96 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:46 PM:

I am currently doing some freelance for a company (no, not the one I do full-time freelance for, if that's not an oxymoron) which is the PHB.

Worse yet, one day my contact there recommended I need a motivational poster in my office to "better understand XYZ company" and how they "work outside the box" (code for: We decide what's right and how to do it, no matter that it's wrong and broken, and will beat you down if you don't agree with us by telling you that you're "uncreative" and "not up to our challenging standards" if you don't agree with our Way).

I suggested a poster from Despair. He didn't get it.

By the way, on the term "reality-based" used in Suskind's article at the NYT: I've been hearing this same catch-phrase for the last year from XYZ company, and they're very much so not Bushies. Methinks it is a catch-phrase from yet another Managerial Technique. It smells like one from a mile away.

#97 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:50 PM:

It is a sad fact that regardless of effort or talent, second place really means you are first in a long line of losers

Esau

#98 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:50 PM:

Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be. - Cassandra


Victory goes to the man whose desire is strongest. - Paris (although really at least half of those could be attributed to him, feckless as he was)

#99 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:56 PM:

It is the size of one’s will which determines success
Norman F. Dacy (Dacey)

#100 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:59 PM:

Clark wrote:

Together we are winners is clearly Unisys to the power of 2

I have yet to forget the multi-page memo instructing everybody on how to properly format 'unisys' - including the 'i', which must always be lower case, not upper case, and in a font similar to courier, with serifs. Motivational reading, indeed.

#101 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 11:32 PM:

The desire to just be what you are, and do what you wish, and have it somehow turn out to be right.

That sounds like my main beef with much of Gordon Dickson's work: the way the plot and the rest of the universe reshape themselves so that whatever the hero did is Right, and whoever forgets their qualms and accepts this shares in the Rightness. It's almost Brechtian: "So divide up those in darkness / From the ones who walk in light / Light 'em up boys, there's your picture / Drop the shadows out of sight."
Kate: Mary Sue is a great capsule, and wakes up a long-forgotten memory of my mother saying that Necromancer(?) read like a small man trying to pretend he was big. As TNH and others have suggested, every now and then he has a moment's realization of just how small he is, and gets that deer-in-the-headlights look -- then he suppresses it with a line like -"The thing about being President is I don't have to answer questions."- and he's back in his fantasy.

The approach of the "reality-based community" isn't unprecedented; recall Theodore Roosevelt's "I took Panama, built the Canal, and left Congress -- not to debate the Canal but to debate me." Is it a marker of this administration that all of its actions in this vein are destructive rather than constructive? Or have they simply not figured out that this is 2000 instead of 1900?

PZ Myers: "But most men would rather dream of being rich rather than facing the reality of being poor -- [crescendo] and that is why they will follow us [music] To the Right!..." (Dickinson and the Conservatives, in 1776)

Laura Roberts: The corollary, of course, is that other people fail simply because they are lacking in virtue. Oh yes. That philosophy got named "Social Darwinism" in the 19th century, but it was around long before and is around still. (Another of my mother's observations, that Christian Science (among which she grew up) was a religion of the well-off, who could take their good health as a sign of divine favor and not of being able to eat, sleep, and clothe themselves well.)

Is it a violation of Godwin's law to observe that the talk of transforming by "will" recalls Triumph of the Will?

#102 ::: tiercel ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 11:34 PM:

Speaking of Bush and religion, has anyone seen the online petition from some members of the United Methodist Church for Bush and Cheney to repent?

Obviously, this will have the same effect as all online petitions: none at all. Still, the language is really interesting, especially the conclusion. To quote:

We, the undersigned, are also very much disturbed by President Bush's many references to the significance of Christian faith in the decisions that he has made as President of the United States. George W. Bush has called Jesus his "favorite philosopher", said that Jesus changed his life, and that his decisions are often guided by prayer. In fact, we feel that most of his actions as president have directly contradicted the philosophy of Jesus. Jesus said to feed, clothe, and shelter the "least of these", not to starve, strip, and bomb them.

Points for excellent use of rhetoric, if nothing else.

Also, somebody tried to have John Kerry excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Every day I get a little more scared of what's going on in this country.

So I'm going to play the attribution game to cheer me up.

The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another. - anyone who's played an rpg

The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong - Stalin

It is a sad fact that regardless of effort or talent, second place really means you are first in a long line of losers. - I'm not attributing this one; I'm just including it to express my disbelief. This is a motivational poster? What's the picture of, a noose?

Finally, when I need inspiring I think of the following:
When all else fails, pour a pint of Guinness in the gas tank, advance the spark 20 degrees, cry "God save the Queen!" and pull the starter knob. (from the MG "Series MGA" workshop manual).

#103 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 11:56 PM:

veejane wrote (some time ago):

The joke about the Self Made Man myth is that in its gospel text, all Gatsby's money and aspirations (a) don't get him into East Egg and (b) result in his pointless death.

-- But the thing is that Gatsby isn't the gospel text, it's a *critique* of the myth.

That said, this makes me think of this:

"The distance between a person’s dreams and their accomplishments can only be measured by their desire." -- Jay Gatsby

SF

#104 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:04 AM:

So does this mean we now know who John Galt is?

Historical note: General Browning said "But sir, I think we might be going a bridge too far" to Montgomery during the final planning for Market-Garden, ten days before the Airborne took off. The film moves this to the aftermath for dramatic effect. Browning seems to have set his doubts aside, but he didn't lie about them. Montgomery is another matter, but for once I won't digress.

Oh, the issue at hand. I commented on this here, on 10 May, in the "Arkhangel grieves..." thread.

#105 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:05 AM:

Does She Think Your Will is Big Enough?

Try today's BEST will enhancement product for FIFTY PERCENT OFF!!!

Soon your desires will be her only reality!!

Alex

#106 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:24 AM:

There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others. -- Victor Frankenstein

Many people have gone further than they thought they could because somebody else thought they could. -- Odysseus

You can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. -- Alcibiades

#107 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:44 AM:

*delurking*

The other thing one tends to forget when quoting "To thine own self be true" is that it's the closing to a completely pompous, ridiculous, and extremely comic speech by Polonius. No one is supposed to take that seriously.

*relurking*

#108 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:51 AM:

Trent Goulding:

You're right. But Mao had the critics saying what I said. Or else!

I can't actually read Chinese, but some poems have been so often translated that I have published a number of transliterations of, for instance, Su Tung-po, interpolating a new one from a set where one is supposedly the most literally accurate, one is said to have captured the atmosphere, one the rhythm, and so forth. I corresponded with Alan Ginsberg about this, and did a poetry reading with him once. The genre is a form of hypertext, as one's allusions are to older poems, which themselves allude to still older poems, and so on recursively. I also claim to be the first true (inentional explicitly declared) author of intentional hyperpoetry, in venues such as Datamation, back in the 1970s.

There have been Poet-Presidents before, with mixed results.

Since Bush proudly declares that he doesn't read newspapers, he may be immune to literary criticism. Which, I think, was near my point.

#109 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:52 AM:

Trent Goulding:

You're right. But Mao had the critics saying what I said. Or else!

I can't actually read Chinese, but some poems have been so often translated that I have published a number of transliterations of, for instance, Su Tung-po, interpolating a new one from a set where one is supposedly the most literally accurate, one is said to have captured the atmosphere, one the rhythm, and so forth. I corresponded with Alan Ginsberg about this, and did a poetry reading with him once. The genre is a form of hypertext, as one's allusions are to older poems, which themselves allude to still older poems, and so on recursively. I also claim to be the first true (explicitly declared) author of intentional hyperpoetry, in venues such as Datamation, back in the 1970s.

There have been Poet-Presidents before, with mixed results.

Since Bush proudly declares that he doesn't read newspapers, he may be immune to literary criticism. Which, I think, was near my point.

#110 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:26 AM:

Something that's been an important influence on my thinking, with relation to some ideas in Teresa's original posting: www.ratbags.com/skepticism "The Danger of Knowing for Sure" by Peter Bowditch, September 12th, 2001

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. -- 1 Thessalonians 5:21

www.ronrecord.com/Quotes/bronowski.html -- from the "Knowledge or Certainty" episode from the 1973 BBC series The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski -- available as a DVD (1), (2) or book.

#111 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:26 AM:

(you beat me to it, Kate! It's hard to catch up with a hundred posts in a day....)

#112 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:56 AM:

Jonathan Vos Post wrote:

Since Bush proudly declares that he doesn't read newspapers, he may be immune to literary criticism. Which, I think, was near my point.

Since Jacques Derrida's death, I've been thinking that Bush is the apotheosis of deconstruction. As far as Bush is concerned, there is no reality outside his text. Meaning is infinitely deferred. As long as everything is a social construction, he can construct reality to suit himself. The rest of us can object but we're just bombinating in a void, as it were.

My petty little revenge fantasy is that Derrida recognized his complicity in creating this monster by crippling so many thinkers on the Left with dead-end deconstructive theory such that they, too, abandoned the reality-based community, and that he finally keeled over in shock and repentance.

#113 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:06 AM:

Teresa: I can't believe they ceded us "reality-based": Hello, Mensheviks!

I take the point, but I can't help recalling that the Mensheviks regarded themselves as the reality-based community of Russian Marxism, and dismissed the Bolsheviks as would-be supermen who thought reality could bend to their will. As Trotsky said, 'The Mensheviks spoke of processes; the Bolsheviks spoke of tasks.'

Other shots from the same canon:

There are no fortresses that Bolsheviks cannot storm. - Stalin.

It is not necessary to wait until all the conditions for revolution exist: the insurrection can create them. Che Guevara.

The point being, I think, that hubris can get around the world while Nemesis is still puttiing her Nikes on.

#114 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:11 AM:

TNH wrote:

Here are some motivational posters you'll never see:

1. Photo: A wilderness EMT/rescue operation on the slopes of Mt. Washington. Slogan: Remember: In a crisis, it's the people below you who are going to save your sorry ass.

If you print it, they will buy.

I heard variations on this theme all the time, growing up on army bases. My father and his colleagues recognized this truth, and most of them would not have been shy about broadcasting their clue. A related JAG Corps aphorism was, "The world is run by secretaries and sergeants," which isn't a bad slogan for a poster, either.

#115 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:15 AM:

The attribution game:

Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be. -- any vaporware salesman.

It is the size of one’s will which determines success. -- Ron Jeremy.


A limerick I posted on OEDILF.com in August:

Quoth the office wall icon, "Achieve!
You can if you'll only believe."
Then I saw a bright light,
Found the truth in the trite;
Now I walk a new path, "self-deceive."

#116 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:34 AM:

I followed that link to "Hige sceal že heardra, heorte že cenre, mod sceal že mare že ure maegen lytlaš," and from there I poked around some of the Google links, and found that the quotation is being used by some other folks, too, y'know. See http://twistedspinster.com/index.php?m=20040317
for details. (Drat. I cannot get that link to work. Sorry.)

Am not sure exactly what that bodes, except that perhaps someone should find an attribution for that one for a motivational poster as well. Alas.

And on the topic of faith-based leadership, I was thinking today about the WMD thing and a saying I heard years ago floated into my head again:

"Sin has many tools; a lie is the handle that fits them all."

#117 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:35 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote:
> The desire to just be what you are, and do what you wish, and have it somehow turn out to be right.

I have a low and masochistic taste for bad thrillers, which explains how I come to be reading a secondhand copy of Tom Clancy's _Executive Orders_ at the moment.

It's a wish fulfillment fantasy so extreme that it's fit to stand beside Spinrad's _The Iron Dream_ - except Spinrad was in control of his material, and trying to make a literary/political point. Throughout Clancy's book, maverick president Jack Ryan comes up with groundbreaking ideas along the lines of "Why don't we try to do a better job than anyone's ever done before" and by golly, it all just works.

Now I'm wondering if it isn't fit to stand next to the Bush administration as well. It's certainly an interesting companion to this thread.

#118 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:35 AM:

Ken wrote:

The point being, I think, that hubris can get around the world while Nemesis is still puttiing her Nikes on.

... and how can Nemesis make any speed at all with a nubile young thing tied to her feet ...

#119 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:57 AM:

"Look, it's the Nike of Samothrace!"

Floop, suggested the electorate.

#120 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 04:04 AM:

Seemed like a good idea to make my own motivational poster...

Genius

#121 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:16 AM:

Greg London:

Empiricism to Bush:
Get OFF the nuclear warhead!
-- Colonel William Sharp ("Armageddon")

Dang - I thought that was Slim Pickens at the end of "Dr. Strangelove."

(Also known as "what Yoon said - but longer").

#122 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:19 AM:

Wait, all that crap about will in the motivational posters sounds less like Hitler than dear old uncle Alister Crowley...

Could modern management theory be part of the sinister magical underground?

Or do horseshit and bullshit end up smelling the same once they've been around a while?

PS: Despair's "WORK" poster was on my office wall for many months. My boss put it there.

#123 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:31 AM:

Nice parlour game - it's livened up an otherwise joyless day.

David Blum gave Cassandra "Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.", but I think that's really Teiresias. Cassandra is "Destiny is a matter of choice, not chance."

Others:
What is genius, but the power of expressing a new individuality? - Professor Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the Sheep
There is only one success: to be able to live your life in your own way. - the British soldiers who hanged Nathan Hale
The difference between the unattainable and the attainable lies in a person’s determination. - Sisyphus
Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason - a lemming
You can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. - Tensing Norgay
Together we are winners. - the defenders of the Alamo

Also, Yoon Ha Lee says:
"I wonder if I should send the President some [despair.com posters]...nah, they'd never make it."

As someone who *has* sent the President something (a hand bound copy of the Constitution), let me suggest you not hold your breath for a thank you note if you do.

#124 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 08:06 AM:

My petty little revenge fantasy is that Derrida recognized his complicity in creating this monster by crippling so many thinkers on the Left with dead-end deconstructive theory such that they, too, abandoned the reality-based community, and that he finally keeled over in shock and repentance.

More likely he thought it would disappear when he did.

#125 ::: Christopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 08:50 AM:

Teresa wrote:
> I’ve been looking into the current batch of GWB > jokes, and find that many of the jokes from
> which they’re drawn were originally about
> Stalin. But I digress.)

Fascinating! When you have time, please post something about this.

#126 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:08 AM:

The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong. -- Judge Roy Moore

#127 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:15 AM:
This has nothing to do with religion. This is a combination of self-indulgence and Stupid Executive Tricks. If you believe that your will and imagination are the only determinants of success, the most you’ll get is what you’ve wanted and imagined. In Bush’s case, that’s simply not enough. -- TNH
Too true. There is some excellent corroboration for this up on the website of The American Prospect. Ayelish McGarvey writes in As God is his Witness that most of the press has simply echoed the same statements about Bush's faith:
This is a huge mistake, because when judged by his deeds, an entirely different picture emerges: Bush does not demonstrate a life of faith by his actions, and neither Methodists, evangelicals, nor fundamentalists can rightly call him brother. In fact, the available evidence raises serious questions about whether Bush is really a Christian at all.
Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House. Though Bush easily weaves Christian language and themes into his political communication, empty religious jargon is no substitute for a bedrock faith. Even little children in Sunday school know that Jesus taught his disciples to live according to his commandments, not simply to talk about them a lot. In Bush’s case, faith without works is not just dead faith -- it’s evangelical agitprop

There are some people who attack George Bush because he has brought too much religion into politics. My problem with the man is that he seems to have brought little to no real religion into the White House. There is determination without integrity or humility, and that is not leadership, not to a Christian.

#128 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:18 AM:

Back to the privilege bit, briefly.

I graduated from Andover in '94. Sometime after (either) Bush's day, they instituted an interesting little lesson. Everyone in the school does a couple of weeklong stints of Commons duty during the year, and everyone has some sort of work assignment that takes about 3 hours every 2 weeks.

Commons is the set of connected dining halls. Commons duty generally involved scraping off people's plates, helping the paid staff run them through the dishwasher, etc.

It taught me that I *never* wanted to work in that kind of food service job ever again, and that I will go to fairly extreme lengths to avoid having to do so. (The smell in dishrooms still turns my stomach.) I do, however, have a huge amount of respect for anyone who does those jobs.

Work duty was a variety of things - shelving books in the library, helping with basic janitorial work, tasks around the dorm, but generally pretty menial and not-entirely-pleasant tasks. You generally start with the nastier or more boring ones in your first year there, and can then apply for specific jobs after that.

I helped clean the English building one night a week. (Which was actually rather pleasant: sweeping the floors, polishing the wood, cleaning the glass, stuff like that.) This gave me a lot of respect for anyone who does maintenance work.

(I also had a lot of pleasant conversations with the building janitor, which was a nice antidote to the "Only people with high-class educations matter" syndrome that it can be far too easy to get into in that kind of setting.)

I work in a day school now. It's quite common for requests I (or my boss, who's got the same attitude) make of our maintainance staff to have a 1-2 hour turnaround, and for people who've been ruder or more presumptive to wait much longer.

Unfortunately, in both cases, the people who *really* need to learn these lessons (and the ones who might not already have figured it out) often don't pick it up. But at least the school's trying to prove a point, and it sometimes works.

What's really scary is the number of schools that don't include or encourage that kind of thing. And where that sort of 'learn to treat other people decently/respectfully, regardless of their job position' thing may not be reinforced by parents, well.. where are the kids going to get it from? And what happens to a workplace where the former kids have that kind of attitude?

#129 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:22 AM:

Perhaps Bush should read (yeah, I know this is a stretch)from the teachings of Sun Tzu:

When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

#130 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:49 AM:

Playing the attribution game:

What is genius, but the power of expressing a new individuality? -- Henry Jekyll, MD

Destiny is a matter of choice, not chance. -- Capt. John Yossarian

There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others. -- Charles Ponzi

The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another. -- Boxer from Animal Farm

Together we are winners. -- Jack Merridew

It is a sad fact that regardless of effort or talent, second place really means you are first in a long line of losers. -- Louis XIV, King of France

We make way for the one who pushes past us. -- Wilhelm Voigt

What would you not attempt to achieve, if you believed it was impossible to fail? -- Croesus, King of Lydia

Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. -- Macbeth

You have to know you can win. You have to think you can win. You have to feel you can win. -- Pyrrhus, King of Epirus

#131 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:53 AM:

"Hige sceal že heardra, heorte že cenre, mod sceal že mare že ure maegen lytlaš" and the earlier quote about the earl letting the enemy advance so his honor would be greater -- See J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son," which draws on an incident from the Battle of Maldon. Beorhtnoth was the war leader who decided to allow the enemy to cross the causeway, so that his honor and glory would be the greater when he won. Instead, he and all his men were slaughtered. "The Homecoming" is a short verse play based on the aftermath of this incident, a conversation between an idealistic young wanna-be bard and a realistic old farmer and former soldier seeking Beorhtnoth's body on the battlefield, and Tolkien's commentary has lots of pithy stuff to say about true honor and courage.

As Tolkien translates it in his play, "Heart shall be bolder, harder be purpose, more proud the spirit as our strength lessens." At this point I'm not sure that's a good thing, if that's the way Bush is approaching this war. The Ragnarok impulse in action? While it's admirable to have the attitude that losing doesn't mean you were wrong, it's not necessarily admirable to drag others along with you. And this aphorism doesn't say anything about changing your strategies and tactics if you are wrong -- only the attitude you should have if you're right. Sigh. Tolkien admired the courage of those who died at Beorhtnoth's side, for love of their lord, but I think they would have shown their love better by saying "you are being an idiot, and instead we are going to defend the causeway where we have a chance of getting out of this alive and with our objectives accomplished."

"I thought I was the only one" --- nope. I got stood in the corner for reading during class, and for not paying attention during the review of a test on which I got a perfect score. "You must conform or be punished" -- not "you must reach your full potential."

#132 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:56 AM:

Oh, and "The Homecoming" is available in _The Tolkien Reader_.

#133 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:11 AM:

Whenever I read or hear of a "self-made man" I think of Harlan Ellison's comment in "The Glass Teat" along the lines of "demonstrating once again the horrors of unskilled labor."

#134 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:35 AM:

I'm not an American, so I'll skirt the pscyhoanalysis of Presidents (been there, done that).

About writers... I can only speak from personal experience. The key to writing success is not to be insanely ambitious only.

1. You must be persistent like the tortoise... crawling toward its goal, one millimeter at a time. (Then, when the goal is close, prepare to run like crazy!)
2. You must be insanely patient.
3. It takes a decade of writing to get good at it - if that.
4. What one editor likes, another one doesn't. Move on. Shrug it off. Don't let them get you down.
5. Do not be arrogant or make haughty demands to publishers...
6. ...but don't sign up with vultures either. (A contract of the type "We grab all rights, forever" isn't worth signing.)
7. Try to have a sense of humor.
8. Remind yourself that J.K.Rowling was rejected by all the major publishers.
9. It may just be the case that you have no talent. But there's only one way to test that.
10. Don't quit your day job.

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

#135 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:39 AM:

Janet --

This is the central problem with honour; to have honour, you have to obey as you have sworn to obey, but sometimes the fellow who is only obliged to obey higher powers and who is giving you your orders is being an idiot.

What do you do then? The Joint Chiefs can't shoot the President for being a moron (and a good thing, too); the guys on the ground in Iraq certainly can't. They can't do anything about the ofermode or the aversion to reality.

What they can do is uphold the things they can uphold -- their sworn word, their shoulder-companions, the courage to fight on until all have fallen.

Civilization needs those things; to throw them away is expensive beyond any reasonable accounting, certainly (to the dead household of Beorhtnoth, and to the guys going to, and back to, Iraq) an expense above the price they put on their own lives.

Which means that the idiot at the top, giving the orders, can incur a debt beyond any paying; much of the madness of the twentieth century rests on the unpayable debt of the dead millions, and the equally unpayable extracted cost to the living and to the generations to come of the deicide of Progress.

Death doesn't pay for everything; Beortnoth dead of his folly is no payment for the needless dead caused by his folly, and nothing that could happen to George W. Bush could possibly pay for his ofermod's great and growing corpse-pile.

Sometimes, though, when it's time to stand in the shield-wall again, what death in a refusal to yield buys is a little less work for the next to try to keep the borders, to clean up the mess and rebuild what is burned and broken.

To give up the idea that one's word, one's salt and one's service, must be kept unto death, is to give up the idea of service, or that there is anything worthy to serve in all your world.

It's probably worth the US Army not to lose that; so far, at least, that Army shows every sign of thinking so.

What an ideal of service is being kept for, that's a different question; Beorhtnoth was at least dead on the field, which is, if it is not enough, what can be done, and a kind of justice in dealings.

Service, the will to stand and not yield while breath or blood remain, cannot stand for long while it is discounted or disdained, as a thing without value which incurs in the powerful no obligation.

#136 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:40 AM:

This thread has covered the destructiveness of will-based living in politics, business, and religion, but athleticism has gone unaddressed.

Imho, a lot of the romanticism of sport is the idea of someone who keeps on going in spite of pain and the risk of injury without ever asking "Does this make sense?"

#137 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:41 AM:

Ah, yes, Beorhtnoth and the crossing of the causeway. Or as we say nowadays, "Bring 'em on!"

May I say in passing that any thread which cites both the Battle of Maldon and Bored of the Rings on topic has either achieved greatness or had greatness thrust upon it,

#138 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:45 AM:

The perks of priveledge. Congress has their own supply of flu shots.

http://www.boston.com/yourlife/health/diseases/articles/2004/10/20/no_shortage_on_capitol_hill/

#139 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:50 AM:
"Hige sceal že heardra, heorte že cenre, mod sceal že mare že ure maegen lytlaš" and the earlier quote about the earl letting the enemy advance so his honor would be greater -- See J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son," which draws on an incident from the Battle of Maldon. Beorhtnoth was the war leader who decided to allow the enemy to cross the causeway, so that his honor and glory would be the greater when he won. Instead, he and all his men were slaughtered.

Excellent thread convergence here. Sun Tzu told a similar story about a Duke of Sung, who let his enemy cross a river not so his honor would be greater, but as a courtesy amongst noblemen, and got his army destroyed in consequence. Mao, who studied Sun Tzu closely, was obviously much impressed by this story, as he was fond of saying "We are not the Duke of Sung" in military discussions.

#140 ::: MaryR ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 10:56 AM:

One of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons:

There are some small fish inside a (square) fishtank. They are looking at a pile of fish skeletons outside the tank. One says to another:

"I thing it's time we reconsider this this thinking outside the box."

Cracks me up every time.

#141 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 11:10 AM:

to have honour, you have to obey as you have sworn to obey

If honor requires having a one-track-mind, then GWB is the most honorable man I know.

"Stay the course" is not the same as Honor, though.

Honor means relating to your word and promises as if they mean something to you and aren't simply so much hot air.

You can break and/or retract your promise and still maintain honor if you clean up any mess you create as a result of changing your mind.

Grammatically, honor is a noun, but in practice, it is a verb.

You honor your word. Your relationship to the importance of your word, your promises, defines what honor you have.

The administration's amazing quotes from the Tom Tommorow cartoon (in their own words), shows that they do not relate to their word as anything of significance.

They said "Saddam has WMD's, we must invade"
Once we invaded and occupied, no WMD's have been found.

Honor would require an acknowledgement from the administration that their word was wrong.

"We said there were WMD's and there are not. We were wrong."

Instead, they relate to their word like they can say anything without consequence to how it eventually pans out in the real world. They say something, and when the facts show they were wrong, they ignore and discard their own words. They won't acknowledge they've made any mistakes even when asked directly by reporters. Their own word means nothing to them.

From that definition, this administration has absolutely no honor.


#142 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 11:44 AM:

Kate, that's a meme has been going around for a bit now - GreyLadyBast and Ginmar have both mentioned it recently, as have others.

This is the wellknown ffnet phenomenon, which can be very entertaining to bystanders, in which The Raging Fangirl Receives A Bad Review.

Whereupon the Raging Fangirl deletes it, and receives more, and deletes those, and receves still more, and gets into verbal fights with those mean!people!who!don't!understand! that Art means you can do whatever you want and no one can tell you otherwise, whether it's that Princess StarflowerMoonchild the half-elven-thief-ranger-goddess doesn't belong in Middle-earth, or that Aragorn wouldn't rape Legolas, or that Darth Maul is not going to magically reform because of Twu Wuv, be it Mary Sue's or Young!Obi-Wan's. Whereupon people point out that regardless of canon-fanon disputes, grammar and spelling are NOT optional, and then you get screaming angry author's notes filled with more exclamation points per sentence than I've used in this paragraph, and finally the story gets taken down in High Dudgeon.

Or else friends and partisans of the author get involved, and they go and leave profanity-laced rants as reviews on the stories of those who have dared to criticize, or they lodge complaints to get other users banned (though apparently there isn't much crossover with political boards, surprisingly) and then you find out that some of these kids aren't 14, but 22 or older...

It's just like that - only *these* Fangirls rule the Known World.

There's also a huge moment of whatever the opposite of Cognitive Dissonance is awaiting anyone who has yet to read, as I very recently did, Going Postal. It's all about people who try to reshape the world to their own wills for their own convenience.

#143 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 11:45 AM:

Another example of lack of honor:

October 16, 2004
Three Teachers Evicted from Bush Event for Wearing "Protect Our Civil Liberties" T-Shirts
http://www.progressive.org/mcwatch04/mc101604.html

Please note that some security people thought the phrase "Protect Our Civil Liberties" was obscene, and that this was the ostensible reason they were evicted.

#144 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 11:56 AM:

There's also this, about making your own realities and drafting others to join in with them:

But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilśvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and the glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilśvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is within Ilśvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.

Some of these thoughts he now wove into his music, and straight-way discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent, and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered; but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first. Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound.

And when the Ardaverse Lucifer falls, he may start out as a raging titan of dark majesty and awesome might - but he ends up at last a micromanaging paranoic shut in his bunker, whining about how none of the other Demiurges appreciate him and he has to do all this hard work of trying to make Order in the world all by his lonesome, and it just isn't FAIR that anyone else should enjoy life when he has to suffer...

#145 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:13 PM:

Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:18 AM:
Back to the privilege bit, briefly.

I graduated from Andover in '94. Sometime after (either) Bush's day, they instituted an interesting little lesson. Everyone in the school does a couple of weeklong stints of Commons duty during the year, and everyone has some sort of work assignment that takes about 3 hours every 2 weeks.

I assure you that both George W. Bush and his cousin Prescott Bush (later ran for senate in Conn.) who were at Andover in the very early 60's did Commons duty - feeding conveyors into the dishwasher and such - also the custom of Prepping - which mostly consisted of hauling trunks from Railway Express or other move in assistance for upper classmen was in full force when they entered.

There were other more famous at the time names in the school.

The 3 hours every 2 week additional duty came later - I have a vague notion either as a cost saving by itself, in connection with a labor dispute (I know that was true at some colleges) or was carried over from Abbott after the merger -or perhaps to be equalitarian. In my day such was additional to the universal commons duty and required mostly of scholarship students.

#146 ::: JeanOG ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:20 PM:

Jon H:

I have a hunch that "the Enemy" is Christian Right code for Satan

It was in the corner of the CR I grew up in.

#147 ::: Marchpaine ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:22 PM:

Iran has endorsed Bush. I kid you not. Go look it up on Yahoo.

Vote Bush. For the Iranians.

#148 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:22 PM:

From a CNN article today -- you know you're going to have trouble when Pat Robertson -- yes, him -- has doubts:

Pat Robertson, an ardent Bush supporter, said he had that conversation with the president in Nashville, Tennessee, before the March 2003 invasion U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He described Bush in the meeting as "the most self-assured man I've ever met in my life."

"You remember Mark Twain said, 'He looks like a contented Christian with four aces.' I mean he was just sitting there like, 'I'm on top of the world,' " Robertson said on the CNN show, "Paula Zahn Now."

"And I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.' "

Robertson said the president then told him, "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."

#149 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:39 PM:

bellatrys: That would be why I avoid both fandom_wank and all campaign-related TV things (except _The Daily Show_) like the plague.

#150 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 12:54 PM:

Graydon, that's beautiful and absolutely right. Loyalty to your word, your duty, and your companions are something you yourself still have control over and can take comfort in, even if your leadership is in chaos. (I recall reading something like that in one of Stuart Kaminsky's mysteries set in Russia -- the communist system one character had built his world around was collapsing, and the only mental lifeline he could find was his loyalty to his comrades on the police force, since anything higher up was now suspect.) And Dan Blum, thanks for that cross-cultural reminder that Beorhtnoth's error is not confined to his culture but can happen anywhere.

Interesting to note that in Tolkien, many acts of disobedience to a direct order but obedience to a higher sense of duty or love (Eowyn riding out in disquise, Beregond saving Denethor from the pyre, for two examples, but there are more) are eucatastrophic and rewarded.

Putin's endorsed Bush, too.

#151 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:10 PM:

Janet --

Thank you!

Greg London --

as you swore to obey; that hauls in the witnesses of the oath, and makes the whole thing complicated.

Troth is always complicated, once it has people in it; haul in Gods, the history, reputation, and imagination of nations, and the conflict between the choice of events and the choice of desires, and it's an entirely non-trivial tangle.

I'm comfortable believing that the folks in the shield wall -- for all the various values that has, and has had, as the years lengthen beyond count -- have thought about it, at least a little, because to be standing, they had to rise and stand to the line, of their own will and desire.

I'm not at all comfortable believing that someone who treats fixity of purpose as a virtue, never mind a supreme virtue, has thought about it; I'm not comfortable believing that they are anything other than fearful to think about it.

#152 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:19 PM:

Kate N - fandom_wank *hates* me personally, because after I found out they existed, I played them for fools, and they kept on leaping in and smacking the tarbaby I put out for them. (That's where the "Overlady/minion" jokes we make come from, when they started whinging that it wasn't fair for me to do it back to them for our amusement.) They kind of don't learn real quick either - that there are meaner bastards than they out there, only not all of us feel compelled to indulge our inner Dragon all the time - which makes them very much like FreiRepublik as well. (Someone should set up a dating service!) Though actually I think they're more the Tucker Carlsons (or Parker & Stones) of fandom...

Janet - I'm not sure how helpful that is, in the end, though. What good is it to be a Good German? "I was a noble servant of a corrupt regime" is not exactly how I want to be remembered; having realized I was serving on the side of Umbar, I broke with them and left. Nor am I inclined to cut the Christian Right any slack, just because I know personally that many of them *are* well-meaning and deluded ideallists.

#153 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:28 PM:

There's a reason why members of the US armed forces swear to uphold the Constitution and defend it from all enemies, foreign or domestic, rather than a particular plot of land or person; the framers were prepared to believe that not everyone in a position of power might be a shining light of either honor, wisdom, or both. Times change, people come and go; the Constitution is the framework of the state, and while it is maintained, the state endures.

The more I read the Constitution, the more I suspect that if James Madison could have a say, our coinage wouldn't just say "In God We Trust" but "All Others Pay Cash" as well.

#154 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:36 PM:

Nancy: yes, sports do come to mind at the moment. Last night, Schilling attributed his great pitching performance to help from God. Since the Sox began their comeback, I'm inclined to think it's the gods of high theater tinkering with sports again to bring out the utmost drama (either that, or another example of Fox having sold its "soul" to Satan -- the commodified US one).

Great thread, overall! But scary that it's so very topical.

#155 ::: Andrew Debly ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:48 PM:

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to offer a ray of hope in case the American election ends up in dispute again like it did in 2000.

http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/041020/w102030.html

#156 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:52 PM:

Re: James Madison and "In God We Trust"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust

It didn't appear on american money until 1864
It didn't become the national motto until 1956

James Madison probably would have argued for
"E Pluribus Unum"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_pluribus_unum

And James might have something to say about the
current conversation of Bush and his Divine Rule

"If men were angels, no government would be
necessary. If angels were to government, neither
external nor internal controls on government
would be necessary. In forming a government
which is to be administered by men over men, the
great difficulty lies in this: you must first
enable government to control the governed; and
in the next place oblige it to control itself."
—James Madison, The Federalist No. 51

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Madison

#157 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 01:55 PM:

No deserving person has ever asked for my loyalty. People who deserve loyalty neither ask for nor expect it; loyalty to the deserving is transparent and effortless, and therefore meaningless. In my personal experience, every single man (and it's always men) who has ever asked for my loyalty has been corrupt to the bone.

Loyalty is a vice.

#158 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:03 PM:

-- Graydon
that hauls in the witnesses of the oath, and makes the whole thing complicated.

A promise that must be enforced by a witness,
a judge, and a jury of public opinion,
shows the promise-maker does not honor their word

Someone who honors their word would clean up
any broken promises even if they knew no one
would find out and even if they knew they could
get away with it.


#159 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:06 PM:

Connie H: I read that about Pat Robertson too, and was kind of astonished until I got to the end and discovered that despite having Bush totally lie to him, Pat thinks he is still God's chosen. Kinda bears out what this whole post is about, I guess.

#160 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:14 PM:

Greg, Graydon, that's another one I have available via CafePress. Some while back, another weblogger said she needed that slogan on a bumper sticker for her mother, so I obliged.

#161 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:38 PM:

Greg, I wasn't trying to suggest that Madison, or any of the other Framers, had anything to do with our current motto, but (as your quote from the Federalist shows) that he wasn't prepared to give his unreserved trust to mankind, singly or as a group.

Who was it who observed that the first French Constitution assumed the government would be in the hands of angels, while the American Constitution assumed that it might be in the hands of knaves and fools?

#162 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:42 PM:

HP, I've been asked for my loyalty by some honorable people. They regarded it as a solemn transaction, and understood that it implied as much obligation and responsibility on their part as it would on mine.

Back when I was running a department, I got into a conversation with a friend who's a former military officer. We agreed on a basic and immutable truth: being in a position where you give orders to people working under you is at least 95% worry and responsibility, and the remaining 5% isn't all egotrips and fun. That's if you do it right. When I saw that November 02 quote from Bush about the way he was running meetings, I knew he wasn't doing it right.

#163 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:44 PM:

Leslie Fish doing Song of the Red War Boat is inspiring; give me right/wrong over honor/shame any day of the week any month of the year.

Too often we see some attribute of honor in He’s certain he’s right. So was every dotcom investor. So is every blackjack player in Las Vegas. where gambling with a will to win, a belief in one's luck, is viewed as honorable and counting cards is viewed as cheating and so dishonorable. This verges on seeing sincerity as a virtue deserving of reward.

I wonder how much divergence of view (not in terms of AARP selfish interest but in terms of red/blue state difference - youth in the cities aged on the farm) in modern America is traceable to difference in age?

#164 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 02:44 PM:

Someone who honors their word would clean up
any broken promises even if they knew no one
would find out and even if they knew they could
get away with it.

That is because someone who honors their word has a conscience. If a person have a conscience they never really get away with breaking promises. They would end up beating themselves up far worse than their peers would.

Conscience, as well as honor, seems to be lacking in most of our politicians.

In my state we have politicians (both Democratic and Republican) that are so two faced that I find myself forced to vote for the one that offends me the least. I can't remember the last time that I was truly inspired by the leadership of our Government.

#165 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:03 PM:

Lakoff's "framing" and managing the metaphor

http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/10/27_lakoff.shtml

http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/

has an interesting presupposition: that the persons you are in conversation with (in the broadest sense of the word) are capable of comprehending and manipulating metaphors.

I just finished speaking with someone who is a very concrete thinker--he's baffled and angered by metaphor. No, he's not an Asperger's Syndrome person, he just doesn't get metaphor.

It took me years to catch on to that and I still blow it.

#166 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:04 PM:

There have been Poet-Presidents before, with mixed results.
Leopold Sedar Senghor ?

Just lovely how you the myth of the self-made man seems to correspond, in terms of need, to the (currently changing, it seems) japanese myth of the hard worker beating the genius (Musashi vs Kojiro and all those). I wonder if one could be pinned for each culture ?

The talk about Bush being Marie Sue reminded me of a short story in which an arch-villain stumbles upon a machine allowing him to reshpape any story, which serves as an excuse for having loads of canonical arch-villains to finally win in the end. Can't remember where it's from though.

#167 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:34 PM:

"Sincerely meaning well" is an excuse if you're young, or impaired, or through no fault of your own have been thrust into a situation where you can't possibly figure out what's going on.

The young may plead innocence on account of their youth. Those who are old enough to know and judge, but don't, can't claim the same innocence as those who can't.

#168 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:36 PM:

I saw that "Risk" poster hanging over the desk of the manager of the really low-end hotel where Albacon used to be held. For the whole weekend I kept looking around the hotel for evidnce that the manager was taking risks. The poster's display in such an inappropriate context is my most lasting memory of that weekend (the convention was otherwise not memorable).

#169 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 03:44 PM:

Catching up on things that got said while I was doing silly things like sleep and driving lesson and lunch...:-)

CHip: That sounds like my main beef with much of Gordon Dickson's work: the way the plot and the rest of the universe reshape themselves so that whatever the hero did is Right, and whoever forgets their qualms and accepts this shares in the Rightness.

Y'know, this was very striking when I finally got to read Tactics of Mistake--the way the universe freakin' seemed to fall over itself to show that Cletus Graham (Grahame?) was Right.

I had not thought of the implications of such expectations in the real world, whose author (...I think?) is not Gordon R. Dickson. *shudder* The connection lighting up in my brain is not a pleasant one.

#170 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 04:01 PM:

where gambling with a will to win, a belief in one's luck, is viewed as honorable and counting cards is viewed as cheating and so dishonorable.

While reading all the posts about honor, I have been thinking, "Why do people act like there is no connection between honor and intelligence?" As if you're not supposed to think about your promises before you make them, because as an honorable person you will be stuck with them.

I mean, honor is not a stupid thing, right? It does not require that you stop thinking, or blindly obey orders - does it? Has anybody ever said, "I am an honorable person, and therefore I will never admit I made a mistake?"

I think about honor a lot. It can get you in trouble, when dealing with people who have no honor and don't care what they say. But I still think it is a good thing, and I also think it's up to each individual to decide what is honorable for them.

#171 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 04:25 PM:

someone who honors their word has a conscience

Honor can be defined in empirical terms.
Conscience cannot that I know of.

Alice said "I promise to take out the trash by tomorrow"
The morning the garbage truck arrives, Bob notices the trash is still in the house and frantically takes it to the curb.
Later that day, Alice says "I said I would, and I didn't."
And then Alice makes amends with Bob who had to suffer teh consequences of her breaking her promise.

This is a fairly objective definition. She said one thing, she did something else, and she cleaned it up.

I don't know how you define conscience objectively. It is far more open to interpretation than my definition of honor. Bush probably thinks he follows his conscience when he thinks he is doing gods will.

defining honor as whether what you say matches up with what you do, and whether or not you clean it up if they don't match, is fairly objective, less open to wild interpretations, and straightforward enough that people can use it to measure stuff in their real life.

#172 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 04:39 PM:

Why do people act like there is no connection between honor and intelligence?

honor can be defined in simple, fairly objective terms. Does what you say line up with what you do, and if it doesn't, do you clean it up?

a minimum of intelligence is needed to get to the point where you have the capacity for language so you can relate to your promises, and a capacity for observation and memory so you can remember your promise and observe the actual outcome.

I'm afraid any more intelligence might needlessly complicate the matter.

Bush does exhibit an exceedingly weak relationship to language. He doesn't read. He can't speak very well. He makes up words. And he has countless bushisms which are little more than gibberish.

He also seems to have a weak memory. If he says something, and it turns out to be untrue, the statement appears to vanish from his memory. I think he honestly believes he hasn't made any mistakes because any inconsistencies fade from his memory.

#173 ::: jo. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 04:47 PM:

No deserving person has ever asked for my loyalty. People who deserve loyalty neither ask for nor expect it; loyalty to the deserving is transparent and effortless, and therefore meaningless. In my personal experience, every single man (and it's always men) who has ever asked for my loyalty has been corrupt to the bone.

True, since those who demand loyalty are usually opposing it to some other virtue -- like the law or a commonly accepted moral code.

"Be loyal" is often a code-word for "Don't tell".

#174 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 04:51 PM:

being in a position where you give orders to people

In my opinion, the best military leader of a unit eats after everyone else in his unit has eaten, sleeps after everyone in his unit has gone to sleep, and leads his unit into danger by being the first to go into that danger himself.

This kind of leader doesn't ask anyone to do something he isn't already doing himself. These kinds of leaders do exist. Bush isn't one of them.


#175 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 04:57 PM:

Greg,
Thanks for clearing that up. :) I had made the assumption that my honor was conscience driven. I have (at least I hope) a good understanding of right and wrong and I am compelled to do the right thing.

I do everything in my power to make sure that my words are reflected in my actions. To do otherwise would weigh on my conscience. This in turn would interupt my sleep and I hate to lose sleep.

I do understand what you are saying, though. My definition of a clean conscience will quite possibly differ from anyone else's. Where as Honor is cut and dry, for the most part.

#176 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 05:22 PM:

Greg said:

"Be loyal" is often a code-word for "Don't tell".

Very true.

and:

honor can be defined in simple, fairly objective terms. Does what you say line up with what you do, and if it doesn't, do you clean it up?

What, then, is the difference between honor and honesty? Is it only "if it doesn't, do you clean it up?"

I still think a certain amount of intelligence is needed to avoid promising things that you can't do, or that will only cause trouble for yourself or others.

#177 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 05:25 PM:

"Be loyal" is often a code-word for "Don't tell".

oops, sorry, that was jo, not Greg. It's like my eyes moved the words around on the screen.

#178 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 05:55 PM:

Lakoff's "framing" and managing the metaphor

http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/10/27_lakoff.shtml

http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/

has an interesting presupposition: that the persons you are in conversation with (in the broadest sense of the word) are capable of comprehending and manipulating metaphors.

I just finished speaking with someone who is a very concrete thinker--he's baffled and angered by metaphor. No, he's not an Asperger's Syndrome person, he just doesn't get metaphor.

It took me years to catch on to that and I still blow it.

#179 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 06:10 PM:

—The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong Giles Corey

I'm such a bad person.

MKK

#180 ::: Chris S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 06:32 PM:

Funny thing about honour though: it has two ends. One you hold, and one you offer to the person or cause of your choice. Which suggests that honour can only be upheld if BOTH sides hold on. The minute one side lets go, honour becomes an elastic snapping back, and you just know someone's going to lose an eye.

I love the idea that honour is a line that will get you and your companions-in-arms over a blind and treacherous course... but only if you tether that honour to something solid. If your anchor lands in a endless void, you're going to fall.

Bujold had a wonderful line in CIVIL CAMPAIGN: "...the trouble with oaths of the form, 'death before dishonor', is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn." But in daily life, I think there's a third option. Sometimes, releasing yourself from a promise that has become corrupted and meaningless (because the one receiving it is) is the more honourable course.

Or am I just talking crazy?

Chris

#181 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:14 PM:

liz - When Lakoff uses the word "metaphor" he means something infinitely more pervasive than the conventional definition. For instance, my previous sentence contains at least three Lakoff-metaphors. The most obvious one is mapping an idea, which is an intangible, onto a substance that can pervade...

The only things that Lakoff considers not to be metaphors are things which are directly grounded in sensorimotor experience.

#182 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:21 PM:

Chris -- I don't think you're being crazy.

Greg London --

We're not talking about the same thing, I don't think. "do what you say you will do" is easy when it's a simple tangible action; it's much harder when it isn't. (Precisely what does 'defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic' mean? Ink and blood have both been spilled over that.)

#183 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:25 PM:

Those eager for an additional motivational giggle should be sure to check out Marvel Comics' motivational licensee, superlithos.com.

(My own fave? Frank "the Punisher" Castle, illustrating "Commitment":

To fight when others fold, pursue whil [sic] others retreat, conquer while others quit, and make right when all else is wrong.

(As a side note: when, exactly, did this second-rate two-bit Charlie Bronson satire become a hero, exactly?)

#184 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:35 PM:

JamesG wrote:
my honor was conscience driven

If you put Honor into the character attributes such as lawful-good, chaotic-neutral, unlawful-evil, then what I'm saying is that Honor is much, much closer to Lawful than it is to Good.

an Honorable character relates to his promises the way a Lawful character relates to the law.

When I hear "conscience", I hear something closer to "Good".

An honorable person could be chaotic-neutral (a thief that breaks the law but never breaks a promise, and they're very careful of what they promise)

An honorable person could also be lawful-evil (romantic fantasy stories are full of evil overlords who, evil as they may be, will still keep their promise to the protaganist. "if you survive this test, I will let you go free.")

Writers often simplify and have the honorable characters always be good characters, but that's not making use of all the possibilities.

Honor is half-brother to Lawful.
Conscience is related to Good.


#185 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:41 PM:

Honor is half-brother to Lawful.
Conscience is big-sister to Good.
--Greg London

Hey, is that a new quote?
someone call the copyright office, I wanna register.

;)

Well, either way, it sounds pretty good, eh?

#186 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:43 PM:

Kip: they sell one of Magneto. I mean, at least there aren't any of Doctor Doom or Galactus or whatever, but...sheesh.

These posters also remind me of Mark Leeper's review of the movie Daredevil:

In his angst Daredevil asks himself the question "Can one man make a difference?" And I think the film answers inspirationally with a resounding "Yes, one man with radioactive mutant super-powers can make a difference." I think that is a message we all needed in these troubled times.

Chris: you're not crazy. Didn't you get the one with the reset button?

#187 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:51 PM:

Well, yeah, but Magneto at this point has an ironic Che T-shirt thing going on. (I loved the "Magneto was right" graffiti meme running through Grant Morrison's recent turn on one of the X-books.)

—Of course, superlitho.com probably doesn't intend the Che thing. So there's that. But I see they've added some products since last I giggled: some weird chibi-looking motivational trading card thingies, with desperately dumbed-down homilies. Successories for kids? Oh my sweet Lord... (Search for Wolverine. Click on "Leadership." Put down any beverages before clicking, though.)

Also: another thing they've done is switch to a patrially Flash-based interface (I think it's Flash) with lots of Stupid Java Tricks to disable right-clicking and the like, which is why I can't seem to bring up a working direct link to the product in question. So caveat clicker, and all that.

#188 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 07:56 PM:

Jenet/Clark: I'm not surprised to hear service at Andover started well before Shrub; he's not much older than I am, and when I was in ]prep[ school I got the impression such service programs were common -- although requiring everyone to work on the back end of the kitchen was not. (Millbrook made a little more noise about it and had a little more choice -- weather-station support and zoo maintenance were among the choices -- but lots of schools had \something/.) Shrub strikes me as being like the Humbug, who could swim in the Sea of Knowledge all day long and not get wet; he probably didn't learn a thing from whatever he did. Or he could have taken entirely the wrong lesson from -"moving trunks for upperclassmen"-, that he was done with service and was now to be served; I didn't like the vestiges of that system where I saw them.

Graydon: there's a line, attributed to Napoleon by Townsend (in Up the Organization), to the effect that orders from above are no excuse for executing a strategy you know will fail. It's \possible/ to support the soldiers on the line (while grumbling Thoreau's comments on degrees of service) -- although the reports that they mostly support Shrub are dismaying -- but it sounds increasingly like there are senior officers who have a lot to answer for.

#189 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 08:21 PM:

Kip: Here's a direct link to the one I think you mean. Gaaaaaah.

Now, off to watch Game 7 of the ALCS.

#190 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 08:23 PM:

"In my personal experience, every single man (and it's always men) who has ever asked for my loyalty has been corrupt to the bone."

One of the two best managers I ever worked for was big on loyalty. He got it, because he was extraordinarily loyal to the 420 people who reported to him. He knew each of us by name, and knew all about us. He would wander through the offices and cubicles, stopping to chat with people at random. he'd ask how things wrere going, and really listen. He'd also ask "and is your sister's cat doing after that accident?" and the like, showing how deeply he listened. His team would follow him anywhere. When I was attacked by the plagiarists and the moneygrubbing safety-systems-ignoring Pointy Headed Bosses who succeeded in destroying Rockwell's role with the Space Shuttle -- and the Shuttle and human lives -- this great manager quit, explicitly saying "if I can't protect my own people, I can't work here any more." He was in line to be Vice President of Engineering. I believe in that very ancient form of loyalty, and found it the opposite of corruption. His initials werte used as an acronym: ELF.

#191 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:13 PM:

CKD said: Now, off to watch Game 7 of the ALCS.

And *just* as I read that, Damon hit a grand slam. 6-0 Sox, top of 2nd. (And apparently off a reliever?)

Please don't screw this up . . .

#192 ::: sharon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:27 PM:

tnh: "Sincerely meaning well" is an excuse if you're young, or impaired, or through no fault of your own have been thrust into a situation where you can't possibly figure out what's going on.

It may have no relevance to the wider world, but in my family, "someone means well" has never been an acceptable excuse. For at least three generations now, that particular phrase has been used to indicate someone's inability to do well.

I come from practical (and sarcastic) people. Good intentions may be nice, but they are a poor substitute for good work.

#193 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:54 PM:

On Andover consider Non Sibi and remember William Sloan Coffin has as much and more of an Andover Yale connection as any man alive.

On disobeying orders consider the tale of how Lord D'Arcy met his magician.

For those who value honor too much I commend The Point of Honour W. Somerset Maugham

#194 ::: Jonathan Vos Post5 ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2004, 09:55 PM:

2 home runs by Jonny Damon! 8 to 1, Boston. This is baseball history...

#195 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 12:00 AM:

Sharon said:

It may have no relevance to the wider world, but in my family, "someone means well" has never been an acceptable excuse. For at least three generations now, that particular phrase has been used to indicate someone's inability to do well.

I've generally considered "Someone means well" to be one of the nastiest things you can say. It's always resonated with comments in victorian novels like "Polly meant well when she fed her sister powdered arsenic" and "The maid meant well when she ruined my new dress by spilling lye on it". It also has overtones of "Joe really means to pay you back some day - he really means well".

#196 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 12:11 AM:

In one of the dialects of my home continuum, "She means well" is right up there with "special" and "She's a real sweet spirit."

#197 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 07:24 AM:

Good Person + Evil Cause + Nobly Serving = Consolation Prize.

That this is not, in the end, good enough for anyone is demonstrated by the desperate frenzy of the SBVT to prove that Vietnam was a Worthy Cause...

(Funny how you don't find this - at least in reading through a lot of ephemera from the teens through the thirties - in WWI veterans, the frenzied need to assure themselves and silence any disagreement, that the Salient was all Worth It.)

#198 ::: tiercel ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 09:09 AM:

In one of the dialects of my home continuum, "She means well" is right up there with "special" and "She's a real sweet spirit."

Or the perennial classic, "Bless her heart."

Of all things, this reminds me of a bit of Black Beauty that never made sense to me as a child, though I think I understand it a little better now. Ah, here's the quote:

"Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? — and which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, 'Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,' they think it is all right..."

#199 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 09:55 AM:

Am I the only one imagining that the kitten in Virge's poster is shouting "BOW BEFORE GIBLETS!!!"?

#200 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 10:23 AM:

CHip: "Or he could have taken entirely the wrong lesson from -"moving trunks for upperclassmen"-, that he was done with service and was now to be served..."

Reminds me of the attitude to fagging I've seen in some British school memoirs -- I had to do it, now I get paid back. Perhaps the idea of service making the student a better person works better when it's for a group outside of the school?

#201 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 11:50 AM:

Did anyone else notice Mary Kay's wicked attribution? To repeat:

The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong. --Giles Corey

#202 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 01:06 PM:

Clark -

Thanks for the correction re: when Commons duty started.

(I'd thought it had started slightly later than that, in terms of the grubbier side of the work - as opposed to waiting/bussing tables, which I know has been common at a lot of schools.)

Of course, I now live in Minnesota, so cross-checking some historical details is a little more complicated than it used to be than when I lived in Massachusetts.

CHip: We had a fairly wide range of options: basic janitor stuff, additional Commons duty (though usually the more enjoyable parts), dorm proctors (I did that my senior year), but also things like circulation assistants in the music library (evenings and weekends, when the music librarian wasn't in).

The thing I found interesting about it (and the thing that I think makes it different from fagging in the British tradition) is that you weren't working for upperclassmen.

The more responsible roles, *you* were in charge of the space (as in the music library or occaisionally in the dorm), and in all of them, you were directly reporting to an adult (whether or not there was an adult around all the time.) I think it helped break that "I've done my share, now I can ditch it." problem for more people.

There was also more opportunity for talking - it was certainly possible to do Commons duty without a lot of discussion beyond instructions on where the dishes go.

It's harder to do work week after week for someone that requires more specific instructions and not eventually start chatting and seeing them as human, with their own interests. Or noticing if they've been sick, or tired, or whatever. And yes, hopefully you figure that out before you're a teenager, but not everyone does, or really internalises it for people outside their own social circles.

#203 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Yep, I caught MKK's reference, but I felt strongly pressured to remain silent on such a weighty issue.

#204 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 02:38 PM:

To go back to the Battle of Maldon for a moment, I read an article some time back suggesting that Byrhtnoth's military leadership has been criticized unfairly. The man was leading a band of mounted fighters along the coastline, trying to catch up with Danish raiding ships that could move much faster than him. He needed to entice the Danes over the causeway in order to separate them from their ships. Otherwise, if they found themselves losing, the Danes could have retreated to their boats, sailed away and devastated one of Byrhtnoth's villages before he could show up to protect it.

It's been some time since I saw the article, but I think it's this one:

Kirby, I.J. "In Defence of Byrhtnoth." Florilegium 11 (1992), 53-60.

#205 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 02:54 PM:

CHip: "Or he could have taken entirely the wrong lesson from -"moving trunks for upperclassmen"-, that he was done with service and was now to be served..."

I was doing one of those silly writing exercises where you interview a character, and came up with this (clunkily phrased) result for a key question:

Q:"What kind of person scares you the most?"

F:Scarlett O'Hara.

Oh, not literally. I don't run from women in hoop skirts. But people who say things like "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again".

I've seen two basic responses when someone has been through hell and has recovered. One is to strive to make sure nobody else falls into that same pit - or if they do, they have a helping hand to get them out. The other is to do anything - including, for the most fervent, put other people into that same hellish position - to make sure it doesn't happen to them. If you're very lucky, that last sentence would finish with "Or someone they care about". I haven't been lucky.

#206 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 08:35 PM:

You mean Du sollst sterben ehe ich sterbe. (I came across it by way of Robertson Davies' What's Bred in the Bone.) There is also a Scots version that I can't source right now, a literal (mis)translation, "Thou shalt starve ere I starve." Sterben means perish in German, of course.

On this theme I also think of Elias Canetti's "Survivors" or Outlivers, the Ueberlebenden in Canetti's Crowds and Power, Masse und Macht in the original. While we're talking about eating, he has a great chapter called "The Entrails of Power" which develops the theme of consumption and digestion as a metaphor for total domination.

While we're on this theme, I also recommend Miéville's Bas-Lag novels: too much Horror has been reactionary, but he writes it from the POV of the hard Left. (Warning: post likely to set off Tolkien-Miéville polemic.)

#207 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2004, 08:53 PM:

Janet: "fagging" was the word I was grabbing for and not getting; it wasn't called that where I was, and wasn't even officially endorsed, but Clark's description suggested it was happening at Andover.

Jennet: A good statement of what I was nattering around. Another way to put it might be service where it's needed -- the \school/ needs to have its corridors swept, its books kept in order, its dishes cleaned, and so (endlessly) on, but the upperclassmen can perfectly well move their own trunks. There is a large gap between service for the common good (which I can't see Bush and his cronies ever understanding) and service to establish position in a hierarchy.

#208 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 01:12 AM:

"The difference between the unattainable and the attainable lies in a person’s determination." Burke and Wills. (Australian "explorers", crossed the continent heading northwards in the middle of summer, died miserably of thirst, about three or four feet above water that they didn't have the nous to dig for.)

Please note that the quote marks in this case indicate misplaced noun.

#209 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 05:33 AM:

What I really don't trust is people who keep saying that they meant well when they've been accused of bad judgement rather than malice.

#210 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 05:33 AM:

What I really don't trust is people who keep saying that they meant well when they've been accused of bad judgement rather than malice.

#211 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 05:34 AM:

What I really don't trust is people who keep saying that they meant well when they've been accused of bad judgement rather than malice.

#212 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 08:41 AM:

I attended an English boarding school in the 60s and we still had personal fagging. When my cohort reached the age of privilege we actually had a debate over whether to continue with it, and the arguments were exactly as laid out here: pro - the little sods will never have to do a dirty job again in their lives, so they ought to learn what it's like; anti - you're just saying that because you had to do it, and now you fancy having your turn ordering people about.

In the event, the vote split 50/50. There was an electric bell by which the fags were summoned, so I and another anti took it off the wall and threw it in a convenient builders' skip. Interestingly this fait accompli was never challenged either by our contemporaries or by the authorities, who privately expressed relief.

We unanimously agreed in favour of keeping "public service" fagging, such as helping serve meals and drawing up washroom rotas (he who baths first baths fast). For all I know this continues to this day.

#213 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 01:25 PM:

From what I read of fagging the Andover custom was much much more limited in both duration and effort. Duration was pretty much the opening days of the fall term for entering new students (leaving aside odd terminology of lowers and uppers and noting that one could enter later than freshmen year) and served to some substantial degree as an introduction of the new students to each other and to the school.

Mostly I think going back to days when work gangs were really needed to move trunks from the railroad stations - that is upperclassmen could not, individually, move their own steamer trunks - remember it took a coat and tie to chapel every morning and a suit on Sunday - and so work gangs were assembled by custom. This also facilitated getting the entering students together to move each other's gear.

There was a strong notion of your mother doesn't work here but also easy assumption of responsibility - there was a lovely locked room in the library for the French collection (perhaps more risque than the general collection?) but the key was passed out freely.

#214 ::: Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 01:48 PM:

Of course, this sort of I'm-me-so-I'm-always-right mindset is on view under the microscope, as it were, every week on The Apprentice. At least the contestants aren't harming anyone but themselves; alas, we can't say the same for Donald Trump (for a self-proclaimed business genius, he sure has had a lot of businesses go belly-up) and we surely can't say the same for the man sitting in the White House (who is steering the whole country into several kinds of bankruptcy).

#215 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 03:27 PM:

Another movie quote, this time from the Adventures of Baron Munchausen:

The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson: I'm afraid, sir, you have rather a weak grasp of reality.

Baron Munchausen: Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say I have no grasp of it whatsoever.

#216 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 04:54 PM:

Clark:

"there was a lovely locked room in the library for the French collection (perhaps more risque than the general collection?) but the key was passed out freely. "

My mother, who went to a girls day school in Cardiff (and who would have graduated from there in the earlier 1950s) has told me several stories about rather risque books they'd read in French class that were far more so than anything they'd be encouraged (or even allowed, in some cases) to read in English.

Theory being that if they could understand it, they were probably mature enough in other ways to not be damaged by it. (And likewise, if their parents spoke French enough to figure out what they were reading, they were probably open-minded enough not to mind. My grandparents were apparently amused.)

Of course, the first time she told me this was after I'd mentioned that my [public high school] English teacher had told us that if we wanted to read Chaucer's "Miller's Tale" we could do it in Middle English, on similar grounds, he wasn't going to give us the modern English translation as he had for other tales.

I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was clear to the class that there was Interesting Stuff in there, even by 1990s standards. I know it provoked at least two of my classmates to make the effort to read it who otherwise wouldn't have.

#217 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2004, 05:04 PM:

Nancy writes:

What I really don't trust is people who keep saying that they meant well when they've been accused of bad judgement rather than malice.

... which leads me to wonder if we should call three of your post appearing "meaning well" or "bad judgement" ...

[not that I'd actually think either was the case, as much as the software having a sudden bout of malice...]

#218 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2004, 04:08 AM:

The stories of racy books in French and Middle English remind me of the way the Catullus text in our university level Latin class treated some of the vocabulary issues that arise in his more explicit poems.

The verbs in question (pedicare and irrumare) weren't in our smaller Latin dictionaries, and I think the authors of the text expected that. So they defined them in the footnotes - in Latin. Although one of the nouns wasn't in the dictionaries, we found the verb easily enough, and the other two nouns, and figured it out.

Catullus' more scurrilous poems have been problematic for teachiers for some time. My professor mentioned that in a Victorian Catullus pony (facing-page translation edition), some poems were translated into French rather than English. But that one was one of a few for which French was considered too accessible, and the facing page translation was in Italian instead.

#219 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2004, 06:58 PM:

...From that definition, this administration has absolutely no honor.

This explains Klingons for Kerry.

#220 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2004, 10:19 PM:

Burke and Wills. (Australian "explorers", crossed the continent heading northwards in the middle of summer, died miserably of thirst, about three or four feet above water that they didn't have the nous to dig for.)

Not only that, they refused offers of help and sustenance from the Aboriginal people whol lived in the locality. Lack of nous doesn't begin to cover it.

#221 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2004, 05:23 AM:

... hence also the saying "The Curse of Work and Bills" ...

<ducks & covers>

#222 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2004, 10:42 AM:

abi:
...one was one of a few for which French was considered too accessible, and the facing page translation was in Italian instead.

I've seen this in old (first publiction circa 1925) editions of Martial and Petronius in the Loeb Classical Library, which my university had evidently picked up in used book sale somewhere. No French in those - just Italian, although some previous scholar had left a Complete Dictionary of Dirty Latin in neat pencil on the endpapers of (I think) one of the Martials.

One memorable scene in the Satyricon featured Our Heroes arriving at a dinner party where they are greeted by the hostess waving a sponge soaked in aphrodisac, six solid pages of Italian, and back to English in time for them to wake up the next morning with hangovers. A full English version could only have been an anticlimax.

#223 ::: Kimberly ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 04:17 PM:

I was referred to the first part of your post in answer to a question I asked about publishing. (http://ask.metafilter.com/107967/I-wrote-a-novel-Now-what#1555739) I believe it was intended to suggest that having a positive attitude about doing so is unrealistic. I read the article with interest, and have a question if you have a moment to answer.

Even if the PHBs that you are talking about are being unrealistic, or are inappropriately directing their frustration from rejection at the publishers, don't you think that generally positivity is a good thing when undertaking a monumental task such as finding an agent, getting published, etc. for the first time? I can't imagine having gotten through some of my more significant achievements in this life without keeping a positive outlook.

What would you suggest to these people? To be more pragmatic, to accept that they'll never be published authors, and to not bother trying? I would not think so, but I can't figure out what the implication of your post would be otherwise.

Thank you and have a wonderful day.

#224 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 05:38 PM:

The PHB's problem is not that he has a postive outlook, but that he's blind to his own shortcomings, and blames any failure on the rest of the world.

I would suggest a healthy balance between self-confidence and a willingness to listen and learn and strive toward improvement.

#225 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Kimberly: I'm not Teresa, and neither am I an author, self-published or otherwise. But as I read the first part of the post, it's about having the ability to believe that other people may know what the hell they're talking about. The PHB attitude doesn't leave any room for someone else's expertise.

Yes, a positive attitude is a good thing to have. No, it is not by itself enough. If several publishers have rejected your magnum opus, consider that perhaps it's not as perfect as you think it is. If any of those publishers have offered suggestions, consider doing a rewrite with those suggestions in mind. They are, after all, professionals in the area of getting people to buy your book. Going the self-published route is all too often the indicator of a writer who (1) isn't as great as they think they are, and (2) can't take criticism, no matter how helpfully intended.

#226 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 08:34 PM:

The two most useful things you can do are:

1) Send your book out until Hell won't have it, and

2) While that's going on, write a new, different, better book.


Entirely too many people spend thirty years trying to sell their first, fatally-flawed novel.

The failure rate in self-publishing is absolutely stunning, if by "success" you mean something beyond selling 75 copies to your family and friends.

Keep a positive attitude! By golly, do! But when the route is clearly marked, and travelers from the city you wish to reach say "This is the way!" don't take the shortcut marked with "Danger!" signs and scattered with dead mens' bones.

#227 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 11:25 PM:

I think it's wonderful that this particular thread has come up again at this time.

When we can now appreciate it so much more.

One of the important things about being professional about one's work is listening to other professionals, and believing that they might know something -- and testing what they recommend. PHBs don't test.

#228 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 01:04 AM:

Kimberly, what I'd say is that there are some things about which it's good to be positive, and other areas where positive thinking is a disaster.

The commonest reason people go unpublished is that their writing isn't good enough yet. If you're at that stage, no amount of positive thinking will get you readers, an agent, and a publisher. You know that you don't read books that aren't good enough. Other people are no different.

If you can't get published because you're not good enough, but you insist on being published anyway, then you'll get published because you're a sucker. The terms on which it will happen will be nothing you'd ever desire. Then you'll waste money and effort trying to promote your unsaleable book, because it's your book and you can't help loving it. This attempt will eat up time and courage you'll never get back in this life. And of course, your urgency to be published and then to have your book distributed and read will make you a sitting duck for people selling further scams.

When you think about writing and being published, that cannot be what you imagine.

What you need to be positive about instead at that stage:

"I'm sure that I can get better at this. I'm sure that I can learn to enthrall my readers, make them laugh and cry, pull tricks on them and make them ask for more."
When you can do that to your readers, you'll get an agent, you'll get published, and people will scramble to buy your books. That's what you should be aiming for. Don't settle for these half-baked publishing schemes. Go for the real thing.

#229 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 07:27 AM:

What I want to know is has Mr. "we're an empire now" been asked what he thinks of the "reality based community" in light of recent financial and political events...

#230 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 09:38 AM:

The disdainful smirks and grimaces that many viewers were surprised to see in the first presidential debate are familiar expressions to those in the administration or in Congress who have simply asked the president to explain his positions.

Reading this not-fully-awake, for a moment I lost track of which candidate was being referred to and was thinking of McCain.

With some cross-references to Weston in Perelandra.

#231 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 12:31 PM:

Re-reading the original post, my attention was caught by this: But thereā€™s another one, even subtler, that I think Bush has fallen into: The desire to just be what you are, and do what you wish, and have it somehow turn out to be right.

Kit Whitfield's Macho Sue essay hadn't been written when this was posted, but it's a spot-on description of Bush's behavior. Some choice quotes:

He is the hero, he is the one whose decisions will most influence this narrative, and consequently is intended to exercise the greatest power over the reader/viewer's imagination... If love means never having to say you're sorry, being Macho Sue means the whole of reality loves you... People change their personalities, storylines shift and flip like a mechanical maze popping up new paths and lowering old gates in order to keep Macho Sue from ever, ever having to backtrack... As a result, from an objective viewpoint, Macho Sue doesn't have to make any effort to do the right thing; he can act on his impulses, and the right thing follows him around like a loyal little dog, herding the rest of the story into place. (emphasis mine)

Absolutely fits in with that "we create our own reality" thing, doesn't it?

#232 ::: Mary Aileen suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2012, 09:05 PM:

Very generic comment, first-time poster.

#233 ::: Stefan Jones suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2012, 06:41 PM:

Your spam is not pleasant.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.