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Thursday
Sep152011

how to be superhuman

We all want to be superhuman from time to time. Why aim at being merely human when the megalomaniacal urge descends?. No one wants to be subhuman. How do we try to be superhuman? We set ourselves idealistic goals we cannot achieve, because we are, human after all. In some ways we use the word human to mean failing, not living up to high standards- yet these are areas where humanity is most easily shown. Animals don't keep their word. Animals aren't reliable. But animals do care for their young and sacrifice themselves for their offspring and even for the survival of the group. So public charitable work could be downgraded to subhuman even though lots of 'heroes' are considered superhuman. But when someone lets another down we say, "he's only human". One can aim for superhumanity in outperforming the average, or as Michael Phelps coach put it: Doing what the others could do, but won't do. Sometimes you need to find yourself in a group with higher aims than you had before to suddenly go up a level. If you want to be superhuman hang out with superhumans.

Tuesday
Sep132011

goethe on thought and action

"Thought broadens but paralyses; action inspires, but limits."

Sunday
Sep112011

conversations that change your life

When I was sixteen i went climbing with the local mountaineering club. I spent time climbing with a professor of economics. He made economics sound fascinating. I changed to do economics at A level, did it a year early, and this probably helped me get in to Oxford to study Politics, philosophy and economics. Of course I dropped the economics after a year because I realised it wasn't that interesting after all...but still, as a result of a few conversations over a weekend I had changed my life.

I'm fascinated by people who have had a conversation, probably with a stranger, and then changed their lives as a result. If you have - let me know- comments are on for this one.

Friday
Sep092011

Ethiopian proverb

The person whom God has cursed trades butter in the summer and salt in the rainy season.

Tuesday
Sep062011

transparency

The latest word that public people think will solve the world's problems. Since there is no shortage of such words, there is little prospect in the foreseeable future of people relinquishing the desire for a word to replace what is really quite common: genuine insight, informed experience, common sense, tolerant perceptiveness...in other words what separates the best qualities of human beings from mere automation.

Sunday
Sep042011

vodka corrupts

As Steve Micalef always said: vodka corrupts and Absolut Vodka corrupts absolutely...

Sunday
Sep042011

the pearl

Everyone knows it's the grit that seeds the pearl within the oyster. It applies to life- grit in the form of irritants and things we cannot avoid help us to grow. But it also applies to art, or at least making new things such as books. It's hard to start from scratch. Most books are improvements, variations or disguised copies of earlier books. You need grit to start- and this is often some piece of unwelcome experience that, like grit, is indigestible. Writers come to cherish their hard upbringing- look at Dickens and the way he mined the blacking factory where he worked aged 12 (even naming Fagin after his fellow worker Bob Fagin). The bad experience, the emotional dumdum bullet, the scars of childhood and adolescence- all this is grit. It won't go away so the artist weaves a web around it to make it beautiful. But the cost is obvious: sane ordinary folk have less grit to work with. That's where the traditional grit comes in. Modern grit is indigestible experience. Ancient grit come in the form of stories, narratives, myths, legends, yarns, details, journeys, odd facts, snatches of dialogue. All that is sharp, pithy and irreducible, just like grit, can be the starting point for creating something new. Joyce and Eliot used old myths as their grit. Detective story writers use the form of the mystery story as theirs. Shakespeare worked from potted histories and biographies that today would be considered children's reading material. In fact kid's books- both fact and fiction- are a great source of grit. They can provide that kick start, that tiny push, that require ounce of shove to get you going, bowling along in fact.