What kind of parrot am I?

What kind of parrot am I? … Better then to acknowledge that what we are is what we have been taught, that done, at least it will be possible to choose our own teacher. I know I am made up of other people’s say so, veins of tradition, a particular kind of education, borrowed methods that have disguised themselves as personal habits. I know that what I am is quite the opposite of an individual. But if the parrot is to speak, let him be taught by a singing master. Parrot may not learn to sing but he will know what singing is. That is why I have tried to hide myself among the best; music, pictures, books, philosophy, theology, like Dante, my great teacher is dead. My alive friends privately consider me to be rather highbrow and stuffy, but we are all stuffed, stuffed with other people’s ideas parading as our own.

-Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies

[more quotes at irepeatinmysleep.wordpress.com]

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Thank you, Mr Steinbeck

From Cannery Row by John Steinbeck: “It has always seemed strange to me … The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

Thank you Steinbeck for capturing so succinctly the core problem of our capitalist society. It’s up to us to change it.

Old England, Old World

Old England is an imaginary place, a landscape built from words, woodcuts, films, paintings, picturesque engravings. It is a place imagined by people, and people do not live very long or look very hard. We are very bad at scale. The things that live in the soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine. We are bad at time, too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did; we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead. We live out our three score and ten, and tie our knots and lines only to ourselves. We take solace in pictures, and we wipe the hills of history.

-Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Beyond Human

We, with our propensity for murder, torture, slavery, rape, cannibalism, pillage, advertising jingles, shag carpets, and golf, how could we be seriously considered as the perfection of a four-billion-year-old grandiose experiment? Perhaps as a race, we have evolved as far as we are capable, yet that by no means suggests that evolution has called it quits. In all likelihood, it has something beyond human on the drawing board. We tend to refer to our most barbaric and crapulous behaviour as “inhuman,” whereas, in point of fact, it is exactly human, definitively and quintessentially human, since no other creature habitually indulges in comparable atrocities.

-Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas

The Daily Press

The daily press is the evil principle of the modern world, and time will only serve to disclose this fact with greater and greater clearness. The capacity of the newspaper for degeneration is sophistically without limit, since it can always sink lower and lower in its choice of readers. At last it will stir up all those dregs of humanity which no state or government can control.

-Sören Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-5 quoted in Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels

 

For more quotes like this, see irepeatinmysleep.wordpress.com.

Notes on America from James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name

Insights from over 50 years ago cut even deeper today for the fact that we have learnt absolutely nothing.

On anti-intellectualism and the myth of America:
[W]e [as Americans] have a very deep-seated distrust of real intellectual effort (probably because we suspect that it will destroy, as I hope it does, that myth of America to which we cling so desperately).

On racism and poverty:
Now I am perfectly aware that there are other slums in which white men are fighting for their lives, and mainly losing. I know that blood is also flowing through those streets and that the human damage there is incalculable. People are continually pointing out to me the wretchedness of white people in order to console me for the wretchedness of blacks. But an itemized account of the American failure does not console me and it should not console anyone else.

On the American dream:
The people, however, who believe that this democratic anguish has some consoling value are always pointing out that So-and-So, white, and So-and-So, black rose from the slums into the big time. The existence–the public existence–of, say, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. proves to them that America is still the land of opportunity and that inequalities vanish before the determined will. It proves nothing of the sort … and the inequalities suffered by the many are in no way justified by the rise of a few. … Furthermore, the American equation of success with the big time reveals an awful disrespect for human life and human achievement. This equation has placed our cities among the most dangerous in the world and has placed our youth among the most empty and most bewildered. The situation of our youth is not mysterious. Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. They must, they have no other models. That is exactly what our children are doing. They are imitating our immorality, our disrespect for the pain of others.

On justifying our crimes:
The world has never lacked for horrifying examples [even if Birmingham is worse, no doubt Johannesburg, South Africa, beats it by several miles, and Buchenwald was one of the worst things that ever happened in the entire history of the world]; but I do not believe that these examples are meant to be used as justification for our own crimes. This perpetual justification empties the heart of all human feeling. The emptier our hearts become, the greater will be our crimes.

More on the myth of America:
This illusion owes everything to the great American illusion that our state is a state to be envied by other people: we are powerful, and we are rich. But our power makes us uncomfortable and we handle it very ineptly. … If we ourselves were not so fond of this illusion, we might understand ourselves and other peoples better than we do, and be enabled to help them understand us. I am very often tempted to believe that this illusion is all that is left of the great dream that was to have become America; whether this is so or not, this illusion certainly prevents us from making America what we say we want it to be.

On education:
It is hard enough, God knows, under the best of circumstances, to get an education in this country. White children are graduated yearly who can neither read, write, nor think, and who are in a state of the most abysmal ignorance concerning the world around them. But at least they are white. They are under the illusion–which, since they are so badly educated, sometimes has a fatal tenacity–that they can do whatever they want to do. Perhaps that is exactly what they are doing, in which case we had best all go down in prayer.

On false nostalgia:
I am afraid that most of the white people I have ever known impressed me as being in the grip of a weird nostalgia, dreaming of a vanished state of security and order, against which dream, unfailingly and unconsciously, they tested and very often lost their lives.

 

Quotes from Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin, collected on irepeatinmysleep.wordpress.com.

“Against [a] shifting phantasmagoric world in which black may be white tomorrow and yesterday’s weather can be changed by decree …”

Some perspectives on truth, Fascism and hope from George Orwell’s Looking Back on the Spanish War:

(1)
… This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. … The implied objective … is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. if the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five.

(2)
… Yet this does not alter the fact that the working class will go on struggling against Fascism after the others have caved in. The intelligentsia are the people who squeal the loudest against Fascism, and yet a respectable portion of them collapse into defeatism when the pinch comes. With the working class it is the other way about. Too ignorant to see through the trick that is being played on them, they easily swallow the promises of Fascism, yet sooner or later they always take up the struggle again. They must do so, because in their own bodies they always discover that the promises of Fascism cannot be fulfilled. To win over the working class permanently, the Fascists would have to raise the general standard of living, which they are unable and probably unwilling to do. The struggle of the working class is like the growth of a plant. The plant is blind and stupid, but it knows enough to keep pushing upwards towards the light and it will do this in the face of endless discouragements.

(3)
When one thinks of all the people who support or have supported Fascism, one stands amazed at their diversity. What a crew! … But the clue is really very simple. They are all people with something to lose, or people who long for a hierarchical society and dread the prospect of a world of free and equal human beings. Behind all the ballyhoo … lies the simple intention of those with money or privileges to cling to them. … All that the workingman demands is what these others would consider the indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all. … The question is very simple. Shall people … be allowed to live the decent, fully human life which is now technically achievable, or shan’t they? Shall common man be pushed back into the mud, or shall he not? I myself believe … that the common man will win his fight sooner or later, but I want it to be sooner and not later – some time within the next hundred years, say, and not some time within the next ten thousand years.

The Guardian: ‘It will be called Americanism’

Irving Wallace: “If fascism ever comes to the United States, it’ll be because the people voted it in.”

Philip Roth: “To have enslaved America with this hocus-pocus! To have captured the mind of the world’s greatest nation without uttering a single word of truth! Oh, the pleasure we must be affording the most malevolent man on earth!”

Henry Wallace: “A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.” American fascism would only become “really dangerous” if a “purposeful coalition” arose between crony capitalists, “poisoners of public information” and “the KKK type of demagoguery”.

NYT 1938: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism’.”

Sinclair Lewis: “[G]overnment of the profits, by the profits, for the profits”.

Keeper of the Flame: “Of course they didn’t call it fascism. They painted it red, white, and blue, and called it Americanism.”

Read the whole article here!

Generation of Shallowness and Failure

Two perspectives from The Human Stain by Philip Roth.

(1)
She’s [p]art of this generation that is proud of its shallowness. The sincere performance is everything. Sincere and empty, totally empty. … The sincerity that is worse than falseness, and the innocence that is worse than corruption. And … [t]his wonderful language they all have–that they appear to believe–about their ‘lack of self-worth,’ all the while what they actually believe is that they’re entitled to everything. Their shamelessness they call lovingness, and the ruthlessness is camouflaged as lost ‘self-esteem.’

(2)
[It’s] all part of the same enormous failure. … [I]t used to be the person who fell short. Now it’s the discipline. Reading the classics is too difficult, therefore it’s the classics that are to blame. Today the student asserts his incapacity as a privilege. I can’t learn it, so there is something wrong with it. And there is something especially wrong with the bad teacher who wants to teach it.

You can also check out this excerpt from Inside Quest:

Vonnegut’s Punchline

Four quotes from A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut.

Quote 1:

Many years ago I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.
But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts us absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many lifeless bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.

Quote 2:

Human beings have had to guess about almost everything for the past million years or so. The leading characters in our history have been our most enthralling, and sometimes out most terrifying, guessers.

Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long, for all of human experience so far, that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on. It is now their turn to guess and guess and be listened to. Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right. It isn’t the gold standard that they want to put us back on. They want something even more basic. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard.

Quote 3:

What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations, and made it all their own?

Quote 4:

George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts.

So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge.

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.

 

 

PS.: K. V. was writing in reference to life in George W. Bush’s America, who he also refers to as a child. K. V. passe away in 2007. You cold say he passed away before the punchline of the joke he himself was telling.