Mon - August 16, 2004

Modern-Day Troy and the Perverted Question of This Election

The Trojan War, apocryphal or not, may be the richest source of themes and metaphors in all of Western literature. Homer's Iliad and its sequel, the Odyssey, are the classical roots of Western literature. Those epics served as the basis for works as widely varied as Virgil's Aeneid, Berlioz's Les Troyens, and James Joyce's Ulysses, and influenced Dante's Commedia and countless other works. The tales told of or inspired by that war have proven fertile ground for the exploration of the themes of war and peace, destiny and free will, and honor and deceit, but not until I read Christa Wolf's Cassandra did it occur to me to consider the current American bellicosity in light of the Trojan War.

Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and the sister (or half-sister) of Paris, Hector, Troilus, and others. She was also a prophetess who foretold the destruction of Troy, earning her the derision of her family and all Trojans, and urged the Trojans not to accept the wooden horse from the Greeks. Christa Wolf's book is Cassandra's inner monologue describing the history that led to the execution at the hands of the Clytemnestra that she's awaiting. It's an astonishing piece of literature in many of the ways that literature can be astonishing, but it's also frighteningly prescient. Cassandra recalls confronting her father after first seeing that Troy was doomed:

King Priam felt sorry for himself. The complicated political situation, and now me to boot! He sent the guards away, which was brave of him. If I went on this way he would have no choice but to lock me up, he said wearily. At that, something inside me thought: Not now, not yet. Whatever did I want, for heaven's sake? he asked. All right, so they should have talked to me earlier about that confounded business with Helen. All right, so she was not here. The King of Egypt had taken her away from Paris, the stupid boy. Only everyone in the palace knew that, why didn't I? And what were we to do next? How could we get out of the thing without loss of face?
"Father," I said urgently, in a way I never spoke to him again. "No one can win a war waged for a phantom."
"Why not?" the king asked me in all seriousness. "Why not? All you have to do is make sure the army does not lose faith in the phantom," he said. "And why should there even be a war? You always use these big words. What I think is, we'll be attacked, and what I think is, we'll defend ourselves. The Greeks will ram their heads into a stone wall and withdraw at once. After all, they won't let themselves bleed to death over a woman, no matter how beautiful she is; and I don't believe she is, anyway."
"And why wouldn't they!" I cried. "Assuming they believed Helen was with us. Suppose they were the kind of people who could never get over an insult that a woman, be she beautiful or ugly, inflicted on a king, a man?"...
"Don't talk rubbish," said Priam. "They want our gold. And free access to the Dardanelles." "So negotiate terms!" I suggested. "That's all we need. To negotiate over our inalienable property and rights!" I began to see that my father was already blind to all the reasons for opposing war, and that what made him blind and deaf was the declaration of the military leaders: We will win. "Father," I begged him. "At least deprive them of the pretext of Helen. Here or in Egypt, she's not worth the life of a single Trojan. Tell that to Menelaus's ambassadors, give them gifts a host gives guests, and let them go in peace." "You must be out of your mind, child," said the king, genuinely shocked. "Don't you understand anything anymore? The honor of our house is at stake."
The honor of the house was what concerned me too, I protested. I was thickheaded. I thought they wanted the same thing I did. So what freedom it brought me the first time I said no, no, I want something different. But on this occasion, the king was right to think I meant what I said. "Child," he said, drawing me to him; I breathed the scent I loved so much. "Child. Anyone who does not side with us now is working against us."...

I actually gasped when I reached that last sentence. Is Christa Wolf, who wrote this in East Germany more than twenty years ago about a war that may or may not have happened thousands of years ago, herself a prophetess? Where did this attitude of Priam's lead the Trojans? Where is it leading the United States?

...Then in spring the war began as expected.
We were not allowed to call it "war." Linguistic regulations presrcibed that, correctly speaking, it be called a "surprise attack." For which, strange to say, we were not in the least prepared. We did not know what we intended to do, and so we did not really try to learn the Greeks' intentions... I accepted my parents back in misfortune. But at the time, when the Greek fleet rose against the horizon, a dreadful sight; when our hearts sank; when our young men went laughing to meet the enemy, into certain death, with no more protection than their leather sheilds; then I passionately cursed all those responsible. A defensive ring! An advance line behind a fortification! Trenches! There was nothing of the sort. True, I was no military strategist, but anyone could see how our soldiers were being herded toward the enemy along the level shore to be butchered...
A formation of Greeks in close array, wearing armor and surrounding themselves with an unbroken wall of shields, stormed onto land like a single organism with a head and many limbs, while they set up a howl whose like had never been heard. Those on the outlying edges were quickly killed by the already exhausted Trojans, as no doubt it had been intended that they should be. Those toward the center slew altogether too many of our men. The core reached shore as they were meant to, and with them the core's core: the Greek hero Achilles. He was intended to get through even if all the others fell. He did get through. "So that's how it's done," I heard myself tell myself feverishly. "All for one." What now? Cunningly he did not attack Hector, whom the other Greeks took in charge. He went for the boy Troilus, who was driven toward him by well-trained men the way game is driven toward the hunter. So that's how it's done. My heart began to pound. Troilus stood his ground, faced his opponent, fought. He fought by the rules, as he had been taught was the way to fight between high-born men. He adhered faithfully to the rules of the athletic contests in which he had excelled since childhood. Troilus! I was trembling. I knew ahead of time each step he would take, each turn of his head, each design he would trace with his body. But Achilles. Achilles the brute did not respond to the boy's offer. Perhaps he did not understand it. Achilles raised his sword high above his head, gripping it with both hands, and let it whistle down on my brother. All rules fell into the dust forever. So that's how it's done.

I wonder if anyone watching the towers of the World Trade Center fall thought to themselves, "So that's how it's done." In the same way that the Trojan War has proven to be fertile ground for the literary imagination through the centuries, Wolf's book could be fertile ground for any interdisciplinary doctoral student in search of a dissertation topic. There are many enlightening parallels that can be drawn between her take on the Trojan War and America's recent interactions with the Middle East.

It seems to me that the United States is the inheritor of the Trojan legacy. Aeneas and his followers fled the rubble of Troy to found Rome, after whose republican ideal the United States was founded, whose eventual hegemony and empire we seem to be pursuing, and whose eventual fall we seem to be approaching. Aren't we, like the Trojans, engaged in a theoretically endless war without rules against an enemy that we aren't prepared to fight? In Wolf's telling, the Trojans provoked the Greeks to war by kidnapping Helen (as a response to an imagined insult to the Trojan's sense of honor) and refusing to admit that they subsequently lost her to the Egyptians. Is Middle Eastern oil (the reason we're in the Middle East, provoking Islamic fundamentalists and arming dangerous groups and nations) our Helen? Is Middle Eastern oil (with which we bring terrorism into our country) our Trojan Horse (the modern embodiment of the Trojan Horse being a Canyonero)? Or are we, as Kyle suggests, the Greeks, going to war in Iraq to reclaim weapons that they got from us, but that they no longer have? We're almost certainly engaged in "a war waged for a phantom." Can we, unlike the Trojans, win such a war?

Wolf offers far more than these (admittedly very suggestive) parallels. She writes with clear authority about the dependent arising of war and national attitudes and understandings. Kyle mentions Cassandra's realization that "[w]ar gives its people their shape." But before war can shape a people, the people must shape the war through their fear, longing, and ignorance, as illustrated by King Priam's thinking prior to the Trojan War described above. And Casandra, who is unwilling (and perhaps even unable) to allow her understanding to be shaped by war, finds the transformation of her people to be more painful than the violence and hardships of war itself. As the world around her changes beyond her recognition, Cassandra still seeks sanity and morality. She has a dream:

I knew it was night, yet the moon and the sun were in the sky at the same time and were struggling for dominance. I had been appointed judge (by whom it was not stated): Which of the two heavenly bodies could shine more brightly? There was something wrong about this contest, but try as I might, I could not find out what.

She shares the dream with her servant who eventually tells her, "The most important thing about your dream, Cassandra, was that faced with a completely perverted question, you nevertheless tried to find an answer." This is how I feel about the coming presidential election. John Kerry (the sun) clearly shines more brightly than President Bush (the moon), but there's "something wrong about this contest." It's a perverted question, but I still feel compelled to find an answer.

I intuitively distrust those who become passionate and single-minded about politics, just as I distrust those who become passionate and single-minded about computers, journalism (which was why I lasted only one year as a journalism major in college), business, sports, religion, and just about anything else. I immediately stop listening to anyone who interjects "this is what really matters" into a discussion. I've always sought the universal human reality of which these narrow pursuits are just a piece. I chafe at the processes of distinction and classification as something foolish that will only have to be undone later if anything real is to be accomplished. For me, an election year is usually a time when I seek the greater meaning behind the breathless distortions and self-importance of the pundits and wonks. But in this election year, when even Jon Stewart (usually a great source of bipartisan mockery) can no longer hide his disgust with the Bush Administration and calls Robert Novak a "douche bag" at least once a show, it's very difficult not to be drawn into passionate partisanship.

My attempts at a broader understanding of political choices has never taken the form of Chris's cynical withdrawal from political responsibility. I've never sought to idealize a candidate or the system by which we choose our leaders. I know that having an effective choice between only two morally bankrupt career politicians is indeed a perverted question. But I also know that there are always pragmatic differences between what we can expect from the administrations of those two candidates. The country and the world were clearly better served by President Clinton than they would have been by the first President Bush or by Senator Dole. I think that can be recognized objectively without descending to punditry. Yet in the case of the current President Bush, it's difficult to review his failings objectively or to consider the ways in which we would all be better served by Senator Kerry without being drawn into exaggerated partisanship. It's nearly impossible to locate the universal human aspects of President Bush and his supporters.

Actually, I have a great deal in common with President Bush. Like him, my parents spent the Vietnam War drinking and carousing. Where Bush joined the Air National Guard to avoid combat service, my parents had me so that my father could avoid the military. And speaking of fathers, like Bush's, my relationship with my father, who did so much to see that I was successful, was not sufficiently intimate. Like Bush, I grew up to embrace spiritual practices that, in their fervor, my father would find distasteful. Like Bush, I went to Yale and am ambivalent about the experience. Where he felt out of place academically, I felt out of place socioeconomically. Where he "still has issues about the the phony intellectualism he encountered" there, I have issues with the simplistic, uninformed, and ultimately misguided sense of noblesse oblige I encountered there. Like Bush, I've had issues with addiction, and like him, I haven't been through any formal treatment or recovery. Yet despite all of this common ground, I can't understand how he and those around him seem to see the world--I cannot find their humanity.

I've reached the point of exhaustion with respect to this election. I've found myself drawn further into this quadrennial quagmire than I'm comfortable with. I've found my attention drawn away from what I think really matters, from what I believe to be important, and to struggling for an answer to the perverted question of this election. I want this election to be over; I want the Bush Administration to be over; and I want to be able to read great literature for something greater than a means to understanding our current political situation.

Edited for grammar and clarity.

Fri - July 30, 2004

This Might Be Progress

This is just what I wanted:

"There is nothing more pessimistic than saying America can't do better."
"I am proud that after September 11th all our people rallied to President Bush's call for unity to meet the danger. There were no Democrats. There were no Republicans. There were only Americans. How we wish it had stayed that way."
"Our purpose now is to reclaim democracy itself. We are here to affirm that when Americans stand up and speak their minds and say America can do better, that is not a challenge to patriotism; it is the heart and soul of patriotism."
"That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology and it doesn't belong to any political party. It belongs to all the American people."
"We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America. Not narrow appeals that divide us, but shared values that unite us."
"I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush: In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity; let's respect one another; and let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States."
"I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side."

I'm cautiously hopeful.

Tue - June 1, 2004

The Return Of The Repressed

Despite the clear and persistent failure of the Bush Administration in every realm and from every perspective (fiscal conservatives can't be pleased with the spiraling debt and deficit or the prospect of sustained nation building; libertarians can't be pleased with the steady erosion of civil liberties; supporters of the military can't be pleased with the disdain for and shoddy treatment of soldiers past, present, and future; moralists can't be pleased with the peddling of influence and the roughly weekly revelations of scandal; and progressives can't be pleased with much of anything), the President still enjoys the approval of anywhere from 41 to 48 percent of those polled, while one in three of those Americans asked approve of even his handling of the war in Iraq. Those respondents represent tens of millions of Americans. It's easy enough to dismiss them, to deride them, or seek to explain their delusion from a position of superior clarity and understanding, but however strong that impulse is, however justified it may seem, it won't work. First, just about any analysis that begins with the assumption of superior knowledge is bound to go awry. Second, dismissal, derision, and smug pedantic exercises don't accomplish anything. And finally, such a large proportion of our citizenry cannot be shunned or excluded without undermining any possibility of a healthy national discourse or a shared sense of national identity.

Those who would still vote for President Bush must be given the dignity and respect of being presumed rational, intelligent people. I'm very concerned that the American polity, which has been cracking, has been finally broken by Bush's presidency and his penchant for polarization, and for that reason, I think it's crucial that he not be re-elected. But I'm even more concerned that the possibility of repairing the polity be maintained, and for that reason, I think that the way in which he is defeated in November is even more important than its happening. This cannot become an electoral repeat of the Civil War, leaving tensions and resentments to seethe and erupt for more than a hundred years afterward. Abject defeat of President Bush's followers and revenge for all of the wrongs that may have been committed at his behest won't serve anything but his opponents' sense of satisfaction. His supporters are as vital a part of this nation as any other group, and to behave otherwise is to deny some of our most treasured national dogmas.

So what are we to do if we hope to see President Bush productively defeated at the polls this fall? The last few presidential elections suggest three related maxims that might prove helpful:

  • Don't insult someone's candidate: For many people, a presidential candidate is more than a pragmatic choice. They invest their candidate with their most deeply held hopes and fears (often without being aware that they're doing so); they see their candidate as a projection of their beliefs, of what's best in themselves; they identify with their candidate and the community surrounding that candidate. Insulting their candidate isn't going to induce them to see things from a different perspective or examine the facts and their beliefs any more than insulting them will. In short, if you want someone to vote for your candidate, you won't get them to do so by insulting their candidate.

  • Proving someone wrong won't convince them that you're right: Starting with Al Franken's books, and continuing with his radio program and the Air America network as a whole, media punditry is becoming an elaborate exercise in debunking. Although it's abundantly clear that so much of the national political discourse has devolved to innuendo, deception, and demagoguery (for which the Bush Administration must share the blame) and that it would benefit from some systematic clarification, the cacophony of claims, counter-claims, and outright insults aren't making anyone better informed or changing anyone's mind. Yes, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Al Franken's other targets frequently resort to deception and outright lies--that's easily demonstrated--and I suspect that their audience might even be aware of that. But that audience firmly believes in the underlying reality that those lies are meant to illustrate. The lies are believed because, in the audience's minds, they should be true. It's that underlying emotional reality that must be addressed, not the attempts to marshall facts to demonstrate that reality.

  • No one wants to be made to feel stupid: A frequent criticism of Al Gore during the campaign leading up to the last election was variously phrased as he's "too intellectual," "too academic," "too cold," "too much of a know-it-all," etc. Those are all variations on the complaint that "he makes me feel stupid" (something that George W. Bush never did), and which is different than being made to feel that "Al Gore is smarter than me." This might be attributed to America's supposed anti-intellectualism, but the truth is more complex. The distinction can be illustrated by considering President Clinton, who is certainly Al Gore's intellectual equal. Despite the intense hatred that many feel toward him, no one seems to begrudge him his intelligence. Or to cite an even clearer example, there were few public figures more beloved or respected than Albert Einstein. This is because, along with his obvious intelligence, his profound wisdom and abundant good will were clear. He, like President Clinton, never came across as a shrill pedant.

What we must recognize, and what we as a nation are no longer capable of accommodating, is that emotional experience is as important to social reality as are empirical facts and moral claims. Just about every party to the national discourse is angry, and the emotional truth is that anger is generally an expression of fear and sadness. At least one third (and maybe nearly half) of Americans seem to believe strongly that President Bush addresses their hopes and fears. Whether their assessment of his accomplishments is empirically correct is beside the point. Their hopes and fears are real, and those hopes and fears must be addressed if we ever hope to have anything like a whole nation. The center of contention seems to be the politics of identity. The vast majority of the participants in the national discourse seem to divide the world into people like themselves and people not like themselves, and to believe that the interactions between those two groups are zero sum transactions--that they and those like themselves can only gain at the expense of those not like themselves; and that the gains of those not like themselves will come at their own expense or the expense of those like themselves. That progressives can only gain at the expense of conservatives (and vice versa) and the poor can only gain at the expense of the rich (and vice versa) are fast becoming broadly held fundamental political beliefs. I don't accept that. I expect more than that from this nation's great potential.

This nation once enjoyed a broadly held emotional commitment to its greatness. I know that that's a sweeping claim, but I don't believe that abundant natural resources and a mercenary spirit are alone sufficient to explain this nation's unprecedented assumption of international hegemony. But now, the left rests in its certainty of intellectual superiority, the right rests in its certainty of moral and spiritual superiority, and they both contend for control of the emotional realm. The first impulse of either side is to attack and vilify the other, not to seek the common good. Our population is no longer the best educated, the healthiest, the best fed, or the least impoverished in the world. For most of our history, these facts alone would have been sufficient to mobilize monumental efforts to address them, but that is no longer so. Even the events of September 11, 2001, which united and inspired us for a moment, have only managed to spur misguided and ineffective responses accompanied by cynicism and partisan warfare. A little more than forty years ago, President Kennedy exhorted us to "ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." Today, that sounds hopelessly quaint. Any politician issuing such a challenge in all seriousness would be dismissed as unrealistic or demagogic. But that is precisely what we all must do. We can no longer look to our party as our primary means of political identification. We can no longer seek the defeat of those not sharing that identification as our primary means of political satisfaction. We must aspire to more, because attaining that won't be the result of anything but our shared striving after it above all else. This fall's election must not be lost by a craven, incompetent incumbent; it must be won be a candidate who can articulate a compelling ideal to which we can all aspire.

Sun - May 2, 2004

I Hope This Is The Last Time I Have To Do This

I'm doing the AIDS Walk here in New York again in a couple of weeks. I'd like not to have to do this anymore. Maybe you can help me (and thousands of others) to achieve my goal of sitting on my ass every Sunday in May next year by sponsoring me or someone else who will be walking (though I can't make any guarantees). We've got to do what we can--we've got to act as though we can accomplish something.

Wed - April 14, 2004

Please, God, Make It Stop

Some notable moments from yesterday's Presidential press conference, which, it should be remembered, was scheduled by the White House and, presumably, prepared for by President Bush and his associates:

A: ...Some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don't believe Iraq can be free, that if you're Muslim or perhaps brown skinned, you can't be self-governing and free...
Q: Mr. President, Why are you and the vice president insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 commission?...
A: ...because the the 9/11 commission wants to ask us questions. That's why we're meeting, and I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions.
Q: Mr. President, I was asking why you're appearing together rather than separately, which was their request.
A: Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them.
Let's see. Hold on for a minute. Oh--I've got some must calls, I'm sorry.
Q: In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You've looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say? And what lessons have you learned from it?
A: Hmmm. I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. I'm sure historians will look back and say, Gosh, he could have done it better this way or that way. You know, I just--I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet...

Thu - April 8, 2004

Beyond Good And Evil

In his brilliant (and, sadly, unfinished) Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states that the "first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate [the] knowledge [of good and evil]," because the "knowledge of good and evil shows that [man] is no longer at one with his origin." I take this to mean that our necessarily contingent conceptions of good and evil are only approximations of what we would know if we achieved unity with God--they serve as guidance to us in our fallen state. As Bonhoeffer puts it, it is "only in the unity of his knowledge of God that [man] knows of other men, of things, and of himself." Or from a Buddhist perspective, only that which is not subject to arising and cessation can be truly known, and only through that which is not subject to arising and cessation can anything be truly known. Only through the emptiness that is the source of our consciousness can we know the Emptiness out of which and into which all dependent existence evolves; only through the divinity of our soul can we know God.

Good and evil, like all other dualities, are only necessary or possible in our state of separation from or forgetting of God or Brahman or nibanna or whatever you'd prefer to call it. Like all other dualities, good and evil are based on illusion and will ultimately be inadequate. We'll never find a universal ethics. But I'm not advocating that we simply abandon the idea of good and evil. As this old story from Vedanta Hinduism quoted by Ken Wilber in A Brief History of Everything illustrates, this is a complicated issue:

A man goes to an enlightened sage and asks, of course, for the meaning of life. The sage gives a brief summary of the Vedanta view, namely, that this entire world is nothing but the supreme Brahman or Godhead, and further, your own witnessing awareness is one with Brahman. Your very Self is in a supreme identity with God. Since Brahman creates all, and since your highest Self is one with Brahman, then your highest Self creates all...
Off goes the gentleman, convinced that he has understood the ultimate meaning of life, which is that his own deepest Self is actually God and creates all reality. On the way home, he decides to test this amazing notion. Heading right toward him was a man riding an elephant. The gentleman stands in the middle of the road, convinced that, if he's God, the elephant can't hurt him. The fellow riding the elephant keeps yelling, "Get out of the way! Get out of the way!" But the gentleman doesn't move--and gets perfectly flattened by the elephant.
Limping back to the sage, the gentleman explains that, since Brahman or God is everything, and since his Self is one with God, then the elephant should not have hurt him. "Oh, yes, everything is indeed God," said the sage, "so why didn't you listen when God told you to get out of the way?"

As long as we believe ourselves to be distinct selves, we need ways to support each other and protect ourselves from each other. The practical question that this suggests is: How are we in our fallen state, separated from God, to define good and evil? Over the millennia of recorded history, there have been countless attempts to resolve this issue through revelation, reasoning, and feeling, and, as I've said, none have achieved universal acceptance. Perhaps the closest we have to a universal doctrine is the "Golden Rule" from Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount": "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Here we have the intersection of revelation, reasoning, and feeling--that is, it was revealed to us by Jesus (echoing the earlier Jewish prophets and later echoed by Muhammad), it's easily understood and commonsensical, and it feels right and fair. But as a practical guide to daily behavior, this precept suffers many shortcomings (most clearly demonstrated by the Freudian critique that because we can't be shown to love ourselves in any real way, our self-regard doesn't provide a useful basis for our behavior toward others).

What if instead of a practical guide, we took this to be an exhortation? Rather than simply looking to what we want or need or feel and applying that to others, what if we aspired to that part of ourselves that actually transcends the distinction between ourselves and others? What if instead of identifying with the man standing in the road, we sought to identify with him, the elephant, and its rider? This isn't to say that we should act, like Winnicott's omnipotent infant, as if the whole world were simply an extension of our selves. We should act as if we and what we act upon were aspects of the same whole, manifestations of the same emptiness.

Tue - March 30, 2004

Molière on the Bush Administration

It's no longer shameful to be a dissembler; hypocrisy is now a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtues. The part of God-fearing man is the best possible role to play nowadays, and in our present society the hypocrite's profession has extraordinary advantages. It's an art whose dishonesty always goes unchallenged; even if the whole world sees through the imposture, no one dares denounce it. All the other vices of mankind are subject to censure, and anyone is free to upbraid them roundly; but hypocrisy is a privileged vice which knows how to silence every tongue and enjoy perfect impunity. The hypocrite, by means of pious pretenses, attaches himself to the company of the devout, and anyone who then assails him is set upon by a great phalanx of the godly--wherein those who act sincerely, and have a true religious fervor, are always the dupes of the others. The true believers are easily hoodwinked by the false, and blindly second those who ape their piety. I can't tell you how many men I know who, by means of a feigned devotion, have glossed over the sins of their youth, wrapped themselves in the cloak of religion, and in that holy disguise are now free to be the worst of scoundrels! It makes no difference if their intrigues are sometimes exposed and their true natures laid bare; they don't cease, on that account, to be respected, since by soulful groans, and bowings of the head, and rollings of the of the eye toward Heaven, they can readily persuade the world to excuse whatever they do.
from Don Juan

Thu - March 25, 2004

A Socratic Dialogue On Donald Trump

  MORGAN: What are you watching?

  TIM: The Fabulous Life of Donald Trump. Man, that guy is loaded.

  MORGAN: Is his the life you aspire to?

  TIM: Hell yeah. He's a freakin' billionaire, man. The fame, the models, the money... What's not to like?

  MORGAN: So you think his money makes him happy? It doesn't look like he gets much of a chance to enjoy it.

  TIM: Well, yeah, you've got to work for that kind of money. But look at his work, putting up buildings, doing deals... That's gotta be great.

  MORGAN: So you think he enjoys his work?

  TIM: Yeah. Who wouldn't?

  MORGAN Do you think he'd do it for free?

  TIM: No, what would be the point of that?

  MORGAN: I don't know. But he has to work so hard to get all of this money that he can't enjoy because he's working all the time. What's the point of that?

  TIM: I bet he gets a chance to enjoy the money and the fame. He can go wherever he wants.

  MORGAN: That's true. When Mitchell took me to that Rolling Stones concert, he was in the row in front of us.

  TIM: See?

  MORGAN: He was asleep.

  TIM: So maybe he was tired.

  MORGAN: From the work he loves to do for the money and the fame that allow him to sleep in a small, hard $300 seat in Madison Square Garden instead of at home on a soft couch in front of a football game?

  TIM: Well, when you put it like that...

  MORGAN: What do you do when you get a day off?

  TIM: Mostly sleep.

  MORGAN: And if you had a bunch of days off?

  TIM: I'd watch some games, go to the movies, maybe play some golf or go down to the beach.

  MORGAN: If you could do anything you wanted?

  TIM: That would pretty much be it.

  MORGAN: You work pretty hard. Do you think you get as many days off as Trump?

  TIM: Probably more.

  MORGAN: So how is Trump better off than you? Why are you watching his life, rather than him watching yours?

  TIM: He's got all that money.

  MORGAN: Have you ever heard of samsara?