Archive for December, 2016

Sunday Assembly Nashville

December 12, 2016

Basking this morning in the afterglow of yesterday’s Sunday Assembly in Nashville. I’m not very tribal, but I have indeed found my tribe.

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Happy birthday Flaubert, who I did not quote at Sunday Assembly. “To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.”


One more thing. What James told unhappy Henry Adams: “Though the ULTIMATE state of the universe may be its … extinction, there is nothing in physics to interfere with the hypothesis that the PENULTIMATE state might be … a happy and virtuous consciousness. In short, the last expiring pulsation of the universe’s life might be, ‘I am so happy and perfect that I can stand it no longer.'” AMEN.

6 am/6:50, 50/51/36, 4:31

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Happiness: A Free Person’s Worship

December 9, 2016

Family

December 9, 2016

“To be happy in this world, especially when youth is past, it is necessary to feel oneself not merely an isolated individual whose day will soon be over, but part of the stream of life flowing on from the first germ to the remote and unknown future.” 

Russell says this in the “Family” chapter of Conquest of Happiness, and while he’s talking about the stream of generations and the “procreative impulse” he’s not saying you have to have children of your own to to feel a part of the stream of life. Or rather, he’s saying that happy people claim a lasting stake in the life of their species and care about “the world that shall come after them” because we are all family, they are all our children.
That’s what John Dewey meant too, when he said we’re all links in the continuous human community. Personal death does not end all, the loss of those near us does not obliterate the streaming possibilities of life to come, the tragic aspect of life does not exhaust it.
But stagnation and social hostility might. We must enlarge our hearts and transcend selfish isolation. We must evolve past envy, past the age of Drumpf.

“We have reached a stage in evolution which is not the final stage. We must pass through it quickly, for if we do not, most of us will perish by the way, and the others will be lost in a forest of doubt and fear. .. To find the right road out of this despair civilised man must enlarge his heart as he has enlarged his mind. He must learn to transcend self, and in so doing to acquire the freedom of the Universe.”

And with that, the secular sermon’s done. Amen.

6 am/6:48, 26/35/22, 4:30

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Time flies

December 8, 2016

Horace Who?

The one who said, before Mr. Keating, to seize the day. Carpe…. carpe… carpe diem. 


I haven’t seen Dead Poets Society in awhile, but I don’t recall that he said the rest of it. Dum loquimur, fugerit invida Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. “As we speak cruel time is fleeing. Seize the day, believing as little as possible in the morrow.” Alternatively, “In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebbed away, Seize the present, trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may.”

My minimal groggy thought this morning, after the dog got me up at 3 am, is that old Horace had a point. Tempus fugit. And that’s really the first and last thing we should need to know, to motivate our quest to conquer happiness.

Happy birthday Bill Bryson, who said we have three reasons never to be unhappy.

And happy birthday to Walter Mitty’s creator James Thurber, who said “If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons. ” And: “You can fool too many people, too much of the time.”

A bit of misanthropy, though not so much as Schopenhauer’s, conduces to happiness in hard times too.

6:30/647, 34/35/20, 4:30

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Flickering attention

December 7, 2016

“A Free Man’s Worship” was originally “The Free Man’s Worship” (1903), a more than merely stylistic change.

Russell’s trajectory generally was away from precise Platonic exclusion and towards a pluralistic loosening of attitude and judgment. He would later declare his “outlook on the cosmos and human life… substantially unchanged” when he wrote Conquest of Happiness in 1930, but if FMW was written “only for people in great unhappiness” the change of article reflects a change of heart as well. Where the younger man wrote to steel himself and his readers against the “unyielding despair” of ultimate cosmic finitude and indifference to human destiny, the more seasoned philosopher “turned his atttention to other things” and focused on practical strategies for flourishing on a more human scale. So, from 1927, another text for my impending secular sermon:

…if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending—something dead, cold, and lifeless.

I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out—at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation—it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things. “Why I Am Not A Christian

That’s what Dr. Flicker said: the universe “won’t be expanding for billions of years yet, Alvy. And we’ve gotta try and enjoy ourselves while we’re here.” I’ll bet it’s what they say at Sunday Assembly too.

The “spirit” in spirituality, for those of like mind, means the living breath of finite natural existence. Super-nature is not required, though the tolerant Sunday Assemblers “don’t do supernatural but won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.” The philosophers will take care of that.

6:30/6:46, 36/47/29, 4:30

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Take me to church

December 6, 2016
At last April’s Lyceum after-party I met a board member from Nashville’s Sunday Assembly. Learning that I teach courses on Atheism and Happiness at MTSU, she invited me to come and speak to them in December. This coming Sunday at 10 am, at Scarritt-Bennett
Image result for scarritt bennett

Where to begin? With William James, naturally. “If we were to ask the question: ‘What is human life’s chief concern?’ one of the answers we should receive would be: ‘It is happiness.’ How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure.”

Then to Bertrand Russell, author in 1903 of “A Free Man’s Worship” and in 1930 of Conquest of Happiness. The former reflects an early Platonic phase, happily transcended in time, but both are concerned with how to accept godlessness in a finite and indifferent cosmos. The former was later described by Russell as written for unhappy people, a young author’s sermonizing attempt to buoy the spirit against tides of unhappy despair. The latter is a mature author’s lighter report on what he’s learned about living well, a call to all to “conquer” happiness based on his own life experience.

Godless people are often assumed, by believers, to be unhappy. It isn’t so. The literary critic James Wood recalls the godless “life-loving heroes” of his adolescence as providing “reasons to be cheerful.”

There was plenty of happiness in our household, but it was rarely religious happiness. The self was viewed with suspicion, as if it were a mob of appetites and hedonism. As an adolescent, I was often told that “self, self, self is all you think about,” and that “selfishness is your whole philosophy.” Life was understood to be constant moral work, a job that could never really be “done,” because the ideal was Jesus’ unsurpassable perfection. My mother and I quarrelled over the corpse of my religious faith. She told me that at night she prayed I would “come back into the fold.” As a young man, I lined up my pagan, life-loving heroes—Nietzsche, Camus, D. H. Lawrence, Keith Moon, Ian Dury—in glorious defensive formation: reasons to be cheerful. “Lessons From My Mother

So that’s going to be my message on Sunday: secular folk have plenty of reasons to be cheerful, plenty of historical allies, and plenty of proven strategies for living good, honorable, meaningful, constructive, happy lives. Believe me.

7 am/6:46, 57/33, 4:30

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Elasticity

December 5, 2016

That’s the theme of Ron Padgett’s poem “Think and Do”: the capacity of thinkers to get up from their pedestals and move, for which all pragmatic peripatetics – not “frozen in postures of thought, like Rodin’s statue, the one outside Philosophy Hall at Columbia” – are duly grateful.

…His accomplish-
ments are muscular. How could a guy with such big muscles be/thinking so much? It gives you the idea that he’s worked all his/life to get those muscles, and now he has no use for them. It/makes him pensive, sober, even depressed sometimes, and/because his range of motion is nil, he cannot leap down from/the pedestal and attend classes in Philosophy Hall. I am so/lucky to be elastic! I am so happy to be able to think of the/word elastic…

Happy and lucky because words provoke thoughts which lead to actions and something to think about. It’s the cycle of life.

5:30/6:45, 44/47, 4:30

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