Posts by JJElbert

    Happy Twentieth! I've decided to try something. I'll start using the twentieth of each month to outline actionable goals in pursuit of Epicurean happiness, and try to make progress toward those goals in the following month.

    My goals for between June 20 and July 20;

    Peace goal--stop reading things on the internet that I know will be calculated to frustrate me. There's nothing wrong with internet engagement; I just want to make sure I'm using it in an intentional way. I worry about how much time I will regret having wasted on trivial and fruitless news cycles that will be lost in a week anyway.

    Security goal--return to cash and debit as exclusive modes of exchange, with a view toward giving up the false security of a wallet full of credit cards. I'm sure that using credit cards contributes to overspending, even though I don't pay interest on them. Just time to let them go, I think.

    Pleasure goal--It's something I've always wanted to do, but I still haven't figured out the right way to study languages on the road (I find pimsleur while driving to be just a little too distracting.) I have a few Latin texts in the truck already, including Hans Ørberg, so I'm just going to dive in on memorizing Latin declensions and reading directly.

    Immortal blessings!



    As for the "solitary confinement of the mind," my theory is that solipsism, like other absurdities of the professional philosopher, is a product of too much time wasted in library stacks between the covers of a book, in smoke-filled coffeehouses (bad for brains) and conversation-clogged seminars. To refute the solipsist or the metaphysical idealist all that you have to do is take him out and throw a rock at his head: if he ducks he's a liar. His logic may be airtight but his argument, far from revealing the delusions of living experience, only exposes the limitations of logic.

    -Edward Abbey

    This is more or less my reaction to the free will argument. You'd only have to add one more sentence; "If he blames you for the rock, he's a liar; he must have known that it was a necessity the whole time."

    I am certainly not one who thinks the market will always yield the best result. The market gave us robber barons, children working in mines, Irish Need Not Apply, and myriad other problems.

    That, to me, is on a par with a similar fallacy; that "humans needn't worry because mother nature will always find balance". Mother Nature often finds balance by eradicating whole clades. Lucretius had it right; the universe doesn't exist for us, and it will continue to exist long after we and all our works are gone. (Am I off topic yet? ?)

    I have a laptop, but seldom wifi. I use my Samsung phone for everything. I'm not sure about a sidebar, but I can pull up two different menus by swiping either left or right from the edge of the screen.

    There's something that very often doesn't get said about customer service work generally, Elayne, and that's that almost all of the people one deals with actually are very pleasant! People of any sort can be and often are happy. I was merely intending to show that they can be happy or unhappy in unexpected ways. It isn't always easy to draw a straight line between excellence and happiness, or between mediocrity and misery...or vice versa.

    Un an unrelated note, there's a strong tradition of quilting in my large German-Catholic extended family. I won't vouch for the stitchwork, but the intergenerational bonding is something very special to see! There are probably over 40 of us descended from my grandparents, and we all have quilts, to the fourth generation.

    For myself, I have been a low-wage restaurant cook, a metalcaster at a foundry, a package sorter, a retail clerk, and now a trucker. In spite of a general lack of excellence in my life, I somehow manage to remain tranquil and equanimous throughout the day. And yet in the course of 14 years in customer service one way or another, I was always meeting with attorneys, physicians, engineers, bankers, and business people who were chronically grumpy and generally unsatisfied.

    Who knows. Maybe when they actually make it out to that lakehouse, or boat, or golf course, or posh vacation, they really are happy. But I always thought---if I can be happy riding my bike to work making $10 an hour, why can't you be happy heading to the firm in your Range Rover, even in spite of the traffic?

    I think this relates to the larger issue of whether it's good for people to be specialists or generalists. I read a "Romantic vs Classical" distinction into the argument. Take the view of the Generalist, here expressed by Robert Heinlein;


    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    The problem with this view is that it appears to the Classical thinker as being overly Romantic; it sounds like it should sound good, but in reality it yields poor results. The Jack-of-all-trades is the master of none.

    The Specialist ideal finds its expression in a character like Doyle's Sherlock Holmes;


    I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

    This strikes the Romantic thinker as something inhuman; the machination of man.

    It's clear that the market selects for Specialists. A person with a mediocre ability in 10 different areas will very often be shoehorned into employment using one of those skills at a low level. The Specialist attaining excellence in one area will, if they have chosen a good field, find high-status employment that is satisfying and rewarding. But here's the thing; the Generalist will almost always be better at handling adversity. First of all, because they are accustomed to mediocrity anyway; second, because when confronted by it, they have a wide range of other hobbies and activities to plug into it.

    So when it comes to the Epicurean project of maximizing pleasure and happiness over a whole human life, it won't necessarily be the case that striving for excellence yields the best result.

    Good to know, Cassius! I've been clicking "New" under the same drop-down menu, which seems to yield similar results. I'll start using dashboard. I did at first find the sheer number of sub-forums to be quite daunting, but the system works well once one knows how to use it.

    6:30 AM. Lansing, MI

    Lost; North Face hoodie. Color brown, size medium. If found, please return to... who? I know the article well, and can remember the day it was purchased. In Denver, at a Sports Authority store (now closed forever) on a trip I took to meet up with the family and visit my brother. The last of its kind on the clearance rack and a size smaller than I wear normally, this garment was sartorial perfection. Nothing ever fit me so well (I an ectomorph; 6'2", 145 lbs, gangly in the superlative). I hadn't known until then that clothes could fit, and should; I had never been comfortable in my own clothes.

    Gone now, though. Left behind. Not yet "reduced to it's primitive elements", which was Thoreau's consignment program--it was instead hove off of this human shore, and floats free on the listless currents of humanity--or else cast into the rubbish, and Virginia has its bones. Who can say?

    Nevertheless, I find that I actually can reduce it to elements. I can, in my mind's eye, dissolve it into atoms and void. A feeling of unweaving starstuff. I can let it go, and can convince myself to want it to go! Can actually begin to see it for what it is; not to miss it, but to doff my cap and wave heartily as it sails toward some New World. Every garment is a kind of tapestry in this sense, knitting itself toward doom and dissolution. Try it; there's nothing to it--even the emperor, as it were, could find that he really has no clothes.

    Perhaps it was time. While the jacket has held together in a more or less uniform way, I've spent the intervening years reknitting myself. I've learned and applied new skills, and forgotten old ones. I've given up other things, too; my apartment. My furniture. My small library. I've gained money and time. A little less work, and a little more freedom. I trust I've even changed my mind once or twice.

    A great sloughing off of the old, and growing into the new, that's what I want. A surpassing even of the Toga Virilis, into a still higher privilige and maturity.

    The realization of an ideal.


    On the second trip three years ago there was a lot of construction going on around it, which I presume is now complete. It no doubt looks best without those chain link fences around it.

    That's funny; that was my EXACT experience at the Parthenon in Athens! Scaffolding, fencing, etc. for restoration work. Ongoing for decades.

    I'll get to Nashville eventually. I drove through every so often, but getting out of the truck to see the sights is easier in some cities than others!

    It would've been the summer after my sophomore year in college. My first major was History, and the department organized a trip. I later went to the United Kingdom with the English Literature department, which was my second major.

    I do recall having some fear that the Parthenon Marbles would be repatriated to Greece from the British Museum before I'd made it to London but after I'd already been to Greece. I was deep into British poetry by then and Keats remains my favorite poet. All rather selfish of me, of course; but in any case I did get to see them. If I can ever get a little Latin or AG under my belt, I will certainly try to go back.

    I've had the pleasure of visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, and of hiking Vesuvius. Pompeii is unforgettable, at least as an outline in my head; the image most striking to me will forever be the plaster casts made from cavities in the ash, where the organic remains have long since rotted and gassified. Thus do we find a human figure sitting with its legs drawn up and its hands to its face, choking on volcanic ash and mortality.

    My two lingering regrets from that trip were these--first, that I did not at that age enjoy or appreciate wine. I had imbibed a stoic sense of pleasure as being base, and avoided alcohol until I was 23. (Sadly, one never does get a second chance to mis-spend one's youth. To think that I wasted all those perfectly good years on books!) And second, that I had no special interest in the school of Epicurus.

    One day I should like to atone for that, both at the Getty Villa and again in the Bay of Naples.

    I'd be curious to know more as well, Cassius. I used to work in the restaurant industry alongside a lot of teenagers, and there was one group of three or four friends that stands out in my mind. They were all rather sporty (football mostly), but one of them, with a particularly winning smile, also played cello, got good grades, and conversed easily with boys and girls, young people and old. There was a bit of 'golden boy' teasing there; and I can imagine if one of your buddies was hand-picked by the emperor of Rome, it might earn him a nickname.

    It's very strange; when I get to the victory of Octavian at the Battle of Actium, it's as if a switch gets flipped in my brain. Rome stops being "Rome", even though all of the notable surviving architecture dates to the Imperial period. I most recently felt this when listening to S.P.Q.R. by Mary Beard. I finished it, but it was a bit of a slog.

    The best clues will be on his coinage, as the inscription in the Piazza Colonna is not original.…inage-of-marcus-aurelius/

    It seems he was given the name upon his adoption by Antoninus Pius, well before he became emperor. Perhaps with the meaning of something like Hadrian's "Golden Boy"?

    My interest in Roman history is mostly confined to the period of the Late Republic; I don't think I've ever read a biography of him.

    That's all to the good, Cassius :)

    To clarify one further point, what I wrote about democracy, franchise, etc. doesn't derive from "absolute truth (TM)" or any such thing. I meant to draw a clear line between what Epicurus said about justice, which is the premise, and the things that necessarily follow from that premise. To speak of a system of justice where the strong make decisions and the weak suffer what they must is a contradiction in terms, if we're using his definition of justice. His conception of pleasure as the good is built into that definition, and a rational (though not a moral) political theory can, I think, be derived from it.

    I certainly recognize what you're saying about the emotive nature of slavery as a concept, and the tendency to get mushy in our thinking about it.

    I agree with you that just using the word 'moral' is a problem, and that there is no "outside moral standard"--what in philosophy is often called a Transcendental Moral 'Ought'. This relates to David Hume's famous formulation, afterward called "Hume's Guillotine"; There is no possible account of how things are that can tell us how things ought to be. There are no Transcendental Moral Oughts, but there are what we call "Rational Oughts"; this is usually an "if-then" statement. If you want a society that recognizes private property, then you ought to criminalize theft. That's not a moral argument, but a rational one.

    So perhaps I would reformulate that sentence. An Epicurean can make a rational case against slavery by citing the non-willingness of the slave as an impediment to justice, by definition.

    Could the thief make the same defense as the slave? "That may be your convention, but I didn't agree to it. My convention says I can take what I want." I don't believe so; the thief is pleading himself out of the pact, and therefore forfeits its protection. The slave is trying to plead himself into the pact, and is therefore worthy of it.

    Another way to put it; if a man takes as his mantra that line from Achilles--that there are no pacts between lions (himself) and men (society)--then he can't very well complain when society treats him like they would a man-eating lion, can he? This is again a rational rather than a moral conclusion.

    Good points! It always helps to clarify one's thinking.

    Some part of my brain is snagging on that orientation line.

    I believe the author means it to correlate with the line above. As in, "The Stoics believe that the source of moral authority is Natural Law, and the orientation of moral authority is that it applies universally to everyone." And, "The Epicureans believe that the source of moral authority is human agreement, and the orientation of moral authority is that its application is relative to varying human agreements."

    It is not Universalist in the sense that some Christian sects are Universalist (that is, in their eschatology--"all souls end up in heaven").

    As for moral relativism, which will no doubt be a charge leveled against Epicurus, the false assumption here is that the victims of a given covenant of justice have necessarily given it their assent. An Epicurean may well argue that slavery was immoral even in ancient Greece, in spite of their social conventions, specifically because the slave was never a party to the 'social contract' in the first place. The first lesson for the Epicurean to draw from this is the necessity of securing protection from other men, by means of self-sufficiency and friendship. The second lesson is this; that when the argument qualifying the idea of justice-by-convention is taken to it's natural conclusion, it is in the end an argument for democracy; for general franchise; for limited government; and for free expression.

    The "Natural Law", by contrast will always be a cudgel in the hands of dictators and theocrats, for whom moral certitude forms the thin veneer of respectability concealing their depredations.

    Or so I think. ? -josh