Reading 2018

I grabbed the code I had lying around for last year and without too much trouble ran the same analysis for the books. The graph is not that dramatic this time though for some reason I did not read much during summer.

Pages read per month in 2018

Page-wise this year with 13398 pages was a bit weaker than last year (15049 pages).

By some miracle, I managed to post my top ten recommendations to twitter on the 31st.

Now as to the categories in which I read books and what I thought stood out.

Leadership

Not as many books as last year, but some very good ones and an area where I will read more. Rumelt has written one of the best books on strategy I’ve seen. Marquet’s highly recommended book I think will bear fruit on future re-reading. Scott’s book contains a fairly complete operating system for a modern tech company.

The cracking books are ok and did helped me crack a PM interview but still had nothing to do with the job I started working at last month.

  • Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt
  • Turn the Ship Around, David Marquet
  • Radical Candor, Kim Malone Scott
  • Cracking the Tech Career
  • The First 90 Days
  • Cracking the PM Interview

Diversity (non-white/non-male): 3/6

I don’t have an Engineering category this year (I abandoned The Rust Book and consulted but did not finish the App Architecture book). I am reading topical things for my new job so this year will be better.

Non-Fiction

I’m pleasantly surprised how much I’ve managed to read. Mishra’s book is one of the few really mainstream non-white perspectives on a very important part of our history and I keep enjoying seeing him take names in the LRB and the Guardian. Bluets is a beautiful introspective trip just like The Argonauts was. Sandifer is a critical tour de force of with an ideology and temperament I don’t see anywhere else. I’ve always been fond of Machiavelli but with Erica Benner’s rehabilitation of him I don’t have to be embarrassed about that anymore. Runciman’s book about the alternatives to democracy is like a protracted and focused episode of the podcast.

I don’t have a Fiction category or Sapiens would be there instead of here.

  • From the Ruins of Empire, Pankaj Mishra
  • Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
  • Ecology without Nature, Timothy Morton
  • A Contest of Ideas, Nelson Lichtenstein
  • Bluets, Maggie Nelson
  • Neoreaction a Basilisk, Elizabeth Sandifer
  • No Name in the Street, James Baldwin
  • Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker
  • Be Like the Fox, Erica Benner
  • The Chapo Guide to Revolution
  • The Hall of Uselessness, Simon Leys
  • Surveillance Valley, Yasha Levine
  • How Democracy Ends, David Runciman

Diversity (non-white/non-male): 5/13

Genre Fiction

I have been very light on genre fiction and I’m not sure whether SF will continue to be a thing I read much of in the future. The genre is bigger than ever but there is so little serious stuff coming out.

I am glad to have re-read Le Guin this year. Majestic.

  • Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor
  • Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan
  • The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
  • The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin
  • The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin
  • Broken Angels, Richard Morgan
  • Woken Furies, Richard Morgan
  • The Planet on the Table, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin

Diversity (non-white/non-male): 5/9

Literature

I find it easier to read non-fiction because I can’t parallelize literature very well and whenever I read a dud (here’s looking at you Elif) they block the queue for everything else. Makumbi’s Ugandan family saga has opened up my perspective on the country like a good local novel can do. Hamid’s rumination on refugees is short and sharp like a blade. Shanbhag’s book is a quick family tale of rags to riches where everything becomes entangled.

  • Terug naar Oegstgeest, Jan Wolkers
  • Kintu, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
  • Dorsvloer vol confetti, Franca Treur
  • Voyage to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Céline
  • Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
  • Ghachar Ghochar, Vivek Shanbhag
  • The Idiot, Elif Batuman

Diversity (non-white/non-male): 5/7

Kids

I read so many (34!) kids books this year and this number will probably only increase since we have only just started visiting the library. We live close to the Amerika Gedenkbibilothek which has a fairly sized kids department.

Franchises that did well with us this year were Kikker and the newly discovered Pip & Posy. We finished the seasonal Wimmelbücher (of which Fall was the highlight and Winter a disappointment). Let’s see whether these see renewed play next year.

The kids books do inflate my reading number a lot but that is not taking into account that I have had to read most of these books dozens of times. So there’s that.

  • So Müde und Hellwach
  • Welcher Po passt auf dieses Klo?
  • Mama kwijt
  • De dieren van Fiep
  • Kikker en Eend
  • Kikker is jarig, Max Velthuijs
  • Was willst du Baby?
  • Piep piep met Fiep
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear
  • So leicht so schwer
  • Der kleine Hase
  • Das kleine Lamm
  • Badetag für Hasekind
  • Sommer-Wimmelbuch
  • Frühlings-Wimmelbuch
  • Kaatje zegt nee
  • Pip en Posy en het nieuwe vriendje, Axel Scheffler
  • Das kleine Schwein
  • The Pony Twins
  • Sommer
  • Het vrolijke voorleesboek van Kikker
  • Winter-Wimmelbuch
  • Beestje, kom je op mijn feestje?
  • Hörst du die klassische Musik?
  • Het carnaval der dieren
  • Ssst! De tijger slaapt
  • Ik zou wel een kindje lusten
  • No Bad Kids
  • Oh Crap! Potty Training
  • Ein kleines Krokodil mit ziemlich viel Gefühl
  • Pip en Posy en de kerstboom
  • Herbst-Wimmelbuch, Rotraut Susanne Berner
  • Aki und Kon, der Fuchs
  • Die Wildnis ist unser Zuhause

Spirituality

Two solid books on this slow but steady path.

  • The Parent’s Tao te Ching
  • Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Previously in 2017 & 2016

Highlights for Shambhala

We hope only that we have not obstructed or weakened the power of these teachings. May they help to liberate all beings from the warring evils of the setting sun.
Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world’s great problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time.
What is lacking is a sense of humor. Humor here does not mean telling jokes or being comical or criticizing others and laughing at them. A genuine sense of humor is having a light touch: not beating reality into the ground but appreciating reality with a light touch.
The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything. We can never say that we are simply falling to pieces or that anyone else is, and we can never say that about the world either.
The point of warriorship is to work personally with our situation now, as it is.
We should feel that it is wonderful to be in this world.
So through the practice of sitting still and following your breath as it goes out and dissolves, you are connecting with your heart. By simply letting yourself be, as you are, you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself.
Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.
Everything is compartmentalized, so you can never experience things completely. We are not talking purely about food; we are talking about everything that goes on in the setting-sun world: packaged food, packaged vacations, package deals of all kinds. There is no room to experience doubtlessness in that world; there is no room to be gentle; there is no room to experience reality fully and properly.
In fact, tenderness and sadness, as well as gentleness, actually produce a sense of interest. You are so vulnerable that you cannot help being touched by your world.
A warrior doesn’t need color television or video games. A warrior doesn’t need to read comic books to entertain himself or to be cheerful.
For the true warrior, there is no warfare. This is the idea of being all-victorious. When you are all-victorious, there is nothing to conquer, no fundamental problem or obstacle to overcome.
But if you look back and trace back through your life—who you are, what you are, and why you are in this world—if you look through that step-bystep, you won’t find any fundamental problems.
In meditation, when your thoughts go up, you don’t go up, and you don’t go down when your thoughts go down; you just watch as thoughts go up and thoughts go down. Whether your thoughts are good or bad, exciting or boring, blissful or miserable, you let them be. You don’t accept some and reject others. You have a sense of greater space that encompasses any thought that may arise.
Although the warrior’s life is dedicated to helping others, he realizes that he will never be able to completely share his experience with others. The fullness of his experience is his own, and he must live with his own truth. Yet he is more and more in love with the world. That combination of love affair and loneliness is what enables the warrior to constantly reach out to help others.
Why are you always joyful? Because you have witnessed your basic goodness, because you have nothing to hang on to, and because you have experienced the sense of renunciation that we discussed earlier. Therefore, your mind and body are continually synchronized and always joyful.
If you tell the truth to others, then they can also be open with you—maybe not immediately, but you are giving them the opportunity to express themselves honestly as well. When you do not say what you feel, you generate confusion for yourself and confusion for others.
It is like falling in love. When you are in love, being with your lover is both delightful and very painful. You feel both joy and sorrow. That is not a problem; in fact, it is wonderful. It is the ideal human emotion.
The most practical and immediate way to begin sharing with others and working for their benefit is to work with your own domestic situation and to expand from there. So an important step in becoming a warrior is to become a family person, someone who respects his or her everyday domestic life and is committed to uplifting that situation.
When we draw down the power and depth of vastness into a single perception, then we are discovering and invoking magic. By magic we do not mean unnatural power over the phenomenal world, but rather the discovery of innate or primordial wisdom in the world as it is.
However, for the warrior, gentleness is not just politeness. Gentleness is consideration: showing concern for others, all the time. A Shambhala gentlewoman or gentleman is a decent person, a genuine person. He or she is very gentle to himself and to others. The purpose of any protocol, or manners, or discipline that we are taught is to have concern for others.
When the environment is stuffy and full of arrogant, self-styled men and women, the dralas are repelled. But then, what happens if a warrior, someone who embodies nonaggression, freedom from arrogance, and humbleness, walks into that room? When such a person enters an intense situation full of arrogance and pollution, quite possibly the occupants of the room begin to feel funny. They feel that they can’t have any fun and games anymore, because someone who won’t collaborate in their deception has walked in.
The world is very interesting wherever you go, wherever you look.
Habitual patterns allow you to look no further than three steps ahead of you. You are always looking at the ground, and you never look up at the bright blue sky or the mountain peaks.
So you can’t be a warrior in the office and a tudro at home.
The former Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant of Burma
You are not being blind to the setting-sun or degraded aspects of existence. In fact, you see them very precisely, because you are so alert. But you also see that every aspect of life has the potential of being upgraded, that there is the potential for sacredness in every situation. So you begin to view the universe as a sacred world.
Then there is the man principle, which is connected with simplicity, or living in harmony with heaven and earth. When human beings combine the freedom of heaven with the practicality of earth, they can live in a good human society with one another.
The challenge of warriorship is to live fully in the world as it is and to find within this world, with all its paradoxes, the essence of nowness. If we open our eyes, if we open our minds, if we open our hearts, we will find that this world is a magical place. It is not magical because it tricks us or changes unexpectedly into something else, but it is magical because it can be so vividly, so brilliantly.
We cannot change the way the world is, but by opening ourselves to the world as it is, we may find that gentleness, decency, and bravery are available—not only to us, but to all human beings.
That is the basic wisdom of Shambhala: that in this world, as it is, we can find a good and meaningful human life that will also serve others.
But if you do not start at home, then you have no hope of helping the world. So the first step in learning how to rule is learning to rule your household, your immediate world. There is no doubt that, if you do so, then the next step will come naturally. If you fail to do so, then your contribution to this world will be further chaos.
Raising windhorse is a way to cast out depression and doubt on the spot. It is not a form of exorcism but a cheering-up process. That is to say, raising windhorse invokes and actualizes the living aspect of fearlessness and bravery. It is a magical practice for transcending doubt and hesitation in order to invoke tremendous wakefulness in your state of mind.
The four dignities are meek, perky, outrageous, and inscrutable.
Just as the snow lion enjoys the refreshing air, the warrior of perky is constantly disciplined and continuously enjoys discipline. For him, discipline is not a demand but a pleasure.
Modesty here means feeling true and genuine. Therefore the warrior feels self-contained, with no need for external reference points to confirm him.
For the warrior of meek, confidence is a natural state of awareness and mindfulness in the way he conducts his affairs.
Rather, vastness comes from seeing the greatness of your own spot, your own particular place.
Like the tiger in the jungle, you are both relaxed and energized. You are constantly inquisitive but your awareness is also disciplined, so you accomplish every activity without difficulty, and you inspire those around you to do the same.
The first one is experiencing an uplifted and joyful mind. In this case, uplifted mind means a continual state of delight that is not caused by anything.
This warrior is always aware and never confused as to what to accept and what to reject.
The warrior of perky is never caught in the trap of doubt and is always joyful and artful.
Outrageousness is based on the achievement of fearlessness, which means going completely beyond fear. In order to overcome fear, it is also necessary to overcome hope. When you hope for something in your life, if it doesn’t happen, you are disappointed or upset. If it does happen, then you become elated and excited. You are constantly riding a roller coaster up and down.
The analogy for this is a good, self-existing sword—desire to sharpen it will make it dull. If you try to apply a competitive or comparative logic to the experience of vast mind, by trying to measure how much space you have fathomed, how much is left to fathom, or how much someone else has fathomed, you are just dulling your sword. It is futile and counterproductive. In contrast to that approach, outrageousness is accomplishment without a sense of accomplisher, without reference point.
Inscrutability is also the state of settling down in your confidence—remaining solid and relaxed at once. You are open and fearless, free from longing and doubt, but at the same time, you are very interested in the movements of the world.
The main point is being somewhat noncommittal, but at the same time seeing a project through to its end.
There is a need for discipline, and that discipline comes from realizing that such a world as this was created for you, that people expended energy to bring you up, that in your weak moments you were helped, and that, when you were ready for inspiration, you were inspired. So the discipline of genuinely working for others comes from appreciating hierarchy.

Highlights for Oh Crap

One year of one child using disposable diapers uses two full grown trees.
What’s worse is very few people dispose of the poop in the toilet before throwing away the diaper—did you even know you’re supposed to do that?
Most moms, probably including you, are reading this book because you know deep in your heart that your child is ready.
There will be a power struggle and for the first time ever, your child will literally be holding all the power, in the form of pee and poop. You will not win.
Some men are superlinear thinkers and don’t really connect with the chaos of the toddler mind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a situation like this: Mom’s been working her butt off to potty train the kid during the day. She leaves the child in her husband’s care for twenty minutes. The child has an accident. Mom asks Dad what happened, and he says, “I told him to go and he said no.” I think dads really expect that you only have to tell your child that he needs to pee in the potty one time and the child should fully comprehend and comply.
He’s vital to this process, just as you are, so let’s involve him right from the beginning. And let’s understand and validate how he truly feels about this process, yeah?
Kids can smell fear a mile away, and it will either make them fearful or they will eat you for breakfast.
Online news, the ability to Like and Share, blogs . . . all these things combine to make for a fast-paced world. We as moms, in particular, are subject to an onslaught of not only frightening news (kidnappings, etc.) but also parenting media drama, like the infamous Time magazine and the breast-feeding cover. All this media just serves to confuse us and wound our intuition. It also makes us feel anxious, which our children pick up on.
Bottom line: we are moving too fast. We are exposing our children to too much, too soon.
I’ve seen kids learn to meter out pee and poop to get more rewards, and I’ve seen candy create bigger power struggles during potty training.
Logistically speaking, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a preschool or kindergarten that will accept an untrained child.
Day cares are essentially screwing you, especially if you are a full-time working mom or dad. (Though I’m sure you’re used to getting screwed by everything at this point, eh?)
Wearing underwear is simply too confusing for your child in the beginning. The snugness creates a muscle memory of a diaper, and the covering suggests privacy. I can almost bet you that your child will have more accidents if you put undies on her too soon.
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne a couple of times. Mr. Payne was a Waldorf teacher and is so brilliant and eloquent on this topic, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. He says that raising children is like building a pyramid. The widest part at the bottom is the foundation. That is made up of “governing,” and takes place roughly from birth to age six. Next is the middle of the pyramid, made up of a “gardening” phase that takes place from roughly six to twelve years. And last, at the top, is the “guiding” phase, which is the way he recommends parenting children ages twelve to eighteen.
maybe nobody told you this, but one kid plus one kid = like five kids.
Your partner is going to go cuckoo. I promise she’ll return to normal very soon. Get her drunk. It’s okay.
Your role in this is just as vital as Mom’s is. Maybe more. Everyone knows that Dad is a little magic.

Highlights for No Bad Kids

When setting limits, the emotional state of the parent almost always dictates the child’s reaction. If we lack clarity and confidence, lose our temper or are unsure, tense, frazzled, or frustrated — this will unsettle our kids and very likely lead to more undesirable behavior.
Why would our sweet darling throw her toy at us when we’ve just asked her not to, and then add insult to injury by smirking? Is she evil? Does she have a pressing need to practice throwing skills? Maybe she just hates us…
When parents say more than a sentence or two about the limit-pushing behavior, even while remaining calm, they risk creating a tale about a child with a problem (perhaps he hugs his baby sister too forcefully), which then causes the child to identify with this as his story and problem, when it was just an impulsive, momentary behavior he tried out a couple of times.
If the comfort and validation of our attention has been in short supply, or if there have been compelling mini-stories and dramas created around our child’s limit-pushing behavior, she might end up repeating them to seek this negative attention.
For example, if we snatch toys away from our child, she may persistently snatch from friends
Deciding between two options is usually all a toddler needs, as long as the question is an easy one.
The sooner a caregiver can establish those limits, the easier it will be for the child to relinquish ‘testing’ and return to playing. Parents sometimes fear they will crush a child’s spirit if they are firm and consistent about rules. Truthfully, it is the other way around. A child does not feel free unless boundaries are clearly established.
Children raised without firm, consistent boundaries are insecure and world-weary. Burdened with too many decisions and too much power, they miss out on the joyful freedom every child deserves.
A toddler also acts out when there is a blatant failure to draw clear boundaries at home. Sometimes, the child is exposed to adults or older children who do not respect the toddler’s boundaries; they grab and tickle him, for example, depriving him of a sense of secure space. When a young child is overpowered and assaulted in this way, he becomes confused about physical boundaries with other people.
I asked Wendy if anything was different at home, and she mentioned that she was frustrated while getting Henry to sit in his car seat when it was time to go somewhere. She was allowing Henry to do it in his own time, waiting while he played around inside the car. Wendy said she finally became impatient, and after telling him what she would do, she placed him in his seat. She could not believe that Henry cried anyway, even after she had tried to be respectful, giving him so much time to sit in the seat himself!
I advised Wendy to give Henry the option of climbing into his seat by himself, but if he did not climb in right away, she should place him in his seat, even if he cried.
Respect your child’s play and other chosen activities. Don’t interrupt unless absolutely necessary.
Children need our undivided attention during these cooperative activities. Pay attention, connect, and encourage children to do the same.
Unfortunately, this perspective makes it next to impossible to stay unruffled with toddlers, who (as I explained above) need to disagree with us and feel safe expressing their strong emotions.
Occasionally, though it’s pretty rare, my superhero perspective even allows me to recognize the romance in these moments. I’m able to time travel at hyper-speed into the future, look back, and realize that this was prime time together.  It didn’t look pretty, but we were close. I’ll remember how hard it was to love my child when she was at her very worst and feel super proud that I did it anyway.
Help fulfill her healthy needs for autonomy, competence, and participation by asking for her assistance with the baby (and anything else) whenever possible.

Highlights for The First 90 Days

To transition effectively, first identify the risks you face as you move into your new role using the Transition Risk Assessment.
No matter where you land, the keys to effective delegation remain much the same: you build a team of competent people whom you trust, you establish goals and metrics to monitor their progress, you translate higher-level goals into specific responsibilities for your direct reports, and you reinforce them through process.
They attribute the high failure rate of outside hires to several barriers, notably the following: Leaders from outside the company are not familiar with informal networks of information and communication. Outside hires are not familiar with the corporate culture and therefore have greater difficulty navigating. New people are unknown to the organization and therefore do not have the same credibility as someone who is promoted from within. A long tradition of hiring from within makes it difficult for some organizations to accept outsiders.
Transitioning leaders should use this checklist to help them figure out how things really work in the organizations they’re joining. Influence. How do people get support for critical initiatives? Is it more important to have the support of a patron within the senior team, or affirmation from your peers and direct reports that your idea is a good one? Meetings. Are meetings filled with dialogue on hard issues, or are they simply forums for publicly ratifying agreements that have been reached in private? Execution. When it comes time to get things done, which matters more—a deep understanding of processes or knowing the right people? Conflict. Can people talk openly about difficult issues without fear of retribution? Or do they avoid conflict—or, even worse, push it to lower levels, where it can wreak havoc? Recognition. Does the company promote stars, rewarding those who visibly and vocally drive business initiatives? Or does it encourage team players, rewarding those who lead authoritatively but quietly and collaboratively? Ends versus means. Are there any restrictions on how you achieve results? Does the organization have a well-defined, well-communicated set of values that is reinforced through positive and negative incentives?
Table 1-2 is a simple tool for assessing your preferences for different kinds of business problems. Fill in each cell by assessing your intrinsic interest in solving problems in the domain in question.
Like many new leaders, he failed to focus on learning about his new organization and so made some bad decisions that undercut his credibility.
Ask them essentially the same five questions: What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing (or will face in the near future)? Why is the organization facing (or going to face) these challenges? What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth? What would need to happen for the organization to exploit the potential of these opportunities? If you were me, what would you focus attention on?
Specifically, you must establish priorities, define strategic intent, identify where you can secure early wins, build the right leadership team, and create supporting alliances.
The performance of people put in charge of start-ups and turnarounds is easiest to evaluate, because you can focus on measurable outcomes relative to a clear prior baseline. Evaluating success and failure in realignment and sustaining-success situations is much more problematic.
Negotiating success means proactively engaging with your new boss to shape the game so that you have a fighting chance of achieving desired goals. Many new leaders just play the game, reactively taking their situation as given—and failing as a result. The alternative is to shape the game by negotiating with your boss to establish realistic expectations, reach consensus, and secure sufficient resources.
You might simply say that you expect to notice differences in how the two of you approach certain issues or decisions but that you’re committed to achieving the results to which you have both agreed.
By the end of the first few months, you want your boss, your peers, and your subordinates to feel that something new, something good, is happening.
keep in mind that your early wins must do double duty: they must help you build momentum in the short term and lay a foundation for achieving your longer-term business goals.
You cannot hope to achieve results in more than a couple of areas during your transition. Thus, it’s essential to identify the most promising opportunities and then focus relentlessly on translating them into wins.
Addressing problems that your boss cares about will go a long way toward building credibility and cementing your access to resources.
Close personal relationships are rarely compatible with effective supervisory ones.
Effective leaders get people to make realistic commitments and then hold them responsible for achieving results. But if you’re never satisfied, you’ll sap people’s motivation. Know when to celebrate success and when to push for more.
Accessible but not too familiar.
Early in your transition, you want to project decisiveness but defer some decisions until you know enough to make the right calls.
Effective new leaders establish authority by zeroing in on issues but consulting others and encouraging input. They also know when to give people the flexibility to achieve results in their own ways.
It’s never a bad thing to be seen as genuinely committed to understanding your new organization.
Simply blowing up the existing culture and starting over is rarely the right answer. People—and organizations—have limits on the change they can absorb all at once. And organizational cultures invariably have virtues as well as faults; they provide predictability and can be sources of pride. If you send the message that there is nothing good about the existing organization and its culture, you will rob people of a key source of stability in times of change. You also will deprive yourself of a potential wellspring of energy you could tap to improve performance.
Strive, where possible, for clear lines of accountability. Simplify the structure to the greatest degree possible without compromising core goals.
The most important decisions you make in your first 90 days will probably be about people. If you succeed in creating a high-performance team, you can exert tremendous leverage in value creation. If not, you will face severe difficulties, for no leader can hope to achieve much alone.
Who defers to whom when certain topics are being discussed? When an issue is raised, where do people’s eyes track?
You will also begin to recognize the power coalitions: groups of people who explicitly or implicitly cooperate over the long term to pursue certain goals or protect certain privileges.
Over time, the patterns of influence will become clearer, and you’ll be able to identify those vital individuals—the opinion leaders—who exert disproportionate influence because of their informal authority, expertise, or sheer force of personality.
The work you’ve done to map influence networks in your organization can also help you pinpoint potential supporters, opponents, and persuadables.
Keep in mind, too, that success in winning over adversaries can have a powerful, symbolic impact. “The enemy who is converted to the ally” is a powerful story that will resonate with others in the organization. (Another example is the story of redemption—for example, helping a person who has been marginalized or labeled as ineffective prove himself.)
People are motivated by various things, such as a need for recognition, for control, for power, for affiliation through relationships with colleagues, and for personal growth.
The power of active listening as a persuasive technique is vastly underrated. It can not only promote acceptance of difficult decisions but also channel people’s thinking and frame choices.
The art of effective communication is to repeat and elaborate core themes without sounding like a parrot.
People asked to engage in behavior inconsistent with their values or beliefs experience internal psychological dissonance.
Decision-making processes are like rivers: big decisions draw on preliminary tributary processes that define the problem, identify alternatives, and establish criteria for evaluating costs and benefits. By the time the problem and the options have been defined, the actual choice may be a foregone conclusion.
You do this by setting up action-forcing events—events that induce people to make commitments or take actions. Meetings, review sessions, teleconferences, and deadlines can all help create and sustain momentum: regular meetings to review progress, and tough questioning of those who fail to reach agreed-to goals, increase the psychological pressure to follow through.

Highlights for How Democracy Ends

When democracy ends, we are likely to be surprised by the form it takes. We may not even notice that it is happening because we are looking in the wrong places.
All can continue to function as they ought while failing to deliver what they should.
The future will be different from the past. The past is longer than we think. America is not the whole world.
The resemblance to a scene in a Batman movie – the Joker addressing the cowed citizens of Gotham – was so strong it seemed like a cliché.
No matter how much firepower the supporters of the aggrieved loser might have at their disposal, the state always has more. If it doesn’t, it is no longer a functioning state. The ‘people with guns’ in the minimal definition of democracy refers to the politicians who control the armed forces. Democracy fails when elected officials who have the authority to tell the generals what to do refuse to give it up. Or when the generals refuse to listen.
Whichever way you slice and dice the different types of coup, there is one fundamental distinction between them: some coups need to make clear that democracy is over in order to succeed; and some coups need to pretend that democracy is still intact.
The more democracy is taken for granted, the more chance there is to subvert it without having to overthrow it.
In any democracy there will be winners and losers. In the words of two American political scientists, Joe Parent and Joe Uscinski, ‘conspiracy theories are for loser
A calamity that wipes out the property and lives of the rich as effectively as those of the poor will make for a more equal society. It will also be hell on earth.
Minor progress is possible. Big progress is elusive, and always liable to be derailed by the backlash small progress provokes. We may be stuck.
Democracies have two big advantages in dealing with environmental dangers. One is the effective power of pressure groups, which can raise inconvenient truths. The second is market economies, which can experiment with alternative solutions.
If no one is trying to strike a deal, no one has anything to lose by digging in. Democratic politics is always damaged by the attempt to get round it.
In the rarefied atmosphere of existential risk, politics barely gets discussed at all. Instead, putative solutions focus on technical fixes – like building off switches that can’t be tampered with. Meaningful choices for human beings get reduced to the decisions of the few people who understand how the technology works – they are the ones who need to do the right thing. Only those with the capacity to build these machines have the capacity to stop them. Everyone else is a bystander.
Democracy cannot control existential risk. The most it can hope for is to be spared by it. This is how democracy gets treated by the existential risk-management industry: with kid gloves, like some precious object of historic value that might yet turn out to have an incidental use. No one wants to dismiss democracy out of hand. It would be terrible to see it disappear, just as it would be terrible to imagine the Louvre going up in a puff of smoke. So it gets brought along for the existential ride.
Seen from the perspective of game theory, democratic decision-making is often idiotic. But it can be a useful idiot.
The lesson of the Cold War and beyond is that democracy can co-exist with existential risk, but not on terms that make sense to either side. Thinking about the end of the world is too much for democracy to cope with, but not enough to kill it off. Democracy persists, unhappily joined to a partner it cannot really tolerate.
Sleepwalking and tightrope walking are both features of contemporary democracy. It is what gives our politics its peculiar double quality of attentiveness and carelessness.
Because this is politics, both parties were driven by contingencies they struggled to control. There was no real conspiracy on either side. Yet politicians who appear to be in a trance-like state provide the fuel for conspiracy theories. The creature is asleep but it moves purposefully. Someone must be pulling the strings.
Contemporary democracy is haunted by a sense of what it has lost. Some of the loss is the capacity for genuine self-expression. We do not walk the tightrope. It is done for us, by functionaries who are motivated by their anxious desire not to fall. The noise of the crowd is not an integral part of the performance. It is another hazard to be faced in the attempt to keep upright and moving forwards. No one reaches the other side and then turns to come back just for the hell of it. The purpose of the performance is simply to keep aloft.
Just as democracy will end at some point, so too will intelligent machines arrive eventually, and perhaps even suddenly. But we are not there yet.
Waiting for the AI revolution that never comes can be a giant displacement activity. While we are worrying about the dawn of intelligent machines, unintelligent machines are already doing much of the work. Computers may not have learned how to think for themselves. But we have learned how to let them think for us. A machine does not have to be intelligent to perform tasks that traditionally fall within the ambit of human intelligence. All it takes is for the humans to franchise the work out to the machine, having first told the machine what to do.
The danger of unintelligent machines is that, as they grow in power and usefulness, they lure intelligent human beings into relying on them for too much.
The same could hold for politics. The machine solves the problem; the politician helps us to understand what the solution means. Democracy might get better.
Technology by itself does not determine our future. But it will if we let it.
Corporations spew out further corporations – shells within shells – simply to make it hard for ordinary human beings to understand what they are up to. One of the nightmare scenarios for our robot future is what would happen if the robots could self-replicate. We already have some idea of what that would be like – it’s the corporate world.
But it is not impossible. It takes political will. The complex machinery of the modern state often obscures the presence of political will. We can’t seem to find the ghost in the machine when we need it. None the less, it is in there somewhere.
Look again at Hobbes’s picture of the state. Suitably updated, it could be a picture of Facebook. Just put Zuckerberg’s head at the top. He is no emperor. He is the sovereign of a vast corporate machine, whose component parts are made from the input of huge numbers of individual human beings. These people provide Facebook with its power, but they share very little of that power themselves. What they get in return is the freedom to do their own thing. That was the promise of Hobbes’s state, too. Hobbes didn’t offer the citizens control over the monster they had created. What he offered them instead was control over their own lives in exchange for giving life to an artificial creature that could underpin their shared existence. He traded them personal freedom for political control.
The state provides us with services. Facebook helps us curate our lives. The state can make us feel secure. Facebook can make us feel loved.
The long history of modern representative democracy has been a largely successful attempt to tame these wilder impulses. We don’t lynch any more. We don’t tar and feather. We don’t ostracise. Except on Twitter.
Twitter is sometimes described as being like the Wild West. But really it is the closest thing we have to the democracy of the ancient world: fickle, violent, empowering.
We all want trustworthy politicians. Knowing what politicians are up to at all times might look like a way for us to trust them completely. But that is not trust. It is oversight, which is the opposite of trust. Once we know everything that is going on, trust becomes meaningless. We have no need to trust people who can never betray us: they might as well be machines. The precondition for trust is the possibility that we will be disappointed. To rule out disappointment is to give up on trusting anyone. It is self-defeating.
Representative democracy has always been a watching game. We watch them, to make sure they don’t take advantage of the power we have given them. They watch us, to make sure we don’t take advantage of the freedom they have given us.
Who watches the watchers is the question to which representative democracy has no good answer once watching becomes too much like hard work.
Again, it is a question of incentives, time and human resources. Even corrupt and inefficient states tend to have more of each of these than their opponents, who are limited by their need to improvise. To this point the internet has not proved to be an autocracy-busting machine. It has turned into another useful tool of power.
There is every reason to believe Zuckerberg when he says that he wants to make the manipulation stop. He didn’t intend for it to happen. That’s the problem: no one did. It is just a side effect of being in the advertising business.
Politicians are not like doctors or other professionals. We do not simply look to them for guidance and help. We look for them to reflect who we are. Superior forms of knowledge get in the way of that.
The most radical critics of contemporary democracy offer solutions that sound more like symptoms of what has gone wrong than any possible cure. Both Land and Yarvin are conspiracy theorists on a gargantuan scale. Their contempt for everything they dislike outweighs their capacity to describe anything plausible that might replace it. The political world they conjure up is a caricature, populated with incredible heroes and villains, which makes it impossible to believe in. This is true of many people who have given up on democracy. Their loathing for it leaves them unable to think about how it might turn into something else. They just want to get to the next stage as quickly as possible.
Widespread contemporary disgust with democratic politics is unmatched by any agreement about what would be better. Most of the alternatives sound a lot worse.
There is little difference between thinking that there is no alternative and believing that the only alternatives are the outrageous ones.
Contemporary authoritarians have tried to learn the lessons of the twentieth century like everyone else. They offer the other half of what democracy can provide, but not the whole. In place of personal dignity plus collective benefits, they promise personal benefits plus collective dignity.
Maybe it is not a trade-off. Maybe it is a straightforward choice. If we insist that every voice counts, then we shouldn’t be surprised that politics turns into a cacophonous mess. If we want the best results, perhaps we should limit political input to the people who know best how to achieve them.
Even highly qualified economists often haven’t a clue what’s best to do. What they know is how to operate a complex system they have been instrumental in building, so long as it behaves the way it is meant to.
For now, technology is fraying us more than it is liberating us.
Contemporary democracy is no exception. Macro events and micro experiences squeeze out the room for reasonable compromise. When people look for the institutions that might facilitate such compromise, they find that they have been hollowed out by the pull of political fears and frustrations that are either too big or too small to fit them.

Highlights for Surveillance Valley

The people gathered at city hall that night saw Oakland’s DAC as an extension of the tech-fueled gentrification that was pushing poorer longtime residents out of the city.
the Internet was developed as a weapon and remains a weapon today. American military interests continue to dominate all parts of the network, even those that supposedly stand in opposition.
An even more disturbing dimension of the AIR’s pacification work in Thailand was that it was supposed to serve as a model for counterinsurgency operations elsewhere in the world—including against black people living in American inner cities, where race riots were breaking out at the time.
He began to see that in a society mediated by computer and information systems those who controlled the infrastructure wielded ultimate power.
Where Wiener saw danger, Lick saw opportunity. He had no qualms about putting this technology in the service of US corporate and military power.
Indeed, intelligence agencies were among the first users of the tools ARPA’s command and control program produced just a few years later.
Like many upper-class Americans of his day, North worried that the massive influx of immigrants from Europe was destroying the fabric of American society, causing social and political unrest, and threatening the nation’s racial purity.47 This fear of immigration would become intertwined with anticommunist hysteria, leading to repression of workers and labor unions across the country. North saw statisticians like himself as technocratic soldiers: America’s last line of defense against a foreign corrupting influence. And he saw the tabulator machine as their most powerful weapon.
Deemphasizing ARPA’s military purpose had the benefit of boosting morale among computer scientists, who were more eager to work on the technology if they believed it wasn’t going to be used to bomb people.
Fliers posted on both campuses railed against “computerized people-manipulation” and “the blatant prostitution of social science for the aims of the war machine.”
Pool saw computers as more than just apparatuses that could speed up social research. His work was infused with a utopian belief in the power of cybernetic systems to manage societies. He was among a group of Cold War technocrats who envisioned computer technology and networked systems deployed in a way that directly intervened in people’s lives, creating a kind of safety net that spanned the world and helped run societies in a harmonious manner, managing strife and conflict out of existence.
The language of Licklider’s proposal—talk about propaganda and monitoring political movements—was so direct and so obvious that it could not be ignored. It confirmed students’ and activists’ fears about computers and computer networks and gave them a glimpse into how military planners wanted to use these technologies as tools for surveillance and social control.
Today, people still think that surveillance is something foreign to the Internet—something imposed on it from the outside by paranoid government agencies. Rowan’s reporting from forty years ago tells a different story. It shows how military and intelligence agencies used the network technology to spy on Americans in the first version of the Internet. Surveillance was baked in from the very beginning.
Indeed, the army referred to activists and protesters as if they were organized enemy combatants embedded with the indigenous population.
In the 1990s the country was ablaze with sweeping religious proclamations about the Internet. People talked of a great leveling—an unstoppable wildfire that would rip through the world, consuming bureaucracies, corrupt governments, coddled business elites, and stodgy ideologies, clearing the way for a new global society that was more prosperous and freer in every possible way.
Kevin Kelly, a bearded evangelical Christian and Wired editor, agreed with his boss: “No one can escape the transforming fire of machines. Technology, which once progressed at the periphery of culture, now engulfs our minds as well as our lives. As each realm is overtaken by complex techniques, the usual order is inverted, and new rules established. The mighty tumble, the once confident are left desperate for guidance, and the nimble are given a chance to prevail.”
Brand disagreed. In a long article he filed for Rolling Stone, he set out to convince the magazine’s young and trend-setting readership that ARPA was not some big bureaucratic bummer connected to America’s war machine but instead was part of an “astonishingly enlightened research program” that just happened to be run by the Pentagon.
Brand was deeply embedded in California’s counterculture and appeared as a major character in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Yet there he was, acting as a pitch man for ARPA, a military agency that had in its short existence already racked up a bloody reputation—from chemical warfare to counterinsurgency and surveillance. It didn’t seem to make any sense.
Brand took a different path. He belonged to the libertarian wing of the counterculture, which tended to look down on traditional political activism and viewed all politics with skepticism and scorn.
Neuromancer coined the term cyberspace. It also launched the cyberpunk movement, which responded to Gibson’s political critique in a cardinally different manner: it cheered the coming of this cyber dystopia.
Leverage is a good word for Kelly’s sudden religious inspiration. His faith in God matched his faith in the power of technological progress, which he saw as a part of God’s divine plan for the world. Over the years, he developed the belief that the growth of the Internet, the gadgetization and computerization of everything around us, the ultimate melding of flesh and computers, and the uploading of human beings into a virtual computer world were all part of a process that would merge people with God and allow us to become gods as well, creating and ruling over our own digital and robotic worlds just like our maker.
At Wired, Kelly injected this theology into every part of the magazine, infusing the text with an unquestioning belief in the ultimate goodness and rightness of markets and decentralized computer technology, no matter how it was used.
It seemed more a networking hub and marketing vehicle for the industry, a booster intended to create a brand around the cult of technology and the people who made and sold it, and then repackage it for the mainstream culture. It was continuing a tradition that Stewart Brand had started, overlaying an increasingly powerful computer industry with images of the counterculture to give it a hip and grassroots revolutionary edge.
Wired’s impact was not just cultural but also political. The magazine’s embrace of a privatized digital world made it a natural ally of the powerful business interests pushing to deregulate and privatize American telecommunications infrastructure.
John Malone, the billionaire cable monopolist at the head of TCI and one of the largest landowners in the United States, made the cut as well. Wired put him on the cover as a punk counterculture rebel for his fight against the Federal Communications Commission, which was putting the brakes on his cable company’s multi-billion-dollar merger with Bell Atlantic, a telephone giant. He is pictured walking down an empty rural highway with a dog by his side, wearing a tattered leather jacket and holding a shotgun. The reference is clear: he was Mel Gibson of Road Warrior, fighting to protect his town from being overrun by a savage band of misfits, which, to extend the metaphor, was the FCC regulators. The reason this billionaire was so cool? He had the guts to say that he’d shoot the head of the FCC if the man didn’t approve his merger fast enough.
That’s where Wired’s real cultural power lay: using cybernetic ideals of the counterculture to sell corporate politics as a revolutionary act.
Brand saw computers as a path toward a utopian world order where the individual wielded the ultimate power. Everything that came before—militaries, governments, big oppressive corporations—would melt away and an egalitarian system would spontaneously emerge.
People treated the search box as an impartial oracle that accepted questions, spat out answers, and moved on. Few realized it recorded everything typed into it,
The book demonstrates that Page and Brin understood early on that Google’s success depended on grabbing and maintaining proprietary control over the behavioral data they captured through their services. This was the company’s biggest asset.
One thing was certain in the wake of the AOL release: search logs provided an unadulterated look into the details of people’s inner lives, with all the strangeness, embarrassing quirks, and personal anguish those details divulged. And Google owned it all.
Taken together, these technical documents revealed that the company was developing a platform that attempted to track and profile everyone who came in touch with a Google product. It was, in essence, an elaborate system of private surveillance.
The language in the patent filings—descriptions of using “psychographic information,” “personality characteristics,” and “education levels” to profile and predict people’s interests—bore eerie resemblance to the early data-driven counterinsurgency initiatives funded by ARPA in the 1960s and 1970s.
There was only one difference: instead of preventing political insurgencies, Google wanted the data to sell people products and services with targeted ads. One was military, the other commercial. But at their core, both systems were dedicated to profiling and prediction. The type of data plugged into them was irrelevant.
The truth is that the Internet came out of a Pentagon project to develop modern communication and information systems that would allow the United States to get the drop on its enemies, both at home and abroad.
All these CIA-backed companies paid Facebook, Google, and Twitter for special access to social media data—adding another lucrative revenue stream to Silicon Valley.
From their inception, Internet companies banked heavily on the utopian promise of a networked world. Even as they pursued contracts with the military and their founders joined the ranks of the richest people on the planet, they wanted the world to see them not just as the same old plutocrats out to maximize shareholder value and their own power but also as progressive agents leading the way into a bright techno-utopia.
Snowden’s views on private surveillance were simplistic, but they seemed to be in line with his politics. He was a libertarian and believed the utopian promise of computer networks. He believed that the Internet was an inherently liberating technology that, if left alone, would evolve into a force of good in the world. The problem wasn’t Silicon Valley; it was government power.
The cypherpunk vision of the future was an inverted version of the military’s cybernetic dream pursued by the Pentagon and Silicon Valley: instead of leveraging global computer systems to make the world transparent and predictable, cypherpunks wanted to use computers and cryptography to make the world opaque and untrackable. It was a counterforce, a cybernetic weapon of individual privacy and freedom against a cybernetic weapon of government surveillance and control.
I was puzzled, but at least I understood why Tor had backing from Silicon Valley: it offered a false sense of privacy, while not posing a threat to the industry’s underlying surveillance business model.
While couched in lofty language about fighting censorship, promoting democracy, and safeguarding “freedom of expression,” these policies were rooted in big power politics: the fight to open markets to American companies and expand America’s dominance in the age of the Internet.51 Internet Freedom was enthusiastically backed by American businesses, especially budding Internet giants like Yahoo!, Amazon, eBay, Google, and later Facebook and Twitter. They saw foreign control of the Internet, first in China but also in Iran and later Vietnam, Russia, and Myanmar, as an illegitimate check on their ability to expand into new global markets, and ultimately as a threat to their businesses.
China saw Internet Freedom as a threat, an illegitimate attempt to undermine the country’s sovereignty through “network warfare,” and began building a sophisticated system of Internet censorship and control, which grew into the infamous Great Firewall of China.
The correspondence left little room for doubt. The Tor Project was not a radical indie organization fighting The Man. For all intents and purposes, it was The Man. Or, at least, The Man’s right hand.
Despite Tor’s public insistence it would never put in any backdoors that gave the US government secret privileged access to Tor’s network, the correspondence shows that in at least one instance in 2007, Tor revealed a security vulnerability to its federal backer before alerting the public, potentially giving the government an opportunity to exploit the weakness to unmask Tor users before it was fixed.
From a higher vantage point, the Tor Project was a wild success. It had matured into a powerful foreign policy tool—a soft-power cyber weapon with multiple uses and benefits. It hid spies and military agents on the Internet, enabling them to carry out their missions without leaving a trace. It was used by the US government as a persuasive regime-change weapon, a digital crowbar that prevented countries from exercising sovereign control over their own Internet infrastructure. Counterintuitively, Tor also emerged as a focal point for antigovernment privacy activists and organizations, a huge cultural success that made Tor that much more effective for its government backers by drawing fans and helping shield the project from scrutiny.
Most people involved in privacy activism do not know about the US government’s ongoing efforts to weaponize the privacy movement, nor do they appreciate Silicon Valley’s motives in this fight. Without that knowledge, it is impossible to makes sense of it all.
In 2015, when I first read these statements from the Tor Project, I was shocked. This was nothing less than a veiled admission that Tor was useless at guaranteeing anonymity and that it required attackers to behave “ethically” in order for it to remain secure.
The old cypherpunk dream, the idea that regular people could use grassroots encryption tools to carve out cyber islands free of government control, was proving to be just that, a dream.
Silicon Valley fears a political solution to privacy. Internet Freedom and crypto offer an acceptable alternative. Tools like Signal and Tor provide a false solution to the privacy problem, focusing people’s attention on government surveillance and distracting them from the private spying carried out by the Internet companies they use every day. All the while, crypto tools give people a sense that they’re doing something to protect themselves, a feeling of personal empowerment and control. And all those crypto radicals? Well, they just enhance the illusion, heightening the impression of risk and danger. With Signal or Tor installed, using an iPhone or Android suddenly becomes edgy and radical. So instead of pushing for political and democratic solutions to surveillance, we outsource our privacy politics to crypto apps—software made by the very same powerful entities that these apps are supposed to protect us from.
So instead of pushing for political and democratic solutions to surveillance, we outsource our privacy politics to crypto apps—software made by the very same powerful entities that these apps are supposed to protect us from.
The IBM machines themselves did not kill people, but they made the Nazi death machine run faster and more efficiently, scouring the population and tracking down victims in ways that would never have been possible without them.
But not all control is equal. Not all surveillance is bad. Without them, there can be no democratic oversight of society.
By pretending that the Internet transcends politics and culture, we leave the most malevolent and powerful forces in charge of its built-in potential for surveillance and control. The more we understand and democratize the Internet, the more we can deploy its power in the service of democratic and humanistic values, making it work for the many, not the few.

Highlights for The Idiot

Were Germans supposed to be particularly ordered and machinelike? Was it possible that Germans really were ordered and machinelike?
There was no way to go through life, in Turkish or any other language, making only factual statements about direct observations. You were forced to use -miş, just by the human condition—just by existing in relation to other people.
I liked Spanish—I liked how the donkey had a place in the national literature
How would I get anywhere in life? How could anyone ever be interested in me?
But I couldn’t stop thinking about á and à—about Europe, where even the alphabet emitted exuberant sparks—about Ivan’s mother’s Mazda, and how you were always sad when you left Rome.
“You really like this boy,” she said, sounding so sad and affectionate that tears came to my eyes.
“I feel like a kid.” “Like a little girl, huh? It must be really terrible for you.” “I learned Turkish when I was three, so I don’t know enough words. I can’t talk about anything,” I said.
“Of course he will. Womanizers always call back. That’s their best quality.”
“Stuff like that can really bring out the sadist in you,” he said. “I’m standing there thinking of all the different ways I’ll rip out this guy’s guts.”
And still no waking moment went by that I didn’t think of him—he was in the background of everything I thought. My own perceptions were no longer enough to constitute the physical world for me. Every sound, every syllable that reached me, I wanted to filter through his consciousness. At a word from him I would have followed him anywhere, right off the so-called Prudential Center.
“In Turkey? You wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown. You’d give them a nervous breakdown.” I forgave him for a lot when he said that. I forgave him for almost everything.
A less beautiful girl wouldn’t have said that, I thought. Beautiful people lived in a different world, had different relations with people. From the beginning they were raised for love.

Highlights for The Hall of Uselessness

One has the feeling that these critics do not really like literature—they do not enjoy reading. Worse even, if they were actually to enjoy a book, they would suspect it to be frivolous. In their eyes, something that is amusing cannot be important or serious.
Though, as a wise doctor once remarked, between two doctors whose medical qualifications are otherwise equal, we should trust the one who reads Chekhov.
The closer a book comes to being a genuine work of art, a true creation with a life of its own, the less likely it is that the author had full control over and a clear understanding of what he wrote.
what led them to their mysticism was simply the perception of “an intolerable disparity between the hugeness of their desire and the smallness of reality.”
Still, the notion that it is generally unwise to make pronouncements in areas that lie outside one’s expertise remains a sound principle. I only wish that Mr. Hitchens himself would abide by it.
This weird belief that a dead man called Jesus is still alive should command all the deeds and all the thoughts of a Christian.
“But if someone does not do it, how will good be done?” questioned the old gentleman in a voice full of perplexity. “Live so,” replied the Master in a voice suddenly stern, “live so that by the sanctity of thy life all good will be performed involuntarily.”
I was writing in a café; I had been sitting there for a couple of hours already, comfortably settled at a table with my books and papers. Like many lazy people, I enjoy a measure of hustle and bustle around me while I am supposed to work—it gives me an illusion of activity—and thus the surrounding din of conversations and calls did not disturb me in the least.
true Philistines are not people who are incapable of recognising beauty; they recognise it all too well; they detect its presence anywhere, immediately, and with a flair as infallible as that of the most sensitive aesthete—but for them, it is in order to be able better to pounce upon it at once and to destroy it before it can gain a foothold in their universal empire of ugliness.
And Claudel commented: “This mental process is identical to that of poetical writing . . . The impelling motion is the same. Which shows that the primary source of scientific thought is not reasoning, but the precise verification of an association originally supplied by the imagination.”
The fact is, these two arts—history writing and fiction writing—originating both in poetry, involve similar activities and mobilise the same faculties: memory and imagination; and this is why it could rightly be said that the novelist is the historian of the present and the historian the novelist of the past. Both must invent the truth.
He clearly felt that, together with the rest of the country, he was being progressively sucked into a poisonous swamp. To ensure a reasonably smooth and trouble-free existence, small compromises were constantly required—nothing difficult nor particularly dramatic; everyone else, to a various extent, was similarly involved. Yet the sum total of these fairly banal, daily surrenders eroded the integrity of each individual.
His short (unfinished), clear-sighted and sober memoir raises one terrifying question: all that Haffner knew at the time, many millions of people around him knew equally well. Why was there only one Haffner?
However, beware! Whenever people wonder “What is the truth?” usually it is because the truth is just under their noses—but it would be very inconvenient to acknowledge it.
“I do not care for scholars unless they are scholars without wishing to be or without knowing it. There is nothing easier than becoming a scholar. To acquire learning, it suffices to lock oneself up in one’s house for six months. It is far better to have a good imagination than a good memory.”
The brutalities of boarding school can routinely maim sensitive children for life; occasionally they may also breed a genius.
“Genius,” Baudelaire said, “is childhood recalled at will.”
There is no escaping the radical difference between the capacity for conception and that for execution: imagination and action are often at opposite poles. That is why novelists usually do not become millionaires, whereas millionaires do not even read novels.
Half of the misery in this world is caused by people whose only talent is to worm their way into positions for which they otherwise have no competence.
At the remotest end of Europe, Tolstoy secured without delay a copy of the book and was overwhelmed. One may say without exaggeration that Les Misérables triggered War and Peace. Giants breed giants.
Nor must we overlook the essential: he benefited from what only the warm affection of a united family can supply, a happy childhood, which arms one to face life and, once adult, to eliminate the risk of losing time in some fatuous and vain quest for happiness.
For the gift of the poet (which is also the gift of the child) is the ability to connect with the real world, to look at things with rapt attention. Both the poet and the child are blessed with what Chesterton called “the mystical minimum”: the awareness that things are—full stop. “If a thing is nothing else, that is good; it is—and that is good.”
None of the activities that really matter can be pursued in a merely professional capacity;
Thus he made the point that the man must be, to a certain extent, a specialist—out of necessity, he finds himself confined in a narrow professional pursuit, since he must do one thing well enough to earn the daily bread—whereas the woman is the true universalist: she must do a hundred things for the safe-guarding and management of the home.
He realised it was a status he could easily have achieved, had he agreed to pay the usual price—which is to isolate and emphasise only one side of the truth. This is always an easy recipe for achieving popularity and for gathering crowds of disciples; but to secure this sort of demagogic success one must mutilate a complex reality.
Generally speaking, literary people are exceedingly self-centred and vain—on the whole they are not a very attractive breed—but Chesterton did not belong to that species.
Here, Gide seems to be unwittingly joining Claudel, who held that the key metaphor with which to interpret the diverse manifestations of German culture was the sausage.
Conclusion: if one had to go out to sea in a small boat, one would not choose Orwell for skipper. But when meeting with shipwreck, disaster or other catastrophe, one could not dream of better company.
For all his gluttony and drunkenness, his passionate attachment to all things of beauty, his selfishness, his impatience, his unkindness and anger (a close friend once asked how he could reconcile his generally beastly behaviour and his Christianity; Waugh replied: “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid, I would hardly be a human being”), what he derived from his Catholicism was a fundamental ability not to take this world too seriously.
The latter exacted from him such an intense, nervous effort that sometimes, before starting to write, he would suffer fits of vomiting. Each time, he had to assume imaginatively the persona of his main protagonist—to become him—and then to see with the mind’s eye the world his pen was conjuring as it followed an inner dictation.
This phenomenon reached such an intensity that there were times when it scared Simenon, times when he felt drawn towards an uncertain border where his very sanity might founder.
Every life leaves behind an accumulation of broken odds and ends—bizarre and sometimes smelly. Rummaging there, one can always unearth enough evidence to establish that the deceased was both monstrous and mediocre. Such a combination is quite common—whoever doubts it needs only look at himself in a mirror.
In the eighteenth century, French was the common language of the leading minds of continental Europe; twentieth-century French intellectuals hardly noticed that times had changed in this respect; they retained the dangerous belief that whatever was not expressed in French could hardly matter.
Revel’s attempt at entering into active politics was short-lived, but the experience gave him an invaluable insight into the essential intellectual dishonesty that is unavoidably attached to partisan politicking.
Mitterrand was the purest type of political animal: he had no politics at all. He had a brilliant intelligence, but for him ideas were neither right nor wrong, they were only useful or useless in the pursuit of power. The object of power was not a possibility to enact certain policies; the object of all policies was simply to attain and retain power.
In other words, people who do not read fiction or poetry are in permanent danger of crashing against facts and being crushed by reality.
Confucius often said that if only a ruler could employ him, in one year he would achieve a lot, and in three years he would succeed. One day a disciple asked him, “If a king were to entrust you with a territory which you could govern according to your ideas, what would you do first?” Confucius replied, “My first task would certainly be to rectify the names.” On hearing this, the disciple was puzzled. “Rectify the names? And that would be your first priority? Is this a joke?” (Chesterton or Orwell, however, would have immediately understood and approved the idea.) Confucius had to explain: “If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object. If language is without an object, action becomes impossible—and therefore, all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless and impossible. Hence, the very first task of a true statesman is to rectify the names.”
Zhou Zuoren (1885–1968), summarised in one pithy sentence this living tradition of which he himself was a product: “All that can be spelled out is without importance.”
Aesthetic criteria are functional: does the work do what it does efficiently, does it nourish the vital energy of the artist, does it succeed in capturing the spirit that informs mountains and rivers, does it establish harmony between the metamorphoses of forms and the metamorphoses of the world?
Orientalism could obviously have been written by no one but a Palestinian scholar with a huge chip on his shoulder and a very dim understanding of the European academic tradition (here perceived through the distorted prism of a certain type of American university, with its brutish hyper-specialisation, non-humanistic approach, and close, unhealthy links with government).
He dispatched the affairs of the state with the supreme efficiency of an old Daoist ruler who knows that one should govern a large empire the way one cooks a little fish.
His unique skills made him forever indispensable, while simultaneously he cultivated a quality of utter elusiveness; no one could pin him down to a specific political line, nor could one associate him with any particular faction. He never expressed personal ideas or indulged in penning his own theoretical views. Where did he really stand? What did he actually believe? Apparently he had no other policies but those of the leader of the moment, and nourished no other ambitions but to serve him with total dedication. Yet the brilliance of his mind, the sharpness of his intelligence, the electrifying quality of his personal magnetism, eloquence and authority constantly belied the kind of bland selflessness that he so studiously displayed in the performance of his public duties; Zhou’s enigma lay in the paradox that, with all his exceptional talents, he should also present a sort of disconcerting and essential hollowness.
Twenty-three hundred years ago, Zhuang Zi, in giving advice to a king, made him observe that when a small boat drifts in the way of a huge barge, the crew of the barge will immediately shout abuse at the stray craft; however, coming closer, if they discover that the little boat is empty, they will simply shut up and quietly steer clear of it. He concluded that a ruler who has to sail the turbulent waters of politics should first and foremost learn how to become an empty boat.
To reconcile such paradoxes, one must either learn the mental acrobatics of a very sophisticated game played by the enlightened vanguard and called “dialectics,” or, more vulgarly, face the fact that rather than being the prophet-philosopher as described by his worshippers, Mao was essentially always and foremost a practical politician for whom what mattered above everything was power—how to obtain it, how to retain it, how to regain it. In order to secure power, no sacrifice was ever too big—and least of all the sacrifice of principles. It is only in this light that it becomes possible to understand his alternations between compromise and ruthlessness, benevolence and ferocity, suppleness and brutality, and all his abrupt volte-faces: none of these were ever arbitrary.
Without an ability to decipher non-existent inscriptions written in invisible ink on blank pages, no one should ever dream of analysing the nature and reality of Chinese communism.
For Truth, by its very nature, is ugly, savage and cruel; it disturbs, it frightens, it hurts and it kills. If, in some extreme situations, it is to be used at all, it must be taken only in small doses, in strict isolation, and with the most rigorous prophylactic precautions. Whoever would be willing to spread it wildly, or to unload it in large quantities, just as it comes, is a dangerous and irresponsible person who should be restrained in the interest of his own safety, as well as for the protection of social harmony.
Kazimierz Brandys summed it up neatly (with the clear-sightedness that characterises so many Polish intellectuals, who on this subject have acquired a bitter expertise): “Contemporary history teaches us that all you need is one mentally sick individual, two ideologues and three hundred murderous thugs in order to take power and gag millions of people.”
Democracy is the only acceptable political system; yet it pertains to politics exclusively, and has no application in any other domain. When applied anywhere else, it is death—for truth is not democratic, intelligence and talent are not democratic, nor is beauty, nor love—nor God’s grace.
I am of course referring to the time before independence; for today, even if there should still be any enterprising Greek merchants around, I doubt very much that they would find passable tracks to reach these distant hamlets.
The most depressing thing is to watch these crowds of tourists, who paid a not inconsiderable amount to come here and secure for themselves eight days of happiness. In the motley uniforms of holiday convicts, they patrol lugubriously this huge Luna Park while trying hard to persuade themselves that they are getting their money’s worth of fun.
Literary scholars are particularly adept at cultivating this sort of nonsense: they seem permanently drunk on the psychedelic milk they keep sucking from the twin mammelles of Freud and Marx.