Posted in book review

Aristotle’s Way by Edith Hall

Tolstoy in Anna Kararina knows a thing about the Aristotelian school of subjective happiness thus: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its way.” Happiness is an antidote to depression out of hopelessness and envies out of disappointment in a purely subjective sense. It requires only self-will to choose the light and to follow it by constantly taming your brittle spirit via lifelong habit until you find a sense of why you are here in this world. If you doubt it as a cliche, then meet Aristotle, the student of Plato, who was the student of Socrates, and the private tutor of Alexander. 

Along with his great predecessor Socrates, Aristotle was a thinker who billeted Philosophy from the heavens at the houses of mortals so that she could show them how to cope with the harsh realities of the world that discombobulated a sense of purpose in life. Aristotle’s main concern was that people weighed heavily on the outward material success as a sign of well-being and a carte blanche to happiness, which would lead people astray with a sense of emptiness inside. For example, we can’t know if all those glossy selfies on Facebook and Instagram reflect the real lives of those uploading them. Or the lives of Hollywood stars who predicate on images and styles are not, in fact, worth admiration, as revealed in the recent defamation trial of Depp v. Heard, in which Depp’s braggadocio of recalcitrant drug and alcohol uses combined with alarmingly repulsive backstage personality, is simply disgraceful. On the contrary, the Uber drivers I have come across appear to be more satisfied with their lives, content with their independent work mode, and love of families. This Aristotle refers to a state of eudaimonia, a feeling of bliss, however small it is, because it comes from a higher sense of pleasantness from within. 

Of course, Aristotle’s way is not instant magic and may not show visible effects in one fell swoop, but it is a long-term remedy like a physical therapy that will show improvement. Aristotle’s way is not fanciful but practical with two recipes for the malady of hearts: (1) to keep everything in moderation, called the “Golden Mean”; and (2) training yourself continuously and actively to do the right thing like a habit. Aristotle reminds us that excellence is not an act but a habit. This happiness school parallels Emerson’s dictum that thinking is the function, and action is the functionary. So this is Aristotle’s simple but sophisticated stairways to your happiness, and I think it’s worth trying. No wonder his student Alexander became great. 

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Believe it or not

The morbidity of cannibalism is often associated with the primitive obscure tribes living on a faraway island or in the deepest heart of the darkest jungle over the other side of our comparatively Atlantis-like world. To put it more blatantly trenchant, it was a practice of uncivilized non-European races reported by European explorers of the age of voyage until the mid-twentieth century. As it is always dark under the lamp, the idea of eating human flash ipso facto overrides the fact of consuming it in one way or another yet purposefully. The evidence is the existence of mummia in recent Europe.

Mummia was human flesh or excretions mostly imported from the Middle East as medicinal palliatives in apothecaries’ shops, a prototype of a modern-day drugstore. It was made of desiccated human corpse matter from mummified bodies and ingested for its supposed healing powers in the same sense that the ancient Egyptians and Romans crushed up mice to put on cavities to cure toothaches. Farther to the east, people believed that the leg of a fresh corpse was to be a panacea to any incurable disease during the Chosen Dynasty in Korea. For mummia in the 16th and 17th Europe, it was recently deceased bodies of executed criminals, a youth of violent death, or unfortunate socially disfranchised. The former two kinds are the flash of passion that rushed thru the veins to the brain, resulting from a sudden frenzy of instantaneously leashed sensations. Such corpses were believed to possess magical feeling power akin to aphrodisiac or love potion, aka pharmaka, enveloped in an Egon spell with the aid of a demon. Mummia of the corpse was famous for abscesses, carbuncles, menstrual problems, and pestilence, all of which are directly or indirectly connected to blood circulation-related illness.

Believe it or not, the presence of mummia was conspicuous in British pharmaceutical catalogs until 1908. I think some people might have bought it without the information about the source. But even if they knew about it, if the poor people could not afford to see the doctors cure their painful illness, the abomination of a corpse would yield to the need. The intuitive preference of judgment by resemblance applies to the folk religion, especially in the form of magic or witchcraft to which ordinary villagers often had recourse in need of an instant response to their wishes without rigidity and arrogance of the church putting dogmas before hearts. So, I like to believe that the use of mummia was on the same continuum. After all, it was different from Druids, Mayans, and Aztecs, who killed humans in the most defiantly brutal ways as sacrifices to their devil gods.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Emperor Titters

The news that Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space X, has recently become the largest shareholder of Twitter Inc. is grist to the mill of the media with hoots and huhs. Musk has ascended to the throne and begun to wield his power to shake the Twitter Empire from inside and out. He expressed a design of converting the Twitter HQ into a homeless shelter while contemplating changing the name Twitter to Titter, egged on by a popular vote of consent he instigated a while ago on the portal. So the question is, has Musk already gone mad in the fury of retaliation against the Twitter Senate? Or is it out of his pure, unscrupulous intention drenched in the wine of humanity?

My perception of Elon Musk may be an illustration of heuristics and biases to form a systematic judgment of error and make a decision based on resemblance shaped by intuitive preference. But such a design of machinery of cognition is also complemented by System 2 of slow thinking requiring analytical reasoning. Were it not for Tesla’s lawsuits brought by racism in the work environment and Musk’s nonchalant attitudes toward them adorned with his flamboyant gestures, I would applaud him to the end of the earth riding on a Tesla flying on a Space X. Perhaps, such acrid regard of him is akin to accusing a socially estranged woman of being a witch without a preponderance of the evidence. But Musk is anything but a pitiful figure deserving our pity with his immense universal wealth, doing businesses on earth and heaven. Although, as the saying goes, “A tree is known by its fruits,” the racially-motivated lawsuits betoken the dispiriting work environment of Tesla tells something about Musk’s personality. I find it very hard to regard Musk’s declaration of converting the Twitter HQ into homeless housing. It seems an adrenaline-driven uppercut blow to the foe as sweet vindication with Tittering.

I read that Jeff Bezos, the executive chairman of Amazon and the owner of a private galactical tourist company, consented to Musk’s profound charitable remark. Nowadays, celebrities have all negative heuristics and biases against social media. Nevertheless, they feed on attention and thrive in it, so any such uttering of disaffection with the media is a sign of entrepreneurial solidarity. Not that I have the same sentiment toward Bezos, who is more intelligent and reticent than his slightly younger rival, but that they are astronomically rich and universally famous. It’s called class consciousness, by which the members of the same class share the same social statuses and cultures to guard themselves against those of another class. Musk’s sensational promise to give housing largess to the homeless and change the world’s famous media platform reminds me of Emperor Nero. Truth or false, he was said to play the cithara singing while Rome was burning and then distributed stipends to the homeless due to the great fire.

Posted in book review

‘The Maid’ by Nita Prose

The Maid by Nita Prose is a one-of-kind, touchy-feely novel without collapsed grand narratives and vehement subjective rhetorics about existential vertigoes in life that burdens the reader with a duty to interpret the philosophical, the intellectual meaning of a story, all fragmented and adrift. Instead, the story uses the real to perfect the ideal delightfully blended with a taste of Murder She Wrote with relatively ordinary characters doing the most extraordinary things like you never know.

The Maid is one lonely young Molly Gray. She is a Maid of Maids, taking her job religiously in a hotel that does not quite reciprocate her dedicated service but sees her as a quiet oddball because of her reclusive comportment. But Molly is a swan in a lake of ducklings and geese, a harpist among percussionists, whose feet constantly move beneath reality’s surface. Molly is anachronistically muliebral and incongruously proper. She belongs to a preceding era of decency, saying early Edwardian London as a chambermaid, a coveted position for working-class women. To judge Molly as a misfit is downright callous and heartless because she inwardly craves recognition from those she thinks of as sympathetic souls who use her as a pawn in their game of passion and avarice. The more we learn about Molly as the narrative deepens, the better we know of her as if we were contracted severe strains of Stockholm Syndrome. Hence, our better angels persuade us to forgive and forget the stupendousness of truth that Molly confides to us at the end of the story’s labyrinth.

This fictional Maid by Nita Prose and that real-life Maid by Stephanie Land are stories about working-class women struggling with the realities of life by themselves. The only difference is that the former has a blessing of luck in the form of sympathetic and resourceful supporters who rescue her from a dungeon of hopelessness. It is understanding because, as Charlotte Brontë expressed, one of the reasons she wrote was to be a kind creator for her stories’ heroines otherwise to whom no sweet soft touch of warmth and love would caress their weeping heads. However, Molly, the Maid is not all melancholic, a damsel in distress, a clueless loner succumbing to a subtle form of gaslighting because she is the one who laughs the last laugh with intelligence wrapped in a maid’s hide. Molly Gray the Maid may have a woman’s body but has the king’s stomach and heart in the most magnanimous way. Therefore, don’t mess with Molly – and the likes.

Posted in book review

‘American Made: What happens to people when work disappears’ by Farah Stockman

Howard Stern might not be everyone’s friend, but he’s got the point when he articulated in his radio show a decade ago that what was eating out this great nation was not racism but classicism. The recent unionization movements among service industry workers, such as Amazon and Starbucks, indicate that the demand for the dignity of workers supersedes ideological politics that discourage the growth of American esprit de corps. American Made is a story about this American class consciousness that will put together disintegrated tesserae of the collective national mosaic made by the people and events.

The author follows the three principal workers of the now-defunct Rexnord Factory in Indiana: Wally, a black man whose diligence and amiability promoted him to a coveted position in the factory; Shannon, a single white woman with an abusive partner taking pride herself in being a wielder, a male-dominated position, and John whose fortitude and conscience never left him during his long, turbulent unemployment days. Sex and race don’t matter when it comes to losing their jobs, let alone loving them because the importance of what they do for a living and the need for their livelihood are their commonalities that build a sense of camaraderie. In fact, class solidarity can never be achieved if class consciousness is transcendent of racial prejudice to be achieved first. Unfortunately, the antebellum wealthy southern plantation owners systematically destroyed the poor white laborers’ wage systems by replacing their workforce with the free labor of African slaves, thus planting the seeds of racial hatred in the hearts of the poor whites. The vicious cycle of devious racialized economic caste system has since firmly constituted the American economic system ethos under “Separated but Equal.” The author sees the absurdities of American society as a result of the disintegrated labor movements primarily due to racial prejudices, which is why worker’s solidarity is a way forward to achieve national unity.

Wally, Shannon, and John are not just working-class Americans. The author emphasizes differentiating her elite station characterized by expensive private higher education and intellectual “profession” from those with hardened coarse hands of workers in the factory. They are ordinary people, a majority of Americans making up this country, ubiquitous in the landscape of our daily life. They are expendable at the whims and caprice of profit-driven employers who see their employees as no more than living at-will automates. That is what happened to the Rexnord Factory, where workers’ lives were no less than collateral damage for a successful operational mission of the company.

At times, the author positions herself as a conscientious liberal intellectual, paralleling her fortunate environment with her unfortunate subjects. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard for being an NYT journalist. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in pointing out a lack of national cohesion resulting from the politicization of racial rhetorics into bipartisan ideology, which falls by the wayside of solidarity of labor movement overcoming institutionalized racial prejudices. Recently, I have read that the workers of Starbucks and Amazon in New York have voted to unionize. American Made is a story about them and us too because the dignity of work makes us who we are.