Sunday, June 28, 2015


I say to myself that we are finite beings whose ability to understand is limited. Lately I feel that I’ve reached my limit. 

Partly it’s due to the fact that my interests are limited. I’ve never been interested in the things that are important to most other people. The things that give their lives meaning are meaningless to me, so it’s been difficult for me to make my way in the world they’ve made without getting lost. 

Partly it’s my age. I can no longer think as clearly as I did when I was young. Recently I’ve been going through my papers, rereading things I wrote years ago, and I’m in awe of the mind that wrote them. I’ve lost my way over the years, and no one can help me find it because most other people are even more lost than I am. They just don’t know it.

I should be helping them. Or so I used to think. They seemed to think so, too. At least they asked for my help. But they never took it. 

They wanted me to tell them what to do. I don’t know what other people should do. I’m not sure what I should do. 

It’s not merely that I know nothing with the absolute certainty that other people claim to know whatever it is they claim to know. I don’t even know what works, which pragmatists claim is all we can know. I don’t know what works for me. 

Things haven’t worked out for me as I expected, and as others expected for me. But my failure seems to me typical, as does everything else that happens to me. 

Despite what others think of me, I am a typical member of my race, and it is the human race that has failed. Like me it began showing promise of doing great things, a promise it never fulfilled; and now its time, like mine, is almost up.

I tell myself there is no path that I was supposed to take; therefore I haven’t lost my way. There is a path I wanted to take, but it was difficult. I did what I could, but I couldn’t save those who were determined to destroy themselves. 

I’ve known many self-destructive people, but I never understood until now that most people are self-destructive. Or rather I didn’t want to know it. Now there’s no way I can avoid knowing it.

But this is not true. I did have a path in life, one I chose for myself. I wanted to save them, and they said they wanted me to save them. But I told them I could only help them to save themselves. That they would not or could not do.

Most people know what they should do. They don’t need someone else to show them the way. Common sense tells them what to do. But they cannot or will not do it. I don’t know why. This is the mystery, the thing I want to understand before I die.        

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I say to myself that all my life I’ve sought only to understand the world, but it’s not true.

Marx said philosophers have always sought only to understand the world, when the point is to change it. As a theorist of revolution who was never himself a revolutionary, he should have known that, for even the most contemplative, understanding is never an end in itself but only a means to an end. 

As soon as we become aware of the world, we are dissatisfied with it and want to change it for the better. But in order to do so, we must first understand why the world is as it is. 

How much do we need to know about the world in order to be sure we are changing it for the better, and not the worse? Those whom we used to call conservative said we can never know enough.

They said we are finite beings, with limited understanding; therefore we can never be sure our actions will have the results we intend. Indeed history shows that, even if they do have the results we intend, our actions usually have unintended results as well, whose evil may be as great or even greater than whatever good we accomplished. 

Because we can never be sure that our efforts to change the world for the better will not change it for the worse, those whom we used to call conservative said we should avoid change as much as possible. But they didn’t imagine they could prevent change altogether. Nor did they strive to reverse it, and return to some previous state, as do the reactionaries whom we now call, and call themselves, conservative. They knew that was impossible. Those whom we used to call conservative sought only to slow change to a manageable pace in order  to control it and minimize its harmful effects.

There are few if any conservatives today. As our power to act upon the world grew greater, so also did our attempts to change it for the better, until we found ourselves in a world of changes so revolutionary that those who tried to understand it were overwhelmed and either accepted change uncritically or opposed it uncritically. 

Most people no longer try to understand the world because they believe that, even if they did, they are powerless to change it. Those who do try to understand the world do so because they still believe they can change it for the better.

Those who seek to make the world better for everyone usually fail. Those who seek to make it better only for themselves, who use their knowledge of the world to enrich themselves at the expense of the ignorant, usually succeed because their goal is more modest. 

The philosopher often admires the man of action, as Marx admired the capitalist, however much he deplores his actions. He may so envy the warrior his victory that he makes the mistake of imitating him, using force to win his own ends, thus insuring that his actions will have unintended results. 

We never know enough to be sure that we are doing the right thing. Is it better to do nothing for fear of doing the wrong thing, or to act and hope for the best?     

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Socrates said all men seek to do good. If they do evil, it’s because they don’t know what is good.

This is absurd. People don’t need a Socrates to tell them what is good. Common sense tells them that. Yet they pretend to believe this, and seek teachers willing to embarrass themselves by presuming to tell people what they already know.

Most people don’t do what common sense tells them is good, because they think they have no choice but to do what they must. They try not to think about whether what they do is good or evil, and pretend that someone wiser than they must tell them.

Most people try not to think, but even the most self-centered know they're members of a community, and what's good for them may not be good for the other members of that community.

In the childhood of our race, we thought that community included other beings, some of whom were superior to us, while others were inferior. Our relationship to the superior beings resembled that of a child to its parent. If we prospered, it was because we pleased those superior beings. If we suffered, it was because we had angered them. And because we are rational animals, they held us responsible for the welfare of our inferiors, animals without reason, as parents hold their older children responsible for their younger siblings.

But as human society grew larger and more complex, we no longer thought of ourselves as members of a community, an extended family. We seemed more like cells of a body.

An individual could no more survive outside of his community, the body politic, than a cell could survive outside of its body. Society was too complex for any one person to understand, any more than a cell can understood the body to which it belongs. People suspected their welfare was of no more concern to the community to which they belonged than the individual cells of their own bodies were to them.

Then scientists told us that this world is not a body, alive as we are alive. It resembles a machine more than it does a living organism.

People concluded there is no community. Good and evil have no meaning except to the individual. Good is whatever is good for us, regardless of its consequences for others.

People who prosper usually do so at the expense of others. If and when they try to justify what appears to others, and perhaps to themselves, to be unjust, they claim it only appears unjust from the loser’s point of view. Their victory is actually good for everyone because long before Spencer people believed in the survival of the fittest. Everyone admired the victor, even the vanquished.

But now they know that, by enriching themselves at the expense of others, they've destroyed the world and themselves as well, like a parasite that dies with the host on which it feeds.  

They now know that what they’ve done is evil as they define evil – destructive not only to others, but to themselves as well - but rather than try to save themselves by doing what is good for everyone, they go on doing what they’ve been doing and try not to think about the consequences; or they think just enough to try justifying themselves. Man, as Swift said, is not an animal that reasons (animal rationale) but an animal capable of reasoning (animal rationis capax), and resorts to reason only when force fails.

People are right to think that good and evil do not exist except in relation to us. What kills us is not evil in an absolute sense, not even if it kills the world as well, because the world is not alive as we are alive; therefore it will not die as we will. It will only change. It is only we who die.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Death is not what I fear. Death is what enables me to go on living. Only the knowledge that this torment is not eternal, and will one day end, enables me to endure it.

I am sad for the world, not for myself. I would like to believe it will go on without me, and people will be happy without me, loving the world and each other; but they don’t love each other or the world. I don’t know why.

There is something wrong with our race, something that makes us destructive and self-destructive. We all know it. We used to call it a curse. Now we call it a genetic defect. It is good that we have finally accepted it, and are killing ourselves. The only bad thing is that we are killing the world as well.

Sunday, June 7, 2015







Friday, June 5, 2015


I’m still alive because I still want to understand. But the more I know, the less I understand.

I know I’m not unique. Others have suffered more than I have. But they know, or claim to know, that our suffering has a purpose. 

I don’t want to know what that purpose is. I want to know how others persuade themselves there is a purpose.