Previous IndexNL Next

Jun 12, 2011           

From Gibbon's "Memoirs of my life" - 2

Gibbon quotes a Benedictine abbot on the benefits of religion:
  '  "My vow of poverty has given me an hundred thousand crowns a year; my vow of obedience has raised me to the rank of a sovereign prince" - I forget the consequences of his vow of chastity" '

(From Chapter 37 of
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

If you think I like slashing up people, verbally or otherwise, you are mistaken, though there are exceptions, and I have some favourite writers who were very good at it and generally are a joy to read, also apart from satire

But this was just to sketch in some background, as I today return to more quotes from Edward Gibbon's Memoirs of my life (*), who was a great historian, a great writer, and who had an excellent mind and wit, who was - also - good in epigrams, which is one reason, among many others, why you should read all of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in an edition which has all of the footnotes, in which some of his best epigrams are found, including my opening quotation.

I was here before, where you find a little more

and today I simply continue with quoting and commenting, and I quote by indenting:

As often as I was tolerably exempt from danger and pain, reading, free desultory reading, was the employment and comfort of my solitary hours. (p. 71)

It's the same for me, and the reason Gibbon speaks of "danger and pain" is that he seems to have had a rather awful childhood, full of disease. Then again, this is the only way to escape your own environment and time, and meet other minds and unusual ideas and values, and indeed also folks who reason more like you do or can than those in your own social environment do or can.

A state of happiness arising only from the want of foresight and reflection shall never provoke my envy; such degenerate taste would tend to sink us in the scale of beings from a man to a child, a dog, and an oyster, till we had reached the confines of brute matter, which cannot suffer, because it cannot feel. (p. 73)

I have two somewhat philosophical remarks on this, the first touching on human and especially on animal rights, that my countrymen - the Dutch - and I mean here, of course: animal rights, not human rights, have grown very fond of the last decades, indeed to the extent of having The Party Of Animals in the Zoo of moral misfits and willing servants of the Dutch drugs mafia (<- Dutch link) that is the Dutch Parliament:

First then, in the age in which I live many people love their own dogs much more than any of their own fellow human beings (which I can understand if you are Dutch, I do have to honestly grant :o)) while many people also sincerely believe that animals have feelings and ideas very much like themselves, for which reason these rationalizing primates claim that "therefore" rats, lice, tapeworms, and, most especially, pigs and chickens "deserve" to have animal rights, and also to have "an animal-friendly life", is the preferred phrase, like their own much beloved cats and dogs do.

Indeed, I live in a country where a clever Catholic woman makes millions, namely by means of an Animal Rights Party - duly called 'The Party Of The Animals', duly voted by Dutch .. um .. primates into the Dutch Parliament with two seats: De-mo-cra-cy on A-ni-mal Farm: "Four feet good, two feet bad!", and don't you dare forget it!  - namely by means of government subsidies for the so-called 'scientific party-organization' that every parliamentary political party, the parliamentarians decided themselves, fairly and equitably, 'is entitled to, by law'. (Flat earthers, if they get into the Dutch Parliament as well will also be entitled to a cool million or two a year for their very own 'scientific party-organization'.  Besides, as we all know: "Four feet good, two feet bad!")

Now it seems to me - handicapped as I am by a high intelligence and a lot of relevant knowledge of psychological malfunctioning and of political and religious deception - this is either stark insanity or clever flimflam of the dumb masses, and indeed not because I am myself in favour of cruelty to animals, which I am not, but because animals can't think, can't anticipate much ("savoir pour prevoir pour pouvoir": Comte on what scientific knowledge is good for), reason well, logically, mathematically, linguistically or pictorially, and indeed feel in the ways human beings do.

And as it happens - have pity on my all-too-human weakness, ye Animal Rightists! - I am myself animal enough to strongly support the need to feed human children - 1 in 6 living human beings does not get enough food to live well, said Bill Clinton very many times, and then I suppose it must be true - and namely (I did ask for pity, didn't I?!) before feeding pigs, pigeons or rats, but then I also know that I now can expect, in the country where I live, that I will be publicly scolded for 'a fascist', by many highly moral Dutchmen - that is: if I am deigned to be noticed at all - and namely for saying that human rights should come before animal rights.

Second, there is the notion of 'happiness':

I agree with Gibbon and Hume, to name some, that 'happiness' as such - as a desirable brain state of some animal, such as - for example - your very own personal tapeworm's feelings of ultimate bliss while it sucks your guts, which is a moral value and a state of happiness you should take very serious, if you're Dutch, or perhaps the extremely enjoyable brainstate that some SS-like sadist enjoys, surely also an animal which, therefore, should be dearly beloved by Animal Rightists, and namely while torturing someone of the resistance, who after all tend to have at most two feet - is a somewhat inflated concept, that should, at the very least, be properly relativized to whoever or whatever enjoys or fails to enjoy this desirable state, and to its own capacities, rights, qualitiesof thought, feeling, and mind, and on its individual merits.

Indeed for more on happiness, see first

and then the great Dr. Johnson (who did not much love Gibbon, nor did Gibbon much love him, but they did know each other and did meet) on the subject of the capacity for happiness

"Sir, that all who are happy, are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not the capacity for having equal happiness with a philosopher."
        Boswell: Life

And similar with a pig, dove, chicken, yea even a dog or cat, while indeed, to return to so trivial and unimportant a subject as human happiness, that some - Epicurus, Lucretius, the Founding Fathers of the American Constitution, John Stuart Mill, to name some, considered the central value for a human being:

It would seem to me it is both more wise and more practical to strive for minimization of unhappiness rather than the maximization of happiness.

To remain with the subject, more or less:

A school is the cavern of fear and sorrow: the mobility of the captive youths is chained to a book and a desk; an inflexible master commands their attention, which every moment is patient to escape. They labour, like the soldiers of Persia, under the scourge (**); and their education is nearly finished before they can apprehend the sense or utility of the harsh lessons which they are forced to repeat. Such blind and absolute dependence may be necessary, but can never be delightful. Freedom is the first wish of our heart; freedom is the first blessing of our nature; and, unless we bind ourselves with the voluntary chains of interest or passion, we advance in freedom as we advance in years. (p.74-5)

Indeed, as to education in ordinary schools: That is also how it appeared to me when I was seven or so, and how it appeared to Woutertje Pieterse and Multatuli as well: A complete waste of time, except perhaps for the really stupid.

Then again, a school is less an institute for education than it is a place where one is taught to conform, to be - feel, think, value, desire - like the rest, and to learn social discipline, and it may be a useful place for training the stupid and the average.

And as to Gibbon's "Freedom is the first wish of our heart; freedom is the first blessing of our nature":

I agree - but Gibbon was one of the few who did not mentally mostly die between 15 and 30. Most men (and women) do, when they take up the social yoke, and since they, while killing most of their original and spontaneous selves, also succeeded in killing most of their interests, most of their lives are dull and filled with fears about their social status.

Now to something else, that Gibbon had some right to write about:

A composition of genius must be the work of one mind (p. 80)

Quite so. No committee, no congregation, no corporate body can ever write like Shakespeare, reason like Newton, or paint like Da Vinci: Everything of true human excellence is individual excellence.

Communities, collectives, classes and corporate bodies of men can do prodigious amounts of labour, including keeping a human society, or indeed an anthill, alive and in food, but are all completely incapable of any great work: This does not need great quantities of men, but individual men of rare quality.

On another note, in fact also by implication on modern academia:

Dr. Winchester well remembered that he had a salary to receive, and only forgot that he had a duty to perform. (p.83)

He is like all Dutch academics I have met in my life, except for three or four: Hardly any of them cared for real science; almost all were in university because of the pay, the status, the ease of the work, and, if male, the possibility of trading course points for sexual favours of female students, something taught as highly laudable and moral by the professor of ethics of the University of Amsterdam, who practised as he preached, and got much satisfaction out of it.

Finally, a subject others have also commented likewise

Youth is sincere and impetuous (p. 86)

Indeed, much of the good and much of the bad, such as wars and revolutions, is done by young folks in their twenties, fighting for ideals - in which they may be much deceived, being sincere and impetuous. It is also true that, at least for ordinary men, adulthood is insincere and constrained, which must be a main reason why so many remember their childhood as happy, but not their adult lives, even though they were then, in principle at least, much more free to choose what they want.


(*) My source is: Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of my life, Edited with an Introduction by Betty Radice, Penguin English Library, 1984.

(**) Note from Memoirs of my life:  "Xerxes' army were flogged as they worked to cut a channel through the isthmus of Mount Athos (Herodotus, VII, 22)."

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later

                              As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1.  Anthony Komarof Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.   Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

Maarten Maartensz (M.A. psy, B.A. phi)
        home - index - top - mail