29, 2013
Crisis + Varia: N.S.A. + Hazlitt on good and bad
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.

Prev- crisis -Next

1. N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens
2. On Hazlitt and good and bad
About ME/CFS


As it happens, I found today only one crisis item, which I duly report below.
There must be more, but not where I searched, and besides: I do believe I have covered the latest crisis news, from June 2013 onwards, tolerably well.

Anyway - this means there is some space for other things, and I spend the space today on Hazlitt and good and bad.

1. N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens

First, there is the only piece about the crisis I found today, by James Risen and Laura Poitras, in the New York Times:

This starts as follows:
Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners. .
There is a lot more in the last dotted link, and it shows you cannot trust any statement of any NSA official or any US official.

2. On Hazlitt and good and bad

As people who know a lot about my site, that is at present over 500 MB, I have read a very great amount in my life and, while I do not have many favorite authors (or indeed perhaps too many), William Hazlitt, who lived from 1778-1830, must certainly be one of them.

In case you are interested in him, the last link gives access to some 8 MB of html about him, that is generally better than any I found (and to read the two volumes of Table Talk, you need to use the arrows, as are in this very text, and also select an essay - and I do explain this because it does seem to need explaining).

Here and now I want to discuss a few quotations by him, from a single essay he wrote, and I want to start that with a few fundamental considerations about ethics aka good and bad.

So what are good and bad?

There are very many answers that either do not go far, or that are much dependent on other assumptions, but here are two brief characteristics that are not thus dependent, and that seem to me to cover rather a lot:

It is bad (apart from other qualifications, such as relate to the perpetrator's age, knowledge, intelligence and general condition):
  • to take more than one's fair and equal share of what is considered good (such as food or money);
  • to harm other persons physically and intentionally, without their prior and free consent (that may be given to a medical doctor).
If you think about it, you will realize that most political, military and religious leaders, and great men in these fields, were and are quite bad men, although this is often not clear to their followers, and tends to be very much lied about by themselves.

Also, in case you wonder: it is good not to be bad.

And if you think about it, you will realize that most people are not very good, and quite a lot of those who mostly are good, are so mostly because they lack the talents to grow prominent, powerful and rich through being bad.

For most are not averse to take more than a fair and equal share, if only they could get away with it, while there also are quite a lot of people who get a real kick out of harming others, though proportionally less than the former group.

Now I get to my first quote by Hazlitt, who was a good man, and who also was quite upset by something that also did upset me at the age of six, though in my case it was the harm done to spiders by a considerable group of my schoolmates, rather than to flies:
It vexes me beyond all bearing to see children kill flies for sport; for the principle is the same as in the most profligate acts of cruelty they can afterwards exercise on their fellow-creatures. [2]
Hazlitt wrote this repeatedly, in several essays, and as I've said (in my autobiography), this is one of the few things I recall from my sixth year:

That there was a group of about 1 in 10 children of my age, who gathered regularly in the pauzes of the school, to hunt for spiders, of which there were many, and then to proceed by pulling out some of their legs, to see how they did without these legs, which interested and enjoyed them a lot.

Note these were children of my age, that is 6, and also that this was their regular amusement, that in all probability came quite natural to them, and was rationalized with such excuses as that they hated spiders.

To me, it seemed wanton cruelty, because none of them were ever bothered by the spiders in any way, and all of them were extremely large and powerful compared to the small animals they pulled the legs off, to enjoy the sights of their doing without one or more legs.

To most of the others in the two or three classes of my age it was simply not an interesting passtime.

Next, here is the following quotation by Hazlitt, from the same essay, that starts half a page later:
The plea of ignorance, of folly, of grossness, or selfishness makes nothing either way: it is the downright love of pain and mischief for the interest it excites, and the scope it gives to the abandoned will, that is the root of all evil, and the original sin of human nature. There is a love of power in the mind independent of the love of good, and this love of power, when it comes to be opposed to the spirit of good, is wickedness. I know of no other definition of the term.

A person who does not foresee consequences is a fool; he who cheats others to serve himself is a knave; he who is immersed in sensual pleasure is a brute; but he alone, who has a pleasure in injuring another, or in debasing himself, that is, who does a thing with particular relish because he ought not, is properly wicked. This character implies the fiend at the bottom of it; and is mixed up pretty plentifully (according to my philosophy) in the untoward composition of human nature. It is the craving after what is prohibited, and the force of contrast adding its zest to the violations of reason and propriety, that accounts for the excesses of pride, of cruelty, and of lust; and at the same time frets and vexes the surface of life with petty evils, and plants a canker in the bosom of our daily enjoyments.

Take away the enormities dictated by the wanton and pampered pride of the human will, glutting itself with the sacrifice of the welfare of others, or with the desecration of its own best feelings, and also the endless bickerings, heart-burnings and disappointments produced by the spirit of contradiction on a smaller scale, and the life of man would "spin round on its soft axle," unharmed and free, neither appalled by huge crimes nor infested by insect follies.  [3]
In fact, the reason for my leading up to this with my own characteristics of bad and good, is mainly due to their absence in Hazlitt's text.

In any case, here are two supplementary propositions:

First, every one that I know of that reached some position of power in politics or in religion is or was a bad man or woman, in the sense here defined: He or she took more than was fair and/or harmed many persons intentionally, without asking their consent - and in both cases these things were generally done on the pretext that "it is good for the country/the religion".

And second, there are proportionally far more egoists and sadists in powerful positions in politics and in religion than there are in ordinary life.

For more, you can consult Machiavelli, who described the species of such men quite well, and without being blind to the characteristics that made them powerful, and who was much detested for doing so.

But then it is the truth, or so it seems to me: Where you see a prominent political or religious leader, you usually see, with very few exceptions, a vainglorious and egoistic sadist, or the other way around, who got to where he is, not by his enormous intellectual or moral talents, for these are generally not given to such leaders, but through being an even bigger bastard than his competitors.

Finally, since men are men, and egoists and sadists will naturally try to make careers in politics and religion, the only way to curb them is by regulating them by laws, rules and regulations, that curb their powers to harm, and not to trust them, for they have no great gifts or secret knowledge or great insights, and  generally are full of lies and deceptions.

For your leaders are nearly always bad men, who got to be your leaders by being better liars and bigger bastards than their competitors, and they are usually, whatever they pretend, your enemy, as you are generally their dupes.



[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, thay the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servant of laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

[2] This is quoted from "On depth and superficiality", that can be found e.g. in Geoffrey Keynes's edition of "Selected Essays of William Hazlitt", on p. 273. (That edition may be found in second-hand bookshops, and is a good choice.)

[3] This is one continuous quotation from p. 274 of the previous quote, but I have added two empty lines.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to
facilitate search machine) which is a disease that I have since 1.1. 1979:

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

       home - index - summaries - mail