Friday, April 9, 2010

Layer 278 . . . Springwatch, Hazlitt, Essays, Familiar Subjects, Bomb Power, A New Treaty, Social Attitudes, Meditation, Zen and Sutras

Lots of trees in blossom in the local streets and parks. The willows around the village pond have just started to leaf. It was a warm day of brilliant sunshine, and people suddenly looked relaxed and friendly.

The sunflower seeds
Put in pots two days ago
Are shooting already!

Plenty of water under the bridge since April 5th 2008 and the beginning of Oxzen's blog. Two long years. And still no completion of the review of 2009!


In Our Time - Radio 4

Melvin's prog yesterday focused on William Hazlitt.

He was an original diarist/essayist/social commentator. No doubt he'd be a blogger if he was around now.

Hazlitt is best known for his essays, which ranged in subject matter from Shakespeare, through his first meeting with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to a boxing match.

What is less well-known, however, is that he began his writing life as a philosopher, before deliberately abandoning the field for journalism. Nonetheless, his early reasoning about the power of the imagination to take human beings beyond narrow self-interest, as encapsulated in his 'Essay on the Principles of Human Action', shines through his more popular work.

Hazlitt was a 'Metaphysician', a philosopher and a "champion of the truth ". He had rebellious republican views.

Born Maidstone.
Father was a unitarian dissenting minister.
A political radical, he saw Jesus as a great moral teacher, not the son of God.

Dissenters set up their own higher education academies
Hackney was the centre of dissenting education - the New College.
He studied Shakespeare and contemporary politics. Also philosophy and painting.

He thought he had a really original philosophical idea - a key idea that our personality is not a given and fixed soul, and goes through stages of development. We have the capacity for imagination and disinterestedness.

He was enchanted by Coleridge preaching at his father's church - and felt in touch with new ideas and the intellectual life.

He became a journalist and essayist - or order to describe his philosophical insights.
Supporter of the French revolution and Napoleon.

Reacted against those who thought all action is governed by self-interest and sensual gratification. Said what drives us is a love of good, and not a love of self.

Wrote about anything that captured his attention and imagination. "He animated everything with extraordinary gusto." He chose familiar subjects and everyday life.

Was a great admirer of Shakespeare, and helped to raise his status in Britain.

Became infatuated with his landlady's 18 year old daughter, Sarah Walker.
Fell crazily in love - being a great romantic and idealist.
He was devastated to discover that his feelings for her weren't reciprocated.

When he wrote about his infatuation in a book called 'Liber Amoris', a self-revealing memoir, he was visciously attacked by his opponents and enemies.


This is important -

Obama hails nuclear treaty as new era in relations with Russia

US and Russian presidents in Prague to sign agreement that will cut two countries' nuclear arsenals

Our giant step towards a world free from nuclear danger

This treaty shows the strength of America's commitment to global disarmament – and to our national security


The current edition of the London Review of Books carries a superb review, by Stephen Holmes,  of a book called Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State,  written by Garry Wills.

It's a truly terrifying account of the power that's wielded by the President of the USA, who can  blow up the world anytime he or she chooses. It's a real life version of Dr Strangelove.

He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody, he doesn’t have to call the Congress, he doesn’t have to check with the courts.

  -  Dick Cheney, Fox News 21 December 2008

In passing the 1946 Atomic Energy Act, Congress granted the president unsupervised authority over the bomb, ‘for such use as he deems necessary in the interest of national defence’. The ‘nature of the presidency,’ Garry Wills writes, ‘was irrevocably altered by this grant of a unique power’. An uninhibited ‘crisis presidency’ was now ‘poised for hair-trigger response to nuclear threat’ and, by virtue of the president’s ‘sole authority to launch nation-destroying weapons’, imbued with a kind of superhuman aura.

Wills calls this ‘Bomb Power’ and claims that it has excited fantasies of omnipotence in the White House and reduced Congress to a spectator. Among the public, it fosters a cult, elevating the president from commander in chief of the military to commander in chief of the nation, enjoining all American citizens to spring smartly to attention and salute.

Wills’s ruminations about ‘the great mystery’ of the president’s ‘power over the very continuance of the world’ may seem excessive, but he’s channelling, so he claims, Dick Cheney, who appears to believe that the president, by virtue of his control of the nuclear bomb, is freed from all constitutional – and even ordinary ethical – restraints. The meaning of Cheney’s boast to Fox News is clear: the existence of the greater power – to kill hundreds of millions of civilians – implies that of the lesser power, to torture suspected terrorists. Wills startlingly concurs with this view: ‘Cheney was right to say that the real logic for all these things’ – torture, indefinite detention without trial and so forth – ‘is the president’s solitary control of the bomb.’ His backing of the use of torture, extraordinary rendition and black sites where torture was practised all serve to demonstrate, according to Wills, that the ‘monopoly on nuclear war that was given at the dawn of Bomb Power was now extended to all aspects of war’.

It's a long article, but well worth a read.


This one is definitely a good read, and a superb, thought-provoking review -

Stefan Collini


    Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions

    British Social Attitudes: The 26th Report
    An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel
It will serve early 21st-century Britain right if it becomes known as ‘The Aspirational Age’.

To those who can use the word ‘aspirational’ without wincing, this might seem high praise. It connotes endeavour, making something of oneself, trying – as an older idiom had it – to improve one’s station in life. Glossed in this way, the term might seem blameless, a near universal human disposition, but in the past few years ‘aspirational’ has been used to pick out something more specific, something symptomatic of a particular moment in the development of social attitudes in Britain. There is now, according to some commentators, an ‘aspirational class’, rather uncertainly located within a traditional hierarchical social structure, but composed of people who probably had working-class parents, who hope to have professional or managerial-class children, and who want more of ‘the good things of life’. But they want, it is said, to attain these goals without taking on the trappings and snobberies that historically went along with moving into a higher social class. An edge of ressentiment lurks under ‘aspiration’, not the old ‘Jack’s as good as his master’ kind, which acknowledged social position while claiming it was not the whole of life, but a more relativist kind, confident that ‘no one has the right to say what someone else ought to do or think.’ Any other view of the matter is damned as ‘elitist’. As these attitudes assert and impose themselves, we are encouraged to talk not merely of an aspirational class but of an ‘aspirational society’ at once insistently egalitarian and aggressively competitive.

Politicians of all parties are committed to giving the aspirational society more of what it is thought to aspire to; indeed, an inflationary tendency in our public language has seen these objects of desire elevated to the status of a ‘right’. This is partly the verbal flotsam thrown up by the market populism of the Thatch-Lab pact of the mid-1990s. But it also has to be seen as evidence of a deeper shift in the ways we conceive of our social relations. The emphasis on ‘aspiration’ is one symptom of the abandonment of what have been, for the best part of a century, the goals of progressive politics, since, as an ideal, the ‘aspirational society’ expresses a corrosively individualist conception of life. Three recent semi-official publications throw some light on the relation between this conception and the reality of contemporary British society.

Also worth reading is

Don’t Look Down
Nicholas Spice

    Family Britain 1951-57 by David Kynaston
    Bloomsbury, 776 pp, £25.00, November 2009, ISBN 978 0 7475 8385 1

Triumph of the Termites
Tom Nairn

    The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley
      Viking, 802 pp, £25.00, March 2010, ISBN 978 0 670 91851 5
    What Went Wrong, Gordon Brown?: How the Dream Job Turned Sour edited by Colin Hughes
      Guardian, 294 pp, £8.99, January 2010, ISBN 978 0 85265 219 0
    Broonland: The Last Days of Gordon Brown by Christopher Harvie
      Verso, 206 pp, £8.99, February 2010, ISBN 978 1 84467 439 8


Can meditation stop me getting angry?

New evidence suggests that meditation helps anxiety and depression. But what about serial bad temper?


More from 'Zen' by Manuela Dunn Mascetti

Zen's preference is to commemorate the everyday and the colloquial.

Zen stories are known as sutras, a word initially used for the sermons of Buddha, but later also applied to the words exchanged between Zen masters and their disciples. Zen sutras present vivid pictures of the vast, multilevel, intercommunicating reality experienced by the enlightened. They are anecdotes of lives, facts, teachings, and events of real-life monks and nuns. As such, they are both ordinary and extraordinary, and allow readers to view enlightenment within a down-to-earth context.

The aim of Zen practitioners, and story tellers, was not to escape from the world, but to achieve the kind of detachment and insight that would enable them to become immune to worldly entanglements. At the same time, it would allow them to function in the world with immense compassion, as they strove to bring enlightenment to others.

Zen stories, sutras, parables, proverbs and sayings run like a clear mountain stream from the past to the present to quench our spiritual thirst and cleanse our minds. One of the things that made Buddha's teachings so radical was his emphasis on personal experience. He repeatedly encouraged people to "come and see" for themselves - not to rely on scriptures, beliefs or faith. Thus Zen developed its own unique contours and a set of beautifully tailored techniques for use in obtaining a direct experience of one's true nature - satori ("enlightenment" in Japanese).


An ancient worthy had a saying: "To look for the ox, one must seek out its tracks. To study the path, seek out mindlessness. Where the tracks are, so must the ox be."

The path of mindlessness is easy to seek out. So-called mindlessness is not being inert and unknowing like earth, wood, tile or stone; it means that the mind is settled and imperturbable when in contact with situations and meeting circumstances; that it does not cling to anything, but is clear in all places, without hindrance or obstruction, without being stained, yet without dwelling in the stainlessness.

"Just get to the root, don't worry about the branches."

Emptying the mind is the root. Once you get the root, the fundamental, then all kinds of language and knowledge and all your daily activities as you respond to people and adapt to circumstances, through so many upsets and downfalls, whether joyous or angry, good or bad, favourable or adverse - these are all trivial matters, the branches.

If you can be spontaneously aware and knowing as you are going along with circumstances, then there is neither lack nor excess.




At all times in your encounters with people and responses to circumstances you must not let wrong thoughts continue.

In the old days Kuei Shan asked Lazy An, "What work do you do during the twenty-four hours of the day?"
An said, "I tend an ox."
Kuei Shan said, "How do you tend it?"
An said, "Whenever it gets into the grass, I pull it back by the nose."
Kuei Shan said, "You are really tending the ox!"

People who study the path, by controlling their thoughts, should be like Lazy An tending his ox, and then gradually a wholesome ripening will take place of itself.


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