Flourishes

A better normal

We do not want the 'new normal'. We do not want the 'old normal' because that’s what led to this 'new normal'. What we want is a 'better normal'.

Heiko Shöning, 2020

Blood, toil, tears and sweat

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 13 May 1940

Bucking the system

I like people who buck the system. Individualists. I often warn people. Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you: There is no 'I' in team. What you should tell them is: Maybe not, but there is an 'I' in independence, individuality and integrity.

George Carlin

Decline in courage

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There remain many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts of boldness and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists. Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Commencement Address, Harvard University, 1978, A World Split Apart

Deformity of the soul

There is something miserable in the figures who enjoyed in their youth the freedom of speech, but from the comfort of age seek to deny it to others; some deformity of the soul.

Edward Snowden

Fireman with a fountain pen

Man fails through his imperfectedness. Art is the nearest he comes to transcending this congenital limitation. But it requires a willingness to fail, to invite incomprehension, isolation, persecution, poverty, if the artist is to have a chance of winning, even once. Playing safe ought not to be an option, but has become the norm. The world burns for want of a fireman with a fountain pen.

John Waters

Ireland unfree shall never be at peace

They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! – they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.

Graveside oration of Patrick Pearse at the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, 1915

Sincere speaking

The art of good speaking forms the logical remedy for a society sick with that new kind of lie we call propaganda. We are going through a metaphysical revolution, comparable to the metaphysical revolution that led to the Enlightenment. This revolution essentially boils down to this: a society led by a propagandized mass is replaced by a society led by a group of people connected through sincere speaking. In a sense, this revolution also transforms the imbalances created by rationalism; it turns them back into relationships. Sincere speaking is resonant speaking — it connects the Soul of man with the outside world; it restores the connection with fellow humans, one's own body, one's own drives, society, and nature. It is an important question in this era: what is the psychology of the act of good speaking? What are the different ways in which a person can use words, and which form of speaking can penetrate the veil of appearance and inspire people in times when they are suffocating under manipulation and appearance? How can we master the art of Good Speech?

Mattias Desmet, The De-souling of the World — The Veil of Appearances, July, 2024.

Stick-in-the-mud

At this point, I reveal myself in my true colours as a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the livliest intellects of our time. I believe that order is better than chaos; creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence; forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole, I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of recent triumphs of science, men haven't changed much in the last two-thousand years and, in consequence, we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves.

I also hold one or two beliefs that are more difficult to put shortly. For example, I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people's feelings by satisfying our own egos. And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole which, for convenience, we call nature. All living things are our brothers and sisters. Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals and I value a society that makes their existence possible.

These programmes have been filled with great works of genius; in architecture, sculpture and painting; in philosophy, poetry and music; in science and engineering. There they are; you can't dismiss them  — and they're only a fraction of what Western Man has achieved in the last thousand years, often after setbacks and deviations at least as destructive as those of our own time. Western Civilisation has been a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence in ourselves. I said at the beginning of the series that it is lack of confidence more than anything else that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion just as effectively as by bombs.

Fifty years ago, W. B. Yeats, who was more like a man of genius than I've ever know, wrote a prophetic poem. And in it, he said: "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity". Well, that was certainly true between the wars, and it damned nearly destroyed us. Is it true today? Not quite, because good people have convictions — rather too many of them. The trouble is that there is still no centre. The moral and intellectual failure of Marxism has left us with no alternative to heroic materialism. And that isn't enough. One may be optimistic, but one can't exactly be joyful at the prospect before us.

Kenneth Clark's concluding 'personal view' in his epic 'Civilisation' documentary series, 1969.

Tactical cleverness

The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism. Instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The call to act

Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice. If we have brains or courage, then we are blessed and called on not to frit these qualities away, standing agape at the ideas of others, winning pissing contests, improving the efficiencies of the neocorporate state, or immersing ourselves in obscuranta, but rather to prove the vigor of our talents against the strongest opponents of love we can find... men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.

Julian Assange, Witnessing, 2007

The centre cannot hold

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, final verse of The Second Coming, 1919

The man in the arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Teddy Roosevelt at the Sorbonne, Paris, 1910

The rules are simple

The rules are simple: they lie to us; we know they're lying; they know we know they're lying; but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.

Elena Gorokhova, A Mountain of Crumbs

Who never loses any

Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Martha, Marseilles, France, 1787.