Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason–
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all–my only swerving–,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
(William Stafford, Travelling Through the Dark).
This afternoon I took a nap, about an hour and a half– deep sleep, vivid dreams– the types which linger into the rest of your waking hours, tugging at you.
I am still trying to understand why architecture plays such a strong role in my dreams.
Often the eyes are on staircases, arches, bridges, flowing rivers, columns, materials and ornamentation.
I am not sure if there is a hidden metaphorical connection to those images, or if it is simply the mind using a sort of mnemonic to remember places.
The mnemonic itself does not make sense, only when it is unwrapped and extrapolated towards a given context. “ROYGBIV” in letters is senseless, the colors of light it signifies are not. In the dreams it is like looking at the mnemonic directly, without the extrapolation, without the unwrapping.
Another aspect is that often things are re-organized and re-assembled, but not in the exact order. For example, in my dreams the layout of my high school is very different, but certain elements are there: the stone wall of Tilinghast Hall, the glass connection between Pforzheimer Hall and Fisher Hall.
I wonder if there is any connection to a sort of “architectural” catalog in the mind– when I visualize fiction the imagination of architectural description is filled in by this catalog.
Another intuition is that the architectural re-organization of places that goes on in the dreams is a sort of idealization: how the world would look if I had designed it. Often there is a sort of surreal and mysterious beauty that would be impossible in real life– mixing details of Venice with those of Bologna and Stockholm and Xi’an….
The other feeling of the vivid dreams is memories of darkness; the mood reminds me of shutters down (blinds and the exterior Italian types), quietly exploring in the early afternoon, the adults sleeping, the heat outside, the coolness of the tiles inside. Or days of fog and rain and staying warm inside, maybe sick, maybe reading, steam rising up from tea.
The last scenes of the dream were related to December and January of 2007 and 2008; something inspired by KJB’s home in Rome, a masked party, but wood walls that looked like the planks of the Vasa ship, then back to my room in New York, again modified– larger, older furniture, darker, an old rowboat stored inside. The apartment was in Rome, now, somewhere near the Aventine, looking on Google Maps it was not far from where her home was (but I knew, in the dream, that she was no longer there). A brief scene of water flowing under a bridge (again, a mix of Venice and Bologna of sorts)– then I woke up.
No sense and no time to make sense of it– but I think that there is probably a part of those memories that are repressed; as if it has been necessary to bury the part of my personality attracted to intimacy and warmth, to mystery and exploration, wonder and playfulness. Those are things belong to youth and to the irrational, and are obstacles or distractions from what is needed today. I think this burying is fine– but it is helpful and insightful to understand the dynamic.
Getting Things Done, a time management methodology, encourages the application of “horizons of focus” in which an individual both manages present tasks and projects and envisions future goals and milestones. The methodology goes beyond the more common daily to-do lists or yearly resolutions, suggesting instead that users look at a wider range of time spans, ranging from current activities and projects, to 1-2 year and 3-5 year outlooks, and finally life purpose, goals, and visions. These horizons of focus enable a user to act responsibly towards immediate tasks and short term projects, but simultaneously encourage thinking about how those activities fit within longer time frames. The inclusion of a lifelong perspective, by reminding the user of the finality of life, intentionally inspires thinking about the harder questions of finding meaning and satisfaction in and over the course of life. Answering these questions can help an individual determine values and priorities, and can clarify how medium and longer term plans should be formed towards the realization of a long term vision.
By comparison, an individual focusing primarily on day-to-day responsibilities and occasionally on yearly resolutions risks dedicating energy towards work or goals which will fail to correspond to values and life goals. For an individual, failure to consider more distant horizons of focus can result in wasted time, resources, and opportunities. In the worst case, an individual could find themselves looking back on a life which has been more about reaction to stress rather than a proactive and strategic search for fulfillment.
These risks exist for organizations and societies as much, if not more, than they they do for the individual. Several factors increase the difficulty of engaging in the deeper “horizons of focus” in group settings. First, the life of a society or an organization is much longer than that of an individual’s, and thus the correspondingly increased time span to be considered is also correspondingly more uncertain. Second, the multiple and conflicting views that make up social groups increase the difficulty of finding a common vision. Third, the complexity of modern society, which often challenges the very limits of human rationality solely in the administration of day-to-day and short term operational activities, makes it difficult to dedicate the additional focus and time necessary to plan for more distant futures.
Because of these difficulties it is understandably frequent that energy is dedicated mainly in considering only the nearer horizons of focus, delaying or ignoring the more stressful, complex, and anxiety inducing preoccupations of the future.”Tomorrow” is an excuse always available for organizational or social procrastination, and the typical result is that future problems are left to be answered on their arrival.
The risks of this approach, or rather, the failure to approach the more distant future is, however, starting to become apparent. The growing and frequently irreversible impacts of human activity have started to highlight the costs of failing to engage future horizons of focus. The fear of a future of regret has lead calls to respond to this failure.
Awareness of these failures and cultural change in approaching planning will, to a certain degree, foster engagement with the uncertain future. However, other options may be available to help overcome some of the obstacles to the development and implementation of a group vision. One of these options is the creation of an institution whose primary task is implementation of a long term horizon of focus. This institution would mirror what an individual does when planning for the long term future. It would determine a group’s shared aspirations and common values, extrapolate milestones and goals from those values, study trends and consider future scenarios, and finally suggest how current activities or operations can be developed to fit in planning for the realization of the common vision.
This institution could function effectively and produce meaningful results in a variety of contexts. This paper, however, argues in favor for establishing such an institution in the government of New York State, and considers varying options for its implementation.
Specificity of instructions– from a conversation regarding the difference between high-level and low-level programming languages.
Compare the following categories of instructions:
1. Go to the grocer and bring back some bread.
2. Open the door, close the door, head downstairs, walk north-east for 50 meters, walk south for 100 meters, enter the grocer, find the bread section, pick up a loaf, go to the counter, pay, walk north 100 meters, walk south-west for 50 meters, head upstairs, open the door, close the door.
3. Raise hand, push forward, grip doorknob, turn right, pull, pick up left foot, step forward, let go of doorknob, pick up right foot….
4. Increasing detail (breath control, heartbeat, fire neuron).
(Movement summarized by the commands of “Right Shoulder, Arms”).
I think the origin of the conversation was my interest in the basic hardware level of the computer– the simplest functions, how calculation occurs (is it also, like arithmetic calculation in the digit system, by a trick?), bits and bytes, how things build upon that.
When MV gave the example of shopping for bread, the “second thoughts” were about language. I think the surprise is exactly how much is summarized or symbolic in day-to-day communication. It reminds me of a phrase: “The heuristics language developed by Dr. Everett allows me to convey the highest and most succinct tier of any pyramidal construct of knowledge.” This brings to mind recent thoughts about extrapolation, poetry, the digit system; layers of meaning in words and their combination in sentences, also how much is assumed, given, taken for granted, not mentioned, not specified. Trust in the interpretative ability, autonomy, and judgment of the listener. In daily life, most instructions resemble the first category.
Third thoughts. The conversation was in May (20130523) and I started this note that month. Reviewing it now, the thoughts are about law: contracts, legislation, regulations. Specificity, detail, mistrust of the interpretative ability of “the listeners”, the level to which things are assumed less, stated, described. Most instructions in the second category, some in the third. Obviously there is considerable risk of error in the first category: when is this to be done, which grocer, what bread, how much of it, paid with whose money, should I know what the bread will be used for? Etcetera. This increased specificity probably also applies in other professional contexts– research, engineering, production.
Other intuitions– the relationship between trust and specificity.
I think one of the purposes– or at least one of the effects– of a legal education (professional indoctrination) is to reduce assumptions of trustworthiness. This is primarily done through reading cases– criminal, contract, corporations, environmental– the list goes on. Done on a regular basis this changes one’s picture of the world. That picture may not be wholly accurate; cases represent a fraction of the transactions in a society. To be fair, the students are told this. Still, the rhythm of great and petty tragedies continues almost daily, until eventually one concludes that optimism and hope are luxuries for the reckless and imprudent. “Thinking like a lawyer” 101.
Besides the psychological backdrop of the legal education there are plenty of other experiences and lessons which instruct the amount of trust to be placed in human beings generally– or what cues or signals one should respond to that tend to indicate the trustworthiness or untrustworthiness of a particular individual. Everything from the social dynamics of a playground (experienced first hand as children) to biology or psychology courses– to waiting in line, reading history, commuting to work, or seeing how people act when they are deprived food.
(Art Spieglman, Maus).
The understanding, the generalization that a society has of human nature and its “trustworthiness” directly translates into its laws, contracts, and the specificity of its instructions. This is visible at various levels– from a society’s decision to have “separation of powers” in government– to a liquidated damages clause in private contract– to the quantity and type of rules one gives to a group of children (again, probably varying with the age of the children).
Where the concern is with the untrustworthiness of human nature– because of its incompetence, selfishness, or tendency to press for every advantage– increased specificity ensures understanding (avoiding confusion or mistakes) and enforcement (through voluntary compliance or by removing room to argue alternative interpretations as excuses). But this lack of trust also results in increased complexity and rigidity– more time is wasted in covering all the details (imagine a category 4 regulation), more resources are expended in creating and enforcing specificity.
In “go buy bread” terms– it takes more time to create and explain instructions for a lazy, alcoholic, gambling-addicted roommate short on money than for a professional sous-chef.
It wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, but Sunday’s cyclocross racing at the Gateway Cross Cup was marred by controversy due to an unintended faster line on the course. Three ingredients created the controversy: the course construction, Zach McDonald’s ride-around-the-barriers and the UCI official’s unique ruling and penalty on McDonald’s actions.
There are two further intuitions/explorations here.
One is the accuracy of an individual’s, organization’s, or society’s assumptions about human nature. I wonder if aggregated experience would be matched by an empirical study, if one of this type is feasible. Perhaps some sort of test could be created or conducted to determine an individual’s or a society’s trustworthiness. Something like credit ratings. X is honest 90% of the time, reliable to complete simple tasks well 75% of the time, 50% if the task is complex, this business has a 50% reliability rating in terms of delivery on time, and so on. Obviously feasibility is difficult, to another extent it already exists– reviews, seller ratings, grades, and so on. Still, development of even a roughly scientific and accurate form/methodology of assessment would be useful, would help inform investment, legislation, specificity of instructions.
Do legislators ever ask themselves, “How honest are our people?” Do managers? In-house counsel? Parents?
If it is not asked, is it assumed? What informs the assumptions? Are they accurate– do they correspond to reality?
The other intuition is somewhat related.
Does the following reflect generally held assumptions about human nature?
Something I find fascinating is the possibly misguided nature of the assumption that heavy street traffic necessitates the use of traffic lights and stop signs. The theory is that controlled intersections are faster and safer. But the empirics don’t necessarily bare this out, and the late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman has persuaded a number of jurisdictions to shift to an uncontrolled model, especially in Northern Europe. In Southeast Asia, meanwhile, uncontrolled intersections are popular not because of hip traffic engineering theories but simply because economic growth and vehicle ownership is growing faster than infrastructure.
Assuming the empirical foundations are true– these were some of my questions:
What would most imagine happening in a world without street signs, crosswalks, or traffic lights?
What do those control mechanisms (specifying the execution of a conduct; GO/SLOW/STOP/WAIT/NO LEFT/etcetera) say about assumptions of human nature?
What does the fact that accidents seem to decrease without those mechanisms say about human nature? About the assumptions in places that regulate more extensively?
Do we pay a price for our assumptions of what is “reasonably prudent”? Would Monderman’s proposals have been considered risky, careless, before empirical demonstration proved otherwise?
Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. ‘The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,’ Monderman says. ‘To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.’
Less instruction, less delineation, less specification of how to act in a particular moment: increase in efficiency, decrease in accidents.
I am not sure how much of this is really due to an approach of increased trust in human nature (“people are naturally safe drivers”) versus one of a more subtle and precise understanding of human nature (“people are conceptually more afraid of being in an accident than running a red light”).
Still, I think there is some insight in these recent traffic methodologies that I would try to carry over to legislation and administration (there is a sense of hesitation with contracts– I need to think more about this). The instinct is that law (and every set of instructions, really) has an element of design and architecture, a system of GO/SLOW/STOP/WAIT/WRONG WAY for varying types of conduct, the traffic of human activity. Is there a way to make laws that regulate through architecture rather than control? That work with rather than against human nature? That resemble a sign-less intersection more than a stoplight?
The more prohibitions and taboos there are in the world,
The poorer the people will be…
The more wisdom hawked among the people,
The more that perverse things will proliferate.
The more prominently the laws and statutes are displayed,
The more widespread will be the brigands and thieves.
Hence in the words of the sages:
We do things noncoercively
And the common people develop along their own lines;
We cherish equilibrium
And the common people order themselves;
We are non-interfering in our governance
And the common people prosper themselves;
We are objectless in our desires
And the common people are of themselves like unworked wood.
(Roger Ames and David Hall, Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation).
The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.
This work was the first systematic exploration of the extent and significance of the environmental changes wrought by man, and the first systematic exposition of the guiding principles and practices of conservationism…. Marsh’s achievement was to synthesize a formidable body of learning across the fields of natural and human history to advocate a change in Western man’s characteristic self-understanding: a shift from belief in the immutable power of nature to recognition of the power of man, including his ability to threaten his own welfare through the manipulation of nature, and recognition that man must therefore temper his exercise of power with wisdom, restraint, and the activity of restoration. Marsh’s vision rests on a set of paradigmatic perceptions that have recurred in different forms in American environmental discourse ever since, animating conservationism with moral urgency and metaphysical disquiet: the complex intuition that nature is essentially harmonious, that man is separated from nature, that he has violated its harmonies, that his violations harm both nature and man, and that reconciliation between them must become a paramount human task.
David Slade has written, ‘We are a tiny planet with very serious “carrying capacity problems, and are in dire need now of sound and wise environmental stewardship.”‘ Natural sites and heritage areas are often looked down upon by entities concerned primarily with fiscal results. This is a mistaken view. These natural areas are the most important sites in the United States and in New York. We must keep these areas open and pristine for future generations.
(Gregory Berck, Public Trust Doctrine Should Protect Public’s Interest in State Parkland, N.Y. St. B.J., January 2012, at 44, 45).
Had I the choice to tally greatest bards,
To limn their portraits, stately, beautiful, and emulate at will,
Homer with all his wars and warriors–Hector, Achilles, Ajax,
Or Shakspere’s woe-entangled Hamlet, Lear, Othello–Tennyson’s fair
Metre or wit the best, or choice conceit to wield in perfect rhyme,
delight of singers;
These, these, O sea, all these I’d gladly barter,
Would you the undulation of one wave, its trick to me transfer,
Or breathe one breath of yours upon my verse,
And leave its odor there.
The following is from a cover letter; I have some strong doubts about the writing and the overall tone in an employment context– but I do think it is an adequate summary of my interest in environmental law and environmental issues.
“My interest in environmental law, like that of many, is grounded in a feeling of gratitude and respect for the natural world, as well as the moments of serenity and wonder I have experienced within it. I believe that satisfying lives, rich in physical and spiritual health, need the context of a natural world; the sense of fulfillment that nature offers should be passed on to future generations, and ought to thrive under the protection of the law.
On another level, I am fascinated by the complexity of modern environmental challenges. Today’s environment, dominated by human activity, functions as both a mirror and a canvas of our economic and social fabrics – capturing, reflecting, and representing the collective deficiencies in our behaviors, lifestyles, political and economic systems, and values. Overcoming these challenges not only requires rigorous introspection, analysis and self-evaluation by societies and individuals alike, but also invites collaboration in seeking imaginative and innovative solutions, including through legislation. I find the search for solutions to our environmental problems engaging, and encouraging of dedication and effort. To that end, environmental law continues to offer a critical pathway to balanced, fair, and long-term solutions to environmental challenges.”
The attraction to the field– to environmental problems– is both sentimental and intellectual.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
I am not sure I can adequately explain this intuition– and am even less sure of its value.
1+1 = X, solve for X.
2 = X, X = 2. “Obviously.”
There is no need to calculate, the result is known, committed to memory.
In my arithmetic courses, we stopped our multiplication tables at 12. I know that 12 * 12 = 144. I don’t have to calculate. The result of this operation is also memorized.
13 * 13? I would have to calculate. The result is not in memory.
1234 * 5678? Also not in memory. I would have to calculate.
This is where I start to have some difficulties.
First, the calculation process for multiplication is itself something I have memorized.
I know that the first step is to multiply all the digits of the first number by the number 8; the order is right to left, the first number is 4.
Here, the multiplication table still comes into play. 8 * 4 = 32. Put the two down, carry the three. This is known, in memory. I don’t use an abacus, I don’t take out a bag of seashells, place 8 separate groups of 4 seashells each, and then count. I do not make some sort of mental, abstract measurement of how quantity is changing. All I am doing is following a mechanical operation of symbols, following a pattern.
8 * 3 = 24
8 * 2 = 16
8 * 1 = 8.
For me, there is no thinking in this process. It is no different than recitation– from knowing the lines to a song or poem. There is a prompt– digit and digit– and then the memorized response.
In Morse: “…” = “S”. “.-” = “A”. “-…” = “B”. And so on. All that happens is the translation of symbols according to a dictionary. In arithmetic, the dictionary is the multiplication (or addition, subtraction, etcetera) table for each digit.
First thought: that this in some sense hints at the genius of the digit numeral system. There is something about the reduction to simplicity that is impressive. Almost industrial– replaceable parts. Imagine multiplication with the Roman numeral system– how does one calculate XVII * XLV? Did this numeral system make Romans “think” more about their numbers?
Second thought: how does this compare to other activities?
Geometry, for example, seems very different. There are simple elements used to construct things more complex, but it is far more open-ended. I remember the process as more engaging. I would like to try a proof again sometime– it’s been more than ten years since I took the course– focusing inwards, trying to sense what the mind is doing as it attempts to find a solution.
Despite space for choice and approaches, chess seems more like arithmetic. The pieces are like digits, limited in their outcomes; there is more of the memorized prompt-response dynamic. It may not be strict multiplication of single digits, but (in my limited experience with the game) it comes across as only an order or two above it. Like the multiplication of larger numbers, the moves always requires “breaking down” to the simpler, memorized operations. Pawns are allowed to do this, bishops can do that; consider the circumstances.
What comes to mind as a next example is archery, which I have tried only a few times. Holding the bow, then the arrow, staring at the target, feeling the pull of the string, the muscles, the breath, and, at least as a beginner, trying to evaluate the point of aim, based on previous points of impact– something about that seems hundreds of times more complex than arithmetic. The word that comes to mind is “intelligence”– as if this mostly physical and sensory act somehow required more “brain power” than the calculation of abstract numbers. Maybe this is obvious. At what age does society generally trust children with simple math, as compared to bow and arrow, or compared to driving a motor vehicle?
On the other hand– standardized tests frequently evaluate mathematics. Mathematical ability is often used as a metric. Is this misguided? Should students be asked instead to string Odysseus’ bow?
Searle’s Chinese Room. Is human calculation of arithmetic any more intelligent than that setup? There is an empirical foundation in human understanding– I have vague memories of textbooks with drawing of a certain number of peaches, or a pie divided. But once the concepts are grasped, all that one does is follow a memorized instruction set. Are calculation and thinking not synonyms? Or is all thinking really reducible to calculation (computer programming)?
How about Clever Hans? How does human calculation differ? In calculation, does the human respond to internalized cues or an actual apprehension of quantification?
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
–to capture the frustration of legislators. To be fair, even with poetry it is generally frowned upon to look to “outside” sources for understanding. If it comes to that, either the poet or the reader has failed. Obviously the objectives, intentions, and circumstances of a poet and a legislature are very different, but the common denominators of language and interpretation are always there– as are all the complications of symbolism and meaning, structure and organization… and so on.
OK– enough. Besides finding it hard to believe that “respected” jurists subscribe to such a simple philosophy of language– after nearly three years of law school, I am tired and bored by the topic.
“Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.”
Along with– “illusory superiority is a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others. This is evident in a variety of areas including intelligence, performance on tasks or tests, and the possession of desirable characteristics or personality traits.”
I had some other thoughts about my education in poetry, hermeneutics, and first-order logic– what I think these have in common, how they have helped deepen my perception. I also had some thoughts about arithmetic calculation (reliance on memory or mechanical operation of symbols versus real thinking or measurement). I’m not sure these thoughts have really matured yet; even if they have, I don’t have the time or energy to write about them today.
I’m Not Complaining:
It isn’t as if I never enjoyed good wine
or walked along the Hudson in moonlight,
I have poignant friends & a decent job,
I read good books even if they’re about
miserable people but who’s perfectly happy,
I didn’t go hungry as a kid & I’m not constantly
oppressed by fascists, what if my apartment
never recovered from its ferocious beating,
no one ever said city life was easy, I admit
my hands turn to cardboard during love-making
& I often sweat through two wool blankets—
but anxiety is good for weight-loss, listen,
who isn’t frightened of late night humming
in the walls, I don’t live in a police state,
I own a passport & can travel even if I can’t
afford to, almost everyone is insulted daily,
what if love is a sentence to hard labor &
last year I couldn’t pay my taxes, I didn’t
go to prison, yes, I’ve lost friends to alcohol
& cancer but life is an adventure & I enjoy
meeting new people, sure it’s hard getting older
& mysteriously shorter but insomnia & depression
afflict even the rich & famous, okay, my folks
were stingy with affection & my pets didn’t live long,
believe me, sympathy isn’t what I’m after, I’m basically
almost happy, God in all His wisdom knows that at heart
I’m really not complaining . . .
God bless you my dear Keats, don’t despair, collect incidents, study characters, read Shakespeare and trust in Providence.
[The] criticism of practice (called ‘drill and kill,’ as if this phrase constituted empirical evaluation) is prominent in constructivist writings. Nothing flies more in the face of the last 20 years of research than the assertion that practice is bad. All evidence, from the laboratory and from extensive case studies of professionals, indicates that real competence only comes with extensive practice…. In denying the critical role of practice one is denying children the very thing they need to achieve real competence. The instructional task is not to ‘kill’ motivation by demanding drill, but to find tasks that provide practice while at the same time sustaining interest.
(John R. Anderson, Lynne M. Reder, and Herbert A. Simon, Applications and misapplications of cognitive psychology to mathematics education, Texas Educational Review 6 (2000)).
I’d say, mostly lawyers. There are several big law firms around here, and lawyers need to have lunch. I see no trophy wives or trophy girlfriends, no extravagantly dressed women. I see men who keep their jackets on, which is what we tend to do as lawyers – many would not want to be the first to take it off and most lawyers I know leave it on anyhow, keeping the uniform intact makes you look solid. I see inconspicuous ties, also a lawyer thing. This restaurant serves very good quality food but it is not flashy, I believe only this week the Sunday Times called the interior ‘boring’. Boring is good, for lawyers. We sell reliability, solidity and caution. We want our presentation to mirror that. And we often charge hefty fees, so we don’t flash our wealth because then clients are going to think: wait, am I not paying too much?
A firm reputation used to be extremely useful…. ‘One can depend on him, he remains the same’: in all extremities of society this is the sort of praise that means the most. Society is pleased to feel that the virtue of this person, the ambition of that one, and the thoughtfulness and passion of the third provide it with a dependable instrument that is always at hand; society honors this instrumental nature… this unchangeability of views, aspirations… and lavishes its highest honors upon it. Such esteem… brings all change, all re-learning, all self-transformation into ill repute. However great the advantages of this way of thinking may be elsewhere, for the search after knowledge no general judgment could be more harmful, for precisely the good will of those who seek knowledge to declare themselves at any time dauntlessly against their previous opinions and to mistrust everything that wishes to become firm in us is thus condemned and brought into ill repute.
(Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 296).
Most treatises are satisfied..with distinguishing types of description according to the characteristics of the described referent: chronography (description of time), topography (description of landscapes and places), prosopography (description of the exterior appearance of a character), ethopoeia (moral description of a character).
(1981 Yale French Stud.; via OED Word of the Day, 20130926, prosopography, n.).
Low priority: success, praise, fame, prestige, or popularity, wealth…. High priority: self-understanding, perception and appreciation of the senses, understanding the world….
I think what we’re up against here is human nature, we have to reform ourselves, remake ourselves in a way that cuts against the grain of our, our inner animal nature, and transcend that Ice Age hunter, that all of us are, if you, if you strip off the thin layer of civilization. We always have been the initiators of this experiment, we’ve unleashed it but we’ve never really controlled it. But now it’s more likely that we’re going to come to grief because of environmental problems. If we do, then that is really nature saying the experiment of civilization is a failed evolutionary experiment, that making apes smarter is a, is a dead end.
All beings so far have created something beyond themselves. Do you want to be the ebb of that great tide, and revert back to the beast rather than overcome mankind? What is the ape to a man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just so shall a man be to the Overman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. You have evolved from worm to man, but much within you is still worm. Once you were apes, yet even now man is more of an ape than any of the apes.
(Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra).
Turning back to poetry. I forget where I came across the following:
There are two types of people in the world: those who can extrapolate from incomplete data sets.
Extrapolation of incomplete data sets. What comes to mind is: poetry, jokes, zen stories, and Nietzsche’s aphorisms. The next thought is how different this is from legal work, where diligence requires stating the obvious or clearly stating all the steps. At times, easier said than done– often language seems to become more of an obstacle than a tool. Anyway, examples: contracts, instructions, directions.
What is interesting for me is the difference between how the mind works through a clear statement versus an incomplete or riddled one– keeping in mind that in poetry, aphorisms, and jokes the incompleteness is intentional. Why write in an incomplete way? Something is provided in the blanks– the mind has to work through a puzzle, then the solution comes across as a revelation. Solving a riddle, understanding a subtle joke, finding the meaning in a poem– the effect is a kind of first-hand knowledge. The receiver comes to a conclusion on his own, rather than relying solely on the communication of another party. A piece of knowledge is thus shown, rather than told.
So clarity has its place in the world, but its opposite is not necessarily confusion or ambiguity– mystery, obfuscation, suggestion, and silence have their place and uses.
One poem– perhaps not the best example, but one I read this evening:
Alexander Pope, Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness1
I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?
Typically in autumn I return to reading poetry, not sure why. I have been skimming Perrine’s Sound and Sense. I remember the first time I read through the book was in eighth grade, with Mr. Lacopo. That year I remember we also read Heart of Darkness, which I read again in July or August. We watched Apocalypse Now after finishing the book, maybe during. I remember reading Siddhartha in eighth grade also, but for some reason the class that comes to mind is my history class with Mr. Taylor. I am grateful I came across all those works at that age.
As for Sound and Sense, I may have come across it again in ninth grade with Ms. Hines, maybe eleventh grade with Ms. Kunde. I remember poetry in both those years, but I have a sense that we’d moved on beyond Sound and Sense. Yes– at least for the class with Ms. Kunde– we’d moved on to the Norton Anthology. Tenth grade the memory is of The Odyssey, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Huckleberry Finn, with Dr. LaFarge.
All formative works, and the more time passes, the more I treasure the lessons. Often the feeling is, looking at the world, that it is shortsighted and petty– “if only they had read these books.” You look around and then you feel grateful to your education and to your teachers, knowing what you could have become without them. Much less so with the university, unfortunately, with some notable exceptions, though; the Marine Corps on the other hand was full of teaching, life lessons.
I wish I could say only good things about my education in the law; again there are some exceptions but beyond the basic tools and principles it is mostly reading the rules of different board games. On the whole there is something to be gained: how the world works and how culture projects itself into law, much like an artist to a canvas. Other things, but the feeling is mostly that the intelligence and wisdom and brilliance is limited. Meticulousness above all else, and I don’t mean to say that it is not a good thing– I do love it, sometimes.
But then you turn to the poetry and something about it feels like eating citrus after months of bread and meat and water and scurvy. It feels restorative, nutritious, correcting imbalances. I have been following the math courses on the Khan Academy in my “spare” time and the feeling is there also.
I still remembered many of the poems in Sound and Sense, the following I either did not remember, or were never assigned to the class.
There’s the wonderful love of a beautiful maid,
And the love of a staunch true man,
And the love of a baby that’s unafraid-
All have existed since time began.
But the most wonderful love, the Love of all loves,
Even greater than the love for Mother,
Is the infinite, tenderest, passionate love
Of one dead drunk for another.
Splinter, Carl Sandburg:
The voice of the last cricket
Across the first frost
Is one kind of good-by.
It is so thin a splinter of singing.
The Span of Life, Robert Frost:
The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.