A man did not stand up and say ‘I believe in Jupiter and Juno and Neptune,’ etc., as he stands up and says ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty’ and the rest of the Apostles’ Creed. Many believed in some and not the others, or more in some and less in others, or only in a very vague poetical sense in any. There was no moment when they were all collected into an orthodox order which men would fight and be tortured to keep intact. Still less did anybody ever say in that fashion: ‘I believe in Odin and Thor and Freya,’ for outside Olympus even the Olympian order grows cloudy and chaotic. It seems clear to me that Thor was not a god at all but a hero. Nothing resembling a religion would picture anything resembling a god as groping like a pigmy in a great cavern, that turned out to be the glove of a giant. That is the glorious ignorance called adventure. Thor may have been a great adventurer; but to call him a god is like trying to compare Jehovah with Jack and the Beanstalk. … Polytheism fades away at its fringes into fairy-tales or barbaric memories; it is not a thing like monotheism as held by serious monotheists. … Finally it did satisfy, or rather it partially satisfied, a thing very deep in humanity indeed; the idea of surrendering something as the portion of the unknown powers; of pouring out wine upon the ground, of throwing a ring into the sea; in a word, of sacrifice.
The Everlasting Man, by G. K. Chesterton. From “V. Man and Mythologies”, which is rapidly becoming my favourite chapter in the entire book. I had to resist the urge to quote more.
EDIT: On the next page:
Certainly the pagan does not disbelieve like an atheist, any more than he believes like a Christian. He feels the presence of powers about which he guesses and invents. St. Paul said that the Greeks had one altar to an unknown god. But in truth all their gods were unknown gods. And the real break in history did come when St. Paul declared to them whom they had ignorantly worshipped.
Yes, it’s Tau Day. I couldn’t get Kevin or Ryan to write a proper post, and I don’t feel like writing one myself, so instead I’m going to spend a little time whinging about Everyone’s Favourite Social Network. If you want to talk about numbers, go leave comments on my Pi Day post.
Something odd occurred to me earlier. The people who I interact with over the Internet most are either not on Facebook, or I am not friends with them on Facebook, or I don’t interact with them over Facebook.
Facebook facebook facebook. If I say it often enough, it’ll stop making sense.
Seriously, though: I tend to use email, SMS, Skype, IRC, &c. far more heavily than I do Facebook. Facebook is more of a passive absorption system: it allows me to procrastinate more effectively by providing me with a firehose of content.
I could just nuke it. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure most of my blog readership comes via the links I post on Facebook, and mercenary as it sounds I’d rather not lose that. I could create a page for the blog, but I’d still have to have an account, and also go through the logistics of getting people to “Like” it. (You could argue that the kind of people who want to read things I post on the Internet would do so anyway, but under my current system I can use linkbait titles and ensnare innocent souls.) I could simply stop checking Facebook, but then when people send me messages or invite me to things I wouldn’t notice (a non-issue if I’m not on Facebook because they know not to send me anything).
G. K. Chesterton, in The Everlasting Man, writes:
A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep. It is also true that they sometimes needed him for some sudden and militant act of reform; it is equally true that he often took advantage of being the strong man armed to be a tyrant…
Something to keep in mind. In context, Chesterton is arguing that more often, despotism tends to follow democracy, rather than a civilization’s natural state being despotism, which is then reformed into democracy.
It may also be worth noting that democracy has scaling issues, causing it to decay into either despotism or an oligarchy. As a state gains more citizens, hearing all of them properly rapidly becomes impossible, leaving the actual power in a smaller number of powerful, corruptible people.
Isn’t it strange how this castle changes as soon as one imagines that Hamlet lived here? As scientists we believe that a castle consists only of stones, and admire the way the architect put them together. The stone, the green roof with its patina, the wood carvings in the church, constitute the whole castle. None of this should be changed by the fact that Hamlet lived here, and yet it is changed completely. Suddenly the walls and ramparts speak a different language. The courtyard becomes an entire world, a dark corner reminds us of the darkness of the human soul, we hear Hamlet’s “To be or not to be.” Yet all we really know is that his name appears in a thirteenth-century chronicle. No one can prove that he really lived here. But everyone knows the questions Shakespeare had him ask, the human depths he was made to reveal, and so he too had to be found in a place on earth, here in Kronberg. And once we know that, Kronberg becomes quite a different castle for us.
Niels Bohr, quoted in Wisdom Sits in Places by Keith Basso.
In which I take a short break from studying to contemplate something banal which popped into my head.
It seems that I study best in the lofty heights of the D. H. Hill Library. There, accompanied by some sort of caffeine-laden beverage, I can concentrate on getting large amounts of work (or procrastination) done.
My latest study bender — powered by several shots of espresso — reminds me of a sort of journey of spiritual self-discovery. The initiate heads off to some lofty mountain peak, with his stimulants and whatnot, to contemplate life, the universe, and everything, and perhaps achieve enlightenment. Or in my case, heads off to the upper floors of the library tower with an overly strong cup of coffee at some obnoxious time of night to contemplate the niceties of certain Native American languages, a topic which no doubt set my mind on this track, in the hopes of getting a decent grade.