The lament of the candle makers


Tindaro Screpolato, a sculpture in the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy


by cheri sabraw

I taught Journalism I and II to precocious high school juniors and seniors for thirteen years (1985-1998) and served as the advisor to the newspaper staff.

You can imagine the decade-long censorial tussles, the moral dilemmas, and the delicate dance that I engaged in with my headstrong students. That dance– akin to a waltz when I agreed to the job was, in reality, more like a complex rumba.

During my tenure as advisor, my many staffs and I argued about stories concerning how much to print about a teacher’s death by overdose, whether the decision to print a silly quotation by a freshman about seeing his mother naked was inappropriate and libelous, about whether issuing the custodial staff a “D” in our annual report card was accurate and fair, about how to cover a teacher’s strike when the journalism advisor herself had chosen to come into work, and in one case, about a suggestive photograph in a hot tub. (Luckily, the journalism advisor was not in that tub…)

On the first day of class each year, I liked to begin our year-long  Saga of Free Speech with a discussion of what constituted “responsible journalism.”

And so.

I would begin by telling this little ditty:

The day in 1879 that Thomas Alva Edison and his scientists in Menlo Park, N.J., turned on the first incandescent light bulb, one that would last for more than 13 hours, was a momentous moment for all of mankind.

Before long, after  the news had spread throughout the township and in the scientific community, the reporters began to arrive in droves, eager to report on the dawn of an illuminated world.

Mr. Edison, after hours upon hours testing carbon wire in the laboratory, took the first question from an eager reporter:

 Mr. Edison, have you been in touch with the candle makers? Do you realize this invention will put them out of business? Are you concerned about the candle makers?


This story, along with a reading of Mark Twain’s short story The Stolen White Elephant (in which Twain lampoons the reporters’ inability to keep a secret and the detectives’ penchant for following dead-end leads rather than open their eyes and look), provided a perfect opening to a wide-ranging discussion about the role of the news reporter.

 “News reporters are to keep most adjectives and adverbs out of their stories,” I said, “the goal is to report news in an objective fashion so that your readers can draw their own conclusions. You are not to lead your readers in a direction you think they should go. That would be biased. If you want to influence reader opinion, then consider joining the editorial staff.”

Were I teaching today, I would have my students scan the Google News Feed, where headlines from the NY Times, the Washington Post, and other “news” outlets (even fake news outlets as Facebook has streamed) try to influence reader opinion by dressing up News in an Editorial costume.

Sadly,  we’ve become accustomed to this Mardi Gras of Free Speech, which, while creative, is anything but accurate.

This past election period seemed like a frenzied climax of reporter hustling.

Never, in any other election I have witnessed, has such an obvious press bias been so apparent. We expect this from the New York Times but from the Wall Street Journal?

Perhaps the Biggest Loser of this past election period was not the Democratic Party; rather, it was the press, which thought we Americans were stupid enough to believe what it said was the truth.

Let’s see.

How did those candle makers get out of bed the next morning?


Cheri and Martin Q. assessing the sculpture, 2014

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
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54 Responses to The lament of the candle makers

  1. ShimonZ says:

    Yes, I watched` the process from afar… dismayed all the while. It seemed to me that Norman Mailer was the pioneer of subjective journalism… and it caught on like wild fire. We have the same sort of journalism here in my country too. And I’ve grown quite tired of it.

  2. Cheri says:

    We are coming to Jerusalem in May for a week.
    I have never been to Israel and am very much looking forward to the trip.

    I agree with your assessment of Norman Mailer as the scion of subjective journalism ( among other things….)

    Trump has taken umbrage with the journalists…their world has changed.

  3. says:

    here here!

  4. Paul Costopoulos says:

    I don’t trust the madia…but neither do I Herr Trump.

  5. shoreacres says:

    Kipling’s my man:

    “I keep six honest serving-men
    (They taught me all I knew);
    Their names are What and Why and When
    And How and Where and Who.
    I send them over land and sea,
    I send them east and west;
    But after they have worked for me,
    I give them all a rest…”

    Unfortunately those six honest serving men haven’t been given a rest by our media. They seem to have been dispatched, in the most final way possible. I have no more patience for them, or for the social media manipulators who jigger timelines, trends, and so on.

    But it’s Thanksgiving, and we have much to be grateful for. Light a candle, seek a star, enjoy the company of those you love — and have a second piece of pie!

  6. Christopher says:

    “……..the goal [of the journalist?] is to report news in an objective fashion so that your readers can draw their own conclusions. You are not to lead your readers in a direction you think they should go……”

    I don’t think I’ve ever read such news reports, or indeed read, or listened to, anything else – whether about matters scientific, judicial, political, philosophical, historical, literary, or any other matter – that does not betray – whether directly or indirectly; whether consciously or unconsciously – the ideological predilections of the writer or sayer. Hence I’ve yet to read, or listen to, anything that’s objective.

    This makes me, perhaps, unique among your followers.

    • Brig says:

      Christopher always has to be the special one… sigh

    • Richard says:

      Pure objectivity is very hard to achieve, Christopher, even in relation to observable facts, for we all rely ultimately upon our senses and interpretation of what we sense.

      All we can do is to try to be true to ourselves and to search for truths without being influenced by our preconceptions and prejudices, always willing to question our most dearly held perceptions and beliefs.

      The problem is that conclusions are impossible to reach in finite time without assumptions and boundaries. More precisely, if you discount the idea of time, they are impossible without omniscience. The trick is to be willing to start again with revised or refined parameters. I, for one, find myself highly resistant to this ideal.

      And you are right, Christopher, scientists, and indeed logicians and mathematicians, are no more immune from these failings in pursuit of scientific truths than anyone else. Witness the controversies over climate change and in medicine. What also, as you suggest, of opposing economic theories and dissenting judgments?

      Then there are the further variables of integrity, background and motivation.

      Thus it is good people find themselves in pointless political arguments when all have the same objectives.

      • Christopher says:

        “…….Pure objectivity is very hard to achieve…….”

        I would go further, and would say pure objectivity is impossible to achieve, because, to use your words, “…..we all rely ultimately upon our senses and interpretation of what we sense……”

        You said we should always be “…….willing to question our most dearly held perceptions and beliefs………to be willing to start again with revised or refined parameters. I, for one, find myself highly resistant to this ideal…….”

        It is, indeed, extremely difficult for any of us to not only question our most dearly held perceptions and beliefs, but to change them, for they constitute our belief system, by which we define ourselves.

        So, for us to dismantle our most dearly held perceptions and beliefs, is to undergo a death of sorts. Hence history is filled with examples of people who died for their beliefs, rather than change them. They held their beliefs to be more important than life itself. It behooves us to remember this when arguing with anyone!!!

        • Richard says:

          “……I would go further, and would say pure objectivity is impossible……… “

          Perhaps I should have expressed myself in absolute terms…………………on the other hand……………..

        • Richard says:

          Yesterday, I had occasion to check what I imagined to be a straightforward point of law. I tracked down a long statute, unpicked three long sections and reached conclusions.

          Yet I am still in doubt. There is nothing so uncertain as certainty.

          So much for the rule of law.

          Agree quickly with your adversary …….

        • Cheri says:

          I am perplexed by your insistence that no lead can be without bias. I have read hundreds, nay thousands, of leads for news pages that were unbiased.

  7. Richard says:

    On Freedom and Objectivity

    In our culture, we regard freedom as a fundamental right, but is this a fact, an objective observation upon which may report?

    I allow myself to address this subject in the first person since my right to freedom is one of my most dearly held preconceptions and beliefs and I wish to examine whether I should revise or refine it.

    I cannot proceed without providing a definition of freedom, that is to say, first to proffer an axiom, boundary, parameter, assumption, call it what you will. I seek to base it honestly upon my experiences and my interpretation of them and upon the views of people I respect, living or dead.

    Thus, freedom is to act without restriction, save for the avoidance of harm to others. I assume the existence of free will and choice.

    This, then, is the subject of my comment. I distinguish it from doing good to others and freedom under the law, which are different subjects, and which, incidentally, are two of my dearly held perceptions and beliefs.

    Why do I hold this precept of freedom true? It arises from my innate restlessness under authority of any kind and, at times, disobedience to that authority. I use it to justify my disobedience and urge others to do likewise. In my disobedience I assume that I am right and the authority is wrong, yet I claim the right to be wrong.

    After acts of disobedience, I perceive a sharpening of my wits, an improvement in my judgment and an inner questioning of my wisdom in assuming I am right. The authorities I recognise at this stage in my life are the Law, my perception of God and supremely, needless to say, my wife, before whom I tremble in total disarray.

    Yet are these benefits real or illusory? Should I extol the virtues of the ant who subjects herself totally to the survival of the community? Should I unquestioningly submit to the state and the decrees of those who control it in absolute authority, irrespective of my own views? Should I have views? Should I willingly accept sanctions as for the general good, passively concur in my own bondage or slavery and in the surrender to the whim of authority my comforts and the very continuance of life itself? Loss of freedom implies all these things in varying degrees.

    I seek answers to these questions in vain and am left to rely on my overriding perception, which may or may not truly exist. Conscience, that inner, personal, voice that speaks of right or wrong says I should defend the freedom of myself and others, if necessary with my life. Sadly, I fall far short of the ideal.

    So I say to journalists, speak freely according to your conscience.

    • Cheri says:

      Well, high school journalists operate under restriction (just like student speakers at high school and college graduations). Actually, we all operate under restriction. Are you allowed to run naked down the Mall before the Queen’s Jubilee? Can you plead a case in the London courtrooms and use profanity? Can a judge there wear a Bozo nose and glasses? We do not have free speech. ( I feel silly saying this to a lawyer with your gravitas and wit…but I am doing so anyway).

  8. Christopher says:

    @Richard – John Patrick Shanley in *his introduction* to his play, “Doubt”, included this:

    “……..What is Doubt? Each of us is like a planet. There’s the crust, which seems eternal. We are confident about who we are. If you ask, we can readily describe our current state. I know my answers to so many questions, as do you. What was your father like? Do you believe in God? Who’s your best friend? What do you want? Your answers are your current topography, seemingly permanent, but deceptively so. Because under that face of early response, there is another You. And this wordless Being moves just as the instant moves; it presses upward without explanation, fluid and wordless, until the resisting consciousness has no choice but to give way.

    It is Doubt (so often experienced as a weakness) that changes things. When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he’s on the verge of growth. The subtle or violent reconciliation of the outer person and the inner core often seem at first like a mistake, like you’ve gone the wrong way and you’re lost. But this is just emotion longing for the familiar. Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to re-enter the Present…….”.

    DH Lawrence (the writer, that is, not the desert warrior) in an essay, used the phrase “…a roomful of old echoes….” to describe the mind of anyone who sticks to the old beliefs no matter what, and bangs on about them to anyone who’s near.

    I, for what it’s worth, have, during my life’s journey, come across scores – many, many scores – of such minds. They’re, most of them, inside the heads of middle-aged, or old men……….like me.

    • Cheri says:

      I’m struck with your judgement of “old beliefs” as if they are outdated old men, irrelevant and smelly. I, for one, salute the Constitution. What is Freedom of the Press? Freedom of Religion? Are those platitudes? Is the press free and how does that freedom fly in the face of journalistic responsibility? Do you agree that the journalists screwed up during this election? That Obama’s cheerleaders were shamefully muted?

  9. Paul Costopoulos says:

    Jean Piaget, the Swiss biologist, psychologist and, a bit, philosopher called it: “creative imbalance.”

    • Cheri says:

      Interesting. Do you agree with Piaget’s theories on how to educate children?

      • Paul Costopoulos says:

        Piaget was a good theoretician but a lousy educator and father.

        • Cheri says:

          I did not know about his fathering. He sounds a bit like JJ Rousseau!

          • Christopher says:

            I was interested to learn today, via Google, that in coming up with his four stages of children’s cognitive development, Piaget ignored the influence of the different cultures from which children spring. He shouldn’t have, for studies by others have shown culture to be an important influence on childhood learning.

            Something else I came cross, is that certain experts have found that an estimated two thirds of adults (including 40% to 60% of university students) have never reached Piaget’s fourth (and final) stage of cognitive development (to do with abstract thinking, and developing hypotheses).

            This didn’t surprise me when I read this, for I’d long ago noticed that a surprising number of people (adults) I’ve come across – many of them very clever, with university degrees, and all of that – seemed to me unable to think abstractly.

          • Paul Costopoulos says:

            Émile was brought up by Nature. Piaget advocated a very structured learning process based on experimentaion and never hesitated to run his experiment on his children, using them as guinea pigs. Both Rousseau and Piaget were lousy fathers however, unlike Rousseau, Piaget did not put his children in orphanages.

  10. Richard says:

    On Freedom under the Law and Doubt

    Emboldened by the strength and sincerity of Christopher’s foregoing essay on doubt and pauls timely reflection on creativity, I venture, in this season of Thanksgiving, to examine another of my dearly held preconceptions and beliefs, freedom under the law.

    The phrase is an oxymoron. For my own benefit, then, I begin with a definition.

    Law is an expression of the collective conscience.

    This expression may arise by assent, democratic voice or a mixture of both. As such, the law compounds indefinitely the uncertainties of individual consciences and can never be regarded as a moral code.

    The fragility of collective acceptance is the cause of debate, and its fracture the cause of conflict, revolution and war. It is small wonder, then, that law acquires a quasi-religious quality, a supremacy to regulate the diverse interactions of a community’s members through its high priests, the judges. Judicial power, then, promulgates the sacredness of the rule of law.

    Uncertainty in the collective conscience affords to the judges a high degree of discretion in deciding what the law is. Law is dependent upon language and subject to its vagaries. This discretion, though rooted in a fundamental contradiction, operates to the benefit of the community by reason of its adaptability to an ever-changing social environment. This contradiction and its outcome are reflected, for example, when Common Lawyers speak of precedent simultaneously with the notion of developing the law. The technical process is to distinguish previous cases, which itself embodies unlimited discretion. A lawyer who denies the organic nature of the law separates it from humanity.

    Lawyers are thus easily perceived as charlatans versed in the art of chicanery, particularly when they call for more certainty in the law. I always used to relish a homemade will, for I knew that there was a good living in its uncertainties.

    Is the rule of law a futile notion? The question answers itself. Most of us desire an ordered society in which we may lead our lives as we please and in peace, free to think and speak, free to feed, clothe and shelter our loved ones and raise our children, or, if we prefer or destiny dictates, to live alone, without interference. For that we welcome a minimal restriction on our freedoms. That we seek an ever better world requires that the structures for our obedience to the forces of the state are best if they grow and change readily with common expectations, as indiscernible as the collective conscience though they may be.

    Freedom under the law – a law that presumes freedom – and doubt are thus together the bedrock of communal happiness, freedom and hope.

    • Christopher says:

      It’s all very nice to have Freedom, but only if it’s accompanied by Happiness. I mean, if you’re Free but not Happy, what’s the point in being Free?

      So, is Freedom synonymous with Happiness? If not, what is more important: Freedom or Happiness?


      • Richard says:

        An engaging subject, Professor Christopher. I look forward to reading your book : Socialism, Happiness and the Threat to Freedom. It promises to be a profound work, indispensable for the period of self-examination prescribed by my course tutor, who, as you will appreciate, is Cheri.

      • Cheri says:

        Happiness is overrated. How about contentment? Can we replace happiness with contentment?

    • Cheri says:

      Hizzoner read this tonight and delighted in your expression of “homemade wills.”

  11. Richard says:

    On Freedom under the Law, Happiness and Contentment

    hap·py  (hăp′ē)
    adj. hap·pi·er, hap·pi·est
    1. Enjoying, showing, or marked by pleasure, satisfaction, or joy. See Synonyms at glad.
    2. Cheerful; willing: happy to help.
    3. Characterized by good luck. See Synonyms at fortunate.
    4. Being especially well-adapted; felicitous: a happy turn of phrase.
    a. Characterized by a spontaneous or obsessive inclination to use something. Often usedin combination: trigger-happy.
    b. Enthusiastic about or involved with to a disproportionate degree. Often used incombination: money-happy; clothes-happy.

    [Middle English, from hap, luck; see hap.]

    Those who have had the patience and generosity to read my recent rambling here, gross violations of the kindly hospitality of our hostess, will have noticed the singular lack of authority to authenticate my assertions. Ostensibly this is because they are self-indulgent personal reflections but in reality I am not sufficiently well-read to know any.

    On this occasion I fled to the free online dictionary for ideas, only to discover there are many types of happiness. Looks like too much work to sort all those out!

    Alright, then, what about contentment?

    con·tent·ment  (kən-tĕnt′mənt)
    1. The state of being contented; satisfaction.
    2. A source of satisfaction: the contentments of a comfortable retirement.

    “A Man’s a Man for a’ that……” Well, you can’t argue with that.

    And freedom?

    Free·dom  (frē′dəm)
    a. The condition of not being in prison or captivity: gave the prisoners their freedom.
    b. The condition of being free of restraints, especially the ability to act without control orinterference by another or by circumstance: In retirement they finally got the freedom to travel.
    a. The condition of not being controlled by another nation or political power; political independence.
    b. The condition of not being subject to a despotic or oppressive power; civil liberty.
    c. The condition of not being constrained or restricted in a specific aspect of life by a government or other power: freedom of assembly.
    d. The condition of not being a slave.
    a. The condition of not being affected or restricted by a given circumstance or condition: freedom from want.
    b. The condition of not being bound by established conventions or rules: The new style ofpainting gave artists new freedoms.
    4. The capacity to act by choice rather than by determination, as from fate or a deity; free will:We have the freedom to do as we please all afternoon.
    5. The right to unrestricted use; full access: was given the freedom of their research facilities.
    6. Ease or facility of movement: loose sports clothing, giving the wearer freedom.
    7. Archaic Boldness in behavior; lack of modesty or reserve.

    Hmm. Pretty good, in my humble opinion, even if a trifle flat or negative. No mention of happiness, there. I’d better start from scratch. Again, purely for my own benefit.

    Happiness is a spontaneous response,by no means assured, to the absence or removal of challenge to lifestyle or emotional or physical wellbeing. It can thus arise on the fulfilment of ambition.

    Contentment is an intentionally applied compensation for the persistence or only partial removal of challenge or the failure or only partial achievement of ambition.

    Freedom, if we ignore the transmogrification from noun to verb, is to act without restriction, save for the avoidance of harm to others. I assume the existence of free will and choice. Since law is everywhere, it is better to avoid its challenge and so I deal here with freedom under the law rather than pure freedom.

    In all cases, then, happiness, untainted joy, is superior to contentment, the stalwart acceptance of disappointment. Very worthy, no doubt, and carrying with it, for some, a hidden ascendancy over happiness by reason of the latter’s transient and unreliable nature.

    The whole question is too hard for me and I must content myself with a final comment on the subject of freedom and the law from Richard Lovelace. Would you say he is happy or content?

    When love with unconfined wings
    Hovers within my gates,
    And my divine Althea brings
    To whisper at the grates;
    When I lie tangled in her hair
    And fettered to her eye,
    The gods that wanton in the air
    Know no such liberty.

When flowing cups run swiftly round,
    With no allaying Thames,
    Our careless heads with roses bound,
    Our hearts with loyal flames;
    When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
    When healths and draughts go free,
    Fishes that tipple in the deep
    Know no such liberty.

When like committed linnets I
    With shriller throat shall sing
    The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
    And glories of my King:
    When I shall voice aloud how good
    He is, how great should be,
    Enlarged winds, that curl the flood,
    Know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
    Nor iron bars a cage:
    Minds innocent and quiet take
    That for an hermitage.
    If I have freedom in my love,
    And in my soul am free,
    Angels alone, that soar above,
    Enjoy such liberty.

    [To Althea, from Prison, 1642]


  12. Cheri says:

    “In all cases, then, happiness, untainted joy, is superior to contentment, the stalwart acceptance of disappointment. Very worthy, no doubt, and carrying with it, for some, a hidden ascendancy over happiness by reason of the latter’s transient and unreliable nature.”

    I will think upon the differences between happiness and contentment that you lay here before the fire of intensity.

  13. Christopher says:

    If I might be allowed to pen a couple of further thoughts on Happiness. “Happiness”, while difficult to define, might felicitously be described as “subjective well-being”. So that if you, most of the time, feel Happy, or at least sort of Happy, you’re likely a Happy person.

    The provenance of this Happiness is mainly (and so of course not wholly) your biochemistry, as epitomised by the amount of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin your brain pumps out. Hence if blessed with a brain that pumps out the aforementioned biochemicals in sufficient quantity, you’re likely a Happy person. If not blessed with such a brain, you’re likely an unHappy person, or even an outright Depressed person. .

    Other things of course contribute to Happiness, like Family, Community, and all of that, which include, almost needless to say, Marriage. Indeed, so the experts say, if Married, you’re likely more Happy – even much more Happy – than if not Married. This, though, gives rise to the question: Is this Happiness caused by Marriage? Or is it merely a correlation?

    Could it be that, if intrinsically Happy (courtesy of your biochemistry), this Happiness makes you more attractive in the eyes of Others, particularly those Others seeking marriage? If so, your resultant attractiveness may be why you find yourself Married (assuming, of course, this has already happened).

    Something else contributing to Happiness is finding Meaning in your life, or finding Meaning in anything you do, no matter how onerous, or soul-destroying (like Accounting). Religion is one of the best means to give Meaning to your life. Even if you’re intrinsically unHappy, you can find meaning in this unHappiness through Religion. Paradoxically this can lead you to be Happy.

    Happiness, though, is one thing. Craving Happiness is another. If American, and you pursue (crave) Happiness in the way your Founding Fathers said you should, you’ll likely find this Happiness to be elusive. Indeed, it’s one of the great insights of Buddhism, that the more you crave anything – including, most importantly, Happiness – the more you won’t find it, for reasons too long for me to go into here.

    I have, by the way, been influenced in much of what I’ve just said, by “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. – a book I’ve recently read, and one of those books from which I’ve emerged slightly different from when I went in. It’s that good. I’m recommending it highly.

    • Richard says:

      Wistful though this comment may be, as measured by my reading of your words, it is impossible to tell whether it expresses happiness – past present or future. If I were able to express myself as well as you, it would make me happy, but I have to be content with a lesser performance. All I can do is examine your work, roughly para by para.

      The impossibility of establishing whether the feelings of another person correspond to your own suggests that feelings are subjective, or, as you describe happiness “…’Subjective well-being</i' …". Yet scientific facts are reputedly objective. So where does that leave us? Researchers can only proceed by agreed observation and peer-approved conclusions, with all the intermediate steps, uncertainties of language and assumptions they entail. Scientific progress itself is a personal judgement.

      I remember with what feeling of anxiety I used to discuss with contemporaries at school whether emotion was purely chemical. Mental conditions are described by symptoms. Diagnosis, I am told, is the most difficult part of medicine. We all know the controversy as to what exactly schizophrenia is and I believe certain symptoms of mental conditions are being associated more and more with the biochemistry of the brain as revealed by the wonderful equipment now available to watch it. So this is more to do with physiology than with what we actually experience subjectively.

      As a result of CG Jung’s hierarchical approach to the functions of the human psyche: sensation < reason < intuition, there is a tendency to attach emotion to chemistry and feeling to some unknown quality – spirituality, say.

      That other people can make you happy or miserable is a fair assumption. Was a distinction made in the research between happy and unhappy marraiges? I can attest that, according to my dear wife, marriage is not a bed of roses. Love and happiness are not the same; one might even say they can be mutually exclusive!

      Physical attractiveness, as assessed by men, is different to that assessed by women, sometimes to an astonishing degree. In fact men need not fear lack of a mate through absence of physical or personal attractiveness. It is more a case of luck – again I speak from experience. Men also look beyond physical attractiveness.

      A good set of accounts makes me feel very happy – at least more than content and at least more than satisfied. As to religion, this is hard. Religious faith comes and goes, especially if you are open to persuasion, as I hold to be essential – we are given the ability to question all things.

      Let's have yet another look at the American Constitution:

      "… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

      I see no injunction there to crave Happiness, only a right to pursue it. I wonder if a vote for Donald Trump is the way to Happiness.

      I am not sure that a Buddhist is adamant about anything except, maybe, that a good whipping is one of the ways to enlightenment.

      But you are a tease. How exactly are you “…slightly different…” ?

      • Christopher says:

        Of “…….Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” you said, “…….I see no injunction there to crave Happiness, only a right to pursue it…….”

        I put it to you that pursuing Happiness is preceded by craving it. I mean, you’re probably not going to pursue Happiness unless you crave it first.

        You can, of course, crave Happiness, but not pursue it. This is sensible, because pursuing Happiness is as fruitless as pursuing a mirage. Happiness is something that happens by itself, for it is merely a by-product of succeeding in an endeavor of some kind, or of falling in love, or whatever.

        This by-product of Happiness, that you’ll experience as a surge, will, however, because it is a surge, be only temporary, for the extra amounts of bio-chemicals your brain produces to bring about this surge of Happiness, will soon subside to their normal levels, consistent with your bio-chemical make-up, which dictates your usual emotional state.

        Think of your brain as a thermostat, set permanently to produce the mood level (temperature) appropriate to your psychological make-up.

        America’s Founding Fathers appeared not to have known about all this when they wrote up the Constitution.

        • Richard says:

          Maybe we would not use “crave”, “pursue” and “happiness” in this context today but drier jargon such as “seek fulfilment” or “realise their potential” or something else less passionate that requires no neural assumption of any significance, more a rational purpose. This is mere wordplay, though, because I do not yet accept your premiss that you need to crave something in order to pursue it. What about “reluctantly pursuing a negotiated settlement” or ” forced to pursue an unnecessary object” or “having to pursue a non-existent enemy” or “required to pursue happiness”?

          As to the rest of your comment, you might well be right.

          I recommend Steven Rose’s “The 21st Century Brain” as a laymen’s guide to neural processes and their relationship to conscious experience. Perhaps, if you read it, you will explain it to me.

  14. Christopher says:

    @Richard – You said, “…….I do not yet accept your premiss that you need to crave something in order to pursue it…….”

    I didn’t say “….crave something…..”. I said “…….crave Happiness……”.

    I hadn’t heard of Steven Rose’s “The 21st Century Brain”, but I’ve just read an enlightening review of it in………….The Guardian!!! – a review so good, I don’t feel I need now read the book itself.

    I noted in the review, that Rose says that treating the mind by means of psychotherapy, can also restore the brain’s biochemical imbalances – thereby bringing about the same happy result as treating the brain by means of mood-altering drugs – like Prozac. However, fixing mood disorders by treating the brain (through mood-altering drugs), is less time-consuming – and thereore more efficient – than treating the mind (through psychotherapy).

    And not to speak of the fact that treating the brain through mood-altering drugs is better for the economy, since it boosts the profits of drug companies, courtesy of increased demand for the mood-altering drugs they produce.

    You’ll surely agree, then, that treating the brain, rather than the mind, is the way to go under our contemporary dogma of economic Neo-Liberalism, and its cult of efficiency.

    • Richard says:

      The Guardian!. I take it all back. You’ve put me right off.

      Give me the couch any day. Creepy, this idea of manipulating what we are, or what we believe we are, with chemicals. I think I’d rather a good dose of good, green, natural insanity. Better than Big Brother, anyway. 👁 📢

      • Christopher says:

        Here’s a provocative piece *about Happiness*, that asks, among other things, whether we, today, are, on average, any happier than were our hunter-gatherer forebears. .

        • Richard says:

          Is this The Guardian, or a contributor, questioning the virtues of the welfare state?

          I must say I find it worrying that there are scientists and political theorists out there who think they have the key to happiness without even saying what it is. They asume humans are automatons, like Dyson vacuum cleaners, and that happiness starts at the flick of a switch, if only you can find the swtch.

          Some many years ago there was a well-known neuroscientist who claimed she and her colleagues were on the brink of locating the seat of awareness within a very short space of time. I’m still waiting. Even if she had, that would tell us nothing about consciousness itself, and that is the first attribute of happiness.

          The world is not fixed and we adapt or die. So it has been since man trod this planet and ever before. There is no time to lament the invention of the light bulb, merely to improve it or sell it, reap the satisfaction of self-reliance and voluntarily share any surplus reward with those less fortunate.

          • Paul Costopoulos says:

            Hear! Hear!

          • Christopher says:

            “……..There is no time to lament the invention of the light bulb, merely to improve it or sell it, reap the satisfaction of self-reliance and voluntarily share any surplus reward with those less fortunate…….”

            This sounds suspiciously like Socialism. Whether or not it actually is, is another debate.

            Your comment implicitly raises the issue that just because a scientific miracle has happened, or could easily happen, it doesn’t mean human societies will follow up on it.

            Think, for instance, of NASA’s man-on-the-moon project, and that, despite the last manned landing being over 46 years ago, this hasn’t led to humans establishing a permanent base on the moon, which technically would have been very feasible, and something that would inevitably have happened in the light of the history of exploration.

            Obviously, a decision was made somewhere within the bowels of the Deep State, that establishing a moon base would not be a good thing, for reasons never divulged to the man-on-the-street. Were we warned off by an extra-terrestrial civilisation? I don’t discount this.

            Take nuclear proliferation. Only a relative handful of countries have acquired The Bomb, despite it being developed some 70 years ago. That most countries haven’t since acquired The Bomb is a surprise, given subsequent technological progress in this field, so that the Bomb as it was in 1945 would be quite simple to produce today, and relatively cheap.

            And, of the handful of countries that did acquire The Bomb, two (Ukraine and South Africa) chose to throw these Bombs away.

            In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, a chain of Automatic Restaurants was established, with no waiters and no cooks. The dishes offered were ready-made, and you could retrieve and pay for them from a food-dispensing machine.

            Despite this, the company promoted these restaurants as places you could take your girlfriend to in the evening for a delicious seductive meal, with wine and everything. But your evening would be cheaper because of no waiters and no cooks. You would have thought, then, pretty much all restaurants would be Automated before too long.

            Somehow, though, people missed the human touch, so the last Automatic Restaurant closed it’s doors in 1968.

            Think also of today’s gas (petrol) stations, where you can serve yourself. Now, more and more gas stations (at least where I live) are going back to having human attendants. Again, customers seem to want the human touch, and businesses accordingly have to respond.

            Human-like robots (androids) making humans redundant; a nuclear winter from catastrophic nuclear war; huge phalanxes of artificially-bred gimlet-eyed Supermen. All this, and much, much more, will, technically, soon be a reality. But, I suggest, only if humans will allow it.

            • Richard says:

              À chacun son goût, as they say on the moon. Let people do their own “thing”, I say, as long as they harm nobody. Let them venture in to the market place, too, if they wish, but the verdict can be harsh.

              You seem inadvertently to have nailed the flaw in socialism, if you will permit me. There is a difference between largesse with your own surpluses and coercion by the state. These distinctions are important, as when discerning whether the US Constitution forces you to pursue happiness or allows you to do so.

              The general question long pre-dates the invention of socialism, obsessed as it is with state control above all else. Scrooge’s ghosts may have frightened him or pricked his conscience, but he found his own – dare I say it – happiness.

              The state has its place in the things it is good at, which are relatively few but probably include (in partnership with capitalism and the free market) the identification of suffering and its relief. For the rest, leave people alone to find their destiny and the destiny of the human race at large, with a presumption of freedom. Let us hope some state or another does not lead us to nuclear annihilation, either by unchecked aggression or by negect of defences. It is a bad world out there, Christopher, caused by those seek power over others.

              • Christopher says:

                “……You seem inadvertently to have nailed the flaw in socialism, if you will permit me. There is a difference between largesse with your own surpluses and coercion by the state……”

                When I made my comment, I inadvertently missed that you’d used the word “voluntarily” when you said “……and voluntarily share any surplus reward with those less fortunate…….”.

                I obviously had one of those “seniors moments” that I expect I’ll more and more be assailed by in the coming years. Those who make light bulbs (or anything else) should of course be, and in fact are, required – because it is the law – to remit part of their profits to the government as taxes. This is right and proper.

                You seem to imply that remittances (taxes) to the government should only be voluntary. This makes as much sense as saying that obeying the law in connection with anything should only be voluntary.

              • Richard says:

                The state has its uses, for sure, and those have to be paid for. There’s nowt for nowt, as they say in Yorkshire. I try to be law-abiding, and so I always pay my taxes. It’s an old maxim, though, that there is no equity in a taxing statute.

  15. Richard says:

    I came across this passage in GK Chesterton’s “Heretics” in the Chapter “Mildness of the Yellow Press”

    This is the sentence, and every one should read it carefully, and roll it on the tongue, till all the honey be tasted.

    “A little sound common sense often goes further with an audience of American working-men than much high-flown argument. A speaker who, as he brought forward his points, hammered nails into a board, won hundreds of votes for his side at the last Presidential Election.”

    I do not wish to soil this perfect thing with comment; the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. But just think for a moment of the mind, the strange inscrutable mind, of the man who wrote that, of the editor who approved it, of the people who are probably impressed by it, of the incredible American working-man, of whom, for all I know, it may be true. Think what their notion of “common sense” must be! It is delightful to realize that you and I are now able to win thousands of votes should we ever be engaged in a Presidential Election, by doing something of this kind.

    For I suppose the nails and the board are not essential to the exhibition of “common sense;” there may be variations. We may read—“A little common sense impresses American working-men more than high-flown argument. A speaker who, as he made his points, pulled buttons off his waistcoat, won thousands of votes for his side.” Or, “Sound common sense tells better in America than high-flown argument. Thus Senator Budge, who threw his false teeth in the air every time he made an epigram, won the solid approval of American working-men.” Or again, “The sound common sense of a gentleman from Earlswood, who stuck straws in his hair during the progress of his speech, assured the victory of Mr. Roosevelt.”

    And later:

    Doubtless the public buys the wares of these men, for one reason or another. But there is no more reason to suppose that the public admires their politics than that the public admires the delicate philosophy of Mr. Crosse or the darker and sterner creed of Mr. Blackwell. If these men are merely tradesmen, there is nothing to say except that there are plenty like them in the Battersea Park Road, and many much better.

    These extracts do not really do justice to the point he makes but they indicate the nature of journalism in 1905 as compared to today. His words are a deeply ironical criticism is of journalists whose banality underestimates the subtlety and perception of the American voter.

  16. Cheri says:

    I enjoyed these excerpts so much! Thank you for taking the time to post them to me in this venue. The elites are still grumbling; the elites are still stumbling; the elites are still bumbling; the elites are doing everything but humbling.

  17. Cheri says:

    and Richard, you might enjoy this blog about the church bells in London:

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