Founding Mystic

Transcendentalism, n. 1. the philosophy that proposes to discover the nature of reality by investigating the process of thought rather than the objects of sense experience. . . Webster’s Unabridged

Emerson, The Mind on Fire, Robert D. Richardson, Jr.  1995

Scales and chords. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, it was words and sentences.  He was a prose artist, and his practice was journal writing.  He sought the artistic experience of using a crafted skill to achieve meaning in expression.

Emerson was, like Immanual Kant, disturbed by skepticism, the philosophy of David Hume that says that we can’t really know what we know, that causality itself can’t be proven, that all thinking derives from sense perception, that no inductions can have the force of certainty, that the self is illusory. Emerson believed in the validity of intuition, the truth of what can be sensed from self-awareness in parallel with awareness of the world. One’s mind is made by nature, one’s mind is valid. Live, look, and see. From one’s full experience, one can know all that there is. “The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.”  “My own mind is the direct revelation I have from God .”

Unwittingly, he affirmed the American political vision, in the mystical realm. “The highest revelation is that God is in every man.

He was well aware of the pitfalls, the draw of sophistry, of experts, of the easy, shallow path.  “It is easy to live for others, everybody does.  I call on you to live for yourselves . . .”  Follow your mind, but watch your step.  “When you write do not omit the thing you meant to say“.

Writing was self-actualization, his steadied stepping along a true path.  He was after first impressions, not second thoughts.  “For the best part . . of every mind is not that which a person knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him”. He recorded dreams. He cultivated flow. “The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent“.  Don’t fret for that hobgoblin: consistency.

I will no longer confer, differ, refer, defer, prefer, or suffer

In his relentless exploration of words and sentences, as he journeyed and journaled his own mind, Emerson learned to know what words can’t say, and what mystics always discover:  that there is thinking, and there is knowing, and they are not the same. In carefully perceiving what is, and listening to what one thinks – in this mysterious interplay of sensing and thinking -Emerson came to sense the nameless, universal essence of the world.  And so can we all.  Self Reliance.

Emerson grasped that nature self-registers. The active mind vivifies the attributes and forms and living magic of beauty, love, time, and eternity. All individuals, then, can be gods, in this way, creators of the world.  And for Emerson, that is the way to live.

Evolution not Revolution


a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Edmund Burke

The past teaches for the future, and society, like life itself, must learn from its experience and carry this knowledge forward.  Society must both honor its past and adapt for its future.  In times of dramatic change, social movements arise, and, like the French Revolution, can advocate radical rejection of the past.  The French revolutionaries sought wholesale reconfiguration of all elements of society.

[they] “completely pulled down to the ground, their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army, their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures”  Edmund Burke

The ensuing chaos and tragedy provoked a philosophy of counter-revolution, most notably from Joseph de Maistre and Edmund Burke, a philosophy that we call conservatism, today.

Joseph de Maistre opposed what he called ‘rational’ government, government directed by seemingly reasoning elites, those who say they know best for the rest of us, using the cover of majority rule.  Government of ‘reason’, he argued, would lean towards abstract and impossible-to-achieve utopia, and lead to human evil, in its quest for efficiency and to please the whims of the majority.  He advocated for a heirarchical authority, in the form of a religious constitutional monarchy. Only allegiance to values held outside the minds of men – including the king – values held in protection by the rights of property, indeed values held with irrational commitment to time-honored tradition, he believed, could rule over time without corruption against the everyday interests of the majority.  de Maistre was a privileged aristocrat. He has been vehemently derided, and even credited with creating fascism, but he was not surprised by the Reign of Terror.

Edmund Burke, an Irishman in England, was initially supportive of the French Revolution, but also came to denounce its abstract, metaphysical extremism, its extreme rejection of the past.  Democracy can be excessive.  He found that a common heritage was best supported with property rights, and by due process of common law, and that change for the future was best cultivated with education, commerce, and free trade. He argued against taxing the American colony, and warned of the inherent dictatorial expansionism of the French revolutionaries.  He was not surprised by the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

de Maistre and Burke have support in history.  Authoritarian regimes that maintain tradition – Japan, Germany, Spain, Chile, South Korea – have been able to progress to democratic systems. Totalitarian regimes which severely reject their past – Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba – have not.

A conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop‘”  William F. Buckley, Jr.

Conservatism is evolution, not revolution.

A New Economics

To endure, free societies must foster access to wealth, there must be democratization of wealth. Everyday people must prosper. Their ability to secure the means to achieve their human needs must be available.

At the American founding, wealth for everyday people came from farming.  The continent presented a vast supply of essentially free, never-tilled land.  Political rights and national sovereignty were priorities. Industrialization was not foreseen.

As available land was taken up, farming was less and less a means for acquiring wealth. The civil war led to industrialization, and mechanization decimated farm labor. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, portrays dispossessed farm laborers, watching, as they leave town for California, one tractor, in one morning, do the work that used to take all of them together weeks to do.  The Great Depression followed.  The industrial era had not advanced enough to take up for the loss of farm labor employment.

The New Deal subsidized employment, directly hired millions, created public work projects, and strengthened worker’s rights. This was successful, for a time, because economic output was labor intensive. Enterprises used hands and backs much more than machines.  Building roads utilized thousands of workers. Today, however, economic output has become capital intensive. With stunning engineering advancements, capital – knowledge, resources, technology, machines –  has become the vital input.  Increasing production does not require commensurate increase in labor and wealth flows increasingly to capital. Employment is failing to provide for democratization of wealth.

Ironically, attempts to increase the value and opportunity for labor – such as with direct government employment, government subsidy, mandated higher wages and benefits – only serve to accelerate the process of shrinking labor value, because they increase the incentive to produce with less labor.  The entitlement society, by progressively redistributing income from the employed to the non-employed, accelerates this further as the employed sector is pressed to ever greater efficiency – to use less labor – to pay for the ever growing non-employed sector. In a feedback spiral, the non-employed sector fights for political influence and increases its taxation demands, further pressuring the employed, tax paying sector to produce greater labor saving efficiency.

And so, a new economics is needed. This new economics will somehow have to democratize wealth by democratizing capital. In some new way, individual citizens will need to automatically accumulate capital as they normally perform their life cycle.  This capital must be their property, their new kind of seed corn, and it must be unavailable to politicians to use for cultivating their own political popularity. But the state must ensure that it is measuredly utilized rather than consumed.  It must accumulate, somehow sequestered to grow, and yet also be available for key life needs.

Capital will be the earner of the future, everyone will have to have capital. It may require a crisis to democratize capital and not labor, and that crisis may be neigh.

Nowhere Man

John Lennon, The Life Philip Norman, 2008

I read the news today, oh boy

About a lucky man who made the grade

And though the news was rather sad

Well I just had to laugh

I saw the photograph

He blew his mind out in a car

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before

People differ in their need for stimulation.  There is the nerdy kid who can’t tolerate a rolling coaster ride or a scary movie, and there is the test-the-limits thrill seeker like John Lennon.

John Lennon relentlessly sought sensation, and defiant self expression.   He got himself into trouble, all the time, and pulled others into trouble with him.  Paul McCartney’s father called him “that Lennon”. He was precocious – with drinking, with drugs, with sex. He was also intelligent, and artistic. He liked imaginative writing, had a talent for music, and a sense for authentic, emotional expression. He took the time to learn the craft of playing guitar, writing songs, and singing, and he became very good.  Rock and roll was it, he went crazy for Elvis Presley. Listen to Elvis in ‘Trying to get to you’, you will hear the Lennon inspiration.

I was a rhythm guitarist. . . I can make a band drive” . . He rejected any aesthetic of thinking – “that excellentness which I never believed in“.  He disliked Paul’s literary songs.  “I go for feeling“.

He could also be mean. He truly was “a jealous guy“, ever fearful of being up-staged.  He was quick with the verbal put down, and created bully loyalty. He could be violent with alcohol. But he was also an engine for success. He was bold and could drive a crowd.  He could be endearing and needy and funny. Women were drawn to want to care for him.

He suffered boredom like some ghastly memory, and seemed haunted by loss.  As he achieved phenomenal success, he found himself maddingly unsatisfied.  There is a pained disappointment in his best songs.  He was just not able to find peace of mind. He descended into out-of-control pill taking, drinking, marijuana, LSD, and heroin. When Yoko first met him, she found he would wake up and take “handfuls of pills”.

His recklessness cost Lennon/McCarthy ownership of many of their songs.  He betrayed friends and mentors – Brian Epstein, George Martin, and sadly, Paul.  His interviews have blame, special pleading, and self pity.  He would both decry fame and stoke it.  Being lionized while feeling empty made him cynical.

Who was John Lennon?  Creative, engaging, and appealing, but also disturbed, difficult and ultimately tragic.  He could not achieve inner reward.  For someone fantastically famous and wealthy, one of the luckiest people on the planet, he was unfulfilled.

He’s a real Nowhere Man

Sitting in his nowhere land

Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Doesn’t have a point of view

Knows not where he’s going to

Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

The Strange Case of Lee Harvey Oswald

Sen. Russell Long (D-La.) has told us that Lee Harvey Oswald. . . trained with Castro revolutionaries in Minsk during his Soviet stay” Jack Anderson, Washington Post, March 7, 1967

Ion Mihai Pocera defected to the West in 1978.  He was head of Communist Romania’s foreign intelligence service, and was responsible for recruiting foreigners – particularly disaffected, low rank American soldiers like Lee Harvey Oswald.  In Programmed to kill:  Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination, 2007, he finds that the Oswald story has very strong signs of Soviet Foreign Intelligence involvement.

Procera proposes that Oswald was likely recruited while stationed at the U-2 Atsugi base, and that Oswald’s information was instrumental in shooting down U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, which resulted in a great PR triumph for Khrushchev. This made Oswald a hero to Soviet foreign intelligence and his visit to the Soviet Union was likely his reward (this being a common practice).  They wouldn’t have wanted him to stay, his cover would be suspect and he would be more useful in the U.S., but he forced them to acquiesce – ever the loose canon – by publicly revoking his U. S. citizenship at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.  While living in Russia, he received extensive espionage training, and was then sent back to the U.S. with an arranged Russian agent wife (another common practice), to function (both of them) as sleeper agents in the U.S.

Pocera doesn’t believe that the Soviet Union ordered Oswald to murder President Kennedy, but he emphasizes that Oswald was a difficult, restless agent, a true believer wanting more heroic work, who became more and more intent on getting into ‘revolutionary’ Cuba.  He spun out of control, and possibly into the hands of pro-Castro Cuban agents (whom he met in Minsk?) working in the U.S. Oswald was both deluded enough to allow himself to be lured into shooting Kennedy in order to help Cuba, and gullible enough to allow himself to be set up to play the patsy role in a plot. Adult fetal alcohol syndrome?

Before November 22, Oswald mysteriously does pro-Castro advocacy, and then also mingles with anti-Castro Cubans.  He visits Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico.  He carries out noticeable and self-incriminating actions – shooting practices, meeting prominent Cuban exiles, hinting at planned assassination, seeking to buy a get-a-way car.

Lee Harvey Oswald was the only employee of the Texas School Book Depository not accounted for during time the shots were fired.

After the shooting, he seems to improvise an escape from the scene, as if a planned meeting doesn’t occur.  He returns to his apartment for his gun – he must have thought he wouldn’t need it, but now clearly thinks that he may.  He seems to head in the direction of a small airport nearby, or to a bus station to take him to Mexico (he had made that same bus trip one month before).  He calmly murders Dallas police officer Tippett, who alone has threatened his movements. He brazenly re-loads his gun in front of numerous eye witnesses.


“The other thing. . . was that this little spot, the Bahamas lowland, was a turquoise jewel that you could see all the way to the moon. . . . It was like it was illuminated, like a piece of opal.  And you could see that all the way to the moon.  And I kept being amazed about that”.   Bill Anders,  Apollo 8

Imagine being behind a rock, on The Sea of Tranquility, on the moon, for these past 3.5 billion years. Off in your horizon would be this blue-white planet with patches of brown.  Over these years, you would notice these patches of brown coalesce and then separate, you would see white patches come and go, even for awhile covering the entire planet – “snow ball earth”.  You wouldn’t be able to see the proteinaceous sea congeal into life, in the blue, and then come ashore and then proliferate, but you would notice increasing green.  You might happen to notice, some 65 million years ago, a meteor strike the planet, clouding up the blue and white, and green, but you wouldn’t be able to know that this collision would set the stage for small mammals to evolve into primates, and eventually into self-conscious, self-cultivating beings, humans.  You wouldn’t know that Kublai Khan, after conquering all of China, failed to conquer Japan.  You would, however, eventually note a faint suggestion of lighted areas, particularly along blue margins, due to the intentional harnessing of energy into light by humankind, although you wouldn’t realize the profound human global proliferation.

Then, on July 20, 1969, suddenly, out of the black sky you would notice a shiny, flaming object descending towards you, with blinking lights, and gold and silver lining.   It would land with a slight bounce and puff of dust, and then would extinguish its flame.  A bit later, two objects would emerge, slowly descend, and move around, digging and gesturing.  They would plant a flag, go back inside, and then later, with a new burst of flame, ascend and disappear.

You would have witnessed a singular event, and would then know that somehow, in the silent black of the immense universe of stars, and in this triangular neighborhood of the sun, the moon, and the earth, self-organizing systems of organic complexity managed to create non-organic systems of complexity that could carry them across empty space and bring them to see for themselves the silent, vast heavens they had for so long imagined, and allow them to look back on their planet and see, in one small view, where everyone has ever lived and died, and where all of any known history has happened.

You would know that they will still live with the mystery of it all, but they will have at last come to know, for sure, that this mystery is. . . . real.

when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the surface of the moon, I cried.  And if everybody had ever told me I was going to do that, I’d have said, “no, you’re out of your mind.” Alan Shepard, Apollo 14

Contradiction Hitchens

If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it”  [Yvonne Hitchens]   Hitch 22, A Memoir, Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens was a middle class Brit, but received an upper class education.  Perhaps this explains his ‘contradictions’.  A part of him would be unable to forget that everyday people want what his upper class Oxford friends take for granted: security, freedom, prosperity, and leisure.  He would know the merits of the bourgeoise.

He is a life-long Leftist, a champion of international socialism, a former Trotskyite, now a ‘conservative’ Marxist (his words), a professed agnostic.  He holds Henry Kissinger guilty of war crimes, wants the Pope brought before a grand jury, considers Bill Clinton a fraud, and supports a purge of Religion from society. He is a celebrated ‘public intellectual’.

But, . . . but, contradictions:  he has supported the forceful overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the Iraq War of George W. Bush, a near unpardonable sin amongst his brethren.

I can identify the moment when I decided to come off the fence and to admit that I felt that I had been cheating on my dues

I thank whatever powers there may be for the power of the United states of America.  Without that reserve strength, the sheer mass of its arsenal in combination with the innovative maneuvers of its special forces, the tyrants and riffraff of the world would possess an undeserved sense of impunity.”

An engaging, entertaining wit, an erudite and humorous conversationalist with a John Lennon voice, Hitchens is an honest intellectual, following integrity. . . even when it leads to self-refutation. Christopher Lasch comes to mind.  One is just never sure how much the self-refutation is realized.

Contradictions, well stated, but held, side by side, by an incisive mind are puzzling, but also informative.  One is pushed to think deeper. Hitchens seems to have an awareness of the imperative of having convictions, of believing in something, and of being steadfast.  He has come to admire the American soldier.  He seems to realize, rare perhaps among his compatriots, how principled Leftism is utterly dependent on strongly defended civil freedoms, and that those liberties require not just legal and domestic protection, but also, in the larger world, military protection.

His friends are obsessed with the errors of colonialism, and imperialism, and inequality, but Hitchens seems able to say:  compared to what?

He owns up that his leftist friends haven’t much admired his hero George Orwell, didn’t much rally (and still do not) to the defense of his friend Salman Rushdie, that even Susan Sontag had to emphasize that communism was ‘itself a variant‘ of fascism, and that the Reader’s Digest has been a more useful guide to communist reality than the Nation. . !

Alas, with his book God is not Great he has aligned himself with prominent, avowed atheists. How can someone as thoughtful and well-read as he find that religion causes tribalism instead of vice versa? Hasn’t he read The Lord of the Flies?

Stalin’s Wife commits Suicide

Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar, Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2003

It was November 8, 1932, the fifteenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.  Stalin was sealing his power.  The forced collectivization of farming in the Ukraine was well underway, and starvation was killing millions.  The Politburo was becoming a sinister band of complicit murderers.  There was dissent.  In the summer there were even peasant uprisings. The Old Bolsheviks – Martemyan Ryutin among others – had been caught on wiretap:  “Don’t tell me there is nobody in the whole country capable of removing him [Stalin]In the morning, Stalin ordered Ryutin’s arrest, and then attended the Revolution Day parade in Red Square.  Ryutin was executed in 1937.

Nadya Alliluyeva, Stalin’s wife of 14 years and mother of two of his children, was not happy.  She was listening to the critiques of the Old Bolsheviks. Like Bukharin and others, she was disturbed by the horrors of the Ukraine.  Her friends were disappearing.

The Stalin children were sent to the Zubalovo dacha for the weekend. At the evening celebratory dinner Stalin toasted the “destruction of the Enemies of the State”.  Nadya didn’t raise her glass, and then left, followed by Polina Molotova, who tried to calm her.  Nadya eventually went to her Kremlin room, which was across the hall from Stalin’s office and room, and down the hall from the servants.  Her brother Pavel had bought her a pistol as a gift.

It is ‘unclear’ if Stalin went home after the party, or went to his dacha, or to another dacha, with friends, or with another woman.  The next morning, he was sound asleep in his room.

Nadya was found on the floor of her room, next to her bed, in a pool of blood, cold, her pistol beside her.  In great fear, her servants summoned Yenukidze, Nadya’s last dancing partner the evening before, the “politician in charge of the Kremlin”.  He alone witnessed the scene.  Found with her was an angry letter to Stalin and a copy of the anti-Stalin “platform” statement of the Old Bolsheviks.  “During those days in the country at large, the mere possession of this document warranted arrest.” Yenukidze was executed in 1937.

Stalin was awakened.  Doctors arrived.  “There were bruises on her face”  and a “five millimeter hole over the heart“.  Stalin picked up the pistol.  “It was a toy”, he told Molotov, adding strangely, “It was only fired once a year.

Stalin gave a powerful show of grief, anguish, remorse, self pity. “I’d never seen Stalin cry before,” said Molotov, “but as he stood there beside the coffin, the tears ran down his cheeks.”  His daughter Svetlana has said that he wanted to resign from the Politburo, but they objected.

As Bukharin offered condolences, Stalin insisted. . . without being asked. . . that he had been at the dacha, not at the apartment.  Bukharin was executed in 1938. Bukharin’s plea for clemency was still in Stalin’s desk at the time of Stalin’s death in 1953.

He swiftly recovered the Messianic confidence in his mission:  the war against the peasants and his enemies within the Party.”

Napoleon in Egypt

Mirage, Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt, Nina Burleigh, Harper Perennial, 2008

Napoleon Bonaparte was more than just a celebrated man, he was the nearest thing to a rock star the late eighteenth century would see.”

In 1798, just before Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their exploration of the American West and their encounter with primordial, paleolithic humanity, Napoleon Bonaparte set off for Egypt and an encounter with primordial, ancient civilization.  Ever the narcissist, Napoleon saw himself as the new Alexander the Great.  He had conquered continental Europe, and now sought empire in the East to counter England, which he couldn’t oppose on the open sea.   No European had been to the Middle East since the crusades.  Ruthless and romantic, a dreamer both inspiring and callous to his followers, Napoleon blundered his way across Egypt and into Syria, finding an Ottoman world, magnificent ancient ruins, and the Rosetta Stone.

Like Apollo to the moon,  Napoleon’s expedition not only explored, but made deliberate study of its destination. Napoleon brought scientists, 150 of the best scientists of France.  They studied, travelled, catalogued, and made drawings of fantastic ancient ruins that were covered with the mysterious hieroglyphics, many of them filled with sand, used as garbage dumps by the local people.  They spoke with Islamic followers about life diversity,  and the origins of the world.  They found, first hand, the temple of Isis on the island of Philae as the uppermost Nile reaches Nubia, now removed as the island is under the water from the Aswan dam. They discovered the colossi of Memnon statues at Thebes, which ‘moan’ as the sun rises.  They found the intact Zodiac base relief ceiling at Dendara, made during the time of the Greeks, and the great temple of Hathor. They suffered the plague, and a near-blinding eye infection called ophthalmia.  They created modern archeology.

stuck dumb by the combination of silver moonlight on the desert, the black, whispering river, and the sudden, towering shadows of temples and columns”

They suffered most the self-centered whim, and reckless, impulsive leadership of Napoleon.  He promptly lost his navy to the British, by surpise, in the Battle of Abukir Bay, while mooring at Alexandria.  He led his army to needless defeat in the Syrian campaign.  In the failed siege of Acre, he ordered euthanasia for the dying and retreating French soldiers.  At Jaffa, he ordered the murder of 4000 Turkish prisoners. As news arrived of France in trouble and Italy lost, Napoleon slipped away with a small group back to France, leaving the others to fend for themselves.  A shrewd publicist, he regaled his deeds in Egypt before the others could return. He eventually became Emperor.

Of 34000 land troops who sailed to Egypt with Napoleon, 21,500 returned alive.  Among the survivors were 3,000 sick and maimed.  Out of the expedition’s 16,000 sailors, only 1,866 – barely one in nine- are known to have returned to France.

For Profit

In Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell provides a clear treatment of the economic principles that underlie capitalist economics.  First he explains the fundamental mechanisms of capitalism, then he shows how even educated people tend to misunderstand these basic concepts. This book is not just an introductory course in economics, it is an explanation of its counter-intuitive logic.

As Sowell defines it:

Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses.

that have alternative uses” – that is the key. Most people understand that capitalism is driven by profits. Producers are motivated to create companies and sell products because they can retain the difference between production costs and the price the customer pays.  And customers will pay a higher price for products that are more valuable to them. That is simple enough. But Sowell explains further that producers compete with each other for inputs, the materials needed to make their products.  To maximize profit, producers seek the lowest possible input costs, and so they use inputs, whenever possible, with the least valuable alternative use.  They are less in demand and therefore lower in cost. This creates efficiency in the utilization of resources. The profit motive thus drives the match of  the value of resources with the value the customer seeks.  More valuable resources get used to produce what customers value most.

There is an all-to-common characterization of profit as a selfish cheating of the customer, motivated by ‘greed’.  With Dr. Sowell’s reasoning, profit is a moral pursuit. A business that does not earn profit is needlessly employing scarce resources that could be used more effectively in some other way.  The story of profit capitalism, then, is products being made the same or better, but with less resource inputsdoing more with less. A firm either produces a higher quality product using the same cost of inputs, or makes the same product using lower cost inputs.  Resources get utilized efficiently, desired products are produced, needs are satisfied, fortunes are made, and wealth is created.  And all with price and profit, not control and coercion.

Sowell is frustrated that the advantages that drive a capitalist economy are strangely dismissed, often, by the very people who enjoy its fruits.  The failures of controlled economies should drive us to embrace the benefits of capitalist economics and profit.

The trend of the last century is encouraging:

The twentieth century began with high hopes for replacing the competition of the marketplace by a more efficient and more humane economy, planned and controlled by government in the interests of the people…But the most decisive evidence for the efficiency of the marketplace was that even those who were philosophically opposed to capitalism turned back toward it after seeing what happens when industry and commerce operate without the guidance of prices, profits and losses.