Monthly Archives: August 2016

Pride Comes Before Destruction, Or Does It?

Jessica Tracy’s TAKE PRIDE:  WHY THE DEADLILEST SIN HOLDS THE SECRET TO HUMAN SUCCESS (Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is a well-written, very interesting, and often humorous look at that mysterious aspect of our personality, pride.  What is pride?  How and why did human beings develop pride?  What crucial role does pride play in shaping our lives?  These are among the questions Ms. Tracy attempts to answer.

Before getting into a review of TAKE PRIDE, let me first admit to a brief love affair with the study of psychology.  I took a two-semester course in general psychology as a sophomore in college way back in 1964-65, when literacy was still a requirement for admission to college.   The first semester was a great experience.  We studied theories by Freud, etc., learned what abnormal was in contrast to normal, and all sorts of interesting things about people’s behavior.

That abnormal vs. normal thing still eludes me, however.  How can you classify some behavior as abnormal when no one seems to be able to define normal?  Think about that for awhile.

I almost decided to major in psychology, but then came the second semester.  It was all about the parts of eyes and ears, testing, and statistics.  I was so bored.  But I made it through the course having learned two lasting lessons.  First, psychology is NOT a science.  It is more like a group of late night patrons in a bar passionately expressing their personal opinions on subjects about which they know little.  Second, having been taught by a practicing psychologist with a patch over one eye and an addiction to cigarettes, I am convinced that every psychologist is in need of a psychiatrist.    But I wander.  Back to Ms. Tracy’s TAKE PRIDE.

The French philosopher René Descartes is famous for saying, “I think, therefore I am.”  Descartes was pointing out the simple truth that in order to reason one must begin with some assumption.  In his case, his starting assumption was the fact that he could not doubt that he was sitting there thinking (i.e., doubting).

What the thinker must remember, however, is that the starting assumption determines the path one’s reasoning takes as well as the end or conclusion of the journey.  I think it is important for the reader keep this in mind while reading TAKE PRIDE.

Ms. Tracy’s beginning assumption is the evolutionary theory of the origin and development of life.  Human beings are but one animal species.  What distinguishes a human from the other animal species that arose from the evolutionary process of, as one individual has put it, “from ooze to you by way of the zoo,” is what Ms. Tracy calls “our uniquely human sense of self.”  “Without the human self,” writes Tracy, “our species would not have been able to do or become all the things that make us different from other animals.”

Pride is the emotion that enabled we of the human species “to do and become” all that we can as humans.   Pride provides the “motivational kick” that enables human beings to be human.  “Pride and self,” concludes Tracy, “are mutually reinforcing psychological phenomena, two adaptations that go hand in hand and whose joint evolutionary development has allowed our species to become what it is today.”  Pride is not a negative emotion.  It is rather a positive emotion.  It leads to greatness, but can also lead to tragedy.

All of this is mere theory or speculative reasoning based upon theoretical assumptions.   Ms. Tracy uses words and phrases like “self-evident,” “obviously,” “must be the result of,” etc. to give the appearance of scientific fact to what remains only speculation.

Various scholars have tried to explain what makes a human being different from other animals using the theory of evolution.  All have failed.  Beginning with the assumption that matter is the ultimate reality, one cannot arrive at a satisfactory explanation of what makes a human being human.  Creationists beginning with the assumption that the ultimate reality is a personal, infinite creator do have an explanation for the” mannishness of man.”  But both evolution and creation are theories, neither one of which can be tested and proven wrong.

A discussion among psychologists is much like a group of children playing in a sand box discussing their feelings about sand.  The scene may be interesting, even entertaining, for the adults looking on, but little more than that.  Because psychologists are trying to understand people, their books will always be, depending upon how well written they are, interesting.  “People,” said Art Linklleter, “are interesting.”

I found Jessica Tracy’s TAKE PRIDE interesting and thought provoking.  It was a welcome break from the lighter reading I have been doing of late.  If you are considering reading it, I encourage you to do so.   Just keep in mind that your response to what Tracy is saying will depend upon your answer to the question of what is the ultimate reality.   All inquire must begin with the answer that question.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always live under the mercy.

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Historian’s Almanac: August 12, 2016

Today is August 12, 2016.  There are 141 days left in the year and only 87 days left until we elect a new President.

It was on August 12, 1927 that the romantic action-packed World War I movie “Wings” premiered at the Criterion Theater, in New York City.  It was awarded the highest honor, Best Picture, at the first Academy Awards ceremony on May 16, 1929 in Los Angeles, California.  “Wings” was the only silent movie so honored by the Academy.  The script was written to accommodate Clara Bow, superstar and cultural icon known to history as the “It” Girl.

“Wings” is one of the most significant movies in cinema history.  The realistic air combat scenes set the standard by which all subsequent aviation movies were judged.  It took 7 months to film, rather than just 1 month, which was normal at that time.  “Wings” cost $2 million ($26,725,988.70 in 2016) to make, a paltry sum compared to the cost of today’s action movies.  Last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had a budget of $306 million.  “Avatar” (2009) cost $425 million to make.

Frequent bad weather around San Antonio, Texas where “Wings” was filmed left the cast with time on their hands.  By the end of filming, every one of the elevator girls at the St. Anthony Hotel, where the cast was housed, became pregnant.  Clara Bow, who announced her engagement to Victor Fleming upon arrival in San Antonio, had a sizzling affair with Gary Cooper.  It has been said of Cooper, whose career got its big boost from his role in “Wings,” that he bedded every one of his leading ladies during his career.

“Wings” is also remembered as one of the first motion pictures to show nudity.  During a scene at an army recruiting center, the naked backsides of some male recruits being processed can be seen through a cracked door.  Far more titillating, I’m sure, is a brief second during a Paris bedroom scene when movie goers were treated to a glimpse of Clara Bow’s breasts.

[See “Wings” trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9P3XXvleo4]

Janis Joplin gave her last concert on the evening of August 12, 1970 in the Harvard Stadium at Harvard University.  She ended the concert with her own version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”  She died of a drug overdose on October 4.  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bn5TNqjuHiU]

Joseph Lister (1827-1912) introduced the use of an antiseptic during surgery on August 12, 1865, when he applied a solution of carbolic acid to a leg wound of a seven-year-old boy.  In 1879, Dr. Joseph Lawrence named his newly developed mouthwash, “Listerine,” in honor of Joseph Lister.

“The more I see of men, the more I like dogs.”  Clara Bow

“Audiences like their blues singers to be miserable.”  Janis Joplin

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always live under the mercy.

 

 

Historian’s Almanac: August 4, 2016

Today is August 4, 2016.  There are 149 days left in the year and only 95 days left until we elect a new President.

The Norwegian Nobel Laurate, Knut Hamsun (aka, Knut Pedersen) was born on this day in 1859 in Lom, Gudbrandsdal, Norway.  Born into poverty, Knut was sent to live with an uncle who starved and beat him regularly.  In 1874 he was able to escape from his uncle’s oppression.  He spent the next 5 years doing odd jobs for food and shelter.

Hamsun began his writing career with the publican of his first novel, The Enigmatic Man: A Love Story from Northern Norway, in 1877.  It was a love story that began, “Near a small hill crowned with trees, at the foot of which a small river meandered across the lovely meadow, was a handsome farmhouse. It belonged to the richest man in town, Ole Aae.”

Hamsun was not proud of his first novel, or two others that are among the 30 novels he wrote during his long career.  He did not allow them to be included in his Collected Works during his lifetime.  Why?  As he explained to his publisher:  “I would never have published things like ‘A Reconciliation’, ‘The Enigmatic One’ and ‘Bjørger’ had it not been, each time, to show my brothers and sisters that I was not to be made fun of.”

During his literary career of 70 years, Hamsun wrote short stories, plays, essays, travelogues, and poetry as well as novels.  He first won acclaim with Hunger (1890), a novel about a young writer driven to near madness by hunger and poverty.  He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920 for Growth of the Soul, first published in 1917.

Among well-known authors who have praised Knut Hamsun are Arthur Koestler, H. G. Wells, and Thomas Mann who hailed him as a “descendant of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Friedrich Nietzsche.”  Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-born Jewish author who wrote only in Yiddish, and himself a Nobel laurate, was a great admirer of Hamsun.  “The whole school of fiction in the 20th century,” said Singer, “stems from Hamsun.”

Norwegians are proud of Knut Hamsun the Nobel Laurate.  But, there is another side of Hamsun’s legacy that is problematic.  Hansum was among a small number of interwar intellectuals who somehow found merit in the pseudo-scientific racial theories that were popular at that time in both Europe and America.

Hamsun supported the German occupation of Norway during World War II.  In 1943, he sent his Nobel medal as a gift to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.  It may have been an attempt to gain an audience with Hitler, whom he admired.  If so, it worked.

When Hamsun met Hitler in 1943, he dared to advise the Führer on German policy towards Norway.  Hitler, of course, was not used to taking advice from anyone, even such a devoted lackey as Hamsun.  According to Hitler confident, Otto Dietrich, it took Hitler 3 days to get over his anger.

In 1945, when he heard the news of Hitler’s death, Hamsun published a eulogy in the Aftenposten is Norway’s largest printed newspaper:

“Hitler was a warrior, a warrior for humankind and a preacher of the gospel of justice for all nations. He was a reforming character of the highest order, and his historical fate was that he functioned in a time of exampleless [unequalled] brutality, which in the end felled him.

“Thus may the ordinary Western European look at Adolf Hitler. And we, his close followers, bow our heads at his death” (May 7, 1945).

Sufficient time has gone by since the end of World War II to allow Norwegians to excuse Hamsun’s pro-Nazi past and focus on his legacy as a great author.  On the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2009, the Knut Hamsun Center was opened in northern Norway near where he was born.  Resembling a large black cube, the Hamsun Center is a museum and educational center dedicated to honoring his life and work.

Hamsun’s literary works remain on school reading lists in Norway.  Still his wartime collaboration with the German occupation and his pro-Nazi sympathies linger in the background like a ghost.

——

It’s the birthday of Elizabeth, wife of George VI (The King’s Speech), Queen of England (1936-1952), and mother of Elizabeth II.  She was known as the “Queen Mother.”  She died on March 30, 2002.

It’s the anniversary of the death of the American actor Victor Mature, who starred in many Biblical epics, among them Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Robe (1953), and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954).  Of his career, he once said: “Actually, I am a golfer. That is my real occupation. I never was an actor; ask anybody, particularly the critics.”

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always live under the mercy.