The problem in dealing with people is that people can deal back.
–Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works
So can animals. Just ask any pet owner who’s left the buggers alone for a weekend, and upon their return discovered that revenge is a dish that may be served cold, in several expensive pieces, or as a steaming pile of unspeakable horror left on one’s pillow.
Under controlled experimental conditions of temperature, time, lighting, feeding, and training, the organism will behave as it damn well pleases.
–The Harvard Law of Animal Behavior
This is one of those gems I plucked from The Blank Slate. Research involving animals (or small children) can, I gather, be horribly frustrating.
Having tried to modify my cat’s homicidal behavior in times of unwarranted optimism, I can completely empathize.
Wonderful theory. Wrong species.
That’s Wilson’s verdict on Marxism. I love how he can stuff so much political, behavioral and philosophical thought in just four simple words.
This is the man who managed to make ants fascinating. And he’s a phenomenal writer, so if you haven’t yet, pick up one of his tomes. And you might want to catch Nova’s Lord of the Ants sometime. You will never forget his demonstration of the defensive tactics of fire ants. I guarantee it.
It is precisely because one act can balance ten thousand kind ones that we call it “evil”.
–Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate
All these years I chased after a definition of evil, struggled to determine what true evil is, and here comes Steven Pinker with a simple and true definition, justlikethat. That’s as good a working definition of evil as I’ve ever found.
He’s also a fascinating writer who can make language utterly entrancing. I had no idea he existed before I bought a mis-shelved copy of The Language Instinct on a lark. It turned out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read, and helped me appreciate Tolkien much more deeply.
The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one. One good one.
–Archilochus, Iambi et Elgi Graeci
This will always and forever be one of my favorite ancient Greek quotes of all time. Of course, I knew bugger all about hedgehogs when I first heard it. Now I know what he was referring to:
Much later, thanks to Terry Pratchett, I also learned that the hedgehog can never be buggered at all.
You may remember Archilochus from one of his more famous poems on battlefield valor:
- Some barbarian is waving my shield,
- since I was obliged to
- leave that perfectly good piece of equipment behind
- under a bush.
- But I got away, so what does it matter?
- Life seemed somehow more precious.
- Let the shield go; I can buy another one equally good.
An eminently practical man, rather like the hedgehog he admired.
Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
–Sydney J. Harris
I know two things about Sydney J. Harris: the above quote, and that he ended up on Nixon’s shit-list Mark II. Those are enough to make me like him a lot.
This quote has very serious overtones – when I think of inaction in the face of injustice, especially. But it also correlates well to “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” which are words to live by when you’re trying to get something done in a corporate setting. That makes this an all-purpose quote. Use it well.
The concept of a leader, a furehr, must never be accepted. Blind obedience to a leader can never be adopted as a defining identity. Everyone must accept responsibility for whatever he does. Even in critical situations. This is something that still applies today.
I was watching a documentary on Auschwitz or some such on the History Channel – I can’t remember what it was, alas. I just remember having it on, nominally paying attention, and being pulled to full awareness by the quiet, intense voice of a very intense old man. His words hit me like a thunderbolt. So I paused the program and wrote them down.
Listening to the survivors of death camps like Auschwitz is harrowing. But they are memories we must not forget, and words we must not only hear, but take to heart. There are some pieces of history that must never be allowed to repeat themselves. Not if it’s within our power to stop it.