Cliven Bundy Just Put Away The Dog Whistle, That’s All

I don’t know, I really don’t know, what everybody is so upset about.

So Cliven Bundy said the following, via The New York Times:

I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

So what? Why are so many people, who jumped in bed with Cliven Bundy and began a rather lurid affair (Have a nice day, Senator Dean Heller!), now scurrying around looking for their clothes and the door? What is in Bundy’s racist remarks that hasn’t been endorsed, in one form or another, by any number of Republicans, especially during the 2012 presidential election? There are many examples to choose from, but I will give you only two.

Remember back in 2012 when two GOP presidential candidates—I said, presidential candidates, people!—Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, signed a “Marriage Vow” pledge that included the following as a preamble:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President, according to the document.

Translation from Cliven Bundy: “Are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things…?”

But we don’t have to go back to 2012, which featured Mitt Romney’s class warfare on the mooching 47%. His partner in that presidential run, Paul Ryan, recently made remarks that mirror Bundy’s comments about how blacks “never learned to pick cotton” because of all the government subsidies they enjoy. On right-wing Bill Bennet’s radio show Ryan said:

Bennett: You gave a talk about poverty, lifting people out of poverty. A great party has a plan to help people get out of poverty. What’s the plan? What are the broad outlines? What’s the roadmap, as someone might say?

Ryan: In a nutshell, work works. It’s all about getting people to work. And when you were one of the leaders of welfare reform in the late ‘90s, we got excoriated for saying you know what, as a condition of welfare, people should go to work and it should be a bridge, not a permanent system. And it worked very well, but there were dozens of other welfare programs that did not get reformed that have sort of overtaken events and have now made it harder for people to get into work. We call it a poverty trap. There are incentives not to work and to stay where you are; that’s not what we want in society. 

And later he told Bennett:

Ryan: And so, that’s this tailspin or spiral that we’re looking at in our communities. You know your buddy (conservative scholar) Charles Murray or (public policy professor) Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this, which is we have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work; and so there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with. 

The only difference, to my ears, from what Ryan said and what Bundy said is that Ryan was careful to substitute “inner cities” for “Negroes.” The rest of it is essentially the same idea: if you don’t make black people work by threatening to starve them to death, then what will happen is that all the older blacks will sit on the porch and count their food stamps, while their young girls get pregnant and then get abortions and their young boys commit crimes and end up in jail.

So, let’s get off Cliven Bundy’s racist ass and congratulate him for saying plainly what many, many Republicans have been saying in code for so long.


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  1. Duane,

    A few days ago, the Joplin Globe was kind enough to publish an op-ed piece of mine that talks about tribalism. I wrote, in part,

    “. . . today’s tribalism is much like it was back in the paleolithic era. Tribes are protective of their own and suspicious of outsiders. This tribal loyalty gives rise to the mistrust of others, sometimes intolerance, and even war. Our identity, our history, our values, are all derived from our tribe.

    “We will fight for our tribe, conform to its beliefs, become invested in its worldview. But we are social animals and we have evolved to depend on our tribes for safety and survival. So the success of any tribe thrive depends on cooperation and coordination – the Golden Rule.

    “All of these factors create an emotional investment in our tribe and we are not apt to criticize or challenge it, much less think about it. Interaction with members of other tribes is often limited by misperceptions and biases without regard for objectivity. The messenger is shot before the message is even heard. Critical thinking is checked at the door.”

    Of course, these comments are way too subtle for those whose tribes live in a bubble — like the Tea Party. They fail to understand that the Golden Rule applies to all tribes; that coordination and cooperation are some of the most important tools needed for a pluralistic society to succeed.

    So, what we have in the case of Mr. Bundy et al, is the same old crap that we had back in the paleolithic era — tribes living in isolation, in fear of the Other. Kinda sad in the 21st century.

    On the other hand, it may be worth pondering Bertrand Russell’s keen observation that, “Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.”



    • Thanks for the Jared Diamond essay link, Herb. The truth of his conclusions is self-evident as far as I’m concerned, and the only recourse we are left with is education. However, he and other scientists have been publishing for more than two decades and I’m not seeing any progress in public awareness. In fact, the Cliven Bundy affair would seem to be evidence of regression.

      For further evidence of the effects of agriculture on humanity, as if any were needed, I recommend an excellent new book I’m reading on medical history. It is The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis. It is at once a science mystery and a revealing insight into what life was really like at what was probably the nadir of our agricultural “civilization”. Hint: the average life span in Europe was 35.

      I of course agree, Herb, that there’s no turning back now. Hell, the thought of a life without dental medicine alone would dissuade me from being a hunter-gatherer. But I don’t think any of us, perhaps with Anson excepted, are sanguine about the future.


      • I would challenge you on two points here, Jim. First, Anson is not sanguine about the future. He is quite negative about it, as far as I have seen. And, second, I am optimistic about the future, at least as optimistic as one can be. I recognize there are a lot of problems awaiting us, but I also recognize that we have a lot of intellectual tools at our disposal to help solve those problems. Science and technology, even despite the anti-science nonsense we hear from a noisy bunch of fundamentalists and evangelicals in our country, march on and so does knowledge about our brains and the culture those brains construct. I also see how we have progressed, even in ages of utter and widespread ignorance, to the point where life is so much better now that it is, as you suggest, unimaginable to go back to earlier times, even just a couple of generations ago. That general idea is what makes me think our future is not as dark as some suppose, and the idea that our present political problems, which are caused by the ascendancy of a group of know-nothing reactionaries, won’t always be subject to the gridlock we see now.


        • Yep, you’re right about the first point. I had the same thought right after I hit “enter”. Funny how that works. As to optimism, I’m indebted to you and others for that. Sometimes the trajectory and public acceptance of right-wing nonsense really gets me down, particularly around here. Keep a-goon’, I’m with you.


      • Jim,

        I went into more detail in response to Herb, but I don’t think anyone can argue that the move to agriculture brought with it many problems, just as staying with the hunter-gatherer model would have had its problems. But I don’t see how his conclusion is justified. At best he overstates his case; at worse he completely misses the progress you suggested just by your dental medicine comment (does anyone think primitive folks never had dental disease?). I only see the obvious value of this interesting essay in that it points out many of the problems associated with the culture brought on by agriculture (and the resulting evolution of large population centers and the need for large government bureaucracies to govern things) and the need to find solutions to those problems. He asked the right question: “Will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture’s glittering façade, and that have so far eluded us?” How the future answers that question can only determine whether agriculture was the “worst mistake in the history of the human race.”



        • I don’t think Herb is advocating a return to hunter-gathering, if that’s what you’re implying by “his conclusion”, Duane. No sane educated person would want that. No, I think he’s just like I am, pessimistic about the trajectory of public understanding of the dilemma. And I’m sure he, like I, hopes you’re right, that things are getting better and people are maturing, culturally speaking.

          Hmm. I just heard on the evening news that the Deputy P.M. of Russian suggested that the U.S. astronauts ought to get a trampoline to get to the ISS instead of relying on the Russian rockets. Let’s see how maturely the public reacts to that. (I feel a boil coming on myself.)


          • Actually I meant Diamond’s conclusion, not Herbs. And the conclusion I was referring to was the idea that it was a “mistake” to go the route of agriculture. Seems silly to me.

            In any case, I don’t think there is much worry that the Russians will cut us off from the ISS. There is the matter of the nearly one-half billion dollars we owe them for past flights and the matter of future compensation, as well as the fact that the space transport deal is about the only way they can hit us, and that would only be a hit to our national prestige (as long as we get the two up there now back). I just don’t think they would play such a card in this dangerous game, when there is so much time left on the clock. But I confess it is a little embarrassing, especially since I am a huge fan of manned space flight. I was never in favor of abandoning the space shuttle until something existed, developed by NASA, to take its place. This was yet another Bush mistake (and O decided to also go with private companies to get to the ISS, etc.), as far as I’m concerned. The silver lining in this latest Russian “threat” might be that NASA will push up, rather than back, the timeline for finishing the competition for a private company low-orbit spacecraft.


    • I liked your piece, Herb. I bet this line went over well with the locals: “But we are social animals and we have evolved to depend on our tribes for safety and survival.” That is pregnant with so many things that would offend the local evangelical tribesmen: We are animals; we depend on others; we evolved. The Satanic Trifecta! Congrats!


      • Thanks for the nice words. I’ll be in J-town this weekend to hear a tribute concert to Dave Brubeck, so I’m sure I’ll get an earful.

        I’ve got another one in the queue. It’s title is “So Long Democracy, We Knew Ye Well. R.I.P.” Here is an excerpt:

        “Well, it’s is now official. Liberal democracy as we knew it is no more. Or, as Nietzsche might put it, democracy is dead. And how do I know this, you ask? I know because of an April 9 report by Princeton University’s Martin Gilens, and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” that tells me the majority does not rule in the United States. Well, I was shocked, shocked I tell you.”

        “Gilens and Page comment that, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

        “In other words, it’s tyranny by the minority.

        “Of course, anyone who follows politics in this country knows intuitively that our system of governance has been in trouble for several decades – that there are a few at the top who get the mine, while the rest of us get the shaft.”

        Anyway, I don’t know when or if the thing will be published. But it might be a good topic for one of your excellent posts.



        • Thanks, Herb. I used your reference to Gilens and Page for the post, “Who Makes The Game? For Too Many Of Us, They Do.” I don’t know if you saw those two on Jon Stewart, but the extended version is online. Good stuff.



          • Yes, I did see those guys on Stewart. They used some pretty sophisticated statistical methods, which are hard to argue with.

            Speaking of Stewart, he took on the Benghazi hysteria last night (May 5th) and, as always, nails it.

            Also, I don’t know what happened to my op-ed piece. If it doesn’t make by next Sunday, and you don’t mind, I’ll dump the whole thing here for you and your merry band of followers to comment on.



  2. ansonburlingame

     /  April 25, 2014

    Well all you progressives, I’m back!!

    Over the last several months I have taken a hiatus from national and international events and focused only on local issues in the runup to the April 8th election. It was a welcome break and I learned a lot. But now I’m back, to commenting on Duane’s blog on issues where we disagree.

    First, can we try to put racism aside for just a moment and for sure try to not let Clive Bundy speak for conservatives, all conservatives.

    Should assistance to those in need, for food, clothing and shelter to start with, be a bridge to self sufficency, or should it be a permanent state of affairs, survial, for such folks? In an ideal world, would liberals and conservatives disagree that self sufficiency, able to support one’s self and one’s family, is the goal of social policies? I don’t believe we would differ all that much in stating such a goal but will argue forever about how to achieve it.

    Duane mentions the Golden Rule. I believe that rule has two edges. Sure one should give to those in need, just as one would hope for assistance from others if need happened. But should someone just give all the time to those that only take, all the time, for a lifetime?

    Certainly Scrooge violated the Golden Rule by refusing to ever give. But if Bob Cratchit only took subsistance all his life, I submit he too would be violating the same rule. In the end to that story a compromise was found though a spiritual awakening (caused by ghosts) on the part of Scooge. On the other hand one never saw Bob Cratchit or Tiny Tim just sitting on their front porches on the edge of starvation either. I bet Bob went back to work after that glorious Christmas morning and probably Tiny Tim got his legs fixed with help from Scrooge and became a productive citizen later on, in that fictional story.

    As an aside, I am undertaking the laborious effort to reread some Western Philosophy, a compendium of excerpts from the classical “greats”. It is certainly dense reading and I have to go real slow, for sure. But at my age I have time to undertake such a task.

    In the introduction to The Examined Life the editor boils it all down to one sentence. “How does anyone find the good life”. Dickens may well have placed a signpost for all of us in The Christmas Carol.



    • Anson,

      On the Golden Rule thing, the way it worked back in the day was that everyone was expected to carry their share of the load. If one person was hungry, another would give him/her food because at some point the situation will be reversed. If it benefitted the whole tribe, then that was preferred to benefiting one person.This was a custom wrapped in morality. Likewise, any person would couldn’t contribute to the tribe was either banned or killed. Same with any children who were born with some kind of handicap or disease. They would be put to death because the tribe would have to devote a disproportionate share of its recourses to keep them alive, and in any case, they would slow the tribe down as they pursued their nomadic existence.

      So, the Golden Rule as used here means to behave in such a way that benefits the whole tribe, rather than just a few privileged individuals. Today we would call it communism or socialism. Nonetheless, that was the primary means of organization and survival for more than 95% of the 200+ thousand year existence of homo sapiens.

      But then we entered that Neolithic era — the Age of Agriculture — and things started to turn to shit. On that point, the Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond wrote and essay called “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.” You can read the entire thing here:

      As you see when you read this article, it wasn’t too long before the Golden Rule got thrown under the bus, or the buggy, or the chariot, or whatever, when it came to interacting with other tribes as they evolved into Kingdoms, then City-States, then Nation-States, then World Empires. It became us versus them, whose god is biggest, and finding out, as Orwell described it, that all animals are created equal but some animals are created more equal than others.

      Diamond makes a good case, but nobody thinks we’re going back to what we were 10,000 years ago. It does, however, give some context to how we got to this point in the first place.



      • First, I like Jared Diamond’s interesting work, but the idea behind this particular 1987 paper is not new, even though it seems very strange. As some have pointed out, it echoes the “fall of man” account in Genesis (where Adam and Eve were cursed by having to work the soil). Also, it should be noted that his essay is based on the work of anthropologists, who are notoriously relativists when it comes to culture and whose field of study is necessarily interpretive when it comes to ancient societies and how they lived and, especially, what they thought about how they lived.

        Second, related to your “Golden Rule” theory based on Diamond’s work, are we to suppose that hunter-gatherers through the ages weren’t violent or sexist? Huh? There are plenty of examples of violence (Tasmanians, for instance)and subjugation of women (Australian aborigines practiced wife-beating, among other things). And are we supposed to believe that prior to agriculture, people weren’t competitive and that they voluntarily shared with others without compulsion? Hardly. People have always tended toward keeping more for themselves and in fact in many hunter-gatherer societies, apparently it was necessary to devise rules to govern the distribution of food, else some would cheat. Sure, some hunter-gatherer groups found a balance between competition and cooperation, just like we are trying to do today on much larger scales (which makes the job more difficult) .

        Third, Diamond, it seems to me, is essentially critiquing the idea of civilization, since agriculture and the civilization it brought was inevitable as populations increased. Imagine feeding the entire world by gathering wild plants and shooting wild animals. Come on. As for the idea that agriculture was bad for the health of people, imagine how bad starvation would be on the health of people.(I will later deal with Diamond’s suggestion about choosing either smaller populations or choosing agriculture to feed them, but for now imagine how many people in history, including some important people who made great discoveries, wouldn’t have been able to live absent agriculture.)

        I could ask Diamond if he would prefer to live in prehistoric times or today as a Kalahari bushman, even if he had to work less than 20 hours a week for his supper (that number, by the way, has been challenged; some believe the bushmen worked in excess of forty hours, when all associated work is added in). Or if he would prefer to live isolated with a few of his fellow bushmen, even if they were free from diarrhea or class warfare (which is a defect of capitalism, an economic system that may or may not have arisen absent agriculture; I don’t know how one would prove that one way or the other). My guess is he wouldn’t want to, although that in itself doesn’t defeat his argument.

        As for the advent of royalty and the privileges of wealth and power, it wasn’t necessarily agriculture that did it. It was the idea that an individual could actually own the land, or an individual could exercise control over the land, and thus reap the benefits from it. If a concept of strong socialism had emerged along with agriculture, a concept that said the land and its bounty belonged to everyone, we might not have heard of King George and perhaps no one have grown fat “on food seized from others.” I don’t see why it is logically necessary that materialism or predatory capitalism had to follow agriculture.

        He asked the question, “If one could choose between being a peasant farmer in Ethiopia or a bushman gatherer in the Kalahari, which do you think would be the better choice?” Except that is a false choice. I can guarantee you that if another choice was added, say, a postal worker in Missouri (such jobs made possible because of agriculture and city life), the peasant farmer would quickly move to the Show Me State.

        As for that “worst mistake in human history,” what mechanism do you think, if “we” had chosen to limit population growth rather than embrace agriculture, we would have used to limit that growth? I don’t think the IUD was around in those days, so the alternative would have been what? He can talk about “starvation, warfare, and tyranny” as the by-products of agriculture, but what kind of society would have emerged from the need to thin out the human herd in the days before artificial birth control methods were invented? I can imagine a horrific form of tyranny under those conditions, a form that would make what China did in the last generation or so look relatively tame.

        Finally, as Diamond notes, we are at the beginning of the age of agriculture, in terms of our social evolution. Science, including the social sciences, and technology may be able to overcome every single one of the defects he attributes to our adoption of agriculture as the chosen mode of survival. I admit the defects and I admit the challenges are many, including the threat of nuclear destruction that hangs over all of us every day. But to deny that we have made progress, which essentially is what Diamond is doing in that essay, is to ignore the past benefits of science as well as its potential future benefits, at least some of which may make life inconceivably better than today. I am one who chooses to think that failure is not inevitable and that we will figure out a way to thrive in peace and good health, even if none of us knows what the future will bring.



        • Duane,

          I think most of your concerns are with the venerable Professor Diamond. And they are best left to him to answer. In fact, he has a couple of new books out – ”
          The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?” and a revised issue of an earlier work, “The Third Chimpanzee for Young People.” Maybe these will help if you’re interested.

          That said, I think the confusion about my comments is the distinction between what goes on intra-tribal as opposed to inter-tribal. The golden rule thing is the nominal ethic that would be necessary in a nomadic society. For a particular tribe to survive, the members of that tribe have to survive, so helping each other means helping the tribe. Those who are unable to do their part meet a rather miserable fate. There was infanticide and eldercide. So, admittedly, tribes have their problems.

          Then too there is considerable variance in the cultures of the various indigenous peoples of central Africa, the Amazon river basin, and southeast Asia, among others. You got your hostile headhunters in Borneo and your laidback egalitarian peoples like the !Kung tribe in the Serengeti as examples

          Probably the best case studies here would be the pre-Columbian northern Indian tribes like the Sioux, the Black Feet, the Crow. The more southern tribes — Navaho. Apache, Pueblo, Ute — were more into agriculture. Back in the day, I had an Op-Ed piece in the Glob that talked about the Iroquois Confederation:

          (As I noted in the comment section, the editors left out a key paragraph in this piece that ties to the 700 years referenced in the headline, which reads: “It is uncertain when the Iroquois Confederacy first came into being. Some scholars believe it could have been sometime between 1090 and 1150 CE. If those dates are accurate, then the Great Law of Peace preceded even the Magna Carta, “The Great Writ,” of 1215 CE, which became the foundation for English Law and the inspiration for many Constitutions, including ours.”.

          Anyway, I think there is a lot to learn about tribalism and how it pertains to our social mores and value systems of today. If nothing else, it’s a convenient device/metaphor to use in teasing out and contextualizing the issues.



          • You’re right, Herb. Most of my criticisms were directed at Diamond. I didn’t mean to saddle you with his conclusions, I was only linking you to the “Golden Rule” theory you mentioned. I was simply making the point that the Golden Rule was likely no more naturally operable in hunter-gatherer societies than in our own. Even Diamond can’t get inside the heads of ancient people and tell us what they were thinking, in terms of their attitudes toward “do unto others.” 

            I do agree that there is a lot to learn about tribalism, particularly since forms of it, as you have pointed out many times, still exist today. I find it a key to understanding a lot of even 21st century behavior, which, I may point out, tends to make Diamond’s essay even more problematic.



    • King Beauregard

       /  April 25, 2014

      Wow, another patented Anson Burlingame Wall Of Text, going on about abstractions because the details make his team look bad. Can’t say I missed those posts.

      “Duane mentions the Golden Rule. I believe that rule has two edges. Sure one should give to those in need, just as one would hope for assistance from others if need happened. But should someone just give all the time to those that only take, all the time, for a lifetime?”

      Yeah, takers, like Cliven Bundy. People accuse him of taking welfare, but he’s worse than a welfare queen, he’s a thief. He’s got the money to pay what he owes, so he’s doing it out of greed, not need.

      Now, what was this you were saying about that vile Bob Cratchit again, who had an ailing son and no way to pay for his treatments? Apparently HE’S the real monster here.

      By the way, Duane never mentioned the Golden Rule. That was Herb. I realize we white guys all look alike to you, but come on already.


      • In the Tea Party retelling of the story, Bob Cratchit is the problem. He simply didn’t work hard enough to merit a raise because, as we all know by now, the market should determine how much he should make and whether Tiny Tim can go to the doctor. And the Tea Party would prefer the pre-vision conservative Scrooge over the post-vision liberal one. For my tastes, Dickens should have dispensed with the visions altogether and had a government bureaucrat come in and stick a gun to Scrooge’s head and make him give Bob a raise and access to something at least as good as ObamaCare. As the story ends, the working class is still dependent on the conscience and morality of the moneyed class.


        • King Beauregard

           /  April 29, 2014

          Anecdotal, but I have heard that Teabagger types don’t respond well to the following hypothetical deal: “You can opt out of Obamacare, but if you get hit by a bus we’ll leave you to die in a ditch like an animal, because you chose not to contribute to your medical costs.” I am told they get a look on their face like toddlers who let their balloon slip and watch it drift ever further away — something beautiful is gone from their lives, forever. Apparently they assume that their own medical coverage is assured, and they don’t quite grasp that, no, they don’t get coverage as a birthright.


          • Yeah, but. EMTALA guarantees everyone emergency treatment, like if you get hit by a bus. Perhaps a better hypothetical deal: “You can opt out of ObamaCare, but if you get cancer you’ll just suffer and die without any treatment because you chose not to contribute to your medical costs.” Oh, and: “if you can afford some kind of treatment, you will go bankrupt before it is over. Good luck to ya.”


            • King Beauregard

               /  May 6, 2014

              My hypothetical deal would include an EMTALA waiver, which they would certainly agree to because they are motivated by principle and are not in any way completely full of shit.


    • Anson,

      You asked,

      Should assistance to those in need, for food, clothing and shelter to start with, be a bridge to self sufficiency, or should it be a permanent state of affairs, survival, for such folks?

      Answer: Yes. For some it will be a bridge, for others it will be permanent.

      You asked,

      In an ideal world, would liberals and conservatives disagree that self sufficiency, able to support one’s self and one’s family, is the goal of social policies?

      Answer: It can only be a goal of public policy if 1) a person is physically or mentally capable of such self-sufficiency, and 2) if removing the structural social barriers that keep able-bodied folks from advancing to a state of such self-sufficiency is part of that public policy.

      You asked,

      But should someone just give all the time to those that only take, all the time, for a lifetime?

      Answer: You tell me. If someone in your life, say, one of your children, was the victim of a horrible disease or physical problem, or an unfortunate accident, or was mentally incapable of caring for himself or herself, would you keep on giving to them? Otherwise, I don’t know anyone who only takes, all the time, for a lifetime. Do you?

      Finally, I know this may sound strange to you, but I don’t exactly see the moral of the story in “A Christmas Carol” the same way you do. In the end, Bob and Tim Cratchit were still dependent on a rich guy to be kind to them, albeit a reformed rich guy. Sure, as your philosophical editor says, part of the goal of the examined life is to figure out how one should live. But we also have to figure out how to live as members in a larger society, and I, for one, hope we can do a lot better than hoping rich people will be transformed by conscience-changing ghosts or life-examining philosophers.


      P.S. By the way, I am glad you are undertaking the task of reading some philosophy. I used to be addicted to such reading and I, too, have to wade through a lot of it very slowly. A lot of philosophers didn’t (don’t) know how to write for non-professionals.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  May 8, 2014


    I was introduced to philosophy in an elective course, a political science course, in college. I really enjoyed reading Plato’s Republic, not all that hard to read with the Socratic method used, step by logical step if you will. Since then I occasionally dabbled in such reading but as noted it is hard stuff to comprehend. I found this particular book, The Examined Life, in my library. I must have purchased it a few years ago then set it aside, forgotten, until now.

    I find it interesting that the fundamental questions we discuss herein, the various blogs we have written over the last several years, deal with the same fundamental questions, “what is the good life” as stated by the editor of the book. Philosophers of old and non-professionals such as us still argue the same topics, to a degree.

    I now find one common point of reference between philosophers of old and those of us commenting on their writings today. We are all older men, the writers, you, me, Wheeler, etc. Why does that make a difference in outlook? I speak only for myself but here it is. We no longer have the pressures experienced by younger folks. Take just sex, a powerful motive for sure and one we have all experienced and tried hard to control but……. Old men (and women I suppose) don’t have that same “pressure” from within and we can speak of controlling that drive without feeling the drive any more.

    Same with money. All of us have essentially all we will get now. And most of us of have found a way to live with what we have now. So that old and previously experienced drive to succeed, prosper, make more money, get more “fame”, etc. is left in our wake and we can comment on such matters dispassionately, to a degree, now.

    Case in point. You once wrote from a conservative perspective and now a liberal one. How much affect has age and experience contributed to such a change of views? A lot I imagine.

    But the good part of all of this is we are still trying to learn and reframe (or better defend maybe) our views and “philosophies”.



    • Speaking of philosophy, there has been some noise generated between Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Cosmos”) and Massimo Pigliucci, who holds a Doctorate in Genetics, a PhD in Evolutionary Biology, and a PhD in Philosophy.

      In case you didn’t know, deGrasse Tyson is not a fan of philosophy. In fact, he dislikes it very much and essentially considers it pointless these days because it can get in the way of real science. Pigliucci defends philosophy very admirably by making these points:

      1. Philosophy makes progress, contrary to popular belief.
      2. Philosophy doesn’t dwell on the same old questions, except in the same sense that other disciplines do too. He wrote, “[C]osmology has been dwelling on ‘the same question’ (the origin and evolution of the universe) since the pre-Socratic atomists (philosophers, by the way).” Likewise, “[B]iology has been concerned with the nature of adaptation since Aristotle’s (another philosopher!) articulation of his four fundamental causes.”
      3. Philosophy of science is still helping science progress by elucidating “the conceptual and theoretical aspects of research on everything from evolutionary theory and species concepts to interpretations of quantum mechanics and the structure of superstring theory.”

      I have read philosophical stuff since I was in high school (I, too, started with Plato because he, unlike so many philosophers since, was so damned easy to read). Every now and then I will get one of my books on philosophy out (I probably have a couple hundred) and just start reading. Just wish I had the discipline to finish them all.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  May 17, 2014

    As a young man, philosophy was “just too hard” to read. It had to be “spiced up” to be interesting. Thus and only for that reason, spice, I like Atlas Shrugged. At its core it was all about philosophy, but with the added spice, I loved it and still do, the spice at least if not all of the philosophy, now.

    Good writers, popular writers all contain philosophy. But they inject “spice” as well. James Lee Burke is one of my favorites, along with the guy who wrote Mystic River (and many others). Burke in particular entwines the elements of recovery from alcohol in all of his books, or almost all of them, and that subject at its core is a form of philosophy, not religion as such, at least in my view and experience.

    It will now take me about six months to stuggle my way through The Examined Life. But finish it, I will do so for sure. But not in one week of continuous reading either. My attention span is not that good and I need to throw in other “spice” to endure that journey.

    I have recently found some Frederick Forsyth books not yet read. Recall he wrote Day of the Jackal long ago. He now has more recent books of interest, to me. Have you ever really considered the “philosophy of a Tunnel Rat”, the American men going into the tunnels in Vietnam to find a whole enemy army, hiding underground for years? Wow. Why would anyone do such a thing?

    In his book Avengers, an American tunnel rat but later a lawyer finds a Vietnames tunnel rat and the two become engaged, outside of any tunnels. Fascinating reading of “philosophy”, for me at least. By the way the two men become allies against a modern and common “enemy” who himself is a “tunnel rat” with the emphasis on being a real “rat” and in hiding as they persue him, the other “rat”.


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