what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Brecht and Candide

an uzbek painting

One of my favourite poems has been Brecht’s “In Praise of doubt”

Deafened by commends, examined
For his fitness to fight by bearded doctors,
inspected by resplendent creatures with golden insignia,

admonished by solemn clerics who throw at him a book written by God Himself
Instructed by impatient schoolmasters, stands the poor man and is told
That the world is the best of worlds and that the hole
In the roof of his hovel was planned
by God in person
Truly he finds it hard
To doubt the world

There are the thoughtless who never doubt
Their digestion is splendid, their judgement infallible
They don’t believe in the facts,
they believe only in themselves

When it comes to the point
The facts must go by the board. Their patience with themselves
Is boundless. To arguments
They listen with the ear of a police spy.

The thoughtless who never doubt
Meet the thoughtful who never act
They doubt, not in order to come to a decision but
To avoid a decision. Their heads
They use only for shaking. With anxious faces
They warn the crews
of sinking ships that water is dangerous

You who are a leader
of men, do not forget
That you are that because you doubted other leaders
So allow the led
Their right to doubt

The "best of worlds" reminds one of Voltaire's Candide - or rather the Panglossian philosophy which the book derides. In our post-modernistic hubris, it'seasy to forget that so much of what we think are profound new insights have been said before - and in a better way (see the Eliot quotes in the previous post). Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" remains for me one of the most inspiring stories (about groupthink) - and Tolstoy's fable "Three Questions" about the importance of living in the present. I was amazed to find that theme in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations! Perhaps, instead of drafting my own lessons, I should simply quote from these older texts....??

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