“Nothing is more alien to the present age than idleness. If we think of resting from our labours, it is only in order to return to them. In thinking so highly of work we are aberrant. Few other cultures have ever done so. For nearly all of history and all prehistory, work was an indignity.”
“Liberals tend to regard being subjects of the Queen as an insult to their dignity. But at least the archaic structures by which we are ruled do not force us to define ourselves by blood, soil or faith, and we are protected from the poisonous politics of identity.”
“The belief in unity that has fuelled so many utopian dreams is an effort to reconcile the irreconcilable that ends in repression. Berlin suggests we renounce this venerable faith, and learn how to live with intractable conflict.”
“A far smaller proportion of the population is in jail in Japan than in any Western country – around a twentieth of that in the United States. Evidently the Japanese have yet to embrace Western values.”
“Other animals do not need a purpose in life. A contradiction to itself, the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?”
Zizek: Playing games with words. Deliberately transgressive. Philosophy as a game, as mischief. Gray: measured.
The result of toppling tyranny in divided countries is usually civil war and ethnic cleansing.
John gray: the most significant philosopher of our times
There are massive holes in my education. The upside is that I am constantly surprised by some writer, philosopher, artist or musician that other people seem to know about, but about whom I’ve been blissfully unaware. Never too late to learn, as the saying goes.
How could I have read the Slovenian Žižek and never read the unassuming British philosopher John Gray?
John Gray, in his 1996 book, ‘Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought’, includes the following dialogue (with my emphasis in red):
“The French socialist Louis Blanc told (the nineteenth century Russian philosopher) Herzen one day that life was a great social duty, and that man must always sacrifice himself to society. Herzen replied, ‘Why?’
‘How do you mean, “Why?”’ said Blanc. ‘But surely the whole purpose and mission of man is the well-being of society.’
Herzen replied, ‘But it will never be attained if everyone makes sacrifices and nobody enjoys himself.’
Berlin then comments:
‘In this gay and apparently casual passage, Herzen embodies his central principle – that the goal of life is life itself, that to sacrifice the present to some vague and unpredictable future is a form of delusion which leads to the destruction of all that alone is valuable in men and societies – to the gratuitous sacrifice of the flesh and blood of live human beings upon the altar of abstractions… the purpose of the singer is the song, and the purpose of life is to be lived.’¹
Another interesting insight on freedom (I keep returning – uneasily – to my friend’s socialist mantra, Aluta Continua. Vitoria e certa! and this piece by Gray expresses my own disquiet:
‘Gray puts it thus, ‘Negative freedom² is “true” freedom because it best captures what makes freedom valuable, which is the opportunity it secures to live as you choose.’ We might hope for a more positive concept of liberty, extending to the pursuit of democracy in Iraq, for example, but we are deluded if we then stray into any form of political eschatology in which we are all supposed to be moving towards some end point in human history, often (and historically) demanding dreadful atrocities in the here and now.’
 One has negative liberty to the extent that actions are available to one in this negative sense. Positive liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes. While negative liberty is usually attributed to individual agents, positive liberty is sometimes attributed to collectivities, or to individuals considered primarily as members of given collectivities”-Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Will Self of The Guardian takes on Slavoj Žižek: