- Wearing a wedding dress to a battlefield—the summary of American Christendom.
- A new world with the same sins following.
- “New soil! Any need of that old Vine?”
- Christendom: trying new hats, headless. The Church: never apart from Christ, not for a moment.
- Being penetrated versus comprehending. Truth versus the lie. Revelation versus Gnosticism. Humility versus hubris. Victory versus vanity. Rest versus “rage, rage.”
- All things for Christ or some things for Christendom. Absolute conflict.
St. John’s College knows, along with many others:
In a half-dozen classrooms they gather then,—here to follow the love-song of Dido, here to listen to the tale of Troy divine; there to wander among the stars, there to wander among men and nations,—and elsewhere other well-worn ways of knowing this queer world. Nothing new, no time-saving devices,—simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and searching out the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs, that was taught in the groves by Plato, that formed the trivium and quadrivium, and is today laid before the freedmen’s sons by Atlanta University. And this course of study will not change; its methods will grow more deft and effectual, its content richer by toil of scholar and sight of seer; but the true college will ever have one goal,—not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.
—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, “Of the Wings of Atalanta” (1903)
. . . [A] decent regard for truth and for honest self-criticism compels me to speak of failure as well as success—my failure, the failure of my generation, and of all who consider themselves teachers, mentors, and leaders in all walks of life. For the truth is that we have failed you. We have failed you because, being human, the better angels of our nature are often bested by the worse; and because, being consequently inconstant, we preach ideals that we fail to honor in deeds; and because, being consequently hypocritical, we are forced to hide painful truths from ourselves; and because, being consequently ignorant, we hand down to you truth and falsehood mixed indiscriminately in unknown proportions.
Commencement Address, St. John’s College, Annapolis, 17 May 1998
Socrates: Therefore I was telling the truth when I said that it’s possible for a human being to do what seems good to him in a city without having great power and without doing what he wants.
Polus: Yeah, right, Socrates, as if you wouldn’t accept free rein to do what seemed good to you in the city rather than not, and wouldn’t be envious when you saw someone putting to death anyone that seemed good to him or seizing his property or locking him up.
Socrates: Justly, you mean, or unjustly?
Polus: Whichever way he might do it! Isn’t he someone to envy either way?
Socrates: Watch what you say, Polus.
Polus: Why’s that?
Socrates: Because one shouldn’t envy those who are unenviable or miserable, but pity them.
Polus: What? Is that the condition the people I’m talking about [i.e., tyrants, autocrats] seem to you to be in?
Socrates: How could it be any other way?
Polus: Then whoever puts to death anyone as it seems good to him, and puts him to death justly, seems to you to be miserable and pathetic?
Socrates: Not to me, but not enviable either.
Polus: Weren’t you claiming just now that he is miserable?
Socrates: The one who puts someone to death unjustly is, my comrade, and pathetic on top of it; the one who does so justly is not be envied.
Polus: I’d suppose it’s the one who’s put to death unjustly who’s pathetic and miserable.
Socrates: Less so than the one who puts him to death, Polus, and less so than someone who’s justly put to death.
Polus: How can that be, Socrates?
Socrates: In this way, that the greatest of evils is committing injustice.
Polus: That’s the greatest? Isn’t suffering injustice a greater one?
Socrates: That least of all.
Polus: So you’d rather suffer injustice than commit it?
Socrates: I wouldn’t want to do either one, but if it were necessary either to commit injustice or suffer it, I’d choose to suffer it rather than commit it.
—Plato, Gorgias 468E-469C
Translated by Joe Sachs
I with Yankee eye did cast my vision down
The tarnished streets of shining Southerntown.
I in calm reply did mind my manners here
As I spied truth beneath a white veneer.
I saw signs whereby the folks kept folks in place—
In class through caste by past beliefs of race.
I exposed a lie disguised in symbols fair:
black child denied adulthood by white “care.”
I have found out why—until the symbols sway,
White father to black brother—caste will stay.
- The apothegmatic style well employed gives away very little for the readers and listeners. They have a responsibility to strain and seek, and the writers and speakers who love them most would not dare take this responsibility away from them.
- A man who cuts off a conversation with a proverb is least worthy to wield the proverb on his tongue. One might say that pro-verbium is merely a word-put-forth, but it should also be a word-on-behalf-of, -in-service-of, -for-the-sake-of. Of what? A conversation.
- There are two kinds of maxims: one that is an impetus for further thinking, and the other that is a summation of much experience and a summary of what would have been a great and lengthy account. But who can say that beginnings and ends govern human affairs any differently? There is, then, only one kind of maxim.
- What better way to “unlearn” untruth than through a maxim, which is both a fragment and a whole, is a beginning and an end, and in all cases is unwilling to submit to the System.
- Obscurity, ambiguity, paradox, antinomy—these are not the enemies of truth. They are rather the enemies of ease. What has ease got to do with truth?
This summary of a major position of the skeptics, from the seventeenth century, was also pre-production brainstorming for The Matrix and Inception:
. . . [Q]ui sait si cette autre moitié de la vie où nous pensons veiller n’est pas un autre sommeil un peu différent du premier dont nous nous éveillons quand nous pensons dormir?
Et qui doute que, si on rêvait en compagnie, et que par hasard les songes s’accordassent, ce qui est assez ordinaire, et qu’on veillât en solitude, on ne crût les choses renversées? Enfin, comme on rêve souvent qu’on rêve, entassant un songe sur l’autre, la vie n’est elle-même qu’un songe, sur lequel les autres sont entés, dont nous nous éveillons à la mort, pendant laquelle nous avons aussi peu les principes du vrai et du bien que pendant le sommeil naturel; ces différentes pensées qui nous y agitent n’étant peut-être que des illusions, pareilles à l’écoulement du temps et aux vains fantaisies [Var. ed.: fantômes] de nos songes.
Who knows if this other half of life, in which we think to be awake, is not another sleep a little different from the first and from which we wake when we think we sleep?
And who doubts that, if one dreamed in company and by chance the dreams agreed (which is ordinary enough) and if one then woke in solitude, then one would not believe things to be reversed? Moreover, as one dreams often that one dreams, pouring dream upon dream, life itself is only a dream on which others are grafted and from which we wake at death and during which we have fewer principles of the true and the good than during natural sleep—these different thoughts that bother us here being, perhaps, merely illusions, rather like the flow of time and the vain fantasies of our dreams.
—Pascal, Pensées §434