January 23, 2012

Your So-Called Superior's Superiority Complex

"Superior" sign seen on West 25th Street 
by the Avenue of the Americas in NYC.
Photograph courtesy Pak So and Anna Tan

Excerpt from The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Cenury by Edward Dolnick, first published 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers:

It was in a conversation with Gilbert in (Hermann) Goering's jail cell, on the night of April 18, 1946, that Goering offered what became a famous observation on mass psychology:  "Why, of course the people don't want war," he said. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

Gilbert remarked that in a democracy the people have a say in the decision to go to war.

"Oh, that is all well and good," Goering replied, "but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.  That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

January 2, 2012

Slow Down

Man in Striped Shirt at the Piano, 1954
Photograph by Roy DeCarava

Excerpts from The Joy of Quiet by Pico Iyer, published December 29, 2011 in The New York Times Sunday Review:

A few months later, I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? "I never read any magazines or watch TV," he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. "Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that." He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because "I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere."

. . . . . . . .

The urgency of slowing down - to find the time and space to think - is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. "Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries," the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, "and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." He also famously remarked that all of man's problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

. . . . . . . . 

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we're so busy communicating. And - as he might also have said - we're rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

. . . . . . . . 

None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; it's just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better - calmer, clearer and happier - than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It's actually something deeper than mere happiness: it's joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as "that kind of happiness that doesn't depend on what happens."