Aux armes · a postscript

A fool's dream oft is a wise man's nightmare,
Yet visions render saints and madmen joy;
As wak'd all at accord desire the fair,
Though some to tender, others to destroy. [tender (v.): to cherish, care for lovingly]

Sub divo Augusto nondum hominibus verba sua periculosa erant, iam molesta.

Under divine Augustus men's own words were not yet able to ruin them, yet they sometimes brought them into trouble.

Seneca. De Beneficiis (On Benefits). Book III, XXVII.I

τί οὖν; ὑπὸ τῶν μαινομένων θαυμάζεσθαι θέλεις.

What then? Do you wish to be admired by madmen?

Epictetus. The Discourses. Book 1, Ch. XXI. (Parallel Greek/English) (in English).


The spirit of Procrustes is abroad again, with grim ideologies replacing iron impedimenta.1 As if seized by a craving for conformity, some find this frivolous subject and these unruly digressions privileged* and, thereby, anathema to their sensibilities — a few with vehemence rather too fervent and perverse for its gossamer object. While many correctly see the origins of heraldry as rooted in status, brutality and oppression, its supposed menacing grandeur and pomp have long been specious and were always illusory, as threatening as clouds are to the moon on a stormy night: not that faded historical follies — or trite metaphors — would find a welcome amongst the pieties of an egocentric collectivism.2

Ein jeder sieht was er im Herzen trägt.

Everyone sees what he carries in his heart.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808). Faust — Der Tragödie erster Teil: line 179.
English translation.

῾Πᾶσα ψυχή, φησίν, ἄκουσα στέρεται ἀληθείας:᾿ οὕτως οὖν καὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ σωφροσύνης καὶ εὐμενείας καὶ παντὸς τοῦ τοιούτου. ἀναγκαιότατον δὲ τὸ διηνεκῶς τούτου μεμνῆσθαι: ἔσῃ γὰρ πρὸς πάντας πρᾳότερος.

Every soul, the philosopher says, is involuntarily deprived of truth; consequently in the same way it is deprived of justice and temperance and benevolence and everything of the kind. It is most necessary to bear this constantly in mind, for thus you will be more gentle towards all.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. The Meditations of the Emperor. Book VII, 63. (in Greek) (in English) (PDF, in English).

Plato. Laws V: 731.

Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.

Isabel Paterson (1943). The God of the Machine. Chapter XX: The Humanitarian with the Guillotine. (see also: Frédéric Bastiat's "Philanthropic Tyranny" in The Law (pdf).

* Privileged: as with so many other terms in such advocacy, this is a protean word — one adrift on a sea of confabulation. Nonetheless, these deformations cannot conceal a shared authentic and obdurate nature: anything incompatible with the claimant's self-regarding prejudices.3 Sadly, neither this freshly recrudescent and coarsened Manichaeism, nor its likely consequences, are new:

Ce ne sont pas les peuples, mes frères, ce ne sont pas les cultivateurs, les artisans ignorants et paisibles, qui ont élevé ces querelles ridicules et funestes, sources de tant d'horreurs et de tant de parricides. Il n'en est malheureusement aucune dont les théologiens n'aient été les auteurs. Des hommes nourris de vos travaux, dans une heureuse oisiveté, enrichis de vos sueurs et de votre misère, combattirent à qui aurait le plus de partisans et le plus d'esclaves ; ils vous inspirèrent un fanatisme destructeur, pour être vos maîtres; ils vous rendirent superstitieux, non pas pour que vous craignissiez Dieu davantage, mais afin que vous les craignissiez.

It is not the ordinary people, my brethren, not the agricultural workers and the ignorant and peaceful artisans, who have raised these ridiculous and fatal quarrels, the sources of so many horrors and parricides. There is, unhappily, not one of them that is not due to the theologians. Men fed by your labours in a comfortable idleness, enriched by your sweat and your misery, struggled for by most partisans and slaves; they inspired you with a destructive fanaticism, that they might be your masters; they made you superstitious, not that you might fear God the more, but that you might fear them.

Voltaire. Homélies prononcées à Londres en 1765: Sur la superstition. (Toleration and other essays: On superstition.)

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ قَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

أَلَآ إِنَّهُمْ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْسِدُونَ وَلَٰكِن لَّايَشْعُرُونَ

And when it is said to them, "Do not cause corruption on the earth," they say, "We are but reformers."

Unquestionably, it is they who are the corrupters, but they perceive it not.

Qur’an 2:11–12.

τὸ δὲ ἀληθείᾳ γε πάντων ἁμαρτημάτων διὰ τὴν σφόδρα ἑαυτοῦ φιλίαν αἴτιον ἑκάστῳ γίγνεται ἑκάστοτε. τυφλοῦται γὰρ περὶ τὸ φιλούμενον ὁ φιλῶν, ὥστε τὰ δίκαια καὶ τὰ ἀγαθὰ καὶ τὰ καλὰ κακῶς κρίνει, τὸ αὑτοῦ πρὸ τοῦ ἀληθοῦς ἀεὶ τιμᾶν δεῖν ἡγούμενος:

It is truer to say that the cause of each and every sinful act we commit is precisely this excessive love of overselves, a love which blinds us to the faults of the beloved and makes us bad judges of goodness and beauty and justice, because we believe we should honour our own ego rather than the truth.

Plato. Laws. Book V, 731e–732a. (Parallel Greek/English)

  1. Norman Cohn (1970). The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, p. 288.

    A boundless, millennial promise made with boundless, prophet-like conviction to a number of rootless and desperate men in the midst of a society where traditional norms and relationships are disintegrating — here, it would seem, lay the source of that subterranean medieval fanaticism which has been studied in this book. It may be suggested here, too, lies the source of the giant fanaticisms which in our day have convulsed the world.

    Norman Cohn (1975). Europe's Inner Demons, p. xiv.

    [T]he fantasies studied here were at home in what would now be called the Establishment. … And the mass response they found did not necessarily come from the lowest strata either.

    Fundamentally, both [The Pursuit of the Millennium and Europe's Inner Demons] are concerned with the same phenomenon — the urge to purify the world through the annihilation of some category of human beings imagined as the agents of corruption and the incarnations of evil. The social contexts are different, but the urge is unmistakably the same. What is more it is with us is still …

    Christina Larner (1983). Enemies of God: The Witch-hunt in Scotland, p. 203.

    Today we are in the unhappy position of knowing that punitive societies are recurrent, and that the chances for any human of being born into one of those societies which have undamaging relationships with their gods are not high.

  2. Simon Leys (2011). The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays. Part 1: Quixotism. An Empire of Ugliness.

    Ignorance is not simply the absence of knowledge, obscurantism does not result from a dearth of light, bad taste is not merely a lack of good taste, stupidity is not a simple want of intelligence: all these are fiercely active forces, that angrily assert themselves on every occasion; they tolerate no challenge to their omnipresent rule. In every department of human endeavour, inspired talent is an intolerable insult to mediocrity. If this is true in the realm of aesthetics, it is even more true in the world of ethics. More than artistic beauty, moral beauty seems to exasperate our sorry species. The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride, and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.

    Harry Frankfurt (2012). On Bullshit.

    When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
  3. In as much as one can derive a coherent code from its tracts, this moral universe is avowedly antithetical to many long-shared commitments and duties — particularly, but by no means exclusively, those held in common by the Abrahamic religions — such as:

    לֹא־תַעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֙וֶל֙ בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹא־תִשָּׂ֣א פְנֵי־דָ֔ל וְלֹ֥א תֶהְדַּ֖ר פְּנֵ֣י גָד֑וֹל בְּצֶ֖דֶק תִּשְׁפֹּ֥ט עֲמִיתֶֽךָ׃

    You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.

    לֹא־תֵלֵ֤ךְ רָכִיל֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔יךָ לֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃

    You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

    לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃

    You shall not hate your brother in your heart: yet you shall reprove your neighbor, but bear no sin because of him.

    לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃

    You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

    Leviticus 19:15–18.

ixquick: search the site

Some timeless advice:


Do not deliberately misrepresent things.
Literally, point to a deer and call it a horse.

Beware of widespread ignorance and baseless rumour, disguised as common knowledge.
Literally, three men make a tiger.

Do not cling to your preconceptions when considering reality.
Literally, notch the boat in search of the sword [fallen from it into the water].

Beware of the limitations of your outlook.
Literally, a frog at the bottom of a well [can only see a small portion of the sky and nothing of the ocean].

— that's enough of this meandering:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream, …

William Shakespeare (c. 1595).
A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Copyright © 2006, 2016 Alan Geal