REPARATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Learning from the Germans (Race and the Memory of Evil)

By: Susan Neiman

Narrated by: Christa Lewis

Susan Neiman (Author, Moral Philosopher).

Not many authors are more qualified than Susan Neiman to write about “Learning from the Germans”. As an American moral philosopher and cultural commentator who lives in Germany, Neiman offers an analysis of race and evil. One may disagree with her conclusion but not with her understanding of the subject.

Neiman notes being raised in Atlanta, Georgia by her Jewish mother, and father. Regarding race and evil, Neiman understands what it is like to be white in America and Jewish in Germany. Southern discrimination and religious persecution are vivified by Neiman’s experience in both cultures.

What comes as a surprise to some is Neiman’s argument that Germany handles guilt and shame for the holocaust better than America handles guilt and shame for racism, slavery, unequal treatment, and murder of people of color.

The primary theme of Neiman’s book is that post WWII Germany dealt with the history of the holocaust more forthrightly than America has dealt with racism and its evil.

Neiman explains memory of the holocaust is memorialized in Germany after the war. It has only been in the twentieth century that America has begun to memorialize 200 years of black slavery, lynching, and murder.

Pictures below are German sites preserved showing concentration camps, a prison, a museum, as monuments and reminders of holocaust atrocities. In Germany, by 1950, reparation for holocaust survivors is being negotiated.

With the exception of the Thomas Ball memorial to Emancipation in 1876, no monuments of slavery’s horrendous history are noted in America until the mid-1900s. What Neiman shows is that, only in this American generation, have reparations for slavery been seriously considered.

In the 1950s Germany began to deal with financial reparations for holocaust victims. In the 21st century, America is just beginning to discuss reparation for slavery. Even in 2022, most Americans reject reparations. However, a well-known American, David Brooks, changed his mind in 2019.

David Brooks (Writer, conservative political and cultural commentator, reporter, editor.)

Brooks writes:

“Nearly five years ago I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” with mild disagreement. All sorts of practical objections leapt to mind. What about the recent African immigrants? What about the poor whites who have nothing of what you would call privilege? Do we pay Oprah and LeBron?”

“The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.”

Robert Jones, the Founder of the Public Religion Institute, and a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a book suggesting reparations are the only way white America can find forgiveness. Neiman acknowledges the high cost of determining fair reparations for American slavery but implies money spent on defense would be a good place to search for money to invest in white America’s forgiveness for slavery. Neiman notes Germany rebuilt itself after WWII. Her inference is that America has enough wealth to do the same with reparations for slavery.

Neiman notes Germany, like America, has right wing extremists who continue to vilify ethnic minorities, but discrimination is institutionally rejected by German government leadership while American leaders like former President Donald Trump say there are very fine people on both sides of racial discrimination.

Trump refers to the 2017, Charlottesville, Va. alt-right and white nationalist rally where a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters to the racist rally, one of which is killed.

Neiman recalls the murder and torture of a  Black 14-year-old boy, Emmitt Till, in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955.

Two white Americans admitted their guilt in Till’s torture and murder, after being acquitted for the crime by an all-white jury. The murderers went free to live their remaining lives in Mississippi.

Neiman reflects on the murders of nine African Americans in Shelby, North Carolina by Dylann Roof in 2015. Roof self-identifies as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi.

Neiman’s point is that Germany has done better to acknowledge and repair their relationship with holocaust survivors than America has done in reconciling its racist and evil actions regarding slavery and what has become institutionalized racism. Germany’s success has been in the face of an east and west Germany reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Neiman notes the difference in east and west German survivors’ beliefs while showing they acted to reconcile their Nazi past with memorialization, and demonstration of shame and guilt for the holocaust. A significant part of that reconciliation is legislated reparation for holocaust survivors.

Neiman explains, just as there remain Nazi collaborators in the East and West, there are racist collaborators in the northern and southern United States. Neiman infers if Germany could reunify within 40 years after WWII, the U.S. should be able to reunify after the end of the civil war. Why is it taking the U.S. over 150 years to get to the point of just talking about reparations for slavery, let alone memorializing its evil?

LOSS OF ENCHANTMENT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Secular Age

By: Charles Taylor

Narrated by: Dennis Holland

Charles Taylor (Author, philosopher)

Charles Taylor is in his 90s. This 42-hour exploration of the Western hemisphere’s transition from religious to secularist belief is daunting and enlightening. One is reminded of the evolving framework of belief in the death of God initiated by Nietzsche and sustained by Camus. Nietzsche, and Camus suggest humanity is on its own. There is no heaven. There is no hell.  These two philosophers imply there is only a life one chooses to live. Taylor circles and circles this argument but never agrees. Taylor argues the western world has arrived at “A Secular Age”, not meaning God is dead but that western society’s view of God has evolved and is evolving.

Taylor writes the history of how the western world became the exemplar of “A Secular Age”. Taylor does not suggest western philosophy is ahead or behind eastern philosophies like Buddhism with its Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, and reincarnation. Secularism and Buddhism are similar in their emphasis on societal self-worth. What Taylor illustrates is the wide gulf between eastern fundamentalist religious belief and the secular evolution of western religions.

To some, God is not dead in the west, but He/She seems to some to be on life support. Taylor suggests that is a premature conclusion.

Taylor notes eastern nations did not follow the humanist history of the west and is not a significant part of his research for this book. However, he acknowledges a humanist’ perspective in eastern Buddhism. The Buddhist’ objective is to find the path of enlightenment with reincarnated lives, seeking Nirvana (a transcendent state where suffering, desire, and self are embodied within one’s peaceful existence). Buddhism’s focus on ethical behavior might be considered analogous to living a secular life. However, Taylor notes a significant difference, i.e., Buddhist’ belief includes supernatural figures that either help or hinder Buddhist followers from finding the path of enlightenment. In Taylor’s parlance, a Buddhist remains a believer in enchantment whereas a western secularist abandons enchantment.

Buddhism departs from secularism because of its belief in supernatural influences.

In “A Secular Age”, Taylor is only explaining how history of the western world leans toward secularism and away from belief in an enchanted world. Taylor’s argument is that history of the western world shows fewer citizens believe life is influenced or determined by good or bad homunculi.  Homunculi are replaced by medical’ diagnosis that can be medicinally or therapeutically treated.

The struggle of “A Secular Age” is in medical diagnosis and therapeutic treatment rather than singular dependence on God’s wrath or grace. In the western world, transcendence becomes more a human rather than Godly resolution of human crises.

In Taylor’s history of the “…Secular Age”, religion and belief in God remain a force in the 21st century. God is not dead in the west to those who believe.

However, Taylor’s response to a question about the existence of God is alleged to be: “There’s probably no God: now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Taylor acknowledges stories like Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” in the “Brothers Karamazov”, a poem by Wordsworth like “Dover Beach”, and philosophical treatises by Nietzsche and Camus that literarily address the existence and diminishment of enchantment in the western world. The breadth of Taylor’s knowledge and research for “A Secular Age” is remarkable.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (Author, Russian novelist, 1821-1881 Died at age 59)

Taylor gives us a credible history of change from the age of enchantment to “A Secular Age”. However, there remains no definitive answer to what the world is about, what life means, or where “understanding of life” is heading.

Douglas Adams (Author, humorist, satirist.)

So, what is the world about, and what is the meaning of life? At the end of Taylor’s tome, one comes to the same conclusion as Douglas Adam’s comically suggested number, “42”.

In broad terms, Taylor suggests human evolution and history are origins of Western civilization’s secularization. His supporting arguments are many with the advance of science playing a smaller role than one might expect. His reasoning reaches back to the stone age, advancing through to the 21st century. The range of his reasoning, and the length of his book, raises the scholarly value of his book but diminishes its appeal to a lay audience.

RAVENSBRüCK RABBITS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Lilac Girls

By: Martha Hall Kelly

Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, Kathrin Kana, Martha Hall Kelly

Author

“Lilac Girls” is a long historical novel. Some may be tempted to quit but may be drawn back by its message to the future. It is a reminder of WWII. It is a warning to our present and future. Martha Hall Kelly’s extensive research on the Ravensbrück concentration camp offers relevance to Uighur re-education camps, Taliban repression, Russian/Ukraine atrocities, and the consequence of human isolation and incarceration.

Kelly’s book is about Ravensbrück rabbits, young women experimented on by Germany’s Nazi leaders.

The Ravensbrück concentration camp evolves into a chamber of horrors. It is managed by Nazi physicians and followers who purposely create damaged human bodies to test drugs and medical treatment for war wounds. A number of healthy young women have their bodies mutilated to test the efficacy of drugs and surgery to repair damaged limbs. They become known as the Ravensbrück rabbits

Ravensbrück is in northern Germany. The concentration camp was created exclusively for women. At its peak it housed 132,000 women, of which an estimated 48,500 were Poles, 28,000 Russians, 24,000 Germans, 8,000 French and a few other nationalities. Their incarceration is for reasons ranging from resistance to Nazi governance to disbelief in the false notion of race purity.

Kelly contrasts New York’ socialite living in the 1930s through the 1950s with European and war veteran survival. The author begins her story with the rise of Hitler, and Germany’s invasion of Poland, France, and Russia. As the German invasion of Russia portends defeat of Germany, Kelly unravels the atrocity of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, the ignominious defeat of France, the unjust western and Russian split of Poland after the war, the subjugation of Poland to Russia, and the rise of the U.S.S.R.

The unjust western and Russian split of Poland after the war.

It is the intimacies of living that give Kelly’s book weight. For the romantic, there is some romance. For the historian, there are the revelations of Ravensbrück, for the futurist, there is the warning of the risks of human isolation and confinement based on race, religion, or ethnicity.

Uighur re-education camp in China.

Many countries, including the United States, have made the mistake of isolating and confining human beings based on race, religion, or ethnicity. This is the first step that may lead to Ravensbrück’ atrocity.

Kelly shows there is no redemption, either for victims or perpetrators. At the end of her novel, what happened to the primary victims of Ravensbrück stays with those who survived. The primary victim loses her mother in the camp. Her life after the war leaves her crippled emotionally and physically because she was one of the Ravensbrück rabbits.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY – Photographs of prisoners murdered at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women line a wall in the “Place of Names” memorial at the camp in Fuerstenberg February 24, 2009. The “Sex Slavery in Nazi Concentration Camps” exhibition which opened at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp memorial, sheds light on the fate of women prisoners, many of which came from the Ravensbrueck camp, forced to provide sex to inmates in other concentration camps. AFP PHOTO JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Herta Oberheuser (1911-1978, died at age 66, physician at Ravensbruck concentration camp.)

As Germany nears defeat, the doctor who manages surgery tries to murder the women who were mutilated because they are witnesses to Ravensbrück atrocities.

She is convicted at Nuremberg. She serves 5 years of a 20-year sentence. Her ambition seduced her into atrocity at Ravensbrück. Her wish to be a surgeon, when there are few women surgeons in Germany, outweighed the guilt of her actions. After serving her sentence in prison, she starts a medical practice. She is tracked down by a primary victim of her surgical mutilation. Kelly writes about the rise and fall of Herta Oberheuser. With her exposure by a victim of Oberheuser’s surgical work at Ravensbrück, her medical license is revoked. Ms. Oberheuser dies in obscurity.

There is no redemption for atrocity. All human beings in the Russia/Ukrainian war, as well as the rest of the world, need to remember the lessons of WWII.

BEING BRILLIANT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal History of Our Times

By: Howard Zinn

Narrated by: David Strathairn

Howard Zinn (1922-2010, died at age 87, Author, Historian, Pacifist.)

Howard Zinn’s personal biography suggests being brilliant does not mean being good. Zinn is a controversial historian who grew up during the depression. He became a famous anti-war activist during Vietnam and wrote a controversial book about American history.

Zinn characterizes his family as poor with a father and mother who were factory workers with little formal education. He tells of his early life and how it influenced his political and social beliefs. He joins the Army Air Force during WWII and becomes a bombardier. That experience reifies Zinn’s early anti-war beliefs that become a consuming passion during Vietnam.

In some ways, Zinn’s enlistment in the Air Force seems a contradiction but the fascist nature of Nazi Germany, subsequent realization of the holocaust, and his Jewish heritage undoubtedly influence his decision to join the military.

Zinn’s role in bombing civilians creates an ambivalence about WWII; particularly when the atom bomb is dropped on Japan.

“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” is a codification of Zinn’s ambivalence. Zinn suggests there is no “Good War” (as WWII is sometimes characterized) because bombing of civilians, even in a war against fascism, is a step too far.

One wonders what Zinn would write about the Russia-Ukrainian war?

Howard Zinn’s fundamental objection to WWII is American bombing of innocent citizens of Germany and Japan. Now, it is the indiscriminate bombing of innocent citizens by Russia in Ukraine.

America did not militarily enter WWII when Poland was invaded. Similarly. America has not militarily entered the Russia-Ukraine war. However, in both circumstances America financially invested in a western alliance against war. Eventually that financial investment turned into American military participation. One wonders how Zinn would view America’s financial investment in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Is our investment a prelude to military intervention?

Returning to the biography, the nuclear attack on Japan is considered barbaric and unjustified by Zinn.

Some, like President Truman reason the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings avoided loss of thousands of Americans and Japanese that would have been killed in an invasion of Japan.

A question is whether those thousands are different than the thousands killed immediately and later from radioactive fallout? To some Americans, the answer is yes because none of the added deaths would have been American. Presumably, Zinn would say using an atomic bomb is a step too far.

Zinn survives WWII and uses the GI Bill to get a college education. He becomes a professor at Spelman College, a Black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia.

Roslyn Zinn (1922-2008, Artist, Activist, Social Worker, Teacher)

Howard Zinn and his wife live in a low-income, largely Black neighborhood.

The Zinn’s become political activists for equal rights. In the 50s and early 60s, the Zinn’s become acquainted with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and civil rights activism in the South.

Later, Zinn tells the story of his life as a professor at Boston University. He becomes a tenured professor, having written some novels and a controversial academic book about American history.

In his life at the University, Zinn continues political activism against the war in Vietnam. This is in the 70s. Nixon is bombing North Vietnam and Cambodia in an effort to get Ho Chi Minh to the table for a negotiated peace. Daniel Ellsberg becomes one of Zinn’s acquaintances. Zinn also becomes friends with Reverend Daniel Berrigan and his brother who become jailed activists because of the Vietnam war.

Daniel Ellsberg (analyst who became famous for Pentagon Papers disclosure about American government lies about Vietnam. Shown here at age 91.)

Daniel Joseph Berrigan SJ (May 9, 1921 – April 30, 2016) on the left–an American Jesuit priest, opposed the Vietnam war, (1923-1979 his brother Phillip equally opposed the war.)

A theme of Zinn’s anti-war story is reflected in his experience at Boston University in conflicts with the President of the University. Zinn’s reputation with students is characterized as a highly popular. That popularity and his political activity put him in direct conflict with the President of the University.

John Silber is the seventh President of Boston University. He is from Texas but earned a PhD in philosophy from Yale University. Though Zinn does not mention this, Boston University is having financial problems at the time of Silber’s hiring. Zinn’s story is that Silber is overpaid for his work and disliked by several professors and their staffs.

Zinn characterizes Silber as a misogynist who denies tenure to women professors. A female professor takes Silber to court over denial of tenure. She wins her case, and the Judge requires Silber to give her tenure. The judge fines the University and orders a $200,000 settlement for Silber’s unfair treatment. (Despite Zinn’s proof of Silber’s misogyny, a brief review of Silber’s Boston University’ history suggests the faculty and financial picture of the school substantially improved under Silber’s management.)

The fundamental point made by Zinn is that history is filled with brilliant political, military, and academic leaders but they, like all of us, are flawed human beings.

Misogyny, inequality, and war are unforgivable human tragedies to Zinn and most rational human beings. It seems the smart ones are the greatest perpetrators of these tragedies.

Brilliance takes many forms. No leader of any country is dim witted. Each has their own kind of brilliance, or they would not be leaders.

DIGNITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment

By: Francis Fukuyama

Narrated by: P. J. Ochlan

Francis Fukuyama (American author, political scientist, political economist, graduate of Cornell and Harvard.)

Having reviewed Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order” and “Political Order and Political Decay”, his view of “…Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” during the Trump years is important. Fukuyama’s earlier books offer impressive insight to the strengths of democratic government.

Fukuyama’s political support and participation in the Reagan administration and his association with neo-conservatism give weight to his opinion.

Though Fukuyama’s broad view of political “Identity” is mind-numbingly complex, his criticism of Trump shows how consequential democracy’s loss of “…Dignity…” is to America and nascent democracies.

Fukuyama shows how America has lost its way with the election of Donald Trump. Trump is not the cause of American democracy’s disruption, but he represents its symptoms.

Trump is shown as an unrepentant narcissist who panders to those who have been underserved, under-represented, and ignored by most Americans. The rising tide of violence and discontent of ignored Americans is ignited by a President concerned with personal power and prestige, not betterment of democracy or service to the unrepresented.

Fukuyama is not a bleeding-heart liberal that believes in handouts like a minimum wage for the underemployed or unemployed.

He endorses importance of work and fair pay for fair performance. He acknowledges the rising gap between haves and have nots in America but infers the answer is political reform that endorses dignity and discourages inequity.

“Identity” is lost among Americans who do not have jobs or are grossly underpaid for the work they do.

Fukuyama implies American culture has lost its way. With inequity, people revert to tribes that fight for tribal rather than national interests. Whether the tribe is a union of teachers or Starbucks’ employees who are underpaid or disrespected, they look to their tribe rather than the interest of their students, company executives, or owners.

Fukuyama endorses diversity and, presumably, prudent immigration policy.

However, Fukuyama notes there is another aspect of “Identity” that cannot be ignored. He strongly argues for acceptance of nationalist “Identity” by those who request citizenship. One who emigrates to a new country must learn to read and write the adopted country’s language, be willing to defend the country for which one accepts an oath of citizenship and must adhere to laws of the land.

Fukuyama notes concern for equal treatment within a country is as important as fair treatment between nations.

The rise of nationalism reaches a point of destruction when authoritarians like Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin invade other countries. What becomes clear from Fukuyama’s book is democracies can lose their way with an authoritarian, narcissistic leader. Leaders like Trump have no concern for equity.

The demand for equity and the rise of resentment splits people into tribes when not being addressed by government leaders. Fukuyama reaches into ancient and modern history to identify how “…Demand for Dignity…” is often accompanied by “…Resentment…” which leads to political unrest, or revolution.

Fukuyama reviews policies of government that mitigate the causes of “tribal” identity and resentment that roils America. Fukuyama’s ideas may be up for debate, but he clearly believes in democracy.

Fukuyama expresses some concern over “tribal” identity within America when it violates the interests of the country. He endorses diversity while indicting Trump for inciting “tribal” difference.

In the last chapter, Fukuyama addresses the effect of the internet on the “…Demand for Dignity…” and “…The Politics of Resentment…”. He argues the internet’s impact is both negative and positive. The negative is the internet’s use to spread falsehood and its potential for invading privacy. The positive is its potential for telling truth to power.

Fukuyama optimistically implies the internet’s spread of truth will outweigh its spread of lies.

Fukuyama implies the internet’s potential for gathering tribes for the betterment of government policy is greater than its present-day disruptions. This seems more likely in a democratic than authoritarian society.

The fundamental value of Fukuyama’s peregrination is that America has managed to survive and prosper for over 200 years, even in the face of “tribal” identity and resentment. Surely, America will survive Trump.

SCIENCE AND HOPE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Mind of God: Neuroscience, Faith, and a Search for the Soul

By: Jay Lombard

Narrated by: David Acord

Dr. Jay Lombard (Author, Neurologist, specializing in child neurology, Ted conference presenter.)

The introduction to Dr. Lombard’s book is by Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy’s self-effacing acknowledgement of his personal struggles draws one into Lombard’s story. As an introduction, a listener is interested in a scientist’s belief in God. However, by chapter 3, some listeners will be tempted to quit listening.

Patrick Kennedy (Former Democratic Representative from Rhode Island, Nephew of President Kennedy, son of Ted Kennedy.)

Lombard agues God is real because His existence is proven by evolution and human consciousness.

The basis for his argument is the “miracle” of evolution and human consciousness. The idea of “miracle” is a return to a neolithic age. Lombard’s “miracle” argument is off-putting for three reasons. One, miracles are frequently used by those who have not yet proven something by science. Two, evolution is proven by science. Three, consciousness remains undefined.

Earth is flat and the center of the universe, i.e., until Galileo proves otherwise. We live in a world of Newtonian physics (cause and effect), i.e., until Max Planck, Niels Bohr, and others discover quantum theory and mechanics. Time is a precise measure of the past, present, and future, i.e., until Einstein proves time is relative. History shows miracles are often explanations for something humans do not understand. The human mind consciously interprets and intentionally believes the absurd–like lightning strikes because Zeus is angry. One is justifiably skeptical of those who argue God is the origin of creation and human benefaction.

What may draw a skeptic back to the book is Lombard’s experience as a neurologist in treating patients with proven brain dysfunction. Lombard shows an empathy for his patients because of his professed beliefs. Whatever one’s belief, empathy is essential ingredient of a good life.

Lombard’s empathy is an evolutionary pattern that offers hope to the world.

Philosophers of the past like Nietzsche and Camus, reject God because they believe He/She is a construct of human consciousness, not an omniscient being who created heaven and earth. Nietzsche argues humanity killed God by becoming Superman or Woman, without the need for something greater than themselves. In contrast, Camus suggests belief in God makes no difference.

The world to Camus is an unpredictable place and every human must consciously seek a mission in life to be free.

Lombard agrees with Camus’s argument. However, Lombard believes evolution of human consciousness is proof of God. Lombard suggests proof of God’s presence is shown with transformation from human self-interest to empathy. That is Lombard’s gigantic leap of faith, unwarranted by facts. It is the equivalent of an oft quoted comment by Einstein about God not playing dice.

The last patient in Lombard’s book is a Buddhist monk who is at early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Ironically, as Lombard notes, Buddhist belief is to “let go” of human emotion. Dementia results in “letting go”, but dementia is not a conscious act.

Dementia gives no comfort to one who is older and has a fear of Alzheimer’s and its consequence for others. Others, who are left to care for the stricken. What makes this chapter interesting is Lombard’s careful diagnosis, attentiveness, and empathetic care for his patient.

By the end of Lombard’s book, one is convinced of the need for science, with a hope for clearer understanding of brain, mind, and consciousness.

God may or may not have anything to do with brain, mind, and consciousness. Lombard’s argument for God’s existence is no more convincing than a bolt of lightning from Zeus.

WHAT’S THE POINT

Audio-book Review

 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Happy Death

By: Albert Camus

Narrated by: Jefferson Mays

Albert Camus (1913-1960, Author, philosopher, founder of Absurdist philosophy.)

Albert Camus’s short story is similar to Irvin Yalom’s book, “When Nietzsche Wept”. In “A Happy Death” Camus’ reveals the essence of an Absurdist’s view of life while Yalom reveals a Nihilist’s view of life. Yalom’s story is longer, more informative, and artistic but both stories clarify similarity and difference between an Absurdist’ and Nihilist’ view of life.

Camus tells a story of a man who chooses to commit suicide. Yalom tells a story of Nietzsche who bares life and has no intention of committing suicide. Camus’s character commits suicide because he achieved a purpose in life but could not find a comparable purpose in life to replace the one achieved.

In one sense, Yalom’s characterization of Nietzsche suggests Camus’s suicidal character is a “Superman” because he rejects all religious and moral principles. However, by choosing suicide, he is no longer a “Superman” to Nietzsche.

To Camus, he was never a “Superman”. He is an Absurdist who has simply lost his chosen purpose in life because of the randomness of worldly existence. Camus’s character chooses suicide because his chosen purpose in life is taken away from him. His legs are amputated because of a random event of life.

To Nietzsche, life is pointless because there is no meaning to life. To Camus, meaning in life is a human choice, even though, like Nietzsche, he believes there is no God, or moral absolutes.

The answer to life for Camus is not that humans are Superman or Superwoman because there is no God, but that any human man or woman can choose, or not choose, to have purpose in life.

Camus views the world as an absurd place where anything can happen but that does not mean one cannot choose a purpose in life.

Camus notes this character who chooses suicide is different in one other significant way. His chosen purpose in life is to acquire wealth to buy time. He gained wealth. The noted difference reminds one of Montaigne’s essays. Montaigne had the luxury of wealth which gave him time for contemplation.

Camus’s story about Absurdism only begins with the suicide. The person who plans his suicide has a gun to end his life but by someone he chooses. The choice made by the amputee is Camus’s main character, a person wandering through life with no purpose.

The amputee explains he lived a life that earned him two million dollars. It was earned with purpose, by any means necessary. His purpose in life is to become wealthy. He achieves that purpose, but now with no legs, he feels he can no longer pursue that purpose. The main character is given two million dollars to shoot the amputee and make it look like a suicide with a note written by the amputee.

With two million dollars, the main character travels through Europe while contemplating what the amputee has explained about life in an Absurdist world.

The main character realizes he must choose a purpose in life and ignore the truth of life’s randomness. His purpose in life is not entirely clear, but Camus’s point is that to live life in an Absurdist world, one must choose a purpose.

To Camus, in choosing a purpose, one may find peace, a sense of achievement, and possibly happiness. To Nietzsche, life is something to bare and when it’s over, it’s over. To Nietzsche, there is no purpose in life.

It seems Camus believes it is better to be an Absurdist than a Nihilist. That puts a fine point on the question of suicide. A Nihilist like Nietzsche, presumably, would call one who commits suicide a coward. An Absurdist like Camus would suggest suicide is an option.

Optimistically, Camus shows his main character chooses a way of life that might be considered Epicurean, if not hedonist. Money gave him time to choose a purpose in life. His main character nears death and appears at peace with himself.

PUTIN’S IRRESPONSIBILITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Hiroshima

By: John Hersey

Narrated by: George Guidall

John Hersey (1914-1993, Author and journalist, won a Pulitzer for–“A Bell for Adano”.)

John Hersey is the son of American Protestant missionaries who was born in China.

Hersey is considered one of the first journalists to use a “storytelling” style for news reports. His most well-known news story is published in a 1946 “New Yorker” article, later published and expanded as “Hiroshima“, a book about the consequence of the first nuclear bomb blast of WWII.

“Hiroshima” is printed by Alfred A. Knopf and has never been out of print. Hersey reports an estimated 100,000 were killed by the bomb. His book tells the story of the long-term impact of nuclear fall-out on six Japanese survivors of the June 6, 1945’ blast. (Today, the estimate of those who died from the bomb’s long-term impact is 140,000 to 350,000.)

One hopes 9/11/22 #rumors of former Russian supporters of Putin’s Ukraine/Russian War are asking him to resign. Putin’s decision to reinstitute the draft may be a turning point in the Ukrainian war based on his Czarist behavior.

In looking back at Russia’s 1917 revolution, it is discontent of the military and resistance to participation in WWI that aided Lenin’s overthrow of Czar Nicholas. Putin may be repeating that history. Many kleptocratic leaders of his administration are in the same spot as wealthy landowners of the Czarist era.

It seems appropriate to review “Hiroshima” today because of the Russian/Ukrainian war, and Vladmir Putin’s un-wise threat to use a nuclear bomb as a strategic weapon of war.

At least three of the six survivors in Hersey’s story are searching for solace by turning to belief in a Christian God. One presumes, these survivors were chosen by Hersey because of his life as a son of missionaries. As you listen to the six personal stories of Hersey’s choice, one wonders how non-believers cope with the aftermath of the bomb.

Hersey’s report of six survivors tells of broken bones, burned flesh, scarring, chronic fatigue, social isolation, and concomitant unemployment because of symptoms of these six survivors.

THESE ARE THE SIX SUBJECTS CHOSEN BY JOHN HERSEY FOR HIS STORY.

Left to Right–Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto (3,500 yards from explosion, Methodist), Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura (1,350 yards from explosion, Widow of a tailor with 3 children), Dr. Masakazu Fujioio (1,550 yards from explosion center, a live in the moment hedonist), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge aka Makoto Takakura (1,400 yards from explosion, a German priest of the Society of Jesus), Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (1,650 yards from explosion, young surgeon at Red Cross Hosp.) and Miss Toshiko Sasaki (1,600 yards from explosion.)

Hersey notes some women who are pregnant when the bomb bursts have children who suffer from the consequence, even though not yet born. He tells of a formally successful physician who must start over again to establish his practice. He has little money and no credit but needs to have a place to treat patients for income. He must work from his home which is only rented because he cannot afford to buy.

Regardless of one’s religious belief, Hersey shows how six victims cope with the debilitating effects of a nuclear blast.

Hersey writes of a woman who is too fatigued to work at a regular job and decides to use her sewing machine to work at a pace her health will allow. She finds she cannot make enough money to house and feed herself. She sells the sewing machine and finds part time work collecting subscription payments for a newspaper that pays her fifty cents per day.

Hersey writes of recurring scars that occur from the flash and burn of the nuclear bomb explosion. The disfigurement requires plastic surgery.

Without money needed for cosmetic surgery, the young are reliant on financial gifts from others. Some Americans rise to the occasion.

In one instance, the TV program, “This is Your Life” generates contributions for a few victims’ who need plastic surgery. 

Incongruously, on “This is Your Life”, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay meets with a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast. Some consider this among the most awkward TV appearances of all time.

The fundamental point of Hersey’s stories is a nuclear weapon in war goes beyond immediate physical destruction and mental injury. Radiation from a nuclear bomb stays with victims for their entire, often shortened, and always compromised lives. It is more than the death of thousands, it is the remaining lives of every human being, whether born or yet to be born, who is exposed to the flash and burn of nuclear detonation.

HUMAN BEHAVIOR

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition

By: The Great Courses

     Lecturer: Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky is an author, American neuroendocrinology researcher, and doctor of neuropsychology, educated at Harvard and acting professor at Stanford.

Sapolsky’s lectures begin with optimism. He infers one can understand the biological origin of human behavior. However, as the lectures progress one becomes skeptical. By the end of Sapolsky’s lectures, the source of human behavior seems too complex for human understanding. In a future age, it may be possible to reduce uncertainty, but determination of the sources of human behavior are likely to remain a probabilistic endeavor.

Sapolsky begins with neurological, physiological, endocrinological, genealogical, and environmental influences on behavior but ends with no definitive origin for human behavior.

This is not to say these lectures are not interesting, but science is far from understanding how any discipline can effectively or accurately identify the sources of dysfunctional human behavior. Cures for psychological maladies remain elusive because of the complexity of their origin.

There is no nerve that can be cut, no drug that can be administered, no gene that can be removed, no environment created that singularly cures abnormal human behavior. Sapolsky is saying the origin of human thought and action begins with genetic history, is influenced in the womb, is subjected to hormonal disruption, lives to be changed by environmental circumstances, and dies either early or late depending on the circumstances of life.

Sapolsky begins his lectures with a lesson in physiology and discussion about cells and the nervous system and how it works.

He explains limbic and autonomic nervous systems. A limbic system is where subcortical structures meet the cerebral cortex. It influences the endocrine system and the autonomic (breathing, heartbeat, and digestive system) functions of the body.

Sapolsky explains how regulation of body function is affected by hormones that come from many organs of the body. These hormones affect brain function (which is also a hormone producing organ) that have a great deal to do with how one acts. The physiology of the nervous system and blood circulatory system carry hormones throughout the body.

Sapolsky goes on to explain evolution of behavior that comes from genetically inheritable social history. What is revelatory is the myth of evolution based solely on a genetic singularity which preserves itself at all costs.

Sapolsky argues preservation of species, not specific gene preservation, is the key to understanding evolution. (This is a partial disagreement with the “selfish gene” postulated by Richard Dawkins.)

The example Sapolsky offers is the Wildebeest herd that plans to cross an alligator infested river.

An early interpretation of that crossing is that a leader of the herd voluntarily steps into the river to sacrifice itself to allow the herd to cross the river while it is being feasted upon by alligators. Sapolsky explains the Wildebeest is not sacrificing itself. Careful observation shows an older Wildebeest is forced into the river by the herd. It is not a voluntary action but a heritable social behavior of the herd to preserve itself.

Sapolsky identifies myths about what causes abnormal human behavior. The idea that testosterone levels are a cause for aggression is untrue. The National Institute of Health found that increased or decreased levels of testosterone have a weak correlation with aggression. Sapolsky notes that testosterone levels vary based on environmental circumstances and interaction with other hormone producing organs. It is not found to be a hormonal cause of aggression.

Sapolsky ends his lectures with “Evolution, Aggression, and Cooperation”. Here is where some may become disappointed with “Biology and Human Behavior”. The disappointment is in feeling there is no way out of the human condition of “everyone for himself”.

Every country of the world is populated with people like the wildebeest. Until the world is one herd, it seems humans are destined to lose their way as a species. The river to cross is the world’s environmental crises. With disparate herds in the world, the alligator in the river (our environment) will eat us all.

AMERICA TODAY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

King Richard: Nixon and Watergate-An American Tragedy

By: Michael Dobbs

Narrated by: Mark Bramhall

Michael Dobbs (Author, British member of the House of Lords, graduate of Oxford and Tufts University.)

Appropriately, it is a British citizen who writes a biography that focuses on Nixon’s years as President of the United States. An American is much less likely to be objective about Nixon’s Presidency.

Like yesterday’s Richard Nixon and today’s Donald Trump, Americans love or revile former Presidents.

The title of Dobbs’ book exemplifies a legitimate view of Richard Milhouse Nixon as an American tragedy. One doubts history will ever consider Trump’s fall from power as a tragedy. Both Nixon and Trump act like Kings but Nixon served America in ways that justify Dobb’s book title for Nixon as “…American Tragedy”.

Dobbs reminds Americans of Nixon’s prescient understanding of China by opening China to the west.

Nixon extricated America from Vietnam, a war that could not be justified or defeated by the delusional beliefs of past Presidents who believed in the domino theory of communist expansion.

Though Dobbs did not write about Nixon’s domestic policies, it was his presidency that formed the Environmental Protection Agency and instituted the war on cancer with a $100-million-dollar subsidy creating national cancer research centers. Nixon signed the Title IX civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving federal funds. Nixon provided Native Americans the right of tribal self-determination. Nixon expanded social security benefits for working families.

Dobbs notes Nixon exhibits a kind of insecurity that clouds his judgement. That insecurity leads to the foolish decision to invade the Watergate Democratic headquarters; compounded by a cover-up that ends with Nixon’s resignation.

The prestige of office magnifies strengths and weaknesses of one who becomes a national leader. The potential for abuse of power by authoritarians has been demonstrated many times in world history. America is no exception. Dobbs details Nixon’s fall from the Presidency.

Dobb’s story of Nixon is an interesting contrast to Trump’s rise and fall. In no way is that to suggest there is any equivalence in intellect or contribution of these two Presidents because one is a tragedy while the other is a farce.  

 

It is not a surprise that Trump is still being supported by many Republicans. Republicans supported Nixon until the truth is revealed by John Dean and the Nixon recordings. One suspects that will be true of Trump when the FBI investigation is completed.

Dobb’s paints a picture of Nixon that is at times imperious and, at other times, endearing and vulnerable. Nixon seems a lonely man who loves his children but seems distant from his wife. Nixon has few friends.

Those who remain close to Nixon seem remote from his rise to the Presidency. He gains respect from those who report to him but more because of position than intellect or emotional attachment. It will take an outsiders view of Trump to objectively assess his contribution to America.

A fundamental difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon rose to fame from nothing while Trump is born to wealth. Nixon earned his education. Trump bought his education.

To Nixon, Dobb’s shows money is a means to an end. To Trump, money seems all there is, and value is only measured by how much you have.

Nixon appears to have useful friends, not pleasant friends. The few pleasant friends are like Bebe Rebozo who never challenges his opinion and listens rather than asks questions. Useful friends are protected or abandoned based on personal loyalty. Any disagreement by useful friends with Nixon’s or Trump’s public pronouncements is perceived as disloyalty.

Both Nixon and Trump revile criticism, particularly from the press. Nixon is willing to sacrifice his closest subordinates if required to protect his position. Both ex-Presidents of the United States were willing to use the power of their office to pardon the guilty who have followed their orders.

All who become close to Nixon or Trump have been positively and negatively infected by their association. “King Richard” is a reminder of America today.