Much as Boris Johnson tends to lead with his chin, …

and notwithstanding his being of too undiplomatic a disposition for the high office he held until recently, or, moreover, his exhibitions of egregious buffoonery, he is nevertheless emphatically right about the dangers entailed by recent assaults on freedom of speech, be it ever so offensive. It is, of course, possible to argue one’s case “sans toucher aux personnes”, but to choke the human voice is the worst of all follies. The poisoning is effected incrementally, as are doses of arsenic, a metaphor I’ve borrowed from Victor Klemperer’s Lingua Tertii Imperii, a compelling examination of the artificial denaturing of language during the Third Reich. Klemperer demonstrates this to have been a process of which the young were scarcely aware until its toxicity had already taken effect, hence the appropriateness of the metaphor “Arsendosen”. If there is a difference, it is that the current insanity was foreseeable as early as 1985, at least by me, because I remember expressing my apprehensions when teaching in Strasbourg. LJ

We need a campaign for free speech to take on the professionally offended
— Read on


“Tomcats” took a while at the end, but it was worth the effort on the whole.


“One spouting about companion frequently”: now that I know what a cachalot is, the clue makes sense, but I was ignorant of this term for a sperm whale. Learning all the time…



Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0

Alain de Botton 

An interesting acknowledgement of the organisational and educative strengths of religion in its relation to personal fulfilment and society. Alain de Botton suggests that the western world may have ventured too far in its assertion of personal freedom, implying that this is not coextensive with wisdom. There are yet things to be learned from such practices as ritual discipline,nor should the didactic or instructive dimensions of art and science be ignored. I am reminded, somehow, of the Rabelaisian maxim “Guide de Dieu et compagnie d’homme” and also that I should return to my reading of George Steiner, whose analysis of the problems entailed by post-modernism I find particularly compelling, since it chimes with my own reflections, albeit more eloquently.

The age of envy: how to be happy when everyone else’s life looks perfect | Life and style | The Guardian

The competition is in the mirror. Gratitude for the opportunity of being alive is proper to our condition. Envy is nothing new, indeed it is an error as old as the world, though it is true that people are now seeking the wrong axis through self-scrutiny and in social media, nor is the answer generally to be found in the vapourings of the lifestyle articles of the Guardian. The confessions of the first paragraph are ugly revelations, better dissembled, since they are of limited objective interest. Seek wisdom, not status. Study for the joy of discovery, learn a few languages, take some exercise and don’t look for rewards. Delight in the success of others and help them to achieve it; often, their progress will bring burdens of responsibility you would prefer not to shoulder anyway. That is their affair. The author of this article, who feels she is doing something important, could have learnt the rudimentary grammar of a language in the time it took to write this commentary on our times. Envy has always been the enemy; my father, who possessed little that he hadn’t forged by his own effort, by-passed it altogether by taking pleasure in birdsong, gardening and playing the flute. The implicit message of this article is that the author has been aspiring to be her own axis; this is a cardinal error, known as that of the “moi désaxé”, or the misplaced axis of the self. If there is no longer a being external to us in whom to invest our faith, there is still the business of studying the accumulated knowledge of our forebears in science and in the arts, an endeavour that will free us from solipsism. This is an endless cure for envy. LJ

Social media has created a world in which everyone seems ecstatic – apart from us. Is there any way for people to curb their resentment?
— Read on

Interesting quote from “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: Full and Fine 1689 Edition in Book 1, 2, 3, and 4 (Illustrated)”

“Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” (Voltaire)

I was reminded of this whilst reading Locke, which is unsurprising, given Voltaire’s admiration of him:

“An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: Full and Fine 1689 Edition in Book 1, 2, 3, and 4 (Illustrated)” by John Locke:

“Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp everything.”

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