Almost all the world’s greatest philosophers and poets have faced up to the paradox and incongruities that confront us when we consider ourselves and our humanity. From Psalm 8 to Shakespeare’s great soliloquy in Hamlet, many of the world’s most beautiful and profound reflections have focused on the paradox of man and woman. As part of humanity, we humans are so small and so great, so strong and so weak. We rise so high and we sink so low. We are body and we are spirit. We are mortal and we are immortal. We have a grandeur and we have a pathos. Sometimes our little lives seem like a momentary fleck on the heaving ocean, yet we are all always the center of our own universe while we live, and together as humanity we are the most powerful and influential creatures in the whole animal kingdom. We can see things as they are; we also know the way things ought to be, and sometimes the difference makes us laugh and sometimes it makes us cry. What other beings in the universe are like us in these ways? What explains this paradox and these incongruities, and even more, how can we hope to reconcile them in a way that makes life meaningful?
The hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too … More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture – modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class – is poor in its sensitivity to nature… As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man’s concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side.
The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false. It is sobering, too, to find huge and frightening errors constantly repeated; lessons painfully learnt forgotten in the space of a generation; and the accumulated wisdom of the past heedlessly ignored in every society, and at all times.
Could we not explain in this way [mutation] how from two individuals alone the multiplication of the most dissimilar species might have resulted? Their origin would be owing only to certain fortuitous products [chance], in which the elementary particles failed to retain the order they possessed in the father and mother animals; each degree of error would have created a new species; and by dint of repeated divergences there would have come about the infinite diversity of animals that we see today; which will perhaps still increase with time, but to which the passage of centuries will perhaps bring only imperceptible additions.
Let me make a general observation — the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. … I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to “succeed” — and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions for the future.
Others are missing the point, just as administrators sorely missed the point back in the 1980s when pain became the “fifth vital sign.” In medicine, vital signs are treated quite differently from symptoms. Since pain has no objective measure like the rest of the vital signs do — like temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure — doctors naturally resisted. They faced litigation and bureaucratic intimidation for undertreating pain.
Instead of trying to combat each leak directly, the United States government should teach the public to tell when they are being manipulated. Via schools and nongovernmental organizations and public service campaigns, Americans should be taught the basic skills necessary to be savvy media consumers, from how to fact-check news articles to how pictures can lie.
If you think of the entire political spectrum as a football field …, the entirety of American politics is played between the 40 yard lines.