J.R.R. Tolkien’s Advice for Finding the Right Girl

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J.R.R. Tolkien 4

“In this fallen world the ‘friendship’ that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman… Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a ‘friendship’ quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by ‘falling in love’…

However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization'; but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial…

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only —. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake.

Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it… In great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will.”

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Excerpts of a letter sent from J.R.R. Tolkien of 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford to his son Michael on the front lines. March 8th, 1941.

Tolkien addressed this one to “Mick,” his middle son Michael. You’ll find it along with a lot of other gems in the collection, compiled by his youngest son Christopher, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

More from the Inklings:

Tolkien and wife 2

Douglas Murray: “I Don’t Have an Israel”

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Douglas Murray - writer

“There’s a book that came out at exactly the same time as the Charlie Hebdo atrocities. It’s by Michel Hollelbeq, and it’s called Submission — some of you have read about it.

There’s a point in this book which I think is extremely important for what we must think of, which is how to impart an urgent concern for free speech beyond the people in this room and to wider society.

The most critical point in this novel… not to give away the whole plot, but there’s a French professor. It’s 2024 and France is becoming a Muslim country. The Jews are all leaving, and this professor who’s not Jewish — he’s an atheist Frenchman, likes his pleasures, you know — and he’s speaking to a Jewish friend who says she’s off to Israel.

And there’s a very, very important point in the novel where this man realizes he doesn’t have an Israel.

Now, this is a very, very important thing to tell people in this country, and it goes far beyond the Jews.

I don’t have an Israel. This is it. If you care about a decent, democratic, broadly pluralistic society in which you can live the life you want to live, this is the best deal and I don’t have a get out option. Now other people need to know that.”

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(Slightly modified) remarks from Douglas Murray during last month’s panel on free speech and the future of Europe at London’s Central Synagogue.

There’s more on the topic:

Will Self: The Problem at the Heart of Utilitarianism

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Will Self

“The principle ideologue of British society is Jeremy Bentham and his Utilitarianism, which puts forward the idea that the aim of society should be to achieve the greatest good/happiness for the greatest number.

But I put it to you that it is precisely this Benthamite ideology that derogates the individual and removes the individual from her immediate experience and alienates her from the social and political process. […]

Take the Utilitarian philosophy where it leads you, and it tells you that human increase can only be a good thing. After all, there’s so much more good to be had when there are more of us.

So on the Utilitarian calculus, we’ll be in really good shape when all day, everyday we’re packed in just as tightly as we are in this hall… That is indeed the underlying prolegomena of the Utilitarian position. It’s an endless yay-saying to more of everything; it’s an endless yay-saying to knowing the cost of everything, because cost can be quantified, and Bentham loved to quantify.

But you can’t cost the real value of life. Just as you cannot know what other people are thinking and feeling. And philosophies that base themselves on such specious quantification throw up specious demagogues.

It’s up to us to be individuals, to discover our own nature of the good, and to respect other people’s idea of the good as well. And not treat them as cogs on a production line or bits in a factory.”

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The inimitable Will Self, presenting his opener in the IQ2 debate on the motion We’ve Never Had It So Good. (He’s one of the most captivating speakers, so don’t just read the text.)

Self’s opposition to this motion is pretty creative. It centers on his claim that you can’t tally up the “good” of a human life, much less of a society; and, by extension, attempts to score and impose goodness of this kind (whether through authoritarian states or utilitarian ethics) will inevitably lead to tyranny. Jeremy Bentham, though an original and very important thinker, produced a philosophy that minimizes the human being by reducing him to easily quantified component parts. In my opinion, utilitarianism is unsatisfying, since, as in the organ donor scenario — why doesn’t one healthy person donate all her organs to save ten people waiting for lung, liver, etc. transplants? — your humanity may be sacrificed for our utility. The autonomy of an individual life can be abolished. Its sanctity and its dignity may be made violable.

This isn’t to say I nod along with Self and disagree with the motion. By a ton of metrics (life expectancy, median wealth, exposure to violence, education, equality, and on and on), we’ve really never had it so good. Pinker is good on this point. And I’m a consequentialist: I believe our moral scales should be tuned more to outcomes than intentions — so metrics really do have a story to tell. But his point is more profound than that. And the idea that “good” should be kept, in some sense, relative — out of our own modesty, our own inability to know what’s the good life for others — appeals to me.

More Self:

The Fitting Final Days of Joseph Stalin

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Stalin

“‘I’m finished,’ Stalin had recently been heard to say to himself: ‘I trust no one, not even myself.’ Svetlana says of this period that a visit to her father would physically wipe her out for several days; and Svetlana was in no fear of her life.

On 1 March Stalin stirred at midday, as usual. In the pantry the light came on: MAKE TEA. The servants waited in vain for the plodding instruction, BRING TEA IN. Not until 11 P.M. did the duty officers summon the nerve to investigate. [Stalin] was lying in soiled pyjamas on the dining-room floor near a bottle of mineral water and a copy of Pravda. His beseeching eyes were full of terror. When he tried to speak he could only produce ‘a buzzing sound’ – the giant flea, the bedbug, reduced to an insect hum. No doubt he had had time to ponder an uncomfortable fact: all the Kremlin doctors were being tortured in jail, and his personal physician of many years, Vinogradov, was, moreover (at the insistence of Stalin himself), ‘in irons’. […]

Stalin’s right side was paralysed; his left side twitched at random. Over the next five days, as the doctors trembled over their work, Vasily Dzhugashvili would sometimes stagger in and shout, ‘They’ve killed my father, the bastards!’ At 9:50 P.M. on 5 March Stalin began sweating heavily. His blue face turned bluer. Svetlana watched and waited. This is her valediction:

For the last twelve hours the lack of oxygen became acute. His face and lips blackened… The death agony was terrible. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment, he opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry, and full of fear of death… [Then] he suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bringing down a curse on all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace.

What was he doing? He was groping for his power.

Stalin was dead – but he wasn’t yet done. He had always loved grinding people together, pestling them together, leaving them without air and space, without recourse; he had always loved hemming and cooping them, penning them, pinning them: the Lubyanka reception ‘kennel’, with three prisoners for every yard of floor space; Ivanovo, with 323 men in a cell intended for twenty, or Strakhovich, with twenty-eight men in a cell intended for solitary confinement; or thirty-six in a single train compartment, or a black maria packed so tight that the urkas can’t even pickpocket, or the zeks trussed in pairs and stacked like logs in the back of the truck – en route to execution… On the day of Stalin’s funeral vast multitudes, ecstatic with false grief and false love, flowed through Moscow in dangerous densities. When, in a tightening crowd, your movements are no longer your own and you have to fight to breathe, a simple and sorrowful realization asserts itself through your panic: that if death comes, it will be brought here by life, too much life, a superabundance of life. And what were they all doing there anyway – mourning him? On that day well over a hundred people died of asphyxiation in the streets of Moscow. So Stalin, embalmed in his coffin, went on doing what he was really good at: crushing Russians.”

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Pulled from Martin Amis’s engrossing short history of Stalin and the origins of the Soviet Union Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million.

Go on:

Stalin funeral

“Portofino” by Spencer Reece

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Ireland BoatPromise me you will not forget Portofino.
Promise me you will find the trompe l’oeil
on the bedroom walls at the Splendido.
The walls make a scene you cannot enter.

Perhaps then you will comprehend this longing
for permanence I often mentioned to you.
Across the harbor? A yellow church. A cliff.
Promise me you will witness the day diminish.

And when the roofs darken, when the stars drift
until they shatter on the sea’s finish,
you will know what I told you is true
when I said abandonment is beautiful.

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“Portofino” by Spencer Reece. You’ll find it in his surprising, consistently smart collection The Clerk’s Tale.

I took the picture in Kerry, Ireland.

George Orwell: What the Left Is Ashamed Of

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George Orwell

“
They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the 
general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident 
thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals 
are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always 
felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman 
and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse 
racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably 
true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of 
standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a 
poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping 
away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes 
squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always 
anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it 
certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a 
real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they 
were ‘decadent’ and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual 
sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. Both the New Statesmen and 
the News Chronicle cried out against the Munich settlement, but even they 
had done something to make it possible. Ten years of systematic 
Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than 
it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed 
forces. Given the stagnation of the Empire, the military middle class 
must have decayed in any case, but the spread of a shallow Leftism 
hastened the process.”

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From George Orwell’s essay, written during the blitz of 1941, “England Your England”. It can be found in his essential collection of essays Facing Unpleasant Facts.

Don’t extrapolate too far with this one. Still, half a century later, some on the left in America face a similar charge.

More Eric Blair:

Ronald Dworkin: How to Value Your Life

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Ronald Dworkin

“Philosophers used to speculate about what they called the meaning of life. (Now that is the role of mystics and comedians.) In the absence of a special kind of religious faith, or a special kind of genius, it is difficult to find enough product value in our brief and inconsequential lives to suppose that human lives have meaning through their impact — that is, in virtue of the difference it makes to the rest of the universe that these lives have been lived. […]

Living a good human life, a life one can look back on with pride, is rarely valuable because that life, abstracted from the process of creating it, has any great value in itself. It is valuable because the process of creating it is valuable…

Aristotle thought that a good life was a life spent in contemplation, exercising reason and acquiring knowledge. Plato thought that it was a harmonious life achieved through order and balance. Neither of these ancient ideas require that a wonderful life have any impact at all: any way in which the world is better or even different after someone has lived because of the way he has lived. Most people’s opinions, so far as these are self-conscious and articulate, ignore impact in the same way. A great many people think that a life devoted to the love of God is the finest life to lead, and a great many, including many who do not share that opinion, think the same of a life lived in inherited traditions and steeped in the satisfactions of conviviality, friendship and family. All these lives have, for most people who want them, subjective value: they bring satisfaction. But so far as we think them objectively good – so far as it would make sense to want to find satisfaction in such lives or to think one had any kind of responsibility to pursue them — it is the performance value of living in a certain way rather than the impact of having lived that way that counts.”

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Pulled from Ronald Dworkin’s remarkable, accessible book on life and philosophies of meaning Justice for Hedgehogs.

More:

Who Wants It More?

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Soldier at Wailing Wall

“The willingness to fight and die, to sacrifice for a cause, has often been vital in changing history. Napoleon Bonaparte remarked that in war the mental is to the physical as 3:1. George Patton demurred that the mental to the physical is closer to 5:1. In many revolutions (English, American, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Iranian), the side weaker in weapons and numbers but superior in will to fight triumphed. This will to power, as Friedrich Nietzsche asserted, was critical to success. Alon Peled observed that, in modern armies, the most important factors for success are internal cohesion and the dedication of soldiers. Mossad chief Meir Amit asserted that, ‘the human factor is the biggest and most crucial for our society and our security services.’

A weak will to fight has repeatedly led to disaster. In 1940, the French, despite equal numbers of tanks and manpower to the Germans, lacked a will to fight and were defeated in a six-week campaign. In 1975 the South Vietnamese army, despite massive qualitative and quantitative advantage, was rapidly routed by an inferior North Vietnamese army which lacked airplanes, tanks, or sophisticated equipment — but had a greater will to fight…

After millennia of persecution, the Holocaust and Arab terrorism, the Jews had a very strong will to fight. They were well aware that they had nowhere to go. They saw the struggle as a life-and-death one determining the fate of the Jewish people. David Ben Gurion told his commanders that ‘We will not win by military might alone. Even if we could field a larger army, we could not stand. The most important thing is moral and intellectual strength.’ Yigael Yadin, Israel’s first chief of staff, assessed the will to victory as the most important factor in the victory in 1948, for:

If we are to condense all the various factors, and there are many, which brought about victory, I would not hesitate to credit the extraordinary qualities of Israel’s youth, during the War of Independence with that victory. It appears as if that youth has absorbed into itself the full measure of Israel’s yearning, during thousands of years of exile, to return to its soil and to live in liberty and independence, and like a giant spring which had been compressed and held down for a long time to the utmost measure of its compressibility, when suddenly released — it liberated.

During the 1945-48 period they fought against the British Mandatory government and then the Arabs. The British had almost 100,000 soldiers and police, first-class equipment, international legitimacy, Arab support and the halo of their great successes in World War II. The far fewer Jews, unable to mobilize openly, with little military experience, without uniforms or heavy equipment, fought off first the British and then the numericaly superior Arabs to achieve independence in May 1948.”

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Pulled from the twelfth chapter of Jonathan Edelman’s The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State. The picture: an IDF soldier after recapturing the Wailing Wall in 1967, 18 years after Israel’s independence.

The Adventure of Israel

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An Israeli soldier casts his ballot for the parliamentary election behind a mobile voting booth in Migdalim

“There will be no utopia here. Israel will never be the ideal nation it set out to be, nor will it be Europe-away-from-Europe. There will be no London here, no Paris, no Vienna. But what has evolved in this land is not to be dismissed. A series of great revolts has created here a truly free society that is alive and kicking and fascinating. This free society is creative and passionate and frenzied. It gives the ones living here a unique quality of life: warmth, directness, openness… It is the youthful grace of the unbound and the uncouth…

There was hope for peace, but there will be no peace here. Not soon. There was hope for quiet, but there will be no quiet here. Not in this generation. The foundations of the home we founded are somewhat shaky, and repeating earthquakes rattle it. So what we really have in this land is an ongoing adventure. An odyssey. The Jewish state does not resemble any other nation. What this nation has to offer is not security or well-being or peace of mind. What it has to offer is the intensity of life on the edge. The adrenaline rush of living dangerously, living lustfully, living to the extreme. If a Vesuvius-like volcano were to erupt tonight and end our Pompeii, this is what it will petrify: a living people. People that have come from death and were surrounded by death but who nevertheless put up a spectacular spectacle of life. People who danced the dance of life to the very end.

I walk into the very same bar I walked into some weeks ago. Once again I sit by the bar and sip my single malt. I see the ancient port through the windows, and I watch people sitting in restaurants and walking into galleries and wandering about the pier. Bottom line, I think, Zionism was about regenerating Jewish vitality. The Israel tale is the tale of vitality against all odds. So the duality is mind-boggling. We are the most prosaic and prickly people one can imagine. We cannot stand puritanism or sentimentality. We do not trust high words or lofty concepts. And yet we take part daily in a phenomenal historical vision. We participate in an event far greater than ourselves.”

arishavit-cred-sharonbareket

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Excerpted from the conclusion of Ari Shavit’s 2013 book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. (In the top photo, a soldier casts a ballot yesterday at a mobile booth in the West Bank settlement of Migdalim.)

Of course it was Thomas More who coined the “utopia” (“no place”) in the early 16th century. Four hundred years later, in 1902, Theodore Herzl wrote a novel – sometimes recognized as the only utopian book ever to come true – that envisioned a future Jewish state’s founding in modern day Israel. It’s titled, fittingly, Altneuland (“The Old New Land”).

More:

The Tyranny of Silence

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FlemmingRose23

“Free speech is being challenged by two fundamental processes that are a fact of life in a globalized world.

The first thing is globalization, the fact that people move across borders in numbers never before seen in the history of mankind, and it makes every society more diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, and religion.

The other factor has to do with communication technology and the internet. Everything is being seen everywhere when it’s published.

People may be offended by what their co-citizens are saying, and there are basically two ways to solve this challenge. One way is to say if you respect my taboo, I’ll respect yours. If you do not criticize my religion, I will not criticize your religion. If you do not criticize my ideology, I will not criticize your ideology.

I believe that that will lead to a tyranny of silence.

The other way is to ask ourselves what are the minimal limitations on speech in order to be able live together in peace and enjoy that very fundamental right. And I believe that the only limitation we need on speech is incitement to violence; we should not be allowed to call for the killing of other people. But the price we have to pay for living in a democracy is that from time to time people may say something that we find offensive.

You have many rights in a democracy — a right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and so on and so forth — but the only right you should not have is a right not to be offended.”

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From the Cato Institute’s series “Why Liberty”: Flemming Rose, the editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published the infamous Muhammad cartoons in 2005. He is also the author of the new book The Tyranny of Silence.

Vineyard Haven

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William Styron 324

“Mostly I love the soft collision here of harbor and shore, the subtly haunting briny quality that all small towns have when they are situated on the sea. It is often manifested simply in the sounds of the place — sounds unknown to forlorn inland municipalities, even West Tilbury. To the stranger, these sounds might appear distracting, but as a fussy, easily distracted person who has written three large books within earshot of these sounds, I can affirm that they do not annoy at all. Indeed, they lull the mind and soul, these vagrant noises: the blast of the ferry horn — distant, melancholy — and the gentle thrumming of the ferry itself outward bound past the breakwater; the sizzling sound of sailboat hulls as they shear the waves; the luffing of sails and the muffled boom of the yacht club’s gun; the eerie wail of the breakwater siren in dense fog; the squabble and cry of gulls. And at night to fall gently asleep to the far-off moaning of the West Chop foghorn. And deep silence save for the faint chink-chinking of halyards against a single mast somewhere in the harbor’s darkness.

Vineyard Haven. Sleep. Bliss.”

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The last paragraph of William Styron’s “In Vineyard Haven,” the final essay in his fantastic collection Havanas in Camelot: Personal Essays.

William Styron 2

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