Category: Philosophy

How Many Beers Does It Take to Find the Tao?

C.S. Lewis would’ve said “zero.” It’s the Tao that helps you find the beer.

It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.

That’s C.S. Lewis writing about the Tao in his famous book, The Abolition of Man. Since the book’s publication in 1947, Lewis’s name has been associated with the Tao because of his love and respect for the natural law it embodies.

But I associate Lewis with the Tao for a different reason: his beer drinking.

You see, Lewis spent many Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and Child public house drinking beer with J.R.R. Tolkien and other friends.

It’s vintage Lewis. Although he was at times melancholy, Lewis could find enjoyment almost anywhere doing almost anything: attending church, taking long country walks, living at his humble Kilns, tutoring students, writing theology or children’s fiction, teaching.

The difference between enjoying and enjoying the enjoying

Lewis’s capacity for enjoyment stemmed at least partly from the early influence of a little-known Australian philosopher named Samuel Alexander.

Alexander pointed out the distinction between enjoying something and being aware of the enjoying. Here’s how Lewis put it:

“Enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment. Of course, the two activities can and do alternate with great rapidity, but they are distinct and incompatible.

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The Architecture of Speed

Thoughts build your everyday existence. Technology affects your thoughts. The implications? Ask Marshall McLuhan.

Sometimes I’m Gothic. Other times, Tudor-ish. In the morning I might be Romanesque, but by the afternoon I’m Bauhaus.

The architecture of my mind changes day-to-day, hour-to-hour, sometimes minute-to-minute. I generally want to live a life of good deeds, uplifting counsel, and noble thoughts. But as a typical human being, the mental architecture of a particular day or hour might be more inclined to make me obsess about money, be loud, or tell ribald jokes.

The most troubling thing: the architecture I wake up with or shift into during the day isn’t a conscious choice. I don’t wake up and say, “Well, yesterday I was Gothic: grand, prayerful, elevated in thought, word, and deed. Today, I want to be Victorian-like: noble, demur, of refine appearance. Tomorrow, I’ll be Romanesque: sleek, elegant, and a temple to the pursuit of money.”

It doesn’t work like that. I wake up or find myself in the middle of the day with a mental architecture I didn’t choose.

Pretty much the only thing I can do is work with it the best I can. The ease or difficulty of working with it depends on what I want to do.

If the architectural style that day is Romanesque and I want to make a lot of money, it’s a great fit. But if I want to be in my study, meditating with the Stoics? That’s tough. It’d be like living a life of chastity at the Playboy mansion.

Control your thoughts

Our mental architecture is crucial to determining whether we’ll be kind or rude, noble or mean, courteous … Read the rest

Did Video Bring Us BLM, Riots, and COVID Hysteria?

A new essay about the Marshall McLuhan disciple, Neil Postman

black crt tv showing gray screen
Photo by Burak K on

You like dead white guys? How about a dead white guy who was the disciple of a dead white guy?

I do. I also like DWG Marshall McLuhan and his disciple, DWG Neil Postman, whose Amusing Ourselves to Death is a classic (his Technolopy is also very good). 

Postman is the subject of a recent essay at the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourses (a publication that has increasingly been catching my attention). If you’re interested in how the media of television, smartphones, and social media, I believe it’s a “must-read.”

Postman called television a propagator of “irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.”

That seems an apt description of the first presidential debate, as well as of broader trends we have witnessed this year. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that our digital age, in innumerable ways, aggravates our social and political distemper.

In order to understand Postman, it’s necessary to understand McLuhan’s iconic saying, “The medium is the message,” which means that extensions of ourselves (e.g., a hammer extends our muscles) alter us in fundamental ways, regardless of the message loaded onto the medium.

So, for instance, TV alters us fundamentally, regardless of whether we’re using it to watch Masked Singer or the MacNeil/Lehrer Report. The mere fact that we are viewing TV changes us. The content doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that we are using TV at all.

And it’s TV where Postman parted with McLuhan. McLuhan was excited at the possibilities of electronic media. He saw it returning us to our “whole self,” which was ripped apart with … Read the rest

These Micro-Habits Can Improve Your Life. Plus: St. Francis, Rudolf Steiner, and The Relentless Leftist

The wedding hiatus starts now. We’ve married off three kids in 16 months. The second two were planned, unplanned, and replanned under COVID restrictions, which made them particularly brutal.

But the married kids seem happy and the single kids are doing well so I’m happy.

Someone once said you’re only as happy as your least happy kid. I’m not sure that’s true, but it might be . . . and there’s definitely something there.

The Relentless Leftist

Marie marvels about a liberal friend who is incapable of saying anything without exuding politics from every pore of her skin.

When, for instance, the friend recently asked her, by all accounts, conventional and heterosexual teenage niece about her new boyfriend, she enthused, “So what’s he, or she, like?”

I told Marie it could just be the leftist political playbook: politics must inform every corner of life. Or maybe it’s a constant fear not to be woke, lest people think you less intelligent. Or maybe it’s just relentless virtue signaling.

Given that the left has sought the complete transformation of society, and given that such wholesale change is bound to come up against the resistance of ordinary people who don’t care for having their routines and patterns of life overturned, we should not be surprised that the instrument of mass terror has been the weapon of choice. The people must be terrified into submission, and so broken and demoralized that resistance comes to seem impossible.

Lew Rockwell

What’s that? Why do I say it’s a play from the leftist playbook?

Because it is.

Socialism, including its manifestation in certain forms of liberalism, wants to re-make society and the

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Brews You Can Use, Philosophy Corner, and a Short Story for Halloween

“The Necessities,” E. Studs Mulligan

Booze Coke

I don’t know if I’m surprised because it’s Coke or because it’s the first Coke product with alcohol: Coca-Cola launching its first alcoholic beverage next year.

It’s going to be an alcoholic version of its Topo Chico sparkling water.

I’d love to comment more, but I don’t listen to Judy Garland or drink sparkling water.

I’m content with rum and Coke or vodka and Coke. If I’m feeling randy, I add a lime wedge.

Pot Booze

Cannabis beverages are getting rolled out next year.

I tried one (stripped of its hallucinogenic properties) while at the 2018 marijuana convention. I wasn’t impressed by the taste.

But I am intrigued by this development. I have long maintained that marijuana is substantively different than booze because you can’t “dial in” the buzz. You go from 0 to 60. So you never slide from sober, to enjoyable relaxation, to venial sin, to mortal sin. It’s just, wham, mortal sin.

If there were a way to slide into the buzz more, then maybe it would be alright.

Cannabis beverages might be the ticket. When I spoke to that one vendor back in 2018, he said that was exactly the market they were looking for.… Read the rest

How Have These Ten Extensions Changed Us?

Toward the end of his life, Marshall McLuhan provided a list of the ten things that have changed us the most.

Perhaps the biggest difference between childhood and adulthood is time. The adult frantically looks for more time. The child looks for ways to fill time.

I filled a lot of my childhood time with reading all sorts of stuff: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, baseball statistics, Mad Magazine.

And reference books. I loved reference books: atlases of the world,the statistical abstract of the United States, and encyclopedia entries.

After my mom died last year, I had to clean out my childhood home. In the process, I stumbled upon one of my favorite quirky reference books: The Book of Lists.

This 1970s sensation sold nearly ten million copies. It was, well, a book of lists. That’s it.

A lot of the lists were factual, but some of the lists were mere opinions by celebrities or experts in a particular field.

While reminiscing with it, I came across this opinion list by an expert in his field: Marshall McLuhan’s Ten Most Potent Extensions of Man.

The Catholic convert and weekday communicant Marshall McLuhan was a household name in the 1960s. He was interviewed by numerous outlets, including The Today Show and Playboy. He even made a cameo appearance as himself in a Woody Allen film.

His central theory is that human modes of thinking are altered by media. Media are “extensions” of ourselves, things that add themselves to what we already are. When we start to use a particular extension, it changes us in some way. It changes a person individually; it … Read the rest

We’re on Information Overload. Here’s One Solution

One forgotten ancient suggests what we might do with all of today’s information

aerial photography of cinque terre in greece
Photo by Josh Hild on

When reading, I numb. When surfing the Internet, my eyes glaze. When thinking — about all the things to be thought, all the books to be read, all the websites to frequent — I freeze. 

Not always of course, but occasionally.

Everyone knows about the mammoth caverns of information at everyone’s door: two billion websites; thousands of must-read new books every year; piles of magazines and newspapers; cable television; streaming services and their docuseries; AM, FM, and satellite radio; podcasts; entire libraries digitalized and online.

It’s gotten so bad that a group at Kings College in London studied the effects of “informational overload” and concluded that it harms concentration more than marijuana.

And that was about ten years ago, when we had only 100 million websites to choose from.

We now speak of “information literacy,” a branch of knowledge dedicated to searching and deciphering information. Efforts to increase information literacy are spearheaded by the American Library Association and funded with federal and private grants.

Everyone calls it the “Information Age,” but that doesn’t do the endless proliferation of data justice.

It’s better called the “Too Much Information Age.”

Enter a pagan saint

If the TMI Age has a pagan saint, it might be Pyrrho of Ellis.

Historians of philosophy refer to this younger contemporary of Aristotle as an early skeptic, but he wasn’t. The skeptic claims there’s nothing to know. Pyrrho was more radical. He said we can’t even know if we can’t know. He was skeptical about skepticism. He was neither dogmatic like Aristotle nor … Read the rest

Twelve Aquinas Aphorisms

Simple observations from the medieval poster boy will give you new perspectives

The famous historian Will Durant ranked Thomas Aquinas as the fourth greatest thinker of all time.

When I saw that, I was shocked. Aquinas is the Catholic thinker extraordinaire. He is a canonized saint. His nickname is “The Angelic Doctor.”

Durant wasn’t impressed by such things, to say the least.

An Aside: Will Durant

A quick detour about Will Durant might be helpful to explain why it’s significant that he respected Aquinas so much.

Durant is best known for his monumental 11-volume The Story of Civilization, but he first made his name with the publication of The Story of Philosophy, which became an unlikely bestseller, selling 2,000,000 copies in the 1920s.

The book doesn’t have much Aquinas, and that’s an understatement. Its chapters jump from Aristotle (d. 322 BCE) to Francis Bacon (d. 1626 CE). The 2,000 years in-between receive only nine pages (out of 540). Thinkers like Epictetus, Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas are mentioned only once or not at all.

It’s not surprising. Most of those missed years are conventionally known as the “Middle Ages” and they were in thorough disrepute during much of the twentieth century. If you told someone in the 1920s that you were studying the Middle Ages, she would’ve looked at you like someone would look at you today if you told her you’re studying VHS tapes.

Durant was raised Catholic. As a teenager, he planned on becoming a priest and enrolled at the Seton Hall University seminary in 1909. He spent a lot of time at the seminary library, diving into the likes of Darwin … Read the rest