Past Postings

Previous William Thomas Sherman Info Page postings, quotes, observations, etc.


What better explains the bizarre and contradictory culture of the Aztecs than meddling, con-artist spirit people manipulating and using them? Here is part one of a five part documentary on that tragically misguided civilization; while for the remaining installments, see:

["Aztecs: Inside the hidden empire 1/5"]


Are cruelty and extreme evil necessary? Yes, at least for someone who relies on spirit people for higher inelligence and or who needs such spirit people to enhance themselves with super hero powers (in order to remove possible rivals and competition.)

Later Note. Which brings to mind that another Oafmore episode might be one where Goomerton transforms him into a masked super hero (and what follows as a result.)


["Sky Saxon - Cracking Ice"]


Kant marvelled in awe at "the starry sky above me and the moral law within in me." And yet some, listening to spirit people, have this in reverse, and in their delusional minds look for the moral law in a seemingly divine, angel filled sky; while simulateneously seeing their egotistical, greedy selves as the true wonder of creation.


The way I am inclined to mentally picture or envision him these days is as a sort of tormented Frankenstein monster who listens to and is driven by Satan to zealously torture, murder and do things to people (and animals), yet and albeit covered over with and under, as much as possible, a calm and composed exterior. (On second thought, that's what Caliban is supposed very like to be, isn't it?)


What especially appealed to others about the New England Transcendentalists has to a large degree eluded me. Though I welcome Emerson's universal optimism and his interest in the health of the soul, I fail to see any great wit or profundity to his philosophy or aesthetic in beyond what others had expressed before him. As a literary person, he has some nice, clever, and admirably constructed poems, but he lacks personality, color, passion and music for me to really take to him that wise. As a philosopher, his work seems unfinished for he did not quite tackle and address the implications and resultant complications of the optimistic view he espoused; such as the nature and role of evil in the best of all possible worlds. This is not to say that I do not care for or that I reject his view; only he does not seem to have himself worked his stance out all that sufficiently or clearly. Likewise, I'm fond of Thoreau's sentiments of self-reliance, reducing our material needs, and back to the woods approach. But is this literature or philosophy? In both respects I think, as much as I do like him personally and his nature embracing outlook, I can do better elsewhere than with Thoreau (unless we are talking about Thoreau carefully distilled into an anthology of choice passages from his work.)
What prompts my making these comments is an essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne by John Erskine included in A Short History of American Literature ("Based Upon the Cambridge History of American Literature.") Now as an author, Hawthorne is much more to my liking. Unlike Emerson or Thoreau you at least get some good history and a good story out of him. Even so, if Erskine's presentation of him is accurate, he suffered from the half-baked philosophizing that so mars Emerson and Thoreau -- though in justice to Hawthorne he can always excuse himself by denying he ever was or intended to be a philosopher as such, but was rather and simply a good story teller with a talent and knack for dramatically delineating times and personalities. To be brief, Erskine represents Hawthorne as, in effect (if not in specific intention), questioning Emerson's bland or amorphous optimism by suggesting that there is or may be good to evil. Now neither Erskine of Hawthorne states such a view overtly, yet it is alluded to in such a way in the writings that it does seem plausible to impute to Hawthorne that he at least seriously toyed with and considered the idea as a possibly viable one; and perhaps somewhat in response to Emerson's not properly addressing the question of evil at all. Take, for instance, these excerpts from Erskine:

"In his stories, therefore, he [Hawthorne] was a philosophical experimenter, in whose method was no room for optimism nor for prepossessions of any kind; he had recourse to life in order to try out the efficacy or the consequences of Transcendental ideas, and if the result was hardly what he expected, he still pursued the hypothesis to the bitter end. He was really the questioner, the detached observer, that other Transcendentalists thought they were. The soul, Emerson had said, 'accepts whatever befalls, as part of its lesson. It is a watcher more than a doer, and it is a doer only that it may the better watch.' The description is truer of Hawthorne's soul than of Emerson's. In accepting whatever befalls, Emerson was convinced, as he says in the essay On Circles, that there is a saccharine principle in all things; small wonder that Hawthorne seems an alien among such cheerful sages. When Emerson says that either love or crime leads all souls to the good, that there is no straight line in nature, that evil in the end will bless, Hawthorne examines the doctrine somewhat dubiously in Hepzibah and Clifford Pyncheon and in Donatello; and when the cheerful philosopher tells us to trust ourselves, to follow our own nature, to live from the Devil if we are the Devil's children, Hawthorne projects the advice experimentally in The Scarlet Letter and in The Blithedale Romance...
"[Emerson's] Optimism here, taking the bit in its teeth, contended that as there is in experience no such thing as a straight line, so there is practically no such thing as evil - a prophetic application, it would seem, of Riemannian geometry to morals; that what seems hopelessly bad will in the end be found to contain the good principle; and, quite illogically, that what seems to be good will actually prove to be so.

'In vain produced, all rays return; Evil will bless and ice will burn.'

"In a famous passage in Circles, Emerson acknowledges the awkwardness of this position, and explains that his temperament dictates it. Hawthorne could not undertake any such cheerfulness, but he was profoundly concerned with the moral phenomena by which Emerson may have justified his faith. Here springs that paradox of experience, that mystery of sin, the question as to what sin is, which threw its shadow over three at least of the four romances. Since we rarely discern our true destiny, the human being who steps out of what seems the moral order may really have chanced upon a sounder morality; through what appears to be sin, therefore, may sometimes come the regeneration of a soul -- not through repentance, be it observed, but through sincere adherence to the sin. Conversely, though a man should devote himself to the highest ideal he is aware of, if that ideal does not lie in the true order of nature, his devotion may bring him to an evil end. These possibilities, together with the implications of self-reliance and compensation, furnish the moral problems of Hawthorne's romances.
"Hester Prynne, for example, in The Scarlet Letter, illustrates self-reliance in a way that some Emersonian s may have found not altogether comfortable. Since her love for Dimmesdale was the one sincere passion of her life, she obeyed it utterly, though a conventional judgment would have said that she was stepping out of the moral order. There is nothing in the story to suggest condemnation of her or of the minister in their sin; the only blame attaches to Dimmesdale's cowardice, his lack of self-reliance, his unreadiness to make public acknowledgment of his love. The passion itself, as the two lovers still agree at the close of their hard experience, was sacred, and never caused them repentance. The doctrine of compensation is illustrated in Chillingworth, who, having determined on a fiendish revenge, becomes himself a fiend. There is a kind of comment on Emerson's cheerful doctrine in the fact that this gloomy soul, marked for perdition, is a firm believer in compensation; he wronged Hester's youth by marrying her, and therefore he bears her no ill will for wronging him, but he argues that since the minister had never received a justifying harm at his hands, the secret lover should therefore be punished by the injured husband. As Chillingworth discusses the matter with Hester, compensation seems to be at one moment sheer fatalism, at another moment a primitive exacting of an eye for an eye, but never does it come to a happy issue. The optimistic turn in the doctrine is illustrated by Hester -- or perhaps it is better to say that she illustrates the optimism of Circles, She has sinned, but the sin leads her straightway to a larger life. Like Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, she finds she has a career at last. Social ostracism first gives her leisure for meditation and a just angle from which to attack social problems, and then it permits her to enter upon a life of mercy and good works which would have been closed to a conventional woman. Hawthorne had described the original wearer of the scarlet letter in Endicott and the Red Cross as a woman who braved her shame by embroidering the guilty 'A' into an elaborate and beautiful emblem; so in the romance he lets the sin elaborate itself, so far as Hester's nature is concerned, into nothing but beauty. She becomes more loving, more sympathetic, more tender; and intellectually she becomes emancipated from the narrowness of her age, so that even now she seems prophetic of what the noblest women may be. Thoughts were her companions which, says Hawthorne, would have been held more dangerous than the sin of the scarlet letter, had they been seen knocking at her door. She saw how completely the social scheme must be altered before woman can enjoy a true equality with man, and she suspected the losses in the best of manhood and womanhood which might be the incidental or temporary price of the belated justice...
"Hawthorne showed an increasing disposition to discuss these philosophical questions in frank comment outside the plot of his romances. Hollingsworth, in The Blithedale Romance, illustrates his fear of tampering with the natural order of things, especially by organized reform; and Zenobia illustrates his reflections on self-reliance, especially where woman is concerned. Hollingsworth was a determined social reformer; he wished to reform criminals through an appeal to their higher instincts. Hawthorne observed that such philanthropy, admirable in its intention, often proceeded on slight knowledge of the facts. 'He ought to have commenced his investigation of the subject by perpetrating some huge sin in his proper person, and examining the condition of his higher instincts afterwards.' [The magician would just love this last.] As a matter of fact, Hollingsworth does ruin two lives, Zenobia's and Priscilla's, in the selfish pursuit of his philanthropic ideal, and, if he had chosen, might well have furnished the state of his own heart for examination. Hawthorne comments again, making his familiar point that a good ideal brings a man to a good end only if it does not lead him out of the natural sympathies of life:
"The moral which presents itself to my reflections, as drawn from Hollingsworth's character and errors, is simply this -- that, admitting what is called philanthropy, when adopted as a profession, to be often useful by its energetic impulse to society at large, it is perilous to the individual whose ruling passion, in one exclusive channel, it thus becomes. It ruins, or is fearfully apt to ruin, the heart, the rich juices of which God never meant should be pressed violently out and distilled into alcoholic liquor by an unnatural process, but should render life sweet, bland, and gently beneficent, and insensibly influence other hearts and other lives to the same blessed end...
"The Marble Faun repeats in Miriam the problem of Hester and of Zenobia, and in Hilda, the simple Puritan girl who finds peace in the Roman Catholic confessional, the story illustrates beautifully Hawthorne's faith that some of our most unconventional impulses lead us to a practical morality. But the philosophy of the book centres in Donatello, that wonderful creature who begins life with the animal-like innocence which radical thought seems often to desire for man, and who develops an immortal soul by committing an impulsive murder. The doctrine of Circles has its most elaborate illustration here; here is the evolution of good out of sin -- not out of repentance for sin. But if the doctrine is sound, our theology needs thorough revision, and Hawthorne suggests the logical change in our conception of sin:

'Is sin then -- which we deem such a dreadful blackness in the universe -- is it, like sorrow, merely an element of human education, through which we struggle to a higher and purer state than we could otherwise have attained? Did Adam fall that we might ultimately rise to a far higher Paradise than his?'

"These problems, suggested by the Transcendental philosophy, occupied Hawthorne to the last. It was not in his disposition to suggest answers to them. His distinction in American literature is the extent to which he projected them experimentally into life, and the sincerity with which he modified them to conform to stubborn and perplexing facts."

So there you have it. Either evil does not exist (or else is of not consequence), or alterately it is a stepping stone to greater good. In a word -- what a nonsense!
For American Literature and an author much more to my liking; both with respect to the essay written on him and the subject himself, try William Ellery Leonard's study of William Cullen Bryant contained in the same volume, and which you can download as a handy .txt file here (or as .pdf.)

Later Note. In retrospect, I was obviously being unfair and harsh respecting Emerson and Thoreau; particularly since philosophically speaking my own view is and has much in common (and in "concord") with theirs. Moreover, let me apologetically state, my criticism was prompted less by a disapproval of their works and writings (Emerson's essay "Nature," for example, is a most impressive masterpiece of virile eloquence and sagacious insight) than as a rhetorical device, admittedly (at the time) cantankerous, designed to help bring attention to the failure (in my opinion) of the Transcendentalists to adequately address the topic of evil.