Other People’s Thoughts is a section in the Journal of the China Heritage site. It is inspired by a compilation of quotations put together by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), one of our Ancestors, during his reading life.
Pierre remarked that the resulting modest volume of quotations was ‘idiosyncratically compiled for the amusement of idle readers’ (see Simon Leys, Other People’s Thoughts, 2007). Our aim is similar: to amuse our readers (idle or otherwise); as is our modus operandi: to build up an idiosyncratic compilation, one that reflects the interests of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and its coterie.
In collecting this material, and by adding to it over time, we accord also with a Chinese literary practice in which quotations — sometimes called yǔlù 語錄, literally ‘recorded sayings’ — have a particular history, and a powerful resonance.
The most famous collection of recorded sayings is The Analects 論語, compiled by disciples of Confucius. Then there is the timeless 5000-words of Laozi’s The Tao and the Power 道德經, as well as the Chan/Zen 禪宗 tradition of what in English are known by the Japanese term kōan 公案, dating from the Tang dynasty. Modern imitations range from the political bon mots of Mao Zedong to excerpts from the prolix prose of Xi Jinping’s tireless speech writers, and published snippets from arm-chair philosophers and motivational speakers.
Other People’s Thoughts also finds inspiration in the ‘poetry talks’ 詩話, ‘casual jottings’ 筆記 and ‘marginalia’ 眉批 of China’s literary tradition.
— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
16 November 2022
More Other People’s Thoughts:
- Other People’s Thoughts, China Heritage
Other People’s Thoughts, XXXII
Immortal at the River, Yang Shen
On and on the Great River rolls, bending east away.
Of proud and gallant heroes its white-tops leave no trace,
As right and wrong, pride and fall turn all at once unreal.
Yet ever the green hills stay
To blaze in the west-waning day.
Fishers and woodsmen comb the river isles.
White-crowned, they’ve seen enough of spring and autumn tide
To make good company over the wine jar,
Where many a famed event
Provides their merriment.
— translated by Moss Roberts
The Freedom to Choose
‘They do what they do for money — that’s all. I don’t even know why you’re listening to me. I’ve done commercials for both Coke and Pepsi. Truth is, I can’t even taste the difference. Surprise! All I know is that Pepsi paid me most recently, so, it tastes better. That’s pretty much how the game goes.’
— Dave Chappelle
Down the Drain
People who seem to spend half their lives complaining about Twitter, on Twitter, seem stunned by the idea that a shitposter would ultimately buy it. Catch up! It doesn’t feel like a complete coincidence that all social media platforms are owned by men you’d run a mile from socially.
[Elon] Musk is one of them – a brilliant, horrid, ridiculous and very occasionally endearing grotesque. A sort of intergalactically successful Dominic Cummings.
— Marina Hyde, The Guardian, 26 April 2022
Twitter is like if everyone you hated had your phone number
— Michael Che, The Tonight Show, 16 August 2018
Not so Gay
Homosexuals prefer one another’s company not so much because of a common sexual deviance from what is socially accepted, but because they know that they have all been through the same hell, the same trials, the same depressions – and those who meet have survived. Those not present have killed themselves, or have managed, or decided, or were able to conform. Homosexuals’ friendships or acquaintanceships may appear to be superficial, may be superficial in fact, but that underlying bond remains: and they are blood brothers and sisters, because of what they have suffered.
— Patricia Highsmith, 14 May 1961
Then, brothers, it came. Oh, bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk round my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.
— Anthony Burgess, Clockwork Orange, 1962
A plausible minimum list of ingredients for 21st century liberalism would include liberty under law, limited and accountable government, markets, tolerance, some version of individualism and universalism, and some notion of human equality, reason and progress. The mix of ingredients differs from place to place. Whether some distant cousin really belongs to the extended family of liberalisms is a matter of healthy dispute. But somewhere in this contested, evolving combination there is a thing of enduring value.
— Timothy Garton Ash, The New York Times, 25 January 2009
All of the designers I have met up to this point have been very nice, although upon being introduced to Karl Lagerfeld, he looks me up and down and dismisses me with the not super-kind, “What can you write that hasn’t been written already?”
He’s absolutely right, I have no idea. I can but try. The only thing I can come up with at that moment is that Lagerfeld’s powdered white ponytail has dusted the shoulders of his suit with what looks like dandruff but isn’t. Also, not yet having undergone his alarming weight loss, and seated on a tiny velvet chair, with his large doughy rump dominating the miniature piece of furniture like a loose, flabby, ass-flavored muffin overrisen from its pan, he resembles a Daumier caricature of some corpulent, inhumane oligarch drawn sitting on a commode, stuffing his greedy throat with the corpses of dead children, while from his other end he shits out huge, malodorous piles of tainted money. How’s that for new and groundbreaking, Mr. L.?
— David Rakoff, ‘I can’t get it for you wholesale’
President Orlean: ‘OK, let’s bottom line this. What is it gonna cost me? What is the ask here?’
— Don’t Look Up!, Netflix, 2021
There is much in our culture to affront the eye of the fervent terrorist postulant, things out there that do us no favors, to be sure. If, for example, it came to light that the dangerously thin, affectless, value-deficient, higher aspiration-free amateur-porn auteuse Paris Hilton was actually a covert agent from some secret Taliban madrassa whose mission was to portray the ultimate capitalist-whore puppet of a doomed society with nothing more on its mind than servitude to Mammon and celebrity at any cost, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
— David Rakoff, ‘Privates on Parade’
‘I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out.’
— New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, Gridiron Club 137th dinner, 2 April 2022
“There are at least two Wests,” Mr. Putin said.
One, he said, is a West of “traditional, mainly Christian values” with which Russians feel kinship. But, he said, “there’s another West — aggressive, cosmopolitan, neocolonial, acting as the weapon of the neoliberal elite,” and trying to impose its “pretty strange” values on the rest of the world. …
In Ukraine, officials ridiculed Mr. Putin’s speech. Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said the Russian president was accusing the West of what he has been doing himself, chiefly violating another country’s sovereignty.
“Any speech by Putin can be described in two words: ‘for Freud,’” Mr. Podolyak posted on Twitter.
— Putin Rails Against ‘Western Elites’ in Speech Aimed at U.S. Conservatives, The New York Times, 27 October 2022
The Green Zone
America insists that you bear witness to it tripping on its dick and slamming its face into an uncountable row of scalding hot pies. You do more than bear witness, because American Twitter has the same kind of magnetic pull as a garbage disposal unit. A sick part of you wants to shove your hand in. You want to let the blades cut into your knuckles, if just to see if you can slow them down a little.
The greatest trick America’s ever pulled on the subjects of its various vassal states is making us feel like a participant in its grand experiment. After all, our fate is bound to the American empire’s whale fall. My generation in particular is the first pure batch of Yankee-Yobbo mutoids: as much Hank Hill as we are Hills Hoist (look it up!), as familiar with the Supreme Court Justices as we are with the judges on Master Chef, as comfortable in Frasier’s Seattle or Seinfeld’s Upper West Side as we are in Ramsay Street or Summer Bay.
America has effectively built a Green Zone in our cultural consciousness, replete with the obligatory Maccas. Our imaginations, memories, and selves have been well and truly occupied, and the schizoid psychic agony of mainlining our nation’s duel nightmares is, more often than not, excruciating.
— Patrick Marlborough, I Should Be Able to Mute America, Gawker, 16 June 2022
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
— Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
Ayn Rand Goes to the Movies
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars.
The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. —Four stars.
A farm animal ceases to be useful and is disposed of humanely. A valuable lesson for children. —Four stars.
“Lady and the Tramp”
A ridiculous movie. What could a restaurant owner possibly have to gain by giving away a perfectly good meal to dogs, when he could sell it at a reasonable price to human beings? A dog cannot pay for spaghetti, and payment is the only honest way to express appreciation for value. —One star.
A wealthy woman attempts to do her impoverished school friend Anita a favor by purchasing some of her many dogs and putting them to sensible use. Her generosity is repulsed at every turn, and Anita foolishly and irresponsibly begins acquiring even more animals, none of which are used to make a practical winter coat. Altruism is pointless. So are dogs. A cat is a far more sensible pet. A cat is objectively valuable. —No stars.
A woman takes a job with a wealthy family without asking for money in exchange for her services. An absurd premise. Later, her employer leaves a lucrative career in banking in order to play a children’s game. —No stars.
“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”
An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. —Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.)
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”
Taxation is also a form of theft. In a truly free society, citizens should pay only as much as they are willing for the services they require. —Three stars.
A farmer allows sentimental drawings by a bug to prevail over economic necessity and refuses to value his prize pig, Wilbur, by processing and selling him on the open market. Presumably, the pig still dies eventually, only without profiting his owners. The farmer’s daughter, Fern, learns nothing except how to become an unsuccessful farmer. There is a rat in this movie. I quite liked the rat. He knew how to extract value from his environment. —Two stars.
“The Muppets Take Manhattan”
This movie was a disappointment. The Muppets do not take Manhattan at all. They merely visit it. —No stars.
“Beauty and the Beast”
A young woman rejects a financially independent hunter in favor of an unemployed nobleman who lives off of the labor of others. Also, there are no trains in this movie. I did like the talking clock, who attempted to take pride in his work despite constant attacks on his dignity by the candlestick. The candlestick did not take his job seriously. —Two stars.
“The Little Mermaid”
A young woman achieves all of her goals. She finds an object of value—in this case, a broad-chested brunet man—and sacrifices as much as she believes necessary (the ocean, talking, etc.) in order to acquire him. —Four stars.
Another pig farmer fails to do his job. —No stars.
At last, a full-length feature about the inherent value of possessions. —Four stars.
I liked this movie. Cats are inherently valuable animals. It makes sense that there should be a movie about a cat. I could demonstrate the objective value of a cat, if I wanted to. —Four stars.
A man refuses to sell his home to serve the convenience of others, which is his right as an American citizen. He meets a dog, which neither finds food for him nor protects him from danger. He would have been better off with a cat. There are no cats in this movie. —Two stars.
An exceptional woman foolishly allows her mooching family members to keep her from ruling a kingdom of ice in perfect solitude. She is forced to use her unique powers to provide free entertainment for peasants, without compensation. I liked the snowman, when he sang. —One star.
— Daniel M. Lavery, Ayn Rand Reviews Children’s Movies, The New Yorker, 19 December 2014
From Containment…to Self-Containment
I do not think that the United States civilisation of these last 40-50 years is a successful civilisation; I do not think that our political system is adequate to the needs of the age into which we are now moving; I think this country is destined to succumb to failures which cannot be other than tragic and enormous in their scope.
— George Kennan in conversation with George Urban, Encounter, September 1976
We’re still living within a framework largely designed in the five years post World War II. Defenders of these world order systems consider it a success. We have the biggest economy. The biggest military. No one is coming to invade the U.S. We do what we want, when we want, where we want. It’s a compelling argument and the reason behind this institutional recalcitrance on the part of the ruling elite.
So we’re in a weird spot, Unf*ckers. Trump ruined any diplomatic legitimacy we had on the world stage and the Commander in Sleep ain’t the one to put that genie back in the bottle. Instead of paving the way for new multilateral agreements that include China while they’re still in second place and we have a little leverage to get them to keep opening up, we’re playing war games in the South China Sea. Rick Wolff recently equated this to the Chinese running submarine drills in the Long Island Sound. We look like idiots.
Our trade agreements, the way we carve up the world into different commands with military bases spread across the globe, our incapacity to sacrifice one fucking dollar of the largest military budget ever to support education and social welfare policies at home. These are all signs of either madness or stupidity. Maybe both. I don’t know. But I know this. All of those cable channels and broadcast news channels aren’t asking the right questions. (Check out how a real journalist asks questions.)
This brings me back to the same conclusion as our Global Order of Money episode.
When David Rockefeller established the Trilateral Commission, Russia was very much at the forefront of their discussions. But Rockefeller had deep ties in China and knew Chairman Deng personally. And he was very clear with Rockefeller as he was to the world that the 20th Century would be a period of great change and upheaval in his nation. But that the 21st would belong to China.
And it’s happening. It’s inevitable. But that’s not what upsets me and makes me nervous.
We will not go quietly into second place.
What makes me nervous is our anger and our potential. Our capability and our might. That we don’t have someone strong enough and captivating enough to inspire a domestic agenda that would heal the divide in this nation and distract us from doing terrible things abroad. We’re running the same playbooks that were crafted in the Cold War, molded by the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. We have the same mentality, the same fucking people in charge but they were placed there by corporations.
We will not go quietly into second place.
There’s too much money, hubris and pride riding on us being first. Look how we’ve sacrificed the health and welfare of our own people and how many people we’ve murdered abroad in pursuit of economic dominance.
We will not go quietly into second place.
Even if it means we take the Earth down with us. Remember from our Climate episode that the Pentagon has been modeling climate change since the 1990s. Apart from some coastal parts of the U.S., there is consensus that we’re going to fare better than all other nations when we pass the point of no return. China has access to all the same material. Why do you think they’re walking in behind us in the Middle East and Africa? Why do you think they’re negotiating new agreements in our absence?
They know what’s coming and have been planning since the Third Plenary Session of the CCP in 1978. And that’s all well and good. There’s no shame in second place. They have the size and population. It probably makes more sense. The only problem is…
We will not go quietly into second place.
And that terrifies the shit out of me.
— Max, The Global Order of Power: Money, Position & Might, Unf*cking The Republic, 13 November 2021
For the Twentieth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party
We don’t want COVID tests. We want to eat.
We don’t want Cultural Revolution. We want reforms.
We don’t want lockdowns. We want freedom.
We don’t want a Leaders. We want the vote.
We don’t want lies. We want dignity.
We aren’t slaves. We are citizens.
Peng concluded his list of grievances and demands with an even more daring act of lèse-majesté:
Refuse to go to class. Go on strike. Remove the dictator Xi Jinping, traitor to our nation.
— Peng Zaizhou 彭載舟, 13 October 2022
At the End of the Day
‘Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death — ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.’
— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, in Collected Essays, ed. Toni Morrison, New York: The Library of America, 1998, p.339