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
12 February 2023
Other People’s Thoughts, XXXIII
‘Words are the only victors.’
— Salman Rushdie
…This is that story, retold in plainer language by the present author, who is neither a scholar nor a poet but merely a spinner of yarns, and who offers this version for the simple entertainment and possible edification of today’s readers, the old and the young, the educated and the not so educated, those in search of wisdom and those amused by folly, northerners and southerners, followers of different gods and of no gods, the broad-minded and the narrow-minded, men and women and members of the genders beyond and in between, scions of the nobility and rank commoners, good people and rogues, charlatans and foreigners, humble sages, and egotistical fools.
— Salman Rushdie, Victory City
To Think In Ink
From time to time
I make it rhyme
But don’t hold that kind of thing against me.
Oh well, what the hell,
So it won’t sell.
What I want to tell
Is what’s on my mind.
‘Taint dishes, ‘taint wishes, it’s thoughts
Flinging by before I die
And to think in ink.
— Marilyn Monroe
‘I have allergies — I’m human-intolerant’
— The Master as Rasputin in Doctor Who, October 2022
The Gods of Chaos and Stupidity
‘We live in a paranoid world, which believes in conspiracies, coordinated efforts. People for some reason find this reassuring—at least more reassuring than what I believe to be true, which is that we live hopeful amid utter senselessness. I’m thinking of Harold Bloom, who looms over my novel, and his penchant for the gnostic. If we live in a gnostic universe, then the gods that tug us aren’t good and evil but Chaos and Stupidity, Chaos and Rank Idiocy. Compared to an all-the-dots-connect, QAnon/Deep State understanding of power, Chaos and Dumb Selfishness seems a better rubric for the Trump years.’
— Joshua Cohen, 5 November 2022
Rates of Exchange
‘Let’s be honest here: Europe’s a museum, Japan’s a nursing home and China’s a jail. We don’t need to worry about those currencies being some kind of major threat to us.’
— Larry Summers, during a wargaming exercise on digital currencies in 2019
— from the Chinese internet
‘I’ve made a masterpiece Jove’s wrath cannot destroy, nor flame, nor steel, nor gnawing time. … I will be read on people’s lips. My fame will last across the centuries. If poets’ prophecies can hold any truth, I’ll live.’
— Ovid, ‘Metamorphosis’
The Storm vs. Climate Change
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, Thomas Haldenwang, said stakes in critical infrastructure could also open the door to sabotage and influence on public opinion.
“When I speak with foreign partners about China, they always say: Russia is the storm, China is climate change,” he said.
“So we are going to have to brace for this climate change in the coming years.”
— Sarah Marsh, Reuters, 17 October 2022
Matt Hancock, former UK Health Minister
To watch I’m A Celebrity’s latest campmate for more than two minutes is to know what was already abundantly clear from his career as a minister: Matt Hancock is driven by the urge to resist self-knowledge at all costs. Matt Hancock is a fugitive from self-reflection; a flight risk from the truth; a guy compelled to loudly self-narrate in order to drown out the real story. There is a chasm between thinking you’re a good person who made mistakes, and accepting that things were always going to end the way they did because of who you are. Matt Hancock’s greatest fear is not snakes, as he told the show producers, but of crossing that chasm.
— Marina Hyde, The Guardian, 11 November 2022
Man ceased to be an ape and overcame the ape the day the first book was published. The ape had never forgotten this humiliation: just try to give him a book, and he will immediately spoil it, soil it, and tear it to pieces.
— Eugene Zamyatin
Florida Man Makes an Announcement
“With just 720 days to go before the next election, a Florida retiree made the surprise announcement on Tuesday evening that he was running for president,” the article said. “In a move no political pundit saw coming, avid golfer Donald J. Trump kicked things off at Mar-a-Lago, his resort and classified documents library.”
The article referred to his age — Mr. Trump will be 78 in 2024 — and continued: “His cholesterol levels are unknown, but his favorite food is a charred steak with ketchup. He has stated that his qualifications for office include being a ‘stable genius.’ Trump also served as the 45th president.”
— The New York Post, 18 November 2022
It’s Just a Game
“Today I feel Qatari,” he said. “Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker.”
He added: “Of course I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated [against], to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child I was bullied — because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian, so imagine.”
Later it was pointed out that in his opening monologue, he had missed out half the world’s population. “I feel like a woman too!” Infantino added.
— Gianni Infantino, 19 November 2022
Even someone as electrifyingly articulate as David Beckham is reduced to promoting Doha by claiming “it’s one of the best spice markets I’ve ever been to”. Surely not better than the Say You’ll Be There video, the spice market where he chose his wife? (And which, coincidentally, was also desert-based.) Unfortunately, the only thing anyone now wants to hear from Beckham is an answer to the question “how much money is enough?”. Some estimates place his Qatar promotional fee at £150m over 10 years, which is about £12m for every hour he did earning PR points in the queue for the late Queen’s lying-in-state. Cynical? Hey – it’s not me who’s a self-marketed metrosexual whose family wealth was recently estimated at £425m, yet who somehow wants even more cash from a regime that imprisons and brutalises gay people.
— Marina Hyde, The Guardian, 18 November 2022
Woodward on Trump
“There’s a statement that Henry Kissinger once made: ‘What extraordinary vehicles destiny selects to accomplish its design’. I’m not sure destiny exists, but what an extraordinary vehicle.”
Between a Scaramucci and a Truss
… it wasn’t until Mr. Musk took over Twitter that his claim of infinitely transferable genius truly fell apart. That what Mr. Musk has called the global town square can be eviscerated in a time period somewhere between a Scaramucci and a Truss makes one wonder if we should be more skeptical of all the other billionaire geniuses with ideas for our schools, public health systems and politics.
— The New York Times, 19 November 2022
MacAskill was visiting MIT in search of volunteers willing to sign on to his earn-to-give program. At a café table in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MacAskill laid out his idea as if it were a business plan: a strategic investment with a return measured in human lives. The opportunity was big, MacAskill argued, because, in the developing world, life was still unconscionably cheap. Just do the math: At $2,000 per life, a million dollars could save 500 people, a billion could save half a million, and, by extension, a trillion could theoretically save half a billion humans from a miserable death.
MacAskill couldn’t have hoped for a better recruit. Not only was SBF raised in the Bay Area as a utilitarian, but he’d already been inspired by Peter Singer to take moral action. During his freshman year, SBF went vegan and organized a campaign against factory farming. As a junior, he was wondering what to do with his life. And MacAskill—Singer’s philosophical heir—had the answer: The best way for him to maximize good in the world would be to maximize his wealth.
SBF listened, nodding, as MacAskill made his pitch. The earn-to-give logic was airtight. It was, SBF realized, applied utilitarianism. Knowing what he had to do, SBF simply said, “Yep. That makes sense.” But, right there, between a bright yellow sunshade and the crumb-strewn red-brick floor, SBF’s purpose in life was set: He was going to get filthy rich, for charity’s sake. All the rest was merely execution risk. …
That’s when SBF told Sequoia about the so-called super-app: “I want FTX to be a place where you can do anything you want with your next dollar. You can buy bitcoin. You can send money in whatever currency to any friend anywhere in the world. You can buy a banana. You can do anything you want with your money from inside FTX.”
Suddenly, the chat window on Sequoia’s side of the Zoom lights up with partners freaking out.
“I LOVE THIS FOUNDER,” typed one partner.
“I am a 10 out of 10,” pinged another.
“YES!!!” exclaimed a third.
What Sequoia was reacting to was the scale of SBF’s vision. It wasn’t a story about how we might use fintech in the future, or crypto, or a new kind of bank. It was a vision about the future of money itself—with a total addressable market of every person on the entire planet.
“I sit ten feet from him, and I walked over, thinking, Oh, shit, that was really good,” remembers Arora. “And it turns out that that fucker was playing League of Legends through the entire meeting.”
“We were incredibly impressed,” Bailhe says. “It was one of those your-hair-is-blown-back type of meetings.”
Not only that, Arora says, but League of Legends is the kind of multiplayer online battle arena video game where every four minutes or so of tactical maneuvering is punctuated by ten seconds of action known as a gank—gamer slang for “gang killing”—where you and your team gang up on an enemy. “There’s a fight that happens, basically,” says Arora, who was watching over SBF’s shoulder as he answered that final question from Sequoia, “and I’m like, This guy is fucking in a gank!”
The B round raised a billion dollars. Soon afterward came the “meme round”: $420.69 million from 69 investors. …
As I fry up an omelet for myself—with an egg of uncertain age—my thoughts drift until they shoal in the lee of The Great Gatsby. The peerless American novel, written a century ago, seems especially relevant to the here and now: The Roaring Twenties are back, certainly. And I’ll be damned if Albany is not West Egg. But is crypto the new jazz? And, if it is, does that make Sam Bankman-Fried the new Jay Gatsby? Both are very young; both are self-made; in inflation-adjusted dollars, both are equally wealthy; and both are enigmatic in the extreme. On the other hand, the differences between Jay Gatsby and SBF are vast. Literary types still argue about just what motivates F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most memorable character—but one thing is certain: Altruism, effective or not, is not a factor. So, while SBF may be Gatsbian in some important ways, he’s no Gatsby. Still, I wonder if there isn’t a deeper resonance. A literary type myself, as I tuck into my solo meal, I find the novel’s closing lines tiptoeing into my consciousness:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
After my interview with BF, I was convinced: I was talking to a future trillionaire. Whatever mojo he worked on the partners at Sequoia-who fell for him after one Zoom had worked on me, too.
For me, it was simply a gut feeling. I’ve been talking to founders and doing deep dives into technology companies for decades. It’s been my entire professional life as a writer. And because of that experience, there must be a pattern-
matching algorithm churning away somewhere in my subconscious. I don’t know how I know, I just do. SBF is a winner.
But that wasn’t even the main thing. There was something else I felt: something in my heart, not just my gut. After sitting ten feet from him for most of the week, studying him in the human musk of the startup grind and chatting in between beanbag naps, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this guy is actually as selfless as he claims to be.
— Adam Fisher, Sam Bankman-Fried Has a Savior Complex—And Maybe You Should Too, Sequoia, 22 September 2022
asidkajsdfasdfa @12oqfqfa…• 13/11/22
Replying to @AdamcFisher
“As I slid SBFs cock into my mouth, I knew I was tasting the precum of greatness.”
Adam Fisher, Sequoia
John Ryan @JRRhedge • 15/11/22
I just finished reading the article and I’m in complete disbelief of the direct quotes “it’s
my gut feeling that SBF will be the first trillionaire” ” SBF is clearly a genius” . To read your post makes everything perfect..many thanks for bringing a smile..I hope FTX returns my $$$$
We will fall for the next Sam Bankman-Fried, wherever he shows up next, because we don’t really have an alternative to credentialism, maximum optimization, and greed.
— Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker, 22 November 2022
The SBF Formula
a) stimulants when you wake up, sleeping pills if you need them when you sleep.
b) be mindful of where your headspace is: I often nap in the office so that my mind doesn’t leave work mode in between shifts.
— 16 September 2019
Imperial Chinese Harem
If Bankman-Fried was the public face of FTX on Twitter, Ellison was its Tumblr equivalent. In posts on her account, since deleted, she wrote about her understanding of traditional finance (“it’s very unlikely for you to actually lose all your money”), her ideal man (“controlling most major world governments [and having] sufficient strength to physically overpower you”), and her exploration of polyamory. “When I first started my first foray into poly, I thought of it as a radical break from my trad past,” she wrote in 2020, “but tbh, I’ve come to decide the only acceptable style of poly is best characterised as something like ‘imperial Chinese harem’. None of this non-hierarchical bullshit. Everyone should have a ranking of their partners, people should know where they fall on the ranking, and there should be vicious power struggles for the ranks.”
— Alex Hern, The Guardian, 19 November 2022
“Altruism, she told one such gathering in 1981, was “a contemptibly evil idea” promulgated by guilt-slinging “humanitarians” in order to shake down the productive. Insofar as they accepted this “altruism,” the business class committed “treason against themselves.” And so the novelist inveighed against philanthropic donations to universities, where altruists twisted the minds of the young. “It is a moral crime to give money to support your own destroyers,” she scolded.”
— Thomas Frank, Rendezvous with Oblivion
“I had an air factory; we sold bottled air to those whose doctors advised a change in climate. We had three kinds: sea air; mountain air; and all-purpose air just for breathing.”
Asked “How many factories were there?” The answer “No factories.”
— 1955 movie We’re No Angels
Say you’re a hybrid worker, the kind who spends time in Miami or New Jersey—a tech executive, perhaps, or the mayor of New York—living at the Set, a new apartment complex on Tenth Avenue for the pied-à-terre-inclined. Within a mile or so of your building, you could visit two of the world’s greatest art museums, at least twenty Duane Reades, a couple of solid diners, the High Line, the Garden, Carnegie Hall, Central Park, an aircraft carrier, a giant structure shaped like an al-pastor-taco spit, formerly used to an alarming extent for suicides, four ice-skating rinks, a total of thirty-eight Michelin stars, three farmers’ markets, some softball fields where a garment workers’ league likes to play, all of the Broadway theatres, a few community gardens, some reliable bars, and many bodegas. Alternatively, you could not.
— The New Yorker, 28 November 2022
Get with the program
The elevation of fitness to the highest of attainments is a sure sign of a culture grown neurotically inward and stunted. It’s a sign of diminished aspirations. When “self-improvement” entails not learning German but doing jumping jacks, we’re aiming to clear the lowest of bars. We’re not producing superheroes, but gym bunnies. In the end, no matter how much agony we undergo to build our biceps, those perishable muscles will still atrophy in old age and then end up on the scrapheap — at which point, what have we got to show? We could stand to demote the push-up back to the floor where it belongs.
The whole purpose of maintaining a functional body is to be able to do something else: write books, invent new software, land a rover on Mars. Theoretically, Michelangelo could have spent all his time on chin-ups and never have got round to the Sistine Chapel. Alison Bechdel won’t be remembered for her running time, but for her exuberant drawings, droll captions, and candid self-reflection. The West’s obsession with physical strength, perversely, is a weakness.
— Lionel Shriver, Abominations, 2022, p.155
Don Boldoc Goes Feral
“Guess what? We have furries and fuzzies in classrooms,” Bolduc told the crowd. “They lick themselves, they’re cats. When they don’t like something, they hiss — people walk down the hallway and jump out,” he said, as a hissing sound could be heard.
“And get this, get this,” he continued. “They’re putting litter boxes, right? Litter boxes for that. … These are the same people that are concerned about spreading germs. Yet they let children lick themselves and then touch everything. And they’re starting to lick each other.”
“I wish I was making it up,” concluded Bolduc. “I honestly wish it was a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit.”
— CNN, 30 October 2022
‘No one is exempt from talking nonsense; the misfortune is to do it solemnly.’
Chinese people don’t deserve A, or can’t do B, or aren’t quite ready for C
isekisi里的旋转小字: ‘I’ve come to understand their underlying logic, which is that “Chinese people do not deserve nice things.” If you ask them why other countries can gradually re-open but we cannot, they say that China’s population is too big to adopt those foreign tactics. Ha, sure. If you ask them why foreign youth can enjoy uncensored music, art, and film to their heart’s content but Chinese youth cannot, they say that Chinese youth are too easily influenced. Ha, sure. If you ask them why there are robust labor laws abroad but in China “996” is a blessing, they say China is still a developing country and must take measured steps. Ha, sure. No matter what you ask them, they’ll never give you a straight answer. Instead they’ll parrot lines about how Chinese people don’t deserve A, or can’t do B, or aren’t quite ready for C. And then, despite the fact that they can’t seem to find any good in the Chinese people, they’ll tell you all about how patriotic they are.’
— China Digital Times, December 2022
I Dream a Dream
——匿名网友， 29 November 2022
Andropov vs. Reagan
‘Throughout this last autumn, power lay in the hands of two elderly men, one of whom was on a kidney machine and half dead from the neck down, and the other of whom (in the view of his critics) was on an auto-cue machine (Teleprompter) and half dead from the neck up.’
— E.P. Thompson, Oxford Union debate, 1984
Listen to the Experts
China Experts are fortunate indeed: the public never extends to them the elementary standards of professional competence that are normally expected from modest mechanics and plumbers. We dismiss the technicians who fail to mend our cars or our leaky bathroom faucets, but whenever the political reality belies the analyses of the Experts, we dismiss the reality.
— Simon Leys, ‘The Death of Lin Biao’, Dissent, Fall, 1984, p.321
To say that the party leaders behave like gangsters would be a gratuitous slur on the latter’s reputation: after all, even in the underworld some kind of twisted morality is still being cultivated, some principles are still respected, a certain concept of loyalty within the gang is still valued.
—Simon Leys, ‘The Death of Lin Biao’, Dissent, Fall, 1984, p.321
Guo Moruo 郭沫若
Kuo Mo-jo is the most notorious intellectual prostitute of China, and swift as he had been to jump on Chiang Ch’ing’s boat when it had the wind in its sails, the ancient rat left it even quicker when it began to sink.
— Simon Leys, ‘Comrade Chiang Ch’ing’, Quadrant, May 1978, p.9
So much. Too much. It hurts, both my physical head and my mind, and it’s not supposed to be like this. A living city blends the will of its citizens with the impressions of outsiders, as filtered through legends and media. We are amalgamated gods sprung whole from the fusion of belief with reality, but usually, the beliefs are pretty steady. People still think New York is a great place to live despite 9/11, nightmare housing prices, and the media making us out to be a combination Mad Max sim and Taco Bell. Meanwhile there have always been people who hate New York without ever setting foot in it because they hear too much about it and get tired of the hype, because they “lost” a cousin who moved here from TinyRepublicanVille and turned socialist, because they secretly wish they could live here, too, but are too scared to try, whatever. But ’til now all this was constant. Background radiation. What’s hitting me now is a sudden ramp-up of outsider hate like nothing I’ve ever felt before. All these voices from Iowa and Alabama and England and Nigeria echo not our legend but its opposite all the shit that people think about New York which not only isn’t true, but contradicts what is. Those concepts jam into my mind like shrapnel: crackheads vomiting on every corner, children being kept in Omelasian basements by cannibal pedophiles, sneering intellectuals in kippahs and wild eyed billionaires in turbans scheming to take over the world, seedy public bathrooms that will turn you trans even though we barely have public bathrooms in the first place.
The reality of New York is being assailed by a thousand other New Yorks that don’t exist … but a bunch of people suddenly want them to. And, oh God, I can feel their belief actually dragging at me, trying to pull me away from who I actually am.
— J.K. Nemisin, The World We Make, 2022, pp.10-11
Half a Dozen of the Other
‘The Communist Party is Chinese people in power. The Chinese People are Communists who are not yet in power.’
For decades, a tacit social contract was in force in China. The people would be allowed to improve their economic lives. In return, the Communist Party would exercise total political control. We gave up our voices, rights and dignity. Government intrusion into our lives did not begin with the Covid-tracking software introduced during the pandemic; it began in the early 1980s when nearly all new mothers were required to have IUDs inserted into their bodies. Censorship did not begin with blocking negative news during Covid lockdowns; it began decades ago when the Chinese Communist Party extinguished any semblance of a free press.
Young people in China today are less willing to accept endless suffering. They want a happy life and to define “happy” on their own terms.
— Jianan Qian, I’ve Had Enough of My Parents’ ‘No Pain, No Gain’, The New York Times, 26 December 2022
Sr. Michael: “Of course, God doesn’t hate you!”
Clare: “Thank you, sister!”
Sr. Michael: “You’re not interesting enough.”
Clare: “I see.”
— Derry Girls
Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.
— Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Tit for Tate
Andrew Tate to Greta Thunberg: “Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions.”
Greta Thunberg to Andrew Tate: “yes, please do enlighten me. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
‘All academic thinking, whether right, left or middle, is conservative in the extreme, Nobody wants to hear what he hasn’t heard before.’
— Hannah Arendt to Richard Bernstein in A Philosophy Professor’s Final Class
— 04:37 • 15/01/23
Barbara: ‘Gregory, why would you sow secretly? Why would you prune privately? Why would you cull clandestinely? Hidden hoe-ing and whatnot … Why would you be tight-lipped about tilling?’
— Abbott Elementary, Season 1 Episode 12
‘I find social media to be a soul-sucking void of meaningless affirmation.’
— Wednesday Addams in Wednesday, S1.Ep1
He achieves the impossible of making me feel sorry for his father. And he embodies the worst characteristics of his former and current home countries: the unmerited entitlement of a secondary British royal and the self-pitying exhibitionism of a grifting California arriviste.
— Bret Stephens, 16 January 2023
He writes as if he is the first privileged male to notice the unfairness of primogeniture (the “hierarchy”, as he likes to call it with sinister emphasis). Well, duh. The monarchy invented it. The stately homes of England – belonging to many of the people he was at school with – are all inhabited by winners of the birth lottery while the younger siblings are relegated to some mouldy manor house and a sinecure at a bank (if lucky). Harry, we can all agree, has done better than most.
Despite it being a cliche, I do think one of the soundest pieces of advice is that the best revenge is a good life. However, the more classic form of revenge, which the Sussexes are pursuing, is much more lucrative. For all their talk of escape, they are still locked in a destructively symbiotic relationship with their detractors. “You shut up!” “No, YOU shut up!”
— Marina Hyde, The Guardian, 13 December 2022
Fan Zeng 范增
18/01/23 • 45.3K Views
— 刘蟾大生 (@3OoCglQGen9JSyJ) January 17, 2023
‘Please! These gays … they’re trying to murder me!’
— Jennifer Coolidge, White Lotus, Series 2, Finale
Of course. She’s still using the tactics of a man who could turn water into wine and still only had 12 friends.
Facts & Truth
… while I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either; no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything, there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. And finding facts—through reading documents or through interviewing and re-interviewing—can’t be rushed; it takes time. Truth takes time.
— Robert A. Caro, Working, p.112