For a long while I have believed – this is perhaps my version of Sir Darius Xerxes Cama’s belief in a fourth function of outsideness – that in every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as natural a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity. And not only by that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainly, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval. But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds (because we are all alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee. And in the waking dreams our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks.What we forbid ourselves we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or a movie theater, or to read about between the secret covers of a book. Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth. The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveler, the gangster, the runner, the mask: if we did not recognize in them our least-fulfilled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.
Salman Rushdie
Very often the test of one's allegiance to a cause or to a people is precisely the willingness to stay the course when things are boring, to run the risk of repeating an old argument just one more time, or of going one more round with a hostile or (much worse) indifferent audience. I first became involved with the Czech opposition in 1968 when it was an intoxicating and celebrated cause. Then, during the depressing 1970s and 1980s I was a member of a routine committee that tried with limited success to help the reduced forces of Czech dissent to stay nourished (and published). The most pregnant moment of that commitment was one that I managed to miss at the time: I passed an afternoon with Zdenek Mlynar, exiled former secretary of the Czech Communist Party, who in the bleak early 1950s in Moscow had formed a friendship with a young Russian militant with an evident sense of irony named Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev. In 1988 I was arrested in Prague for attending a meeting of one of Vaclav Havel's 'Charter 77' committees. That outwardly exciting experience was interesting precisely because of its almost Zen-like tedium. I had gone to Prague determined to be the first visiting writer not to make use of the name Franz Kafka, but the numbing bureaucracy got the better of me. When I asked why I was being detained, I was told that I had no need to know the reason! Totalitarianism is itself a cliché (as well as a tundra of pulverizing boredom) and it forced the cliché upon me in turn. I did have to mention Kafka in my eventual story. The regime fell not very much later, as I had slightly foreseen in that same piece that it would. (I had happened to notice that the young Czechs arrested with us were not at all frightened by the police, as their older mentors had been and still were and also that the police themselves were almost fatigued by their job. This was totalitarianism practically yawning itself to death.) A couple of years after that I was overcome to be invited to an official reception in Prague, to thank those who had been consistent friends through the stultifying years of what 'The Party' had so perfectly termed 'normalization.' As with my tiny moment with Nelson Mandela, a whole historic stretch of nothingness and depression, combined with the long and deep insult of having to be pushed around by boring and mediocre people, could be at least partially canceled and annealed by one flash of humor and charm and generosity.
Christopher Hitchens
The Peacemaker Colt has now been in production, without change in design, for a century. Buy one to-day and it would be indistinguishable from the one Wyatt Earp wore when he was the Marshal of Dodge City. It is the oldest hand-gun in the world, without question the most famous and, if efficiency in its designated task of maiming and killing be taken as criterion of its worth, then it is also probably the best hand-gun ever made. It is no light thing, it is true, to be wounded by some of the Peacemaker’s more highly esteemed competitors, such as the Luger or Mauser: but the high-velocity, narrow-calibre, steel-cased shell from either of those just goes straight through you, leaving a small neat hole in its wake and spending the bulk of its energy on the distant landscape whereas the large and unjacketed soft-nosed lead bullet from the Colt mushrooms on impact, tearing and smashing bone and muscle and tissue as it goes and expending all its energy on you.In short when a Peacemaker’s bullet hits you in, say, the leg, you don’t curse, step into shelter, roll and light a cigarette one-handed then smartly shoot your assailant between the eyes. When a Peacemaker bullet hits your leg you fall to the ground unconscious and if it hits the thigh-bone and you are lucky enough to survive the torn arteries and shock, then you will never walk again without crutches because a totally disintegrated femur leaves the surgeon with no option but to cut your leg off. And so I stood absolutely motionless, not breathing, for the Peacemaker Colt that had prompted this unpleasant train of thought was pointed directly at my right thigh.Another thing about the Peacemaker: because of the very heavy and varying trigger pressure required to operate the semi-automatic mechanism, it can be wildly inaccurate unless held in a strong and steady hand. There was no such hope here. The hand that held the Colt, the hand that lay so lightly yet purposefully on the radio-operator’s table, was the steadiest hand I’ve ever seen. It was literally motionless. I could see the hand very clearly. The light in the radio cabin was very dim, the rheostat of the angled table lamp had been turned down until only a faint pool of yellow fell on the scratched metal of the table, cutting the arm off at the cuff, but the hand was very clear. Rock-steady, the gun could have lain no quieter in the marbled hand of a statue. Beyond the pool of light I could half sense, half see the dark outline of a figure leaning back against the bulkhead, head slightly tilted to one side, the white gleam of unwinking eyes under the peak of a hat. My eyes went back to the hand. The angle of the Colt hadn’t varied by a fraction of a degree. Unconsciously, almost, I braced my right leg to meet the impending shock. Defensively, this was a very good move, about as useful as holding up a sheet of newspaper in front of me. I wished to God that Colonel Sam Colt had gone in for inventing something else, something useful, like safety-pins.
Alistair MacLean
The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, 'What should I do if I were not to die now? What if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, so as to waste not a single instant!' He said that this thought weighed so upon him and became such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bear it and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it.The prince paused and all waited, expecting him to go on again and finish the story.Is that all? asked Aglaya.All? Yes, said the prince, emerging from a momentary reverie.And why did you tell us this?Oh, I happened to recall it, that's all! It fitted into the conversation—You probably wish to deduce, prince, said Alexandra, that moments of time cannot be reckoned by money value and that sometimes five minutes are worth priceless treasures. All this is very praiseworthy; but may I ask about this friend of yours, who told you the terrible experience of his life? He was reprieved, you say; in other words, they did restore to him that 'eternity of days.' What did he do with these riches of time? Did he keep careful account of his minutes?Oh no, he didn't! I asked him myself. He said that he had not lived a bit as he had intended and had wasted many and many a minute.Very well, then there's an experiment and the thing is proved; one cannot live and count each moment; say what you like, but one cannot. That is true, said the prince, I have thought so myself. And yet, why shouldn't one do it?You think, then, that you could live more wisely than other people? said Aglaya.I have had that idea.And you have it still?Yes — I have it still, the prince replied.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
In his book Politics, which is the foundation of the study of political systems and very interesting, Aristotle talked mainly about Athens. But he studied various political systems - oligarchy, monarchy - and didn't like any of the particularly. He said democracy is probably the best system, but it has problems and he was concerned with the problems. One problem that he was concerned with is quite striking because it runs right up to the present. He pointed out that in a democracy, if the people - people didn't mean people, it meant freemen, not slaves, not women - had the right to vote, the poor would be the majority and they would use their voting power to take away property from the rich, which wouldn't be fair, so we have to prevent this.James Madison made the same pint, but his model was England. He said if freemen had democracy, then the poor farmers would insist on taking property from the rich. They would carry out what we these days call land reform. and that's unacceptable. Aristotle and Madison faced the same problem but made the opposite decisions. Aristotle concluded that we should reduce ineqality so the poor wouldn't take property from the rich. And he actually propsed a visin for a city that would put in pace what we today call welfare-state programs, common meals, other support systems. That would reduce inequality and with it the problem of the poor taking property from the rich. Madison's decision was the opposite. We should reduce democracy so the poor won't be able to get together to do this.If you look at the design of the U.S. constitutional system, it followed Madison's approach. The Madisonian system placed power in the hands of the Senate. The executive in those days was more or less an administrator, not like today. The Senate consisted of the wealth of the nation, those who had sympathy for property owners and their rights. That's where power should be. The Senate, remember, wasn't elected. It was picked by legislatures, who were themselves very much subject to control by the rich and the powerful. The House, which was closer to the population, had much less power. And there were all sorts of devices to keep people from participation too much - voting restrictions and property restrictions. The idea was to prevent the threat of democracy. This goal continues right to the present. It has taken different forms, but the aim remains the same.
Noam Chomsky
You were born with your head in the clouds, your future wide open,feeling almost weightless. Almost.Kudoclasm.You had dreams even before you had memories: a cloud of fantasies and ambitionsof secret plans and hidden potential,visions of who you are and what your life will be.They keep your spirits high, floating somewhere above your life,where the world looks faintly hypothetical, almost translucent. But every time you reach for the skyand come away with nothing, you start to wonder what’s holding them up.Surely it would have happened by now?!You feel time starting to slip, pulling you back down to earth.even as you tell yourself, don’t look down.You don’t have the luxury of floating through life,because you may not have the time. The future is already rushing toward you and it’s not as far away as you think. It feels like your life is flashing before your eyes, but it’s actually just the opposite: you’re thinking forward, to everything you still haven’t done,the places you had intended to visit,the life goals you’d eventually get around to,some day in the future.You start dropping your delusions one by one,like tossing ballast overboard.And soon the fog lifts and everything becomes clear— right until the moment your feet touch the ground. And there it is, the real world.As if you’ve finally grown up, steeped in reality, your eyes adjusting to the darkness, seeing the world for what it is.But in truth, you don’t belong there.We dream to survive—no more optional than breathing. Maybe the real world is just another fantasy,something heavy to push back against,and launch ourselves still higher.We’re all afraid to let go,of falling into a bottomless future.But maybe we belong in the air,tumbling in the wind.Maybe it’s only when you dive in that you pick up enough speedto shape the flow of reality and choose your own course,flying not too high and not too low, but gliding from one to the other in long playful loops. To dream big and bounce ideas against the worldand rise again.Moving so fast,you can’t tell where the dream ends and where the world begins.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows