The Pursuit Of Work, And The Quest For Ideals

In 1893 Leo Tolstoy published an essay whose title was rather clumsily translated into English as “Non-Acting.”  In it the great novelist compared the relative merits of two positions, one held by Emile Zola, and the other held by Alexandre Dumas.  Both Zola and Dumas had been asked to state their opinions on what they believed to be the basic forces that move, or should move, humanity.  Tolstoy, mystic that he was, saw these rival opinions in terms of a cosmic competition between “the force of routine, tending to keep humanity in its accustomed path,” and “the force of reason and love, drawing humanity towards the light.”

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“The King Likes Only Empty Words” (Podcast)

The willingness to do what is necessary is an essential condition of success in any enterprise. There are those who are willing to do what is necessary, and those who are not.

We discuss an anecdote from Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” and several other historical examples, to bring these points into focus.

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The Travels Of John Bell In Persia and China

John Bell was born in 1690 in Antermony, Scotland.  He seems to have decided at an early age to study medicine, but was lured into the world of adventure and travel by hearing stories of Peter the Great of Russia, who was a famous figure in Europe in the early eighteenth century.  He resolved to visit Russia for himself, and set out to St. Petersburg in July 1714.  The czar was preparing a delegation under the command of Aremy Petrovich Valenskyto travel to Persia; and Bell, with his medical background, volunteered to join the party as an attendant.

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Solomon Outwits The Queen Of Sheba

The following tale is related in a forgotten nineteenth-century volume on the literature of the ancient world.  Its ultimate source is the Talmud (literally, “learning”), that immense compendium of Judaic civil and religious law, garnished with the diligent commentaries of hundreds of learned men.  To the foreigner unfamiliar with its mysteries, it appears to be a vast encyclopedia on every conceivable subject, including the minutiae of social life, work, family, and leisure.  Included also are fables, stories, allegories, proverbs, even jokes; the overall impression given is that of a distillation of cultural traditions and thought that spans many centuries.  The Talmud itself contains two parts:  the Mishna (the older text), and the Gemara, which is a commentary on the Mishna.

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The Genius Of The Iliad

About a year and a half ago, I listened to an audio book translation of the Iliad.  I like listening to audio books in my car as I drive around during the day; I can control the content of what I hear, and can avoid listening to the news.  It had been a long time since I had had any extended exposure to the poem, and was wondering if it might mean more to me than it did many years ago.  The full appreciation of works of literature, we all know, is often time-specific.  At one point in a man’s life, a book may seem like a tiresome bore; then, with a refreshing interval of years, the same work can hit you like a bolt of lightning, activating previously dormant or attenuated perceptions.

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The Architect Of The Imagination

Man was born for action.  Even if he does not know this–especially if he does not know this–his physical being revolts from long intermissions of supine inertia, and craves the physical release of the violent contest.  This is part of his blood-spirit, his irreconcilable inner Being.  He can try to deny this, and he can try to avoid the consequences of this reality; but in the end the same simple truth returns to stare him in the face.  Even the corpulent sloth will light up like a pinball machine when asked to discuss topics that are of intense interest to him; he will leap out his chair, gesticulate wildly, and hold forth on that topic to which all his energies are directed.  Within him is that fundamental desire for action, and this no amount of subcutaneous body fat can suppress.

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