Archive | June, 2013

New Math

Just heard on PBS – Rick Steves on the history of San Gimignano: “A plague decimated the town, reducing its population by two thirds.”

Lost In Translation

In “The God Complex” (Doctor Who, new series 6) the dying Minotaur is speaking its last words. Amy Pond asks: “What’s it saying?”

The Doctor answers:

An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent, drifting in space through an endless, shifting maze – for such a creature, death would be a gift.

Then accept it, and sleep well.

I wasn’t talking about myself.

Today I came across a post that interprets these lines very differently from the way I do. Rebecca Kulik writes:

This line comes at the end of the Doctor explaining to his companions why a creature once worshipped as a god would see death as a gift. The sacrifices the creature took to keep itself alive had “soaked it in the blood of innocents.”

Sound a bit familiar? The Doctor thought so, because he felt the need to clarify to his companions that it wasn’t about him.

The look of shock and a bit of sorrow on his face as he delivers the line says it all. The Doctor realizes that the words could apply to himself too.

So Kulik and I apparently disagree about which lines are the Doctor’s translation of the Minotaur and which are the Doctor speaking in propria voce. As I read it, “An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent, drifting in space through an endless, shifting maze – for such a creature, death would be a gift” is the Doctor translating the Minotaur, while “Then accept it, and sleep well” is the Doctor’s own response. But then the final line “I wasn’t talking about myself” is on my interpretation not the Doctor’s own remark, but rather his translation of the Minotaur’s counter-response. Indeed, no other interpretation initially occurred to me.

And I think my interpretation makes more sense: why would he need to tell Amy and Rory that he’s not talking about himself, when they’ve just heard him tell the Minotaur to accept death, and so have no reason to interpret the first speech as anything but the Doctor’s translation of the Minotaur? And the Doctor’s shock makes more sense too. Or so it seems to me. Comments?

Against Maslow

To say that food and safety are more basic needs than reason and morality is essentially to say: “I am untrustworthy and will stab you in the back when the chips are down.”

I prefer Aristotle:

For every intellect chooses what is best for itself, and the decent man obeys his intellect. Now it is true also, concerning the upright man, that he performs many actions for the sake of his friends and his country, and if necessary dies for them. For he will discard both wealth and honours and in general the goods people fight over, gaining the fine for himself; for he would prefer a short time of intense pleasure to a long mild one, and a year of fine living to many years of living at random, and a single fine and great action to many slight ones. Now this like as not results for those who die for others; indeed they choose a great fine thing for themselves.

And Cicero:

For a man to take something from his neighbour and to profit by his neighbor’s loss is more contrary to nature than is death or poverty or pain or anything else that can affect either our person or our property. … If a man wrongs his neighbour to gain some advantage for himself he must either imagine that he is not acting in defiance of nature or he must believe that death, poverty, pain, or even the loss of children, kinsmen, or friends, is more to be shunned than an act of injustice against another. … If he believes that, while such a course should be avoided, the other alternatives are much worse – namely, death, poverty, pain – he is mistaken in thinking that any ills affecting either his person or his property are more serious than those affecting his soul.

And Seneca:

Every living thing has an initial attachment to its own constitution; but a human being’s constitution is a rational one, and so a human being’s attachment is to himself not qua living being but qua rational being. For he is dear to himself in respect of what makes him human.

(Rand, of course, situates herself squarely on both sides of this issue.)

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