It is not so. Do not tell this again.

Next morning, while we were at breakfast, Johnson gave a very earnest recommendation of what he himself practised with the utmost conscientiousness: I mean a strict attention to truth, even in the most minute particulars. ‘Accustom your children (said he,) constantly to this; if a thing happened at one window, and they, when relating it, say that it happened at another, do not let it pass, but instantly check them; you do not know where deviation from truth will end.’ Our lively hostess, whose fancy was impatient of the rein, fidgeted at this, and ventured to say, ‘Nay, this is too much. If Mr. Johnson should forbid me to drink tea, I would comply, as I should feel the restraint only twice a day; but little variations in narrative must happen a thousand times a day, if one is not perpetually watching.’ JOHNSON. ‘Well, Madam, and you OUGHT to be perpetually watching. It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.’

He was indeed so much impressed with the prevalence of falsehood, voluntary or unintentional, that I never knew any person who upon hearing an extraordinary circumstance told, discovered more of the incredulus odi. He would say, with a significant look and decisive tone, ‘It is not so. Do not tell this again.’ He inculcated upon all his friends the importance of perpetual vigilance against the slightest degrees of falsehood.

I’d love to have seen Johnson seen the twitters and whatsapps and facebooks of the world…

James Boswell, Life of Johnson.

Noise and wrangling without improvement or information

Otro abuso de las palabras, más general, aunque quizás menos observado, estriba en que las personas, al asociarlas a ciertas ideas durante un uso continuo y familiar, tienden a imaginar que existe una conexión tan estrecha y necesaria entre los hombres y el significado que les dan que se precipitan a suponer que uno no puede sino entender lo que ellas quieren decir; y por tanto, que debe aceptar las palabras pronunciadas como si estuviera fuera de toda duda que, en el uso de esos sonidos comunes, el hablante y el oyente han de tener las mismas precisas ideas. Whence presuming, that when they have in discourse used any term, they have thereby, as it were, set before others the very thing they talked of. And so likewise taking the words of others as naturally standing for just what they themselves have been accustomed to apply them to, they never trouble themselves to explain their own, or understand clearly others’ meaning.

From whence commonly proceeds noise, and wrangling, without improvement or information; pues las personas toman las palabras por las marcas constantes y regulares de nociones aceptadas, cuando en verdad no son sino los signos voluntarios e inestables de sus propias ideas. And yet men think it strange, if in discourse, or (where it is often  absolutely necessary) in dispute, one sometimes asks the meaning of their terms: though the arguings one may every day observe in conversation make it evident, that there are few names of complex ideas which any two men use for the same just precise collection.

Or not:

Por lo general, la gente tiene concepciones toscas y confusas a las que aplica las palabras comunes de su lengua, y con ese uso vago se las apaña en sus coloquios o en sus asuntos habituales.

Nor for easy living either:

Pero esto no basta para la investigación filosófica. El saber y el razonamiento requieren ideas precisas y determinadas. Y aunque las personas no quieran ser tan inoportunamente simples como para no entender lo que dicen los demás sin pedir una explicación de sus términos, ni tan molestamente críticos como para corregir a otros el uso de las palabras que reciben de ellos, aun así, en lo que atañe a la verdad y el conocimiento no veo qué problema hay en pedir la explicación de palabras cuyo sentido resulte dudoso, ni por qué una persona debería avergonzarse de admitir su ignorancia del sentido en que otra empleas las palabras, puesto que no tiene otras forma de saberlo sino siendo informada.

And women:

Este abuso de fiarse sin más de las palabras en ningún sitio se ha extendido tanto , ni con efectos tan perjudiciales, como entre los hombres de letras. La multiplicación y persistencia de las disputas que han arrasado el mundo intelectual se deben ni más ni menos que al mal uso de las palabras. Pues aunque por lo general se crea que hay gran diversidad de opiniones en los volúmenes y gran variedad de controversias que distraen el mundo, lo único que me parece que hacen los eruditos de distintos bandos, al polemizar unos con otros, es hablar diferentes idiomas.

John Locke, Chapter X of Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

 

Cuevas de ladrones o madrigueras de zorros

Tercero, otro abuso del lenguaje es la oscuridad afectada, bien aplicando palabras antiguas a significaciones nuevas e inusuales, bien introduciendo términos nuevos y ambiguos, sin definirlos o juntándolos de manera tal que se confunda el significado común.

[…]

Es inevitable que esto ocurra allí donde la erudición de la gente se mida por su capacidad para disputar. Y cuando premios y renombre acompañan los triunfos que dependen sobre todo de las finezas y sutilezas de las palabras, no es extraño que el ingenio de quien se dedique a ello complique, enrede y sutilice la significación de los sonidos para nunca echar en falta qué decir a favor o en contra de cualquier cuestión: pues la victoria se adjudica a quien tenga de su lado no la verdad, sino la última palabra en la disputa.

Aunque sea de lo más inútil, y lo opuesto a la vía que lleva al conocimiento, esta habilidad ha gozado hasta ahora de los loables y estimados nombres de sutileza y agudeza, y se ha granjeado el aplauso de las escuelas y el apoyo de buena parte de los eruditos del mundo. No es de extrañar, pues los filósofos antiguos (esos filósofos polemistas y buscapleitos a los que Luciano ridiculiza con tanta chispa como razón) y más tarde los escolásticos, al aspìrar a la gloria y la estima por su conocimiento vasto y universal, algo mucho más fácil de simular que de adquirir, descubrieron que ese recurso servía para ocultar su ignorancia tras una curiosa e inexplicable red de palabras confusas y procurarse la admiración de los demás con términos ininteligibles, tanto más capaces de producir asombro cuanto menos se comprendían. No obstante, como demuestra la historia, estos profundos doctores no fueron más sabios ni más útiles que sus vecinos, ni reportaron grandes ventajas a la humanidad y a las sociedades en que vivieron, a menos que acuñar nuevas palabras sin producir cosas a que aplicarlas, o mezclar y oscurecer la significación de las viejas para poner todas las cosas en duda y entredicho, sea provechoso para la vida de la gente, o digno de encomio y recompensa.

For, notwithstanding these learned disputants, these all-knowing doctors, it was to the unscholastic statesman that the governments of the world owed their peace, defence, and liberties; and from the illiterate and contemned mechanic (a name of disgrace) that they received the improvements of useful arts. Nevertheless, this artificial ignorance, and learned gibberish, prevailed mightily in these last ages, by the interest and artifice of those who found no easier way to that pitch of authority and dominion they have attained, than by amusing the men of business, and ignorant, with hard words, or employing the ingenious and idle in intricate disputes about unintelligible terms, and holding them perpetually entangled in that endless labyrinth. Además, no hay mejor manera de conseguir entrar en el ámbito de doctrinas extrañas y absurdas ni de defenderlas que cercarlas con legiones de palabras oscuras, dudosas e indefinidas. Con la diferencia de que estas moradas se parecen más a cuevas de ladrones o madrigueras de zorros que a fortalezas de nobles guerreros; y si es difícil sacarlos de allí, no es por la fuerza que tienen sino por los brezos y las espinas y la oscuridad de los matorrales que los rodean. Como la mente humana no acepta lo falso, al absurdo no le queda más defensa que la oscuridad.

Y el miedo.

John Locke, Chapter X of Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Plain cheat and abuse

Another great abuse of words is inconstancy in the use of them. It is hard to find a discourse written on any subject, especially of controversy, wherein one shall not observe, if he read with attention, the same words (and those commonly the most material in the discourse, and upon which the argument turns) used sometimes for one collection of simple ideas, and sometimes for another; which is a perfect abuse of language. Words being intended for signs of my ideas, to make them known to others, not by any natural signification, but by a voluntary imposition, it is plain cheat and abuse, when I make them stand sometimes for one thing and sometimes for another; the wilful doing whereof can be imputed to nothing but great folly, or greater dishonesty. And a man, in his accounts with another may, with as much fairness make the characters of numbers stand sometimes for one and sometimes for another collection of units: v.g. this character 3, stand sometimes for three, sometimes for four, and sometimes for eight, as in his discourse or reasoning make the same words stand for different collections of simple ideas. If men should do so in their reckonings, I wonder who would have to do with them? One who would speak thus in the affairs and business of the world, and call 8 sometimes seven, and sometimes nine, as best served his advantage, would presently have clapped upon him, one of the two names men are commonly disgusted with. And yet in arguings and learned contests, the same sort of proceedings passes commonly for wit and learning; but to me it appears a greater dishonesty than the misplacing of counters in the casting up a debt; and the cheat the greater, by how much truth is of greater concernment and value than money.

John Locke, Chapter X of Book III of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Of vampires, other parasites, and Dr. Freud (or those mind guerillas forever)

Vampires — Near Dark (1987). If you’ve watched the imho not very enjoyable Netflix’s Black Mirror Bandersnatch you will have noticed that one of the options is between a band that was completely strange to me and Tangerine Dreams, which it wasn’t (entirely). I felt curious afterwards about it and found out that they had written the score for a sizable amount of films. Spoilers ahead.

Near Dark does a remarkable job at portraying the misery that eternal life would ensure, in whatever form it would take, be celestial or infernal. In addition, it contains one of the most sensual scenes I’ve ever seen on the big screen, which it takes you by surprise —no fanfare and the not at all romantic music by the Tangerines in the background.

Other parasites — Thief (1981). A bigger musical score here, and quite good by the way. Thief is about the honest life of a good dishonest man. It’s also about independence of character and the perils of persuasion. Frank knows that the ultimate way to freedom is truth and to get rid of every thing you care for —your life being the last of them.

Dr. Freud — I came across the John Lennon’s interview for Playboy that took place in 1980. I don’t know whether his explanations of Paul’s and George’s actions are accurate or not, spiteful or not, but I know that he’s right to go beyond appearances and try to find the truth in the underlying motives —the subconscious. Because it’s not anywhere. Discard therapy and all the nonsense, but if you don’t see the world in terms of  repressed emotions and a never-ending quietly violent conflict between eros (the need to live) and thanatos (the wish to die) that entirely takes place in anybody’s mind, you won’t be able to understand either society or people, and worse, you won’t have a clue neither about why you behave the way you do.

And Lennon —you may like the guy or not, but he was determined to be in command of himself and of his life, and that’s something not everybody is able to say about themselves.

Take it or leave it

Truth, or better, not telling lies, apart from being one of the fundamental moral obligations is a powerful way of getting yourself out of trouble. If you self-impose not to tell lies, you’ll have to do the right thing because you know you won’t have the false but easy way out lies provide. You think it twice before bad-behaving.

Idem with relationships, and this is direct advice to my niece (my son’s already heard it from me). You don’t break up with your boyfriend today and call him on the morrow. You don’t come back to him after he’s ditched you once. Either way should be a cease and desist. No second thoughts, no words of tenderness and forgiveness, no working it out —just plain no coming back. You, or he, think it twice before splitting out.

Hacer o no hacer

Dos cosas te puedes decir a ti mismo, o escuchar que te digan, o decir a los otros, que constituyen una aproximación cuasi perfecta al concepto de verdad absoluta, y contra las cuales, por tanto, no cabe más que inmediatamente bajar la cabeza y asentir —fin del asunto. La primera: Haber estudiao. La segunda, un poco menos conocida pero más potente todavía: No haber tenido hijos.

No pleasure comparable to

The poet, that beautified the sect, that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well: It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.

Francis Bacon, Of Truth