The road to character – D. Brooks

Nice book; strange to read this after Sapiens, but a lovely balance nonetheless. There is a pervasive note of religionism (perhaps too strong a word) that permeates throughout this book, but it remains full of necessary discussions and arguments.

“The goal of leadership is to find a just balance between competing values and competing goals. He seeks to be a trimmer, to shift weight one way or another as circumstances change, in order to keep the boat moving steadily forward on an even keel. He understands that in politics and business the lows are lower than the highs are high. The downside risk caused by bad decisions is larger than the upside benefits that accrue from good ones. Therefore the wise leader is a steward for his organization, and tries to pass it along in slightly better condition than he found it.”

“He who can talk only one one subject, or act only in one department, is seldom wanted, and perhaps never wished for, while the man of general knowledge can often benefit and always please.”

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who live faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

“…came as close as it ever did to the still perfection of art.”

“Social sin requires a hammering down of the door by people who are simultaneously aware that they are unworthy to be so daring. This is a philosophy of power, a philosophy of power for people who combine extreme conviction with extreme self-skepticism.”

“…change comes with relentless pressure and coercion”

“A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to his or her sport, a doctor’s commitment to the craft of medicine, is not an individual choice that can be easily renounced when the psychic losses exceed the psychic benefits. These are life-shaping and life-defining commitments. Like finding a vocation, they are commitments to something that transcends a single lifetime. A person’s social function defines who he or she is. The commitment between a person and an institution is more like a covenant. It is an inheritance to be passed on, and a debt to be repaid. The technical tasks of, say, being a carpenter are infused with a deep meaning that transcends the task at hand.”

“Cicero wrote in Tusculan Disputations, whose mind is quiet through consistency and self-control, who finds contentment in himself, who neither breaks down in adversity nor crumbles in fright, nor burns with any thirsty need nor dissolves into wild and futile excitement, that person is the wise one we are seeking, and that person is happy.”

Now there’s a book I need to read…

“On the contrary, moderation is based on an awareness of the inevitability of conflict. If you think that the world can fit neatly together, then you don’t need to be moderate. If you think all your personal qualities can be brought together into simple harmony, you don’t need to hold back, you can just go the whole hog for self-actualization and growth. If you think all moral values point in the same direction, or all political goals can be realized all at once by a straightforward march along one course, you don’t need to be moderate either. You can just head in the direction of truth as quickly as possible. Moderation is based on the idea that things do not fit neatly together. Politics is likely to be a competition between legitimate opposing interests. Philosophy is likely to be a tension between competing half-truths. A personality is likely to be a battleground of valuable by incompatible traits.”

“My own conviction is that every leader should have enough humility to accept, publicly, the responsibility for the mistakes of the subordinates he himself has selected and, likewise, to give them credit, publicly, for their triumphs.”

Everything is wonderful

Lovely read over someone’s thoughts whilst living in Estonia. I find that one must have lived in both Western and Eastern Europe to relate to much of what is written here, which is not a bad thing, it is always nice to come across thoughts that resonant with one’s own, to realise that these thoughts are not unique to you, and find others similar, but as yet, still in the box of things “I would never have thought of”.

“‘Why do you think we have such thick paper in the Soviet Union?’ she said. ‘Central office in Moscow demanded that a certain factory produced a certain amount in tons, and so it was easier to produce heavier paper than to produce more paper!’ The same was true for tins: the tin factories had targets of weight, which meant that the tins became absurdly heavy. The machine weights, too, she said, were about ten times their weight from those in the West: ‘Everything was very heavy!'”  Continue reading

Bending Adversity – David Pilling

“We are lost and don’t know which way to go. But this is a very natural thing, a very healthy thing”

  • Haruki Murakami

“I loved that Japanese people always put their hands together to thank their food before they ate it, and the way they apologized before they asked for money in a shop as though payment sullied the otherwise pleasant human interaction. I learned the correct place at which guests should sit at a table – furtherest from the door, a position in former times that was safest from suprise attack. I gained an appreciation for small, considerate gestures. My teacher had told me, for example, that it was rude in a business conversation to say that you were busy, since this might imply that you were more in demand than the person to whom you were speaking. I liked it that even cheap restaurants handed out a hot hand towel before you ate and that, when it rained, there was a machine at the department store to seal your wet umbrella in a plastic cover. I marvelled at how social convention trumped laws. The streets were entirely litter-free. No one would dream of answering their mobile phone on the train or in a lift, not because it was illegal but because consideration was expected. Even in the street, people cupped their hands over mouth and phone to muffle the sound of their voice.”

“Social systems, however, are not always easy to disentangle. Their strengths are often their weaknesses and vice versa. Cultures are not menus from which one can order a la carte.”

“Now they came to appreciate the incredible endurance of its people: in Japanese it was called gamanzuyoi – steadfast patience.”

“One Japanese playwright said their actions drew on ‘an intriguing tradition of forging onward while holding on to a sense of our impermanence’.”

“Mourners burn incense and stay up through the night, chanting prayers to keep the deceased company.”

“Japan’s struggle to find a place in the international hierarchy goes back centuries. Its self-imposed isolation fro 1630 only delayed the necessity of joining the internation discourse. When it finally did so, through its embrace of western learning in the Meiji Restoration, it was initially triumphant: a ‘European’ Great Power in Asian garb. But Japan’s timing was terrible. It became a colonial power just as the naked colonism practised by the likes of Britian, Spain and Portugal was fading as a legitimate practice. Its hopes of becoming the Great Britian of the Orient were dashed. That Japan’s colonial compaign was out of step with history was only compounded by the disastrous miscalculations of its semi-fasist government, whose adherence to the fanatical cult of emperor worship blinded it to the inevitability of defeat. Japan’s near-annihilation by war’s end closed for good any hope of achieving international ‘status’ thorugh military means. All that was left was to take the economic route.”

“By 1878, European nations and their offshoots controlled 67% of the world’s landmass, a figure that would jump to an ashonishing 84% by 1914.”

“What was expected of a ‘civilized’ power was neatly summed up by Kakuzo Okakura, author of The Book of Tea. ‘The average westerner was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace,’ he wrote. ‘He calls her civilized since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on the Manchurain battlefields.'”

“From the early 1930s, Japan had shifted from light to heavy industrialization, emphasizing warships, bombs and chemicals over textiles and handicrafts. Fukoku kyohei – ‘rich country, strong army’ – had been the centrepiece of the Meiji project, an objective that slipped into militarism. Now that Japan was forbidden from fighting, it could concentrate solely on building a strong economy.

Washington was soon to regret writing the pacifist clause into Japan’s constitution. But in what became known as the Yoshia Doctrine – after Shigeru Yoshida, prime minister for much of the decade after the war – Japan used its lack of international obligations to its own advantage. Released from the burder of defence and pretected by the US military, it was able to throw all of its energies into economic development. Wealth creation was seen as the alternative way of getting national prestige. The link between pre- and post-war ambitions, and the means of achieving them, was sometimes explicit. Kiyoshi Tomizuka, a professor of engineering at Tokyo Imperial University, wrote in his diary in April 1945, ‘An army in uniform is not the only sort of army. Scientific technology and fighting spirit under a business suit will be our underground arm.”

“Honda was by no means the only entrepreneru to invent a business from scratch. More than any company, Sony exemplifies Japan’s rise from the rubble and its transformation from a producer of shoddy trinkets to a manufacturer of world-beating technology. It began its life, quite literally, in a bombed-out building, the shell of the Shirokiya department store in Nihombashi, where Masaru Ibuka opened a radio repair shop in late 1945. The following year, he and Akio Morita, who had been expected to take over his family’s 300 year old sake business in Nagoya, founded a company with the unpromising name of Tsushin Kogyo, of Tokyo Telecommunications Enginerring Corporation. The initial investment was $500.”

“The entire economy revolved around exports – a legacy that Japan still lives with. At home, thrifty households were given meagre interest by banks and the post office, allowing the government to lend cheaply to industry. Big business were allowed to pollute the environment in the interests of profit and to charge Japanese consumers more than foreign ones in the interests of the nation’s balance of trade. Some of the fruits of Japan’s rapid growth were, in other words, sacrificed to the greater, abstract, goal of nation-building. These were the seeds of what some have called Japan’s ’empty-affluence’.”

“There is a certain absurdity to the obsession with maximizing long-term average income growth in perpetuity.”

“Women waited around for Mr Right, putting off marriage and childbirth. ‘Not only are they living in a dreamland but they’re not waking up.’ Yamada despaired. ‘They’ve given up. There’s no idea about changing society, or changing their own life.’ Perhaps, I ventured, they didn’t want to change society because their lives weren’t all that bad. Maybe they were contented as Furuichi said. ‘Those who live outside the established system have no way of getting in,’ Yamada said a little contemptuously. ‘That’s why they remain’ – here he curled his lip mockingly – ‘so-called happy and free.'”

“To the extent that we keep talking about things in that way, there’s not a lot of room for change and progress. I don’t want to pigeonhole Japanese society in that way. It is not very challenging for men. They’ll just say, “Oh yes. We’re the villians of the piece. How terrible.” But it doesn’t actually challenge them to come up with their own ideas about how things are, or where they should go. It lets them off the hook.”

“Once nulcear power became a national imperative, it was almost an article of faith that it be safe. How else to justify building fifty-four nuclear reactors, roughly one in ten of the world’s total, in the most seimically unstable country on earth? That imperative bred a culture of denial, arrogance and cover-up that was breathtaking.”

“If one takes the view that culture is immutable, Kurokawa’s cultural explanations were, indeed, next to useless. To view culture as fixed and unchangeable borders on geographical and racial determinism. But Kurokawa may have been trying to say something quite different. Few who have lived in Japan would edeny they recognize some of the natinoal traits he identified – a tendency to look inwards, to defer to authority, to play down on the importance of the individual. No serious observer of Japan, however, would pretedn this was the whole story.”

“When the harried officials eventually concluded the meeting and made for the exit, they were chased down the corridor by townspeople waving bottles of their children’s urine, which they demanded be tested for radiation. The meeting ended in disarry with the mandarins surrounded – one suspects for the first and only time in their careers – by protesters chanting, ‘I implore you take this urine.'”

American vs English English

Hinted at by

“American and British writing has always been and continues to be a common language. Except for a few idioms and typographical conventions, it is impossible to tell whether a writer is American or British. There are more differences between the styles within each tradition than between the two traditions…

the degree of divergence varies inversely with the degree of importance of the subject-matter. That is, where the ideas to be expressed are trivial or facetious the two vernaculars differ so widely that they may almost be said to be foreign languages to each other. When the subject-matter is purely practical or commonplace, the divergence, though noticeable, is of secondary importance; and, finally, when the subject matter is of the highest quality, being concerned with ideal values and fundamental concepts, the divergence is so slight as to be almost negligible. 

Although it may not be possible in a collection of formal written documents to discern, except by spelling, which are by British writer and which by Americans, it is easy in any gathering of speakers to distinguish the British from the American. The pronunciation by which British speakers are distinguished is Received Pronunciation, Oxford English, Public School English, BBC English, or standard British English, as it is variously designated.

Received Pronunciation developed at the end of the eighteenth century, during the period of the American Revolution. At that time there was no pronunciation by which people in America could be distinguished from the people in England.

In the eighteenth century, British society began to shift from caste determined by birth to class determined by wealth and occupation, and tools began to be provided for upward mobility. London had long been the political and cultural focus of Britain, so the language of London was recognised as the prestige dialect.

London grammar and lexicon were propagated by grammarians and lexicographers … London pronunciation became the prerogative of a new breed of specialists – orthoepists and teachers of elocution. The orthoepists decided upon correct pronunciations, compiled pronouncing dictionaries and, in private and expensive tutorial sessions, drilled enterprising citizens in fashionable articulation… John Walker introduced the term “Received Pronunciation”. London pronunciation, he wrote, “is undoubtedly the best… that is, not only by courtesy, and because it happens to be the pronunciation of the capital, but best by a better title, that of being more generally received.” .. ‘Received’ in the sense that Walker it, means, “Generally adopted” or “approved”.