What is moral?

Goya, Death of the Picador

How do we decide what’s good or bad, right or wrong?

A interesting question obvs.  One every person answers for themselves somehow.

But how many of us can articulate our answer?

Would you come up with something like “not harming anyone else”?  Living with honor and honesty and compassion?

Really, I doubt most of us bother to articulate a moral philosophy or definition of morals.  We sorta just go with what feels right or wrong.


About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.

This is a quote attributed to Hemingway.

One thing I think is wrong is quote sites that don’t include the source or context for the quote.

(Brainy Quotes has the nerve to suggest how you can cite Brainy Quotes itself as the source.)

As always, hunting the source proves enriching.  Hemingway said this in chapter one of his book Death In The Afternoon.  

Back up just a few pages.  Here’s how Hemingway starts the book:

In Hemingway’s day, what was most repugnant about bullfighting was the suffering of horses.

Horses (this is described in the book) would get gored and have their entrails hanging out and trailing like grotesque ribbons.

At what bullfights remain this problem has been mostly eliminated, I believe, by armoring the horses.  At the only bullfight I ever saw in person, the horses were unharmed, though nine bulls were killed, one of them especially tortured because of the incompetence of the matador (lit. “killer”). (This video is upsetting if you don’t like seeing bulls hurt, but you can see how horses are now protected.)

Hemingway continues, justifying why he got into bullfighting even though he likes horses:

I was trying to write then, and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.

A theme Hemingway came back to frequently.

He mentions Goya’s Los Desastros de la Guerra.

Plate 44: Yo lo vi (I saw this)

Hemingway continues:

       So I went to Spain to see bullfights and to try to write about them for myself.  I thought they would be simple and barbarous and cruel and that I would not like them, but that I would see certain definite action which would give me the feeling of life and death that I was working for.  I found the definite action ; but the bullfight was so far from simple and I liked it so much that it was much too complicated for my then equipment for writing to deal with and, aside from four very short sketches, I was not able to write anything about it for five years — and I wish I would have waited ten.  However, if I had waited long enough I probably never would have written anything at all since there is a tendency when you really begin to learn something about a thing not to want to write about it but rather to keep on learning about it always and at no time, unless you are very egotistical, which, of course, accounts for many books, will you be able to say: now I know all about this and will write about it.  Certainly I don not say that now ‘ every year I know there is more to learn, but I know some things which may be interesting now, and I may be away from the bullfights for a long time and I might as well write what I know about them now. Also it might be good to have a book about bullfighting in English and a serious book on such an unmoral subject may have some value.

So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by these moral standards, which I do not defend, the bullfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on and have a feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality, and after it is over I feel very sad but very fine.  Also, I do not mind the horses; not in principle, but in fact I do not mind them.

Just thought is was interesting, this succinct definition of morality came in the context of why it shouldn’t bother us to see horses mangled during the ritual killing of bulls.



Mission: Impossible: Fallout

Question about this film, if you’ve seen it:

(and don’t get me wrong, I had a good time)

why was a high-altitude parachute jump the best way to get into Paris?

Never listened to a corporate earnings call

but there’s a first for everything.  I am pretty curious about the Tesla call, Weds Aug 1 at 2:30 PDT

Steak fries well done and a virgin pina colada

Christine Baskets room service order on a Baskets ep, catchin’ up.


The wild man and his “wildies”

From Comedy’s Greatest Era (1949):

Sennett used to hire a “wild man” to sit in on his gag conferences, whose whole job was to think up “wildies.”  Usually he was an all but brainless, speechless man, scarcely able to communicate his idea; but he had a totally uninhibited imagination.  He might say nothing for an hour; then he’d mutter “You take . . . ” and all the relatively rational others would shut up and wait.  “You take this cloud . . .” he would get out, sketching vague shapes in the air.  Often he could get no further; but thanks to some kind of thought-transference, saner men would take this cloud and make something of it.  The wild man seems in fact to have functioned as the group’s subconscious mind, the source of all creative energy.  His ideas were so weird and amorphous that Sennett can no longer remember a one of them, or even how it turned out after rational processing.  But a fair equivalent might be on of the best comic sequences in a Laurel and Hardy picture.  It is simple enough – simple and real, in fact, as a nightmare.  Laurel and Hardy are trying to move a piano across a narrow suspension bridge.  The bridge is slung over a sickening chasm, between a couple of Alps.  Midway they meet a gorilla.

Agee speaks of the side-splitting laughter that would erupt in silent movie houses, and how you just can’t get that level of laughter from “talkies,” no matter how funny.

the best of comedies these days hand out plenty of titters and once in a while it is possible to achieve a yowl without overstraining

but nothing like what the “ideally good gags” of the silent days would provoke.

Wasn’t sure I understood what levels of laughter in the movie theater Agee was talking about until I saw the Jackass movies:


This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.

The Economist has a column named after Joseph Schumpeter and it’s been giving me a lot of ideas.  Who was Schumpeter?

Schumpeter claimed that he had set himself three goals in life: to be the greatest economist in the world, to be the best horseman in all of Austria and the greatest lover in all of Vienna. He said he had reached two of his goals, but he never said which two, although he is reported to have said that there were too many fine horsemen in Austria for him to succeed in all his aspirations.

On what would happen:

Schumpeter’s most popular book in English is probably Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. While he agrees with Karl Marx that capitalism will collapse and be replaced by socialism, Schumpeter predicts a different way this will come about. While Marx predicted that capitalism would be overthrown by a violent proletarian revolution, which actually occurred in the least capitalist countries, Schumpeter believed that capitalism would gradually weaken by itself and eventually collapse. Specifically, the success of capitalism would lead to corporatism and to values hostile to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. “Intellectuals” are a social class in a position to critique societal matters for which they are not directly responsible and to stand up for the interests of other classes. Intellectuals tend to have a negative outlook of capitalism, even while relying on it for prestige, because their professions rely on antagonism toward it. The growing number of people with higher education is a great advantage of capitalism, according to Schumpeter. Yet, unemployment and a lack of fulfilling work will cause intellectual critique, discontent and protests. Parliaments will increasingly elect social democratic parties, and democratic majorities will vote for restrictions on entrepreneurship. Increasing workers’ self-management, industrial democracy and regulatory institutions would evolve non-politically into “liberal capitalism”. Thus, the intellectual and social climate needed for thriving entrepreneurship will be replaced by some form of “laborism”. This will exacerbate “creative destruction” (a borrowed phrase to denote an endogenous replacement of old ways of doing things by new ways), which will ultimately undermine and destroy the capitalist structure.

Schumpeter emphasizes throughout this book that he is analyzing trends, not engaging in political advocacy.

Any day now!

Schumpeter was interested in the wave theories of Nikolai Kondratiev, a Soviet economist who ended up executed.

He is best known for proposing the theory that Western capitalist economies have long term (50 to 60 years) cycles of boom followed by depression. These business cycles are now called “Kondratiev waves“.

I can’t claim to understand Kondratiev, but the idea that waves are a good metaphor for the cycles of capitalism seems like a start.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on lions

The Fooled By Randomness author and deadlifter describes going to Africa and seeing lots of giraffes and impalas but only one lion:

It turned out that I had squarely made the error that I warn against, of mistaking the lurid for the empirical: there are very, very few predators compared to what one can call collaborative animals. The camp in the wild reserve was next to a watering hole, and in the afternoon it got crowded with hundreds of animals of different species who apparently got along rather well with one another. But of the thousands of animals that I spotted cumulatively, the image of the lion in a state of majestic calm dominates my memory. It may make sense from a risk-management point of view to overestimate the role of the lion — but not in our interpretation of world affairs.

If the “law of the jungle” means anything, it means collaboration for the most part, with a few perceptional distortions caused by our otherwise well-functioning risk management intuitions. Even predators end up in some type of arrangement with their prey.