A Good Life

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

(Born April 30, 1945)

That’s what people do-and that should truly frighten us

I require every new FBI special agent and intelligence analyst to go to the Holocaust Museum. Naturally, I want them to learn about abuse of authority on a breathtaking scale. But I want them to confront something more painful and more dangerous: I want them to see humanity and what we are capable of.

I want them to see that, although this slaughter was led by sick and evil people, those sick and evil leaders were joined by, and followed by, people who loved their families, took soup to a sick neighbor, went to church and gave to charity. Good people helped murder millions. And that’s the most frightening lesson of all — that our very humanity made us capable of, even susceptible to, surrendering our individual moral authority to the group, where it can be hijacked by evil.

In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland*, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.

Former FBI Director James Comey speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 2015 National Tribute Dinner, April 23, 2015

Watch the video of the speech here

*The Truth about Poland and the Holocaust

Good intentions are not enough

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody -- remember this -- neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, "Now, let's create a really oppressive and evil society." Hitler said, let's take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order. And Lenin said, "Let's take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world."

In short, it is your responsibility... not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. Not merely in their ends, but in their means. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person, then when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Commencement Address at Langley High School

June 17, 2010

Good intentions are not enough

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody -- remember this -- neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, "Now, let's create a really oppressive and evil society." Hitler said, let's take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order. And Lenin said, "Let's take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world."

In short, it is your responsibility... not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. Not merely in their ends, but in their means. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person, then when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Commencement Address at Langley High School

June 17, 2010

the Beauty of Evil

Simone Weil said, “Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as the good; no desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. But with fantasy it's the other way around. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive, and full of charm.”

The media strikingly bear out Simone Weil’s contention. In their offerings it’s almost invariably Eros rather than Agape that provides all the excitement. Success and celebrity rather than a broken and contrite heart that are made to seem desirable.

Good and evil, after all, constitute the essential theme of our mortal existence. In this sense, they may be compared to the positive and negative points which generates an electric current; transpose the points, and the current fails, the lights go out, darkness falls and all is confusion.

So it is with us. The transposition of good and evil in the world of fantasy created by the media leaves us with no sense of any moral order in the universe, and without this, no order whatsoever, social, political, economic or any other, is ultimately attainable.

Malcolm Muggeridge

(in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in 1978)

The Line

It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Choosing Prison

Our capacity to choose changes constantly with our practice of life. The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions, the more our heart hardens; the more often we make the right decision, the more our heart softens – or better perhaps, comes alive.

Each step in life which increases my self-confidence, my integrity, my courage, my conviction also increases my capacity to choose the desirable alternative, until eventually it becomes more difficult for me to choose the undesirable rather than the desirable action. On the other hand, each act of surrender and cowardice weakens me, opens the path for more acts of surrender, and eventually freedom is lost.

Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man