hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I think this quote, from the F. Scott Fitzgerald essay "Ring", speaks to something in every sports fan. It was the quote Bill Bradley chose to open his basketball memoir, "Life On The Run."

"During those years, when most men of promise achieve an adult education, if only in the school of war, Ring moved in the company of a few dozen men playing a boy's game. A boy's game, with no more possibility in it than a boy could master, a game bounded by walls which kept out novelty or danger, change or adventure.

It was never that he was completely sold on athletic virtuosity as the be all and end all of problems. The trouble was that he could conceive of nothing finer. Imagine life conceived as a business of beautiful muscular coordination - an arising, an effort, a good break, a sweat, a bath, a meal, a love, a sleep - imagine it achieved; then imagine trying to apply this standard to the horribly complicated mess of living, where nothing, even the greatest conceptions and workings and achievements, is else but messy, spotty, tortuous - and then one can imagine the confusion that Ring faced on coming out of the park."

Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay "Problem Picture", somewhat related to this, about the tendency to look at life in terms of "problem" and "solution":


"There are four characteristics of the mathematical or detective problem which are absent from the life-problem; but because we are accustomed to find them in the one, we look for them in the other, and experience a sense of frustration and resentment when we do not find them. . .

. . .4. The detective problem is finite; when it is solved, there is an end of it- or, as George Joseph Smith casually observed concerning the brides he had drowned in their baths, "When they are dead, they are done with". The detective problem summons us to the energetic exercise of our wits precisely in order that, when we have read the last page, we may sit back in our chairs and cease thinking. So does the cross-word. So does the chess-problem. So does the problem about A, B, and C building a wall. The struggle is over and finished with and now we may legitimately, if we like, cease upon the midnight with no pain. The problem leaves us feeling like that because it is deliberately designed to do so. Because we can, in this world, achieve so little, and so little perfectly, we are prepared to pay good money in order to acquire a vicarious sensation of achievement. The detective novelist knows this, and so do the setters of puzzles. And the schoolboy, triumphantly scoring a line beneath his finished homework, is thankful that he need not, in the manner so disquietingly outlined by Professor Leacock, inquire into the subsequent history of A, B, and C. . ."

Another Sayers essay I've been thinking of, "Strong Meat":


". . .There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as "adult," "mature," "experienced," "venerable"; they know only snarling and sneering epithets, like "middle-aged," "elderly," "stuffy," "senile" and "decrepit." With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as though abuse were an incantation to exorcise the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that "makes mouths at the invisible event," nor the reasoned courage that foresees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate fury of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.

Such men, finding no value for the world as it is, proclaim very loudly their faith in the future, "which is in the hands of the young." With this flattery, they bind their own burden on the shoulders of the next generation. For their own failures, Time alone is to blame—not Sin, which is expiable, but Time, which is irreparable. From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth—their own or other people's. First love, boyhood ideals, childish dreams, the song at the mother's breast, the blind security of the womb—from these they construct a monstrous fabric of pretence, to be their hiding-place from the tempest. Their faith is not really in the future, but in the past. Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward, we must believe in age. "Except," said Christ, "ye become as little children"—and the words are sometimes quoted to justify the flight into infantilism. Now, children differ in many ways, but they have one thing in common. Peter Pan—if indeed he exists otherwise than in the nostalgic imagination of an adult—is a case for the pathologist. All normal children (however much we discourage them) look forward to growing up. "Except ye become as little children," except you can wake on your fiftieth birthday with the same forward-looking excitement and interest in life that you enjoyed when you were five, "ye cannot see the Kingdom of God." One must not only die daily, but every day one must be born again. . ."