Mortals and Others

After finally recovering from ear and eye infections, the last few days have seen me bedridden with a high fever and other nasty things that led me to suspect I had fallen ill will malaria (despite faithfully taking Malarone). Hopefully that’s not the case, but in any case I was too sick, with too much constant pressure in my head, to read anything too complex. So I’ve been enjoying the wit of Bertrand Russell, in Mortals and Others, a compilation of essays he wrote from 1931-1935. They are engaging, sometimes satiric, but absent of deep philosophical rumination. For this reason, I’m just going to share some of the most notable or absurd or humorous passages – go ahead and call it a cop-out. When was the last time you were sitting in Africa with a 104 degree fever and chills?

From Sex and Happiness:

“We are told that sex was inflicted upon Adam and Eve after the Fall as a punishment. From what I have seen of its workings in the present day, I am inclined to agree with this view.”

“It all springs, we may be told, from the mistaken notion that sex should be a source of happiness. No one changes his dentist because the hours spent in his company are not wholly pleasurable. If people expected misery from sex they would be less disappointed when they got it.”

“A great deal of our modern trouble has come from mixing up romantic love, with is a poetic and anarchic impulse, with marriage, which is a social institutions. The French have not made this mistake, and on the whole they are considerably happier in these respects than the English-speaking nations.”

From Who Should Wear Lipstick?:

“It is generally admitted that most grown-up people, however regrettably, will try to have a good time.”

From The Decay of Meditation: (some Quaker love!)

“Quakers, who retain more wisdom than most moderns, owe it, I believe, largely to their practice of silent meditation. If we spent half an hour every day in silent immobility, I am convinced that we should conduct all our affairs, personal, national, and international, far more sanely than we do at present.”

From Flight from Reality:

Why do people read? The answer, as regards the great majority, is: ‘They don’t.'”

From On the Fierceness of Vegetarians:

“There is a popular notion that vegetarians are mild and gentle folk who would not hurt a fly. Perhaps they would not hurt a fly. As to this, I cannot speak, but their charity towards flies certainly does not extend to human beings.”

From On Charity:

“It is this very same outlook which makes large numbers of people think it better that the unemployed should be kept alive by private benevolence than that they should have the legal right to support by the public authorities. In a just world, there would be no possibility of ‘charity.'”

From Should Socialists Smoke Good Cigars?:

“To take a quite different point, the socialist should not appear to advocate a world in which the present wealth is evenly divided. It is an essential part of his case that by a more sensible organisation, the wealth of the world could be enormously increased. In the socialist millennium we shall all be able to enjoy a good cigar now and then.”

From Love and Money:

“If a very rich man asks a very poor girl to marry him, she is likely, especially if she has social ambitions, to feel a kind of gratitude which will lead her to fall in love with him, provided he is not too repulsive; at any rate, he will need a smaller degree of personal attractiveness than  poor man would need.”

From How to Become a Man of Genius:

“Ignore fact and reason, live entirely in a world of your own fantastic and myth-producing passions; do this whole-heartedly and with conviction, and you will become one of the prophets of your age.”

3 thoughts on “Mortals and Others

  1. Peter

    You can see why it is so much fun to go through the “History” and tweet the best quotes. The challenge, of course, is the stupid character limit.

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