One Small Voice: The Journal of Peter Saint-Andre

Chocolate Bark


Because I love dark chocolate and almonds, I decided to start making my own chocolate bark. Turns out it's very easy and also delicious. Here's how I do it.

There are only three ingredients: 1 lb dark chocolate (I buy 4 oz bars of 72% dark chocolate at the supermarket), 1 cup of whole raw almonds, and a few pinches of sea salt. (Although I prefer almonds, you can also use pumpkin seeds or cashews or anything else that suits your fancy.)

Step one is to temper the chocolate. Break 3/4 of the chocolate (i.e., 3 of the 4 bars) into smaller pieces (e.g., eighths), place it in a large bowl, and microwave it in 60-second bursts on 50% power until it's mostly melted and reaches a temperature of 110-115˚F (44-46˚C), stirring after each round. I've found that this takes ~6 minutes here at 6,200 ft above sea level. To be safe, on the later rounds cut the time to 30 seconds.

Now break the remaining 1/4 of the chocolate into smaller pieces and add it to the bowl. Stir constantly until the new pieces melt in and the mixture reaches a temperature of 88-90˚F (32˚C).

Stir the almonds into the melted chocolate and pour the chocolate mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper in a baking sheet. Using a spatula, spread the mixture so that it is about 1/4 inch thick. Then sprinkle the sea salt lightly over the mixture.

Allow to cool to room temperature and then transfer to the refrigerator. Break into irregular pieces and store them in the fridge.


Ethics and Politics Revisited


The continuing disclosure of disgraceful conduct (past and present) by the atrocious candidates nominated for President by both the Democrats and the Republicans has led me to reflect further on the relationship between ethics and politics. In particular, if I care about character and ethical principles then it seems incumbent upon me to cast my vote for the candidate with the greatest personal integrity. Not the lesser of two evils - why would align myself with evil? - but the most reasonable, honest, principled person on the ballot. This year for President that person is Gary Johnson. He also happens to be a moderate libertarian, which is how I've described myself for a number of years. If I can find the time over the next few weeks, I will write in more depth about the importance of a moderate libertarian approach to the future of American politics.

Working for Freedom


Almost four years ago to the day, I posted some hopeful thoughts about working for freedom within the Republican party, specifically within the framework of the Republican Liberty Caucus. I changed my voter registration to Republican, attended a few meetings and caucuses, and started to learn a bit about how electoral politics works at the local level (which, in the county where I live, mostly means Republican party politics).

The week after Donald Trump was selected as the 2016 presidential candidate of the Republican party, I changed my voter registration from Republican to Libertarian because I do not want to be associated with a party that sees fit to nominate a corrupt, narcissistic, irrational, utterly unqualified thug to be the leader of the free world.

Why Libertarian (again)? Do I now think, despite all evidence and personal experience to the contrary, that the Libertarian Party can be truly competitive in America's two-party political system?

No, I'm not delusional. 2016 will no more be the year of the Libertarian Party's electoral breakthrough than it will be the year of Linux on the desktop. Yet, just as I'm typing this on my System76 laptop running Ubuntu, so I have come to realize that it doesn't matter whether my political or economic choices are in the mainstream: what matters is that they are consistent with my personal values and principles.

Thus my views on this aspect of electoral politics are almost the exact opposite of a cynical, muddle-headed essay that Internet observer Clay Shirky posted recently, under the title There's No Such Thing As A Protest Vote. Shirky argument is that you can choose among the following three positions (I've modified his wording to show what I really think of them):

  1. By voting Republican, I indicate that I want Donald Trump to lord it over the American people.
  2. By voting Democratic, I indicate that want Hillary Clinton to lord it over the American people.
  3. By voting Green or Libertarian or whatever (or not voting at all), I indicate that I don't care about the outcome, so I'll leave it up to the American electorate to decide.


Let's consider a similar argument regarding, say, computer operating systems:

  1. By buying a Chromebook, I indicate that I want Google to be the universal agent of personal surveillance.
  2. By buying an Apple computer, I indicate that I want Apple to be the universal agent of personal surveillance.
  3. By buying a Windows computer, I indicate that I want Microsoft to be the universal agent of personal surveillance.
  4. By buying a Linux computer or whatever, I indicate that I don't care which computer company will be spying on us, so I'll leave it up the market to decide.

Also horsepuckey.

To see why, let's begin with the final assertion.

By living in a so-called representative democracy (actually an oligarchy, but I repeat myself), it's always the case that I leave it up to the American electorate to decide who will be president. I don't have a choice in the matter - that's how the system works. The same goes for our so-called free market economy - I don't have a choice in the matter of which products (such as personal computers) will dominate in the market. And it would delusional to expect otherwise, to believe that my individual vote or my individual purchase makes one whit of difference to political or economic outcomes.

Thus I wholeheartedly agree with those who observe that my vote doesn't matter - to society. But it does matter a great deal - to me. Do I want to give my sanction to the aforementioned thug who has been nominated by the Republican party, or to the equally corrupt criminal who has been nominated by the Democratic party? No, no, a thousand times no. Knowing full well that I have no voice in the matter, I hold ever more firmly to the one small voice that I do have: the inner voice of my principles and my own integrity, and the reflection of that voice in how I conduct myself in the world.

My political principles are effectively libertarian: freedom, liberty, individual rights, small government, local decision-making, a true populism in which the people hold the power, a form of government that is best because it governs least. Although I have no hope that the world or America or my own state or county will live up to those principles anytime soon, I can at least loudly proclaim my refusal to approve of those candidates and parties and organizations who violate these principles, and to align myself with those who do (even if they are imperfect or ineffective).

Perhaps I'm not thereby working for human freedom (because I still don't know how to do that); but at least I'm not actively working against it.

Philosophical Encounters


As I begin the large and deep task of (re-)reading the complete works of Aristotle, I am spurred to ponder why I am drawn to working through various philosophers in this way. I've come to see that there is an almost visceral element here, of directly confronting the insights of a great thinker and gaining intimate knowledge about how that person approached life and the pursuit of wisdom. In order to do this, I find that I need to read the philosopher's original language of expression: Greek for Aristotle and Epicurus, English for Thoreau and Rand, and German for Nietzsche (which makes me consider learning classical Chinese so that I can directly encounter Lao Tzu). I also find that I need to immerse myself directly in the philosopher's own words and not spend too much time reading other people's commentaries. Ironically, the outcome of my doing so is in each case a book that comprises more commentary! Yet for me the book that I write is merely a record of my personal encounter, which I use primarily to remind myself of what I have learned. Secondarily, I hope that by recording my own philosophical encounters I might inspire you to do the same with the great thinkers you find most congenial (and I would love to read about similar encounters with philosophers I likely won't have the time or inclination to work through completely myself, such as Confucius, Krishna, Buddha, Plato, the Stoics, Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Emerson, and Sartre). What's most important is the encounter itself, because it helps me gain more wisdom as I adopt some of the outlook and practices of someone much more sagacious than I am.

Aristotle Research Report #3: Ethical Beauty


Until my current reading of Aristotle's ethical writings, I had never noticed the connection he draws between ethics and beauty. No, not the surface beauty of physical good looks with which people are so obsessed these days, but the desire for true beauty: to have a beautiful character, to perform beautiful actions, to live a beautiful inner and outer life. Indeed, he frequently argues that an action is not truly ethical if it is not done for the sake of beauty. For example, someone who does something outwardly courageous only for the sake of social conformity does a good thing but not for the right reasons, whereas someone who performs the same act because it is a beautiful thing to do is in a higher ethical realm.

While trying to understand this idea, I got to thinking about Aristotle's so-called "doctrine of the mean", and specifically about a better way to translate his term "mesotes" (which is invariably translated as "the mean"). To stay with the example of courage, according to Aristotle the middle way between rashness and cowardice is courage. The rash person underestimates the dangers of a particular situation, whereas the coward exaggerates them; by contrast, the courageous person accurately perceives the dangers and therefore fears what deserves to be feared. Similarly for an emotion like anger - the irascible person gets angry on the wrong occasions and with the wrong people, is too quick to anger, etc. But Aristotle does not say that anger is a bad emotion, and in this way differs from those who claim that anger is a sin (Christianity) or an emotion to be avoided entirely (Epicureanism); instead he says that there is such a thing as justified anger, and that people who never get angry even when it is justified also miss the mark.

Thus I see "the mean" as a kind of dynamic, natural balance between too much and too little. And balance can be beautiful: think of a gymnast arched on the balance beam, or a dancer poised to make a pirouette, or a baseball shortstop finishing a double play at second base. Balance is also a matter of being well-proportioned, and according to Aristotle an excellence of character such as courage or generosity is a stable state of being to produce proportionate responses based on true understandings (a kind of disposition for "justified true emotion", if you will).

One further aspect of ethical beauty is related to an odd little side comment Aristotle makes in the Nicomachean Ethics about physical beauty: that small people can be cute but they can't be beautiful because they're simply not big enough. Whether or not this strange notion was common in ancient Greece, it might be connected to Aristotle's idea of greatness of soul (megalopsuchia): only people who achieve all-around excellence of character, who truly thrive as human beings, can have ethical beauty; by contrast, people who don't aim as high might be neat and orderly and even admirable in their own less morally ambitious way, but according to Aristotle they're not ethically beautiful.

Aristotle Research Report #2: Key Concepts


One of the great challenges in understanding Aristotle's ethics, especially for those who don't read Greek, is that his key concepts are quite foreign to us moderns. Among those moderns we can include his usual translators, who all too often make him sound like a Victorian focused on virtue and prudence and moderation above all. Even Joe Sachs, my favorite translator of Aristotle, misses some golden opportunities to set the record straight, although in the main he succeeds in getting behind the long tradition of "Latinizing" Aristotle through the lens of Neoplatonic philosophy and Christian theology. Me, I prefer to find, if possible, good old Anglo-Saxon words as a way to route around the Latinization problem.

Let's look at a few of these key concepts.

First off is eudaimonia, usually translated as "happiness". Well, sort of. But we moderns associate happiness with a pleasurable feeling, whereas it was much more than that to the ancient Greeks. A daimon was a kind of lesser deity, for our purposes most particularly an inner god or the divine aspect of a human being. Thus to be eudaimon was to have a good inner god or to be well-favored in personal divinity; in less rarified terms, it was to flourish (a somewhat popular translation in more recent times) or, as Aristotle explicitly says, to "live well and do well".

Another critically important term is arete, usually translated (even by Sachs) as "virtue". Here people have been led astray in part by a dubious etymology that derives arete from the name of Ares, the god of war (thus connecting the term with the original Latin meaning of virtue as strength or manliness), and in part by the assumption that Aristotle is talking about virtue in the same way we are. Translators who try to overcome the problems inherent in rendering arete as virtue often opt for rendering it as excellence, which has its own problems (e.g., excellence is necessarily comparative). In pondering the meaning of arete while reading the Nicomachean Ethics recently, I realized that arete is related to the Greek verb aretao, which means doing well (see above), faring well, thriving.

Or consider psuche (reflected in our term psychology), usually translated as "soul". Yet Aristotle thinks that not only animals have psuche (which perhaps has become a more common view in recent decades), but even that plants have psuche. In my last post I mentioned that I was leaning toward translating psuche as "vitality", but I've decided that I like "aliveness" even better.

A fourth term is ergon, which for awhile was translated as "function" (thus leading to all sorts of scholarly confusion about Aristotle's "functionalism" - a notoriously vague notion in philosophy). Sachs translates it as "work", which I think is much closer to the mark.

A fifth is hexis, usually translated as "habit". Yet for us a habit is a kind of mindless routine, whereas for Aristotle a hexis (from ekho meaning "to have, to hold, to be in firm possession of") was a firmly settled state of being, what Sachs translates as an active condition of the soul.

Let's look at how these different translations might play out. (I'll use a few other terms here: dianoia translated as thinking instead of intellect, orexis translated as yearning instead of appetition (!), phronesis translated as good judgment instead of prudence, sophrosune translated as self-control intead of temperance, spoudaios translated as worthy instead of noble.)

For instance:

Aristotle thinks that the ergon of the dianoietic part of psuche is truth, and that its aretai are hexeis such as phronesis; similarly, he thinks that the ergon of the orectic part of psuche is something like balance, and that its aretai are hexeis such as sophrosune; and thus he thinks that the ergon of the human psuche is to live a spoudaios life, which consists in eudaimonia.

[Note: I'm still puzzling out what Aristotle considers to be the ergon of the orectic part of psuche, so I'm not really sure that it's balance.]

Plugging in different values for the various terms, we can derive quite different meanings from the following two versions.

Aristotle thinks that the function of the intellectual part of the soul is truth, and that its virtues are habits such as prudence; similarly, he thinks that the function of the appetitive part of the soul is something like balance, and that its virtues are habits such as temperance; and thus he thinks that the function of the human soul is to create a noble life, which consists in happiness.


Aristotle thinks that the work of thinking aliveness is truth, and that it thrives through settled states of being such as good judgment; similarly, he thinks that the work of yearning aliveness is something like balance, and that it thrives through settled states of being such as self-control; and thus he thinks that the work of human aliveness is to create a worthy life, which consists in living well and doing well.

Although I don't think that I'll ever make a full translation of the Nicomachean Ethics (Sachs gets close enough), I do find it helpful to think hard about how I might render his key concepts into English. Naturally I'll ponder this quite a bit more as I research his ethical philosophy over the next few years...

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