'No man is an island, Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thine own Or of thine friend's were. Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.' John Donne
Ernest Hemingway chose this poem as the focal point and opener of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, published 1940. Last week I gave this book a casual listen while I worked, and its themes struck a chord with me. I think they are useful to spend some time thinking about, so I'm going to outline them.
Reading this book, I was reminded of a few articles I read early in my 'bitcoin journey'. From that time, an idea that has been immensely valuable to me surfaced from Brandon Quittem writing about the Fourth Turning for Bitcoin and the Rhythms of History. This article was one of the cornerstones of my bitcoin understanding, and I really recommend it. Or did we all read it? If you haven't read this one, you probably read Bitcoin Is the Mycelium of Money, another great one from Brandon.
Here are the themes:
Fourth Turning Vibes, "My grandpa fought a war, so can I."
The central character and point of view of the novel is Robert Jordan, an American teacher of Spanish. He is deserving of an entire character analysis, but that's not my task right now. Suffice to say, you are able to peer into the mind of a well rounded man of action for four days of his life. You come to know him intimately by the end of it, as he acts out every dimension of human experience before you. As a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, the story begins when he is given orders to cross enemy lines, join a guerrilla operative of Spaniards, and blow up a tactically important bridge.
There are two devastating low points for Jordan in the four days it takes to complete this mission. The first is when he realizes the planned attack that he is operating ahead of will not be successful, and the second is when he attempts to flee the site of the blown bridge. In both of these moments, his thoughts turn to his grandfather. I think this is significant.
What you discover in the story is that Jordan idolizes his grandfather and despises his father. The grandfather was a heroic family figure, telling stories of his days fighting the American Civil War. He even passes on weapons he used. But the father was not so heroic, and in fact ended his own life with just such a weapon. Jordan in his harsher moments call his father a coward and blames him and his generation for the monsters he has to face in his life, in his war. Are you picking up the generational theory thread yet?
I liked seeing this truth in action in this story, the truth that humans need the necessity of survival embodied. When the obstacles we face seem impossible, we turn back and look at who was here before, and see a way forward because of them. A lot of us understand that our moment in history is unique, but it didn't just come to be that way all of sudden, and there are patterns that our moment mimics. It is useful to find these patterns. Ignoring them is how you get a character like Zuckerberg, I think. Anyway, let's keep going.
The Punishment of Death for Deadly Ideas
This book gives a number of ethical dialogues on murder for a moral cause, which I found useful even though I have never had to make such calculations in my life, so far. The ideas at war are communism and fascism. It's not that this book will teach you something new about those ideas, but from a number of angles, you get an understanding of how individuals grapple with the weight of death on their hands using the abstract belief in the common good of all.
I'm spending some time thinking on this because I imagine it could come up at some point, living through global conflict, instant, constant propaganda and a lot of bad ideas. And when I imagine that, I question just how strong is my belief in what I think will be good for all? How could I know? I find it very difficult, even abstractly, to let an idea become a person. I don't really think the solution for bad ideas is death to individuals, is that wrong? It's probably not re-education or forced labor either. So what is it? I wonder if this is something this generation has agreed to reconsider, or not even this generation, just the specific human spirit that emerges from a century of world war. What do we believe, death to all who won't fly the liberty banner? I hope not, not at the core, not when it matters.
I'm still turning this one over in my mind, and there's a lot more that each character in the story has to say on the subject. But right now, my collected thoughts are maxing out. Curious to know what others think.
Now is All
“There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.”
The outcome of the story solidifies this point, but I won't ruin it for you. I try to live my life on this principle, that the present is my life and everything before or behind it is a story. I do not think it is wise to always have a mind in the future or be constituted by facts of the past. The future is so vague anyway, it is not solid enough a foundation to build a life on. This is something I've been reflecting on lately in regards to what I think bitcoin is about, or what it means. The 'bitcoin future' is not solid enough, and it unfolds so slowly. But now, where I live, now is everything.
I hope you enjoyed this literary discussion. More coming.