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Upscale people are fixated with food simply because they are now able to eat so much of it without getting fat, and the reason they don't get fat is that they maintain a profligate level of calorie expenditure. The very same people whose evenings begin with melted goats cheese... get up at dawn to run, break for a mid-morning aerobics class, and watch the evening news while racing on a stationary bicycle.
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One of the most essential and mundane of human activities - taking care of children - requires high levels of anxious vigilance. ... [Parents] dare not risk assuming that the sudden quiet from the toddlers' room means they are studying with Baby Einstein. Visualize fratricidal stranglings and electric outlets stabbed with forks: this is how we have reproduced our genomes.
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Human intellectual progress, such as it has been, results from our long struggle to see things 'as they are,' or in the most universally comprehensible way, and not as projections of our own emotions. Thunder is not a tantrum in the sky, disease is not a divine punishment, and not every death or accident results from witchcraft. What we call the Enlightenment and hold on to only tenuously, by our fingernails, is the slow-dawning understanding that the world is unfolding according to its own inner algorithms of cause and effect, probability and chance, without any regard for human feelings.
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If that's how it all started, then we might as well face the fact that what's left out there is a great deal of shrapnel and a whole bunch of cinders (one of which is, fortunately, still hot enough and close enough to be good for tanning). Trying to find some sense and order in this mess may be as futile as trying to ... reconstruct the economy of Iowa from a bowl of popcorn. [On searching for evidence of the Big Bang.]
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The obvious liberal rejoinders come to mind: What about the child whose home is hit by a bomb? Did she have some bomb-shaped thoughtform that brought ruin down on her head? And did my [fired white-collar workers] boot-camp mates cause the layoffs that drove them out of their jobs by "vibrating" at a layoff-related frequency? It seems inexcusably cruel to tell people who have reach some kind of personal nadir that their probem is entirely of their own making. ...
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I realize that after decades of positive thinking the notion of realism, of things as they are, may seem a little quaint. ... When the stakes are high enough and the risks obvious, we still turn to people who can be counted on to understand those risks and prepare for worst-case scenarios. A chief of state does not want to hear a general in the field say that he 'hopes' to win tomorrow's battle or that he's 'visualizing victory' ...
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At Wal-Mart, a co-worker once advised me that, although I had a lot to learn, it was also important not to "know too much," or at least never to reveal one's full abilities to management, because "the more they think you can do, the more they'll use you and abuse you." My mentors in these matters were not lazy; they just understood that there are few or no rewards for heroic performance. The trick lies in figuring out how to budget your energy so there'll be some left over for the next day.
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I don't know when the cult of conspicuous busyness began, but it has swept up almost all the upwardly mobile, professional women I know. Already, it is getting hard to recall the days when, for example, 'Let's have lunch' meant something other than 'I've got more important things to do than talk to you right now.
But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth.
My religious friends - and my friends were almost all Catholics or Protestants or occasionally something more exotic like Jewish or Greek Orthodox - were convinced that God had a "plan" for us, and since God was good, it was a good plan, which we were required to endorse even without having any idea what it was. Just sign the paperwork; in other words, don't overintellectualize.
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As a recent editorial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology put it: "What we must first remember is that the immune system is designed to detect foreign invaders, and avoid out own cells. With few exceptions, the immune system does not appear to recognize cancers within an individual as foreign, because they are actually part of the self.
Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a 'gift, ' was a very personal, agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before-one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame only ourselves for our fate.
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But the economic meltdown should have undone, once and for all, the idea of poverty as a personal shortcoming or dysfunctional state of mind. The lines at unemployment offices and churches offering free food includes strivers as well as slackers, habitual optimists as well as the chronically depressed. When and if the economy recovers we can never allow ourselves to forget how widespread our vulnerability is, how easy it is to spiral down toward destitution.
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The question is why one should be so inwardly preoccupied at all. Why not reach out to others in love and solidarity or peer into the natural world for some glimmer of understanding? Why retreat into anxious introspection when, as Emerson might have said, there is a vast world outside to explore? Why spend so much time working on oneself when there is so much real work to be done?
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I was raised the old-fashioned way, with a stern set of moral principles: Never lie, cheat, steal or knowingly spread a venereal disease. Never speed up to hit a pedestrian or, or course, stop to kick a pedestrian who has already been hit. From which it followed, of course, that one would never ever - on pain of deletion from dozens of Christmas card lists across the country - vote Republican.
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But who could resist the erotic lives of atoms and molecules - the violent passion of electrostatic attractions, the comfortable mutuality of covalent bonds, the gentle air kisses of van der Waals forces? The rules governing the couplings and uncouplings of tiny particles seemed to me as fascinating as the kinship rules of what we still called "primitive" societies - with the revulsion of like-charged particles, for example, functioning as a kind of incest taboo.
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To fight against a war or, better yet, and entire "war machine, " we had to become warriors ourselves. This is the cunning symmetry of war: Enemies tend to come to resemble one another. And this was perhaps especially so in a culture that appallingly - to us - applied the war meme to just about anything, as in the "War on Poverty.
I expected, as I approached the corporate world, to enter a brisk, logical, nonsense-free zone, almost like the military - or a disciplined, up-to-date military anyway - in its focus on concrete results. How else would companies survive fierce competition? But what I encountered was a culture riven with assumptions unrelated to those that underlie the fact- and logic-based worlds of, say science and journalism - a culture addicted to untested habits, paralyzed by conformity, and shot through with magical thinking.
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