Meditation for Friday of Week 04 in the season of Dormancy

Ego – Selfishness

Evil is present when we fail to account for the whole. Happiness should not come at someone else’s expense. This is another way of looking at the Golden Rule and worth-based justice.


True Narratives

·     Arbitrary power is to the mind what alcohol is to the body; it intoxicates. Man loves power. It is perhaps the strongest human passion; and the more absolute the power, the stronger the desire for it; and the more it is desired, the more its exercise is enjoyed: this enjoyment is to human nature a fearful temptation,--generally an overmatch for it. Hence it is true, with hardly an exception, that arbitrary power is abused in proportion as it is desired. The fact that a person intensely desires power over others, without restraint, shows the absolute necessity of restraint. What woman would marry a man who made it a condition that he should have the power to divorce her whenever he pleased? Oh! he might never wish to exercise it, but the power he would have! No woman, not stark mad, would trust her happiness in such hands. [Theodore D. Weld, American Slavery as It Is (1839).] 

·    I do not agree with the view that to be moral, the motive of one’s actions has to be benefiting others. Morality does not have to be defined in relation to others . . . People like me want to satisfy our hearts to the full, and in doing so we automatically have the most valuable moral codes. Of course, there are people and objects in the world but they are all there only for me. [Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), quoted in Jung Chang, Mao: The Unknown Story (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), chapter 2.]

History is littered with the evil of conquest.

The Vietnam war happened because no one in power, in the United States, would admit that the war was a mistake.

Remarkably egocentric people:




Visual Arts

Music: songs and other short pieces

Film and Stage

Music: Composers, artists, and major works

  • Richard Wagner's tragic opera Lohengrin tells the tragic story of a woman who inadvertently stymies the search for the Holy Grail, which we can see as a metaphor for happiness or justice. Her insistence on knowing the name of her benefactor is her undoing This opera is a story about how untamed ego causes separation and unhappiness: almost every main character winds up unhappy as a result of pursuing a selfish desire. (Links to complete performances starring Kaufmann, Domingo and Windgassen)
  • Bartók, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle: the duke’s new wife learns that he has many other interests, including three other wives. Here are links to performances conducted by Kubelik, Dohnányi and Elder.
  • Weill, The Threepenny Opera: (1928) portrays a society made decadent by rampant egoism and social apathy. Most of Weill’s theatre music suits this subject. Here are links to performances conducted by Matlowsky and Bernstein.
  • Furtwängler, Symphony No. 3 in C-sharp Minor (1954): the composer was explicit, he composed this symphony as a tragedy.
  • Verdi, Macbeth (1847): a tragedy of unbridled ambition – performances conducted by Chailly, Welser-Möst and Callegari
  • Stephen Albert, Into Eclipse: a prologue and five songs on the Oedipus tragedy
  • Wolpe, Zeus und Elida, Op. 5a (1928); Schöne Geschichten, Op. 5b (1929): two “decadent” works from Berlin in the 1920s
  • Weill, Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins) - Ballet with singing in 8 parts
  • Frid, Phädra, Op. 78, No. 1 (1985), a tragic work for string quartet and piano, based on a 1677 play by Racine, in which the characters fall victim to their own egos

Fictional Narratives

If one places one's self at the culminating point of view of the question, Waterloo is intentionally a counter-revolutionary victory. It is Europe against France; it is Petersburg, Berlin, and Vienna against Paris; it is the _statu quo_ against the initiative; it is the 14th of July, 1789, attacked through the 20th of March, 1815; it is the monarchies clearing the decks in opposition to the indomitable French rioting. The final extinction of that vast people which had been in eruption for twenty-six years--such was the dream. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume II – Cosette; Book First – Waterloo, Chapter XVII, Is Waterloo To Be Considered Good?]

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