Thursday, January 27, 2011


I hated those bracelets/charms/whatevers: What Would Jesus Do? It's not as if there's nothing honorable in following the philosophy espoused by the man known as Jesus in the New Testament. In fact, it's a rather enlightened viewpoint that's been hideously distorted since it was first committed to memory for oral histories and continues to be so today (shhhh... little secret: Jesus was a socialist.) Of course, there's absolutely no requirement to believe in the divinity and/or supernatural existence of the prime mover of said philosophy in order to follow its tenets, just as with any other set of ideas.

What disturbed me was the idea of having to consult someone else's behavior in order to determine one's own. If you're a genuine believer in and follower of the principles of the New Testament, then you really shouldn't have to stop and question what a poor Jew in the middle of the Roman-occupied Levant would do when confronted with the prospect of massive financial fraud involving credit default swaps or deciding whether to crank Boston to 11 in a crowded apartment building at 3 AM. In the latter case, he'd keep it to a reasonable volume and go find a better taste in music and in the former case he'd strike you and anyone involved with said fraud dead as a doornail, as is only appropriate. Who says the son of God can't be as vengeful as Dad?

I can't recall a time when I've ever been confronted with a situation and stopped to ask myself: What Would Marcus Do? That's at least partially because there were many other Stoic philosophers down through the ages, so there's no real reason to elevate MAAA above the rest (except that I do) in the manner of a messiah. But it's mostly because I've absorbed the philosophy into how I deal with the world as a whole. This is who I am, not what I profess to believe in and then make confession for when I deviate from it.

Stoicism is often perceived as the approach or demeanor of someone without emotion. They're "stoic" if they can remain unaffected in an otherwise harried situation. This originates from the concept that "destructive" emotions impede reason and reason is paramount to most Stoics. Suffering will be avoided through apatheia, which means "peace of mind" or, literally, "without passion." And, without suffering, life is good, yes?

Of course, there's a bit more involved, since simply avoiding emotion will only go so far in helping to determine your choices and actions in life. But the supremacy of reason drives much of the rest of the whole. Actions are "good" because they're ethical. If one stops to question whether a particular choice is "good", ostensibly one removes emotion and then weighs its impact on oneself and others ("Let every action aim solely for the common good." - Marcus) via logic and reflection, as well as being in tune with "natural logic"; often depicted as an understanding of how the universe functions. That can easily be interpreted as a cynical estimation of how systems and people and natural events progress, since those are all contained within the "logos" of the universe. It also relies on Aristotle's assertion that humans are inherently ethical and, therefore, good (which would seem to belie the modern interpretation of the Cynical philosophy.)

I can't help but wonder sometimes if my basic nature is to emotionally detach myself from problematic situations and, thus, Stoicism appealed to me, or if that nature was developed by my reading of the philosophy and its proponents. Anyone who knows me will recognize or remember that I engage in a fair amount of "suffering", as I'm quite passionate about particular topics. Or, at least, I used to be. The fires have dwindled on a lot of things. Expansion of Stoicism or growth of Cynicism? Do I just not care anymore? Is that a lack of emotion or simply fatigue based on an understanding that getting fired up about things often ends up being a colossal waste of time? Or does it simply seem that way to me because all of my serious endeavors, those things that I was truly passionate about, have failed or are in the midst of their lowest periods in my lifetime?

I've discovered lately that I've bent my approach from interpreting (almost) everything through logic and reason to simply functioning: these things have to be done, so they get done, regardless of my emotional state or even interest in doing them. It's still logical and reasonable (have to go to work, have to feed the cats, etc.), but it's solely functional. In contrast, many things that I formerly enjoyed doing or was interested in are left behind because I convince myself that I don't have time to do them while I'm making sure that all the requirements of functioning are met. That's still logical and reasonable to a certain degree, but it's also devoid of any real motivation. Stoics weren't meant to go through life as automatons anymore than Epicures were or are. Of course, there's always Epictetus: "Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men's desires, but by the removal of desire." I have the whole "removal of desire" thing down pat, at the moment, but I'm not sure that it's helping.

But I always come back to Marcus Aurelius: "Outward things cannot touch the soul, not in the least degree; nor have they admission to the soul, nor can they turn or move the soul; but the soul turns and moves itself alone." The question now becomes: Is that how it remains from here on out? And is that a good thing?

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I went to see the Ann Arbor Symphony in its annual Mozart Birthday Bash performance last night. I like a pretty wide variety of music and, in turn, a fairly wide variety of classical music. But Mozart is a particular favorite of the strings-and-woodwinds variety. There's something about the dynamism of his writing; the seemingly boundless energy of his approach to whatever form he was engaged in at the time, that is constantly alluring. Obviously, I'm not alone in that perspective.

Almost every great composer attempted to convey some message in his work. Some were obvious (Wagner) and some not so. I once described Beethoven's 9th in this way: "I always feel as if he, a not very religious man, was trying to say something about the grandeur of the world around us; not in and of itself as a 'creation' but as what it could be if we would only stop and experience it. I'm not entirely sure how he's trying to say it or even if that's the fullness of the message, but that's what resounds in my head every time I hear it."

There's an allegory there for every form of human interaction. Most of those forms are an attempt to describe something, be it an idea or an experience or an emotion. All of them can be beset by the same difficulties as trying to describe how one can pick out various instruments in a musical piece. I remember trying to show someone how I knew that a particular string piece was made up of violin, viola, and 3 cellos. You could hear the high, plaintive violin and its more sonorous cousin, the viola. But the cellos were playing at different tempos, sometimes harmony, sometimes disparate. I kept saying something like: "You can hear them. There's one, there's the second... and there's the third right under... there."

You can probably imagine me making a pointing gesture to the air above my head at the appropriate moment: "There it is. Right there." That, of course, means nothing to someone who isn't hearing it in the same way that you are.  The same frustration tends to follow at any similar failure to convey meaning: "Why don't they understand (hear)?!" Of course, this is all my interpretation. Knowing what I do of Mozart, I don't think that he was quite as compelled by meaning as, say, Beethoven. The former was more driven by demonstrating both the perfection of the form and his own ability with it, which doesn't make it any less able to be admired and convey feelings to the listener and, hopefully, between the audience as a whole. Perfecting the form is, after all, something that many artists aspire to and can often embody the meaning of what they do to begin with. It's no less true for martial artists, for example, than it is for painters, sculptors, chefs, or musicians.

But that deeper meaning is something that I think often sets certain forms of music apart. In addition to my affection for classical music, I'm a huge punk fan. I grew up in the middle of the punk revolution and swiftly adopted bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Black Flag, the Minutemen, and so on. All of them were very message-driven (both social and political) and used their departure from the standard rock form to highlight that message and their disdain for the current state of the music world. In short, it was all about the music, man. I still find that rather blunt and forward approach appealing (and it's often reflected in my communication technique, for better or worse) and tend to contrast that kind of exciting and agenda-driven music with the hideously processed  sound now prevalent which strikes me as being focused almost entirely on selling records, most of which tend to sound the same. Give me a band willing to sweat in front of a crowd of a few dozen rather than one which has a far warmer relationship with its Macbooks and Auto-tune.

Is it still possible to derive a message from a Nickelback song in the same way one can from Beethoven or the Replacements or Steve Earle? Probably. It's probably similar to deriving a message from the latest bullshit spewed by a Tim Geithner, as opposed to the far more honest delivery of, say, Arundhati Roy, but it's there. I guess.

By the way, the best part of the program last night was the Sinfonia concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra, K. 364. Take a few minutes to follow the 3 parts posted to a Youtube from a French chamber group:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Otter was right

In that last post (which became a bit disjointed), I spent a fair amount of time detailing my own experience and perspective in a couple situations which sounded an awful lot like I was tooting my own horn, as it were. As anyone who knows me will tell you, that's not something I'm especially prone to do. As confident as I am in my own abilities, an earlier post here will give you the general conception of how well I think I've been employing them over these 40 years.

I don't even like it when other people try to compliment me or what I've done. It makes me anywhere from cynical to horribly uncomfortable when people do so. So, in that respect, my presentation of those two scenarios was not so much to remonstrate about how I could do something and others could not, but more to elaborate upon how I feel like everyone should be able to do these things.

Contrarily, of course, I get extremely defensive whenever anyone tries to disparage or dismiss things that I've done or contributed to, as well. I spent almost 5 years chairing the Green Party of Michigan and I thought that we accomplished some solid things while I was there. My ex-wife was with me that whole time and, while I came away frustrated that we couldn't do more and pointedly critical of certain people and tendencies within the state and national parties, she later rather vocally dismissed that entire period as somewhere between a complete waste of time and an utter disaster whenever anyone mentioned it.

That, of course, would almost instantly raise my hackles. I was fairly proud of the fact that we were able to get the Greens mentioned in the same breath with the Dems and the GOP for a couple years. I was proud of the fact that I was able to be on radio or TV or in print every few days, spreading the message and getting enthusiastic feedback from people that didn't know that there was a like-minded group out there looking for their votes. I even mentioned this as my "proudest professional moment" on the board the other day and was almost immediately heckled with: "Do you mean [breath] The GOP candidate would like to thank the Green candidate for helping him defeat the Democrat?[/breath]" If you're stupid enough to believe that, run better candidates whom I and people like me would actually like to vote for, schmucks.

But every time someone would react to my experience with some degree of approbation or awe, I'd immediately backpedal; waving it off as "nothing special." It took my friend, Rodger, a couple years after I was out of the party, to finally get me to accept it somewhat. We were at dinner with many students from our dojo and he mentioned that I had chaired the party for a while and two people were expressing how great that was and I was giving my usual "sounds better than it was" response before Rodger finally interrupted me and said: "It is pretty cool, you know?" Yeah. I guess it was. For a while.

But, of course, I didn't do it alone. There were many people involved to get us even the modest achievements that we accomplished. What ties this thought to my previous post is that, again, I often feel that there's almost nothing that I can do that other people can't also do, provided that they're willing to put their minds to it. The challenge is to get them to do so (or open their minds in the first place and then do so.) Granted, this is akin to my usual assertion that if everyone would just shut up and listen to me, the world would be a much better place. But this time it's true.

I guess the one thing that I'd suggest is that the next time anyone has the opportunity to listen to actually do so. Don't think about what your next response will be. Don't even think about making a response. Just listen. It can be frustrating as hell and I'm certainly not a universal practitioner (especially when it's a discussion I've had a few hundred times...) but every once in a while you learn about the roots of someone else's thought process or you find something completely new. After that, you can proceed to blow holes in their logic and try to convert them to your way of thinking.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two sides to everyone?

I was in Philadelphia a few years ago for a national Green meeting. It was 2002 and the party was rolling along at that point, preparing for the upcoming midterm elections and generally feeling pretty positive about where we were. It was an interesting collection of communication experiences for me, most of them positive.

There had been some turmoil within the California Greens concerning some supposedly misplaced funds and procedural irregularities. Many of them felt that it was going to tear our largest state party apart. But that's the kind of melodrama that many political activists like to wield in order to justify themselves or their actions. I don't think it was quite that serious, but it was sufficiently distracting to the national party that they put together a committee (my upcoming book: Life by Committee or Why Suicide is an Acceptable Alternative) to try to sort it out before the internecine warfare in California became the only topic ever raised on the national lists. I was on said committee with a couple other non-California Greens and one person that the GPCA insisted be present in order to have their voice in the middle of things.

When we sat down and went over what seemed to be the facts and reviewed communications both on the national and California lists, we came to the easy conclusion that most of the trouble was caused by personal animosity and had little to do with any genuine crimes with one exception wherein the state party violated its own bylaws, perhaps inadvertently. The role of the one California Green on the committee was simply to object to the casual dismissal of the "crisis" that the rest of us found to be plainly evident if everyone involved would just invest in a Valium or two. I gave the report to the national committee meeting in Philly and was immediately lauded for my efforts afterward by many people. I was baffled. We really hadn't done that much and the conclusion we came to didn't smooth over any of the hurt feelings. It simply exposed them. Perhaps that was sufficient, but it seemed like a pretty foregone conclusion to me. My profile as a "communicator" within the party skyrocketed after that for an effort that I found to be pretty trivial and over a matter that was equally trivial.

What that spotlighted for me, though, was the seeming inability of many people, even those within a small group of like-minded individuals, to simply talk to each other; to relate to one another on terms that they both understand. Both sides of that issue came into it with a predisposed attitude toward the other side and refused to abandon it, even when confronted with the facts. It took complete outsiders to get them to cease fire. This is a phenomenon extant in many situations throughout history, both large and small, national and personal, and I've always found it to be mildly irritating that people can't come to the obvious conclusion without someone, indeed, pointing out the obvious.

A different situation arose a couple days into the meeting when I, my wife, and a couple friends decided to grab dinner some distance from the hotel. We hopped into a cab out front, the three of them in the back, and me in the front. Our driver asked what we were doing in town and I told him and immediately struck up a conversation with him about politics, the Eagles, and life in the city, in general. We got to our destination and my wife mentioned to me that all three women in the back had sat there and kind of marveled at my ability to get into an easy discussion with someone I'd met 10 seconds ago. I did my Leonard Nimoy thing (arching my eyebrows: "Plainly not logical, Captain.") and wondered: Why? Because I'd just met him? Because he was black (whereas all of us were and are white)? Because he clearly had no idea what the Green party was but I could talk to him about the NFL? Some combination of those?

He was an average guy driving a car around town who felt like doing something other than driving, so he talked to me. And I talked to him because he was talking to me. That's what people do... or would do if they weren't taught to suspect and fear each other. It's really not that difficult but a lot of people shy away from it or assume that people won't want to communicate with them. What makes this phenomenon even more ludicrous is that we're currently enmeshed in the greatest communication tool ever created: these here Interwebs. People communicate, in the strictest sense, probably more now than they ever have before and on more widely varying topics. But people also use the shield of anonymity provided by the Internet to display opinions that they would never release in public. Does that make them less likely to communicate with their neighbors and casual acquaintances because they can't "be themselves"? Or is their Internet personality the Hyde to their Jekyll, rather than the converse?

When I talked to some of the California Greens about their troubles in Philadelphia, they were almost all reasonable and cooperative people. But on the national list (that tool we all used to coordinate between the states), many of them were fire-breathers. Was that sociable cabbie I talked to on the way to dinner a raving lunatic on ESPN's Eagles message board? Or was he always himself? Was I lauded as a problem-solver because I refused to dance around anything? I've been told many times that my tendency to be... direct is problematic. But that's what helped solve the CA issue.

I'll be coming back to this.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."

I'm not a real fan of 60s-era films. Cool Hand Luke is one of the few exceptions (the title quote is verbatim, incidentally.) I was once very fond of a character I created for a comic series for our studio that I named Cool Hand Luke. I always wondered if we would have been sued for copyright infringement or if I could have skirted the edge of fair use on that one, since he wouldn't have been the title character of the book.

But I'm not really talking about films or comics today. I'd rather talk about guns ("Lots of guns."), particularly the ease of access to guns like the Glock that one Jared Lee Loughner used this morning in an attempt to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. A cursory view of Loughner's Youtube channel reveals someone obsessed with currency, the monolithic power behind it, and his belief that the vast majority of Americans lacked grammar skills in some way. He's correct about the latter, but not exactly in the fashion over which he seems so obsessed. And, yet, someone this unstable had easy access to a powerful handgun with a 30-shot clip; the use of which enabled him to kill 6 people and wound 12 others in seconds.

Am I a believer in the right to own firearms? That's a very difficult question for me. When I was with the Greens, I believed in what they state are their Four Pillars: ecological wisdom, grassroots democracy, social justice, and non-violence. Those four ideals are supposed to be the underpinning of everything that the Green Party puts forth as policy. The US Green Party, being Americans, expanded those 4 into a superfluous 10 so that they could be sure that the public would be more confused come election time while feeling self-satisfied about their own philosophical acumen. But the original four are still the bedrock for Greens around the world and, indeed, American Greens, as well. Everyone had their little shades of gray (chartreuse?) for each of them and everyone had different personal emphases. The majority of the American political audience views the Greens as "tree-huggers"; environmentalists, by and large. But there were many of us who focused more often on the "social justice" pillar. We were among those that were occasionally termed "Watermelon Greens" inside the party, because we were supposedly green on the outside but red (aka Marxist) on the inside. And then there was an even smaller segment who occasionally struggled, at least internally, with the whole "non-violence" thing.

None of us were foolish enough to believe in the idea of beginning an armed insurrection against the government (at least, not yet...) While Jim Morrison famously said: "They got the guns, but we got the numbers.", modern American society is too tightly controlled to make that a viable option, even with the best of intentions. This fact goes all the way back to Shays' Rebellion (look it up.) But is it wise to have the option at least present, however difficult, in this malfunctioning charade that we accuse of being democracy? When we look back at history, there are very few instances where violence was not necessary for significant social change. However, we see the downside of having said option left open every day: easy access to extremely powerful weapons by people who should be nowhere near such things.

People are stupid. People are also violent. Giving people an easy way to express that baser nature in the name of a 200-year-old screed referring to organized militias is an expression of philosophical stupidity that has few parallels in human history. Loughner's video screeds show someone outraged over the inability of the general public to communicate in what he considers an acceptable form. As someone who shares that belief in a less homicidal manner, it's funny (not funny like a clown) to see someone else so concerned about failure of communication in modern society. While I tend to think that it leaves people largely passive, confused, and distracted as only those who own this nation would like to see, there are times when it becomes less passive and a lot more destructive. And these are the people who have access to an arsenal that puts the armed forces of many other nations in the world to shame.

There was a great moment in a series of 1980s-90s science fiction collections known as the Man-Kzin Wars. The series itself was about man's encounter with an alien species of cat-people (the Kzinti) even more violent than himself. Dean Ing wrote a couple stories for the first two collections called "Cathouse". It was about a man who had been captured by the Kzinti and dropped onto a kind of laboratory world that contained prehistoric Kzinti and prehistoric humans; both Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens. There's never been a clear understanding as to why the branch known as Neanderthal disappeared and the branch that eventually evolved into current humans survived. Ing's conjecture was that Neanderthals were telepathic. They could read the thoughts and emotions of those around them, which made them extremely empathetic and, consequently, passive (also, very interested in free love; a kind of early Flower Children, as it were.) Early Man lacked these abilities and, thus, denied instinctive communication, responded to situations of confusion and change with the still-current instinctive response: fear and violence. Thus, early Man exterminated the Neanderthals because the latter kept trying to understand the former, who knew only to kill what it refused to understand.

Thus, we come to Loughner. Was it because the surrounding public wasn't empathetic enough to his concerns that he responded with a shooting spree? Or was it simply because he was so off-kilter in the first place and no one would have been able to understand him, telepath or no? Regardless, is it sensible of modern society (oxymoron warning...) to allow a situation that enables apparent psychopaths to mow down people at random (and, apparently, specific in Giffords' case) before anyone can even think of stopping them? By the same token, assuming that there does come a day when the bloody revolution is needed to effect change that both Jefferson and Trotsky spoke of in different ways, do we close off the only avenue that may enable said revolution to at least get started, if not necessarily succeed? Obviously, once the violence begins, communication is over. Thus, I'm aware of the hypocrisy of complaining about the lack of effective communication and then suggesting that, at some point, that massive civilian arsenal may actually be necessary. In that way, I sound like Loughner. What separates me from him is the lack of desire to actually mow people down in the streets and my further lack of interest in listening to insipid ex-governors of Alaska.

In the end, I suppose I come down on the side of needing to get the weapons off of the streets. Tragedies like today are simply too frequent and people are, as always, too stupid to be allowed to handle weapons that are that powerful (what does that say about our armed forces? Yeah. I'll get there.) But there's that niggling little sensation at the back of my mind that says: There will come a day... I'm certainly not looking forward to it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A moment of introspection

Marcus Aurelius said: "A man's life is what his thoughts make it." One could analogize that into modern phrasing such as "You are what you want to be." or "You're only limited by your own imagination." But MAAA (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus) was a Stoic; latterly considered one of the premier thinkers of that philosophy. Part of that perspective is that people deal with what life brings to them (or upon them.) So, I'm not so sure that he felt that one's imagination was the limiting factor, rather than how one dealt with outside forces that may be beyond one's control.

I consider this quite often in estimating my own life or lack thereof. At a young age, I became aware of what a lot of people considered to be my 'limitless' potential. It led to me coasting through school much of the time and skipping two grades so that I was able to graduate from high school at the age of fifteen and later from the University of Michigan at the age of nineteen. At that point and with my theretofore accelerated pace, one might have thought that I was on my way to doing something 'big', as it were. Many people that I knew said that to me and about me. Over 20 years later, my lone response would have to be Jon Stewart's famous catchphrase: "Not so much."

I spent a fair amount of time pursuing goals that were of immediate interest to me at that particular moment. My parents had constantly stressed the future, urging me to discard friends and situations in the name of something and someones better at some point in "the future". When exactly that would be was never specified. They certainly encouraged the idea of skipping grades, but I was perfectly comfortable with that, as well. After all, I was bored to tears with most of what I was "learning". I typically learned much more about the world outside of school by reading on my own than I did in the classroom. That trend continued in college and, by my junior year at Michigan, it took a while for my mother to convince me not to drop out and do something else. "At least you'll have your degree.", she said. "And a degree from Michigan will get you a job anywhere." What was true in the 60s wasn't so true in the 90s, but that's another discussion.

So, by the age of 20, I desperately wanted to do what I wanted to do and right now, dammit. I was done with doing "what was done" by regular, middle class white kids, like me. But, of course, with somewhat less life experience than those around me, I fell into the conundrum that many people encounter at some point in their lives: I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I had been accepted to Georgetown's Walsh School of Foreign Service as I was leaving Michigan; presuming that I would continue on into the political/diplomatic realm with my BA in political science. But I desperately wanted to be out of school and had little enchantment with the idea of being part of the Washington machine which I so decried. So, I joined a couple other political groups like the SWP, worked where I could, created a comic studio with a friend that we ran for a few years until the distribution monopoly shut us down, led the Green Party of Michigan for a few years, and have spent a few more paying an underwater mortgage and watching my marriage wither to the end. Thus, I am here.

Have I wasted my life?

One of the recurring themes of Thoreau's Life Without Principle is the idea that doing something solely for money is no measure of personal success. He suggests that doing something that is less enjoyable to you for the sake of money or fame simply means that you need to find better hobbies. His emphasis there as in so many of his other writings is that of a life well lived, regardless of the direction or result. That's certainly an appealing thought to me. Of course, Marcus' frequent charge of being mindful of the end results of one's actions ("Let every action aim solely for the common good.") and striving to achieve something better than everyday endeavors is also highly appealing to me. In many ways, I've internalized both of those, despite the conflicts between them. What concerns me is that I feel quite often that I may not have even followed Thoreau's approach in that even the things that I did for little or no financial return have amounted to very little of anything else, as well.

I don't have a great deal of interest in material success and never have. As I've often noted to people around me, I'm probably the closest thing to a communist most people are likely to meet. I'm not an ascetic. It's certainly nice to have access to certain material things (like, say, computers...) but if my house-that-I-never-wanted were to burn down tomorrow, the only thing I would want to save at any cost would be my cats. I'd be disappointed at the loss of my books and my computer, but I've read those books and other computers can be found. Thus, achieving piles of money has never been a goal that I pursued with any zeal. What I really wanted to do was achieve something worthwhile.

What is 'worthwhile'? That's a very nebulous question. In the movie, The Last Samurai (a rather disappointing film overall but worth watching for Ken Watanabe's performance), the character Katsumoto delivers a couple lines while standing in a grove of cherry trees blossoming in the spring: "A perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one and it would not be a wasted life." This is emblematic of samurai culture under the Shogunate, when a class of warriors in a land of peace began to emphasize perfection in smaller (and less violent) actions and rituals and the perceived nobility achieved by doing so. That, too, dovetails nicely with Thoreau's thoughts and even, to a small degree, Marcus' perspective on striving for greater things. But I look back at what I've done and what I've pursued and wonder if I even tried to look for the perfect blossom.

Have I wasted my life?

Granted, my life is not over. Presumably, it will continue for quite some time. But I'd like to think that there was still something to accomplish, something to lend purpose to it that will be memorable for more than simply occupying a Social Security number. Once again, I'm not quite sure what that is. My only definite impression is that my string of failures, wasted opportunities and, indeed over the past few years, idleness has amounted to very little that would engender approval from even Thoreau. I would like to think that there is something to be done that would encourage people to remember that I existed to some positive end. Is that vanity? Probably. Is it an expression of "aim[ing] solely for the common good"? Maybe.

Another movie line I'm fond of is one of George C. Scott's from Patton, where he vents his frustration to an aide at being left out of the war: "I feel that I am destined to achieve some great thing! What, I don't know." I don't believe in destiny. But sometimes I do wonder if I've missed one too many opportunities or if they were ever there to begin with.

Back to the real world next time.