Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

Very hard these days to think about anything but the war. Instead of listening to music when we stand by in the ambulance, we listen to the news all day long. Once, the announcer stopped rattling off the familiar fragments he had recycled for the last hour and said, "Here is what the bombing of Baghdad sounds like," and we listened to strange rustling and crashing noises which seemed to go on for an endless five or ten minutes.

Today we heard about a van full of Iraqi women and children shot to death by our soldiers and then about a bomb found in a car in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. The last story wasn't very clear and there haven't been any more details on the news the rest of the day. I suppose I'll find out more tomorrow....unless this is one of those stories that gets subsequently sucked into a black hole and vanishes.

I'll tell you how I am coping in these bizarre and unreal times. Instead of feeling like a chip in a billow, my worst nightmare, I have become a rock in a stream. The water rushes past me in its myriad evolutions and distortions every instant; I may erode slowly, but do not move or change. It is a comforting image, to which I keep returning.

I may have gleaned it from A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean's novel about his family, fly-fishing and Montana, which is a wonderful book to re-read in turbulent times, as it is very calm and full of beautiful descriptions of water:

I sat there and forgot and forgot, until what remained was the river that went by and I who watched. On the river the heat mirages danced with each other and then they danced through each other and then they joined hands and danced around each other. Eventually, the watcher joined the river and there was only one of us. I believe it was the river.

I can be reached as always at jw@bway.net.

Jonathan Wallace

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I happened upon your Spectacle.org today, which I found very interesting. I've added Spectacle to my favorites and will be back to read some more. I have a question though. In "Michael Sims, Domain Hijacking and Moral Equivalency," you write that you are an attorney. In "September 11, 2002," you are apparently a paramedic or similar.

Are you both? Is the latter a fictional account? Is "Jonathan Wallace" perhaps a group pen name? If Jonathan Wallace is both an attorney and a paramedic and you are that individual, my hat is off to you for having the time and energy to turn out Spectacle.

For some reason I have not yet fathomed, your writing strikes some of the same keys in my mind as those of info-warrior Michael Wilson of 7Pillars Partners, though your subjects are quite distinct from his. Hmmm...

In any event, congratulations on your site and thanks for making me think this morning.

Og bless you!

Steve Sturgill

"You're both right! Its a floor wax AND a desert topping!"

Yes, I am an attorney currently working as an EMT as a result of a complex set of post-9/11 personal choices and external circumstances....

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re God vs. God:

Strong and thought provoking piece. Thank-you.

Mike Sebastian
Denver, Colorado

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I read your article on Proust with interest, although I don't always agree with you.

Despites my imperfect command of English I'd like to give you my opinion about two points, which are indirectly linked.

First point :

In the paragraph entitled "The flaws in Proust's mirror", you spoke about "the dishonesty of the narrator" and latter the "large lies which are at the foundation of the work". It seems strange to call a fiction writer a lier, and to think a character is dishonest because he tells things that have never happened in our reality.

May be it's important to emphasize that 'A la recherche du temps perdu" is a novel, not an autobiography, not a piece of history, and the narrator isn't Proust. Proust repeated that many times : it's all fiction and only fiction.

Of course this novel has been largely inspired by his own life, but this kind of production is not so rare : there are so many novels written that way.

Of course, the use of the first person may induce this misconception. But the genesis of "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" removes this ambiguity. The first version of this work was called « Jean Santeuil », because Jean Santeuil was the main character. Therefore Proust wrote at the third person. He worked on it for several years, and eventually gave up. He realized that he couldn't express all he wanted by using the third person, and that the first person was better for his purpose. He remarked : "By using "I", you can say anything". "Jean Santeuil" was definitively set apart (it was published unfinished after Proust's death), and he rewrites his work using "I", precising "I" is the narrator, not the author.

Consequently we know exactly when Proust leaves off and his narrator begins : without doubt at the first word of the first page.

To illustrate this point, I'll try to translate a comment of Proust on this subject : "J'ai eu le malheur de commencer un livre par le mot "je" et, aussitôt on a cru qu'au lieu de chercher à découvrir des lois générales, je m'analysais au sens individuel et détestable du mot ».

« I had the misfortune to begin a book by « I », and already people believed that, instead of trying to discover general laws, I was analysing myself in the individual and hateful sense of this verb."

Second point :

You use the metaphor of the flaws of the Hubble telescope to characterize Proust's work. This image seems to be wrongly chosen. The designers of the Hubble telescope wanted to make a perfect instrument. Because of a huge mistake Hubble became unexpectedly short-sighted.

Never wanted Proust to report accurately the events of his life. It was not his purpose. As I said, Proust was not an autobiographer, he didn't consider his life so important to deserve such an immense book. But he wanted to explain to us something more important through the events of "a" life.

Several people got angry when the books were published, because they thought to recognize themselves in some characters (De Montesquiou in Charlus, Mme Strauss in Mme Verdurin, Laure Hayman in Odette, etc, etc, etc .).

Proust repeated his work was not a "roman à clef" (facts exposed as a novel in which actual persons appear as fictitious characters). He said every character has several models, and sometimes a model can be found in several characters.

< That's to say that Proust never wanted to describe precisely the reality. To use a metaphor he worked rather like the Impressionists. Cézanne, Sisley, Manet, Van Gogh, (Elstir ?), etc. produced unfamiliar paintings, not because they had a flawed sight, but because deliberately they didn't want to reproduce accurately their subjects. They had another goal.

So did Proust : he was in a way an impressionist writer. He was not interested in reporting precisely the reality, this was the job of the biographers and of the historians.

Conclusion :

What was the real purpose of Proust ?

He wanted to show us that every individual is multilayered. Every individual we have been in the past still exists in ourself. The current one is on the visible surface, the others seem to be forgotten in lost time, but an unexpected event can make one emerge suddenly : the taste of a Madeleine dipped in tea, the sound of bells, a missing pavement in a yard, . can bring us decades earlier for some delightful instants.

I hope I have been clear although my clumsy English.

Best regards

Yann Bahuon

Hello Jonathan Wallace,

Having read only a small amount of your material on the internet, an important point to make is that there is an objective basis for determining morality.

Morality is that which sustains life. Life is made up of and sustained by objective realities. Of course, evaluating them can be a challenge, as science demonstrates.

A related point is that whenever a sin or injustice is perpetrated, a counterforce of justice automatically develops, and it results in another counterforce developing in the mind of the perpetrator. There is no other relevant test for the existence of sin (contrary to fundamentalists claims about pleasing God).

There are methods of removing the force that develops in minds, which is why you had to explain to the other person about the backpack not being stolen. Such corrective measures remove the forces in minds.

These points can all be explained through the evidence and logic, as I do on my website on Christian morality.

I wouldn't want to impose religious beliefs onto you, but my approach is to explain the objective basis of the subject.

Gary Novak


I was wondering if you could provide me with a contact email address for Bob Wilson or possibly pass on a message. I'm the founder of the Pro-Nuclear Space Movement and was hoping he might be reachable. We need good writers willing to take on the nuclearphobes.

Here's an old article I once wrote for our site which is noticeably similar in content to his own writings. http://www.nuclearspace.com/a_spidermania.htm

Perhaps you could pass it along to him. I think he would enjoy it. If he'd like to chat, our messageboards are always open and I'd love to share ideas for promoting nuclear power.


Wayne Smith

Dear Mr. Wallace:

An excellent essay, your History of God. Seems to me you may have found God through bypassing all thought of him. I, too, find all that is said about God empty and lifeless. And I also found that one has to be one with the storm to be happy. Chop wood, carry water (or carry wood, chop water in my case), make love, drive freeway, show kindness, take responsibility for one's own life, and let it go at that.

Jim Wolfe

Mad Cowboy Disease
Wish I could have been there instead of SW Wisconsin; we did our local demonstration in October in Platteville, and wrote our letters published in the newspapers. Thanks for the report. I would argue that an unelected, but selected pResident isn't affected by massive demonstrations. It started off with the 12th amendment [no two people from the same state] and Cheney selected to run as VP. Are you watching the network talking heads on tv this morning with Condi Rice and Wesley Clark for the opposition? on NBC, Meet the Press. Condi Rice implied it was these demonstrations we were fighting for, to give the Iraqui people the same chance to demonstrate. It would not surprise me if we are at war within the next two weeks. I worry. My son will finish his school near the end of March in LA/Hollywood. This area of the country must be a higher priority for terrorists then where I live. Otherwise, National Public Radio, On The Media program was great this morning covering the unreported 100,000 killed in local insurgencies in Algeria, how the wars everywhere now target news reporters, internet information open in Singapore but censored in Saudi Arabia at the request of individuals in the populace (like children reporting on their parents during WWII), the Colin Powell speech not at the UN but at the Congress committee where he said that the purpose of this war was to reshape the Middle East, and more.

Karen in Wisconsin

Dear Mr. Wallace,

Thanks so much for keeping me on your list. It is wonderful to have news from you as I sit here snowbound in New Hampshire, trying to get a handle on what is going on out there. You've made my day!

Jenny LaFauci

Dear Jonathan:

A lot less crazy than Nixon?

Sorry, Jonathan, but G2B2 shows all the classic signs of sociopathy. While crazy may not be the right word, "messiah complex" would be an appropriate phrase.

Peter D Stanislaw

An Auschwitz Alphabet
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I think that you discuss an extremely distressing issue with sympathy and intelligence.

Two things I think that are vital when discussing a subject like this. I sometimes read books on the holocaust and the reaction this gets from most people are "read something less macarbe" or "stop that youll depress your self, read something happy". Just so you don't think that I'm an extremely depressing person I do read happy books too. But I think that its important to read about thinks like this sometimes, not only to gain compassion and empathy for others but to stop it ever happening again.

best wishes

Katy Charlotte Grubb

Hey there... I'm a university student in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The other night I watched Max and The Pianist as a double feature, so I've been thinking about the holocaust again and trying to analyze my thoughts on it and the question of Israel and so forth. Anyways, I'd just like to say that your page on "What I Learned From Auschwitz" was, in my opinion, one of the finest bits of writing on the topic I've read - succinct, moving and eloquent.

The matter of Israel has been of great concern to me of late. I'm not Jewish, but I was raised in a Marxist house with family friends of many stripes in and out all the time (I've often thought that the greatest tragedy of my grandmother's life was that she was born white and middle class in the most peaceful country in the world :).. For most of my life I've seen Israel as the "good guys" in the middle east, but of late I just don't know - Sharon strikes me as little more than a butcher and the policies regarding Palestinians are disturbing, and when you said that survival was not an ennobling experience it hit home in a very profound way. Was it the basest souls of the Jews of Europe that formed Israel?

The other thing I wanted to talk about a bit was the idea that there is no God. You've probably heard about The Rapture - is that only a Christian concept? As a lifelong agnostic, I've never delved that deeply into the question, but I know that the Rapture is when God will supposedly take home all his chosen people. In my blackest moments, I've entertained the notion that the Rapture has already come, and today we're in the process of living through the events foretold in Revelation. Although not instantaneous, the Holocaust, the Black Death and various other disease epidemics loosely fit the description.

But that's not my point. I think my point is that no matter how bad the holocaust was, it does not prove the existence or nonexistence of God either way. The God of the old testament, recall, struck down entire cities, rained fire and brimstone, and even wiped out the entire planet at one point. Compared to the great flood, the holocaust is a drop (of blood) in the bucket filled by a vengeful God. The holocaust and all the ongoing genocide in the world could well be there to teach us about ourselves, and He's just going to keep doing it again and again until we get the point. If so, the response he's looking for is for humanity to be honest with itself, and take responsibility, individually and collectively, for creating the world we all want to live in.

But even more simply than that, what refutes your assertion that the holocaust proves the nonexistence of God is that, if He does exist, all those six million people went to heaven early. Though it was ugly on our end, what greater act of kindness could he impart upon those souls than to grant them their reward?

Man... I'm starting to sound like a religious fanatic, which I am not, though I fell under the influence of a church group for awhile in high school, who would recruit lonely misfits like myself, take us out to play mini golf and preach for an hour every week... ah well. Just another view.

J. P.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

This is Garbo, a native Chinese lady who interested in Jewish culture and customs.

Today I am writing to you as I read your works on "An Auschwitz Alphabet" on the net. Of course I just began a bit from introduction and I have liked your writings and think it necessary to tell your my thoughts.

I have to admit that I have not much ideas about your culture before as there are not many Jewish people living in China.But it's not a barriel for to access to exotic culture. Maybe you also heard an interesting saying like" The Jewish is clever in finacial and The Chinese people is holding the wisdom". You see, what the close links between our two nations.And I never give up find a decent and friendly Jewish people to keep correspondence and learn from each other though the cahnces are slim.

It's just a short mesage, expressing what I think on your writing.And you want to know more than this.I will keep reading every day and try my best to understand the history.

Take care and write soon,