The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Honoring a Fallen Enemy: the Death of Rush Limbaugh


Rush Limbaugh has died at 70. Defined as "The most dangerous man in America," climate science denier, friend of Donald Trump, accused of racism and of all sorts of evil deeds. Eventually, though, a human being like all of us. 

Quomodo fabula, sic vita: non quam diu, sed quam bene acta sit, refert. (Life is like a play: it's not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.) Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters to Licilius.


Years ago, the vagaries of life led me to have a meal in a restaurant in Bucharest. There, I discovered that the cook was Italian and I had a long chat with him. One thing he told me was that he had been the personal cook of Dick Cheney, in the US. 

Yes, Dick Cheney, the man behind the "Project for a New American Century," of the attack on Iraq, of the fake story of the "weapons of mass destruction," and God knows of how many more dark and dire things we don't know about. I have no reason to doubt the story I was told: what surprised me was that he told me that Cheney was "the best employer he had ever had," kind, considerate, and he paid well. And I have no reason to doubt that, either. 

You see, I am fascinated by evil. It is a theme that goes deep into everything we do and we think. Does evil really exist? Do evil people exist?  An Italian writer of one century ago, Armando Vacca, noted how the Great War was fought with the people on both sides all thinking they were fighting for a good cause. And he asked himself the question: "who would ever want to fight an unjust war?" A related question is, "who would ever want to live an evil life?" Evil may be something more subtle than it seems to be.

Nowadays, our view of the world is dominated by the search for evil. We seem to have lost our moral compass so completely that we can see ourselves as good only if we can identify someone evil to be in contrast with. It has been like that during the past century or so. But who are these evil rulers? Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, Cheney, and many others, were they really evil or just said to be evil by their enemies? About Mussolini, I looked into the matter as much as I could and I arrived at the conclusion that he was not a man who had pleasure in harming others, which is a possible definition of "evil". He was, mainly, a man whose mind had aged and who had retreated behind the mask of the Duce degli Italiani. The man had become the mask and he wore that mask all the time. He had come to believe in his own propaganda and he really thought that he was doing something good for Italy. 

So, evil is not a question of someone enjoying hurting or killing other people while satanically laughing. It is a question of the mask that every one of us wears. The very concept of "persona" is related to that of mask. It may come from the Latin verb per-sonare, literally: sounding through, referred to the masks actors wore in theatrical performances. We all go through life wearing a mask, sometimes more than one. And we often identify so much with the mask we wear that we forget what we might be without it. 

So, evil people are best detected when they are in a position where they can do much more damage than the average person. My experience of when I occasionally crossed paths with high-level people agrees with what the Italian cook I met in Bucharest told me. High-level people can be absolutely charming, it is a skill that they develop to arrive at the top. Does that mean that the powerful always lie their way upward? Not really. They just wear their mask, their persona, and that's what they become. We all do the same.

So, how about Rush Limbaugh? I must say that I never heard him speak live, but I knew who he was and how he had influenced many people. For me, he was a sort of a distant bogeyman, and I am reasonably sure I would disagree with maybe 99% of the things he was saying. But does that mean he was evil? Difficult to say, unless you happened to meet his cook. 

From what comes out of a debate he had with Peter Gleick (a climate scientist), Limbaugh doesn't come out as evil, more like the typical climate science denier.  Not a person who consciously lies, just a person who lacks the intellectual tools needed to think quantitatively. That is, your next-door neighbor. 

Roy Spencer (another climate scientist, but of the heretical kind) tells us many good things about Rush Limbaugh. One stands out:

Rush was the same person, on the air and off the air.

And so, it seems that Limbaugh, like many people whom we often consider evil, didn't see himself as evil. He would just wear his mask in the scene and at home, just like most of us do. In the end, the persona, the mask, is the same thing as our real face. 

As Seneca said, what counts in the play is how well it is acted and we cannot say that Rush Limbaugh didn't play his part well. Perhaps there will come a day when we won't need to label others as evil to think of us as good. Then, we'll be able to consider our enemies as human beings, just like us. Rest in peace, Rush.


  1. Can't agree with your last line, Ugo. As for "De mortuis nil nisi bonum", all I can say for that bloated pill-popping bloviator is that's it's a good thing he's dead. The degradation he brought to American politics has a direct lineal descendent in the Washington, DC events of 1/6/2021.

    1. I understand. But, as I said, I am fascinating by evil.

  2. Ugo, i must admit that I see the mask attribute a bit naive. Even as ist seems appealing today...
    When you look at psychologists that examined "evil" people's life, we can in very many cases come to the conclusion that they have had some sort of disorder that today we call narcissism.
    This menas, they have learned to become their mask and are very good actors.
    It was said of some people that were comanding the concentration camps they seemed to be very loving family people (at least as long as everybody behaved right).
    Beacsue most people assume the other is "normal" makes them suspectible to narcissistic abuse. It is a very common problem, the higher you go in the hirarchy ladder.
    So please, dig a bit deeper than "believed his owen propaganda".


    1. Maybe you are right. As I say in the post, evil is a complex thing. What I do think, is that evil as an uncanny capability of showing itself as good. It was the science fiction writer Poul Anderson who said "all evil is rotten good" -- and probably it is the most correct definition.

    2. BTW. Good actors can deceive even themselves.

  3. The Nazis saw themselves as the good guys, Torquemada saw himself as on the side of the angels, for centuries after, he was regarded by many as a principled defender of the Faith just like the ones who today advertise themselves as defenders of democracy.

    A few centuries from now, how many will even be able to understand the motives of the World Wars, they’ll seem to be as senseless as the endless civil wars that torn the Roman Empire apart, episodes of collective psychosis covered up by massive layers of rationalizations.

    Didn’t the Romans think their civil wars made sense? But they left little clear explanation of why.

  4. I think your position is best expressed in this poem by Kahlil Gibran

    I can already see the pitying smile of the wise at the semplicity of my thought. Out western civilization has grown too cynical. Let's hope in the eletric middle age there will be room for another Saint Francis.

  5. Dear Ugo,

    I am surprised to discover you spent actual time in disproving what is just simple Manichaeism. Evil and Good need to be defined in terms of relations and you don't do that. They are not absolute values. I think I had this discussion eons ago when, as a child, I decided to challenge some Jehovah's Witnesses insisting that humanity was going evil and "we" had to save it.

    This poor choice of perspective led you to pardon Mussolini as "not truly evil" as if this trivial observation could ever justify his political behavior! I thought your intended audience deserves better than this latest post.

    1. I think Mussolini saw himself as "good." And he thought he was doing good things for Italy. This is the crucial point. There is an evil result and an evil intent. The two things may not coincide. For Mussolini, they surely didn't.

    2. If one has to accept your reasoning, you should be able to bring at least a few examples of inherently 100% evil people, in your sense of people seeing themselves as intentionally mean.

      What I suspect is that this approach is a dead end. Mussolini was serving the interests of powerful groups (economical and religious ones) which were able, in that particular society to shift the force balance strongly to their side. Mussolini was very good indeed towards the Agnellis, but very evil towards Fiat's workers, especially if they eve tried to speak out.

    3. Mussolini knew who were his allies and he wouldn't have acted in ways that would have angered the powerful economic groups that supported him. Yet, it is also true that he was not a puppet in their hands. If you read the diary of his son in law, Galeazzo Ciano, a rare document we have of the behavior of dictator, you see that his decisions during the period before and during WWII seemed to be mostly autonomous -- utterly wrong, of course, but he wasn't receiving orders from hidden powers. Or that's what Ciano writes; I tend to think what he described was the real decisional structure of the Italian government of the time.

  6. Ugo:

    For what it is worth. I liked the piece.

    I am tired of people trying to convince me to hate and then hating me when I don't comply with their hatred.

    Look, everyone is trying. No one says we get things right. A lot of the time evil and good seem to be damn near identical.

  7. What if there were no good and evil?
    Draw the line and people want to cross it. This is how we are manipulated. We are like children whose parents tell: "don't!", and then we want to do.
    The attraction of the other side. That's how we are.
    The Asians are smarter than us and we should learn to stay "in the middle". If there is good there is evil. But both are the same. There is beauty because there is ugliness. Right?
    I like this quote showing how wrong the western civilization has been, following religions, morals, and virtues:
    "When the Tao is lost, there is virtue.
    When virtue is lost, there is morality.
    When morality is lost, there is the rite.
    The rite is the shell (the bark) of true faith,
    the start of chaos."

  8. The Human brain is remarkable in its rationalizations.

    And the question is. How do we truly know we are on the side of Good?

    1. With your permission, this is more than taught, being responsible for one's actions and with empathy towards the other.

      Do not forget that the "evil" is always the others, the best of all is that with these political tools (in the best sense) as Sun Tzu says "you will not lose in a thousand battles".

      Greetings to all.


  9. Expressionism / Wassily Kandinsky/ Yellow-Red-Blue

    One of the most influential books I have ever read was Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”. It still affects me fifty-five years later.
    Grok means "to understand," of course, but Dr. Mahmoud, who might be termed the leading Terran expert on Martians, explains that it also means, "to drink" and "a hundred other English words, words which we think of as antithetical concepts. 'Grok' means all of these. It means 'fear,' it means 'love,' it means 'hate'—proper hate, for by the Martian 'map' you cannot hate anything unless you grok it, understand it so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you—then you can hate it. By hating yourself. But this implies that you love it, too, and cherish it and would not have it otherwise. Then you can hate—and (I think) Martian hate is an emotion so black that the nearest human equivalent could only be called mild distaste.
    'Grok' means 'identically equal.' The human cliché 'This hurts me worse than it does you' has a distinctly Martian flavor. The Martian seems to know instinctively what we learned painfully from modern physics, that observer acts with observed through the process of observation. 'Grok' means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science and it means as little to us as color does to a blind man."
    From the I Ching

    He does not hate him, for hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object.

    1. Interesting, Degringolade. I have been thinking of Heinlein, too. About grokking, yes, but also about another novel of his: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." I plan to reread it when I have a moment, but there are a few details in it that are damning prescient. Truly

  10. I once again revert back to my method for distinguishing;

    There are those who are truly ignorant.
    Those who choose to be ignorant.
    Those who have ignorance thrust upon them.

    There are those who are truly ignorant. They simply do not have the information required to have understanding.

    Those who choose to be ignorant. They have all the information but choose to ignore, deny, or act inappropriately for the information.

    Those who have ignorance thrust upon them. Most of the boomer generation believe that in order to be a well informed citizen you need to watch the news and read the paper. This no longer leads to understanding, it generally leads to misunderstanding.

    I have a lot of patience and compassion for the first one and even for the third one but the middle one is where evil resides and there is no excuse for it unless it is used as a benign self defense mechanism where no one is harmed. The rest should be shot in the face...oOpS!! Did I type that out loud?

  11. I admit reasons for being angry are manies. But once you lead control to wrath you're under the dark side of the force, quoting "star wars".
    I can even quote another romance for young adults, the "lord of the rings": <>
    If these ideas are within reach of young adults, surely we, that are old and wise, can understand them. This does not mean action is not required.
    But wrath is not good consuellor (I am quoting Jacopo Simonetta) and pity and mercy are often rewarded.

    Well they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them
    They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem
    If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
    They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem

  12. Considering Rush Limbaugh was followed by it seems millions of Americans(Although more likely big regional variation on this) He must have been a reflection on a lot of the population in parts of "Red State America". This isn't a promising conclusion for individuals interested in Energy Conservation, Peak Oil adaption, Reducing Military expenditure,etc.

  13. Rush Limbaugh was a product of the shock jock era.
    Where the more outrageous statement you could make the more listeners you got.
    Unfortunately the kind of misguided disinformation he yelled out was followed by a lot of listeners.

    It is a sad indictment on society that a person can spread mistruth and it is taken as the correct information.

    We indeed live in the age of the idiot without a doubt.

  14. Appointment in Samara
    by Kendrick Smithyman

    Direct your glass towards the frigates.
    The clock's hands are stayed this quarter-hour.
    You have one more skull to caress
    Before the routing swan indomitably beat
    Their lake to quicksilver.

    Here comes Doctor Malatesta with his needle,
    A usual bagful of rumours and disorder.
    His bees lately are distrait, warring
    Daylong in the belfry till honey ran like blood,
    Swarms given to aping piracy envenomed
    His house entirely - oh, he has been upset!

    Poor man, poor simple man, poor Idiota,
    That you should come to this by wanting
    Only wit. Tell me, that voyage into Tartary,
    It profited? And in Cytherea once
    You were thought successful?
    So many miles from Zoom to Babylon
    You mounted scores by galls, but vainly so,
    To come to this; in a great house showing its laths,
    In a great room in a great house, in a great bed
    Unmade souring under a canopy, beneath wraps
    Your huddled treasures are to be
    Discovered. Poor man, poor forked radish,
    Yellowed or washwhite, almost purged at last
    You spend your plenty of ingenuousness
    Contriving modes to be offensive. Now come

    Old scrofulous Malatesta, and the Cardinal
    His brother (in spite of asthma) to be kind.
    That needles may be blunt or none too clean
    Will be, in drawing from you, nothing much.

    Your day protracts, but will delay no more.
    Crows are roistering in the barbican.
    We scatter for them crumbs of our Lenten cake.