Lean on Me (When You’re Not Wrong)

Relying on Others to Define Reality for Ourselves – Part I of III

It’s a dangerous business to try and impose one’s view of things on others.

Padma: if you’re a little uncertain of my reliability, well, a little uncertainty is no bad thing. Cocksure men do terrible deeds. Women, too. ––Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (1981)[1]

As I’ve previously written, one of the key themes running through Professor Alan Jacobs’s book How to Think (2017) is how we must come to grips that our individuality is paradoxically based on how those around us end up defining each of us as individuals.

For C. S. Peirce (1839–1914), all reality, including our thoughts on reality, begins with our reliance on others:

As what anything really is, is what it may finally come to be known to be in the ideal state of complete information, so that reality depends on the ultimate decision of the community; so thought is what it is, only by virtue of its addressing a future thought which is in its value as thought identical with it, though more developed. In this way, the existence of thought now depends on what is to be hereafter; so that it has only a potential existence, dependent on the future thought of the community….

For Peirce, the individual is but a negation—and when two individuals negate each other’s individuality, they affirm community:

The individual man, since his separate existence is manifested only by ignorance and error, so far as he is anything apart from his fellows, and from what he and they are to be, is only a negation. This is man….”[2]

A century before the phrase “imagined communities” was popularized by Benedict Anderson (1936–2015) as a useful way to describe nationalism, Peirce recognized:

The care that men have for what is to happen after they are dead, cannot be selfish. And finally and chiefly, the constant use of the word “we”––as when we speak of our possessions on the Pacific––our destiny as a republic––in cases in which no personal interests at all are involved, show conclusively that men do not make their personal interests their only ones, and therefore may, at least, subordinate them to the interests of the community.

But just the revelation of the possibility of this complete self-sacrifice in man, and the belief in its saving power, will serve to redeem the logicality of all men. For he who recognizes the logical necessity of complete self-identification of one’s own interests with those of the community, and its potential existence in man, even if he has it not himself, will perceive that only the inferences of that man who has it are logical, and so views his own inferences as being valid only so far as they would be accepted by that man. But so far as he has this belief, he becomes identified with that man. And that ideal perfection of knowledge by which we have seen that reality is constituted must thus belong to a community in which this identification is complete…. [3]

This “ideal perfection of knowledge by which we have seen that reality is constituted” is also, for Peirce, the method of science:

Such is the method of science. Its fundamental hypothesis, restated in more familiar language, is this: There are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those Reals affect our senses according to regular laws, and, though our sensations are as different as are our relations to the objects, yet, by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really and truly are; and any man, if he have sufficient experience and he reason enough about it, will be led to the one True conclusion. The new conception here involved is that of Reality….[4]

Even if the community renders something other communities think to be immoral (such as separate public drinking fountains for separate ethnicities), it is nonetheless part of reality, at least until a majority in the community agree to something different. Community creates the facts of reality by agreeing with what they are:

The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality….[5]

(Read Part II here, and Part III here)



[1] Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, (New York, NY: Knopf, 1981. Random House Paperbacks, 2006) II, “Alpha and Omega” 243.

[2] Peirce, “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 2 (1868): 140–57.

[3] Peirce, “Ground of Validity of the Laws of Logic: Further Consequences of Four Incapacities,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 2 (1869): 193–208.

[4] Peirce, “The Fixation of Belief,” Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877): 1–15.

[5] Peirce, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Popular Science Monthly 12 (January 1878): 286–302.

The City Toad and the Country Toad

grass and soil

The City Toad and the Country Toad:

A Conversation Concerning Some Things I’ve Read & Reread in 2016.

Odious toadies are
All we, rolling in dust,
Licking ants red as rust.

Recently I  read the following:

I then compared the ideas gained by reading these things to other things read awhile back (listed in the footnotes) and the conversation between two toads is the below result:

Moses: It’s strange a book should poison me into believing the corruption of my prior innocence is what has lately made me more…. civil.[1]

 Mercury: Who?

 Moses: Me: Moses.

 Mercury: Who?

 Moses: Mr. Hughes. Mr. Moses Hughes, brother of Nimrod. We are the Brothers Hughes who chartered the city of Healthy Rapids out in the west Texas country, just off Quicksilver Creek. [2]

 Mercury: I’m sure the rapids of that creek were once healthy, but now that you’ve built a city along its banks, I wonder if the running waters are still so salubrious? No, I bet not, because it’s to the country where you must go for fresh air and clean water. As is written: for the lost who are weary of the maze of the city, the countryside offers sanctuary.

 Moses: Well, I don’t agree. I say the city is amazing, and it’s in the country where one gets lost in the woods. As is written: where one remains stationary, one stagnates.

Mercury: Yes, but wildflowers may grow out of doors––

Moses: ––But in a drought they stay stunted! Meanwhile, flora planted inside a greenhouse burst and blossom all winter long.[3] Yes, I’m afraid innocence is corrupted by experience––

Mercury: ––Ha! That is no secret! Hence innocence preserves itself by evading the dangers of the city, by retreating to the balmy countryside, where everything’s quite cozy and carefree.

Moses: Yes, certain pleasures attend us upon the absence of particular pains, and yes, their attendance may sometimes occur in the country, but the innocence you describe remains inert, cold and motionless as a marble obelisk. Yes, it’s easy to be carefree in a country cemetery among the obelisks. Perhaps the grass is always greener over there. Perhaps you can hear the wind whistling among its urns.

Mercury: You may mock me, Mr. Hughes, but when in the city, whether in the street or on the sidewalk, you may get run over,[4] for as it is written:  the word on the street is the language of the city. [5] The city speaks to you and about you, yet you cannot speak back. You are too lost in its maze, too busy questing for better paths between pylons and shopping carts.

Moses: In the city I walk beside my friends, and they talk to me. But I confess that, later when I’m home alone, I realize I’m only “me” to others, not to myself. I am only me to them when I’m not around them. (Furthermore, this means that since I’m always around me, I can never be me to me.) In the city I’m around my friends, but when I go to the country, they miss me. Yet it’s the being missed that makes me me,[6] just as the white spaces of the Constitution make just as much a part of the Law as the black marks on the animal hides which constitute it. One seems to hide the other, and yet they both reveal everything.

Mercury: In other words, it comes down to either our presence in the census, or our absence.


[1] Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Ch. XI. Compare also: “Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us,” (Ch. II).

[2] Moses Hughes (1819–1903) is buried at Pleasant View Cemetery, Troy, Bell County, Texas; his brother, Nimrod Hughes (1830–1862) at Cook Cemetery, Lampasas, Texas. See also: Elzner, Jonnie Ross. Relighting Lamplights of Lampasas County Texas. 1974. pp. 18–22; Lampasas County Texas: its History and its People. Vol I. eds. Lampasas County Historical Commission. Walsworth Publishing Company: Marceline, MO. 1991. pp. 1–2, 217–18; O’Neal, Bill. Lampasas: 1855–1895: Biography of a Frontier Texas Town. Waco, TX: Eakin Press. 2012. pp. 1–13.

[3] From The Picture of Dorian Gray:

Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there. That is the reason why people who live out of town are so absolutely uncivilized. Civilization is not by any means an easy thing to attain to. There are only two ways by which man can reach it. One is by being cultured, the other by being corrupt. Country people have no opportunity of being either, so they stagnate. (Ch. XIX)

Compare also Wilde’s use of “uncivilized” above to Mark Twain’s usage of “sivilized” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Ch. I, VI, XLIII.

[4] Gary Toth has pointed out how modern American streets constitute one-third of a city’s geography space; furthermore, streets are now exclusively for vehicles when they used to also be play areas, much more public than they are now. See: Toth’s “Place-Conscious Transportation Policy.” Why Place Matters. (eds.) Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister. NY: New Atlantis Books. 2014. p. 55.

[5] See Wittgenstein:

“Do not be troubled by the fact that languages (2) and (8) consist only of orders.  If you want to say that this shews them to be incomplete, ask yourself whether our language is complete;—whether it was so before the symbolism of chemistry and the notation of the infinitesimal calculus were incorporated in it; for these are, so to speak, suburbs of our language.  (And how many houses or streets doe sit take before a town begins to be a town?)  Our language may be seen as an ancient city:  a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions form various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.” (Philosophical Investigations, I, #18)

“Language is a labyrinth of paths.  You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about.” (ibid I, #203)

[6] Based on three quotations:

“Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.” (Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children “I “The Perforated Sheet”).

“I don’t know what doesn’t change—within me….” (Valéry, Paul. Cahiers = Notebooks. Vol. I. (1932. Untitled, XV, 827.) [p. 354]).

“I am I, and wish I wasn’t.” (Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World 1931. NY: Harper Collins – First Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition. 2006.) Ch. IV, p. 64.

Readers & Writers in “Midnight’s Children”

bookbread pencil shavings

Readers & Writers in “Midnight’s Children”

“No audience is without its idiosyncrasies of belief.”

––Midnight’s Children, “Under the Carpet”

There were lots of things I didn’t understand about Midnight’s Children, but fairly early on, I started to see a four-way “game” emerge between me the reader, Rushdie the writer, the book’s narrator Saleem Sinai who is also a writer, and his wife Padma as another reader.

I’ve never read anything by Rushdie before, but I’ve seen some interviews. He comes off as very charming, handsome, witty, has a crisp Oxford accent, and is apparently quite the lady’s man.

Certainly there is some of Rushdie the writer in his character of the narrator-writer Saleem Sinai. And as a reader I certainly felt some impatience, early on, with the story, as does Saleem’s wife Padma Mangroli:

While I, at my desk, feel the sting of Padma’s impatience. (I wish, at times, for a more discerning audience, someone who would understand the need for rhythm, pacing, the subtle introduction of minor chords which will later rise, swell, seize the melody.) (“Methwold” 112)

And in a later passage we learn from Saleem:

I am, in fact, entirely content with the uncomplaining thews of Padma Mangroli, who is, unaccountably, more interested in me than my tales. (“Revelations” 310)

So Padma is more interested in the writer than his writings, and I think that Rushdie, as a writer and a celebrity, has experienced that often enough: people would rather meet him than read his work. After all:

In autobiography, as in all literature, what actually happened is less important than what the author can manage to persuade his audience to believe. (“Revelations” 310)

Also, in terms of this story’s setting, India and Pakistan were then (and still are) very patriarchal places. I would almost argue that in Midnight’s Children the narrator treats the reader as he would a wife in that part of the world: I the reader am subordinate to Rushdie the writer (I can’t change the way he wrote the story or edit what he wrote about); and Padma remains the subordinate intimate of Saleem. She is also his caretaker, as readers are the caretakers of writers.

Overall, Rushdie’s style seems heavily influenced by Conrad and Faulkner, his vast vocabulary by Joyce. Rushdie the writer and his narrator Saleem the writer seem much more comfortable in their profession than the narrator-writer in Roth’s American Pastoral, who grumbles:

Writing turns you into somebody who’s always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on. What else could? As pathological phenomena go, it doesn’t completely wreck your life. (“Chapter 3” 63)

Rushdie and Saleem are, furthermore, way more confident in their abilities to put pen to paper than both the narrator-writer in Roth’s American Pastoral as well as in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair:

It’s a discouraging thing, sir. The more you succeed the more glad they are to see the last of you. (II, viii, 68)



Greene Graham. The End of the Affair. 1951. NY: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. 1977.

Roth, Philip. American Pastoral. NY: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1997. Vintage International Edition. 1998.

Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. NY: Knopf. 1981. NY: Random House Paperbacks. 2006.

Another Glossary for “Midnight’s Children”

bookbread pencil shavings

These are all taken from either the Oxford English Dictionary or Wikipedia. I will say that Rushdie’s novel has been the most vocabulary-challenging novel I’ve read since Joyce’s Ulysses.

almirah: (Bengali) a free-standing cupboard, wardrobe, or other storage unit: (also) a chest of drawers.

ayah:  (Portuguese) a native-born nurse or maidservant, employed esp. by Europeans in India and other parts of South Asia.

badmaash: (Urdu) A scoundrel, a rogue; a miscreant; a hooligan, a ruffian.

bajra: The name in Indian vernaculars of various kinds of grain (e.g. Penicillaria spicata, Panicum vulgare) extensively grown in India.

bhel-puri: (Hindi)  In Indian cookery: a dish or snack typically consisting of puffed rice, onions, potatoes, and spicy and sweet chutneys, sometimes served on a puri.

birianis: (Hindi) Biryani, sometimes spelled biriyani or biriani, is a mixed rice dish from the Indian subcontinent. It is made with spices, rice and meat or vegetables.

brinjal: The Anglo-Indian name of the fruit of the Egg-plant ( Solanum melongena).

 chaprassi: doorkeeper, messenger.

 charpoy: (Urdu) the common light Indian bedstead.

 chatterjees: person who talks a lot, gossip.

 chavanni: (Hindi) a unit of currency:

1 Rupee = 100 Paisa

1 Rupee = 16 Anna and 4 Paisa (in old calculation)

1 Anna = 6 Paisa

Chavanni = 4 anna = 24 paisa

chawl: (Marathi, Sanskrit)  an Indian lodging-house.

 chutney: A strong hot relish or condiment compounded of ripe fruits, acids, or sour herbs, and flavoured with chillies, spices, etc.

 cheroot: (FR) a cigar made in Southern India or Manilla. This sort being truncated at both ends, the name was extended to all cigars with the two extremities cut off square, as distinguished from the ordinary cigar, which has one end pointed.

coir: (Mayalam) the prepared fibre of the husk of the coco-nut, used for making ropes, cordage, matting, etc. Originally, the thread or cordage made of this fibre.

crorepatis: both of Indian and Pakistani language of Millionaire. Crorepati a person who resides in a household whose net worth or wealth exceeds ten million rupees, or units of another currency.

dhow: a native vessel used on the Arabian Sea, generally with a single mast, and of 150 to 200 tons burden; but the name is somewhat widely applied to all Arab vessels, and has become especially well known in connection with the slave trade on the East coast of Africa.

djellabeh: clothing similar to a kaftan.

djinn: also romanized as djinn or anglicized as genies, are supernatural creatures in early Arabian and later Islamic mythology and theology. An individual member of the jinn is known as a jinni, djinni, or genie (الجني, al-jinnī).

dugdugee: some kind of drum.

dupatta: (Hindi) A doubled or two-layered length of cloth worn by women as a scarf, veil, or shoulder wrap.

 Eid-ul-Fitr: Eid al-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر‎ ʻĪd al-Fiá¹­r, IPA: [Ê•iːd al fitˤr], “festival of breaking of the fast”), also called Breaking the Fast Feast, the Sugar Feast, Bayram (Bajram), the Sweet Festival or Hari Raya Puasa[3] and the Lesser Eid, is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting (sawm). The religious Eid is a single day during which Muslims are not permitted to fast. The holiday celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan. The day of Eid, therefore, falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal. The date for the start of any lunar Hijri month varies based on the observation of new moon by local religious authorities, so the exact day of celebration varies by locality. However, in most countries, it is generally celebrated on the same day as Saudi Arabia.

 fissiparous: Of organisms: producing new individuals by fission.

 forfend: To forbid, prohibit. With the thing forbidden as object, or with personal object and an inf. with to as second object. Obs.

fustian: (OF) Formerly, a kind of coarse cloth made of cotton and flax. Now, a thick, twilled, cotton cloth with a short pile or nap, usually dyed of an olive, leaden, or other dark colour.

godown: (Italian, Malaysian)  A warehouse or other place for storing goods.

goondas: (Hindi) rascals, goons.

gram (food): the chick-pea, a kind of vetch, Cicer arietinum. Sometimes called Bengal gram. The name is extended to any kind of pulse used as food for horses.

goitred (adj): affected with, of the nature of, or pertaining to, goitre. Of a locality: Characterized by the prevalence of goitre.

hamal: (Arabic) a Turkish or Oriental porter; in Western India, a palanquin-bearer.

hortal: (Latin) growing in a garden; cultivated.

houris: A nymph of the Muslim Paradise. Hence applied allusively to a voluptuously beautiful woman.

janum: some kind of title, or either respect or affection.

 jawan: (Urdu) An Indian soldier.

 jowar:  Indian millet, Sorghum vulgare, extensively cultivated in India. Also attrib.

kachcha: (Hindi-English) crude, imperfect, or temporary.

khichri: (Hindi) (kedgeree)  An Indian dish of rice boiled with split pulse, onions, eggs, butter, and condiments; also, in European cookery, a dish made of cold fish, boiled rice, eggs, and condiments, served hot. Also transf. and fig.

kofta: (Hindi) meatball; a rissole, made of meat or fish, popular in the East.

kurta: (Hindi)  A loose shirt or tunic worn by men and women.

laddoo: (Hindi) A type of Indian sweetmeat, usu. made from a dough of flour, sugar, shortening, etc., which is fried and then shaped into balls; a ball of this. Cf. jalebi n.

maulvi: (Urdu) A Muslim doctor of the law; an imam. Also gen. (esp. in South Asia): a teacher of Arabic, a learned man. Also as a title and form of address.

mehndi: (SK) chiefly in South Asia: the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis, often used as hedging; (also) a preparation of this, used to dye skin and hair.

mildewing: to affect or taint with mildew.

muezzin: (Arabic) Islam. A public crier who proclaims the regular hours of ritual prayer from the minaret or the roof of a mosque.

nakkoo: Person with an outsized nose or curiosity, a Nosey-Parker.

nawab: In South Asia: a Muslim official who acted as a deputy ruler or viceroy of a province or district under the Mughal empire (now hist.); any governor of a town or district, or person of high status. Also: the title of such a person.

nictate: (Latin) to wink or blink; (also) to act as a nictitating membrane.

olfactory: (Latin) a thing to be smelled.

 outre:  Beyond the bounds of what is usual or considered correct and proper; unusual, peculiar; eccentric, unorthodox; extreme.

paan: (Hindi) a preparation of betel leaves chewed as a stimulant; spec. a mixture of chopped areca nut, slaked lime, and other ingredients wrapped in a betel leaf.

pakoras: (Hindi) An appetizer or snack made from pieces of chopped vegetable or other foodstuff that have been coated in seasoned batter and deep-fried.

parathas: In South Asia and in South Asian communities elsewhere: a type of unleavened bread fried on a griddle in butter or ghee, and sometimes served with a filling.

pean: A fur resembling ermine but having gold markings on a black field. Also as adj.

piebald: Chiefly derogatory. Composed of differing or incongruous parts; motley, mixed.

 piscine: (MF) a pond, a pool, esp. one for swimming or bathing.

plimsoll: Naut. attrib. and in the genitive. Chiefly with capital initial. Designating a marking or series of markings on the side of a merchant ship which indicates, in British maritime law, the draught level to which the ship may be loaded with cargo (now consisting of a set of six such marks applying to different sea conditions); esp.

prehensile: capable of prehension; (Zool., of a tail, limb, etc.) capable of grasping or holding.

pomfret: (PG) Any of several Indo-Pacific butterfishes of the genus Pampus (family Stromateidae). Freq. with distinguishing adjective.

purdah: (Urdu) orig. and chiefly S. Asian. A curtain; esp. one used in some Muslim and Hindu communities to screen women from public observation and particularly from the sight of men or strangers. Now freq. in extended use.

(Rite of) Puja: Pūjā or Poojan is a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to host, honour and worship one or more deities, or to spiritually celebrate an event.[1][2] Sometimes spelt phonetically as pooja or poojah, it may honour or celebrate the presence of special guest(s), or their memories after they pass away. The word pūjā (Devanagari: पूजा) comes from Sanskrit, and means reverence, honour, homage, adoration, and worship.[3] Puja rituals are also held by Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.

In Hinduism, puja is done on a variety of occasions, frequency and settings. It may include daily puja done in the home, to occasional temple ceremonies and annual festivals, to few lifetime events such as birth of a baby or a wedding, or to begin a new venture.[4] The two main areas where puja is performed are in the home and at temples to mark certain stages of life, events or some festivals such as Durga Puja and Lakshmi Puja.[5] Puja is not mandatory; it may be a routine daily affair for some Hindus, periodic ritual for some, and infrequent for other Hindus. In some temples, various pujas may be performed daily at various times of the day; in other temples, it may be occasional.[6][7]

ragi: Finger millet ( Eleusine coracana) as grown as a food crop in India, where it is typically ground into flour and eaten as bread or as a kind of paste.

ravelin: (MF) fortification. A detached outwork, constructed beyond the main ditch and in front of the curtain, and consisting of two faces forming a salient angle. Cf. redan n. 1a. Now hist.

rowlatt: The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919 popularly known as the Rowlatt Act was a legislative act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in Delhi on March 18, 1919, indefinitely extending the emergency measures of preventive indefinite detention, incarceration without trial and judicial review enacted in the Defence of India Act 1915 during the First World War.

sadhu: (SK) In India: a holy man, a sage.

sahib: (Urdu) A respectful title used by an Indian in addressing an Englishman or other European (= ‘Sir’); an Englishman, a European. Also affixed as a title (equivalent to ‘Mr.’) to the name or office of a European and to Indian and Bangladeshi titles and names.

 shatranj: Shatranj, is an old form of chess, which came to the Western world by the Persians and later Greeks, and ultimately from India via the Persian Empire. Modern chess gradually developed from this game.

shikara: (Hindi)  A long, swift boat used in Kashmir. Also attrib.

sisal: Used attrib. with sisal fibre, sisal grass, sisal hemp, to designate the prepared fibre of several species of Agave and Fourcroya, which is largely exported Yucatan for use in rope-making. Also sisal plant, the aloe or other plant from which the fibre is obtained.

tamasha: (Arabic, Urdu) an entertainment, show, display, public function.

valima: Walima (Arabic: وليمة‎ walīmah), or the marriage banquet, is the second of the two traditional parts of an Islamic wedding. The walima is performed after the nikah, (Arabic: نكاح‎) or marriage ceremony. The word walima is derived from awlam, meaning to gather or assemble. It designates a feast in Arabic . Walima is used as a symbol to show domestic happiness in the household post-marriage.[1] While walima is often used to describe a celebration of marriage, it is also held to celebrate the birth of a newborn and the purchase of a new home.

verruca: a wart.

zafaran: saffron.

zenana: (Hindi) In Islamic South Asia and Iran: that part of a dwelling-house in which the women of a family are secluded; a harem.