Hating Perfection (Revised Edition): A Subtle Search for the Best Possible World

Hating Perfection (Revised Edition): A Subtle Search for the Best Possible World

by John F. Williams

NOOK Book(eBook)

$11.99
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Overview

The best heaven and the worst hell are the same place. Travel with author John F. Williams into the jungles of Laos and into a new understanding of existence.

In lively short stories, Hating Perfection shows the everyday world as uncanny, equally strange as the imaginary worlds of Borges or Kafka. This engrossing, strikingly original book invites you to experience your life in a new way.

Hating Perfection weaves its stories together with an elegant logic. Our hateful world—painful, unjust, ruthless, fatal—stands revealed as the best of all possible worlds, flooded everywhere by a perfection both alien and addicting. What we want is different from what we get. But the reason why has a divine splendor.

In this revised edition, Mr. Williams has added a postscript that addresses the well-known philosopher’s paradox of the Chinese room. The author explains for the first time how we know that such a room as usually described would not have consciousness.   

Stand beside Mr. Williams for a time, and look in the direction he is looking. Your troubles may still be your troubles, but the world will be more than it was.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616148768
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 05/14/2013
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 396
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

John F. Williams, now retired, is a successful, independent venture capitalist. He has traveled widely and lived for ten years in the Far East.

Read an Excerpt

HATING PERFECTION

A Subtle Search for the Best Possible World


By JOHN F. WILLIAMS

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2013John F. Williams
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61614-876-8


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Handbag


For a thousand years the pleasant old capital of Laos, called Luang Prabang, has been a holy city. In its placid streets, in its many temples, in its perfumed gardens overlooking the Mekong River, languid Buddhist monks live and die in peace. But the Mekong wanders away into the feverish jungle and into a world far from holy. Here the secretive hill tribes still practice the ancient, terrible rites. Here strange old witches toil grimly over bubbling cauldrons, toil without rest, and mutter their dark incantations. As the vapors rise, demons inhabit the bodies of men. Far from the holy city, lost in their jungle fastness, the legions of the damned offer madness for sale at one dollar per bottle. They call it "Whiskey Lao."

Exploring the world for something new, turns up just as much evil as good. But the good and the evil are new.

This is a true story. It happened exactly as stated. Some people look at a river and immediately dream about its destiny. A river combines mystery, yearning, and harmony; soothes and excites; travels unpredictably, yet always for a reason. The river was our addiction. It beckoned and we followed.


Inconclusive reports filtered back to us in Luang Prabang. Two hours by sampan up the Mekong River, a certain Lao village, population perhaps sixty souls, produced a notorious moonshine. Visitors newly returned from the scene, haggard and reticent, would do no more than mumble a few disjointed comments. One man furtively described the production method as "... primitive but interesting." Then he hurried away.

We had no premonitions. Overcome by innocent curiosity, we embarked from the city quay at ten o'clock of a fine, temperate, January day. The morning mist had just begun to burn away. Since our wooden battleship of a sampan could accommodate eight passengers in its comfortable interior and another twenty on the sturdy roof, wife and self teamed up with Denise, a fellow guest at our hotel. This polished young Australian had chanced to overhear our conversation the previous evening. Having no pressing engagements for the next six months, she proposed a joint expedition. And so it happened that Denise from Brisbane, self from San Francisco, and wife Lee Ming from Beijing, three harmless tourists, ventured together into the jungle. We had no premonitions. We only wanted to have a bit of fun.

Denise proved to be an entertaining companion. As the holy city receded behind us, she gossiped knowingly about the game of cricket. Neither San Francisco nor Beijing enjoys this sport, but Brisbane knows it well. Yes, Australia's aborigines enrich humanity with many unique rituals. Lee Ming and I grabbed our chance for enlightenment. During the three previous evenings, while confined to our city hotel with limited English-language programming selection, we had watched cricket "test matches" on Rupert Murdoch's Star TV, beamed via satellite from Australia. This arcane sport does not yield up its secrets easily to the uninitiated. Several hours of close observation had left us still groping. But Denise gave us a brilliantly lucid explanation of batsmen, bowlers, overs, innings, outs, runs, and wickets. We learned that the batsman guards his wicket, much as the muskrat guards his musk. Surprisingly, cricket turns out to be a protracted variant of American baseball. Indeed, a cricket match continues for days on end. The "test match"—a truncated form of the game, concocted to accommodate the frantic modern age—sometimes begins and ends on the same calendar date. Still, even today, baseball's seventh-inning stretch, which lasts about forty seconds, corresponds in cricket to afternoon tea.

We talked without concern. This section of the Mekong has a deceptive serenity. Beneath the broad and brown sun-sparkled surface lies a multitude of dangerous rocks, like sharp teeth concealed by a friendly smile. Our Lao boatman—an enormously likable man—sat far forward in the bow and kept his eyes constantly on the eddies ahead, reading every menacing swirl. While his wife tended the motor in the stern, he navigated a zigzag course with easy skill, now nearing the left bank, now the right, planning all his moves in advance and putting us completely at ease in rather treacherous waters. At the end of the day, when we paid him twenty American dollars, he beamed like a searchlight. In our travel experience of Asian countries, Laos is both the most beautiful and the most impoverished.

Yes, to be sure, the journey upriver was stunningly gorgeous, as expected, with each bend bringing on a fascinating new vista of riverside cliffs and caves, jagged green hills arranged in receding layers and still clinging to vestiges of the morning mist, water buffalo disporting themselves in the shallows without a care in their tiny brains, and all generally right with the world. No need to make a song and dance about it. How could the boatmen make a living on an ugly river? Finally and at last we disembarked on the wide muddy banks at the foot of our target village, directly in front of the sinister stills boiling with the legendary brew. We were the only guests at the party.

The Lao people suffer their poverty with cheerful tolerance. Much of their economy is growing rice, we were told, but even so, the disastrously poor soil dictates that rice be imported. Away from the river we sometimes observed the bald patches evidencing slash-and-burn agriculture. In Laos one does not stand up in the boat, in full view of one's gentle companions, and waste his fertilizer on the Mekong River. Instead, one scrambles off the vessel at the first opportunity, marches straight past the stills, straight through the village, and directly into the jungle beyond, there to do one's bit, however insignificant, to relieve the people's burden. Lee Ming and Denise followed me closely on this arrow-straight course, brushing aside the villagers' frantic efforts to divert us into more genteel facilities. And so it happened that we began our inspection of the village from the rear, working our way back to the river and the secretive rituals it supports. The inhabitants may not have expected this development.

In the village we found about forty women and children and two men. For the benefit of those bland visitors having no enthusiasm for epic benders, some of the women weave colorful cotton purses and shawls. Using string and polished sticks of wood, they construct their complicated looms on site. These fragile monstrosities, like giant misshapen spiders made of found objects, improbably standing on their rickety stick legs, somehow function as precision machinery. I watched a pretty young woman at her loom, on the sunny porch of her house. She was making a handbag. Similar handbags hung for sale from the porch railing. At the speed of Three-Card Monte she manipulated her shuttle and threads. The clever loom relied on two foot pedals placed closely together, each a long sturdy stick hanging by strings tied at both ends. With her bare right foot placed just at the two balancing points, the weaver moved her heel and toes back and forth between these pedals, dancing an intricate little jig, always keeping the strings taut and each pedal controlled, and depressing first one and then the other at two-second intervals. The handbag progressed rapidly.

After thirty seconds of me watching her, she began to talk in Lao as she worked. I responded in English. Separated by language, we had a conversation by tone of voice. Each of us elaborated our remarks, as if talking to a puzzled pet dog. And we talked over each other, sending and receiving at the same time. But we definitely had a conversation. It seemed to go this way:

— So buy a purse. Just reach into your fat wallet and fork over the cas
(Continues...)


Excerpted from HATING PERFECTION by JOHN F. WILLIAMS. Copyright © 2013 by John F. Williams. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

WHISKEY LAO....................     11     

The Handbag....................     13     

The Siren....................     22     

Hating Perfection....................     24     

Beer at Joe's....................     27     

The Black Death....................     32     

FAIR WARNING....................     35     

The Exaltation of Growing Weeds....................     37     

Heaven and Hell Together....................     43     

Rain in Wuhan....................     45     

Red and White....................     48     

Dry Bones....................     56     

RANDOMNESS AT LARGE....................     57     

"What Then Must We Do?"....................     59     

The Human Style of Interpreting the World....................     65     

Lightness....................     80     

Lee Ming Crosses the Street....................     91     

WE THE ADDICTED....................     95     

The Waiter Brings Linguini....................     97     

Ambition in the Big Universe....................     98     

Opinions and Spiders....................     107     

We the Addicted....................     136     

THE BEST POSSIBLE WORLD....................     143     

Flattening Evil....................     145     

Fiction....................     150     

The Measure of Good and Evil....................     156     

The Guangzhou Train Station....................     191     

Subtlety and Physical Law....................     199     

She Walks in Beauty on the Night....................     213     

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING DOOMED....................     215     

The Necessary Failure of Immortality....................     217     

WHISKEY LAO....................     219     

High Class Prostitute....................     232     

Sympathy for Genghis Khan....................     236     

The Murder of Mr. Smith....................     247     

Dialogue on Death....................     250     

MORAL RESPONSIBILITY....................     265     

Why We Exist....................     267     

The World's Peculiar Structure....................     271     

Moral Status....................     277     

Harry Lime....................     299     

The Blind Masseuse of Tsingtao....................     307     

The United Opinion....................     313     

THE UPPER LIMIT TO THE VALUE OF POSSIBLE WORLDS....................     319     

One Unique Best World....................     321     

The Upper Limit to the Value of Possible Worlds....................     323     

The Upper Limit to the Quality of Subtlety....................     334     

Dynamics at the Upper Limit....................     345     

The Alien Presence....................     356     

A Professional Philosopher's Postscript....................     361     

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews