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              A Eulogy for Difficulty

###*Estanislao Zuleta*

A speech given to the University of Valle in 1980.  Translated by yours truly.

[Original text](https://web.archive.org/web/20140129224954/http://www.elabedul.net/Articulos/el_elogio_de_la_dificultad.php)

. . .

The poverty and impotence of imagination are never clearer than when we try to imagine happiness.  We start to create paradise, islands of luck, nations of ease.  A life without risk, without conflict, without the search for improvement and without death.  And, of course, also without lack and without desire: an ocean of honey, an eternity of boredom.  All goals that are thankfully unattainable, paradises thankfully non-existent.

All of these fantasies would be innocent and innocuous, but for the fact that they are the model for our desires in daily life.

Here in the very projects of day-to-day life, closer than the kingdom of eternal lies, we also introduce the silly ideal of guaranteed security, of total reconciliation, of definitive solutions.

It must be said that our problem isn't only or primarily that we're incapable of achieving what we set out to do, but rather it's *what* we decide: our misfortunes are not so much in the frustration of our desires as in the very form of those desires.  We desire poorly.

Instead of desiring any kind of unsettling human relationship, complex and without guarantee, that stimulates our capacity to struggle and that forces us to change, we want an ideal without shadows or dangers, a nest of love, and for that matter, ultimately a return to the egg.  Instead of desiring a society in which it is both necessary and possible to work hard to realize our potential, we want a world of satisfaction, a monstrous nursery of abundance passively received.

Instead of desiring a philosophy full of unknowns and open questions, we want a global doctrine, capable of explaining everything, revealed by spirits that have never existed or by leaders that unfortunately have.

Adam and, above all, Eve, have the original virtue of having freed us from paradise; our sin is that we yearn to return to it.

Let us be wary of the shining dawns in which thousand-year kingdoms begin.  From antiquity to today, we know well the horrors of those that can and do submit themselves to parties with an absolute truth and goals, to churches whose members have been touched by the unfortunate grace of a revelation.  The study of social and personal life teaches us just how close together we may find idealization and terror.  The idealization of the ends, of the goal, and the terror of the means that bring them about.  Those who thus try to subjugate reality with ideals, inevitably end up with a paranoid conception of reality; in such a way of thinking, where those that dare to reject something are immediately subject to a totalitarian interpretation: their arguments are not arguments, but only symptoms of a damaged nature or maybe ways to hide a malicious purpose.

Instead of discussing things with reason, they are reduced to being someone else's judgment--and that someone is, in this system, synonymous with "enemy", or else we go to judging intentions.  And this system continues dangerously to the point in which we not only reject all opposition, but also all difference: whoever's not with me, is against me, and whoever's not completely with me, isn't with me.  Thus there is, according to Kant, a true abyss of action, which is the demand for a total submission to the absolute "cause" and which views any doubt and any criticism as treason or aggression.

We now know, through bitter experience, that this abyss of action, with its holy wars and its orgies of solidarity is not an exclusive characteristic of certain bygone eras or of technologically primitive civilizations; that it can function quite well and spread all of its effects without abolishing a great capacity for invention and a macabre efficiency.  We know that no philosophically elevated or supposedly divine origin immunizes a doctrine from the risk of falling into the interpretation of the paranoid logic that pushes a particular discourse--as they all do--as the very definition of reality and all others as blindness or lies.

The terrible attraction that is had by collective groups, that intoxicate themselves with the promise of a human community without problems, based on an infallible word, means overcoming indecision and doubt, the need to think for oneself, and grants its members an identity exalted by participation, and separate the good interior--the group--from a threatening exterior.  Thus they save up anguish, magically handle  ambivalence as a love for oneself and hatred for the strange, and produce the greatest simplification of life, the most frightening simplicity.  And when I say "ease" here, I don't forget or ignore that precisely these types of collective forms are characterized by an unprecedented capacity for submission and sacrifice; that their members accept and desire heroism, when they don't aspire to the palm leaves of martyrdom.  Simplicity, however, because what man fears above all is not death or suffering, in which he so often hides, but the anguish created by the necessity of questioning himself, of replacing enthusiasm with criticism, love with respect.

A clear symptom of the domination of prophetic ideologies and of the groups that generate them or who submit to doctrines that originated elsewhere, is the contempt for the concept of respect.

No one wants anything to do with respect, with reciprocity, with the validity of universal norms.  These values seem more like minor ills of a resigned skepticism, like signs that our dearest hopes have been abandoned.  Because respect and norms only have validity where love, enthusiasm, and the total submission to the great mission can no longer hope to determine human relations.  And since respect is always the respect of differences, it can only be validated where it is not believed that difference disappears in a worthwhile community, transparent and spontaneous, or in a fusion of love.  One cannot respect the thoughts of another, take them seriously under consideration, think through their consequences, evaluate them, and validate the basis for these thoughts, when speaking from one's own truth, when we believe that it is our mouths that speak the truth; because then the thought of another can only be error or bad faith; and the mere fact of its difference from our truth is conclusive proof of its falsity, without requiring anything more.  Our knowledge is our map of reality and any line that deviates from it can only be thought of as something worse: voluntarily twisted by shameful interests.  From the apocalyptic view of history, norms and laws of whatever type are seen as something too abstract and paltry in the face of the great task of realizing its ideals and manifesting its promises.  And so we only demand and value them when we don't believe in this unconditional mission.

But what happens when the grand disillusionment is suddenly upon us isn't usually that we learn to value positively what we had so happily thrown away due to regarding it so negatively; what is produced, almost always, is a veritable wave of pessimism, skepticism, and cynical realism.  We forget then that the criticism of an unjust society, based in class exploitation and domination, was fundamentally correct and that the fight for a rational and equal social organization remains necessary and urgent.  After the disillusionment comes the individualistic social climbing that we also think has surpassed all morals through the sole fact of our having abandoned all hope of a qualitatively better life.

The most difficult, the most important, the most necessary, what we must attempt above all else, is to maintain the will to fight for a different society without falling into a paranoid interpretation of the conflict.  The difficult, but also essential, thing is to think positively of respect and differences, not as a minor ill and inevitable fact, but as things that enrich our lives and spur creation and thought, as that without which an imaginary community of the just would sing hosannas of satisfied boredom.  We have to put a great big question mark on the value of what is easy; not only on its consequences, but also the thing itself, on the predilection for everything that does not demand some kind of improvement from us, that doesn't make us question, and that doesn't push us to live up to our potential.

It's worth noting how often we unfortunately grant ourselves, in our personal and collective lives, the sad ease of exercising what I will call a lack of logical reciprocity: that is to say, the use of a method of explanation that is completely different when we try to be aware of our own problems, failures, and errors and those of another when he is an adversary or when we disagree with him.  In the case of the other, we apply essentialism: what he has done and what has happened to him is a manifestation of his deepest self; in our case we apply circumstantialism, so that even the same events are explained by adverse circumstances, by an unfortunate coincidence.  He's that way, I was forced to do it.  He reaped what he sowed, I couldn't avoid that result.  His words are no more than signs of his neurosis, of his own self-interest; mine are a simple statement of the facts and a logical deduction of their consequences.  We want our cause to be judged by its principles and the opposing one to be judged by its results.

And so when we insist on exercising this lack of logical reciprocity it is always a twofold falsification; we not only fail to respect the other, but also ourselves, since we deny ourselves the chance to think effectively about the process that we're living.

The difficult task of applying the same explanatory and critical method to our own position that we apply to the opposing one does not mean that in the end we must consider that the doctrines, goals, and interests of opposing people, parties, classes, and nations are equal.  On the contrary, it means we have sufficient confidence in the superiority of the cause that we defend that we can be sure that it neither needs nor is benefited by that double falsification which could be used, truth be told, to defend anything.

In the carnival of misery and waste belonging to late-stage capitalism we hear both distantly and urgently the voices of Goethe and Marx that call us to a creative, difficult work that is capable of putting the individual at the heights of mankind's achievements.

Dostoyevsky taught us to look at where the temptation towards facile inter-human relationships is going: it goes only to the search for power, since if we can't attain a respectful friendship in a common undertaking, we get what [Bahro](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Bahro) called compensatory interests: the search for masters, the desire to be vassals, the yearning to find someone to free us for once and for all of the need for our life to have meaning.  Dostoyevsky understood, more than a century ago, that the difficulty of our liberation comes from our love of chains.  We love chains, masters, and security because they let us avoid the anguish of reason.

But in the midst of the pessimism of our times, historical thinking, psychoanalysis, anthropology, Marxism, art, and literature all continue to develop.  In the midst of the pessimism of our times, we see the rise of the proletarians who already know that meaningless work can't be paid with anything, not with cars or with TVs; of the magnificent rebellion of women that won't accept a station of inferiority in exchange for flattery and protection; the desperate insurrection of the young that won't accept the destiny that has been constructed for them.

This new focus allows us to say, as Faust did:

>This night too, earth, you remained firm.

>And now you are reborn around me.

>And you breathe once more in me the breath of fighting without rest for a higher existence.

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