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Al-Maʿarri (wikipedia.org)
103 points by istinetz 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments



This person was one of the most knowledgeable ever in arabic. He was blind, and one time he was invited to a wedding. Being blind, he stumbled and fell on a person in the ceremony. The person then proclaimed: Who is this dog?!

Al-Ma'arri famously replied: The dog is the one who does not know 70 different words for "dog".

And that, my friends, is the challenge or insult of al-ma'arri, as it's widely known in arabic, ma'arra al-ma'arri.

As-Suyuti, the incredible polymath, wanted to disassociate from this insult, and collected all the names he knew of "dog", in rhyme, and called it "the disassociation from the insult of al-ma'arri", or in arabic, tabarri min ma'arra al-ma'arri.

Here's a recitation of it on yt: https://youtu.be/wbS6es1lOxU

I believe he only collected something like 65, though.

An academic recently did a doctorate (I believe) and collected all the words he could find for "dog", having access to vastly more literature from both the aravian west and east.

I believe he got 67.


I must be missing something, but isn't that a petty, arbitrary, and stupid "challenge"? Of course the person at the wedding should not have called the blind man a dog, but the response just lowers Al-Ma'arri to the same level. It would be one thing if he said, "The dog is the one who calls another man a dog" (which would have the added benefit of being a funny self-deprecating paradox). Instead, he gloats about trivia? I didn't realize they had fedoras in 10th century Arabia.


what you're missing is that this an apocryphal story that dates back so far that it's now part of the vernacular of a culture. think about that - humor and wit and intellectual bravado were completely different 1000 years ago, let alone how different they might be today in arab culture vs western culture. furthermore note that "fedora wearers" today are lampooned because they speak/behave anachronistically. what you're doing is akin to making fun of someone wearing a fedora during the time when fedoras were actually worn!


And furthermore, the people being called "fedoras" are wearing trilbys.

Humphrey Bogart wore a fedora.


In fact, the word Fedora comes from Al-Maʿarri's contemporary, the great tailor Al-Feyḍaou'rā.


I agree.. it sounds like he was socially anxious (not arguing that he should/shouldn't be so) and had lashed out emotionally in the guise of a holier/more intellectual-than-thou snip.

Cultural historical differences be damned; while types of comedy and speech have changed over time, real wit has always been a part of modern human behavior, and putting someone down in the name of comedy has always been a slight. I especially agree with the call out about basically esoteric trivia; it sounds like something I would have said when I was 17, thinking I was above everyone, and just making everyone else around me feel extremely awkward.


Remember these men were the 10th century equivalent of academics — this kind of story sounds just like something you’d hear of in modern academia too. Something about smart people with gigantic egos and poor social skills.


I disagree. Because the accusation is so arbitrary (the dog is the person who dont know the word for dog) it must be understood as something like:

If anyone of us is a dog, then, indeed it should be the one least learned.


The bite of the comeback gets lost in translation. It was pretty good given the context and the language.

seeker61 26 days ago [flagged]

Sick burn, bro. Too bad it's wasted on the dead.


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments here? We ban accounts that do that repeatedly and you've unfortunately been doing it a lot.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Looks like I'm on your radar now. By the way, the etymology of the word "fedora" that was offered by one of the posters is incorrect-- I think it's an attempt at humor. It was not named after a tailor, but after a French play. I hope this helps you in your duties.


what is the substance of the comment they responded to? why didn't you scold that person too for essentially insulting a 1000 year dead person?


I agree that it was a presumptuous, smug, and uncurious comment. But these things are matters of degree. Public internet forums are unfortunately replete with comments like that. If I were to scold all of comments on HN that land with me that way, I'd have to post 5x as often as I do. That's physically and psychologically impossible. Also, doing so would generate tons of protest comments because people's interpretations and identifications vary so much.

It's better to deal with such a comment by posting a substantive reply, which I'm glad to see that you did above. I'm particularly glad that you did it politely and with a light touch; that's not always easy when a comment has produced irritation.


i don't think it's equianimous what you do. you essentially selectively enforce the rules and thereby normalize such smugness - case in point my response was -1 or 0 for most of today. if you're going to moderate some kinds of antisocial/antipathic behavior then you need to moderate it uniformly - it emboldens and reinforces those that get away with it - they feel validated by the community in their smugness. if you look at my comment history you can find so many of these that i've debated against just over the last few weeks. it's gotten to the point where i'm dreading working in this industry because of the smugness so many people here put on display.

in this case there is a dead comment that further sheds light on the nuance ("The bite of the comeback gets lost in translation. It was pretty good given the context and the language."). why is it dead? what is offensive about that? you encourage this kind of downvoting behavior.

there is another comment (i can't see the score but i'd bet that it's high - as high as the first smug comment's) that responds to the smug comment and concurs.

your pretense to idealism simply biases comments towards articulate arrogance/smugness rather than actual curiousity. imagine being the person that posted the root of this thread (the apocryphal story) and their reaction to the lovingly posted insight into their culture (aliswe - ali swe). why would you ever share here again? and it's such an interesting comment too, something that neither of us would ever discover on our own since we're not arabic speakers. you should have come to this person's defense, not the smug person's. this is not unlike what we see today socially - intolerance of intolerance is more strictly punished than the intolerance.


You're expecting the impossible. One person's uniform moderation is the next person's double standard; no two users will ever agree on this.

Actually, you're expecting several impossibles. Here are two others: that a large public forum can be remotely free of mediocre, uncharitable comments; and that human beings en masse can do anything other than reflect human nature. That's the source of what you're upset about, not this or that industry. Individuals can vary, but once you get to statistically significant quantities, the patterns are mechanical and don't change. If you want change, I know of only one thing that works: observe in yourself how you do the very things you object to in others.

> if you look at my comment history you can find so many of these that i've debated against just over the last few weeks

I looked at your comment history and unfortunately found many instances where you've violated the site guidelines in arguments. That's not ok, and we need you not to do that if you want to keep commenting here. It also adds more than your share of the things you're complaining about on HN, so that would also be a good reason not to do it.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


>You're expecting the impossible. One person's uniform moderation is the next person's double standard; no two users will ever agree on this.

no now you're playing strawman here. i stated very clearly, by way of case in point, what i expect. you're the moderator, i'm expecting you to moderate according to your sensibilities. you recognized the smug comment and said nothing. you also recognized the unsubstantive comment and did say something. simply say something in both instances.

>not this or that industry. Individuals can vary, but once you get to statistically significant quantities, the patterns are mechanical and don't change.

that's like saying that voat.co or a jail or a bank just reflects population.

>I looked at your comment history and unfortunately found many instances where you've violated the site guidelines in arguments.

lol. that that's exactly what's at issue here. you think pointing out where someone is vile is a violation of the guidelines rather than being vile in the first place. in fact it might well be but i don't see myself ever not making comments like these

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20175126

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20109277

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19817956

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18861923

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18787232

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18602650

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18580401

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18459284

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17786540

and the mother of them all

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17035806

none of the comments that i respond to in these got any moderation from you. all of them are worthless and some had you elsewhere in the comments.


You said that we enforce the rules selectively and ought to be moderating uniformly. There are many reasons why it doesn't and can't work that way; the one I mentioned is that readers are in deep disagreement about what counts as uniform. Whose 'uniform' ought we to conform to?

Another reason is quantity. Most random walks you take through HN will be moderated non-uniformly because we can't come close to seeing all the posts. I realize it's tempting to conclude that moderators are failing and probably of bad character, but this rests on mistaken assumptions. We care about this at least as much as you do and work hard, sometimes almost to the point of burnout, to take care of the site. It's a mistake to conclude that we must think a comment is ok if you didn't see it get moderated.

Since you're concerned about the worst comments on HN, why aren't you flagging them? That's a way you can actually help us do better. Emailing hn@ycombinator.com in egregious cases is also helpful, because then we're guaranteed to know about it.

Some of the comments in your list were flagkilled by users, some were penalized by moderators, and some we just didn't see. I agree with you about most of those cases, though not always with how you responded.

It's great if you want to defend others against unfair criticism, as long as you do it thoughtfully and respectfully. Your comments have been doing that sometimes, but other times you've been adding to the problem by breaking the guidelines yourself. Please stop doing that—it helps nothing, and you lose the high ground when you do it. You've been doing it in your replies to me here, in fact. Your argument becomes less convincing when you do the things you're complaining about.


To contrast with Al-Ma'arri, there was a rather mysterious group of Iraqi polymath "free-thinkers" (Ikhwan us-Safa) [0] that wrote an encyclopedia to steer Muslims on to what they thought was the Islamic way of philosophy and life [1].

The encyclopedia is rather very central to Ismaili sect of Shi'a Islam, and has refreshingly liberal and unorthodox views esposuing Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, Mysticism, Hermeticism, and Eclecticism. I think, Avicenna (father of Modern Medicine) was a follower of the philosophy embed in these books.

The quote I like the most (also highlighted in the Wikipedia article):

> "...to shun no science, scorn any book, or to cling fanatically to no single creed. For [their] own creed encompasses all the others and comprehends all the sciences generally. This creed is the consideration of all existing things, both sensible and intelligible, from beginning to end, whether hidden or overt, manifest or obscure... in so far as they all derive from a single principle, a single cause, a single world, and a single Soul."

For the curious, I highly recommend this concise treatment of the gist of what's a 52 (some claim 53) book encyclopedia on Math, Science, Philosophy, and Theology: https://www.al-islam.org/history-muslim-philosophy-volume-1-...

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclopedia_of_the_Brethren_o...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brethren_of_Purity


This guy became a bit of a folk hero in certain Internet circles, along with the elusive Benatar.

For a fun take on him see https://existentialcomics.com/philosopher/Al-Ma%27arri


Tell me more? Benatar lectured me at uni. Great teacher.


He's simply know for his views on antinatalism, and for being somewhat shrouded in mystery. For a while, you couldn't even find a picture of his face or even an audio clip. Search results only yielded Peter Singer's warm smile for some reason.

He then became a meme shorthand for a very pessimistic thinker. Antinatalism itself has recently grow more popular, and even been represented in some popular media.


Huh. Well, he was mostly known in my ethics class for never forgetting a students name or birthday. Passed him in the street 5 years after graduating and he said, “happy birthday for last week!”. I was speechless.


> Encapsulating his view on organized religion, he once stated: "The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains."

Sounds like he'd fit in with your average Reddit r/atheism internet edgelord.


Sure, but it's great that he could say that sort of thing publicly and not be executed. That wouldn't have been true in the Christian world at the time or a lot of the Muslim world today.


His philosophy relied on reason when reasoning about religion was nowhere to be found. You have to put it in context. Also, believing in religion is unreasonable even now. I don't mind people having faith in whatever they want though.


I've never heard of this guy, but his views overlap with many of my own. It's heartening to see that he was able to make something of himself despite the unpopular perspectives he held. In particular, I feel that antinatalism is a hard thing to express to others without it coming across as a personal affront to all who decide to bring children into the world.


It can only be a personal attack by its very nature, no matter how politely you approach the topic.

If existence is a harm in itself, then it immediately follows that giving birth is unethical, unless you reject any notion of free will.

If you do the latter, then antinatalism and pretty much any other school of philisophy becomes moot since there are no agents around that can make decisions or change their thoughts.


I don't follow. If you buy a Camaro and I say "I don't like Camaros and don't think people should buy them", that's not a personal attack- it's an opinion. You have the agency to make your own decisions and I'm not impeding anyone from doing so (nor would I even if I had such power).


In this case, it concerns sentient beings and personal responsibility towards those beings. Not to mention the inherent touchiness of the topic of reproduction. When you buy a Camaro, you aren't hurting anyone directly if we ignore pollution etc for the sake of the argument.

To give a closer analogy, it's like saying that circumcision is a barbaric practice. It follows that you are implictly declaring that people who circumcize their kids have done something bad (doesn't mean you think they were solely responsible, or that the act was inexcusable/irrational on their part). If you deny this, then your initial statement was meaningless. Whether or not someone then takes offense is a different matter altogether.


People are entitled to their feelings, but so am I to mine. Any implicit declaration of wrongdoing is in their own heads, because I don't see humans (myself included) as some kind of infallible entity that is always right or wrong. Circumcision, in my opinion, is a barbaric and silly practice, but why should that matter to you if you chose to get your kid circumcised? You're you, and I'm me. We can think about things differently. If you're amenable to being convinced not to have some of your kid's penis chopped off, great. Otherwise, great too, you do you. You're not going around in a van circumcising people against their will nor am I forcing reconstructive surgery.

The world is full of people with opinions that disagree with those you may hold closest. On a basic level, I don't understand why you'd be offended by someone else's opinion as long as they're not forcing it upon you/being a dick about it.


I also tend to share this phlegmatic approach to opinions. I can't remember the last time I felt offended because of one. It certainly helps with the blood pressure.

That said, my original point before I got lost in the details is just that I found it intriguing that you expected antinatalism to be so neutral a statement that it shouldn't warrant a response from others.

>The world is full of people with opinions that disagree with those you may hold closest. On a basic level, I don't understand why you'd be offended by someone else's opinion as long as they're not forcing it upon you/being a dick about it.

On a more complex level, the "you do you" approach is a denial of choice. Since the status quo is a certain way, and has certain consequences, then passiveness is in fact a deliberate and non-neutral action. That's not to say that you should conspire to offend and feel offended at every turn, just that moral relativism as a way of evading the responsibilities of free will is a fantasy.

To give an extreme example to illustrate this, let's say we replace the word circumcision above with a far graver issue: "Slavery, in my opinion, is a barbaric and silly practice, but why should that matter to you if you chose to sell your kid into slavery? You're you, and I'm me. We can think about things differently."


You don't even need to declare yourself as antinatalism, simply answering the simple question question of "do you have kids" with "my wife and I decided against that" seems enough to get most people on the defensive. As if my own life choices not matching theirs is some sort of threat or inherent criticism to their choices.


It must be a really awful existence to view the world with such pessimism.


Your statement is a good illustration of the kind of inertia one faces when attempting to argue against the status quo. One person's pessimism is another person's realism. I personally see the amount of humans on this planet as absurd, and don't see humankind's seemingly-innate "might is right", "manifest destiny" way of doing things thus far as something we should continue to mindlessly perpetuate.


Zapffe's The Last Messiah is a good read on this topic if you're not already familiar.


Thanks, I'll check it out


His pessimism caused by his inability to view the world.


Perhaps. Although I’m sure a blind person would say they’d like to be able to see, I bet they’d also tell you there’s much more beauty to the world than what can be seen.


I think the world is beautiful. I love nature and everything in it. What I don't think is beautiful is the destruction of this world by overpopulation and selfishness.

Edit: >Overpopulation is a meme. Many first-world countries today are literally seeking to import more immigrants because of under-population.

Their being a need for more humans to meet human ends is not surprising, but it certainly doesn't make an argument for the necessity of more humans from any ecological perspective.

> Besides, humans are natural too. It's not like we're built in factories and have smokestacks on our heads. We ARE part of that world which you think is beautiful, and to end human reproduction would be to partly destroy this world.

This logic doesn't compute for me. Is your perspective that, by definition, anything humans do is natural? If so, I think we have a fundamental disagreement on the definition of "natural". I don't think that packing the Earth to the gills with humans at the expense of other species survival is in any way a positive development.


> I think the world is beautiful. I love nature and everything in it. What I don't think is beautiful is the destruction of this world by overpopulation and selfishness.

Isn't it also selfish to prevent your children from experiencing its beauty? To smell a flower, to touch and be touched, to experience love, to feel the joy of truly understanding something - the list is truly endless!

Besides, our primary job is to ensure the continued existence of the human race, and the first and most important step in that process is to bring new humans into this world.

Yes, I agree: there are other factors to consider when making this decision, and honestly, I don't judge you either way.

The way I look it is that if we cease to give birth to new humans, we are guaranteed to go extinct, but there is no guarantee (yet!) that overpopulation or environmental abuse will cause a world ending event. The earth has gone through far more destructive eras and yet here we are!

Ultimately, it is indeed a philosophical argument: does the risk of potential suffering outweigh the joys of experiencing life? I don't think so, at least not yet.


>the destruction of this world by overpopulation and selfishness

Overpopulation is a meme. Many first-world countries today are literally seeking to import more immigrants because of under-population.

Besides, humans are natural too. It's not like we're built in factories and have smokestacks on our heads. We ARE part of that world which you think is beautiful, and to end human reproduction would be to partly destroy this world.


Heads up - it's considered poor form to edit your previous reply like this rather than responding directly to comment below.

That said, are you claiming that life only has value if there exists some "ecological necessity" for it? Because I just don't see enough consistency in any definition of "ecological necessity" to make it a meaningful term. Ecology has shifted dramatically throughout earth's history - any species you could have called "ecological necessary" in the jurassic era doesn't seem so necessary in the long-run judging by the multitude of life that continued after extinction events.


Agreed. Strangely the reply button was missing when I went to reply to the other comment.

I'm claiming that humanity should not be held so supremely important that in the name of blind procreation we should be displacing and bringing to extinction other forms of life and potentially bringing the habitability of the planet for all life into question.


Certainly a difficult thing to convince your parents of. Not least if they agree.


The scale of humanity at this point is practically beyond comprehension in a day-to-day context, so I can't imagine anyone will ever be able to look at their kids (even if they regret them otherwise) and say "yep, this is where we crossed the line, too many!".


Just speaking purely secularly without getting into religious issues: antinatalism seems like a position that leads to untenable ends if you just follow its logic. For example, if you're really strict about antinatalism, you should be in favor of intentional nuclear holocaust of all life on earth, because that would get rid of the problem of babies being born into life of suffering. Surely you don't hold such an extreme view, though? Neither would you advocate that everyone ought to promptly commit suicide personally. Would you advocate for forced global sterilization?


Any argument can be taken to a ridiculous extreme if you choose to bring it there. The line, for me, is where you try to make decisions for others/tell them what to do. It doesn't matter what opinion I hold- even if I was in some all-powerful position I wouldn't think for a second I could or should govern peoples' lives by my own opinions. For some reason it seems to be a common trend in discussion to think that simply holding a belief means you intend to impose it on others.


You're right, I see now I set up a bit of a strawman there, thanks for pointing that out. So what concrete action do you advocate as a result of your opinion? Increased access to birth control? Or are you saying it's just strictly an opinion? In which case, how is it different than just electing not to have kids yourself?

I think some people (including myself) might have the knee-jerk reaction that the main difference between antinatalism vs. just vanilla opting-out-of-parenthood, is that the former offers you a way to feel smug/holier-than-thou. What would you say in response to that knee-jerk reaction?


Certainly a good question. I would say I understand the knee-jerk reaction because there are many who trumpet their choice to not have children as though it's some kind of merit badge. "r/childfree" for instance on reddit is one such place where this sentiment is rampant, along with some weird kind of child hatred/being happy when children are unhappy. I think if we had a conversation you would see that I bring up my perspective (and I only do so if the context comes up) not to chide people or feel better than them, because I'm not. My intention is purely to make some small contribution to raising awareness of what our exponential population growth is doing and will continue to do to our planet. The end goal is for people to have one additional shred of a thought before they have a kid. Not to feel guilty, but just to give a micro-second of consideration to the planet and its other inhabitants' wellbeing before adding another human to it. That's it.


More in-depth story on Al-Qaeda’s attempt to erase Al-Ma'arri's legacy: https://www.aljumhuriya.net/en/content/al-qaeda%E2%80%99s-wa...


I thought something was on my screen, until I scrolled. Never seen ʿ before.


Seems to be some kind of glottal stop. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayin


"Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce." -this guy


Fascinating, I never heard of him. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.




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