I’ve been thinking about the George Orwell novel “1984”, how the totalitarian regime in the book implemented catch phrases to secure the minds of the populace. ‘War is Peace’ is used to establish a permanent enemy, a scapegoat, that can be blamed for any and all ills that befall the citizenry. ‘Freedom is Slavery’ discourages individualism, promotes tribalism in order to keep everyone bound to the collective. ‘Ignorance is Strength’ encourages the subservient populace to forego intellectual reflection, follow the dictates of those in power, not think about things to hard and they will realize contented peace. The message is, I guess, that given such ideas along with sufficient deterrents a totalitarian regime turns people into sheep without them realizing it.
It does seem a bit familiar these days but I guess as long as a free exchange of ideas remains in place reasonable responses can happen.
The idea of routine these days has taken on a sort of oppressive new meaning, limited as we are in our ability to socially interact and move about freely without concern of infection. Before the onset of the dreaded virus relieving a tedious daily cycle was as simple as a museum visit or dinner out with friends, experiences that give life meaning, expand imagination and help us realize possibility.
The conundrum has me thinking about cyclical time, how daily experiences reoccur with a good deal of regularity. Eastern Religions have long understood time to cycle on a cosmic scale which, I suppose, gave hope to those living less fortunate existences (who also looked forward to reincarnation). The philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche came up with a thought experiment he called Eternal Recurrence. The idea is to suppose one is destined to live this life over and over repeating the same experiences forever, an eternal cycle. The implication is, that if such were to be the case, one would want to be very careful that each moment of life was lived to the optimum: as best and as positive as one could make it happen.
What we need to do in covid world, I guess, is find ways to sustain ourselves positively, in uplifting ways. As important as it is to stay centered, alive and present in the moment, distraction may be in order. Many may find solace in readings with happy endings while others may seek the catharsis of apocalyptic disaster literature. Hobbies might be developed. Exercise is always good, solitary sport activities might be explored.
I really don’t have any particular advice for anyone, just trying to work it all out for myself.
I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to have a national identity: how we might imagine some sort of consensual, some unifying set of shared values in our diverse population, an identity, we might imagine, manifesting itself in the actions of our chosen leaders, our elected representatives who we see putting into motion actions we consider important to maintaining our moral visions. Of course, as the political winds blow, half of us will be upbeat knowing our chosen leaders are heading the country in the right direction while the other half will passionately believe the opposite.
This conundrum has me thinking about the British. The Royal Family, having a centuries old heritage, provides a national identity for a pretty fair number of British citizens judging from the crowds one sees in photographs of various state rites and national observances. No longer wielding political sway the Royals serve as a unifying symbol for a population whose politics has produced the divisive likes of Margret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.
So, maybe we need a King or a Queen, someone to focus on in these days of extreme partisan division, some apolitical demi-god (or goddess) who represents the values our diverse population can agree upon, someone to reign over our national holidays as a symbol of unity.
Personally I can’t think of anyone who might adequately fill the bill but I’m open to suggestion.
There are certain theoretical physicists contemplating, as I understand it, the idea that perhaps we are not living a base reality but are in a simulation, an artificial reality. We may be, they surmise, virtual beings created by a higher intelligence with infinite computational facility. These cyber-gods’ superior intellect along with our limited capacity to fully understand our world renders it impossible for us to grasp the closed system provided by our overseers.
The overseers, acting as game players, pit us against each other, create inventive situations for us to deal with and suffer through and then play favorites, much as the ancient Greek gods did. The idea is, I guess, our overseers are using us as pawns in the ultimate virtual Game of Life.
Well, if I am existing in a virtual closed system, I really can’t complain too much, reclining, as I am, in my lounger in front of a warming fireplace. I do, of course, face difficulties from time to time: existential psychological eruptions I must deal with, but all in all life is pretty good. If I am a virtual being in a created world it would seem my cyber-gods are fairly benevolent.
As things began spiraling out of control she wondered if belief in God was a viable option.
Well, maybe belief was the wrong word. It seemed to her unlikely one can suddenly ‘believe’ something, but there were remnants of belief she had taken to be credible at some earlier time in life. There were beliefs introduced to her as a child that had drifted along in her sub-conscious all these years until recent existential shock brought them (the beliefs) to the surface, beliefs which seemed, suddenly, to be just the thing these extraordinary times require.
So maybe it was more like expedient, practical to seek and find a supernatural entity to appeal to in these dire times when her resources were strained and uncertainties about her very survival constantly weighed upon her. She had settled, after all, as she had thought about it over the years, on an enlightened agnosticism, resisting the hard atheism embraced by some. God as a concept was elusive but not easily dismissed in totality and now seemed the time to, if not make re-acquaintance, at least allow the embedded idea to come a bit closer to the surface. There is something comforting about the idea of a benevolent overlord, protector, benefactor in these uncertain times.
But finding and maintaining belief, she realized, wasn’t that simple.
While doing fall chores the other day the ladder I was on gave way. Apparently, my weight was above the fulcrum which was the roof edge causing the foot of the ladder to begin sliding backward. I found myself on an accelerating descent. The ladder slid off the edge of the deck propelling me backwards into a reverse summer sault, my body eventually coming to rest on the ground. As I lay there on my back, I was taken with a feeling I can only describe as euphoria. Other than a few minor aches and pains, a few bruises, I found myself in a better place mentally, more upbeat, than at any time in recent memory. Given that I did not intentionally seek this sense of exaggerated well-being, I nevertheless got to thinking that the experience must be something akin to the adventures sought by adrenalin junkies, those who regularly defy fate, put themselves in situations of potentially serious danger.
The exhilaration was great to experience though it faded fairly quickly, was gone in a couple of hours, but I have no intention of re-creating the emotional high through intentional risky behavior. I’m too much of a realist and kind of old (brittle bones, you know). But If it should happen I make a bad decision while at the mercy of gravity in the future I’ll hope for a similarly favorable outcome.
I’m finding the transformation of nature this time of year breathtaking. The vibrancy and variety of colors transforms the environment so dramatically my visual surroundings become something totally other, so changed, that, on a walk in the woods, I find myself someplace unrecognizable as if it were another world.
Nature though is dying, she is in the throes of death, breathing a last gasp as she fades into dormancy. In another month these woods will appear dead, reduced to subdued browns and grays. They will have been abandoned by songbirds and hibernating animals. There will be little to suggest there is any life existing here at all. The death of nature will, of course, eventually transition into a sort of rebirth or at least a regeneration of life as the seasons advance.
What makes nature’s metaphorical death so unique is the flair, the exuberant celebration of finality she displays. Such an enthusiastic embrace of physical demise doesn’t seem to follow for the animal world except, perhaps, for certain humans convinced they too will be reborn in the spring.
In his masterpiece Either/Or Soren Kierkegaard contrasts the moral relativity of the aesthete ‘A’ with the clearly defined moral values of the ethicist Judge Wilhelm. ‘A’ revels in seduction, he pursues women, is attracted to the young, innocent and beautiful girl, whose total commitment he gains through devious manipulation. Then, though, once the quarry is won, interest is lost. The ethicist judge castigates ‘A’ for so shallow a behavior informing him he doesn’t understand the significance of a deep personal relationship, that love and duty to a first love produces a deep bond and a constantly renewing true aesthetic relationship.
It seems pretty clear that K. sees himself in both characters: the break-up with his once betrothed Regine on the one hand and his obsession with the moral rigidity of the pietist religion he was brought up to revere. There’s little doubt he experienced serious psychological conflict that eventually resulted in a ‘leap into the absurd’, a total embrace of Christianity.
I must admit I can’t relate to K’s situation but he does do a really good job of getting me to focus attention on my own personal existential self.
In the summer of his 12th year this boy and his friends were introduced to musical instruments. They were being groomed for eventual inclusion into the high school band. In his small-town competition wasn’t an issue. Bodies were needed, so by the time these kids reached 7th grade or so it was assumed most of them, if they stayed with it, would take their places beside the high schoolers in the concert band.
That same summer this boy’s best friend’s brother, on the very day he got his driver’s license was given the keys to the family ’52 Chevrolet and he (the boy) and his friend were invited to ride along, to share in the experience of new found freedom. The country roads near their hometown were wash board, loose gravel and narrow, under constant grading that pushed up gravel ridges that made the roads even narrower. Five miles or so into their ride the car began to swerve having edged into the gravel windrow on the side of the road, overcorrected, swerved again, jumped the gravel ridge, down into the ditch and struck a driveway abutment. For some reason beyond memory the boy was given the honor of riding ‘shotgun’ next to the driver while his friend sat in the back seat. The immediate interruption of forward momentum was unfortunately restricted only to the car. The boy, having struck the dashboard with his face was suddenly aware of no longer having any front teeth.
Anyway, the big deal that summer for the boy and his friends was getting a band instrument. Everyone wanted trumpets. The consensus was this was clearly a masculine choice, the girls opting for clarinets or flutes for reasons similarly relating to gender orientation. It soon became obvious that the lip strength it took to produce sound through a brass mouthpiece without supporting front teeth was a non-starter, as far as becoming a member of the brass section was concerned. After the months of anticipation, the letdown was significant. The boy envied his friends for awhile until he was introduced to an Instrument that didn’t require a strong embouchure. He became the proud possessor of an alto saxophone that he soon came to realize was, strictly from a physical standpoint an instrument quite superior, aesthetically speaking, to the trumpet.
Living in the northern climes, as I do, and spending a lot of time outdoors I’m reminded on nearly a daily basis of the passage of time. Early spring wildflowers bloom and fade within days giving way to slightly slower maturing vegetation which grows and goes to seed in anticipation of early fall flowers blooming and the lush greenery of the forest canopy turning to yellows and reds; all within a matter of weeks.
The process is beautiful, you know, and reasonably anticipated each year but living in the moment as I try to do is regularly interrupted by remembrances and anticipations imposed upon me by evolving nature.
I’m not complaining. Transitioning nature is a wonder to behold. I must admit, though, to a feeling of melancholy as summer wains. I find myself thinking of my inevitable mortal demise. The feeling will dissipate as it always has, the seasons change and I will find myself in a world of cold, ice and snow in a time that will pass much more slowly.