Unfamiliar Territory

The unsettling events of recent months that have brought us to what we are led to believe is a ‘new normal’ have provided me glimpses into unfamiliar territory. It’s not, of course, that the basic lay of the land or its population of warm-blooded inhabitants are any different than they were last year, but I find myself drifting into uncharted psychological waters.

The restrictions that we have necessarily imposed upon ourselves, cautions about travel and social gatherings, seem to have spawned new realizations, subtle perspectives: not exactly epiphanies, I suppose, but unfamiliar mental states I find to be quite interesting and pleasant. These brief insights have led me to the thought that I have lived most of my life in a limited world, a fairly tightly bounded universe.

Well, while I find it unlikely I will have any great experiential happenings in my foreseeable future I do find these occasional brief glimpses into the unknown refreshing.

The Unhappiest One

I seem to be drawn, these days, to readings of a distinctly foreboding nature, philosophical outlooks despairing of the human condition, views that someone of a stoic nature might see as realistic, I suppose, but for those of us who rabidly consume the news a dark psychic presence persists as a familiar companion. This even though the scientific community races to relieve us of the potential devastation of the dreaded virus, developing, as they are, a viable vaccination.

Nevertheless, here I am, reading more Kierkegaard. ‘The Unhappiest One’ is written as an address to ‘The Fellowship of Buried Lives’, a rumination on who most aptly deserves the title. The first test is whether the contestant fears death, an immediate disqualification since the unhappiest one must certainly be without hope or sense of life’s values. To further cull the dour participants the title holder must to be found unhappy in her personal memories of the past and deceived in her hope for the future by the shadow of memory (K’s words here); hers is an unhappy consciousness.

Well, I’m certainly not in the running for such a title and I suppose there is something cathartic about grasping the idea of true, deep sorrow. Still, I really need to find something to read that’s a bit more uplifting.

Primeval Parasites

I’ve been reading about an archaeological trek into remote Honduran jungle in search of a legendary ancient city. It was quite an amazing adventure, an Indiana Jones-like quest complete with impenetrable jungle, deadly snakes and swarms of biting insects. Upon the adventurers return to civilization several of them were found to have contracted a devastating disease: sand fly bites had introduced into their blood streams a most insidious parasite.

Due to the variety of mutations the tiny invaders assume, medical researchers were (and still are) hard pressed to even begin to eradicate the disease. No treatment now available will rid an infected body of the parasite completely, meaning, I guess, that one must play host to the uninvited community of little blood swimmers in perpetuity.

The reality of the situation rather takes the romance out of it all for us armchair adventurers: I suppose National Geographic will have to suffice.

A Theme Park for the Disenfranchised

I’ve been reading about the disenchantment with and removal, these days, of monuments to past figures of note whose behaviors, in retrospect, are being found wanting. The issue has me in mind of a trip I took to Eastern Europe awhile ago.

After the fall of the Soviet Union a massive effort to remove the statuary of the Communist elite, found in most every village, led to the creation of a ‘theme park’ near Vilnius in Lithuania. Large scale sculptures of Lenin, Stalin and lesser known figures were situated in a park-like setting with walking paths inviting public viewing. As I strolled along the shaded garden-like pathways, admiring the formidable statuary and thinking of the evils these men perpetrated against the captive populations, I became aware of barbed wire fencing encircling the park. Upon closer examination I found an ersatz moat and ‘guard towers’ as well: a not so subtle reminder, I suppose, of the years of oppression suffered during the Russian occupation.

I wonder if a similar theme park might be erected to house, in remembrance, statuary of our own forbearers who’s racist and anti-Semitic behaviors reasonably deserve a stern admonishment at the very least.

Don Juan Revisited

I’ve been reading, lately, about the paradigm of sensual pursuit, the epitome of the insatiable, unrepentant lover.

The idea of maintaining inextinguishable desires is generally thought of these days as perverse, especially given the notoriety of the recently deceased Hollywood mogul whose despicable behaviors over the years were indeed onerous. But, in a purer sense, the notion of a categorical love, love of an ideal rather than that limited to an individual has a certain aesthetic beauty about it: romantic love in its finest sense.

An interaction of willing participants of romantic inclination, it seems to me, although likely requiring a bit of deception regarding singularity of interest, draws out the natural affinity for, an awareness of, human potential we all share and benefit from as we grow toward completeness of being.

I like the idea very much if instinctual social proprieties of mutual respect are observed. Realizing, as I do, though, my own energy limitations I’ll leave such pursuits to the young.

Our Inherent Flaws

I’ve been thinking about the subject matter I’ve been seeking, lately, in the books I’ve been buying, titles like: The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a Generation for Failure, and How America Lost Its Mind: The Assault on Reason that’s Crippling Our Democracy, might seem to suggest an inherent skepticism on my part regarding the general intelligence of my fellow citizens. Before even opening the covers on these books, just the fact of selection would appear to suggest critical assumptions on my part, and I’m realizing that such an assessment of my intentions is probably pretty accurate.

These books are filled with criticisms of the ‘cancel culture’ removing statues and place names of statesmen in our past found to no longer be P. C. or racist or worse; ‘helicopter parenting’ (pretty self-explanatory); ‘safetyism’: protecting ‘fragile students’ from having to face unpleasant truths; how we have ‘woke’ to subtle, systemic racism (no complaint here); how the ‘heckler’s veto’ shouts down views unfavorable to the shouters.  And I find out about how ‘deep state’ conspiracy theorists are undermining our trust in social institutions.  Alternative realities, fed by misinformation and half-truths presented by dubious sources whose real aim is the lucrative income outrage can produce.

Anyway, this deliberate move on my part to find and delineate the flaws in contemporary society, reinforcing what I already believe, has me rethinking my intellectual consumption as I sit back in my armchair with furrowed brow. I fear I’m probably not serving the common good to any great extent, realizing as I do that others following their own intuitive inclinations, consuming information supportive of their perspectives, are as unlikely as I am to be swayed in their beliefs.

The chasm seems to be widening.  It’s hard to oppose the ‘democratization of truth’ in a free society no matter how much misinformation abounds.  I wonder if we’ll be able to unite when push really does come to shove?

Anxiety

It’s hard not to be a bit anxious these days, I guess: the dread disease the realities of pervasive systemic racism, political ineptitude, failing social structures have me despairing as I follow the daily news. I find myself positioned above an abyss within which lies a state of serious anxiety. (Well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it is dark in there.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading this new biography about the life of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard that seems pretty relevant to current dilemmas. Kierkegaard, it so happened, was deeply troubled. His personal insecurities had him thinking and writing a lot about anxiety, not the kind of anxiousness one has awaiting a dental appointment but a deep existential angst unbounded by time or place or context. He came to the realization that to survive one must proceed alone without expectation of support and embrace despair to fully grasp the gravity of life. Such a perspective, he thought, would relieve him of the illusions of unearned well-being and bring about deep inner understanding and peace.

This existential view acquired a lot of followers for a while, early to mid-20th century. The trying times of the Great Depression and two world wars, I suspect, made such a philosophy pretty palatable. K’s salvation though, the focus upon which he centered his being was Christianity. Embrace the absurd, he wrote, and take the leap into faith.

I guess what it all comes down to is finding that personal center of being.

Into the Wilds

I’ve just returned from a brief sojourn into the wilds. After being sequestered for nearly three months, enduring the medias’ constant reminders of the rising death toll brought about by the dreaded virus, not to mention the depressing news of fomenting racial unrest, getting away was pretty compelling. So, I sought out and found a small, remote campground which I believed to be far enough off the beaten track that seclusion would be assured.

There were only two other parties camping at opposite ends of the campground when I arrived but within a day the campground was nearly filled with RV’s and tents. In normal times I can’t imagine this remote location attracting so many others, but, I suspect, they must have been as desperate as I to escape the harsh realities that have been imposed upon us. (Well, perhaps we’ve imposed them on ourselves; the daily news cycle tends to reinforce both views.) Anyway, it was pretty clear the other campers sought the escape I did, and I have to say everyone was very polite, maintaining an appropriate social distance and staying within their family groups.

Upon returning, never one to enjoy peaceful oblivion for too long, I opened my laptop and slowly sorted through the 68 new email posts that had accumulated, thought about the lawn that must be mowed and car that needs washing and re-established the routine I so desperately sought to interrupt. A pleasant brief respite nevertheless.

Computer Chess

I’ve been finding myself, lately, in these days of social isolation, playing a lot of chess against a computer. As we become increasingly intimate, I find that I tend to assign a gender to him/her, usually him (am I sexist by nature?) as I attempt to counter his increasingly sophisticated attacks. I say increasingly because the program I’m using allows me to choose the level of expertise suited to my skill level and then, if I get competent enough, move up, allow him to use the abilities, and insights he holds back at the lower levels so as not to discourage me.

Well, it’s really algorithms isn’t it? For each of my moves the computer races through possible countermoves at blinding speed settling on the one that will be optimally successful, never getting tired or bored or losing focus. When I occasionally happen on a favorable advantage, he patiently plays it out rather than resign allowing me to realize a rare win. It makes him seem almost likeable.

I’m finding playing the game an intriguing way to pass the time these days but as I think about it it’s also kind of sad that a program on my laptop can almost replace social contact.

Deep State Conspiracy

I discovered recently that a close acquaintance is in fact a deep state conspiracy theorist, which means, it turns out, believing a world-wide cabal of billionaires is calling all the shots, manipulating governments in the self-interest of obtaining world domination. My friend is adamant in his unwavering insistence that this secretive group is dictating the narrative the ‘mainstream’ media conveys daily and, therefore, not to be trusted. It hasn’t been difficult for him to find plenty of support for his views on-line conveyed by like-minded conspiracy buffs posting statistical information of dubious credibility bent to support an idealistic agenda.

Anyway, what precipitated my recent discovery of his views was a discussion we had regarding the insidious virus devastating the world. He downplayed the seriousness of the disease, questioned the statistics, coming as they did from the mainstream media and suggested that the wide-spreading illness is no worse than the annual flu outbreaks or the annual death tolls due to heart disease or cancer, a conspiracy, he assured me, perpetrated by the deep state in a most treacherous power grab. Since any counterargument I offered lacked credibility in his mind, coming as it did from conventional media, I suggested a truce, an allowance for the existence of separate realities.

It makes me wonder how many ‘realities’ are out there. Enough, I guess, to elect world leaders of dubious worth and dangerous inclination.