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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s pretty clear, these days, that some of the narratives emanating from the public stage are motivated by special interests with ulterior motives being presented, of course, as irrefutable fact.
To the astute listener, aware of the possibility of unsavory manipulations at the hands of a smooth-talking narrator, a degree of skepticism will always be present in determining the validity or falsity of the narration, but, if the story being told, truthful or not, is consistent with the chosen beliefs or inherent inclinations of the listener caution may very well be swept aside in favor of an open embrace of the narrators ‘factually truthful’ account (nothing like the re-enforcement of one’s beliefs to build personal self-confidence) which then opens the door a bit wider allowing for the inclusion in one’s belief system, other fringe ideas that would have been unthinkable only a couple of narrations ago, and, the louder and more often the narrative is repeated the more legitimate it appears to be.
It’s frightening to consider what innate anti-social tendencies we may harbor, masked, as they are, by our supposed spiritual upbringing.
I am realizing, after doing some reading and thinking about the nature of social media these days, that as I write, then publish this short contemplation I am being a participant, a conveyor, along with tens of thousands of others on this day, of information with the potential to reach all sorts (thinking optimistically) of readers, viewers many of whom (optimistically, again) are unknown to me.
I tell myself repeatedly I do this primarily to better grasp and retain the ideas I read about, which is true, of course, but assuming there are consumers consuming the brief content of my posts is an attractive consideration, motivating, really.
But, realistically, given the enormous amount of content available for the average surfer to wade through I know I should expect little if any engagement in my posts. Still, I rationalize my participation in the public conversation, available amidst the offerings of national media outlets, conspiracy theorists and trolls as, hopefully, an appreciated light respite.