I’ve been reading about the idea of man as a perpetual adolescent, forever youthful (in mind anyway), playfully making and thereby discovering and inventing. Given time to play without the pressure to produce, the theory goes, valuable discoveries and innovations may very well result.
History informs us that, indeed, such a process has been the impetus for quite a number of important innovations. Brilliant people engaged in playful thinking (Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaVinci among them) have produced profound concepts that have contributed to our collective knowledge. Sometimes invented toys become practical machines: the wheel may have first appeared on a child’s toy in Pre-Columbian America.
I guess it’s the unique nature of humankind to have a prolonged childhood unlike many of our animal relatives who must be ready to hide or fight, defend or flee almost immediately after birth. As annoying as the perpetual adolescent may be to our adult pragmatic selves, with a bit of encouragement perhaps the slacker living in the basement might conceive an idea that will improve life for us all. At the very least it might get her into her own apartment.
I’ve been reading, lately, about the common man, the 99% of the population that make up the social milieu and wondering what exactly common men have in common. I’m guessing these folks (well, us folks) are mostly of middle-of-the-road social and economic status, probably have limited educational accomplishment, likely adhere to some sort of religious beliefs and most certainly rely on a social network of other individuals of more-or less like mind. We’re the everyday working stiffs who execute our often-uninteresting daily toils in the hope there lies ahead a future of personal economic progress which will provide and secure leisurely retirement.
The uncommon man on the other hand is the intellectual or man of action who drives the public narrative. Maintaining his superior status in a democratic society requires he keep a finger on the pulse of the populace. When the common man begins to lose his sense of hope in a favorable future the uncommon man, in order to maintain his status, must placate the masses by providing a positive vision that a favorable future lies in wait. To maintain societal stability, keep the masses striving for more and better, the uncommon man paints a picture of prosperity near at hand, the good life awaiting those who sustain the necessary drive to be successful.
The philosopher Eric Hoffer thought an uneasy, socially and economically threatened populace of common men who, perhaps, had lost the dream of upward mobility have the potential to produce mass movements that have in the past and will likely in the future dramatically affect the course of history.
Given the state of our world, these days, it seems to me, what we need to do is seek out an uncommon man who can produce for us all a vision of hope and cooperation.
In the winter of his eighteenth year this young man fell madly in love (well, it was a serious crush anyway). The object of his unrequited affection was a demure sweet young lady who turned the young man, usually easygoing and affable, into a tongue-tied moron (or so he thought and was in fact true).
The episode was simply reflective of the young man’s nature. He conjured imaginings of romantic scenarios; of heroic stances he might take. He lived in a world of fictional narratives reinforced by the heroic storylines he regularly indulged: good triumphs, tragedy is overcome.
It would seem in retrospect such an imaginative reality would soon be repressed but it was maintained far longer than it might have been by avoiding unpleasant confrontation, keeping a distance from uncertain challenges and living in an (overly) protective home environment. As a college student our young dreamer immersed himself in studies of an impersonal nature, solitary endeavors not requiring excessive personal connections. He had friends of course. College life teems with unassuming young people of an accepting nature, all thriving in an essentially responsibility free environment.
Eventually, over time, even an impractical dreamer will have to face harsh realities. The awakening for our young man came with the threat posed by the draft lottery and the likelihood of involuntary military service. Basic training was eye opening. The young man found himself verbally assaulted. Name calling the likes of which he had never previously encountered (but guessed often referred to perverse sexual acts) was common.
Military service didn’t cure the young man, didn’t redirect him toward a more functional pragmatism. Even now as he passes middle age the man finds himself playfully toying with ideas and entertaining flights of fantasy. He has somehow been able to navigate through life being sufficiently useful as not to be a particular burden on society, you know, has basically paid his own way.
It’s good to know, I guess, that sometimes life provides a path for those who need to live an alternative reality.
I’ve been thinking lately about the multitudes of good and sincere people in the world who have arrived at dramatically conflicting views as to the nature of reality.
Most all of us rely on what we consider to be unimpeachable support sources for our views and usually a contingent of like-minded others that reinforce our beliefs. The evangelical Christian, the Qanon conspiracy buff and the liberal mainstreamer will tend to approach daily occurrences with sets of premises and then conclusions that are quite different. Such conflicting perspectives are the stuff of the social divisiveness manifesting itself these days; the dilemma of free thought in a free society free from coercive oversight, I guess.
I have no answers other than responding with patient tolerance in the knowledge that most everyone deserves respectful acknowledgement of their usually carefully considered views. The hope is that we can all spot disinformation when it presents itself. Hopefully, we can think past the response of the recently interviewed lady asked why she embraces her position on a current controversial idea. ‘I know it’s not true’, she said, ‘but it’s consistent with my beliefs.’
I’ve been reading about knowledge boundaries and the idea of island as metaphor. Within the island, our body of knowledge, we pursue lines of thought, traverse the island, and eventually reach the shore beyond which lies the unknowable. The island grows as the breadth of our knowledge increases, the shoreline expands, and we are confronted with more mysteries and incomprehensive considerations that, when the island was smaller, were beyond our wildest imaginings. I guess the idea is, the more we know the more we don’t know.
For those of us who are not inclined to add dilemmas to the one’s we already struggle with, perhaps limiting knowledge is a preferable strategy. We gain the peace of unquestioning acceptance of things simply being the way they are as opposed to living the uncertainty of constantly seeking answers; the problem the chronically curious must deal with.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be either/or. I can appreciate peaceful contemplation and still entertain intermittent bouts of curiosity. I think, these days, my island is still slowly growing. I’m just not venturing to the beach as often as I used to.
I’ve been reading about the history of the mirror: how the idea of ‘reflection’ took on new meaning over time.
Humankind has, of course, been aware of the reflected image since pre-historic man first gazed into a still pond. The dangers of such a discovery became apparent in Greek mythology when Narcissus, realizing his beauty, became obsessed with his reflection, fell into despair his love of self could never be requited, killed himself and was reborn as a flower (curious but fitting, I suppose).
By the Renaissance pretty much everyone had access to mirrors. It didn’t turn all Italians narcissistic but the focus on personal appearance brought about by the availability of the reflected image profoundly affected the way people everywhere thought about themselves. Gazing into a mirror makes the gazer aware of his (or her) unique oneness. Social relationships become more complex. The individual, aware of her (or his) physical attributes easily assumed an expectation of relative worth beyond the status assigned by other means such as social rank, wealth or useful contribution to society. Visual presentation: grooming habits, manner of dress hair styling became increasingly significant and for some cultures border(ed) on the ridiculous.
I must admit to remembering preening in my teen years. Now I purposely avoid mirrors whenever possible. But, as my physical appearance has become less photogenic I find my psychological well-being not as dependent on visual presentation. One of the advantages of ageing, I guess.
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.