Chalk One Up for Viral Life

I’ve been reading about how, as the hunter/gatherer of our pre-historic past transformed through domestication of plants and animals into sedentary farmer, became an unwilling host for viruses carried by animals. The enterprising virus found fertile ground to breed and grow and very little resistance to his (or her, who can tell with viruses) incursions into the human blood stream.

The results of this viral attack were massive die-offs of all but a small percentage of people who were fortunate enough to have a natural or cultivated resistance. These survivors passed their genetic wherewithal to their progeny and from there on to future generations, who would over time encounter new and exotic viruses they had never before encountered that would attack the unsuspecting and appetizing innocents and the cycle would begin again.

Civilizations evolved, became more complex and medical science made amazing advances. Hubris and inattention led to the belief we had won the battle with invasive viral infection.

I guess we have to chalk one up for the viruses.

The Walking Dead

Heading to Arizona as I am, masked, buying gas at the pump, maintaining a safe distance from others, in constant use of antibacterial wipes, eating in my car I feel pretty safe although people in the streets stare, seem suspicious and I speed by them. The recent health scare, the pandemic, has me thinking of ‘The Walking Dead’, you know, the TV series in which a few stalwart survivors find themselves in constant danger, being pursued by the ravenous infected hoards. Civilization has collapsed and our heroes are on constant lookout for temporary safe havens and stores of canned goods on which to survive.

I really don’t think civilization is in danger of imminent collapse, but my journey has taken on an air of excitement (trepidation?) and as someone of advanced age I’m led to believe my very mortality may be at risk. If you don’t hear from me next week you might possibly suspect the worst: I may be quarantined in a senior retirement community.

The Luxury Trap

As we humans we have striven over the years to improve our quality of life by developing innovative technologies that have provided everything from central heating to voice controlled communication devices, we have at the same time made life more complex, in some ways more frenzied.

I’ve been reading about early forager tribes living in the fertile Crescent of western Asia. This particular area was at the time rich in what turned out to be domesticable plants and animals. The foragers, over time, learned to harvest and plant wild wheat signaling the beginnings of the agricultural revolution.

I guess becoming farmers must have seemed a great idea. Having a reliable food source without having to forage everyday meant having a surplus and a sedentary lifestyle. As it turned out, though, after not so considerable a time (relatively, anyway) our early ancestors ended up working harder, eating a less varied diet, contracting unheard of diseases and, all in all, living shorter lives than they had enjoyed in their now long forgotten foraging days.

And so it goes, we as a species strive to produce innovations meant to improve our quality of life that all to often have produced negative effects like obesity, alienation and lives devoid of time for contemplative reflection.

Not that I’m a luddite or anything. I do love my various devices, easy access to friends and family miles away, ready availability of the arts I love. I just need to exert a bit more self-discipline, shut down the devices and get face to face with real-life on occasion.

Art as Catharsis

I’ve been reading a rather interesting perspective on the nature of art lately. The author’s interest is, apparently, to present art as a broader more all-encompassing enterprise: as something with the potential to reach deep into the psychic as well as philosophical realms of human Being. This advocate for the arts maintains that a total sensual and intellectual emersion on the part of the art consumer might potentially move him/her far beyond simple aesthetic appreciation onto a psychological plateau of unimaginable ecstasy or at least engagement: that art, when attentively considered might changer one’s way of perceiving and thinking about the world.

The idea, I guess, is that art at its best may produce psychic displacement, as in a nightmare when those around you are aware of information you aren’t privy to leaving you exposed, naked, alienated, outside of the common knowledge shared by everyone else. Such a shocking realization might then lead to basic questioning of all you previously took for granted: the physical and social norms of daily existence come into question.

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The author’s intent though is that the best art will provide the attentive consumer a truly cathartic experience. As I think about it, there’s nothing really new about the idea of art as catharsis: the ancient Greeks were creating such work millennia ago and it was pretty successful. Such art provided respite from the anxieties suffered during the disruptive wars between the city states. Given our politics these days I’m thinking we could probably use a bit of that now.

Contemplating Existence

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.

Church History

I’ve been reading lately about the differing perspectives among certain religious scholars in medieval times, and earlier too, as the church fathers gradually constructed through biblical interpretation the dogmatic beliefs which formed the essence of the Christian religion.

As one might imagine deciphering meaning from sacred texts led to conflicting beliefs, then power struggles within a church hierarchy that became more interested in material gain than saving souls, overtime producing a church that treated it’s parishioners less as children of God than as prey, selling indulgences that were claimed to be one’s ticket directly to heaven, which was a big deal because the fear of the tortures of purgatory was so embedded in people’s minds that extortion was pretty easy to practice. So, with the clergy in complete control, calling the shots, getting rich off of indulgences, the parishioners cowed into subservience, things weren’t looking too good for an extended run of a religion that began as a promise of true salvation to an oppressed people of meager prospects.

Jumping ahead a few centuries we find that the church did survive and has pretty well got it’s act together, you know, practicing honest concern for those in need and pursuing the spiritual well being of it’s community, not demanding unreasonable alms and recognizing, for the most part, the legitimacy of other belief systems.

They should, though, probably work on staying out of politics.

 

 

 

The Inerrancy of the Bible

I’ve been reading about the difficulties that the Early Christians faced translating the Bible into Latin. There were, apparently, a number of translations from the original Hebrew and Greek in early Christian times that were treated as ‘living text’, altered to suit the inclinations and personal biases of the interpreter. Serious scholars like Jerome (whom the church eventually thought well enough of to grant sainthood) struggled, in the 4th century CE, to gain a sufficient knowledge of Greek to produce an accurate (or fairly accurate anyway) translation of what was originally written. Even so our intrepid scholar, given the enormity of the task, made plenty of mistakes. And on top of it all, the time being pre-printing press, copies had to be made by hand by ill-fed, poorly housed monks who it is certainly reasonable to understand, made plenty of errors of their own.

Later, in the 16th century, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a respected Biblical scholar, unhappy with the grammatical errors and discrepancies of meaning in the New Testament returned to the original Greek in order to produce a translation more in keeping with the intentions of the authors of the gospels and epistles. Erasmus (whom the church apparently didn’t deem sufficiently saintly) spent years working on his Biblical update. He, too, was prone to translating mistakes.

Assuming the multiple translations into modern languages has inevitably built mistakes upon mistakes I have to wonder how today’s Christian Fundamentalists can maintain a belief in Biblical inerrancy.

 

Outside the Envelope

I’ve been thinking, lately, about the idea of the inter-connectedness of all things and events. I get it in an abstract sense, from the standpoint of particle physics, you know, sub-atomic particles in constant flux moving between solid objects and the ethereal. But, from a pragmatic point of view, the idea is contrary to my ingrained perspective of linearity, one thing following another in straight forward cause and effect.

I’m beginning to see, though, that sometimes seemingly inconsequential occurrences can have wide-spread ramifications affecting a multitude of subsequent events. And, inclined as I am to dismiss as ludicrous the realm of the extra-sensory I’m beginning to think there may be something to the notion that the subtlest of actions, an intense thought, even, might alter the behavior of animate beings as well as affect the very structure of the physical world.

This line of thought may be due, I realize, to the existential discomfort of the changing seasons, the slumber onto death of on-coming winter, but, on the positive side I’m finding a new focus for a time, a new way of thinking outside of the envelope of logic and rationality. Maybe I’ll come up with some great new ideas before I retreat back into my rational world, which, I’m pretty sure I will do.

Alternate Realities

Reading the news these days leads me to the observation that humankind is existing in disparate realities. Political discourse seems to be polarizing, getting nastier, adherents on left and right becoming angrier and angrier. It’s almost as if we’ve submerged ourselves in sensory deprivation chambers resulting in a behavioral regression to a more primitive animal nature. ‘Sensory deprivation’ in this case amounts to willful ignorance, to a refusal to see views other than our own as valid, leading to tribalistic demonization of the ‘Other’.

It is pretty easy to find one’s preferred narrative nowadays, there being such a variety of news offerings. Unfortunately, many of these information providers seem to be less interested in providing fair assessment than attracting followers who prefer their intuitive beliefs reinforced, which seems to be a pretty consistent characteristic of our innate tribal natures.

Sometimes it’s hard not to be embarrassed for our species.

Amor Fati (The Love of Fate)

I’ve learned from the ancient Stoics that one must pick one’s battles: there are certain things that will occur in one’s life that one simply has to accept and live with. I get the idea, you know, that screaming and hitting one’s head against a wall in impotent exasperation is never a useful procedure.

But now I read that Friedrich Nietzsche not only advocated the acceptance of one’s fate, but he said it should be embraced, loved even. Granted, F. was a bit crazy toward the end of his life and not particularly upbeat before that, still, the idea deserves contemplation, I suppose. As I wait around to see what happens next, what fate has in store for me, embedded as I am in the real world, I’m not sure all conceivable possibilities will necessarily be loveable. In fact, there are several scenarios I can imagine so dire, that, if they were to happen, may lead me to the precipice, threaten my very sanity, be so totally incapacitating as to render me catatonic and irretrievably mentally lost.

Such a realized occurrence may, I guess, have been what happened to F.