It’s occurred to me recently that perhaps my world is shrinking. Having fallen into a fairly consistent daily routine that finds me usually no farther than maybe 25 miles from my home most of the time and limiting my sources of information to those outlets that more or less support my views, not to mention the fact most of my social contact is with people pretty much just like me, I think I may be closeting myself. I think I may be losing any personal empathy and understanding I may have once had to a diverse, pluralistic world.
It may be time for me to step out of the artificial safety of my insulated life, embrace the discomfort of the unknown and grow my world. I need to do this before the most abhorrent of conditions, fear of the other, sets in; I can kind of feel it coming on.
I will venture into the public square, strike up conversations with those of unlike mind, seek out folks of unfamiliar cultural values and maybe even venture into situations where language barriers exist. I need to renew my faith in the benevolence of those with whom I share the planet. I know such benevolence exists. I’ve realized it in the past. There’s still time for me to save myself.
I’ve been thinking, lately, that perhaps I’m taking some of the events of the day a bit too personally. I’m thinking my sensitive, insecure ego is causing me to become increasingly intolerant, less understanding of those with different views than mine and making it less likely I will fairly assess what’s happening around me. Occurrences, no matter the cause have little to do with my stilted sense of appropriateness, my biased ideals and the sooner I come to grips with reality the better.
At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one dealing with the evil ‘I’ which causes so much turmoil in the world. I know there are spiritual endeavors that offer direction in ego suppression, subordinating the invented Self. Meditative disciplines emphasizing focus on the now and allowing thoughts to pass through one’s mind has the potential, I think, to set me in a more healthy and productive place. I just need to start putting in the time, focus on the now, maybe practice some deep breathing.
I’ve been reading that, counter-intuitive though it may seem, sometimes a thing can be two different things at one and the same time. I guess the realization of this contradiction came about through the study of sub-atomic entities, some of which can be particles and also be waves even though particles and waves are distinctly different things. To emphasize this phenomenon, one physicist imagined a cat in a box with a triggered cyanide capsule. He imagined a sub-atomic entity, both particle and wave being shot into the box at a reflecting mirror the wave would pass through but the particle would hit, reflect and trigger the cyanide capsule. Since the sub-atomic entity is both wave and particle the cat in the box would be both alive and dead: pretty mind-blowing; (well, that’s not exactly how it goes but the key is the multiple identities superimposed on the outcome and definitely mind-blowing).
Anyway, the implication is contradiction is pretty deeply embedded in reality altogether. By extension a concept which may be taken to mean one thing will assume a contradictory meaning at the same time. Benevolent, nurturing nature supporting life is malevolent, murderous predator exploiting innocent prey; the horizontal horizon skews to vertical in the absence of gravity; red is violet; up/down; wet/dry.
It makes me think any absolutes that may exist must lie outside of the empirical realm.
It’s become increasingly apparent to me lately that an excessive amount of my cerebral energy is being spent considering how my actions are perceived by others, or, even, as I anticipate actions I might be inclined to engage in, how those future doings will, hypothetically, effect how others valuate my person. I suppose it’s natural to have a concern for one’s public image up to a point; after all, no one wants to be a social misfit, ostracized for thought, word or deed. And, I guess the ego for most of us can be a fairly delicate thing. But at what point does concern for image get in the way of acting with strength and conviction and without second thought?
Anyway, what has me thinking about these things is my engagement in a most interesting tome called The Book of Disquiet. The writer, Fernando Pessoa (not surprisingly, an early 20th century European immersed in his own particular existential dilemma) invented personas so elaborately constructed the identity of Pessoa himself disappeared. Claiming we are all many in one, a profusion of selves, Pessoa wrote through his heteronyms, text without singular aim, a compilation of disparate aphorisms never intended as a cohesive work.
It’s a lonely idea, I guess, but there is beauty and truth in by-passing the inevitable struggle with ego and identity many artists have to deal with.
I am reminded these mild early fall days of warm sun and cool nights, of our symbiotic relationship to the natural world. As much as we may wish to bask in our autonomy, the fact is we are of nature, simply a small fairly insignificant component of the natural environment. It’s pretty clear our very existence, dependent as it is on an oxygenated atmosphere and water-rich environs can’t really be separated in any meaningful way from our supportive world.
We are nature, nature is us. If we were pressed to name this embracing entity I suppose we might refer to it as God.
I’ve been reading that the divisiveness so prevalent these days among folks of differing political persuasions is caused to a not inconsiderable extent by media narratives that posit the news in terms of winners and losers. Rather than defining contemporary problems as mutual and in need of consensus solutions, stories in the news all too often portray ideological differences as warfare pitting one side against the other in a battle which will ultimately determine winner and loser. And, since news outlets no longer see any necessity in offering a balanced story line with pros and cons for any particular stance, partisans can gravitate to the site of their preferred ideological narrative, reinforcing the corrosive divisiveness.
So, I’m wondering if there’s any way to get everyone in the same army in the same camp or on the same team: to get Republicans and Democrats, creationists and scientists, Russians and Islamists and perhaps the entire animal kingdom wearing the same uniform. I fear it will happen only under the threat of imminent cataclysmic disaster. Of course the potential Armageddon will be attributed variously to godless atheism, head-in-the-sand anti-intellectualism, capitalistic excesses, the Infidel, whatever.
I guess that takes us back to where we started. Will we all ultimately be losers?
So, it’s come to my attention that through virtually my entire educational existence, a culture of relativistic truth has undermined the notion that some truths are truly and necessarily objectively true. I’ve come to realize that, through careful observation of nature using inductive reasoning practical truths have been and will continue to be established.
I guess this idea of virtual relativity has lodged itself into the peripheries of our intellect in part, at least, because social truths and values have been shown to vary with different peoples. And, I have to admit that sensitivity to cultural pluralism is certainly a good thing. But, I guess it’s led to the confusion that all truths are relative to the unique and differing perspectives of each of us. Moral truths, for instance, will differ depending on one’s sense of religious propriety or lack thereof. But, the process of science which involves painstaking data collection by numerous researchers over extended time periods that lead to useable innovative ideas and are regularly peer reviewed must necessarily be perceived as objective.
Anyway, I have to keep telling myself this, having been so thoroughly indoctrinated in the culture of relativity. Sustaining a healthy natural environment threatened as it is by the onerous pressures of human habitation depends upon accepting the objective findings of science.
As I understand it, science is a discipline whereby observations lead to evidence. The greater the number of observers along with the ever increasing number of observations lead to increasingly firmer, sounder more believable evidence. And, as time goes by and the multitudes of observations reinforce the evidence, truth appears; of course absolute truth can never be achieved because the possibility, as remote as that maybe, of new evidence entering the discussion can’t be discounted. But, practically speaking, from a pragmatic standpoint, science does sometimes reveal truths. And, in it’s unadulterated purity science continues to seek truths which improve quality of life, understanding of the natural world and the origins of our existence.
Unfortunately, skepticism as to ulterior motive has led some to doubt scientific evidence, and, I guess, for good reason. On the one-hand vested interests claim justification in the name of science for activities that benefit a few and may potentially do harm. Then, also, those who find scientific findings contradicting their preferred world views tend to discount the evidence as atheistic. And so, science becomes politicized, in part because the complexity of the evidence is difficult for us non-scientists to understand; in fact, it sometimes sounds like nonsense to our untrained ears.
So, political science (not to be confused with the discipline that studies scientifically the way politics works) may very well become political pseudo- science when in the hands of the politically astute, casting doubt, for many, on all scientific findings. Which is, indeed, unfortunate. It kind of sounds oxymoronic doesn’t it.
I’ve been reading, lately, that we apparently don’t all live in the same ethical world, that our moral perspectives diverge sometimes pretty dramatically, and, that this fact may very well account for the conflicting religious and political stances which seem so prevalent these days.
On the one hand you have those who champion the individual, operate according to the ethic of the golden rule: do no harm, treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated and exercise compassion for all vulnerable living things. And then you have another sizable constituency whose ethics centers on a sense of sacredness, pledge loyalty to a higher authority and firmly believe one’s social benefits be tied to one’s contributions.
It certainly seems to me both of these ethical worlds exist upon pretty sound foundations and I suspect the residents of each respective world probably have more in common, ethically speaking, than the on-going, divisive, media narrative presents. Maybe it’s time to invite my neighbors (who I’m pretty sure are firmly ensconced within the opposing camp) over for tea. As long as I can come up with conversational topics that don’t involve politics or religion.
Another thing I miss while alone in the wilderness is distraction. Other than the occasional animal rustling or bird song there are no distractions here. I can’t even get a cell phone signal.
The awareness of not being distracted makes me think I must be distracted a lot usually. I wonder how much of my life I spend distracted.
Which is one reason I didn’t mind falling in the water while trying to get into my canoe so much. It temporarily distracted me. Wilderness is so in your face, so absolute, such stark reality.
So, to deal with stark reality I brought along some distractions in the form of reading material and, obviously, writing pad.
One of the books is Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. The person telling the story in this book reminds me somewhat of myself. She goes on and on about whatever comes into her head. She tells in the book about having once been mad. I don’t think she ever fully recovered by the end of the book. I don’t know what that says about me.