How Gunsmoke Can Save the World

I’ve been watching re-runs, lately, of old Gunsmoke episodes. This oater usually ends with a peaceful resolution established by Marshall Dillon. Dodge City is once again made safe by the larger than life lawman. Injustice is vanquished, evil clearly at a disadvantage in Dodge.

Bad things happen, of course, over the dramatic hour. Good people are taken advantage of, racism rears it’s ugly head, murder happens. In the end, though, Matt, Kitty, Doc and Chester (or Festus) will be sitting around a table in the Long Branch at peace with their existence.

For hard-core fans (naïve as we may be) a subliminal message: good will always prevail and, by extension we are all in the embrace of a benevolent God. Delusional, I suppose, if taken too seriously and quickly undermined by personal tragedy, still, if a moments peace is provided why not embrace it.

A Public Persona

I’ve been thinking about how the public eye so often transforms individuals caught within it. A narrative is invariably required of those publicly recognized. The storyline of one’s life, when spelled out to a waiting audience, will almost always be enhanced beyond the mundane existence one lives. Truth be known, most lives are quite ordinary, hardly the stuff of inspiring fiction.

What got me thinking about this was exposure the other day to the biography of Ernest Hemmingway. E. H.’s early successes as a young writer earned him high praise and recognition that eventually led him to remake himself. Half-truths depicting him as a hard-living, risk-taking soldier of fortune garnered near constant media attention. He became who he must be but wasn’t. Living the lie led to broken relationships, alcoholism and eventually, suicide.

In contrast, E. H.’s contemporary, J. D. Salinger, who also received considerable attention for an early novel, shunned public attention throughout his life. He was able, for the most part, to ignore attempts to draw him into the role of reclusive genius the media tried to create for him.

I wonder, given the choice of inventing a persona in order to receive ego-boosting adulation or living an anonymous private life, if at some time the public eye were to fall on me, how I would choose.

I’m really not too concerned about having to make such a choice.

Fresh Ideas

It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve had a fresh idea, or even happened upon a fresh idea someone else may have recently had. I’m a pretty firm believer that without fresh ideas stagnation occurs and the choice to stagnate or progress is no choice at all, it seems to me.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about what happens during those adolescent years when the instinctual urge to break away leads to fundamental questioning of values and experimentation with ideas and actions that push the boundaries of the familiar and expected, which may, at times, result in behaviors that are risky and maybe border on the irresponsible and may even be thought of as questionable on a moral level. But, what such a stance does provide, given a reasonable helping of basic human needs, is a sense of freedom from convention that, well directed, has a potential to realize fresh ideas.

If we allow that creative thought is likely to be nurtured most effectively when there is freedom from the immutability of established ideas, allowing it (creative thought, that is) to run its course will likely be the preferable avenue to take. I think we should champion youth, relish their energies, tolerate their impiety, impetuousness and contempt, and tolerate their ambivalence toward established truths. By encouraging their pursuit of they know not what, we all might realize new ways to tackle the problems of our complex existence.

 

Ground of Being

I’ve been reading about this sense that we all have, beneath our logical instinctual understanding, a ground that sustains our very existence; a faith in the existence of something without which survival would be impossible.
This something may be, I think necessarily is, of a very nebulous character and in fact, if and when it takes on too specific an identification may very well lose much of its potency. Naming it is losing it. Our rational selves are inclined to try to grasp this something, identify it, get intimate with it, worship it, maybe, but any such action only diminishes it. All we can and must do is acknowledge its existence.

We might think to construct symbols for and procedures by which we can more easily gain access, to keep it close to our waking consciousness, but any such activity must be of an abstract nature, no more than a parallel reference acknowledging only the existence of this something that defies labeling of any kind because this ground of being is essential to our very nature.

Ok, so I kind of get this, you know, because I can sense hopefulness on even the dreariest and most depressing of days. I guess, though, I maybe should pay a bit more attention, work a bit harder to sustain this essence because my very being may depend on it and as difficult as it is to think about something so ineffable and adverse to description I will dedicate contemplative time to reaching deep.

Realizing the Unthought

I’ve been reading about the 20th Century philosopher Michel Foucault, a truly enigmatic Frenchman preoccupied with thoughts of death. It wasn’t just death in general he thought about.  He seemed intent on taking his own life.

Suicide or near-death experiences he believed would reveal the ‘unthought’, conceptions beyond imagining, not to be found even in dreams. Extreme behaviors, sadomasochistic indulgences, which carried one to the brink of insanity, had the potential in our philosopher’s view, to reveal what lay beyond the capacity of the rational human mind. Foucault thought of madness as a potentially positive occurrence, as a category of being realized by those, artists and such, stretching the envelope of societal propriety that, he believed, in the future, be accepted as a pathway to the ‘unthought’, to a deeper knowledge beyond the limitations of conventional reason.

I have to admit it all seems a bit much to me; my daily workouts are about as masochistic as I ever want to get and I have few acquaintances that inspire in me any sort of sadistic imaginings. I guess I’ll just have to leave the unthought unthought.

Virtual Reality and Dementia

I’ve been reading that Virtual Reality technology is becoming pretty sophisticated these days: put on the headset and find yourself in an alternate world so all-encompassing it all becomes pretty believable. Well, as a recreation anyway.

Apparently the technology is being applied to nursing home residents suffering from dementia. The intent is to help them restore brain function, I guess. I’m wondering if or when VR will be taken a step further: headsets for hospice care. I can imagine, rather than heavy sedation a journey to a pain-free realm of serenity, beauty and peace might not be such a bad way to retire from life.

What would happen, I wonder, as physical life expires. Does one live on psychically in beautiful VR? Seems kind of religious. Could it be technological advances will redefine the notion of heaven?

Leaps into Freedom

I’ve been reading about some of the deep thinkers of the early 20th century, how they struggled to come to grips with the tumultuous uncertainty of the time. Clearly, the 1920’s must have been difficult: the western world had just endured a devastating world war that put question to the very value of human life. The dissolution of long held beliefs brought about by Darwin’s theories of evolution 20 years earlier had serious religious implications for many and Einstein’s relativity theory upset the belief that time and space were fixed entities.

So, the philosophical search was on to find a grounded reality. Questions abounded: What lies within the bounds of knowable truth? How does language determine what can be thought? How do social norms repress spirit? In various ways a common thought occurred to these brilliant thinkers: In order for man to rise above the moral and spiritual ennui of the times he must muster the courage to intellectually move beyond, to take the leap into the freedom of personal choice without any assumption of reward, earthly or heavenly, expecting nothing and assuming total responsibility for one’s existence. Setting aside the false assumptions brought about by the mythical thinking embedded in language will lead one to realize a truly authentic life: to being one’s true self.

How exciting it must have been for those who dared take the leap beyond conventional foundations, accepting one’s existence fully in place and time, realizing the freedom of personal responsibility. The headiness of absolute personal freedom, I suspect, was eventually tempered by the need for close relationships and the giving they require.

Resisting the Inevitable

Doing my daily stretching regimen the other day and finding it occasionally painful has gotten me thinking about the inevitability of the physical downslope I’m descending. Ageing has a way of putting one’s physical prowess into perspective. Memories of the stamina and flexibility that once were mine have become distant.

So, as a counter measure to deal with this somewhat depressing realization I’ve obtained a wrist mounted device that measures my daily physical activity. I get encouragement sent to me online if I meet certain daily parameters. The device functions as a personal trainer to keep me on task, keep my physical activity reasonably high, keep the calories burning. This athletic enterprise has me, for the time being, feeling pretty good about my physical health, stamina and weight stability. My daily exercises, though, aren’t getting any easier. I remain aware of the reality of my situation, that the best I can hope for is to maintain an equilibrium for awhile.

I’m not giving up. Better, I think, to at least stay mobile. I’m determined to use it until I lose it.

A Playful Adolescent

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.

Unimpeachable Truths

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.’