A First Order Luddite

I have a friend who fights a constant battle with all things electronic. Computer related devices, never found to behaving as they should are a particular source of anger and frustration. Such devices assume, for her, an adversarial identity, become almost sentient beings malevolently oppositional in nature. These devices are recognized by her as being potentially useful, but achieving desired results is never easy, often times completely elusive resulting in frustration bordering on physical assault of the offending device effectively ending any attempt to achieve hoped for ends.

I find the illogic of it all pretty interesting given this person is a thoughtful pragmatist, a rule follower that deduces solution to everyday problems that I’m often inclined to waver on as I weigh options and entertain possibilities of all sorts.

I suppose our alternate abilities make us a reasonably functional team though it is certainly one requiring patience and tolerance on both sides.

Living a Lie

In light, these days, of the steady questioning of the validity and truthfulness offered through the public narrative, what with ‘fake news’ and ‘the big lie’ before us on nearly a daily basis I find it interesting that I have recently been approached by a friend who, in another context, suggests everyone is ‘living a lie’.

The idea that one is ‘living a lie’ implies deliberate subterfuge, a conscious intent to deceive and mustn’t be confused with a distracted pre-occupation with life’s minor difficulties, losing track of the Big Picture resulting in identity crises: an entirely different issue.

I think my friend’s idea must be meant within a religious context: something about the lack of acknowledgement of the Truth of the Christian message or some such. The implications are, pretty clearly, that we all should recognize our inherently sinful natures, focus on our frailties and failings and seek forgiveness so we may exalt in our redemption through God’s good graces.

There’s certainly something to be said for seeking and finding respite on occasion when life’s pressures become particularly difficult as they do for all of us of normal cognitive functioning, but it seems unnecessary for one to embrace blind commitment at the expense of freedom of thought and action.

An Enlightening Perspective

I’ve been reading essays, lately by the 19th Century philosopher William James. W. J. believed the best path to a healthy happy existence passed through religious belief, which, he writes, involved embracing the best, ‘more eternal’ things in life. He poses his argument at a time when many were coming to grips with the revelations science had uncovered about the natural world. Mysteries previously attributed to the supernatural became understandable; an Enlightenment world view undermined religious belief for those who thought about such things. W. J. argues philosophical pursuit of ‘objective truth’ will only yield, in the end, a deadly dogmatism, an intellectual dead end unable to accommodate experiential re-discovery. Such a pursuit lacks grasp of the realization that scientific knowledge is but a drop in the sea of the unknown.

Our philosopher maintains all of us, everyone, has an ‘inner voice’, an intuitive sense beyond our rational, logical minds that we sometimes suppress, but, when acknowledged can contribute to a superior life experience. One must, he suggests, exercise intellectual bravery, seeking answers to Life’s Big Questions, to not fear being wrong, to conjure the faith to believe. Skepticism he writes delays man’s emotional, intellectual development, is no more than a delaying tactic for those afraid to be wrong. A foray into the metaphysical, the supernatural world is an enlightening prospect, a means of realizing possibilities of eternal entities which will convey a sense of optimism to those religiously embracing that which is beyond the confines of science.

On the face of it, to my 21st century mind, W. J. seems a bit too optimistic. Was the late 19th century a simpler more naïve time? Well, certainly not. It’s just that we’ve put the front and center LBQ’s on the back burner these days.

An Audience with Lord Ganesha

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.