I seem to be drawn, these days, to readings of a distinctly foreboding nature, philosophical outlooks despairing of the human condition, views that someone of a stoic nature might see as realistic, I suppose, but for those of us who rabidly consume the news a dark psychic presence persists as a familiar companion. This even though the scientific community races to relieve us of the potential devastation of the dreaded virus, developing, as they are, a viable vaccination.
Nevertheless, here I am, reading more Kierkegaard. ‘The Unhappiest One’ is written as an address to ‘The Fellowship of Buried Lives’, a rumination on who most aptly deserves the title. The first test is whether the contestant fears death, an immediate disqualification since the unhappiest one must certainly be without hope or sense of life’s values. To further cull the dour participants the title holder must to be found unhappy in her personal memories of the past and deceived in her hope for the future by the shadow of memory (K’s words here); hers is an unhappy consciousness.
Well, I’m certainly not in the running for such a title and I suppose there is something cathartic about grasping the idea of true, deep sorrow. Still, I really need to find something to read that’s a bit more uplifting.
I’ve been reading about an archaeological trek into remote Honduran jungle in search of a legendary ancient city. It was quite an amazing adventure, an Indiana Jones-like quest complete with impenetrable jungle, deadly snakes and swarms of biting insects. Upon the adventurers return to civilization several of them were found to have contracted a devastating disease: sand fly bites had introduced into their blood streams a most insidious parasite.
Due to the variety of mutations the tiny invaders assume, medical researchers were (and still are) hard pressed to even begin to eradicate the disease. No treatment now available will rid an infected body of the parasite completely, meaning, I guess, that one must play host to the uninvited community of little blood swimmers in perpetuity.
The reality of the situation rather takes the romance out of it all for us armchair adventurers: I suppose National Geographic will have to suffice.
I’ve been reading about the disenchantment with and removal, these days, of monuments to past figures of note whose behaviors, in retrospect, are being found wanting. The issue has me in mind of a trip I took to Eastern Europe awhile ago.
After the fall of the Soviet Union a massive effort to remove the statuary of the Communist elite, found in most every village, led to the creation of a ‘theme park’ near Vilnius in Lithuania. Large scale sculptures of Lenin, Stalin and lesser known figures were situated in a park-like setting with walking paths inviting public viewing. As I strolled along the shaded garden-like pathways, admiring the formidable statuary and thinking of the evils these men perpetrated against the captive populations, I became aware of barbed wire fencing encircling the park. Upon closer examination I found an ersatz moat and ‘guard towers’ as well: a not so subtle reminder, I suppose, of the years of oppression suffered during the Russian occupation.
I wonder if a similar theme park might be erected to house, in remembrance, statuary of our own forbearers who’s racist and anti-Semitic behaviors reasonably deserve a stern admonishment at the very least.
While on a bike ride the other day, I got to thinking about an unpleasant event that occurred a couple of years ago while riding the same circuit I was currently on. The past event involved hitting a dog that bounded out of a ditch, crashing, getting back on my bike and proceeding along. The bump on my helmeted head was disorienting enough for me to forget where exactly I was going.
As I continued along what I then perceived to be my current ride I got to wondering whether, in fact, I didn’t make it home at all after the crash years ago: that everything I have supposedly experienced since the dire event is imagined, the product of my active brain within my comatose body. Suppose I then thought, that, in fact, I’m lying in a hospital bed intubated, attached to a feeding tube, my loved ones by my side debating when to pull the plug.
After I supposedly got home and supposedly took a shower, wondering how I could know for certain the nature of my existence, truth revealed itself. My imagination, I realized, is insufficient to conjure the occurrences reported in the nightly news.
I’ve been reading, lately, about the paradigm of sensual pursuit, the epitome of the insatiable, unrepentant lover.
The idea of maintaining inextinguishable desires is generally thought of these days as perverse, especially given the notoriety of the recently deceased Hollywood mogul whose despicable behaviors over the years were indeed onerous. But, in a purer sense, the notion of a categorical love, love of an ideal rather than that limited to an individual has a certain aesthetic beauty about it: romantic love in its finest sense.
An interaction of willing participants of romantic inclination, it seems to me, although likely requiring a bit of deception regarding singularity of interest, draws out the natural affinity for, an awareness of, human potential we all share and benefit from as we grow toward completeness of being.
I like the idea very much if instinctual social proprieties of mutual respect are observed. Realizing, as I do, though, my own energy limitations I’ll leave such pursuits to the young.
I’ve been thinking about the subject matter I’ve been seeking, lately, in the books I’ve been buying, titles like: The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a Generation for Failure, and How America Lost Its Mind: The Assault on Reason that’s Crippling Our Democracy, might seem to suggest an inherent skepticism on my part regarding the general intelligence of my fellow citizens. Before even opening the covers on these books, just the fact of selection would appear to suggest critical assumptions on my part, and I’m realizing that such an assessment of my intentions is probably pretty accurate.
These books are filled with criticisms of the ‘cancel culture’ removing statues and place names of statesmen in our past found to no longer be P. C. or racist or worse; ‘helicopter parenting’ (pretty self-explanatory); ‘safetyism’: protecting ‘fragile students’ from having to face unpleasant truths; how we have ‘woke’ to subtle, systemic racism (no complaint here); how the ‘heckler’s veto’ shouts down views unfavorable to the shouters. And I find out about how ‘deep state’ conspiracy theorists are undermining our trust in social institutions. Alternative realities, fed by misinformation and half-truths presented by dubious sources whose real aim is the lucrative income outrage can produce.
Anyway, this deliberate move on my part to find and delineate the flaws in contemporary society, reinforcing what I already believe, has me rethinking my intellectual consumption as I sit back in my armchair with furrowed brow. I fear I’m probably not serving the common good to any great extent, realizing as I do that others following their own intuitive inclinations, consuming information supportive of their perspectives, are as unlikely as I am to be swayed in their beliefs.
The chasm seems to be widening. It’s hard to oppose the ‘democratization of truth’ in a free society no matter how much misinformation abounds. I wonder if we’ll be able to unite when push really does come to shove?
It’s hard not to be a bit anxious these days, I guess: the dread disease the realities of pervasive systemic racism, political ineptitude, failing social structures have me despairing as I follow the daily news. I find myself positioned above an abyss within which lies a state of serious anxiety. (Well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it is dark in there.)
Anyway, I’ve been reading this new biography about the life of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard that seems pretty relevant to current dilemmas. Kierkegaard, it so happened, was deeply troubled. His personal insecurities had him thinking and writing a lot about anxiety, not the kind of anxiousness one has awaiting a dental appointment but a deep existential angst unbounded by time or place or context. He came to the realization that to survive one must proceed alone without expectation of support and embrace despair to fully grasp the gravity of life. Such a perspective, he thought, would relieve him of the illusions of unearned well-being and bring about deep inner understanding and peace.
This existential view acquired a lot of followers for a while, early to mid-20th century. The trying times of the Great Depression and two world wars, I suspect, made such a philosophy pretty palatable. K’s salvation though, the focus upon which he centered his being was Christianity. Embrace the absurd, he wrote, and take the leap into faith.
I guess what it all comes down to is finding that personal center of being.
I’ve just returned from a brief sojourn into the wilds. After being sequestered for nearly three months, enduring the medias’ constant reminders of the rising death toll brought about by the dreaded virus, not to mention the depressing news of fomenting racial unrest, getting away was pretty compelling. So, I sought out and found a small, remote campground which I believed to be far enough off the beaten track that seclusion would be assured.
There were only two other parties camping at opposite ends of the campground when I arrived but within a day the campground was nearly filled with RV’s and tents. In normal times I can’t imagine this remote location attracting so many others, but, I suspect, they must have been as desperate as I to escape the harsh realities that have been imposed upon us. (Well, perhaps we’ve imposed them on ourselves; the daily news cycle tends to reinforce both views.) Anyway, it was pretty clear the other campers sought the escape I did, and I have to say everyone was very polite, maintaining an appropriate social distance and staying within their family groups.
Upon returning, never one to enjoy peaceful oblivion for too long, I opened my laptop and slowly sorted through the 68 new email posts that had accumulated, thought about the lawn that must be mowed and car that needs washing and re-established the routine I so desperately sought to interrupt. A pleasant brief respite nevertheless.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination these days (for scifi buffs especially) to envision the collapse of civilization, an ensuing dark age in the not so distant future. For those suffering the hardships of living paycheck to paycheck when there isn’t one, a harsh reality has set in and shouldn’t be made light of. But for fans of apocalyptic literature a certain symmetry is to be found and acknowledged, if not enjoyed, as the various narratives and behaviors brought on by fear of the dreaded disease plays out.
The ever-present media coverage reveals incidents of hoarding of basic needs, stand-offs with armed militias, the spreading of deep-state conspiracies, but also compassion and self-sacrifice of many not the least of which are health-care workers. All these scenarios can be found in the best doomsday fiction. The zombie invasions of ‘World War Z’ come to mind as does the devastating epidemic in ‘The Stand’ and the cannibalism in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. And then, after civilization’s total collapse, centuries pass and the remnants of the 21st century are discovered, archaeological artifacts, as in ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz’.
Such fictional story lines remain entertaining because, of course, no one really believes things will become all that dire. Maybe there’s a bit of cathartic relief, after all, in imagining how much worse things could be.
One of the big questions science continues to seek answers to is, that, after thousands of years of guttural commands, slaps on the back of heads and so forth what compelled primitive man to develop language. Why did the close descendants of mitochondrial eve ( the mother of us all) suddenly take an interest in finding audible correspondences to the specifics of her environment? No doubt genetic natural selection slowly, blindly, stumbled along in the right direction but perhaps a chemical boost sped up the development of the primitive mind.
As our hunter-gatherer forbearers became adept at locating native vegetation of all sorts that was palatable and nourishing they might have happened upon a most unusual fungus, a mushroom that when ingested expanded mental capabilities, awakened their minds to possibilities beyond the wildest imaginings. The psilocybin in the mushroom just may have been the catalyst responsible for the development of a nuanced language. I suspect it may have had something to do with the discovery of supernatural beings as well.