The Romantic Sublime

The romantic inclination to solitary communion with nature in order to find truth in beauty is beyond doubt appealing and resonates with anyone who enjoys an invigorating walk in the woods.  The thoughtful Romantic realizes, of course, that nature has her darker side. The sun isn’t always shining, the birds sometimes are silent and Nature can on occasion lose her nurturing aspect, may in fact turn violent and even hostile, threatening the well-being of humankind. Nature’s beauty isn’t lost, though, in the violence of a hurricane or snow-storm but is re-characterized as sublime: an overwhelming and awesome power beyond human imagining.

It seems Nature’s sublimity is increasingly apparent these days, extreme weather events occurring with regularity. A thoughtful Romantic might wonder if perhaps there’s anger being leveled at a humanity exploiting her realm, encouraging us to take heed, to realize a necessary respect for the nurturing environment that sustains us.  Well, being the timid Romantic I am, I’m doing my best to reduce my carbon footprint in the hope Mother Nature will see fit to allow my continuing existence.

 

On Becoming Who You Are

I’ve been wondering how one comes to know who one is. I’m thinking that by the time most of us become adults we pretty much know our biases, preferences, how we will react in certain conceivable situations; at a particular moment in time, anyway. But it seems unlikely that that knowledge will remain constant as one ages. What we may value as adolescents certainly evolves over time and I suspect that who we are now may bare very little resemblance to who we were then and is likely to be an entirely different person in the future.

So we become, right? As long as we’re cogent and interacting with others our experiences will change us. We will, likely, engage as much as possible in comfortable settings with people of like mind because we seek the safety of familiarity. Even so we’ll find ourselves outside our comfort zone at times which will require a ‘letting go’, an inevitable loss of self-recognition.  And of course some of us are risk takers pursuing new experiences that will inevitably expand and distort our sense of self.

But, either way, we won’t stay the same, and knowing who one is at any point in time should, I guess, involve fairly constant re-evaluation. I suppose as one ages the pace of change slows down a bit, settling into routines and all, but I’m looking forward nevertheless to experiencing the future me, hoping the individual I become will demonstrate a stronger sense of compassion and wisdom.

Power Cred

I’ve been wondering, lately, what exactly it means to have ‘power’, beyond, of course, the physical impetus to get up in the morning and go about one’s daily activities. There appears to be a sort of psychological power associated with social relationships. I’ve been surprised on occasion while in a group of relative strangers to have my opinions or comments viewed as credible whether or not they reflect the perspectives of the listeners.

There must be some connection between credibility and allotted power: does the credibility come from speaking the truth or from the manner in which one’s opinions are delivered: loud and forceful as opposed to quiet and thoughtful. How much of one’s inherent ‘power’, I wonder, is the result of physical presence: age, grooming or one’s wardrobe? I do find, while running errands while fairly disheveled, unwashed and in work clothes that I’m sometimes looked at askance. It may be my imagination but young women in particular seem to turn away in perceptible disgust sometimes. I would suspect my power cred is pretty low in such circumstances.

I would like to think that conveying truths and avoiding unverifiable and suspect premises is where the power cred lies but I suspect that, in most instances, it probably has more to do with individual likability.

The End of Civilization as We Know It

I’ve been reading a commentary lauding the virtues of free-market Capitalism. The author champions the Ayn Randian conception of unrestrained capitalistic growth, giving free-rein to anyone with the wits and ambition to produce without regulative restriction, capital goods and services, which, he tells us, means more quality products produced through competition which in the end, we are assured, will raise everyone’s quality of life. A bit of social engineering through subtle advertising will convince us all to buy more, seek out the wondrous new products we had no idea even existed just yesterday.

My skeptical nature leads me to see a problem with such a rosy picture. For just one thing, these new and wonderful life-enhancing, time-saving products will (and, of course, have already) require(d) us consumers to put in extra time at work and, I suspect we will, before long,( in the immortal words of the great Tennessee Ernie Ford), ‘owe our soul(s) to the company store’.

More for you, more for me may sound good but uncontrolled exploitation of the earth’s resources will result in scarcity which will put the ‘good life’ out of the reach of increasing numbers of working poor. Without viable consumers, producing industries will fail and before long, just a matter of time, we will experience the collapse of civilization as we know it. A new Dark Age will ensue; survivors will find new meanings and values in existence and begin again to build family and community.

Well, maybe I’m being a bit extreme in my imaginings; but maybe not.

An Incurable Romantic

I suppose there must be an inclination for the thoughtful mind to balance opposites. During the 18th century the scientistic logic of the Enlightenment generated the philosophical counterpoint of Romanticism, a view of nature as transcendent ‘beauty as truth, truth beauty’. The thinking was, I guess, that Nature was the source of all knowledge, the way to deep understanding, so communing with nature, engaging in contemplation of the natural world was the way one might proceed to fully find the secrets our world holds.

I wonder if the adolescent ideas of ‘romance’ get in the way sometimes of an understanding of the significance of this early philosophy. Certainly the aspects of the romantic displayed in media dramatics: maudlin emotionalism, heroic fantasy and the like are a far cry from the philosophical significance of 18th century Romanticism.

I think that the attention to our nurturing natural world that the Romantics found so significant mustn’t be forgotten. The contemplative mind will embrace those ideas and work to philosophically assimilate them. Hopefully the true’ Romantic spirit’ won’t be lost amidst the superficiality of our popular culture.

Capitalism

I’ve been reading, how, in the 18th century the spirit of capitalism was instrumental in establishing wide spread personal freedoms and a kinder more cooperative society. The concept of free marketing meant everyone had opportunity to go into business for herself, solidifying her relationship with her fellow townsfolk and contributing to the betterment of all.

I guess it took a while before the realization there might be a downside to a materialistic prosperity to take hold. Class division, owners versus workers, made for disproportionate gains. Access to natural resources, mineral and timber rights and land ownership contentions, leading eventually to excessive exploitation of resources all spelled out a basic human fallibility: an over-blown, out-of-control self-interest. Obtaining more, often much more, didn’t necessarily translate to altruistic behaviors.

And, now, as the divide between the moneyed and the poor continues to grow, the more enlightened among us call for a moral capitalism, a conservation of the earth’s resources and a fairer distribution of wealth.

As I look about at what’s happening these days it appears we still have a way to go with that.

A Social Contract

I’ve been reading about the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau who developed quite an enthusiastic following in 18th century France. The gist of his thinking had to do with the idea of subordinating individuality to participation in the ‘social welfare’ of all in the community (which he identified pretty clearly as ‘us’ not ‘them’, a xenophobe, I guess). He advocated a purer, simpler life free of the oppressive class divisions that competitive commercialism produced. The primacy of our community should always supersede personal acquisition and behaviors, he offered, which sounded to pretty much everyone at the time a virtuous direction for society to take.

Anyway, around the same time the enlightened public (the well-to-do ones anyway) were enthusiastically embracing these ideas, the king, Louis XVI was bankrupting France, allowing a lot of folks to go homeless and starving in the streets. Oblivious to the plight of the masses his Queen, Marie Antoinette, suggested that if the people were starving they should just go ahead and eat cake.

The people understandably revolted, stormed the Bastille, released political prisoners and guillotined the royal couple. The leadership vacuum was filled by the likes of an egocentric Robespierre who took to extremes the philosophical perspectives of our Rousseau such that if one wasn’t overtly sacrificing for the ‘general will’ she might likely end of guillotined or hung. Apparently, Rousseau’s ideas got a bit out of hand, applied with a bit too much zeal.

Lessons to be learned, I guess: be skeptical of leaders that attempt to isolate and demonize a perceived evil ‘other’, that find conspiracies were they don’t exist. Do we need another Napoleon?

Realizing the Unthought

I’ve been reading about the 20th Century philosopher Michel Foucault, a truly enigmatic Frenchman preoccupied with thoughts of death. Well, it wasn’t just death in general he thought about but his own demise and how he might best accomplish it that seemed to pre-occupy him.

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.

 

 

Wisdom

I’ve been wondering lately how exactly one achieves wisdom. After reading credible commentary on the actual lives of some of western civilization’s most notable philosophers it appears that, more often than not, the great minds of history have fallen well short of achieving the high ideals they advocate in their writings. When it came to basic living and social functioning many of our philosophical heroes struggled; were pretty inept to be perfectly honest. They often capitulated to oppositional forces out of fear of retribution from an intolerant church or tyrannical politics. They tended to fail in attempts to establish lasting relationships and they regularly came up short of the moral imperatives they so often championed.

It makes me wonder how seriously I should take Socrates admonishment that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ or the Delphic injunction to ‘know thyself’. Should I even wonder what I can know or what ultimately I ought to do? Can I hope for more than what I have reasonably before me?

The alternative, though, is daunting: proceeding without direction, acting exclusively from self-interest or pursuing survival as an end-in-itself. I guess great ideas and thoughts lift us above the mundane, offer possibility and hopefully help us maintain a healthy sense of altruistic support for our fellow man.

I guess I’ll keep reading.

The Downside of the Examined Life

I’ve been reading lately the musings of a young philosopher who has spent considerable time trying to make sense of his life (worth living, he wonders) through investigation of the profound offerings of the great thinkers of the past. He tells us of a less than ideal childhood, of searching for answers in his readings as a student, of a confused sense of need for someone to share his life with while at the same time desiring solitary un-interrupted contemplation, finally settling on the belief that the ultimate motivation of all men is self-interest.

Caught up as he was in the existentialist thinkers (who, given the history of the times had good reason for their pessimistic assessments of humanity, I suppose) our hero (and how can we think of him otherwise pursuing truth as he was) descended into the dark realm from which no man escapes unscathed, placing upon himself the burden of humanities failings and facing the inevitable disaster which will inevitably follow. Kind of like living under a dark cloud, I guess.

Anyway, in the end our young philosopher does appear to re-enter life to some degree, remarrying and having a child, decisions which carry along with them sufficient anxieties to over shadow the thoughts of the existentialists. One would think.