Mythical Thinking

I’ve been trying to understand, lately, what exactly perpetuates the fairly widespread ideas of conspiracy theory surfacing these days in the political sphere. It occurs to me that perhaps many of us are being visited in our thinking by a deep-seated primal intuition: that appearance and reality are intertwined.

The problem with such thinking is that appearances change; what appeared to be one thing one day takes on different meaning at another time in another context. For mythic believers, a rigidity develops. The idea that once an ‘appearance’ is defined and locked in and what is thought to be the case must be the case, any sort of subtle change in or redefinition of what appeared to be the case can only be thought of in terms of conspiracy. Someone or something must be manipulating Truth.

I suppose one who engages in mythical thinking does realize a richly imaginative existence, one that can be shared with other like-minded conspiracy theorists, of which, it appears, there are many. One would hope, in the interests of a healthier society, reality will make an appearance at some point.

The Uncommon Man

I’ve been reading, lately, about the common man, the 99% of the population that make up the social milieu and wondering what exactly common men have in common. I’m guessing these folks (well, us folks) are mostly of middle-of-the-road social and economic status, probably have limited educational accomplishment, likely adhere to some sort of religious beliefs and most certainly rely on a social network of other individuals of more-or less like mind. We’re the everyday working stiffs who execute our often-uninteresting daily toils in the hope there lies ahead a future of personal economic progress which will provide and secure leisurely retirement.

The uncommon man on the other hand is the intellectual or man of action who drives the public narrative. Maintaining his superior status in a democratic society requires he keep a finger on the pulse of the populace. When the common man begins to lose his sense of hope in a favorable future the uncommon man, in order to maintain his status, must placate the masses by providing a positive vision that a favorable future lies in wait. To maintain societal stability, keep the masses striving for more and better, the uncommon man paints a picture of prosperity near at hand, the good life awaiting those who sustain the necessary drive to be successful.

The philosopher Eric Hoffer thought an uneasy, socially and economically threatened populace of common men who, perhaps, had lost the dream of upward mobility have the potential to produce mass movements that have in the past and will likely in the future dramatically affect the course of history.

Given the state of our world, these days, it seems to me, what we need to do is seek out an uncommon man who can produce for us all a vision of hope and cooperation.

An Impractical Dreamer

In the winter of his eighteenth year this young man fell madly in love (well, it was a serious crush anyway). The object of his unrequited affection was a demure sweet young lady who turned the young man, usually easygoing and affable, into a tongue-tied moron (or so he thought and was in fact true).

The episode was simply reflective of the young man’s nature. He conjured imaginings of romantic scenarios; of heroic stances he might take. He lived in a world of fictional narratives reinforced by the heroic storylines he regularly indulged: good triumphs, tragedy is overcome.

It would seem in retrospect such an imaginative reality would soon be repressed but it was maintained far longer than it might have been by avoiding unpleasant confrontation, keeping a distance from uncertain challenges and living in an (overly) protective home environment. As a college student our young dreamer immersed himself in studies of an impersonal nature, solitary endeavors not requiring excessive personal connections. He had friends of course. College life teems with unassuming young people of an accepting nature, all thriving in an essentially responsibility free environment.

Eventually, over time, even an impractical dreamer will have to face harsh realities. The awakening for our young man came with the threat posed by the draft lottery and the likelihood of involuntary military service. Basic training was eye opening. The young man found himself verbally assaulted. Name calling the likes of which he had never previously encountered (but guessed often referred to perverse sexual acts) was common.

Military service didn’t cure the young man, didn’t redirect him toward a more functional pragmatism. Even now as he passes middle age the man finds himself playfully toying with ideas and entertaining flights of fantasy. He has somehow been able to navigate through life being sufficiently useful as not to be a particular burden on society, you know, has basically paid his own way.

It’s good to know, I guess, that sometimes life provides a path for those who need to live an alternative reality.

An Educational Dilemma

I’ve been reading about knowledge boundaries and the idea of island as metaphor. Within the island, our body of knowledge, we pursue lines of thought, traverse the island, and eventually reach the shore beyond which lies the unknowable. The island grows as the breadth of our knowledge increases, the shoreline expands, and we are confronted with more mysteries and incomprehensive considerations that, when the island was smaller, were beyond our wildest imaginings. I guess the idea is, the more we know the more we don’t know.

For those of us who are not inclined to add dilemmas to the one’s we already struggle with, perhaps limiting knowledge is a preferable strategy. We gain the peace of unquestioning acceptance of things simply being the way they are as opposed to living the uncertainty of constantly seeking answers; the problem the chronically curious must deal with.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be either/or. I can appreciate peaceful contemplation and still entertain intermittent bouts of curiosity. I think, these days, my island is still slowly growing. I’m just not venturing to the beach as often as I used to.

A Chosen Leader

I’ve been reading about how mass movements are started, what exactly is required for people to unite in a collective opposition to the status quo. Such a phenomenon is often brought about, I guess, by economic insecurities and perceived loss of status which sometimes results in a breakdown of the social order. A lot of frustrated people find themselves treading water without a worthwhile goal to swim toward.

What these folks want, I suppose, is hope for a better future. They seek a leader who can spin a believable narrative promising improvement; someone to thumb his/her nose at the established ways, one who has little regard for prevailing institutions, one defiant in word and deed.

Usually such an individual emerges in response to the cries of the disenfranchised. Sometimes, though, a talented ambitious man may insight the masses through coercion and false narrative to rise up against their own best interests, to champion change for the sake of change, fed by the energy of their common opposition to perceived injustices and identification with their chosen leader. They rally for their side to win at all costs, but in so doing threaten in their vehemence the integrity of the institution allowing them the free expression they exercise.

An unsettling scenario, it seems to me.

The Twisted Contradictory Mottos of Totalitarianism

I’ve been thinking about the George Orwell novel “1984”, how the totalitarian regime in the book implemented catch phrases to secure the minds of the populace. ‘War is Peace’ is used to establish a permanent enemy, a scapegoat, that can be blamed for any and all ills that befall the citizenry. ‘Freedom is Slavery’ discourages individualism, promotes tribalism in order to keep everyone bound to the collective. ‘Ignorance is Strength’ encourages the subservient populace to forego intellectual reflection, follow the dictates of those in power, not think about things to hard and they will realize contented peace. The message is, I guess, that given such ideas along with sufficient deterrents a totalitarian regime turns people into sheep without them realizing it.

It does seem a bit familiar these days but I guess as long as a free exchange of ideas remains in place reasonable responses can happen.

 

 

Queen of America

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to have a national identity: how we might imagine some sort of consensual, some unifying set of shared values in our diverse population, an identity, we might imagine, manifesting itself in the actions of our chosen leaders, our elected representatives who we see putting into motion actions we consider important to maintaining our moral visions. Of course, as the political winds blow, half of us will be upbeat knowing our chosen leaders are heading the country in the right direction while the other half will passionately believe the opposite.

This conundrum has me thinking about the British. The Royal Family, having a centuries old heritage, provides a national identity for a pretty fair number of British citizens judging from the crowds one sees in photographs of various state rites and national observances. No longer wielding political sway the Royals serve as a unifying symbol for a population whose politics has produced the divisive likes of Margret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.

So, maybe we need a King or a Queen, someone to focus on in these days of extreme partisan division, some apolitical demi-god (or goddess) who represents the values our diverse population can agree upon, someone to reign over our national holidays as a symbol of unity.

Personally I can’t think of anyone who might adequately fill the bill but I’m open to suggestion.

Beauty in Death

I’m finding the transformation of nature this time of year breathtaking. The vibrancy and variety of colors transforms the environment so dramatically my visual surroundings become something totally other, so changed, that, on a walk in the woods, I find myself someplace unrecognizable as if it were another world.

Nature though is dying, she is in the throes of death, breathing a last gasp as she fades into dormancy. In another month these woods will appear dead, reduced to subdued browns and grays. They will have been abandoned by songbirds and hibernating animals. There will be little to suggest there is any life existing here at all. The death of nature will, of course, eventually transition into a sort of rebirth or at least a regeneration of life as the seasons advance.

What makes nature’s metaphorical death so unique is the flair, the exuberant celebration of finality she displays. Such an enthusiastic embrace of physical demise doesn’t seem to follow for the animal world except, perhaps, for certain humans convinced they too will be reborn in the spring.

A Story of a Boy

In the summer of his 12th year this boy and his friends were introduced to musical instruments. They were being groomed for eventual inclusion into the high school band. In his small-town competition wasn’t an issue. Bodies were needed, so by the time these kids reached 7th grade or so it was assumed most of them, if they stayed with it, would take their places beside the high schoolers in the concert band.

That same summer this boy’s best friend’s brother, on the very day he got his driver’s license was given the keys to the family ’52 Chevrolet and he (the boy) and his friend were invited to ride along, to share in the experience of new found freedom. The country roads near their hometown were wash board, loose gravel and narrow, under constant grading that pushed up gravel ridges that made the roads even narrower. Five miles or so into their ride the car began to swerve having edged into the gravel windrow on the side of the road, overcorrected, swerved again, jumped the gravel ridge, down into the ditch and struck a driveway abutment. For some reason beyond memory the boy was given the honor of riding ‘shotgun’ next to the driver while his friend sat in the back seat. The immediate interruption of forward momentum was unfortunately restricted only to the car. The boy, having struck the dashboard with his face was suddenly aware of no longer having any front teeth.

Anyway, the big deal that summer for the boy and his friends was getting a band instrument. Everyone wanted trumpets. The consensus was this was clearly a masculine choice, the girls opting for clarinets or flutes for reasons similarly relating to gender orientation. It soon became obvious that the lip strength it took to produce sound through a brass mouthpiece without supporting front teeth was a non-starter, as far as becoming a member of the brass section was concerned. After the months of anticipation, the letdown was significant. The boy envied his friends for awhile until he was introduced to an Instrument that didn’t require a strong embouchure. He became the proud possessor of an alto saxophone that he soon came to realize was, strictly from a physical standpoint an instrument quite superior, aesthetically speaking, to the trumpet.

The Passage of Time

Living in the northern climes, as I do, and spending a lot of time outdoors I’m reminded on nearly a daily basis of the passage of time. Early spring wildflowers bloom and fade within days giving way to slightly slower maturing vegetation which grows and goes to seed in anticipation of early fall flowers blooming and the lush greenery of the forest canopy turning to yellows and reds; all within a matter of weeks.

The process is beautiful, you know, and reasonably anticipated each year but living in the moment as I try to do is regularly interrupted by remembrances and anticipations imposed upon me by evolving nature.

I’m not complaining. Transitioning nature is a wonder to behold.  I must admit, though, to a feeling of melancholy as summer wains.  I find myself thinking of my inevitable mortal demise.  The feeling will dissipate as it always has, the seasons change and I will find myself in a world of cold, ice and snow in a time that will pass much more slowly.