The Illusion of Freedom

I’ve been thinking, lately, about what constitutes freedom. I imagine a freedom of movement, to travel undeterred, to acquire whatever man be required to ensure a semblance of safety.

Now I find the idea of ‘freedom’ has taken on political nuance: those who oppose vaccination demand the freedom to choose in spite of science informing us the virus will mutate, be with us much longer than it might have if most of us were vaccinated. The anti-vaxxers oppose vaccine requirements with demonstrations, touting ‘my body my choice’, which in itself is pretty interesting since many of these same folks refuse to accept a woman’s right to abortion.

I guess I should count myself fortunate that I can still find temporary solace in my local environs, seek short-term get-a-ways to recharge and realize the inherent freedom such affords.

The Media Eco-System

I heard the term ‘media eco-system’ used the other day and got to thinking about what that might encompass.

An eco-system as I understand it, consists of a complexity of mutually dependent inter-acting parts that constitute a ‘whole’ and embodies an aspect if not the totality of the realities of the organisms within. The media eco-system provides us captives a diverse selection of socio-cultural perspectives that demand belief, rejection, adherence or refutation of the sensational often incendiary information conveyed, pushing those of us locked into the media world toward extremes of opinion and behaviors not to mention paranoia.

I’ve come to realize the media eco-system is essentially oppositional by design, generating anger that insures the rabid following necessary to the systems’ sustainability. So, I wonder, how do I stay informed about the things that matter these days without getting sucked into the vile vortex.

I guess, to be fair, not all news presentation is sensationalized. I’ll just have to look harder to find a fair and balanced coverage. (Not sure, but I think that might be the slogan of one of the more egregious sources.)

A Deep Sense of Place

I’ve been reading about the villagers of rural Sumatra who have occupied their ancestral lands for generations. The rich volcanic soil and abundant rainfall have provided reliable rice production for families to remain in place for a thousand years or more. Such an extended presence has led these folks to develop deep spiritual connection to the land. Beliefs have developed over time securing a sense of peace and common bond among these rural farmers. Tabus have evolved to ward off ill-fortune, rituals, past down over the generations, are performed to appease nature’s gods.

How incredible it must be to have such a deep sense of place, a conception almost unimaginable for Scandinavian transplants like me, so far removed from any place we might think of as ancestral. We immigrants can, of course, understand our inherent ties to nature traceable back to our primordial past, our single-celled ancestors, but we lack the personal connection to place, the spiritual and physical continuity of the Sumatran villagers.

Things change. The aggressive influx of the revealed religions undermines traditional beliefs, interrupt respect for local sacred places. Growing populations force more villagers to commute to jobs in the city where material values take hold and village life loses it’s sense of cultural autonomy.

I guess it will always be the case that new ideas will eventually disrupt old beliefs, for better or worse.

Controlled Hallucinations

I’ve been reading that certain neuro-scientists have determined that ‘reality’, the domain within which we all live, embodies a world existing in the intersection of memory and observation: that our cognitive awareness consists of ‘controlled hallucinations’.

I guess what this must means is that the memories we rely on will undergo change over time, likely soften, flex toward favorable interpretation and what our senses observe at one point in time will likely vary with age and experience.

I wonder if the ‘controlled’ part of this idea is about dealing with the psychological baggage I carry around with me that gets in the way of my otherwise generally pleasant existence. I can live well enough with the idea my reality consists of hallucinations.

escape

I’ve been thinking lately about escape. The psychological desire to retreat to unfamiliar environs even for a couple of days is truly compelling. Months long wait lists for camper purchases and campground reservations unavailable into late fall informs me I’m not alone. The uncertainty of contracting the dreaded virus variant even after being vaccinated has led the more responsible among us to seek outdoor activities away from urban crowds.

I long for such escape realizing at the same time that the whole notion is illusory: leaving home, traveling, is at best a distraction, a means of removing oneself from one’s daily realities, a short-term reprieve at best.

Knowing this truth changes nothing. If anyone hears of a lightweight camper for sale, please let me know.

Realizing Relevance

I recall reading years ago a comment written by Kurt Vonnegut in one of his novels, I forget which one, that, although we all suffer through life’s inequities, in the end all anyone really wants is to be granted a bit of dignity. I sense deep truth in this idea but lately I’ve been thinking that realizing some sort of relevance may be more important.

These thoughts come to mind as I wonder, lately, about my own relevance: no longer in the ‘work force’, disengaged from many of my former social interactions, occupying myself with activities many would think, I suspect, of being little more than playtime. I live comfortably in retirement with the basic benefits afforded anyone who has worked most of his/her life, but is it enough? Should I be doing more by contributing my vast accumulated knowledge and skills to the proliferation of alienated misdirected youth so apparent everywhere one looks?

As I think about my own alienated misdirected youth and the skepticism with which I viewed the opinions of my elders whose life experiences might have been worthy of my consideration, I’m inclined to live with my questionable relevance and just accept the slight dignity age allows.

The Beauty of Rationalization

I’ve been thinking, lately, about the nature of consumer capitalism and how it tends to disenfranchise tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. Folks who are, on the whole, perfectly functional individuals, who have been caught in an impossible financial bind not always of their own making, find themselves unable to provide basic human needs, particularly shelter.

I’ve been reading about a large sub-culture of nomads living in various mobile vehicles who rely on scant social security payments and taxing seasonal employment to make ends meet. The dilemma has me wondering how these folks, who have not chosen to ‘drop out’ in order to exploit the social safety net but rather work in order to maintain an autonomy, deserve such a tenuous existence.

Convinced as I am of the oppressive predicament suffered by thousands, of whom I’ve been made aware by a dedicated and credible reporter who spent extended time living with these vulnerable folks, I find myself disturbed and righteously indignant at the unfairness of it all.


But, to be honest and upon further consideration I must admit my righteous indignation is pretty hard to sustain, you know, having to suffer such distressing contemplation, which has led me to the rationalization that maybe not all of these folks are such innocent victims, that maybe their dilemmas are the result of irresponsibility on their part; maybe they dealt frivolously with their formal education, blew off consumer math, made bad choices in the selection of spouses.

So now, upon even further consideration I find I must relieve myself of my overly righteous suffering. I find myself able to comfortably return to the placid complacency which is my mien and so proceed with my normal daily routines untroubled by occurrences beyond my control.

Why We Laugh

I’ve been reading that laughter is a means of communication. It’s an infectious behavior that manifests in social groups particularly but not exclusively in party settings. It’s understandable I guess as a stress reliever given the social pressures we all endure. What we laugh at though is often, more than likely really, about disparaging someone.

Humor may be self-deprecating or gentle teasing but a good laugh generally requires a victim and the focus of derision will often be someone seen as holding a position of superiority, a boss perhaps, or someone seen as feigning dignity. So, it’s a status thing. Put-downs level the playing field psychologically, distill our insecurities and are great sources of raucous laughter shared with friends.
Certain comedic routines feed the same need. There are comedians who play the dunce card; who display an incompetence or obliviousness that makes us all feel better about ourselves.

In any case it appears that humor tends to focus on subjects who are clearly inferior to us, a true doofus or two who allow us the illusion we are good and well-functioning individuals, at least for a little while. Which, I guess, is reason enough for a little fun-poking, realizing, of course, each of us is likely to be the recipient of the poking at some point.

Fundamentalist Fervor

I’ve been wondering lately what sort of life events, what kind of social influences one would have to experience to lead him or her to embrace the stringent discipline of fundamentalist religion. Apart from an innate proclivity toward a rigid, reactionary conservatism (can there be such an inclination?), what, I wonder, propels some people toward angry condemnation of any and all perspectives differing from their own?

In fairness, most everyone seeks answers to the big questions: the nature of existence, life’s inherent meaning, but only some of us (a small minority one hopes) determine their answers to be an infallible, absolute truth that leads them to rail against the slightest suggestion that there might be other good answers.

Some of these true believers have come to the conclusion that the life they had lived before finding the Truth was so despicable that a psychic renewal was required: a re-birth into a total acceptance of, commitment to, their recognized god. In order to maintain their new persona and recently acquired cosmic world view, an Opposition, an inherent Evil identified as constant reminder that one’s beliefs are constantly under siege, that life is a battle between the forces of God and Evil. Tension and conflict then become an everyday experience and concern.

There are, of course, degrees of fundamentalist fervor. Not everyone who embraces conservative religious beliefs are overtly hostile to those they might consider infidel or apostate. Still, the idea of immanent cosmic conflict isn’t buried too deeply below the surface.

These are disconcerting thoughts to my mind, but, I guess, in the end, it’s all about being certain where the truth lies: for these folks it’s not within the empirical but rather the cosmic realm. For some the rewards of a promised afterlife tempers the outrage and sustains their vision of the soon to be realized cosmic light.

Alternative Realities

I read about a lady, the other day, who, when asked about a controversial idea she was championing declared that she knew that it wasn’t true but that it was consistent with her beliefs so she embraces it. Just an example, I guess, that our deep philosophical divisiveness has morphed into alternate realities. The spin has turned into, at least in some cases, ‘alternative facts’. The information we receive has become not simply differing versions or interpretations of events but actual counter-facts, egregious distortions. The fact checkers, who I tend to trust, have, I suspect, been working overtime to decipher truth from fiction.  There are no excuses for those who deliberately misinform to suit their own agendas but I suspect many of us simply experience differently, which has me thinking about what exactly Truth is.

Even life versus death will have nuanced meaning for some I suppose (at least those of a spiritual bent), and like the half empty/ half full glass of water interpretation must be accounted for. As I sit here writing this, I can’t know the truth, when I finish, of where exactly I will be physically, the world turning as it is. I peer out the window at a beautiful blue sky and suspect there are those whose truth upon viewing same will be something other.

So, I guess it’s only fair to assume that what I know to be truly the case will not necessarily be truth for others. I guess we’ll all just have to learn to co-exist in our alternative realities.