Heading to Arizona as I am, masked, buying gas at the pump, maintaining a safe distance from others, in constant use of antibacterial wipes, eating in my car I feel pretty safe although people in the streets stare, seem suspicious and I speed by them. The recent health scare, the pandemic, has me thinking of ‘The Walking Dead’, you know, the TV series in which a few stalwart survivors find themselves in constant danger, being pursued by the ravenous infected hoards. Civilization has collapsed and our heroes are on constant lookout for temporary safe havens and stores of canned goods on which to survive.
I really don’t think civilization is in danger of imminent collapse, but my journey has taken on an air of excitement (trepidation?) and as someone of advanced age I’m led to believe my very mortality may be at risk. If you don’t hear from me next week you might possibly suspect the worst: I may be quarantined in a senior retirement community.
I was just wondering the other day about the idea of cryogenic freezing, what it’d be like to be thawed in a hundred years or so, whether I’d have any sense at all of the nature of things, how to function in that future time (if indeed mankind survives that long). Given the effort required to keep up with information technologies from year to year, here and now, I’ve a feeling that future century would be pretty mind-blowing.
Our, well, your descendants might even have devised a way to interrupt physical degeneration; immortality might be on the table. An intriguing thought, that, even though the reality of ever-lasting life would take a lot of the excitement away from our current tenuous daily existence, be boring even. I wonder if all those of religious faith out there realize what they’re hoping for.
I’ve been reading about the Roman Church’s extreme influence over the population of medieval Europe. Papal authorities demanded monetary compensations for all sorts of things. The sales of indulgences was particularly lucrative. Parishioners were assured such investment would reduce the purgatorial sentences of one’s departed loved ones.
By the early 16th century people began to realize the scam: that their hard earned money was funding a papal court engaged in extravagant living rather than winning early release from purgatorial Hell, which resulted in a serious collapse of papal influence not to mention the drain on monetary resources. The people though, still as religious as ever and now without an absolute overseer to guide them to the after-life (which had they thought about it wasn’t all that wonderful to look forward to anyway) found that they really didn’t need to be led at all, could interpret scripture for themselves and make their own way into God’s good graces.
The problem was that if anyone and everyone could make up his (or her) own mind about ‘True Faith’ then there would probably end up being a lot of differing opinions about what exactly the ‘True Faith’ was and whose side God was on, which is indeed what happened. As it turned out people discovering their own personal ‘True Faith’ weren’t particularly amenable to being contradicted by someone else’s idea of ‘True Faith’ which led to some pretty nasty and bloody conflicts, wars, beheadings and burnings that continued for over 100 years.
I guess, in the end, the tumult did bring about needed social reform and, you know, re-establish a semblance of authority. The means to achieve it, though was certainly a far cry from the message of the gospels.
As we humans we have striven over the years to improve our quality of life by developing innovative technologies that have provided everything from central heating to voice controlled communication devices, we have at the same time made life more complex, in some ways more frenzied.
I’ve been reading about early forager tribes living in the fertile Crescent of western Asia. This particular area was at the time rich in what turned out to be domesticable plants and animals. The foragers, over time, learned to harvest and plant wild wheat signaling the beginnings of the agricultural revolution.
I guess becoming farmers must have seemed a great idea. Having a reliable food source without having to forage everyday meant having a surplus and a sedentary lifestyle. As it turned out, though, after not so considerable a time (relatively, anyway) our early ancestors ended up working harder, eating a less varied diet, contracting unheard of diseases and, all in all, living shorter lives than they had enjoyed in their now long forgotten foraging days.
And so it goes, we as a species strive to produce innovations meant to improve our quality of life that all to often have produced negative effects like obesity, alienation and lives devoid of time for contemplative reflection.
Not that I’m a luddite or anything. I do love my various devices, easy access to friends and family miles away, ready availability of the arts I love. I just need to exert a bit more self-discipline, shut down the devices and get face to face with real-life on occasion.
I’ve been reading, lately, that there is reason to believe that the earliest notions of the existence of God, entertained by our primeval ancestors, may have been the result of an idea of an inhabiting soul; something existing within that transcends physical existence. I have to wonder, if my scholarly source is accurate, how such a belief came about.
The idea that a serendipitous organization of protrusions and gaps in an old gnarled tree might take on the appearance of a human face would reasonably, I suppose, lead to anthropomorphizing, to the idea of Being within, spirit even, a belief that might grow with the enthusiastic agreement of one’s cave cousins. The tree could be thought to be of a special sort, sacred even, and if ‘spirit’ existed in certain trees it reasonably follows that the same would be true of animated nature.
From such ruminations, I can’t doubt, the realization of a super-natural spirit could fairly easily grow into a hierarchical spirit world with a God in charge. The real magic in all this, it seems to me, is the wondrous imagination of the human animal.
I’ve been reading a rather interesting perspective on the nature of art lately. The author’s interest is, apparently, to present art as a broader more all-encompassing enterprise: as something with the potential to reach deep into the psychic as well as philosophical realms of human Being. This advocate for the arts maintains that a total sensual and intellectual emersion on the part of the art consumer might potentially move him/her far beyond simple aesthetic appreciation onto a psychological plateau of unimaginable ecstasy or at least engagement: that art, when attentively considered might changer one’s way of perceiving and thinking about the world.
The idea, I guess, is that art at its best may produce psychic displacement, as in a nightmare when those around you are aware of information you aren’t privy to leaving you exposed, naked, alienated, outside of the common knowledge shared by everyone else. Such a shocking realization might then lead to basic questioning of all you previously took for granted: the physical and social norms of daily existence come into question.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The author’s intent though is that the best art will provide the attentive consumer a truly cathartic experience. As I think about it, there’s nothing really new about the idea of art as catharsis: the ancient Greeks were creating such work millennia ago and it was pretty successful. Such art provided respite from the anxieties suffered during the disruptive wars between the city states. Given our politics these days I’m thinking we could probably use a bit of that now.
It’s pretty clear, these days, that some of the narratives emanating from the public stage are motivated by special interests with ulterior motives being presented, of course, as irrefutable fact.
To the astute listener, aware of the possibility of unsavory manipulations at the hands of a smooth-talking narrator, a degree of skepticism will always be present in determining the validity or falsity of the narration, but, if the story being told, truthful or not, is consistent with the chosen beliefs or inherent inclinations of the listener caution may very well be swept aside in favor of an open embrace of the narrators ‘factually truthful’ account (nothing like the re-enforcement of one’s beliefs to build personal self-confidence) which then opens the door a bit wider allowing for the inclusion in one’s belief system, other fringe ideas that would have been unthinkable only a couple of narrations ago, and, the louder and more often the narrative is repeated the more legitimate it appears to be.
It’s frightening to consider what innate anti-social tendencies we may harbor, masked, as they are, by our supposed spiritual upbringing.
I am realizing, after doing some reading and thinking about the nature of social media these days, that as I write, then publish this short contemplation I am being a participant, a conveyor, along with tens of thousands of others on this day, of information with the potential to reach all sorts (thinking optimistically) of readers, viewers many of whom (optimistically, again) are unknown to me.
I tell myself repeatedly I do this primarily to better grasp and retain the ideas I read about, which is true, of course, but assuming there are consumers consuming the brief content of my posts is an attractive consideration, motivating, really.
But, realistically, given the enormous amount of content available for the average surfer to wade through I know I should expect little if any engagement in my posts. Still, I rationalize my participation in the public conversation, available amidst the offerings of national media outlets, conspiracy theorists and trolls as, hopefully, an appreciated light respite.
I’ve been reading about Martin Luther recently. Quite an exciting story really: deeply religious god-fearing monk confronts the powers of a Roman Church that in the 15th century was pretty much absolute. The newly developed printing press provided a means for the prolific Luther to convey his dissatisfaction with a corrupt church to a more than receptive peasantry who bought into his conception that redemption was justified through faith alone and could be accomplished by the individual without a mediating clergy.
As tensions rose so did the peasantry who overran monasteries, burned churches, looted and murdered indiscriminately in God’s name. Luther, rethinking what he had started, turned on the peasants, encouraging the established powers to put them all to the knife.
Later in life Luther took responsibility for the peasant uprising as well as their ultimate slaughter at the hands of political and Papal authorities. In explanation he responded: ‘God commanded me to speak as I did.’ I guess his personal messages from God might have inspired him to vehemently denounce, demonize the Papists and Jews as well because he attacked those folks with particular zeal, not to mention his denunciations of the Calvinists, humanists and Anabaptists. His absolute certainty that God had shown him the only true way to salvation, justification through faith alone, displayed a zealotry that rather than bringing mankind together in a peaceful harmony did just the opposite.
Well, on the positive side, I guess Martin’s actions in the 16th century gave Lutheran church fathers a lot to think about over the centuries. The idea of justification through faith alone must require a lot of explaining.
I’ve been aware for some time of the existence of a mysterious algorithm alive within the internet that feeds me stories and information it thinks I want to see. It’s usually pretty much right on and I’m assuming it (the algorithm) does the same to everyone who shops on-line or just surfs the web.
Having become aware of this insidious (being?) hovering over my every search I find a couple of things disturbing: I think twice about seeking out a sight that might generate pop-ups that I would find embarrassing should someone happen to be looking over my shoulder at the wrong moment. And, I’m somewhat concerned that my political perspectives are being reinforce daily when it would be to my benefit if I were to receive a more balance view, although, as the algorithm knows, I prefer reading such reinforcement so am inclined to stay on-line longer, which, I guess, may very well be the algorithm’s intention.
So, as I participate in what I always thought to be pure freedom of unrestricted surfing, searching out information, shopping or whatever, I’m being manipulated by an entity who is essentially satisfying my desires and inclinations whether I want it to or not. I don’t think I’m in a filter bubble, or anything, I do get news feeds I don’t agree with but every once in awhile I contemplate escape. I wonder what would happen, if I’d be followed were I to make the plunge into the deep web?