Don Juan Revisited

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.

Our Inherent Flaws

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?

Anxiety

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.

Original Thoughts?

I’ve been thinking lately that language is a limiting and essentially inadequate means of describing experience. (As I think about this it occurs to me I’ve probably thought this very thing before; in fact, I doubt I’ve had a truly original thought anytime recently).
Anyway, language may be the only way of describing experience, but the descriptions rendered no matter the mastery one may have of the written word will fall well short of sufficiently describing the color and complexities of sensual experience.
Roland Barthes, The late French literary theorist said that man does not exist prior to language. If I might be so bold as to contradict such a noted scholar, my experience suggests to me such an idea is nonsense. Such a statement would have to mean my colorful and complex sensual experiences can only occur to my conscious self in the form of language; that until language supervenes upon my colorful and complex sensual experiences that my most wonderful remembrances don’t exist.
But, then, maybe my memory is going, I am aging after all; brain cells are being lost. Still, the visual imagery is there and doesn’t seem to require captions. I’m thinking language is over-rated. It simply is unable to account for the ineffable.

Into the Wilds

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.

Images of The Apocalypse

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.

How Language Came About

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.

 

Computer Chess

I’ve been finding myself, lately, in these days of social isolation, playing a lot of chess against a computer. As we become increasingly intimate, I find that I tend to assign a gender to him/her, usually him (am I sexist by nature?) as I attempt to counter his increasingly sophisticated attacks. I say increasingly because the program I’m using allows me to choose the level of expertise suited to my skill level and then, if I get competent enough, move up, allow him to use the abilities, and insights he holds back at the lower levels so as not to discourage me.

Well, it’s really algorithms isn’t it? For each of my moves the computer races through possible countermoves at blinding speed settling on the one that will be optimally successful, never getting tired or bored or losing focus. When I occasionally happen on a favorable advantage, he patiently plays it out rather than resign allowing me to realize a rare win. It makes him seem almost likeable.

I’m finding playing the game an intriguing way to pass the time these days but as I think about it it’s also kind of sad that a program on my laptop can almost replace social contact.

Great Mysteries

I’ve been reading lately about the difficulties purveyors of religious faith have had over the centuries reasoning about the nature of the supernatural. Take early Christianity. The concept of a singular all-mighty deity the early Christians inherited from their Hebrew forebears had to be reconciled with the son as well as the Holy Spirit. How, after all, can three be one. The controversy roiled for centuries, I guess, until Augustine of Hippo settled the issue. God is one, he said, but it exists in three forms and if you find this idea contradictory, if it defies reason, then, as a believer get over it, accept it as a mystery and move on.

I guess there’s something to be said for embracing mystery; the existent unknown, if you think about it, never gets old, keeps one wondering about something that can never be fully grasped; curiosity, without a doubt, can be compelling. Which, I bet, is a significant reason so many people maintain a religious faith, not wanting to deny the existence of something mystical defined as all-powerful.

Of course, in order to be reasonably functional in one’s daily life in the real world the working admonition the devout practitioner pretty much must accept is: Just don’t overthink it.

 

How the Dark Ages Began

I’ve been reading, lately, about the extreme self-denial, masochistic behaviors really, some of the early Christians imposed upon themselves believing they could atone for their inherent sinfulness and bring them closer to God. In the third century the apparent suffering of choice was to walk off into the desert without food or water in the hopes that denial of basic human needs would gain them a foot up toward heavenly rewards, which, I suspect, they were looking forward to sooner rather than later. There were other ascetics, the Stylites, who tied themselves atop pillars where some of them would stand for years (really!) while their muscles atrophied, hoping to be swept upward when the rapture happened.

Well, such extremes didn’t work for everyone. There were many men and women who wished to gain spiritual acceptance by denying the needs of the flesh but only up to a point. Monasticism provided opportunity to practice a humble, ascetic life of obedience, gain mutual support from their fellow monks or nuns and engage in service to community as they knew God would want them to do.

Such an organization required a rigid structure, though, rules to help everyone maintain the necessary austerity such a life demanded. There was little room for self-expression or individuality; thinking for oneself was pretty much out of the question. Even those faithful individuals not inclined toward the monastic life understood the sacred duties of denial and following the dictates of the church.

Such behavior, it’s been credibly suggested, can account, at least in part for the Dark Ages lasting for 1000 years.