I’ve been reading about the idea of man as a perpetual adolescent, forever youthful (in mind anyway), playfully making and thereby discovering and inventing. Given time to play without the pressure to produce, the theory goes, valuable discoveries and innovations may very well result.
History informs us that, indeed, such a process has been the impetus for quite a number of important innovations. Brilliant people engaged in playful thinking (Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaVinci among them) have produced profound concepts that have contributed to our collective knowledge. Sometimes invented toys become practical machines: the wheel may have first appeared on a child’s toy in Pre-Columbian America.
I guess it’s the unique nature of humankind to have a prolonged childhood unlike many of our animal relatives who must be ready to hide or fight, defend or flee almost immediately after birth. As annoying as the perpetual adolescent may be to our adult pragmatic selves, with a bit of encouragement perhaps the slacker living in the basement might conceive an idea that will improve life for us all. At the very least it might get her into her own apartment.
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.
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.
I’ve been thinking lately about the multitudes of good and sincere people in the world who have arrived at dramatically conflicting views as to the nature of reality.
Most all of us rely on what we consider to be unimpeachable support sources for our views and usually a contingent of like-minded others that reinforce our beliefs. The evangelical Christian, the Qanon conspiracy buff and the liberal mainstreamer will tend to approach daily occurrences with sets of premises and then conclusions that are quite different. Such conflicting perspectives are the stuff of the social divisiveness manifesting itself these days; the dilemma of free thought in a free society free from coercive oversight, I guess.
I have no answers other than responding with patient tolerance in the knowledge that most everyone deserves respectful acknowledgement of their usually carefully considered views. The hope is that we can all spot disinformation when it presents itself. Hopefully, we can think past the response of the recently interviewed lady asked why she embraces her position on a current controversial idea. ‘I know it’s not true’, she said, ‘but it’s consistent with my beliefs.’
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.
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.
In his masterpiece Either/Or Soren Kierkegaard contrasts the moral relativity of the aesthete ‘A’ with the clearly defined moral values of the ethicist Judge Wilhelm. ‘A’ revels in seduction, he pursues women, is attracted to the young, innocent and beautiful girl, whose total commitment he gains through devious manipulation. Then, though, once the quarry is won, interest is lost. The ethicist judge castigates ‘A’ for so shallow a behavior informing him he doesn’t understand the significance of a deep personal relationship, that love and duty to a first love produces a deep bond and a constantly renewing true aesthetic relationship.
It seems pretty clear that K. sees himself in both characters: the break-up with his once betrothed Regine on the one hand and his obsession with the moral rigidity of the pietist religion he was brought up to revere. There’s little doubt he experienced serious psychological conflict that eventually resulted in a ‘leap into the absurd’, a total embrace of Christianity.
I must admit I can’t relate to K’s situation but he does do a really good job of getting me to focus attention on my own personal existential self.
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.
I’ve been reading that some people never grow up. I guess many of us live life one distraction after another, placating ourselves with momentary satisfactions while never achieving a meaningful grasp of what it means to be part of a whole pluralistic social structure. But then, coming to grips with existence is an ongoing dilemma for most of us I guess., egged on as we are into confronting the play-ground bully that is reality.
I’m thinking one explanation for our arrested development, at least in part, is a coddled existence: we take for granted not only basic needs but creature comforts that give us a sense of affluence and well-being to the extent that we question how it can be people are homeless and food insecure even though we are informed on a daily basis of human suffering throughout the world.
Well, it’s something to think about for those of us who have tended toward a little Peter Panishness on occasion. Reflection is never a bad thing.
I found myself, the other day, unavoidably engaged, once again, in a conversation with a close acquaintance whose conspiratorial perspectives have expanded beyond a ‘deep state’ cabal controlling the mainstream media to revisionist history (deep sigh).
I granted him that a narrative account of historical events is vulnerable to the biases of the narrator and that specifics of time and place (within limits) and the underlying motives of the actors might be considered. After all, I went on, nothing is written in stone; new knowledge arises and accounts change, but the scholarship and peer reviews of generations of researchers has a legitimacy that defies any idea of ‘deep state’ agenda. I allowed that when it comes to narrative accounts hard facts and pure fictions will be reasonably seen as not so hard and not so pure. The sources of one’s information, though, must be determined to be free of deliberate distortion. Intuitively imagining the truth of unsupported premises really must be seen for what it is.
There’s a difference, after all, between questioning the accuracy of generally accepted accounts and undermining those accounts based on intuition, dubious sources and unsupported premises.