Thursday, August 27, 2009

The last lion

[Warning: I wrote this post yesterday in a bit of a state. Saying that it starts out scattershot would be an understatement. Hopefully as I try to tie it all together now, I can come through with an ending that justifies this type of digressive indulgence, but I wouldn't put money on it without pretty good odds. [Yep, woulda' lost that bet as it turns out]]

I couldn't have done it if I'd planned it to be honest [gone for a run at the exact time that Teddy K's funeral motorpool would be coming down Columbia Road]. It just happened that, as it's starting to feel like a normal, supremely awesome late August New England day, I've been going walking/running earlier. Late August, which when all goes to plan is the beginning of an early and extended fall season that is the envy of fall and just generally seasons everywhere, is so amazingly wonderful at this time of year it's almost painful in it's perfect cocktail of weather and place. It's still warm but a cool warm and by the ocean where I live (yes, I can walk to a beach from my house [and though I haven't swum there yet this year, I bet the water temp is approaching non-polar bear club style swimming {as New England's ocean waters don't warm up too terribly much until August at the earliest}]) there's often either a nice breeze or a blustery wind. Late autumn the winds pick up, but in these still early days of the late New England summer it couldn't have been sweeter.

Course it was a bittersweet wind/ errrt. Nope. I'm not gonna get all sentimental about Teddy's passing. Edward Kennedy had been a senator since before I was born. He fought his last presidential battle with Carter in 1980 over Jimmy's handling of health care when I was a mere two year old. And so Reagan won, possibly because of Teddy's protracted and fractious fight with Carter, and instead of universal health care we got the principle of deregulation and a tax cut (much of which Reagan himself rescinded when he saw how big the deficits were getting) and secret wars in America del Sol.

And now, when the philosophy of deregulation has just about bankrupt the world (and did bankrupt Iceland) and the cost and availability of health care in this country is abysmal, the last lion of the senate passes on to the next after fighting brain cancer for a year and a half, no doubt watching his hope ebb away that meaningful health care reform would ever get done amidst the sophistic dirty tricks of the politics of stonewalling.

Am I saying that Rush Limbaugh killed Ted Kennedy? Not really, but, you know, he wasn't helping the situation. Seriously, though the shrillness of the tone means only one thing, evasive tactics (which big B undoubtedly unintendly encouraged by setting artificial time limits and then letting Congress work it out in a scramble), there is still the chance to have this discussion. And it's a discussion that goes to the question of choice (that lies, really, pretty close to the heart of Jest), and the question is essentially a trick one.

Choice is in some ways many times an illusion. You don't always make your own choices. Life makes many of the important choices for us (or a lot of us) in a lot of different (sometimes bone-crushingly) ruthless ways, and that life is the socio-eco-nationo-global matrix in which we struggle to make these 'free choices'. This web that then goes deep in the other direction, inward, into psychological and neuropsychological and then biochemical layers of mind/brain psyche, and somewhere in the webbed matrix expanding inward and outward from this subjective self-soul is this freedom that we, even in and amongst the physical laws that oversee the chemical reactions in the brain, somehow, in and of all that and the rest, we control the direction of this neurochemical flow and by extension the avenues of consciousness and so can then make these free choices.

And Teddy made some bad ones early in his life. He went racing around, possibly and possibly probably drunk, on little ragged island roads. And it went badly. And, well, those of us over a certain age know what that was all about (and certainly everyone here in Mass). He offered to resign, but the voters of Mass overwhelmingly told him to stay put. He flirted with the idea of the presidency up until that fateful '80 campaign for the dem nom. And then he went to work. Committing himself to a life as an old-school style senator from a hard nosed New England state (and if you don't think per capita Mass ass kicking potential isn't still in full effect then you've never spent much time in the cradle of American democracy that is Boston [Remember, Don Gately was a north shore boy] [We had the real tea party, and we didn't have a damn corporate sponsor either {okay, I'm getting worked up. Let's take it down a notch.}]).

So, I'm getting carried away with myself here. And trying to figure out a way to wrap this whole thing up nice and neat. Well, this'll have to do 'cause I'm done with this nonsense.

It quickly occurred to me as I was walking up to the abandoned and shuttered former concession stand where I like to stretch before running that something was going on, and it then quickly occurred to me also that the reason every single cop in Massachusetts was there and huddled in groups of three or four at every intersection from Dot Ave onward was that Edward Kennedy had finally succumb to brain cancer. Well, that and the lack of overtime in the non-discretionary police budget since the financial meltdown almost set off another depression (I feel like I should repeat this fact as much as possible as it really does feel like we're already all 'Glad that's over, now we don't have to think about the flaws in our way of living anymore and can just go on as before').

The sidewalks were littered with people all waiting for the Kennedy motorcade. I hadn't thought of coming out for that but only just to go for a run, but almost perfectly as I got to my stretching spot the motorcade came roaring through. First, 8,000 (give or take 7, 550 or so) motorcycle cops came screaming down the road, peeling off one at a time and blocking the parking inlets along the beach. Then the hearst. Followed by a line of limousines a mile long. As that black oversized sedan came slowly crawling along past where I was standing, the reality that Ted's body was just a stones throw away and that this man who was mythic here in Mass was now lying rigor mortisly stiff in a flag draped box in the back kind of hit me. And I felt sad.

Which is probably more common to my life than I care to admit, but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about the last lion of liberalism. Or some such thing. Obviously, I'm can't stay on topic for even a second today, so...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

made up future techno-craziness

Really I just remembered this quote that I had marked out from Infinite Jest to put up that was along the lines of the way that social defaults effect personal defaults. After this long paragraph about all this weird Wallacian made up future techno craziness, he has this to say about where we'd be at if that'd been the way that we'd gone and gotten. Anyway, so-

Saying this (made up future techno-craziness) is bad is like saying traffic is bad, or health-care surtaxes, or the hazards of annular fusion: nobody but Ludditic granola-crunching freaks would call bad what no one can imagine being without.

But so very much private watching of customized screens behind drawn curtains in the dreamy familiarity of home. A floating no-space world of personal spectation. Whole new millennial era, under Gentle and Lace-Forche. Total freedom, privacy, choice.

It's true. Society kind of has these generational defaults that are really what culture is, and those social defaults set up what the general personal default will most likely be. The thing that you would become if you weren't paying attention. Anyway, maybe something in that range. Maybe not. I couldn't rightly say.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Part II (How much farther? Not much farther.)

Two points quick. One: it has to be a collective individual movement towards the freedom of self sacrifice (of the positive kind [as all things have dualities {and all duality can be balanced through the meditative centering of the self (okay that was a bit far [screw it though, let's go far {you'll go far kid, you're a real winner. I can tell these things. I've got an eye, they tell me. (by all of which I was meaning that the balance of, really the tri-ality [or the infinite variation-ality], of human existence means the subjective self-soul has a constant balancing of the the bio-psycho-social web to effect, for which the gaze of consciousness expanded to and through all the systems and sub-systems of the mind/brain might be of use)}])}]).

Two: What was two?

Okay, two. The value of culture.

I had this thought while I was reading Barbarians at the Gate, a book about what was at the time the largest leveraged buy-out ever (to the tune of 25 billion 1989 dollars [I know, right. Child's play]). It occurs to me that one of the real effects of the sixties counter-culture was the breaking down of even the veneer of Victorian values. Ross Johnson, CEO of RJR/ Nabisco used to live by the line from the Bob Dylan song, "He who isn't busy being born is busy dying." And he was a part of this whole new breed of business men who came of age at that time, and weren't bogged down with these old, staid conceptions of morality and responsibility to the community or employees. There didn't even have to be this thin pretense toward some form of old world values (Moravian in the case of RJR Reynolds). That's not to say that there was some nostalgic time in the just distant past that was all beautiful magical or anything. It's just to say that our modern culture is rootless, rudderless, and morally adrift. Maybe.

Still, Johnson and the Wall Street crew end up making the old school tobacco people look like saints. And really, let's think about that for a minute. The Streeters made the old line tobacco executives look like caring, concerned, moral, upright citizens.

And that's sad. It makes me sad to think about these things sometimes. And I do wonder if that wasn't the ultimate result of Marxism. One last enlightenment era push into secularity. I just don't see how you can think of organizing a society based on altruistic principles without the spiritual experience and rituals as a means towards the maintenance and furtherance of altruism. I mean, I get the whole opium of the masses, corrupted religious institutions thing, but did we really need to through the baby out with the bathwater.

And we saw how far those altruistic principles (to each according to his need, from each according to his ability [or words to that effect]) went in the Russian socialist experiment. Really Russia was never socialist in the utopian sense of the word that pre-dated Marx. Lenin's whole dictatorship of the proletariat was always just another type of fascism.

But I'm getting away from myself. What I'm trying to say is that culture is a great determinant of the default settings of the citizenry.

Matthew Baldwin had a really good post over at infinite summer this week about default settings. And he quoted David Foster Wallace's Kenyon Commencement speech at length. The jist of the quote was that raging egoism is kind of a human default. And it's true. Social Psychology has studied all kinds of variations on self bias. We overestimate how attractive we are to the opposite sex, how often we, for example, do the laundry vs. our significant other, how well we're going to do on an exam, and the list goes on and on and on and on and, well, you get the idea.

What this all adds up to is that freedom from this base self-centered reality isn't the path of least resistance. It takes work. It takes a lot of work to get outside of yr own ego, and it's not necessarily a spiritual path (but that's certainly one avenue availed). So, freedom may be free, but it ain't easy. But a culture that promotes the hard work of this type of freedom from subjectivist, narrow minded egoism makes that work both seem easier and less like work.

Alright, I'm calling it on this particular parry. Time for a run.

Okay though, this one quote from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. Cause as soon as I read it, I thought of myself being all preachy in my last post. So, a redemption of sorts.

And then people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.

So, you can't be right and righteous all together. Once you get righteous, you lose your rightness. Or so it seems to me sometimes.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Economics and spirituality (pt. 1)

"'He is infallible, he has an infallible, omniscient mind'. 'It is impossible to deceive Ahura, who sees all', says the Yasna. Like the other sky gods, Ahura Mazda is never sleepy and no narcotic has any effect on him. That is why no secret escapes 'his keen gaze'. Ahura Mazda gaurantees the inviolability of contracts, and the keeping of promises; when he revealed to Zarathustra why he had created Mithra, Ahura Mazda said that anyone who breaks a pact (mithra = 'contract') will bring bad luck to the entire land. It is thus he who ensures good contractual relations among men, and also the steady balance of natural forces and general prosperity."
-Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion

Ahura Mazda was a Babylonian sky god with his origins in Sumerian culture who was worshiped during the period just pre to historical (written) times. According to Eliade, the sky god is a common early hierophany (his word for a thing, symbol, rite, etc. that is embued with sacredity), and this sky god was often all knowing and all powerful and also often had a kind of magical sovereignty. This magical sovereignty manifested itself in that he controlled the scales of justice, actively punishing individuals and society for, for example, breaking a contract between two legal parties.

So, what we have is a god who, at one time, could absolutely, omnisciently tell if someone was engaged in immoral business practices, and it was known that this god would then magically punish this person or his society for the act of lying, cheating, stealing (whether or not these acts might be technically or apparently legal [because an omniscient god knows what's in the heart as well as what's in the contract]).

So, for another example, if a bank were charging usurious fees, that would be punishable by the sky god, Ahura Mazda, through his emissary Mithra. And the whole society might potentially be punished for this behavior. As an interesting side note, for years in Europe the bond market had to be intricately worked to get around the letter and therefore also the spirit of Christianity's usury laws, and in France (i.e.) for a time, they were in the form of either fixed length or life time pensions instead of straight repayments of a loan with interest. Britain, the netherlands, Spain, etc. all had similar financial acrobatics.

Cuneiform, another Sumerian invention, is one of the earliest extant forms of writing and was itself used to create a kind of bond. They were clay tablets with marks made by a reed that represented agreements to repay the immediate receipt of a product (a cow, a goat, some grain, etc.) with an agreed upon larger relative amount, usually, at the end of the growing season.

I think it's quite telling that our first written language here in the West was used for the pursuit of business and trade, and that one of our earliest formulations of the godhead was one that would punish shady business dealings.

I think it's also interesting that although the Christian Evangelical movement continues to believe in magic (the rapture and more generally this idea of a personal god would fall into that category, just in pure anthropological terms), it's no longer focused primarily on people who are expressly immoral but just those who are unbelievers. I've said before, maybe or maybe not here on this blog, that religious institutions that generally seem to promote intolerance almost assuredly are invoking an emotional and not a spiritual response, but that's really beside this particular line of reasoning, somewhat.

The point was that in the earliest stages of Western national organization (civilization, if you must), you find a god who it was believed expressly intervened in the practice of business and trade. In fact, that supreme god created this lesser god, Mithra, solely for this purpose. Within the context of the Ahura Mazda myth.

So, there's all of that. I've got farther to go with this idea, but we'll save that for part dos. Just a quick note about Eliade, who is a brilliant philosophical anthropologist with an incredible knowledge of the enthographic literature as it stood at the time of his writing, believed that one of the differences between 'the civilized' and 'the primitive' mind was that 'the primitive' held a much smaller portion of reality to be profane. Life was sacred in those times. I believe that this is related to the problem of scarcity, and that a certain problem of abundance (poorly distributed) is that sacredity, true religious symbology, and the spiritual experience have to be jettisoned in order to maintain a system whereby inequality is not only allowed but encouraged to go forth and multiply.

And this relates to the question of freedom, as appears to be Milton Friedman's central point. Here's an early formulation of a response that occurred to me this morning as I was running.

I am not free to break Usain Bolt's 200 meter record. The only way I could potentially be free to do this would be if I had been training since I was much younger, essentially narrowing a whole host of other potential free choice desires, such that in order to attain this one freedom I would need to limit my freedom to eat poorly or to not exercise or, more pertinent to my actual younger self, to not drink absurdly large quantities of beer. The analogic connection here is that the freedom to be unequal is and has to be the dissavowing of any real potential freedom of equality. There's no way to maintain absolute freedom in the reality of a world of opposites.

That spirituality can bring us beyond this world shouldn't be too much of a question. Certainly, the mystical tradition of all and every religious institution suggests this to be the case, but even in the mind of the mystic saint that state of beyondness can't be maintained indefinitely (with the exception of, for example, full on nirvana in Buddhism, which means you sort of don't really exist in this world anymore anyway [unless yr a Buddhisattva and come back to this side of the shore to help others across]).

So, we've got to choose. And we've got to figure out what our sacred freedoms are; are they inequality and the ability for the individual to amass untold and untoward amounts of wealth without regard for their fellow human beings? As I've said, I think this is a value that can only live in a thoroughly secular culture where the religious institutions have become idolic and corrupt. But now I'm sliding slightly into propagandistic expressions of the problem. And really losing the point as well.

And none of this is to say that the only way to limit this freedom is in the form of governmental intervention. We are all free to make the choice for ourselves that we will take the harder, less selfish road of devoting ourselves and our lives to the creation of a world and culture that values all and everyone equally and to putting that value of true equality into play in all its potential forms. The culture can change, it is free to, and we are free to try and change it. We are free to find our spirit, to bring our self back into harmonious relation with itself and the world, to stop pretending, heming and hawing about the restriction of personal choice, and to do what is right and necessary for the good of society and the world.

Okay so now I'm preaching a little. It is Sunday morning after all.

Yeah, that's enough for now. I'll come back later and see if I can't go farther into the historico-philosophical direction that I had in my head yesterday morning when I first started stringing some of these ideas together in my head after reading some few pages of Mircea's brilliant book, Patterns in Comparative Religion. That guy was no joke.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And furthermore

In the previous two posts, I tried to worm my way through a discussion of love in some of its formulations. I just wanted to add a few more thoughts to the pile here.

It occurred to me that I've been speaking somewhat poetically about love and being all hazy and sentimental about the notion itself. What the neurobiology of love is I couldn't exactly say. When I was all up in consciousness theory and practically lived in the U. of Memphis's journal collection, I never came across much in the way of research on this problem. There has been some research that suggests that Eros, those first pangs of physical attraction, is similar neurologically to some certain type of insanity (I think maybe the mania of bipolar 'disorder', but it's been a few years since I was up in the research).

Love is hard to quantify. Is there some special quality that it and it alone has that differentiates it from attachment or attraction or whatnot? My guess is that we'll find that love and the spiritual experience have similar neurological correlates in that there will be a spike in frequency of electrical activity (gamma waves, esp. in the limbic system) and possibly the kind of synchrony that is associated with meditation and the ritualized acts of prayer and worship that are themselves a type of meditation.

And this is a point that Joseph Campbell goes on to make about Gottfried Von Strassburg's Tristan. His idea is that the intensity of intimate love, because it is both wonderful and painful (in that there is this pain of even momentary separation from the [non-objectified] object of love), can bring the experiencer beyond the world of opposites, of pain and pleasure, of being and non-being, of life and death, etc., and into the spiritual realm where, as it was written in the Bhagavad Gita, Tvat Tam Asi; Thou art that. Subject and object dissolve into one.

This, I believe, is the heart of altruism. It is through this experience of the universal connection of the spirit to all of existence that altruism spontaneously arises without the otherwise necessary rigorous moral training (that is as lacking as spiritual training in ModWes society). Love in its specific form maybe helps to bring this about. Certainly, that's Campbell's interpretation.

So, a somewhat long quote from William James's concluding lecture from The Varieties of Religious Experience because it sums up the spiritual experience in a way that I could never hope to match.

Summing up in the broadest possible way the characteristics of the religious life, as we have found them, it includes the following beliefs:-

1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;

2. That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end;

3. That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof -be that spirit "God" or "law"- is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world.

Religion includes also the following psychological characteristics:-

4. A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism

5. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affection.

In illustrating these characteristics by document, we have been literally bathed in sentiment.

Leaving aside whether or not the sentiment bath was literal or not, I think that 1 and 2 can be seen as describing an inner universe, a way of seeing and being in the world we do inhabit and our self in that world, which then flows into this spiritual existence described as characteristics 4 and 5 and as process in 3.

And maybe love is a means through which that inner universe of the transcendent spirit is accessible, and through which that world opens up to the self and allows for the radiance of grace to shine through every fiber of our being. Or something.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Again, just quick, on love

I didn't mean to suggest in the previous post that love is only real and true in its unconditional form. The specific love for a friend, family member, or significant other is just as real and just as true and just as necessary for meaning in life.

I do also think that for our relationships to be really based in love and not mutual self interest or the enjoyment of charisma or any of the many good qualities that stir up various forms of attraction and attachment there has to be an element of this agape style to it. It's the unconditionality that gives love meaning. Man, when you write and think the word love too many times, it really starts to sound like the cheese ball.

So, refocusing here. Naturally there are limits for those of us who are, in fact, not Jesus. Maybe bwana Yesu could love the people who staked him up on the side of the road, but most of us aren't quite as forgiving. And that's okay. If you get nailed to a cross, don't hate yourself for not loving the nailer. God will still love you. (For our non-Swahili speaking friends, Bwana Yesu is Swahili for boss Jesus or big man Jesus or words to that effect [which still seems like an strange expression to me {Yo, it's big man Jesus!}, but who am I to judge? {Not Jesus, that's for sure. Not Jesus by a long shot}])

Yeah, excellent refocus there, kingpin. Really making strides today. Gonna be on the other side of that rainbow any day now. Okay, let's try this again. I'll just go for the quick here. I think that having an element of the agape, both in yr personal relationships and in yr general dealing with the world is important. It is the noble heart, and that heart, I believe, opens up emotional fields unknown to the shallow quid pro quo style of living and relating and so forth. I would guess that Jesus's experience of pure, boundless love even in his gruesome death was on a level of ecstatic emotionality that rave kids and Terence Mckenna and the like only dream about in their wildest drug fantasies. Within the confines of the literary Jesus, of course. I make no judgements about whether or not he really could maintain that or about his status as god's son or any such things. I'm just using this as an example to illustrate the point. To be clear. And for further clarity, I'd just like to say that I know that judgements is spelled judgments here in the U.S. I still prefer the British spelling, thank you very much.

Aaandd, let's try this again. Again. The point in there somewhere was that the subjective experience of life is probably better for those who love more and more deeply. And the unconditionality of the love makes it deeper or something.

Also, the point about the health care debate from the just previous post was not meant to mean that we shouldn't use medical science to help extend life. I was just trying to make the point that suffering is a part of life, and we all have to face that eventually. No matter how well we insulate ourselves from it with the trappings of material distractions. Wait. Hold on. That's not it. No. I got this. I really do. Just give me a minute. I can come up with it. Just keep typing, and it'll come...

Okay, so, yeah, um, it was something about how we all just want to take a pill instead of care of ourselves, and that's why health care costs are out of control. It was in that range, only more so dazzlingly coruscating (Hey, look at me. I know how to use the thesaurus!) and less generally idiotic. I just don't want anyone thinking I'm suggesting killing their grandmother. There seems to be some general confusion about that, in general.

Well, this has all devolved into a nice browny mud color. I guess I'll leave off, seeing as I intended for this to be just quick and on love.

Das Edele Herze (the noble heart)

The noble heart, "it opens inward toward the mystery of character, destiny, and worth, and at the same time outward, toward the world and the wonder of beauty, where it sets the lover at odds, however, with the moral order. The poet (Gottfried Von Strassburg) in his Prologue had already dedicated himself, his life and work, to those alone who could bear together in one heart 'dear pain' as well as 'bitter sweetness'; and, as Professor (Gottfried) Weber observes, it is just this readiness to embrace love's pain along with its rapture that makes the noble heart exceptional."
-Joseph Campbell, on the themes and importance of G Von S's Tristan, about the myth of Tristan and Iseult, in Campbell's Creative Mythology

First off, that guy, Joey C, is not only so frickin' smart it just about hurts, he's also Marianas Trench deep and deeply spiritual. Reading Campbell is like a process of transmogrification whereby you become a Peregrine Falcon and are then now flying, soaring really, through Denali national park or someplace I'd imagine is similarly lushly, verdantly beautiful and as some type of, at least, equally majestic bird.

Now that we've got the unabashed praise of an amazingly good writer out of the way, I think this notion of the exceptionalness of the noble heart being in its (and by de-anthropomorphized extension his/her) ability to not only not shut out the painful but to also always experience both pain and joy as an integrated whole of experience is a hugely, massively important one. I do think this idea goes to the (or more really a) core of the problem(s) of modernity and ?Western society? (yes, this is a relatively unspecific term, but there is some underlying zeitgeisty truth in this following statement, maybe) in that we, you, they, whoever are trying to separate out the bitter from the sweet and isolate the sweet as a kind of lifestyle of material security and unchallengedly happy being. I get the feeling that this is the notion that Friedman and his pure capitalist models are aiming at (even while probably not consciously), as well as, the reason the new age movement (or, as William James calls its Christian antecedent, the mind-cure movement) feels saccchariny sweet in that it seems to scrub Buddhism of its first noble truth, as well as, the reason this health care debate (and more widely the problem of crazy inflationary tendencies in the field of health in general) is getting so vigorously insane (and we're not talking about the good kind of crazy here). People want pain, unhappiness, and death removed from their own lives, and if not removed from the world then just at least removed from their media for their own personal viewing pleasure. And this won't happen. And it certainly won't happen by ignoring the too painful truths of existence.

Obviously, lumping Western society or Americans or modernity into one big kettle of generalization is a little ridiculous, but it's difficult if not impossible to talk about the cultural landscape without generalizations. And this is why culture tends to be shunted off in an academic corner. Social scientists are already insecure enough about the whole 'softness' insult hurled at them from the spatial, 'hard', scientific world without getting all caught up in etherealities like culture. Another generalization, ah vell.

But furthermore, any type of processes over and against systems argument is and will always be a little disingenuous, as if there's only form and not content. That's not to say that systems, such as consumer capitalism, are actively maintained by some secret cabal of old, white men in some secret fraternal society, but they do exist as aggregations of institutions, governmental policies, social perceptions, culture, decisions made by individuals at varying levels of power and influence, et cetera, whether accurately labelable with one ' too-fine-a-point-on-it' word or not, and we all partake of them one way or another. Still, I digress. Pretty much constantly.

Real and true love is not selective. Agape, the unconditional love of Jesus, the Buddha, and others, doesn't love just because of what someone can do for them or if someone can make them happier. This love finds beauty in the world as a whole and therefore loves the world, worts and all. And that love is a call to arms (of sorts), a call to engage in the messiness of the natural world that has enchantment and ferociousness in equal measures, and a call to engage in a social world that seems to be trying to separate out the painful as something to be fended off and kept 'out there' while keeping the joyous and happy 'in here' for us and us alone.

Or something like that. I realize that it's becoming a bad habit of mine to just kind of end blog posts with: 'Whatever, I'm not going any farther here, now.' But it's sort of how I always feel. I mean, I'm trying to get into some small aspect of basic ideas about what and how the world is and works or should or something, and I always start to feel like I'm getting into some rant that's missing the mark a little bit, and I do feel like part of that is the form (or more accurately the form that blogging on blogger takes, which is like writing e-mails to a nonspecific person, Cc: the internet). Quite frankly, I'm both too lazy and too busy to do anything about that, and I still also enjoy even these digressive mark missing exercises.

So, this'll have to do for now. Alright, a quote from Saul Bellow's Ravelstein because it sums up how I'm feeling better than I could (not the part about the wife who's leaving him that starts the quote but I still like the description so it stays):

Since she didn't love me I had, with innate biological resourcefulness, holed up behind my desk and finished a few long-postponed projects- quoting Robert Frost to myself:

For I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.

At times changing this to:

For I have recipes to bake
And far to go before I wake.

The joke was on me, not on Frost

I'm still loving SB, and 'the summer of Bellow' continues, but tempered by the need to do and read other things. So, what-the-hell-ever with all of this (not really though).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just quickly, on moderation

Moderation is the key to Aristotelian ethical philosophy, Confucian thought, the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of Buddha, and on. It's just a common sense approach to life, and almost all of these just mentioned people have suggested or stated explicitly that immoderation is either inwardly unhealthy or outwardly frowned upon from upstairs. The middle way, the camel's eye, and whatnot.

This notion of scarcity seems to be implying that the reverse is true and that we should strive to fulfill all of our material desires regardless of the implications for the wider world, which was really what point B was about in that last post but was poorly articulated. This all came into my head in relation to an article on Goldman Sachs that really illustrates the ludicrousness of encouraging excess. And I do feel like this philosophical idea of scarcity (separate from actual occurrences of specific scarcities) does seem to encourage the idea that the kind of decadent materiality described in the article is to be lauded, emulated, and envied.

There are relations here to Marxism, religion, social psychology, and whatnot that I'll hope to revisit, but it's just too nice a day to be indoors typing on a computer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The fundamental assumption of scarcity

"Scarcity is the most basic concept in all of economics. Scarcity means that we do not ever have enough of everything, including time, to satisfy our every desire. Scarcity exists because human wants always exceed what can be produced with the limited resources and time that nature makes available" -Economics Today; The Macro View. Roger Leroy Miller

There it is. The most basic concept in all of economics. I still can't get over this. I've essentially put aside econ for the summer to focus more on the study of religion and myth, but every once and a while this little kernel comes popping into my head and sets off a whole chain of thoughts, mostly ending with 'These people are staggering in their imbecility'. But I'll to try to be civil today.

Embedded in this concept of scarcity is the idea that A) desires are mostly material, and B) they are satisfied by the acquisition of more material things. The response to A, no doubt, from economists would be that their field is the study of the distributive systems of material goods and services, and therefore any other type of desire is not within their purview. As a staunch interdisciplinarian, I say that's dangerously narrow-minded, but we'll let that one go for the moment.

The second point makes the problem of A more acute because the truth is that the desires of human beings have more to do, once a certain level of basic necessity is reached, with companionship, meaning, and happiness, for example, than with more stuff. And when those non-material needs are not being met, this is when, generally, people try to fill those holes with the compulsive consumption of material goods, if possible (and often in America by accruing debt).

This is really what consumer capitalism is all about. Advertising agencies sell this perfect ideal of what you and your life should be like that's all super-fit, super-good-looking people, usually laughing and always having the 'time of their lives', and by extension so can you, if you buy the product on offer. And when that product fails to magically produce this perfect life, then you're life feels a little shabby, and you feel depressed, and you now need that dopamine uplift that you get when you buy stuff. Okay, so this is a generalized you that doesn't really exist, and the problem isn't anywhere near this neatly expressible, but this is one of the tricks of the advertising/consumption interaction. Around about the early 1900's advertising stopped being about informing the consumer about the product, and more about persuading that consumer that they needed a product that they had formerly got along fine without. And it's been a downhill runaway snowball to today's consumer capitalist craziness.

And that's really the thing. This idea of scarcity is not a fundamental idea to economics. It's fundamental to this one particular economic system, consumer capitalism. This one system that by it's design (although not necessarily intentionally or consciously so on anyone's part [though not necessarily not so either]) maintains the notion of scarcity and deprivation in a world of plenty, if not plenty well distributed. Even when you have plenty you can be made to feel deprived by the level of consumption appearing in magazines, movies, television, etc.

I would also guess that the relation between satisfaction and material consumption is curvilinear if not downright parabolic. The law of diminishing returns definitely applies at a certain stage. The advance in satisfaction from say four to five million dollars worth of consumption is no where near what I bet the jump from 10 to even as little as 30, 000 dollars is. Clearly, the latter person is going to get more bang for their buck.

Unsuprisingly, I'm drifting around here. The point is that at root our desires beyond this basic necessity are really non-material, and trying to fill those non-material desires with material goods is always going to be a hollow process that leaves the individual feeling empty, if that individual stops for a moment to smell the roses. This, I imagine, is what fuels the craziness on wall street. It's hollow men trying to fill the void of meaninglessness in a life devoted to money with the things that money can buy.

So, I really had a better grip on this this morning when I was going through it in my head, but now it's all just coming out in dribs and drabs, and isn't really amounting to much. Mostly I'm just making horrid generalizations that don't give us much in the way of forward progress. Maybe I'll try again tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

dribble, dribble (fragments)

Last night, there was an a capella version of A-ha's Take On Me on the local college radio station. It was this whole chorus of singers doing the melodic parts and a guy beat boxing, and it was just about the most awesomest thing I have ever heard in my entire life. It was pretty rad.

I took my car to a guy my friend suggested today, and he's definitely out on the rim. While we waited for his body work guy to come over and check out the damage, we discussed the nature of gates into parallel dimensions. He also laughs volubly and suddenly. It's way cool. I've never met a mechanic before who's shop is half sculpture studio, and he had all these metal work sculptures with different aspects of religious symbolism worked into them. We drank tea, and he told me I need to discover the material, size, and form of the trans-dimensional gate. And to remember that we can be god-like in these other dimensions. He also told me I needed to ask my friend to marry me, and was very serious about this. At the very least, I'm told I need to join e-harmony. I'm sticking to the gates though.

I've been ignoring all of my other books except Pynchon's new Inherent Vice cause it's just that good. It's an amazing confluence of style and substance, and I'm really digging it. It's groovy, man, and also set in the late sixties, and everybody talks in that obnoxious sixties hippie vernacular. Somehow Pynchon manages to balance that obnoxiousness with a really perfect stylistic pitch.

I don't have anything much to say really. It's just that I didn't want that last post to be at the top of the blog for any longer than it already has. So, well...yeah.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Paradox of Choice, among other things.

I wanted to organize my thoughts on this problem, as it's really one of the central themes of Infinite Jest, and so it's been kind of popping up now and then throughout, most especially in the so-called Marathe/Steeply sections. Which from Infinite Summer I see are (I really want to write like here but I'm going to just say that I have that urge and this is how I'm exorcising it, as per my promise not to use that word in that way ever again) just about everybody's least favorite. Course I totally love that stuff, as it's all, so far, essentially one long conversation about philosophic ideas.

(Sorry but I'm gonna have to geek out on Jest for a minute here and it may not make total sense if you haven't read the book)

Somebody somewhere mentioned how both the AA and the ETA stuff illustrate some of the problems of choice. In both cases the characters are not really free to make whatever choices they want. While they are technically free (as Schitt says to the A squad who are half-arsing [I'm officially reverting to my policy of toned down swearing just because I'm more generally comfortable with that {I know I said I would cut back on the bracketing, but I really love asides}] their way through morning drills, 'You can leave if you want'. Really words to that effect [I'm not hunting up the actual quote]), this freedom is a for a kind of non-choice. The choice for an addict to go back out and use or for a teenager at Tennis academy to quite are choices with readily obvious consequences for where that person's life will pretty quickly end up.

That's not to say that the choice doesn't exist. It's just probably a really bad one to quit school or AA, if you're at the point where you are in AA. So, Schitt and the crocodiles make it clear that this is a personal choice because the motivation has to be internal for it to be maintained. The more the A squad feels like they want to be great tennis players and are doing these drills for themselves, the better the chance that they will in fact become great tennis players. Because if you feel forced, then you half-arse. Weirdly that kind of works at first in AA. You've got to be desperate for sobriety, but at first you can just go through the motions of prayer and AA attendance.

Marathe/Steeply have been getting into (at around the 480 mark [I'm actually behind the spoiler line for the first time the week I'm on vacation. How about them apples?]) the question of what is a free choice. And this relates nicely to a piece by C. Wright Mills about what the sociological imagination is. In his short essay of the same name, C, as I like to call him, talks about how the biographical intersect with the socio-historical. The idea is that although we have this whole biographical history that feels to us like it's been a series of escalating choices as we've moved from childhood to adulthood (or maybe doesn't feel that way), if you chop up those biographical facts and then look at the members of society that share similar facts, such as financial stability, marriage rates, divorce rates, etc, when you see wide ranging trends among similar socio-economic groups, there will be historical reasons for these trends. That was some pretty awful paraphrasing of a pretty smart and interesting writer (his essay on the military-industrial complex is really spot on).

So, is this a choice? The short answer is no. But the illusion of choice is a central support of The American Dream. Everyone has the potential to be some great, brilliant, successful, phenom. The rags to riches story is useful in maintaining this illusion. And it's just not really true, as the sociological datum shows beyond the pedestaled anecdotes.

This idea is more embedded in the story of Jest than explicit in the discussions of Marathe and Steeply. The Marathe/Steeply stuff, just recently has been on this weird fictional building on the CIA's old MK-Ultra program about a neurosurgical group in Manitoba who figure out a way to implant electrodes into the brain that stimulate some form of pure pleasure. The problem is you just bliss out on this stuff until you die from having stopped eating or drinking or sleeping or anything. I think there's a Phillip K. Dick story that has something similar to this, but I'm forgetting now.

The point is in the range of this problem of the Entertainment in Jest. If people know the Entertainment will veg them out, then what's the problem? Why would you have to make it illegal? Why would you restrict the choice? I think the real question is why would we want this choice in the first place?

And I think (I think) that Wallace is making the point that human's make what appear to be bad choices all the time. And those bad choices exist on a spectrum from, say, eating a bag of candy or watching a crap load of television to shooting heroin to killing someone to genocide. But these choices get made even though they are bad, either for the self or for others. Really, the spectrum of making bad personal choices and making bad choices that effect others are separate spectrums and should be dealt with separately. But if we're making bad choices is that really freedom?

Arrright, I'm just spinning myself in circles here and not really moving forward. I don't know why I've recently thought I should think through these ideas by just sitting down and doing blog writing and seeing where I get to. I do much better with this stuff pacing around my living room muttering to myself and occasionally writing down the really good ideas. A lot of this is just stream of conscious rehash of things I already know for myself.

Since I'm rehashing, I'll just lay down a few that I look back I see that I've already gone on for some time, so I'll save my theory of what true choice is for another day (it's blindingly brilliant so be forewarned [we're talking staring directly at the sun kind of blinding here]). Really, this was just an excuse to ignore...You know what also, I'm just gonna lay this down here, even though it should really technically go in with the Access the Process stuff, but only sort of, cause it's content and form and not really process.

I'm working on beginning a first draft of the second novel of a trilogy (while simultaneously also working on the second draft of the first novel) about...well, infinite possibility (kind of), which was why I was so keen on reading Infinite Jest this summer. The second novel is structured around the attempts of the protagonist to write a screenplay, and the idea is that each chapter is preceded by a chunk of screenplay of varying size depending on how much Thomas, our protag, has written. The rub is that after he's written it, it actually happens to him, as in he's somehow transported into the movie that he's writing. The problem is that when he started, before he knew he was really writing himself into this role, he wrote the central character as this real anti-hero (read: jerk-off [sort of {maybe morally ambiguous would be better}]) in the tradition of film noir, as in it's set in the 1920's and is all dark and moody.

So, half-way through the second book he decides to start over because his personality outside of the movie is beginning to disintegrate (not to mention that that outside reality is altering every time he goes back into the movie world and then comes back), which just makes things worse. And there's this whole wider story about how the woman who he's written the movie's protag as in love with (and then consequently he's then kind of fallen in love with because he becomes that protag) has dissociations into this other dimension, which is all sci-fi weirdness and shit (I know I said no more swearing, but it makes me really excited to finally write about this shit) because of childhood trauma. The idea being that this woman in the sci-fi universe is a kind of Jesus figure and the fact that our protag has rewritten the film's female lead who dissociates into her, the sci-fi Jesus woman, has split her personality in two (because when the movie's female lead dissociates into her they swap, and there's this whole back story about this swap which involves convoluted time lines, crazy plot points, and weird character personality alterations) thereby making it impossible for her to save not just that universe but the entire infinite dimensionality of universes (because there are infinite universes where infinite possible worlds exist and our own consciousness potentially can dissociate into these other universes through artistic creation [because in the realm of infinite dimensional possibility all worlds that you might make up in your head both exist and don't exist {that's a tricky piece of infinite possibility, in that, the possibility that something doesn't exist has to exist for infinity to be true}] or spiritual transcendence or trauma [Judith Herman's book Trauma and Recovery talks about some interesting parallels between traumatic dissociation and spiritual altered states of consciousness]).

So, I'm trying to plan out these two movies, which are split variations on the same movie, and my idea is to reimagine all the characters and plot lines from the movies that Kar-Wai Wong has both written and directed (if I included the ones he just wrote too, it would be insane [right, that's what would make this project insane. It's not way already there] because he wrote about 8,000 movies before he started auteuring) because he's my idol and shit. Plus, the stuff works, as I've already got some pieces of the puzzle, mostly shaping the movie In The Mood For Love into the backstory for the first film. And but so, his movie 2046 has a character who writes a sci-fi story, so I'm now thinking that in the third novel the protag, Thomas, will be writing at least one screenplay (as he'll have to finish both [and almost as assuredly kill off this woman that he's sort of in love with {both times} so that the sci-fi Jesus woman can then reintegrate her personality and save the multiverse [it sounds awful that he's killing these women {really, just writing that they die}], but it's the only way to save the multiverse dammit! [and also reunite with his true original reality love from the first book]) about a man who starts writing a sci-fi serial, and somehow this is related to this other sci-fi universe that was discovered in the first book and returned to at the end of the second and then resolved in the third, and...well, you can see how complicated this whole thing is to try and work out. Okay, maybe complicated is an understatement. Maybe totally lunaticly insane would be the better description, but you know what, fuck it. So I'm crazy. Is that so damn terrible? Really?

And so I've been procrastinating by blathering on here. But I do. I really do have to get some forward motion on this if I want to have the whole thing wrapped up in say, two or three years given the other demands on my time (like a job, this whole idea about trying to lay the groundwork for a philosophic work outlining a plan for a cooperative economic structure, and really actually finishing one, just one undergraduate degree [which is itself hilarious because I've done the requirements for degrees in every social science as well as quite a bit of the wider humanities as well {thank you, tuition reimbursement, for making all my manic educative dreams come true}]). Yeah, so, there you go. I'm not even gonna bother editing this post. It is what it is, and is probably chock full of unintentional misspellings, grammatical errors, and unparsable bracket asides, but we'll just chalk this whole thing up to the previously mentioned vacation style. As if the fact that I was on vacation somehow excuses me from my sanity. Well, like, whatever and shit (I knew I wouldn't make it through this post without having to use the word like like that).


I think I need to back down off the ledge I worked my way out to there in that last post. It's not the crazy that bothers me so much, but the somewhat fascistic undertones of some of the arguments that upsets me a little to see come out of my own head. There is a long tradition among philosophers to think that, essentially, if everyone agrees with me this world would be sooo much better. Plato's Republic goes on a long tangent about how art, then taking the forms of lyric poetry and drama, has to be directed for the proper education of the young. Not to even mention his idea for the philosopher king, which, no surprise here, Hitler just loved. Hegel elaborated on how the heroes of the dramatic and lyric arts, which were the only true ones in his estimation, had to be totally free from convention in the way that only princes and kings were. More generally, you've got Rousseau's lawgiver, Nietzsche's superman, Hobbes' Leviathan, and the list goes on (not that I put myself on that list, just in that general desire of philosophers for universal principles).

Not the proudest moments for the philosophic tradition, I can tell you. Those middle passages of The Republic always make me a little sad because the rest of the work is breathtaking in it's scope and depth. But it's an infinite chain of being. You don't get to John Rawls, for example, without John Locke, whose own work may have been the philosophical basis for the great democratic ideals of Jefferson, Madison, Adams, etc but who also provided cover arguments for the institution of slavery and the wholesale genocide of the native populations of the then new world.

And that sucks. Seriously sucks monkey ass. And this monkey ass suckiness has its roots in the messy realities of democracy. Plato saw the first, sort of, democracy (neither women nor slaves were given the vote), and it probably was what scared him into fascism. In his work Gorgias, he brings the Socratic method to bear on the sophistic notion that the art of persuasion was more important than real, deep knowledge and understanding. Course, the historical Socrates had to drink hemlock or be banished from Athens because of his method, which was supposedly corrupting the youth and denigrating the gods, whereas the historical Gorgias became quite wealthy charging fees for instruction in the rhetorical practices and living a long full life, even commissioning a golden statue of himself in Athens. And that's how things went down in the world's first, sort of, democracy.

So, I guess the question is, is this susceptibility to demagogery inherent in the structure of democracy? I don't have the answer to this question, but certainly most people seem to like to hear people they agree with do so forcefully and righteously, even if the force and righteousness is presented in a disingenuous, one sided, sophistic way (cough, cough, FoxNews, cough, cough, MSNBC, cough some more).

There are whole long lines of argument reaching in just about every direction that I could follow from that last short paragraph, but I think I'll leave off. I was really aiming at a discussion of how structure affects both the content and form of art. And that's a really long and complicated argument involving a whole range of subjects, not the least of which is the history and development of the various forms and the structures of their dissemination, which is really more so what I'm driving at. The problem of the business of art, kind of thing.

Let me get right to the real heart of the matter here because this has already dragged on, and I haven't gotten anywhere. I think the corporate structure, in general but also particularly in relation to artistic dissemination, has got to be reformed. There is nothing inherent in the idea of a global business such as a corporation which requires that it and the enfolded they (i.e. corporate shills) can only, only consider the economic bottom line (a bottom line that leaves off both social and environmental concerns). Muhammad Yunus and his revolutionary work with microfinance (try it!) and the Grameen bank has shown that social business can be both financially sound and socially conscious. And there is no real reason to believe this couldn't somehow also work in the fields of art.

How exactly this transfers more broadly is not entirely clear without (arghh, tautology) a culture that values social goods at least as much as personal pleasures, but I think that it can. Somehow. Okay, so you're now singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and rolling your eyes. I can feel it. Alright, that's enough of that. I'm trying to be serious. I'll admit (which I seem to be doing all the time), I don't have the whole thing worked out clearly in my head, but I've got some hints and vague impressions. I do think (and this probably has A LOT to do with the fact that I love scholarly shit) that one first step in the direction of a more democratic corporate structure is in the development of a true inter-disciplinary economic theory, an alternative economics, which is a term that I don't entirely like because it might imply that this theory is somehow subordinate to the more pure economic study (which is not the intended implication but could be taken as such). I feel like somebody has got to break the stronghold of Milton Friedman's ideas of pure capitalism in the realm of modern economics because these are the guys, this Chicago School old boy network, who control the US treasury and others around the world, the World Bank, the IMF, and many large and influential national and multinational corporations.

Okay, so this has really gone on long enough now, and I'm just repeating myself and drifting slightly into what could be construed as conspiracy theory. And the argument isn't pure. The internet is a bit of a democratizing force (within a range, as there's a whole personal infrastructure that has to exist for any given person to have the internet [which is part of this material reality that I'm always going on about how horrible is]), and you can self-publish through blogs and whatnot. This is why it's hard to make sweeping universal arguments about Art, even if you have some particular form in your head when you make the argument.

Okay, it's time to do get some fresh air and exercise. Enough of this nonsense.

Friday, August 7, 2009

How bout you legislate me a PB&J

Two days previous to the now, a friend of mine, who I hadn't seen in what must have been many a year now, happened to show up at my sister's house with his sister, who is also one of my sister's closest friends and through whom I know this friend of mine. Hah. That was a bit of a verbal tornado. I admit, I probably like and pay more attention to the rhythms of speech that the actual content quite more of the time than I should, which may seem weird based on the fact that the content I tend towards tends to be on the heavier side. And I do love to wax philosophic as a way to while away the time, but I do still follow the rhythm as a kind of intuitive path through the logical jungle of thought.

Anyway, as I was on vacation (thank the lord in heaven for that) and he was on vacation, I got to spend the day with him and his sister yesterday, and so we launched almost directly into an all day discussion of both all things serious and also ridiculous. Kind of alternating between the two, sort of. More like starting with the serious over breakfast and a hike through the densely mosquitoed woods of rural Massachusetts and trending toward the ridiculous, lounging in innertubes in a so-called pond that is really a lake (who knows why they would call this lake a pond).

Of course, I can't really recall the content of the ridiculous. There was something about whether or not there was sexual tension between Alvin of Alvin and the Chipmunks fame and Brittney from the, maybe, Chipettes (there wasn't even consensus on the fact that a girl chipmunk group even existed), and a riff on the fact that he used to chase a really dull girl that he was in love with in high school because she was beautiful, who used to bore him to tears talking about watching wrestling, and who has now become very obese as discovered through the magic of Facebook. I believe his words were, "she looked like she ate herself", and he insisted this was an okay thing to say because of the the high school love that he'd formerly felt for her. And it isn't funny to say such things I'm quite sure, and but yet we laughed like hyenas about it for a really long time. Being the hyenas that we are.

So again, anyway, the content of the serious was the content that I was more concerned with trying to scribble out and maybe follow through some of the thoughts I'd had about sort of where we'd gotten to, which was with me sort of saying, "yes, you're right; I'm kind of an idiot who just lets things dribble out of his mouth once his monologue gets really underway and can sometimes not be totally paying much attention to what it is that he is saying", here on this blog. Another twister. (The here on this blog part really makes for difficult parsing, but once I commit to a bit of weirdness, it becomes a little painful to edit it out, so, you know. It stays today, as per the soon to be mentioned vacation style.) Vacations and the concordant sleep often times associated with them do wonderful things for the self. Also sun poisoning and beer do things that are maybe not so wonderful in truth and but probably have more to do with the nature of the runaway blogpost I'm all up in here now. (Why stop? It is a blog after all. I think I'm just gonna let it all hang out here, vacation style.)

Here's an interesting tidbit that I learned from my friend while we were making breakfast yesterday morning. As he's quite caught up in DC politics as like part of his job, he knows all about the insane contortionary nature of the politics of a city that's also kind of a state, but that's also sort of overruled by the federal government's bicameral legislature. Somehow it happens that congress has the power to hold up the city/state of Washington's budget, and they did so because the city/state hadn't changed the municipal signs when congress changed the name of Washington's airport to Ronald Reagan International Airport. This means that, in the city state of DC, no firefighters, teachers, cops, etc. got paid until the municipality changed a bunch of signs because our federal congress is clearly full of mean adolescent children. I would've asked him how and why it is that the congress has this power, but I had to concentrate on English muffins since the toaster didn't actually eject them until they'd become doorstops, and we'd already burnt, like, four or five.

Interesting? Yes, I think this is. In any way related to the point I was working my way up to? Somewhat obliquely I suppose, in that there were a couple of interesting points that came up in the eight or so hours of our relentless jabbering on, and one of them had to do with his choice to get into politics (and he admitted that there were days that he felt he needed a shower when he got home from work because the job had made him feel unclean but not as many as you'd think and most times he felt like he was accomplishing something). So, to the point(s) I'm trying to get at. First was this question about the practical and the ideal. I, myself, tend towards ideals. I like the philosophic, and it's unquestionably and somewhat albatrossly what I do best. Abstract thinking has always been the thing that comes easy, the innate ability if you will, and philosophy, while challenging, rarely seems impenetrable in the way I've been told it is by others. Now, the ability to apply these ideals to the real world in any kind of meaningful way on the other hand is more so difficultly impenetrable for both myself and seemingly also the world at large. If Plato's cave analogy is right (and as a self-professed philosophically minded individual, I have to say it rings pretty true to me), then how do you get those chained to a wall staring at the reflection of a fire to realize that reality is really behind them and outside of this cave they're not even aware exists qua cave?

Just to quote my friend (who will remain nameless since I've already quoted him as saying his high school crush now looks like she ate herself), "the perfect can become the enemy of the good." Clearly, he's putting it in a way that I can understand, but it's an important sentiment I think. The problem being that those of us enamored with ideals and abstractions can, kind of, check out from plain vanilla yogurt reality for this outside the cave reality, and in that way scholastics becomes a kind of monasticism, without the mandated asceticism (which was an unimportant addendum but I'm leaving it nonetheless). He paraphrased his father, who is a man after my own heart and a full bore theoretician, as making the somewhat silly statement that we need a total cultural revolution in response to the question about how some of these ideals might be instituted practically. Which is a kind of cop out, I'll admit, because, as my friend said, "You can't legislate a cultural revolution." Nor can you really do much of much in that direction.

But culture is clearly a key element. As long as our culture remains one of, really, immediate gratification as the national religion, there's no real avenue towards working up serious long term solutions in the political sphere or really any sphere for that matter. And my own abstractionary conclusions about why I write (which I do also admit is tacked on after the fact [as in I just feel like I must write, but if I can make up this reason why it's, capital i, Important that I write, well, then all the better to satisfy my inner philosopher]), is that it's my hope that I can, at the very least, add my little bit to the cultural slipstream, and one day maybe there'll be enough whatever that it will take to actually, kind of, get this revolution or evolution or something or other going, and the the mindlessness I see streaming through the main cultural valves will evaporate, and we can all have a good laugh about: "Remember when we used to pretend that global warming was bullshit and when the average household watched like 6 hours of television a day and when everybody wanted free healthcare and nobody wanted to pay one red cent extra for it and when et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Isn't that just the funniest thing you've ever heard. Can you believe how short sighted we were before this spontaneously magic cultural revolution". Yes, I do realize the implications of both the term and the idea of cultural revolution and those implications have a lot to do with why you can't legislate one and why it has to be essentially a slowly formed but ultimately gotten consensus, maybe, sort of, something along those lines.

(Although, when I talk about writing, I'm not really so very much referring to this blog per se but more to the more structured projects like novels and screenplays and such [that will emphatically change the world {!ironic statement clarification! (as in that was meant to be ironic, please don't think I'm that full of myself [because of course I am, it's just I don't want people thinking that themselves in their heads or hands or feet or wherever it is these alleged people care to do their thinking for themselves])}].)

Cause the otherwise besides the big chuckle after we've gotten it all together and think through our actions collectively and honestly, it's Thunderdome, full on. Gladiators on bungee cords attacking each other in giant fence-like cages covered with garbage can lids surrounded by wild-eyed fanatics screaming at the top of their lungs and rattling these cages furiously, and Tina Turner lording over the whole thing as some weird riff on her role as the Acid Queen or some such. Is that really what we want? I mean, really! I know I always end up in these doomsday scenario apocalyptic scare tactics when it comes to why we should be more serious and maybe consider the soul instead of the mocha chacha frappa-hooffaa or the turbocharged Maserati instamatic penis-mobile or the lobster or, like, Whatever, but it's the callous, cold-blooded truth of the thing: this life, this world, this cavernous reality that we are all together now trapped inside and trapping ourselves within the confines of for no really very clearly good reason does not have to be this plastic and, like (I promise from this blogpost forward not to use this word in this way ever again. I'm just really enjoying myself with it today, so...), shallow.

Okay tiger, let's dial it about 85 notches back from seriously, over the top, effin' crazy. The point I was in the vicinity of making is that we should look around and have a think before we leap. Wait no, that's not the point, although it is a good point. What I was going for was the idea that it's culture and not material that should be the focal point of social striving. Well, maybe not really social striving so much, as egalitarianism is one of my sacred ideals, but that a society that uses its excess productivity above basic necessities not for the cheap material gimcracks of status but for cultural creation is a society that...I don't know, will just be like better or something.

I've kind of lost the plot here. Alright I lost the plot some many years ago, but I think in this instance I've gone long enough on what's derailed more rapidly and deeply than usual into an overheated, somewhat deranged rant. Don't get me wrong. I do clearly love to rant, and I don't really think that people are shallow but more that our culture is. Still, I should really get some more structured writing done before this vacation is over and I wake up Monday morning wondering how it is that I got absolutely nothing accomplished in an entire week of free and unstructured time (as if that would be hard to figure given the available evidence [like I really have any place criticizing anybody for not having gotten it together, what!]). I did want to dig into what would've, no doubt, been a digressionary hole about the way philosophers create representations that don't always fit neatly onto the territory of reality, and that was going to flow totally seamlessly out of the aforediscussed personal artistic pretensions, and it was going to be so completely awesome I can't even begin to describe it in a way that wouldn't be just a cheap imitation of the real thing. But the steam, it has run out. So I got nothin' that regard.

(edited to say: I can't believe I just spent the past hour editing this post, and it now makes even less sense than it did when I started [personally, I'm blaming David Foster Wallace for this whole mess]. I promise next time, oh next time, I'll be more considered and less thoroughly, all-hanging-out manic and all 'oh woe is me the world is coming to an end if we don't change our ways' [and I also promise to tone down the bracketing, commaing, and general linguistic absurdity, if you promise not to try and get me committed to, like, an institution or anything {Let's all just pretend this never happened. These are not the droids you're looking for. You can go about you're business. Move along. Move along}].)