Live and Let Live

Quarter of eight.

On my way to market I stumbled over a pair of mallard ducks on Fremont Avenue. It was raining a little, flooding out the earthworms, in turn attracting the birds that feed on them. If I’d had some bread, I would have given it to the ducks, but all I could do was admire them… Once again I’ve read an attitude from someone that goes on the moral warpath. But the reason we have morality is not for condemnation of other people, nor of ourselves. I guess I’m just a pacifist, but even Jesus says we should love our enemies and everyone else besides. He says to the accusers of the adulteress, “Whoever is without sin among you, throw the first stone at her.” And because none of them is innocent, they can’t do this. It’s a simple concept called hypocrisy, yet a lot of people don’t get it. Nobody has the right to feel judgmental towards their neighbors. Those who live in glass houses mustn’t throw stones. I’ve always liked the quote from Spinoza as follows: “Things are not more or less perfect according as they delight or offend human senses…” It is not for human beings to judge the rightness or wrongness of their fellows. And when we do sentence a person for a crime, it is without a sense of moral outrage, disgust, and so on. 

Reveille

Seven ten.

It’s still overcast today with a few drops of rain. I’m curious to see how hot it’ll get this summer but there’s no hurry. I’ve gotten tired of the world news every day. In fact, I’m quite tired of people in general, the way we always refute each other’s identity and desires, like a constant negation of who we are. You have to just roll with it, though you also have to create your opportunities. It’s a matter of being up for it, and lately I haven’t been. Maybe someday the stars will line up in an auspicious way for my happiness, but it isn’t today, for me or for anybody. We hunker down in fear and uncertainty, magnifying the depression with our attitude. No one is being very heroic like characters in great literature. At a time like this, people could learn something from reading Sartre’s plays, but instead they flounder aimlessly, not knowing that they are free. The same thing goes for me as well. It’s not the will of God that drives the world. We are not pawns in this game, but rather agents who freely create our circumstances. Biblical prophecies are the ones that we ourselves fulfill because we don’t know any better. People are equally free not to turn fiction into fact. Becoming aware of this is the first battle. There is no blueprint for the human future. 

Ubiquity

Ten thirty at night.

It must be raining harder now because I can hear it in the darkness outside. When I was three years old I assumed that rain in one place meant it was raining everyplace. One day I said this to my mother. She chuckled and explained to me the truth of the weather, and that was my first step away from egocentrism. Every child goes through this stage, and if they don’t, then there’s something wrong. It is similar to the attitude that “the world is my picture book” that you find in Schopenhauer and in Poe’s Eureka. Objects exist as long as I am looking at them. But the fact is that they exist even without your perception of them. No individual is the center of the universe. It’s a short trip from Jung’s synchronicity to psychotic delusions of reference in which everything pertains to you alone. It’s a kind of radical subjectivism. I guess some people can live that way, and some do indeed. They exist in a condition of make believe where anything is possible, from flying reindeer to the resurrection of the body even after cremation. I wonder how they perceive the rain; is it ubiquitous to them, as to a three year old? 

Last Words

The old psychiatrist used to say, if you’re looking for it, you’ll find it. I often believe that politics and sociology are responsible for my personal thoughts, but this is impossible to show, and it may be a delusion of thought insertion. Suffice it that I’ve been unwell for the past month. I can blame anybody I want but it doesn’t achieve anything. I was able to concert my brain enough to play my bass this afternoon, which sounded great. I really like FretWire kits, Omega bridges, and Rotosound stainless steel strings. You don’t have to spend a fortune on your gear to sound like a pro.

Quarter of midnight.

My mind is a blank, my mind’s eye void. Philosophy is very involved with language, and is it really conceivable to see reality beyond the scope of our words? I’m a naive optimist about that. Reality for a person with aphasia does not simply dissolve to nothing. It still remains but without the names. The church pastor was probably a pessimist on the same issue: knowledge depends on speech, on language and words; in the beginning was the word, etc etc. But what happens if you do slip under the net of language? Is there still a language of feeling, like music? And what do objects look like with no names? This would be my last argument with Pastor Dan, living in his little sphere of words upon words and sermon after sermon: words words words in an endless flow like a stream which you follow to the sea— or to a desert drought where reality ends. But that’s just it: does reality vanish where there are no words? For the answer to this I should revisit Shelley’s poetry. 

An Irreducible Schism

Wee hours.

It is odd how people come and go, even me. Everything changes over time, and we go where it benefits us to go. The hardest thing to face is the essential solitude of every human life, and yet the aloneness creates our freedom. I can see Teri’s face in my mind’s eye, the receptionist for the agency. This somehow becomes symbolic of my fortunes since the time of the pandemic. The church pastor flipped his wig and preached about demonic possession in the same breath as mental illness, which was a very serious mistake as far as I was concerned. After the memorial service for my friend was such a disaster, my mind was made up to walk away from Our Redeemer. Pastor’s misconceptions are incorrigible, unfortunately, and he won’t listen to anyone else. I believe they stem from a phobia of biology and the facts of science, which seem to pose a threat to his ironclad spiritualism. Indeed, this would put him in a very difficult position regarding theology and philosophy, an unavoidable contradiction. So his only recourse is to stick his head in the sand and deny the truth that consciousness comes from brain function. I find it ironic that Pastor’s phobia is the very contrary of Freud’s alleged phobia of metaphysics. This accusation came from Carl Jung after the two friends split over the disagreement.

Volonte: A Letter

Today was very nice overall. It got up to nearly 70 degrees and the sun was mostly out in a sky with high clouds, white blent with blue. My maple tree shows some leaf buds and I’ve seen other trees blossoming. I opened three windows in the house to let in fresh air, and towards evening it smelled very sweet. Aromas can do odd things with your feelings and thoughts, though I felt comfortable enough just sitting in the family room. Gloria came at nine o’clock and cleaned the kitchen except for mopping the floor. She also fixed the wall outlet for my microwave, so for lunch I heated a Hot Pocket. Probably tomorrow I’ll go to Bi Mart for a mop, a bucket, and some floor polish. In the process of putting away stuff from cardboard boxes, I found four guitar straps colored black, white, and royal blue, plus a few men’s belts. The guitar straps are nylon and I was kind of excited at the discovery. I can put a white one on my pj bass, which also is white with black.

No reading today. I thought about the Baudelaire biography by Sartre again. The blurb on back says that existential psychoanalysis is an alternative to Freud’s determinism, an idea that I had figured out myself, and it’s such a cool concept, that of freedom of the will. It’s also a rather unscientific one, a device of the humanities, of philosophy. But does that render it any the less true? To begin with, the determinism of biology was an idea that Darwin stumbled onto, and before him, it was part of the philosophy of David Hume during the eighteenth century. If it were possible to rewrite the science books from a libertarian point of view then I think Sartre comes close to doing that. At least, Sartre contributes something to psychology. As everyone ought to know, every branch of knowledge originally began with philosophy, so that pure thought is the driving force of human history, or perhaps I’m feeling a little optimistic.

On the other hand, I’m not the type to fall for quackery. British empiricism is a very commonsensical and grounded attitude to what we can know. Maybe it’s just that determinism offends my reason in some way.

All of this from an armchair, a philosopher’s pipe dream. But then, look at Darwin again, and the voyage of the Beagle. All it took was an idea.

Stranded

Seven eleven.

I woke up at three thirty this morning and put off getting up for another hour, and then I knew I couldn’t sleep any more. An hour ago I walked to the store in inky blackness, mindful of my footing on the way. I feel confident that my addiction to alcohol is all in the past by now. The morning light is coming up overcast blue, the trees not yet green. Being a wordsmith has been interesting for five years, but today I have my doubts about its future. I had a friend who was very literal with language and a nihilist about ethics and metaphysics: things that depend heavily upon abstract language. It’s hard to argue with a positivist, someone so sensory for whom all abstraction is futile. Our relationship ended when I was driven in the opposite direction, towards a myriad of words, words, words, building castles in the air. However, now I believe she might have been right in her quiet, her reticence, and the spareness of her thought. The problem is likely one of those with no answer. In that case I’m bound to be a skeptic, a person who doesn’t know either way, like an agnostic. Romantics use tons of poetic language. Realists cut speech down to what is only verifiable. And the skeptic is the one stranded in the middle: the loneliest place, like an island in the moon. 

East and West

Ten thirty at night.

It finally started raining late this afternoon. Some nights, like this one, are serene and calming to the nervous disposition. Before the rain, a Baptist pastor who was new to Eugene came to my door to promote his church on Irving Road. He asked me what Lutherans believe on how you get eternal life, so I told him what I knew from my experience. I took his postcard from his hand and he moved on with his young son to other houses on my street… Early today I read a chapter on Pythagorus in Russell’s History. Russell takes that opportunity to praise pure mathematics and the pleasure it gives people, but also it is used in music and metaphysics. But the geometric quality of Western metaphysics is different from Eastern mysticism, he says. I suppose the difference is like Descartes versus Joseph Campbell… When I practiced my bass guitar afterwards, I thought the geometry of the fingerboard had become subconscious.

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter…

The loud and visceral tones of my electric bass are physical things, yet the conceptual notes are incorporeal and perfect, just as an ideal circle differs from a circle you draw with a compass. But I’m not sure that Russell’s treatment of Eastern philosophy is fair. I feel a counter impulse to read Campbell’s commentaries on Brahman— maybe tomorrow. 

Night Thoughts

Midnight.

Psychology is slow to catch up with modern philosophy, which started with Descartes in the seventeenth century with his cogito ergo sum, or “I think therefore I am.” Freud modeled his theories on ancient philosophy and drama, mostly Plato and Sophocles, and the psychological tradition followed his lead. Psychology is just now beginning to admit the contributions of more recent philosophy such as existentialism. Sartre was essentially a Cartesian in the way he started from the point of view of subjectivity, of individual consciousness. The ramifications of his thinking were the condition of freedom for all individual human beings. He denied the determinism of nature in the case of humanity: humankind was an end in itself, determining its own meaning and essence. Humanity is something special, according to his beliefs. 

Existentialism is basically very unscientific and non rational, a theory that grows purely out of arts and letters and standing independently of religion and science. It belongs to the no man’s land of philosophy, as Russell called it, though he avoided existentialism totally in his History of Western Philosophy. Perhaps he was wise to do so? His analytic tradition in philosophy is a completely different animal from the speculative tradition: more aligned with science and realism, which leads you back to determinism again. Maybe this perspective is more sane than the hyperbole of freedom and responsibility: more logical and consistent. The most convincing point of view will be consistent. And maybe the Cartesian approach was wrongheaded from the beginning? So that the absurdists didn’t know what they were talking about. Life is not absurd to a logical person, someone grounded in reality and in the laws of physics: in nature. 

Bread Alone

Quarter of ten.

We’re having a complete power outage right now, which means no Wi-Fi for talking with Sean this morning. I’ve reported the blackout to the utility company. I don’t know how long it will last… Now it’s back on. At the same time it’s beginning to rain. I was thinking a while ago that as long as consciousness remains a mystery, philosophy has a future if people have any interest for it. Modern neuroscience says consciousness is an emergent property of brain function, but it doesn’t say how this actually works, and how objectivity flips over to subjectivity. If science ever explains this phenomenon, then philosophy is probably doomed to perish. As it is, it’s nearly defunct as a discipline. Another thought I had was about my mother’s apparent madness, but I’m not qualified to diagnose her in hindsight. She needed to get an evaluation from a psychiatrist, which she was unwilling to do, so we’ll never know. The rain is coming down hard just now.

Eight twenty five (next day).

Still thinking on freedom, etc. The problem with existentialism is that it lacks common sense; it denies the world outside of your head in a kind of radical subjectivism only to prove a point. But the reality is that people need to eat.

I’ve seen Michelle a couple of times now and she seems to be doing okay. It’s good to see her back working again. The street sweeper just passed up and down my street: he needs to eat also.