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.
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.
Quarter of ten at night.
By now, church feels very far away from me, nor do I ever intend to go back. I feel pretty much like I used to when I was twenty years old, minus the alcohol I did daily. The booze only engulfed me when life got onerous and unrewarding; when my time was not my own and I couldn’t be its director. Feelings of guilt and shame contributed a great deal, although all I needed was to assert myself with the people who made life hell for me. And most of self assertion is the ability to say no when you mean no. Life runs away with you when you make inauthentic choices for the sake of being loved by others. It takes strength to let them down, but better than letting yourself down. Or does that sound rather Machiavellian?
Last night I read something interesting about the difference between Albert Camus and his French rivals including Sartre. He was a moralist and humanist above all, even though he was an atheist and said life is absurd and meaningless. He still believed in humanity. His lessons for us were often derived from the Bible, with the supernatural element taken out. He would not throw in with the existentialists because his humanity was ineradicable; because he wouldn’t be a Machiavellian. And these facts make me stop and think for a minute…
Eight thirty at night.
Where is it written that the truth shall set you free? Whether it does or not, the best policy seems to be honesty, though it’s not a law of nature. I remember a couple of Melville plots where the protagonist was damned no matter what he did or said. I guess it’s better to write your own plot as a free author and show some backbone. Courage is often rewarded by whatever powers be, while shrinking away and sniveling achieves nothing. It even takes being intrepid to open a book like Being and Nothingness and interpret it. All paper trails lead me to this book; even Cervantes points to Sartre, depending on the translation you read of the Quixote. If I say I’m not smart enough to tackle the task, then my philosophy professor from 34 years ago would say something about the intrinsic reward of learning. I can forecast the wages of doing nothing; without effort there’s no gain, and Being and Nothingness remains in its place gathering dust. Just another object, the being in itself. I need just a little push to motivate me. But would it really change my life to give it a read? Existence precedes essence: individual human beings create their own identity from a baseline of utter freedom. If that’s true, then you can’t go wrong with Sartre. And psychology has to move over to accommodate philosophy— which has always expressed the possibilities of human freedom, just by putting ink to paper.
I have absolutely no plans for New Year’s except maybe to make a resolution… or not. The weather might be better today; I can’t tell until there’s daylight out. I could try to call my sister this morning. I don’t care much. The only doctrine I need is existentialism with a little cognitive therapy to manage my life.
Quarter of nine. Michelle told me all about her Christmas party when I was at the store. It was something she really didn’t want to do, so I suggested assertiveness training; maybe take a class or something to learn how to say no. I told her she was too nice. Meanwhile, the roads are much better now and it’s above freezing. I didn’t see any ice anywhere. At this moment I feel lonely and bored as there’s nowhere to go, no one to see. I suppose it’s a good day to do some more reading. Sometimes I lose track of my identity and need a recap to remind me of who I am. Or perhaps I should take my own advice and be more assertive about my goals. I don’t know what I want out of my life today; I don’t think fame is a realistic aim for me. I need to contemplate this for a while. What do writers really hope to achieve by their writing? Maybe it’s enough to take charge of your life and live it fully. It’s give and take with social trends: who’s controlling whom?
Quarter of ten. I believe my life is my project, and writing is a means to empowerment. It’s raining right now; my dog came in from the backyard all wet. It occurs to me to reread A Farewell to Arms or do something new to me by Hemingway. This can be my resolution for 2022.
Five o’clock in the morning.
I have the bug to play music with people again. Upon listening to our recording of “Burning Coal” once more, it comes out that my old band was pretty good when we were on. So my birthday wish is to put together the next band project for gigging locally and having some fun… Right now it’s raining out in the darkness before the dawn, but the sound is quite comforting to me. Yesterday just before noon I tramped a mile over to the veterinary hospital for Aesop’s flea medication, but encountered nothing very interesting aside from the work on the new high school buildings. Generally I felt out of my element, like I was missing my purpose in this life, if life does have a plan for us. If life is absurd then you have to impose meaning on it. It’s amazing what you can do with an astrolabe and a few old myths, and your imagination fills in the blanks, sort of like Gestalt psychology. Yet the planets probably have nothing to do with our fates because existence in itself is devoid of human significance. And by this reasoning, if there’s no destiny, then we are free to create one for ourselves by our very actions. Rather than pessimistic, this freedom is good news, and let the gospel be spread of human liberty.
Thinking about going to church today. I might be able to make it. If it’s not Pastor Dan, then I can go a little bit later, as long as I’m there by ten o’clock. I keep forgetting that it’s Halloween today. It doesn’t seem very relevant to anything or to me. It’s not supposed to rain at all today, but it’s pretty chilly outdoors. The time is going rather rapidly; before I know it I’ll be out on the road, pounding the sidewalk. I can always hear more than I want to. Right now someone is making noise on my street.
Quarter of noon.
Service was pretty good today. Now it occurs to me how fragmented our culture is these days, mostly because of people like me who are honest and follow their own truth. I saw a funny Halloween decoration at a neighbor’s house: a headstone with the name “Metta Physik.” But this is exactly the problem I have with religion, that is, metaphysics or the supernatural. Without evidence, the spiritual stuff falls to pieces. So it’s probably better if I don’t go to church; just stay home and read my books of analytic philosophy or something else realistic. This is more responsible of me than spoiling a worship service with my presence. There is one argument, however, for metaphysics that gives me pause. It’s that our sense of right and wrong hinges on the spirit, and that with no Lawgiver, everything is permitted. You find this point in The Brothers Karamazov, and the amorality in the story leads to a murder. Dostoevsky is a thinker to reckon with before you dispose of religion altogether. Probably the world needs a good dose of his writing right now, and I might go back for another look at Karamazov, even after I thought I’d exhausted its possibilities. It brings up the serious question, What is existentialism all about?
The morning is still benighted for two more hours, but even so, I might go to the store at opening time: six o’clock, and see Michelle. What makes a nice person nice and a mean person not nice? Michelle is made of sugar and spice, in accord with the old nursery rhyme. In colloquial French, the word for “nice” is sympathique; and “mean” is mechante. And the person who wears a frown is malheureuse. The rain is forecast to start again at noon today. It’s warm enough outside to go without a jacket. I think Aesop would probably like to get more chicken strips, so I’ll oblige him if they still have those. Pretty soon I will leave the house and just pretend there’s an invisible sun in the sky.
Six fifty five. I heard about Michelle’s weekend while I was at the store. More out of control stuff; her life seems quite unmanageable, so I hope she gets some help. Perhaps she’s been a little too nice and not assertive enough with the people who push her buttons. People generally talk about their “spiritual leader” nowadays, but I’m very skeptical of this, of course. No supernatural power is going to take control over your life and make everything better. It’s all up to you to take the wheel and drive your life like a car, with as many passengers as you wish. Even God can take a back seat if you must have one. I won’t go to hell for saying so, either… Now the sun pushes over the rim across the street from me, illuminating gray clouds. The gibbous moon was directly overhead when I went out an hour ago, accompanied by a few stars through an opening in the cloud canopy. Nature is enough.
Seven o five.
It’ll probably be another beautiful day, though this morning the atmosphere is breathless. The street is partly decorated with drawings in colored chalk by children of the renters in Lori’s house. Some of the scribbles pertain to a game that only kids would understand. I encountered no cats or squirrels; no living things at all but for the humans at the little market… and a few black crows when I first opened my front door. They were quiet, and now I hear no birdsongs. The store was pretty busy at a quarter of seven. Everyone’s face was bare— until further notice. Right now there’s a squirrel on the roof. The church has reinstated the policy of wearing masks, so for that reason I stayed home yesterday. Last night I skipped my medication; as a result, I feel better today, more natural and easygoing. I told myself that today I wouldn’t rebuke myself for anything, but would bypass every feeling of guilt or shame.
Again my neglected Nietzsche book crosses my mind, Zarathustra with its difficult aphorisms that somehow stay with me; not the words verbatim, but the lessons. Are there any existential therapists in my area? The closest one would be a hundred miles away. The city of Eugene still lags behind the rest of the world, offering very few options in terms of counseling. Everything is either Jung or cognitive therapy. I’ve heard only one therapist bring up phenomenology, which seemed to be the cutting edge of psychology.
I don’t know much this morning; I saw nothing new on my trip. Nothing except the cryptic games of children etched in the road. Even the crows were taciturn when I stepped outside.
Nine fifty five.
I had a nap for about four hours with some strange dreams, quite nonsensical and random… In real life, it tires me to watch people conform to trends like herd animals. After a while it makes us look impersonal and mechanical, as if no one had a heart or a thinking brain, nothing they could call human. Or maybe superhuman. Green means go, red means stop, but what about yellow intersections where there’s some ambiguity and the call is up to you? And there’s a lot more yellow than we admit to ourselves. Everybody wants an almanac to give them cut and dried answers because they prefer to place authority outside of themselves, which is really a recipe for unhappiness. I still don’t have much respect for sociology as a field of study when instead we can opt for ethics. The almanac you seek is your own heart. Don’t read the book. Be the book.