I just ordered a small volume of Sextus Empiricus, the Greek skeptic, from Amazon. I’d read that Montaigne was influenced by his writings. M’s own motto was “what do I know” over a pair of scales. There’s probably something I can scrap from his skeptical discourses, about the vanity of human knowledge, even if he resolves on Christian faith. And even this might be okay with me, as long as my mind is open.
It strikes me as odd, though. Maybe it’s too easy to dismiss evidence to the senses. To just throw up your hands and say I know nothing. And then to hand it all over to a phantom that you imagine is omniscient and beneficent. I think that Americans have dwelt with this mentality for a very long time. It’s similar to Jamesian pragmatism, where the validity of a belief is judged by its consequences. The factual accuracy of this belief is negligible. What counts is whether it works or not.
What is it with the de emphasis on facts in this country?
Quarter after four. I got exasperated reading part of Pragmatism and put it away. It goes against the grain of science and logical analysis, verification, and sense experience; in a word, it’s non empirical. The way James defines truth is unscientific. How can one say that the “truth” of an idea depends on its practical consequences? As he already admits, this method is non rational, so I guess it’s take it or leave it. I’ve always been one of the rational critics. According to James, my belief that the moon is made of cheese is “true” if the belief gets good results. I used to beat my head against the wall ten years ago when there were so many Pragmatists running around. Who needed facts? Also, the existence of reason and rational people was actually denounced by psychologists who reduced reason to a tool for excusing bad behavior. We couldn’t win. Science was regarded as evil. But luckily, around the same time, evidence based therapy was also on the climb, though it was slow and never quite as popular as the Jamesian fluff. I can’t imagine what the next big thing will be…
Walking west on Maxwell Road, I saw a man in a white Comcast truck peel out of a parking lot and scream up towards the bridge, swerving out of his lane as he went. I was thinking about the dumb things I used to say when I abused alcohol and kicking myself. When I got to the store, a few older guys with white hair came in and bought Budweiser and Keystone Light, with some incidental biscuits and gravy. Michelle held down the fort by herself. We talked a little about driving drunk and traffic violations. I had a few stupid accidents in my alcoholism. But the worst mistakes were verbal. I cringe to remember some of the things I’ve said to people, both in speech and in writing. So now, when I behold other alcoholics still doing their thing, I’m not sure how I feel. I doubt that I’d want to lapse back to drinking again. Curiously, I still catch myself putting my foot in my mouth sometimes. It makes me think again and repent for being a jerk. They say that alcoholism is more than just the drinking behavior. It’s a personality type. I don’t know if I agree with this, but then nobody asked my opinion… The sky is overcast this morning and it’s quite cool. That’s a fact that no one will dispute. Facts can be comforting, yet even they can be driven to support someone’s argument. The search for truth is a useless passion. Today I will try to simply go with the flow, though for me it’s very difficult. It’s nice to have a reprieve from the heat.
Quarter after three. I spoke with Denise at Laurel Hill. They’re operating on a skeleton crew. Heidi is out of the office and may not be back for weeks. I could tell by her conversation that Denise is a conservative. The virus has become a political issue, with two positions to take, or one in between. Under responders to the crisis are political liberals, over responders are conservatives, and others are independent. There are exceptions, of course. Some Republicans want to open the country again ASAP for reasons of the economy… Anyway, I hope Heidi is doing all right as long as she can’t go to work. Hopefully her husband is still working. Maybe they’ll get a big stimulus check. I feel like going to bed and taking a nap. Nobody’s doing anything. What a waste of a beautiful day! Should I go out for ice cream? No one else is doing anything like that. I might get arrested. But I’ve seen people buying beer and wine every day.
Four twenty five. I bought strawberry ice cream. Saw a man with a mask. Lots of children were out playing. Boys in the street, girls coming out of the store. It was Cathy at the cashier, wearing gloves. Though no one said anything, my internal critic accused me of doing something selfish. It’s only from having heard my sister talk tirelessly about her opinions. She is only a statistic. The ice cream was soft and very sweet. And that’s a fact.
Quarter of one. I slept for about four hours. It was like having another person’s dreams; they were quite irrelevant to my life. One dream abruptly hit the ground, leaving blackness… so I opened my eyes: I wasn’t blind or dead. I wasn’t in hell. And then I went on dreaming impersonal technical dreams. What kind of problem is my unconscious working on? Or does it even care about me? Perhaps the ego of consciousness doesn’t matter? But I feel ignored by my own soul. Not much that was human occurred in my dreams. It was strange. But life has been disregarding me as well, so I don’t know what gives. It’s just as well to be alone… The Portable Jung was first printed in paperback in 1971, the same year my parents bought our house. This may or may not be significant. I read a few random pages from the essay about dream symbolism in relation to alchemy. Hull’s translation rolls along smoothly. Jung is mainly concerned with the self and the process of individuation, or self realization— within reasonable limits. He says that the unconscious itself is illimitable and hints at immortality. The odd thing is that Jung offers no evidence to support his arbitrary claims, but trusts that the reader will accept his intuitions. He seems to confuse opinions with facts. I observe the same thing with prose writers like Emerson and Thoreau. They blurt generalizations for indisputable truth without giving examples or any kind of logical proofs. For that reason, they don’t qualify as philosophers in the strict sense of Western philosophy. They state their case but don’t substantiate their assertions with even a quotation or instance in point. The teacher who taught me how to write in high school would be unimpressed by Jung or anyone who wrote without proofs. But then I suppose Jung didn’t value logic for his method, which could be a mistake. His intuitionism could misguide a lot of people, like lemmings over the cliff. You either write fiction or facts, and if neither, you write in the boonies of empty rhetoric.