For some reason, my mind summons up memories of my work experience and the supervisor I could hardly tolerate. The job was a dead end with no opportunity to advance up the ladder, so I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing for twenty more years. The rest of it was a matter of fate. We were told that someone in our area had to go, and there were only two of us. And I was unable to cover the whole workload myself because I wasn’t very fast. There were 19 layoffs throughout the organization due to a mistake by our office manager. We failed to secure a contract that accounted for 40 percent of our revenue. I guess it was just the writing on the wall for us, at least temporarily. I left the job voluntarily because I knew I couldn’t do it alone. In a way, I got my wish, and in a way I didn’t. All’s well that ends well— if it ever ends. How much of it was my own will and how much was fate? For a year I’d planned my escape from drudgery, yet even this didn’t work out because of my addiction to alcohol. The best laid schemes of mice and men… or maybe all I wanted to do was drink. And maybe life is just spontaneous and playing by ear.
Two in the morning.
I think I’m near to freeing my imagination from the throttlehold of religion. Biology is enough to live by. The only problem is where our ethics comes from. But the idea of a natural morality is nothing new, and I wonder what Hume meant by natural religion. Also, why did Blake react to this so violently? About seven years ago I worked on this problem, reading ebooks on my Kindle. But the scary part is how I drank beer like a fish at the time so I could scarcely function. My alcoholism was killing me. Can I say that my beliefs were working for me in 2015?
It was sheer desperation that led me to the doorstep of the Lutheran church two years later. It amazes me that there was even a thought process involved in my actions.
Maybe the real question is what gives us freedom of the will or the illusion of this. I wanted to read The Oresteia myself after reading Sartre’s The Flies, in search of the origins of freedom in Western thought. Or perhaps I’m just keeping my mind busy in order not to stray into alcoholism again. You can do worse things with your time.
Eight thirty five.
I slept well last night, though it was interrupted by a window. I plan to call my sister this morning to thank her for the birthday money and nice card.
Somehow, free will depends upon an idealistic scheme. Nature is definitely deterministic. If you consider that you are what you eat, you can actually reduce the self down to a bundle of impressions with no soul or identity… I was watching the birds, mechanical little things of pure instinct. A family of sparrows is upset by the invasion of a starling that threatens their nest. They know just enough to preserve themselves and ensure perpetuation of the species. But people are different. We can override nature and choose our destiny as individuals and as a group. Are we still related to the little perching birds out my back door? Science says we are. Religion says not really. And philosophy is the boondocks in between.
By the way, I reset my Kindle to start totally from scratch.
This morning it’s cloudy and dark. I think I’ll skip the market today and wait till Gloria comes, so then we’ll have breakfast out. I wrote a lot of stuff in my diary about Newton and David Hume. The unfortunate thing with determinism is what it does to moral responsibility. Years ago I ducked all blame by citing my diagnosis. Nothing was ever my fault because I was a victim of my circumstances. But I only disempowered myself by thinking this way. It gave me an excuse to drink more and more in a downward whirlpool… The way things are going, I believe that more people are going to think like Hume and Darwin unless we keep on top of it. I could be just speaking for myself. Times are tough. Regardless, my dog is hungry. It’s like any other situation to him. His ignorance may be bliss.
It’s a question of where our freedom comes from. I’ve heard Lutherans say it’s a gift from God. This isn’t too much of a stretch to believe. If you pursue determinism to its conclusions, there’s neither a Creator nor any free will.
Maybe free will is just a belief or state of mind. An attitude.
The real test of an action is its consequences.
Ten o’clock PM.
I’ve awoken to the sound of the rain pelting the house and patio cover, like the rhythm of very cause and effect. I can remember as a child in the back car seat watching the droplets trickle down, one joining another and rolling down to gel with yet another, while more kept hitting the window from the sky. It was the same as observing necessity, the chain reaction we call determinism, and seriously analyzed by David Hume, in turn firing the imagination of Charles Darwin until biology is what it is today. Into this domino effect it’s difficult to conceive a free will being introduced, so Immanuel Kant tried to save it with a revamped dualism of the noumena and phenomena, holding that free will and determinism were both true at once. But this model would be awfully hard to prove. You can watch it operating in an old Greek play like Oedipus the King, thus what the old professor wrote on my exam was true: “Fate and free will are not opposites.” His words in pencil always puzzled me for years to come, but if he supposed the existence of the nous, the dwelling place of the gods, then I can see his meaning. We are free to choose what we do, yet what we choose to do is also pre decided and happens by necessity.
Still, David Hume was saying something different. Determinism and fate are not the same thing. Fate is teleological; it acts for an end purpose brainstormed by a god or some intelligence. But determinism is simply the string of causes and effects, a linear progression or sequence; again like the rain trickling down the car window, bead after bead of water attracted to each other, merging and running ever down. It seems to have no beginning or end. It just is.
The weather this morning is fine, but I’ve got a sore throat from my dental cleaning last week. I want to stay home and take it easy for a day or two, as I feel wiped out lately. Sometimes I feel that it’s not fair for people to push me into situations and things that I don’t want to do. After a while of complying with the wishes of others, there’s an anger and resentment in me that goes from a simmer to a boil until the kettle blows its top; and meanwhile nobody ever knew I was feeling that way. So it’s really better to address how you feel from the beginning than to build up a grudge over time and let it explode later.
A mourning dove out front makes its cooing sound, a little like an owl, but owls are nocturnal. I just canceled an appointment that was set for this morning. All that I asked for was a little time to rest and recuperate, and it looks like I’m getting my way. While the sun is out, the sky bears a whitish complexion like a haze or something. Aesop my dog just had his breakfast and I plan to get some reading done today. I’m wondering if free will and fate can coexist on the same dimension and be valid at once. I only know how it feels to look at a tragedy by Aeschylus: you feel so small and overawed by natural forces we don’t understand, which shape the events of our lives. To the Greeks it was a big mystery, a feeling people today can share in with ineffable depth of amazement and incredulity. This is the religious sentiment. I also ask myself if pride and humility run along a continuous pole. Yesterday I considered getting out my book of Parkers’ Astrology from curiosity, yet I realize again that the zodiac is a weakness of mine, a silly superstition that pops up now and then. Although it would be neat if horoscopes were really true and accurate. The room is as silent as a sepulcher, broken only by the whine of my tinnitus. It should be a pretty nice day. It seems I planned it that way.
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.
Five thirty five.
I had an unexpected dream just now: I was a “jumper,” just like the ones in Hollywood cop movies. I got myself into an elevator shaft and climbed it to the top, where I was just about to throw myself down when a rescue team cut through from the outside with a saw or blaster. After I got out, my parents took me and my nephew to dinner in a convertible. The nephew let my dad know how much he hated him, and he just smiled and drove on. He was probably stinking drunk.
By now the snow on the ground has melted nearly away, with little shreds of it left on people’s yards and roofs. I donned slip on shoes rather than the lace up running shoes with better treads and made my daily trip to the market. There’s not very much to report about my experience this time. In general I’ve been speculating on whether I can discard my superstition about astrology, and what will be the outcome of doing this. It’s like the choice between fate and free will— even like the old song by Rush. I think the zodiac is just a human fiction, something for us to wrap our lives around to give them sense and meaning. But when it is ruled out, the meaning is up to you to provide. The character of Edmund in King Lear is right about the “excellent foppery of the world,” even though you’re not supposed to like him. Shakespeare and Milton both subscribed to astrology, but this doesn’t mean that we should. They lived four hundred years ago, so what did they know? This year I will think differently about my birthday, and try not to refer to my horoscope and wax mystical on my destiny. I’m not a teleological thinker; life has no predetermined goal for every person to fulfill. Is this heresy or is it good rational sense? The power to make decisions resides with us. This is where it belongs, and not in the lap of the gods or the influence of the planets, moon, and sun. This sets the tone for my 55th birthday and the whole subsequent year.
Quarter after eleven.
I just took my medication after a missed dose last night. This should make a difference in my thinking and judgment. I played my G&L bass this afternoon and it sounded pretty good, though I had doubts in my mind about ever using it with other musicians. I put my foot in my mouth with Mark in my last email to him, so now it’s dangling until after the holidays. There’s another musician I’d like to touch base with, though it’s been three years since I spoke with him. There’s such a diversity of people in the business, and I wish we could all be perfectly harmonious together. Or maybe I’m more discriminating than I’d like to admit. The last real public gig I played was with Doug and Marc at the Volcan in May 2003. This was just after I started treatment for addiction and before I got a job with the agency. I didn’t realize at the time how free I was to decide my own fate, and perhaps I made the wrong choice. In either case I would have battled with addiction until I hit my rock bottom. It’s always so hard to know what is the right thing to do. “Do you get what you’re hoping for / When you look behind you there’s no open doors / What are you hoping for / Do you know?” It’s really crucial to keep in mind that we are absolutely free to make our own choices. It is determinism that is the illusion.
I could go to church this morning, but I really don’t like it anymore. Pastor’s sermons tend to piss me off more than anything else. Today I’m going to be proactive and do something different from my usual… The main reason I dislike psychology is for its fatalism. If I subscribed to this perspective then I would probably drink again, believing it was inevitable. “The beer jumps in your hand.” But if you don’t succumb to fate, it’s not a done deal at all. A squirrel patters across the rooftop and makes a noise on the patio cover. The difference between him and me is that I have free will over my instincts. The past two weeks were pretty hellacious for me, trying to get stable on my meds. Funny but I never did read Mirandola’s Dignity of Man book. It’s an argument I could’ve used against a very bad therapist. Someday I might be able to let that trauma go. The point is that human beings are not animals knee jerking their way through life. There’s always a rational dimension of freedom to our experience, unless it gets subordinated to the unconscious… and then life is a Sophocles tragedy. But any vision of reality is totally up to the individual. There’s more than one book on the shelf.
Ten o’clock. It is gray overcast this morning, though the forecast says sunshine this afternoon. Somebody is mowing his lawn nearby. Kat offered to give me a ride to a bigger grocery store if I wanted; she said not to be shy about asking. And Heather told me about her housing troubles. Now a shaft of sunlight pierces the cloud curtain. Aesop doesn’t like the peanut butter cookies anymore, which is fine with me.
Eureka! I was poking around my bookshelves when I found my wonderful little Lucretius hidden under Mirandola! I was so thrilled to see it again because of my dad’s anniversary this month. And a very difficult month it has been.
Eleven forty at night.
It was quite a day of thrashing out a worldview as far as freedom or fatalism are concerned. It grew more important when I felt myself wanting to drink alcohol as if it were an inevitability. So I worked out a little system sort of like Kant’s in his Prolegomena where free will and determinism both are valid at once in two realities. Also I again thought of Cervantes with the different levels of Quixote’s insanity, twofold as with Kant: with a real dimension plus an ideal dimension where he is totally free and sane. Meanwhile I rejected traditional psychology for its fatalistic point of view. And I embraced philosophy as an open ended debate that everyone can join in, while psychology tends to be dogmatic and locked with a key, like the closing statement of Revelation. So it was quite a busy time for my mind today. Is alcoholism an inevitable matter of fate, as in a Hardy novel? I sought to prove that free will is real and not illusory. Whatever the truth is, I got through the day without drinking. I also gained the motivation to do a couple of things around the house, so now the second smoke alarm has stopped nagging me to change its battery. With this new peace and quiet, my mind ought to find some tranquility for a while.