A Cafe Sketcher

Three o’clock in the morning.

I agreed to go to church at ten o’clock today, but maybe I didn’t get my point across to my friend over coffee at Black Rock. He still operates on the assumption that heaven exists, while I tend to reject metaphysics wholesale. He asked me who was my favorite philosopher, and I said John Stuart Mill, the developer of utilitarianism, the Greatest Happiness Principle. As if to demonstrate my assertion, a man down the table from us was busy making color drawings of flowers and hummingbirds. He told us that he would ask people for a thousand dollars or a smile, and got the smile every time. He opened up his sketchbook to show us the flags of various countries of people he’d met, plus drawings by children of things like dinosaur tracks. The key to what he was doing was the very simplicity of it, sort of like Mill’s ethics, and it made excellent sense. So then, Tim and I left the cafe to walk over to the Dollar Tree in search of American flags. We wandered the store from end to end, not finding them, nor did we encounter any employees on the floor to help with directions. The magic of the coffee bar didn’t follow us to Dollar Tree.

Four o’clock. Next, we drove across River Road to the veterinarian so I could pick up a prescription for my dog. It was good to see Debbie again at the reception desk, though I missed Wendy. The place made me think of my old pug, Henry, who lived 14 years before I had to euthanize him 9 years ago. I also thought of the way things used to be in general, and the people I knew. But it seemed like a time for new beginnings as well, and the daylight coming in the windows was the light of future joy. 

To Each Their Own

Eight thirty.

There’s no end in sight to these sunny days. I suppose you can get too much of a good thing. It was over a month ago when it last rained. I learned today that Heather is a fan of AA, so I didn’t have much to say about that. To each their own. Usually when I go in the store on weekends, she has the radio tuned to New Country music with its stifling Christian lyrics. But if it helps her, then in some sense it’s a good thing: the essence of Pragmatism. The truth of a belief resides in its results. Still, it’s hard for me to keep that point of view, as it clashes with the facts very often and challenges the definition of truth. The first time I heard a lecture on William James, I found it very idealistic and uplifting. But years later, when his ideas were forced on me, I resisted them like a cornered rat and refused them any validity. Maybe it’s just my nature to be perverse to some extent. When you think about it, not even a dog likes to be pushed into things… 

I just fed Aesop, speaking of dogs. Practice with the band is six hours away, and my old body, full of aches and pains, is hard to galvanize to action. The walk to Mike’s place is less than a mile from home; to church is give or take a mile, the same as going to Bi Mart. I can do it if there’s no big hurry to get there. I may huff and puff a bit and break into a mild sweat, but at least I arrive. I don’t know what kind of “belief” motivates me anymore. In the workplace long ago we got clobbered with the doctrine of “karma,” which only succeeded in making me feel guilty and paranoid all the time. I think I’m basically a utilitarian: I function on the Greatest Happiness principle. Whatever promotes general happiness must be good. 

Utility Is Simple

You have to face down your worst fears if you’re going to quit drinking. One of mine was that I might turn out to be some sociopath. The way my family reacted to me, I never knew. My grandmother and my sister had such extreme views on “selfishness”— really very irrational and unrealistic. My sister’s speeches always harp on this same string. It is the only moral philosophy she knows. But not even the Bible condemns egoism, or makes a huge issue of it. Anyhow, I had to reject the family doctrine that “selfishness is wrong.” If I hadn’t, then I would still worry about being a psychopath.

Nine ten. Now I don’t know: was my education from the University of Oregon an evil thing? It was secular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean wicked. Then there’s my sister’s religion with its built in racism. People have various attitudes toward sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet everyone believes that they are right. I guess a moderate position is the one to take when I consider all the extremes, the polarities that divide people. And breezing through everything are the winds of change. Historians say that history is cyclical and tends to repeat itself. Philosophers say that history is a rational process, working toward ever greater freedom. Ultimately, humanity is free and responsible to choose whichever way it goes. We can go in a better direction, or we can steer ourselves further into the darkness. Meanwhile, I go about my daily peripatetic routine, taking in the sights and sounds, trying to be a good utilitarian, keeping people happy. Happiness is a simple concept, nor is it difficult to practice.

Afternoon Musings

Quarter of one. My mind is crowded with memories, all competing for attention. Mostly I wish to confess being a utilitarian, whether that’s good or bad. Everybody wants to be happy, I reckon. My sister would disagree, saying that what’s important is not our happiness but God’s plan for us. Well, not everyone has God on their side. I don’t know if I am saved or a lost soul, and it makes no difference if I reject the religious terms and use my own. I suppose I’m not alone in my epicurean beliefs. I regret that some of my friends are altruists to the hilt, for I don’t share their motives. It’s okay to derive pleasure from life, and even better to spread happiness around. Relieving the suffering of others is always a good thing; everyone understands pleasure and pain: that’s why utility makes excellent sense. But all my defense aside, at the kernel of my being is an egoistic impulse, and nothing can change it. People argue that egoism is childish and immature, and something to outgrow. Still I can’t envision me putting myself in the front line in some war I don’t believe in. And the more sober and conscious I am, the more convinced I am of my position… Hey look— Heidi is here!