I was thinking about the phenomenon of higher education and what it does to people. Is it fair to say that the meaning of any school depends on how you use it? My guess is that my sister blames education for my brother’s demise. It’s a lot like the book by Theodore Dreiser about Clyde Griffiths, his humble origins and ambition to be wealthy. His family is poor and religious but honest and ethical, but he is lured by greed and the lust for pleasure into a very complex society that eventually spells his undoing… I got as far as my undergraduate degree in college, kind of dabbling in various fields like a liberal arts major. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I believe it worked out okay for me. I came away from school with a good breadth of knowledge and I didn’t let the campus corrupt me. Maybe my sister has it all wrong about universities, yet I can understand her opinion on it; and there is some truth to her perception. It’s the way the big engine of society runs, again like An American Tragedy. D.H. Lawrence said don’t trust the poet, trust the tale, and the book by Dreiser stands apart from himself like a sort of testament to the truth. I’d like to take another look at Great Expectations as well. Literature is always moral. Interesting how the story gets away from the author and constitutes a modern myth. It’s almost as if my sister had written the tale herself.
Nine twenty five.
A gentle wave of nostalgia. Music from 1987, a long long time ago, though it feels like right now. I’ve got sparrows at my back door, same species, different individuals every year, like the swans in the Yeats poem. I should call my sister pretty soon because time is slipping away. Both of my siblings are over seventy now.
When I was young, I strongly wanted to believe that humans are divine and free rather than animal and determined. I started taking a class in physical anthropology but wound up dropping out of the term totally. I still have the textbook we used. One of the first lessons was the Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin’s revelation of natural selection. A year later, I took psychology and came to be able to accept science, though it was very difficult for me because I still had the gnawing desire for freedom.
Is there any way that the ideal and the real can coexist and intersect? Descartes struggled with this problem, but there’s no philosophical hocus pocus that can permanently solve it. Sartre was the last thinker who tried to save freedom. Who’ll be the next?
There began to be a glimmer of daylight outside when I walked to the store. I saw a driver do the most obnoxious thing coming out of the parking lot: honked at the car ahead of him and then swerved around it into the turn lane to pass it altogether. I’m beginning to think the little market is a guy place, a place for bachelors, blue collar working joes. You don’t see many women in there anymore, and sometimes the vibe is not very friendly— as opposed to the stores on River Road. Also I haven’t seen Patty in many months, who used to shop at the market twice a week when Belinda was the owner. She had a disability like me. Maybe she goes to the store off of N Park; but I haven’t seen her at the agency either. I can’t put my finger on the atmosphere of the market now. It doesn’t feel warm and friendly like it used to; it’s more impersonal and the people are kind of greedy and aggressive.
Maybe my eyes are a bit bigger than they were before.
Another question I pondered was whether humankind is vain or simply noble and dignified. Newton’s rule applies the same physics to the earth and human beings as to other bodies in space. Ultimately, this paved the way for Darwin to link people with animals in The Descent of Man. But to this day, many Americans reject evolution or make people exempt from it: they may reject science wholesale and embrace religion instead. In Europe, Creationism is not even taught in schools. They’ve gone with evolution totally and it’s an accepted fact in their culture. Why do Americans resist Darwin’s discoveries? What is at stake if we give up old prejudices? Is it just the ethic of altruism that we fear will be lost? We seem to believe that moral behavior hinges on God and the diviner part of ourselves. We take spiritual things literally. We don’t trust the evidence right in front of us. That’s why I ask if people are vain or just noble when we keep humankind separate from the natural world. Is there a reason for keeping our self image divine— sort of like what Edith Hamilton said of Greek culture? Should we despair if we see ourselves as animal and ugly?
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.
I figured out that I feel quite stuck in my economic situation, with no car and a debt that’s growing. There’s a thing called house rich, cash poor that describes me pretty well. I don’t know how many people are in the same boat with me. But I reflected that it’s very difficult to be “free” when you live in dire poverty. It can be a double bind as well. Getting yourself out of poverty requires freedom, but being free takes some money to start with… I began to notice that this was a problem when I could no longer tithe to the church. And having no car precludes any shot at playing music in a band. It also means no transportation to a worksite if I had a job. It’s beginning to look like the nursery rhyme of the want of a horseshoe nail. The kingdom is lost ultimately because of this lack. There are even more complications in addition, like the fact that we’re moving to electric cars that nobody can afford, so it makes no sense to invest in a gas powered car now.
I suppose it’s kind of a joke to say I could live by my writing, and convert words to cash. Writers like Faulkner can attest that writing for money is not freedom of expression.
If prayers had power, I could use a miracle. I bet that we all could.
Eight thirty AM.
Perhaps it’s an error to try to systematize all the thoughts in my head. Sometimes the data of life refuse organization, so maybe it’s better to let everything be, without imposing order.
It’s another morning of sun and blistering cold. The sparrows seem confused, trying to have mating season in November. I lost track of Oregon football. The Civil War game would be this month, I think. Nobody mentions it. Maybe no one cares.
I’ve got a beautiful fat volume of the essays of Montaigne. I might go reread the introduction for inspiration, for a precedent. I have to learn to live with contradictions with myself and everywhere around me. The experience of life is motley.
The Ducks beat Utah yesterday, 20 to 17…
Near one PM.
There seems to be no social niche for a person who doesn’t drink or use substances and who can’t accept the beliefs of the Church. I’d be tempted to drink again only in order to make friends or reconnect with old friends; to belong somewhere, basically. The frequency I’m on is shared by no one else, so I feel like some kind of leper or other untouchable person. I guess if I don’t fit a niche, then I have to carve one for myself, as I’ve been doing already; but around here locally I’m just a friendless pariah due to my politics and my personal beliefs that don’t match with anyone else’s. If I could accept Christianity, then being sober would make sense and would give me a place I belong. But the fact is that I don’t; so I’m just up a creek until I figure something out to break this stalemate.
Reading about Newton yesterday made me think of my brother and his science brain. I think of how a great mind was ruined by the pleasure principle: however, my brother is human, not a computer or robot. And, what defines people as human is probably closer to sentiment than pure reason, hence why Rousseau rebelled against the rationalistic trend of the 18th Century, and the Luddites reacted against the Industrial Revolution, sneaking into factories at night and breaking machines. Any attempt to make people conform to pure rationality is doomed to fail because we are human, with all the human complexities. Maybe for this reason we have phenomena like madness and drunkenness in our society. These things are a desperate plea for freedom in a world of numbers and technology and ever diminishing humanity, where no one is personal anymore. The Age of Reason is alive and well today, while the only recourse for individuals is the noble savage, or the barbaric yawp of Walt Whitman: the howl of Allen Ginsberg.
I did just a little reading in philosophy for the afternoon and, among other things, I encountered the word “sobriety” associated with Enlightenment attitudes. I had also found “sober” in the book by Morton White. Naturally I came to ponder the definition of sobriety in a literal and figurative sense, and now I compare it to the beliefs and practices of certain organizations for alcoholism. How sober is it to think that a god will personally intervene and take over your life?
I once had a delusion during a psychotic drive to the coast. I actually stopped the car on my way to Florence, in the stretch with the railroad on the left, before you get to the Siuslaw River. I got out and went around to the passenger side, got in and sat down, and asked god to drive the rest of the way to the coast. So I sat there for a few minutes expectantly. But nothing happened, and the car remained where it stood. There was also a moment when I stood at the roadside and stared directly at the sun, waiting for it to turn to blood like the moon in Revelation. Again nothing happened. These are the things of madness. But it’s funny how, in describing them, I seem to be building a stronger case for the religious imagination. Where do the delusions come from and why do they so stubbornly persist? What is real and what is imaginary, and can they overlap?
Sanity and sobriety are the stuff of realism and rationality, but it’s unrealistic for a human being to be other than human.