Save the Liberal Arts!

Six forty.

They expect rain at seven o’clock this morning. I feel pretty miserable with this cold in my head, but I try to work around it.

I went to the market as I usually do in the morning and saw nothing extraordinary. No rain came down, though I prepared for it with an umbrella. I returned to my accustomed raspberry Snapple tea this time after two days of orange juice, and it has rejuvenated me a bit. I was pondering something last night: just because you can grasp an abstract idea, does that qualify it as valid? Does an aptitude for metaphors mean that reality actually is a shadow of the spirit world? Why do we have intuition— or is this merely a word and not a faculty? And then another part of me tells me to shut up, as these questions are useless child’s play. It is childlike to ask questions to infinity. So what is philosophy for, if it raises more questions than it solves?

Seven fifty. Then again, life without inquiring spirits would be pretty dull. It would hardly be life at all when all opinions were readymade for you to adopt for your own. Unfortunately, this is the future we face unless we turn it around. I believe that we’re better than mindless automatons in this country. Don’t defer your logic to spiritual leaders and politicians who are no more informed than you are. I visualize a world that is one big peripatetic school, a place of free and original thinkers living full lives, happy as only human beings can be.

Live and Let Live

Quarter of eight.

On my way to market I stumbled over a pair of mallard ducks on Fremont Avenue. It was raining a little, flooding out the earthworms, in turn attracting the birds that feed on them. If I’d had some bread, I would have given it to the ducks, but all I could do was admire them… Once again I’ve read an attitude from someone that goes on the moral warpath. But the reason we have morality is not for condemnation of other people, nor of ourselves. I guess I’m just a pacifist, but even Jesus says we should love our enemies and everyone else besides. He says to the accusers of the adulteress, “Whoever is without sin among you, throw the first stone at her.” And because none of them is innocent, they can’t do this. It’s a simple concept called hypocrisy, yet a lot of people don’t get it. Nobody has the right to feel judgmental towards their neighbors. Those who live in glass houses mustn’t throw stones. I’ve always liked the quote from Spinoza as follows: “Things are not more or less perfect according as they delight or offend human senses…” It is not for human beings to judge the rightness or wrongness of their fellows. And when we do sentence a person for a crime, it is without a sense of moral outrage, disgust, and so on. 

Ubiquity

Ten thirty at night.

It must be raining harder now because I can hear it in the darkness outside. When I was three years old I assumed that rain in one place meant it was raining everyplace. One day I said this to my mother. She chuckled and explained to me the truth of the weather, and that was my first step away from egocentrism. Every child goes through this stage, and if they don’t, then there’s something wrong. It is similar to the attitude that “the world is my picture book” that you find in Schopenhauer and in Poe’s Eureka. Objects exist as long as I am looking at them. But the fact is that they exist even without your perception of them. No individual is the center of the universe. It’s a short trip from Jung’s synchronicity to psychotic delusions of reference in which everything pertains to you alone. It’s a kind of radical subjectivism. I guess some people can live that way, and some do indeed. They exist in a condition of make believe where anything is possible, from flying reindeer to the resurrection of the body even after cremation. I wonder how they perceive the rain; is it ubiquitous to them, as to a three year old? 

Ice Cream

Quarter of six.

Today I get to stay home and relax and rest up before Gloria comes again Saturday morning. The freedom I’d desired for such a long time was actually freedom from the church. Thank goodness I’m no longer involved with organized religion, and the only “spiritual leader” is myself. In my journal I compared my mental strife with religion to a great whirlpool like the one in Poe’s “Descent into the Maelstrom,” and like the old man, I was jettisoned out of it safe and unscathed. Yesterday I read in Carl Jung where he said that human naturalism is a dangerous thing, as we see from the brutality and decadence of the Roman Empire, but I’m not buying it. He also said he didn’t care for rationalism, and the Enlightenment was a fraud. Now I’m convinced to go back to reading Bertrand Russell. The comment from Jung about human nature is similar to Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan: without the restraint of a strong Christian government we’d be at each other’s throats. But there’s no way to prove the state of nature for human beings. Stripped of all civilization, what might a person do? Go out for ice cream?

Quarter of seven. The day is coming on slate blue. I don’t need to go shopping until later today. Life is pretty good to me, so no need to question it. 

Zealots

Ten o’clock.

Not sure how I’m feeling so far today. I know I’m dreading my dental appointment Tuesday morning, but I’ve delayed it long enough. The weather is cloudy and very plain. I can’t believe it’s only ten in the morning or that it’s the first day of spring. I considered reading some Eugene O’Neill again, except he’s very moralistic even though he was an alcoholic and absurd for that reason. His whole shtick was finger pointing to foist attention from his own faults; to judge others before he could be judged. I have a family member or two who do the same stuff, and are totally unaware of their illogic. Blame and accusations are easy to dish out but so hard to take from people; yet you know that it’s not your problem when a person rips into you out of nowhere. The guiltiest people are the most rabid accusers. This is probably why we love to watch yellow journalism that panders to our sense of moral outrage. My ex supervisor would have killed to be summoned to jury duty, but it’s a very good thing he never was. He was the type for getting on a soapbox and spouting nonsense, flagrant contradictions that he didn’t seem to notice. I think the best approach to ethics is to keep quiet altogether, so now the post I’ve just made is disposable. You can read it once and forget about it after you’re done. 

In Touch

Nine twenty five.

I slept in this morning, which was kind of nice but for some bad dreams about people I know from the community. My dreams are often quite realistic and plausible, and now that I’ve quit going to church, the “net” or filter of language has mostly dissolved and dropped away from me. This means that my dreams and feelings come through clearly with more force… I think an optimistic outlook is a good thing, and I wonder why I have this boding of gloom and doom at all times unless I catch myself and correct it with a rational response. The beauty that once was still is today as long as we’re looking for it. I don’t go to the extreme of Descartes saying I think therefore I am; this is probably backwards from the truth, and philosophy might be quite disposable in my opinion. But it’s a truism that the item of language is very difficult to overcome. Stripped of everything else, I still hear music in my ears, and music is just another language, a vocabulary of feeling rooted in mathematics.

Right now I’m relaxing with my dog in our family room. He’s had his breakfast of beef in gravy and my Snapple tea was great but I drank it too fast. Outdoors it’s quite warm and cloudy. I heard Lisa say that today is her first Friday on the job at the market. She seemed a bit stressed but she was handling it okay. Karen of the salon was jabbering on her phone when I passed her door, so I figured I wouldn’t interfere today. She appears to be always on her phone and doesn’t know how to prioritize between people in person and those on the phone line. This behavior comes across as a little rude whenever I try to talk with her. And voila just another case of crossed signals in human contact with each other. 

East and West

Ten thirty at night.

It finally started raining late this afternoon. Some nights, like this one, are serene and calming to the nervous disposition. Before the rain, a Baptist pastor who was new to Eugene came to my door to promote his church on Irving Road. He asked me what Lutherans believe on how you get eternal life, so I told him what I knew from my experience. I took his postcard from his hand and he moved on with his young son to other houses on my street… Early today I read a chapter on Pythagorus in Russell’s History. Russell takes that opportunity to praise pure mathematics and the pleasure it gives people, but also it is used in music and metaphysics. But the geometric quality of Western metaphysics is different from Eastern mysticism, he says. I suppose the difference is like Descartes versus Joseph Campbell… When I practiced my bass guitar afterwards, I thought the geometry of the fingerboard had become subconscious.

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter…

The loud and visceral tones of my electric bass are physical things, yet the conceptual notes are incorporeal and perfect, just as an ideal circle differs from a circle you draw with a compass. But I’m not sure that Russell’s treatment of Eastern philosophy is fair. I feel a counter impulse to read Campbell’s commentaries on Brahman— maybe tomorrow. 

Night Thoughts

Midnight.

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. 

Pirandello

Six thirty.

I’m in a cloud of worries about a lot of things, but foremost I have to confront my therapist about the future of my sessions with him. I’ve been so confused and messed up lately. I don’t want to drink again, and I don’t think I will, though it’s very difficult for me to resist the call of the beers sometimes.

Eureka! I found my copy of the plays of Luigi Pirandello on the shelf. I’d been dreaming about it during the night and now it’s a reality. I want to reread Six Characters in Search of an Author to explore ideas of freedom versus determinism for human beings. I almost wrote a paper on the topic when I was a student a long time ago but did Eliot instead. Today, it’s like unfinished business for me to learn the truth of human freedom and how it is possible to think about it.

I believe it’ll be a good day today. Daylight has arrived, gray blue and cloudy. Michelle might be back to work this morning; I hope she feels all right on the job. I’ll know for sure when I go to the store in another hour. I’m waiting for the Monday rush hour to die down before I set out. 

Tensions and Transcendence

Nine thirty at night.

I had a good Friday all day although I felt tired around the time of sundown and took a nap. Lately it’s occurred to me how the intellect can transcend the body and nature like something ideal and immaterial, whether you believe in philosophy or religion. The mind has an active mode that splits off from atomic matter, or it can be passive and subject to causal laws. The Stevens poem “Anecdote of the Jar” illustrates this relationship of mind and nature. But it’s hard to have this point of view if you inundate your brain with something toxic. When you fix your mind on the matter, your mind itself will be determined by nature, but it’s possible to train your thoughts on the Ideal to transcend the material world. This could be a function of pure reason, another word for intellect, but the terminology is variable depending on the discipline you choose.

Ten twenty five.

Our Redeemer church will meet in person for worship service this Sunday, but I’m not going because of Pastor’s political attitudes towards the pandemic, which tend to be divisive and discriminatory. He’s telling us to stay home if we haven’t had a booster shot. The impact of this is almost like segregation. But he doesn’t have to worry about me staying home. I hadn’t planned on attending anyway.