Wealth or Wisdom?

Nine o’clock.

Now the sun gleams through the cloud cover. I guess I’ll call Polly in another hour. I feel kind of punchy from the heat; it never cooled down much last night.

Eleven o’clock.

I changed my mind about calling Polly. If she wants to call me, then fine. They say it’s raining now but I don’t hear it, though the clouds look like they could. My mind is a collage of memories from schooldays and from when I had a clerical job 18 years in the past. Minimum wage back then was about $8.50 an hour. There was little difference between doing that job and doing nothing at all. The tasks were just a distraction from my thoughts, but then I learned how to think and work simultaneously. A coworker told me I needed a harder job so I couldn’t think; but of course this would never do for me. On paydays I would stop by the bank to cash my check which ran about $285. If it was a Friday afternoon, then my next stop was the little store to get a half rack of Foster’s or Henry’s beer and something to eat. I had fallen into the rut of working and drinking that happens to many people. But the lamentable thing for me was the lack of free time to read and think. As it happened, I got hooked on alcohol and could do nothing but drink… I like to believe that I did the best I could with my options. I value freedom more than wealth, and material gain is nothing next to wisdom. “Love of learning is the guide of life.”

Your Mother Should Know

Wee hours.

As I was thumbing through my journal, I came upon a little passage that I could use right now. To paraphrase, it said that the world is full of people with conflicting opinions, so that it’s impossible to please everybody. Therefore, you would do best to please yourself. Is this attitude Machiavellian? Perhaps there’s a flaw in my logic.

I was just dreaming that I went back to college for an advanced degree and I’d written a thesis or dissertation on atheism. My mother was alive and asked to read it. But when she saw the quote from Nietzsche that God was dead, she turned to my dad and said with a grimace, “That’s just awful!” So then she tried to impale the typescript on some sharp object before she came after me. I fled out the door into the street where, ironically, I was rescued by two girls from church driving a van.

I suppose that I’m responsible for the dream I had, plus for reporting it in a post. But it’s like what D.H. Lawrence said of literature. Never trust the dreamer, trust the dream. Meanwhile I should review The Prince to make sure of how I’m using the term Machiavellian. I wish there was a calculus of morals so that ethics would be an exact science. Does AI have a concept of right and wrong conduct? Can it give us the categorical imperative as in Kantian philosophy?

Or is morality simply going out of style?

Privacy of Experience

Eight o’clock.

It’s a Gloria day. I’ve just gone to the store for the basic daily stuff and a Snapple tea for her. The sun is out and there are no clouds. Aesop heard a cat screech and went ballistic for a minute. I’m kind of pondering the nature of introversion just now. I wonder if it’s related to how assertive a person is, or unassertive as the case may be. I was thinking that Coleridge used his imagination and constant talk as a defense for a scared and nervous person inside. My old psychiatrist was very righteous about being an extrovert but it’s not for everybody, depending on how natural it is for people to be shy and withdrawn. Probably we’ll never know the truth of this… My mind hears music by Debussy from Images for Orchestra, taking me back to my birthday in 1995. My dad took me to Fifth and Pearl Shops downtown where I got a couple of new CDs. After that he drove me to the top of Skinner Butte for a look around at the city… I think that in my case, introversion has been a matter of having toxic parents; and yet how can I say this when I have positive memories of my dad since I became sick? Nothing is ever very simple. I guess that’s the thing to keep in mind. Also it’s so hard for people to communicate with each other: our minds are inevitably private and personal, like when you read Virginia Woolf. If it were not for language, we’d never know anything about each other’s thoughts. It is naive to say that everyone’s experience is the same. My psychiatrist was wrong at least on this point. And the Debussy keeps playing in my head, inaudible to anyone but me. 

Fluff

The next time I read a book, it’ll be Coleridge, I think. But it’s kind of weird to deal with his metaphysics and his worldview; or not so much weird as very interesting. I first heard of him from my Chaucer class when I was 23 years old, and that summer I bought The Portable Coleridge, which I still have… I don’t know if I really agree with his metaphysics, and he changed his mind a few times. At one point he was a pantheist (God and nature are one and the same) and a unitarian, but later he subscribed to the trinity, saying it was more mysterious. Apparently he preferred things a little fuzzy. I thought I would go over his poetry again and then try to read Biographia Literaria— but at the same time, I ask myself what for. It seems like a lot of fluff to me. Why is it necessary to create a phantom existence out of ordinary reality? And I think that’s what we’re dealing with when we pick up Coleridge. But maybe that’s the stuff of great poetry: to transcend the everyday and ordinary and build castles in the air, like magic and miracles. He definitely had an influence on Poe and probably on Melville, etc.

Coleridge is fascinating but I don’t know what to do with him.

I don’t know if metaphysics is really useful for anything except to make morality an absolute, so it’s chiseled in stone what is right and wrong. Like Moses coming down from Mt Sinai with the Ten Commandments on stone tablets: the Word of God received and put into practice. So that metaphysics has a practical application in the form of ethics. I can’t think of anything else it’s good for. I guess I’ve sort of lost my faith in poetry.

One more thought about Coleridge. His fuzziness and fluffiness are probably due to his opium addiction. He is a very great poet, critic, and thinker, but there’s something about him I can’t quite nail down. And for that reason I think I should investigate his stuff further before I dismiss it as a total waste of time.

“Dreamer

They said you was a dreamer

But can you put your hands in your head, oh no, oh no?”

Epicurus Much Ado

Quarter after four.

It’s funny, the much ado about ethics; but it’s really only me who cares for the subject. There’s still some confusion and controversy regarding the figure and philosophy of Epicurus. But the reason why he was smeared by his posterity was due to his denial of the immortality of the soul. The main thrust of his ethics was certainly not wanton hedonism, as is popularly believed. In fact, his life and attitudes were quite ascetic. He wanted to help people minimize pain in their lives. Two major sources of pain, he thought, were fear of the gods and fear of punishment after death. He answered that the gods take no interest in human affairs; and, there is no afterlife for us to dread. Death is nothing to us, so this should be a great relief. He did say that happiness is the highest good, but it is achieved by the removal of pain and not so much by the pursuit of pleasure.

The English word indolence originally meant “painlessness.” Thomas Jefferson used the word with reference to Epicurean ethics.

For some reason I get an image of my grandmother’s apartment many years ago. She probably would’ve mistrusted the philosophy of a pagan, but I didn’t know her very well and she passed away when I was eight. She could surprise you sometimes. During the summer, she and a friend took the bus to the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, and in the Seventies, some of the hippies went around nude. Mimi and her two sisters were very eccentric and talented people. But I don’t think I would’ve brought up Epicurus with them. To reject the afterlife is a strange thing to consider, and of such historical consequence.

An ice cream vendor in a little white van just drove by to the tune of “The Entertainer.” Aesop finally woke up and let him know he wasn’t welcome. It’s just the way he is.

Look No Further

I’ve been writing notes to myself along the lines of appearance and reality, and saying that when I do a Plato, I miss the joy and fun of the surface of things. Maybe there’s something to say for superficial beauty sometimes? Life doesn’t have to be heavy and ethical all the time. A philosopher wants to know the moral truth of everything; to grasp its inner essence: to know and understand it by analyzing it. But dissecting life tends to kill it. Think of dissecting a frog in high school: you learn how it works but you leave it a dead body… I’m not sure how I got onto this topic, though it started when I was reading Eiseley. I took away one idea and now it’s kind of dominating all of my thoughts. Once you’ve learned to be a philosopher, is it possible to will to forget it? I want to be able to enjoy life like I used to in my childhood; to appreciate the aesthetics of everything around me. This is like the approach that Poe takes to write a poem. It’s for the music and not a moral. This and the image are sufficient, and don’t look for allegorical meaning. That’s why Mallarme suggests that music is the greatest art form, and Walter Pater repeats his claims later.

I think it may be desirable for me to unlearn how to analyze and critique everything I see and try to adore things as they appear, not as they are to a philosopher’s mind. To apprehend reality without lectures and sermons; without ethics or anything heavy: with the sugar coating and no pill to swallow. Because, you miss something if you look beyond what is manifestly there. You miss the beauty and the joy of living.

Equal or Elite?

Six thirty AM.

I’m off to another early start, having woken up at four o’clock. The skies are blue and cloudless as the sun ascends across the street. We might as well enjoy the sunshine if it doesn’t get too hot. Looks like Father’s Day came and went and I didn’t know about it. I guess I wasn’t a fan of my old man, especially in my childhood… Yesterday I reflected on the ideas I probably had as a young person, and the most salient one had to do with primitivism, from reading Tarzan and similar things. Now I don’t see the appeal of this concept; it keeps you unreasonable and subhuman like the animals. It’s a reverse Doctor Moreau. The desirable thing is to humanize the world, not drag it down to the level of brutes. The Greeks rose the way they did by venerating the human image. What led me to these thoughts was reading the Jack London yesterday and pondering his writing animal stories, particularly about dogs, and evidently praising instinct above human reason and civilization. Is it elitist to glorify the things that make people peculiarly human, such as intellect? And is it more egalitarian to pull down the human spirit to the primordial slime? Which policy works better for human beings?

Voices Great and Small

Tomorrow I have two packages coming, so I’m kind of happy for that, especially the book. I wonder if being in Oz is kind of like the Green World in Shakespeare, a dream world like the unconscious that he more or less invented. I can’t think of another precedent for this idea: who had the unconscious before Shakespeare? Since his time would be easy to show examples, like Goethe and the Brothers Grimm. The only thing I can think of is the Arabian Nights, which were collected in medieval times.
It would be interesting if the unconscious was something that developed with human history, that hadn’t always been there with us. It’s interesting to consider the cradle of Western civilization and the birth of logical thought. But according to Russell’s history, no single person was responsible for such inventions. My tendency is to pick an icon like Aristotle and credit him alone for the discovery of reason and the organization of the sciences. But the truth is that there was no vacuum from which Plato and Aristotle arose. Likewise it’s hyperbole to say that Shakespeare invented the unconscious, let alone humanity. Emerson wrote a series of essays under the title Representative Men, which I read fairly recently, but his approach to these geniuses was not realistic. It isn’t like nature selects a genius at random here and there and gives him great inspirations, etc. It’s really much more egalitarian than that, and again, there’s no vacuum.
Stewart Copeland, the drummer of The Police, said about the band, “We were just bubbling up from the slime.” There’s always an underground in everything, whether it’s philosophy or music or whatever. Maybe it’s iconoclastic to say it, but I think Bertrand Russell’s attitude is spot on.
Now, with Bertrand Russell in mind, I think it’s important for us to keep writing, regardless of fame or obscurity for ourselves during our lifetime, because no effort is ever a total waste. Think of the people who read us today and get some inspiration from our stuff. Maybe one of them will be famous later, or teach someone else who will be great; who will be an icon.

Headhunters

Six o’clock AM.

Doing some reading in Russell’s history of philosophy serves to iconoclasm. It reminds us that philosophers such as Plato had predecessors, and every thinker gets a shot at a theory of the world and reality. But ultimately, the reality is always bigger than any human intellectual giant alone can grasp. What do we need icons for, anyway? I just wheeled my garbage and recycling to the curbside for today’s trash pickup. I suppose the garbage man has an opinion of the truth like everyone else. “Footprints in the sands of time…” This is what philosophers really are. Not one of them stands as a solitary luminary, a phenomenon out of nowhere, and yet we refer to them so casually. Every book on my shelf is a dead person’s head embalmed for posterity. Do we really need them for a point of reference? Whitman didn’t think so— but he was yet another icon. Where does it stop, and you come to grips with things as they are all by yourself?

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.