Noon hour. November is packed with memories for me. Sobriety is hard to keep up, but I think about what my financial situation would be like if I drank daily. A 12 pack of good beer goes for about $15 or more. I don’t think my liver can metabolize alcohol anymore. It’s the worst thing for my health. Addiction is a steamroller, and it doesn’t care whom it crushes. This afternoon I might go buy my usual Snapples… Suzanne had to delay writing to me this morning. People are preparing for the holiday, everyone except me. But my book of Sophocles is coming tomorrow.
Quarter of two. I’m at physical therapy right now. My mind is a blank…
Quarter of four. The idea of sociology returns to tease my brain again. Maybe it’s a higher function of human minds to obey the unwritten rules, to conform and cooperate with the group. On the other hand, there are always square pegs and misfits, and these people help to make life a diverse experience. The unity of a given culture is one thing, but diversity from individual to individual is also inevitable. Rousseau: “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” The social contract is not something that comes naturally to us. And yet I put on a face mask in public like everybody else. I suppose the most antisocial behavior is substance abuse, when you isolate yourself and get high. You disconnect with culture and create your own reality, totally out of touch with people. Maybe people constitute the common denominator, the bottom line. Thus sociology has a point. But I think I’ll re-examine Rousseau’s political philosophy, though I know he concludes with the necessity of the general will. We sacrifice our native freedoms in order to have a civilization. We go at the green signal and stop on the red. Or perhaps we do something different when no one else is around?
I made two posts today that, I see in retrospect, complement each other. The first one affirms individual freedom as a gift from nature, and the second one suggests the agency of fate, in an apparent contradiction. Or, can fate and free will both obtain in the same worldview? Either they exclude each other or not. Sartre would say that the fatalism of the second post is bad faith because I tried to deny the fact of human freedom. I once had an English professor who noted, “Fate and free will are not opposites,” but I never understood his meaning. I believe the play in question was Oedipus the King. He, Oedipus, is warned by the Delphic Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. And as the events play out, he does just that, though unwittingly. Oedipus fulfills the fate put in place by the gods, yet his actions are freely chosen. Could he have done otherwise than what he was fated to do? This was never very clear to me. But I think I agree with Sartre: deferring your liberty to something outside of yourself is to shuffle off responsibility. So that freedom and responsibility truly are intrinsic to every human being, and “inalienable,” as I said. But I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was quite the philosopher that Sartre was, and also, Pastor is probably unfamiliar with the latter. One thing is certain: one cannot be held responsible for his actions without first acknowledging his free agency, and the converse is also true. My sister tends to overemphasize the responsibility side of the coin, ignoring the good news of man’s liberty. It’s a rather fascinating topic for me. Do you have any thoughts on this? Pastor only scratched the surface in his Reformation Sunday sermon. He evoked Aristotle and Jefferson in relation to the issues of freedom and happiness, but there’s a lot more territory to cover, particularly Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Sartre. This is an investigation I opened since the lockdown last March. I’m still working on it and hopefully I’ll come to a conclusion before next spring.
Noon thirty. I’m so lazy and lethargic, and basically epicurean. It’s all about pleasure. If it doesn’t feel good, then why do it? My mentality is sort of like that of John Keats. Everything boils down to pleasure, and this is just like my mother. My sister is the polar opposite of her. The house my parents established long ago is similar to the Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, and equally forbidden. “Weave a circle round him thrice / And close your eyes with holy dread.” I don’t think I can ever be converted to stoicism. Even the work I do is done for the pleasure of it. But rather than berate myself, I can share my pleasures with other people. I rummaged through some books and found two more copies of The Rationalists. I ought to put at least one of them in the book share. Today I feel lazier than usual, and depressed.
The funny thing about Descartes and the others is how irrelevant they are to a Christian society. Unamuno writes of the “man of flesh and bone,” which is a Christian, a realistic person, as opposed to the philosophers who were way out in left field. People in the poorhouse have little need for Descartes, or so it is believed. The only thing available to them is religion. But if you think about it, what if the Gideons gave away pocket copies of The Rationalists? What could it hurt to have people thinking independent thoughts about the structure of reality and God? Goodness no, we can’t have that! But due to this attitude of suppression, I’m yet more determined to share the information somehow or other. Original thought is hard to come by in a world that discourages it. The world needs a bunch of Cartesians running around.
I’ve been dreaming that I was reading and making margin notes in Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, trying to resolve the contradiction between Pastor’s definition of happiness and my own. Now I don’t remember how my argument went, but subconsciously it made perfect sense. In reality I’ve never read the essays of Camus, but I know how popular they are. As I begin to think consciously, there’s a passage in my ethics textbook that discusses egoism versus altruism, and then a third alternative Robert C. Solomon refers to as prudence. This is using your own judgment in different situations and acting selfishly or unselfishly depending on what is needed… For some reason this clash of theology and philosophy is important to me. I should take another look at Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill as well, because as I recall, he resolves the problem already… To explain, Pastor believes that happiness is a collective thing, and not so much the pursuit of personal pleasure. But what I learned in school emphasizes the rights of the individual, just the opposite of what Pastor preaches. This opposition forms the crux of our differences, and it pulls my brain apart trying to fix it. But I think I’ll still come away from the problem an individualist. I began to feel strongly this way as a junior in high school when we studied The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I guess I felt that way because I was a loner and a nerd throughout my high school experience. The cliquish nature of school prior to college did a lot of damage to misfits like me, and I wasn’t the only one. And looking around me today, maybe I’m not really cut out for church.
It might be interesting when I go to the store this morning. People of color are coming out more since the election. The weather is rather blah right now. I have to go load up with dog food. My sister still has racist feelings that she can’t overcome, and this is embarrassing to me. Also she hates homeless people. I’m just thankful I have a home…
Nine thirty. I’m home again and I’ve fed Aesop. I spoke with Karen for a minute, after a hiatus of a week. The election had been a source of division to us, but we should be able to heal the breach. Something I realize is that it’s a mistake to personalize differences with other people. This was the main problem in my relationship with my sister. I admit that I still struggle with personalization, taking offense over disagreements, feeling judged or criticized. I think we were both inclined to do this. My temper flares when I imagine her middle son playing the moralist in his job of park ranger. What makes him holier than everybody else? He’s a drunkard, for crying out loud. Hypocrisy is a form of ignorance. But why do I allow it to get my goat? In my experience, guilty people make the most outspoken moralists in the world. Seeking personal happiness is great, but going around pointing the finger and telling people what they can’t do is very hard to tolerate. It’s absurd. I believe in maximizing pleasure for everybody. A moralist is someone who denies people what makes them happy in the interest of safety. But often the moralist himself has a major foible, and this motivates his preaching to others. He needs to remove the plank from his own eye and stop throwing stones… And the best I can do is just avoid talking with him. It’s no use arguing with an idiot. All I want is my own happiness and the greatest happiness for all people.
I’ll be glad to get done reading The Farthest Shore. What I can’t understand is what magic has to do with the natural order of life and death. Very strange outlook. I should think that magic springs from an immortal place. But Le Guin denounces those who fear death and crave eternal life. In this case, what is the point in having magic at all? Maybe the book will explain this… I paid my utility bill just a moment ago: it was under two hundred dollars. I might be able to help my church out with another donation this month, but we still have a few weeks to go. Erin made me think about how useless my musical instruments are, assuming that things will never be the same again after the pandemic. But her opinions tend to look on the bleak side of everything. I’m getting quite tired of this perspective. It all reminds me of a rock band I played in over twenty years ago. The singer songwriter premised his whole philosophy on the fact that everyone is going to die. He concluded from this that we ought to let go the ego. I always thought that his ideas lacked common sense. I guess I’m just a Christian thinker at the heart of the matter… I’m going to try to call my sister at eight o’clock this morning. I notice how dark and depressed my mood is already today. Is it only me, or is it everywhere around me?
Quarter after one. I read thirty pages of the Cummings poetry. Some of it is great, and I see how it influenced me when I was around thirty years old. He often muses on the something of life and love versus the nothingness of death, and how could life spring from nothing? This problem is like that of Sartre, but I don’t know who had the idea first. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Cummings. His thinking joins together Freud and Sartre but without being systematic. Still, it’s very complex, even convoluted, and always difficult to disentangle. I sometimes get the sense that love and death are identical from his poems, or at least one is inseparable from the other. He is full of paradoxes and double negatives that pull you in and force a feeling of disorientation, or maybe what Sartre calls “nausea.” Some readers may not find this very affirmative. And the equivocation does feel rather disturbing, even like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We want the reassurance that things are what they are and not something else, not a fusion of opposites. Not a prevailing oxymoron. We want a yes, a positive and not a zero. But Cummings still makes fascinating reading.
Eleven thirty. I’m still not very happy today. I don’t like physical therapy. I want the sessions to end… On another score, I think Pastor’s sermons have been annoying me over the past two weeks. It is he who refutes individual freedom and happiness, saying instead that true happiness is communal, it is service to others. Finally I’ve isolated the cause of my distress. His sermons sink into my mind subconsciously and then I manifest symptoms. He’s been harping on the same string for a while now, so accordingly I’m starting to rebel against his reasoning. I react to indoctrination very strongly, whether I’m right or wrong. I believe in abnegating abnegation itself. Maybe this is selfish, but it’s how I feel about the process of living. Each person deserves personal happiness and freedom. So, I am now writing a counter sermon to his sermon. And yet I know that my attitude stems from reading Ayn Rand at a young age, and from hearing it amplified in Rush lyrics. Pastor doesn’t like Rush very much… I fear that my position is indefensible; that, in Pastor’s language, I am some kind of— devil worshiper? I don’t know about that. I tend to reject the whole Bible. It just makes me so tired, but I know where I got my ideas. I’m very reluctant to sacrifice them now. I see that I’m right back where I was last summer. All religion aside, I’m just a secular humanist, and this is in my language.
Quarter of three in the morning.
In my sleep, things were beginning to click together regarding the significance of fall 1989. I really like Montaigne and the mental attitudes he stood for. At first they hit me as counterintuitive, but often this marks the phenomenon of learning. I had forgotten what it meant to be “objective” in my thinking, or impartial like an encyclopedia. A lot of facts without bias or strong opinion in any direction. This was what I took home from studying Joyce and Montaigne in those three months prior to my mother’s surgery for cancer. There was also unity in the diversity, which came down to the fact of our humanness… Anyway, I could sleep no more for a while, so I got up. It was such a beautiful day yesterday, the deep blue sky hinting at the blackness of space behind it. The bright red seeds of the magnolia have been popping out recently. The same Ravel music is running in my brain, alternating with Stravinsky. I feel quite recovered from the illness, but I still have to learn self motivation. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to. It’s for the greater good.
Quarter of four. I don’t need to watch the video of last Saturday’s service. I remember it fairly well without seeing it again through the camera eye that never lies, let alone flatters. I’m not as vain as I used to be.
One o’clock. Around this time of day is when my mood often goes downhill. I get irritable and anxious. My conscience cracks down on me and I feel miserable. I begin to borrow trouble and worry about things. I don’t know why. The sun is high in the sky in the early afternoon, ruling over the earth like a judge, a “blonde assassin.” …I don’t want to call my sister in the morning, but I suppose I should. It’s the same thing every Monday.
Two o’clock. I’ve ordered two guitar stands from the internet. Should arrive Friday, but maybe later. It isn’t that important. I’m not sure what really is important. I’ve come to an impasse in my writing. I didn’t sleep well last night, so maybe I should rest for a while. Tomorrow’s another garbage day. I don’t have the energy. My mind is impoverished of thoughts. I’m uninspired, and a bit paralyzed. This is not a good afternoon for me. Something’s bothering me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have agreed to go to church next Friday? The thing about church is that it’s a community activity. Most people don’t think of the philosophical aspects, the logical nuts and bolts underscoring the religious practice. Between thought and deed there can come a schism. Hyper conscious people will detect the faults in the logic, while others go ahead with the charitable work. How useful is it to criticize the reasoning? Possibly it only bogs down the operation, preventing the execution of good works. A bad manager is one who thinks too much. Fortunately I’m not in a leadership role. My life is that of the lone philosopher, until I find a cure for philosophy. The old slogan for Nike was “Just do it.” It was not “Just think it.”