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.

Republic

Quarter of eleven.

A lot of staying sober depends on your beliefs on determinism. If you accept the influence of genetics and the sort of psychological “beast” that Plato talks about, then you might have some trouble with your recovery. But lately I’ve had my own problems trying to maintain sobriety. When you look for the dark places in your experience, it’s easy to find them. The trick is not to give in to them, or your mind can turn into a rationalizing function for a lot of bad stuff. I guess Plato is actually helpful here, where he discusses the tyranny of the soul. You are okay as long as the rational part rules over the appetites and impulses. But when these overturn your reason, it becomes just a yes man to craziness. It’s kind of like a tale by Poe about a mental hospital where the patients have revolted against the doctors and taken over their roles.

My dog is becoming a creature of habit. He begged me to go to the store this morning so he could have his cookies like every morning. It is just over 40 degrees outside and clear blue skies. I went out and saw Michelle and Karen— and I bought Aesop’s cookies, plus his dog food, and some things for me. Right now I feel the Snapple calling. 

Winter Discontent

Five in the morning.

Yesterday at noon I started reading Native Son, and after a while I reflected a little on the abstract of power in our personal lives. I used to hesitate to use this word, but now it seems like the best one for the condition. By the way, yesterday the thought of alcohol never crossed my mind. It only occurred to me when I was asleep and dreaming that I’d been drinking occasionally for the past four years. I could hand control over to my subconscious mind, but who would be so foolish to do that? This would overturn rule by reason and create tyranny of the soul by the instincts, according to Plato. The Platonic model is something I learned very well at the university, and it resonates with Freudian psychology. I kept running into these ideas in Renaissance literature, for instance in Sir Philip Sidney. Now I wish I had read the whole book of The Old Arcadia, yet I think I learned the take home lesson… I don’t think I’ll leave the house at all today due to the snow, which by now is frozen and treacherous. In my head I hear Pastor’s acoustic guitar playing our holiday medley last Friday night. We sucked at our performance but nobody cared, though this apathy is precisely why we continue to be bad.

Quarter after ten.

The sun is out in the blue sky and everywhere there is snow. I picked up three bags full of empty bottles and left them in the kitchen. My visit with Sean is probably still on for today. I kind of dread it because the dog doesn’t like me being on the phone or my iPad with someone else. Generally I feel rather uncomfortable with the circumstances today. After a tough holiday we get this weather disaster. I also miss my Snapple tea this morning. I just have this exaggerated sense of immobility, of being stuck at home when I don’t want to be. 

Defeating the Myth

Four twenty five.

I just ordered the Hackett one volume of Plato from Amazon. Free one day shipping. It ought to be a thing of beauty when it arrives in the mail tomorrow night. Around the time I left my job I used my work earnings to buy the Princeton edition of Plato, which I later sold to Tsunami Books— and kicked myself. I had still another copy of it, but the one I bought with my own labor was special, and I sacrificed it to my addiction to alcohol. Plato said that the three most characteristic results of tyranny in the individual are drunkenness, lust, and madness. Therefore it’s significant that I overturned the self discipline of Plato for the tyranny of addiction. I was 41 years old the last time I purchased a one volume Plato, so much younger and more foolish than today. 

How does addiction take hold of a person, and how does it go away? It could be a matter of claiming freedom and responsibility in your life; first realizing that you are free, and then taking action. And this revolution happens by dissolving your misconception of determinism, the idea that you are in bondage to nature and natural laws. It actually is to defeat the myth of Freud’s unconscious mind, this thing that drives behavior in spite of your conscious will. Overcome this myth and liberate yourself to endless potential.

It additionally is to overrule the paradigm of Plato’s psychology in the Republic. Maybe there is no “many headed beast” in the human soul. As long as you believe it, you will be a slave to it. Realize your freedom by making the beast unreal. Simply deny it reality and it goes away… 

Flowers and Weeds

Nine o’clock.

I’m still not hot to trot on getting vaccinated. The Johnson’s vaccine has a problem with causing blood clots, and that’s what they have at Bi Mart. I haven’t been paying much attention to the news lately; I just delete the emails every morning and get on with my day. Heidi is very unwell, she told me yesterday. I was sad to hear about it, and meanwhile the sun blazed down apathetically. For some reason I thought of “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane, a powerful description of nature’s indifference to humankind, very realistic and not at all sugary except for the grace of his excellent prose style. So, Heidi said she’d be back Monday, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s only Tuesday but already I’m anticipating Saturday’s band practice. I hope it happens. I will take my old SX bass, which I’ve had for ten years now. Maybe I’ll tweak it again before the weekend; put a different high mass bridge on it for the best tone… I’m considering getting the Penguin edition of Plato’s Symposium for its treatment of Eros, the spiritual love of beauty. There’s a lot of books to read. And the French poets I have are just amazing. Poetry is great for enhancing the experience of music, and the reverse is also true. I could explore my way through Greek tragedy or perhaps just write in my blank book to have a revelation. It’s interesting how thoughts feed feelings and feelings feed thoughts in the course of a day, taking your mood up or down from moment to moment. It is constant maintenance of your mental state to keep positive and happy.

Ten forty. Trying to organize my thoughts without much success. The sunshine brings out motley instincts, as if I were asleep and dreaming assorted taboos. Probably everyone does this, but I find it quite disturbing to have such nightmares. Which is truer, these impulses or their censorship by reason? And the condition of the individual is analogous to the general population and how it is ruled. I’m a liberal person, so I guess that means more weeds in the garden of society, and pushing the envelope of what is acceptable. It’s a very difficult call. And how long before the logical filter breaks down and madness runs free in your mind and in the streets? Was Plato just paranoid of human nature? Shouldn’t we harmonize with nature within and without ourselves? Who’s to say what is best for the garden and what constitutes a weed? 

This Dark Room…

Ten fifty. Deb checked out my purchases at the store. I asked her if she’d done any artwork since I last saw her. She said she hadn’t had time, due to housekeeping, gardening, and mowing the lawn. But she said she has a little granddaughter who does well in art at school, promising to be another artist in the family. I told her that my band had been practicing, though the music venues are mostly closed and we can’t gig yet. Funny that she encouraged me to do music but gives herself an alibi from her art. My attitude is to say where there’s a will there’s a way. If you want something badly enough you can attain it, because within certain parameters we’re all free and responsible. But I spared Deb this philosophy and said I just have screwed up priorities.

The weather is fantastic today. My maple tree is budding leaves while the oak is still bare. The sunshine makes me feel something I can’t put my finger on; probably a memory of a girlfriend ten years ago. I also miss my brother, but it’s very good that my sister and I have a rapport now. Talking with her makes me think, What do I know? Just a lot of intellectual bric a brac with no cornerstone to unify it all. On the other hand, does she know any better than I do? Perhaps we’re all completely in the dark. Even on the sunniest day, the truth still hides, and it’s a toss up between realism and idealism. If there’s a spiritual universe, we only see its shadow, and these appearances are just photo negatives of reality. The truth is unavailable to us, at least for today, so we enjoy the illusion until the photos are developed out of this dark room.

Sirens’ Song: a Letter

All in all I didn’t do much today. While I was playing the bass, the UPS carrier brought my new book of Plato. The one before it was delivered to the wrong address, so Amazon replaced it for free. Then I opened it up and looked through it. There are two schematics in the book that I would have to figure out to know their purpose, and also there’s an illustration of the Spindle of Necessity. I love the way this book is organized and translated from the Greek. The Republic, to me, is a perfect handbook of self discipline, by teaching the primacy of reason in the soul, both individually and collectively, then going on to describe the character of the philosopher. A tyrant, according to Plato, is someone whose reason has been overthrown by his impulses. One might argue that alcoholism is this kind of situation, a sort of gluttony gone out of control by the rational component of the personality. And indeed, the reason becomes overturned by the irrational desire to drink alcohol, and therefore the person has become unjust and tyrannical.

At around two thirty I walked over to the store for a bucket of coffee ice cream, speaking of impulses. I was feeling pretty good today and wanted to celebrate a little. Caffeine is my way of splurging a bit without actually drinking alcohol. I also had a Coke this morning. I think I prefer the raspberry tea Snapple, but it’s all good. The drinks are cold, wet, sweet, and have caffeine in them. It’s easy to overdo it, so I have to employ my reason and be judicious. I wonder at what point the rational faculty gets overwhelmed by what’s below the neck, ie the subconscious and its lunacies? It’d make a great topic for a college paper in English or philosophy.

If you’ve never read Republic, then you might find it interesting, even helpful for everyday living. If nothing else, it’s a great classic of world literature that it benefits you to know. And it’s quite reader friendly, written in dialogue form that’s easy to follow.

Now I’m going to ponder what I just inquired about reason and the subconscious. Is it better to keep those things under rational lock and key, or maybe let them out a little to see the light of day? Plato and Goethe would argue over this point.

Suddenly I think again of Odysseus strapped to the mast of his ship, listening to the song of the Sirens out of sheer curiosity to know the lunatic fringe of human experience. I wonder if he gained anything by his rash behavior? But isn’t that a great image from The Odyssey?

Friday Morning

Quarter of eight.

It has always been my style to be honest, so I don’t like it when other people prevaricate on the subject of my illness. This was one of the reasons I left my old psychiatrist four years ago and struck out on my own. Yesterday I ran into a similar situation with the person in Salem. My policy is to be out of the closet, but she advised deception in the process of hiring a helper. To my mind, this is unethical. So now I wonder if I should write her an email to explain my point of view and express my discomfort with her policy… The morning is starting out with nice weather again. Before long I’ll walk to the market, taking my time as I go. I just trashed the Daily Devotions email without opening it. I’m not interested in Palm Sunday or Easter.

Nearly nine o’clock. I just got my caffeine fix from a quart of Snapple tea. Almost time to feed Aesop. I had been feeling crabby this morning, but now it’s better. I believe there’s band practice tomorrow afternoon, so that could lift my spirits. I can play my bass guitar this afternoon as well to prepare. There are no real pressures on me today. Some thoughts from the distant past drive my behavior right now, experiences from college days. The university was a very liberal place when I went there. The real world outside the campus could be quite a shock after being a student. I was spoiled. “The Dance of the Mirlitons” from The Nutcracker reminds me of the day in spring 1988 when I bought Plato’s Republic at the UO Bookstore. I felt very happy on that day. As soon as I got home with the book, I ranged through it and found the part on justice in the individual. Plato argued that the rational component of the personality ought to rule over impulsive appetites and desires. This sounded right to me, and in time I would often meditate on the word “reason.” I didn’t realize at first the similarity of Plato to Freudian psychology. It turns out that my education brainwashed me with Freud. I don’t even know what other schools are like.

Ten o’clock. The cholesterol medication might have a side effect I’m not aware of yet. I feel a pain in my neck below the jaw, possibly thyroid. I think I’ll stay home today, but overall I feel better so far than I did yesterday. Again, it’s probably due to the prospect of musical activity Saturday. 

The University Ideal

Five o’clock in the morning.

I just made an interesting connection between Plato and Jung. Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious may be similar to the Forms in the spirit world of Plato. Both are a kind of cookie cutter for our conscious reality. I’m still not a fan of Jung due to his racism and his general snobbery, preferring Emerson’s open minded attitude toward people and knowledge. Underneath it all lives a universal truth that every thinker has had a shot at identifying. They each have given it names and personal features, yet the secret continues to shift shapes like a great amorphous blob of prime matter… Speaking of this, I looked up hylomorphism on Wikipedia and recognized some concepts from Aristotle I’d learned at the university long ago. I’m just an amateur philosopher muddling my way, but the important point is to never stop learning.

Six o’clock. It is criminal how people have been priced out of higher education in the United States. But at the same time, most students who get to go to college can hardly wait to graduate and start making money. They don’t appreciate what they have while they’re there… And then again, maybe the university is not a physical place with a geographical location. Perhaps it is the spirit of the desire to know and be the perpetual student. Somewhere in the spiritual universe resides the University Ideal, and like the New Jerusalem, a day will come when its Form materializes on earth. 

Alpha

Quarter after eleven. I avoided the online worship this morning because I knew it would make me uncomfortable. I’m only a humanist, not a holy roller. Every week it feels like I’m getting farther away from their beliefs. And as a humanist, all I see is their humanity, sometimes their inhumanity. The experience of psychosis is extremely unpleasant, and if my sister’s religion comes from the same place, then I cannot understand how she can live that way. It’s enough to say we disagree with each other…

I think a lot of people live with their heads in the Dark Ages. They haven’t seen the light of reason that shines on us like an invisible sun. It’s okay for them, but they ought to keep it to themselves. It’s a little like the difference between spectral Plato and sunny, muscular Aristotle. As if the latter singlehandedly dragged us out of the primordial ooze and still shines in his place for all posterity. The difference between night and day. Between mythology and mathematics. Aristotle is to me the Apollonian archer shooting straight. He is the letter A, while Plato is more akin to Pluto. He gave us logic and science, and vision instead of blindness. Aristotle is the full height of humankind.