Dry Brain, Wet Season

Two in the morning.

I think I’m near to freeing my imagination from the throttlehold of religion. Biology is enough to live by. The only problem is where our ethics comes from. But the idea of a natural morality is nothing new, and I wonder what Hume meant by natural religion. Also, why did Blake react to this so violently? About seven years ago I worked on this problem, reading ebooks on my Kindle. But the scary part is how I drank beer like a fish at the time so I could scarcely function. My alcoholism was killing me. Can I say that my beliefs were working for me in 2015?

It was sheer desperation that led me to the doorstep of the Lutheran church two years later. It amazes me that there was even a thought process involved in my actions.

Maybe the real question is what gives us freedom of the will or the illusion of this. I wanted to read The Oresteia myself after reading Sartre’s The Flies, in search of the origins of freedom in Western thought. Or perhaps I’m just keeping my mind busy in order not to stray into alcoholism again. You can do worse things with your time.

Eight thirty five.

I slept well last night, though it was interrupted by a window. I plan to call my sister this morning to thank her for the birthday money and nice card.

Somehow, free will depends upon an idealistic scheme. Nature is definitely deterministic. If you consider that you are what you eat, you can actually reduce the self down to a bundle of impressions with no soul or identity… I was watching the birds, mechanical little things of pure instinct. A family of sparrows is upset by the invasion of a starling that threatens their nest. They know just enough to preserve themselves and ensure perpetuation of the species. But people are different. We can override nature and choose our destiny as individuals and as a group. Are we still related to the little perching birds out my back door? Science says we are. Religion says not really. And philosophy is the boondocks in between.

By the way, I reset my Kindle to start totally from scratch.

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Medicine

Six fifty five morning.

Outside is black as ink but I went out in it anyway. At four thirty I could no longer sleep so I got up; besides, my dreams were rather unpleasant. The music I hear is archaic for me, some Three Dog Night from my grade school years. My family was closer knit in those days, or so it seemed, maybe because all the adults drank, while today, the drinkers make a minority.

I remember a birthday breakfast I had with my sister nine years ago at Burrito Boy on River Road to the south of here. A strange rendezvous, because she called me to say the battery in her van was dead and she wanted to cancel. However, I suggested picking her up in my truck, and that’s what we ended up doing. Distinctly I recall telling her at our table that I thought I was a nicer person when I was drinking, which in hindsight was a load of crap. But in my defense, I drank for self medication of the illness, so it wasn’t entirely illicit. The drug I take for psychosis now wasn’t on the market until the following year. Up till then I squeaked by on a drug developed in the Fifties, a “first generation” antipsychotic that barely sufficed to keep me feeling okay… There had been a controversy over whether talk therapy could take the place of medication for schizophrenia. I don’t know what the current thinking is on that, but it seems very dubious to me, especially when psychologists can’t agree on what causes schizophrenia, if it’s even an experiential thing.

I think psychiatry is to thank for us being out of hospitals, not to mention out of medieval dungeons, chained up in darkness.

Do We Need Stories?

Bite the Apple of Knowledge

This is the advice I would give to my neighbors and everyone cheated by biblical scaremongering on the issue of science, especially in the Old Testament. I knew one old guy from Minnesota who said it’s not okay for people to “know as much as God.” It’s one interpretation of Bible stories from Genesis and Job particularly; as if an individual would go to hell for daring to learn anything about nature; as if curiosity were a thing to be punished. Aside from scriptural authority, there’s no evidence for such a claim. Indeed, since antiquity it’s a tool used by people in power to control the masses, playing upon superstitious fear to intimidate and subjugate everyone.

What do you suppose would happen if you ate from the apple of the Tree of Knowledge, as Eve was tempted to do by the snake in the Garden of Eden? Is it possible for humankind to rewrite Milton’s epic of Paradise Lost, turning “man’s first disobedience” to a virtuous act, something more like Prometheus Bound? The juice of the apple is the same as the firelight of reason stolen from the gods in Aeschylus; or was reason native to human beings from the dim beginnings of time? What do we need stories for? The deeper the analysis, the more complex it becomes…

Family Affair

Quarter of seven.

Late last night I dug out an old CD of King Crimson and listened to “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt 3” a couple of times. Recently I’d been playing some phrases from it on my own bass, so I wanted to hear it again to verify that I got it right. Just this morning the gibbous moon was high in the blue heavens while a few wisps of cirrus clouds hugged the horizon east. I thought about my family, specifically my sister’s beliefs versus those of my brother, and how her fundamentalism makes a difficult problem seem way too simple: a matter of heaven and hell. I really have to keep her ideas at arms’ length, though she means well enough. There should be a happy medium, a middle ground between her religion and my brother’s science, to blend black and white to gray. I don’t like being stuck in the middle of these extremes, though I consider myself the humanist of us three, if I play any role at all. I had a strange dream last night. My dad was driving us along an old country road on our way someplace beyond the woods. At a point he thought he missed our turnoff, so he did a 180 and brought us to a different road that was almost a sheer drop. I said, “Whoops!” When I woke up I thought the road was the descent to hell— and it’s so weird how my dreams often assume fundamentalist Christian notions like heaven and hell. Like the dreams of a child. Other times I’ve dreamt of the devil and things where good and evil are clearly defined and not like reality’s complexities. It makes me wonder why dreams are moral in this way. The world can change and become more and more complicated, while my inner dream life remains much the same as ever. Maybe it’s a family affair. Maybe it’s something you never outgrow— that stays with you no matter how much you change on the outside. And maybe my sister’s beliefs are a knee jerk of pure instinct. Everything else is a thin veneer. 

Spark of Life

Eight thirty.

The moon loomed in the blue western sky as I headed for the same little market. I considered church today because I felt lonely and cut off from society. But when I thought of a few members I don’t care for much, I decided against going. It’s romantic to say love your neighbor as yourself, yet the reality is a bit different. It’s the difference between prescription and description, or ideal and real. Usually I don’t want to be preached to. I’m doing my job as long as I don’t drink. Yesterday I finished reading the first book of essays by Loren Eiseley and my impression was confirmed: he is not a materialist and he rejects scientific certainty. There will always be an element of mystery to life on earth that can’t be reduced to a materialistic explanation. It must be a thing of magic and miracle, something romantic. For me to agree with that would take a leap of faith. In a way, Eiseley is kind of pessimistic about the power of science. There are limits to what we can know— so how does he conclude on that?… Colin just walked past my house with his dog Lolo in the morning sunshine. The spark of life animates the two of them, unless it’s the energy from the sun trapped in chlorophyll as glucose, eaten by him to make adenosine triphosphate for his cells to do their work. Is there still a mystery to the scenario? I guess I’m a scientific optimist and determinist, though this doesn’t gel well with freedom and responsibility. I’ve been sober almost five years, which is enough of a riddle. 

Americans

My journal is a cool place for figuring things out. This past evening I wrote an idea dealing with my solution to alcoholism using the church. Basically I said that the ritual of worship, repeated again and again, was a form of self hypnosis, and it worked to stop my addiction. As such, it was a psychological thing and not necessarily theological in a literal way. The details of course are debatable, but even Jung couldn’t make the jump from psychology to metaphysics per se. Then towards the end, when Pastor talked of demonic possession as the cause of mental illness, I knew it was hyperbolic and I had to get out of there. I found his attitude offensive and really not very kind to people with schizophrenia; in fact he was ignorant of the truth about psychiatry.
Oh well, my explanation usually falls on deaf ears, and I’m getting sick of it. Suffice it that the agency is a much safer place for me now than the church, and that poor Pastor is full of beans, with his head buried in the nineteenth century, totally disregarding advances made after the end of World War 2.
Americans always subordinate science to religious visions that make no sense, so I think a good question to ask is, Why? If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, but the Jesus thing doesn’t function for us anymore. We have decades to go to catch up to Europe, although the case has been the same even when Henry James lived and wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. It’s a very sad situation for the United States, yet not even a writer like James could remedy it, so why do I bother?

Reveille!

Five twenty five.

Since my visit with Misty yesterday morning, my brain finally made a connection and I did a little research on the homeless mentally ill. I realized also that my sister and her park ranger son were ignorant about the situation. Their attitudes are moralistic and damning of the homeless, not bothering to try to understand how and why people end up that way. They ascribe evil motives to their behavior as if they were “responsible” for their fates, but really, things just happen to people. It’s not a human problem, but rather a clinical problem, and religion has nothing to do with it. At least 25 percent of homeless people are severely mentally ill, and as many as 45 percent have any kind of mental illness… Now I recall my church’s incomprehension of mental illness when Katie passed away and we had her memorial service last fall: it was so embarrassing. And I was another schizophrenic person looking on, a witness to the whole thing. And then Pastor with his sermons on demonic possession and other crap! Americans need a wake up call to reality, and reality is certainly nothing spiritual. We need a revival of science in our culture before Dark Age America seals its own doom. 

Saved from Science

Quarter after six.

Six hours ago I listened to another CD by Herb Alpert, and really loved “You Are My Life.” It is so late Sixties, with the big string orchestra, the old Fender bass with flat wounds, and the full chamber ambiance. Alpert’s voice was pretty good, though he was a better trumpet player than a singer. They also do a version of a Bossa Nova called “Anna” that people might recognize, and a sweet song titled “Good Morning, Mr Sunshine,” a quick paced little waltz. It’s always a pleasure to hear real musicians on real instruments as opposed to the synthetic crap we’re stuck with today. I guess I’m just an antiquarian, maybe an old fogy or a sentimentalist some of the time. The progress of technology usually has pitfalls for our ecological wellbeing. It seems desirable to regress to a more primitive state in order to save ourselves from science… I have to take out the trash this morning, then go to the store. I’ve got a meeting with Rebecca at nine o’clock. I just deleted the email with the news from my inbox without reading it. The clouds outside are tinged with magenta as the sun slowly comes up. Aesop gives me the eye and settles down again. 

Progress

Everyone has to make their own mistakes and learn from them, and I doubt if there’s a perfect way through life. All of the warnings from others in the world are wasted breath. And I think that to a great extent individuals live out their genetic blueprint, and this is the basis for the force we know as Fate. Wow, when I consider the tragedies of the Ancient Greeks, so religious with the Chorus and the characters interacting on the stage, having a primitive yet civilized understanding of natural forces completely out of their control: it’s an awesome thing. I guess all traditions in the world have the same natural conditions to reckon with, plus the peculiarities of their region. Like if you lived in Hawaii with an active volcano, a power of nature beyond human comprehension, this thing becomes your god by its very mystery to a primitive intellect. So it makes me appreciate the state of modern science and the wonderful achievements of human reason over the centuries, and what a pitiful sacrifice if we ever lost all that knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps the existence of religion really depends on humble ignorance of how nature works, as you can even read in Job, where God hurls down challenges to the state of Job’s knowledge. But what if Job had possessed that knowledge of nature? What would’ve happened to God?

I think that religion depends on mysteries, the information that people simply don’t know. We invent gods to explain the phenomena we don’t understand, just as the Greeks did before they dispensed with their pantheon and philosophy replaced religion.

Is there anything really so heretical about knowledge and wisdom? I tend to think that God is a boogeyman for the things we can’t explain rationally. Edith Hamilton wrote that mythology is a primitive kind of science: people make up stories to explain what they don’t understand.

This is the kind of stuff I learned in high school, before I started drinking alcohol and going astray. Now I’m thinking that there’s no substitute for knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. And even Mark Twain was a real optimist about technology and progress. Merlin and his magical tower are no match for modern sophistication in A Connecticut Yankee… I should go back and read that book again. The attitudes are very cocky and irreverent and yet very hilarious.

Nature First and Last

Six o five.

I had a dream a bit ago about playing the bass guitar to please my parents. I bargained with my dad, saying that after my gig I wanted to drink an amount of beer and then go to bed. He permitted a 750 ml can of Foster’s, so I went into the grocery store… but I changed my mind and came out empty handed. I also looked in the southwestern night sky and saw the full moon, symbolic to me of idealism, of dreams and ambition, and thought I couldn’t betray it by drinking again… The dawn is coming up gray through my front window. I hear the screech of some perching bird and the caw of a crow. Last night I indulged a few mystical thoughts on my transformation from a “Greek” to a Christian. And it actually rained briefly at around midnight. Today there are no big pressures on me. I think my sister may be having a difficult time dealing with her oldest son’s politics. Evidently he’s been blithering stuff lately about a “civil war” of red against blue. Others in the family are also politically polarized. I think we have enough problems with the pandemic and with climate change to be preoccupied with politics. I feel tired and even kind of nauseous upon hearing this news. I don’t understand how some people can make politics logically prior to the ecology. This is just backwards, I think. It’s like saying, “We don’t use language, language uses us.” It inverts the commonsense order of things.

Quarter after seven. Nature came first, and everything else is the artifice of human beings. The future depends not on our fictions, but ultimately on the fact of the natural world. Things like money, religion, and politics are constructs of human imagination. So I guess I’ll never really be a Christian, or anyway, not a very good one. We’re in trouble when our fictions are more real to us than nature.