Opinion

I spent an hour and a half reading from my book of Sextus Empiricus, and it really fills some gaps for me about Western philosophy, often just by giving definitions. So now I know what is meant by words like posit, positive, and positivism, also the original sense of dogmatism, and other things. All of them pertain to knowledge, especially the theory of knowledge. I think that to “posit” is to affirm a thing as true or false, whereas the sceptic suspends judgment either way. It’s an interesting approach to looking at reality, distrusting sense perception and also human reason and saying nothing can be known for sure; also taking into account how everyone sees things differently. This is what we call appearance or opinion. The mistake I made for a long time was assuming that my perceptions were absolutes, and everyone saw things the same. But is that a reason to despair of the availability of objective truth? According to the sceptic, the suspense of judgment leads to a feeling of calm and quietude. Again, it’s kind of weird. I’m not sure how I got directed into this philosophy but I’m learning new words and concepts that round out my education a bit.

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Blindness and Sight

Noon hour.

I went too long without eating anything, so the caffeine went right to my head and knocked out my logic. When Gloria left for the day, I had lunch immediately. It’s been stormy and sunny by turns today, like a temperamental old man in charge of the weather. Now I feel kind of tired and a little disappointed about the rest of my day. Maybe I’ll stroll over to the market again. Or pick a book to read and learn something new. I’m curious about skepticism, this whole thing of doubting the hard work of logicians and other organizers of knowledge. Did the skeptics have an agenda? What was the conclusion of their arguments?

Quarter of eleven.

The aim of skepticism, from my understanding of Sextus Empiricus, was liberation from mental disturbance as a result of suspending judgment of the truth of anything. Thus, skepticism is more like a religious practice than a philosophical endeavor to discover truth. In its original form, Epicureanism was rather similar: the goal was to minimize pain by eliminating fear of death and the gods. Also by keeping life simple. As one translator put it, Hellenistic philosophy was a discipline of the heart instead of the head.

But I still need to learn how Montaigne might have distorted skepticism to a despair of the facts and a regression to primitive faith.

In my opinion, life without the light of reason is not worth living. My motive for saying this is my personal experience with madness, which is like mental blindness. Do we really want to stumble through life blindfolded?

Running on Potato Chips

Wee hours.

I just ordered a small volume of Sextus Empiricus, the Greek skeptic, from Amazon. I’d read that Montaigne was influenced by his writings. M’s own motto was “what do I know” over a pair of scales. There’s probably something I can scrap from his skeptical discourses, about the vanity of human knowledge, even if he resolves on Christian faith. And even this might be okay with me, as long as my mind is open.

It strikes me as odd, though. Maybe it’s too easy to dismiss evidence to the senses. To just throw up your hands and say I know nothing. And then to hand it all over to a phantom that you imagine is omniscient and beneficent. I think that Americans have dwelt with this mentality for a very long time. It’s similar to Jamesian pragmatism, where the validity of a belief is judged by its consequences. The factual accuracy of this belief is negligible. What counts is whether it works or not.

What is it with the de emphasis on facts in this country? 

Reveille

Quarter of seven.

I’m back to my usual skepticism. Imagination and intuition always lead to error. They don’t tell you anything about objective reality except by accident of chance. I’m not a fan of C.G. Jung or even of Joseph Campbell. Romantic ideas can make you feel good, but they mislead you and take you far astray of the truth. Was Coleridge a genius or just a metaphysical windbag? The more I consider it, the more I identify as a positivist. The times today tend toward religion and Romanticism, for which reason I am an outsider. People neglect evidence. They don’t need proof to believe something. They believe hearsay, especially when it supports what they want to believe.

Personally, I am quite sick of the world.

If a dream is the fulfillment of a wish, then Americans live in a dream. What will it take to wake us up?

Sam McGee

One o’clock.

Well whatever; screw it. I might end up being burned at the stake like Giordano Bruno, be an intellectual martyr. I can’t go back to church again. It’s wrong to go and confess my faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. I don’t believe in the resurrection of the body or the life everlasting: I don’t believe any of that. How can a body that was cremated be put back together? How can a pile of ashes be restored to life; or even worse if the ashes were scattered?

I know I won’t be popular for saying this. Maybe my skull will be bashed open and the brains spilled out and scrambled about. A symbolic murder. But it seems as though American life is going that way. We’re headed for more of the Dark Ages and resisting science and simple logic.

Is it just my mood? Am I generalizing from my personal experience with the local church? Or am I right to assume this is going on everywhere? And does anyone care what the truth is?

Ocular Proof

Quarter of eight.

I guess I’m just the eternal skeptic. The weather report said it was raining, but I saw no such thing. So I left the house without a jacket or umbrella, and my ocular proof was right. I got to the store and back without feeling a drop. Firsthand knowledge can’t be emphasized enough. Always judge for yourself when possible. Take nothing on faith. This is the lesson I’ve learned by experience. But I suppose it can be taken too far sometimes, like when I was warned that alcoholism would kill me. I didn’t believe it until I was inches from death.

The cloudy August morning brings back things from years ago, like seeing Vicki and Belinda at the little market on weekdays. Time stood still for that place for a handful of years. I remember a guy who worked there named Tyler who was very nice, and also a guy named Perry who wore glasses; kind of intellectual. I gave him my copy of Sartre’s Nausea which he read and gave to another person, starting a circulation of the book. He told me about a biography of Richard F. Burton that he’d read. And then I remember Cecil, the guy who played the drums, doing fast paradiddles on the countertop. He knew someone who bought a fretless Ken Smith bass brand new. He was afraid to even touch it, it was so precious… I saw a lot of people cycle through that place around the corner from my house. I recall once standing in the rain with an umbrella, chatting with Lacey about business at the deli. She said they sold lots of burgers and fewer sandwiches. She made jewelry and put it out for sale inside the deli. It all feels like a dream to me now, an impossible kaleidoscope of someone else’s memories. Yet the chalice for it all is just my own soul.

Humbug

Wee hours.

I’ve put on my scarlet Champion hoodie and a pair of dark blue jeans. Then I took my meds for the night, but I’ll be up for a while longer. The red hoodie reminds me of H— a few years ago, with whom I’ve lost touch. She became very ill from overworking herself and sleeping little, running on caffeine and nerves… Sometimes I feel I want to make everything stop. With Easter just a day away, I had an odd meditation on the fiction of Thomas Mann, especially Doctor Faustus, which implicitly deals with Schoenberg’s atonal music, inspired supposedly by the devil. Mann happened to be a Lutheran with the opinions of a Christian. But is it really fair to accuse people of demonology, especially if they are Jewish? Likewise, is it right to say that people with schizophrenia are possessed? And this is what I want to see come to an end. Ignorant people are unaware of their own ignorance, or else why do they persist in error? It does terrible violence to the mentally ill to impute demonic possession, let alone to attempt a deliverance or exorcism. It’s all hogwash. The real sick people are the Christians. Easter may come, but I’m already gone. 

Stranded

Seven eleven.

I woke up at three thirty this morning and put off getting up for another hour, and then I knew I couldn’t sleep any more. An hour ago I walked to the store in inky blackness, mindful of my footing on the way. I feel confident that my addiction to alcohol is all in the past by now. The morning light is coming up overcast blue, the trees not yet green. Being a wordsmith has been interesting for five years, but today I have my doubts about its future. I had a friend who was very literal with language and a nihilist about ethics and metaphysics: things that depend heavily upon abstract language. It’s hard to argue with a positivist, someone so sensory for whom all abstraction is futile. Our relationship ended when I was driven in the opposite direction, towards a myriad of words, words, words, building castles in the air. However, now I believe she might have been right in her quiet, her reticence, and the spareness of her thought. The problem is likely one of those with no answer. In that case I’m bound to be a skeptic, a person who doesn’t know either way, like an agnostic. Romantics use tons of poetic language. Realists cut speech down to what is only verifiable. And the skeptic is the one stranded in the middle: the loneliest place, like an island in the moon. 

A Rain of Fish

Six thirty.

I think I’ve discovered the secret of skepticism. It’s a matter of the left brain discrediting what the right brain feels. It supposes that its wisdom is superior to intuition on the right side… The growing light outside shows the sky gray and cloudy. The forecast has changed: no rain until Saturday; but who really knows what will happen? Meteorologists are not clairvoyant. Is anybody? Out in my garage I have a book of Charles Fort that I bought after my dad passed in September 1999. Among other things it describes a rain of fish reported by a newspaper, but he said the information was suppressed elsewhere; condemned, as it were. What is it with the human need to believe? And yet it ought to be allowed to exist in the Western world. Skepticism doesn’t have to rule our destiny… A rain of fish, a rain of frogs, and my dad’s death by cancer 22 years ago. The year 1999 was uncanny in many ways. I’m going to the market pretty soon. A crow calls in the distance like a scene out of Hitchcock.

Eight o’clock. I made a rather somber trip to the little store. No one seemed to be in good spirits this time, or maybe they were responding to me a certain way. The clouds were dark and heavy, gray mottled with white. I wore an Oregon baseball cap that my dad bought for himself and an orange bandanna. Today I saw three other customers, two guys and a woman, none of them together. One of the guys arrived in a colossal red pickup truck that made a beastly noise. He gave me a surly look when he got out and masked up. I observed that he was a little guy, hence the huge truck… It was just one of those chance mornings, roll of the dice, luck of the draw, but I’m kind of glad to be home again. Life is very strange. I might go fish out the Fort book and see what other things can rain from the sky— if you believe it’s true. 

Wotan’s Day

Quarter of noon.

The sun has come out, and the sky is half full of puffy white clouds. I’m trying to eliminate the layers of negative thoughts in my mind to promote confidence and happiness. Aesop is upset because he heard another dog barking outside. There are some other little noises around the neighborhood. I think Lenore is doing gardening next door, or just something in her backyard. I could criticize myself as a very disorganized person, lazy, hedonistic, and so on, but what’s the point in being depressed? Applying moral labels to experience doesn’t help me. I used to be good at defusing the bomb of guilt and just accepting myself as I am. Eventually things do get done, but for me they happen slowly. Now I will go down the hallway to play the bass for a bit while the sunshine increases, brightening the day.

Quarter after one. So I did that, while my mind speculated on the inner spiritual life as opposed to external nature. I found that I couldn’t rule out introverted experience. The sunlight comes and goes indifferently to the invisible world within, which is permanent. I feel the way maybe Goethe would, yet I still can’t write about it with conviction today. There’s too much pressure from the majority of people to believe in spooks, so of course I fight what is popular and trendy. Should I really take the spirit world literally? It has at least subsistence in the medium of language, but actual existence would be difficult to show. Feelings are one thing, and facts are another. 

Some weird things happened to me after I worked at the agency, however. In September of 2009, my brother and I were watching college football together and drinking beer. The sports commentator said the Arizona State quarterback hadn’t thrown an interception all day. I told my brother that he was jinxing him. About three plays later he threw an interception. Jeff nodded credulously and said, “Jinx.”