Utility Again

Wee hours.

Since talking with Polly yesterday morning I’ve felt rather confused. According to her, some Christians believe that we’ve already seen the Antichrist, and a lot of other biblical prophecies are coming true. I don’t know what to do with this information. Maybe the safe thing is to file it away and not totally dispose of it. The leap to metaphysics is very hard for me to accept because it defies logic. A neighbor once opined to me that people with schizophrenia are possessed by the devil, and my reaction was to think how ignorant he was, and how mean and insensitive. If everyone believed his way, we schizophrenic people would still be chained in dungeons as in the Dark Ages. Think now: is that any way to treat a human being? This neighbor was a Catholic and a complete dunce, and I was thankful when his family moved away. I don’t know how to feel about religion, except I’ve seen how it can marginalize certain people, even force them into ghettos. It depends on the extremity of the belief.

I think the common denominator ought to be our humanity. The philosophy that makes the most sense to me is utilitarianism, the greatest happiness principle of John Stuart Mill. We should minimize pain for each other and maximize happiness, and all other issues are on the side. 

The Happiness Crux

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.

A Coke and a Smile

Quarter after ten.

The possum under the house made a big racket early this morning. I missed some sleep because of it. At dawn, I slept in until nine thirty and then fed the dog. My walk to the store was rather difficult. I just felt tired and defeatist. What was the use? So I bought a two liter of Coke to pick myself up. I feel a little bit better now. Sometime between noon and four o’clock today, Damien is coming, so that’s something to look forward to. I wonder now if the key to human happiness might consist in generous acts. I should visit the salon more often than I do. Even if I feel awkward when I go there, still I ought to do it just because it gives someone pleasure. The Vraylar tends to put my thinking in Enlightenment mode, but as Wallace Stevens says, “It is not the reason that makes us happy or unhappy.” Perhaps all the knowledge in the world wouldn’t conduce to joy. Think of Odin, who possessed perfect wisdom, but for whom this was a woeful burden. The Father of the Gods was melancholy because he foresaw their own demise… Yet a little generosity and kindness can go a long way. And it takes my mind off of myself. Let us all share a Coke and a smile, on me. 

Utility Is Simple

You have to face down your worst fears if you’re going to quit drinking. One of mine was that I might turn out to be some sociopath. The way my family reacted to me, I never knew. My grandmother and my sister had such extreme views on “selfishness”— really very irrational and unrealistic. My sister’s speeches always harp on this same string. It is the only moral philosophy she knows. But not even the Bible condemns egoism, or makes a huge issue of it. Anyhow, I had to reject the family doctrine that “selfishness is wrong.” If I hadn’t, then I would still worry about being a psychopath.

Nine ten. Now I don’t know: was my education from the University of Oregon an evil thing? It was secular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean wicked. Then there’s my sister’s religion with its built in racism. People have various attitudes toward sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet everyone believes that they are right. I guess a moderate position is the one to take when I consider all the extremes, the polarities that divide people. And breezing through everything are the winds of change. Historians say that history is cyclical and tends to repeat itself. Philosophers say that history is a rational process, working toward ever greater freedom. Ultimately, humanity is free and responsible to choose whichever way it goes. We can go in a better direction, or we can steer ourselves further into the darkness. Meanwhile, I go about my daily peripatetic routine, taking in the sights and sounds, trying to be a good utilitarian, keeping people happy. Happiness is a simple concept, nor is it difficult to practice.

Leap Day Morning

Seven twenty.

It rained overnight, but lightly. A few hours ago I started reading “The Open Boat.” Crane’s form is as I remembered, elegant in a simple way, with some surprises. He isn’t slapstick and silly like Twain, but grave and deadpan, and indifferent towards his characters… Now, a ray of sunlight, no, the full orb of the sun breaks through. A cyclopian eye of fire sets the clouds ablaze. No signs of human life. It is Saturday morning. My mind is a blank but for memories from high school, as if to bypass my college experience. I drank my way through the latter, which on some level voids what went on. Nothing on my plate again today, though so far I feel better than yesterday. The thought of my dad is a blip on my screen. I don’t usually compare myself with him. It was my siblings who said I was just like him, and that was never very fair. In truth, my dad and I are very unalike. He was not a creative person at all, and only envied and belittled my artistic abilities. He didn’t want to be friendly with me until after I’d gotten a liquor buzz the first time. Up to then, I’d been useless to him. All through grade school I drew pictures on 8 .5 x 11″ paper attached to a clipboard that I took everywhere. I was never without it when we went on vacations. While my parents smoked, drank, read trash novels, and watched tv, I read comic books and drew free hand images of whales and other great animals. I imitated the styles of illustrators of my favorite books… The rain has resumed, so that the sources of light in the room feel confused. A shaft of sunshine now, and the beginning of a rainbow behind Diana’s house. Possibly a bridge to Asgard? Or a ladder to heaven, as Jacob saw in a dream. I plan on going to church tomorrow, skeptical or not. If I don’t, then I’ll hear about it later. I don’t regret that I joined Our Redeemer. It was a decision I made separately from anyone else, maybe my first. No one suggested it to me. It was my idea. Then, I will honor my decision by following through.

Ten o’clock. Made my run to the market. Michelle described the weather as “bipolar,” which I thought was cute. I bought a ham sandwich for a change, a Hot Pocket, and a Coke. I fed Aesop prior to my trip. The walk itself was uneventful, so maybe next time I’ll go to Grocery Outlet. Yet I know it’s all different from the old days of my friendship with Kate. The first two years with her were paradise, but after my drinking escalated to a half case daily, the wheels began to drop off. When I go to the intersection of River Road and Silver Lane now, there’s no trace of what life used to be like. Even on a sunny day, my experience is gray and overcast. There are people in my life today, but the connections feel less enmeshed somehow. Everyone seems hermetically sealed inside their own mind. No longer is there the delusion of telepathy that used to bedevil my life. No one ever knows what other people are thinking. This revelation is both disappointing and liberating. And yet it’s still true how we can make each other happy, and really ought to try. Utilitarianism remains a sound philosophy—- in a world that has forgotten philosophy. More clouds roll in from the west, and it looks like rain again on a Leap Day morning.

Afternoon Musings

Quarter of one. My mind is crowded with memories, all competing for attention. Mostly I wish to confess being a utilitarian, whether that’s good or bad. Everybody wants to be happy, I reckon. My sister would disagree, saying that what’s important is not our happiness but God’s plan for us. Well, not everyone has God on their side. I don’t know if I am saved or a lost soul, and it makes no difference if I reject the religious terms and use my own. I suppose I’m not alone in my epicurean beliefs. I regret that some of my friends are altruists to the hilt, for I don’t share their motives. It’s okay to derive pleasure from life, and even better to spread happiness around. Relieving the suffering of others is always a good thing; everyone understands pleasure and pain: that’s why utility makes excellent sense. But all my defense aside, at the kernel of my being is an egoistic impulse, and nothing can change it. People argue that egoism is childish and immature, and something to outgrow. Still I can’t envision me putting myself in the front line in some war I don’t believe in. And the more sober and conscious I am, the more convinced I am of my position… Hey look— Heidi is here!