Our modern world overflows with stress. We are advised to periodically withdraw from it into isolated meditation. Yet there remains an in-between state in which we remain aware of our environment, but are detached and engaged with inner harmonies.
I spent such a time at an off-season beach yesterday, sitting on the water line as, inexorably, tide advanced in rivers and mounds of brown sea bubbles. Shafts of sunlight broke through leaden low clouds, causing sparkling light dances on the bay that could make an artist weep. Mist cloaked the far shore, a few birds soundlessly flew by.
I thought of very little, noticed this and that, unaware of time itself. Every once in a while I realized the water had crept closer. My body slowed to match my mind. And thoughts of the infinite and eternal floated comfortably among others of the local and transient.
Perhaps the raucous grind of industrial progress mandates that there be a rigidly militant meditation in counterbalance. Sometimes I need that cure. But too often, I think, I do not take advantage of quietly observing and relaxing as if on a front porch in the evening. No matter what the view.
Often it is difficult to follow one’s own best advice. Sometimes it is impossible. But I know I should make the effort, and, like yesterday, I always return rewarded.
Surprisingly, it still shocks me that the “elite” are so often intellectually shallow. They happily believe any just-so story that justifies their power and wealth. It has, of course, always been so, I guess expecting it to be different in this day and age is just naive.
Recently, I read a rant on growth by an otherwise well-balanced person. “Growth,” he intoned, “is the opposite of death.” He went on to claim that without massive capitalistic growth we would all end up in stupefied poverty.
I like free enterprise, and I understand the need for capital, and I do not want to return to the medieval life. But growth? Any rational person can see that growth does not drive nature.
Like all creatures, we rapidly get as big as we are going to be and remain so the rest of our lives. And the largest organisms are not necessarily the most successful.
In ongoing “creative destruction” life constantly replaces cells, eliminating any old ones. Ecologies stabilize. Out-of-control growth, like cancer, is not good.
The apologists for concentrated extreme wealth are horrified by the lessons of biology and ecology. They worship the creed of more. They thunder sermons of socialistic status and decay, which would, they claim. be heralded by people who are unfortunately more satisfied than striving.
I don’t know how it will turn out. But the mantra of economic growth is no more true than any other religious mythology. And just as ignorantly blind.
Until about 10,000 years ago _ a tiny fraction of the physical evolution of our species _ we were a purely diurnal animal. The simplest and best strategy for all diurnal creatures is simply to hide away during darkness, avoiding predators and traps, and in any case not wasting energy when normal foods are hard to find anyway.
We assume that sleep is the primary biological adaptation to that fact. Yet our well-nourished brains remain active. Some science indicates that evolution then began to use the rest periods for other tasks such as memory cleanup or various housekeeping chores. Perhaps.
One result of all that is undoubtedly dreams. Dreams are quite difficult to deal with. They may seem to mean a lot or nothing. They may be gone, leaving nothing but an emotional residue, or they may remain as real as our waking memories. Some carry over from one night to another.
No wonder religions often address such visions. We all wonder if our subconscious is telling us something important, if our intuition has distilled meaning out of chaos, if the cosmos and gods themselves are speaking to us. In any case, dreams are at the least a grand immersive entertainment.
But we remain diurnal creatures, our “real world” is being awake. Seduction into believing those dreams are more important than our senses is one critical step into madness.
Life is essentially reaction. In that, it continues the Newtonian and quantum universe. Molecules do certain things based on what they encounter. Organisms adapt to changes in the environment.
Animals and people have a multitude of sensory inputs, constantly demanding attention. Human brains translate photon arrivals into pictures with which we can interact. Other senses work as remarkably.
But of course we simply ignore what we cannot perceive. That too is a survival trait, since we evolved to filter noise. When looking at a meadow, for example, we may fail to notice very much, but will immediately be aware of a bird or butterfly in flight or a rustle in the grass.
Philosophy tends to ignore reaction. Many precepts direct acolytes to ignore all distractions and concentrate on the greater holy plan and mystery. But I wonder. That rustle in the grass might be a hungry lion.
It seems that the “greater” plan for life is reacting to stimulus. Our current distemper may simply result from too much stimulus, too few filters. Yet we dare not ignore anything, for we are so wired.
If there were a greater plan, filters would be effective and easy. But right now our meadow is chaos incarnate.
A mantra among Republican politicians is that they want government small. I agree. I want everything small.
I would prefer everything with tiny, not grandiose plans. Small neighbors, small businesses, small foreign countries, small dreams, small visions, small natural disasters. One of the ailments of the modern world is that an individual has remained small, as the rest of the environment supersized.
Whenever humans get involved in grandiosity, bad things happen. Individuals vanish into statistics. Actions become divorced from everyday common reality. With religions and social visions, with institutions of all types, it often seems that the bigger the idea or its implementation, the more horrific the outcome.
Unfortunately, big always wins. The essential problem with Republicans is that their view is too restricted. Without big government, all the other big players _ big business, big billionaires, big foreign countries, etc _ become the de facto big government. There seems to be no escape.
My big idea about small, therefore, becomes merely personal. Appreciate the small wonders in my life: health, property, family, existence. My house need not be as tacky as that of my neighbors. And the best thing I can do with all the big stuff around is to shrink down and avoid it as much as possible.
A cornerstone of American law is that an accused person is “innocent until proven guilty.” Like much of the rest of our quaint judicial system, this should probably be scrapped.
In much of our lives we are rightly considered guilty until we prove innocence. My parents believed I ate the cookie or broke the dish unless I could prove it was done by a sibling. My boss thought it was definitely my fault if a project was late or incomplete.
With modern police tools of DNA, electronic surveillance, and other marvels we usually know who did what. With modern media and communications we know it right away. Much though we fear the omnipresent state, it is already here.
Yes, mostly we should (with reasonable precautions) be guilty until we prove otherwise. Most trial now involves arguments as to why something was done or if breaking a law was justified. Or perhaps if a law (such as a speed limit) was reasonable in the first place.
Yes, it is too easy to slide into lazily assigning a scapegoat based on prejudice of previous behavior. Yet the fact is that someone who has lied to me or cheated me in the past will probably do so again.
I’ve given up on assuming innocence. The lawyers who nominally run the country will never do so since it is so lucrative. Or, at least, not give it up until enough pitchforks are outside the courthouses.
Our lawyer neighbor with one child is putting in an Olympic-sized ground pool. In our climate it can be used only a few months a year, and we know from past experience they will probably use it only a couple of times a month. But it is prestige and useful for parties.
On the one hand, I am amused. In the long run it is after all a hole dug followed by a hole to be filled a decade or so later. On the other, I am kind of horrified at useful resources thrown into such a wasteful potlatch.
The socialist in me would rather he be taxed more. The capitalist in me argues he earned it. The property owner in me knows he has the right, as I do myself . And the private mind says to take a deep breath and accept reality gracefully. It’s a fine example of how conflicted my multiple selves are. And there are surely even more clamoring for attention if I let them.
Now this is America, and some would say “well if you don’t like the taxes or the zoning, vote and change it.” But votes of themselves are a kind of illusion . You must generally throw yourself into a cause to have any effect and I am not even sure this cause has any worth.
Like much else, it all comes down to momentary spasms on my attention, soon forgotten. Nevertheless temporarily annoying. Like my neighbor .
The rich, ever anxious to justify their position, prefer to be referred to as the “elite” or the “makers.” They stress their accomplishments in a meritocratic system, which proves they deserve all they have. And the rest of us deserve all we don’t.
Upon a time there were aristocrats, commoners, and slaves. Since the Industrial Revolution it has been mythologized as students, workers, and drones (“takers”). But what we really have as automation takes full hold is producers and consumers, who are actually one and the same and interchangeable.
If everyone is pretty well taken care of, I have no quarrel giving more to those who are smarter, work harder, take risks, and are luckier than others. There are general social benefits to well-directed ambition for society as a whole.
The minor problem is that many of the elite see success as money expressed as a zero-sum game. They have gold for whatever reason which means others don’t. That seems to make them feel very happy. Nothing new.
The major problem is that the elite begin to believe their own propaganda and _like the divine kings of old _ think they can do no wrong. They try to control society in ways _ no surprise _ that somehow end up making them richer and more secure.
Bad kings had a limited sphere of influence and effect. With technology, a bad elite can destroy everything.
I’m a peasant when it comes to art, music, literature appreciation. Enjoy the surface appeal and history, not involved in different meanings. One exception was reading The Inferno as an adolescent.
Dante, of course, makes the punishments in Hell fit the crimes. But the deeper reveal is that the punishment is the crime. Angry people are consumed by their anger. Nice idea.
That has limits. People who hurt people and society need to be disciplined and controlled regardless of their internal angst. The meek must fight for their rights here on Earth and not depend too much on eventual justice after death.
But as a day-to-day salve, hoping people stew in their own juices has psychic merit. For example, that idiot in the tailgating car may be developing ulcers. The wealthy constantly waste precious barren hours of their limited existence to preserving and displaying their gold. At least, it is a comfort to believe so.
True or not, fables can help us get through the varied theaters of life. A great deal of philosophic thought is devoted to little else. At certain times, in certain situations, believing that nastiness rebounds karmically on the annoying person can make me smile.
Perhaps were I a deeper thinker, more such tools would be available to me. But alas I am a small geezer of little brain, and obliviously I bumble on through Hundred Acre Wood.
In the long run, everyone dies. In the extremely long run, the universe becomes cold dark nothingness. In historic perspective,each of us is an irrelevant hostage to fate. Each of us in our own moments feels immortal, eternal, omniscient, and everything.
Those who ponder the world beyond themselves have come up with many grand ideas. It is all illusion, it is all real, it is simply preparation for what may come, it is random chaos, it is directed by destiny. The one commonality to all the viewpoints is that none seem verifiable by logic, experiment, or even common sense. But each construction also has its charms to help us through our difficult days.
Most of us, who must live in society, are extremely adaptable. No matter what our internal beliefs, we easily get along, usually by “doing what the Romans do.” Dealing with how to get dinner or enjoy a friendship is far more important right now than the fate of the entire world in hundreds of years, or the universe in its billions.
When we meet those who cannot be changed, we are either entranced or horrified. If they speak well we can be, at least momentarily, swayed to their vision. Such sermons from the true believer are difficult to resist. We respect certainty and seek the security of truly knowing the meaning of it all.
Unfortunately, in historic terms, most such orators have been driven by ignorance or derangement. Equally unfortunately, we are rarely granted time to gain perspective that such is the case.