The covfefe-ing of the American Mind

Remember if you will, if you haven’t completely blocked it out, a middle school classroom.  A jail cell full of kids who are just old enough to think they know everything, but not nearly old enough to know much of anything at all, least of all how to be decent human beings.  Remember that one super obnoxious kid? The one no one liked, teachers not so subtly included, because, well, he just wasn’t at all likable. Loud, rude, mean- in substance not much difference from a lot of the coolest kids, really, but his appearance or some other intangible something about him prevented him from pulling off cool and winning anyone over. Remember when that obnoxious unlikeable would screw up, get an answer wrong or mispronounce something during the hell that was reading aloud time? Everyone would lose their minds and jump all over this kid for his mistake and it would be a constant, vicious joke for the rest of the week at least. That kid made fun of everyone else all the time, so it was difficult to feel too sorry for him, but your gut still had that twinge of guilt, that there was something ugly happening. There was an animosity toward this kid, sometimes even silently cheered on by the teacher, that was unjustified and unsettling, terrible as this kid was in just about every way.

Now there’s obviously a yuge difference between that obnoxious kid- who is arguably the victim of a bad home life, poor role models, etc., etc.- and an obnoxious adult. But I’m not really going for a direct analogy here. The thing that I want to highlight has nothing to do with the object of humiliation and ridicule, but with the humiliators and that malicious spirit that seems to underly the apparent justice. Grant that the one ridiculed is wholly undeserving of mercy and pity; can justice really include malice?  Or does that hate taint the whole thing?

Childhood and adolescence are times of extremes, and growing up is supposed to be a time of tempering those extremes into a good grip on reality balanced with a sober self-awareness. For some reason in this country, we’ve decided to skip that process and stick with the extremes. We see a guy we don’t like and demand his head. We see someone we disagree with and cry “Nazi!” We get hysterical like a room full of 13-year-old lunatics administering cruel middle school justice. Republican government will crumble in that environment [*cough* Lord of the Flies*cough* duh]

I’m not saying that everyone should be nice and leave. Trump. alone! Not at all. As a leader, he ought to be constructively criticized and watched closely. The frustrating thing is that America, in general, did not do that for last eight years, and there was plenty of cause for concern. This isn’t just a matter of fairness, which I don’t really care about, but of proper context. If Obama had been publicly and constantly scrutinized, from the biggest scandals to the tiniest typos, (all of which were all but ignored, especially compared to current coverage of this president) maybe Trump wouldn’t be so scary, and we could discuss his policies and issues without throwing a 7-month-long tantrum.

Again, as adult citizens of a free republic, we really need to grow up. Teenagers see the world as full of fascists out to get them; they see themselves the innocent heroes of their tragic life, leading a radical revolution against oppression. The fact that half the country has adopted this infantile fantasy as their serious political viewpoint is the real threat to democracy. The malicious, sneering mockery of an elected president and his supporters on the part of the popular mob should really scare mature adults.

 

 


You don’t have to vote Trump but you can’t vote Her

Trump is an ass. I won’t defend him. If your conscience isn’t comfortable voting Donald, it’s probably a decently well-formed one.  I totally understand conscientious objecting here. Again, he’s an ass. Everyone’s agreed on that.

HOWEVER COMMA

THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD/CAN IN GOOD CONSCIENCE VOTE HILLARY

If you don’t want a lying, corrupt, egomaniacal, bully running your country to the ground, you can’t vote Hillary. Any standard by which you determine Trump is terrible- that same standard deems Hillary much, much worse.  She’s political corruption, greed and deceit incarnate. And this isn’t anything new; it’s not Trump propaganda ginned up last week, I’ve known her as a power-hungry villain since I first became dimly aware of politics when I was 12 years old. And it’s only been confirmed repeatedly in the years since.

Remember when Trump was 4th in line to the Presidency and failed miserably at his job (Secretary of State), messed up relations with Russia, got a bunch of people killed in Benghazi then rushed to blame it on backward Muslim peasants watching YouTube? Remember that? Oh wait, that was Hillary.

Remember when Trump said that he would appoint Supreme Court Justices that would overturn the Citizens United decision? You know, that case where the ACLU AND NRA AGREED (and the world imploded)  that the Court was right, that the First Amendment had been violated when the FEC didn’t allow commercials for an Anti-Hillary documentary to be aired? Funny that Trump would get so bent out of shape about Anti-Hillary documentaries being allowed… OH WAIT THAT WAS HILLARY. Trump just said he would choose justices that uphold the Constitution. You know, because that’s a justice’s job. Hillary ws distracted by making sure it’s clear she doesn’t want that pesky First Amendment affirming decision to stand.

Remember when Trump said Hillary would be in jail if he were in charge? Do you also remember when she obstructed the crap out of justice and got out of it after an innocent meeting between Bill and the Attorney General?  Also, have you seen the list of people who could have caused Trump trouble but are now dead? Oh waiiit, that’s Hillary too. Lot’s of dead people in her 30 year political wake. They’re probs still going to vote for her, though, so most likely just an unlucky coincidence.

Remember that time Trump used the media that he keeps in his pocket to run friendly stories and suppress less helpful ones? Remember when the media played that tape of him 10 years ago basically on a loop for days and days and almost forgot to mention Wikileaks revelations?  Remember when debate moderators took on Hillary and argued with her in blatant bias?  No wait,  I got that all mixed up.  The media is not even bothering to sort of pretend to not be doing whatever they can to help Hillary win. SO WHAT WE HAVE HERE PEOPLE is an establishment, life-long politician (i.e. corrupt af) with the media ON HER SIDE (i.e. she can (and already has!) done whatever the hell she wants with no repercussions, no accountability) and a big fat political machine backing her up with all the [dark, illegal] monies, all the connections, all the shady backroom deals.  NONE OF WHICH TRUMP HAS. Everyone hates him, which can be good in a democracy–  he would have to be on his very best behavior; the second he even appears to have messed up, he has BOTH SIDES and the media and most of the population ready to string him up in town square.  Hillary, on the other hand, has the mob, the media, the current government- she could botch everything and still get re- re- re-elected. (Do you think eight years will be enough for her after she’s worked for 30 to get there? I don’t think so…). Her political career has corruption and dictator dreams written alll over it, and people are worried about Trump being a billionaire celebrity clown.   We can recover from 4 years of buffoonery, not so clear if we can survive 8 more years (16 total) of the DNC machine running things.

Obviously, I wish we had better options. But we don’t.  I don’t think the country is currently capable of choosing better options anyway. Every time we try to get a decent human up there, they get destroyed. Maybe Trump and his immunity to media attack can change that and pave the way for a real, virtuous, good candidate next time.  Maybe.  But it’s certain that with Hillary, things will only continue as they are, getting worse and worse.

But as always, I could be wrong and welcome the correction to my errors.

 

*Though I will say, his crappiness as a human being aside, that he has been a celebrity cashing in on controversy and drama, and NOT a polished, pretty public face politician for the last several decades; so it’s not that anyone else is better, they’re simply not tape-confirmed cases of complete assholery.  “Better than Trump as far as you know, and that’s not far at all” is not a convincing argument.

 


ianity sucks.

And is lame.
And super annoying.
Ianity — aka Christ-less Christianity (haa haa, get it?)– was the focus of the last Walking Dead episode and, I believe, the current default religion of the modern enlightened wonderful West that is not self-destructing shut up it’s fine, fine!
If you aren’t caught up with The Greatest Show Ever, you should get caught up immediately, because it is really, truly, the greatest, and I tend to hate TV (TWD and Bob’s Burgers, man. Restoring my faith in entertainment). In the meantime, without giving anything away, last week’s episode focused on one character’s healing from zombie apocalypse induced PTSD through an Eastern anti-killing martial-art-on-a-stick type deal.  This character, Morgan, had totally lost it, spending his days mercilessly destroying everything and everyone in sight, until a nice, pacifist hermit catches him, turns his zombie skewer spear into a nice, pacifist staff, and nurses him back to sanity.

As cool as Morgan is, this isn’t cutting it for me in Zombieworld. Or any world, really.

Awww, what’s wrong with that? you ask. He’s rescued [by Norm son of a Gunderson btw] and finds peace and a way to live with himself- why are you being such a jerk about it, Samwise? Did you not hear the background music and dramatic voice overs? It was poignant and beautiful. Stop pooping on it.
Ugh no. Just no. It was the worst**
I have a plethora of problems with the underlying shtuff of the story and that which it reflects in our culture.  Primarily, I take issue with the attempt to have the peace and strength and healing of Christianity without the pesky, uncomfortable Christ business. Mostly because it’s not possible.  Obviously, Christians are not the only ones who preach that “every life is precious” (a conclusion reached by Mr. Friendly Stick-wielder at some point in his dark past somehow).  Also, it is true that humans can find healing in a lot of places. Christians, however, have a very coherent, rational reason for the belief in the sacredness of each and every life, no matter how evil the person, and for holding on to it even when everything else very much falls apart.  That reason is Christ. God’s love. Love, period.  Take the logos, the Word, Christ, out of that equation and you’re just sillily waving a stick at people who will murderlize you and laugh. At least when the Christian is mercilessly murderlized at the hands of a laughing psycho at the end of the world, they do so in imitation of God Himself. That makes all the difference, transforms the water of a silly pointless act into the wine of a virtuous, meaningful act.
If Christ were just a sorry person dying for a bunch of sorry people, then sure, go ahead and leave him out of the story and replace him with any nice chump — the gist is communicated sufficiently: be nice, don’t be a meanie pants.

So much cooler

But that is much too weak to do any serious healing of humanity, and definitely not the Good News worth dying for.  For Christ was not just a nice chump, or even a nice chump with a dark past he found it it within himself to overcome, He Is God.  He didn’t have to do jack squat for us but he does everything and does it out of love. This puts the whole of the universe into an eternal context of meaning and love. The Cross is only a victory because of the Resurrection, which points beyond ourselves and what we can do to the promised infinitely better.  Without that supernatural grounding, the pacificism is shallow and arbitrary. And in the end, you still just die. What’s the point? Why not just go nuts and kill people? Or go nuts sometimes and kill only the really evil/annoying/inconvenient/smelly people?   Answer: because sentimental music and meadows. And a goat.
Yahhh it makes no sense.
But this seems to be the reigning [non] philosophy of today, so it deserves a slightly more serious treatment. I guess. I will get more into it, but for now, my suspicion is that it is much easier to follow John Lennon than Jesus, because real love that transcends earthly circumstances is demanding. It requires real, difficult sacrifice and heroism and self actualization that comes only in and through dying to oneself. The whole ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” John 12:24 thing. Which continues: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”  There is nothing awesomely paradoxical and deep like this in the Christless ianity.  That creed wants to love life and keep it on one’s own terms. Which is precisely the reason the world sucks in the first place- people being the boss of themselves in place of God just makes them less God like, i.e. less capable of the Good.

Annnnd my brain is getting all tangled, and this is a terrible mess of a return post [I wanted to restart the biz with an epic Nihilism and Babies post, but Walking Dead got this one rolling first. Nihilist Babies next time. Or maybe T.S. Eliot vs Sentimental BS. We’ll see..] SO it will be continued, hopefully more successfully, tomorrowish.

**Now, to clarify, the show is so great that it can miraculously turn even a 90 minute lukewarm pansy fest into a decently entertaining episode. But given that they kept me watching through the people of Alexandria barf-o-rama, that’s not surprising. [long live the Ricktatorship yo]


My favorite Georgian

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Miss Mary Flannery O’Connor.

One of the reasons I have recently added her to my list of heroes: she seems to have been joyfully Catholic– in that dark, deep, truly realistic sort of way that doesn’t let a Lupus diagnosis lead her to despair (she was given 5 years at age 25 but made it to 39).  From what I’ve gathered of her personally, it doesn’t seem as though she was a particularly “nice” person, which is one of my favorite things about her; “nice” is almost always accepted as a substitute or even- blasphemously- practically a synonym for good, but good is so much more than nice. Obviously. This is one of O’Connor’s central points in writing about the grotesque, I think. The grotesque is a strategy she employs to rescue nature and grace from artificial, Manichean separation and to prevent the reduction of “the supernatural to the pious cliche”. That is, to save truth from the lies of a nice pseudo-ideal. She is vehemently anti-sentimentality, which in her words is

an excess, a distortion of sentiment usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence, and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite. We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it.  Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite.” (bold emphasis mine, marking where I jumped up and cheered)

Another applause-worthy line from later on: “A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it” and–just one more, I can’t help it–“It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt to gradually be lost.”

Her stories are rather disturbing, sometimes very much so, (the well-known little old lady and her family getting lost and serial-killed isn’t even close to the worst of it).   Sometimes the stories seem utterly pointless, and you have no idea why you care so much to find out what it is that this punk, idiot kid is so desperate to show Haze, deep in the heart of the park. But nevertheless, you are enthralled. And even if you never get a point or meaning or moral out of it, if nothing else it was a damn good story insofar as it fulfilled the purpose of storytelling- to share a human experience with another human. This is necessarily- if truly human- fraught with meaning, intelligibility, and, ultimately, mystery. For the human experience, from the Christian [/human] viewpoint is of course primarily and fundamentally mysterious.

O’Connor’s writings are best known for their weirdness, first of all, and for her use of violence to convey the working of Grace. She also does a lot with prejudice and deceptive appearances.  Her characters are very frequently finding out the truth about themselves, namely, that they aren’t as superior or as good as they thought, and in desperate, violent need of grace. (“The Artificial N—” has a particularly beautiful scene of sorrowful self-discovery, repentance, and mercy. Ooh! And “The Lame Shall Enter First” is even better.  “Revelation” isn’t bad either.)

I just finished all 540 pages of Complete Stories, so now all I have left is Wise Blood and Habit of Being. (I read The Violent Bear It Away a few years ago, and Mystery and Manners recently).  “The Lame Shall Enter First” might be a favorite- the end was pretty gut-wrenching.   “Parker’s Back” may have made me almost cry too. While the former ridicules the snobby, egoistical, modern state religion of sciencism, and I’m kind of a sucker for that, the latter has an advantage featuring one of my absolute favorite Christian symbols. More than that, through the rather bizarre love story of “Parker’s” O’ Connor masterfully conveys the working of grace in a more subtle, less graphically violent manner and shows the limitations of reason. Parker sees no reason to be in love with this woman he married, and thinks himself insane for sticking around. Yet obviously, something beyond mere human thought is going on. He is being led, not against his will so much as strangely beyond it, (if that makes any sense).  The good side of the war between flesh and spirit, perhaps.

So that’s why I love O’ Connor. She is an objectively amazing writer revealing a chunk of truth, who also just so happens to be a Catholic, (which of course is no accident).

We [writers] are asked to form our consciences in light of statistics, which is to establish the relative as the absolute.  For many this may be a convenience, since we don’t live in an age of settled belief; but it cannot be a convenience, it cannot even be possible, for the writer who is Catholic. He will feel that any long-continued service to it will produce a soggy, formless, and sentimental literature, one that will provide a sense of spiritual purpose for those who connect the spirit with romanticism an a sense of joy for those who confuse that virtue with satisfaction.  The storyteller is concerned with what is; but if what is is determined by survey, then the disciples of Dr. Kinsey and Dr. Gallup are sufficient for the day thereof.”

Flannery raised peacocks. And wrote what has to be the best stuff on the subject, “Living with a Peacock” (or “King of the Birds”) found here.


Welp. That was fun.

Soooo…

Academia and I- we didn’t work out.

Some weird combination of ridiculous pressure, boredom, miscommunication, and irreconcilable differences poisoned our relationship, and after 20 years in the classroom, looks like we are done.

And you know what?

This might be the happiest I’ve been. Ever.

And I’ve been pretty ridiculously happy throughout most of my adult life.  Which until now has been 85% school related.

Not that I have anything against higher, higher education– I’m terribly grateful for my graduate studies, and the people up there are doing good work. I just reached my limit, I guess. And no hard feelings toward higher ed for rejecting me, either.  I mean, I would like to say that The Man just doesn’t understand my profound, original genius, but… since lately I find myself in this sitch:

Image

and this one:

Image

I just kinda doubt it.

So now that I’ve escaped school, I can dedicate my time to something other than a degree-that-probably-won’t-get-a-job-but-will-impress-and-intimidate-people (which I was looking forward to, not going to lie)…as in… for example…

Okay I’m still going to nerd it up as much as possible, just unofficially now. And around a job. Theoretically.

 


And so it is

Annnd somehow summer is over already and class starts Monday.

Courses:

Common Good

Abstraction: Theme in Medieval Epistemology

Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations

Aquinas On Categories of Being

Fun stuff, fo sho.

Totally changing the subject: I’ve been reading God and the Unconscious– fascinating.  A particularly interesting passage from early in the book:

Clergymen and moralists assure us that the alarming increase of divorce, the breakdown of countless homes and the prevailing misery of many more…are the outcome of our loss of the sense of the sanctity of marriage, of sexuality and of the home. There is an undeniable but superficial sense in which that is true. But the deeper levels revealed in the analyst’s consulting room show that these catastrophes are more often to be attributed to the fact that unconsciously marriage has been regarded as too sacred rather than otherwise, and hence required to bear a weight too heavy for it, which in other days carried it.  Sex is expected to provide a mystical union, the partner a divinity, the home a heaven– each, in short, is required to provide a substitute for religion and to be saddled with a task to which each is of its nature unequal.

…so yeah, ponder that one, and I’ll write about it and some rather related stuffs tomorrowish.


Awkward and Awesome Thursday

For my dear friend over at http://becslittleblackblog.com:

Awkward: Seeing a guy from your old school and as you walk by and see he recognizes you, doing the whole “hi how’ve you been” not-really-friends-but-kinda-know-of-each-other greeting thing… only to realize by his super awkward muttered response/shuffle away that he does not, in fact, seem to have a clue who you are. At the very least you are definitely not at the greeting level of acquaintance haha.

Awkward: hours later another guy from the same school avoiding a similar situation entirely by looking down as your paths cross.  He’s in philosophy though so I forgive the awkwardness. It’s our natural state.

Awesome: The building in which both this moments of awkward took place:

Awkward: [walk into the library of new school for the time ever] Kind library volunteer: “Oh are you here for a tour?” Me, whose previous university library could fit into the lobby of this one: “Uhhh no thanks I’m just going to uh..wander…” by myself…without your help… And yeah, I was definitely stuck in a confused circle for quite a while. Oh well.

Awesome: Three floors of dark, kinda creepy SO COOL stacks with narrow stairways and a basementy feel. Almost as awesome: all the marble and cool stuff like papal chairs in the not-back rooms of the biblioteca. And checking out two books on day one that have nothing to do with your studies (Great Gatsby and War and Peace)

Awkward: I was apparently the only flipping philosophy grad cool enough to go to orientation and new grad student happy hour both of which I of course had zero interest in attending, but did so anyway just to appease the concerned friends’ voices in my head (real live human friends, whose concern I do appreciate, just to clarify).  So I look around the Great Hall for anyone resembling philosophers and end up picking a random table of (very nice) library science/english grads.

Awesome: No amount of awkward makes the food and drink less free! And it vindicates my resistance to such events, so I win.

Also Awesome: Eventually the dean of the school of Philosophy himself showed up and sat with me, which was super cool.

Awesomest of all: Thinking to myself, out of habit, at one point during orientation “bah, I pay this school enough I can eat another cookie” only to realize I don’t pay this school! And still ate another cookie. bahahaha. [never mind the pile of loans it took for me to get to this point, sitting in the corner somewhere, garnering interest…]

Anyway. Class starts Monday.  Hopefully I can get my brain into philosophy mode by then…


Winnie-the-Pooh is genius

Those who are clever, who have Brain, never understand anything

Words of wisdom from Pooh Bear.  Too true.


Portrait of a mo-ron

“And so you are going abroad; and when do you return?
But that’s a useless question.
You hardly know when you are coming back,
You will find so much to learn.”
My smile falls heavily among the bric-à-brac.

BUT you know what’s a useful question? ‘When do you leave?‘ And apparently, among the ‘much to learn’ for me: How to tell time. Especially the difference between midnight and noon. Especially before purchasing a bus ticket. And before the day of departure.

This is referencing not one but TWO of my most recent travel adventures.  A couple weeks ago, I thought to myself, ‘when does my bus to Jersey leave in the morning, again? Oh yes. 8:45. I remember. I remember so well that I won’t even take the two steps over to my computer and put forth the 2.5 minutes of effort to double check. Because I know. 

7:45am. At the station, plenty of time. Then it dawns on me, before I even get to the bus area– my train to Boston last week left at 8something, this bus leaves earlier… i.e., 7:45, apparently. Good thing I checked- ohwait. I didn’t. BUT it was okay because I got a couple hours in this magnificent place:

 

This week– Days after you would think I would’ve learned some kind of lesson and mastered the online bus reservation:

This time I’m going to double check and make sure my bus really leaves at noon like I know it does because I read it really carefully when I bought it.  I even caught the typo that said it left at noon and got in at 5 in the morning haha. …wait… it says it left already..  12:15 am?! Crap.

Soooo apparently my brain has only a finite human, quite limited capacity and the more philosophy and languages I try to cram in there the more basic stuff gets jettisoned.  So I might survive this PhD thing, but whether or not I’ll be able to remember anything else beyond breathing and fine dining, like my name or how to tie my shoes (which isn’t  a big deal since philosophers don’t really wear shoes), is definitely questionable.

 


Flatness

“We are experiencing ‘a flatness of modern civilization which sees “the final triumph of the Hollow Men, who, knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, had lost the ability to feel or think deeply about anything.”‘” — E. O. Springsted quoting Charles Taylor quoting Oscar Wilde alluding to T.S. Eliot. Because apparently everyone and their mom has noticed this little ish with modernity, yet it rages on.

Ugh.

Oh well, time to eat cookies. Or take a nap.

I wonder why nothing’s gotten better yet…haha.