Friday, September 2, 2016

A Few Observations About Things I Think Matter



I haven't written in this blog for awhile. I've had computer problems, hurricane annoyance (again), and generally been going through one of my periodic episodes of fatalism. This seems to just happens to me from time to time, to be part of my intrinsic make up and if it isn't pleasant at least it's often instructive. It's a mood in which I feel impelled to reexamine my life and what I think really matters so that hopefully I'll know how to go onward.

George Orwell said that anyone who writes a memoir reflecting well upon themselves is a liar, because every man essentially sees his life as a series of failures. Unfortunately from what I've seen that's true, and given that, it seems a man or woman should try to live their life as they chose. It's a case of "you can't please everyone. so you might as well please yourself." There are, of course, limits to the control we have over circumstances and those limits are are becoming more acute, but our culture places terrible value on a success almost no one achieves. Generally, we place the burden of that ethic upon ourselves too, and there's tremendous freedom in understanding we may be free of that.

So, with that in mind, and in the full knowledge that my life has failed as well as the next man's; I'd like to express some impressions about where I think I've failed and where my contemporaries have done so. They are fairly abstract impressions so I hope you'll bare with me. Firstly, let me say that we live in a cynical age. One of the things people need most is a sense that what they're doing in life is right, that it matters. By this cynicism and loss of any motive ideal in our lives, even be it romantic or naively unrealistic, we are denying ourselves one of the life's necessities. That is no exaggeration. People need something to live for beyond satisfying their appetites I think, and so we must find a way to coping with the cynical tenor of the times while not being destroyed by them.

Lest we despair at the simple flood of negative news that permeates the 21st century, we should remember that every age has had it's problems and they have often been as bad as ours today, but in the past people weren't having that negativity drummed into them 24 hours a day in news scraps that sapped their courage and vitality. For myself, I've have had to struggle very hard not to be chronically depressed by the news cycle so I long ago rid myself of television for anything other than movies I chose to watch. I think that doing so is imperative in order to experience life fully and to simply maintain human dignity.

As I've said before on this blog growing up, I lived in rural New Mexico. A small pond was not far from our house - up a dirt road that wound into the mountains, and a ditch ran down from this pond carrying water to the fruit trees, fields, and vineyards in the village, and I spent a lot of time there. My life revolved around small things then and particularly small living things. The horse-tail grass at the ditch's edge, water spiders, lizards, cattails and innumerable other living things. Like that of most children, my world was magic then. Never was anything as green as the grass and evergreens beside that ditch for nothing flourishes like watered plants in the desert.

In the winter when the snow was down my father would cut a Christmas tree on the hillside, in snow resplendent in my mind to this day. This looking for a tree brought out the perfectionist in my father, who spent hours selecting the perfect blue spruce from hundreds that would have done just as well. I didn't mind, because it was an excuse to be outside. Never has life glowed the way it did then, so despite the other ways my life has been difficult, in natural beauty I was blessed...

***

The world today bears little resemblance to the world then. One of the essential reasons I believe is that magic has been mostly lost. Colors were brighter then. They sparked deeper feelings and more vivid associations. I was very closely connected to the panoply of living things. They had singular personalities recognizable to me.

Of course the urban world's encroached on so may places recently dominated by nature, and wildlife has been so decimated that my feeling of connection no longer exists the the way it once did - but there's something more - the weight of seven-and-a-half billon people is simply tiring the world; or so it seems. My peak experiences have gradually dimmed and are now few and far between.

Having lived through the transformation of the mid-twentieth century in the American West, I occasionally ask myself why everything seems so different now. For one thing Americans had different values then. We are gradually losing our expectation of justice and our belief in the legitimacy of law itself. Religious values that were (if often narrow minded and stifling) still a dominant influence, have been largely supplanted by the worship of applied science and technology - and later (and even worse yet in my opinion, the the business ethic) the mere Darwinian law of survival, presented in the guise of a philosophy by people such as Ayn Rand, Bill Buckley, and George Will.

To say the ethic of "me, myself, and I" falls short of the values of The Enlightenment is an understatement. It is a regression to the outlook of ancient Rome: to that of ruthless power and cold expediency justifying itself by its own existence. It cannot stand against religion and it certainly cannot stand against the values of The Enlightenment that this nation was founded on. For in the end human beings need something more to believe in then their stomachs. If we continue to pursue a belief in the magic hand of the market, it will be our destruction.

Moreover we have been indoctrinated to the point we can no longer see that ideology is security. As we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons systems in times of peace our nation crumbles from neglect of its people and its infrastructure. Meanwhile people have been convinced that expecting something in return for their own tax dollars (and believe me, we will continue to be taxed) is looking for a handout, it is a lunacy.

If we succumb to all of the above ideology there will be no more great men and women. Their will be no more lives of heroic dimensions or even minor hero's. This is why we have an age without heroes, because we have an age without ideals. There will be no more Jefferson's, Joan of Arcs, Percy Shelleys, Ghandi's or King's. It will be a world that allows only for heroic entrepreneurs, and there is no such thing as an heroic entrepreneur, not even of the smallest magnitude. They are investors and business men given a new and name to convince themselves they have done something glamorous with their lives.

(This issue of new names for old ideas is something else George Orwell had a few things to say about, but that is for another essay.)

To speak to our unwarranted obsession with security, the United States was in the past secure because we held a set of common unifying beliefs -the principles of law, justice and democracy - and that of the dignity and equality of mankind. We promoted genuine democracy abroad, not simply the power of vested interests, and in so doing we made friends and not enemies. Now in a search for security from relatively insignificant and largely self generated threats, we have heeded false patriots, confidence men, and the apostles of unreasoning fear. This shift in values is another reason life feels fundamentally different now than it did when I was young. The rise of Donald Trump is not a mystery. He is the logical outcome of the philosophy we have allowed ourselves to embrace.

In a different vein entirely, another element of the world that's changed is that time seems shorter now. I've been told that our perception of time changes as we age, that any period of time seems shorter because it becomes a smaller percentage of our life as a whole, but that's never made sense to me. By the same token we could say that when climbing a mountain, time would seem shorter the nearer we got to the top because the distance is a smaller percentage of the journey as a whole. (I think this is an apt analogy. Just as the higher we climb the more arduous the hike, so the older we get the more difficult are the passing years. )

But whatever the mechanism, I'm not as close to nature, or even life itself, as I once was then, and yet that doesn't leave me broken hearted. Though in vastness, mystery, and complexity, nature is one of the greatest wonders of existence, we should not take its loss with abject mourning. The truth is that we don't know the final outcome of consciousness, not our own nor that of any creature. We cannot with certainty even know whether death is a blessing or a curse.

(I don't mean to say we should become callous, merely that we should not let the great extinction going on around us - one that will inevitably involve us at least to some degree - destroy our love and appreciation of life, even less our willingness to go on.)

Though we are only as much as interaction with other living consciousness makes us, in spite of our losses of those living things, we are become deeper beings because we are forced more to confront to eternity. Acceptance of our helplessness in the face of events beyond our control allows us to confront the meaning of our mortality. Life for us and for every living thing is ultimately a process of detaching from the world, and we don't know the outcome of that for any individual living spirit. It may be a curse or it may be a blessing.

There is profound paradox here, as in everything in life. The more we clutch for security; the ability to control our fate in existence, the less we can actually control. We force nature to retreat in our effort to control the world and make it safe for us. but in doing so we undermine the very foundation of our security and even our existence. Sometimes I think we are making the world safe more for machines than human beings and the other living things that are ultimately the only things of value in the world.

***

Last year, at the age of 53, I took up the trumpet and finding I can play it. As one door closes, if we are receptive to opportunities, another opens. While we regret the direction life is taking that direction changes. We are in eternal flux. Life is an endless paradox. Periodically I feel heartbroken by certain aspects of our modern predicament. For example I recently I saw an article accompanied by a photograph of a beautiful silverback gorilla, undoubtedly the patriarch of its corner of the forest, murdered by some lower life form with a gun. The native Africans had carried him down from the forest on a bier, his great arms stretched out to either side in death, representing all of nature, that through our fears and misunderstandings we have nailed to a cross.

When such sadness comes over me I often remember the magical world of my childhood, and the promise inherent in such an acute experiences of consciousness. Any cosmic order that can create such magic it seems to me has the potential to do anything. Awareness seemingly comes out of nothing into the material world, and so one could accurately say that everything comes out of nothing. It is tremendously amusing to me to see science grapple for centuries through investigation of the material world and ultimately say, as with the "big bang" theory, the everything simply came flying out of nothing and say they have explained something. And yet in that very idea there is a tremendous sense of hope.

I don't grieve for the passing of this world as I once did. It miss it, but don't grieve for it, the reason being that I don't think the spirit dies. Beyond our beliefs about scientific certainty, science has not really resolved any of the great mysteries of life. From the above pat explanation of our perception of time shortening as we age to a hundred other pseudo-explanations the modern world creates to shelter us from the mystery of things things we should never have feared in the first place, I see this: the spirit is magic, because the spirit is magic. It is everything and we don't know what it is. It's interwoven with eternity and infinity and we can't fathom the infinite and the eternal. To me time seems more like the medium we ride as we pass through the material world, and we accelerate as we go, in the way a meteor accelerates through the the gravitational attraction of a planet, transforming from one state to another as it goes. Everything seems toA few observations About What I Think Matters


I haven't written in this blog for awhile. I've had computer problems, hurricane annoyance (again), and generally going through one of my periodic episodes of fatalism. This seems to be something that just happens to me from time to time. It seems to be part of my intrinsic make up, and if it isn't pleasant at least it's often instructive. It's a mood in which I feel impelled to reexamine my life and what I think really matters so that hopefully I'll know how to go onward.

George Orwell said that anyone who writes a memoir reflecting well upon themselves is a liar, because every man essentially sees his life as a series of failures. Unfortunately from what I've seen that's true, and given that, it seems a man or woman should try to live their life as they chose. It's a case of "you can't please everyone. so you might as well please yourself. There are, of course, limits to the control we have over circumstances and those limits are are becoming more acute, but our culture places terrible value on a success almost no one achieves. Generally, we place the burden of that value upon ourselves too, and there's tremendous freedom in understanding that.

So, with that in mind, and in the full knowledge that my life has failed as well as the next man's; I'd like to express some impressions about where I think I've failed in life and where my contemporaries have done so. They are fairly abstract impressions so I hope you'll bare with me.

Firstly, let me say that we live in a cynical age. One of the things people need most is a sense that what they're doing in life is right, that it matters. By this cynicism and loss of any motive ideal in our lives, even be it romantic or naively unrealistic, we are denying ourselves one of the necessities of life. That is no exaggeration. People need something to live for beyond satisfying their appetites I think, and so we must find a way to coping with the cynical tenor of the times while not being destroyed by them.

Lest we despair at the simple flood of negative news that permeates the 21st century, we should remember that every age has had it's problems and they have often been as bad as ours today, but in the past people weren't having that negativity drummed into them 24 hours a day in news scraps that sapped their courage and vitality. For myself, I've have had to struggle very hard not to be chronically depressed by the news cycle so I long ago rid myself of television for anything other than movies I chose to watch. I think that doing so is imperative in order to experience life fully and to simply maintain human dignity.

As I've said before on this blog growing up, I lived in rural New Mexico. A small pond was not far from our house - up a dirt road that wound into the mountains, and a ditch ran down from this pond carrying water to the fruit trees, fields, and vineyards in the village, and I spent a lot of time there. My life revolved around small things then and particularly small living things. The horse-tail grass at the ditch's edge, water spiders, lizards, cattails and innumerable other living things. Like that of most children, my world was magic then. Never was anything as green as the grass and evergreens beside that ditch for nothing flourishes like watered plants in the desert.

In the winter when the snow was down my father would cut a Christmas tree on the hillside, in snow resplendent in my mind to this day. This looking for a tree brought out the perfectionist in my father, who spent hours selecting the perfect blue spruce from hundreds that would have done just as well. I didn't mind, because it was an excuse to be outside. Never has life glowed the way it did then, so despite the other ways my life has been difficult, in natural beauty I was blessed...

***

The world today bears little resemblance to the world then. One of the essential reasons I believe is that magic has been mostly lost. Colors were brighter then. They sparked deeper feelings and more vivid associations. I was very closely connected to the panoply of living things. They had singular personalities recognizable to me.

Of course the urban world's encroached on so may places recently dominated by nature, and wildlife has been so decimated that my feeling of connection no longer exists the the way it once did - but there's something more - the weight of seven-and-a-half billon people is simply tiring the world; or so it seems. My peak experiences have gradually dimmed and are now few and far between.

Having lived through the transformation of the mid-twentieth century in the American West, I occasionally ask myself why everything seems so different now. For one thing Americans had different values then. We are gradually losing our expectation of justice and our belief in the legitimacy of law itself. Religious values that were (if often narrow minded and stifling) still a dominant influence, have been largely supplanted by the worship of applied science and technology - and later (and even worse yet in my opinion, the the business ethic) the mere Darwinian law of survival, presented in the guise of a philosophy by people such as Ayn Rand, Bill Buckley, and George Will.

To say the ethic of "me, myself, and I" falls short of the values of The Enlightenment is an understatement. It is a regression to the outlook of ancient Rome: to that of ruthless power and cold expediency justifying itself by its own existence. It cannot stand against religion and it certainly cannot stand against the values of The Enlightenment that this nation was founded on. For in the end human beings need something more to believe in then their stomachs. If we continue to pursue a belief in the magic hand of the market, it will be our destruction.

Moreover we have been indoctrinated to the point we can no longer see that ideology is security. As we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons systems in times of peace our nation crumbles from neglect of its people and its infrastructure. Meanwhile people have been convinced that expecting something in return for their own tax dollars (and believe me, we will continue to be taxed) is looking for a handout, it is a lunacy.

If we succumb to all of the above ideology there will be no more great men and women. Their will be no more lives of heroic dimensions or even minor hero's. This is why we have an age without heros, because we have an age without ideals. There will be no more Jefferson's, Joan of Arcs, Percy Shelleys, Ghandi's or King's. It will be a world that allows only for heroic entrepreneurs, and there is no such thing as an heroic entrepreneur, not even of the smallest magnitude. They are investors and business men given a new and name to convince themselves they have done something glamourous with their lives.

(This issue of new names for old ideas is something else George Orwell had a few things to say about, but that is for another essay.)

To speak to our unwarranted obsession with security, the United States was in the past secure because we held a set of common unifying beliefs -the principles of law, justice and democracy - and that of the dignity and equality of mankind. We promoted genuine democracy abroad, not simply the power of vested interests, and in so doing we made friends and not enemies. Now in a search for security from relatively insignificant and largely self generated threats, we have heeded false patriots, confidence men, and the apostles of unreasoning fear. This shift in values is another reason life feels fundamentally different now than it did when I was young. The rise of Donald Trump is not a mystery. He is the logical outcome of the philosophy we have allowed ourselves to embrace.

In a different vein entirely, another element of the world that's changed is that time seems shorter now. I've been told that our perception of time changes as we age, that any period of time seems shorter because it becomes a smaller percentage of our life as a whole, but that's never made sense to me. By the same token we could say that when climbing a mountain, time would seem shorter the nearer we got to the top because the distance is a smaller percentage of the journey as a whole. (I think this is an apt analogy. Just as the higher we climb the more arduous the hike, so the older we get the more difficult are the passing years. )

But whatever the mechanism, I'm not as close to nature, or even life itself, as I once was then, and yet that doesn't leave me broken hearted. Though in vastness, mystery, and complexity, nature is one of the greatest wonders of existence, we should not take its loss with abject mourning. The truth is that we don't know the final outcome of consciousness, not our own nor that of any creature. We cannot with certainty even know whether death is a blessing or a curse.

(I don't mean to say we should become callous, merely that we should not let the great extinction going on around us - one that will inevitably involve us at least to some degree - destroy our love and appreciation of life, even less our willingness to go on.)

Though we are only as much as interaction with other living consciousness makes us, in spite of our losses of those living things, we are become deeper beings because we are forced more to confront to eternity. Acceptance of our helplessness in the face of events beyond our control allows us to confront the meaning of our mortality. Life for us and for every living thing is ultimately a process of detaching from the world, and we don't know the outcome of that for any individual living spirit. It may be a curse or it may be a blessing.

There is profound paradox here, as in everything in life. The more we clutch for security; the ability to control our fate in existence, the less we can actually control. We force nature to retreat in our effort to control the world and make it safe for us. but in doing so we undermine the very foundation of our security and even our existence. Sometimes I think we are making the world safe more for machines than human beings and the other living things that are ultimately the only things of value in the world.

***

Last year, at the age of 53, I took up the trumpet and finding I can play it. As one door closes, if we are receptive to opportunities, another opens. While we regret the direction life is taking that direction changes. We are in eternal flux. Life is an endless paradox. Periodically I feel heartbroken by certain aspects of our modern predicament. For example I recently I saw an article accompanied by a photograph of a beautiful silver back gorilla, undoubtedly the patriarch of its corner of the forest, murdered by some lower life form with a gun. The native Africans had carried him down from the forest on a bier, his great arms stretched out to either side in death, representing all of nature, that through our fears and misunderstandings we have nailed to a cross.

When such sadness comes over me I often remember the magical world of my childhood, and the promise inherent in such an acute experiences of consciousness. Any cosmic order that can create such magic it seems to me has the potential to do anything. Awareness seemingly comes out of nothing into the material world, and so one could accurately say that everything comes out of nothing. It is tremendously amusing to me to see science grapple for centuries through investigation of the material world and ultimately say, as with the "big bang" theory, the everything simply came flying out of nothing and say they have explained something. And yet in that very idea there is a tremendous sense of hope.

I don't grieve for the passing of this world as I once did. It miss it, but don't grieve for it, the reason being that I don't think the spirit dies. Beyond our beliefs about scientific certainty, science has not really resolved any of the great mysteries of life. From the above pat explanation of our perception of time shortening as we age to a hundred other pseudo-explanations the modern world creates to shelter us from the mystery of things things we should never have feared in the first place, I see this: the spirit is magic, because the spirit is magic. It is everything and we don't know what it is. It's interwoven with eternity and infinity and we can't fathom the infinite and the eternal. To me time seems more like the medium we ride as we pass through the material world, and we accelerate as we go, in the way a meteor accelerates through the the gravitational attraction of a planet, transforming from one state to another as it goes. Everything seems to suggest that living spirits are just passing through here.

Though I no longer am as close to the natural world, as I once was, and the era of birds, and trees, and bobcats is over for me and I can't return, even as I pass it by a new existence is opening. New possibilities are unfolding in the world if we are willing to grasp them, and our passage from here to eternity holds the promise of something more then we may see in the world today. We are all spirits destined for more than what is right now, and so we shouldn't be sad to find ourselves on the journey father out.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2016 Brent Hightower
21stcenturyperceptions.blogspot.com
*The Thinker, Rodin, image public domain