Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Whole Human Race

On Thursday I went to the library and wrote this blog. Jess wanted to give me time away from my job and away from the house, time to think and write and do whatever I wanted. So I sat down to write. I didn't know what to write about (I rarely do until I've more than well started), so I tried to remember recent ideas/concepts/arguments that had drifted in and out of my mind in the last few weeks. I settled on a subject, and set my fingers to typing.

I finished, feeling very satisfied, and began to make my way out of the building. But I stopped myself. While writing I had been thinking of John Updike, whose writing has been haunting me and my thoughts for the last year or so, so I thought I would quickly try to find some of his prose. Sadly I could not, but in the process I found some Mark Twain (who I've never read, outside of half-assing my way through Huckleberry Finn in the 11th grade) and a few others. Lately I've heard a Twain reference or two, so I decided to give him a whirl.

So here I sit, Saturday morning, and I've cracked open the book of Twain essays to find, a bit to my surprise and a bit not, a kindred spirit. Iconoclastic and caustic, presumptuous and cocksure, obsessed with humanity, and possessed of a dim view of such. And he wrote the following, which is a perfect companion to what I wrote and published Thursday, that I just "happened" to stumble across. So if I'm wrong (wrong I may or may not be, but that I am championing an unpopular notion is not in doubt), I'm glad to be wrong in such good company:

"I have not read Nietzsche or Ibsen, nor any other philosopher, and have not needed to do it, and have not desired to do it; I have gone to the fountain-head for information--that is to say, to the human race. Every man is in his own person the whole human race, with not a detail lacking. I am the whole human race without a detail lacking; I have studied the human race with diligence and strong interest all these years in my own person; in myself I find in big or little proportion every quality and every defect that is findable in the mass of the race. I knew I should not find in any philosophy a single thought which had not passed through my own head, nor a single thought which had not passed through the head of million and millions of men before I was born; I knew I should not find a single original thought in any philosophy, and I knew I could not furnish one to the world myself, if I had five centuries to invent it in. Nietzsche published his book, and was at once pronounced crazy by the world--by a world which included tens of thousands of bright, sane men who believed exactly as Nietzsche believed, but concealed the fact, and scoffed at Nietzsche. What a coward every man is! and how surely he will find it out if he will just let other people alone and sit down and examine himself. The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Progress Doesn't Move Me

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." --William Bruce Cameron*

I know some people who think that technology, the internet, the march of progress, is changing things. You should hear them wax poetic. Technology afficienados speak of the internet like it is the next step of evolution. Still others fear advances in technology and what they mean for their children, their life, the world.


Yes, in two years I might be walking around with computer glasses that give me all the information and statistics of everything I lay my eyes on. I might have a chip implanted in my brain that lets me control my PC and phone and car without the aid of my hands. I don't care what the advancement is--it's still the same world as it is today, as it was 10 years ago, 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, and beyond.

Same world. It's the same world because it's the same kind of people. There is only one kind of people, always has been and always will be, and that kind of people that I am referring to is us. That's all there is: Us.

Define us?

Weak and broken things. Petty things. Things that get bored far, far too easily. Us that look out for number one before we look out for the rest of us. Us who put our thumb on the scale--us who rarely are capable of admitting or recognizing that we put our thumb on the scale when we think we won't get caught (though there are many of us who still do it anyway--those are the dumber among us, which is hard to calculate once you allow for the fact that all of us are pretty dumb). Us who are short sighted. Us who would never think of yelling at or criticizing a perfect stranger, though we tear apart our family and spouse with our words (spoken verbally or mentally, makes no difference). Us who war. Us who don't spend enough time listening to the other so that we can understand them; us who are only waiting for our turn to speak. Us are people who are often happy to leave well enough alone, that is until our safety or security is threatened, or perceived to be threatened. And then us very neatly and directly turn into wild animals. Sophisticated wild animals, of course. We claw, bite and devour those threats. Our tools are gossip, secrets, passive-aggression, third-party social hitmen. Ridicule. Our tools are oiled and polished and rubbed often; they are very well taken care of.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not particularly a pessimist. There is good in us. There is joy, sincerity, acts of love and bravery. I just think we are more defined, as an Us, by our weakness. And our weakness, which I believe to be immutable, is why the world will always be the way it was, is, are and will be: a veil of tears, for which the word "survive" will always be a more apropos word than "thrive."

*This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein--but this is erroneous. It is a wonderful thing to track down the origin of quotes. The act of paying attention is a dying art, it amounts to lighting a candle in a hurricane, but it should be done.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Alex Trebek & Missed Opportunities

I just thought of a great nickname for Alex Trebek: Alex Quebec. This is a play on the fact that he is Canadian.

In reality this idea would have needed to be implemented more than 20 years ago for it to have a realistic chance of catching on. That's the thing about nicknames--they're generally earned early in one's life/career.

Do I feel as if I've somehow been "cheated" out of a good, perhaps even money-making idea? Yes, of course I do. It is not my fault that I was not in my creative and intellectual prime when Alex Trebek first began to gain notoriety.

The universe has a history of slighting me, so I'm not that surprised. There have been no less than three books that I have read the back cover of, only to exclaim, "I should have written this book! I already thought of this idea!" I also once had a dream that loosely resembled the plot of the motion picture Jaws. I hadn't yet seen the film at the time of the dream, so when I saw it years later you can imagine my frustration.

Alex Quebec--should have struck while the iron was hot (when I was in utero).

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What Do I Stand For Mashup

"But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh, Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for oh
Woah oh oh (What do I stand for?)
Woah oh oh (What do I stand for?)
Most nights I don't know anymore..."

Lyrics taken from "Some Nights" by FUN.

And the following is an excerpt from "The Gospel According to America," by David Dark:

"Properly understood, the gospel of Jesus is a rogue element within history, a demythologizing virus that will undermine the false gods of any culture that would presume to contain it. In fact, as American history shows, the gospel itself will often instruct nations in the ways of religious tolerance. But our understanding of the gospel is made peculiarly innocuous when its witness of socially disruptive newness (in whatever culture it finds itself) is underplayed or consigned to the realm of 'religious issues' within the private sphere. When the Bible is viewed primarily as a collection of devotional thoughts, its status a the most devastating work of social criticism in history is forgotten. Once we've taken it off its pedestal long enough to actually read what it says, how does the principality called America interpret the gospel? In an age when many churchgoing Americans appear to view the purposes of the coming kingdom of God and the perceived self-interests of the United States as indistinguishable, what does faithful witness look like?" (emphasis mine)