Friday, June 24, 2022

First Confession

The thing is, we all do philosophy. We all decide what's real, and what's important: and we act accordingly -- or, when what we've decided doesn't actually make sense, we rebel against it in mute rage, and act otherwise. But whether we're carrying out our project or sabotaging it -- we have a project. This is how one should live.

I can't get away from it by refusing to do more philosophy. That doesn't leave me philosophy-less: it just leaves me stuck with the philosophy I happen to have now. A tattered collection of inherited prejudices and a few things I struggled to think out in my teens or early twenties, when things were so obviously Not Working that I couldn't ignore it.

And  time passes. And every day new exigencies press in on me, and the box I live in gets smaller. And in due time -- if not sooner -- my health will collapse, and I'll realize that I have no resources to live differently, even if I understood how. At that point, I'll be just a steel ball in the pinball machine, batted from bank to bank. The lights will flash, and the counters will whir, but the numbers won't be tracking anything.

---

"... the true process of philosophy," wrote Iain McGilchrist, "is to cure the ills entailed on us by philosophizing." 

I think this is right: but it might seem to suggest that the solution is to leave off philosophizing, which I think is wrong. There's no way to back out. Having come this far, I can only go on.

---

Ugh. I hate the liftoff of this post: that ugly "we," that my friend Jarrett so rightly identifies as "the white male we."  A warning flag for me now, that says: probably drifting into posture and pose, and away from real engagement. So back up a little bit.

The most challenging thing to me about watching John Vervaeke's lectures and dialogues is his insistence on public thought. Extended consciousness. What we computer science types call distributed processing. People are wiser when they are problem-solving collectively. This runs smack into all my prejudices and sense of self. I have always, like a good little American, prided myself on going my own way and doing it all myself. And I recognize this now as stupidity (not to mention a trait that makes me a docile, easily manipulatable political subject): but God it's a hard habit to break. I even imagine having a real conversation in real time and I blanch. That's reinforced by my difficulty hearing, sure: but it predates it. 

My plan has always been to work out my salvation (or enlightenment, or spiritual growth, or even just ameliorated suffering) on my own. That's good insofar as I take responsibility for it: I don't expect anyone else to walk my path for me. Nobody's going to save me. I do it myself or I don't do it at all. So that's good. But then I've never really been tempted to just submit to priestcraft: I'm a stubborn son of a bitch. The really problem with working out my own salvation -- being "spiritual, not religious" -- is that it simply imports and replicates the disasters of Puritanism. One of the main things I need to get free of is the notion that I'm an isolated individual consciousness locked inside my skull, peering out of the grimy windows of my eyes at an alien world. That's not what I am. I'm an intensely social mammal, a product of my world and my time, and to do much thinking -- and in particular to do much transformative thinking -- I need to get the hell out of my head. Transformation doesn't happen in there. The conditions are too controlled: the habits are too strong. I need, if not a church, then some close analogue.

---

Heh. That wasn't even what I was setting out to "confess," but it seems to have surfaced first. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Desperate Entitlement

Starting a two-week cut, today, after two weeks of maintenance. This was very first time that I've tried to simply hold my weight steady. A skill that, hopefully, I'll need to make much use of. But I'm still not down to the green zone yet, so chopping some 300 calories out of the daily regimen: expecting to drop maybe two pounds and maybe a percent from the waist-hip ratio. The green zone -- between 90% and 91.5% -- is a place I've been a couple times before: but the challenge is to stabilize that.

The main problem, psychologically speaking, is that I'm so accustomed to motivating myself with "getting to goal." I love tracking numbers, and watching them form patterns, and fluctuate. They have a compelling life of their own: and they blow through your soul like the wind, if you let them. So there's a certain amount of reconceptualizing that needs to be done. Nothing alive is actually static, of course: what I'm aiming at is... more like an eddy than a stasis. That's the right way to think of it: a swirl between the upper and the lower green lines. Dark water with glimmering curves in it: for a while. For a little while.

I was chatting with Tori about classical philosophers and eating. I associate controlling my eating with a bunch of (suspiciously gendered and denigrating) stereotypes of housewives fussing about their appearance. But, I told her, I can totally transfer over to the image of philosophers taking control of their lives: all the philosophers seem to have been notably abstemious about food. Tori asked about the hows and whys of that, and I said I guessed it was different in every case. Epicurus because the pleasure of food should take second place to other higher pleasures, such as philosophical friendship and conversation; Diogenes because, as a sort of classical Mr. Money Mustache, he thought that devotion to luxury was a form of slavery; Plotinus because the body was an embarrassment and impediment to the divine. Pythagoras because eating souls, including the souls of beans, was obviously wrong. (A diversion on Fava beans threatens there, and on the story of the ox that Pythagoras convinced to forgo beans, and which lived long beyond an ox's ordinary span. Whatever that may be. You know, right, that my name means "farmer of fava beans"? Much could be made of that.) Anyway. The point is that the unexamined diet is not worth eating. Or something like that.

But to be marginally more serious: I have been making an effort to think of this five-plus-year project as a spiritual enterprise, both because it's more motivating and because it's more true. Gluttony was simply the vice that was directly in my way. The obvious obstacle, smack in the fairway. Addressing it addresses more than my waistline. It addresses the surges of desperate entitlement, instilled I suppose as an American child: I deserve a treat, I deserve all the treats... which of course is an unsustainable train-wreck, and the basic driver of the present ruination of the environment. If I deserve anything, it's probably a kick in the pants; but surely the real project here is to become an adult, not a child, and to stop thinking of the world as a gallery of treats and punishments. I was not gaining a happier life by obstinately accumulating treats: I was making myself, and my world, sick. There are other ways to be.

This project has entailed planning ahead and shopping. It's entailed prepping my breakfast and cleaning the kitchen every night. And there's been a generalized effect from those disciplines to other parts of my life. Folding the wash as soon as it's dry. Planning my workdays so as to avoid bottlenecks. Sticking to irksome tasks, large or small, until they're done. Procrastination has quietly vanished out of my life: it's just not something I do any more. When I become aware of something that needs to be done, I do it, or plan it, and there's an end of it. 

Do I exaggerate, here? Possibly. But let it stand. It's truer than not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

On the Road from Piraeus

Inquire of the angel, I suppose they'd say. Of my angel:
that deathless thing of which I'm a vague and blundering counterfeit.

All right then, angel, speak up: tell me. What is it I should do?
At the question, sudden silence. The skin of the universe twitches.

Not that there is no answer, but that the answer is reserved.
I have not asked the right way. Not in the right order: not

with the right observances. How many times must I be told?
How many ways? You must learn to ask. Well yes, that's an answer

of sorts. But I am old. A year shy of getting cheap fare on the bus.
Doesn't that work here? I guess not. On this line

It's payment in full, every time, for every one. How
democratic. Really? That's my question? How do I ask?

The angel is prowling behind my back, now. No good
trying to spot him. By indirections find directions out. Right.

In the thin sunlight a slave tugs my sleeve. It's to be dinner
at Polemarchus's place. They won't take no for an answer.

Torchlight horse race later. Bring all of your friends.
But I had a question. Who doesn't have a question? You think

you're special? Well, apparently. No one wiser, 
said the oracle. As if in savage sport. The bowl of the sky tips

and the blessings begin to drain out, and the slave 
has a grip on my hem like death. Just a quick jaunt to Piraeus,

but now eternity has got her freezing hands on me. Glaucon,
Glaucon, you have betrayed me: you and your absent brother

Who waits with his pen in his hand.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Improbably to Harbor

 Maybe it was a common quail, which
is certainly what it looked like. Maybe 
somebody's pet, who knows? We met
where the sidewalk plunges between two cliffs
of juniper, a tunnel already dark when the sunset starts.
"I looked at her and she at me," 

like Lola and the boy in the song. 
She pattered on towards me
hesitated
then scuttled on past. I was going south and she north
after all, and the sun was going down. Time flies,
even when we don't.

Out along the terrace of 85th Avenue
the trees were backlit, all the branches afire:
polished gold and copper against 
the slate foil of the clouds.
I'm ill today. For once I was not striding:
I was sauntering. Stopping

to look up, dumbfounded by the towers
building and collapsing in the sky. I hope
my trusting friend found her way to cover;
I hope somewhere, beyond the shores 
of those heaving clouds, a lover is adoring you
as you deserve. I hope 
what burns behind the trees
illuminates your face as you turn to him; 

and I hope that, with that, your joy scuttles
improbably to harbor.




Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Half Light

I remember the half light of the pantry, 
where I stole packets of cocoa powder 
from people who had been only kind to me,
and would have given them to me if I had asked.

If I had asked? Who knows how to ask? The wind
comes up suddenly from the darkened beach.
It was a weary long time, before I would think to ask.
A life of erratic tacking, whose only through-line

was a desperate desire 
to disappear as I was and to appear as I was not.
No wonder the past now is a flicker, 
and nothing holds still. The light

goes out, and the darkness magnifies, surging
through the windows. Below, the surf beats 
on the drumhead of the beach: the skin
of countless deaths stretched tight, 

bound down
for the resonance. A buzz in my fingertips.
A rhythm caught and lost again. God in my mouth,
as if I did but only chew His name, and in my heart

And in my heart what? Gone before gathered.
Is it wickedness, or virtue, or some third thing?
Learn to ask has been the lesson, the one lesson
I can't learn, may never learn. 

A quiet comes
after the throb of the drum, a breath waits
but can't arrive, you can't take another 
before you release the last. Was it ever simple?

I don't think so. 
I don't remember it ever being simple.
It was harder then than it is now, 
and it's still too hard. Every grain of powder from the packet, 

searched 
with fingers and tongue:
and then the empty packet to hide
like a body. But I knew all about hiding things.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Deaf

The years whisper away and the voices behind
louder but more indistinct, a growing crowd
swelling but unintelligible, an accusing choir:
I have lived my life wrong.

Still. The shock wave bends the air, 
all the lines curve, the air ripples: a hiccup
of the earth or a belch of the sky. Are you deaf, man?
Yes. Oh yes.

Do you even remember which first kiss it was?
Whose was the tenderness? Which constellation
pulsed in the midnight sky? What is memory for, then?
Well, not that. Not immortality.

Where death is, I am not: where I am, death is not,
said Epicurus. But still the cognitive theorists aver
that an autopoietic system
cares for itself. Willy nilly. Say when.

Love comes late and untidy
bold and crumpled, crooked and strong:
it's a tune now hummed under my breath: it needs
no voice.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Supernatural Selection

Feeling inarticulate this morning but also feeling like it's important to speak --

I thought this book was important:

William James made a breakthrough (in my opinion) by turning his attention from the claims of religion (is this or that true?) to the experience of religion (what is it like to pray, to be in the Lord's presence, to make offerings?) Rossano turns his attention to: what does religion do? What can an endangered savannah ape that gets religion do that it couldn't do before? 

Well, it can take over the world. For better or worse. Every community can redesign its modes and intensities of cooperation. Individuals can engage in practices that elevate their sensitivities and develop their intellectual and imaginative capacities. Suddenly sacred places appear, and sacred art appears in them. These apes become ever more bizarre and unpredictable.

Divinities serve -- this is my interpretation now, not Rossano's exactly -- as variables in the algebra of human relationships. When you achieve variable in mathematics you start be able to solve, not just  particular problems, but general ones. And when you have divinities you start being able to think beyond the particulars of "what to I owe Joe?" or "what do I owe Nancy?" to "what do I owe people in general? What is the right way to behave? Precisely because a god -- a person with whom you have an intense but infinitely malleable relationship -- is usually absent, you can configure different solutions to human equations. You can tinker with social relations in a way that you could not before. Some of these solutions were spectacularly successful.