I recently finished a series of posts summarizing a lifetime of thinking on the meaning of life (they begin here if you’re interested.) Since then I have been using my blogs to let a number of regular readers submit guest posts. I much appreciate their contributions.
What then have I been doing? Mostly 1) playing golf, 2) caring for of my grandchildren, 3) reading and thinking and 4) following world events. The first three of these I find rewarding, the last one extraordinarily depressing.
I play golf mostly for the 6-mile walk, the enjoyment of nature, the camaraderie with friends and the joy of simply hitting a ball. Golfing also elicits fond memories of playing with my father when I was young and of the many times when the solitude of walking on a course brought inner peace in troubled times. In the park-like setting in which I play I find a haven from a troubled world; my own monastery if you will.
Playing with my grandchildren brings out my inner child, a kind of playfulness that we lose as we mature. So it too provides an escape from troubles of the world. And children find joy in nothing more than the movement of their arms and legs. Yet their innocence also evokes a sweet sorrow within me. It is so beautiful and yet it saddens me deeply to think of the evil of which they’re ignorant and which they’ll soon enough confront. Why must these little souls be forced to live in such an awful world?
Thinking is intrinsically rewarding. To contemplate reality lifts the mind beyond itself. Unity of the mind and the universe is one of the highest achievable goods. We truly transcend the world in thought, going beyond what is to what it could be. Thus we can momentarily forget the world’s troubles through contemplation, just as we do when playing, meditating, listening to music, creating art, or enjoying nature.
Yet while playing and loving and learning lift our hearts, the world is always there to bring us back down. We live in a country where elected members of one of the major political parties —the Republican party; a cult dedicated to a psychopath—willingly destroy democratic government and chance further descent into violence and chaos … simply to be reelected. And what do they then do? Simply accept and affirm the abuses of authoritarian fascists. All around the world, human avarice destroys the earth and climate on which our survival and flourishing depend, which is to say nothing of the pain, poverty, and violence that constitutes so much of life. Humans, myself included, are such deeply flawed monkeys.
Still, any regular reader knows that at this point I’ll turn to hope. Perhaps the future will be better than the past; maybe we can lift ourselves up from our primate roots, outgrow our medieval institutions and make something of ourselves and the world. I hope so.
In the meantime, I’ll try to enjoy walking and playing and thinking. When I move my body, play with my grandchildren and exercise my mind, I find a little peace in a mad, world—experiencing, perhaps, a small taste of what life might someday be.
As Bertrand Russell put it in his final manuscript:
Consider for a moment what our planet is and what it might be. At present, for most, there is toil and hunger, constant danger, more hatred than love. There could be a happy world, where co-operation was more in evidence than competition, and monotonous work is done by machines, where what is lovely in nature is not destroyed to make room for hideous machines whose sole business is to kill, and where to promote joy is more respected than to produce mountains of corpses. Do not say this is impossible: it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture.
There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.
9 thoughts on “Random Musings”
This, too, shall pass.
I like it.
Now things are bad, yet not hopeless; it’s not over until the fat lady sings. What strikes me about the world today is deus ex machina. Billions of people think something magical will save them. Billions still think the legacy of Jesus, Muhammad, Lenin, Bakunin, Hayek and others will save them.
Russell: “Do not say this is impossible: it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture.”
One wants to dream the Impossible Dream, shoot for the Moon. But when the dream is Jesus Returning to Earth, or a return of communism, anarchism, libertarianism–drearily outmoded religious & secular ideologies– then the Impossible Dream becomes an unbearable nightmare.
I used to be excited about advanced longevity, ‘immortalism’. Today it appears advanced longevity means oligarchs, mobsters, and assorted thugs will live longer lives, having more time to torture others.
“Yet while playing and loving and learning lift our hearts, the world is always there to bring us back down. We live in a country where elected members of a major political party willingly destroy democratic government and chance further descent into violence and chaos … simply to be reelected.”
The most shocking factor of the past couple of years wasn’t the rise of the Trump administration, unpleasant though it be. The shock was/is the contrast between the poise and dignity of Obama, and the ominous asininity of Trump. If Nixon had been succeeded by a president such as Trump, it would have been comical. However to have had Obama succeeded by the Trump administration is nothing less than sickening, revolting.
Not only are people waiting for someone or something to Save them, they think, IF they think about it, that science is something to simply incorporate into their lives, like re-arranging a living room or balancing a checkbook. Science is eroding morality– all morality. Thus one has to either wallow in it (in some way go with the flow), or escape from it.
Most do not wish to think of unintended consequences; unintended consequences being a diplomatic way of saying wrenching dislocation and pollution. So they play a game, a game of pretending their actions are not destructive and that Jesus, say, will return and heal all the boo boos in the world.
Naturally, we don’t want to excessively complain about the negative; complaining too much only worsens things. Nevertheless when we have a Supreme Asshole such as Trump as president of the most powerful nation, then it is time to press the panic button.
Alan – As always I really appreciate your thoughtful contributions to my blog. JGM
In that case, one more comment!
What we have to worry about– and it is not too early for this– is whether Trump is going to leave office on time, or declare an emergency to stay in the White House longer. After the Mueller Report, it is time to wonder. Before the Internet, before so much of what developed during the last quarter century, it was more difficult to get away with such mass manipulation.
At any rate, I no longer can think of any reason to be moral– as we have nothing more or less than disjointed mores; no organized body of ethics deserving the term morality. (Trump’s administration and its constituencies are merely the outcome.)
Even gangsters possess ethics: they wont hit a made man without an okay, and they give up some loot to the Boss as tribute. Right now we are heading towards a political gangsterism, and though Mr. Arends is correct that this, too, shall pass, the
passing will take decades–not years.
I hate to agree with this, but I do. Trump is basically a mob boss. JGM
This has a lot of wisdom packed into just a couple hundred words. I really appreciate these musings, John.
Agreed. One more comment on this, promise, even though had written in the previous comment that it would be the last.
Although the following is true,
“we can lift ourselves up from our primate roots, outgrow our medieval institutions and make something of ourselves and the world. ”
This is where it gets fast-like:
“Perhaps the future will be better than the past; maybe ”
Take it from a Buddhist perspective:
our expectations of better are self-defeating. Sandcastles we build in our minds– life is what happens to us while we make other plans. No way to prove Better, only Different.
Philosophically we here segue into qualia.. afterwards into the broader nature of consciousness. Yet eventually– next century or later– when people are no longer people, all bets are off. Since we can’t anticipate the future, no purpose in writing about it save for SF.