I see in the comment on the last post the request for stories from real life. I’ve been in the mood to write such a thing; forgive me if it seems like a shaggy dog story.
My favorite Chinese restaurant here in Ann Arbor, Middle Kingdom, is closed. I think the family retired a few years ago, and the place has sat since, though I guess it will be some kind of chain Greek place now. Ugh! I loved the food, and even though it was a bit pricey, it was worth it. I had a friend who used to live downtown and this would be a Sunday treat for us, always the same meal: Hot and Sour Soup for two, a single large entree and spring rolls.
Look at some of the cool “off menu” dishes they used to have. Just scroll the photos alone!
The guy who ran (owned?) the place was an older heavy set Chinese guy we used to call “Johnny”. because he quit trying to get us to pronounce his Chinese name. In a way he was kind of a Chinese Archie Bunker; no ethnicity, no economic class, or religious faith was spared his wrath. He had a way of grousing about….everything that was harsh, wise, and amusing all at once. I often wished I could have got him to a bar, but he was always wrapped up in family things. That family! Huge, and they all seemed to work in the restaurant. Johnny ran a tight ship; he was always barking at someone about some kitchen matter. But he was cool, good to talk to when business was light, and sharp about what was going on around town. He was one of those guys who grounded you to your town, your time, and your connection to a lot of things. I miss him and the place. It’s funny how it even affects your perception of the immediate area when the place you love is gone.
Two anecdotes to show you what I mean about him.
At Christmas, this was my favorite place to go. Chinese on Christmas! A NYC tradition moved out here. It was a madhouse on Christmas, the place filled with half the atheists and Jews in Ann Arbor. I came with a friend, and was waiting for my meal, with the place going full tilt, and Johnny having brought in every relative he could to work. One of his older sisters was having a hard time understanding a large Jewish family table who were talking too quickly and all at once for her to grasp what was being ordered. Johnny sees her frustration, comes storming across the place, points at me and says loudly “HEY RON! YOU SPEAK JEW?” Yikes! I’m immediately embarrassed, but I get what he asking me for. I go over to the table and just get people to talk one at a time, with me pointing to the written Chinese in the menu for her, which she quickly transcribes onto her order pad. When I’m done with my meal, Johnny won’t let me pay, gives me two thumbs up and a “Merry Christmas!”
The Ann Arbor Art Fair is a loud sweaty mess in the middle of July and the town closes many streets to let 500,000 tourists show up and stroll the many booths. Rather than get the overpriced street food, I decide to go to Middle Kingdom; I can sit in the AC rather than broil on the street. When I walk in for lunch….I’m the only person there! Johnny look like he’s been hit with an axe; “Why do I even bother?” he mutters like a hundred times. After that he goes on an epic rant about town and how cheap everyone is and why he needs to move to Chicago. I finally tell him to relax; people will come in when they get knocked out by the heat, and you know they love your stuff. He doubts every single thing I say; Gloom is his bride. Midway through my meal, people start to trickle in. By the time I’m almost done, the place has nearly filled, and Johnny is racing around flogging the staff. As I go to leave, he points both index fingers at me and says “YOU! I BLAME YOU!”, and gives me a huge grin, the only smile I ever remember seeing him give.
Hi there all…..I haven’t been around much….it’s been a strange few months, and not all has been good. The worst?
Living in a tent, in the rain, behind a grocery store, so sick I couldn’t pick myself off the ground and wound up call 911 and having 6 EMTs haul me out of the woods on a stretcher. Days were spent in the hospital….that time, the first of 3 visits to the ER in a week.
Things are better now…but not by much. A group of friends helped out in the short term….people I haven’t spoken to in 40 years. Remarkable! But I’ve been recovering most of the last month…it’s been pretty ugly.
But things have been pretty stressful/awful for a lot of people I know. It’s sobering to deal with a lot of suffering when there isn’t much you can do. Often the best thing I do is shut up and listen. Many is the time I wish I could reach out and hug a lot of these people when things go bad, but I can’t. You give them love….often just through the phone. So many of these folks are people I admire for a lot of reasons; they’re better people than I, is what I feel, and the least I can do is help them recover themselves so they can help the people who depend on them. I’m just me out here; I could fall off the earth and who’d know? (exempting the readers of this blog of course!)
Trump is giving me hope I can still be President! I have more hair! May need to get the teeth worked on though…
Ginger shows us how to go through life….flying over the rails!
I often hear people say — not in exactly these words — “If only everyone were more like ME, this world would be a lot better.”
The assumption is, very often, that the world’s problems are caused by individuals and groups not like myself, whose beliefs and actions are different than mine and destructive.
I hear and read this often. If only people weren’t selfish and greedy, if only people were brought up with religious morality, if only people weren’t lazy, etc., etc.
Democrats see all the evil in the world as coming from Republican policies, especially since Reagan. And of course Republicans have just the opposite perspective.
If only, if only, people could be more like ME.
I am not saying everyone feels this way, but I hear or read something like it at least once every day. Usually more than once. Sometimes 50 or so times a day.
Now obviously they can’t all be right. If the atheists are right, then the believers are wrong, and vice versa. If the progressives are right then the conservatives are wrong, and vice versa.
So how can we possibly make sense of all this? Easy. ALL OF THEM ARE WRONG.
If everyone were just like me, or just the opposite of me, the world would NOT be a better place. If everyone did everything humanly possible to attain perfection in all aspects of life, the world would STILL not be a better place.
The world CAN’T be a better place (whatever do we mean by “better” anyway?)
Our problems, in general, are not caused by people who are bad or greedy or selfish or lazy, etc. Our problems are the result of what I call Essential Evil.
Essential Evil is a perfectly natural and normal part of the foundation of the universe. And so is Essential Goodness. You can’t have one without the other. No matter how hard you try and how much you do and how UTTERLY AGGRAVATED you become, you can’t change this basic unchangeable reality.
And boy the people who believe they are on the side of all-loving, all-knowing wonderfulness do get terribly aggravated.
I read somewhere that the original meaning of the word “evil” had to do with missing the mark, failure to accomplish a goal. And since the nature of our universe and the essential task of all life is to reach for goals, then it follows that these goals will often be missed. Evil is inevitable.
I also read somewhere that the original meaning of the name Satan, in the Old Testament, was “the adversary.”
There HAS to be an adversary, in everything we try to accomplish. If there is no adversary, there is no striving.
Satan in the Old Testament was a valuable servant of God. He was very different from the way he is usually portrayed now.
Somehow our culture started to believe that evil doesn’t need to exist. New-agers often go even farther and say evil is an illusion with no real existence.
Ah if only, if only, people weren’t so bad. When people say that you KNOW they are not talking about themselves!
Sometimes this is called “projection:” seeing your own defects everywhere except within yourself.
In Jungian psychology the idea is to acknowledge and integrate the “shadow” side of yourself. It requires knowing and accepting that the real source of evil is not out there in others, but within each of us.
Denying our inner evil takes energy, and therefore weakens us. It distorts our perceptions and can make us treat others unfairly. It can cause us to hate everyone who is not just like us (liberals, you are not exempt; this applies to you also, maybe especially).
So try not to deny your inner Essential Evil. Try to be conscious of it and then you will be less likely to mindlessly follow its suggestions. Just know it’s there, opposing your desires and goals at every turn. Making your life a challenge.
The human lifespan increased dramatically over the past hundred years, and it continues to increase. Those of us lucky enough to live in the advanced countries are living longer, on average, than people ever have, anywhere.
Obviously we are healthier than ever (or we wouldn’t be living so long), and obviously it is thanks to modern medicine and science.
Therefore, when people complain about the “evil” drug companies, or the giant agricultural companies that poison all our food, or the environment that is full of toxic unnatural substances — well, obviously they are completely out of touch with reality.
The reality is that none of that really matters, since health is improving and will continue to improve. Soon it will be possible to live to 150, 200, even indefinitely.
OR MAYBE NOT.
It’s really strange to me that I haven’t seen articulated what seems to me the obvious reason why gay marriage isn’t the moral or legal equivalent of polygamy, and is not, therefore, bound to lead to it.
In a word: Two.
You can have sex with more than one person (like it or not, many married people do). I would hold that you cannot have full intimacy with more than one person (at a time, and it also takes time).
In fact, I’m not sure you can have full intimacy even with one person. It’s an ideal to strive for, to achieve at moments and at other moments fall far short. As the saying goes, we’re born alone, we die alone, and we’re often never more aware of our aloneness than in marriage.
But the point is, sex is only the opener, what overwhelms our resistance to getting close enough and open enough for the rest to start happening. If you stick around, then, it’s a full-time job trying to be intimate — and its daily double, companionable — with one other person. If you divide your attention you cut its depth in half and blow your focus. You may have fantasies about other people, you may be infatuated with another person, you may imagine that intimacy with that person would soar far above what’s possible with your current partner. Well, maybe: some people are better at it, or better together. But even at its best, coexisting with one other person, bringing two such different inner lives into one space, striking off the rough edges, takes a lot of work and time, a lot of attention, a lot of failure and rage and remorse, a lot of discovery and revelation of the other and of yourself. It’s not something we have the time or capacity to divide up and parcel out. If you do that (as in Big Love), it becomes something else — more reproductive and social, less . . .
At the core of marriage, underneath the habit and comfort and irritation, you bear witness to another person’s existence — and, let’s face it, you just bear another person’s existence — a little bit like God would. If we invented God (where would we get such an idea?), it was in the hope of being seen like that, through and through, with steady attention and patient, unblaming fascination, down to our dark places.
Try and do that with a harem, even a small one.
Just 200 years ago, slavery was legal and widespread in the US. Even more recently, women were considered inferior and were not allowed to vote. Unfair discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or race, was acceptable and normal
On top of all that, violent crime has been decreasing in recent decades, and there has not been a world war in 70 years.
Obviously humanity has been improving morally. Obvious to some, that is, but is it really true? And if it is true, what is the real cause?
Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist who believes humanity is improving, and he believes it is because of modern scientific education and secular humanism. Among other things, but mostly he credits advanced, rational, “enlightened” thinking.
If Pinker is correct, then we would expect people who are less educated and sophisticated and “enlightened” to be more prone to acts of cruelty and violence. We would expect other animals, who are not educated of course, to be less moral and compassionate than humans.
Pinker’s views are shared by many other atheist secular humanists.
If you think carefully about those ideas, which may seem obviously true, can you find any logical holes in the reasoning?
“You pick your nose, you scratch your ass….and the world goes by.” wrote Ted Williams in his book My Turn At Bat. It’s been one of those days for me. If I could make “Contemplative Laconic” a paint color, I’d be in the mood to do a lot of painting.
Yeah, I did get some things done, grocery shopping, a LOT of reading. I’ve been loving all the thoughtful comments in the post previous to this one. Huh! I just thought how rarely I refer to a post as “previous”, even though it does make some sense.
The phone! Be right back…..and here I am. Was it a long call for you? I hope not!
On this Mothers Day, I am thinking about my mom, but I’m also thinking of a friend whose relationship to her parents was close to my own. This has been a big bonding point with us ever since. It’s funny that we often have family conversations that many of our mutual friends don’t understand. This bond means even more to her than I, and we share confidences about other things because of that relationship. On her mother’s deathbed, her mother asked my friend to take care of her siblings who struggle more than she does. I had a “deathbed scene” with my mother too….which was just trauma topped with sadness. I still suppress remembering it; I’ve got enough other reasons for trauma and sadness.
I sat out on the lawn drinking Watermelon Cucumber Cooler (thank you, Trader Joe’s!) watching traffic go by. I’ve always loved watching traffic; spotting car models was the Detroit equivalent of identifying animal tracks for outdoors types. There are a couple of car magazines here and you’ll see an exotic or two because of that. A gold Lamborghini Aventador! There’s a rare bird….but the rain drove me back indoors.
I could talk about life….but why not just live it and let the chips fall where they may?
People who complain about aging sound old. But “Grace and Frankie” is a senior angst comedy that somehow doesn’t seem fusty and out of date. . . . Together, [Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin] pull this comedy about 70-somethings back from the brink of ridicule. . . . This series covers a later phase in life, somewhere between late-blooming love and assisted living.
And it’s been a while since a series was so intently centered on the early-bird-special set.
Television shows tend to reflect the preoccupations of their creators, and ageism is a fact of Hollywood life. It’s not just older actresses who feel discarded. [It’s e]ven [the] people behind the camera . . .
Reviews reflect the preoccupations of their creators, too. Stanley is reportedly 60 herself, and every line of this screams, “I am NOT one of THEM!!!” Ageism is also a fact of New York media life—hell, of American life. And milking that fact for bittersweet laughs (after all, there’s a large, retiring demographic coming along, the death-diminished bulge in the python, with lots of TV-watching time on its hands) is what this sitcom is all about. Toward the review’s end, Stanley stops sneeringly editorializing with every phrase and simply describes a scene from the sitcom:
Grace and Frankie find that without important husbands, they vanish. Old friends don’t call and strangers don’t even acknowledge them. In one scene, the normally poised Grace is incensed when a male supermarket cashier doesn’t turn to serve them or even acknowledge their waves, pleas and yoo-hoos. He has eyes and time only for a pretty young woman who saunters up asking for lottery tickets.
Grace has a screaming meltdown, and Frankie ushers her back to the car and reveals an upside: She stole a pack of cigarettes. “We have a superpower,” Frankie says slyly. “You can’t see me, you can’t stop me.”
Grace and Frankie feel invisible, but here they stand out.
So this has made me think about the perennial subject of age and ageism: how getting old really sucks, and how it actually doesn’t; why our culture dismisses, derides, and despises the old, and what it misses thereby. (Disclaimer: I don’t think this is all or even the main thing we should be talking about, in some last baby-boomer bid to monopolize the cultural conversation.)
How getting old sucks is perfectly obvious: your body starts to fall off. And sometimes, and therefore, your mind too. And it’s simultaneously happening to all your friends. Nature is through with you and starts looking for a way to kill you. And it is perfectly clear to you that it is not a matter of if, but when, and how, and how bad. From now on you’ll be occupied with tossing parts of yourself you can live without to Captain Hook’s crocodile to postpone the inevitable; then, you’ll be smashing the crocodile in the snout with your rifle butt as its bad breath engulfs you. It’s the price of life. And it’s amazing to arrive at the threshold of old age and discover how very little of a dent the triumphs of science have made in it. Okay, more of us now make it to our three score and ten. And then, if not before, the shit starts hitting the fan, right on schedule. Knees are replaced, stents put in, breasts and bladders turn cancerous . . .
What’s more amazing to discover, though, is that it isn’t all loss and fear. If you have your mind. If you have your mind, it becomes like a study glowing with burnishing lamplight, with a deep, comfortable chair, with shelves of books on all sides receding into the darkness of the infinite. As you sit in that chair you have a magical arm that can reach out past Alpha Cygni in a languid gesture and pluck just the right apple from the farthest twig of the great tree.
Of course there’s more — the detachment and perspective we call “wisdom,” which feels like rising to stratospheric heights above the busy surface of the globe and taking it all in with an eagle’s-eye sweep—the patterns, the vanishing tininess—on the way to leaving it all behind. And if thinking has new, powerful pleasures, so does stopping thinking—paradoxically recognizing how futile, inadequate, and disconnected from actual life are all efforts to systematize and understand. You know so much more about what you don’t know—the pinnacle of education!
Why doesn’t our culture find any value in this? I think mainly because it’s invisible, or hidden in homely vessels. We’re an almost exclusively visual culture, obsessed with the charm of surfaces. We’re also obsessed with marketing, which goes for the lowest biological common denominator, locus of the strongest impulses and the broadest base—therefore the surest profits. (Profits über prophets!) Sophisticated presentations of the most basic drives and arousals are our entirely worldly focus. In the heat of the prime of life, the insights of wisdom are impotent cobwebs, or snowflakes, to be shouldered off. Only loss reveals them to be weighty anchors and deep wells.
It’s holding on that makes age ridiculous. If you’re too busy fighting the loss, you can miss the gain.
For which I apologize. Skip it if you like.
Today, Dave Schuler commented on his blog The Glittering Eye that
The president strikes what I think is essentially the right tone in commenting on the riots in Baltimore….
My response, edited slightly, follows:
Almost everyone agrees that compassion is good. Most religions say we should be compassionate. Compassionate behavior has been shown to increase your mental and physical health.
So we are all compassionate of course, right? Yes we are, because compassion is a natural instinct, found in all the higher animal species. Maybe in some of the lower species also, who knows.
Compassion is all good, for everyone everywhere. So there should be no problems in the world, right? Everyone knows they should be compassionate, so everyone tries to be. And since it’s a natural instinct we don’t even have a choice — we are compassionate like or not. Except maybe some depraved sociopaths.
As long as everyone behaves with compassion, things should go well for our society. Oh, but darn, there are all those greedy selfish people who tend to be in charge. They ruin it for all the rest of us, right? The 99 percent are good, it’s that greedy 1 percent that ruins things.
Tell me if you think I’m wrong. Isn’t that a summary of how compassion is seen in our society? So why do I care enough to write about it, since we all agree and there is nothing else to be said.
I am writing about it because I think it is total BS. I think it is all wrong, and it can’t be right, because if it were right then nothing would make sense.
The extreme pro-compassion view is more likely to be associated with progressive, or leftist, politics. However it isn’t limited to that. It is everywhere in modern society, in all ideologies and philosophies and religions.
One problem I see with the compassion craze is that ironically it promotes hatred. People who value compassion are likely to despise the greedy villains who ruin everything for the rest of us because of their lack of compassion.
But the main problem I see is that the whole theory is wrong, because it is rooted in modern reductionism. And what do I mean by reductionism oh this post will be a hundred pages if I try to explain, so I will skip ahead and say I am promoting a holistic, systemic, view of things. The holistic perspective is mostly ignored in our society, which I think is really too bad. Yes we have holistic medicine, but we also need a completely holistic way of thinking about everything.
The trouble with the ideal of compassion is that all concepts are completely empty unless they are seen in context, in relation to other concepts. The word “love,” for example, is thrown around all the time with no attempt to say what the concept means. And the word “compassion” has the same problem.
I want to give a simple example that I hope will easily explain what I mean. Let’s say there is a big male gorilla who is the boss of a bunch of females and their babies. The females are responsible for protecting their babies (and they know this because nature has given them the compassionate maternal instinct), and the big alpha male is responsible for protecting the whole bunch. He also knows this because of his natural instinct for compassion, for loving his “neighbors,” his social group.
So let’s say a lion wanders in to the gorilla’s territory, hoping to eat some gorilla babies (I don’t know if lions really eat gorilla babies, this is just an illustration of a concept). The big alpha gorilla has NO compassion for the lion. He fights it off or scares it off, or whatever. Because the gorilla has compassion for his females and their babies, he MUST NOT have compassion for the lion. He would be glad to kill it if possible.
Ok, that example wasn’t very good? Here is another one. Our bodies are constantly at war with things that try to make us sick. There are immune system cells that try to destroy any cell that does not belong in the body. These immune system cells are acting out of compassion (well, something like it anyway), but they have NO compassion for the invading cells they try to destroy.
Ok, here is one more example and then I promise I won’t give any more examples, I will just hope you get my point. A mother wolf is protecting and feeding her babies, because she is naturally compassionate and she loves them and wants them to live. And her babies are so cute, after all.
The mother wolf goes out and finds some baby rabbits and kills them and brings them to her babies. The baby rabbits are cute too, but she doesn’t care. She has NO compassion for the baby rabbits.
I hope I have explained what I have tried to explain. I suspect people will either say that’s ridiculous, or else they will say well duh that’s so obvious.