Secular Sunday – The Monday Edition
Happy 2010 to you denizens of the blogoverse! Of course, being a world wide web means that many of you denizens are not celebrating the same event or the same year as we in the Western world. A lot of people in Asia are waiting for the Year of the Tiger (oh no, Eldrick Woods, expect a full dance card) and in the some sections of the Middle East it’s a different year depending on what street corner behind whose security blockade you are standing at the time. Reality in the marking of time appears to be quite mutable and subjective. And quantum physics shows that most material reality isn’t always as real as we like to assume. A subatomic particle moves constantly at such velocity that it is here (X) and not there at the same time. Our computer monitor seems solid enough, and for practical human perception, it is. But its smallest components are constantly, quickly vibrating and if they all would shift the same way at the same nano of nanoseconds, the thing would disappear from our view, it would cease to be real as we commonly define it.
That is something worth thinking about in detail every once in a while, and the New Year has always been a good highway rest stop of self-reflection for me. LOM spent the last few days in the Cave (this is a smaller, quieter area of the Hovel), pondering reality. Can you tell? Did I give that away? If something appears as solid and inert as this desk I’m typing at but, when examined very closely, is demonstrated to be in constant motion and flux, then really, “real” loses a lot of its meaning. If the desk isn’t “real” then can I assume, with any great confidence, that “I” am “real”? LOM and the desk are made of the same subatomic stuff. A reasonable and rational LOM cannot just assert that he’s necessarily more real than the vibrating desk top. I must be vibrating too. (That maybe explains the humming in my ears more agreeably than my pre-stroke anxieties; hey, I’ll take it.) And therefore my realness, as ordinarily defined, comes into debate.
Now how about cyber-spherically? Is LOM the Blogger a real person? If we presume these words are not generated by an advanced software program, then yes, LOM is probably a human being and therefore a person. A real person. I am posting under a pseudonym and I have not put up a photo or a detailed biography but the thoughts and ideas expressed here are authentically human. The stories may be edited to spare others’ feelings, but the emotion and the humor are genuine. LOM is a real person trying to keep it real. As real as quantum physics lets him be.
All this concern with realness happened to tie into this blog post by James Chartrand, who wears women’s underpants because he’s a she! It’s her personal story about and her particular observations of the sexism that is still a big part of our shining capitalist city on the hill. Please read. The sexism ties into our shared Mad Men enthusiasms here in the Suite and illustrates how far we haven’t evolved from the prejudices of that era.
And reading of sexism kept me thinking, since I was already in the Cave and it was freakin’ freezing outside anyway.
I started thinking about “isms”. The time and effort we humans waste defending and justifying our “isms”. Our sexism, our egotism, our racism, our Catholicism, our spiritualism, our rationalism, our post-modernism, our existentialism, our romanticism, our sentimentalism, our traditionalism, our Doo-Doo-Dadaism, and even our secularism.
I understand it may seem I’m about to trash secularism on Secular Sunday but read on as I pirouette, dodge that tackler and reverse field. (Hey it’s NFL Sunday in America and as of this moment my Steelers still hold onto a wisp of a chance of making the playoffs.)
[LOM football update: Now they’re out of the playoffs. The Steelers are dead to me now, again, as dead as Fredo. Fuck them. I am fickle and can emotionally pirouette on a dime when the feeling strikes.]
But actually I wish to trash all “isms”. I’m pretty sure ALL “isms” are fundamentally flawed, even humanism. In general, an “ism” is a set of doctrines and practices organized to promote and institute a particular philosophy or theory of behavior preferred by a particular group. “Isms” operate on the belief that a certain ideal can be obtained and the belief that certain protocols and standards will bring about the ideal state. I think “isms” tend toward self-contained, inside the box thinking and rely more on a belief in a hypothesis than actual observation and tested fact. Once established, they tend to ignore contradictory evidence and relentlessly fight off valid objections and questioning. Beware the “ISMS”!
All “isms”? Really LOM??
Well I identify with secular humanism, but it is formally defined as:
“a modern, nontheistic, rationalist movement that holds that mankind is capable of self-fulfillment, ethical conduct, etc. without recourse to supernaturalism.”
While my good, clean, rational gray matter almost whole-brainedly agrees; a part of it casts a skeptical brainy eye on the absolute nature of the definition. “capable . . . without recourse . . .” My own personal experience, even with careful re-examination, hints at the possibility of some seemingly supernatural metaphysics at work sometimes. Many cultures have different names for it: kismet, fate, providence, destiny, karma, serendipity, etc. — you know, general weirdness.
I went through phases where I just out of hand denied its existence; I wanted to be a pure rationalist. I thought that was be the best model, the most efficient philosophy to live in this world. And rationalism gives me the best probability of surviving as a human.
But life has given me just enough corner of my eye glimpses of that weirdness to make me pause and consider the possibility of some unknown force at work (or at play). I’ve experienced it directly and seen it play out for others I know. And pure logic and rationalism doesn’t quite provide a satisfactory explanation. I understand big number theory and probability and statistics, but there are experiences I have had that I don’t feel completely at peace with explaining just by reason. Western theism and Judeo-Christian religion is proven to me to be discredited and holds no value in these circumstances but Taoism and Buddhism have concepts that I think try to be of help in this regard. Zen gets me centered when astounding synchronicity and improbability blow my beautiful mind. I’ve added a link to the blogroll and I’ll look for more. I’ll tell one short, simple story to illustrate my point.
This week I was talking to some people about how I hate to use the telephone. I dislike the sound of my voice and I usually talk over the other person because I get impatient and forget to listen; my phone etiquette needs some work. And I have a fear of one particular phone call.
My younger brother is bi-polar. I’ll call him BOL (brother of lom). He was hospitalized and diagnosed in 1993. He and his wife worked hard to keep their marriage and his career together but he had a major relapse in 2005. He called me and my sister for help and he stayed with me for few days until the Lithium balanced him out. Then he told me he was heading home and was going to stop taking the pills and he was going to figure it out on his own. He borrowed money for a bus ticket and left. I haven’t talked to him directly since. In ’94 or so as he was getting used to the meds and the effects they had on him, he would call sometimes and ramble on and on; it was confusing and repetitive and non-stop talking that scared the crap out of me at the time. But he would tire himself out and usually reassert some rational pattern, I think just to ease my apparent anxiety. And things were okay for a decade or so. But since he left my apartment in ’05, I’ve been dreading a phone call from him. It’s been a building dread for four years. I feel I won’t be able to listen to him in irrational manic distress from three hundred miles away knowing that I can’t help him at all. I let the answering machine pick up all calls; when I’m home I lurk by and listen for him, not quite sure what I will do if I hear his voice, but to this day, four plus years later, he hasn’t left a message.
This weekend I was thinking about what drives my anxiety about his phone call, which had bloomed into a phobia about answering any phone call. Maybe he’s called and hung up when the machine kicks on; maybe I could help him out just by answering; maybe I needed to lay down the dread finally and just see what happens. Saturday night the phone rang. I was hoping it to be a friend who had told me she wanted to talk so I grabbed it without much thought on the second ring and of course, it was BOL. After a weird hesitation, things went well. It eventually was two brothers on the phone; it seemed almost normal.
The coincidences and the overlap of the circumstances that got me mulling over such things after four years and at just the perfect time to be fully able to say “hello” there felt serendipitous, otherworldly. Such simple, yet coordinated series of events make me temper my rationalism a bit and if rationalism needs such a pause for such a thought, then those other “isms” all need to reconsider themselves too.
Zen quote to start the week:
“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.”