(part of) You Are Here: Explorations in Search of Current Reality

See also Tales of the Early Republic, a resource for trying to make some sense of early nineteenth century America


Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Life, Pandemonium (Moynihan), On the Shoulders of Giants (Robert Merton) ...

Originally: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 (After a Long Absence)

What constitutes my being these days?

I'm an online bookseller, struggling to make it pay decently.

It often seems like I'm just shuffling around; as for intellectual life, I pick up a book, read it for a while, then go on to another, and maybe back on another day to a previous one. It feels pretty aimless. Every now and then I go to a history seminar and get somewhat inspired. I hope to say something useful to the speaker.

Books looked at recently: have almost read to the end Pandaemonium by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Seems like very good ruminations on the influence of ethnicity on recent history, and how ethnicity has been given short shrift in political analysis. Marxism has focused on economic class as the Rosetta Stone of history. Liberalism has believed too much in the rational individual, and market forces, which are seen as largely benign. Enough for now on Pandaemonium.

Not too long ago I was readhing Thomas Browne, a physician in the time of Cromwell and the Restoration. This was influenced by the course I took over a year ago on the History of Communication, an experience that turned out badly, as due to the difficulty of making a living, I found myself at a critical point in the class, unable to spend time writing a paper, which led to one more incomplete. If I ever salvage my graduate school career, it will take almost a miracle.

I also read, with some pleasure, On the Shoulders of Giants by Robert Merton, a playful exploration of Newton's saying "If I see far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants and its antecedents, perhaps going back to the classical era -- certainly going far back into medieval times.

For entertainment, I've read Depth Takes a Holiday by Sandra Tsing Loh. It is for some reason one of a couple of dozen books that seem to be climbing the stairs, trying to escape the basement or "book dungeon".

Not long ago I was working on scripts or programs to identify past customers most worth contacting to make suggestions about books I have that they might want, and to facilitate finding books related to those they'd ordered in the past, but where in the million files on my computer IS that code? I have no idea. I pulled out of that sort of work abruptly to bail out the ship by putting lots of books on line.

Friday, April 23, 2010

This Isn't Living ... it is merely Existing.

Originally Written: Thursday, February 03, 2005

This is Merely Existing - not Living. That's the sort of thing some of my generation used to say when we were young, real young, High School age, when we went to liberal church camps and sang folk songs around the campfire.

What would an existentialist think of such a statement. One of the problems is that words of this sort always wander in their meanings. Deprecating "mere existence" would be a strange way for someone calling themself an existentialist to talk, yet we might reasonably understand them as really "live" and not merely "exist" -- at least in a 1960s liberal teen-ager's understanding of those terms.

I went looking for a decent definition of ontology. The first illustration in the 'wikopedia' version, of an ontological problem was
"Do all nouns refer to entities?"
and they assert that Platonist philosophers tend to say "yes", but others would say that "society" for example isn't an entity, but only refers to some sort of collection of persons.

It is fairly common to believe that there are fundamentally different ways of being as a human being. What would qualify as fundamental? Might this involve mere pretentiousness, or the manipulation of words that elicit highly emotional reactions from people -- perhaps for questionable purposes?

There are many ways to try to speak about this. "Higher consciousness" is a favorite phrase, or just "consciousness", or enlightenment. Many "masters" have a recurrent theme of putting us on our guard against making a fetish of the sonorous word or phrase. The great ontological comedian Werner Erhard used to like to say "You don't know your ass from a hole in the ground", implying that this "ass vs. hole in the ground" might be an important distinction he was about to impart. Not as nice, for some people, as being promised the "beautific vision", or nirvana, etc. Zen Masters sometimes spoke of the "stink of Zen".

Is there a way of being
(Note: a way, not a kind of being -- you need a certain gravitas, which way has and kind doesn't)
compared to which what I'm doing right now is a sort of passive, unconscious thing, just allowing myself to be pushed along?

Does true being, or really living mean something like "the creative life?" If so, what does it take to be really creative? We see generations of artists dismissing their predecessors as uncreative. Take a look at How to Draw a Bunny, (Amazon Link) the movie about Ray Johnson, for an extreme example of a different sort of being. You might say he was a profoundly playful man. Is play the essence of "real being"? Some will say it is fierce commitment. Are they somehow the same thing?

One reason I'm doing this blog is to help make play a more central part of my life.

Another sort of play for me is to get onto some beautiful wild trails, on cross-country skis, or just on foot. Anyway, moving through an unexpected world -- going someplace just because I'm drawn to it. Most of the time I seem to be running around in circles pursuing goals that seem urgently necessary for survival, and it is hard, and might seem foolish, not to put those survival goals first, but I find myself growing indifferent and hence weaker. Next, perhaps, I must beware the trap of doing just enough "real living" to keep the machine charged up with a certain amount of spirit -- treating my self as a means.

Googling the Ontological Comedian

Originally Written: Sunday, February 20, 2005

I'm very disturbed to find that, after over 2 weeks, I still can't find anything when I google "ontological comedian". What's become of all-inclusiveness of google? Is it making value judgement, maybe due to 'payola' or other commercial considerations? Or is it's 'scan cycle' longer than I'd have imagined?

Or does blogspot hide (on fail to disclose) its contents by simply not providing a table of links to the various blogs in a known place? But didn't I create my own static link to it?

A Sampler of Ontological Comedy on the Web

When I google ontological and comedian as 2 words (no quotes), it's a very different matter. There are 931 (English) hits, including:

The Uses of Pseudo-realism (From Ontological Comedian, Take 1)

(Originally written) Sunday, December 25, 2005

Beware the man who flatters you by saying he's not going to flatter you because you're too smart for that.

Smart persuaders often bank on one's image of oneself as being 'realistic', 'unromantic', etc. If someone is trying to sell you something and says it's a bargain, you'll want to know what's in it for him, and a good salesman will have a good cover story, like the car salesman who says "I just have to make this one more sale by tomorrow to win a trip to Hawaii."

Purveyers of political philosophies, from Randians to Republicans to Marxists will tell you "We're just hard-headed realists, unlike those sentimental utopian Marxists, Democrats, or Saint-Simoneans (or Social Democrats)."

[to be continued]

Berger's Sacred Canopy

Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Berger's Sacred Canopy (from Take 1)

Gottttta blog! Anyway, gotta write for therapy against my mind turning to mush, a process well underway that I hope I can still reverse.

It has seemed like time to read some of those nearly incomprehensible 'seminal' works, like for instance Peter Berger's The Sacred Canopy. Berger has one of the worst prose styles I've encountered, IMHO. I open the book at a random point and look for an illustration. At the bottom of p14

"The world of social objectivations, produced by externalizing consciousness, confronts consciousness as an external facticity"

What's being said here? That any socially coherent group of people makes up some shared interpretation of the world around us (and can that process be called "externalizing consciousness"? "Consciousness" suggests the goings on inside an individual mind [it being hard to conceive of any sort of mind but an individual one], and somehow that consciousness gets secreted outside myself, and then confronts me, like the dreamed beings coming to life in Stanislov Lem's Solaris? (and lovingly(?) parodied in the 1st season of "Red Dwarf").

Whenever one (<== and that word hides a lot of handwaving) tries to explore the idea of being in a deep way, the being that is my consciousness cries out for attention in the most irrepressible way. If I consider the "being" of a rock, there is the rock that I saw on the ground earlier today, but there is also the rock that I dreamed of last night, and "common sense" (the common sense of my particular culture, anyway, which just suggests how difficult it is to start by contemplating nothing but my own consciousness) tells me that at least the "dreamed of" rock, is susidiary to my personal being, or consciousness.

[to be continued]