There is seemingly more babel per second on the public airwaves these days than ever before. The cacophony of white noise exceeds even the evocative power of the biblical story of Babel to penetrate and comprehend it. Given the discharge of daily excreta from Washington, what can anyone fruitfully say or listen to at a time like this? My mind is inclined to shutter down in silence. I resist. But what to say? In what form? Basic utterances, perhaps.
- “I’m having trouble sustaining my central myth.” That was my response to the question at Thanksgiving: “How’re you doing?” Wow. I hadn’t known I had such a myth or what it could be, yet there it was out there in public disrepair. “Me too.” “Me too.” My associates apparently had the problem too!
- Being a person requires elemental self-respect, a belief in an experienced reality and a wish to know and speak truth about it. This is a survival need.
- Being is threatened, replaced in minds and souls by a madness to join a fictive winning side and to banish a nonexistent enemy. Is this the result of a deep hunger to belong? Or is it a wish to banish thinking, to put the pain of independent thinking behind, to deaden the self?
- It is hard, even perhaps impossible, to know reality, and harder yet to know and speak truth. That is the charm and mystery of being; it is nature’s invitation to a robust life of curiosity, thinking, wonder, venture, and joy.
- Our species, Judas-like, has betrayed nature, forsaken its ancient mother. Our craven vow, a fool’s game really, is to supersede nature: exceed its limits, banish death, emigrate to substitute land. Life refused dries up and dies.
- Interlocutors in fast traffic on the media merry-go-round profess clipped, clever absurdities in dead-certain, indisputable, take it or leave, it’s your problem, not mine, terms. Heaven help us? Even heaven can’t help.
- I live in a nation of 325 million people on a planet of 7,590 billion. All but a minuscule few are unknown to me, complete strangers. I neither can know nor say much about them. Nothing can be said that is “dead certain, indisputable, take-it-or leave it,” truth. Truculent generalization is a kind of brain fever.
- Reality is a lightning-fast, kaleidoscopic,-panoply of scenes, objects, and strangers prancing before my eyes. Yet, I must think and talk about species, peoples, nations, happenings, problems, and worlds. I must assume and generalize about categories of people. I need tools for generalizing my way through the day. Let my prejudgments be stated in benign, fluid, and accountable stereotypes, but prejudge I must, and stereotypes, however tentatively held, I must use.
- My beautiful, loving parents and their Christian faith bestowed one applicable set of tools for seeing-through the world. Be humble. You are a person, but only one. All are equal; each deserves respect. Each is blessed; life is a precious gift. Speak thoughtfully. Love others. Do no harm. Concern yourself with the needs of others, especially the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, and the powerless. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
- Don’t overuse God. Remember that the Ten Commandments are imperative, when they are, because they’re ethical and reasonable. Logic and a choice of values are yours. You do not command God. Neither are you commanded by an army of an ancient one. The vital God is future, one generated by our finest visions of Life on Earth.
- Another applicable stance is recommended by Socrates, as stated by Plato in the Meno: It is best for you to assume that you don’t know what you are talking about when you say whatever you’re inclined to say! When you know for sure that you don’t know what you mean, your ideas will improve. That’s because you now have good questions to ask, whereas before you were cocksure of a falsehood. Perplexity generates thinking.
- The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, probably a fan of Socrates, expressed a similar thought in his Letters to a Young Poet: “Live the question!” In other words, when one knows everything is questionable, questions arise, but answers follow more slowly. So don’t be so quick to be sure. “Live the question.” After a spell of perplexity, better answers may bubble up from the soulful cauldron.
- In like vein, one might adopt the wisdom of the essayist Michel de Montaigne, who, doubting all previous knowledge—including his ideas about himself—retired to a life of writing to search himself and his ideas out. He recommends speaking provisionally, and tentatively, flavoring propositions with modifiers like “could,” “maybe,” and “perhaps.” He thereby locates himself on the verge of changing his mind. Your interlocutors might appreciate such openness to your own ideas, and theirs.
- Another helpful idea is associated with George Washington, who became uneasy with the emergence of political parties. Because parties claim a higher patriotism, they divide a people. As a possible remedy, I proffer a tentative proposition. Be partial, do your part with passion, support a party if you want, but don’t become a dogmatic partisan. Don’t commit your identity to being a ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat,’ or a ’Conservative,’ ‘Liberal,’ or ‘Libertarian.’
- Systems of thought cannot escape contradiction, and do not logically close. Beliefs and principles of a philosophical sort form a list of related, debatable ideas, but are nothing more than a coherent list. Because the universe is in motion and expanding, systems of thought evolve, but do not end. Thinking is condemned to a thinker and a thought at a time, conjoined by chains of logic and strings of fact. Human conversation is like that; it is best engaged in when comported by mutual respect and an open mind.
- If a nation is avowed to be precious, know that its citizens are a people—“of,” “by,“ and “for”—and that each citizen is invaluable and equal to all others. Indeed, if ours is to be a democratic nation, the individual citizen is primary and supreme. Only if the individual sees life straight on and knows life factually can one’s representative assemblies enact knowledgeable, just, and wise laws. Every citizen should be helped to exercise his or her right to vote. If your cup is full, may it always be. If your cup is empty, may compassionate citizens come to your aid.
- If a world is avowed, embrace the planet, sustain its habitability, treasure life, know that the streams of refugees escaping hunger and war are our people, and our future, as surely as we are theirs. Be hospitable. Welcome them home.
- In the sweep of time, earthlings are today engaged in the grand project of superseding colonialism, overcoming tribalism, racism, and poverty, transcending nationalism, mastering technology, sustaining life on earth, gaining control over themselves, gaining galactic consciousness, and reclaiming humanity for the species.
- Given the lead time that habitat loss, wilderness decline, increase in mean temperature, and pollution has gained over efforts toward remediation and rehabilitation, it is imperative to be smart, energetic, dedicated, clear, factual, and focused.
- Whatever the problem, whatever the terror, whatever the past grievance or act, whatever the threat, no justification can exist ever again for the use of nuclear weaponry. If, like the dog owner who would make his Chihuahua catch the fish if he is to eat Tuna, no one unable to break an atom should be allowed to make decisions on nuclear technology. Ethics, facts, and logic all render the nuclear weapon absurd. Think of it, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) has been for more than half a century and is now the only rational policy in a nuclear world.
- If these ideas are to be conjoined into a pair of serviceable glasses for framing up our world and political scene, and participating accordingly, the critic might soberly respond: You’re a hopeless idealist, aren’t you? Well, not hopeless—hope is the point. But, yes, this is idealism.
- The critic might utter two counters: Idealists throughout history are often the most dangerous people; take, for examples, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Rousseau, and Pol Pot! Besides, isn’t realism better? Don’t we have to live in the real world as we actually find it?
- Yes, we do have to live in a real world, the challenged idealist responds, and yes, idealists can be dangerous. Is not the vision and message of Jesus Christ dangerous? But be honest, most people today, hard-wired into cable news, couldn’t distinguish their corporate arse from their political elbow if asked to represent reality; reality has had a real hard go of it in recent times. So realists beware! You will need friends. You will need a few idealistic tools for bringing reality into view.
As a personal manifest, I provisionally adopt the mindset represented here for my own sanity and as a gift to conversationalists, who I promise to offer quirky ideas and address with the respect they deserve as people and citizens.
Happy New Year!
Will Callender, Jr. ©
January 5, 2018
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good