Today I am proud to announce the launch of my new writing sub-site. I’ve been working on it for a month or so leading up to the launch (mainly prepping content to come and getting into the writing groove) and could not be more excited to share it. New short (humor) essays will be posted every Tuesday and Thursday (since the Monday/Wednesday/Friday rotation space seemed to already be pretty full). Anyways, that’s pretty much all I have to say about it. Go check it out!
At some point in my life–I’m not sure when; perhaps a 4-5 years ago—I realized I no longer looked forward to the next day. This was the beginning of depression. It’s disturbing how much your mind can twist itself into some warped, distorted barest-approximation of what it previously used to and normally should be. When life loses value, when everything around you loses worth, it’s difficult to function. This has been my life: a gradual decline into an ever-darkening void of capacity for thought or emotion besides sadness and loathing. Imagine your consciousness disabled, your thoughts spiraling in every direction completely out of control. Imagine being incapable of doing the tasks that used to be rudimentary. You are no longer in control. That was my life. Out of the average day, I was functional for–at most–four hours. At the end it was impossible to even get out of my room to go to class. It was simply too much to care and summon the fortitude to sit in a classroom for an hour. One cannot live life like that.
So I have made a change with the help of parents and friends (and the miracle of modern medicine, and if some ableist asshole wants to tell me I should have simply “stopped having bad thoughts” they can go fuck themselves in the butthole with a pineapple and then screw with their brain chemistry and see if they can simply “stop having bad thoughts” or even be in control of their mind, and I’m not apologizing for that run-on). I am no longer at Clemson University, and good riddance to that hellhole in the upstate. I will miss all my friends there, especially my close friends (you know who you are; love you all), the Secular Student Alliance of Clemson, and the Clemson Philosophical Society. I am back in Charleston. I have a hope for the future and the life I’m living. I’m losing weight, getting my body and brain back in shape. Look towards the horizon of the future. I cannot thank all my friends enough for not abandoning me as I fell apart. Never forget that people love, people care.
In the continuing annals of increasingly distorted sleep habits and generally bizarre thinking I’ve started embracing the habit to wander. Now, don’t expect me to disappear for a few days/weeks/months into the mountains. They’re cold, lack flush toilets, and definitely don’t have hot showers. For the modern convenience I much prefer having the family mountain house to myself, but I can’t get it to myself for months at a time, which is probably for the best for everyone.
However, the extremely abstract notion of the wander has an appeal. Some dictionary partially defined wander as moving in a leisurely and aimless way. Occasional leisure is nice in the simple-pleasures-way. However, aimlessness is not easily definable as nice. Aimless is interesting; it’s difficult to pin down. It’s nature is only conceivable as being on the opposite of “aim”. It exists only by being a negation, a without.
But what is something if it does not have an aim, a heading, a direction? Would it not by definition be lost? Resting at the core of all of us are some little nagging animal fears: the dark, the large, the invisible, the unknown. The unknown: that is a big one. What keeps us up at night worrying? What keeps our step light in a dark alley? What nags at our gut when staring at the depths of the night sky? The unknown unfathomability of the scale and complexity of the universe our little sack of conscious-possessing organic material inhabits. The unknown stretches out from us in every dimension: space and time are largely incomprehensible. We are lost in it. And we know that.
Wandering is a curious dance with this existence. To move without purpose or aim is to assault both the notions of human life and the deterministic causality of the universe. So, perhaps, only by wandering into lostness can we be free? If not, we’ll still have ended up somewhere new, but newness is a thought for another night, so for now I’ll end here and seek the wilds of dreams and rest.
I recently finished reading Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground” which was a distinctly thought-provoking novella. Dostoevsky–and Russian writers in general–did not hesitate to challenge behavioral norms within society. “Notes” addressed one particularly interesting norm–the separation of the academic and the practical–in the abstract, but I think it’s one definitely worth considering in the specific. The freedom of the academic is a critical component of how thought has developed and progressed in western cultures for centuries. Without the strictures of the practical life this class of individuals have been free to push human thought and knowledge farther. This is the real-world equivalent to Dostoevsky’s ‘underground man’ (although academics are generally much kinder people than Dostoevsky’s curmudgeony philosopher). By essentially escaping the practical walls that surround the average person trapped in the tedious gerbil wheel of work and society the academic is free to focus on the questions lying at the edge of human inquiry rather than plodding tediously within those circumscribing limits on our existence. Dostoevsky’s man is, in a way, a symbol of our own societal situation. In the first part of the narrative he is the great philosopher; in the second he embodies the idea of social reprobate: carousing, drinking, and whoring with reckless abandon. The contrast is striking. It is his philosophy, however, that is the most fascinating. The man describes two possible extremes: that of the unquestioning person that follows the path between the walls of their existence silently without ever brushing up against them or wondering what lies beyond and then that of the person obsessed with the beyond, with all that we can’t reach with our limited physical being. This concept parallels the idea of the academic and the practical in the divide between action and thought. However, I think we can also take both of those concepts and combine them into a general question about life. This is going to sound borderline Wachowskian, but it seems important to consider what our goals in life are and how they relate to this notion of questioning and accepting (all aspects of) reality. By questioning I don’t mean the old, hackneyed question of the authenticity of reality. Far more intelligent people have written far better words about that dilemma. However, the idea of whether or not to live life accepting how it is or challenging every assumption is fascinating. Are our decisions whether to question or accept an integral part of our life story? Do they define our goals or purpose? To accept everything is to gain assurance in return for a loss of freedom. To question all gives you freedom to doubt; however doubt can be a crushing burden. Also, society doesn’t like questioners; challenge the status quo or norms and you’ll experience significant, often brutal, opposition from society. Nature also fights your challenges at every turn; just try dodging gravity. Around us our society (and more specifically educational tradition) is based up a system of dogmatic acceptance. For example most children are intimately familiar with the phrase “because I said so”. The dogma of acceptance and following orders is heavily ingrained in our top-down stratified society: shut up and do what you’re told. This sort of model is very efficient for robots. But we are humans, and no amount of grinding down by the dogma-machine can ever wholly extinguish that curiosity and inquisitiveness that lies at part of the foundation of our human nature. However, many of our social structures are heavily based on blind following; our government especially: follow the law; disagree and the system will crush your life into a twisted wreck of what it used to be. That is a model for interconnected machines, not a society of human beings. And here we return to the specific concept of the academic and the importance of questioning. Without the freedom to question we will never know what lies beyond all the walls surrounding us. Without challenging the dogma of life and reality we will forever be trapped to wander between the corrals of our mortal existence.
The nature of behavioral norms defined and enforced by society has occupied much of my musings for the past few days. Of course just the definition of a “normal behavior” is hard to specify to an exact and universally applicable degree. “Normal” alone is a tricky concept to fit into a comprehensive logical model that functions as expected in every situation. How do we create a model of “normal” for evaluating a characteristic within a population? To create a simple one we have to remain wholly objective and define it as just a characteristic shown in the majority of the population. But to remain objective is difficult, so we must admit to a degree of subjectivity with how we evaluate a characteristic as normal.
With that said, I’d like to consider the role of behavior in a society and its relationship with the norms of that society. Society has a rather pernicious and cruel way of enforcing normative standards, especially in behavior. We see this in all aspects of our interactions: speech, dress, social institutions (government), sexuality, beliefs, and other aspects of our lives. Speak with a heavy accent, dress in a unique way, try to preserve your rights at a TSA checkpoint, be attracted to members of the same sex, don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian “God”? Be prepared for subtle to extreme negative feedback from society. Although all of the behaviors I listed do not harm society, the majority of American society today does not approve of them and will punish–to varying degrees–those who exhibit such behaviors.
How do we respond to these normative behavioral feedback systems? To some degree normal behavior is important. Wearing clothes, speaking English (in the culture of the modern United States of America), not stabbing the person next to you, and many other behaviors are normal, enforced by society, and are worth being maintained (I would like to go through life stab wound free). It appears these are objectively and rationally worthwhile behaviors regardless of whether the majority of people engage in them. However, many other norms seem less worthwhile, and their enforcement downright horrific. For example, racism, sexism, and homo-hatred (homophobia is too weak of a term) are all counterproductive behaviors that do not help a society’s prosperity and happiness. Further, just the concept of behavioral homogeny seems a freakishly boring and abhorrent (robot-people!). So in the interest of keeping a diverse society and respecting individuals for being individual, let’s be aware of the normative behavioral systems we participate in, their positive and negative aspects, and whether or not our own actions enforce these norms on others in damaging and detrimental ways. To make a reducto ad hippiedom: the 1960s were memorable for the counterculture, not the monoculture it rebelled against.