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Semiformalishmaybe

Path of Leashed Resistance

I couldn't put myself into the right state of mind to program while at work today, and it was a mostly wasted day, compounded by nobody being around for our regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting and no cancellation notice. I spent most of the day staring at the code I needed to change, trying to turn the emotional mælstrom into a programmer's trance. No dice, so I came to Tazza, which I am about to leave now. I think a lightly contributing factor is that the (absurd) weight of my head is giving me neck/shoulder pain again - if only I could have another body to fix mine for a moment, I'm sure I could fix this damned thing (at least for awhile), either by walking on my back or by a nice, painful, forceful massage. I think my head has always been a little bit too big - it's why my mom needed a C-section to birth me, and its weight has been commented on by the few people I've been comfortable enough with to nap on their lap. Sigh.

On the way out of the building, I passed by my mailbox on the 6th floor, passing through several social places. I'm pleased to see that they're actually seeing real and fairly organic use - people sitting on chairs in the lounge areas reading, socialising, etc. I spent a good 20 minutes on the balcony out there a few days ago - quite pleasant. GHC is still an ugly and cumbersome building (ugly in a different way than Wean), but I am tempted to call its social spaces a resounding success, even at this early point. The adoption of the spaces is probably encouraged by the beginnings of the horrid weather season - it's now too cold to hang out outside for very long. Pumpkins are beginning to appear on people's steps, reminding me more of pumpkin pie. I think there is a seasonal duality - pumpkin pie is the winter version of carrot cake, and only with great difficulty can I remember the name or distinction of both desserts at the same time.

An important idea about moral philosophy (and religion) - a philosophy-style break between Judaism/Islam and Christianity (we could fill out both sides of this divide more fully if we wanted) is the notion of rules and virtue. Although I think that the philosophies of Judaism and Islam are more coherent and intelligent on most points, on the point I'm about to mention, I think Christianity has the better hand, at least in how I'm going to apply it (although I would say that Christianity, outside of a few Christian philosophers, does not develop this theme, and other life philosophies do better). I don't think that virtue comes from following of rules - while some of the mitzvot of Judaism (combined with the responsa that give them shape) and the fatwot; the Halacha/Sharia, may curb the excesses of how one may be a bad person, following them would not make one a good/virtuous person. I believe that with any set of rules we've actually seen put into broad practice, they restrain lousy people, perhaps moving them towards being less lousy, but do not substantially reform them. Like the message of Clockwork Orange, virtue may involve self-restraint, but these virtues do not derive from that restraint - the restraints are ideally something that comes naturally from what one makes oneself into while seeking virtue (at least, for a well-formed notion of virtue). The person who refrains from interfering with the marriage of another by reason that it is forbidden is not as virtuous as one who does it because they understand the pain, mistrust, and destruction that it engenders, partly because of the mental state it engenders, and partly because those principles are likely to be applied broadly. I don't think that no examples should be given - the golden rule (and its cousins) are by no means sufficient to create a virtuous society, nor would someone who had deep empathy for everyone but no additional philosophical context be likely to be virtuous in a recognisable sense. This does presume a view that may assume views about values/morality that are alien to any or all the members of the Abrahamic traditions (or at the very least suggest nonorthodox interpretations of them, like Reconstructionism in Judaism) - if the core of morality is assumed too complex for humans, and HaShem only provides the conclusions we can reach, knowing that we would muddle the deeper calculus of value-philosophy, then one could reasonably disagree. Not believing in gods, I am of course not inclined to recognise that argument, but it may be a reasonable counter for those who accept those faiths.

Time passes... I look at someone, make a hard turn, dark path. A person I once knew passes by, I pass them from a distance, they don't see me, darkness returns, I pass them again, with a partner, then again, stroller. Visions of older versions of many people, and as I pass near, they don't recognise me anymore, not fully, just a faint look of confusion on their face. Lonliness..

Moving from Tazza, a ride with someone I used to know towards Ice Cream - Maple, Cardamom, Pumpkin, and a further walk. Some time ago, I did my first clothes shopping for a few years - I never have been much for clothes shopping - newer clothing it being more for others than for me. If I were heading to Mars on a spaceship, I probably wouldn't mind wearing the same set of clothing the whole way, although being around other people does mean that looking too ragged probably isn't a good thing. I find it interesting that clothes are such a status symbol, and how those of us who introspect enough react to that knowledge and how it helps define our social role. Do we feel foolish or like we're playing a game while dressing, do we throw ourself into a new role, aided by particular clothing, or do we add it to our list of tools to manipulate our way to other ends? I think there are probably many layers to this understanding.

  • "You have a duty to us, to unite these phrases and ideas into a grand narrative for us"
  • "There exists no duty without a cross-consideration. What, my characters, do you owe your Author?"
  • "Your claim is laughably wrong - duty often exists without such a converse, but in our case, we do owe you - what we owe you is to be"
Near the final part of the journey, before I catch the bus back home, I pass a couple, walking side by side and now about to part. It looks like they're either at the end of a first date, or new friends who don't yet know their boundaries - the guy asks the girl for a hug, and she says "all right" - their awkward affection remains with me as I walk on, the empty space beside me again a source of pain.

Salman Rushdie's 「The Enchantress of Florence」 - an excellent read. Having recently read 「Shame」(an early novel of his), the refinement of his style in a book written over 20 years later is very apparent. I still think 「Shalimar the Clown」 is his best novel, but Enchantress is amazing. One quote resonated with me..

How hungry for love he must be! Loneliness is the wanderer's fate; he is a stranger wherever he goes, existing only through the power of his own will. When did a woman last praise him and call him her own? When did he last feel cherished, or worthy, or valuable? When a man is not yearned for, there is a thing in him that begins to die. Optimism fades, our wise Birbal. Azul Fazl, our cautious protector, a man's strength is not inexhaustible. A man needs other men to turn to him by day and a woman to fold herself into his arms by night. We think he has not had nourishment for a long time, our Mogor. There is a light in him that was almost extinguished when we met him.."

As I read Rushdie, it is tempting to want to claim him as a secularist, but I am not sure that, at least as he speaks with the author's voice, he fits that mark. I sometimes wonder if too many stories are necessarily hostile to the hard-nosed science that I think must be satisficed before one can make other truth claims and possibly cultural content, and think that perhaps the hollywood culture enjoys the meme of smashing the skeptic too much, acting to protect fantasy from the harshness of reality that science attempts to reveal. Do we need that mystical pre-science world as a setting for stories? Not all stories, but the hard-nosed close-to-reality world is a poor host to many stories, and I know that my dreams are often set in other worlds than that.

It would be interesting to ask people to identify twenty great works of fiction and twenty great works of nonfiction from all of time. (I imagine there might be some heat when people disagree about the categorisation - for me, for example, the Bhagavad Gita would probably be one of the twenty great works of fiction, while to some it might be nonfiction).

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