On the way to work today, I saw workers doing some repairs on pipes going underneath the (cobblestone) streets near my apartment. It kind of got to me that there's real soil down there, but I suppose it should've been obvious. I felt a strange desire to walk up and run my hands through it, but I suspect the workers might not've approved, so I walked on.
Today I finished The Fifth Sacred Thing by an author called Starhawk. I don't have my thoughts fully worked out on it yet, but it's worth writing about anyhow. Starhawk (the author) is a neo-pagan of some kind who believes in magic, appears to be pacifist, an advocate of free love, and a person with high hopes for human potential for better social arrangements. This book is her equivalent of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" (although it's actually pretty good fiction) - she uses the story as a way to give life to her beliefs, using the central plot of the story to show the real character (and inner tensions) of that society. The book, despite its size, reads like a short story - character development is poor and the societal development feels like it came out of nowhere, but the book is gripping anyhow and it was hard to put down. I find the society she paints fascinating, and its relationship with the other societies to be worth thinking about - there are also an aggressive Corporate-Theocratic state and small societies bordering it. Like Rand, her tools are blunt and perspective obvious - she pushes the reader to side with her utopia by making the Corporate-Theocratic state as despicable as possible and the fringe societies as unworkable, but her utopia is very interesting and pretty well thought-out. As it is socialist in nature, it answers some questions that I currently find difficult with "how will X work", and to the extent that these solutions make sense and fit with my values, I find it inspiring. Unfortunately, there are also several parts that seem either really disturbing (the new-age stuff like magic, witches, and giving "voice" to spirits of animals or abstract forces as well as the deep feminism) or highly impractical (e.g. naïve belief in deep pacifism) as models for government/society. On a slightly more personal note, I know that personally I would not fit in in a polyamorous/polygamous society, although this is not really a criticism - if I were to accept that such societies are better (a big if - I currently have little judgement on the matter), it wouldn't be the first time a would-be revolutionary (or revolutionary generation) would only be "good" for the revolution and would hope to pass the torch to a new generation with cleaner hands and less conflicted values/traditions.
Would her society work without the pagan feminism? I'm not sure, and that's worth thinking about - I believe that it takes a higher caliber of person (higher being entirely subjective, but this *is* my perspective) to accept abstract ideals of justice, compassion, and the like without spirituality to justify them or tie them as directly into emotion. I believe that pulling people away from crass (see above disclaimer) consumerism, greed, and self-service is a process of personal improvement that needs to be undertaken on a societal scale, and while religion/spirituality is *a* path to this, it is not the path I would like to see society take. I believe philosophy is a cleaner path to virtue, although from my perspective it is the "high road" to virtue - there are other paths that create slightly (and not-so-slightly) different notions of virtue. I do, however, want to note that not all philosophy leads to any kind of virtue - while Starhawk's concept of virtue is moderately alien to mine, I still accept it as being recognisable from my perspective (just as several other types of religious/spiritual virtue are) and value it as such. Drawing again on Rand, I find Objectivist values to be so alien to mine that from my perspective they are glorifying the worst sides of humanity - I can't call Rand's ideal human virtuous.
Anyhow, I'm going to order my own copy of it -- this copy's borrowed. I strongly recommend it to people who like books - it's a long read but is very pleasant, and the ideas inside are interesting. See who you identify with, and then start making changes to the Corporate-Theocratic state (in theory) to see if it changes things - would it be different if it kept the aggressive tendencies but eliminated the dehumanising measures towards its own people? Comparisons between corrupt states and uncorrupt states don't seem very fair - what if we made it aggressive but noncorrupt and made the utopia corrupt but otherwise as it is? Toss some more theoreticals at it (read it first, of course).
I'm disappointed to find that I haven't managed to get rid of an aspect of my cooking - my stews taste rather good (to me), and have a pleasant texture, but after I eat them they sit like a lump in my stomach for several days afterwards. I'm not entirely certain why this is - perhaps it's that they have a lot of spaghetti in them, or perhaps some of the ingredients are hard to digest (tofu and black-eyed peas might be culprits). Oh well.. This one was special because I made a mushroom "gravy" from the soup, and it turned out really well.
On the way home, I was thinking about how to perceive (funny - the word perceive has never "looked right" to me either as percieve or perceive, so I frequently misspell it) different groups of people I've known - specifically geeks and other related subcultures. I offer forth the following framework for consideration(I have not finished considering it myself):
- A nerd is someone with severe introverted tendencies, little to no understanding of society, and usually a specialisation on a few areas of expertise. The have a strong tendency to find ways to avoid competency with or exposure to other areas of life.
- A geek is someone with moderate introverted tendencies who is comfortable creating or joining a subsociety to meet their social needs. They also have tendencies to focus on a few areas of expertise, but are more willing to engage with other areas as well. Their subsocieties have a high tendency to be radically different in values and practices than society at large (because they tend to spring up spontaneously like new languages and don't age well) and have a good chance of being dysfunctional (because there are still often misunderstandings on human nature and appropriate ways to relate to one another). Areas of human endeavour sufficiently outside of common foci tend to be "walled off", either with excessive formalism or with claims that "it's not important"/"it's bullshit".
I've come to disagree with my film professor and Hitchcock himself - I think Rope was a brilliant film, and will be writing my paper on it.