Sunday, June 27, 2010

Time the Destroyer

I have reached a point of sadness with my children. I have no regrets with respect to them. I have been a good father to the extent of my ability, with good results. Yet they have emerged from childhood. They are no longer those sweet, innocent little children. I still call my youngest my "little person", but have taken to calling my oldest my "medium person".

Nothing underscores the passage of time like the growth of children, and it is bittersweet. Soon they will be gone, off making their way, as is the way of life and time. We have had many good times, but that doesn't prevent a bit of melancholy as I reflect on it.

One thing that becomes clear is that you can't really hold experiences. There is no one peak experience that will last. Everything good that happens to us passes. This is a fact, and there is no use whining about it.

The only possible wise adaptation to this is to learn how to continually integrate NEW positive experiences. It is so easy to lapse into the past, to rehearse times long ago, to "remember when". This is death.

Throughout my life, when confronted with difficulty, my response has always been to attack, to not wait for events to come to me. How do you attack this melancholy? It seems the first step is to acknowledge it, then to accept it has no true merit, and need last only as long as I want to hold on to it. I think it is often easier to hold on to a known melancholy than to accept the possibility of unknown positive experiences.

So many lives have second and third acts. The example that comes first to mind is Colonel Sanders, who achieved close to nothing remarkable until his mid-60's, and died one of the most recognized and respected faces in the world. His last decade must have been a lot of fun, not least his charity work which his wealth enabled him to fund.

Grandchilden will be a lot of fun, if I get any, and there is in the end this light hiding throughout this field of dreams that I get glints of from time to time. I feel it, and see it in my mind. I choose to believe--with evidence--that this world is much more interesting and beautiful than we are capable of realizing while we wear out our bodies and our clock.

To smile in doubt is an act of courage, one which I hope to be equal to the rest of my life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Fountainhead

Watched the movie with Gary Cooper. Still not willing to dedicate the time to the book. Few thoughts.

First off, the characterizations were comic book-like. Howard Roark may as well have been Batman. This is not, however, a bad thing--at least necessarily--in my view. Most of our greatest pleasures come from deep feelings that are felt sincerely and without reservation. They don't spring from reason. Reason can operate on them, but not create them. Computers can create poetry, but they can't understand it. Sincere sentiment breaks down the walls and barriers which both define us and contain us, whose semi-oppressive presence we normally process as shelter from anomie and confusion. Yet a sense of self that doesn't fluctuate is both a source of comfort and of imprisonment.

Phrased another way, all philosophy starts from premises that cannot be further reduced or proven. For a philosophy to "fit" us, to suit us, to meet the emotional needs underlying our cognitive work, it must conform to some inchoate, preconscious Gestalt that I label a myth. Comic books create myths: nothing more, nothing less.

Secondly, I am perfectly willing to accept the obviously true claim that all fundamental advances have to start in an individual mind somewhere. Generally, they are more likely to be found in the brilliant and in those who don't fit in for whatever reason. The march of progress--if we assume progress in some form to be desirable, which I do--depends on such people, and any society therefore that wants progress needs to value its most creative members.

My question is this, though: what about the mediocre minds, who feel they are superior? We have all met stupid people who thought they were brilliant, and the more honest among us will be compelled to admit that we have ourselves been stupid while feeling intelligent.

What do we make, then, of the man or woman who refuses to follow the path of others, but lacks Roark's genius? In my understanding, his character was modelled on Frank Lloyd Wright, whose monumental selfishness was ONLY excusable by the brilliance of his work. What of similarly selfish people without that talent?

We are happiest in groups. This is not to say that groups cannot be oppressive; plainly they can be, and I myself am not always the most sociable of creatures. Yet, that is where most of us find our greatest, deepest pleasure. Solitude is very valuable for creation, but it is not enjoyable.

I wonder--and I'm not the first one to wonder this, as I saw the question posed elsewhere--how Rand's philosophy might have evolved if she had had children. Children need to be taken care of, but they can offer no payment but affection. I suppose that the Objectivist can name their price, but what if the kids turn out to be little shits? What price has been charged if the work of child rearing is not repaid? What is the value of unconditional loyalty or love?

I suppose it would lie in the work itself, in doing it well, in creating through example the sort of character in your child you envisioned. That is approximately possible.

By and large I am sympathetic to Rand's overall project, which is countering the spiritual debilitation and parasitism that socialism breeds and relies on. As a strictly subjective matter, though, I have always felt a sort of mechanical smell in her work. I sense engine oil, and turbines in motion, and regular electrostatic discharges.

My own preference is for clouds, and approximation, and gradual shifts in color, tone and tempo. Again, this is highly subjective and "poetic"--mythic, in my terms.

These are very rough sketches, but I thought I'd note them down while the impressions were fresh in my mind.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Patriotism

All that is necessary to condemn this nation is to compare her history to her stated ideals. All that is necessary to love this country is to compare her to everyone else.