Thursday, November 7, 2013

Spirit In The Corner



- How long have we been talking?
- Five hours. I'm trying to do something for you. I hope you appreciate it.
- I don't really know what you are promising to do for me...
- No more negativity! Promise me that.
- Sure, I promise. It's not like I have anything else to do. I have this recurring dream. I've written a book that I have forgotten I've written. I have to remember what it is, then I'll be able to find what happened to it, or if necessary, reconstruct it. I have another dream, a variation, where I've forgotten a friend, an essential friend.
- What do they mean, do you think?
- That I haven't been paying attention. Take all these young people coming and going while you were instructing me how to become famous.
- I said no cynicism. Do you want me to leave?
- Stick around. These kids, they are different from us, and from the way we were when we were their age. They don't judge each other. Fat, ugly, they accept everyone. Shouldn't I be paying more attention this phenomenon? Do you know how they do it?
- They look, and look away.
- In general. But what do they like about each other when they choose someone special to accept in their lives?
- The same as we do.
- Maybe. Then their public general acceptance is insincere. The fat and ugly are acceptable, for public life, but not good enough for selection into private life. But maybe they are sincere, and private life is like public life in being a kind of game, one with different rules, in which fatness or ugliness may or may not be disqualifications. The rules for making choice may involve money, job, status, character type, a whole configuration, but we call the decision process a game because it is not fundamentally rooted in the physical, not rooted in the deciding individual's body. The rules say accept everyone in public life, the rules say accept a special kind of person in private life. Everyone gets a chance to rise from public life into private life, depending on which private life contest they enter. I was at UCLA yesterday, the Research Library and followed the sign at the door to a lecture in progress. The subject was DNA testing of American Indians to determine eligibility for public benefits. The professor speaking, an American Indian herself, was against DNA testing, seeing it as an example of materialist science. She was an expert in feminism, public policy, population genetics, technology, history of science, indigenous peoples. Her objection was that identifying her people by chemical structure was inconsistent with their own self identification as spiritual.
- What did the audience think? Were they kids?
- Mix of students and professors. A UCLA economics professor asked her if she thought Chomsky's reduction of language to rules was another example of materialism invading the spiritual realm. Since I was standing next to him at the time I corrected him about Chomsky. I explained that Chomsky was an anarchist who liked to repeat he had no idea how language really works, that the rules of language production he believed in were a tool used to produce something unanticipated. On the subject of theory being a tool, I told the economics professor that his entire science was destructive, economics was built entirely on a material assumption that things were to be fought over for possession. Study of trading things between people could never produce any knowledge except of how human nature corrupts itself, which is a kind of knowledge, a dangerous knowledge.*
- How did he like that?
- Said I was extreme. There were some useful things in economics. I expressed my doubts. He gave the examples Marx's theory of surplus value, the flow of capital. I replied Marx's ideas could be better expressed in non-material terms. He said everyone in academia believes he is right, just like me. I would fit right in. He hoped I was willing to believe he was right about some things. I said I didn't. The lecturer had identified herself as expert in her many different fields, strangely according them all equal status, and his insistence on my tolerance reminded me of her. And it was something like all these kids according each other equal consideration, in public life at least. In the case of the professors numerous scientific fields something similar was happening. The kids make a private list of select qualities, but it is not based on physical desire, though that may be one component. Actually I have doubts about that, that it is even there as one component. Physical desire is not a game. It is real. Spiritual life is also not a game.
- And it is real.
- If you speak about the physical world and the spiritual world in the same breath you raise questions of causal relation between the two. Causal relations are found when you look at the world of separate things knocking against each other. The concept has no meaning in the spiritual world. Thoughts don't cause thought, in ourselves or others, we can only imagine it only by assuming an unseen material intermediary handing over the effect of one thought to another. We imagine though without difficulty that thoughts can be simultaneous, my thought and your thought appearing (out of nowhere) at the same time. In fact, language is based on the assumption and intention that it is possible for this to happen. Language is a tool used to produce such result. It is not a game producing set results depending on known variations of play. Still with me?
- No. But go on.
- In our democracy, in any democracy defined as a state where government does not express preference for any one definition of human nature, the sciences have their own democracy, each their constituency and practitioners. But the spiritual isn't a science, any more that love is. Games are played to learn to love, to remind us to love, correct our failures to love. Etc. The kids, like the professors, have the spiritual off in a corner of private life, where it is just as infected by the material that occupies public life.
- If you are right their private lives are played by rules. But you don't know these kids.
- No. Do you?
- Not really.
- Yesterday I thought it was about time I look up someone from my family.
- You weren't paying attention to them. Like in the dream.
- Last time I tried a reconciliation of what amounts to decades of estrangement it was a disaster. I assumed new attempts would end the same. Maybe that was mistake. So I decided to look up my favorite relative, a cousin with whom I had never had a single real conversation with since childhood. I didn't know him except that he loved games, but that was enough for him in my dream awakened mind to rise above the general family idea. I do have a general idea of my family, and they of me, that's the problem. I never was in the private life of the family, was tolerated democratically at best, really not even that. Whatever the rules for private life were, love had a real part of it, but was locked in a corner. This favorite relative: he was different. He was getting more out of the game that he should. It verged on something spiritual, like the Bhagavad Gita's "knower of the field". Yesterday I decided to look him up.
- And?
- Google gave me his obituary. He died last year. He wasn't much older than me.
- I'm sorry.
- I learned he was living in Nevada. My stories on the internet have been regularly visited from Nevada. I wondered if I'd had some indirect contact with him or others in the family.
- Do you think now you were too hard on them?
- The kids accept everyone, my family nominally accepted me, they gave me a chance. But private life as game was unacceptable to me, unacceptable to my fanatical insistence that the real thing, love, the world that language creates, be kept pure, be respected. I couldn't communicate these ideas to them. I didn't have the words, and wouldn't have been understood if I did. The kids here though: their games have given them much greater ability than the people we grew up with to see the complex structure in social relations, to see the kind of thing I am talking about here. You know, the more complex I make my stories, the more they like them.
- So you're hopeful.
- I promised.

* see Outcasts In The Lower Depths