Category Archives: Philosophy

Dear Mudge, Ray Harryhausen

 

ClashOfTitans

Dear Mudge,

I recently got “written up” at work. It seems that when I speak my mind, I get in trouble. I’d gotten into dust-ups prior to this one (it’s only been a year), but this latest had happened with a person closely attached to the boss’ boss and so resulted in HR action. I did reach out and ameliorate the rift—a walk to the local coffee shop, but the incident brand my mind with the implications of termination. Just. Keep. Your. Damn. Mouth. Shut, has become my new mantra. Needless to say, recent weeks have seen me exhibiting a lassitude seldom witnessed. Speaking my mind here however, is never an issue.

~~~

We’ve managed to gather up a bevy of interesting topics thus far. I’m sure others will join the fray. Returning to one…

You’re right, Occam’s razor should have been our first go-to solution per our shared, seemingly hypocritical adoption of societal conformity. There’s a reason downstream is more attractive than upstream/cross-stream. Adolescent salmon would have a thing or two to tell us. I suppose though, rebellion comes as a spectrum. I, for one, will never truly fit in anywhere except for the recessed niches of my mind. But outwardly, I appear as if molded by society’s template; I wear shoes and pants, smile at strangers, hold doors for old ladies, and rarely piss behind alleyway dumpsters.

Indulgences (and indigestion) aside, the Epicureans may have something yet to teach us. I’ll dig through my (google) notes and try and derive some useful suggestions. Stewie the Stoic, though pithy, provided little in the way of true guidance in this time of Absurd Universe contemplation. (On first pass, Epicurus has much to say about friendship.)

In the mean time, perhaps we could play to your recently acquired pastime (obsession?). I’d suggest that in your examination of television shows you profess a hidden pedantic inclination to be a student of society. This, I believe, you originally offered in our opening salvos of correspondence. Well then, let’s dial this in, shall we. (Christ! Ignore my plebeian attempts at humor, I’m such an adolescent when it comes to clever word-play.)

Ahem. So, what of Special Effects.

How the hell did anyone accept the visual papier-mâché that pre-2000’s special effects offered in movies and television? Today, one can barely (if at all) tell CG imagery from real life. Coming away from any movie these days, you’d be forgiven for the impression that what you witnessed wasn’t a documentary.

But FX of yester-year? Talk about major suckage. How could we have been taken in by such poor attempts at sur-reality? Were we that gullible, that blind to the clay-mation over our eyes?

I suppose the question is, were we actually duped? And regardless, did it matter?

Your friend,
Mole


Dear Mole, Indigestion

ozzy

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.  A simplification of the heart of Epicureanism seems to make it align with one of my earliest teenage epiphanies: “The meaning of life is to enjoy oneself”.  Simple enough.  Despite all of my intellectual self-torture in the ensuing years, the only change to this basic worldview has been the addition of the disclaimer, “…without causing intentional harm to others.”  And just like that, Bacchanalia became Buddhism but Buddhism stripped of its supernatural elements is essentially Epicureanism for the empathy-prone.

Going back to the previous topic of why we still adhere to most of society’s rules despite having mentally divorced ourselves from its cultural tendrils, I think we missed the most obvious reason for this: it’s just easier.  In establishing that we both still pursue enjoyment in our particular ways, we also established that we’d prefer to avoid unnecessary suffering.  When one flagrantly flaunts society’s conventions, jail is often the outcome of such behavior.  I’d do terrible in prison.  Worse than most.

My problem with a passionate embrace of a pleasure-seeking life is that very little gives me pleasure anymore.  I eat in order to avoid the feeling of hunger, but I hate cooking and three decades of smoking has dulled my palette.  Alcohol and all drugs aside from medically prescribed weed are verboten (see the desire to avoid incarceration in the previous paragraph).  I still love music, but the way it would shake me to my very soul in my youth is an increasing rarity.  The entire world of sex and romance — once my very raison d’etre — is something I now find an unnecessary hassle.  In other words, despite the fact that I still have a hint of a sex drive, the negatives of dating far outweigh the potential positives.

So I watch a lot of TV and sometimes I even show up here on WordPress and write about shit that I watched on TV.  I’ve already explained my love of passive activities, but TV is also where I gather new material at which to laugh.

What did Epicurus or Lucretius have to say about laughter?  If I possess any skill whatsoever, it’s the ability to find the humor in everything.  It is literally what keeps me sane (and amused).  Would you guess that this love of comedy says something deeper about my need for constant reminders of the absurdity of it all?  Does it perhaps betray the fact that I don’t really feel it to be as laughable as I contend?

You now have a picture of Ozzy sitting on the toilet gracing your blog page.  You’re welcome.  That’s what friends are for.

If,

‘Mudge

 


Dear Mudge, Spicy or mild

Dear Mudge,

People think the Northwest is nothing but conifer trees. Around here, we’re covered with temperate trees which have recently shed their billions of leaves. Red and white oak (you recall the post about acorns from last fall), big-leaf maple, birch, elm, alder and others have dropped their coats blanketing the yards, streets and sidewalks. I walk to and from work and have had to wade through such drifts of deciduous dandruff. While suspended, the colors were vivid. But now, mixed with rain and ground to paste on the pavement, they’re as slippery as snot.

I don’t think much about god(s) for the same reason I don’t think about Leprechauns or mermaids. In my earlier decades I used to spend hours on the topic (including Leprechauns and mermaids). Now, I gravitate toward more concrete topics with my one deviation being the contemplation of the heat death of the Universe and the end of everything.

In regards to Mr. Houston’s quoted—quoted quote “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.” I disagree. My analysis has resulted in the opposite conclusion. My research has concluded that, given that the Universe is absurd, there is nothing to *believe* in.

However, people, in general, are programmed to believe. To believe in whatever, take your pick… Belief is a survival tactic. And surviving is Job One.

I’ve chosen to forgo belief (and I’m waffling on survival).

Those words were selected with intent. I’m convinced humanity is pre-programmed. You, me, we are pre-programmed—by DNA. In fact, we ARE the program and DNA is the code.

Why do you and I (and others no doubt), reject all meaning, yet become irritated with others for the stupidest of behaviors or transgressions? Programming. They’re behaving outside our idea of acceptable norms. Why do we create and obey the rules, protect the Commons (pick up dog shit), and generally treat each other without open hostility? Programming. DNA has made us this way.

When we reject our programming, it’s hard. Unless you’re a sociopath (or a psychopath), we are genetically predisposed to conform to certain behaviors. I’m a firm advocate of E.O.Wilson’s The Altruism Gene, else humanity would still be roving in small bands across the African plains, not giving a shit, really, about one another. But we do give a shit. And by doing so, by caring, I think we react to others when they themselves fail to care. We’re programmed to care. Society is built on caring.

Behind my eyebrows you’ll find—a program—that I’m trying to rewrite.

I propose that by rejecting theistic tendencies, you are also rewriting your own program. And, as we’ve explored, we re-programmers are a lonely lot. Most would merrily plug along with DNA choosing their future.

In my personal re-coding efforts, I’ve not performed the exhaustive analysis of the existential options as I believe you have, but, I’ve tried a few. One I’d like to explore now, since thus far I’ve found none that fit me well, is the Epicurean philosophy. We are, after all, still here, so we’re not fully divorced from our programming. And if we’re not going to fully reject DNA’s sway over our lives, we might consider some thought experiment which, if nothing else, provides us momentary happiness.

What are your thoughts on Epicurus and his buddy Titus Lucretius? I know that Seneca both adored and despised Epicurus, but I’m hoping we could dwell on, oh, good drink, fine food (spicy and mild) and mind-bending drugs for a while. (Oh, and for Duke and Phil’s sake, we could discuss SEX, too.)

Epicurus


Dear Mole, MY Brows

allan-sherman-my-son-the-celebrity-ab

My apologies for the late reply, but I spent the better part of Veterans Day partying large.

I’m afraid that’s where my contrition ends because contrary to your assertion that I went straight for the jugular, I intentionally led off with the God thing precisely because its origins and illusory psychological pacification are easily understood.  I say “illusory” because I have known some patently miserable people whose stated faith in God was ironically unshakeable.  Take my late mother, for instance.  Though you’d be hard pressed to find someone as obsessively and devoutly religious as she, the adjective “happy” was rarely if ever applicable to this long-suffering woman who, in retrospect, was simply a victim of bad ideas passed down through the ages.  The only other thing in her life to which she devoted an equally impressive amount of energy was house cleaning, something she did so obsessively in order to give herself the imagined feeling of control.  Now why would someone with such an iron-clad faith in “God’s plan” feel the anxious need to exert maximum control over her surroundings and pore desperately through her random thoughts for ones that might have originated with Satan (or as Mom so quaintly put it, “The Devil”)?  Because at a base and perhaps subconscious level, Mom, like everyone not suffering from a severe learning disability, knows the doctrine of monotheism to be patently ludicrous.  Not once did she ever consciously admit this to herself, mind you, but the primordial doubt existed in her just the same.

I’m sure you recall that in the past, this is where I would take this uncertainty and spin it into a very spiritual-sounding, pseudo-scientific metaphysical and holistic view or, as Alan Watts so frequently did, make the implication that each of us IS God.  While there is room enough for such a vague and non-dogmatic spiritual infusion into an otherwise science-based discussion, is there purpose enough?  Nihilists believe that experience and consciousness cease at the moment of death.  Curmudgeon of Old convinced himself to believe that only the ego or the personality/memories of the individual are extinguished at death but that an undefined karmic connection still ties what once constituted “me” into the larger cosmic dance.  Now think about the upshot of both of those theories and you’ll quickly understand that despite a vast difference in tone, they are identical.  Nothing is nothing no matter how poetically one attempts to describe it.  Thus I was presenting myself to the world as essentially a “spiritual nihilist” which isn’t just ludicrous, but laughably so.  Regardless, each time I did say such things, I did so within accepted societal, cultural and of course, WordPress parameters.  As you so astutely noted, I was working willingly within society’s rules in order to eviscerate society’s rules for the benefit of…society?  Whew…what a shit mound of nonsense to unload.  Since I’ve obviously decided to approach your question from an experiential standpoint, I will need a bit more time to ponder your query and perform a bit of self-psychoanalysis.

It is, of course, improbable that we won’t find a way to spin back around to the notion of God in our ongoing correspondence, but at least we dispensed of its overstated magnitude right off the bat.  I say “improbable” because if there is any commonality between us, it’s our shared disgust for the intellectually barren and the willfully ignorant.  And that was as fine a segue as any for my question to you: regardless that we both seem rather mired in existential exhaustion, why do you think we’re both still capable of being triggered by the stupidity of others?  Doesn’t such aggravation imply that we believe things could be different, that people really could collectively pull their heads out from betwixt their asses if we just whine about it loudly and persistently enough?  What do our reactions to stupidity and ignorance say about us?  If we were as jaded as we both claim to be, would either of us have the wherewithal or even the slightest desire to put pen to paper?  Am I getting close to what you meant by self-inflicted jadedness?

I originally planned to close out this letter with a profound quotation from Alan Watts, but then I realized that would be pathetically typical of me.  Instead, let’s ponder some deep thoughts from the late, great Alan Sherman:

Counting both feet, I have ten toes – they’re not lady toes, they’re men toes – and I keep them as momentoes, for I love them tenderly.  On my face, two eyebrows – they’re not your brows, they’re my brows.  Behind those eyebrows – that’s where you’ll find ME!”


Dear Mudge, Dog Turds

Dear Mudge,

You find me well if also jaded. The jading, I must admit, is my own fault.

You mentioned the concept of God in your last correspondence. Ha, you don’t start with the small things, do you? Right to the heart of the world with you. Why God, you ask. My personal observation of such a question comes down to two connected concepts: ignorance and power. I think I’ll focus on the first.

Neil deGrasse Tyson presents the best, if rather long video on the topic of God and ignorance.

Essentially, at the edge of our understanding, where ignorance begins, humanity chooses to believe in a fabrication rather than to let the absence of information dwell.

I attribute this grasping at an impossible notion to originate from three separate sources.

  1. Stupidity. You know I drone on about this, but half of the population (nearly four billion people) is cursed (blessed?) with an IQ of less than 100. The concept of “God” is certainly an easy one to adopt, don’t you think? These folk may not be capable of believing in anything but.
  2. Solace. The Absurd Universe it a cold, callous and uncaring thing. A God that listens (we assume), that periodically grants wishes (serendipitously), is everywhere, knows everything (of course!) would be a helluva lot better shoulder to cry on when your parent, child, or (gasp) your dog dies. A meaningless universe less so, no?
  3. Stubbornness. You have the smarts, you’re not suffering, yet still you cling to dubious dogmatic doctrine. These folk, I’d wager, have emotional investment in a deity they just as soon not abandon.

Geeze, listen to me blather on. It’s your own fault you know. Flip on my analysis mode and I’m off to the races.

I mentioned that my own jading being self-inflicted. The above theories on religion are a perfect segue to my listlessness. Were I one of the above mentioned peoples I’d at least have an adopted, if false purpose. Having analyzed my way out from under all such nonsense, however, I’m left with that indifferent universe staring me back in the face. Jaded? Yeah, against my own existence.

But, let’s not get so mired down in such talk. You responded with a set of pastimes that bend your mind away from your own personal void: humor, music, dogs and weed. My own dog, Katie, a dedicated Labrador, gone these last six years, and I were a team. The one topic I feel compelled to discus is feces. I taught Katie to “party large” before we went beyond our yard, walking the ‘hood.

Rather than say “go pee” I opted for a humorous “party”, to which she’d oblige me. Party large came later, but no less successful.

In a society where dogs must be walked and shit shoveled, else crap coat the soles of shoes everywhere, what of the tragedy of the commons? That is, even those of us emptied of meaning, sucked dry by the absurd universe, still find ourselves adhering to society’s rules. Why?

It’s finally getting cold and weathery up here in the Northwest. October was a banner month of cold nights and sunny days, perfect for walking (albeit dogless).

Your friend,
‘Mole

BlueLeash


Dear Mole, A Potato Has No Inertia

gene couch

Dear Mole,

Your missive finds me well, albeit chronically jaded.

The word jaded makes me think of mopey teenagers, but to my knowledge, there isn’t another word in the English language that more closely aligns with my current state of utter contempt for the vast majority of concerns most people consider vitally important.  Don’t even get me started on “passions”.

I share your enjoyment of good licorice, excepting those nasty, vaguely licorice-flavored, syrupy liqueurs that the Italians seem to enjoy so much.  I’m of half-Italian descent, so back in the day, if the only spirits available were Sambuca or Anisette, I’d drink it begrudgingly, enjoying the alcohol half and barely able to stomach the essence of Good N Plenty half.

It’s funny you should ask whether there are any simple pleasures that I employ to counter my debilitating ennui, because just this morning, I thought to myself: “Would life be worth living without humor, music, dogs and marijuana?”  This rhetorical question didn’t pose much of a conundrum, of course, since my answer was a resounding “No!”  Nowadays, I almost exclusively enjoy passive pursuits.  I can watch TV, listen to music and laugh at idiots without expending one iota of precious energy.  If it weren’t for the dog and his curious desire to get out for a good run every now and again, my muscles would probably have atrophied months ago.  Though I’ll only be turning 50 next year, I already feel exhausted and done with most of life’s pursuits.  Romance?  I suppose I had a good run, but those days are over.  I’m just too tired and antisocial and not particularly libidinal.   Writing?  I think I blew my wad on that pursuit – when you complete something as monumental as Notes From The Avalon, there’s really nowhere else to go from there.  But all kidding aside, my passion for the careful arrangement of words was never about the writing, but the topics about which I wanted to express myself.  There are no such topics left.  Philosophy, religion, politics, psychology and sociology no longer hold any fascination for me.  They are just fancy words for homo sapiens’ ludicrous and futile attempts to convince itself of its invented significance.  So what’s left?

Besides the aforementioned pleasurable time-wasters, there’s observation.  I still find being a passionless, impersonal spectator of humanity’s cornucopia of absurdity to be an outstanding way to pass an afternoon.  The Human Zoo.

Since I’d bet dollars to donuts that you are also an avid observer of human foibles, I’d be interested to get your thoughts about one of the most ludicrous notions mankind has yet concocted: the notion of God, with a capital G.  A personal, emotional, jealous, capricious supernatural entity responsible for the creation of all that is.  What could have given us such an idea when there is literally not one scintilla of evidence?  And is this related to our desire to pay undue fealty and adoration to human authoritarians?  Nothing is quite as odious to me as a power trip, no matter the motivation, but I seem to be a rarity among my kind for feeling thusly.  Why do people feel compelled to elevate others to positions of extreme power and authority and then clamor to publicly display their sycophantic feelings?  To me, this is the equivalent of enjoying the application of a jalapeno enema.  I know you have a pretty good grasp of the human psyche, so I hope you can shed some light on this question.

Cheers,

‘Mudge


Dear Mudge, Black Licorice

Dear Mudge,

I love black licorice. That weird multi-colored bridge-mix. Australian soft. Whips, dips, spirals and the archaic but cherished Good n’ Plenty.GoodnPlenty

One of the reasons that I enjoy this candy so much is that, for a moment, when I eat licorice I forget about how absurd and pointless the universe is. The flavor is ancient. Anise, fennel, and even the licorice root itself (which is actually bad for your heart), provides that distinct flavor and odor. I’m sure it’s been in use for millennia.

But even a mouthful of candy-coated black-colored unctuousness cannot compensate for the feeling of falling into the void of futility that gapes like a hungry maw. A mouth that hangs open for every diverting thought I send its way—The Universe is Absurd it whispers.

What simple pleasures do you find that ease this sense of emptiness?

Your friend,
‘Mole