Ponder this:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Keeping an open mind

This started out as a response to David Marshall's I Only Know I’m Crazy, but I got excessively interested in my (his) subject, and it grew to post length.

First, David, I would say to you: There is nothing wrong with perpetual confusion if you enjoy the intellectual exercise of turning ideas over and over to see what might happen if this . . . or if that…

I take as flawed your conclusion that students have healthier minds simply because they consider and discard ideas based their youthful intellect and limited experience. Jane Addams was right: Those students feel nice and warm and emotionally comfy with capitalism. It is, after all, working for them, so far. People who embrace any ideology, across the board, hands-down, case closed, aren’t facing reality any more than is someone who continues to do the very same things over and over again, expecting a different result. I count neither group admirable.

What you see as the “shadowy gap between ‘ought’ and ‘is,’” I see as a wide and bottomless chasm. Hungry people ought to get enough to eat, but they don’t. Pets ought not to be abandoned on the sides of roads, but they are. Drunks ought never to drive and cause bodily injury and death and property damage, but they do and do and do and do, and the successful capitalists can hire better attorneys and suffer less onerous punishment. Everybody ought to be educated enough to afford a comfortable lifestyle, but then, I believe one's comfort depends on one’s attitude more than any other factor.

Every system works some of the time, and for a while. And then times change, and something else works for a time. The pendulum swings from one side to the other in political and economic systems as well as in personal lives. What I see as impediments to Utopia includes at least the following two Truths as I see them:

1. The problem of who gets to say how anybody’s life “ought” to be. Marx said:

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”
Who decides how much somebody needs . . . to . . . what? Survive physically? Feel emotionally secure? Be happy? And what do you do with those people who don’t learn to want Life as Labor, an end in itself?

I had a childhood friend who swore he would sire nine offspring, as had his grandfather, and he, his wife and the entire family would do things together every weekend . . . picnics and outings, tra-la, tra-la. I doubted out loud whether or not nine siblings would be happy to be stuck with Family all weekend long, and he said, with great conviction: “They’ll want to!”

2. Nature is nature and people are animals. Highly evolved [perhaps, and some more than others, and in different areas], but there is always, still, that pesky factor of inborn differences in appetites and abilities and interests and energy.

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Try to teach him to fish, and maybe he still won’t get up early enough to get his meal. Par example: I was a member of Mensa for years, and didn’t get past the third semester of college because I never learned how to study.

Well, I did do a trifle more than my share of partying, too . . . nevertheless... If the educational tuning fork resonated at a frequency that was audible to me, I succeeded. If it didn’t I might as well have been stone deaf and took in nothing.

A while back, you wrote that you had stopped growing up and I believe that was erroneous. I think you are still growing up. People who do no slamming of doors, no rebuffing, no discounting, no discrediting, no swallowing of unmasticated ideas move on, too. They keep moving forward, or sideways, or on occasion backward, but always adjusting as needed to changing realities.

They keep growing up.
Anybody who’s stopped growing up is either Peter Pan, or dead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thoughts--you won't be surprised to hear that I'm still confused by knowing what I think--annoyed by and jealous of those who seem more certain than I am, eager to have my say and quite critical of my own thinking. Sometimes I envy my students' self-assurance (feigned though it might be), and sometimes I think they jump to conclusions before they ought.

As I suggested at the end of my post, I secretly enjoy feeling unsettled and, like your father of nine, fall into the same trap of human nature, thinking I'd like to decide for everyone else and am right to be so confused...which, of course, suggests I'm really not confused at all.

Maybe my way of moving on is exactly as you describe it--more sideways than straight ahead. Sometimes I just like to provocative, even to provoke myself.

Thanks for this thoughtful response!