Thursday, November 16

Literature classes

Some time ago I found an article on Slate that challenged the English departments of to justify their existence when what they did seemed so detached from reality (apparently "The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Transrelational Gender Modes" is not that far off from the truth). Maybe the article provided its own answer or concluded that English departments really didn't deserve to exist. I don't remember, but the challenge has stayed with me, most pressingly when I'm trying to figure out why I care about female Edens in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" or Milton's brilliance in the use of 'or' in Paradise Lost.

Well, this wil likely be my last semester of Literature, barring space in my schedule opening up and hearing that Victorian Literature is all sorts of fun. Better late than never to find an answer to that question, "What is the use of directed readings of literature, poetry, drama and whatever else those writers can come up with and professors throw at you?" Because they're not psychology or chemistry or whatever else that can be demonstrated empirically. Those are averages and generalities. No one has 2.5 children, and attitudes toward life don't fit neatly into whatever stage of life we've reached. Literature reinforces these lessons we should have bleeding learned from our interactions with people. They're unique, complex and can't be reduced to the latest study or finding.

The problem at I arrive at here, is what makes Virginia Woolf and Homer and Oscar Wilde so important then that we have to spend so much time poring over their words? There are millions of writers. Why not them? Because some people have spent more time considering themselves or are simply more interesting.

Why then do we need professors? Hopefully, to guide us towards what the author intended. Rather than finding ourselves in their works, we find the writer. The professors know the writers, studied their other works and lives. They are best equipped to know the writer.

Here's the article, on the off chance you care. At this point, I'm about positive I've written about it before. Maybe I'll look it up sometime and look at how views have changed or realize just how redundant this post has been.

Wednesday, November 8

Insanity and chaos theory

It's a popular saying, "Insanity is trying the exact same thing over and over again and still expect different results." Actually, I'm not sure if it's popular. I've used it if that indicates anything.

If Edna St. Vincent Milay had heard this, she could combine it with, "Life is not one damn thing after another, life is the same damn thing over and over," and come to the conclusion that to live is to be insane.

But I'm digressing. My point is, chaos theory throws this all out the window and proceeds to run over it with a Hummer. Tiny, insignificant changes can impact the outcome in ways we cannot possibly imagine, so it's very possible that the results will change no matter how similar repeated actions appear.

I know it's a departure from my current thread on goodness, but it's just something I thought of.

Sunday, November 5

More thoughts on altruism and community

So, after further thought, altruism is less a good than a basic tenet of human survival. I'm fairly certain I've written on this before, but I'm going ahead with this next bit anyway. If communities are to survive, the members need to have reasonable expectations of how they will treat one another. Altruism is the answer to this. Treat others kindly and they will do the same in return. In some small way, we can control others in that way.

The point of this, besides reducing altruism in my eyes, is to point out the pre-eminence of the community. If the Golden Rule is what communities are built on, they have to be one of the most important elements of civilization. Why? Because humans cannot exist on their own. Even before all of the tending one needs as an infant, a man and a woman need to have sex to produce them. As trained adults, I guess humans can survive wholly on their own, given the right location. Still, they're merely surviving at that point. Animals survive, humans can be more. Now I just need to figure out what humans should be reaching for.

Wednesday, November 1


So, what must I do? I must be altruistic. As far as both Jesus and Confucius, major teachers of Western and Eastern morality, are concerned, and they are both heavyweights, this is a pretty good answer. I treat others as I wish to be treated. It's progress, but I now need to figure out what that it.

The problem with altruism lies on two levels. First, the separation between what I want and what I need, and the fact that what I need is sometimes painful. The second, and deals more with my interactions with others, am I wise enough to know what they need? Do I know all the necessary details? Just how much should I force necessities on another person? At some point, they need to fill their own needs.

A small answer and more questions. Progress of a sort, I guess.

Also, this is not that exciting of an answer but this journey must include equal parts meditation and participation in daily life. Buddha didn't sit underneath his bo tree until he left his palace and saw the old man, the sick person and monk. Jesus' ministry was preceded by a 40 day visit to the desert. These guys did pretty well for themselves, so if I could emulate them, that would be pretty rocking.

Geez, I really am comparing my journey to some of the biggest names.