Saturday, March 2, 2019

Pearls of expression.

Serotonin, as by now every self-obsessed member of the middle classes must know, is a chemical in the brain that acts as a neurotransmitter to which is ascribed powers formerly ascribed to the Holy Ghost. All forms of undesired conduct or feeling are caused a deficit or surplus or malalignment of this chemical, so that in essence all human problems become ones of neurochemistry.

On this view, unhappiness is a technical problem for the doctor to solve rather than a cause for reflection and perhaps even for adjustment to the way one lives.[1]

Modern psychiatry is little more than a search for the right chemical result in the body. The search for mental repose in the office of a psychiatrist is much like taking one's car to a mechanic to check the antifreeze in the engine block for the right level of protection against winter temps. Protected to -20 deg. F? Good to go, boss!

The matter of cleaning up one's act must seem quaint to a lot of "folks" as Obongo might say. More likely, the search is on for the state to supply some missing element: free food, free education, free medical care, free housing, free phones . . . .

As Mr. Dalrymple also says in his article, "Technical sophistication has been accompanied, or so it often seems, by mass incompetence in the art of living." In my experience, our culture is an isolating one and to break out of isolation one must actively take steps to find community. You must mount a quest for it rather than community's being something that enfolds you naturally. And I say this as a reasonably gregarious person.

I once had the pleasure of knowing some Sikhs when I rehabed my rental house in a densely populated area. These people lived next door and were a pure pleasure to know. They'd bring me food in the morning and at lunch and seemed to have a natural kindness. Of course, I was happy to return their kindness in small ways. It was something that happened to me with no effort on my part. Just mutual respect. And very pleasant indeed. Such cheerful people.

That just happened to me. I once got into country western dancing and had a terrific time in that community of like-minded people. It involved a refined taste, however, and didn't have an effect on daily life, though I made several nice friends out of it. But I had to pursue it and it involved considerable effort, not least being the need to drive 40 miles round trip to go to dances or take lessons. And this was nothing that had any bearing on life's daily routines.

The obvious other option for community is marriage and family. That's a heck of an option, though I think it puts pressure on the relationship because one looks to one's mate to help satisfy a lot of one's social needs. Of course, marriage and family automatically lead to a widening of one's social circle, especially through having lots and lots in common with other parents.

Maybe one's life is at bottom a one-man production. Marcus Aurelius captured what life is like to live as an aware person who lives with humans who are not particularly aware. Stoic philosophy is in this respect a bit of a downer, though it appeals to me because of what it teaches about, um, stoicism. Learning to accept what is, however unpleasant, is also an option. The "suck it up" option.

Many are the consolations of philosophy.

Dalrymple quotes Salman Rushdie to the effect that there is in modern Western life “a God-shaped hole.” Religious faith not being my cup of tea, alas, I don't have an ability or inclination to fill that particular hole. What's left is the question, How can community be made more "automatic" where you bump into it in your daily activities without having to take Zumba classes? Our drug problems seem to be a symptom of how many people are not finding satisfying connections.

Army life was fun because we all had a common enemy. That was either the actual enemy, the weather, or the army itself. Or all three. But civilian life doesn't have that kind of intensity or anything remotely resembling that dynamic. Personal initiative is always in order but there very much is a gulf between what I describe about army life (and maybe church life) and isolated living that seems to be our lot.

I don't know which new azimuth we need to strike out on in search of a global, definitive solution. The device of the scurrilous and dishonest ad hominem so beloved of the left today is clearly the wrong way to approach our fellow beings. Those who employ it have zero interest in anyone's spiritual longings (AKA their actual happiness), let alone the truth. It's all about power and that's a slippery eel as many a former Bolshevik loyalist found as they were marched into the basement of the Lubyanka. "But, but . . . ."

Lacking any insight into a definitive solution, I think all one can do is read The Meditations and take to heart Mary Baker Eddy's take on the line in the Lord's Prayer "give us this day our daily bread." That she saw as a request to "feed the famished affections." I think it best to see that as a request to us as individuals to do that. If you live your daily life with the understanding that you are surrounded by people who's affections ARE famished you are doing the Lord's work in my opinion.

Small courtesies and smiles freely given do wonders for me and instill a sense of well being and okayness. Simple interaction. Simple pleasure. It isn't rocket science and everyone committing to communicate respect will do wonders, even if there's no secular "school solution" (in the argot of the U.S. Army Infantry School regarding tactical problems) to the problems of human existence.

Here endeth this partickaler ramble.

[1] "Michel Houellebecq: Chronicler of Our Mass Incompetence in the Art of Living." By Theodore Dalrymple, Law & Liberty, 2/28/19.


RM said...

Colonel, I have always enjoyed your rambles. They are always interesting and worthwhile. I will say a prayer for you tonight that you fill that “... God-shaped hole.” with God. Even if you have never stepped into that particular hole. Never mistake religion for God. He is real and He loves us. Jesus Christ is The Word made Flesh. If you seek Him, He will find you.

Col. B. Bunny said...

Thank you kindly, RM. I've tried to find something to fill that hole but, to call on Marcus again, his take on what it all means seems right on the money to me: "Of human life the time is a point, and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgment. And, to say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour, and life is a warfare and a stranger's sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion."

The best people in my life have generally been the religious ones. Anything that keeps the ego in check is a good thing.

But, bottom line, I'm mystified by life. My mistakes weigh heavily on me and I wish I could rewind one or two movies in my life. I sure am a slow learner. Wait till I hit 85. I'll be awesome.

La Bruyere provided excellent perspective when he said, "More precious yet than diamonds and pearls is a spirit of discernment." People with it are a joy to be around, no lie. I think at this late stage I won't find anything to fill that hole unless it's a personal determination to scale the heights of compassion, good humor, and truthfulness. Just holding such a true course may be all that we can do. That very activity is a pretty decent contribution all told, I think.

I do appreciate you kind words very much. Thank you again.