I applied recently to take graduate courses in Philosophy; I thought it might explain the inexplicable, or at least help me realize the greatest minds in human history haven’t got a clue either. It’s clear that depression and anxiety do not filter through the subconscious to the surface because people find the world too sad; it is because they find it too miraculous, overwhelmingly beautiful and vast and unconquerable in a dozen lifetimes, making the average 9-5 seem pointless.
So, philosophy. For fun, of course.
Application question option six (there were eight options):
What are your thoughts about our place as humans in this world in this time? Keep your answer brief.
We don’t live then die; we don’t exist and then not. No. We find ourselves dying on a daily basis. In reality, and with respect to The Garden and other such origin theories, we start complete and lose a little as we go, like that small bozzetti of the Visitation by Tagliapietra that started as a block of terra cotta clay and ended with Elizabeth and Mary, both with child. We blow through our teens until we’re twenty when we know we’ll live forever. At thirty we think we’ll die so we open the Book of Hours to the “Office of the Dead” at night when we’re alone to prepare ourselves for the hereafter and do our best to rise above it. At least that’s the assumption.
So we leave our marks: carve our names, write our memoirs, sign the canvas, pee on trees. We look for spices and find new worlds, we avoid persecution and found religion, we speak our minds and lose our heads, we say what’s right and get left behind. We find out fast that Orwell knew in a “time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” We teach such a small portion of information it’s barely noticeable—but leave out that amount and life crumbles, falls, and can’t be found. It’s about proof. Of course it’s about proof. Proof of first cause, proof of the passing of time, proof we were here at all, so we take pictures to show, to recall, and to immortalize; but we can’t remember faces since we forget to write it down. Slowly, we lose our energy, our memory, our courage, our determination, our purpose, our identity, our drive, our car keys. We vow—to ourselves, to each other, to the boss, to our parents, to our children, to our God, we vow to do better next time. This breeds confidence. Cockiness. Attitude. So we take vows of chastity, of obedience, of poverty, marriage. We vow to improve, get even, avenge. But all the while we stand on the dock and mock our hesitation while foot soldiers garrison themselves and face death for an eggshell.
Of course we start slow. Always have. One channel, then two, off the air by 11:30 to the sound of fuzz, a long annoying beep, a circle with an x across the white noise screen until six am when the flag flies and the National Anthem plays and the new broadcasting day begins. This taught us patience. It lessoned us in anticipation and quiet. But we pick up a few more channels, we add public broadcasting, we add some locals, then some nationals, then the sky cracks open and we spit out hundreds of possibilities from porn to pygmies on the Discovery channel which tricks us into believing we haven’t yet turned over every stone, and we find ourselves suddenly obsessed with speed and convenience, as if we wonder “how the hell did we do so well and get so far without the speed and convenience of computers, of drive throughs, of touchless cards and curbside pick-up.” We forget so easily.
We avoid topics which indicate endings, so we euphemize the crap out of everything. “He passed.” “We have to let you go.” “I need more space.” Even death, especially death, has been metaphored to, well, death. But still we dig up the bones to point to the obvious: that we’re not the first, not the last and not here long. We get dumped at sea, mummified, burned at the stake. Been going on forever and since we pass through only once in this present form, we direct our energies toward fleeting moments of hyper-existence. But the universal truth is everyone, how shall we say it, everyone will die. Some drink the poison, some lose their heads, some get trampled at coronations, millions die in battle, hundreds of thousands of hunger, many of disease, some assassinated, a couple crucified, some of old age, as if they walked there by foot.
This scares us. So we pray. We say the rosary, go to mass, thank God for the bounty. We eat what’s on the plate because some are starving somewhere else and we keep our mouths closed as we eat and hope no one quotes Isaiah Chapter 49 Verse 10 proclaiming “they will not hunger or thirst, for he who has compassion on them will lead them” and we pick up our forks and swallow the damn peas. We follow St Mark’s quill to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and hope He’ll help us through. Just in case, though, we pick up the toys because some kids must go without. We keep our lives neat for those who have no life. We want it to look perfect. We want to look right. We want to always look just right. We buy mirrors that don’t reflect what we really believe—that it’s all too much, and our goal is to balance two opposing thoughts: We want to experience it all but can’t, so why bother experiencing any of it at all? What was the point of us? Yeah, that question. Talk about proof.
We make mistakes, call the wrong number, bounce a check, steal a pen and run down the stairs; we speed, we waste food, we waste time, we worry more about our waist than the serving size of rice in a village. They eat grain, millet, rice, wheat, ground in a bowl in the sun, they wait at the well for the women to haul the camel-skin bags and pour them into buckets, they wait at the truck for relief, they wait in line for bread, they wait for the allies to break the blockade, they wait for the sentence, they wait for the end. But they keep going. They haven’t yet learned about convenience and speed. They haven’t yet heard about bounty.
They hike across deserts and seek something else; the were lost, they were just boys who became soldiers. That was their point, apparently. Apparently, that was their purpose. They were Francis Bok who escaped a shed in Sudan, they were Socrates drinking an avoidable cup. Maybe they were born in Brooklyn not Baghdad, they went to school and ate custard. They played little league and went to summer camp where the local villagers put on a show at night near a fire; they moved to the suburbs and got a new car, they shot off fireworks and fired at pop bottles; they ate barbequed burgers and corn on the cob, boxes of clams and played with a little red Spalding ball. They swam in ponds, they hiked the hills and bought postcards; they stayed too long, it passed so fast, what year was that? Who is that in the picture? How did that song go? When did we own that Oldsmobile? Where did we get that painting? We forget to write it down, we’ll remember. We make the mistake of assuming we have total recall. But the books remind us it was some leak somewhere, some crack, some fractured moment that finds us on a couch covered in plastic talking about anniversaries instead of a mat in Mali talking about the dust, wondering about the rain. Such randomness pushes a compromised moody mind toward the abyss, through no fault of anyone’s. But we can’t find fault without proof. So we endure.
We like to laugh. For fun, of course, but just as much for survival, to blanket our fears, to extinguish our anxiety, to take away the hurt. It hurts anyway so we laugh and hope Buddha’s Vinaya was wrong when it called for ancient monks in India to go to confession for such an offense as laughing. But we laugh. We tickle, we entice, we ridicule, we play the clown, the fool. We work the mirror and tell jokes into mock mics to an imaginary crowd and wait for the laughter to subside before emerging at school or the office or the party to make others laugh, the ultimate in now, the definitive value of absolute present. Why did the chicken cross the road? A man walks into a bar. It’s Nietzsche’s need to call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh. We laugh and nothing hurts, no one is going to die. We laugh and we must stop eating, talking, drinking, even moving because it is time to laugh, and no one worries when someone laughs. No one is plotting damage or pouring hemlock.
But contrarily and diametrically true is that no one is studying philosophy or English or history because we’re terrified—the ones who are down, depressed, the ones who are accused of “thinking too much” or are called “too melancholic” or “never easily satisfied,” are terrified– not at the sadness of life, the pointlessness of it all–but the grandness, the exquisiteness, the incomprehensible awe of it all, and the slow erosion of patience, the almost indistinguishable drift of simplicity. We are petrified that no one, no one, absolutely no one will understand. It is all too simple. Imagine, apparently it is simply too simple.
Have you ever sat and had dried fish on a rock in the sun, a cup of water from some clear-running stream? Do so and then you will agree with Lord Byron’s decree that he loves not man less but nature more. And I’ve wondered: With such a catalogue of rapturous places to be and explore and exist, who really ever needed the “Dialogues” anyway?
I wish to study philosophy because I’m looking for proof of something I can’t put my finger on; I need verification of something I have never heard of.
Do I need to buy the textbook?