Diary, 3/31-4/2/22; down moods and how to recover; Greenwald and whistleblowers; book overload again; bleakspeak; what is sensible at the end of civilization?
Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved
An edited, shorter version of this document has been posted here.
This is mostly a “down day” because I haven’t written any fiction; I did, however, write some here and put together a post for the blog. That’s good, but apparently “not good enough” to lighten my mood. I’d have done better, perhaps, to go to the bank and get some cash, then to Food Maxx for bananas—all I am in need of right now. For three days I’ve been eating mandarin orange slices in single-serving plastic cups; these are okay as a supplement to my usual breakfast, in place of my normal banana. I have one more left, but I also have diced peaches…you didn’t want to know this.
I picked up my Glenn Greenwald book, No Place to Hide, thinking it was about Assange, but no, it’s Snowden. So many “criminal cases,” so little interest. I take it as a given that any whistleblower prosecuted (or wanted) by the U.S. government is probably a hero. Anyone arguing otherwise must provide not only facts, but motivation for me to read those putative facts. In other words, I’m content to believe that the government is lying to us again. Will I ever want to read about Snowden? Nope; I can donate the book.
I measured a space in my bedroom, thinking I could put in more shelves. Bad idea. I need to get rid of things, not acquire more—as any longtime reader of my blog will be sick of hearing. Today’s idea is: get rid of some fiction, especially, whatever is readily available at the library. This means that I would keep the Turgenev and get rid of the Brothers Karamazov and Lonesome Dove, just the opposite of what I’d want to do because I’d like to keep around old favorites, whether available through the library or not. So, culling the fiction will be difficult. What should I do with all this Japanese and classics that I haven’t read? There, my potential rule might be useful.
Reread some of my philosophy posts on my blog. Did a Google search for “bleakspeak”; my blog comes up first on the second page. Not very impressive, though other websites that use the word break it into two words, exclusively or almost so. Whatever. In any case, the few people that have read the pages apparently are not taken with the idea. I’d do better to put the idea into a novel, with many examples, like in Clockwork Orange.
But this body right now feels lazy; it could also say, this body has felt lazy all day.
If the end of civilization is coming soon, what is a sensible thing to do? Because this morning, I am finding it difficult to think of any act which is not absurd. In the novel I’ve been working on, one character says that she wants to learn how to survive, to live off the land through foraging and farming. But reading Greta Thunberg: The House is On Fire, last night, I began to think that even such sensible-seeming activities as learning to survive or protesting fossil fuels are just as absurd as, say, buying a new car or setting fire to your own hair. The only thing I can find this morning that is less absurd than other things is, to sit here typing. Let’s consider:
Is civilization doomed? My answer depends on the accuracy of my understanding of two things: the science, and the politics. I think the science is beyond dispute—the whole world, through the voice of the IPCC, has pronounced our doom. The politics in the United States is equally depressing: the Constitution guarantees that we cannot act in time to save ourselves, even if we had the will. We do not have the will, and the media—and thus, the people—aren’t even talking about our doom. I see no reason to consider the question any further, except: the answer is not to my liking.
But I’m saying nothing new here. On 3/28/22 I came up with my answer to the coming doom: relieve the suffering of others. I suppose I should add, “or your own suffering.” These actions are not senseless.
In a certain kind of story, starting with Shakespeare if not the Bible, to say “Her sufferings are over” is equivalent to saying “She’s dead.” This answer is not to my liking.
When she was eleven, Greta Thunberg had stopped eating and had stopped talking to anyone but her immediate family, i.e., parents and sister. It seems that she almost died, but her parents refused to allow that. I think the problem was despair (I haven’t gotten that far in the book). This amazing girl recovered and went on to change the world. The shocking story is told in the book named above. What makes it infinitely pitiful is that she cannot save us or even herself. Or so it seems to this body this morning, and right now this is not to this body’s liking. Or more briefly in bleakspeak, “So Ee sees it, and Ee does not like it.” We need a world full of Gretas, and we don’t have them and we don’t even want them. Giving up is so much easier. Not thinking about it is so much less painful.
I have often repeated my prediction of the end of the human species: ten billion apes buried in their own excrement. Ee thinks we’ll never get to ten billion.
Given that these are my thoughts this morning, is it any wonder that my fiction writing looks silly—because everything looks silly except eating breakfast.
From an email this morning, from Progressive International: “This week the Mexican government stood up against efforts by the US, EU and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization, to undermine efforts to free Covid-19 vaccines and treatments from the clutches of Big Pharma.” Good luck, there, guys.
My thoughts recorded here yesterday I think are both correct and “just a product of my mood,” i.e., my depression. I did not get past those thoughts by thinking, by refuting my conclusions, but rather by eating breakfast and thinking about other things, and in particular, by rereading Thomas Nagel’s essay “The Absurd” in his book Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 1979-1995. Here are what I see as the most important quotes:
“[Life] is absurd because we ignore the doubts that we know cannot be settled, continuing to live with nearly undiminished seriousness in spite of them.” p. 14.
“We cannot shed our ordinary responses, and if we could it would leave us with no means of conceiving a reality of any kind.” p. 19.
“…we return to our familiar convictions with a certain irony and resignation.” p. 20.
“In continuing to live and work and strive, we take ourselves seriously in action no matter what we say.” p. 20.
“If we tried to rely entirely on reason, and pressed it hard, our lives and beliefs would collapse…” p. 20.
Quoting David Hume, in a footnote: “Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find it in my heart to enter into them any farther” Attributed to “the Treatise.” p. 20.
“Why is the life of a mouse not absurd?” p. 21.
“The final escape is suicide; but before adopting any hasty solutions, it would be wise to consider carefully whether the absurdity of our existence truly presents us with a problem, to which some solution must be found–a way of dealing with prima facie disaster. That is certainly the attitude with which Camus approaches the issue, and it gains support from the fact that we are all eager to escape from absurd situations on a smaller scale.” p. 22.
“If a sense of the absurd is a way of perceiving our true situation (even though the situation is not absurd until the perception arises), then what reason can we have to resent or escape it? Like the capacity for epistemological skepticism, it results from the ability to understand our human limitations. It need not be a matter for agony unless we make it so. Nor need it evoke a defiant contempt of fate that allows us to feel brave or proud. Such dramatics, even if carried on in private, betray a failure to appreciate the cosmic unimportance of the situation. If sub specie aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that does not matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.” p. 23.
The quotes from Nagel don’t really apply to my sense of doom; I was not suffering from “the absurd” as described by Camus. My concern is not that “in a million years nothing I do today will matter”; my concern is that “nothing that is conceivable today will save the culture, and possibly the species, from being snuffed out.” In other words, I am like a child who has just realized that she will die, and that nothing she can do can change that. What can be done with such a child except 1) to tell her that “Heaven awaits you”; or 2) to say, “There, there” as you pat her on the shoulder? Or perhaps more effectively, “Look at what Puppy is doing!”
Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved