Monthly Archives: December 2015

Philosopher Of Kindness

I went today to my local mental health facility for a shot in my psyche. It’s like a shot in the arm, but there’s no vaccine for melancholy—the best you can hope for is a (self-esteem) booster.

A client stood at the check-in desk in front of me. He wore brown pants with black shoes and a gray jacket. He kept his knit hat on inside the building. Nothing about his appearance begged attention. I figured he’d gone about his life with little fanfare, a common man with simple tastes. The sun shined on him like everyone else. He’d get wet in the rain like any poor soul, but the weather didn’t concern him.

My initial impressions changed within seconds. He’d been to the center many times, it was clear. Staff members greeted him left and right. Another client walked by and smiled hello. He entertained the front desk ladies with a story about his dog. It must have been funny, but I didn’t hear the joke. I was more interested in his parting remarks, his signature goodbye.

“Thank you, Judy,” he said. “I will pray for you and your family. I love you, Judy.”

A minute later, to a therapist in a cast, navigating a knee scooter:

“I’m glad the surgery went well, Mary. I will pray for you and your family. I love you, Mary.”

He thanked a nurse. “I’ll pray for you and your family, Terrie. I love you, Terrie.”

Nobody batted an eye. Nothing felt inappropriate. At least here he felt safe, dealing with his struggles—whatever his condition or official diagnosis—on his own terms.

He’s praying for everyone and everyone’s family. He thanks you and he loves you. He’s refreshingly odd and disarmingly friendly—a poet of the everyday, a philosopher of kindness. Someone thinking of others beyond their awareness of him.

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Filed under Life, Philosophy

Empire Of Illusion

In 1962 Daniel J. Boorstin published The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. A pseudo-event is a public relations tactic—a carefully crafted, television-ready spectacle that makes news for the sake of making news. Think of the press conference or political debate—in Boorstin’s time and today. Add the celebrity Twitter “feud” and star-studded movie premiere as current examples.

Boorstin wrote eloquently about celebrities, people “known for their well-knowness.” The Kardashians exemplify well-knowness today. Kim Kardashian rose to fame following the leak of a private sex tape. Her first press release was a case of pubic relations. Who’s screwing whom, we ask TMZ. In the end it’s the buying public—emotionally stunted pop culture voyeurs anxious for the money shot.

We are just as disgusted with the Kardashians’ antics as we are mesmerized. Some of us maintain a healthy dose of incredulity, refusing to support the Kardashian Hype Machine. We use irony as a weapon in a post-ironic world in which selfies replace family portraits and depth is measured at face value, that is, the sexual worth men—and women—ascribe to the airbrushed female body.

But beyond our collective eye-roll, the Kardashian Image persists, sharpening its focus while simultaneously extending its field of vision. The Kardashians not only go about their business, but get stronger. Our derision feeds their appetite for attention. They assume the challenge and up the ante.

It’s the same today with athletes, pop stars and politicians. Our feeble attempts to question the billions of dollars pouring into professional sports and the national committees of both major political parties go unnoticed. The rich and famous absorb all discord, trampling plebeians too dumb to see that personal investments matter more than the public good. We pay people “known for their well-knowness” to entertain us, to rid us of the illusion that change is still possible, that there still exists a space for committed political action against a self-serving Consumer Society.

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The Trouble With Being Born

From Richard Howard’s 1976 translation of E.M. Cioran’s The Trouble with Being Born:

Tsimtsum. This silly-sounding word designates a major concept of the Cabbala. For the world to exist, God, who was everything and everywhere, consented to shrink, to leave a vacant space not inhabited by Himself: it is in this “hole” that the world occurred.

Thus we occupy the wasteland He conceded to us out of pity or whim. For us to exist, He contracted, He limited His sovereignty. We are the product of His voluntary reduction, of His effacement, of His partial absence. In His madness He has actually amputated Himself for us. If only He had had the good sense and the good taste to remain whole! (119)

My life is the embodiment of man’s estrangement from God. Sin is not merely an act, but a state of being in the world. My worldly possession—the world as my possessor—creates a spiritual wound. My being-in-the-world longs to reunite with God in the neither-here-nor-there, but as long as I am, I will never reach Him. This doesn’t preclude me from trying, hence my obsession with madness.

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Words With Adversaries

Yesterday, a thought: I’m a college-educated, middle-class white American male with a loving family—how sad can my universe be? Yes, I have an illness, but it’s not who I am. It’s time to get my head out of my ass—even if it’s just a slow, calculated maneuver. Listing people who piss me off is a good start:

  1. Trump Supporters. Go ahead and vote for the Donald. He’ll make America great again—for rich white assholes looking to make billions on the backs of the weak and exploited.
  2. Frat Boy Alpha Males. We get it—you’ve got a big dick. Stop posturing—you’re just as small in the grand scheme of things as everyone else you put down.
  3. Militant Pro-Lifers. Murdering innocent people sounds more like you’re anti-life.
  4. Obama Haters. We get it—you don’t like black people. Or Mexicans. Or adults who can read beyond a fourth-grade level.
  5. The National Rifle Association. Protecting the rights of domestic terrorists across the USA.
  6. Religious Fanatics. No, you don’t know God’s will. Stop enumerating my sins while discounting your own.
  7. Ted Cruz. We get it—you don’t like black people. Or Mexicans. Or adults who can read beyond a fourth-grade level.
  8. People Who Love Their Smartphones More Than Human Beings.

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Filed under Politics