Today, we learn in snatches or in brief bites. We don’t settle down to learn comprehensively. We can’t concentrate. Our life is one of incessant interruptions. If I look up a news article on the Web, swarms of ads descend to interrupt, and we spend precious time trying to delete them and move on as even as more continue to appear. The volume of ads are so asphyxiating these days that it isn’t worth the effort to get rid of them, and so I turn them off., annoyed and exasperated.
The chief point is that we cannot sit and think and read or reflect in peace any more. Everything calls to us, tempts us, distracts us, befuddles and annoys us. Our brains are not what they once were, not because of age, but because our culture works differently on them and hinders their further development.
News items are intruders. Their origin is external to our thought. If outside events are always being dumped on our brains, it is hard to take the time to grade them in terms of our general knowledge. We do we really know? It takes a lot of reflection to answer that. Only by looking at our own knowledge from all sides, do we get a grasp of the insights that come from experience rather than the knowledge that come from foreign impressions. Schopenhauer once said that real thinking means “comparing truth with truth.” To me that means deciding which truth had more meaning and priority in my own mental life?
The ability to focus on a subject for a long time without fatigue was one of Napoleon’s mottos. Who today can do that? What benefit to we get from blotting out distractions and learning to reason carefully for a long time without getting tired? It becomes harder for us to do everyday. Topics flock to our brains. The Middle East, President Trump, North Korea.
Are these things really interesting? If we buckle down and concentrate on them, what will be the reward? To me, the rewards are always meager. There is a lot of competition when it comes to current affairs. If we fall behind, we suffer a pang of regret – some neighbor knows more about current affairs than I do. But so what? I want to ponder things that are unique to my own temper and mental capacity. I don’t want to become a replica of my neighbor. There are few worse fates than that. I want to ponder things that are appropriate to my nature and experience. I want to encourage thoughts that have truth and life in them that occur naturally, not from without.
I do not understand why so many people strive so hard to be up to date. They are always in a race to try and announce headlines before their neighbors. They rarely study or master the stories the headlines advertize. They evade the labor of memorizing. All they can recapitulate are the headlines. If you ask about the stories, they hesitate then falter out, “I only saw the headlines.” I am sometimes eager to have them summarize what they’ve read, but there is no there, there as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, CA.
Let’s face it. Today we are all the junkies of daily news. “The Daily Fix” phrase is perhaps the most appropriate. It is really shameful if you think about it, but no one does, or if you protest about the meaningless deluge of daily news, you are labeled over-sensitive or nit-picking. Most of us awake to news headlines. There is a hurricane, an accident that kills sailors, a helicopter crashes, a new threat of annihilation from an Asian punk regime. But do we learn anything from these? We are like those toy birds that dip their beaks into a dish of water. They look as if they’re drinking, but they don’t. They are not built to absorb anything. Their dipping looks like activity, but it is all counterfeit. Unfortunately the breathless topics of today are not of permanent interest nor do they enrich the mind. They are transitory, destined not to last. They keep us floating on the surface of life, preventing us from diving deep and discovering something new and valuable and priceless.
We see lists of notable books on the Civil War, the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Fall of the Bastille. We see new books on the French Revolution or the fall of Paris in 1870. We see histories of the Balkans or the Ottoman Empire. We see books about the nature of power, religious or corporate or military. Do we read them, study them?
As we get older, our minds get more introspective. We want to seize the enduring truths that reside in our nature or our close friends. Such things sharpen the mind; help expand the range of our inner insight.
One of the main villains of modern life is opinion. Popular opinion has replaced thought and reflection. Opinions are the product of ignorant hearsay. All of us see or view something and, without considering what it means, we rush to bray our reactions to anyone who can hear it. But is our reaction valid? Insightful? Useful? Enlightening? Opinions are unstable; they become outmoded, lacking in pertinence or validity and over time, are discarded. An opinion is the prisoner of the moment, a prisoner of the thoughtless and automatic the commonplace. For every thousand people cry a thing up only a pitiable few cry it down and their voices are drowned out.
We suffer from an increasingly lack of sound judgment. The recent eclipse of Aag. 21 was a good example. . Appalling. It was a craze like the Salem or tulip craze, a classic example of groupthink. The event was hyped so much it became stupefying, people acting as if they’d been hypnotized. Somehow an eclipse was going to reconcile all the evils of humanity and human nature. It was going to bestow tolerance, charity, forgiveness, and love. But how cold the movements of the moon on the sun achieve this?
Those things were beyond its power. The idea was fatuous.
In the end, my wife and I sat in the driveway and we put sun proof glasses on and stared up like owls. The next day did I observe any more love or concern or compassion or charity in people than I did before? Of course not. What would cause such a vast improvement? The eclipse was a fad, a mere craze like Pokémon go. 9994
Isolation plays a large part in retarding study. The pleasure of learning is a noble pleasure, and like all good things, sharing what we learn with others increases its value. We are social creatures, and it is part of our nature to share the excellent. But most of the time we lack people to share the joy of our discoveries with. We are victims of the addicts of the mental lightweights who confine their reading to New York Times’ bestsellers, people who lack the means to judge the merit of what they’re reading, who lack the talent to articulate its virtues. They lack the standards of taste and the critical spirit required to evaluate them correctly.
Isolation has killed a lot of thinkers. I remember How Hume’s book on Reelections on Human Nature fell absolutely flat after it was published yet, over time, became a classic. But popularity can kill as well. We think of how Mozart’s amazing genius wowed and fascinated his audiences and followers and yet his fame resulted in him buried in an unmarked grave for the poor. Crowds are dismayingly fickle. Their interest lacks stamina.
Apparently it is the task of modern culture is to herd all of us on well traveled roads, never taking the road less traveled. Few of us explore and the few who do are not met with enthusiasm or praise or appreciation but by polite indifference mainly because your knowledge is not current or popular.
Popularity is a trap. It retains a viselike grip on the ignorant. It is sinister because it is addictive. If something is popular and makes money, then it must be successful, and if successful, it must be superior. No one asks the fans of the popular why they admire as they do. Because they assume that everyone else thinks just as they do and everyone else suffers from the same mediocre qualities of taste and narrowness of mind.
It is a hard truth that people of more talented intellectual capacity seek out people with similar temperaments and natures. That is the key to all friendship. With the right people, they come alive. They speak freely and honestly, relating facts that stimulate their listeners who then come forward with their own treasured items of memory and knowledge that stimulate and reinforce the conversation. Both sides leave the discussion strengthed and invigorated. Both are eager to hear more, learn more. Both return feeling less isolated from the ephemeral l thing tat matter so much in the world.
The purpose is to learn and share our knowledge for its own sake not because we want to not to become the center of attention. A neighbor’s kid came to visit his parents. He was obsessed with learning about Rubik Cube. One the night of his arrival, there was a dinner in progress, but no sooner had the guests entered in the hallway, than this kid was putting on an exhibition, wresting with his cube, blocking the entering hallway, of course earning automatic applause from his audience. A short time later, he then went down to Miami to attend an international competition, and after all his self display his scores were mediocre, resting stolidity in the middle of the pack. I wondered if his interest was merely a desire to attract cheap applause, or whether he was serious student determined to become an expert, putting in those long hours of concentrated focus to improve his skill. Of course, my hopes were mislaid. He moved onto so something else where he would be the center of attention and hog the spotlight.
How We Die
Am reading an excellent book, How We Die? The author, Sherwin Nuland, is a doctor, a surgeon, who is a well educated and deeply cultured man. He writes with eloquence. His prose is not for the squeamish. He retails very grisly details about how we lose our lives. Each chapter documents the chief causes of death in America, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, accidents, suicides, “Murder and Serenity”, etc.
One death he documents was that of James McCarty who died of a heart attack. He was a successful construction executive who led a “suicidal” life. He smoked, ate rich food, consumed a lot of red meat, and grew flabby and overweight and never exercised. He arrived at the emergency room at 8 p.m., on a hot and humid Sept. evening. He complained of “a constrictive pressure behind the breastbone” that radiated up into his throat and down his left arm. The pressure had begun after his usual heavy dinner. His face was ashen and sweaty. His heartbeat was irregular but improved after initial treatment.
At 11:00 p.m., Nuland arrived. McCarty wasn’t pleased to see him. McCarty greeted him with a thin, forced smile. Nuland was 22 years of age at the time and this was one of his first cases. As Nuland sat down, McCarty suddenly threw his head back and “bellowed a wordless roar that came out of his throat from somewhere deep in his stricken heart.” He hit his balled fists with surprising force up against his chest as his face became swollen and purple.
Nuland explains how he opened up the chest cavity to massage the man’s heart. The heart felt like “an uncoordinated squirming, a jellylike bagful of hyperactive worms.” The heart was wriggling under his fingers, and he began a series of firm, syncopated compressions.
Then Nuland writes “Suddenly a something stupefying in its horror took place." (Excellent sentence.) McCarty “threw back his head once more, and staring at the ceiling with his glassy, unseeing gaze of open, dead eyes, roared at the distant heavens a hoarse, rasping whoop that sounded as if the hounds of hell were barking.” (Pat described this as McCarty’s “last hurrah.” McCarty, of course, was already dead when this happened.
The book is written in this effective pictorial style. It spares the reader nothing.
Of course, we all die from lack of oxygen. We cease breathing and our esophagus muscles can constrict and make us bark as we die or there can be seen great heaving as our lungs fail. The myths that our nails or hair grow after our death are simply myths. After we die, nothing grows. The lively energetic spirit that was one our deepest being had fled, leafing a pathetic shell behind that is not pleasant to look at. The eyes, at first unfocused and glassy, soon become covered ay a gray film that has no expression at all. The body beings to shrink. We have become mere luggage. What will survive of us has already been done. There is nothing else to look forward to.
I learned enough of New Testament Greek to read St. Paul’s letters, which were outstandingly articulate in every way. But when I came to the Resurrection, I became skeptical. It was a lovely wish – to be restored to your parents, your wife, and your friends. But St. Paul’s belief had its antecedents Zoroaster, the great Persian religious leader, was said to have been torn to pieces by his followers, but rose after three days. I don’t like coincides. Of course, Jesus appeared to his followers but there was little to record of him after that. Was he resurrected a second time? There is little information.
Aging is a merely Nature’s hint that our time on earth is ending. It is not a time to panic, but to concentrate and finish. On TV there are fear-mongering with ads like Entresto that pleads for more “tomorrows” or another one offering “a chance to live longer," as elderly people gaze upwards towards God.
This is despicable. There should be no fear of dying. When I think of leaving the world and its beauties, I try to picture a long festive Thanksgiving table full of friends and feasts, everyone full of joy and gladness. But as the end of the festivities approaches, the older guests realize that it now time for us to be generous, and give up their seats so that others may feast and joy and appreciate as we once did.
I have made a stern resolution not to outlive my wits. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease which does nothing but cause suffering to everyone around it. One couple, Phil and Janet, were torn apart by it after their 50th wedding anniversary. Phil was a real estate developer who had led a prosperous life. One afternoon, Janet was on confronted by a furious Phil who accused her of vesting her lover, who happened to be a cousin of Phil’s who had died many years ago. When Phil finally died, relief swept over the family. The one thing your family should avoid is to feel relief at your death.
For my part, I refuse to outlive my wits. If I am stricken with it, I hope that can say with Seneca, “I will not relinquish old age if it leaves my better part intact. But if it begins to shake my mind, if it destroys its faculties, one by one, if it leaves me not life but breath, I will depart the putrid or tottering edifice.”
He added: “If I have to suffer without relief, I will depart, not through fear of pain itself but because it prevents all that for which I would live.”
I have made clear in my will that no one should attempt to resuscitate me if I die nor will they be allowed to use artificial means to sustain my life if my wits are gone. I detest last minute cures whose success only causes more suffering. I always admired Averill Harriman, who at the age of 94, called an end to his existence, by refusing food or water until his organs shut down and gave him death.
I feel the same. I know of people who begged for their lives as they were dying. They pleaded and begged and beseeched, yet life left them anyway. I am sorry, bit I scorn death. Too die is as natural as being born. I hope when I die I die full of joy, full of and thoughtful appreciation and deep gratitude for all the splendid friends and experience I was lucky to be part of. Life was a priceless gift, and it deserves my grateful admiration.
Perhaps I’m wrong and will be reunited to my lovely wife and friends and children. But God, they say, is good; He is love. I am certain that He will forgive me for my mistaken opinions. I wish they would prove true.
What is a worthwhile life? If you aware tat you have gifts above the ordinary, then your ambition must be to use them to create something special and worthwhile. Enduring setbacks and reverses, yet preserving, over time, you life will manifest the fixed determination of an indomitable will to realize your aims. Only then will you feel you took your own authentic path in life. But above all, you just honor our gifts by serving them tirelessly and to the full. You will work all your life like the bee building a honey comb.
As my own death approaches, I feel a fresh courage that is resolved to build and crate until I can’t any longer.
I would appreciate the opinions of others on the site.