Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts

Sunday, January 21, 2024

What I'm Reading: The Question of God

 Next week, I'm beginning to read "The Question of God" by  Armand Nicholi.  The book is a series of fictional conversations between CS Lews and Sigmund Freud.  

Armand M. Nicholi Jr. is a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor.  The novel discusses the difficult and painful relationships that both Freud and Lewis suffered and how their experiences in life might have shaped their concept of God.  Both, having survived World War I, were said to suffer PTSD for the rest of their lives.  The book takes place shorter after Freud was diagnosed with cancer, but before he took his own life and before Lewis adopted children who were war orphans that became models for the children in the Narnia series of books.

The book was interpreted as a play by Mark St. Germain, which in turn was made into a film directed by Matthew Brown, starring Anthony Hopkins as Freud and Matthew Goode as Lewis.  Hopkins played Lewis in the 1993 film, "Shadowlands."

The Question of God by Armand Nicholi on sale at Amazon

Friday, August 25, 2023

Reading The Other Side

If I'm going to write about what happened in the sixties and early seventies, I feel like I need to be able to at least understand and articulate the opposing viewpoint, even if I don't agree with it.  

In Mississippi, most of the argument in favor of segregation came from the Citizens Council, and most of that came from Bill Simmons.  There's such a vast gulf between the things the guy said and wrote and my personal experience with him that I struggle to rationalize it all, and yet it's all true.  

No one sets out to be a villain.  Everybody believes they're working for the greater good.  Medgar Evers thought he was working for the greater good.  Bryan De La Beckwith thought he was working for the greater good.  Obviously, they weren't both correct.   Either that or the actual greater good isn't something we can understand.  

Most of what Bill Simmons wrote, I attribute to what Stephen Jay Gould called "biological determinism," or what I call "really bad anthropology."  What really helped me with all this was Richard Dawkins' theory on "The Selfish Gene," where he introduced the idea of the "meme" as a unit of cultural evolution to help the gene maximize inclusive fitness.  

There's an awful lot more to the word "meme" than funny pictures of cats or animated gifs from 90's sitcoms.  "Meme," as Dawkins intended it, could be the key to everything.  Once you infest yourself with a certain set of memes, then everything Bill Simmons ever wrote and everything Bryan De La Beckwith did starts to become understandable.  They're serving not truth but a meme, and that meme serves some level of genetic inclusive fitness.  

The wrongness of what these men said and did was the result of the selfish gene and the memes it spun to protect its agenda.

George Lucas simplifies the story so that red light sabers mean bad and light colors mean good, and that makes a great story, but there's more to it than that.

I'm starting these stories with the idea that everybody in the are trying to do what's right, but there's a big difference in what they all consider "right" to be.  Everybody is working to serve the memes they start with, but everybody starts with different memes.  

It's possible that the same flaws in my brain that make it difficult to read or speak also give me a way to see these things differently.  Either way, every time I turn on the television, I see where an old enemy of my culture has returned.  Understanding them is vitally important.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Per aspera ad Astra

 Nero ruled Rome from 54 to 68.  For those of us born in the sixties, that's quite a number.  He was generally considered a horrible person.  Besides feeding Christians to lions and setting fire to Rome, and blaming the Christians, Nero also ordered the suicide of his mentor, the philosopher Seneca.  Nero accused Seneca of taking part in a plot to overthrow and murder him.  To this day, historians argue whether or not the charges were false.  If Seneca had a part in the plot, it wasn't a large one.

In the first century, stoicism dominated Roman philosophy.  Stoics pondered such things as the nature of matter, happiness, virtue, divinity, and more.  Their influence on what was to become Christian thought is unmistakable; even though Seneca spoke about Christianity and Judaism, he was a pagan and a pantheist.

Seneca was known for his poetry.  He had a remarkable way with words.  One of my favorite thoughts from Seneca was "Per aspera ad Astra."  It's now part of official Star Trek lore, which is what started me thinking about it.

By "aspera" challenges, difficulties, struggle, effort, and resistance, we achieve "Astra" the Stars.  Through hardship, we reach the stars.  The Romans didn't have a very clear idea of what the stars actually were, so, like many cultures before them, "the stars" became an idea, the highest accomplishment, or the greatest goal.

We get the word "exasperate" from "aspera."  Considered a Southern expression, our use of exasperate probably comes from the 19th-century Southern obsession with romanticism and classical philosophy.  A fairly common practice among Southerners was to name slaves after classical figures, both real and mythical.

This idea that we reach the stars through hardship resonates with what I've been going through for the last two years.  I had to get really, very near death before I flipped the switch and started becoming something much greater than I had ever been.  Robert St. John tells a similar story.  He had to come very close to destroying himself to ultimately become himself. 

You see the influence of "Per aspera ad Astra" in Christian thought.  There are a number of instances where Christians advise perseverance in the face of adversity as the only path to a higher place.

In Star Trek, they take the ad astra part as quite literally the stars around us.  The real world isn't quite there yet; we have to make do with our one star.  Seneca's thought remains valid and strong though.  Through struggle, we become much more than what we were.  

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Ayn Rand and Andrew Ryan

For many years, I studied Ayn Rand's Objectivism pretty closely. I saw her ideas, combined with libertarianism, as the solution to most of our social and economic shortcomings.  

I had help, too. Libertarian commentators like James Randy and Penn Jillette guided me through the process, and I criticized, especially conservatives, who strayed from Rand's precepts. I never really considered the other side of the argument, though. I tend to be a very stubborn person and sometimes suffer from myopia on some issues.

A video game called Bioshock opened my eyes to the full spectrum of what Objectivism really meant. Rapture is The Fountainhead, and the introduction of a science fiction element called "plasmids" makes Rand's utopia unravel in the face of true human nature.

Never let anyone say you can't learn something from a video game.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

What I'm Reading - May 10


My dear friend (and former football trainer) gave me a copy of Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey.  I met McConaughey briefly when they were shooting A Time To Kill and had no clue he would be such a powerful and charming writer.  

Part autobiography and part philosophy, McConaughey gives a very frank and candid review of his life and how he managed and interpreted it all.  Greenlights is a very Southern book, both in his experiences and attitude.

Although I primarily use kindle to read now (mostly a matter of storage), some of you may know I'm something of a bibliophile snob, especially when it comes to the physical book.  This first edition of Greenlights (my copy came from the fabled Square Books) is a joy to touch and leaf through.  They use heavy rag paper, almost like expensive drawing paper with a substantial tooth.  It switches between different colors of ink and shades of paper so often that I wonder if this book was printed on a web press at all.  Some of the signatures may be from a sheet-fed press, which is unusual.  

Greenlights earns its spot on the best-seller list, primarily on the strength of the writing alone.  This is a book of life, not your typical Hollywood expose.  It's a book that speaks especially to Southern men in a voice they'll find familiar.

The Screwtape Letters.

I tell people that I"m an agnostic because I am, and I believe everyone is; no matter if they claim absolute belief or absolute disbelief, everyone has questions and doubts.  I've read many Christian apologists through the years, and I can only call Lewis beloved, at least by me.  This is my third time through on Screwtape and probably not the last.  

Written before he lost (and ultimately regained) his faith, Lewis dedicates Screwtape to his dear friend and fellow scribbler, J.R.R. Tolkien.  It's a fictitious series of letters written from a supervisor daemon to his nephew, advising his efforts to collect the soul of an English "client" recently converted to Christianity.  

In this and other works, Lewis makes Christian apology entertaining and digestible.  Lewis has a pragmatic opinion on Christian practices and philosophies, which come through almost effortlessly here.

Like the Narnia books, The Screwtape Letters is a quick read and a staple of English-speaking Christianity.  

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Empathic Life

I'm not psychic by any means, but I am empathetic. It's not that I can always tell what other people feel, but I almost always feel what they feel to some level. I think we're all born with this ability, but learn to tune it out as we get older. If you watch small children, they laugh when other children laugh and they cry when other children cry, even if they don't know what they're laughing at or crying about. As we get older, these empathetic feelings get in the way of whatever we're trying to do or whatever we're trying to feel so we learn to block them out. They're still there though, always there. The problem is that most of the time other people feel angry or annoyed or frightened or distracted and almost always lonely. Feeling those emotions of your own is bad enough, but when you share them from the people you encounter, it can become quite a burden. It can be such a burden, that sometimes I prefer not to be around anyone at all. Feeling nothing but my own thoughts and my own emotions, although quite lonesome at times, is often better than sharing the suffering from the rest of the world. A friend once suggested that I surround myself with happy, successful people and then I wouldn't mind sharing their empathetic experience. There problem there is that most happy, successful people don't usually feel that way, and if they do, they're often almost completely empty inside. There is a payoff though. People do sometimes feel joy, love, laughter and beauty. Sharing these emotions with them can be a privilege. These things are valuable though because they're rare, and sometimes it can be a long dry patch between bright moments. Sometimes I meet people whose need to share what they're experiencing is so great, that being around them almost crushes me. I let them do it though because I can feel how badly they need to share their experience, but it's pretty draining, and afterward I usually need sometime alone to recharge. John Donne said "No man is an island", but he's wrong. All men are an island. We're close enough to signal each other and exchange goods, but ultimately we have to isolate ourselves to keep any identity at all.

Official Ted Lasso