oceans part two: ant in a tornado

friday the 13th.
of march.
year of our LORD 2020.

take note of how “they” is ubiquitously the greatest authority on the planet. no more noticeable than in the middle of a pandemic. how many times in one day can one overhear a sentence starting with “THEY’RE saying…”…

what a time to be alive. it’s near impossible to keep focused thought on anything but covid-19. i can’t walk past a human without wondering if they are thinking of it too. they must be. maybe the dogs are too. woof.

i suppose it’s a decent time to have been lifelong too poor to have any stake in the stock market. those fuckers must feel choked by their own ties.

in an effort to not die of stressed stimulus overload i’ve decided to keep my phone on airplane mode more. it’s 9:16. i woke up at 7. i’m still not sure of the headlines and won’t be for a while yet. i’m quite certain checking at 11 won’t make me any dumber than checking at 7 would have.

my immune system needs just a dash of ignorance and it really could use half a cup of optimism. it’s a cruel addition to the insanity of all this that i will actively make myself less capable of fighting off a virus if i obsessively stress about it.

i suppose now is as good a time as any to think about how i think about things. look for that overlap on the venn diagram between what i can control and what matters. what really matters.

it’s not just the THING that is worrisome. it’s how people behave when they fear the thing. what rational strongholds will lose out?

what will people do when resources get tight? when sea levels rise? when the president, who they believe, says one week that covid-19 is not a threat but then their father dies? what kind of rage follows?

ted chiang’s short story “what’s expected of us” asks the question what would people do if they came to truly believe and feel that they possessed no free will? like if it became central to their awareness. some in the story go on living. some enter a sort of waking coma — having retained the ability to move but having lost the motivation to do so for fear of its insignificance in the face of predeterminism.

being so drastically intimidated by not having free will that one loses the motivation to DO life at all doesn’t really resonate with me. not to suggest i can’t see the logic in it, but rather i can’t imagine myself choosing that. (or do i choose it? muahhaha).

i don’t even relate to the fatalism that for some accompanies embracing the inexistence of free will in the smaller scale, less dramatic version than the short story that happens here on earth. the fact that it feels like i’m making a choice is in a way enough for me to continue making choices.

it strikes me that for someone to be derailed by the loss of free will (or a newfound comprehension of it), he or she would have to be starting with two anxiety sparking assumptions. both of these assumptions probably play a role in all sorts of our decisions. the first is that they must assume that some day they will understand all things. only if they are so married to the idea that with enough effort and wisdom they will someday see clearly the substance of their consciousness would it be so troubling to take an essential question as being unanswered.

the second is the assumption that they have to entirely choose between “yes” and “no”. in some instances, for example when pondering mutually exclusive choices, it is a necessary anxiety. you will go to the movie or you will not go to the movie. you will buy the eggs or you will not buy the eggs. the anxiety is unnecessary but will come if we carry the buying of the eggs decision as a proxy for the deciding what to believe and how to think. shades of grey exist between our more dynamic choices.

as a thought exercise we should maybe consider how our outputs can change if our starting assumptions shift away from the hard goals of finding certainty and dichotomous answer seeking. maybe we shouldn’t be married to the idea that certainty awaits and that it is the result of attained wisdom. holding that it does in all situations that await will almost guarantee that there will be times when our logic can’t explain to us something and we will resort to or at least slide towards hopelessness.

we should embrace the uncertainty in some questions. we should recognize how many wise/successful people have said things like, “the more i learn the more i realize how much i don’t know.” einstein is not the only one to have ever felt that.

we should, if only for the sake of our sanity, embrace that sometimes this will require us to accept an absurd situation. to imagine sysiphus “superior to his fate” at that precise moment when camus does — when he is turning back towards the work. so what if we are doomed to toil our way through a wretched, predetermined path? we don’t know for certain whether or not that’s the case. we know for certain that we get to choose what we think about it. we know that if you try to convince yourself that your hands are always in control of all the levers you will feel very, very weak.

what’s expected of us by our future selves that hope to benefit or by our deities is that we have the humility to embrace the limits of our own understandings. does that mean we should shrug our shoulders at every difficult topic and say “there’s no way to know!” no. does that mean we should be overly skeptical and critical of all experts in all fields? no. we should probably have goals. we should probably have metrics by which we measure ourselves against those goals. we should hold ourselves accountable for improvement. we should also realize that our skull sized kingdoms are just that: skull sized. that is, not built to comprehend perfectly every big question we come across.

in the face of a daunting and intimidating issue like the one we face now, these things are even more difficult and more important. we have to be socially responsible and make good decisions while not expecting a personal grasp of it ALL. we have to find a way to place ourselves appropriately in the bigger picture. our ability to cope depends on it.

whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it.” — ghandi

find a ninth path. this is water. zorbatheminnesotan@gmail.com