9.21.2009

An Exercise in Generalizing: Two Ways

This is not a polemic, though it might feel that way for a minute. Be patient. Take a look at these two columns, and before you continue reading below, admit to yourself whether you are drawn-toward or repelled by either side (and which?--and why?):
Zoroaster --------------------------------- Parmenides
Egypt, Babylon -------------------------- Rome, France
Yoga ------------------------------------------ Rhetoric
Whirling Dervishes ------------------ Deconstructionists
Sotapanna ----------------------------- Ph.D. Candidate
Poetry ---------------------------------------- Criticism
Enlightenment, Salvation -------------- Benefits , tenure
Osiris --------------------------- Jean Francois Lyotard
Participating --------------------------------- Analyzing
Gnosticism ----------------------- The Frankfurt School
Practicing Meditation ------------------- Watching LOST
Learning about Jainism ---- Learning more about Derrida
Vietnamese Food ------------------------------ Pinot noir
2012 ---------------------------------------------- 1968
Parables ------------------------ well-crafted arguments
Yerba Mate ------------------------------------- Coffee
erowid.org -------------------------------- dailykos.com
Jorge Luis Borges ----------- Edmund and Kenneth Burke
Jiddu Krishnamurti ---------------------- Barack Obama
Okay so that should be sufficient. Obviously, as I suggested the other day, it is possible to be interested in "all of the above." Some people doggedly refuse categorization. But I think this set really does give us a beginning sense of another kind of cultural divide. Many of my academic friends and colleagues and acquaintances would come down on the right side. Many of the people who go to Burning Man every year would come down on the left side. To be clear: neither list is inherently "superior." I recognize that, and hope that my readers do too.

Watch Saul Williams, and see whose side you think he's on. Make sure to listen to the list he rattles off from about 1:55-2:55:



I suppose there are some could-go-either-ways in there, but Williams' list seems to defy being "located." It is not racially homogenous, it draws from different time periods, and different continents. It is not nearly as anglo-European as my list on the right, above.

Anyway, it's my sense that most of those who are drawn to the right column tend to say things like, "Western culture is limiting," yet never look East. They say things like, "Mysticism is mental masturbation," without ever reading the mystics. This morning a friend posted an excerpt from Isocrates, presumably sympathetically: "And let no one suppose that I claim that just living can be taught; for, in a word, I hold that there does not exist an art of the kind which can implant sobriety and justice in depraved natures." That's very interesting to me, but I wonder--

To be fair: many of my marijuana-smoking friends outside of academia roll their eyes really hard at the list on the right. But there's one important difference here: many of the sources on the left claim that you ignore them to your own peril. But the sources on the right are very adamant that everything is relative, that post-hoc pragmatism is all we have, and that there's no such thing as salvation... in other words, there's no argument on the right side about why one shouldn't ignore the right side.

Is it impossible to implant sobriety and justice in depraved natures? If you read deeply in the above list on the right, it would appear so. If you are able to tune out those names and concepts listed on the left, it may very well appear impossible, as Isocrates suggested.

So, in summary: in order to believe Isocrates, you need to not believe what the Oracle at Delphi is telling you. Because if you believe what the Oracle is saying, then you believe that you can be "un-depraved."

Question: could a person spend Monday, Wednesday, and Friday thinking of Buddha as a more authoritative speaker than Kenneth Burke, and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday thinking of Burke as more authoritative than Buddha? Is that possible, or is it too much for a single mind?

***

When I was little I was an incredibly picky eater. Mostly only toast, waffles, Pop-Tarts, and peanut butter. No vegetables. No meat. Only apples and green grapes among fruits. People were always saying, "You really should try macaroni and cheese. It's so good. You would like it." I persisted for more than twenty years ignoring their speeches. When I finally tried macaroni and cheese, I'm embarrassed to say, I loved it. Since then my range has improved dramatically: now I like most kinds of meat, lots of vegetables, new spices, herbs, etc. Even Vietnamese food!

Why didn't I listen to those imploring me to try macaroni and cheese? Why did I refuse to listen for so long? Why did I finally come around? Does all of this have something to do with trust? How did I decide at age 4 who I would(n't) trust? Why did I change who I trusted at age 25? I really can't say...

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