Sunday, December 31, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Eight

Lately I’ve been waking up during the night, often two or three times

I look at the clock, wondering why the alarm didn’t go off, because I feel as though I’ve slept all night. But I always find I've slept only a couple of hours.

I feel as though I’ve slept all night because my dreams leave me exhausted.

I used to remember my dreams in detail. And they were detailed. They were interesting, informative spectacles. I watched them as a spectator, aware they were dreams. I learned about myself from watching them. Now I remember nothing of my dreams after I wake. I wouldn’t know I’d been dreaming if I didn’t have the feeling that something momentous had been happening, and then suddenly it stopped. A great cacophony suddenly stopped, and then there was nothing but the silence of my bedroom.

It was as though I'd dreamed I was in a forest, and heard the sound of a distant battle. It grew louder and louder as I walked towards it until, finally, I climbed a hill and saw the soldiers below me, fighting; and they, seeing me, stopped fighting and looked up at me. Did they think I was their general?

It was as though I'd dreamed I was in an insane asylum, and heard its inmates wailing. The sound grew louder and louder as I walked towards it until, finally, I opened a door and saw them; and they, seeing me, stopped wailing and looked at me. Did they think I was their doctor?

It was as though I’d dreamed I was in hell.

I am in hell. We all are. I used to think I could help them. But I can help no one.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Seven

Google commemorated Marlene Dietrich’s birthday today with a Google Doodle of her dressed in white tie and tails. Her ‘legacy’, claimed one of the accompanying comments, was her “willingness to challenge gender norms”. Another comment described her as bisexual, which is less obtuse than calling her a lesbian, but still wrong. 

Dietrich wasn’t attracted to men or women. She was an actress, therefore a narcissist. She created an androgynous persona to attract an audience composed of both men and women because she knew they both felt trapped in their conventional gender rôles. Like Narcissus, she was attracted to an image of herself that she'd created and saw reflected in the eyes of her audience.

She was an actress who enjoyed the company of men like John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway, who performed their sexual personæ as theatrically as she did hers. 

One comment in support of the view that she was lesbian quoted her as saying “Sex is much better with a woman, but then one can’t live with a woman”; but was she speaking as a woman, or the androgynous persona she created? Either one might find sex with a woman better than sex with a man, because in our society women must learn to please men, but men aren’t expected to know what pleases women. 

A woman might find sex with another woman better than sex with a man for the same reason that a man might find sex with another man better than sex with a woman. Most men don’t really like women, and most women don’t really like men, because most people are conformists. Even conformists find other conformists unattractive. 

Most people are such conformists that the only nonconformity they can imagine is sexual, which explains why they’re obsessed with sex. Bertrand Russell encouraged his students to have sex so they weren't thinking about it constantly, and could give their undivided attention to mathematics.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Six

They say they believe they'll live forever. That would be terrible if it were true; but they say all the wrongs we suffer in this life will be made right in the next, and all the wrongs we do to others in this life will be forgiven in the next. I’m sure they want to believe it, but I don’t see how they can.

I think I can live with the truth. At least I try. But they don’t think they can.    

Monday, December 25, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Five

I woke this morning with the words of Major Amberson echoing in my head. They're actually the Major’s words as spoken by Orson Welles in his film of The Magnificent Ambersons, which so impressed me when I was a child that I read the novel on which it was based.

As he nears the end of his life, the Major becomes uncharacteristically philosophical. He asks himself what happens to us when we die, and reasons that our souls return from wherever they came. The sun is the source of all life on earth, therefore our souls return to the sun.

I knew Tarkington’s novel won the Pulitzer Prize, but I found it inferior to the film. The Major’s words sounded magnificent when spoken by Welles, but looked banal on the page. This was perhaps the first time I became aware that a second-rate novel can inspire a great film.   

Now that I'm nearing the end of my own life, my thoughts seem to me as banal as the Major’s.

It’s obvious why the sun was our first god. He rules the sky, and fertilizes mother earth with rain. But before the gods there were goddesses. And before them both, the void.

Egyptologists are puzzled by the fact that Nut was goddess of the sky and Geb, her brother/husband, god of the earth. But Nut was goddess of the night sky. The black void overhead was her body, and the stars that filled it were the souls of the dead. Osiris climbed up a ladder to re-enter his mother’s body and become king of the dead.

The Book of Nut is the earliest known text on astrology and astronomy. What we separate into religion and science are both the study of the night sky – that night from which we all woke and to which we all return.

Friday, December 22, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Four

We had our Christmas party yesterday evening.

It wasn’t actually a party. The last time I worked at the company, Don rented a suite at a local hotel every year and we’d have a real party. Bob and his wife brought their instruments and played while we all danced and sang Christmas carols. After I retired, the company lost so many employees that Don stopped holding annual Christmas parties. Yesterday’s party was just dinner at a restaurant, and only for the employees, not their families. Not even Don’s wife was there.

Sitting at the table, I became aware again of how much the company’s group dynamic has changed because of Nick.

Most of the employees who are gone now had been around Bob’s age, and the new hires are all Nick’s age. He and the women sat at my end of the table, giggling together, while I sat silent.

I asked myself if I was jealous, but decided that isn't the case. It’s true I used to be the focus of the group, but only as the eye is the focus of the hurricane. Petty quarrels swirled around me, but I refused to be drawn into them. I was the only real adult in the room. Nick has made himself the focus of the group by being the most childish adult in the room.

He babbles constantly about his favorite comic book heroes, video games, and the pranks he and his 'buddies' play on each other. He doesn’t do this with the other men in the office. His chosen audience is the women, who laugh indulgently as they probably do at the antics of their children (The women are all married, with small children).

I’ve asked myself if I dislike him, but decided that isn’t the case. I might even find Nick as amusing as the women do if I didn’t have to work with him. But he’s unreliable. Even Bob, who never says a critical word about anyone, told me Nick is ‘erratic’ and ‘disorganized’.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Three

Cogito, ergo sum and sum, ergo cogito. If I must be a while longer, I must think a while longer.

Scientists now say the question is why there’s something rather than nothing. It’s an unanswerable question because the distinction is a false one.

What they (we?) call nothing is not an empty void. It only appears empty to us, just as light appears without color to us until we shine it through a prism. An apt metaphor because light, with or without color, appears only to us. Without eyes to see them and ears to hear them, what we call things are only waves moving on the surface of the void, which contains all things just as white light contains all colors.

We imagine the void is empty because it seems so different from us. But we come from the void, and return to it. We are no more than episodes in its history. For the void does have a history. It exists in time, just as we do. It exists because we do, and vice versa.

Once we make a distinction between something and nothing, it’s easy to make a distinction between living and nonliving things. One error leads to another until finally we have civilisation.

Our earliest philosophers said we are spirits caged in matter. Death frees us. It would be closer to the truth to say spirit (or life) is a disease of matter. Once infected, matter begins to decay.

We are parasites, feeding on a world we pretend is lifeless matter in order to avoid judging and condemning ourselves for what we do to it. We invented gods to forgive us what we do because we can't forgive ourselves.

There is indeed a god-shaped hole in our lives, and nothing can fill it. Nothing has filled it.

God was a name for what we didn't understand. The void is a name for what we refuse to understand.
Life like ours is probably rare, a mutation unique to this planet. Here it proliferates like a cancer because misery loves company.

All living things seem to me tragic, but other animals most of all because they don’t invent the myths we call civilisation that protect us from reality. Other animals do terrible things, but they don’t tell themselves they do them in the service of some greater good, as we do.    

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Two

I wasn’t going to write anything again. I was going to lie down, go to sleep and never wake up. Then Don called and asked me to come back to work. 

Last month I wrote that Don thought he was doing me a favor, so it would have been rude of me to refuse. But that’s not why I came back.

I tried to kill myself after she died, and was preparing to try again when Don called and offered me a job. And then the next time I was preparing to kill myself, he called again. I know it’s only a coincidence, but it’s uncanny.

The company is dying, so it’s a comfortable place for someone like me to be. Almost everyone I worked with eight years ago is gone now, and the few who remain know it has no future, so it’s quiet as a funeral. The only sounds are when Bob or I tell each other a joke, and we both chuckle.      

Saturday, November 4, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty One

Everyone wants to know the truth, and no one wants to know the truth. This is a paradox to those who imagine they must want one or the other, but not both. It’s always both.

Whatever we imagine the truth to be, it’s always different. Sometimes it’s better than what we imagine, and sometimes worse; but it’s never what we want because we don’t know ourselves well enough to know what we want.

What people want most, and fear most, is to know the truth. Knowing they're not what they imagine themselves to be, they decide it’s better not to know the truth.

Friday, November 3, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty

Everyone wants to live, and everyone wants to die. This is a paradox to those who imagine they must want one or the other, but not both. It’s always both.

Everyone wants a good death, one that completes a good life. But most people live meaningless lives that aren’t completed, but merely ended, by equally meaningless deaths.    

Everyone wants to live not because their lives are good, but because they’re meaningless. They know life is change, so they hope their lives will change for the better. But as they grow old, they lose hope.

Some then kill themselves, but most don’t. They choose not to kill themselves – which is not the same as choosing to live - because they no longer care whether they live or die.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Nine

I seldom remember my dreams now. I know they’re not good only because I always wake feeling depressed. This morning I remembered why.

Last night I dreamed I was back in school. It was graduation day, and all the other students were celebrating. 

Everyone was dancing except me. I made my way between the dancers, walking slowly towards the door of the principal’s office. I had a question to ask her, but I was sure I already knew the answer,

She told me my degree was worthless. I already knew that, so hearing it confirmed didn’t surprise me. But it did fill me with pity for my fellow students, who were celebrating because they didn’t yet know what I had always known.

The immediate cause of this dream was a television documentary I watched last night about the privatization of the public schools. 

It featured a waitress who said she’d paid her way through a privatized school by waiting tables, only to learn on graduation day that the school wasn’t accredited, so her degree was worthless. I remembered wondering how she could not have known this. Didn’t she investigate the school before applying?       

Then I remembered thinking it didn't matter because all schools are worthless. 

I attended what was considered a good school (although the teachers complained to me that it wasn’t what it used to be; the destruction of the schools - of everything we used to call civilisation - has been going on for a long time), but no school prepares us for life; not the life I should have lived, the life we all should live. 

Teachers prepare us to live in this society by teaching us to forget what every child knows, and believe - or rather suspend our disbelief - in its myths.They do this not out of malice or jealousy, because they want us to fail as they did, but because it's an unjust society, and without illusions living in it would be unbearable.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Eight

Winter is coming. There was ice on the windshield this morning. Soon snow will fall, and someone will say that proves global warming is a hoax. It’s how we deal with emergencies.

When an emergency strikes, people usually help its victims restore things to what they consider normal. But when emergencies become the norm, people look after themselves and try not to see anyone else.

They tell themselves the emergency is only temporary, not the norm, just as they tell themselves war is only temporary and peace is the norm.

Emergency is the norm for most people most of the time, but they try not to see it, and tell themselves that winter snow proves global warming is a hoax.

Friday, October 27, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Seven

Philosophers have always sought to understand the world. The point, said Marx, is to change it. But each time we try to change it, the results aren’t what we expected. That’s one of the reasons why we imagined the world is a being like us, alive as we are, with a mind and a will of its own. But it’s more powerful than we are, so instead of opposing it we tried to tame this being as we tame wild animals and make them serve us, as our masters tame us and make us serve them. We flatter it, and pretend we love it, until we persuade ourselves not only that it’s true, but it loves us in return.

To change the world, we must know the world; and to know the world is to know it's not a being like us, alive as we are; and we don't know it well enough to know what the results will be if we try to change it.

It’s changing all the time, of course; but in accordance with its own laws, not ours. 

It’s alive, of course, but not as we are. It’s a body of which we're the cells. Tat tvam asi, but what does a body know of its cells, and what do cells know of their body?

We are more than we seem, parts of something greater than ourselves; but I can no longer take comfort in knowing that because we’re destroying the world, and therefore ourselves.       

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Six

Now I have a job again, and money coming in. Not enough to live comfortably, but enough to hope that I may save some money if no emergency arises. But it's a false hope, as hope always is. Emergencies always arise.

Don thought he was doing me a favor when he asked me to come back to work, so it would have been rude of me to refuse. But I knew it was a mistake. I was more dead than alive, and rousing myself from the grave has been exhausting.

Learning Goldmine has been interesting. Too interesting. Learning new things only distracts me from facing, and accepting, things I’ve always known.

Don still says I can save the company, but no one can do that. I realized that eight years ago. I’ve always known people want to be saved, but only on their own terms. Don wouldn’t listen to my business plan eight years ago. He now admits I was right, but it’s too late. There’s nothing I can do now

Each day I sit at my desk and think about standing up and walking out. I‘m not the captain of this sinking ship.        

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

One Hundted an Forty Five

Mike was in a coma for weeks, and wasn’t expected to live; but now he’s regained consciousness. His father asked me to come back and work part time until he recovers.

I've no intention of coming back full time, even though I need money desperately. I can no longer find satisfaction in doing well work that shouldn't be done.

Most of the people I worked with eight years ago have left the company. The ones who remember me tell the new hires I’m a genius who’ll save the company, but I can see why they’re skeptical. They began using Goldmine after I retired, and I was having difficulty understanding it. I was sure this proved I was becoming senile; but after reading the instruction manual online I realized I’m having difficulty understanding it because they don’t understand it themselves, and explained it to me badly.

People have always tried to explain to me what they don’t understand themselves.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Four

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It’s irrational to trust in someone or something when all the evidence we have suggests we shouldn’t; but we’re limited beings, and can never have enough evidence to know anything with certainty. At some point we must decide we know enough to act, and hope that what we don’t know doesn’t contradict all we do know.

People used to have faith in religion because it was rational. Not only did it give order and meaning to their lives, but all the evidence they had supported it. When scientists found evidence that seemed to contradict religion, priests redefined faith as irrational - a belief in something or someone (a god) when all the (scientific) evidence suggests we shouldn’t - and claimed irrational faith was superior to reason.
People who lost faith in gods used to make science their new religion. Their faith in science was irrational because they didn’t understand it any more than they understood the teachings of their religious prophets; but they had faith that if they did understand it, science would give them that assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, which religion failed to do. They trusted that scientists knew the truth as nvely as they once trusted priests. But instead of making our lives better, scientists brought us to the brink of destruction.

But most people never lost faith in gods. They lost faith in priests, and their ability to interpret god’s words as written in the bible. When they learned to read the bible for themselves, people didn’t agree with the priests’ interpretations. Now people for whom science is a religion have lost their faith in scientists, but not in science, so they call themselves creation scientists. They attempt to combine science and religion, which would be laudable if they understood that they’re different methods of searching for truth; but they assume both are dogmas.     

Friday, October 6, 2017

One Hundred and Forty Three

I’m reading Clive Ponting’s A Green History of the World. He’s no prose stylist, but he’s mastered the material and presents it well. 

It’s been accepted for some time that the Neolithic Revolution was the major event in our social history, but most historians no longer describe it as a fortunate event. More and more agree with Jared Diamond that it was a major mistake. Ponting compares the lives of hunter/gatherers with those of agriculturalists, and it’s clear hunter/gatherers were better off. Finally historians are beginning to accept what I knew when I was twelve, from reading Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

All animals modify their environment, but not to the extent we do. The changes we make are so great that we can’t undo them even when we want to. We burned down the forests and used the land for monocrop agriculture (and still do); we hunted animals to extinction (and still do). Now we realize these were mistakes, but it's too late. We can't restore the original ecosystem.

I knew this before reading Ponting’s book, but it helped me answer the question I always ask about our ancestors: why did they believe in gods?

We call ourselves homo sapiens, but we're profoundly ignorant. We don’t know our own limits, therefore we don’t know ourselves.

We do everything to a violent extreme because we imagine everything we do is good. When the world doesn’t respond to the things we do to it in the way we expect it to, we imagine it's a being like us, only more powerful, and it's angry at us for injuring this world which is its body. 

All the gods in our earliest myths are angry; but we tamed them as slaves tame their masters, by flattering them. We pretended we loved them, and eventually came to believe we did. Even worse, we believed our gods loved us in return. 

Most people now define religion as faith in a god. Most lost their faith in gods, and made science their religion, because they imagined science would give them back the unlimited, godlike power they imagine they once had, something gods promised but never did. When science didn’t make them godlike, either, people put their faith in the nation. We're all fascists now. I define religion as the awareness that we have limits, are parts of something greater than ourselves - not faith in an immortal master who rewards obedient slaves by making them immortal.                   

Saturday, September 30, 2017

One hundred and Forty Two

Last night I dreamed one of my co-workers invited me to attend the wedding of his sister.

The wedding was held in his house, which was splendid. Every guest was young and beautiful, and beautifully dressed. I was still young myself in this dream, and wearing my best suit. Several of the bridesmaids flirted with me at the reception, as young women did when I was young. One of them was my friend’s other sister, and he joked that our wedding would be next.

I left the reception and wandered through the rest of the house. All the other rooms were just as splendid, as though they, too, had been prepared to receive guests.

I wandered from room to room, and eventually found myself in rooms that were obviously not part of a private house – auditoriums, conference rooms and lecture halls - all of them empty but just as splendid and waiting to receive people. But not me. This was a gated community whose residents all knew each other, married each other, and lived in houses connected to each other through passageways unknown to outsiders.

I realized I was trespassing, and should leave. The land outside was barren and desolate, but I opened the gate and stepped outside.

I saw a cat lying at my feet. It was whimpering in pain. Then I saw a bird of prey on its back, its gray feathers almost hidden in the cat’s thick gray fur. The bird’s claws were sunk into the cat’s body, and it was pecking at the cat like Prometheus' eagle.

I crouched down and carefully pried the raptor’s claws, one by one, from the cat's body. The bird flew away, and the cat crawled away to lick its wounds.

As I watched them leave, someone struck me from behind and knocked me out. When I woke, a man was standing over me.

He was a mulatto, lightskinned enough to be mistaken for a latino by someone not familiar with mulattoes, but his racial ancestry was obvious from his dreadlocks, which looked like Medusa's snakes. He, too, was wearing what was obviously his best suit. His fingernails were long and filed to points, like claws.

He demanded my wallet, and I gave it to him. He got angry when he found it was empty, and told me to take off my clothes. They at least were worth something.

I begged him not to leave me naked. He sank his long nails into me, as the bird had sunk its claws into the cat, and I passed out from the pain.

I woke up bloody and disheveled. I got up, staggered to the gate and banged on it. People came out of the house, but when they saw my condition they refused to let me in.

I watch my dreams as a spectator, even when I’m in them. The me in this dream was afraid the mulatto was going to kill me, but the me watching the dream found it funny.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

One Hundred and Forty One

I'm as alone as Alexander Selkirk. 

Defoe is said to have invented Friday in order to show that the civilized Englishman invariably becomes master of any savage he meets, whatever the circumstances. That may have become the moral of Defoe’s story as he wrote it, but I think he began with Selkirk’s story, and invented Friday because he couldn’t imagine such loneliness.

“L'enfer, c'est les autres”, said Sartre. Not because he was a misanthrope, but because however well we come to know other people, they remain strangers. A stranger could become our friend, but we fear s/he’ll become our enemy because our society teaches us we're all competitors.

“There is no such thing as society”, said Baroness Thatcher. “There are only individuals”. Wise words from a fool. But we’re all fools.

Fools aren’t fools because they never say anything wise. They’re fools because they don’t know what they’re saying, but merely repeat what they hear.

“Never say more than you know”, said Wittgenstein. But if we didn’t say more than we know, most of us would never say anything. 

We all know more than we think we do, or admit we do. Education means forgetting what all children know, because it's too terrible to live with, and pretending to believe the comforting lies adults pretend to believe.

We all know life is terrible for most people most of the time, but we pretend the occasional moment of joy makes the years of pain worth living. Life may be worth living for some, but not for most of us. Perhaps not for any of us. Even the most fortunate must be troubled by the knowledge that their happiness is made possible by the misery of others. But even if they feel no pity for others, the fortunate must fear that their victims will take revenge on them.

What we used to call society, before the baroness corrected us, is therefore built on sadomasochism. The fortunate hurt the unfortunate to confirm that however terrible the things they do, their victims can’t or won’t take revenge on them. 

Slaves don’t rebel against their masters unless and until they delude themselves into believing they'd make better masters. But so few of us are able to master ourselves that only fools imagine they could master others.

We pretend to be masters or slaves because we've all done terrible things. We'd rather be masters, guiltless because above the law; but most of us are content to be slaves, guiltless because we merely carry out our masters’ orders.

We invented gods who could forgive us for committing crimes too terrible for us to forgive ourselves. Now we know too much to believe, or suspend our disbelief, in gods, but not enough to forgive ourselves; so we punish ourselves.       

Friday, September 8, 2017

One Hundred and Forty

After she died, I tried to kill myself, and failed; so I took all the books off the shelves and cleaned them, for something to do. But I can do nothing now. I never put them back on the shelves. They’re still sitting on the floor in piles.

Once in a while I look for a book; but usually I can’t find what I’m looking for, so I pick up the nearest book I find and read it. Last month it was Wallerstein’s. After I finished it, I picked up Stuart & Marie Hall’s A Brief History of Science. Brief it is, but well written, by literate writers for literate readers, in a style as obsolete as Chaucer’s Middle English.  

Nothing is more obsolete than a book about the progress of human knowledge. Every age of reason and enlightenment has been a renaissance, a rediscovery of ancient knowledge lost. We keep losing our way, so for us progress always means going back to the beginning. And we always lose more than we regain.
I finished the Halls’ book last night. This morning I woke, as I often do, with a phrase echoing in my head. It was We are dancing on the edge of a volcano

Popular historians invariably use this phrase when writing about the Weimar Republic, but it’s older than Weimar. Ravel wrote it on the score of La Valse before the Great War, and he was quoting Salvandy, who used it about the July monarchy. Historians started using it about the USA a few years ago, but no longer. The parallels between Trump’s USA and Hitler’s Germany are too close. They now insist Trump is a unique phenomenon without precedent.

Peter Campbell wrote with contempt about the people who danced on the edge of the volcano between the world wars, but we've always lived on the edge of the volcano. What else should we do but dance while we can?

There may be trouble ahead
But while there's music and moonlight and love and romance
Let's face the music and dance

Dancing in the dark
‘Til the tune ends
We're dancing in the dark
And it soon ends
We’re waltzing in the wonder of why we’re here
Time hurries by, we’re here
Then we’re gone

Friday, September 1, 2017

One Hundred and Thirty Nine

Why am I still alive?

Leonard said he knows why he’s still alive.

When Cindy killed herself, Leonard said he was the only one who knew why.

Her daughter was grown and married, so Cindy’s work was done. She had no reason to stay alive.

Leonard said he wants to meet his Maker, but stays alive because his daughter needs him. Jennifer cannot or will not take care of herself.  

I used to tell myself I stay alive because I love the human race, and want to do what I can to help it. But I can do nothing. The human race is destroying itself because it doesn't love itself as I do. Now I stay alive because I’m already dead in the only way that matters.    

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

One Hundred and Thirty Eight

Last month, when Leonard said he was selling his house and moving up north to live with Eric, he also told me not to come over anymore. He said his real estate agent would be bringing a lot of people to see his house, and he didn’t want me there when they arrived.

Perhaps he considers me an undesirable neighbor, or someone who people interested in buying his house might consider an undesirable neighbor.  

Leonard and I have little in common. We're friends, or what other people call friends, only because we’re both old and alone.

I’ve often wished Leonard would leave me alone; but he’s done me too many favors for me to end our relationship without good reason. I suspect he feels the same about me. But now he was moving away, so there was no need for either of us to keep pretending we’re friends.

That was a month ago. I haven’t seen Leonard since then. 

Neither have I seen any strangers enter or leave his house. But I hadn’t expected to. 

The real estate agent told Leonard his is a desirable property. But however much people may desire it, I doubt many of them can afford to buy it unless they’re willing to go into debt. And after the last financial crash, people are more reluctant to go into debt.

Yesterday morning I saw a man’s jacket hanging inside Leonard's screen door. Thinking he was bringing his clothes downstairs because he was moving out, I knocked on his door to say good-by.

To my surprise, he invited me in.

Leonard said the jacket wasn’t his. Eric left it behind yesterday, when he and Danny were visiting. Leonard hung the jacket inside the screen door so that when Eric returned for it, he could take it without having to come inside Leonard’s house.

Leonard said Eric and Danny are refurbishing their family’s old house, and since they were in the neighborhood they decided to visit Leonard. At first I thought they were refurbishing the old house because Eric and Leonard would be living there, but Leonard said Eric doesn’t want to live with him.

Eric lost his house, his job and his wife, so Leonard was sure he’d be happy to share expenses with him; especially as Leonard receives two pensions. But Eric doesn’t want to live with Leonard, not even with his two pensions.

To make matters worse, Eric and Danny are refurbishing the old house – adding a ramp for a wheelchair – because Leonard’s ex-wife, Danny’s mother, will be living there.

Leonard said he’s taken his house off the market and will live in it until he dies. I’d pity him if I were still capable of pity.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

One Hundred and Thirty Seven

I went to bed early last night. I go to bed earlier and earlier every night, and stay in bed later and later every morning. Around ten o’clock last night I was awakened by a loud explosion.

At first I thought the transformer had blown again. It blows every summer, on a day when everyone’s air conditioner is turned on high. But the last few days haven’t been that hot. 

Then I heard another explosion, and another. I was still half asleep, and for a second I thought people had finally had enough. The revolution had begun. Then I realized that was absurd.

The age of revolutions is over. People no longer believe we can change things, except for the worse. But most of us never did believe it. Namque pauci libertatum pars magna iustos dominos volunt, said Sallust. No one believes our masters are just, but we all know they could be worse, and probably will be soon.

I realized then that what sounded like explosions were fireworks. I didn't know or care what they were for, but I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I read an article in the NYRB about the demonstrations against Putin.

There’s no organized opposition in Russia, no party with leaders and a program, which proves the demonstrations aren’t organized but genuine and spontaneous. That's their strength, and their weakness.

When questioned, demonstrators said they want an end to the corrupt status quo, but can’t define what they want to take its place. According to the pundits, this proves Russians don’t understand how democracy works. But Russians understand that what they’ve been told is democracy doesn’t work, just as what they were told was communism didn’t work. 

Russians are disgusted with politics itself, or what they're told is politics. Americans are equally disgusted with politics, but still allow their masters to define what politics is. This failure of imagination explains why revolutions, even when they succeed in ending the corrupt old order, fail to replace it with a new and better one.

The explosions continued, so I went online and learned that today is the one hundredth anniversary of the city's incorporation, and they're celebrating with fireworks.

There’s nothing to celebrate. The city has a well-deserved reputation for corrupt politics. It's sound and fury signifying nothing.

Again and again I resolve to pay no more attention to politics. But if not politics, then what? 

Politics is the art of living with others, one we've yet to master. We must have masters, just or unjust, if we can't or won't master ourselves.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

One Hundred and Thirty Six

Einstein supposedly said doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, is the definition of insanity. He didn’t say it, but he should have, because not only is it a good definition of insanity; it’s a good definition of life. 

Silenus supposedly said it’s better to die young, but best is never to be born. He didn’t say it, but many have.

When we set out on life’s journey, we think we won’t make the same mistakes those who came before us made; but eventually we realize we’ve made exactly the same mistakes. Those of us who haven’t, made different mistakes. Living is the first mistake, and it leads to others.

I listened to Scheherazade today. It has only a few melodies, repeated over and over again, and it’s popular for that reason. We're limited beings who can hold only a few ideas in our minds at any one time. We forget them, and then we remember them. Thinking they're new, we repeat the same ideas over and over again in different words.

Shah Riah thinks his wife loves him as he loves her. When he discovers she’s been unfaithful, he has her killed. Believing all women are the same, the shah marries a different woman each night and has her killed in the morning, before she can be unfaithful. Until he marries Scheherazade.

She tells him a different story each night, and tells it so well that each morning the shah lets her live another day so that she can tell him how the story ends that night.

But it’s always the same story, repeated over and over again in different words; and it always ends the same way. The hero always triumphs, always wins a woman who loves him as he loves her; and they live happily ever after.

The shah listens to this story each night, as a child listens to a favorite bedtime story, because he wants to go to sleep and dream of love.

All men are misogynists; but it’s not just women they distrust. We all set out on life’s journey thinking the world loves us as we love it; and we all discover that the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.

No one wants to live knowing this. Like Shah Riah, we want to kill the world we loved for betraying us; or else kill ourselves. But most people do neither. They just go back to sleep.