There are things that bother me that don’t bother other people. And there are things that bother other people that don’t bother me. And a lot of what bothers me is irrational and has little to no basis in reality. Therefore, when I see people get bothered by things that seem irrational to me, I understand it. Or try to understand it. And when I see people unbothered by things that bother me this does bother me a little. It depends. Climate change is a big one. People who aren’t bothered by climate change (intensified floods, hurricanes, tornados, droughts, wild fires, the loss of biological diversity) bother me. But this is rational. According to who? According to science. And guess what. There are people who don’t believe in science. Which is a little simplistic. It’s a little more complicated than that. I shall rephrase my position. There are people who mistrust science because science has sacrificed its objectivity to the corrupting influence of money and conflict of interest, particularly when corporations fund the experiments scientists conduct, and expect a result that’s favorable to their profits. And yes. There are people who flat out don’t believe in science. Because scientists themselves are notoriously mystified by the universe. And because the poetry of the bible provides the basis for all questions regarding the origin and conduct of the universe. I like poetry. I read it and write it and love it. I do. And I love the poetry of the bible. But to believe that the goings on in the bible are fundamentally true is to destroy the poetry and replace it with dogma. Dumb dogma. All dogma is dumb. And this bothers me.
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
What softness, that small patch of fur on the underside of a cat’s chin, framed by those two small bones forming a triangle, the mandible as it’s called, the two bones right and left joined at the front at the mandibular symphysis, and how good it feels to rub with the soft part of my thumb that fur of the chin, that incomparably soft fur and all while hearing the soughing of the wind. It feels good to immerse oneself in a book on a bed even when there’s the worry of mold in the air due to the recent leakage in the bedroom closet, the slow steady drip from a copper drainage pipe, the copper corroded and revealing to the seasoned eye of the plumber, a big man from Texas, a seam-like fissure. Everything removed from the closet, clothes and boxes upon boxes of books and cards and trinkets and tickets and crickets and snippets and limpets and letters from a time when people still wrote letters. All of it a mountain now in the living room. And I wonder why we have all these things I haven’t looked at any of it in years. Forgot it existed. Even the Kandinsky print that was rolled and wrapped in paper and plastic. Hadn’t looked at it since I bought it thirty years ago, can’t even remember where. I unwrapped it to check for mold stains. It took a while. There was so much tape in so many unexpected places and knots and bunches of plastic I was a little too aggressive and tore a tiny piece at the bottom. If we ever got it framed there’d be no place to put it. Outside the world is growing green again. It’s definitely spring but the temperatures are still cold and winterly. I could feel the bite of it when out running and the sun just coming up. Surprised to see a few crows begging for peanuts but I didn’t bring any since I wasn’t expecting to see crows that early. Strange to see them already with an appetite, though I’m not sure it’s appetite, I believe the peanuts are more like ice cream to them, or candy, not a critical part of their regimen just a sweetmeat to lighten the load of existence. Them, too. They grow weary of it I’m sure, the daily sagas of search and survival. Wonder if they wonder. Weigh the merits of all that poking around on the ground, the constant bickering, and making nests, and hatching eggs, and mating. Mating does not seem fun for crows. It looks more like fighting. But maybe that’s not mating. Maybe it’s actual fighting. Step one to learning how to communicate with extraterrestrials: learn what it is that goes on in the minds of animals. I know something is going on, I can see it in our cat’s eyes, that opalescent green when the pupils dilate and she lifts her head inviting me to rub my thumb on the underside of the chin, of which she never tires.
Sunday, April 17, 2022
A serious word would like to be heard. We can put it on the loudspeaker and let the phonemes surprise us with its nervous elegance, as if Hindemith’s Kammermusik were followed by Presley’s Little Sister. Such moral interpretations of phenomena are seen as elongated cylinders around here, clanking & gubernatorial. They only work when it rains and the willows sway in the sweet Louisiana breeze. Even if the house rocks and the light is ominously muted and the door keeps slamming. I will swirl this string if necessary. Show me a shoe and I’ll show you a foot. Let’s luxuriate in mint and take care of our philosophers and friends. The pillow should appear striated, that is, alternating dark and light bands of hypnogogic perspicacity. Pleasure is worth its pursuit. Pumpernickel impels the enlargement of perception. It does this by the martyrdom of bread, which is a well-known fact here in the country of the prose poem where the physics is silly and the dough must suffer for the sake of truth. I wrote a sentence across the Uzbekistan of a sheet of paper until it arrived in an upper Mongolia of totally spaced-out intuitive feelings, each one labeled by its atomic number and specific gravity. I know what you’re thinking. And yes, the answer is yes, I like a good hoe. But I put more emphasis on the rake. A bad rake is like a broken knot on a tinfoil tie. It just lies there twinkling in the mist, a phantom morality oozing sausage. Are we even capable of defending ourselves? Against what? Illiteracy? How? I scour the piano for its music. It seems to be attached to the keys. We can do it. We’ll be safe here. This space. Expansive as a band of light thrown across the floor of the garage. Grease the axles. The need for velocity spoils all my better instincts. I walk into hunger with the aid of some embryonic muscle cells and find a magnolia floating in the fine neutrality of my consciousness. It makes you headstrong, this medallion. Ignite the synthesis. It’s time for our headlights to pierce the night. I know a good hotel with a bone black radiator and a carpet of objections and red rags. I’ve got a warrant to search your philosophy. Hand it over. Before it stupefies the innocent and hangs in the kitchen like a cloud of angry steam. All it takes is a single nervous stimulus to make a sibilant emote the mysteries of Being. I’m trying to obtain power by embarking on a bookstore. I like to struggle with the impossible. I like a good story accompanied with a lovely indigo prayer. There are worse consequences than a little impatience in the absence of a continued stimulation. That’s what drugs and language are for. Fly us into another dimension where mutation is a constant rustle and sleep is a place to hang my dreams. For example, the digestive tract can organize its labor if there’s a need to digest the truth. The essence of life is blood vessels and ducts. The art of conversation is precisely what I need to expand my options as an organism as I splash around in the bathtub feeling the splendor of interrelation. Not much has changed over the years except my feelings about external reality. I get visceral that a table is such a resolute object. Can I rub your leg? It feels opulent as a river. My entire sense of anatomy is hinged to the Mississippi. It echoes the savor of tomatoes, said the Knight of the Most Sorrowful of Countenances.
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Did I ever belong to this world? And by world I mean the culture, the milieu in which I entered into being, assuming its attitudes, hefting its principles around, drinking its Kool-Aid, learning its language, signing its forms and documents, wearing its clothes, gurgling its propaganda, worrying over its wars, suspending its doubts, navigating its contradictions, adopting its admonitions, adapting to its climate. How much of this, of these qualities, these characteristics, are me, comprise the amalgam that presents itself to the world as a coherent personality? The core of me is what, cork? Or more like a web of portent? There are huge segments of my incarnation that feel alien to the whims of the current zeitgeist. Here’s one: I despise video games. Video games grow morons. That’s their entire purpose: make killing fun and pollute the intellect with scores. Here’s another: war. This is a world that loves war. But most rupturing and russet and menacing and migraine is its ongoing obsessions with money and its antagonisms toward the psyche. That poor pale angel leaning against a wall of the brain. What to do what to do what to do. What to do in a world that lets people sleep on cardboard for the sin of poverty. Talk like this in conversation and you’ll soon be labeled an old codger. Grumpy old man. People love disarming unpleasantries this way. Let’s get back to small talk. Fun rides cute puppies and gossip. Got any gossip. The only gossip I know is the gossip of gullies in the grumble of gray. I prefer the grammar of the inconsequential, the indentations of the lowly in the locutions of the longhorn. Like it or not it’s a political world I don’t like it but it’s true and unavoidable as all true things are inexorable predetermined foreordained inescapable. Until they’re not. Until the world that baked these axiomatic raisins into the dough of its rising disappears like crumbs on a kitchen table. And before the dishrag is dry another social paradigm has miscarried justice to the point of palsy and condemned the unwilling into the hands of the all-too-willing. I repeat: I do not feel at home in this world. I arrived by traveling through time. One fine afternoon it was 1965 and the Rolling Stones had just released December’s Children and the next afternoon it’s almost a quarter of a way into the new century which prefers video games to rock and roll and walk with heads lowered staring fixedly at mobile devices and couldn’t tell you the difference between a ladybug and an episcopalian lapidarian. We knew the robots were coming. We just didn’t think it would be us. Which is a singularity. And a hilarity. The nexus trembles when someone fusses with its hem. And when things fall out of heaven they hit the ground like snow.
Sunday, April 10, 2022
Elicia Silverstein performs a Biber passacaglia on a violin in what appears to be a most elegant church, white cross in the background, thought it was a subway at first, I heard what sounded like subway trains whining on the rails, that electric hum, but no, it must’ve been a tram, with the wires above. The sounds are faint and don’t intrude on the notes of the violin, in fact they lend an interesting contrast. Biber – a 17th century Bohemian-Austrian composer - excelled in scordatura, an alternate tuning intended to facilitate playing in certain keys. Fiddle with the tuning so that it’s a bit off, a little different than normal tuning, and you can achieve more interesting timbres and unusual chords. This applies to writing, too. Little torques and twists here and there to make it all veer from the trodden and broaden into free untrammeled air. Of course if it’s just fullness of feeling you want you go to Air on a G String. Back to Bach. Bach used scordatura in his Fifth Cello Suite in C minor, which gave it a rather dark character, especially the sarabande, which speaks to the inner being, where calculation turns murky, like the prow of a boat cutting through the calm water of a hidden bay. All articulation is difficult, like the crafting of an efficient paddle. When difficulties are encountered, normal, automatic behavior becomes impossible. We need to draw our water from a deeper well. We need eccentricities. Primordial melodies. Unfettered energies. Phenomena that scorch the air, making visible the hidden forms of things. Mad precipitations. Enormous diffusions. Anomalies, idiosyncrasies, and the Hohle Fels Flute, the world’s oldest known musical instrument, made from the radius bone of a griffin vulture, 21.8 centimeters long with a diameter of 8 millimeters, two deep, V-shaped notches carved into one end – presumably where the musician blew – and perforated with five finger holes. The instrument is estimated to be some 35,000 years old. You have to wonder what melodies came out of that flute 35,000 years ago. What emotions, what longings, what passions and difficulties. What a vastly different world that must’ve been. But is our internal life that much different? Constants are constant, needs are needs. Those fundamental experiences of birth and death and sickness and youth and old age were in play, certainly, not to mention friendship, the joys of community, and the miseries of betrayal, the need for loyalty, the sadness of leaving a place you love. I envy them their simplicity of life, if such a life could be called simple, hunting and gathering, keeping warm, finding shelters, fighting, dancing, pleading. None of the current madness, though. Overly complicated technologies with obsolescence built in to feed the capitalist monster, now completely unfettered and out of control. It’s a contradictory impulse, this need for idiosyncrasy coupled with a need for the archaic, for the elemental. It’s contradictory to invoke madness while simultaneously decrying madness. But look where a strict observation of the rational has led us: pandemics and war. Climate change. Failed crops. Empty shelves. The world needs to be washed over with a healing soothing music, a great broad wave of it, gleaming and dreaming its wandering being over the fears and homicides, the fever to exist.
Friday, April 8, 2022
Lately, I've been wondering when my social life underwent the sea change that resulted in what it is now, an overcomplicated, delicately balanced, globalized cybernetic pixeldrome of blogs, browsers, pop-ups, cookies, and social media precariously dependent on broadband, WiFi and a power supply. I’ve got friends in Egypt and India and England and Greece, but few, if any, in the city in which I live. Without a laptop or a smartphone or a tablet or a router, I’m isolated. Luckily, I'm married to a woman with whom I share a vibrant conviviality. A woman who, in today's world, I would never have met. The circumstances in which we met were nourished by a local community of poets and artists who all lived within the same geographical location. There was a time when I enjoyed a very robust social network here at home. What happened? Not entirely sure, but Covid played a big role, and lockdowns, and mandates, and restaurant waiters behaving like police. Suddenly, we found ourselves conducting our social activity on sites like Zoom, in which we stared at one another on laptop screens, be it a friendly chat, visit with a doctor, or artistic performance. Visits to the outer world required a vaccine passport, social distancing and a mask. Every individual was a potential grenade of pathogens. Much of these restrictions have been lifted, at least temporarily, but word of biolabs in Ukraine give one pause.
This undoing of the agora had been building for some time. The erosion of the social domain began before the pandemic. The transition was gradual. It began with email, sometime in 1999, at venues outside our home. We were slow to get a computer. We began sending hastily written messages on one of many computers set up in a local internet café which also hosted poetry readings. The messages were hasty because we were trying to hammer out a brief message minutes before a reading. Then, unexpectedly one afternoon, my dad showed up with a computer he wanted to give us. He’d bought a new computer and thought he’d give us his old one. A family relation – a man with a background in physics – helped set it up. The complications in operating, maintaining, and deciphering this electronic beast were dizzying, but it allowed us to contact people within seconds, a process that ended a lifetime of crafting letters – handwritten or typed – sticking them in an envelope and entrusting them to the postal service and waiting for a reply that might come within days or weeks or months. I always loved writing letters, I loved the informality of it, the cordial access it afforded to warmly and sociably hone my skills as a writer.
But then I noticed a change. The messages I began receiving in response to my letters were often hastily written. There was something about the medium that invited brevity. The messages were just that: messages. With a few notable exceptions, for which I was deeply appreciative, there were no rhetorical flourishes, no issues explored, no excitements shared, no real personality, just blunt information slammed together in a couple of sentences. I don’t know why this had to be the case. There were no restrictions on word count. Twitter was years away. Social media wasn’t even on the horizon. Why had people – many of them writers and editors – suddenly decided to refrain from more expansive communications and chosen to express themselves so casually, so nonchalantly?
The new medium hadn’t altered my letter writing at all. I wrote detailed accounts, did my best to craft well-constructed sentences, and disseminate ideas while simultaneously distilling their expression. Was this an irritation to the others? Too windy? Too wordy? Too woolly? Did email provide a liberating excuse for the non-development of thought? Was it a matter of technology, or was something else afoot, something curdling in the zeitgeist like sour milk? I didn’t challenge anyone. No point in that. I’m alienated enough as it is. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a pariah with no one to write to at all. And then it hit me: time. People don’t have time. They have glut. There’s a glut of information, data, opinion, instruction, directions, spreadsheets, stochastic modeling, updates, conferences, rundowns, meetings, bulletins, publicity, hot stories, warnings, prophecies, algorithms and smoking guns.
People were drowning in a tsunami of information. That offered one sound explanation, albeit a disheartening one. Commerce was winning. Culture was dying. There’d been a major shift in the paradigm. You could see it in the cold glass and steel designs of the new buildings. In the ultramodern botanical gardens contained within Jeff Bezos’s balls in downtown Seattle.
But these were surface effects, symptoms of a deeper problem that began stewing in the anti-intellectual cauldrons of puritan New England in the 17th and 18th centuries. You heard the word ‘pragmatism’ a lot. The obsession with tools had reached a zenith. Where was the resistance?
Heidegger pointed to the hammer and said the more we seize hold of it and use it the more primordial does our relationship to it become. He also said that the essence of technology is not anything technological. Technology embodies a specific way of revealing the world. Modern technology is a “forcing into being.” It reveals the world as raw material, available for production and manipulation. Technology, run amok, has distorted our approach to the world. We inhabit it as a place to control and manipulate. The danger here is to begin to see ourselves as resources – human resources – for the plundering of its materials. It leads to enslavement.
By the time the new century rolled around I could see the writing on the wall. The new technology unleashed on the world would decimate the written word, print media, investigative journalism, novels and bookstores. Seattle still has bookstores, but they’re so hollowed out and bereft of actual books they’re more like tchotchke shops aimed at sleepy tourists from one of the leviathan cruise ships anchored at Pier 91. Coffee mugs, Husky T-shirts, and stacks of Dan Brown.
It’s painful to see something you valued destroyed. But there it is. There’s been a war on the written word and the writers are losing. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 turned out to be prophetic.
A few months ago I happened to be rummaging in a box of old letters, many of them dating from the mid to late 60s and written by friends in their late teens. I had quite a few written by a girlfriend who was sixteen at the time. Her letters are wonderful, full of excitement and character, lively descriptions and beautifully constructed sentences. The difference between what was written then and what is written now is separated by light years of quality, a time when education was genuine and not everything had yet been captured by a corporate juggernaut serving Mammon, the art of reading and writing dislodged by pop-up videos, sloppy grammar and gross inattention. And when, in conversation or sharing an opinion on social media, one didn’t have to walk on eggshells. People didn’t clutch their pearls or explode when you said something a little contrary, a little eccentric, a little risqué.
I like to think of a paragraph as a framework filled with fireflies and jewels. A seismograph for the little tremors in a society that has gone to sleep. The jiggle of thought juggled in a drum of prepositions. A gallimaufry of cork and corduroy. A fireside burning logarithms into sparks of perspicacity, the pale smoke of thought rising out of a chimney of stone and moss. And send that letter to Mr. John Keats, residing in heaven with nightingales, Bordeaux claret and Madame de Sévigné.
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Dear loafers and cobweb-spinners of the spirit, the great bulk of the muscles of the body become the leading vehicles of visual art, as can be seen when Hulk Hogan enters the ring, or did so some years ago, when we were all rushing to get into heaven before they closed the door, and Lucinda Williams sang like a wood thrush in the ancient of times. Forgive me if my strumming swarms with binoculars. The science exhibits are notoriously tricky, especially the ones made with muscle and gold. We can make this appear to be a possibility, but it will require your complete cooperation. These elevations are liberating. But be prudent. Let’s achieve that summit while painting holds the sun in its oily embrace. Structurally, a paragraph can seem a little underdeveloped if it doesn’t include a foothill and a few people sitting in a parlor talking and laughing as something deep within the fiber of the moment starts pounding like a heart and our hopes turn into maybes & the spinning wires of the cuckoo in the cuckoo clock startle us with its torchlike beak & costume jewelry. Let us banish all mirrors until the fractions are made whole and the bicycle shop jingles like maple syrup on a blackberry day. I feel the Technicolor moss of your sweet breath fulfill the needs of a sentence and make its dilations possible. Just keep the question marks out of here until someone produces an actual question. Here’s one: what is the secret of the harmonica? Answer: my other car is a cimbalom. You must place yourself between the words in order to understand the silence behind them, and the movements of the body, which enjoy a large space, and assume a laudable truthfulness by changing position and jiggling merrily in the locker room. If you look closely, you can see the pineapple grapple with itself. The anguish of creation shouts a juicy passion as a shillelagh bounces off of the freshly varnished painting reposing on the easel of a fiendish gargoyle named Peckerhead Wilson. This is a drama that repeats itself endlessly in the generalities surrounding a fresh quandary. Some of my favorite doctrines are ducks. There are clouds in this wood. Paganini once played it. I gave it the full complement of my attention only to blow up later as I walked down the street. I felt my being mingle in the air as pieces of Iowa jangled in my pocket and nothingness fulminated in the corn. I will be the individual cells of myself I thought. The very hypothesis is prodigal. And I like that.
Sunday, April 3, 2022
A young blonde woman drives a white Mustang down a desert highway. Can you picture that? Yes? There’s a word for that ability: imagination. You deserve a pat on the back. Imagining things is a source of power. It can also get a little dangerous. Imagine a dragon. Easy, yes? Sure it is. But let’s go further. Let’s say the dragon is you. You’re the dragon. You’ve got scales. You’ve got wings. You’ve got sharp teeth. You can breathe fire. What’s that like? How does it feel? It feels exhilarating. But also, when the initial feeling wears off, a little disappointing. And foolish. Because it’s not real. And we live in a culture that values pragmatism above all things else. Because pragmatism – the practical, the useful, the purposeful, the commonsensical – is a direct route to money. Which is ironic. Because money is a product of the imagination. Think about it. How is it possible that those numbers in your bank account can so easily be converted to things you want: a house, a car, fine clothes, fine food, jewelry and wine, a big swimming pool, drugs, thrills, exclusivity. Money is a symbol. Like language. Like words. Like sounds that carry meaning, significance, geography, adventure. Names, news, moods.
Imagination feeds on uncertainty. It’s the product of inquiry and speculation. Wonder. This is why dictatorial regimes are uncomfortable with imaginative energies and do everything they can to suppress it. Maintaining power requires ignorance and compliance. If a power can undermine or deaden the imagination the population is easy to propagandize and marshal its compliance to achieve greater levels of power. The one thing that the powerful want is more power. Imagination undermines power. Imagination must be suppressed. But it won’t. Can’t. Cannot be suppressed. It fires up out of embers thought dead. That glimmer in the ash is a word on the verge of fire. Whose flames dance walls of stone in the skull of a mountain. Where the images flicker in prologue to the stealth of an ocelot. And the ground is splayed with a ring of bone.
Money is also a dominant force and can be used to control the zeitgeist, the popular sentiments of a population, and ascribe vertiginous amounts of value to one artist or set of artists and exclude others. Corporate collections can include some tremendously great art which, at one time, was subversive and edgy, but once it was anointed great art by the financial sector its subversive tendencies became irrelevant and tame. It went from being an art of power and imagination to being an auctionable item at Sotheby’s. This is how an oil painting becomes the equivalent of an oil derrick. Art is a celebration of wildness. Finance is a calibration of value.
Poetry, unlike music and visual art, is impossible to convert to capital and financial investment. This is because, as Hegel pointed out, “poetry is the universal art of the spirit which has become free in itself and which is not tied down for its realization to external sensuous material; instead, it launches out exclusively in the inner space and the inner time of ideas and feelings.” It also requires its audience – what little audience it is able to convene – to participate in its production. We all know what creative writing is, but how many people talk about creative reading?
Readers, at least in the United States, have been rendered extinct by electronic media. Anyone who has gone for a walk recently has noticed the alarming number of zombies walking while holding and staring fixedly at an electronic gadget in their hands. “The ultimate famine,” wrote Diane Di Prima, “is the starvation / of the imagination // it is death to be sure, but the undead / seek to inhabit someone else’s world.”
Get out there. Engage. Cries the imagination.
Take a word like ‘puff’ and let the imagination run with it. That which puffs has proof of puffing in the pudding of the puff. Language and imagination are made for each other. No language without imagination. No imagination without language.
Is that true? Does imagination need language to exist? Who can say? It takes a few words to launch this phenomenon. It helps to be extracurricular. The rock is a rock with or without words. When we say ‘passage’ do we mean a way of exit or entrance, a road, path, channel or course by which something passes, or do we mean a corridor or lobby giving access to the different rooms or parts of a building? Do we mean the action or process of passing from one place, condition, or stage to another, or do we mean the continuous movement or flow of a river, say the Ohio? Do we mean something that happens or is done or do we mean a fog horn blowing as we find passage aboard the Boaty McBoatface? I think I mean a brief passage in the air through an aria.
It's all about context. From Latin contextus, a joining together. Originally, past participle of contexere, “to weave together.” This could be linen. This could be lace. This could be imagining combinations and this could be the voices of singers mingling together. This could be linsey-woolsey. This could be fuzzy wuzzy. This could be what you want it to be. What do you want it to be? You can say it and have it if you say it. But you’ve got to say it. Say it. Before it says you.
But that’s ok, too. Ok to let it out. Ok to be a channel for mysterious and invisible energies. Open the mouth. Make words. Make words create something. Convert to matter an idea with breath. With the assistance of air. What is it? What have you got there? Is that a twinkle in your eye, or the star of Bethlehem? Here comes a train. It’s a train of the imagination. It runs on coal. But the coal must be imagined. The train must be imagined. Here comes the train. Here comes the imagination flying to heaven to get the latest news. And roll and roll and roll and roll.
Friday, April 1, 2022
The egregious censorship occurring on the internet now is suffocating, of grievous harm to public thought and discourse, and just plain stupid. It betrays a deep insecurity among the corporate giants, media conglomerates and military-industrial-complex. They want to hold on to their power. This is plainly evident. They also want to control the narrative legitimizing their actions, however manifestly heinous and destructive they may be. And to a large and very disturbing extent the public is complicit in their authoritarian control. They like it. They feel secure. The paternalistic control over their opinions and individual agency is a welcome tyranny. It removes them from responsibility. There are many people whose happiest years were the time served in the military. Decisions were made for them. They were liberated from the burden of personal agency. Consequently, narratives maintained by the corporate media propagandizing and legitimating acts of atrocity, even to the point of making these atrocities appear heroic, go down the gullets of the subservient public as smoothly and sweetly as ice cream.
Nobody likes to think. Thinking is hard. Thinking interrupts the pleasurable fantasies pumping dopamine and joy from the galaxies of neurons in one’s brain and the fun and frolic of weaving happy illusions about one’s status and place in the world and replaces it with a defiant vulnerability and earnest inquiry. With demurral and doubt. With analysis and curiosity. It allows for tolerance, permission to entertain opposing views, assent to dissent, consent to entertain an opinion that threatens one’s ideological structure. Thinking can be a painful process. I don’t particularly enjoy it, it can lead to a pained awareness of one’s dilemma as a human being or a shaky disassembly of one’s assumptions, but if I don’t allow it, if I thrust up defenses and distract it with fantasies and games and celebrity gossip I feel diminished, my existence begins to feel stale. I need opposition to strengthen the feeling of being alive. When I’m deprived of information and ideas I wither. I shrink. I become infantile. I become stupid.
John Stewart Mills had some interesting views on the subject. An ardent defender of religious tolerance against those who arrogate "infallibility," defined as "the fact of wanting to decide for others without allowing them to hear what may be said on the other side," Mill formulates a criticism of an astonishing breadth of censorship. He warns us of the risk of intellectual anesthesia produced by the internalization by each of what she or he or they feels authorized to think or say. We police ourselves. “Our merely social intolerance kills no one,” Mill wrote, “roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion…but the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind…while that which would strengthen and enlarge men’s minds, free and daring speculation on the highest subjects, is abandoned.”
Especially vulnerable are those employed in academia. The universities have deferred to the Woke idealogues and cancel culture and other like-minded puritanical despots and shut down what used to be - and needs to be - a robust environment of intellectual daring and bold and searching polemic. Simultaneously, the social media platforms have paternalistically and arbitrarily assumed the right to decide who and what to bar from social discussion. And the mainstream media conglomerates spew outright lies about current events in an effort to support the overarching power structure.
Mill proposed eccentricity as an antidote to the insidious policing of thought and opinion. “In this age,” he wrote, “the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”