Tuesday, September 15, 2009
driven to distraction
On balance, today's class was good. Wasn't it?
Sure, it threatenend at moments to degenerate into a "town hall," I think that was our moderator's frustrated judgment. As I said to her afterward: we humans could all do a better job of expressing our disagreements without implied rancor, and without trying to hog the arena. I include myself in that critique.
We should go out of our way to be explicit about this: our views may differ, but I'm open to what you can teach me. Jonathan Haidt is deliciously on target: "each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is." It's always the other guy who's blinded by interest and ideology.
But William James said it first and said it better in On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings: If you don't agree with me, you must be blind. That's the ancestral blindness we all inherit. Let's all try harder to remove the motes from our eyes, to speak in turn, and to give one another a fair and respectful hearing.
And that's exactly what we've been doing, during most of our class-time. Lots of interesting things came up again today, and while one of us thought we were in danger of going around in circles I think we were going up and down and all around, and I think that's cool.
So, can there be a false sense of happiness? Are we distracted from the real deal by our drugs and our families and our various worldly attachments (material and organic)? Can you be spiritually and relationally connected but not attached? What's "natural" for humans, and what's so special about being natural anyway? Isn't it sad when children are denied nurture, instruction, and bonded love with other humans who can show them how we live together? And most surprising to me: can feral children be happy, in human terms? So what, if they can't? I didn't know there was an issue here, but I happily await my re-education on the point.
I did a journal reply myself today, and will do so again. I wrote: since happiness is, whatever else it is-- a virtue, a trait of character, a myth,...-- an experience, we shouldn't be casually dismissive of happy episodes just because they don't last forever. What does? Sic transit, Gloria! Between never and forever there are lots of good moments and hours for beings like ourselves to savor and enjoy. Take your transitory happiness as it comes, don't de-value it just because it must go.
And, whatever else it is, happiness must be a feeling of at-homeness in the universe, in our communities, in our classroooms, in our homes. If that feeling is a distraction, distract me.