Think About The Way XIX
The nineteenth of a never-ending series
By Doctor Gonzo
18 February 2006
Minneapolis — It was late summer, early afternoon. Although it wasn't raining between Savage City and Minneapolis, off in the distance, covering most of the hollow hemisphere that made up the sky, were dark grey clouds. The sunlight streaming through the clouds and haze made a strange light that served to heighten the contrast of the surroundings. The green fields that I was passing at seventy miles per hour were particularly affected: everywhere around me was a deep, emerald green, sharply set off from the brooding clouds behind them.
What was most evident in this scene was the hyper-reality of everything. The green cornstalks. The blue car. The sticky black pavement, striped, dotted, and dashed with bright, fluorescent white paint. The olives, reds, silvers, and maroons of the passing vans, cars, and trucks. If the material objects themselves weren't literally magnified, their sense of reality was. However, in my mind, there was even more to this reality; or, rather, less.
On that day I was heading back to school, for the start of the semester or maybe just to get my affairs in order beforehand; I no longer remember. However, although my main goal was simply arriving at a physical destination, there was one other thing I was doing. Whether I was terribly conscious of it or not, I was chasing an ideal, an abstraction. I chased it for a while, and as hard as you can chase an abstraction, which in the end isn't hard at all. And what happened to the mist that I was chasing is what always happens: it disappears. For nobody can catch an abstraction. The Forms are forever beyond our reach.
Chasing abstractions is not uncommon, even though it ultimately leads nowhere. Abstractions, since they don't exist in reality, allow you to seek something without having to seek it. There are no concerns about the messiness of reality, the fact that nothing, not a single thing in the universe, is without its flaws. Being unable to accept these flaws, or worse, being unable to seek something in the first place despite its flaws, is the reason why so many people continue to chase ideals that are as gossamer as clouds on a summer day.
Frankly, I can't say that chasing abstractions ever brought me much benefit. It allowed me to insulate myself from reality, to pretend to accomplish something while ensuring that I would never really fail, since failure was already a certainty. Ghosts are pretty insubstantial, and although they may not give you much pain, they certainly don't give you much comfort. The comfort and pain you experience when you seek and find something real are at least proof of your existence, of your humanity.
Abstractions, for all of the attention that philosophers give to them, do not motivate. They do not compel. Had I sought the abstraction of a car instead of finding a real one, I would have had to walk down Highway 10 to Minneapolis, smug in the knowledge that my abstract car would never break down or disappear. Nor ever appear.
Don't look at me that way,
I began to prefer the abstract to reality long before that summer day. In reality, for example, people can let you down, people can make you hurt. People also disappear, either by choice or by the grim realities of our own mortality. Abstractness meant never having to deal with the imperfections that made up a person, or with the thought that they may not be around forever. After all, a thought itself can never die as long as there is somebody to hold it in his or her mind.
Abstractions also had the benefit of being able to be taken out of storage, spun around, turned inside out, poked, prodded, and put away again. All this on one's own time, too. Rarely were abstractions surprising. They could give comfort to those who were not as adept at handling extremes, those whose sensory input could get overloaded by unusual data. Not entirely unlike computers in a way, which can only handle certain formats, and do ugly things when something unexpected comes along.
For most of these reasons, I found it easier to think of and deal with abstractions instead of reality. Of course, the flat, non-dimensional existence of these abstractions would get old and very unfulfilling after a while, but it was a long while. In the meantime, there was a certain implied arrogance in dealing with abstractions instead of reality, in dealing with wide swaths of great ideas instead of the unimportant, insignificant details that make up most people's experience. It was only much later that I learned about the importance of these things formerly dismissed as unimportant.
A lot of this arrogance and self-importance came from the very lessons that many people are taught from an early age, that of the noble warrior or martyr who fights and dies for such abstract ideas as "freedom." Of course, the realities of the true motives of these people are lost in the mists of time: these people had far better, far more real and immediate reasons for their actions than simply fighting for abstractions. Nonetheless, this is stripped from our canon, and people are taught in many ways that the abstraction of an ideal is much more important than the reality, leading to situations where a person, or an organization, or even a government claims to support some abstract idea while having no conception of what it means in practice.
It seems to be an axiom that great minds should think great thoughts, and those that self-select as great minds better hop to it, or else the world will enter another Dark Ages. Stupid, yes, but thinking along these lines does allow for some insulation from the rest of the world, especially when it doesn't work out as well as is hoped.
I had no real complaints when I was driving back to Minneapolis that day. I had a roof over my head in school, I was getting a fine education, I had no material wants, no hunger, and I pretty much had the freedom to do what I wanted. Even so, I was isolated, kept in a prison of ideals that did not quite match the world that I was entering, and certainly did not match the world that I had left behind. That world was where I conjured up these ideals in the first place.
Sometimes, I forget I'm still awake.
Part of me wants to go off onto some tangent, like rehashing the life that exists in Savage City. That is unpleasant enough, though, and well-documented elsewhere. Or perhaps sitting in the lotus position and talking about the dharmakaya light, a light that I once saw very strongly emanating from the Dalai Lama and one other person in my life, an abstraction made visible by tricks of light or the iris. But that path leads to nothing more than a dead end.
The path I choose, then, is to delve into when I stopped chasing after abstractions. Eventually, it gets old. The technicolor falsity, more realistic as it may appear than reality itself, is eventually exposed for what it is. Holding up the heavens because one has self-selected as an "idealist" grows tiresome. Sooner or later, most people open the door to reality, finding its expanse to be far healthier than the cramped confines of the mind.
Perhaps it happened later to me than most. That could be due to other things that happened earlier than most. Or it could be due to the people who let me down when I was in need, great or inconsequential. In any case, the pressure of the world beyond was too great, and I decided that it was better to bargain from the strength of existence than with imaginary allies that could not do a thing to help me. Moving away from the one-dimensional existence that is Savage City to greater things has a tendency to do that; had I stayed behind, I may never have had a reason to stop with my abstractions.
It can be hard to give up. Even such things as writing, which I used for solace, can be a prison of abstractions if one allows it. For a long time, I used to write about abstractions and ideals instead of writing about reality. In some ways it may have been beneficial. Writing about mundane reality can lead to situations where you see the trees and not the forest. From time to time, it can be good to take a step back, take a sip, and then go on a stream-of-consciousness rant. Especially if the people on the other side of it are people whose opinions and values you can trust.
Doing it too much, though, can lead to the old "ivory tower" syndrome. There is a time to allow the ghosts to be out at night in full force, and there is a time to join them, instead of sitting around while the sprites dance around you. Perhaps I didn't find the right balance. Perhaps it is still out of balance.
Sometimes, I still think of you.
It was late at night or early in the morning, depending on your point of view. Having been up working, not sleeping, I chose the former. Spring was turning into summer, and the air was pleasant. There wasn't a whole lot of traffic to worry about between campus and the edge of downtown, which was a comfort. Due to the laws of physics, bikers have to be a bit more careful of automobiles, lest they wind up on the wrong side of the kinetic energy equation.
In my hand I carried a book. It wasn't much, a philosophical tome, of little practical value. However, to me, it had a symbolic value that was far greater than the sum of the words on its pages: abstraction again. For some reason, due to alignment of the planets or other random occurrence, it represented to me an age past, one where I was happier to cling to abstract idealism than to find solace in reality.
Although when I received the book I felt safer dealing with what I wished reality to be than with reality itself, the intervening time had not been kind. Grasping at straws, I found that mere thoughts could not provide any assistance. Abstract people acted in no way like real people. Eventually, it made me angry.
Anger is what I found myself with that night. I walked down the forgotten steps to the river, not far below one of the many bridges that are thrown across the dirty waterway in Minneapolis. This one was brightly lit and provided a very nice background if one was looking for pretty scenery. Other times I would appreciate this more, but not this night.
I sat and thought about where I had been and where I was going, how I got to the place that I now found myself in. I wasn't happy, and the abstract philosophies in that book were part of the reason. The pendulum had swung too far, I was stumbling on the edge, and I needed to ground myself, even for just a little bit.
So I did what any irrational person would do: I sent that book on a one-way journey to New Orleans. The abstractions, the people and ideas behind it, I hoped to escape just enough to come into the sunshine of the world. I can't say for certain whether I was entirely successful, but it was a start.
My old friend,
Category: Think About The Way , Last Updated: Saturday, 18 February 2006 16:45 , Written by Nathan Hunstad
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