British author and philosopher Aldous Huxley blew my mind with what seemed like his incredible prescience in Brave New World (1932). In my post last December, thinking about our recent politics and social tone, I commented: “For a novel written 88 years ago, it’s surprisingly prescient and relevant.”
The novel impressed me so much I bought the series of essays Huxley published almost 30 years later, Brave New World Revisited (1959). So far, I’ve only read the first five (so many distractions these days), but the apparent prescience continues to astound and astonish me.
I qualify that with “apparent” because it’s actually as old as humanity.
The Wednesday Wow posts have been a bit off the beam recently. Four weeks ago we were wowed (but not in a good way) by an incited insurrection by an incompetent imbecile. Two weeks ago we were wowed (in a great way) by the inclusive Inauguration of the incoming Individual.
With all that more or less behind us, I have time to be wowed by interesting (and depressing) information about the insidious infection infesting the country and the world. I mention both because I became intrigued by difference between them.
It all started when I noticed the COVID-19 graphic on CNN.
Humans have long had fertile imaginations. It isn’t just that we see patterns everywhere, but that we see them and make up stories about them. Whether it be the forest, the wind, or the stars, we have long read into the world around us a rich tapestry of our own imagination.
A thread that runs through it all is the agency we ascribe to the patterns. The gods control our fates, the spirits reward or punish us, the stars foretell our future. Even the remnant of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup gives us an important and relevant message.
But what happens when we don’t exercise our imagination?
Although the New Year is a few days off (you still have time to stock up on champagne), most calendars start on Sunday, so today is the first day of the first week of 2021. More to the point, all 52 weeks of 2020 are now officially behind us. We can begin the process of shaking the dust of an awful year off our shoes.
How many times have I said I look around and forward, but rarely backward. (Lots of times!) Of course I’m more than willing to see the tail end of a wretched year and an even more wretched Presidency. (Easily, at this point, the worst in our history.)
Anyway: On the third day of Chillaxmas, my blog post is about…
I’ve known about Aldus Huxley’s soma as long as I’ve been a serious reader of science fiction, but it wasn’t until I finally read his 1932 novel, Brave New World, that I had a full picture of it. There is a direct avatar in the modern drug Xanax (and perhaps more so in marijuana), but it’s the metaphorical versions of soma that caught my eye these past decades.
The point of soma is that it is an external coping mechanism — a tool for promoting one’s own happiness with and in life. It can be the sledgehammer of a drug (or the gunshot of a lobotomy, to be extreme), but I see many metaphorical versions of it in our culture now.
When I look around, I see a seriously soma-soaked society.
In Through the Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty famously declares that words mean what he wants them to mean. I’ve known people to declare the same thing — that, for whatever reason, they can use their own meanings for words. (To be clear, Lewis Carroll was mocking the idea.)
While ideas matter more than the words used to express them, it’s a lot more challenging to communicate and discuss those ideas without a shared vocabulary. A common language that is rich and detailed makes the expression of ideas all the more precise and accurate.
This is why con artists prefer convoluted language: it’s a mask.
It has been quite a year, but very many of us are very thankful about our Presidential election. We’re grateful for a return to sanity, decency, and our espoused American values and political traditions. (As much as possible under the circumstances, anyway.)
Sadly, we’re far from the idealized image of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want. (And weren’t we always, really?) We’ve long upheld those ideal values as our goals, the change we’re trying to be, but we’ve been tested and been found wanting these last years. Maybe 2020 can be a turning point — we skated awfully close to the Abyss this time.
Meanwhile, in local weather news…
And the total is…?
Oh the irony of it all. Two days ago I post about two math books, at least one of which (if not both) I think everyone should read. This morning, reading my newsfeed, I see one of those “People Are Confused By This Math Problem” articles that pop up from time to time.
Often those are expressions without parentheses, so they require knowledge of operator precedence. (I think such “problems” are dumb. Precedence isn’t set in stone; always use parentheses.)
Some math problems do have a legitimately confusing aspect, but my mind is bit blown that anyone gets this one wrong.
I keep thinking about the 71+ million Americans who voted against nearly everything American has stood for until the last few years. Our Continental Divide may be beautiful to behold, but our National Divide is an ugly disgrace to normative values.
At least they have been our values until now.
Ralph Emerson famously said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” but I also like what Wilde Oscar said: “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” The last two words in both sentences signify something important. Consistency is the enemy of creativity, art, and philosophy, although it’s generally welcomed in other places (one’s airline pilot, surgeon, or government, for instance).
Which is all by way of excusing the dreadful consistency of this so-called Monday Miscellany series. Episodes in 2012, 2014, and then not again until 2020, is barely a series. Another one so soon is definitely suspect.
Chalk it up to “creativity, art, and philosophy.”