On the absurd…

Feeling a bit unfocused today, so I’m postponing the post I’d started for today & will use it later in the week. Instead I leave you to ponder these words of Albert Camus, and my post from October 25, 2016…

“If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. I can sketch one by one all the aspects it is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up.” — Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus’s treatise on the absurd, Camus wrote about the conflict between what man wants from the universe – order and meaning – and what the universe is – chaos -, which is what he referred to as “the absurd”. This is fundamentally why he rejected the label of “existentialist” – he felt that existentialists fell into the trap of accepting the lack of order or meaning, but then seek to find meaning anyway. He also rejected, firmly, the notion that acceptance of the lack of meaning left suicide as a tenable alternative to living. Instead, he posited that one could, and should, accept that there is no meaning, but that, armed with that knowledge, we can then proceed to live a full, meaningful in its own way, even happy, life. Sisyphus’ endless task of rolling a rock up a hill when it keeps coming back down was used by Camus as a metaphor for humanity – we struggle without purpose, but once we accept that, we can find happiness. In some respects not all that far from Taoism, and in my own mind, still not terribly far from the existentialists.

Albert Camus, photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson – borrowed from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

 

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Tuesday’s Quotes – September 19, 2017 – Peace

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

— Ronald Reagan

It is not often that you will find me quoting our 40th President, but everyone makes sense sometimes. As we approach the International Day of Peace on the 21st of September, it’s important to remind ourselves that the world has never been conflict free – or even war free – but when we have choices, when our leader have choices, the first choice should be diplomatic, not militarized.

The idealist in me still wants to believe that it is possible for the majority of people to find the means to achieve peaceful, compassionate solutions because the desire to avoid the painful alternatives is universal. And the pragmatist in me knows that survival of the species is actually dependent on it. And we are hard-wired for survival.

But achieving that requires education, and it requires patience. And it requires leadership that sees peaceful conflict resolution as a clear path. Sadly, that seems to not apply to may of our modern politicians, particularly on the extremes. The voting public needs to understand the folly of that war-mongering rhetoric. And in the face of the posturing by North Korea that may be an impossible task.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
― Nelson Mandela

 

A portion of this post initially appeared on February 5, 2016.

Learning new things every day…

As I browsed around for possible topics for today’s blog, I discovered that today is National Consitution and Citizenship Day.  And yes, that really is an official federal observance. Amazing, there really is a day for everything – and I cannot believe I was completely unaware that we actually had a day dedicated to the anniversary of the signing of the US Consitution in 1787 by the delegates to the Consitutional Convention. So yes, 230 years ago, the delegates to the Consitutional Covention signed off on their handiwork.

According to the Library of Congress, the day was based on I Am An American Day, which had been authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. The day was originally established as the 3rd Sunday in May as a celebration for new citizens. In 1952, Congress repealed that proclamation, and replaced it with Citizenship Day, and moved it to September 17th in honor of the signing of constitution. In 2004, Congress changed the name to recognize the Consitution as well as Citizenship, and also added a pair of requirements to the observation – one being that each federal agency head provide employees with educational material regarding the Consitution (I wonder how many actually read it and understand it? – the agency heads, I mean), and the other that schools receiving federal funds must hold a program for their students on (or near) September 17th.

So Happy Consitution and Citizenship Day! The United States Constitution is a very short, easy to read document. I’m neither an agency head, nor an educator, but, for those that are interested, a copy can be found here, and the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments) here, and the subsequent amendments (11 to 27) here.

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”  — Thomas Jefferson

 

Words to live by

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”
— Marcus Aurelius

Something we should all keep in mind.

Have a relaxing weekend.

 

Photo of the Cassini spacecraft’s final image before it burned up entering Saturn’s atmosphere courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Image found on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website >>> https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/7792/?category=images

 

Tuesday’s Quotes – September 12, 2017 – The Majestic Hudson

“Must I tell you that neither the Alps nor the Appenines, nor even Aetna itself, have dimmed, in my eyes, the beauty of our Catskills.”  — Thomas Cole

The old Dayliner cruises out of Manhattan that traveled up to West Point, and then to a turn-around at the Bear Mountain Bridge, used to advertise the boat rides as tours of the ‘majestic Hudson’. I never did take the cruises, but growing up in the NewYork/New Jersey area, the Hudson figured prominently, and I’ve carried that with me as I moved a bit further north, and still take many (possibly too many) pictures of the Hudson (now mostly from Walkway Over the Hudson State Park). Today marks the anniversary of the start of Henrik Hudson’s historic journey to explore the river on the Halve Maen in 1609. Today’s quote, from the artist credited with founding the 19th century Hudson River School of landscape art – one of the earliest ‘American’ art styles –  seemed somehow fitting. British born (1801), Cole spent most of his life in the New York area, and he died at his home in the town of Catskill, New York in 1848.

Photo, of course, of the Hudson River, looking north from the Walkway Over the Hudson.

Adaptation

Repost from October 9, 2015. 

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

–Eric Hoffer

Ah yes, variations on the first rule of evolution – we adapt or we die.

Eric Hoffer passed away at 80 in 1983, and was the source of many, beautifully simple, quotes. He was a philosopher, and a working man, who wrote what he intuited based on the world he lived in. His most famous work, “True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” (1951), was an attempt to address the whys & hows of totalitarian governments, particularly Hitler and Stalin. I think he was onto something when laying out his argument for the psychology of how they take root and grow. Part of that mass psychology, in his view, is that people who are disaffected and feel threatened by their world, are those that more readily accept the hand of the dictator, because they like the promise of ‘better’ times, the promise of future more like the one they’d envisioned. The more threatened they feel by the status quo, the more likely they are to embrace a radical change. Unfortunately, I fear that we may be witnessing that type of disaffection among some segments of the populace now. Be very careful what you wish for.

I’d not thought about this particular quote in a while. But I think there are many people these days who would do well to heed the words, so maybe they should be dusted off. The majority of my saved quotes are meant to be inspirational in some form or other, but this one is more of an affirmation for me. I do believe that all humans have a remarkable capacity for adaptation – when they choose to engage it. Change & growth run together – stagnation is not a natural human state.

For me, the message in this particular quote is clear – we have to keep learning, and growing, in order to cope with a constantly changing world. Given much of his writing, he likely meant it a bit more literally, but even at its most literal, the meaning is still essentially the same.When confronted with a change in circumstance, it is we that have to change to adapt to it. It doesn’t matter how well you understand how things were, you have to develop an understanding of how they are. To those who are continually fighting to bring back some imaginary ‘good old days’, there is undeniably a lesson in this. Unfortunately, they are the ones least likely to heed the advice.

In a similar spirit, I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes, and rules for living, from Heraclitus:

“There is nothing permanent except change”

Photo of Bridal Veil Falls and Water Wheel – Idaho Springs, Colorado, Judy 2017