The strange thing about this idea of doing what will keep one alive is that the first thing necessary is to get rid of the excessive fear of death. Otherwise, one begins to pause, to worry, to put up safeguards until all that is left is constant patrolling of the dikes that keep the floods out. At some point one has to learn to swim -- maybe even become aquatic.
And it’s necessary to do away with much advice from well-meaning advisors as well. One way for people to make themselves feel safe and distanced from trouble is to tell others how to behave -- to become enforcers of the rules instead of examining the rules to see whether they are WORTH enforcing or who they really benefit and why. Of course, there are always some people who feel they are above all rules, that their wealth signals virtue rather than raw power.
The human mind -- which includes far more than mere rationality -- gives us the ability to stand apart from the simple givens of who and where we are, but few people do it. When they ARE able to separate from the status quo, it is often because of writing or other media, which boil down in the end to empathy, “feeling with” other people and even other animals. (We’re not so good at reptiles or spiders.) Empathy, esp. with someone in pain or danger, is frightening and can even be dangerous.
When people get old, they can divide into two categories. One is people who devote themselves to comfort, safety, and status. The other is people who decide to make their death mean something by using their last years well in ways that young people don’t have the knowledge or wisdom to achieve. it says something about our culture that only a few decades ago the admirable old women were “Gray Panthers” (after “Black Panthers” -- does anyone remember them??) but today they are “cougars,” preying on young men. (The newest MAC OS was called Cougar, but I notice that now it is Mountain Lion.) In other words, the shift has gone from social action to sex.
It’s interesting that a number of my friends and relatives constantly inquire as to whether I’m in good health. I sometimes get the impression that they hope I am doomed, an unruly old woman who makes trouble and embarrasses them. Yet few of these people know my life or even read my blog. I don’t have the same name and am in a remote place -- why don’t they just forget me? I think they want to “help” me and hope I am weakening enough to allow them to dominate me, so they can prove they are right and I am wrong. See -- unruly!
At the same time, when I look to find out who is reading the blog it’s not them. They say it’s too hard: they can’t understand it. I think it emotionally too hard. But on the other hand, I see that sometimes they are feeling fragile themselves and hope that in reassuring them about myself, they will also be reassured. They think a cheerful response will cheer them up, too. Not that much of this is conscious.
And not that I forget that when my brother needed intervention, all of us failed. The worst was probably the cousin who “helped” him by signing him out of the Veteran’s Hospital on the basis of a lie. But my brother didn’t want to stay there. The next most culpable was probably the Oregon welfare system that couldn’t understand defiance as the result of brain damage. (The post about “Adult oppositional Defiance Disorder” still gets a LOT of hits.) But I don’t let myself off the hook. A “good woman” and “big sister” would have forgotten about writing, stayed in Oregon, and devoted herself to her brother. So I’m not good. Too bad. It was a choice.
If there were ever a time when people should speak truth to power, it’s now, simply because of the new overwhelmingly international dimensions of human evil and its imperviousness to all religion or principles. They don’t care about God -- they ARE God. The dominating and power-sucking webworks of Industrial Everything (meds, war, ag, insurance, illegal activity, population shifts, environment, climate, media) have only one criteria for success -- “profit”. Beyond that, profit that goes to invisible people so that they subvert all intervention. And beyond that, profit based on debt. Debt enforced with fines and even inprisonment, an old stupidity returning again. (Prisons are a money-making proposition.) I discovered this week that interest on a credit card at KMart is at 25%, which is surely usury.
The impersonal forces traffic in one thing: fear. Make people afraid, very afraid. Oh, where is that Conan the Barbarian -- I keep appreciating him more and more. No penthouse (insert jokes) elegance for him. He never had a Bat Boy. His women would never settle for being mere cats. Conan knows no fear. Of course, he’s reckless, destructive, always on the move, suffers a lot, and all that. He is derived by simply flipping over the characteristics of his creator: stuck in a small town, nursing a dying mother, unable to maintain a relationship, never really making money, the Great Depression ebbing everything away.
One thing Robert E. Howard never did: go to a movie theatre and shoot everyone he could. Why not? I think that people who do that fear death so much that they leap into it. It’s a form of suicide, a way of breaking the tension, a counterphobia. Alas, this young man Holmes is going to live a long time with regret. As already do a lot of important people, mostly men, blinded by greed, who have been rapacious devourers of innocent people, albeit with only the intention of making money for their shareholders. We’re beginning to hear public contrition, but it’s hard to believe.
The people who do brain research talk about the evolution of “spindle cells” or “mirror cells” which are the organic basis of empathy. They say ten percent of people do not have these cells and so are sociopaths who cannot react to anyone with empathy. I could just about point out the thirty people in this village of three hundred who qualify for that category and some of them are pretty successful. I could name doctors, writers, teachers -- I’ll bet you could name some priests and coaches. The problem is what do about them. Stigmatizing them only moves the problem to a different place.
I do think that if the population could be stirred with a spoon so that people had to face people entirely different from themselves, activating their spindle cells in new ways, it would be a plus. The limits of empathy are far too often the outskirts of town, the limits of demographics. It’s impossible to imagine the lives of people we aren’t even aware exist, much less what they are like. They might be a lot like us, but maybe not.