Thursday, April 12, 2018


This morning I had assigned myself to write about “media” and had in mind the difference the actual “medium” makes in how the writing turns out.  If it’s meant to be read on your iPhone, it will be short and maybe shocking.  If it’s for paper, bound nicely, it will be long and even worth keeping.  But in between is a lot of stuff, some of it dying — like newspapers owned for profit.  People who were once shut-out by illiteracy are now also shut out by not owning the machinery of access.

Words can be in sound, in image, in libraries, in the moment.  So much is fleeting, or supposed to be, like the lists of addresses in one’s e-life.  A reporter of undetermined age listened carefully to Zuckermen’s testimony to Congress yesterday and took seriously the promise that everything recorded on Facebook could be accessed by herself, using specific strategies and addresses.

This is a document presumably in the “cloud”, which is really a mammoth storage facility, like a warehouse, where the info about you can be accessed only by who has the key — not usually you.  She categorizes what is saved there, which is mostly a list of what she buys, who her buddies are and WHO HER ENEMIES ARE !!  All the people she unfriended and blocked.  Her exes (modern life) and romantic transactions.  In short it is a pointillist portrait of herself, not necessarily choosing the points she would.

But it’s not “special,” it’s not sympathetic to the sorts of things that all the wannabe novelists and autobiographers would include.  It’s just a generic  media-hip record of an urban, haplessly educated, go-with-the-flow female.  No children.

Strangely, Zuckerman himself is even more featureless.  Someone asked an informed male reporter, who had previously acquired a bit of techie experience, whether Zuckerman — so impressive to some because he is a billionaire and founded a sophomoric ad platform — could possibly be “real.”  He’s so featureless sitting there on his booster seat.  I thought of sex dolls, absolutely UN-unique, using his little repeat sentence formula:  “title, (colon), “I am blameless.”  Actually, he came off more like clueless.  “I’d have to ask my people.”  Fact-checkers afterwards found things he had wrong, or said he thought, that covered up damaging information.  But the legislators were like characters from “The Dark Crystal,” clueless as puppets.

The person who was asked whether Zuck were “real” responded that for a techie he was pretty much true to type.  More un-human than in-human, and richer than most but certainly about money.

I repeat again and again that the question of our time — now that most of us have dispensed with God — is “what is a human being?”  Clearly there are a lot of different kinds.  I ain’t no techie, though forces try to sell me “devices” and make me give up my iPhone number.  (I use a tabletop computer and a landline, so it is impossible to comply.)

However, before computers there was a decade when I belonged to a sociological community where I “fit,” the UUA.  “Religious” communities are actually clusters of sociologically similar people who share concerns and ideals.  In the end I was missing enough of an urban dimension or community spirit  or the part about being a leader, so I stood down, but others find it a good fit.  I would want that community to endure, but I worry when it gets too far away from its foundations.  

However, sometimes there is a convergence.  I do enjoy Twitter and use it to announce the title of my daily long-form post, which tends to use big words and obscene ideas.  And I follow a few UU ministers with whom I’m in at least partial sympathy.

David Breeden

David Breeden is an example of a type that used to be more common when the UUA was a “learned denomination.”  He is a Ph.D. level literary person with two assistant ministers to do the social stuff.  Twitter knows him as a poet, translator, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis.  A humanist, but not just that.  (From Amazon):  “His poetry, essays, and short fiction have appeared in such journals as Mississippi Review, Nebo, Poet Lore, Mid-American Review,, North Atlantic Review, Boston Literary Review, Turnstile, Nidus, and Paragraph. He has published five novels and twelve books of poetry.” 

Nietzsche and National Poetry Month

When Nietzsche looked to the future and saw the problem that would be posed by an increasing freedom and individuality, he made a startling and prescient declaration: abstractions enslave us. Religion. Nationalism. Fascism. Communism. Individualism. Communalism. Democracy . . . . All traps. Because they ignore the “facts on the ground” that we human beigns necessarily live in.

Nietzsche was very blunt about it: if you believe in anything enough to die for it, not only have you lost your own freedom, but you are prepared to take away the freedomand even the livesof others.

Nietzsche thought long and hard about this contradiction. How can we live a good life of meaning and purpose as free individuals in a world in which abstract ideals lead to oppression and murder?

Nietzsche’s answer was counterintuitive but profound: each of us must become an artist —we must become composers, painters, poets . . .

We must find ourselves by embracing ambiguity and irrationality through self expression. Because? Because we human beings don’t live in abstraction. We live in the confusing ambiguity of reality where yesterday’s answer does not address today’s questions.

The poet and novelist Alice Walker, a humanist, looks at the challenge in her poem “Expect Nothing” (

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
. . .
Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
. . .
Discover the reason why
So tiny a human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

These words well summarize the formula: we human beings must discover meaning and purpose for ourselves among the “facts on the ground.” We must become the artists of our own lives and our own fates. Freedom and individualitythey can imprison us as quickly as their opposites.
Nietzsche saw a way to both freedom and communal responsibility: It’s all about the art.


Whisky Prajer said...

"What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" comes to mind. Minus the "Thou," the "I" portion of the equation can get pretty weird. I appreciate Breeden's take -- more Epicurean than Nietzschean, really.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Mostly I avoid famous philosophers. But the Biblical quote seems questionable when one asks what about women -- or who's "mindful" if there is no God -- or what mindful means when it's actually a course, probably copyrighted. But what's a copyright if there are no nations because everyone is effectively in everyone else's pants. (Unisex, of course.)