Posts Tagged ‘Kris Kristofferson’

Judgement Machines

February 4, 2018

From natural selection’s point of view, the whole point of perception is to process information that has relevance to the organism’s Darwinian interests — that is, to its chances of getting its genes spread. And organisms register this relevance by assigning positive or negative values to the perceived information. We are designed to judge things and to encode those judgements in feeling.

Robert Wright, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment

Like any paradigm, evolutionary psychology is an extreme oversimplification of our multifarious existence. Even if we accept the premise that human beings are shaped by evolutionary pressure, which I do, it does not automatically follow that everything we are is the direct result of “natural selection.” Many mutations and alterations in our genes are merely coincidental.

If, for example, a parrot with an efficient nutshell-crushing beak happens also to be blue, its descendants are likely to be blue despite the fact that their blueness does not foster their success like that marvelous beak does.

Human beings are not “designed” by evolution; we’re the product of happenstance. And nobody can say for certain what the “whole point of perception” is. But you needn’t be a natural selection determinist to appreciate Wright’s picture of human consciousness.

The Difference Between Berry and Toadstool

Wright is certainly correct to say that human beings automatically assign “positive or negative values” to “perceived information.” Every thought we have is wrapped inside a feeling. These feelings often had the benefit of keeping our Hunting Fathers alive long enough to pass along their DNA. That’s how we got here.

Determining the difference between berry and toadstool, lamb and lion, or friend and foe is an essential survival skill. Our ancestors survived and prospered thanks to the happy associations they made with the delicious berries that sustained them and the painful associations they made with frightening beasts that killed their friends and relatives.

The Old, Old Tale of Narcicussus

It’s natural for human beings to constantly analyze and reevaluate the world we live in. And, as social organisms, we evaluate ourselves in relation to others. That’s why we’re forever recalibrating our opinions of one another.

How we feel about others is a function of how they make us feel about ourselves. The world is our mirror, as W.H. Auden notes:

A friend is the old, old tale of narcissus.

Severing how we feel about others from how we feel about ourselves is not possible  we don’t exist in a vacuum. But we can examine our natural tendency to “judge things and to encode those judgement in feeling.”

Jesus commands: “Judge not.” But judgement-free perception simply isn’t possible. What we can do is listen to our thoughts and examine the feelings that ignite them.

Avoiding Misery and Masochism

Don’t squander your precious time on Earth trying to figure out who deserves to be happy. There’s always going to be people you can point to as undeserving of the gifts life has bestowed upon them. Should it really be your task in life to figure out who’s to bless and who’s to blame? By fixating on the unfairness of it all, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of misery and masochism.

I’m not suggesting that we should accept the world the way it is. On the contrary, fighting injustice and trying to make the world a better place is one of the best ways to find meaning in this crazy old world.

 

by Richard W. Bray

The man I wanna be

October 25, 2016

zzzhotelman

There’s no one here to carry on
If I stay out the whole night long
Or give a tinker’s damn if I don’t call
I’m livin’ like I wanted to
And doin’ things I wanna do
And nothin’ means a thing to me at all

Kris Kristofferson, From the Bottle to the Bottom

I had a boring, stupid life
I had some kids; I had a wife
I had fuss; I had complain
I had a big ole ball and chain

Now the boys and me
We can all stay out till three
Cuz I’m free to be
The man I wanna be

Can’t be stuck at home at night
I got to roam; I got to fight
I need those dirty city lights
And all those wicked wet delights

Gonna burn the sheets
With every gal I see
Cuz I’m free to be
The man I wanna be

Now I’m stuck in this motel
Guess my plans didn’t go so well
Found lots of hurt and lots of smell
On my one way trip to hell

I got whiskey and tv
In a room that smells like pee
But I’m free to be
The man I wanna be

by Richard W. Bray

A Place to Put Your Angry

February 28, 2016

‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on
Prove they can be better than at any time they please
Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty, decent folks can frown on
You can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me

Kris Kristofferson, Jesus Was a Capricorn

Been living here for fourteen years
I’m stuck inside a rut
I’m surrounded by losers
And piles and piles of smut

My wife took all my money
And left me in this hut
I can’t believe I fell
For that evil stupid slut

My rent just got doubled
And my salary was cut
Everywhere I turn
Another door is shut

You need a place to put your angry
When it wells inside your gut
You need a place to put your angry
When life kicks you in the nuts

Follow me. I’ll help you find
A way out of this pinch
We’ll find someone to blame
Or we’ll find someone to lynch

by Richard W. Bray

Life Remains a Blessing

March 20, 2014

galaxy

Sentient consciousness is a marvelous gift; I’m really glad I exist.

I would be happy to thank Someone for every glorious breath that life grants me; I just can’t quite figure out whom to thank. God? Which one?

I’m a devout deist because my Creator has endowed me with the type of brain which renders me incapable of experiencing a connection to an anthropomorphized God. I can’t imagine ever giving myself over to the God of the Christians, for example. First of all, a God who wishes to be exalted by the likes of me would be all too human for me to take seriously. Moreover, there are billions of people on Earth who believe in reincarnation while billions of other people believe in heaven. These are two mutually incompatible outcomes of existence. Maybe billions of people are right and billions of people are wrong. Who knows?  Fortunately, it’s not my task in life to figure these things out.

To be clear, I am not one of those New Atheists who hates God for not existing. On the contrary, I encounter many things in Christianity that are good and beautiful. I’m all for fellowship, good works, humility, and forgiveness; furthermore, the Peace Christians are my heroes. (And I really don’t think grownups should have heroes.)

But the universe got along just fine for a long, long time before human beings came onto the scene, so it’s obvious that Existence really isn’t about us.

For some reason or another, human beings have developed the capacity to appreciate the fact that we exist. At any rate, for me, life remains a blessing, as W. H. Auden notes in “As I Walked Out One Evening,” his bleak and lovely meditation on Christianity

This brings me to the Christian concept of grace. Although there is much bickering over the theological specifics of grace within and between Christian denominations, grace is basically the notion that human beings have done nothing to deserve the love and mercy bestowed upon us by God. Instead of arguing about how loving and merciful God actually is, I will simply concede that our existence is unearned. Life is a mysterious take-it-or-leave-it proposition. And griping about how life should be different is a silly waste of our precious time on Earth.

As Robert Pinsky notes in “Family Values,” his bleak and lovely poem about resentment and cupidity,

nobody gets what they/ Deserve more than everybody else.

Does anyone deserve to have an unhappy childhood? Of course not.  But this world is not about fairness.

The universe wasn’t built for us. But it’s a spectacular privilege to be granted the slight and brief glimpse that our limited consciousness affords.

I don’t “hope for higher raptures, when life’s day is done.” The physical world is sufficiently marvelous for me.

I’ll leave the final word on grace to Kris Kristofferson.

by Richard W. Bray

Choosing Isolation: Edna Pontillier and Lewis Lambert Strether

June 22, 2013

fear intimacy

At first consideration, Lewis Lambert Strether of Henry James’s The Ambassadors and Kate Chopin’s Edna Pontellier of The Awakening could hardly appear more dissimilar: Strether is a timid older bachelor of modest means whose every decision is tempered by social mores; Mrs. Pontellier is a bold, young married woman in a financially comfortable position who is invulnerable to societal constraints. But they both ultimately choose to turn their backs on life. Pontellier’s suicide is only slightly more drastic than Strether’s decision to flee a woman who loves him in order to return to a world where nothing awaits him. They are both running away from human contact.

Kris Kristofferson’s observation that, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” is an accurate description of the prospects facing Strether and Edna Pontellier at the conclusion of their respective novels. Edna Pontellier decides to end her life whereas Strether eschews the possibility of love in order to return to Boston where his social and professional prospects are nil. Their respective choices demonstrate that Edna Pontellier and Strether do not need anyone but themselves. Some reviewers have praised the existential courage which allows Edna to shun all human connections in her pursuit of freedom; Strether’s return to Boston has been cast by critics in a similar, heroic light. However, it is a fear of intimacy rather than a quest for freedom which epitomizes their decisions.

Edna Pontellier has no empathy. She is not concerned with how her actions will affect others. She is consumed with her appetites to the extent that she views personal and filial relations merely as barrier to her sexual liberation. She will infuriate her father and sister, disgrace her husband, break Robert’s heart, and abandon her children in pursuit of sexual gratification without a hint of regret. Edna Pontellier does not comprehend the forces which will eventually lead her to forsake earthly existence, but her inexplicable depression makes her life unbearable:

An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with anguish (574).

Edna Pontellier yearns for a type of fulfillment which was largely unachievable for a married woman of her day, and the fact that many of her contemporaries might have found her situation enviable is of no comfort to her.

Edna Pontellier’s inability to find contentment living comfortably with her beautiful children and perfect husband (“all declared that Léonce Pontellier was the best husband in the world. Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew none better”) is the result of a spiritual malaise which leads her to seek her salvation via sexual expression (574). (In this respect, Edna Pontellier is a forerunner of Erica Jong’s Isadora Wing who unabashedly promotes female liberation by means of the so-called “zipless fuck.”) Edna Pontellier does not comprehend the nature of her longings, but she never doubts that their fulfillment is the preeminent purpose of her existence. Despite the mysterious origin of her malady, Edna Pontellier is convinced that the pursuit of sexual freedom is her highest calling, of much greater importance than any relationship with another human being:

She had all her life been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles. They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the conviction that she had a right to them and they concerned no one but herself. Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one (605-606).

When Strether Lambert decides to return to Boston, he is motivated by a fear of intimacy no less profound than the inability to make meaningful human contact which afflicts Edna Pontellier. The difference between the two characters is that while Edna Pontellier evades meaningful contact by immersing herself in loveless sexual liaisons, Stretcher avoids both emotional and physical intimacy. Despite his extreme immediate attraction to Maria Gostrey, Strether never seriously considers pursuing a relationship with her, even after Mrs. Newsome breaks off their potential engagement.

Strether is able to acknowledge to Miss Gostrey that he is utterly smitten by her upon their first meeting, but he is constitutionally incapable of achieving a physical relationship with her. He is, however, able to admit how this attraction both frightens and astounds him. When Maria asks Strether if he trusts her, he responds:

I think I do!–but that’s exactly what I’m afraid of. I shouldn’t mind if I didn’t. It’s falling thus, in twenty minutes, so utterly into your hands. I daresay, Strether continued, it’s a sort of thing you’re thoroughly familiar with; but nothing more extraordinary has ever happened to me (14).

And later in the novel we see the intensity of his attraction to her:

He was extraordinarily glad to see her….She was the blessing that had now become his need, and what could prove it better than without her he had lost himself? (74-75)

In his fifty-five years on Earth, Strether has never known an attraction to another human being comparable to what he feels for Miss Gostrey. Yet he is unable to act upon it. His inexplicable declaration that he is returning to Boston “To be right” is perplexing even when we take his overdeveloped sense of propriety into account (375). What could possibly be right about a man leaving a city and a woman he loves in order to return to a world where no one and nothing awaits him?

Edna Pontellier and Strether Lambert both lack whatever it is which allows human beings to attempt to reach across the divide which separates us. And although their depravity manifests itself in contrasting manners—she submerges herself in loveless affairs while he shuns intimacy entirely—they are more alike than different. Ultimately, they both choose isolation over love.

Richard W. Bray

The Three Don’ts of Divorce and an Amusing Preschool Teacher Story

February 19, 2013

kids playing with fire truck

I took it as a compliment when someone chastised me for being “schoolmarmish” on a blog discussion thread. I assume the commenter was suggesting that it was prudish of me to describe reality tv as human cockfighting. (We were discussing the Real Housewives of somewhere or other, as I recall). I was tempted to respond that I’m very proud of the years I spent schoolmarming. Teaching kids is an important, demanding, and rewarding job.

Teaching elementary school is also very educational for teachers who keep their ears open. Not only do kids say the darnedest thing, but parents have a curious tendency to mistake teachers for Marriage and Family Therapists, particularly during parent conference season. And bitter divorcees of both genders are prone to inappropriate disclosures, a mistake which is compounded when done in front of one’s children.

This brings me back to my faded recollection of a long ago teacher’s lounge discussion about The Three Don’ts of Divorce:

#1 Don’t rag on your ex in front of the kids. Making stupid decisions with your life is nothing to brag about. And you really aren’t impressing people when you tell them that you chose to make babies with a pathetic loser. Furthermore, a relationship is not a competition; nobody wins when the final whistle blows. And the biggest losers will be your kids if you embarrass them by unraveling a giant ball of bitter in front of their teachers.

#2 Don’t ask your kids to spy on your ex. If you can’t let it go, try yoga. Deep breathing is not only good for the body, but it’s a wonderful metaphor for life; taking in and letting go is a continuous process. Struggling to hold on to something that no longer exists will rot your spirit; it will also turn you into an insufferable pain in the keyster.

#3 Don’t talk about details of the divorce in front of your kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents trying to justify X,Y, and Z by scapegoating a parent who isn’t in the room. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to divulge sensitive personal information to your child’s teacher. (Like when you’ve have to get a restraining order.) But it’s a good idea to send your kid out to the playground first.

An Amusing Day Care Teaching Story

In college I worked at a very hoity toity day care center on the north side of Berkeley which was run by a friend of my family. Because I was a part-time substitute, no one ever took the time to fill me in on the finer points of local etiquette.

One day I was supervising the sandbox during free play when a three-year-old boy smacked another kid over the head with a toy firetruck.

“Cut that out,” I insisted.

The offending child immediately stopped assaulting his playmate. He turned towards me and gave me a stern glare.

Cut that out is not nice, ” He instructed severely. “We don’t use words like the at the Child Education Center.”

I was taken aback by the rebuke, but I sensibly resisted the nearly overwhelming impulse to say, “Listen pal, we put people in jail for things like that.”

Richard W. Bray