Friday, August 6, 2021


I've been reading an anthology of American poetry and have found only one poem in it that I like. That is a poem by Theodore Roethke, and I ordered and received his Collected Poems, which I haven't started yet. The Po Chü-i poem in my last post came from another anthology that I've had for many years. When I said that I like 20th century American poetry, I probably should have qualified that, because the early and late periods are pretty bad in my opinion, and the poems I like are roughly from the 1930's to the 1980's. Every once in a while I read the poems posted by Jim Culleny on 3 Quarks Daily, and some of those aren't bad, but I don't read poetry regularly.

The next nonfiction book that I'm going to read will be published in September and discusses research indicating that "much early behavior is biologically predisposed rather than learned," and this is the sort of subject that I enjoy. One of the ideas that I've found most interesting in recent years is that the universe is deterministic, and that includes human behavior. The best research is being conducted by biologists rather than by psychologists, physicists or philosophers. In this vein, Behave, by Robert Sapolsky, was quite informative. I think that most theories of human nature have been incorrect until recently, and that biologists are currently working out the actual details. What makes it confusing is that the processes are so complex that it may be impossible to fully grasp them, especially when they are considered collectively. I think that our existing concepts of consciousness, free will and mind stem from obsolete theological ideas which are thousands of years old. A key idea for me is that we don't actually have free will, but that, because of the complexity of the underlying processes that produce human behavior, we are unable to comprehend them and delude ourselves into thinking that we are free. The implications of this are rather significant in many areas, such as political systems, overpopulation and anthropogenic climate change. I can't emphasize enough that all of the problems that we are collectively facing now were directly or indirectly created by us. Thus, for example, to anyone who is willing to accept facts, democracy doesn't work and capitalism is destroying the environment.

I don't necessarily like to pick on the U.S., since the same kinds of collective errors are made worldwide. However, since I live here, American errors seem more conspicuous to me. I find it remarkable that Donald Trump has any credibility whatsoever in this country. His incompetence and corruption have been demonstrated repeatedly for more than four years now, yet, remarkably, he retains a hold on the Republican Party, and this can only be explained by the willfulness and stupidity of his supporters. Not coincidentally, the same people have been reluctant to get vaccinated and have caused surges of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in their states. To me, these are relatively straightforward examples of how the U.S. government doesn't work and how ignorant voters are endangering themselves and the world. With the lingering pandemic and global warming advancing, it is disconcerting that the near future now more closely resembles a dystopian novel.

In other news, I've volunteered at the Ilsley Public Library to remove unwanted books. Although the library regularly has book sales and recycles books that way, they have too many unwanted books and literally can't give them away. These include books that even used booksellers don't want. For this reason, the library throws them out, which means that they must be taken to the Addison County Solid Waste District, which charges a fee, since they are not recyclable. My job is to load boxes of these books into my car and transport them to the Solid Waste District. In earlier days, readers would have been horrified to see books end their lives this way. On the other hand, this is an excellent time for readers like me who dislike Kindle and now have increased access to inexpensive used books. Other old-tech items such as CDs, cassettes, LPs and videocassettes are also going out of use, and the library throws some of them away too. We still have players for all of those, and I prefer our CD player for music. One of the ironies of the digital age is that, with lower costs and increased availability, the quality of sound systems has gradually deteriorated, and, in my opinion, so has the quality of music and writing. I would guess that most Gen Z people have never heard high quality music reproduction or read a good book. So much for progress.

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