Saturday, December 11, 2021

Diary

As previously, I'm not enjoying the pandemic much. Though I feel fairly safe, having had my booster shot and wearing a mask when appropriate, I feel constrained. As mentioned earlier, being limited in activities tends to weaken relationships. When things aren't going well, which currently also includes the political state of the country, I automatically start thinking about Plan B options. At my age, inertia is usually the best choice. I think it usually takes several years to develop a good relationship, and, when you have perhaps only twenty years left to live, relationship changes are a big gamble. Then there is the question of where to live if political conditions continue to deteriorate. I keep thinking about Flaubert, whose character, Pécuchet, said "America will conquer the earth....Widespread boorishness. Everywhere you look will be carousing laborers." This reminds me of the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6. If conditions got really bad, Scotland would be an option for me, but I'm not sure that it would be much of an improvement over the U.S. Theoretically, Scotland could split from the U.K. and become part of the E.U., which is generally more civilized than the U.S., but I may be dead by then. Another factor is the location of family members. Although my family has always been geographically spread out, like many people, I value it more as I grow older. Of course, my theory is that there is a genetic basis for being able to relate better to close relatives than to others, even those with whom you have a similar cultural background. One of my pet peeves about political correctness is that, not only are most people significantly different from others, but that it is common to dislike or underappreciate human characteristics that are different from your own. I currently have only ten close living relatives, including their spouses and children, and six of them live within 250 miles of here. Though there are always some family conflicts, those pale in comparison to the problems that arise when interacting with people who have different family predispositions from yours and who actually prefer their families to you. However, one of the advantages of being old is that you don't have to plan very far into the future. The idea that dying will allow me to escape future unpleasantness is becoming more appealing.

Under these circumstances, I tend to go into more of an escapist mode than usual. I have three new nonfiction books on hand, but I don't feel at all like reading any of them at the moment. I don't actually like the state of the contemporary world and would rather not think about it. For this reason, I'm going to delve into the Enlightenment again. I very much enjoyed reading about Rousseau, Diderot somewhat less so, but, as of yet, I haven't read much about Voltaire. As with Rousseau and Diderot, I'm not particularly interested in his writings, but he was a key figure during that period, and knowing more about him would help me understand that environment better. In many respects Voltaire had a sharper mind than Rousseau or Diderot, so it is possible that he had greater insights into the period. To this end, I will be reading a Voltaire biography next. It is refreshing to me to delve into a period during which intellectuals were important contributors to the conceptual schemas of their societies. There are no equivalents today, and what you get is a collection of academic hacks who know far less than they think they do and are generally ignored anyway. I still give credit to writers such as E.O. Wilson and Robert Sapolsky, but in the end they are primarily academic researchers and are not really equipped to address many of the issues of our times. To me, Wilson's main message currently is that we're ruining the planet for all life forms, and Sapolsky's main message, to the extent that there is one in Behave, is that we are nothing more than biological entities who are trapped within the web of our evolutionary past. Although these are important, actionable scientific findings, scientists are generally not well-suited to effect policy changes. Influential thinkers tend to be the ones who come up with slightly ridiculous but appealing phrases such as "liberty," which are effective in the same manner as advertising campaigns. Rousseau would have done well at an advertising agency, and he could even have written the jingles. In my view, the world might have been a better place if no one had ever paid attention to popular authors. The best ideas are usually ones of scientific origin, and they tend to be unpopular. "You are a stupid animal" – which sums up many of the findings that I've discussed on this blog – hasn't caught on.

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