Monday, April 28, 2008

People Are Sentient Beings, Not Monkeys...

It’s always interesting when what I’m learning in different classes starts to mesh together…of course, this generally means I’m going to be having a couple of sleepless nights trying to figure out just what I do believe. Imagine the two classes being a galaxy, and then both of them smashing together (which Hubble just released pictures of that are INCREDIBLE. I know, Star Trek has poisoned my brain with no help for it.). That’s a fairly accurate parallel for today.

In my American Literature class with Dr. Jenkins, we’ve been reading one his favorite authors, Walker Percy. I like Percy—he’s a lot easier to read than some of the authors we’ve had this semester while still presenting pleasingly knotty philosophical questions. The book we’re reading by Percy is called The Thanatos Syndrome, which translates into “The Death Syndrome.” The plot is incredible, focusing on a psychologist working to expose a plot in Louisiana to poison the water. This toxin isn’t your usual arsenic and heavy metal cocktail, though: it’s some kind of special sodium that will supposedly fix all the problems in the human race. With this additive in the water, people lose the superfluities of language and action. Their sentences are confined to one or two word replies, something like binary. In essence, they become roughly comparable to a chimpanzee. Teenage pregnancies, child abuse, and discrimination: all these things utterly disappear. People act on their instincts, not on reason.

Why am I bringing this up, you ask? It all connects with my post just before this one People seem to think that losing language and all its meaning would really be a good thing. It’s all the same attitude: people just want to pay the bills and move from action to action without ever thinking on the meanings behind their actions. Let’s keep it short and simple, they shout. Little words, get the point across, and move on. Any extraneous material can be clipped away. Doublespeak may not be that far away for us, after all. This infuriates me.

These opinions collided in my Victorian Literature class with Dr. Callis. He asked me to read a portion of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s essay, “The Idea of a University” aloud. “Discourse 5: Knowledge Its Own End” had quite a few intriguing points. Newman states, “You see then, here are two methods of Education; the end of the one is to be philosophical, of the other to be mechanical; the one rises towards general ideas, the other is exhausted upon what is particular and external. Let me not be thought to deny the necessity, or to decry the benefit, of such attention to what is particular and practical, as belongs to the useful or mechanical arts; life could not go on without them; we owe our daily welfare to them; their exercise is the duty of the many, and we owe to the many a debt of gratitude for fulfilling that duty. I only say that Knowledge, in proportion as it tends more and more to be particular, ceases to be Knowledge. It is a question whether Knowledge can in any proper sense be predicated of the brute creation; without pretending to metaphysical exactness of phraseology, which would be unsuitable to an occasion like this, I say, it seems to me improper to call that passive sensation, or perception of things, which brutes seem to possess, by the name of Knowledge. When I speak of Knowledge, I mean something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it sees, which invests it with an idea.”

Did you make it through all that? Congratulations, Greatheart! You just earned some respect from me.

To recap, men are more than brute creation, more than primal monkeys. We have been given the ability to see more than what our mere senses convey to us. Shamefully, many people prefer to exist without meaning, without searching for the Reason behind their Knowledge. I shudder to imagine the future generations when they are handed Knowledge without the ability to reason whether they should use that knowledge or not. I shudder to think what will happen when people are so busy thinking in binary that they forget to say, “Once upon a time, there was an evil queen…”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

These Homo Sapiens and Their Guns....

I’m constantly amazed at the sheer amount of people I’m encountering during my college experience that just DON’T CARE. What is it about people that make them this way? Am I just abnormal or are they the deviants? Whatever it is, these people that sully my existence are merely in college for a future goal. They just live—paycheck to paycheck and always hoping for the better deal. Theirs is a world of bottom lines and rising percentages. A lot of them come into college and sign up to be business majors, thinking that all they have to do is be a brownnoser to the big boss and someday they’ll be fat and happy at the head of a boardroom. A fine goal, I suppose, but what truly stupefies me is that that existence is ALL they want in life.

Don’t people understand that there’s so much more to this world? I’m at college for my goals, sure. I’m here to get a degree so that I can get a job that pays enough for me to live on and to be able to say, yes, I have a degree. Vanity. But there’s another part of me, the part that’s here because I honestly like learning, and a part that realizes that this world isn’t finite. Earth isn’t governed by bottom lines and rising percentages. There’s something more, and people just aren’t seeing it. Our species’ very name, Homo sapiens, means “man the thinker.” We’re supposed to be wrestling with our world, thinking about it, not just merely existing. Functioning. We are not “man the automaton.” Dr. Callis has been talking about natural beauty in our Victorian Literature class. Natural beauty is the kind that is so pure, so inherently beautiful, that it points towards a higher power, towards God's existance. Isn’t that what we, as homo sapiens, should be looking for, if not exemplifying? That’s why I want to be a writer. I believe I was given the ability to see a side of life, the imagination, which most people have left behind in their childhoods. I will be pointing towards an element of a higher beauty--at least that’s what I’ll be attempting to do. I'm not so conceited to believe that I'll actually be able to do this.

Therein lays my point. How many people walk right past natural beauty, and don’t even see it? How can you ignore something that should be so tightly interwoven into your nature that you physically cannot undervalue it? But so many people do! They’re so busy watching the game that They. Are. Missing. It! It infuriates me. How can you live like that? The only things that make this life worth it to me are the universals, those ascetics that make this world, despite its suffering, so beautiful.

Too bad people are so busy keeping their noses buried in Playboy that they can’t appreciate Dickens or a flower beside the road.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Some Lessons on Cowardice

"Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but valuable. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?"
-Kathleen, "You've Got Mail"

All right, Mom, here's my continuation of earlier. This quote from "You've Got Mail" has always grabbed my attention. I do wonder about my life being empty because I've never been brave enough to do so many things. But is my life truly empty, if the things I'm not brave enough to do obviously don't matter enough for me to overcome cowardice? A knotty problem, this.

I've always been more comfortable with books and movies than with new experiences. I hate doing anything without first knowing EXACTLY what is expected of me and EXACTLY what is going to happen. Still, I had a new experience this past weekend in spite of myself. I bit the bullet, and drove all the way to Murfeesboro all by myself to visit Alyce and her friends. Let me put this into proportion for you: I hadn't regularly started driving on the interstate until last semester. I've never traveled anywhere by myself. I've never just packed up and gone somewhere without methodically planning every single aspect of whatever it is that I'm doing. Oh, and have I mentioned that I positively loathe driving in the rain? So, as you can tell, this was a TOTALLY out-of-character thing for me to do.

Still, it was a freeing experience. I packed a bag, got directions from Alyce, and drove without a single problem nearly four hours away by myself--in the driving rain, too. I didn't get lost, mugged, or have my car die on me. It was almost boring! I was able to meet my friend Mary face-to-face for the first time, which was amazing. I was able to meet and judge for myself the suitability of Alyce's new boyfriend. (He's marvelous, by the way.) All in all, it was a very illuminating trip. I didn't even get lost until I got BACK in Memphis! Only I could do that.

However, it was during this trip that I realized something. I, Katie Johnson, am shy. I had no idea that I was shy. Usually, I'm fairly outgoing when I'm with my friends and I certainly don't have a problem with being the center of attention. When I was put in the middle of this entirely new group of people, however, I literally sat in a corner for a good portion of the time. It wasn't that they were unfriendly or that I disliked any of them. I just found that I enjoyed myself better if I could sit in a quiet place and merely observe what was going on around me. Some of that I attribute to being a writer. But I was truly amazed at how little I wanted anyone to notice me. It turns out that my life is fairly small and quiet not because I am a coward, but because I am shy. You have no idea what a relief that was to me to discover! I'm not an idiot, and I don't lack courage. I just would rather sit and become comfortable with the situation before I start pushing myself forward. I live this way because I like it.

I also realize that there is absolutely nothing wrong with living a small life. Not everyone can be a superstar. I'm not sure that the world could handle many more Britney Spearses! I actually find that I don't mind being "the woman behind the curtain." As long as I am useful and needed by a few people, as long as my life is serving some purpose, then I am content.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

You've Got Katie Quotes!

I sometimes wonder if I've spent too much time reading and watching movies. Whenever I find a character I admire, I usually try to start exhibiting some trait of that person. Today, I feel like I'm living inside of "You've Got Mail." It's a wonderful story, and I've always identified strongly with Kathleen. She's a passionate person, who believes strongly in the books that she loves. Every once in a while, she'll say something that makes me believe that she's reading my mind. Two quotes from the movie are standing out in my head at the moment. To explain, I should probably start out by saying that yes, Katie is not feeling well today. Yes, she's been a little irritable. Yes, she's had a few personal things that have been wearing on her. Thankfully, I just had a good talk with Alyce in which I had a minor epiphany, so hopefully things should be a little better. But in any case, Katie's mind was not in the right place about an hour ago. Mom was bugging me about doing something I ROYALLY didn't want to do. I could see the sense of what she was saying, and it truly wasn't that big a deal. Still, Katie was annoyed that she wasn't getting her way. I got a little huffy, and Evan tried to calm me down by saying my name in a patronizing "you're being stupid" tone. Of course, my blood started to boil. Nothing makes me madder than somebody else pointing out how childish I'm being. God blessed or cursed me with instant remorse. If people will just let me vent for a minute, two seconds later I'm realizing how stupid I'm being and I start apologizing all over myself. Just let me be, and I'll snap out of it. Promise. Joe says something to that effect in "You've Got Mail": "Have you ever become the worst version of yourself? That a pandora's box of all the hateful things, your spite, your arrogance, your condecension has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and walking away... you zing them. "Hello it's Mr Nasty". I'm sure you have no idea what I'm talking about... Although I must warn you... when you eventually have the pleasure of saying the thing you want to say at the moment you’re wanting to say it... remorse inevitably follows... " Well, thank you, Joe, for saying what was exactly on my mind. I behaved badly, and now I'm in the remorse stage. My apologies to all involved. Something else was bothering me, but I think I'm okay now, so you're safe to come out of your hiding places! It won't happen again! At least any time soon....The other "You've Got Mail" quote to follow this evening. It needs a post all its own. Love!