September 22, 2012

Of Dice & Men: The Asinine, the Divine

I recently started rewatching Sherlock with my parents and realized my idea of how good the show is somewhat exceeds how good it really is. It’s still excellent, but I'm a tad disappointed. Why do media routinely not live up to the idea I have of them? And if my idea feels so secure, why does simply rewatching that show or re-reading that book bring it down? 

Both seasons are now on Netflix, and if you skip the second episode of each season you won't miss anything.

Sometimes, I am totally convinced of the merit of materialism: what you see is what you get. Other times, I side with the highly evolved juror robots in Futurama’s “A Clockwork Origin” who refuse to rule on Planet Express’s case: “We have evolved to a higher state of consciousness. In the grand scheme, all physical beings are but yokels. Now, settle your petty squabbles and get the hell out.”

In this episode they were actually on another planet, but I love their depiction of Earth Supreme Court.

Paradoxically, man is simultaneously animal and spiritual, so stuff visible and invisible matters to us totally at the same time. My evidence to explain this interaction is necessarily anecdotal, but then again my evidence here always is.

Sometimes ideas are so strong they end up manifesting themselves. I’m pretty sure British historian Niall Ferguson’s second wife is just a manifestation of his academic obsession. Ferguson writes extensively on the history of the West and how great he thinks it is, so when he met a Somali-born Dutch MP who loved the West as much as he did, he left his wife of 24 years and married her. The exotic is erotic and can be even more attractive when it affirms you, but listen to the very scholastic way Ferguson praises his wife Ayaan:

To see and hear how she understands western philosophy, how she understands the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, of the 19th-century liberal era, is a great privilege, because she sees it with a clarity and freshness of perspective that's really hard for us to match. So much of liberalism in its classical sense is taken for granted in the west today and even disrespected. 
I don’t claim to understand their relationship, but that sounds to me like he may be more in love with the idea he has of Ayaan rather than who she really is. In a similar way, love for the idea of something can abide despite what it’s really like. Cubs fans, bless their hearts, root for their lovable losers even as they know many of their players will be unsatisfactory.

With two outs, too.

Other times, physical and chemical action can affects ideas. In the book I read on the history of opium, the author quoted an 1840 New York Times article that claimed alcohol encouraged the lower and more animal instincts in a man whereas opium heightened the higher and more spiritual feelings. I don’t have personal experience with both drugs to make this comparison, but if you do please let me know.

More simply, eating and drinking with anyone and generally just spending time with them brings you closer together. Ecumenical conferences are forever trying to get quarreling Christians—be they Catholics, Quakers or Koreans
to take communion together but can’t. On a lighter note, compromise arguably stopped happening in Washington when congressmen were able to fly back to their constituencies every weekend, not congregating with all their fellow congressman in Washington in restaurants or bars. It is, after all, much harder to filibuster the bill of someone you ate, drank and laughed with on Saturday night.

I’m no metaphysician, but I know that both the animal and spiritual matter a lot, and I would argue simultaneously so. Are V for Vendetta and Amadeus perfect movies? No, but the ideas I see the movies represent keep me rewatching them every November and December 5th. Am I the same person if I weigh 11 stone or 21? Persons are moving targets, but I think I am Nathan whether I’m emaciated or husky. Be that as it may, I know I feel better and think differently when I’m on the lower end of that spectrum. (I’ve read that voters find overweight politicians more trustworthy, but as I’m not running for office I think I could stand to lose a few pounds.)

We’re not dogs, and we’re not logic machines. We’re human, and our absolutely peculiar ability to exist both spiritually and physically should not be disheartening or vexing, but inspiring. Now I’m going to go grab a dirty chai so I can write trivia questions about modern African history.