Smile Politely

Sins of the butterfly

AOEGuy, just 21, flew to Peru in January to attend a shaman initiation rite. Mostly, he rambles on about diet, health, and spirituality. Sometimes he plays guitar or videotapes his philosophizing out in the Wisconsin woods.

Manupppowerup, about the same age, wears dreads and warns against atheism, evolution, the government and sexual impurity, articulating with surety and a wry sense of sarcasm.

Or there is Zorio, bearded and lower-lip pierced, who can parse Baudrillard and Nietzsche without blinking an eye.

I subscribe to the videos from these young seekers on YouTube. They amuse me. I feel like the old guy eavesdropping from an adjoining booth in the campus coffee house, where philosophy dabblers debate Karamazov-like as they wave their arms and consume gallons of espresso.

Maybe they remind me of myself at that age, devouring philosophy and religion, seeking enlightenment while most of my contemporaries were more driven to become corporate CEOs. Well, that’s not exactly true. It was the late1960s, after all. Jerry Rubin and the others only realized later that capitalism was the true religion of America, while I never quite did get it. I missed that boat and remain adrift on a forgotten sea, Columbus still seeking reality.

I never threw out my volumes of Gurdijieff, the Upanishads, P.D. Ouspensky, collected works of existentialism, Wilhelm Reich, Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen, Whitman, and Wittgenstein. One year, camping on the nude beach on the island of Mykonos, Greece, I spent time in my tent reading the existentialists while everyone else was flapping around playing volleyball. But I never did become an academic or an intellectual. And I gravitated toward the words attributed to Lao-tse: plain, practical, accepting, pacifist, the ideas simultaneously counterintuitive and obvious.

Last week, surfing between turns on Facebook Scrabble, I stumbled across the term “eliminative materialism.” Maybe the short definition could be the title of that Firesign Theater album: Everything You Know Is Wrong. Now my weekly poker buddies are discussing the concept. The Admiral denied its validity outright: “It has not, should not, and will not exist.” JD chastised us all to “take up something constructive, like watching March Madness.”

I sometimes wish I could remember the way my mind worked when I was 20. I can read the underlined words in my well-worn copy of The Wisdom of Laotse and vaguely reconstitute the drive, the curiosity for truth.

“He regards his life like a floating dream and regards his death as rest. He does not plan, contrive, or calculate.” I had underlined this, apparently taking it to heart, which may account for my lack of ambition. “Therefore it is said the Sage takes repose.” I had underlined the word “repose” and in the margin wrote “faith.”

Can one calculate how things we did and thought in our youth become what we turn out to be years down the road? What is the butterfly effect of time? Of course, as a LOST-watcher, I halfway expect to find out that I personally was the one responsible for the Dharma Initiative, the next time the island disappears.

William Ayers, who spoke nightly on campus at Unit One last week, was just a couple of years older than I was back when he formed the Weather Underground. I remember at the time strongly rejecting the idea of using violence to effect change, as much as I was outraged by the government’s murders in Vietnam and by the military conscription that took my friends.

Unlike Lao-tse, Ayers obviously had “planned, contrived, and calculated” his actions, certain that he was right.

I heard Ayers speak convincingly and calmly on Penny for Your Thoughts on WDWS radio. Most of the listeners — and certainly The News-Gazette-owned radio station — weren’t buying it. Columnist Jim Dey went on to write a vehement denunciation of Ayers, offering little more than angrily calling Ayers a “has-been,” “con man,” and “senior citizen.” Odd epithet, that last one. Dey didn’t bother to take into account the fact that the government planned, contrived, and calculated to kill thousands of civilians in Vietnam at the time.

And Dewey resident, former owner of Slot and Wing, and frequently outspoken Angry Guy Mark Thompson got himself arrested at Ayers’ final night in Allen Hall, refusing to abide by the rules of the presentation and posing a threat to all concerned.

So, to recap, Thompson felt it was his duty to perform civil disobedience because Ayers had felt it was his duty to perform civil disobedience because the government felt it was its duty to interfere in the civil war in Vietnam because the French held interests there and, I don’t know, it probably goes all the way back to Genghis Khan.

The other guy started it. You learned that in kindergarten.

And maybe because I downloaded the new U2 album from a sketchy Russian website ($1.99), mobsters in Moscow have become millionaires, Bono is less rich than he deserves to be, and somebody in a Russian alley is getting hit over the head with a bottle of vodka.

And maybe because my friend is a card-carrying NRA member, the assault weapons legally manufactured in the U.S. end up being used by the drug cartels, and death and kidnappings occur like an epidemic in the border towns of Mexico.

Maybe if I had played nude volleyball instead of studying Kierkegaard, I would have ended up losing a retirement 401K in the economic crash.

No wonder J. Alfred Prufrock didn’t dare to eat the peach. You never know what’s going to happen. Or who is going to be blamed.

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