Doubting Uncle

““The dead don’t stay where they are buried. . . . You may meet the dead anywhere.” …

…Treated (as some adults do treat children) as if he is older than his years…

Here is a grievous portrait, grievous most of all in its unforgetting attention; grievous most of all in its kindness. This is what a formative influence is, after all: to be influenced. To be formed.”

-Elaine Castillo, “Ways of Seeing.” BookForum.com. July 25, 2022

I was strangely effected by this little piece. I have nieces and a nephew how I treat, essentially, no differently than I would an adult, even though they are all less than 10 years old. I do it because I feel that children are a permanent underclass. They are not regarded as full persons because of their lack of experience and development. But, from my perspective, that’s what’s interesting about children. They have fewer preconceptions. In many ways, their views are just as important, and on occasion more important, than their elders.

But, this piece makes me wonder, who will they meet, when I’m dead and gone, and someone reminds them of their uncle? Or, is that a conceit? Will they remember me at all? To be remembered, or to not be remembered, is of no consequence to me. We all, inevitably, have our traces removed by time. But, I do try to be a positive influence, to be who I am and bring a unique perspective into their lives. Does it have any value? Will it, on net, be good for them? One can only hope.

Joan Didion on Self-Respect

“Nonetheless, character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs…

…Again, it is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has its price. People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk that the Indians will be hostile, that the venture will go bankrupt, that the liaison may not turn out to be one in which every day is a holiday because you’re married to me. They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds…

…To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent…

…To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”

-Joan Didion, “Self-Respect.” Vogue. 1961.

While I’ve mentioned this essay before, on re-reading, I thought it deserved its own post. Lovely.

Santa James

“Slowly, in this town of 25,000 mostly retirees and blue-collar workers, where untethered wanderers roll off Interstate 40 like so many tumbleweeds, residents let down their guard for one peculiar 68-year-old man few call James or Zyla. Here, he’s Santa James.”

—John M. Glionna, “A homeless man wandered in one day, and this Arizona town adopted him.” The Los Angeles Times. April 4, 2019.

First installment of relaunched Column One with off-beat character stories.

Openness & Discernment

“The undiscerning mind is like the root of the tree, it absorbs equally everything it touches, even the poison that would kill it.”

—Kung Fu (television series)

Recently, I got into an online discussion where someone was trying to convince me that I should listen to some podcast that explained some current conspiracy related to the United States government. I told them that I was not interested.

Then, they encouraged me to have an open mind and listen to both sides of the argument. They also claimed to listen to the “other” side and offered as evidence that they watched CNN.

It’s a strange perspective. The reality is that there are an infinite number of sides. Our perspective is shaped by our lives, and by virtue of that, all of them are unique. We lose this uniqueness when we try to narrow and conform our view to just two possibilities.

Of course, it is important to keep an open mind and to be open to new perspectives. But, it is equally as important to screen your influences. Obviously, if you are screening your influences to limit them to perspectives close to yours or to just two, you are creating a filter bubble (or two) and are losing out on all the variety and opportunities for growth that exist in the world.

But, on the other hand, some ideas are simply bad and do not lead to growth, except in reaction. After getting the basic idea behind notions of racial superiority and judging it bad, it is unnecessary to evaluate every instance of this phenomena. Whether it is Christian Identity in the United States, Hindu Nationalism, notions of the “Original Black Man” and so forth, these ideas are about building a sense of self-worth from one’s racial identity.

Taking pride in being a part of a race is just as much of a part of racism as being prejudiced against people because of their race. One feeds into the other, the yin/yang that perpetuates itself through the generations and forms in and out groups.

It may be that there is a place for this type of thinking in a world with a history of subjugation, such as colonialism and slavery. It may, in some instances, serve as a corrective that at some point is no longer is necessary. Like women only transportation or classrooms, once society has progressed enough these measures can be dispensed with in order to transition to full equality. Although, they can also be obstacles to this kind of progression.

“Separate but equal” systems tend to perpetuate themselves and the very systems of subordination they are trying to address. Similarly, lifting up a race by focusing on the good qualities of the “race” has a similar effect. It is a dangerous crutch, and for me personally, racial identity is not an idea that would be a good lens for viewing the world. No amount of additional information is going to change my mind on this topic. This is a kind of virus meme, and it would cause an illness of character.

It is important to find our own path in this life, and it is impossible to do that if we allow every influence into our mind. Not being discriminating about our influences turns the pure water of our unmediated experience that we can use to live a unique life of meaning into a sewer of preconceived notions. It’s another form of colonization, just of the mind.

To paraphrase the great sage, George Clinton, “You got to free your mind, and your ass will follow.” There is no greater freedom than to choose what is good for you and to limit your exposure to the bad. The trick is not to think the new or different is bad.