It seems that life is tougher now. Certainly more complex. On drives through the beautiful countryside around our home here in western Kentucky I often joke about “Going Amish.” We could write our families and tell them that we wanted to simplify our lives and make beautiful furniture. I could wear that cool looking broad-brimmed black hat and skip shaving. Stefanie could sport the bonnet and her elegantly tailored frock. We’d still drive around in our little screaming yellow Ford Focus of course. Wave to people as we drove by. Give the larger Amish community a bad name when people see an Amish couple cruise by in a yellow hatchback. Endure taunts of “Hypocrites!” and “Why don’t you get a therapist like the rest of us!!”
But is life really all that tough? I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s sense of deprivation since these are tough economic times. But it is relative. And a quick look back at the history of mere survival would suggest that it has been worse. Maybe tougher in some ways like finding something good to watch on TV. It certainly is tougher to remain thoughtful and sensible with our brains infested with all manner of perceived threats to the continuity of the world as we know it. And with major problems looming, it would seem like the right time to sit down and think of ways to make a change. But then any plan of change we come up with begins to seem more scary than where we are right now. So we react. We pull back. We get riled up and demand simple solutions. We demand that our leaders reflect our “core values” as if that alone would somehow make it all clear, in black and white. We forget the preponderance of gray which requires a political process that wends its way through complex issues towards imperfect solutions.
We know change is coming. When it comes to change our brains get into a little scrap where our intellect says “go” and our emotions say “no.” No surprise then that we tend to shut it down and get cozy with the devil that we know. And what works better when faced with daunting change than a good old political platitude, or the balm of soothing escapist entertainment. But what happens to old fashioned thinking and to reasoned discussion then? Where are those spaces between our “events” where we can just sit and reflect? And what ever happened to all those chunks of silence when there was, for whatever weird reason, no entertainment?
Priorities change. Today its not so important to know things like which philosopher best represents a particular school of philosophy. Even a fan of philosophy like me has trouble bringing those details to mind. On the other hand, I have more luck recalling the featured menu item at some fast food restaurant. So why does “Hand-Breaded Chicken Fingers” spring with clarity to mind when I think of “Hardee’s” and “Existential someone-or-other” emerge through the fog when I think “Heidegger.”
I remember now. One’s easy and one is hard. One involves issues of life and death, being and non-being, and painstakingly scrutinized methods of thinking and speaking. And the other is just plain delicious! Its a no-brainer! (what did I say?). It wasn’t always like this, was it? Am I just imagining a time not so long ago when discussions lasted long into the night about personal interpretations of reality? Seems like silly pseudo-intellectual bloviating now maybe but at least our brains and passions were fully engaged. Like Greece during the first millennium when there were basically two armed camps fighting in the streets because they disagreed about whether Christ was “of one substance” with God, or merely “of like substance.” That all changed of course when we discovered that Life is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, smothered in secret sauce.