biographical / Non-fiction

Bad Kids, Hominids and the Caretaker Presidents

I have a perfect take on my life five years ago. I always have.

In high school I used to lament that I wasn’t worse behaved as a child, because the consequences for a child seem so insignificant to someone in high school. What’s time-out compared to getting points on your driver’s license, right?

It’s like how, after a while, bad photographs of you go from embarrassing to endearing. The sting of looking weird has a statute of limitations. Maybe everything does.

I’m at the age where I can see my friends misremembering college, or getting perspective on it, or forgetting it altogether, which is pretty cool.

I certainly miss having all of my friends close, and my days mostly scheduled with classes and reading, but if I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t take advantage of a resilience to hangovers that was apparently just a by-product of youth. In fact, maybe I would study more. Or get more sleep. See, getting enough sleep is integral in forming memories, and if nothing else I would use my education a lot more if I could remember it quicker.

It’s fitting that the probably the last thing I’ll remember from a four-year degree in philosophy is that Plato is right when he says that a culture that writes everything done loses the ability to just remember them. That’s from the Phaedrus.

Illustration by Ted Slampyak, of the other part of the Phaedrus that I remember. Via.

If Plato were around now, he would probably point out that having Google makes it so you don’t even need to remember that it’s from the Phaedrus, but the damage is done, Plato.

As a writer, Plato was probably being cheeky when he wrote that, since he was writing it down after all.

Anyway, I guess this thing called “wisdom” that I keep claiming to gain is actually just the ability to look into my past from a distance where all of the particularities and complexities start to lose their poignancy. Far from having gained perspective from a distance, distance gives only the illusion of perspective.

Garfield got assassinated too! I bet you didn’t even remember that! And why would you?

Likewise, I like looking back at the “caretaker presidents.” There’s something refreshing about the way that all seems forgiven when you consider

that Rutherford B. Hayes was once the center of the most controversial election in history, or when you consider that a self-described anarchist shot President McKinley. It’s pretty much the only thing I know about McKinley, except that he campaigned as pro-silver standard against the much more interesting candidate, William Jennings Bryan. From safe in the 21st Century, it seems quaint. Presidents and their beards, ha ha.

In this joking, I think there’s also a little bit of hope that the era we live in—where every election is “the most important in a generation,” and web site prophets mourn the United States staggering to her death via the peaceful re-election of a centrist Democrat—will someday also flatten out and take its rightful place among the footnotes of history. And I suppose from a certain perspective it will.

The early 2000s—September 11, war in Iraq, uh…. first black president. Nobody saw the Great Recession coming, and I doubt we’ll see it leaving either. It doesn’t seem to have made a difference.

The tide of debate will move on, and issues will be deemed resolved or irrelevant in favor of the more pressing, or the newer, or the better to grandstand upon.

Hegel Comes Alive!

Hegel said some very complex things, and as a consequence, his writing isn’t read very much. Apparently his lectures were really well attended, so maybe it all makes sense live, but isn’t very good on record. Anyway, all that work by Hegel and all we learn is “Thesis meets antithesis, they fight and emerge as the synthesis.” That is the march of history.

Thesis-antithesis-synthesis assumes a perspective that you just don’t ever have. There is no synthesis. There is no thesis. There is only antithesis, antithesis, antithesis, and then an imposition onto the past that says “Here is the path we took to where we are,” but don’t be fooled. Who’s on a path? Existence is the bliss of always having arrived. Wherever we are, we are here.

Just like Lucy the hominid, strolling around whatever Ethiopia looked like 3.2 million years ago. Never realizing that she was incomplete, a link on an incomplete chain.

Lucy in the museum with patrons

Lucy in the museum with patrons

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