An Experiment In Scotch

I write to discover what I believe

Month: July 2018

On A Two Week Roadtrip

This is going to be a multipart effort designed to catalogue last year’s road trip. Also, I need to throw away the sack of brochures I have been keeping around for a year.

I have been reading a great deal of moral philosophy lately. Well, “a great deal” is like 4 pages a day because it’s HARD but that’s 4 more pages then almost all of my readers so it qualifies as “a great deal” if you ask me. My reading has been predominantly focused on Plato, Kant, Wittgenstein and how we derive or justify morality in an increasingly secular world. Luckily I haven’t had to read all of those people because that’s craziness. Instead I’m reading Metaphysics as a Guide To Morals. For most of my readers, stick with me because this essay isn’t actually about moral philosophy, at least not primarily. I promise to be just as entertaining as I typically am.

One of the main developments of moral philosophy was Kantian ethics (also called duty ethics and I just made you say “doody”) wherein there are two types of duties (types of doodies), perfect and imperfect. A perfect duty is one that everyone must follow. Kant believed you should never lie under any circumstances because once you decide it’s OK to lie in this one instance, the line becomes fuzzy and you can convince yourself to lie in lots of other circumstances, mostly to yourself when you say things like “Yeah it totally makes sense to put the house on the market immediately after a six month ordeal of getting a crazy successful play up and running”. I digress. An imperfect duty is something like giving to charity. Yeah you should do it but how much? How often? That’s pretty much up to you and Kant wasn’t going to bust into your home and fill out that Paypal form for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

What does any of this have to do with a two week road trip? Nothing really except I needed an intro and I feel an imperfect duty (it’s clearly imperfect since it took 12 months to complete) to write about our travels as a way of cataloging our lives for the time 18 years from now when Harper is in therapy and needs to track her violent crime spree back to something and she can remember through my words about the time we spent fourteen days in a tiny trailer for no apparent reason whatsoever. It’s enough to make anyone homicidal.

Sunday, August 13th, 2017
Miles traveled: 349
We planned to get an early start and so we left at 11:40 AM. Plans are for work, random late starts are for vacations. We drove to Amarillo and stayed the night with my parents, the last time we’d see a non-camping shower and toilet for 10 days. In fictional literature and education, this is what’s called a harbinger. Typically harbingers are for bad things like when the Raven shows up on Poe’s doorstep. This is no different. It was nice to spend a night with my parents.

Monday, August 14th, 2017
Miles traveled: 461
We left at 9:20 AM which actually is early in the grand scheme of organizing a one year old and also knowing this is the last time in ten days you’ll be in a bed that wasn’t purchased at a camping store. We didn’t really have any clear plan other than to head towards Pagosa Springs. Not having a plan is the defining characteristic of the quintessential Western road trip you idealize in your head. Not having a plan with a one year old in a car seat is the defining characteristic of madness. Still, we drove and drove and ended up in Navajo State Park which is actually 35 miles past Pagosa Springs. We actually did have a plan and that was to make it to the mountains on day two so that the rest of the trip could be somewhat more leisurely. Mission Accomplished.

We arrived at Navajo right at sunset. The park is on a huge lake that spans the Colorado and New Mexico border. It’s very beautiful. We ended up staying in Navajo for 2 nights which was pretty much the pattern everywhere we went. We decided that it was more fun to do slightly fewer parks but for longer periods of time. We (the Royal We, where it’s defined by “Brett”) also thought packing up every piece of gear every morning and getting it back out every night sounded insane. We spent time exploring Navajo and just enjoying being somewhere that was cool in the morning and pleasant in the afternoon. There are some great trails at the park, none particularly long, and they are well suited for families like ours. The lake was created by the damming the San Juan River but at the beginning of the lake is the San Juan and the Piedra confluence which you can explore.

Navajo has some large campsites and we spent some time ogling the massive trailers that some people were hanging out in. At this point in the vacation, we were still in the honeymoon phase and while later, we would ogle these types of trailers with insane jealousy and plans of a coup, it was mostly just fun to see the varieties, from tents all the way up to trailers that were larger than my first three apartments combined.

I seem to recall some attempt to get milk or other necessary good on 8/15 where I drove 20 miles or so up some random road looking for a convenience store at 7 PM at night. I also recall total failure in this attempt. Luckily, there are no notes in the Bullet Journal to catalogue this failure.

On Wednesday morning, we packed everything up and headed for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. I think based on today’s millennial attention span and my need for feedback and closure, I’ll break this retroactive travel journal into multiple posts. I can’t promise I’ll do one every day until it’s done but one needs goals. And plans.

What Will It Take

What does one do about gun violence in America? What does one do? As Dr. Brian Williams says in the production of Babel, if 20 dead white kids in Sandy Hook can’t rally America and her Congress to do even the simplest of things like a universal background check which 90% (read that again, NINETY PERCENT) of Americans supports, what can happen to foster change?

This speaks to a more fundamental problem with America today, this disconnect between her citizens and her elected leaders. This is an idea that 9 in 10 Americans supports including 70% of NRA members yet when legislation comes up after Sandy Hook to implement universal background checks before purchasing a gun, it gets voted down in the Senate. What can we possibly hope to achieve or change when 20 white kids get shot at their school and nothing changes?

Fundamentally, I think this underlying issue is why both Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 were elected, each by their own movements but for a core reason: the American people want something to change. They may not know what that is but they know what we have is no longer working. And so they elected a young, African American Senator in 2008 hoping for change. Contrary to the Democratic elite’s public line, they got very little. So another faction in America took control and elected a total outsider to the process, someone who ran as a populist but that has turned out to be an authoritarian crazy person. Change doesn’t particularly seem forthcoming in this administration either. The oligarchs remain fully entrenched. So at what point do the American people, badly underserved by the financialized political system that has evolved out of Wall Street and Citizens United, decide to do something even more radical than Trump?

In the comforts of our homes with our big screen TVs purchased on credit, we largely remain distracted, too distracted to actually do anything. It seems crazy to think of a revolution in this country, a real revolution, but revolutions have happened in countries like ours in the past and the comfortable in those countries never saw it coming.

I don’t have any real answers. I feel compelled in many ways to try to impart change but my day to day life is so overwhelming that I can’t even imagine when to contribute time to a cause. I can only assume it is worse for people in worse situations then I am so when change comes, it seems likely to originate from places and people so bad off that they don’t even operate in the normal channels of change in America. And maybe those channels only exist in the minds of idealists and academics anyway.

When we can’t get a protection or a law voted on in Congress that 90% of Americans support yet every day laws are written by our elected leaders that no one has read except the lobbyists that crafted them, it just seems like we’re ripe for a different kind of change to sweep the land, a stronger, more violent change riding on a wind of oppression and apathy, a change that stops being civilized and starts being a great deal more animalistic. Perhaps we are too distracted by our lives of convenience but societies rise and fall throughout history so there is nothing special saying it couldn’t happen here.

As of February of this year, there have been 63 school shootings as defined conservatively by Time using EveryTown.org’s data on school shootings. 63 times some idiot or deranged person has walked onto a school campus and shot people. Yet nothing changes. Today, we send our kids to schools across the land and squash those insidious fears in the back of our head that today, it could be our school that it happens to. Maybe the thought of the event is just so alien and horrifying, that the part of our brain that might rationally act to foster change can’t function. Maybe our lives, like mine, are so worn down by the day to day demands that we can’t even be brought to write a letter to an elected representative. Maybe the problem is so broad and so complex that we don’t know where to even start. But it strikes me as problematic that our kids are being killed by weapons of war in places they should be most safe and we are doing nothing about it.

Why can’t we institute universal background checks? I guess it’s because the people who could demand it are so overwhelmed or apathetic or desensitized to events in the world and can’t be bothered to do the hard work of forcing our leaders to implement our collective will. But it’s even more fundamental to that. Our elected leaders know that when these horrific events happen, they are seemingly random anomalies that in our 24 hour news cycle will grab headlines one day and disappear from the collective conscious the next. There is no pressure, no constant throbbing pressure to change because all we do is move to the next link on a web page. Until it happens that enough people stay engaged for long enough to convince the idiots we elect to actually do something, the status quo remains. Only at Presidential election time does the populace seem sufficiently organized and focused to do something crazy. I can’t imagine what it will take in America to actually make a difference at a national level. Ironically, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand it when it does happen.

On Reading Deprivation

For years now, approximately 4 at least, I have been trying half and quarter heartedly to work through The Artist’s Way. Just this year, I have tried three times to complete the course, never making it past the third week (which is about the time that all habits, good and bad, die on the vine). But finally after the beach trip and somewhat seriously into a Whole 30 experiment, I have managed, for the first time ever, to make it past week 3 and into week 4. Leaving aside the fact that I skipped week 1 entirely this time, it feels good to charter new territory.

However, that territory comes with the hardest task yet. It’s called Reading Deprivation and like its evil twin cousin Donut Deprivation, it leaves a mark on the soul and the tongue. Reading Deprivation is exactly that: other than the chapter in the book and the tasks for week 4, the initiate on the Artist’s Way is not allowed to read things. Like books or blog posts or Twitter or even watch TV. For a person that has of late been both very active in the book world and the Twitter world, the effect is quite jarring. One quote from the book goes like this:

The nasty bottom line is this: sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play. You’ll light some incense or put on an old jazz record or paint a shelf turquoise, and then you will feel not just better but actually a little excited. Don’t read. If you can’t think of anything else to do, cha-cha.

The idea obviously being that if you can’t distract yourself with reading (the book, written in 1992, predates the literary addictiveness of Twitter and Facebook but it alludes to our narcissistic self-absorbed world when it talks about the banality of TV), you’ll eventually produce something. I am on day three of this nefarious, likely Russian based, form of torture and it has been somewhat eye opening. Previously, if I gave up social media, I still read books or magazines or whatever. But with this, nothing is easy. Nothing comes to hand to distract. If I had a shelf to paint turquoise, I would have done so. If I was a bachelor, I would have built a table in the garage or would be playing my sax. Part of the problem of having a two year old is having to be somewhat quiet once they go to bed.

On the upside, unlike Donut Deprivation, it’s actually quite pleasurable to replace reading with something productive like coding or writing exercises or pushups. Today on the train, I listened to Dexter Gordon’s Take The A Train. And by listen, I mean really listen, to the tone of the sax, to the bass solos, to everything. I experienced the record as if I was sitting in the Jazzhus Montmarte on that night in 1967 when Gordon took the stage and welcomed the audience as an integral part of the proceedings.

At church on Sunday, Dr. Magruder talked about reading the Scripture from a sense of place, of context, an idea that stems from Wittgenstein and Derrida and the Structuralists in many ways. With Decartes, there was an idea of a single moment being useful and telling. Cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. As if this single moment could be of use to us in our understanding of ourselves, our reality, our world. But in truth, only in the context of all the other events that lead up to this moment can we really understand the now and its meaning. It’s important to think about these things and examine them, not just as we read Scripture, but in everything else because without that context, we tend to be lost in ego, in selfishness and in pettiness. The context of our history brings, or should bring, humility to our understanding of ourselves and of our present moment. The context of this contingency, the fact that an infinite number of events had to happen in a particular order to allow us to arrive at our present moves our attention from inner to outer. Matthew Crawford’s excellent book The World Beyond Your Head examines this idea in wonderful detail. The answer to happiness comes not in better understanding our jumbled up inner lives, it comes from moving our attention to the intersection with our noumenal inner world and the phenomenal empirical world.

Reading deprivation does something similar in that it causes me to be focused clearly and without distraction on a single thing and with that focus comes the context of the event in my imagination. Reading deprivation allows (forces?) me to explore other avenues of time consumption and does so in a way that the time is spent actively and not passively. In those moments when I would have reached, metaphorically, for Twitter, I now have to either spend it pointlessly thinking about things in my head or doing something productive.

Which is not to say reading doesn’t have its place. I’m already looking forward to next Tuesday when I can continue to read Metaphysics as a Guide To Morals. As much as I enjoyed Gordon’s saxophone today, there is something about reading a difficult book that is pleasurable and challenging. But for now, and the next four days, I’ll have to continue to find other ways to stay entertained. If nothings else, I always have the cha-cha. I should probably pull the drapes closed first though.