The other doctor writes:

Doctor Johnson uses a phrase that I think is important in the context: ‘He who would attend to the motions of his own mind…’ And to do this honestly, without special pleading, and without a conceptual apparatus that obscures the clarity of any possible conclusion, can tell one a great deal not only about oneself but – assuming that others are not completely different from oneself – a great deal about the human world.

This is, i think, the only really useful philosophy – to know yourself and others. And i think the reading of novels and poems, watching of good films, and plenty of thought, and plenty of weird encounters, are the best means to this knowledge. By contrast, i am increasingly suspicious of Buddhism and meditation. Every Buddhist type i´ve got to know has proved to be full of pettiness and what Bonehead calls “Zen bullshit”. They´re not wholly bad, but the disparity between their high talk, their scowling castigation of people who drive BMWs or go on holiday or smoke, and their actual pettiness and egomania, is matter for doubt. And this proved the case with Gordon, the cognitive psychologist i met through my hippy flatmate.

Gordon´s kind of meditation consists largely of “following the breath” and when sensations arise, naming them thus “pain, pain” or “planning, planning” and letting them go. i think this could be useful, but in itself it seems limited. Gordon, for example, has been meditating for two years but is full of aggression – his method of conversation is to try to rip apart everything you say, to demonstrate you are, e.g. “trapped in your self” (when i said it was hard working 12 hours a day) or “blaming other people” (when i said i really don´t feel like talking to my hippy flatmate after 12 hours of work). As far as i could see, he mainly uses Buddhism as a way of attacking people – very easy to do, you need only say, smugly, “that´s just your ego” or “let go of your fears” or “you are distracted by your thinking mind” at every opportunity. Perhaps one could create a Buddhist robot conversation partner:

Joe: Hi, how are you?

Robot: You think too much.

Joe: Do I?

Robot: Let go of your questions and you will know the answer.

Joe: What are you talking about?

Robot: You are trapped in your ego.

Joe: Am I?

Robot: Let go of your questions and you will know the answer.

Joe: You just said that.

Robot: Blaming other people will not help you.

Joe: I don´t understand. In the instruction manual it says you will be my ideal conversation partner and lead me to enlightenment. You cost 5000 dollars.

Robot: Why are you so attached to money? It is just paper. Let go of your need and you will no longer require money.

Joe: But how will I pay my rent without money?

Robot: You are trapped in your self.

And so on. Gordon is like an aggressive, hyper-intellectual version of the robot – also, as a cognitive psychologist, he believes that human beings are just computers, and we can be reprogrammed. i know this is untrue, that we are not born as blank slates, that in fact we are ceaselessly influenced by our other lives, and (more strangely) by other people, but there´s nothing i could adduce as evidence, that would not instantly be dismissed as lunacy. The idea that you can just reconfigure someone´s psyche with psychological techniques is optimistic. Although i didn´t attack his materialist outlook, i think he was aware that i differed, and so he became increasingly angry. An example:

Elberry: i don´t really plan far ahead. i don´t think you can plan for much.

Gordon: That´s totally untrue. For example, if you save money every month you know it will still be there in the future and you can use it for other plans.

Elberry: Well, maybe. Banks aren´t really all that secure, as we saw. i have this vague feeling they´re all going to collapse.

Gordon [with a Aha – I have you now, you cunt! look in his eyes, a mix of glee and fury]: If they collapse it´ll be because of people like you! It´ll be because people like you say they will collapse!

All very peculiar. A nice guy in many ways, but what a bastard. He seemed to regard conversation as an opportunity to destroy others, and when i shrugged off his attacks, or painstakingly explained why he was wrong, he grew anxious and then, quickly, angrier and angrier. i felt that meditating and saying “anger, anger” hadn´t done much for him; or perhaps he was much angrier 2 years ago.

For myself, i believe that long isolation, the repeated proximity of death, and great consumption of books and films, and strange encounters with humanity, with Vikings and elves and magicians and bastards, sets one to a useful introspection – the elves and so on are necessary to entice the attention outwards, for self-knowledge is perfected as one understands others (or struggles to). i have many flaws – cowardice, vanity, pride, a murderous coldness, slothfulness, despair, hubris, blogging, but i think i am generally aware of them, and have come to some accommodation with my vices, a way of containing or deflecting their perversities, most of the time.

Well, yes, most of the time.

Git some.

Advertisements