Jul 9, 2009

Karma: Life and Speed, Continued

left: Knowledge is the yellow eye of the grackle. But he blinks.

First, regarding Berol’s and Altadenahiker’s questions about cycles: if I admit to some ambiguity, will the rest of you admit that, if you hear nothing but the word and the image, “motorcycle,” it’s more like running than sitting or walking or dozing? Ditto for bicycle, I suppose, whether the tires are skinny or fat. But isn’t a motorcycle just a bicycle on steroids and megaphones?

Not so their riders, however. If I say, “pumpkin-bellied,” we know I’m not referring to any halfway-serious bicyclist. But a motorcyclist? Maybe—whether s/he is a yuppie in mid-life crisis or a hard-core gang member. So I humbly submit that “motor” attached to “cycle” is less confusing than it might have seemed. (Yes, I've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; there's some great stuff there, but that does not mean the word "motorcycle" alone denotes or connotes philosophical complexity.).

Moving on, the "karma" in today's title is based on this bumper sticker: “If you’re not sure whether you’re jogging or running, go faster.”

I was stunned to see that on a black, well-used Toyota Scion in a parking lot, after lunch today. On the same car, a smaller sticker advertised tony Hilton Head, SC, presumably a destination of choice for the driver. Do running and Hilton Head go together? How?

How connected are the words and concepts of destination and destiny?

Maybe Cratylus had it right; maybe language is impossible. (I encourage you to revisit my post on June 26, 2009, and see comments by Jeff and Berol).

I’ve been told that the discipline of philosophy uses the expression, “way of being in the world,” and I love the phrase, the idea. I think it's profoundly important in one's self-awareness and awareness of others, at least as I understand the phrase. Instinctively, I hear “one’s way of being in the world,” but I suppose any noun—person, place, thing, or even idea—can have a way of being in the world, and it might include fast or slow.

In the context of fast and slow, I recall another dichotomy I used to obsess about: “being” versus “doing.” Does everyone's way of being in the world tend toward either being or doing? How mushy and cowardly is the middle ground?

By the way, is there a meaningful difference between dichotomy and duality? I think so. And surely neither is as bad as a “bifurcation.” Surely a bifurcation needs medical attention.

Is everything part of one dichotomy or another? Is categorization--a series of dichotomies?-- essential to thought, behavior, and action? Does the finch need to know whether the large bird overhead is a re-tailed hawk or a screech owl? A raptor rather than a passerine? Not our kind of people? It won’t matter if the finch doesn’t get the hell out of Dodge.

But where does categorization necessarily become generalization, stereotyping and, in turn, bigotry or other forms of over-simplification? Where is that “tipping point” in any dialogue?

And when does over-analysis of language and thought lead to Cratylus Syndrome (my expression as far as I know)? At Banjo52, does the banjo ever stop playing? One friend who tolerates bluegrass music in certain incarnations, such as Doc Watson, says banjo music gives him a headache. Like all my friends, he’s been told—at one time or another—where to stick his headache. Dont' worry, they say it back. And don't worry, I know when to quit on this stuff. I think.


Berol said...

Okay, so you want to keep motorcyclists in the mix. But aren't you confusing motorcyclists with motorcycles? I suggest that, though motorcycles might be thought of as bicycles on steroids, that wouldn't be so with motorcyclists and bicyclists. You've said as much, have you not, in saying that it's the former, not the latter, who's "pumpkin-bellied"? Steroids don't produce THAT effect. How does a motorcyclist get his pumpkin belly? By sitting on his ass...not terribly unlike the S in W-S-D. That, plus a little effort to guide the damned thing, and he's a motorcyclist. If that's all a bicyclist does, he falls over, and that's the end of it. (J. L. Austin, albeit a philosopher, once spoke of "splitting hairs to save starting them".)

But again, I submit, this is not what you want to be talking about, is it? The prima facie key to the distinction, H-B-W vs W-S-D, is the physicality, the literal sweat-producing activity, involved. Difference in clock-speed (in the computer chip sense), if you will, and so the question of interest is, how do folks of dramatically different clock-speeds get along with one another.

If, on the other hand, I have in fact missed your interest, then...well, just consider that, in my pondering, I've unwittingly slipped off the couch. Happy conversing!

Julie said...

To me there are three aspects to consider: the method, the person and the purpose. Movement between the categories needs to be considered over time, as well.

The method of choice (HBR or WSD) is a unique combination of the other two: the person and the purpose conjures the method. Motorcylces are a distraction in this context: Whilst they are controlled by the person, their propulsion does not come from the person. This categorisation is a little like dividing people into brain types A and B.

Which brings us to the second aspect, the person. The method is divided into frantic and less frantic and it is tempting to equate this with the personality of the person undertaking the method/exercise. Is a HBR a more frantic, driven person than a WSD? It is tempting to agree, until one considers this question over time. Time will see a HBR morphing into a WSD whilst chilling out. Is a person a HBR simply because that is their chosen method for one hour out of twenty-four?

Which leaves us with purpose. Is it that a HBR is endeavouring to release tension (psychological purpose) whilst at the same time increasing muscle tone and aerobic effect (physical purpose)? However, any HBR will tell you that they are also recharging their battery from the world around them: communing with nature, if you will. The purpose of a WSD is more difficult to ascertain as this purpose/state exists for a longer time and encompasses a broader range of activity than the state of HBRdom. And there are slight permutations that need to be considered, eg the difference between striding and ambling.

So, in addition to considering method, person and purpose we need to also include the crossover afforded by time.

There are many other interesting tidbits in your melange of a post which I will revisit over the weekend: but right now I have to put another load of washing on!

BANJO52 said...

Thanks, Julie. Yes, it is a melange indeed. Sorry, but one thing kept leading to another. Thanks for your patience and thoughtful input, once again.

And yes, we should avoid rigidity about the categories; they're likely to be fluid, depending on time and circumstances and individuals. One of the least frenetic, most even-tempered, most agreeable people I know is an avid runner. (Or do I not really know him?)

There have been other speed-folk whose motives I wondered about, who seemed to me to be running only away and not toward. But who am I to say running and other speed are categorically bad tools for exorcism (word choice noted), compared to sedation or years of therapy, for example?

I wonder if my larger concern is that there seem to be so few people in the WSD camp. Do you know many serious thinkers? -- people who, for example, would cringe at a casual statement like, "Oh, you know those French." And the WSD's concern would be not only the prejudice involved, and would arise not only from knee-jerk political correctness, but also in recoiling from the sloppy thinking and sloppy use of language? WSDs might incline toward Cratylus Syndrome or depression, but without them, would good Nazi slogans like "My country, right or wrong" go unchallenged?

To get back to SlowMo a few days ago, was Thoreau a profound thinker, mystic, and genuine transcendentalist or was he a hick at heart who couldn't handle town life, or an escapist hippie, who couldn't live within the necessary constraints of a society and its normal people?

Note all the loaded words there. We could spend a month defining and debating. Should we? How much is enough? When is it essential that we gather the knowledge we have, make a decision, and act.

In this context, I often marvel at America's Founding Fathers . . . but that's enough for now, if not too much.

bettertry said...

You say, "Does everyone's way of being in the world tend toward either being or doing? How mushy and cowardly is the middle ground?"

Why is the middle ground mushy & cowardly? Any statistical measure of central tendency suggests a vast "middle ground" of any set of observations, behaviors, etc. For example, the Emperor Penguins of Antarctic huddle together and the vast middle ground is where they all take turns spending their winter.

altadenahiker said...

I'll come back. I'm helping Julie with the laundry.

(Fast clockers have a hard time getting along with anyone. They're too impatient. And when you're too impatient, you're rude. I'm rude.)

(Hiker/runners may, for those moments, be the closest to nature, because, for those moments, they are outside of their head. You have to be, or you couldn't continue the pace.)

BANJO52 said...

bettertry-- You're right, of course, about the middle, but the fact that most choose it is precisely what MIGHT make it mushy (noncommittal, moderate, conventional, easy) or cowardly. And with "cowardly," I was aiming at the notion that heroes are heroic precisely because they are tiny minority as well as courageous.

At the ends of courses I've taught, I've had the ahhhhhh experience of having dozens of perfectly nice and able teen students ask if theirs was the worst class I've ever had. What I hear in that is that they want to be renegades, outlaws, anything but the mainstream, the ordinary; they want to be bad, bad Leroy Brown. They seemed not to realize how completely embedded in the middle they were (along with me!), while sociopaths and rebels-with-a-cause and, yes, BIKERS, along with cowboys, good soldiers and other heroes are what they are precisely because of their DISTANCE from the middle (plus their other qualities, of course, both bad and good).

Now I think this should be (the beginning of?) a post of its own.

Thanks, bettertry.

BANJO52 said...


If you're back from Julie's laundry, you'll want to see the next post (today's?), which owes a lot to your paradox about being outside ourselves. Or one might offer, "Our worst selves shake out our best selves by getting us outside ourselves." I'm dizzy, but I thank you very much.

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