There are times, to take the idea of differences between the manner in which we live and our present surroundings or environment, when I feel as if there are no advantages to living in the Free World, as so many people care to describe it. We have, as I am sure you appreciate, many other walls around us which can be, for those not used to stepping over carefully, a real minefield just as deadly – socially, politically and in a business or career sense – as anything you have come across in a closed or incarcerated community. If I were to take advantage of the freedoms which Robert M. Pirsig allows his professor, and travel across the United States on a motorcycle, with or without a son or daughter as companion, there are many areas where I would be unwelcome. Travelling on foot, much the same, whereas were I to travel in a mobile home and stop, for short periods, in a caravan park, trailer park or whatever one cares to call it, or travel in a good car from motel to motel, it would be halfway acceptable. The main question always, of course, being how I can do this at my age, or why my companion, depending on their age, isn’t in school. If I expounded the thoughts our philosophical friend carries with him, I would undoubtedly be marked down as either an eccentric – the better option – or something akin to a mad axe murderer or cat lady. Even men, in my opinion, can be the epitome of the Mad Cat Lady.
Freedoms are defined in a manner which makes their very definition impossible to define, makes the truth of the existence an impossibility as they cannot be put down as a hard and set essence of truth, social mores or acceptable mannerisms on paper. What is one person’s freedom is anathema to another person. As a prime example, I had the distinct pleasure of watching a video interview on Fox News of a Republican woman who, as if it were necessary, attended a Democrat meeting “undercover”. She reported that she had felt uncomfortable among her fellow Americans, many men and women in exactly the same position as she is socially and so on, because they talked for expanding healthcare and of education for as many as humanly possible. And it was possible to see how caught this poor “undercover” agent was, as if she was about to be caught out with a strange version of the Stockholm Syndrome and change sides, because everything being talked about spoke to her soul, but not to her idea of educational, health or political freedom. She felt awkward – I have the feeling, but it was not clearly said or admitted to – because these were all things she wished for her own family too, but they came from the wrong political party, and so had to be refuted and refused.
I also entered into a conversation with someone recently, on social media, about the idea of what a real Christian is, as he insisted that a certain group of people were not “actual” Christians. His idea of freedom did not, however, allow him to boil it right down and say what an “actual Christian is, as it became very clear, and very quickly at that, through our conversation that an “actual” Christian could only be himself, as everyone else claiming Christianity differed in their religious view in one way or another. There is no set Christianity, just as there can be no absolute definition of Faith, Belief, of a God(ess) or anything which wanders into the religious / transcendental areas of the mind.
In many ways your present situation allows you considerably more freedom than mine does, simply because it takes the weight of decision away from you. Where I would have to consider my mode of dress, according to the events of the coming day, with care, you are freed of this by having a uniform. Where I have to decide on which commitments to accept, you are relieved of this by having a fairly strict programme. Pirsig covers this too by highlighting the problems a person has in writing down their thoughts, in describing the United States, or a town, or a High Street, or even an Opera House: there is too much freedom involved, until you are restricted to a finite model, a single brick in the wall or, in the case of my special Christian, yourself. We are, after all, the single bricks which make up society, each one of us an individual who go on, as the Masons say, to form the Temple of Solomon through their individual cut and shape being fitted into the walls alongside others, whether squared off or not.
In the news today is the idea that the Truth is not the Truth – a political statement used to defend the present president from accusations that what he has done, and admitted to having done, is not really something he has done and admitted to having done because whatever – which is, in the right context, also absolutely correct. There is the Zen idea – also true – that the Truth cannot be debated, because it is the Truth and, therefore, an absolute. But the Truth one individual believes in can be debated by another person who holds their own Truth, since what they both believe in is not, and cannot be, the absolute Truth, that being an entity which no one has been able to attain as yet. Truth, to follow Socrates and all who have followed him, is the highest Good, and that which we all should seek in a philosophical sense, but that which we will not be able to attain as it is too high, too well hidden by our Freedoms to be attainable. There are, though, other Goods along the path towards Truth, and it is those we should strive to achieve – rather like collecting points and utensils in a video game – in order to bring us closer. The Masons also say that we may not achieve our final aim, reach our destination, in this lifetime – that being the Light of Truth as the ultimate Good – but we will gather valuable lessons along the way and, if we treat them correctly, we will understand those minor Goods collected, and better our own lives, and those of others, as a result.
You mention staying still and the truth, or something similar, will present itself. Socrates was renowned for just standing in the middle of the street and thinking, often for hours at a time, and it is fair to say he found quite a few truths, if Plato is to be believed. Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger – modern day philosophers – also removed themselves from society, or from their intellectual level of society, to cut themselves off and simply think and write – Wittgenstein in Norway and Heidegger in a hut on the side of a mountain – which resulted in their own versions of the Truth which, as we now know, are not the ultimate Truth so many people seek, and which some (including Wittgenstein) claim to have found.
One of the books I would have suggested for reading is George Orwell’s 1984, not just because it seems to mirror many of the things which are happening today, but more because it gives much food for thought on the idea of Freedom, on the idea and motivations for Society. Animal Farm is also a must for anyone interested in delving into the depths of environmental and social thought because of the political undertones, even when they are not quite so well hidden undertones. And then there is Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra which has so much to think about, to consider, to delve into, it could almost overtake a person’s remaining years on this small planet. Carl Jung’s The Shadow Self is one of the last major works that he wrote, and covers so much of his thought over many years, it is also a highly recommended work. The trouble, of course, is that there are so many publications, and so many lines of thought which can be pursued, it is impossible to make a real recommendation which can satisfy. I read different works on philosophy, and they bring many more works out which I then feel the need to delve into too, simply to understand all the thought processes which have led to the work I’ve just read. There are, however, only so many hours in the day, and only so many pennies in the pot – looking at some of the books I am interested in or which have been recommended, and seeing that they cost nearly one hundred dollars each, for a normal sized work, does tend to shrink any proposed budget.
And then I have an interest in historical matters too, which throws everything out the window. The Truth here is something else since, as you know, it is the victor who writes the chronology, but often the loser who has Right on their side, or who has been abused, decimated, belittled, destroyed (so many different terms for much the same thing, be it physical, mental, everlasting or momentary). I have recently enjoyed having the impressions of my schooldays destroyed with a series of different works covering a wide range of events down through history which, thanks to those who can place themselves outside the mainstream jingoism of country, patriotism or laziness, present an impression completely different to that marketed by educational authorities, by those who provide the official history, and by those who follow in their footsteps with the same story using slightly different words. What I learned fifty years ago has little relationship to that which is being published today, as more information becomes available, as students and those who have graduated begin digging deeper into the archives, and leaving the stories already promulgated to one side.
To answer your question about what I do for fun: everything. I am at that stage in my long life where I can turn my back on those things which do not please or interest me, and take time for those which intrigue, which stimulate, which invigorate more than just one or two grey cells in my head. I can smile knowingly at those who see me sitting reading a book in some street café, and who wonder why someone like me isn’t working, whether I am a degenerate living on welfare or whatever. I can wander through the rows of market stalls at the regular flea markets here – within a radius of about one hundred miles – and fish out those books and photographs which inspire or which would fit in well with my library, with my photographic collection. I can spend time discussing all and sundry with friends and potential friends over a glass of wine and a (mostly) good meal. I can sit down at my desk and write a letter to a person well outside of my normal field of contact, and find a kindred spirit, a person of interest, a soul seeking something while imparting that something which I am seeking. Now and then I travel further afield – some of my friends live many hundreds of miles away from here – and have a chance to sit in a café in another town, to wander through the offerings of a different museum, to roam the streets of a city I do not know.
Of course, this is something that everyone could do, if they were so lucky, right from the start, to enter the job market and find a workplace which is as much fun as it is hard, challenging work. Not everyone has that much luck; not everyone knows what it is which they will enjoy, which will be less like being chained to a position and more like free time to enjoy the pleasures of work. But how we set up our own free time, our leisure hours, and the friends that we make, can often balance out the dissatisfaction of a work environment through the pleasures of friendship, if we are prepared to take the time, to explore, to seek out that and those which make for fun, for pleasure, for satisfaction. I do not, I hasten to add, include friendships through social media or social networking here, since these are hardly real friendships and, sad to say, some of the “people” on the other end simply do not (physically) exist. Many of them do not exist in anything other than a virtual sense, as what they present as being themselves is a fiction composed of what they might have been, had they spent more time on life and less on the internet! Then again, even someone presenting themselves through the medium of the written word, through letters, could be merely a small something hiding behind a big façade. Sometimes it is better not to know the truth, but to be content with that truth we are presented, and that truth which we can, and which we wish, to accept.