Eating Clean for the Mind
I finished Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I enjoyed it. I knocked it off in three or four days, which shows the difference between reading things you enjoy and things you only read out of duty. I’ve been suffering while reading relatively small passages from the books on the Columbia College Lit. Hum. syllabus. Reading 50 pages of Philip K. Dick in one day is a pleasure. Reading 20 pages of Cervantes is a chore.
Dick is very clever, but I don’t think he’s all that deep. Here’s one thing you notice about him right away: all of his characters sound the same. It’s as if one person is talking all through the book. In that respect, he resembles Ayn Rand. Maybe Rand wrote that way because her books involved two opposing sets of characters, and the characters in each set shared the same mind. Dagney Taggart and Hank Rearden were pretty much the same person.
Perhaps, like most people who write science fiction, he was more interested in the physical world than in human beings and their personalities.
When I put his book down, I finally got to open Helmet for My Pillow, the first-person World War Two chronicle written by marine Robert Leckie. His book, along with one by fellow marine Eugene Sledge, was used as a basis for the Band of Brothers companion series, The Pacific.
While I’ve been reading Leckie’s book, I’ve continued watching the Ken Burns series, The War, which also covers World War Two.
I had a disturbing revelation last night, after watching the show. The War followed the story of a soldier named Corado Ciarli, who died as part of the invasion force that landed at Anzio. The Anzio invasion and the ensuing campaign have been criticized as incompetent and very wasteful of human life. General Mark Clark took too long preparing to attack the Germans, and by the time he felt ready, they, too, were prepared. They spent weeks showering the Allies with bullets and artillery rounds from high ground, and there was very little cover on the ground below.
The soldiers in the invasion suffered terribly. Ciarlo wrote home very often, and guess what he told his family? Nothing. He said he was in great health. He bragged about how much he ate. He kept telling them he wished them the best. Meanwhile, he was living in a hole, waiting to die.
He had two brothers, a sister, and a mother back in Waterbury, Connecticut. He could have vented to them in order to reduce his own stress. Instead he kept it light. Because he loved them so much, he put their welfare first.
Here’s the revelation: my life has been pretty twisted. I grew up in a city where people are nasty and aggressive. I don’t know what it feels like to have a sibling I can write to the way Ciarlo wrote to his. I can’t imagine filling letters home full of expressions of love and praise. My family was not like that.
My neighbors had screwed-up families, too. A gay man across the street tied his lover up and murdered him, castrating him in the process. The family across 10th Avenue lost a son to a heroin overdose; one night, an ambulance appeared at the house, and the next day one of the kids told my sister, “My brother died,” as if he were talking about a visit from a TV repairman. The lady next door had a heroin-addict son who slapped her around, and her release was vodka, which she chugged from water tumblers.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a healthy environment. I lived in Texas for a few years, but I was a graduate student in a physics department, so I was exposed to a lot of dysfunctional people. Texas was my best shot at normal life, and it didn’t work out.
I watched the war shows and learned about the veterans, and I realized their outlook on life was far superior to mine. Their values were much healthier. They grew up before Saturday Night Live, The National Lampoon, South Park, The Family Guy, and M*A*S*H (book, movie, and series). They weren’t constantly bombarded with filthy, counterproductive entertainment. It’s no wonder they were nicer people than I am.
Last night it occurred to me that reading Leckie’s book and watching these war shows was good for me. It was exposure to a frame of mind I didn’t know much about, even at my age.
Now, what about Lit. Hum.?
I’ve been thinking about the books I’ve read so far. Homer, Plato, Boccaccio, Virgil, Cervantes, and so on. For the most part, they’re not helpful. They’re morally corrosive.
Homer and Virgil lionized immature, lustful, greedy, sadistic morons who actually preferred war to peace. Plato praised a lifestyle in which homosexual predators “helped” young boys by having depraved relationships with them. Boccaccio is cynical and sexually amoral. Cervantes comes across as a sociopath who doesn’t know it when his sadism crosses the line and offends readers.
Ovid was full of whining. It’s like his book was written by the Cathy Bates character from Misery, or Glenn Close’s famous attention-starved would-be murderess. One bitter, unforgiving female stalker after another. A churning sea of daddy issues.
Herodotus and Thucydides weren’t too bad, but they were hardly uplifting.
Shakespeare stands out. King Lear promotes moral standards I can agree with. Fathers should stand up and be fathers. Children should love and honor their parents. Kings should be kings, not hosts of traveling debauches. Men in power should listen to good advice from people of proven character. Shakespeare is a good influence. But one robin doesn’t make a spring.
My social environment is bad. Much of the entertainment and study I’ve chosen during my life has been harmful to me. I have let these factors shape me into a person for whom my respect is necessarily limited.
What should I do?
Leaving Miami seems more important than ever. This place is just no good. No matter what I do to try to improve myself when I’m on my own, I find myself being pushed backward when I’m among people. That wouldn’t happen everywhere. The other day, when I was in Orlando (not a city known for the kindness of its residents), I felt that my interactions with people improved me. I was embarrassed when I dealt with them, because it was so obvious to me that they were nicer than I was.
Living here is bad. Belonging here is worse!
It’s interesting to me that generations of academics have chosen morally destructive works to put before their students. Maybe it was inevitable. I suppose that during the Middle Ages, with the limited supply of works to choose from, it would have been hard to justify keeping Homer and Plato out of curricula. Nonetheless, the truth is the truth: academics have a long history of corrupting the young.
I wonder now: should I keep reading this stuff?
Here’s what I have left: Milton, Jane Austen, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, and William Golding. I substituted Golding for Toni Morrison. I read her book a long time ago, and I’m not interested in reading it again. I see her as an overrated affirmative-action pick.
If I quit reading, I’m abandoning a project, and that’s poor discipline. On the other hand…man, this stuff is nasty.
Crime and Punishment is 692 pages. I wish I had not looked that up.
You can make yourself spiritually ill by feeding yourself poison, but you can also feed yourself good things that make you stronger. I could read more nonfiction. Of course, I read the Bible.
I’m grateful for one thing: I’m not sitting here writing about how going back over this material has opened my eyes and shown me that liberal academics and non-Christian (or weak Christian) authors have all the answers. An awful lot of kids come out of college thinking they finally know the truth: God is dead, morality is a destructive fantasy, cynicism is the highest virtue, and so forth. I never felt that way, except maybe about cynicism. Even when I was young and stupid, I had a tiny seed of common sense that told me there were a lot of silly people working at Columbia.
I didn’t swallow all of the Kool-Aid at Columbia, but a whole lot of people have fooled me during my life. I have chosen many toxic influences.
America is very, very sick now. Our culture of cruelty, pride, lust, pleasure, and greed reached critical mass long ago. The chain reaction has been triggered, and we can’t overcome it. I wish I had turned from it sooner. Most people will not turn.
Good news for me, I guess. Bad for other people.
Maybe someone else will read this and realize they, too, have been poisoned.Stumble it! Save This Page