Background Radiation

March 1st, 2017

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.

8 Responses to “Background Radiation”

  1. Lee Says:

    I am going to respectfully disagree with you about Homer. I don’t think the point of the Iliad was to lionize men who preferred war to peace.

    It is true that Achilles sacrificed a long life of domestic tranquility to gain lasting fame, but Achilles is not the hero of the work. He is simply the victim of his own vanity.

    Hector sacrificed his own life to save his brother’s. Hector is the hero of the work because he behaved nobly and courageously in the face of certain defeat.

    Think about it this way: I’ve known several guys named Hector, but have you ever even heard of anyone named Achilles? That’s the great irony: what Achilles got for his sacrifice was not fame so much as infamy.

  2. Joe Says:

    I loved the Sledge book when I read it several years ago. I think you will too.

  3. Steve H. Says:

    I would bring up a couple of points.

    First, the story contains many, many characters. Hector and Achilles are only two of them. The Iliad is full of venal, contemptible people, and Homer loves calling them “blameless” and “pious” and so on. Even the “gods” of The Iliad are cruel pigs. One admirable character wouldn’t change the overall message of the book.

    Also, Hector was not an inspiring figure. He ran around the walls of Troy because he was afraid of Achilles. He only confronted him when he thought he could win. He broke his agreement regarding the pact between Paris and Menelaus, and that was a slimy thing to do, especially since Paris was in the wrong. Homer seemed to love liars and cheaters.

    Hector may look good by Homer’s standards, but he was still a screwed up guy from a sick culture.

  4. Lee Says:

    The points you raise are fair enough and thank you for the response.

    It is certainly true that the pagan Greeks weren’t Christians and didn’t act like Christians. We are the beneficiaries of blessings they could not imagine and it’s good to bear in mind. Thanks for the reminder.

    Best wishes in your reading. I’m looking forward to your opinions on Golding.

  5. Ruth H Says:

    I think I urged you, or at least recommended to you, that you put down those books. Give the rest of them a look if you wish, but if you are put out with them don’t waste your mind on them.

    I am happy you have found that other country out here. My son in law wrote letter from Vietnam to his family. They were all good, nothing to see here, letters. About 10 years ago, maybe longer, my older son and he went through them and they wrote a book with the letters and with what was actually going on with Mikey, my son in law. (Never published)

    What was going on was devastating. He is now totally unemployable due to PTSD. The VA, the country is taking good care of him and my daughter, but they didn’t do it until he asked and that was after the book was written. He didn’t lose his life, he lost his heart. He is a broken man from what he saw over there. War is hell on earth.

    So my advice, don’t read a book your mind doesn’t need to see, and get out of Miami as soon as you can. You know I have been stage mothering you since you wrote your first cookbook, have I ever steered you wrong? Have you ever listened? 😀

    Whatever on the move, my best for you. Stop reading those books, be choosy about what you put in your mind.

  6. lauraw Says:

    People and life are nicer when you leave the cruel influence of a city.

    People will disappoint you everywhere you find them, though. Even the best are all still a little bit cracked.

  7. Steve H. Says:

    Dang, Ruth! Are you going to ground me?

    It’s funny; I read the war books, and like everyone else, I admire the men who fought. I can’t help feeling inferior, and part of me envies them.

    Then I realize how crazy that is. Being sent to war is a curse, not a blessing. All of these men were harmed badly, even if they didn’t have serious physical wounds. I should be saying, “Hooray for me. I didn’t have to go.”

    As grateful as I am for the rich, safe nation they bought me, I think it’s very sick to envy people who suffer in war. It’s like the mentality of kids who join gangs. They look forward to being hurt and arrested because it makes them feel like they fit in. Human beings have a pathological love of drama.

    God bless them, but I would rather have a peaceful life than their hard-earned glory.

  8. Sam Says:

    Steve, things might get a bit better if you continue. I’ve heard many good things about Milton from believing Christians, though I’ve not read him myself.

    Jane Austen is very readable, if a bit shallow. I’d even say enjoyable. She’s basically writing a romcom but she has a genius ear for dialogue so it’s not a bad experience reading it if you don’t expect too much. She has many fans that wouldn’t be able to get 20 pages into the Illiad if their life depended on it.

    Now, I’m no big fan of Dostoyevsky, but his venal and sinful characters are certainly portrayed as venal and sinful — they’re not heroes. I’ve read the four big russian novels (crime, brothers k, anna karenina, & war n peace) and by far the best is Anna Karenina. I think you would LOVE it. The Character of Levin is tremendous. Why not make a substitution?

    You have my blessing to skip Virginia Woolf. She had a high IQ but her books are basically a vehicle to show off it off and nothing more. At least the one I read was. I’ll never read her again.

    Never heard of the others.

    God Bless and keep writing. I’ve been with you since the early days and your spiritual writing has been a blessing to me. I pray for you.