New Beginnings, Old Concerns

It's fitting that the rebirth of my blogging has occurred around the beginning of baseball season.  Something about springtime awakens a sense of rebirth, and in secular America today there is no spring festival of rebirth like the Opening Day of the MLB Season (even if it was in Australia). 

What is this space a rebirth of? My writing seems like a trivial answer--and it's not as if I haven't written much in the last year.  My publishing also seems like a facetious answer, as I've never really published anything and this isn't much more prestigious than 'nowhere.' This space instead represents a rebirth of being accountable--to myself, to the Internet, to the world--for my opinions.  

Each once and a while, I will try to put down some of my thoughts in a somewhat coherent manner. The hope will be to work through some of the ideas I have been wrestling with, make connections, and hopefully open up some space for my (at this point imaginary) faithful readers to create a discussion. 

Here is a first entry in this new project. 

Right now, my current interests are hovering around the nexus of food, eating, income inequality, quality of life, and existential ennui in the 21st century. I recently read a sad but un-put-downable article about the lowered life expectancies of poor white women. Much of the thinking that I have done over the last year has concerned the problems with food in contemporary America, and when I first read about the death of Crystal Wilson I focused on those aspects--her weight, her love of Dr. Pepper--that pointed at the intersection of industrialized agriculture, carbohydrates, and class. The statistics on poor life expectancy, however, form only a small part (#12 on this list, to be exact), of the problem of American class divisions

While I think food still fundamentally shapes our society and the change between constant fear of starvation and happy gluttony is one of the most tragic and ironic in history, the problems we have are greater than mere food. One of the lessons I drew from reading Braudel et al is that the premodern world constantly teetered on the brink of hunger. This resulted, among other things, in the expectation and management of hunger and a general resignation to the terrible, fleeting nature of human life. We, as a society, can neither tolerate our own hunger nor the idea that our lives are generally meaningless and insignificant. Faced with certain death, we try to make it disappear as much as possible, and thereby gear our efforts toward an inherently unreachable goal. We set ourselves up for failure by denying our fundamental mortality.

This exacerbates our societal existential crisis, more subtle than that predicted by Neitzsche yet just as much the result of the death of God. We have come to value our bodies, and human life as seen through the body, in ways that, perverted through a misunderstanding of pleasure, are detrimental to indivudal and societal health. We value safety over all else, whether that means surrendering the joy of childhood to playground regulators or our liberties to (generally useless) airport security guards. Yet, despite our growing fears about anything that can hurt us, as a society we are oblivious to many real dangers--one of which, of course, being our food, but these include climate change, the potential for real global class warfare, and nuclear proliferation.

Our food problems come from placing certain immediately achievable bodily pleasures in front of the real, but difficult, joy that comes from having a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose is hard, especially when we have the radical freedom to find our own purposes. It is much easier to dedicate oneself slavishly to the body, to worship its pleasures, to see in its success (whether that means its health, its satiety, its safety) the success of our entire organism.  But the organism is more than the body. It is more, maybe, than the body + the soul. Maybe it is our whole social organism.  I don't claim to know, but I worry that privileging the body above all else and seeing fulfilment in its fulfilment is as dangerous an ideology as the caricatured model of the soul-privileging Middle Ages, with peasants deferring material safety and happiness in this world for the promise of the next. We defer the true happiness of life, that is, being conscious of the pleasures we choose and an acceptance that they are by their very nature fleeting, for a sort of unreflectively hedonistic consumerism that leads to disaffection.

The last place my thoughts have been, recently, is with the spiritual. I have never had a spiritual experience, nor necessarily understood what anyone who has had one means by their descriptions.  However, I have recently become more open to the idea that there are aspects of the human experience and consciousness that lie beyond the rationalist reasoned plane in which I feel most comfortable, and that whether or not these are in any way 'true' the broad unity of spiritual experience points to a meta-rational capacity in the human mind. If there was a way to butress our enlightened society with some of the truth and wisdom that seems to arise from these mystic states in those who have experienced them, it could bridge the gap between our overwhelming prosperity and our complete inability to find solace in it. 

These are, at best, musings. But they are my musings. And it feels good to write them where they can, in theory, be seen.


© Henry Gruber 2013