Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Old Man and the Sea

1. Backward Induction:

A while back, I developed a habit of getting depressed on Fridays. Sunday evenings are depressing for the obvious reason (demise of the weekend and impending work week). Saturdays started getting bleak on anticipation of those Sunday evening blues, and soon, thanks to acute foresight regarding what lay in wait for Saturday, a pall of gloom descended on my Fridays too. At a time when most people joyously rushed out of their offices to hit the pubs, the restaurants and the theaters (to say nothing of wild orgies and raves), I made excuses to go home and lie wrapped in a blanket lest I slash my wrists in despair. What kind of deluded idiot celebrates a fleeting freedom when the fate of being dragged back to the harness is merely two days away?

A key determinant of the quality of life is how we relate to the future. That seems obvious enough; what is less clear is how exactly it works (or can be made to work). For example, placing a high weight on the future may elicit much good behavior in us (e.g., avoid adultery, stick to a diet, stop being an asshole), but may also unravel all commitments (love, loyalty, friendship) by throwing a harsh light on the impermanence of everything. There is also the argument that what we tend to hold intrinsically precious is what is fleeing. I wonder if I should prefer a one night stand with Angelina Jolie or a lifetime. Maybe I’ll settle for a week.

Eventually, I found a way of conquering my weekend blues. On Monday morning, I tell myself that glorious Friday is only five days away, so that I am essentially a free man biding my time to throw off my shackles. This has imparted such an insufferable aura of cheerfulness to my demeanor throughout the week that most friends and colleagues shun me till Thursday night at the very least. I wonder if I should return to the previous perspective.

2. Virtual Dotage:

Once one has spent a good length of time on a discussion board, a sensation sets in that can only be described as simulated dotage. I don’t mean it in the trivial sense of having “aged” in terms of years spent, but in the psychological one of garbled memory, attention deficit and an increasingly blurry sense of what is happening around on the board. Here is my best understanding of Wikifray/nopunuq/whatever’s architecture:

There are a bunch of individual blogs. When people post comments there, they show up here, so that others can reply here, discussing what they read there. The blog entries elsewhere also show up here as feeds, but comments must be posted there to be registered here as such. Some posts made here may be published in Wordflare, which has its own forum where readers may comment on what they read there about thoughts originally posted here (or, for that matter, there) in response to blog entries which appeared there (not Wordflare, the other “there”, wherever that is). All this digs up the old philosophical squabble about whether there really is any there there, but that is neither here nor there. I think.

Was I even close?

3. Religion:

As a self proclaimed atheist, I am often alarmed at the prospect of being clubbed together with polytheistic nutcases practicing ritual sacrifice and other weird shit. Let me explain.

There is little difference, really, between an atheist and a deist. The atheist believes there is no God, while the deist believes that He exists, but resolutely stays away from the universe (i.e., He is always there, never here). Thus, which framing I choose ought to make not an iota of difference as to how I expect the universe to behave, or what my fate in it will be. I might just as well call myself a deist.

The difference between a deist and an orthodox monotheist is similarly infinitesimal. Suppose I believe that saints can fly. Rather than calling this a supernatural phenomenon, I can always rewrite Newton’s law so that the gravitational force between bodies is a function not only of their mass and the distance between them, but also of their virtue, thereby fitting my belief into a deistic framework where natural law rules supreme. Alternatively, were I of the opinion that Newton’s inverse square law operates without exception, I could still think that God is working furiously every nano second to keep it from breaking down.

Finally, the distinction between monotheism and polytheism is just plain absurd. Is the Federal government a single entity, or a conglomeration of interacting entities like the Defense department, the Treasury and the CIA? I could frame my beliefs as if all godliness were emanating from a single source, or (without any alteration to their essential substance) as if they were multi-sourced: like the dept. of miracles, the dept. of fire and brimstone, the divine hurricane dispatch service, and so on.

This has led me to the disturbing conclusion that I may be a worshipper of the flying spaghetti monster and the giant tea-pot, after all. In which case, who am I to call the Scientology kettle black?