First off, I must offer the following entry as a marking of the first pain-free evening I’ve had in many months. Hopefully more of the same will follow.
I love words. I love words because they are necessary pushpin holes on the n-dimensional surface that is the whole of human thought. For every word/pushpin a fraction of an inch wide, there are hundreds of millions of n-meters of open space in between. That’s the real void. The void that literalists fear and politico-christo-fascists call Hell.
But I digress—and perhaps landing at “Hell” in a blog entry about words is the Ultimate Digression—that is, if I accepted any Absolutes that weren’t also Temporary.
A gnomon, by one definition, is “the raised part of a sundial that casts the shadow; a style.” Yet another: “An object, such as the style of a sundial, that projects a shadow used as an indicator.”
Truth be told, I learned this word today from one of those word-of-the-day mailing lists to which I have subscribed. No matter, it’s in the arsenal now, and I fully intend to use it.
And did you notice that “style” is another word for “gnomon”? Funny how words can dot the universe like stars and as sparsely and yet still overlap. Again, I digress.
I love words not because it’s easy to grab a thesaurus or select something from my already considerable vocabulary and impress or confuse or annoy you, but because they define the void, the places where they are not, just like the black ink of letters in the white pages of a book: your eye sees not the letters themselves but the whitespace around them (black is the absence of light, and your eye is a mechanism which senses light). There should be words for things you imagine but cannot express without some faculty in the arts or sciences or magicks.
There should be a word (and perhaps may actually be a word) for that momentary feeling you get when you’re taking the stairs down into a black-dark basement, miscalculating which step was the final one and expecting your next footfall to drop you another few inches when in fact it lands on flooring. There shouldn’t be a word for “void” come to that, because by its very existence it obliterates that which it describes. Describes the indescribable, labels the unlabelable.
You can string words together into lovelies of thought and feeling. And you can do this for benevolent reasons like education, neutral reasons like explication and nefarious reasons, like artificially manipulating the mundane into the mystic in order to draw power to yourself or your group.
I am Who Am. There’s a great one from the Jewish texts. The God has a Name Who is the Unnameable, Who Exists Because Existence Exists. Toss that teleological, tautological turtle around in your head for a while and see if you can dig your way out of the black hole of mythos.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Karmic instruction manual? Tit for tat strategy? Simply giving a reach-around to the one you forced to bend over in front of you? All of the above? But alas, it’s a moot point: We are no longer a people of doers, we are a people of not-doers. Avoiders (oooo, “void” appears as a no-place holder). We are Passers of the Buck. This whole do unto others thing gets taken for a ride, is shown the sun here and there, and we riders pat ourselves on the back for participating in something we’ve ourselves elevated to a Golden Rule.
But what about the non-doers? What about that space between actions where avoiders sit and do nothing but make demands (using words, of course) of others to do so that they themselves don’t have to?
And what of Tit for tat? That one’s an interesting strategy in AI theory, or at least beginner AI classes. Simple, single rule, really: When you encounter another, if you have no history with this other, give a credit/unit/benefit to them; otherwise, do to them what they did you you the last time you encountered them. Example: A has an initial encounter with B so A gives to B, but then B also has a choice to make, and takes from A above and beyond what A already gave to B. Next time A encounters B, A takes from B because that’s what B did to A the previous encounter. And just iterate this strategy any number of times for any number of objects and see who “wins”.
Very simple setup and a rather successful strategy in the simplest gaming cases. The interesting (read: not so simple) behavior comes in when the individuals aren’t just theoretical objects but more complex beasts. A good example is a game of chance where bluffing is part of the experience.
The Golden Rule comes back into play here, but only again because Tit for tat assumes doers. One might think that you could apply the Golden Rule everywhere, because it is one of those famously comfortable Absolutes the Christians are so fond of.
Example: I have asked/begged/pled for your forgiveness for something that has objectively been established as a transgression committed towards you. The Golden Rule, you might think, should point in both directions, both for future turns and for the turns we’ve taken in our own histories. In other words, if I am asking/begging/pleading for your forgiveness for my transgression, should I not first be sure that I have forgiven those who have transgressed upon me? Should I ask for your assistance if I have gleefully or joyfully or simply refused assisting others in the past? And for those who are humans and not merely animals (Crisis and Observation, indeed), demanding forgiveness from another, or for demanding apology for injury when they themselves have not apologized for their own injuring of others, the sheer weight of the hypocrisy and greed and selfishness must surely unbearable, toxic, eventually lethal. The world is lousy with humans who are only animals, sadly.
But! Back to why I love words (we’ve never really left the topic), or rather, as we’ve established, the spaces between them. The Void. Check out the second definition of gnomon that I gave above: “An object, such as the style of a sundial, that projects a shadow used as an indicator.” Notice that on a sundial, it’s not the light which provides information, but rather the shadow. The shadow indicates. You have to watch the shadow, and how you cast your own shadow, because the sun won’t help you redirect it because you ask. You must accept that you cast a shadow, and that sometimes that shadow deprives others of light, and that sometimes others’ shadows deprive you of light. Only then can you understand that to share the light equally by depriving yourself sometimes will still leave you with enough. Only with awareness can good will arise. It’s all about the style.
It is a great coincidence (Christians and other fatalists will call it Divine Guidance or Guiding Fate) that I live in and so love a City named after a Saint who appears to have understood these concepts organically well. Perhaps too well, in that he never remembered to put on his own oxygen mask before tending to the oxygen needs of others, but that’s another parable for another day.
The Prayer of St. Francis is one of the most famous and most versatile poems in the Western World though its popularity has unfortunately also imbued it with Godliness, marking it as an Unattainable Ideal rather than preserving it as a simple and humble Practical Guide to Everyday Good Will and Neighborly Behavior. The “prayer” has many versions, many languages, but they all stake out places that define a border around one of those undefinable parcels of that void. For my own godless, local-effect reasons, I choose (and emend) the AA version of the poem as a fitting way to taper gracefully the end of this entry, and offer it to whomever comes in contact with it:
Make me a channel of peace;<br/>
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;<br/>
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;<br/>
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;<br/>
that where there is error, I may bring truth;<br/>
that where there is doubt, I may bring confidence;<br/>
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;<br/>
that where there are shadows, I may share my light;<br/>
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.<br/>
grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;<br/>
to understand, than to be understood;<br/>
to love, than to be loved.<br/>
For it is by self-abnegation that one finds Self.<br/>
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.<br/>
It is by accepting an ending that one awakens to the New and the Possible.
<br/><br/>*the boldface emphasis is my own
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