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Either/or

(I don’t have anything to say about the pending Syrian intervention. Everyone and my cat seem to have an opinion about whether we should go in or not but no one can predict the outcome. Madame Sosostris herself has been staring into her crystal ball for days and still doesn’t know, so I’ll abstain.)day and night

On to what’s on my mind today: certainty, or rather the lack thereof. Until not so long ago, maybe a couple of decades, we could still be certain of a number of things, mainly through the thousand-years old dichotomy that had served us humans well till now: two of everything in opposition. Good versus evil as ancient Zoroastrians professed; night and day; heaven and earth; male and female; land and sea; Republicans and Democrats; good guys, bad guys; tyrants and legitimate leaders; democracy and dictatorship. This is how our minds work. Given a frame, we can happily fit into it tidy concepts as well as great ideas. But when we try and wrap our arms around less well-defined notions, we’re flummoxed. Stark opposition, “yes/no,” we understand; “maybe but”? Not so good. Things that were black or white now hit us with far more than fifty shades of gray. So, left to come up with solutions to improbable conundrums, we no longer know what to decide, how to judge, or even how to think. Major philosophical questions used to be brought up by people who asked essential questions even when they couldn’t always find answers. Yet, for the rest of us endowed with average knowledge and average intelligence–though not giving up hope for an above-average life–dealing with the quotidian was taxing enough. Now that the frame for our everyday preoccupations is smashed, we no longer know what to think. Granted, it doesn’t matter much what you and I think, it doesn’t even matter much what Obama thinks. We zig and zag, try to figure things out, we’re not sure, and that permanent uncertainty adds to the weight of our lives more complicated by the day and our burden so much heavier than that of our grandparents. (Lucky they who lived at a time when life expectancy was much lower and people didn’t start decaying while they were still breathing.) Trivia reigns while we stumble along, our daily life encumbered by questions of finance, schooling, relations, health, our brain cells hardly capable of wondering about right and might or everything that is now required of us–fair judgment, proper assessment, political correctness. What do we do, where do I turn?  All we have left is our own chart of principles laid down long ago by place of birth, family background, upbringing, the rung we occupy on the social ladder—all of it, unceasingly, in question. These markers allow us, to a certain degree, to have responses that we came by much more easily in our previous clean separation of this and that, of either/or. Now, we mostly flounder but we go on, permanently dissatisfied without quite knowing why.

On a more inspiring note, I don’t think we realize at all the extraordinary significance of having our black President speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. We say it, we see it on the news, we may even have attended, but do we really grasp the progress this represents? When people grumble about what still needs to be done, I say look at what has already been achieved. I may concede that problems remain, and how. But my heart does somersaults.

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Categories: Daily life, United States Tags: ,
  1. bobbietroy
    September 9, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Great metaphysical rant with hopefulness. Love it, Saideh!

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