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Adventures and Normalities

The only way you’re going to have an adventure, good or bad, will be when you are alone. The reason is that two or more people make a normality.

A normality is a mutually agreed worldview and set of rules and beliefs establishing the boundaries of possibility and safety. Once we agree about what kind of world we live in, we get to decide what is or is not possible, proper or improper, acceptable or unacceptable, true or false, beautiful or ugly, visible or invisible, etc.

An adventure is everything a normality is not. You don’t know what kind of world you’re in. You don’t know the rules. Maybe there are none. An adventure is boundless. Anything is possible. There are no safety nets, no guarantee of safety. You may or may not survive a war, a revolution, a pogrom, or a holocaust. You might discover and explore a new world and come back home famous and rich beyond your wildest dreams or you might be tortured and die far from home, unknown or forgotten. You might marry the love of your life or be rejected.

An adventure is deeply personal. Although you may share an adventure with someone else, your foxhole buddy, your squad, your company, your battalion, what happens to you all, happens to each one in a very different way, the fears and the loves, the successes and the failures. No matter how many people are killed, only you can die your own death. No matter how many people fall in love, when you fall in love, it’s you and no one else that falls in love.

In a battlefield, army buddies will try to turn the adventure of combat into a normality, into something safe or boring. It’s just a way of trying to deal with the terror of war. There’s a limit to how much terror an individual soul can take. Shutting down the terror works, until it doesn’t work anymore, until its insistence can’t be ignored.

I remember back in 1983 riding through Beirut on the way to our base in the Shouf mountains in a convoy of Safari trucks. We called them duce-and-a-halfs when I was in the US Army. Now I was in the Israeli Defense Forces. The truck sides were open, a guy behind a machine gun on each side, and the rest of us, bullets chambered, weapons looking for targets. I tried to look as mean as I could and didn’t talk during the whole trip. When we finally pulled into our base in the mountains overlooking Beirut, the soldier sitting next to me said in Hebrew we’re safe now. No need to be afraid anymore. I told him I wasn’t afraid before but, the truth was, I didn’t feel any safer inside the base than outside of it. At night we went to sleep in full battle gear with rifles under our thin mattresses on metal cots, serenaded by the Druze and the Christians lobbing mortar shells over us at each other. During the day I had to lay field phone cable a mile or so from Syrian shooting positions.

People often wish wistfully for an adventure. I think they’re highly over-rated. That said, I believe adventures bring us closer to reality than normalities.

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Filed under Essays, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Journals, Prose, Uncategorized

The Truth about Fiction

Animals are realists. All the species except for us. There are a couple significant differences between the rest of the animals and us that are probably related to each other.

The first difference is that animals are born with the knowledge of how to make use of all their bodily functions and how to get along in the world whereas we are born with only a partial knowledge of our bodily functions and how to get along in the world. Animal instincts are transferred and stored in their genes. Sapiens’ knowledge is acquired through our senses, stored in the brain, and transferred by means of language. Animals are capable of learning varying amounts of information but could probably get along with nothing more than their instincts for most of their lives. Sapiens have instincts too, but not enough to survive on.

The second difference is that animals have only rudimentary languages, if at all, for conveying only real concepts, commands, and warnings whereas we have highly developed languages for conveying representations of internal and external realities, as well as fictions. Fictions include assertions that may or may not be true, that haven’t been proven yet, that we’d like to be true, that we wish were true, that we want to believe are true, that we want others to believe are true, that were once thought to be true, that we are willing to accept for the moment as true, or that are patently false.

Examples of fiction include stories, myths, religious dogma, beliefs, astrology, political propaganda, rights, duties, lies, traffic lights, metaphors, hyperboles, scientific conjectures and theories, histories, nationalities, communities, races, cultures, civilizations, money, corporations, gender roles, purpose, meaning, romance, and our world views. Examples of reality might be hungry, lion, waiting, and waterhole.

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind”, written by Doctor (of Philosophy) Yuval Noah Harari. One of the interesting points he makes in his book is that animal species cannot aggregate and cooperate in groups composed of more than a few hundred individuals whereas Homo Sapiens can and in many cases do aggregate and cooperate in groups numbering millions or more. Harari attributes this capacity of Sapiens to get such massive numbers of individuals to live, work, and fight together to their ability to convey fictions with their languages. Our fictions unite us, keep us together, and direct us towards common goals far more so than our reality. If a lion enters our camp, it’s every man for himself. As we say, you don’t have to run faster than the lion. You just have to run faster than the guy in front of you. If you want to kill a mastodon, you don’t need more than a hundred or so men with spears to surround it and bring it down. If you wanted to launch a Christian Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims back in 1099, you’d need thousands of foot soldiers and 300 knights and if the Muslims wanted to take Jerusalem back, they’d need even more soldiers and horsemen, which they were able to muster easily. For the Christians, God was on their side, but for the Muslims their God was greater, or Allahu Akbar (الله أكبر).

Lest we conclude that civilizations would be a lot better off without their fictions, Harari goes on to point out that every social structure comprising more than a few hundred individuals would break down without the fictions that organize them. Many large groups enforce religious beliefs or official party lines, such that non-believers are subject to violence and/or death, for the groups to survive. If, however, enough members of a group stop believing the organizing fictions, that group will cease to exist, as will any benefits accrued by members of the group.

Remember Kant’s Categorical Imperative? Kant’s criterion for whether an action was moral or not was derived by asking what would happen if everybody were to perform that action. If the answer were that society would survive or even thrive, then it would be considered a moral action. If, however, the answer was that society would break down, then it would be considered an immoral action. For example, is it moral to steal from a person? No, because if everybody were to steal from each other, then society would break down. Is it moral to give charity? Yes, because if everybody gave charity, society would survive or thrive. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but you get the idea. If not, read the link above.

So the bottom line is I shouldn’t attempt to persuade people to give up their fictions. If I did, society would break down, people would stop working at their jobs, drive through red lights, crash into each other, babble meaninglessly, commit crimes, acts of violence, and suicide, starve, get sick, and die. As a matter of fact, I should probably keep my opinions to myself.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Essays, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose