I joined Crystal on a trip northward, to Massachusetts. We traded gossip all the way to Boston, where she dropped me off to meet Elle. I had explained to Crystal, on the road, some of my methodologies of late, about how I felt better now that I was tending more to my lifeworld, transformative gimmicks. Crystal delivered me to Boston, somewhere near an Animal Hospital. It had a large green perimeter for walking sickly animals, surrounded by a brick fence to protect and curtain the animals’ dignity. A little break in the bricks, on the corner, provided me a peephole.
A long, lanky Golden Retriever, with its neck craning upwards, was being carted across the parking lot by two orderlies. They were just gabbing, swapping gossip over an apprehensive animal. I watched them unstrap him, lift him into a standing position, let him piss, then strap him back in to the cart and wheel him back inside. Animal hospitals are always both absurd and touching, in a “laughter of the gods” kind of way. They’re touching in their demonstration of Man’s overcapacity for empathy and compassion; absurd, as most collisions between Nature and Culture usually are, whether it’s a dog in a full-body cast, a deer caught in a shopping mall, a squirrel eating a Twizzler, or a cat undergoing chemotherapy. I can’t even say whether compassion has any meaning in the natural world— and you’d probably learn more about humans than animals in an animal hospital.
Elle loaded me with food. Three dinners in one. We ambled around and through an Arboretum by midnight, reading the plaques by the light on my keychain. Nature has always been just one stretched green swatch to me. I need to start assigning names, capturing and cooking and tagging pieces of Nature— find some way to separate the colors. The world, like language, differentiates only according to the necessity of distinction. I think botanical identification, as a game, will help me to start this differentiation of Nature, and start my career as a naturalist. To see rare species as a hidden gem, as an object. To avoid death by poisonous species. ..This will do it.
I called Luke Kraft to tell him I was in the Boston-Providence area. “Pretty perfect. We’re having a Nighthawks meeting tonight. You should come.” Nighthawks was a biweekly all-nighter taskforce, made mostly of Providence friends. They had assembled at Luke’s house in Canton, Massachusetts, and Luke said he would come pick me up from Boston. Luke had been working on two larger projects over the year, and the occasion would serve as a minor unveiling.
The fires were roaring when I arrived. Everyone was nuzzling close to the flame, eating smores and hot dogs, looking out onto the pond and moon. The mood of Nighthawks was very Hölderlin and delightfully junior highschool lock-in, except that nobody was puking from candy and their parent’s liquor, and nobody was making out in their sleeping bags. It had the same question mark hovering over it, though. We went down into Luke’s basement and I introduced everyone to the science and art of hypnosis— the deeper phenomenon responsible for such lock-in favorites as Ouija boards and light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board. In recent times, I’ve realized how misunderstood hypnosis and hypnoidal phenomena are. Skeptics and mystics alike both associate hypnosis with the supernatural. So my hypnosis intros always come with large helpings of demystification. About its relation to sleep, concentration, subconscious motor control, and unmystical events like brain-farts and sleep-twitches. It doesn’t always help. And many people who consider themselves hard-minded skeptics simply refuse to continue once things begin to assail and contradict their preconceptions— blind defensiveness— not exactly the scientific method Bacon had in mind with the Novum Organum. Mystics are, on the other hand, disappointed that it is not spooky or supernatural. Disappointed in my scientific exposition of the matter. For them, there is something distasteful about explanation as a whole.
Then began the unveiling. An ultralight, portable house that Luke had been working on, was converted into a raft for thirteen Nighthawks, who sailed across the pond at sun-up, with only a shovel as an oar to guide us. We came ashore and wandered over the suburban wilderness for about twenty minutes, until we came to the second of Luke’s projects. “Here we are,” he said. We looked around, puzzled. It was just boulders and trees and earth.
Luke crouched down and wiped some leaves away, to reveal a trapdoor leading to an underground bunker. Impressively, the bunker was large enough to fit all of us— and invisible from the world above. Luke always lives his days ready for the next political collapse or holocaust. This is one of his strongest methods.
I myself had been thinking alot about methods and methodologies, about— half-ironically— sketching my General Strategy of Being. A “general approach” to circumstances and transformation— again not a description, nor a fundamental picture, but a tactical handbook, the Handbook to Agency. Something adopted from Being and Time, then bastardized and misread and rendered strategic. So that it offers no real picture of the world, but still serves as a vocabulary and a basis for what Ortega y Gasset calls raciovitalismo, or ratiovitalism.
So where would I begin? In tune with Ortega y Gasset, we have in life the agent and his circumstances. On first glance, this appears somewhat like the Cartesian distinction between the cogitating self and its world. Really, it’s the very opposite, because they are just two poles of a dialectic, inextricable and mutually creating. All previous circumstances— every thing leading up to the present siutation, our Heideggerian facticity— created the path currently being traveled by our agent— by us, that is. But, likewise as agents, we had a strong hand in the creation of those circumstances. And in action, in agency, we overcome the whole distinction and, in the end, leap the Cartesian gap. Especially if agency is taken as primary— as it would be for any strategy.
But again, for whatever reason, we agents have plans, needs, and desires. And this warps and divides our field of circumstances in many ways: into the present-at-hand and the ready-at-hand, the useful and the useless, avoidance and pursuit, the more contigent and the more necessary, the human and the inhuman, likes and dislikes, and so on.
The agent doesn’t just divide them, though. He acts upon the distinctions. So we have to ask what can we do to make the seemingly necessary truths more contigent, more pliant. What qualities of our actions make us get results, real Aristotelian arete? Excellence of action. What can we do to cultivate cleverness and boldness? What can we do to overcome laziness and petit hesitancy, to overcome fear, rest, and rust?
One thing I want to lay out here is the idea of what I’ll call philosophical optimism. This optimism is the disposition that tries to maximize the contigency of its surroundings, of its circumstances. That is, it tries, through agency and understanding, to make truths that are more-necessary into truths that are less-necessary. The philosophical optimist will take his predicament— I’m trapped in a well, I’m losing this chessgame, I’m poor, I’m bored, I’m a 21st century American— and never surrender to its givens, its facts. This optimist likes to say “things can always be made more contingent.” At bottom, I do not even think that there is anything that is absolutely necessary or absolutely contigent. Things can always be pushed in either direction.
This philosophical optimism, I think, is the disposition best-suited for agency. If you’re not interested in agency, then you don’t have to worry. You can just be a pessimist and surrender to unchanging circumstances— and thus always be more accurate about them. Optimism says nothing about the state of the world, though. This is what distinguishes it from euphemism, which is looking upon circumstances with rose-tinted spectacles. A willful blindness toward the undesirable. This is something completely different. Euphemism can actually hinder agency, and slow the conversion of problems into solutions. Nevertheless, people run them together. Mainly because both optimism and euphemism take root best in cheerful people, who can take displeasures as pleasures. I have always had plenty of cheer, and so have had to consciously cultivate optimism while curtailing euphemism. Incorrigible optimism.
The funny thing about pessimism is its desire for failure, rather than just its diagnosis. A pessimist wants things to go wrong in order to prove that things can go wrong. A pessimists wants to see an optimist come up against an intractable problem— death, impossibility or dilemma— just to see him writhe.
In addition to optimism, I recommend the principle of sufficient boldness, which I’ll talk about later. Right now, I want to eat something sweet. Coffee and ice cream, together.