Sometime around June 22 I’m going to drive with dad to a camp in New Hampshire. It’s in a tiny out-of-the-way spot, surrounded by mountains, where they have purposely not allowed any cell-phones, or mobile broadband, which is to say, I will be completely cut-off from the internet. The idea is to share the driving with him (he’s in his mid-eighties) and it’s about a six hour drive.
I’ll stay up there for one day, and then take a plane back to NYC.
I suspect that this is one of those mini-dramas created by the fates to put some sort of closure between him and me, but I doubt if being in the car together for 6 hours will do it. I doubt if any son ever completely resolves all issues with their fathers. In our case, I think there’s just a lot of male competition to be king of the world.
What are all these issues? Probably just the usual stuff about who is going to be in control; who is most powerful. Stuff you can read to your heart’s content in King Lear, or Oedipus the King.
There’s an ebb and flow, just below the surface (usually) of this struggle, and no matter how many times you think it’s finally been resolved, it pops up again. His own father, dead these last 40 years still in dad’s head.
You know what the game is…? Blame Mom & Pop. Of course, they can just pass it back to their own Mom & Pop, and before you know it – you have something that smells very much like Original Sin. From my current philosophic perch (which won’t last long), seeing the generations as a series of causes and effects – nothing really does get resolved. You decide that your parents were lousey in some area and you resolve to be different with your own kids. Of course you don’t get it exactly right and your own kids resent you for it.
Intellectually, you know what your parents went through. Maybe they made great sacrifices to raise you right. Maybe they had the best of intentions. But somewhere, somehow – things didn’t work out as they or you planned. Everyone is puzzled.
Like I say, there is a such thing as an original cause, and if you believe that actions have causes – then it’s just an endless string of generations, trying to get it right; or not trying at all.
It’s very hard to place blame, if you don’t really believe in the idea of free will. Ah, there’s a subject for a light blog post. Free Will vs. Determinism. It seemed very clear to me, even when I was a pre-teen, that if every action had a cause, or a series of causes, that there just couldn’t be any real free will. It feels like you are making decisions, but that is an illusion. I’m pretty sure about that. The very idea that an individual can break out of the cause-and-effect chain of nature & nurture – just never made sense.
I decided to write this post this morning. Well why did I decide that? The idea of a road trip with my father, well, it had some of the elements that make a good drama: an enclosed space; a beginning and an end; and two characters with conflicts to resolve. Think Thelma and Louise, or any number of road pictures. But why would the dramatic possibilities even come up at all for me? After all, the trip is a month in the future.
That’s easy. I think dramatically. I wrote little plays when I was still in my teens. I read Zoo Story (two characters, enclosed space etc.)
And there is a chain of cause and event that is way too complex to fully grasp, that leads to this post. But just because the chain of events is too complex to see, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means that it is long and complex.
If you follow this chain of reasoning, you end up with the unacceptable idea that no one is responsible for anything. This is what really drives people nuts. The guy that insulted you yesterday, is no more responsible for his actions than the murderer you just saw on the news. And if they’re not responsible – then how can they be blamed for their actions.
Here’s how I go about it: in the grand scheme of things, they are not responsible, yet they must be treated as if they were. If you don’t, then life would simply be unbearable.
You need to be able to act as if people (including yourself) are responsible for their decisions. You need to live life as if you had free will. Without that illusion, life isn’t worth living. We all live with illusions. Whether they’re created for us by organizations, or countries, or whether we build them ourselves – it is simply not feasible for mere mortals to have a worthwhile life without the illusion of making decisions and being responsible for them.
Yes, we all make decisions every day. But the idea that we had a choice in these decisions, that’s the part I consider an illusion. It’s sort of like asking the weight that’s falling from a building why it decided to accelerate at 32 feet per second squared until it hits terminal velocity. Except that we aren’t weights, and the string of causes and effects are just too complex to follow. And since the impetus is so complicated, we may as well act as if we are making the choices.
And so – I like to imagine that my road trip with dad will be a chance for us to bond, and to resolve our mutual issues, but I also know that is just another illusion, and hopefully we’ll simply have a good time together, and I’ll get a chance to photograph some beautiful scenery in New Hampshire.