Brain Food

The other day, after reading one of my articles, a friend of mine commented, “C’mon Neal, you can’t honestly expect people to understand the things you write about, can you?” I suppose they’re right; I’m simply expecting too much of people – but one can always hope.

Interestingly, the same day another friend posted something on Facebook that said, “The faker you are the larger your circle of friends will be. The realer you are the smaller that circle of friends will be.” I think there is a great deal of truth to that. I think that people have this innate need to surround themselves with people who think similarly and who can prop up their tender egos.

On the other hand, people who are confident in themselves and their opinions don’t need that support; therefore they can be a bit more picky in choosing who they befriend. Take me for instance, I may talk to the people around me, but that doesn’t make them my friends. In fact, if I were to be honest, there are only about 6 people I consider to be my friend; and not a single one of them lives in the State of California.

That could be a part of the reason why I choose not to own a cell phone; I don’t have this need to be constantly connected to people because my circle of friends is so small and everyone else is just an acquaintance.

I choose who I call friend carefully. What most people call friends I would only call drinking buddies, or someone you like hanging out with. To me a friend is someone you can be yourself around without fear of them abandoning you. Now that doesn’t mean they won’t criticize or correct you when you’re being an idiot; it only means that they won’t up and leave you if you do.

A friend is someone you can rely on to have your back; be there for you when you really need them. To explain that in terms you might understand, a friend is someone you could call up at 2 a.m. to help dispose of a human body and they show up 5 minutes later with an extra shovel.

I also choose my friends based upon how open their minds are to ideas that conflict with their own. While I enjoy fishing or shooting pool as much as the next guy, I also enjoy a stimulating conversation or debate. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I choose those I call friend based upon their ability to engage me in a discussion that stimulates my mind.

It’s kind of like that song by Alanis Morissette where she sings, “And all I need now is intellectual intercourse, a soul to dig the hole much deeper.” Often I choose friends, not because they think like me, but because they are smarter than I am and can educate and stimulate my mind so that I can grow intellectually. I know that may sound selfish; like I’m using them, but people of that nature are inclined to share their knowledge anyways, so having someone to share that knowledge with is often a godsend for them as well.

There are some who come close to what I’d call friends, but who I don’t feel comfortable calling them friends…yet. I truly enjoy being in the company of these people, and try to drop in every day and ‘pester’ them with whatever random thoughts may be crossing my mind at the time. That’s just my way of showing them that I value their acquaintance. If I didn’t like them I’d simply ignore them altogether; which in truth might make their lives a lot less complicated; but that’s the price one has to pay in knowing someone like me; you get to deal with all my crazy thoughts – it’s part of the package so to speak.

While I enjoy friendship, I don’t need it to survive. I grew up being a loner and I could slip right back into being one if the need arose; it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

Now this may sound strange to you, but I consider books to be my friends. I can find enjoyment in a book just as easily as others find contentment being surrounded by others participating in events and activities that they all enjoy. While I do enjoy a well written fiction novel, my preferred choice of reading material is that which expands my knowledge; makes me think.

I’ve actually seen people throw my articles down and then say, “I can’t read this, it’s too damned complicated.” I, on the other hand, enjoy reading things that challenge my mind to grow. Listen, your brain is as much a muscle as are your biceps or your trapezoids; it needs exercise to remain sharp and grow stronger. If you don’t challenge it by reading things that force it to work harder than normal, it will stagnate, and possibly even atrophy.

I’m not going to lie about it, there are times when I read something and then afterwards I sit there thinking, “What the hell did I just read?” When that happens I don’t just give up trying to make heads or tails of it, I read it again, and again, and again until it makes sense to me. There is a movie, and I can’t recall which one, that has a scene in it in which one of the characters tells another something like, “When asked why Thomas Edison failed so many times to get the incandescent bulb to work he said, I didn’t fail, I discovered 999 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”

That may not be an accurate restating of the quote, but it’s close enough for my intended purpose; which is to show you that perseverence pays off. I don’t just give up if I read something I don’t understand, or which contains words I do not know. I keep reading, I grab a dictionary, I persevere.

Those who lived before us, those who fought for America’s independence were a lot smarter than the average person today; myself included. Some of them were what we call polymaths; people who are skilled at a wide range of subjects. Some could speak multiple languages while having a thorough understanding of history, various systems of government, science and agriculture.

There is a wealth of knowledge to be obtained if one would just read the things they left to us. Sure it takes time and effort to understand what they are saying, but in the end it will make you a better, more educated person; and isn’t that worth it?

I think our educational system fails our youth, and I think this is intentional, so as to produce entire generations of adults who incapable of using their minds to the fullest potential. Instead of teaching our children to question, discuss, debate things, they are taught to memorize names and dates without the ability to think critically about the events or persons they are learning about.

What this does is produce adults who are highly unlikely to question authority, or anything else for that matter. They accept things as they are and, although they may not like the way things are, they accept that there is no way to make things better. If you ask me, I think our school system instills a defeatist attitude in our children; turning them into perfect little drones who are smart enough to find a job and run the machinery, yet stupid enough to accept slavery and bondage to a system of government that seeks to rule over them.

Just think what would have happened had our Founders said, “Yeah, King George is an asshole, but there isn’t much we can do about it. We’ll just have to wait until he dies and hope the next King is better.” That sounds a lot like the people in this country today, “Yeah, Obama is a real shitty president, but that’s okay, when the next election rolls around we’re going to put someone better into office.”

That is why, when I read, there are times, as infrequent as they are, that I stumble across things that almost take my breath away with their beauty, their elegance, their eloquence, and the truth they expound. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence is such a passage; it causes my heart to flutter every time I read it. Patrick Henry’s Give Me Liberty speech is another; it causes a physical reaction in me that leaves me almost speechless.

Last night was such a night for me. As is my custom, I try to read something for an hour or so before retiring to bed. Recently one of the people on my Facebook friend’s list suggested I find a copy of The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, by Etienne de la Boetie. So I did a web search for it and found an online copy of it. As it was only 24 pages long I printed it out to read before going to bed last night.

By the end of the first page I was getting excited. By the end of the second page I was ecstatic. By the end of the third page my jaw was hanging slack while I thought, “My God, that’s exactly how I feel.”

In case you don’t know who Etienne de la Boetie is, he was a 16th Century French judge who is held to be one of the leaders of modern day French Political Philosophy. I enjoy reading such books, as they stimulate my mind and keep it sharp. Reading through this book was just as exhilarating to me as reading Locke’s Second Treatise for the first time.

Therefore, being the public service kind of guy that I am, I want to share a few passages that made the biggest impression on me. I don’t intend to discuss them, I only want to share them with you and let YOU think about them for yourselves. Prove my friend wrong; prove that you ARE capable of understanding the things I write about.

So, without further ado, I present to you the words of Etienne de la Boetie:

For the present I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation!

But O, good Lord! What strange phenomenon is this? What name shall we give it? What is the nature of this misfortune? What vice is it, or, rather, what degradation? To see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? Not ruled, but tyrannized over? These wretches have no wealth, no kin, nor wife nor children, not even life itself that they can call their own.

Obviously there is no need of fighting to overcome this single tyrant, for he is automatically defeated if the country refuses consent to its own enslavement: it is not necessary to deprive him of anything but simply to give him nothing; there is no need that the country make an effort to do anything for itself provided it does nothing against itself. It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude.

A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or, rather, apparently welcomes it. If it cost the people anything to recover its freedom, I should not urge action to this end, although there is nothing a human should hold more dear than the restoration of his own natural right, to change himself from a beast of burden back to a man, so to speak. I do not demand of him so much boldness; let him prefer the doubtful security of living wretchedly to the uncertain hope of living as he pleases.

What then? If in order to have liberty nothing more is needed than to long for it, if only a simple act of the will is necessary, is there any nation in the world that considers a single wish too high a price to pay in order to recover rights which it ought to be ready to redeem at the cost of its blood, rights such that their loss must bring all men of honor to the point of feeling life to be unendurable and death itself a deliverance?

There, I think that is enough brain food for one day. There’s more to what Boetie wrote, much more; but I’ll let what I shared with you suffice; for I don’t want to overload you and cause you to just toss your hands up in the air saying, “I can’t understand this shit.”

I hope that what I have provided is enough to stimulate your minds, to cause them to function in the manner that they were intended to; in other words, to think. Maybe, if I’m lucky, you will begin thinking on your own; requiring little to no external stimuli to do so.

And wouldn’t that be nice, I could leave my home and encounter people I actually enjoyed talking to. Who knows, if you start doing that I might actually start calling you friend…

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